Autumn Wandering in Minnesota

In late September I mounted my camper on my pickup for my first ramble since last year. While I love the open spaces and big National parks in Colorado, Wyoming and the northwest, they just didn’t appeal to me this time.

View of overlook at Lutsen Ski Resort, Lutsen Minnesota

During the past year or so I have  come across some beautiful photos of the Lake Superior shoreline that caught my eye. Fort Calhoun photographer and videographer Brad Iwen recently produced “The Fisherman’s Daughter” for his Midwest Food Stories Journal on YouTube. The video features a small restaurant in Grand Marais, Minnesota and the north shore fishing industry. The video captured my imagination and whet my appetite for fresh fish as well. I just had to check this place out.

My first overnight stay was at Wild River State Park on the St. Croix River on the Wisconsin border. I arrived after dark and left at first light, but exploring and camping in the St Croix river valley could be a destination of its own. 

Heading north I stopped at Duluth for tourist information and for lunch. The drive along Lake Superior through Duluth was much more attractive than I had remembered, and I especially enjoyed a mid-day stroll along the Lake Walk and Leaf Erickson rose garden. 

Leaf Erickson rose garden along the Lake Walk in Duluth, Minnesota

The Split Rock lighthouse north of Duluth is another stop I highly recommend. The lighthouse was put into service in 1910 in response to a 1905 storm that sank or badly damaged 29 ships on western Lake Superior. While the lighthouse is adjacent to Split Rock State Park, it is owned and maintained by the Minnesota Historical Society and requires a separate entrance fee. 

Split Rock light house on Lake Superior

I was extremely impressed with Minnesota’s extensive system of State Parks. I was particularly pleased that the annual pass that I purchased is for an entire year from the date of purchase. By comparison, the Nebraska Park and Recreation annual pass is good for the calendar year which expires on December 31, no matter when you purchase the pass. 

I stopped at a number of beautiful state parks along the north shore of Lake Superior  including Grand Portage State Park on the United States border with Canada.  A scenic trail leads to views of  High Falls which is the highest waterfall in Minnesota.  There are also steep and rugged trails that lead to spectacular views of the Pigeon River Valley into Canada in one direction and Lake Superior the opposite direction. 

South of Grand Portage State park is Grand Portage National Monument. Grand Portage, or  “Great Meeting Place,” is where the French voyageurs or trappers would transport their furs to  sell to the Northwest Company – the most profitable fur trade operation on the Great Lakes.  

Reconstructed warehouse and palisade at Grand Portage National Monument.

A palisade, great hall, warehouse and other buildings have been reconstructed at the site where the trade depot and headquarters once stood.  A seasonal ferry service departs and returns from the dock ent from May 15 through September 30.

My base of operation during my stay on the north shore was the Grand Marais Recreation Area and Campground. Originally I had planned to stay at state park campgrounds, but most along the lake shore were full up. That being said, I was very happy with the Grand Marais campground which is located on the harbor and within just a few blocks of the town center. 

Sunrise at Grand Marais Harbor.

I also discovered that the campground is located near The Fisherman’s Daughter restaurant which was on my bucket list. The restaurant serves mostly fish and chip lunches and smoked fish with seating on a porch or balcony overlooking the dock and fish house where the fish arrive fresh each morning. Several other restaurants in town serve fresh herring, white fish and lake trout dinners and sandwiches as well. 

Morning light at Artist Point on Lake Superior at Grand Marais, Minnesota

After my fish and chips lunch I wandered into the North House Folk School book store and office which turned out to be more than just another quaint tourist shop selling books and trinkets. 

The folk school was founded in 1997 and teaches a wide range of traditional northern crafts year round ranging from wood working and blacksmithing to boat making, baking and handcraft of all kinds. The school also teaches sailing and boat building and offers daily excursions aboard Hjordis, a 50 foot schooner named after the mythical goddess of war. 

The North House Folk School 50’ schooner Hordis sailing in Grand Marais Harbor. The folk school offers a wide variety of classes in Scandinavian folk crafts.

