Monday, July 31, 2006

Tackling the spooky trails again

Monday, July 31

Today is the “tomorrow” I thought about as I fell to sleep – another day to explore those spooky trails. This morning, with water, camera, binoculars, cell phone and my hiking pole I headed to the trail that would take me around the 25-acre Lacey Lake. Unlike the well-groomed, flat, one-plus-mile lake trail that I had walked twice at FW Kent Park, this hike that took me up and down hills through the woods.

I went back to Jeremiah to cool off and have lunch, and to get some writing work under the comfort of air conditioning.

At 2 p.m., I again packed my daypack for another hike. This time I reversed my route on the river trail; starting at the place I had hoped to end up yesterday. I had only hiked for about 15 minutes when I came to the “park road” sign. I continued on until I came again to the Ely Ford Crossing and then back up the park road to the campground. The trail didn’t seem as spooky as it did yesterday, nor as long. I calculated it was a little more than three miles total, giving me about seven miles of hiking today. Not bad for 90-degrees and 65% humidity!


  • Life comes in “chapters” and I’m so glad I chose to have this motorhome traveling chapter.
  • The purpose of life is not to “find yourself,” rather it is to “create yourself.” – I saw these words on a plaque at the Gustavus College (Saint Peter, Minnesota) bookstore.
  • “Creating” is an on-going process, a journey.
  • Looking back I’ve had numerous forks and detours along my journey.
  • Because of the choices I’ve made, here I am.
  • As I walk among 200-plus year old trees, I hear them saying to me, “Hey there, adventurous lady, keep on exploring and enjoying life. Conquer every challenge by taking it one step at a time.”

    As I write, I’m outside enjoying a breeze. Jeremiah is the only RV in the modern/electrical section of the campground.

    Tomorrow I’ll pack up and continue south into Missouri.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Another delightful Iowa State Park

Sunday, July 30

“Use the talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”
– Henry Van Dyke

After four days at FW Kent County Park – with its abundant huge trees and serenading birds – I reluctantly left and headed south. One thing I was looking forward to was exploring the towns of Kalona and Fairfield. What I didn’t think about was that the shops and cafes in the Amish town of Kalona would be closed for Sunday morning. I had to settle for driving slowly down a few of the streets to enjoy the old homes.

I also drove around Fairfield. It is the center for Transcendental Meditation: the Maharishi University of Management and Maharishi Vedic City are located there. This town also has picturesque old two-, three- and four-story homes.

After driving through the small town of Keosauqua – founded in 1839 making it one of the oldest communities in Iowa – before crossing the Des Moines River and entering the tree-lined road for Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, I knew this was going to be another delightful park. With 1,653 acres of hills, bluffs and valleys, it truly lives up to the brochure’s claim of being one of the most picturesque state parks. It is one of 46 parks that offer modern camping facilities.

I wasted no time – even with the heat and humidity – heading out for a hike. It was going to be just a short one (I didn’t even take water), but each step down the road and through the wooded path kept me moving forward.

Next thing I knew I was standing along the Des Moines River at the historic Ely Mormon Crossing. From the late 1840s through the 1860s, an exodus of more than 70,000 Mormons passed by here on the way to their “New Zion” in Utah. Starting from Nauvoo, Illinois, in February 1846, the first group of at least 13,000 Mormons crossed into Iowa right here.

In all, I hiked about three miles, including a portion that was spooky. The trail was well used, but not well marked. After about an hour, I thought I would be at the connecting trail that would take me back to the campground, but it was nowhere in sight.

I’m not as brave as some of you think. I was hiking through trees so tall and thick that sunlight barely came through. Occasionally I got close enough to get a glance of the river. When the river was not in sight, I realized how easily people could get confused and lost in the woods. And, what critters could be lurking nearby? Oh, my! Should I turn around and go back? Or go further in hopes of connecting with the campground trail?

Just as I was about to turn around and go back, I came to a connecting trail that said “to the park road.” I took this trail, which turned out to be quite long before I came to the road. But once there, there was no indication whether I should go to the right or to the left! As huge as this park is, the road could be going a bunch of places. I took a calculated guess and went left. I stopped a car that came along and they verified that I was headed in the right direction. What a relief. Jeremiah looked so good and was so cool inside.

Courage does not always roar.
Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying:
“I will try again tomorrow.”

Interview with an Adventurous Cat

Adventure timeline: 8:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday night/Sunday morning

The birds were singing and the sky was just beginning to show light – the time Cat usually jumps on my bed to greet me. She must be sound asleep, I thought. I called to her, got up and looked in her favorite sleeping places – no Cat! Then I looked all over – still no Cat! What????

Then I unlocked and opened Jeremiah’s door, not really expecting her, and in she jumped – wet from dew, covered with small burrs and squeaking pathetically. (Cat has no real meow; she has a quiet squeak and a chatter sound. Why? I’ll never know. I got her from an animal sanctuary and have no clue as to her history.)

Carol: Where have you been? How did you get outside? When did you escape?
Cat: (no comment)

For some reason, the line from the Goldilocks’ story came to me: “Tired and hungry as never before, Goldilocks knocked and she knocked on the door.”

I was aghast – and puzzled.

