Clear Lake Mistake

There is a lake in Oregon’s high Cascade Lakes region that was created 3,000 years ago by a lava flow that burned and dammed a forested valley. Then it filled with fresh spring water from Mt. Washington snowmelt and the McKenzie River springhead that percolated up through pumice and lava rock. The water is so pure and cold enough throughout the year that algae has no chance of growing, allowing remarkable visibility–up to 100 feet below the water’s surface. Hence, the name Clear Lake.

But even more remarkable is the standing forest of sunken petrified trees that time and alpine freshwater has preserved in pockets of the lake.

We arrived at Coldwater Cove to survey the scene with the option of launching our origami kayaks to explore the depths for its underwater secrets.

But Leah preferred to hike the 5-mile trail around Clear Lake, thinking that the water would be too cold.

So we set about on foot, through the lava fields on the eastern shore, and walked around the south side of the lake, crossing the McKenzie River…

to an inlet where the water was mirror still.

At this point, I was perfectly happy to backtrack to the pickup to reconsider our kayaking option, but Leah wanted to finish the loop and talked me out of it.

The trail hugged the western shoreline, providing amazing views of the water…

until we reached the resort area, where a boat concession reminded me of my missed opportunity

to be paddling on the open water with the others.

We pit-stopped at the resort store and filled our water bottles before pushing on, past the lakeside cabins to complete the second half of the hike…with the light beginning to fade.

Just as I was wondering out loud that we’d lost sight of the lake, we came to a bridge over a creek that directed us to the McKenzie River.

“I really think we should take the bridge and follow the water, because the trail we’re on is taking us away from the water,” I advised.

“But there was never any indication that we ever wandered off-trail,” Leah countered, walking past the bridge, “and besides, if that was the way back, it would be marked that way.”

“Okay, but if this trail is supposed to be a lake loop, then where’s the lake?” I followed up, as I was following her footsteps.

“How should I know? I’ve never hiked this trail before. Besides, you’re just bitter,” she said.

“Fine! Have it your way! But for the record, I think we should have taken the bridge,” I reiterated.

We continued to walk for a mile or so until we noticed changes to the forest. The trees grew thicker and taller, and light was struggling to penetrate a dense canopy of spruce. The mosquitoes must have sensed my uneasiness; they were feasting on the backs of my legs.

According to Leah’s iPhone, we had already exceeded what was to be a 5-mile loop.

“I think we’re lost, and if I only had a spark of phone service, I could prove it!” I said.

This is the map I could have downloaded if only I had a signal.

“Do you want to go back and take the bridge?” Leah offered.

“Are you serious or seriously joking?” I asked, wondering if Leah was really surrendering.

“In fact, we could also walk back to the resort, and bum a ride somehow,” she suggested.

“Who in the world is gonna pick us up and drive us back to our truck?” I sighed.

“You never know,” Leah snapped, “I can lure them with my wily ways.”

That’s when I heard the sound of traffic. There was a whoosh and it was gone. Then another whoosh, and another. The road had to be close by, but now the trail was leading us to the right, away from the road noise, but onto a single-lane gravel road with marker NR-2676. We followed the road north and around the bend, which brought us to a McKenzie Hwy turnout.

“Do you know which direction to go?” Leah asked.

“We have to cross to the other side to go back to the resort,” I advised. “Maybe you’ll have a chance to charm a ride from someone who’s rented a kayak for an hour or two.”

There wasn’t much traffic in either direction, which meant the park at 7PM was past its peak busy period. We walked along the roadside, occasionally stopping to flag down oncoming traffic but no one had any interest in slowing down.

“You realize it will be dark by the time we reach the truck,” I figured.

“What if I fake a limp, and maybe someone will feel sorry for us and stop.” she said, badly imitating someone with a bad knee.

“I’m not sure I want a ride from someone who pretends to feel sorry for us,” I mused.

That’s when a gray Toyota Avalon sedan slowed and pulled off the road, fifty feet ahead of us.

“I told you it would work,” she declared.

Leah didn’t know whether to run, or limp, or limp-run.

A burly middle-aged man with thinning gray hair exited his car, and opened the rear door.

“I’m gonna make some room in the back for you. Don’t mind the dog on the floor. He’s old and harmless,” he assured.

Leah took the middle seat beside his sullen son, and I wedged myself behind the driver’s slouching seat. A mangy terrier sat between our legs while our driver drove us to Clearwater Cove where our truck was parked.

His mother was animated in the front seat during the ride. She explained to us how special it was to “see the sights of nature” with her family.

We were so relieved to get back to the truck, and so was their dog, because It followed Leah out the door and refused to listen to its owner, our driver. Leah and I spent the next 10 minutes chasing, corralling, and eventually luring the dog back to the car while everyone watched from inside the car.

Nevertheless, Leah and I are immensely grateful to you and your family for stopping to help us in our moment of need. You saved us the time and trouble of walking an extra 3.5 miles.

We certainly need more moments like this in our lives, if only to prove to ourselves that humanity is about community, and mistakes make us more human.

P.S. I regret that I never learned your name during our brief exchange, but I remember giving you my card. If by chance, or design you happen to be reading this, I hope you’ll post a comment so I can thank you by name.

Man vs. Beast

With one of the largest stockyards in the country, it’s no surprise that Amarillo, TX has its fair share of real cowboys. Every year these ranchers bring their cattle and horses to the Amarillo National Center to compete against each other in the Coors Cowboy Club Ranch Rodeo for bragging rights in Saddle Bronc Riding, Stray Gathering, Branding, Trailer Loading, and Wild Cow Milking.

The event officially started on June 3, with its annual longhorn cattle drive through downtown Amarillo. Although Leah and I arrived one day later, Dorinda Blease was there to capture the procession in her grand prize photo.

We cheered with the crowd as the same cattle were released into the arena on the second evening of the rodeo. They milled around for 15 minutes, acting rather nonplussed…

or feeling right at home…

before meandering to the other end of the arena and through the egress gates as future steaks.

After a yellow rose ceremony to memorialize the local cowboys and rodeo guardians who passed over to the Great Ranch in the Sky during the past year, the evening started with saddle bronc riding.

The crowd waits eagerly in anticipation as the horse and rider are carefully prepared in the bucking chute. The moment the gate is opened, the horse bursts free with the rider holding on for dear life and 8 precious seconds,

showing off his finesse, balance and agility…

or not!

A rodeo interlude for all the little cowkids (aged 4 to 7) who were brave enough to ride a slippery mutton buster kept us entertained…

and the sheep, as well.

The cowboys also tested their roping skills, where they had to catch and wrangle a rogue steer to the ground before binding its legs.

With a dozen ranches competing against each other,

there were winners and losers for those keeping score.

But for me, the critters won the day.

And they could probably teach a thing or two to the guys who are pulling the wrong end for milk.

