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April 2022: Sandhill crane migration

Several years ago, a story in the Des Moines Register caught my eye. “The spectacle of sandhill cranes in Nebraska is a sight to behold,” read the callout. An enormous photo, filled to the edges with graceful, dancing cranes, bore this caption: “Throughout March, more than half a million – 85 percent of the world’s population – rest and feed in rural Nebraska, only a five-hour drive west of Des Moines. They attract visitors from around the world to what is called North America’s greatest migration.”

The March 25, 2017 story, artfully written by reporter Mike Kilen, had me hooked from the beginning. The next fall, Dave and I researched our options to reserve a photographer’s blind or viewing spot at Rowe Sanctuary, generally regarded as the best place on the planet to watch the sandhill crane migration unfold the following spring.

We secured a spot for a Sunday morning at 6 a.m. The fact that the date was April 1 is not lost on me, because this adventure did not go as planned.

For our guided crane viewing experience at Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, we paid $35 per person, and we reserved a hotel room in Kearney, Neb., the closest town of any size. As the weekend grew closer, the forecast was not looking great. There was a chance of snow and low of 23 on Saturday night; Sunday looked like another chance of rain and/or snow with a high of 41. But we’d already paid, so we just packed extra-warm clothes, hats, socks, and all of that and figured it would be okay.

But then, as were literally getting into the car to drive across Nebraska on Saturday morning, we checked the forecast one last time, and the “chance” of snow had turned into a blizzard warning. The entire National Weather Service forecast was covered in RED. We bailed, fully aware that our crane viewing tickets and our reservation at the Kearney Holiday Inn were not refundable this late in the game. We just couldn’t risk driving across I-80 in a blizzard – not to mention how utterly miserable we would be at 6 a.m. on the viewing platform in the snow.

Our cancellation was a disappointment (although we got full refunds due to the extreme weather conditions, which was very generous of everyone involved). But that was that.

We discussed trying again in 2019, but for whatever reason that didn’t work…and then you know what happened in March 2020.

So, it’s been a long time coming. This spring, we finally got to see the sandhill crane migration.

And you know what? It was definitely not the experience I’d been dreaming of.

Maybe I had built this up in my head too much. Maybe I’d seen too many photos taken with extremely long lenses – the kind the National Geographic photographers use to take pictures of polar bears frolicking with their cubs six miles away.

Maybe ALL the photos were taken from the Rowe Sanctuary’s photography blinds. This may be the only place to get close to the cranes. But we were unable to get a photography blind this spring, and we couldn’t even get a tour spot in the sanctuary. We decided to drive to Nebraska and take our chances with the public viewing spots.

This made for an inexpensive outing (all we spent was one night in a hotel), and it was still sort of fun. But as you can see by my pathetic photos (shot mostly with a 200mm lens) we were a very long way from the cranes.

Let me back up a bit and tell you a bit more about the crane migration, because it’s pretty extraordinary. According to a “crane watch guide” I picked up, for eight weeks from late February to early April, more than 80% of the world’s sandhill crane population converges on Nebraska’s Platte River. The cranes migrate from southern wintering grounds to northern breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska, and (get this!) Siberia. Siberia! Holy crap. Apparently they stop along the Platte to rest and gain body fat as they prepare for their long journey north.

We caught our first glimpse of the birds when we were driving across I-80. It was probably somewhere near Grand Island when we started seeing something strange out in the stubbly corn fields.

“What are those gray things?” I asked Dave. We kept an eye out for more, and the further west we drove, the more we saw, out in the distance, eating what was left of the corn harvest.

They were sandhill cranes, refueling for their lengthy migration. We started getting excited. I mean, there were thousands of birds, just happily munching away, or so it seemed.

Our plan was to check in to the hotel and then go to the Fort Kearny State Recreation area that evening. The recreation area has a biking/walking bridge over the Platte River that’s said to offer good (free) views of the migration. We were making great time, so we decided to stop at the viewing platform just so we’d know what to expect when we got back there at dusk. The view is mostly mudflats, and it’s an easy walk. Afterwards we drove into Kearney and ate an early dinner before driving back to the viewing area.

