August 17, 2019 – Bridger, Wyoming to Mountain Home, Idaho and The Golden Spike!

We actually back-tracked five miles this morning to go to a place for breakfast in Mountain View, Wyoming. Crazy Ate Cafe was nice and popular.

Crazy Ate Cafe & Steakhouse

When the waitress asked what we wanted to drink, I said coffee and Andy said decaf. She replied that they don’t have decaf. I murmered that it didn’t matter and Andy told the waitress, “Lie to me”. So, when she served the coffee she said, “one coffee and one decaf” with a smile and walked on. Andy ordered a full omelet breakfast. I am not a big breakfast fan so I just ordered a small cinnamon bun. I am proud to say I didn’t eat the whole thing but ashamed to say I ate most of it. We ordered one to go for tomorrow’s breakfast. Folks, that is a full-sized dinner carry-out food container holding a giant cinnamon bun (wrapped in plastic). You should have seen the large ones!

Cinnamon Bun

I was approaching a truck on the interstate and turned on my turn signal to move to the left lane. Two cars and one motorcycle went by. I knew there had been two motorcycles but didn’t see the second one in my rearview mirror. I turned my head and there he was right alongside. He was pointing to the side of our RV. Then he moved on. I pulled over and stopped at the next exit ramp. It was the fuel fill door, left open from our fuel stop. Thank you, motorcycle man.

We left I-80 and turned northward on I-84. The grassy mountains turned into a rocky gorge as the interstate followed the Weber River down the mountain. It was gorgeous (pun intended). For a while, the river ran in the median of the interstate. We saw a busload of whitewater rafters getting ready to launch and also many already in the river. Andy said we were heading north along the east side of the Great Salt Lake but were not close enough to see it. Also, there was a mountain between us and the lake.

A bit north of Ogden, Utah, I saw one of those brown signs for parks. I caught a glimpse of it just as we passed the exit. It said “Golden Spike National Historic Park. I could not pass that by. The next exit was just a mile or two up the road, so I turned around and came back. Then we noted that the park was twenty-seven miles off the interstate. Andy did not object, so I carried on.

It was twenty-seven curvy miles through farm fields and then barren grassland. We were truly out in the middle of nowhere when we came across an enormous Northrup Gruman facility. It has something to do with rockets.

Promontory Summit is at the end of nowhere, at the north end of the Great Salt Lake. The scenery all around is grassy plains and mountains. The visitor center parking lot was nearly full including a dozen or two hot rods.

The visitor center is a very attractive stone building and this is the view out the back.

We walked out for a closer look. These two locomotives are replicas of the Central Pacific’s “Jupiter” and the Union Pacific’s No. 119. They were built in 1979. No. 119 was running and a sign warned people not to touch it.

Union Pacific No. 119

The “last tie” was between the trains and had a plaque on it. It is not the one used in the ceremony; it was taken back to San Francisco and burned in a fire after the San Francisco earthquake. Of course, the golden spike was not left there to be stolen either. It is in the museum at Stanford University. I was still thrilled to stand on the very spot where the U.S. east and west were connected. It was the beginning of an era.

If you have not read Stephen Ambrose’ “Nothing Like It in the World” order it right now. Here, I’ll make it easy for you. This was one of the best history books I’ve read. Ambrose is as readable as a novel. It gave me a real appreciation for the Herculean effort and tremendous amount of money (and a high cost in human lives) that went into completing the transcontinental railroad.

What American school student has not seen this photo?

The Last Tie – May 10, 1869

We watched the twenty-minute movie and then got back on the road west. We crossed the Snake River three or four times on our way through farm country to Mountain Home, Idaho. We finished our long day of 235 miles at 1839.

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August 16, 2019 – Cheyenne, WY to Fort Bridger, WY

We got underway at 0814. Unlike yesterday, the sky was clear. Traffic was extremely light, so the interstate was not so bad. The scenery quickly became dry and rugged. We crossed through some Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide (twice). The trip was 331 miles. That was 331 miles of endless vistas in all directions. The highway would disappear at the horizon and then when we crested a hill, the view would be endless again. This happened over and over

Last night I did some homework and picked out a Wyoming “scenic byway” to get off the interstate. It did not turn out to be much of a diversion; it was only twenty miles. But, it ended at the destination Andy had already chosen for the night, Fort Bridger. We arrived at 1427 and walked immediately to the Fort Bridger Historic Site, a state park.

Scamp at Fort Bridger RV Park

The park web site has everything you’d want to know about this fascinating place, which is not just Wyoming history but also United States history as well. I have copied a bit of it here:

“By 1840, the Fur Trade Era, with its keen competition for beaver pelts, its raucous reputation for rendezvous, and its solid association with all that was wild and untamed in the Rocky Mountain West, was drawing its last breath. Mountain men who had survived the rigors of the wilderness were forced to seek new methods of employment. Two of those men, James (Jim) Bridger and Louis Vasquez, teamed up to operate a trading post in order to provide much needed services for the rapidly increasing number of settlers passing through on the way to their promised lands. After unsuccessfully trying two other locations, Bridger finally found the perfect spot, as stated in a letter he dictated and sent to Pierre Choteau Jr. requesting supplies in December of 1843.

