New Mexico; Gila Ruins, Geezer Grass: New Truck and Trailer

On the return leg from our summer travels, Dave and I talked about future trips. Since we continue to enjoy camping and have many places yet to visit, it seemed a good idea to look for a bigger trailer. Dave contacted the Scottsdale Airstream dealer and set up an appointment. We looked at everything they had and decided on a 25 foot Airstream International. The dealership was happy to take Bambi Luci in trade.

Compared to the Bambi, Luci II seems spacious.

After test driving two brands of truck, we bought a Toyota Tundra.

It fits in our garage! We had been so satisfied with our Tacoma that deciding on another Toyota was easy.

Back at the Airstream dealership we had a thorough run through of all the systems inside and out by a technician while a new Blue Ox hitch system was installed on our truck. We drove it home, loaded it with a few things and drove up to Flagstaff to Fort Tuthill State Park Campground for a test run. Everything worked great!

The extendable side mirrors on the truck are so nice, no forgetting to install mirrors. The built in solar panels keep the Airstream batteries well charged in Arizona’s sunny climate.

An invitation to Geezer Grass gave us another opportunity to get out of town for a week in New Mexico. On I-10, the Texas Canyon rest area east of Benson, AZ was a good place to stop and have lunch and stretch our legs. The boulders there reminded us of Vedawoo in Wyoming.

We spent three days in Silver City, NM at the Rose Valley RV Park. It had gravel pads and privacy planting’s, wi-fi, a laundry and bathhouse. I enjoyed hiking around the park watching birds and looking at the vegetation and flowers.

I put out my little hummingbird feeder and soon was seeing hummers. The park was near the Memory Lane cemetery. It was interesting to see a cemetery so different from those in the Midwest.

We drove to the Gila Ruins which was north of Silver City. It took two hours to reach on twisty roads that were often one lane wide. The mountains were beautiful.

We stopped at the Gila Ruins visitor center before going to the ruins. This was once Apache territory. Geronimo and Cochise lived in these mountains. The US infantry chased the Apache all over this area before finally subduing and confining them to a reservation.

These yucca, cholla, poppies and wildflowers were at the visitor center and were typical of the vegetation in this part of NM.

The Gila Ruins are cliff dwellings of the Ancient People. We drove about a mile to the trail and walked a mile up the trail to the Ruins. It skirted Gila Creek switching back and forth across the creek. Nice bridges and benches made the trail pleasant. The Creek was gurgling and birds were singing. It was early in the day so not yet hot. As we neared the Ruins the trail ascended the cliff. A switchback gave us a good look at the caves where the Ancient Ones lived.

We learned from the literature at the visitor center that when the dwellings were constructed, the valley was not as deep as it is now and crops could be planted along the creek. Pottery shards and corn cobs remain in the cliff dwelling living areas and granaries. We were able to climb into the Ruins but were instructed not to touch the fragile structures. A Ranger was on hand in the cliff dwellings to answer questions.

We have visited Mesa Verde, Acoma Pueblo, Canyon de Chelly and now the Gila Ruins and we are still fascinated by these Ancients who lived and raised families in the Southwest.

This lizard was cooling off in the shade on the end of a log. We saw it on the way back down the trail. We have seen lots of lizards but had never seen this kind before.

Taking another route back to Silver City, we could see one of the two huge open pit mines in operation here. Silver City has an active Main Street with many art galleries and antique stores. It also has the Big Ditch which was dug along the original Main Street after floods swept through. Now the ditch takes care of monsoon rain runoff. We walked along the Main Street and took Corrine Garey’s advice to eat at at Jalisco’s restaurant. Spicy New Mexican cuisine!

On Friday we relocated to Howard and Aija Blevins ranchette between Silver City and Lordsburg. Glenn and Monika Hamilton (mandolin and bass) from Las Cruces had their motor coach situated next to a picking tent. Glen helped us maneuver into our spot and a bit later Tex Dasher (guitar) from nearby arrived parking his fifth wheel trailer. Kent Nelson (banjo) from Las Cruces and Gerry Szostak (dobro) from Albuquerque occupied one of Howard’s camping trailers. The pickers started picking and only stopped for burgers provided by the Blevins neighbor, Tom and his wife.

Tex, a banjo player from Chandler, AZ, and Mike (guitar) from El Paso are picking and singing. Claudia White, behind Mike, came all the way from Ojai, CA to visit and enjoy the music. Picking and singing, visiting and eating continued for three days.

Tex, Kent, Howard, Glenn and Gerry talk bluegrass before resuming playing.

Our campsite from the hill to the south.

Dave and Howard play for fiddler Dave Anderson who lives nearby. Dave A. was the New Mexico State champion fiddler and could play lots of tunes, some that Dave B. didn’t know. They had a good time sharing tunes and visiting.

It was a great weekend of bluegrass and fiddle music. We all left on Monday morning. We hope to see these folks again.

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Summer Road Trip 2018: 5400+ Miles

The trip begins by packing the truck and trailer with everything we can think that we could possibly need for two plus months on the road. We will leave in the morning, May 19th. Instead of taking the steep, winding and often treacherous I-17 to Flagstaff, we head to the east side of Phoenix and take the Beeline Highway which angles northeasterly to Payson. Dave looks out over the “Rim” when we stop at a Forest Service picnic area to stretch our legs.Lunch in the shade at the city park in Holbrook before getting onto Interstate 40. Our stop for the night is at Gallup at the USA RV Park. We have full services but the park is pretty ordinary. Albuquerque/Bernalillo KOA, our next stop, is a frequent park for us. The park is easy to get in and out of, has pull-through sites, is well run with clean restrooms and showers, has full services and is close to our favorite restaurant the Range Cafe. Their blue corn tortilla enchiladas, New Mexican style, always are a good entree choice.

Since I wanted to stop at Ojo Caliente, that was our destination the next day. It was a pretty short driving day from Bernalillo to Ojo which is north of Santa Fe. We were able to find our campsite in their sandy campground and get into our suits for a good soak in the multiple hot pools. It was an overcast and cool day so the pools were appreciated. We had a nice dinner that night at Ojo’s fine restaurant.

