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.
After an overnight stop in Albuquerque NM and dinner with another classmate, we put in another long day, lost another hour in time, and arrived at Palo Duro Canyon just south of Amarillo TX. This is the second largest canyon in the United States and the campgrounds are on the floor of the canyon. Our site is very large and surrounded along the southeast, south, and southwest by stunning red rock walls.
We have electricity and water but we are certainly off the communications grid. No phone, no internet, no TV. Last night after supper we took a walk around the campground loop and encountered a deer in the middle of the road, plus a flock of turkeys who seemed to be telling us in their weird yodel that if we didn't have food, go away. We saw a Roadtrek with Johnson county Iowa plates but no one outside to catch a bit of Old Home Week with. On our return, we read a bit and watched a couple more episodes of Downton Abbey, Season Two. There is a burn ban so a campfire in the fire ring facing the cliffs was not an option. But the sunset reflecting off our rock walls made them positively glow in lieu of a fire.
We are on the western edge of the Central Time Zone, so sunset was late, and this morning at 7:30, the sun is still a ways from peeking over the ridge. It is chilly, and it is delightful to sit in my little cabin-on-wheels, electric fire going, witha steaming cup of coffee. Most days on this trip, we have had plans--the train to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, the Book Festival, or on to the next sto--that necessitated getting breakfast, showers, etc out of the way early. Today we will do no more than drive back up to the top of the canyon in search of a signal so I can post this blog and we can check email and make a couple of calls, and then try out one or two of the hiking trails. It may be a good day for a big breakfast.
This has been a great trip, and as we wind into our last week, I find myself trying to sort out places, sites and events. At this point, it's kind of a blur but what stands out is that this is a beautiful country and more than that, there are a lot of wonderful and interesting people. Some we met so briefly that we don't know their names and others who we visited with long enough to exchange contact information.
The campground host and hostess at Leasburg Dam in New Mexico were from Michigan but pretty much fulltime RVers. They had spent several months in the summer at Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota and hosted in Oregon when his brother called and said they needed a replacement at Leasburg Dam. Very nice and helpful people.
When we were in Mesa for almost a week, one of our neighbors was Helen and her chocolate lab/Doberman mix, Snickers. (Photo above) She was a retired railroad dispatcher and graciously invited us to stop at her private spot in Idaho if we were ever in the neighborhood.
Also while we were in Mesa, a fellow Sister on the Fly, 'Major Molly,' contacted me and we arranged a visit. She brought wonderful pastries and a SOTF cast iron cookbook! She is Sister #190 and had great stories about past and upcoming events.
Our next stop was Dead Horse Ranch State Park near Cottonwood, AZ. There we met people from British Colombia and Ontario and one night, a young couple who are mostly fulltimers, although they still maintain a home in Michigan. He works online restoring old photos and she is an artist who does age advancement of missing persons and wanted criminals for law enforcement agencies--also online.
There were many others, as well as reconnecting with old classmates, relatives, and an exchange student who lived with us in the 80s, and other friends. It's the frosting on the cake of travel.
We opted to stay in Williams AZ so we could take the train up to view the Grand Canyon. The railway has had a rocky road, so to speak since its beginnings in the early 1900s but was restored and has been going strong since 1989, carrying almost a quarter of a million passengers a year,
Although it's only about a 65 mile trip, it takes over two hours because of the curves in the track and the speeds the train is allowed. We chose the cheapest trip--traveling in a 1923 Pullman car, and it was delightful. Entertainment is provided by the PSA (Personal Service Assistant) giving advice and history with a few corny jokes, and singing cowboys. On the return trip we survived a train robbery.
The only drawback to the train is that it leaves you with only about 3 hours to view and explore the canyon. We had not signed up for the paid bus tour because the park offers free shuttles, but the PSA warned that the shuttles are so crowded that we may have difficulty catching the train back and the cab fare back to Williams is $150. So we limited ourselves to viewing the canyon from the area around the depot. Another glitch was our restaurant choice for lunch. We got a table immediately right by a large window overlooking the canyon but waited almost a precious hour of our three for our sandwiches. But it was a beautiful day, unlike the snowstorm of the day before, and we enjoyed our time there.
When we purchased our new camper last year, one of the things that attracted us was the "four seasons package," because of our spring and fall trips. However, we didn't expect to experience all four seasons in the space of a week. Monday, we left Mesa in 93 degree heat. Yes, I know it's a 'dry heat', but still too hot. Tuesday and Wednesday, we experienced fall-like temperatures at Dead Horse Ranch with chilly nights and days in the 70s.
