Friday, August 9, 2013

“Trip of a Lifetime”

We do a beach trip each summer that’s two or sometimes three days, but we haven’t done a longer vacation since we visited The Patriarch’s mom back in . . . gosh, 2004? So when our eldest, Malcolm, became engaged, we knew we’d have to drive it and decided to take our time coming home and see some of the country. We’ve been planning for months, and now, 4500 miles later, we’re home. I’m going to do any posts on the trip in reverse order so you don’t have to scroll up, and if you’re not from our family, these will likely bore you to tears, so feel free to skip :-). I also don’t have the professional wedding pictures at this point, so I think I’ll hold off on a wedding post until those are available.

Heading out, all excited. We would eventually have moments of being so heartily sick of the van, but it was at long last time to take off!

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Only time I’ll mention my health here, but wow. They had put me on Reglan for the nausea a few days before we left. I had side effects that now that we’re back and I can google, I see are not that unusual. I had increasing anxiety (I would never commit suicide but had many thoughts about understanding the temptation) which became panic attacks around heights/curves in the road. Which . . . let me just say we drove over the Rockies twice, the Cascades twice, and vacationed in Montana. Poor Patriarch, can you imagine? I was the only other driver – at least I was able to drive still during the first bulk of the trip, but these side effects got worse over time. I did stay on the Reglan, though, since it made the nausea go away entirely every afternoon. Mornings were brutally bad, however. I will be going off of it now but didn’t dare while we were still vacationing!

After the Wedding: July 28th, 30th, 31st

Sunday morning we went to a gift-opening brunch, but then said our goodbyes and headed to our first vacation stop, which was just 45 minutes away. I had a feeling we’d need an evening to just unwind for a bit, and there couldn’t be a better place to do so than Strawberry Farm Bed and Breakfast in Muscatine, Iowa. Parts of it were built in the 1850s, parts remodeled in the 1860s, and parts added on in the early 1900s. The owners were so warm and gracious.

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Inside and out, this home relaxed us all immediately. Children headed to hammocks in a gazebo:

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and on a lovely screened-in porch:

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The screened porch also had a swing and a cat:

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We thoroughly unwound, had lovely bedrooms, and the most delicious breakfast the next morning on china and crystal:

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A fresh fruit bowl, including Muscatine melon, a scramble of eggs, potatoes, and random sausage-y goodness, and a sour cream apple coffee cake.

Full and rested, we headed out Monday morning (regretfully!) for Pella, Iowa. Pella was settled by Dutch immigrants and has a wonderful European feel. We watched a “klockenspiel” with mechanical figures, roamed the streets, and had Dutch pastries with our lunches:

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Tarquin found a stage in the park where we ate lunch and had to give us an impromptu performance:

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Our route from Pella to where we were staying overnight had an unexpected detour, and we arrived at the home we were renting late, 9 pm, only to discover that we had written down the wrong code to the electronic door lock. Our Sprint phones had no coverage at all, so we’d picked up a cheapie Verizon phone which turned out to be such a blessing! With barely a bar in Alta Vista, Iowa, we were able to get a text message (after we’d given up waiting and were headed an hour away to the nearest city with motels, down narrow country backroads) that had us turn around and successfully get in to the house.

Tuesday’s events were a trip to the Fossil Prairie Park & Reserve Center, a great spot outside of Floyd, IA, where you can dig for fossils and actually keep what you find! This is extremely rare – there are other places around the country where you can dig, but you leave your finds there. What we didn’t know was that there is also a delightful interpretative center there, which we very much enjoyed.

