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Circus Trip 2018: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP

Day 31, Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hodgenville, Kentucky

I have for so long wanted to visit the site where our sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln was born.  I have seen where he was a young man, where he was a lawyer, where he was President, and where he died…  It was so humbling to stand at the place where this great man began his life!

Sign Posing!

Lincoln was born here at Sinking Spring Farm (named for the water source) on February 12, 1809; he lived here for the first two years of his life.  His parents, Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln made their living as farmers, and contrary to the usual story, Lincoln didn’t grow up particularly poor, by the standards of the day.  He did move around a lot though, as the family had to leave Sinking Spring Farm after a dispute about the ownership of the land.  They moved to nearby Knob Creek Farm in 1811, when Lincoln was two years old.

The Lincoln family Bible

The birthplace memorial here was completed in 1911, a few years after the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  A huge marble and granite Memorial Building was built between 1909 and 1911, in Greek and Roman architectural styles.  It has 56 steps up to the building, to represent the 56 years that Lincoln was alive. Sixteen windows on the building and sixteen rosettes on the ceiling represent the fact that he was our nation’s 16th President.  Inside, a symbolic birth cabin gives visitors an idea of what the cabin where Lincoln was born might have looked like.

The symbolic birth cabin was moved to the site when the Memorial Building was constructed, and had to be made smaller to fit inside the building, and to more accurately represent what Lincoln’s first home probably looked like.  At the time the Memorial Building was constructed, many people actually believed that this was the cabin where Lincoln was born.  Later technology allowed them to do dendochronology (tree ring analysis) in 2004 to determine that the cabin was not built until the 1840s, so it could not have been Lincoln’s birthplace.

When I first arrived, it had been pouring down rain, so I hurried into the Visitor’s Center and then hurried over to the Memorial Building.  When I went back outside, the sun had come back out!  I went down the 56 steps of the Memorial Building to check out Sinking Spring, the water feature which gave the farm its name.  Sinking Spring is an underground spring, with an outlet to the surface set down into a hole; this was certainly the first water Abraham Lincoln ever drank!

Knob Creek Farm is also part of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park; it is located ten miles away from Sinking Spring Farm.  Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, this portion of the park was not staffed, so I didn’t get to see inside this cabin.  It was also not original to Lincoln or his family, but belonged to the family of one of the Lincolns’ neighbors.  The young boy who lived in this cabin is thought to have once saved young Abe Lincoln’s life when he fell into Knob Creek.  The cabin was moved here when the historical park was created.  It was peaceful and quiet and interesting to see another place where Lincoln spent time as a child; he lived here from the ages of two to seven.  Another land ownership dispute caused the family’s move to Indiana.

There were several signs posted indicating that Copperhead snakes make their home in the area.  I didn’t see any, but also didn’t go tromping off through the field to the creek!

After leaving Lincoln behind for the day, I made my way to Lexington, Kentucky, where I would be stopping for the night.  I saw a highway sign advertising Wildside Winery and decided to check it out!  They had good wines, and a nice selection of both dry and sweet wines.  I enjoyed talking with my server – it was his first day working at the winery – but he had lived in Brookings, Oregon for eight years, so we had the Pacific Northwest in common!  I purchased four bottles; one was their Wild Duet.  Sadly, they are all long gone now – but they were delicious!

That evening I camped at Boonesboro State Park in Lexington; the first of two nights I would spend there!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mammoth Cave NP

Day 30, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

I was excited to visit Mammoth Cave National Park!  I drove down from Louisville for the day and entered the Park on the Flint Ridge Road.  Note: the Park’s website warns visitors to disregard GPS directions, which can take you the wrong way.  My GPS took me this alternate way, but still managed to get me to where I needed to go, with a bonus of seeing a section of the park that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise!

The drawback was that I either somehow missed the entrance sign or there wasn’t one.  I saw a sign on the main road on the way out, but it wasn’t like the typical National Park entrance sign – it left a lot to be desired.  I guess that’s just a reason to go back!

This was the only sign I found!

