Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: soaring west

You might say we followed Horace Greeley’s advice when he wrote this in 1837: “Fly, scatter through the country — go to the Great West.”

Our family adventure westward occurred 150-some years later in the 1990’s when we moved from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. We traveled the Oregon Trail, but we did it the easy way, we flew from Kansas to Oregon.

As soon as we unpacked, we hit more trails in our newly acquired territory, but this time we traveled by car to explore our surroundings so different from those we had become accustomed to. I’m sharing some of those adventures on today’s Tuesday Tour.

As if to reinforce the reality of “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” one morning as we were preparing for the school day, something exciting happened.

Hot air balloons soared over our neighborhood subdivision. Our kids were thrilled to watch them while waiting for the school bus. And Mama had to snap a few photos with my trusty point and shoot 35 mm film camera.

Those balloons weren’t the only sights we would see soaring high in the sky. When the weekend rolled around, we were off to sightsee, driving west for one purpose – to get our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.

Our youngest child had never seen an ocean. Our two oldest had been oceanside on the Atlantic coast, but that was when they were too young to truly remember. Papa viewed the Pacific Ocean from the air when he flew overseas for military duty, but this Mama had never experienced the Pacific either.

Our first sight captivated us. The Oregon coast was like nothing we had seen before. Papa and I were used to mostly flat, wide, sandy and warm Atlantic beaches as far as the eye can see, but what Oregon’s Pacific coast offered were more rocky beaches, steep cliffs, forested areas, huge sand dunes, and ice-cold ocean water.

Our formerly landlocked, Midwestern-raised kids were enthralled with our first steps onto the sandy beach at Seaside, Oregon, a popular spot. They couldn’t wait to slip out of their shoes and play in the sand and even though the water was frigid, they dabbled their feet in it with shrieks of delight.

We traveled to the next enticing spot along the coast – Cannon Beach, a trendy area with shops and art galleries, but most famous for its Haystack Rock, mammoth in size.  

As we continued south, we entered another coastal town called Rockaway Beach, where we found several miles of uninterrupted shoreline. But a fun discovery there was a kite-flying festival in session. We spent the rest of our day there watching amazing kites flying high over the ocean, enjoying a little train ride, and devouring some tasty treats.

Even though we previously lived in the windy Midwest, we never had much luck flying kites. But right then and there at that Oregon coast kite festival, we resolved to purchase a kite at a gift shop. Observing how high our kite could soar on the Pacific coast became a fun, family activity.

We thoroughly relished our first trip westward to the Pacific Ocean, but it certainly would not be our last. Eventually, we would explore the entire Oregon coast marveling along the way, but that will be fodder for another Tuesday Tour.

“Sometimes just being on a beach with my loved ones is all the adventure I need.” ~ Guy Laliberte

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in life changes, photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: the adventure begins

We hit the ground running. Eager to explore our new locale after our move from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest back in the early 1990’s, we settled into our brand-new house as quickly as possible.

Even though I wasn’t crazy about making a move farther away from our families back east — okay, I’ll be honest…in my mind I was kicking and screaming about going because as one friend remarked we couldn’t get any farther away from our home state without falling into the ocean — but I was determined not to show my hesitation and angst to our young children.

So, dredging up a positive attitude and plastering it on my face and in my speech, I focused on painting a picture of our new home in that altered state as an exciting adventure for our family. We bade goodbye to our friends, our neighbors, our home, church, and comfortable way of life and set off westward on the Oregon Trail, so to speak.

Excitement commenced immediately since we journeyed via airplane to our new home. Our children, then aged 10, almost 7, and 4 had not experienced flying before, so exhilaration was high. Add to that, a fancy hotel stay for a few days, until our household goods and our family car caught up to us, was definitely out of the norm.

When the movers arrived at our new house with all our belongings, it was unseasonably hot. Not only were we surprised by that, but we were also a little miffed that folks told us we would not need central air conditioning. However, humidity proved low and evenings cooled off significantly. Eventually we did upgrade to A/C but didn’t utilize it that often.

Because a few weeks of school remained at our children’s new public school, we enrolled the two oldest and I located a wonderful preschool for our youngest to attend in the fall.

Our wise principal at our former Midwest school (where I had served as PTA President) recommended it would be easier for our girls to be the ‘new kids’ during the school year than at the beginning of the year when all the students in a classroom were new to the teacher.

He was right! Our girls settled in nicely with their new surroundings, teachers, and classmates and were welcomed with enthusiasm. Each morning, Papa headed out to work, the girls rode the bus to our neighborhood school, and our youngest “helped” me put our home in order.

But every weekend, we jaunted off to discover more about our new residence in this state so diverse from the one we had just left. Our first excursion was along the Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest.

Columbia River Gorge on Oregon side

Beautiful scenery can be viewed along this waterway that serves as a border between Oregon and Washington. Eventually, the Columbia, which originates in British Columbia, Canada, winds its way westward through the Cascade Mountain range and empties into the Pacific Ocean.

