July 31, 2011 Kansas City, MO to Springfield, IL

Today is mostly a driving day although we do manage to do a little sightseeing in Hannibal, MO along the way. Hannibal is famous for being Mark Twain’s boyhood home and the setting for Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Tom and Huck with Clark, Lewis and John

We also see a real replica of a fence that is just like the one that Tom Sawyer got his friends to paint.

The virtual fence

After a horrible lunch at the Mark Twain Dinette, we walk down to the Mississippi River, Mark Twain’s Mississippi River.

The Mark Twain River

And we look at the Mark Twain statue overlooking the Mark Twain River.

Mark Twain looking out over his river

And the Mark Twain riverboat.

Mark Twain riverboat

I guess the fine people of Hannibal, MO are very proud of their native son. The rest of Hannibal seems to have fallen on hard times. The town is full of old Victorian houses but few have been restored to their former glory. Many storefronts are empty. If it weren’t for Tom and Huck, no one would probably stop here. It’s also incredibly hot and humid.

We stop at a grocery store and pick up some fixings for tonight’s dinner. Our hotel room in Springfield has a kitchenette. However, when we go to make dinner we realize that there is no cooktop so making dinner is impossible. Are the gods working actively to sabotage my diet? So we go to Saputo’s which is a red Italian restaurant and eat all the wrong things. And we have our first totally Eastern salad, all iceberg lettuce with a couple of tomato pieces thrown in. Humidity and iceberg lettuce, I’m almost home!

Eastern salad!

July 30, 2011 Kansas City, MO

Once we crossed the Rockies we knew we were in for it – humidity. It’s the natural state of things in most of the United States. But if you are not used to it, and maybe even if you are, it is debilitating. This morning we play tennis again. As the diet starts to slide a bit, it’s important to keep the activity up. The humidity is like a thick blanket around us. At one point I notice raindrops on the court but it is so humid that we don’t feel it fall. Weird.

One of the best parts of the day is when we have a Skype session with Nathan and Sam. Or rather Clark and Lewis have a Skype session with them. Nathan is so excited to talk to Clark. He tells Clark that he wants to take him to Santa Cruz to go on the rides. Clark is not so sure. Maybe it will be scary. Nathan promises that he will only take him on the children’s rides and that the ride on the big truck will be perfect – the truck doesn’t go fast. Now all this conversation is going on with me holding Clark, the stuffed frog. I am talking in my normal voice that Nathan would recognize as belonging to Beeba. And yet he is totally communicating with Clark. I think it was the best Skype we’ve ever had. Hopefully we can connect again next weekend.

Then we go off to the National World War I museum here in Kansas City. Dedicated in 1924 and restored in the late 90’s, it’s an interesting art deco building.

National World War I Museum

Inside we see a couple of movies explaining the reasons for the war and the conditions under which it was fought. It is very insightful and we learn a lot. The whole place is somber. The loss of life in this war is incredible. The trench warfare is horrendous. The final outcome just seems to set the stage for World War II.

Interactive display at the National World War I Museum

It’s now about 3 p.m. and we haven’t eaten since breakfast. Today is our big splurge – lunch at Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue. We share some ribs, beans and pickles. Wow, is it delicious!

Can you smell the barbecue?

No frills, just order at the window

Lewis is stuffed and Clark loves the sauce!

We have a quiet last night in Kansas City. No dinner tonight due to the massive lunch. We mosey on down to the bar, people watch and have a glass of wine later in the evening.

I'm a girl who likes a bar!

On to Springfield, Illinois tomorrow!

July 29, 2011 Kansas City, MO

Today we started the day playing roof top tennis at the hotel here in Kansas City. Apparently there aren’t many people who play tennis at this facility because the courts are littered with trash. We have not had a very positive experience at this hotel and I plan to make sure that TripAdvisor knows about it.

John with the peanut gallery

Mary on the rooftop game deck with Union Station in the background

Our hotel, the Westin Crown Center, tries to be upscale but is really lacking. Yesterday at 5 p.m., the breakfast room service trays had not been picked up from the hallway. When we get into bed for the night, we discover that the sheets are too small for the bed. They are untucked at the top, bottom and sides. It takes us until 12:30 a.m. to get the correct size sheets. The brochure touts their tennis courts but it’s like playing tennis on skid row with plastic bottles, butts and broken glass on the courts. The staff is lackluster at best and the hotel looks like it was designed by Stalin (my opinion) or Mussolini (John’s opinion.) And of course you have to pay for each electronic device separately to get internet, there’s no free breakfast, and there’s a charge for self-parking.

Mussolini slept here

After we are done playing tennis and clean up, we go to the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum. It is a really fine small to medium sized art museum. Right now they are having an exhibition of Monet’s Water Lilies. Impressionism always draws a big crowd although I can’t see the appeal. We’ve seen the Water Lilies in Paris so we skip the exhibition.


The first group of works we see are Roxy Paine’s Scumaks and Dendroids. These are quite interesting blobs. There is a blob making machine at work in the museum.


Then we spend quite a bit of time in the Egyptian section of the museum. I’m usually all hot to get to pre-Rennaisance art so too often we skip this. The Nelson-Atkins museum has a small but comprehensive section of art from the Egyptian tombs.

Ancient men

They also have an outstanding outdoor sculpture area. There are many modern sculptures plus a few golden oldies.

I'm thinking, I'm thinking about, about...shuttlecocks!

