It’s on our minds; Travel or not to travel?

About a week ago I wrote a post about how strange it can be to travel in the midst of our current pandemic: “Travel 2020 in the age of COVID-19 (https://americantrekkerblog.com/2020/08/23/travel-2020-in-the-age-of-covid-19/ This is an addendum to that blog with additional information that we can all use to help make our world a safer and healthier place.

So Many of us have “cabin fever” and are trying the best we can to cope with the realities of this pandemic. Having a chance to get away is so important to our mental health, most would agree with that….yet we want to remember to take steps to protect our physical health as well. It’s even more important when considering travel. My Brother- in- Law (Thanks Larry!) brought to my attention a terrific article by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this exact topic. Some of the pointers are things we already know, but it is helpful to be reminded of the basics so we can all work together to minimize this terrible virus.

Here is a re-print of the majority of the article from the CDC web-site. To read the entire article, and other relevant articles about COVID-19, their web-site is: https://www.cdc.gov

 

Travel during the COVID-19 Pandemic —Updated Aug. 26, 2020

Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

You can get COVID-19 during your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can still spread COVID-19 to others. You and your travel companions (including children) may spread COVID-19 to other people including your family, friends, and community for 14 days after you were exposed to the virus.

Don’t travel if you are sick or if you have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Don’t travel with someone who is sick.

Before you travel, consider the following:

If You Travel

During your trip, take steps to protect yourself and others from COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when in public settings.
  • Avoid close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart (about 2 arms’ length) from anyone who is not from your household.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Considerations for Types of Travel

Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. Your chances of getting COVID-19 while traveling also depend on whether you and those around you take steps to protect yourself and others, such as wearing masks and staying 6 feet away from people outside your household (social distancing). Airports, bus stations, train stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. These are also places where it can be hard to social distance. In general, the longer you are around a person with COVID-19, the more likely you are to get infected.

Air travel

Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.

Also consider how you get to and from the airport, as public transportation and ridesharing can increase your chances of being exposed to the virus.

Bus or train travel

Traveling on buses and trains for any length of time can involve sitting or standing within 6 feet of others, which may increase your risk of getting COVID-19. If you choose to travel by bus or train, learn what you can do to protect yourself on public transportation.

Car travel

Making stops along the way for gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you and your traveling companions in close contact with other people and frequently-touched surfaces.

RV travel

You may have to stop less often for food or bathroom breaks, but RV travel usually means staying at RV parks overnight and getting gas and supplies at other public places. These stops may put you and those with you in the RV in close contact with others.

Know When to Delay your Travel to Avoid Spreading COVID-19

People who are sick, have recently tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, or have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 should delay travel. Learn when and for how long to delay travel to avoid spreading COVID-19.

How Are Companies Protecting Customers from COVID-19?

When planning travel, you may want to check companies’ websites to see what they are doing to protect customers from COVID-19. Things to look for include:

  • Requiring people to wear a mask
  • Promoting social distancing
  • Using online or contactless reservations and check-in
  • Using contactless payment
  • Enhanced cleaning procedures
Tips to avoid getting and spreading COVID-19 in common travel situations:

In public:

  • Wear a mask in public settings.
  • Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from anyone who is not from your household.

Bathrooms and rest stops:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom and after you have been in a public place.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Getting gas:

  • Use disinfecting wipes on handles and buttons at the gas pumps before you touch them (if available).
  • After fueling, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. When you get to your destination, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Hotels and accommodations:

Food stops:

Anticipate Your Travel Needs
  • Bring a mask to wear in public places.
  • Pack hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Keep this within reach.
  • Bring enough of your medicine to last you for the entire trip.
  • Pack food and water in case restaurants and stores are closed, or if drive-through, take-out, and outdoor-dining options aren’t available.
  • If you are considering cleaning your travel lodgings, see CDC’s guidance on how to clean and disinfect.
Check Travel Restrictions

State, local, and territorial governments may have travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements upon arrival. Follow state, local, and territorial travel restrictions. For up-to-date information and travel guidance, check the state, territorial, tribal and local health department where you are, along your route, and where you are going. Prepare to be flexible during your trip as restrictions and policies may change during your travel.

If traveling internationally or across international borders, check with the destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health or the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information pageexternal icon for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers, such as mandatory testing or quarantine. Local policies at your destination may require you to be tested for COVID-19 before you are allowed to enter the country. If you test positive on arrival, you may be required to isolate for a period of time. You may even be prevented from returning to the United States, as scheduled.

After You Travel

You may have been exposed to COVID-19 on your travels. You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can be contagious without symptoms and spread the virus to others. You and your travel companions (including children) pose a risk to your family, friends, and community for 14 days after you were exposed to the virus. Regardless of where you traveled or what you did during your trip, take these actions to protect others from getting sick after you return:

  • When around others, stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people who are not from your household. It is important to do this everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when you are outside of your home.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Watch your health and look for symptoms of COVID-19. Take your temperature if you feel sick.