The Flint Ridge Road takes you by the Mammoth Cave Baptist Church and Cemetery.  The original church was built in 1827; the current building is from 1927.  It is in rough shape, with a hole in the back door, no electricity or other conveniences, and a very old, rustic outhouse in back.  It was very remote, just a few miles from the main Visitor’s Center for the park. I got out and checked it out; the door to the church is not locked, so anyone can go inside.  It was so eerily quiet there, it made me a little nervous…

I wandered the cemetery and read some of the headstones as well.  Floyd Collins is buried in the cemetery.  He died in 1925 after a rock collapse trapped him in Sand Cave, a newly discovered cave nearby; attempts to rescue him made the national news and kept people waiting for word for over two weeks, but ultimately he had died of starvation by the time rescuers reached him.

Sadly the church was vandalized with orange spray paint in September, about a month after my visit.  The trail to go see the entrance to Sand Cave is here too, but I didn’t take the opportunity to hike it.  I’m kicking myself now!

When I got to the Visitor’s Center, I chose to do the Historic Tour.  It was interesting, and explored the long history of cave use.  Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world with over 400 miles of explored cave passages.

Native Americans used the cave for thousands of years and then stopped.  In the late 1700s, Americans in the area began to use the cave for saltpeter mining; saltpeter is used in the manufacture of gunpowder.  They couldn’t get it anymore from the British due to the Revolutionary War, so local suppliers could make a good profit!

After the war the need for saltpeter dried up so they opened the caves up for commercial tours.  They had used slaves to mine the saltpeter; the slaves learned how to navigate in the caves, which was helpful in their later work as tour guides.  The tour takes you by some of the old saltpeter mining equipment, which was left in the cave after the commercial viability of the venture dried up.

Mammoth Cave was also used for a brief period as a tuberculosis sanitarium – unfortunately it proved ineffective at helping people with tuberculosis.  Total darkness experiments in the cave were also short-lived.

Unfortunately for me, the “Historic” section of the cave isn’t really all that pretty.  This section of the cave has the largest rooms, but there aren’t a lot of beautiful “cave features” that you see in other caves. And you will certainly be disappointed in my photos; it is very dim inside and they don’t let you use flash…  I did enjoy seeing the “graffiti” from the early 1800s; I saw one signature from 1839!

On my next visit I want to do the “Domes and Dripstones Tour”; this tour shows visitors the stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a huge dripstone section called Frozen Niagara, named because it looks like Niagara Falls when it is frozen in the winter.  The Extended Historic Tour is also on my list, because you get to see the stone huts that remain from the period when Mammoth Cave was used as a tuberculosis sanitarium.  That would be cool!

I really enjoyed my visit, but would also love to do more hiking there.  Temperatures were in the 90s with high humidity the day that I visited so I opted not to hike.  It would be fun to stay and camp there too!  You can also float the river, or kayak there!

I stayed that night at the Glendale Campground in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, a convenient jumping off point for my explorations the next day!  This family owned campground was only $20, and my campsite was right near a pond where a Green Heron was fishing!

Circus Trip 2018: Churchill Downs

Day 29, Monday, August 13, 2018

Louisville, Kentucky

Most years, I sit in my living room on the first Saturday in May and watch the Kentucky Derby on TV.  Live from Churchill Downs, the field of colts and a few fillies attempt to become the winner of the Derby and have a chance at winning the Triple Crown, a title which has become the most prestigious in horse racing.  The Kentucky Derby is the first race of the Triple Crown, which also contains the Preakness and the Belmont, raced at other tracks around the country over a five week stretch.

I have always wanted to visit Churchill Downs, especially on Derby Day, to see the crazy hats and feel the excitement of race day!  I spent a few days in Louisville and had a chance to visit the racetrack, although there wasn’t any racing going on that day.  For $15, you can visit the track’s museum and get a tour of the track.  Considering that pre-sale event prices to the infield for the Kentucky Derby start at $65 and $85 on the day of the race, $15 is pretty good!  Of course, other racing days at Churchill Downs aren’t so expensive, so a typical day at the track can be pretty affordable if you aren’t betting and losing!  One day, I will be there on Derby Day!

Churchill Downs opened in 1875; after Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. (William Clark’s grandson) leased the land from his uncles John and Henry Churchill, a prominent Louisville family for many years.  Clark sold subscriptions to the racing club, and used the money to develop the track.  Racing has occurred here since that time, with a number of changes to the track over the years.  The first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875, which means that 2020’s Derby will be the 146th running!

