Day 8: Wisconsin Trip – 06/14/2017

Day 8: Wisconsin Trip 06/14/2017 Photo Album

Wednesday morning we woke up to rain and dense clouds. The storm was blowing from the southeast, and the wind blasted sheets of heavy rain against the large living room window of The Mettie Room. Jane and I ate our normal Door County breakfast, while we marveled at the deluge, and then we noticed water droplets along the top of the window frame; and as more time elapsed, the steady drip of water on to the window sill accelerated. I rushed upstairs to the hot tub room and grabbed a pair of thick towels and returned to the front room, where Jane placed the towels on the sill. This seemed to solve the problem for a short while, and then the rain resumed its intensity and drops appeared along the wooden ceiling beam. Gravity caused this water to fall to the carpet, and Jane reacted by placing the two trash cans beneath the dripping beam.

In the midst of this mayhem I looked up the phone number of The Cornerstone and called the person on duty. Within fifteen minutes an elderly couple arrived to inspect the situation. The gentleman claimed that the windows were recently replaced, and I pointed out that much of the leakage was originating from the ceiling, and therefore it was likely there was a leak in the roof. The woman replaced our towels, and they departed, and shortly thereafter the storm abated. We moved our belongings out of harms way, so the impact on us was minimal, and we were due to check out on Thursday, so we continued with our plans.

In retrospect we really did not have any plans for Wednesday, so while the rain slowed and ended, we once again researched our pamphlets and maps. One map highlighted road loops in Door County, and my attention was drawn to a route that tracked the eastern coastline just south of Whitefish Bay, a tiny town south of Whitefish Dunes. I convinced Jane that this would be an interesting ride, and once the rain ended, we set out for our agreed upon destination.


Checking Out the Beach

We found a nice parking lot with a boat launch and a concrete dock, and after unloading our bikes, we mounted them and began our ride. We followed CO T south along the eastern shoreline for six miles until we reached Lily Bay Park. It was not much of a park, as it represented a narrow public parking area and a place to launch a boat. The land between County T and the shoreline contained very nice summer homes that blocked access to the beaches; however, periodically a sign announced the name of a narrow lane, and several were not labeled as private. Jane and I stopped at a few of these to gain access to the beach, and this enabled views north and south.


Dave on the Beach South of Whitefish Bay

The return route was uneventful, and after a one hour and fifteen minute out and back we loaded the bikes and returned to The Cornerstone. Jane booked reservations at Pellitier’s Restaurant and Fish Boil in Fish Creek for 6:00, so we changed into our nicest clothes and once again made the drive to Fish Creek. We parked on a side street and decided to browse the shops. We walked south and then crossed the main street that paralleled the waterfront, when once again the sky opened, and buckets of rain fell upon us. We quickly scrambled to find an open store and found ourselves in a small shop that specialized in international gifts. Jane felt guilty about using the shop simply for shelter, so she purchased a nice headband.


Fish Boil in Progress

Eventually the rain slowed enough to enable us to sprint to the car, and we moved it to a parking place close to Pellitier’s. We checked in at the host counter and paid for two fish boils. I chose the standard boil, and Jane opted for the lite. We were invited to grab a table, or we could move outside to watch the culmination of the 6PM boil. We actually did both. We chose a table, and then I walked to the area behind the restaurant where two large barrels were perched on stands over a flaming fire. Several young men wearing rain slickers were tending the boil, and I snapped a few photos while attempting to remain somewhat dry. At six o’clock I was back inside the restaurant looking out the large glass window, and I witnessed the flames as they burst from the fire and surrounded the large barrel for a moment. With this climactic ending the boil was complete and ready for consumption.


The Famous Fish Boil

Jane and I returned to our table and within minutes our waiter arrived and deposited two plates in front of us. Each contained a fillet or two of boiled whitefish, two small boiled red potatoes, and a boiled onion. A thick slice of brown bread perched on the lip of the plate. Jane and I ate our boils, but we both agreed afterwards that it was relatively bland, and the high point was the ten second flame up in the back patio.


The Stage Is Set for The Actuary

After dinner we proceeded south to the Peninsula Players Playhouse several miles south of Fish Creek. We purchased tickets online for The Actuary. The playhouse opened for the season the previous night and was sold out, so we decided to stay an extra night in order to obtain seating. We both thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and the time raced by. A humorous play was an appropriate end to our Wisconsin road trip in 2017.

