Friday, December 23, 2011

W-b-N Portsmouth, Ohio

Continued, 7/24/11
I’m now in Shawnee State Park, near Portsmouth, OH – another quiet, beautiful, state park.  Since John and family won’t be back until late this evening, I’ve decided to spend the night here and go into town tomorrow morning.  But I can’t get ahold of John by cell phone, because there’s no cell-phone (or internet service) at this spot.  But there is a pay phone, which I already tried once, to no avail.  I may call his son later this afternoon and have him try to get ahold of his father and tell him of my whereabouts.  This is a pleasant site, green trees in view outside every window, ideal for continuing to write up the last part of the trip, and for working on a couple of manuscripts.
An unpleasant experience last night: I had originally stopped at a shopping mall about thirty miles north of Portsmouth, intending to spend the night there.  But after talking with John by phone, it seemed that there would be almost nothing of cultural interest in Portsmouth, so I decided, about 8:00 PM to try to find Shawnee State Park before dark.  After driving nearly an hour, and with darkness descending, I happened to pass a commercial campground, and thought I might spend the night there.  Usually, in commercial campgrounds, there is a mechanism for registering and paying even if the office is closed.  I saw nothing of the sort at that office.  Another camper poked her head out of a nearby rig and said that the owner lived in the red brick house on a nearby rise, so I went to the house, but got no answer from either knock or door-bell. I pulled out of the driveway and tried to find a level spot near the office, then put up curtains, locked up, brushed my teeth, got into a nightgown and went to bed.  Half an hour later, there was a knock on the door and I got up.  A guy in a golf cart asked if I needed a spot, and I said that I didn’t want to try to park at a site in the dark.  I asked if it would be all right if I spent the night where I was, and would be happy to pay $10.00 for no services.  He went to find the owner, who, when she returned, proved to be a very unpleasant woman, who said that if I wouldn’t go down (a very steep hill) to a campsite, I had to leave. I left about 10:00 PM. 
I drove further along the highway (SR 125), without glasses, having forgotten to put them on.  I also forgot to raise the rear curtain, so my rear view was restricted to the side mirrors.  The road was winding, and I was sleepy, annoyed, and frightened of tipping off the steep edge of the narrow highway.  At one point, I pulled over into a wide driveway of a business establishment in order to let a line of cars pass that had queued up behind me, and I thought that perhaps I could spend the night there, since the next day was Sunday (not a business day).  I drove up a hill into a parking lot, not very level, turned around carefully so that I was heading out, in case some security person asked me to leave in the middle of the night, tried to maneuver the RV into a spot that was as level as possible, and then put down the curtains again.  I got into bed but lay there, still annoyed about the other campground and worrying that someone here would try to kick me out too.  I heard the crunch of gravel once, but no-one come up, and I eventually got to sleep – probably around midnight.  I woke up around 9:30 AM, so I must have relaxed finally, and certainly got enough sleep after my long day of driving and the grueling effort to find a place to spend the night. 
This campground in Shawnee State Park is a dream compared to that other campground.  I should either have come directly here or else stayed in the shopping mall parking lot.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

W-b-N Heading Home

On the first day of the drive back south, I’m at a rest-stop on US 23 just north of Ann Arbor, MI, where I plan to spend the night.  It’s quiet and clean, and my parking spot is quite level.  I spent last night at Onaway State Park, in the far northern part of Michigan’s southern peninsula. It was a lovely park, its campsites shaded by green, abundant trees, within view of a fairly large lake (Black Lake).  I was delighted by the peaceful surroundings, with few sounds except for the cheerful chorus of bird songs that greeted me as I left the RV to walk down to a pavilion near the water’s edge.  The sun hung low over the water and cast a sparkling runner of light across its surface, wavelets shimmering like silver sequins or brilliant diamonds.  I think the reason we like shiny things intuitively, is that in the wild, they signal water, a pleasant sight indeed (and biologically essential).  A couple of children were still playing in the small swimming area before the pavilion; they made little enough noise that the slosh and gurgle of waves lapping against the nearby rocks was clear and mesmerizing.  This is the sort of place that, if one came here every summer as a child, it would seem like the most beautiful place on earth, against which all other natural beauty might be compared.
I left Virg and Don’s yesterday, a little after noon, and originally intended just to dump and fill up with water at Onaway State Park, then head south that evening.  I intend to head straight down US 23, all the way south until it runs into I-26, and then take that into Charleston.  It looks like the shortest way, if not the quickest, since I won’t be stopping to see Lis and family in Nashville.  US 23 passes through Portsmouth, Ohio, where my cousin, John, and his family live; I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d visit them on this trip, but with Nashville off the itinerary, I decided to stop in Portsmouth instead.  However, when I called him on his cell phone, I found that he was in upstate New York, but intending to be back on Sunday.  So I decided to take an extra day or two on the trip south and visit with him and his family, since he is one of my favorite cousins and I haven’t seen him for several years.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kelsey Lake, Michigan backwoods


I am in the RV at Virg and Don’s.  It’s late afternoon and I've spent practically the entire day since breakfast typing, transcribing journal entries from a 1985 journal and from the 2010 journal of my trip to Europe and Russia.  It's amazing at how much time it takes to transcribe these journals, although I did get through quite a few entries from both notebooks.  One of my goals for this Kelsey interlude was to transcribe last summer’s trip journal so it would be available to post on the blog sometime in the fall.  Another goal was to revise and complete the Caring for Your Body manuscript, which I’ve also worked on, but not as much as I hoped I would. 
This wilderness retreat on Kelsey Lake is always a haven for my spirit and an inspiration to creativity.  The Korea book was pulled together and organized from journal and e-mail sources down at Dick’s cabin on the property.  The book The God That says I Am was really begun here, some of it was written, and a lot of it was revised, either in the RV or down at the cabin.  I’m not spending any time at the cabin this year – Dick isn’t here this summer – but the trees and sky, the lake, and the encompassing, living green, are all visible from the RV windows.  This place feels like my writing spot, the place where I can write unencumbered.  Virg and Don are quite accommodating; they don’t expect anything from me, and I try not to get in the way of their busy lives, although Virg and I normally chat for a while almost every day.  I’ve had dinner with them twice in the nearly two weeks I’ve been here.  I’ll probably stay another week, and then head back down south.
I’ve finally stopped coughing up blood.  I was beginning to worry, a week ago, when I had been coughing up blood and/or clots for two and a half weeks.  I talked with a nurse at NJH after a week of it, and she told me to wait for another four or five days. A week ago I called back.  The doctor told me I could cut down on the Advair dosage, and should cut out any fish oil supplements until the bleeding stopped, which I did and the bleeding stopped a couple of days later.  I went back on the higher Advair dose recently, and back on the fish oil today.  What the nurse also said, apropos the pathology report (on tissue samples taken during the bronchoscopy) was that I don’t have emphysema or interstitial fibrosis or lung cancer.  I also don’t have sarcoidosis or diffuse neuroendocrine tumors (which the radiologist thought I might have).  Also, no microorganisms have grown out from the pulmonary lavage done during the bronchoscopy.  All of that is encouraging. 
And my breathing is certainly better than it was before; some of that may be because I’m trying to exhale more deeply to eject the abnormal amount of residual air that I tend to retain.  The doctor says my thoracic cavity volume is 140% of normal (adjusted for age and size), whereas my lung function is about 33% of normal.  So I’m just not using what I’ve got.  It may be a habit I developed over the years of “breathing over” the asthma, not exhaling adequately, because that’s when the wheezing occurs.  Beuther (the doctor) would like to see me get back to something approaching normal lung function, and wants me to take additional steroids – a heavy, but decreasing dose of prednisone to get rid of the chronic inflammation in the terminal airways, and then an additional form of inhaled steroid, that he says will penetrate further into the airways to cut down on inflammation.  He also gave me a prescription for a nebulizer, at my request, because that was what seemed to open up my airways best when I was there at the clinic.

