Sunday, May 21, 2006

Making Reservations for High Season

My travel authorization has been approved, so on Saturday morning (usually the best time to hunt for cheap airfare) I booked our plane tickets for Utah. Yay! NOW I know we are really going.

So here is the itinerary I have laid out:
We fly into Salt Lake City and from there make a loop that will include Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde National Park, Moab area, and back to Salt Lake for my meeting in Park City. Along the way I hope to spend time at places like Grand Staircase-Escalante, Goosenecks State Park, Kodachrome Basin (can't resist that, even if I have gone digital), Cedar Breaks, Arches National Park, Natural Bridges, and as many other places as we can fit in and still have time for short strolls and abundant photo ops.

Usually I don't make lodging reservations much in advance unless there is someplace really special we want to stay or if we will be traveling over a weekend, but I actually started booking lodging the other week, since I knew I could cancel or make changes if needed and I really want to stay in the national parks. For whatever reason, reservations at Mesa Verde were easy to come by. I got one night (of two) at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and suspect I'll be able to snag the second if I'm persistent. Zion and Bryce are proving more difficult and may be impossible. I was worried about Monument Valley, but there do seem to be some options there.

Guess I'll have to get to work!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Interstate Park along the Saint Croix River

There is a bit a sun today, so our friend Mark and I head off for some hiking along the river at Interstate Park while Lane is stuck at work.

The weather is beautiful when we arrive at the park. At the ranger's suggestion, we start off on the Riverside Trail, which runs between the highway and the rocky shore. The scene around us pretty well compensates for the too-audible sound of traffic on the highway, generally leaving us feeling like we are deep in the woods. We clamber over rocks through fields of flowers -- mostly wild geranium, but others too. The soft pastel flowers sweep away from us in all directions, carpeting the ground beneath the leafy green canopy that softens the bright blue sky above us.

All along the way we take breaks to admire the rocks, the river, and the wildflowers.

When we reach the pot hole section of the park, there are a few climbers, but otherwise we still have it to ourselves. We've pretty much had the park to ourselves the whole time. It's great.

We admire the handiwork of ancient water movement, the exposed roots of trees, and (of course) I find a few more flowers to photograph.

The park office is closed, but there is a concession stand open, so treats are available. Which I find a relief even though all I buy is a fresh bottle of water.

We engage on a short hunt for the passageway that will take us into Taylors Falls and to the Railroad Trail, which sounds flat -- and we being tired plan to take back. The route to the trail isn't particularly well-marked, but it's location is relatively intuitive and we find it relatively quickly.

As we start up the trail, I keep looking behind me. . . I wish we had more time to explore this pretty river town, but I am also eager to get on to Stillwater and lunch by the water at the Dock Cafe.

The trail is relatively level, although it too runs near the highway most of the way. About 3/4 of the way there, the trail is interrupted by a very large, very deep ravine. The railroad clearly had a trestle here. We clamber down the stairs and back up the other side.

I am rewarded for this unexpected bit of extra effort by a hillside covered in trilliums. The first we have seen.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Saint Paul Riverfront

Last week I came across the Robert Street Bridge on my return from a meeting. There were trees in bloom all along the waterfront and, on that sunny day, the view of the city from across the river was really quite incredible. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera in hand.

With out-of-town company as my excuse, I decided to return today.

The trees had finished their exuberant blooming and the sky was filled with clouds, but the view was still interesting -- it is always good to see a familiar sight from a different angle.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Saint Croix Valley Pottery Tour

Each spring there is a pottery tour just north of the Twin Cities in the Saint Croix Valley. It is usually a beautiful time of year to be out in this area, with flowers blooming in the fields and along the road.

This year there seemed to be a lack of flowers, but I did find this great old oak right across from Will Swanson's studio in Sunrise.

Of course, we also found some great pottery along the way too!

Friday, May 12, 2006

And the answer is. . . Thailand!

We booked the Thailand trip today.