We were one of the first people to get there, but one was a professional photographer who had lots of experience photographing the birds. He said the bridge would offer us a good view, but he also said there were no guarantees.

As the sky got dark, we started to see a few birds (and resident deer walking across the mud flats, above). The scene was lovely, with the sun setting to the west and huge numbers of sandhill cranes gathering and trilling. But, as I already said, the birds were not close. They did not fill my camera frame. I never even got a good look at them – they were mostly just tiny silhouettes with wings. (Can you see them in the photo below? Nope, me neither.)

But we did get some advice that evening about another vantage point from which to see the migration. After a short night at the hotel, we got up at 5 a.m. the next morning, checked out, and drove through the dark to a tiny parking lot where there were already a few cars. As the sun started to peek out, we could see two boardwalked viewing platforms. At first, we couldn’t see the birds at all, but we could hear them. As the sky became lighter, we could hear their increasingly loud calls and then finally see them. Thousands of them were overnighting on mud flats…but too far away to see very well.

Again, it was still fun to see the sun come up and the sky fill with birds and talk to all the other weirdos doing the same thing we were. But no up-close-and-personal bird encounters. Bah!

Once it became fully light, most of the birds had flown, presumably back to the corn fields, so we headed home to Ames. But here’s our one little surprise nugget: After stopping in Grand Island for breakfast at a funky diner (with great hash browns) we drove past a corn field…filled with cranes. And, unlike our sightings on I-80, these birds were very close to the road, and we found a gravel drive that allowed us to stop and park our car. We photographed them doing their morning dance, albeit not in the setting we expected, and that was sort of thrilling. They didn’t seem to like us, so the more we snapped photos, the further they moved away from us.

On the way back to Ames, Dave and I recapped our adventure: Yes, we were glad we had the experience. We learned a lot about what to do and what NOT to do. Would we go back? Yes, but only with a reserved photography blind – and those are hard to come by on the weekends. Perhaps, we decided, we’d try again on a weekday. After we’re retired.


March 2022: New at the zoo

On March 30, I got a sneak peek at Blank Park Zoo’s Wild Lights exhibit, which officially ran from April 1 through May 30 in Des Moines. Not unlike the two holiday light displays Dave and I had visited in Chicago and Ames last winter, this evening event featured 40-plus oversized animals, dinosaurs, flowers, insects, and mythical beasts. Each of the creatures was built from a material that evoked Japanese lanterns and was lit brightly from within. Take a look at how cool this was:

February 2022: Color the Wind

On Feb. 19, we braved bitterly cold temperatures to attend Clear Lake’s Color the Wind kite festival. This annual festival has been going on for 20 years, but this was our first time to attend the event.

Heading north on I-35, we could see the kites as soon as we took the Clear Lake exit. We drove in the direction of the lake and found a place to park about six blocks away. I’m so glad I had on ice cleats and lots of layers of warm clothing – it was cold and slippery. You can actually walk out on the lake! Man, it was cold out there. Like, a whole lot colder than walking on the sidewalk. But it was sunny, and it was such fun to see the bright, oversized kites, and the kids being pulled on sleds, and just to have that experience. We stayed until our fingers were too frozen to take pictures.

December 2021: Reiman Gardens Winter Wonderscape

After the incredible holiday light display we experienced in Chicago, I wondered if Reiman Gardens’ light show in Ames would be a disappointment. But we’d purchased tickets, and the lights looked pretty great from the road. So one night just before Christmas, we walked through our own local version of twinkling holiday magic.

2021 was just the second year that the 17-acre botanical center was decorated for a holiday walk. In past years, the gardens always featured some lighted trees, but they were intended to be viewed from a distance. Now it was a full-blown immersive extravaganza, with paid admission to walk through lighted tunnels, sparkly diamond-encrusted trees, disco balls, stars, whimsical figures, snowflakes, and a giant fountain of lights.

