Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Road Trip Part 4, Family visits: September 20-28, 2020

From Ely, Minnesota, we drove south toward Lake Superior continuing through Wisconsin and Illinois to Columbus, Ohio, to visit my first great niece. Aurora Amador was born to Brittany and Anthony on September 6, 2020, which was also the day after her mother worked her last day. 

It took us two long days of driving to get to Aurora's house from Ely. Along the way we drove through Finland (Minnesota) and stopped at Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior.

1909 Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior
Our car's GPS had quite a few "senior moments" going through Ohio, but finally we arrived. We spent all of the next day with Brittany and Aurora and my brother Leonard and his spouse Kristin (Brittany's parents) who had arrived in Ohio just a few days before. Because of all the Covid-19 restrictions, we haven't visited with Leonard and Kristin for months. We haven't seen Brittany and Anthony since sometime last year. We wore masks because of all the places we'd recently visited.

The Amadors (photo borrowed)
The next day we stopped in to say our goodbyes and drove south again this time to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky because it was on the way to our planned family visit in Arkansas.

Mammoth Cave NP was a good place to catch our breath after all the driving. We walked every trail--none of them are very long and visited Mammoth Cave. 

We saw several deer on our trail walks. The woods has some really large trees, but the vegetation was so monotonously green despite having both conifer and deciduous trees.

Because of Covid-19 there are no ranger-led tours of the cave. The park service did have rangers spread out along the walking route to explain key aspects of what we were seeing.

Because the dinner restaurant at the park was closed, we drove to nearby towns to have dinner. We stayed in Mammoth Cave Lodge's perfectly comfortable Sunset Terrace building. Pre and post Covid-19 a visit to the park would have been more interesting with many more cave exploration possibilities. Also, they will once again have a lantern tour of Mammoth Cave that sounded very cool.

After our Mammoth Cave interlude, we made the long drive to Rogers, Arkansas, to visit with my Aunt Bessie and Uncle Bob. Bessie is my mother's sister. In the 1990s we visited Bessie and Bob while they were working in Papua New Guinea. Now, they live in the town where Walmart began. We got on the road early and arrived in Rogers in time to enjoy a wonderful meal together at the River Grille.

The next day, my cousin Wayne and my cousin Paul and his spouse Amy arrived for a visit.

Amy, Paul, me, Dan, Wayne
Paul, me, and Wayne
Our next family visit was a big detour south to Plano, Texas, to have a meal with my niece Christine and her husband Bill. It was last minute because our reason for returning to California by October 1 had vanished allowing us to keep traveling a few more days. At Christine's suggestion, Dan and I got tickets to the Dallas Arboretum to see their Autumn show. We love gardens so that was a perfect way for us to fill the time until dinner. The gardens were extraordinary and the pumpkin installations were creative and fun. Even though we were in an outdoor garden, masks were required for everyone at all times.

Quinceañera photos
The Dallas Arboretum provides a beautiful backdrop for quinceañera photos. We saw lots of beautiful young women in gorgeous gowns surrounded by photographers.

Squares drawn on the grass to keep groups separate
Bill and Christine at Mexican Sugar Restaurant
Despite pandemic worries and masks, it was really nice to visit, however brief, with people we love.

The next day was another early morning for a long drive to overnight in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Next stop: Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Road Trip Part 3, Canoeing the Boundary Waters, Ely, Minnesota: September 13-19, 2020

The First Portage

We arrived in Ely on Saturday afternoon September 12. In Ely, most indoor dining is closed, but we had an amazing gourmet dinner at Insula Restaurant. We enjoyed our to-go meal at their outside picnic table and they even supplied metal flatware and wine glasses. On Sunday morning we met David, our canoe guide, for a canoeing lesson. The weather was perfect and he was a very patient teacher. Later in the day our other canoe team members arrived and we met up at Piragis Outfitting to gather our equipment and discuss details of our trip. 

The five night-6 day camping/canoe trip officially began Monday morning September 14. The other canoeing members are Gary (Dan's cousin), Janie (Gary's spouse), Matt (Janie's brother) and his spouse Cathy. They are all experienced canoeists.

With Dave's guidance, we got the hang of paddling. We weren't particularly fast, but we managed. Of course, having Dave in our canoe lowered our paddling handicap. What we weren't familiar with was portaging with heavy packs. The boundary waters are a series of lakes separated by land which means that you must find the portage trail, unload the canoe, load the packs and other stuff onto your backs, and carry the canoe down/up the trail to the water. Again, we had Dave and he carried the canoe and often carried a gear or food pack, too. The portage distances for our trip ranged from 25 yards to 3/4 mile.