It was a long day of driving north from Ojo Caliente into Colorado and then east to Walsenburg. Across southern CO to Rocky Ford and north to our destination of Brush for the night. The central and northern Colorado grasslands looked lush with water in all the farm and ranch ponds and catchments. The city campground in Brush had full hookups but was pretty much just a parking lot with services along the outside edge. There was a park nearby but we were too tired to explore after the 7 hour drive.

Another long day with a time change to Central Daylight time the next day. North and east from Brush we are finally in our home state of Nebraska. Lilacs and spring blossoms greeted us in all the small towns as we made our way north through the Sandhills. East to North Platte then north to Thedford, Dunning, Brewster and Ainsworth and ultimately Springview in far north central Nebraska.

The 50th Kenaston Jamboree brings us to this small cowboy town. We find a nice grassy camping spot with electric service, fresh water and showers at the city campground near the high school where the Jamboree is held.

Dave, Vern Billingsley and Tesa Heldenbrand play fiddles while Mike Heldenbrand accompanies on guitar.

The Kenaston family has organized a jamboree to benefit the KeyaPaha County Historical Society each year for fifty years. Roger, Sharon and Vanessa Kenaston and their children have decided that this year is the last since their parents have passed away and none of the remaining family lives close by. Dave has jammed and entertained with this family for years and he wanted to be there for this last performance.

Picking in the park near the Historical Society Museum. Jay (playing fiddle with Dave on banjo) and Joyce Kelly were there with Jim and Judy Malone. Roger and Sharon Kenaston played dobro and bass. Vanessa Kenaston sang and played guitar. Many friends and villagers were on hand to listen on a warm day at the end of May.

The evening began with a wonderful pot luck dinner for the musicians and friends hosted by the Historical Society folks. The fiddlers began the entertainment with all fiddlers on stage then each musician performed a few of their favorite tunes. We saw many musician friends that we have known for years and may not see again. Cousin Mick Zink was on hand to watch as was my sister Sandy and friend Bonny. We had a good visit. The last reunion is over.

Sandy and kitty, Jelly(bean). We had a fun few days visiting with Sandy in Atkinson NE, camping with full services at the Oregon Trail RV Park, we head the Tacoma west. We stop briefly to visit Dave’s cousins Bob and Maggie McKee in Gregory, SD where Dave’s mom was born and where her family had a hardware store and bank. West and north to Interstate 90 at Murdo. Our next stop for coffee, pie and free water is at Wall Drug in Wall, SD.

kOn to Spearfish, SD for three nights at the beautiful City Park and Campground there. Full services are offered with showers, hiking trails and the State Fish Hatchery close by.

A visit to the hatchery is a must. Wood ducks vie with fish for food nuggets thrown by tourists.

The statues depict restocking fish by hatchery workers who transported cans full of fish to remote streams by horseback. The hatchery grounds were beautiful in spring bloom and fresh after a shower. While in Spearfish we visited Rod and Sandy Garnett who have moved here from Laramie where he and Dave taught at the University of Wyoming. We also travelled up scenic Spearfish Canyon to Bridal Veil Falls.

Dave was hired to teach a week at the Montana Fiddle Camp in Monarch the following week. Heading west on I-90 through northwest Wyoming and southeast Montana, we spend the night in Big Timber in the driveway of good friends Arn and Diane Berg. We had a great visit and good home cooked dinner and breakfast while watching Evening Grosbeaks visit the Berg’s feeder. It was so good to see them and to see Diane healing from cancer treatment. We look forward to camping with them this winter in Arizona.

Home canned pickled beets, chokecherry syrup and rhubarb crisp from the Berg’s were relished throughout our trip. The Crazy MountIns loomed in the distance as we left Big Timber.

The Yellowstone River was running high and fast beside the interstate highway.

North on Highway 89 through Wilsall, MT where the Shields River was out of its banks. North toward the Belt Mountains with lunch at White Sulphur Springs. Higher we climb into the Little Belt Mountains where the outdoor temperature dived to 39 degrees.

Montana Fiddle Camp. We set up camp at the church camp near Monarch along Belt Creek where the Camp is held.

Luci’s neighbors are all vintage trailers including a Silver Streak owned by the McGeehes, Jill Flikkema’s blue and white trailer and Penny Callender’s Airstream. The weather was beautiful most of the week so I hiked up the hill for a shot of camp.

Fred Buckley recited the camp rules on the first evening before the instructors took turns playing a sample of their specialty instrument and Dot gave an example of clogging.

This was the schedule of instruction, workshops and evening entertainment for the week.

The instructors; some pose, one meditates.

These were Dave’s students. The week concluded with the student concert.

Dave enjoyed playing some tunes with Suzanne McGeehee and Jill Flikkema.

Katelyn Buckley played bass with Dave and with the Buckley family band. Dave catches her making a face. His set list is taped to her bass.

Before breakfast is served, Chirps Smith and whoever is around plays music. Everyone missed having Warrie Means in camp this year to accompany Chirps. Dot requested that Dave compose a tune for Chirps to play and suggested the name be “Warrie in the Morning.” The tune/video can be found on You Tube.

The music-filled week is over and another set of heartfelt farewells. On to Great Falls, MT and the next big adventure. Dick’s RV Park and a shady pad for Luci will be our home for a couple of nights. This is a fairly nice park with short term and long term sites. We dropped our laundry off at a laundromat for a treat of not spending half a day in the laundromat. We picked it up after a day of visiting the Russell Museum and the Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail Interpretive Center.

The Interpretive Center is full of great information on the entire 8000 mile Lewis and Clark journey to find a passage to the west coast and the return trip.

Dave discovered that a former student, Neil Hamm, from his teaching days in Neligh NE, now lives in Great Falls so he contacted him. Neil and his wife invited us over for dinner one night. They both had fun recollecting those high school days and sharing information about their present lives.

