Geography



You might drive right through the town of Red Lodge, Montana on your way to the northern gate of Yellowstone Park. That would be a mistake. Because Red Lodge is more than a mere gateway town: this historic town of  2300 souls is a destination in its own right, one you don’t want to miss if you’re headed out west.

During the first week of September, my husband, sister, and brother-in-law flew into Billings, Montana, rented an SUV, and drove into Red Lodge where we had reservations at the Pollard Hotel for two nights. Friends of ours who live there—even though they travel all over the world—had invited us to visit their charming hometown. We arrived at lunchtime and weren’t due to meet them until that evening. It was a sunny fall day, with rain expected the following day, so we decided to take the acclaimed Beartooth All American Road (Highway 212) to the famous Beartooth Pass. After all, Charles Kuralt from the television show On the Road had called the route “the most beautiful drive in America.” Why not check it out for ourselves? We purchased a Styrofoam cooler and sandwich fixings at a local supermarket and headed out to explore.

Taking the Beartooth Highway.

We’re climbing, and climbing, and climbing…! After stopping at a turnout for a photo-op at 8000’ elevation, we enter a series of switchbacks that take us over 1,500 feet in seven miles. Lush forests and pristine vistas rapidly change to twisted gray trees and alpine tundra. There’s a story behind those massive chain-link fences we’re seeing. In May of 2005, a week before the highway was scheduled to open, nine inches of rain fell in three days, causing a massive mudslide that tore down the canyon, dislodging more than 500,000 cubic tons of rock. The reconstruction effort that summer cost $20 million, the same amount (adjusted for inflation) that was spent to build the road in the 1930s.

About 20 miles into this adventure, we reach Vista Point Rest Area. As we leave the parking lot, we round a series of curves called the “Mae West curves,” after the buxom star of the 1930s. Reportedly, that descriptive sign was taken down because it was too risqué! After rounding those curves, we’re astonished by the expansive vista to our right called the “Hellroaring Plateau.” The road climbing that side of the valley covers the same elevation gain in half the miles, it’s unpaved and rocky, and there are no guardrails. Needless to say, we’re not going there!

After exactly 23.9 miles on Hwy 212, we spot the Welcome to Wyoming sign, reportedly the highest welcome sign in the U.S. This is also the 45th Parallel, meaning we’re now halfway between the North Pole and the equator. At 27 miles, we reach Beartooth Basin. Here you can ski at 10,000 feet during your summer vacation. Just check beartoothbasin.com for conditions. Thanks, but no thanks! Soon after the basin we spot the Gardner Lake pullout. What an incredible view of stunning cobalt-blue lakes set into undulating waves of rock! It’s an ideal setting for selfies, but you could die if you keep stepping back to get that perfect shot. We decide to take pics of our mates instead, yelling “smile but don’t move!”

 

Suddenly we realize that we must head back from here if we are to be back at our hotel in time to check in and enjoy the evening. On the way back, we stop again at the Vista Point rest area to enjoy our lunch.

Beartooth

Wayfinding on the Beartooth.

Historic Red Lodge.

The Pollard Hotel is fascinating. Built in 1893, this was the first brick building in town, cost $20,000 to build and had 35 rooms. A glass case in the sitting room displays and explains its history. Famous guests include William E. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary, and John “Liver-eatin” Johnston. Our friends Don and Rebecca join us for drinks and dinner. We have a marvelous time. Of course, they advise us what to see in their historic town the next day.

We spend the morning walking the town, beginning with the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum. In 1990, this three-story Labor Temple building was gifted to the Historical Society. It had been built in 1909 by the Red Lodge Miners Local No. 1771 and put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The basement level contains an excellent interactive coal and hard rock mine exhibit. Afterward, we take the downtown walking tour, five blocks of Broadway lined with historic brick buildings on both sides: the Carbon County Courthouse, the Blackburn Building, the Red Lodge State Bank, and finally, the Carbon County Bank where Kid Curry and the Sundance Kid were reportedly captured after a foiled bank robbery. Before turning back we stop at a few art galleries and the old railroad terminal.

Broadway main street in Red Lodge

Broadway the main street of Red Lodge.

Driving through the Wilderness: the West Fork of Rock Creek.

We have the afternoon free, so we decide to take a self-guided sightseeing drive until the rain comes. At Gunter’s urging, John turns onto “the road less traveled” past the local Red Lodge ski area, the Girl Scout camp, and up into the wilderness. We have no idea where we are until we see a You Are Here sign. We’re at the West Fork of Rock Creek Trailhead in the million-acre Absoroka-Beartooth National Wilderness—one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states. Yep! Gunter has a reputation for getting us into adventurous “situations.” But we’re here so we may as well…drive onwards. There must be more to see.

We’re all alone back here. We stop, park on the gravel road, and listen to the creek. No-one wants to break the silence, but occasionally we whisper to each other. Please take a minute to see what I saw and hear what I heard:

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Rain clouds are forming and AAA might not want to rescue us here, so we hightail back to Red Lodge. We rest in our hotel while a soft rain drenches this town we have come to love. In the evening, our friends meet us in the hotel’s main dining room where they have made reservations to kick back and experience their favorite local band, The High Country Cowboys. What a way to conclude a memorable stay in this quaint-but-fun mountain town!