Day 7: Wisconsin Trip – 06/13/2017

Day 7: Wisconsin Trip 06/13/2017 Photo Album

Jane and I typically rent an audio book from the library to entertain us while making long road trips, and on one previous excursion we listened to The Bone House by Brian Freeman. This novel unfolds in Door County and the protagonists reside on Washington Island which is located north of the Door County peninsula. The story took place in the same area that we were now visiting, and it mentioned Schoolhouse Beach, Death’s Door, and the ferry that transports cars and residents between the island and the mainland. We visualized these scenes in our minds, but now we had the opportunity to see them first hand. Tuesday was our designated day to visit Washington Island.

We targeted the 12:00PM ferry departure, and this provided a window of time in the morning to do some additional sightseeing. We filled out the morning by visiting yet another state park, Newport State Park. Newport State Park is located on the southeastern corner of the tip of the peninsula, and the drive from the park to Gills Rock was short. The dock at Gills Rock is the departure location for the Washington Island passenger ferry.


Ferns Reach to My Shoulders

The 2.4 mile Lynd Point/Fern Loop Trail required an hour to complete, and the highlight was the Lynd Point segment which followed the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Jane and I hiked on a short spur to some rocks overlooking the water, and as I gazed at the unending expanse of the lake, a huge fish leaped completely clear of the water’s surface. The fish was definitely some form of trout or salmon, and I anxiously told Jane of my observation. She turned to look where I pointed, and miraculously the same fish cleared the water a second time. I estimate it was a fat salmonid in the 20 – 30 inch range. I now had a witness to my first sighting of a fish in Lake Michigan.


Near the Spot Where I Saw a Salmon or Steelhead

When we returned to the car we hustled to reach the ferry launch and quickly parked in a grass lot at the top of a hill. We unloaded our mountain bikes and cruised down the hill and purchased our tickets for the crossing to Washington Island. An elderly gentleman piloted the ferry, and within ten minutes we commenced the crossing. The band of water that separates the peninsula from Washington Island is named Deaths Door, and our pilot/guide informed us that it claimed a large number of vessels over the years due to its difficult currents.




Lunch on Washington Island

Once we docked on the island a ship’s mate unloaded our bikes, and we found a convenient picnic table next to the dock. We munched our lunches, and then we pedaled a short distance to Lobdell Point Road which connected with Main Road. Main Road was the main artery, and we followed that for five miles to Schoolhouse Beach. We paused at the park and beach which was relatively crowded with recent arrivals from tour groups. The beach was comprised of white round stones that are on average three inches long by two inches wide and shaped like an egg.


Smooth and Round

We rested at the beach and watched tour visitors toss the round rocks in the lake, and after fifteen minutes we were anxious to escape the insanity of humanity and return to the peaceful rural roads of the island. We completed a loop by traveling east on Jackson Harbor Road and then looped south and west until we reconnected with Main Road. The island seemed sparsely populated, although most the of the lakefront lots seemed occupied. We returned to the dock with nearly an hour to spare, so we climbed back on our bikes and completed a short loop that circled around a small peninsula that jutted out from the southwest corner of the island.


What Is Up with the Leg Raising?

The ferry arrived at 4PM, and we departed and arrived at Gulls Rock within thirty minutes. On the return trip we traveled on route 42 along Green Bay and passed through the classic lakeside resort towns of Sister Bay, Ephraim, and Fish Creek. For dinner on Tuesday night we returned to Fish Creek where we feasted at the Bayside Tavern. After dinner we stopped at the Egg Harbor Fun Park and enjoyed a game of miniature golf. Actually Jane enjoyed the match more, as she edged me by two strokes on the Door County themed course.

Tuesday was a fun day in Door County highlighted by a ferry ride, a cycling loop, and miniature golf. Only one day remained in our Wisconsin road trip.


Day 6: Wisconsin Trip – 06/12/2017

Day 6: Wisconsin Trip 06/12/2017 Photo Album

Monday June 12 was a gorgeous day with temperatures peaking around eighty degrees. The Cornerstone Lodge provided us with a gift basket that contained salsa, coffee, and a stack of brochures with coupons and things to do in Door County. Among the pamphlets were maps of several of the five state parks located in Door County, and we perused these as we searched for fun activities. We hoped to undertake bike rides and hikes while exploring as much of the peninsula as possible.


