Beneath Scotts Bluff, Nebraska: We are camped at the base of a towering bluff that once stood as a major landmark to pioneers traveling west in wagon trains. My great, great grandmother would have passed this way and stared up at it in awe with the welcome knowledge that she had left the Great Plains behind. And, indeed, we too are breathing a huge sigh of relief, glad to be back in our much loved west. The bluff was named after an employee of a fur trading company who had the misfortune to die not far from where we are camped. He likely would have been glad to live on and leave the bluff with someone else’s name. I, for one, prefer the Native American name, Me-a-pa-te, which translates ‘hill that is hard to go around.’
It has been an interesting couple of weeks as we have made our way west from Virginia. This past week we kept ahead of a major storm that whipped through the Midwest with winds up to 100 MPH. We also avoided numerous motorcyclists— most with a similar look and without helmets— as they dashed around us on their way to Sturgis, South Dakota and whatever fate awaited them.
Yesterday was particularly interesting. We started our day at Buffalo Bill’s historic ranch camped out on the North Platte River and then hopped on one of America’s most historic backroads, US 30, otherwise know as the Lincoln Highway. It was America’s first cross-country road. But that’s only a small part of its history. For thousands of years it served as a major route for Native Americans. In the 1850s it was part of the Oregon Trail. Pony Express riders used it on their two year ride to glory and the nation’s first transcontinental railroad was built beside it. In 1908 it became part of the greatest road trip/road race ever, the New York to Paris Road Race, which will be the subject of my next blog.
But today, it’s time to say goodby to Arches National Park.
NEXT POST: What better place to start posts from our present journey around the US than what I consider to be one of the greatest road trip/races of all-time: The 1908 race around the world from New York to Paris. I’ve been meaning to do this blog ever since I came across the winner of the race at the National Auto Museum this time last summer. It’s epic!
“But where are the arches?” my brother-in-law John asked Peggy about my series on Arches National Park. “There is more to Arches than arches,” Peggy had responded. John readily agreed but there was still a plaintive ‘where are the arches’ tone to his voice. This post is for you, John— and for all of our other followers who have been wondering about how anyone could do a series on Arches National Park without arches.
They aren’t hard to find. There are over 2000 in the park, the highest concentration of any place in the world. Of course you would need a month to find them all plus put in a lot of miles hiking. We only had a day and the 100 degree F heat (37.7 C) discouraged much roaming in the time we had. Not to worry. The road plus a little walking took us to some of the most famous in the Park. So without further ado, I’ll start with the arch I featured at the top of the post, Turret Arch, named for its resemblance to turrets on castles.
A walk up to the Turret Arch easily includes two of the Park’s other Arches, North and South Windows.
No trip to Arches is complete without a trip to see the Delicate Arch, which many consider to be the National Park’s most scenic arch. Rather than make the gentle three mile round trip at 3 P.M. when we were both hot and tired, we took an alternative one mile trip straight up a steep slope for an overlook. Hmmm.
NEXT POST: As we drove out of Arches, I took several photos from our van that will serve as a closure to this series.
Purcellville, Virginia— outside of Washington DC: We are at our daughter’s home where she lives with her husband, Clay and her kids, Ethan and Cody. They are renting an old home that was built in 1880. The main house next door once was part of the Underground Railway for slaves escaping from the South. I’ll do a post on the houses later.
Our visit to Arches National Park today takes us back to the end of the paved road and the beginning of the Devil’s Garden trail. We hiked a way on the trail but the 100 (37.7C) degree heat encouraged us to make it a short. We then doubled back where we checked out the historic Wolfe ranch and some interesting Ute petroglyphs.
Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina: Peggy and I have now moved on from our large beach house on the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina where we were entertained by our kids and grandkids for a week. Peggy was treated royally in honor of her 70th Birthday. (Okay, I was spoiled too.) Eventually, I’ll do a post on OBX. Presently we are in an RV campground in Roanoke Rapids, not far from the Virginia border on an unexpected layover day.
When we arrived here yesterday, I noticed that we could get a mobile RV service to come by and fix the water line running to our pump from our fresh water tank. It hasn’t worked since shortly after we left home. Given that most RV repair shops are booked solid for weeks during the summer, we hadn’t had an opportunity to repair it.