Yesterday, we drove to Williams, south of the Grand Canyon, in a snowstorm. We watched the temperature drop from the mid-forties to 31 as we climbed to 7000 ft and above, and pellets turned to heavy snow. We stopped at a truck stop with two restaurants, planning to get lunch, only to find out the power was out to the whole area and they were closed. It was still snowing lightly when we set up in Williams--a perfect night for the furnace and soup. Today we will take the train to the Grand Canyon, and tomorrow head back east to Albuquerque--looks like spring-like temperatures there.
When we were in Mesa, in the space of 24 hours, four different people told us that if we were going to be staying in Cottonwood, we MUST drive up to Jerome--once a thriving copper mining town and now a popular destination of wineries and great shops. They warned that the road up was harrying but well worth it. So yesterday, we headed to Jerome. Actually the road to Jerome is not bad, but the road in Jerome is awful. Elevation must change a thousand feet within the small town. Not only that, we drove through the entire town and could not find a place to park. Seriously. We drove on through town and finally could turn around at a scenic view parking area. Back through the hairpins and dropoffs--still no parking--so we left.
So was the trip a waste of time? Not at all. On the way to Jerome, we detoured to the Tuzigoot National Monument, a partially restored ruin of a community built by the Sinagua people in the twelfth century. Excavations began in the 20s and continued in the 30s as a public works project. Many area Indians were forced to work on the project by their poverty, but they objected to disturbing burial remains which eventually brought about a change in policy.
After our aborted attempt to explore Jerome, we came back through the town of Clarkdale and found lunch at a local restaurant. Across the street sits the Arizona Copper Arts Museum. This was started in 2012 and tells the history of copper as well as exhibits of the multitude of uses for copper. One room is nothing but World War 1 shell casings, one displays copper in architecture including ceilings and light fixtures, one is kitchen utensils, and one examples of distillery uses. The museum in in the old high school and they have done a nice job of noting the previous use of the space--the brewery and distillery exhibit, for example, is in the old principal’s office.
We made brief stops at a couple of Cottonwood wineries and then returned to the campground. By this time it appeared rain was imminent although nothing happened until about 8:00 when a downpour materialized, followed byt very high and gusty winds. This continued through the night but finally moved out in the wee hours. This morning all is calm and there are still a few tents on the hilltop above us that seem to have come through unscathed. Hardy souls.
After a full weekend of the Taliesin visit and meals with a classmate, a cousin, and a former exchange student, we packed up Monday and pulled out of Mesa, headed north. We are near Cottonwood, AZ at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The previous owners
Anyway, it's a great park and nice to be back in the open with some scenery around. We have a fire ring for the first time in almost two weeks and a nice pull though site near the shower house. These showers are a solid "A" with good water pressure, no timer, separate dressing area, bench, and TWO hooks. Our site faces west, which was a little warm the first night, but a great view of the mountains and nice sunsets.
Yesterday we drove up to Sedona and through the Oak Creek Canyon to Slide Rock State Park whose claim to fame is a series of smooth rocks in the creek popular as a natural water slide. Then back to Sedona for lunch after about half an hour looking for a parking place. It's a very busy happy place with lots of galleries, interesting shops, and high prices. Before we headed back, we checked out the Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into the rocks high above the valley. The walk up to the chapel was a little nail-biting for me but the building is pretty amazing.
Today we will explore Cottonwood and nearby Jerome which has been touted to us by four different people as a don't miss place. Tomorrow, we head west to Williams, where we will take the train ride to the Grand Canyon on Friday.
We have long been fans of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and never miss a chance to see one of his masterpieces. We know his brilliance was matched by his ego, and he had numerous other qualities that it would be unwise to emulate. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a visit yesterday to Taliesin West, a house that he began when he was 70 years old.
Speaking of brilliance, it was not one of our wiser decisions to schedule a tour on the hottest day of this hot week at 2:00 in the afternoon. And our guide seemed to think the group would not remember anything unless she repeated it several times so we were often out in the hot sun longer than necessary. But they do provide loaner umbrellas, and parts of the tour were inside, giving us a chance to not only cool off, but also sit down.
One of the unique characteristics of this house compared to the others we've seen is the extensive use of translucent white ceiling panels which filter the desert sun. According to the guide (several times), this idea came from his first months on the site when he and wife #3 camped in white canvas tents and he became enamored with the quality of light that came through the canvas.
As I said, he was known for his ego, and many of his projects were somewhat lacking in building quality. But his use of shadow, light, and natural building materials intrigues us and, although the tour is expensive, we felt it was a worthwhile stop.
Some random thoughts about writing, camping, and eating.