Tuesday, July 14, 2020


Along the Pine Creek Trail.

I'm the fella who last wrote on this blog that ". . . 
we're lucky to not have the barriers to travel that so many have: we're healthy, we get around easily, we have ample vacation time, our kids are good travelers. Now it's time to put these great destinations in a good, useful order."

My, how civilization can change. 

Our vacation this year was to take us to Italy but that is, of course, off now. Had you told me in January that we're not going to Italy because Europe won't permit us on the continent, I would've told you that you were nuts. But you're not nuts. 

The year 2020, however, is most certainly nuts. 

We did get away briefly this weekend, though. It was a regenerative little trip to a small slice of paradise in north central Pennsylvania. Wellsboro is the quaint town that serves as the seat for Tioga County. It's a well-kept town, evidence of wealth from the lumbering era, adjacent to one of the more gorgeous wonders in Pennsylvania, the Pine Creek Gorge. It's more commonly called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. And it boasts a bike trail through the gorge that is simply wonderful to ride. 

Pine Creek Gorge, looking south.

A double rainbow visible from our hotel parking lot Friday.

Caroline and Sherry arrive at a stop on the Pine Creek Trail. 

That may be an entrance to a beaver lodge. 
Pine Creek Gorge, looking south (again . . . but from the western rim)

You may be interested to know, though, that 2020 just has to be like 2020. We left after dinner Thursday evening and were within 15 minutes of the hotel when the alternator in my van gave out. The car died nine miles south of Wellsboro at about 10 pm. It took about an hour for a tow truck to come to our rescue. Coming to our rescue also was the fella manning the desk at our hotel, for he was nice enough to come down at the end of his shift and give Sherry and the kids a ride back. 

I'm grateful for so many silly little things. I'm grateful that our kids kept their cool when our van sputtered to a stop in the middle of nowhere. Thankful that Sam and I both had flashlights. Thankful that I, for reasons I don't understand, threw a bike lock into the van at the last minute (it came in handy keeping our bikes secured while the van was in the shop). Thankful that a shop was able to fix the van before dinner time on Friday.

Where our van spent the first day of our vacation. 

The bikes were locked up on a rack near this sign.

Thankful that we had a weekend where we were stuck in an area of the state that felt like it was a completely different area of the country. 

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Suddenly . .. . There's a New List

It's a nice day in Southeastern PA today, but it's not as nice as this photo (not taken in PA) would suggest.

When I last wrote here I conceded that I was traveled out. That's not necessarily a bad thing. We've been very fortunate to have the chances to travel that we have had. And since I last posted there was another awesome adventure . . . to Costa Rica (at some point I'm sure I'll get around to writing about that). Yet upon returning from our Dakotas road trip I found myself at a point I can hardly remember being at before, a point where I really didn't know where I wanted to go next.

In the past week, though, I have awakened from my dormant state. There's a new list of places I wish to visit. Here we go . . .

Apparently it's the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, and Bonn is calling. Don't think we'll make it there in 2020, though.

Michigan has emerged as a place I want to again visit. I need another day at the Henry Ford and Greenfield Village. Then I learned of a Bologna Festival in Yale, Michigan. Oh, and the Upper Peninsula is calling (which would allow me to see Apostle Islands in Wisconsin, too).

Image result for pictured rocks poster

While we're up north, I heard about Boundary Waters. That sounds fun.

Sherry keeps whispering sweet somethings to me about the Grand Canyon which, for some reason, I've put on my to-do list for retirement, but I'd be wise to listen to her. I'm wondering if we could loop such a trip in with seeing some other sites in that area of the country.

Big Bend National Park (and other sites in Texas) are making it onto my quickly-getting-crowded to-do list.

Part of what inspired these musings was an observation by Clark Howard that one can find great bargains on Kayak's Explore feature. There are a lot of cheap places to get to from Newark or Philly. It's fun to dream about what we can do. And we're lucky to not have the barriers to travel that so many have: we're healthy, we get around easily, we have ample vacation time, our kids are good travelers. Now it's time to put these great destinations in a good, useful order.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Selfies from the Road Trip

Final road trip post. A great trip deserves some cheesy selfies, especially from the dad who was cheesy enough to wear a shirt that said "Father" on our long drive days. 

How I was most often viewing wildlife in Custer.

Best selfie of the trip. Sam with a burro. 

The pride of getting onto a tour of Delta 01 at the last minute. I wasn't expecting to get onto Joe's tour, so I kept my sunglasses on for the whole trip. 

Badlands, SD.

In badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Beside a fallen petrified tree. 

High degree of difficulty. There's a prairie dog back there. 

When I got a bit too close to a buffalo above the Little Missouri. 

Sherry and I at our final tourist stop: the huntin' cabin for a would-be cattle baron in Medora. 

I loved this trip. It had been a goal to get Sherry and the kids to the Black Hills (a place so fantastic that Joe wanted to see it again). It had been another goal to get to Theodore Roosevelt, and the park didn't disappoint. Five proved to be perfect number for our adventures at these parks. I'd do it again in a heartbeat . . . 

