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!
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.
Here it is, the last day of 2016. New Year’s Eve morning has slipped right in on us once again. It always seems to do that while we’re still “recovering” from the busy times of Christmas a week ago.
Suddenly, it’s here! We begin to reflect on all that has taken place—good and bad—for the past twelve months and to make resolutions and determinations that we’re certain we’ll take seriously this time, prompting thoughts such as will this, in fact, be the year that we actually stick to our low-carb diet, get more daily exercise, publish the next book, or establish world peace? Well…
I’ve never been too much of a New Years resolution-kind-of-guy, mainly because I know me too well! And I’m not one to make a big deal about what I resolve to do or accomplish in the new year. But as the old year is ending and the new one is waiting in the wings, I always have a few things I tell myself I need to do a better job with or how I can be better in so many ways. As such, there will never be any fanfare on what I would like to improve upon for the next 365 days. So any resolutions I’m planning will not be published here or anywhere else until after the fact!
Today is also special for another reason. Our daughter’s birthday is today. Born in 1980 (it really can’t be that long ago!) she came into this world on a bitterly cold New Years Day, and life has been an adventure for her ever since. Though we won’t be able to celebrate today with her, we will be going to Florida in February for a week’s stay with her.
New Years Eve plans?
My morning will consist of coffee, early morning reading, and finishing this blog post. Afterwards, it will be time to head outside for my twenty-minute walk and enjoy the 34° morning air and bright sunshine. Most of our snow has diminished during this past week, so the streets and sidewalks are bare and dry.
Next, I will send birthday wishes to daughter Laura and plan to call her later in the day when I know she’ll be available. Then, I’ll drive down to our son’s to watch some hockey and football for a while and, of course, see what the two grandsons are up to. Before I know it, it will be time to head back up home and get ready to go in for our annual New Years Eve gathering with friends at their home. It’s pretty low-key but a good time all the same. Good snacks, laughs, and discussion of various topics will be the order of the evening.
And then we’ll drive back out to our little town here in northern Illinois and watch the last few minutes of 2016 dissolve into 2017. There are so many good things in this world that have happened, and we shouldn’t forget them, even though much tragedy and sadness seemed to be everywhere in the year to which we’re bidding farewell.
I sincerely hope that the new year will bring good things to family and friends, wherever they may be. On this final day of 2016, I will celebrate all that I have and make a few resolutions (that I’ll keep to myself!) and remember all of the good that has come my way.
I really can’t recall how the topic of being on, or near, the scene of some major
newsworthy event came up the other night at a party we were hosting, but it made for some interesting conversation for a time with a friend over cold drinks. And long after the party had ended, and I was in the midst of my usual cleanup duties, many more thoughts on the topic flitted around in my head.
I’m pretty sure it was my friend who brought the whole thing up with his telling about his being in attendance at a Super Bowl and a Stanley Cup Championship game seven. True, they were important events, but in the large scope of things they really don’t seem as “crucial” as those events in which I found myself involved–purely by accident.
For instance, I couldn’t help but recall being literally “caught up” in the turmoil and fury that was the violence perpetrated by those wonderful, “clean-cut” protestors in downtown Chicago during the 1968 Democrat National Convention.
A high school friend from Ohio had just flown in for a visit, since my family had recently moved to the Chicago area that summer, and we all had enjoyed a wonderful dinner at one of the cool restaurants on Michigan Avenue early that evening.
Afterwards, as we began a leisurely stroll along the avenue, things erupted all around us. Suddenly, the police were swarming and moving people from the area. It didn’t take long to realize that they were pretty serious about their efforts! I recall being sort of trapped near one of the famous lions in front of the Art Institute when I was instructed to get moving, which I gladly did. Staring down the barrel of a riot gun is a bit unsettling.
About the same time, another hord of the “clean cuts” decided to battle back and began one of its signature clashes with the Chicago police. My friend and I somehow avoided the confrontation and hurried back across the avenue to find my parents and sister, which wasn’t easy since that area seemed just as wild and manic as the one we’d just vacated.
Fortunately, we managed to hook up with them and make our way the few blocks to the lot where the car was parked. Without further hesitation, we got out of the boiling city as quickly as possible.
Yep, that was the evening that has become infamous over the years—for both cops and the protestors—and one that will always evoke not-so-pleasant feelings whenever I see a picture of those Art Institute lions!
I had just turned eighteen that summer, and I my idealism was still rather lofty. I had plans to take it all with me when I started at Kent State in a few weeks. And, of course, it was at Kent that I would once again witness turmoil and violence during the next few years up close and personal all too often. And my earlier idealism would take off in a much different direction during that time. I’ll write of that period in the next few posts.
For the last two summers right about this same time, we have done something special with our two grandsons, kind of a last-of-summer vacation thing.
Last year it was a day trip over to Dearborn, Michigan, to visit the Henry Ford Museum and adjoining Greenfield Village. The four of us enjoyed every minute of that day, and we still often mention that we’d like to return and see all the other things that we didn’t have time to get to. And I’m sure that we will do so sometime down the road.
This year, since we’re both home from the cottage for a few days, we thought it would be neat to take the three-hour drive over to Dyersville, Iowa, home of the Field of Dreams–the farm where the movie was filmed in 1988.
What would make this trip all the more special is that we had taken the boys’ dad—our son—there back in the early 90s when he wasn’t much older than they are now. Playing catch on that magical field with my son all those years ago was, indeed, special, and to do the same with my grandsons seemed like a pretty good thing to do!
As always, we had kept an eye on the weather forecast because it would be rather pointless to set off all that way if rain was imminent. But fortune smiled on us and the day dawned overcast, promising to be in the high 80s by afternoon. Leaving by 7:30 would allow us to reach the place out in the Iowa cornfields by late morning, before the heat became too stifling.
And so, with the wheelie cooler chock full of bottles of water and snacks, we hit the road and enjoyed the countryside, with the flatness of home giving way to the rolling terrain of northwest Illinois, our journey taking us over US-20 past Rockford, Freeport, Stockton, Galena, and over the Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa. Dyersville and the Field of Dreams is just a short drive onward from there, and we had no trouble locating the charming place once more, even after so many years.
Jackson and Matthew spent most of the trip there watching the movie on a laptop. For Jackson it was the first time he’d seen it, and we all agreed that it was a good thing he had so the site would mean more to him.
If you build it, he will come…
Of course, I’ve seen the movie countless times over the years, and never fail to get caught up in the story and its homage to baseball and the role it plays in so many lives, generation after generation. I would think that even non-baseball fans would find something intriguing in the tale that starred Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones.
The movie was based on the book Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. Interestingly, I read this book for the first time this summer, and knowing we were going to be visiting the movie site, I wanted to compare the original story with the film’s treatment of it.
To say that it had many diversions and changes would be a vast understatement. Although I usually prefer the original work, in this case I tend to lean toward the Hollywood version—grudgingly, of course! Not sure about some of the “additional” characters the author included in the original, and I think the story worked fine without most of them. But that’s merely my opinion, mind you.
Go the distance…
The hour or so we were there, playing catch, batting with other kids and adults there for perhaps the same reasons, was just enough and well timed. After a brief snack break on a picnic table under some beautiful tall pines near the old farmhouse, the heat had begun to rise, the boys were sweaty and dusty, and Carolyn and I were hot and ready to get back into the air-conditioned comfort of the Equinox.
A quick visit to the gift shack to check things out, and then we were ready to pull out of the place and begin our trip back home to Illinois. And, of course, it was about that time when we were all ready for some lunch. Our plan was to stop for a nice sit-down meal (no drive-thru, fast-food adventures this trip!) and enjoy the cool atmosphere and some good food somewhere around Galena.
As it turned out, we continued through the Galena area and on to the small town of Stockton about an hour away. To our delight, right there on our route in the small town was an attractive log building named JJ & Freddie’s. The service was friendly and attentive, the food was good,
the draft beer I enjoyed was quite refreshing, and the air conditioning was superb! Each of us was fully contented at this point.
Re-fueled and refreshed now, we were back on the road to home and I even managed a nice nap as Carolyn got us home in good shape around 4:30. The hot afternoon couldn’t diminish the wonderful morning’s fun and smiles we’d all shared on our little trek over to the magical Field of Dreams.
It’s time for the weekly post of a feature I’ve chosen to title “One Good Thing.” Each weekend, I’ll post something about what has been good to—or for—me during the week.
The week just past…
It was another busy week trying to “fit” everything in that needed “fitting” in. Mowing, trimming, and spraying those nasty dandelions and continuing to get it all in shape was high on my list.
My opportunities for such tasks were very limited due to cold and rainy weather that had decided to settle in for most of the week, and I would be gone all of Thursday and Friday as well. Despite the cold, it was a dry Wednesday, allowing me to get it all done then.
We celebrated our younger grandson’s first Communion on Saturday morning and afterwards had a wonderful and relaxed get-together for lunch and fun back at his house.
The chill of the incessant rain couldn’t dampen the spirit of the day, nor the tasty variety of burgers, brats, and hot dogs our son grilled for us. They went very nicely with the potato and macaroni salads.
It was a delightful touch of a summer picnic, even though we were dressed as though it were November!
In order for Great-Grandma Pat (my mom) to attend, I had to make another whirlwind trip to Port Clinton, Ohio (about six hours away), on Thursday to pick her up.
By 8 a.m. Eastern time Friday morning, she and I were on our way back from where I’d come the day before, arriving in Illinois that afternoon.
To say that I was a bit “road weary” would be a vast understatement, but we even managed to travel a ways out to watch a few innings of the grandsons’ baseball game that evening.
It was a cold and windy affair, but we were able to park in such a spot that Grandma could stay inside the warm car and catch most of the action before we agreed that it had been a long day and it was time to head to our house for sleep. No arguments from me on that!
And as I write this now, relaxed and comforted to know that we have nowhere we need to go of any great distance today, I look back on the week which hurried right on by and count my blessings for all of the good things I have.
I am proud of my grandsons and know that whatever lies ahead in their lives, they have some very good grounding to help get them through all that lies ahead.
And, yes, Grandma Pat and I will be making the drive back to her place in Ohio tomorrow morning. I can’t wait to see that long highway once again!