We finish up with a tired traipse through contemporary art. I think our favorite is Max Ernst’s Capricorn.

Max Ernst - Capricorn

We get back to the hotel in time for happy hour and have an interesting discussion with a retired lawyer concerning world affairs in general and American politics in specific. He holds mostly the same ideas that we have. Who would have expected it in Kansas City?

July 28, 2011 Grand Island, NE to Kansas City, MO (posted by John)

Today we say goodbye to Nebraska and make for Kansas City, Missouri. This will not be as simple as we had thought. As we learned yesterday, the flooding in the Missouri River system has closed all the major crossing points from Omaha down to the Iowa line. We have learned that just because flood waters are done cresting (and are therefore no longer nationally newsworthy), it doesn’t mean that the water is gone and the damage magically repaired.

We head east on I-80, detour south on US-81, cross in Kansas (we had actually not planned on any Kansas this trip- we were less than overwhelmed by our brief encounter with southwestern Kansas last trip), and then head east again on US-36. Turns out this road follows part of the route of both the Pony Express and the old California Trail.

We stop for coffee at the town of Marysville KS, take a few pictures of its courthouse, old stores and Victorian houses, and head toward what we are told will be an unimpeded crossing at St. Joseph MO. We decide that northeast Kansas is kind of pretty.

Courthouse, Marshall County, Marysville, Kansas

As we get a few miles from the river, we see a lot of fields covered in flood water. Some crops appear fine, others are just drowned to yellowed stalks. There has been significant damage to roads and buildings. We are given to understand that it will take a very long time for the water to subside.

The actual crossing is without incident. Unless of course you count the fact that we are unable to locate any place for lunch along the loop road around St. Joe. We make it almost all the way to Kansas City before finding a place we want to eat.

After lunch, Missy, our GPS, gets us efficiently to our hotel on the south end of downtown KC. We’ll be here three nights. We unpack, take a swim, locate the tennis courts for tomorrow’s early morning play (did I mention it was 101 degrees as we crossed into Kansas City?), and had a good dinner at Pierpont’s in the beautifully restored Union Station across the street.

Tomorrow: tennis, the WWI memorial, maybe the Art Museum, maybe some barbeque. All depends on the heat and humidity.

Clark and Lewis are exhausted from the long drive

July 26, 2011 Grand Island, NE

“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay” for tennis is played and our wash is done again. And a fine job folding, Clark and Lewis! After getting up at zero a.m. to beat the heat, John and I play tennis at the high school courts here in Grand Island. Then we head back to the hotel, have breakfast, and do our laundry. We finally make it out the door around 1 p.m. for lunch and sightseeing.

If only they actually folded laundry!

Our sightseeing goal of the day is the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. We enter the impressive visitor’s center and ask a bunch of questions to a helpful volunteer. When was Nebraska admitted to the Union? How did the slave state/free state play into its statehood? What native Americans lived here? And so on and so on. Museum volunteers should run when they see us coming. The most important question, why do people live here when it’s so frigging hot, humid and buggy in the summer and so frigid in the winter, goes unasked.

Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer

We head outside to visit their pioneer village. It’s kind of like a prairie version of Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. There are actual houses and shops from the late 1800’s and historical re-enactors. We walk through lovely gardens and even run into a friend or two of Lewis’s.

"But I'm not fluent in duck," sighed Lewis.

Moving along we go into the one room schoolhouse. John, Clark and Lewis are attentive pupils.

Looks like someone got left back a few times

Clark and Lewis examine the day's schedule while President Garfield looks on

Then we take a couple of pictures at the bank and the printer’s because my father was a banker and one of my grandfathers was a printer.

She was only a banker's daughter...

"I'd like a print version of my blog, please."

As you can tell by the pictures, I am beginning to wilt. It is really hot out and humid besides. And I am getting attacked by mosquitoes and flies. I tell John to look at the rest of the outdoor stuff by himself and I head back to the visitor’s center. John follows about 20 minutes later. Being outside is difficult but being in the tiny shops and houses is unbearable.

We do our dinner shopping for the evening, take a swim in the pool, hobnob with the other guests during social hour, and settle down for a little TV watching. We need to be up early tomorrow because we’ve learned from one of the other guests that many of the bridges across the Missouri River are still closed due to flooding. We may need to make a lengthy detour to get to Kansas City tomorrow. We have enjoyed our time in Nebraska a lot. According to the internet, the state motto of Nebraska is ” Equality before the law.”. We think it should be “Really friendly people, really big salads, really cold restaurants.”

SYTYCD is a hit with everyone around here

July 26, 2011 North Platte, NE to Grand Island, NE

Do you like combines? I mean giantly big and agriculturally awesome farm machines?

Well, have I got a tour for you!

John booked a tour for us at Case/IH. (Case/International Harvester and New Holland farm equipment.) It is perhaps the best tour I have ever taken. And, perhaps, the worst.

Farmer John

We drive all morning to Grand Island, Nebraska and find lunch at the Chicken Coop in downtown Grand Island where I eat a hamburger (only the second one since the first of the year). We present ourselves at Case. This is a personal tour just for the two of us. We don protective glasses, reflective vests and headsets. It is so noisy in the plant that we wouldn’t be able to hear the explanations otherwise. Dick is our tour guide and he does an incredible job. We see the combine assembly line from the beginning to the end. We talk to the workers as we walk down the line. It is repetitious work that they do with grace and humor. There is nothing hidden here. If there are mistakes along the way, Dick points them out. He has been retired since 1996 and yet you can still feel the pride in his voice as he describes the equipment. And that is why it is the best tour we’ve ever taken.