We loved it!  The air was chilly, so we walked quickly through the displays, but it was really eye-popping. Like the Chicago version, this is one of those events that’s truly perfect for the whole family. Kids will love the lights, and adults will appreciate the artistry and technical expertise involved.

Afterwards, inside the (heated) Hughes Conservatory, kids and adults will also enjoy a holiday train display and tropical plants.

Last year, Winter Wonderscape was open Thursday through Saturday evenings in December, plus Jan. 1. I haven’t seen any dates for this year, but I assume it will be a similar schedule. Go and enjoy! Just remember to bundle up.

December 2021: Chicago’s holiday lights

Okay, so by December of 2021, it had been a full two years since Dave and I had really gone anywhere together that wasn’t to visit friends or family. Chicago is in the Midwest, sure, but it’s a big city and we stayed in a big-city hotel and ate all our meals in great restaurants. It was going to be such a treat!

We originally scheduled the trip for the first weekend in December to coincide with the pre-Broadway run of the musical “Paradise Square.” We love seeing these shows with the original casts before they ever open on Broadway. (A few years ago, we saw “Tootsie” in Chicago; other years we caught “Frozen” in Denver and “The Scottsboro Boys” in Minneapolis.)

Once we chose Saturday, Dec. 4 as the date of the show, we started to build the trip. I desperately wanted to see the holiday light display at the Chicago Botanic Garden, but I didn’t know much about the logistics. When I started doing research, it seemed unlikely that we could fit both activities in one weekend. The garden is considerably north of the city – a daunting drive and too far to Uber. And we waited too late to get tickets for that weekend anyway, so the distance was a moot point.

I whined around a bit but started thinking about seeing lights along Michigan Avenue and in Millennium Park, visiting the Christkindlmarket, and shopping. We could make this work! But still…I was sad about not getting tickets to the Chicago Botanic Garden Lightscape.

But then we had a brilliant idea: Drive to Chicago on Thursday instead of Friday (tickets were available that night!), spend Thursday night in Glencoe, Ill., near the garden, and then head into the city on Friday morning. With our theatre tickets set for Saturday, that would give us plenty of time to explore.

A scary setback, but there was literally light at the end of the tunnel

I was super excited about this trip. And then, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I tested positive for Covid. That scuttled our Thanksgiving plans, and had I not been double-vaccinated and boosted, the virus probably would have destroyed our Chicago plans as well. But by Dec. 2 I’d been isolating for 10 days and I felt well enough to travel, so off we went, with our fingers crossed that I didn’t have a relapse.

The drive from Ames to Glencoe, located about 25 miles north of downtown Chicago, was marvelously uneventful. We checked into our hotel and did a little shopping at a suburban Crate & Barrel before bundling up and heading to the Chicago Botanic Garden. We arrived just before sunset, and our timed tickets allowed us to enter the gardens under a beautiful, dusky-blue sky (above).

I’d seen photos of this Lightscape event (it started in 2019) in some tourism publications – there’s the famous one of the cathedral of white lights you can walk through (see our selfie above) – but beyond that, I will admit I didn’t know what to expect. Well, the whole thing absolutely knocked our socks off! The evening was cold enough to feel like Christmas, but not too cold.

We walked through one display after another, each one unique and artistically designed. From the mile-long lighted walkway… to soaring floral displays… to choreographed lights with music… to a reimagined Japanese garden of light…the whole thing was just spectacular. We could not have been happier.

After our walk, we were hungry. I hadn’t had much of an appetite the previous couple of weeks, and I hadn’t had a single beer or glass of wine, so I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt when we got a warm, cozy table for two at a happy, crowded, old-school Italian restaurant just down the street from our hotel. I drank wine and ate bread and pasta, and we chatted up the table next to ours (starting with an honest-to-god “I’ll have what she’s having” moment when their food came out).