Another advantage was that a number of the locations on my itinerary were only a short drive from Grand Marais. One of those locations was the Lutsen ski area which overlooks Lake Superior. I drove the 20 miles south along the shore to Lutsen and then up the steep grade to the Lutsen Mountain Ski and Summer Resort. The mountain provides a magnificent view of Lake Superior, but unfortunately the day I visited, the lake was covered in clouds and fog. The fall colors on the mountain, however, were breath taking.

Afternoon fog rolls into a tree covered valley at Lutsen Ski Resort, Lutsen, Minnesota.

My other principal destination on this trip was Itasca State Park, best known as the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  I have pleasant memories of spending a week in Itasca when I was a Boy Scout.  One distinct memory is the sense of accomplishment I experienced after swimming across the lake under the watchful eyes of adult leaders in row boats to earn my mile swim badge.  I think that may be why swimming is still my favorite recreational sport. 

While I may have missed the peak of autumn color at Itasca, I certainly was not disappointed.  It has been more than 60 years since I visited that park, but I don’t think it has changed all that much, and the facilities are well maintained.  I particularly enjoyed the mild dry weather and sitting at my campsite after dark looking up at the clear and star filled sky.  

Headwaters of the Mississippi River at daybreak, Lake Itasca State Park.

I also made one final stop on my return home at Pipestone National Monument in southwest Minnesota. This was another nod to nostalgia revisiting a place where, as a small child, I had visited with my family. I remembered thinking the place was pretty cool, and still do.

For hundreds of years Indigenous people have traveled to the area to quarry the red pipestone to make ceremonial pipes. The practice continues today.  

From the visitor center, the ¾ mile circular trail passes through a tall grass prairie, pipestone quarries and red quartzite rock formations and cliffs.  The highlight of the walk is the beautiful Winniwissa Falls. 

Minnewissa Falls from the Circle Trail at Pipestone National Monument.

Incidentally, the Monument hosted an Indigenous People’s Day celebration on Saturday October 9.  Luminary bags surrounded the ¾ mile with Indigenous musicians singers and dancers spaced at different locations. 

I enjoyed my ten day wandering in Minnesota, and I look forward to visiting again soon. 

Joe Burns hiking the ski trails at Lutsen Ski Resort, Lutsen, Minnesota.

Celebrating Summertime

Usually by now I have at least one summer travel adventure to write about, but not this year.  One of these days I plan to mount my camper on my pickup truck again and head out for who-knows-where, but not just yet.  For now I will leave the national and state parks to families who deserve time in the out of doors before schools are back in session. This summer I have been preoccupied with planning some home renovation projects and just enjoying family get-togethers as well as community events and activities.  

Herman, Nebraska fireworks show

Summer is party time, and Independence Day community celebrations are the most spectacular parties of them all. I have fond memories of sitting on blankets with family in Fontenelle Park in Omaha waiting in eager anticipation for the fire work show to begin. I remember thinking that this surely must be the greatest show anywhere, and it’s just a short walk from where I live. I remember the huge party at my uncle’s house after the show and eating slice after slice of ice cold watermelon and competing with my cousins to see who could spit the seeds the farthest.  

I’m no longer a kid but I still get a thrill when I attend our local fireworks celebrations in Blair, Arlington and Herman. I enjoy the fun and sense of community and finding just the right spot  to set up my camera to capture the show. Photographing fireworks is painting with light – anticipation, artistry and some luck. I photograph the shows for the newspaper, but also for my own delight too.

Summertime is filled with family celebrations as well.  My wife Kris and I were married on Independence Day followed by an outdoor bash with lots of fireworks. My birthday and my dad and brother’s birthdays are in mid-July, and we celebrate my wife’s birthday and daughter Sarah’s birthday during the first week of August.  

My special birthday present this year was being first in line to try out the big new water slide at the Blair city pool.  I showed up at the pool on the  morning that the State inspectors inspected and approved the slide, so of course I had to try it out. The water attraction is a great addition and lots of fun. 

