January through April: Arizona Winter/Spring 2019

Arizona winter looks like this for us. No snow. Camping in the Sonoran desert. Here is a photo of Luci II peeking through an Organ Pipe Cactus.

Our first outing of the new year was to Yuma, AZ for the JayCee’s Fiddle Contest.

Our friends were on hand fiddling and picking and grinning. Dave got a trophy and an award and a neat plaque made by Dennis Russell from the Yuma Fiddle club.

Between weekend events, we stopped in the fertile Dome Valley to camp at Larry and Pat’s big compound. They invite all their music friends to stop and camp when in the area. Our Luci trailer is just behind the hill. Laura Barry and I were trying to get in shape for hiking vacations this summer so we hiked up on a hill and got a good view. Martin and Carla, Katie and Tom, Laura and Tom, Jimmie, Dave and Larry played a lot of tunes..

I had to stop and photograph this flower which (was new to me) while hiking with Laura. A new app, iNaturalist, helped me identify this as a “ghost flower”.

Blythe, California was our destination the following weekend for the annual Blythe Bluegrass Festival. The weather cooperated this year so camping and picking and festival events were fun. A few of the acts we enjoyed were The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, Kenny and Amanda Smith and High Plains Tradition along with many others.

At our desert camp on the Scenic Loop south of Ajo in late January we camped with friends for a few days of scenery, hiking, meals and music before relocating to the beautiful Ajo Country Club for the fiddle contest.

The desert was bursting with vegetation including ocotillo, cholla, saguaro cactus, beaver tail, pie plate, cows tongue and several other flat kinds of cacti. As I hiked along, I’m always look and listen for birds.

This is a male Phainopepla, a silky flycatcher. His red eyed, gray colored mate is close by. Year round residents of the Sonoran Desert, these birds feast on desert mistletoe berries this time of year.

Beautiful sunsets, campfire friends and good music. All these make for great memories.

More desert flora. The top photo is a cactus of the mammillaria family of small cacti, possibly a Fox-tail cactus (iNaturalist punted on this one). The lower photo is of a Christmas cholla berry. The birds were busy eating these.

Scenes from the Ajo contest. Barrys watching Barrys on stage. We have enjoyed watching Ivy Barry grow.

I had to include a photo of 93 year young Jack Darland fiddling. He was ably accompanied by Ross Riggs. They are two of our favorite musicians. Ross makes a great “Bobarita”, sort of a strong margarita-like beverage that you should sip slowly.

We always look for the Great Horned owl pair who nest in the palms near the Ajo Country Club. This one swooped down toward us and landed on the roof of the golf shed.

We joined the Bonns and Shirleys for camping at Billie’s acreage near Tucson. Her place is a treasure of desert plants like the aloe pictured here and artifacts like these metatae.

Laura Barry and Tom Rude had all of us over for food and tunes while we were in Tucson.

Ross was able to visit us in Surprise and get some golf in while on vacation. I joined him on his flight back to Nebraska so I could see our granddaughter, Katie, sing and act and dance in Lincoln High Theater’s production of the Broadway play “Newsies”. She was amazing, singing “Watch what Happens” and “Something to Believe In” and doing her own dance in the Finale. Our hearts were bursting with pride.

Katie is a senior and Daniel a freshman at Lincoln High.

While in Lincoln, I got in on a February snowstorm! Fortunately for me the storm moved on and I was able to get out of town and back to sunny Arizona.

Two days later, we were off to Lake Havasu City for Bluegrass on the Beach. The headline act this year was Rhonda Vincent and she didn’t disappoint. Her single show had the largest attendance ever for a show at Bluegrass on the Beach.

The weather was warm and sunny and picking was great day and night.

The one bad thing that happened, happened to Corrine who fell and seriously broke her ankle.

The desert surrounding the lake campground was purple with lupine bloom.

Dave and I do have lives beyond camping. Here are the photos to prove it.

I participate in water aerobics and yoga and Dave plays banjo and fiddle with the Carol and Mike Blackburn and Tony Miller, the “Dry Heat” Band. Dave also plays with “All in Cash” on fiddle and keyboard. He can be spotted riding his bike around Sun Village, taking a dip in the pool and even playing a round of golf.

Our grapefruit tree produced so much fruit that I gave away a lot and juiced the rest. It was a good thing the orange tree didn’t produce much. We couldn’t have kept up.

Thanks to beneficial rains, Sun Village was in full bloom this spring..

Cactus blossoms.

