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!
Some random thoughts about writing, camping, and eating.