Trailing the Oregon Coast

For all my backroads readers, I must recommend driving Highway 20 west through the Cascades and then taking Highway 101 up the coast. In contrast to hwy 20 that has very few cars, hwy 101 has many, but you can find empty pockets, and the quality of the road is silken.

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9:30 a.m. and the fog along the coast has yet to clear.

Following the coast calls for serpentine roads, and the curves call out to motorcycle riders and sports car fans who test the limits of their vehicles and their driving skill . The coupled logging trucks are fearless. Meanwhile, as you drive west from central Oregon, deciduous trees join the firs. Below the trees a thick ground-cover brings poison ivy to mind, and mentally, I start to itch.

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If you are a coffee drinker, a coffee kiosk is only a couple of miles down the road. Oregon must have more coffee drinkers than any other state in the nation. As for decaf… don’t ask. Ask for decaf, and the locals abruptly say, “No!”  Their tone suggests that if you don’t want real lumberjack coffee, you should probably go home.

Seagulls complain ceaselessly, “Me, me, me!” The forest alternates between clear-cut and dense. Pine beetle devastation is evident as are many signs of forest fires.  From time to time the smell of smoke lies on top of  the briny smell of ocean and  fresh seafood on ice. Oregon has done a spectacular job in terms of pull-offs, scenic overlooks, historical markers, and forested paths leading down the cliffs to beach access.

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Love it!

As for roadside blooms, here on the Pacific coast, white Queen Anne’s Lace and Shasta Daisies hold court. Sweet Peas, Asters, rambling roses, and Fireweed attend the queens. Unable to identify great swaths of pinkish-purple blooms, I had to look up the name. As it turns out, the flower is aptly named ‘Fireweed,’ and it is the first flower to bloom after a fire. In London, following WW II, the same flower was called Bombweed.

I’m nor sure why seals are so appealing, but they do pull at your heartstrings. The way they use one another’s bodies as pillows is sweet. The way they cuddle one another is very pet-like. I want to take one home. We could snuggle on the couch. Seals also have a lot to say – most of it harsh. The seals in the photo below are hanging out on floating decks in Newport.

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Coming to Terms with Scale

If you had asked me five days ago, if I lived out in the country… back of beyond, I would have said yes. We who live in Westcliffe do, after all, live a good hour’s drive from Canon City, Salida, or Pueblo. But after driving only back roads in Nebraska, Idaho, and Oregon (no Interstate travel for us!), the scales have fallen from my eyes. How provincial I have been! How silly to think that I was living a remote lifestyle. Remote is not one hour from civilization. Remote is driving a hundred miles to reach a dying town smaller than Westcliffe.

Highway 2 in Nebraska and Highway 20 in Idaho and Oregon are wonderful, but the scale of the farms and the landscape (where every ranch is the size of or larger than Wolf Springs Ranch west of Highway 69 in Huerfano County) has put me in my place. And ‘my place’ is Front Range Colorado bordering on urban.

I highly recommend driving Highways 2 and 20. For the most part, you are driving 75/80 MPH and yours is the only car within sight. We saw cars through a rain spattered windshield in the Tetons, but other than that… well, there was Arco, Idaho.

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On our approach to Arco, we had seen hundreds of cars and buses taking employees? home? from work? (and where the heck was work?), but until we saw the sign in Arco, we didn’t put two and two together. Ah…  the nuclear research site 18-miles southeast of Arco was still up and running.

President Kennedy closed the nuclear powered aircraft project in March of 1961 writing, “15 years and about 1 billion have been devoted to the attempted development of a nuclear powered aircraft, but the possibility of achieving a militarily useful aircraft in the foreseeable future is very remote.” Despite a number of setbacks, Atoms for Peace is apparently alive and well. Talking to locals, the word was that the facility is working on nuclear medicine; however, an Internet search did not mention current projects.

