Category Archives: Fulltime RVing

A Snowball in Florida?

February 1, 2020 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

The metaphor of a tiny snowball rolling down a hill and gaining size was a thought that kept going through my head in early January. With the fact that we were on the coast in Florida…at an elevation of 10 feet above sea level and with us in shorts…it was just that; a metaphor. That thought was rooted in my attempted recovery from the most recent bout of whatever crud was going around. It turns out that it had snowballed into a full-blown case of bronchitis. I ended up coughing so hard that I pulled muscles in my back and aggravated my sciatic issues on my left side. I could barely walk, once I mustered the energy to get out of my chair. I was a mess, to put it mildly. On more than one occasion, I thanked God that I had decided against working for UPS this year.

First order of business was to get over the bronchitis. A trip to Surfside Urgent Care netted me several prescriptions, including an inhaler to stop the out-of-control coughing. If you owned stock in Walgreens over that period of time, you are welcome for the upswing in your portfolio. 🙂 The concoction of drugs, coupled with some great nursing from my lovely caregiver Diana, did the trick. By mid month, the snowball had stopped rolling.

The next thing on the agenda was to address the sciatic issue. My leg pain had subsided, but it was replaced with numbness. I contacted my nephew Dr. Dan, who is a physical therapist in Michigan, asking advice on what direction to go in seeking health care. My primary care doctor is in Michigan, and I really wanted to get a jump on this. Dan provided me with a ton of information (Thank you!) and a recommendation to seek out a good physical therapist down here. Florida has a law that allows a person to get 30 days of PT without a physicians referral, so I connected with one that was highly rated and accepted by our insurance. I’m happy to say that after a week and a half, I am making great progress! The snowball is indeed melting.

In Space Coast news, we’ve had three launches so far this year. January 6 saw the launch of Starlink 2, the second operational flight of SpaceX’s constellation of internet-providing satellites. With it being an evening launch that was flying northeast, we knew our best views would be further north of our winter home. We headed up to Patrick Air Force Base, which sits just south of Cape Canaveral.

What a show! What you are seeing in this photo (left to right) is the trail from the main engines, followed by MECO (main engine cut off). The next dot is the second-stage engine start (SES), followed by that portion of the rocket fading off into orbit. At that point, the rocket is outside of the atmosphere, so the flame disappears. Farther to the right, the first re-entry burn from the first stage can be seen, as it slows down to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, located several hundred miles out to sea. The final burn wasn’t visible, as it was over the horizon. I guess Earth isn’t flat, after all. :). For a full list of SpaceX acronyms…some of them hilarious… click HERE. BFR is one of my favorites, as is FTBA. 🙂

The next launch was the much anticipated IFA test. IFA stands for In-Flight Abort. NASA will be launching astronauts on SpaceX rockets, and this test was performed to see if the capsule could escape from an exploding rocket. We decided that Patrick AFB was the best spot to view it from, so away we went!

The weather had other plans, as the rocket disappeared into the clouds. We did hear a tremendous BOOM though (that’s not an acronym), as the rocket experienced RSD (rapid scheduled disassembly). Here’s what it looked like on Doppler radar:

The smaller green dot to the right of the explosion is the capsule flying away from the exploding rocket. The flight was a success and we should expect to see astronauts headed to the space station this spring.

The last launch for January was another SpaceX Starlink launch. Having a PT commitment later that morning, we chose to view it from our park:

It never gets old. 🙂

The other entertainment around here is Bingo and the weekly meat shoot at the local Moose lodge. This version involves a deck of cards instead of guns, but the prizes are still sizable cuts of meat. I won some delicious pork chops and Diana scored the 50/50 a few weeks back. It’s always a good time, as a large group of us from the park shows up. The caller refers to us as the Big Table.

We also had lunch with our friends Rod and Mary, we went to Merritt Island with our friend Paul and his Aunt Joan, and we did a Costco run with our full-time RV friend Kathy. This is the fifth state we’ve connected with her in.

And we’ve gained some ground on our garage project. We have all of our subcontractors lined up now and we’ve secured our land use permit. Once we have the building permit in hand, we can begin!

Actually, there is a fair amount of white stuff up on our hill, so we will wait until it melts before we head up there. We don’t want my snowball metaphor to become a reality. 🙂

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Things Are Looking Up!

November 1 – December 21, 2019 – Florida’s Space Coast

Written by Jim

With all the people along the Space Coast of Florida looking up at the skies recently, it’s a wonder we haven’t all tripped and fallen over each other. Several launches have occurred since we’ve arrived, along with a unique event that had our eyes on the sky. More on that last one in a bit. We will also fill you in on a few things that have been happening with us lately.

Our first goal when we arrived in Florida was to get our first of two rounds of Shigrix shingles vaccines. That had to be put on hold after Diana and I came down with some pretty nasty colds from our trip south. Those carried on for two weeks and kept us home bound except for one trip to the beach on November 11 to watch SpaceX launch another 60 satellites into their Starlink internet constellation.

I did manage to grab this short video of it peeking through the clouds as it soared over the ocean. After it disappeared into the clouds, we followed suit and vanished from sight into out RV to continue our recovery. And SpaceX recovered their booster, after it landed on the barge Of Course I Still Love You 250 miles off the coast.

Once we felt we were over our colds, we made our way to the pharmacy to get those vaccines. We knew the side effects of them was flu-like symptoms for a day or two, so we weren’t looking forward to that. The pharmacist told me “As quickly as the side effects hit you, they will be equally quick to leave.” He wasn’t kidding. I felt as if I was hit by a truck, as every joint in my body ached until 1 PM the following day. By 1:15, it was gone. Fortunately, Diana had just mild symptoms. We have one more round to go in mid January and then we are (hopefully) protected.

The rest of November had us sprucing up our lot.

The sticker grass invades the plantings each summer, so it is up to us to clean it up. The park owners didn’t plant this landscaping (previous residents did), so they require us to maintain it or they will take it out and let the grass take over. We like the look of the plantings and gladly put in the effort to keep them looking nice. It’s only labor, and the sandy soil is easy to work with.

