Sunday, July 25, 2010

Family and Work

This week we spent three nights at Cherry Creek State Park to run errands and celebrate our daughter-in-law's birthday. Liz, Eric, Kylie and John came over for lunch on Wednesday. Just as we were ready to eat, it started to rain. So we put out the awning and moved our chairs closer together and enjoyed our time together.

Here is Liz with her birthday cake.

The clouds and rain continued off and on into the evening, but just before sunset, the sun came out and produced this beautiful rainbow. It was so close to the trailer, I had to take two pictures to show you the whole thing.

Friday we drove 150 miles south of Denver to Lathrop State Park in Walsenburg, where we will be volunteering through Labor Day Weekend. My main duty is to operate the Camp Store, which is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. One of the camp hosts, Nan, works a couple of shifts and I do the rest. John's main duties are cleaning the fire pits and picking up litter. I will help him some on Fridays and Mondays. That physical labor is something we both enjoy.

Our site at Lathrop is near the maintenance area and the ranger's residence. It is really very private--in our mind much better than being parked in the campground. We feel like we have most of the park's 1594 acres as our private estate. We love the quiet, the beauty and the wildlife that is there. In fact, our first evening here, we went for a walk at sunset and spotted this Black Bear. Because we were so far away and the light was poor, it isn't a very good picture. But is sure was exciting!

Bears have been much more evident in the park this year than they were in 2009 when we volunteered here in May and June. We look forward to seeing them again--from afar. And we hope we don't see them in our campsite.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reunion in Estes Park

We came back to Colorado and Estes Park in mid-July for a family reunion. John's dad had one brother and one sister. The reunion was for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We first all got together in 2006 in Boone, Iowa--where Aunt Hazel lived and raised her children. The children of the two brothers, C. Douglas and Frederick, live in Colorado. Since none of the Colorado clan did anything about planning another gathering, a Texas daughter-in-law of the Iowa clan arranged for us to meet in Colorado this year.

Estes Park is a community in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, northwest of Denver. It sits at the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Almost everyone attending the reunion was staying at the YMCA of the Rockies facility just outside the park. We were in a commercial campground two miles from the Y camp.

We arrived on Thursday and spent a little time in Estes Park. It is a typical tourist town with lots of souvenir and T-shirt shops, numerous restaurants, and lots of traffic. These are the cars coming into the town from the plains.

We enjoyed the flower pots on every corner and garden plots in front of many stores.

The St. Vrain River runs through the center of the small city and provides a soothing sound and view.

And this is the view from our campground. Is there anything better than a view of the Colorado Rockies?

At the reunion, we caught up on the lives of other family members since we saw them last, looked at old photos provided by Ethel and Suzie from the Iowa branch, as well as others, and studied the extensive family tree John and I have researched and printed out. It covered four banquet-sized tables.

Late Saturday morning we posed on a stairway for a family picture--at least those who were there at that moment. Probably at least 10 more people attended the gathering but didn't have their photo taken.

John has two brothers-in-law named John and our grandson is also John. Here are the four John's in one of the two Colorado branches of the family. In family language you are looking at Holy John (the priest), Young John (the grandson), Old John (the oldest of the four) and New John (the newest adult John member of the family).

We were especially delighted that our son, Eric, and his family came up from Littleton to attend the reunion. We hadn't seen Eric since late March and the rest of the family since Christmas. Here is John with Kylie and John, our oldest and youngest grandchildren, with their Papa.

On Monday, after all the family was gone, we drove up into Rocky Mountain National Park. We lived on the west side of the park for a little over four years and have enjoyed visiting the park all our married life. It was a cloudy, dull day, but just look at this mountain view!

The pine beetle has destroyed large areas of the forest on the west or Grand County side of the park, as well in a wide swath of the Rockies from Canada into Mexico. We read that this has happened several times in the last 500 years. It may be nature's way of renewing the forest, but we hated to see the ugly brown trees that are appearing on the east side of the park. Aren't they awful?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Our Next Home

Home is where we park it. You often hear full-time RVers make that statement and it is true for us. For the past three and a half months, home has been in 35 RV parks in 20 states. We have been very busy. For the past couple of weeks, at times we look at each other and say “Where are we?” or “Where were we yesterday?” It is time to park our home for an extended stay.

Through the years we have been volunteering in state and national parks and fish and wildlife areas, we have learned we prefer assignments lasting two or three months. By then we are ready to move on. This summer we discovered we feel the same about how long we enjoy being tourists.

