Sunflowers make us happy. Sunflowers make everyone happy. And for just $20 you can head out to a small friendly farm just a little bit outside Milwaukee and spend as much time as you like wandering among the sunflowers before choosing a dozen to take home. The farm is mostly BYOS (bring your own scissors) but does have a few extra shears laying around. They also have a beautiful wild flower landscaped butterfly garden. Click here for more information and directions.
After spending a few weeks at home we found ourselves a bit anxious about the coming school year. And this was before hearing about the small meteor hurtling toward earth and due to arrive the day before the election. Don’t worry, it probably won’t hit us. But then again, who thought Donald Trump would ever be president?
So we headed a little bit west and a whole lot north in order to circle Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I can tell you that they sure do have a lot of trees up there. Waterfalls too which might explain why we needed to book our campsites a couple weeks in advance. Even with doing so we only managed to snag one night at Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park. The two hotels we stayed at in Michigan were also overpriced and terrible in their own unique ways. Funniest was the lodge in Ironwood where our room had a sticky stain that covered about a third of the carpet. We suspected a possible recent homicide. I brought this concern to the clerk who amazingly knew the history of the stain, detailed how they plan to eventually remove said stain and deducted twenty dollars from my stay. Not much more to say about that.
Based on the Trump to Biden sign ratio (about 20:1) I would say the local politics are mostly to the right of Wyoming with the more affluent college bubbles (like Marquette) trending more so to the left. Again though this is just based on lawn signs although one overheard, never ending and quite loud conversation (across the road from our tent but still we could hear every word spoken) was clearly mined from the lethal combination of Fox News talking points and conspiracy websites. On and on the old men practically shouted their convictions while we pretended not to listen. Meanwhile the sun set over the Tahquamenon River. It was beautiful; a soft riot of colors blending into the tannin water while the sky darkened around our campfire. Curiously there were few birds present and the wide river moved like a whisper to Lake Superior. It was just the men speaking and the lovely visuals of a closing day; a contrast in experiences and a fitting end to this summer.
After four thousand miles, twenty-eight days and five states we are finally home. There have been many larger trips but this one was by far the most anxious undertaken. It began with the simple thought that while it would be horrible to get sick on the road, it was actually much more Covid-safe out there than it was here. Here was over seven thousand people who never recovered from Covid (with more than half that number coming from our county). There were places with less than a thousand total cases and maybe a handful of deaths. They could maybe afford a bit of Covid carelessness.
Turns out that pretty much everywhere we visited is now Covid worse. One example is Uinitah County in Utah where we spent two pleasant days in Vernal. They now have twice as many Covid cases as they did before our visit (62 versus 31). While there we noted that all the big chains required employees to wear masks but not their customers. Some sort of traveling circus had also reportedly just left town and the 4th of July parade was going on as planned. Fortunately, no one in that county has yet to pass away from Covid but then death is a lagging indicator; we will not know the true Covid toil there for some time. It will also be another week or so before we know for sure whether or not we contracted Covid in Vernal or any of the other places we carefully visited.
One-month later Chicago feels different. In my quiet northwest bubble, I see lots of children riding bikes together. They hang out together like kids everywhere have always done and it feels reassuring and terrifying at the same time. Stores are reopened but with size limits fully enforced. Just like before our trip, nobody within these places are mask less. Midweek the stores are more crowded than they were before our trip but still feel eerily empty.
Someday there will be a vaccine. Or someday the virus will sufficiently burn its way through the population making subsequent flare ups less deadly. Either way there is a lot of living to be had until then and we all need to strike a balance between reckless carelessness and paralyzing fear. For us this means wearing masks inside, visiting friends and family outdoors and avoiding crowds as much as possible. This simple way of life, rooted in the present and hopefully soon to be a relic, is just another of many lagging indicators.
