Category Archives: Fulltime RVing

Heading East Across Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming

In the weeks that followed the eclipse, the wildfires in Oregon became much worse.  As a result, the smoke from them caused us to change some of our travel plans on our trip back east.  Not only was it difficult to breathe, but the scenery was less than appealing.

As we drove through Boise, the late morning sun could barely get through the smoke.  There was only one thing that would remedy this….

…a meet up with Fluffy Dog!  Tessa and her parents were doing the same thing we were, and so we pondered our options over dinner in Idaho Falls.

It’s always a good day when we get to see Jodee and Bill (and Tessa too!). 😀. 

The next day, they headed southeast and we drove north into Montana, then east. Our first stop was Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.

This is where I discovered my family connection to the Lewis and Clark expedition that I detailed in my previous post.  We also spent time the next morning exploring the town on Three Forks, which is the location of the headwaters of the Missouri River.

In the center of town is this beautiful sculpture of Sacajawea and her baby Jean Baptiste.  

A little east of town, the Madison and Jefferson Rivers merge to create the Missouri.  That’s the Jefferson at the top, and the Madison is coming in from behind the brown weeds at the left.  The Missouri flows off to the right.

The next day found us in Bozeman to see the Museum of the Rockies.

This museum mainly focuses on dinosaurs found in the area.  They have more T Rex skeletons than any other museum in the world…13 of them!  Not all are assembled though.

This progression of Triceretops skulls was really interesting, as it showed the bone structure at the different ages during their lifespans.  These are all real skulls!

Here Diana is thanking our tour guide, Maury.  He was a fascinating gentleman who had accompanied famed paleontologist Jack Horner on several of his digs.  It’s always fun to listen to someone who can bring a subject like this to life. 😊

The next day, we headed east to Pompey’s Pillar.

This is a large sandstone tower along the south shore of the Yellowstone River.   It was given the name by William Clark, after his nickname (Pomp) for Sacajawea’s son. It also has the historical designation of having the only physical evidence from the Lewis and Clark expedition on the trail….

…as it is where Clark became a graffiti artist on July 25, 1806.  There is a protective glass case covering his signature.

From there, we turned south for a bit.  First stop was the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

This is where George Custer and 700 troops charged into a native camp containing upwards of 2000 warriors, based on incorrect information as to the size of the gathering.  It was a huge defeat for the American army, to say the least.  White markers denote where soldiers fell, and red granite headstones were placed where the natives died.  

Here is where George Custer made his last stand.  We found this battlefield to be a complicated, interesting and unsettling place…one that requires more study on my part.

Our last stop in Wyoming was a little place in Newcastle called the Anna Miller Museum.  We have a friend name Anna Miller, so we had to stop and check it out!

The Newcastle, Wyoming Anna was the wife of the Weston County sheriff before he was killed in the last Indian battle in the area.  She went on to become an influential citizen in the community: serving as a teacher, their first librarian, and as their school superintendent.  The community named their historical museum in her honor.

It was a nice collection of Americana…definitely worth a stop!

With that, we headed east towards South Dakota and a really fun couple of days.  Stay tuned, as we will detail that in our next post!

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Click here for a selection of books on the Little Bighorn, plus other great items on our exploRVistas Amazon link!
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Kam Wah Chung

If there is anywhere that Diana and I gravitate towards in our travels, it’s places with historical significance.  We recently found such a place a couple hours east of Prineville.  On August 7, our friends Bob and Kathrun accompanied us to the town of John Day, Oregon and a little building in a city park called Kam Wah Chung.

Back in the 1880’s, the town of John Day had a bustling community of Chinese laborers who worked in the local mines.  Kam Wah Chung & Co. was the gathering place in that area of town, serving as both a general store and medical clinic.  

The owners, Lung On (the outgoing entrepreneur) and Ing Hay (the more reserved doctor) survived racism and the loss of their Chinese clientele, as the mines closed and the workers moved elsewhere. They were eventually accepted as a part of the surrounding Anglo-Saxon community.  Towards the end of their lives, their customers and patients were mostly white.  Doc Hay was the last to go.  He locked the door in 1948 after breaking his hip, fully intending to return.  He ended up in a nursing home in Portland and passed away 4 years later from pneumonia.  Along the way, he had deeded the building to the city to be preserved as a museum, but the town somehow lost track of those details.  They planned on expanding a city park that surrounds it in 1967 and were considering having the building torn down when they discovered the deed and Doc Hay’s wishes.  When they opened the door, they were transported back to the 1940’s, as everything from the day the doctor left had remained as it was.  The city realized that preserving it was too much of an undertaking for them, so they transferred ownership to the state.  Today it is an Oregon State Park Heritage Site.