2 Hours at the National Cowboy Museum

With rainy weather on the horizon in Oklahoma City, Leah and I opted for indoor entertainment, which brought us to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, home to the most extensive collection of art and artifacts of American West and American Indian culture. With more than 28,000 pieces in its collection, The National Cowboy Museum is an obvious choice for history buffs and art aficionados.

But not for Leah…

“I can’t believe we’re here, she lamented. “This is so ‘not me’.”

“You’re kidding me. We’re talking about a place with the largest barbed wire collection in the world! More than 8,000 different kinds.” I persuaded.

“Barbed wire isn’t really my thing,” she confessed.

“Then how about the turn-of-the-century western town that’s been recreated indoors?” I implored.

“Certainly, you’d be interested in the structures along the simulated street that have been painstakingly rendered according to scale and design?” I wondered.

“This town may even be set up for some shopping,” I offered as an inducement.

“I’ll have to see about that when I get there,” she proposed.

“What about their Frederic Remington collection? I read that there’s an entire gallery devoted to his work,” I advertised…

“There are small bronzes…

and large bronzes…

Frederic Remington: COMING THROUGH THE RYE, 1902

and paintings, too,” I hyped.

Frederic Remington: IN FROM THE NIGHT HERD, 1907

“That might be interesting,” Leah affirmed, warming up to the idea.

“Maybe we can stroll around the garden behind the museum,” I suggested.

“I believe the outdoor space might be as big as the museum galleries…

and we can pay homage to Buffalo Bill while we’re in the gardens,” I encouraged.

“That’s a possibility,” Leah conceded.

“We could also visit the Western Performers Gallery,” I recommended…

“Y’know, we’ll have a look around at all the memorabilia from our TV star cowboys,

and movie star cowboys,” I proposed.

“That could be fun,” Leah predicted.

“And let’s not overlook the western art created by all the great masters and contemporary artists,” I urged.

Charles Marion Russell: SMOKE TALK, 1924
Tom Lovell: THE HAND WARMER, 1973
William Robinson Leigh: LEADER’S DOWNFALL, 1946
Phil Epp: OUT OF THE BLUE, 2018
Clark Hulings: GRAND CANYON, KAIBAB TRAIL, 1973
Duane Breyers: TWO’S COMPANY, 1997
Wilson Hurley: WINDOWS OF THE WEST–WYOMING SUITE, 1996
Gerald Balciar: CANYON PRINCESS,1995
Martin Grelle: TELLER OF TALES, 2001

“Okay, okay! We may as well go through the place since we’re already here,” Leah admitted.

“Finally! So how about a photo of you in front of the wagon?” I suggested.

“Absolutely not!” she insisted.

Once through the entry vestibule, it was difficult to ignore the immensity of the space. Occupying a floor-to-ceiling, window-lit, cul-de-sac at the far end stood the plaster cast of End of the Trail, James Earle Fraser’s iconic 1894 image of a bowed Native American…

and his weary horse, symbolizing the defeat and subjugation of a people driven from their native lands.

“Wow, that’s impressive,” Leah remarked.

Turning the corner, we were met by an impressive stagecoach…and I could see Leah’s layers of resistance slowly fading.

We wandered past Abraham Lincoln,

James Earle Fraser: LINCOLN THE MYSTIC, 1929

and Ronald Reagan…

Glenna Goodacre: AFTER THE RIDE, 1987

through rodeo trophy rooms, the Native American galleries, the Gallery of Fine American Firearms, the American Cowboy Gallery, and more…

and determined that this was two hours definitely well spent.

As we were leaving, I coaxed Leah once more, “Now can I get a picture of you by the wagon?”

I’m Not as Young as I Used to Feel

After motoring through half of America in our Airstream for the past 1 ½ months and reporting travel highlights along the way (http://streamingthruamerica.com),

I’m temporarily suspending the chronological order of my posts to confess that I’m not as young as I used to feel. I’m usually up for a reasonable physical challenge, but I have to admit that today’s climb did not go as easily as I wanted it to.

Yesterday, Leah and I crossed from Taos, New Mexico to Alamosa, Colorado, and settled in at Base Camp Family Campground by midday. After hiking in Taos the past 2 days, we thought we had acclimated nicely to the thinner air (more to be said on that later), but we were feeling our age after our arrival. We took an early siesta in air-conditioned comfort, followed by a 27-mile sprint to the Great Sand Dunes National Park Visitor Center just before it closed.

The park ranger suggested a climb to the top of High Dune (699 feet), but to keep in mind that tomorrow’s high will reach 92o F. He recommended a 9:00 am start time in order to reach the top of the dune by noon, and before the surface temperature exceeds 150o F. The ranger predicted the 2 ½-mile trek should average 2 hours, round trip.

Since we were already at the park, we decided to have a look around. We found it very refreshing to glide through three inches of snow melt, ebbing and flowing from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Considering it was a Sunday afternoon, and peak traffic was winding down,

there was still plenty of activity around us;

far too many interesting vistas to ignore;

and surprising driftwood sculpture to admire.

We arrived at the Dunes parking lot by 8:45 am the next day, and we were not alone. Many other families were already parked and trekking across the sand flats with sandboards in hand. Canopies and shelters were already sprouting up throughout and within Medano Creek, and kids were romping in the water and shaping wet sand castles.

We surveyed the 10,000 acres of dunes and plotted our course as there are no marked trails, but we followed along the ridgeline like most others.

Looking back gave us some satisfaction, because it reminded us of how far we trudged,

but looking ahead reminded us how much more we had to cover. The closer we crept to the top, the deeper our feet sunk into hot sand, slowing our progress.

We took a lot of breathers along the way,

and rated the sand boarders as they attempted to carve out a run…

but mostly, it was uphill twenty steps, pausing to catch our breath, having a look around, sipping some water, and repeating the process. Slow and steady wins the race. Right?

Many hikers passed us on the way down offering words of encouragement, but Leah–realizing her feet were about to catch fire–decided to mush down the sand slopes and soak her feet in the creek while I continued to the top.

And so I pushed myself, and willed myself up the final ascent, foot by foot, grabbing air along the way, until I finally reached the summit with barely enough energy to greet the younger people who passed me on the way up, and wave my arms for Leah’s snap.

Perhaps it was self-gratification…

realizing that I can still push myself,

or maybe I needed to see the other side of the mountain.

Either way, it’s all good. Ironically, as I admit to myself that I’ve lost a step or two, to my surprise, I often find myself taking a victory lap. As I get older, I’ll eventually have to make do with being young at heart.

But until then…

Regular programming resumes…

High Octave Convenience

There was a time in St. Augustine–not too long ago–when we’d stop at a roadside gas station to “fill-er-up” and use the restroom. Perhaps, we’d pick up a scratch-off card, or a sweet or salty snack and a beverage before getting on the road. But what about all those times when we needed gas and a bikini, or a lawn chair and barbeque, or a pound of Texas brisket, a box of fudge or a jar of pickled quail eggs? What were we to do?

