The Strato Bowl is the best of both worlds for us: Hiking for me, aviation for Mike. It was the such a fun Labor Day outing. We got some exercise, enjoyed incredible views and learned something new about aviation history.
The Stratobowl is a small, flat valley completely surrounded by the Black Hills where some of the first early manned balloon flights were launched in the 1930s. In 1934 and 1935, the Army Air Corps and National Geographic Society launched manned balloon flights into the stratosphere from this location to a record 72,395 feet. The Explorer II flight proved man could survive the altitude in a pressurized capsule, an important part of the space program and our quest to walk on the moon. Since then, the Stratobowl has hosted aviation pioneers Ed Yost, Steve Fossett, Troy Bradley and others.
The view is spectacular. There are few places where you will see such an interesting view including pine-covered hills, wide blue skies and the small stream that winds through that peculiar flat valley nestled between the Hills.
Dogs are welcome on this 1.7-mile, moderately trafficked out-and-back trail. To get there, take Mount Rushmore Road into the Black Hills (16). Stay on 16 past Reptile Gardens and Bear Country USA. Just past the service station is a small parking area on the right-hand side (westbound), marked by powerlines.
We’re back in Milwaukee this week, in the middle of a snowstorm, so my jaunt through Memorial Park in Round Rock, Texas, a couple of weeks ago seems like a dream. Thank heavens for photographic evidence!
Memorial Park is home to the rock that gave Round Rock, Texas, its name. The park is right off of I-35. Brushy Creek runs through the middle of it, and a pedestrian bridge under the highway connects both sides. There’s a playground on one side and the Sunset Strip apartment complex on the other. It’s a very pretty park although a little bit seedy.
I stopped there with the dogs after I saw the park off the highway when I was dropping Mike off for work. I had no idea that the famous rock was there, so I missed it entirely. I guess I was close, though. From what I’ve read, if you want to see the rock, you need to walk over the low water crossing near the parking lot and go along the north side of the creek.
I strolled in that direction but got sidetracked by the granite stadium stairs by the softball field. I just had to climb ’em! I did two sets with the dogs, but then Sadie refused to do any more. I wasn’t going to let our little diva hold me back, so I parked the bark babies in the Jeep and did another 13 sets for a total of 15.
The rock isn’t the only cool piece of history in the park. There’s also a Vietnam War memorial and a commemorative WWII torpedo to honor Round Rock residents who fought on behalf of their town and country.
What a fun outing to remind me that there’s more to life than the deep freeze!
While we were back in Vegas, we returned to a cherished tradition: a weekend hike in Red Rock with friends and the bark babies. Sheryl is a fellow writer. She’s full of sass and sarcasm and funny as heck.
She’s also a dog lover, mama of a cream-colored girl named Akasha. Sheryl helped us find our little man Meeko at the adoption center after a hike last spring. She drove him home for us. On this warm, clear Sunday, the dogs roamed free while we got caught up, periodically stopping to admire the stunning backdrop we’d been away from for so long.
Around 2 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, it was in the mid-30s. Practically a heat wave in Milwaukee. So Mike and I bundled up, hopped on our folding bikes, and pedaled off down the pavement.
The Hank Aaron State Trail, named for baseball legend Hank Aaron, abuts the back of the RV park. The trail follows the Menomonee River from Lake Michigan west about 13.5 miles. We’d never really explored it.
Right by the park, the trail’s not the prettiest, even in the spring when everything’s in bloom. But it holds some surprises. Roughly three miles in, we discovered the Valley Passage mural. Technically known as the Menomonee Valley Passage mural, it was painted in 2011 by artist Chad Brady.
The colorful mural is designed to represent the Miller Park area, Potawatomi Casino, the Brewers, The Milwaukee Road, bridges, buildings, birds, deer, Native Americans, fish, the Menomonee River, trees, manufacturing and canoeing.
The trail also goes through the Milwaukee Soldiers Home National Historic Landmark District, which is one of three remaining original Soldiers Homes in the country. Since 1867, the homes have provided refuge and recuperation for physically and mentally disabled soldiers – starting with those who had survived the Civil War. Three of the buildings are being restored, but amazingly, the rest are still being used to care for veterans today.
You just never know what you’re going to find in your own backyard.
Mike and I did our second 5K together in a month when we wogged our way to the finish line at the ‘Stache Dash. The run was in support of Movember, an international movement to raise awareness for prostate cancer and other men’s issues. It was nice to know that part of race fee was contributed directly to the Movember charity.
After somewhat warmer weather earlier in the week, things had turned cold in Milwaukee – just in time for the Saturday event. Although it helped that the race had a later start time of 12 noon, it was still a mere 23 degrees – with 15-mph winds – when we queued up. We ended up bringing up the rear when my mustache hat flew off in one of the gusts and I ran back to retrieve it. At least I got some extra running in! The costumes were super fun, and there was pretty scenery along our route.
