Category Archives: Uncategorized

Salt Lake City and beyond….

Heber City, Utah: Home Sweet Home

Well, after all our adventuring on the way out west, we finally arrived in Heber City, Utah, our Utah home away from home (if we can get a reservation).  Luckily, we were able to get settled in and headed down to SLC as soon as we were hooked up.  Lisa, Mike and the kids had just gotten home from Vancouver the night before–they went out to see one of the Women’s World Soccer Championship games.   I had not seen Lisa and her family since spring when I went out there to see Mikaela’s performance in her musical (amazing performance–Mikaela is such a natural on stage and her cute personality shines through!) and Bob had not seen them since last Thanksgiving when they came to Virginia.  Unfortunately we all took turns getting sick during the holiday with one bug or another that week so that was a little challenging…  Needless to say, we were anxious to get some big hugs and kisses minus the bugs of winter!

355
One of our favorite campgrounds is in Heber City–great facilities, stunning sunsets, astonishing scenery in every direction–and best of all less than an hour from the grandbabies!
366
I’m watching the tail end of one of those sunsets I just mentioned… Very serene.


Soccer, Soccer, More Soccer!!!!

Over the next few days we spent a lot of time on the soccer fields watching Mikaela and Sammy practice, practice, practice–often in 100 plus degree heat.   What endurance!  Sammy arrived at Mikaela’s practice after his practice one night and immediately headed for the sprinklers to get wet.  Good idea!

356
This is one of Mikaela’s practices–Lisa was at another field in another town watching Sammy’s practice. I have no idea how they do all this plus all the things they have to do each day!

Of course, Lisa and her family were totally fired up after just getting back from Vancouver for one of the  Womens Soccer games .  And they had all the paraphernalia to get into the spirit –hats, shirts, flags….the whole bag!  For the two weeks we were there, soccer was the theme–and I was a convert after screaming along with them during those last few games!  Before the week was out, I wished we had timed our trip to Canada better so that we could have seen one in person too–maybe the last one perhaps–that would have been a mind-bender!!

384
We are all set up and cheering already for that FINAL game…!!!
382
Lisa is cheering them on but looks a little tense here–that’s before we got the first two scores and we were going wild…
377
Sammy is celebrating after the final few minutes of the game—WOW! What a game! So glad we were able to see it with the kids.

On top of all this soccer stuff, Lisa and Mike took Bob and the kids to Utah’s REAL professional soccer game on Fourth of July while I was in Virginia.  A very fun two weeks for all of us!

Christmas in July!  Thanks, Aunt Ashley!

Aunt Ashley didn’t quite get her Christmas presents in the mail in time (it’s only July….!) so I played mail carrier.  Among the presents were gift cards for Sammy and Mikaela to Target.  It was fun to watch the kids go through the decision process when they selected what they wanted–something I would never have anticipated.

362
Mikaela and Sammy wanted to share with Aunt Ashley what they selected as soon as they finished paying for it. So drum roll……
363
Ta Daaaa….


Ruth’s Diner Stopover

Ruth’s Diner has been one of my favorite spots to dine in SLC for years.  It’s located in Emigration Canyon, in the northwestern side of SLC.  Ruth, a hard-talking, smoking, drinking tough old broad hauled her trailer into the Canyon over 60 years ago and set up business with her homestyle cooking.  It’s still there and thriving under the guidance of her remaining family.  The place also had a dramatic upgrade since I was last there, which is quite impressive.  Lots of bicyclists roll by here each day to challenge the steep mountain grade on the way to a lake at the top of the canyon’s winding, steep road.  If they are smart (or maybe not) they can use all those calories they burnt and have breakfast on the way back down–Ruth’s Mile High biscuits can’t be beat!

358
Ruth’s Diner is a nice way station between Heber City and SLC. The garden patio in the back is also a garden paradise, but you can watch the bikers in the front.
367
Bob is digging into those Mile High Biscuits and homemade Apple Butter.


Lisa’s Birthday Celebration

With our Utah kids living so far away, we are rarely with Lisa on her birthday but we try to pull a belated celebration when we can work it out.  Mike took her to Vancouver for her June birthday this year for the soccer game (she was thrilled!).  Mike is a whiz at planning the most special birthday celebrations for Lisa each year.  He is so thoughtful and sweet and definitely knows what she likes!   So we had a campground cookout for her at our campsite shortly after we arrived.  They were leaving for Hawaii (bikini body time) shortly after we left so I made sure the ice cream cake was “zero” calories….

IMG_1062
We were singing Happy Birthday to Mom/Lisa!  And giving her a few hugs as well!

 

IMG_1058
Smile, Mike!
IMG_1057
She blew them out on the first try! Wow!
IMG_1056
OK, let’s eat cake!  And strawberries!


Grandkid Spoiling (can’t blame this one on me!)

I went home to Virginia for a few days and left Pappaw in charge of Grandkid spoiling.  And he did an excellent job.  First off, he bought GIANT doughnuts for each kid.  As Sammy said, it was bigger than his face!  But Mom made them parcel it out–took about 5 days to eat it!  Then he made 8 pans of lasagna and 3 meatloaves.  They freeze them and eat them until we come back–then if the stash is low Bob has to get busy in the kitchen!  Sammy and Mikaela were keeping a close count of the inventory.  We did have lasagna a couple times while we there–but almost had to so we could get everything into the freezer!

034
Sammy looks like he might try for one big gulp!
029
Mikaela is dreaming as she savors her CHOCOLATE doughnut….

Our two weeks in Utah ended so quickly and it was time for us to hit the road toward Canada via Wyoming and for Lisa, Mike and the kids to head to Hawaii.  I told them I would switch with them—you know trade the beach/palm trees of Hawaii for the Wyoming RATTLESNAKES —but, alas, there were no takers!  So off we went on the next stage of our journey.  Aloha!

And Happy Trails to all our friends and family!  Next blog will get us into Canada so until then–see ya’ later, gator!

2015 TREKKING: There’s no end to the things you can do….

Greetings, family and friends!  So sorry for my sporadic updates.  I guess my excuse is that it’s been a tad busy, but you will see shortly…

It has been a busy year so far, with a lot of traveling back and forth…  We continue to find retirement interesting and fun–and the freedom to travel and visit with family and friends is so stupendously wonderful it makes all those years of hard work worthwhile!!  We hope to see more of the good old USA–what a wonderful country!  We have met so many very nice people in our travels, both Americans and travelers from around the world.   It seems the more you get into this gypsy life the more you crave it!  This summer we are expanding our explorations to Canada as well.  We are in Canada now, but I will get to that once I catch up on our earlier adventuring.

After our warm winter interludes in Florida several times this past winter/spring to thaw out our frozen toes and try to avoid the worst of a terribly cold and messy winter, we then made our long trek north with stops in Georgia to visit family.  It was time to bring Baby back to Virginia to ready her for our next Grand Tour.  Bur first we had some very important items on our ‘To Do’ list.

The first one, as you can see below, is getting Baby into the driveway.  Sometimes she is a little naughty and prefers to chew up our across-the-street neighbor’s mailbox, plants, and neatly arranged mulch surrounding the mailbox.  When you are 42 feet long and weigh 42,000 plus pounds, you pretty much own the neighborhood!  So we have to beg and plead with her to be a nice girl so that we can safely tuck her into the driveway.  Once that task is finally accomplished (and we smooth down the neighbor’s mulch), we download the edibles and other sundry items  and complete any tours requested from the neighborhood kids.  We then take her back to her Virginia nest until ready to pack up and roll out again.  But until then she rules!

While tucked into our driveway, many neighbors walking their dogs stop to inquire on where we are headed next, where we’ve been, and how much they want to take off and do the very same thing.  I completely understand this longing to hit the road from my pre-retirement life–on those most stressed out days after a tough day at work I would come home and read Motorhome magazine from cover to cover.  Pure escapism!  Didn’t matter if the article was about changing oil, cruising the Tetons, the latest model tow bar, or going to a rally in Perry, Georgia–I soaked it all up.  So I can understand the fascination, the yearning (even) to get away on the open road and travel to your heart’s content!  It must be the old Pioneer travel lust passed down to me (except we have Baby instead of a Conestoga wagon and a team of oxen).  And Sweet Baby, or as one of our RV park neighbors said to Bob, our STUNNING Baby (I could see a little smile on Baby’s face when he said that!), makes it all possible in our home on wheels.  Do you see that little sly smile on her face below?  She’s a devilish one–she’s glad to be home but she’s not about to admit it!

541
After our travels down south this past spring, we are performing what is becoming a spring ritual for us–backing Baby into our driveway for unloading prior to a thorough cleaning and repacking for our next trip. The neighbors usually come out for this particular entertainment.
528
We were very much looking forward to seeing Ewan’s performance as the Cat in the Hat in his school’s Seussical production. I was so impressed with his performance! Ewan was in almost every scene! He danced, he pranced, he even sang like Louis Armstrong in one scene–what a kid! He was the glue that pulled the whole musical together!! Congratulations (again!) dear grandson!
546
From Cat in the Hat to River Rat! Ewan was in his element at Sera’s birthday party celebration on the Shenandoah River. Floating,  shooting water guns, running through the jungle (woods), and generally having a blast…. This kid knows how to have a good time!
537
Celebrating her Sweet Sixteen birthday with her grandparents and Aunt Ashley at Le Refuge, Sera was surprised and laughing when our waiter brought out her crème brulee’ in a darkened restaurant with “Happy, Happy Sweet Sixteen” playing in the background.

Along with birthday celebrations and that very special Cat in the Hat performance, I also attended Ewan’s field day and Grandparents Day at his school.  Field Day was beautiful and sunny with a nice locally catered picnic once all the games were over.  On Grandparent’s Day, the children put on a musical performance for the grandparents that is always amazing.  What talented youngsters!  You may want to call this my Grandma Brag Book, but all our grandchildren are so special I love to spend as much time with them as possible!

But all good things eventually do get  overtaken by To DO lists, itineraries, and Baby’s impatience to get on the road again!  But even as we roll across the country weeks later, I still hear the refrain from the Cat in the Hat Seussical–“oh the things you can do, oh the things you can see….” repeating in my head.  Thanks, Ewan!

Well, Baby was ready to roll so we loaded up again and headed West.   This time we were headed to South Dakota as quickly as possible, since we had a relatively tight schedule for the summer.  We stopped first in Buckeye Lake, Ohio and then followed a quick succession of campgrounds in Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, and then South Dakota.  Somehow we just HAPPENED to camp near Vera Bradley outlets in campsites in Indiana and Illinois.  I (of course) felt compelled to check them out with a virtual Ashley exploring the wares via cell phone and Internet.  This VB compulsion (Ashley got me started on  this one, but I take the blame for the Homegoods psychosis) is never ending.  So many patterns, so little time!

549
One campground we stayed at was remarkable because they showed movies each night next to the lake on their outdoor screen. That may be fun to try at home!

As we entered South Dakota we drove through endless variations of prairie land and slightly undulating fields, with barely a few cattle to be seen for miles and miles.   We did break the monotony by stopping at the infamous—if you’ve ever driven west on I-90 and read the 5000 billboards advertising this establishment—Wall Drug.  The whole town is consumed by Wall Drug which sells almost anything you can think of (not just drugs).   I did get sucked in at the book store which had a wonderful selection of Wild West authors – and since (of course) my other weakness is books–especially those focusing on the area I’m traveling in at the moment–I walked out with another BIG bag of books!

625
Bob was fascinated by the odd characters who hung around Wall Drug!

One night we were chatting with our campground host and we remarked on how we had not seen anything or anyone for miles throughout the day.  He told us to never fear–there are plenty of wildlife out there in the emptiness.  He specifically mentioned giant bullsnakes and (ye gads!) RATTLESNAKES.  His campground was in one of those vast, seemingly empty wilderness areas with one exception–just across the street was a recreated Frontier town which had (also) been vigorously advertised on giant billboards for the past 200 miles.  We headed over there after dinner–and that  proved to be an adventure.  The first thing the elderly gent who sold us our tickets told me was to watch for RATTLESNAKES.  He said he had almost stepped on one on several occasions as he was locking up all the buildings that were part of the town.  Well that was a little worrisome–believe me I kept my eyes to the ground after that!

601
I could hear the Gunsmoke music as I strolled down this old sidewalk toward the saloon…
612
The Wild West Saloon is still used for some local performances. Bob is checking it out.

Moving on the next day, after what seemed like a looo–oong time driving through empty (supposedly) prairie land, we finally made it to  our  destination–Rapid City, South Dakota.  We very efficiently hit all the high spots–Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park–each of them a story in themselves.  We also enjoyed our VERY NICE campground at Hart’s Ranch.  It was hard to leave!

If you can believe it, we hit all the parks below in just a few days:

Mt. Rushmore National Park: Our main objective was to see Mount Rushmore, also known as the Presidents Mountain.  You may not know this but the monument was the brainchild of Doane Robinson, known as the “Father of Mount Rushmore.” His goal was to create an attraction that would draw people from all over the country to his state.   As we were traveling through endless South Dakota wilderness, we realized we really didn’t know too much about Mt. Rushmore–except it was big, made from rock, and had some Presidents carved on it.   Since Bob and I both failed the test re: Mt. Rushmore (you have to do something while traveling for hundreds of miles every week!), you may be interested in a few key facts in case someone starts quizzing you:

  • The four presidents carved in the mountain are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
  • Thomas Jefferson was originally started on George Washington’s right. However, after 18 months they realized that it was not working. Jefferson’s face was dynamited off and carved on the other side.
  • It took 14 years to complete Mount Rushmore.
  • No one died while building Mount Rushmore.
  • The sculpture cost $989,992.32 to build.
  • There is a cave behind the carving called the “Hall of Records.” It was intended to house the story of Mount Rushmore but was never completed due to lack of funding.
  • George Washington’s face is 60 feet long.
  • 90% of the heads were carved with dynamite

If you visit Mt. Rushmore, be prepared to spend some time in the museum–it is quite fascinating.  I was intrigued with blowing up dynamite. Actual footage of a part of the sculpture being dynamited is synchronized with your hand on the throttle triggering the explosion!  I (along with all the  little boys lined up) must have hit that thing ten times.  Something very satisfying about that!

DSCN5848
Bob is checking out the entrance to Mt. Rushmore.
DSCN5845
The most amazing thing is how this was built–men hanging by tiny ropes as they carved out each nostril, wrinkle , ear, etc. with dynamite.

Crazy Horse Memorial:  The story of the building of the Crazy Horse Memorial is quite memorable.  Although South Dakota is famously home to Mount Rushmore, just down the road it’s also been making room for a second colossal mountain carving that, when finished, will dwarf the four presidents.  The sculpture in progress is of the Lakota warrior Chief Crazy Horse astride a stallion with his arm and pointed hand stretched out over the horse’s mane. It’s taking awhile. The Crazy Horse Memorial–taller than the Washington Monument and well over two football fields wide — has been 64 years in the making. And problems in the underlying rock are now forcing the sculptors to deviate from the original model.

DSCN5977
Crazy Horse Memorial (2015). This has been under construction for over 60 years.
DSCN5984
The very nice Visitor Center at Crazy Horse.
DSCN5985
This is what the completed Crazy Horse Memorial will look like. The monument is being completed with private funding only.

Custer State Park:  Driving into this park, we had no concept what was in store for us.  This is no ordinary state park.  It’s very BIG (71,000 acres), is a wildlife preserve home to many wild animals of which we saw quite a few, including 1500 free roaming bison, elk, mule deer, white tailed deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mountain lions and feral burros.   The park is famous for its scenery, scenic drives, such as Needles Highway (that will take your breath away) and of course the wildlife loop, with views of the bison herd and prairie dog towns. We missed the annual buffalo roundup in September, when the bison in the park (more than 1,000) are rounded up, with several hundred sold at auction so that the remaining number of animals will be compatible with the rangeland forage.  A little sad but I guess it must  be done–got to keep the bison burgers coming… However, the Begging Burros seem to be the most famous stars of the park.  That’s what they call donkeys in Custer State Park. For many years, these donkeys have earned this nickname as they approach various passing cars through the park begging for food. After earning this reputation, the burros have become famous and get a lot of attention from most travelers through the park inside and outside of cars. Many people bring food to the park specifically for the purpose of feeding these animals. The Begging Burros inhabit one area of the park upon a hill where approximately 50 of them try to obtain any food they can.

DSCN5907
Mom leads baby safely away from the road.
DSCN5901
Mother love–a baby donkey (or Begging Burro) cozies up to Mom in Custer State Park.
DSCN5902
Wild animals are not so wild after close encounters with visitors. Looks like they begging for a snack… Got to keep up their reputation as the “Begging Burros”!
DSCN5905
This one knows what’s in those shiny metal things–and he’s not shy about making his wants known. Carrots anyone? He must be the King of the Begging Burros!

 

DSCN5969
A very lovely lake in Custer State Park.
DSCN5938
The Needles in Custer State Park.

DSCN5942

DSCN5958
Good thing we didn’t bring Baby along on this drive!
DSCN5959
Can we fit????????
DSCN5960
Daylight –at last!

 

DSCN5891
A substantial herd of bison in Custer State Park.  One of the largest herds outside of Yellowstone.
DSCN5915
Don’t mess with this guy–looks like he hasn’t had his coffee yet!

Badlands National Park:  The Badlands were not on my top priority list of things to see in the South Dakota area we were visiting–just the name seemed forbidding!–but I’m sure glad we did make the circuit!  An easy drive, the Park’s most traveled scenic drive is a study of contrasts–rugged rock formations, velvety green grasslands intermingled with desert moonscapes, and a surprise at every turn.  The rugged beauty of the Badlands draws visitors from around the world and I understand why.

DSCN6097
Could an artist ever capture these clouds???
DSCN6089
The clouds are just the icing…

DSCN6084

DSCN6054
The abrupt contrasts in geology of this area are unforgettable.
DSCN6063
I have so many pictures–just wanted you to see this one too!  Don’t worry–I definitely did not stand in the grass while photographing.  Call me “rattlesnake-phobic”–but oh well…
DSCN6066
Just one more….
DSCN6072
So this is the down side…

The striking geologic deposits found in the Badlands contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat once roamed here. The park’s 244,000 acres protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today.  In the Visitor’s Center, archeologists work on actual finds while you watch them go through the painstaking process of reconstructing and preserving a variety of ancient animals.

DSCN6007
Looks like a Pronghorn Deer being curious.
DSCN6050
To avoid the unwanted attention of birds of prey, this little tidbit of a bunny was trying to be as quietly unobtrusive as possible while mommy was off gathering lunch.

Visitors are encouraged to learn the archeological process by participating in classes and field trips.   In fact, a 12 year-old boy identified one of the most important finds the center lays claim to while hiking in the desert with his family.  Since he had taken the classes, he was able to correctly flag the area so that the archeologist could properly excavate it.

DSCN6105
Archeologist at work carefully packing bones to ensure their safety and preservation.

DSCN6109 Grasslands National Park: While visiting the Badlands we also drove through the Grasslands National Park, which is amazing in the abundance of thick waving grass that can survive and thrive in what some would consider a vast wasteland.  Interspersed at times with the Badlands area, the Grasslands offers a cool contrast to the harshness of the Badlands.  But don’t get too comfortable picnicking in the lush grasses–we saw several signs warning folks that RATTLESNAKES also adore the waving grasses and make them their home.  Lots of mice and other small mammals living in the grasses  make a tasty dinner….

DSCN5995
Badlands meets Grasslands.
DSCN6029
The vistas are never ending and stunningly beautiful.
DSCN6042
Mother Nature has incredible taste.

The Grasslands is comprised of 155,000 acres and is characterized by rolling hills, river breaks and some badland-type areas, dominated by mixed grass prairie.  The Grand River Grassland is also rich in cultural heritage. In the past it served as a hunting ground for the nomadic Plains Indian tribes. Tipi rings and remnants of campfires are scattered across the prairie.   These remnanats of Indian life also make interesting finds for budding archeologists.

Devil’s Tower:  Leaving Rapid City behind, we bee-lined for Devil’s Tower.  It was pretty neat since we were able to camp at the foot of this amazing formation.  And even though this Hollywood backdrop (remember “Encounters of the Close Kind “) is the first National Monument ever designated, I could only envision the humongous spaceship that used the formation as a spaceport in the movie.  We could also barely take our eyes off the tiny figures scaling the walls during our visit–I realized I was holding my breath as the 2 tiny people finally clambered over the top ledge.  They had to be thinking “What have I done–now I have to get down somehow!”  Well I was thinking that anyway–and they were so far up we had to watch their progress through a telescope!

628
This was so extraordinary to actually see the monument we were visiting from morning to night–we would have breakfast and watch how the light changed the Tower’s appearance from moment to moment and angle to angle.

