The steep trail that leads directly from our campsite to the Marina
Woke up two nights ago to a flashlight shining bright into my tent. It was deep night, probably around 4 AM. First I was scared. But then, as I gradually woke up, I became mad. Figured a neighbor was accidentally pointing a light into my tent. So I Got myself out of the tent in order to check things out. And there it was, the moon, almost full and just banking over the trees. It was so bright it hurt my eyes to look at it.
Our campsite at the Signal Mountain Campground
I’m very use to not getting a good night sleep. Happens all the time but is more likely when camping. There is just so much more to wake me up when sleeping outside. Last night it was an angry owl. At least I assume it was angry. Also kind of assumed it was angry at me as it just kept getting louder and louder. Like it had something to say to me. Corey kind of remembers the hooing but it never truly woke her. Henna had no idea. And really that is how it always goes as I’m the only one ever disturbed by crazy roosters (everywhere in Maui) or a bunch of teenagers putting up a tent at 6 AM (three nights ago; loudest damn thing I ever heard and not one stir by the ladies). A few years ago I left my tent in the middle of the night and spied a huge bear pacing back and forth about 100 yards from the tent. There were lots of other campers around and we were never really in any danger. But it still took me an hour or more to fall back to sleep while all the time Corey and Henna slept on.
The calendar and pandemic both contributed mightily in our decision to spend a bit more time in Vernal, UT than we had planned. How so? Well, the Tetons are one of the last few national parks where most campsites are given out on a first come first serve basis. It is a system that rewards the Noels’ of the world but greatly punishes the not so early bird type (you know, like Corey and Henna). So plan A was to spend July 3rd in Pinedale, WY then drive north on the 4th to the Gros Ventre campground which usually never fills or at least not until late at night. Then after a day or two we would drive just a bit further north to our true Summer home, the Signal Mountain Campground (site 41 if possible) which often fills up by 9 AM in the summer. But this year the 4th is on a Saturday. And there is a definite nesting instinct going on where people (us included) are becoming nomadic in their wandering. So on July 2nd the Gros Ventre campground filled up by 10 AM. Our best guess is that a whole lot of these people will end up staying through the weekend.
At Douglas Pass on CO-139 (elevation 8,268′). The 70 mile plus route has no services and only a few scattered ranches along the route. Limited amount of travelers too and we had this summit entirely to ourselves before getting back in the car and coasting down to Rangely.
It just so happens that I was a bit upset we would not have time to check out Dinosaur Monument in Colorado. Turns out though there is a second entrance to monument just east of Vernal, UT. Amazingly, tiny Vernal, Utah has not one, but two Marriott hotels. Like everywhere else, however, campgrounds and Airbnb’s are booked solid. Hotels though remain pretty much empty and we were able to use points to book a very sweet room for two nights which allowed us time to both explore Dinosaur Monument and time our entrance to the Tetons for Sunday i.e. the best day ever to arrive at a first come first serve campground and especially when that day happens to also be the 5th of July.
Along the short hike but blistering hot hike from the Visitor’s Place to the Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument. There was a free, open air shuttle available with alternating empty rows of seats but we decided to walk instead.
At Quarry Hall visitors are able to view and even touch a whole mess of dinosaur bones deeply embedded within solid rock.
There are also many petroglyphs within the National Park. These images were created by the Fremont people over a thousand years ago.
Billboard seen heading east toward the Colorado border on 40. Make no mistake, this is a very conservative part of the country. A confusing country too where it seems easier to buy an assault weapon than a six pack of real beer.
Happy 4th of July everyone! Be safe and will talk to you soon.
No mask for this cat but its owner wore masks proudly advertising their love for one of our favorite National Parks.
They were much more cavalier in Gunnison. Again, per local conversation, Gunnsion has one local hospital with about twenty beds available (and no ICU beds at all). Some of the businesses there did require masks but others were more defiant in the face of common sense. At one ice cream shop the elder employee gave us a lengthy lecture on how it is more important to wash ones hands than to wear a mask. At that point we were less than a week away from our Covid aplenty Chicago neighborhood and a day away from the Colorado Spring area which has seen a recent uptick in cases. Our worn masks were definitely more for his than our protection.
