Devil’s Tower National Monument: ET Landmark, Sacred Bear Lodge, and Geological Wonder

Apparently, aliens find Devil’s Tower a prime landmark. In the 1977 movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, selected folks kept seeing the tower as a paranormal experience. One even sculpted a mashed potato image of it. Eventually those getting the message realized that they were being invited to show up at the huge rock monument and climb on a flying saucer. Paul, another movie about alien visitors, featured Paul, a colorful alien named after the dog his UFO crash-landed on. He used the location to call his mothership to pick him up after being stranded on Earth for several decades. (Photo from a display at Devil’s Tower Visitors’ Center.)

Devil’s Tower is special in a number of ways. Volcanic columns have always captured my imagination. The first I ever encountered were at Devil’s Postpile in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains when I was backpacking down the John Muir Trail in the 80s. Since then, Peggy and I have seen several, including one when we recently visited Yellowstone. Most are formed when a surface flow of lava starts to cool and contract. As it contracts, it cracks into the multi-sided columns seen at both Devil’s Postpile and Devil’s Tower.

The lava flow columns at Yellowstone National Park.

A significant difference is that Devil’s Tower was formed under the surface of the earth instead of as a volcanic flow on top. There are a couple of theories. One is that it was formed by lava forcing its way up through sedimentary rocks below the surface. The other is that it was formed as a plug in a tube that supplied lava to a volcano. In either case, the lava cooled much more slowly than it would have on the surface. The result was that the columns are both wider and longer. In fact, with widths up to 20 feet, and heights up to 600 feet, the columns are the widest and the tallest in the world. Formed approximately 50 million years ago, erosion has cut away the surrounding rock over the past several million years, exposing the edifice we see today. It’s a continuing process.

Devil’s Tower reaches 867 feet (264 meters) into the sky and is one of the most prominent landmarks in the Western US. It’s no surprise that Theodore Roosevelt declared it America’s first National Monument on September 24, 1906. Millions of visitors have since made their way to the natural wonder located in a remote section of northeastern Wyoming.

Hundreds of years before Roosevelt became one of America’s first and greatest conservationists, however, American Indian tribes in the area had already recognized how special the tower was and considered it sacred. They still do today. As Peggy and I explored the tower, we found hundreds of colorful cotton prayer flags and medicine bundles that tribal folks had tied to the limbs. Visitors are requested to honor the sacred nature of the flags and not to disturb or take photos of them.

The tribes are also lobbying for a name other than Devil’s Tower, which seems entirely reasonable given their beliefs. Their consensus is Bear’s Lodge. The huge rocks that have broken off from the tower over the eons would seem to make an excellent location for bears to hang out and hibernate. Grizzlies and black bears were common in the area before being wiped out to make the world safe for cows. Local ranchers apparently had little sense of humor that bears liked an occasional beef or lamb dinner. Rare.

A painting in the Visitors’ Center depicts a huge grizzly climbing to the top of the tower reflecting a tribal legend. The natives appear focused on the bear’s nose. I once read if a bear attacks you, sock it in the nose. It’s supposed to be sensitive. I’ve never had the opportunity to test the theory even though I woke up once with a bear standing on top of me. Screaming loudly seems to work as well. The bear’s claw marks here suggest it was creating the columns. I’ve often seen such claw marks on trees during my 70 plus years of wandering in the woods. Bears use it to mark their territories. The higher up the tree, the bigger the bear. If you see claw marks on anything 867 feet up in the air, I would suggest you vacate the premises. Quickly. (Photo from painting at the Devil’s Tower Visitors’ Center.)

A number of impressive views of Devil’s Tower are available when driving into and out of the monument. We stopped several times to take photos. These are three of our favorites.

Photo by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

The real treat was when we arrived at the Visitors’ Center, however. After a quick perusal of the displays and books, we went for a mile walk around Devil’s Tower that starts and ends at the Center. The hike was easy and all of the views were spectacular. They varied significantly. Peggy and I urge you to go for the walk if you visit the National Monument. All the photos, BTW, are taken by Peggy and me unless otherwise noted.

Photos of Devil's Tower by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Photos of Devil's Tower by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Photos of Devil's Tower by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Climbers flock to Devil’s Tower for the thrill of climbing it. We saw several. Permits are required. No climbing is allowed during June when local Indian tribes gather for ceremonies. I like this photo for the perspective it gives on the size of the columns as well.
Photos of Devil's Tower by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
A flock of birds flew over the top and landed. That would be our preferred method of getting to the top, too— as opposed to climbing.
Photos of Devil's Tower by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
The ‘Window,’ created when a number of columns decided to collapse, is a prominent landmark. A sign told visitors not to worry about any columns falling on them since none have fallen in recorded history. Another way of looking at it is that you could become a part of history…
Photos of Devil's Tower by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Beautiful fall colors added a fun touch to our visit.
Photos of Devil's Tower by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
They continued to entertain us as we left the Monument on the way to our next adventure.

Peggy and I are driving into Big Bend National Park today, which is at the very southern tip of western Texas. The last time we were here, we celebrated Christmas in 1999 as part of a year-long sabbatical we took from work to explore North America. This time we are celebrating out 30th Anniversary. Talk about an adventure! I was on the edge of turning 50 and Peggy was 42 when we were married in 1992. We’ve had an incredible life together, and, amazing to both of us, we are still out wandering the world. We will be off the grid for at least part of this trip. See you next week. And thanks for visiting.

Happy Thanksgiving

TURKEY DRESSING FOR THANKSGIVING DINNER.

Peggy and I want to wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your day!

The card is from a series of Christmas, Thanksgiving and Birthday cards I created and copyrighted a while back. I’ll introduce you to the self-stuffing turkey at Christmas. Grin.