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


“To plant a tree is to believe in tomorrow.”

Planted Maple

Lois stands by one of the six maple trees she planted at Northern Bliss. She also planted a variety of ornamental trees and bushes. She calls this phase 1, a start toward replacing those 22 trees lost during the tornado.

Natural disasters take their toll on the environment, but also on the human spirit. At first, everyone rallies around the victims. The disaster—flood, fire, hurricane or tornado—dominates the news cycle. Reporters interview eyewitnesses; curious onlookers drive by to view the destruction; scrappers and scammers come a’callin.’ At first, survivors of disasters are fueled by adrenaline. They are thankful that they and their families are safe. “It could have been worse,” they mutter while surveying their ravaged homes and property.

But in less than a week the news dies down, immediate help is gone, and victims are left alone to clean up the mess. Recovery is a much longer process than most expect. Insurance companies are swamped with claims and professional services are overloaded. Soon the realization hits home: the damage is worse than they thought. Cleanup will take a lot of time and resources. Many survivors have to go back to their “real jobs” while they continue to restore their property on weekends.

On July 19th 2019, Gunter and I, along with his siblings, experienced a F2 tornado at Northern Bliss, our summer lake home in Wisconsin. I published a story about the storm and its immediate aftermath. That story ends on Saturday evening, the day after the tornado, when all of our helpers left to go back to their families and jobs. This story is about our recovery process—internal and external—that still continues 2 ½ months later.

We were more fortunate than most; we four seniors were alone for just one day before my grandson Brett and my son Jeff and arrived in his work truck complete with log splitter and tool chest. They had driven straight through from Houston to come to our aid! After evaluating the situation, it was clear that the two of them could only do part of the work, a tree service replete with heavy equipment would be necessary. Professional tree services I’d used in the past weren’t even returning calls. We would have to hire one of the men who had stopped by to offer their services. By Monday, we had engaged Nemo Tree Removal Services to topple the trees that had partially fallen, haul away the root balls, and saw up the rest. For days, they cut trees, dumping branches into one pile and cut logs into another while Jeff and Brett worked the splitter. Nemo fished some trees out the lake. In one case, he employed two cranes with baskets, working in sync, to remove a monstrous oak branch that could fall onto the house during a storm. We discovered that an enormous old oak we’d hoped to save had a gash so large that it too, threatened the house. Always, there were decisions to be made—which trees had to go and which ones could be saved. Each time yet another of the few remaining trees had to come down, my heart sank. In all, we lost 22 trees on our one acre of land. On a 100-foot section of lakeshore, every tree fell.

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Mike, the roofer we’d used to remodel the cabin last year, helped that first week as well. What a relief to have that job done quickly! Part of a branch was still inside the roof. Mike repaired the structural damage and provided estimates for interior repair to the kitchen and rec room to be done over the winter. Our insurance company had over 400 claims and only 4-5 adjustors, so work had to be subcontracted. The adjustor assigned to us lived in Duluth, Minnesota—over 100 miles away. Needless to say, claim processing and payouts proceeded at a snail’s pace. My job was to file claims as soon as we received estimates. The process was frustrating: I learned that trees are not covered unless they cause damage to housing or structures. They don’t pay for prevention, e.g., trees that had been so damaged that they might fall on a structure in the future.

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Disaster work crews—whether public or private—proceed on a triage basis. That makes sense, but slows down the process of recovery for homeowners. Clearing fallen trees from rural roads for electric line workers and emergency vehicles is the first priority for local governments; clearing driveways to get to those roads, and providing access to home entries are the first priority for commercial workers. Think snowstorms, except that trees instead of blizzards were preventing access. The next priorities are clearing trees that have fallen against structures. Trees down at the lake or in a back yard are last priority. All this means that in our situation, work crews completed some emergency work, then moved on to other customers, returning to our place later. Stump grinding (necessary before replanting can begin) is the very end of the tree removal process. That was shoved out to the 4th week of recovery and beyond; in fact, we still have stumps to remove from the lakeshore before we can restore our lake bank.

It takes a while to process grief. After shock and denial comes anger. When I was in that phase, my friends were reassuring me, “You’ll make Bliss beautiful again—even better than it was before. Granted, it will never be the same, but it will still be a pleasant, peaceful retreat. That was difficult for me to believe. As I looked at the 60 feet between the house and the dock, all I could see was a tangle of trees that had fallen on top of each other like dominoes. I couldn’t even see the dock! I could make out a speck of white that I hoped was our pontoon, way out there past that jungle. Imagine seeing a 100-to-150-foot pine lying flat. Now imagine a pile of pines. I was tempted to climb on top of the stack to see what the dock looked like, but I didn’t dare. Safety first.

Trees being cut into wood

Worker on top of fallen trees

As the clean-up moved on, those tall trees were sawed into manageable lengths and stacked using skid steers that tore up what was left of the lawn. Branches were dumped into huge piles and eventually hauled off by the truckload to the woodchip factory in Luck. Always curious, I learned a lot about the logging process. The roar of skid steers, bobcats, and cranes and the continual buzz of chainsaws drowned out my anger; I had too much to do. I hadn’t made breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a work crew since I was a child growing up on a farm, but I soon remembered how to sandwich meal preparations for Jeff and Brett, in between laundering their work clothes and helping where I could.

