Sunday, November 21, 2010

Da tirty point buck

Javier (yes, it's an alias), Marc, and I were the deer hunting contingent from the Appleton area this year. Things actually started a couple of weekends ago, though, with Tom, Jason, Marc and I heading over to Uncle Dean and Aunt Dar's place to check out the situation with regard to deer stands and get the lay of the land. We had a great time with them, tromping around the family farm, hearing stories, playing cards, and just generally having a nice time. Don't you just love that when different sets of people that you love get to meet each other?

So this Friday afternoon, Marc, Javier and I headed west. We got there pretty much at the same time my cousin (Dean & Dar's son) Keith did. I hadn't seen him for a couple years, so it was great to hang around, play cards, catch up, and look over a map of the land to figure out the trail network. Unfortunately Dar just found out that her brother Rich has been hospitalized with a serious case of walking pneumonia... so that meant things were a little more serious than they might have been. (He was doing ok - at least not worse - when she visited him on Saturday, so we're all hoping he pulls through.)

Saturday morning light quickly found us in our tree stands and ready to go. I was in the same stand as last year, and I just love it. It's placed right at the junction between a lake and a swamp, so there was all sorts of activity when I was there. Maybe 20 minutes after I was in and settled, a black bear came from the facing hill and between the bodies of water, crossing in front of me and heading back up the Big Hill. Not much later, an otter came up from the swamp, meandered to the lake, and then also pattered its way in front of me. Marc even got to see it, as he was using the next stand up that my cousin Scott used last year! Maybe half an hour later, a big buck came down the opposite hill and I took a shot, missed, and then got him with the second shot. He's the biggest buck I've ever gotten! Since this was Marc's first year hunting, he came over to help me field dress it so he could get an idea of how that works (unfortunately, when you do it as seldom as I do, it just isn't as neat or straightforward as it is in the hunting manuals!). I helped Marc drag it closer to the trail, and we returned to our stands.

Maybe an hour later, a smaller buck came down from the Big Hill, passed Marc (but not close enough for a good shot), and came in front of me. It was moving at a pretty strong pace, and in retrospect I should have waited for a better shot myself. I ended up wounding it - but not badly enough to slow it down. So for the next three or four hours I tracked that deer. At one point, I thought it was done as the trail crossed another one where a deer had been taken and field dressed. I looked around a bit, though, and figured out that my deer had merely crossed the path of the other one, and hadn't been taken himself. I suppose that makes sense in retrospect, but trying to figure that out from the trail was pretty non-straightforward! Maybe half way through Uncle Dean came after me as we weren't sure which direction it was heading and he was worried about me ending up wandering forever in the hinterlands of northern Wisconsin. That deer had a sense of humor though - it ended up, after much wandering, looping back around the end of that swamp, coming back along the Big Hill, and essentially crossing it's own trail from where I had originally first seen it! Eventually the trail played out, and Uncle Dean was pretty sure it wasn't hurt that badly: seriously wounded deer generally only go down hill, and this one had no problem going up and down and all around - and even buddied up with a couple of does along the way! It makes me sick to my stomach to think of a wounded deer suffering, so I sincerely hope that deer is fine, or else is taken by another hunter soon.

As we were following the trail back along the Big Hill, Marc saw us and came and joined in on the end of our tracking adventure. We headed back to Dean's cabin to warm up, chill out, and regroup before the last push for the evening. Javier joined us for a bit, and then the three of us headed back to our stands. Maybe an hour before sundown I got cold, and decided to do a loop to see if I could kick anything up for Marc or Javier (who was now in my stand). And sure enough, I think that's what happened! A big buck - bigger than the one I had gotten earlier! - surprised Marc as he was starting up a hand warmer. He took a quick shot and missed, but his shot alerted Javier. Javier saw it running into view, and then stop - behind a group of trees. He waited and it stepped forward...and he dropped it.

He field dressed it as the sun was setting, and Dean brought out his ATV so he could drag both of our deer out for us. And so ended a big but exhausting opening day. We headed in to warm up, went out to eat, played more cards, and hit the sack!

Things were unfortunately much quieter this morning. We had hoped to get a deer for Marc, and another deer for Amy. But we only saw two deer between the three of us, in spite of standing quietly for roughly five and a half hours. Have I mentioned before that hunting really isn't a sure thing? If nothing else, it sure made us grateful for all the fun we'd had and deer we'd seen yesterday. Thankfully, Keith had helped bring in a doe that had been wounded yesterday, and since he didn't need the meat, they gave that one to Marc. So we'll all have meat in our freezers this year!

(picture of me, Keith, Aunt Dar and Uncle Dean - I think we were all pretty zoned out!)
We took off around noon, hung around the house for the first half of the Packer-Viking game, and now are on the road back to Appleton. So, who's coming over for venison?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Healthcare Financial Management

Yep - it's that time; time for me to take another class toward the MBA-Healthcare I've been working on for a while now. I love that my job reimburses me $2500/year for tuition, but it means it behooves me (financially, anyway!) to progress through the degree as slowly as possible. I do like that the slow pace enables me to absorb the content and apply it to my professional life as I go. So far, this one is looking like it will be no exception: we're starting by learning about why health care is so stinkin' expensive, and only getting worse over time - timely, right?