Driving east along this massive river, we got a taste of the Columbia River Gorge, a 4,000-foot-deep gorge, the largest national scenic area in the United States. The western part of the gorge is home to three dormant volcanoes, including Oregon’s highest point, Mount Hood, old growth forests, and waterfalls galore – over 40 of them.

We stopped at scenic spots along the Historic Columbia River Highway on the Oregon side of the river, then crossed it and came back home along the Washington side after visiting Bonneville Dam.

Columbia River Gorge on Washington side

The famous and often photographed Multnomah Falls was our first stop. This amazing sight is 620 feet tall, split into two falls basically, and is the tallest waterfall in Oregon.

Multnomah Falls

A paved path takes visitors to a footbridge where one can get a better view of the upper part of the falls. There are also trails to the top of Multnomah as well for more serious hikers.

Multnomah Falls is an extremely popular tourist attraction and busy with visitors year-round. After that, we opted for a quieter spot – Horsetail Falls – where there were a lot less people and our children could climb and scramble among the rocks.

Horsetail Falls
Horsetail Falls
Horsetail Falls

In the years to come, we would explore the Columbia River Gorge several times, including the vastly different terrain and climate of the eastern part, a high desert.

We experienced a great kick-start to our adventure quest in the Pacific Northwest. Yet so much more waited on the horizon for us.

“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” ~ William Feather

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in Life, photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: an altered state

A distinct change of scenery. A pronounced change of life. Even a distinguishable change of climate.

That’s what awaited our family in the early 1990’s. After close to a decade living in the Midwest, we moved across the country to the Pacific Northwest, a place truly diverse from our usual surroundings.

Due to Papa’s promotion/job transfer, we packed our household goods and watched movers load everything we owned, including our family vehicle, onto a trailer truck and drive away for a long haul west.

All we had left in our possession was one piece of luggage per person and our carry-on bags. We then boarded an airplane and landed in what felt like a different country or at least an altered state.

Moving from the flat lands and rolling small hills of the Great Plains, where there were four discernable seasons with hot, humid, and often dry summers and frigid, windy, snowy winters, to a mountainous, heavily forested location just an hour or so away from the Pacific Ocean with a mild climate and abundant rainfall astounded us all.

Today’s Tuesday Tour will highlight some of the first photos taken on my initial glimpse of that altered state and serve as an introduction for the next few posts of amazing places we visited in our six years of living in the Pacific Northwest.

Scenic spots we experienced inspired me to capture scads of scenic photos. My pictures back then were limited by my not-so-great photography skills and using an inexpensive film point and shoot camera, but I still managed to get some nice shots.

Prior to our big move, Papa had already acclimated to those new surroundings for a few months while this Mama and our three young children stayed in our Midwest suburb to get our house there sold.

Papa accomplished one dream he harbored when he accepted an invitation from some of his sales customers to go sailing in the San Juan Islands area of Washington. Living in a location so near the ocean and two major rivers would prove to be an extraordinary experience for us all.

Papa living the dream — sailing in the San Juan Islands, Washington

Before the move, I flew out for a few days to Portland, Oregon to join Papa in our quest for a suburban residence there while my parents came from their Northeast home to care for our children.

After landing at Portland International Airport, I could not stop exclaiming over the remarkably different environment right in front of my eyes.

The first thing that caught my eye and boggled my mind were the gigantic Douglas Fir trees…everywhere! Compared to the woods in the Kansas City area, those trees were massively tall. And I just could not get over it.

Even though it was early spring, grass was green, many of the deciduous trees already had leaves, and flowers were abundantly blooming. The majority of my first visit to the Portland area was spent searching for a place to live, but Papa and I managed a little bit of sightseeing as well.

What fun it was to stroll through the Portland Saturday Market, an open-air handmade arts and crafts market with local vendors, food kiosks, and live music.  Open on Saturdays and Sundays from March through December, this must-visit place, which opened in 1974, is known as the largest continuously operating market of its kind in the United States.

During the years we lived in the Portland area, the market was located near the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood under the Burnside Bridge. Now the market is situated in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park along the Willamette (pronounced Will-LAM-ette) River.

We still own a lovely hand-made pottery pitcher we purchased there, and I remember listening and enjoying the steel drum (or steelpan) music provided under a large canopy. Now the Portland Saturday Market is more permanent and folks can even purchase the unique merchandise from the artisans online. For those interested, click here.

We ambled along the waterfront park catching glimpses of RiverPlace Marina and the Portland Convention Center and just viewing the Willamette River. Soon we would call this unique (to us) place in the valley between mountains and ocean our home. And exploring beautiful new sights would begin.  

“Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.” ~ Leonard Koren

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in Life, travel

Tuesday Tour: show me

Life was good in the Midwest where we lived for eight years. Two of our three children were born there and our family of five made a lot of pleasant memories while residing there.

And although we loved living in our suburban home, we journeyed back East to visit our families often for holidays and summer vacations. One different venture though stands out in my memories and is highlighted on our Tuesday Tour today.