Our Monday Bike Route

Peninsula State Park caught our attention quickly, as it contained the 5.1 mile one-way Sunset bike trail. We liked the idea of an off road trail within a state park, and it was only fifteen miles from The Cornerstone. In addition more than half of the ride tracked Green Bay, and we welcomed views of the water.


Peninsula State Park is located just beyond the town of Fish Creek, so this gave us an opportunity to cruise through another resort town. Fish Creek was three times larger than Egg Harbor, and the main street contained an abundance of shops, restaurants, bars and lodging. The waterfront was only a block away from route 42, which served as the main street through town. We turned left near the northern edge of Fish Creek, and a short drive delivered us to the entrance station for the park. We paid an eleven dollar day use fee that entitled us to visit any Wisconsin state park on June 12, and then we quickly found the trailhead for the Sunset Trail and a nearby parking lot.


Eagle Bluff Lighthouse

The initial section of the trail passed through some woodlands, but then it veered to the left and paralleled Green Bay for quite a distance. We stopped at the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and the Nicolet Bay boat launch and snapped some photos. The ride from Nicolet Bay back to the parking lot passed through more wooded areas.


A Lonely Island

We noted several signs that had the words wild parsnips in a bold font in the heading, but we never stopped to read the fine print. Later I Googled wild parsnips, and I learned that it is an invasive species from Europe and Asia that is spreading rapidly through the Midwest. It is in the Queen Anne’s lace family and grows quite tall and displays a light yellow flower. If the plant chemicals come in contact with skin, they are activated by ultraviolet light and create a nasty burn. According to the literature, it is worse than poison ivy. Of course we avoided tall yellow Queen Anne’s lace plants over the remainder of our trip.


Wood Orchard Airstream

After our enjoyable cycling experience we returned to our lodging for lunch, but just north of Egg Harbor we stopped at our first roadside fruit market. What a great place! We wandered the aisles and tasted the many samples displayed by the Wood Orchard store. Have you ever tried cherry salsa? You should, as it was delicious, and of course we purchased a jar. What about traffic jam? It is a jam comprised of mixed berries, and of course a jar of that now resides in our pantry. We limited our purchases to these two items, but we also tried cherry butter, natural peanut butter, and cherry mustard. Every sample was quite tasty, but we had to draw the line.


Whitefish Dunes

After lunch at our room we embarked on an afternoon adventure. Whitefish Dunes State Park was across the peninsula from our refurbished barn, so we made the short drive and completed a 2.5 mile hike. The trail began on the beach that faced east, and we caught our first glimpse of the main body of Lake Michigan. The water on the east side was much cooler, and that translated into lower air temperatures as well. Quite a few park visitors enjoyed the narrow beach, and a few hardy souls even ventured waist deep into the lake. Jane removed her Chacos and waded up to her knees, but after a few minutes she returned and complained about numb feet. This of course did not encourage me to dip my toe in Lake Michigan, so I relaxed on the sand until Jane was ready to continue our hike.


Dave Stays Dry

The red trail loop followed the lake for 1.2 miles, and then we turned right and headed west and climbed the Old Baldy dune, the tallest dune in the park. The dune is covered with vegetation and barely recognizable as something other than a small hill near the lake.


Beers at Door County Brewery

When I searched for brew pubs in Door County I noticed a second brewery besides Shipwrecked that was located in Baileys Harbor. Baileys Harbor was just north of Whitefish Dunes, so we made the drive to the Door County Brewery and sampled a cold beer before we traversed the peninsula again and found ourselves in Fish Creek. Additional research on our smart phones enabled us to discover a highly rated restaurant in Fish Creek called the Wild Tomato, so we dropped in for dinner. Because of lactose intolerance I resigned myself to pasta or an Italian sandwich, but the menu indicated that it was possible to order soy cheese on a pizza. Jane and I shared a 12″ pizza, and soy cheese covered my half.

Monday was the last day of my four day non-resident fishing license, and I convinced Jane to make a visit to Potawatomi State Park just south of Sturgeon Bay after dinner. The state park pamphlet indicated that 2.5 miles of shoreline were available for pursuing walleye, bass and other sport fish. The drive to Potawatomi was a bit longer than the other two parks, and we arrived so that I was in a position to fish by 7PM. I rigged my Sage One five weight since I was hunting large warmwater fish, and I hiked through the woods south of the boat launch until I arrived at a small cove. Numerous reeds poked above the water along the left shoreline, and this looked like excellent habitat for warmwater species, so I waded into the lake for twenty feet to allow space for a decent backcast.