Follow state, territorial, tribal and local recommendations or requirements after travel.

 

Showcasing Alaska: Kenai Fjords National Park

Alaska beckons. The mountains are calling. The pines whisper and the frozen tundra holds curiosities beneath.  The unique lands showcased in the parks there demonstrate its reputation as The Last Frontier. Some of the National Parks in Alaska are much harder to access than others, one must travel by boat or plane to reach them. Yet, Kenai Fjords National Park is near Seward, which is only 126 miles from Anchorage. The drive from Seward to Anchorage on the Seward highway provides stunning views of the Turnagain Arm Fjord (so named by James Cook in 1778, when he was forced to “turn again” when he was unable to navigate passage through to the Northwest Passage.)

Kenai Fjords National Park (photo by Major Marine Tours-Seward)

The Park covers about 950 square miles and showcases some of the iconic features of Alaska including glaciers, marine life and coastal scenery. A large majority of the Park is either in the waterways or frozen icefields, so one of the best ways to get an overview of the park is via a tour boat from Seward into Resurrection Bay and parts of the Gulf of Alaska.  There are several tours available from the starting point of Seward for both wildlife viewing and fishing excursions. We went on an afternoon cruise with Major Marine Tours.  Getting out on the water gives you a great overview of one of the crowning features of the Park: the Harding Icefield.  It is 70 miles long and 30 miles wide and creates all the glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park.  It is incredible to see-and hear- the glaciers “calve” icebergs into the bay by releasing massive chunks of ice into the water.

Additionally, on the boat tour, we were able to see numerous examples of Alaska marine life.  We saw Stellar Sea Lions, Bald Eagles and an abundance of Puffins and Kittiwakes.  Puffins were always my favorite. They look so cute and pudgy and seemingly awkward, but they are fast flyers and divers with excellent fishing skills.

Puffins @ Kenai Fjords National Park (photo:Major Marine Tours)

Another aspect of our tour at Kenai Fjords was my first introduction to the concept of the “Land of the Midnight Sun”.   Since we were there in August, the long days and short, short nights were very evident. At the end of the tour we came back to the harbor, pulling up to the dock and the sun was still  high on the horizon.  It felt like about 6 or 7 pm, but it was 10 pm. So odd. Now I know why residents of Alaska purchase “black out” curtains to get a good night sleep.  Yet, as a tourist it’s great because you  can fill so many things in one day and you don’t run out of daylight.

The only road in the Park, ends at the Exit Glacier parking lot. From there you can take an easy hike to view the glacier face. It is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska and terrific to view, but sadly is also a very visible indicator of glacial recession due to climate change.

Exit Glacier near Seward. This photo was taken in 2016 and shows how glacier has receded past it’s location in 2005. (photo by Dan Smith)

As just a humble visitor to Alaska, and not a resident, I appreciate the beauty and diversity of the landscape. Yet, I recognize the frailty of so many parts of this planet that we call home. Seeing the changes at Exit Glacier really provides a powerful visual that YES our planet is changing. No easy answers, but acceptance of the problem is half the battle. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

Authors note: This particular journey to Alaska was made several years ago, before my interest in the National Parks began to pique. Yet, I wanted to document my experiences there for my book: “A Walk in the Park: Journeys through our Nation’s greatest treasures.”

Travel 2020 in the age of COVID-19

 

Michigan Island lighthouses: Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

My Husband and I just returned from a “mini vacation”, only 3 days, from a lovely state park relatively close to us and also the beautiful Apostle Islands on Lake Superior.  Like many people at this time, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on our spirits and we certainly did not expect the current situation to last as long as it has.  Yet we carry on and keep on hoping for the situation to improve…and I am optimistic that YES it will. Eventually.

But in the mean time, we all have to be gentle with ourselves and do things to help our mental health and keep us going.  I have a great love of travel and the great outdoors, so I thought this would be a terrific way for some rejuvenation. It was a great trip, but it was so different in so many ways. Just like many things in 2020, it will be remembered as a time period when radical changes in our lifestyles happened almost overnight.  Time will tell how history will remember this time period, but as the people who have lived through it….we will remember it in a multitude of ways-both good and bad.

On our trip we noticed what has become commonplace across this country: The Magic Three to fight COVID-19:

  1. ) Mask usage
  2. ) Hand washing and liberal use of hand sanitizer
  3. ) Required social distancing

We followed the rules, as best we could, I have no complaints there. I know doing these things are what we do as a community to help stop the spread. Yet, what is most disturbing to me is how utilizing these guardians of our physical health most certainly change our behavior and our mental health. We know it’s the “right thing to do”, but some of the behaviors that we are expected to follow feel foreign to most people, especially those of us that crave human interaction with our fellow human beings.