Back then, we used a camcorder to capture our vacation more than a still camera. I did take some photos with an inexpensive point and shoot film camera, but most of those were of our children at each of the spots we visited. But there are a few pictures I’m sharing here.

In the summer of 1990, we traveled through Missouri with several of our stops at family-oriented places to entertain, interest, and accommodate our young children at the time. It became a show-me-more kind of vacation in the “show me” state.

We were certain our children would enjoy our first stop at Purina Farms in Gray Summit, MO (near St. Louis) and they surely did. Think Purina as in animal chow and you can imagine what the attractions are.

In the pet center, we watched dogs perform all kinds of tricks, received informative lessons on pet care and even cat grooming, visited an enclosure where kitties lived a luxurious life (now a 20-foot, multi-level cattery), and enjoyed the barn area, where farm animals – cows, horses, sheep, hogs, chickens, and rabbits – were housed. Our children loved interacting with the animals and opportunities to pet them as well. Purina Farms is still going strong today but you must make reservations to visit now.

Show me another farm. One farm wasn’t enough so we visited Grant’s Farm, a historic farm located in Grantwood Village, MO. The land here was once owned by President Ulysses S. Grant but became the property of the Busch family of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. One of the attractions there is the famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses plus an assortment of other animals including elephants, camels, buffalo, donkeys, kangaroos, and goats. Our suburban children liked getting up close and personal with the farm animals as well as enjoying animal performances. Grant’s Farm is still free to the public, but now there is a parking fee.

Show me more animals. On we ventured into St. Louis to visit that city’s wonderful zoo. The St. Louis Zoo is yet another free attraction then and even now, although currently you must make timed reservations to visit. This zoo, as one of the few free ones in the United States, now houses over 12,000 animals and is one of the most visited attractions in the area. I don’t know if it still exists or not, but our kids loved a play area in the zoo which featured a rope “spider’s web” to climb on.

Show me something different. Finally, we opted for another place of interest that didn’t offer animals, located a cool, air-conditioned place to visit in St. Louis, and explored another great children’s place called the Magic House. I recently searched online to see if it still existed and according to its website, I’d say this children’s museum has changed quite a lot since we visited in 1990.   I recall that our youngsters were mesmerized by the hands-on exhibits back then and the big attraction for them was riding a hovercraft just a few inches off the floor.

Show me something cool. From there we traveled into the Ozark Mountains for even more show me sites we’d never seen before, and our next stop was definitely cool. The famous Meramec Caverns, the biggest commercial caverns (a 4.6-mile system), in a state also known as the “Cave State” (more than 6,000 caves) is located near Stanton, MO. We took a mile-long guided walking tour through the caverns along lighted walkways marveling at the various cave formations, claiming to be the rarest and largest in the world, on the way.  

Around 150,000 people visit Meramec Caverns every year learning facts such as the caves were Underground Railroad stations, and many slaves were hidden there on their journeys to free states and the legend that the infamous criminal Jesse James and his gang used the caves as their hideout in the 1870’s.

Show me more fun. Our next stop was Branson, MO, home of Silver Dollar City, a 61-acre theme park which opened in 1960 near Table Rock Lake. Feeling like you stepped back in time to the 1880’s, Silver Dollar City consisted of mostly craftspeople and artisans enacting live demonstrations set up in authentic-looking historical building replicas when we visited the park back then.  Now the park features amusement rides and attractions as well as concerts and live shows, dozens of restaurants, and a plethora of shops. Open from mid-March until late December, Silver Dollar City and surrounding attractions are a popular destination in the Midwest. We’ve actually been there three times I believe.

While in that area, we also visited Mutton Hollow Craft Village, which sadly does not exist any longer. (Photo at beginning of this blog was taken there.) It was a smaller, similar old-style themed park featuring rustic cabins where you could watch craftsmen at work and listen to tales of how settlers in that area of the Ozark Mountains lived back then.

It wasn’t as busy or popular as Silver Dollar City, but we liked visiting there and our kids relished getting pony rides. Also nearby is an area where an outdoor drama takes place annually called Shepherd of the Hills. The event is a live reenactment of an historical novel written by Christian minister Harold Bell Wright and published in 1907. We visited the site but did not attend the dramatic production.

Show me unusual nature. Since we were close to Arkansas, we decided to travel further south through the Ozarks and wound up in Eureka Springs, AR, an entire city that has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This mountainous town with its steep streets and sidewalks and no traffic lights consists of many Victorian-style homes and is a popular tourist attraction.

Of course, our young children weren’t that interested in its history nor its architectural style, so we found two aspects of the area that were more exciting for them. First was a visit to a nature trail in a park-like setting that led us to Pivot Rock and Natural Bridge.

Unusual natural rock formations, which became tourist attractions over a hundred years ago, entice visitors to view a 12-foot high, gigantic rock that looks like an inverted pyramid. It does astound your mind that it stays upright, and it makes for a fun photo opportunity.  Natural Bridge is exactly what it sounds like, a naturally occurring stone bridge that was carved out of the rocky cliffs by nature’s weathering.