How did she get out? How was her night out? Did she just roam and explore the area? Was she scared? Oh, how I wish she could tell me about her adventure.

While I got Jeremiah ready to travel, Cat groomed herself, ate and drank water. The adventure ended happily.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Enjoying the birds and flowers at Kent Park

July 29, 2006

Many folks ask why I get up so early each day (I seem to automatically wake up at 5 a.m.). Well, I want to have a front-row seat for God’s morning miracle of a sunrise accompanied by singing birds.

The birds here start their beautiful singing shortly after 5 a.m. – and what a beautiful concert this is. My four favorite songsters are the Baltimore Orioles, Northern Cardinals, Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins. They seem to do the most singing between dawn and when the sun finally rises.

I’m happy to report that the swelling from my bites went down, but they still itch like mad.

On my walks around the campground, I met several nice people. One thing for sure, RVers are friendly and always seem to enjoy visiting. One gal has a “bullador” dog – part bulldog and part Labrador. On another walk I saw a strange-looking insect: looked to be part deer fly and part spider! And I had neglected to take my camera with me.

In between walks, I cool off in Jeremiah and tank up on water. It seems a bit cooler today, but no less humidity.

One walk took me to the Conservation Education Center; volunteers staff this center on the weekend. I looked through an insect book to see if I could spot my strange bug – no luck. When the couple found out I was heading south on the next leg of my adventure, they made some route suggestions.

Also I took pictures of flowers: here are my favorite ones.

Yes, I’m leaving in the morning – just after a Walmart stop for groceries and a Mall stop for Internet access. I’ll be heading south on Highway 1 through several small towns for about 100 miles. My night’s destination is Lacy-Keosauqua State Park just north of the Iowa/Missouri border. There are a couple towns that are supposed to be worth the stop. I’ll let you know.

For those of you who received my original travel schedule, you’ve figured out by now that I’ve made changes based on circumstances and travel advice and suggestions. It’s all part of the adventure. I’m still scheduled to arrive in St. Louis on Aug. 2.

Friday, July 28, 2006

And a whole lot of biking going on!

Friday, July 28

I am thrilled when I’m in the right place at just the right time – such as Sugarite State Park during Butterfly Weekend, Forest City during Puckerbrush Days, and now I’m in Iowa City/Coralville on Friday, the day the huge RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) pedals into town on its last overnight stop. And my Albuquerque friend Larry is in town with a car to take me to the event.

But first, some background. This is the 34th year of RAGBRAI. It was started by a couple of newspaper reporters from the Des Moines Register, and it started as just a few friends riding and partying west to east across the state. It grew from those few hardy folks into a ride that officially has about 10,000 riders and unofficially close to 15,000. The “unofficial” riders are those who just do a portion of the year’s 444-mile ride. The ride starts with a front-tire dip in the Missouri River and ends with a tire dip in the Mississippi.

Ride organizers change the route of travel on state and county roads from year to year; it was five years ago the last time it came through the Iowa City area. When the route is announced, the small towns along the way are alerted and given advice to prepare for the onslaught of bikers. The Thursday night stop was in Marengo, a town of 2,500 people that suddenly swelled to an additional 14,000 or so bikers and their entourage. Amazingly, about 400 locals volunteered to help.

The event is always a big deal, but this year it became an even bigger deal because seven-time Tour de France champ and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong rode a portion of it and also came here to promote “Winning the Race Against Cancer.”

Logistically, an overnight stop can be daunting. Places must be located for the bikers to shower, put up overnight tents, eat, be entertained and for all the team and other support vans, buses and RVs to park.

Thursday’s ride was 77-miles long. The Friday ride from Marengo to Coralville (the last overnight stop) was 47.9 miles. On Saturday the final leg is approximately 55 miles, ending in Muscatine.

Larry and I walked around the official gathering place, S.T. Morrison Park. Sunburned, weary and tired bicyclists of both sexes and all ages swarmed the area along with locals and tourists. There were entertainment areas, vendors, and rows of porta-potties. Vehicle traffic congested the nearby roads – even though the city offered free bus service. What an event!

When we had enough, we took a bus back to the mall where Larry had parked. The cool mall was a nice change from the heat and humidity. Next stop was a Dairy Queen and then we went to Bill’s apartment where I got to meet Larry’s son. (Note to Larry’s friends in Albuquerque/Rio Rancho: ask him about Bill’s tangle with a skunk.)

Oh, poor me! While enjoying the porch swing at Bill’s, I got “bit/stung” by some unseen insect. Two tiny red dots on my right arm were itching/hurting. I tried to ignore them. By the time the three of us went to dinner, one of those tiny red dots grew into a fiery-red silver-dollar sized raised lump and the other into a smaller lump! I got ice from the waitress for them. After dinner we made a Walgreens stop and the pharmacist recommended Benedryl along with hydrocortisone ointment.

Back at Kent Park, Larry and I took a walk around the lake and recuperated with a cold beer before Larry went back to town.

What a great day we had. (Thanks again, Larry.)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

There’s been a whole lot of mowing going on!

July 27

A well-deserved day of rest and exploration awaited me this morning. There are about seven miles of trails and a visitors’ center/conservation education center here at FW Kent, and I intend to see it all while I’m here.