“I have established a small fort, with a blacksmith shop and a supply of iron in the road of the emigrants on Black Fork of Green River, which promises fairly. In coming out here they are generally well supplied with money, but by the time they get here they are in need of all kinds of supplies, horses, provisions, smithwork, etc. They bring ready cash from the states, and should I receive the goods ordered, will have considerable business in that way with them, and establish trade with the Indians in the neighborhood…”

Thus, Fort Bridger was born out of the entrepreneurial spirit of its first owners, Mountain Men. The establishment of Fort Bridger in 1843 was unwittingly an acknowledgment that the frontier way of life was ending. No longer would a man be able to earn his living off the bounty of the land, explore new territories, and discover nature’s wonders, unfettered by the demands and luxuries of civilization. The Mountain Men had lived in two worlds, adopting the Native American ways for survival, meanwhile, keeping ties with family back in the “states”, also for survival. The settlers, however, brought civilization with them, and as Bridger had shrewdly observed, “ready cash”, which he gladly exchanged for supplies, fresh horses, food staples, clothing and smith work. For a decade, the Bridger Vasquez partnership worked successfully, with Bridger, who could neither read nor write, often traveling and trading, while Vasquez, kept the books and tended the store.”

Here is a bit more from the park brochure:

“Not only did the location “promise fairly”, it proved to be one of the main hubs of westward expansion used by mountain men, Indians, emigrants and Mormon pioneers, the U.S. Army, Pony Express, Overland Stage, and Union Pacific Railroad. Even during the1900s The Lincoln Highway, Highway 30 and Interstate 80 crossed in or near Fort Bridger.”

The outpost now sells tickets for park admission.

It is filled with interesting artifacts. And, they take credit cards.

William Carter served here when the outpost became an army fort. He stayed on and became the post merchant. He built this small schoolhouse for his children and hired teachers from the U.S. They were apparently well-taught and went from here to colleges in the east. (Jennifer and George – note that some went to Cornell.) The small building attached it the milk house. The schoolroom is fully furnished and very cute.

Wyoming’s Oldest Schoolhouse

They collected ice from the river and stored it in this ice house. The building to the right was where they kept their “refrigerated” goods.

Carter’s Freight Wagon

The fort became a military outpost in 1858. It was abandoned in 1890 when Wyoming became a state.

Officer’s Quarters

The Commanding Officer had a fine home.

Commanding Officer’s Quarters

I took over 200 pictures today but will share just a few.

Commanding Officer’s Parlor
Officer Quarters
Officer Parlor
Officer Quarters Kitchen
Brass Crib
Barracks, Now a Museum
Barracks Colonnade

Call me lazy, but rather than write out all the trails and roads that came through here, making this little spot a hub of westward expansion, I’ll just give you a picture of the sign. There is a large map where these trails and sites light up when you push the buttons. Route 66 has nothing on this place but kitsch.

James Bridger
Army Commissary

And, lastly, this is a windmill in the RV park. It does not appear to be doing anything but is whirling around briskly in the strong winds we are having.

August 15, 2019 – Henderson, Nebraska to Cheyenne, Wyoming

It was another Interstate 80 day. The morning temperature was 64 degrees F. We left Henderson at 0838 and drove into the approaching severe thunderstorm. I said a little rain would be nice to clean the bugs off the windshield. Andy had checked the RADAR and thought we had a chance of missing it, but we didn’t. It was one of those heavy showers where the visibility is so bad that everyone slows down. I did not see anyone pulled over to the side of the road though. At one point, the was a huge, and long-lasting, bolt of lightning on our right and another immediately after on our left. We saw a tractor-trailer jackknifed in the median. After half an hour or so, the windshield was immaculate and the rain had stopped. Then it was sixty degrees. I realized then that I had been clenching the steering wheel and hunching my shoulders. It felt good to relax!

We stopped for fuel in Wood River Nebraska. I went inside for snacks while Andy pumped diesel. Two truckers were talking about the storm and I added to the conversation with our lightning strikes.

Andy checked the “Next Exit” book for a lunch stop and picked out Penny’s Diner in North Platte NE. It was a real diner, complete with the basic diner food.

The interior is also just as you would expect for a diner like that.

I got those two pictures from the web. Andy ordered a hamburger steak and I ordered a hamburger on sourdough bread. At first bight, Andy and I both said, “WOW, this is good!” Andy said this burger is better than our all-time favorite at Conestoga’s in Alachua, Florida.