I had entered the third phase of the grief process: bargaining. But not with God. With the tree services, insurance companies and loggers. I was consumed in a beehive of activity as the constant buzz of chainsaws continued from morning ‘til night all across the lake. Our world had closed in. It had become our family, our workers, our White Ash Lake neighbors—all compressed together and becoming one. When we had a minute to get on-line, we didn’t tune into news or politics; we checked the White Ash Lake Facebook page to see how folks across the lake were faring and what help they might need. We could see their damaged roofs and tarped windows; the wind had violently ripped away the privacy curtain of trees that had surrounded each home.

I began to appreciate gifts that the tornado had left behind: our bright red canoe; special clay pots; the renovated cabin and its rock gardens; the stalwart Swedish couple made of concrete who miraculously escaped between two falling trees; the deer statue Nemo lifted out of the lake with his crane. Gunter ordered a flagpole and a new U.S. flag. Jeff and Brett raised it one day as we all saluted. Brett rescued a garden trellis, pounded out the dents, and re-cemented it into place. I reattached the honeysuckle vine, which still lives. All these are precious now.

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After three weeks of nonstop activity, my son and grandson left and the same day previously- scheduled August visitors arrived. I smothered my exhaustion and tried my best to entertain. After both couples left, Gunter and I slumped into depression. The bliss and magic were gone and this beloved summer home no longer brought us joy. I took out my purple pen and journal and began to write. It was then I realized that I had been navigating the five stages of grief and had fallen into that dreaded fourth stage: depression. However, we had planned a September trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons with my sister Ret and her husband John, our favorite travel partners. We love to travel, but were we up to it? So much work remained.

Gunter had a great suggestion: “Why don’t you make a list of trees you want to plant? Get creative. Let’s do something new and different…now that those oaks and pines are gone.” My spirit lifted. I’d rather create than restore anytime! For the next few days, we tossed about ideas and came up with a list of nine trees and two shrubs that could be planted yet this fall. We would make another list for spring, when those recalcitrant tree stumps along the lake shore would be gone. I ordered the plants to be delivered from the nursery the week after we’d be back.

After a wonderful trip, we returned to Northern Bliss with renewed energy and vigor. Two weeks of that fresh mountain air had refreshed and invigorated us. Full of anticipation, we watched Abrahamson Nurseries deliver and plant the new trees. Pure bliss!

“Each tree you plant is a personal testament of your having lived,” ecologists say. Just the act of watering those new trees forced me to think beyond myself. For many years, we enjoyed the marvelous oaks and pines provided by those who came before us. Now, these new maples and ornamentals will be gifts to our children and grandchildren and for generations to come. As Author Nelson Henderson said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

And that fifth stage of grief: acceptance? We’re way beyond that! We’re into creating something new—another Paradise. Just you wait and see. We may even add a bench underneath those Autumn Blaze maples.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.

 

 


When I pack up our belongings in San Diego and fly like a migrating bird to return to our home Up North, I know what I’m escaping from: I’m escaping the noise of the city. I’m tired of car horns honking, ambulances and police cars screeching, traffic whizzing, airplanes ascending and descending. I’m tired of background noise in the hallway and elevator of the condo building. And I’m even tired of the sounds of the beach: roller blades clinking over each crack in the boardwalk, youngsters partying in the Jacuzzi, jet skis revving up on the bay at 6:00 a.m. I realize that, even in our own space, noise enters like an unwelcome intruder.

When I leave the condo, sounds increase to a dull roar. Muzak piped into elevators and shopping malls was bad enough, but now televisions and video screens are everywhere—in waiting rooms, restaurants, and coffee shops. Even gas stations blare out music and weather updates. Those who want to drown out those sounds listen to podcasts emanating from their earphones. It seems that all the world is eager and willing to bear nonstop sound. Is silence an uncomfortable experience for them?

Noise pollution is a real health hazard. Loud sounds trigger fear, the flight- or-fight response of our endocrine systems. That causes a spike in blood pressure and stress hormones such as cortisol. These adaptive mechanisms helped our ancestors survive a wild animal attack but if they are triggered day after day, they take a toll on our cardiovascular systems.

A 2007 study by a working group called the WHO Noise Environmental Burden on Disease found that long-term traffic noise exposure in cities may account for around three percent of deaths from coronary artery disease each year. According to the study, that’s about 210,000 Europeans annually killed (in part) by noise. Other studies showed that children living near airports score lower on reading and memory tests.

The sounds of silence. It’s no wonder I look forward to returning to our refuge, Northern Bliss, each spring. Heading north takes me to that silence I crave. Because creativity needs silence to flourish. The poet Khali Gibran said,
“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.” Silence refreshes the soul.

As soon as my husband Gunter and I cross the St. Croix River and spot the sign that says WELCOME TO WISCONSIN, we can feel our bodies begin to relax. Ah! We’re almost home! Do birds feel that same sense of relief when they finally land after their long journey back to where they raised their young?

The first day of coming home is fun, yet hectic. It is Mother’s Day, May 12. My daughter greets me at the airport and my granddaughter welcomes me by re-stocking our fridge and pantry. The second day, I climb into the hammock with a book in hand. It doesn’t take long to drop that book, breathe in the fresh spring air, and listen to those long-awaited sounds of silence.

