All posts by exploRVistas

We are full time RVers on a mission to find America's story. We feel that by moving our house to a location and living among the locals for a bit, we allow ourselves the opportunity to understand that area's people. Our motto is "Don't just see it...BE it"©

Heading to Bryce Canyon

After establishing in Torrey that we weren’t going to be taking Route 12 to go to our next destination at Bryce Canyon, we selected a series of roads that ran west of the Grand Staircase instead.  The first north/south portion of this journey took us along Utah Route 62.

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This road runs a little over 40 miles down a wide valley until it joins up with US-89.  We literally saw only two other vehicles over that distance…both heading in the opposite direction.  I couldn’t help but think of the 1960’s TV series, The Big Valley as I motored along.  It was a scene that spoke to the vastness of this part of the country.  It was also noticed while we were planning this route that the Mormon pioneers laid out their towns in the same way.  Known as the Plat of Zion, each village uses a grid system with a north/south Main Street and an east/west Center Street.  The town of Loa is a prime example of this.

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The streets are wide and the blocks are large.  The streets use the same numbering system, based off of the ones in Salt Lake City, which begin at Temple Square.  For instance, E 200 S Street is the second street south of Center, on the east side of Main.  There are four 1-1/4 acre parcels within each block.  The original settlers would determine what parcel they would receive by lottery.  It made it pretty simple for us when navigating these communities, once we realized they were all laid out the same.

Once on US-89, we broke up the trip by stopping at the town of Circleville.  This little burg was the childhood home of the legendary bank robber and outlaw, Butch Cassidy.

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The log cabin he grew up in still stands along the highway.  There are several interpretive panels that tell a bit about him and his time on this small ranch.

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I found this video camera amusing, in that banks use these now to thwart robberies.  Maybe Butch would’ve had second thoughts on his career choice, had this monitor been here a century earlier.  🙂

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This was our view out the rear window of our fifth wheel in Circleville.  Utah certainly received its share of snow this past winter!

From there, we headed into the mountains to Bryce Canyon National Park.  Once set up at Bryce Canyon Pines RV Park, we made a quick trip to the Visitor Center to grab our Junior Ranger books.  We were alerted to the fact that they were difficult by Ranger Keith, with him quipping that they were PhD level.  He wasn’t kidding.  It was probably the second most difficult program, coming in just behind John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon.  Not wanting to wait any longer, we buzzed out to Sunrise Point for a peek at the hoodoos that this park is famous for.

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Photos of them would have to wait, as my camera trained on a herd of mule deer descending into the formations.  This trio leading the pack were alerted to something in their path.

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Turns out it was a line of horses and mules coming up the trail.  There was a bit of excitement when this lead horse spotted the deer, but the experienced rider quickly regained control of his stead.

That evening, we attended a program called Things That Go Bump in the Night, led by the same Ranger Keith who gave us out Junior Ranger books.  It was at that event where we met a longtime friend for the first time.  How is that possible?  We will tell you in a bit.  The program itself was fantastic, reminding us of the wonderful programs that Ranger Mariah would present while we worked with her in Prineville, Oregon.

The next day found us heading back into the park to see the hoodoos.

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What a gorgeous place!  Bryce is technically not a canyon, as it is not carved by a river. It is rather a series of amphitheaters that look east over the Colorado Plateau.  These formations are at the top of the Grand Staircase, which steps down all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

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Our visit that day saw a mixture of sun and clouds, with brief periods of snow.  Rainbow Point, the highest point on the Scenic Drive, tops out at 9115 feet.  I actually had issues with the altitude in this park, as I was finding it difficult to catch my breath.

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This massive anvil cloud rose near the town of Escalante in the distance.  We revisited there during our visit to Bryce to become Junior Rangers at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  It’s to be noted that we got their well before closing time this go-around.  🙂

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The stunning scenery at Bryce, such as Natural Bridge, produce an interesting phenomenon:

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The hoards of tourists witness most of it through a viewfinder.

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No one is immune to it…not even yours truly. 😉

As you can see in this last photo, there seems to be a bit more snow than in the previous Bryce images.  That is because we awoke one morning to the following scene:

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Yikes!  These sea-level Floridians aren’t used to dealing with this!  Knowing it would likely soon melt, we headed into the park to take in the view.

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The sprinkling of white on the top of each spire added depth to them, bringing definition to the scene before us.

Due to the strong winds, cold temperatures and snow that we had while we were there, our hiking was limited for this visit.  We did take one short and easy walk out to Mossy Cave, one of the wettest spots in the park.

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Yessir….its a cave with moss in it!

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Along the trail, this pretty waterfall appears to be the idyllic natural scene.   It is anything but.  Carved out by Mormon pioneers with picks and shovels over a century ago, this river is part of a canal known as the Tropic Ditch.  Since it was completed in 1892, the creek has provided the communities of Tropic and Cannonville a near steady flow of irrigation water.

Returning to our reference to a longtime friend that we mentioned earlier in the post.  At the evening program on Tuesday, we met Gaelyn from Geogypsy in person for the very first time.  We have followed each others blogs for a long time, with Diana discovering her journal in early 2014.  On Friday evening, we met for dinner.

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Gaelyn is a veteran NPS Ranger, having begun her career with the U.S. Department of Interior at Mount St. Helens in the mid 1990’s.  She is the person who inspired us to seek out the Junior Ranger programs at the parks we visit.  With our constant commenting back and forth on our blogs, our conversation over dinner was as natural as the outdoors we all three love so much.  It was truly a joy to finally get to meet her in person.