Henna looking down into the abyss of Black Canyon Gunnison
Most distressing to us was experience at the KOA in Ouray where masks were not even encouraged within the campground store or other indoor places. Some employees though did wear masks. Many though wore them around their neck and then covered their nose and mouth only when talking to a masked customer. I have seen this type of situational mask covering and it kind of makes sense. Very respectful but only minimally effective. There may have been a few social distancing markers but those were mostly ignored by the customers and there were no attempts at limiting the amount of people within the store. A large number of campers appeared to be from Texas which is currently among the top Covid surging states in the country. We kept our distance from others as much as possible and wore masks whenever indoors. Hopefully this was enough to keep us safe.
Two thirds of Hennacornoelidays are pushing fifty and we still spend quite a lot of time sleeping on the ground. I’ll admit it; each summer it takes a little more nudging to leave my comfortable home in search of road time adventures (and our new king size ain’t helping matters). Also seems to be taking my body longer to adjust sleeping in a tent. But man, right now, while typing these words out in the open with the sun just barely breaking through the pines to bake my back, there is nowhere else I would rather be.
Been a few days into our tip now and we are beginning to settle into the new normal. Just like at home, we wear masks indoors and go mostly mask less when outside. And I would say that a little more than 50% of Southeast Coloradoans are on the same page as us. The fact that our rented cottage has roughly the same dimensions as our home-home also goes a long way to making us feel mostly Covid safe. Corey and Henna are presently cooking up some ratatouille while outside a mountain storm whimpers away and I cannot begin to tell you how snug this feels. Makes me almost forget about the storm presently ravaging Florida, Arizona and Texas. Pueblo County, or the populous area pressed directly against our current Teller County home, is also experiencing a small increase in cases. I chart these fluctuations like a sailor marks the weather. We have no firm plans past this Sunday night and are prepared to flee in any direction at a moment’s notice. But for right now we are content to sit back and relax; to acclimate to the new altitude as much as possible.
Hiking at Garden of The Gods in Colorado Springs, CO
Although outside, we definitely wore our masks while shopping at the Woodland Park Farmers Market. All the vendors wore masks and there were also restrictions about how many people could approach a table at one time.
This and the above photo were taken at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Cars were stopped at the gate to ensure that there were never too many people at one time viewing the restored ruins. We also had to give our names and phone number before entering the gift shop/museum as part of a contact tracing program. Most but not all tourists wore masks.
We left on our summer trip last year on this exact date, June 23rd. Our first night was Lincoln, NE. And that is also where we are tonight. Neither of these details were planned and only realized while I was scanning last years details on my Instagram feed. It’s been a long year, and although I am not a person to look for meaning, I can’t help but look back on this year and, well….feel just a bit that we entered some kind of worm hole last summer. Hear me out- once we returned from our trip, it seemed as if our whole world turned upside down and kept getting shaken up, over and over. There was death, a school strike, a global pandemic, protests and civil unrest, only to end with another death. I realize that life can do this, and I know that many of you reading feel the same way about this past year, but damn. It just keeps hitting harder and harder.
So this is why we are hoping to find that worm hole we entered last year, re enter and set the world right again. I wish this could be true. That the events in the past could be redone. Loved ones could come back, and we all would feel at peace, safe and healthy in the world. But that’s not how things work. I always say, I can’t go back only forward. So on this journey I plan on resetting my mind and body. Reconnecting with nature and my own rhythms that have been out of wack all year. I want to slow down and just be with the two people who mean the most to me in this world. I realized today that although we’ve been stuck together for months in our house, it was a busy, stressed out life together.
I also plan on allowing the people who left me this year to flood my thoughts and teach me how to keep moving forward.
In a few days we leave our comfortable Edison Park home to head out toward the great unknown. And it is truly one great unknown as the country right now seems to be pulling apart from the strain of Covid, racial injustices and the blunt force of a powerful man hell bent on flaming every fire. We still believe though that below smoke mostly lies people just like you and I trying their best to get by.
Right now, on June 20, 2020, there have been 317 Covid cases within our 60631 zip code (which comes out to roughly 1% of the local population). Most everyone here knows at least a few people who have had the virus. Many also know one or more people who never recovered. Statewide we are still having anywhere from 500 to 700 new cases a day which is a great improvement from when we went weeks with over 1,000 (and often close to 2,000) cases a day. Recently we went two days in a row with “only” 19 fatalities attributed to Covid but typically get somewhere between 30 and 90 deaths a day. Not that long ago we frequently recorded numbers just under two hundred deaths a day. The psychological wear on watching this daily carnage cannot be overstated.