Looks Like Great Fish Habitat to Me

I knotted a silver and cream colored sculpzilla to my line and began making casts along the reeds followed by pulsing strips to entice the voracious fish of Lake Michigan. After half an hour of this madness, I covered forty yards of shoreline without so much as a follow or a small sunfish. I reeled up my line and hiked back to the car where Jane waited in the passenger seat. The timing was perfect, as a large black cloud perched on the southwestern horizon, and streaks of lightning kicked off nature’s light show. Just as I hopped in the car after removing my gear, raindrops appeared on the windshield. On Tuesday Jane informed me that heavy rain pummeled the roof and walls at the Cornerstone overnight, but apparently three state parks in one day exhausted me, and I was oblivious to the outside world.

Day 5: Wisconsin Trip – 06/11/2017

Day 5: Wisconsin Trip 06/11/2017 Photo Album

Day five was essentially a travel day, as we crossed the midsection of Wisconsin on an eastward path, until we skirted Green Bay and drove on to the Door County peninsula. We traveled rapidly through the lower portion of the peninsula until we crossed Sturgeon Bay, and then we followed Wisconsin 42 in a northwest direction to our lodging at The Cornerstone Antiques and Lodging south of Egg Harbor, WI. We arrived in the early afternoon, and we had barely enough time to check in, when a thunderstorm delivered sheets of rain on the area. Jane made a dash for the room, while I decided to remain in the car and wait out the storm. The Rockies vs. Cubs game on satellite radio factored into my decision. After fifteen minutes of pounding rain, the storm relented enough for me to make my escape from the car, and we began the process of unloading our luggage. This storm was the first of four that we endured while spending four days in Door County.


Our Door County Lodging

Once we were established in our room, The Mettie Rose, we decided to do some local exploring. We continued on route 42 to the small town of Egg Harbor. For some reason we thought the town was larger than it was, so we turned left and drove along the lakefront for several miles in an effort to find a larger town center. We passed nice homes, golf courses and resorts; but we never found a center of commerce larger than the initial small cluster of shops and restaurants, so we turned around. On our return to Egg Harbor village we stopped at a public beach and ambled on to the granular beach and watched the crashing waves. Jane and I grew up near the Atlantic Ocean, and it took us awhile to adjust to the fact that such a large body of water was a fresh water lake and not salt water.


The Beach Facing Green Bay

We found a place to park in Egg Harbor and stopped at the Shipwrecked brew pub, where we each enjoyed some cold beverages. We used our phones to search the Egg Harbor restaurants and settled on a BBQ establishment called Casey’s BBQ & Smokehouse. After dinner we stopped at Grumpy’s, and Jane enjoyed an ice cream cone, while Dave pouted over the lack of sorbet or frozen yogurt. We finished our exploration by stopping at Harbor View Park, where we found a nice bench on the hillside that provided a wide panorama of the marina, lake and sky. We were ready to embark on the exploration of Door County over the next three days.


The Pier at Egg Harbor


Day 4: Wisconsin Trip – 06/10/2017

Day 4: Wisconsin Trip 06/10/2017 Photo Album

On Friday as Jane and I searched for non-fishing activities in the Driftless Area, we discovered a bicycle ride to the north of the Westby House Inn. The trail began in Sparta and ended in Elroy, and it was named the Elroy – Sparta State Trail. According to the literature it was the first rails to trails project in the United States. It contained three tunnels, but the main attraction to us was the rails to trails designation. In an area characterized by numerous rolling hills and deep valleys, the idea of a gradual railroad grade was very inviting.


We Found the Rail Trail

The trail passed through a town called Norwalk that was just north of Ontario, WI, so Jane and I decided to access it at that point and then complete an out and back that would take us through a tunnel near Wilton, WI. We arrived at the Norwalk Park and found an open parking space next to the trail. I mentioned the wind in my report on Camp Creek, and it did not relent during our travel to the bike path trailhead. As we zigzagged across the rural countryside, we observed waving tree branches and flags fluttering in the stiff breeze. We considered canceling the ride, but as we unloaded the bicycles, we realized that the wind was blowing from the southeast. We took consolation in the fact that the wind would be in our face on the outbound leg, and we would benefit from a tailwind on the return. We jumped on our bikes and began to peddle.