The trails are either crushed gravel or mowed grass. There is a low of mowed grass area throughout the park – and I’m told that it takes 100 hours to mow it all (on large ride-on mowers).

Spending time in Iowa City was not on my original itinerary – but an email from my Albuquerque friend, Larry Flinn, changed my plan. He wrote that he will be here visiting his son this weekend and if I’m here we can go out to dinner! What a pleasant surprise, so instead of going from Backbone to Lake Darling, I’m here instead for three days.

“In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will only love what we understand, and we will only understand what we are taught.”
-– Baba Dioum

My first hike was to the Conservation Center’s Ecosystem Trail; the actual education center won’t be open until the weekend. I strolled through the three important Iowa habitats: prairie, wetlands and woodlands. The wildflowers were abundant and colorful.

After lunch and a time to cool off from the morning hike, I headed off to find the trail that would take me around the park’s 27-acre lake. The trail features seven historical bridges that were moved from county roads to the park.

This historic 70-foot-long bowstring arch bridge is the oldest one in Kent Park – its exact age is not known, but it was likely constructed in the 1870s. This design is considered the first successful all-iron truss bridge developed in the U.S. in the 19th century. Squire Whipple, “one of the most famous engineers of his time,” patented the first bowstring arch truss in 1841. The bridge originally crossed a tributary of Old Man’s Creek southwest of Iowa City.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Feeling like Noah – thunder, lightning and rain

July 26.

It is 3:30 a.m. and it is useless to try to sleep any longer. It has been seemingly nonstop lightning, thunder and rain all night long – too close for comfort. Little rain ditties have been running through my head:

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day.

The rain is raining all around,
It rains on field and tree
It rains on umbrellas here
And on the ships at sea.

I’m singing in the rain; singing in the rain…

Those childhood memories danced along in my head, and as the lightning got closer I wished I had unplugged Jeremiah before I went to bed. The Ranger had said, “If the storm gets bad, the safest place is in the cinderblock restroom.” Yeah sure! That structure is quite a ways from here through a lot of trees and you won’t find me out and about under those conditions. Fortunately, I’m on high ground above the Maquoketa River and in no danger of flooding. I’m so glad to be in a watertight motorhome and not in a tent like several of the campers.

The rain finally stopped about 5:30 a.m. The weatherman on the radio said the eastern portion of Iowa got between one and two inches of rain, and that southeastern Iowa can expect continued rain today.

Today I will finish writing and editing articles for the Sept/Oct issue of Personal Chef magazine. I’m a few days behind schedule.

I alternated writing/editing with short walks. It is hot and very humid here at Backbone Campground. I surprised myself by getting work done quickly – and then decided to leave this campground early afternoon – a day early. My plan was to find wireless Internet access either in Cedar Rapids or Iowa City in the southeastern part of the state.

My uncanny sense of direction served me well – OK, actually I must give credit to the compass that my friend Jesse installed on Jeremiah’s dash. Without it, who knows where I would have ended. Why? Some of those back roads that I like so much are unnamed and unmarked. And some of them are not even on my maps. I simply stuck to paved roads that went either south or southeast and finally got to the outskirts of Cedar Rapids.

No luck finding wireless – but on the cheerful side, I did find a Dairy Queen and tank up with gas before continuing south to Iowa City.

While I’ve gotten pretty good at navigating between cities, it is in those cities that give me the most frustration. I took the first promising exit into Iowa City – and ended up in the University of Iowa part of town. Even if I did spot a wireless hotspot while threading through traffic, I would never be able to find a place to park. So I reversed my route and headed to I-80 in hopes of finding the Visitor’s Center for maps and information.

After some frustration and a stop at a gas station for directions, I was rewarded with a city map, directions to a county RV park for the night, the mall where I would find wireless Internet and a Verizon cell phone store – and easy parking. By this time I had been up since 3:30 a.m., wandered along backroads, and had a few failed attempts at finding services I needed. The temperature was in the high 90s, humidity in the 70s – I was feeling fried!

I parked at the mall, turned on the generator and the air conditioner so Cat would not cook while I was gone. Getting my writing work off via email and getting a new cell phone (still Verizon and same phone number) cheered me up considerably. Now to find F.W. Kent Park in nearby Tiffin, Iowa.

And what a park it is! It has 1,082 acres that include prairie lands, forests, wetlands and a lake for boating, swimming and fishing. It seems like I have hit the jackpot! Oh, yes – pull-through electrical RV sites that are fairly level. A cold Corona was calling my name! And that was soon followed by a shower, cup of Sweet Dreams hot tea and bed!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Minnesota small towns – charming, picturesque

July 23, 24 and 25, 2006

Just when I think I’ve seen the most charming, picturesque small town, another one comes into view. My short drive (about 60 miles) to Saint Peter meandered along corn and soybean fields dotted with small towns: Meriden, Waseca, Janesville, Eagle Lake, and not-so-small Mankato.

This 10,000-population town seemed to have larger open-space parks than I would expect. One such park took up four blocks in the midst of town. Here’s the explanation: when Saint Peter was established, plenty of space was set aside because it was expected that it would become the state capital. But through some political shenanigans, St. Paul became the capital instead.