A few moments later, I realize that my inner transformation is complete. Silence has awakened my senses. I can see clearly now and my heart is filled with joy. I cheer on the hostas, green spears only three inches high, piercing through the earth. I admire the fiddlehead ferns, fuzzy balls on short stems, just beginning to unfurl. I jump out of the hammock and dig into the soil with my bare hands. I’ll soon plant flowers here! The soil feels moist. It smells earthy and rich—totally different from the sandy, parched soil of California. I return to the hammock to inhale some more silence.

But this time, I’m attuned to the nature enveloping me and my world is no longer silent. I’m swathed in a euphony of sounds. I recognize the scree-scree of a blue jay and the rat-tat-tat of a pileated woodpecker drilling a hole into the bark of nearby tree. When I look up, a bald eagle whooshes over the roof, returning to his nest on the lake. A gentle breeze whispers through the pines and rustles the maples and oaks. The windmill slowly turns while rippled waves lap the shoreline and the door chimes ring ever so softly.

I’m reminded of the words of William Penn: “True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website https://loisjoyhofmann.com.


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference. –Robert Frost

Lois at the Salton Sea Visitor Center

The Salton Sea. After a spring visit to Joshua Tree National Park, Gunter and I avoided the Anza-Borrego “super-bloom” crowds on the way back to San Diego and decided to take the road less traveled, turning toward Indio and the Salton Sea. We took CA Highway 111 to the North Shore Visitor’s Center. The Salton Sea, 34 miles long and encompassing 343 square miles, is the largest lake in California. It is an accidental lake, born from an engineering mistake made 111 years ago. A network of irrigation canals was built across the southern part of the Salton basin. They proved too small to handle flood waters and were poorly built. Inevitably, disaster struck when heavy rainfall combined with snowmelt poured into the canals from the Colorado River. The deluge broke through the canal’s headworks, breached the levees, and flood water flowed into the massive basin. The event created two new rivers, the New and the Alamo. Left to its own devices, the lake would have dried up due to evaporation rates of 180 cm per annum with precipitation of only 5 cm per year. But in 1928 Congress decided to use the manmade lake as a repository of runoff agricultural wastewater from the Imperial Valley, a process that continues until this day despite ongoing protests.

At the Visitor Center, we watched a short video about the ancient and modern history of the Salton Basin. Then we wandered around the area. One sign pointed out that there are 400 different species of birds that visit this sea; some of them stay year-round. Over 400 million Tilapia live in the sea as well. Cahuilla Indians once occupied these lands. Originally the Salton basin held a much larger body of water—ancient Lake Cahuilla, well above sea level. As the lake shrank, natives moved their villages down from the mountains and settled areas once covered by water. Fish camps followed the contours of that ancient lake. Fast forward to the1950s, when the Salton Sea became a tourist haven. Fishing, boating, hotels, and even a yacht club caused beachfront properties to skyrocket. Business boomed as visitors came from all over California.

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Bombay Beach. A friendly clerk at the Visitor Center said told us that Bombay Beach might be a good place to stop for a homestyle lunch. So, we drove further along 111, marveling at the desert flowers along the way. A small sign pointed to the settlement. We drove past a ramshackle bar/restaurant sporting a sign, Home Cooking. “This can’t be right,” I stammered as we ventured inside. I had imagined sitting on a patio under multi-colored umbrellas viewing the sea! The smell of rancid frying oil, beer, sweat and smoke assailed our senses. Gunter groped for my hand in the darkness. “Let’s get “outta here.”

Back outside and blinded by the sun, I looked back and quipped: “A collection of lost souls thrown into the dungeon.”

We pushed our Nissan onward through the sandy street, past run-down trailers, slab shacks with metal roofs, and rusty vehicles-without-tires collapsed into unkempt yards. As we turned the corner at a concrete dike that blocked the sea view, we encountered a block filled with child-size teepees. An “artist statement” says Ghost Town. Gunter laughed. “This place is a stitch!” We left hungry; that home cooking was nowhere to be seen.

Later we learned that Bombay Beach is a “census-designated place” in Imperial County, with a population of 295 per the 2010 census, down from 366 in 2000. Its elevation is -223 feet. A website called California Curiosities concludes: “I’ve seen the world after the apocalypse, and that world is Bombay Beach.”

Surprisingly, this disaster zone was a thriving resort town during the swinging 50s and 60s. An old sign, still standing, says, WORLD FAMOUS. LOWEST BAR IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE.

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Salvation Mountain. Hot, tired, and hungry, we drove further along Hwy 111 to Niland, where that same Visitor Center clerk said we couldn’t miss Salvation Mountain, right alongside the road at Niland. But we blinked, and suddenly Niland was in the rearview mirror. “Let’s go back,” I begged.

“No way!” Gunter was determined to head on to Brawley to find someplace for lunch. Then he recanted, “Well, if you drive.”

I spun around in the middle of the road (believe me, this is the road less traveled) and drove back. No mountain. I stopped at a gas station along 111. The clerk smirked as if he’d done this a thousand times. “Just continue two blocks and turn right onto Main Street. Go through town and take the road for about 2 miles. Don’t you worry when it turns into a dirt road. Can’t miss it!”

