Circus Trip 2018: Hovenweep National Monument

Day 83, Saturday, October 6, 2018
Hovenweep National Monument, Montezuma Creek, Utah

Hovenweep is one of the most amazing places I have ever been in my entire life.  I know people say things like this a lot, but it is truly incredible.  When people ask me what my favorite place on this trip was, Hovenweep always comes up at the top of the list.  It is a hidden gem for sure!  It is also remote; I drove for miles down farm roads and gravel roads, even wondering if I was going the right way, but I was.

Hovenweep was first discovered by white men in 1854, when William Huntington came across the ruins while on a missionary trip for Brigham Young.  It was designated as a National Monument on March 2, 1923, President Warren Harding after years of concerns about the artifacts being stolen and destroyed by explorers, ranchers and others.  Despite a long history of protection, archaeological studies really weren’t done here until the 1970s. Visitation now is still very low, 39,970 people visited in 2017.

When I was there, camping was first come, first served; there are 31 campsites and there is a length limit for campers.  That said, it is soooo worth it to camp there!  It has flush toilets but no showers, and when I was there it was only $15 a night.  I got there about 3:30 in the afternoon and my first stop was at the Visitor’s Center to get some postcards and my National Parks Passport stamp. 

Then I did the loop hike of the Tower Group – it was 2.5 miles and went along the edge of Little Ruin Canyon and past several dwellings, tower and other structures built by the Puebloan people.  It was sunny and warm!  I was so fascinated by the dwellings, which provide a peek into a different style of Puebloan building.  These structures were not built into alcoves of the canyon, like the ones at Mesa Verde.  They were also not pit houses, although they were mostly built on the mesa top.  A few structures were built in the canyon itself, and many were built over the seeps and springs that are in the area. 

These people were certainly expert builders; they didn’t level the ground to build their structures, instead they shaped their construction to work with the topography.  They often built on top of large stones and outcroppings that already existed at the site.  Historians believe that the people who built these structures lived here around 1300 A.D, although there is evidence of human habitation in this area as far back as 8000 B.C.  These towers and stone houses are very well preserved.

As you walk the rim of the canyon, you pass by multiple towers and stone houses; I was in awe of these beautiful structures and once again found myself wondering what the lives of these people were like.  When you hike out here, there is almost no external noise.  I was completely alone for most of the hike and it was so quiet, save for a few birds.

I saw lots of lizards because of the warm temperatures too – I loved seeing them! 

At the end of the hike, there is a section where you climb down about 80 feet to the canyon floor and cross over to the other side to climb back out.  It wasn’t too tough though; 80 feet is nothing! 

I made dinner and sadly missed most of the sunset, and then I got a text from Carol saying she had changed her plans and had arrived at Hovenweep!  We ended up sharing my campsite that night, a bottle of Michigan Marquette wine from 12 Corners Winery.  It was a bottle I had purchased when I spent the day with my cousin back in Michigan; it was delicious!

Carol and I sat at the picnic table talking, and watching the most incredible dark skies.  You could see the Milky Way spread out across the dark sky and it was huge.  I have never seen the Milky Way pop the way that it did that night; it completely filled the sky with bright stars.  I can’t even describe how beautiful it was.  I need to get back into timed exposures with my camera and night photography!

Having a bottle of wine with a friend while watching the Milky Way that night was truly one of my favorite life experiences.  Simply incredible! 





Circus Trip 2018: Mesa Verde, Long House

Day 82, Friday, October 5, 2018
Mesa Verde National Park, Wetherill Mesa

It was my last day in Mesa Verde National Park.  That morning I got up about 6:30, because I had a big day waiting for me!  I got changed and on the road about 7:30 am.  My ranger-led tour of Long House was at 9:30, but it was about an hour and 10 minute drive to the meeting point on Wetherill Mesa.  I arrived in plenty of time.

My tour of Long House was awesome!  It is a 2.25 mile hike, mostly flat and on a paved trail.  Long House is one of the later cliff dwellings, and it is as large as Cliff House.  The ranger explained what historians know about the Puebloan people who lived in this dwelling.  To get into Long House you have to climb up two ladders and climb down one small one to get back out at the end.  The ranger also showed us some black and white pottery shards that were found at the site. 

On the tour I met Carol, a young woman from Wisconsin who was living in Chicago and finishing her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy.  She was on a solo road trip like me!