And for an old small town the houses looked old yet new at the same time. They were the typical multi-story houses with huge front porches. Did everyone recently remodel? What’s with this? The answer is the March 29, 1998 F3 tornado that leveled the midsection of Saint Peter. (check out photos at

Historic Saint Peter is home to Gustavus Adolphus College, established in 1862 and where my friends Aaron and Mary Everett taught. And in fact where Mary will be teaching this coming fall semester, delaying their return to Rio Rancho. (pronounced Gus-TA-vus)

This undergraduate residential liberal arts college has a Swedish and Lutheran heritage. US News and World Report ranked it #73 of liberal arts colleges in its 2006 report. The campus also was severely damaged by the tornado. Windows were blown out, roofs blown off, trees leveled and some buildings were totally destroyed. Students here are nicknamed “Gusties.” Here is a photo of the student chapel – both inside and out.

Site 11 of Riverside Municipal Campground, just two blocks from downtown St. Peter and alongside the Minnesota River, has been my home the past couple of days. Riverside Park has about 2,000 feet of frontage on the river. (NOTE to Betsy and Paul: the river is a designated state canoe route!) The river is known for its large walleye and huge catfish.

I And do you know where St. Peter’s Pearly Gates are? Just a couple blocks from Grace Street. spent two delightful days with Mary and Aaron both around town and at their home. Mary and I walked the two short blocks from their home to the college and gave me a personal tour of the facilities. On Monday we went into Mankato for lunch at the Panera (Linda and Bob – food is great at this one, too.)

Today I’m driving south with the intention of spending a couple days at Backbone State Park in Iowa.

Traveling the Backroads

July 25

169, 14, 218, 56, 63, 8, 50, 87, 3, and W69 – those were the 230-miles of roads that took me from Saint Peter, Minnesota, to Iowa’s Backbone State Park today. And what a delightful day in spite of increasing thunder and lightning – and threatening rain! The pace of travel is slower – 55 mph – and there is so much to see. Several of the roads are designated wildflower scenic byways – and they lived up to their name. Thanks to recent rains, the roadsides were full of color. I love the backroads.

bluebirds were once the most common birds in this state
85% of Iowa was once covered with tall grass prairie; now only 1% remains
the black walnut tree is a native Iowa tree
Iowa had 1.5 million acres of wetlands before settlers arrived and drained many of them to make land more suitable for agriculture
Also, before settlement, about 7 million acres of the land was forested; today only 2 million acres remain


“What’s that sizzling sound I hear?”
“Get up! It’s SPAM and eggs, my dear!”
--Spam print ad from the 1930s

I took a midday driving break at Austin, Iowa, to tour the Spam Museum. Austin is one of two locations for the production of Hormel products. The museum is “16,500 square feet of Spam nirvana.” The entry has a “wall of 3,500 Spam cans.” The displays included a WWII display along with the sign, “GIs made fun of it, but Spam played a crucial role in turning the tide of the war.”

The museum also includes multi-media and inter-active exhibits about the history, old cans, a letter from Eisenhower, along with a puppet show, game show, light show, and much more.

The skies were dark and stormy behind me and on both sides as I drove to Backbone in the northeastern part of the state. I found this lush campground with not much trouble – heading toward the “modern” campsites in order to have an electrical hookup.

The camping area is pretty deserted and it was raining lightly as I drove through to find the best campsite for me. Site 20 looked good, but before I could get backed in and hooked up, the sky cut loose and dumped rain for about 30 minutes.

A ranger came by this evening to alert me to a “severe thunderstorm warning until 1 a.m.” I fell asleep listening to rain on Jeremiah’s roof and remembering a funny story someone emailed about Noah and the “second great flood.” This is a humorous commentary on getting anything built in this day and age. I don’t know who wrote it, but it’s clever.

Noah in 2005

In the year 2005, the Lord came unto Noah, who was now living in the United States, and said, "Once again, the earth has become wicked and over-populated, and I see the end of all flesh before me.
Build another Ark and save 2 of every living thing along with a few good humans."
He gave Noah the blueprints, saying, "You have 6 months to build the Ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights."
Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard - but no Ark. "Noah!" He roared, "I'm about to start the rain! Where is the Ark?"
"Forgive me, Lord," begged Noah, "but things have changed. I needed a building permit. I've been arguing with the inspector about the need for a sprinkler system. My neighbors claim that I've violated the neighborhood zoning laws by building the Ark in my yard and exceeding the height limitations. We had to go to the Development Appeal Board for a decision. ”
Then the Department of Transportation demanded a bond be posted for the future costs of moving power lines and other overhead obstructions, to clear the passage for the Ark's move to the sea. I told them that the sea would be coming to us, but they would hear nothing of it.
”Getting the wood was another problem. There's a ban on cutting local trees in order to save the spotted owl. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls - but no go! ”
When I started gathering the animals, an animal rights group sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodation was too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space. ”
Then the EPA ruled that I couldn't build the Ark until they'd conducted an environmental impact study on your proposed flood. ”
I'm still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many minorities I'm supposed to hire for my building crew. ”
Immigration and Naturalization is checking the green-card status of most of the people who want to work. ”The trades unions say I can't use my sons. They insist I have to hire only Union workers with Ark-building experience. ”
To make matters worse, the IRS seized all my assets, claiming I'm trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species. ”
So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 10 years for me to finish this Ark."
Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky.
Noah looked up in wonder and asked, "You mean you're not going to destroy the world?"
"No," said the Lord. "The government beat me to it.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Farm life in Minnesota

The farmhouses in the Midwest that nestle amongst huge trees always look so inviting and cool on hot summer days. So it was a treat to call the farm “home” for a couple of nights. Jeremiah looks so tiny under the trees, and so did Linda and Bob’s larger motorhome.