The iconic twin spires on the grandstands weren’t placed until 1895, but have survived weather events since that time, including a tornado that damaged the stables.  The grandstands seat about 50,000, but it is standing room only on the infield on Derby Day and the crowds can grow to almost 170,000 people!

My tour ticket included an interesting movie on the history of the track.  They usher you into a large oval shaped room, and you sit on swivel stools to watch the film, which is projected on the wall above you all around the oval room.  You can swivel on your stool to get a better view of the scenes, and because it is above you, nobody’s head is in the way!  Then the docent took us out to the track – you get to see the grandstands, the saddling area, the track, the winner’s circle and the other views you see on television when you watch the Derby on TV.  They have plaques showing all of the names of the Kentucky Derby winners over the years, and marking the names of those who won the Triple Crown.  Of the 146 winners of the Derby, only thirteen of them have also won the Triple Crown.  Three of the Derby winners have been fillies.

The tour was a bit canned; they clearly have memorized a script and move the tour groups along pretty quickly, but it was really interesting to see the track!  The museum was cool too, with exhibits on the history of the track and the horses that have raced there.  They had a display of hats and the tradition of crazy hats at the Derby, a display of the horseshoes that race horses wear, and an exhibit on the history of African Americans in the Churchill Downs racing industry.  Thirteen of the fifteen horses in the first Kentucky Derby were ridden by African American jockeys, and fifteen of the first twenty-eight Derbies were won by black jockeys.  Of course, it took a long time for them to be recognized for these accomplishments.

One of the Derby’s three winning fillies

After the tour, I did enjoy the restaurant at the track.  They had a special where you could try a Mint Julep and keep the commemorative glass (which actually turned out to be a Kentucky Oaks stemless wine glass, rather than a traditional mint julep cup, but I liked that too).  I use it all the time!  I learned that I’m not a fan of Mint Juleps – I don’t think I’ll ever be a Bourbon girl…  I did learn that I love Louisville Hot Brown though!  It was a very messy sandwich, with Texas toast, turkey, bacon, tomato, cheeses and herbs all cooked together in a casserole dish, and it was so delicious!  The one at Churchill Downs was so full of gooey goodness I didn’t even know it was supposed to be a sandwich until I looked up the recipe.  I haven’t had it since, but maybe I should try to make it at home sometime!

Louisville Hot Brown and a Mint Julep

After my visit to the track, I drove around Louisville to check out some of the historic homes, and then went back to my campground to relax at the pool.  It was a fun day!

The pool at the Louisville KOA

 

 

 

Farewell to a Decade!

2019 is almost over, and with it we are leaving behind another decade.  Like every year, it has had its ups and downs, but sadly this year they were overshadowed by losing my Dad.  There were other joys and experiences, but between working through my grief and starting my new job, the happy times were just more subdued this year, and that’s okay.

  1. Dad died suddenly in February.  It has been hard without him; never having had the opportunity to say goodbye or tell him I love him one more time.  He left behind a lot of estate and probate stuff for my mom to work through, which is difficult to face when you are grieving.  All the milestones are new ones in our life without him.
  2. I did a 15K this year in March with my friends.  I didn’t train, as it was less than a month after dad died, but I finished.  My time with my friends is dear to me; they are a lifeline when I need them most. 
  3. Mom and I took a few days away in March and flew down to Tucson.  It was a nice mother-daughter trip, with some laughter, and definitely some tears, with both of us grieving. 
  4. I started a new job in March.  There’s a learning curve, and there was some drama in the beginning (not my drama!), but things there are good; the people are kind and reasonable and I feel valued.
  5. I visited Astoria in May; I met Jeff and the kids there for a Memorial Day long weekend of fun.  It was nice to check the place out and see some familiar places and some new ones.  Making new memories is always good! 
  6. I visited Westport, on the coast of Washington, in June with friends.  I had never been there.  The weather was cool and sort of rainy, which made for less than ideal camping weather, but we had fun checking out the lighthouse, grilling some delicious food, and walking the beach. I added a ton of sand dollars to my collection! 
  7. In July, Jeff and the kids and I took a whirlwind trip down to Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. It was so much fun camping and hiking and checking out the waterfalls! Lassen is definitely a place I want to get back to soon.

