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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Apple Fritter Wars!

I am a fritter affectionado!  I confess.  I inherited this weakness from my Dad.  As we travel I love to check out local places for fritters. This place has the BEST apple fritters I've had yet. An apple in every bite. Fantastic texture. So to date the top 3 places for fritters by my standards are 

Granny's Donuts, West St Paul MN
Kim's Donuts, Titusville FL
Jerry's Cakes and Donuts, Rapid City SD

Hey - you gotta remember these things!

The owners are wonderful folks with a great sense of humor and they love to banter!  Worth the stop!!!!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Traveling across South Dakota

So we're traveling east across South Dakota. South Dakota is a large state (17th largest) with a small population (5th smallest). It's a long drive. Laura had never seen two South Dakota icons - Wall Drug 

Now that she's seen both - life is a little more complete (my words, not hers).  She used kitsch in her comments...).
"THE" Wall Drug!  They advertise on the highway for miles
before you ever get there!
Those walls are made of corn cobs of different colors!!!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Wind Cave National Park and South Dakota's Black Hills

So we headed north from Colorado through Wyoming to Rapid City, South Dakota.

As we traveled through Wyoming we noticed the wide open space. We stopped in Cheyenne, the capital of Wyoming, and remarked how small it was compared to other capitals we'd visited in the past. We looked up and realized that Wyoming is the smallest state based on population, about 550,000 people. It's another state that has 75 mph speed limits on two lane roads it is miles and miles of pasture and prairie.

We stayed in Rapid City, SD. We had time Sunday night so we drove through Custer State Park and their Wildlife Loop. During the drive we saw two huge elk herds up close and lots of buffalo, deer and antelope.

Monday we went Wind Cave, the first "Cave" National Park. The National Park Service works very hard to protect these national treasures. When we purchased our cave tour tickets they asked if we'd been in other caves, and of course we answered yes. Because of this they disinfected our shoes to make sure we did not bring any bacteria from the previous caves that we'd visited. White-nose syndrome is a fungus killing many cave bats, and the park service is doing its best not to spread it.

Wind Cave has +140 miles of passages and more are still being discovered today. It is a very different cave than Mammoth and Carlsbad. They commented on how we were going to be 250 ft deep at the end of our tour before we would take an elevator to the top and all we could think is walking out of Carlsbad from over 850 ft underground (it's all perspective). Fascinating formations in the cave that differed from formations we'd seen in other caves.

We also had a chance to hike on a trail to the highest point in the park. The vistas were stunning as you looked across the Black Hills and the prairies. unfortunately we saw many areas where trees were damaged from fire, beetle infestations and even high winds. These pine forests are both beautiful and quite fragile.

We saw so much wildlife over our visit - deer, antelope, elk, buffalo, turkey, prairie dogs, mountain goats and heard the coyotes howling.  Such a beautiful area!
Welcome to Wind Cave--an antelope is in the see the red circle.
Mountain goats were not shy at all, kind of ignored us.
The three 'stooges' (aka, elk) looking for the rest of the herd.

Prairie dogs enjoying a warm, sunny day.
Gorgeous vistas seen during our hike.
This guy is so big - he goes anywhere he wants!
Pine forests affected by fire, beetles and wind - so sad!
The rest of the elk herd.....

Mt Rushmore and Dow Corning - WHAT?

So I was surprised to see an exhibit at Mt Rushmore talking about Dow Corning's role in preserving the monument. I laughed because my buddy Ross is the one who originally came up with this idea years ago. Very cool to see both the idea of a friend come to fruition in such a significant way using products made by the company you worked for.
Mt Rushmore

Exhibit on preserving the monument

How it's done

How they blend it in
Our buddy Ross on the far right!  The man who had the idea!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs, CO is a fun city at the foothills of the Rockies. Weary from driving, we decided to stop and explore for a day or two. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Garden of the Gods and tour of the United States Air Force Academy.

