Writer and reader living out here in northern Illinois. Have two published novel (Black Wolf Lodge-2010; The Good Luck Highway-2014) and two published short stories (Pinewood Farm-2013) (Hobo Willie-2013) Check them out at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.
Writing now from northern Illinois, and looking back to our wonderful mid-July trip out on a stretch of the Oregon Trail in Wyoming, I still smile at the many moments and memories forged in that three-day adventure.
Our final day dawned as crystal clear and bright as the previous two had. And this morning’s breakfast didn’t disappoint, either. We weren’t sure how far we would travel on this last day, but we would find out that some beautiful, open country lay ahead. Morris told us that our part of the trip would be finished by lunch time.
Leaving camp, we headed out once more and followed the rugged trail through private land and that of the Bureau of Land Management. We encountered more Mormons making their summer handcart journey. Everyone was friendly and eager to stop and watch as our horse drawn covered wagon rolled along nearby.
Grandson Jack once again spent most of the morning riding Taz, and brother Matt was invited to ride up on the driver’s seat with Morris. After a time, Morris turned the reins over to Matt, who drove us over more original ruts of the Oregon Trail.
Before we realized it, the morning had run on toward lunch time, and as we arrived at another of the many fence gates, Morris announced that our part of the trip was finished.
It was one final lunch out in the great wide open, breathing in the terrific air and basking in the glorious high plains sunshine. Then, it was time to load our trail backpacks and various other things we’d had along with us into the pickup that would haul us back to the remote spot where our car was parked.
And it was as simple as that! It seemed that no sooner had our adventure begun, that it had just as quickly come to an end. Fond farewells to Morris and our other traveling companions occurred and then we climbed into the pickup that Randy would drive to get us to the cars.
It felt good to unload and put our belongings into our car. We pointed the car back toward Casper, where we would be spending the night before heading out the next morning to Devils Tower, Crazy Horse, and Mount Rushmore.
With a sense of accomplishment, we all relaxed and smiled at the notion that we’d be showering and putting on clean clothes for the first time all week!
Day 2- Somewhere out in the High Plains of Wyoming on the Oregon Trail, near the Sweetwater River
Dawn arrived, seemingly quickly, and was spectacular as we awoke from a restful night. Once, during the night, I had found my way carefully out of the tipi to “check on nature,” and was treated to an awesome sky of billions of stars overhead, providing all of the light there was. Off in the distance, a few coyotes called out. Later, the hoot of an owl broke the stillness. By first light, most of us were ready to get on with the day’s adventure ahead.
Trail hand, Randy, proceeded with getting the morning fire ready for breakfast. Matt, always the helper, pitched in and lent a hand. The rest of us went about rolling up our sleeping bags and packing our cots to stow once again in the goose neck of the trailer. We also had to take down the tipis and mess tent after breakfast.
We had some time to do all of this as we had to wait for Morris to get back with the pickup truck, having left in the night to drive back to Casper to pick up a family of three, who would be joining us for the rest of the trip.
Breakfast was nothing short of excellent! Thick strips of bacon, fresh eggs, potatoes all cooked on a flat top over charcoal were delicious. And the trail coffee truly hit the spot.
Following our morning’s feast, and quite satisfied, we finished breaking down the campsite and getting everything packed and stowed on the trailer and were just waiting for Morris and the new folks to join us. It was late morning when the blue pickup pulled into camp, and Morris immediately introduced the Collins family, and began harnessing the two horses up to the wagon. We were about to hit the trail once more.
What lay ahead as we bumped along the trail, was the infamous Rocky Ridge, considered one of the most treacherous parts of the Oregon Trail. I elected to stay in the wagon to “ride it out,” as the others walked to lighten the load. To say that it was a rough and wild ride going up and over the stairstep-like rocky obstacles would be a vast understatement.
We continued on through land belonging to private owners and much of that of Bureau of Land Management. Along the way, we came upon Mormons who were pushing or pulling handcarts along the trail. Thousands of Mormons visit Wyoming to re-enact traveling the Trail with handcarts to symbolize the suffering of Mormon’s who traveled
theTrail in 1856-1860.
Before we knew it, we had come to our camp site. It was in a meadow that abutted a small grove of trees and a rather steep hill behind.
