. . . the behinder I get: 2 more weeks of a photo-a-day

Seems like more digging doesn’t get you out of the hole (!?!), but here are two more weeks of my photo a day project, including part 2 of our Arizona trip last month.

WEEK # 16

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(4/16/17) Easter Sunday morning hike in South Mountain Park, Phoenix. Ocotillo (“buggy whip cactus”) in bloom, with downtown Phoenix in the background. This beautiful park is a quick way to get out of town, do some mountain hiking, and see an undisturbed part of the Sonoran Desert. And this is a CITY Park!!!

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(4/17/17)  Staghorn Cholla cactus in bloom in the eastern section of Saguaro National Monument near Tucson

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(4/18/17) This room, now part of a store that sells art, dates back to the 1770s.  It’s in a preserved section of downtown Tucson that was once the Spanish-built Presidio de San Augustín del Tucson. In this photo, the original adobe walls, a strip of wallpaper, and the ceiling made of Saguaro Cactus ribs are visible.

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(4/19/17) A climber dangles above the road that winds its way to the top of Mt. Lemmon, northeast of Tucson.  The 30-mile drive up from the desert floor passes through climate zones that represent the geographical equivalent of a trip from Mexico to Canada. As you near the 9,159 summit, you’re surrounded by tall Ponderosa Pines and air temperatures that are usually about 30 degrees cooler than the city of Tucson below. It’s amazing that winter skiing is possible this far south.

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(4/20/17)  Surprises while traveling are often good, but this morning’s email was not one of them.  Our friend John Doom’s wife Ghislaine wrote to us that he was in the hospital in Flagstaff, having just been diagnosed with a nasty cancer in his back.  He was awaiting surgery this afternoon to install some metal rods to support vertebrae that had been compromised. We had planned to return our rental car in Phoenix today, but decided to drive from Tucson to Flagstaff to see him, to be with Ghislaine during the surgery, take her to their home in Sedona for the night and return her to the hospital in the morning.  In this photo, John gives us a little of his trademark wackiness and positive spirit as he prepared to go under the knife. John’s 4-hour surgery went well, and he is now receiving radiation treatment.

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(4/21/17) Apache Junction, Arizona at sunset. Karen’s dad (in blue shirt) prepares to leave his winter home and head back to Minnesota.

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(4/22/17) Amarillo en Arizona

 

WEEK #17

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(4/23/17) Omer takes the wheel for the first leg of the trip home, from Apache Jct. to Payson.

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(4/25/17) Back home, back yard in bloom.

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(4/26/17) The Happy Hour group ventured downtown this week, so here’s a view of the under-construction Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. The Mall is being completely redesigned and revamped for the first time since in was built in the ’60s.

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(4/27/17) The kids are back!

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(4/28/17) OUTLOUD! a subgroup of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus did a song and dance parody of ONE! at this year’s MinnRoast, which is MinnPost’s annual fund-raising variety show at the Historic State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. I got such a close-up view because I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to shoot video of this event for the past five years.

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(4/29/17) We moved in to our house when this tree was blooming last year. Now, here it is again, right on schedule — one year to the day of closing and starting to move in. Happy anniversary, tree!

Dr. John Rutherford brings the Petrified Forest alive for visitors

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Dr. John Rutherford

We met John Rutherford last month in Arizona. He’s an 87-year-old retired doctor from Oklahoma, who has figured out how to put his love of science, history, and his people skills to good use in this chapter of his life.

When I was a kid, the Petrified Forest was one of those exotic-sounding places that those of us who weren’t lucky enough to be taken on the classic Route 66 trip to California we heard about from our friends who did get to go there. I remember that Dennis the Menace went there with his family in a comic book, and I’m pretty sure Archie and Jughead did, too.

For many travelers, Petrified Forest National Park has been little more that a brief pit stop on I-40 — or Route 66 in the old days — a welcome break in the monotony of the drive across the great plains and high desert. The family could pile out, take a few pictures of the weird rocks, take a bathroom break, and push farther west. But if you take a little more time to see this place, you’ll be rewarded.

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Woody’s version of the line, “Like a woodpecker in the Petrified Forest.”

