Nordhouse Dunes, Part II

Our camping trip to Nordhouse Dunes was divided into two distinct segments.  John and I arrived on Wednesday, established camp, and did our usual hike/bike/read/relax thing.  So wonderful just to park our fat butts and do nothing.  On Sunday, everything changed.  John escaped to head farther north with three buddies to tent camp and bike for five days.  Yea!  Jezzy and I get the Fireball all to ourselves for the first time!

Caroline towed her Camp Inn teardrop trailer up to join us for a few days.  With her mountain bike perched on the car rooftop, she made a splashy entrance into the campground, and he snazzy rig was the object of many envious glances all week.20140720_164415 Everyone wanted to peer in the window, and check out her amazing clamshell kitchen.  With a tongue-and-groove hatch, and stainless countertop, it’s a camping machine. 20140720_164052 She and Greg have thousands of miles on it in the five years (or so) they’ve owned it, including a three month trip to Alaska.

Caroline and I solidified our friendship years ago on bicycles.  We’ve traveled on bikes to Spain and New Zealand, and at least six states.  Riding the beautiful wooded trails and gravel roads in NW Michigan was our goal, and we made the best of it. 20140722_094740 Gravel and sand, sunny and shady, we spent three terrific days on our bikes, precariously riding beyond our capabilities at times.  What a hoot.  Lots of great sights on lightly traveled roads/trails.20140722_10372620140722_104116

On one of the trails near the campground one day, we happened upon two hikers.  One of them had picked up a ‘hitchhiker’ on her shoe.20140722_093055

Great food.  Happy campers.20140726_07545320140720_174016

Did I mention that I finished four books in 10 days?  (one was 700+ pages).  Bliss…..

Caroline had to leave after a few days, so Jezzy and I had a bachelorette pad for three days of our own.  Lucky Jezzy had endless hours on the the leash, with me catering to every whim of sniffing this leaf and that stick.  What I didn’t cover on two wheels, I walked with Jezzy.

One interesting sight in camp involved a large motorhome, in which lived two adults and three enormous dogs.  20140722_115001These folks actually had to run their generator in order to power their dog’s blow-dryer.  Not sure how I feel about that (but the dogs were adorable – a Newfie and two Leonbergers.)  We were pleased to be able to keep the Fireball powered up for 10 days with our 120W solar system, despite the challenges of a VERY shady site.

John was finally delivered back to camp by his friends, after five wonderful days in Empire.  Great cycling in the area of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.  Most beautiful area in Michigan.

Now we’re back home, and find that we’ve got mutant squirrels living nearby.  I thought I had spotted an albino squirrel one day while walking with Jezzy.  Not albino, just squirrels with white tails!  Gary Busey has kind of a mangy tail, and is easy to spot.20140730_123203 Farrah Fawcett has a huge, fluffy tail.20140730_123239 There are two more, but this is the first time I’ve seen any two together.

Should be an interesting weekend coming up, as we’re heading out in the Fireball.  Going to crew for a bunch of crazy cyclists riding 100 miles of dirt roads and two-tracks on The Night Shift.



Kickin’ Around

It’s just odd to be home.  Amazed at how quickly we fall into our routines and habits.  Instead of arising with plans for hikes and exploration of new places, we’re faced with a daunting list of mundane household tasks and repairs.  This is real life, not the fantasy Fireball fairyland (do I sound a bit like Spiro Agnew?) to which we became accustomed to.

One of the first things we’ve done is fill up our cycling calendar.  John has two weeklong camping/cycling trips planned with the boys, and I’ve got one planned with my best cycling pal Caroline.  I’ve somehow found that I’ve got volunteer gigs planned for four bike events.

One of the first things on the list was the Ride Around Kent County.  This 145 mile bike event is one John started about five years ago as a training ride for the National 24 Hour Challenge.  He stepped away from leading the ride, as we weren’t sure if we would even be home in time for the event.  When it became evident that we would indeed be home, I (crazily) volunteered to make the traditional RAKCwich for the cyclists’ lunch.  So, on a very chilly Friday afternoon, we found ourselves up to our elbows in sandwich assembly on our deck. Jezzy kept a very watchful eye on every movement.20140516_12505920140516_134932 The RAKCwich is shredded rotisserie chicken (Costco has the plumpest, best ones), organic greens, Havarti cheese, and sliced apples on a bakery bun.  Tomatoes and condiments on the side.20140516_134914  In case you’re wondering, 100 sandwiches require 14 chickens.  It was a long day…..and it will be a while before chicken is on the menu around here.

Yard work continues.  We had a bumper crop of maple seedings hatch in our absence.  Seems like the abundance of snow kept all the unraked maple whirligigs moist enough to hatch.  While we can simply mow and re-mow the ones in the yard away, the ones in the perimeter bed need to be pulled up one by one.  Sunday, I finally finished – pulled about 3000 seedings. Before…..20140518_111458 (I know because I counted the first 1000, then roughly measured volume!).  After…20140518_141431Now I can finally plant my tomatoes, and get some new perennials and annuals in the ground.