On December 4, we headed up to Port Canaveral with out friends Bob and Pat to view the next SpaceX launch up close. We were actually a bit too close, as we had a hill blocking our view of the pad. It would’ve been great once the rocket came over the hill, but unfortunately the winds were too high to launch. It did launch the next day, and we viewed it from our beach. This particular mission was a resupply trip to the International Space Station.

This is a frame grab from a failed attempt at a video. I made a rookie mistake and left it on autofocus. Still, not too bad considering the rocket is a good 50 miles away at this point.

Once again, SpaceX recovered their booster, landing 250 miles off of Jacksonville on Of Course I Still Love You. These people are good at what they do.

Our next event was a quick day trip to Lakeland to meet up with fellow RV-Dreamers for a picnic.

What a treat to get together with these folks! The big news this year is that several couples…including Howard and Linda (RV-Dreams founders and owners in the center of this photo)…have transitioned from full-time to part-time status. Many of us have bought houses or property and are establishing roots. The two of us are still officially full-timers for another three years or so, until our heads hit the pillows in our cabin.

And on that home front, we have made some progress on our Northern Michigan property. We have our garage plans drawn and are in the middle of securing permits. Most of our subcontractors have been lined up and we are awaiting quotes from a few more. We feel we are on track to have a completed garage and utilities by the time we head back here next fall.

Following that, we headed to Cocoa Beach with Bonnie and Fred for that unique event we mentioned earlier.

Here are the four of us, ready for the show! And what might that show be that had us looking skyward?

Skydiving Santas! Plane load after plane load full of Santas dropped from the sky and attempted to hit giant inflatable targets on the beach.

This Santa even hitched a ride on his buddy’s parachute on the way down! It was a really fun way to spend the day! Unfortunately for me, I was beginning to come down with yet another cold. Spending the day in breezy conditions probably didn’t help matters. I’m still recovering.

Speaking of recoveries, SpaceX managed the quickest turnaround of a launch facility by sending the JSAT communications satellite on its way on December 16 at 7:10 PM. It flew from Pad 40, which had seen the ISS resupply mission depart just 11 days earlier. Feeling as crummy as I did, I wasn’t thrilled about hanging out on the beach in the cool night air, so I opted for an attempt at a ‘streak shot’ over our Christmas decorated RV. It involves using a tripod, an iPhone, and the Slow Shutter app. Added bonus this time around is that my new iPhone 11 has a wide angle lens available, ensuring more field of vision to catch the rocket’s flame trail.

To say I am pleased with the result is an understatement. From left to right is the first stage trail, main engine cutoff, second stage ignition and the trail until it disappeared from sight. The soft white jumbled blob to the right of our lit up palm trees is our illuminated American flag. That’s the result of the camera overlaying successive photos over each previous image to create the effect. Diana pointed out that it looks like a Christmas angel. 🙂

On Thursday afternoon, after an almost three day voyage from 450 miles offshore, the SpaceX first stage made it back to Port Canaveral.

This is the third time this booster has flown, and it will most likely fly again. Again, SpaceX is good at what they do.

On Friday, December 20, another launch took place. This one was the test flight of the Boeing Starliner, one of the two entries into the Commercial Crew program designed to launch astronauts from American soil again…the other being SpaceX.

With the launch occurring at 6:36 AM, we opted to view it from our corner. This is the view looking north as it disappeared into the clouds. It was clear up at the Cape, so early risers to the north ended up with a great show.

Quick note: As of this writing, the Boeing Starliner experienced a problem and will be returning to Earth early. It is an un-crewed test flight, so no lives are in danger. Stay tuned for updates in our next post. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Following the Autumn Leaves

October 6 – November 1, 2019 – Michigan to Florida

Written by Jim

In our last post, I mentioned relearning how to drive in the U.S. after spending a month in the U.K. and Ireland. Our delayed flight got us back after dark, so we had to navigate the aggressive freeways of Chicago in an unfamiliar rental car. Talk about wanting to get back on the plane! Once past Gary and into Michigan, the traffic eased and we were able to relax. Jet lag caught up to us soon after, so we grabbed a comfy room at the Hampton Inn in South Haven. After a delicious breakfast at the Phoenix Street Cafe the next morning, we headed back to Grand Rapids to get our vehicles. A huge thank you to Terry and Diane for allowing us to store them at their home!

We moved to our base for the next week, Woodchip Campground. Our spot was just a few sites east of where we spent the winter of 2014-15. This go around, we spent the week taking care of annual physicals, dentist appointments, haircuts and such. We even bopped over to Detroit for one appointment at Henry Ford Hospital. That gave us the opportunity to drop in on Diana’s cousin Debbie on our way home. It was great to see her again. We finished up the week with our annual trip to Kalamazoo for WMU homecoming.

It’s always good to to be with our crew! After watching the Broncos beat Miami of Ohio, we headed back to our old dorm, French Hall, to check it out.

Here’s Diana knocking on the door of her old room. No one was there, unfortunately.

From Kalamazoo, we headed back up to our property in Leelanau County. We wanted to get some measurements and talk to the county building personnel while we were there. Knowing our land is loaded with maples, we were hoping our trees were colorful.

Needless to say, we were not disappointed!

It was very exciting to be able to experience our first autumn on our little slice of heaven! A note of interest: one month after this photo was taken, three feet of snow fell here. The scene is far different, indeed. With the temperatures plummeting, we made the decision to head south.

After stopping to see Diana’s sister and family in New Baltimore, Michigan, we headed towards Wapakoneta, Ohio. This tiny town is home to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon.

It is also home to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, which is situated just a few yards from Interstate 75. We’ve driven by this unusually-shaped building many times since it opened in 1972 but have never stopped in. Fifty years and three months to the day of Neil taking that otherworldly step, we finally walked through these doors.

We were amazed at the amount of artifacts in this small museum, which included this space-flown shuttle tire that you could touch. It was far thicker than any tire I had ever handled. The exhibits also detailed the 25 astronauts that are native to Ohio. Some of the most famous are John Glenn (first American to orbit Earth) and Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13.