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If you are interested in reading more about the facility, you can read a U.S Atomic Energy Press Release, dated August 11, 1955. See:

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Robert Limbert

One of our stops today was at Craters of the Moon. The lava stretches for miles, and undeterred, tourists in tents and RVs nestle in amongst the boulders and lava flows. Robert Limbert explored and promoted the Great Rift in 1920 and was instrumental in bringing the site to the attention of President Coolidge who proclaimed Craters of the Moon a National Monument in 1924 saying the site was “a weird and scenic landscape, peculiar to itself.”


Of particular interest to me were the journal entries made by those trudging west on the Goodale Cutoff north of the main Oregon Trail. In the mid-1800s, many of the migrants – hoping to avoid conflicts with the Shoshone along the main route – skirted the northern edge of the lava lands. Their journal entries are telling.

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Looking at the brutal lava fields, I tried to imagine the emigrants who dying of thirst, walked on blistered feet under a scorching sun. I can only think “They don’t make them like that any more.” It was Tim Goodale who led the world’s largest wagon train along the northern edge of the lava field. The train numbered 1,095 people, 338 wagons, and 2,900 head of stock.

It was a large scale operation.

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Road Trip

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As crazy as it sounds, we circled through Nebraska prior to heading to the Pacific Northwest. Ever since my husband Mark read that Cherry County, Nebraska was the least densely populated county in the contiguous United States, he has been hot to see it for himself. To understand his motivation, a little background for those who are unfamiliar with our hometown of Westcliffe, Colorado a town of 600 which is an hour’s drive from any town approximating a shopping mecca.

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When I took this photo, I immediately thought of the famous  painting. I couldn’t remember the title, so I looked it up. The title is “Christina’s World,” and I learned that Christina was Wyeth’s Maine neighbor who was afflicted with polio. This background information will forever ruin the painting for me. I always imagined that the able-bodied subject was brought low by the unforgiving landscape.


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Andrew Wyeth 1948 Christina’s World”

Come summer, when the number of tourists and second-home, flatland homeowners swell Westcliffe’s population, the full-timers start to moan about the traffic and the congestion. Fast lane, city folk  are pretty tense, and they bring that tension with them. The other day, standing in line at the grocery… standing three customers in front of a tourist with a single bag of chips, I turned to see her gritting her teeth. (Westcliffe has neither have a five-items-or-less lane nor a self-checkout, and I thought that she was going to have a melt-down.) Turning my attention to the gal manning the cash register, I saw her wink. Smiling she said, “I can feel the vibration from here.”

Yes, you can feel the vibration. City slickers bring their intensity with them, and so I quite understood Mark’s need to chill-out by driving through the least densely populated county prior to going on vacation. And I must say that Cherry County, Nebraska is wonderful. The sign reading “70 miles to the next gas station” said it all. The fields were Garden of Eden lush with agriculture. Corn, of course. Planted so closely together that if you wanted to walk between the rows, you would need a machete to make your way.

Looking both north and south from highway 2, you can only see a golf course perfect landscape – endless thousand-acre ‘fields’ patchworked in shades of green, tan, and burnished gold.

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Despite the beauty of industrial-scale farming, I found myself thinking about the amount of water and fertilizer necessary to make this picture-perfect, bread-basket world. The water comes from the Ogallala Aquifer, and the water is sprayed on the crops by hump-backed, irrigating machines that look like walking sticks on wheels. But the water is a finite resource. Just what, I wondered, is the status of the aquifer?

It is not good. But rather than write about it now, I refer you to an Scientific American article, “The Ogallala Aquifer: Saving a Vital United States Water Source” by Jane Braxton Little and published March 1, 2009.

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Cherry County is definitely worth a trip. But time was passing. As we turned west heading towards our ultimate destination of British Columbia, we stopped in Alliance Nebraska to see Carhenge built by Jim Reinders, who fell for Stonehenge when working in England as a petroleum engineer. His installation is fun – quirky.

