Seed Savers Exchange Heritage Farm

The reason I am not in Ohio or Pennsylvania by now is that I wanted to visit this farm in Decorah, Iowa.  The Seed Savers Exchange conserves and promotes heirloom varities of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers.  Over 25,000 endangered varieties of plants are currently being maintained at the farm.  They aren’t all necessarily growing right now, but their seeds are there.  They do have an orchard and a bunch of test plots going though, and I believe only one of the test plots was washed out by the recent flooding.  I learned something interesting about apples recently while reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan: apples don’t grow true from seed, so if you eat a fuji apple, say, and plant the seed, you won’t necessary grow a tree with apples resembling the one you ate.  Makes me want to plant some apple seeds and see what I get!  What if they’re delicious?  We could have a family apple.

Decorah, IA 011   Decorah, IA 009

Decorah, IA 010   Decorah, IA 008

Assortment of apples in the orchard

In the gift shop they have a variety of books I found interesting and–most irresistible–hundreds of seed packets!  I have managed so far to resist buying seeds for myself but do have a full color glossy catalog that I will read cover to cover and hopefully I can have a garden next summer, in which I will go completely overboard and plant too many things.  Maybe I will plant Queen Anne’s Pocket Melon, which Victorian ladies used to carry in their pockets for their sweet perfume.  Their flesh is bland, though.  And maybe I will have Chet’s Italian Red Garlic, which was found growing in an abandoned garden near Tonasket, WA.  And Blue Jade corn, which I saw growing at the farm.  The plants are only 2-3′ tall and 3 to 6 ears grow near the ground.  It is one of the only corn varieties that can be grown in a container.

herb and flower garden by you.

Herb and flower garden

The heritage farm is more than just test plots and gift shop, too.  They have a couple hiking trails and they are keeping a herd of Ancient White Park Cattle, a rare breed from the British Isles. 

What a great visit!  Afterward we walked around downtown Decorah (a town where people still sit on their front porches) for a little while and I went to the food co-op hoping to find avocadoes and cilantro.  I have a taste for tacos but no luck finding those ingredients.  I did find chipotle hummus and really delicious green beans.  Now I am settling in to read my seed catalog, though I wonder if I should save it for winter.


Upgrades and yard sale finds

This is a gratuitous post just because I have wifi in the camper.  It is just starting to clear up (I think) after a driving rain.  I feel bad for the people in tents.  We have arrived in Decorah, been for our first walk, and identified some routes we’d like to check out later.  I’m glad we did all that before the rain started. 

I’ve been thinking that traveling has been more comfortable lately than I remember it being in the beginning, partially I assume because I have gotten used to it, but also because we have made some improvements to our system. 

Crucial improvement #1: the capability of running the fridge on propane.  I’ve mentioned it before, and not only does it allow us to keep groceries more reliably, we have a better selection of campsites.  Frequently, the sites with no hookups are more attractive to us and now we can indulge in them. 

#2: ant-proof dog food container.  We picked this up in Livermore and I had wanted one for a while.  It has a screw top and I think my roommates will like it, too, since the top doesn’t come off its hinges and fall off anymore.  I left the dog food outside in Mississippi and we had an ant infestation.  Fortunately, there wasn’t much food left.  And they didn’t appear to be biting ants.

#3: 6-gallon water container.  First we had the kind of couple-gallon disposable plastic container you buy water in from the grocery store that we reused all the way into California.  Then I found a bug in it that resembled a worm and I couldn’t drink out of it anymore.  Next we had a 1-gallon Coleman container I bought at a yard sale in Livermore for $1, but it leaked even after my attempts to seal it with a sealant most likely not recommended for food containers.  Last week Derek called my attention to a couple items at his neighbors’ yard sale in Leadville, one of which was this great aquatainer which is watertight and has a convenient spout.  (I also got a food dehydrator for $5!)  I should have paid more attention to yard sales in a place like Leadville where the people tend to be outdoorsy and do-it-yourselfers.

#4: The Stroller.  Obviously, this allows us to go some places when we might otherwise be hampered by Angus’ lethargy.  He’s been doing pretty well lately but it’s nice to have, especially when you have access to a smooth bike path.

#5: New camper tires.  We had a lot of flat tires in the beginning, but I think since New Mexico the camper has been on new tires, and by ‘new’ I believe I mean tires that did not come with the camper in 1998.  We actually had a couple more tire changes recently: one was bald and the other had a variable but constant leak.  I hope to make it back to VA on these ones. 