The other delightful thing about this park is that the fossils are thick and plentiful, and although I’d only brought along three garden tools, those of us who had sticks for tools did just as well. The fossils were of sea life – shells, coral, and the like – and rain combined with the soft shale keeps fresh fossil material at the top. So it was sufficient to just plop down on the ground and start turning over “gravel” looking for fossils, and we all got many handfuls. What a treat! Here is Clara, but you can see Araminta up to the left and Nigel to the right:

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After enjoying the interpretive center, we headed not-so-far-away to Mason City, Iowa because we are all fans of that old corny, wonderful movie The Music Man. I knew that that the place closed at 5, but when we arrived at the “Music Man Square” at 4:30, we were told that the docent had just gone home, early because of a brass band festival that night. We must have looked really disappointed, because the gentleman told us that he wouldn’t charge admission if we couldn’t have the official tour, but the ice cream parlor was at the very end of the building, and if we wanted to buy some ice cream, he’d be happy to sell us some and walk slowly to get there. So so magical :-). Better, in our opinion, than if we’d taken the tour (at $40 total admission). He talked us down one side and up the other, sold those who could eat ice cream some lovely ice cream, and urged us not to miss the bathrooms, which had brass ceilings and fixtures. We had the whole “street” to ourselves and it was just a dreamy, removed place to be. No pictures because we felt wrong about imposing on that kindness, but here are the children outside Meredith Wilson’s birthplace next door (and yes, Tarquin is wearing pajama pants. He was reacting so badly to the pollen and/or humidity that we didn’t have the heart to make him put anything rougher on those ripped up legs):

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As if digging for fossils and visiting the Music Man Hall weren’t enough magic for one day, there was another little stop I’d read about ahead. We were headed to a just-a-motel in Spencer, Iowa that night, but off that highway about 15 minutes is an extraordinary spot called The Grotto of the Redemption. I will post a few photos, but since the entire thing is made of beautiful crystals, semi-precious stones, marble, and devotion, there is no real way to convey the beauty of this place. At any given spot, there was the meta-beauty, but each foot of wall was gorgeous in and of itself. Here, I tried:

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It was the work of three men, over many years, and is just beyond description, depicting the story of redemption from Adam and Eve to the Resurrection.

On the next day, we made a brief stop at a unique store. Have you heard of the University of Okoboji? It is an entirely fictitious university, created in the early 1970’s by three brothers with too much time on their hands. It has endured, however, with folks claiming to be graduates from all over the country and in other countries as well. We couldn’t resist T-shirts and now we’re grads, too. All I can say is Go Phantoms!

We had planned a trip to the Cayler Prairie Preserve, a 785 acre restored prairie, but Sally GPS took us to the back of it, no trails, no entryway, no nothin’. I had been questioning the wisdom of walking the little guys through all that pollen, anyway, so we got out and looked at the prairie. We talked about the prairie as a habitat and the history of our country in prairie.

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From there, we headed out to our next stop, a house we’d rented for the next two nights in Hadley, Minnesota, population 61 at the last census. What a gorgeous place.

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The house sits right on a lake, with a canoe out back. The owner had mentioned in an email that it was easier to play in the water from a spot further down the lake, so Clara and I became canoe-chauffeurs and went back and forth eight times to get everyone to the beach :-).

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That was a super long post! Next up, the next few days, natch!

Vacation: August 1st and 2nd

After a game night our first night in Hadley, we headed to bed early and woke early, setting out for a spot near Walnut Grove, MN where you can see the actual dugout described in “On the Banks of Plum Creek” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. What a delight.

Cross a little footbridge (not there in Laura’s time)

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Plum Creek:

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No picture of the dugout, inexplicably . . . I think I got enjoying myself too much. But it frankly looks like a hole in a hill. I kept thinking, “Poor Caroline!” My not-very-distant ancestors lived in a soddy, which I guess was a step up from a dugout. Brave women.

Next stop was DeSmet, South Dakota, the “little town on the prairie” of By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years.

We went on a tour that included the original surveyor’s house that seemed so sumptuous to young Laura but seemed so tiny to us! Also there was the school that Laura and Carrie attended (moved to the site) and the house that Charles built Caroline – Laura had married Almonzo by that time, but the other girls lived in that house.

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Woody went everywhere with us – it was a birthday gift to Tarquin on the trip. Here he enjoys the Ingalls house:

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We also went to the town cemetery, where Pa, Ma, Mary, Grace, and Carrie are buried. My, but there were old graves there.