What a glorious day! The rest of the weekend was great, but I’d have to say that first taste of travel freedom was probably the best…even though we wore masks everywhere we went (along with everyone else in Illinois).

In Chicago, we stayed at a downtown Hilton Garden Inn just south of the river, and it was close to pretty much everything we wanted to do. Our first goal was to stroll through the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza, hoping it would spark memories of the markets we visited during the 2019 holidays on our wonderful Rhine cruise. But this may have been the biggest disappointment of the weekend. Yes, we enjoyed the warm, spiced glühwein, and we brought home the souvenir mugs (above) to add to our collection. But food? Meh. And shopping? Not great. And atmosphere? Well, the market is in a too-small space, surrounded by city streets and tall buildings. And too many people, even on a Friday afternoon. Not exactly the ambience we experienced in Heidelberg.

No biggie. We shopped at Macy’s on State, strolling past the holiday window displays.

We walked the length of the Magnificent Mile, stopping to be overwhelmed by the variety of dolls and accessories in the American Girl store (I still adore that store, even though my own girls are all grown up). As the sky grew darker, all the lights along Michigan Avenue came on, illuminating trees and buildings – total holiday magic.

We watched the ice skaters in Millennium Park, ate good food, and pooped out way too early that night, tired but happy.

On Saturday, we went to the Art Institute of Chicago. When an art museum is this good, it doesn’t matter how many times you visit – and we have been here a LOT. You’ll always see new things, and it’s always comforting to visit your favorite art. I was mesmerized by Barbara Kruger’s larger-than-life, career-spanning exhibition titled “THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU.” And, of course, the wonderful collection of Impressionist and American art.

Then, later that night, we went to “Paradise Square,” a powerful musical with incredible choreography and fine original-cast performances all around. (The musical, now on Broadway, was nominated for 10 Tony awards, including best musical. Its star, Joaquina Kalukango, won for best performance by an actress in a leading role, and gave a standing-ovation-inducing performance at the Tony Award show last weekend.)

All in all, it was a terrific long weekend and got us in the holiday spirit for the rest of the month. Here’s one last parting shot:

October 2021: State parks and pumpkins

One Saturday morning last October, Dave and I got up early and hit the road. Our goal was to hike in some state parks in eastern Iowa and see some fall color.

First stop: Palisades-Kepler State Park near Cedar Rapids. We did a little hiking there (below). The trails were pretty, but as for fall color, not so much. I guess I should have expected that; it was really too early.

After a short hike, we headed to Mount Vernon, one of my favorite small Iowa towns. We spent waaayy too much time there. Got ourselves some lunch (bagels w/cream cheese and a latte for me) at Fuel Art & Espresso coffee shop. I love that place!

After eating lunch outdoors, we walked to Cornell College and walked around the campus. It was their homecoming, so lots of students and alumni were milling around. It was a very warm day – more like summer than fall. We walked back downtown and went to Polly Ann’s (below), one of my favorite antiques stores in Iowa. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been there, but it’s always such a treat. I bought a few little dishes that go with absolutely nothing I own, but they made me happy.

From there, we detoured to Sutliff to see the historic truss bridge (above). I’ve been here before, but Dave never has. We drank a beer at Baxa’s Sutliff Tavern, then went to Sutliff Farm and Cider House, which was really awesome. I’ve driven by but never stopped there before. We ended up buying a huge, beautiful mum for $12 (a steal), a big, round pumpkin for $7, and a mixed six-pack of hard cider drinks. It was tempting to just sit and drink outside on the sunny patio, but we needed to get back on the road.

Our next destination was Maquoketa Caves State Park. We arrived there in a very round-about way, thanks to Google Maps, and found a place to park. We headed out for a hike; the park has about six miles of hiking trails. Also, there are a lot of stairs in that park.

We hiked up and down the stairs, back and forth through the very open and airy Dancehall Cave (below), and looked into the mouth of some other caves. It’s a very pretty park. Many people go here to explore the caves (there are a total of 14 caves), wearing head lamps and crawling on their bellies through the mud. Not us; most caves totally creep me out.

