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.

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!

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!

A (not so rough)Base Camp… Loudoun County, Virginia

Serafina the trailer at our Virginia basecamp.

Basecamp Definition: A main encampment providing supplies, shelter, and communications for persons engaged in wide-ranging activities, such as exploring, reconnaissance, or mountain climbing.

That about does it, except for the mountain climbing. We don’t mind hiking up mountains, in fact we like mountains, really high ones. But dangling in the air while hanging on with our fingers on a sheer rock face a thousand (or fifty) feet above the ground really isn’t our thing.

Our basecamp in Loudoun County, Virginia is actually the result of a 16-year campaign by our daughter, Tasha, her husband, Clay, and our grandkids Ethan and Cody to persuade us to move closer to them. (Our son Tony and his wife Cammie also had their hat in the ring but the highest mountain in Florida is 345 feet— and yes, we’ve hiked up it— plus they don’t have space for Serafina or a handy dandy efficient apartment to hang out in when we aren’t traveling. Sorry kids.)

We are back on the road now, dashing across the country on freeways to Sioux Falls, South Dakota where Serafina has an appointment for a checkup while still under warranty. As to why Sioux Falls instead of somewhere closer to Virginia, It has to do with my desire to explore more of the northern part of the Western US before the snow flies. Setting the appointment in South Dakota makes sure we get out there ASAP. Then we will slow down and return to moseying on back roads.

BTW, my apologies for being so negligent on keeping up on blogs and comments lately. Between moving, going to Europe, unpacking, and getting ready for another four months on the road, life has been a bit hectic.

As we return to the road, Peggy and I decided it would be fun to share what our ‘not so rough’ basecamp looks like.

As the first photo suggested, Serafina is happily parked in a woodsy area under a beautiful canopy of trees. The kids’ six acres is half wild and half domesticated. The woods harbor foxes, deer, raccoons, squirrels, eagles, and hawks, which is a bit like our Oregon home minus the bears, mountain lions and bobcats.
Our house in Oregon wasn’t large, only 1500 square feet. But still, it had two bedrooms, an office, a library, a large living room, a dining room and a kitchen, not to mention a sunroom and three outbuildings. Moving into an efficiency apartment took some adjustment: translate, serious downsizing. This is our living room and library.
Turning around, you can see our bedroom.
The dining room and one third of the kitchen is off to the side. Our mini-fridge, induction burner, air fryer, toaster and Insta-pot reside there. Another third of the kitchen can be found by turning left at the dining table. That’s where our sink and microwave live. Passing on through the kitchen is our bathroom. Note Eeyore peering down from on top of the bookcase.
The final third of the kitchen lives outside. The 2022 Genesis Weber is amazing in what it can do, including bake. It even comes with a pizza stone where I cooked a pizza the other day. I put the stove together. There were 52 steps. Peggy stayed far away!
The driveway leading to the kids’ house and our basecamp is off of Charles Town Pike. It’s a sure sign you are in the east when road names include pike. A pike is short for turnpike. In the old days, i.e. 1700s, most of the roads were toll roads built by private individuals. A large pole (pike) was stretched across the road. When you paid your toll, the pole would be turned so you could continue your journey, thus the name turnpike. You can see the house in the distance.
Our tool-oriented rooster (thank you to Jeremy Criswell, the artist and our neighbor) that greeted people when they drove into our Oregon home, made the trip east with us.
Tasha and Peggy were quick to plant a flower garden in front of one of our windows. We had just returned from our European trip and they were inspired by all of the window gardens.
An Amazon truck driver was responsible for planting a gorgeous pumpkin patch which is also in front of our basecamp. Nice of him, huh. He was turning around and drove over some pumpkins the kids had out for Halloween last year. The seeds from the squished squash responded by digging in and growing.
Peg’s sister Jane (and my friend of 50 years) made a quick trip out to see us and Tasha and Clay’s family before we escaped. Her daughter Jennifer (Tasha’s cousin) came along. Here we are sitting out on the deck eating a meal of delicious corn chowder Peggy cooked in our Insta-pot. Seated from left to right are Tasha, Jennifer, Jane, our grandson Cody, Peggy, and the Insta-pot. Clay and Ethan were off in Brazil at a jujitsu camp. Peg’s brother John and his wife came out from Texas the next weekend.
I’ll write more about our basecamp and the surrounding area when we return in January. I’ll close today with this photo of the Potomac River which is about 20 minutes away. Washington DC is a short 40 miles. Next Friday, I will start a series on our trip up the Rhine River this summer. First up: Amsterdam.