I’m off to see if I can get a run in before Angus starts barking about dinner.  This is a picture of a calf we saw at the Picket Fence Creamery in Woodward, IA.  I wanted a better shot, but Lucy was crying and the yellow lab was barking and my groceries, including a tub of peanut butter, were in the car with Angus so I was rushed.

Picket Fence Creamery by you.

Near Ames, Iowa

If you think that this

Ames 012 by you.

is what Iowa looks like, you would only be partially correct.  Yes, unfathomable amounts of corn grow here, but that doesn’t make it as dull to drive through as you might think.  After we drove through Omaha and crossed into Iowa, suddenly the terrain became hilly and sometimes terraced.  We passed scores of farms and I was enthralled. 

Ames 003 by you.

A view in southwestern Iowa

Lucy was not, however.  I’m not sure what happened to her, but since leaving Leadville every time we get in the car she starts panting very fast, as if she’s nervous.  It hasn’t been hot, so I know it’s not that.  I wonder if it is related to the diarrhea incident…oh, did I fail to mention that?  En route to Flaming Gorge NRA with Heather from Yellowstone, Angus snagged the front seat and Lucy stayed close to the front of the car with us.  It was warm, so I assumed she was panting because she was hot.  Usually if she needs to get out of the car she paws my shoulder and she never did.  Just before arriving at the campground I smelled it, and congratulated Angus since I assumed it was his usual gas.  Then I realized that Lucy had diarrhea in the back.  Heather patiently tolerated my little temper tantrum (she’s good at that) as we were choosing a site and soon we were drinking beers and joking about whether the pop-up would blow over in the wind if we zipped up the windows to keep out the rain.  Anyway, Lucy doesn’t seem a happy traveler in the car lately but she hasn’t yet refused to get in. 

We are staying in Story City, which is 13 miles north of Ames.  This is the first time since leaving Leadville that we are staying two nights in one spot, which feels great.  Plus, we have an excellent site.  Our three main criteria for choosing a site are these 1) shade, 2) grass, 3) proximity to neighbors.  We are camping in the tent area of a beautiful private campground across from, yes, a cornfield.  Our site is completely grassy, shady except for the early morning when it doesn’t matter, and our nearest neighbor is 40 meters away.  Behind us stretches a large and half shady park with a couple trails for walking, and if we go sit near the office we have wireless internet access.  Also, we share the park with this cool tractor and have a sweet-smelling port-a-potty close by which only I appear to be using, all for $16.05 per night.  Oh yeah, and the showers are free and hot.  I feel so pampered.

Ames 005 by you.




Leadville–Great Living at 10,200′

Heather and I finally departed Leadville today, later than expected but I am glad we stayed.  It was really great to see Derek (my brother) and Leadville is a fun town to visit because once you meet a few locals suddenly you have acquaintances that you run into around town.  Plus, you can walk everywhere.  This week the Leadville population swelled a bit because of the Leadville Trail 100 mile bike race today.  This is a race they have every year and precedes the 100 mile footrace next weekend (maniacs).  Lance Armstrong rode this year and Heather and I stuck around town long enough to see him finish second to Dave Wiems of Colorado. 

Leadville 011 by you.

Wiems being interviewed after his finish.  He’s hard to see but he’s the tall blond guy with the yellow shoulder surrounded by people in the middle of the street.

The race started at 6:30 am and I leapt out of bed around 6:15 when I heard a crowd of people singing.  I managed to glimpse almost 1000 riders start the race from about a block away and then the dogs and I took our usual morning walk.  When we returned, Derek and Heather were back from watching the start and we walked downtown for some coffee and chatter.  Leadville was beautiful this morning.  They call it Cloud City and the clouds really make spectacular scenery combined with the mountains.  Mornings were usually sunny and warm but most days it rained at least a little in the afternoons.  Here I learned that running a wet saw outside is not my first choice of activities for a chilly, rainy afternoon.  WOW a hot shower feels fantastic after a few hours of that!  Leadville is at 10,152 feet, I believe, and when you enter town you see painted on a wall in huge letters the title of this post.

Leadville 008 by you.

