Author Archives: Fred

Coming Home

Hey, it’s good to be back home again.

                             Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.

               Yes, and hey, it’s good to be back home again.

                               John Denver, refrain from “Back Home Again”

November 3, 2016: The Odyssey is finished, and Odysseus has returned to Ithaca. This was not the 10-year journey that Homer wrote of so many, many years ago, but it was a grand trip for Laura and me, nonetheless. In pursuing this endeavor, we heeded Mark Twain’s advice to, “…throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.” It had been almost two and a half years since we left Chicago, having sold our downtown condominium and placing everything in storage. We moved into our motorhome that we named Charley, after the Steinbeck novel, Travels With Charley: In Search of America, hooked up our small Subaru that we called Toad, and hit the open road in search of America ourselves. Actually, our primary objective in undertaking this trip was to see and experience all 59 of our country’s national parks, which we accomplished when we visited our last park, National Park of American Samoa, in October 2016. In addition to the 59 national parks, we also visited another 126 national park units such as, monuments, memorials, battlefields and historic sites. But as it turned out, visiting the parks was just one element of our own, incredible, 30-month odyssey.

When we were Out There I liked to say that we tried to allow life to just wash over us, and we certainly did our best to immerse ourselves in it. We lifted off with 400 other balloons during opening ceremonies at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta; attended Garrison Keillor’s last A Prairie Home Companion show at the Hollywood Bowl; marveled at the Milky Way sweeping across the night sky above us; were there for Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the World Series and saw the Cubs finally win it all; watched a Little League World Series championship game in PA; walked the route of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg with a young man in a Confederate Army uniform at sunrise; whitewater rafted down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon; hiked rim to rim across the same canyon to commemorate my 60th; attended a festival of nothing but twins and other multiples; strolled around Thoreau’s Walden Pond; kayaked and camped in pristine wilderness above the Arctic Circle; celebrated New Year’s Eve with former Navy shipmates whom I had not seen in 35 years; stood where Washington crossed the Delaware; watched a lunar eclipse from a mountain top away from the rest of the world; snorkeled in water that was so full of life that it was like swimming in an aquarium; watched stock car races at a dirt track on a Saturday evening in small-town Colorado; met folks who will be lifelong friends; walked our daughter down the aisle; and through Charley’s picture-window windshield watched our awe-inspiring country sweep past us as we drove around this great nation. In truth, there was all of this, and so much more.

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Any team can have a bad century.

Jack Brickhouse, former Chicago Cubs WGN radio announcer

It had been a long dry spell, a very, very long dry spell. One hundred and eight years to be exact. One hundred and eight years since the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series. One hundred and eight years of many really bad teams. One hundred and eight years of good teams that never quite made it. One hundred and eight years of “just wait until next year.” One hundred and eight years of disappointment with moments of profound heartbreak thrown in for good measure. But as former Cubs WGN radio announcer Jack Brickhouse famously commented, “Any team can have a bad century.”

Just during my lifetime alone, there is the 1969 team which counted four future hall-of-famers on its roster and lost an 8-1/2 game lead in August to the Miracle Mets. As a 13-year-old who worshiped the team’s third baseman Ron Santo and loved the Cubs, them collapsing at the end of the season was devastating. Even today, some 47 years later, I still cannot read or watch anything about that team and their monumental breakdown.

The next moment of extreme disappointment came in 1984 when, Continue reading

Fred’s Rocky Mountain National Park


My piece on Rocky Mountain National Park, park No. 58 out of No. 59, will be shorter than my usual dispatches as we are packing for our rafting trip with Claire and Kyle down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. By the time you read this is post, we will have already been on the river for a couple of days experiencing what I know will be great adventure. We have been here in Estes Park, Colorado, for the past eight days staying at a campground near the entrance to the park.

The weather has cooperated and I took full advantage of this going into the park almost every day to hike and shoot photos. Like in Glacier NP, there is a 45-mile scenic road that winds through the park with many places to pull over and take in almost surreal vistas. Also as with Glacier, the hikes were really spectacular, and many of the ones that I did climbed up to beautiful alpine lakes. On quiet mornings, the lakes were like glass and reflected perfectly the mountains of the Continental Divide that soared behind them. Laura was still taking it easy as she recovers from her bout with giardia, and did not get into the park as much as she would have liked. Her top priority was ensuring that she is 100% for our nine-day raft trip and then the trip to visit our last national park, National Park of American Samoa.