Probably the best illustration of this is how awkward it can become to maintain that recommended 6 foot distance in a “touristy” area. When we were walking out and about, enjoying the sights with our fellow travelers, people tried really hard to avoid getting too close to others. This is a good thing at this juncture, but normally when you are visiting an interesting city or park, it’s part of the experience to share observations with others. You probably will never see these people again, but for the moment you are immersed in the mutual experience together. So during this pandemic it just feels so odd to avoid eye contact with people and walk on the curb or even in the street to avoid sharing the sidewalk. As I said, people were trying to do the right thing, but it just feels odd and in my opinion distracts from the joy of the trip.

At the state park people frequently avoided even making eye contact with others. It was just weird, not how I remember a beautiful walk in the woods is supposed to be with fellow hikers. Granted,  I am not discounting the extreme importance of the social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.  We all need to do our part…and many people, myself included, are trying their hardest to do what is best for everyone to stop this horrible virus. I’m just saying it feels so weird right now.  And when you go on “vacation”, you would think you can take a “vacation” from reality…but in this circumstance- NO. Because for awhile anyway, this is our new reality.

Masks have become standard uniform when going out into the world and we are learning to adjust, but sometimes it is hard to read people’s body language with half their face covered. As it has been said: Eyes are the Mirrors of the Soul. This is true now more than ever. Sometimes we can smile with our eyes if people can’t see our mouth. Try it right now as you read these words…it’s good practice because it’s nice to smile with your eyes in appreciation if you have a mask on. We had a waitress on this past trip that was so lovely and she had perfected the art of smiling with her eyes and her mask was intact the whole time. It also helps to talk with your hands a bit more. Almost everyone can appreciate an encouraging thumbs up like this little fellow.

Vacations are always a break from our routine, and this one was too. This trip, by car,  was just the tip of the travel iceberg; I can’t even image air travel yet….not sure what that will be like. However, some say this may be the best time to fly because airlines are very meticulous with sanitation and not overbooking flights. We shall see, but I personally don’t plan on flying anytime soon.  We enjoyed our short car trip and enjoyed the opportunity to see some new places, take lots of fun photos and have the fun of trying new restaurants. Something as simple as a walk in the woods made me realize we can all benefit from being gentle with ourselves and doing something special to survive 2020. As many companies have stated, in one way or another, “We are all in this together” (but 6 feet apart…Ha-Ha) Stay Safe, Stay Happy.  Put Your traveling shoes on! Thumbs Up!  Julie E. Smith

 

 

The Conservation President

Theodore_Roosevelt_High_School,_DSM,_IA

TRHS-Des Moines, Iowa

I think it must have been fate that I graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School. Little did I know that later in life I would develop such admiration for this man.  He really did so much for conservation and along with John Muir helped to create the National Park Service.  Since I am currently working on a book about National Parks and all the fantastic sites operated by the National Park Service…Teddy’s name just keeps popping up. That and John Muir. Come to find out John Muir is from Wisconsin….Nifty. But that’s a story for another day. Since Roosevelt had such an impact with conservation and the establishment of the National Park Service, I continue to find him an intriguing man in history. He is so much more than just some dude who’s likeness is carved into Mt. Rushmore.

I have been reading this terrific book about Roosevelt, but it’s not something you just sit and read cover to cover. Easier to digest when you peruse it and bounce back and forth through the chapters. It’s 940 pages long…but really interesting. Entitled:“The Wilderness Warrior, Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade For America” by Douglas Brinkley. (available on Amazon if you’re interested) It is a book that has so much detailed historical information, yet it also has details about the President as a person and helps you get to know many of Roosevelt’s little idiosyncrasies.  Things that really bring him to life, not just facts and figures but illustrations that show he was a man with both passions and prejudices. For example, I never knew that he was an avid bird watcher, cool… so am I. We would have so much to talk about.

An ice breaker question to ask is :“Who would you like to have dinner with, alive or dead?” At least one of the responses I would give to that question would be our 26th President: Theodore Roosevelt. In reading this book it is a reminder that even then, politics were, well….”politics” . TR had several adversaries that were on opposite sides of his agendas and I am sure he even had so-called enemies. Considering today’s political climate, it probably seemed mild to what we are trying to cope with now as Americans. In any case, Roosevelt persevered on several topics and was able to formulate several plans and enact legislation for conservation and preservation of our country’s valuable resources.

