Friday, September 18, 2009

Heading Home

The Midwest in early autumn is stunning…large ‘quilts’ of wheat and cornfields, grey in the northern skies and sunshine to their south…one can easily see the edge of the horizon.

Up early, we headed from Minnesota to Wisconsin and on to Chicago. Definitely a city of wonder! The city was celebrating Oprah’s 25 years on TV, and runners were warming up for the next day’s marathon…the city was packed.

Not to worry with Eric at the wheel. Drive by ‘touring’ took us up and down Lakes Shore Drive, window shopping along the Miracle Mile (…Eric’s favorite kind of shopping…) gaping at the dramatic architecture, and listening to Celtic pipes and drums at the Irish celebration. The 'drive by' created a ‘we will return’ list for a future weekend.

Leaving Chicago, we headed to another football town - South Bend, Indiana. In the fall, college football draws crowds of all ages…and yet, this weekend, Notre Dame was playing Michigan in Ann Arbor – so a good time for our ‘look about’.

From Indiana, we crossed Ohio – with a quick stop in Cleveland for a second visit to Little Italy and its community bocce center – and on to New York State. ‘The horses were heading’ to the stable…as we zipped east.

Our last morning on the road was crystal clear and cool. The Adirondacks beckoned as we headed to Vermont. Small towns and ‘summer’ villages were quiet as lakes, streams and canals cascaded behind us . Upstate, the Hudson River is a mere rivulet in comparison to its ‘Manhattan’ identity.

What a gift our trip has been. Time together, time with dear friends, and opportunities to meet good folk along the road and to realize and see the vast and varying beauty and resources of the United States and Canada. The world seems deeply challenged at this time, and yet in its midst, there is so very much to celebrate.

We have delighted in sharing our trip with you and so enjoyed your feedback. Many many thanks. It's good to be home.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's a Straight Line East

Up early in Wyoming, we headed east. The highway defines 'straight' as it meets and extends beyond the horizon. Our first destination was Mt. Rushmore - where Gutzon Borgiun, the son of Danish immigrants transformed cliffs of stone into 60 ft. monuments to Jefferson, Washington, T.R. Roosevelt and Lincoln.

Equally or perhaps even more impressive were the stark Badlands. The scenic loop at sunset was a delight of stark caverns, high pillars and prairie dogs! We loved it.

The next day, we continued 'straight'...and on to South Dakota. Farmlands ribboned forward...corn and wheat...and we stopped in Mitchell to visit the Corn Palace...first built in 1892 to celebrate corn...and each following year the building's facades and interior are redecorated in varieties of corn to celebrate the region and the nation. Each scene is designed, planned and ‘hammered’ into place with strips of kernels. And in nearby Blue Earth, there is a 60 ft. statue of the Green Giant…who looked even happier than he does on a can of peas.

East of La Crosse, Wisconsin, we stopped for the evening. The recommendation of a 'fish fry' at the local restaurant capped the evening.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cody and the Big Horn Basin

Wednesday in western introduction to Buffalo Bill, miles through ranch country, red cliffs, high altitudes in the Big Horn National Park...and descents to scenes where ranching and farming combine. The song from Oklahoma..."The Farmers and the Cowboys Can't Be Friends" came to mind as we saw arid lands dotted with irrigated farmlands. No wonder the dispute led to a shootout between small settling ranchers and larger ranching neighbors in 1892. Thank heavens for the US Cavalry.

The Buffalo Bill Museum is a treasure of art, artifacts, exhibits, and sound and light clips. Paintings by N.C. Wyeth and Frederick Remington's sculptures capture the history and emotion of the West's past. A recreation of Remington's studio - originally in New Rochelle, NY - makes clear his iconic and eclectic approach to art and life. Eric loved the teepees that greet visitors.

Leaving Cody, we zipped along at 75 mph....In the evening, we tucked into a log cabin in Buffalo, Wyoming. The night sky - blues and pinks - made clear that ahead was another day of possibilities.

Scenic West in Wyoming

Sunny cloudless skies made our drive through the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone picture perfect. Eric's Golden Age Pass -$10- covers entry fees throughout the United States and makes our park visits not a bargain but a wonderful gift from our Government!

Stops at the Jackson Lodge for lunch were super photo opps...and on to Yellowstone. Again, highway crews were hard at work...yet the dust increased the 'Wild West' flavor. Deep canyons, towering fir trees, and Yellowstone Lake led us north and west towards Cody. As we left the park, fir trees disappeared and red rock cliffs began to tower. Ranches dot the arid landscapes.

