Monday, April 14, 2014

The long journey ends

Ottawa, ON – Home at last! It’s hard to believe our long, long trip has brought us full circle after all these weeks, back to our lovely home. And to top it off, despite forecasted rain for today, we didn’t encounter one drop until we were in the house, having trundled all the stuff out of the RV in the dry. Only then did the clouds open to gently wash the dust off our well-traveled vehicles.

We got another early start today, but a bit of confusion about getting on to the interstate (even with the GPS) took us through some of the Rochester neighbourhoods that weren’t on the intended route. All my fault for thinking we were heading east when in fact the opposite was true. But the houses and streets were charming, and our good spirits about heading home, when we finally got turned around, made light of the error. And we only lost about 20 minutes.

On the I-90, eastbound at last, we made good time toward Syracuse and then northward on the I-81. There were quite a few vineyards along the highway in the region called the Finger Lakes – just a few miles due south of the Niagara peninsula where Canadian grapevines flourish every year. We also passed many more large farms.

Once we made the turn from east to north, we caught glimpses of snow in small patches in the bush. There were also lots of wetlands, full of migrating birds. Many of them were Canada geese, but we also saw plenty of ducks and, once, a graceful blue heron.

We had all our paperwork organized and ready for the border crossing, and in no time we had crossed the US bridge and were driving up to the kiosk to re-enter our home and native land. We were not the only snowbirds returning home with trailers and motorhomes, but when our turn came, the border agent asked only a few quick questions and we were on our way to the 401, with signs reminding us that the speed limit was in kilometers per hour, not miles.

From the bridge, we’d seen the St Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands region floating with great chunks of ice, and there was more white stuff in the bush that we didn’t want to admit was there. It must have diminished considerably today, because it was a balmy 24 degrees Celsius and there was quite a wind blowing.

When we got past Brockville and turned toward Ottawa on Highway 416, we began to see the evidence of flooding we’d read about in news articles on the internet. Creeks and streams we passed were rushing torrents, and the water went well beyond the normal banks, soaking the ground among the trees and in farmers’ fields. Some fields looked more like lakes than meadows. And enjoying the wetlands were literally thousands of Canada geese!

Finally we pulled into our neigh-bourhood and onto our street. All those miles, across states, rivers, mountains, deserts, mesas, and valleys, and all the terrific adventures we’d had and sights we’d seen were now memories. We hope you enjoyed sharing the adventure with us. It’s been wonderful, and it’s also wonderful to be home once again.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

State of anticipation

Victor, NY – This is our last night on the road. It’s hard to believe that our jour-ney’s end is only a day away!  We’re now in a town on the outskirts of Rochester, just off Interstate 90. We started out this morning in Ohio, after a lovely breakfast buffet at the hotel. It was especially nice as we ate with real dishes and cutlery, instead of the Styrofoam bowls and plastic spoons that we’ve had at other hotels.

We were blessed with another clear, sunny day that only improved as we traveled on. About an hour into the trip, we crossed the state line into Pennsylvania.  There’s a small panhandle of that state, around 50 miles across, that has enjoyed access to Lake Erie from the earliest days of its history. It was a strategic point during the War of 1812, but today it’s a vacation destination with lots of parks, campgrounds and recreational facilities.

Although the lake was clearly marked in blue on the small screen of our GPS, quite near the purple line of the highway we were traveling, we were not able to see it out the window. There were too many trees between us and the lake, but further on we did finally catch sight of it. At first I thought there was a lot of foam on the water, but then we realized it must be chunks of unmelted ice! We had heard that the deep cold of this past winter had caused even the large bodies of water on the Great Lakes to freeze more than they had in years, so it will likely take more than today’s warmth to melt it all.

We exited at the first rest stop in Pennsylvania to pick up a map and some literature about the state. We did the same once we got into New York, where we also fueled up and went in search of refreshments. The food court building was actually on the westbound side of the interstate, and we crossed a breezeway over the highway, looking down on the trucks and cars whizzing past below, to get to it.

We could hear some live piano music when we got to the other side, and discovered a grand piano in the middle of the food court that was playing itself! A Plexiglas cover kept amateur musicians from attempting to try their hand on the piano keys. The music was great, and so were the tulips and Easter decorations on the piano.

The greatest portion of our trip today was on a toll highway, which again left something to be desired in terms of road quality. Still, it was four lanes with limited access, and lightly traveled, so that made it easy on Val at the wheel.

At the rest stops in these parts, there are coupon books with discounts for area hotels and restaurants, and we made use of these for our last couple of hotel stays. The coupons usually apply for walk-ins only, so we can’t reserve a room, but we call ahead and ask if there would be room if we were to arrive the next day. They are glad to tell us, and to assure us that there would be room for the RV and car in their parking lot as well.

At the hotel here in Victor, our window overlooks the parking lot so we can keep an eye on our vehicles. It’s also nice to see a Canadian flag flapping in the breeze!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On the shores of a great lake

Mentor, OH – We are staying in a very plea-sant hotel on the east side of Cleveland tonight, just a few miles from Lake Erie. It’s been a beautiful spring day, with the temperature hitting the low 70s under a bright blue sky.

Our closeness to home has prompted us to waken early and get on the road by eight o’clock, but we are not overdoing it; we try to keep our total distance to around 250 miles in a day so our esteemed driver can get the rest he needs to be alert on the highways and byways.

On this leg, there haven’t been any byways. We’ve stuck to Interstate 80/90 all day, starting in Illinois and crossing into Ohio after about 70 miles. In both states, we were required to pay tolls for the privilege of navigating great cracks and potholes along the concrete surface that rattled every dish in our cupboards, and our bones as well. At least in Ohio there was some road work in progress that made us think our money was going to a good cause.

In the early part of the day we passed through Amish and Mennonite country, where a major industry is the construction of motorhomes and travel trailers of all sizes and descriptions.  We were amazed at the acres of land filled with row upon row of trailers ready for market. In addition to holiday vehicles, there were horse and utility trailers, plus houseboats, which are really trailers on pontoons. There was all manner of support industry as well – factories where plastics, metal components and wood materials were supplied for the RVs.

This region is also devoted to agriculture in a big way. Hundreds of acres by the highway stood ready for spring planting, and in some places the first green shoots were poking up in tidy rows.  We also passed some fields billowing with smoke as farmers burned off the dry grass.

We saw some of the outskirts of Toledo on our way, and felt the presence of Lake Erie not far to the north, although we never got to a place where we could see it.