Ohio is also the birthplace of Judith Resnik, a member of the crew of the ill-fated shuttle, Challenger. The small U.S. and Ohio flags to the right were in her personal bag that was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean floor. She was America’s second woman in space, having flown on the space shuttle Discovery in 1984. Not only was she an astronaut, she had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, was a biomedical engineer, and an accomplished concert pianist.

And does anyone remember these? I drank many a glass of milk out of one of these as a kid. Libby Glass and Marathon Oil, both Ohio companies, manufactured and distributed these glasses during the Apollo missions. They have them for sale at the museum.

As we made our way through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, we were surprised that we hadn’t gotten ahead of the autumn leaves changing color. The drive south was much prettier than we anticipated. Our goal was to stop and see Diana’s brother who recently moved to Franklin, NC.

After setting up camp, we took a drive to see Dry Falls. This beautiful set of falls is located along US-62, one of the most twisty and narrow U.S. highways we had ever been on.

They were named for the fact that a person can remain relatively dry when walking behind them.

The next day, we spent the day with Dan, driving into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Our destination that day was Clingman’s Dome, one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River.

Dan had been here in the past, having hiked this portion of the Appalachian Trail with a friend of his.

The colors from the top were outstanding. These mountains were where we drove out of the autumn display, as green leaves and palm trees soon took over as we headed further south.

Before too long, we made our way to Melbourne Beach and our little slice of Florida paradise.

We look forward to a winter filled with friends and rocket launches, so stay tuned for that. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

A Surprise Along the Missouri

June 13, 2019 – Pierre, SD

Sometimes a trip to Walmart turns into an unexpected adventure.

Once we headed east out of the Badlands, we made a two-day stop at Chamberlain, South Dakota.

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Chamberlain is the spot where I-90 crosses the Missouri River.  It has long been a favorite spot of ours, as the rest area at the top of the bluff affords a sweeping view of the prairie interacting with the river as it rolls towards St. Louis.  Both in 1804 and 1806, Lewis and Clark passed through here with their Corps of Discovery.  My cousin George Drouillard made three additional passages through here after his trips with the Corps.

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Its not difficult to take the bridges out with your mind and imagine the early nineteenth century expedition gliding past this vista.

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A recent addition to the rest area is a statue of a native American woman called Dignity.  This  50-foot tall installation was brought to this site in one piece in 2016.  The work is intended to honor the Lakota people who are native to this area.  Many people think this is Sacajawea, which it isn’t.  She joined and left the Corps of Discovery in North Dakota and was not with them at this point.

Our day off from traveling turned out to be much more than we thought it would.  Needing to make a Walmart run, we decided to backtrack up the Missouri to the state capital, Pierre.  In the process, we discovered we had been pronouncing the town’s name incorrectly all these years.  Maybe it’s my French-Canadian heritage, but I had been saying ‘pee-air’ since studying state capitals in school.  The easiest way to remember how to pronounce it is to drop the ‘re’ off the end and think of a fishing pier.

Our day trip took us along the back roads through the Lakota reservation along the river.  We saw the tribal headquarters, perched high above the Big Bend of the Missouri.

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This huge horseshoe in the river is nearly unchanged from when Drouillard and John Shields explored the neck of land between it in 1804.  Captain William Clark described it in his journal as follows:

We Sent a man to step off the Distance across the gouge. He made it 2000 yds. The distance around is 30 miles.

Before crossing the river into Pierre, we stopped at Fischers Lilly Park in the adjoining town of Fort Pierre.

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Here the Bad River flows into the Missouri.  At this spot Lewis and Clark met with the Teton Sioux tribe over a six-day period.  Language barriers led to an armed conflict, but Chief Black Buffalo diffused the situation and allowed the Corps to pass through.  Note that this spot was the first place the U.S. flag flew over South Dakota.

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From the southern river bank, the unassuming capitol building can be seen above the trees.

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The inside of the seat of government in South Dakota is anything but unassuming.  It is absolutely gorgeous.

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We spent a fair amount of time walking through the building, peering into the House and Senate chambers, as well as this impressive rotunda.

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While we were there, they were setting up to unveil three new statues to add to the Trail of Governors on the city’s streets.  Similar to the statues of U.S. presidents in Rapid City, this installation in Pierre honors the state’s leaders since it was admitted into the Union in the late 1800’s.  I was granted permission to take this photo, as long as I didn’t post it until after the ceremony on June 15.

Speaking of statues, there is a memorial on the capital grounds honoring eight South Dakotans who perished in a plane crash in 1993.

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One of them was Governor George Mickelson.  You may recognize his name from the multi-use trail that runs the length of the Black Hills.  The group was on an economic development mission to save the largest agricultural processing employer in South Dakota at that time.

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The granite memorial is topped by the sculpture Fighting Stallions, which was originally done in mahogany in 1935 by Korczak Ziolkowski. He is better known for his work on the Crazy Horse monument near Custer.  The original wooden carving is in the museum at Crazy Horse.  Note that the entire sculpture is supported by the one stallions tail.

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While we walked around the memorial reading the stories of these eight, this curious bunny kept watch over us but did not seem to be frightened by our presence.  We felt as at ease as this little one in this beautiful place along the Missouri.

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The next day, we departed Chamberlain for points east…ultimately ending up in our summer locale at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.  This wraps up our exploration of the western U.S. for this year…or does it?  To find out more about that, you will have to tune in next Saturday morning.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

Badlands – in More Ways Than One

June 11-12, 2019 – Badlands of South Dakota

Badlands National  Park holds a special designation for me, as it was the first national park I visited in my youth. Since that time, we have been to many places that have similar qualities – particularly the Painted Hills in Oregon.  But none of those venues seem to combine the mud-like quality of the formations with the sharp spires that occur throughout this park.  Couple that with the fact that they rise from green prairies and you have a true ‘east meets west’ situation.  On this particular trip, we found that last reference had much more than one meaning.  More on that in a minute…

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After setting up camp in Wall, we headed on I-90 to the east entrance of Badlands National Park.  This area was known to the Lakota people as mako sika, which roughly translates to ‘land bad’.  They were also the first to notice fossilized remains of sea creatures, leading them to correctly assume that the Badlands were once under water.  That’s quite the assumption for a tribe that was thousands of miles from the nearest ocean!