We bumped along through a deserted desert landscape until we began to see signs of life—lots of trailers and hippie-style shacks alongside the road. Then around a turn, there it was, a psychedelic creation bigger than life! The humongous artwork is made of adobe, straw, and half a million gallons of lead-free paint. Some areas are covered with murals, others with Bible verses and sayings. We parked alongside the road and rambled among all kinds of vans, trucks, and even a boat—all painted with Bible verses and art. Finally, we came to the mountain itself, painted with a red heart and GOD IS LOVE in the center and topped with a white cross. We saw groups of young people trudging to the top while others sang in groups at the bottom. What glorious diversity—people of all sizes, shapes, and colors were walking toward that mountain. Surely, the founder fulfilled his purpose!

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The Bible says that faith can move mountains. Did you know that faith can also create them? Leonard Knight wanted a mountain in his childhood dream to come true. He also wanted to move to California one day. Born in 1931 near Burlington, Vermont, he was something of a loner and said his schoolmates made fun of him for having a stutter. So, he dropped out of tenth grade and had to learn how to survive on his own. The New Englander spent most his years doing odd jobs in the Midwest. Then during a visit to his sister in San Diego in 1985 he arrived at this hardscrabble spot during a day trip. (Legend has it that he arrived in a hot air balloon.) After “landing,” he heard a message and began erecting a cross. Mixing water and hay, he applied a façade over a sandy ridge and then painted it with motifs and verses such as: Jesus is The Way. God Never Fails. God Forgives Sinners. He added flowers, suns, bluebirds, waterfalls, and a river that flows from the mountain to the Lake of Galilee in the foreground. He lived in a house on the back of the Salvation Truck, a vehicle decorated with the word REPENT writ large. For 28 years, he continued working on the project under the hot desert sun. He greeted visitors strumming his guitar and requested that all donations be in the form of lead-paint, preferably acrylic.

All paint is donated by visitors

The Salvation Truck King

“What started as a small monument of dirt and painted cement became, over time, a sprawling adobe and hay bale mountain complex, with peripheral structures made of telephone poles, tires, and car windows, as well as art cars and sculptures, all painted in a patchwork of stripes and color blocks of whatever paint was donated that week.”
—Aaron Huey, National Geographic

Salvation Mountain has grown to 50 feet high and 250 feet wide. It is truly unique and has touched and inspired visitors from all over the world. In 2011, Knight was moved into a care facility. He passed in 2014. A public charity, Salvation Mountain, Inc., was established in 2012 to support the project. coachellavalley.com

 

Leonard Knight, builder of Salvation Mountain

For more information on Salvation Mountain, go to their website at http://www.salvationmountain.us

Or watch an Amazing Places video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JAjIjXbe3Y or Roadside America https://www.roadsideamerica.com/video/61915

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website https://loisjoyhofmann.com.

 


“Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.”  –Richard E. Goodrich

Lois Joy Hofmann, Author

Lois updates her journal in Nurata, Uzbekistan.

A big thanks to YOU. I’m grateful for my readers. You made my day when I noticed that my blog had 917 followers. You’re one of those followers if you signed up to receive my blog online or in your inbox, and for that, I’m exceedingly grateful. Your continuing interest fills me with joy and encourages me to write more about the wonderful world in which we live.

I’d like more followers like you to share the joy. You can help me build my following to that magic 1000 number by forwarding my blogs to friends and family who might want to know more about the Great Outdoors or experience my adventures vicariously.  I would appreciate it if you would “like” my Facebook Author, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages as well.

I’m also grateful for the opportunity to travel by land and sea. I would not trade our eight years spent circumnavigating the world for any object money can buy. Travel has taught me to invest in money, not stuff. It has taught me to collect memories, and to press them—like flowers between pages of a book—within the folds of my heart. I’ve taken thousands of pictures, and when I look at them, I realize that I’ve collected the sights, sounds and smells of nature—and the laughter, joy, and sorrow of people around the world.

Gunter and I recently returned from a road trip to visit shut-ins. As usual, we combined our trip with sightseeing, some of it off the beaten path. Spring was ripe with fresh new growth. Along with fragrant blossoms, myriad possibilities were bursting forth. The scenes reminded me of a quote by Friedrich Gauss: “Life stands before me like an eternal spring with brilliant clothes…”

Finally, I’m grateful for my life and that I can still enjoy the Great Outdoors at will. Each of our lives is a precious gift, my dear followers. Maybe you travel and maybe you don’t. Maybe you can’t. Whatever you do, don’t let life pass you by. Cherish each day as if it would be your last.

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Related blogs:  spring and new beginning; new beginnings and second chances.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website https://loisjoyhofmann.com.

 


In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’m posting the first of my Ireland blog series. My husband Gunter and I toured Ireland in September 2018 as part of a mission to reconnect with European cruisers with whom we had sailed during our world circumnavigation. We had the good fortune of being hosted by Patrick Murphy, a native Irishman who loves his country, and his partner, Geraldine. Upon arriving, we checked into a hotel in Howth overlooking the Irish sea with a view of Ireland’s Eye, a small uninhabited island off the coast. We were close to Howth Harbour, where Pat still docks his yacht Aldaberan after sailing it around the world. During the week we spent in Ireland, Pat took us to yacht clubs, maritime museums, and shipbuilding exhibits, including the Titanic Exhibit in Belfast. These are covered in another blog called Cruising Camaraderie.