Monday, November 21, 2011

W-b-N, Ferry to Michigan

July 1, 2011

The RV is now parked along the street next to the loading corral for the S.S. Badger, a ferry that criss-crosses Lake Michigan between Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Ludington, Michigan.  The street sign beside the road reads “Overnight Parking Permitted.”  For the first time in a month, I have a few hours alone, with nothing I have to do, and nowhere I have to be, and fatigue has not yet overcome me.  The lake breeze blows through the screen across my legs, quenching the cabin heat from a long day’s drive in the sun.
Nearly a month has passed since I last recorded anything of this trip, and much has happened since then; I’ve done a lot and seen a lot and thought about a lot without having the time to write down anything.  About a third of the trip has gone undocumented, including the ultimate aim of the trip, The National Wildlife Federation trip to Yellowstone with grandson Blake.  After I went to Charleston to bring him back to Denver by plane, I was busy driving and making deadlines and doing whatever else needed to be done.  This upcoming ferry ride (Saturday, July 2, 1:55 PM), for which I made a reservation a couple of months ago, is the last deadline of this trip.  From here on, I plan to get there when I get there.

July 2, 2011
On the S.S. Badger, in the middle of Lake Michigan, land is not visible in any direction.  I am always amazed at the size of the Great Lakes.  I remember when I first saw one of the Great Lakes – I believe it was Lake Huron – and was amazed that water extended all the way to the horizon; land was not visible on the other side of the lake.  As a child, I was used to lakes that were visibly surrounded by land.
This is a coal-burning steamship, and the heavy, gray smoke drifts aft where most of the passengers are seated in deck chairs or around tables in open-air canteens.  I have moved four times trying to find a seat away from the inside heat but not in the smokestack’s down-draft, or in the din of a bingo game hosted by a loud, over-jolly, would-be comedian.
I watched as they loaded the RV onto the bottom deck through the maw of the ship.  This is the only ferry I’ve taken where others drive the vehicles into it.  It is certainly an act of faith to leave one's keys in the car and the door unlocked for several hours, in the parking lot and on deck.  It reflects both the honesty and the trustfulness of these Midwesterners – Michiganders and Wisconsonites - living on both sides of this huge body of water.  I believe this naive honesty is what I miss most about the Midwest of my childhood.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

W-b-N Iowa & Minnesota

It has taken me too long to load this next installment of the West-by-North summer trip. Sorry! No good excuse, just busy with other things since my return--including a two-week trip to Florida to visit former college and high-school classmates.  This has truly been a year on memory lane!

The trip from Iowa City to Rochester, MN, and the stay in Rochester (June 27 – 30), are a bit blurry in my mind, as I now try to reconstruct them in late October/early November.  The Sunday evening after the Writer’s Workshop, I didn’t drive very far north of Iowa City, but found a nice, out-of-the-way campground about halfway to Minnesota, spent a pleasant night there, slept late, cleaned out the RV, and did laundry. The next afternoon, I drove north across lush, green Iowa farmland, passing through Waterloo the day after Michelle Bachman made her triumphant presidential debut there. It’s easy to see why Bachman’s simplistic message appeals to the farm folks in this fertile countryside. North-eastern Iowa seemed as American as apple pie, like a Norman Rockwell painting. Complexity doesn’t strike a chord here,  nor does poverty (at least, not the type seen in large cities). Iowa is not a state with a large manufacturing sector, nor much of an immigrant population.  On the other hand, I did read recently ("Our Daily Meds" by Melody Petersen) that Iowans seem to have an undue affinity for prescription anti-depressants. Perhaps this has inhibited the reasoning required to deal with complex issues.
Once in Rochester, the Wal-Mart parking lot became home base. Marcia Yoder Brown (my sophomore college roommate) picked me up each morning and took me back at night, and I slept in the parked RV.  Marcia lives in a retirement facility (Charter House) at Mayo Clinic, where we ate and talked and visited with her friends. We had a wonderful two or three days wandering through the maze of Mayo’s clinics and hospitals and eating places. Marcia, who has recently suffered the loss of her husband to cancer, and has had a serious bout with cancer, herself, was as cheerful and upbeat as she always was. "She's everybody's cheerleader," said one of the staff members there. She arranged for me to give a talk on my trip to India, which drew a good audience, and—despite some anxiety on my part—went over well.
Marcia was one of two fellow students during my sophomore year at Kalamazoo College who probably saved my sanity when I suffered my first major depression. (The other person, who cheerfully visited me in my lonely basement dorm room, was Gretchen Falk.) I was taking a course overload, worked twenty hours a week, was chronically tired, and was carrying a torch for a former boyfriend. The second semester that year, Marcia invited me to be her roommate (hers had left at the end of the first semester), and her upbeat manner and enthusiasms began to color my melancholic mood a rosier hue; my mind had become so dark, I even contemplated suicide.
The Rochester, Minnesota stopover indeed revived my spirits from the trauma of the week at NJH and the subsequent drive from Denver to Iowa, as well as the frustration of knowing that I will probably have to do a radical re-write on the Korean travel memoir.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Iowa, Part B - Summer Writing Festival