The Leadville sky after the race started at 6:30 this morning

We walked several times a day and the scenery never gets old, not only because of the mountains but because the buildings are so interesting.  Most of the buildings on Harrison Ave. (the main strip) were built in the late 1800s and cute colorful Victorian houses carpet the valley, along with some cruder but equally interesting old shacks.  Heather tells me that the bright colors used to indicated wealth because they were more expensive, so if you could paint your house bright colors you were telling the world that you were well-off.  Here are a few of the houses in town.

Leadville 001 by you.      Leadville 004 by you.

Left: one of my favorites!  Just up the street from Derek’s house.  Right: random selection.

Leadville 007 by you.

The house where Derek lives…part of the time.  At the moment he actually spends more time near Boulder but he and Mary come up to Leadville for the weekends.

We drove a medium long day for us (hanging out with Heather increased our average) to Sterling, CO.  We are only here for one night and I picked this place because it is just off the highway.  Unfortunately, it’s also a half mile from a correctional facility and the signs on the highway that read “CORRECTIONAL FACILITY DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS” is not comforting.  And my guard dog is busy hunting wabbits.

Tomorrow: Nebraska!

Colorado stops

Meadows campground Routt NF by you.

Meadows campground just outside Steamboat Springs

Our last stop en route to Leadville was in Routt National Forest.  Heather and I split up during the drive so she could see Dinosaur National Monument and the dogs and I didn’t have to spend the entire day in the car, which makes me cranky.  Hopefully I can get some pictures of Dinosaur from her before we depart Leadville tomorrow. 

Angus in his new boots by you.

Angus’ new boots.  Sometimes he wears them on the front now, too. 

The last couple days have been busier than we are used to.  I have been helping Derek tile a bathroom in the afternoons and Heather is over there with him now.  We did check out part of the Mineral Belt Trail yesterday morning, which is a great paved bike path encircling town through the mining districts, and walking around town is entertaining because the historic buildings are so interesting.   I hope to do a walking tour later but we’ll have to see how the day turns out.

Bozeman, MT to Flaming Gorge NRA, WY

This won’t bring you quite up to date but I’ll be back later with more.  From Bozeman, Heather and I drove to Yellowstone NP, where we camped our first night out of Bozeman.  We didn’t do too much sightseeing (hiking is out there with the dogs) but it was really interesting to see what a forest looks like 20 years after massive forest fires.  We camped at Lewis Lake at the southern end of the park, and drove to southern Wyoming the next day.

Lewis Lake, Yellowstone NP by you.

Sunset at Lewis Lake

Tetons by you.

Views from our drive from Yellowstone.  Grand Tetons.

The night after Yellowstone we camped in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, which was beautiful and provided us with a windy little rainstorm.  I haven’t seen much rain lately, so it was nice for me.  In the evening I lost a game of Scrabble to Heather and in the morning I took a walk with the dogs.  I thought the colorful grasses were gorgeous.  You can see them in this picture of Heather walking Angus.

Firehole campground by you.

Heather and Angus on an evening stroll

Firehole campground by you.

These grasses had very soft tops

These were long driving days for me and the dogs, but short ones for Heather.  I write to you from Leadville, CO, where I will be staying for a few days, and will post some pictures from our last campsite later on and fill you in on Leadville.

Hello from Bozeman

Georgetown Lake, MT by you.

Angus at Georgetown Lake, between St. Regis and Bozeman

I have spent the last few days in Bozeman with Heather at the retreat where she spent last summer.  The owners, Laura and Ted, have graciously allowed us to pop up at one the cabins that currently isn’t in use.  The spot is beautiful and there is a hiking trail right from camp that has a nice view over Bozeman. 

View over Bozeman by you.

Angus hiking above Bozeman this morning

It is beautiful here and I can see why folks would want a summer home here, but I hear they still had snow in June, which means I would have a hard time here.  In addition to checking out downtown, the farmer’s co-op, and a cool hike,

Hyalite Lake Trail by you.

Heather and Lucy on the Hyalite Lake Trail

I have gotten to meet a handful of Heather’s friends from last summer.  Lastnight we were invited to a wonderful barbecue in nearby Belgrade that included homemade strawberry shortcake!  It was rather a late night for me but worth it for the food and great company. 

The dogs have been given free reign on the retreat property and Lucy in particular has been taking full advantage.  She hunts rodents nonstop and this morning I spotted her trotting around with a chocolate lab that I hadn’t seen before and haven’t since.  It has been a really comfortable stay and at least we leave here headed toward promising ground.  We will drive through Yellowstone and Grand Teton NPs toward Leadville, CO.