When you’re in a mood to reminisce and laugh a lot, it’s best to camp with the Midwest Glampers. We were at Backbone State Park for what was dubbed “The Magical Mystery Tour” with a Sixties theme and heavy emphasis on the Beatles. We arrived Thursday in time for the "Strawberry Fields Forever" Daiquiri Bar. Host Sandy produced frozen daiquiris in mason jars brought all the way from Northwest Iowa in a cooler with dry ice while host Lydia served "Oh Bladi Oh Blada Bloody Marys." It gets better.
But the weather didn't. Storms and tornadoes had ravaged Northeast Iowa on Wednesday night and Thursday's heat was oppressive with more severe weather forecast. Nothing materialized that night and it was still dry when I got up Friday morning. However an eerie sky reminded me of the old 'sailor take warning' rhyme and sure enough, within an hour drenching rains pounded the camper. Outdoor breakfast was cancelled.
"Twist and Shout" (tie-dying t-shirts) was scheduled for 10:00. A break in the rain and two pop-up awnings allowed the event to go on. Sandy's incredible organization kept the mayhem to a minimum. The return of the rains required constant (and drenching) dumping of the water puddling on one side of our awning, but we got the job done and the results were spectacular.
The heavy rain abated in midafternoon and our daughter Kate arrived to participate in the rest of the weekend. The group concocted 'Maxwell's Silver Hobo Dinners' and managed to get supper done before the rain started again.
We retired to our trailer and watched Peter Sellers' A Shot in the Dark, in keeping with the Sixties theme. The rain took a recess until after we went to bed, when it returned for a fourth time that day--with a vengeance. We slept through it and missed the excitement. At some point, the ranger drove around announcing a warning to get to the shower house--which most of the Glampers did. They dubbed it a 'Potty Party.' Apparently the lightning was spectacular but we never heard a thing. Five inches of rain fell and the lower part of the park had to be closed due to three feet of water in that area.
Saturday morning, the rain was gone and intermittent clouds kept the temps a little more comfortable. Breakfast was the "Yoko Ono Omelette Bar" with everyone contributing ingredients and building their own to cook in little foil pans over the fire. Lydia did a fine job of managing the distribution of the pans over the fire to get everything cooked.
"The Long and Winding Road" was of course a hike along the Devil's Backbone Trail that this park is famous for. It was at this point that we discovered the closing of the lower park and had to park and walk in to the trailhead. The kids enjoyed climbing on the unique rock formations.
We drove in to Strawberry Point for ice cream and a selfie with the giant strawberry. An ongoing activity of the weekend was a selfie scavenger hunt, requiring Glampers to get photos of themselves in various categories: "All You Need is Love" (with other Glampers), "I Am the Walrus" (in the water), "The Fool on the Hill" (hiking the Backbone), etc--including, of course "Strawberry Fields Forever" with the giant strawberry. On our return, we visited with our neighbors, who had come in the afternoon before and pitched three large tents on the next two sites. They were from Pennsylvania and were in the park for a son's wedding, scheduled to occur at 2:00 that afternoon in the lower park by one of the stunning stone bluffs. The wedding was on hold until the park staff could find another, drier, location.
Meanwhile, it was time to get ready for the final event of the day: "We Can Work It Out" --a mystery game called The Karma Club. Group members had received their parts earlier and each had a little information that may or may not pertain to the murder of Marvin Stank, manager of a band sidelined by a bus breakdown on their way to Woodstock. The costumes were fantastic! Everyone got into their parts while trying to solve the murder, figure out who had been robbing the local banks, and forming their own bands. Instead of a full meal, we enjoyed 60s themed appetizers and treats: cheese fondue, "magic brownies," "magic mushrooms," John Lemmon Chicken Bites, and Yellow Submarines. It was quite an evening, even if no one solved the murder.
The next morning was beautiful (of course!) as we gathered for one more big breakfast and to say goodbye, before heading back to Missouri, Nebraska and various parts of Iowa. They are an amazing group but a weekend like that requires some downtime afterwards!
of simple pleasures. Wonderful weather--a few warm moments but overall nice breezes and no severe storms. We are at a favorite spot--Johnson Sauk recreation area in Illinois. A favorite because it is a lovely park and also close to a couple of our grandchildren. Camping with us are the Halds and my ex-boss and her husband. She hasn't tried to boss me once this weekend. Our part of the campground has rows of tall white pines which make a sweet sound when the wind blows through the tops. There is a lake with paddle boat rentals which we took advantage of yesterday.