June 25, 26
The week-end went by in a flash; six amateur writers gathered for two intensive days of trying to figure out how to write a non-fiction book proposal for a book into which we will pour hearts and guts, and, in one case, hopes for tenure tracking.  I was seriously sleep-deprived and still jittery from a terrifying drive across Nebraska and Iowa; moreover, I was coughing up blood from the recent bronchoscopy and pulmonary biopsies and was probably feeling even more vulnerable than usual. 
During interactions with writers over recent decades, it has become clear to me that vulnerable is what writers really are.  Writers sometimes seem crazy, but crazy isn’t quite the right word. Crazies try to fix their internal brokenness by loosening the connection with external reality, whereas writers try to mend that brokenness using words to glue together the mental shards and produce some new coherence, however fantastical. 
And so it was with this group, myself included. It was a group focused on non-fiction, but that didn't modulate the eccentricity of the voices or their urgency to be heard. The leader was a very pleasant and competent woman with a look of chronic concern (verging on suffering) etched into her face and eyes.  Five women and a man were “students” in the group, all far beyond the age of normal studenthood. The man may have seemed more “normal” than the others, simply because he talked less.
In each there was some driving urge to tell or sell a part of their life or work, an almost desperate effort to make meaningful some fringe experience, all the while fearful that others just might not care.  The “others,” in the first instance, are the agents and publishers who give writers the space and platform to offer their personal stories to readers who might just care.
I would like to have felt that we all made a potentially sustainable connection that week-end,  although I don’t think that happened; it rarely does in short, structured writing retreats.  I did, however, receive valuable feedback, particularly from the group leader--initially discouraging because it will entail serious restructuring and revision of the book on my Korean adventures. But I know she was right.  So that will be a major project for this fall.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

W-b-N, Iowa (June 24 – 26) Part A

(written July 24)
The trip from Denver, Colorado, to Iowa City, Iowa, was far and away the worst drive of the trip and may well have been the worst drive of my life.  In the original trip plans, I had given myself three days for this leg of the journey, but because of the NJH scheduling, I was due to be in Iowa less than a day after my last appointment at NJH was finished.  I wanted to go to the Writers' Conference that week-end because I had paid for it, and because it was a workship on proposal-writing, where I hoped to elicit a professional-level critique of the proposal for my book about Korea.
I drove the R.V. out of the parking lot near NJH about 1:00 PM, Mountain Time (3:00 PM, EST) on Friday, June 24, and headed north through downtown Denver before the worst rush-hour traffic began, although rush-hour usually begins earlier on Fridays than on other week-days.  I picked up I-76 going out of Denver, and took that north-east to Nebraska.  This north-eastern section of Colorado was dry and barren, as had been the region east of Denver along I-70.  On I-80 through Nebraska, the countryside became greener, with large farms and less scrub-land, rather like Kansas, although greener.  There are probably larger rivers here than in eastern Colorado, specifically the Platte River and its tributaries.  The farmhouses usually seemed well kept, although barns nearby were often in serious disrepair.  I assume that the barns are left to rot because crops are no longer stored on the farm, but rather are sold primarily to wholesalers, who store grain and other produce in huge elevators that dot the landscape.  And fewer farmers raise both animals and plants for food these days; many need day jobs to support themselves and their families during the year.
I traveled straight across Nebraska on I-80, stopping only for gas.  The countryside was high-plains; copses of trees dotted the landscape and formed boundaries between immense, planted fields.  On the left, to the north, the sky was bright, with thin, drifting clouds glinting sunlight from their edges; to the south was a dark, threatening sky, the clouds roiled in uneven layers, occasionally glowing with veil-lightening.  This highway was as far north as I had been on the trip, and it was just past summer solstice, so evening drifted very slowly into night, and clouds on my left were lit with hues of orange and gold as the sun set behind me.  As night descended, the threatening southern sky to the right became even darker and more ominous.  It was after 10:00 PM when darkness finally fell. I had promised myself I would stop around midnight if truly tired, and a Flying J gas station in Gretna, east of Omaha, was the midnight stop where I parked and slept, willing myself to wake up at 3:30 AM.  I awoke at 3:00, filled up the gas tank, popped open a bottle of Frappuccino and a peanut-butter granola-bar, and headed for Iowa.
By this time, the surrounding sky was pitch-black, with veil-lightening frequent and intense, like brilliant strobe lights flashing and blinking capriciously. If the lightning stopped briefly, it left me blinded and unable to see the road for a few seconds.  Moreover, that whole section of the highway was under construction.  The road’s uneven edges were precipitous; orange barrels and cement barriers appeared and disappeared in the intermittent glare of lightening.  And then it began to rain – at first a normal, light rain, then heavy, pelting rain, and the highest windshield-wiper setting wasn’t fast enough.  Rounding curves felt like a carnival ride, and I feared I might roll the RV.  Fortunately, few other vehicles were on the road, so I put on the blinking vehicle hazard lights, set the beams on high, and slowed to 30 mph. Also fortunately I had a GPS, because the web-work of roads going through Omaha would have confused me utterly without it.  One scene from the drive is vivid in my mind:  I have maneuvered through a long, treacherous, zig-zag course of construction, and just as I am coming out of it, a lightning bolt zaps down nearby, nearly blinding me, followed by thunder, sounding as though I had crashed into something.  And then, suddenly, I come upon a bifurcation in the road and don’t know which way to go.  There are no signs, or if they’re there, I'm too blinded to see them.  I have slowed to about 10 mph, and look up at the GPS.  It indicates that I should go straight ahead, which I do, and finally drive out of the nightmare and come upon Council Bluffs, Iowa.  I have no idea when, where, or how I crossed the Missouri River. 
Coming into Council Bluffs and beyond was also surreal; hundreds of red lights started to blink on and off against the black, intermittently lightening-brightened sky, above what seemed like dark hills in the distance on both sides of the road.  Moreover, a thin, red dawn began to glow near the north-eastern horizon; the scene was like entering the gates of hell.  As slow dawn gave form to the red, blinking lights, I saw that they were, in fact, attached to huge, energy-generating windmills and the lights were aircraft warning lights.  There seemed to be thousands of windmills, only some of which had lights, and the slow churn of their dark arms - appendages of huge, unthinking, machine-beasts - felt ominous to my still-terrified, sleep-deprived mind.
Driving across Iowa in the lifting dawn, I could see that it was even greener than Nebraska, with dense forests and copses of trees.  The rest of the drive to Iowa City was relatively uneventful. I arrived at the site of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival barely in time to register, having finished the Frappuccino and granola bar, still very tired and a bit hungry.  Because of a hassle parking the RV, I missed the free fruit and Danish offered at the writers' conference, although I was able to snag a cup of coffee.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nevada Air Show Disaster

