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.
Return to the Scene
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.
Some random thoughts about writing, camping, and eating.