Romero Pools Hike, Strenuous but Worth it


View from the trail to Romero Pools in Arizona.

Hikers can access several trails at the trailhead that leads to Romero Canyon in Catalina State Park near Tucson. While researching the 5.6-mile trail to Romero Pools, which is on the way to Romero Pass, I got confused by all the descriptions and thought the trail was described as “moderate.” Russ and I found out the hard way the hike is not moderate!


Crossing Sutherland Wash at the beginning of the trail.

The first part of the hike is easy – it crosses the Sutherland Wash, an arroyo that’s filled with water seasonally. After a climb up the banks, the trail is flat and wide — used by humans, horses, and dogs.

Once the trail starts to ascend the saguaro-studded hills, however, it turns more difficult. (No dogs or horses allowed on this section.) I missed the part of the description that said, “The next 1.7 miles is a steep and rocky climb to Romero Pools. Poor trail conditions might be encountered as this is an unmaintained wilderness trail.”

We chose the trail on the advice of my 20-year-old son. Needless to say, a moderate hiking experience for a college student is not moderate for us oldsters, even if we are in shape.

But enough complaining! The views were magnificent. As the trail climbs 900 feet, we were able to look down steep ravines and over distant towns. We hiked in February and wildflowers were beginning to bloom. Temperatures were almost a bit chilly, even when we were in sunlight.


A hiker enjoys one of the Romero Pools.

After about two hours, we reached the pools. (If you keep going on the trail, you’ll reach Romero Pass.) The pools were worth the climb! Following my son, we left the crowds at the pools near the trail and clambered around on slickrock, finding hidden watercourses. We rested and had a snack before heading back to the trailhead.

Going downhill was less strenuous, and quicker than the hike up, but my knees did not appreciate the additional stress. You don’t want to hear my sob story about past knee damage, so I won’t bore you. I was hobbling by the end of the hike, but recovered quickly on the car ride back to town and after some rest. With hobbling time included, it took us about 3 hrs and 45 minutes to complete the hike.

Don’t let my complaining put you off, just know that if you’re in your 50s or 60s, this scenic hike will give you a run for your money and that it’s helpful to have healthy knees. I’m glad we did it, but don’t foresee putting my knees through that again.


The Best Place to Watch the Sunset in Tucson


I meandered to Tucson, Arizona, last month to visit my son who is in college there. We wanted to watch the sunset one evening, and he took me to Windy Vista Point on Mount Lemmon, about an hour outside of the city.

We drove up the mountain, parked our car in the lot, and walked out to the point just in time for the main event.



Once the sun went down, the cold settled in. We were glad we wore our warm jackets despite being in Arizona. A group of people who sounded like they could be from Ireland perched on a rock near us, taking selfies.


What a great way to end the day!


Snowshoeing Up North

20200120_134001Russ and I visited a northern Minnesota lake last weekend. Spent part of an afternoon snowshoeing on a frozen lake. The morning’s hoarfrost floated down from the trees, looking like snow magically falling from a clear blue sky.

Oh yeah, that’s the way to do winter!

The Cat Who Liked to Swim

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Inky and me, Star Lake, Minn., July 1977. Image by Dorothy Pramann.

I grew up with a black cat named Inky. She was a stray a neighbor boy brought to us because he knew we recently lost a cat. That previous cat was a calico we named Muffin. Alas, Muffin ran away when we were on a camping trip while she was under the care of a neighbor. Perhaps because of that, we took Inky along on all our camping trips.

She did not enjoy car rides – she would disappear under the driver’s seat and not emerge until we’d reached our destination – but she liked being outdoors in the campgrounds where we stayed. We’d leash her to a picnic table so we wouldn’t lose her.

One place we liked to stay for extended periods was Star Lake, a Methodist Church Campground in northern Minnesota. Because we’d stayed there several times and we didn’t need to travel the next day, we’d let Inky off her leash to come and go as she pleased, like she did at home.

We owned an old Grumman aluminum canoe that I used to paddle around the lake. One day, I got the idea of bringing Inky along.

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Inky at home, 1975.