Mary with Dick, our tour guide, after the tour

Then why also the worst? This tour takes three hours. Three hours without sitting down in an enormous, incredibly noisy plant that does not have air conditioning. The temperature today is over 90 and it is humid. By the time we finish we are awash in sweat and almost numb from the noise. It’s why we look shellshocked in the photos.

With a combine after the tour

Afterward we stop at the HyVee, a supermarket, and buy some vittles and beverage for supper. We are too exhausted to go out tonight.

Here are some pictures from the factory.

Laser cutting steel for parts

Machines bending the just cut part blanks into usable pieces

Welding robot

Welding human

Corn stripper

Big tires

Last tests and ready to go

July 25, 2011 Denver, CO to North Platte, NE (posted by John)

Today we start the next phase of our journey. We’ve been noodling around Utah and Colorado so far, but now it’s time to make tracks. We depart the Denver area and head mostly east towards Nebraska.

To get to Interstate 76, we take a road through Denver International Airport. It says it’s a toll road, but, having neither an electronic pass nor a Colorado license plate we cannot figure out how to get the toll paid. I can only hope no Colorado state troopers will not be at our door in California when we get back several weeks from now.

Flat earth vision

As we get further east from Denver, it’s clearly cattle country here along the South Platte River. The land falls gradually. Unfortunately, the temperature and the humidity rise. We’d better get used to it. We cross into Nebraska, which claims to be “The Home of Arbor Day.” We find this curious because there is not a superabundance of trees.

Welcome to Nebraska!

On our previous trips around the country four and two years ago, we had given Nebraska short shrift, just nipping a couple of corners (but seeing Carhenge in Alliance– very important). This time we’re going in whole hog.

We stop in Ogallala for lunch. We eat at the old-timey Front Street Saloon and take pictures, not forgetting our little buddies Clark and Lewis. Of particular culinary note is the buffalo burger, medium-rare, highly recommended.

Big cowboy, little Mary


Show your I.D.s!

After lunch we drive around town and see a cute Victorian mansion and the town cemetery at Boot Hill. Then back on the interstate (now I-80) and on to our destination for the day, North Platte.

Mansion on the Hill

Boot Hill

Whereas Ogallala was and is a cattle town, North Platte was and is a railroad town, with a healthy dose of Buffalo Bill thrown in.. First, we go see the Lincoln County Historical Museum which houses a display of the World War II train depot canteen that served 50 trains a day going back and forth across the country carrying troops. Although we couldn’t find their names in the register, it’s quite possible that both of our fathers stopped here on their journeys west as soldiers during WWII. We both get choked up appreciating our fathers’ contribution and the efforts of the locals to support the troops at a time when no one had much to spare.

John at the North Platte canteen

Headlines after the attack on Pearl Harbor

We next visit the Golden Spike Tower of the Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard. It’s the largest in the world. Over a hundred trains a day are disassembled and reassembled. It can hold up to 15,000 cars at a time. We are able to watch a couple of trains passing through, a couple being assembled (by a process known as “humping”) and a line of engines being sent into the maintenance shop. It’s all a mechanized ballet in slow motion.

World's largest railyard

Busy trains

Lastly, we visit Cody Park (told you Buffalo Bill is a big deal here) for the exhibit of (you guessed it) more trains. The centerpiece is a Challenger 4-6-6-4 locomotive from 1943, really a brutishly handsome piece of machinery. Since it’s open for boarding, we oblige Clark and Lewis and let them drive the train. (Does any one out there know what an “Ack Valve” is?)

Engineer John with Clark and Lewis

Mary on the throttle

At the end of a very hot but rewarding day, we find our hotel and have an exceptionally well-cooked and well-served dinner at the Applebee’s across the street. You say, “Applebee’s?”, but hey, sometimes one has to manage risk. Today was a success.

Tomorrow, Grand Island!

July 24, 2011 Alamosa, CO to Denver, CO

Today, since I don’t have enough just John and me pictures, everybody gets the Clark and Lewis treatment. This is an example of the letter that I send every day to our grandsons, Nathan and Sam. For clarification, I am Beeba and John is Zayde and Clark is the frog and Lewis is the duck.

The Adventures of Clark and Lewis – Chapter 13

Beeba and Zayde got Clark and Lewis up early today. They had about 4 hours worth of driving to do and wanted to get to Denver with enough time to see the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. They arrived at the museum around 1 o’clock.

“Clark, I am so hungry. First we have to drive and drive and drive. When we finally get to the museum Zayde can’t find a parking space so more driving except this time in the parking garage. And now we have to stand in line for tickets!! My tummy is eating itself!” exclaimed Lewis.

“Chill, Lewis,” remarked Clark. “There’s not a single thing we can do about it. So just be patient.”

“I’m going to start quacking really loudly any minute!” threatened Lewis.

Too long a wait in line for Clark and Lewis

The first thing that they did after getting their tickets was go to the T. Rex Cafe for lunch.

“Tofu! And hummus?! And vegetables!!!! We’re a frog and a duck, not vegetarians,” complained Lewis.

“I agree with you, Lewis, “said Clark, “but I looked and there are no entrees that include bugs so we’ll just have to be satisfied.”

Eat your veggies!

After lunch they started exploring the museum. Clark and Lewis wanted to see the exhibitions about animals.