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Since becoming a national park, those fossils have become a focus of scientific study.  Besides the shells and fish bones you would normally expect in a marine environment, species such as alligators and rhinoceros were found here.  When we visited in 1990, I found a small jaw fragment while on a ranger-led tour.  Hopefully it is still where I observed it.

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The park is also home to a wide variety of present day wildlife.  Here are several female Bighorn sheep that decided to moon the photographer.

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We saw prairie dogs by the hundreds.  This chubby guy stopped his meal long enough to pose for a profile shot.

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And this trio was not letting us pass until we snapped an image of them for the blog.  Consider it done!

As I had mentioned earlier, this trip introduced us to more than one meaning for the name ‘badlands’.  When exiting off of I-90, we saw a sign for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  After questioning the ranger at the Badlands visitor center, we decided to tour there the next day.

Heading east again on I-90 from Wall, our first stop was just off the highway at Exit 116.

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Along the side of the dirt road, this fenced-in compound sits in plain sight.  Not long ago, this was one of the United States’s hundreds of active missile silos.  This small parcel of land held a missile that was 120 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  If launched, the missile would’ve flown over the North Pole to Russia in about a half hour.

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This facility was labeled D-9 of the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron.  Look closely at the map and you will see the towns of Wall, Sturgis, Belle Fourche, Lead, and Rapid City.  Chances are you’ve been within a stone’s throw from one of these silos at some point and didn’t even know it.

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At this particular silo, visitors can peer in from the top to see a deactivated Minuteman II missile.  These particular rockets were taken out of service and most of the silos were imploded after the START treaty with the Soviet Union.  About 150 silos remain in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana with the much more powerful Minuteman III missile in each of them. 

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Growing up just three miles from the massive industrial complex known as the Ford Rouge plant, I was always aware that there was a big Russian target on my head.  Not a comforting thing to think about as a teenager, believe me.  With that in mind, I peppered this ranger with a myriad of questions about these silos.  He was actually a a missile commander back in the day, and was extremely open about the workings of this facility.

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This heavy concrete lid covered the silo at one time.  It is currently welded partway over the silo, in accordance with the treaty.  In the 1983 television movie The Day After, there was a scene showing these lids retracting just prior to the missiles launching to their intended targets.  That scene sticks in my mind to this day.

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This is actually a hardened communications antenna.  Think of it as a nuclear-proof cell phone tower.  The ranger informed us that it would have not withstood a blast, even though that was the original intention.  When I could think of nothing else to ask, I thanked him for keeping us safe over the course of his career, which he appreciated.

After that sobering visit, we continued to Exit 130 and the Minuteman Visitor Center.

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This facility has a museum, theater and gift shop.  A gift shop???  Do you really want to be reminded of a possible nuclear holocaust by drinking your morning coffee out of a Minuteman Missile mug? We viewed the movie, which started very much like The Day After, showing peaceful scenes with flyovers of fields of grain and unending prairies.  It didn’t take long for it to show images of nuclear weapons detonating, the polar opposite of the earlier idyllic segments.  After going through the nuts and bolts of the Minuteman program, they got to the story of one Stanislav Petrov, a missile commander from the Soviet Union.  Remember this man.

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Seen here during a visit to the Minuteman National Historic Site a few years ago, he is credited with single-handedly saving the world as we know it.  In 1983, just before the above-mentioned TV film aired, this commander was alerted by his men of five incoming U.S. missiles on their radar screens.  Tensions were high at that time, as the Soviets had just shot down a Korean Air Lines 747 with 246 souls on board.  Petrov looked at the images and said “How can this be?”  He knew the U.S. would launch far more than five missiles, so he held back from reporting what he was seeing.  It turned out to be sunlight reflecting off high altitude clouds over North Dakota.  Had he let his superiors know, missiles would have started flying in both directions.  That inaction simultaneously ruined his military career and saved us all.  He eventually suffered a nervous breakdown from the stress of it all.  And if that wasn’t frightening enough, we learned later on in the museum that incidents like this happened twelve times…six on each side.  In one of them, someone on the U.S. side inserted a training floppy disk into a computer which lit up the radar screens with incoming Russian missiles.  Fortunately, someone discovered the error before the U.S. retaliated to a non-event.

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In hindsight, the quote on this display in front of the visitor center may be impossible to achieve, due to the human factor involved with these weapons.  After visiting this facility, we skipped the Junior Ranger badges this go around.  Personally I went a good half hour before I could say anything, as I had a sizable lump in my throat from that film.

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Still, it was a well done historic site worth visiting.  Petrov himself stated that never in his wildest dreams would he have thought he could visit such a place on the ‘enemy’ side.  Yes we were the enemy to them, as they were to us.  Hopefully, the only thing we ever see flying over Wall, South Dakota are rainbows and clouds.  Our wish for future generations is that the only ‘bad lands’ are the Lakota mako sica hills that dominate the landscape east of the Black Hills.

Next up, we head east through the remainder of South Dakota into the Missouri River region of the state.  Along the way, we found a pleasant surprise nestled along the river’s banks.  Be sure to stay tuned for that in next Saturday morning’s post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

Now That’s a Wrap!

June 6-10, 2019 – Black Hills of South Dakota

A few years back, our friends Jim and Barb bought some property in South Dakota to use as a home base.  They have been full-time RVers since March of 2014, having hit the road the same month I retired.  You may recall when we visited them in September of 2017 on our way back to Michigan from Oregon.  Back then, they were busy installing fence posts, purchasing a shed and making plans to build a place to store their RV and hang their hats while in the area.  By no means did they want to come off the road completely, but the addition of the property looked like it would put them in the part-time RVers category.