Show me the end. Our last stop was a ride on the Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railway. Our train was pulled along by a steam locomotive to the end of the line where we disembarked and watched the engine turn around on a historic turntable.

The train ride was fun for our kids and Papa, the railroad enthusiast, enjoyed every minute. Today visitors can take rides on an excursion train or in a dining car pulled along by a 1940-era diesel engine and watch the engines turn around on the turntable, but the steam locomotives appear to have been retired into exhibits.

Our show-me vacation proved to be one I haven’t forgotten even after all of these years. The photos I captured of our three youngsters enjoying our vacation and the few I exhibit here today show me we made great memories.

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.” ~ Confucius

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in Life, travel

Tuesday Tour: cruising through the 80’s

Sometimes I jokingly retort that I missed the 80’s.

Oh, I don’t necessarily pine nostalgically for that particular decade of time. Instead, I have to pause and try to recall events that occurred during the 1980’s. Those 10 years of my life whipped by me like a runaway train on a steep downhill track.

So the 80’s? A blur in my memory bank because then I was preoccupied with birthing and taking care of my babies. Three to be exact.  All our children were born in that decade, and I spent many sleepless days and nights rocking babies, nursing babies, worrying over babies, being a hospital patient delivering babies, and even recovering from surgery to remove a pesky gall bladder.

Is it possible I walked around in a daze of fatigue for much of that decade? Probably.

The 80’s became a decade of major life changes for us. Papa decided to leave the military and became a traveling sales representative for a national company which deposited us in the Midwest.

His sales territory covered two large states so when he traveled by company car for two or three nights a week, much of his time away from home was on the road. And since none of our family lived near us, my days and nights were consumed being a stay-at-home mother 24/7 to three little ones.

Not only were we attempting to make ends meet on one salary, but we had purchased our first home (whew, mortgage interest rates were sky high at that time!), spent time and money updating and modifying that house, and thus, funds for extravagant family vacations just did not exist.

Vacations with three tots under the age of six also didn’t sound super relaxing in our minds either. Our last child was born in the late 80’s hence he was just a baby/toddler and the sheer magnitude of packing everything needed for a week for our family of five boggled my mind and shredded my nerves.

So, travel for vacations to exciting and scenic locales were practically non-existent during that decade, yet I can share one highlight of that era for my Tuesday Tour today.

Since far-away grandparents were eager to spend quality time with their far-away grandchildren, most of our “vacations” were trips back east to our home state. On one occasion, we relished the opportunity to spend a few days with extended family in a lovely cottage on the Atlantic Ocean shore in New Jersey.

And occasionally, we managed a side trip of some interest on the way to or from visiting family. We lived in the Kansas City metro area back then, and on our way east, we always traveled through the city of St. Louis located in Missouri on the mighty Mississippi River.  

We always spied the famous Gateway to the West archway as we buzzed through that city, but because we adhered to a strict timetable for travel, we didn’t take time to stop there. Our itinerary was a bit crazy but it worked for us.

Papa worked on Friday, come home a bit early to load up all our luggage and what seemed like tons of other stuff for the children that I had already packed.

We would hit the road around 4 pm, drive until dinner time, stop and eat then change the kiddies into their jammies and keep on driving through the night, changing drivers between the two of us while they slept.

A long 17-hour drive straight through and we would then arrive at my folks’ home Saturday morning exhausted. Grandma and Grandpa would look after the children and Papa and I would take a little nap.

But on one of our trips back to Kansas City, we decided to stop in St. Louis to visit the iconic Arch located inside a U.S. National Park along the river.

Papa and I, with two little ones in tow (prior to our last child’s birth), enjoyed a short cruise on the Mississippi River via a 19th century paddle-wheel riverboat replica. I do recall the excursion was fun and cool on the river on a hot, muggy summer day. Along the way, we had a nice view of the Gateway Arch and also downtown St. Louis.

Today, visitors can still take various cruises on riverboats, including those named Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer, which were originally utilized beginning in 1964 to allow tourists to view the Arch as it was being constructed from the river.

Next, we visited the Gateway Arch itself. An amazing monument it truly is. Standing 630 feet tall, the 63-stories high monument was constructed using 43 thousand tons of concrete and steel to commemorate President Thomas Jefferson’s vision of expanding the United States westward. The city of St. Louis and the many pioneers who made that possible are celebrated by the Arch. 

Designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, construction on the Arch, touted as the America’s tallest monument, began in 1963 and was completed by the fall of 1965. Building the arch itself cost $11 million, with 75% of the cost supplied by federal funding and 25% by St. Louis city funds. An additional $2 million financed the arch transportation system (trams inside the monument which take visitors to the top of it) which was completed in 1967-68.

Millions of sightseers have traveled to the top of the Gateway Arch to view the Mississippi River, which flows below the arch east windows, and look 30 miles to both the east and west of the city on a clear day.

