During His creation God did some great work. Some of his finest was this place we call the United States of America. First he laid out the area, then added mountains, great plains, deserts, lakes, valleys, and rivers. When He was finished He took a step back and made one final addition to the landscape.
He took his enormous pointer finger and gouged out a line, in about the middle, from north to south. This caused a gorge to mound up on each side, which created hills and valleys. Then he pushed His thumb into the gorge about one quarter of the way down, which made some bigger hills and deeper valleys. He finally brought the rain and filled it with fresh water. We named it the Mississippi river.
That place where God pushed His thumb is now the meeting of Southwestern Wisconsin, Northwestern Illinois, and Northeastern Iowa. It is some of the most beautiful country in America.
My wife and I just got back from a three day road trip to that area. We stayed in Dubuque Iowa, and toured Galena, Ill. This may sound a bit boring to some, but I can’t remember when I felt so relaxed and peaceful. Every place we went, we took “The roads less traveled”.
On our way to Galena from home I spied a sign for Dickeyville. This sparked a childhood memory that I had to act on. It is home to the Dickeyville Grotto, a destination from my past. In the late 50’s my family loaded up the Desoto firedome and headed west from Chicago. The grotto was built in 1930 by a catholic priest and looks exactly as I remembered it. We toured it during our first day trip.
We also did Galena. This is B&B heaven. The five block main drag is made for the casual tourist. It is elbow-to-elbow with shops, taverns and restaurants. Not the tacky stuff. We are talking authentic old town charm here.
There are many historic buildings and homes surrounding the main drag. I think we saw all of them. Below, is one of my favorites.
On our second day we took another back-road drive around Dubuque. It was a beautiful crisp, sunny day. Perfect for some exploring.
Dubuque is the oldest city in Iowa. We stopped into its oldest restaurant and tavern. Which also happened to have the oldest bartender in Iowa. Who knew.
And just around back was the best scenic overlook in Iowa.
Those black dots are Angus cows and you can see the Mississippi just below the horizon.
That evening was our 41st wedding anniversary, so we headed back to Galena for the best steak in town. It did not disappoint.
So, I hope you enjoyed my little travelogue, and I sincerely hope you will visit this beautiful land, where God spent a little extra time.
Please enjoy the next chapter of my retirement trip. By the way, I think I will name this collection of stories, “Going With the Flow”, at least until I think of something better.
We were exhausted when we arrived back at our beach cottage after the baby sea otter rescue. We had not eaten dinner, but still had some cheese, sausage, crackers and a nice bottle of wine, so we settled in on our porch and took in the moon glow as it danced on the ocean waves.
I blue toothed my playlist to our portable Bose speaker, and we enjoyed some soft tunes as we relaxed in the rockers. Dar started to laugh out loud as we rehashed our adventure.
“Why do these things keep happening to us?” she mused.
“I guess we’re just lucky that way.” I replied.
We sat and talked for about an hour, before fatigue set-in and we retired for the night.
We had requested a 7.A.M. wake-up call. The kitchen delivered our breakfast at about half-past the hour. Even though the morning sky was a bit overcast, we sat outside in our bath robes and enjoyed our bacon, eggs, croissants, fresh juice and fruit.
Today was Hearst castle day. San Simean was just a short 15-minute ride back up the coast, so we hit the road at about 9:30. A light mist was falling, and some fog had rolled in. We had to stay alert, so we wouldn’t miss the entrance. We knew the castle was located high atop some hills but didn’t have a clue how to get up there.
A sign appeared that said Hearst castle 1-mile on the right. We found it and started up the road. Up and up and up. It was easily 15 minutes before we arrived at the visitor’s center. Luckily, we had a handicap sticker and were able to park close to the entrance. Dar’s knees were sore, and she had banged up her shin on the rocks last night during the otter rescue.
They had buses lined up to take the visitors even further to the castle. There was a lot of walking, so we signed up for the handicap tour. When the bus was full, we started up the hill. It was another 15 minutes before we would finally arrive at the castle.
The grounds were exquisitely groomed, and the tour guide told us to be on he look-out for animals. We didn’t see any, but had heard that some, Alpaca, buffalo, wild horses and even Zebras inhabited the 40,000 acres of free range. The views were mind-blowing. We could see forever west toward the Pacific, and brown, green and auburn rolling hills were all around. W.R. Hearst must have sold a boatload of journals in his day.
As we approached the castle entrance we could see two huge spires flanking the main courtyard. The stately palms, and evergreens, and perfectly pruned rows of hedges lead us to a large tiled patio, were the bus parked to let us off. The architecture looked to be Californian with Spanish influence. The white brick and marble structures were capped with red tiled rooves, and many of the gigantic windows were arched.
The outdoor pool was completely different. It looked more Roman. It was an enormous oval, surrounded by ancient looking structures with fluted columns. One could only imagine the fabulous old Hollywood extravaganzas that were held there. You could picture Esther Williams doing a water ballet as The Glenn Miller Band and the Andrew sisters supplied the entertainment.
