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U.S. Travels

6/2019 – Road Trip time!

It’s been a while since Mark and Susan have planned a “real” road trip so when a wedding invitation appeared in the mail, we decided it was time!  We headed off to Des Moines – about 630 miles. We’ve done the drive in one day but, being retired has its advantages and one of those advantages is spending the night in the middle of the drive! We stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the night and squeezed in a visit to Boiler Brewery.

If you’ve never driven across eastern Colorado and Nebraska from west to east, you haven’t missed anything except about 500 miles of rolling plains covered in corn while your car passes and is passed by LOTS of trucks.

After a walking tour of the University of Nebraska in the morning, we drove on to Des Moines where we spent the weekend with our niece and her husband while we went to a wedding.  Iowa is much hillier than Nebraska and the scenery changes, adding soybean fields and windmills to the corn fields.  For those of you who have thought about riding RAGBRAI, be ready for hills.

Next, we headed south to Creston, Iowa, for 3 days with Mark’s mom.  We admit it … we’re spoiled!  The humidity was too high for us (95% on the day we left). 

Time to head back to Fort Collins taking a less-than-direct route.  We zigzagged our way northwest across the back roads of Iowa to get to Sioux Falls, SD. 

Maid-rite sandwiches

Susan FINALLY ate a Maid-Rite sandwich, invented in Iowa. I’ve heard about them forever but never ate one.  They are nothing more than a “loose meat” sandwich (another Midwest term).  This translates to ground beef cooked and put on a hamburger bun but not made into a patty. Ketchup, mustard, onions and the rest of the usual condiment suspects are added to the bun.  The best way I can describe a Maid-rite is a sloppy Joe without any spices or tomato sauce added.

We visited a friend in Sioux Falls, SD, spent the night and then headed to Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the famous Corn Palace.

Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. The building is covered in colored corn cobs. The theme on the building changes every year. Inside the Palace are clean restrooms, popcorn, displays about the history of the Corn Palace and a gift shop housed in the basketball arena when no games are played.
Closeup of the corn cobs on the walls.

From Mitchell, it’s a pretty much straight ride north on US Highway 181 across the South Dakota plains to the North Dakota border and on up to I-94.  I-94 is also straight with the only difference being that it heads east/west instead of north/south!

We were both missing North Dakota in our quest to visit all 50 states. We had to stop for a selfie to prove we made it to North Dakota!
A flat cornfield in South Dakota. This one was dry enough to be planted.

South Dakota and North Dakota were inundated with rain and snow this year causing river floods and flooded farm fields.  We passed lots of fields with standing water and no hope of planting a crop this year.  To add misery to the farmers a strong rainstorm battered us for about 30 minutes, limiting visibility and adding to the wet fields.

Mark loves the South and North Dakota interstates with an 80 mph speed limit.  Even the backroads have 65 mph speed limits.

Salem Sue lives at the top of a hill in Salem, ND. It’s only about a 5 minute drive off the interstate.

North Dakota loves BIG things including Salem Sue and Sandy the Sandhill Crane.

Sandy, the large sand hill crane, is off I94 at the Steele, ND exit. Susan stood by the leg for a quick picture before the rain started!

Theodore Roosevelt National Park makes a good one day park if you’re not into hiking when the wind is gusting at 40 mph constantly.  This is the North Dakota region of the badlands and is the only National Park we’ve seen with an interstate running through the middle of it.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Badlands in the South Unit. The wind was howling so no one was in the mood for a hike.
Yes, that’s I-94 winding its way across North Dakota and the middle of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. My Senior Pass came in handy!
A few buffalo grazed along the side of the road creating a traffic jam.
If you’ve never driven across the western part of the U.S., this gives you a pretty good idea of how open and HUGE this part of the country is. North Dakota is 340 miles from east to west, not as big as Texas but big enough.

We spent a few hours at Devil’s Tower National Monument in northeast Wyoming and it was packed with visitors, including a large group of boy scouts.  Went for a nice 1.3 mile hike/walk around the Tower before we headed to Gillette, Wyoming to spend the night and have some tasty Mexican food.

Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming

The last day took us from Gillette to Fort Collins. Since this was Wyoming, the wind must be blowing! Signs were posted all over the interstate warning of 40 mph wind gusts. By the way, I-25 across Wyoming is not very exciting either … miles of not much scenery but as least the traffic was light and the speed limit is 80 mph.