Enough! Enough fun.  West to the Tetons where rain and mist heightened the atmospheric experience.

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The Cottage Look

Preparing to leave home for a month has me in a tizzy. What if my husband and I die driving to British Columbia? What if we wash overboard as we cruise north on the Inside Passage? What if… The possibilities are endless. All you have to do is buy trip insurance and possible disasters (each with a price tag) suggest themselves. Choose your bad news and then pay for it: trip cancellation, delays, hurricanes, civil disorder, and accidental death to name a few.


2017 07 the Aurora

See Marine Link Tours for further information


Once we are on Vancouver Island, we’ll drive to Campbell River and join ten other passengers aboard the Aurora. We know that we’ll be heading north, but our stops will depend on the ship’s deliveries along the way. It’s a mystery. What fun!

I can’t imagine civil disorder on Vancouver Island, so we skipped on paying for that option. But the insurance folks are missing out. They could really rake in the money if they would add travel insurance options to include the stress of planning the trip and packing for every eventuality. Mornings on the barge and later on the ocean’s edge in Tofino will be cold. I should take long underwear. One more thing to squeeze in my pack. I am frazzled. No doubt about it.


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I’ve packed the long underwear – Tofino here I come!


Looking at my to-do list, my blood thickens and slows to a crawl. My heartbeat picks up the pace, but my blood is so thick! It is like pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with cement. What if my heart stops completely? if my heart stops before I leave home, my travel insurance will not pay.

Meanwhile, there is the house. If we should die, I don’t want the neighbors coming in tut-tutting over my inattention to domestic duties. I need to clean out the refrigerator, and I should dust the piano: dust really shows up on a glossy surface at eye level. And vacuum. And wash the floors. I’ll never get to the baseboards.

If you think I’m obsessive, you don’t know my history. Years ago, my mother-in-law remarked, “Thank God, you’re a good cook; you’re not much of a housekeeper.” I was pleased that she recognized my strength. As for my weakness, obsessive housekeeping is for women who have no other interests in life. I have many interests. Her remark did not offend me; I found it humorous. That said… if Wanda is looking down from the Great Beyond, I would like to think that she thinks none the worse of me.

Leaving the garden for a month is distressing. Today I emptied the hummingbird feeders and put them away until our return. Taking lunch on the patio, we watched the hummingbirds perch on the shepherds’ crooks that formerly held the feeders. The birds frowned. They were not amused. I felt as though I had slapped them up the side of the head. Poor things! They will have to depend on Nature’s bounty. I’m out of the pictutre.



For the most part, the grass is knee-high. I think of the length in terms of ‘habitat.’


My garden is a problem. Design-wise, I’ve gone for what I’m calling “The Cottage Look.” Growing up in Horseheads New York, just south of the Finger Lakes, I am well acquainted with cottages. Many people have them. Maybe they spend a week or two at the cottage, but for the most part, the cottage is occupied infrequently – a weekend here and there. As for the grass and garden, benign neglect rules. After all, what’s the point of having a cottage if you spend your cottage-time mowing the grass and clipping the hedges?



A stroll in my garden is a walk on the wild side. Which is intentional and fine by us, but what about community standards? We do, after all, live just two blocks from Main Street. What will the neighbors say? Will our house depress our neighbors’ property values?

I should write to the travel insurance people. To their list of options, they should add ‘lawsuits resulting from dereliction of gardening duty.”








Using a red pencil, I cross off the tasks accomplished. It’s slow going. And I’m tired. I distract myself by writing a blog.

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Music Therapy

When Senator John McCain‘s diagnosis of brain cancer was released a week ago, my hopes soared. Maybe the public’s sympathy for 80 year-old McCain- based on his five and a half year incarceration and torture in North Viet Nam- would bring a modicum of unity to a polarized Congress. Maybe  people would remember candidate Trump’s unforgivable comment that McCain was not a war hero: “He’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured.” Maybe popular support would bridge the yawning gap between the entrenched Republicans and Democrats. Maybe McCain’s precarious health would bring everyone to the table on health care reform.