When lunch-time rolled around, we found a travel plaza along the toll road with a Pa-nera Bread restaurant – a favourite spot of ours from our trip to Florida. We enjoyed delicious soup and a sandwich. On the way back to the RV I had to smile to see our little rig squeezed between enormous tractor trailers, rumbling away in the parking lot.

As we approached Cleveland, the Interstate 80/90 split apart, with the 80 heading southeast and the 90 northeast into the city, following the contour of Lake Erie’s shore. We caught glimpses of the city’s skyscrapers in the downtown and then, finally, a blue-green streak of water, the great Lake Erie. It was great to know Canada was on the other side!

Our hotel tonight has a charming older section at the front to which the newer part of the building is attached. Just off the lobby is a dining room where we had a gourmet dinner while entertained by a live musician. A very pleasant way to end the day.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Across two states, around the world

South Bend, IN – The day was so lovely today, it was al-most a shame to be inside the RV instead of out in the fresh air! But we had miles to go before we slept, and if you read some of the place names we passed, you’d think we’d been globe trotting instead of state hopping.

We headed south on Interstate 74 out of Davenport this morning, crossing the Mississippi River not long after our departure, and joining Interstate 80 heading east. In no time we had left Iowa behind and were traveling through Illinois in the direction of Chicago.

The interstate at this point is a toll highway, and you might think that for that reason the road might be a bit less traveled and in better shape, but the opposite was the case. There were lots of uneven spots that made all our dishes jump when we passed over them, and as we got closer to the big industrial hub of Chicago, the number of semi trucks increased considerably. (See today’s ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos!)

Here are some of the place names we read on highway signs today: Princeton, Peru, Mar-seilles, Ottawa, Norway, Lisbon, Manhattan, Joliet, Frankfort (OK, not Frankfurt, but still!). I’m sure there are interesting reasons for these place names that probably have to do with the original locations. I do know that the first settlers after the aboriginal people in South Bend were French fur traders, which explains names like the Des Plaines River and others.

We managed to get past the large metropolitan spread around Chicago without much difficulty. The toll highway, unlike normal interstates, had travel plazas beside the highway where one could stop for food and fuel. This kept travelers from leaving the toll corridor and heading off at exit ramps to get meals or fuel, as they do on regular interstate highways. We stopped at one for lunch and to fuel up.

There was a McDonald’s there, so I asked for their basic hamburger, not wanting extra sauces and calories. When our order came and we went to sit down, I realized the cashier must have thought I said “bacon hamburger” instead of “basic hamburger”! Oh well, those extra calories and the bacon were pretty good. I let them go to “waist” instead of to “waste”, where I know they would have tossed the meal if I’d returned it.

After lunch we drove around to the fuel station. I gave the cashier a $100 and said I wanted to prepay $60 on pump number 13. She gave me a receipt but no change.  Turns out she thought I said we wanted $100 worth of fuel! I began to wonder if I had become inarticulate in my old age!

South Bend is the home of Notre Dame University, which is very near our hotel, and it was here that Henry Studebaker started selling wagons, before advancing to automobiles. His factory was a major employer until it closed in 1963. As the halfway point between Detroit and Chicago, South Bend was an important industrial hub in the early years, but now it is less so. Today, the university is the main employer.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Barns, silos and rich furrows

Davenport, IA – We’ve traced a diagonal line today from the centre of the northern state line with Minne-sota in Forest City to the centre of the eastern state line, next door to Illinois. It has been a balmy day, in the high sixties, with a bit of cloud cover but no rain.

What we have had, though, was a stiff and steady crosswind along Interstate 80 that kept Val busy at the wheel. Not only did he have to keep the RV and car from being nudged to the right side all the way, but he also had to manage the rush of air every time a semi truck went by, which was often on this well-traveled interstate corridor.

The geography along the greatest part of our route today has been rolling hills and large tracts of agricultural land. I love seeing the farm homesteads at the edges of the fields, ringed with trees planted as windbreaks, where a cosy house stands next to a big barn and tall silo, and a pickup truck sits in the driveway. Sometimes you can see chickens strutting around, or a horse or two, and in the yard there’s a child’s bicycle or swing set.  It looks so peaceful and wholesome, and evokes 1950s TV show feelings where mother is baking pies in the kitchen and Lassie romps on the lawn with a tousle-haired boy in denim overalls.

In all likelihood, Mom is at the office and the kid is playing video games, but that’s another story.

We passed through Cedar Falls first, and then Cedar Rapids a bit later on. The latter was a large indus-trial centre with a big Quaker Oats factory, among others, and multiple railroad lines passing through. Shortly after passing through Iowa City, we saw the signs for the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in a town called West Branch. It might have been interesting to stop there and compare it to the Eisenhower Presidential Library we’d seen in Abilene, but we recalled our frequent mantra: you can’t see everything.

We’re now settled in our hotel in Davenport, and were pleased to find a Red Lobster restaurant right next door where we enjoyed a nice seafood dinner.  I looked up some Davenport trivia and learned that this is where the first chiropractic adjustment was ever done; Palmer Chiropractic College was established here in 1867. There is a three-part railroad bridge here that sees about a dozen crashes every year by semi trucks. The trucks, apparently, are usually pretty badly wrecked, but the bridges seldom incur much damage at all.

The town is vulnerable to flooding from the Mississippi River, which we will be crossing tomorrow on our way out, but town planners did not want to obscure the river’s beauty with levees or dykes. Instead, there are ordinances for building construction to ensure minimal damage by floods. The flooding issue makes quite a contrast to the drought problems in states we’ve visited in recent weeks. Unlike the southwest, around here are plenty of ponds and lakes, and the soil looks dark and rich with moisture.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The waiting game

Forest City, IA – There was no rush to get going this mor-ning. We had no-where to go.  The RV was at the dealer, we’d taken our tour yesterday, so all there was to do was wait for the work to be done. Having time on our hands is a bit of an adjustment, but we had some amusements to help pass the time.

To avoid cabin fever, we ventured outside for a walk around the grounds. It was quite mild but a fairly stiff wind was blowing. We strolled down to the golf course and headed along the paved path next to the Winnebago River.  Several large Canada geese were strutting on the green across the river, while two of their compatriots paddled along in the water, honking loudly.

We were so absorbed in the goose conver-sation that we didn’t hear a golf cart come up behind us. After we got out of their way, the two golfers stopped and planted tees on the riverbank. Thwack! Their balls flew over the river to the green on the other side and the geese high-tailed it to another part of the grass. I don’t know how golfers can possibly see where those tiny white orbs end up, but the pair hopped back in their cart and headed on to the small bridge that would take them to the other side.