Swimmers wait in line to try out the new water slides Friday afternoon.

I have always been an enthusiastic advocate for all of the parks and city pool. The water slide is a nice addition for kids of all ages. A lifeguard is stationed in the water in the safety zone to make sure each swimmer has a good experience. I am all in favor of adding a splash pad to the future park in Deerfield, but that could never replace the need for the city pool.

Zathan Prime shoots out of the spiral tube and splashes into the water under the watchful eye of lifeguard Angel Nelsen at the Blair City Pool Sunday afternoon.

I have also stayed close to home this summer because of the many photo projects I have been involved in. Yes, I am retired, but I still do what I call, “custom work,”  which pretty much means just about anything that might make a good photo series. As an example, after working along-side managing editor Leeanna Ellis since 2014 to report on and photograph the Washington County Justice Center project, I could not pass up the opportunity to photograph the ribbon cutting and open house events. 

A tour group checks out the maximum security control room in the new jail.

Another favorite project that I just could not miss is the annual Wolfe Family Country Quilt Show and Garden Walk. The show is a labor of love for Terri and Doug Wolfe and family and community members who show quilts, help with parking and directing traffic, provide refreshments and help out in numerous other ways. 

Hollyhocks in the foreground and oversize quilts mounted on the barn in the background create visual feast.

My biggest problem with retirement is that there still is not enough time to do all of the things I want to do. Taking on a newspaper project or self-assigned photo project adds structure to my life. And goodness knows, I need structure. 

While I have journaled off and on for years, my journals, like my interests, are all over the place. In another ongoing attempt to find structure and organize thoughts, I am attempting to keep a bullet journal. The key to the method is keeping an index so that I can go back and find that great idea or incite that I might have had a week or longer ago. 

Another bullet journal suggestion that I am trying to adopt is to log three things for which I am grateful every day. Near the top of my long list is the continuing opportunity to make photos that capture the beauty and the experience of living in Washington County.

A visual feast

Quilt lovers and garden enthusiasts once again gathered at the family farm of Doug and Terri Wolfe for the annual visual feast which is the Country Quilt Show and Garden Walk.  By mid morning both fields reserved for parking were filled.  Wolfe family members and friends provide golf cart rides for those who might need assistance.  
This year’s event show-cased 160 quilts mounted on outbuildings and creatively displayed along pathways through the ten acres of beautifully groomed gardens.  
In addition to the work of “featured quilter” Scott A. Flanagan of Fremont, the show included an exhibit of quilts by the Omaha Modern Quilt Guild.

Hollyhocks in the foreground and oversize quilts mounted on the barn in the background create visual feast.

The Adventure Continues

Let the adventure begin

As I peck away at my column I’m sipping coffee from one of my favorite mugs imprinted with the message, ” let the adventure begin.” I like the size, shape and feel of the mug and the reminder that every morning is the beginning of a new adventure. Lately my morning begins by sitting in my yard as the sun radiates through the boughs of my maple tree and creates patterns of light and shadow on the lawn and garden. I could spend hours watching and photographing in this outdoor studio. Each minute the angle and quality of light from the rising sun shifts, creating new potential compositions. My friends often ask when and where am I traveling next, but for right now I’m content to journey in my garden.

Spiderwort flowers in morning light.

The tree boughs and lawn also create a border that frames my view of activity and life on 25th Street. I watch mostly unobserved as kids ride bikes and scooters and adults amble, jog and walk dogs up and down the street. Some folks give a wave or say hello, but most just go about their business.

St Francis Borgia clergy and parishioners take part in the annual corpus Christi Procession in Blair.