This interruption of the "West-by-North" trip narrative is prompted by a reaction I had to the Friday (Sept 16) air-show disaster in Nevada that relates to our current socio-political contentiousness. 
As I was watching MSNBC evening commentary (probably Lawrence O’Donnell), a news-update announced a plane crash at a Nevada air show, with possible audience fatalities.  My initial reaction was concern and anxiety for anyone who might have been hurt by the fallen plane and its scattered debris.  As information came in periodically, we learned that some twenty individuals had been transported to a local hospital, but there were no fatality numbers.  Then we learned that the plane had hit in an area of VIP seating – "CEOs and their guests" – and I had an odd reaction of relief, almost satisfaction (not quite schadenfreude, but close).  Something in me said:  “It’s O.K., it was just the big-wigs who got hurt, the guys who have all the money and don’t work for a living.  Maybe some of them will realize what it’s like to experience loss and pain.” 
As I had this reaction, I was amazed at my own cold-heartedness toward a certain category of human beings.  I realized, again, that I bear considerable mistrust, even contempt, for the wealthy, most of whom I view as social parasites – basically useless and often harmful to the body politic.  And then I thought of the Tea-Party crowd cheering at Rick Perry’s claim to have executed more than two hundred prisoners in Texas, and of an audience agreeing with Ron Paul's comment that a person in poverty, without insurance, should be left to his own devices if he becomes ill. 
And I realized that these different reactions reflect, at a gut level, the two sides of our political argument – the different views of who is useful to our culture, and who is parasitic – as embraced by liberals and conservatives.  In general, conservatives (despite a purported Christian ethic and Jesus’ claim that the meek shall inherit the earth) believe that the poor are useless (although they do much of the manual and menial labor – the “real work” – that keeps the country functioning).  And liberals think that the wealthy mostly want to drain resources from those who work, and from the world in general, while rarely doing an honest day’s work themselves (although without accumulated wealth, there would be little or no commerce, art, or science).
Considering someone socially worthless probably means you don’t mind if they die.  In fact, you may view the world as a better place if they do.  I remember a time, early in my life, when I felt no grief at the news of the death of a former eighth-grade classmate whose behavior had been irritatingly asocial.  He laughed when others were hurt or disturbed, and he befriended a large, mentally challenged class-mate whom he prodded into outrageous actions.  I viewed him then as evil; I didn’t believe his home life was at fault, because he had a very likeable younger brother.  Today, he might be called a sociopath.  Perhaps his pre-frontal cortex had been damaged during a forceps delivery (common in those days).  When I learned, several years later, that he had been killed in a car-train accident, I was not sorry; rather, in a way, I felt relieved. 
Similarly, I felt relieved when I was told, as a child, that Hitler was dead, or later, when Stalin died, or recently, when bin Laden was killed.  Maybe this is why so many in Muslim countries cheered at the twin-tower attack and its aftermath of carnage; they viewed wealthy and greedy America and Americans as somehow inherently evil or dangerous.

To be sure, there are enlightened, wealthy and liberal individuals of conscience, just as there are lower-middle-class conservatives whose paranoia and political blindness keep them from seeing their own best interest.  Social chaos often stems from a huge disparity between the wealthy and the poor, as now exists in this country.  Such large economic disparity certainly helps fuel rebellions that currently roil the Middle East.  Looking at history with hindsight, it seems obvious that a blind disregard for the plight of the poor by French aristocracy--the “If they have no bread, let them eat cake” delusion--led to the guillotine and other angry excesses of the French Revolution.  If the Decembrists of Russia had been heeded, instead of being jailed, killed, or deported to Siberia, that country might not have been blighted by a century of communism and its aftermath.  In the ancient Roman Empire, Christians survived and ultimately thrived while everything around them was tending to chaos, probably because they lived in a community in which they all cared for one another, including the least among them:  the poor, the jailed, the widows and children.
Now that actual casualty figures from the air-show disaster have come in, and I know that ten individuals died there, I once again feel concern and sadness for them and for their loved ones.  And I also feel remorse that, for a time, I did not view those victims as human beings worthy of mourning. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

NJH, Denver

June 22, 2011
I’m in the first floor waiting room at National Jewish Health in Denver, scheduled for an early morning bronchoscopy. This will probably be the most traumatic procedure of a week-long series of tests and consults intended to ferret out the underlying causes of my ever-worsening pulmonary function.
The paragraph above was written a little over two weeks ago, and it was correct.  I was so ill after the bronchoscopy that I couldn’t keep food down all that day.  In addition to throwing up, I coughed up blood and mucus all day long, slept most of the afternoon, then slept another eight or ten hours that night.  I was given permission to spend the night in the RV in the parking lot, because I was not supposed to drive at all that day, and I had no one else with me.  The next morning, I was able to eat half a bowl of oatmeal and drink some tea without throwing up.  I went back to NJH for appointments that day.  Still, I have been coughing up blood and some clots daily since the bronchoscopy (for two weeks).
 It is now July 8, and I am parked in the RV at my sister’s wilderness home on Kelsey Lake in the back woods of Michigan.  Yesterday, there was less blood when I coughed, but today seemed worse than before, so I tried to call the doctor at NJH.  The nurses dealt with me, but apparently did consult with the doctor; doctors at NJH are heavily protected by nurses and schedulers and other buffer-type personnel.  It’s not a very satisfactory arrangement for patients, but I guess it’s necessary, given the number of patients who pass through that place.
The NJH ordeal involved a week-long series of tests, explorations, consultations and instructions, mostly involving the respiratory system.  Blake was with me the first day, when I did some heavy walking with an oxymeter to check blood oxygenation, and then I had a type of simple pulmonary function test (“pulmonary spirometry”).  After these tests, I saw the doctor (Dr. Beuther) for an hour, and afterwards talked with a nurse.   I had a test (“exhaled nitric oxide”) that was supposed to provide information on the degree of inflammation in my lungs, after which Blake and I went to lunch.  He waited patiently, playing games on his DS in the various waiting rooms, while I was being put through the paces.  In the afternoon was Radiology, where I had a chest X-ray and CT scans of chest and sinuses.  That was followed by barium swallow tests, involving liquid, gel, and solid; it seemed to me I swallowed a lot of chalk in that process (and more the next day).  Afterwards, there was a full-blown, complicated pulmonary function test, where I sat in a little glass cage. 
That night, Blake and I camped in the huge parking lot at Denver International Airport and in the morning I made breakfast (fried rice) in the RV.  We took the parking lot shuttle to the airport, got his ticket (I had to give them an extra $100.00 in cash for an unaccompanied minor), and we went to his flight gate.  I had an envelope of papers relating to the unaccompanied minor flight to carry for him, which I almost left in a coffee shop where we got coffee! I waited until his flight taxied away from the gate before leaving the waiting area.
In the afternoon, back at NJH, there was a patient education session on asthma and another fluoroscope, this time looking at the esophagus.  I wondered why the esophageal and pharyngeal fluoroscopy couldn’t have been combined; I really didn’t like the idea of swallowing so much barium.
On Wednesday morning, early, I had the bronchoscopy, which was all I could handle for that day, and on Thursday, there was a Psychology consult, quite interesting, with a Dr. Pearson, who was very pleasant.  If I were looking for therapy, and if I lived there, she would be a person I might choose.  Then there were an ECG and an ECHO cardiogram, during part of which, they injected small air bubbles into a vein, looking for possible cardiac septal defects.  In the afternoon was another class on asthma management, and then skin tests on my back, looking for allergens to which I’m reactive.  It was a “South Carolina panel;” I was surprised that they had different batches of allergens for different states.
On Friday, I was still coughing up blood, so they didn’t do a scheduled spirometry, thinking it might further irritate the tracheobronchial linings.  In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like it would have made any difference.  After that, I saw Dr. Beuther for another consult. He gave me some ideas of what might be causing my problems, but said he’d have to wait for test and biopsy results to come back.
I left NJH about 1:00 PM Mountain Time (3:00 EST) driving north then east toward Nebraska; I was scheduled to be at a week-end conference at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City at 8:30 AM, early the following morning.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