Rheinstein Castle: A Symbol of the Romantic Age… Saved Twice

Sitting on a rocky promontory some 270 feet above the Rhine River, Rheinstein Castle is considered a symbol of the Age of Romanticism.

Rheinstein’s history dates back to the 13th century when the castle was originally built to collect tolls and whip some of the local robber barons into line, i.e. they weren’t paying a percentage of their take to the local catholic bishops and the Holy Roman Emperor. By the 17th century the castle had fallen into ruins. But it was about to be saved. The Romantic Age was flourishing. Nature was idealized, science regarded with suspicion, and the past glorified. What better way to glorify the past than to rebuild a medieval castle. Or at least, that’s what Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia thought. He went looking for a candidate and settled on Rheinstein. In 1823, he went to work.

Now, fast forward to1975. The Duchess von Mecklenburg had an important decision to make. Would she sell her 700 year old castle to the Hare Krishna religious sect or to an Austrian opera singer, Hermann Hecher. The Krishna group wanted to turn the castle into a private temple. Hecher wanted to preserve the castle’s cultural heritage. (I fantasized about the Hare Krishna devotees circling the keep and chanting, or Hecher standing on top while belting out an aria.) It would have been a quick decision for me: Preserve the castle’s cultural heritage for public enjoyment and education. It wasn’t so easy for the Duchess. The Hare Krishna folks were willing to pay 40% more. Whoever bought it, extensive renovation would be required. The castle was in serious need of saving again. Fortunately, for the thousands of people who have visited Rheinstein since 1975, including us, the duchess opted to sell the castle to Hecher. His family has been hard at work restoring the castle for three generations. It’s a labor of love. As one of the family members noted, “You don’t buy a castle to get rich.”

Uniword Boutique, our cruise boat line, offered a tour of the castle as one of our options. There was no doubt what decision the Mekemsons would make: Touring castles was a prime objective of our trip. Grandma insisted. The tour bus picked us up at the boat, took a ferry across the Rhine, and dropped us off at the castle gates. Visitors are encouraged to explore all of the nooks and crannies on their own. Off dashed the grandkids, happy to lead the parade. Except Ethan. Our daughter Tasha assigned him grandparent duty. Or rather, I should say, Grandpa duty. Tasha frets a lot. She knows my ways and worries at 79 I might wander off and just keep wandering. At 17, Ethan is the oldest and now towers over six feet. Every time I turned around, there he was. I chose to find it amusing rather than irritating. He’s a good companion. Still, I couldn’t resist ditching him on occasion. It’s my duty.

The towering Ethan is standing next to Peggy. From left to right are Tony, me, Cammie, Ethan, Peggy, and Connor. Tasha was taking the photo. The rest of the family was off exploring.

We wandered from room to room. The Hechers have done what they can to restore the castle to its historical status including searching Europe for era-appropriate furnishings. Some, such as the collection of tiny skulls with antlers, were downright weird. My blog today, will reflect our tour, working from the outside in.

The tower on the left was where we were standing when the photo above was taken. The narrow steel stairway was the way up.
Another view of the tower, the stairway, and the hanging basket.
Here’s a closeup of the basket. It was used as a fire basket signal that could be seen from nearby castles and repeated. I also read that it could be used as a prime location for placing people who refused to pay their toll, so they could contemplate the folly of their action.
This photo provides a perspective on the promontory that Rheinstein is built. One has the feeling that attacking from the front would be a bit daunting.
The grapevine is the focus here. Information on Rheinstein claims that it is 500 years old and still producing viable grapes for burgundy! Talk about well-aged wine… Grin.
A side view of the back of the castle.
Working our way around to the back.
The view from behind.
We were also attracted to this photogenic tower.
A view of the Rhine from the castle. A barge, riverboat and another barge can be seen working their way along the river. Fortunately, tolls are no longer an issue. Trade increased exponentially when they were eliminated in 1831. And now, it’s time to enter the castle.
I’d like to report that the restrooms had at least been modernized. Hanging over the edge and letting go was no longer a requirement or an option.
Photographs of Rheinstein Castle by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Rooms had been tastefully decorated with antique furniture and flowers from the castle’s gardens. Note the harp in the corner. More later.
Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
What castle would be complete without the dress of a princess on display? Light here was provided courtesy of stained glass windows. There are several in the castle.
Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
As might be expected, faith was a common theme.
Demonstrating your faith was an important prerequisite for getting through the Pearly Gate.
Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Maybe the rules change once you are admitted. Not to harp on the subject, but I think this may be a more modern perspective.
Photos of Rheinstein Castle by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Not a stained glass window! Tasha and Peggy as seen through glass that was obviously older than their combined age and then some.
Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
This charging knight was carved into a chest. One wonders how fast the short legged horse could charge.
Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
There was a great variety to the art. This modern version of the castle reminded me of an El Greco painting.
Maintaining the property would have been hot, hard work in the 1300s. A worker receives a welcome drink of water. Or maybe it was burgundy from the grapevines.
Photos of Rheinstein Castle by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
I wouldn’t want to encounter this fellow on a dark night. Or make that any time. He is not a boring boar.
Photos of Rheinstein Castle by photographers Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
A possible comment on my attempts at punning.
Photos of Rheinstein Castle by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Dare I say something about spouting off…
Photos of Rheinstein Castle by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.
Coming from the western United States, I am familiar with hunters mounting the heads of the huge trophy animals they have shot on their walls as proof of their manly manliness. Believe me, when I say they would not mount these tiny fellows that are about fist size, unless, of course, they were extremely rare. Not sure what they are except an extremely small species of deer. Do you find them as weird as I did?
I’ll finish with this photo of the flag over Rheinstein Castle. May it continue to fly for another 700 years. Next up, we move away from castles for other views along the Romantic Rhine. (Or maybe, I’ll do a post on Devil’s Tower in Wyoming for variety. I just finished processing the photos.)