Before we ever entered the driveways, the farm dogs – Candy, Chase, Duke and Oliver – were announcing our arrival. Besides fields of corn and soybeans, this is a hog-raising farm. There are three houses and three generations: my mother’s cousin Gloria Timm, her daughter and husband (Barb and Denny), and Gloria’s grandson and his family.

I recall my mom telling about spending summers here in this small town of Medford, Minnesota, visiting her cousins.

Two family members were visiting from California while we were there: Bernice Turtle and her daughter Kathy DeBlonk.

Evening entertainment, besides visiting with family around a bonfire, was roaring with laughter as Duke demonstrated his backing-down-the-steps skills. I should have had a video camera to really capture this trick.

On Saturday evening we had a huge family potluck dinner for somewhere between 30 and 40 relatives. What a grand time we had! And such delicious food. I don’t think anyone does potlucks better than Midwesterners.

Sunday morning - I'm on my way to St. Peter, Minnesota, to visit neighbors who have a summer home in this small town.

The following photos are of various relatives – probably only of interest to my siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Very Busy Week

Rally Week - July 17 to 20
There’s precious little sitting-around time during Rally Week. There are 30 hour-long seminars each day, along with non-stop entertainment, vendor displays and sales, factory building tours, driving classes and evening entertainment.

With a year and a half of motorhome experience, the seminars and vendor displays are still important to me. And things made more sense to me – last year much of the information just whizzed past. I took several electrical-related seminars, and decided to have a solar panel installed on Jeremiah. The panel’s sole purpose is to keep my “house” batteries charged up during times of storage. So I went again to service to arrange this, even though it would mean missing some classes. My 10-watt panel was installed on Wednesday.

There were two Women’s Forum sessions and I was a small group facilitator at one of them. The room was packed and before the hour was up, each group had come up with numerous ideas for the motorhome planners/designers to consider that would add to the comfort and convenience inside the units.

The days flew by. We went to bed Wednesday night having been alerted to winds, rain, possibly hail and “tornado watch”. My “ditch bag” was packed and by the door along with shoes and Cat’s cage. We were instructed that if the tornado horn blew to leave our motorhomes and go to one of several storm shelters.

No tornado, but we did have about two hours of lightning, thunder, wind and rain during the night.

This morning (Thursday) – before we unhook and drive to Minnesota – I’ll post to my blog and check email messages. For the next three days Linda, Bob and I will be visiting some of our Mom’s cousins in the farming community of Medford, Minnesota. We’ll be parked at a farm.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Forest City’s Big Weekend!

July 15
High temperatures hit northern Iowa today – just in time for the annual Puckerbrush Celebration here in Forest City. The parade started at 10 a.m., and we lucked out with seats in the shade for this hour-long event. There is a unique, simple charm about small-town parades, there’s nothing “slick” – even with the corporate entries. The photo is of one of the Winnebago floats. And of course being in farming country, there are plenty of tractors along with what looked like every ambulance and fire truck in the area.

The parade was just one of numerous activities and events in the downtown area and, but due to the heat we chose to come back to the rally grounds.

Later in the day, I took a pretty long walk around the rally grounds and through nearby forested areas. The Winnebago River borders the rally area on the west.

In spite of the heat, quite a few people were sitting out under their motorhome awnings enjoying a nice breeze. There sure are some mighty fine people here representing nearly all states and several Canadian provinces. Later when it cooled off, Linda and I went into town to do laundry.

And speaking of the town – the area businesses love GNR (Grand National Rally) week. They say their sales during pre-rally and rally weeks exceed Christmas.

July 16
There were plenty of choices for Sunday morning, but since it was relatively cool I chose to take a bike ride. I was hoping to ride to Pilot Knob Park that is just a few miles southeast of Forest City – or so I thought. But I couldn’t find the map. I just headed out in the general direction.

Along the way I saw a young deer, unidentifiable road kill, ducks and geese on a private lake, lots of wildflowers along the roadsides and beautifully tended flower gardens in yards.

I rode along enjoying life and counting my blessings – and also daydreaming what my life might have been like if my parents had not moved from Iowa to Arizona in the late 1940s. My mother had early debilitating arthritis and the hope was that the drier climate would help. I was one of five Anderson girls at the time. We loaded our two-door car with all seven of us, our dog Goldie rode in the trunk, and headed west. Let me tell you, it was tight quarters, but what an adventure!

I never did find Pilot Knob, but I had a wonderful ride.

The modern age has been characterized by the restless energy that preys on speed, records and shortcuts. Despite our alleged efficiency, we seem to have less time for ourselves and far less time for each other. We have become more organized, but less joyful.
– Jeremy Rifkin from his book Time Wars.

