During September and October Susan and I embarked on a tour of several midwestern and western states, driving in our 2000 Toyota Siena van(215,000 miles before our trip)a total of 7,279 miles through 13 states. We were gone 33 days and spent the night in 21 different places. When we got home it dawned on us that we had been together virtually 24/7 for the entire trip with no major disagreements and without growing tired of each other. I think our marriage of 41 years will last.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thursday September 15 and Friday September 16: Montgomery AL

The first main stop on our itinerary was Memphis TN where our daughter Patricia lives.  Montgomery AL was a good "halfway" point so we stopped for the night and on Friday visited the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Unfortunately the outdoor memorial was closed for refurbishing and we weren't able to see the familiar circular black granite table inscribed with the names of many who died during the civil rights movement.  When it's in operation, water flows over the table reflecting Martin Luther King's quoting from the book of Amos--"let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

After touring the inside portion of the memorial we walked around the area and saw the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the site of many meetings during the civil rights movement and the church once pastored by Dr. King.

Ebenezer Street Baptist Church

Saturday September 17 and Sunday September 18: Memphis TN

We did a few repairs around Patricia’s house and toured the Cooper Young Art Festival on Saturday with lunch at Central BBQ, in our opinion the best in Memphis.  That night we had a fantastic dinner at Andrew Michael, an Italian kitchen—I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area.  After church at Idlewild Presbyterian we had lunch at CafĂ© Electic, another great place.  Each time we go to Memphis we discover new and wonderful places to eat!  Patricia was training for her third marathon and had a 12 mile training run scheduled for Sunday, so we departed mid afternoon for the next leg of our journey.  Destination for tonight—Little Rock AR.

Monday September 19: Little Rock AR

This morning we toured the Clinton Presidential Library and it was certainly worth the time spent.  The building is entitled “Bridge to the 21st Century,” and the design is quite reflective of a bridge. 



We spent the morning at the library and thoroughly enjoyed the visit.  While the library houses millions of documents for historians and researchers, there are numerous multi-media exhibits portraying Clinton’s life and presidency for amateurs like us. We looked for the blue Gap dress, but it was nowhere to be seen.

Below are a couple of interior photos—here the design also reflects the bridge imagery.

IMG_1719                                                    IMG_1731

After lunch we headed west toward Oklahoma City, our next stop.  Eastern Oklahoma was very green with rolling hills and not much civilization except for the proliferation of Indian casinos.  It seems like every tribe has one and there’s at least one at every exit.

Monday September 19: Oklahoma City OK

Upon arriving in Oklahoma City we went to the memorial at the site of the former Alfred Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995.  Tragically, there were 168 people killed on that morning.  The memorial consists of a beautiful reflecting pool with stone “gates” at each end, along with 168 chairs dedicated to each person who died.  The east gate is engraved with 9:01 and the west gate with 9:03, framing the explosion time of 9:02 a.m.  Also, the chairs are arranged based on the location of the individual inside the building, small chairs are for the children, and each chair bears the name of a victim of the tragedy.  We were at the memorial late afternoon and evening and were very touched by our time there.  It is beautiful and an inspiring tribute to those who died. 





Tuesday September 20: Oklahoma and Kansas

I’m not sure, but there may not be a more boring stretch of road than I-35 and I-135 north from Oklahoma City and then I-70 west from Salina KS.  We spent the night in Goodland KS just because it was about halfway between OK City and our next destination, Grand Lake CO.  It was quite easy to explore the entire city of Goodland (pop. 5,000), and the highlight of the day was discovering the 80-feet tall easel on which rested Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.  Along with the grain elevators, the grand easel dominated the skyline of Goodland.  We saw one local restaurant—a good ole boys’ bar and grill.  I had neither a pickup truck nor a gun nor a shirt with the sleeves cut out, so we opted for Wendy’s chili.

I’m not sure how this thing survives Kansas tornados.


While Van Gogh dominates the skyline, the horizon in Goodland is dominated by Kansas corn.


Wednesday September 21: Colorado

There’s not a lot of human activity between Goodland KS and the outskirts of Denver, so we had an uneventful morning.  West of Denver we headed north to Grand Lake—beautiful mountain scenery along the winding highway.  The aspens were in prime colors and were truly “quaking” in the slight breeze.  The view over Granby Reservoir was almost breathtaking in its beauty.


For the next four days we stay in Grand Lake visiting with a number of old (and getting older) friends from college.  We have been getting together annually for the last 35 years or so, and we visit various parts of the country each year.  It’s our own Big Chill weekend, but we don’t wait for someone to die like in the movie.  This year seven couples attended and we, as always, had a blast.
Our first outing on Wednesday evening was a short hike near Betty’s Barn in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Susan scored the bargain of a lifetime—a lifetime pass to all national parks, forests, and recreations area for only $10.  I’m not sure how much we saved on our trip by having the pass, but it was a bundle.  Anyway, here are a few shots around the Betty’s Barn area.

Notice the gray trees in the background—a beetle has wreaked havoc on many of the pine trees in the area.  The beetle is always present, but the trees produce a sap which the beetles don’t like; however, due to this year’s drought, the trees have not produced enough sap and thus the beetles have destroyed them.  At some point they will have to be cleared and burned.


A small mountain stream that eventually feeds into the Colorado River.


Most of our group—a little wine and cheese makes any hike more enjoyable.  That’s Susan in the green vest.  I’m behind the camera.