Carol and I hiked to Step House afterwards, which is a one mile round trip hike near Long House.  It is self-guided, but a ranger is there to answer questions.  Step House has a rare reverse pictograph where someone long ago put their hand up and blew pigment around it.  It was cool!  There used to be a Bighorn Sheep petroglyph there, but the National Park Service removed it for safekeeping in the 1960s.

After our Step House hike I said my goodbyes to Carol and got back on the road.  I really enjoyed my time in Mesa Verde, but it was time to see new places.  I was headed to Hovenweep National Monument next!



Circus Trip 2018: Mesa Verde NP

Day 81, Thursday, October 4, 2018
Mesa Verde National Park, Chapin Mesa

Can I just say that I love Mesa Verde!?  I visited this park once before in 2014, and I was so excited to come back and explore more.  I wrote about the history and my visits to Spruce Tree House, Balcony House, and Cliff Palace, as well as seeing the wild horses that live in the park, if you want to take a trip down memory lane…

On Thursday morning I left camp about 8 am, and on the way out I saw several Mule Deer – there were about a dozen of them!  I stopped to take photos from my car of these beautiful animals with their huge ears.

I drove up to the Chapin Mesa, and did the loop road to visit the various viewpoints and overlooks.  The various stops show the different time periods of habitation in the park, from the period when the Puebloan people constructed pithouses, which were partially sunken in the the earth and had poles erected with mud covering them. 

Over time, they began building pole and mud homes directly on the top of the mesa.  Later still, their most advanced construction came along; the cliff dwellings that these people are most known for.  The cliff dwellings were first built on top of the mesa, beginning about 1200 they were built into alcoves in the cliffs to provide protection from the weather (and possibly from other ancestral tribal people).  They were elaborate dwellings made from handmade bricks and support timbers.  Some of the largest cliff dwellings here had dozens of rooms, and may have been home to hundreds of people.

Each stop along the tour has interpretive signs, so you can see the progression of the society.  In all, the Puebloan people lived here between 550 and 1300 A.D., but the period of time when they lived in the cliff dwellings was the shortest period – only about 100 years.  By about 1300, these dwellings were deserted and the inhabitants had moved on.  Researchers do not know why.

My favorite stops are at Spruce Tree House, which is the best preserved cliff dwelling, and also one that you were able to hike down to when I was there in 2018.  Unfortunately, it is current closed to visitors due to falling rocks above.  I also really enjoyed the Sun Point Pueblo, Sun Temple and the Fire Temple.  From the Fire Temple you get an excellent view across the canyon of one of the cliff dwellings in the park.  I went on a tour of Cliff Palace in 2014, so I didn’t do the tour this time around.  There is an excellent downloadable audio-tour available on the Mesa Verde National Park website if you would like to learn more!

Square Tower House is another cliff dwelling that you can tour during brief periods during the year.  It wasn’t open for tours when I was there, but there must have been researchers there, because when I looked down from the overlook there were people there.

While I was on my driving tour of the viewpoints, I almost got caught in a huge hail, thunder and lightning storm, but luckily I made it back to my car just in time!  The sky had looked pretty ominous and I had been watching it, so I’m glad I got under a roof quickly when the sky looked like it was going to open up!  I sat in the car to wait it out, there was water running everywhere!

After my tour of the loop road, I went to the Cafe at the Chapin Museum for an early lunch.  I had a steak salad; it was good, but the steak was a little tough.

Next I did one of my favorite hikes of the trip; the Petroglyph hike!  This 2.5 mile hike was definitely on my bucket list. The trail starts at Spruce Tree House, but is considered a back-country hike and you are supposed to sign in at the Museum so they know who is out there.

Sadly, a man named Dale Stehling disappeared on this trail in June 2013.  Although the area was extensively searched, no trace of him was found.  In fact, Stehling remained missing until September 2020, when a hiker called in an anonymous tip.  Stehling’s bones were finally found with his identification in a remote canyon that is closed to the public, about 4.2 miles from where he had gone missing.  This area had also been searched in 2013, so there are certainly more questions than answers.

Despite the tragedy, the Petroglyph hike is an amazing hike.  It is remote, despite being so close to the Chapin Museum, one of the most heavily populated parts of the park.  It leads to a panel of Petroglyphs about 1.4 miles from the trailhead, with about 30 petroglyphs.  It is fascinating to see this language left by the people who lived here over one thousand years ago.  The hike is a bit strenuous, winding through the canyon at the base of a cliff, often with steep dropoffs on the other side.  The trail isn’t always super obvious, and I could see how easy it would be to get lost if you weren’t paying attention.  I was alone for the entire hike.