Well, now there’s Buc-ee’s!

Newly opened along I-95 by World Golf Village, Buc-ee’s, a Texas import now lays claim as the largest filling station in Florida with 104 pumps…

and 53,000 sq. ft. of convenience store space.

Pandemic aside, after a St. Johns County ribbon-cutting on Feb. 21, patrons were idling their engines at 4 am the next day, anxiously waiting for a taste,

an outfit…

and a hug.

But this eager beaver is not resting on its laurels. In one month’s time, Buc-ee’s will be opening in Daytona Beach with 110 pumps, damming St. Augustine’s bragging rights as Florida’s newest largest gas station.

Ski-doo across the Arctic Circle

Whenever I’m traveling with Leah, the driving usually falls to me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. In fact, I enjoy driving as much as Leah prefers being the passenger. I figure our roleplay has lasted us through nearly sixteen years of togetherness and over 200,000 miles of highways and byways.

Over the years, we’ve worked out a reliable system where she tells me what to do and I’m inclined to ignore her.

Well, not exactly…

But ours is a predictable pas de deux that’s always destined for Bickerville.

For instance, if we’re traveling on the Interstate, Leah’s likely to order: “Slow down! You’re driving too fast.”

Typically, I’ll answer, “Okay,” and resume my present speed. I know it irritates her when I don’t accept her advice because she tells me so. Yet after a time, all is forgiven–but never forgotten. She never hesitates bringing it up again and again at my earliest convenience.

Similarly, if we’re driving in traffic, I’m likely to hear, “Why do you have to be on his tail all the time?” Her remark always seems to shift into hyperbole.

But I don’t blow a gasket. I simply suggest that if I was that close to him, I’d be able to read his license plate.

Then before too long, I’ll receive another Leah alert: “Slow down! You’re driving too fast.”

Occasionally, I’ll remind her, “You’re welcome to drive yourself, if you don’t like the job I’m doing.”

More often than not, she’ll respond with, “That’s okay. I’m good.”

But patterns are made to be broken. The chance of snowmobiling across the Arctic Circle brought a different scenario I didn’t see coming.

We arrived from Tromsø to Camp Tomak by the busload…

camp signage (2)

to participate in sledding for the day–either by dog…

dog sledding (2)

or by engine.

wave at the back

After gearing up for Arctic climate…

prep after

we were ready for our safety and operations briefing.

lesson (2)

That’s when Leah determined that she had no interest in driving, and even less interest in riding behind me.

“There’s no way I’m I getting on this machine with you,” she insisted.

“Why not?” I asked. “It’ll be fun!”

“Because I have no interest in getting hurt or dying,” she expressed.

“Neither do I!” I objected.

“And what if you should roll over?” she predicted. “I think I’d rather ride with Jan.”

Jan, our guide interceded and accepted to buddy-up with Leah. At first, I was insulted that she didn’t trust me–that she imagined I would risk our lives and limbs–until I realized what a huge favor she had done for me.

Without Leah behind me, I was free from scorn and criticism.

break time

The snowscape was endless.

running in a line

The cliff face was frozen.

icy ledge

The Nordic sky was vast.

driven snow

And the scenery was breathtaking.

mountains peak passes

The guests had good reason to be giddy.

zany behavior

When the sun set behind the mountain,

mountain sunset

we retired to the Sami tent for warmth, reindeer stew and tea.

keeping warm

Naturally, I thanked Jan for his hospitality and counsel.

“That was absolutely liberating,” I gushed. “I owe you big time for taking Leah along. Maybe you’d like to take her home with you,” I jested.

We shared a laugh together, but Leah wasn’t having any of it.

“Keep it up and you’ll be sleeping with Olaf,” she warned.

iceman

And that’s when I hit the brakes.

Order of the Blue Nose

Captain Terje Nilsen of the Viking Star personally delivered the unfortunate news over the ship’s PA system during breakfast.

“Because of high winds, we will be cruising past the port of Bodø, and continuing onto Tromsø. I apologize for the inconvenience, but the weather is just not safe for us to make a landing.”

Of course, we were disappointed.

Bodø is a charming alpine village north of the Arctic Circle and home to Saltstraumen, the world’s largest maelstrom. Additionally, Leah and I had booked an excursion to Kjerringøy, and would have enjoyed hiking through this preserved trading post dating back to the 1800s.

But Captain Nilsen wasn’t kidding. If the gusting winds and pounding seas were any indication of what was witnessed as the Hurtigruten ferry attempted docking in Bodø, then I couldn’t imagine the Viking Star following suit–certainly not with so many passengers unable to handle the rough crossing from Tilbury, England.


Nevertheless, passengers were invited to the pool deck following breakfast to celebrate a longtime maritime tradition of crossing the Arctic Circle.

While Paulo serenaded us with folk classics and Beatles covers of Here Comes the Sun, and I’ll Follow the Sun, (ironic, don’t you think),

Here Comes the Sun

the crew assembled to initiate each of us into the Order of the Blue Nose.

Our Cruise Director, Brensley Pope took the microphone to give some background:

Good afternoon Ladies & Gentlemen and welcome! We have entered through the Arctic Circle, and it is time to make our journey official by welcoming you to the Order of the Blue Nose! First, a little history.

The word “arctic” comes from the Greek word arktikos: “near the Bear, northern” The name refers to the constellation Ursa Major, the “Great Bear”, which is prominent in the northern sky.

The region north of the Circle, known as the “Arctic” covers roughly 4% of the Earth’s surface.

The position of the Arctic Circle coincides with the southernmost latitude in the Northern Hemisphere at which the sun can remain continuously above or below the horizon for a full twenty-four hours; hence the “Land of the Midnight Sun.” This position depends on the tilt of the earth’s axis, and therefore is not a “fixed” latitude. The Arctic circle is moving north at a rate of 15 meters per year, and is currently located at 66 degrees 33 minutes North latitude.

Captain Terje Nilsen interupted, “I believe that’s enough history for now…”

The crowd responded with laughter. And then it became official with his declaration…

Hear ye… hear ye….

Whereas by official consension, our most honorable and well-beloved Guests have completed successful passage through the Arctic Domain. We do hereby declare to all in attendance and that those who possess the courage to take the Aquavit cleanse shall be marked accordingly, with the prestigious Order of the Blue Nose.

(Applause)

Captain Nilsen continued…

This is to certify that you all have been formally and officially initiated into the Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Chilly Deep, and should wear your blue noses proudly! With the order of myself, the Captain, I command all subjects to Honor and Respect those onboard Viking Star as one of our Trusty Blue Nose family.