631 Devil’s Tower was a mystical experience, especially after you hear about the Indian legends associated with the Monument (the vertical striations in the surface are attributed to a giant bear trying to climb the mountain to retrieve a couple of Indian boys he apparently wanted for dinner).  Since the mountain did not allow the bear to reach them, Devil’s Tower became a prominently sacred spot in the local Indians’ folklore. This was all very interesting but what fascinated us even more was the very active prairie dog village at the foot of Devil’s Tower.  We could have spent hours trying to get the “perfect ” picture of those little dickens!  (I think we did–the sun was setting by the time we left them to head back to the RV.) 636 DSCN6131

DSCN6128
These little critters may be prairie dogs but they have a remarkable sense of community–always alert for predators, especially foxes. If they spot something they start twittering to warn the others and pop into their little homes in the ground.

Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area:  After leaving Devil’s Tower, we were deadheading toward Utah, but we stopped in Rock Springs to recoup  from the strong winds buffeting us once we entered Wyoming.  Bob was ready for a rest but once I spotted the Flaming  Gorge National Recreation Area on the map I decided  it needed an inspection so off I went to check it out.  Just an hour’s drive away from the campsite but what a very pleasant surprise as I drove along the Green River with its amazing views of river, gorge and prairie land! For thousands of years the Green River carved its course through the colorful rock formations of the area to form the deep canyons that now serve as a geographic marvel to all visitors. With the construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in the early 1960’s, a recreational setting was established which has become one of the most visited sites in the continental United States. I was spellbound by the beauty of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, with its 91 mile long lake, the Green River and its deep canyons. The park rangers told me that visitors come from all over the world to enjoy a huge variety of world class outdoor recreation including trophy fishing and hunting – all in a majestic landscape. This spectacular area serves as home to abundant wildlife, including moose, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and wild horses.  Yes–wild horses!  I didn’t see them but the ranger told me that when she’s driving  along the gorge the horses sometimes just appear racing down the road at full gallop.  Hopefully, they know that the prairie ends abruptly at the cliffs’ edge, which drops precipitously into the very steep gorge.

DSCN6163
Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area

DSCN6164

DSCN6179
Pronghorns grazing next to the Visitor Center. Campgrounds are next to the gorge rim. Hope the campers don’t sleepwalk….
DSCN6184
Oh beautiful for spacious skies…. Can you see the snow still on the mountaintops in the distance?
DSCN6174
A wonderful little floating café on the lake.
DSCN6187
This makes me want to get out a boat–any boat–and just float for hours….

DSCN6186DSCN6201 Despite the winds plaguing us back at the campground, this little side excursion was a great way to relax and enjoy nature (instead of fighting her!) for an afternoon. 

After several days of exploring South Dakota, we headed to Utah to visit our West Coast grandbabies.  I will pick up there once I can get back to my blogging!  I’m a little slow catching up since it seems everywhere we have been staying has no Internet, poor connections, or whatever….  So hang on! Happy trails, family and friends–until next time!

Back on the Road Again…Freeze Warning!

Greetings, my dearest Blog Readers!  If you haven’t noticed, I’ve taken a blog break since we returned home in October.  But what do you know–we have been off and on the road again for the past few months and I have been remiss in updating my blog!  I will try to do much better in the future!

We decided that we would leave Baby tucked away in Florida during the winter season so that we would not get stuck for the whole season like we did last year.

IMG_0201
It didn’t take too much urging to make us start thinking about heading South this past winter. Just one glance out of our window in Virginia did the trick.

Let’s just say last year was a learning experience.  Just think lots of snow and ice for months (felt like years!), finally pulling poor Baby out of the mud with a tractor when her rear wheels were mired in some of the gooiest snowmelt mud you can imagine–and then after parking her in our driveway to load her up, we woke up to eight more inches of snow!  No, we didn’t want to go there again!!  So we gave Baby a big break and let her winter in the warmer, gentler climes of Florida.  And of course the really good part of this is that we could slip down here and warm our frozen bones a bit too.

This past winter, Virginia suffered through repeated snowfalls, frigid temperatures, and “wintry mix” storms that make me turn blue just thinking about them.  However, we made several treks south throughout the winter and that made a big difference in our psyches!

During our first visit south, we drove down through Georgia instead of doing the Autotrain so that we could visit with family on the way down–which was very nice!  We had not seen everyone since last October so it was great catching up with all the latest happenings and eating some absolute best food ever–Georgia catfish– whenever possible.  But we soon realized traveling in the Jeep sure does not compare with the roomy comfort of Baby!  Bob said after we arrived in Tampa that he’d gotten so used to the comfort of driving Baby he didn’t think he could make himself get back in the Jeep for another long distance haul.  So our return trip was definitely via Autotrain!  We took lots of pillows and found a quiet corner to curl up, read books (iPad for Bob too)–and even slept a little throughout our night on the rails!

NAPLES:  At one point we spent a few peaceful days in Naples, Florida visiting with Baby and our wonderful friends, Dianne and Larry Hamner, and enjoying unreal balmy weather in the 70s with beautiful, glorious sunshine…..  The bad part?  We had to go back to WINTER after a few short weeks.  But that’s OK–at least we were able to thaw a little!

IMG_0084
What’s not to like? Digging my toes in the sand in the depths of winter. Ummmm….
IMG_0094
Eating seafood in the open air of a quaint dock….while our home back home is encased in a block of ice.
IMG_0102
Listening to the gentle waves as I half-doze while supposedly reading my latest beach book….
IMG_0121
Lazily strolling the beach and collecting sandy shells for absolutely no reason….

This was our first time (we think!) in Naples and it was beautiful.  (When you get to a certain age, the details of life can be a little fuzzy.)  I was interested in beachcombing, and soaking up a few rays of sun.  I even spiced it up with a little shopping here and there (Florida has plenty of shopping opportunities!)

Bob just relaxed and enjoyed the warmth of January in a place that does not require shoveling snow.

We went to the Naples pier one afternoon and were very impressed by a Kamikaze Pelican who kept nose-diving into the water next to the dock with a fearlessness that almost resulted in collisions on several occasions.  I guess the Naples municipal folks fear the same thing (collisions) since they have a VERY LARGE net tucked away on the dock for pelican rescues.  In fact, we were told that the pelicans tend to get wrapped up in the fishing pole lines as well.  Being a crazy wild pelican can be risky business….especially when you’re diving into a dock built to withstand hurricanes!

After Naples, we made the transition back to snow and ice, celebrated some very important birthdays with family, and then I made a quick trip to Utah to see Mikaela in a school musical production and get lots of hugs and kisses from her and our sweet Sammy.

IMG_0157
We celebrated Tracie’s birthday in late February in our currently favored Japanese restaurant. We will not identify her age–oh no! Is it written on her plate????
IMG_0262
Ashley, our St. Patrick’s Day baby, is celebrating her birthday with the wearing of the green!

 

IMG_0353
Mikaela played a milkmaid in her school production and what a lively milkmaid–she lit up the stage!
IMG_0375
Post-performance, Mom is passing out chocolate brownies to Mikaela and her co-performers. Guess who LOVES chocolate?

In the five days I was in Utah, we made the rounds and crammed a whole bunch of activities into our few precious days together!  We stayed very busy but squeezed in a quick trip to the marine museum, attended several soccer practices and games, and met T-Bone, the latest bloodhound addition to the Salt Lake City Police Department.

IMG_0385
Junior, Mike’s working partner, was showing T-Bone, the latest addition to the SLC police force, the ropes. In this case it was stealing the show from Mikaela and the other soccer players.
IMG_0314
T-Bone was quite the center of attention at Lisa and Mike’s house. They were babysitting him for a few days and I’m sure he went home much more spoiled than before he arrived! Junior didn’t seem to mind at all!
IMG_0476
Mikaela hid T-Bone on her bed. Can you guess which stuffed puppy is T-Bone?

Then, the highlight of our week, a trip to the marine museum in Salt Lake City was very popular, not to mention lunch at Fresh Tomatoes!

IMG_0452
Sammy and Mikaela loved swimming with the whales while at the museum–those poor whales will never be the same again!
IMG_0440
What does Mikaela love? Sharks, Shark Week, shark necklaces, stuffed sharks, shark bracelets, shark movie making (in her bathtub with all the lights out with flashlight on circling sharks while videotaping the scene of doom!).
IMG_0495
Mikaela and Sammy watching a movie in their own private theatre that appeared under the stairs last Christmas Eve.
IMG_0480
Sammy winning against himself!

BRADENTON:  After our Naples sojourn, we headed back to Virginia hoping that we could take some of that beautiful warm beach atmosphere back with us…. Well, nah, didn’t work!  It was still as cold and freezing as when we left!  So a few weeks later, we were back in Tampa to pick up Baby and give her some love!  She was patiently awaiting us and still enjoying her extended vacation….  So we headed to Bradenton to explore that area situated close to Sarasota, Siesta Key, and a whole bunch of beaches and venues well known for their sweet beach vibes and astounding sunsets.  It was even more fun because we had company, starting with Bob’s sister, Sandy, and her husband Jack.  Once Sandy and Jack left,  the Hamners came down and kept us busy discovering all kinds of things to get into, including just sitting on the beach under an umbrella and reading a good book.

IMG_0514
Sandy and Jack spent a few days with us in Bradenton. It was so nice to have them visit! We hope we can convince them to come back for more “glamping”! Sandy is demonstrating her exercise technique while watching TV in the exercise room while taking a nap! Way to go Sandy!
IMG_0517
Hanging with the Hamners at another little beach place with your choice of very fresh seafood! What a life!
IMG_0523
Did you say white sandy beaches? Yes, it is sand (not snow!).
IMG_0616
Gentle breezes in the palms…
IMG_0524
Who minds waiting for a table when THIS is the waiting area?
IMG_0572
Night falls and the sun sets slowly….
IMG_0561
Wow–this happens EVERY DAY!
IMG_0569
The sun literally melts into the water….ummmm

FLORIDA KEYS:  I know–it’s hard to leave a place like this.  But we have places to go and that would be those famous Florida Keys I’ve heard so much about!  We headed to Key Largo first and met the Hamners (Diane and Larry, our very old buddies from many years ago.  Sorry, guys, didn’t mean it to sound like THAT!)  On our first day out roaming around we made some remarkable discoveries.  First, the Keys do have a certain mystique that I would like to explore a LOT more; and TWO, yes we DID find the most perfectly scrumptious Key Lime Pie ever!!!  Sorry, though, I don’t remember the name of the restaurant but I do know exactly how to get there!

It had been a busy day.  We drove with Diane and Larry down to Key West to go exploring.  Well, Key West was fun but the fun didn’t really begin until we decided to stop for dinner about 10 miles south of Key Largo.  We sat on the deck overlooking the marina and watched the fishing boats returning for the night.  We also sampled some wonderful seafood (as usual) and other delicious things.  But when dessert came out, everyone of us was blown away by the Key Lime Pie.  Well, it looked, tasted and smelled like a vision of perfection.  Talk about mile high pie!  Perfect, buttery graham cracker crust, with a light, fluffy, creamy, perfectly flavored multilayered key lime filling…I can go on and on….  They have a chef who bakes them each day (except when we came back a few days later for a second slice and the cook was off that day—I felt like crying!)  But I will go back.  So look for a big yellow building south of Key Largo, with marlins shaped like a heart (see below) behind the marina, and you’ll know you are about to have the best Key Lime Pie ever!  That is, if the cook is in….

IMG_0767
We spent many hours floating and napping on and around this fantastic pool at our campground in Key Largo–with views that go on forever.
IMG_0639
If you see this sculpture, you are about to eat the FINEST Key Lime Pie!
IMG_0733
In Key Largo, we took a glass-bottomed boat for a tour of the reef. Beautiful! Warning–don’t look down for too long or you may start turning green!
IMG_0746
So, OK, you’ve probably heard everything is bigger in Texas? I bet they haven’t seen this crab in Key Largo!!
IMG_0651
Getting ready to board for our reef tour. Notice everyone looks nice and pink? No after pictures allowed!
IMG_0792
Moving on down to Key West once Ashley arrived, we found ourselves camped in a campsite with our own ocean view, dock, cabana tent, and fresh cool breezes that will lull you to sleep oh so gently….
IMG_0634
Lunching in Key West!

 

IMG_0631
There’s a long story about it but the bottom line is roosters–roosters EVERYWHERE in Key West. It’s kind of like cows in India. A very unique aspect of Key West!

So I think I’ve almost caught up with our last trip south, which is a good thing since we are now well on our way on our summer trip.  Tonight we are in South Dakota, and we have an ambitious agenda while we are in this state–so much to see and do!  But I’ll leave you with Ashley at one of the most photographed spots in Key West–in fact you have to stand in line to take a picture!  But we just decided to photobomb since it was way too hot to stand in a line that long!

Beginning tomorrow, I will catch you up with the West/East/North itinerary we have this summer.  We are heading toward Custer with all its charms and places to see, then to Utah to visit the kids for a couple weeks.  Then we head to Canada and lastly the New England states before heading home.  So lots ahead of us!  Many hugs for friends and family!  HAPPY TRAILS!

IMG_0795
Ashley helped me with this classic pose–the point in Key West that is only steps away (90 miles to be exact) from Havana….the southernmost point in the United States.

Dilly-Dallying Around Durango

Hello again!  Apologies for the big gap since I last posted an update.  Just a few distractions….  We are home now after a few detours through Alabama and Georgia for family issues.  After almost 4 months on the road, we have a long “to-do” list that is keeping us busy now that we are home.  We have to finish house repairs from the squirrel damage earlier this summer, and get the house back in shape.  Then our basement is LOOMING–we always intend to clean it out so that we can move forward with selling the house and downsizing.  But we seem to give out of time before our next trip.  It’s such a huge task we will have to commit a lot of time for it–and you know how busy retirees are!!

Before we arrived home the last week in August, we had heard we were going to have some challenges transitioning back to the old homestead.  Routine maintenance was becoming not so routine as the summer progressed with lots of rain.  Ashley gave me a heads up that there were some unusual plants growing between the bricks leading up to our front door that almost reached her knees.  She said she told her friend who was with her that if she was a good daughter she would probably pull those weeds.  Her friend, Sonja, said well if I was a good friend I would help you.  But then they decided that maybe I didn’t want them pulled–that maybe I liked them that way (I didn’t).  Ash said it was the “delightful overgrown English garden look.”  She said Sonja said it was just weeds.  I think most likely Sonja was right unless we had an unexpected visit from Martha Stewart while we were gone!

Anyway, THAT has been taken care of now, we have had a new floor installed upstairs as part of our lovely squirrel renovations, and I’ve had knee surgery since I arrived home.  So we’ve been just a tad busy!

But getting back to Durango where I left you the last time I posted… After our lengthy stay in Utah’s deserts, arriving in Durango, CO located at 6,500 feet elevation was (literally) a breath of fresh, cool air with a soft, misty sprinkling of rain at least once a day.  Needless to say, everything was very green and sparkly.  Thankfully, the Hamners had given us a list of “must-see-do” things, so we started out our first day making plans so that we would not miss anything important.  Durango is a favorite of theirs from their 10 gypsy years of RV traveling and they shared with us all the wonderful things they had experienced while visiting here.

Durango Dallying.  First of all, let me set the stage.  Durango is in the southwest corner of Colorado.  Even the word “Durango” means “water town,” and we very much enjoyed the beautiful Animas River that flowed down the mountains and through the town, with surprises almost at every twist in the river.  We followed the river much of the way when we took the Durango-Silverton train into Silverton and back so we saw how this river dishes out surprises at every turn.  One thing that surprised me about Durango–and that is the fact that  it didn’t come into existence because of the gold rush–it was because of the railroad!  The historians love to talk about how the railroad created Durango as a boomtown and still sustains it today.  The Durango-Silverton Railroad was a new kind of gold for Durango and it is still a staple attraction for residents and tourists alike.  With its’ coal-fired engine and coal-tenders shoveling coal to keep  the black smoke billowing, it climbs steep hills and rounds breathtaking cliffs on its’ daily trips to the small but hardy village of Silverton in the upmost reaches of the mountains north of Durango.  The trip gives you a taste of history in a very beautiful setting.  But more about that in a few minutes!

We also found Durango to be a great hub for taking day trips in almost any direction, or just settling down for a day or two and relaxing.  We did a little of that too, since Bob was tired from all the mountain driving we had been up to, and my bum knee was begging for a break (not literally!).  With neat museums, shopping and a diverse mixture of great restaurants, Durango was not a tough place to hang out.  And we enjoyed our campground too, meeting lots of people criss-crossing the United States visiting family and friends, exploring the countryside and generally just having a good time. We were camped next to the karaoke tent which was put to good use on Saturday night–some folks could really sing all the “oldies but goldies,” but others made a caterwauling cat sound good.  But all in good fun–and once we pump up the A/C, we can’t hear a thing outside anyway!  A very relaxed but active week!

Our first day in Durango, we accidentally found the train station (cute, historic, with a very interesting museum next to the tracks), and decided we had better go on and book our trip to Silverton so we could make sure we didn’t miss that very important “to-do.”

DSCN4615
Bob in line booking tickets for the Durango-Silverton train trip. He has become quite fond of my Vera Bradley bags since he’s been carrying them for me while I negotiate obstacle courses with the crutches.

After standing in line for a while, we had so many options to choose from it took a little time to sort through them.  But we finally chose the San Juan car, since it had a historian/narrator on both legs who re-enacted an actual person who lived there during the early days of the railroad.  We found out later that the re-enactors were actually curators at the Durango museum, so they knew their stuff!

Stopping in for lunch at the Diamond Belle Saloon on our first day in Durango, we felt like we had stepped back in time.  One of the most famous original ragtime piano bars in the Wild West, the Diamond Belle features not only piano playing, but also costumed dance hall girls (waitresses) and old time bartenders.

DSCN4620
On our first day in Durango, we had lunch at the Diamond Belle Saloon in the historic Strater Hotel.
DSCN4621
Bob is checking out the parlor of the historic Strater Hotel, which contains the world’s largest collections of American Victorian Walnut Antiques.

Over the next couple days we explored Durango when not resting at the campground.  Then on Saturday, we headed for the train depot for our full day trip aboard the historic railroad.

Riding the Rails:  Durango-Silverton Railroad

Riding this historic train was something I will never forget.  It was very easy to sit back and lose yourself in the story–focusing on the people, the times, and the history of this area and the very important role this little train played in it.  The pictures below will give you a glimpse of our mountain-bound trip.

DSCN4628
Riding the rails! Our trip on the Durango-Silverton Railroad provided a great history lesson from the historian/narrator who accompanied us on our trip north to Silverton. We learned a lot about the area while riding in comfort for several hours enjoying the amazing views.
DSCN5210
Here we go! The changing scenery kept things exciting!
DSCN5209
The train route sticks with the valley most of the way and runs along the Animas River.
DSCN5206
Each turn in the road reveals more beautiful scenery–and history.
DSCN5187
We passed some magnificent horses grazing in a field.
DSCN5129
Some of the twists and turns were breathtaking.
DSCN5154
We passed a lonely hiker who seemed to crave a bit of human companionship even if it was fleeting.
DSCN5159
Can you see the lake in the distance?
DSCN5162
As the lake came into view, we realized how quietly tranquil this isolated area appeared–no noisy boats here!
DSCN5149
I loved to watch the train hug the mountainside as we twisted and turned on our trip upwards.
DSCN5125
With the Animas River far below us, the views changed constantly with one breathtaking moment after another.
DSCN5104
It was fascinating to watch this little train snake around hairpin curves and chug up steep slopes–all powered by a young fella’ shoveling coal into the train’s boiler.
DSCN5093
Watch the rocks–you can almost touch them!
DSCN5088
The water of the Animas River changes colors depending on its location and where the water is draining from–greens, blues, and muddy reds almost the color of chocolate.
DSCN5077
The alpine plants growing alongside the tracks were vivid and unusually hardy.
DSCN5037
If you don’t like heights, this is not the place to be! It’s not very reassuring when our narrator explained that floods, rock and snow slides consistently block or destroy the tracks, resulting in interrupted service until the tracks are repaired or completely re-built.
DSCN5011
The river changed colors often–sometimes the color of chocolate and then quickly turned to a clear green reflecting the mountains towering over it.
DSCN5009
Crossing the river, now the folks on the other side of the train can enjoy the water views.
DSCN5005
Railway cars abandoned on the siding are ghostly in their loneliness.
DSCN5000
Looks like this one was abandoned a very long time ago!
DSCN4998
The siding comes to an abrupt end. I wonder how many hikers have sought refuge in the cars when the weather turned unexpectedly contrary.  I wonder how many other wild critters also take refuge?  Could be an interesting situation…
DSCN4993
The Animas River not only changes colors–it also changes personalities. From turbulent rapids to a placid river full of tubers, the river is never predictable.
DSCN4983
This may be a challenge for a kayaker.
DSCN4786
Does this remind you of the old TV show “Green Acres” or not? Actually, this is a vital stop for the little coal-fired locomotive–we stopped to re-fill our water tanks for the rest of our trip.