Oh, and that PhD Junior Ranger badge?

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We got ’em!  Definitely worth the effort.  🙂

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Bryce Canyon National Park is surely on our ‘return to’ list.  We thoroughly enjoyed our introduction to this scenic Utah beauty.

Next up:  we head southwest to the westernmost point of this trip, Zion National Park.  Along the way, we find a little gem of a park that most people pass by on their way there.  We also spend the day with friends we last connected with in South Carolina. Stay tuned for all of that in our next post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Best Plan B Ever”

Some days call for a switch to Plan B.

On May 4, we arrived in Torrey, Utah to rain and thunder.

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Once the storm headed east, we received our traditional rainbow after a family member arrives in heaven.  This tradition began in 1980 with my aunt requesting one from my grandfather and has continued without fail ever since. Thank you for the sign, Uncle Bob!

The next day, after a stop in the visitor center at Capitol Reef National Park, we headed into the preserve to do some exploring.

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Our starting point was located in the former Mormon settlement of Fruita.  In that community, there is a pull-off along Utah 24 that has some amazing petroglyphs.  A boardwalk leads along the rock wall they are carved into.  We spent a good half hour viewing these drawings, attempting to decipher what they meant.  While we were there, a large group of Italian tourists stopped, all marveling in their own language at what they were seeing.  After returning to the parking lot, we saw that they had not been traveling on a tour bus.  Quite to the contrary…

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…they were exploring in a line-up of Class C motorhomes.  They sure seemed to be having a great time.  🙂

Our next stop was to Gifford House, just south of the visitor center.

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This is a former farmhouse that now doubles as a museum and store.  Diana purchased one of their small pies, and I got some homemade ice cream and a couple of gluten free cookies.  Delicious!

Capitol Reef’s claim to fame is the 100 mile long “waterpocket fold” that runs from Thousand Lake Mountain south to Lake Powell.  The fold is basically a fault in which the uplifted rock traps pockets of water behind it. The long, slender park is filled with hikes through slot canyons and over sandstone ridges.  We drove the 8 mile paved Scenic Drive, looking over possible hikes as we went.  At the end, a dirt road to Pleasant Creek continued onward.  This route was recommended to us by one of the rangers at the visitor center.

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It was at that point that the weather turned against us, as looming dark clouds rolled over the mountains.  Again, the rain fell and the thunder rolled.  The last thing we wanted to do was hike on ridges or slot canyons, or be driving on a road that followed a wash when a storm was imminent.  We scooted back to Torrey without delay.

On our way back, we came up with a Plan B, which was a 65 mile drive to Escalante along Utah Scenic Byway 12.  I had previously discussed this route with our friend Jodee, who recommended it as a beautiful drive, just not in an RV.  Definitely a great road to explore in the Escape.  We grabbed a cup of java in Torrey at Castlerock Coffee, where the barista confirmed we were about to take one of America’s most scenic highways.  Off we went!

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Climbing 3000 feet out of Torrey, the road was gorgeous.  We encountered rain which quickly turned to snow.  We drove on, hoping the other side of the mountain was sunny and dry…

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…which it was!  We were greeted with a completely different viewpoint than we had been seeing on the roads within Capitol Reef, as we were now far above the ridges.

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Deep canyons were carved through the desert floor below us.

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Domes of sandstone rose in the distance.  What would time and erosion turn these sentinels into over the next millennia?  Whatever they would become, the scenes would most likely be equally as grand as what we were currently witnessing.

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At each viewpoint, we continued to be amazed at the beauty of the landscape before our eyes.

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While we did see one ‘brave’ RVer in a 40 foot motorhome towing a car on this route, sections such as this confirmed Jodee’s recommendation to leave the fifth wheel in Torrey.  🙂  One wrong move would’ve sent us tumbling a thousand feet down either side.

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It was at this vista that we met a gentleman from Palm Bay, Florida, just across the Indian River from our winter home of Melbourne Beach.  He was also thrilled with what he was seeing.  When we told him that this was our Plan B for the day, he came up with the quote of the trip:  “Best Plan B ever!  We parted ways with him and his brother, maybe catching him and his 1960 jet black Chevy at a car show next winter.  🙂

We got to Escalante, just as the visitor center at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was closing.  We ran inside to a weary ranger waving her hands at us, yelling “WE ARE CLOSED!”  I told her we only needed two Junior Ranger books, as we knew we would be visiting again from the other direction when we were at Bryce Canyon.  A gentleman working alongside her gave us the books.  As we headed out the now-locked door, one of the other visitors laughed and said, “That was the nicest question they had all day…’Can we just have our Junior Ranger books?’ ”  Our apologies to the ranger…we’ve been there and we appreciate your efforts.

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Heading back north, we could see the clouds still looming over Torrey and Capitol Reef.

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Climbing to the top of the mountain pass, we took one last look across the amazing landscape before descending down the other side.

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As we drove along, we passed several mule deer, who were quite comfortable with us stopping next to them along the roadway.

So while we weren’t able to explore Capitol Reef the way we wanted to, our trip along Utah Scenic Byway 12 definitely lived up to the man from Palm Bay’s description:

“Best Plan B ever!