    Lassen Volcanic National Park

  8. I didn’t do much hiking this summer because I was experiencing a lot of pain in my belly, but I did go on a couple of hikes.  My hike to Watson Lakes with Lelani was so much fun!
  9. Jeff and I met near Salem, Oregon on Labor Day weekend for a few days.  We checked out the Oregon State Hospital Museum, the Salem Farmer’s Market, and enjoyed our time together.  We also took a day to hike Silver Falls State Park, and saw all the beautiful waterfalls!  What an amazing experience! 
  10. In October, my girlfriends and I did a 10K in town.  It was fun to support a great charity and get some exercise as well!
  11. On December 23, I had a total abdominal hysterectomy.  I have been having pain and other troublesome symptoms for years, so it was time, but it was still scary to be wheeled into the operating room that morning!  My surgeon and nursing team were awesome and everything went smoothly.  My family came to the rescue, setting me up at home and taking care of me for the first several days.  My uterus and its benign fibroid tumors weighed over 5 pounds (a healthy uterus should weigh about 2-4 ounces) – 5 pounds of extra stuff in my belly causing havoc!  I am still healing, and moving pretty slow right now, but am already feeling relief from my symptoms and can tell I will be feeling better in no time! 

2020 is a whole new decade, and one that should have some new beginnings for me.  I’ll be able to spend more time with Jeff and the kids, and once I recover from my surgery, I’ll be able to get back to my active life!  Here’s to a lot of good things coming soon!

May the New Year bring you all peace and joy.

 

Circus Trip 2018: Knox College and The Lincoln/Douglas Debates

Day 19 & 20, Friday, August 3, 2018 – Saturday, August 4, 2018

I spent the night in Galesburg, Illinois, a small town known for, well, being a small town? I camped at the Allison Campground at Lake Storey Recreational Area, a city park with a lot of RV’s and well, me. I was the only tent camper in a huge field of campsites. I paid my $16.00 and drove out into the field to my choice of sites!  There is a lake nearby in the park, maybe one day I will make it back there to check it out!

That evening, I chatted on the phone with friends, and enjoyed one of my Black Tea Infused Ciders from Four Daughters Winery. I also saw my very first cicada! Mind you, I have heard cicadas a lot when I have traveled in the Midwest, as they are a staple of summer. But they tend to be hidden, and not out in the open, or hanging out on the leg of my picnic table!

Galesburg is the site of one of the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858. Can you believe it!? They debated on the front steps of one of the buildings of Knox College, which faces out toward the center of town.  The founders of Galesburg and Knox College were staunchly anti-slavery, so it ended up being the perfect place for Lincoln to challenge Douglas’ views on slavery.

It’s an easy place to get to, so after I packed up camp the next morning, I checked it out. There is a plaque on the wall of the Old Main’s exterior, but otherwise you would have no idea of the history that happened here. Old Main is the only building on the Knox College campus that still exists from the time when Lincoln and Douglas debated here.  Fun fact: According to historical accounts, Lincoln climbed through a window of the Old Main building to get to the debate platform, and was reported to have said, “at last I have gone through college.”

It was a good feeling to be standing on this spot, but strangely, there was no one else around on this Saturday morning in early August. Where were all the throngs of tourists wanting to see Lincoln sites? Sigh… I guess sometimes history goes unnoticed…

After seeing Knox College, I headed over to another little visited site in Galesburg; the place where Carl Sandburg was born. Carl Sandburg isn’t exactly a famous author these days, but at one time he was. He wrote poetry, and political discourse, and a giant, fat, multi-volume tome on Abraham Lincoln. So he has to be cool, even though I will admit to never having read his Lincoln biography. One day…  I’ll share my visit to the Sandburg home next!

Circus Trip 2018: Effigy Mounds National Monument

Day 17 & 18, Wednesday, August 1, 2018 – Thursday, August 2, 2018

After lunch and my tasting at Four Daughters Winery, I made it into Iowa – my 7th state and my 2nd new state!  I traveled to Effigy Mounds National Monument, to check out the mounds there.