So this odyssey is slowly winding down, but we have indeed saved some really wonderful parks and experiences for our final turn. Continue reading

Fred’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve


The dunes came into view over five miles out from the entrance to our 57th park, Great Sand Dunes Naitonal Park and Preserve in southeastern Colorado. Almost in unison both Laura and I saw them for the first time and had a similar reaction: WOW! Looming behind the dunes, which cover around 30 square miles of terrain, was the dramatic Sangre de Cristo mountain range with peaks exceeding 14,000 feet. As we pulled into our campground just outside of the park and made our way to our site, we were treated to a sweeping vista of the dunes and the mountains behind them. This would be our view for the next five days.

Besides seeing the park, we also rendezvoused with friends whom we met two years ago when we were camping outside of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Like the two of us, Ron and Tina enjoy everything that is the outdoors, and Ron and I in particular share an interest in photography. We had a wonderful time catching up with them and shared a number of delicious meals during our stay. Ron, Tina and I also took on the challenging hike to the summit of High Dune. Laura did not go as she was still recovering from a bout of giardia, picked up during our time in the Alaskan backcountry.

Looking back on the experience, I really did not think that it would be that challenging of a hike. After all, it could not have been much more than two to three miles to the peak of High Dune (the second highest dune in the park) with around only 700 feet of elevation gain. Normally, a hike with this profile would take no more than a couple of hours. It took us five. Granted, we did take many photos, took our time at the summit to enjoy the incredible view, and lingered on the way down to watch a few folks descend the dunes on snowboards (photos of one such individual are in the photo group below entitled, “Wipeout.”), but this was one tough hike, with much of the trek through loose sand with no best route to the top defined. Did I also happen to mention that the hike started at an elevation of 8,200 feet and topped out at almost 9,000 feet. Pretty thin air at that altitude for flatlanders like the three of us. But nonetheless, we made it up and back and had not only an incredible experience to show for our efforts, but also a few decent photos to share. I also took advantage of ideal conditions a couple of nights to star gaze and photograph the stunning milky way that was clearly visible at such a high altitude in the pure, dark sky. Continue reading

Fred’s Glacier National Park


Laura has already written a wonderful piece on Glacier, so I will simply tell my Glacier story with photos. I will echo Laura that it was really wonderful being able to share this experience with our good friends from Chicago, Bill and Lisa. It was the second time that they have come out to meet up with us on this odyssey, and it is always great to see friends from back home. Glacier is indeed a stunningly beautiful park, one that in many respects defies one’s ability to capture its grandeur in a simple image. But I’ll have a go at it.

Keep reading for a collection of photos from our visit to Glacier NP. Continue reading

Fred’s Kobuk Valley National Park


In my previous post I wrote about the first six days of our recent ten-day trip above the Arctic Circle to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park. That first portion of our Alaskan adventure found us kayaking down the Noatak River for around 80 miles through the Alaskan backcountry and camping on the beach each night along the way. We were visiting these two parks with eight other adventurers and two guides from Alaska Alpine Adventures (AAA). These were our last two parks to visit in Alaska out of the eight in the state as we saw the other six on our trip north last summer.

At the conclusion of our time on the river in Gates of the Arctic NP, two planes flew in and landed on a piece of gravelly tundra near our camp. All of us and our equipment could not fit on these relatively small planes, so we split up into two groups and made our way to our next destination: Kobuk Valley National Park, which is west of Gates. In Kobuk we visited the great sand dunes in the southeast portion of the park. These sand dunes cover an area of over 30 square miles and can reach a height of 100 feet. From the plane the dunes can be seen from a great distance and as we came in it became apparent that we were going to land right on the sand, being able to do so given the planes were rolling with oversized balloon tires.

Camp was established at the bottom of a tall dune amongst a stand of pines and near a clear stream. As it turned out, we also shared the area with a multitude of mosquitoes and both Laura and I were glad that AAA had suggested that we bring bug netting to cover our head. Over the course of our four days in Kobuk we struck out from our base camp on three hikes over the dunes that ranged from five to ten miles in length. One of these excursions took us through a pine forest where the ground was covered with white cladonia and other lichens that gave the appearance of snow, quite appropriate for this part of the world. Continue reading

Fred’s Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve


Visiting national park numbers 54 and 55 would be the most adventurous excursion that we had undertaken since we left on this trip over two years ago. Granted, our backcountry trip into Denali last year was certainly Out There, as we camped for four days near a glacier about 20 miles into the park. But this was a whole different level of Out There. On this trip Laura and I would end up spending 10 days in the backcountry of Alaska above the Arctic Circle experiencing the extreme wildness of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park. Further, this was not a case where we simply established a base camp and then worked from this post over the 10 days exploring and doing hikes. While our exploration of a portion of Kobuk Valley NP was centered in a base camp at the edge of its great sand dunes, our time in this park was preceded by a six-day trip traveling over 80 miles down the Noakak River through Gates of the Arctic NP on an inflatable two-person kayak, making camp each night along the river. In this post and my next I will provide a collection of photos that chronicle our visits to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park. Normally, I would only feature a group of select photos from each of these parks, but for these two national parks I have decided to share a more comprehensive perspective on what life was like making our way down the Noatak and then amongst the dunes. Continue reading