Since we “knew the drill” from yesterday, it didn’t take us long at all to set up the mess tent, the tipis, and to get things ready for that night’s dinner of rib eye steaks, green beans, and another dutch oven berry cobbler. Outstanding!
Afterwards, we all enjoyed spending some time around a campfire as the day gave way to dusk and then to darkness. Tired from another day’s journey, we climbed into our cots and sleeping bags and had no trouble getting to sleep.
Our summer travels in our trusty Chevy Equinox have netted well over 4,000 miles. But, as I like to say, they’re all wonderful miles! Miles of memories! And it’s not just the miles alone that count for all of this, but rather the people who have ridden along with us down those many miles.
Back in July, we had the pleasure of having our two grandsons—Jack (12) and Matt (10)—out to Casper, Wyoming, as passengers and participants for a three-day journey along part of the original Oregon Trail in a covered wagon.
Going in, we had no idea of just what to expect, but we came away from the experience feeling like it was one of the best things we’d ever done.
And though they are too young to actually admit that it was an adventure of a lifetime, we’re pretty certain that Jack and Matt will carry the memories of the journey with them their whole lives, Grandpa and Grandma notwithstanding.
And this was no amusement park staged make-believe trip. Everything was authentic and custom made—from the covered wagon to the tipis we slept in for two nights out in the middle of nowhere on the High Plains of Wyoming.
This all came about nearly a year ago when my wife started researching outfits that provided these kinds of tours. And that is when she came in contact with Morris Carter and his business, Historic Trails West, out of Casper.
When the date to leave finally arrived (following the boys’ baseball season on July 15) we pointed our loaded up Equinox west for the long drive out, stopping in Fremont, Nebraska, for a quick overnight on the way.
After arriving in Casper the next evening, the boys unwound in the pool at the Ramkota Hotel, followed by a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed.
Following a wonderful breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we were up and out to meet up with Morris by 8 a.m. to begin our three-day covered wagon trek. Little did we know just how amazing the next few days would be!
Following Morris, who was driving his pickup pulling a 40-foot custom-made trailer that contained three horses, the wagon, various equipment and necessary items for the trip, and a porta-potty, we came upon
famous landmarks like Independence Rock, Devils Gate, and Split Rock. The early travelers and pioneers used these as guides and indicators of being on the right path west.
Several miles later, we finally reached our “setting off” place, a camp run by the Mormons.
The first duty was to get the trailer unloaded, the wagon cover (bonnet) attached, and make ready to “hit the trail.”
Jack and Matt’s first job became obvious when they each were handed a shovel and directed to the portion of the trailer where the horses had
Finally, all was ready and Morris called out to the two-horse team of big white Percherons (Jess and Jordan) to get going. And so we bumped along, crossing the first creek right away and slowly winding our way along a dirt trail westward.
We also had another horse (Tazz) for anyone who wished to ride. Matt started out on Tazz and later switched off to let his brother ride. They both enjoyed riding the trail atop Tazz!
One of the horses (Jess) had developed a sore hoof along the way and was limping badly by this time. Morris knew that a change in the horse teams would be necessasry before tomorrow’s journey continued, and he was in contact with his home base to arrange for a switch during the night ahead.
After nearly eleven miles and experiencing so much wide open space and scenic surroundings, and the afternoon growing late, we reached our first night’s camping site. In a vast and wide open space, we had our first experience of setting up camp.
First, the horses were unhitched and watered and allowed to roam and graze in the vast open spaces. Under the guidance and instruction from Morris and Randy, we all helped to put up the cook tent and help with setting up a couple of long tables and chairs. Next, the two tipis were up in a relatively quickly, ready for our cots and sleeping bags.
Soon, Randy had the charcoal ready for the potatoes and pork chops,
and the dutch oven cherry cobbler cooked slowly over the heat. It was a delicious trail meal that first night out, and afterwards we crawled into our sleeping bags relatively soon.
It’s mid-June already, and life here in northern Illinois keeps rolling right along. It seems as though those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer have definitely arrived, and the constant whirring of our air conditioner is the background “music” as we go about our daily living around the old homestead.
I quietly “celebrated” another birthday a week ago and have been busy attending the grandsons’ baseball games a couple of times each week. As before, I’m doing way more reading than writing, but I keep intending to make amends in that department—soon!
