Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hanging Around Denver

With an eye on the news reports regarding the High Park Fire, we kicked back for a couple of relaxing days at Cherry Creek State Park on the east side of the Denver metroplex. The Cherry Creek Reservoir was busy with boaters and swimmers.

Yesterday we waited until after morning rush hour to hop on the freeway for a 30-mile travel day to the southwest side of town.

We've driven by Chatfield State Park many times. But, until yesterday we had never stopped. We had reservations for here last Summer, but we had to cancel when our travels were rerouted due to air conditioning issues. As soon as we landed in our pull-through site with a mountain view, we declared Chatfield our new favorite Colorado state park.

Our new locale put us within a short 15-minute drive of the home of my brother and his family. Last night, we drove down to Castle Rock to meet them for dinner. Afterwards, they followed us back to Chatfield for their first-ever tour of the moose. Along the way, we could see smoke from the High Park Fire obscuring the sunset.  The fire had grown to nearly 45,000 acres and was only 10 percent contained. The Larimer County Sheriff estimated that full containment would come sometime in July. Air quality in and around Fort Collins was poor. With that, we decided not to return to the town we had looked so forward to exploring, but instead only got to taste. We made other plans.

This morning we pointed Bullwinkle toward the mountains and a bit south. We climbed Monarch Pass with ease. By early afternoon we had arrived at our very favorite place.

Greetings from Gunnison! We spent six wonderful weeks here last summer. So, when we started looking for an alternative to Fort Collins, the answer came quickly. We're planning to be here until after July 4th. We're so grateful to have landed in a beautiful place with clear skies. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those affected by the devastating High Park Fire.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Taste of Fort Collins

Hours after we landed in Fort Collins on Wednesday, we got down to the business of tasting Fort Collins. Fellow traveling friends Deb and Rod arranged a tour at New Belgium, Fort Collins' most famous craft brewery. After the time we'd had getting across Nebraska, I was ready for a cold brew or two. Deb and I stepped right up and checked in for our tour.

A distinctive attribute of New Belgium brand is "Fun". Just as customers have fun when they drink New Belgium beers, it's obvious that employees have fun working here. The "sculptures" hanging above these vats are made of bicycle rims and disco balls. How fun!

The bottling and canning lines were not running during our visit. But, I thought this can chandelier above the canning room was fun.

They were brewing beer today, though. This slurry of future beer was stirring around one of those big stainless steel vats.

Sure, it's interesting to see how the beer is made. But, it's lots more fun to see how it tastes. Here's Rod enjoying one of the many samples offered on the tour. We topped off the afternoon with a tasty meal in Fort Collins' historic Old Town area. It was a great way to kick off our month-long stay.

We settled in at the Lakeside KOA, on the northwest edge of Fort Collins, and enjoyed a couple of days of well-deserved down time. We had the good fortune to meet up with friends Craig and Anne, who were passing through Fort Collins on their way to Michigan. We enjoyed an evening of wine, dessert and wonderful conversation. We wished them safe travels and look forward to seeing them down the road again.

Yesterday, we met Deb and Rod at Taste of Fort Collins, an annual event that highlights the wide variety of tasty food and drink the town has to offer. With bright sun and rapidly rising temperatures, we made a quick pass by all of the tents and enjoyed a sample or two.

From Taste of Fort Collins, began to notice a plume of smoke from a new wildfire in the foothills to the northwest. We checked online and learned the 20-acre fire was 10 or 15 miles away and firefighters were on the scene. After an hour or so of meeting Deb and Rod's kin and sampling the best Fort Collins could dish out, we decided it was time to go home to cool off and keep an eye on the fire.

By the time we arrived back to our campsite, the blaze had grown to 200 acres. Though it was 10 miles and a couple of ridges away from us, we were not concerned about our safety. But, from our vantage point we could definitely keep an eye on it all. The combination of high temperatures, bone dry humidity and gusty winds provided a recipe for this thing to grow.

By sunset, the fire covered 8000 acres and had no containment. Winds were expected to kick up through the night. The good news was the temperatures would be cooler. The bad news was it was going to be windy.

By sunrise, if you can call it that, our campground was covered in a thick cloud of dark, choking smoke. Ash was falling from the sky. The gusty winds that had kicked up around 3 AM continued to fan the flames. The fire had exploded to 12,000 acres overnight. There was still zero containment. The eastern edge of the evacuation zone was just three miles to the west of us. The afternoon forecast called for gusty winds from the direction of the fire. At the very least, we were in for more smoke. The uncontained fire was getting too close for comfort.

Our house has wheels, so we decided to get them rolling. We decided to get out of the smoke for a bit while firefighters get some containment on this thing. As we made the turn out of the campground, we could see how much closer the flames were. If you look closely you can see smoke from spot fires that were just a couple of miles away.

We took advantage of easy Sunday afternoon traffic and headed south to Denver. We pulled into Cherry Creek State Park, which is one of our favorites. We grabbed a walk-up site for a couple of nights. Then, we'll decide where to go from here.