The most challenging part of the hike is where you have to use the foot and hand holds that are carved into the rock to scale the cliff and return to the top of the mesa.  I was pretty nervous to try this part, but I also didn’t want to double back!  I really had to psych myself up but I managed just fine, and I was so proud of myself!  It was amazing!  Once you are back on top of the mesa you just walk around the canyon to get back to the museum.  It was such a fun hike!

That evening I took a shower a the campground facilities, and was treated to my first, “don’t poop in the shower drain,” sign.  This friends, is why you always wear shower shoes when camping!  EWWW!

That evening I got to bed about 10 pm, because I had to be up early for my Long House tour in the morning!  I was awakened at 2:12 am by a coyote howling, but managed to get back to sleep after he stopped.  There’s nothing like camping in a National Park!




Circus Trip 2018: Durango, CO and Mesa Verde NP

Day 80, Wednesday, October 3, 2018
Durango, CO and Mesa Verde National Park

That morning, I got up at 7 am and left the campground just after 8; I passed a lot of cute towns on the way and the Aspens were a beautiful yellow.  I stopped along the side of the road several times to take photos of the scenery.  It was so stunning!

I tried to go to Chimney Rock National Monument, but it had just closed for the season!  One day I will have to go back and check it out, because it looked really cool!  For now, the view in the distance will have to suffice.

I got to Durango, Colorado at 1 pm, and stopped in at Animas Brewing Company.  I had an IPA and a Traditional Pastie, with sirloin steak, potato, onion, and carrot.  It was delicious, even though it had onions.  Durango was another town I want to see more of!

After lunch, I drove on, and went through Mancos, a cute town that I definitely want to see more of.  I got to Mesa Verde at 3 pm.  At the Visitor Center, I signed up for the 9:30 am tour on Friday of Long House, one of the Ranger-led tours of the cliff dwellings.  It was a dwelling I had never seen before, so I was excited to get a spot. I also booked two nights in the Morefield Campground, which had plenty of empty sites to choose from.

With a few hours before dark, I drove up to see the view at the Park Point Fire Tower.  It is such a nice view and I lingered there for a while, enjoying it. 

That evening I dealt with the more mundane tasks of living on the road – laundry!  I met a couple from McMinnville, Oregon and enjoyed talking with them while I waited for my clothes.  When I got back to camp at 8 pm it was dark and I was ready for a good night’s sleep!

Farewell 2022: The Great Reset

2022 has been a different kind of year for me, so this will be a different kind of year-in-review.

It wasn’t a year full of travel to new places, or hikes to gorgeous mountain peaks, or lots of girls’ weekends.  It was a year full of hard work, stress and planning for some incredible rewards at the end.

I’ve been pretty quiet about some of my goings on, for various reasons, so this might be the first you have heard of them!  That said, I’ve never made a secret about my intention to retire early.  In fact, when I first started working with my financial advisor at the age of 27, I told him (jokingly) that I wanted to retire at the age of 33.  He told me I could make that work, but that I would need to revise my expectations about my standard of living – like, maybe a cardboard box.

But after working with him for the last 20 years, things had started to come to fruition.  A few years ago I was able to pass all the financial modeling for a retirement at age 50.  Woot woot!  What got me there?  Hard work, making use of my master’s degree in business and human resources, and a decent income.  Add to that living within my means, not chasing after all the latest toys and pricey things to do, and saving over 50 percent of my gross income for several years.  Oh, and ditching the spendthrift husband…  My car is paid off and has been for over 10 years, and my home was financed on a really low interest rate. 

I was still planning for age 50 at the beginning of the year.  But things started deteriorating quickly at my work.  I was in the position of having to tell my boss no a bit more frequently than I felt comfortable with, or else do things that I was not ok with doing.  It was getting me on the wrong side of him and I could see the writing on the wall.  That’s the trouble of a job in Human Resources when you have a boss who is towing a line on ethical behavior…

In February I went on a vacation to Minnesota to see the boyfriend and had my employees calling me to tell me what my boss was saying and doing behind my back.  UGH…  Minnesota in February was fun, but frigid, and it was kind of a test to see if I could indeed tolerate the winters here…  I’m not sure I’m convinced that I can, but we’ll give it a try.