Later in Cody, we walked about the town...saloons, cowboy boots and hats, and cigarettes make it clear we're not Back East.

This morning we're off to Buffalo Bill's Museum. More later...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Potatoes, Trout & Rich Scenery

To Eric, a spud lover, Idaho is precious soil. His baked potato at dinner in Idaho Falls met his highest expectations.

The next morning we followed the Snake River north to Jackson. Farmlands stretched to the mountain bases and around us we clearly saw what is meant by large scale farming. Lines of irrigation 'spiders' moved across the rich green fields. We drove on to Jackson through small towns and passed local establishments...a favorite being "Jake's Midnight Taxidermy".

Jackson is a funky town that combines unadorned Old West and uptown restaurants and retail. The afternoon was fishing time in the Grand Tetons National Park. Eric's catch from the Snake River led to a wonderful dinner of cut throat trout.

Off to check out Yellowstone National Park and on to Buffalo Bill in Cody, Wyoming today.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

"Go-to- the-Sun- Highway" and on to Idaho

Friday morning, we headed south to Whitefish and Kalispell, Montana. Topography became dramatic as we continued through Glacier National Park into Montana. Peaks soared above the Salmon River - evidence of the changing glacial action years ago.

An early morning breakfast at a mountain cafe 'stoked' us for the day and off we went over narrow mountain roads. Highway crews at this altitude win huge respect! Fishing streams tempted Eric and it was easy to linger along the edges of Lake McDonald as we continued south. Down from the mountains, we popped into the Whitefish, Montana library for an internet catch up before an explore of this striking ski region.

In the morning, we headed to Sun Valley. The Sawtooth Scenic Byway is an eye-popping drive that requires frequent stops along the way. However, too many stops create a late arrival on Labor Day weekend...and a 'where to stay?' moment. Happily, Eric found a late 'condo' cancellation that was a treat.

In the morning, we attended St. Thomas's Church in Ketchum before a full explore of the Sun Valley Inn and Lodge where Helen's sister Florence waitressed as a college student 'a bit ago'.

Leaving Sun Valley we drove east. The arc of the Snake River revealed the Craters of the Moon. Who knew that the largest area of balsamic rocks in the continental United States extends far across Idaho - after volcanoes erupted thousands of years ago. Traveling on we passed through 70 miles of desert flatlands that also served as nuclear development sites.

Tonight in Idaho Falls and tomorrow off to the Grand Tetons.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Banff and on to Waterton

Tuesday in Banff was a banner day. Our mountain cabin provided all one needed and Sally and Bob joined us for the day...and led us to spots we never would have seen...a hike towards Stewart Canyon, a visit to the Whyte Museum which traces the impact of the Luxton family on Banff's growth...(Norman recovered and settled in Banff after traveling towards Australia in a dugout canoe retrofitted to sail. Overboard in Fiji Coral Reefs sent him back to Banff to recover from coral poisoning...but the diaries and photos are so conversational that 'years between' his arrival disappear. In the evening, we shared a 'blackout dinner' at a hostel bistro where a thunderous lightning storm had cut the power.

In the morning we headed across prairies south to Waterton and Glacier National Park. We were happy to secure a campsite with mountain vistas, lapping waterfalls, and close by grazing deers. A candlelight supper and full moon created perfect 'tenting' conditions.

Thursday morning, we were up early for coffee and 'internet' and booking an afternoon cruise down the 7 mile lake. At one, we boarded, and enjoyed the dramatic scenery of the international Peace Park as we crossed the border between Canada and the United States.

A quick visit to the Prince of Wales Hotel - at the head of the lake - was cut short by threatening skies. We scurried back to the campsite to find skies clearing and our tent site secure. It was time for a 'cuppa' in our folding aluminum chairs in perfect weather conditions..

Without warning, a fierce wind blew down the lake, whipped off the tent stakes and sent the tent, all of its contents including the air mattress, Eric and his chair 50 feet up and foward. Helen was dashed to the side. Fortunately, the 'flight path' was clear but Eric landed elbow, chest and knee down onto a cement slab. Wonderful Canadians rushed out of their 'rigs' to help us.

Time was definitely needed for the McFs to 'figure out' what happened. Eric was badly dazed and stunned and yet somehow recognized the next steps...strike the tent, find a motel and regroup. As he went to find night's lodging, Canadian 'angels' helped Helen find, clear, and repack the airborne contents. Such instant rescue verified the full power of caring. A 'very bruised but not broken' diagnosis by the local EMTs cheered our spirits.