W-b-N Montana and Boulder

June 17 – 19
We left the Oakleys’ cabin around noon on June 17th.  I took the RV down the hill with some trepidation, but the snow was gone and the driveway wasn’t slippery, so we drove out with no trouble.  At Dinah’s recommendation, we took the north-eastern route back to Denver:  Route 277 north to I-90, then south into Wyoming to I-25, heading toward Colorado.  We spent the night at the KOA in Billings, Montana, the first KOA in the U.S., established as recently as 1962. Our campsite was right on the Yellowstone River, which we saw in Yellowstone Park, east of the continental divide.  It empties into the Missouri River, thence to the Mississippi and ultimately into the Gulf of Mexico.  We ate a pancake breakfast offered at the campground, then left about 8:30 AM, mountain time (10:30 EST, which I continued to keep on my clocks).
The drive into and through Wyoming was impressive for the geology.  Buttes and cliffs, escarpments and mesas, loomed above largely barren scrublands.  Arroyos cleaved dry, dune-like hills, creating small, sandy canyons.  It was a landscape of sand and naked, raw rock, with pitiable scrub-like life forms bravely clinging to the dry, nutrient-poor ground that could scarcely be deemed soil.  We seemed to chase shadows of clouds cast across the empty landscape.  In the southern part of the state, all elevated formations were flat on top, no doubt shaved off by glaciers and eroded by wind and what rare torrents of water might pour from occasional clouds, creating a surreal table-land as far as the eye could see.
I had intended to try to reach Boulder, Colorado that evening, the home of a couple, Jim and Rachel Bender, whom I had met on a trip to Peru.  The drive took longer than I thought it would, so, south of Casper, WY, I called the Benders, saying we probably wouldn’t make it that evening.  But Rachel (apparently misunderstanding where I said we were) assured me that we weren’t far from Boulder.  So I kept on driving, and we did make it to their house that evening, albeit after an exhausting twelve-hour-long drive.  We just parked, went into their house, said “Hi,” had a drink of water, and then immediately went back out to the RV and went to bed.
The next day, the Benders took us on a tour of Boulder, particularly the University and the Center for Atmospheric Research, which was very interesting.  A huge computer occupies much of the basement; it crunches data on weather and atmospheric conditions, and provides information to the national weather service.  I would like to have spent more time there, but was having breathing difficulties and didn’t feel much like walking.  I believe the altitude was bothering me.  Blake enjoyed spending time with the Benders, who have grandchildren about his age.  Rachel played games with him, and Jim explained things to him at the atmospheric research center.  They also took us by their church; its roof is completely covered with solar panels!
That evening, we drove south to Denver and parked at the Flying J (gas station that caters to trucks and RVs) in Aurora.  The next morning, we got up early so that I could check in at 8:00 AM at the National Jewish Health clinic (NJH) in Denver, where I would be subjected to a week-long series of tests and examinations intended to determine what (if anything diagnosible) has been causing the serious worsening of my respiratory condition.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yellowstone, Part B