Thursday September 22: Grand Lake CO

A few of the ladies got up early to kayak on Shadow Mountain Lake and Grand Lake—you can see how early it was since the fog had not yet lifted.  Here’s Susan moving away from the dock and then disappearing into the fog.



Following kayaking, breakfast, and catching up on the news with a variety of iPads and iPhones, we headed out for a hike to Adams Falls in the park (free entry with the lifetime pass--saved $15!).  The trail led past a beautiful mountain stream with plenty of photo ops:




The stream led to a peaceful meadow and pond with a beautiful mountain background.



After lunch at the Grand Lake Lodge we headed back for a little R&R at our rental house on Shadow Mountain Lake.  Then off for cocktails at The Rapids Restaurant and then to see the early evening elk rutting in the park!

Tom and Bobby Lanier rock hopping behind The Rapids, well not really hopping.


Group photo at The Rapids

group shot

After a few snacks and drinks we were off for elk hunting.  After walking around for awhile, we saw several females approach nearby with a somewhat small male sniffing around.  Soon the alpha male appeared on the scene and took charge, with the younger male slinking off into the woods.  We saw no real action, but the animals were fun to watch.

The females minding their own business. . . . .


The smaller male appears on the scene. . . .

Only to be run off by this guy.

Another shot of the big boy.

We returned “home” and enjoyed a Big Chill annual feast—salmon and steak grilled by Chef Michael Dickens accompanied by baked potatoes, salad, and multiple bottles of red wine.

Friday September 23 Grand Lake CO

One of our Big Chill friends, Denise Dickens, is a clothing designer who markets her designs at various trade and craft shows from NY to FL. Her company is Outside DesignWorks.

Denise was developing a portfolio presentation to submit for juried shows, so she recruited the ladies of the Chill to be her models.  The morning was spent with the ladies sporting various coats, blouses, vests, and hats.  Denise had planned the photo shoot in advance and contracted with a noted Denver fashion photographer named T’eece to take the photos for her.  The guys helped Denise rearrange the furniture in one of the bedrooms to use as a “studio,” and then we awaited T’eece's arrival.  We were all taken aback by his manner and appearance. 

Rather than describe him, I’ll just post this photo and let you see for yourself.  Needless to say, he was quite a character.

And here’s one shot of 5 of the ladies wearing Denise’s creations.


After the fashion parade we took off for the Continental Divide (another $15 saved) followed by lunch and hiking around nearby Lake Irene.

Group shot at the Continental Divide.
group at continental divide

Lake Irene

View from the trail

After the hike we returned home for shopping, napping, and just visiting.  Friday night we enjoyed a catered BBQ pork dinner followed by a concert by local singer Peggy Mann.  We stayed up quite late (for us) admiring the night sky—clear, dark, and full of stars.

Saturday September 24: Grand Lake CO

First thing Saturday morning we took a pontoon boat ride on Shadow Mountain Lake and Grand Lake with a great brunch served onboard.  There’s an interesting bridge over the channel connecting the two lakes.


Later several of us were inspired to take one more hike, this time on the Colorado River Trail in the park (once more saved $15).  The stream wasn’t actually the Colorado River, but it eventually fed into the river, as do a lot of streams in that part of the country.  The hike was primarily through the forest on level ground and was a “pleasant stroll” for all.

The trail followed this stream part of the way.

Near the end of the hike we had to test the waters.  Quite cold.

Saturday afternoon also called for a little football on the tube and just relaxing.  The last dinner of the weekend was held at O’s a Bistro in downtown Grand Lake, where they had a real affinity for apostrophes on their menu.

Sunday September 25: Grand Lake CO

Sunday morning meant the end of Big Chill 2011 and saying goodbye to Grand Lake.  Before we leave, I’m posting just a few photos of our stay there.

The beautiful lakefront house that was home for four days

Giant bear rug hanging in the home.  Bear was killed by homeowner’s uncle on an Alaskan hunting trip featured in an early edition of Sports Illustrated.

To appreciate the size of the bear, just check out the head.

Aspens across the fence

Pre-sunrise view of Shadow Mountain

Then sunrise

View from the road

And a final Big Chill group photo
group shot

Sunday September 25: On the Road to Utah

The drive from Grand Lake to Utah took us through Steamboat Springs CO and the roadside aspens and cottonwoods were in beautiful fall color. 


Near Steamboat we stopped for a picnic lunch at Fish Creek Falls Park where we were entertained by the chipmunks. Who gave that guy a potato chip?

After lunch we hiked down to the bottom of the falls.


After leaving Fish Creek Falls we continued west into Utah and encountered the first of many dinosaurs on our route at the entrance to the Zufelt Ranch.

We soon arrived at Dinosaur National Monument and discovered the visitor center had been closed for rebuilding for 5 years and would be opening in 3 days, so we didn’t get to see any dinosaur bones.  Great timing on our part.  Anyway we proceeded into the town of Vernal where everything was dinosaur.  We stayed at the Dinosaur Inn, ate at the Dinosaur Brew Haus, etc.

The Best Western Dinosaur Inn. . .

where we were greeted by bathroom dinosaurs.
dinosaurs in the bathroom_thumb[2]

An interesting bit of information about the Zions Bank building in Vernal is that all the bricks used in its construction were mailed through the US Post Office.  Seems it was cheaper to mail them than ship them any other way.