Meanwhile, our thoughts and prayers are with the evacuees of the High Park Fire, and the brave firefighters who are working so hard in the heat and rough mountain terrain to protect homes and manage this blaze.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


As we've traveled around the United States, we've gained a real appreciation for our country. The places and people across this country are awesome. While we appreciate it all, we can now say we've found our least favorite part of this great nation. And that is Nebraska. As native Kansans, we're quite familiar with the Cornhusker State. We've visited several times. But, this week was a first for Bullwinkle, Rocky and the cats. Yep. It's taken us nearly three years of fulltime travel to get here. (And, there's a reason for that!)

To be fair, Omaha and Lincoln are fine cities. We enjoyed our two-night stay in the capital. The capitol building is most impressive. We would recommend the free tour to any visitor. We walked away with a new appreciation for this skyscraper on the the plains.

The stately Governor's mansion sits adjacent to the capitol, which makes for a mighty short commute!

You can't pass through Lincoln without getting a big dose of Cornhusker red. As we passed by Memorial Stadium, we were reminded of an old Big 12 joke.

Q: You know what the big red N on the Nebraska football helmets stands for?  
A: Knowledge! 

Our home in Lincoln was Camp-A-Way RV Park, which is conveniently located just off the interstate and minutes away from the University of Nebraska campus. A highlight of our stay was a quick visit with friends Steve and Cathy who pulled in Sunday night after a long drive from Colorado. We enjoyed catching up over tasty pizza and a couple of well-deserved cold beers. We had so much fun we forgot to take any pictures!

We were up and on the road out of Lincoln early Monday. We headed west on I-80 into the nothingness that is western Nebraska. We've heard plenty of people criticize western Kansas for its lack of interesting scenery. But, having made that drive dozens of times and this one once, we'll take western Kansas anytime! With nothing to look at out our Imax window, we kept an eye on the map and the day's destination: Sidney, Nebraska. (You might want to make note of the next town to the west on that map. Notice how short the distance is between the two? We'll get back to that.)

We pulled into our level, east-facing pull-through and settled in for our overnight stay. But, first, we had to do a little shopping.

You see, our campground was on the campus of the world headquarters of Cabela's. (In the middle-of-nowhere Nebraska! Who knew?) The corporate offices sit behind an 85,000 square-foot store and a 3-acre pond. We neither hunt nor fish, but we managed to keep ourselves entertained as we browsed through the very well-appointed store.

In front of the store sits a memorial to the Pony Express. As the sun set in the west, the eight flags represented the states that had stations along the route were flying in a stiff wind. The next afternoon's forecast called for a 30 to 40 mph winds across the Nebraska panhandle, so we made plans to be back on the road early and be out of the state before the winds kicked up.

The winds were calm as we pointed the moose west early yesterday morning. Our plan was to make the easy 150-mile drive and arrive in Fort Collins around noon. But, within minutes, our plans changed. About 10 miles west of our starting point, the breeze started to kick up. Our moose handles quite well in the wind. And, it did just that for the next 20 miles or so. Then, the breezes became gusts. The gusts became hefty sustained winds. Soon the hefty winds were accompanied by moose-battering gusts. All of this was hitting us broadside. Blowing dust blocked out the blazing sun. In a dim brown haze, visibility became sketchy. The moose rocked and rolled. The wind pounded on his streetside slide until it literally roared. Paul checked his mirror and spotted our slide topper flapping in the gale force wind. We found the next exit and traveled back east to the nearest town, which was Kimball, Nebraska.

We pulled off at the Kimball exit and spotted two other motorhomes waiting out the gale force wind. The two men in their group had unhitched a toad and scouted out the campground in town. We became the tail end of a motorhome parade that passed through downtown Kimball. It must have been quite a sight. Of course, it was too darn windy for anyone to be out! We made our way to a former KOA on the east side of town. There was plenty of room at this place where the park owner says he usually only gets one RV in a day. Yesterday, he hit blowing paydirt! By mid-afternoon, there were six or eight rigs in the place. The wind howled all afternoon. We weren't where we had planned to be. But, we were safe. We are so grateful for the help of our fellow motorhomers for helping us find our way in the windstorm.

This morning, the winds were calm. So, we got out early. We made our way west and cheered as we crossed the state line into Wyoming. An hour or so later we tucked into our spot in Fort Collins. Happy to be out of Nebraska, we're looking forward to a month exploring Fort Collins and the Front Range of the Rockies.

It'll be a long time before we travel across the Cornhusker state!

Saturday, June 2, 2012


When planning today's drive from Forest City to Lincoln, we decided not to take the most direct route. Instead, we embarked on a day of zigging and zagging through Iowa's very rural midsection, with a midday stop at Point B on this map: Breda, Iowa.

If you travel five miles west of two-lane US 71 on even narrower Carroll County Road E16, this is what you'll see. There, in the distance, between the wind turbines, sits Breda.

When we pulled into the proud town of 500 early this beautiful Saturday afternoon, Bullwinkle had a mighty presence along Main Street.

