Detroit to Steamboat Springs, CO, 8/1 to 8/14, 2017

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August 15th 2017
Published: August 16th 2017
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We enjoyed time with our friends who live south of Ann Arbor, then headed to Chicago where we had a Lollapalooza of a time. Pleasant drives through Iowa and Nebraska, and Wyoming in time for John's birthday on 8/11. We drove through the Snowy Mountain Range, then down into Colorado. We stayed on the road which goes through the Poudre Canyon, and wound our way to Fort Collins for an excellent visit with John's cousin Donald and his wife Nancy. Now we have arrived in Steamboat Springs for a couple of nights. We'll head on to Leadville tomorrow, then four days in SALIDA with daughter Susie and Brady and little Eliza. We'll be south of optimal eclipse viewing on August 21, but we will be heading up in the right direction anyway, toward western Wyoming.


Our friends Chuck and Joni spend about half the year in Florida, but they have a wonderful small house on a lake, Pleasant Lake of all appropriate names, near one of their daughters, in countryside south of Ann Arbor, MI. The roads were series of right angle turns at the corners of corn fields. We always enjoy very much hanging out with them. I was embarrassed to be so totally incompetent at the game of corn hole, and only slightly better at shuffleboard on their lawn. ( I'd love to clone their house and lake for us in NH.) By the way, I discovered an outstanding used book store, Lowry's, in Three Rivers, MI, as we headed on west.

We tried to reserve a spot in Indiana where we had stayed twice before, near the train into Chicago, but it was full, so we had our first stay at a Yogi Bear Jellystone Campground. We really hope that the others in the chain are much nicer... But we discovered that it was Lollapalooza weekend in Chicago, and that could explain the lack of sites. There were families on the train headed for a baseball game in Chicago, and oodles of young folks headed for the concerts. They were dressed for the hot weather (scantily) and doused with glitter. Fun!

We focused on the Art Institute for our Chicago touring. First we had a classy lunch there, sitting outside and gazing at the skyline. Then we spent hours exploring the museum, which is huge. Outside again, we enjoyed watching kids cavorting in the water spouted and rained from two giant cube objects. The mix of people - families, young people with the treasured concert entry bracelets, all nationalities - was wonderful. We walked by The Bean, which is such a fascinating sculpture, and it reflected the mobs gleefully.

We next drove northwest through Illinois to Galena, which once had a larger population than Chicago and was very wealthy because of lead mining. It is now quite touristy, but we did enjoy strolling through the downtown past shops, restaurants, and B and B's. The campground west of town was outstanding, with tiers for the RV's providing lovely views, pool, minigolf, campfires at night.

Our drive the next day through Iowa was lovely. In the first segment, the fields had alternating light and dark crops arranged in curves and swoops, and it looked to me as if they were dancing. Then things evened out and there were mainly massive corn fields. In a light wind, the corn tassels rippled like velvet, and embodied the song line "amber waves of grain." In western Iowa there are mobs of windmills.

And the next day, in Nebraska, we drove past and should have stopped at a windmill museum. An amazing variety of designs! There seemed to be few acres not planted in corn, but as we progressed into the Elkhorn Valley, the corn gave way to hay. There were bales as far as my eyes could see on either side of us. But we didn't see much cattle. I fear they were in feedlots, mercifully out of sight away from the highway.

There were many tiny towns, and many had signs to the town parks, inviting campers. Also, there were a huge number of pro-life billboards along the highway. We finally diagnosed the pains in my right leg as sciatica, and researched ways to deal with it, prime of which is "don't sit for long periods." ha, ha.

We spent that night five miles north of Valentine, Nebraska, almost into South Dakota, on a hill ridge. Lovely breeze and views. The campground hostess said that despite the dark skies, it wouldn't rain, that it had only rained 1" all summer. But it did, torrentially, and we probably got half an inch!

The next morning was one of my favorite events so far. We went out to breakfast at The Bunkhouse in Valentine. In the parking lot, there were nothing but pickup trucks. And inside, I was the only female other than the waitresses. Several men were seated at each table, chatting more than eating. They were mostly about our age, and looked to me like nice, prosperous ranchers. They all wore jeans, some wore boots, and all the older guys wore the same type of hat, shaped like a cowboy hat but made of light-colored straw. (The younger guys wore baseball caps.) Whenever we are in a place where people look real, rather than like tourists, it is pleasing.

Soon after we left Valentine, we crossed into the Mountain Time Zone. We had a booklet with glowing descriptions of the little towns we passed through, but their words seemed to be stretched. We entered the Sandhills, which are grass-covered dunes occupying a major part of Nebraska. Occasionally, we saw grazing cattle amid the mostly barren, but pretty somehow, scene. After awhile, there were pines, more hills, farmland again. We stopped in the moderate size town of Chadron for coffee, and to my amazement, right across the street was a large nail salon, which was a much-needed visit for me. I then discovered Swedish visiting cake at the coffee shop, and John managed to track down a college classmate's address in Alaska through his brother who worked at the Trappers and Fur Traders Museum outside of town.

