Howell Station Corps of Engineers campground near Pella, Iowa is one of our favorites, partly because of the many level trails for walking and biking. One, although not so level, even leads into Pella. The roads within the campground provide kids with safe bike riding to their hearts content. My husband says the kids remind him of the buzzards, seagulls, and bald eagles constantly swooping and circling over the adjoining Des Moines River.
From the rising mists in the early morning to stunning sunsets, the river provides constant changing vistas. A bike and pedestrian bridge leads across the river to more trails. In our group, fuel for all of that walking and biking is provided by hearty breakfasts. One traditional offering is French toast made from the cinnamon bread from Pella's Jaarsma's bakery, topped with Tom Lehman's "Heart Attack Syrup." Tom couldn't join us this year but shared the secret recipe with his cousin Ron who did the honors.
The trails wander along the river and through huge old cottonwoods maples, oaks, and other native trees. A deer always crosses the road in front of me when I don't have my camera ready. One trail winds down to a day use area below the dam. Another goes to the Ivan Marion campground.
By the end of the day, we are ready for another hearty meal, a campfire, and sunset watching. It was a great week. However, yesterday afternoon, in the face of an empty fresh water tank and a forecast of all day rain today--which doesn't appear to be materializing--we decided to forfeit our last night and head home. With no camping plans in the next couple of weeks, there will be time for laundry, unpacking, yardwork, and other projects. But a few days at Howell Station helped to recharge the batteries.
It is a strange experience for me as a writer to publish a book and, a couple of weeks later, return to the locale of the book. Double Dutch Death involves a murder and a windmill, similar to the one found in Pella, Iowa. Those of you who have read the book should recognize the significance of the photo. If you haven't, you'll just have to read it won't you?
We are camped at Howell Station, a Corps of Engineers campground located south of the dam at the Red Rock Reservoir. It has become an August tradition for 6-8 couples of our camping friends for a number of reasons. The sites in this campground are spacious, fairly level, and overlook the Des Moines River as it flows out of Red Rock. There are a number of hiking and biking trails, also mostly level, which is a bonus for those of us who have left our Olympic years behind.
The timing has become traditional because it is the week of the Iowa State Fair, about an hour away. Several of the couples have grandchildren or friends showing cattle or other animals, participating in the beard contest, or entries in the fair themselves. The location close to Pella, Iowa is also a plus. We always make a visit to Jaarsma's Bakery for some of their delectable treats. (After all, we're hiking all of those extra calories off.) We like just walking around beautiful downtown Pella and especially enjoying the floral displays. And a few of us can't pass up The Quilted Windmill, a wonderful quilt shop.
Yesterday some of us toured the windmill, the museum and the pioneer village. It gave me a chance to see how many errors I made in Double Dutch Death. Of course the book is fiction and the town of Little Sneek is only loosely based on Pella, but one does like to have these things make sense. We have other traditions for this trip, mostly centered around food. One of the couples who farm provide amazing fresh sweet corn. Usually one morning involves French toast with "Heart Attack Syrup." The potluck suppers usually require more table space for food than for diners. So a couple more days and we will roll ourselves home. Meanwhile, there's always great sunsets here.
From time to time, everyone seems to have those weeks when important life events seem to converge. A week ago, we were in southern Minnesota for a memorial service and a gathering of cousins whom I rarely see. Two days after arriving home, we headed for Alabama and a granddaughter's wedding. Then we sidetripped to Georgia for a quick visit with my sister before heading toward home. In addition, this week our family celebrates Pat and Jill's twenty-fourth wedding anniversary and granddaughter Brooke's thirty-something birthday. AND Sergio, a young man I mentored, will graduate from Officer Candidate School in Quantico this Saturday before returning to Iowa to finish his bachelor's degree. LOTS to celebrate.
The wedding was in a beautiful venue set in the hills north of Oxford, AL. It was a great finale to several days of meeting and socializing between families. We enjoyed a great dinner one night at Alabama's oldest tavern and an Italian rehearsal dinner the next. We got to spoil our two great-granddaughters and connect with family members who are too distant most of the time. We missed the ones who couldn't make it--our daughter and her family.
Yesterday we detoured over to the North Georgia Mountains where my sister and her husband are building a small home (and I mean building it themselves!) on a ridge where she has spent the last year developing lush gardens. She lived in an used camper that they moved in and to which they added a porch and outbuildings. It will become their guest house when the house is done.
We spent the night in a Comfort Inn on top of a mountain with incredible views. However, I decided to wait until morning to take pictures, which was a mistake. It was so foggy that we could barely see the hotel parking lot, let alone the distant mountains. But we did enjoy the multitude of colors of crape myrtles in bloom everywhere and realized we have never been in the South at this time of year.