Here is another picture (I got from the web) of Sinclair the dinosaur we saw as we were heading back to the interstate. The dino in front of this Sinclair station is dressed as a horse. This lady took advantage of the prop for a photo.

North Platte was also the home of Buffalo Bill Cody. It is a museum now. Maybe next time, I’ll stop in to see it.

The scenery today changed twice. We started out in corn country with large fields and few houses. Then, gradually, there were grasslands between the fields. Later, there were a few crops between expanses of grass. Finally, it was all grass – and cattle. About in the middle of Nebraska, we changed to Mountain Time. There was a sign. Then the scenery changed to cowboy movie scenery.

We got to our campground in Cheyenne, Wyoming at 1546. Cheyenne looked industrial (oil industry) from the highway. We did not see a nice part of town. The RV park is on the outskirts of town in a run-down area with junk lying around. The campground itself is very nice and is full of large trailers and motorhomes. The man at the front desk asked if we wanted to be close to the shower building and Andy said yes.

If we got any closer, we would be in the showers. It is a cute shower building though.

And, we have another nice tree.

June 14, 2019 – West Liberty, Iowa to Henderson, Nebraska

Perhaps it is because I’ve read all the works of Willa Cather this year. Maybe it is because the landscape is just so darn beautiful. But, driving across southern Wisconsin, Iowa, and part of Nebraska these two days has been a moving experience for me. And, I don’t mean because I was driving.

From Interstate 80, except for a city here and there, it has been all farms. Hills and vistas in Wisconsin, flat land in Iowa, then gently rolling countryside, and back to larger hills. And all of it is corn or beans. Parts of our country are amazingly lush, green, and fertile. My mind drifted back to the first European settlers than came to this region. They built their hovels out of the very soil. Then bled and sweated as they worked the land to keep themselves and their families alive. Each generation was a little, or a lot, better off than the previous. The ones who made it acquired the land from those who failed and left. Now there are enormous farms worked with huge machinery. They produce enough food to feed their familes and to sell the excess all over the world (getting a little tricky these days with trade wars).

It is the very earth itself that is the foundation for all our progress and wealth. Food for people, animals, and cars.

I hate driving on the interstates. Yes, the scenery can be amazing, even from a major highway. But, I can’t be in touch with it from I-80. It is whizzing by too fast for me to get a good look even when I am not surrounded by tractor-trailers. Driving can be stressful and exhausting. The interstate takes all the pleasure out of driving. I wish we could take a trip without driving on the interstate for even one mile.

We drove 376 miles today and arrived in the Prairie Oasis Campground at 1505. The campground office had some corn for sale, so that was our dinner. Scamp is nestled under another great tree tonight. The photo makes it look as though we have the place to ourselves, but more arrived after us. We do have neighbors.

There are fields of corn all around the small RV park.

Our usual practice is to take a walk around the perimeter of an RV park. Today that took us behind the maintenance building where we discovered a stash of snowmobile parts.

This park has the largest expanse of lawn than I have ever seen in an RV park. This shot is only a small portion of it. You can still see corn behind the trees.

The good-sized pond had paddle boats (or is that pedal boats?) for use on the pond. We did not try it.

August 13, 2019 – Mequon WI to West Liberty IA

We’ve spent a month with daughter Jennifer and grandsons Owen and Cam. We didn’t do as much with the boys as we have in the past. I had a kidney infection when we arrived from Maryland and was feeling a bit lethargic the first two weeks. The big story is that I also arrived with a prescription for physical therapy (for my bad back) from my doctor at home. She thought I was in too bad shape for the therapy to do any good yet. Jennifer had raved about the physical therapy office where she and George both have been – Health In Balance – so I wanted to give them a try.

Maria Kelly was amazing. She listened to all my complaints and poked and prodded all the spots where I regularly have pain. At each session, twice a week, she would give me one or two new exercises to do at home. The exercises are to stretch and strengthen the affected muscles. I could see results immediately and was, therefore, highly motivated to do exercises for the first time in my life. Now, a month later, I am relatively pain-free. When something hurts now, I have an exercise to alleviate it. Yay!!!

Jennifer’s family went on their annual vacation to New York for the first week of August. We stayed at their house to feed the pet axolotl (a salamander). Its name is Otle (rhymes with bottle). Believe it or not, it is very cute and responsive when you approach the tank. I fed it worms and kept bottles of ice floating in the tank to keep the water cold. I didn’t take a picture, but the white one in this Wikipedia article is very similar.

The family returned from New York yesterday and we left for points west this morning. Before taking off though, I asked Jennifer to take some pictures of me with my boys. I was asking for trouble. Both boys were squirming, smooching, and wiggling. Jennifer took dozens of pictures, but many of them were just too hilariously awful to post. Them Cam pulled his underwear down so she could get a picture of him naked. He is very proud of his body parts.