I’m happy to say we were some of those millions who took the tram ride to the top of the arch. Going up takes about four minutes but to someone a bit claustrophobic, it might seem longer.

I just remember I was relieved to reach the top, where there are narrow, small windows on each side of the arch in the viewing area, although since it was a hazy, humid day, our view wasn’t the greatest. 

Of course, what goes up must come down and even though there is a stairway, that is only used by arch personnel and is not open to the public, so you must ride the tram back down to ground level.

Looking up at the arch from ground level

Once we arrived on solid ground again, we toured the arch museum, not overwhelmingly interesting for our very young children but my history loving husband enjoyed the exhibits featuring over 200 years of history.

It was just a short stop – one day of touring – as we traveled through St. Louis on our way back to our Midwest home in 1986, but it was a worthwhile stop. And the photos I managed with an inexpensive point and shoot film camera give me memories of it.

Sometimes a deviation from the tried-and-true path is exactly what’s needed. That proved evident both in our travels as well as during that 80’s decade.  That much I certainly remember.

“Take the long way home.” ~ Unknown

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in Life, photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: million dollar highway

I bet you’ve heard it many times – life is a highway. Possibly a song queues up in your brain’s juke box like it does in mine.

That song, Life is a Highway, immediately starts playing in my head and lyrics blast from my mouth. Originally written and sung by Tom Cochrane in the early 1990’s, the song was made popular by Rascal Flatts as the theme song for the Disney animated movie, Cars.

Traveling by car on a spectacular highway is today’s focus on my Tuesday Tour as I continue to share Papa’s and my 1979 autumn trip to the San Juan Mountains (part of the Rockies) in southwestern Colorado.

“All roads are tough, but you have to choose the one you know you’ll never be sorry for taking.” ~ Chris Burkmenn

One of the roads we traveled during our week-long stay was definitely a spectacular scenic drive, yet also a nail biter, but one we weren’t sorry we took. Dubbed the Million Dollar Highway, this two-lane road tests your driving skills as you maneuver through Mineral Creek Valley and encounter sharp grades, hairpin turns, and cross over three mountain passes.

There are varying theories on why this scenic highway is named thusly. Some say constructing the highway in the 1920’s cost over $1 million per mile. Other folks think the highway’s name came from the awe-inspiring views. And yet another claim is that literally the dirt used to fill in the road contained a million dollars’ worth of gold ore.

Whatever the truth may be, it is one highway visitors won’t soon forget. One stretch of road that traverses travelers from the Red Mountain Pass, with an elevation of over 11,000 feet, through the Uncompahgre Gorge is one that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

I have to surmise that this drive was so scary that I stayed busy ascertaining that Papa didn’t drive us over the side of the mountain and that’s why I don’t have many photos taken with my 35 mm film camera from way back then.

Million Dollar Highway consists of narrow lanes of traffic overlooking very steep cliffs and there are no guardrails. You read that correctly, no guard rails! And apparently, it remains the same now as it did in 1979 when we drove on it.

A co-worker recommended this drive as a “must see” for us and we learned she was right. We started out on the Million Dollar Highway (US Route 550) from the mining town of Silverton, where we previously visited via the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. The drive eventually took us to a lookout point, where we could view another tiny town of just 0.8 square miles, Ouray.

Nestled in the mountains, Ouray’s nickname is “Switzerland of America.” Its history began in 1876 when the town became incorporated, not long after Colorado became a US state. Ouray also calls itself the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Colorado,” with many outdoor activities available.

One of the well-visited sites on our itinerary to see in Ouray was Box Canyon Falls. The falls, an 85-foot torrent of water, is located inside a park of the same name. Canyon Creek narrows and shoots through boulders there gushing thousands of gallons of water a minute.

Quite a sight to behold and I recall how loud is was as the falls thundered down into a 100-foot walled canyon of quartzite. My old film photos and not-so-great photography skills truly don’t show how dramatic and astonishing it is, but you can tell how dark it was at the bottom of the falls where the creek continued on by the photo below.

All too soon, it was time for us to leave the mountains and the forest and head back to the prairie – the plains of Oklahoma where duty and work called our names.

On our way back, we traveled through Wolf Creek Pass, a high and very steep mountain pass on the Continental Divide. We stopped at the summit (elevation 11.904 feet) in hopes of seeing some snow but all we found was one little patch.  

One memorable sight and decent photograph I captured was a copse of aspen trees just beginning to turn their lovely lemon-yellow color as we traveled through the San Juan Mountains. Our mountain getaway was one we’ll not forget.

As I look back on the many highways we’ve traveled during our 40+ years of marriage, some roads we traveled in life turned out great, some were difficult and trying, but all were blessings in some way. I’m grateful for them and hopeful for more roadways of life to capture on my Tuesday Tour.

“They say life is a highway and we all travel our own roads, some good, some bad, yet each is a blessing of its own.” ~ Jess “Chief” Brynjulson

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: a different landscape

After a couple of years living on the plains of Oklahoma (where the wind truly does come sweeping down the plain), our fall vacation to the mountains of southwestern Colorado in 1979 was unquestionably a change of landscape.