While enjoying my coffee I mentally plan my day. In the summer time my day often includes lap swimming at the Blair City Pool. I no longer jog, and even my hikes are not as vigorous as they once were, so swimming has become my principal exercise. Since I was a kid I have always enjoyed spending time in the water and for many years I owned a sailboat. Swimming is my aerobic exercise of choice because I don’t know anyone who has suffered a broken leg, a twisted ankle or a concussion while swimming. For these reasons I was delighted to learn that the city pool would once again be open for lap swimming as well as open swim.  A big thank you to the YMCA for recruiting and training and hiring enough guards to make opening the pool for a full season possible. 

Colton Scheer flips from diving board at the Blair city pool.

Thankfully in the past two months the availability and effectiveness of the vaccines has drastically reduced the number and severity of COVID cases and deaths.  In addition, medical professionals, schools and commercial operations are learning which safety precautions and procedures are effective and which are not.  For these reasons and with some modifications, many events are again open to the public.  As an example, the Nebraska State Track Meet was extended from two days to four. The modification not only made the event safer, it also enhanced the experience for many participants and supporters. 

Grace Galbraith and Abby Osborn congratulate one another following their 400 meter relay team state record breaking performance.

At the end of May I was pleased to attend and photograph the Blair and Fort Calhoun commencement exercises which were modified to follow established safety protocols.  I enjoyed listening to the speakers talk about their experiences over the course of the past two years.  While veiled in humor, a common theme was sense of loss by  not returning to classes following spring break in 2020.  Blair graduate Cole Wilkins thanked coronavirus for the longest spring break in history and for, “showing us how much we really took for granted and making us understand how important family and friends really are…” 

Blair seniors pose for cell phone photos as they wait for commencement ceremonies to begin.

Fort Calhoun Salutatorian Mackenzie Hansen thanked the school board and administration for the safety protocols that allowed the school to remain open throughout the school year.  “Their careful planning and unwavering dedication has allowed us to experience as normal of a school year as possible.”

Looking to the future. Lily Pane plans to attend Iowa Western to study agribusiness and agronomy sales and one day own her own feed lot.

While Blair graduate Nathan Hiykel reflected on memories the class shared, by definition, commencements are about beginning. He ended his speech saying, “The experiences that you have made at this school creates a foundation that will propel you through life,” 

Class of 2021 prepares for their final class photo during last moments before graduation begins.

Over the past 16 months each of us, some more than others, has experienced loss and fear and heartache. It is easy and understandable to be angry and resentful and look for scapegoats. But what is the point?  

Photographer Joe Burns signs student yearbooks at Arbor Park Fun Day event.

I like the advice that Fort Calhoun Valedictorian John McKennan gave to his classmates. “Spend your time wisely.  Cherish your relationships, and give your time to others.”

March to March: Random thoughts on the COVID year that was.

Last Thursday was a day of personal celebration and reflection. That day, March 11, was the day I received my second virus vaccination. It also marked one year since the corona outbreak was declared a pandemic.  

What I most remember about that day a year ago is that I was camping in the snow at Kearney State Park and listening to the chatter of sandhill cranes roosting on the river. Later that day I learned that the Crane Trust near Hastings had shut down and that Row Sanctuary would also be  closing the center and canceling all tours and viewing opportunities due to virus precautions. Over the next week or so, schools across the state closed for spring break and never reopened. 

Playgrouds closed due to pandemic.
Orange fencing surrounded Mathew’s Playground at the Blair Sports Complex. The city closed all of the playgrounds in April due to coronavirus concerns.

March and April last year are kind of a blur in my memory. What I most remember are the empty shelves at the grocery stores and the run on toilet paper, milk, eggs and cleaning products. Except for grocery stores, many businesses, including our Enterprise office, shut the doors to the public.  The library, the YMCA, city offices and the court house closed  Even the sports fields and play centers in the city parks were fenced off. 

A Memorial Community hospital and Health System employee tests a patient for COVIC-19 during a Test Nebraska event in June in Blair.

Over the next few weeks our nation was in a collective state of shock. We all wondered what would happen next.  For awhile the economy was in free fall. Without the PPE loans, increased unemployment benefits and other federal government help, it could have been much worse.