She seemed to like the canoe ride better than a car ride. She perched on the gunwale a few feet in front of me, leaning out over the water.

With each canoe outing, she’d lean farther and farther over the side. It seemed like she wanted to go into the water. One day, I tipped the canoe slightly, giving her some “help.”

Plop! Into the water she went.

We weren’t far from the shore of our campsite – only about 30 feet — and she swam in that direction. I can’t recall if she meowed as she swam, or if she swam silently. (My memory has fuzzed during the four decades since this occurred.) She made it to shore just fine and seemed no worse for wear.

The next time I took Inky out for a canoe, as we neared our site again, she jumped out of the canoe by herself!

Could it be, she liked to swim? I’d never heard of a cat who liked to swim, but apparently, I had one. By the end of our stay, her swims from the canoe to our campsite were a regular thing.

Inky the swimming black cat lived to a ripe old age, despite getting hit by a car once, breaking her leg. I’ve had other cats since then, but none who liked to swim like she did.

I just researched swimming cats. Although most cats would rather avoid water, some do like it. (Read stories here.)

My youngest son is allergic to cats, so I have since switched to dogs. But in my home, I keep this photo my mother took of Inky and me canoeing. I think of my swimming cat whenever I pass it.

Star Lake was the only place I ever took her canoeing. I wonder what she would have thought of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness? I bet Inky would have liked it.

Another Random Act of Decorating Kindness

20191210_121551Someone is decorating outdoor trees in my neighborhood. If you have an excellent memory, you may recall that in 2015, I came across a small tree decorated on a trail where Buddy and I habitually walk. This unexpected act of decorating kindness lifted our spirits, and no doubt, the spirits of others who walk the trail.

The problem was, nobody undecorated the tree. As the winter wore on, some of the ornaments broke. Eventually, I ended up freeing the tree of the clutter at winter’s end. The next two years, no mysterious decorations appeared. I missed them, so last year, I ended up decorating the same small tree with several old ornaments that I no longer had room for on my personal indoor Christmas tree.

Well, somebody beat me to it this year. Red and silver ornaments magically appeared on a larger tree. And these weren’t just a few cast-off decorations like el-cheapo me used. They are numerous and new-looking. Plus, Buddy and I noticed another tree sporting similar decorations on a roadside in our neighborhood.

Could the same little elves have decorated both trees? Perhaps.

I don’t want to think about it too hard. I just want to enjoy the gesture. And I would like to wish a Merry Ho Ho to all and to all a good night.

Aspects of 9-11


The slurry wall inside the 9-11 Museum.

Russ and I meandered over to New York City last week. We didn’t plan it, but our trip ended up being 9-11 themed. Our first experience was a visit to the 9-11 Memorial and Museum.

The dim lights and the quiet struck me as we entered the museum. This was hallowed ground. Visitors treaded lightly and spoke softly. We met our tour guide in the lobby and she took us down, down, down into the excavation pit of the World Trade Center buildings.

DSC05587The heavy ghost of all the rubble that had filled the space and piled above it was an emotional and physical weight. Our guide showed us the slurry wall that held back the river from flooding the space, the square-edged outlines of the waterfalls that flowed in the memorial outside, the wreckage of the fire trucks, and the last cement column that survived the building collapse, festooned with first-responder graffiti.

The most awe-full artifact for me was the impact steel from the North Tower, which was the one hit first. Mounted on the wall like a crucifix with a stark light upon it, the mangled steel beams hung as a testament to the power of the plane that crashed into the building and began the nightmare.

People showed different emotions to these sights. Some were crying, some were dazed. Everyone was somber.


The impact steel from the North Tower.

Our tour guide explained that her brother worked in the World Trade Buildings. He only escaped death that day because, at the last moment, he decided to go to the optometrist to get his glasses fixed instead of heading up the tower.

Tour over, we were free to wander among the artifact exhibits on our own. I was drawn to the information about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, because I was in Pennsylvania when 9-11 happened. A timeline of those events was on display along with text of the plane cockpit recordings.

Also powerful and haunting were the voicemail messages left for loved ones from those who worked in the tower after the plane(s) crashed into them.

