So after three weeks, Agatha and I are back on the road again. So far, the power issue seems to be fixed and, like the hardy pioneers that we are, we are able to keep our phones, Kindles, and computers charged. My friend Ginge and I are at George Wyth State Park near Cedar Falls for a weekend with the Midwest Glampers. Thursday night was a beautiful, cool evening with a lovely sunset through the trees to our west. We enjoyed a quick supper of brats, sweet potatoes, and melon and a campfire with the group to polish off the evening.
George Wyth has lots of great trails, both biking and walking. Friday morning, a group of us did a couple of miles on one set of trails, only getting lost once or twice. We came across a bird-watching area and enjoyed the woods but didn't see much wildlife.
Late afternoon found us carpooling to Three Pines Farm, about 15 minutes away. This fifth generation farm offers folk school classes in everything from photography to sourdough bread making, goat and piglet yoga, and incredible homemade ice cream sandwiches. We made the acquaintance of Leonard the Llama, Lola the pig and Glen the goat (who seems to be in trouble most of the time.) The old barn has been restored as a meeting and event venue. The ice cream sandwiches, made from homemade ice cream between lacy homemade cookies featured mint chocolate chip, vanilla, lemon, or two butter bourbon ice cream. Fantastic. Kara, the owner, filled us in on the history of the farm. We finished off the evening with a great potluck and campfire.
Today will be a full day also. Brunch and shopping at Barn Happy and then Artapalooza in down town Cedar Falls. A special treat is in store for supper. Lydia's husband Ali is going to fix us a Middle Eastern dinner. The only fly in the ointment so to speak has been a mosquito and his five million best friends.
I spent five days in another internet desert. A little better than Lake Darling, but not much. A good sized group has been making the trek to Howell Station at Red Rock Lake for several years in August. Several of the group journey up to State Fair, some to watch grandchildren show cattle; some just to enjoy the fair. But the campground is awesome. Sites are well-spaced out and the trees haven't felt the ravages of the ash bore or the derecho as much as many Iowa Parks.
It has become tradition to make at least one trek into Pella: to the bakeries and meat market and of course the quilt shop. Possibly the quilt shop owner trades cars or books a vacation after our stop there. They do pretty well at the bakery, too.
Because we like to eat, as you may have gathered from previous blogs, one of the traditional breakfasts is French toast from the bakery cinnamon bread topped by Tom's 'heart attack syrup'. This year was a little different twist on the syrup but yummy all the same. Evening meals included burgers, pulled pork and smoked meat loaf. And one dessert per meal is never enough.
There were biking, hiking, table games, and campfires. All in all, a great week. The fly in the ointment came when the great weather turned a little more humid on the last afternoon. I turner on the camper A/C in the afternoon and shortly after the power to the whole camper went out. We tried all of the usual fixes but I opened the windows, slept through the night, and left for home without coffee or hot water for dishes. Such hardships.
So I made Agatha and appointment and she is currently being treated for a faulty transfer switch. Meanwhile, my car had to have brakes repaired. I'm thinking about a horse and buggy.
I also debated about calling this entry "Detour" or "How I Found 151." This was not about camping, but rather a quick trip in my car to Appleton for a cousin's wedding. He is the youngest of my cousins and the director of bands at Lawrence University, so I had high hopes for the music at the ceremony. I was not disappointed, but at the same time immensely surprised. More about that later.
The journey began Friday morning up 151 through Anamosa , Dubuque, and southwestern Wisconsin. Light traffic, beautiful scenery, easy peasy. Then 151 rambles around the south and east side of Madison, escaping through exits, leaping other roads, and evading logic like a cross between a badger and a chameleon. Finally I emerged on the north side, headed to Oshkosh and Appleton. The road shrunk to two lanes and traffic suddenly slowed to a crawl behind a tractor and wagon. There were several cars ahead of me and two behind, followed by a semi. We plodded along at 20 mph for a few minutes until the semi decided to try and pass the whole line in a tight no passing zone. A cacophony of honks drove him back in line until we got to a hill with a passing lane. The tractor pulled over and the cars ahead of me began to pull ahead, but it wasn't fast enough for the semi. He pulled to the right lane and managed to squeeze back in line a couple of cars ahead of me, causing a screeching of brakes and more horns. As these things usually happen, miles later when I reached Oshkosh, he was still less than a quarter of a mile ahead of me so he didn't gain much.
I decided that coming home on Saturday, I would do whatever necessary to avoid Madison. The problem is that 75% of the roads in Wisconsin are under construction and the other 25% are detours. After a very convoluted route I could never repeat, I finally reached the little country church pictured and 151 WEST of Madison. I won't tell you how long it took me to make the 4 1/2 hour journey home.