We officially welcome you to the Blue Nose Order! Skol!

I got my blue nose and drained my shot glass of chilled Aquavit. Was I now a proud member of a society of alcoholics and sun worshippers?

drinking aquavit (2)

But I wasn’t alone.

Lines formed from both sides of the pool deck for distinguished crew members to efficiently annoint all worthy passangers with a blue-tinted dab of meringue.

closed eyes

What follows is a small sample of inductee’s portraits–some more enthusiastic than others…

red eye

pursed lip

plaid shirt

man wirth glasses

lady with glasses

grinning lady

glassy eyes

Chinese freckles

beard man

United in singular purpose, we now shared a common bond.

To validate our accomplishment, each of us received a certificate of achievement validated by Captain Nilsen.

Certificate

Soon after, while walking about the jogging track in whipping winds after a filling lunch, I caught a glimpse of what made this affair so special.

Arctic Circle marker

Now that’s what I call “Crossing the Line!”

Enchanted

It was reindeer season again in St. Petersburg, FL thanks to Enchant Christmas, a Vancouver-based lighting company that plants holiday fixtures in unlikely places.
The illusion of winter shone brightly inside Tropicana Field (The Trop), with 2.5 million bulbs ablaze.

lit reindeer

Normally, home to the American League Tampa Bay Rays during the regular season,

skating (2).jpg

the domed stadium had been transformed into an ice skating trail that curled around the third base line and ran across the infield.

skating trail
Also included was the “world’s largest light maze,” anchored by a towering golden tree behind second base,

golden tree

and a Christmas market bolstered by fast-food dining options. This year’s Tampa Bay theme was The Great Search, highlighting the disappearance of Santa’s nine over-sized reindeer–

dome

all of whom were hiding within a 90,000 square foot light maze–waiting to be discovered and tracked through a scratch card.

lite trellis

Leah and I visited The Trop with our family from Albuquerque, and apprehensively outfitted the grandkids with skates for the first time.

family on ice

Gabe and Dan

There were spills and chills and grip-worn guard rails, but thankfully, no casualties, unlike others who required more immediate medical attention.

EMT rescue (2)

After a photo op with Santa…

Santa

we were off to explore the maze, helping Santa relocate his missing reindeer,

Dancer

Rudolph

and stopping along the way…

poppies

to admire the fancy shapes…

snow people

or not.

snow flake.jpg

While the kids had fun finding Santa’s reindeer and scratching their cards, Enchant had lost its enchantment for me after the fourth reindeer.

The canned carols had imprinted on my senses and the warm glow had turned to glare. I had reached the summit of Mount Monotony. That’s when I wished I was home scouting the local reindeer.

Prankster

Birthday Suit

Four years ago, when I was scavanging through my father’s belongings–after having moved him to an assisted living memory center–I came across an obsolete, Kodak digital camera (c. 2008) in a vanity dresser drawer.

I removed the mystery SD card to inspect the files, and to my horror/delight, I discovered a photo of my father experimenting with the camera buttons–completely unaware that he had memorialized the scene in a bathroom mirror selfie.

While I have cropped the photo to its least offensive dimensions, it still captures the essence of his self-discovery.

Today is his 95th birthday, and although he is now feeble and for the most part at a loss for words (robbed by Alzheimer’s disease), he still manages to laugh at what he intuits as funny.

And I have little doubt, that if Dad was still with us in body and mind, he would most certainly laugh at his indecent exposure, while practicing with his Kodak in his birthday suit.

 

sunsceen application
after a sunscreen application

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Bonnie’s Deadly Deed

A recounting of a 10-year holiday memory…



Finally, the nasty weather had given way to a brisk and sunny Black Friday, and Bonnie was eager to shed her restlessness. Three weeks had passed since our last outing, and I could tell she needed a proper walk. Her telltale kitchen dance with paws clattering across the hardwood floor made it obvious to Leah and me.

Merely grabbing her leash had Bonnie running in tight circles after her stubby tail, making her difficult to collar. She strained against her leash, pulling me past the front door. She leapt into the cargo space of my SUV, and curled into a ball, completely satisfied with her preparation.

One of Bonnie’s favorite walks takes us through the fancy neighborhood of Mountain Lakes, NJ for a closer look at how all the Blue Buffalo stew-eaters live, so off we went to walk among the Mountain Lake estates.

Fortunately, the local shopping malls had swallowed most of the area’s cars, so the four- mile drive to Boulevard took little time, and parking was a breeze.

The moment Bonnie’s legs hit the pavement, she eagerly sniffed for a place to do her business. Naturally, Leah and I were prepared for this moment, so out came a baggie that’s perfect for scooping.

But carrying a used baggie so early in the walk can be a bit annoying; it spoils my walking rhythm, and besides, it smells!

I believed the durable construction of the Rubbermaid barrel by the side door of the yellow house on our right would provide an ideal resting place for Bonnie’s poop, so off I went to make a deposit. I crossed through a hole between two hedges, and dropped Bonnie’s dirty deed atop a pizza delivery box with a cartoon chef declaring, “We Are Pleased to Serve You.” It seemed so apropos.

I secured the lid and rejoined my girls just as the homeowner cracked the side door, craned his neck and asked, “Can I help you?”

“No thanks,” I answered, “I’m just doing an inspection of garbage cans in the neighborhood, and I’m happy to say that you’ve passed!” I waved good-bye as Leah shot me a look, and we continued our walk.

We turned onto a new block and climbed a steep hill. Just as we were enjoying the fresh air and the scenery, a cream-colored Lexus sedan sped by, and cut us off. The driver’s side door opened, and the burly-looking homeowner emerged holding Bonnie’s holdings, but now sealed within a heavy-duty double-lined zip-locked baggie.

“I think this belongs to you,” he said, extending his arm with a dour look on his face.

And then came his rant. “My wife is seriously allergic to this! Do you realize you could have killed my wife and the baby she’s carrying if she was exposed to this? After eight goddamn years of trying, and spending tens of thousands of dollars on IVF drugs and testing, she finally gets pregnant. So now she’s on bed rest with two months to go, and here you come with your dog shit, and you’re gonna fuck it up for all of us.”

The veins of his forehead were bulging under his DeMarco Sanitation cap. I wondered if he would hit me, so I instinctively felt for the keys in my pocket and gripped them between my fingers as a defensive measure.

“I’m sorry,” I stated in my most solemn voice. “I had no idea that Bonnie’s poop was so treacherous. She’s only a cockapoo, and she really doesn’t mean any harm. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us.” I graciously took the bag of shit with my left hand, withdrew my right hand from my pocket and reached to shake his hand. “No harm, no foul,” I offered.

What else could I do?

As if by magic, he immediately relaxed and we chatted for a few minutes, trading personal histories. He introduced himself as Jason, and pointing to his cap, informed me that he owned a local waste management and carting company. I took a half-step back from him, my mind brimming with comparisons of Tony Soprano.