Fort Benton is our next stop. Our adventure begins as Luci is installed in the Canoe Launch Campground at the fairgrounds close to the Missouri River. We have electricity only but a nice pad with trees and shrubs for privacy. A pit toilet is available and showers are in a building nearby in the fairgrounds. The bluffs across the river are spectacular in the evening light.

Fort Benton calls itself the “Birthplace of Montana”. The Lewis and Clark expedition came through in 1805 and were likely the first white visitors to the area. A fur trading post and fort was established here in 1846 making Fort Benton an important site for traders both white and native. Steamboats eventually arrive here in 1860 after some channel work was done to remove boulders that caused obstruction to passage. A levee was built along the Missouri and the town eventually stretched for a mile along its banks.

We visited the very nice Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center.

The levee along Main Street in Fort Benton has many restored buildings from the early days as well as the restored fur trading fort, a pretty fancy Grand Union Hotel, a walking path to the statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea. Other town and river history was on display and on informative signs. Dave is sitting on one of the many benches along the levee. In the background is the Woke Cup cafe located in the Culbertson House where we ate a few tasty meals.

On Wednesday evening along with nine others we met with our guides from the Missouri River Outfitters at the Grand Union Hotel where we got information about our canoe trip which begins the next day. The trip will be Thursday through Sunday spending three nights and four days on the river.

The next morning is misty as we wait for the outfitters to pick us up. Fourteen people and seven canoes along with all provisions for four days are transported to the canoe launch at Coal Banks Landing.

We divide up, two to a canoe with provisions in between and take off. Beautiful scenery that only can be seen from the river stretches out before us.

We stop for lunch at a landing with pit toilets. On exiting our canoes we have our first experience with Missouri Mud. It is up to our ankles. We were glad we were given warning to wear appropriate shoes.

Guide and historian, Keith Edgerton who teaches at Montana State University-Billings, takes us on a hike while guides Kelly and Nycole repack canoes. He shows us tepee rings on the bluffs above the river. Back on the river we paddle and exclaim about the beauty of the Missouri Breaks. I watch for birds. The guides point out the usual places eagles can be seen. I guess we saw 20 eagles along the river plus white pelicans, red winged blackbirds and herons.

This is a panorama of our tents at camp. Two to a tent with cots for each just fit inside with a narrow path between. Everything on the canoes is removed at each evening landing. The canoes were pulled out of the river and beached upside down in case of rain. We soon learn how to help unload the canoes and set up our tents and cots, find the camp chairs and then find the wine or beer and snacks. The crew then sets up the camp kitchen and puts out a really great meal complete with dessert and coffee.

Everyone gets a Missouri River Outfitters coffee mug. We visit and find out interesting things about our fellow campers. Two couples were from Canada. One Canadian couple were Cowboy Poets. His brother and wife were from Colorado. The male partner of the other Canadian couple escaped from Romania after WWII when he was a child. His partner was a horsewoman. Three friends (females) were sales representatives for Moda fabrics having an adventure. Amazingly, the poets, the sales reps and Dave and I know a woman in common who happens to be a quilter and a poet and the daughter of Harry Hansen (deceased) from Gordon NE, whose fiddles Dave plays. Guide Keith was best friends with one of the sales reps brother when they were kids in Kansas.

Keith reads from a well-used copy of Undaunted Courage by Steven Ambrose about the Lewis and Clark journey. The next morning we all go for a hike up a slot canyon, scrambling over and under boulders and eventually to a hole in the wall. It was interesting to see how the sandstone erodes by wind and water.

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Back to the canoes and onto the river and more gorgeous scenery. It was awesome to be on the river feeling the current that Kelly said was about five miles an hour in the main channel. The senses are overwhelmed. We were hot, cold, dry and wet, muddy and exhausted all in a day. Thank heavens we don’t have to cook!

We put in for the night at a campsite with no pit toilet so after some creative use of the flora near our tents, Nycole gets the portable facility established and gives the “potty” talk. We are glad for the convenience.

Another beautiful evening. We watched the cottonwood’s cotton flying and had a good meal and enjoyed the campfire.

Our guides kept track of the weather forecast. Rain was coming so the next day was a half day on the River. We all had rain gear on but were soaked by the time we arrived at the landing for the day, unloaded the canoes and got tents set up.

The only thing to do was to get as dry as possible and snuggle down into sleeping bags and nap.

Fortunately, this landing had a shelter with two open sided rooms. The kitchen was set up on one side and the other was for gathering.

As miserable as the rainy day was, the scenery was still beautiful.

Our last day on the river. We will make Judith Landing by noon.

Kelly gets us all rounded up to pass on information about the swift eddy at Judith Landing and how to navigate it and get off the river. We’re almost done! At Judith Landing, we get unloaded and have a nice lunch followed by huckleberry ice cream bars brought from town. Into the van we pile and after about an hour we are deposited back at the Airstream. It was a great trip but Dave and I agree that we won’t need to do that again! Next task is laundering all the wet and muddy stuff. Good thing there is a laundromat in this little town.

One last meal at the Woke Cup and we are ready to part ways with the Missouri and Montana.

Up and out early, we take Montana Highway80 south and east from Fort Benton and eventually to Lewiston. We stop for coffee in Lewiston and visit the auction house where Kyle Shobe (University of Wyoming graduate) has his business. He was out of the office but we had a nice visit with his father. He gave us a CD that Kyle and his band, The Walk ‘Em Boys, had made. Back on the road on Highway 87/200 all the way to Glendive and onto Interstate 94 and Medora ND.

After 8+ hours on the road, the Medora Campground looks good. Full hook-ups and a good shower and a good night’s sleep and we are ready to go again.

This is Theodore Roosevelt National Park and we are exploring the badlands of the South Unit along the banks of the Little Missouri River. Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory in 1883 to hunt and returned after the death of loved ones to establish a cattle ranch. His love of this rugged land brought him back time and again. After he became President he founded the US Forest Service and signed the Antiquities Act under which national parks, national monuments, national forests and federal reserves were formed. This park named in his honor was created in 1947.