Surreal or Unreal… Bryce Canyon: Part 2

Photo capturing the awe-inspiring weirdness of Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson..
I tend to think of surreal as real, but mind-blowing— striking and maybe strange, but possible. Last Friday’s photos of miles 4-18 of Bryce Canyon fit into that description. Unreal is more like, “No way. How can that even be possible?” That’s how I feel about sections of the Canyon in the first 4 miles, like the one in the photo above. It looks like it belongs in a fantasy movie.

Peggy and I are in serious countdown time here. On Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, we will be hitting the road— come hell or high water, as the old saying goes. Given global warming, there may be a bit of both. We plan to zip across the nation to the Bad Lands of South Dakota and then slow things down, way down— to a snail’s pace. It’s been an insanely busy month and a half since we got back from our European trip up the Rhine River. First up, we had to unpack from our Oregon move and set up our Base Camp/efficiency apartment in Virginia. Some fun. Try downsizing from a library, living room, dining room, two bedrooms, an office, two bathrooms and a moderate-sized kitchen to one room plus a tiny kitchen and bathroom. Fortunately we do small well.

Then there were the usual medical challenges: changing our medical insurance, finding new health care providers, and making appointments. I had six dental appointments. I’ve never met a dentist who doesn’t immediately start planning a vacation when he or she looks in my mouth—a luxury cruise around the world perhaps. I finished my last appointment yesterday. I sat in the dentist chair, was shot full of painkiller (ouch), and then tried to ignore the various drilling and scraping sounds as he removed an ancient crown that belongs in the Smithsonian. I’ve been there done that a lot. But yesterday was a first. I sat and read afterwards while he made a new crown for me in his office. In the past all sorts of measurements have taken place, a temporary crown attached, and the measurements sent out to a specialist who made crowns. It’s a one or two-week process. Yesterday, it was an hour. The tooth came out purple, was adjusted, went into the oven and came out white. My tongue is still checking it out.

I didn’t wear my new hearing aids to the appointment. Yep, you heard me right. Peggy and I have reached the point where we got tired of saying “What?” to each other. Now we can both hear birds we thought were extinct. I didn’t need to enhance the sound of the dentist drill, however.

On top of all that we’ve had the multiple chores that go along with planning for four months on the road. Peggy is handling inside Serafina, our trailer. One was rebuilding the flimsy drawers. My job is maintenance. I spent all day Wednesday going through my annual check list for Serafina. There were 33 items, but who is counting. We will be up to our new ears over the weekend with packing.

Then there was all the family stuff, fun but time consuming. Let it be suffice to say we’ve spent more time doing family things over the past two months than we normally do in two years. It’s a miracle I got any blogging done at all.

Today’s post features the first four miles of the 18-mile Bryce Canyon National Park road. It’s where most of the tourists go. Next Friday, I’ll do a post on our base camp. Then, as I mentioned in my last post, Peggy and I will be featuring Amsterdam and our river cruise before returning to the ‘Wild’ West with our focus on National Parks.

Photo of Curt Mekemson in Bryce Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
Just like millions of other tourists, we checked out the main overlooks in Bryce Canyon. These photos are mainly from Bryce Point, Sunrise Point, Inspiration Point and Sunset Point. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of crashing hand hoodoo at Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
Again, this photo emphasizes the unreal look of Bryce Canyon. But check out the hoodoo in the front.
Photo of grasping hand hoodoo off of Bryce Point in Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
It’s like a large grasping hand is reaching out to grab something. Unwary tourists, perhaps?
Photo of wall in Bryce Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy focused in on an interesting wall from our Bryce Point overlook. Note the peek-a-boo holes in it.
Photo of hoodoo seen through hole in rock at Bryce Canyon National Park bt Peggy Mekemson.
Her telephoto lens brought in what was lurking behind one of the holes. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Eroded structures on the sides of Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Even more fascinating were the caves/eroded structures lining the side of the Canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Magnificent entry way of rocks leading into an arched cave at Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
These eroded rocks seemed to serve as a magnificent hallway into an arched cave. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of 'rock hallway' at Bryce Canyon National Park by Curt Mekemson.
I took a close up.