12 Magnificent Castles along the Rhine River Valley

Today, Peggy and I are taking you on a trip up the Rhine River Valley between the towns of Koblenz and Bingen. The journey on the river is little more than 30 miles (48k), but wow, what an impressive 30 miles! There is a reason why this segment of the Rhine has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While there is much to see in the valley, the highlight for us was the castles. There are over 40. We’ve chosen 12 to feature. This post is a continuation of our family riverboat trip up the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel this past summer. All photos were taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

First up, on our list is Stolzenfels Palace. Originally built by the Bishop of Trier in 1259, it was destroyed by the French in 1689 during the Nine Years War, one of the seemingly endless wars that have been fought in Europe. In 1823 the ruins were given to Frederick William IV of Prussia who had the castle rebuilt by 1842 as his summer palace. The Gothic chapel in front was inaugurated in 1845 during a visit by Queen Victoria.
A side view of Stolzenfels Palace. As I mentioned in my post on Marksburg Castle, one of advantages of viewing the castles by riverboat from the Rhine River is that different perspectives are provided as the boat moves up or down the river.

While each castle is unique, they share a common history. Many of their early owners could be described as robber barons. They made their money by charging ‘tolls’ to the boats traveling up and down the river. One can only wonder what it cost to cover the 30 miles through the valley when you had to stop every mile or so and pay up. A chain was often stretched across the river to force the boats to stop. It was let down when the boat paid and immediately hoisted up again to catch the next victim, er, boat. Another commonality is that most of the castles were also destroyed at one time or the other during the internecine warfare that rocked Europe over the centuries. Many were rebuilt based on their strategic location or the desire of some wealthy noble or the other to have a castle. More recently, The German Castles Association and local communities are responsible for a number of them.

This hand-drawn map was given to us by Uniworld as we started our day of passing through the Rhine River Valley. I think they must have run out of the maps they normally gave out. But this one worked fine. Stozenfels Castle can be seen on the top left at approximately mile 587. I’ve estimated the mileage when it isn’t included on the map.
I’ve already done a blog on the Marksburg Castle located at mile 580. If you haven’t read the post and want to, click on the link.
Rheinfels, once a mighty fortress, was the largest castle along the Rhine. In 1692, it withstood an attack by 28,000 French troops. The French succeeded in leaving the castle in ruins a hundred years later, but it is still makes an impressive sight against the skyline today.
A hotel and restaurant are now operated at Rheinfels, which is true of several of the castles. They provide an up-close-and-personal experience for visitors and help meet the expenses of maintaining the castles.
Katz Castle was built just across the river from Rheinfels in the 1400s to help protect the castle and to coordinate with it in collecting tolls. It was blown up by Napoleon in 1806 and then rebuilt in the late 1800s. Today it is owned by a Japanese company that runs it as a hotel.
Another view of Katz Castle.
Built by King Ludwig, the Bavarian, in 1327 to collect tolls, Pfalz Castle is located on an island. The German town of Kaub ,with grape orchards climbing up the mountain behind it, provides a scenic backdrop. Rapids above the castle forced boats to pass near the castle and a chain assured they would stop. Traders unwilling to pay the toll, would be kept in the dungeon until a ransom was paid for their release. Remember my earlier comment about robber barons…
A side view. Unlike the majority of castles along the Rhine, Pfalz was never conquered or destroyed. Gutenfels Castle, not included on my post today, can be seen in the upper left.
Our son Tony, his wife Cammie and their three sons Cooper, Chris and Connor (left to right) with Pfalz Castle in the back ground.
The Schönburg Castle, located near Pfalz Castle, dates back to somewhere around 1000 CE. It was burned down by French Soldiers in 1689 and remained in ruins until the late 1800s when it was bought from the nearby town of Oberwesel by an American family and restored. Ancestors of the appropriately named Rhinelander family had come from the region in the 1600s to the US and made a fortune in real estate.
The town council of Oberwesel bought the property back from the Rhinelander family in 1950. A hotel and restaurant is now operated at Schönburg.
Stahleck Castle at mile 543 was built in the 12th century as a fortified castle above the town of Bacharach. I was particularly impressed by the keep. In German, BTW, Stahleck means ‘impregnable castle on a crag.’
Sooneck Castle at mile 538 looks like the embodiment of of what a castle is supposed to look like, at least to me. It was built to protect the surrounding territory. Built in the 11th Century it went through the usual history of being destroyed and rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt.
Another view of Sooneck Castle.
The large Reichenstein Castle is located at mile 534. Built in the 12th Century, it was owned by a robber baron like Castle Sooneck, and, like Sooneck, it suffered the same fate of being destroyed. It was rebuilt to its present status in the 18th and 19th centuries.
We will be visiting Rheinstein Castle in my next post so I will hold on any discussion until then. But isn’t it magnificent perched on its rocky prominence!
Surrounded by walls and grapes, the two towers of Ehrenfels Castle caught our attention. Today it remains in pretty much the same condition it was in when destroyed in 1689.
A closer look at the two towers of Ehrenfels Castle.
Mouse Castle, located below Ehrenfels Castle on the Rhine River, has a story connected to how it got its name. According to the folk tale, a particularly cruel man, Hatto II, performed a dastardly deed of burning alive several of his peasants and a number of mice as well. Seeking revenge, mice attacked Hatto. Lots of them. He fled to his tower in the river thinking the mice couldn’t swim. Bad choice. While thousands died, thousands more made it to the castle. They ate through the door, crawled up the stairs and ate Hatto alive. I once watched army ants eat a mouse alive in Africa. There may be a message here: whether you are a man or a mouse, being eaten alive is not a pleasant experience.
Our daughter Tasha and her husband Clay with the Mouse Castle in the background.
I’ll conclude today’s post with a photo of Tasha and Clay’s two boys, Cody and Ethan, posing with G’ma Peggy. Our next post will be a visit to Rheinstein Cast where we were turned loose to explore the castle on our own.