However, on Friday, I reached my hotel in time to have a short visit with my sister and brother-in-law from Georgia, shower, and head to the wedding. It was being held in the backyard at my cousin's home in the little town of Sherwood about a half hour drive. This is a second marriage for Andy and his bride, Kelly. The lawn was punctuated by lovely old trees and edged with landscaped areas. The weather couldn't have been better. A jazz trio of, I assume, some of Andy's students played soft background music as people milled around visiting.
And then the wedding began. As I said, I expected the music to be stellar but traditional--classical pieces. I did not expect the wedding part to dance down the aisle while the soloist sang I Think I Wanna Marry You! First, of course, the bridesmaids and groomsmen, the mother of the bride with her escorts (pictured) and then Andy dancing with his two grown children, Sam and Sophie. Finally, Kelly with her two children. The ceremony that followed included a couple of more traditional pieces by Sam and Sophie on the bassoon and harp and a trombone and bassoon duet by a couple of Andy's colleagues.
But the entertainment didn't end with the ceremony. After a delightful buffet, guests were treated to a bride and groom dance to Fly me to the Moon, ala Fred and Ginger, and a performance by the bride for her new husband with several friends to Today's Your Wedding Day. And of course, that old wedding classic, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, by Andy and his best man. And of course there was cake.
After what seemed like several weeks of hot Iowa summer weather, we finally caught a break last weekend--just in time for a planned five day trip with friends to an old favorite, Lake Darling. The others all had sites right on the lake shore. I however had grabbed a full hookup site up the hill on the next road. The weather cooperated beautifully with temps in the high 70s-low 80s and some high 50s at night.
The park features some great trails lined with late summer wildflowers. I got a long walk in Monday morning and a shorter one on Tuesday. Some rode bikes but I didn't take mine. Afternoons were busy with some serious bag tournaments ( awarding medals in honor of the Olympics) and table games.
The food of course was fantastic. One night we had an excellent pork loin, another chicken prepared two ways, and another smoked chicken wings. Salads, veggies and other accompaniments were outstanding. I believe I suffered from TMD--too much dessert. Zucchini cake, Oreo delight, peach pie and apple cobbler. But one can't be rude.
Campfires every evening took advantage of the great weather. We were entertained by the Tom and Ron comedy team with some far-fetched sounding stories of their wild youths on the farm. Followed by great sleeping, it was a pretty darn good week.
Ten years ago this month we camped here at Maquoketa Caves State Park a week or so before I retired. The visit inspired me to write Bats and Bones, a light mystery based on this park and including some of the antics that go on in a typical campground. In the decade since I have written 16 more books, 8 of them in the Frannie Shoemaker series.
This weekend, I am back here with the Midwest Glampers. Maquoketa Caves remains one of my favorite campground because of the shady sites and and the beautiful trails. It appears to have survived the derecho pretty well--at lest damage isn't obvious. And to be honest, we have never stumbled over any dead bodies here.
I have been languishing--to use the appropriate pandemic term--almost a month since my last camping trip. Agatha, as I wrote in my last blog, had power issues and spent several weeks at in an RV service department. The fix only took a day, but things are so backed up that it was this week before they could look at it. I picked it up Wednesday afternoon and made a hundred trips (remember, I write fiction) from the house to the camper putting back everything I had taken out of it so the repair people would have room to work. For example, much of the wiring is under the beds so the beds had to be stripped and the mattresses moved. I've forgotten a few things but after all, that's what camping friends are for.
This morning we did a little exploring of the caves, although the heat was getting prohibitive by the time it ended. Lunch and a nap were in order after that. Tonight I'll try some sweet corn on the grill.
This weekend, Book 8 of the Frannie series is free for Kindle. Frannie and Larry's adventures on the Michigan UP with a reality show being filmed in the campground: Real Actors, Not People.
This can be a good thing. We all need some time away and last weekend was one of those for me. I anticipated a few days at McIntosh Woods State Park in Clear Lake with my 'tribe'--the Midwest Glampers. Lots of activities were planned, such as a tour of the famed Surf Ballroom, music and food downtown, and a cruise on the Lady of the Lake. My friend Ginge went along and we took our time getting there, set up in a nice shady spot, enjoyed a pleasant supper (although we had to share with the flies) and afterwards met for a campfire with the other early arrivals.