Sunday afternoon was spent at Heritage Farm – the opposite of the modern age. This is a definite step into the past. Here farm work is accomplished with steam-powered and horse-drawn equipment. The restored homes, barns, schoolhouse, etc. were open, a blacksmith was working, and Sunday morning services were held in the historic church. If you read my blog last year (July 2005) you learned about this Norwegian church service and the lutefisk and meatball dinner afterwards.

After wandering the grounds, we headed out to the draft horse contest. Here teams were challenged to pull increasingly heavy weights. This picture shows a team pulling 8,000 pounds. Last year’s winning team pulled 11,000 pounds!

Opening ceremonies for Rally Week were held this evening. It included a parade of states and the usual welcoming speeches. Afterwards the 2007 motorhome models were on display. Tomorrow the seminars start.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Pre-Rally Week

July 12
Woke up to an overcast day. In fact, at noon today, there was still no sign of the sun – reminds me of living near the California coast. Weather-wise, I can put away long-sleeved shirts and jackets. Nights are in the mid-60s, days in high 80s – although the weather guy says we’ll get hotter in a day or two. Humidity seems to be nearly matching temperature. All in all, quite pleasant though.

I’ve been asked to be on Winnebago’s Consumer Research Panel, and we met this morning. Members of this panel represent 15 motorhome users, and they meet once a year at this big rally. Our “job” is to hand out various surveys whenever and wherever we travel – to owners of all kinds of motorhomes, not just Winnebago products – and send the completed surveys back to the product development folks at Winnebago. They had a couple openings and looked for motorhomers who travel quite a bit and who have no problem talking to strangers. If you know me well, you know they chose the right person when they asked me!

At the meeting I met the product designer and developer for the Aspect (Jeremiah’s model). As part of the meeting we were able to go through four 2007 models (of all sizes and styles), and they served a nice lunch. I’m now armed with a bunch of survey forms. The consumer research department also will be hosting two women’s forums next week, and they have asked the survey panel to help. I’m looking forward to this project.

In the afternoon I got some writing work done and every hour or so I walked the rally grounds and found interesting people to meet; some I remember from last year’s rally.

July 13
Today was a fairly free day: more writing, visiting and reading. I finished reading Peter Jenkins book, A Walk Across America. It’s an old book, copyright 1979. Somehow I never got around to reading it.

July 14
Finally I made time to get on the Internet. I was hoping to have access here in my motorhome where it is cool, but no such luck. So I put my computer in my backpack and walked over to the “Internet” tent. Here the access signal was great and there were plenty of electrical outlets.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Jeremiah gets a new microwave/convection oven

July 9
Sunday morning was laundry – I learned last year not to wait until the actual rally week (starts July 16). By the time 1,600 motorhomes are here, the population of this small Iowa town practically doubles and overloads the capacity of the town’s one Laundromat. The afternoon was spent driving around Forest City and touring the Mansion Museum – home of the Winnebago Historical Society. The mansion, an example of Neoclassical architecture, was built around 1900, converted into a hotel in 1945, turned over to the historical society in 1977 to restore the house to its original plan and appearance.

July 10
Bright and early Monday morning, Linda, Bob and I were at the Customer Service check-in to arrange for some service – and we weren’t the first ones. I was hoping to either have my microwave fixed or replaced because it was unreliable: sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t. I was given #138 and told to check the list each afternoon to see which motorhomes were scheduled the next day. Linda and Bob needed some work also. We thought it would be toward the end of the week before our numbers came up.

Lo and behold, we were on the Tuesday list. This meant unhooking and leaving the rally grounds, driving to Service – and then re-parking and re-leveling when service was finished. Oh, well, a reliable working microwave would be worth the inconvenience.

July 11
Shhh! Listen carefully and you can hear the fields of corn and soybeans saying, “Thank you Lord and Creator for the refreshing rain last night.” I was lulled to sleep by the rain on Jeremiah’s roof.

Today was Service Day – my appointment was for 11:30, but it took until nearly 4 p.m. before my new microwave was installed.

The original microwave/convection (a Samsung) had worked erratically since Day 1, and fortunately I had my dealer document this before the one-year warranty period ended. Winnebago replaced it with a Sharp unit at no cost to me! I’ve since talked with another Aspect owner who had their Samsung unit replaced also.

When our services were finished, Linda and I had planned on swapping parking spots on the rally grounds so we could have our “front doors” facing each other (I backed in, they headed in).

I’m happy with the new parking arrangement, but Cat isn’t. That’s because there are “monsters” on both sides of us, and Linda’s dog, Maverick, sits just outside our doors. Now I don’t have to worry about Cat going outside even if I’m not quick to get the door closed!

I’ll end today’s writing with a chuckle for you:

We are living in a world where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.
– Alfred E. Newman

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Iowa – That’s where the tall corn grows!

Hurry, hurry; rush, rush
We go about our days, careening through life, glancing at our watches… Some folks are traveling in the fast lane of a freeway; others are meandering down a country road. -- Shirley Dobson

I’ll take the country road any day.

July 7
This morning we visited with our Uncle Willis before driving on to Iowa. We’ve had great weather and easy driving.