So we haven't been camping but find that hotel stays seem a lot more complicated: hauling stuff in and out, no comfortable chairs, puny coffee pots, etc. We will be home today and plan to join our camping friends on Sunday for our annual outing at Howell Station campground on the Red Rock reservoir.
I have always loved A. A. Milne poems. One of my favorites is called The King's Breakfast--the tale of a King who just wants "a little bit of butter for his bread." However when the word is passed from the Queen to the dairymaid to the cow, the cow suggests marmalade instead. The King is distraught:
The King sobbed, "Oh, deary me!"
And went back to bed.
"Could call me
A fussy man;
I only want
A little bit
Of butter for
I sympathized with the King this week only my morning wish is coffee. We are back in my Minnesota home town for a cousin's memorial service. We has reserved a room in an old, small motel that did not meet our needs in several ways--the most important being that the two outlets in the room were not enough to support a lamp, the oxygen concentrator, and the various chargers necessary to support that equipment. There also were no drinking glasses, no hand towels, no lights besides one lamp, nowhere to hang clothes or towels, and no in-room coffee! Nor did the motel offer coffee or breakfast.
I had been told by an old friend that there was an excellent coffee shop in town so we proceeded to get our morning ablutions done and head there. The Bean is run by a friendly guy named Bill and is a coffee club--you pay a daily "membership fee" of $5 which entitles you to unlimited coffee, donuts and wifi--all in comfortable overstuffed chairs or at tables.
We spent the morning there and shared our motel room woes with Bill. Ironically, he also offers a Airbnb apartment above the Bean and a homestay suite in his home. Without much further consideration, we decided to move to the homestay suite. It was a huge improvement: more outlets, more light, closet and towel racks, and a small drip coffee pot in the bathroom.
Yesterday morning, I eagerly prepared the little pot and waited. A few minutes later, I had half a pot of cold water--no color, no heat. We dressed and headed back to the Bean. Again we spent the morning because we were joined by several other family members in town for the service. I explained the coffee pot problem to Bill.
That afternoon, his wife brought us a small Keurig and a rack of coffee pods.
Early this morning, I prepared my first cup of French Vanilla. The water heated, the coffee brewed, and as I started to pick up the mug, the pod exploded sending coffee grounds all over the appliance and counter. I am not a regular Keurig user but I remembered that my daughter-in-law always pokes holes in the pod with a toothpick. I did that and have had success since. But I will be glad to return to my reliable Presto percolator tomorrow.
Cole Porter had it right. It's been gratifying that the temps are a little lower here than back in southeast Iowa but still my phone said there was a 'wind chill' (Really?) here last evening of 112. We had decided the night before last that, based on the forecast, we would forego the fair again yesterday and instead take a road trip.
Although Pam and I both grew up in this area, neither of us had ever been to the West Bend Grotto, billed as the largest man-made grotto in the world. So we took off fairly early in the day for the hour-an-a-half ride to West Bend.
The place is amazing. I had always assumed that it covered acres of land with grassy or park-like areas separating the structures. Actually it is contained in a city block with a grassy area in the center. The variety of materials--stone, mineral, and wood--boggles the mind, as does the thought that went into the design.
After a visit to the gift shop, we adjourned for lunch to the Wagon Wheel Cafe. Pam and John are on a quest for tenderloins, a delicacy not easily available in New Mexico, where they now live. The Wagon Wheel offerings nearly covered a plate and received very good reviews. Butch opted for the brat and cowboy beans while I had an excellent grilled chicken wrap.
By the time they dropped us off at the campground, we were ready for naps and later made do with sandwiches for supper after our big lunch. Pam and John returned after supper. as well as classmate Carole and her husband Marv. From 7-9, our area was pretty well shaded and there was a breeze. But at 9:00, the breeze died and out came those little black hard shell bugs that bite. The rest tore off for town while we escaped into the camper.
Actually, things are less green after several weeks of intense heat and no rain but it's the sentiment that counts. We are back in my home stomping grounds for the county fair and visits with a few classmates. Our journey up here on Wednesday was through some very threatening weather but we made it safely and got set up in some nasty heat.
It was warm enough to discourage me from cooking and we arranged to meet a classmate and her husband for supper in town. They live in New Mexico so our visits are very sporadic.
Thursday morning saw a few pleasant breezes but by noon the nineties were back in full force. We had already decided that it would be too warm for us at the fair and that some constructive indoor activities were called for. One of those activities was a nap, but before that, how about a pedicure? An online search revealed that at least five or six places offered such services.
We began with a local barber shop. The proprietor and a customer who were just chewing the fat when I walked in got a huge laugh when I asked about pedicures. The owner was astounded when I told him that his name comes up on a Google search. I explained that I was just visiting but had lived here years ago. They immediately wanted to know if I remembered if Russ' Barber Shop had a shoeshine stand. I replied that girls didn't frequent barber shops back in that day and left to continue my search.