Two kinds of large yucca.

Roses in the garden at the Recreation Center.

Mexican Bird Of Paradise, Bottle Brush and White Oleander.

Golden Bells and Red Oleander.

Lantana (top photo) comes in several bright colors. Middle photo is pretty but my identification app was no help. Bottom photo is jasmine.

Jacaranda has beautiful blue blossoms and the valley is a sea of yellow when paloverde blooms.

On the home front, a little bathroom makeover and house paint.

When this is done, and we hope it will be soon, we can concentrate on getting ready for our summer trip. The Airstream has been washed and waxed. The next task is to sanitize the water system, then bring it home and pack it up! Hope to see you somewhere this summer!

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We finish out 2018: Lots of activities but not all involving Luci II

A new travel trailer and hot temperatures in Phoenix this September help us decide to get away into the high country. We camped just north of Payson at Houston Mesa Campground. We got a big pull through site with good privacy. This campground has a nice trail and an amphitheater for programs. Strawberry and Pine and the Tonto National Forest are summer retreats for many “Phoenicians”. There was a little rain around but it only added to the beauty of the drive from Payson to the Monument.

The Natural Bridge Visitor Center has an information office and gift shop. The building can be rented by groups for family reunions or conferences. The park has a paved lot with lots of parking and various trails to hike to the Natural Bridge. The trail to the bottom of the canyon is rather steep but there are nice walkways and handrails at the bottom.

You can climb rocks at your own risk and scramble to the other side of the bridge then take another trail back to the top. This was not encouraged.

The oldest school in Arizona is in Strawberry. We stopped to see it. We also stopped for an ice cream cone.

Later on in September Dave played for a fun evening with his regular jamming buddies at the Desert Rose Steakhouse in Glendale AZ.

Dave, Charlie Ray Robinson, Rick Rhodes and Dennis Talbert

Dave also played with Jerry Dunaway for his set.

The cactus near our front patio was full of blooms near the end of September.

The Arizona State Fiddle Contest is always held in the last week of September at the Fairgrounds in Payson. The weather cooperated this year for lots of good fiddling.

Ellie fiddled and her Dad, Jess Barry, accompanied her.

Maggi Cucitro was also in Ellie’s division. Dave helps her with her tunes.

Dave fiddled, backed by Corrine Geary and Laura Barry then Corrine fiddled, backed by Dave. John Kennedy did a nice job being emcee.

This bus photo showed up on Facebook. In an earlier time, we would see it and the owner, Gordon Whitten, at a festival in Nebraska. It sure looks lonesome.

In October, we went to the Greek Festival in Phoenix at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. Good food, crafts, dancing, cute kids.

Lamb on the spit.

A trip to Lake Pleasant north of Phoenix capped off the month of October. We had a great camping spot, level pad and shaded table and a wonderful view. Trails around the reservoir will take you to the visitor center above the dam.

Tom and Katie Bonn were going by and stopped to visit. We would see them again soon in Salome AZ for the fall jamboree camp out.

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The Salome fiddle event is the first weekend in November. Other Salome camp outs happen in January and March (before the weather gets too hot and all the snowbirds fly).

Dave and Terry Schwindt (wintering in Yuma) share some tunes. Sue Elsclager from Tucson is probably playing her rendition of “Sunrise on the Guinea Farm”. Janet Shelby also wintering in Yuma can play a wonderful version of Dave’s “Arizona Twilight Waltz”.

The sign up sheet for the Saturday evening entertainment. Since this is a fiddle event, fiddlers get to play every other time slot.

Over at Tom and Katie’s house after the show, someone made “snakebites”. Good conversation and fellowship.

Wickenburg Bluegrass Festival is our first festival of the season. It is held in mid November and is the closest festival of all for us at 35 miles. We arrive on Wednesday for the weekend festival and occupy our usual spot.

We take the opportunity to climb one of the hills. Can you see our Airstream in the sparsely populated campground?

Gary and Millie Vannoy soon arrive in their motor coach. Time to play some tunes and sing a few songs. We help Gary deploy his picking tents. Millie organized a memorial and pot luck supper in memory of Doug Piper who was one of the founding members of Traditional Bluegrass band. He died of cancer this year.

Bluegrass Band Headliners this year were Mountain Heart, Old Blue Band and Hillbilly Fever. Also on the line up are contests for fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar and vocals.

Corrine Geary and Laura Barry accompany Dave on his tunes in the fiddle contest. I regret not moving aside and getting a better angle on this photo.