Jason revealed that he recently moved to Mountain Lakes, and hoped to raise a family in a clean and peaceful neighborhood. I wished his family peace and cleanliness, and I reiterated my apology for my faux paws.

With Jason assuaged and his forgiveness assured, Leah, Bonnie and I continued our walk, but now with a bigger baggie and a familiar problem.

After reaching the top of the hill, we discovered a new mansion under construction. A large dumpster stood guard in the front yard. I checked around in all directions to make sure we were hidden from view.

“Don’t you dare!” Leah threatened.

But I was already committed. I tossed the baggie into the heart of the steel container, and quick-stepped away from the property. Glancing back, I casually surveyed the new architecture with the over-sized receptacle in the foreground–emblazoned with D-E-M-A-R-C-O in large, white, stenciled letters–and reflected on my full-circle achievement.



RIP, Bonnie!

Balloon Glowdeo™

Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta celebrates ballooning for nine days in October, continually drawing record crowds and attracting new entries every year.

Star Wars fans

But for two days–Thursday and Friday– the special shapes take over, and Balloon Fiesta takes flight without ever leaving the ground. Since 1989, the Special Shape Rodeo has grown into Balloon Fiesta’s most popular attraction.

staging the balloons

The first-of-its-kind rodeo originally attracted 28 shapes and huge crowds, but today, parking has reached near-capacity, delivering crushing crowds and shrinking field capacity for one-hundred balloons that currently participate during dusk.

rainbow pan (2)

Known as the Special Shape Glowdeo™,  the special shapes inflate and glow for 2 hours after sunset, followed by a fireworks display sponsored by Canon.

Canon (2)

On its surface, this is exactly the kind of event I look forward to: colorful crowds and colorful balloons just waiting to be photographed. But I am not alone. Special Shape Glowdeo™ has become a photography touchstone, and claims to be one of the most photogenic events in the world.

frog

Nearly everyone in the crowd is carrying a camera, or becomes a de facto photographer by virtue of their cell phones and selfie sticks.

Cathy's Hope

And those without cameras are usually pushing strollers, or busy juggling food and babies.

papa smurf

Somehow, all of this works during daylight hours. As more balloons populate the horizon, most people are walking in trances as they look to the heavens, all the while focusing on a particular shape nearby.

wolf

It’s hard to calculate all the near-misses, with so many people competing to capture the same image simultaneously, but as long as there is light, accidental collisions are easily forgiven.

unicorn

But all of that changes when darkness takes over and the only available light eminates from the ephemeral flicker of the balloons across the landscape.

angry face

It’s as if the winds have shifted, and all who are present have either been transported to the dark side,

Vadar1

or they now move through space and time as if they are moving through space.

astronaut

Instantly, carriages and strollers become ankle missiles, and avoiding children on wheels while weaving through the crowd becomes an impossible challenge.

cowboy and bear (2)

Then there are the Bimbos…

Bimbo

who seeingly run out of gas,

Willer

and stop in their tracks without warning,

robot

or those who would sooner walk over me as if I wasn’t there.

sneaker

It’s enough to make a person scream…

singing

or turn to a higher power for strength–

Jesus (2)

praying for order to return to the universe.

Yoda2

If only there was another way to get around.

Wells Fargo

Nevertheless, against all odds, I rally against the lawlessness,

mouse sheriff

and persevere with a determination worthy of Uncle Sam’s attention.

Uncle Sam

My mission is to get as close as I can to as many of these nylon giants without getting trampled…

Cynthia Seal

firefly

fruit lady

And when my camera battery begins to fade,

Chicken (2)

I know that it’s time to pack it in,

Beaver

and reconnect with Leah, who’s been wandering the grounds with family.

clown (2)

“Where are you,” I ask into my cell phone.

scarecrow

“I’m under the elephant,” she answers.

pink elephant

We play Marco Polo by phone for the next 15 minutes.

queen

Waves of pedestrian traffic push against me as I attempt to swim upstream.

dancing fish

It’s not an easy reunion, but it’s as welcoming as the sun on a cool desert evening.

Sunglasses (2)

After a time, all the balloons have deflated, except for the sponsor, and our family has settled down on blankets, bracing against the north winds as we dine on pizza ($7 per slice) while enjoying the culminating fireworks display.

Canon fireworks

And I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Defying Gravity

Pittsburgh is best known as the “City of Bridges,” boasting a world’s-highest 446 spans.

Riverfront Park

Its residents have been crossing its rivers and hills before the French built Fort Duquesne at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers in 1754 to protect their access to the Ohio Valley.

Fort Duquesne

After the British advanced, defeating the French and Native Americans, they established Fort Pitt in 1761.

Fort Pitt etching (2)

As Pittsburgh industrialized during the 19th century, so did its transportation network, and the bridges soon followed, connecting many of the elevated neighborhoods scattered throughout the vicinity.

3 sisters (3)
Pittsburgh’s “Three Sister” Bridges: the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Street Bridges. The “Three Sister” bridges were part of a massive series of bridge-building campaigns begun in 1924 by the Allegheny County Department of Public Works, and finished in the late 1930s by the Depression-period Allegheny County Authority. Credit: Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs, Detre Library & Archives at the History Center

In fact, the “City of Bridges” moniker could easily be replaced with the “City of Hills,” given Pittsburgh’s challenging geography, for there are hills galore (North Hills, East Hills, South Hills, West Hills, Middle Hill, Upper Hill, Spring Hill, Summer Hill, Troy Hill, Polish Hill, Squirrel Hill, and the Hill District); and there are heights aplenty (Northview Heights, Brighton Heights, Crafton Heights, Duquesne Heights, and Stanton Heights); as well as a variety of lofty-sounding communities (Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Southside Slopes, Beechview and Fineview).

For me, growning up in Stanton Heights was a constant cardio workout of hiking and biking in my neighborhood. I still recall schlepping up Greenwood Street’s countless steps on my way home from junior high at Morningside Elementary School. And climbing those hills in an unforgiving winter frequently required fortitude and a layer of thermal underwear, which was sure-fire bait for bullies.

Characteristically, Pittsburgh’s reputation for having the largest collection of steepest streets in the world underscores the importance of living close to a world-class medical center (UPMC)…

whose headquarters, coincidently, occupy the US Steel Building–the tallest tower of Pittsburgh’s skyline.

steam paddle

It had been a long time between visits to Pittsburgh, so Leah and I relocated the Airstream to an RV park north of Pittsburgh for a few days, appropriately named Mountain Top Campground…

Mountain Top Campground (3)

and determined that a trip to Mt. Washington was a natural first stop for a lasting look at my hometown from the best possible vantage point.