When my husband and I were heading west to visit Glacier N.P., we stopped in North Dakota and paid a visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This area of the country is often considered the “Badlands of the North” evidenced by the rugged terrain, sedimentary rocks and prairie grasses. Occasionally you see small trees or shrubs popping up but mostly it is a rugged landscape with grasses and rocks. It was an interesting park to visit, even though it was devoid of majestic mountains and towering pines; things that people think are synonymous with a national park.  The quiet beauty here made you realize why Roosevelt choose this place as a refuge and a place to “re-fuel” his spirits.  At this Park, there is an on-site museum detailing Roosevelt’s life: both professionally and personally.  I was very saddened to find out that both his wife and his mother died hours apart on the same day: Valentine’s Day, 1884.  I can’t imagine how devastating that would have been. He found comfort and solace in this part of the country. His time here allowed him to grow and strengthen, both mentally and physically.  He was quoted as saying: “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota”.

So it’s no wonder they choose North Dakota as the site for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was a place that meant so much to him. Not only does it protect this unique area of land, it pays a wonderful tribute to a man who is remembered fondly as “The Conservation President.” I think I will vote for TR come November.

 

 

 

Badlands National Park: “Bad”, but uniquely beautiful

Visiting the beautiful Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota, travelers often wonder why it is called The Badlands. Badlands National Park in southwestern South Dakota is only one area that holds the title of “badlands”.  It is a geologic term that describes landscapes characterized by soft sedimentary rocks.  This type of terrain can be found all over the west in places like Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska. 

badlands of South Dakota

Surveying the terrain & exposed sedimentary rocks: Badlands National Park

 The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad”.  French Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvaises terres pour traverser”, or “bad lands to travel through.” When one surveys this barren, rocky terrain with limited moisture and vegetation you can see why the title stuck. Nevertheless, the rock formations and colors in the sedimentary rock create a surreal landscape that seems not of this world.  The famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright was impressed with the uniqueness of this land. In 1935 he wrote:
“I’ve been about the world a lot and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for the revelation called the Dakota Bad Lands…What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere-a distant architecture, ethereal…an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.” 
Badlands,flickr photo

Sunset in The Badlands (Flickr photo by Sue Vruno)

So I would agree with Mr. Wright: the Badlands create an other world atmosphere…sometimes you feel you are wandering on a different planet. The different textures and the way the sun light and clouds plays across the horizon make the rock structures seem to go on indefinitely. When I was there with my family, I remember one of my son’s commenting that it felt as if we were “walking on Mars”.

Yet even with this desolate terrain, there are a variety of creatures and plant life that are abundant here and call this territory home. The prairie and rocky terrain amazingly are able to support 60 different species of grasses.Badlands,rattlesnakes sign!

This in turn provides a food source for several animals including bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, snakes, vultures and bluebirds. When we were there, we did not see much wildlife…or snakes thank goodness…but this is the first sign we saw on the trail. Good to know! 

In addition to the living creatures, this region is rich with fossilized remains of a variety of creatures. In this desolate place, it’s intriguing to think that many of the fossils are of aquatic dinosaurs. When the formation of the Badlands began, over 75 million years ago, there was a shallow sea spanning from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada encompassing the Great Plains area. The creatures sank to the bottom of the sedimentary layer and became fossilized. All the different layers of rock also provide a geologist’s dream and include: sandstone, silt, mudstone, limestone, volcanic ash and shale. These layers create a multi-dimensional and colorful landscape.

Many travelers heading to South Dakota and points west catch sight of the popular destinations of Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower’s and many more in that neck of the woods. Yet, the eerie and majestic beauty of the Badlands is worth adding to your trip agenda. For more information check out the National Park Service link to The Badlands: https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm 

Put your traveling shoes on….Julie E. Smith

 

Striving to come out on the other side: Coronovirus-2020

Like so many people at this time, we are all trying to survive this pandemic that has taken hold in our lives.  Not only has it taken the lives of so many people, it also has affected the lifestyles and a shattering blow to the economy and livelihood of many Americans. An event of this magnitude sweeps across the nation affecting everyone, even if you yourself are not sick.

So the best thing we can do after protecting our self physically, is also to protect our mental health. One way is to make plans for the tomorrows to come, when this pandemic has “simmered down” and we can resume somewhat of a “normal” lifestyle.  Many will agree that time will tell when that will be and also there will most defiantly be a new normal. 