In the morning, we returned to thank these good folk before heading to the US border. The day's drive through Glacier National Park was picture perfect. Colored stones glistened in mountain streams as peak after peak rose by dramatically.

Our day ended in Kalispell, longer tenting and tucked into a Travel Lodge. We are very blessed and grateful to be here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Jasper to Banff

Jasper... far away and very beautiful - mountains in every directions, waterfalls, and hot springs and two days of wonderful explores. Lakes, rivers, and fir trees are rimmed by staggering mountain peaks...and how lucky we were to have sunny skies and warm temperatures. Late in the afternoon, we drove to the Miette Hot Springs high above the valleys of Jasper. Our drive was slowed by mountain sheep - with horns the size of swirling saucers. They filed down the highway as we approached the Springs. Two pools of 104 degrees and two pools of 48 or 55 degrees provided a sharp folk soaked in the sunshine.

In the morning, we returned to the Icefields Parkway. Traveling south offered a new yet stunning perspective. In the afternoon, we took off to explore Banff...Above the town is a botanical garden that cascades in flowers down the hills. Every winter, the head gardener supervises the removal of all perennials and the ordering of new annuals...lots of work for amazing beauty. Imagine, pansies, poppies, carnations...all in flower.

We drove way above the town towards the gondala lift. Not far from the town's perimeter a grey wolf trotted 'home' alongside the golf course as we drove by and a radio-collared cow elk snacked on greenery at the road's edge. We're both going digital!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Feast and Friends in Calgary - on to the Rockies

Days flew by too quickly in Calgary - filled with highlights. Thursday afternoon, we explored the University. The Olympic Oval was amazing...and 2 zambonis skimmed the ice of the speed skating tracks and giant hockey rinks. 2010 is very close...and skaters stretched and practiced. Press coverage was never so real!

The evening meal was a splendid feast. Stories and laughter flowed as friends from Taupo, New Zealand arrived - about to start their long hikes in British Columbia...helicopter in...hiking out. Hodges' hospitality is five star.

Friday morning we headed to Lake Louise. It's called a diamond in the wilderness...and it really is. Perhaps you've seen photographs or paintings of Lake Louise or Lake Moraine...they actually fall short. We started our explore at Lake Moraine surrounded by the Valley of the Ten Peaks. It is not accessible in the winter so summer finds it full of visitors...even signs rope off upper access as bears roam there in search of mountain berries. We visited Lake Louise in the later afternoon...and again Saturday to gain just the right reflections for photos in the crisp morning air.

On to Jasper..and the wonder of the Icefield Parkway. It winds directly north...but there's no direct progress as short hikes, waterfalls, hanging glaciers and azure rivers that follow one after another create wonderful stops. It was a stunning day of sunshine and warm temperatures.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back in time to the Dinosaurs

Wednesday's visit to the Royal Tyrell Museum in the heart of the Badlands two hours northeast of Calgary was a unique experience. Dinosaurs had roamed this area of Alberta and their remains were discovered in river beds in recent years. It was easy to feel very small measured against giant dinosaur skeletons...and exhibits demonstrated how paleontologists researched, worked and made casts. The trip back in time took us from the earliest age to the present...and along the way evolution and survival of species were easy to see. Ancient fauna from as far away as Australia and New Zealand still grow in the museum's botantical setting...which was much nicer to visit than to see the huge cockroaches and tarantulas on display. A quick lesson in paleontology made a great day!

Tomorrow we head to Lake Louise and days in the Rockies.

Explores in Calgary & Fishing in the Rockies

Tuesday was a memorable fishing day for Eric. 2 hours drive from Calgary into Canadian Rockies, 3 hour hike (17k's round-trip) into high alpine lake surrounded by many peaks and above tree line around 7000 feet.
Rangers had sighted Grizzly bears so we were armed with flares and mace guns in case we came upon one.
We caught our trout limit of 8, good size trout average 14 inch in length using both lures and fly fishing.
Temperature was around 70 degrees, with warm breeze so near perfect conditions. The fish prepared beautifully by Sally provided a delicious dinner.
Tuesday was equally perfect for Helen and Sally. Calgary's Glenbow Museum features works by artists who traveled west with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Mountains, prairies and rugged conditions - in room after room of beautiful paintings - it was a great morning. Sharing an afternoon with Sally's grandson Flint made clear what fun 19 months can be.

Monday, August 24, 2009

500 Miles and Starry Night

Saturday morning and heading west...wheat fields, sunflowers, cattle and horses...the horizon stretched far into the distance...and even the cloud combinations changed as we zipped by. Enormous spools of hay dotted the praire...randomly placed mile after mile and yet one couldn't help but suspect that the environmental artist Christo and his wife had come by before or after 'The Gates".