Continuing our Tuesday Tour of this area, today my old 35mm film photos of another attraction we visited during that trip so long ago tell the story. Reaching back over 40 years in my memory bank in order to recall details of this trip, these old pictures came to my aid. My photography skills weren’t all that great back then, but the photos do jog my remembrances.

After our day trip on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (click here if you missed that post), we ventured out on another day trip from our little one-bedroom log cabin in the San Juan Mountains to Mesa Verde.

Plummeting caverns like we’d not seen before (this was four decades before we’d viewed the Grand Canyon) and vast views that enable visitors, on a clear day, to see four states located in this “four corners region” – Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah – proved to be a landscape of a different kind.  

 

Amazing and intriguing sights can be found in Mesa Verde National Park, consisting of archaeological sites that were once inhabited by ancestral Pueblo people.  They built their communities not just on the mesas there but within the overhanging cliffs. Hundreds of these cliff dwellings are some of the best-preserved archeological areas in North America.

The arrow points to a cliff dwelling seen from a distance

For some reason after living on top of the mesas for centuries, the Puebloans moved their community dwellings cliffside, ranging from one-room to villages with numerous rooms.

Getting a little closer to the huge community

According to park information, these ancient people farmed on top of the mesas, but lived in the alcoves of the canyons for almost 100 years. Eventually, they moved into what is now New Mexico and Arizona and by the year 1300, Mesa Verde was no longer inhabited by the ancestral Pueblo people.

It was mind-boggling to view the almost unbelievable structures tucked into the side of steep cliffs from a distance as we drove around the park via winding roads, but when we actually hiked down to view them up-close, we marveled at these ancient people’s ingenuity and adeptness.

Going down the trail to explore Cliff Palace

Because the altitude is rather high at Mesa Verde and it was a scorching hot day, I endured a wicked headache while we visited so we didn’t explore as much as we could have. Since I wasn’t feeling well, we chose to forgo visiting Balcony House which is only accessible by climbing a 32-foot ladder and then crawling through a tunnel. A pounding headache, slight nausea, and no remedy available caused me to nix that idea.

But we did hike down the pathway to view Cliff Palace, which is the largest and most famous of the cliff dwellings, containing over 150 rooms as well as kivas, which were rooms used for religious rituals.

Another area of Mesa Verde is Wetherill Mesa where Long House is located. This area was excavated in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Today you can only visit it by ranger-guided tours. Of course, in the over 40 years since we visited, much has been added to the park including a visitor center, where sightseers can purchase tour tickets.

Papa before he became a papa (just to show scale of the dwellings)

Even though my memory of visiting Mesa Verde is hampered by not forgetting a touch of “altitude sickness,” I’ve never forgotten the sights we viewed in that very different terrain from any we’d seen before. I’m glad I still have those old photographs to catalog that unusual landscape.

“We are a landscape of all we have seen.” ~  Isamu Noguchi 

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: the mountains are calling

It was our first real vacation as a married couple in the fall of 1979. Papa was a military officer; I worked as a newspaper assistant editor/reporter in a place far from our home state. Consequently, our vacations were jaunts back ‘home’ to visit our families.

But we wanted to explore places new to us and after growing a tad weary of seemingly endless flat prairie land, we longed to visit mountains and forests. So that September, we decided to drive from Oklahoma through New Mexico and into the San Juan Mountains (part of the Rockies) of southwestern Colorado.

Luckily for us, one of my co-workers traveled there every summer for a family reunion, so she suggested a great itinerary of spots to visit.

We booked a little one-bedroom log cabin at Silver Streams Lodge near Vallecito Lake, CO in the San Juan National Forest in September and were surprised to find we were the only people there other than the owners/managers. Of course, summers and winters are busier seasons for that area.

View from the lodge

We hiked and enjoyed the peace, quiet, and change of scenery. But the highlight of our vacation was day trips to Durango, Silverton, Ouray, and Mesa Verde. Today on our Tuesday Tour, I’m showcasing the Durango-Silverton area.

Even back then in his 20’s, Papa was a railroad enthusiast, and he was excited for us to embark on a day-long excursion via the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a train with both steam and diesel locomotives that has continued operation for almost 140 years to date.  

What an amazing trip! Boarding the train in the historic town of Durango, passengers travel 45 miles up the mountains for 3½ hours and arrive in the old mining settlement of Silverton.

In 1880, Durango was founded by the Denver and Rio Grande Railway. Once the railroad was established there the next year, construction on tracks up the mountain to Silverton began and were completed by the summer of 1882. The train hauled both passengers and freight, especially silver and gold ore mined in the San Juan Mountains.

We departed in the morning and arrived in Silverton, nestled in the valley of the mountains, where we ate lunch and enjoyed a couple hours browsing the shops there. Of course, Papa posed in front of the train’s engine on our arrival, and I posed in the open rail car, our choice on the way back down the mountain to Durango on another 3 ½ hour trip.