Rufus and Cleve arrived at five in Rufus’s brand new ‘shop,’ a 2020 Hemi. It would be hard to find two guys more country— from their looks to their accents. But they were genuine, fun and knowledgeable. Eventually, they found the problem. The plastic water tube buried beneath the water pump in an extremely difficult place to get at was twisted and frayed. Cleve returned this morning with new tubing to finish the job.
Today, I am continuing my series on Arches National Park. So far I have done posts on Balanced Rock and the road into Arches. In this post, I will start just beyond Balanced Rock at the Garden of Eden and follow the main road on to the the Fiery Furnace and beyond.
A final view before heading on to the Fiery Furnace.
NEXT POST: Peggy and I drive to the end of the road and go for a walk along the Devil’s Garden trail.
Outer Banks, North Carolina: We have been on the road for a month now— zig zagging across the country— climbing over mountains, crossing rivers, traveling through deserts and forests, zipping through urban areas and moving more slowly through rural. We’ve traveled from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and driven through 13 states so far.
Let me report: It’s strange out there when it comes to the pandemic. Some states are doing everything possible to reduce the the number of people catching Covid-19 and the resultant deaths. Others are like, whatever. Or they feel that restarting the economy takes precedence. Sadly, had they aggressively fought the pandemic to start with, we would now be in a much better position to get people back to work.
We drove through Atlanta a few days ago where the governor of the state was suing the mayor of the city because she wanted to implement a city-wide mask ordinance. Thankfully, more and more people are voluntarily wearing face coverings. Even the President is declaring it patriotic. My sense is if wearing a mask can save just one life, it’s worth it.
It isn’t strange, however, that Arches National Park has a lot more than arches to ooh and aww over. In fact, I find the fins and pinnacles located throughout the park equally awe-inspiring. I’ll provide some of my favorite examples over the next two to three posts. My last post on the park will be dedicated to arches.
NEXT POST: Peggy and I travel farther into Arches.
Safety Harbor, Florida: I had intended to make a big deal out of my tenth year of blogging, which, surprisingly, coincided with my thousandth post. But both slipped right by. Post #1,000 was on Balanced Rock in Arches National Park. I was eager to get it up and totally missed my landmark occasion. We’ve covered a bit of ground since and are now in Florida with our son Tony, his wife Cammie and our grandsons Connor, Chris, and Cooper. There hasn’t been much time for blogging— or even backroads. So I am even further behind!
Given all of this, I decided that Texas hospitality would make an ideal blog for post #1001. It began with celebrating Peggy’s 70th birthday. We stopped off in Georgetown, Texas where Peggy’s brother John and his wife Frances live. They spoiled us rotten— feeding us salmon, ribs and steak. When we left, they loaded us down with chocolate cake, pumpkin bread (a true weakness of mine), and beautiful, large, garden tomatoes.
But our spoiling wasn’t over. We drove from Georgetown to League City just outside of Houston where Linda Leinen, a good blogging friend, had prepared another Texas feast for us. It came complete with brisket, potato salad and fruit salad finished off with Blue Bell ice cream topped with cherries. (Linda has been raving about Blue Bell for a long time.) She had also stocked in Texas beer and Texas wine. I’ll get back to Linda; but first, John and Frances.
Georgetown has a bit of family history tied to it. The Mekemsons/Makemsons came down from Illinois prior to the Civil War and were among the early settlers of the area. William Makemson was sheriff of the town following the Clvil War and later served as editor of the town’s newspaper. He eventually ran for Governor of Texas on the Republican ticket but lost. It was a time when only Democrats won. Texans still blamed the Republicans for freeing the slaves and for the ‘Reconstruction’ period that followed the Civil War.
While we were visiting John and Frances, I got a note from Karen at the WP blog, Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge. “I can’t believe you are in Georgetown,” she exclaimed. “My family had the original Spanish land-grant for the area!” Odds are that our families would have known each other. It’s possible that they even intermarried. Like Linda, Karen lives in the Houston area.
Visiting Linda had been on my agenda for several years. We had almost pulled it off four years ago when Peggy and I had re-driven the 10,000 mile route I had followed on my bike trek around North America in 1989. I had ridden my bike across Texas at the time. It’s a long way by car, so you can imagine what it is like on a bicycle! We had missed that connection with Linda on our road trip, but this time we succeeded.