With no fixed destination enroute to Calgary, the night's stay was an open option...until a visit to the Saskatchewan Tourist stop made clear that 20 miles south from the highway were tree covered hills and an interprovincial park...Eric definitely had tenting on his mind.

Flexibility goes a long way on these adventures and the park was wonderful. Beautiful lookouts, cool breezes, and even a close up photo with a chocolate moose....which we hope to include in the blog...after a bit more practice with 'uploading'. The large tent, air mattress, and Eric's culinary microwave skills contributed to a perfect evening.

Now in Calgary with dear friends...Eric is getting his fishing gear out.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Winnipeg West

Friday morning...and time for a unpack/repack before Calgary. It's amazing how items disappear in the depths of the car's trunk.

Happily, we unpacked before torrents of rain..and repacked in 'dry'. We then headed downtown to the Forks, the French quarter, and the Museum of Manitoba...a treasure of history depicted in scenes, notebooks, and displays. Dinosaurs, buffalo hunts, the arrival of Europeans and their shared experience with native people, animal life below the deep winter snows, the Hudson Bay Company and pictures of its London headquarters...the variety and detail were fabulous.

Later in the afternoon ...after an oil change...we visited Assiniboine Park ...a treasure of opportunities for activities, gardens and wide open spaces. The English Garden is a jewel...and we came upon the groom and his groomsmen arriving for his wedding. Near the garden's entrance was the father of the bride...who was waiting for her arrival. He was dressed to the nines with a handlebar mustache the color of corn silk and the size of the husk.

Driving out of Winnipeg Eric discovered a British "soul food" eatery where he picked up a Cornish Pastie and Scotch egg.

A drive to Brandon took us west...and tomorrow we head towards Calgary.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Misunderstood in Manitoba

A rainy morning and a quick start towards Winnipeg. We crossed the border easily, hopscotched through the detours and headed north, and began to wrap our heads around the metric system.

The countryside is a lacework of lakes, cabins, and fir trees as we drove north through First Nation territories...these are the lands of the native people. As we turned west towards Manitoba, fields, farms, and rich soil filled the landscape as far as the eye could see.

Our first stop in Manitoba was the province's Tourist Center. There were maps, brochures, posters and friendly tips...until Eric inquired asked the location of cycle paths. The moment was Kiwi accent meets Canadian twang.

The agent looked at Eric warily. She was certain Eric had asked where the psychopaths were. She replied that Manitoba had its share of crime.

Eric's face registered the 'disconnect'...and repeated his question. Laughter and hoots followed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ribbons of Lakes and Not a Tent

This morning, a straight line took us north from Duluth after viewing wonderful art at the University of Minnesota's northern campus (they had a special exhibit of the early role of the Royal Canadian Mounties). Our destination - Voyager National Park and its boundary waters....acres and acres of lake with hiking paths accessible by water only.

Now, time for honesty: Eric was increasingly excited as we drove on, and Helen, with rain threatening and storm clouds looming, increasingly tentative! There were wonderful explores and long roads into the visitor stations....tent sites plentiful...and cabins near by...yet one of us was still tentative.

However, Eric, ever creative and exploring, discovered a gem...and definitely not a tent! A wonderful little boutique inn on Rainy Lake directly across from Canada. From the balcony we can see the Canadian coast...and we'll sip coffee in the morning on its deck before heading to Winnipeg. Tonight, we're off to the the local bonfire on the beach.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Following the French Explorers

Canoes, fir trees, French explorers, pushing and portaging towards the textbooks, it was hard for 'Atlantic Coast New Jersey; and 'Pacific Coast New Zealand' to imagine...but driving through Michigan's western Upper Peninsula and and northern Minnesota...lakes string together.

We left St. Ignace with the sun coming up...and headed west. Lake Huron, Michigan and Superior glistened outside the windows...and fir trees 'marched by' one after another.

We stopped along the way to see Picture Cliffs of sandstone, Marquette's marina, the Northern Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland, Wisconsin...and on and on. An enormous canoe made clear how much fur traders packed...and the enormity of the landscape was clear from high tower look outs.

Fish and chips were the perfect finish to the day!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Michigan - Great!

Sun, sand dunes, white caps, wind...and a weekend with dear friends - Boo and Walt Eversman - to celebrate 20 years of 'cottage living' in Vermont and Michigan. Delicious meals, sailing and walking, motor boating to dinner, was a postcard weekend of lake activities...and hot dogging down country roads and lanes in a kawasaki mule was a first for Helen while Eric and Walt roamed wide on mountain bikes.