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After that, we went back to the house at Hadley and re-packed the van and tried to get some sleep – the next day we knew we had a brutal drive ahead.

Early up, and about seven hours later we were at Mount Rushmore!

CAM01431 It’s not like y’all haven’t seen Mt. Rushmore, but anyway . . .

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Love this one – Patriarch and other towering men

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From Mt. Rushmore we drove to Gillette, Wyoming and stayed overnight at a motel. Our original plan was to wake up incredibly early the next day and drive through Yellowstone to our next destination in Montana. It was going to be a super super long driving day, and we had to begin early as the owner of the Montana house warned us not to try arriving in the dark, that it was a difficult place to find up a dirt road without street signs or lights. Well, when The Patriarch went out to the van the next morning, he noticed that one of the tires was notably deflated. He took it to a Gillette Walmart with a tire center, and they checked it thoroughly and couldn’t find anything wrong. This set us back far enough, though, that there was no way to do Yellowstone, and we instead drove around it and down through Bozeman. What a long drive. She was right, though. Even in the light, we got lost at one point. The place was really remote (and thank goodness again for that cheap Verizon phone) outside of Ennis, Montana. I’ll post about Ennis in the next post.

Ennis, Montana – August 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th

Our last stop on this trip was a house we rented for four nights called “Madison Ranch” on a hill outside of Ennis, Montana. From looking at the map, I imagined the small towns I’d known, but Ennis turned out to be a charming touristy town catering to the large amounts of fly-fishers there to enjoy the Madison River. We arrived Saturday evening late, and the next morning when we woke up the tire was way down again. Abandoning the plan for the day, we headed into Ennis only to find the tire place closed on Sunday. We had a good time wandering up one side of Ennis and down the other,

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and a conversation with a lovely pair of lady storekeepers gave us both an enthusiastic endorsement for a local tire place and invaluable information. We’d intended to go to Bannack, a local ghost town, on Monday, and they informed us that the town had been in a flash flood, closing it for repair for at least another month. Two buildings had been wiped out and five people injured. It was going to be a few hours drive, so it was providential to have had that conversation before we made the long trip only to find blocked off “closed” signs.

We returned to the place and just enjoyed hanging out the rest of Sunday. Madison Ranch was wonderful. It was a log house with plenty of big comfy beds for everyone, no squishing required. There was a deck that ran three sides of the building, to take advantage of the view, which was really indescribable. Mountain ranges to one side, hills to the other, far far away from it all, yet not spooky isolated, as there were other log houses on the mountain as well.

Pictures:

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Monday morning The Patriarch got the tire checked again in Ennis and they found the problem: a piece of metal that they were able to remove and patch up, then we were on the road to Virginia City, a nearby (well, over winding mountainous roads) town which was a charming combination of shops and ghost shops (but first a picnic lunch by a stream):

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That was our last outing of the trip. Tuesday we hung around Madison Ranch all day, journaling and playing board games and eating and just hanging out together:

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We were able to be all packed and in bed by 9:30 or so, which was good since my road/height/curve panic thing had increased to where The Patriarch did the entire drive back. Yikes. He’s a wonderful driver, but that’s just a whole lotta driving.

On the way out, our favorite eagle nest with a mama eagle, papa eagle, and three little eagles:

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And the Madison River:

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Off we go:

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and go, and go

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and go, and go

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and finally arrive home, about 9 pm.

When we arrived home, we discovered that The Patriarch had planned a surprise for us all. There was a new screen door to replace the broken one. New flooring on the main bathroom floor, a new toilet in there, new sink and faucet. A new sink and faucet in the master bath. And a new vanity, sink, and faucet in the downstairs bathroom/laundry room. Wasn’t that a great surprise after a weary traveling day? He figured every time he leaves town a home improvement project gets done, so he wanted to do a project (or in this case, a bunch of projects) when the rest of us left town! The friend who put in our wonderful kitchen counters did the work – it was an amazing finish to a wonderful vacation.