Here’s to a Scary Halloween AND Blogging Friends

First, let me note that the two aren’t related. Scary is not a synonym I would use to describe our blogging friends. Adventuresome, fun loving, good people and friends are the words I would choose. I have been both surprised— and grateful— for the friendships Peggy and I have developed online during my 12 years of blogging. Over the past two weeks we visited with three that I will feature today: Alison and Don Armstrong from British Columbia and Crystal Trulove from Oregon.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

It is Halloween, however. It is only right that I recognize the day with ‘scary’ photos Peggy and I have taken over our past two months as we’ve wandered across North America.

Old West skeletons playing poker with their pistols close-by are scary. The guy down on the left end is already dead, heh-heh. His problems can’t match the woman in red, however, since they are all dead. She just lost her hand, always a bad sign in high-stake poker. Wait, it is on the arm of the guy sitting opposite. The folks at the Pine Near Campground in Winthrop, Washington had gone all out to decorate for Halloween. I asked the owner about the name. “Legend has it,” he told me, “the 4-year-old daughter of the first owner had urged her parents to call it pine near, which was how she pronounced pioneer.” Her parents honored her request.
Dinosaurs are scary, right? The Black Hills Institute in Hill City, South Dakota is packed to the brim with their bones. What could be more scary than T-Rex shown above?
T-Rex chomping down on your head.
Anything closely associated with the Devil’s name is Halloween–scary. This is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming looking ominous.
The movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, suggests that Aliens think of Devil’s Tower as a great place to abduct humans. All Aboard! You don’t want to ask this guy any probing questions about it, however. Indigenous tribes in the region think of the tower as Bear Lodge. Nothing scary about that…
Right. Try meeting up with this one as he is coming out of his ‘lodge’ in spring after several months of hibernation—hungry and grumpy.
In Yellowstone we came across mud pots with gas bubbling up creating a brew that looked and smelled like something witches would whip up . “‘Double double toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble” Shakespeare’s three witches would have been proud of this concoction.
Not to burst your bubble…
I found the two blind eyes that popped up scarier.
They looked like escapees.
It’s hard to think of Big Foot as particularly scary. Even the King Kong sized version. But have you ever stopped to consider…
How big Big Foot’s foot is? You would not want to be stepped on! That would be both scary and messy.
I’ve never thought of wild burros as being bad, much less scary, but I’d never met these guys. Here they were in South Dakota’s Custer State Park blocking the traffic, demanding booty. Sure, buffalo blocked traffic as well. But they were merely crossing the road, exercising their prerogative to get from one side to the other. Slowly. The donkeys were bandits. Pure and simple.
“This is a hold up! Hand over your carrots.” Put into Halloween language, it’s Trick or Treat. Face it, two burros stuffing their head into your car window is scary. Say your dare to roll up your window. Say you refuse to feed the determined demanding donkeys. You get the trick. Out come their big tongues and they slime your windows.

Happy Halloween from Peggy and me.

BLOGGING FRIENDS

No tricks here, it was all treats as we met up with blogging friend last week…

“Alison and Don have arrived!” Peggy said with a laugh. She was facing the door of the Washington Avenue Grill in White Rock, British Columbia. I stood up just in time for Alison to come barreling into me and give me a big hug, followed shortly afterwards by Don. It was a warm greeting between old friends— who we had never met in person. We are blogging friends. I’m not sure when we started following each other. My guess is around ten years ago. Alison and Don had sold all of their worldly possessions in their 60s, established their blog, Adventures in Wonderland — a pilgrimage of the heart. and took off to explore the world. I’ve been along with them for most of their journeys including visits to India, Australia, South America, Europe, and Asia. Their’s has been an inward as well as an outward journey. As they say in About Us, “We are interested in how the world works, how life works, how the creation of experience works, how the mind works… Opening the heart, and acceptance of what is, as it is, are keystones for us both.” They certainly opened their hearts to us. We talked for three hours, nonstop, learning more about each other and laughing a lot. If you aren’t familiar with their blog, enjoy great photography, and love learning about and participating in other cultures, I would highly recommend that you hop over and visit Alison and Don as they explore wonderland.
“We think you have the longest arms,” we told Crystal and gave her the selfie responsibilities. Unlike Don and Alison, we had met her before. Twice. The first time, she had commented on my blog that she was coming down to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and would like to have lunch with us. We insisted that she stay over at our house. I was already a fan of her blog, Conscious Engagement. Peggy enjoyed our visit with Crystal so much she made her a quilt that featured Dragons and now lives on Crystal’s bed. (Crystal loves dragons.) The second time, she had brought her new, special friend, Pedro, down to explore Southern Oregon. And, I am pleased to say, meet us. Our visit with Crystal at her home in Oregon was a bit last-minute, since I wasn’t sure when we would be where, which is kind of how we travel. We were ever so lucky that Crystal not only agreed that we had to get together but that we had to stay at her house! She has a beautiful country home filled with momentos of her travels and of her passion for the Cherokee Nation, of which she is a proud member. (She even took Bone with her to visit the Cherokees in Oklahoma.) After a wonderful dinner that featured salsa that Pedro had taught her to make and a lasagna that was scrumptious, we sat around her wood-burning stove and swapped tales while Racecar, her 17-year-old cat, decided that we had mainly come by to hold her in our laps and scratch her in the places she loves to be scratched. You will find tales of travel and adventure that are well documented with excellent photography on Crystal’s blog, but she also features her wonderful sense of humor and her commitment to making the world a better place to live, a bit challenging in this day and age. Visit her and become a part of her interesting and thoughtful world.