Yet, making future plans is a great way to keep us going.  Enter the joy of travel planning…and of course reading travel blogs like this one!  Time will tell when traveling beyond our own backyards will be more acceptable, but in the mean time, Weary Travelers, we need to do something to keep up morale.  I am already planning a trip this fall to Utah and “The Mighty 5”, National Parks.  If you are curious, here are the Mighty 5: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion. Reservations have been made (long before the craziness of COVID-19 really struck) and thank goodness we were planning on driving anyway. I’m not sure when air travel will be resuming at a point that most passengers will feel comfortable and safe. Another consideration, sad that it may be, is the fact that currently many of the National Parks and sites are currently closed due to efforts to contain the Coronavirus. I understand the need for such measures, but at the same time I want to remain hopeful that the Parks will be able to reopen soon. Also, I want to stress the importance of responsible behavior by park visitors to maintain our nation’s most treasured spaces.  I want to be optimistic that by Fall, my husband and I will be heading out to Utah as planned. Fingers crossed. Although we have our lodging figured out, I am open to suggestions on other cool stuff to see and do in the area. Probably no need to suggest Angel’s Landing hike in Zion, not gonna happen. I am way too afraid of heights in addition to that fact I am not as agile as a mountain goat, don’t really wish to fall to my death….just saying. But am looking forward to hiking The Narrows, we shall see.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park, Utah

So I am not even sure if we will have the time or energy to see all five, but just the anticipation of the trip…and the prospect of added features for my book, keeps me motivated and optimistic for what is to come. If I am discouraged, or feeling “cabin fever”, I just take a gander through those travel brochures and it gets me back in the game. Did I mention BOOK? Yes, I am in the midst of putting together a book about the National Park Service. It is not meant to be the definitive guide to the parks , but rather an overview and a way of providing an inspiration to visit the parks. It is entitled “A Walk in the Park: Journeys through our Nation’s greatest treasures.” A large portion of the book is compiled from my blogs to many of the Parks, but I am also working on new content. The up side of the fact that we are strongly encouraged to comply with “Safer at Home” ordinances pushes me towards continued work on my book. I enjoy working on it, but as an writer knows…it’s easy to get distracted by so many other things.

Zion National Park, photo from U.S. Dept. of Interior

So here’s one more image to inspire both myself and my readers: Zion National Park. Zion is currently closed for visitors, but let’s hope the future will bring opportunities for others to see this glorious view….myself included. Looking for a way to remedy the “stay at home” blues? Why not try some travel planning with a virtual trip with plans for the future. Stay safe, stay healthy and hang in there until we come out on the “other side.” Put Your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

The Quiet Majesty of the Grand Tetons

“In and around the lake
Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there –Roundabout by YES

The Teton Range: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Looking at the majesty of the Tetons, I was reminded of those lyrics by YES from so many years ago. I have always liked that those words seem to bring the mountains to life. A life of their own and as they stand there, if they were so inclined they could get up and walk away to another place.

The Teton range has been “standing there” for millions of years, but was established as Grand Teton National Park in 1929.  About 13 million years ago, two blocks of the earth’s crust shifted on a fault line, tilted one up and the other down forming the range we view today. The highest peek: “Grand” reaches to a height of 13,770 feet.   The area surrounding the range includes a lush valley with crystal shining lakes, groves of aspen trees and alpine meadows. The park is 484 square miles and includes the range and most of the nearby area of Jackson Hole.  Not to be confused with specifically the town of Jackson, Wyoming. This flat valley surrounded by the towering mountains was visited by many trappers in the 1800’s. The area was named “Jackson’s Hole”  after Davey Jackson: a trapper from that time.  In time, the apostrophe was dropped and it just became Jackson Hole. Both the town of Jackson and the geographic namesake of the area are linked historically and are “next door neighbors” sharing the same inspiring landscape.

Antler Arches-Jackson Wyoming

Many visitors to the Park also spend time touring the town of Jackson and many hotels, restaurants and shops are found closely to the Park. Jackson is also the home to three popular ski resorts, so it is even busier during the winter months. We were there in summer and there were some visitors from the Park, but their peak season is ski season. When we went to the Grand Tetons, we stayed in Jackson and had the opportunity to explore both. One of the most unique features of Jackson was the Town Square: decorated with cowboys statues and arches made from antlers. On first view, it seems a little morbid…but come to find out the elk shed their antlers every year. Most of the antlers used in the construction of the archways were collected from the area in the woods. Otherwise, that would have been quite a few elk to shoot! Here’s a photo of one of the arches. They do have quite an impact: it gives the town square a real rustic, western feel.

Jenny Lake-Grand Teton National Park

There are three entrances to the Park, the southern entrance is only 4 miles north of Jackson.  If traveling from the north, via Yellowstone National Park, the two parks are only 31 miles apart.  Nevertheless, the Tetons are frequently overlooked by the notoriety of Yellowstone.  Both parks have their own unique features, but personally I liked Grand Teton better. The majestic beauty of the mountains and the quiet solitude of the shimmering lakes gives one a wonderful sense of calm…good Zen.  Yellowstone provides a great showcase of unique geographic features: erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots and breathtaking waterfalls.  I don’t deny these are all part of an awesome park adventure, but the majesty and serene landscapes of the Tetons should not be missed.