We leave on my birthday, so I'm sort of viewing it as a present to myself. Of course, we leave at 1 a.m., spend 14 hours on a plane, and then arrive in Thailand the next day. So I really will be skipping my birthday. Maybe I can have a party on the plane. . .

Friday, May 5, 2006

My plans are coming together

It looks like I will soon have an answer to the question: "Where are you going on your next trip?"

We've been considering a trip to Thailand through Friendly Planet for the fall. . . either that or Egypt. I'm still tempting by Egypt, but I'd like to do that in a smaller group and spend more time. The Thailand trip looks like a great introduction to the country and includes a side-trip to Angkor Watt - a place both Lane and I have been very, very eager to visit.

At the same time, I've been pining for a trip this summer. We have been talking to my friend in Seattle about a visit out there - I'd like to go up into the mountains while the wildflowers are blooming (we did that years and years ago and it was amazing) and Lane wants to get to Vancouver to spend some time in the galleries. We had found a timeframe that worked and I had been waiting for a airfare to drop a little before booking.

Good thing I decided to wait. This week I found out I will be able to attend a conference in Park City, Utah, this summer. The conference is scheduled to begin just a little later than when we had planned to go to Europe with my parents. . . perfect.

We have wanted to do the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, and Monument Valley for a long time (we actually had been planning to do that trip the other year and dropped it to go to Botswana instead) and this looks like the perfect opportunity. Ok, maybe not perfect, as it will be very hot, crowded, and my available vacation time is a little limited, but I will be out there anyway and Mesa Verde is celebrating its centennial. I had actually considered going to Mesa Verde instead of Seattle, but thought it would make a better fall trip. Now we will put it on the agenda for this summer.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Near Granite Falls (west central Minnesota)

I have been traveling recently -- if you count quick trips around the state for various meetings. In the past month or two I have been in Duluth (on a dark and cloudy day in early spring), Redwood Falls, Waseca, and probably another spot or two that isn't immediately sprinning to mind. (I still have meetings in St. Cloud and McIntosh ahead of me.)

Some of these trips have been via air, which means I have gone without a camera because my opportunity to explore the community I am visiting consists of quick trips between the airport and meeting location -- sometimes with lunch at a good local spot thrown in.

On other trips I could have taken pictures, but just didn't do so: it was too cold and miserable in Duluth, but I should have taken pictures in Waseca, where we had lunch in the pleasant historic downtown on a perfectly lovely spring day.

On the other hand, a meeting at the Prairie's Edge Casino near Granite Falls involved a long enough drive, beginning early enough in the morning, that my colleagues and I decided to devote the entire day to it. Since neither of them had been in this part of Minnesota, it seemed like a good opportunity to stop and see what is in each of the small towns the highway passes.

In Granite Falls the goal was to find both granite (easy to accomplish, since large chunks of it are exposed along the highway at the edge of town) and the falls. We didn't exactly find a falls, but we did find a nice historic downtown and a pleasant river with with a swaying footbridge, pelicans, and a very accessible dam. Good enough!

Just outside town, there is a scenic viewpoint that provided a good view of the bucolic countryside we were driving through on this lovely spring day.

We were supposed to check out a spot on the map called Minnesota Falls. No one in the office had heard of it and there wasn't any population listed on the map, so we were going to find it and report back. It was probably a railroad stop at one time, but we didn't see any evidence of its continued existence.

We drove around Sacred Heart, but didn't take any pictures, although it too had some historic commercial buildings and pleasant leafy neighborhoods. Children played outside at the school on the edge of town.

Our next stop was just a bit farther down the road, in Renville, where we found a lovely simple church with an intriguing old building -- probably a former creamery or other agricultural building -- practically accross the street. It makes a good spot to stop an reflect.

In Danube we found another old creamery to admire and speculate about: Is it being used now? For what? How could you reuse it -- could you open a shop or restuarant in this space at the end of downtown and attract business from the local residents or the drivers of the steady stream of grain trucks that pull into the grainery across the street?

So many possibilities.

Speaking of graineries, we found a clasic beauty just a little farther down the road.

Then it was time to stop for lunch at the Pizza Ranch in Olivia and head home.