So I went home and spoke with a real estate agent friend to see about selling my home at the peak of the market, as inflation was really starting to fly and the prediction was of a new real estate bubble that was soon to burst.  She gave me what I would need to do, a fix-it list that was actually really manageable due to the hot market out there.  The most cumbersome part of it all was packing at least 75% of my belongings.  Decluttering to stage the home.  I am not, and have never been, a minimalist… 

So I got to work, cleaning, purging, taking trips to Goodwill, and trying to do my best to downsize my life at least a little.  I did a lot!  I mean you would still look at all my stuff and see a whole lot of stuff, but it’s a lot less than before!  Trust me on this.  My boyfriend came out quietly in April to help me and another friend get the yard in shape and paint the deck and do some of the fix-it stuff on the list.  We made a huge dent in it!

Then, there came the packing.  My best friend Shelley was a godsend, helping me pack and purge and clean and purge and pack and clean and purge…  Evenings and weekends for a few frantic weeks (but it felt like months).  Thank you! 

After what seemed like three years of backbreaking labor, I listed the house on May 11, with an offer review date of May 16.  Well, hot market that it was, I received two offers over my asking price.  I accepted the cash offer, with no inspection or contingencies, of $75,000 over my asking price.  That was four days after the home hitting the market.  So now that the house was sold, I had to move.  So that’s where the big news comes in! 

A few days later in May, I filed a formal retaliation complaint against my boss; the first complaint I have filed in my career.  I had seriously considered it for weeks, had consulted with colleagues and waited until the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In June, after packing all my things into a 26 foot U-Haul (yes I’m crazy for doing the move myself, but the boyfriend is a powerhouse, and have you priced moving companies lately!?!), I moved quietly to Minnesota.  My close friends and family knew, but I mostly kept it quiet because of my complaint and the subsequent investigation into my boss at work (which they still haven’t finished).  My boss was looking for excuses about why scores of people were leaving, and I didn’t want to give him any.  In Minnesota, I could take the profits from the sale of my house and purchase a larger home outright – no mortgage! And have quite a bit left over!

So, my boyfriend and I drove from Washington to Minnesota, and I even drove over the Rockies with that U-Haul!  I was nervous coming down that huge incline, but I did it!  And the sunset in Miles City, Montana was stunning before an all night drive across North Dakota.

After moving most of my things, I held back a small set of belongings in Washington, moved in with my mom, and went back to work.  Due to the investigation, I wasn’t quite ready to make the decision to quit, but after things dragging on for a while and nothing being done, I decided that life was too short to be walking on eggshells with a toxic boss everyday.  I put in my notice and my last day was September 20, 2022. 

I did have a couple of trips already planned.  I took four days to go down to the Oregon Coast and walk the beaches, eat some good food and look for agates.  It was a nice post-retirement getaway.  I had hoped that a friend could come with me, but that didn’t work out so I went solo. 

Then I went home, packed the car and the cats and moved the rest of the way to Minnesota. Let me tell you, two LONG days driving solo across the country with two cats is… interesting.  Cora meowed for a few hours each day and then mostly snoozed.  Yellow mostly lay quietly, terror-stricken, looking as though he had lost all will to live.  But they were good.  An hour away from my new home on the second day, Cora just couldn’t hold it anymore and unloaded a giant pee in her carrier.  I had to pull over and mop it up with paper towels so she wouldn’t have to stand in it.  Poor girl!  

Then I was finally able to work on unpacking some of my things and resettling my life.  It felt good to have all my books around again, and my knick-knacks, and to have time to do a puzzle or go for a hike!   

In October, my mom and I took a 10 day trip to Knoxville, Tennessee.  My mom had been wanting to go to a jewelry-making convention for a few years, but it got postponed due to my dad’s death and then COVID.  So this time, it was on!  I spent the days touristing and hiking on my own while my mom attended her classes.  It was very enjoyable for both of us.  I loved that area of Tennessee and will certainly go back! 

For the last couple of months, I’ve been lying low and relaxing.  I have been catching up on reading, and working on puzzles.  I have been having fun with our new flock of five chickens.  They are terribly photo-shy, but we have three Buff Orpingtons and two English Orpingtons (a black one and a white one).  In the photo, left to right, they are Harriet, Creamsicle, Scout, Winter and Ofelia (I can’t really tell the Buff girls apart though so they might be in a different order…).  We got them in early July, and we just got our first two eggs on December 29! 