On our third day in the park, we took the loop south-east from the hotel into an area characterized by the gorgeous Yellowstone falls as well as extensive bear area.  In fact, early in the day, a bear walked out of the forested hill to our right and, when we stopped, walked across the road directly in front of the van.  I believe I got a couple of good photos of that bear.  Along the drive, we saw sand-hill cranes, gray jays, ground squirrels, elk, bison, ravens, and, at a distance, a bear with two yearlings, difficult to see with binoculars, but clearly visible in the spotting scope.
We went up through snow-covered Dunraven Pass, in view of Mt. Washburn, then to Tower Falls, with a cliff overlook, where we saw an osprey nest.  Afterwards, we drove on to the famous lower and upper falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, scenery made famous by Thomas Moran, one of the great Hudson River painters.  I believe this was the highlight of my tour around the park.  During the day, we ate a picnic lunch at a snow-encrusted picnic site along the way.  Again, we had dinner and spent the night at Mammoth Springs Hotel; the three-day stay there was a great feature of the trip.  It’s impossible to see much of the park in just one day; I think that my brother, Dick, and I spent only one day on my previous visit to Yellowstone. 
On the fourth day, we drove directly south into the geyser basins, on the way passing Golden Gate falls and Bunsen Peak (named after the same guy who invented the Bunsen burner).  On Swan lake Flats, we sighted bears, a coyote and elk.  After Obsidian Cliff and Roaring Mountain, we went into the Norris Geyser Basin, which has the hottest geysers on earth:  boiling pots, steam vents, and aquamarine pools.  I didn't go around the whole basin, but walked through part of it on my own.  Bison patties dotted the edges of hot pools; odd plants (and fungi?) sometimes grew in poop plots in the midst of mineral encrusted surroundings.
That afternoon, we arrived at Old Faithful just as it was about to erupt.  We lunched at the Old Faithful Inn.  Afterwards, Blake and I went to the Ranger Station and viewed a video on Yellowstone, then we walked up a half-mile walk to other geysers and pools.  He was very considerate, and sat down on a bench whenever he thought I would probably be tired.  Blake and I actually saw Old Faithful erupt three times that afternoon:  once before lunch, once after lunch, and once during a walk we took to Castle Geyser and the Crested Pool.    We came back to the inn just as the van was pulling up to pick us up.  That evening, we drove over Craig Pass, with a good view of Yellowstone Lake and Mt. Sheridan, to Grant Village, where we had dinner at the inn overlooking Yellowstone Lake and spent the night.  Snow was piled high next to our window, and Blake wanted to go out and play in the snow with Lyndon.  Both boys got soaking wet, and Lyndon’s grandmother was annoyed at that.
On the fifth day in Yellowstone, we went back to the geysers, particularly the Midway Geyser Basin where the huge Grand Prismatic Spring steams incessantly in its multicolored pool.  Several in the group climbed a hill where they could get an aerial view of the formation, but I didn’t.  Then we took the vans and drove to the other side of the basin where, besides the Grand Prismatic, several steaming pools – Excelsior Geyser Crater, Opal Pool and Turquoise pool – created warm, sulfurous mists over the boardwalks.  I took several photos of the brightly tinted pools, all the while breathing the acrid mist, but the smell didn’t seem to make my breathing worse.
We again had lunch at Old Faithful Inn and saw the signature geyser erupt once more.  After lunch, we went to the Lower Geyser Basin, saw the Fountain Paint Pots, and walked around the boardwalk past several geysers, including Clepsydra Geyser, which erupts constantly.  It offered continually new and interesting configurations, rather like the dancing fountains popular a few decades ago.  I found it hard to pull myself away from the mesmerizing sight of Clepsydra’s randomly spurting water and steam.
This was the last main stop in the park; from there we drove north to Madison, passing along the Firehole River and the Gibbon River, the latter reminding me of the Meander River in Greece – flat and constantly turning back on itself.  In West Yellowstone, the town just outside the west entrance of the park, we checked into the Gray Wolf Inn for our last night of the trip.  Blake and I went across the road to the bear and wolf sanctuary, wandered around the wolf pens, and he took photos of wolves.  I took a few photos also; by the time we got back to the hotel, it was time for dinner at Bullwinkle’s, a local bar/cafĂ©.
The next morning, the others got up early and headed back to Bozeman Airport, but Blake and I slept late, had a continental style breakfast in the hotel lobby, stored our bags with the lobby desk clerk, and went back across the street to the wolf sanctuary.  We saw another pen of wolves we hadn’t seen the day before.  Some of them came quite close to the visitors’ building, and, as we were watching a video of Yellowstone wolves, several wolves started howling.  It was quite an experience.  Dinah and Cledith came to the hotel at noon and picked us up; we had lunch in West Yellowstone and then went back to their cabin, stopping on the way at the Hebden earthquake center.  While we were there, it began to rain and then to snow; Cledith said that it wouldn’t be snowing when we got back to the cabin, but it was.  Blake had fun playing in the snow again.  Snow laid a white blanket on the cabin's roof and the surrounding field and powdered the sides of surrounding mountains.  It was all gone by the next morning, but this was another reminder that June in the Rockies is not necessarily a summer month.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Yellowstone, Part A

June 11 – 16
Cledith and Dinah drove us to Bozeman on Saturday, where we met the NWF group near the bronze bear in the Airport waiting area.  The group leader was named Steve, as was the assistant leader, so those names were easy to remember.  The names of others in the group have not stuck with me so well.  There was another grandmother-grandson combination, but he (Lyndon) was only five years old (almost six).  They rode in the same van as we did during the tour, and he and Blake hit it off well, amused each other, and offered each other respite from the old fogeys.  There were a couple of pushy amateur photographers from New York in the other van, with whom I didn’t interact much, a female minister from Maine (also a photographer, less annoying), a couple from Hilton Head with whom I also didn’t interact much although they rode in the same van (she was carsick and peevish most of the time) and another couple from Pennsylvania, very nice, who moved into our van about half-way through the trip.  He had had a quadruple bypass and walked slowly, whereas she was quite athletic, but not aggressive.  So I had a walking companion for the treks around geysers on the last couple days of the tour; he took it slow for the sake of his heart and I walked slowly because my lungs wouldn’t allow a faster pace.  Blake was almost always up ahead with the other boy, except for the day we spent at Old Faithful, where he and I explored things together, and he was sweet and helpful.
I took a few notes during the trip, but had no time to write up anything during the course of the five days in Yellowstone.  The following impressions are reconstructed (July 6) from those notes and recollections. 
After we left the airport, we drove east from Bozeman to Livingston in view of the Absaroka Mountains, and then headed south to Gardiner, at the north entrance of Yellowstone.  During that drive, we stopped several times to view wildlife:  trumpeter swans, a female moose, elk, and bighorn sheep.  In Gardiner, we ate (buffalo burgers) and afterwards had a very interesting presentation by Jim Halfpenny on the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone.  He is a wildlife biologist and one of those involved in that original effort.  His talk included updated information on the numbers and locations of current wolf packs, as well as commentary on how wildlife managers were dealing with reactions to wolves by humans living outside the park who feel threatened by wolves that stray from the park.  He was, however, optimistic, and felt that the reintroduction project was successful, and that wolves are now firmly established in the area.  That evening, we stayed at a hotel in Mammoth Hot Springs, inside the park.
On the next day, we awoke early and left the hotel at 6:00 AM.  The day was gray, with intermittent rain and sun.  We drove through the Lamar Valley toward the north-east entrance; Steve thought this was the best area to look for wolves, but we didn’t see any.  However, we did see two coyotes, and we also saw herds of bison with their calves – on the road and off.  A fascinating sight was a bear (probably a grizzly), first spotted swimming across a small lake toward a herd of bison.  When the bison became aware of him, they began to run, and he seemed to run after them.  The bear’s running speed was rapid, matching the speed of the bison, which soon rounded up into a tight herd next to a steep incline.  Then the bear just ran on past them, not slowing his speed, as if he were really chasing different prey.   We also saw prong-horn sheep, mule deer, a couple of female moose with young, and elk; later in the day, we spotted a black bear with cub.  Whenever someone spotted an animal, both vans would pull over, the guides would set up spotting scopes, and we could watch, either through the scopes or with our own binoculars, as the animals went about their lives.  Their lives consisted mostly of eating (grazing) and caring for their young.  Indeed, the chief theme of the trip seems to have been babies, babies, babies.  We saw baby moose, and baby bears, and baby elk, and baby deer, as well as innumerable baby bison (called red-dogs).  Whenever we saw another herd of bison, Lyndon would shout out:  “Red-dog, red-dog.”  The immense fertility of nature was everywhere obvious (when left alone by humans) and poignant, as the land awakened from its harsh winter sleep.
We left the north-east entrance of Yellowstone, driving outside the park toward Cooke City through Beartooth Pass in the Beartooth Mountains.  That road had been opened just a day or two previously.  Snow escarpments along the roadside were taller than a person; Blake clambered up over the snow cliffs with most of the others in the group.  I didn’t climb onto the snow but got some great photos of scenery and of others in the snow.  Along the switch-backs going up to the pass and back down, we saw a couple of ski-gliders trying to harness wind and snow to give them a long, spectacular, swerving slide down the mountains.  In that gusting air and wildly uneven snow-scape, it was obviously not easy to keep glider cords from entangling.
We came back to our Mammoth Hot Springs hotel in late afternoon.  Before dinner, I went to the ranger station there, saw a video on Yellowstone, and bought a couple of books on geology.  The contours and movement of the earth fascinate me at least as much as the animals, having come to take a much longer view of time with age.  Yellowstone lies in the caldera of an ancient volcano of gigantic proportions, greater than anything that has blown through the earth in recorded history.  It lies over a “hot spot” in Earth’s crust (rather like the Hawaiian Islands), which has moved, relative to the surface, about thirty miles in the past two million years.  During that time, three huge eruptions ahve occurred.  Now the heat energy below just drizzles onto the land in steam vents and bubbling mud, but it could blow again at any time and if it does, it could lead to a global disaster as devastating as a nuclear war.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