Saturday we took in a grandson's baseball game in Kewanee at Windmont Park. Every summer sports event should have shaded seating and nice breezes.
Later we took a tour of Ryan's Round Barn, the largest round barn still standing in the US and on the park grounds. It's an amazing structure and the guide was very informative. The silo in the center is 100 feet tall. The pens in the basement all face the center where Black Angus cattle were fed from a chute that dropped hay from the mow high above. Fascinating place.
We have enjoyed excellent meals and perfect campfires every night. Tonight it will just be us with our son and family and tomorrow we may take in a local celebration at Francis Park before heading home.
It's been a dry spell for both my blogging and my camping. A combination of appointments, volunteer responsibilities, book signings, and recall work on the trailer has kept us out of campgrounds for three weeks. But this weekend we are at Johnson Sauk Trail Recreation Area in Illinois just north of Kewanee. It's a beautiful park and campground. We especially like the loop in the pine trees.
Our son and family live in Kewanee so joined us for supper last night. Today we will travel into town for one of grandson Elliot's baseball games and then back to the park and will tour the old round barn that is on the grounds. It's a beautiful day and I hope that everyone is getting some family/down time.
We are camped at Beed's Lake in northern Iowa, primarily to attend a memorial service Saturday morning for one of my classmates. Since others are in town for this, we decided to have a cookout last night. Beed's Lake was an important part of our growing up years. The forecast swung from perfect weather to afternoon showers in the preceding days but we would take our chances. The day dawned cloudy, but the sun came out and it looked like the only chance of rain was around 4:00. No problem. But as midafternoon approached, showers were popping up all around to the northwest of us. For two hours we watched the radar on three different sites and went from "Those showers are probably going to miss us" to "Those could go around us" to "No way that mess is not going to hit here."
We put the lawn chairs away, were encouraged by the direction of the storms, got them back out, checked the radar, and put them away again. We rolled the awning up. Butch hesitated to start the fire because the green and yellow blobs connected up and turned orange and red. A severe weather alert issued for the area included hail and strong winds. We messaged our guests and said "This doesn't look good." We considered aborting the mission and meeting in town for supper. But I had a lot of potato salad. Joe wrote back "10% chance of rain at 7:00 and 8:00, 0% at 9:00." We told them to come ahead and opened the awning back up.
Butch started the fire and the sky dropped a few sprinkles. We wiped the table and moved the chairs. The sprinkles quit. We continued our cooking preparations and Mother Nature shook her finger at us, sending a few more sprinkles. We persisted. The burgers and brats got done and we got the rest of the food out. A few more drops of rain as we dished up and dried off the table again. The clouds began to move out as we sat down to eat, my menu much enhanced by Carole's deviled eggs and Connie's brownies. By the time we finished, a few clouds drifted across a beautiful full moon and the warmth of the campfire started to feel good. Camping is so relaxing.
Our weekend at the Amanas was overall a success. We had some 'hits' we didn't like: getting hit with four hours of pouring rain Friday morning and thick fog on Saturday morning. A little disappointing after a beautiful day Thursday. But we did get in a bike ride Friday on the pleasant trail around the water lily pond. Well, not quite all the way around. Along the trail were signs saying: USE TRAIL AT YOUR OWN RISK. WEATHER AND WILDLIFE CAN PRODUCE HAZARDS... Halfway along the trail between the pond and canal, we encountered a large swan. I think she was left over from prehistoric days. She sat right by the path staring us down. She never flinched or made a move to leave and we assumed she was nesting. Her stance and expression seemed to say that if we tried to pass, she could take us. We thought that might be true and decided to make this a 'miss' and turn around to retrace our steps--er, ride.
Another hit on Saturday was a trip to the Mini-Americana Barn Museum in South Amana. It features a collection over 200 miniature buildings which depict early life in rural America. The displays could use a good cleaning but the workmanship is amazing.