Friday this week we will set up our home on wheels in Lathrop State Park, Walsenburg, Colorado, and live there for seven weeks. We volunteered there last summer and are looking forward to returning.

This is what is so wonderful about our life-style. We can travel, see new sights, move to new places, and have wonderful adventures. We can also stop and just live.

Some of the highlights of the past three months have included hiking in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona, relaxing in Potters Creek Public Corps park in Texas, biking in the Aransas National Wildlife area on the Gulf Coast of Texas, driving the Creole Nature Trail in Louisiana, exploring Mobile Bay and Dauphin Island (before the oil spill reached that area), running on the beach in Jacksonville, FL, and Myrtle Beach, SC, exploring Savannah, GA, visiting Civil War battlefields in Virginia, spending time with our precious granddaughters Rachal and Samantha in Massachusetts, visiting New York City, and biking Mackinac Island.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The City of Presidents

Rapid City, SD, bills itself as The City of Presidents (I'm not sure why) and they have 39 bronze statues of US presidents. The statues are on the corners at downtown intersections. We spent some time in downtown Rapid city while the back window of our truck was being replaced (yea!).

John made friends of President Polk,

while I couldn't resist the chance to walk on the arm of George Washington.

The downtown area, which seemed to be fairly vibrant and busy, also had some really neat old signs above retail buildings. The first one I saw was this one:

We looked around this hobby shop.

Do this even make Alfa Romeos these days?

We saw several really neat buildings. We would have enjoyed having a glass of beer in this place.

Isn't this interesting? I wonder if it was a Masonic Hall and Shrine's home to begin with.

As far as we could see, there was no old car show going on. The big event in this area is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, but that isn't until August. We did enjoy seeing these old cars parked on Main Street.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Medora and Beyond

The campground where we spent the last two nights was in Medora, North Dakota. That is kind of a fun town with restaurants, shops, museums, and the Theodore Roosevelt NP Visitor Center. At our campground, they provided nightly musical entertainment for four hours by Vern and Rita Davis who promise "Champagne Country." We listened to them for a while the first evening. It was fun and they sing mostly audience requests--ones they know and can remember enough to sing.

Across the road from the park I spotted Mickey and Minnie Mouse driving farm equipment. Their tractors are lighted at night.

The fence along that property has decoration we haven't seen before. We have seen cowboy boots upended on fence posts and old tires hung there, but never baseball caps. It is kind of fun. Today was a different type of drive. We covered 245 miles to Rapid City, South Dakota. Since the back window of the truck is covered with plastic, rather than filled with glass, the wind snaps that plastic back and forth and we could hear the hitch and all sorts of other noise. Usually we talk, listen to the radio and read a novel to each other. Today communication was very difficult. That gave me time to really study the scenery as we drove
. Often we could see for many miles.
We saw cattle and horses, sheep and bee hives, a herd of pronghorn. Some fields had oil wells. Farmers were growing and harvesting hay and wheat, corn, and unknown crops that were blooming either yellow or blue. I believe we have seen corn growing in every state we have been in this year. Whatever we do with all that corn? We only encountered one paving project and one street construction project. We have heard of open range for cattle, but today we twice saw signs warning of "livestock at large." I had time to study the cloud formations. and contemplate how the raindrops and bugs spread out on the windshield. We passed within 7.8 miles of the Center of the Nation. In 1959, when Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the Union, the US Geodetic Survey declared this spot north of Belle Fourche, SD, as the geographic center of our nation. Since we were pulling the trailer, we didn't drive down the narrow road. There is a monument in Belle Fourche that marks the nearby center more formally. Thankfully, our window was replaced this afternoon in Rapid City and tomorrow we can drive and follow our regular routine. We will read some more of the novel and talk. By the way, I determined today, as we drove and I read the charts in the atlas, that we will have covered 5900 miles around the south, east and north edges of our country by the time we reach Cheyenne tomorrow. We will then have 800 more miles before we arrive back in Coolidge, Arizona, where we started in April. See what a project a quiet mind can find.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

North Dakota Wonders

We are finally able to put North Dakota on our map, showing we have traveled here and spent at least one night here. Actually, we will end up spending three nights here. For many miles as we drove west on I-94, this is the scenery we saw.

Now, there are probably lots of people who find this landscape boring. But we are westerners and since about mid-April we have been surrounded by thick green trees everywhere we went as we traveled through the South, Middle Atlantic States, and Northeast. And the air was full of humidity so the sky was a pale blue, at best. Just look at how far you can see in North Dakota and how blue the sky is. We enjoyed this roadside sculpture, too.

