Monday, June 24, 2013

Camping at Villanueva on the Summer Solstice

We headed for Villanueva State Park to spend the weekend of the Summer solstice. We also were expecting the largest full moon of the year. Villanueva State Park is about 73 miles from our house and is located in a narrow and scenic canyon along the Pecos River in north central New Mexico.

The river level was so very low and the water was muddy. I did try fishing but caught nothing.  But it was relaxing to cast my line again and again into various pools and riffs.

Trying to fish the Pecos with water levels so low was pretty useless.
The water was turbid and brown...

...but the bright sunny morning called
to me for  a solitary walk along the river 

The peacefulness of the river walk just south of the campground
was such a contrast to the noise

Our campsite was right on the river, with willow, pinon pine, juniper, and cottonwoods providing welcome shade in the 90+ degrees.

Our site had a nice sheltered picnic table, too.

Ron relaxed at the campsite and I checked out the wildflowers. I found many Chocolate Flowers or Green Eyes Berlandiera lyrta and they do, indeed, smell like chocolate.

 The Cane Cholla Cactus Cylindropuntia imbricata was blooming as well:

No fires are allowed in the campground because of the drought and extreme fire danger, so we cooked our meals on our trusty Coleman stove. After arriving on Friday, June 21st, our peace was disturbed by our neighbor's gasoline generator.  Why it had to run for the daylight hours and then into the night until 10:30 PM, I have no idea.  It was jarring and totally disturbed the natural ambiance of the area. We used a nice, quiet power converter to power my laptop and managed to watch a DVD movie though the din of the generator. We were happy to see them pack up and move Saturday morning.  We expected to greet the full moon rise that evening under more peaceful conditions. However, a large group moved in Saturday just across the street from our site and the PARTY  began in the early evening with drinking and marijuana, loud cars visiting, music and kids screaming, loud talk and profanity - even firecrackers - went on until nearly 2 AM.   The Ranger came by and told them to quiet down and the music went off for about an hour but started up again.  The Ranger came by again near midnight and told them if they didn't  quiet down, they'd have to leave.  The kids demanded "how could people be told when to go to bed?" Overall, we were in shock that people could get away with such behavior and were disappointed that park enforcement of the rules was so lax. This was our third camping trip to Villanueva and we've never seen such rude campers like this. We resolved that if we came back to Villanueva State Park, it would only be on a non-weekend.  

We packed up about 9AM on Sunday and headed for Riberia to have breakfast at La Risa Cafe near I-25 between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, NM.  We like to stop here for a good meal and local color.  They have an outdoor enclosed patio that is now cooled with a recent AC addition. Gill's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog reviews the restaurant here.

Villanueva is an historic Hispanic village in a beautiful hidden valley along the Pecos River. The Spanish explorers including Coronado first visited this area in the 16th century. Other points of interest nearby are the Madison Winery and the Imus Ranch, both located in Riberia.

Sign commemorating the Spanish explorers who
have traveled through the present day location
of the park

Center of the village of Villanueva

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Family Ties - Our May Trip to the Midwest to Visit Old... and New... Family

For months, Ron and I had planned a spring-time road trip to see his daughters in Minnesota and Iowa. To save money, we planned to drive. In January, we discovered that Ron had a previously unknown sister in Ohio (Ron had been adopted as a baby and only recently became aware of his birth family) and we decided to extend our trip to include a visit with his sister and her family. A road trip through 9 or 10 states, at least 3500 miles, was a bit daunting, even to veteran road warriors like Ron and I. With serendipitous timing, Southwest Airlines announced a great sale if we booked by February 7th so we booked airline tickets to Minneapolis from Albuquerque, to Columbus, Ohio from Chicago Midway, and from Columbus to Albuquerque for less than $600 for the two of us.  What a deal! We rented cars so we could get around in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Ohio.

Our long awaited trip to the Midwest finally arrived on May 7th.  We flew into Minneapolis to visit my husband's daughter, Anne, and her children, Milla and Will.
Ron and Milla at his daughter's Chaska home.
We were so pleased to visit the grandchildren and see how they've grown since their visit to our home in December, 2012.  We arrived on the day of Will's 10th birthday. Will is an introspective boy, bright and sensitive, with a great sense of humor. 

Anne with daughter, Milla
His younger sister, Milla,  is a self-possessed and out-going five year old, with an impish smile and sparkling blue eyes.