Next up: We head south to Bryce Canyon to meet up with a longtime friend for the very first time.  Seriously! 🙂  Stay tuned for that and more as we continue our journey around the American southwest.  Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Arches and Canyonlands

Surrounding the town of Moab, Utah are two very different national parks: Arches and Canyonlands.  The former concentrates on formations that soar above the park visitors and the latter focuses on an expansive area that is carved out below them.  After working our way north from the Grand Canyon, we were looking forward to seeing these two geologic gems.

Pulling into Moab, the first thing we noticed was how busy the town was.  This community not only supports the two national parks, but also the surrounding public lands that are enjoyed by the off-road and mountain biking communities.  Despite the congestion, the city worked well for us while we were there.

Our first full day found us in Arches National Park.

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This preserve is known not only for its soaring spans of rock, but also its towering sandstone formations, such as this one named Park Avenue.  Not quite New York City, but we could see where they were coming from when they named it.  🙂

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The groupings of rock each took on their own personalities. This one is referred to as Three Gossips. I pictured this chatty trio as being from Ancient Egypt.

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Some, like the 120-plus foot tall Balanced Rock, had us wondering when they might topple over…especially with them being made of sandstone.

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Diana decided to see if she could steady this one for a few seconds.  🙂  Eventually it will come tumbling down, as her arms were getting tired.

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These two beauties are called North and South Window.  

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While we were talking with another couple about how beautiful the park was, this whirlwind spun up within North Window.

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Behind us was another formation referred to as Turret Arch.  We hiked over to check it out.

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From there, we walked over to Double Arch.  The water stains on the rock are evident from the previous evenings rains.

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The amazing snowpack on the ever-present La Sal Mountains provided an interesting contrast to the red rocks and green sage of the desert.

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We also hiked to the upper viewpoint for Delicate Arch, leaving the three mile trail to the formation for a future visit.  Note that people in the photo are plumb; the entire landscape slopes upwards at 6 degrees.  If this was our RV, we’d be hauling out the leveling blocks, for sure.

Our final spot for the day was a trek out to Landscape Arch.

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Looking at this 290 foot long span, we think the people who named it should have called it Delicate Arch.  It appears ready to fall at any time.  As a matter of fact, visitors in 1991 witnessed a 60 foot chunk fall off, after which the trail underneath was permanently closed.  Two more chunks fell off in 1995, so plan to see this beauty soon…before its too late!

Our second day in Moab saw us heading out to Canyonlands National Park.  This place was enormous! Below is a photo of the Green River.

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Within this same chasm the Green River flows into the Colorado River, heading south to Lake Powell and eventually the Grand Canyon.  Almost like a canyon within a canyon, it was difficult to imagine how a set of rivers could have formed this.

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Many of the spires below us were similar to the towers we viewed the day before at Arches.

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With the La Sal Mountains as a backdrop, the cataract took on an otherworldly appearance.

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One of our hikes while we were there was to Upheaval Dome. Geologists aren’t sure of it’s origin, thinking that it was possibly caused by a meteor strike.  The upward folds in the rimrock point to that possibility.

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We also hiked to Mesa Arch, which sits right on the edge of the canyon.

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Inching up closer, the drop off becomes quite evident.  Don’t worry, I was safely back on solid ground, extending my camera out for this shot.  🙂

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We also earned our Junior Ranger badges for both parks while we were at Canyonlands.  It was a great day!

Our final day in Moab started out with us doing laundry and grocery shopping, as we had no idea the level of services in the towns ahead.  Once that was completed, we headed back to Arches.

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Here we are at the beginning of the trail to Sand Dune Arch.

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Appropriately named, the floor beneath this span is all soft sand.  In fact, one family brought their beach toys.  Tempting as it was, it was not us. 😉

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From there, we took a 1.3 mile round trip hike to Broken Arch, which rounded out our time in this beautiful area.

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As the sun began to set on the fins of sandstone in the northern portion of the park, we said farewell to this area.  We promise to return in the future.

Next up: we move further into Utah to explore more of this beautiful state.  Our weather forced us to execute Plan B, and what a wonderful surprise that was!  Stay tuned to find out more on that adventure.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

Grand Canyon – Southern Style

Some places are so grand, they require two separate locations to access them from.  Such is the case with Grand Canyon National Park, with its North and South Rim units.  Even then, the canyon extends well beyond the park boundaries into Native American lands for a total of 277 miles in length.  In this post, we will detail our visit to the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim unit.

Diana was at the park in her youth, and I flew over it once on our way to Las Vegas.  From 32,000 feet, it looks a bit flat.  That was not the case this time.

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We were awestuck as we walked up to the rim for our first glimpse.  The words I was trying to use to describe it would not come out of my mouth.  They certainly were not needed, as Diana was feeling every bit the same as I was.

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The depth and enormity of what we were seeing was breathtaking.  We were not alone in feeling that way.  People from all over the world were there to take in the enormous vistas.  No matter what language they were speaking, their excitement was being expressed with the same excited tone.  🙂

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It is difficult to comprehend that this grandest of canyons was carved by a river.

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The clouds moving overhead made for a constantly changing scene, as their shadows moved across the canyon floor.

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At the eastern end of the park, Desert View Watchtower marks the beginning of the uplift that the Colorado river had to carve through to create the cataract.

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California Condors are known to frequent the area, as are turkey vultures.  It was difficult to identify which of the two this bird was, but it was fun to watch it take advantage of the updrafts and soar through the sky.

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In all, we walked more than 5 miles along the south rim; sometimes alone and other times with people we had just met.  We had never seen so many people from so many cultures who were just really glad to be in a particular place.

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No matter the viewpoint, the scenery before us was outstanding!