W-b-N Denver to Yellowstone

June 6 – 10: 
When Blake and I arrived in the Denver airport, we picked up his luggage and made a shuttle reservation to go back to the campground in Englewood where I had left the RV for the week-end.  The sky was hazy and darkening as we took the shuttle into Denver, so he couldn’t see the mountains in the distance - a dramatic sight I had hoped he might enjoy on arriving in the west.  Nonetheless, when we left the next morning for the westward trek to Dinosaur National Monument, we saw mountains, the Rockies, up close and personal, as the RV chugged its way up from mile-high Denver, to two miles above sea level in some of the mountain passes.  We passed snow fields, and even saw a group of big-horn sheep not far from I-80 as we wound among the peaks.  It was a shame we couldn’t stop for photos.
West of that stretch of Rockies, the terrain became dry and wind-swept, with humped, multicolored hills spreading to the horizon.  At Dinosaur National Monument, the visitors’ area with its wall of Mesozoic bones was closed (apparently for the past six years), but a shuttle took visitors to a hillside with exposed bones.  Blake climbed up the trail and was shown dinosaur bones by the rangers there; I chose not to make the steep climb because I was having trouble breathing, and because I had seen the wall of bones several years previously on a westward trip with my brother, Dick.  For lunch, we stopped at a gas-station/restaurant that made a great chocolate milkshake, half of which we put in the RV freezer for a later dessert.
At the gift shop, we bought a couple of dinosaur videos for Blake and books for me, then drove into Vernal, Utah, and visited the museum there.  It was informative and filled with good diagrams of geological formations and paleontology, which Blake followed with keen interest.  A garden surrounding the museum exhibited statues of dinosaurs and other ancient life forms - great for kids.  We spent that night at a KOA in Vernal.
Driving north from Vernal on Route 191, the scenery was awesome – broad, treeless skies, mountains and high plateaus ringing the horizon.  We took Route 191 through Flaming Gorge National recreation area; brilliant red and orange sandstone formed cliffs above the winding highway.  It was cold, the wind picked up, and by the time we reached Rock Springs,Wyoming, the wind was so fierce we could hardly get out of the RV without the door slamming back on us.  We stopped there for gas and some lunch.  A cold, sharp rain pelted us outside the truck stop, and the sky to the north looked ominous.  I asked a gas station attendant what the weather was like further north.  A trucker volunteered that he had just come south from Yellowstone.  He said there was rain and some snow, “normal for this time of the year,” and “nothing to worry about.”  So I decided to forge ahead, and we made it into Jackson, Wyoming, by which time the late afternoon sun had come out again.  We stayed in an expensive campground (The Virginian, Good Sam endorsed) – cramped and cold – but I didn’t want to turn around and backtrack to a less expensive KOA.
The next morning we went through Jackson Hole, flanked by the magnificent Tetons with whisps of clouds coyly veiling their lower peaks, and then drove on to into Yellowstone National Park through the south entrance.  Along the park road, trees were embedded in snow; snow cliffs, like layered geological formations, lined the plowed road.  Blake was thrilled with the snow; I stopped at a pull-out and took a couple of photos of him and a snowbank.
We drove through Yellowstone to the western entrance, and from there to Dinah and Cledith’s cabin out 287, not far from the earthquake area near Hebgen Lake.  Cledith met me at the end of their driveway and got into the RV, which gave me courage to drive up their steep, winding, shoulderless, two-rut driveway to the cabin.  I hooked up to their electricity, and that’s where the RV stayed during our Yellowstone trip.  They had just arrived in Montana a couple days previously and had hardly had time to open the cabin and unpack.  But Dinah served a wonderful, hearty, chicken-and-rice soup for supper, which was a great way to end our long day driving.  The next morning, they drove us to the airport in Bozeman, where we met the group that would be together for the next six days on the National Wildlife Federation’s tour of “Wolves, Bears and Geysers” in Yellowstone National Park.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

W-b-N Denver

June 3, 2011

The late afternoon is cool, and cottonwood fluff drifts lazily through the air at this relaxed, easy-living campground in Englewood, just south of Denver. Wish I could spend a little time here just hanging out, but tomorrow morning I must take a shuttle to the airport and fly back to Charleston to pick up Blake for our trip to Yellowstone.

The day after returning to Denver from Pike’s Peak, I went to the Denver Airport to figure out how to get there and to scope out parking and airport access, so as to plan my strategy for getting there tomorrow and for sending Blake back to Charleston after our Yellowstone trip. Afterwards, I drove down to Cherry Creek State Park and stayed at the campground near a reservoir. The day at Cherry Creek was pleasant, devoted largely to catching up on things - showering, doing laundry and finishing a book (The Life of Pi).
Yesterday, Gail Mullen and I went into Denver and spent half a day (including lunch) at the Denver Art Museum, primarily in the American, European and Western exhibits. We also visited a special exhibit on early Renaissance Italian art, organized according to the Italian city in which it was produced. Period background music made for pleasant browsing; I think they tried to create the best possible venue for their Italian Renaissance paintings (which are not all that special) by adding some glitz and educational information. The museum is very user friendly, with sitting areas and books available about the subjects exhibited. The American and European art section are organized according to subject matter rather than country or chronology; this offered some interesting juxtapositions. The Western Art section is in the new wing of the museum, and features more recent visual arts, including textile art.
We had a very pleasant dinner at her house – grilled chicken kebobs, potato salad, veggie salad and ice cream. I met her husband, John, and learned something of both their lives. John has an interesting background; he was a marine pilot and later flew with U.S. Air. But he developed diabetes while he was in his forties and has had trouble managing it in recent years. In the meantime (before and since the onset of diabetes), he has climbed all of the 50+ mountains in the U.S. that are over 14,000 feet in height, including Pike’s Peak. Gail and I have interacted only occasionally since our years at Kalamazoo College, primarily at the “K-gals” get-togethers; I feel as if I have gotten to know her better since spending that day together.