The surface of the trail was crushed limestone gravel, and heavily wooded surroundings provided shade for most of the ride. This was a welcome circumstance for two cyclists pedaling with temperatures near ninety degrees. After four miles we approached the highly anticipated tunnel. Neither of us expected the complete darkness that greeted our progression to the midpoint of the .5 mile tunnel, and I wore my prescription sunglasses. I am essentially blind without my prescription lenses, so I maintained close contact with Jane through the middle section. We were both amazed at the refreshing cool air that settled in the dark underpass, and our exit on the east side shocked us back to the reality of the hot outside world.


The End Is Near

We passed the small town of Wilton at the ten mile point, and just beyond Logan Avenue we turned around and reversed our direction back to Norwalk. Visibility did not improve on our second pass through the tunnel, but me survived and pedaled into the parking lot having accomplished the twenty mile round trip. Riding up and down the gradual grade of the railroad bed while seeing the sharply rolling hills and valleys north and south of the trail was certainly a relief on a warm late spring day.


Typical Section

We returned to Westby and quickly showered and changed, before we drove to Viroqua for an early dinner. For Saturday night we chose the Viroqua Food Co-op deli counter in order to save time. The time banked at dinner translated to more fishing time for Dave on Saturday evening on Bad Axe Creek. My dinner consisted of a pastrami sandwich and gypsy soup, and it was one of the best meals I consumed on the entire road trip.

Day 3: Wisconsin Trip – 06/09/2017

Day 3: Wisconsin Trip 06/09/2017 Photo Album

After an enjoyable morning on Timber Coulee I returned to the Westby House Inn, where I discovered Jane, who returned from a twelve mile out and back bicycle ride to Viroqua. The temperature climbed into the upper eighties, and I was anxious to undertake some new activities. On our canoe trip we drifted past the boat ramp at Wildcat Mountain State Park, and we were curious to explore that destination, so we made plans to hike. Jane performed a short search on the internet and quickly identified three possible hikes ranging from 2.5 miles down to 1.2. We chose the longest, but I expressed a desire to visit the Driftless Angler in Viroqua before they closed, so we inserted that small detour into our Friday itinerary.

I generally like to make a purchase at a fly shop where I seek information, so I scanned the fly bins and picked out five small terrestrial patterns. I should have cast these on the slow moving pools of Timber Coulee in the morning, but I planned to fish two different spring creeks on Saturday, and small beetles and ants seemed like a solid idea. I opened my Driftless area map for the salesperson behind the counter, and he kindly marked three possible destinations for my Saturday excursion. I told him that I fished Camp Creek and Bad Axe Creek in 2014, and I asked if they were good choices for the next day. He suggested that they were great options. I could not remember the exact location where I fished Bad Axe Creek, so he highlighted that area on my map. He insisted that Bad Axe was a great choice because the water carried more color, and this allowed for closer approaches and less skittish fish. I also asked about West Kickapoo Creek, and he marked that as well, but he cautioned that the hot weather would negatively impact West Kickapoo before the other colder drainages.


Shaded Downhill Path

Jane and I departed the fly shop, and Jane entered Wildcat Mountain State Park in her map application, and we were promptly on our way. A thirty minute drive delivered us to a trailhead for the bridal path, so we quickly consulted with the old fashioned paper map and navigated to the main park entrance. The woman at the entry gate provided directions to our chosen trailhead, and we arrived there without further delay. Our trail was named the Settlers Trail, and it rolled through the wooded valleys and hills in a loop before it delivered us back to our car. Fortunately the path was mostly shaded since the air temperature surged to the upper eighties, and neither of us were accustomed to the elevated humidity of the upper Midwest.


Wildflowers in Abundance

On our return drive we headed north to Ontario, WI where our canoe launch occurred, and from there we traveled west to Cashton, WI and then south to Westby. The dining options were limited in Westby, but I noted that a breakfast and lunch establishment along the main street called Borgen’s was open on Friday night for a fish fry. Since it was Friday we decided to give it a try, and we were not disappointed. The place was quite popular with the locals, but the dining area was very large, and we were seated immediately. Best of all Borgen’s was less that a block away from our B&B.



Day 2: Wisconsin Trip – 06/08/2017

Day 2: Wisconsin Trip 06/08/2017 Photo Album

Jane and I got off to a nice early start on Thursday morning, and this enabled us to arrive at our destination in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin by 12:30PM. It did not take long to find our lodging in the small town of Westby, WI, and we quickly checked in and shifted our luggage to the small two level room that fronted on to State Street less than a block away from the main street. The Westby House Inn was our home for Thursday through Saturday nights. Our bed was situated in a small loft, and a wrought iron spiral staircase provided the means to move from the first floor to the bedroom. The bathroom was located on the first floor, so night time visits were a bit of a challenge.