But rather than drive to the top, we parked in a lot and rode the Duquesne Incline as tourists–

crossover

one of two remaining from the original 17 funiculars that Pittsburgers once relied upon to ease their commute to the heights throughout town–

incline graphic

incline car

incline track

incline house

for an unparalleled lookout of the Point.

skyline

After an overpriced lunch at The Grandview Saloon (poached pear salad for $14), we followed Jennifer (our GPS) to Canton Street,

Canton St. Google Maps

in search of America’s steepest street in Beechview.

steep st sign

Although it’s only one block long, climbing the 37% grade behind the wheel of my F-150 was somewhat disconcerting. Aside from the bumpy ride over cobblestones, the angle was so severe, I could barely see the road beyond the windshield.

steep v

A 37% grade! I can’t even imagine what it would take to climb Canton Street during a winter storm…unless you’re a mountain goat.

grazing goat (2)

But there was one last road phenomenon I needed to check out before we explored the cultural side of Pittsburgh. I had heard about a gravity hill near North Park that sounded like a too-good-to-be-true myth that needed busting.

Gravity Hill

When I reached the intersection of Kummer and McKinney, I made a hard left around the STOP sign onto McKinney Road, and passed an Audi that was there to perform the same miracle-manuever.

Kummer Road

Leah and I patiently waited off-road, watching the Audi repeat the same experiment… over and over again…until satisfied. 

rolling back

And then it was my turn.

I inched toward the STOP sign, and held the brake till I shifted to neutral. Leah stepped out of the truck to record the event on her iPhone. I hesitated for a moment thinking how crazy this seemed. Of course, the truck can’t possibly roll unhill. It goes against the fundamentals of science!

When I came to my senses, I released the brake, and the truck began rolling backwards. It was not what I expected!

I’m not a civil engineer, and I’m not a geologist, so I don’t have a reasonable explanation why the truck drifted backwards, so I consulted the experts:

According to Wikipedia, “a gravity hill is a place where a slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope due to the layout of the surrounding land, creating the optical illusion that water flows uphill or that a car left out of gear will roll uphill.”

So I was on a hill that made down look like up?

Gravity road intersection

How weird…but then it occurred to me that Donald Trump runs the country the very same way, and “the 37%” who follow him, must be living on their own personal “Canton Street,” unable to see the road ahead.

High Time

While camping alongside the Airstream factory in Jackson Center (see Building Airstreams), Leah and I wondered how we would kill time during our weekend stopover. There wasn’t much to do in town, although we were within walking distance of the Elder Theatre, a one-screen cinema showcasing Dora and the Lost City of Gold and the Heidout Restaurant, serving bar food backed by a roadhouse jukebox.

We took a pass on both, and drove to Bellefontaine, 20 miles east of our location. How fortuitous, because high atop Campbell Hill–overlooking a scenic parking lot, and peaks of grasslands beyond, as far as the eye can see–

Campbell Hill panorama

sits the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, a two-year career-technical high school campus that also doubles as the highest point in Ohio, at 1549 feet elevation.

Campbell Hill marker

Once upon a Cold War time, this site was home to Bellefontaine Air Force Station, providing radar surveillance to NORAD in the event of a Soviet invasion from the North Pole.

Remnants remain.

Hazmat Team

Leah and I were giddy with excitement. It could have been the altitude, but the notion that we were standing at the highest point in Ohio nearly took our breath away. 

highest point

However, we are seasoned travelers who have Airstreamed through most of America (see Top of the World), and we refused to be intimidated by the height of Campbell Hill.

Admittedly, we were weak-kneed.

We took a deep breath to clear our heads, and took a seat on a strategically placed bench by the geodetic survey marker.

Campbell Hill bench

After a snack to raise our blood sugar, we managed to trek to the parking lot a short distance away. As I regained my composure inside the F-150, I realized that we were brought here for a reason. I figured that given our vantage point and strategic positioning, the military may be interested in recommissioning this location as a secure listening post as we approach the 2020 presidential elections.

 

 

A Sleeping Bear Dunes Ditty

Do not descend the dune.

Sleeping Bear Dune

A thousand feet of uphill sand could easily be your ruin.

Sleeping Bear

The Sleeping Bear will soon awake.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

He’ll cause your arms and legs to ache.

climbing the dunes

You’ll wish you never saw the lake,

Glen Lake

for now you sing a sorry tune.

Warning

 

 

 

Orchestrating Pop Culture

Within a span of five days, Leah and I had occasion to enjoy the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS), but in a nontraditional manner with uncommon overtones.

Dan Akroyd set the scene for our future expectations at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park IL, the CSO summer residency.

To be sure, it was a carnival atmosphere, with popcorn and green slime for sale. The Windy City Ghostbusters were on board, protecting their ride

GB Caddy

and providing plenty of photo ops…

Windy City Ghostbusters

 with props.

Stay Puft

Meanwhile, the CSO was warming up on stage…

CSO tuning

waiting for dusk and the arrival of their guest conductor, Peter Bernstein, son of legendary composer and Oscar-winner, Elmer Bernstein, who wrote the original score to Ghostbusters.

Happily, the orchestra never missed a beat, synchronizing perfectly with the film. While the band played on and the Ghostbusters faced their ectoplasmic foes, we enjoyed a picnic on the lawn with my niece Rachel and her partner, Kevin. Thanks, guys.

Days later, we traveled to Grand Rapids, MI for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Strings Attached tour. Unlike last year’s stripped-down tour (see Parody Paradigm), and stripped of shtick, this concert promised to be vintage “Weird Al”–the parodies, the costumes, the MTV videos, and 41 pieces of symphonic punctuation.

The GRS opened the show with 20 minutes of John Williams’ cinema overtures from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, and Star Wars…

GRO tuning

 to set the mood for a sell-out crowd that was every bit as white and nerdy as “Weird Al.”

White and Nerdy

It was the largest collection of ugly Hawaiian shirts I’d ever seen.

twine in MN

And some fans decided to elevate their look with shiny accessories.

Foil

The band was tight; the parodies are clever; the singing was splendid; and the GRS added an extra richness to the event. “Weird Al” showcased a deep catalogue of “funny,” paying homage to Don Pardo,

Don Pardo

a twine ball from Minnesota,

twine ball

weasel stomping,

Weasel Stomping

Devo,

Devo

Nirvana,

Kurt Cobain

and sending up Coolio with an irreverent Amish rap.

Amish Paradise1

The crowd was treated to a crowd-favorite Star Wars encore, á la Don McClean’s American Pie (The Saga Begins),

stars wars saga

and the Kink’s Lola (Yoda).

Wierd Al

The audience was on its feet by the end of the show, and so was the orchestra,

GRO

because their job was done and it was time to leave.

Leah and I caught up with the Associate Concertmaster as she exited the DeVos Performance Hall stage door.

“Great show, tonight,” I offered.