Fort Calhoun staff members roll out boxes of food items to families in need.

Throughout the spring and summer we at the Enterprise did our best to keep the public informed and tell the stories of individuals and organizations that were performing extraordinary acts of kindness and generosity to help those who were most in need. We also covered the parades, car cruises, the Washington County Fair and other events that helped to safely provide some fun and a sense of community.  

Jackie Warrik, left, Joey Morton, Mark Znotto, and Alicia Lourens prepare lunch orders in April at Butch’s Deli to help residents during the pandemic.

While people can be fearful, angry, and just plain ornery, they are also resilient. As the weeks progressed, businesses found ways to provide services while maintaining a safe environment for employees and the public. 

Playgrounds closed due to pandemic
Keala Roy administers a vaccine dose at a clinic held by Memorial Community Hospital and Health Systems at the Gardner Hawks Center.

During the summer, after much soul searching and intense planning, all of the schools in the county decided that students and teachers could safely return to classrooms in August. While remote learning and home schooling may be best for some families, I think  the majority of parents, students  and teachers agree that the return to in- class learning has been a success. Through the use of masks and modifications and social distancing, the schools have found ways to allow students to take part in traditional school activities.  

First school day at Deerfield Elementary School, Blair.

Getting students back in the classrooms and finding safe ways to continue to hold sports and music events is important because these activities provide a sense of the normal rhythms of life. 

Wearing masks, Ovation Show Choir performs during the spring Pops Concert.

Something else that surrounds us and can help to keep us in tune with the rhythms of life is nature. Our county is blessed with rolling hills and river valleys that provide beautiful landscapes. In town we have access to lightly traveled tree lined trails and city parks. While the visitor center is closed, DeSoto Bend Wildlife refuge is open. The Cottonwood trail and the Bob Starr overlook provide great views of the lake and wildlife. 

Snow geese at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, March, 2021

There is a Wall Street Journal article popping up on Facebook that confirms what I have known intuitively for a long time that getting outside is critical to health and increases longevity.  Spending time in nature is linked to lots of good things including reducing stress hormones, and decreased anxiety, depression and fatigue. 

Pat Jesson fills a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic at the Gardner Hawks Center.

Getting vaccinated is a big deal. I generally don’t share my medical information with anyone – let alone social media, but I proudly posted the news when I received my first and then second shot. I do appreciate the many congrats and “likes”, and I happily reciprocate as friends and neighbors get vaccinated. I want people to know that my arm was mildly sore and a bit feverish for a day, but other than that I suffered no side effects. I want to get on and promote the vaccination bandwagon because the faster the majority of us are vaccinated the faster we get back to at least some sense of normality. 

Getting vaccinated is a big deal. I generally don’t share my medical information with anyone – let alone social media, but I proudly posted the news when I received my first and then second shot. I do appreciate the many congrats and “likes”, and I happily reciprocate as friends and neighbors get vaccinated. I want people to know that my arm was mildly sore and a bit feverish for a day, but other than that I suffered no side effects. I want to get on and promote the vaccination bandwagon because the faster the majority of us are vaccinated the faster we get back to at least some sense of normality. 

The elephant in the room


Masked supporters and mask-less opponents filled the library conference room last Thursday for a public hearing on a proposed ordinance to require face coverings while indoors in public spaces within the city.  For nearly two hours more than two dozen people spoke for and against the proposal.  Each speaker generally respected the three minute time limit. Those speaking included individuals from Omaha, Fort Calhoun and surrounding communities as well as the city of Blair.  The overall tone was civil and around two-thirds of those attending appeared to oppose adopting the emergency ordinance. Due to the lack of social distance and the large number of people not wearing masks some supporters of the proposal chose not to attend.

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Dr. Tuck Smith speaks during a public hearing on a proposed ordinance for a mask mandate by the Blair City Council on Thursday at the Blair Public Library and Technology Center. The Council voted against the ordinance.