Dave backs up Corrine and Maggi Cucitro and seems to enjoy the experience.

After the fiddling, the Barry adults pose for a family photo. Corrine Geary, Laura Barry, Amy’s Mom, Amy and Jess Barry; fiddlers all. They were hanging around the stage to see Ellie Barry and other young talent play with Hillbilly Fever.

Our kids; Matt and Jennifer and family, Katie and Daniel; and son Ross, live in Nebraska. They invited us to Lincoln for Thanksgiving. We were lucky with the weather, only one snowstorm while we were there. We had a great time staying with Ross in his well appointed apartment and enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving feast at Matt and Jennifer’s welcoming home.

On Thanksgiving morning, Ross and I made stuffing, stuffed the turkey and put it in the oven. Then I got dressed and we went over to the party, returning for the turkey just in time for dinner.

Sandy, my sister, was there with friend, Katie Brown. Daniel played through some music for his grandad. Jennifer’s dad, Rick and wife Laura brought pies. Rick mashed the potatoes. I made the gravy. The table was beautiful and we all ate until we couldn’t eat any more. Thank you all for a memorable holiday. Dave even got to go to a Nebraska men’s basketball game one evening.

Good friends, Joyce and Jay Kelly from our hometown of Atkinson were in Lincoln having Thanksgiving with their kids and were on their way to Texas for the winter. They came over to see us at Matt and Jennifer’s house. The guys played some fiddle tunes, Joyce shared her paper craft with us and Jennifer played some Christmas music.

Before we left, we all had a rousing game of UNO! Good fun. We laughed a lot. We got a school picture of Daniel and Katie’s Senior photo.

Time flys and so did we, back home to Surprise. No snow! More music awaits in AZ.

Barn dance time in Sonoita AZ. Susie Pangle got a band organized to play for her cousins Richard and Mary. A fine band it was, too.

Jimmie Dixon played and sang.

Terry Schwindt played guitar and sang. Mary, his wife came along for company and to see a new part of Arizona. She and I took walks along the roads but not into the wash below the house. There might be snakes.

Dave played banjo and fiddle. Susie played dobro and bass and sang. They made lots of good music.

The barn was decorated, Arn and Diane Berg danced. Folks feasted on barbecue by Richard and pot luck contributed by everyone. There were cold and hot drinks and mittens for chilly fingers.

Susie and Harold Pangle organized the event and the sound system.

Dave and I enjoyed the weekend camaraderie.

After the evenings festivities, we gathered for a photo in front of Mary’s beautiful tree. Charly the dog was there too.

Dave plays with this group, the Whistling Porch Band. They perform occasionally. On this evening they played at the Peoria AZ library’s Monday Night Melodies. Band members are Ken Killebrew on bass with some vocals, Steve Christiansen does vocals and rhythm guitar, Ray Scalf on lead guitar. He sings a bit too. Dave fiddles and does a few vocals. There was a good crowd on hand this evening.

Dave also plays fairly regularly with Steve and Ken in a band called All In Cash. Steve does a Johnny Cash tribute and sounds just like the Man in Black. Dave plays fiddle and keyboard in that group.

Another band Dave plays with is Dry Heat. This band plays often. Members include Mike and Carol Blackburn, Tony Miller and Dave. Dry Heat has been performing popular and gospel tunes in this area for many years. Dave plays fiddle and banjo with them.

Sandy came for a visit mid December. We visited, shopped, cooked, watched birds and took short trips.

This Costa’s hummingbird visited the feeder just outside Sandy’s window several times a day. He posed nicely for this photo.

On one short trip to Wickenberg, we hiked the trails at the Hassayampa Nature Preserve. We saw lots of birds but we were startled by this Great Blue Heron just standing near the trail. He must have been napping. He didn’t seem bothered at all by our nearness.

Sandy came with us to a jam in the Cave Creek neighborhood in north Phoenix. Millie and Gary Vannoy hosted the jam and potluck.

Many of our bluegrass friends were on hand for this breaking up Christmas jam. There were grinners as well as pickers enjoying this well decorated house.

We enjoyed a lovely meal at Portofino’s before Sandy had to return to the snowy Sandhills of Nebraska. Her visit brightened our Christmas. Come again soon, my sister.

Our kids. Matt and Jennifer, Katherine and Daniel. Christmas 2018

Our other kid. Ross and his new car! It was a good year. Hope yours was too.

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.

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.