DSCN5122DSCN5112

DSCN5084
Leaving the gorge behind for now, we focused on the distant snow-covered mountains.
DSCN4961
We began easing into the town of Silverton, where the train runs into the main part of town and sits there as if it owns the whole place. Maybe it does!  It owns their hearts at the very least!

As we pulled into Silverton, it was almost as if we had time traveled. The lady in the picture below (our new narrator for the return trip) was an apparition from another era.  We discovered that she is very authentic in many ways–she even made her own costume, including her hat, using patterns designed for that period of time! She’s also a curator for a local Durango museum.

DSCN4889
This lady was our narrator for the return trip. She consistently stayed in character and gave us some fascinating insights into life at the time of the booming railroad from a woman’s perspective.

As we walked around Silverton exploring each corner, square and historical buildings (many of dubious backgrounds–albeit colorful), it was easy to feel a little displaced.  Geographically speaking, we were in a very out of the way place, where when winter comes around the train quits running all the way to Silverton since they would have to dig ice tunnels for the train to get through.  There is a highway, but that is problematic too when winter weather really hits.  So if you are a fulltime resident of Silverton, you have to like yourself–and the other fulltime residents–a LOT!

Since we arrived home, I have been reading some of the books I bought in the places we traveled.  One story, “Colorado Pioneer Women” was about a little girl growing up in Silverton.  It gives hardship a new name.

DSCN4933
In front of this taffy shop was the site of a long-ago shootout between the sheriff and the local marshall. It did not turn out too well! You can see the train runs right up to the pot-holed Main Street–and then stops! No place to go but backwards.
DSCN4931
The mountains dwarf this little town in every direction.  Notice the dirt roads?  This is the main street!
DSCN4927
This pup seems quite at home in back of a pickup truck!
DSCN4919
We had lunch in this old bordello. Notice the sign in the window…
DSCN4923
Just to make sure all is clear to potential customers.
DSCN4917
An old mining cart–re-purposed.
DSCN4915
I do love the names on the business establishments.
DSCN4913
The old town square.
DSCN4910
More old town square pictures.
DSCN4912
The town square had intense warnings for potential gunfighters.
DSCN4909
Stagecoaches played a huge role in isolated outposts. The stagecoach routes were precarious and exhausting–we saw the remnants of stagecoach roads from the train windows–our narrator said that back then it would take at least 3 1/2 days to get to Silverton from Durango if your luck held. You would have to sleep in a bed each night with up to 7 other people.
DSCN4891
Bob is watching for our homeward bound train to pull in.
DSCN4905
Good name for a saloon–don’t you think?
DSCN4897
This hungry pooch was waiting for a jerky treat. The vendor said he had already had a daily treat from her so he should leave for his next begging stop. Just one treat a day she said!

 

DSCN4887
The coal-powered locomotive was dependent on this fellow, who shoveled coal into the engine’s boiler at a furious rate to keep just the right amount of fuel for the little engine to make it up steep climbs, cross rickety bridges, and snake along precarious cliffs overlooking gorges hundreds of feet below.
DSCN4943
As you can see, the train pulls into the middle of downtown Silverton with much fanfare, black smoke billowing, whistles blowing, and tourists snapping pictures.
DSCN4952
Leaving Silverton, we had varied views of the Animas River and feeder creeks and streams.
DSCN4944
Our new narrator impersonated a very well known settler whose family spread out through the valley. Her husband was stricken with wanderlust, so she moved around quite a bit while raising a large family.  Funny thing–she was originally from Georgia!  The characters they impersonate are taken from the area’s historical records.
DSCN4942
Our train pulls in while Bob observes to make sure they are doing it right.
DSCN4941
The conductor puts on a good show!

Silverton has a personality all its own. Most of the buildings have been there since during the early years of the town even though possibly not in the same role as today.  We had lunch in an ex-bordello, bought postcards in the old saloon, and cruised the fresh made fudge in front of the intersection where numerous infamous gunfights took place.  It was all very fascinating.

It became even more fascinating when we discovered that our train was delayed for our homeward trip because (ye gads!) the hydraulic system had failed almost immediately after we arrived in Silverton.  Well, all we can say was that the timing was good–at least we weren’t hanging over a gorge, on a steep climb, or drifting slowly over a rickety bridge when the hydraulics failed!!  And what’s the chances this could happen–once in a lifetime, right?  Or maybe never in a lifetime.  Hmmm…

Our train was the last train of the day, so we were offered a ride back to Durango on the train before ours, but it was so crowded we decided to wait and ride our original train since repairs were being made.  As it turned out, the coal-fired engine was replaced by a spare diesel engine which just happened to be in the Silverton railroad yard, so we made our way back to Durango minus the black smoke and spitting coal particles (darn it!).  A little lost romance, but we made good time even though we left very late–and the diesel engine was kind of cute too.

DSCN4890
Bob is ready to head back to Durango  We were offered a ride back on this earlier train but we would have missed our lady narrator–and she was fascinating!
DSCN4885
As we were leaving Silverton, we passed our sweet little locomotive, “the engine that could”–and did! What a brave little soul–holding that hydraulic system together until we were safely off the train!!
DSCN4877
This old abandoned mine sits below a steep slope leading up to the scenic byway that comes over the peaks into Silverton. When cars fly off the curve above, the local officials just leave the wreckage on the rocks. Perhaps it serves a dual purpose: avoids cleanup costs and warns folks to slow down on the curves!
DSCN4869
This is one of my favorite visual memories!
DSCN4832
Multiple waterfalls glimpsed as our train trundled past.
DSCN4808
We saw beautiful stands of aspen trees rustling and murmuring in the breeze.
DSCN4770
Here’s a glimpse of the Animas River in chocolate mode.
DSCN4732
The water is really more fudgsicle colored here.
DSCN4758
The train goes by a remote ziplining center. This fellow just appeared out of nowhere and flew past my window.
DSCN5258
Prairie dogs populate long strips of land along the train tracks. See the curious fellow in the top left corner?

 

DSCN5088
Beautiful views of Animas River. See the narrow ledge we are traveling on?
DSCN5257
Getting close to our campground. Love the barn!
DSCN5266
AAArrrgh! The train comes to a screeching stop here! The brakes on the back car had locked up. Repairs were quickly made and off we went toward Durango. Notice the Animas River flowing placidly around the gentle curves.
DSCN5285
A favorite view!

DSCN5295DSCN5310DSCN5311

Above are pictures of the train station in Durango.  Note:  The restaurant next door had FAB-ulous chicken and dumpling soup which we supped on when we got back from our train ride.

Trimble Hot Springs:  The next day I visited the Trimble Hot Springs which was only a couple of miles from our campground.  Now this place I could get really used to.  It had a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by perennials of every color—AND two hot spring pools that melt all your aches and pains away!  I spent the whole day here, trying for a miracle cure for my knee.  Then next door is the spa—massages are also fabulous—especially while listening to a major thunderstorm outside.  I think the whole building could have blown away and I would have never noticed.

IMG_3446
Sunny days are here to stay–for a while anyway. Lots of rain keeps things green.
IMG_3445
I loved all the flowers!
IMG_3444
This is one of the hot springs at 105 degrees. The other one was even hotter–I couldn’t manage that one.

Mesa Verde National Park:  One of our big sightseeing days was visiting Mesa Verde National Park–it was a revelation.   How? Why? When?  The more we saw the more questions we had.  The park was different from any other park we had seen in so many ways.  Even the Visitor Center was fascinating.

Located in Mentezuma County, CO (about 45 miles from Durango), Mesa Verde NP is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States. The park was created in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world and covers 81.4 square miles.  Featuring numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the Ancient Pueblo (or Anasazi) people, there are over 4000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people at the site.  Since I was on crutches and not up to the vigorous hikes required to visit some of these sites, I had to be content with the long range views–and there were a lot of them.  There was so much to be seen and absorbed here I feel like we barely touched it–another for the bucket list!

The Anasazi inhabited Mesa Verde between 600 to 1300, though there is evidence they left before the start of the 15th century. They were mainly subsistence farmers, growing crops on nearby mesas. Their primary crop was corn, the major part of their diet.  By the year 750 the people were building mesa-top villages made of adobe. In the late 1190s they began to build the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is famous. These cliff dwellings are structures built within caves and under outcroppings in cliffs.

DSCN5316
Entrance to Mesa Verde NP Visitor Center.
DSCN5319
Re-creations of ancient occupants of MVNP.
DSCN5321
Woman’s work is never done–even when you live in Mesa Verde!
DSCN5343
This is what the villages look like tucked in caves and giant overhangs hundreds of feet above the valley floor.
DSCN5328
How did they get up to their homes in the cliffs? Yep, you climbed while holding baskets, food, children, anything…. Forget the climbing towers at your local sports facility. This is the real thing. Notice the toe/hand niches. You CANNOT have a bad day…
DSCN5333
Driving up to the ancient cities was a long beautiful drive–but well worth it!
DSCN5334
Views are forever…
DSCN5337
A city with a view! And not just one city–they are sprinkled around the canyons. I found myself scanning the cliffs to catch sight of more cliff dwellings. They blend in so well it must have been difficult going home after a long day (or after partying all night!).
DSCN5385
A beautiful drive through Mesa Verde NP.
DSCN5341
Just a few examples of cliff dwellings. Just trying to fit your mind around living there is impossible. For example, how did the moms keep their toddlers from falling off the cliffs, while doing all their other chores? Obviously, they did not choose the real estate!
DSCN5354
Cliff dwellings tucked away in niches and cliffs made it very difficult to be invaded.
DSCN5356
More…
DSCN5380
And why did the cliff dwellers finally leave? That’s another big question…
DSCN5346
The people in the tour group gives you an idea of the size of these caves.
DSCN5358
This dwelling was set up for many families–almost hotel-like.
DSCN5371
These are the canyons below the cliff dwellings.
DSCN5367
The Sun Temple used for ceremonies.
DSCN5372
Looking inside of a dwelling presumably built for ceremonies or community gatherings. No one knows for sure.

 

San Juan Scenic Skyway:  Our last big adventure prior to leaving the Durango area was driving the San Juan Scenic Highway.  This is an alternative way of getting to Silverton, as well as points beyond.  The drive is a miracle, especially with the short summer seasons.  It takes you over breathtaking (literally–if you have breathing issues, take an oxygen tank!) vistas, majestic peaks that give a new definition to mountains, and curls around rivers, canyons, and mountain towns that make you wonder how people adapt to this type of seclusion (especially in Silverton and Ouray).  After visiting Silverton and Ouray (a very sweet alpine village) we circled back northwest and passed by Mesa Verde again on the way home.  A full day!  Below are some of our views and meanderings.

DSCN5400
Peaceful valleys soon gave way to mountains cascading into the distance.
DSCN5413
A road disappears into a cloudy twist in the road.
DSCN5420
The scenic San Juan Skyway is a favorite of antique car clubs.
DSCN5430
More views…
DSCN5435
Coming over the mountains into Silverton on the Skyway.
DSCN5442
A “peak” into the distance.
DSCN5448
Silverton views of the mountains hemming them in from the outside world.
DSCN5552
Silverton.
DSCN5490
An abandoned ore mine on the way to Ouray.
DSCN5462
A stop at the Silverton Post Office.
DSCN5455
A man and his dog in Silverton.
DSCN5531
Driving through a canyon on the way to Ouray.
DSCN5525
Leftovers from carving the Skyway out of a mountain.
DSCN5540
Exploring a Skyway canyon tunnel on the way to Ouray.
DSCN5554
The Ouray welcoming committee.
DSCN5551
Ouray–a beautiful village hidden away from the maddening crowd.
DSCN5564
Ouray
DSCN5569
Continuing on the Skyway, we explored several little towns.
DSCN5574
I particularly enjoyed this mural on the wayside.
DSCN5576
Shopping anyone????
DSCN5592
Fairytale land.
DSCN5634
A beautiul road ….
DSCN5584
Loved this house in Telluride.
DSCN5612
A peceful cloud-filled afternoon in Telluride.
DSCN5596
A Telluride vignette.
DSCN5677
The tip tops of some VERY BIG mountains.
DSCN5605
I would like to put these clouds in my pocket.

 

Leaving Durango we stopped in Albuquerque to get Baby’s oil changed before hitting the road in a big way–7 states in 3 days.  Our first stop was Texas–and of course Bob had to check the Big Texan Restaurant out—72 ounce steak and all.  This is the place (you may have seen it on tv) where if you can eat a 72 ounce steak with all the trimmings in less than an hour you get it free.  No–we weren’t crazy enough to try that since we didn’t fancy a night in the hospital, but Bob watched a young guy from Australia make an attempt for the prize–and he did it!  Bob was up there cheering him on throughout the night when he wasn’t in the store section talking to the (very large) LIVE rattlesnake.  I really don’t know what attracts Bob to rattlers–it seems like if he’s not eating them he’s chatting them up  Hmmmm….

Just a note here… Bob was cruising the Net tonight and found a story and YouTube videos of a young woman who entered the steak eating contest at the Big Texan and ate the entire steak dinner in under 4 MINUTES.  Then, she ate another steak dinner, thus consuming 2 of these very large meals within 15 minutes.  Check her out on YouTube.  She is now the World Wide champion on steak gorging–and the champ for eating a 7-lb burrito in a little over 2 MINUTES.  Interestingly enough, she appears to be normal-sized.  She said she goes around Texas eating free steak.  Unfortunately, she eats like a wolverine, stuffing it in with both hands.  After watching the video, I don’t know if I can ever eat a filet mignon again….

 

DSCN5693
You have to be very BRAVE and very HUNGRY to walk out of here with a free meal!
DSCN5704
Bob’s new buddy! Mikaela, you need to have another talk with your Pappaw!
DSCN5696
If you are in Texas and hungry, don’t miss this sign in Amarillo!
DSCN5721
This young Australian guy ate a steak the size of a kangaroo with Bob cheering him on and snapping his picture every two minutes. He looks a lot older (and greener) than he did when he started.

Well, we are safely out of Texas and headed for home at this point so I will follow up from here on the next post.  It seems like it doesn’t matter where you go in an RV, there are adventures to be found.

I will catch up with you on down the road!  And thanks for keeping us company on our adventures for the last few months–sharing with friends and family make our adventures even more special!  Happy Trails!

 

Utah Rocks! Rainstorms in the Desert! and other tall tales….

Hello again dear friends and family!  We are currently in Durango, CO–but more about that later!  I am still in catch-up mode and I am determined to get you out of Utah in this post!  So here goes!

UTAH ROCKS!  I saw that on a t-shirt in a souvenir shop somewhere in Utah and does that ring a bell!  Rocks everywhere–if you can call huge, monumental, every color-of-the-rainbow, extreme shapes/formations/pinnacles/canyons/hoodoos (yes–hoodoos!), and just far-out landscapes a name as mundane as ROCKS!  But you will understand when you see some of my pictures.

Dixie National Forest.  After touring Zion National Park with Lisa and her family, I thought I had seen enough varieties of rocks to astonish anyone!  But on July 24, we left Zion and headed down the road to Bryce Canyon National Park with a short stop in the Dixie National Forest.  Now when I saw a sign that said “Dixie” you (of course) know what I thought–nice pine trees, red clay and GRITS!  Georgia girl that I am, I was in for a surprise.  Yes, they had lots of red–but it was not the red clay of Georgia.  It was red fantastical formations, including huge boulders tottering atop pinnacles; red arches stretching across the road (that we had to ponder awhile and try to remember exactly how many inches our ACs added to the  RV height before we tried driving our RV underneath–I think we had 3 inches to spare!); and red  cliffs, canyons, and faces (the hikers who spent too much time exploring those cliffs and canyons).  So red was definitely the color of the day.

IMG_3224
I was the advance party to determine if Baby would fit under this arch. I watched and waited and finally saw a few motorhomes come through that appeared to be about our size and height. So I went back to Bob waiting with Baby at the Visitor Center and said come on–but stay in the middle! The margin of error is almost nonexistent. I went through first in the Jeep then closed my eyes when Bob and Baby drove through–I really didn’t want to see three ACs rolling down the road. But all was cool–and we kept our cool, i.e., ACs!

But although I asked in every restaurant we walked into for miles around, there were no grits!  I cannot begin to figure out how anyone gets away with calling themselves “Dixie” and they have no grits!  I found out later that the forest was called Dixie by early settlers from the southern states who were sent to the desert to grow cotton and silk.  That project must have not been too successful since I didn’t see any cotton fields or silk worms anywhere.  Probably because they had no grits!

Since our first introduction to Dixie National Forest was the Red Canyon on Highway 12, we at first thought that Dixie (as the natives call the national forest) was going to be red desert rocks forever and ever–since we also discovered that Dixie covers two million acres and is 170 miles long.  In actuality, Dixie begins with the Red Canyon’s arid desertscapes of sandstone hoodoos (pictures to follow) to a lush high altitude forest on Cedar Mountain.

IMG_3222
We met our first hoodoos in Red Canyon, the entryway into Dixie National Forest.

And to think we didn’t even know Dixie National Forest even existed until we cut through there on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park! Sometimes it’s the surprises that are the most memorable.  Not to mention the very nice folks who staffed the very nice Visitor Center as you enter the Red Canyon.  They definitely had the real Southern hospitality charm right there in Southern Utah!  And I loved the red Smokey the Bear cancellation stamps I was able to stamp into my National Parks Passport book.  I have stamped my Passport Book with the stamp from every national park, forest, monument, seashore, etc. we have visited and this had to be the cutest one.  Remind me to show it to you!

Bryce Canyon National Park.  We finally passed “Go!” (we drove under the arches of Red Canyon in one piece!) and found our way into Bryce Canyon City.  At first we thought we had entered a place called Ruby because everything in the little town of Bryce Canyon City was called Ruby Something–Ruby Inn, Ruby’s RV Park, Ruby’s Restaurant, Ruby’s Gas Station, Ruby’s Rodeo–it goes on and on.  But everything was nicely done and only a half mile to Bryce Canyon Park–you can’t get too much more convenient than that!  And it was Pioneer weekend so lots of fireworks and celebrating.

A part of the celebration was a Geology Tour of Bryce Canyon National Park the next day.  We signed up and were treated to several hours of a highlights tour of the park accompanied by a very knowledgeable Park Ranger, with an emphasis on how the very special (understatement) rock formations occurred.  Essentially, this is a land of hoodoos (no–I didn’t say voodoo–no witches involved), which were formed by water and erosion, creating a very unique rock formation.  Hoodoos don’t grow like trees but are eroded out of the cliffs where rows of narrow walls form.  These thin walls of rock are called fins.  Frost wedges into  enlarged cracks in the fins creating holes or windows.  As windows grow, their tops eventually collapse, leaving a column of sandstone.  Rain then does its work, further dissolving the sculptures into bulbous spires called hoodoos.  Rain and snow continually develop new hoodoos while collapsing others into lumps of clay.  Now imagine this process multiplied hundreds and thousands of times and situated in valleys and canyons as far as  the eye can see.  Add the fact that the area was once a vast lake (millions of years ago) and rivers deposited a variety of sediment into the lake which can be seen in the sedimentary layers throughout the area.  As the Ranger said, “That’s like having a huge history book to read the Earth’s history–one layer at a time.”   That’s Bryce Canyon!  Needless to say, this is a hot spot for archeologists, anthropologists, geologists, etc.

DSCN3635
Bryce Canyon rocks!
DSCN3638
Looks like a NYC rush hour!
DSCN3641
Contrasts–canyon valley floor and more rocks!
DSCN3646
Spires in Bryce Canyon.
DSCN3647
Goblins awaiting…
DSCN3663
Natural Bridge in Bryce Canyon. The Park Ranger said that people used to ride their horses on top of the bridge until the Rangers deliberately collapsed the entrance to the top of the bridge so horseback riders couldn’t get out there.
DSCN3666
Notice the layers of color.
DSCN3676
Formidable view.
DSCN3687
The Grand View.  See the hoodoos marching along in formation?
DSCN3690
Spires and hoodoos….
DSCN3743
Fantasy in a canyon!
DSCN3746
Contrast in colors records the history of Bryce Canyon and the sediment running into a once vast lake with rivers filled with sediment emptying into it.  Reds, pinks, grays, yellow….even black.

We really lucked out with getting on the geology tour since it was interesting to hear how all the hoodoos came to be as well as the millions of years Mother Nature diligently worked to make Bryce Canyon what it is today.  We could actually envision the process of how this special place evolved by standing at the rim of this giant canyon and having the different features pointed out to us by the Ranger.  I wish I had visited here when I took geology in college–I could have earned a few brownie points!