Since lunchtime was approaching, we drove down the road to the grocery store and picked up a couple of sandwiches to bring back to the room. There were movies to watch on TV, and I had a crossword puzzle to work on and my book to read. We indulged in a nap. We looked at our watches. We looked at our watches again. 

Finally, the service department called to say the work was progressing, and that the RV would be ready by five o’clock.  Shortly before that, we stopped by to say hello to Casey, the sales rep who had sold us the RV in 2011.  She’s the sales manager now and was delighted to see us.  It was great to chat with her again and tell her how much we were enjoying our RV.

Off we went to the service department, where we got a full report of the work that was done and paid our bill. It was great to have the small repair jobs done and to know everything was in good order. We stopped to fuel up the motorhome, brought it back to the hotel and hitched up the car, so now we’re all set to hit the road again.  We hope we’ll have as beautiful a traveling day tomorrow as we had today.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Irving's fifty years

Forest City, IA – Even though we took the tour of the Winnebago factory twice before, we were still interested in doing it again.  So we boarded the tour bus at the Winnebago Visitor Center and headed in to the large campus of factory buildings this morning for another look.

The factory has been one of Forest City’s largest employers for decades, and even when fortunes dipped during leaner years, the management figured out ways to keep it going by diversifying its products. We learned today that the aluminum billets stacked next to the metalwork building are not only formed into parts for Winnebago motorhomes, but a full sixty per cent of their output goes to outside clients.

Winnebago also builds portable libraries, emergency vehicles, mobile medical and dental units and even police paddy wagons alongside its motorhomes and trailers. But its greatest product is the huge and varied line of holiday vehicles that roll out of the factory every day and onto highways across the continent. The dedication to quality is evident at every step along the way.

Another thing that was evident was the upbeat feeling among the workers.  In the Stitchcraft building, where all the fabric and upholstered products are made, employees sit at sewing machines, or at cutting tables, or where the covers go on the cushions, and around them are pictures of their kids, a shelf full of paperback books for swapping, and banter about the stuff of life.

Our tour guide, Wray, told us that some employees have been on staff since the earliest years of the company.  He pointed out Irving, in his plaid shirt, on the far side of the factory where they were assembling coaches on top of the chassis, and told us he was the company’s most senior employee. He’s been with Winnebago for fifty years!

It was just as fascinating today to see the whole process as it was the first time. We saw sparks fly at the welding station, we smelled fresh sawdust where they were installing the thick plywood floors, and glue where they laid down the vinyl flooring. We heard the alarm bells whenever the robotic carrying mechanism took one part along cables to the next step of the assembly line, and the loud hissing sound of the intense water stream that is used to cut carpet, vinyl and other pieces.

Seeing all the steps that go into building a motorhome like the one we’ve been using for the last two and half years was reassuring. We’ve never had a moment’s concern about the solidity of our unit. We left it this afternoon with the dealer, a mile away from the factory, where we bought it, so they can check it over and do a couple of small repairs. Our appointment was for tomorrow morning, but they were able to take it this afternoon and get an early start on it.

It was nice to have some free time to re-lax, read a book, have a nap, and en-joy our beautiful sur-roundings.  The hotel is next to a park area and golf course and even though it’s not as attractive as it will be when the grass greens up and flowers bloom, it’s still nice to look out our window at the trees and hear robins and cardinals chirping away. We’ve also enjoyed our meals out, chatting with the people of Forest City.  It has a nice small town feel.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Myron and Byron

Forest City, IA – It’s almost a giddy feeling having so much space to move around in, here at the Knights Inn Lodge in Forest City.  After three months in our compact little motor home, we have a two-room suite, and we can actually not see each other for several minutes at a time!

When we pulled away this morning, we headed north on Interstate 35 toward the Iowa state line, passing several construction crews at work. Most of the time this just meant we had to squeeze from two lanes to one for a certain distance, but at one point we actually had to make a detour along a secondary highway for several miles.

It was rather pleasant driving through small villages and past farms. At one intersection we saw a black carriage hitched to a frisky black horse and driven by an Amish girl, dressed in a long black skirt, cape and black bonnet.  She looked a bit stressed, trying to keep the horse under control as a large semi truck roared past along a road that doesn’t normally see vehicles that big.

By the time our detour got us back to the Interstate, we’d crossed the state line into Iowa. We were a bit anxious that we might have missed the state visitor center, but luckily we hadn’t. Inside, we found a state map and other good information, and struck up a conversation at the desk with Myron, who is a retired truck driver born and bred in Iowa.  It was interesting to hear him speak passionately about his state’s natural beauty.

On Myron’s computer screen was an online live video of an eagle’s nest. He said he’d been watching it all morning, waiting for the mother eagle to get up so he could see the babies, and just as he said it, mama eagle did just that.  It was delightful to see two fuzzy, wobbly eaglets and their shell-clad sibling as yet unhatched.  She tenderly ripped tiny bits of flesh from a fish that papa eagle had delivered to the nest and fed them to the hungry chicks.

Smoke was billowing into the sky across the way from the visitor center when we stepped outside after saying goodbye to Myron. A farmer was burning the dry grass from his field and we were close enough to see the orange flames eating away at the stubble. At least in this area, the land is not tinder-dry, so this practice is not as dangerous as it is in the drought-ridden areas where we’ve been.

As we approached Forest City, we passed a huge wind farm with dozens of enormous turbines spread over several acres. Val pulled over and got out of the RV so he could listen to the windmills; he’d heard people complain about their noise and wanted to find out what they were talking about. To us, there didn’t seem to be much noise at all, but they sure looked big up close.

We’re staying at the same inn we stayed at in 2011 when we flew down here to pick up our new RV.  The Winnebago factory where it was made is across the highway, and the dealer just down the road, so it’s a convenient spot. Byron, the owner, found our particulars in the computer database and welcomed us back. We’re looking forward to having a couple of small repairs done to the RV before we move on.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Making the transition

Cameron, MO – Before we set out this morning we had a new set of jobs to finish. The likelihood of freezing temperatures overnight – and even by day – is stronger every mile we travel now, so it was time to winterize the RV and stay in hotels.

The four gallon jugs of pink, non-toxic RV antifreeze had to be pumped through all the pipes and faucets and poured into the tanks, so while Val operated the pump, I was holding the syphon hose in one pink jug, watching the fluid level drain away, and switching to a new one as it emptied.  Then, off we went for one last visit to the dumping station to drain the black and grey water tanks, and, when that was done, Val poured the last of the pink fluid down the drain to finish the job.