There were several misses on Saturday. We had planned to go to the Renaissance Fair in Middle Amana but a forecast for possible severe weather made us shy away. We had also noticed a larger number of dogs in the campground than usual. We found out late Saturday that this was because of 'Barn Hunt Trials' going on in a steel building on the property. You can find out more about that on the link. But the biggest miss came to our attention that evening. While checking Facebook before we went to bed, we discovered that a very old friend and her family from Nashville TN had been staying in the very same campground and had left that afternoon! This campground has over 400 sites so neither of us knew the other was there.
The final hits were at supper Saturday night. The weather forced us inside so we managed to get nine people seated fairly comfortably in our trailer. The menu centered around smoked pork loin and ribeyes, enhanced by potato salad, coleslaw, watermelon, and brownies. I did realize another 'miss right before supper: I had completely forgotten to make my rosemary/sea salt rolls that day. But all in all, I would say that the weekend was a hit.
"Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck." This certainly applied to us this weekend. Every camper with even a little experience knows that the chances of getting any campsite on a holiday weekend decline astronomically the closer you get to that holiday. So much so that many get on the phone or computer to make reservations a few minutes after midnight on the day the reservation window opens. For Iowa State Parks that's 90 days; most other states are six months. Of course, there are a lot of non-reservable sites--especially in county parks, but also half of the state park and Corps of Engineers sites. Since most of our regular group is retired, we figured we could grab some of those sites in the middle of the week.
We could not have been more wrong. Our plan was to head to Morgan Creek, a wonderful county park near Cedar Rapids, on Wednesday morning to get sites. I should mention here that it has become commonplace for some people to haul their campers to such a park early in the week and pay for a site for an extra four or five days in order to have a spot for the weekend. Many such places look like RV dealers at those times with sites full of unoccupied campers. On Tuesday of this week, we began to consider that possibility and made a plan that one person would head to Morgan Creek at 7:00 am Wednesday, grab three sites, pay for them, and put a very small tent on each until we could get there with our actual equipment midday. Meanwhile, I would wait at home for a call that either said "Got 'em!" or "nothing here." If the latter, I would head to Saulsbury Bridge fifteen miles away. Meanwhile, the other person would stop at Palisades on the other side of Cedar Rapids and check on the walk-in sites there. The result was that by 8:30 am, we knew that there were no sites left at any of those places.
However, the night before Butch had been looking at a few commercial parks on line. Among those was the Amana Colonies RV Park. We normally shy away from commercial parks. They are more expensive and often do not have grass, trees, grills of fire rings--they are nothing more than parking lots with hook ups. This one is definitely short on trees and is basically a huge field with hundreds of sites laid out in rows. But we really wanted to camp and besides we already had our campers filled with food and clothes. So as soon as I found Saulsbury full, I called Butch and he called Amana, snagging three reserved sites. We were disappointed but only had ourselves to blame.
On the plus side, there is a lot of grass, the sites are spacious, and we do have a fire ring. Yesterday was one of those rare perfect days--low 70s temps, light winds and blue skies. We took off in the morning and drove a mile or so into Main Amana. There we wandered the shops and had pastries and beverages at the bakery. One gift shop had a wide display outside of bedding plants and interesting yard art. A must-stop is the furniture factory where incredible pieces are crafted and finished of common and unusual woods. Our last stop was the meat market. The main street is still decked with May poles left from the Maifest earlier this month.
After we returned to the campground, we got our bikes out and rode the pleasant bike trail through rolling hills to Middle Amana and back. Supper was followed by a nice campfire. In another little twist of fate, we discovered our campground hosts had lived in West Liberty and that she is actually a second cousin of Butch and his sister. The only fly in the ointment, so to speak, were June bugs. The darker it got, the more they appeared to want to eradicate us from the earth. We finally surrendered and retired for the night.
Many of our camping trips take us pretty far afield and we've certainly enjoyed those opportunities. But some times it's nice to stay close and enjoy the camping life while still meeting other commitments. One of our favorite nearby campgrounds is Saulsbury Bridge Recreation Area, a county park about fifteen miles from our door. Most of the sites are spacious, shaded, and level with firepits. They have a pricing bonus that makes it even more attractive. Every Wednesday during the camping season is free and two weekends a month, Saturday night is free if you stay Friday. This means you can camp Wednesday to Sunday for the price of two nights.