Since our last visit, this dynamic duo has been busy!  With the guidance of their friend Kevin (a custom home builder who is building his own place not far from them), they have started construction on their little shack in the woods.  2018 saw them starting construction by excavating and pouring a cement foundation. This year they have roughed their abode in, pretty much by themselves.  As fellow RVing friends have passed through their area, they’ve jumped in to lend a hand…as was the case with us a few weeks ago.

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Little shack in the woods????  That’s big enough to quite literally store both of our fifth wheels!

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This structure is known as a barndominium.  The one end is a two RV garage, while the other end sports a two bedroom home.  Having watched this building emerge over the past year on their blog, we were eager to detour north to join in the fun.  Barb needed a little help putting up the house wrap, so she enlisted the help of her hubby and I to get the job done.

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A few hours later, we had the lower course wrapped.  We even had enough energy left to put in the kitchen and bathroom windows.

Afterwards, we went for a drive to check out Kevin and Cheryl’s place.  Along the way, we saw a fair amount of wildlife.

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We also saw this unusual cloud formation.  It looked as if the thunderhead was on fire!

The next day, Barb fired up the skid steer and had Jim and I up on the platform while she drove us around the house.

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Literally.

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She was careful not to drop us, which we were grateful for.  Diana provided ground support, along with photographing and videoing the event for posterity.

Here is a little video that shows off her dexterity with a skid steer:

A few hours later, we had the upper section complete.

Now that’s a wrap!

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That evening brought us another beautiful sky.  Not a bad place to hang your hat, for sure.  Having rolled out multiple rolls of house wrap while Jim stapled, my arms were rubber.  We decided to take the next day off.

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For Diana and I, that became a drive through the Black Hills.  We checked on the progress at the Crazy Horse monument.  Slowly but surely, the workers here are getting things done.

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We also drove the Needles Highway.  From that road, we caught several glimpses of Mount Rushmore.  We’ve visited that monument several times over the years, so we skipped it this time around.

That evening, we hung out in Jim and Barb’s new living room for happy hour.

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That included a nightly appearance of a herd of mule deer.  Jim and Barb look forward to being able to sit on their sofa at night and see this crew out their slider.  Best I could tell, the deer were marveling at our progress!

The last day saw Jim and I on the platform installing windows, including two huge trapezoids on the front of the home.

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We ran into an issue with heavy staples protruding out of the bottom of the first one, so Barb climbed out of the cab of the skid steer, scrambled up the scaffolding on the inside of the house, balanced herself on the rough opening and pulled the staples.  All this while the helpless males stood and watched.

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One window after another, Barb guided us as we wrestled the windows into place.  We did eight upper windows that day!

That evening, Diana got one more photo of a very satisfied Barb, her sidekick, Daisy, and Dakota looking on from the back.

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Jim and Barb are an amazing team, and will soon have built a beautiful home in the Black Hills.  It was a pure joy to be able to stop by and help them out.

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The sky even gave us a standing ovation.  🙂

Next up:  We head east through South Dakota to see some familiar places.  Along the way, we find a few surprises, so be sure to stay tuned for that in our next Saturday morning post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

Flying Along the Front Range

Along the Front Range, Colorado; May 22 – June 4, 2019

Our trip the past few weeks along the Front Range of the Rockies was a homecoming of sorts for us, as Estes Park was our first big vacation to the mountains as a married couple…some 29 years ago.  Diana had been to Denver with her Girl Scout troop as a teenager and I was there as a 6-year old with my mom, dad, and my sister Judy.  Back then, Dad was the sales manager for Schwayder Brothers in Detroit at their metal chair facility.  You may know Schwayder by the name of their product line: Samsonite.

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Issac Schwayder (right) and his four sons. Jesse Schwayder, second from the right, was my dad’s boss.  The company slogan was “The Samsonite – Strong Enough to Stand On”.

At that time, Schwayder was consolidating their operations to their headquarters in Denver, so we were on a scouting mission to see if that would be our new home.  Mom and Dad chose to remain in Michigan, as the pull of family won out over the Rockies…thus forcing Dad to find a new employer.  As much as I love Colorado, I’m very glad they chose to stay in southeast Michigan.  🙂

As mentioned in our last post, we had to change plans to stay at lower altitudes.  That took us south out of Page through Flagstaff, east on I-40 to Albuquerque and then north.

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While in Albuquerque, we picked up some Oboz waterproof low hikers from REI for our trip to the UK in the fall.  These beauties were field tested by our friends Linda and Steven on their 500 mile walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago.  Accomplishing that without blisters is a pretty good testimonial for Oboz, which is headquartered in Bozeman, Montana.  We then headed up towards Santa Fe, spending a couple of nights at the Black Mesa casino.  Again, we managed to hit a jackpot on the casino’s free play and walked out the door without spending a penny of our own.  We will take it!  We also paid a return visit to a little Venezuelan restaurant in Santa Fe called Santarepa Cafe.  We went out of our way to eat there again, as it is that good.  The owner is a sweet woman who comes to your table and genuinely inquires as to how you like your meal.

Scooting around the southern end of the Rockies, we headed up the east side and said farewell to New Mexico.

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In the process, our Colorado fifth wheel entered the State of Colorado for the first time!  We continued up to Colorado Springs to spend the better part of a week.  The first morning at the KOA, we noticed what we thought was an early riser playing music on his RV horn as he left the campground.  Nope…we were parked across from Fort Carson, which plays Revelry every morning at 6:30 AM and Taps at 10 PM.  We’re in the Army now!

Here is a spot I had visited with my family when I was a child; Garden of the Gods.  This land was given to the City of Colorado Springs by the children of late owner Charles Elliott Perkins in 1909 to use as a park.  The stipulation was that they could never charge an admission fee or allow ‘intoxicating liquors’, which they haven’t to this day.