If you're interested in what I learn, let me know. Otherwise I won't bore you! (screen shot from my text book)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rollin' (Senior High Fall Work Trip - Day 1)

I'm happy to report that we've arrived in the Twin Cities with the same number of folks we began with. Unfortunately, that can NOT be said of our tires. Just as we neared Weyauwega (half hour out of town), one of the tires on the trailer started spewing bits of itself across the world. So with that, a run to Fleet Farm once we reached Steven's Point for a new tire, and a bit of a late start to begin with, it was 1 AM before we were in the church with the trailer unloaded. So, *yawn* I believe we'll turn in!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A fob story

Once upon a time, there was a girl. One day this girl who was walking with her friend Linda, when she realized she badly needed to use the facilities. As luck would have it, it was after dark, and their path was in the middle of nowhere, so there was little option but to use the facilities as nature provided: a tall patch of grass near the side of the path. Unfortunately for our protagonist, she happened to be holding her key fob in her hand, and somehow let it drop somewhere in the grassy patch. There was no hope of finding it in the dark without a flashlight, so Linda and the girl finished their walk.
The next day, she returned to the spot, and spent about an hour looking for the fob and mourning her carelessness. No good. A week or so later, Linda had pity on her, so they again walked the path. This time they searched more accurately, as Linda had a better idea of where it had been dropped. Still no trace.
A month later, our scatterbrained hero found herself with an unexpected afternoon off work. She decided to use the time to price out a new fob ($60) and a metal detector rental ($14). Armed with that information and 2 hours before the rental place closed, the girl rented a metal detector and made her way up the path to the fated site. This time, after 20 minutes of searching (and nervously watching the rapidly dropping battery indicator), she heard the joyous signal that all was soon to be well with the world. Sure enough, there it was, partly hidden in the grass right next to the path.
And our story draws to a close: the metal detector is returned to its shop and our hero and the adventuring fob are happily tucked in for the evening, all set to live happily ever after.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Boston love

Hello from somewhere up in the air between Boston and Chicago. I don't always like to blog about what I'm up to ahead of time because, well, this IS the internet. And while I have the hardest time ever imagining that any "bad guys" would ever find me - or find me attention-worthy if they did - it still probably not a bad idea to be a tad bit cautious. Right? I suppose my tweet updates saying "hi from Boston" might mean I come home to a robbed apartment... but it would have to be someone who knows pretty well who I am. And in that case, well, mi casa es su casa. Make yourself at home and take some some frozen venison from the freezer while you're there - it's good stuff and I'd like to make sure it's appreciatively used before this hunting season comes around!

So, Boston. Boston played host to a huge conference this week on Microsoft Sharepoint. My co-worker friend Wendy and I got to go because they say you always install Sharepoint twice: the second time because you screwed it up so badly the first time. Wendy and I went to try to prevent just that scenario: hopefully to save our organization thousands (if not hundreds of thousands - literally!) in rework and employee frustration. What is Sharepoint? Jeepers. It's basically a software platform that allows you to do all sorts of web based things. Document management, content management, workflow automation (think getting away from paper-based forms and processes), searchability, reportability, and electronic collaboration and knowledge sharing. It will be SO COOL if we do well, and SO NOT COOL if we don't.

All the above meant that the two of us really kept our noses to the grindstone for the three days of the conference. (Except, of course, when we paused to get my photo taken with a random vendor dressed as a ninja. You know, the usual.) As we stayed in the hotel that hosted it, we probably wouldn't have known we were anywhere in particular until we actually ventured into the city on Saturday. Ok, ok, we did make it to Legal Seafood Thursday night (golly was it lovely to have good lobster!). That almost counts, doesn't it?

Saturday found us trucking downtown on the subway, taking the Freedom Trail - first with a guide, then on our own - stopping for lunch at Cheers (even though nobody knew our names... k, sorry for that!), wandering around historic houses, burial grounds, and churches, and then meandering a bit out around Harvard just to see what that was all about.

All in all? I liked it! I liked it a lot. Both of us talked about how much we'd like to come back again when there'd be better opportunity to see and experience more.
And now for re-entry! We both have mountains of work to catch up on as well as the challenge of assimilating all this mad Sharepoint stuff into how we move forward. No problem, right?!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Three days in the wilderness with an axe murderer

So, Tom and I have been on many backpacking trips before, but this was the first one with Tom's friend, Michael - who we're pretty sure is an axe murderer. This is not based on any data, mind you, but more of a strong, "feels too right NOT to be true" sort of way. We did not mind, though, as one of Michael's friends assured us that it's been a long time since he struck, and we figured he'd be useful since he offered to knife any bears that became too threatening. It was only later that we came across a sign that assured us, "garbage kills bears". Man! If only we had known that at the outset we could have had a few granola bar wrappers at the ready and dispensed with Michael's services altogether.