Listening to the testimony reminded me of the story of the blind men and the elephant. The gist of that parable is that because each man touches a different part of the elephant, their impressions of the critter are wildly different, but all are valid. Similarly, the views expressed during the testimony were divergent but valid and truthful. The job of the council was to try and piece together a complete picture of the elephant.

Blair resident Jacey Ruwe speaks out against a mask mandate in Blair on Thursday.

The common thread expressed by all participants was fear, but not necessarily fear of the same thing.  Proponents of the ordinance fear the continuing spread of the virus and the impact on hospitals, care facilities and human life.  My impression is that the anti-mask supporters are fearful of the loss of personal freedom, government over-reach and the proverbial slippery slope. Speakers on all sides fear that they are misunderstood and treated with disrespect, bias, and hostility.

I left before for the vote, but my understanding is that the majority of council members pretty much agree with the position expressed in a recent Enterprise editorial.  The editorial takes the  position that residents should social distance and wear masks, “but they shouldn’t have to be ordered to do it.”

Personally, I agree that we should all take responsibility to do the right thing and wear masks in public places.  But voluntary compliance by the majority of residents is not likely. For the sake of the health and welfare of our community, my view is that a temporary ordinance would be a good thing.  I know from personal experience that poor judgement and self-interest can affect the well- being of others as well as our own health and safety.

A few years back I was taking pictures at an archery contest and stupidly talked the official at one of the sites into allowing me to walk downrange to take a photo of a young man who was aiming at a target. To gain permission from the official remember saying, “I take full responsibility.”

I was assured that the young man never missed, and I stayed a distance away from the target.  I broke the rules because I didn’t think the rules applied to me.  I didn’t fully appreciate that taking responsibility might mean jeopardizing my life.

Lori Davidson, who works at Carter Place- the site of an outbreak pf COVID 19, speaks in favor of a mask mandate.

I did get a great photo, but I also got shot with an arrow.  Fortunately the wound was not life threatening, but it could have been. That incident not only affected me but everyone at that event.  That incident was a horrific moment for the boy’s mother and traumatic for the young man.  Weeks later the boy’s father asked me to meet with his son to assure him that I was okay.  I gladly did so, and returned the young man’s arrow.  I am grateful that the family forgave my foolish effort to make a great photo.  It was a lesson learned, but it could have been tragic.

One of the speakers at the hearing commented that when you cross medicine and politics, you get politics.  That is probably true, and it is inevitable.  To quote John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”  We are all dependent on one another to do the right thing. The problem is figuring out what that right thing is.

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Autumn travel – home and away

Recently, I returned home after from spending the better part of two weeks in Wyoming and Colorado.  I had been planning this trip for several months. I also had a pass to visit Yosemite National Park, but with so many wildfires in northern California, I changed my plans.  

Earlier in the fall I had followed the Oregon trail through Nebraska and into Wyoming.  I picked up the trail at Fort Laramie and then stopped at the National Trails Interpretive Center in Casper.  I also visited some other trail landmarks between Casper and South Pass where the Oregon and Mormon trails cross the continental divide.  West of the divide the Mormon Trail turns south-west toward the Great Salt Lake and the Oregon Trail heads north-west to Oregon and the Columbia River. 

Aspen trees amid pine trees in the Green Mountains in central Wyoming.

Leaving the Oregon Trail I found a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground in the Green Mountains.  BLM campgrounds are popular in autumn with hunters and people like me who are looking for relatively remote settings and simple amenities such as a picnic table, a fire ring and clean vault toilets.  The fall colors were gorgeous and night sky spectacular.

A bull moose on the loose in the Gros Ventre Campground in Grand Teton National Park.

I spent the next five nights at Gros Ventre campground at the edge of Grand Teton National Park near Jackson,Wyoming. It is a large first come, first serve campground.  When I arrived in the afternoon the campground was full, but the attendants allowed me and other camping units to park in the amphitheater parking lot at no charge so we could be first in line the following day.  The staff at the campground was very pleasant, and many staffers appear to be retired seniors like me.  The tent and RV pads are comfortably spaced apart and surrounded by Narrow Leaf Cottonwood trees and sagebrush. During my visit a variety of wildlife including moose, deer and moseyed through the campground. 