Howth Marina

Howth Marina

The Howth Castle. This was the first of many castles we saw in Ireland, including the imposing Dublin Castle. It’s a hidden gem, the private residence of the Galsford-St. Lawrence family and still occupied by the descendants. The view from the top of the peninsula of Howth Head, northeast of Dublin, provides a stunning view of the harbour and village below.

Howth Castle

Howth Castle

Sightseeing in Dublin. During our first full day in Ireland, we took a city bus directly to City Centre and then bought tickets for a city bus tour, the best way to get an overview of this vibrant city. This gave us a nice overview of the city, landmarks such as the National Museum of Ireland, the National Gallery, Dublin Castle, the Temple Bar district, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Guinness Storehouse, and Kilmainham Gaol and Hospital. After that preview, it was time to walk the city.

The Story of the General Post Office. The main avenue in Dublin is O’Connell Street, 500 feet wide, with monuments to Irish history in the middle. All the way, we couldn’t miss the Millennium Spire, a 395-foot high stainless-steel monument which replaced the 19th century Nelson’s Pillar blown up by anti-British rebels in 1966. O’Connell street’s most famous landmark is the General Post Office, which Pat described to us at length. “See these bullet holes,” he said. “These were made during the Easter rising of 1916, when a group of Irish nationalists proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic. They and 1600 followers staged a rebellion against the British government in Ireland here. They used this GPO as their headquarters.”

We talked with a “soldier” posing as a rebel outside the Post Office. Then we went inside to view commemorative plaques and statues about the Rising. We learned that the rebels, along with some 1600 followers, seized buildings in that area and clashed with British troops. Within a week, the British quelled the rebellion and left 2000 dead or injured. The leaders of the rebellion soon were executed. Initially, there was little support from the Irish people; however, public opinion later shifted, and the executed leaders were hailed as martyrs. In 1921, a treaty was signed that established the Irish Free State, which eventually became the modern-day Republic of Ireland.

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South of the Liffey. Dublin takes its name from the southwest of the city. Apparently in prehistoric times there was a dark pool (Dubh Linn) at the confluence of the River Liffey and what was once the River Poddle. During the 18th century, the Temple Bar became a center for merchants and craftsmen. The southeast was undeveloped until the founding of Trinity College in 1592. St. Stephens Green was enclosed in the 1660s but was private until 1877. Today the south is the hub of the fashionable scene, with designer stores and fine restaurants.

Liffey River

Liffey River

Trinity College. Visiting Trinity College, Ireland’s most famous educational institution, is a must. Since its foundation in the 16th century, it has produced many impressive alumni—including Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Samuel Beckett. Entering the cobbled square surrounded by green lawns, 18th and 19th century buildings, and a 100-foot bell tower might have been like walking into a bucolic time-warp—except for the hundreds of students, posters, and booths filling the space. A student orientation event was in process and the lines were so long that we couldn’t get into the library. Too bad. I would have liked to view the 200-foot long room, with two tiers of oak bookcases holding more than 200,000 books. The Old Library is home to one of Ireland’s greatest treasures: the 9th century, lavishly illustrated Book of Kells, containing the four gospels of the New Testament in Latin. We exited the campus at the front arch, in between statues of Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith.

St. Stephen’s Green. This 22-acre park with two miles of walkways is a great way to take a bucolic break within the city limits. It still has the original Victorian layout. Bedding plants are changed out during the year. We strolled past sculptures and around a serene, man-made lake. Lunchtime concerts are performed throughout the summer.

Serene lake at St. Stephen's Green Ireland

Serene lake at St. Stephen’s Green

Back at City Centre, we enjoyed a magnificent lunch at Bewleys Grafton Street Café. But the food was only a small part of our fun there. We were seated in the main dining room on the ground floor. Although the café was jam-packed tightly with tables, we didn’t mind. The entire 1920s café was decorated with art nouveau and stained-glass windows designed by celebrated Irish artist Harry Clarke. After lunch, Geraldine and I walked to the second floor to find a charming art deco café, then went up another flight of stairs to discover a small theatre at the top. Do stop here—even if it’s just for a cup of tea.

After lunch, we watched the street entertainment for a while. This cyclist/knife juggler took our breath away. He deserved his tips!

On the way back, Patrick stopped to show us a tree carved with every species of sea-life imaginable.

Magnificent Carved Tree Ireland

Magnificent Carved Tree

Finally, enjoy “the craic.” Despite the sights, Dublin would be nothing without the warmth and conviviality of the Irish people. Craic (pronounced crack) is term for news, gossip, fun, or entertainment. It’s the perfect word for describing the bubbling, sparky mix of fun and banter that is Dublin.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy.


Sightseeing in Reykjavik. Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, is home to one-third of the country’s population of about 340,000. This city is Iceland’s business, cultural, and intellectual center with a world-class concert hall and numerous small-scale museums tracing Iceland’s history. The entire city runs on geothermal power. Summer is best, when whales swim in the bay, Icelanders picnic at the park fronting the Parliament Building, and children play in the street until midnight.

Holly and I had booked a top-floor room at Alda Hotel in City Centre that provided a roof-top view of the bay. All week, we squeezed in an hour here and there in between our road trips to see the city. Our first sightseeing walks during the week were to that bay—not surprising given my love of the sea and sailing. We loved to photograph the Sun Voyager sculpture in all kinds of light. Afterward, we learned more about the Viking explorers and our Scandinavian heritage in the museums and bookstores. We ambled through some of well-to-do residential areas in the city, admiring their brightly-colored, corrugated metal-clad houses with well-kept green lawns surrounded by quaint picket fences. We frequented cute cafes and bakeries, planning what we would cram into our SUV for the following day’s Ring Road excursions.

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Saturday was our final day in Iceland. We raced to photograph as much of the city as we could before flying back on Sunday. Visitors once thought of Reykjavik as little more than a stopover to Iceland’s dramatic landscape: volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, lava fields and massive glaciers. Now the city is a “happening” place. If you have the time, you can enjoy the cultural scene; Iceland has an internationally acclaimed symphony orchestra, two professional theatre companies, an opera company, a national ballet and national and municipal art galleries. There’s even an annual arts festival. Nightlife is vibrant, as we could attest to—not by staying up until 4 am, (we preferred touring) but by hearing the noise of the city when we slid open the glass doors of our balcony room. If you do want to participate in the night life, it’s comforting to know that Reykjavik is one of the safest capitals in the world.

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Icelandic Lore, Legends, and Sagas. When we entered Mal-og-Menning, what we thought was a small bookstore, we were amazed. We were in a different world—three floors of history, sagas (a delicate blend of history and fiction), poetry, geography, science (e.g., thermoelectric power), travel, and adventure. We wandered around in a daze, wondering what was worth taking home. Would we read Icelandic history, fiction, or fairy tales when we returned? Finally, Holly settled on a Viking history book and I bought a book of Nordic Noir short stories to read on the plane. Dark stories and crime fiction seem to fit the environment here—one of cruel winters and overwhelming, mysterious landscapes.

Most literature of the ancients was written for a small and privileged elite. Icelandic sagas, however, have always been the property of the common people. Because the Icelandic language has changed little since medieval times, stories remain accessible to Icelanders in their original language. Almost every Icelander is familiar with the character and plots of major works. Iceland claims to have published more books per capita than anywhere else in the world. Numerous prize-winning authors are among its tiny population; in fact, in 2011, UNESCO designated Reykjavik a City of Literature.

Between 2008 and 2014, Iceland’s adult literacy rate remained stable at around 99 %! Preserving the purity of the language and Iceland’s rich literary tradition is important to Icelandic identity. Think about it: Anonymous 13th-century saga authors living in a desolate northern island during a raging civil war were the first to write prose in their own language instead of Latin. The sagas include countless historical chronicles, romances, fables, legends, and the lives of holy men. But the best known are the family sagas, dating back to the settlement of the land. They were passed down orally until they were finally written; however, until recently, they were regarded as undisputed historical fact! The story lines encompass great epic sprawls, with dozens of characters and sub-plots, spanning many generations. Fate plays a strong role and tragedy is usually the result of simple bad luck.

Even though sagas are the result of fact and fiction, events can be pinned to actual places. We found markers at many locations throughout Iceland. Just follow your guidebook. Many road signs merely denote the name of the farm at which the event took place. In addition to our two guidebooks, Insight Guides, Iceland and Iceland’s Ring Road by Lonely Planet, I read the paperback Burial Rites before I left. Also recommended: The Day is Dark, The Silence of the Sea, I Remember You, a Ghost Story, and Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland.

Understanding Icelandic Language. Icelandic belongs to the Nordic family of languages; it most closely resembles Norwegian and Faroese. It has not changed much from the language of the early Norse settlers. As a visitor, the language is daunting. But no worries—most Icelanders, especially the young, speak English fluently, as well as Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish. German and French are also taught in school. To pronounce a word, put the stress on the first syllable; however, you’ll find that many Icelandic sounds do not exist in English. We found the following phrases useful just to be polite:

Hello/good morning: Góðan dag
Good evening: Gott kvöld
Good night: Gott nótt
My name is: ég heiti
Goodbye: bless
Yes: já
No: nei
Thanks: takk
Yes, please: já takk
Cheers!: Skál!

After four days of touring the Ring Road, we could put together a few place names by understanding how to interpret a long string of letters:

Snæfellsnes Peninsula: snae=snow; fell=mountain; nes=peninsula
Gulfoss: foss=waterfall; gul=gold
Sönghellir: hellir=cave; söng=song
Eyia Flatey: eyia=island; flatey=flat
Laugarvatn: laug=hot spring; vatn=lake
Vatnajökull: vatn=lake; jökull=glacier
Reykjavik: reykur=smoke; vik=small bay

Icelandic History. While sagas blend legends with history and geography, one museum you don’t want to miss is the War and Peace museum depicting Iceland’s strategic role in World War II. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but well worth it. You will need to take the tunnel detour when entering or leaving the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The photos represent only a small part of hundreds of artifacts you’ll discover there.

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Iceland now has one of the highest standards of living in the world. So, it’s impossible to imagine that, prior to World War II, many visitors thought Iceland to be barely out of the middle ages. The transformation occurred almost overnight. Quonset huts and military installations dotted the landscape and the Ring Road was built to provide transportation around the entire island. This frenzy of development created an economic infrastructure for the post-war period. Iceland was proclaimed an independent republic on June 17,1944.