OTHER FRIENDS

The Northwest is a great place to live. Not surprisingly, we visited with other friends over the past couple of weeks (and still are) who live in Washington and Oregon. So far this has included:

Our niece, Christina, and her two beautiful dogs, Zoe, the princess on the left, and Bella, the empress dowager, on the right. Christina, in addition to being a relative, is a good friend, so good that she zipped down from her home in Tumwater, Washington to help us pack when we were moving from Oregon to Virginia.

Bella, by the way, is a serious watchdog. She lies on top of Christina’s couch, parts the curtains with her nose, and on occasion barks loudly at someone who dares to walk by her domain.

Zoe is more than willing to join in, or even lead in barking, but she is more interested in having her ball thrown. This is her, “Get with it; throw my ball,” look.

We also met another Bella, this one in Bellingham, Washington, when we were visiting with our friends David and Celia. They had invited over for a wonderful seafood dinner featuring salmon, ling cod and crabs they had caught. Dave went with us on our 18-day private Grand Canyon tour 12 years ago. He took us as passengers on his raft several times and let us play at paddling (but not in serious rapids). We forgot to get a photo of Dave and Celia but he sent us this picture of Bella. I’m going with the yellow thingy being her Halloween costume, that or a teething ring. She nibbled on us quite liberally.
And finally, we also spent a pleasant day with Michelle, Brian, and their dog Atli. (Atlisis the name of a First Nation tribe.) Michelle and Peggy were principals together in the Dry Creek School District near Sacramento. Michelle also hired our daughter, Tasha, to teach at her school. After Dry Creek, Michelle went on to get her Phd and serve as a superintendent of schools. Brian is a writer and an avid bicyclist, still doing centuries (100 miles in a day) in his 70s.
And with that, Peggy and I will bid you farewell on this scary day. It’s been fun visiting with you!

Marksburg Castle, a Jewel in the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site

Photo of Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
We hung out on the upper deck of our river boat with our eyes peeled on the surrounding hills as we made our way through the Rhine River Valley, admiring the some 40 castles overlooking the river. The Marksburg, featured above, was special. Not only is it the best preserved castle along the Rhine, it is considered a jewel in the Rhine Gorge UNESO World Heritage Site and we had just visited. We were excited to see it from below.
One advantage of our leisurely trip up the Rhine, was that it provided us with ample opportunity to enjoy different perspectives of the castles. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It’s hard to imagine a better way to kick off a journey through Rhine River Valley from Koblenz to Mainz than a visit to Marksburg Castle. Originally built in 1100 CE as protection for the town of Braubach, it was owned by various noble families down through the centuries until it was sold to the German Castles Association in 1900. It had been established a year earlier to preserve castles in Germany. Today, Marksburg serves as headquarters for the Association.

We made our way up to the castle via a route that challenged our bus driver to maneuver along a curvy, narrow road that had originally been built to accommodate foot and horse traffic. If you’ve spent any time driving in medieval European towns, you are familiar with the problem. We were met by our guide who ushered us into the castle and provided an excellent tour. Three things captured my attention: The structure of the castle, its collection of knights and their armor, and a bit on medieval life.

All of the photos in this post are taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