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I distinctly remember Balance Rock as a 6 year old. 🙂

We also happened to be in town during the Air Force Academy graduation.  Our first tip-off to that was when we heard a jet approaching our car from behind, only to find out we had been buzzed by…

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…a B-2 Stealth bomber.  We also saw the Thunderbirds practicing. The next day was the graduation, so we set up our chairs in a field across I-25 from the academy.  When the cadets tossed their caps in the air, the Thunderbirds streaked across the field.

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There was a long delay after that first pass, and we noticed that there were no cars on the freeway.  Soon there was a procession of motorcycle police, followed by this:

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There goes the President!  Not too long after he had left, the show resumed.

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It sure is fun to see these planes…

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…especially with Pike’s Peak as a backdrop.

The other place Diana wanted to do visit was the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame, which is located in town.

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She really was hoping to meet Scott Hamilton.  It wasn’t meant to be, but she did get to see his gold medal from Sarajevo.  There was even someone there that I appreciated…

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Frank Zamboni!  Those twirlies would fall flat on their faces if it weren’t for the superior talent of us Zamboni drivers.  🙂  All kidding aside, we both really enjoyed the museum.

From Colorado Springs, we headed up to Denver to meet friends and family.

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First stop was to our college friend Kirsten’s house for a wonderful meal.  Here we are with her mom and her husband Mike.  It sure was great catching up with them.  Mike is an excellent cook!

We also visited Diana’s cousin Abby, her husband Josh and daughter Tara.

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We forgot to get a photo, so Abby let me use this one.  Abby is Diana’s cousin Jerry’s daughter.  We loved getting to spend the afternoon with them in their beautiful home, especially the sidewalk chalk drawings that greeted us, along with Tara jumping for joy at the front door upon our arrival.  🙂

We also visited a place we long wanted to pay our respects at; the Columbine Memorial.

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Located in a Littleton city park adjacent to the school, this beautiful remembrance moved us.

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Since the thirteen students and staff were killed at this school in 1999, over 140 more have died in our learning institutions.  As the husband of a teacher, I worried about this constantly…as I knew the innocent students’ safety was first and foremost to Diana.  If you can, take the time to visit here.  There are moving tributes to each of the victims, along with snippets of thoughts from the survivors.

From Denver, we moved up to Fort Collins for a couple of days.  That was our lower altitude base to revisit Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park.  Our last time there was 1990, and we were driving a regular cab Ford Ranger pickup pulling a very heavy Steury pop-up camper.  The number one hit on the radio that trip was Shenandoah’s Next to You, Next to Me.  One verse stood out in my memory:

“If the Good Lord’s willin’ when we’re old and gray
The kids are grown up and moved away
We’ll be rocking’ here side by side
With the BBQ chicken and the TV guide”

Fire up the grill, sweetie and I’ll grab the rockers.  🙂

This go around our mission was to see Bighorn sheep, something we hadn’t seen since our last time there.

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Mission accomplished!  We actually saw several of them.

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We also saw plenty of elk.  This guy was happy to show off his velvety new rack.

Our special treat was when we drove up Trail Ridge Road towards the Alpine Visitor Center.

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We got to Rainbow Curve, 10,500 feet up, and the road was closed due to snow at the top.  They were allowing visitors to walk up as far as they wanted, so we took advantage of it.

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It was an absolutely amazing treat.  We went up a half mile or so…over 11,000 feet, before returning.  Although out of breath, we did just fine!  Everyone was having a great time…

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…including this young pair.  I’ll bet the road being closed made their day.  🙂

Well, that wraps up our flight along the Front Range!  Next up, we head north to South Dakota to help some friends with a little project.  More on that in our next Saturday morning post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Adapting to the Altitude

May 15-21, 2019  –  Kaibab Plateau and Page, Arizona

One thing we had paid little heed to in planning our trip west was our ability to adapt to the altitude.  Our winters in Melbourne Beach, Florida are spent at a whopping 10 feet above sea level.  So when we arrived in Santa Fe a mere 8 days after leaving the Florida coast, we found that were struggling with the 7000 foot-plus altitude gain.  Diana woke up with a terrible headache, and we were both having a difficult time breathing.  Throughout the trip we were up and down the mountains, so we drank plenty of fluids and tried to follow the advice for adjusting to altitude.  Bryce Canyon was tough at 7700 feet, but we dropped to 3200 feet at Hurricane, Utah and were OK again.  Our next stop was Jacob Lake, just north of the Grand Canyon.

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The sign on the front of the Jacob Lake Inn says it all.  We set up camp about 1/4 mile away, just shy of 8000 feet.  We figured we would go to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon the next day, so we took the advice of the volunteer at the Kaibab National Forest Visitor Center and went to see the nearby Vermilion Cliffs overlook.

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Our jaws dropped at the vista before us!  The wide open House Rock Valley stretched out for miles.  Highway 89-A angled across it, beckoning us to explore it…so that’s exactly what we did.  We ended up driving all the way to Marble Canyon, stopping at Navajo Bridge to see if we could finally see a California Condor.

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From the old bridge (now a pedestrian crossing), we finally were able to see what we were looking for.  Since these birds were so close to extinction, wildlife experts have put wing tags and radio transmitters on them to identify and keep track of them.  This one is labeled as H9, and she was sitting underneath the new bridge. We stayed as long as we could watching two adults and a juvenile, then headed back to Jacob Lake before sunset.

The next morning, I woke with a headache that was as bad as any migraine I had ever experienced.  Diana immediately knew what was going on, as she had felt the same way in Santa Fe. We knew we needed to get to a lower elevation, so we made some quick changes and headed to Page, Arizona two days earlier than planned.  A mere 43 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and we drove away from it. We took the long route running through Kanab and Big Water, as this would allow us to see the the last of four visitor centers for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  As we traveled at the lower altitude, I began to feel better.

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On the way into the Big Water Visitor Center, Diana spotted this beautiful bull snake.  We were first introduced to these amazing reptiles by Ranger Mariah in 2017 at Prineville, Oregon.  It’s always good to see them, as they have a tendency to keep the rattlesnakes away.

