Travel Days #5 & 6 … On The Road Again!

Day 5: Granite City, Illinois: 5:30am, I rolled out of my tent and said good morning to my wet tent fly; it was quite the thunder and lightning storm last night! As I was counting how far away the storm was I felt comfortable. But when it was overhead I reviewed in my mind: is my tent in a good position on the ground, did I still feel the overhead tree branches were okay in this wind, should I have trenched around my tent to handle the downpour? Fortunately, my tent was okay and I slept comfortably and dry the entire night and with a shake of the tent fly and some drying time it was good to go for the next night in a tent.

Today was a long day, driving to Connellsville, Pennsylvania … located in the southwestern part of the state. I actually drove through five states this day: started in Illinois, then Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and finally Pennsylvania. I wanted to stay at this PA campground since it was by a river and bicycle path. I finally arrived at 7:00pm in pouring rain which had been the case the last couple of hours while driving backroads. No birding or bicycling was to happen, bummer!

After much thought, I made the decision to book a local motel room. The rain here was falling better than any shower I had personally taken and there was no need for me to be sopping wet to then sleep on my bed platform in my car. I arrived at the motel and tried to get tickets to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house, built 1936-1939 supposedly over a waterfall. Unfortunately everyone else was looking for a rainy day activity so no available tour for me the next day. Another time I wish to check out his house construction!

Day 6: Off to visit my sister and her husband who live in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania. For the first couple of hours I was again on the smaller roads before finally driving on any interstate. If I stopped at every place of interest I would never get to visit my mom and friend. But I did see signs for where if I veered 15 miles away was the Flight 93 National Memorial, Wall of Names, built to honor the crew and passengers, 40 victims, of that flight. Those heroic people stopped the terrorists from achieving their goal and stands as a reminder of how horrific the entire day, September 11, 2001, was and will never be forgotten by me. Historical signs were about the Great Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889 were more than 2,000 people died because of a dam failure. (It was also the time of Clara Barton’s first domestic relief effort and the start of American Red Cross.) I was always aware of that flood but I just discovered two other floods having an impact on Johnstown. March 17, 1936 the town had a devastating flood caused by heavy runoff from melting snow and 3 days of rain. A couple dozen people died with many building buildings destroyed. The third Johnstown flood was July 19, 1977. Again, heavy rainfall causing flash flooding.

Along the highway I saw some message on the back windows of two cars. These people were letting everyone know they are on a road trip and if others wished to donate to their adventure, then you could send them money via Venmo or PayPal. Wow, that really is taking a fundraiser on the road. I will wonder if anyone actually sends them money!

I have arrived at their alpaca farm. No rain! Life is good! (My preoccupation with rain is in the fact that where I do live we have not had any substantial rain in 2 years. Thank goodness I packed a raincoat!)

Covered bridge. Good time to relax during my drive.

Day #4: Horseshoe Lake State Park in Illinois

Today was “take a break from driving” day! I am so glad I included this non-driving, relaxation day. It’s been so hot at night, I slept in my tent with side tent flaps wide open wishing for a breeze, any breeze! Last night we had a severe thunderstorm and thankfully no tree branches fell on my tent. I do like counting the seconds between lightning and thunder to know how far away a storm is, although somewhat disconcerting when it is crashing overhead, but all was good!

For this relaxation day I needed an escape to some cool place, beyond my air-conditioned car. Purposely avoiding the hot city heat of St Louis, Missouri and thankfully remembering years ago already having visited Gateway Arch National Park, I drove a few miles to Horseshoe Lake State Park in Illinois for a change of pace.

The 90 degree weather, which my weather app reported “feels like 100 degrees”, had a heat advisory and was only bearable thanks to the 12 mph wind! While relaxing, reading and wondering where I could buy more gallons of water, I heard the Illinois State Wildlife officials were tracking a wandering black bear, at about a 9 hour human-powered walk southeast from where I was sitting. A bear would like this park but will not reach it. I wondered, how is that bear handling the heat?

I saw and heard many birds, but with the heat, humidity and thankfully a breeze I was not inclined to pull out my camera. All of it seemed like work and this was my relaxation day! Unless I saw a bird new to me, the camera with a longer lens was staying put. I did observe some mud-daubers on the inside of the pavilion and butterflies enjoying nearby white clover flowers. I walked in the large fields to a more shaded, but buggy trail, and walked roadside by the lake, saw geese with their young, and escaped back to the shade and breeze at the picnic table pavilion.