“Thank you. It was lots of fun,” she said.

“Did you have much practice time with the band?” I asked.

“Not really,” she admitted. “Just a couple of sessions.”

“That’s all!? You guys nailed it,” I gushed. “Any after-party plans?”

Crossing the street–“A glass of milk, and bed,” she sighed. “I’m glad you enjoyed it”–and she was gone.

What a nerd!

 

Beer-drinking Cheeseheads That Bobble

We had come to Milwaukee to drink some beer, eat some cheese curds and absorb some culture, and Milwaukee didn’t disappoint us.

Once home to the Big Four: Miller; Pabst; Shlitz and Blatz–Milwaukee was considered the brewing capital of the nation during much of the 20th century. However, after sell-off and consolidation, only MillerCoors remains as Milwaukee’s master brewer.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of reminders of the good ol’ days scattered around town…

For instance, on W. Wisconsin Avenue sits the Pabst Mansion.

Pabst Mansion

In 2015, Pabst returned to the city with a scaled-down version of itself, manufacturing only craft beers, like many of its competitors in the region.

Likewise, the Schlitz Brewery has been converted into an office park.

Schlitz Park

But a new generation of brewers is doubling down on craft beers, with special attention going to Lakefront Brewery for its laid-back vibe and its innovative spirit, which instilled brothers Russ and Jim Klisch to brew Doors County cherry beer and the nation’s first gluten-free beer.

Lakefront Brewery

Leah and I sat in the Beer Hall noshing on fish tacos and award-winning cheese curds while waiting for the brewery’s 4 pm tour.

keg lights

Eleven bucks buys an 8 oz. plastic cup and four wooden tokens good for four pours from start to finish of the humorous, 45-minute tour–very different from other tours I’ve taken (see Supreme Ruler of Beers and Eco-Beer), where beer sampling follows the tour as a time reward. 

fermentation tank.jpg

At the conclusion of the tour, we gathered around the bottle conveyor,

Lakefront bottling (2).jpg

and we sang…


Additionally, the plastic cup can be exchanged for a free beer glass at the gift shop.

beer glass

It was our good intention to attend Gallery Night directly after the beer tour…

Gallery Night

but drinking beer interfered with our plan, so it would have to wait until Gallery Day.

The following day we drove to the Historic Third Ward, and roamed through six floors of the Marshall Building inspecting a variety of syles and mediums of different artists.

Historic 3rd ward

Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in and it rained like there was no tomorrow. We waited out the deluge at a nearby Shake Shack until a break in the weather, and crossed over to Walker’s Point to satisfy our random craving for novelty, humor, and are you kidding me?

Marquis

 

As of February 2019, there’s a new museum in town, and it’s head and shoulders above the rest. It’s also a nerdatorium for dads…

browsing dad

and their kids.

Welcome

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum definitely checks the excess box with a collection of 6,500 figurines on display, covering a wide swath of popular culture,

assorted

featuring sports and mascots,

Sports1

fantasy,

Star Wars

and politics.

TrumpObama

The Hall of Fame Bobbleheads line the windowsills.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I asked myself, “Why?”…and patiently waited for a sign to give me guidance!

Why

For the overly curious, the bobblehead production process is explained step by step…

Production process

However, the bobblehead timeline gave insightful commentary and instant credibility to museum founders Brad Novak and Phil Sklar.

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There’s little doubt that I’ll be raising a glass or two of Lakefront’s Riverwest Stein Amber Lager every January 7 to celebrate.

 

Proclamation

 

 

Family Feud Futility

When roaming through remote Great Lakes country, media options can be very limited…and often times frustrating. While Leah has her Kindle, and I have my blog, sometimes it’s nice to lounge after dinner and watch television. However, settling in at RV parks with poor TV and WiFi reception has become increasingly routine on this journey. But we will not be deterred.

As with every new campground site setup, we crank up the antennae and run the auto program, if only to prove to ourselves that, once again, there is nothing to watch but God TV–at best, a righteous and self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the occasion that we pulled into our newest destination on the edge of Munising, Wisconsin, we did our due diligence to raise the antennae and run the channels.

“Hey Neal, we got 5 channels coming through on digital air,” Leah exclaimed.

Having left the Apostle Islands, I concluded that it was probably God’s will.

The next voice I heard belonged to Steve Harvey. He was introducing the Garrett family from Conway, Arkansas, and their opponent, the Crosby family from Bonnor Springs, Kansas. Perhaps, it was some kind of omen that we were picking up the digital signal from the local FOX affiliate in Duluth. Or maybe it was my penance.

“Gimme Dante [Garrett] and Mike [Conway], and let’s get this feud started. One hundred people were surveyed and asked, ‘Before a date, name a food a flat-chested woman might stuff in her bra,'” mused Steve.

Dante beat Mike to the buzzer. “Apple,” he asserted, and quickly got blasted with a superimposed “X” over his face.

“What!? Are you kidding me, an apple?” I asked.

Harvey turned to Mike and reiterated, “Before a date, name a food a flat-chested woman might stuff in her bra.”

“Onion,” announced Mike, which also earned him a shiny red X.

Harvey turned to Dante’s wife, Shawnte for an answer. “Pear,” she answered.

Another X.

Steve crossed over to Jessica Crosby and appealed for a correct answer. “Before a date, name a food a flat-chested woman might stuff in her bra,” he pleaded.

“Watermelon,” she proclaimed with certainty.

It turns out that Melons/Watermelon was the #4 answer. The Crosbys decided to play.

Leah and I laughed uncontrollably.

“Really!? I can’t believe that answer was up there,” said Leah.

Dustin suggested coconut, which got him an X. But Jen thought that biscuits were the best way to fill out a bra.

Surprisingly, so did the judges, as Bread/Buns was revealed as the #2 answer.

Steve Harvey approached Sandy Crosby next. “Peach,” she affirmed, and consequently, accrued a second X.

Steve returned to Mike. “Your family has two strikes against them. One more strike and the Garretts can steal your money. Give me the name of a food that a flat-chested woman might stuff in her bra,” he pitched.

“I think she would pick an orange,” expressed Mike.

Sho’nuff, it was the #1 answer.

Moving down the line, Steve turned to Shawnte again, and repeated the survey question.

“How ’bout a pepper. Y’know, like a bell pepper,” thought Jessica.

“Who are these people!?” I exclaimed.

“I think the whole question is ridiculous,” mused Leah.

“It’s not how I would prepare stuffed peppers,” I scoffed.

Meanwhile, the Garretts were huddling and wildly gesticulating behind their stage props as they considered their options.

Steve Harvey strode across the stage to the Garrett family’s side, and announced that the Garrett family can steal the Crosby’s money, if they can come up with another answer that’s on the board.

Dante Garrett steps out from the huddle and turns to Steve, “We’re gonna go with chicken.”