The day we visited, the volunteer host opened the door for us and said “Welcome to the 1940’s!”  We stepped inside to a dimly lit, magical time capsule of a place that held pieces of the past that we could relate to.  Many of the items were things we had seen in either our grandparent’s homes, antique stores, or museums.  

The unique thing here was that all of the items were as Doc Hay had left them, right down to the oranges on one of  the little altars he had scattered around the store.  Yes, those are real oranges.

Lung On ran the general store portion of the operation.   Most of the items found here were U.S. made goods.

I found it interesting that Del Monte is still using the same basic label 70 years after this can was placed on this shelf.

While Doc Hay used mostly Chinese herbs for his medicines, he also incorporated local items.  Here is Kathrun’s photo of a bear paw in his apothecary, exactly as he left it.  Behind it are over 500 herbs from China, many of which are still being identified today.  The week we visited, a delegation from China was coming to help with that process.  Also note the mid-sized milk bottle on the shelf with the black contents.  That’s a dried up rattlesnake.

Note how his prescriptions used beer bottles for measurement.  Remember, his clientele in the 40’s were mostly local working men.  Most of them didn’t have measuring cups, but they all had beer bottles!

And check out this 1942 calendar from an importer in San Francisco.  It’s interesting to see the Chinese version of a pin-up!

Speaking of calendars, you just have to love this one Diana noticed from a local bank.  They are very straightforward as to their thoughts about money!

She also saw this thermometer.  Note the telephone number….no area code back then, and only three digits long.  The scene in the background almost looks like a work of Thomas Kinkade, except he wasn’t born yet when this was produced.

Check out the label on this 3 in 1 Oil.  The current bottle proclaims that it cleans, lubricates and prevents rust, just as it did back then. The unique thing about this label is the listing of all of the things it can be used on.  Also note how the solids in the oil have settled to the bottom of the container.  Oh, and the price…fifteen cents.  😊

Kam Wah Chung is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Oregon State Park website for the location boldly proclaims “If you haven’t seen this place, you need to go”…and we couldn’t agree more.  If you are in eastern or central Oregon, this gem is a must to put on your list of places to visit.

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Free Kindle edition of Anecdotes and Antidotes: 25 years at Kam Wah Chung and many other items available on our exploRVistas Amazon link by clicking HERE.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

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The Unexpected Upside of Fulltime RVing

The biggest surprise to us about fulltime RVing has to be the social aspect of it.  When we prepared to hit the road, we thought we might feel distanced from friends and family.  Social media, this blog, work camping positions, and being members of the RV-Dreams family have helped alleviate that concern and have greatly expanded our circle of friends.  And while the places we visit are the focus of our journey, it’s the people we meet in each locale that end up standing out in our minds!

On July 15, our RV-Dreaming buddy and fellow lighthouse host Rick and his dog Maxine came to visit us at Prineville Reservoir.  He will be beginning his journey east soon and wanted to see us again before he left Oregon.  Since we were working, we brought him along to the programs we were helping out with.

It was great to spend more time with these two!

Maxine felt totally at ease here.  She looked right at home perched outside Mariah’s office.  🙂   It was sad to see them go Sunday morning, but we will definitely see them again down the road!

On Monday morning, we took the rig north to Parkdale to see our friends Bob and Kat.  You may recall that we met at the Fall 2014 RV-Dreams rally, and we met up again in San Antonio and in Lake Leelanau.  They are working at Toll Bridge County Park as hosts.

They suggested this beautiful site, just feet off the east fork of the Hood River.  😊  They made us a yummy dinner, which was appreciated after a day on the road!

On Tuesday, we took a tour of the Columbia River from the Bridge of the Gods up to Maryhill and back.

Our first stop was Stonehenge, a World War I memorial put in place by Samuel Hill.  He was the person responsible for the beautiful Columbia River Scenic Highway on the Oregon side of the waterway.  He first tried to get the State of Washington to build it and when they refused, he approached Oregon with the idea.  Thankfully, they approved construction.

From there, we visited Hill’s Maryhill estate.  This grand structure was built using forms and poured concrete, employing the same methods that would be used in building a highway overpass.  It now houses an art gallery.

The museum houses more than 80 works by Auguste Rodin, including The Thinker.

