Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Ohio has a National Park! Who knew? And you don't have to pay to get in. It's about 15 miles from Chad and Jenna's house and we explored a section of it today, Brandywine Falls.

Actually, we explored a bit more than that due to Evan's navigation. All I'll say is that I'm glad he's doing the bulk of the driving on this trip and I'm calling out the directions.

The park, 33,000 acres between Akron and Cleveland, was formed as a National Recreation Area in 1974. Administered by the National Park System, it became a National Park in 2000. The park protects the Cuyahoga Valley, the namesake river and the Ohio & Erie Canal that flowed through it from 1827 - the 1860's when the railroad replaced the canal system. Today the towpath is a paved bike and hike trail.

The forests in this area are leafy hardwoods which stay cool, green and shady all summer. Today was much cooler than other days, a perfect temperature for exploring.

Chad is getting into photography, and today Evan was his flunky. Even though digital has sped up photo-taking, there's still an element of waiting for the perfect shot.

There is a town called Peninsula that's surrounded by the park. The homes there reflect a New England look due to its settlement by citizens from Connecticut in the late 1700's. On the charming house scale, this place is off the chart!

We finished the day by stopping by Chad and Jenna's favorite ice cream shop, called Handel's Homemade Ice Cream, since 1945. It is now our favorite ice cream shop too. I had a scoop of coconut cream pie and Evan licked his way through a cone of chocolate raspberry truffle.

So here's my perfect fantasy - sitting with my loved ones outside a historic barn, on soft grass under a leafy, green tree, having a picnic of sandwiches from Wheat Montana (our new favorite meaty sandwich place), then savoring the taste of Handel's ice cream.

Monday, June 29, 2009

In a Tangle

Here is a pictorial metaphor for life.

Sometimes it seems that no matter how we try to keep it all straight, tangles happen. No matter what methods are applied - the gently persuasive, let's-try-to sneak-around-this technique, or the give-it-a-yank-and-hope-for-the-best approach - things still get messy. Sometimes it's just best to cut ourselves loose and roll along with what we've got so far.

This has nothing to do with our road trip, except for the fact that my yarn for Ohio got into a terrible mess when I tried to wind it enroute. I'd forgotten to do that task while we were in the civilized confines of JR and Becky's where there would have been willing hands to hold it. Hint to all you knitters out there...it doesn't work to try to wind a ball of yarn by hanging the hank on the Garmin holder.

I missed much of the part of Indiana we were passing through while I was trying to get my mess straightened out. Evan tells me it was pretty scenic.

I think I've got enough yarn to represent Ohio. Thankfully it isn't a huge state.

In Ohio we saw the first small livestock since about Missoula. There was a herd of Boer goats lounging in a small pasture, and further on, a small flock of sheep. And a noticeable absence of corn, at last.

We're staying with Evan's friend from high school, Chad and his wife Jenna and their wee fellow, Zane. Jenna is about to start a OB/Gyn residency at a hospital in Akron.

I'll confess we didn't look for anything of historical consequence today. I think we might have been frustrated at any rate. We did find a Starbucks. If that is the most noteworthy part of the day, I'd say it was a bit uneventful.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Indiana or Bust

We're visiting Evan's good friends, JR and Becky in Brownsburg, Indiana.

It's a suburb of Indianapolis and what a lovely spot. The neighborhoods are green and leafy with abundant soft, green grass. The homes are brick (to withstand the tornadoes?) and even the new ones look somewhat established.

On our way here, we discovered a hidden gem in Andover, IL. We pulled off to get gas at this sweet country town of about 600. It is a historic site, home of the Jenny Lind chapel, which is the mother church of Swedish Lutheran community. Jenny Lind was a prominent Swedish opera singer who provided funding for the chapel (info garnered from Wikipedia). We went over to the park to play with the Green Giant frisbee. Evan was astonished by my ability to catch the thing, and I confess, so was I.

The hot, humid unseasonal weather saw us coming and scampered off to bother someone else. It's been a lovely two days. My favorite thing about this state? All those green lawns. Though I shudder to think of the gas it takes to keep them trim. Where are all the sheep?

JR took us hiking around a park yesterday, a cooler place to be under the canopy of the hardwoods. In the afternoon he and Evan had a round of golf, Becky had a wedding shower to attend and I lounged on the couch watching movies. What bliss.

Tomorrow we head to Akron, Ohio, to visit with another of Evan's friends. Evan's popularity and propensity for making lasting friends is sure coming in handy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Did Mother Nature Forget Iowa?

What do you do when you get somewhere that doesn't have nature's grandeur to amaze you? You go to places like the Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, MN., of course!

We arrived at the same time as two young men from New York who were heading west to Yellowstone. We took their photo and they took ours. That's a pretty touristy experience right there.

I was tickled to see the Jolly Green Giant immortalized. Who among you can show your age and sing the jingle? Apparently, Green Giant vegetables are out there again so keep an eye out. Like he says, there are no bad vegetables, just misunderstood ones.

I had no idea so much corn was grown in southern Minnesota. I can't help but wonder, how much of it goes into the Green Giant's cans and how much gets made into the devil high-fructose corn syrup?