I’m getting used to the cold in Minnesota, but am appreciating the lack of rain, which is very different than winter in the Pacific Northwest.  I’m looking forward to ice-fishing too!  Maybe next time I go I can actually catch a fish!  In the spring, I’m planning to do another long road-trip, taking my time to see some of the other areas of the US that I haven’t been to yet! 

So that’s my year in review.  It wasn’t the typical year, but it has certainly been memorable!  Moving to the Midwest is certainly one of the biggest life changes I have ever gone through, and although I was really nervous, things are working out well.  I hope all of you have had a wonderful 2022, and are blessed with a happy, healthy and productive 2023! 

Circus Trip 2018: Garden of the Gods

Day 78 & 79, Monday & Tuesday, October 1 & 2, 2018
Colorado Springs and Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

I’m rarely if ever sick, but when I do get sick, I go all in.  Thankfully this time it wasn’t for long!  I had stayed at a La Quinta the night before, because the price difference between camping and a hotel in Colorado Springs is not significant.  So when I woke up the next morning feeling dizzy and nauseous, it was easy to just stay for another day.  I slept, and relaxed and watched television for the day. I also had the gyro platter from the Caspian Cafe next door; it was so delicious! 

The next day, October 2, I was feeling better, and got on the road again.  My stop for the day was at the Garden of the Gods, in Colorado Springs. The Garden of the Gods was discovered by white settlers as early as 1859, when two surveyors were in the area.  One of them announced that the area would be a perfect place for a beer garden!  His companion exclaimed instead that it was the a place for the Gods to assemble, and therefore it should be called the Garden of the Gods.

The park’s natural rock formations were caused by the upheaval of a fault line millions of years ago.  Native Americans are known to have been using the area as early as 1330 B.C.  Several tribes, including the Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Lakota, Pawnee, Shoshone, and Ute people, all claim a cultural tie to the park, and petroglyphs that are similar to Ute styles have been found in the park.  In 1879, Charles Elliott Perkins purchased 480 acres that included sections of the current park.  When he died in 1909, he donated his property to the City of Colorado Springs, with the stipulation that it become a free park. 

This free park is amazing!  There are paved and gravel trails, and plenty of rock formations to wander among.  It is so stunningly beautiful!  There are 21 miles of trails winding by rock formations, rock overhangs, and scenic views.  I really enjoyed hiking in this park and taking photos.  The views are amazing, and I had so much fun hiking here.  There is something incredible around every corner.

There was a rock formation called the Siamese Twins, where you can see Pike’s Peak through the arch in the rock. 

Kissing Camels is on the main trail.  The Sentinel and the Three Graces both have huge fins. 


And Balanced Rock is right off the parking lot.  There is a lot to see and do here. 

After leaving Garden of the Gods, I drove through Old Colorado City, which is the historic section of Colorado Springs.  I would love to go back and do some exploring there someday.  Upon leaving Colorado Springs, I drove on Highway 24, which was very scenic.  The aspens were starting to put on their show and I was lucky to see some!  I passed through several cute towns, including Divide, and would love to see more in that area too.

I stayed that night at a KOA in Buena Vista, Colorado, with a very good view! 

Circus Trip 2018: Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Day 77, Sunday, September 30, 2018
Paint Mines Interpretive Park, Calhan, Colorado

I made it to Colorado! 

I gotta say, I was pretty excited to get to Colorado, and even more excited to check out Paint Mines Interpretive Park.  I first learned about this park in 2015 on another trip to Colorado, but we didn’t have enough time for a visit.  But this time I did!  Plus the weather had gotten much better since I left Kansas, and it was now a beautiful sunny day in the 60s. 

This 750 acre park is filled with colorful rock formations and hoodoos, created by iron rich soils that stained the rock in different colors.  The softer clay eroded faster than other rock to form the hoodoos.  You can walk among these spires and explore the slots and shallow caves that were created by this erosion.

I found a bunny who was kind enough to pose for me too; so I was able to get a good shot of him. 

All in all, this small out of the way park was a great one; it was about 30 minutes from Colorado Springs.  It was so fun to explore!  I absolutely loved just wandering, and felt so at peace among the rock formations.  It had been a while since I had really been on a hike, and I really enjoyed it!