Four more stops resulted in two closed establishments and two requiring appointments at least a couple of weeks out. We gave up and hit the local Fareway for a couple of necessities.
We returned to town in the afternoon to a sports bar with the British Open on TV. (We have no reception in the campground.) A light supper, another visit with friends, and a beautiful evening sky finished the day.
Wait ten minutes. That's an old saying in Iowa, and I'm sure plenty of other places. I recently got my first smart phone, mainly so we would have access to weather radar and GPS when we travel without using our Hotspot. Last Wednesday, the day before the Fourth, we took off with our camper for Johnson-Sauk State Park near Kewanee, IL--about two hours away. Nothing on the radar. Temperature in the high 80s.
Right after we crossed the Mississippi and were circling the Quad Cities, we hit a torrential downpour. That's even what they called it on the local radio station: torrential. Visibility was so bad that we pulled off twice. That is not something I have ever seen my husband do. The temperature dropped from 92 to 69 in a matter of minutes. Still nothing on the radar.
We finally drove out of it into bright sun and the temp soared back to 88. As we neared our exit on I-80, we could see very black clouds to the southwest. Some rain in the distance on the radar but nothing close. As we drove in the park, another downpour hit and the temperature dropped to the 70s. The picture above was taken as we sat for almost a half hour, ironically waiting to fill our water tank.
The next three days were hot, humid, partly sunny with a constant threat of storms. Thursday, July 4, our son and his two children came out from Kewanee and we planned to grill pork loin chops over the fire to have with our fresh sweet corn. First, the fire ring on our site had apparently not been cleaned out in several years, and then shortly after the cooking started, a shower threatened the fire and emergency measures had to be taken. The finished meal was moved inside for the actual eating. Elliot was sure if he had one more kayak paddle, he could build a teepee to shelter the fire.
Otherwise, they would look at the forecasts and never leave home. We arrived Friday at West Overlook Campground on Coralville Lake only about 30 miles from home. The forecast for Friday (the first day of summer) was midday heavy rain and possible severe storms that evening. We waited until after the rain to travel and set up. Due to the wind and chill, our group decided to head for pizza in Iowa City. But we did manage ice cream and cake outside later at the campground.
Saturday dawned with more rain, which was forecast to continue all day. However, the rain stopped by mid-morning and in the afternoon we attended the open house for the U of I Air Care equipment---Butch hates to pass up anything flying. By evening we enjoyed supper outdoors and a beautiful sunset.
A beautiful day in the park yesterday, and we took advantage of that to do some exploring. One of the most popular attractions is Horse Thief Cave--so named because two horse thieves used the cave as their base in the pre-park days. And they were not the first to use it. When the land was being turned into a park, workers found the remains of nine 4000-year-old human skeletons in the cave.
Running through the park is a sweet stream called Dutch Creek. There are several picnic areas along the creek and arched bridges cross it, built by those prisoners years ago.
Hale bridge, an 1879 iron bridge over the Wapsipinicon is on the National Historic Register. We also took a drive over to Stone City in Grant Wood territory. We finished off the day with a fine feast and campfire. As I mentioned before, the campground is desperately in need of refurbishing. It has probably the worst shower house I've seen, which is a detriment especially to all of the tent sites available. But the park is well worth a visit.
Not us, but the people who built this place. Wapsipinicon State Park, just outside Anamosa, Iowa, has a unique history. It was created when citizens of Anamosa, concerned about logging on this beautiful piece of land, raised money in 1921 to purchase about 180 acres and donate it to the state to create a park. It has about doubled in size since then with interesting trails and caves which we intend to explore today. During the Thirties, when a number of Iowa's parks were being improved by the Civilian Conservation Corps, prisoners from the state penitentiary in Anamosa built the roads, bridges, and shelters at Wapsipinicon.
This was a spur-of-the-moment trip when our camping friends decided to camp here this week because of a granddaughter's softball tournament tomorrow. Although the campground is small, there were plenty of spots available. This is no doubt because the campsites are desperately in need of improvement. Level is not a word used on any of the site descriptions on the state park website. There was much gnashing of teeth yesterday as we tried to achieve that condition with blocks, jacks, etc.--not totally successful. Roger Rabbit was here to greet us and supervise, although I'm sure he was thinking if we were content to dig a burrow in the ground, we wouldn't have to worry about all of that leveling stuff.
The scenery is beautiful and one would hope as the centennial of the park approaches, the legislature would release the funds necessary to improve the campground. The Ranger tells us that there was $30,000 designated last year for such work but it was snatched back before it could be used.
Some random thoughts about writing, camping, and eating.