The Westby House Inn from the Corner of State and Ramsland

We quickly procured the necessary items required to support a canoe trip and jumped in the car and proceeded to Ontario, WI. In 2014 we visited the same area of Wisconsin, and during that trip we paddled rental canoes on the Kickapoo River. We planned to repeat that experience on Thursday afternoon; however, we both hoped to extend the length of the float.

After a scenic forty-five minute drive we arrived at Drifty’s Canoe Rental in Ontario. We waited a short time while Mr. Drifty checked in a small group of young kayakers, and then we made our arrangements. For $35 we could rent a canoe for the remainder of the day, and that fee included paddles, life jackets and a shuttle back to Ontario. Mr. Drifty informed us that we could select from a two, three or four hour float. We responded that we completed the two hour float in one hour and twenty minutes in 2014, so based on this he felt we would have no problem finishing the longest distance by 6PM. The take out for the longest trip was just beyond Bridge Seven.



We paid our fee, and Mr. Drifty pushed a canoe down a dirt hill to the edge of the water. We grabbed our life jackets and paddles and shoved off with Jane in the bow and Dave in the stern. In the first hour we converged with several groups, but after that we were nearly the only paddlers on the Kickapoo River. Unlike our previous experience we paced ourselves, and between bridges four and five we paddled only occasionally to reposition the canoe. The river was rarely wider than twenty-five feet, and it curved back and forth, as it passed through woodlands and large vertical rock walls. The rock walls completely shaded the river, and the moss and ferns created the sense of passing through a moist rain forest.


A Big Bend

Jane and I switched positions once, and we each agreed that we preferred our initial spots, so we rotated again for the Bridge 5 to Bridge 7 segment. By 5:30 we glided into a ramp below Bridge 7, and then we dragged the long narrow craft on to land until it was no longer touching water. We waited only five minutes before the Drifty van appeared and transported us back to our car in Ontario. Our trip to Wisconsin was off to an enjoyable start.


When we returned to Westby, we changed and made the short six mile drive to Viroqua, WI. Viroqua is the small town we stayed in during 2014, and we chose Dave’s Pizza as our restaurant for dinner. The establishment offered casual dining, and Jane and I satisfied our appetites before returning to Westby to end our day. We traveled from Marshalltown, IA to Westby, WI and completed a 3.5 hour canoe trip. Our adventure was only beginning.



Day 1: Wisconsin Trip – 06/07/2017

Day 1: Wisconsin Trip 06/07/2017 Photo Album

I continually search for alternatives to impatiently waiting out the annual run off on Colorado streams during the mid-May to end of June time frame. Our friends that live in Loveland, CO completed a cycling tour of Door County, WI last fall and returned with rave reviews. Jane and I combined these two strands of thinking and assembled plans for a nine day road trip to America’s dairy land.

We departed from our home in Denver early on Wednesday morning, June 7 with the Santa Fe loaded with bicycles, hiking gear, and fishing equipment. Our goal for the first day was to travel as far east as possible in order to enable some fun activities during Thursday afternoon. We accomplished our plan; however, we suffered through some anxiety in the process.


Green Scene

The miles across eastern Colorado and Nebraska were uneventful, and we targeted Des Moines, IA as our stopping point for Wednesday night. This location positioned us for a relatively short four hour journey on Thursday morning in order to arrive at our reserved room at the Westby House Inn in Westby, WI. Unfortunately traveling in the Midwest is not that simple. While I drove toward Omaha, NE Jane began to check the availability of rooms in the Des Moines area, and she was perplexed to learn that all hotels were displaying no vacancy banners on their web sites. I remembered that the College World Series was scheduled to take place in Omaha starting on June 17, but that was over a week away. What could be generating this unexpected demand for lodging in Des Moines, IA during the middle of the week in June?

We decided to stop at the first Hampton Inn in West Des Moines to confirm that the internet information was accurate. The man behind the front desk confirmed that his hotel offered no open rooms, and he volunteered that it would be difficult to obtain accommodations in Des Moines due to the Pork Expo. Pork Expo? Jane and I resolved to remain current on agricultural events before embarking on future travel.