After Red Lodge we spent some time touring colleges in Ft. Collins and Boulder. It was a downright spooky thing to do as both campuses had this post-apocalyptic vibe going on. Things were especially desolate within the main college square areas, you know, that tree lined area most colleges have which is featured in every university mailer. There the message boards were completely bare. These areas also featured lonely bike racks and even lonelier groundkeepers who somehow looked downright sinister while pruning back bushes. And there was absolutely no there to give tours or answer questions. The only other family we spied wandering these wastelands looked just as confused and lost as we were. Maybe it was my imagination, but they also appeared a bit frightened by us, as if we ourselves were some sort of ghostly appearance.
We like Boulder. We like Ft. Collins better. Seems like this is pretty much everyone’s opinion. From the shop owner in Ft. Collins (who grew up in Boulder), “There is just something too Boulder about Boulder.” The hotel clerk here in Boulder (who grew up in Colorado Springs) said something similar which begs the questions, what exactly does “being too Boulder” mean?
Maybe we misheard the intent and “being Boulder” is actually a good thing. That would make sense as the surrounding mountains here are absolutely beautiful. People here are pretty cool too; relaxed, friendly and willing to engage strangers in all types of conversations. But we think being Boulder refers to something else entirely, something not quite so positive. Boulder is very crowded and also very expensive to live in (but then so are many other beautiful places like Telluride and Jackson Hole). Does being Boulder maybe refer to its very progressive politics? Maybe, but I am not sure that Ft. Collins is that much more conservative than Boulder. Honestly, we have no idea what being “too Boulder” means but there is a fundamental difference between the less crowded, slightly less costly Ft. Collins and it’s uber-rich cousin Boulder.
I know one thing; Boulder is by far the most Covid-cautious place we have been all summer. Twice we have had our temperature checked before entering a business (a book store and brew pub). Masks are worn inside but also outside and even sometimes when walking alone on an empty sidewalk. In store maximum crowd sizes are also strictly enforced. But life still manages to go on with people able to shop, eat outside and hike to their hearts content just so long as they follow all rules (we continued to hike mostly mask-less but covered our mouths whenever moving close to someone). It really is a glimpse of how people today can safely balance being social while also being safe. Beer will always find a way.
The Milky Way stretched out like a rainbow across the cloudless night. Laying on our backs on the Signal Mountain boat dock we saw so many stars that the constellations became meaningless. The stars also reflected back up from the water like yellow pin pricks. This was my favorite moment from the eight nights we spent camping in Grand Teton National Park.
That and other moments made up for a bit of car drama. The worst of it was when we realized the back hatch was not locking. Corey ended up walking behind the car while I inched our way back to the campsite (a very long quarter mile).
After eight nights camping, we find ourselves at a boutique hotel in Red Lodge Montana. The Pollard Hotel (built in 1893 and originally named something else) is a fine hotel. We also saw more wildlife (a wolf, bear, elk and hundreds, maybe thousands of bison) on the drive through Yellowstone than we have seen all trip. We also survived and even enjoyed the Bear Tooth Highway. Have more stories to share, but a hot shower and a comfy bed are calling. Hope you enjoy all the pictures.
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.
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.
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.
Happy 4th of July everyone! Be safe and will talk to you soon.
This is not the first time Ouray has faced a global pandemic. From 1918-1919 the then thriving mining town enacted a very strict quarantine that initially protected its citizens from the horrors of the Spanish flu. Eventually though the virus broke through with their hospitals then quickly overwhelmed. Times though now are different. Luckily Covid is nowhere near as deadly as the Spanish flu although Ouray no longer actually has any hospitals to be overwhelmed. Per conversations with locals, the only available medical care is at an urgent care in Silverton (a steep drive up the Million Dollar highway) or a tiny hospital in Montrose which is about forty miles away. Any Covid outbreak in Ouray would almost definitely result in patients having to be flown for treatment. Maybe this is why the small town requires all patrons to not only wear masks but to wash their hands with this strange moonshine concoction available by the door that practically strips your skin away while you scrub. Sip it and you will go blind.
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.
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.