Once at Page, we readjusted the remainder of our trip to include campsites at lower altitudes.  For us, the trigger seemed to be sleeping, as less oxygen is taken in then.  Once we had that taken care of, we were off to see the sights!  First place we wanted to see was the much talked about Horseshoe Bend.  We’ve had many friends who have ventured to this place, parked at the trailhead, walked to the edge of Marble Canyon and peered into the abyss at the 270 degree bend of the Colorado River.

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Things have changed this year.  The City of Page owns the land people were parking on, so they built a paved parking lot, complete with fee booths.  The lot is already being doubled in size to accommodate the huge crowds.

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Look closely: that’s a huge parade of visitors! The idea of so many people being so close to the edge of a sheer drop off wasn’t comforting to us, as all it takes is one person to bump into another and send them on a free fall.  We had heard that the National Park Service, who oversees the rim of the canyon as part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, had made some changes of their own this year…so we decided to take a look for ourselves.

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Here is that change…an accessible viewing platform with railing.  Works for us!  There are still plenty of places available to stand along the unguarded rim and snap an Instagram selfie.  Just note that people have died here are a result of venturing too close to the unguarded edge.  And what is it that all these people are looking at?

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It’s Horseshoe Bend!  Those little white things on the river are boats. Definitely an amazing sight that was worth seeing, but the massive amounts of people are a detriment to this place…us included.  We are glad we saw it for ourselves this one time, but we will respectfully leave this unique feature for others to discover in the future.

Our next stop was Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell.

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As we walked through the exhibits in the visitor center, we saw a display about seepage.  Unlike Hoover Dam which is anchored to granite,  Glen Canyon dam is anchored to Navajo sandstone.

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That green line is vegetation growing in the seams that the lake water is leaking through.  Several of them extend down the canyon on both sides.

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They’ve even had to put long bolts in the sandstone to keep it in place.  This is an ongoing process.  The more I read about this dam, the less I wanted to be around it.  Meanwhile, the water level continues to drop in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead (behind Hoover Dam), due to ongoing drought conditions. If the water behind this dam drops another 90 feet, it stops generating power.  If by some miracle the lake fills to capacity, there is a chance it might give way, as it nearly did in 1983 (read about it HERE).  There are many people who are proponents of filling Lake Mead first and just bypassing Glen Canyon Dam.  It will be interesting to see what the future holds.  One thing is for sure: it won’t be status quo forever.  Mother Nature always has the last word.

Next thing up was a tour of Antelope Canyon.  We have a lot of friends who have toured the upper and lower sections of this beautiful place, so we were looking forward to going there.  The day of our reservations was windy and raining.  This tour requires sunlight to make it worthwhile, and thunderstorms are a no-no in a slot canyon.  We weren’t able to reschedule.

Oh my…so was Page a wash for us?  Absolutely not.  We found Big John’s Texas BBQ!  The place was far better than the two places we ate in Amarillo, so we visited there twice. 🙂  And with some time on our hands, we decided to take a little 150 mile one way day trip…

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…to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We figured that if we didn’t sleep there, we would be fine…and we were.  Our time was spent at the lodge and the nearby Bright Angel Point trail. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit many of the remote views off of the National Forest roads on that day, as many were still closed due to snow or winter damage.  We did, however, enjoy the meadows along Highway 67 on our trip in from Jacob Lake.  And our dinner at the Jacob Lake Inn was delicious! The Kaibab Plateau and North Rim deserve much more time.  Perhaps we will day trip from Kanab in the future, a much shorter distance than Page.

Speaking of that trip from Page, it had two awesome benefits.  We were able to traverse House Rock Valley again along the Vermilion Cliffs in both directions and…

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…we were able to visit our old friend H9 again.  This time, she was immediately below the pedestrian bridge deck, so I could photograph her much closer.  I keep my shutter on silent, as I learned in Oregon that the noise disturbs the wildlife.

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We even watched the juvenile fly a few times, which was a great thrill for us.  Adult condors have an outstanding 9-1/2 foot wingspan!

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As the sun set on the Vermilion Cliffs, we were happy that our visit to Northern Arizona ended so well.

Next up:  We head east and north to visit relatives and friends along the Front Range of Colorado.  There was even a couple of unexpected surprises. Be sure to stay tuned for that in our next post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

 

 

 

The Path to Zion

Hurricane, UT – May 11 through 14, 2019

The path to Zion is described by Miriam-Webster as a journey to a spiritual place or nirvana, in reference to Mount Zion in Jerusalem.  Anyone who has ever been to Zion National Park in Utah can see what the Mormon pioneer Issac Behunin was thinking when he named the area.  It is one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen, rivaling Yosemite Valley in California and Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper, Alberta.  Our path to Zion took us on a southerly route into Arizona, as a late winter snowstorm had damaged the switchbacks on the Utah tunnel route on the east side of the park in March.  Our original plans to stay in Mt. Carmel were changed to a campground in Hurricane, Utah at that time.  The road has since been repaired, but our camping plans were set so we didn’t change them.  Our hidden bonus was that we would get to explore Pipe Spring National Monument along the way.

Pipe Spring is a gem of a park, in that it keeps a piece of history alive that would otherwise be forgotten.  It is here, along the vermilion cliffs that border Arizona Highway 389, that water flows from a hillside into an area that today seems to be otherwise devoid of moisture.  Once an area of verdant grasses and plentiful wildlife, this thin length of land lies between the Grand Canyon to the south and the cliffs to the north.  It is known as the Arizona Strip, as it is cut off from the rest of the state by the canyon.  With the arrival of the Mormon settlers the delicate balance that supported the grasslands was disrupted, as their cattle overgrazed the area and destroyed the soil.  When the Paiute Indians were kind enough to show the settlers the spring, the Mormons promptly built a fort over it to claim it for themselves.

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That stone fort still stands to this day.  The park service has done an excellent job in preserving the building and interpreting what happened here.

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The spring itself bubbles up underneath the floor beneath this organ and is channeled via pipe to the other side of the fort. This allowed for indoor plumbing and, as the water from the spring ran under the floor, it cooled the home.