Leaving the state park, we drove up to Delaware County and drove the Delaware Crossing scenic loop drive.

This is one of 11 scenic byways in Iowa, not counting two national scenic byways – Great River Road and Loess Hills. I’ve done many of these drives, but never Delaware Crossing.

It’s easy to follow, but honestly doesn’t seem much different from the other roads in that area. Highlights were the historic Lenox College campus in Hopkinton (below), which is now a museum complex (closed for the season), and Lake Delhi.

It was starting to get late, and we were starving by this time. We tried to find something to eat in Manchester but failed. We held out for Cedar Falls, because we knew there would be good food there. We ate at Montage, an upscale downtown restaurant at which we were extremely under-dressed. But they were nice and served us food even though we probably looked and smelled like we’d been hiking all day.

Getting caught up AGAIN

I feel like a stranger in a strange land. I haven’t regularly posted about my travels for so long that I couldn’t even remember how to log in. (My last post was fall 2020…a lifetime ago.) I am looking forward to getting back in the groove, with at least a few back-posts about places I’ve visited in the past year. And then, who knows? I’m hoping to start doing more serious travel in the coming months.

My life, along with everyone’s, changed suddenly in March 2020. That month coincides with buying a new house. The entire next year was just strange…coworkers working from home, making a magazine without ever leaving my desk to do an interview, photo shoots with masks. Routines shattered.

In June 2021 I left my job at the Iowa State University Alumni Association, a communications position I’d had since April 1997. Now it’s been a year at my new gig, as director of marketing and communications for the Ames Convention & Visitors Bureau, now known as Discover Ames. We launched a rebrand in May. It’s been quite year!

The year has included SOME travel, though I still haven’t been on a plane since December 2020.

My plan is to post a few quick travelogues – through Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest – within the next couple of weeks, and then start fresh with new adventures. Wish me luck!

Glorious fall

After sleeping every night in my own bed in Ames, Iowa, since last December, I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt to drive eight hours north last weekend to the north shore of Lake Superior. Pandemic be damned, I spent two nights at Cascade Lodge in my favorite cabin, hiked a bit of the Superior Hiking Trail, wore a mask, properly social distanced, did take-out food… and loved every minute of it.

Here are a few of my favorite images from a hiking trail north of Grand Marais, Tettegouche State Park, the town of Grand Marais itself, Cascade Lodge, and sunrise over Lake Superior.

Holiday Markets cruise

It’s not unusual for me to fall in love with a place all over again once my memory starts to fade and my recollections get reignited through the photos I took during a trip. Especially now, with the global pandemic. Traveling internationally seems like a dream right now, and flying to Europe last December seems like a lifetime ago.

But it’s true: Last December, we’d barely gotten the Thanksgiving leftovers eaten and the Christmas decorations put up when my husband, Dave, and I left the country to host an ISU Alumni Association Christmas Markets cruise along the Rhine River.

Looking back at these photos, it was such a lovely experience. Our river boat, the MS Amadeus Silver III, was just the right size. It was a small ship, free of the unnecessary frills of so many of the huge, ocean-going cruise ships, but with a personable crew and great food.

Our itinerary was equally ideal. Much of our time was planned out for us, with city tours and other excursions built into the price. But we also had ample time for discoveries and adventures on our own. We took advantage of the flexible schedule to enjoy most of our lunches in local restaurants or from food vendors, seek out views from the top of cathedral towers, drink beer in local pubs…and, of course, shop the Christmas markets.

We started our trip by flying Swiss Air into Zurich. Once we landed and met up with some of our fellow travelers, we were transported to Basel, Switzerland, where we boarded our river boat – our floating hotel for the week (below).

We spent our first full day of touring in Basel (above). After a guided tour of the old town (in the rain), Dave and I visited the holiday market stalls and discovered that glühwein (a warm, mulled wine) tastes mighty fine on a cold, damp day. Basel is such a charming city, and it was beautifully decorated for the holidays.