Our cameras were busy the whole time we were at Bryce Canyon. We took well over one a thousand pictures. Here are a few more from the first four miles of the Canyon.

Note the trail winding its way through the Canyon.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo of Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo of Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo of Bryce Canyon National Park by Curt Mekemson.
Sharp edges of Bryce Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
The Canyon has its share of sharp edges. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Another perspective.
Photo from Sunset Point of Bryce Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
I’ll conclude with this final view of the Canyon from Sunset Point by Peggy. Next Friday I’ll give you a look at our Base Camp in Waterford, Virginia along the Charles Town Pike.

Bryce Canyon: Finally… Part 1: Beyond the Hype, Miles 14-18

Photo capturing the bright colors of Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
Most people, especially if they are on a tight schedule, focus on the first 4 miles of Bryce Canyon’s 18 mile drive. It’s where all the services are. It is where the tourist buses go. It is where the Park busses run. And those four miles are spectacular— no doubt about it. There are reasons for the all of the hype. But today, Peggy and I are going to take you out the road from mile 4 to mile 18 and provide a perspective on why visitors should include it as part of their itinerary.

What’s not to love about the National Parks of America’s Southwest? Well, maybe not the extreme heat of summer and the flash floods of the monsoonal season. Beyond that, there is incredible beauty, geology, and interesting history. Peggy and I have worked to give you a sense of this beauty over the past several Friday posts if you have never visited the region, and some special memories if you have. Today, we are covering miles 4-18 of Bryce Canyon’s 18 mile road. Next Friday we will wrap up our visit to the Bryce area by covering the first four miles. Both were a treat for us, and hopefully, will be for you as well.

Then, we are going to take a break from the Southwest for a few weeks. First, I want to give you a look at our basecamp in Virginia where we will be hanging our hat, so to speak, between journeys. Second, we want to share our trip to Amsterdam and up the Rhine River this past summer, a trip that was postponed for two years because of covid. After that, we will finish off our Southwest exploration with the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde, plus.

In the meantime, Peggy and I will be starting our next four month adventure in two weeks, working our way across the northern tier of states with more visits to National Parks and a possible jaunt into Canada until the weather drives us south into the Northwest and California, followed by a drive across the southern tier of states. This coming spring, we have booked a tour down the Nile River, after which we will spend a couple of months in Europe, starting with a month in the Greek Isles. At least, those are the plans…

And now: Miles 4-18.

Photo from Yovimpa Point in Bryce Canyon National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
This is where the road stops at mile 18 and 9,115 feet. We will be working our way back toward mile 4, more or less, visiting overlooks along the way. There were two stops here, Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point. Gee, I wonder where they came up with the name, Rainbow Point? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Bryce Canyon raven by Curtis Mekemson.
We were not alone. A raven envisioned us feeding him. I told him it was against the rules.
He gave me the look. A stiff breeze was ruffling the feathers on his head.
View of Bryce Canyon's rainbow colors by Peggy Mekemson.
Another ‘rainbow-type’ shot by Peggy.
Photo along the Bryce Canyon road by Curtis Mekemson.
It really doesn’t matter where you are along the road, there is beauty.
iPhone photo of Bryce Canyon by Peggy Mekemson.
All of the views can be captured from different perspectives. This is a closeup of the photo I took above. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson on our iPhone.)
Photo of Bryce Canyon Arch by Curt Mekemson.
Bryce Canyon has its own renditions of arches. This is where I met up with the raven.
Perspective of Bryce Canyon Arch by Peggy Mekemson.
A different perspective of the Bryce Canyon Arch by Peggy.
Photo of rock resembling the prow of a ship in Bryce Canyon by Curt Mekemson.
I felt like I was looking at the prow of an ocean liner cresting a stormy wave. (Yes, as you know, I have a vivid imagination.) This is one of those sights, like the Arch, that one doesn’t expect to find in Bryce Canyon.
Photo of Bryce Canyon Hoodoo by Peggy Mekemson.
This, on the other hand, is expected: A hoodoo.There are hundreds, if not thousands. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Bryce Canyon hoodoo poised on a pedestal by Curt Mekemson.
I caught a squat one poised on a pedestal.
Lined up hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
And Peggy caught a bunch. Lots and lots of hoodoos standing at attention and staring off into space.
Canyon ridge in Bryce Canyon photo by Curt Mekemson.
I love the ridges that head off into the Canyon. There will be knife-edged ones in my post next Friday.
Magical view of Bryce Canyon National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy caught this magical view looking down into Bryce Canyon. It’s my favorite of the several hundred photos we took in the Park.
The aspen in Bryce National Park at 9000 feet in May before leafing out. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
The aspen along the road had yet to leaf out at 9000 feet when we were at Bryce Canyon in late May.
Photo of Aspen at pullout along the Bryce Canyon road by Peggy Mekemson.
Their stark white trunks and limbs made a dramatic contrast to the dark green conifers. Peggy took this photo at one of the pull-offs.
Hole in rock photo at Bryce National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
A hole in the rock played peek-a-boo with us. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of layering effect of different types of rock in Bryce Canyon National Park by Curt Mekemson.
A final view along the Bryce Canyon road between miles 4 and 18 shows the layering effect caused by different types of rock. Next Friday we’ll be featuring the most popular section of the Park between miles 1 and 4.