I’m in Iowa!

Effigy Mounds is located in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa, and preserves more than 200 prehistoric mounds built by Native Americans of the Woodland culture in the first century AD.  The mounds are relatively unique, in that they are shaped like animals.  Thirty-one of Effigy Mounds’ 206 mounds are effigies (animals); the largest is Great Bear Mound, which is 42 meters long and a meter tall.  The National Monument was designated on October 25, 1949, and welcomes approximately 77,000 visitors per year.

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Researchers don’t know why the mounds were constructed; they believe that they were built for religious ceremonies, burial ceremonies, or as clan symbols.  There are four types of mounds at the site; conical mounds that were often used as burial mounds, linear mounds (also known as “cigar-shaped”) for ceremonial purposes, a compound style which looks like a string of beads and were often used as burial mounds, and the effigy mounds, the animal shapes that make the monument famous.  Interestingly, the linear and compound mounds are only found in the Effigy Mounds Region.

I arrived in time to check out the Visitor’s Center and do a hike up to some of the mounds.  It was muggy that day and it was a nice workout!  I enjoyed being able to see the mounds up close, although I do wish that they had more platforms so visitors could view the mounds from up above.  When you are barely above the level of the mound, it is difficult to see what the mound looks like from above it.  The trail I hiked did have a great view of the Mississippi River though!

After my visit to Effigy Mounds, I found my home for the evening; the Sleepy Hollow Campground in Oxford, Iowa.  It was right off the freeway, but somehow the road noise didn’t carry so far.

This place had a lovely pool!  I ended up staying two nights, just so I would have a chance to spend a few hours in and around that wonderful pool.  It was glorious.  Some days, you just need some pool time.  I drank some sangria, read my book, journaled and was offered a job cleaning the Iowa rest area bathrooms (I know this will surprise you, but I turned it down).  It was a wonderful day of down time!

 

Facebook Memories

Ah Facebook memories, you are a complicated bunch…

I have been on Facebook for a little more than 10 years now and have posted various photos and thoughts on life along the way.  As a result, most days, I get a Facebook memories post.  And that’s where it gets complicated.

I, like other people I’m sure, have a tendency to want to remember the happy times and not the bad memories.  Facebook, I’m sure, wants to remind you of those.  But not all of my memories are happy, and even some of those that were at one time have become tainted by what came later.

I see all those posts of my early marriage, when I thought I was going to have a genuinely happy union.  I was bright-eyed and fresh-faced and wanting to make it work.  But the posts later showed a person who was just pretending.  Keeping up the appearance of a happy marriage, while I felt like I was the only one trying in our relationship.

Me on the Mary’s Rock Trail

I planned vacations, only to hear complaints about how a drive was too long or a historic site too boring, or how we didn’t do what he wanted to do, even though he hadn’t given any input when asked.  I see the pictures of him hiking far in front of me, with no interest in interacting.  I see pictures of my food at dinner, or selfies at national parks, because there was no way he was going to agree to a picture with me.  I see what I call the mug shots; those times when I insisted on a photo, and he just tried to ruin it with a sour expression.  Those Facebook memories are complicated; I loved the places we went and the things we did, but I hated having to “manage” a person who was so often so focused on the negative.

But I also see the experiences that have come since then – the trips with girlfriends and by myself, the hikes, the happy hours, family times, the morning walks.  I see that I have found joy again, that cheerful face that shines through in photos.  I have grown immeasurably and become more comfortable in my own skin.  I have gotten older, and lost love ones along the way, but still see the happy times.  I have faced my share of adversity, and despite it, I enjoy the experience of living.  I enjoy my life!  Those Facebook memories are welcomed.  Places that I want to see again, and people that I love spending time with.

My Facebook memories currently include lots of photos of my trip last year – I love seeing them but it is making me nostalgic about being on the road again.  I think about all the places I visited, and all the ones I didn’t have time to make it to.  I long for that kind of freedom again, and I hope I get more opportunities to travel without so much of an agenda or a timeline.  I worried about that last year as my trip began; would I be too nervous if I didn’t have everything planned out?  Where would I stay each night?  What if I got bored?  What if I got lost?  But it was quite the opposite in fact – I came to enjoy not having a reservation to make it to each night.  I could stay longer if I wanted to or move on earlier.  Freedom.