Oh Joy, the Holidays…

I hope all of you enjoyed your Thanksgiving!  I had a relaxing day, with an early meal, a nap, some reading, and a puzzle.  I did some exploring for the rest of the weekend.

Which means we are now moving into the downhill slide to Christmas…  I’ve made no secrets about the fact that I’m not a huge fan of the holidays, but I’ll do my best to get into the holiday spirit.

Meanwhile it’s been over two months since I quit my job.  It’s been so relaxing and I’m certainly enjoying the retirement spirit.  I’ve been reading a lot and exploring.  I’m loving having the time to write again!  I’m really hoping that I can swing not returning to work; my financial advisor says I can! I’m pretty excited to be able to say I’m retired at 47; I worked hard for this.  I’ll write more on this at some point…

It has been so nice not having to stress about the impact of my toxic former boss (that’s another story for one day when the investigation is complete…).  Fun fact: my former boss finally “retired.”  That’s code for they let him save face instead of officially firing him.

I’ve been in Minnesota, which is so different from the Pacific Northwest.  It has been unseasonably warm here lately; after a few days of snow it warmed up and has been in the high 30s and low 40s for the last several days.  It has been lovely, but I shouldn’t get used to it.  Soon it will be downright frigid!  I’ve been trying to take advantage of it while I can.  The lakes and rivers around here are starting to freeze; they thawed out quite a bit during the warm days, but soon they will be freezing again.  And there is supposed to be snow starting this afternoon.

But I’ve been doing some hiking, finding trails in the area, and I even found a Bald Eagle nest with two eagles in residence! My cell phone photo didn’t do it justice so I plan to go back with my zoom lens. 

Some of the historic homes in the area have opened up for a few weekends, with all sorts of Christmas decorations.  It is a fundraiser they do – usually these homes are only available for special events.  We checked out a couple of them; they really did them up beautifully!  One had a Nutcracker contest.  They put nutcrackers everywhere, and you can go around the house and try to guess how many there are.  I guessed 192, but there are a lot!  I enjoyed wandering the homes and talking to the volunteers, hearing about the lives of the families who lived here.  A history nerd in her element!

There are a few cideries in the area making craft ciders; they are all so good!  They have tasting rooms with games and cards to make it a warm, family experience. 

So my world has been pretty relaxed lately, and I’m glad for that.  Soon I’ll be ready for some more travel, but for now I’m enjoying the low key days.




Circus Trip 2018: Nicodemus NHS

Day 77, Sunday, September 30, 2018
Nicodemus National Historic Site, Nicodemus, Kansas

Sunday morning I woke up in Ellis, Kansas, with a plan for making my way west.  It was raining, foggy and cold, not a very pleasant morning. 

But first, I checked out Ellis a little bit.  Ellis has about 2,000 people, and was the boyhood home of Walter P. Chrysler, the founder of the automotive giant, Chrysler Corporation.  They call it the Chrysler Boyhood home, but it was built in 1889 when Chrysler was 14 years old (Chrysler is a really tough name to type, by the way…). Unfortunately for me, the home wasn’t open on Sundays, so I took a photo outside and headed out. 

I also stopped to get a photo of St. Mary’s Church, an enormous Catholic Church for such a small town.  The sound of the bells was beautiful! 

After leaving Ellis, I drove up to Nicodemus National Historic Site.  This is a very rural area, and there wasn’t much to pass by except farmland on the way.  The residents of Damar, Kansas have a good sense of humor though!

I arrived at Nicodemus, after driving quite a while in the mucky weather, to find it… CLOSED…  I should have checked online, but most historic sites are open seven days a week so I didn’t even think about it.  THWARTED!  Good thing gas prices were a lot cheaper in 2018 than they are today.  I wandered around the town for a few minutes and took some photos, but there wasn’t much to see. 

Nicodemus was a black community, founded in 1877.  It was a planned community, with six black men and one white man coming together to form the Nicodemus Town Company.  They traveled to Kentucky churches and encouraged people to move to Kansas, advertising it as a place for “African Americans to establish a black self-government.”  Kansas had been a free state during the Civil War, with abolitionists fighting aggressively in the days before it came into the union in 1861. 