My weekend really began Thursday night when Tom picked me up from the airport in a Miata with the top down. He had borrowed it from a friend for the week and after we had dropped my stuff off I got to take it out for a spin. Wooooo hooooo! I worked during the day on Friday (let's hear it for remote meeting software) which was ok because I got to break up the day with lunch with Tom's family: Tom Sr, Mary, Nancy, and new baby Elise. Tom Sr. treated us to Schlotsky's and we sat out on the patio catching up and enjoying the beautiful fall weather. I got to hold Elise for quite a while and she ended up falling asleep in my arms :). After Tom was done with work we went out to eat at a nice little restaurant with a ridiculous name: the Irregardless Cafe. The food and live music made up for it, though, so it was in good spirits that we headed to the Walnut Creek Amphitheater and joined maybe 15,000 other folks to hear The Avett Brothers in concert. Have I mentioned before how much fun they are as a band and how genuine their music is? It was just fantastic to be there.

Saturday morning found us picking up our axe murderer friend (whose spirits, we were happy to note, were high) and hitting the road. Michael is a ER nurse, so we whiled away the 5 hour drive hearing stories, talking healthcare and politics, sleeping, and arguing about whether it would be interesting to see a video of all of earth's history. Thankfully, the drive became increasingly beautiful as we entered the Smokies. Fall is just beginning here, and the weather was sunny and clear all weekend - which means we actually got to SEE the Smoky Mountains.

Our path, after a mile or two, joined up with the real live Appalachian Trail! I was pretty excited about this, as of course I've heard the stories and read enough of _A Walk in the Woods_ to get a sense that it's a pretty big deal. No one dubbed us with trail names in our short time there, bit we did run into others who had 'em. Our first night was spent in a shelter on the trail near Davenport Gap with a mother-daughter pair who went by the names Mama Monkey and Baby Monkey. They were able to share a few trail stories and give us the low-down on shelter etiquette. They also informed us that the crazy calling noises that were a continual backdrop for the entire weekend came from tree frogs. Good to know.

Michael had been up all night so was pretty shot, and the monkey pair wanted an early start, so Tom and I were the only ones to stay up playing Pass the Pigs. This is a game requiring incredible skill, strategy, and intelligence, as you will quickly see if you take a good look at the score sheet after the third game.

Sunday involved a LOT of hiking, with maybe 2000 feet of elevation gain, not counting the ups and downs in between.

Thankfully, there was good return for all that hard work: we hit the peak of Mt. Camerer at the peak of the day, and it was just beautiful. It was pretty much clear as far as the eye could see, and all of the hills were just... well... just beautiful. We dawdled around the Mt. Camerer lookout tower for maybe an hour, taking pictures, climbing around, and generally enjoying how smoky the Smokies *weren't* for the moment.

Then it was time to don our packs again and starting heading down to our second site for the weekend. It was a long way, so we were pretty shot by the time we finally rolled in. Site 37 is a big group site, so we got to know a few fellow campers (Kyle and Rich - air force dudes) as we set up and began cooking. We had fun joking about the folks in the next site over and chilling around the campfire they built.

After it got dark, we decided to try to find the stars. The tree canopy was heavy, but we figured that if we could find an opening it would be worth it because there would be so little light pollution. After walking around for maybe 20 minutes, we finally settled on jumping out to rocks in middle of the river near our tent. The trees still really blocked our view, but we DID see enough open sky to be able to see the main stars that make up Cygnus the Swan. Pretty stinkin' sweet.

For the second night in a row, our axe murderer was too tired to contemplate any deed more dastardly than simply going straight to sleep, but what with the beautiful rushing river sounds and the long hike, I don't think either of us was all that far behind him.

Our trip wrapped up on a lovely note. Another fellow camper, Will, accompanied us on the trail along the river as we headed back to the car. And Will had been camping/hiking here before. He pointed out Mouse Falls, which we would have missed completely had we been on our own. Better yet, he knew of this great swimming hole that was on our way. Tom and I couldn't resist. So we ended up plunging in, splashing around, and eventually working up our courage to climbing up the rocks taking a huge jump into the swirling water. Ahhhh! That alone turned the entire weekend trip from a 9 to a 10.

By the time we returned to the car, Michael must have decided we weren't worth the trouble, for he showed no more evidence of his violent pastime than he had for any earlier part of the trip. Good thing we knew who he really is, for we never would have figured it out from his behavior on the trip itself.

We got back in time to drop Michael off in time for work, grab dinner at an Indian restaurant, and get me to the airport (unshowered!) in time for my flight. I wasn't ready to leave!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Well, Aaron and Laura are hitched. And they sure picked a lovely day to get that way!

We started off the day with a walk to Huckleberry, a great restaurant near Patrick's. After a leisurely breakfast, it was time to say our goodbyes to Jonathan. :( Kim took him to the airport and seven of us

took a hike up bear canyon. The morning started out misty and cool, so we slowly got to see more and more of the world around us as the fog drifted away. Catching up, exploring around, enjoying the beauty, and avoiding poison ivy - what could be better? Then it was time to get back and cleaned up and take off for the wedding.