I got a fairly nice shot of Jennifer before the boys came outside.

Owen arrived first; Cam could not tear himself away from the Legos.

Things were not too wild a first.

Cam turned upside down and I did not consider any other alternative than to bite.

Jennifer told them to kiss me.

Cam was right on that.

Then both boys were squishing my cheeks.

The boys went back to their Legos and we had a nice chat with Jennifer, coffee, and biscotti. We finally pulled out of their driveway at 0750 and drove 259 miles to West Liberty, Iowa. We headed south reach Interstate 80 and took it the rest of the way.

Here is Scamp in our campsite for the night.

We are in the shade of a beautiful ash tree.

July 31, 2019 – Harry Potter Birthday

The Mequon/Thiensville public library held a birthday party for Harry Potter. Children were encouraged to wear costumes, so Owen and Cam donned their Hogwarts cloaks. They were terribly excited – and so were all the other little Hogwarts students that showed up. I shouldn’t say little. Although many were small, there were also a good number of teenagers in attendance.

Just inside the front door, we completed a questionnaire to determine which house they belonged to. Owen answered as though he was Harry. Cam stood by and, when it was his turn, he answered everything just has Owen had. That kid has a keen power of concentration and an excellent memory.

The first thing we saw was the train station. I’m rusty on my Harry Potter details, but Owen and Cam knew everything there is to know about it.

Our next stop was the Magical Menagerie, filled with fanciful creatures from the books, including an owl and a large, hairy spider.

Owen and Cam were ready to do some serious shopping, but it was not a functioning shop.

There was a quidditch field outside on the lawn. We tossed small balls through hoops.

The deiving station consisted of making those little folding paper fortune tellers we all made as a kid. This one was printed with quotations from the books for the answers.

One of the last things we tried was deciphering secret codes. I tried to help the boys but was completely baffled as to how to decipher the code. This was humiliating to me as I had some cryptology as part of my master’s degree. I asked a kid how to do it, but have not tried her method yet.

We probably should have gotten there earlier; some of the activities were over. We did not miss the cake though! I saw two librarians carrying out a huge sheet cake and went over to take a picture of it. By the time I crossed the room, they had sliced it into dozens of pieces. Oh great; another code.

Owen and Cam loved their cake and punch.

The party was a huge hit with the boys and all the other children present too. I was impressed with the job the librarians did setting it up.

The Beach and Tae Kwon Do (not on the beach)

Jennifer and her friend Kim decided to take their kids to the beach, so Andy and I tagged along. The children were running along the shore and playing in the sand. The mothers were sitting on a blanket watching the children and chatting. Andy and I were the old people sitting behind the blanket in our folding chairs. No one was in the water for long. Lake Michigan is COLD! The children went in ankle deep a few times to scoop up water for their sandcastles and got out as fast as they could. We watched other beachgoers do the same. Little Olivia was in the water more than anyone else, but I didn’t notice her turning blue. She did stay covered in sand though. Then, Kim would drag her into knee-deep water to wash some of the sand off.

Why is it that children with sandy feet are always compelled to step on the blanket? And why must they sit on the blanket when their little bottoms are coated with sand. Constant reminders from moms had little effect. Well, it is the beach, after all.

Andy and I sat in our chairs eating a bag of Ranier cherries. That was after I worked up a big thirst from eating cheese balls. They are part of our beach/picnic tradition. So much so, that we stopped on the way to the beach to buy some.

The gulls were having good luck fishing just off the beach.

Gull

Andy and I also went along in the evening to watch the Tae Kwon Do sparring class. The first thing the class did was run laps around the gym/room. Cam’s belt fell off twice and one of the helpers tied it back on him. Then he continued running.

They did jumping jacks. Here son-in-love George is flanked my Owen and Cam. All ages and both sexes are in the same class. They do all the same exercises, but the children are at one end of the room with helpers for the practice. The master stood front and center calling out the exercises.

Cam’s pushup form was so adorable. He was flat on the floor most of the time.

After doing enough exercises to wear me out just watching, they started the real sparring lessons. What I like best about this photo of Cam practicing a kick is the expression on the little girl holding the shield. I didn’t get a picture, but Cam was knocked over several times when it was his turn to be kicked.

It is not enough to kick; they have to be accurate too. They also practiced with small targets. My camera timing was not right, but Owen did a good job of kicking high in the air (for him).

All the students were lined up in groups of four for the practice. The master would tell them what to practice and then one student would hold the target and be kicked, while the second kicked. The next two would be doing whatever exercises the master called out while waiting their turn. Sometimes Owen and Cam were together.

The class was an hour or an hour-and-a-half or so long and they were all working all the time. There was only one short break to get a drink of water. They did get to pause to listen to instructions, but that was it. Watching was exhausting.

We went to the Chinese buffet for dinner.