I’d been here once, over 40 years ago. We bought our senior lifetime National Park passes last September. Inspired by Ken Burns’ documentary and the recent 100th anniversary of the National Park system, vowed to see as many as possible. So, on last month’s trip to Arizona, we wanted to make sure we took some time in the Petrified Forest. We thought we’d give it a couple of hours on the way up to Canyon de Chelly, but (of course) ended up taking half a day for the 28-mile drive from the Rainbow Forest Visitor’s Center at the southern end of the park to the Painted Desert Center near the north entrance. It’s easily worth more time than that. This National Park, like every National Park or Monument I’ve ever visited: 1. doesn’t disappoint, and 2. makes you always wish you had a little more time to spend there.

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A family with young children takes a break and enjoys the view of the petrified logs at the Rainbow Forest Visitor’s Center.

At one of the overlooks, we were greeted by man in wearing a National Park Service uniform. He told us he was a volunteer interpreter and offered a free guided walking tour down into an area that had a large concentration of petrified wood pieces. We heard the word “free” and signed on immediately, as did two people from West Virginia.

Version 2Retired Doctor John Rutherford was our guide.  As we followed him down the trail into a valley full of colorful rocks, he explained to us how the volunteer program works and told us about some of other National Parks and Monuments he’s worked at since his wife passed away nearly a decade ago.  He’s had to learn a lot about each of parks he’s worked in to be able to lead tours and answer questions. His knowledge of this park and its geology and history was very impressive, as was his physical ability to hike a mile or so down into the valley and back up in the warm sun.

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John Rutherford shows us a fine example of the colored rock that was once a living tree.

John gave us a crash course on the geology of the park. He started with, “I’m going to assume you know nothing”.  (Nothing to disagree with there.)  We learned a lot from him in a short period of time. For instance, did you know that because of continental drift, (“plate tectonics”) that this part of Arizona was located about as far north of the equator as Cost Rica is now when these trees were alive?

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In some areas of the valley where John took us, the ground was completely covered with color.

As a doctor, he was, of course, a man of science, and he’s found a way to continue his pursuit of scientific knowledge — and do some teaching — for many years after his retirement. It’s obvious that this is a big part of why he’s so physically healthy and mentally sharp.

I asked him how he explains this place to visitors who, for religious reasons, believe in the “young earth” theory — that the the Universe, Earth, and all life on Earth were created by acts of God about 6,000 years ago — a far cry from the science that puts these trees at 225 million years old. He paused for a moment before saying, “Yeah, we get those people here from time to time. When they start saying that kind of thing, I just tell them that if they believe that, then in this park we don’t have much more to talk about.”

What a great answer. Thank you, Dr. John Rutherford for caring for America’s special places and teaching us about them.  You were a highlight of our trip and an inspiration to a couple of fellow senior citizens.

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Catching up from a trip to Arizona

The past month has been kind of a blur. But it reminds me of why I like to take pictures. After a two-week trip to Arizona, we came back to yard word and the usual list of catch-up things to do. When I finally sat down this morning to look at the photos from the trip, I realized how important it is for me to have some sort of reminder of each day, a visual cue to trigger other memories of people and places we visited.

So, while I haven’t posted photos since April 8, I’ve been shooting every day.  Now I’m going to “post-post” photos, a week’s worth at a time, until I get up to date.

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(4/9/17) The trees were leafing out, the golf courses had been open for a month, and spring was in the air a couple of days before we left for Arizona. This was definitely not going to be a get-away from wintery weather.

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(4/10/17) Happy birthday to Karen on a rainy evening.

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(4/11/17) After flying to Phoenix, we picked up a rental car and headed north.  Holbrook, AZ is on old Route 66. The newer chain motels and chain restaurants are on the other side of I-40, and the older businesses try to survive by playing up the kitsch and schlock (and spirit) of a bygone era.

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(4/12/17)  This guy was galloping south on U.S. 191 in the Navajo Nation near Ganado as we were going north. I really wanted a photo, so I turn the car around and drove past him a ways and stopped to wait for him to ride by.  He saw me hanging out the car window with my camera and gave me a big smile and wave. I don’t know your name, sir, but “Baa ahééh nisin, díidí” (translation: “about this, I feel grateful”).

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(4/14/17) Canyon de Chelly is one of the most under-visited of our National Parks and Monuments and one of my favorite places I’ve ever been.  It’s located in the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, and probably shows more respect to the native people that any other national park.  In fact, it’s the only unit of the National Park Service that is entirely owned and operated by a Native American nation. The “White House” trail is the only place where non-residents can hike into the canyon without a Navajo guide.  The trail zigzags down the steep walls of the canyon and then follows the river to the “White House Ruins”, an abandoned ancient cliff dwelling that lies below a dizzying, overhanging, 800-ft shear cliff.

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(4/13/17) Spider Rock is a famous formation in Canyon de Chelly and is a historic and sacred place for the Navajo people. It’s a magnificent spot to watch the early evening light soak the canyon floor as the sun goes down behind you.

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(4/15/17) Elgean Joshevama, Jr. is a full-blooded Hopi from the village of Lower Moenkopi, whom I met on the street in Flagstaff.  I bought this Kachina that he had carved.  He thanked me and said he was going to buy breakfast for himself and his friend. He’s a very nice man and he makes beautiful art.

On Boston and a couple of old shirts

A week ago today, without even thinking, I put on an old grey sweatshirt I’ve had since 1996 but have probably not worn for several years. It wasn’t until after hearing about the horror in Boston last Monday that I thought about the shirt I’d worn the night before. It was an inexpensive sweatshirt with the word “BOSTON” printed on it that I’d bought it as a souvenir of my trip to run the Boston Marathon 17 years ago. I got a chill when I realized I hadn’t even remembered that it was marathon weekend until I heard about the bombings the next afternoon.

Yesterday I wore a Twin Cities Marathon shirt to the health club, as I often do. A woman walking by me said, “good to see you guys wearing your shirts”. I looked around and two other people near me had marathon shirts on, too — but they were from other races. I wondered why a stranger would say she was glad to see the shirts. As I watched some of the endless reports about the tragedy on the TV screens while running on the treadmill, it dawned on me that she might have been referring to our shirts as a sign of support for the people at the Boston race.

As I chugged away on the treadmill — 17 years older, 20 pounds heavier and a LOT slower — memories of my big race day flooded back to me. I thought about the bus ride to the little town of Hopkinton, part of the enormous field of runners (almost 40,000) who ran that year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this unique and historic event. I remembered the exhilaration of the start and the energy created by the river of thousands of runners flowing through the countryside and small towns on the first part of the course. I could picture the huge billboards with old black and white photos from the early races. But most of all, I remember the people, the spectators, all along the course. They were there to cheer on the runners, to be sure, but really they were there to cheer for the community — to cheer for themselves and for each other. There were bands, there were Patriots Day parties, there were kids up in trees, there were people wearing (and painted in) red, white and blue all along the way. All were cheerful, all were proud and all were glad to be part of this American spectacle.

I think an urban marathon is a community event in ways that no other sporting event can match. It’s about so much more than just the athletes. Think about it — you can walk up to the course at any point and (free of charge) literally touch everyone from a world-class runner down to a plodding 6-hour jogger. The race cuts right through neighborhoods and downtown streets — no need to drive to a suburban stadium or buy an expensive ticket at a downtown arena.

Over the past week, the people of Boston have shown what they’re made of. They’ve shown the rest of us how to handle unthinkable tragedy — just like New Town has recently, just like New York City did in 2001, just like Oklahoma City before that, and just like other communities who have suffered severe trauma. None of us know for sure how we will react when and if it’s our turn, but this week we can take strength from watching and listening to the people of Boston. Because they are strong and resilient — even defiant — we believe that we can be, too.

The bombers chose a big event, an important event, an event with easy access, to spread their particular brand of terror. What they didn’t realize is that they chose an event in a city that will not shrink in fear and ultimately will be stronger, not weaker because of their actions. My deepest sympathy to those directly affected last Monday and my thanks to the people of Boston for what you’ve taught us.