After that, we ate lunch at Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon, Washington.  

An outstanding meal with a beautiful view of Mt. Hood in the background!

We then crossed back into Oregon and checked out Vista House.

Looks like a good place to explore some vistas!  😎

From its’ perch high on the cliff, the building offers a commanding view of the gorge!

Our last stop was Multnomah Falls.

We had seen this beautiful set of waterfalls back in 1996, and they were just as pretty as we remembered them. It was a great way to cap off a really fun day with friends!

So whether it is family, old friends or new, this life on the road has been anything but solitary for us.  August 11 will be three years since we moved into our RV fulltime, and what a wonderful time it has been.  Here’s hoping we have many more roadiversaries and opportunities to spend time with others along the way!
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Our favorite ‘Friends’ sign and many more items available by clicking HERE on our exploRVistas Amazon link!
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Prineville Reservoir State Park

As stated in our previous post, we are currently the interpretive hosts at Prineville Reservoir State Park, 17 miles south of Prineville, Oregon.  This is a high desert climate, with sage and juniper dominating the land.  Afternoons can get blazing hot and nights chilly, and the humidity is next to nothing. The Crooked River was contained by the Bowman Dam in the late 1950’s to create a 3000 acre lake that sits 3200 feet above sea level.  Quite a difference from our last location on the Pacific coast!

Our campsite is one of the nicest host sites we have ever seen.  We sit at the highest point in the tent loop, and we have a view of the lake from our patio.  The juniper trees provide us with plenty of shade most of the day, so the 100+ degree mid-day temperatures are not an issue.  

The Eagle’s Nest Amplitheater and Discovery Center complex is one of the two areas of the park where we help out.

We take care of a few critters in the Discovery Center, including a smallmouth bass, a gopher snake, and two fence lizards…one of which is seen here.

We assist the Interpretive Ranger Mariah with her educational programs.  She is enthusiastic and enjoys sharing her wealth of knowledge about Oregon’s natural resources.  It’s fun to watch her interact with park visitors!

Diana is enjoying helping with the park’s Junior Ranger program.  Here she is administering the oath to a new group of Junior Rangers!

We also run the star gazing programs at the observatory next to the beach.

This is the park’s 16″ deep space telescope.  It resembles a circus cannon!  We can easily see the bands on Jupiter with this.  We had 62 people attend a sky viewing on Saturday night!

We also have a 6″ Orion tracking telescope at our disposal.  We are going to be learning how to use the tracking feature sometime this week.

We’ve also met a lot of new people and learned a lot of new things!

Here we are with a woodland firefighter and Smokey Bear!  We’ve also met a pair of search and rescue specialists and we are going to go on a hike with a geologist this weekend.  

All in all, it promises to be a great couple of months here in Central Oregon!  Stay tuned to see what new vistas we find to explore!

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Smokey Bear gear and other great things on Amazon!
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Friends, Family, and the Foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains

After spending time with family in Oceanside, we headed up to San Dimas to establish a base to do more exploring and visiting.

We were fortunate to snag this site at East Shore RV Park, which featured a tremendous view of the San Gabriel Mountains.  Our focus during our time here was to catch up with some old friends, visit with more family, and see some of the local sites.  We also honed our urban driving skills on the famous L.A. freeways!

On Thursday, we headed towards Woodland Hills to visit with friends.  We stopped along the way at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery, as Diana noticed there were several celebrities buried there.  We saw the graves of Bette Davis, Liberace, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

It was not lost on us that we were there on May 4, otherwise known as Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you).

From there, we went to one of Diana’s friend’s home in Woodland Hills.

Here we are with Debi and her husband Jamie, along with Debi’s parents, Jeane and Ron. Debi’s mom was one of Diana’s Girl Scout leaders along with Mrs. Faust. (We visited Mr. and Mrs. Faust a couple of years ago in Michigan). Having the same leaders from second through twelth grade made this group of girls very close and many of them still keep in touch. Their troop was very active with many camping trips, including a two week Hike Across Michigan. Diana joked that Debbie’s dad and Mr. Faust should have earned merit badges for driving motorhomes full of teenage girls from Michigan to Yellowstone National Park and back.  It was great to catch up with all of them and to finally be able to meet Jamie!

On Friday, a longtime friend from college came to visit us!  We hadn’t seen Tim since he left West Michigan in 1989 to work for Paramount Pictures.  He and his wife Kim have two lovely daughters and have had great careers in Hollywood. It was really good to catch up with him.  😊

On Saturday, we headed to Pasadena to catch up with Betsy and her husband Wayne.