Photo of Marksburg lion by Curt Mekemson.
Just inside the massive entry door were four lions that represented the different noble families that had owned the castles. The lion is a common feature in heraldry representing courage, valor, strength, and other characteristics that nobles liked to claim they had, rightfully or not.
Photo of "butter churn" tower on Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
While many of the castles along the Rhine were designed as homes for nobility first and defense second, Marksburg was designed first for protection. Its two towers were designed to fight off the enemy. Together, the two are commonly called a butter churn tower because of their look. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Marksburg tower photo by Curt Mekemson.
A different perspective of the tower.
Ramparts above Marksburg Gate photographed by Curt Mekemson.
Situated above the castle gate, these ramparts are designed to provide protection for the gate and surrounding walls.
Photo of castle ramparts by Curt Mekemson.
Anyone who has ever watched a movie involving castle defense understands the purpose of this structure. It’s designed to provide the defender with a clear line of fire while at the same time providing an element of protection. The long, slender hole in the right shadow is designed to shoot arrows through while providing even more protection.
Marksburg Castle arrow slit photo by Curt Mekemson.
A close up of an arrow slit. Hard to get much more protection than this. Finding a target might be more of a problem! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The ramparts of Marksburg Castle used to frame a photo by Curt Mekemson.
I found another use for the ramparts. They made a great frame for a photo.
Photo od Marksburg Castle canon by Curt Mekemson.
By the 1600s, cannons were in common use use as both defensive and offensive weapons in Europe. Marksburg had both short cannons and…
Photo of long canon at Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
…long cannons depending on the latest technology. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Canon port view of the Rhine River from Marksburg Castle by Curt Mekemson.
The view of the Rhine through the cannon port. Rather commanding, I’d say. Before international agreements on Rhine River traffic were agreed to, a great deal of money was made by charging tolls to passing boats. Usually, a chain was stretched across the river. I have to assume that this was an added incentive to pay up.
Weapons in Marksburg Castle armory by Peggy Mekemson.
The armory included a number of wicked looking weapons including these. The shadows are even scarier. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Marksburg Castle knight by Peggy Mekemson.
Even more interesting, there was display on the evolution of what knights wore. This one carried a huge broadsword. Interesting helmet. Eyebrows and a beak. Just ducky? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Horny?
Furry?
Flowery. Okay, here’s the question. Assuming you needed a hero to represent you on the field of battle, which one would you choose: Ducky, Horny, Furry, or Flowery? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Artichoke in flower at Marksburg Castle photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Moving right along… how about the lives of the rich and famous in Marksburg Castle. I’m not sure they grew artichokes but we found this one blooming outside. BTW, our niece fed us artichokes for dinner when we visited her last week. We both love artichokes, but we had never made a complete dinner out of them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A variety of spices, I assume were representative of ones used during the Middle Ages, were hanging in the kitchen.
As were a variety of cleavers. Chop chop!
Photo of Bed in Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
The bedroom featured this bed, which struck me as short and uncomfortable. It was designed for privacy, however.
Photo of musical instrument in Marksburg Castle by Peggy Mekemson.
Possibly a little romantic music is called for. The instrument, BTW, is a hurdy-gurdy. I looked it up. Peggy informed me there was a musical group in the late 60s called the Hurdy Gurdy Band. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Romantic tapestry in Marksburg Castle photographed by Curt Mekemson.
Romantic love grew out of the age of Chivalry. What better way to recognize it than on a tapestry. This lovely maiden and her dandy duke seem to be sharing a moment as their beasties’ tails entwine to form a heart. Not quite sure what role the ferocious bird on the maiden’s right represents. Maybe it’s a message to the duke not to trifle with her emotions. Kind of like “If you dump me, I’ll stork you.”
If marriage is in the future, the castle has a chapel, complete with Madonna who has lost her hand.
And this is what I could only assume was a flying nun who has lost her bottom. If you are old enough, you may remember the TV series: The Flying Nun. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of chapel ceiling in Marksburg Castle by Curt Mekemson.
We found the chapel’s ceiling quite impressive. Note the lion.
No discussion of life in a medieval castle is complete without a discussion of the garderobe. “The what?” you say. It’s the small room hanging out over the wall. I call it the throne room. Peggy got a photo from inside.
FYI, the garderobe was the medieval equivalent of an outdoor toilet. Aren’t you glad you asked. It could get rather cold on a wintry day. And you never, ever wanted to stand under one, which made me wonder what it was doing hanging over a gate. Maybe it was a defensive measure. Grin. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Join us next week as we take you along the Rhine River Valley and feature a whole plethora of castles and small towns along the way. Also, be sure to check in on Monday when we celebrate Halloween and blogging friends.

The Rhine River Trip Begins… The River, a Cathedral and a Chocolate Factory!

While the first part of our journey lacked the beauty and castles of the Rhine River Valley we were about to explore, it wasn’t lacking in charm.

Birthdays are important to Peggy. When we first met, she told me “Forget my birthday and you are toast.” She was kidding, sort of. Apparently her first husband forgot the warning. I never have. Grin. Decade birthdays are even more important. For her 70th, Peggy planned a special outing. We would take the whole family on a riverboat trip up the Rhine. The kids and grandkids loved the idea (who wouldn’t), tickets were purchased, excitement grew, and then Covid struck. 

While Peggy is usually laid back and willing to ‘go with the flow,’ she assumes a more regal persona when it comes to her birthdays. I laughed when I came across this crown chair in Rheinstein Castle and asked Peggy to pose under it, which she did good naturedly. Note the shocked expressions on the faces of the two Norse gods.

Fortunately, our kids came up with an alternative for Peggy’s big 70. They rented a large house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the celebration. We hopped in Quivera, our small RV/van, and zipped across the country. Carefully. Covid was raging. It was a great celebration and Peggy was quite happy. But the riverboat trip was not forgotten. We still had the tickets and would use them as soon as Covid calmed down and Europe let us back in, which happened this past summer.

I’ve already done two posts on Amsterdam where we started and ended the adventure. Today, I am kicking off the series about our trip up the Rhine. 

It was special, no doubt about it. The boat trip in itself was a delight— good food, nice rooms, and great service. (Admittedly, Peggy went first class. But what the heck, it’s only the kids’ inheritance.) While I am not a fan of mega-cruises with thousands of people and their impact on local communities, I will admit they are good for family outings. People have their own space. They can come together or go their own way. No one has to plan entertainment, no one has to cook, and no one has to clean up. It reduces the likelihood of the trauma that sometimes accompanies family get togethers. Our riverboat offered all of these advantages plus one more, a big one: there were only a hundred people.

Our boat, the River Empress of the Uniworld Boutique line.
An example of the gourmet food we were served. I’m lucky I only gained a couple of pounds on the cruise.

Today, I am going to feature the first part of our journey. The countryside was relatively flat and industrial centers frequent. While it lacked the scenery and castles of the romantic Rhine River Valley we were about to experience, there was beauty and charm. And, we ended up in Koln/Cologne where we visited one of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals— and a chocolate museum/factory. Have I ever shared how much Peggy loves chocolate?

The photos for this post and all of the Rhine River series are all taken by Peggy and me unless otherwise noted.