I’m wearing my BOSTON sweatshirt as I type this and I’m going to be wearing it a lot for a while. It’s an honor to have had the chance to be a miniscule part of the history of this great event and great city.

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Coalwood is in my heart today

Life has its turning points. The little town of Coalwood, West Virginia represents a big one for me. It was after visiting the October Sky Festival there in 2005 that I decided to make a documentary film about the town. Who knows why. I had no experience as a filmmaker, no camera, no concept of all that it takes to video a video production of that scale.

In October of 2009, after a half-dozen more trips to Coalwood and four years of learning a few skills, a dream came true as I was able to go back to Coalwood and hand-deliver a DVD of “Welcome to Coalwood” to each of the people who had appeared in the film or helped me make it and personally thank them for welcoming me into their homes and letting me into their lives.

That 2009 trip was emotional for me, as some of the people were getting on in years and others had experienced major life changes. I’ll never forget the heartfelt thanks and hugs I received from these wonderful people just because I took an interest in them and their little town. It didn’t matter to them that the film wasn’t the highest-quality production or that it was made by a beginner.

Homer Hickam had put Coalwood on the map a decade earlier with his wonderful memoir, Rocket Boys, which was made into the movie October Sky. My project covered some of the same ground, but in a different way — by finding people from the old days who were still around to tell the history of the town as they remembered it.

My biggest initial motivation for attempting to make the film was to preserve on video some of the older people that I’d met. In fact, when I drove down there with my daughter Emily in the summer of 2006 to do my first shooting, I really didn’t know what I was doing — but I felt a sense of urgency to record some of them before it was too late.

Red Carroll (2006)

I’m glad I did. Since I’ve made the film, several wonderful Coalwood residents who were “stars” in my film, including Red Carroll, Gene Turpin and Fred Beavers have died. Katie Jones has since move away, as has Janice McClure.

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"Miss Katie" Jones and Emily Date (2006)

Bill & Reba Bolt / Jim and Carol DeHaven (2006)

The Company Store, one of the two most import existing buildings in town, was torn down just as I was finishing the film, dealing a crushing blow to any historic preservation effort.

It’s really hard to explain to some people why that little, falling-down town grabbed me, but the fact is, it did. I’ve given up trying to explain it. It’s like trying to explain why you fell in love.

I’m a big believer in the importance of place. We all have places that we are emotionally connected to. For most of us those places are not famous or well-known, but they have meaning to us and represent something deeply important in our lives.

Coalwood is one of my special places. It changed my life.

The October Sky Festival is today. I should be there and regret that I’m not.

To the people of Coalwood: I’ll be thinking about you all day today. Thank you for what you’ve given me.

I’ve missed two October Sky Festivals in a row. I can only hope that there will be another one next year.

Red Carroll talks with a group of Minneapolis teachers on the steps of the Clubhouse (Oct 2008)

If you’d like to see some of my other Coalwood-related posts, here are the links:

Big Creek High School: A missed opportunity for historic preservation

Coalwood on my Mind

Memories of Red Carroll

“Owe my soul to the company store” — some like it that way.

A nice afternoon on the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin

We took a little drive yesterday down the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin, which begins just over the bridge from Red Wing, Minnesota, about an hour southeast of the Twin Cities. Inspired by Emily and Kyle’s stories of trips to the “Pizza Farm” and a nice article in the Minneapolis StarTribune by Rick Nelson, we felt it was time to take a few hours to stop and visit a few places we had previously only sped past on trips to somewhere else.

Lake Pepin is either a long lake or a wide part of the Mississippi River, depending on how you look at it. But at about 2-3 miles across and 20 miles long, it has the look and feel of a big lake surrounded by wooded hills and rocky bluffs.

The railroad hugs the shoreline on the east side of Lake Pepin (photo by Steve Date)

Large sailboats and speedboats mix with barge traffic.

View from the marina in Pepin, Wisconsin. People on the bench watching sailboats and barges go past. (photo by Steve Date)

The towns of Maiden Rock, Stockholm and Pepin are all cute little villages full of tourists in the summer.