With the varied terrain there are also different hikes suited to different skill levels. Yet, the easy to moderate level hikes provide a great day hike through sparkling streams, alpine meadows and loads of photo opportunities. We took a relatively short hike and ended up at Jenny Lake. Since it was an easy hike, we were not alone on the trail, but not crowded by any means.  I am always amazed by delightful conversations with fellow park goers. We had asked two women if they could take our family photo and they were happy to oblige (most folks usually are…) Come to find out they were also from a  Chicago suburb; very close to where we lived. Small world.

Moulton Barn on Mormon Row-Grand Teton National Park (photo by PhotoJeepers)

Some of the most iconic photographs of Grand Teton National Park include the antique barn on Mormon Row Historic District: the Moulton Barn. The barn stands as a picturesque back drop to grazing bison and antelope. It also reminds the viewer of the challenging life of farming that took place on these rugged lands. The area was settled by Mormons in the late 1890s. The community was established and 27 homesteads were built to form a close knit community. Most of the farmers grew hay and oats and had limited livestock. In the mid-1900s, Mormon Row was acquired to expand Grand Teton National Park and in 1997 the district was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Several iconic barns still stand today and are widely recognized in photographs with the Teton range as the backdrop.

Grand Teton National Park: a magnificent, must see park for travelers to the west. Put your traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

Destination Fort Worth

My most recent trip to the Dallas area included a trip to Fort Worth…just a “stone’s throw away” (less than an hours drive from downtown Dallas). It was a travel adventure to visit this town that is steeped in the heritage of cattle drives and livestock economy. Cowboy hats, cowboy boots and amazing belt buckles are found in every store for purchase and living, breathing cowboys walk the stone streets of this historic town. There is a modern, thriving city of Fort Worth, but this blog is about the “Historic District” of Fort Worth, found just north of the larger metropolitan area. Yes it’s “touristy”, but yes…I really enjoyed my visit there. Great place to go if you really want to get a taste of the true Texas.

Sometimes I think Fort Worth gets lost in the shuffle when folks discuss the Dallas area. DFW: the airport code for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, serves obviously the whole Dallas Fort Worth area. Dallas is the ninth most populous city in the US, but when you add Fort Worth into the count, the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area becomes the fourth largest metropolitan city the the U.S. Probably the locals understand how Fort Worth helps to make up the fabric of the area, yet it seems like visitors seem to just lump it all into one category: Dallas. Both cities together help to provide an amazing area with much diversity to offer. This blog is focused on Fort Worth, but for more information on specifically Dallas you can reference my blog post entitled:Big things happen here…Dallas

The Lone Star State

When cattle were driven up the historic Chisholm Trail to the railheads, the drivers had one last stop for rest and supplies: Fort Worth, Texas before heading into the Red River Valley. So Fort Worth was strategically placed for growth. Between 1866 and 1890, drovers ( a term I learned used designating those that drive a herd) trailed more than four million head of cattle through Fort Worth. The city soon became known as “Cowtown.” It was originally established in 1874, then when the railroad arrived in 1876, Fort Worth became a major shipping point for livestock.

Live Stock Exchange Building; Built 1902 /Photo: FortWorth.com

While visiting this historic area of Fort Worth, there is a sense of visiting the “old west” and yes it is “touristy”, but in addition to the eating, shopping and playing…the usual “tourist activities”, there are three interesting museums on site that provide a wealth of information about the area and the major role the stockyards played in the local economy. The first museum is right on the main street and located in the iconic Live Stock Exchange Building.  The Stockyards Museum is at 131 E. Exchange street and is operated by the North Fort Worth Historical Society. It is a small museum, but jam packed with an abundance of information about the ups and downs of the working stockyards and how the Fort Worth Livestock Exchange became known as the “Wall Street of the West”.  I wish we could have spent more time there, but luckily they have a nice little book store and I was able to purchase a historical profile about the Fort Worth stockyards…for later reading. Don’t books makes the BEST souvenirs?

Another major museum that seems like a wonderful tribute to the military, is the Military Museum of Fort Worth, located at 2507 Rodeo Plaza.  They also have a web site for more information: http://www.militarymuseumfortworth.org

Another museum in the heart of town is the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame at 2515 Rodeo Plaza. It is located right near the Cowtown  Coliseum. As they state, the Museum is there to highlight many achievements: “Inclusion in the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame is the highest honor we bestow on individuals who have shown excellence in competition, business and support of rodeo and the western lifestyle in Texas”

The Daily Drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards

Nothing quite intrigues a city gal like me, then being in the presence of the handsome Texas Longhorns. I found out that the Texas Longhorns were originally brought from Spain by Columbus into Santa Domingo in 1493 and later bred with cattle in Mexico. Early settlers brought the bred into Texas and the cattle became a hardy and disease resistant strain.  While visiting the historic district of Fort Worth, you have the opportunity to see a “mini” cattle drive of 17 majestic Longhorns down the cobblestone streets: twice a day, at 11:30 am and 4:00 pm. The herd is a very manageable number of 16 to 20 steers, when we were there the number stood at 17.  Just enough to keep the tourists happy. It was a short “drive” and over quickly, but it was still a thrill for a city gal like me. They are really magnificent creatures.