“That’s right, Steve. Y’know, like chicken…breasts, an’ all?” Shawnte mimed with imaginary breasts.

Leah and I were shaking the Airstream with laughter.

The TV image froze, then sputtered, then randomly pixilated all around the screen before vanishing. My television reception was lost, and the screen went blank.

“That’s how it ends for us!? I shreiked.

“What about their answer? Did the Garretts steal the Crosby’s money or not?

“I guess we’ll never know,” Leah speculated.

“You’re not curious?” I wondered.

“Not really. But I think it’s such an absurd answer–it wouldn’t surprise me if it was up there.”

“I guess we’ll never know,” I shrugged.

The following day, Leah and I hiked over .4 mi. of boardwalk to get a look at Wagner Falls.

Wagner graffic

Because the forecast was uncertain, with a high probability of rain, we figured on a nearby activity that wouldn’t require much effort or time,

Wagner Fall

but still gave the impression that we did something active.

water (2)

Our next stop was the Musining Public Library for its WiFi connection. Because the library shares space with the neighboring high school the librarian personally entered the password…as if that was going to stop me from selling it to coeds, who would use it to stream porn instead of doing school research.
Once Leah finished downloading a series or two or three from Netflix, we were ready to go.

“By the way…I have the answer from Family Feud. I know how it ends.” I teased.

“So tell me,” she coaxed.

“But you said you didn’t care. You said the whole thing was stupid,” I argued. “Tell you what…

I’ll let you know online…”

Family Feud (2)

And that’s why I miss TV from time to time.

Name Changer

Ocuppying nearly four square miles and located between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, Mackinac Island was home to the Odawas, and the epicenter of Great Lakes fur trading before the British established a strategic fort on the island during the American Revolutionary War. 

Native Americans referred to Mackinac Island as Mitchimakinak because of its likeness to a “Great Turtle.” The French fur traders preserved the Native American pronunciation, but spelled it as they heard it: Michilimackinac.

Michilimackinac

However, the British anglicized what they heard, spelling it Mackinaw. Regardless, the pronunciation for Mackinac and Mackinaw are the same, with an emphasis on aw.

Today, most tourists and vacationers take the ferry from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island from May to November. Leah and I carried our own bikes aboard for an extra $10 a piece.

ferry pier

On the approach, the French colonial architecture was charming.

shoreline

We recovered our bikes, and headed toward the water, dodging pedestrians and horse poop, but keeping pace with other cyclists and horse-drawn carriages.

taxi transport

It was a step back in time, and a peddler’s paradise.

Closing my eyes, I could focus on the sound of a world without machines, because  motorized travel has been outlawed since 1898.

An 8-mile highway loops around the island, hugging the shore,

infinite water and sky

offering amazing views of Lake Huron’s crystal clarity,

tide pool

and access to Arch Rock, a popular geologic limestone formation close to downtown.

Arch Rock

Equally impressive is Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel,

Grand Hotel

opened in 1887,

Grand Hotel award

and still operated by the Musser family through three generations.

The all-wood hotel boasts the longest porch in the world, at 660 ft. (200 m),

Grand Hotel entrance

and overlooks a picturesque tea garden.

Grand Hotel with flowers

Nearby, the Little Stone Church,

Little Stone Church

constructed in 1904 with field stone offers local history through its colorful stained glass windows.

stained glass window

After a full afternoon of cycling and sightseeing, Leah and I were aboard Shepler’s ferry, heading back to Mackinaw City.

During the 20-minute return ride, I thought about the variant spelling and linguistics of Mackinac/Mackinaw, and its similarity to immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and emerged with new surnames, courtesy of disinterested immigration officials. 

So what are the chances, a real Shlepper immigrated to America and his name was changed to Shepler?

Imagine the public relations coup for his offspring today.

 

Agawa Rock Pictographs

The trail was advertised as 0.5 km.

“It’s probably very steep,” Leah figures.

“How hard can it be?” I wonder, still a skeptic.

“It says so in the brochure,” she states. “I quote, ‘Caution is advised when venturing onto this rock ledge due to its slope and the unpredictable nature of Lake Superior and its wave action.'”

“Sounds like fun. We should see it,” I suggest. “This is ancient historical shit!”

“It sounds a lot like the petroglyphs that we saw in Nevada,” she offers.

“You mean the Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park,” I acknowledge.

“Exactly!” she states.

“But this one’s on the water, and not the desert,” I tease.

“I know that, smart ass, and it’s also harder to get to, so you need to be careful!” Leah lectures.

“Like I said, how hard can it be?” I reiterate.

We park the truck only minutes from our campsite at Agawa Bay, and enter the trailhead where we are met with a screaming red sign:

warning (2)

“Like I said…” drops Leah.

I deflect the dig. “Check it out.” I direct Leah’s attention to a different sign to our right–a red diamond hammered to a tree with a white arrow and 400 km on it.

“That’s where the trail begins. And according to that sign, we’ve already walked 20% of the trail!”

It’s true the trail is rugged and a scramble. The descent runs through a narrow chasm, over sharp boulders and bulging roots. But it’s only treacherous if wearing flip flops, which a student rangerette at the visitor’s center admits can be a problem with some hikers.

Halfway to our destination, a gash in the cliff exposes a 10 ft granite chunk mysteriously wedged between darkness and daylight.

split rock (2)

In 15 minutes we arrive at a clearing of flat rock where the sky opens up to the water. A colorful cliff 15 stories high looms above us, grabbing my attention.

Painted Rock

Leah is content holding onto a pipe rail that separates the adventurous from the cautious.

“Are you coming?” I ask.

“Down there? Not a chance!” Leah answers instinctively.

A short drop onto a wet ledge of granite sloping into Lake Superior takes added time, but planting my feet with measured steps is the best method for staying safe.

on a ledge
courtesy of Leah

Knotted ropes threaded through embedded pipes are there to assist the daredevils who spill into 50° F water.

from Picturegraph ledge

Once I get my footing, I can sidle across the ledge for a better look at the cliff face.

painted rockface

Venturing further out on the ledge, I meet Mishipeshu, the Great Lynx, who was empowered by the ancient Ojibways to control Lake Superior.

Mishibizhiw Great Lynx, who controlled Lake Superior

There are dozens of sacred drawings set in stone, dating back to the 17th century, but most are faded and nearly unrecognizable from eons of sun, water, ice and wind. Their message remains unknown, but experts reason that the pictographs depict historical events, and could signify manitous from shamanistic ceremonies.

I carefully manuever onto terra firma,

Agawa Rock Lake Superior (3)

and we hike back to the parking lot.

“That was amazing, down there,” I exclaim.

“It was alright,” notes Leah.

“But you never got to see the pictographs,” I mention.

“That’s OK. You did all the hard work for me. I’ll just have a look at your photographs,” she laughs.