We met Betsy back in college and we’ve kept in touch ever since. Wayne was our tour guide for the day as we checked out the area.  They treated us to dinner afterward, which was very sweet!

He works at The California Institute of Technology, so we were able to get an in-depth walk through the beautiful campus.  It’s inspiring to note that 33 Nobel Prize winners have graced these grounds.

The fictional characters Leonard and Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory work at Cal Tech.  We didn’t see them here at the astrophysics lab.  😉

From there, we checked out Huntington Botanical Gardens, the Rose Bowl, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills.

This is the Red Carpet area that leads into the Dolby Theatre where the Academy Awards are held.  It’s actually a mall that is lined with stores on both sides, which are curtained off for the show.  Who knew?

I’ve always known that I had stiff competition, in the fact that Diana wanted to marry Opie when she was growing up.  😉  (I always did like the nice guys 😊 Diana).  Thank you for the marvelous day, Betsy and Wayne! 

On Sunday, we went to Glendora to visit with more of Diana’s California relatives. Diana’s mother was the youngest of eight children. One of Joyce’s sisters, Lucille (Don), and one of her brothers Ken (Margery), and their families moved from Michigan to California in the 1950’s. Diana is one of 23 cousins on her mother’s side. The main reason for coming to California this spring was a long overdue visit to see these family members, and it was wonderful beyond our expectations!

Seated in the front is Aunt Margery.  From the left are Judy, Mike, Evie, Gregg, Judy, Diana, myself and Wes.  A total of 20 of us attended a get together at Aunt Margery’s home. We were so excited about seeing each other, we failed to get photos until after the following people had left: Uncle Don & Aunt Barb; Barry & Dawn; Evie’s daughter Kelly, her husband Mike, and their son Oliver; Judy’s son Wyatt, his wife Syndi, and their sons Gage & Gavin. As stated in our last post, Diana had not seen some of them since she was a young girl. Others she had yet to meet. We were moved at the outpouring of love from them, and we are determined to not let so much time pass before our next visit!

From the excitement and bustle of the Los Angeles area, we move next to the majesty of the High Sierras.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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The Big Bang Theory and other great items from exploRVistas Amazon link are available by clicking HERE.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

 

Oceanside and San Diego

After spending a considerable amount of time in the desert the past few weeks, we crossed over the Laguna Mountains in Southern California and into the wonderfully cool temperatures of the San Diego region.  Our plans were to see Diana’s relatives who live in the area.  We arrived in Oceanside on April 27 and met up with Diana’s cousin Barry and his wife Dawn for dinner. 

The next day, the four of us hopped the Coaster train to San Diego to do a little touring!

These tiled pillars in the Santa Fe Depot were fabulous!  The building was opened in 1915 and has been in use ever since.  It was built by the City of San Diego in an attempt to lure the Santa Fe Railroad to make it the western terminus for its transcontinental railroad.  Los Angeles ended up winning that competition.

We walked to the bay to see the aircraft carrier USS Midway and to check out the waterfront.

I even kissed one of the pretty girls while we were there!

We had a nice lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, caught a pedicab back to the depot and headed back to Oceanside.  Our driver was very upbeat and entertaining, despite having to haul four adults across town.  😉

The next day, Diana and I hopped in the Escape and headed back south along the Pacific Coast Highway.

One of the surprises for us was the Veterans Memorial on Mt. Soledad.  There were semi circles of black granite tiles with veterans names, photos and stories inscribed in them.  Any U.S. veteran, living or dead, can have a plaque there.  Prices start at just under $1,000 and go up, depending on the size of the tile.

From the top of the memorial, there was a tremendous view to the north…

…and to the south!

From there, we skirted the western side of San Diego to visit Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma Lighthouse.  This maritime sentinel had been on our list of places to see since way back at the turn of the millennium when we were members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.  That organization featured the lighthouse at that time and caught our eyes.

Built on the top of 400 foot high Point Loma in 1855, the lighthouse was the highest in the United States during its 36 years of service.  It’s demise was brought about by the fact that it was too high to be seen by ships during foggy periods, resulting in the lighthouse keeper occasionally having to discharge a shotgun who warn passing ships.  To solve that issue, the New Point Loma Lighthouse was constructed in the late 1800’s at the base of the hill.

While it was a simple home in a remote location, the views from the windows of the harbor and the ocean made life here worth the hardships.

The next day, we got together in Oceanside with several of Diana’s relatives at a gathering that Barry and Dawn hosted at their timeshare.

On the left is Gregg and Diana’s cousin Evie, who Diana hadn’t seen since she was in fifth grade. On Diana’s left is her cousin Sandra, who was visiting from Delaware.  Next is Dawn and Diana’s cousin Barry, then Aunt Barb and Uncle Don, then me.  Several of us went down to the beach to watch the sunset later on.

Diana and I finally put our feet in the ocean, marking the completion of our trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific!  Thank you so much, Dawn and Barry!  We had a fabulous time! 

On Monday, Barry and Dawn took us on a tour northward from Oceanside up to Huntington Beach.  We made stops in San Clemente, Balboa Island and Huntington Beach, where they treated us to lunch.  We really enjoyed spending some quality time with them!

The following day, we went to see Uncle Don and Aunt Barb at their place in Escondido.  They took us out for lunch and we also spent some time visiting in their beautiful home.  It was great to be with them! 🙂

That wrapped up our time in Oceanside!  Next up, we move north to San Dimas to explore the Los Angeles area and to visit with friends and more family!  Stay tuned!

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Old Point Loma and other Amazon items at our exploRVistas link by clicking HERE. 😊

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Organ Pipe and a Low Tire

After leaving Tucson, we made a quick hop over to Ajo, Arizona to see Organ Pipe National Monument.  Seeing that this was one of our shorter travel days at 136 miles, we thought we would do a little exploring after we set up camp.  As we started to drive away from our campsite, the tire pressure warning indicator came on in the Escape.  Well, Ajo isn’t exactly a booming metropolis, so we asked the campground owner where we could find a tire store.  They suggested the used tire shop down the street.  The business consisted of a well worn building filled with old equipment and a bevy of used tires.  It was run by an older Hispanic gentleman and his wife, who happened to be eating their lunch at a combination desk/kitchen table/parts counter.  I immediately could sense that this guy had been here for years and knew his stuff.  😉. He jacked the car up, took the wheel off and proceeded to dunk it in an old claw foot bathtub filled with dirty water.  It didn’t take long before he found the leak, which actually was from a failed patch that we had done in Kentucky.  He explained that it was too close to the sidewall and would never hold long term, so I had him plug it and went off looking for a new tire.  There was a Napa parts store close by and he explained to me that the closest tire dealers were in Phoenix.  After a few phone calls, I located an identical Goodyear SR/A at a Goodyear store in Goodyear, Arizona, of all places. So off we went on an 80 mile journey to Goodyear.

After paying for the tire, I couldn’t help but ask Nile the store manager if there was a connection between the town’s name and the tire company.  He explained that the city was named after the business, and that the store we were standing in was one of the first Goodyear tire stores.  He showed us an old photograph on the wall of the building in its early years, which looked like not much more than a 1920’s era gas station.  Over time, it had morphed into the full service auto center it is today. Back in 1916, Goodyear purchased a large amount of land in the area to grow cotton, which was used in tires back in those days.  

They eventually build this aerospace facility there, which manufactured blimps and airframes.  All of this amazing history we might have never known, were it not for that low tire pressure warning!   We drove the 80 miles back to Ajo, making what was our shortest travel day of this trip our longest. 😊

The next day, our friends Jeanne and Keith drove down from Mesa, so we could explore Organ Pipe National Monument together. We met them at the 2014 Fall RV Dreams Rally and had lunch with them last April in Junction, TX. It was great to see them again! Our first stop was at the Kris Eggle Visitors Center.

It was named for National Park Ranger Kris Eggle, who was killed in a shootout in the park with Mexican drug smugglers in 2002.  Kris was a Cadillac, Michigan native, and was previously a ranger at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Stocked up on information, we set out to explore the park.  We chose the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Drive as our first trip of the day.

It didn’t take long before we found a crested Organ Pipe cactus…

…and our second Western Diamodback rattlesnake of the trip!

This double arch was perched high up on a mountain ridge.

This unique Saguaro caught our eye also.  

The blooms were close enough to get a good look at.  Amazingly, a bee had descended into this bloom as I prepared to take this photo.  It completely disappeared into the flower!

Along the way, we saw this unusual outcropping.  What does it remind you of?

After the Ajo Mountain Drive, we decided to go down and take a look at the border.

Wow.  This was not the friendly border we had experienced in Big Bend last year.

At a few points, the border fence snaked up the hillsides.  After driving a few miles along it, we decided we had seen enough.  We headed back to Ajo to check out a little more of the town.

We toured the Immaculate Conception Church, with its colorful stained glass.  We also visited the town plaza, although most of the businesses surrounding it were empty.  

That didn’t matter, as we had a great day with Keith and Jeanne!

Next up: California.  Stay tuned to see what we discovered!

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How to ride the blimp and also search our Amazon link here!
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 Saguaro Serendipity

Diana and I have seen a huge chunk of this continent, but we had never seen a Saguaro cactus (pronounced sa-WAH-row) until this past week.  As we drove into the Sonoran Desert on I-10 in Arizona, they began to appear along the roadside.  Diana likened them to cartoon characters and my mind immediately went to the Peanuts comics, in which Snoopy’s brother Spike always seemed to be surrounded by them.

We were concerned that we were going to arrive in Tucson too late for any hiking or meetups, as it was getting too hot, the snakes were out, and all of our blogging buddies had headed north. After we set up at Mission View RV Resort, I decided to see what was happening online.  I noticed that Steve and Mona Liza from Lowe’s RV Adventures had posted that they were still in town, even though they were supposed to have moved on. Although we had followed their blog for years, we had yet to meet them. Well it turns out that Steve found out he had cancer that required surgery.  We contacted Mona Liza and said we would like to meet them, if they were up to it.  I explained that I was a 7 year cancer survivor, and was doing well. She replied that Steve was in the hospital recovering from his surgery, but she would love to meet us.  We set up a time to meet for dinner the next night.  

The next morning, we were up early to try to beat the heat.  Our destination was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  This facility is a combination of zoo, botanical garden, art museum, aquarium, and aviary.  It was recommended to us by several people, and we figured it would be a good introduction for us to the unique Sonoran Desert.  While we aren’t on board with caging otherwise healthy mammals, we thought the other aspects of the museum were well done and helpful.

The desert blooms were absolutely beautiful.

This spinytail iguana kept watch over the surroundings.

The butterflies were enjoying the spring blooms.

The museum had a great hummingbird aviary.  This is a species called Anna’s Hummingbird.

And just to prove this was more than just a zoo, a Western Diamondback rattlesnake slithered across a very busy pathway in front of us!

One thing we learned after getting to the Sonoran desert was that the Saguaro cactus normally bloom in May.  Most winter RVers miss this, as they typically move north before the cactus show their flowers.  As luck would have it for us, the blooms appeared early this year!

The bees were hard at work pollenating them.  Each individual bloom is open less than 24 hours before it closes to begin the process of becoming fruit.

Even the doves enjoyed a soft place to land!

After we finished at the museum, we went to Saguaro National Park West.  We picked up our Not-So-Junior Ranger book so we could learn more about the park.  Seeing that this park has an east and west unit, we saved the bulk of the exploration for our trip to the east unit the next day.  We headed back to Tucson and met up with Mona Liza.

What a fun and energetic person to spend an evening with!  We went to dinner with her at a funky little outdoor restaurant called La Cocina.

She cracked up after she caught me trying to take a photo of her listening to the band.  We had a great time, and it was good for all of us to get together and talk.  Here’s hoping Steve’s recovery will go smoothly and we will all enjoy a meet up in the future.

The next day, we checked out Saguaro National Park East.  We took the 8.3 mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive into the foothills of the Rincon Mountains.

Remember the cartoon characters?  “These flowers are for you, my dear!”

And check it out…we became Not-So Junior Rangers!  Thanks to Gaelyn at Geogypsy for tipping us off to this great program.  It makes exploring the parks that much more fun!

Next up, we head to Ajo!  Stay tuned for that adventure!

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Glistening White Sands in a Mysterious Basin

After we navigated our way through El Paso, we saw a big yellow sign up ahead…New Mexico!  Diana had been there as a youngster, but I had never set foot in its boundaries.  Officially, it was my 49th state, and it was our 48th as a couple. (Neither of us have been to Hawaii, and Arizona was in our youths.)

I got out of the truck and stomped my feet in a happy dance! It was good to be there!

The branches of the ocotillo cactus were clelbrating along with us!

We set up base camp in Las Cruces on Wednesday, as we wanted to see White Sands National Monument the following day.  

Wednesday evening, we did a little exploring. This is the town square in neighboring Mesilla, where the Gadsden Purchase was signed in the 1850’s.  That transaction was when the U.S. bought southern New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico, mostly so a southern transcontinental railroad route could more easily be established. As a result, the land that Tucson, Bisbee and Yuma sit on are part of the United States.