After all that heaviness, I was glad to get outside into the memorial area. But even the memorial is heavy, with all the names of the dead inscribed around the waterfalls that flow into the building pits. We found the name of a man who had been in a relative’s wedding party.

DSC05674The other 9-11-themed thing we did was attend the Broadway show, “Come From Away.” Although poignant at times, this experience was much more enjoyable than the museum. The musical tells the story of the townspeople of Gander, Newfoundland. This village of 10,000 people hosted 7,000 airplane travelers who got grounded on 9-11 for several days.

The Newfies welcome the confused travelers like only Newfies could – with generosity, caring, music, and whisky. The show offered 100 minutes of humanity and hopefulness.  The audience gave it a standing ovation at the end. If you have a chance to see “Come From Away,” by all means, do so!

Two of the Coolest Spots on Madeline Island


The bridge across Big Bay Town Park lagoon. Look at that beautiful water!

My friend Sharon and I meandered onto this island in Lake Superior a couple of weeks ago. We’d both been there before, but found two cool new places to explore this time. And I mean “cool” as in awesome and interesting.


The lagoon.

The first was Big Bay Town Park, which friend recommended to us. Unlike with the state park on the island, the town park has a free-will donation fee. A short walk down a stairway from the parking lot leads you to a bridge across a stunning lagoon that enters Lake Superior. On the other side of the lagoon is a public beach studded with white pines. The water is crystal clear and inviting, although as always with Lake Superior, temperatures may be a bit cool.

Canoes are available to rent via self-service onsite, or you can rent watercraft, including paddleboards from a place in town. The kayaks, canoes, and paddleboard are all onsite, and the businesses will give you a key to unlock them.

I brought my own blow-up paddleboard and Sharon rented one for two hours. We cruised the lagoon, watching painted turtles walk across the sandy bottom and startling a fish here and there. The water is so clear, it felt like we were flying through it.

IMG_6099The second place is Tom’s Burned Down Café. I’d seen it from afar before and heard about its, shall we say, counterculture reputation. Maybe it once was a café (before it burned down?) but now it is a bar. No food is available.

The place is a hodgepodge of homegrown-construction seating areas held together with signs with sayings like “It’s not premaritial sex if you don’t plan on getting married,” and “Be the rainbow in a world full of rain.” The top is covered by several tents.


Tom’s Burned-Down Cafe

Sharon and I sat down, thirsty after our paddleboard, and ordered margaritas. The friendly bartender asked us if we’d like to try beet-infused tequila in our margaritas, pointing to a large glass container of mysterious red liquid behind him.


My beet-infused margarita with the hand-written menu behind it.

We hesitated for a few beats, and then agreed. We were already brave enough to come into the bar, why not be even braver and try something new? The beet margarita was definitely drinkable, but it didn’t have as much lime in it as we were craving.

Also of note is that the place is cash-only. If you don’t have any, an ATM is available (under its own small tent) in the bar.

Tom’s was named the Number 2 Best Beach Bar in America in 2013 by Maxim Magazine, no doubt, for its unusual ambiance. If you go there with a sense of adventure, you won’t be disappointed!

Exploring Prophyry Island Lighthouse


Porphyry Island Lighthouse

Porphyry is a wilderness island in Lake Superior on the east side of the Black Bay Peninsula near Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada. Most arrive by motorboat, sailboat, kayak or canoe, docking in a secluded cove about a mile away from the lighthouse. Some arrive by helicopter, alighting on the helipad adjacent to the lighthouse.

Us? We arrived by dinghy, rowing from our anchorage farther down the island. When we landed, we were met by a native Canadian lad – a volunteer for the Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior organization.


Did you know there’s a universal symbol for taking a sauna? We didn’t until now, either!

When he asked where we traveled from, Captain Dave told him we rowed from Isle Royale — a preposterous 29 miles away. The lad did not take the bait, and instead, graciously offered us a tour of new structures in the cove. A boathouse features a mini-gift shop, and the sauna offers promises of warmth to be dashed by a splash in Lake Superior afterward.