Me on the bank of the Yellowstone River

For now, work is keeping me from being on the road.  So I focus on those memories, and knowing that I will be making more soon!

 

Time Off

A year ago at this time, I was recently back from London, where I spent a two week vacation with friends.  It was so much fun!  I came home, finished out my last couple days at my job, and then departed on July 16th for several months on the road, traveling the country.  A year ago today, I was on the fourth day of my road trip in Glacier National Park.

On that trip, I would see some of our nation’s beautiful National Parks, historic sites, and some of the places where our Presidents lived and worked.  I would see our nation’s Capitol, and stand outside the White House for the first time.  One day, I would like to go on a tour!  I also spent some time hiking in the Utah red rock desert, and seeing some of the amazing structures left by the Puebloan people.  I still have some much to share here!

It is strange to think how different my life was a year ago.  I am so much happier not being married to a man who was bringing me down and sucking the life out of me.  I was readjusting to being on my own, and it was nice to not have drama in my personal life.  My time and my money were my own.  But I was lonely too.  I love my friends, and they are amazing, but I also didn’t want to be alone forever.  I missed Oliver, my sweet orange kitty, who went over the rainbow bridge a few weeks before.  I so badly needed a reset after a toxic job.

This year, I am a little more than three months into my new job, and enjoying it.  It is a much improved environment!  Due to a recent vacancy, I’ve been doing a lot of “other duties as assigned,” and I am looking forward to getting back to the job I was hired for.  Developmental opportunities!

What I don’t have this year is time off.  The start of any new job means the vacation balance isn’t built up yet, and that is sooo difficult…  Especially for someone like me, who likes being on the road…  I was telling one of my employees about my road trip today, and it was making me so very nostalgic.  I’m doing little mini-weekend getaways, and some day hikes with friends, but it isn’t the same as having a real vacation to look forward to!

I just got back from a quick trip to Lassen National Park.  The mountains, the alpine lakes, and the gorgeous wildflowers are incredible!  It was too short, but I made some incredible memories!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Pipestone National Monument

Day 16, Tuesday, July 31, 2018

I spent a lazy morning on my last day at Split Rock Creek State Park – I did some route planning and relaxed on the dock and got some photos of the muskrat who kept swimming by.  After leaving, I felt rejuvenated and ready to begin again.  I was off!  My destination was Pipestone National Monument, in Pipestone, Minnesota.

ME!

Pipestone National Monument is a sacred site for the plains Native Americans, including the Lakota, Dakota, and the Sioux, due to the red pipestone that is prevalent in the area, and is carved to create prayer pipes.  The Sioux took control of this land around 1700, but ceremonial pipes found in burial mounds show that this area has been quarried for centuries.  Pipestone is a type of metamorphosed mudstone, which is prized because of its soft properties, which allow it to be easily worked into the ceremonial pipes.  It is also known as Catlinite, after it was described by the American painter George Catlin in 1835.

Types of Pipestone

The land that the monument occupies was acquired by the federal government in 1893, and the last tribe to quarry there, the Yankton Sioux, sold their quarry rights in 1928.  On August 25, 1937, Pipestone National Monument was designated, and Native American quarrying rights were restored.  Today, approximately 67,500 people visit the monument each year.

The nature walk at Pipestone National Monument

The monument has restored over 250 acres to the native prairie grasses; there is a 3/4 mile nature walk where you can see some of the historic quarries and a waterfall.  It is beautiful and peaceful.  Another section of the park, that is not open to the public, contains lands that are currently being quarried.  You have to be Native American from specific tribes in order to obtain a permit to quarry pipestone there; many of the artisans who dig for the stone are third of fourth generation carvers.  There is historic evidence of the visitors here over time; some graffiti is from the 1800s.

Me at Pipestone

 

Historic graffiti

One area on the nature walk contains The Oracle; you can peek through a hole in a sign and see the face of an elderly man jutting from the quartzite stone cliffs. Unlike in The Neverending Story, The Oracle did not open his eyes or shoot laser beams from them.  Whew!