We climbed many steps to the top of the Basel cathedral, where we were rewarded with stunning views of the charming old city and holiday markets below. This may have been the highlight of the day. I love these views!

We also ate pretzels, drank beer, and acted like a couple of little kids with play money when we got Swiss Francs out of the ATM.

The next day, we visited Breisach, Germany (a university town with a bustling farmers’ market in addition to its holiday market, above). It rained again, but we made the best of it. The glühwein helped.

Breisach’s holiday markets were adorable and not terribly crowded. It was in this town that I learned that vendors along the Rhine cruise would be selling Polish pottery. I LOVE Polish pottery. I knew I couldn’t buy a lot of it, because it would be too hard to transport home, not to mention too expensive, but it was such fun to see it. I bought a small bowl from this vendor:

Later that day, we had the option of going to one of the famous holiday markets nearby or go on an excursion to Riquewihr, France, for a wine tasting. We figured we’d have our fill of shopping by the end of the cruise, so we went to Riquewihr, and I’m so glad we did.

The brochure described the outing in Riquewihr (pronounced something like “Rick-vere”) this way: “Riquewihr is an enchanting Alsatian village that looks much as it did in the 16th century. Its architecture, including half-timbered houses and medieval fortifications, add to its storybook quality. Selected as one of the most beautiful villages of France, Riquewihr charms all who visit. Stroll through the town, known for its fabulous wines and romantic charm, on a walking tour and stop to enjoy a wine tasting.”

Well, it was all that and more, except for the strolling part, which was impossible due to the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. The wine itself was really delicious, and the more I sipped, the happier I got. After our wine-tasting we had lots of time before we had to be back to our bus, so we threw ourselves into the Epcot-like crowds along the town’s main street, which was lined with Christmas stalls, food vendors, and winemongers.

We learned pretty quickly that if you get off those main streets, you have the super-charming side streets all to yourself, so that’s what we did:

Although I’d never heard of it before, Riquewihr was one of my favorite places on this trip. It truly was like walking through a storybook. I could not stop smiling and taking pictures the whole time we were there.

Another highlight was Strasbourg, France, which we visited the next day:

Strasbourg is a gorgeous city made even more beautiful by its extensive holiday decorations and markets. It was another chilly, rainy day. We escaped the weather with a long lunch in a cute café and by visiting an odd little museum that, it turned out, held some of the original Medieval statues from the huge Notre Dame Cathedral that stands in the city’s main square. We found this strangely wonderful for some reason.

Also, from the upper-floor windows of the museum, we found fantastic views of the cathedral and a small holiday market.

Strasbourg had several Christmas markets. We loved this one in one of the city’s beautiful old squares. If I lived in Strasbourg, I’d definitely buy my tree at this market.

Later, we waited for the sun to set and the holiday lights to come on and took a gazillion photos:

Then it was on to a full day in Heidelberg, Germany, where we started with a tour of the castle that sits way up on the hill.

That’s our group on the castle grounds (above). That castle was cool, but even cooler was the VIEW of the town below:

Heidelberg is a fabulous place. We visited the holiday markets, attended a classical opera performance, drank great German beer (and more glühwein), and walked through streets decorated with the most beautiful lights.

Heidelberg is also the town where I found the MOST delicious lebkuchen cookies. This day was another fairytale experience, start to finish.

The next day, we started in the small town of Rüdesheim:

Our walking tour began, unfortunately, with a herky-jerky little train ride that, not unlike the spinning teacups at Disney World, caused me to have motion sickness for the next two hours. After bailing on a music museum tour because the room was spinning, I walked back to the ship for a little while until I felt better.

So, I don’t have great memories of Rüdesheim except to say that the vineyards were pretty (above) and that  the famous Rüdesheimer Kaffee, a flaming, brandy-spiked coffee drink, was delicious (and thankfully it stayed down!)