Buffalo roam here and the vistas are wide. We followed the scenic loop (36 Miles) enjoying the scenery.

That evening we had tickets to the Medora Musical, a must see event that occurs every night from June 1st to September (weather permitting). This is a professionally produced and performed entertainment that astounds. It is put on in an amphitheater accessed by an escalator that is two stories tall. The set and musicians are amazing to see in this rural setting.

The town of Medora is cute and reminiscent of a movie set. We had a fine dinner in hotel dining room but many opt for the “pitchfork steak fondue” at the Musical venue.

The next day we visit Chateau de Mores State Historical Site. It was the summer home and hunting lodge of a Marquis and his wife, Medora. It has been restored featuring original furnishings from 1885.

We also visited Teddy Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin. It was transported from his ranch and now sits near the visitor center to the Park. Many of his visitors scratched their names on door frames.

On June 21st we headed south on Highway 85 through a sparsely settled southwestern corner of North Dakota toward the Black Hills Of South Dakota.

It was a four hour drive shifting onto SD Highway 79 through Newell and on to Sturgis and our destination, Kickstands Campground for the Black Hills Bluegrass Festival.

We were parked near another Airstream whose owners, Sandy and Randy Bradley, were from Fairfield NE where Dave taught at the Sandy Creek Schools. We did not know them as it has been many years since our departure from Fairfield. They both work at the MARC near Clay Center.

The Festival entertainment was good with two professional family bands and Cottonwood, a semi- professional band from North Dakota. Our good friend Reid Buckley was playing mandolin and fiddle with the Cottonwood band.

Dave really enjoyed getting to play with a great dobro player, John, from Cincinnati OH who was camped just across the street. He had fun jamming with Bluegrass pals Rod, Kerry, Garth and Cal. The Hills were green and lush from recent rains as we made our way south from Sturgis to a relaxing campground at Roubaix Lake in the Black Hills National forest.

Our campsite had a nice gravel pad and pit toilets. It was a peaceful place with birds and chipmunks to watch. Dave had found a used book store in Fort Benton so we had books by Montana authors Doig and McGuane to read. We took a drive around the area stopping for coffee in Lead SD then circling back on dirt roads to our campground.

We stopped to walk on the Mickelson Trail for a ways. The Trail, a brilliant idea of a former governor, is built on an abandoned railroad bed and extends from Edgemont SD to Deadwood winding through the beautiful forest. I stopped to read the sign next to the road by our campground and found out that the CCC had a work camp here. Old fashioned pink roses were in bloom and were so fragrant. This is a nice place to unwind and refresh. As is our next camping stop.

South through the Black Hills on Highway 385 we passed through Hill City, the Crazy Horse Monument, The town of Custer to Pringle and southeast by Wind Cave to Hot Springs. Into Nebraska on Highway 71 to Crawford NE and our destination of Fort Robinson State Park.

This Nebraska State Park is located on the site of a former military base that was used during the Indian uprisings and during World War I to supply the military with horses. It must have been a plum assignment as it had polo grounds and a swimming pool. Now it is a great place for families to have reunions in restored officers quarters. A Lodge has a full meal service. We took in a musical at the fort playhouse and breakfast in the hills above the fort.

Early one morning, before the day got hot, we drove to Toadstool Geologic Park on dust, rutted roads that could have been treacherous if wet. Toadstool Park is stunningly odd with eroded sandstone formations. We hiked the loop trail.

We spent the Fourth of July with Sandy in Atkinson getting provisioned for our family weekend with our family at The Pines Resort at Long Pine Nebraska along spring fed Pine Creek.

Matt, Ross and I visited the trestle across Pine Creek on the Cowboy Trail. Do I look happy? Yes, it was great to have our kids and grandson and sister together for a whole weekend.

We visited, played cards, had campfires, ate some home cooked meals and rode inner tubes down Pine Creek.

What a great time. We missed having Katie, our granddaughter with us and brother Robb. We were sad to see everyone pack up and leave for their homes in Lincoln and Atkinson but it was so fun to see and catch up with them.

Well, that was our summer trip except for the getting home part through Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and finally Arizona. Home to good neighbors, Bob and Shirley, who watched our house and cousin, Bill McKee. The monsoon season had already dropped the first gullywasher of the season. We got a picture of the next big rain out our back window.

We are glad to be home.