The city streets in Grand Rapids really took a pounding this winter.  Riding a bike to run errands has become a danger-filled obstacle course.  In many spots, there are simply holes, threaded together with thin strands of pavement.  This is the main street nearest our house – cars and buses are all fighting me for a path though this mess.20140512_141423 I realize that it will get better, but it sure can take the fun out of a bike ride.

Some of you may remember the post from our stay at Antelope Island State Park in Salt Lake City.  We were approached by folks who wanted to use the Fireball as a backdrop for their book catalog.  We agreed, and here is the result.  We have to laugh at the books selected, but not only is the Fireball in the photo, they also used our CampChef Everest stove as a backdrop.  Hope we are not permanently on the mailing list for catalogs!


My sister showed up yesterday with an unexpected treat.  For the past few years, they’ve had morels pop up in their back yard.  She graciously turns them over to me.  Sisters are the best!20140521_195141After seeing everybody’s trailers at the Blue Ridge Rally, I decided that the Fireball needed a bit of sprucing up.  First step?  Recovering the dinette cushions.  I picked out fabric, found an old friend to do the sewing work for me, and loaded the cushions up on my touring bike to deliver them to her.  Can’t wait to see the results.  This is Step 1.20140520_101755Getting on the Oral Surgeon’s schedule for my fun-filled summer dental work has been accomplished.  It will be a huge relief to get this started – and finished.





History Lesson at Chaco Canyon

First, some unfinished business from Bayfield, CO.  When we walked by the National Forest Service office there, we noticed an enormous Smoky the Bear tree stump carving.  Too good to let it pass without a photo.  It was beautiful – no info on how old it was.20140405_164248

Onward to Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  The Chacoan complex was a major center of Puebloan culture for about 300 years, beginning in the mid-800s.20140407_114704 Both Navaho and Hopi today are descendants of the early Chacoans. Many smaller pueblo villages are contained in the valley, most buried beneath centuries of sand and desert growth.20140407_112933 But, most of the attention is centered around the great houses, enormous pueblos with hundreds of rooms, perhaps home to up to 2000 inhabitants.20140408_135831 Pueblo Bonito is the largest and oldest of these – at least four stories high, with over 600 rooms. 20140407_14571120140407_144912 20140407_111021So much is unknown about the function and use of the various areas of the great houses.20140408_11052220140407_105003

That Chaco Canyon structures were built 1000-1200 years ago and are still standing to a large part, is mind-boggling. Repairs and some limited reinforcements are ongoing.20140408_140435 Pueblo Bonita, the largest of the Chaco great houses, was the largest structure in the United States until the 1880s, when it was surpassed by an apartment building in New York City.  Many of the structures have been weakened by excavation, and have been reburied.  Mounds throughout the Canyon area almost all buried pueblos.  There are dozens of them.20140408_105351

Chaco Culture National Historical Park was added to the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites in 1987, in recognition of its value to humanity.  One the big questions is why the area was abandoned after 300 years.  Drought is one thought – climate change and/or the lack of water to support the increasing population led to abandonment.

We decided in advance to ride our bikes around the Canyon, stopping at each overlook or site to explore.

The wind was blowing so hard I couldn't hold my camera steady to get a good shot of this elk watching us

The wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t hold my camera steady to get a good shot of this elk watching us

For two days, we suffered in the cold and wind – getting back to the Fireball each day, scraping red dust from our eyeballs. But, the last day, the wind disappeared, and we had a wonderful day to explore. One marvelous sight was an ancient Chacoan staircase built into the side of a cliff.20140407_121133

One of the highlights were all the petroglyphs and pictographs,20140408_115801 especially the famous pictograph of the Supernova that appeared in approximately 1250.20140408_123827 That same day, we saw dozens of nests of the cliff swallow, mud structures stuck high under rock ledges.20140408_123904

One thing about Chaco Canyon?  You REALLY have to want to go there to endure the drive.  Never have we been on such horrific roads – washboard doesn’t begin to explain the surface of the last five miles closest to the Park entrance.

This was a really good section of the road

This was a really good section of the road

On our way out, we encountered two guys in a rental RV who had gotten caught in the soft surface at the edge of the road, and buried their RV. 20140409_095638 After an hour of digging, pushing, and trying to tow it out, we finally had to throw in the towel.  The entire undercarriage of the RV was buried.

We left Chaco with many more questions than answers.  It was a wonderful way to spend three days, expanding our knowledge. We both have new book lists on reserve at our home library, based on titles we saw at the Visitor Center.

This was a difficult post for me to write – for these three days, I was like a sponge absorbing foreign material.  The scope of of this canyon, and all that we saw is too extraordinary for me to really comprehend, muchless represent or explain decently. If you get a chance to visit, do so (but don’t take your Mercedes or Corvette).