Still we hardly ever wear masks when outside. This includes cocktails with neighbors (six feet apart), biking and long walks through the neighborhood. We always wear masks when inside a store. This seems to be the general rule in our relatively quiet northwest side neighborhood although there are plenty of masked walkers about. All the camps and other activities remain closed with bands of kids now walking and biking together. Sometimes within these groups you see one lone masked rider. When visiting family we stay outside but will now go inside to use the bathroom. When hanging out with my grandmother we do so within a vestibule with her on the other side of the assisted living glass. Conversations are by phone.
Edison Park and the rest of the state though are slowly waking up from the quarantine. Restaurants (for now only outdoor seating) are bustling with masked waiters and mostly unmasked customers. The city has also allowed, maybe even encouraged places to expand into the sidewalk. Last night a side street was closed to vehicle traffic which allowed for a European-like plaza dining experience. I hope this continues well past a vaccine being developed.
A few businesses remain boarded up. While there was no looting in the Edison Park downtown area, a few stores nearby were broken into. There also have been several positive car parades protesting peacefully against police brutality and other racial injustices. This is no small thing for our predominately white and heavily city worker populated neighborhood where Blue Lives Matters signs outnumber Black Lives Matter by an infinity to zero margin. But even here, where I feel safer walking the streets than scrolling some of my neighbor’s FB feeds, there are signs of change like the large hand-drawn sign promoting equality which was posted on a neighbor’s fence. Our alderman, who you may know from his frequent appearances on Fox, yesterday posted a sincere Happy Juneteenth message that included a very stirring quote from Frederick Douglas. Most people I know here are welcome to at least some change but resent the implication that their service (often performed heroically and under the worst of conditions) is part of the problem. I reject the sum zero nature of defunding the police but see how everyone (especially police) benefit from more community resources such as mental health facilities, social workers embedded into units and job training to go along with greater accountability.
Last night while playing Frisbee with Henna I heard a whole lot of honking from the main drag. I went to investigate and was surprised to see that it was a car parade celebrating Juneteenth Day. Among the diverse revelers were several Black Lives Matter signs. There were other observers and in that moment I honestly had no idea where anyone stood. I gave a friendly wave to one car then walked back home. Later I read how the Vice President was pressed to acknowledge that Black lives matter. Best he could come up with was that all lives matter. And I sort of understand his cowardice. I mean, look at what Colin Kaepernick gave up for taking a knee (a gesture first suggested to him by a retired Army Green Beret named Nate Boyer)? But maybe now is the time for all of us to be just a little more brave. I’ll go first. Black Lives Matter.
Want to see the great outdoors but don’t want to fly or spend a night on the road? Live in Chicago? Well we have the guide for you. Although not necessarily the most wild places to go, they are fun and will keep your family outside (where it’s much safer than the scary indoors).
Starved Rock State Park. Why is Starved Rock the number one destination on pretty much every person’s Chicago-centric nature to do list? Credit the state park’s abundance of sheer cliffs, circling bald eagles and cooling canyons that beg to be explored on a hot mid-western day. Honestly, winter is a better time to go as the crowds are low and the eagles more. One way though to avoid the summer crowds is to park at Council Overhangs which is located near Ottawa. Another pro-tip is to head to Muffy’s Tap for a late lunch/early dinner on their patio before heading home.
Indiana Dunes State Beach. Again, not exactly breaking any ground here as the Dunes have been sucking up the Chicago crowds for generations. Choices on a sunny day are a very crowded beach with very suspect social-distancing going on or hiking one of the park’s many trails which snake around several wetland areas before climbing up the dunes to epic Lake Michigan views. Many of these trails, including the mountainous 3 Dune Challenge, lead directly from the visitor’s center.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Located on the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant, Midewin offers up a lot of trails that wind in between bison pastures and abandoned military relics which include several small silo looking things once used to store ammo. Trails were filled with bikes last time we were there, but maybe call ahead to make sure this is still a thing(815) 423 – 6370.
Palos Township. Quite a lot to hike here. Our favorite small hike is located adjacent to the Little Red Schoolhouse in Willow Springs. Other nearby hikes include Swallow Cliff Woods North (Palos Hills) which involves many stairs up to a pretty impressive view and then less crowded trails beyond. Afterwards check out the Imperial Oaks Brewery.