A few bluffs decorate the Wyoming landscape.
Straight road in North Dakota.
The roads can be pretty straight in this part of the country. The bugs plastered the windshield and Mark cleaned the windows at least once a day after he determined that Susan doesn’t use the proper technique.

12 days and 2300 miles later, we drove back into Fort Collins and Mark drove all 2300 miles! This road trip was so much fun, we’re thinking about where the next one should go.  New Mexico and Arizona, maybe??

A visit to western Maryland

We’re finished with the family visits after 5 days in Cumberland, MD with Susan’s Mom. We went exploring and found the Great Allegheny Passage and used it for 2 days of walks. It’s a biking/walking trail that runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, following a rail line. Walking in 2 different directions, we found the Brush Rail Tunnel and the Cumberland Bone Caves where prehistoric bones were found about 100 years ago.

Western Maryland Mountains

Western Maryland is full of eastern mountains – highest point is about 1600 feet. It’s very green and full of trees.

Wild Mushrooms

Some wild mushrooms we found along the Great Allegheny Passage

Mark along the GAP

Mark at the start of our walk on the Great Allegheny Passage. We didn’t walk all the way to Frostburg!

On 9/10 we drove over to Shanksville, PA to visit the Flight 93 9/11 Memorial. It’s a very quiet, peaceful place and very moving. I needed a few tissues as we toured the Visitor Center and walked down to the Memorial Plaza where there’s a huge panel for each of the 40 victims.

Flight 93 Memorial Plaza

Looking down on the Flight 93 Memorial Plaza from the Visitor Center.

Flight 93 Memorial

Visitor Center of the Flight 93 Memorial

September 5 – The trip begins!

The adventure has started!  Stop 1 was Iowa via Omaha and, as Mark likes to say, the trip is all downhill from Iowa!  We started in Omaha (cheaper flight from Denver) with an overnight before heading across Iowa through all the fields of ripe corn and beans and spending the weekend in Iowa City.  Thank heavens the University of Iowa beat Wyoming in the opening game of the season or the entire city would have been filled with VERY unhappy people!

Hawkeye Fan Shop

You can find Hawkeye gear all over Iowa City.

University of Iowa ties

Just in case you need a U. of Iowa Tie

U. of Iowa sox at the Hawk Shop

Just in case you need to update your supply of Iowa sox you can find them at the Hawkeye Fan Shop in Coralville, IA.

Tailgating spots at Kinnick Stadium

These are highly prized and expensive reserved parking/tailgating spots right outside of Kinnick Stadium at University of Iowa.


The route back west across Iowa to Mark’s Mom’s house took us through Washington and Pella, Iowa. We went on a hunt for Susan’s long-ago relatives in Washington cemeteries and found a few 5th cousins 4 times removed. (We share great great great great great great grandparents – and, yes, the number of “greats” is correct!)

John Baker Tombstone

John Baker tombstone in Pleasant Hill Cemetery, outside of Washington, Iowa.

Pleasant Hill Cemetery

Located about 5 miles outside of Washington, IA in the middle of cornfields. We’re guessing my relatives had a farm somewhere in the vicinity in the late 1800’s.

The rest of the Iowa stop involved visiting sisters, nieces and nephews and Mom and watching Va Tech beat West Virginia University on Sunday night late!

Road Trip to the eclipse

We had a pre-trip trip when we decided to go to Nebraska last weekend to see the total solar eclipse and, yes, it was spectacularly worth it!  We’d heard the dire warnings about traffic – have enough gas, food, water, etc. so we packed up the car and left about 5 AM on Sunday for Alliance, Nebraska.  Taking the “back roads” of CO 14 to Sterling and heading north to Sidney (Home of Cabela’s who are not open at 7 AM on Sunday morning) and further north to Alliance, we made it in 4 hours with no traffic.

U. of Iowa flag flying

Mark and Vivian Payne found the Well’s Ranch who mowed a field and rented out space for campers and tents so we met them there by looking for the University of Iowa flag, set up the tent in the Nebraska wind, and hung out in the sun, watching more and more people arrive for the grand event the next day. About 850 people watched the totality in total at Wells Ranch. While the vast majority were from Colorado, people came from as far away as Switzerland, London, Minnesota, California and Texas .