After about a hundred miles through Missouri, we crossed into the “great state of Iowa” – and indeed, the corn did look taller than it did in Kansas. (Maybe Linda and I are partial to Iowa because we both were born there!) We had been traveling on I-70, I-435 (that skirts Kansas City), and I-35 north – not because it is the 50th Anniversary of the Interstate System, but because we were on a fairly tight schedule. However soon after entering Iowa, we took the first opportunity to abandon the speedy Interstates and slow down on Iowa highways.

Our goal for the night was the Adel Island RV Park – the same park I stayed in last year. It is not the classiest RV park but the location is great. Many of the sites back up to the Raccoon River. I had a great view of the river outside my bedroom window. When we were parked and hooked up, we went for a walk into Adel, oohing and aahing over the old homes, “main” street and the county courthouse that is undergoing a $10 million renovation.

July 8

Our first stop this morning was to visit “Old Man Fred” Reeck in Des Moines. He’s a delightful man; a shirttail relative and special friend of ours. Then we continued north to Forest City and the Winnebago Grand National Rally grounds. We are here a week early to take advantage of the pre-rally activities and also to have more time to spend in Forest City where our great aunts and great uncle used to live (and now are buried in one of the town’s cemeteries).

Forest City is often called “the smallest big town in Iowa.” Population is 4,500. It is the smallest town in America to have its own YMCA. It is the home of Waldorf College that was established in 1903, and home of Winnebago Industries, the largest manufacturer of RVs in the world. This coming weekend the town celebrates Puckerbrush Days – complete with numerous activities, a parade and chicken BBQ.

After checking in at the rally grounds, we were escorted to our parking spots – they were side-by-side. In order to park alongside Linda, I opted to park in the Nevada State row. Being a grassy field that was used to grow soybeans, there aren’t many level spots – and so getting set up required some creative work. Even though Linda and Bob have “automatic jacks” that lower for leveling, Linda had to position some boards where the jacks would land. I was slow with the camera – and missed a shot of both Linda and Bob on hands-and-knees to survey the situation.

Jeremiah doesn’t have such fancy features – my leveling process is accomplished by either driving up on boards, or digging holes. I’m getting pretty good at evaluating how many boards and on which wheels!

Whew! We’re here and will stay put (with the exception of some service work) until Thursday, July 20.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ahh! Glorious Rain!

Stop wanting a better life and enjoy the life you have. -- Adrian Rogers

Happiness doesn't depend on what we have, but it does depend on how we feel toward what we have. We can be happy with little and miserable with much.

-- William Dempster Hoard

I’ve been thinking about happiness, and have the above pithy thoughts to share. So, where are you on the “happiness” scale? It is great at the top!

July 3
After so many months with no rain, it is a glorious sight! It rained several late afternoons/early evenings while I was at Sugarite State Park (New Mexico), and as I drove north on I-25 into Colorado the morning of July 3, I could see storm clouds forming. By the time I was on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, rain was coming down.

My sister Linda and her husband Bob were already at Falcon Meadow RV Campground (several miles east of Colorado Springs on Highway 24). This is an enjoyable family-owned and operated RV park in the eastern plains-area of Colorado. Wildlife of note includes gophers, rabbits, pronghorn, meadowlarks, falcons – and the requisite ants and mosquitoes. I had a great view of Pikes Peak from my campsite.

This famous 14,110-foot peak was named after Zebulon Pike – who never climbed it. During the early 1800s, Pike explored this area and called the peak the Grand Peak. This year Colorado is celebrating the Pikes Peak Bicentennial.

In 1873 the U.S. Army Signal Corps built a weather station on Pikes Peak summit and a carriage road was built that made mule-back and mule-drawn wagon trips possible. In 1891 the cog railway to the top was built – the same cog railway that runs today. A road that was suitable for automobiles was first used in 1915, and became a toll road ($2) for the next 20 years.

Another Pikes Peak historical fact is that the words to “America the Beautiful” were written by Katharine Lee Bates as she ascended the peak in 1893.

July 4 - What a great way to celebrate Independence Day than to be an the U. S. Air Force Academy!

Before heading east the next morning, Linda, Bob and I toured the nearby Air Force Academy. The Visitor Center was informative, but my favorite building is the Cadet Chapel. Can you believe I forgot to take my camera? You can check it out on the Academy website.

This unique chapel building took five years of planning and four years of construction; completed in 1963. Within this one structure is a Protestant Chapel seating 1,200 persons and a 120-seat choir loft, a Catholic Chapel seating 500 with an 80-seat choir loft, and a Jewish Chapel seating 100. An All Faiths Room is provided for use of other religious faith groups.

I was especially pleased with the statement made in the Chapel brochure:

“The Cadet Chapel is the centerpiece of our Academy. As such, it plays a vital role in developing and nurturing the spiritual lives of our cadets. It is a reminder that we are a nation under God dedicated to the promotion of peace and goodwill among all nations of the world. The young men and women who come and study here do so in order to prepare themselves to protect freedom – freedom which is God’s gift to all people.”

After about 80 miles on Highway 24, we crossed the border into Kansas: known as both The Sunflower State and The Wheat State. The stop for the night was at the High Plains RV Park near Oakley.