This morning I went to the National Jewish Health (NJH) to get forms to fill out for my five-day “appointment” from June 20 – 24. I’m doing this at Arlene’s urging, although it will make the trip back from Yellowstone really hurried, and the trip to Iowa for the week-end writer’s conference almost impossible. And parking around NJH will be difficult. The patient coordinator never heard of anyone coming there in an RV (I’m sure that’s not the case at Mayo). We’ll see if it will all be worth the time and aggravation.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

W-b-N Pike's Peak, Part 2

May 30, Memorial Day.
This morning was spent at Camping World in Wheat Ridge (Denver suburb) getting two new deep-cycle house-batteries for the RV.  The ones I had were probably four or five years old and no doubt should have been replaced before the beginning of the trip.  The whole process took less than two hours and cost less than what I paid at the Mid-Tenn Ford in Nashville, where the battery problem wasn’t fixed after a $500 expense.  Hope these batteries will hold a charge for the rest of the trip.
Yesterday I took the 9:20 AM cog train going to the top of Pike’s Peak.  The morning had broken cloudy and overcast, and I was worried that we wouldn’t have much of a view at the top.  But clouds soon lifted and by the time we boarded the train (the Aspen), skies were sunny and blue.  I was lucky and had a seat in the front of the train as we ascended, so I could watch the scenery transform as we went from below, where pine and aspen line the tracks, and huge boulders hover over it, through scrubby, bristle cone pine growing in sparse earth still littered with snow, on up to a snowy, hostile slag-strewn landscape above the tree-line.  At Windy Point, elevation 12, 120, the wind was truly fierce; it was even worse, clocked at nearly 80 mph, at the summit.  So we had to stop there, wait for the 8:00 AM train to descend, and then come back to the station without making a full ascent.  I was disappointed, but we had some spectacular views on the way up, so I’m not sorry about taking an extra day to make that excursion.  The train behind us had even more trouble (gear lubrication or heating issues) and had to descend after going less than a quarter of the way up.  A group of Korean tourists was on that train (I talked with one young lady from the group on the platform), and I’m sure they were truly disappointed.
After getting back to the station, I climbed the stairs to the road, rested a bit, and then climbed the hill to where the RV was parked.  I was so exhausted when I got there that I had to lean against the driver’s seat of the RV before getting in, my lungs gasping for air and my heart thumping in my chest.  I worry about how I will handle the trip to Yellowstone with Blake, and I realize it’s probably a good thing I’m going to NJH afterwards to have my lungs checked out as thoroughly as possible.
I drove the RV into town, parked for a while, had a sandwich and drink from my supplies in the refrigerator, and then drove back to Denver.  A traffic jam, apparently the result of an accident on I-25, slowed me down for about twenty minutes; this gave me a chance to glance back fondly at the Pike's Peak for a prolonged farewell.  Castle Rock, on the way north, did not look nearly as much like a castle as it did on the drive south.  I again parked at the Flying J in Aurora, my “home base” here in Denver.  Tomorrow, I’ll camp for two nights at Cherry Creek Park campground, spend a day (Thursday) with Gail Mullen seeing sights in downtown Denver, then go to a campground in Englewood, where I’ll leave the RV to take the plane to Charleston to pick up grandson, Blake.

Monday, August 1, 2011

W-b-N Pike's Peak, Part 1

May 29, 2011
Yesterday, I drove about an hour south of Denver to Manitou Springs, hoping to take the cog railway to the top of Pike’s Peak.  The drive was easy and scenic, though more cars were on the road than on arrival in Denver.  So many people going about their separate interests and concerns - business or duty or pleasure.  I suspect it's mostly pleasure this Memorial Day week-end.  The first scenic formation along I-25 was Castle Rock; it truly does look like a castle, viewed from the north.  A huge structure perched high atop a solitary hill, it seems to have been constructed of worked stone.  That erosion-resistant stone is probably the remnant of an old volcano, the work of Nature’s God; I imagine westward pioneers were awestruck by it.

Shortly beyond Castle Rock, Pike’s Peak arose in the distance, a white dome below which hover blue-gray foothills, remnants of earlier Rockies, now heavily eroded.  As I drove toward the foothills, their shading changed to mauve and then to deep green.  The snow-cowled mountain seemed to recede continually before me until I finally passed the foothills.  Evergreens swathed  the lower half of the mountain like a beard, casting a permanent shadow below the glittering white, crinkled top.  All of this, too, must have seemed like a marvel to the pioneers who had traveled hundreds of miles across flat plains before seeing the high Rockies, then days after seeing the mountains before reaching them.  It took me about half an hour from the time I first caught a glimpse of Pike’s Peak until I exited I-25 at Colorado Springs, headed toward the base of the mountain at Manitou Springs, a formerly popular spa for the well-heeled.

At the Information Center there, I wasn't able to get a ticket for the cog railway for that day (Saturday), but did discover other interesting sites in the area.  So I decided to stay in town for two days instead of one and made a reservation at the cog-railway for the following day.  Then I drove out of town to visit the Garden of the Gods, a fascinating collection of natural sandstone formations decorating the area north-east of Pike’s Peak.  These eerie structures are remnants of effluvia from the more ancient Rockies, whose eroded sand compacted into layers of silt in the shallows of an ancient inland sea, which covered middle North America during the Mesozoic Era.  This sandstone was pushed up during the more recent mountain-building period to form these amazing, stratified outcroppings.  I hope my photos capture some of the spectacular shapes.  I drove around the loops and stopped at turn-outs for photos and hiked the trail to the Siamese Twins.  Breathing was difficult on the way up; the elevation there is about 7,000 feet, more than a mile high.  The hiking was hard on the lungs going up and hard on the knees going down!

After Garden of the Gods, I visited the Cliff Dwellings not far from town.  These were also interesting – partly hewn from sandstone and partly constructed of sandstone blocks and bricks.  I didn't get much history on the inhabitants, perhaps because the rise and demise of Anasazi culture is not well understood.  But seeing the dwellings cut out of living rock recalled other sites I’ve visited in the past:  Mesa Verde, on a trip in 1969 with my sister and our children, and especially Petra, Jordan, in 2004, where the sandstone is also swirled with dark and light strata as in Manitou.  That evening I found a spot to hook up, dump and get water in an expensive, very crowded campground, also called “Garden of the Gods” - certainly not heavenly, but the only place I could find to park the RV.