Major North American rodeos

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state, a place that has some fine rodeos, like the one at Ellensburg, up the canyon, or out in White Swan on the reservation.

This list started out to be the biggest ones, but I’m finding even that can be tricky, depending on the varying measures. And then there are the Best Lists, which laud smaller events like the Reno Rodeo in Nevada and the Pendleton Roundup in eastern Oregon.

So here’s a list anyway. Giddyup!

  1. Cheyenne Frontier Days, Wyoming
  2. Calgary Stampede, Alberta, Canada
  3. National Western Stock Show, Denver
  4. Ponoka Stampede, Alberta, Canada
  5. Fort Worth Stock Show, Texas
  6. La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, Tucson, Arizona
  7. Williams Lake Stampede, British Columbia, Canada
  8. Festival Western de St. Tite, Quebec, Canada
  9. World’s Oldest Rodeo, Prescott, Arizona
  10. Parker Ranch Fourth of July Rodeo, Hawaii. Oops, not North America but still in the USA.


Ever been to a real rodeo?

Yes, I enjoy Midcoast Maine

The coastal loop of Maine north of Portland but before Acadia National Park can easily be overlooked by many tourists who stick to Interstate 95. Besides, U.S. 1, its principal route, turns into a traffic jam during the summer, which is why we go in the shoulder seasons.

Many of its delights are found along the side roads that reach down its fingers to the sea or inland in the other direction.

Here are a few of the things we enjoy.

  1. The lighthouses, of course. Pemaquid Point at Bristol is a photographer’s favorite, but there are 20 more. Some are privately owned, and many – including the 11 on islands – are viewed best from the water.
  2. Ferry rides are one way to get to the islands and a fun trip in their own right. The state runs vessels from Rockport, Bass Harbor, and Lincolnville, and private services add New Harbor and Port Clyde to the points of departure.
  3. Getting to Morse’s sauerkraut in Waldoboro, leading away from the water, can seem like forever, especially in winter, but when we go, we stock up. This cabbage is nothing like the crap we were force-fed as kids, and the German restaurant and store are treats in their own right.
  4. Moody’s Diner, back out on U.S. 1, is a classic and where I learned the difference between lowbush blueberries common to Maine and the highbush ones like I grow.
  5. If you can, pick a town and stay there for a few days. We’ve done B&Bs in Bath, Belfast, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, and Damariscotta – as well as weeklong conferences in Brunswick – and each town is different. We’d go back in a flash to Camden in the depth of February again, if the opportunity arises. Or if it’s in the summer, we definitely want to visit the lavender farm. You have to walk around to really enjoy each town and its people.
  6. The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockport emphasizes work by Americans, especially modernists – and its connection to the Wyeths and Alex Katz are strong. The museum even owns the Olson house, made famous in the painting Christina’s World.
  7. Bay Chamber concerts have been providing classical music each summer out of the old opera house in Rockport and related venues along Penobscot Bay. It began as the summer home of the famed Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and maintains high standards.
  8. Popham Beach in Phippsburg has to be the loveliest in the Maine. The state park is also the busiest. Get there early, if you can, before the line forms.
  9. The river herring also known as alewives are a regional treat, especially when they migrate each spring. You can see them up-close in Damariscotta … or dine on them, if you ask around.
  10. When the herring run, the osprey follow. The big birds rival eagles in their majesty.

A bit of what I know about Cape Cod

The flexed arm of 15 Massachusetts towns sticking out into the Atlantic is a unique part of New England. You sense something’s different as soon as you cross over the Bourne or Sagamore bridges high above the Cape Cod Canal.

Here are some considerations.

  1. It has four different sections, and they can be confusing. The Upper Cape is what you encounter immediately over the bridge, while the Lower Cape, or Outer Cape, is what comprises the wrist and hand of the upraised arm. Got it? That always feels reversed to me. And in-between are the Mid-Cape and Lower Outer Cape. Usually added to that are “the islands,” Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, which you reach by ferry.
  2. The Cape is infused with a Colonial appearance, despite all the development since, or at least since the high Victorian era. And it’s definitely integrated with the ocean, on both sides. It often becomes overwhelmingly twee, though the thrift shops can be well worth investigating. Make sure your American flag has only 13 stars.
  3. What people usually think of as the Cape is its far outer tip – the glorious sand dunes and then flamboyant Provincetown. For me, the heart of it all has been the Portuguese Bakery in P’town. Cheap, blue collar, and distinctively tasty, until recently. Portuguese, after all, have long been the fishermen.
  4. The Cape is noted for its lighthouses – 18 still working, last I counted. Some of them are privately owned.
  5. Chatham, at the elbow, has a gazillion big seals – and a shark population that feeds on them. You can get close-up views of the seals at the town’s commercial fish dock.
  6. The sandy cliffs and beaches along the Atlantic run for miles, from Marconi station on up to P’town. You can just walk and walk and walk, maybe returning on the converted railroad trail up above.
  7. Traffic jams are a constant headache through summer, especially on weekends.
  8. The Cape pushes the ocean current further out to sea, meaning colder waters rise up in the void to its north. For swimmers, that means warmer waters on the Cape than we have in New Hampshire or Maine, beginning earlier and later into the season, too. By the way, the Plymouth Bay side is usually warmer and gentler.
  9. Bicycling is big.
  10. I suggest going in the shoulder season, before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. Good swimming can extend through September, if hurricanes cooperate. For the rest of the year, the weather can be weird. Remember, the Cape’s at the mercy of the ocean.