“Look, Clark,” said Lewis proudly, “That bird is a symbol of the United States and he’s related to me.”

“I’m just glad that they didn’t make a duck the symbol of the United States,” retorted Clark. “That would have been silly.”

“Better than a frog,” muttered Lewis.

Lewis's bald relative

On the way out of the exhibit, there were wooden seats in the shape of llamas.

“Zayde, sit on the llama!” Clark and Lewis shouted.

“Okay, okay,” laughed Zayde. It was funny to him because his nickname used to be “llama” a long time ago.

“Now that I’ve had my picture taken on the llama, you guys stick your heads through the picture of the elephant and the orangutan. We’ll have a picture of a froggy elephant and a ducky orangutan, ” said Zayde.

Llama, llama

Clark the elephant and Lewis the orangutan

Next they went to space section and to the planetarium. They saw a show about Black Holes. It was very dark in the theater and both Clark and Lewis wanted to sit on Zayde’s lap. Beeba took a picture of the three of them but since it was dark, it didn’t come out.

Finally they saw the section on dinosaurs and early mammals.

“Look at those dinosaurs, Lewis,” said Clark. “it looks like they are roughhousing just like we do!”

Horned dinosaurs

“And look at these fossils,” exclaimed Lewis, “It looks like a mom dinosaur and her little boy!”

Mommy dinosaur sharing lunch with her child

Needless to say it was a big day for everyone. By the time they got to the hotel, Clark and Lewis were really tired. But they still were excited about all the things they had seen and spent a little while talking about their adventures before they fell asleep.

Pillow talk

July 23, 2011 Antonito, CO

Needless to say, our “boutique” hotel in Antonito does not provide breakfast. Not even coffee. Nor any place in the room where we might set up our well-supplied mobile kitchen. So it’s across the street again to the Dutch Mill, which is open breakfast.

Mary orders wheat toast with jam, no butter. Out comes buttered white toast. Sent back for another try. I order a short stack of pancakes. Inedible. Sent back, I try a cup of chile verde instead. OK. At least the side of bacon was good.

Time for our adventure on the the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. We head out to the train depot. Our little buddies Clark and Lewis are very excited. We take their pictures at various places on the train. It has an authentic coal-burning steam locomotive and restored cars. We have opted for the parlor car in the back in the hopes that the seats will be comfortable and that we will be away from the engine’s smokestack, which we expect will emit authentic sooty stuff in large quantities.

Cumbres and Toltec engine 488

John at the Antonito station

We set off at 10am sharp.

Clark and Lewis wave goodbye

The train proceeds mostly westward (towards Chama NM) and upwards. Antonito is at 7800 feet; the highest point on the route at Osier is at over 10,000 feet. The line was originally part of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, hauling silver, supplies and passengers through the San Juan mountains into New Mexico. The segment of the line that we are on crosses the Colorado-New Mexico border 10 times in each direction.

Rounding a bend

The engine letting off some steam

We see some very beautiful scenery (it is after all a scenic railroad) especially Toltec Gorge, and learn a lot about the topography (significantly volcanic in origin).

The Toltec Gorge

We have lunch at Osier. “Grub” seems a suitable description. We change trains and return to Antonito, arriving just before 5pm. We get some little presents for Nathan and Sam, hop in the car, and leave Antonito for Alamosa, 30 miles north and infinitely closer to the creature comforts we call civilization. Looking for some familiarity and consistency, we have dinner at Chili’s and reflect on the memorable experience we have had on today’s train journey.

Clark and Lewis approve of our new digs

Tomorrow, north to Denver!

PS (Mary, here. John has done a yeoman’s job by writing today’s and yesterday’s post for me. All I have to do is stick in the pictures. Thank you so much, John!)

July 22, 2011 Durango, CO to Antonito, CO

[John here. Due to the extraordinary lack of space and climate control mentioned in Mary’s executive summary, and the fact that the adventures of Clark and Lewis demand Mary’s full creative energies, I am stepping in as guest blogger.]

We leave Durango after having spent a very interesting and relaxing two days. On to our next destination, Antonito, a small town in southern Colorado which is one terminus of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railway. We have places reserved on the 10am train tomorrow.

First, though, we must get there. This requires we cross the Continental Divide. this is something we’ve done many times before, but this is the first time by this route. We cross at Wolf Creek Summit on US-160 at almost 11,000 feet. We have a photo taken at the interpretive display at the top. We ponder the fact that such a crossing (at 11,000 feet) was the EASY route. Yeesh. Side note: Wolf Creek apparently did not indicate the presence of wolves, at least the 4-legged kind. It was named after early settler Bill Wolf. Humph.

Mary and John undivided

Even our GPS, Missy, is a little short of breath at this altitude

We continue eastward to get to the town of Alamosa, kind of the hub of the San Luis Valley. We have lunch at the San Luis Valley Brewery downtown. It’s located in an old bank building. At best tolerable food, but good American-style wheat beer, inscrutably named “Hefe Suave.”

After lunch we go see the Great Sand Dunes National Park about 35 miles northeast of Alamosa. Although it’s been in the National Park System since 1932, and given that we are National Park junkies, we have never even heard of this place! Shame on us.

Mary, Clark and Lewis at the entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

These are the tallest dunes in North America. They were encountered by the Zebulon Pike expedition in 1806-07, in another one of Thomas Jefferson’s attempts to probe the Louisiana Purchase and beyond. In the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the dunes are formed by the otherwise protected confluence of two major wind streams. They are pretty darned big, to be sure. But it’s hot, and we’re not sand walking fans any way. So we just see the interpretive displays and go out on the overlooks, take pictures, and let our companions Clark and Lewis have some fun.