As these summer days settle in around us, I find myself harking back to last summer and those two magnificent trips we took: Alaska cruise in August; driving Route 66 in September. And although I am trying to avoid being that guy—the one who constantly lives in the past—I do have very fond memories of that Alaska trip.
For sure, I wouldn’t mind being on board that magnificent Holland-America ms Noordam once more, plying the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Glacier Bay. And the long day’s bus ride out of Seward up to Denali National Park on that dreary and rainy day, wouldn’t be so bad right now, either. The splendid views of the magnificence of the entire area rest prominently in my mind’s memory right now.
I find myself flashing back to our wonderful Route 66 Journey of last September (not many weeks after we returned from the Alaska trip) and wishing we were just preparing to do it all over again. I often lose myself recalling all those twists and turns on the “old” stretches of highway, the weather-worn, rusty neon signs and forgotten roadside businesses we encountered all along the way.
I have several Facebook friends and Route 66-themed pages I follow every day, and I love seeing many of the same photos of the same places we experienced. Each one, familiar now, evokes so many wonderful memories.
Perhaps another journey along the Mother Road in the not-too-distant future is possible. After all, there are things we missed or didn’t have enough time to enjoy as thoroughly as we would have preferred. I’m afraid, though, that my traveling “partner” is not hot on that idea, as she feels that once was enough for her! We shall see…
I can’t, however, rest solely on last summer’s delightful road adventures. At this writing, I’m only a month away from another adventure, this time with our two grandsons. On Sunday, July 15, as soon as the boys are finished with the baseball tournament they’ll be wrapping up that day, we’re setting off for the territories once more! This time to Casper, Wyoming, for a three-day trip in a covered wagon on the old Oregon Trail.
I suppose that it’s only fitting that we spend some time this summer experiencing another of the famous roads so full of historic importance in the great land of ours. Lots of miles ahead, but I’d not have it any other way.
It’s already the middle of May, and this is the first piece of writing I will have posted since way back in February. No excuses! No rationalizing! No nothing! I’ve just been totally and completely uninspired to sit myself down in front of my Macbook on a regular basis to crank out words and thoughts. It’s not as though I haven’t had plenty to write about. Quite the opposite.
Since that last post, there was…
…my serving as an election judge here in our county.
…the usual list of mundane duties to attend to right around the old estate.
…a large number of books to read for the two book clubs I’m in.
…a visit to our good friend, the travel agent/coordinator, to book a cruise on Holland America Lines to the Panama Canal next January.
…a White Sox opening week game to attend with my son, as we so often did when he was young and I was younger, too.
…a long weekend trip to Nashville with another couple who had never been there before, and one they thoroughly enjoyed!
…a regular schedule of trips to Ohio to see my mother as she deals with being 89 and the “joys” of health issues surrounding that realm. Now that it’s Mothers Day tomorrow, she is particularly in my thoughts—now, more than ever.
… a celebration of birthdays for family members, and memorials for some friends who have passed.
What’s ahead for summer?
There are plans for upcoming auto trips to quaint and remote places for Carolyn’s genealogy research and an annual NASCAR “race weekend” over in Michigan in June, the weekend, a day after which I’ll celebrate being another year on this earth!
There is the week in July when Carolyn and I will take the grandsons out to Casper, Wyoming, for a three-day covered wagon adventure on the Oregon Trail. Stay tuned for reports afterwards. There will surely be much to share here on this blog!
So there’s still much ahead, and my desire to once more write and blog and offer up thoughts, perhaps, is slowly re-kindling. I’m hoping it will. In the meantime, to all Moms out there, I hope you have the very best day ever tomorrow—wherever you might be. None of us would be anywhere without you!
I’m writing this and looking out into a foggy world, punctuated by a heavy drizzle that seems to be trying to do its best to get rid of the existing snow that is leftover from the last two weeks’ storms. And it’s a bit depressing at the moment since we spent the last three weeks in warm and sunny climes such as Florida, New Orleans, and Memphis.
I know it’s only late February, and this weather is typical for northern Illinois this time of the year, but I was beginning to get awfully comfy and content with those temperatures that hovered in the 80s down there in Dixie!