I find driving through Kansas delightful, even on the Interstate! It is primarily an agricultural state, growing 10 million acres of wheat, 170,000 acres sunflowers, 3 million acres of corn, 2.8 million acres of soybeans and 3.2 million acres of sorghum. Cattle are big business also. I don’t know who counted, but I read that there is 6.65 million head of cattle and calves. I did miss going through small towns, though.

Of course there is a lot of interesting Kansas trivia, but one that amused me was finding out the two pronunciations for the “Arkansas” River. In Kansas it is pronounced “Ahr-KAN-zuhs” but in the states of Colorado and Arkansas, it is the “ARK-an-saw” River.

July 5
On July 5, we drove to Clinton Lake State Park just outside Lawrence, Kansas. This is a huge park – 240 water/electrical hookup sites plus 220 primitive sites on 1,425 acres. This was “home” for two nights.

The lake was created by a Corps of Engineers flood control dam. Wildlife includes mourning dove, quail, turkey, squirrel, deer and raccoon. Reportedly there is good fishing – crappie, walleye, white bass, channel catfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass and blue gill – but our family visiting schedule was more important than spending time in the park or at the lake.

The evening we arrived at Clinton, we met Cousin Janet, her husband, their son and his family for dinner in Lawrence.

The next morning, July 6, Linda and I drove into Lenexa (near Kansas City) to visit Aunt Maxine and her three sons: Nebraska cousins Don and Gary, Kansas cousin Steve and their wives.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Counting butterflies at Sugarite

Lord, open my eyes to your glory in every flower, every face, every blessing – and to your awesome butterfly creatures!

I’ve never paid much attention to butterflies before. I might see a pretty orange one flitting by, but never paid a lot of attention to any details. They just seemed to be flying about willy-nilly, enjoying life and sipping nectar from flowers. Boy, was I wrong!

Today was the annual official butterfly count for the Sugarite Canyon and I “participated.” Mostly just going along in order to learn more about these flying wonders. Butterfly expert Steve Cary could call out family and specie names as they flew by. To me they were simply large orange, small orange, white, yellow and dark ones – not a lot of help.

Our group spent nearly five hours on six miles of trails that went through a variety of habitats. All along the way Steve educated us. I did remember that this adult state is but one portion – and a short one at that – of a butterfly’s life. They start as eggs, progress to larva, pupa and finally adults. During their short adult life they must find a suitable mate and get eggs laid on a “host” plant in order for the species to continue. So their flitting around does have a definite purpose.

The Sugarite area has five families of butterfly and each family has numerous species. Today we identified 38 of the 90 different species on the Sugarite Canyon/Lake Dorothey butterfly list. Most of the species are residents that spend their entire lives here; the Monarch is the only butterfly to migrate to Mexico to avoid winter.

Tomorrow I leave Sugarite and head north to Colorado Springs. Here I’ll meet up with my sister Linda and her husband Bob. I’ll have wireless Internet access and will get my daily entries posted.

Remember, the best way to contact me is via my email:

Saturday, July 01, 2006

An offer I couldn’t refuse

· You have to be wary when you travel, but you also have to be open.
· You have to protect yourself, but you can’t be so suspicious that you miss opportunities.
· Start with respect. Things pretty much come down to how you treat one another.
· Don’t make assumptions about people; keep your heart open.
· Everyone has a role in the world, and who is to say which role is more worthy or admirable than any other.
· Every person has a life unique to them. They have something to say about the world that I couldn’t get from anyone else.”
Sebastian Junger, author and journalist.

Tricycle Bob rode up this morning to invite me to lunch in Trinidad, Colorado (20-some miles from here) and a tour of the town and surrounding area – on his Honda three-wheeler! Hmmm! Should I go? My new friend Winnie had said that he took her for a ride a previous day and that he was a safe driver and a gentleman.

Why not? I asked myself. So off we went – and I had a wonderful adventure. Trinidad is an old, old town on the Santa Fe Trail. It has many restored historic buildings and narrow brick streets.

Our first stop was the Mount San Rafael Hospital – (in)famous for early sex gender change operations! But the reason for the stop was to see the amazing ceramic mural that was designed and made by Sister Augusta Zimmer. This Sister of Charity of Cincinnati and a native of Lamar, Colorado, made the mural specifically to hang in the hospital’s front waiting room.

Sister Agusta, a 4-ft, 10-inch nun, was in her mid to late seventies when the mural was started – she did all the ceramic work in Ohio – and 80-years old when she finished. She worked from photographs, and every building is accurately made to scale. Not only did she make the tiles, she also came to Trinidad and personally hung the individual pieces.

From there we rode out to another former coal-mining town, and then back to I-25 and the Tequila Mexican Restaurant. The food was delicious, the ambience bright and colorful. Back in Raton, we stopped at a small street fair and then back out to Sugarite. I had a really nice time and so glad I didn’t pass up this opportunity.

This is “Butterfly Weekend” here at Sugarite – this evening was a talk and basic butterfly identification instruction by Steve Cary, the State Park Butterfly Expert. The park is in a great butterfly area – has a convergence of species from both the east slopes of the southern Rockies and the western edge of the prairie lands. Tomorrow morning is the annual official butterfly count!

Of course you know I’ll be there!