Thursday morning, Ginge and I went for a long walk around the park. It was a warm but lovely day. We took some wildlife photos (including the fishermen) and managed not to get lost. But when we returned to the camper, things started to go south. We noticed the power was off. I turned everything off and checked the circuit breakers and the power at the post. One of our 'manpers' tried his power cord to see if that was the issue. No luck. The fridge had automatically switched to propane, but when I checked the control panel, it showed the propane almost empty.
I tried a local RV dealer in Mason City who was very unhelpful for the most part and said they don't do any service, but he did grudgingly give me the name of a propane dealer. The tank is built in to the coach, so after lunch we stowed everything loose, managed to bring the slide in on the house batteries, and drove to Mason City to get the propane filled.
The house batteries run the lights and the water pump. Thursday night we slept pretty well with the ceiling exhaust fan running in the bedroom but by Friday night, the house batteries were about dead.
Saturday morning a downpour started, but after several tries I got the generator fired up and ran it long enough to recharge the batteries, our phones, the hot spot, and my computer. Cooler weather made sleeping comfortable and we put the coffee pot on a table by the power post to plug it in. We reminded ourselves that the pioneers had it much rougher, but they didn't need to recharge everything. As one of the Glampers said, technology is wonderful until it doesn't work.
Meanwhile, none of that stopped the socializing and sightseeing. Thursday night we joined a large crowd in downtown Clear Lake for "Thursday on Main." Food trucks, craft vendors, and live music entertained the people, all hungry for a little taste of 'pre-Covid' life.
Friday morning, we did the Surf tour. I grew up in the area and have toured a couple of times, but it's always amazing to see the memorabilia from so many big names in music through the decades.
Lunch was at PM Park on the south side of the lake, an old Old Fellows camp. Dining was very pleasant in the shade but by the time we finished, it was too late for the Lady of the Lake cruise, so we returned to McIntosh Woods. Rain tried to dampen that night's potluck, but Glampers don't give up.
We crammed in an 'easy-up' tent at Sandy's campsite and an umbrella was used to hold up an awning. The meal was delicious and the company excellent. Saturday the downpour provided reading and nap time. After it stopped, most gathered for a book discussion of Stars over Clear Lake, led by Ginge, a former librarian. Another potluck, this time at Carol's site, followed by a campfire and a cowbell initiation of a new member ended a fine day.
All in all, a great weekend. I will have to say I appreciated plugging my coffee pot in inside this morning and turning on a faucet to get water.
The May gathering of the Iowa Midwest Glampers is taking place at Lake Anita State Park in western Iowa. I arrived Thursday evening about 5:30 in a downpour. The strange thing about this campground is that all three of the one way roads in the campground run the same way instead of alternating ways. The only option to go from one road to another is a loop that goes out of the campground a mile or so and back in the other end. I found my site on the lakeside road right away but sitting in the middle was my picnic table. I tried to drag it but couldn't budge it. Still raining hard by the way. So I made two more loops out and back through the campground to find the host site or a ranger.
I found the host and told him my plight. He went down and moved the table while I went back out on the loop and around to my road again. Finally got parked and hooked up, but immediately while I was getting some things out to warm up supper, dropped my container of coffee in the stairwell, spilling the whole thing. I am camping after all and couldn't let a little dirt interfere with my morning joe, so scooped enough up for that. I managed, hanging down into the well, to get the bulk of the rest up.
Yesterday went much better. The rain was scattered, but the wind was very insistent. It produced an interesting effect in the lake, pushing lily pads up vertically. I wondered if they might not be the tops of aliens' heads who were crouched in the lake waiting for us to go to bed so they could invade. But we managed to get in some visiting in spite of that threat and a propane run to Atlantic.
Evening brought a charcuterie board and wine tasting. All of the group contributed to a wonderful spread.
Today we made an excursion to Elk Horn, Iowa's Danish community. We visited the windmill, a woodworking shop, and several other interesting spots. By the time we were done, we had contributed mightily to the local economy and all of us had bought some Danish Kringle. Tonight, if the rain holds off, we have a potluck scheduled and tomorrow home again. If the aliens don't invade.
The last days of our trip featured an internet black hole for me so another delayed post. Before we left Johnson's Shutins, we spent part of a day at nearby Elephant Rocks State Park. This unusual spot features huge boulders millions of years old that do sort of resemble a parade of elephants. For years, the rock was quarried for streets and buildings in St. Louis. A fairly easy walk takes the visitor around the biggest concentration of stones, with stops by the quarry and an old depot. Many of the trees have wrapped themselves around the boulders.