I enjoyed Winniwissa Falls, and even captured “Bigfoot” in one of my photos there – you be the judge!

I found Bigfoot!

I also saw a Green Heron, and my first ever Thirteen Lined Squirrel!

Inside the Visitor’s Center I checked out the exhibits of petroglyphs and the history of the site, and I watched a man carving pipestone into pipes.  They are truly beautiful; the finished product is rusty red with a smooth finish.

A carved pipestone pipe

After leaving Pipestone National Monument, I stopped by Blue Earth, Minnesota for selfies with two iconic figures from my childhood – the Jolly Green Giant and Sprout!  The Jolly Green Giant is 55 feet tall and has been here since 1978.  What a fun, quick stop!

The Jolly Green Giant! Him, not me…

 

Sprout!

 

I stayed the night at Oakwood Trails, in Austin, Minnesota.  It is a family owned campground on the back 40 of a farmer’s soybean and dairy farm – they were such friendly, kind people!  It was a nice campground with very few mosquitoes, which of course I really enjoyed.  The bathrooms were nice too!  Highly recommended!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Split Rock Creek State Park

Day 14, Sunday, July 29, 2018 – Day 16, Tuesday, July 31, 2018

After the Corn Palace and lunch at a Taco John’s (this was on the recommendation of a friend – I wasn’t that impressed), I stopped at a rest area.  I did some Googling and found a small state park in the middle of nowhere, not far across the border in Minnesota, and near my next destination of Pipestone National Monument.  A call to the state park reservation line revealed that they had a site for the next two nights.  Score!  I was going to decompress and just relax for a bit!  Instantly, I started to feel better, knowing the pressure was off.

Minnesota! My 5th State!

I made my way there, driving down back roads by farm fields, and heading off on a gravel road to the park.  I was a little unsure, thinking there surely couldn’t be a state park here.  But soon enough, I arrived.

Split Rock Creek State Park is on a man-made reservoir that was created in 1938, when the Works Progress Administration (WPA) dammed the creek in order to provide a lake and recreational area to fish during the Great Depression.  It was small, and beautiful.  My little tent site was right on the lake, with a dock that I could walk out on, and lay on to enjoy the sunshine.  The fish there were so plentiful that they were just jumping out of the water.

I took a nap when I got there, to shake off the fatigue that I had been feeling all day.  Then I set up camp and checked out my surroundings.

Split Rock Creek State Park is small, as state parks go.  There was an RV area and a tent area and a total of 55 sites; the tent area had no more than 10 sites.  I liked my site a lot, as it was just steps away from the lake and that little dock.  The lake had a little trail that followed the lake for a while, and there was a swimming area that was completely deserted the entire time I was there.  In fact, there was very little going on here; there was only one other tent camping family for the first night of my stay.  I never saw the camp hosts the entire time.  The busiest creatures there were the muskrats, which seemed to be plentiful. I saw at least four during my stay.

The dam is made from Sioux Quartzite, a red rock that is local to the area.  The dam and a nearby bridge made from the same Sioux Quartzite are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I spent two quiet and relaxing days there.  I didn’t say much more than hello to a soul there at the park.  I set up my tent to have a respite from the mosquitoes and the periodic rain showers, but slept in my car.  I wrote in my journal, relaxed on the dock, and took walks by Prairie Lake.

I enjoyed watching the muskrats working on their lakeside homes, cutting down reeds to build.  I loved seeing the fish jumping out of the water to catch bugs, even though I was never able to catch that with my camera.  I watched a snapping turtle checking me out from the middle of the lake, even though I couldn’t see what he was until I blew up the photos from home.  Deer ran in front of me while I was walking, I saw lots of bunnies, a woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Mourning Doves, and a Great Blue Heron.  It was peaceful and quiet, a true oasis tucked in among the farm fields.

I watched the sunsets each evening from the little dam over the creek.  Those sunsets were stunning!

Watching the sun sink lower in the sky, shooting rays in every direction, reminded me of the purpose of the trip.  To let go of the hard parts in my past, to be renewed, and to find joy.  And I did find joy there, tucked away in that tiny little oasis in a corner of Minnesota.  More than I possibly could have ever known.