As I sat there in the breezy shade, people who stopped by were very friendly. One guy was fixing his drone when I arrived. He is a local person, seen most of the world during his career in the Army, and now enjoys photography. We had plenty to talk about. A few hours later two guys from St Louis on their Sunday drive arrived at this park to escape city heat. Interesting conversation. All of us agreed on this: doing close to nothing and staying hydrated was the best plan for the day!

But, typical of my travel I saw a place to visit and decided to stop by: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Some of the mounds are quite large and have archeological ruins from an ancient 13th century Native American settlement. Researchers started excavating in 1988 and after 2 years of work discovered evidence of 80 houses and hundreds of storage places. I walked some of the grounds and did not have enough time to visit the museum, but many people were there visiting it.

I had to leave this area, return to the campground for a shower, dinner and be ready for an early morning departure. I loved the breeze blowing across the thousands of acres of land. I didn’t want to go, but then again, my car was air-conditioned, and my final destination was still hundreds of miles away!

Travel Day #3, Costco?

Today’s travel was from Oklahoma through Missouri, passing by The Gateway Arch in St Louis to the east side of the Mississippi River as I located a campground in Granite City, Illinois. These all have been long days of driving! (The arch would have been another place of interest to stop but not this trip. Fortunately I had visited it about 50 years ago!)

Before I left for this trip I was contemplating a membership at Costco, to purchase gasoline for my car at a less expensive price since I will unfortunately be burning through plenty of fuel on this trip. (Only in my dreams do I own a Tesla, or any electric car for that matter.) The Gas Buddy app often indicates Costco with the least expensive gas in an area. Also, people talk about Costco and their savings. But why not consider Sam’s Club or any other membership? And haven’t you wondered if the least expensive gasoline has additives to stretch it? Who knows?

My decision had been made, soon reinforced these last 3 travel days with at least 1500 miles completed so far as I travel to NYS. I am glad I did not get a Costco, or any, membership. There has been enough of a challenge finding gas stations near the interstate highways. Today I pulled into a gas station to discover no gasoline was available at any pump and then it happened, my yellow warning light popped on to indicate I should get gas soon!

Suffice it to say I did not see a Costco from any highway now or the last couple of days, nor would I go looking for one now with my warning light on. Yes I know I have plenty of miles I can travel with the warning light on. I saw a gas station down the road and head for it. Mission accomplished, drive on! Get to the campsite with all its trees! I think my site had the largest pavilion so I sat and ate my dinner there. This campground is near an industrial area and no major road so it is quiet. I had time to set up a tent, listen to the birds … robins, sparrows and numerous cardinals … no wonder they chose cardinals for St Louis Cardinals! As I walked around the campground, a thing I will do at every campground, I also saw fireflies! How cool is that! I haven’t seen them in a long time! The pavilion is so helpful the next morning since during the night we have a torrential thunderstorm.

My campsite this night.

Travel Day #2 … Trains and Trucks, Oh My!

Today I had many hours and miles on the road from New Mexico through the panhandle of Texas to the middle of Oklahoma. Do you know how huge Texas is, and I am only going through the panhandle! Everything is big in Texas. My billboard reading tells me I could get a free 72 ounce steak … I am guessing it is free at the restaurant only if you eat the whole thing in one sitting … I’ll pass! The beef lots are huge too and I could tell one was coming up before I got even near it because of the smell. No housing developments near these properties. I wondered what they did with the old wind turbine blades and sure enough there was property where they stored them. What can one do with an old wind turbine blade?

Thanks to road construction built during President Eisenhower’s administration in 1956, the Interstate Highway System parallels much of the railroad system in western USA and, as I learned yesterday, the billboard industry was booming. I have seen many a train and many a very, very long train. Our country depends on moving freight by trains and trucks. Hundreds of trucks are on the road using the highway system just as I am doing. 

Motorists, like myself, and truck drivers must look quizzically when driving under some of the highway bridges. Are the engineers providing accurate info and are community leaders listening and getting the necessary repair work done? We’re seeing buildings, bridges and roads in disrepair, so let’s not wait for any of them to collapse before we act. We need to care about all construction and realize there are factors affecting their structural integrity as years go by. No highways, bridges, tunnels, support beams last forever.

While driving hundreds of miles per day I am beginning to see the variety of road surfaces. I don’t mind paying a toll on certain roads. Those areas where I paid a toll had amazingly smooth surfaces! One road actually had a speed limit sign: maximum 80 and minimum 60! Wow! Everyone drove fast on that road and it was nice to know I had no worry of an upcoming pothole. 