Perhaps in part because of the Covid pandemic, the modern restrooms ( i.e. running water and toilets) were kept spotless. While there are no showers on site, hot showers and laundry facilities are available at another campground about 30 miles away. 

If I haven’t mentioned it before, my National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass is just about the best purchase I have ever made.  The pass allows access to all National Parks  and Federal recreation areas and reduced campground and other fees. I paid as little as $3 at BLM sites, and not more than $15 at National Park campgrounds.  There is no charge at some BLM disbursed camping sites. 

A smokey haze covers mountain peaks in Grand Teton National Park.

While there are many breathtakingly beautiful sites in the Rockies, I find the Tetons to be particularly grand. The mountain range is surrounded by lakes and the peaks tower sharply and dramatically above the arid plateau.  I love to photograph layers of color-on-color, and such layers can be found in abundance in the Tetons.  Hiking along trails I photographed compositions of sunlit aspen groves against multi-colored leaves and foliage a granite mountain backdrop.  For several days a smoke haze hung low over the mountains.  On those days I mostly hiked the trails and didn’t worry much about taking photos.      

I also spent a day at neighboring Yellowstone National Park. The majority of the campgrounds at Yellowstone were closed for the season and the remaining campgrounds were full. Yellowstone is a huge park which eats up a lot of driving time. I have visited the park several times before, so I stopped at just a few of my favorite sites. One of these is Grand Prismatic spring. I absolutely love the vantage point from a trail that overlooks the spring, and I can’t imagine visiting the park without making a stop there. 

Visitors walk along boardwalks viewing the Grand Prismatic spring in Yellowstone National Park.

I visited the park on a Saturday, but the parking lots and the road traffic was not bad  compared to previous visits. Due to pandemic restrictions, there were few if any tour busses running and many of the popular amenities were closed for the season. 

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Leaving Jackson and the Gros Ventre campground I again spent a night at my BLM hideaway in the Green Mountains and then on to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  The only advanced reservation I made ahead of time on my trip was for a campsite in RMNP.  All but a couple of the campgrounds in the park are closed. Due to dry conditions no open fires are allowed. My campsite entitled me to the day of my reservation and the day following my reservation in the park. I also spent one night in a campground just outside the west entrance to the park. 

Smoke from Cameron Peak forest fire rises above the mountain slopes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

On the night I arrived, I could see a big mushroom cloud of smoke above the mountain range.  As I drove to the summit  of Trail Ridge Road I could see the billows of smoke from the Cameron Peak fire on the northern boundary of the park, A ranger told me that the huge cloud of white smoke was from a controlled burn or back burn to stop fire from spreading into the park.  As of last week, the Cameron Peak fire had burned well over 200,000 acres making in the largest fire in Colorado history.  Multiple fires have resulted in the closing of national forests from west of Denver to the Wyoming Border. As of last Thursday, the fire had spread across the continental divide and parents of Estes Park were under evacuation.


I arrived at the park bit late for optimum leaf peeping, but not too late for the elk rut or mating season.  In early fall bull elks descend to the mountain meadows to gather harems and vie for the attention and affection of females in heat.  I am not a particularly knowledgeable wildlife photographer, but I do love spectacle, and the annual elk rut is definitely a spectacle.  

A Bull elk guards his harem during elk rutting season in a Moraine Park meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I always remind myself while traveling that the journey itself is the prize, not the destination.  Weather, bad roads, closed facilities and many other circumstances may affect the trip, but that is what makes each adventure unique. When all is said and done the weather, equipment failures, mechanical break downs and missed opportunities may make for some great stories to tell friends and family back home.

Autumn color at Black Elk-Neihardt Park

Black Elk – Neihardt Park in Blair is a great place to go leaf peeping, and autumn color is at or reaching its peak in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa.