Jun 152014
 

You know when you’ve been on vacation when . . .

  • you come home to ankle-high grass
  • all the items you unload from your vehicle(s) make you want to leave for another vacation
  • you’re grateful your neighbor collected the newspaper you forgot to cancel and the package you forgot you ordered
  • after five loads of laundry, you can’t believe the end is not in sight
  • the luncheon meat left in the refrigerator has passed its “best when eaten by” date
  • you thought you got away cleanly without any insect bites, but then the itching begins
  • your laptop is loaded with unread e-mails and waiting-to-be-configured software updates
  • you’re still eating leftovers two days after you come home
  • the mail held by the Post Office consists mostly of unsolicited catalogs, credit card offers, and invitations to tour senior living communities
  • you want to extend your vacation because it went by too quickly.

Yes, that’s exactly how we felt when we came home from a week spent at Backbone State Park in northeastern Iowa. This is the ninth consecutive year we’ve rented a cabin there, and it hasn’t gotten old yet. In fact, it feels more like our home away from home, but a nice, uncluttered one where you can sit down and relax immediately. I admit we do bring a few comforts from home, and that helps.

Cabin Collage

Except for last week Saturday, when it rained, the weather was perfect with temperatures in the mid-70s. Every evening, as the sun set, we built a campfire and either toasted marshmallows or read books, courtesy of our e-readers and tiki-style torches.

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It was nice to visit with Nicole Peterman, one of the concessionaires’ daughters. During the school year, she teaches and this year is also completing her master’s degree, but during the summer she helps her parents manage the concession stand. When you arrive at Backbone State Park, this is where you check in and collect your cabin key, and also where you can pick up snacks, drinks, firewood, and other conveniences.

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We were charmed, when we pulled up in front of our cabin, to discover that the 2013 Industrial Technology Class of Maquoketa Valley High School had installed a lending library-on-a-post just across from our parking space. It was stocked with about two dozen titles. The glass door is etched with the words, “Take a Book. Leave a Book. Free Book Exchange.” All week long, we observed cabin residents borrowing books or returning them. What a great idea!

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I keep a dedicated journal when we stay at Backbone State Park. It’s great to return to previous years’ entries and re-live the memories.

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Every year we learn a new fact or two about Backbone State Park. This time we learned that the boathouse, concession stand and Backbone Lake dam were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. By the end of 1933, there were 22 CCC camps in Iowa, providing work for young men who would otherwise be out of work. The men were paid $30 a month, plus room and board, but $25 of their pay was sent home to their families. Two of the camps were located at Backbone State Park and were served by about 200 men. The men gathered native materials to build structures, splitting tons of stone for walls and foundations, and felling trees for log beams and posts. Camp SP-2, Company 1756, constructed the dam for the 125-acre Backbone Lake, as well the boathouse and bathhouse. The bathhouse later became the combined concession stand and Beach Lodge, which can be reserved for weddings, graduations, birthdays and other group events. Camp SP-17, Company 781, performed reforestation and erosion control, as well as construction of roads and trails. Backbone Lake is actually a reservoir formed from the damming of the Maquoketa River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, that has been flowing through 150 miles of Iowa since the last Ice Age 16,000 years ago.

This is the original boathouse. In the background you can see the bathhouse, which today is the Beach Store and Lodge.

This is the original boathouse. In the background you can see the bathhouse, which today is the Beach Store and Lodge.

The boathouse today looks very similar to the original one.

The boathouse today looks very similar to the original one. The view in the black-and-white photo faces the lake, while this view faces the shore.

The Beach Store and Lodge look very different from the original from the original bathhouse, although the basic structural lines are the same.

The Beach Store and Lodge look very different from the original bathhouse, although the basic structural lines are the same.

When the reservoir that is now Backbone Lake was formed, two spillways were created. They are easier to see from the other side of the lake.

When the reservoir that is now Backbone Lake was formed, two spillways were created, one on each side of the trees in the center of the photo.

During our annual cabin retreat at Backbone State Park, we make regular trips into the nearby town of Manchester to buy groceries, torch lamp oil and other supplies. One day of each stay, John arms himself with a shopping list and drops me off at The Quiltmaker’s Shoppe so I can shop for fabric. This is always a treat. I tend to buy fabric in half-yard cuts, and plan later what I’ll do with it—probably sew bags, journal covers, and organizers. In the photos below you’ll see Mary Ann at the cash register, and Carol near the cutting table.

The Quiltmakers Shoppe

One of the delights, of course, of being at Backbone State Park, is enjoying nature. You can always find raccoons, both in the forest and in the waste bins. When we chatted with Nicole at the concession stand one day, we remarked that last year John learned that you don’t want to take your trash out to the waste bin at midnight because that’s party time for the raccoons.

“They’re pretty clever,” I said. “They get into everything.”

“Not that clever,” said Nicole. “There was one that knew how to get into the trash bin, but not out. I had to stick a wooden pole in there for it to climb and get out.”

When we were at the northern end of Backbone State Park, we spotted this raccoon, playing in a trout stream.

When we were at the northern end of Backbone State Park, we spotted this raccoon, playing in a trout stream.

Our cabin is located at the southern end of Backbone State Park, but on the last day of our stay, we visited the northern side, which has its own surprises. In my next post, I’ll fill you in.

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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  4 Responses to “10 signs you’ve been on vacation”

  1. What a wonderful vacation! Interesting history about the CCC construction of the dam and buildings.
    And I love the fabrics you found at the quilt shop!! I’m guessing you’ll be heading back next year, too!

  2. That looks like a wonderful place!
    It must have been a fabulous retreat!
    I love those little lending libraries.

  3. Sounds like such a relaxing time! I always have to have our neighbor get my packages while we’re gone….they seem to come every day!
    LOL on the senior living facilities…I get these for my parents sometimes 🙂

  4. Wonderful vacation! I am jealous! Would love to stay in a place like this. My hubs wants to book a yurt on the Oregon coast! Should be fun!

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