Fred’s Badlands National Park


Before coming to Badlands National Park in South Dakota, I had thought that it would be harsh, desolate, dusty and dangerous, and that I would primarily see nondescript gray stone formations. French trappers in the 18th century called the region a “bad land” when they first visited it, and I’m sure that many others have called it much worse names as they attempted to travel through it. I got some sense of the challenges that one might confront on a 10-mile hike that I did that wound through and up and over various formations and grasslands. However, in the case of my trek, I knew that there was a cold bottle of water and a car with air conditioning waiting for me at the end. What I found on this visit is that while the land can be harsh, desolate, dusty, dangerous and there is a great deal of gray rock, it is also stunningly beautiful. One time in particular stands out where I experienced the raw, natural beauty and force of the badlands and nature.

One of our days at Badlands a strong thunderstorm rolled through southwest South Dakota. I had planned to get up very early in the morning to go into the park and shoot sunrise, but not at 0300 when the full force of the storm hit. What a brilliant light and sound show that we witnessed. Since I was up anyway, I decided to make myself a thermos of tea and head into the park. As I drove on the road that winds through the park I watched the incredible light show out of my front window and climbed up to one of the wonderful overlooks in the park called Panorama Point. The brunt of the storm had passed over me, but was still roaring in the near distance. It was now 0345, and as you might imagine, I was the only one at the overlook. In the dark and a light rain I walked out to the point and took in the incredible show occurring in the west. As the time approached 0500 I looked back to the east and even though the sky was black, there was a sliver of open sky right at the horizon. If this held, there would be just enough room for the rising sun to come through and illuminate the vista spread out before me.

In a spitting and blowing rain I watched the first rays of the day hit the bank of magnificent rock formations in front of me against a deep blue backdrop as the rain fortuitously turned to a drizzle and then stopped. I started taking photos, one of which is above, and simply took in the extraordinary scene that unfolded before me as I watched periodic lightning flashes in the distance. But the show was not over, as a small shaft of rainbow light then pierced the middle of the scene. It would not last long, as the rising sun slowly disappeared into a dark cloud bank and then disappeared.

I stood there for some time after that, still alone at the overlook, the storm likely deterring most from venturing into the park,  and just took it all in as I watched the light show continue on the horizon. As the storm moved farther off to the west I packed up my camera gear, put it into the car, and then started to drive around the park, wondering what other surprises and beauty would await me around each corner.

Photos from this stunningly beautiful park are below. 

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.






Fred’s Devils Tower National Monument

I had wanted to see it since I saw the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind way back in the late 80s. Since then I have seen the film at least five other times, and a portion of it too many other times to count, and every time it came on the screen I would be reminded that it was still on my bucket list to visit this monolith in person. So on a July day as I drove on a winding state road through Wyoming, both Laura and I had our eyes peeled for the distinctive tower out the picture window that is Charley’s windshield. Finally, there it was, large and imposing on the horizon, Devils Tower.

Devils Tower is the namesake of Devils Tower National Monument, which was the first monument in the national park system. President Theodore Roosevelt designated it as a national monument in 1906 under the newly enacted American Antiquities Act of 1906. This was just one of many public lands that would be protected by Roosevelt during his time in office. Referred to as Bear Lodge by Native Americans, it was given the name Devils Tower by Colonel Richard Dodge in 1859 while escorting an Office of Indian Affairs survey team to the massive rock formation. Rising some 1,267 feet from the Belle Fourche River, it stretches 867 feet from base to summit.

So after over 30 years of this incredible formation residing on my to-do list, I was finally standing at the base of it and gazing up, way up. Making the experience even more special was that the campground where we set up camp was near the base of the mountain, and every evening at dusk the campground showed Close Encounters of the Third Kind on a large-screen television with the tower looming high above the makeshift outdoor theater. While I planned to get up very early the next morning to shoot the mountain at sunrise, there was no way that I could pass up watching the movie once again, this time with the star of the show as part of the experience. About half way through the film, a thunderstorm rolled into the area and it began to rain. While most others in attendance left, I moved under a tree and continued watching the film with three other brave souls. It was fun when Devils Tower made its first appearance in the movie and almost in unison we all said, “There it is.”, and  clapped a few times. As I sat there I watched with one eye on the tower waiting for lightning flashes to illuminate it, and once again thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful film, one that is so full of possibilities and hope.      

Photos from Devils Tower National Monument are below.

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.