If I have piqued your curiosity,  and for more information about all the sights and sounds at the Fort Worth Historic District; check out their website at: http://www.fortworthstockyards.org

Put your Traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

Romance in the Everyday: The Bridges of Madison County

A light at the end of the tunnel: the Holliwell Bridge. Built in 1880, it spans 110 ft.

“There are images that lie within my heart…images with the power to recall the warmth of a summer’s night, the stillness before a storm. Reminding me of the first time I ever saw him…there was nowhere else to go except towards love.”  Meryl Streep as Francesa in The Bridges of Madison County.

When I hear these words spoken in the movie I just get chills. So incredibly romantic. It was filmed among the fertile farmlands and rolling hills of southern Iowa as a backdrop.  One of the underlying themes of the film is that romance can flourish suddenly in everyday moments.  If you have not seen the film, or read the novel, this is a timeless love story filmed in Winterset Iowa  including the historic and iconic covered bridges located throughout…you guessed it: Madison County.

The peaceful view of a quiet countryside: Holliwell Bridge

I am an Iowa girl, born and raised in Des Moines. After moving away from Iowa, I always come back to visit, but had never journeyed to Winterset (very close to Des Moines) to see the covered bridges until recently. I went on a delightful day trip there with my Mom, aunt and cousin. We discovered that there are six covered bridges in Madison County. That is the highest concentration of covered bridges, in one area,  west of the Mississippi River.  It’s interesting to note that the eastern state of Pennsylvania boasts the most covered bridges of any state with the a whooping total of 219 covered bridges.  Now that’s an incredible amount of history preserved; if only those bridges could talk….imagine the tales they would reveal.

The practice of covering bridges developed out of a need to protect the interior wooden trusses and floor boards, which deteriorated quickly in the severe weather of the plains.  It was easier, and more economical, to replace boards and roofing then the interior trusses. Many of the bridges were lost to floods, ice jams, fires and just the procession of progress.   Starting in 1884, many of the older bridges were replaced with steel. In 1933, the Madison County Historical Society began a campaign to save the remaining bridges. Of the original 19 bridges than spanned across the county, six iconic bridges remain. The bridges have been lovingly restored, maintained and span across creeks and streams in the county.  They dot the landscape as an architectural reminder of a by-gone era.

Our first stop was at the Madison County Welcome Center (Chamber of Commerce).  It is easy to find: right across the street from the impressive and quite tall courthouse in the town square of Winterset, Iowa. The address of the center is 73 Jefferson Street.  The folks are so helpful there and it is a terrific place to get your bearings and the complete back story about this interesting community. Come to find out, Winterset is also the birthplace of John Wayne. There is a museum with an impressive bronze statute of the famous cowboy and also a small home designated as his birthplace.  When we were there, there were no true John Wayne fans in the car, so we drove on to see the bridges.

Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, built in 1870

One of the easiest bridges to find is located right inside their city park: Cutler-Donahoe.  The bridge was built in 1870 over the North River in Bevington, but was moved to the city park location in 1970. This was the very first bridge we saw and it does have a “wow” factor. Even though it is not very long, it is beautifully built and it easy to allow yourself the time to become immersed in admiring the craftsmanship.

The Holliwell Bridge spans across the Middle River and was featured in the movie. It is the longest of the bridges spanning 110 feet. It was exciting to see this particular bridge and then see it featured in the film. It’s so delightful to have one of those “Oo, Oo! I have been there!” moments. Out of the six bridges in Madison County only two were featured in the film, however the entire film was filmed locally, so many Winterset locations are recognizable. The town square, Northside Cafe and the Pheasant Run Tavern were all sites in the movie.

Imes Bridge, Built in 1871

The oldest of the remaining bridges is the Imes Bridge. It was built in 1871. Like all of the Madison County bridges, it has been placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. You can understand why this is the case, admiring the covered bridges brings a certain sense of nostalgia. As you walk thru the bridges the sturdy timbers under your feet are worn yet strong. The cross beams not only support the walls and roof , but create a unique, cross hatch design element characteristic of these timely structures. No wonder they were used for the back drop of a romantic love story. Sometimes it’s the simple beauty in everyday things that warms our hearts. If you are in the Des Moines area…I highly recommend a trip to Winterset. Put your traveling shoes on.  Julie E. Smith

A Cultural Icon: Wisconsin Supper Clubs

Throughout Wisconsin, there are approximately 260 supper clubs…give or take. The number is frequently changing because the clubs change hands and/or close and re-open again later. The restaurant business is fluid and subject to change. Our neighbor to the west, Minnesota, also has supper clubs….but not nearly as prevalent or pervasive on the landscape as Wisconsin.