They got married at a country club and the reception was there as well. And man was it lovely! The ceremony was simple and meaningful, and you could tell people were just happy for and with them. The weather couldn't have been better, and (at least from my perspective) there didn't seem to be anything that could have gone better. Hooray! (in picture: Terry, me, Patrick, and Kim)

And now, I'm on a plane headed back for Appleton. Aaron and Laura - so gosh-awfully nice of you to give such a lovely occasion for so much fun!

Birthday fun and friend convergence

Today was the day to turn our thoughts back toward the front range where the wedding festivities and our friends would be converging in a whirlwind of fun, catching up, and just plain ol' celebration.

But first, it was Sharon's birthday! We had a lovely breakfast of blueberry pancakes and grilled sausage (yum!) and headed to the hot springs for the morning. Tom engineered a pool in the side of the river that received just the right combination of frigid water from the river and scalding water from the hot springs. The five of us lounged there till the brightness of the sun drove us to the deck chairs where we munched birthday cake and sang "happy birthday" to Sharon. Then, after many "thank you"s, we bid them farewell and headed to Golden.

Golden saw the reunion of such far-flung friends as Patrick (Lewisville, CO), Kim (New York), Justin and Michelle (San Francisco), and Terry (Appleton). With Jonathan bring from Pasadena, CA and Tom from Raleigh, it felt like quite the long overdue convergence. We hung out, playing games, catching up, and later met up with Laura and Aaron for a bit.
After that, we piled in cars and headed to Patrick's place. He has a new Maine Coon kitten, Sam, so we talked and played with him till exhaustion won out and we called it a day. Well, most of us did. Michelle's flight had been scheduled to land at 10:00 pm, but was delayed by weather until 2:00 am Sat! Boo! So Justin hung out with us and then headed straight to the airport to pick her up. Jeepers!

Top of the world

Remember my mention of 14ers in my previous post? Well, today we made it to the top of one of the tallest peaks in the Rockies!

Here is Jonathan's account:
The day started with breakfast at Rick and Sharon's house, a delicious power smoothie, coffee, and granola. We sat in the morning sunshine, chatted cheerily, and enjoyed the broad view of the Colorado plains before us, the mighty mountains rising in the near distance. Then we piled into a red Jeep and headed toward Mt. Antero, drawn by that instinctive need to climb, conquer, and surmount!

The road led us into San Isabel National Forest, and then turned to gravel. After driving a while, Paul (Rick and Sharon's mountaineering friend who owned the Jeep) made a sharp turn from the relatively smooth dirt road onto Baldwin Gulch, a rock-strewn path that immediately launched us into the air and continued jolting us along for the next hour as the Jeep slowly crawled its way up the mountain. Paul must have seen a bit of consternation on our faces, because he assured us that Baldwin Gulch was practically a "highway" compared to the some of the tougher trails that the Jeep had handled in the past (although he did mention ripping loose an engine mount that time). And indeed, the Jeep handled the road just fine.

The scenery along the way was incredible. For a brief few days each year, Colorado's famous aspens salute the autumn with a brilliant golden show, and our trip happily coincided with this magnificent display.
(end Jonathan narrative)

We spent maybe a half hour at the top, taking pictures and absorbing the view. Then we climbed back down, hopped back into the Jeep, and jolted our way back down the mountain. After a brief detour in a ghost town, we landed in Coyote Grill in Buena Vista for Mexican food and great conversation. The evening wrapped up with Tom playing piano and a picture show for Sharon of the photos we'd captured from the day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Wards

Good evening from Buena Vista. I am delighted to report that Jonathan, Tom, and I are quite happily installed at the home of some friends that used to live in Appleton, Rick and Sharon. They moved here about a year ago, so it has been just great to catch up, explore their home and town a bit, and eat great food! We have some fantastic pictures of the aspens and the surrounding mountains - and others of the town and of our prowls therein, but unfortunately most of those pictures are on Tom's and Jonathan's SLR cameras, which I can't upload to my iPad. This picture will hopefully give you at least somewhat of an idea of what we're raving about as we drive and look out the windows here. I caught this one from my Blackberry when we stopped for Jonathan to give Tom a photography lesson on the way up here.

- lunch
- wandering around (and in!) the Arkansas River, a world class whitewater kayaking site
- wandering around Buena Vista - some trust fund kids are basically building a town and it's fascinating
- checking out a pottery shop and playing on some rock climbing structures they have in a park here
- having pretzels and drinks at the Eddy Line, a local restaurant
- dinner
- dinner conversation about future and finances
- they have a grand piano, so getting to hear Tom play
- learning to play Farkle. Except that Jonathan won both games...

We wound up the evening with some nice conversation and some planning for tomorrow's adventures - wait till you hear about them!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mixing it up

14ers in Colorado are a big deal. There are 54 mountains in the state that rise above 14,000 feet, and folks here make it a goal to hike up all of them. We decided it would be fun to check one of them out, and thought why not try taking a train to do so?! The cog railway takes an hour and a half to climb from Colorado Springs to Pike's Peak at 14,110 feet above sea level.