Bryce Canyon’s Mossy Cave Trail

View from Bryce Canyon's Mossy Cave Trail. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Here’s a secret. Don’t do Mossy Cave Trail to see the cave. Do it to check the scenery along the way. It’s like hiking the trails down inside of Bryce Canyon without the challenging climb in and out. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Finally, we have made it to Bryce Canyon, but we still aren’t in the park proper. The trail to Mossy Cave is located on the northern edge of the Park off of Highway 12. Information on the trail said its growing popularity meant that there was limited parking space. We had noted the problem when we drove by earlier. Fortunately, when we arrived, there were only a couple of cars and we shared the trail with only a handful of people. Mossy Cave was nothing to write home about, or do a post on. Possibly in the winter when it is filled with ice cycles would be different.

Photo of Mossy Cave at Bryce National Park by Curt Mekemson.
Looking into Mossy Cave with its last remaining chunks of ice from the previous winter. I did find the contrast with the roof interesting.

The easy to follow trail into Mossy Cave is well worth the trip however, as the following photos will show. A small creek runs along the bottom of the canyon has its own story. It was dug by Mormon farmers with picks and shovels in the late 1800s to provide water to the small town of Tropic and its surrounding farms and ranches.

Photo of waterfall along the Mossy Cave Trail by Peggy Mekemson.
The trail to Mossy Cave cuts up the hill to the left just before this pretty little waterfall and makes a brief but steep climb. Peggy loves waterfalls and took several photos of it.
A close up. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of waterfall along the Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
The falls and the creek. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Its when you look up from the creek that you begin to get the feel that you are in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Rock sculptures, small arches and hoodoos abound.
Photo of rock sculpture along the Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Rock sculpture with what looks like eyes along the Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
I was thinking blue eyes when I took this photo.
Photo of rock formation along Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce Canyon Nation Park by Peggy Mekemson.
There were a number of impressive rock formations. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This rock formation was quite colorful. And I liked the lone tree up on top. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of Hoodoo with dramatic background along Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce National Park by Curt Mekemson.
I felt that this hoodoo with its background made a dramatic combination.
Photo of Mossy Cave Trail rock formation by Peggy Mekemson.
The rocks lined up for Peggy. They were good at holding their pose. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Dramatic rock formation along Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park by Curt Mekemson.
Mine were a bit more unruly. That’s hardly news.
Photo of sheer rock wall along Mossy Cave Trail by Curt Mekemson.
I also liked this sheer rock wall with its many-limbed dead tree.
Photo of rock formation along the Mossy Cave Trail rendered in black and white by Curt Mekemson.
I conclude today’s post on Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce with a photo I thought would go well in black and white. (You will find the mouthy guy about half way up on the right in Peggy’s photo at the beginning of the blog. ) Next Friday’s post will focus on miles 4-18 along the road into Bryce Canyon National Park.