Churches in Iceland. I’ve never been in a small country with such a variety of church architecture. In Reykjavik, we saved the best for last: Late Saturday afternoon, Holly and I strapped on our Canon EOS cameras and walked directly uphill from our hotel to the imposing Hallgrímskirkja church. With a 244-foot tower, this modern concrete structure was designed to resemble columns of Iceland’s basaltic lava. Hallgrímskirkja, towering over the capital city, is a photographer’s dream! In front of the church is an impressive statue of Lefur Eriksson, a gift from the US in 1930 commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Alþingi, the oldest parliament in the world.

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And how many churches are there in Iceland? The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland owns more than 350 churches in the country. Hallgrímskirkja, of course, is the largest. Other Christian segregations own about 50 houses of worship. Most of the churches we saw in the countryside did not bother to provide a sign with the denomination. We suspected that all churches outside of the capital are Lutheran. Even though a fraction of Icelanders attend church regularly, they are still registered at birth. 97 percent of Icelanders say they believe in God. Social scientists, however, were astonished to discover in an opinion poll that the majority still claim to believe in the existence of elves and spirits. Apparently over 500 ghouls, trolls, and paranormal beings haunt Iceland! In a survey of the supernatural in Western Europe, Icelanders claimed the most ghost experiences, with 41 percent claiming contact with the dead, compared to the European average of 20 percent. This island—with its long periods of darkness during the winters and surreal lava formations—provides the perfect camouflage for spooks! Ghosts are not always benevolent; they could take the form of zombies. Elves, though, are held in high regard as the “hidden people.” Then there are the trolls, beings who turn to stone if they are caught outside in the daylight. The Icelandic landscape is dotted with such trolls, including the great troll-cow Hvitserkur, caught having a drink of water just off the northwest coast.

 Flora and Fauna in Iceland. A joke making the rounds in Iceland is: How do you get out of an Icelandic forest? Stand up. Nowadays, it is said, even a giraffe could stand up and not get out of the Hallormsstaðir forest in East Iceland. The trees in this forest are the Icelandic equivalent of US redwoods—eighteen-meter-high downy birch (Betula pubescens). They are almost 200 years old but look gnarly and withered. These were the type of trees that Icelandic farmers got rid of so they could grow crops and easily round up their sheep.

Holly and I—familiar with the giant oaks, maple, and walnut hardwoods of the Midwest—didn’t come to Iceland to see trees. But we were curious why so few were spared. We found out that the country lost most of its trees more than a thousand years ago, when Viking settlers took their axes to the forests that covered one-quarter of the countryside. Now, Iceland is slowly but surely gaining back its forests. The country hopes planting trees will improve and stabilize the country’s harsh soils, prevent windstorm erosion, and aid agriculture.

The flora we found most interesting were the wildflowers, lichen, and moss. At times, miles and miles of soothing green would extend all the way to the horizon—like puffs of green clouds sleeping on the ground. When we stopped to check out these moss heaths, we discovered that they have an exquisite texture that dissolves into a fine powder. There are 606 different species of moss in Iceland. One of the most abundant species is called the woolly fringe-moss, which dominates lava fields across the South and West. Iceland moss is a lichen—algae and fungus growing together in a mutually helpful relationship. Lichens draw their nutrients from the environment and are easily contaminated. They grow slowly—about 1 centimeter in length every year. They survive well in Iceland because this country is one of the least polluted in the world. It’s easy to understand why signs ask you to stick to the trails. Those areas could take years to re-grow! Take only photos but please don’t leave footprints.

The Arctic Fox is Iceland’s only indigenous land mammal — rarely photographed. We did photograph a few birds, as well as sheep and mountain goats, but the Icelandic horses took our breath away. They are cuddly and cute, like ponies, with long, wheat-colored manes. Because they have never been threatened by predators in their natural environment, they are approachable and friendly, not easily spooked. Their spirited but gentle temperament makes them perfect for riding. All along the Ring Road, you’ll find farms promoting rides to tourists.

These horses were developed from sturdy ponies transported by sea to Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries. Selective breeding has developed them into their current form. They sport a thick winter coat that they shed at springtime; they are undaunted by high winds and snowstorms; and they easily wade through glacial rivers and cross tough terrains. In 982 A.D., the Icelandic parliament passed laws that prohibited importation of any other horse breeds into the country; consequently, Icelandic horses are one of the purest horse breeds in the world.

Tips for Visiting Iceland:

  • Think about what photography equipment you might need. To watch a video about what shots are simply too dangerous for amateurs, go here.
  • Book your flight and hotels early. I recommend Iceland Air, but beware of package deals which may put you up at a hotel near the airport, away from everything. I recommend staying near the center of Reykjavik most nights so you can walk to check out tourist spots and enjoy the nightlife. Then take your road trips from there. We stayed a single night at two different Ring Road hotels as well (see my previous blogs).
  • Pack for the forecasted weather. You can buy cold-weather clothes there. For ideas, see this IceWear
  • Above all, chill out and have fun. (If you don’t want to get too chilled, go in the summertime.)

Photo Credits: Holly Ricke and Lois Hofmann

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy.

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