2018 Road Scholar Friends and Two More Days in Toulouse

Dave and I met such nice people on our April trip to France. To remember them, I am including photos and first names.Sandrine, our tour guide is French. She is multi-lingual, married and a great guide.Evelyn (top) and Richard. The only couple I didn’t get posed together. He a chef and she a lover of art and wine.Charlie and Annie on the left are from Washington State. They have RV’d all over the USA and were going on to Italy from France.Aileen and John are from Canada. They had been on many RS trips. Originally from Scotland, they spoke French and English with an accent. John shared the honor of being the eldest traveler with another scholar, Charles.Alice (pronounced in the French way, Aleece) in the top photo and Shuhan, below, are friends of more than 20 years and hail from Delaware. Alice was born in Israel, Shuhan in China. Alice spoke fluent French. Both teach language in a lifelong learning program in their hometown. Both are seasoned travelers and are engaging, vivacious and friendly people.Phyllis and Carol are also friends traveling together. Phyllis lives in New York City and Carol is from Oregon. Carol, originally from Iowa, had a midwestern warmth even though she has lived in many states. Phyllis was a fabric curator before she retired. She loves living in NYC with art and culture nearby. We had a fun conversation about food and cooking.John and Gary worked together for many years. Both enjoy travel. John had just been in Spain and Andorra (just to say he had been there). Gary was joining a bird and butterfly tour after this one. Both guys were engaging and thoughtful. Gary and I shared our love of birds. John gave Dave a line that he used in the song about the tour, the line about getting on the scale when finally home.Charles and Ellen are seasoned travelers. He enjoys photography and she is at his side helping him out. Charles shared eldest traveler honors with John. They had an anniversary while on this trip. Was it 60 years? They were headed next to Paris to meet a man who befriended Charles’ father in WWII.Sylvia was traveling as a single. She was most interested in the cave paintings.Roberto was also a single on this trip. He was the youngest of our group and the only one not retired. He is multi-lingual; born in Italy, he lived in Brazil and now in Massachusetts. Roberto was passionate about European history. He never missed an opportunity to pet a dog when we encountered one.Tim and Diane were on their first Road Scholar trip. They are from Michigan. They sat across from Dave and I on bus outings. Diane worked crosswords and read. Tim talked politics with John and Gary who also shared the back of the bus with us. Diane and I shared our nursing nightmare stories.Arnold is a friendly former American who now lives in New Zealand. He is a veteran traveler who was taking the train to Avignon after our tour. He summer plans included a trip to visit relatives in Finland and then to Canada. He has done extensive genealogy, going to great lengths to pin down his ancestral history.Terry and Andrea had been on many Road Scholar trips and as seasoned travelers, they had insights on trips that we may enjoy in the future.Jean, a single traveler, was from Delaware as were Alice and Shuhan but had never met them. She loved to travel and seemed to enjoy everything. She was a teacher before retiring.This trip was our second Road Scholar adventure in lifelong learning. We enjoyed almost every minute of this one. Because of the Air France strike we got two more days in Toulouse so I will include some photos from those bonus days.On our first extra day we enjoyed sleeping later and having no set schedule. After breakfast we headed from the hotel (circled) to the canal and walked along it until Rue de la Concorde. This part of the canal ran near the train station and was a bit grubby feeling to me but there were a lot of people out and about and I didn’t feel unsafe. We walked down Concorde until Boulevard d’Arcole where we turned right to head for the Japanese Garden in the big green space. I needed to use a rest room so stopped at a MacDonalds near the garden entrance. Inside was like no other MacD’s I had been to.These people were ordering their Big Macs on a touch screen! I did find the ladies room. Dave was waiting for me sitting on a garden bench and enjoying the sunshine and bird songs.Many people were using the park, strolling or jogging or just passing through.We had a wonderful time strolling about, sitting on benches, watching other people and enjoying the flowers and paths.From the garden we walked to the river past an old stone wall along Boulevard Armand Duportal. Then we headed for the city center Place du Capitole. A rummage market was being held in the square and we looked but didn’t find anything to buy. Lunch was at an outdoor cafe on the square. We had a beer. I had a Croque Monsieur, a fancy grilled cheese sandwich.As we walked back to the hotel along a street of high end clothing and luxury goods stores we enjoyed window shopping.We didn’t stop at the Blah Blah Restaurant. Neither of us remember what we did for dinner that evening. I do remember wondering how I was going to get everything back into our suitcases when the time came to go.Our final day was spent also walking in this very walkable and bustling city center. We ate lunch at an unusual vegetarian place.After lunch we went past a restored area.Then to the Bemberg Foundation museum which displays art and decorative collections in thirteen rooms. Everything from fine art to books to period furniture and objects ‘d art. A fantastic museum housed in a huge old residence.The Bemberg’s basement area was empty but had beautiful brickwork and vaulted ceilings. The entire space had wood floors and was clean and well lighted. It looked like a place waiting for something to happen.On the way back to the hotel that afternoon, we came upon a demonstration for a workers union strike complete with chants, signs, noisemakers and a general air of parade fun.Finally time to go home. Taxi to the airport. Toulouse to Paris; Paris to LA; LA to Phoenix and an Uber ride home.It took a whole week for me to get rid of jet lag symptoms but I would do it all again. We has a great trip.

France 2018 Road Scholar Tour: The Perigord’s Ancient Towns and Caves; Continued

Albi is an UNESCO world heritage city. The old Episcopal City is made of red brick. No limestone is available here for building but there is lots of clay. The Cathedral Sainte-Cécile and Palace were built in the 13th century. The Palace (Berbie Palace) houses the largest collection of paintings by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. It also has a lovely garden and remarkable formal gardens near the River Tarn.

The bus is parked as close as possible and we walk to the Episcopal City as it is known.

Finally a sunny day and the flowers of spring are in bloom.

The Cathedral is spectacular. Next door is the Museum. We have an excellent and enthusiastic guide who tells us all about the lordly born Henri whose genetic bone problems limit his size and his ambitions. A series of broken bones with long periods of rehabilitation in bed result in Henri’s taking up drawing and painting to pass the time. He eventually moved to Paris to perfect his craft.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec is most famous for his advertising art for the Moulin Rouge.

Now we move on to a new region and city.

We arrive in the city of Toulouse and cross the Canal du Midi. Our hotel and the city center are between the canal and the Garonne River.

A collection of lamp shades make art in the hotel. Our room looks out onto busy Jean Jaurès street where construction of the subway is taking place.

It is a nice evening to walk to dinner. The meat is wild boar and way too much but the custard is nice.

The next day brings a lecture on the Languedoc Region and Occitan People and a tour of the city center, the Saint Semin Basilica (“largest Romanesque church in Western Europe”) and city hall.

In Charles de Gaulle Square our guide stopped to show us the plant that caused Toulouse to be an economic powerhouse in ancient times.

This unassuming plant with bluish leaves is woad, in English, pastel in French. The leaves produce a dye of a lovely blue color which was once very prized. It was exported all over the world until indigo was discovered. The woad market crashed. Indigo was cheaper to produce and export and made a brilliant blue dye. We found a shop that had products dyed with woad which were very expensive, but a lovely soft blue.

This is an example of the blue color. Handmade dyed paper stitched onto a wall hanging.

The city hall is expansive with paintings on the walls. The building is used for many formal functions.

We all seemed to be a bit tired of standing around at this point.

Back to Charles de Gaulle Square. We walked past a gallery on the square that has modern art on the ceilings.

Our guide points out a map of the ancient walled city.

The Basilica.

The Garonne River and Pont Neuf Bridge. An impish red statue provides contrast. Back across town and to the hotel for rest and dinner on our own.

A group of us walked to this restaurant for a tasty meal. Tomorrow is the last day of the tour. We hear that Air France is having a strike the day we will leave. Many of us are flying on that carrier so we are unsure if our flights will be affected.

Out of town past fields to a higher altitude and closer to the Mediterranean and Spain. The Pyrenees Mountains are white in the distance. We are headed for the Medieval city of Carcassonne which has a 2,500 year history of occupation.

Despite the fortifications, Gallo Roman walls couldn’t hold out against the Visigoths, Saracens and Franks who occupied the city. Then in the 12th century, Pope Innocent III launched a crusade against Cathar heretics. The fort was again besieged since the owner protected the Cathars. The fortification crumbled in disrepair until the 19th century when Viollet-le-Duc, an architect, restored the city fortifications. It became an UNESCO site in 1997 and is a popular tourist attraction.

I didn’t make completely around the walls but did visit the Basilica.

Lunch will be a local specialty, Cassoulet. Some of us sit in the square to wait for the rest of the group. Buskers sing and play for coins.

The meal starts with another French mainstay, warm goat cheese on greens.

The cassoulet is served in casserole dishes. White beans, duck legs and duck sausage cooked low and slow. Delicious!

Back to the bus and back to Toulouse for some free time. We try to find out about our flight, cancelled. Calls to Road Scholar travel service have to wait until morning comes in the States but there is an emergency number which is answered. They will work on getting our flights rescheduled. Others are having similar experiences.

We gather in the lounge for a glass of Champagne before going to dinner. Alice has a poem she wrote and Dave has a song.

Dinner was in a lovely restaurant, Les Beaux-Arts Brasserie Flo, on the bank of the river near the Pont Neuf bridge.

Our entree of salmon was presented with sea foam.

After another excellent gourmet meal, our Road Scholar Tour is done.

Goodbyes are said and hugs are given at the hotel. Looks like Dave and I will be staying two more days in Toulouse!

France 2018 Road Scholar Tour: The Perigord’s Ancient Towns and Caves

Saint-Émilion is located north of the city of Bordeaux on limestone hills above the Dordogne River. There are many vineyards here producing wines that favor the soil and hillsides of this area. We are here to see an underground cathedral carved out of the limestone by monks.

This city is a very popular tourist destination and we are fortunate to be here in early spring and not on a weekend or holiday. Our bus parks at the city entrance that I marked on the map with an X. The streets are very narrow with only a few wide enough for smaller vehicles.

A panorama of the old city walls and dry moat. The Plane trees have had a trim which Sandrine says is done every few years. On into town we go passing Le Manoir, a former Jacobin church that is now a winery.

Inside, wine experts are judging the 2017 wines and their verdict of the best of the new wines will inform brokers as to what wines to invest in. We continue uphill, exclaiming over the old walls, cobblestone streets and amazing views.

The Church is in view.

We look around the small square while Sandrine goes to get a ring of keys to let us into the underground part of the church.

Down and down we go. How and why the monks excavated this hillside is still a question. Sarcophagi of ancient churchmen line some rooms and corridors. This cave is huge and empty. Only a few services are held here.

The sky is threatening rain but we are undaunted. Such great scenery to photograph.

Time for lunch! Sandrine has scouted the countryside for great little restaurants.

Wines of Bordeaux and salty dried sausage for starters. Back to the bus for a free afternoon and evening in the city.

Leaving Bordeaux and the Garonne River valley, the big bus heads for The medieval city of Sarlat. As we travel we hear a lecture on the history of the Perigord. We stop in Les-Eyzies for lunch. This is another town perched on the side of a limestone cliff that has been excavated into living and defensive spaces. Cro Magnon man was thought to live in this sort of cave place.

There is a replica of an ancient man on the cliff above the town. Some buildings are built into the hillside and above are lookouts carved into the cliff so enemies coming from the river below can be defended against.

Stopping at a truffle farm, we get a lecture about them, a demonstration on finding truffles and a taste. The black and white dog methodically searched under this tree. He stopped and pawed at the location then waited for his treat. Only tiny truffles are available now. Best picking is January and February.

The cave of Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reilhac “Cave of a Hundred Mammoths.” Water is running off the cave entrance. We take an electric train into the cave to see the mammoths painted over 140 centuries ago on the walls.

Our hotel in Sarlat had a beautiful breakfast/ bar room. We check in and Sandrine leads us on a walk to the medieval city in the center of Sarlat.

Sandrine leads us through a maze of narrow streets in the old town to the Cathedral Saint Sacerdos with its cloister and graveyard. This tower located above the church had a beacon for pilgrims and was a safe place to stay as they traveled through.

Sarlat is a very picturesque city and we can imagine the throngs of tourists here in the summer and especially on market days at the city center. Geese are raised for meat and fois gras so a statue of them is not strange.

Another nice meal in a pleasant spot then back to the hotel to unpack for a few days.

Wednesday is market day in Sarlat and we have part of the morning free to take it in. It is early but the market is bustling. We buy a few things to have for dinner tonight.

Later in the morning we depart for Vitrac on the Dordogne river where we enjoy a cooking demonstration and an excellent meal.

After an elegant meal we were back to the bus for a short hop to Domme which the literature says is a typical “bastide” from the 13th century on the cliffs overlooking the Dordogne valley. We have a lecture on bastides on the way. This bastide that is accessed by a small train that takes us up the steep hill overlooking the river. It is no wonder that people felt safe in this walled city.

oOn to Gageac and the scenic Dordogne River with flat bottom boats and another steep limestone cliff that we climb part way up.

It has been a rainy spring and the river is up. The ramp down to the river is closed. Shuhan, a fellow Road Scholar, takes our picture. Back to Sarlat and some wine in the bar and dinner in our room.

Art of the Perigord. Today we visit the site of the famous cave, Lascaux. To preserve the actual cave from algae and other human caused destruction, a replica of this prehistoric cave titled Lascaux 4 has been built near the original. The prehistoric artists depicted the creatures around them using pigments they found and then mixed the pigments with rendered fat. Using small oil lamps, they made art deep in these dark caves. These people did not live in the caves but there is evidence that bears hibernated in them.

This is a very popular attraction and even though it is early in the day, other groups are waiting their turn to go in. We wait for an English speaking guide.

A ramp takes us down to the entrance.

What motivated these artists and what was the meaning of their art and other symbols? Even the exact dates of this early art are not known. It was an amazing experience to visit this site.

The prehistoric people probably looked and dressed like this.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in at the National Prehistory Museum with its collection of artifacts from prehistoric sites in the Vézère Valley in Les-Eyzies. This prehistoric era was from 300,000 to 2,000 years ago.

Driving back to Sarlat we pass a Goose Ranch.

Dinner was at this cozy restaurant then a walk around the city lit up for night viewing. Tomorrow we visit St. Céré and visit the Jean Lurçat Museum in the morning and the cave, Gouffre de Padirac. Have a wine and cheese tasting and check into our hotel at Rocamadour.

I was interested to see fields of wheat, rape (canola), and alfalfa. Fruit such as apricots and nuts, chestnuts and walnuts, are grown here, too.

We stop at Martel, another stone walled city, visit the market square and church. I appreciate the fancy ironwork and painted doors along the street.

How can you not be in awe of such ancient spaces, rich with paintings and statues and carved doorways and pews. This town was also on one of the pilgrimage routes.

Now to the castle on the hill above the town that holds the Lurçat museum.

We leave the bus in the parking lot and climb. Jean Lurçat was an artist who created in many mediums. He decorated every space of his castle with the help of students and two artist wives. His most famous works were rendered in tapestries.

He covered the walls with boards, hung drawing paper and sketched, inserting instructions and paint colors like a paint by number kit, then sent it off to Aubusson to be made into a tapestry. He was very affected by WWII and his work reflects it.

Lunch here at Auberge de Mathieu. Our starter had dried duck breast, goose liver, caramelized onions, and good bread. Can’t say I liked the fois gras but I did like the espresso.

Off we go to the deep shaft at Gouffre de Padirac.

At the bottom, we walk to boats that take us along an underground river and to a huge cavern system with stalagmites and stalactites and flow stone.

We came back out the same way but took the elevator back to the top. No cave paintings in this cave. On to Rocamadour!

This hill town was a pilgrimage site in medieval times. The cathedral is at the cliff top with the Bishop’s residence below. A great stairway leads up from the town with a sign of the cross at each switchback. The faithful would kneel and pray at each site. We stop for photos and the bus takes us through a curving, one lane tunnel down to the town. We check in to the Beau Site Notre Dame Hotel. Our room is an interesting one that looks out onto the hillside. I can open the window, sit on the sill, listen to birds and smell the blossoms nearby.

Narrow pedestrian only streets and the grand staircase.

The following day our field trip is to the cave of Pech Merle which is older than Lascaux.

To preserve the cave, tour groups are limited to 40 minutes. A guide gives a good lecture explaining the cave drawings before we enter and he keeps close watch of the time while we are inside. There are ancient footprints that were left in mud that hardened to stone.

Lunch is at a neat place which was once a mill. The mill stream still runs by.

Creme brûlée for dessert.

Back at Rocamadour we stop on top, visit the cathedral and cave and walk down.

There is a black virgin in this church.

Dinner on our own this evening. We have a nice meal with Carol and Phyllis. I think I had a frittata and frites!

The next day has a longer drive along an expressway. The bus stops for a bathroom break at a convenience area. We are going to Albi today where Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s works are on display in a museum dedicated to him. Albi is the town of his birth but he spent most of his short life in Paris.

France April 2018 Road Scholar Tour: Bordeaux Wines and Vines

Twenty four Road Scholars and our leader, Sandrine, gather on a Friday afternoon to meet and find out a bit about each other. There were couples and singles traveling together and a few singles traveling alone. Most of us had been on a previous RS tour and some had been on many. I would guess that all but one were over 60 in age and retired. Most of us were from the States, two were from Canada, one a New Zealander and one an Italian living and working in the US. All of us were interested in travel and history. One was most interested in seeing the caves in the Perigord. Four spoke French. Sandrine went over the schedule for the week and answered questions, then we were free to rest until it was time to walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

At the top, in front of our hotel entrance, it’s good for Sandrine to see how we navigate on the uneven cobblestone surface. Sandrine, is at the lower right in the lower photo.It looks like we have tried the wine and are ready to fill up again. The bread is always present in baskets and always chewy and delicious. No butter was ever on the table except for breakfast. When out in a group, we wear our Road Scholar ID badges that hang around the neck. There are pockets in this hanging badge for pens and small tablets or our phones if we don’t want to carry a purse or have no pockets in our clothing. Sandrine always counts us to make sure we are all present.

Back to the hotel and bed. We will take a walking tour of the city in the morning.

The day dawns grey and rain is in the forecast but we are prepared with jackets, hats and umbrellas.

This is a map of the city center, north is at the top. Our hotel is located with an X.

The Girondists monument is first. Sandrine tells us that the horse’s hooves are represented with claws because the river is muddy and they have to claw their way to make a stand on the riverbank.

A big mall in the round has been built where a crumbling convent once stood. Sandrine is going to purchase cannelles for us to eat with lunch. Dave is taking a picture of the arrays of cannelles and other pastries. There is a grocery store on the lower level of this shopping center. This place is circled on the map and called Grands Hommes.

In the top photo, Sandrine is telling us about the history of the city as she leads us to our next stop. She is speaking into a microphone. Each of us has a device called a “Quiet Vox” that is an audio receiver with an earphone that fits over our ear. She doesn’t have to shout and we don’t have to crowd around her to hear. The bottom two photos are of the Cathedral St. André. Beautiful stained glass, vaulted ceilings and impressive pipe organ. Below is a photo of the grand cathedral.

The building in this part of the city are constructed of a creamy stone with intricate carving.

Lunch and wine tasting and fresh cannelles. There was more salty meat on these charcuterie boards than most of us could eat. The cheese was great, a soft, medium and a hard cheese and always good bread. Beautiful vin rouge.

A visit to the Museum of Aquitaine and lecture on the history of the Bordeaux region then a walk down to the river to the water mirror and public buildings.

A small piece of a Roman wall tucked into a courtyard of a public housing building.

Another city gate near the river. This is Porte Cailhau.

A band busking in the rain near our hotel. Our first day is finished.

Up and on the motorcoach early, today we will visit the chateaux and vineyards of the Medoc region. While aboard we hear a lecture on Bordeaux wines, their history and their economic impact on the region.

Before leaving town, the bus stops in the harbor where Sandrine points out a relic from WWII. This concrete monstrosity was a Nazi U Boat base with twelve bays. It is a UNESCO heritage site today to commemorate the war. The city has plans to convert it into something useful. This area was the only part of the city that was bombed by the allies.

Now the harbor is home to houseboats and sailboats.

Sandrine points out a new wine museum and soccer stadium as we leave town.

We pass many impressive wineries and vineyards.

This is part of the huge Chateaux Margaux winery which we will visit today. Sandrine is explaining viniculture methods as we look around. As you can see, the vines have been trimmed back severely to encourage good growth and a better grape. Back to the bus to visit a small family winery where the owner shows us around and we have lunch.

The owner explains their operation And shows us the barrels of wine stacked in a thick walled old shed and coddled until the wine is ready to bottle.

Stainless steel vats where the pressed grapes are coddled into wine then decanted into vats for finishing. The remaining grape residue is sold for other purposes such as compost.

On to Chateau Margaux, a beautiful house that is used for events but not lived in. Our guide shows us the interior.

This is a cross section of the soil throughout the area showing how it drains and why this is good for the grapes that are grown here in the flat part of the Garonne valley.

The oak casks can be used three years then are repurposed but not used for aging wine. Large winery or small, the process is the same. However this winery has an automated grape sorting machine that uses the latest technology for choosing the perfect grape.

Two of the wines we tasted at Margaux.

The red wine changes color slightly as it ages taking on a more orang-y cast. The wines that are produced here are aged at least a year and the grand cru varieties are sold to collectors and could be kept for many years or decades.

Sheep are used on this working estate to keep the grass clipped. A few lambs were just born causing us to say, “A-h-h-h.” We were lucky that this tour was on the shoulder of the busy season so we didn’t have to compete with lots of other bus tours and tourists in the towns. Back to Bordeaux and dinner at a local restaurant. Tomorrow a trip to Saint- Émilion. That will be in the next blog post!

France April 2018: We Arrive in Bordeaux

Our much anticipated Road Scholar trip to France began with a long airplane ride from Phoenix through Detroit and Amsterdam and finally the city of Bordeaux. We arrived a day early to get acclimated.

A wine bottle at the curb on arrival at the airport was evidence of the importance of wine in France.

Our hotel, Bordeaux Bayonne Etche Ona, was located in the city center on a narrow historic street just off a main street, Cours de l’Intendance. Since we arrived at the noon hour, our room was not ready but they were happy to store our luggage while we looked around the city for a bit.

The hotel was near a big plaza called the Grands Hommes where streets and tramways intersect and the Intercontinental Le Grand Hotel is located. Across the plaza is the Opera National de Bordeaux, a very impressive building. Dave stopped in front of the hotel to get his bearings on Google Maps. You can see the statues atop the opera house in the background.

The plaza at night with the Intercontinental Hotel lit up. It was a cool evening but the French people love to sit at cafe tables and sip espresso and chat.

We had reservations for dinner within walking distance of the hotel but we were ready early so walked through the neighborhoods past a small garden at Place Gambetta.

Racines restaurant with chef David Gallacher opened it’s doors at 7:30pm which is the normal hour for the evening meal service. They were booked for the evening and we were lucky to have reservations.

This was a lovely haute-cuisine meal accompanied by wine, wonderful bread and espresso with dessert. The French often start an evening meal with an aperitif of Cassis or Champagne and end with espresso after dessert. Sitting next to us were two Asian-looking young women who were American born and working as lawyers in New York City. They were from Houston and San Diego. We had a nice visit.

We walked back to the hotel, entrance just below the lighted blue sign, and fell into bed.

The next morning we took breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast bar included everything you could imagine, including an egg coddling water bath machine that I didn’t get up the courage to try. Dave got his usual granola and yogurt so he was happy.

The breakfast room was simple but elegant.

Since our group tour was not to begin until later in the day, we had some time to explore.

The Monument aux Girondists in the Place des Quinconces commemorates the French Revolution. There is a bronze rooster at the base. The rooster is a symbol of the French spirit. The Quinconces (the name comes from the staggered rows of trees on each side of this space) is a large area near the riverfront where festivals are held.

From here we walked to a nice garden.

It is spring in Bordeaux. Dave is standing beside a topiary basket filled with flowers.

Outside and inside the Saint Louis des Chartrons church and to the Garrone riverwalk.

The riverfront has been completely refurbished since the city realized that tourism dollars drove the economy here. There is a walkway all along the river that people throng to especially on nice days like this one.

The Place de La Bourse is mirrored on the water feature called the Water Mirror which emits a mist that kids love to play in and then it fills with an inch or two of water becoming the mirror.

River cruise ships can be seen docked along the quai in the distance and in the other direction the Pont de Pierre bridge which is getting new piers to keep it from sinking.

Dave stands in front of Porte Cailhau, one of the old city gates from when Bordeaux had walls. We walked along the street named Cours du Chapeau Rouge, Red Hat Street, now a pedestrian avenue of shops and galleries. Uphill all the way to our hotel near the Grands Hommes plaza and it’s Carousel.

I’m sure we stopped for lunch somewhere but I have no recollection of it. We are scheduled to meet with our Road Scholar group this afternoon and go to dinner this evening. Back to the hotel to freshen up.