A few facts about the cruise boat Mount Washington

For 149 years, a New Hampshire vacation tradition has been the big cruise boat that plies scenic Lake Winnipesauke in the mountains in the middle of the state.

Here’s the dope.

  1. It started out as a paddle steamer in 1872, built by the Boston & Maine Railroad Company to transport passengers and cargo around the lake.
  2. It soon became a tourist attraction, drawing 60,000 passengers a year, a figure that continues.
  3. That vessel burned in 1939 while tied up at dock and a fire spread from a train station.
  4. The current incarnation of the M/S Mount Washington is 230-feet long and has four decks. Maximum capacity is 1,250.
  5. The current vessel started out in 1888 as an iron-hulled sidewheeler on Lake Champlain. In 1940, it was cut apart in Vermont and shipped by rail to Lakeport, New Hampshire, where the hull was reassembled in a new twin-screw vessel design. It was powered by two steam engines (since replaced by diesel) taken from an ocean-going yacht.
  6. There are three dance floors. It seats 500 for dining or serves one thousand for a reception. Two-hour dinner-dance cruises are popular.
  7. It has five ports of call – Weirs Beach, Wolfeboro, Center Harbor, Meredith, and Alton.
  8. The M/S stands for motor ship.
  9. The views include the summer homes of many billionaires as well as mountains and at least 264 islands.
  10. The line also runs two smaller vessels, one of them a mail boat where the envelopes are actually sorted en route.

Ever eaten elk or Dungeness crab?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state.

  1. Dungeness crab. I really miss this. It doesn’t travel well. You have to go to the source. Someplace like Ivar’s on the waterfront in Seattle. One crab per person is fine.
  2. Salmon. How many varieties do you know? Sport fishermen will tell you their favorite.
  3. Tillamook cheddar. An Oregon coop.
  4. Beer. Must be all those local hops and barley. My favorite was Rainier.
  5. Geoducks. (Pronounced gooey-ducks). A large razor clam species.
  6. Those chewy apple, peach, or ‘cot bars. A sweet and chewy candy. Used to get ’em up around Wenatchee. Wish I could remember the brand name.
  7. Rainier cherries. Definitely distinctive.
  8. Chanterelle mushrooms. Had ’em once, and it was a treat. You really have to trust your source when it comes to picking wild ‘shrooms.
  9. Elk. Helps if you know someone who wins a license in the annual hunting lottery. Seriously.
  10. Walla Walla onions. OK, I hate onions. Or they hate me. So I’m just passing this along, based on the praise by cooks I respect.


What food is special where you live?

Dungeness crab, a specialty in the Pacific Northwest.


What I’ve learned about the ocean

We’re talking North Atlantic, though I had earlier exposure to the North Pacific in Washington state as well as the Atlantic in Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, and Long Island.

New England really is different. Here’s why.

  1. The water’s always restless, don’t be fooled. Those slow swells can get you seasick, too.
  2. The current in the water can push you one direction while the wind twists you toward the other. As I learned the first time I took the helm of a sailboat and tried to steer by the compass.
  3. Tidepooling presents an amazing crystalline world of miniature color in its unique range of flora and fauna. It’s well worth exploring in the rockweed at low tide.
  4. At night, the ocean can be terrifying. It’s utterly dark, surrounded by swirling and slapping sounds in unseen places. The stars – and distant beacons – are icy comfort.
  5. As for those romantic walks along the beach in moonlight? Most nights of the year are too cloudy and too cold. Maybe you need to book a flight to a Caribbean island.
  6. It’s dangerous. You think you’re standing sufficiently far back on a rock outcropping overlooking the water, but don’t be surprised if a big wave somehow crashes up behind you, threatening to sweep you out to sea. January and March add their own complications.
  7. I love bodysurfing in some big waves, come summer, meaning after the Fourth of July. Here we go! Whee!
  8. Whales! The tour captains know where to find them. But their blow spray stinks. Meaning the big leviathans, not the skippers, as far as I know.
  9. And seals! (And sharks, which go after them at Chatham, down on the Cape.) And lighthouses!
  10. The tides themselves are heightened here because of a fluke in the global streaming. They’re really impressive up in Fundy Bay and the easternmost flank of Maine. (Twenty-five feet change every six hours at Eastport, Maine, for example. It’s like draining and quickly refilling a lake.) Less than half of that where I live in New Hampshire, but still impressive.
Me at the helm of a 32-foot sailboat back in the late ’80s. It didn’t want to go where we were supposed to be headed, and I was worried the wind might tip us over.   

As a footnote, there are only a few places you can swim in Chesapeake Bay without being stung by jellyfish.

And I love the way you really can see the curvature of the earth when you get an open panorama.