While at the Hampton Inn, we called ahead to a sister inn in Ames, IA, but it also offered no availability. What could we do? It was 8PM, and we faced another hour or more to escape the Pork Expo congestion. I quickly did some searches on my phone and found a Baymont Inn in Marshalltown, IA that displayed some vacancies. Marshalltown was an hour northeast of Des Moines. We stayed at a Baymont in Tucson, AZ on a previous road trip, and we recalled that it offered reasonable standards, so we called and booked a night. Jane and I both heaved loud sighs of relief upon receiving the confirmation number.

Later I searched for what Marshalltown is known for, and I discovered that it is the hometown of Cap Anson. Since I am a huge baseball fan, I recognized Anson as a member of the Hall of Fame and a famous player in the late 1800’s. We found a room and learned some history in the process.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 9 – 03/23/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 9 03/23/2016 Photo Album

While eating dinner at the Thai restaurant in Cedar City, UT on Tuesday night, snow began to fall, but the flakes were quite large. Large wet snowflakes are usually indicative of a brief snow squall, so we were not very concerned about the condition of roads for our planned drive to Bryce Canyon National Park on Wednesday. What did worry us was the weather report for Bryce Canyon which projected highs in the mid forties and strong wind.


The Pass on the Way to Bryce Canyon

After breakfast at the B&B on Wednesday morning, we gathered our bags and transported them to the Santa Fe. We heard someone scraping their windshield before breakfast, so we were pleased to find only a small accumulation of snow on the ground when we finally poked our heads from the inn and walked across the icy sidewalk. Once we started, it did not take long before we found the main highway that led us to Bryce Canyon. One thing we did, however, omit from our thoughts was the steady climb over a mountain pass between Cedar City and Bryce Canyon. As we gained elevation the amount of snow on the ground increased until it peaked at five inches, but the snowplows were patrolling the pass, and we made the trip without incident albeit at a relatively slow safe pace.

Our next surprise was the long line of cars ahead of us at the entry gate to Bryce Canyon National Park. We assumed that tourist traffic would be light in the middle of the week with cold temperatures, wind and snow present. We were wrong. The entrance gate and the visitor center were crawling with people including a substantial number of international visitors. Fortunately once we left the visitor center and drove the main road, the density of guests spread out. The experience was comparable to a day of skiing at Vail. Upon arrival one is overwhelmed by the crowd of enthusiastic skiers and boarders tromping about in boots, but as the day progresses, the masses spread out over the vast expanse of terrain until one sometimes feels alone in a remote backcountry location.


Jane on the Trail to Queens Garden

Our first stop was Sunrise Point, and after gazing in amazement from the overlook at the layers upon layers of canyons and rock formations, we embarked on a brief hike on the Queens Garden Trail. The trail was somewhat muddy, but we each had the foresight to pack hiking boots, and they were secured on our feet for the entire day. We did not descend the entire trial, but turned around once we reached a point where the slope leveled out. After we climbed back to the top of the canyon rim, we hiked from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point. Sunset Point offered the best panorama of the vast Amphitheater area. Rows upon rows of curved canyons, walls, and hoodoos create the impression of the largest amphitheater in the world. The dusting of snow added even more interest to the spectacular vista before us. Come to think of it, perhaps the fresh snow is what brought the mid-week crowds to Bryce Canyon.


The Depth of This Place Is Amazing

Once we returned to the Santa Fe, we continued to the turn for the two mile drive to Bryce Point. Bryce Point is situated southeast of the Amphitheater, and it provided additional spectacular views of the natural wonder. Rather than continue on the main road to the south, we decided to eat lunch. The map indicated there was a picnic area near the North Campground across from the Visitor Center, so we negotiated our way to that area and found a cluster of picnic tables that were partially covered with snow. We expected to make our sandwiches on the table and then retreat to the car; but the sun appeared, and we were somewhat sheltered from the wind, so we had our first picnic in the snow. I found the ice scraper in the car, and pushed all the slush off the table and bench. It actually turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip, as we reveled in our outdoor toughness.


A Picnic Lunch in the Snow

After lunch we returned to the main street and drove the full length of the national park paved road surface. I was navigating while Jane drove, so I made sure we stopped at each of thirteen overlooks. Each displayed its unique beauty, but none were as magnificent as the Amphitheater. By the time we reached Yovimpa Point at the southern end of the park, we were saturated with hoodoos and canyon formations.