Arrival in Silverton
Departure from Silverton

The magnificent views we experienced, inaccessible by highway, awed us. My old 35mm film photos and my not-so-great photography skills back then don’t do them justice, but you get the idea.

Animas River Gorge as seen from the train

Even back in the late 1970’s, both Durango and Silverton (watch a nice video here) had plenty of restaurants and shops to visit and now even more so (500 shops in the Durango area), but nature and outdoor activities as well as the narrow gauge train trip are the true gems and tourist attractions of that area of Colorado.

Next week on our Tuesday Tour, I’ll show you other spectacular spots we visited on our trip to southwestern Colorado including Ouray and Mesa Verde.

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” ~ John Muir

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: home on the range

Since my series of Tuesday Tour highlighting covered bridges ended last week, I’ve been contemplating where to venture next. Unfortunately, since travel was restricted for so long during the you know what, Papa and I haven’t hit the road as much as we usually do in search of new adventures.  

Hopefully, that changes soon but, in the meantime, I reminisced about past excursions we’ve taken in our 40+ years of marriage. Because, you know, that’s what you do when you can’t move forward, you look back to the past.

With hopes that I don’t bore my readers (please excuse me and let me know if I do), just yesterday on one of those rainy, dreary, is it Monday already moments, I decided to continue Tuesday Tour highlighting places we’ve visited in the past.

Maybe it’s desperation for something to blog about, but it’s also a bit of fun to see how far Papa and I have come in our travels as well as how my photography skills have fared.

So with photos I shot in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s with a 35 mm film camera, here goes…

Way back when we were newlyweds, Papa and I said goodbye to our native land and headed for the OK state – Oklahoma. Some folks claim this panhandled place sandwiched in between Kansas and Texas is a southwestern state, others categorize its location as Midwest.

Whatever it is, Oklahoma seemed like a foreign country to two young’uns born and raised in a hilly, mountainous (Allegheny Mountains), and forested northeastern or middle Atlantic state as it is sometimes called. 

The area of Oklahoma that we landed in for a four-year sojourn was a flat prairie, mostly treeless, with a heap of huge boulders they call mountains.

The scenario was like the old cowboy folk song, “Home on the Range,” originally written as a poem by Dr. Brewster M. Higley in 1872 or 73, came to life.

“Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the sky is not cloudy all day.”

I vividly recall one of the first times Papa and I explored our surroundings when we were in search of Geronimo’s grave (a famous Native American leader from the Apache tribe).

Geronimo’s gravesite

Driving out onto the flat plains where there were no signs of civilization and the horizon seemed to spread out for eternity, I felt not just awestruck but a bit frightened as well.

Right then, I decided I never would have been a pioneer heading west in a covered wagon into uncharted territory. Nope, this gal would have stayed back east in civilization with hills, wooded areas, and people. That expanse of uninhabited prairie kind of scared me.

One of our favorite pastimes in the five years we lived in that area of Oklahoma was visiting the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge which was practically at our back door.

The most prominent aspect of the national refuge, established in 1901 to provide a habitat for an assortment of native animals, is Mount Scott. Visitors can drive a winding, curving road (which can provide a nail-biting experience for some) to the mountain’s top 2,464 feet above sea level, where a parking lot is located.

View from Mount Scott

From that spot, one can gaze out forever it seems, viewing the grassland prairie and plenty of rocks. It’s a windy place reminding visitors what those song lyrics from the musical Oklahoma, “where the wind comes sweeping down the plain” are all about.

Even more astonishing for us while motoring through the 59,000+ acre refuge was meeting free range American bison roaming about, crossing the road in front of our car, and staring at us while we stared at them, worrying they might charge at us. And believe me, when bison want to cross the road, you stop and let them!

Rocky Mountain elk and white-tailed deer also abound there as well as Texas longhorn cattle (in photo at beginning of this post). We managed to see them all on our visits, as well as get our first look at tarantulas in their natural habitats.

We distinctly remember stopping for a “tarantula train” crossing the road. They were huge and caused me to shudder quite a bit as I’m definitely not fond of spiders of even the tiny kind.

Rocky Mountain Elk

The refuge offered lots of opportunities for watching wildlife, fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, rappelling, and rock climbing and still does. But watch out for rattlesnakes and scorpions!

We enjoyed many picnics there as well as visiting the nearby Holy City of the Wichitas, site of a long-time running Easter pageant, and some interesting restaurants that I’m surprised to say still exist now.

The Old Plantation restaurant was a great place to dine on steaks and view the eclectic and unusual décor, while we could feast on delicious, gigantic hamburgers the size of a dinner plate at Meers Store and Restaurant.

One of my favorite aspects of the wildlife refuge was the prairie dog town. Prairie dogs are rodents related to squirrels, can be up to 15 inches long, but they live in underground colonies of tunnels that can spread for many miles.  They also emit a noise that sounds like the bark of a dog.

Watching them pop in and out of their underground homes was a source of amusement and I loved watching these cute critters.