(24 hours later…)
Up early today to take our Malibu in to have the right-rear tire checked to see why it has been losing air. Since the tires aren’t that old, there probably is some slow leak or nail causing the problem.
Driving through thick fog for the second straight day made for a slow trip to Firestone, about 20 miles away from home. As it turned out, the good Firestone folks couldn’t find anything significantly wrong with the tire, so they cleaned and sealed (whatever that entails!) and aired everything up and told me to “keep an eye on it.”
OK. Not a problem. So I’m hoping that this is the extent of any further issues regarding the Malibu’s right rear tire. We shall see.
Now, at this writing, it’s 55 degrees, and the fog has finally cleared. I can actually see way out past the water tower and on across the sodden and barren fields which lie there rather ugly with all of the snow gone.
About an hour ago, I strolled out back and filled the bird feeders. Afterwards, I had even thought about grabbing a chair and sitting out on the driveway for a while. Just then, the wind kicked up and a steady blast of rain started to beat down, squelching any further thoughts of having a “sit” outside in the mild temperatures. Perhaps tomorrow.
Things are slowly returning to normal after three weeks away from the norm. We’ve spent the past couple of days sorting through mail and taking care of those domestic chores that we were free from thinking about over the past few weeks. Even with accomplishing much these past two days, there’s still plenty to do in the days ahead.
And soon I’ll be doing my civic duty once more, serving as an election judge for the upcoming election in March. I’ll also be working a few days at the early-voting polling place beginning next week. That part of the experience will be something new, so another adventure lies ahead.
Our travels are finished for the time being, but I will be making a trip out to Ohio sometime in March to visit my mother. By that time, I’ll be ready to once more listen to the song of the open road!
It’s a new year. In the immortal words of the immortal Charlie Brown: “Good grief!”
Hard to imagine it being this far along on the old time spectrum, but I guess I should count my many blessings that I’m upright and taking fluids to enjoy it all. And I could be like so many others and lament this past year, but I happen to believe that it wasn’t such a bad one at all—for so many reasons.
Perhaps our year could best be summed up by calling it Going Places. Looking back now, on this very frigid second day of 2018, it’s pleasing to remember those places.
In February we hooked up with a tour group for a week’s trip to New Orleans, another place I’d never been previously. It was the week heading into Mardi Gras, so we avoided all of the craziness we would have relished in our younger and foolisher days!
But by week’s end, we were both ready to move along to Florida to visit friends in the incredible place known as The Villages and then on to Ft. Myers to spend a week with our daughter. As always, we enjoyed the lure of the road as we did our best to avoid interstate highway travel whenever possible.
August rolled around, and with it, our trip to Alaska. Flying to Vancouver, we began our adventure with fifteen other friends. Boarding the ms Noordam two days later, we set out for the Inside Passage with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. Glacier Bay was next, followed by our leaving the ship in Seward for a ten-hour bus ride up to Denali National Park, where we had a brief “sample” of the total beauty of the place.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip was the train trip to Anchorage on the McKinley Explorer, with the VistaDome cars and outstanding luxurious accommodations. We saw Mount Denali for mile after mile, clear and pristine off in
A couple of days in Anchorage, and then it was time to get on the plane to return to Chicago, tired and filled with memories made with good friends and new traveling companions to treasure for a lifetime.
Not long afterwards, September was special as well, because we finally made the journey west on Historic Route 66—The Mother Road, a long-held dream of mine.
It was just the two of us as we pulled out of our little northern Illinois town on a foggy and chilly September morning and wound our way through so many small and often-
forgotten towns. The old road remnants, the faded signage of roadside motels and eateries that once served travelers of the great road, and the ever-changing landscape were what made our auto trip a three-week adventure never to be forgotten.
December found us once again “on the road” with a bus trip to Branson, Missouri, for a week. It was wonderful to be a passenger and not have to do any driving on this journey, and we shared many laughs and good times with our fellow travelers.
And so the year just past was pretty darned good for us. As we look ahead, our annual drive to Florida is fast approaching the first week of February. Later, in July, we are going to set out on the Oregon Trail for a three-day, wagon trip along the original road. I guess you just can’t keep us from experiencing all the historic American highways!
Here’s to many happy moments—and travels—to all of you in the year ahead, wherever your roads may take you!