Nicodemus had a modest early boom, and grew to a town with a small hotel, three churches, and two newspapers, but unfortunately they were never able to entice the railroad, and the population fell to only about 50 people in the 1880s.  The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl storms of the 1930s contributed to the further decline.  The Works Progress Administration did some work in Nicodemus, building the Town Hall in 1939, which is the Visitor’s Center for the Historic Site now.  In the 1970s, Nicodemus was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and donations from former residents helped to preserve and rehabilitate some of the historic structures. 

It was designated a National Historic Site on November 10, 1996, and has an annual visitation of about 28,000 people per year.  Despite all this, the town’s population is only 14 people.  The day I visited, I didn’t see another soul.  I will have to go back someday to get my passport stamp.

After leaving Nicodemus, I learned that the road I wanted to take was closed…  This left me taking a dirt road with caution signs, I’m sure due to the fact that it was raining and there was a risk of the road turning to mud.  Plus no cell service!  I managed fine and after some bumps and some photos of birds that didn’t seem like they belonged in Kansas, I made it back to pavement. 

It was certainly an interesting detour and I wish Nicodemus had been open! 

Circus Road Trip 2018: Oz Museum and Wamego, Kansas

Day 76, Saturday, September 29, 2018
Wamego, Kansas

Have you ever heard of Wamego, Kansas?  What? No?!?  I hadn’t either…  But there is a small town in Kansas called Wamego, and it is home to the Oz Museum.  As in the Wizard of Oz.  Why Wamego?  Was it Dorothy’s hometown?  Nope.  Apparently somebody felt that there needed to be an Oz Museum in Kansas and they created one!  There was a guy who loaned his Oz collection to the museum and it opened in 2003.

There was just one issue.  You see, the collection was only available for five years.  Fortunately for the museum, they were contacted by a second collector before the five years was up, and he happened to have an even larger collection of Oz memorabilia than the first one. 

There are memorabilia items from Oz’s entire history, from first editions of the Oz books to a reproduction pair of ruby slippers, made for the 50th anniversary of the movie.  There are displays featuring the characters from the movie, life-sized and perfect for selfies, and even some characters from the book series that didn’t make it into the movie.  You know that Oz was a book series long before it became a movie, right? 

The displays and items include more recent memorabilia too, even featuring Michael Jackson’s The Wiz version of the movie.  All in all, it’s a small museum that will please Wizard of Oz fans, and takes about an hour to see (unless you stay to watch the movie, which plays on an endless loop). 

Next door was the Oz Winery, and I stopped in to do a tasting of their wines, and found a couple that I liked.  I bought a bottle of the Emerald City Lights and they had all sorts of Oz themed items for sale, so I got a friend a t-shirt that she loves! 

Before I left Wamego, I wandered around a little bit to see a few of the Toto statues that are placed around town; each one is painted differently and they were fun to see.  There was even a Yellow Brick Road!

On the way out, I saw a sign for the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church.  Of course, I had to check this out.  What the heck is a Rifle Church?!?  As it turns out, the town of Wabaunsee, Kansas, where the church is located, was founded in 1855 by emigrants from New Haven, Connecticut who established the Connecticut Kansas Colony.  The colony then became known as the Beecher Rifle Colony, due to the following history. These abolitionist settlers heard a sermon by abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother) and he also helped supply rifles for the men to defend themselves.  Remember, at this time, there was a heated debate about whether Kansas Territory would become a free state or a slave state and tempers were high. As legend goes, the rifles were smuggled through pro-slavery areas in crates marked “Beecher’s Bibles,” and later the guns themselves were called Beecher’s Bibles. Wabaunsee became part of the Underground Railroad in late 1856 and helped Lawrence, Kansas after Quantrill’s Raid.  How’s that for some pre-Civil War history?  Of course, none of this history was explained at the church so I had to look it up later on the internet. 

I also learned that the church was finished in 1862, made of local limestone with stone accents, and built by church member Robert Banks.  It is built in a style known as Plains Vernacular and the church has designated men’s and women’s sides.  How interesting!  The church was closed, so I took a photo outside and continued on my way. 

It was time to continue on the road west.  I drove for a few hours and then stayed the night at the Ellis City Campground, in Ellis Kansas, just off I-70.  It was a small campground on the shore of the Ellis City Lake, and a quiet place, even on the weekend.  And for $15, it was a steal!  It was cold and windy that evening, so after my dinner of leftover BBQ ribs, I nestled early into my car cocoon.  One of the perks of having the bed in my car, rather than having to sleep in the tent!