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Some people scrambled beyond the barriers for a closer view.  This activity isn’t recommended, and has actually turned deadly on more than one occasion already this year.  Hopefully these kids made it back safely.  Even behind the railings, we found ourselves staying back a step.  That’s a long way down!

At this point, I want to recognize the recent passing of Diana’s Uncle Bob.

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Uncle Bob was always a pure joy to be around.  Any story that he delivered usually had us in stitches.  He was a huge supporter of us being on the road and he loved to hear about our travels, telling us how much he’d liked to have done what we are doing.

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Well, this one is for you, Bob.  You would love it here. Hop up in the front of my new Ford and enjoy the ride.  It is going to be Grand!

Next up:  We head on up to Utah to explore the many parks in that state.  There is quite a bit that we plan to explore, so be sure to stay tuned.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

There Really IS an Arizona

A number of years ago, we visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.  As we walked into the lobby, my country music-loving sweetheart heard the guest artist Jamie O’Neal performing her country hit There is no Arizona.  Diana was giddy, to say the least, to hear a country artist performing in the shrine to artists like Lennon, Dylan, the Rolling Stones and so on.  As we waited in line for tickets to the museum, the lyrics and melody filled the atrium:

There is no Arizona

No Painted Desert, no Sedona…

Well, after what we’ve seen over the course of this last week, we beg to differ, Jamie. 🙂

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From the moment we arrived in Springerville, Arizona for a one night stopover, we knew it was going to be a great week.  Looking back east from a fairly nice sunset revealed this surreal moon rise.

We continued on to Petrified Forest National Park where we spent a few nights.  We scored a nice campsite at the Crystal Forest Museum just south of the park that gave us 30 amp electric for only $10 a night.

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At first glance, the old cars with the flat tires in the parking lot gave us pause.  We found out they parked them there a long time ago to make the place look busy.  I guess its time to either update the cars or at least air up the tires.  🙂

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Petrified Forest was outstanding.  The southern end of the park was filled with logs that had been turned to stone after being buried for millions of years.

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This particular one was huge!  There is a photo in the visitor center with Albert Einstein and his wife standing next to it.

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Although the outside of the tree looks like bark, that is actually stone.

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Halfway through the park, we came to Blue Mesa.  Taking the trail, we hiked down into an area that appeared very much like the painted hills we saw in Oregon a few years ago.  Not quite blue, but very interesting to look at!

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At the north end of the park is the Painted Desert Inn.  This is a restored Civilian Conservation Corps era building that is very interesting to tour.

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Behind it is…you guessed it…the Painted Desert!  Guess Jamie O’Neal was wrong about that one!  Wow…it was absolutely beautiful.  It seemed like it went on forever.

From Petrified Forest, we moved on to Meteor Crater.

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This giant hole in the ground was caused by a 150 foot long meteorite that hit here 50,000 years ago.  It was estimated to have been travelling at 26,000 miles an hour.  Pretty impressive, to say the least.  Equally as impressive was the interactive visitor center.  This entire facility is privately owned, and kudos to the owners for offering a prime visitor experience.

While at the adjoining Meteor Crater RV Park, we drove back into Winslow to visit one of Rock and Roll’s other shrines…

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…the corner, from the Eagle’s song Take it Easy.

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Its my girl, my lord, by a flatbed Ford, taking a good long look at me!

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We also checked out the La Posada Hotel.  We had a fabulous lunch in the hotel’s Turquoise Room.

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The lobby was pretty, but the ‘death art’ on the walls was a bit much.  Turns out the hotel owner is the artist.

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I did my best to plunk out Hotel California….

From there, we moved west to Flagstaff for a few days.  The town got its name when some men stripped the branches and bark from a Ponderosa pine tree in 1876 and flew an American flag from it.

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We visited two parks in the area while we were there.  The first was Sunset Crater National Monument.  This cinder cone is part of a chain of volcanic features that dot the area. IMG_1086 (2)

This feature was called a squeeze up, which occurred when the molten rock was squeezed out of the earth like Play Dough.  As it cooled, it sagged under its own weight.

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We also visited Walnut Canyon National Monument.  This park features a trail, seen above, that descends into the canyon.

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Once down there, the path winds past several ancient cliff dwellings.  It was interesting to see the protection the overhanging rock offered.

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From the rim, there was a nice view of Humphrey’s Peak and it’s neighbors.  Humphrey’s is the tallest peak in Arizona.

On our final full day in Flagstaff, we headed south to meet fellow blogger Ingrid from Live Laugh RV. We have followed her blog since 2014.  She has a similar camera to mine, and she offered to drive up from Phoenix to meet us and give me a few camera tips.  We met in…

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…Sedona!  Again, we’ve proven Ms. O’Neal wrong.  🙂

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While Ingrid and I were shooting photos of the scenery, Diana was shooting photos of us.  🙂

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Here we were taking photos of the cairns near Budda Beach.

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I managed to focus on this fly sunning itself on top of one of the cairns.

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I learned a lot about my new camera, thanks to Ingrid.  Hopefully that translates to better photos in the future!  It sure was a pleasure to finally get to meet her in person.  🙂

And Sedona?  It was beyond words.  We were amazed at every bend in the road.  We are happy to report that there IS a Sedona, a Painted Desert and most importantly, an Arizona.  All are beautiful and a pleasure to explore.

Next up:  The Grand Canyon South Rim!  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Enchanted Surprises in New Mexico

If there is one way we can summarize our past week in New Mexico, it would have to be that it was full of surprises.  From the time we arrived in Santa Fe to the day we slid out of the state on US-60, the Land of Enchantment did its best to do just that.

We set up camp in Santa Fe at an old KOA that is now called Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground.  It was an unremarkable place, other than the fact that the camp scene from Every Which Way But Loose was filmed there.  That, and our first enchanted surprise…

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What the heck!  Just to let y’all know, this is the first snow that has fallen on the exploRVistas entourage since early in 2015.  We did see previously fallen snow in Oregon, but the temperatures were much warmer.  So rather than hunker down…

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…we chose to embrace it by heading above 10,000 feet to Ski Santa Fe.  🙂

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Here’s Diana after an exhilarating run down the Double Black Diamond slope.

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It was a tremendous place to spend a morning, indeed.

We found the city of Sante Fe to be charming.  The town’s pueblo architecture envelops visitors with a sense of warmth.

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Our NARM membership from the Foosaner Art Museum in Florida gained us free admission into the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

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If there is anything that speaks to southwestern art, it is this talented artist’s work.

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Images of New Mexico are the first thing that come to our minds when hearing her name.  With that being said, our next enchanted surprise came during this visit.  We had no idea that a vast portion of her career had been spent in none other than…

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…New York City!  She loved it there, as do we.

Santa Fe also has a couple of well known churches.

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One is the Cathedral of St Francis.  We were surprised to find out that this was once the seat of an archdiocese that covered the entire southwest, all the way up to (and including) Denver.

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And this is the famous miraculous staircase in the Loretto Chapel.  Our surprise here was not the staircase, but where the Sisters of Loretto came from.  You see, there was only one other place we had ever seen this name:  Loretto, Kentucky…home of Makers Mark bourbon.  Indeed, that is the area these pioneer women came from!

We also did a couple of hikes while we were based in Santa Fe.

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Our first was in Petroglyphs National Monument near Albuquerque.   We ventured into Rinconada Canyon to see what it had to offer.

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No this isn’t graffiti, in a modern sense of the word. The carvings into the rocks were left by early native people and also by Spanish sheep herders in the area.  The images were a ways off the roped-off trail, and I unfortunately had failed to charge my new camera’s battery the night before.  This trail and my iPhone did not work well together.  Thankfully, we had arranged our hikes in the order we did, as our next day was outstanding!  When Ingrid from Live Laugh RV heard we were in the area, she recommended we visit one of her favorite places, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

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With a fully charged battery at our disposal, we gave the new camera a workout!

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What an amazing place.  We loved the combination of desert and tall Ponderosa pine trees.

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The ‘tent’ rocks that give the monument its name look like they are from another planet.

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Nothing better than squeezing through a slot canyon!

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The desert environment was full of life.

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The view from the top was simply breathtaking.  Thank you Ingrid!!!

Next up, we moved south to San Antonio, New Mexico.  Our focus there was to visit Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  We first became aware of this place while reading Life Unscripted, as Peter and his wife Peg volunteered here.  Our driving force to visit here was when fellow blogger, the late Lynne Braden, left a legacy gift to the refuge after her terminal cancer diagnosis. This was the first place she volunteered after her retirement and she fell in love with it.

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This is her photo that became the cover art for the latest Festival of the Cranes.  To our surprise, we were fortunate to be able to purchase the last remaining copy of the festival poster.  We will indeed treasure this.  Lynne was a sweet person who never lost her million dollar smile, despite the cancer she was forced to face.  She chose to view it as a gift.  Peruse through her blog, Winnie Views, by following the link.

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Touring the refuge, it was easy to see why Peter, Peg, and Lynne loved this place.

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What a variety of wildlife!

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Some just seemed to pose for the camera…

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…while others were more interested in fishing.

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Some were just out for an evening stroll.

The biggest surprise in this little blip of a town was a small parcel of land on the southern edge of the village.

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Pretty unremarkable, right?  Well, what you are looking at is the birth of one of the world’s largest hotel chains to which I owe a fair amount of my career.  That building to the right was the old post office.  Across the street from it was a little mercantile/rooming house, run by a person named…

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…Conrad Hilton.  It all began here.  And wile the building may be gone,…

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…the long wooden bar he worked behind at his dad’s place can be found just up the road at the Owl Bar, where it was moved to many years ago.  It amazes us at the history that can be uncovered in the small towns of this world.  🙂

Last up was a place we had wanted to see for a long time.

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The Very Large Array Radio Telescope.  These dishes span out in a “Y” pattern, 13 miles in each direction.

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Twenty-seven dishes work in unison to gather radio waves from distant galaxies to form images that aren’t visible to us though our eyes.  The dishes can be moved along railroad tracks to form different images.  The science behind this is WAY over our heads, but the massive nature of the project is amazing to look at.  While we were there, the dishes all moved in unison several times, eventually pointing straight up.  While we knew this facility was here, it was quite a surprise to crest the mountain pass west of Magdalena and see these antennas spread out before us.

We had a wonderful visit to New Mexico this time around.  The land of Enchantment revealed a bevy of surprises and a trove of memories we won’t soon forget.

Next up: Arizona!  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

Playing Catch-up

With our truck issues putting us a week behind, we had some serious catching up to do on our trip west. Part of the reason for that was we wanted to visit family in Texas, and we were fearful that window had closed.  Fortunately the people we were visiting were able to reschedule one day later, so all was good. With that, we were off to the races!

The new truck ran like a champ across Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.  Hank the Deuce has much more power than the 2008 F-350 and better fuel mileage to boot.  I had to learn about DEF and exhaust brakes, as my old truck had neither.  The other thing it didn’t have was a sunroof.

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This one makes up for that in a big way!  While this wasn’t something we were looking for in a new truck, the fact it was on it wasn’t going to keep us from purchasing the vehicle.  Turns out, it’s a handy way to keep an eye on Ketchup and Mustard!

We rolled into Waxahachie, Texas on Saturday, quickly set up the rig and headed into town.

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Once there, we met up with Thomas and Marlana.  Thomas is Diana’s first cousin-once removed on her father’s side of the family. He is her cousin Nancy and David’s son. It is always wonderful being able to spend time with them.  🙂

The next day we headed to Waco to meet-up with Seth, Diana’s first cousin-twice removed on her mother’s side of the family.  He is her cousin Deb’s grandson.

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We visited Waco Mammoth National Monument. This is an interesting place where flooding along the Bosque River drowned an entire herd of Columbian Mammoths during the Ice Age.  The find was discovered in 1978 by two men looking for arrowheads.  During their search, they found a femur protruding from an eroded bank.  Between that time and 1997, twenty-two mammoths were unearthed, and more continue to be found to this day.

After that, we ate lunch at Rudy’s.

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Seth recently joined the Army and is being trained to drive Bradley tanks at Fort Hood.  It was great to catch up with him and hear about his experiences.  He will be deploying to Korea soon.  We wish him well and are appreciate his service to our country.  🙂

Once we arrived in Vernon, Texas, we were back on schedule!  Vernon is the hometown of both Roy Orbison and former Federal prosecutor, Kenneth Starr.  The area was once named Eagle Springs by the Tonkawa Indians.  When settlers applied for the name Eagle Flats, the U.S. Post Office nixed the name as Texas already had too many towns with the word Eagle in it.  They chose Vernon instead, in honor of George Washington’s Mount Vernon home.

From Vernon, we moved on to Amarillo.  First stop: Cadillac Ranch!

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Something about this kitchy art installation spoke to us that we were finally on our way west.

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Or maybe we had entered the Twilight Zone!

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Anyone who has ever driven an early 1950’s Cadillac will know that this is where the gas goes in the tank.  My grandpa owned a couple of them, and I would have great fun pulling into a full service station in the 1970’s and asking for a fill-up.  I’d let the attendant walk around the car in frustration, looking for the cap.

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When they finally gave up, I’d jump out and push in the reflector, lift up the taillight and reveal the gas cap.  🙂

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We doubt these cars will ever rust away, as there are hundreds of coats of spray paint on them.

We also went to dinner at Saltgrass while we were in town.

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Two things about this photo:  One, it isn’t very often that a restaurant serves warm gluten-free bread with my meal.  Much appreciated, believe me.  Also, my new glasses are on the table, immediately to my right and out of the photo.  While trying to clean them, the screw came out for the second time.  I’ve also had the screws pop out of my new prescription sunglasses multiple times.  Moral of the story is: while the prices at Costco Optical may seem enticing, be aware that there may be a trade-off in the quality of the product.  I’m only saying this because I had previously recommended their service on Facebook.

We also found a great place to do laundry, the Tornado Laundromat.

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Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the size of the folding tables!

The facility was spotless.  Diana commented to this attendant that she had “never seen anyone do that”, in reference to her cleaning out the soap dispenser with a paint brush.  She quickly replied “What….clean?”  We all got a chuckle out of that.  🙂  We really appreciated her hard work.

From there, we explored Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

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This is actually the second largest canyon in the United States!  A road was extended into the canyon by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930’s.  While our visit on Wednesday was during a high wind event, the winds seemed to go over the top of us. That made our day an enjoyable one.

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The facilities in this park are top-notch.  This is the patio at the conference center. They also offer several campgrounds, some that can accommodate large RV’s.

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The views within the park are outstanding!

With that, we headed west towards Santa Fe.  Stay tuned for what we find there and beyond.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

We Have Liftoff!…Sort Of

With the arrival of spring, our ambitious year of travel found us poised on the launch pad, awaiting the go for liftoff.  In the lead up to that moment, we spent a good two weeks finalizing both our trip west and our UK trip in the fall.  I also helped our friends Ron and Nancy with their kitchen project, offering my cabinet layout and installation skills I had acquired throughout my career.  In fact, my 5-year retirement anniversary occurred during the course of the project on March 21st.

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Not bad for a couple of old guys, huh? Once the last cabinet was mounted, Diana and I proceeded to shift from our lazy beach lifestyle to travel mode. Thursday, March 28 found us packed up and ready to roll.

After hugs goodbye with our friends, we were off!

Being stationary for over 5 months, our first travel day was not overly ambitious. As we normally like to do, we headed north up I-95 to visit our mail forwarding service in Green Cove Springs. After an uneventful journey, we quickly set up camp at the local marina.

Not too many campgrounds can boast that they have a space shuttle external tank on the property. 😉 We grabbed our mail, renewed our tags on our vehicles, stopped at General RV for a few supplies, and finished up with pizza at Mellow Mushroom. After getting our library cards renewed the next morning, we were all hooked up and ready to head west.

Well, our truck Henry had other plans….

As we headed out of Green Cove Springs, we passed Garber Auto Mall. Diana and I make an effort to patronize the businesses in town as we are appreciative of their graciousness to domicile not only RVer’s, but also marine cruisers and military personnel. I literally looked at the Ford blue oval at Garber and thought, “We should buy our next truck from them.” I think Henry heard my thoughts rattling around in my brain, as we were but a few miles past the dealership when the Check Engine light came on, along with the dreaded “wrench” symbol on the truck’s information center. Things seemed amiss under the hood, so we pulled over and called Garber’s service department. It was Friday and they were not going to be able to service the truck until Monday. We called to check for availability and were able to limp back to our previous night’s camp. Within a half hour, we were back on the campsite we had just left and disconnected.

During the trip back, I reviewed the money we had poured into Henry over the past couple of years. I came to the conclusion that we were attempting to put a shiny new saddle on an old horse. He had served us well, but as I thought about our journey ahead, I felt Hank was better served to retire to the green pastures of Clay County.

Diana can more accurately attest that I was a man possessed, as I unloaded the contents of the vehicle to the inside and underside of our fifth wheel.

This is my ‘let’s go truck shopping’ look. Not long after, we were at Garber, weighing our options. Our sales associate, Tom Perkins, located a vehicle for us in Charlotte, NC that fit our needs perfectly. Mr. Perkins has the distinct honor of being the fourth Tom we’ve bought a truck from, with Toms Campbell, Tasker, and Elliott before him.  🙂   After negotiating the terms of the deal, it was determined the new truck would be in our hands by the middle of the next week. Luckily, we had built some time into our trip that would allow us to catch up. The delay also allowed us to explore Green Cove Springs, Fleming Island, and Jacksonville a bit more. While we found the latter to be a bit too crowded for our taste, our love for our adopted domicile did nothing but grow. Green Cove Springs is a great little town. Did you know that Frank J. Canova, Jr., is from here? You may not know his name, but I’ll bet you use his invention…the smartphone….each and every day.   🙂    Another interesting tidbit has to do with the former naval air station that was located here. Now transformed into a deep water port and air park, the station was once home to Marine Corps aviator and eventual Tonight Show announcer Ed McMahon.   Heeeere’s Johnny!  Also, if you’ve ever wondered where the name of the town came from…

…over 1300 gallons a minute of 77 degree water flows from a spring in a park in the center of town into…

…and out of a swimming pool…

…and down into a beautiful green cove along the St. John’s River. Now you know!

A couple of other things we needed to consider in this transition were the fact we had a folding tonneau on Henry, and we were going to be needing the hitch installed in the new vehicle. Ford has come up with a new feature called the ‘puck’ system that wasn’t going to work with our current hitch. On the surface, it appeared that the new truck didn’t have it, but there was a chance that the hardware for it was under the bed. That would have interfered with the installation of industry-standard bed rails. Kudos to sales manager Darren Mathews for getting the North Carolina dealer to snap some photos to confirm that was not the case. Also, seeing that the tonneau cover /storage box I had was not readily available in Jacksonville (it’s made in Grand Rapids), I was going to need a different method to store stuff and support the front wheels of Diana’s TerraTrike.

This is how the Fold-a-Cover stacked on Henry. There is a large storage bin below it that is part of the system. We quickly determined that a behind-the-cab toolbox would (at least temporarily) foot the bill for our journey, providing both storage and a platform for the trike. We can deal with the tonneau when we get to Grand Rapids in June. As far as the hitch, Tom suggested we talk to Rick Baker, owner of Rick Baker’s RV Center in Green Cove Springs. After explaining our situation, Rick ordered our parts and agreed to have the hitch put on as soon as we could get the truck to him.

Tuesday evening rolled around and we headed to the dealer. The truck had arrived from Charlotte and the gentleman who brought it down to Florida raved at how well it ran for him. From what we could see in the evening light, it was absolutely beautiful.

Wednesday found us at Garber bright and early. After a test drive, some paperwork and a license plate change, we were pretty much good to go. The only thing left to do was get the truck to Rick Baker for the hitch installation. Tom sent a driver in Henry, so as to drop off the old hitch. Tom also set up our Ford Pass in the truck and synced my phone with it. In the process, he asked if I wanted to give the truck a nickname. I replied quickly with a spirited “Oh YES!” With that, I introduce to you our new truck…

Hank the Deuce! That’s a tip-of-the-hat to Henry Ford II, grandson of Henry Ford, who succeeded the founder as the president of Ford Motor Company. Here we are with Tom Perkins, who is as happy as we are that this all worked out so well. It was a pleasure working with him, Darren Mathews, and the crew at Garber, and also with Rick Baker and his crew at Baker’s RV. If you find yourself in Green Cove Springs, be sure to pay either of them a visit with your automotive or RV needs.

Hank the Deuce, Clara, Edsel 2, Ketchup and Mustard are all loaded up and ready to go. We hope to catch up with you this travel season, so be sure to give us a shout if you see we are in your area. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Deep Roots in the Motor City

Detroit, Michigan.  A city that, to many, represents the heart of the rust belt.  A poster child for urban decay and decline.  Yet this was once the place to be, as it was the birthplace of the mass-produced automobile and the home of some of the most stunning architecture in the country.  Detroit was the fifth largest city in the nation in the 1950’s, with a population of 1.8 million people.  And from a little two-story house on West Grand Boulevard, some of the greatest musicians of our time churned out hits at Motown Records, beginning in January of 1959.  A mere 6 months before that, just a few blocks to the west, I came into this world at Providence Hospital.  That building sat due north of the western tip of Windsor, Ontario, giving me the distinction of being born north of Canada.