Stockholm is a tiny town with lots of charm (photo by Steve Date)


Stockholm (pop. 97 according to the sign) has some fine, old buildings (photo by Steve Date)

Pepin’s claim to fame is as the the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It has a couple of hot dining spots, some gift shops, art galleries, specialty stores, and a fairly large marina.

The Pickle Factory bar and restaurant on the waterfront in Pepin is popular with motorcylers of all ages (photo by Steve Date)

We ate at the Harbor View Cafe, a wonderful, cozy place. It’s a well-known restaurant around these parts and is always packed on summer evenings.

The Harbor View Cafe in Pepin (darker blue building in center) is a great place to eat (photo by Steve Date)


Since we were there for an early lunch, we were able to get a seat right away. Our waitress told us that not only does the menu change daily, but “with each shift”. In fact, there are no printed food menus, only the handwritten chalkboard on the wall. Don’t expect the usual burgers and sandwiches. This is the full meal deal — soup, salad, meat and potatoes and lots of fish dishes. The prices are a little above average, but it’s worth it. The food is great.

After lunch, we drove up out of the river valley at Stockholm to the Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery which we had known about from an interesting article a couple of months ago in Heavy Table

Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery near Stockholm, WI (photo by Steve Date)

It’s a fun place to sample wine, cider and walk around among the apple trees on the orchard’s hilltop location.

Stroll through the orchards (photo by Steve Date)


Medaille d'Or apples. Not sure how they taste, but apparently they make good cider. (photo by Steve Date)

We had to do one more thing before heading home. Eat pie. The only question was where to do it.

We narrowed the choices down to two: The Homemade Cafe in Pepin (great photo in StarTribune) and the Stockholm Pie Company in Stockholm have both gotten rave reviews. We settled on Stockholm, mainly because that’s where we were when we decided to eat pie. We tried the chocolate pie and the triple berry. They were both wonderful.

The woman who sat at the table we had just vacated looks like she doesn't want to be photographed eating pie. (photo by Steve Date)

It was a very nice afternoon in some beautiful places. But the best part is that we left some stones unturned — the Pizza Farm (more about that in a future post), Amish furniture, and of course stopping in next time to see Julie and Alice at the Homemade Cafe to see how their pies measure up.

We’ll be back soon.

Off my butt, on my bike, and out in the country

One of my long-time goals has been to get around the state of Minnesota more and see smaller towns and rural areas. I haven’t done very well with that that until recently.

Two things have helped to get me in my car and on my bike to travel around more.
1. My daughter Emily moved to Rochester a year ago after being away for quite a few years.
2. MinnPost included me in a grant from the Bremer Foundation to do reporting about young people in rural Minnesota.

Last week I was able to use both of those justifications to go to the southern part of the state. Mrs. D and I met Emily at her house and then we drove about 30 miles farther to Fountain, which is one of the trailheads for the Root River bike trail.

The trail begins in open fields

The trail starts on the edge of town and goes through some rolling farmland before descending into the Root River Valley.

Even though the sun was shining, the trail was very wet after a hard rain during the night. We immediately had brown water spots all over our backs.

Mrs. D and Emily

The scenery is beautiful — green and lush. Because it was a weekday, there wasn’t a lot of other bike traffic.


After winding 11 miles through the forested valley, we emerged in Lanesboro, a small town that looks like a small town should.

Everybody seems to love Lanesboro and it appears from time to time on “best towns” lists. Recently it was featured on Yahoo Travel’s “Prettiest Towns”.

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The trail was closed for bridge repair a couple of miles later, so we turned around a little earlier than planned and headed back.

After stopping to do a little window-shopping on the way back through Lanesboro, we had still managed a nice 26 miles by the time we returned to Fountain.

The total length of the trail is 42 miles from Fountain to Houston. Go here for more info and a great map. Plus there’s an 18-mile spur trail called the Harmony-Preston trail that heads southward from about half-way between Fountain and Lanesboro. I think next time I’ll start in Lanesboro and do a 62-mile round-trip to Houston and back.

It’s a great ride, no matter what part of the trail you’re on.

After we returned to Rochester and had lunch, I took off for Owatonna to shoot some video for MinnPost. It was a great day and I might never have done it without my two new reasons for getting off my butt and on the road.