It had been more than 40 years since Paul had visited this quiet corner of the world. Today, Mary was a Breda newbie. We got acquainted with the place by enjoying a walking tour around town.

Our first stop was this charming house on the west edge of town. Although it had been a few decades since he'd seen it, Paul recognized the home right away. This is where Paul's father grew up.

We continued our walking tour by following the path that Paul's dad took to each school day, arriving at St. Bernard's. When Breda was founded in 1877, the first families were mostly German Catholics. One of the first efforts of the new community was to construct this magnificent church, which was completed in 1880. It is definitely Breda's centerpiece.

Stepping inside, it became obvious how hard this small community has worked to preserve the beautiful house of worship over the last 125 years. It's exquisite.

Around the corner, we took note of the charming old City Hall. Paul remembers seeing emergency vehicles parked in the garage on the brick building's north side.

We didn't burn many calories on our walking tour, but by the time we were back on Main Street we were ready to enjoy some lunch. We walked on over to Kay's Korner, which is housed in the old bank building. There we enjoyed a couple of very tasty sandwiches and some mighty fine company.

We were delighted to meet Kay herself. Paul's dad has been a life-long subscriber to The Breda News. Over the years, we've perused several editions of the weekly hometown paper. One of our favorite columns is Kay's Korner, which is written by the News' editor and publisher, Kay. It was a pleasure to meet the lovely woman behind the masthead. She was eager to hear about Paul's father and shared a few stories about life in Breda. She's a tireless promoter of the town, which she refers to as her little Utopia. After spending a couple of hours here, we can certainly understand why she feels that way.

Tonight we're resting comfortably in Lincoln, Nebraska, which is a new state for Bullwinkle. With that former blank spot filled in on his travel map, we're looking forward to spending a couple of days in the state capital and then making our way west.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Clear Lake

Our return trip to Forest City involved very little time in Winnie Town. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and parked overnight outside the Winnebago Visitors Center. Early Wednesday morning, Bullwinkle was back in the hospital. While we were away we got the call we were dreading. Our moose was going to spend at least the rest of the week in service. So, we packed up and headed south about 30 miles to Clear Lake.

Once again, we checked into our familiar, pet-friendly motel. We're getting so comfortable here we know the staff by name, and vice versa!

This is our third stay in Clear Lake. But, somehow we've never made it to Clear Lake's most famous sights. With a couple of days and absolutely nothing to do but watch the walls close in, we set out to see what we have missed. Our first stop was the Surf Ballroom.

Since 1934, the Surf Ballroom has been "the" musical venue in Clear Lake. The original ballroom was destroyed by fire in 1947. The new, and current, Surf was built across the street from the original and opened in 1948. Named a historical landmark in 2011, the ballroom has been lovingly preserved and still reflects a "surf" motif and the ambience of a south sea island. In the 1950s, the Surf was one of the first ballrooms in the state to feature rock-and-roll. Some of the most popular performers of the decade played at the Surf. Artists like The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, Little Richard, Jan and Dean and Conway Twitty all took the stage here as the Surf became a "must-play" venue.  The tradition continues today, as the Surf is a popular spot for current performers. Today's marquee promoted tonight's performance by David Allen Coe, and Kevin Kostner's appearance later this month.

On a cold, snowy February night in 1959, the Surf was a tour stop for the Winter Dance Party, which featured Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper Richardson, Dion and Waylon Jennings. According to accounts displayed in the Surf Ballroom's Museum, the show was a huge success. With a gig scheduled for the next evening in Moorhead, Minnesota, Buddy Holly decided to charter a plane instead of traveling on the tour bus, which was poorly equipped for the extreme weather. Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to the Big Bopper, who had the flu. Tommy Alsop lost his seat in a coin flip with Ritchie Valens. Dion decided not to fork over the $36 for the flight.

Soon after takeoff in the early hours of February 3, 1959, the chartered plane lost radio contact and crashed into a cornfield northwest of the Clear Lake airport. There were no survivors. Years later, Don McLean dubbed the tragedy "The Day The Music Died." Compelled by our new understanding of this fateful day, we trekked out to the crash site, which is still an Iowa cornfield. The "trailhead" is marked with a simple tribute to Buddy Holly.

A half-mile or so into the field, a small memorial marks the place where the plane came to rest. More than 50 years later, the memorial is adorned with flowers, trinkets and notes of visitors to the site.

Since 1979, the Surf Ballroom has hosted a Winter Dance Party the first weekend each February to celebrate the life and times of these beloved musicians who played their last gig at the Surf. If you find yourself in Clear Lake that time of year, we understand it's an event not to be missed.

This morning we got the call from Forest City that the moose would be ready to roll early this afternoon. Shortly after we arrived at the service center, Bullwinkle was delivered to us by our favorite Winnie technicians Jerry and Paul. We inspected their work and everything looks terrific. For the first time in nearly a year, our moose is perfect! We couldn't be happier. Tonight, we're back in the comfort of the Visitors Center parking lot. Tomorrow, we'll head out early for a new state for Bullwinkle, with a special stop along the way.

But, for now, everybody - especially our girl kitty - is happy to be home.