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That pipe empties into this wooden trough in the basement of the building on the east side of the fort. This was a root cellar and had an area for making cheese. They had plenty of milk for making cheese, as the Mormons often paid their tithe with dairy cattle.

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From there, it empties into a pond outside the walls. Since a 1933 agreement, the water flow from the spring has been evenly divided among the National Park service, the tribe, and private cattlemen.

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Another point of interest to note are the telegraph poles and wires outside the fort.  Pipe Spring was the first telegraph office in Arizona.

Our visit, while short, provided a fascinating look into the struggles between the settlers and the native people.  This park is well worth spending a few hours to explore, if you are passing through on this route.  While the parking lot is large enough to support a couple of large RVs, consult a satellite view on Google Maps to decide for yourself whether or not to bring your RV there.

Once we reached Hurricane, we set up camp at WillowWind RV Park.  As Midwesterners, it was divine to see real grass and trees again!  They even allowed us to wash our vehicles, a rarity in this water-starved region.  The town itself received its unusual name when Erastus Snow, the leader of a group of Mormon surveyors, had the top blown off his buggy by a strong desert wind.  He declared the place to be named Hurricane Hill.  We found it to be a great town to use as a base camp for visiting Zion National Park.

Our first priority was hooking up with our friends, Nancy and Bill.

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We were introduced to this charming couple by David and Sharon when we were in Myrtle Beach last year, and we hit it off right away.  They offered to show us the east side of Zion in their Jeep, which meant we were going to see the tunnel after all!

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The road leading to the tunnel was beautiful.  The native name for this area is Mukuntuweap, meaning either straight canyon or straight up mountains, depending on the source.  William Howard Taft declared this to be Mukuntuweap National Monument, but the Mormons complained loudly and the acting National Park Service director at the time bowed to their pressure and changed it.  No matter which name is used, either one describes this place perfectly.

Once we passed through the mile long tunnel, we came to one of Zion’s unique features…

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…Checkerboard Mesa.  This sandstone hill is unusual in that it not only has its horizontal layering lines, but also has vertical cracks, believed to be caused by expansion and contraction.

After lunch, the four of us headed to the end of the canyon and hiked Riverside Walk, a trail that leads to the Narrows.  That last trail was closed, as the water level was too high in the Virgin River.

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Our mode of transportation to get there was the Zion Shuttle, a bus and trailer combination that is unlike any system we had seen at other parks.  It was fast, efficient and rarely over-crowded.  The tilted roof vents funneled the canyon air in, which kept us cool.  The secret to their system is that they don’t have to compete with other vehicles, as the parks roads are closed to traffic during most of the year.  There also is a lot of them, so there isn’t a long wait at the bus stop. Do take into account that we were there before Memorial Day; chances are that it is busier during the summer.

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Nancy pointed out this beautiful waterfall at the Temple of Sinewava.  This is an emphemeral waterfall, in that it only appears after a rainstorm.  The following day, it was gone.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our day with Nancy and Bill; we will see you two down the road. 🙂  Thanks for the Jeep tour and the great day!

Our next day saw us arriving early…a key to getting a space in the Visitor Center parking lot.  From there, we used the shuttle to explore the rest of the stops in the canyon.

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This huge Fremont Cottonwood tree at the Zion Lodge is over a century old.  As big as it is, it pales in comparison to the height of the canyon walls.  From the lodge, we hiked across the river to Lower Emerald Pool.

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From the bridge, it is apparent how swift the river was running.  Due to trail damage, the trail didn’t go beyond Lower Emerald Pool.

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Still, the view from here was amazing.

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The trail continued behind the waterfall…

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…to the place where the rockfall occurred.  This isn’t Disney, folks.  Glad no one was on the trail when this happened!

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When we got back to the bridge, we had a bit of a traffic jam.  Still another example of the different ways to enjoy Zion.

Once back at the lodge, we headed up the Grotto Trail.

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This cabin was built in 1924 to house the park museum.  It now is housing for the artist-in-residence, and is the oldest building in Zion.

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The Grotto was also a good place to see wildlife, including this bluebird.

From there, we went to Weeping Rock, which is a formidable wall of dripping sandstone.  The thing that stood out at this location was not so much the wall itself, but the view of the canyon the trail afforded.

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This is one of the best overall views of the valley that doesn’t require a significant vertical hike.  Had it not been for others wanting to see this same view, we could’ve stood here all day long.  🙂

To round out our visit, we continued on to the shuttle stop at the Temple of Sinewava, a place we had visited the day before with Nancy and Bill.  Our reason for this visit was because we had heard there were California Condors frequenting the area.  You may recall that we had been trying to see them at the Grand Canyon.  While we did see some large birds soaring here, we determined them to be turkey vultures.  Will we ever see a condor? Obviously not here, but what we did notice was the traffic jam 900 feet up on the Angel’s Landing trail.

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At this point, the trail is only a few feet wide and it drops off the same distance on the other side.  Note that there isn’t a railing, only a chain to hang on to…and it is a two way trail.  Again, this isn’t Disney, folks….although this hike would definitely be considered to rival Space Mountain.

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This fellow observer was as interested at the spectacle far above as we were.  We had no plans to join in that fun, but we did view a friend’s outstanding video afterwards where they hiked Angel’s Landing in November a few years back.  In it, Jim had a GoPro mounted above his head looking downward that shows just how narrow this trail is…including the shuttle stop I took my photo from.  You can access their YouTube video by following this link: Vertigo Inducing Video of Angels Landing Hike in Zion National Park .  Again, this trail is not for someone with a fear of heights.  Jim and Barb picked a great time to do it, in that it wasn’t crowded that day.

Our path to Zion was worth the effort it took to get there, and we will make it a point to return to this amazing place someday. The place the Native Americans call Mukuntuweap is one of our favorite destinations on this trip.

Next up:  Our trip plans get shuffled, due to another run-in with altitude sickness.  More on that in our next post, so be sure to stay tuned for that.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

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!