I hope by the time I post this our federal government approved an infrastructure bill. There is work to be done in our country and people looking for work with good pay. Our interstate highway system is important for us all … do you know how many Amazon, FedEx, UPS and freight-carrying trucks for various businesses are on the road? Thousands… let’s keep them rolling … we do want to receive our stuff on time, right? Aren’t we still paying a gas tax for road repair? Hmmm….

My campsite tonight is in Choctaw, Oklahoma just down the road from Tinker Air Force base. We are still in a pandemic and people may wonder why I am wearing a mask, and even though I am vaccinated I have no idea if others have been. It is easy for me to wear a mask, so I do.

Tonight’s campsite I have a picnic table by the tent and one under a huge pavilion that becomes instrumental in the morning rain as I take my tent down.

Drive, eat dinner, walk the campground, then sleep … my day.

Travel Day #1… AZ to NYS! Billboards?

The start of my adventure begins now! I have a mom and special friend to visit, and when and where possible to visit my sisters and other friends. It has been a long number of months with the pandemic, and continued concerns of what variants of the coronavirus are still floating around in the air, but it has been more than 15 months since seeing everyone. So off I go, driving myself by car from Arizona to New York State.

What’s up with billboards along roadways? I could not help but notice the billboards as I drove today from southern Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico area. There had been a campaign decades ago, led by Lady Bird Johnson to beautify America and remove billboards. “Ugliness is so grim,” Lady Bird Johnson once said. “A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions.” There she was in 1965 concerned about the mental health of Americans, wanting to clean up/beautify areas, and to landscape highways to provide places of relaxation and recreation. Right on!

While driving hundreds of miles across Arizona to New Mexico area, seeing live deer along the side of the road, windmills, plenty of nut trees, dairy farms, beef lots, dry river beds and agricultural land, I noticed just before towns the roadside billboards appeared, one after another. The billboards were informative. If I wished, I could buy guns online, not miss an upcoming tourist spot in the next town, buy fireworks, know Jesus will save me, call an attorney if in an accident, know where to get information about autism, the local candy factory and other places I should not miss, and wait … there will be another McDonald’s just ahead! 

Reading the billboard messages did break up the monotony of long distance driving, and for me no extra will power was needed, but I am sure others who saw the signs for McDonalds, DQ and/or Starbucks just ahead could challenge their willpower! Many other unused signs were available for rent as they sat roadside looking like one eyesore after another.

A bit of history: Apparently a watered-down version of the Highway Beautification Act passed only with a compromise between the White House and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. Billboards were allowed in areas of commercial and industrial use and the government would provide “just compensation” to those owners for losing their billboards. And that’s how it was in 1965 – 1968! I do like reading signs in appropriate places, but I am not a fan of billboards. I would rather see the landscape wherever it is.

Finally arrived at the campground with time to pitch my tent, think about dinner and a beer (not wine, darn it), and read a book! The upcoming blog posts will continue every other day with my mid – June days on the road to Long Island, New York State. (I did not write them daily since I was busy driving my car, but you’ll get the whole scoop eventually.)

Tent up and time for dinner!

Eastward Ho! … as a Bird May Fly!

My bags are packed, I am ready to go! Traveling east by vehicle, my Honda Element is again on the road! I chose this method of transportation to visit family and friends on the east coast of the USA and to camp along the way.

You may ask why would I choose to travel with so little luxury and drive long distances? After watching television news about unruly behavior from people while flying in an airplane and unvaccinated people in an airport remaining potential carriers of the coronavirus, I decided to make my own circles around such and aim to arrive at my destinations with less stress. (Yes, there may be rain, tornado, bugs, etc, but such is life.)

Just think of the pioneers who traveled westward not knowing where they were going each day and where they would end up. I am in better shape than all of that! Campgrounds are chosen, plenty of rest stops available, easy access to food and drink and some landscapes new to me, especially as I look for birds in an area!

What I am doing to see family and friends, after 15 months of remaining in a personal/home bubble, is travel to them! What else, got vaccinated! With compassion and love for our fellow human beings, I have done my part and look forward to seeing everyone down the road! Stay healthy and happy America! An American kestrel is in the air!

Take Time to Discover How Little You Know

Often we pride ourselves on how much we know about a particular topic and go on to prove it to others. More humbling than that, I believe, is when one takes time to listen and learn something new! We do not know it all and when we take time to listen we may discover how little we know about a particular topic.

Recently I watched a zoom webinar presented by Benovia Winery. Let’s just say I love their wines! What struck me while watching it though was how little I knew about goats and cows and the world of making cheeses! Lisa Gottreich, founder of Bohemian Creamery in Sebastopol California, was the guest during this webinar and you quickly discover Lisa knows all about cheese-making and she loves her goats! 