The faithful long-lasting tent. This is the same tent we took to Europe for 9 weeks 26 years ago. It might be time for a more modern one!


Kite flying and wine drinking

We enjoyed some margaritas and wine and a cold beer with our munchies and appetizers.


Morning fog

Mark and I were a bit panicked at 4 AM Monday morning when we looked out the tent and saw nothing but heavy fog.  By 8 the fog cleared and by 10 we had clouds and blue skies.

Mark watching the eclipse

Susan watching the eclipse

“sunset” appearance at totality

Total eclipse

The eclipse was spectacular!  As the moon covered more and more of the sun, wispy clouds floated across the sky and made the sun look very much like the Halloween pictures you see with a witch flying across the moon.  The temperature dropped 15 degrees during the eclipse. We all agreed that those 2 1/2 minutes flew by.  Be the end, Mark muttered something about planning a trip to Chile or Argentina for 2019.  Next time, we’ll take some binoculars to see sunspots and flares during the eclipse.

The trip back to Fort Collins started about 4:30 but about 5 miles outside of Alliance we could see cars for as far as we could see so decided to run around and either put up the tent in the wind again or find a hotel room. Victory!  The Quality Inn in Alliance had a lovely room complete with a shower and A/C that worked well.  We even found a pizzeria across the street after we made a visit to Carhenge outside of town.  Tuesday morning we left at 7:30 Am and were home by 10:45 without running into much traffic until I-25 between Cheyenne and Fort Collins.

Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska

November 2016 – Weekend in NYC

We had quite the adventure in New York City last weekend. We were in town for the New York City Marathon!  Mark won a lottery spot last February, trained for the event and then he had to run it! After flying in last weekend and using the train from Newark airport to Penn Station in Manhattan, we spent one day at the 9/11 Museum. We did get tickets ahead of time so we had a time slot and the line was pretty short to get in and go through security even though it was crowded once we were inside.  The museum is well-organized but it was hard for me to see some of the exhibits.  I spent most of the visit in silent tears remembering all the events on 9/11 – waking up to the news, watching it on TV, cancelling class because no one was capable of learning that day.  We had friends flying back from London and they were diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Another friend on his honeymoon was returned to Orlando and a colleague drove back from Columbus, Ohio dropping people off along the way.

9/11 Memorial, New York City

9/11 Memorial, New York City

Thanks to being a Diamond Member in the Hyatt Gold Passport we had coupons for 2 free drinks at Bar54 on the 54th floor of the Hyatt Centric Times Square Hotel on 45th Street in Manhattan.  The hotel is a great location for all things marathon related since we could walk to and from Central Park and Mark walked to the New York City Library to catch the bus to the Staten Island start at 6:30 AM.  His report – not many people on the street at that hour on Sunday morning! We timed our bar visit for sunset although we had to wear coats when we opted for seats on the deck outside.

View from Bar54 at sunset

Looking south from Bar54 at the Hyatt on 45th Street at sunset.

The next event was the Abbot Dash to the Finish 5K on Saturday morning.  The run (we walked!) started at the United Nations and ended in Central Park at the Marathon finish line. In between we got to walk down the middle of 5th Avenue on a Saturday morning.  Now, I can say I’ve walked in the middle of the Champs Elysees AND 5th Avenue!

Mark ran the Marathon along with 50,000 of his closest friends and he finished – his goal!  The atmosphere was electric – one big party for 26.2 miles with runners and spectators from around the world.  One French tour company, France Marathon, brought 1000 French runners – and lots of them were staying at our hotel. I’m pretty sure we were in the English as a 1st language minority at the hotel. I used the New York Subway system to watch him at Mile 11 and Mile 23 and then meet up at the end at Central Park West.

Mile Marker 11 in Brooklyn

Mile Marker 11 in Brooklyn

Monday was our day to go walking some more and after we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral we ran across NBC’s setup for broadcasting for the Presidential Election the next day.  They had Rockefeller Center decked out in red, white, and blue including the ice rink.  Fox News and CBS were further along on the walk.

I am happy to report we had no problem flying back to Denver from LaGuardia – no traffic and no long security lines – despite all the horrors we’d heard about the place.