Clark and Lewis wisely stay off the hot sand dunes not wanting to become roast duck or fried frog legs

(Astute followers of Today’s Worry will no doubt observe that we have done a lot of dune in the last few years. The Singing Sand Dunes of Kelso CA and the Grand Dune du Pilat in Arcachon France are just two examples.)

We finish with the dunes and head down to our destination for the night, Antonito. There is not much to this town. We drive right past our hotel. It’s a restored (sort of) property on the main drag. The proprietors are very friendly and helpful, but there’s nothing they can do about the fact that the rooms are tiny, there’s no air conditioning, and the street noise persists until well after 11pm. We choose to cancel our second night there.

Our hotel

The main drag of Antonito

Dinner presents another challenge. There are two eating establishments nearby. We choose the Dutch Mill because it is closer and the menu looks a little more varied. The food is mediocre to poor, but the wine pours are, shall we say, substantial.

The Dutch Mill, the best choice for dinner

John peruses the menu

This giant glass of wine for $5 makes me giggle even before I drink it

Looking forward to our train adventure tomorrow!

July 22, 2011 Durango, CO to Antonito, CO

No blog tonight. Exciting adventures today but our vintage hotel room has no desk, no desk chair, a queen bed, no closet, no microwave, no mini-refrigerator, and no air conditioning. So it’s hard to get our whole data center set up. Guess I will have to write two tomorrow. I know I’m spoiled so you don’t have to point it out.

Clark and Lewis are not enjoying being hot either.

July 21, 2011 Durango, CO

We get up early today to play tennis. When I worked for Weight Watchers, I had five rules for going on vacation and maintaining weight loss. One was to get some exercise every day. So we are exercising. The tennis balls that we brought along are for playing at sea level. Durango is not at sea level. It’s at 6500 feet. So here we are playing with balls that are flying all over the place on a fast court. Not a scenario for a good game. But we have fun nonetheless.

Playing tennis while Clark and Lewis cheer us on

Then we go back to the hotel for some computing time and to do the laundry. Yay, we have clean clothes!

Blog central

Hurrah for clean clothes!

(Obviously today was a somewhat slow day since I am posting pictures of our laundry.)

Later we go into downtown Durango for lunch. We eat at the Palace Restaurant which is next to the train station. On our prior trip here, we came down to the bar at the Palace, The Quiet Lady Tavern, for a drink, while Sarah and Jon amused themselves at the hotel. Ah, memories. John orders trout since he has been craving a local fish and I have a vegetarian wrap. We are both pleased with our lunch. Afterwards we walk around the old train station where the steam locomotives still make the run back and forth to Silverton for tourists.

Mary at lunch at the Palace Restaurant

John with Clark and Lewis in front of the train depot

Mary in front of the Quiet Lady Tavern

Durango is a great 19th century town which has much preserved architecture. We stop at the Visitor’s Center and get two walking tours of Durango. John likes to call this pursuit urban archeology. Our walking tours cover the commercial district and a street full of beautiful homes.

The Strater Hotel

A beautiful double porched Queen Anne style house on 3rd Avenue

Since I am not feeling well, we head back to the hotel. John makes the other half of the pasta for dinner and we have a quiet evening. On to Antonito, CO tomorrow.

July 20, 2011 Bluff, UT to Durango, CO

Today we leave Utah behind and head for Colorado after a stop at Hovenweep National Monument. On the way, we encounter our third animal in the road, a horse. I can see how it is a really bad idea to travel after dark around here.

Why did the horse cross the road?

During the ride today, John explains many things to me and points out stuff I should notice. I learn about how to make glass panes, all about geology (he has bought two new geology books while we have been traveling) and he points out the mountain which is called Sleeping Ute. We saw this 20 years ago when we were on our Southwest trip with the kids and John is like the proverbial elephant. I try not to retain too much because it would ruin the fun of John explaining everything again and again. But I digress.

Sleeping Ute Mountain

We arrive at Hovenweep National Monument mid-morning which is a good thing because it is getting hot. It’s not as hot here as in the rest of the country but still, hiking when it’s over 80 is exhausting. We see a short movie about the monument and go out on the trail. The rating for the two miles is “easy.”

Little Ruin Canyon

The ruins are from around 1200 A.D. John and I have a long discussion as we look at the ruins about comparative cultures. Native Americans never got past the stone age. Why is that? Was life so difficult that there wasn’t time or energy to do anything other than exist? Was there not a critical mass of people so that some could specialize? Why is there no wheel? Or domesticated animals? Have North American animals not been domesticated because it wasn’t possible for the people to feed them and themselves too? Are North American animals just too cranky for domestication? But camels have been domesticated and they are pretty cranky. The discussion keeps our minds off the fact that the trail is not so “easy” and we are getting hot and tired.

Mary and ancient Puebloan building

We decide not to have a picnic after we are done with our hike. The idea of sitting out in the heat with insects flying about has lost its appeal. We drive into the town of Dolores, Colorado and have lunch at their old train depot. Ah, air conditioning! Just outside of town there is the Anasazi Heritage Center. We go there after lunch and learn a lot about the people who lived in the ruins we visited this morning. But it still doesn’t answer all our questions.