We were given all sorts of information on the way up.

What Tom thought was interesting: that the reason for the cogs is to allow the train to climb a steeper grade - in this case up to 25% - where a grade of 2% is considered steep for a normal railroad.

What Linda thought was interesting: the house of the folks who live way up the mountain and who manage the water supply for the city of Colorado Springs. They live 17 miles from their mailbox and it takes them roughly an hour to get down into the Springs.

What Angela thought was interesting: there are a bunch of Bristlecone Pines on the way up, one of which is over 1000 years old, and another of which is over 2000 years old. Ok, so it isn't the most beautiful thing in the world, but man is it impressive!

The views from the top of the peak were simply fantastic, so the time until we were to re-board the train just flew. Once at the bottom, there was just time for a quick DQ stop before taking Linda to the airport. We bid her farewell and then Tom and I went our separate ways: he to meet up with his cousin Angie for dinner, and me to meet up with a high school friend Shane and his wife Jana for Cuban. Then Tom and I met up again and took off for the airport to pick up Jonathan, who got in from California around 11. A crazy day, but quite lovely!

Revenge of the badlands

Just to reassure you that there is some justice in the world... After posting that bit of sassiness in my previous post we calmly went to sleep - only to wake in the middle of the night to the sound of the whole state of South Dakota trying to blow us out of our tent and presumably the entire state. By 6:30 it added rain to the mix so we conceded and hightailed it outta there. The ride back was - I'll admit it - LONG! But we're back and recovering and (PRETTY sure Tammy would agree) very glad we did it!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Love on horseback

Well, we knew we had a ton of driving to get in today. It's roughly an 8-hour drive to get from Durango back to the Denver area. So Tom did some research and learned that Colorado is home to a huge collection of sand dunes - who knew?! - that were roughly on the way back. As we drove toward the dunes and started considering what else we might want to do, the subject of horseback riding came up, and (as no one turned green at the idea) we started making some calls. Turned out we could catch a sunset ride on our way toward Colorado Springs, so that became the plan.

(Tom has a different version of the above events).

The sand dunes were very delicious.

See picture.

Moving right along to the interesting part, a rustic cowhand captivated or attempted to captivate the heart of fair Angela.

As the the story goes, Angela, as the expert rider of the group, was assigned to Dawn, a horse with a mind of her own and a swift hoof. Linda was assigned to Phoenix, a hungry horse. A slow, unmotivated animal was relegated to Tom.

Off the intrepid party moseyed, winding up the side of the mountain, fording the Chalk River, and galloping up the trailhead. Along the route, Keith (name changed to protect identities), the aforementioned cowhand, who was serving as the party's guide, sidled up to Angela and mentioned, while demonstrating his manly horsemanship, that he, in fact, was no longer married. Angela maintained a noncommittal pose. At the conclusion of the ride, Tom asked for a restaurant recommendation, and Keith offered up Quincy's Steakhouse as a suggestion.

Monday night, it turns out, is filet mignon night at Quincy's, a dining establishment especially suited for the indecisive, as the menu choices consist of steak ounceages and potato toppings, period. The man knows how to do steak, and do it well.

Full from their dinner, the party drove back to the comfort suites at Comfort Suites of Colorado Springs.

5 points to the gentle reader who correctly guesses the point at which this blog's dictation was delegated (hijacked).

Mesa Verde National Park

You wouldn't believe all we learned today about what we DON'T know. We don't know why the pueblo people came to Mesa Verde, we don't know why they chose, after centuries of living on top of the Mesa, to move to the alcoves under the Mesa and build dwellings there. And that's only the beginning! We don't know why, after barely more than 100 years there, they left abruptly, leaving stores of food and an unfinished temple behind. We aren't sure about why they built the dwellings the way they did, or what all the towers and rooms were used for (communication? defense? status? religion?) We also can only extract a minimum of information about the people themselves from what they left behind, leaving us in the dark about much of their daily lives, religion, family life, and even population size. Of course, there are countless theories about each mystery, and some information can be correlated from tradition and practices of native peoples from the area today, but so little is known for certain that it pretty much became a joke between the three of us by the end of the day. It is kinda neat that even with all archeology and scientific research can tell us, there still are things that we may never find out about this area.

The day was just so full of one fascinating sight after another. All day long the views of the mesas, the views FROM the mesas, and the sky provided a continual, beautiful backdrop to everything else that we got to see and learn. On our way up to the Mesa in the morning, Linda spotted a coyote trotting alongside the road. We stopped the car to get a good photo of him, and he just kept trotting along without the least regard to us.