Who knew about natural/traditional or bloomy rinds? Or the number of gallons of milk to make pounds of cheese, the temperature and humidity best for aging the cheeses, orthe perfect time to buy and eat fresh cheeses? And why you’ll really love the cheese flavors when you take them out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to eating them? Benovia’s winemaker asked wonderful questions of Lisa throughout the webinar and I realized this was a huge learning opportunity for me. The Chardonnay and Pinot noir wines were perfect for the bloomy rind of the Bodacious goat cheese, the hard and traditional rind of the ShredHead cow cheese and the soft Flower Power cow cheese with pollen on its rind. I have been selective in what rinds I eat, but I now understand many people eat them all. Even with choices of cheese, some people like cow cheese and not goat cheese; I am a fan of both! This morning I took a small piece of goat cheese to taste while it was cold … yup, having it warm-up and a bit gooey is absolutely the best way to eat it and really taste the cheese flavor! Live and learn!

Three cheeses for us to taste during the webinar.

Benovia Winery is at 3339 Hartman Road, Santa Rosa, California. Bohemian Creamery is at 7380 Occidental Road, Sebastopol, California. Benovia Winery and Bohemian Creamery have similar challenges: current pandemic, possible drought and wildfire concerns, but they continue to provide us with quality products and service. If you can, support these businesses and learn about wine-making and cheese-making! Discover and learn something new! Who doesn’t love a chunk of cheese and a glass of wine!?! Okay, if not you, then send someone who does a gift … let’s support our local businesses.

Arizona Mountain Biking … Got Oxygen?

I’ve climbed mountains to 19,000 feet and expected to be winded, but I wasn’t ready for the altitude and the rocks on uphill climbs during my mountain biking in Flagstaff, Arizona’s 7,000 -9,000 foot elevation! But with perseverance and determination, I busted on through 12 miles one day and 15 miles on another, then ate and drank well at the end of each ride! I must really remember to strengthen my quad leg muscles before any mountain biking here. Those muscles are different from muscles needed for walking and road cycling. I always appreciate my bicycle’s gear-shifting capabilities as long as I am in the best gear for uphills! Then I am also not gasping for air on these uphills … ahhhh!

Spending time in northern Arizona, away from the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona, is a wonderful change of scenery and temperature. The wind, cooler temperatures and green color and freshness of pinyon pines, ponderosa pines and juniper trees are a welcomed sight. I can imagine hiking the 800 mile Arizona Trail from Mexico to Utah, USA and would love this section of northern Arizona to hike or mountain bike! I noticed one cache of water trailside and know the individual will appreciate the precious water! I have hiked sections of the Arizona Trail and water is not easily available so having caches set out is wonderful for a thru-hiker. Kudos to all thru-hikers: an accomplishment to complete the distance whether hiking or mountain biking the distance!

Water, thru-hikers appreciate this resource!

The trail varies from rocky uphills to smooth rides through gates and intersections with other trails. Wildflowers are beginning to bloom and I saw pronghorns romping through the forest. Deer, elk, squirrels and birds are seen here too during various seasons. Do take time to notice the natural beauty around you. It may be best to do that when you take a break from your bike ride, since most of your energy and sight will be looking at the upcoming trail and not necessarily the world around you! I’ve been known to look at something a bit to long and find myself falling off a trail. Would not recommend that action!

One of 4 pronghorn checking out the mountain biker.

A good portion of the land where we are bicycling also provides a grazing area for cattle. As a result we often need to open and close gates depending on the season and if the cattle are here. Often you’ll see more cow chips on the trail than cattle. Even if you come upon wildlife, they usually scoot away and want nothing of you. Those are healthy wild creatures not looking for human hand-outs or interaction. That is the way it should be! 

When you plan your next mountain biking adventure, remember: bring filled water bottles, wear a bicycle helmet and eye protection, bring a snack, bicycle tools, repair kit, tire pump, and use your shock pump before the ride so your front and back suspension points are ready for your bumpy ride. Know the trail and/ or carry a map or phone with a downloaded map. If possible, especially when riding solo, always a good idea for another person to know where you are in the forest. Enjoy your ride, be safe, have fun and consider Edmund Hillary’s quote, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” So true!

Respect … Can’t Help But Have It Here …

Recently friends and I were visiting an archeological site in northern Arizona. There are a few others nearby, but this site is a favorite of mine despite the 273 steps down to then allow us to walk the Island Trail. That hike does give you pause when you realize people who lived here so long ago did hike further down to the river to get water or returned above to farm their land and there was no concrete stairway as available to us today. I have great respect of these people and their success in living on the warm side of the canyon in winter and the cool side in summer. As we walked the Island Trail, walls of rooms and remaining alcoves are seen. With a look across the canyon, many more of the estimated 300 rooms can be seen.