DSCN3746DSCN3745DSCN3743

We drove back up into the park to see some of the views we missed on the Geology tour–with only 18 miles of scenic drive and 14 viewpoints, you would think it would be a quick in and out–but each viewpoint is captivating.  And you tend to want to go back to certain places at certain times of day, since the views change with the rising and setting sun.  And, of course, there are hikes galore, including one that takes you just under the rim of the canyon–as short or as far as you want to go.  Bryce Canyon–an interesting, visually startling place that could easily become a favorite.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  The next morning we reluctantly left Bryce Canyon behind, and turned eastwards on Rt. 12.  In retrospect, this was a crazy thing to do, but I had asked a Park Ranger in one of the Visitor Centers if continuing eastward on Route 12 was OK for our RV and she assured me it was fine.  She must have been thinking about a mini RV — maybe two feet long.   Needless to say, by the time we realized we were in the wrong place with  the wrong RV, it was too late to back out.  Even though I was not driving, my knees had a serious case of the shakes by the time we got through that part of the drive.  And since we had no inkling of the type of drive it would be, we didn’t even have time to unhook the car from the RV.  But Bob kept his cool and got us through the most precarious drive I think I’ve ever been on, but we were not happy campers!  And I was shaking in my flip-flops! This is how it went.

Route 12 takes you through some beautiful and interesting landscapes between Bryce Canyon and Escalante–all part of the Grand Staircase -Escalante National Monument. This area extends across 1.9 million acres and is divided into three regions: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau and the Canyons of the Escalante.  The way I think about the Grand Staircase is imagining I am on the Space Shuttle looking down at earth.  Imagine this Monument as a series of grand geological steps moving across this giant portion of the earth (extends even to the Grand Canyon!), in Chocolate, Vermilion, White, Gray, and Pink colored cliffs.  From the parts of it that I saw, it is truly amazing and interconnected in so many different ways while at the same time very different.

But even while admiring the sheer immensity of this wilderness area, if you are not prepared for the reality of this astounding area, it can be very intimidating.

DSCN3859
You can see around the corner that we are about to hit some very unusual landscapes.
DSCN3887
The landscape begins to unfold as we drive further into this alien land.
DSCN3900
We stopped for a quick lunch; Baby patiently waited for us, unsuspecting of what was in store for her as well.
DSCN3904
Here we go into the wilderness!
DSCN3906
Watch the colors change as we move further into the WILD!.
DSCN3912
The road starts curving and we begin to get an inkling of what we have signed up for.
DSCN3915
It’s a mighty powerful land but we feel very tiny in it.
DSCN3918
From what I have learned since this drive, we haven’t even seen the wild side!
DSCN3919
Most parks we’ve been in tend to circle the more significant barriers–this drive took us into every twist and turn bringing us into the middle of this barren but rich landscape.
DSCN3925
I cannot even imagine the immensity of this Monument even after driving through the middle of it. It defies imagination.
DSCN3934
Wild rock formations as far as the eye can see.
DSCN3938
For a few moments the road straightens out only to surprise us again with a series of outrageous twists and turns.

But after leaving Escalante, things started getting a little wild–hairy-scary-crazy.  It started out sane enough, but then the road morphs into a ride that cannot even be envisioned by the most adventurous amusement park.  Highest peaks, twists and turns with tiny spaces to maneuver in, severe drop-offs into areas that look like outer space below (it’s so far before you reach the ground!), landscapes that defy description ( I later learned that much of this area is designated wilderness and carries names like Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Hell’s Backbone–you get the picture) and appear even more foreign when you are hanging on to whatever is closest–as if that would do any good!  And Bob is driving poor 42-foot Baby and pulling the Jeep.  Special kudos to him and Baby–they got us through the most hair-raising thrill ride I never, ever want to see again!  And that’s a lot for me to say, since I always have something good to say about every park I’ve been to so far.  I usually want to stop and take pictures — but that didn’t even occur to me during that ride–although I was snapping some as I went along from inside the RV.  From the pictures below you may only get a glimpse of what was so frightening about this ride, but don’t ever try it in a 42-foot RV.  I repeat–NEVER!!  I think my hair turned completely white on this one!

IMG_3296
These curves were scary! The pictures don’t begin to show how it really looked!
IMG_3295
Bendy curves, twists and steeply dropping hills—over and over!
IMG_3301
The vistas were amazing–I may have enjoyed it if I had not been so focused on getting out alive!

Capitol Reef National Park.  Finally arriving in Boulder, UT we stopped at the Anasazi State Park Visitor Center, basically to just get my knees to stop shaking and feel solid ground for a few minutes. Anasazi is a way of referring to village-dwelling farmers who existed in the southern Colorado plateau region (which includes southern Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and southern Nevada) from A.D. 1 to 1300.  The museum had interactive exhibits of what life was like in those times.  It was all very interesting but I was still re-playing our MOUNTAIN EXPERIENCE in my mind.  I talked to a fellow who was driving his family in the direction we had just come from (in a RV) and he told me we had a mountain coming up shortly after we leave Boulder.  Since Boulder sits in a very remote location on a plateau, I knew we had to go one way or the other and his mountain couldn’t be any worse than the one we had just left.  So I wished him good luck and we headed on down the now-infamous (to me) Rt. 12.

The mountain, part of the Dixie National Forest (I told you it was BIG!), turned out to be a pleasant walk in the park compared to what we had just endured.

DSCN3806
High atop a mountain in the Dixie National Forest, you can see the canyonlands in the distance.

Heavily forested with wide easy curves and glimpses of canyons in the distance, I did not make any more toe prints in the front dashboard like I had earlier.  Poor Baby–she had to make that awful climb while my toes were digging into her neck! Floating down off the mountain, we reached Torrey, Utah; making a right turn on HWY 24 we shortly thereafter entered Capitol Reef National Park.

Capitol Reef NP was pleasantly astounding–red rock cliffs and mountains that talk to you as you drive by–(they say things like “come explore me–we’ll have a good time!”), making it a very pleasant place to drive through.

DSCN3944
This is the signature view of Capitol Reef National Park. You can see this on many of the Park’s brochures and posters.
DSCN3947
Although the rock formations are huge, there is a quiet peacefulness to this drive.
DSCN3952
The colors of the rocks are wide-ranging.
DSCN3958
Along this road are flat panels of pictographs where Anasazi tribes left their stories.
DSCN3964
The shifting mountains sometimes make you feel a little dizzy.
DSCN3985
This made me feel like I was in the middle of an earthquake!
DSCN3989
Now it shifts the other way…
DSCN3999
The scenery then gradually begins to morph into a completely different look a la wilderness…

DSCN3966 DSCN3972 DSCN3975

The Capitol Reef Visitor Center was beautiful–I could have stayed in there and floated around looking at the exhibits and reading through the books for a very long time (and they made delicious-looking apple pies all day and sold them!)–but Bob and Baby were illegally parked while I ran in to get my Passport stamped, so I did my run-through as quickly as possible.  One of the Rangers was heading toward Bob as I came out of the building,  so I rescued him by telling her it was me holding things up and that we were leaving immediately.  By this time I was hobbling around on Bob’s hiking stick (I’ll explain that later) so she seemed to be OK with my explanation.  The Rangers are SO nice usually and are always so helpful–well, maybe I know one who wasn’t so helpful but since we are still alive I’ll try to forget about her!

After that brief stop we were on our way with quite a few miles to go before our destination in Moab, Utah.  But we were able to see some very interesting Anasazi pictographs on a wall before leaving the Park.  Capitol Reef was another of those places I could really just settle into and explore given the time to do so.  Bucket list–again!

Arches National Park via No Man’s Land.  Coming from the south on Hwy 24, we entered an area that in all honesty I will have to call No Man’s Land, since I can’t find a name for it.  It passes by Goblin Valley State Park, a strange and colorful valley filled with goblins.  Well, actually they are sandstone rock formations but the geology is often compared to Mars–and the rock formations do look like goblins.  In fact, the entire 65 miles between Capitol Reef and I-70 on HWY 24 is the eeriest, most other-worldly, totally and wildly fascinating stretch of land I will ever see on earth.  I have pictures–but until you drive through what Bob refers to as “this godforsaken land”, you can’t understand what it’s like.  Certainly memorable in the oddities–sand dune type formations; weirdly sculpted mountains; sudden, inexplicable ridges rising out of nothing; domes by the hundreds in all shapes and sizes; grandiose, castle-like rock formations that incite the imagination–it’s a place I would like to know more about as long as I don’t have to stay too long to find out. OK, I’m out of words–that last sentence was not very nice.  I just can’t describe it.

DSCN4125
This one kind of looks like a ghostly Titanic.
DSCN4131
I have never been so happy to see an Interstate highway! Coming up! Just 64 more miles!
DSCN4003
How did this happen?  It looks like bellies sticking out with belly buttons!
DSCN4016
It stretches forever–65 miles of forever!
DSCN4025
.Looks like fuel tanks for Martians.
DSCN4024
Miles of these “things.”
DSCN4033
A buried ancient fortress????
DSCN4053
Rocket launch site????
DSCN4067
I don’t even want to see what’s around the corner…except for my deadly curiosity….
DSCN4106
Nothing, nada, no one in sight…
DSCN4103
Trolls, goblins, Russian stacking dolls on steroids?????
DSCN4129
A fence. What are they keeping in? Should we really be on this road?

We passed through only one “town” on this stretch of road–Hanksville–and it must have been abandoned since we did not see one soul–not even a jackrabbit.  I began to think we had wandered into some abandoned nuclear test field–but occasionally we would see another vehicle rush  by us–in as big a hurry as we were to get out of there before dark.  The only street we saw intersecting HWY 24 that was on the map was the one going to Goblin Valley State Park, where camping was allowed.  But no campers in sight.  Perhaps they were as freaked out by this eerily abandoned part of the desert as we were.

Once we were safely ensconced on I-70 eastbound (thankfully), we were soon exiting at the Moab cutoff for Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.  We headed for our Moab campground and was pleasantly surprised at its resort appeal–Portals RV Resort–aaaahhhh—a breath of fresh air after our harrowing day.  Our campsite faced a red cliff with a canyon breaking through the cliff exposing all kinds of interesting  rock formations beyond.

DSCN4505
Our reward after a long hard day of driving–a beautiful campsite set in a lush background in the middle of the desert–what an oasis!

A beautiful site with a nice pool across the way–it was a place we could have enjoyed for a while but our time was short if we wanted to stay on our schedule.  My enjoyment of this exciting place was a little marred because I was still having pain in my knee, and had been hobbling around on Bob’s hiking stick.  The old knee wasn’t any better that night, so after dinner we popped by the Moab Hospital–very nice and efficient emergency room and staff.  (So unlike my SE Asia hospital visits earlier this year!)  Preliminary tests showed I needed more tests when I get home, but I left with bona fide crutches to take the pressure off my knee and drugs to make me feel better on the way home.  How cool is that?  Just what the doctor ordered–literally!

The next morning we headed for Arches National Park, just a short way down the road from our campground.  Moab is comprised of one red cliff after another leading the way into the flourishing little town.  Those red cliffs begin to tell the story of Moab and is a surefire way of beginning to understand what Moab is all about–and that is wilderness exploration: by jeep, ATV, mountain bike, hiking, rafting, climbing–name your poison (or elixir if that’s your calling!).  The Moab area must be heaven for devotees of any of those sports–and the more extreme the better.  Well, I was down to another extreme kind of sport–sitting on my fanny in the car while Bob drove us from one view after another.  I tried getting out and walking some to get a better picture, but I was still in pain so had to limit my venturing to a few steps from the Jeep.

This was my third trip to Moab, and I remain totally fascinated by Arches NP.  It’s a fairy land of rock formations taken to the wildest extremes in a Disney/Cinderella/Star Wars kind of way.

DSCN4181 DSCN4201 DSCN4204 DSCN4207 DSCN4213 DSCN4218 DSCN4221 DSCN4232 DSCN4240 DSCN4275 DSCN4279 DSCN4334 DSCN4337 DSCN4345 DSCN4347

Your imagination can go wild–and whoever named the major attractions must have really let go, because the names are usually right on target.  Of course, if I had been able to walk we could have seen the most amazing views close up, which makes it even more astounding.  Standing under an impossibly delicate ribbon of rock as it extends way beyond what gravity should dictate is mind-blowing.  And discovering your own view, your own perspective, your own little twist and turn in the path–that is what hikers strive for and get at Arches.  But the drive was amazing in itself–and reinforced in my mind why I had wanted to come back again–it is  a sensational place.  No wonder so many movies have used this place as a backdrop.  You could not imagine and recreate such a fantastical place.

Canyonlands National Park.  Leaving Arches NP behind, we had a quick lunch and then headed for Canyonlands National Park in the afternoon.  Although only about 35 miles away, we had never visited Canyonlands before now.  And it defied my expectations, once again proving I should never try to predict Mother Nature.  There are three sections to Canyonlands, each of which have to be accessed from different directions.  Those parts  are Island in the Sky, The Maze, and The Needles.  Canyonlands National Park preserves a wilderness of rock in the heart of the Colorado Plateau.  Water and gravity do their work here–and have carved flat layers of sedimentary rock into hundreds of canyons, mesas, fins, arches, and spires.  Cutting through this primitive land are the Green and Colorado Rivers which have carved massive canyons through the rockscape.  Each of the three regions are vast, and The Needles and The Maze demand extreme survival skills and knowledge of the area to survive in the demanding environment.  Being on the short end of survivor wilderness skills, we chose to explore the Island in the Sky, the portion of Canyonlands that is easily accessible by car. Island in the Sky is literally an island in the sky, situated on top of a broad mesa wedged between the Green and Colorado Rivers.  From canyon to canyon you can see 100 miles, all the way to Colorado’s mountain ranges. Standing at the edge of one of the overlooks, it is hard to wrap your mind around what you are looking at.

DSCN4370
Another ghostly Titanic making its appearance as we drive across the mesa. Oh, sorry, it’s another humongous rock formation…
DSCN4443
If this is the tame part of Canyonlands, can you imagine what the wild sides are like?
DSCN4373
One of the “smaller” canyons…
DSCN4408
I was almost tempted to compare this with a Martian landscape, but it’s much too beautiful.
DSCN4412
The soft colors blending and merging–it can teach an artist about color in an entirely new way.
DSCN4414
The power of water cutting into rock–almost unbelievable!
DSCN4451
You can see three mountain chains (one in Colorado) from the Grand View overlook.
DSCN4454
I saw a young couple sitting on the edge of this rock one day–I could barely breathe. The wind was blowing and it was lightning in the distance. I thought they would be blown away. I looked later and they were gone. Were they real? I don’t know.
DSCN4455
Ancient archeological sites? No, just rock and sand.
DSCN4480
The blues in this setting are delicious.
DSCN4483
This clearly shows the millions of years of sedimentation prior to water cutting into the earth so that we can see the artistry.
DSCN4490
Another “smaller” canyon. See the people walking out to get a better view. They are very close to the overlook where we are sitting. When you gaze at the bottom of the canyon floor, cars and large mammals are mere specks on the surface thousands of feet below.

DSCN4429

Thousands of feet into the canyons, three separate mountain ranges, thunder and lightning storms in the distance miles away–there is so much to look at I found it difficult to absorb it all.  A professional photographer walked up while we were gazing out on this scene.  We had been watching lightning in the distance and he asked how long it had been since the last strike–he intended to photograph the lightning.  That could be a dangerous proposition since if the storm moves your way quickly it is not safe to be exposed on a cliff.  Our tour guides always tell us the most gruesome stories–precautionary I’m sure–but gruesome all the same!

Tiny specks of wildlife far below turned out to be bighorn sheep.  A random car (what is it doing down there????) traversing the floor of the canyon—is the size of a gnat (maybe) from our viewpoint. In addition to these major dramatic viewpoints, there are unusual rock formations along the way, a collapsed dome with some exciting history, hikes leading to  more secluded views, and a plethora of view points that take in smaller canyons and interesting sights.  Another place to really dig into and try to understand in a more personal way, the Island in the Sky is a place of unimaginable beauty, which provides you, from a relatively safe distance, a hint of the mysteries, dangers, and unique experiences to be discovered throughout Canyonlands. But the relative safety is entirely up to each individual–we saw a young couple sitting on the edge of a cliff, legs dangling over the side with the first solid ground thousands of feet below.  It had just rained so the boulders were slippery; our multiple tour guides’ warnings floated across my mind with their gruesome warnings of all the people who fall off cliffs, tumble into waterfalls, get in the way of angry bears–national parks are not the most innocuous places to spend your time.  But just a little safety-consciousness goes a long way.

Leaving Utah.  As we began our trip to Colorado, we saw a few interesting things to put on our bucket list.  First we saw this huge sign, Hole in the Rock.  We didn’t stop but I looked it up later and sure enough the hole leads to a tiny path through the rock which Mormon settlers used as a shortcut to a new settlement.  They  chopped away at it so that it was just big enough to get an ox cart and oxen down this extremely narrow steep path.  I will stop there next time just to see that!

DSCN4524
There is a hole in the rock!

We also saw a huge arch and wondered if there was a story behind it too.  Reminiscent of the arches at Arches National Park, this arch was on the side of the highway and was the only formation like this nearby.  Just curious on that one!

DSCN4531
We wondered if there is a story behind this arch randomly sitting by the highway? Need to check that out!

And then, almost as a special goodbye from Utah, a train passed us on the highway!  I know that is hard to believe, but it did happen!  See for yourself!

DSCN4599
It’s not every day a train passes you on the highway!

We continued down the road, headed for Durango, CO, but not without a lingering memory–a highly unusual one for us– of southern Utah.

DSCN4546
A beautiful day—and then….

We have been visiting Lisa and family in Utah for 16 years and I don’t remember ever seeing thunder and lightning accompanied by a heavy torrential rainfall.  But there’s always a first time!

DSCN4559
This cute big flying elephant cloud moved in.
DSCN4561
Storm clouds began to gather…
DSCN4589
The clouds became very serious, indeed…
DSCN4593
And then it happened. Huge floods of water, tropical drops gathering in intensity—creating flash flooding on the parched desert earth.

Within a few miles of reaching the Colorado border, we were engulfed in a torrential downpour of tropical proportions that quickly turned into a raging torrent of water, flooding the sides of the road and pushing into the road in many places.  Rivers of water were pouring down every surface, rolling alongside our path, reminding me of the torrential downpours you see in Georgia and Florida.  But this was happening in a dry, desert climate which had not seen rain in a long time, so the rain could not soak into the parched earth but just rolled in waves that quickly built in intensity and volume, sweeping across the road’s surface.  Cars were stopping in the middle of the road, not knowing how to go on since they could no longer see the road.  They probably had never seen this kind of rain in this  intensity.  We eased around them and inched along until the downpour began to lessen.

As we crossed the border into Colorado, brilliant, beautiful rays of sunshine broke through the clouds and welcomed us with open arms.

DSCN4608
Glorious sunshine!
DSCN4612
Not a cloud in sight–and the only water…well, here it is!

Unbelievably, we had experienced the extremes of Utah in just one day–the rocks of the dry desert, as well as the rolling waves of water that had indeed shaped those rocks!  It was hard to imagine when you are in a place that has had several years of drought that the mega-sized rock formations you are looking at were shaped by water.  But we saw the proof that, yes–they get water–lots of water–and, yes, water does have the force and power to change those incredible, longstanding monoliths we found throughout southern Utah into unrecognizable shapes. Utah — a land that ROCKS and ROLLS!  Thanks, Utah,  for the reminder and the memories! But thank goodness we are out of that drenching downpour in one piece!

Colorado.  So we are in Colorado now and doing a darn good job of checking out Durango and environs.  But that’s another story that I’ll share with you on the next post!  Apologies for this extra long posting, but I had a lot to share.  Hope I didn’t put you to sleep!

Until then, happy trails to all of you!  We miss you and think of you often!  Hugs to everyone!

CRUISING: Zion National Park via Grand Tetons National Park, Salt Lake City and Heber City

Hello dear friends and family!  Hope you are all doing well!  I just want to catch you up to where we are now, so here goes!

After leaving Yellowstone on July 9th, we headed south and entered Grand Tetons National Park by early afternoon.  Our initial intent was to stay in the Tetons for a couple days but we  could not find a RV park that fit the bill AND we had an appointment in Salt Lake City to have some work done on the RV so Bob wanted to get down there and make sure we had plenty of time to get that done.  And of course we wanted to see our grandbabies (and Lisa and Mike too!) as soon as possible!  Lisa and her family had just returned from a 2 week vacation and were trying to catch their breath when we called and said we would be in SLC earlier than expected.

But to give them breathing room before we descended on them we thought it would be nice to stay in the Tetons for a night or two. Driving down through the Park, the gorgeous mountain range, rivers and lakes were calling to me!

DSCN3100
As we entered the Grand Tetons National Park, the mountains reach out and hold your attention.
DSCN3106
Lake Jackson ringed by the Grand Tetons.

We stopped at the Grand Teton Visitor Center and tried to get an RV site for the night but that didn’t work out (you usually have to book one year in advance!), but I did poke around some and found a beautiful beach on Lake Jackson with the majestic Grand Tetons reflected in it–what a beautiful sight–which made me want to stay even more–but it was not to be!   So one more thing on the old bucket list!

DSCN3103
A wildflower-strewn path leading to a small peaceful beach on Lake Jackson.
DSCN3104
The beach was beautiful and quiet with children playing in the edges of the water.  Sunny shores and snow-frosted mountains–what could be better than that?
DSCN3105
It was hard to say goodbye to this beautiful scene.

Very reluctantly leaving this incredible setting, we headed south.  We stopped in Jackson Hole long enough to get the oil changed in the Jeep and also found a wonderful Mexican bakery that made some delicious sandwiches on fresh-baked bread for us.  Yummy!   We ate the sandwiches sitting in the RV on a side street near the Jeep dealership’s service department.  We were very lucky to find a parking spot that would accommodate Baby so close by.   After calling around, we still could not find an RV site, so continued down the road and wound up camping that night in Idaho on the Snake River just a short drive away.

DSCN3124
The Snake River in Idaho.
DSCN3121
BIG black cows roaming free near the Snake River in Idaho.
DSCN3116
Rolling plains in Idaho.  Looked almost like a moonscape.

From our Snake River campsite,  we headed south the next morning through Bear Lake, Utah (it was the season for raspberry milk shakes on the shores of Bear Lake so we did follow that ritual!).

And then we headed into Salt Lake City, arriving just in time for Mikaela’s soccer practice.

DSCN3134

We ditched the RV at Walmart and went over to the soccer fields to watch the kids, then we all went to dinner.  By then it was getting late so Bob and I headed to a RV campground close to the RV repair place so that we could be first in line for the repairs the next morning.  The RV place didn’t have a site available so they let us plug up on the sidewalk with just one slideout out so that we could squeeze into bed.  That was interesting….

The next morning as we pulled into the RV facility, a big banner across the front welcomed Bob Tiffin from Tiffin Motorhomes (the owner of the RV company that built our RV)–apparently he was there from Alabama visiting the dealership for two days.  So Bob L. enjoyed chatting with Bob T.  throughout the morning while they ate strawberry covered fresh made waffles–compliments of the dealership in honor of Mr. Tiffin’s visit.

I headed up to Lisa and Mike’s house in Bountiful after running a few errands of my own. Once repairs were complete, Bob drove Baby to Lisa and Mike’s house to pick up Lisa and the kids; they were planning on spending a couple days with us at our next campground in Heber City (about an hour from SLC) and Mike would join us the next day.  Bob arrived in the RV at their house on top of the mountain blowing his air horn and making a real ruckus (reminiscent of Christmas Vacation when cousin Eddie shows up in his old battered RV and parks it on the street), which got the kids very excited.

The campground in Heber City turned out to be very nice, and we spent lots of time that weekend playing at the pool with the kids–they also enjoyed the playground and games in the park.  We cooked out the night Mike came up and the weather was perfect — a beautiful weekend!

DSCN3188
Balloon floating over our campground in Heber City early one beautiful morning.
DSCN3193
A perfect sunset over Salt Lake in Utah just below Lisa and Mike’s home on the mountain!  This is also their view from their back deck–very relaxing place to sit and watch the sun go down…

Lisa and Mike and kids headed back home on Sunday  (they have lots of activities–soccer practices, karate, etc.) and we relaxed and drove down to SLC a few times to attend soccer practice, and hang out with them.

DSCN3137
Sammy working with his coach,
DSCN3140
Soccer practice over!
DSCN3144
Girls afternoon! Manis-pedis were just what the doctor ordered!
DSCN3166
Kids just want to have fun—showing Mammaw and Pappaw their tricks on the playground.
DSCN3172
Really going wild!
DSCN3184
The Serio girls with their big smiles!
IMG_3185
Sammy’s new haircut a la soccer star Ronaldo.

Our next stop was going to be Zion Canyon National Park in southern Utah, and Lisa and kids were going with us with Mike to follow for the weekend. On Thursday, we headed down to SLC to pick them up.  This was the first time Lisa and the kids had ridden in the RV; the kids had a blast partying in the RV on the way down–Mikaela was the copilot for either Bob or I as we took turns driving; they loved having snacks and drinks whenever they wanted while riding in their reclining seats.  Of course, some one had to work the galley so Mom and Mammaw played “RV attendant”—and they kept us busy!

IMG_3198
Sammy is making sure all is well and the snacks keep coming while cruising in the RV.
IMG_3199
Mammaw, it’s cold in here!

Once we arrived at Zion, the next few days flew by.  Zion was a stunningly beautiful park, and we never tired of driving through those canyons and gazing at the amazing rock formations and spotting the wildlife posing atop colorful, unusually formed rocks as if in a National Geographic article.

DSCN3563
In the evenings the wildlife make their dramatic appearances.
DSCN3460
Stopping traffic!

DSCN3523 DSCN3497 DSCN3498 DSCN3499 DSCN3494 DSCN3472 DSCN3470 DSCN3469 DSCN3463 DSCN3312 DSCN3300 DSCN3286

DSCN3346
Mom and Dad take their floppy-eared baby’s picture. JR likes to pose for the family album!

 

IMG_3210
Cowboy and Cowgirl Serio with Mammaw and Pappaw.
IMG_3209
Serio Family going Cowboy in Zion National Park!
DSCN3194
Our first day in Zion National Park.

We had lots of fun in Springdale one evening, a little village on the other side of the park–it was an adorable little town with lots of CUTE shopping and interesting restaurants.

DSCN3574
Having dinner at Oscars in Springdale, Utah–on the western edge of Bryce Canyon NP.

We went on a hike back to the Emerald pools in Zion Scenic Canyon and checked out a Trading Post (several times) not too far from our campground.

DSCN3486
Off we go on our hike to the Emerald Pools. Note Mike’s shoulder gear–he is videotaping the entire hike!
DSCN3276
Two brave explorers wearing their Junior Ranger vests.
DSCN3515
Hiking up to the Emerald Pools in Bryce Canyon.
DSCN3511
Waterfall over first Emerald Pool.
DSCN3504
Mikaela, the photographer, at work.

DSCN3518 DSCN3506 DSCN3500

After a full day adventuring in the Park (or before we headed out), the kids found lots of things to keep them busy around the campground.  They loved the campground with its 2-level pool with slide, rodeo, zipline, horseback riding, country dancing, rock climbing wall, putt putt course, and other activities–not to mention some of the biggest jack rabbits we will ever see.  Pappaw and Sammy chased them down a field one night–guess they thought they may make a tasty dinner!  Lisa said they were as big as a medium sized dog.  I think their EARS were at least that big!  We did s’mores one night, although we were all a little apprehensive about Bob’s roaring fire in the raised fire pit.  We had seen the “Extreme Fire Danger’ signs, but the campground staff didn’t seem concerned about it.  Bob put out the fire as soon as we had our fill of s’mores — thankfully without burning down the whole countryside.

 

DSCN3392
Enjoying the rodeo at the Ponderosa campground.  Sammy has his slingshot with him just in case the cowgirls get rowdy!
DSCN3393
This cowgirl is ready for the rodeo to start.
DSCN3396
We meet the stars of the show. Yes, this was an all girl rodeo!
DSCN3445
Mikaela heading up the climbing wall. She made it to the top!
DSCN3451
Sammy heads up the wall–what a brave 6 year-old!
DSCN3436
Serio family getting ready for the zipline–at night! Sorry guys–my pictures didn’t quite make it–but I have never seen anyone zipline in the dark before–even the workers had to do their jobs by flashlight!
DSCN3452
Another day, another adventure!
DSCN3456
Off they go! Sammy and Mikaela agreed this was the absolute best part of the week–horseback riding!

Our time at Zion ended all too soon since both Mike and Lisa had to get back home to work.  We left as well a couple of days later, heading for Bryce Canyon National Park.  Another day, another National Park, another adventure!

We are now into our last month on the RVing trail, and it is bittersweet to contemplate the end of our adventuring–this round anyway!  Yes, Bob and I are a little tired and we miss our friends and family at home.  But the lure of the road, waiting to see what’s around the next corner, getting to spend some quality, relaxed time with our family and friends who live so far away from us–storing so many wonderful memories away to take out and enjoy later–this has been an opportunity to dream about and relish–even those times when we are sitting in some RV repair shop, or making a big jump to our next stop, or trying to find a place to spend the night.

Lisa, Mike, Mikaela, Sammy, and Junior–we miss you already!

Hugs to everyone!  Miss you guys!  Happy Trails!!

Animals in Yellowstone National Park are WILD!

So back on the road again!  Leaving Glacier National Park, we headed south to Yellowstone–the first National Park.  And from what we quickly learned, it is probably the WILDEST and MOST (potentially) DANGEROUS!  Founded in 1872, Yellowstone has become a model of stewardship for parks around the world–the National Park Service’s continuing philosophy to protect both wildlife and natural resources began here.  To enter the park from the north, we passed under the Roosevelt Arch,  a stone arch that perfectly frames the rolling hills and meadows  on that end of the park; and as we left each night, the Arch captured the last rays of the sunset making a perfect, memorable image.

DSCN2267
The Roosevelt Arch.

President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the Arch in 1903.  A message engraved on the Arch simply states, “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”  I wonder if they had any idea how many people would come and do just that.  By all accounts, it was extremely difficult to even get to the park in the early days–you had to be tough and persistent to make that rough journey and once you got there you were on your own–no hotels, camp stores, or tour guides to take you in hand.  From the photos we have seen scattered throughout the Park, the visitors of that era looked dusty, tired, but determined as they camped out of the trunks of their cars or wagons.  It must have been quite the adventure!

Entering the Park, the Park Ranger gave us  the usual park newspaper and map.  But after being in the park for a little while, we thought perhaps we should have received a more forceful indoctrination to the park (like a few knocks to the head to drum home their message!), since the warning signs we saw throughout the park simply weren’t enough to get the message across to some visitors–and if visitors don’t employ the services of a guide there is no one there to explain and reinforce the importance of the warnings.  Let’s face it–in this video world, if it’s not flashing, glowing, and making dingy sounds, many people just won’t pay attention.  Yellowstone is NOT Disney and some people figure that out just a little too late.

We stayed at a  RV park just outside the north entrance gates in a little town called Gardiner–a little western, rough-and-tumble sort of place with all the tourist places thrown in.

DSCN2149
The town of Gardiner, Montana sitting next to Yellowstone’s North entrance.

But across the street from the main drag are big, wide-open spaces for many miles–Yellowstone National Park–a huge contrast to the little town squatting on the Park’s border.

DSCN2247
Yellowstone National Park on the north side of the Park near Gardiner.

There are two big lessons we immediately learned about Yellowstone: 1) the animals are WILD and the Park’s stewards intend to keep them that way, and 2) most of Yellowstone sits on one giant volcano and it will BLOW one day and people around the world will be affected!  We were quickly reassured that the BLOW day was not anytime soon (they think!) but maybe 10,000, or 10 million years from now.  The important word is maybe.  No one really knows so if you want to visit Yellowstone the sooner the better….  In the meantime, the geothermal activity of this active volcanic area must be respected (or else).

My first acquaintance with Yellowstone was when I was 5 years old and learning to read my Dick and Jane book in first grade.  My primer was totally about how Dick and Jane and their family visited Yellowstone and the things they saw there.  That lit my Yellowstone fire!  So I have to say visiting Yellowstone was the culmination of a lifelong dream.  And yes, the whole experience lived up to my expectations as sparked by my first grade reader.

Since Yellowstone is such a huge park and we wanted to see as much as possible in the few days we would be there, we decided to focus on the two main attractions–wildlife and that simmering volcano just beneath our feet.  So here goes.

1.  Circle of Fire.   Remember the Red Bus tour at Glacier NP?  Well, Yellowstone has an equivalent bus still being used in the Park — but guess what? It’s yellow!  How cool is that?   Actually they have two kinds of yellow buses.  One is just like the red buses at Glacier (except yellow) and the other one is bigger–more like a regular tour bus except very old (made in 1975) but obviously very durable.  And it is one of the few remaining straight shift buses requiring a driver who really knows how to drive –no just “buckle and drive” like most tour buses today.

Although we saw lots of scenery and wildlife on our Circle of Fire tour, the big focus was those fiery emanations from the simmering volcano underneath Yellowstone.  It’s hard to believe that a volcano is cooking up a real firestorm under our feet, but after a full day of the Circle of Fire tour, I was a believer!  The warning we received consistently throughout the day was, “You MUST stay on the boardwalks and official trails around hydrothermal features.  The ground surface is thin, and often overlies scalding water.  Visitors have died here.”  After a few tales of woe related by the tour guide we began to understand why the cautionary signs were so dire.  One tale was particularly awful–a fellow brought his dog out for a walk (which is not allowed!) and the dog jumped in a pool of steaming water and began struggling in the boiling temperature level water.  His owner jumped in to save him and neither survived.  I asked the tour guide if the wildlife steered clear of the areas with the dangerous hydrothermal activity–in response, he showed us  the bones of elk and bison lying at the edges of some of the pools; they had unfortunately wandered into a boiling pool of water not knowing it would be their last drink/bath.  If you manage to steer clear of the boiling water, hot springs, fumaroles, steam vents, mud pots, travertine terraces, and geysers, then you must also stay aware of toxic gases which may exist at dangerous levels in some of the hydrothermal areas.   Either way it is advisable to take  Yellowstone’s warning signs seriously.

With all that said, the Park is a mecca for scientists and other folks fascinated by Yellowstone’s active volcanic environment.  Some of the bacteria and minerals resulting from this unique environment have been used to develop life-saving medicines and other compounds.

Even as a first grader I was fascinated by Old Faithful, the geyser in Yellowstone that erupts on a regular basis and has been doing so for many years (many, many — as in it was in my first grade reader—and that was a long time ago!)  Look at the pictures below–this section of the Park is, in general, not the beautiful mountains and forests of most national parks, but what is happening beneath the ground is what made Yellowstone famous, unique–and fascinating!

DSCN2442
We rode in this bus for our Circle of Fire tour. It was old but our driver had been driving it for over 15 years so really knew how to work the gear shift! It reminded me of the old greyhound buses my grandmother and I used to flag down on the highway to make a trip into town.
DSCN2470
Welcome to Old Faithful!

The Old Faithful eruptions can last only a couple minutes or go several minutes longer.  If it is a long eruption, then it will take a little longer to build up for the next eruption.  The Park Rangers use a simple formula that helps predict when the next eruption will be based on the last eruption and length of that eruption.

DSCN2464DSCN2460DSCN2455

In another section of the Park you can find a different kind of hydrothermal activity that is also fascinating in its own way.  Below are pictures of Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces which form as hot water moves along a fault line and spills out carrying calcium and bicarbonate to the surface.  All of the hydrothermal features at Yellowstone are constantly changing and you will never see exactly the same thing twice.  Our tour guide said he is always surprised each time he walks through and finds big changes to the different areas.

DSCN2164 DSCN2173 DSCN2184 DSCN2185 DSCN2197 DSCN2330 DSCN2386 DSCN2390 DSCN2393

DSCN2402
Notice the clarity of this pool–looks like it could be in someone’s back yard?  But it’s deceptive–the clearer and bluer the water the hotter it is. Too hot even for chemicals to grow–so much hotter than the yellow and orange pools below. Look closer and you may see the bones of animals that got a little too close.

DSCN2399

DSCN2392
Some plants can adapt to even the most harsh of environments.  These heated pools are next to Yellowstone Lake and much of it drains into the lake.  However, the lake is so large the drainage has not yet inordinately affected the lake’s chemical balance.  In fact, we saw fisherman catching fish very close to the hot geysers submerged around the edges of the lake–too close according to our guide.  The geysers are protected territory and fishermen are not supposed to get within 400 feet of them.
DSCN2412
The eerie landscapes of the “hot side” of Yellowstone Lake. The colors of the heated pools and surrounding area are wide-ranging and lend the landscape an ever-changing spectrum.
DSCN2416
This usually underwater hydrothermal feature in Yellowstone Lake–which looks like a small volcano–was at one time considered a “catch and cook” spot for fisherman with boiling water spilling from the top. Now access is restricted.

The hydrothermal features at Yellowstone come in a wide variety of forms, from sluggish, boiling pops of gaseous bubbles in thick, boiling mud pots to the violent explosions of geysers, such as Old Faithful.

DSCN2389
This is a mud pot simmering with large heated bubbles popping to the surface.  They are acidic features with a limited water supply.  Gases are converted to sulfuric acid which breaks down rocks into clay–boiling clay in this case.

 

DSCN2413 DSCN2423 DSCN2429 DSCN2426 DSCN2479 DSCN2485 DSCN2486 DSCN2489 DSCN2500 DSCN2498 DSCN2504 DSCN2508

Although we saw only a small percentage of the hydrothermal features of Yellowstone, the variety and intensity of this active volcanic area is intimidating.  On our way to an early morning tour, Bob and I were driving through Yellowstone very early one morning along what we thought was an ordinary forested, lonely stretch of the road when we spotted huge clouds of mist floating through the trees and hovering over lakes and springs.

DSCN2298
Early morning steam rising from a lake.

The misty clouds floated for miles along the roadway and we soon realized they were hovering over hot springs and lakes–an area that was barely mentioned during our Circle of Fire tour since it seems to be just a part of the normal Yellowstone landscape.  The enormity of the surface evidence of Yellowstone’s active volcanic activity definitely reinforces our understanding that there are gigantic forces at work underneath the surface.   As I said–intimidating!

We are now in a campsite just outside Zion National Park and one of the long time residents here, upon hearing that we had been in Yellowstone recently, asked if we had seen the melted asphalt highways.  I said oh you mean where miles of construction is currently ongoing with the road ripped out down to the rocks and dirt?  Apparently, what we thought was routine maintenance on a main access point into and through the park (although it did not appear routine since crews are working day and night to repair the melted road, single lane traffic waits up to 30 minutes before proceeding, and the construction crews pass out expected wait times when you pull into line), is being repaired aggressively before another area starts melting.  Talk about the Grand Meltdown!

2.  Wildlife encounters.  After the Circle of Fire tour, we changed directions and headed off into other parts of this enormous park to see if we could find more wildlife.  We had already seen quite a few wild animals.  As we rode down the streets of Mammoth Springs–especially in the early evenings–we saw many large elk grazing throughout this small settlement of buildings and Visitor Center, lingering on the roadside, napping and lounging at every conceivable turn in the road in this tourist-heavy area.  The Park Rangers have their hands full  keeping tourists and wild animals separated, since up close and personal interaction between animals and humans create massive problems which can result in death and injury to both people and animals.

DSCN2619
Nap time for the elk family!
DSCN2156
Elk grazing in major Yellowstone visitor area attracts a lot of attention. Notice the Park Ranger vehicle close by monitoring the situation.
DSCN2158
A little get-together with friends near Mammoth Springs.
DSCN2252
A mountain big horn sheep high on the cliffs at Yellowstone not too far from north entrance at Gardiner.

Feeding wild animals is a big no-no, right up there with not getting too close.  Although Federal law states that we have to stay at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards from all other wild animals, we were still able to have wildlife encounters using telephoto lens, binoculars and telescopes.  And of course we were constantly warned to keep a safe distance if animals move toward you–which I have no problem with.  I really and truly do not want to be face to face with a grizzly.  Have you ever seen their claws?

During a drive along one of the mountainous areas, Bob and I had seen a black bear foraging for food in the forest.  The bear was paying no attention to the crowd of people snapping pictures at a safe distance–he had important work to do–food.  (Whenever we saw a group of people along the roadside with cameras in hand, we knew there was possibly a wild creature to be seen.)

DSCN2597
Hungry black bear along the roadside in Yellowstone.
DSCN2591
You have to look hard to spot them.
DSCN2589
There must have been 30 people on the side of the road photographing this bear.

When asked why the bears foraged for food so close to the road when there are thousands of acres of wilderness completely away from any humans, a Park Ranger told us that the black bears came closer to the roads for protection from grizzlies, since grizzlies usually like to stay in unexposed areas.  Also, bears in general like to return to what feels like home to them.  A Ranger told us that a particular black bear was frequently spotted in a cluster of trees in a curve in the road where his mother and grandmother hung out for years.  He had apparently spent a lot of time there as a cub so he felt safe and protected there.  And if all else failed, he could climb a tree to get away from the grizzlies.  The grizzlies cannot climb trees because they have very long claws designed to roll over rocks to find grubs and things; also their claws are very useful for “other things” which may be why the black bears try to steer clear of them.

While driving though the park one morning, Bob and I got into a traffic jam of sorts.  A small herd of bison were trotting down the middle of the road with an air of “don’t mess with me or your pretty, shiny car may not look so great when I’m finished with it!”

DSCN2286
A herd of bison stopping traffic in Yellowstone.  When they say SLOW, they do mean SLOWWWWW…..
DSCN2287
After following them for a while cars are trying to ease around them. Of course we don’t want a souvenir footprint plastered on our car!
DSCN2285
Some of them have not gotten the message that our tour leaves in half an hour–on the other side of the park!
DSCN2289
This is what this bison thinks of our tour!!!!

We were (kind of) patient and the three cars ahead of us poked along behind the bison’s big fannies until we all realized that this may take hours.  So the cars started gently pressing to the left until we finally got around and proceeded on our way.  So even before our wildlife tour we had had a taste of Yellowstone wildlife–not literally, of course, even though I did have a bison burger one day at a Yellowstone lodge.  (However, the burger did not come from Yellowstone–those animals are completely protected from hungry tourists.)  The National Park Service takes their job of protecting the wildlife very seriously!  And part of that philosophy is “let nature take its course”–and that means no wildlife hunting–and no wildlife feeding.

So we began our wildlife tour with some exposure to Yellowstone’s wildlife, but now we wanted to go out with an experienced guide who knew where the more elusive wildlife could frequently be seen.  It was really exciting to climb aboard the Yellow Bus which was almost identical to the Red Bus at Glacier.  Seating only 14 people and with the top down, we could easily feel like a part of the outdoors while getting a good look at the animals–and maintaining a safe distance.

DSCN2764
Our multi-talented tour guide: driving our antique vehicle on twisty, mountain roads, looking for wildlife along the way, encouraging us to watch for “flickers of movement”, and giving us lots of information on wildlife behaviors and habitat as we slowly cruised the roads of Yellowstone.
DSCN2760
I want one of these–maybe take it camping????  I think it would be cute towing it behind our RV!
DSCN2759
I love the limo look of our yellow bus. This vehicle was in a Hollywood movie that was quite popular, although I can’t remember the name of it.

This tour explored a different part of the park than we visited on our Circle of Fire.  We headed up over the mountain peaks and through Dunraven Pass, glimpsing sections of the Yellowstone Lake and then Yellowstone River, and turning at Tower-Roosevelt to drive into the Lamar Valley.

DSCN2786
The Yellowstone River winding through the valley, while herds of buffalo graze nearby.

Along the way our guide’s radio crackled with bear spottings from other buses, and at one point we pulled into a turnoff where a couple of Park Rangers had just cleared out all of the tourists because a bear was foraging nearby.  Because we were in a contained group and the Rangers knew our tour guide, they let us stop and the Ranger talked to us about the bears and how they try to protect them and why.

Leaving that spot, we immediately spotted mule deer along the road.  As we rounded a curve we saw a big bunch of people with binoculars trained on the valley below; they swore there was a bear down there but although we checked it out with binoculars and telephoto lens we never confirmed that one.  Later we saw a flash of fur down a steep gulley but there was no place to stop.  It seemed the animals were being very elusive this morning!  So we headed into Lamar Valley, a mecca for wildlife, with broad valleys ringed by mountains and plateaus and lush vegetation–no Ring of Fire evidence here!  We immediately began to see individual bison–usually bulls–and then we began to spot giant herds of these great beasts in the distance.  We then entered an area where the signs said “DO NOT STOP–Wildlife Priority Area”; apparently a wolf and its den had been confirmed in this area and it was being given plenty of room to do what comes naturally.

We began to spot wildlife more frequently, as evening drew closer.

DSCN2320
A bull elk grazing in the evening shadows.
DSCN2630
A desert bighorn sheep at attention.
DSCN2626
Desert bighorn sheep watching us watch them.
DSCN2674
A bull bison resting in solitude.
DSCN2382
Looking across Yellowstone Lake, we could see the Grand Tetons in the distance.

As we continued we began to see pronghorn deer–some of the fastest animals on earth. At one point as we circled back, our bus pulled into an area where we were told a coyote and her pups were making their home.  The guide set up telescopes and binoculars and told us where to look.

DSCN2875
Bob is checking out the baby coyotes.

It took a while and we were beginning to think nobody was home.  In the meantime, we spotted a row of unusual bird nests built under the eaves of the old barn next to us with little bird heads popping out.

DSCN2869
Tiny baby birds peeking out of their nests.

This must have been a nursery with all the babies everywhere.  But then we began to see little coyote heads popping out of the den where we had the telescope focused on, and as they grew braver (mom was not at home) they began to move outside their home.  We were momentarily distracted by an American eagle that landed on a log across the street and sat there steadily watching us.  Perhaps he was wondering whether we might be a tasty dinner–when we saw mom coyote marching parallel to the road obviously waiting for all the crazy humans to leave so that she could cross the road and get back to her pups.  Then in the distance we spotted more herds of bison.   Hmmmm,,,,now this was getting interesting!

DSCN2914
Coyote den with tiny pups occasionally sticking their heads out. I didn’t catch it with my camera, but after a while it must have been time for Mama Coyote to come home so they started getting braver and wandered out of their den.
DSCN2881
Here comes Mama Coyote trying to make it home to her pups. Must be feeding time!

Leaving this point behind and headed back to our starting point, we were quickly surrounded by humongous bison, many with calves sticking close to their mothers.  (Our tour guide told us this had been a very good year for bison babies.)  Hundreds and hundreds of bison had chosen this particular time to cross the road and munch on the greener pastures across the street.  They were so close we could have reached out and touched them–and what a photo op!  Several times I found myself staring straight into the eyes of a very intimidating bull bison as they crowded up against the bus while following the herd (in a very meandering way–no rush!) across the street.

DSCN3028
I suppose those horns could go through the thin metal and wood skins of our buses….
DSCN3037
This one must work for the Park Service–cleaning up the edges of the road.
DSCN3024
With al the babies in the herd, the mamas must have to eat a lot to feed both of them.
DSCN3020
This baby is playing a little hide and seek with her friends. The tour guide said the bison community is very communal–all bison mamas care for all bison babies—so there is always a bison mama there to keep the babies out of trouble.
DSCN3023
I kept thinking what an unreal picture–that beautiful landscape, those American icon beasts–it could be hundreds of years ago.
DSCN3018
Here they go across the road–hundreds of hungry bison–this is going to take a while!
DSCN3015
Take your time!
DSCN3014
Nobody seems to mind waiting for the crossing. That’s what we came here for!
DSCN3013
Mamas carefully herd their babies across the road.
DSCN3011
There are hundreds more bison in the distance. I wonder if we’ll get home tonight?
DSCN2991
Here’s three buddies sticking close together!
DSCN2990
If you look closely, each bison has a distinct look around the face. This one looks like she just tasted a dill pickle.
DSCN2970
More coming!
DSCN2963
Baby is hungry!
DSCN2961
Sweet mama and baby picture.
DSCN2941
Just a few more…
DSCN2945
This has been quite the grand crossing–see the cars backed up down the road?
DSCN2950
OK, I guess we can let one more pass!

DSCN3010 DSCN3008 DSCN3006 DSCN3003 DSCN2997 DSCN2996 DSCN2986 DSCN2981

Forty-five minutes later, we were finally able to ease by them and headed back, with more bison, bighorn sheep, elk and mule deer sightings on our return trip.  A very satisfying day and a great way to end our time in Yellowstone.  And the beautiful scenery–mountains, plains, valleys and rivers–that we saw that day reinforced how diverse and drop-dead gorgeous our first national park is and will continue to be due to the protection and oversight it enjoys.  Even the wildfires of Yellowstone–and we could still see the evidence in places–only help to regenerate the forests and provide more food and shelter for the animals.  Overall, our Yellowstone visit was a wonderful learning experience and what memories!  I think–like so many of the parks we have visited–we could probably spend a month there and not even begin to understand the diversity of this beautiful park–and how all of the things we see balance out each other.

We now moved southwards the next morning, but with a lingering look at Yellowstone, as we drove Baby down through the less precarious areas of the park, which can accommodate our 42 foot RV, to exit the southern gate.  And on to the Grand Tetons!

Happy Trails!

 

 

 

RED BUS Cruising: Glacier National Park

Hello dear friends and family!  We are moving along–actually faster than I can keep up on my posts!  But I will try to catch up since the train will be leaving the station tomorrow and I will get even further behind! We are currently in Heber City, Utah, but will be leaving tomorrow to head toward Zion National Park with Lisa and her family.  The kids are very excited to ride in Baby II for the first time.  But hold on–we will talk more about this stage of our journey in a future post.

The last time I left you, Bob was flying back from Indiana on the 30th of June and we were leaving the next day for Glacier National Park via a couple of stops.  First of all, after leaving Sequim we first headed to a repair facility in Mt. Vernon, WA.  We had a little wobble in the front end at slow speeds we wanted to check out.  I think Baby just wanted some attention since as soon as the service staff checked her out and pronounced her “just fine” there has been no further issues.  Hmmm…. But it was kind of funny how we traveled to Mt. Vernon–always a little twist in our travels!  If you recall, I talked about the Washington Ferry System in my last post and how it connects the Washington Highway System.  Before Bob returned, I had checked into the best ferry route to take to make the trip to Mt. Vernon shorter since we were scheduled for a big jump that day to the other side of Washington.  Bob read the info and was still a little apprehensive about taking our “monster-Baby” on the ferry; he was afraid she might drag in the front since the ferry brochure suggested that was a possibility.  So he thought he had programmed the GPS to cut out all ferry connections to take us all the way down the Peninsula and back up the other side, since Mt. Vernon (where the repair shop is located) is north of Seattle.  The trip would be MUCH longer but Baby would be safe.  Well, Baby must have had other plans, because when I woke up we were heading into a ferry lane.  Bob didn’t realize we were headed onto one of the ferries until we were well ensconced in the line and it would have been very difficult to back Baby (and all the cars behind us) up so that we could continue on land.  So Bob bit the bullet, went with the flow, and since the ferry folks didn’t gasp for air and choke when they saw us pulling onto the ferry, we figured all was well.  And it was!  I think Baby just wanted an adventure–a little whale watching–and she made sure she got one.

Reaching the other side, we held our breath as we rolled up the ramp but all was fine and on to Mt. Vernon we went! After a successful checkup, we got back on the road–but by that time it was mid-afternoon so we knew we wouldn’t make it to Spokane as we had initially planned.  So I went to work trying to find a place on down the road that we could get settled into before nightfall.  Unfortunately, what we found was a lot of forests and mountains in one national forest after another.  It was getting late and I was a little nervous (parking Baby after dark is kind of like wrestling GIANT greased pigs into a plastic ZIPLOC sandwich bag), when I finally pinpointed a RV park in the town of Leavenworth, WA that accepted BIG RIGS (that’s us–sounds ominous, heh?).  We called but apparently they were closed so we thought we would just chance pulling in and hoped for the best.  It was getting dark as we came down the last mountain and began searching for the campground, Icicle RV Park.  Sounds like the North Pole, doesn’t it?  We turned into what looked like could be a campground and it turned out to be an exclusive spa retreat.  I jumped out to go find out exactly where we were and the lady behind the desk informed me that no, they were not a campground but that they had a room available for the night at a special price of a little under $400.  She apologized and said unfortunately we would not get breakfast with that though since we were late arrivals.  I finally escaped that encounter, helped Bob wiggle Baby out of a TINY cul de sac in front of this cleverly disguised resort we had pulled into, and back on the road.  There ensued a tense discussion about turning left or right and I stressed that if the address was on Icicle Road we needed to stay on it, but Bob was worried about getting caught on what was increasingly becoming a darker dirt road.  We continued down Icicle Road for what seemed an eternity (clearly the GPS was no longer working) and Bob was saying we have to turn around when lo and behold Icicle RV Park came into view.  We breathed a huge sigh of relief and turned in.  I jumped out to try to find an open office (hah!) or late arrival instructions, and was looking around when a golf cart arrived with Santa Claus on it (no, I mean the PARK ASST. MANAGER–same thing under these ciricumstances!).  By this point things were a little surreal–but quickly improved when Santa (I don’t remember his real name) said “yes” they had a site available, that it was BIG RIG-friendly, and he would personally lead us to the back-in site and help us park our chariot.  Even with Santa’s assistance, getting back to the BIG RIG section was challenging since the park must have been made for small trailers and such with tight little turns and unexpected dead ends — but we were led to the new section in back which, after some maneuvering, we were able to slip Baby right into bed.  Later, we headed out to find something quick to eat and discovered that we had definitely missed a turn somewhere since we were in GERMANY.  Yes, the entire town was turned out “a la Bavarian.”  More Bavarian than anything I’ve seen in Bavaria and a lot nicer and newer.  Unfortunately, the similarities ended there–we couldn’t find a bite of schnitzel and spaetzle anywhere, so settled for pizza, salad and bratwurst (a little bit of Deutschland!).

DSCN1365
One of the Bavarian-esque buildings in Leavenworth, Washington.

The next day during a 15-minute photo and exploring session (Bob was eager to hit the road), I learned that shop workers are expected to dress in their Bavarian clothes most of the year and that the Bavarian frenzy hits its peak during the Christmas holidays, when the little village is transformed into a Bavarian Christmas Village, attracting visitors from many miles around.  Unfortunately, it is also blanketed in heavy snow by that point so it is probably about as unreachable as the North Pole! On his early morning search for coffee that morning, Bob found the Icicle RV Park Coffee Club gang hanging out in the coffee hut and learned that this particular RV park had given Baby a new name–MONSTER RV.  I think we must have been the biggest thing to actually make it around their little curves after FINDING the park down that long dark road AND arriving in almost darkness–and probably waking all the older folks up who were already snoozing when our 450 Cummins diesel engine eased by their homes the night before.

Heading on down the road, we made it to the Motor Coach Country Club in Spokane, where life was easy for our overnight stay, sunsets were outstanding and the only thing to worry about was a golf ball going through the windshield.  Great or not, we had places to go!  We were up and rolling by 6:30 the next morning, headed toward Halispell, Montana, gateway to Glacier National Park.  As we were leaving this beautiful park the manager stopped us and asked us if we had a problem with the park;  he seemed very worried that we were leaving so early because we didn’t like his park.  We assured him it was very nice but we had reservations on down the road.

We arrived at the Glacier KOA RV Park in Kalispell, Montana in the early afternoon, and immediately realized why this KOA is called the “nicest KOA in America.”  The RV park was very well laid out with elaborate landscaping, many amenities, such as an ice cream parlor in a frontier log house,  and a cute little pavilion surrounded by flowers where we had breakfast each morning. After getting settled into our campsite, we drove into the Park and did a little initial exploring on our own.  We found Lake McDonald, a beautiful crystal clear lake with classic views of Glacier peaks along the edges of the lake.  We took the one-hour boat tour around the lake and saw views of the forests and mountain perspectives that we were told could not be  seen from the shore.  What a great way to be introduced to this magnificent park–but it still gave us little inkling of what was in store for us the next day!

DSCN1369
The Glacier Hotel at Lake McDonald, celebrates its 100th birthday this summer.
DSCN1436
The marina at Lake McDOnald.
DSCN1389
The forest-lined shores of Lake McDonald.
DSCN1425
Viewing some of Glacier’s many mountains and peaks from a lake perspective.
DSCN1439
The interior of the Glacier Hotel at Lake McDonald.

 

DSCN1363
Another view of the Glacier Hotel at Lake McDonald.
DSCN1491
The fireplace in the Grand Lobby of the Glacier Hotel could easily hold six grown men–standing.

Our first morning we finished eating in the breakfast pavilion and walked up to the front office and waited for our tour bus to arrive.  After all the driving we had been doing we had decided to let someone else do the driving as we explored the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a highlight of Glacier National Park.  To our delight, our BRIGHT RED antique convertible touring car, built by White Motor Cars in the mid-1930s, arrived with a flourish, driven by an older gent who said he had been doing these tours every summer for 17 years; he lives in Florida during the winter months.  And did he know his stuff!  He was knowledgeable and entertaining and gave us ample opportunity to get many photos, even if it was what he called the “prairie dog drive-by,” where we stood on the seats and popped our heads out over the convertible top for unimpeded shots of glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife. The following pictures speak for themselves.

DSCN1441
Our antique ride compliments of Glacier National Park.
DSCN1452
Hitting the (very) high road in an antique!
DSCN1582
Our Red Bus got a lot of attention! Sometimes tourists were taking more pictures of us driving by than all the scenic wonders of Glacier!

DSCN1444 It was a little intimidating at first when we realized we would be climbing peaks in vehicles older than we were.  But the driver reassured us that in the 90s, Ford Motor Company volunteered to upgrade the cars with all the safety requirements nonexistent when they were first built.  But the basic frame is still the same–made from wood with the same bright cherry finish on them as when they were first delivered to Glacier NP. And the Red Bus performed admirably on some of the highest, steepest, brilliantly designed mountain roads carved into the mountain to maximize the spectacular views of mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and glacier carved valleys — scenery you could never imagine.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most spectacular highways imaginable.  Bisecting the heart of Glacier, the 50-mile long road follows the shores of the park’s two largest lakes and hugs the cliffs below the Continental Divide as it traverses Logan Pass.  We enjoyed many scenic turnouts and wayside exhibits along the way.  And with the top down we were able to see views from above that towered over us, and in some cases showered us (good thing it was a warm day) as we passed under waterfalls plunging down in every direction.  We had arrived at a perfect time–this was the first week the Going-to-the-Sun Road had opened after the final clearing of snow from the roadway, thus we had an opportunity to see the Park at its best–hundreds of roaring waterfalls coming out of everywhere (including out of the rocks themselves), flowers blooming in unlikely places as the snow continued to melt, peaks and glaciers unfolding at every turn in the road, and sweeping valleys carved by glaciers with rivers twisting and turning across the valley floor.

DSCN1972
Traversing Logan Pass before heading down the back side of the mountain.
DSCN2025
Our fearless driver handled the Red Bus very well even with all the challenges, while making sure we saw all of the scenic wonders along the way.
DSCN1964
Stopping at Logan Pass, the Red Bus attracted a lot of attention.
DSCN1962
I think Bob is wondering how he could get his hands on one of these.

DSCN2075

There was still lots of snow aound Logan Pass with piles of snow way above my head and skiers picking their way down the snowy peaks of Logan Pass where the US government-owned part of the Park adjoins the Native American side.  Roads were clear of snow and ice except for waves of water running across the roads as water gushed down the mountain in many, many waterfalls, streams, and rivers.  But that didn’t stop the many drivers, bikers, and hikers from setting out over the Going-to-the-Sun Road–a road that clings to the side of cliffs as it climbs steadily to Logan Pass.  Groups of motorcycles also climbed this precarious road, stopping frequently to view the astounding vistas that stretched for miles. Many drivers, unaccustomed to driving on such a narrow road, constantly drove in both lanes creating harrowing moments of Russian roulette as cars jockeyed for space with our Red Bus.  Each of those moments made me increasingly grateful we had not driven our car up the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Our tour host explained how Glacier National Park is also called the International Peace Park (a first!) since the area’s majestic wonders extend into Canada, comprising Canada’s  Waterton National Park.  But the adjoining parks are truly an example of  peaceful cooperation, demonstrated by the fact that both US and Canadian Rangers work together to create unique visitor programs, such as hikes that cross the international boundary and are led by both American and Canadian Rangers. Although we did not have time on this trip to check out the Waterton NP, or attempt one of the hikes or boat tours that cross the International Boundary, that is definitely a bucket list item!  In fact, from observing the cars on the Going-to-the-Sun Road it seemed that many Canadians were on the road that morning.  Our tour guide explained that many Canadians save themselves 90 miles of driving by cutting through the Park and driving across Logan Pass to get to the shopping in the US.  Of course, using the Park as a shortcut doesn’t help the traffic congestion on the 52 miles of steep, winding roads that cuts through the heart of Glacier National Park.

Mountain Peaks and Glaciers…..WOW!  The Going-to-the-Sun Road, named by the local Native American tribes, was aptly named since it is up, up, up—and more UP.  Here’s a few pictures of the beautiful mountain peaks and glaciers.