We spent some time in the visitor center, and then went on guided tours of 2 different sets of ruins: Cliff Palace and Balcony House. You could kind of tell that the guides had been giving the same tours all summer long, so while we definitely found them worthwhile, we had more fun pinging them with all sorts of questions after each tour. Then they came alive with their own interest in the history - the second guide stayed over an hour answering questions and telling us stories. It was neat to make our way through the ruins using ladders and (widened) stone-carved hand and toe holds. We were often reminded not to touch anything, but it really was just cool to a stick our heads into rooms and to look down into kivas and imagine what it must have been like to live there. In spite of the 800 years that have elapsed since people dwelt here,

there are still places where painted designs can still be seen in the plaster, and at one point there are petroglyphs carved into the cliff face.

We ended the day with a self guided tour around the top of the Mesa, where we could see even more ruins - both of the cliff dwellings and of the pit houses where folks lived prior to the cliff houses. As we were leaving the park we saw FOUR huge mule deer bucks, right by the side of the road. I've never seen anything like it. We got heaps of pictures on Tom's camera, so we're hoping they turn out. After a thrilling race against the gas tank all the way back to Durango, we decided to call it a day. Tomorrow? Sand dunes!

(and don't worry; I'm not actually touching the cliff face!)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ride on

Well, guess I don't know how to quit while I'm ahead. Driving back and forth to South Dakota from Wisconsin last weekend just wasn't enough. So hi from southwest Colorado! I flew in yesterday and got the chance to hang out with my friends Aaron and Laura (they're gettin' married - the real reason I'm out here) for the evening before heading back to the airport to pick up my friend Tom.

This morning we all went for a lovely hike in the foothills before Tom and I bid them adieu for the time being and went back to the airport to pick up my friend Linda. And THAT was just so we could turn around and take the 8 hour drive to Southwest Colorado! We're pretty sick of being in the car at this point, but we did take time for some nice stops, which made it a tad more bearable. We took maybe a 2 mile hike on a dirt road through the hills, and once it was dark stopped to look at the stars for a while. We'll start exploring this part of the world and I'll try to keep you updated on what we discover!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

how hard could it be?

Today we watched an introductory video to Badlands National Park, and they went on and on about how hard a time the first settlers had it. Bosh. Tammy and I could have shown them a thing or two.
We started today with a horseback ride into the hills. And it was so easy! I mean, as soon as you step off the platform to your saddled horse, it pretty much stops and goes when the horse in front of it does, and it just sticks to the trail. Since we weren’t allowed to trot them or anything, I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure using horses for all your transportation and farming needs is no big deal.

And then they went on and on about the harsh Badlands country. Wah wah wah. All we could see from the boardwalk lookouts (with our binoculars and as we sipped fresh water from our camelbacks) was fantastic, rugged beauty. We didn’t see any of those rattlesnakes all the signs warn so much about. And as for the wind, well, I can say from the vantage point of my tent that has a laptop cord strung to the electric box outside, that the wind sounds just beautiful and is refreshing. Just take it from us, two newly-self-proclaimed experts: pioneering really couldn’t have been all that bad.

OK – I have to say that today was great. The horseback riding really was fun and wandering up and down through pine forests was, well, just lovely. And I think we both would say the Badlands are breathtaking. We’ll be sharing heaps o’ photos as soon as we’re reunited with Tammy’s camera’s cord. The heat and ruggedness are respect-inducing: you can’t but admire the native people who originally made this their home and fought to retain it, and then the European settlers who came for the promise of land only to find soil that would not support small-scale farming. Given the myriad conveniences that we surround ourselves with even as we visit places like this, it’s hard to imagine what life was like for those who fought for existence here. It makes me grateful – both for the opportunity to learn and for what I have!

Saturday, September 04, 2010


but harder than stone
is the flesh and bone
of a troll that sits
in the hills alone
as soon set your foot
to the mountain’s root
for the seat of the troll don’t feel it…

I like rocks. Can’t say I know much about them, of course. Wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between limestone and granite if my life depended on it. But today I’ve had some time to appreciate stone on a whole new level.heads
First, of course, Mt. Rushmore in all it’s glory. So neat to read the story; so worth it to be so near to the actual icon. 60-foot-high heads are nothing to sneeze at, let me tell you! You could probably ask me or Tammy now all sorts of Mt. Rushmore trivia and we’d fill your cup of curiosity well past the “runneth over”!

Next up was Wind Cave. Fancy being 20 stories underground, hearing tales of the discovery and exploration of the 4th largest cave network in the world. Wind Caves are unusual for their box work limestone formations and hundreds of maze-like passages. I like thinking of the lacey formations growing slowly underground with no one but God knowing of their existence until the late 1800s. I couldn’t help recall the question God asks Job in the Bible: where, indeed, were we when He built the foundations of the earth?!

We wrapped up our stone explorations for the day by making our way back to Crazy Horse – another mind-boggling exhibition of mountain carving and human achievement. This monument dwarfs Mt. Rushmore – and every other monument in the world including the pyramids! It’s far from being complete and you can’t but admire the determination of the family that carries on the work, and their insistence on doing it all with private funds. They’ve turned down two ten million dollar federal grants because they believe in free enterprise and don’t think that tax dollars should go to it. Huh!