In addition to enjoying blogging, photography, nature and wandering, we have another bond. We both lived in upcountry Liberia, West Africa. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer there from 1965-67. Linda was connected with a Lutheran Mission in Liberia starting in 1970. We often share tales of our experiences.
When Peggy and I walked into her house, I immediately noticed Liberian tribal masks on her wall and decided we had to have a photo with them as a backdrop. There was also Liberian country money on display. Even more significant to me, she had a wood-carved crucifix from the leper colony in Ganta. If you have read my book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam, the carving of the bush devil featured on the front also came from the colony. It’s possible that Freddy the Carver did both of our pieces. My friend Morris Carpenter, who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ganta and introduced me to Freddy, had a crucifix from him that looked quite similar to Linda’s.
We had a delightful evening with Linda. At 73 she is full of both energy and laughter and can still put in a full week sanding and varnishing sailboats in the harbor next to her condo, which is how she makes her living. She shared some of her fascinating history with us, which I will leave up to her to share other than to note the time she hitchhiked from Liberia up to London. If you have ever been in Africa, you have some idea of what a monumental task that would be! It speaks to what an adventuresome soul she is.
As we left, I noticed that Linda had a collection of rocks in a basket on the floor. I was going to comment on how they reminded me of the collections of rocks you find scattered around Georgia O’Keeffe’s house in New Mexico. Before I could get my observation out, Linda commented, “I collected the large rock from below Georgia O’Keefe’s house.” Forever generous, she reached down into her collection and came up with a fossilized snail from Texas and handed it to us as a memento of our visit.
Later that night, I thought “Darn. I meant to take Bone in to meet Linda.” Turns out she had her own bone that she wanted Bone to meet. “Next time,” she told me in an Email.
Our thanks to John, Frances and Linda for showing us the true meaning of Texas Hospitality!
NEXT BLOG: Who knows. The good news is that I have plenty of new blog material. The bad news is that I don’t have any time to blog. From here we are heading up to North Carolina where our kids have rented a large home on the Outer Banks as another celebration of Peggy’s birthday! She isn’t suffering. This morning, our son Tony took her flying while I finished this post!
We’ve started our journey around America traveling over the country’s backroads while wearing masks like bandits. The beginning of the trip was in Fallon, Nevada, which might seem strange given that we live in Oregon. Getting to Fallon, however, involved traveling over I-5 and I-80, two of Americas busiest freeways. Freeways are to be avoided and ignored in this series— even though Peggy and I have to use them on occasion.
In Fallon, we climbed on Highway 50. Its claim to being the ‘loneliest road in America,’ gives it genuine backroad credentials. I’ll get back to it. There is much to tell about the legendary highway I grew up near. But given Covid-19, our two to three month backroads exploration is off to a rocky start— and there are few places in America rockier than Arches National Park. Peggy and I know. We took 572 photos of rocks there. Peggy promises you won’t have to look at all of them. But there will be quite a few. Grin. I love red rock country.
Today, I am going to start with just one, the famous Balanced Rock. Its total height is 128 feet. The boulder on top makes up 55 feet of its height and weighs in at 3500 tons. If you have been to Arches, the odds are you have a photo. Millions of tourists have stood and stared up at it in awe.
It stands as a testament to the fact that there is much more to see in Arches than just arches. A lot more. Geology is the reason for the park’s unique look. The rocks that make up Arches have been layed down over hundreds of millions of years under a wide range of circumstances ranging from deserts to seas. Their different makeup impacts how fast they erode and that leads to the fantastic rock sculptures and monuments seen through the park. There will be more on the geology in coming posts.
In addition to its unique look and geology, the thing that fascinates me about Balanced Rock is how its look changes drastically from different angles as you walk around it. And that is the subject of today’s photos.
NEXT POST: We’ll start at the beginning of the park with Wall Street, the Organ, and the Sheep.
So, here’s a serious question: With all of the beautiful art in Florence, why in the world would we spend our time rubbing the nose of a pig?
I’ll be brief. We were told if we rubbed the nose of the pig, or the snout of the boar if you prefer, we would come back to Florence. Considering we had six hours to explore everything Florence had to offer, we looked on our nose polishing efforts as a guarantee of a return trip.