For over five years, we called the Lawton-Fort Sill area of Oklahoma home. After over 40 years, memories of those home on the range places still bring a smile to my face. Maybe you’ll smile too and visit there someday.

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” ~ Pascal Mercier

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Posted in photography, travel

Tuesday Tour: loop’s end

And so, we reach the end of the loop – the Ashtabula Covered Bridges Trail or the “Covered Bridge Loop” in Ashtabula County, Ohio – as this is my last post about historic covered bridges on my Tuesday Tour. Hopefully, Papa and I will uncover some more of these picturesque bridges in future travels.

Today, please enjoy the last four bridges we viewed on our driving tour one day last summer. In addition to the 12 total we located, four more drivable ones exist in Ashtabula County, but we didn’t have time to visit those since this was just a day trip.

As we drove through Benetka Road Covered Bridge, a 138-foot long, single span with a Town truss lattice and arch design, we weren’t aware of its history.  Later, I learned this bridge, located on a road of the same name and crossing the Ashtabula River, was built near a water-powered saw, grist, and flour mill constructed in 1829. Some historians believe the Benetka bridge was erected around 1900, but others claim that the bridge’s timbers have two different kinds of saw marks – some circular and some vertical – most likely created by sash saws powered by the old mill. Some covered bridge aficionados speculate those particular timbers were cut around 1860 or even earlier, so it is possible Benetka was first constructed then and maybe rebuilt in 1900. Either way, it is a nice example of that era of time. The bridge was rehabilitated by the county in 1985 when laminated arches were added to its length. Drivers are warned that a blind spot exists at the bridge’s south approach because of a curve, and local drivers beep their car horns to signal they are coming through.

Our next stop located on Dewey Road in Plymouth Township was the Olin Covered Bridge.  Once known as the Dewey Road Bridge, this 115-foot, single span Town lattice structure also crosses the Ashtabula River, and was repaired, restored and renamed Olin Covered Bridge in 1994. Originally built in 1873, it is the only bridge in Ashtabula County named for a family, the Olins, pioneers who owned property beside the bridge for well over 150 years. Alson and Alvina Olin arrived in Ashtabula County from New York in 1832 and their son, Almon, purchased the land in 1860 beside where the bridge now exists. You can learn more about this historic bridge by visiting a small museum and gift shop located less than a mile away and operated by members of this family. The Olin’s Museum of Covered Bridges, opened in 2003, claims to be the country’s first covered bridge museum, and contains educational displays as well as an Olin family collection.  We didn’t know of its existence in a 100-year-old house when we drove through the Olin bridge, so we did not visit it, but the museum is only open Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 pm from July through October.  

From the old and historic to the modern and amazing, our driving tour included motoring through the longest covered bridge in the United States at 613 feet and the fourth longest covered bridge in the world, Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge. The engineering and structural design of this Pratt Truss bridge was created by former County Engineer John Smolen with current County Engineer Timothy Martin, providing architectural design. This bridge was dedicated in 2008. An interesting aspect of the structure is it stands 93 feet above the Ashtabula River, is wide and high enough to support two-lane legal weight, modern traffic, and is expected to last 100 years.  

The Smolen–Gulf Bridge cost approximately $7.78 million to build, rests on concrete piers and abutments, and consists of three-foot-thick Douglas fir and yellow pine wood. The siding is constructed of Hemlock and yellow poplar wood.  Features include walkways on both sides of the bridge and a visitor’s pavilion, from which I snapped a number of photos. Below the Smolen-Gulf bridge, a small Riverview Covered Pedestrian Bridge also exists for visitors to amble through on foot.

The last covered bridge we viewed on our driving tour was the Doyle Road Covered Bridge, spanning Mill Creek, a tributary of Grand River. At 94 feet long, this single span Town truss and lattice bridge was erected in 1868 and renovated in 1987. In my research, I did not find a lot of history about this particular covered bridge, except for that fact that the creek it crosses – Mill Creek – was named after a Mills family who were early pioneer settlers in the area. It was a lovely bridge and just as enjoyable to drive through as all the other bridges on the loop tour.

As I climbed back in our vehicle and fastened my seat belt, Papa and I heard the distinct clip-clop of a trotting horse coming through the bridge. Alas, I couldn’t grab my camera fast enough to catch the Amish buggy that came through. But we did see several on all the country roads we traveled upon on our tour.

A fun fact for visitors who want to travel to this area of Ohio: each fall, a covered bridge festival takes place during the second weekend of October in Ashtabula County. The festival includes crafts, entertainment, quilt shows, food, and of course, beautiful fall scenery provided by nature as folks take the covered bridge driving tour through the county. And the festival is free to the public. For those who love exploring these quaint, historic bridges, it would make a great fall getaway trip.

Just like visiting lighthouses, exploring covered bridges provides fun and beautiful scenic sights for this retired, empty nest Mama and Papa to visit on our travels. We enjoy seeking them out, but also are happy to come home to our own little neck of the woods, grateful for the opportunities.

“Never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.” ~ Fannie Lou Hamer

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021