There was plenty to capture our attention along the lower Rhine including colorful towns…
Historic buildings…
Attractive, modern cities and, I might add, a lot of beautiful bridges.
If we ran out of other things to entertain ourselves with, there were always barges, scads ands scad of them, each carrying up to 2500 tons. Annually, more than 300 million tons of goods are shipped along the Rhine serving Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, making it the most important river in Europe for commerce.
The ease and inexpensive nature of river travel has encouraged the development of industry along the Rhine. For example, one fifth of the world’s chemical industries are located along its banks.
As might be expected, fighting pollution in and along the river is a major challenge. Global warming presents another problem: Drought has lowered the level of the river so much by late summer that it limits the ability of barges to navigate it.
Coming into Cologne, one of our first views was of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral that we were going to visit. First up was the chocolate factory, however. Peggy does have priorities. It was like Christmas to her…
She found a chocolate Santa and made a beeline for it. Who needs chocolate bunnies?
Of course there were chocolate bunnies, and even chocolate elephants. This is the mold for one.
But the prize, from my perspective, was the purple cow. Our grandson Cody agreed to pose with it and I recited the old poem to him: “I’ve never seen a purple cow, I never hope to see one. But I can tell you anyhow, I’d rather see than be one.” Maybe the last line should be changed to “I’d rather see than eat one.” I’m 99.9% sure the cow would agree with me.
The pre-Columbian artifacts on display caught my attention even more that the purple cow.
I’m not sure if the ancient artists had a sense of humor in creating their art, but these made me smile.
As we left the Chocolate Factory/Museum, our five grandsons agreed to sit with Peggy for a photo. It’s something akin to herding cats. I think she bribed them by buying them chocolate goodies. Cooper, the youngest is in front. He just turned 10 this past week.
As we left the museum, we took a final photo from outside.and started our hike over to the Cathedral.
The Hohenzollern Bridge loomed up in the distance.
As we approached the bridge, we saw that it was filled with people walking across. Most of them were involved in Cologne’s Gay Pride festivities that were taking place.
We also passed by another of Cologne’s famous landmarks, the Great St. Martin Church.
Finally we reached our objective, the Cologne Cathedral, which kept both of our cameras busy in an effort to capture its beauty. This is the back of the church.
Every angle provided a different perspective.
A view from the side.
We discovered gargoyles lurking near the top.
Making our way toward the front of the cathedral.
A front view.
Looking up from below.
Another perspective.
A view from inside.
Looking up.
Stained glass windows.
I’ll finish up today with one of the things I find strange, if not downright weird, about so many of Europe’s medieval churches is their collections of pieces of long dead saints, like a finger, or a toe. The Cologne Cathedral is known for its collection of Magi parts, the Three Kings who came to see Christ bearing gifts. I believe they are stored in this gold reliquary.

Next Friday we will visit our first castle as we begin our trip up the Romantic Rhine River Valley. And— we meet some old friends we had never met before!

Badlands National Park: Sunset

I was cooking beef pot-roast in our insta-pot and time was running out. I had miscalculate the time it would take and we were going to miss the Badlands at sunset. “Go ahead,” Peggy told me. She knew how much I wanted to catch the colors. “I’ll finish up here. We can eat when you get back.” My sweetie didn’t have to offer twice. I was out the door and into the truck. The sunset was quite impressive and the food tasted delicious when I returned. Following are some of the photos I took. Enjoy.

Next week we will be returning to our summer trip up the Rhine River. Please join Peggy and me along with our kids and grandkids as we explore the Rhine, castles, colorful towns, the Black Forest and a couple of impressive cities.

The Wildlife and the Beauty of Sage Road… Badlands National Park

Photo of big horned sheep along Sage Road in Badlands NP by Curt Mekemson.
I was getting the ‘look’ when I snapped this photo of a bighorn sheep on Sage Road.

Sage Road in Badlands National Park is known for its easily accessible wildlife population. We drove out it during our recent stay near the Badlands to see what we could find. This fellow, along with a few other bighorn sheep, was hanging out along side the gravel road. Its look seemed to say, “Don’t mess with me.” Big horn sheep were first re-introduced to the Park 1922 with more being added later. The park’s herd now numbers near 250.

This youngster is busy chewing on weeds. Bighorn stuff themselves with tough-to-eat grass like this and then retreat to somewhere high and safe where they can regurgitate it and chew it more thoroughly. (Remember your mom urging you to chew your food!) What we don’t have that the sheep do, however, is four stomachs to help in the digesting process. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Bighorn sheep checking us out.

We also found a few buffalo along the way. The National Park website, which is where I found the details on the wildlife included in today’s post, gives the buffalo’s scientific name as Bison, bison, bison, i.e. they are of the genus Bison, of the species bison, and the subspecies bison. Buffalo was derived from the French “bœuf,” meaning buffalo, and given to the large creatures by early French fur trappers. The Lakota name for bison is tatanka. Bison were incredibly important to the Lakota and other Native Americans of the Great Plains who carefully used every part of the buffalo they killed. An estimated 30 million roamed the area prior to the arrival of Euro-Americans who hunted the buffalo almost to extinction for their hides and tongues. An even darker reason is given for the slaughter: The US government wanted to disrupt the Indigenous people’s way of life to make way for the Euro-Americans. One way of doing this was killing off the vast herds of buffalo that the natives depended on to live.

Photo of Buffalo beside Sage Road in Badlands National park by Peggy Mekemson.
These large furry creatures paid zero attention to us as they grazed beside Sage road, which is what we wanted! They do look like something that would be fun to pet, however. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Don’t. The fur says pet me; the eyes say don’t even think about it. One does not want to irritate a creature that can weigh up to 2000 pounds and run fast, really fast. Sign after sign in national and state parks where the buffalo roam, warn people to keep their distance. Despite the warnings, some people insist on a closer view, which can result in a bad ending. I watched a video of a guy standing five feet away from a buffalo waving his arms and shouting. A few seconds later, he was taking flying lessons. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Peggy did not take this picture. Unlike her husband, Peggy does not take photos of poop to put in the blog. I tend to go along with the philosophy of the bison: Let the chips fall where they may.

It’s Fat Bear Week, as anybody who hangs out in social media is probably aware. The prairie dogs of the Badlands want you to know that they consider it discrimination that there is no Fat Prairie Dog Week. When their size is taken into consideration, they are willing to take on any bear when it comes to putting on the pounds/ounces!