But there is even more to this state. This is the backdrop for the RV park where we are staying in Medora.

Today we visited the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Known as the badlands of North Dakota, the landscape here is anything but boring.

We had read that the we might see White-Tailed and Mule deer, elk, buffalo and wild horses as we drove the 36-mile loop road. First we came on some of the horses.

We had never seen wild horses before, so it was a big thrill. About 85 feral horses, descendants from horses that escaped from local ranches decades ago, live here. They travel in bands of 5-15 individuals led by a dominant stallion. We especially enjoyed seeing this colt (or filly?) having some lunch.

We stopped at the Scoria Overlook. Scoria is a light-weight rock formed when a volcano erupts. The lava fills with gas bubbles and produces a rock similar to pumice, but heavier.

We followed the Ridgeline Nature Trail, a 6/10-mile trail providing good views like this.

It was good to get out of the truck and get a little exercise before it started raining, but the real thrills of the day came when we saw wildlife. At one parking area, we saw a lone buffalo above the road. We stopped and I took a picture. We got back into our truck and were getting ready to drive off when a woman returning to her car walked over and told us there were about 150 buffalo near the Little Missouri River, visible from the nearby ridge. Despite the mist, we walked up to the ridge to see this:

Here you see another part of the herd. Approximately 300 bison occupy the south unit of the park.

The herd was scattered across the fields, moving slowly toward our right. We could hear them snorting.

We watched the pair of young ones hone their head-butting skills for later years, as an older buffalo strolls by.

We finally tore ourselves away and drove on down the road, only to come on another small group of bison. This one seemed to pose for us.

And we weren't done yet. Shortly before we finished the loop drive, we came on a small herd of elk. Aren't their antlers magnificent? About 900 elk call the south unit home. They are supposed to be hard to spot except near dusk or dawn. Not today!

It was certainly a North Dakota day full of wonders.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What Happened?

It isn't supposed to look like this, is it?

That jagged line across the middle where air and water can get in? And I know this is not what it is supposed to look like.

How can we see through that plastic?

How did this happen? We have a 2009 10th Anniversary Edition Montana 5th wheel. The front end cap is shaped so we can make a 90 degree turn without hurting the truck. We have checked several times on tight back-ins and the trailer never touches the back window of the truck. But never say never, because today John was backing the trailer into a site in the Red Tail Campground in Medora, ND, and "pop", we both looked and saw the corner of the trailer had hit the rear truck window. It looked to me like the window was only dented--until we got parked and I looked more closely. Oops!

It could be worse. There is no damage to the trailer and none to the truck except the window. So we are lucky. And thank heavens for plastic and duck tape. Hopefully, we are OK till either Wyoming or Colorado, when we can get the window repaired. But have you ever had to clean up safety glass? It was everywhere!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

July 4 and Beyond

We did stay up late enough on Sunday to watch the fireworks. Actually, we could clearly see displays that were sent up from the south end of Mackinac Bridge and on Mackinac Island. We also had glimpses of those from the town of St. Ignace and some other place on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

This is a small part of the crowd sitting along the shoreline in our campground.

This little fellow had his baseball mitt full of popcorn. At least half of it ended up on the ground before he got settled on those rocks to watch the show.

Could you ask for a cuter (is that a word) front row?

Some of the campers shot off their own fireworks before the professional show began.

The "real" show was a little more impressive.

We left the next morning and drove north over the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula. It was a foggy morning, so the view was very limited.

This was all we saw of Lake Huron. The fog continued as we drove along Lake Superior. We are glad we had seen that lake years ago when we lived in Wisconsin.

As we drove west, a black bear ran across the road. How exciting. The fog finally cleared and we did get to see this pretty scene as we headed west.

It was a long drive to Wakefield, MI, where we spent one night in a public park on pretty Sunday Lake.

Now we are spending three nights at the Gull Lake Corps of Engineers campground outside of Brainerd, MN. We are feeding our souls with the quiet and the wooded campsite. Isn't this a pretty entrance for a public facility?

This morning, while John took his three-mile run, I walked over to the lake to take some pictures. How's this for a gaggle of geese (and one duck)?

I walked the nearby nature trail. It is unusual to find a grassy trail.

I caught a glimpse of this White-Tailed deer before it bounded away.

The forest floor has lots of ferns.

Our campground has a vintage trailer and an unusual one.

We saw these different kind of trailers in a sales lot in town yesterday. I think they would be very hard to level. Once you take them off the truck, the wheels and hitch are raised, lowering the trailer to the ground.