We did all this early this morning, because we’d found an Episcopal church in Junction City, 15 miles from our RV park and en route to our destination, where we could attend the 10 o’clock service. The Church of the Covenant was built in 1859, and was the first church in Kansas before Kansas was even a state.  One of its pastors, when on his deathbed, was asked by a Presbyterian friend what message he’d like to leave his congregation, and he said “Tell them to stand up for Jesus.” His words inspired the well-known hymn “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”.

What a warm welcome we received from everyone there! At coffee hour, Lillian, a lovely lady of 95, came over to greet us because she didn’t want us to think they weren’t friendly! It was a nice start to our day, and before long we were on the road, heading eastward on Interstate 70.

It was hard to drive past the sign for the Oz Museum in Wamego, KS – the travel literature says it’s full of memorabilia from the Wizard of Oz movie – but we couldn’t see everything! Shortly after, we entered the Flint Hills sector of eastern Kansas, where the terrain changed from mostly flat to a geography of hills and valleys.

When we arrived at the outskirts of Kansas City, KS, we took the ring road around the city, crossing first the Kansas River, and then the state line into Kansas City, MO as we crossed the Missouri River. I just had to quote that great Oz line to Val, “we’re not in Kansas any more!”, just to see his eyes roll one more time!

Once we got past the Kansas Cities, we headed north on Interstate 35 to Cameron and found our motel, relieved that there was space in the parking lot for the RV and car without having to unhitch. As we pulled in, I saw Ontario licence plates on another vehicle parked by the office, and the owners were just coming out, so I said “where are you from?” Thunder Bay was the reply, and later, in the restaurant next to the motel, we saw the couple again.

Brian and Norma joined us in our booth after they finished their meal, and thus began a lovely evening’s conversation about travel, retirement, being snowbirds and all the stories of our respective adventures. It was a treat to make their acquaintance and wish them well on their journey.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Greatness from America's heartland

Abilene, KS – Today has been a grand day, both weather-wise and for what we’ve seen in this charming little town.  Hometown hospitality greeted us first thing at the Visitor Center, where fresh coffee and cookies were set out – and the cookies were Mamie Eisenhower’s own recipe.

The Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home of Dwight D. Eisenhower covers a 22-acre plot of land. This particular president has personal significance for me. As a third-grader in Washington, DC during his presidency, I and my classmates applied our handwriting skills to a birthday message for him. My letter was chosen to be mailed to the White House, and a few days later I received a card, engraved with the presidential seal and a message of thanks, signed by Eisenhower. The card is still somewhere in my memorabilia of those ancient times!

America’s 34th president had humble beginnings as one of six sons (a seventh died in infancy) to Ida and David, who bought the white wooden house and spacious lot from David’s brother. They came here when Dwight was 10 months old, so he always felt Abilene was home. “Ike”, as he came to be known, took military training that served him well during the war years, when he rose to the rank of five-star General and commander of the allied troops.

The museum on the grounds displayed large paintings in the lobby depicting Ike’s life from infancy to presidency. Inside, we followed a detailed chronology of the Second World War, plus extensive descriptions of all the events of that period. Great blocks of text were a bit daunting for a visit limited to one day, but displays of personal items, such as sewing kits, dog tags, and letters to sweethearts back home really gave a human connection to the sweeping events of those terrible years.

We hadn’t finished seeing everything before our stomachs caved in, so we took a lunch break at a lovely Chinese buffet restaurant down the street. We then returned to complete the final displays about Eisenhower’s presidential years, Mamie’s exhibits, and cases of medals and gifts Ike received. These included three be-jeweled ceremonial swords and countless badges of honour. It was a terrific museum which clearly merited repeated visits to really appreciate it fully.

We could have spent much more time on the grounds, but we wanted to see another attraction in town, so our stops at the Presidential Library and Place of Meditation, where Ike, Mamie and their only son Doud are buried, had to be brief.

The Seelye Mansion, a few blocks to the north, was our se-cond desti-nation. This beautiful Georgian home, built in 1905, features original light fixtures by Thomas Edison, and many pieces of furniture and household items purchased at the St Louis World’s Fair of 1904 for the house. Most unusual of all is the fact that our tour guide, Terry Tietjens, owns and lives in the house which he has painstakingly preserved and restored. He’s a senior citizen with amazing energy and devotion to promoting the history of his home town, and the house, despite its age, felt alive and fresh. We were fascinated!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Prettiest town you've ever seen

Abilene, KS – There’s an old  pop song about Abilene with the line on today’s title plus “where the girls are never mean” – Val’s been humming it today for some reason. We looked up the name of this small town on Interstate 70, west of Salina (rhymes with Spadina) and east of Topeka. Apparently the wife of a town founder chose the name from Luke 3:1, where several biblical cities are named. It means “city on the plain”.

We got a glimpse of Wichita as we headed further east on the highway near our RV park, and turned north onto Interstate 235 and then I-135. (There’s a song about it too – “The Wichita Lineman”—that was playing in my brain yesterday.) Our direction was mainly northward, across more of the wide, fertile fields of Kansas and under a big sky.  At first it was bright and sunny, but high clouds drifted in after an hour or so. 

More wagon train tracks were noted on the map north of McPherson, and I had my camera ready to snap any that came into view. However, there were so many other tracks – made by tractors or dune buggies, or stripes between harvested corn rows – that I was unable to figure out where these historic traces might have been, and no signage was visible to help me in my search.

Our route crossed the Arkansas River once again today, and I was amazed to see how full and broad it was, compared to the muddy ditch we’d seen yesterday.  It demonstrates the retentive activities of communities along the river that prevent the water’s flow from reaching towns downstream.

As we approached Abilene, Val said he wanted to fuel up the RV before settling at our park. He likes to start out with a full tank after each stay. I suggested we take an exit off the Interstate before the one indicated for the park to increase our chances of finding a gas station that provided diesel fuel, but he said he’d just take what came at the appointed exit.  I had to smile when I saw that the RV park office was actually inside the building of a Shell gas station that carried diesel fuel!  Lucky once again!

It was a short travel day today – we arrived in time for lunch – so once we were settled we detached the car for a look around Abilene.  Its main claim to fame is that it’s President Eisenhower’s home town, and there is a Presidential Library here as well as Eisenhower’s boyhood home.  The main street through town has some beautiful large homes, some decorated with gingerbread trim, turrets and verandahs. Even down the secondary streets, the houses are generously spaced apart, and many have porches with swings or wicker chairs on them.  There’s a small-town, unrushed feel there that was very pleasant.