Although bikes were available, we chose to stretch our sailboat- and dinghy-cramped legs by walking the flat trail to the lighthouse. Lined with Canada dogwoods, forget-me-nots, and the mysterious devil’s club plant (readers of my novel “Eye of the Wolf’ will know what this is!), the trail passed two points of interest along the way.

One was a small graveyard. Four white crosses mark where members of a former lighthouse keeper’s family are buried. The second is an area where a couple of junker cars lie moldering, relics from when the trail used to be a road.

DSC05393Upon reaching the lighthouse, we were greeted by several more volunteers, plus Eve, a former assistant lighthouse keeper. Her husband, Graham, was the last to keep the light before it became automated. He died a couple of years ago, and a photo gallery has been set up near the lighthouse to showcase his award-winning photos.

DSC05398Volunteer Kaitlyn showed us the gallery and a small museum. She was walking us toward the lighthouse for a tour when the door of the structure groaned and burst open. A man ran out, cell phone plastered to his ear, talking intently.

After all the wilderness silence we’d experienced, this was shocking. Not only for the noise but for the technology. (We hadn’t had cell phone service in a while.) We all put our hands on our hearts, and stopped on our tracks.

The man continued walking away from us, talking on his phone. After recovering, Kaitlyn and Eve told us the man was Paul, who ran the place. Once he got off his phone, we were able to meet him. He explained his office is in a room in the base of the lighthouse. He did not explain why he had to suddenly run out of it, but one would assume it was because he was in an important conversation and needed better reception. It made me wonder if his heart-attack-inducing bursting forth happened often, and also made us feel a bit sorry that running the place has him so stressed that he can’t meld into the peacefulness of it.


The helipad at the lighthouse.

As we were speaking with Paul, an older woman laden with painting supplies walked by. She was the latest artist-in-residence at the lighthouse, a painter from Jerusalem. The lighthouse organization sponsors several artists each summer. There’s also a guest house that people can rent, which used to be the lighthouse keeper’s quarters.

After we promised to donate to the lighthouse organization, Paul deemed us worthy of a tour of the lighthouse. Eve and Kaitlyn guided us up the six steep sets of stairs, which were more like ladders. Once at the top, we admired the view of Thunder Bay’s Sleeping Giant through the windows.

After a bit, Eve asked us if we’d like to go outside on the railing. Without hesitation, we said yes. We ducked through a small opening, out into the freedom of the summer breeze. The view was stunning. Eve pointed out the other islands we could see where she had worked with her husband, and where her sons were born. She told us that when they worked at Prophyry, her sons used to enjoy dropping water balloons down the inner corridor. I could totally see how that would appeal to them.


The view looking down from the top of the lighthouse.

After drinking in the view, we carefully descended the steps back to the ground. Eve, at 70, navigated them like a much younger woman. Then again, she must have had a lot of practice when she worked here.

We walked back to the cove and socialized with a Canadian sailor who was anchored there. As we rowed back to our boat, a fog started to roll in, relegating the lighthouse and its inhabitants back into the mists of time.


Eve and Kaitlyn

The Perfect Duluthy Fall Hike


The panoramic view from the Brewer’s Park Loop on the Superior Hiking Trail.

I meandered onto a newish section of the Superior Hiking Trail in Duluth recently. My friends and I hiked the Brewer’s Park Loop, which was completed in 2016. The trail takes walkers through an oak/maple forest and offers unparalleled views of the western part of the city and the St. Louis River – making it a perfect hike for fall.

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Photo by Amanda Jo Dahl-Sales

Some web pages rate the hike as moderate, others as easy. I would say both are true. Some of the climbs are rather steep and would rate a “moderate” in my book, but the majority of the hike is on an unobstructed path that’s fairly level, which rates an “easy.”

It took us 1-1/2 hours to go about 3-1/2 miles, but we were gawking and talking most of the way so I’m sure other people could do it more quickly. Access to the trail off Haines Road (see map).

Bring some water and your dog. For a near-perfect Duluth experience, visit Bent Paddle Brewery afterward for a drink. Urban hiking doesn’t get much better than this!

Brewer Park loop trail

Duluth News Tribune map


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Image by Amanda Jo Dahl-Sales