Garden of the Gods is ranked as the #1 city park in the US by Trip Advisor.
It is gorgeous, filled with unbelievable geologic formations (cool rocks) and a great network of trails. We joined a park tour given by a park volunteer who was a retired professor from Michigan State University.  He was quite knowledgeable of the park, its history and lore - well worth the time and price (free). After the tour we hiked a few trails, drove the park and stopped at the visitors center (yes - we did this backwards). It's easy to spend many hours in the park, which we did. It's very popular with locals and visitors, so go early as parking fills quickly. The park is well worth the visit!

Interesting tidbit about the park, it was donated to the city of Colorado Springs in the early 1900s by a philanthropist who stipulated, among other things, that no alcohol be sold or served in the park. We chucked because while they do comply with the alcohol provision, with Colorado's position on cannabis, we noticed more than a few folks partaking in the serenity and beauty of the park.

We spent the afternoon at the United States Air Force Academy. This place is very special since Bob's brother is a graduate. This is an impressive institution! The Academy is one of four service academies in the US. At the visitors center, we learned about life at the Academy and its history and then walked to the chapel. It was spring break so we did not see many cadets. The Academy is a military installation and well worth a tour. 

Garden of the Gods, a garden of beautiful red rocks!

This is Balancing Rock

Boy these rocks are big! Those are real cars on the road, not toys.

The snow covered mountain is Pike's Peak in the Rockies.
Gorgeous spires of red rock reaching to the sky.

Over 4000 Cadets at the Air Force Academy

Such a unique Chapel

Stunning Organ!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve - snow covered

Welcome to Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado!
What a SHOCK going from +90F weather to below freezing in just a couple days. That's what happened to us as we headed north from Arizona / New Mexico to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The day we visited the park, it was blanketed with about six inches of snow from the previous night. It surprised us as there was no snow in Amorosa, Colorado where we had stayed the night (about 35 miles from the park). We joked that it looked like White Sands National Monument which we had visited a few days earlier!  

Great Sand Dunes National Park has the tallest sand dunes in North America. They are HUGE! The quartz sand dunes are at the foot of Sangre de Cristo Mountains which are a sub range of the Rocky Mountains. Sangre de Cristo is Spanish for Blood of Christ.

The weather limited what we could do at the park. Basically we drove through it, toured the visitors center, and did some short hikes. Like White Sands you can sled the dunes even in the summer - there were lots of pictures and videos of folks doing this. We hope to visit again once the weather is warmer as it was listed as the top place to camp in Colorado. 
Oh my, what is this white stuff?
Guess the socks are needed again!
Those are the dunes, bright white from the recent snow.

Water from the melting snow is welcome in this high desert.
These dunes are huge - see the guy in the red circle for perspective.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Santa Fe, New Mexico - a national treasure

Santa Fe is not a national park, but it is a national treasure and a very fun place. We decided to take a break from tent camping and enjoy sleeping in a real bed. Santa Fe is filled with a diverse culture and history, is home to many famous artists, and is a culinary playground. What is there not to like! 

Laura asked me if I'd take a glass blowing class with her.  When I said yes, I had to help her off the floor. We went to Liquid Light Glass studio. They were listed by US News Travel as one of the top things to do in Santa Fe. We had so much fun; it was a wonderful experience.  We made four glasses and a paperweight, not bad for our first time.

We visited a shop called Kitchenality. They resell used kitchen goods and cookbooks with all proceeds benefiting Kitchen Angels, a local charity which helps feed home bound folks in Santa Fe. It was cool to see an idea like this working!

Georgia O'Keefe spent many years close to Santa Fe; we visited her museum here. She was an amazingly talented artist and a pioneer in American art. Her works were spectacular. If you're not familiar with her, follow this link.

The culinary scene in Santa Fe is incredible. It has so many different world class restaurants. In our pursuit of eating local, we found the "Best of Santa Fe 2016: Readers Choice" which is sponsored by the local paper We tried multiple places including the best margaritas, and they all were winners!!!
YES - he is full of hot air!
Adding the color
Shaping the glass

Heating the glass

The finished products!