Old Tom’s lame
Since home he came
And his bootless foot
Is lasting lame
But troll don’t care
And he’s still there…
(probably my favorite Tolkien poem!)

Friday, September 03, 2010

trippin. road style.

As I think of it, I should check the mileage on my car. This summer has been jam-pack-filled with road trips. While I haven’t faithfully blogged about them, they have made for an interesting and busy summer. Backpacking in the Porkies. The St. Louis trip. Paddle trips along the Fox River or up in Lake Superior. Blueberry festivals and county fairs. Boomerang tournaments and road trips with friends “up north”. Weddings and family reunions. And of course – South Dakota!

Big Sky Yes, South Dakota. When Tammy and I figured out that no one else would be able to backpacking this weekend, we decided it was high time to do something spontaneous. Neither of us had seen Mt. Rushmore, and both of us already had Friday off. And since it’s “only” a 14-hour drive… well, you know the rest.

And here we are. We stayed in the Twin Cities at Aunt Corrine and Uncle Ron’s place last night to break up the driving a bit. After a lovely time and a filling breakfast, we found ourselves very, VERY much on the road. In spite of the sheer distance traveled on I-90, I could not say the trip was uneventful.

  • We discussed cannibalism.
  • We saw a tiny tumbleweed, cottonwoods, and sage brush.
  • We crossed the Missouri river (ok, that really was interesting… I couldn’t get over how dramatically the land seemed to shift from “Midwest” to “West” right as we crossed the river)
  • We listened to books on tape.
  • We saw signs for Wall Drug.

I know, I know, pretty cool stuff.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I *think* it's a vacation

I'm in St. Louis with a bunch of High Schoolers! Wish me luck - and follow our adventures (if you like) at!

Monday, June 07, 2010

it’s never too late…

Angela: … to go backpacking this coming Memorial Day weekend! We’ve kicked around ideas here and there, but I think we’re going to aim for a Porcupine Mountains trip in UP Michigan. I know some of you already have conflicts (boo!), but for those who don’t – golly it will be fun!
Tammy: Yes.
Javier: the division 3 (ultimate frisbee) championships are in Appleton this weekend. I plan to go see that instead of the division 1 tournament. That opens me up for backpacking.
Andy: I think you know I’m in.
Jamie: awesome… out of my church commitments, so would be down. I would love to go – the porkies are awesome!
Patrick: enjoy the trip! and make sure you see some amazing rainbows (and avoid the stable flies!)
Ray: I’m pretty sure Becky and I are out, but our gear is up for grabs if anyone (even Jason) wants to borrow it.
Katie: As much as backpacking has always been my absolute favorite - I think at 37 weeks pregnant, the doc might frown on it :)
Javier: doctors don't know everything. We'll just bring a blanket we don't mind ruining. It'll be fine.
Angela: I'm pretty sure Becky AND Katie should go... like Javier said, we can always bring an old blanket. :)
Becky: Lol!  I think Katie and I would both also require a real mattress and at least 2-3 full sized pillows each.  I think we would need to bring a couple of pack mules on this trip! :)
Katie: Oh Becky, just wait... I'm up to 4 pillows now!! Two behind me (so I can sleep propped up), my body pillow, and one for my swollen feet!! :)
And the fact that it takes me half an hour to walk around the block - baby coming is probably the least of our worries!
Angela: Got that, Javier?
2 mules, 6 pillows, 2 mattresses, and a route that allows "flexibility" in terms of distance traveled per day.
Katie: Don't forget scheduled potty breaks every 30 minutes! :)
Am I forgetting anything Becky?
Javier: Good news. So far, these all seem like reasonable requests.  I think we can make a deal.
clip_image002Friday: since Andy and Tammy were both able to leave early on Friday, we dubbed them “Team Shady” and sent them on ahead to secure a camp site. They were able to do so without a hitch, and set up the girls’ tent at a nice, bug-free site to kick off the weekend. Team “YesIAmAwesome” (Javier, Jamie & Angela) left later on Friday and after a few near misses (almost left food the flatbread and the salmon quinoa in the freezer – eep!) arrived at Lake of the Clouds in the dark. Before heading to the camp site we took time to enjoy the view; in the moonlight you could see the water and trees and just be happy to be in the north woods.
IMG_0776 Saturday morning we skipped breakfast to get a halfway decent start on the trail. This would have stood us in good stead had we not found new and exciting off-trail ways to reach our destination. We were never lost, precisely, though the trail definitely was for quite a while. The picture is of a log “bridge” we crossed – the point where we THINK we parted ways with the trail!
It was on this part of the excursion that Jamie found a leg bone of some animal and thought it a humerus situation. Things started being less humorous toward the end of the day when we were getting tired, running low on water, and finding every potential site already taken. When we finally did find a site a mile from our original destination, Andy ripped off his shirt and did a happy dance. Unfortunately Tammy was the only one there to witness it, so we can only take her word for the awesomeness. The rest of us probably would have done happy dances too, but we were too tired to do much but focus on food and camp setup.IMG_0786
Javier still managed to plunge into Lake Superior. It was cold! So the rest of us didn’t get much more than our toes in. Jamie and I had found some leeks growing along the path, so it was fun to fry those up and try ‘em out. We ended up out on the Lake Superior shore, cooking dinner and watching the sunset, and just enjoying the waves and the beauty.
IMG_0796Sunday morning we got a bit of a slow start (but at least no skipping breakfast!!). Once we were on the trail we were able to make great time. Even with stops for wildflower identification and pauses for beautiful rocks on the shore, we made it to our next camp site by late afternoon. We ended up at the same site that the group had camped at five years earlier – where we first encountered the notorious stable flies! Thankfully not a single one showed up for our entire time on the shore. It’s a lovely site and it was great to have leisurely camp setup. I found time to hop into the water and get my Lake Superior fix for the weekend, Javier, Andy and Jamie got a lovely fire blazing, Andy and Tammy worked on getting us all drinkable water, and we all just enjoyed being comfortable on these stone slab chairs that had been set up at the site.
We had heard that it might rain, so we decided to set up the tents before cooking dinner. Good thinking, that! All five of us ended up crammed in the girls’ tent, devouring Andy’s family’s beef burgundy recipe (amazing!), and listening to the rain pound the tent walls. The rain cleared up right before sunset, though, so we were able to emerge and hit the beach just in time to watch the sun sink beneath the waves.
We headed back to the tent for some card playing and an ad hoc game of “Would you Rather” (“Would you rather be the most beautiful person in the world, or have gills?”) before calling it a night.
After the boys left, it is my sad duty to report that a small, innocent spider caused a ridiculous amount of furor (might have been less had the thing had the decency to die once it had been squished!) in the girls’ tent before its body was callously dropped outside the tent.
IMG_0775-1It ended up raining pretty hard for much of the night, but both tents stayed warm and dry enough to ensure no crabbiness that a warm cup of coffee the next morning couldn’t cure. Blueberry pancakes didn’t hurt either!  The lake was gorgeous after the rain, and only reluctantly did we find ourselves back on the trail walking away from it all. After a stop at Henry’s Never Inn for an authentic Yooper lunch of burgers, fish & pasties, the two teams made a successful run back to the Fox Valley.