John at the Anasazi Heritage Center

They have an exhibit of native American pictographs and petroglyphs. We learn that some of them are as old as 8000 years. The figures are haunting looking. We find one which is the symbol that our St. George community uses.

Entrada symbol

After we are done at the museum, we drive to Durango, do a little grocery shopping and prepare dinner in the room. I don’t want to go out because SYTYCD is on. So we eat pasta, drink wine, watch TV and fall asleep.

July 19, 2011 Hanksville, UT to Bluff, UT

I think a person could spend weeks and weeks in Utah and still be amazed by what lies around the next corner. This morning we depart Hanksville and travel down UT-95. It’s designated a scenic byway. Well, it is so incredibly gorgeous – red rock walls, arches, cottonwoods, no traffic. We pull into a picnic area to adjust some jingling luggage and snap a photo of an arch under construction.

Arch by Hog Spring Picnic Area, UT-95

About fifteen minutes later, sweeping vistas of Lake Powell unfold. The lake looks like it has more water in it than in past years. We boated on Lake Powell 20 years ago and were shocked when we saw it about 5 years ago. It must have been down over 50 feet. It’s good to see it making some recovery.

Lake Powell near Hite

Bridge over the Colorado River at Hite

Although we spend quite a bit of time stopping here and there for a picture or a view, we arrive at Natural Bridges National Monument around 10 AM.

John at the Natural Bridges Monument

After a friendly chat with the ranger inside the visitor’s center, we decide to go to the overlooks for the first two bridges and hike to the third. It’s actually the only one we haven’t hiked down to of the three. The bridges are formed by water flowing up against the rock and eroding away the softer areas until a new waterway is created. Arches are formed differently.

You can see Sipapu Bridge just above the sign

Kachina bridge is between John and the sign

Partway down to Owachomo Bridge

Having seen a dirt road leading to an overlook on the map, we have our next destination, Muley Point. It looks like one should be able to see Monument Valley, the Navajo Tribal Park from there. The road takes us far out on a spit of land overlooking a vast valley. The views are spectacular.

Monument Valley from Muley Point

John on top of the world

We try to find some lunch in Mexican Hat to no avail. The proprietor of the cafe tells us he is too busy to make lunch. So we head up to Bluff, get lunch, check in to the hotel and later have dinner at the Cottonwood Steakhouse. It advertises Home Cookin’. It’s better than last night’s dinner but not by a whole lot. I am hoping for better dining tomorrow in Durango, CO.

Colorful mountain on the way to Mexican Hat

Twenty years ago our rafting trip with the kids down the San Juan River ended here at Mexican Hat.

July 18, 2011 Boulder, UT to Hanksville, UT

We have got to get our sleeping patterns straightened out. This morning we are up at 5 AM again! After making ourselves some breakfast and packing up our tons of stuff, we make it out the door around 8 AM. It is supposed to be hot today and we want to beat the heat to the places we are visiting.

The first thing we do is head towards Capitol Reef National Park. To get there you have to traverse Boulder Mountain. This road was not fully paved until 1985. It is very rugged and high, probably about 10,000 feet. Cows and deer are meandering on the road. We stop at an overlook where we can see the canyonlands that we traveled through yesterday and the Henry Mountains, the last mountain range in the lower 48 states to be mapped and named. There’s no heat up here. The temperature hovers around 60.

Mary at the overlook

Then down the mountain and into Capital Reef National Park.

John at Capitol Reef National Park

The landscape is a jumble of rock spires and striated chocolate covered walls. Unfortunately there is major construction going on which limits what can be seen and also a threat of thundershowers and flash floods which limits sightseeing even more.

Chocolate colored walls

After the usual picnic lunch, we drive to Goblin Valley State Park. Our GPS wants to send us down a sketchy looking dirt road. We decide (wisely, I think) to take the longer paved route. When we get to the park entrance, the ranger agrees that the dirt road would not have been a good choice.

Our GPS has a sense of humor

Wind and water have eroded a former mud flat into a land of mushroom-like formations or goblins. We hike down into the valley, climbing among the weird shapes.


Mary and friends among the goblins

Manny, Moe and Jack

We are staying at the very down-scale Whispering Sands Motel in Hanksville, UT. But it is clean and satisfactory. We have a horrid dinner at the local steakhouse, get gas at the Hollow Mountain filling station, gape at the selection of boats parked in the desert and retire early.

The Hollow Mountain filling station

Whatever floats your boat

July 17, 2011 Happy Anniversary to us! Tropic, UT to Boulder, UT

Today is our anniversary. It’s our 39th and we are happy and life is good.

We spend today exploring a little of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s a huge expanse of land brought into the national parks system in 2000 by departing President Clinton. It’s caused quite a bit of controversy here in Utah where government is not a welcome party. It’s over a million acres and largely undeveloped. We stop at two visitor centers, one in Cannonville highlighting the native Americans and Mormons and another in Escalante with a concentration on ecology.

The huge Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Uploading pictures here in Boulder is very slow so I can only put in a few pictures.

We take a dirt road off of scenic UT 12 to do a bit of adventuring. It’s the Hole-in-the-Wall Road cut through the desert and cliffs to the Colorado River by Mormon settlers. A lot of what is settled around here was done by Mormons. From the church hierarchy in Salt Lake City, the elders would decide upon a place that seemed like it had some arable land and water and then send a contingent of the faithful to go set up a town. It must have been a really difficult life for these new settlers.