Now that we’ve scouted out the main attractions, we’re set for our sightseeing outing tomorrow.  Back at the RV, we pulled out the barbeque and Val prepared a nice steak for our supper. We will only have a couple more nights in the motorhome before it will be too cold for camping, and we’ll have to stay in hotels, so this was a treat to savour.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Getting out of Dodge

Wichita, KS – I couldn’t resist saying to Val as we headed out this morning “Let’s get the heck out of Dodge!” while he rolled his eyes and groaned. When else could it possibly be more appropri-ate? So, we drove down Wyatt Earp Boulevard one last time, past Boot Hill and the statue of a longhorn cow, past the enormous grain elevators and meat processing plants, and out into the country.

More huge feed lots, peppered with cattle in their pens, covered the hillside by the highway as we approached and passed the site of Fort Dodge, which we’d tried to see yesterday. The day was cool and overcast, and a fine misty rain splattered on the windshield.  When we filled up with fuel I remarked to the cashier how chilly and wet it was, and she said she wished it would rain harder. All around here they’ve been enduring a prolonged drought.

The Arkansas River, that runs south of Dodge, was a welcome watering hole for the Texan longhorns when they were driven here in the 1860s, and finding a safe spot to cross it was a challenge, but when we drove over it today, all I saw was a muddy ditch with a few puddles. Our hosts at the RV park told us they were dreading the day they’d be ordered not to fill the swimming pool that is such a draw for summer guests, though that hasn’t happened yet.  But water shortages weigh heavily on people’s minds in so much of the southwest.

Our route took us along Highway 400, and Val kept an eye on his altitude watch as the numbers descended from the 3000s to the 2000s of feet above sea level.  The predominantly flat terrain began to undulate after a few miles, and the flat, yellow fields stretching to the horizon became green in places, some due to irrigation but some apparently thanks to Mother Nature.  More clusters of trees also came into view, and streams that were actually flowing, as well as a few ponds.

We passed through a few small towns, with lots of estab-lishments catering to the agricul-tural sector. At one cross-roads, our eyes popped at a lengthy array of wrought iron signposts with whimsical silhouettes of dancing figures, railway crossing signs and other curios, lined up along the perimeter of someone’s property.

In Greensburg there were large signs inviting visitors to see the “World’s Largest Hand Dug Well”, just three blocks from the highway, but we weren’t intrigued enough to alter our route.  It made me think of the Prairie Dog Town signs leading in to Oakley a couple of days ago, and how exaggerated their claims had been!

After supper we checked out the weather forecast for the next day or two.  The local stations are very thorough with their analyses of high and low-pressure areas, winds and temperatures, in a land where tornadoes are a distinct possibility.  In one of the towns we passed through, we saw a big sign that said “Storm Shelter”, with a large arrow pointing to a low, concrete bunker with very solid doors.  We will be ensuring that conditions are favourable for travel before we set out on the highways around these parts. So far, so good.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Where money grows on trees

Dodge City, KS – Some days, it’s really clear to us that we are traveling in the off season. Most of the time, it means we can see things with relatively small crowds and sometimes even get a private tour. On other occasions, like today, we were on our own.

We drove out to the east end of Dodge City to see the original site of Fort Dodge, the first settlement here established in the late 1860s to protect the military and pioneers from hostile natives. We arrived at the site and turned in, following a sign for the Visitor Information building. The fort area encompassed several buildings, some of which appeared to be fairly old and others, houses really, that were much more recent.

We drove slowly through the whole compound, looking for the Visitor Information building without success.  We spotted the museum and library building and turned in, but a sign on the door indicated its open hours – Monday, Tuesday and Friday. Not today.

Finally, near the entrance, I went in to the general store and cafĂ© to ask where we were supposed to go. There were a few round tables with chairs, one customer drinking coffee, and some kitchen staff behind the counter.  One of the ladies greeted me and showed me a rack with tourist brochures, and pointed out a building down the street we had already checked out that she said was the Visitor Information building. It was devoid of any sign and didn’t appear to be open either!

We did see some old sandstone buildings that used to be barracks and a command center, but the main activity on the grounds now is a small veterans’ hospital, the modern version of the Old Soldiers’ Home that Fort Dodge became when its primary role ended.

As we headed back in to town, we wanted to find a Dodge City coffee mug to add to our collection. There were some Boot Hill Museum mugs at the gift shop there yesterday, but we wanted one with Dodge City on it. In a town where large hotels have been built to house the many visitors who come every year, you’d think even at this time of year there might be one or two nice mugs around. Not so much. After four stops, we gave up, remembering that the RV park office had some souvenirs we could check out.

Before heading back to the park, we stopped at the Lucky Liquor Store to pick up a bottle of wine. In a number of states we’ve visited, wine is available at the grocery store, but not in Utah or Kansas. As Val made the purchase, I spotted an adorable little tree at the cash with wire and pompoms and flowers made out of pleated dollar bills! Not everywhere does one see money growing on trees. So I took a picture to share.

Anyone looking for cowboy-themed items would love the collec-tion at Gunsmoke RV Trav-L-Park! They had cowboy statuettes, ceramic horse heads, purses that looked like saddles, figurines shaped like striking rattlesnakes and yes, coffee mugs with “Dodge City” on them. So a day with a few frustrations ended in success.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tracks of grass, roads of brick

Dodge City, KS – Standing on a hilltop just west of town, Val and I gazed on traces across the grass that were left by the wooden wheels of wagon trains more than 180 years ago.  The trail ruts developed over a period of 60 years as soldiers and settlers trekked from the east to new lands. This particular trail, the Santa Fe Trail, originated in Missouri and ended in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we learned that, most of the time, the wagons traveled up to four abreast in part so the drivers could form a circle quickly if they should come under attack.

Attack was a definite possibility as wave upon wave of white people swarmed across what had been exclusively native territory up to that time. When people found out that a buffalo hide was worth good money, they hunted the animals into near extinction and destroyed the livelihood of the native tribes.

The teeming natural life in this prairie region – game, birds, fish – also faded away as more and more settlers arrived.  The railway that came to Dodge City made the town a go-to location for cattle drivers from Texas who rode the range with their herds to this place so they could be shipped to cities in the east.  Though the longhorn cow no longer grazes its way from San Antonio to Dodge, some 11,000 beef cattle per day are processed here now to supply grocery stores and restaurants across the country.