. . . well, in a heartbeat sometime next decade. 5,200 miles on the road takes a toll, even when it's with these great travelers. 

Thanks for reading. 

Omaha's Zoo

Online sources indicated that Omaha had a world class zoo. Those sources weren't kidding. We spent one whole day of our trip at this zoo (okay, almost a whole day . . . we left from Kansas City that morning, so four hours was spent driving to the zoo). We had the time but not quite the energy to see the whole complex (there's an aquarium that we skipped). But what we did so was quite amazing. Here are some photos. 

A smart looking owl. 

A tired cat. 

A majestic beast. 

Same beast, different angle. 

Mother and child. 

They had aardvark enrichment. Seriously, aardvark enrichment. 

A hungry giraffe. 
Sherry commented on how much space it seemed the animals had here, and she's right. The habitats were large. In one building, there was a spiraling path that allowed one to see the animals up high or down low. And in that same building there was a subterranean level where we could see beavers, sloths, and bats on exhibit.

And the beavers were building a dam!

Sherry and I had some concerns about the trip lacking things that spoke particularly to Caroline's tastes, so an entire day at the zoo was a concession, a bit, to the youngest member of our trip. I'm excited her favorite animal was there, even though a trying-to-be-helpful staff member said, no, there weren't any sloths.

Hmmm. I guess the zoo is so large the workers can't keep straight what all is there.

It was also exciting to see the beavers working away at their dam in a fake swamp.

The animals seemed happy.


Had you told me in May I would be attending three country musical reviews this summer with Sherry Johnson, I would've thought you were kidding me. We saw shows in Nashville and Rapid City. (And we caught Carrie Underwood at the former!) But my favorite was what we saw in Medora. 

Dinner before the show.

Making dinner before the show. Pitchfork fondue. 

The musical.

Medora is famous for its musical, a variety show put on nightly during the summer months. The amphitheater is set against a hillside just west of town. Apparently, this is a tradition that goes back many decades. It's more country than anything else, but there's also patriotic music and oldies. Comedy, too.

I could tell Caroline was enjoying it from the beginning. But Sam . . . at intermission I could tell he didn't quite know what to think. In the second half, though, they brought out a comedian named John Cassidy who delivered an over-the-top performance that made this a highlight of the trip for Sam. Coincidentally, Joe had met the performer before, so Sam got up close to the fella at the end of the performance.

Caroline with a performer.

By the way, all the performers were available down front at the end of the show. The big bear. Dancers. Instrumentalists. Comedian. (Okay, the horses and their riders weren't available.) I'm struck at the availability of these performers every night. I would imagine that after doing this show nightly for a whole summer they'd just want to go to bed and avoid the crowds.

An interpreter at one of our sites paraphrased Mark Twain and his thoughts on travel as an antidote to prejudice. Apparently, the whole quote goes like this:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
The country music variety show has its place. I don't often make time for that place, but I'm particularly glad I made time for it that night. Medora is a very different place than Lansdale (or Doylestown or Glenside or even Elverson). The park's placement there helps make Medora more special. The musical, though, is a fascinating way of elevating the town's special-ness. And, heck, it made a trip earlier that day to the Cowboy Hall of Fame even more meaningful.

Homes Away from Home

We called a few temporary lodgings home on this trip. Here's a rundown of them.

Janssen Place (Kansas City) 8+5+5=18

Sam found room to practice in KC.

Caroline's animals found room to birf in KC.

The winner of this contest by virtue of being the favorite of the kids and second-favorite of the adults. An Arts and Crafts style carriage house in a glorious neighborhood in Kansas City. The street was home to many lumber barons of the late 19th century. The carriage home itself was very pleasant, though it might have been too crowded with furniture. Oh, and there was a really inconvenient step between the kitchen and living room. However, it's the most thoughtfully appointed HomeAway rental at which I've ever stayed.

The blanket and couch in KC were a hit. 

Yak Ridge (South Dakota) 10+3+4=17

Our cabin.
Our cabin.

Our Kitchen in Yak Ridge.
Animals had to share a bed with Caroline at Yak Ridge.

A close second to Janssen Place, this won first-place votes from Chris and Sherry. The kids liked this but placed it further down the list due to lack of pool and wi-fi. The wi-fi thing was a bit odd, by the way. Listing didn't claim to have it but pointed to proximity of cell towers as providing access, but we must've been in a shadow. That being said, this was a great cabin to call home for a few days. Just roomy enough. Immediate entry to the outdoors. Quirky location that was somewhat secluded and equidistant between Rapid City and Rushmore. We loved picnic table outside and fire pit.

No, not our lodging. Instead, these were quarters at Minuteman NHP (told you I loved that site).
The common area at Minuteman NHP (I know this doesn't belong here, but that site is seriously worth checking out).