This building, now called the Billy the Kid Gift Shop, was once the Capitol of New Mexico and Arizona.  It was also where the famous outlaw was found guilty and sentenced to hang in 1881.  He escaped from the jail and was killed later that year.

The temperatures had been steadily rising as we journeyed west, so we knew we needed to get out to White Sands early on Thursday.  Having spent plenty of time on the sand at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, we were expecting White Sands to be a lot warmer than it was. 

The majority of the morning was actually a bit chilly!  

We drove the loop road and got out at several stops to climb up on top of the hills to get a better view.

The dunes seemed to go on forever!  This area is so vast, it can easily be seen by astronauts from space.  This national monument sits in a large basin that is bordered by mountain ranges to the east and west.

Despite the barren appearance of the landscape, signs of life were everywhere.  The sand…actually gypsum…was cool to the touch.

The roadway through the dunes was hard packed sand and was well maintained.  As we drove around, Diana read the park literature to me that explained the proximity of the monument to the nearby White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base.  Occasionally, unexploded bombs land in the monument, so there are warnings not to pick anything up.  Also, they advise that GPS devices will occasionally be blocked, as well as US-70 being closed for missile testing a few times a week.  Several times, the lady in our Garmin would announce “Lost Satellite Reception”…even though we has an unobstructed view of the sky in all directions.  In addition to that, we kept hearing an occasional boom.  There definitely was some strange things happening out there.  

After visiting the monument, we drove north to Alamogordo to see what was there.  We weren’t very impressed with the town, so we headed back southwest.  We tried to catch a glimpse of the landing strip at Holloman AFB where the Space Shuttle Columbia landed once, even taking a dirt road along the perimeter of the base.  No luck on that one.  The Garmin continued to announce that the satellite reception had been lost….and we heard more booms.  Heading back down US-70 towards Las Cruces, we spotted a sign for a missile museum at White Sands Missile Range.  With all the strange goings on, our curiosity got the best of us…so we headed towards the base. Yes, I realize that we had our fill of plane, ship, and automobile museums on this trip…but this was missiles!

Getting on the base was easier said than done.  We were subject to a security clearance check in a building before we reached the gate, then our vehicle was going to get a good going over.  We chose to leave the vehicle parked outside the gate and walk in.  It was nice to know that we passed the security clearance!

The display area consists of two museum buildings and an outdoor display area.  We started out in the main museum building, which we found to be fascinating.

This is a WAC Corporal rocket.  One of these launched from White Sands in the 1940’s and was the first manmade object to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.

I found this map interesting.  It showed the locations of the Nike missile sites that formed the Ring of Steel around important locations during the Cold War.  I never knew that Detroit and Chicago actually had missiles, nor did I know that the U.S. left so many major cities unprotected. I did know my hometown had a lot of Russian missiles aimed at it though!  So in an odd sort of way, I found this display comforting.

Remember these drills?

The other building at the museum houses a restored V2 rocket.

This is one of the rockets the U.S. captured from Nazi Germany at the end of WWII.  The scientists who developed them, including Werner von Braun, surrendered to the U.S. and were brought to White Sands to assist with our missile program. The knowledge we gained from the Germans and these rockets allowed us to become the superpower we are today.

From there, we toured the outdoor display area.

Remember the Patriot missiles from the Gulf War?  Here is a great example of one.

This is a Fat Man bomb casing…the same as the one that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

And a Nike Missile…the type that protected our cities in the Cold War.

While the display was sobering, it was indeed ‘the real deal‘.  None of it was sugar-coated, therefore we found it to be immensely interesting.  As we were walking around the displays, we heard more booms.  This is an active base and the testing goes on with regularity. We can only hope that it will keep us out of harms way.

We only lightly touched on New Mexico, and we will be sure to see more of it in the future.  Stay tuned as we continue to head west!

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Austin and Westward Across Texas

Once we left the Gulf Coast, we headed back up to Austin to visit with family for several days.  Diana’s cousin Nancy and her husband David, who we went to Big Bend with last year, live in Austin. Diana’s cousin Jerry had spent the winter there after retiring, so we also wanted to see him before he headed back to Michigan. They all went out of their way to show us a great time in this fun town! 

First up on Thursday was a trip with Jerry out to Johnson City to see the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s boyhood home.

While his family had a fair amount of wealth, they lived simply in a rural Texas style.