This part of the country is a barn lovers delight. There are wonderful examples everywhere, and since Evan drove all of today, I got to rubberneck to my heart's content. Sigh...I hope there are barns in heaven.

Our jaunt southeast across Iowa (taking I-35 for you mid-westerners) started with a visit to the most amazing rest area/visitors center I've ever seen. Of course, the fact that it was fashioned after an iconic red barn may have had something to do with my enthusiasm. Upstairs was a dizzying array of brochures and maps, and lovely ladies who looked like everyone's Grandma roaming around to answer questions. There was even a gift shop full of locally made crafts!

So, Iowa is kind to visitors, and the part where we were was devoid of pig farms and feedlots. Actually, it was devoid of almost all creatures with four legs and cloven hooves. I saw about 10 cows. But lots of corn...

By the time we were about two-thirds of the way across I was getting grumpy because there didn't seem to be any incentives to pull off the highway. No enticing natural wonders or historical markers, and the exits to the one town we picked out to visit were closed due to roadworks.

The day was saved when we spied a sign, at last, for a National Historic Site. It was West Branch, the town where President Herbert Hoover was born. He's the pres who ended up in Newburg, OR, after he was orphaned at age 11 and sent west, with ten cents sewn into his pocket, to live with an uncle. (We learned all this from the very helpful ranger who was counting visitors to the cottage where Hoover was born.)

Those helpful interpretive signs...

We gravitate to that which we know. Me at the hitching post...

Evan in the schoolhouse.

Walking around in the 90-degree heat was all worth it to discover that nature might have forgotten Iowa but history hasn't.

At the end of the day, it was over the mighty Mississippi River to IL and our blessedly air-conditioned cabin near the town of Rock Island. The sign said the population is over 40,000 but we wonder where they all are. We drove around for a while and ended up in a whole other town and never found Rock Island.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Definition of a Tourist, Part II

Today we traveled across the half of SD that is east of Belvidere, about a third of the way into Minnesota. Those of you who have gone this route before might think that there isn't a whole lot more to be said about that.

Unless you are a make-your-own-things-to-look-at kind of tourist. Which we decided to be today.

The views out the windows were very pleasing. We'd been told that South Dakota is boring with a whole lot of nothing between silos. What's wrong with that? It's eye candy to someone who likes the big wide open. The cattle looked healthy and the prairie was showing off lovely shades of green.

The speed limit is 75mph, which doesn't allow for great out-the-window photos but I'm not that great a photographer anyway. I just hope I don't get Alzheimer's, because there are an awful lot of missed photo ops stored in my head.

We saw a sign for the town of Vivian, my niece's name, (and my sister-in-law's too but she spells hers differently) and decided to pull off and take a photo or two. This town is so small the bank is open from 8-12. But, they have a sweet iron sign complete with flower baskets welcoming you to the one street. Of course, the moment we stopped to set up the photo, a rush hour ensued and four cars went past.

The next stop was in Chamberlain, SD, where I-90 crosses the Missouri River. That called for a photo, but first we had to stop at Al's Oasis, to get donuts. Then we found a little spot by the river and stopped to imagine the culture of the river in the days before there were sweet looking bridges across it.

The Missouri River

I confess, we didn't find a place to stop in Minnesota before we reached our KOA campground. It's in Jackson, a charming little town with baseball games happening on every field we drove past. The Des Moines River runs alongside, and there's a nice walking trail. Which was nearly devoid of walkers because they all must have been at the baseball games.

In Jackson, MN

I like thinking about that contrast - we're so far away from home and they're basking in summer in a small town.

Definition of a Tourist

Just what is a tourist anyway? Someone who pulls over at all the widely advertised places, buys souvenirs, takes photos and heads off to the next spot?

Or someone who pulls over at interesting sounding places (to them, at least) just for the heck of it?

If you answered yes to both, you're on my team. By those definitions, Evan and I are becoming gold-standard tourists.

Yesterday we left Billings, headed to Belvidere, SD, a spot about in the middle of the state. But before we could settle into our cabin we had places to go, things to see, stuff to buy. After all, South Dakota is the Mt. Rushmore state. Evan is realizing how little American history he knows so he's an enthusiastic looker at interpretive signs.

But before we got to the stone-faced presidents, we pulled over at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Memorial. It's right off I-90 in Montana, and Custer's Last Stand occurred this same week in 1876, on June 25. It was pretty sobering to look over the fields of waving prarie grass and wildflowers and imagine them with dead bodies strewn across their expanse.

This is a sculpture at the part of the memorial that recognizes the Indians who died there.

Personally, I've always felt that Custer got what he deserved, and I agree with the words of Chief Sitting Bull, "Our homes were attacked and what would you do if your home was attacked? You would defend it." Politics aside, two points if you can guess which part of the scene was most poignant to me?

Most notable moment of the day (not captured on camera because it happened so fast)...still in MT, gazing upon a lovey cattle pasture, looking toward a small stand of trees nestled at the bottom of a low hill. A large, brown creature was heading across the pasture, and it was not a cow, it was a bear!! That is a big deal for someone who's only seen bears in zoos and Yellowstone, which is almost the same thing.