Americinn Medora (Medora) 5+4+3=12

The marvels of 21st-century life.

This met with mixed opinions, but was second-favorite for Caroline. One of two hotels in Medora, this one featured a breakfast and pool. Breakfast, by the way, featured something I've never seen before: a pancake maker. Surprisingly, that device took some time to master. Something that frustrated me about this place: light switches inside the room were in awkward locations. However, it was a clean, reliable, and relatively roomy place to retreat after seeing nature.

Hampton Inn (St. Louis) 5+2+2=9
As the man at the desk said, we had a big room with an awful view. But that fella was great, as was the whole staff. Funny hotel. Seemed like a pilgrimage spot for St. Louis Cardinals' faithful. They were all in a good mood and getting along with mid-western amicability with the Houston Astros fans who were visiting. Some looked at me strange when I said we weren't seeing a game in town. Location was right downtown, which made walking to the Arch a breeze. Downtown St. Louis a bit of an area that doesn't have an identity at the moment, though.

Country Inn and Suites (Willmar) 2+1+1=4 
Perhaps the 55-degree setting in the room dinged the score here a bit. Also, it had to compete with the Skilbred household: a great home where a great family who are great hosts live. Indoor water park existed but we didn't really get to use it, and the idea of an attendant there who wasn't a lifeguard just seemed weird. Still, it was clean.

Sonesta Suites in Omaha is an honorary mention. We were only there a night and I don't think it can be clearly evaluated. Interestingly, Sam and Sherry both placed this one-bedroom, two-story room with a loft at second place on each of their lists.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Parks

It was a whirlwind. My experience at the parks were a whirlwind. What we saw at those (mostly) National Parks almost made me forget that we did a lot of neat things before we even arrived in the Dakotas. My hunch is that Sherry might say the same thing. Joe joined us just in time for the parks. The kids? I'm not sure what their impression of these gems were. I hope they remember them.

I write this a week after returning. I was last in one of them (Theodore Roosevelt) last Thursday. Since returning I've updated an album to scroll through our smart display in the kitchen, and I'm struck by the beauty of what I saw.

I'll let photos do most of the talking here. Here are some of the photos that best represent what we saw at the different parks.

August 2-4: South Dakota
While in the Black Hills we visited Custer State Park, Badlands, and Rushmore. We also got to Wind Cave but an elevator outage meant we couldn't see the inside of that site. Custer and Badlands impressed us the most of these four sites.

Sam and Caroline took turns popping out the sunroof to do some photography at Custer State Park. 

Custer is famous for the buffalo that walk along the roadway on the Wildlife Observation Loop. 
When one allows buffalo to roam along a road, two bulls might just get into a fight along the guard rail. We saw this fight break out in front of our van one evening. 

The van at its dirtiest as we traversed land near Wind Cave and Custer. 

The view from Wind Cave. Prairie as far as one can see. Hard to believe the Black Hills are actually quite close by. 

Rushmore. Construction and crowds took away from the majesty I felt there back in 2004. 

The Needles in Custer State Park. 

Badlands National Park. 

Rams at Badlands. 

Badlands National Park. Note the stormy sky. We had to wait out a pretty ugly rainstorm while there. 


August 5: Fitting in Devils Tower
We had a driving day on August 5 from the Black Hills to Medora. Shifting a small bit to the west allowed us to visit Devils Tower. We had a DVD of Close Encounters of the Third Kind with us and watched it on the way to the site. The tower came into view for us at just about the same time it's revealed in the film.

Devils Tower. It boggles the mind. More majestic up close but hard to photograph. 

Sam and I got to climb a little ways up Devils Tower. Something I liked about many of our parks out West was the freedom to roam off trails. 

August 6-8: Medora, ND
Medora is a small town just outside the gates to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the site I was most interested in seeing that trip. It didn't disappoint. The park is built out of badlands formations in western North Dakota. This is where Theodore Roosevelt and many other starry-eyed adventurers tried to make a fortune out of cattle raising in the 1880s.

Sam examines a meadow muffin at Theodore Roosevelt. 

Sam at the Petrified Forest in Theodore Roosevelt. 

We took a small hike out to this petrified forest on the western rim of the park. Fascinating. 

Theodore Roosevelt N.P.

Sam atop a concretion at Theodore Roosevelt. It's a geographic anomaly found in the North Unit. The concretion, not the Mets fan. 

I find few creatures as pleasant as a prairie dog. Here's one from TR. 

Here's a view from Theodore Roosevelt's North Unit. 

Cliffs at TR's North Unit. 

Caroline near a bend in the Little Missouri. 
The adventure was wonderful. There's a really neat moment in life to be found when the kids' maturity and adults' abilities meet up and make adventuring through these parks fun and possible. Exotic and beautiful in a very rugged way, we saw some sights unlike anything we see in Pennsylvania and which offered an amazing contrast to what we had seen in Hawaii last year. And I'm glad to have had the chance to show my kids as much of the country as we have been able the past two years.