Walnut Canyon with San Francisco Peaks in the distance

As we walk this trail, it is with respect for the people who lived here. While some moved on and others stayed and died here, these sites continue to remain sacred to Zuni and Navajo people even centuries later because their ancestors had been here. I can understand and respect it all.

This man made important and lasting decisions.

Stephen Mather’s name is noted on many historical signs in northern Arizona. Fortunately he had developed and conserved places for future generations to know, understand and respect our ancestors and their lives. As a result, I can visit a place, such as this Walnut Canyon National Monument, and also have the opportunity to learn about ancestral life. I appreciate what I have in my own life even more and know I too must protect what is here for the generations following me.

After walking the Island Trail, 273 steps back up to the visitor center, take time to walk the Rim Trail. Imagine farming at this level, keeping young children safe from the cliff’s edge, protecting your tribe from invaders, and what is involved for daily living when your home is down the cliff! It was with great respect, I looked down from the Island Trail where I had come and across the rim to the visitor center imagining life for these people so long ago!

If you plan to visit Walnut Canyon National Monument in Flagstaff, Arizona, here are a few things to remember. Water is most important whether in a water bottle or water bladder so you have easy access to it. Sunscreen and a hat should be worn since most the trail is in the sun. Bring a camera and take photos when you are standing still. Handrails are not along the majority of the trail. If you are uncomfortable with ledges and edges, always remain on the inside wall. But do not fear because the trail is comfortably wide even for you. This area may be at an altitude new to you so walk slowly down and even more slowly coming back up. It is perfectly fine to stop often, read the informative signs, take in a view, sit at a bench or talk with the volunteers on the trail. Allow your breathing to be more comfortable or give your leg muscles a chance to relax. Respect your needs and take care of yourself. Enjoy your lunch at the picnic area near the Rim Trail. Respect all that is here … that includes the flowers … so everyone who is visiting will see them too! Have a nice visit!

Two Hikes … One Day …

We had a hiking plan which changed quickly when we discovered prescribed burns happening in the Flagstaff, Arizona area. (One cannot help but notice and smell the smoke in the air if the wind is blowing your way.) Controlled burns in forests are intentionally set fires to reduce excessive trees, brush and shrubs, encourage native vegetation, and for some plants they actually need a periodic fire to help their life cycle. Forest management is important to help prevent destructive wildfires. So while there would be smoke in the air this day, we headed west to where the air was fresh and we could hike new places.

To get to our first hike we drove down a dirt road at least 3 miles, past campers on national forest land, and finally to the middle of nowhere. It was interesting to see the variety of tents, trailers, and ATV’s scattered throughout the area where people were camping. Some also had solar panels and propane tanks, but I think there is a 14 day limit per site so I am unsure how long people do camp. The US forest ranger was out and about checking the area.

We drove the first part of the Walker Hill Trail because it is a lollipop-shaped trail. Since the “stick” was a dirt road, we drove it. At the loop we walked the trail around Walker Hill, about 2.3 miles. We were the only hikers out there and I suspect few people hike this area. ATV riders and mountain bikers would love this area, riding dirt roads across large stretches of forest land. We did not see any of them so the forest was quiet except for a few birds.

After driving back on the the dirt road, we drove west on old Rte 66 to our starting point for another hike: Keyhole Sink Trail. The parking lot is also for Oak Hill Snow Play Area where they offer 2 runs for sledding and snow tubing. Sounds like super winter fun! I imagine the place is packed when the snow falls.

The trailhead for our hike was across the road where we hiked the Keyhole Sink Trail to its end, about 1 mile. It is a nice trail with plenty of wildflowers just wanting to bloom. Once you arrive at the box canyon, you’ll notice it is in the shape of a keyhole, there is a pool of water and petroglyphs which date to around 1,000 years ago. This place was where the Cohonina people hunted and held religious ceremonies, but apparently it did not seem to be a place where they settled permanently. Anthropologists believe the Cohonina lived around 700 to 1100 and are the ancestors of today’s Navajo, Hopi and Zuni tribes.

While I was researching the history of this place, I was saddened to read of the 2010 vandalism to the petroglyphs. It necessitated an expert coming in to restore the site and as a result hidden cameras now monitor the site. The dreadful behavior indicates huge disrespect of our history.

Here are some photos from the 2 hikes. Walker Hill Loop:

Keyhole Sink Trail: