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.
Writing this from the cottage (JollyYet) porch this morning, I’m visited by my friends the hummingbirds, who can’t decide which of the two feeders to patronize, and so keep zooming back and forth betwixt the two.
Off to my right, about thirty feet away, are the two “regular” bird feeders (which are going to need refilling today), where a hungry rose-breasted grosbeak picks and pecks away at the remaining grains and seeds. A couple of hopeful chipmunks are on point below, awaiting the sloppy habits of the birds above, knowing that they’ll be rewarded soon.
The lake, for a mid-week Wednesday morning, is unusually noisy and busy. Already a fast ski boat has passed by below, a talented skier in tow shouting instructions over the din of the motor. Another large and loud one slowly made its way into my atmosphere a short while ago, blasting some equally loud and annoying hip-hop/rap “tune” through its massive speakers mounted on the overhead tow bar. Please…
But, nothing is forever. Like the boats and skiers and noise that show up but eventually go away, so is our summer life at this wonderful, old resort tucked away under the giant oaks and maples and dogwoods.
On such a morning as this (and there have been quite a few this summer), I realize how much this place has meant to me the seventeen summers we’ve been coming up here. And I’m finally realizing that there are but a few weeks remaining in our role as summer “lakers.”
As I wrote in an earlier post, this is to be our last summer taking a cottage. We began discussing this about a year ago and agreed that we’d do it one more summer, especially since Carolyn would be retired from a long career in the hair dressing business and could spend more time here during the summer weeks. And now those weeks are winding down to when we have to close up and be out of here: September 17. Our reasons for giving it up are many, and I will share those in a future post very soon.
We’re having some company over the Labor Day weekend, which is always a very busy time here, and it should be lots of fun, although we’ll be pulling the pier out then (for the last time!) and we’ll be seriously getting things packed up and taken home or into the dumpster. We’re hoping that whoever will be occupying this place after us would like to have the various futons and other items we are happy to leave here for them. We shall see.
And so, the morning edges along with wonderful breezes and pleasant temperatures. I am here until early Saturday morning, when I’m heading home for a few days to attend our grandson’s first football game and, of course, take care of mowing, etc.
Carolyn left for home yesterday, allowing me to be here by myself to work on my writing for the remainder of the week. And that’s how I’ll be spending the rest of my morning here on the porch of JollyYet, my fine, feathered friends close by, and the waters calm and quiet out in front once more.
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.
I didn’t post last weekend due to being away from the old “writing machine” for longer than I had expected. It has been a stretch of days where the weather has been such that the duties outside took precedence. Besides, when it’s finally in the 70s and absolutely gorgeous out there, I find it very difficult to be inside at my desk trying to concentrate on writing!
At any rate, there are many good things of which to write, and they all rank very high on my personal scale: Weather; grandkids; Carolyn’s job.
As I’ve written recently, the weather has finally come around to provide us the opportunity to get outside, to breathe the good air, to soak up the warmth of the sun, and to watch the grass, plants, and trees come alive.
The farmers have begun getting their fields ready for planting (corn or soybeans) and it’s always a good feeling to know that soon new life will be sprouting all over this part of northern Illinois.
The writing front…
Having been a bit lax and negligent of seriously getting work done on my current work in progress, a novel titled Birchwood’s Secret, I chiseled out time this past week to actually make some progress with it. It was a good time to look with a fresh vision at what had been sitting for a while. I was glad to be back among my characters at the resort where I left them. I think I’m ready to move the whole thing along to a conclusion. Stay tuned!
Soccer & retirement…
Saturday morning—a perfect one it was—found us at our grandson’s first soccer game of the season. The event was even more special for my wife, Carolyn, since it was the first time she’d had an opportunity to see the boys play soccer–or anything else, really–on a Saturday because she’s always been at work during those times.
After 46 years of working as a hair dresser, she’s finally calling it quits on May 25th. Recently she began the process by “phasing out” the Saturdays and is now down to just two days a week. She’s excited, yet will miss her many clients and co-workers.
The road ahead…
We will be able to plan more things to do together and enjoy both of our retirements more fully. Her retirement will also mean that this summer will be the first one she will actually be able to spend more time at the lake cottage.
Plans for a trip to Alaska in 2017 are in the planning stages as well as fall and winter road trips and little excursions to see things in our own backyard.
When I sat down to write this post, I wasn’t entirely certain which direction it would take. But after a couple of minutes, I realized that I didn’t have to sweat it at all. It’s quite clear that I have so much for which to be thankful, and that’s always easy to write about.
Today, write about anything — but you must write for exactly ten minutes, no more, no less.
OK, to get this new week off and running, I’m going to kick-start my writing by following the prompt above. It’s something I haven’t done in quite some time, and I feel the need to try it on this gray and still-wintry April morning.
The weekend, as usual, flew right on by, but it was still one that kept me busy. Following Friday’s visit to the doctor for a follow-up after my recent echo test, I relaxed and proceeded to get on with feeling OK about things—at least for now.
I find it very hard to focus or accomplish much writing when I have “stuff” on my mind—“stuff” such as doctor appointments! But, in the end, those kinds of worries never seem to turn out as bad as my mind led me to believe they would. Perhaps I need a shrink instead of a cardiologist!
Saturday morning was our men’s book club. We discussed a very interesting one titled How We Got to Now by Stephen Johnson. It was a rather easy one to read, as I managed to do so all within three days.
I particularly enjoyed the overall premise that when something is invented or devised, other things—totally unrelated—spring forth. For example, the Gutenberg Bible/printing press creating a need for glass and, eventually, reading glasses. It’s something the author described as “The Hummingbird Effect.”
Sunday was church and then a trip back to our former town for another book club, this time our friends’ couples group. The book there was H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, and though we all read it, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for it.
What’s in store for this week?
Plans for the next phases of yard work—removing the chicken wire and stakes from around the bushes, mowing, bringing up the deck furniture from the basement, edging and trimming, etc., are all on “hold” for the time being.
That is, at least until the weather warms up enough for us to be outside without heavy coats and mukluks. (Just kidding about the mukluks!)
This Thursday is our grandsons’ school Open House for Grandparents, so I’ll make my annal visit to their school and enjoy seeing their classrooms and meeting their teachers. It’s always fun to see them in another setting other than familiar hearth and home.
Friday morning will find me leaving very early for Ohio for a quick visit to my mom’s and my sister and her husband’s. I’ll be back sometime Sunday afternoon.
As the week wears on, I won’t have much time to keep up with my many blogging friends nor reply to their wonderful posts.
But I’ll do as much as time will permit, since I’ve decided that my writing time needs to be devoted to Sandbar’s Secret.
Right now, my ten minutes are up. This little exercise was good, and it’s amazing what one can write in ten minutes.
It’s late Sunday night, the conclusion of a very busy and good weekend. First a road trip to Wisconsin. Then our grandsons’ basketball games. Finally, dinner and a hockey game with family and friends.
It started early Friday morning with a drive through rural northern Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, with two good friends.
The drive over took us through countryside we’d not been before, and it was a very pleasant and relaxing trip covering just under ninety miles.
Why Kenosha? There is a Civil War Museum there located on the beautiful lakefront of Lake Michigan. Plus, it was just one of those times when we were ready for what the wife and I call a “field trip.”
Sometimes our trips are centered around genealogy searches, and others are all about doing and/or seeing something new. And what better way to enjoy one of our field trips than with two very good, long-time friends?
After a few hours of exploring the wonderful museum, we were ready to head out for lunch at the famous Brat Stop that would be right on our way back home.
The place is located halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee and features good bratwurst and various cold beers. It’s been around since the 60s and is one of those combination bar/restaurant/cheese shops that tends to lure tourists and other travelers in!
The next morning began early once again, finding us in attendance at each of our two grandsons’ basketball games, followed by an hour’s drive up to Rockford where we had a 5:00 dinner reservation.
After a delicious dinner at Capri’s Italian Restaurant, we took in an exciting hockey game between the Rockford Ice Hogs and the Iowa Wild. There was plenty of excitement that kept young and old on the edge of our seats!
By the time we got back home, it was almost midnight, and after our whirlwind two days, we were worn out and looking forward to a quiet Sunday following church and a pancake breakfast.
And so the day turned out to be pretty much just what we expected. I caught up on my blogging activities, reading and commenting on many that I follow, and Carolyn napped and enjoyed the peace and quiet.
And now we close it down and prepare for another week ahead. Until next time… 🙂
It’s another glorious day here in beautiful northern Illinois, and I have to force myself to stay inside and work on this post. I did get my brisk twenty-minute walk in earlier and am ready to put forth the proper effort to post this today. However, I’m going to need a stretch of rainy days soon in order to get the necessary motivation to move along on the writing! Be that as it may, today is a special one.
It is the 10th birthday of our first grandson, Jackson, and we had the opportunity to have him here after school yesterday and to enjoy one of Grandma Carolyn’s famous meatloaf dinners. He and brother Matt did quite a number on the delicious morsel, so today’s lunch offerings for me will be rather slim.
I clearly recall the morning Jack was born ten Septembers ago. I was just getting my first period 6th graders started on a language arts lesson when the office buzzed me to tell me I had an important phone call. Sensing that something very important was about to be imparted to me, the students became unusually silent—waiting for me to convey the news we’d all been eagerly anticipating.
As soon as my son said, “Dad, you’re a grandpa of a little boy, named Jackson Joshua,” I stood up from my chair and my smile and excited expression were all the students needed to know that the waiting was over. They spontaneously burst into shouts and clapping, and didn’t even make fun of me for the tear or two (or more!) that trickled down my cheeks at this important moment in my life.
“Who does he look like?” I asked.
“Winston Churchill,” my good son replied.
I suppose that was a pretty good description, since most newborns tend to be wrinkled and squinty and like cigars!
From that moment on, these ten years have swiftly flown by, and they’re seemingly speeding up all the more. We have enjoyed so many wonderful moments with this kid, and anticipate making more memories as the days, weeks, months, and years continue to grind away at breakneck speed.
Jack arrived at the perfect time, too. That was the fall the White Sox won the World Series, and I was only a short span away from retirement. To this day, I call him my good luck charm, despite recent on-the-field ineptness by our favorite baseball team. As for the retirement part, it’s been all good and getting better every day.
Typing this now, I think of the fun Jack must be having at school right now. He’s all smiles and laughter and making sure everyone around him is having a good time. He’s basking in the glow of being 10 and milking everything he can from this special day. Go ahead, Jack, it’s YOUR day!
Grandson number two, Matthew, will celebrate eight years in January, so we can do it all over again. Grandma Carolyn will probably be “conned” into preparing another meatloaf dinner, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s easy when you truly love these little guys the way we do.