Anyway, down this road a ways, the map shows a place called Devil’s Garden and it has a picnic table so we head off. We have a picnic amid a vast array of strange looking large hoodoos and do a little exploring after lunch.

Mary rocks

John rocks too!

Then it’s back in the car and we take the ride down UT 12, designated an All-American Road. The scenery is amazing! We ride through canyons and switchbacks and along edges of cliffs. We’ve been through here a couple of times so we know what to expect but it is still spectacular.

We reach our destination, the Boulder Mountain Lodge, mid-afternoon. After cleaning up, we have our anniversary dinner at the Hell’s Backbone Grill. It’s delicious and a fitting end to our special day.

Happy Anniversary to us!

July 16, 2011 Tropic, UT

I’ve taken some flack about not enjoying the “camping experience” even though I’ve never camped. Well, I thought I’d show what I think is about as close to camping as I want to come. My idea of vacation is not to rough it. I’m willing to give up a king bed for a queen now and then but, obviously, the internet is a must. I’m willing to cook some meals. But no bugs. No tent. No outside bathroom. So here are some pictures from our “roughing it” experience.

Our cabin at Bryce Country Cabins

First night, John grills steak.

Basic small kitchen


We’ve tried to book places that give us the opportunity to make our own meals. When I used to work for Weight Watchers, I always told my members that it is best not to take a vacation for more than a week. Why? It may be possible to stick to your food plan for a week but after a week it becomes more and more difficult. So cooking our own food most of the time is a must.

Our plan for today is to go to Bryce Canyon NP and take a hike in Fairyland Canyon. But we are really tired out from yesterday and decide just to have out picnic lunch at Fairyland Canyon and then take a look at Bryce Point.

Mary and John at Bryce

Fairyland Canyon

The air is thin here.

John at Bryce Point

We walk around, do some shopping and decide that the best thing for us to do is have a little lie-down. Later John, with my assistance, makes an awesome lentil stew with turkey sausage on our tiny cooktop. Ah, camping!

John at work in the kitchen

Lentil stew

July 15, 2011 St. George, UT to Tropic, UT

Today turns out to be an exciting, terrifying and exhausting day. It all starts out innocently enough. We pack up the car and after a brief stop in Springdale, Ut enter Zion NP. Our small stuffed animals, Clark and Lewis, who are chronicling our trip for Nathan and Sam, come along.

Welcome, Clark and Lewis, to Zion National Park!

Mary on the slickrock

Checkerboard Mesa

After a brief stop for a picnic lunch, we make our way to today’s main event, a hike in Red Canyon near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Clark and Lewis enjoying a picnic at the Shingle Creek Rest Area.

Red Canyon, almost as beautiful as Bryce Canyon NP but not nearly as crowded.

View from the Red Canyon parking lot!

We go into the visitor’s center and talk to a nice young female ranger. She asks what we are thinking of doing. We say the Golden Wall/Buckhorn loop. She says that is a superior hike and suggests we throw in the Castle Bridge section. I ask about elevation change. She says about 500 feet. She does mention that the hike is about 5 miles. But, no problem, we think. We did the hike up Pleasanton ridge last week and that was about 5 miles with more elevation gain. She does warn us about a spur on the Buckhorn trail which is not for the faint of heart as it’s on the spine of a ridge. Again, no problem, we will just avoid the spur. And so we head out.

A nice tourist takes our picture before we hit the trail.

Luckily we run into zero bears.

The trail starts out slightly uphill but not bad. We make the turn onto the Castle Bridge trail. The brochure is warning of steep uphills. It is very uphill on loose rock but the scenery is beautiful.

Starting up the Castle Bridge Trail

Whew, at the top of the Castle Bridge Trail

Old man and the tree

Looks like Easter Island

Finally we reconnect with the Golden Wall Trail. The hoodoos along this trail are fantastic. We name them various things. Strangely, though, we are headed up again. We thought we had already done our 500 feet of gain. As it turns out 500 feet of elevation change is all there is, except that you do it three times. The second time takes us to a spine with steep dropoffs on either side. But this is not the one she warned us about. John inches me along, holding my hand and telling me just to look at his feet.

Window along the Golden Wall trail

Climbing back up

Hoodoo wall with caprock

Seated camel

Looks like a poodle to me

Mary hiking past the "ark"

Balanced rock

Looking back at the ark. Note elevation change.

Our hike, which I imagined would take about 2 1/2 hours, has now taken three hours and there is no end in sight. I am getting fatigued and worried that we missed something. But there are no other trails here so we must be on the right one. I would turn back if I didn’t have to go over that spine again. Finally we ascend (again) to the junction of the Golden Wall and the Buckhorn Trail. This is where the infamous scary spur is. We must avoid it. So we go the way the sign points. It appears to be the only way the trail goes. Long story, short, we end up going across the scary spine and then have to turn around and go back. I am seeing a lot of John’s feet. The worst part about this is we are so tired now that our legs are starting to shake and our water is running out.

Sign of doom

Trail of doom

And then the bad news. The sign says Trail End

Well, obviously I am writing this so we did manage to cross back and then descend the 500 feet again into a campground where we meet a nice couple from Prescott, AZ who have seen us hike down from the ridge from their campsite. We must have looked like hell because they were very concerned about our ability to hike the rest of the way back to the visitor’s center where we had parked our car. We got our water refilled and went the last half mile collapsing into the car at the end.

"We can make it. Just put one foot ahead of the other."

Maybe we should put this on the list of stupid things we have done. If we had been younger, this whole hike would have been no problem. Boy, are we going to hurt tomorrow.