We went out to dinner that evening to a local taqueria that Will favored but, unfortunately, it was closed that evening, so we ended up at Tommy's Malt Shop for burgers and malts.  After a mega carbo-load of burgers, fries, and malts, we returned home for a Birthday Party brought to Will from his Minnesota Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma Diane designed a special birthday cake that looked like a giant ice cream banana sundae. My diet was doomed for the rest of our vacation by all the tasty temptations we would encounter from that day forth. We spent three days in Minnesota doing grandparent activities including watching Will's school play, transporting Milla to pre-school, playing chess with Will, reading stories to Milla, going to the Mall of America for dinner at Will and Milla's favorite restaurant: Tucci Benucch.

Will in his school play where he was the defense attorney
 for an accused lunchbox thief
Will reading his lines

Milla on her way to pre-school

Milla in her Little Red Riding Hood dance costume
with Grandpa Ron

Will carefully guarding his ice cream stuffed cream puff dessert at Tucci Benucch
Anne's neighborhood is in the center of  restored watershed and it was alive with all kinds of birds and Canada Geese.  Spring was late in Minnesota and flowers and new tree leaves were just beginning to come out.  I enjoyed my walks across the street from Anne's home in this much greener (and wetter) country than my own parched State.

Pond across the street from Anne's home

Previous drained farmlands in Chaska, MN
were restored to wetlands prior to building new homes

Walking path trough the wetlands

A Red Wing Blackbird amid the Cat Tails

Canada Geese on the pond
 On May 10th, Ron and I drove to Davenport, Iowa to see Ron's other daughter, Margaret, her husband, Jeff, and son, Max. Getting some advice from a fellow blogger Troutbirder who lives in southeastern Minnesota, we took a scenic route through rural Minnesota to Rochester where the famous Mayo Clinic is located.

After a lunch stop across the the street from St. Mary's Hospital (the first hospital built by William Mayo in 1889, we headed southeast to the bluff country just west of the Mississippi River .  Following the winding roads where lakes and rivers, farms and fields predominate, it was a pleasure to see with my own eyes the wonderful country that Troutbirder has often posted about on his Blog. We headed south to Decorah, Iowa where the Norwegian American Museum is.   My father was of Norwegian-descent,  and born in Minnesota, so I would have liked to visited the museum.   Unfortunately, we did not stop for a visit because we needed to be in Davenport by 5PM.  We proceeded south to Dubuque (a port city on the Mississippi River).  We stopped at a scenic view of the Mississippi River and purchased some local honey and berry jam from roadside vendors.

The Mighty Mississippi River just south of Dubuque, Iowa
We arrived at Jeff and Margaret's home in Davenport, Iowa with minutes to spare.  Jeff pulled up with little Max about 5PM.  Margaret soon followed.  Their new home bought last year is a lovely 1940's home in a neighborhood of older, well-maintained classic homes.  We spent a comfortable 3 days with Margaret's family, enjoying her home-made crab cakes, going to the Farmer's Market and the Zoo with Max, and dining out a couple of times. Max is a happy inquisitive 2 year old and he obviously makes everyone around him happy.

Margaret with Max (2  years, 5 months)

Daddy Jeff (picture taken by Max)

Father and son having fun at bath time
Mother's Day at the Rock Island Zoo

Grandpa Ron showing Max how to use a cell phone

Dinner out with Max

Me with Max

We departed Iowa on May 13th by car, heading for Chicago (Midway Airport) for a 5:00 flight to Ohio.  Just outside of Chicago,  Ron spotted a White Castle restaurant and suggested we have some White Castles  ("sliders" in the Midwest where these soggy tiny two-bite burgers with onions have been around for 91 years).  I had never had one. We bought six -- two with cheese, two plain and two with jalapenos and cheese.  I was not overly impressed but I didn't grow up with them as Ron had.  His memories of White Castles are tied to his youth when he and his friends headed for White Castle after an evening out.

We arrived in Columbus that evening and were greeted at the Airport by Ginni and Fred (Ron's sister and brother-in-law).  I know Ron was nervous about meeting his birth sister and her husband, but they greeted us with great warmth and friendliness as if they had known us all their lives.  Fred drove us to the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant for a late dinner where we got to know each other, then whisked us off to their home in Columbus for the night.

Fred and Ginni (Ron's sister)
Reunited after 73 years - Ron and Ginni

Fred and Ginni with Ron

We spent the next day talking, talking, and talking. Fred gave us a tour of Columbus' renovated downtown and Ohio State University.  The new bridges, river parks, cafes and lofts made Columbus look very attractive. For dinner, Ginni made a Slovenian meal of Chicken and Njoki (Potato Dumplings) with Apple Strudel for dessert.  Both of the dishes were made by Ginni the way their mother had taught her.  She also served us Potica (Nut Roll).  That evening, we had a gathering of both Fred and Ginni's children so we could meet many of Ron's nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and nephews.  We gathered in Fred and Ginni's lovely patio garden in the warm early evening.  Delightful bright red cardinals sang for us.