It's also prone to flooding, and after persistent rain last weekend, we drove down on Tuesday to make sure it was open and somewhat dry. It was, so we took the camper down Wednesday morning and got it set up. Since four of our camping group were going, we chose spots in the center of the loop where one of the firepits was conveniently located for the whole group. By evening, most of the campground was full.
As I said, our proximity to home made it possible to keep other commitments and it almost required a spreadsheet to track everyone. During the five days, members of the group disappeared for choir practice, birthday parties, barbecue judging, model train shows, and on Saturday, I drove to Rock Island to participate in a book fair. It was a first time event and attendance was low, but I reconnected with some authors and made the acquaintance of new ones--particularly my table mate, Jasmine Bozeman. Meanwhile, back at the campground, we did get in a couple of hikes, bike riding, mushroom hunting, and several incredible meals. The weather was fantastic and it was a fine kickoff to the season!
Before they had a football team, as we all know, the Vikings did a bit of marauding and exploring. We have enjoyed attending mountain men reenactments in the past, so when we found out our newest neighbors, Colleen and Mark, were reenactors, and that they were coming to northern Missouri this weekend for a Viking gathering, we made arrangements to attend. The event is being held on a private farm where, over the last several years a Viking fort, called Ravensborg, has been constructed.
This site is only open to the public twice a year: in the spring for the Return of the Sun observance, and in the fall for the Return of the Dead. Three different groups were represented here, with reenactors from as far away as Canada and Ohio. They are required to live, eat, and function as authentically as possible during the weekend. There were people using card looms to weave strips of twill that would be used as belts, straps for horns and purses, and decoration for clothes. The previous day, they had dug a pit to fire pottery and were in the process of gradually uncovering it to bring the temperature down slowly and avoid breakage. An armory is the most recent building under construction, and displayed helmets and weapons.
Our neighbor, Mark, is the head cook--a position he said he didn't have to battle anyone for. When we arrived, he was serving lunch of soup, cheese, eggs and apples. The reenactors must provide their own dishes of wood, horn and pottery. Mark was in the midst of preparing the night's feast. He was expecting to serve about 100 people. A wooden outhouse had been converted to a smoker by charring the inside. He was smoking a pig, several pork loins, a beef roast, and 48 Cornish hens. He would also serve salmon that had been previously smoked, pickled herring, and a cabbage and leek dish. Authenticity is fudged for the children--they were going to have hot dogs and Goldfish. The kitchen is a long building with a large fire pit and baking oven. The feast would be served in the mead hall, another long building and the first built on this site, entirely lit by oil lamps with raised platforms on both sides.
The main attraction for the public visitors were the battle demonstrations. First they staged an attack on the gate house. Casualties were high. Then they demonstrated how the various weapons--swords, staffs, spears, etc. were used and the importance of the shields in defense.
I think we tend to think of early cultures as entirely isolated and homogenous, but there were constant reminders of the Viking contact with other people. Ornamentation that was typical of Slavic people who joined the Vikings was worn by some members. More elaborate armor indicated that the warrior was probably a Byzantine mercenary. Food and tools gave evidence to the huge amount of trade that went on. It was a fascinating afternoon.
We have not been camping this week but luxuriating at a lovely bed and breakfast just south of Branson, Missouri, courtesy of our daughter and son-in-law. The hosts at the White River Lodge, Bill and Becky couldn't be more welcoming and this amazing log home has all of the amenities. A variety of bird feeders on the decks brought us glimpses of an indigo bunting, gold finches, cardinals, woodpeckers, and a large crow or something who thought the suet block was for him.
On Wednesday we drove to Dogwood Canyon, a nature preserve privately held by the guy who dabbles in Bass Pro Shops and Cabelas. It's a beautiful area, but the signs that give warning that this is a wilderness area and watch out for poisonous snakes and other wild fauna are somewhat belied by the mowing and landscaping going on. When I asked one of the employees if the numerous waterfalls were natural, he said mostly but they had been 'enhanced.' Your ten dollar entry fee only gets you in the gate and into a museum, restaurant, small nature center, and of course the gift shop. If you want to walk on the paved trails back through the canyon, that is ten dollars more, with other forms of transport (bikes, trams, jeeps, horses, etc) proportionately higher. We hesitated at first, balking at the $10 charge to use our own feet to explore, but finally decided we would go the bike route and sprung for $15 more apiece.