What’s in a Library

In the olden days, libraries checked out books.  As a kid, you were only allowed to check out certain books.  Librarians were old, stern, and somewhat to be feared.  But my weekly trip to the library with my mom and sisters was always something I looked forward to.

How libraries have changed.  Periodicals, CDs, DVD, and computers for community access are common.20140405_153125 But, the library in the small town of Bayfield, Colorado (population slightly less than 4000) is throwing out the old ideas, replacing them with the Living Library.  We were treated to a tour of this remarkable library (voted Best Small Library in the Country this year) by Director Amy Dodson.

In addition to the usual stuff, this library has a community garden with raised beds available for seasonal use by residents.20140405_155058Different heights facilitate use by people in wheelchairs or with disabilities.  Tools are stored in the coolest straw bale shed, complete with a living roof.20140405_160043 Fruit trees have been planted – fruit is donated to local food banks. There’s a geodesic dome greenhouse with a fishtank inside, which provides nutrient-rich water for bedding plants.Geodesic Greenhouse.  Fabulous.20140405_155443 A cooking demo area provides a space to help people learn how to prepare foods they’ve grown.  A beehive, complete with 24-hour BeeCam is being added this year.  Local resources and artists have been utilized.  Many building materials are sustainable, recycled, and reused.  It’s impressive.

Bayfield has no movie theater, so the Library is the community theater.  A large screen covers the garden side of the building, and movies are shown weekly.20140405_154355 A two-sided, indoor/outdoor fireplace and a second firepit complete the cozy setting.20140405_154327

Not only can you check out books and stuff here, you can also check out garden tools and tools.   A donated shed is being refurbished to house these in-demand items.20140405_16202220140405_162008Digital devices – laptops, tablets, cameras, ipods, ipads can be checked out just like books. Cookware and bakeware will be available this fall.  Amy’s thinking about musical instruments and bicycles for future programsOutside showing fireplace on right, movie screen on left.  Shot from garden.Wow.  What a jewel.  Thanks for the tour, Amy.


Antelope Island

On a tip from our camping friends, the Blakes, we head to Antelope Island State Park, an island stuck out in the middle of Great Salt Lake. Knowing that we like rustic camping, Caroline assured me that this campground would be right up our alley. Score!20140323_170057
The Ranger at the check-in station said she assigned us to one of her favorite sites. Lucky for us, she was either captivated by Jezzy hanging out the window, or the Fireball. Either way, we got the best location – right on the shore. These spacious campsites have covered picnic tables, cement slabs, and in-ground firepits. They could not have been cleaner. Clean pit toilets, and water available at the dumpstation just two miles down the road are all we need.20140323_193145

What’s great about this place? Wildlife abounds. We had a coyote stalking the jackrabbits that are everywhere in sight (Jezzy went nuts!), and birds abound. Saw my first antelope ever, then saw another half-dozen just to make sure it wasn’t a 2

But, the real prize are the 700 bison on the island.20140324_105427 A big bull decided to hang out alarmingly close to the Fireball. After wandering around the campground, he decided that a large rock about 15 yards from the our site was his scratching post.20140324_105151 Watching him leave huge hunks of loose hair on this rock was unbelievable. 

Big clumps of bison fur on the rock after he departed.

Big clumps of bison fur on the rock after he departed.

We hiked up Sentry Mountain, which promised a good view of the west side of the Island and Salt Lake.  We weren’t disappointed in the hike or the views.

I really wanted this boulder for my yard at home!

I really wanted this boulder for my yard at home!

While not technically challenging, it did have us huffing & puffing. By the time we hit the top, we were more than ready to enjoy lunch.20140324_143422
But, the most unusual thing that happened to us on Antelope Island? As we were hanging around in the morning drinking coffee outside ( in our fleecy pants that we wear in the morning and at night, looking pretty much like derelicts), we were approached by two women who strolled into our campsite. Would we permit them to use the Fireball as a backdrop in a catalog photoshoot they’re doing? Sure, we say, jumping at the chance for fame and fortune. Soon, we are swarmed with five people – a project manager, stylist, photographer, art director, and a gaffer.20140324_110239(0)
The funniest thing about this is that these folks are shooting a catalog for Deseret Press, the publishing house of the Mormon Church.  After all my years in the bookstore business, this may be my claim to fame. They bring out several of their titles, and are stacking them on vintage suitcases in front of the Fireball. They like the look of our red campstove, so that gets moved into a shot, along with our prep table (which we have used maybe once in our lives!). It’s at this time that the aforementioned bull bison comes around again. Out comes the BIG lens – a 600mm Canon lens. All attention is averted from the product shot, and we’re all taking photos of the bison. It’s pretty comical.

All in all, we spent two perfect days on Antelope Island. Remote, yet close – primitive, but almost downtown. Doesn’t get much better than this.20140323_192925