Natural Bridge

After reaching the end of the trail, we reversed direction and exited the park, and then we drove north to Interstate 70. By now we were hearing dire reports of a major snowstorm in progress in Denver, so we decided to interrupt our journey and stay in Grand Junction. Jane called a La Quinta Inn on the western side of Grand Junction and reserved a room. This proved to be a prescient move as Interstate 70 was closed in both directions for periods during Wednesday night. The five hour drive on Thursday was uneventful, and we were pleased to arrive home, although the sixteen inches of snow surrounding our house was a bit of a shock after enjoying ninety degree temperatures in Phoenix.

Road Trip to Arizona Day 8 – 03/22/2016

Road Trip to Arizona Day 8 03/22/2016 Photo Album

Tuesday March 22 marked the beginning of our return from Arizona to colder northern climates. Learning from our difficulties finding lodging during the spring break time period, Jane reserved a room at the Big Yellow Inn in Cedar City, UT for Tuesday night. The bed and breakfast was mentioned in Jane’s western national parks guide book.

Two experiences stand out in my memory from our eight hour trip from Phoenix to Cedar City on Tuesday. A cold front moved into Arizona and Utah, and the change in weather spawned high velocity gusting winds. We were listening to a spring training broadcast on the radio, and the announcers mentioned the drop in temperature and strong winds as far south as Phoenix. By the time the front crossed our paths, we advanced north on highway 89 between Flagstaff and the crossing of the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry. Jane drove, and as I looked ahead in the distance, I stared in amazement at brown clouds sweeping across the dry landscape.


Drifting Sand

The blowing sand and dirt was similar to drifting snow except that it was brown and much more dense than snow. The force of the wind pushed against the side of the Santa Fe, and when we eventually passed through the brown cloud, we could hear the tiny particles glancing off the automobile. It sounded like we were being sand blasted, and sand and dirt swirled across the highway just like snow. Perhaps the most significant positive was that the sand was gritty and not slick like the ice and snow comparison.


Dust Storm in Northern Arizona

Fortunately these conditions only persisted for a half hour, and eventually we were north of the dust storm area. We turned left onto highway 89A and traveled west and then north toward the border with Utah. During this leg of our trip we passed the entrance to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at Jacob Lake and then continued until we reached route 389 in a small town called Fredonia. As we motored along 389 we saw a sign for Pipe Spring National Monument, and we were in need of a rest area, so we stopped. We were on track for a timely arrival in Cedar City, so we decided to investigate the small national monument.

Jane and I have been checking off national parks and monuments at a rapid clip, and we discovered that many of the more obscure places are quite interesting. Pipe Spring proved to fall into the latter category. We watched a short film at the visitor center, and then we strolled around the small ranch and refuge featured on the park grounds. Pipe Spring was a valuable source of water in the vast high desert between the Grand Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs of northern Arizona. As one might expect this attracted inhabitants, and the first known settlers were the Pueblan peoples who lived in pit house villages between 1000 and 1250. For some reason this culture moved on, and the next native Americans to call the location home were the Kaibab Paiutes. The Paiutes were mainly hunters, but they also cultivated maize and beans using the nearby water source.


Winsor Castle at Pipe Spring Ranch

The Paiutes were present when Mormon ranchers began settling the area in the 1860’s, and these settlers built the Winsor Castle at Pipe Spring ranch, and this structure covered the spring. Of course the native Americans objected to this confiscation of their key water source, and as one would expect, conflict ensued. Eventually in 1933 an agreement was reached whereby the water was shared among the tribe, the local cattlemen, and the National Park System.


The Much Desired Spring

Jane and I casually strolled down the path behind the visitor center to the ranch area where we observed examples of the Paiute huts, the livestock area next to Winsor Castle, the building itself, and the two ponds where the spring water bubbled to the surface in this arid area of northern Arizona. Pipe Spring was a surprise discovery on our path to Cedar City, and we greatly enjoyed our one hour visit.


Our B-B Room in Cedar City

After our brief sightseeing detour we returned to our travel itinerary and crossed into Utah and reached the Big Yellow Inn in Cedar City, UT near dinner time. Jane called Scott, the owner, and he greeted us and showed us our room and provided some dinner options. Once we lugged our suitcases to our room, we found a Thai restaurant near Interstate 15, and unlike the Saing Thai in Tucson, this establishment was open and ready to serve us. We savored an excellent Thai dinner and returned to our room where we crashed in the old fashioned king size bed. We rested in anticipation of a new adventure on Wednesday.