The trail back through the canyon floor runs very gradually up hill, which is still a challenge for us old folks, and we stopped several times to rest and enjoy the scenery. At one spot, we visited with an employee who explained what he was waiting for. There is apparently a senior tour golf tournament being held this weekend at the Top of the Rock golf course (also owned by Mr. Bass Pro), and he had graciously invited the golfers out to fish and relax in the Canyon after a rough day of practice rounds. The staff had established ten sites along the trail where the golfers would be dropped off, provided with poles and equipment--I didn't see any bamboo, by the way--and helped in their fishing efforts by expert guides to catch the wiley trout. The staff seemed to be 'enhancing' the number of trout at each pool by providing little fishy snacks.
The golfers were supposed to be dropped off at any time, but had not yet arrived by the time we came back down the trail, returned our bikes, and left the park. Perhaps the golfers were expected to pay for their 'wilderness' fishing experience, but somehow I doubt it. However, being Senior citizens ourselves, we appreciate Mr. Bass Pro's attempt to help out these retirees who are no doubt on fixed incomes and mostly dependent on Social Security, and if they were not being charged, we were certainly glad to donate our $50 so that such a charitable cause could be carried out.
After a beautiful Monday, we left Palo Duro Canyon the next morning under threatening skies. The forecast wasn't good and we empathized with the young couple from South Africa via Houston across from us in their tent. Even more sympathy to the group of several adults and lots of young people who had arrived the night before and set up about ten tents. Drizzle, fog, and lots of wind attacked us intermittently as we wended our way east toward Oklahoma City--a long day. We did make one detour at Erick, Oklahoma in an attempt to visit the Roger Williams Museum. After all, he was "King of the Road." But, alas, it was not open on Monday or Tuesday, and neither was the rest of Erick. We had spotted a KOA campground in Oklahoma City near the bypass we wanted to take, and they had space. The site they gave us contained one of three storm shelters, making it a challenge to park the camper where the steps would not come out on top of the mound.
There was a little rain but we managed to get a couple of loads of laundry done before supper. After supper, we watched TV but it wasn't long before the programming switched entirely to the weather. One of those blood red "bows" was headed right for us and Mr. Weatherman warned we were in for large hail, winds of 50-60 mph, and a possible tornado.
I got out the campground instructions and searched through the rules about garbage, alcohol, washing your camper, etc. for some information on the storm shelter. Were they unlocked? Would they sound a warning? No idea. That wasn't important enough to include. Anyway, if we had gone to the shelter and been able to get in, and the wind had tipped our camper, we would have been trapped. The rain and a little hail hit and occasional big gusts of wind rocked our trailer--not in a soothing way. When the worst seemed past, we went to bed but were still under warnings. Obviously, we made it through the night and are still kicking.
We departed early in the morning and, after $24 in tolls, made it around Oklahoma City and through Tulsa to arrive in Joplin, MO by early afternoon, where we got groceries. Another half hour brought us to Ballard's Campground south of Carthage. This is a sweet place that we have stopped at several times before and one of my favorites. It is small and old, but the gravel sites are level and well maintained. The campground is tiered on a hill with a number of large oaks and slopes down to a small pond. There is a dogwood in bloom nearby. The sites have fire rings and hookups. When we checked in, Wanda, the owner, told us that, in case of severe weather, we could go to the shower house or the lady next door had a basement that campers were welcome to use. Isn't that nice?
The shower house is old but I give it an A+. Each shower has a heavy curtain separating it from the dressing area, two hooks, a bench and a bath mat. The water temperature is adjustable and pressure is excellent. Everything is clean and fresh smelling. If you get to Carthage, stop in and Wanda will take care of you.
We were under a tornado watch all evening, but I don't think we even got rain. This morning is much cooler and windy--chance of light rain much of our way north. We will meet up with our sister and brother-in-law at Wallace State Park north of Kansas City and spend three nights. Then Ken and Harriet will lead us back to West Liberty for our triumphant return. Maybe the high school band will herald our entrance in to town. Maybe not.
Some random thoughts about writing, camping, and eating.