Cozy, Table for Two- Indianhead Supper Club, Balsam Lake, WI.

So  herein begs the question that keeps on popping up: “So what is a Supper Club, anyway?…just another restaurant? Oh Nooooo! Don’t speak of such blasemphy. It is hard to explain, and I had this discussion with my son. We discussed the history of prohibition, the establishment of the speak- easy and how supper clubs, to some extent anyway fit in that part of history. I believe that you just have to experience supper club dining to appreciate them and to know the difference. My son and I did however come to the conclusion that: “A Supper club is a restaurant, but not every restaurant qualifies as a supper club.” Kind of simplistic in nature, but I think it helps to drive the point home: Supper Clubs are in a category of their own.

I was prompted to write about the uniqueness of Wisconsin supper clubs after attending a fund raiser dinner and presentation by our local historical society: The Polk County Historical Society. The event was entitled: Celebrate Wisconsin Supper Clubs and celebrate I did!  I really enjoyed learning about the diversity and amazing history behind  this fabric that makes up the Wisconsin landscapes and in many ways is the pride of many a Wisconsinite.  The two presenters at the event helped to expand those definitions and help to explain what makes a supper club a supper club?…and not just another restaurant?

Mary Bergin, a Midwest features writer, discussed the inspirations that led her to publish a cookbook of over 60 recipes from 40 different supper clubs. Mary is the author of several books, many of which focus on adventures in Wisconsin. The cookbook she published is entitled: “Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook”. The book includes not only tasty recipes, but also interesting tidbits of historical content about particular clubs and why loyal customers help to create each supper club as a local treasure. She explained that the popularity of the supper club has sustained because of their predictability; you know you can expect great service and food when you walk through the door. That predictability gives them lasting quality. Some may call it “stuck in a rut”, but others view it as the comfort of tradition.  Her books are currently available on Amazon and you can follow Mary on some of her adventures at: www.roadstraveled.com

Holly L. DeRuyter, a documentary filmmaker, presented her video entitled: “Old Fashioned-The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club”. The film took a delightful tour of several clubs at locations throughout the state and portrayed why these iconic clubs have remained popular and a staple in many Wisconsin communities. The video not only highlighted the supper club “culture”, but also helped the viewer to grapple with the continuing question of how a supper club differs from a restaurant. The supper club patron is welcomed to a slower pace where one can relax and connect with family and friends. One of the club owners summed it up well by stating: “ Dine Leisurely, Dine Well.”  Most supper clubs are in rural places and usually open for dinner only. The supper club includes a bar and a separate dining room. Even after prohibition was repealed, many women felt uncomfortable going to a tavern for a drink. (Some taverns were considered “seedy” and not the place for a lady…) However, women felt more comfortable having drinks if the bar was located inside a supper club. This helped to make all the patrons feel comfortable for both eating and having cocktails together. For more information on Holly’s film, you can check out her web site at: http://OldFashionedTheMovie.com

The “Brandy Old Fashioned” a staple cocktail in Wisconsin Supper Clubs

Speaking of cocktails, the classic cocktail of the supper club is the Old Fashioned. The drink itself dates back to the 1700’s, but was revived during the Prohibition days. With the preponderance of “rot gut liquors” and “bathtub gin”, these tonics were made more palatable with the addition of fruit slices and/or cherries to garnish the drink. A taste for something sweet just evolved the Old Fashioned into a staple cocktail at many of the supper clubs.

Another staple of the supper club is the Friday Night Fish Fry. Wisconsin is the perfect place for the popularity and success of a Friday Night Fish Fry. First, the fact that Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes filled with delicious perch, walleye and trout to provide an abundance of fresh and local fare. Second, there are many religions that abstain from eating meat on Fridays, so the Friday Night Fish Fry quickly became a family tradition for many Wisconsin families.

One of my favorite books…..right there on the bar at Indianhead Supper Club

When I first moved to Wisconsin, my realtor gave us a wonderful gift to welcome us to Wisconsin: a book about Wisconsin Supper Clubs. It is entitled: Wisconsin Supper Clubs, An Old Fashioned Experience by Ron Faiola.  It became a great resource and also soon evolved into a journal for documenting my trips to the many supper clubs in the state. Since there are so many, I added my own entries and photos for the clubs that were not listed. It has been fun to document the memories of special meals, but also makes me feel a little like a restaurant critic. Yet, most of the things I document are good food and great experiences. I rarely have negative criticisms. Imagine my surprise when a copy of “my” book was there on the bar when I visited a supper club close to us. As you can imagine, that club had “made the cut” and was featured in the book.  Good job guys.

Put your Traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

 

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