We spent that night at a campground in Gering, Nebraska, near Scottsbluff NE, which is on the Oregon and Mormon Trails. We had a perfect view of the bluff which posed a challenge for the settlers headed west. The next morning John hiked up to the top of the bluff from the Visitors Center which had an excellent film and display about the area.

And then on to Wyoming, where the roads were suddenly excellent. We saw oil wells along the highway. We drove through downtown Cheyenne to a Pilot gas station to fill up. While there, we were assaulted by a huge thunderstorm. Motorcyclists headed south from the Sturgis, SD, Motorcycle Rally, a huge annual event, arrived drenched. The rain finally tapered off and we left for Laramie. Along the way, John wanted to detour to see the Vedauwoo Rocks, which are a cluster of odd geologic formations known for their popularity with climbers. We found ourselves in dense fog, but drove in and discovered that there was a perfectly adequate campground, so we decided to stay there. (When we have no hookups, we still have overhead lights, water in our tanks, a stovetop for cooking with propane, so it works fine.)

In the morning, the sky was clear and sunny, and we walked near but not up the rocks. On to a rest area at 8640' elevation, and then into Laramie which we thought was a pretty neat place. (We have a general fondness for college towns, anyway.) We had coffee at a shop with tattooed yet hardy looking kids. John watched trains in that major railroad hub.

He had been eager to drive through the Snowy Range. I'm always leary about his plans in mountains, but this drive, although to 10847', was very pleasant. There were plenty of viewing spots, picnic areas, lakes, campgrounds, and frequent pulloffs for slower vehicles. One sad feature, however, was the massive amount of logging in progress, clearing out the trees killed by the pine beetle.

Once through, we reserved the last spot at a campground in Riverside, Wyoming, and settled in there. We were next to the Encampment River, and the setting reminded me of our campground in Salida next to the Arkansas River. Since it was John's birthday, we thought it would be nice to eat out, but we were in a very sparsely developed area. But the campground hostess heartily recommended an Italian restaurant, Bella's, which is in Saratoga, a mere 18 miles north of us. Attitudes about distances out here are quite different than back east. When he reserved a spot, John was asked if it was a special occasion and he admitted that it was his birthday, although they're getting kind of old. Off we went and found a very sophisticated and delicious menu. John was greeted with a single bright red rose, and a card signed by all the employees. A neat idea. And later we enjoyed a free dessert. We had planned to take the rest of our bottle of wine back to the RV, but it somehow turned out to be empty. We wished we had known to bring our bathing suits to Saratoga, because there is a 24/7 free community hot tub in town.

Our route the next day took us into Colorado and some tiny towns. Finally we got to a somewhat larger town, Walden. There we discovered that our frequent travel luck with serendipity had eluded us this time: there was a Moose Festival and no camp sites for us. We tried to phone a campground 20 miles east of town, but couldn't get through. So we took a chance and drove to it, only to be told that there were no sites available for RV's. I was nervous about heading farther to a national forest camp site, where our large beast might not fit. Charmer John came to the rescue and wheedled a tent site for us. It was fine, and quite fun to be surrounded by young hikers and bicyclists in their tents.

Next morning, we headed on eastward to another of John's "goals," the Cache la Poudre. The climb to Cameron Pass was not a problem, not even the mama moose and her baby who sauntered across the road in front of us. But the road along the Poudre River seemed to wind on forever. Very scenic, but especially on the return journey, it got old after 50 miles or so. We finally reached Fort Collins and found our way to the home of John's cousin Donald and his wife Nancy. There was a big West Fest in town that day, but we had chosen to just visit and have lunch instead of attending that. We gabbed plenty and had a very pleasant lunch on a patio at a golf course. We really think that Fort Collins is a wonderful city.

We had to drive back to Walden the next day to pick up the road to Steamboat Springs. That was an uneventful ride until we reached the Rabbit Ears Pass and then plunged down into the city. The vista from near the top was spectacular, a wide valley dotted with homes, with extensive ski slopes on the surrounding mountains. We made our way to a visitors center and a grocery store and then a KOA campground not far west of town. Our laundry baskets were getting nearly too heavy to lift, so we did laundry in the afternoon. In the evening, we drove back into town and walked along the main street past shops and restaurants, which are decked out in the white lights I like so much. We encountered a gathering of people with candles and signs about love and acceptance and welcome to all. They gave me a little LED candle, and I will treasure it.


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