Dodge City tells the stories of all these human developments at the Boot Hill Museum a couple of miles from our RV park, on Wyatt Earp Boulevard.  The original Boot Hill is still there, where miscreants and shootout victims were buried with their boots on.  The bodies were removed some time back to a new burial ground, but worn wooden slabs carved with colourful epitaphs are still in place.

The museum is disguised on the out-side as a cowboy town, com-plete with general store, saloon, blacksmith shop and other enterprises. Inside, many buildings are joined together, and visitors can browse through displays about the buffalo, clothing of the day, a huge array of guns and rifles, quaint potions and linaments, and portraits of iconic personalities like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Bat Masterson.

At the height of tourist season, there are daily gunfights at noon, stage-coach rides, plus can-can dancers in the saloon and cones and sodas at the ice cream parlour. You can even get a sepia portrait done in period dress at the photographer’s studio. But not today.  Still, it was interesting to learn about the pivotal role this small town played in American history.

We took a short drive through the neighbourhoods as well, and were intrigued to see how many streets were paved with red bricks.  It made us wonder whether it had any connection to the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Getting into Dodge

Dodge City, KS – Before we headed out this morning, we checked with Jessie in the RV park office to see if there were any weather concerns.  There was a pretty stiff wind, and we wanted to be sure it wouldn’t escalate into anything dangerous.  Jessie said there was a wind advisory, but that our route was into calmer territory, so we could proceed without worrying.

As we eyed the brown blur on the horizon and saw pieces of dried cornstalks flying across the highway along with the tumbleweed, we reminded ourselves of her words.  We even pulled over when we heard something bump against the RV. Opening the door without having it ripped off its hinges was a hard-won battle, but once outside, we didn’t see any damage, so we wrestled with the door to get back inside and carried on our way.

Just south of Oakley on Highway 83, we passed the magnificent sculpture of Buffalo Bill Cody, with a rifle to his shoulder, chasing a bison.  It was around these parts that he won the buffalo-hunting contest that entitled him to his nickname way back when.

Although “flat” is the main adjective in describing the Kansas terrain, we did encounter a few places where the ground dipped into a riverbed or rose to a rounded hill or two.  We even saw a couple of low sculpted rock formations, and saw signs for the turnoff to see the rock monument nearby.  Having seen a massive number of same in Utah, we continued on our way.

We left the 83 and turned east on Highway 50 at Garden City. Just a few miles west of the city is Holcomb, the small town where the Clutter family was murdered by two ex-cons in 1959.  Their story was the subject of Truman Capote’s best-selling book, “In Cold Blood”.

Huge grain elevators, farm equipment stores, pickup trucks and vast expanses of combed earth ready for spring planting gave clear evidence of the agricultural importance of this state.  As we approached Cimarron, we began to see feed lots with literally thousands of cattle in huge pens, fattening up for their transformation into steaks and hamburgers.

A silhouette of a cowboy posse is set on a hill at the western edge of town with “Dodge City” in big letters at its base. The town was originally the site of Fort Dodge, built to protect wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail and to furnish supplies for soldiers fighting the Indian wars on the plains. Colonel Richard Dodge was the first commander of the fort, and he’s now immortalized in this iconic town.

Gunsmoke Trav-L-Park is the name of our RV campground and on the porch of the office build-ing are dis-plays of hay bales, milk cans, old saddles and wagon wheels. The usual map of the RV sites includes a notation of “Chester’s Grave”, so I went out to have a look after supper. There next to the porch was a weathered stone with “Chester 1879” and, protruding from the ground was a leg and a cowboy boot!

Our first order of the day after setting up was to find some groceries, so we got a glimpse of the outskirts on the way to WalMart. We’ll be seeing more tomorrow!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Zoo for sale

Oakley, KS – Our one-night stay has turned into two.  Time for some R&R in a peaceful spot, where the grasses blow, the robins chirp, the rabbits cavort and the Zanins take it easy.

We slept late this morning, in part because of the time zone change. It would have been a normal rising time if we hadn’t lost that hour on entering the Central Time Zone. The forecast for today was 82, but I don’t think it got much higher than 72.  Still, that’s a pleasant change from the high-altitude chill we’ve had for several days.

Our laid-back morning meant we were available for a Skype conversation with Val’s brother John and our sister-in-law Fawn, in Florida. It was great to catch up on their news. I still marvel that we can chat like that, with one side of the conversation a thousand miles from the other.

Later on, I took a stroll across the highway to the truck stop on the other side, and discov-ered that right next door to it was the Prairie Dog Town animal menagerie we’d seen advertised on the highway yesterday. On bright red wooden signs were large yellow letters declaring “Five-legged live animals! Buffalo! World’s Largest Prairie Dog! Only 20 (10, 5) Miles Ahead!” The only thing was, the menagerie was closed, and in front was a large sign saying “Zoo For Sale”.

I meandered out to the back lot of the truck stop to see what I could see, and there were some pens with a few bison grazing.  However, between me and them was a field at the edge of which was posted a sign saying “Rattle Snake Habitat” and another saying “Private Property”.  So I snapped my photos with the long lens and ventured no further. I thought I saw a large turkey in another pen, but it was kind of far off.  I do hope those creatures are still being well cared-for despite the drop in audience attendance.

Other than that, it’s been a very quiet day. So I’ll share my photos and sign off for now!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tumbleweed territory

Oakley, KS – We’re in a new state and a new time zone tonight, in the heart of cowboy country. Strong winds whistled across the wide plains that we drove through today, scooping up balls of tumbleweed and sending them bouncing across the highway.

We had a couple of delays in getting out today. One was a cute little bunny rabbit that sat quietly in front of the RV twitching its little nose, even after Val started the engine!  He had to get out and encourage the little puff ball to move along before he could get moving.

We had been waiting for the RV park office to open, which during its winter hours is not until 10 am, so that we could get the propane tank filled before setting out.  When you have to run the furnace all night in these cool times, the contents of the LP gas tank get used up. Finally, at 10 o’clock, the office opened, and that’s when we learned that the guy who’s trained to pump LP gas didn’t come on till three in the afternoon!

The feed store in town had an LP filling station, we were told, so we drove in only to find out they only filled portable tanks, not the ones built in to the RV.  Besides, there was no space to pull up to the tank anyway. So, we headed out to the interstate with an eye out for a place where we could fill up before reaching our destination.