Il Porcellino, or Little Pig, as he is known, was sculpted way back in 1612 and was based on an original marble pig of Greek origin dating back to who knows when. The present pig is a copy of the copy. You can tell by his shiny nose that lots of people share our desire to come back to Florence. Apparently rubbing his snout for a return trip dates back to the 1700s.
Little Pig is housed in an attractive marketplace that was built by Cosimo de’ Medici between 1547-1551. Bad merchants, who had the misfortune of going bankrupt, were spanked here before being sent off to prison. I couldn’t find a description on what the spanking entailed.
NEXT POST: A teaser from our present journey around North America in Quivera, our 22-foot RV.
The two-hour trip to Florence from the Port of Livorno and the two-hour trip back seriously sucked up what little time we had to enjoy the legendary Renaissance city. Our first act upon arrival was to plot out our plan of attack, which we did over café lattes and scrumptious Italian pastries. Why suffer? I really, really hate to eliminate treasures, however. Florence is where the birth of the Renaissance took place and is chock full of art.
The Uffizi Gallery alone, with its world-class art including masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, would take up half out time. Beyond that we plotted out a walk that would take us to the Duomo Basilica and then back to Santo Croce Basilica, where we were to catch our bus. Sadly, I crossed off the Accademia Gallery, which includes Michelangelo’s original David.
But not to worry… there was a magnificent copy of David in front of the Uffizi Gallery in Piazza della Signoria. It was in this square, BTW, that the infamous priest Savonarola (1452-98) held his ‘Bonfire of Vanities’ and encouraged the good citizens of Florence to bring their art treasures and books to be burned. Somewhat ironically, Savonarola, who was quite vain in his own way, was also burned in the square.
NEXT POST: A fascinating pig that people can’t keep their hands off of.
After visiting St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Peggy and I travelled on to Florence where we were awed by the Duomo and Santa Croce churches, which we found even more beautiful than the Basilica. These two churches are the focus of my re-post today from our 2015 trip to Europe and are part of my armchair travel in the age of Coronavirus series.
Note: Peggy and I are off on another adventure. This time we will be exploring the back roads of America. Carefully. Covid-19 continues to rage across the country. We have our face masks along and enough sanitizer to bathe in. Even Bone and Eeyore are wearing their face masks! I apologize for not reading posts and comments the past few days but will catch up. One challenge of remote America is the lack of good Internet service. Yesterday, for example, I was in the middle of the Nevada desert on “America’s Loneliest Road” following the route of the Pony Express. I have several more posts in my Adventure Travel series and will then start my Backroad series. Peggy, Eeyore and Bone say hi and urge you to be safe! –Curt
There are at least three reasons for visiting Florence’s Cathedral, commonly known as the Duomo. First is the Church itself, second is the magnificent bell tower, which stands next to the church, and third is the octagonal-shaped Baptistery, which stands in front.
The dome of Duomo was one of the great works of the Renaissance. (The church had been waiting since the Middle Ages for its top.) Filippo Brunelleschi, who built the dome, first studied the ancient Pantheon in Rome. Like so much of the Renaissance, the dome represented a return to, or a rebirth of, the Greek and Roman cultures that had thrived 1000 years earlier before the Dark Ages had arrived along with the Barbarian hordes.
The 270-foot tall Campanile or Giotto’s Tower, which is located next to the Duomo, was actually completed 100 years before Brunelleschi put his finishing touches on the church. Many consider the bell tower to be among the most beautiful in Europe.
The Baptistery features Ghiberti’s bronze doors. Michelangelo believed these gates were so beautiful they could have served as “the Gates of Paradise.”
The Basilica of Santa Croce, a 14th Century Franciscan church, also had some great doors but is better known for the people buried inside including Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini and Galileo. As we stood in front of the church admiring its doors, a man sent bubbles floating into the sky.
NEXT POST: Exploring a tiny bit of Florence’s art.
The Bush Devil Ate Sam is an important record and a serious story, yet told easily, and with delightful humor. This is one of the most satisfying books I have ever read, because it entertained me thoroughly AND made me feel better informed. —Hilary Custance Green: British Author... Click on the image to learn more about my book, the Bush Devil Ate Sam, and find out where it can be ordered.
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