But no. Yesterday, Senator McCain voted to advance Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Luckily the Senate voted down the repeal. As for a replacement… that is still pending, and any sympathy for McCain has evaporated. McCain’s party loyalty trumped his concerns for others diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses – others who would rely on Medicaid to pay for their treatment.


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“In a Bubble” Luciano Lozano

I’m so silly. I live in a bubble… always willing a good outcome. I should know better. Believing that reason and fairness will win the day… believing that the sun will come out tomorrow is just wishful thinking.

I love the work of Luciano Lozano. Like the girl in the yellow bubble – hanging onto a sunny day – I have a tendency to believe in the inherent goodness of my fellowman.  Like I said, “I’m so silly.”


Forcing myself to rise above despair, I read good writing and listen to music. Earlier in July, I had the good fortune to catch Westcliffe’s four-day, Bluegrass Festival. Every bluegrass day is a good day, but my favorite day is Sunday when the close harmony of those singing gospel gives me a sense of oneness.

DSCN4792Ron Thomason leading the Dry Branch Fire Squad is one of my favorite performers. Sometimes his storytelling makes me laugh; other times his storytelling makes me think. On Sunday, July 9, he talked about recently seeing prehistoric cave paintings made between 49,000 and 16,000 years ago. His message was about seeing and having faith in the dark. The caves were one half mile deep into darkness. The men who painted the caves had little light and had no means of seeing their entire paintings at one time. And yet, looking at the paintings today, lights off and then flickering on, Thomason could see the horses running towards the entrance of the cave.

2017 07 cave horsesThe Paleolithic horses were running towards the light. Something for me personally to keep in mind.


To that end, this week forty-four students will attend Jazz Camp this week and study under the mentorship of the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts. The Denver-based jazz band Convergence opened the week with a concert at Coyote Moon. Undeterred by two members who were delayed (one because of a traffic incident and a second because his car broke down coming up the Hardscrabble) the group performed with aplomb despite last minute stand-ins – a tribute to the professionalism of the core members and the bass and trumpet player who stepped in. And kudos to vocalist Bar Scott who dazzled singing two songs a cappella before one after another the instrumentalists joined her.



Convergence plays at Coyote


Wednesday, July 26 beginning at 6 p.m., you can catch the students in performance at Tony’s Pizza in Silver Cliff. Whatever you do, don’t miss the musicians’ free concert on Saturday the 29th beginning at 11:30 a.m. and running to 3 p.m. See you at the Feed Store Amphitheater on North Second Street, Westcliffe.

Just when you think the future looks grim and getting darker, talented and focused young musicians come to town to give us hope.

You don’t get to lie on a couch but the music therapy is free of charge.

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Tuesdays With Morrie

I think we have all attended a play or musical performance that failed to meet expectations. We clapped half-heartedly and were anxious to be on our way. But alas, a less discerning member of the audience stood for an ovation and slowly… ever so slowly… person by person (lone sheep by lone sheep) more people joined in. I HATE THAT!

And so this past weekend watching Tuesdays with Morrie on-stage at the histori Jones Theater, I was thrilled to leap from my seat and join the audience in an instantaneous, collective, electrically-charged standing ovation. The audience response was a tidal wave of enthusiasm.

If you read Mitch Albom‘s  memoir Tuesdays with Morrie, you are going to love the play and the players. You’ve heard the buzz and the word-on-the street. You cannot miss this production. If you haven’t seen the play yet, you can still attend Friday or Saturday, July 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. The final performance will be Sunday, July 23 at 2 p.m.

Under the able direction of Scott Chapmann, Tom (Frosty) Frostman plays Morrie, a retired professor who is in the final stages of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Riley Capp plays Mitch, one of Morrie’s former students who is a driven, renowned, sports columnist. Nearly 20 years have passed since Mitch was Morrie’s student, but on hearing of his mentor’s illness, Mitch reconnects with Morrie where, over fourteen visits, Mitch learns as much about living as he does about death.



Life at a distance

If this sounds grim and depressing, I promise you that it is not. In the opening scene, Morrie is dancing. His moves are external manifestations of an internal lust for life. He may be dying, but he is complete. In contrast, Morrie’s former student is healthy, successful and incomplete.


I don’t have the script in front of me, but I have my copy of Mitch Albom’s memoir at my side. Without the author’s permission, I’ll share a short passage. The passage is short, but the summation tells all. Mitch asks Morrie, how he would spend his day if he had only 24 hours left before death:

“I’d get up in the morning, do my exercises, have a lovely breakfast of sweet rolls and tea, go for a swim, then have my friends come over for a nice lunch. I’d have them come one or two at a time so we could talk about their families, their issues, talk about how much we mean to each other.



Life Up Close and Personal


“Then I’d like to go for a walk, in the garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature that I haven’t seen in so long now.

“In the evening, we’d all go together to a restaurant with some great pasta, maybe some duck – I love duck – and then we’d dance the rest of the night. I’d dance with all the wonderful dance partners out there, until I was exhausted. And then I’d go home and have a deep, wonderful sleep.”

Mitch wonders how Morrie, after being paralyzed for so long, could find such pleasure in such an average day. And then Mitch writes, “Then I realized this was the whole point.”



Mark Dembosky and Brian Docherty do nothing but sit on the deck taking in the view from Promontory Ridge, Centennial Ranch


On a more personal note, I am always delighted when synchronicity comes into play. Just last week, before seeing the play or re-reading Mitch Albom’s memoir, I completed an assignment for Shavano Poets.  Our task was to channel the work of U.K. artist Tom Phillips who layers his poems on top of artwork and imported text. Apparently, Morrie and I were already on the dance floor.



My bones know winter is coming… my sun is setting. My body isn’t what it was , but my restless soul rests more. Leaping up, I thumb my nose a propriety. Wearing a tutu, I twirl and whirl tripping my life fantastic.












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Children’s Hospital


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Oogie greets Mark in Georgetown at last year’s Triple By-Pass. (Cancelled this weekend because of fire.)

It’s that time of year again. I come with my hand out – not for myself, but for Children’s Hospital Denver.


Annually, come July, my husband Mark participates in the Courage Classic, a fundraiser for the hospital. It is a bike ride like no other. Most heavy duty rides call for serious athletes: Lycra-clad riders who have trained for months to ride long distances and climb multiple mountain passes over successive days.

In contrast, the Courage Classic has some serious athletes who will take the longer options, but many of the riders are fair-weather cyclists who may ride to the post office on occasion, but who are more likely to drive the car. Most riders are cycling in the name of a family member who has been treated or is under treatment.  The families are joined by supportive friends and neighbors whose lives have been touched by the young patients.

2017 07 therapy dogSome of the past and present patients participate in the ride. Noah had heart surgery as a newborn, but for the past seven years, he has handed out medals at the finish line. At two years, Eli was operated on for a brain tumor. Now he rides a tandem with his father Jacob. Some cyclists trailer the hospital’s therapy dogs.

Serving as a road marshal, I see the effort (blood, sweat, and tears) expended by these parents in gratitude to the hospital. It is a soulful experience. Looking at the participants and the photos of the children who didn’t survive, I always find myself saying, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”

2017 07 childrens-hospital-promThe hospital holds a prom for those students who are in treatment and will miss their school’s prom. I find these patients, on the cusp of adulthood, so full of potential… so moving.

If you have the means to donate, the cause is most worthy. You can donate in Mark Dembosky’s name by going to

Thank you, Doris

2017 07 happy kid



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