As we cruised toward Mt. Rushmore, Evan reminded me that he hates crowds. What did we do, raise a tribe of hermits? Each of our boys is like that. Oh, wait...so are Goddy and I. We agreed to persevere despite the crowds and go to the gift shop first. That way you forget the feeding frenzy for souvenirs when you get to the grandeur of what you actually came to see. It worked for us and we were suitably awed by the monument.

And yes, we heeded the siren call of Wall Drug Store and went in. Our five minutes of experiencing a travelers icon was actually quite fun.

So if the essence of road trips is to get to the end of the day and have moments to savor, then I'd say we're doing ok so far.

The next post will tell you about going the not-so-touristy-tourist route.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Epic Journey

Meet Ramsay. He's accompanying Evan and I on our journey across America. He's pretty well traveled too, starting life as a New Zealand tea towel. I bought him from an Etsy seller.

This trip is certainly a once-in-a-life time opportunity. We're driving a rather nice Jeep to Charleston, SC for Ryan and Shannon, friends of Evan's who got married last week and amazingly, didn't want to spend their honeymoon on a road trip.

Crystal couldn't accompany Evan, so I was next on the list. That would be the list of people who are compatible with Evan and can take a two-week chunk of time off. Hey, I didn't say the list was short - you must have thought that yourself!

Evan and I have a history of not being compatible, though that began to change sometime during his senior year of high school. Thank heavens. We'd have what Goddy called "circular arguments," occasions when neither of us admitted defeat in the discussion but just found another angle to be right about. It was exhausting and distressing. Yes, being right all the time can be tiring. And tiresome, I know.

Anyway, those days are done and Evan and I enjoy a convivial relationship, somewhat eerie when we find ourselves thinking exactly the same thing at the same time.

One of my aims on this trip is to enjoy what's around the next corner, taking time to see it and being a good sport about everything. The first thing we did was go a bit out of the way to Roslyn, WA, the town where Northern Exposure was filmed. I admit, I felt a bit star-struck to see the facades (which were actual buildings) I'd enjoyed for so many years on TV.

So far, so good, but it's only our second day...

Tonight we're in a cute cabin at the KOA in Billings, MT. "In Billings" is not exactly true - KOA's are not usually in anything but the middle of nowhere. In this case, the nowhere is by the Yellowstone River, under a lovely stand of cottonwoods with lots of grass all around.

Last night we were in Wallace, ID, the historic town in the Idaho panhandle where my mom was born.

She was raised down the road in Mullan, which we explored this morning. It was a sweet moment to be on the street where she lived, talking to her on the phone and having her describe the town as she remembered it.

Here's Ramsay canoodling with a statue of John Mullan, the town's namesake and explorer/roadbuilder extraordinaire. I-90 follows the route of Mullan's military road.

Tomorrow we head into uncharted territory - neither of us have driven east of Billings. The plan is to gaze upon Mt. Rushmore, ooh and ahh at the Badlands (do you do that there? I'll let you know...) and not go crazy at the vast empty that is the middle of South Dakota.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Not Their Best Day

Shearing day is not an alpaca's favorite day of the year. They usually are gregarious and curious, but when they come into the shearing pen, they turn grumpy.

Not that I can blame them...

This year we're trying something a bit different. We'll leave the fleeces on most of them, just removing the belly fiber so they stay cool, and shear them a bit earlier next year. The fiber will be several inches longer and hopefully the hand spinners who buy the fiber on Ebay will be appreciative, resulting in good auctions.

So shearing day should really have been called shearing-the-belly-on-most-of-them day, but that's too much of a mouthful, don't you think?

My friend Kelsey was invited to help. She's young, strong, and most important, a really good sport. That last attribute is important for people who help at alpaca shearing because sometimes the animals show their displeasure by leaping around, kicking or worst of all, spitting.

We'd warned Kelsey, but sure enough, it happened at a moment when no one was expecting it, especially her. The alpaca was on the ground, she was holding his head and concentrating on where Goddy's clippers were, a sensible thing to do when your fingers are in proximity to shearing blades. The alpaca let fly with gobs of green goo, and Kelsey was in the line of fire. I didn't get a photo because I went into rescue mode and raced off to get wet cloths. We got most of it off, but discovered that dried alpaca spit makes effective, if fragrant, hair gel. Kelsey didn't have any stray locks in her eyes the rest of the morning. And she managed to keep smiling.

(Can you believe such a sweet-faced creature is capable of a vile habit like spitting?)

But here's the thing that most impressed my husband (who doesn't often get impressed with alpaca handlers, no matter who they are) - Kelsey didn't let go of the alpaca, even with a face full of spit. Way to go, my friend!!

Here are a few pictures of Goddy's method of shearing alpacas. He starts with them standing but if they want to lie down he lets them.

The fiber from the body (called the barrel) is the highest quality.

This guy decided to lie down so Emilio is holding his tail and keeping alert in case the alpaca leaps to his feet.

One thing about shearing day that we could all learn from - as soon as its over, the alpacas are back to their gregarious, silly selves. I guess if you kick and spit when you're mad, there's no need to hold a grudge.