Blue Mound State Park. Even more Midwestern elevation can be found at Blue Mound State Park. Actually not a lot of trails here, but it is really a beautiful spot well worth the three hour drive from Chicago. Make it even more worthwhile and spend a little extra time at the New Glarus Brewery (and if you do, bring me back a six pack of Spotted Cow). Call ahead of time though to see if open (a quick search by me just now suggests that it is not).
Devil’s Lake State Park (a bit north of Madison, WI). More Wisconsin fun can be found here beginning with a “mountain” ringed lake that stays shallow well past the shore line. Things to do include rock climbing (use a guide if you have never done this before), hiking the aforementioned “mountains,” boating and, of course, taking a dip in the lake. Stop for a bite in Madison before heading back to the city.
Kenosha, WI. On the last birthday before the pandemic, my awesome family brought me to Kenosha for the day. Kenosha is a beautiful little town with an even more beautiful and incredibly Frisbee friendly harbor area. Lots of museums too (which even if they are open you should probably skip until a vaccine is developed.) The Kenosha Sand Dunes are a lot more virus friendly to explore but are a bit difficult to find as some of the trail heads are embedded within a small housing development.
North Park Nature Center: Close to home and a longtime Hennacornoelidays favorite. Opened in 1915, the 160-acre Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium Complex was once one of the country’s largest sanitariums back when tuberculosis was ravaging the land (more things change the more things stay the same). An architectural gem, the complex has eleven surviving buildings dating from 1911 to 1931 designed by the architectural firm Otis and Clark.There are also several lovely trails as well as a small man-made waterfall originally designed and landscaped by Jens Jensen. On your way home stop at Mee Mah’s for some yummy Chinese food. If you see Bob there, tell him we say hi.
The North Branch Trail System (Cook County Forest Preserve). Start at Super Dawg and end at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. In between are endless side trips with one favorite being renting kayaks at the Skokie Lagoon. Hike it, bike it, even ride horses on it. So close to home and never anywhere near as crowded as the lakefront trail.
Kankakee River State Park (in Kankakee) and Rock Cut State Park (Rockford). Never been to the first one and only saw a little bit of the latter. Both places though are about an hour or two from Chicago and boast miles and miles of trails. Rock Cut State Park also has a swimming beach. If you go, please drop a line to let us know if it is worth the drive.
Celebrating Corey at Timmerman’s Supper Club (East Dubuque, IL)
It was Corey’s birthday yesterday so I got her a mountain. Or, to be a little more exact, the three of us visited Charles Mound which is the highest point of Illinois (1,235 feet). Although described by Wikipedia as being only a “gentle hill,” it still allows one a certain perspective of the world. It is so peaceful there, so far away from all the current troubles of the world. Just remember not to venture too far on the private driveway or you will see a Trump/Pence sign mounted in the surrounding corn field.
Charles Mound is located among a tangle of country roads just south of Wisconsin and in between Galena and Dubuque. It is the 45th highest state point in the country so take that Delaware! GPS made it easy to fine but the quarantine made the one mile walk a bit more strenuous than we care to admit. The small hike and the mound itself are both on private property with the owners generous enough to allow the public to visit the first weekend of every month. This link has better information for your trip.
This is my first blog entry in a while and the first since the pandemic. To date almost six thousand people in Illinois have passed from the virus. That number includes one gentle giant I wish I had known better. We also have several friends and family members who are in various stages of recovery from Covid. The virus is no laughing matter and we plead for everyone to stay safe.
The new normal while shopping for books in Dubuque. Hard to believe Henna thinks my mask makes me look ridicuous.
Weighing on us too is the horrific murder of George Floyd. That it was done in broad daylight on a crowded city block makes it even more difficult to understand. I have no idea what it is like to be a police officer. So many work so hard protecting the communities they serve while at the same time dealing with a lack of respect from citizens and politicians alike. At the same time, however, I also have no real idea what it would be like to be African-American. Corey has a friend who will not allow her son to ride in the front passenger seat. The reason is that if, pulled over, she wants the police to treat her son like a child and not as an adult black male. This is the world of fear she lives in. And her concerns are something that I, as a white man, can only barely comprehend.
We do still plan on traveling this summer. It will of course look a bit different with our focus being more about conversations with strangers. Which is often hard to do while masked and standing six feet apart.