Overall best, however, were the hours of easy conversations, family catch ups and sharing. Somehow lapsed time evaporated and friendship soared.

Monday morning, off to the North...we're now 1/2 way between the Equator and the North Pole!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Zip Zip and the Cell Phone

The Henry Ford Museum - an enormous oasis of American history, cars, trains, and planes. It definitely has a magnetic pull that drew Eric - zip zip - to exhibit highlights...the early model Ts, the early planes, and the '55 Chevy Bel-Air...just like the one he had...Thank heavens for the cell phone, because zip zip, as the magnet drew him to his icons... the cell phone proved an instant GPS.

After a quick picnic, we headed to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan...and a little visit to the big field which accommodates 110,000. Time disappeared and we imagined our god son - now an adult - playing football for Big Blue.

A visit to the Motown Museum brought more time traveling. The museum is the original home of the founder of Motown - Berry Gordy - who transformed his home into a music/recording studio and business office for labels and distribution. Amazing to stand where Smokey Robinson, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder recorded again and again!

An explore to Grosse Pointe brought an array of gorgeous homes and St. Claire lake shore...yet, many 'for sale' signs. Also, in downtown Detroit, empty buildings, empty lots and urban decay are far reaching. Let's hope the factory production increases soon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cleveland and Dearborn gems

Dearborn, Michigan...after a wonderful day. Up early with perfect weather conditions and off to the Botanical Gardens in Cleveland. Blue butterflies are gifts of magic...and the varied gardens a wonder...definitely a Cleveland gem. Then....across the street to the Cleveland Fine Arts Museum, best Gauguin's Eric has ever seen. With a three hour drive ahead, we limited our visit, but loved the 19th and 20th century American and European exhibits...Andy Warhol, Alice Neel, it is a historical wonder of treasures...''

At noon, we took off for Michigan...tucked into our motel, and headed to the Islamic Cultural Center....What a special place! The center features the roots of Islamic culture and religion, the immigration of Muslims from many many nations, and their experiences in the U.S....especially how their experience has been impacted by 9/11. This center is a treasure that needs to come out of the shadows.

Tomorrow, MoTown and the Henry Ford Museum...We are so blessed to have this trip and so aware of the impact of empty store fronts in the Detroit area.

Motown tomorrow.

Constant Favorites

Five hours at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.. a true gem featuring music, video clips, memorabilia..and films...from the early 50's to 2009 on the edge of Lake Erie in an absolutely stunning structure designed by I.M. Pei...and two floors featuring Bruce Springsteen...what an UP for NJ.

In the evening we celebrated Ross Collard's birthday with him and his wife Joan. They are currently in Cleveland (from NYC) for a month of business consulting...and what a terrific meal in Cleveland's Little Italy...where Eric discovered the bocce courts. The summer tournament was concluding and we chatted to the local players in 77 degree weather. The tournament was held outside the local community center - the former home of J.D. Rockefeller who donated the site after a fire...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Westward on Route 80

Up early, final flurry of the 'to do' list, and off.

New Jersey in the rear view mirror, and Pennsylvania lay ahead - a state full of beauty and contrasts... pristine farms, Appalachian mountains, summer heat, and patches of driving rain and tornado threats.

Lots of trucks and lots to see...although not Punsxutawney Phil - the Pennsylvania icon of extended winter weather forecasts - and a famous local ground hog...who must have been enjoying the summer sunshine.

History and the present merged as we sped along route 80... a closed GM plant with acres of vacant parking, Kent, Ohio...and memories of the shootings at Kent State University as students protested the American invasion of Cambodia decades ago, and talk on the local NPR station of the reopening of a Cleveland steel plant. The impact of the present recession is very evident.

We're resting up tonight for Rocking & Rolling tomorrow at the museum...We are so blessed and fortunate to have this adventure...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Final Packing

Sunday and the car is just about brimming...we are ready to go. Eric's been captaining the packing...and all is just about done. Have tent, have sleeping bags, have microwave - doesn't everyone travel with one? - and we're off to Cleveland tomorrow.

Eric's schoolmate Cecil from grammar days and his wife Nancy have arrived from Auckland...and sharing days with them is over the top delightful...They will stay in Summit while we are away..and it will be their travel hub.

More tomorrow from Cleveland...Tuesday we're rocking and rolling at the Hall of Fame. Eric's ready.