DSCN1695
You can see skiers here at Logan Pass. Our Tour Bus Driver said on one memorable day a skier actually flew off a pile of snow at this location, flew over his Red Bus, and landed in the snow on the other side. I wonder if his name was Evil Knievel?
DSCN1597
Admiring the view….
DSCN1650
The glaciers are slowly disappearing from Glacier National Park but there are still some beautiful ones to admire.
DSCN1676
This is where a humongous glacier began its slide to carve out the valley below.
DSCN1651
Mountain peaks.
DSCN1662
Admiring the scenery from our cat seat in the Red Bus.
DSCN1677
More peaks in the distance…
DSCN1585
Just breathe in that fresh mountain air. If only they could bottle it for a whiff once in a while…
DSCN1580
Bob is checking out the view.

Would you like to see some waterfalls?  Here goes…  Some of these waterfalls are only temporary as they disappear once the snow has completely melted.  But what a grand show the day we were there!

DSCN1590
This was so long I had to take multiple pictures to capture it all. This is just the top of it.  Parts of the waterfall flow beneath large islands of ice and snow and appear where the snow has broken away on its journey down the mountain.
DSCN1591
A melting mountain.
DSCN1645
With water flowing beneath the ice, it is extremely dangerous to walk on these columns of ice. But we saw people on them (with their children) slipping and sliding over the ice as if it was their own backyard.
DSCN1647
A photo cannot begin to capture this display.
DSCN1615
So many waterfalls—so little time!
DSCN1635
Our Red Bus drove under many of these waterfalls from the Weeping Rocks–the screaming as we got soaked in the crisp mountain air was almost like what you hear on the Big Bad Wolf ride at Busch Gardens!
DSCN1601
Aaaahhh…..

So enough with the scenery!  Would you like to see some wildlife?  Let’s start with a nice grizzly out having his morning breakfast.  We discovered this bear grazing along the roadway as we drove into the back side of Glacier Park.

DSCN1839
Glacier National Park is one of the few places in North America where all the native carnivores live. Grizzlies and black bears forage for greenery and berries. The Rangers told us that large predators indicate a healthy landscape with lots of prey. This grizzly looks like he could eat almost anything.
DSCN1844
The grizzly appeared very active–almost restless. Maybe he was craving a big steak rather than all the roots and berries.
DSCN1850
On the move again!
DSCN1849
Uh oh–I think he’s spotted us. Time to move this Red Bus on down the road!

Topping Logan Pass, we spotted some mountain sheep on the hillside.  They clustered just below the snow and rocky areas of the mountain tops.

DSCN1739
Bighorn sheep foraging for food.
DSCN2124
A stream in the valley is swollen with the water from thousands of waterfalls pouring off the mountain top.

As we descended the glacial peaks into the Valley at the end of the day, we remembered it was Fourth of July.  What a way to celebrate our beginnings as a country by exploring one of our national treasures!  No fireworks needed!

Our Red Bus dropped us off at the Campground and I headed down the road to a tiny grocery store to find something for dinner to go with our huckleberry pie we bought at a wayside bakery the day before.  I’m sure someone had fireworks somewhere but we never heard them since by nightfall we were sound asleep.  Clean mountain air, BBQ chicken, and huckleberry pie did us in!  And tomorrow was another day and another national park–Yellowstone!  Stay tuned.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July!  Take care, friends and family!  Back on the road again–Happy Trails!

 

How many National Parks can you stuff in one state?

So how many National Parks CAN you stuff into one state?  Well, if it’s Washington State you can stuff a good many!  And crazy me–I tried to see them all in just a long weekend.  As I mentioned in my last post, at the end of Ashley’s week with us, she and her dad headed to Indiana to visit with family before she went on home to Virginia.   They left from Seattle on the 27th and Bob got back to Seattle on the 30th.  To get them to their destination via Seattle Airport from Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula (where we were camped in our RV)  they had to take plane, ship and automobile.  First, we headed to Seattle Airport via the ferry the night before their very early morning flight and we stayed in a nearby  hotel.  Their shuttle took them to the airport at 3:30 am and I slept in until I woke up enough to realize I had a very long list of things to do that day.

So a long weekend all by myself–the possibilities were endless!  I could rest, catch up on my reading, and just float around doing not much of anything–it sounded good at first but then I realized if I have all this down time I will miss all the wonderful parks and towns in the area that just can’t be missed.  So I started making a list of things I would like to see and I realized I needed a month to do just some of it, so had to whittle down a bit.

If you have ever been in the Olympic Peninsula area you will already be aware that many Washington roads run on water. Yep, that’s right!  The Washington Ferry System is an official part of the Washington Highway network–and without it you would be doing a LOT more driving, since the State of Washington is sliced and diced into slivers of land and water in the Peninsula area.  The Ferry system is safe, efficient, and provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of driving your vehicle for hours to get to something that is really only 30 minutes away–on water.  And it connects the many islands to the mainland so that they are not isolated from the rest of the State.  So on my first  day alone, I planned to head back to Sequim from Seattle but in a different direction than the previous night when we took a ferry directly over to Seattle and then drove to the Seattle airport.  You can actually easily take a boat over to Canada from Seattle as well, but I’ve been there a couple times already (although it’s a very fun place to go to) —so I wanted to stick to the State of Washington on this trip.  And I deliberately did not bring my passport–so there you go.

First Day:  Island-Hopping…..So this is how I went exploring the islands–by taking two different ferries that would deposit me on one end of an island and I would drive to the other end and take another ferry to the next island.  Repeat process.  First of all, I had to say goodbye to Ash; we had so much fun while she was with us but off she went until next time.  I had to stay busy so I wouldn’t miss her so much–so off to the islands!  Leaving Seattle, I hopped on the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton (called the gateway to island bliss!), located on Whidbey Island.

DSCN0818
My mode of transportation enjoying a respite by hitchhiking on a Washington State ferry.

And on the way across the waterway,  you can check anything out that strikes your fancy.  It’s a fun and exciting way to get around, and you can nap, eat, watch for whales, read–whatever– during the ferry crossing.  I chose to do a little of each.

DSCN0795
A sweet little Lighthouse at the ferry landing.

Heading north on the island, I found Coupeville, a pretty little village on the water.  I checked out the boutiques, hung out in a bookstore, ate their famous mussels and clams, visited the Island County Historical Preserve, and made it to the ferry with minutes to spare.

DSCN0809
I wandered into this cozy little bookstore in Coupesville. I could have spent hours there — especially in the rocking chair in in the used book room!
DSCN0811
A little hideaway near the waterfront filled with shops and businesses.

Arriving in Port Townsend, I found an adorable town with boutique-y shops, many with a distinct nautical theme.  There were also those “special” corners I didn’t really know how to understand them without knowing their history, but it was appealing in a very unique way.

DSCN0825
Funky little corners of the harbor transformed into historical memoirs with a definitely interesting twist adds a touch of whimsy to the Port Townsend business area.
DSCN0839
The Port Townsend dock with shops and cafes.

But what I fell in love with was the Rose Theatre, a little jewel of a cinema with quite the repertoire of offerings including first run independent movies, ballets, operas, and plays.  I signed up for a movie and was astonished when I walked into an upstairs room filled with antique sofas and chairs comfortably arranged around a large window framing the harbor.

DSCN0836
The Starlight Room of the Rose Theatre overlooking the Port Townsend Harbor.

Once the black velvet curtains were pulled together blocking the evening sunset, the movie began.  Popcorn (in faux crystal bowls) and an array of delicacies were discreetly served throughout the movie–and it was a super movie.  Since I have not seen a movie in a very long time this movie-starved girl was grateful to find myself in such a cute movie theatre watching a GOOD movie.

Afterwards I drove back to Sequim to our Baby, our lonely little RV.  She was very glad to see me–and I her since it had been a very long day!

Second Day:  Olympic National Park–So now I was on a roll!  I planned to see as much of the Olympic National Park as I possibly could on this day.  I started out heading to Port Angeles to check out the Visitor Center, where I got some bad news.  Hurricane Ridge, where I had planned on heading to, was fogged in and chances were I would only be able to see my hand in front of my face.  But the Ranger suggested I check out Lake Crescent and/or the Hoh Rain Forest, on the other side of Olympic Park.   So I did just that!  Lake Crescent was peaceful and beautiful, a gem of a sweet lake; even though they were gearing up for a big wedding that afternoon,  I could have sat in one of their Adirondack chairs next to the lake for hours.

DSCN0852
What a dream setting, the softly misting lake, the chairs waiting for the lucky person to settle in there, the fireplace warming the lobby on this damp, drizzly day–give me a week there and I would probably never leave!.

And the Lodge was out of a movie, beautiful, gracious, with a fire burning in the lobby fireplace making it a very cozy place to spend some time.  But I had places to go…

So back on the road to the Hoh National Rain Forest.  It was a rather long drive rounding the peninsula and I saw lots of places I would have liked to check out, especially the beaches on the Coast–as far as you can go on the Lower 48 without treading water.  But my goal was the rain forest–and it was a different world.  I went on a couple hikes even though the woods were dripping with moisture.  I was so glad I had the waterproof jacket I had bought for Bob in the car since it kept me, and more importantly, my camera, nice and dry.  I have to say I felt like I was dropped into an alien landscape with trees, logs, vines dripping in moss and unusual plants dominating the landscape transforming what would be a tree in another climate into a masterpiece of alien vegetation.  After a few minutes (alone) in this place, your imagination begins to run wild!  I cannot even describe it–so just look at the pictures.  You will see what I mean!

DSCN0901
Come join me on my quest….
DSCN0896
To the deepest, darkest worlds…
DSCN0905
Where strange creatures crawl freely…
DSCN0908
And alien beings await…
DSCN0910
With surprises behind every tree…
DSCN0913
And a wonderland awaits…
DSCN0916
Where the known becomes the unknown…
DSCN0925
And strange distortions of nature…
DSCN0928
Gently beckon you to enter…
DSCN0930
To meet the strange…
DSCN0935
The unknown…
DSCN0936
The strangely beautiful….
DSCN0937
The overwhelmingly memorable…
DSCN0948
Reclining declining…
DSCN0945
Scarily outfitted…
DSCN0963
A jewel in the garden…
DSCN0964
Funghi unlimited…
DSCN0965
The battle of the beasts…
DSCN0966
Which way out of this forest?????
DSCN0978
Giant crickets unleashed…
DSCN0980
Run, Hide! You are in the Hoh National Rain Forest!

I left the Hoh National Rain forest only a little damper than when I arrived, and decided to stop in the town of Forks on the way back to Sequim.  I had passed though it on the way to Hoh, and I was maybe a little fascinated by it.  You see, Forks is where most of the Twilight movies were filmed, Bella’s home town.  And I, even though I am definitely not an adolescent vampire admirer, got caught up in the series after Ryan told me about it.  (He has since disavowed anything to do with Twilight movies.)  To tell you the truth, I like to read ANYTHING, and Twilight caught my imagination so I read all the books and saw all the movies.  So I decided to slow down on my way back through town and check it out.  Well, I have to say it was a little sad.  You could tell that Forks must have been very hot at one time when the Twilight movies were being filmed, but now it is in its twilight time (sorry about that).

DSCN0991
Just a little scary–I don’t remember the robed figure on the left standing there when I took the picture….????? It’s time to get the heck out of town!

The signs advertising “Bella” tours (where she had her first date with her vampire boyfriend), her high school, etc. were fading and the tour store seemed possibly closed for good.  The souvenir/dry goods store still had a prominent Twilight display, but it was dusty and fading, the books stacked there in no certain order….  And even the hotel on the edge of town had a flashing sign “Edward Cullen (Bella’s vampire boyfriend) NEVER slept here.”  Just a little sad after all the hullaballoo.  And since I wasn’t sure if any of those terrible rogue vampires weren’t still in town, I headed back towards Port Angeles arriving there just before sunset (twilight?).  As I entered town I searched Yelp for something quick to eat and found this fantastic little restaurant called the Fireside Grill.  The restaurant was once a private home plus potter’s shed, and the plates they served the food on were made by the now departed potter.  They were beautiful and unusual and almost made me want to take up pottery!  But the food was astonishingly fantastic—everything!  I had absolutely no complaints except that I could not come back again since my time in that area was coming to an end.  Darn!

So back to Baby patiently waiting for me to show up again!  She was again glad to see me–and I her, since I was tired after such a long day.  I could not even read my maps and books for the next day’s travels before I was out.

Third Day:  Olympic National Park…Hurricane Ridge  So I decided to try Hurricane Ridge again on my third day of exploring–my last chance to see what everyone was talking about.  I did not even stop at the Visitor’s Center at the bottom of the mountain again since the prospects still didn’t look so hot.  Drizzly rain, foggy misty clouds obscuring the roadway–it didn’t look good!  But, fortunately, as I drove up the 5,242 foot mountain the clouds began to clear in places as I neared the top.  By the time I reached the Visitor Center at the top I could see glimpses of the mountains surrounding us.

I headed into the Visitor Center and talked to a Ranger about possible hikes and I quickly finished the first two crisscrossing the meadows close by.  Then I decided to tackle the almost 4 mile hike that ended at a glacier after walking along a narrow ridge covered in spring wildflowers.  This hike was one astonishing view after another–I  was beginning to think I heard strains of “Sound of Music” floating through the air as I was gazing down on the peaks and valleys and acres of wildflowers–and the weather gradually improved until I almost reached the highest point near the glacier and a steady misty rain began to come down a little heavier.

DSCN1015
The clouds began clearing as I reached the upper part of the mountain.
DSCN1022
Meadow walk at Hurricane Ridge.
DSCN1031
A peak over the edge of the meadow as clouds began to clear.
DSCN1039
A fawn in the meadow waiting for mom to return.
DSCN1055
I bought a flower book to identify all the wildflowers–but there are so many it is slow going!
DSCN1058
The clouds tease with little peeks of peaks!
DSCN1089
I LOVE the wildflowers!
DSCN1094
A quiet and beautiful trail.
DSCN1095
Aaaaaahhhhh…..
DSCN1104
So delicate and beautiful.
DSCN1102
Sooo…..what are you??
DSCN1099
More wildflowers…
DSCN1105
Mom keeping an eye on things….
DSCN1108
Dad overseeing his domain…

As I approached the glacier area, a small herd of elk appeared with several fawns tiptoeing after mom.  They faded in and out of the trees with no apparent fear or trepidation of the little crowd of hikers collecting on the trail.

DSCN1168

A German family and a Swedish family of hikers were glued to the spot as was I—the elk just danced around eating and ignoring us–even a couple of bull elk showed up and the little herd eventually moved further into the forest with no fanfare.  But for about 15 minutes we took pictures from a distance so as not to frighten them–and they gave us plenty to admire.  Just a few more wild creatures putting smiles on hikers’ faces…

DSCN1135 DSCN1149 DSCN1138 DSCN1165 DSCN1164 DSCN1154 DSCN1128 DSCN1121 DSCN1116 DSCN1114 DSCN1113 DSCN1108 DSCN1105

 

DSCN1186
One of my favorites!

I didn’t care about the rain anymore and as I walked back to the trailhead the sun came out and the views were even more fabulous.  I went into the Visitor Center and thanked the Ranger for her suggestions.  It was a memorable day I will never forget!

Fourth Day: Mount Rainier National Park

I woke early on our last full day in Sequim and I spent the morning pampering Baby, cleaning and polishing and making her feel a little less neglected.  I was supposed to pick Bob up late that night in Seattle so we needed everything ready to roll the next morning since we were going to make a detour to Mt. Vernon on our way to Glacier National Park.  More on that later.

Then I got on the road headed to Mount Rainier.  This mountain is actually called a stratovolcano, is 14, 411 feet in elevation, and is located in the Cascade range; it last erupted in November to December 184I.  I told you in an earlier post how this volcanic mountain has mystified me the way it appears and disappears with no apparent rhyme or reason.  One minute it appears in the most unlikely place and it’s gone minutes later.  My first sighting of this mountain, located 54 miles SE of Seattle, was about 12 years ago when I was working in Seattle.  But I only saw it for a few minutes and then it disappeared.  People told me that was common since it is usually shrouded in clouds.  But it called to me so I tried to find it the next day but I finally gave up–no GPS at that time and it was getting dark since I didn’t leave on my search until I finished working.  Then recently when I was driving in Portland to pick up Ashley it floated into view again as I was driving over a high bridge in Portland but it quickly disappeared from view.  (Portland is 164 miles to Seattle!)  I had nicknamed it the Disappearing Volcano, and I was determined to find out if it was really and truly real.

From Sequim it was a long drive since taking a ferry across was not going to cut off any miles so I trekked all the way down the Peninsula, through Tacoma, and finally started working my way toward the National Park.  By this time it was finally dawning on me that this Park was way out there!  Occasionally I would spot it in the distance and then it would disappear.  Same old tricks!  You would think that something that big couldn’t hide so easily–and this was luckily a sunny day so we couldn’t use the old fog and clouds excuse!

I eventually reached the Park entrance and then drove for another hour to get to the Paradise Visitor Center.  The last few miles were a little harrowing but I was determined.  Peak after peak were gradually exposed to view as I climbed that mountain road.  And finally Paradise!  ((That’s what a woman visitor called this point on Mt. Rainier when she reached this area, thus the Visitor Center was named Paradise.)  I pulled into the parking lot at the foot of this giant volcano and just sat there looking up at it.  I got out of the car and when I looked up it made me so dizzy I had to lean on the car until I adjusted my perspective.

DSCN1275
This view made me all wobbly-kneed. Seeing it so close after only very far away glimpses was quite the shock.
DSCN1243
View from Visitor’s Center.
DSCN1260
The Paradise Lodge in the lap of Mt. Rainier.
DSCN1263
The Grand Lobby of Paradise Lodge.
DSCN1267
The individually painted lampshades in the ceiling of the lobby of Paradise Lodge. Books have been written about these lampshades.
DSCN1232
It’s so hard to say goodbye–I was just getting to know you….
DSCN1236
Drifting away again…
DSCN1295
Mt. Rainier slowly floats from sight.

People were skiing along the ski runs, picnicking at the foot on a scattering of picnic tables, and the water draining from the glacial melt was running in waves across the parking lot.  I walked into the Visitor Center just as they were preparing to close.  When I asked the Ranger “Why is this a Disappearing Volcano?” she had no answer.  She was more focused on closing down the exhibits than answering my inane questions.  But I was able to look at the exhibits, the topographical maps and other bits of information–and my only conclusion at this point is it must be topography!  With all the peaks circling and protecting the Grand One (the Disappearing Volcano) and with the altitude changes and miles and miles between the Park and the places the vision appeared to me, it has to be the way the earth is situated.  Or I am hopelessly at a loss to explain why now I see it and now I don’t!!!!!  Well, now I have seen it up close and personal and it is GRAND.  Another place I want to go back to when the whole place is not closing down as soon as I walk in—another conspiracy??

I did walk into the Paradise Lodge and what a cool place!  Beautiful hand-painted lanterns floating from the ceiling, views of Mt. Rainier from every corner, a pianist playing music most certainly composed for this magnificent place, the open, multi-raftered lobby–what a beautiful place to go and spend some time, soak in this impossible view close enough to touch it, and let the mystery of this place lull you into a feeling of—–whatever will be.

Well, Mt. Rainier is still a mystery to me.  Of course, I only had a few minutes there since it was time to head to the Seattle Airport to pick up Bob.  But it was just enough time to give me a better appreciation for this floating giant and understand there is so much more to be learned from exploring this area.  As I was driving back to Seattle, I saw a sign pointing back down a dirt road (about 40 miles from Mt. Rainier) stating “Pick your own fresh vegetables while viewing Mt. Rainier.”  Well, I guess to some folks Mt. Rainier is no longer a mystery–and have even incorporated the Disappearing Volcano into their business plan.  Ah well….

To our very special family and friends, Happy Trails.  We miss you loads and hope you are doing well.  A very special HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Sera, our very special oldest granddaughter! Have a wonderful birthday!  We will definitely celebrate again when we get home.  CHEERS!

 

 

Beachcombing in Oregon…and other delights

Hello everyone! It’s your favorite Blogger checking in!  We are still chugging along albeit with limited phone and Internet service during our time on the Oregon coastline.  But who cares when we were seeing some of the most beautiful beaches in the world!!!???  Well, that’s what National Geographic says–to be specific, one of the beaches we stayed at–Cannon Beach–was placed on the top 100 most beautiful places on Earth.  And NG knows their beautiful places all right–just look at the amazing photography of impossibly beautiful, fascinating places they give us in their magazines, web site, etc.  (Apologies if I am really into NG–I just went to a photography seminar presented by some very well known female NG photographers and was blown away by their work!  Thanks again, Bonnie, for that opportunity!  Bon was not able to go to the class she signed up for and gave me the opportunity to go in her place.  The photographs were astounding!)