What an amazing lady
Kitchenality - What a creative way to help others!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Petrified Forest National Park, AZ - Wood Rocks!

We drove up from Tucson, stopping a  north of Payson, AZ. It was dark when we stopped so we could not see beauty of the area.  In the morning we awoke to the beauty of a high mountain forest in the Tonto National Forest - complete with that funny white stuff (snow) on the ground.
We continued on to Petrified Forest National Park with limited expectations, however the beauty of the park exceeded our expectations. The park is located at +5,400 ft elevation in the high desert. It was in the mid 70s, quite nice after the 90s in Tucson. We entered the park from the south through Holbrook, AZ.  The famed Route 66 ( went through this town. 

The visitors center had a great movie on the history of the park which dates back over 225 million years. Humans have been in this area for 13,000 years, and dinosaurs roamed it also. For those not familiar with petrified wood, click on this link: We walked the Giant Log trail and saw some spectacular pieces of petrified wood including "Old Faithful." The petrified wood in the park is composed of quartz and other semi precious minerals and is the largest concentration of petrified wood in the world. 

We walked the Blue Mesa trail (worth it) and visited an area where Puebloan people made their home a thousand years ago in a village called Puerco Pueblo.  We stopped at "Newspaper Rock" named for the many petroglyphs on it. The vistas of the painted desert were absolutely beautiful - the photos don't do it justice. Everywhere we turned we kept being amazed!  

Our "token" national park sign

A petrified tree broke into chunks by nature.
There are pieces all over the place.

This tree trunk behind us was named "Old Faithful".  It was huge!
Newspaper rock - loaded with petroglyphs.  I grabbed this
picture from the internet because you could only view this with binoculars.
They were all over the place.
Remnants of an ancient people!

The picture does not do this justice.  The vistas were beautiful!
Our typical lunch on the tailgate of the truck.
Tortilla rollups with cold cuts, chips and fruit.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Saguaro National Park with its sentinels of the desert 🌵, Tucson, AZ

We spent the day seeing Saguaro 🌵 National Park. The park has two distinct parts separated by the city of Tucson. This park in the Sonoran desert has amazing landscape in both parts. We spent the morning in the east park biking a scenic loop drive (+8 miles). It was a beautiful ride with amazing views of desert flora, some of which was in bloom. The bike ride challenging for us as there were long uphill grades, and we were at 3,000 ft elevation, much more than we are use to as Michiganders. The views were spectacular! Bob's been to this park multiple times over the years and enjoys it every time.

We left the park and had lunch at Alejandro's Tortilla Factory in Tucson. We found it because the restaurant that we ate at last night used their excellent tortillas. It was great Mexican food, very authentic. We had google the menu items to understand them.

In the afternoon we went to the Saguaro west section which was even better than the east, so many more saguaro cacti. Saguaro cacti are called "sentinels of the desert." When you consider that it may grow only an inch a year, and even less when it is very young, these are some very senior cacti (as we get older, senior sounds better). The west park also has a scenic loop, but it's an "improved" narrow dirt road. No biking here. With temps in the 90s and a clear blue sky, we chose to tough it out in the air conditioned truck 😎 (senior also means wiser). We saw absolutely gorgeous views of these beautiful cacti🌵from the comfort of our truck.

When you visit national parks we strongly recommend you take the time to stop at the visitors centers and watch the park films. They're so informative and worth the time. We always do!

Welcome to Saguaro, bordering Tucson in southwest Arizona.

That's Bob in the bright yellow, climbing
a hill and soon to be passed by a local.
It's tough being a flatlander in hill country!

Beautiful cactus in bloom in the east park.

Gorgeous blooms

Our views along the ride - these cacti are over
50 years old. They can live up to 200 years. 

In the distance you can see homes in Tucson; the urban
sprawl is encroaching on the park.

This Saguaro may have the same birthday as Bob!

A Saguaro forest!
Eating local!  Quite tasty!!  Note that smile!