Those famous power couples would arrive in their limos and convertibles. Gable and Lombard, Tracey and Hepburn, Bogie and Bacall. All the old money people and politicians would be on the guest list. Charles Lindbergh, Calvin Coolidge, FDR and even Sir Winston Churchill would make appearances. The men would dress in white dinner jackets and tuxedos with silk top hats, and the women would wear luxurious flowing evening gowns appointed with stunning diamond and sapphire jeweley.
Special guests would be seated at the long table in the main dining room and served all the scrumptious delicacies from faraway lands. Then dancing would begin in the ball room, after which they would all retire to the private movie theatre for a first run showing of a feature film, or perhaps deals would be made over Cognac and cigars in one of the private parlors.
The tour was two hours of walking, but for an extra $20, Dar and I were driven around in an electric cart whenever possible. We even had our own guide. He took us through short-cuts that the other guests did not get to see. It was like a private, behind-the-scenes viewing. We would arrive in a room or area, just after the main tour had left. And could ask all the questions we cared to.
Our guide drove us around to a service entrance with a ramp. We entered directly into the kitchen. Dar’s jaw dropped as we were shown the humongous prep area. Upgrades had been made through the years, but the old stoves, cookware and even the original ice boxes were on display.
We caught up to the tour at the indoor pool. It was also huge. The walls and ceiling were appointed with gold arches and eight-foot-tall lamps were spaced every ten feet around the perimeter. Everything reflected off the water as if we were seeing double. Our private guide told us to see him in the movies, and he stepped outside. It was the end of the regular tour, so Dar and I went through the next door into the movie theater to meet our guide.
The theater sat 50 patrons in luxurious, stuffed, armed chairs, and the walls were made of thick red sculpted carpet adorned with gold corbels and statues. We sat in the back on benches designated for visitors and marveled at the exquisite architecture. I pictured myself sitting in the middle row next to Charlie Chaplin watching “Modern Times”. Dar preferred Gable and “Gone with the Wind”.
A good ten minutes went by, and our guide still hadn’t arrived. Another five minutes went by, and still no guide.
“He did say to meet him in the theater, didn’t he?” I asked Dar.
“Yes, he did,” She said.
“Wait here, I’ll be right back,” I said.
I went back to the pool and stepped outside to look for the guide. I could see the tiled parking area, and the tour bus was gone. I had assumed our guide would collect us in the golf cart and take us back to the bus. I was a bit confused and returned to the theater.
“The bus is gone,” I told Dar.
“What do you mean gone,” she said.
“Gone. As in not there anymore. Do you think he left us here? Maybe we were supposed to stay with the tour at the pool. Holy crap. We’re stranded.” I said waving my arms.
“But he said to meet us in the theater,” said Dar.
“Well, what he actually said was, ’See you in the movies’. You know, maybe like people say, see you in the funny papers, or, see you around, when they are leaving.
“Okay, don’t panic. I’ll call the visitor center and explain what happened. It was just a misunderstanding,” said Dar.
“The next tour bus will be here in about an hour, she said as she disconnected the call. So, we have some time to kill,” she said.
I could think of worse places to be stranded. We walked back to the indoor pool. I stuck my hand in the water. It was like a bath. Dar wanted to test it also. As she bent down to touch the water, her knee gave way and she plopped head first into the deep end!
Unbelievable. Dar is a good swimmer, so she breached the water and held onto the side of the pool.
“Woody, help me out of here,” she screamed.
“Oh my God are you okay? Can you swim over to the ladder? I’ll pull you up.” I yelled.
She put both hands on the pool ladder, but her heavy wet clothes were weighing her down and she couldn’t lift herself out. I grabbed her hand and held onto the ladder rail with the other. The baby sea otter rescue suddenly flashed through my mind, and I couldn’t help my laughter. I lost my grip on the rail, and we both went in. SPLASH!
So, there we were, doggie paddling fully clothes, in the most glamorous aquatarium in the northern hemisphere. Some people just know how to live.
In our panic we didn’t think to crawl out in the shallow end. After our laughter subsided, we calmed down and made our way to the steps. Duh!
The bus wasn’t due for about 40 minutes. We needed to find a way to dry off. Of course, Hearst must have locker rooms for his guests. The doors adjacent to the pool read Ladies and Gents in gilded script. Bingo.
Inside we found towels and hair dryers. It took a while, but we were able to dry off enough to look as if we had just got caught in the downpour that was going on outside. When the bus pulled up, our original guide had followed in a van.
He apologized endlessly, as he drove us back down the mountain to the visitor center. We tried to make light of it, in lieu of the circumstances. I don’t think he really understood why we kept snickering during the ride. When we arrived at the center, he apologized once again and gave us a full refund. He was stunned when we gave him a 20% tip for what Dar said was the tour of a lifetime.