I haven’t forgotten my Blogger duties–but sometimes I get so caught up in doing stuff (we are in Washington State now) I just can’t get it out to you as timely as I would like.  But never fear–I always try to catch up as I settle in somewhere for some quiet time. Bob got back to Sequim yesterday and we traveled today, after sitting in a repair shop for half the day in Mount Vernon, WA.  We have an occasional wobble in the front end at low speeds so they went over the coach and checked it out thoroughly.  Seems they think the cause could be the fancy Tryon things we have on the front tires to prevent out-of-control blowouts.  One more thing on the list to get checked out when we get down to Florida!  We feel better now that we know nothing MAJOR is going on.

So instead of my usual nap I was trying to finish this up on the road since I have even more fodder ready for the blog once this one is out!  But that didn’t work out so here I am trying to finish before the clock strikes midnight… Since Bob and Ashley left for Indianapolis for a family gathering on the 27th, I have been trying to get at least the Oregon travelogue up for you.  Unfortunately (or fortunately for me) my exploring bug was biting and I was all over the place during the day.  Island hopping, hiking mountain peaks to a glacier, checking out a rain forest–you will hear about all this eventually–but right now I have lots to tell you about Oregon.  So here goes…

On the Road to Oregon….After leaving Lake Tahoe we cut across California in a Northwesterly direction headed for the Oregon coastline.  Our destination was Coos Bay, where we planned to stay several nights.  We spent our last night in California sleeping in a grove of huge Coastal redwoods along the Avenue of the Giants.  Yes, that is the real name, and every stop on this road (101) has a claim to fame–all very interesting and entertaining.  I am such a sucker for all that stuff and would have stopped at every crossroad but we had a schedule that included picking up Ashley at the Portland Airport in a couple days, so we tootled on down the road with my making a mental list of all the places I would like to come back and visit.  However, I did get a little taste of HWY 101 kitsch at our campground.  First of all, let me tell you it was more than a little eerie.  Huge, very old trees (like thousands of years!) surrounding you, like wizards of the wilderness, with even the street we came in on –the Avenue–seemingly closing off with the shadows deepening as  the sun began to set.   Although dark and deeply shadowed by the GIANT trees during the day, it was downright scary as nighttime crept in.  And then these weird anomalies out of nowhere–shall we think Twilight Zone here?–a truck made from one single Redwood tree that appeared in the parking lot the next morning; and the “Immortal” tree sitting in the parking lot that reportedly refused to succumb to fire, lumberjacks, lightening and a long list of other life-threatening events too long to list.  And oh yeah, let’s not forget the house “in” a tree!  Yes, that was just behind the café where we had breakfast the next morning; the house was big enough that you could walk in the door, eat, sleep, and whatever in the house if you don’t mind a certain amount of dark gloominess–no electricity–and I don’t think you would want to build a fire!

DSCN9907
The Avenue of the Giants could also have been named “The Avenue of the Most Unusual, Most Hysterical, and Most Imaginative.” This was a house in a tree.
DSCN9897
Fancy a ride in a LOG truck, anyone? No, I didn’t say LOGGING truck! It is a LOG truck–made out of a single log!
DSCN9913
Nothing like an aqua colored truck to say, “Follow me to the closest antiques store!” — and I did! Fortunately (or not) it was closed.
DSCN9914
This would have been VERY interesting….despite the  Open sign the door wouldn’t budge.  (I tried!)  Twilight Zone–again???!!!
DSCN9992
Heading for the Oregon border.  From my vantage point sitting up high in our RV these huge trees on the Avenue of the Giants still easily loomed over us, swallowing us in a canopy of greenery that wrapped its arms up and over the roadway.
DSCN9927
The huge trees were packed in so close and densely to the roadway that we had to be very careful to ensure we didn’t unintentionally take one home with us.

Coos Bay, OR…We finally reached our first campsite in Oregon at Coos Bay.  And what a campsite!  It was on the beach within earshot of the pounding surf—and a two minute walk to some of that astounding scenery I had been admiring all day.  By the time we had set up camp, it was time to go to bed since I was trekking to Portland the next morning to pick up Ashley.  She was coming in for a week to join us on our trip up the coast of Oregon and none of us had anticipated what an amazing week it would be! The next day I left early for Portland to pick up Ashley by following the Coast (HWY 101) for a while.  I left early enough to give me enough time to dawdle a bit.  Then Ash called and said her plane was delayed so I dawdled even more.  As it turned out, I dawdled so much that I drove up just as she was walking out with her luggage.  Good timing, I must say.  Ashley agreed when I explained to her all the things I had done on the way up–and even got the car washed for her.  She was most appreciative since Baby (the RV)  tends to spew yuck all over the Jeep while on the road.  (I think she gets a little peeved about having to pull the Jeep every time we head out!) My first self-appointed task once we reach our destination is to get the car washed.  I HATE driving a dirty car!

While driving up the coast and then back down after picking up Ashley, I took more pictures.  So many views and so little time—-I was getting a little freaked out by the beautiful scenery.  How could just one state have all this????  Good thing I took all the pictures, since Ashley was such a sleepyhead almost all the way back to Coos Bay, she remembered nothing of the 5-hour trip.  Maybe lunch–I know she was awake then–but shortly afterwards I was back to Sirius XM and the sound of surf on the shore (not the Beach Boys) while cruising 101.

DSCN0059
Oregon coast in all its splendiferous beauty.
DSCN0045
Each time the tide comes in and out the coastline changes, with water-sculptured driftwood randomly accenting beaches intersected by rivulets looping across the beach.  Result?  Interesting pools to explore and dip your toes into–if you don’t mind a little icy cold water.
DSCN0031
Fascinating rock formations continue to astound as we rock to the 50s heading down 101.
DSCN9989
It seems a favorite hobby of Oregon-ites is rock climbing along the beaches. Imagine that!  We met so many very nice people on the rocks–and of course their dogs.  One Irish setter particularly loved the icy cold water at Bob’s Creek so much she would sit submerged in the water until she was shivering violently.

 

DSCN0058
It’s kind of hard to drive on this road with this kind of scenery tempting you along the way. How could anyone get tired of HWY 101??? Love it!!
DSCN0108
Oregon Dunes National Monument–designed to amaze!  I think this is where the Hamners went out on dune buggies and said they laughed so hard they could barely breathe.  Maybe we can do that next time–we were focused on getting to our next stop on this leg of the trip.  Hey, a schedule is a schedule—-maybe next time a much more relaxed one!
DSCN0112
More dunes–up to 400 feet high and cushioning the Oregon Coast for miles and miles of wonder at how this all came about.

Driving up and down the Oregon coast was MAGNIFICO!  On my way to Portland, however, I had to finally cut across the country side and make my way northwards.  What a wonderful surprise when I found this elk grazing area.  I took a break (who am I fooling?–I’ve taken a lot of those!) to see if I could spot any elk in the pastures.  Thank goodness for my trusty telephoto lens!

DSCN0080
With beautiful pastures like these to graze in it must be pretty cushy to be an elk!

DSCN0084

DSCN0073
Tasty stuff for breakfast–yummm!
DSCN0075
Watching over his little family, this male elk still manages to eat his fill as well.

I can’t leave this side excursion to Portland Airport until I tell you about one memorable thing that happened in Portland that sticks in my mind.  I was just getting into Portland and was negotiating their spaghetti junction–a concrete jungle of highways coming together in one spot–when lo and behold Mount Rainier floated into my vision and then totally vanished from view.  I know–Mount Rainier is in Washington—so how could this be?  I had a similar experience in Seattle a number of years ago when I was there working.  It was a remarkably clear day and I stepped outside for a walk one evening and there it was–Mount Rainier floating in front of me. A couple days later I decided I would go and find it after the day was finished–but alas–it had fogged in that afternoon and the only thing I found was my hand in front of my face.  It makes me think I am hallucinating.  The problem is that it only appears momentarily so you start wondering–am I imagining this????  So I call this the case of the Disappearing Volcano.  Today, I decided to investigate this phenomenon and in my next installment I will tell you what I found out.  So hold on—this mystery is something that’s been bothering me for years so I have to get this one laid to rest! Exploring Coos Bay…I cannot begin to tell you how astonished Ash and I were when we ventured out on the beach the next day.  It was the most amazing beach–an understatement of course.  And the more we explored the more we found to be amazed at.  Our first night we enjoyed the campfire and pounding surf with fog horns sounding on ships rounding the bay.  Can’t get much more relaxing than this!  We couldn’t wait for the tide to go out so that we could explore the next morning.

DSCN0189
After our long trip that day, Ash and I sat by the campfire and had S’mores while trying to stay warm. Bob was being a little stingy with the wood since the fire ring was close to the awning and we didn’t want sparks to nick the fabric. But the blankets helped!
DSCN0186
A secret pathway to the beach–just steps to our campsite…
DSCN0183
I was so happy to have my baby here for a visit. Gosh, I have missed her so much — and the rest of my family and friends!  The sacrifices we make to be an adventurer, a rolling stone, a wanderer, a gypsy–call us what you will but just call us!
DSCN0185
A melting dragon??? The rock formations make your imagination go wild!
DSCN0184
Hundreds, thousands of these tidal pools are left on the beaches as the tides recede each day–all teeming with creatures of every variety. As if some aquarium fanatic went a little crazy. The picture cannot possibly do it justice–you have to get on your knees and really watch all of the plants and animals left to live or die before the next tide (possibly) retrieves them.
DSCN0182
More amazing tidal pools…
DSCN0176
And more…
DSCN0181
Ashley getting her feet wet and her mind set in vacation mode…
DSCN0174
We have a visitor….or maybe that is what he is thinking about us…
DSCN0159
The waves were crashing into the small inlet beside us. Later you could not even see these rocks when the tide came in.
DSCN0162
Waves–1, rocks–0
DSCN0150
Mysterious tidal pool.
DSCN0148
What strange aliens are these?
DSCN0143
I love that stubborn little tree!
DSCN0144
Boiling water?
DSCN0146
Ashley demonstrating her rock climbing skills.
DSCN0147
Rocks–1, Waves–0
DSCN0128
More melting dragons?  Or perhaps molting…
DSCN0141
Another fascinating tidal pool. And is that the mermaid of the rocks in the distance? Ash is trying to avoid walking on living things–thousands of mussels are clinging to these rocks.
DSCN0123
Peaceful–for now.
DSCN0106
Aaaaahhhh….the perfect lighthouse.
DSCN0113
Back to the campsite. Spirit Horse is doing his job protecting us by flying his wings to ward off ill spirits. Bob has been working on getting all my doo dads out–I somehow keep adding to the traveling family. Spirit Horse was a little bit of home (VA Horse Country) acquired at an Indian reservation, thus the name–Spirit Horse.  My Baby Bear–“Cubby”–was added to commemorate the Yosemite time with the kids and our run in with a bear cub.  I think Bob is standing in front of him–you will see him later.  The Kokopellis are also Indian reservation memories.  Gosh, I wish I could have brought that wonderful pool along with me too!  One more very good memory!

We spent several wonderful, relaxing days here and then the road called and back on the road we went—Road Wanderers!  By that time I thought I would have Ashley in vacation mode but that child went to sleep every night hanging over her work computer.  I would sneak up to her and gently pry her fingers off her computer and work papers and she would wake up and say “No Mom–I’m not finished!”  and then back to sleep she would go.  I would just have to watch her and catch everything before it slid to the floor.  She is so committed to her job–but she needs her rest too.  I resolved to get her mind and spirit into vacation mode.  Beach therapy, anyone?

Sea Perch RV Resort, Yachats, OR……..As soon as we drove into this place all three of us knew we were going to love it.  The wind was blowing so briskly that Spirit Horse  had to stay in his stable (Bob put him out for a little while but he threatened to blow down the beach so back in the stable he went).

DSCN0243
What a view–beach and meadows–and what a sunset each night!
DSCN0204
The sunset bench.

This beach is an explorer’s dream–beautiful driftwood, rocks, rivulets, eddies, sand, and all kinds of living and once living things in the most unusual places and arranged as if by a master botanist.

DSCN0272
Another beautiful day fades away.

DSCN0212 DSCN0213 DSCN0214 The driftwood serves as natural benches to sit on while we just relax and soak up the sounds of nature–and perhaps take a little nap. DSCN0217 DSCN0218 DSCN0219 DSCN0225 DSCN0226 DSCN0239 A favorite hike–Bob’s Creek–which empties in meandering streams into the ocean.  This is where we met the Irish Setter who loves to sit and swim in frigid water.

DSCN0253 DSCN0258 DSCN0264 We accidentally found this little treasure of a state park within the little village of Yachats.  Priceless.  As the sun began to set, the warmth settled on everything, blessing the world with a peaceful glow.  I think Ash began to really relax at that point! DSCN0268 DSCN0287 DSCN0292 DSCN0293 DSCN0294 DSCN0304

Edit as of 7/2/14:  I have to edit this post!  Mikaela sent me an email reminding me that I forgot to talk about the WHALES!!  How could I????  My only excuse was it was late, I was tired, and I am a tad feeble-minded.  So here goes…

While we were in Yachats, we were told that this village by the sea was a prime viewing area for migrating whales.  We were very excited by this news–if only we could see a whale!  We spent lots of time those few days gazing out to sea watching for water spouts, when we weren’t mesmerized by a sunset, or taking a nap, or whatever.  We had learned that the primary migration had already occurred with 18,000 whales going by before the end of May.  But we thought we may be in luck because about 800 mama whales and their babies were still playing around the coast waiting for the babies to get stronger and improve their swimming skills before tackling those rough waters heading into Alaska for their summer feeding grounds.  We were also told that on the northward migration the whales swim close to the shoreline just at the breaking waves.  Our last night in Yachats, we were having dinner at the Adobe Hotel and Restaurant which juts out into the sea with an astounding view from every table of the ocean and waves pounding the rocky shore.  We were halfway through dinner when Ashley spotted a spout and a flash of whale.  I think she almost forgot to eat she was so excited.  She saw glimpses a few more times but the people outside must have been watching too (we found out later that the restaurant passes out binoculars to diners) since the rocks were crowded with people gazing out to sea.  We finished and left but we were happy that Ashley had at least seen a glimpse of a whale.

The next morning we were headed for our next beach destination and packed up early since it would be a big hop that day.  At the last minute we decided to pull into the big parking lot at the Adobe and park the RV there while we went in for breakfast.  We were in luck–they put us at a table with a prime view of the beach.  Within minutes Ashley spotted water spouting and glimpses of whales frolicking and rolling in the waves.  Eventually everyone in the restaurant tuned in, they began passing out binoculars, and someone would occasionally yell “Water spout!” (usually us).  I suspect the display was mommies working with their babies to work on their swimming and diving skills, but to us they were playful and having fun in the surf.  This went on for the rest of our meal and Bob started urging us toward the door so we could continue our trip.  It was so hard to leave!  I wanted to catch a picture of them but you would have to be clairvoyant to know where they would pop up next and when.  So, alas, no pictures!  But we could see they were orcas playing in their natural environment–not Ocean World!  And it also felt as if they did this JUST FOR US!  What a special, special breakfast!  I can’t even remember what I ate….  But on to Cannon Beach!

Cannon Beach, OR…This is the beach National Geographic named as one of the 100 most beautiful places in the world.  The village itself, the adjoining state park, and the one of a kind beach is like a dream sequence.  It just keeps on coming…

DSCN0505
The flowers–the bluest hydrangeas ever and flowers we could not name set against charming gray-shingled cottages and shops. OH MY!
DSCN0530
We loved the library! I think Tracie would appreciate the Shakespeare included in the wall sculpture.
DSCN0531
Love, love, love this library. Wish I had had the time to go inside — if the outside was this charming I can’t imagine what the inside had in store for us.

DSCN0498 DSCN0499 DSCN0512 What can I say about Cannon Beach that hasn’t already been said?  Alien in its ultra charm and beauty, otherworldly, with mystical views that constantly change depending on the weather (a very misty day when we were there), and definitely a people magnet.  A wide, wide beach where tiny ripply waves come shooting across the sand chasing us until the water just gives up and dribbles away.

DSCN0568
Having lunch with “the view” captured in the Twilight movies.  The garlicky clams were exquisite!
DSCN0558
Cannon Beach–this view is iconic. Probably been photographed 50 million times–especially since the Twilight crew took a shot at it. So my photo is 50 million and one.
DSCN0548
It’s hilarious to run from these little skittery waves as they chase us up the beach. Maybe an inch of water at that point (it’s a WIDE beach!). But it’s cold and misty and breezy–but who cares?
DSCN0560
Forget Florida-bronzed lifeguards.  This is the Oregon-style lifesaving setup.  Hopefully she is wearing her thermals.
DSCN0587
The nearby state park offers a special benefit for Cannon Beach residents–if Cannon Beach gets too full of tourists just retreat to this hidden cove with more discoveries at every turn–rain forest environment of moss-covered trees, AMAZING BEACHES (I mean it!), picnic tables dangling on the edge of cliffs overlooking these cove-bound beaches, and fresh gusts of ocean air filling your lungs with pure oxygen.
DSCN0655
A dangling picnic table, anyone? I could live here!
DSCN0601
Poor Terrible Tilly! This lonely little lighthouse was given this moniker because of the horrific storms that battered this outpost as she tried to fulfill her duties. Due to the cost of maintaining it and repairing the frequent damage, Tilly was sold to an investor—who (get this) uses the lighthouse as a mausoleum. Yes–that was a shocker!  This poor little lighthouse just can’t get a break!
DSCN0579
Views from cove side of state park.
DSCN0603
Here is a canine VOLUNTEER PARK RANGER. He took his job seriously sniffing and anointing every bush in sight.
DSCN0633
As we were preparing to leave the beach part of the state park, we noticed elk hanging around patiently in the upper meadow waiting for the human visitors to depart. Occasionally they would lift their heads and gaze balefully toward us as if to say “Are you still here????”  Apparently the beach view meadow contains their evening dinner buffet and they wish not to be disturbed while dining.  For Ash and I–mystery solved! We were wondering about the source of all the poop throughout the meadow but had dismissed elk as the culprit only because it looked nothing like the elk poop in the Rockies. But in retrospect the Rocky elk were foraging for food in a drought-stricken environment, while the Oregon elk have a gourmet buffet of delicacies, resulting in a more, shall we say “lush,” reminder of their presence. No, I am not unduly focused on these topics although I know Sammy is VERY interested, but every Park Ranger session I’ve listened to focuses on these “items” to explain animals’ habits, diet, behavior, etc.  They also have charts and “samples” to help us in identifying animals. By the way the Oregonian elk are referred to as Roosevelt elk.  No relation to the President although he did have a SIGNIFICANT impact on procuring and conserving parkland for future generations–and us old folks too!

DSCN0639 DSCN0643 DSCN0649 DSCN0660 DSCN0271 DSCN0264 Sequim, WA….After (regretfully) leaving Oregon behind, we headed to Sequim, WA to check out the Peninsula’s sunshine town.  Known for having more sunny days than anywhere in Washington, Sequim shows off its sun-filled spaces with a sprinkling of lavender farms throughout the region.

DSCN0781
All things lavender….
DSCN0770
Sequim is known for their lavender farms and long sunshiny days. At the Purple Haze, everything was lavender, from lotions, sprays and blossoms to ice cream! The ice cream tasted just a little odd….like you are 2 years old and drinking your mother’s cologne.
DSCN0783
Can you see the long line for lavender ice cream????? Hmmm….
DSCN0774
Ashley is enjoying the view.  And busy texting her friend Becky about the uniqueness of the oil–delicate and sweet but not overpowering.
DSCN0787
Well this is what I’ve always wanted—-a goat on my roof! The flowers are a nice touch
DSCN0761
This corner just says “Sit down and stay awhile…”
DSCN0746
One of the prettiest little marinas I have ever seen is in Sequim. John Wayne left money in his estate to build this marina for the town of Sequim–it is called John Wayne Marina (of course!).
DSCN0754
Sunset at John Wayne Marina.  Sweet.
DSCN0740
is it a photo or a watercolor?
DSCN0758
What a totally pleasant way to end the day. And the Marina grill cooks a mean clam sauce and linguine!  Yum!
DSCN0762
This rose was shaped into a tree with showers of roses exploding everywhere. The scent mixed with the lavender was heavenly.
DSCN0654
Another aaahhh moment…
DSCN0673
A keystone rock–perfectly carved by Mother Nature!
DSCN9759
A beautiful sunset. Can you hear the wolves howling?

So I have finally reached the end of the week with Ashley keeping us company.  We had such wonderful days together and quiet evenings relaxing.  And then she and Bob left for their trip and instead of relaxing and catching up on my reading–OK, you all know me so well!  I was out from morning till night sightseeing, hiking, and just messing around the little harbor towns getting the feel of each area and soaking up the ambiance.  But that is all for my next blog–so good night dear friends and family!  Happy trails!