Ron with his nephew, Dan - Ginni's son

Ginni and Ron with Dan, Grand Niece Rachael,  and Grand Nephew Lucas
The next morning, Ginni's daughter, Jennifer and husband, Jon, joined us for breakfast before we left for a visit to Cleveland.
Jon and Jennifer (Ron's Niece)

I had never been to Cleveland.  Ginni joined Ron and I on our trip to their hometown.  We stopped at Ginni's son's home near the Lake Erie shore in Cleveland. Greg had purchased a beautiful old home just ten doors from the lake shore for about $64K a couple of years before.  He has lovingly restored the home and it is a jewel.  Greg joined his mom, Ron, and I for a trip to St. Paul's Cemetery to visit  the graves of  Vincent and Sylvia, Ron's birth parents, and also the grave of his Grandmother, Mary Brgles.

Greg, Ron, and  sister, Virginia (Ginni)
Ron's birth father died in a truck accident
 before Ron was born

Ron's mother, Sylvia, gave Ron up for adoption and remarried about six months after Ron was born.  Ron never knew his mother. Ron was adopted about 4 years later and  his last name was legally changed.  His mother never knew what had happened to baby Ron.  We have found out now that Ron's sisters and brothers lived in the same neighborhood as he and even attended the same school as he did in the 1950's!
Ginni went home with Greg while Ron and I went to Peninsula (southeast of Cleveland) to see a former home and an old friend, Lily. Peninsula is located in the scenic Cuyahoga Valley National Park and was built along the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath. We found his home (built in 1841) and the present owner who graciously allowed us to tour the property and talk about changes to the property and area since Ron had moved.

Ron's old Peninsula home

Chatting with Mr. Johnson who bought the home from Ron 38 years ago.
Ron reflecting on the backyard landscape

Some things were the same and some things were different.
Ron lamented the loss of a huge Tulip Poplar that had been cut down

Mr. Johnson and Ron talking about the house and
the changes he had made over the years.

Mr. Johnson had removed the stucco exterior and replaced it with vinyl siding

Looking from the back deck to the end of the property adjacent to the Cuyahoga River
The front entry to the house

After touring the home where Ron had raised his young children we went across the street to see his old friend and neighbor, Lily.  We enjoyed several hours of conversation and dinner and then left for our hotel in Independence (a suburb south of Cleveland).  The next day we toured Cleveland via a Lolly the Trolley City Tour , toured University Circle where Case University (now Case Western) has many beautiful buildings, and visited the world-class Cleveland Museum of Art. Ron had attended Case as a young man. Later we drove by Ron's Cleveland family home where he grew up and his old high school building that once housed Holy Name High School before it moved to Parma Heights. Today it houses Holy Name Elementary School.

The atrium between the buildings
at the Cleveland Museum of Art

One of three giant "Water Lilies" paintings by Monet
is at the Cleveland Museum of Art

An Auguste Rodin sculpture

"Dancers" by Degas

Vincent Van Gogh

Edward Hopper

Tiffany lamps

A wonderful interactive exhibit of religious paintings and
symphonic music 

Beautiful architecture of the original building

View from the original entrance

As an artist, I loved the Museum of Art.

Of course, we paid homage to The Cleveland Browns football stadium
We postponed our visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until the next day and returned to our hotel.  On the advice of a local, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Corleone's Ristorante in nearby Parma.  Absolutely first class Italian cuisine!

On the morning of May 17th, we headed for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but we were blocked by a huge civic event.  The police told us we could not get there until 1 PM.  Unfortunately, we could not wait that long, so we picked up Ginni and returned to Columbus.  Reunited with Fred, we headed for dinner at the Columbus Fish Market near Ohio State University where we enjoyed excellent seafood.  Fred took us for a second tour of a vibrant Columbus before we went home.  Ron's niece, Jennifer, and husband, Jon, visited us again in the morning. We then headed for Columbus' Park of Roses to check out the blooms.  It was a little early for most of the roses, but a walk through the pleasant gardens was certainly welcome before our long flight home that afternoon.

Me enjoying the gardens in Park of Roses
We headed to the airport to return to Albuquerque via Chicago. Finally arriving home late the night of May 18th, we were greeted by our cats, Beeto and Precious.  Thanks to our neighbors, Cathy and Linda,  for keeping them, and our house, safe and sound.