Maybe we should do more of this?

July 12, 2011 Tonopah, NV to St. George, UT

We get up early hoping to beat the Extraterrestrial Highway rush hour. But before I discuss the ET highway (NV375), I have some amends to make. In the bright light of morning, it is obvious that Tonopah is actually trying to improve. There is some public sculpture and according to the internet (where everything is true), the Clines of Cline Cellars are renovating the Mizpah Hotel and are planning on opening at the end of August. It is supposedly being renovated to its former glory circa 1905. We will definitely stay there the next time we are through Tonopah.

Statue of Big Bill Murphy, hero, who died saving miners in the Tonopah Belmont Mine fire that killed seventeen men, Feb. 23, 1911.

VFW post statue, Tonopah, NV

The Mizpah Hotel, downtown Tonopah

Last night while poking around the internet I found a reference to Lunar Crater near Tonopah. It’s a National Natural Landmark and set in a landscape of cinder cones. The crater itself was made by a subterranean explosion of water. It’s 470 feet deep. The info says that it is located down a dirt road well-marked by a BLM sign and about 75 miles east of Tonopah. Well, that’s sort of in the direction we are going so we decide to make the detour to see the site. After what seems like driving way too far east on US 6, we opt for a dirt road running off to the south. There’s no BLM sign but it appears that there was some sort of sign and we decide that someone must have ripped it off. As it turns out, this is not the correct road but we do actually find the Lunar Crater by chance. The wind is really blowing, there is not another soul in sight, and the whole landscape is rather other-worldly.

The road more traveled than the one we took

At the lunar crater with Clark and Lewis

The Lunar Crater outside of Tonopah, NV

Cinder cone near the Lunar Crater

Now that we’ve made this big detour, we attempt to find the Extra Terrestrial Highway by cutting across the barren landscape on dirt roads. After a few attempts down different dirt roads that dead end, in a moment of lucid thought, we turn around and go back to US 6, head west and get back on course. Now we head south on NV 375. It’s always fun to drive the ET Highway. You can go really fast except if a cow happens to wander across the road.

How now brown cow?

Our next stop is at the Little Al-e-inn in Rachel, NV. The theme here is all about aliens as Rachel borders Area 51. We stop for a soda and enjoy the right-wing memorabilia.

Clark and Lewis at the Little Al-e-inn

Mary and Area 51 mural

Dollar ceiling at the Little Al-e-inn

Apparently not liberals

The rest of our journey is pretty uneventful. We stop for a picnic in Caliente, NV and arrive in St. George late in the afternoon. We are chilling here a few days. We need to check on the house, eat some of our minimum at the club and play tennis. It is unseasonably cool here, only in the upper 90’s. Nonetheless, if we are going to do anything outside we need to get it done by 10 AM.

We leave Friday for Bryce Canyon National Park and all points east.

July 11, 2011 Pleasanton to Tonopah, NV

After all the hype of pre-trips and minus one day until the trip, the actual trip cross-country started today. And only 15 minutes late! Our first stop is at the McDonald’s in Manteca for some breakfast fuel. Since I am on a diet, we have to be very particular about what we eat. An Egg McMuffin, no cheese, is a good way to start the day. We’ve brought along our friends Clark and Lewis for breakfast as well.

Clark and Lewis breakfast at McDonald's

Then it’s back in the car and some slogging through Escalon and Oakdale as we encounter every large truck or pickup towing a boat on CA 120. But finally we break free in the beautiful Sierra foothills and get out for a stretch at an overlook of the Don Pedro Reservoir. It has much more water in it than in previous trips.

Don Pedro Reservoir

I actually think I am getting much braver about being on the edge of cliffs because I don’t think I even shut my eyes once on Old Priest Grade. Once we are through the old Western town of Groveland where you expect gunslingers to be trodding down the wooden sidewalks, it’s clear sailing to Yosemite National Park.

Groveland, CA

Of course we have to pose beside the welcome to Yosemite National Park sign. Clark and Lewis get into the act as well. They are doing a controlled burn right at the entrance to the park so we are in and out of the smoke as quickly as possible.

Welcome to Yosemite!

Our next stop is at Olmstead Point where there is a spectacular view of Half-Dome. We ask another tourist to take our picture. Then we take a picture of a German tourist and his daughter. It seems that many of the tourists there are Germans. John finds out that he is from Frankfurt. When we tell him that we are going to Frankfurt next year he seems pleased.


The happy couple

The scenery in Yosemite is magnificent. John and I have an interesting discussion about granite domes and magma. Next we stop for a picnic lunch by Tenaya Lake. There are Germans in the water! There is still snow on the ground here. It must be freezing in the water.

John at lunch with snow in the background.

Mary at lunch with Tenaya Lake in the background.

Exiting the park, we take a break at the Whoa, Nellie, Deli in Lee Vining. They have very special prices for gas there. I glad we filled up in Manteca!

The only gas for miles

Right up the road from Lee Vining is Mono Lake with its strange tufa towers. The water table has been lowered by the water needs of Los Angeles and left these formations exposed. We’ve been there before so decide to continue on to Tonopah.

Mono Lake

We’ve also been to Tonopah before. We know that it is a dreary looking place with no place decent to eat. Planning ahead, we froze two portions of shrimp creole and brown rice and brought it along. There’s a microwave in the room and we are set for the evening. On to St. George, UT tomorrow!

Mining Park at Tonopah, NV