Then we visited Pilot Knob, Civil War battlefield. In many tourist spots in this pandemic age, visitors centers are either closed or have hours limited to the weekends. But as we milled around, a volunteer came out and gave us a very precise account of the battle. The earthen foundations of Fort Davidson still stand with a small pond in the middle formed when the Federals blew up the ammunition dump before escaping into the night. A Confederate general on the side of the mountain heard the explosion but thought there would be time to check it out in the morning. Bad decision.
On Friday, we hit the winding roads and headed back north to Mark Twain Lake, this time to a campground on the North side--Indian Creek. My site left a little to be desired in the leveling department but was quite secluded in the trees. The next day, we paid the piper for a week of pretty good weather and endured a morning of steady rain. When it finally broke in the afternoon, we decided to get our usual evening campfire in early, and then retired to our respective abodes. All in all, a great week. Now for the laundry.
Tuesday morning, it was time to continue our week-long trip through Missouri. Johnson's Shut-ins is a state park south of St. Louis, so named because one of its main features is a rocky gorge in the East Fork of the Black River where huge boulders force the river into torrents and pools. GPS gave us several routes from Mark Twain Lake to Johnson's. The fastest skirted the east side of St. Louis, but since our caravan consisted of five RV units and we wanted to stay together as much as possible, we opted for a two lane route.
We made a stop about halfway in a Walmart parking lot, which offered space for all of us to maneuver and park. Lunch and other necessities out of the way, we continued on, deeper into the rugged hills of southern Missouri. Part of our route was the through a section of the Mark Twain National Forest where the scenery was gorgeous and the rumble strips performed admirably to keep Agatha on the straight and narrow.
Ken and Harriet led the train and as we neared our destination, Harriet's GPS offered the "O" road as the most direct route. We soon discovered that the "O" was as in "OMG." The road became narrower and then gravel, punctuated by concrete dips to allow the water to run over the road and signs warning of high water areas and flash flooding. But, pioneers that we are, we made it.
The campground is fairly new because it was moved up the mountainside and rebuilt after a breach in the Taum Sauk reservoir sent 1.3 billion gallons of water cascading through the gorge, destroying much of the park facilities, in late 2005. No one was manning the checkin when we arrived so we were unable to get a campground map. We finally located our sites, but unlike Mark Twain Lake where we were lined up in a row, this time we are scattered through two loops. The sites are level but very wooded, so after set up it took some time to locate the others.
Yesterday morning, Letha served a lumberjack breakfast and we organized a trip to the Shut-ins. A beautiful hike along a paved path and boardwalk led to spectacular views. Up a long flight of stairs, platforms gave us even more vistas and a look at the turquoise pool at the bottom of the shut-ins. After a stop at the Visitors' Center and a couple of short excursions, I welcomed a short nap back at my camper.
We have absolutely no phone reception here so this morning I will go to the campground store where there is WiFi, post this blog, and check messages. Later we will take in Elephant Rocks State Park a few miles away and a couple of other scenic hikes. No rest for the retired!
A week long trip to Missouri started out as a potential disaster for me. No, I didn't have a blowout or break down along the road or get accosted by Jesse James' Gang. The bad news came when we stopped for gas and I realized I left my billfold at home. With of course my license, debit and credit cards, and cash. Fortunately, my in-laws took pity on me and by the time we get back, I will probably have to turn over the deed to the house, but at least I didn't have to turn around and go back home.
We (four couples and myself) are at Ray Behrens campground at Mark Twain Lake. We did have a little difficulty upon arrival because the roads are not marked with the site numbers. When our caravan ended up filling a small loop, one of the campground hosts snagged us and tried to straighten us out. We do-si-doed back out of there, and after a couple of more wrong turns, found our sites. Mine is a nice, level, VERY long and narrow strip of asphalt. I managed the back-in with only a few (Well, maybe more than a few) corrections. Syd and Ken cooked the perfect camping meal for supper: burgers and brats, macaroni salad, beans, and of course dessert. Afterwards, a perfect campfire with smoke going straight up--for about 5 minutes until someone mentioned it. Then it swirled around, throwing us into a game of musical chairs.
This morning we decided to go for a 'little walk.' Since we didn't have a Sacajawea type scout, we did a little wandering, to the tune of about 3 1/2 miles. It didn't help that Harriet kept singing about a "three-hour tour." But we figured out where we were when we returned to a signpost that the carver had labeled 'Scout Trial'. That mispelling only seemed to be on one post. It was very beautiful with lots of interesting mosses and wildflowers. Now for a nap.
Some random thoughts about writing, camping, and eating.