One of the causes of Portaging
Dan carrying a gear pack and Dave who carried the canoe and pack

Dan's pack has the tent, 2 sleeping bags, 2 folding camp chairs, 2 pillows, 2 pads, and his personal items. I carried a similar sized pack with some of our food supplies. Each time the packs had to be carried, I wished that we'd chosen more dehydrated foods instead of fruits, vegetables, and our first night steaks.

Another cause of portages is beavers as they like to build dams across the waterways. The first dam we confronted had a 3-foot difference in water levels. They were very busy beavers.

Our first night I was awakened by the howls of wolves which was both eerie and exciting. On our last night, we were bid a loud goodnight by a barred owl. During the week I saw Painted turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, sage grouse, Canada geese, Trumpeter swans, bald eagles, baby beavers running away, and a lovely mink. We did not see moose or bears.

Our first morning on the Boundary Waters

Photo by Gary Golding

Photo by Gary Golding

Breakfast the first morning-Photo by Gary Golding

That first morning two trumpeter swans trumpeted like a blaring bus horn as they landed not far from our campsite. We saw quite a few family groups of trumpeter swans during our week.

Trumpeter Swan Family

A Gaggle of Canada Geese

Beaver Lodge

Portage scenes:

Because setting up camp and taking it back down to move on is so time consuming, we decided to spend two nights at a campsite before moving on. That choice allowed us to spend more time on the water exploring other parts of the Boundary Waters. One trip took us briefly into international waters as we inadvertently strayed into Canadian Waters. Overcast skies kept the Canadian patrol drones from flying that day. On that trip we visited Curtain Falls. One side is in the US while the other side of the fall is in Canada.

Boundary marker on the US side

Looking at Canada across Curtain Falls

Our weather was dry and mostly temperate except for two nights (our 3rd and 4th) when the temperatures dipped into the mid-20s. Dan had a zero-degree rated sleeping bag and mine was rated to 20 degrees. Those nights we both slept with hats and lots of layers and still slept cold. 

Our tent with a view (second campsite)

After our first cold night, we woke to find that our waterproof socks were frozen as was everything else that was outside the tent.

Because the lake water was warmer than the air temperature, we had "sea smoke" or in this case lake smoke as the sun came up and a trumpeter swan family swam past.

After thawing out and having breakfast, we paddled to another lake for lunch and pictographs. It took a while, but we found a pictograph almost camouflaged on a lichen covered rock face.

As the day warmed, conditions were beautifully warm and clear which meant the next night was also below freezing. This time I looked forward to photographing the rising steam caused by the temperature differential.

Dave, Dan, and frozen dishes

Much of the area we paddled had wild rice growing along the shorelines. Most of the seeds had long been harvested by the trumpeter swans leaving only the stalks behind.

Wild Rice Stalks

Enjoying the late sun on our last night

The last Sunrise on the Boundary Waters

Our group

We paddled and portaged back to the spot we began at 6 days ago. This time we were paddling against the current in the narrower waterways. The busy beaver had been even busier since we last portaged around its dam.

Painted Turtle sunning itself

A little more fall color

The Last Portage

Our trip was really good. Our fellow paddlers asked if we were up for doing another canoe trip again. If Dave was in our canoe again, sure thing! We were canoe novices, and Dave made everything easier for us. If we do canoe/camp again, I would still take my camera and two lenses; I would take far less clothing and choose dehydrated (not the dehydrated Pad Thai-it was awful) over fresh food. Those packs were heavy.

Back at the outfitter, Gary's cell phone connected to the internet and this is when we found out that RBG died the night before. Her body wasn't even cold and President Trump was already searching for her replacement. After being away from all news for 6 days, we were suddenly plunged into the awful reality of our country’s polarized politics. I had hoped the de-stressed, wilderness glow would last a little longer. Besides being sad about the passing of a hero, my first thought was the words uttered by Joseph Welch during the McCarthy hearings in 1954, "have you no sense of decency, sir?" Obviously no!

The last morning, we grabbed some hot drinks and breakfast at Front Porch before continuing our road trip. A faint scent of smoke was in the air and the sun was lightly veiled. This smoke was coming from Montana fires.

View of Ely at Sunrise

Next stop: Columbus, Ohio