My entire world revolved around the Motor City.

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My parental grandfather owned a Willys-Knight and Whippet automobile dealership in the suburb of River Rouge.  Dad himself started out working in the machine shop at Ford Motor Company before pursuing a career in business.  Mom’s dad built huge homes in Indian Village, structures that still command a high dollar to this day.  Mom’s maternal grandfather built all or part of some of the finest churches in the city at the end of the 19th century, along with Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City.

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Indeed, my Detroit roots go back quite a ways.

Being in the city has always made me feel grounded and safe.  That may sound odd to most folks, as Detroit has a reputation as being anything but safe.  Is it a place I want to live again?  Michigan’s winter weather quickly answers that for both of us, as we prefer to bask in the Florida sunshine in January.  Besides, we would much rather to be in natural surroundings over asphalt and concrete.  But there is some magnetic pull that has always been there for me…not so much beckoning me to come back, but more to evoke a calm feeling that I am home when I’m there.  A few years back, flying at night from Baltimore to Grand Rapids, I peered out at the unmistakable outline of Detroit from the air.

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As I gazed over the city, I started picking out landmarks.  Then I estimated where all of my relatives from long ago were buried, and I realized just why that pull was so strong.  I had people scattered over this entire photo…on both sides of the river.

Well, until recently, I had no idea of just how far back those roots went.  Digging into my lineage via Ancestry.com, I found many relatives born in the late 18th century in the region that is now Detroit.  Back then, it was mostly French explorers and settlers.  As I got back to my fifth and sixth great-grandparents, I made a several unique discoveries.  In 1775 my fifth great-grandfather, Claude Charles Moran, was farming his land in northwest Detroit when his brother-in-law brutally stabbed him.  Why, I have no idea.  Unfortunately, that was the fifth of many murders to come in Detroit.  Joseph Hecker, his assassin, was one of only 13 people ever executed in Michigan, being hung from the gallows in the center of the city.

But my family goes even further back than that…

St. Aubin, the street my mom’s grandfather built his house on , was named after an early settler and my sixth great-grandfather, Jean Baptiste Casse dit St. Aubin.  He was around in the first years that Fort Ponchatrain was there.  I can’t even begin to count how many times I referenced that street in my dealings with my maternal great-grandparents.

And the line goes back even further still…

On July 24, 1701, Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac stepped onto the shore of Rivere du Detroit with a party of a hundred or so men to establish Fort Ponchatrain.

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Within a week, the wilderness they landed on became a bustling trading post…and commerce has taken place there ever since.

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In the heart of downtown Detroit, in Hart Plaza, stands this plaque that commemorates the spot where they landed.  The sixth man down the list on the left, Henry Belisle dit Lamarre, is my sixth great-grandfather.  He was a surgeon and was hired to go along on the trip.  Only the Native Americans had set foot on that land previous to their arrival. Indeed, my roots run deep in the Motor City, and its no wonder I feel so grounded there.

As I dig further back, I am finding even more surprises in my lineage.  I will pass those along sometime in the future.  Do you have any interesting people you have found in your ancestry? Is there a place that inexplicably makes you feel grounded and safe? We would love to hear your stories in our comment section below!

2019 Spring and Summer Plans

In our last post, we jumped ahead to what we were planning for in September and October of this year with our trip to the United Kingdom and Ireland.  After quite a bit of trip routing, we are ready to reveal our spring and summer plans!

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Like these pelicans along the shore, we will soon line up with everyone else and fly northward.  Once we get to Jacksonville, we are turning westward for a journey to the Grand Canyon and the surrounding area.  It will be a very busy slate. Look for a spring full of posts about that trip.  We have three months before we have to be back in Michigan to start our volunteer gigs at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  We will be there for two months before heading overseas for a month.  And after that???

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Well, the fact that I installed a flagpole sleeve in the ground at our site in Florida, I guess that’s a pretty good indication of where we will be next winter!  We’ve really come to love it here.  Good friends, good weather and…

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…rocket launches!  This particular launch was the Crew Dragon demonstration mission that SpaceX sent to the International Space Station last week.  The capsule safely returned on Friday about 200 miles off the coast.  Future splashdowns will be within 25 miles of shore, so we should be able to get some photos of them parachuting down.

And an update on our genealogy work:  Diana is finding a plethora of information on her roots that will ensure that we have plenty of places to visit when we get overseas.  She has been able to go way, way back in her lineage.  On my search, I’m currently working between my sixth and tenth great grandparents on my dad’s side.  To let you know how involved that is, every one of us have 256 sixth great-grandparents.  By the time you get to your tenth great-grandparents, that number balloons to 4096 people!  Thanks to the Catholic church records in Canada, there is a record of most every one of mine.  And I know that there are several hints waiting to take me beyond that level.  Time will tell what I find on my mom’s German side.

We’ve also found time to have fun with our friends in the area.

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We checked out the St Katherine’s Greek Festival one day with Fred and Bonnie.  It was fun to see the dancers doing traditional Greek dances in their costumes.

We also met our friends Jim and Sue, who were down from Alton, Illinois to see their son Jake pitch for Fontbonne University.

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He didn’t end up pitching that afternoon, but he did start today.  He got the win, and the team is 10-0 on the year so far.

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The four of us rented a nice home on Airbnb which worked out extremely well.  What a great time!

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So as our time winds down for the year in Melbourne Beach, be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming posts as we head west.  Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!