Val had to keep a strong hold on the steer-ing wheel on I-70 because of the gust-ing wind.  Every time we went through an underpass, the wind sucked us to the right and pushed us left again when we exited.  On those huge, wide-open plains, there’s just nothing around that can slow the wind down.

People planted windbreaks of evergreen trees around their farmhouses as a bit of a barrier, and along the few rivers along our route there were clumps of cottonwood trees, but other than that, the land was unbroken save for the yellowed stubble of last year’s corn crops. Some of the fields were sprouting green, especially the ones supported by irrigation equipment.

We spotted a few pump jacks, but the main output of the land appears to be crops. Huge silos and piles of cylindrical hay bales were a common sight.

We found a truck stop before our turnoff where we could fill up the propane tank, so we’ll be cosy all night tonight – although we’re told it won’t be as cold as it has been at higher elevations the last few nights. That means we won’t have to disconnect the water hose.

Here in Oakley, there is a museum of dinosaur bones and fossils which we thought we’d visit tomorrow, but it is closed on Sundays.  There’s also a monument to Buffalo Bill, which we’ll see on our way out of town.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Surviving the Dust Bowl and the I-70

Strasburg, CO – Both of us let out a gasp when we had our first look outside this morning. The ground around the RV and the car were white with snow!  The sun was already melting it by the time we were ready to head in to Denver again, although we did have to dig out the snow brush to clear the rest away.

Our first destination was the History Colorado Center, and based on the lineup of yellow school buses, we were prepared for the lively crowds of school children inside.  The floor of the main hall of this museum is a huge topographical map of the state, where a very pleasant docent named Dani welcomed us and told us what to expect on our visit.

The Center is a great place for kids to learn about their state. “Destination Colorado” replicates a small agricultural town in the 1920s where kids can shop at the general store, climb into a real Model T Ford, see what it’s like to milk a cow and learn about life on the farm.

On the upper floor “Colorado Stories” describes experiences of various residents, including hard rock miners, traders at an early fort, and wartime Japanese internees. It was impressive to see the candid accounts of prejudice against the Japanese, as well as the African Americans who were targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. There was also a simulated Rocky Mountain ski jump where visitors could step onto a pair of boards and watch the steep slope unfold on a screen in front of them.

We stepped inside a farmhouse kitchen where, with voices, video and sound effects, we relived the “Black Sunday” Dust Bowl storm of the 1930s when the sky went dark and winds howled for hours. There was also a hands-on display about the importance of water to the region, and a replica of a ski lodge. 

The state capitol building was our next destination, and it was a short walk away so we left the car in the parking lot by the Center. A fierce wind whipped at our hair as we walked, though the sun was shining. We noted the wide range of clothing choices made by Denver residents – some were in parkas, while others had on shorts and t-shirts!

Our arrival at the magnificent capitol building, with its gold-plated dome, coincided with the start of a public tour, so we attached ourselves to the group and tried to hear the soft voice of our young guide, describing the two houses, the brass chandeliers and large paintings of prominent Colorado citizens.

By this time we were ready to head back to the RV park, a 40-minute drive from downtown. The trip ended up taking much longer because of a crash on the Interstate! Fortunately, when we gave up waiting, we were able to bushwhack across to an off-ramp and try to find an alternate route.  It was just plain luck that the direction we chose led to a junction with the I-70 which got us past the huge tie-up. Whew! The open road and big sky were a welcome sight after our tiresome wait.

Blue bears and free money

Thursday, March 27, 2014
[We had upload problems yesterday.]
Strasburg, CO – The drumming of raindrops on the RV roof in the night seemed to be a portent of the coming day, but it proved to be perfectly fine, weatherwise. We drove in to the city to find out what points of interest we might like to see, and to connect with the bus tour we’d arranged for in the afternoon.

The Denver Visitor Center is on one corner of the 16th Street Mall, a stretch of several blocks dedicated to pedestrians. Along either side of the wide walking area is a corridor for the free shuttle buses that offer lifts from one end to the other, so although there are no cars, one does have to watch out for the buses – and because they are hybrid vehicles, they don’t make a lot of noise as they approach!

Armed with a city map and some ideas of places to see, we explored the mall and some of the special sites in the area.  One of these was the Federal Reserve Money Museum, with free admission and displays of paper currency designs, counterfeiting prevention, and the history of the Reserve.  At the entrance was a large bin filled with bags of…money! And a sign, encouraging visitors to help themselves! Each bag held about $165, quite useful if one had the time to stick all the thin slivers of paper back together again!

A little further down the street was the Colorado Convention Center. Probably its most important claim to fame, beyond the thousands of people who attend conventions in it and the topics they discuss, is the 40-foot blue bear that stands outside, paws on the huge windows, peeking inside to see what’s going on.  Its name is “I See What You Mean” and was created by a local artist who had once seen a black bear peeking inside a house in much the same way.  It reflected the artist’s curiosity about conventions that take place inside.  The Blue Bear has become a local icon.

After we had lunch, we connected with our Gray Line tour of Denver – and discovered we were the only customers today! So we had a private tour from driver Gerald, who was very knowledgeable about the sights, and tailored our visit to our particular interests.  We saw the golden dome of the state capitol, the home of Molly Brown, who didn’t sink in the Titanic disaster, the huge flock of cormorants that reside at the City Park (and just returned from their winter break), the two huge sports arenas for Denver’s home teams, and much more.

We learned that Denver has a large German community, which explained the many beer-and-bratwurst restaurants we saw, and that the high-tech field was a key employer. We visited Cranmer Park, with its flagstone platform displaying the names of the entire array of mountains to the west of it, and where a tilted sundial taller than a man provides the time of day all year round, in spring and summer on its upper face and the rest of the year on the back of it.
It was a comprehensive and fascinating visit, and now we feel much better acquainted with this attractive western city.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The pair went over the mountain

Strasburg, CO – We’re in a small community east of Den-ver, and the countryside here could not present a greater contrast with what we saw today if it tried. From our start west of the Rocky Mountains to this ultra-flat spot, we’ve risen to 11,350 feet in altitude and down again. We are still on the Colorado Plateau, so even though it’s flat, it’s up at 6,000 feet.

When we got up this morning and stepped outside, we could see our breath. The weather was good, though off in the distance there were quite a few clouds, some of which were wispy at the edges, signifying some sort of precipitation. With a route heading into the thick of the Rockies, we sincerely hoped we would not encounter snow on the road. We’d checked carefully before leaving, so we had some solid information to go on in any case.