Things Lost

I’m guessing we generally lose a thing or two on any trip, but on this one for some reason we really racked ‘em up. If you run across any of our long-lost things – well, you know where to find us!
  • Saturday we lost the trail for 2-3 hours. We stuck close to the Big Carp River, but the trail went far afield before returning to the river, and to us. Devious!
  • Saturday night, Jamie lost her head lamp. We looked all over the tent, only to have her find it the next morning. It was under her sleeping pad. Of course!
  • Sunday morning our nearly empty camp garbage bag disappeared. It had been in the bear bag the night before, but we looked through everything and never found it. Strange!
  • Javier lost two new shiny carabiners at that same site – maybe a crow found the site while we were down by the Lake? Odd!
  • Sunday night Tammy (who has the same headlamp as Jamie, and presumably didn’t want to be outdone) lost her headlamp. It too was found later, but the pattern raised some questions. Suspicious!
  • Monday night, Jamie, Javier and I set up the tents at Javier's place so they could be hosed off and dried thoroughly. By the next morning, the tent stuff sack had completely disappeared and has yet to resurface. Dang!

Things Found

OK, so we FOUND a bunch of things too! Michigan really put on a wildflower show for us. In spite of counting ounces on most things I lug along on the trail, this is the second trip for which I brought a flower identification book – and was so glad I did! Here are the most exciting finds (and notice, please, that they are listed at the end and so can be skipped by the uninterested!):
103_7273 103_7274 Swamp Buttercup (which I had mistakenly been calling a Marsh Marigold! Good catch, Jamie!)
 103_7275 IMG_0710-1 IMG_0713-1 Canada Anemone – This is one I was really excited to see as I hadn’t identified one before!
103_7278 Canada Mayflower/Wild Lily-of-the-Valley

These were everywhere: tiny, delicate, beautiful.
103_7280 IMG_0792-1 Everlasting pea? Or some other kind of pea? We weren’t sure, but saw quite a few of these – and assuming the purple and white are just variations of the same plant??
IMG_0784-1 Columbine – and a bunch of swamp buttercups. We saw lots of columbine our hike out.
103_7288 Starflower! These were everywhere, and beautiful, and I love this picture Jamie got of this one
103_7290 103_7289 False Soloman’s Seal – ok, all this “false” nonsense kinda throws me – it’s still beautiful and exciting to find and identify! :)
IMG_0684IMG_0680  Thimbleberry – These were big and everywhere. We stumbled across the fruit on our last day at Lake Superior Provincial Park and gorged on the fruit – so it was fun to identify the flowers!
IMG_0788-1 Orange Hawkweed
IMG_0790-1 Pussytoes! This was one I found in the book, thought odd, but then recognized when we passed some on the trail heading out – crazy!
Also found – lots of bluebead lilies, wild strawberries, bunchberries, daisies & Canada hawkweed! Hooray!