“Bring it on bears!” this fat prairie dog seems to say as he prepares to stuff more food down his gullet in preparation for winter. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
When it seems like just about everyone wants to eat you (the fatter the better), it is wise to look both ways. Prairie dogs have a distinctive set of whistles that warns their fellow dogs of what danger exists. Is it a hawk, or a snake, or a coyote, or a black footed ferret, etc. that considers you part of their menu? There is a whistle for each. Or is it a camera carrying human who only wants a photo?The black footed ferret, btw, was close to extinction. It is now being reintroduced to areas where their main source of food, prairie dogs, live. This suits the ferret just fine. It can eat up to a hundred a year. I doubt that anyone asked the prairie dogs if they wanted to participate in the “Save the Ferret” campaign.

There is a Prairie Dog Town located along Sage Road. Park publicity and a pull-off guarantees that tourists will arrive in significant numbers to capture photos of the fat, furry squirrels. Sharp whistles warn of the two legged visitors. Here’s a fascinating fact that I read on the Badlands NP website: An estimated 5 billion prairie dogs once lived on the Great Plains in their underground boroughs. The largest of their historic towns has been estimated to cover over 25,000 square miles (64,749 kilometers)! For perspective, that’s larger than West Virginia and 9 other smaller states in the US or Croatia and 23 other smaller countries in Europe.

Beyond wildlife, Sage Road shows a different type of beauty than that found along the Loop Road, which runs along the Wall and through the badlands seen in the distance.

We loved the contrast between the golden grass on the gentle hills and green stands of trees found down in the gullies. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The lone tree caught my attention in this photo.
Peggy captured me heading for another tree I found interesting. Given my wandering ways, she wondered if I would stop there.
I did stop, even though the stand of trees up ahead was calling to me. This is one of a number of photos I took of the tree.
Meanwhile, Peggy had found a flock of turkeys that caught her attention. This was just a few of the flock. The others had disappeared down into the gully. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
As we drove back up Sage Road, returning to our camp, we stopped for a final photo that had more of a Badlands feel to it. Late afternoon colors were beginning to seep in. I’ll feature sunset photos in my next post. I was impressed. I imagine you will be as well.
A preview of next week’s post.

Badlands National Park: WOW! …Plus Wall Drug

Badlands National Park has great beauty. it also has interesting— and amusing— wildlife, such as three curious prairie dogs that posed for Peggy. With winter and hibernation coming, these guys have obviously been putting on the pounds— or at least ounces! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Lakota people, who have occupied the area for hundreds of years, called it mako sica. To early French fur trappers, it was known as  les mauvaises terres. Both names mean the same thing: Badlands. If you can’t hunt it, fish it, farm it, or mine it— what good is it? Fortunately, our tastes have changed. We have come to appreciate areas for their natural beauty and Badlands National Park has an abundance. BTW, where there is a will there is a way. People have finally found a way to make money off of beautiful places. It’s called tourism.

Speaking of tourism, we stayed in a small campground near Wall Drug, a tourist attraction that has mastered the art of pulling people off of the road. It started with offering them free ice water in the 60s and 70s by advertising on 3,000 small wooden road signs throughout South Dakota and neighboring states. I first came across the signs in the 60s. It was impossible not to be curious. This time, Peggy and I found the small wooden signs had been morphed into numerous billboards as we crossed South Dakota on I-90.

Wall Drug still uses come-ons to lure travelers off the road with large billboards along I-90. The small, original drug store has turned into a massive tourist attraction with the drug store occupying maybe 1,000 square feet out of the 76,000 square feet the attraction now claims.
Wall Drug advertises that its store has something for everyone. Including Jackalopes.
Peggy found one to ride.
One of the billboards along I-90 advertised “Come to lunch— or be lunch at Wall Drug.” This smiling T Rex was apparently offering the latter. As an aside, numerous fossils have been found in Badlands National Park, but not dinosaurs. The area was part of an ocean at the time dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The term wall, in Wall Drug, comes from the primary feature of the Badlands, a hundred mile wall from which the Badlands have been eroding at an inch per year for the past 500,000 years or so creating mesas, ridges, and gullies with unique structures of considerable beauty. The 31 mile Loop Road the National Park features takes visitors along the wall and down into the Badlands, providing a great introduction. We will feature views from along the Loop Road today.

Erosion, cutting through some 45 million years of geological history between 75 and 30 million year ago, has left behind unique structures of great beauty. The upper right corner shows the wall from which the Badlands have eroded. Look carefully and you will see vehicles parked at one of the many pull-offs along the 31 mile Loop Road that winds its way through the park.
One thing that is guaranteed along the Loop Road: Great variety. Compare this picture with the one above. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
What caught our attention here, was the contrast between the green trees and the white ridge. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The erosion here had created a mesa left standing alone above the smooth mounds below.
Rabbit bush added a touch of yellow here to complement golden hills above. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Jagged peaks are also found along the 31 mile drive.
A close up of one of the peaks along the way.
Pink and mauve top off yellow hills. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Another example. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I liked the tiered look here and the way erosion had cut through over 40 million years of geologic history.
We wondered how long it would be before the finger rock on top of this peak fell. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
One of the pull-offs along the road is dedicated to Chief Bigfoot of the Lakota tribe. He was ill when he reached this site on the wall. His followers helped him down. Not long after that, he and some 150 member of his tribe, including women and children, were massacred at Wounded Knee. it was one of the darker moments in US History.
I conclude today with this photo of the Badlands taken near the Visitor Center. Peggy and I will take you for a drive along Sage Road in our next post. It’s noted for its wildlife. Get ready for buffalo, turkeys, big horn sheep, and a raucous town of prairie dogs!