Before we got to the serious mountain environment, we passed some farmers’ fields, and in one I spotted two clumps of animals. One was clearly a herd of cows, grazing contentedly, and the other, I finally realized, was a herd of elk, just a short distance away from the cows, enjoying the same field! I guess neither group felt threatened by the other, and there certainly was plenty of grass!

Once again, as the highway wound its way through the steep mountain passes, new vistas of sharply-peaked, snow-topped mountains came into view, like a series of picture postcards.  The higher we climbed, the more snow we saw on the ground, at first in the shadows of the evergreens and in the sheltered valleys, and then on meadows and roadsides. The outdoor temperature dipped to 1.5 degrees Celsius (and then, at the end of our journey, it was up to 21.5!).

When we reached ski country, we passed towns with chalets and hotels catering to downhill sports enthusiasts. They almost had an alpine look to them, with the tall evergreens and white mountains behind them.

We had passed this way before in 2011, and we did recognize a few landmarks, but one I’m sure wasn’t there last time was the snowboard course at the ski resort town of Vail – a huge half-pipe snow formation high on the mountainside with dozens of tiny figures zigging and zagging down. The ski-lifts were running busily, and in the town we could see skiers in their snow garb waiting for the bus to take them to the top.

Flashing message boards appeared along our route warning of a highway closure due to road maintenance on a tunnel at Idaho Springs and to expect delays.  Sure enough, as we rounded a bend we could see a line of red tail-lights as a long stretch of vehicles slowed to a halt. After a few minutes we could tell it would be a while, so we turned off the engine. Finally, traffic began to move again.

About an hour later, we were crossing Denver and driving past farmers’ fields that stretched all the way to the flat horizon. Somehow, it feels like we are much closer to home now that the Rockies are behind us. It was lovely to see the big sky full of huge clouds, and all that land.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cool peaks, hot springs

Glenwood Springs, CO – We’re nestled on a hillside RV park with views in either direction along Interstate 70 of snow-topped mountains and the sparkling Colorado River.  The air is fresh and the sky is clear, and we had a good drive today.

It was a short one too – we got to the park in time for lunch – but we are trying to gauge our travels so that we can get over the Rockies without doing so on a long driving day.  It will be enough to go up to 11,000 feet and down again through mountain passes without covering a long distance as well.

As we headed east today toward the Utah-Colorado state line, we passed the turnoff for Moab, where two more spectacular canyon state parks are located.  Our friends Scott and Mary Jane tempted us sorely with encouraging words about them, and eye-popping photos of their visits there, but we felt it was time to head on.  We have to leave something for the next visit!

The moonscape terrain in those last few miles of Utah made our departure a bit easier; we so enjoyed everything we saw and visited while in that unique part of the world. A contingent of pronghorn antelopes reported for duty on one of the last hilltops to bid us farewell.

Almost as soon as we entered Colorado, the geography changed to lush green pastures against a majestic mountain backdrop. We pulled over at the visitor center in Fruita to pick up maps and information, and asked the host there what the smoke was all about in the valley we were passing through.

He told us that this was the time of year when farmers are burning off dry grass and weeds before planting season begins, and that highway crews were doing the same.  It made for a rather hazy view of Fruita, but we did see plenty of orchards and vineyards as we drove through.

After setting up in the RV park and having lunch, we headed off in the car for some groceries.  Glenwood Springs is a pretty little town with a charming historic downtown and lots of hotels.  Its proximity to the popular ski resorts is one reason for this, but there are also hot springs here that draw visitors.

With our shopping done, we headed back and passed a resort with a huge swimming pool, just jammed with swimmers, plus a big waterslide. The temperature here wasn’t much more than 65 degrees, so it surprised me to see this until I realized this must be the hot spring they were talking about in the tourist literature!

Up on the mountain side we could see a cable-car ski lift in full operation, even though there didn’t appear to be more than a sprinkling of snow at the top.  However, I spotted a roller coaster up top, so we figured there was more than snow sports drawing visitors to that height. We’ll be hitting the heights soon enough, so we continued our drive back to our cosy home on wheels.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Picture book pages

Green River, UT – Today we comple-ted the 124-mile All-American Road and moved clo-ser to Utah’s eastern edge, and treated our-selves to another fabulous scenic drive in the process.

With an early start, we were able to appreciate the effect of the sun’s low angle on the landscape, and the contrast of deep shadows and brightly-lit rock faces as it rose in the sky.  We also saw ice at the edges of streams and snow in the bush as the highway rose to higher altitudes.  A couple of times, we passed farmers’ fields crusted in white ice where the irrigation systems had been running before the sun got warm enough to melt it.  We smiled as we passed a lone horse, standing next to the crusty field, wondering how he was supposed to get a drink in these conditions.

Highway 12 meandered up and down through high plains, deep valleys and mountain passes, switching back in serpentine patterns as it climbed and descended.  Every time we came to a blind curve or hilltop, it was like waiting for a surprise to reveal itself.  Gradually, as we turned around the bend, a whole new array of rock formations came into view, or, at the top of the hill, a vast landscape of peaceful valleys, rolling hills, rocky monuments and purple mountains far in the distance, dazzled us once again.

We pulled over multiple times to drink in the beauty all around. Each spot was unique, and I began to think I was going to end up taking a photo of every rock in Utah at the rate I was going!  But they were all so amazing!

The variety of the ter-rain we cov-ered today was incre-dible.  High plains farm-lands. Pine-forested mountains. Rock-bor-dered gor-ges. Flat, red-sanded desert. Desolate, grey moonscapes.  It was as if we were turning the pages of a life-sized picture book every few miles, where nothing resembled what had come before.

On the plain, Val spotted a jackrabbit on the shoulder of the highway. I didn’t manage to see it, but seconds later, there were three of them, and then five more, all caught unawares by our arrival, and bouncing madly into the tall grass.

Then, in the pine-forested mountain section, I saw a deer.  Then we saw six or eight of them by the road. We’d never seen so many together, and Val was able to pull over so I could snap a picture.  The deer eyed me apprehensively but stayed put for a time before deciding they’d best move on – long enough for a couple of good shots. (We’d seen a herd of eight or ten elk between Bryce Canyon and our RV park a couple of days ago, too, which I forgot to mention. Quite a sight.)

It was at the crossroads of Highway 12 and Highway 24 that we saw a roadside eatery and stopped for lunch.  By this time it was warm enough for us to eat at the outdoor table in the sun. What a treat.

Not long afterward, we saw the sign for Capitol Reef State Park, another protected territory full of rocky castles and turrets, striped mesas and slot canyons, all served up right along the highway, free of charge. Amazing.