The woman in the visitor’s center referred to LBJ as “a little stinker” during his days in Johnson City.  I’ll bet he was.  😉

From there, we drove west to Stonewall to the LBJ Ranch, otherwise known as the Texas White House.

This is still a working cattle ranch.  The road meanders through the property, as do the prize bovine. 😃

The visitor’s center for the ranch is housed in the former aircraft hanger.

LBJ would fly in to the ranch on this Lockheed JetStar that he dubbed “Air Force One Half”.  We found it interesting that he spent 20% of his time in office at his home here in Texas.

The wing on the left with the covered chimney was his fully functional presidential office.  The gentleman on the left was our tour guide.  He told us that a man on a tour he gave earlier in the day was the brother of the Dallas police officer J.D. Tippet, who was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald after JFK’s assasination.  The ranch is where the Kennedys were to spend the night of November 22, 1963, but that was not to be.  

This was LBJ’s domain. He used his 6’4″ frame…and several chairs that sat taller than the guest seating…to persuade people.  He felt self conscious around the Ivy-leaguers who ruled in Washington with himself only having a Texas teacher’s college education, so he would bring them to his ranch where they were out of their element. He achieved a lot in a short amount of time at this location.  He died of a heart attack in this home at the age of 64, six years after he left office.

That evening, we went to a place in South Austin that Jerry had discovered called the Saxon Pub.  Austin has a tremendous music reputation, and this night lived up to it.  

The headliner was Patrice Pike.  She and her band put on an amazing show.  At one point, she morphed one of her own songs into “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, sliding into the drummer’s place.  That left the drummer no choice but to beat the wall with his drumsticks.  The audience definitely got their money’s worth!

The next day, Diana and I met up with Jerry, Nancy, and David.

Our destination was the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The facility had a natural feel to it, and the buildings blended well with the surroundings.  Austin, in general, excels in their use of the local limestone in their architecture, giving the town a warm and inviting feel.  We enjoyed our visit to the gardens, and followed it up with lunch at a local barbecue joint called Salt Lick.  That was delicious!  Later that evening, Jerry’s son Ben and daughter-in-law Sara had us over for dinner, which was even better!

Here is Diana loving holding their son Cole.  What a cutie!

Saturday afternoon we headed over to Nancy and David’s home for dinner.  Their sons Thomas and Robert, along with their wives Marlana and Tashia were there, and also Jerry, Ben and Sara. There we had a birthday party for Sara and Cody Lynn, Nancy and David’s granddaughter.

Here is Cody Lynn showing off her new sticker book we got her.

We thought her brother Hayes might like a present also, so we got him a magnifying glass.  It was a hit!

Cole was enjoying a little lawn time.  😃

Sunday evening, we headed downtown to see one of Austin’s unique phenomenons, the evening bat flight.

When the Congress Avenue bridge was reconstructed in 1980, the gaps under the roadway unknowingly provided an ideal place for bats to roost.  Up to 1.5 million bats reside there by mid summer, and their nightly departure draws quite a crowd.  From our vantage point, we couldn’t see them very well…as it was quite dark when they began leaving. Still, it was a hoot to see the people hanging out to watch.

Monday, we began our journey west!  First stop was the tiny town of Junction to meet up with fellow RV-Dreamers Debbie and Steve!  We set up camp at Schreiner City Park, which allows three days of free camping.  We found this and the park mentioned in our last post on the AllStays app.

It’s pretty tough to beat that site!  Just beyond that shelter is the junction of the North and South Llano Rivers that give the town its name.

As a bonus to getting to see Debbie and Steve (seated behind me), we were able to meet Pam and Red, who are also fellow RV-Dreamers.  What a great evening!  If you are counting, that’s four couples from Howard and Linda’s rallies that we’ve met up with in Junction in the past two years.

The next day we headed to Balmorhea State Park in Toyavale.  This location is getting out there in the West Texas desert and featues a huge natural spring.  In the 1930’s, the CCC turned it into the attraction it is today.

From this panoramic shot, it looks like a normal public swimming pool.  What you aren’t seeing is…

…the natural bottom or the fish!  We did go for a dip, which felt really good.

We also enjoyed watching the roadrunners and the bunnies at our campsite.  

On Wednesday morning, we headed west toward El Paso.  For some reason, Diana and I had pictured it to be a sleepy West Texas outpost…not realizing that the city is home to well over 600,000 people!  With construction on Interstate 10, the trip through town was a bit more than we expected.  😊.  We enjoyed our trek across Texas and are looking forward to what comes next.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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