We had a great time despite the cold. The best part was that Mike brought home his first medal! Now we just have to find someplace to display it in the rig where it won’t take a chunk outta the wall as we motor down the road.
Because we were having such a wonderful time with Grant, Barbie and their daughter Catie in Virginia Beach, we didn’t make it to DC to do the Diva Dash. Instead, I ended up doing the Undy 5000 a week later. It wasn’t an obstacle race, but it was notable because it was my first event with a dog. While Mike and Sadie cheered from the sidelines, our little athlete Meeko was my running buddy. He did great. At the halfway mark, I joked with the race volunteers that if Meeko was running by himself, we’d already have finished.
The Undy 5000 is a family-friendly, dog-friendly 5K run/walk that was created by the Colon Cancer Alliance as a fundraising event. All through the course there are informational placards about colon cancer, and the finish area has a giant blow-up colon showing how malignant polyps and advanced cancer look. Participants are encouraged to run in their “undies” to bring attention to the area affected by colon cancer. We were so busy doing stuff in DC that I didn’t have a chance to go shopping for a top-notch costume. So, the night before the race, I created an outfit with a polka-dotted tank top, lace-trimmed boxer shorts, and striped tights. Not my best look, but it worked. Meeko was the real star of the show anyway.
The race was held in Rock Creek Park. Not only is the park stunning, but it also has quite a history.
For millennia, American Indians quarried rock outcroppings to make tools, fished the creek, and hunted wild game in the woodlands. In the 1600s and early 1700s, European Americans claimed title to the land. As tobacco farming and African American slavery became more widespread, Georgetown was chartered at the mouth of Rock Creek. In the late 1700s and into the 1800s, tobacco farming exhausted the soil, resulting in many farmers switching to wheat and corn production. Gristmills, the most successful being Peirce Mill, were constructed along Rock Creek to convert grain into flour.
The Rock Creek area was deforested during the U.S. Civil War. Logs and branches were felled and then laid out systematically throughout the soon-to-be park by Union soldiers to make a Confederate march through the valley impossible. Civil War fortifications in and around the valley bombarded General Jubal Early’s Confederate troops during the July, 1864 Battle of Fort Stevens.
In 1890, Rock Creek Park became one of the first federally managed parks. Since then, citizens seeking recreation and re-creation in nature have sought out this 1700 acre park.
Doing events like this is one of the many wonderful things about our nomadic lifestyle. I am fortunate to run in lovely, historic places all around the country, places I’d normally never get to experience.
A bicycle is a great way to explore a city, particularly when there’s a guide pedaling with you, sharing history and pointing out interesting facts. Bike and Roll offers bicycle and Segway tours in five major metropolitan areas. In Washington D.C., there are several tours available out of three different locations. Mike and I took the Capital Sites tour, which departs from the Old Post Office Pavilion near the National Mall.
We were there just before the government shutdown, so everything was open. (There was, however, a lot of activity on Capitol Hill. I guess it wasn’t very productive, though.) Riding Trek comfort hybrid bikes, we went from one end of the National Mall to the other, stopping along on the way as our guide filled us in on what we were seeing. We rode by the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court and a variety of Smithsonian Museums as well as visiting the World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument, and more.
Our favorite memorial was the Korean War Memorial. Nineteen life-size soldiers, scattered over a triangle of grass, are reflected in a large wall. The nineteen and their reflections create 38 people, signifying the 38th Parallel, the latitudinal line that forms the boundary between North Korea and South Korea. While most of the other memorials are very grand and almost overwhelming in their scope, this memorial is very intimate. The soldiers stare haggardly in all different directions. You can almost see them coming out of the bush, looking like deformed giants because of the ponchos covering the gear they’re carrying. The wall itself is laser etched with faces taken from real footage. It’s a powerful remembrance.
For $40, which included a bottle of water and a granola bar, we covered over 7.5 miles of territory on our Bike and Roll tour and learned a lot about our nation’s history. It was a wonderful and emotional experience.
As Mike and I headed into Rapid City, South Dakota, driving by the Flying J about a mile away from our campground in Hermosa, my eyes would be drawn to a white chapel perched atop a small hill. The green grass surrounding the tiny building was dotted with granite headstones bedecked with brightly colored floral arrangements.
One day, after I dropped Mike off at work in Rapid, on my way back to the rig, I turned onto the dirt road next to the Flying J that led up to Highland Park Cemetery.
The entrance is flanked by two historic Civil War canons, and the views of Hermosa and the road to Keystone are spectacular. The chapel holds an altar with a Bible on one side and a pew on the other. On the back wall, a glass-enclosed spreadsheet details whose remains rest there. Benches are scattered around the grounds, and there’s often a white-tailed bunny scurrying about.
That day, and every other day after that, I did my morning run on the gravel tire tracks that encircle the site. The solitude was soothing; the panorama was inspiring. A special, peaceful place.
Horses at play kept me company on my run through our RV park in Hermosa, South Dakota.
“Motivation is a fire from within; only you can light it.”