Here I am high on the Bajio in the middle of Mexico enjoying "the eternal springtime" weather, which turned out to be anything but true this week. It's the rainy season, which means there is a downpour late in the afternoon, after which the sun comes out and dries up all the water.

But the last couple nights have seen monster storms and the water rushes down the hill so fast and so deep, it is hazardous to try to stand up, let alone walk down to La Puerta del Sol, where I hang out at this time every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I was disgruntled to put it mildly, but decided to distract myself with a TV movie. The plot began to thicken just when the storm knocked out the cable.

Fresh out of excuses, it seems the thing to do is write the next postcard that was promised months ago. First, let me direct you to my travel story in Columbus Parent. It's all about our trip to a dude ranch: Daughter Mandy, and grandsons Michael and Evan.

http://columbusparent.com/live/content/issue/stories/2008/08/01/cp_Travel.html?sid=107


It was great fun. You can click on "more photos" to see my slideshow.

The last night we stayed at the wonderful dude ranch, my three traveling companions came down with a stomach flu that gave new depth and meaning to the term. I don't remember who was struck first, but in a matter of minutes they were fighting each other to get to the bathroom. I put the pillow over my head and didn't move. You see, I am a sympathy puker. If any of my senses is assaulted by the heinous condition, I will join right in and outdo them all.

After each of the boys had their turns, I heard Mandy shout, "How could you stand right over it and miss? Both of you!" The boys just groaned and went back to bed. By this time, poor Mandy had cleaned up the bathroom twice. Just in time for the second foray. She was sicker than either of them, but she had no choice. They "missed" again.

From my position under two pillows and a couple quilts, I was able to shout, "What's the matter with you boys? Don't you know how to worship the porcelain god?"

"Gaga's saying something," observed Evan. "What, Gaga"?

Mandy told them to never mind. From long experience she knew what would happen if I popped my head out.

Things quieted down about daylight. I thought I was well enough to go to breakfast, and Michael allowed as how he thought he would as well. When we reached the dining room, there were 12 "dudes" there out of 39. Everybody had a similar tale. "Sicker than I've ever seen her."

"Didn't sleep a wink all night."

"Finally fell asleep leaning against the bathroom wall."

Shawn, the owner and head cowpoke said last week's ranchers were sick as well, and a couple of the wranglers had caught it. This week's visitors obviously contracted it from them.

We left about noon and headed to Gatlinburg. I had another press trip to Dollywood at Pigeon Forge. We checked into the hotel, and the three walking-wounded said they thought they would grab a nap. I was still feeling fine, so I wandered around a bit. I was dozing on a lounge in the bar when Evan woke me.

"Gaga, you're snoring again just like you do in the movie."

"Was not," I replied indignantly. He snickered, just like he does when he wakes me at the movie.

Speaking of a snore, Dollywood turned out to be one. There is just so much you can write about a theme park after you describe the huge roller coaster and the brand new water park. I discovered that the average visitor actually thinks Dolly Parton would be there. She was not.

I started feeling a tiny bit unsettled around dinnertime, and I didn't join the others who went downtown to see what was happening in Gatlinburg. By the time they returned, I was worshiping the porcelain god myself. It was my turn to stay up all night sick unto death.

We started back to Ohio the next morning, but Mandy wanted to show us a section of the Smoky Mountains called Cades Cove. She went to school at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, which is nearby, and she had done her share of camping, trekking, and God knows what all in the thick woods. She wanted us to see Cades Cove, which she described as a loop around the Smoky Mountain National Park that would take about 30 minutes. The boys just wanted to get out of there, but she was so enthusiastic about it, they consented.

Cades Cove is a protected area that boasts some 50 live-in mammals, including the elusive black bear. We were no sooner past the warning sign about not trying to feed the animals than we found ourselves in a major traffic jam. But it was at least moving, albeit slowly.

Ahead, brakes lights suddenly appeared and a man jumped out pointing a camera.
This caused a chain reaction that produced more cameras. As no one was sure what the first guy was shooting, they remained in their cars and stuck their cameras out the windows.

By the time we arrived at the place where the first camera appeared there was a lone deer about 300 yards away in a field. We didn't know it then, but the same scene was to be repeated countless times. It was always one or two deer.

"I think we should send Michael to every car ahead of us and tell them if they will just let us through, they can follow us back to Ohio where we can guarantee they will see many deer close-up right in our front yard," I suggested.

This stop and go trip continued for at least an hour. Finally, there appeared in front of us, a pickup truck with a guy standing in the bed pointing a camera lens long enough to take a close-up of a gnat's eye. Cameras were everywhere. We glanced around and there was nary a deer. We were finally able to ask a passer-by what everyone was looking at.

"Somebody thought he saw a bear," she answered. "It was down in that gully." We had no choice but to wait until either the bear or another deer had its portrait taken. The road was so narrow it would have been nearly impossible to pass the other cars. Another hour passed by.

Mandy, who regularly treads where angels fear to do so, hit the horn, asked people to get out of the way, and came within a hair's breadth of knocking off a few side-view mirrors. We were finally free.

But it didn't last long. A blue pickup truck was in front of us. More stop and go. We lost track of time. Suddenly, the truck pulled off the road into a clearing, and as we zoomed past I saw a woman apply a lip lock to the guy behind the wheel.

"Did you see that," Michael asked excitedly. "That woman mounted the guy and started kissing him."

"Michael!" I said in a shocked grandmotherly voice.

"But she did," he argued.

"Fine," said Mandy. "Let's just get out of here." The only thing to see is a deer, and we have a lot more of those at home."

"Maybe the bears ate all the deers," said Evan, who had been quiet up to now.

The little 30-minute side trip turned into about three hours, but we all agreed the best part of Cades Cove was leaving it.

"Wonder where the other 48 mammals were," I mused.

"We'll never know," said Mandy, "because we're certainly not going back to find out!"