The rest of that (sunny!) day was spent sailing the phenomenal Upper Middle Rhine River, lined with castles and storybook towns:

We spent our last full day in Cologne, Germany. That is a great city, where I took one of my very favorite photos of the whole trip:

Cologne has this gargantuan, famous twin-spired gothic cathedral:

After a city tour by the best tour guide of the whole trip, Dave and I climbed the 500+ steps to the top of the cathedral for views and bragging rights. The views were so cool!

We spent our afternoon at the Cologne Christmas markets, which featured an ice-skating rink and by far the best food vendors of the trip.

Before we headed back to the ship, Dave and I went to a pub for one last German beer, and who should stumble in but a very drunk Santa?

This might have been our best day … but all the days were so great, it’s hard to choose.

We came back with a suitcase filled with way too many glühwein mugs, not nearly enough Polish pottery, a bunch of Christmas ornaments… and chocolate. It was awesome.

If you go on one of these holiday markets cruises, my advice is this: Dress in warm, waterproof layers; bring very warm, waterproof boots that are comfortable to walk in all day; take a small backpack along on day trips; and leave enough room in your suitcase for all the goodies you’ll want to bring back.





A look back

Over the past couple of years, I will admit that I’ve become less and less enthusiastic about blogging my travel experiences. But it still shocked me to see that I hadn’t posted anything for an entire year. Really? What the hell?

But all this sheltering in place the last few months has left me longing to travel. I am heartbroken that the Covid-19 pandemic caused RAGBRAI to be canceled this year; driving that route and blogging about it has become one of my favorite Iowa activities every summer.

Given that there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do, I decided to take a look back at some of the un-blogged travel experiences I’ve had in the last 12 months. Looking at these photos and remembering the places I went, the food I ate, and the people I met was almost as much fun as the travel itself.

I’ll start with this trip to Washington, D.C.:

Washington, D.C.

I took a quick trip to Washington, D.C. in early September for a VISIONS magazine feature. I stayed in Georgetown at a little Airbnb row house (on a hill so steep I once had to chase my roller-bag down the sidewalk and into the street), so I kind of felt like a local.

I walked something like 12-16 miles every day, met with 10 Iowa State alumni, visited the incredibly moving National Museum of African American History and Culture…

… hung out on the national mall and with the monuments and statues…

… speed-walked through the revamped National Museum of Natural History…

… and the always-wonderful National Portrait Gallery between appointments (hello, Barack and Michelle!)…

… and ate some great food. I mean, like really great food. Here I am with my combination vegetarian sampler at Das Ethiopian restaurant, served on a spongy bed of injera:

I also sat next to the kitchen and watched pizza dudes create mini-masterpieces at Pizzaria Paradiso, ate crazy little late-night tacos at Chaia, lingered over a fabulous patio dinner at Kafe Leopold, stood in line for coffee and pastries at Baked & Wired, discovered equally good coffee and pastries just around the corner at Grace Street Coffee, and found the MOST drool-worthy pastries at Boulangerie Christophe just before heading to the airport. I should have taken more pictures of my food.

My alumni connections got me some cool insider’s tours of the U.S. Capitol, two Senate buildings, Ford’s Theatre, and the Air and Space Museum. I also interviewed an alum at the Washington Nationals ballpark. (The story got better a month later, when the Nationals won the World Series.) Here I am with some awesome ISU alumni:

Northern Minnesota

My youngest daughter, Lauren, moved back to Iowa in September after living for nearly three years  in Colorado. She and I drove up to a cabin in northern Minnesota in early October. It’s one of my favorite and most-visited places, but it was her first time up there. We probably ate too much pie at Betty’s Pies (below) and hiked too little, but it was a lot of fun.

I always love to stop at the Split Rock overlook:

Lauren and I took a walk to Palisade Head, overlooking Lake Superior in Tettegouche State Park…

… and followed the boardwalk to Grand Portage falls, all the way up to the Canadian border:

I took a wonderful morning hike on one of my favorite Superior Hiking Trail sections, to Alfred’s Pond. Here are some images that make me long to go back: