Category Archives: National Parks

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

On Monday, July 10, we took a day trip southwest of Prineville to Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

At 1200 square miles, Newberry is the largest volcano in Oregon.  It is unusual in the fact that it sits east of the line of peaks that make up the Cascade Mountains, although it is very much a part of that chain.  Newberry Volcano is considered active, and with its proximity to the growing towns of Central Oregon, it is constantly monitored for geological changes.  Where most of the volcanos in the region are made up of one dominant mountain, this one is unique in the fact that it has over 400 smaller cones scattered around its main crater.  The main peak collapsed into its magma chamber, similar to what Mt Mazama (now Crater Lake) did.  Although both craters now contain bodies of water, they are very different from each other.  Newberry’s lakes are much shallower and are separated by a volcanic cone and rock that completely span the larger crater.  The national monument encompasses 54,000 acres and is administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

Since this was a day trip, it would have been a rush to hit every feature of this park.  We opted to skip Lava Cast Forest and the Lava River Cave on this visit, hoping to catch them later in the summer.  This allowed us to spend quality time at the other points of interest.

Our first stop was at Lava Butte.

This is a photo looking into the crater.  Lava Butte is a fairly symmetrical cinder cone that sits out on somewhat of a flat plain.  It erupted only once around 7000 years ago, spewing lava to the west. 

 That lava field remains free of vegetation, which really gives a clear view of the footprint of this small volcano.  Towards the end of the eruption, cinders built up around the vent and formed the 500 foot tall butte we see today.

The next spot we visited was the Big Obsidian Flow.

Talk about awesome!  This is a giant wall of black glass that oozed from Newberry Volcano just 1300 years ago.  We climbed the trail that ascends to the top of this geological wonder, being careful not to fall…as it would surely result in sliced skin!  

The hillside glistened in the afternoon sun.  Absolutely beautiful!

Here’s my sweetie with her Junior Ranger badge and obsidian ears!

While we were in that area, we checked out the two lakes in the caldera.  They were both very pretty with plenty of trees surrounding them.  Lots of people boating, fishing and swimming.

The last place we visited was Paulina Peak.  Named after Chief Paulina, the fierce Paiute warrior who defended these lands from settler encroachment, the 7940 foot mountain is the highest remaining point of the Newberry Volcano.

From the top, we had a 360 degree view of the area.  To the west, we could see everything in the Cascades from Crater Lake up to Mt. Adams in Washington. To the east, we could see Idaho and Nevada.  Now that’s exploring vistas!

While we were there, we spoke with this elderly gentleman. 

If you ever feel like you might be getting too old to hike, refer back to this post and this photo. The view from the parking lot wasn’t good enough for him…no, he needed to climb the extra 40 feet to the summit.  You just have to love this guy.   He had a sense of humor also, as Diana asked him what the large sandy area was in the woods off to our northwest.  His reply?  “Alien landing site.”  😉

We really enjoyed our day at Newberry National Volcanic Monument.  If you ever are near Bend, Oregon, be sure to check it out!

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Crater Lake

It all started with a big bang!

On June 22, we headed east from the coast to visit Crater Lake National Park.  We had visited this beautiful volcano-turned-lake in 1996 and have looked forward to seeing it again ever since.  Our friend Rick from On the Road with Maxine and Me had made the trek from Heceta Head a week before us and reported there was plenty of snow still adorning the park.  With temperatures at lower elevations topping 100 degrees, we knew we had to get over there soon if we wanted to see it dressed in white!

The 12,000 foot volcano that once stood where Crater Lake now is was named Mount Mazama.  Geologists estimate that it most likely had a similar appearance to Mt. Hood, which is further north in the Cascade range.  It took around 400,000 years to reach its full height. Sometime back about 7,700 years ago the volcano came to life, rumbling and releasing steam and ash.  Within a few weeks, the mountain erupted with such force that it emptied the magma chamber below it.  In what was estimated to be over the period of just a few minutes, the roof of the chamber collapsed and the top of the mountain fell into it.  It is thought that the force of the eruption was 42 times more powerful than the one at Mt. St. Helens in 1980.  Subsequent eruptions created small volcanoes within the crater, but nothing like the big bang that caused the mountain to implode.  Over the next several hundred years, rain and snowmelt filled the crater, creating the lake we see today.

Above is Wizard Island, which is actually a volcano within the caldera. There are two of these cones in the lake, but one of them is 500 feet below the surface.  The lake is an incredible 1949 feet deep, the greatest depth of any inland body of water in the United States.  No tributaries feed the lake, and the only outflow occurs through seepage.  This keeps the water quality exceptionally pure.  We were happy to see that there was still quite a bit of snow, despite temperatures in the upper 70’s at the crater rim.  😊. The green streaks on the water are a layer of pollen.

The lake gets its iridescent blue color from its massive depth and pristine water.

The drifts were still piled high against the visitor center, but almost all of the parks buildings were open for business.

This viewpoint was one of the few structures yet to be accessed…

…but the park workers were working hard to remedy that!

Edsel was dwarfed by this snowbank!  When we asked the ranger if there were any picnic tables in the park, she pointed to this massive drift and said “Under there”.  Guess we’ll eat in the Escape. 😉

Crater Lake Lodge was hopping with visitors…

…as were the mounds of snow surrounding the rim of the lake!

We saw several Clark’s Nutcrackers while we were there.  This species of bird was first described by William Clark on the Corps of Discovery expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1805.  They are able to carry hundreds of seeds in a pouch below their tongues, which they bury in small caches to eat at a later time. Since they aren’t able to eat the thousands of seeds they store, many trees take root and thereby renew the birds’ food source.

Until this visit, we thought these little inhabitants of Oregon were chipmunks.  By completing our Junior Ranger books, we found out that they are actually Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels.  Chipmunks have a striped head.  Learn something new every day!

Little did we know back in 1996 that it would be 21 years before we returned.  Even though we are hoping to visit again later in the summer, it was difficult to leave this beautiful place this time around.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit Crater Lake, we highly recommend you do so!
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The Mouth of the Columbia River

It is often said ‘Life is short…eat dessert first’.  

On June 15, we headed up to Astoria, Oregon to take in the western end of the Lewis & Clark voyage to the Pacific Ocean.  For a long time, we’ve had an interest in the route that the Corps of Discovery followed from 1804-1806.  Lewis & Clark and their team went on what could arguably be labeled as the greatest camping trip ever. During our vacation travels in the past through the northern plains, we’ve encountered several references to the expedition. In addition, we’ve seen many historical sites regarding their trip in our visits with our friends Jim and Sue in the area around Alton, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri.  We can even date it back to our 1993 trip to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia, where Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis first researched the voyage.  This past March, our friends Fred and Bonnie from HappiLEE RVing urged us to read Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage… a historical biography of Meriwether Lewis…while discussing the subject on the beach in Florida.  They are planning on following the Corps of Discovery route this summer (follow them on their journey!), and it piqued our curiosity.  Having read bits and pieces over the years about the wet and miserable winter the expedition encountered in western Oregon, we had to see the area for ourselves! Our close proximity to the mouth of the Columbia River while we were working at Heceta Head Lighthouse made it possible.  Yes, we were eating dessert first, but we know from experience that life can indeed be short!

The Corps of Discovery sites around the mouth of the Columbia River include locations in Oregon and Washington State Parks, as well as the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park.  The first thing the group encountered was the area along the north shore of the Columbia that William Clark noted as “a dismal little nitch”, as depicted in the drawing above.  

It’s now a tight little bend in US-101 between the Astoria Bridge and a rest area.  Still, it’s easy to envision the expidition being holed up for several stormy days between the rocky shore and the mountainside.

The Corps moved from there to Middle Village.  There is a nice display of the canoes the Clatsop Indians used back then.  It’s not far down the river from Dismal Nitch, still on the Washington side of the Columbia.  It was from that base camp that they first ventured out to the shore of the Pacific.

This is the current view at Cape Disappointment, Washington, which is where Lewis & Clark first saw the mighty ocean’s surf.  Even with the jetties, it is easy to imagine the scene as they viewed it over 200 years ago.

Back at Middle Village, the Corps voted to cross the river into present day Oregon to find a suitable place to spend the winter of 1805-1806.  It was there on a small tributary that they built Fort Clatsop.

This building is a re-creation of the original fort.  The property includes a very nice visitor center that features a couple of movies on the expedition, along with several exhibits that detail the voyage.

There is also a trail from the fort to the canoe landing.  This was a protected area off of the Columbia tributary, now known as the Lewis & Clark River.  From there, the fort was just a few hundred yards away.

After seeing the fort, we drove down to Seaside, Oregon and found the location of the Salt Works.

Situated in the middle of a present-day neighborhood, the Salt Works was identified by a Clatsop Indian woman in the early 1900’s.  Her grandfather had told her of the site when she was a child.  This is where the Corps boiled seawater to get salt to preserve meat for their trip back east in the spring.

Just south of that was Haystack Rock.

Named for its resemblance to a farm haystack, this beach is where the dead whale washed ashore that Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea and several others came to get blubber and oil.  It is located at present day Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Even though the surrounding area was developed with modern buildings and roads, just being able to see the actual locations of the Lewis & Clark sites helps paint a visual image in our minds as to what they endured that winter.  Lewis was very descriptive in his journals and we had a good idea of what we were going to be seeing.  But no matter how good the description, there really is no substitute for putting ourselves on the same soil the Corps of Discovery occupied.  It has given us a desire to check out more of the Lewis & Clark Trail, and we hope to do so in the future!

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Kings Canyon National Park

We almost didn’t go….

After a very full day on Wednesday, May 10 at Sequoia, we planned to spend Thursday getting caught up on chores and such.  We planned our visit to Kings Canyon for Friday, still not totally sure what we were going to find there.  We seriously considered skipping it all together, as a quick check of Google Street View wasn’t revealing much more than a tree-lined road.  Well, something stirred in us that Thursday morning and before we knew it, we were in Edsel and headed for Sequoia’s brother to the north!

Rather than take the same road we took the day before, we decided to try the road that ran west of Sequoia through the foothills. What started out as a two lane road with painted lines quickly turned into a narrow country lane, somewhat reminiscent of the roads we experienced in Kentucky.  I had to tame my inner Formula One driver, so as to not go over the side. 😉. The road gained elevation as we went, eventually leading us to the entrance to Kings Canyon.

Looking at this photo and the previous one, it’s hard to believe they were taken an hour apart!  Our fears of a cloudy day soon dissipated as we drove further into the park.  We stopped at the Grant Grove Visitor Center to gather more information about Kings Canyon and ended up speaking to Ranger Meredith, a seasoned dynamo full of enthusiasm for her beloved workplace.  That stop paid off in gold as the day progressed. As we headed to the heart of the canyon, the road actually leaves the park for a stretch and enters Giant Sequoia National Monument.

This outstanding area was elevated to monument status in 2000.  The road through it is the only way to get into the main portion of Kings Canyon. With most of the turnouts on the opposite side of the road, we opted to catch them on our way back home.  Seeing what we had to look forward to was like knowing we were going to have a great dessert after our meal.  😃

One thing Ranger Meredith asked us was “Any geologists here?”  We expressed our interest, so she told us to go exactly 1/2 mile past Boyden Cave and look at the rock wall on the driver’s side.  She said that even though there isn’t a pulloff, stop in the road and take a photo…and if the cars behind us didn’t like it, too bad.  😉

Wow!  I guess this says a lot about the makeup of subterranean California!

From there, we headed upriver to Grizzly Falls.

This powerful torrent was the culmination of Grizzly Creek just prior to it entering the Kings River.

From there, the road re-entered the national park.  Our next stop was Roaring River Falls.

It definitely was roaring!  Diana asked a NPS trail worker what we could expect to see in July, if we had come then instead.  He said that the river would actually be higher in July, as the warm temperatures would be melting the mountain snowpack more quickly than it currently was.  

From there we went to Zumwalt Meadow.

We crossed this suspension bridge along the way.

We also had to cross over this flooded pathway, as a small creek was over its banks in this section of the trail.

This was the payoff at the end of the trail!  It was a very peaceful place to be.  From this point, the road went just a little farther to a place called Road’s End.  Diana spoke with three hikers there who had crossed the Sierras from the east.  It took them six days.  They had snowshoes as part of their gear, and they mentioned that there still is a lot of snow at the higher elevations.  There are several trails that leave from Road’s End that are more our speed, and we definitely want to return to try them in the future.

Heading back out the same road, we had a little surprise along the way.

Three wide load trucks with what appeared to be some sort of temporary housing units on the back came by!  I was over as far as I could possibly get, and had a few thousand foot drop off to my right.  Yikes!

The difference in height between the river and the mountaintops is around 8200 feet, making Kings Canyon one of the deepest canyons in the United States!  

As I stated earlier, we almost didn’t make the trip that day.  The next morning, the clouds hung at 2000 feet, so we wouldn’t have seen much of anything.  We were glad we made the effort when we did, so we were able to see the spectacular scenery that Kings Canyon has to offer.

Though it is a bit of a challenge to get to, take the time to experience it.  You won’t be disappointed!

Next up, we head towards Napa Valley!  Be sure to stay tuned!

Sequoia National Park

At a coffee shop in Kentucky last November, we scheduled a five day stay at Yosemite National Park as part of our trip to Oregon from Florida.  Record rainfall this winter took out a couple of key bridges between the campground we had reserved and Yosemite, and it would have increased the trip into the park to 2-1/2 hours.  While considering our options, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks showed up on our radar.  A few phone calls later, our new destinations were set!

These two parks are operated as one administrative unit, but are vastly different.  With that in mind, we will give Kings Canyon its own post following this one. We arrived on Tuesday, May 9 and set up base camp at Kaweah Resort in Three Rivers, just outside of Sequoia’s southwest gate. We drove up to the visitor’s center and picked up our maps, information, and our Junior Ranger book.

The next day we set off to discover Sequoia National Park!

As we entered the foothills, it quickly became evident that the roads were full of curves and hairpin turns.  It was seldom that we cleared 30 miles an hour, which was just fine with us.  There were plenty of turnouts to allow us to get over and let those with a tighter schedule to pass.  It was in these foothills that Moro Rock first came into view.  Knowing there was a pathway to the top, we headed that way.

Our first stop was at Hospital Rock.

This gigantic boulder was the winter home for up to 500 Potwisha Indians, and features several petroglyphs.  Hale Tharp, a settler originally from Michigan by way of Placerville California, gave the rock its name after two acquaintances of his were treated by the natives there for injuries they had sustained elsewhere in the mountains.

Just before Moro Rock is a trail leading to Hanging Rock.

Not exactly a place a person would want to be in a rain, ice or snow storm.  😉 The view from there was outstanding!

The trail does offer one of the better vantages of our next destination.

After the Hanging Rock Trail, we then began our ascent up the spine of Moro Rock.  The 350 rock stairs were fashioned in the 1930’s by the CCC and provide a fairly (but not totally) safe route to the top.

This is definitely one place where you want to heed the Stay on the Traîl signs!

Looking back, Hanging Rock can be seen in the center of the photo.  That’s quite a drop off.

The view from the top is breathtaking!  We want to note that this is not a place to be if there is a threat of bad weather.  Lightning can be an issue up here.  We also saw one woman scooting back down on her bottom, so a fear of heights comes into play on this climb.

From the vistas of Moro Rock, we descended into the forest that this park is so famous for.  Actually, the word descended  is a misnomer.  We gained a fair amount of elevation before we reached the taller sequoia trees.  That boggled our minds as typically the higher the elevation, the shorter the trees. That’s not the case here!

Words can not describe how impressive these trees are.  That tree is most likely well over 1000 years old.  The small tree to the left is also a Sequoia.  The bark on these trees is soft and squishy, about the consistency of a ripe avocado.  As you can see on the smaller tree, the needles are similar to a cedar or arborvitae.

They actually grow in a mixed forest.  There are several groves of them scattered around the park.

And there’s Diana waving from Edsel in the Tunnel Log!  

We traded photography duties with a couple at these twin sequoias.  One of the trunks showed a large forest fire scar.  These giants rarely succumb to fire, as the bark is flame resistant.  The trees have a surprisingly shallow root system, considering their size. The usual cause of death is that they simply lose their balance and fall over.



Which is exactly what happened with the Buttress Tree.   This giant actually toppled over in 1959 on a clear day with no wind.  It’s remarkable how little it has decayed since then.

And here’s two sequoia wannabes with the real deal!  I guess this could be called a shameless sequoia selfie. 😉

Of all the mammoths in Sequoia National Park, one stands larger than the rest.  In fact, it is the largest tree by volume on the face of the earth!

The General Sherman Tree!

This coniferous colossus is estimated to be 2200 years old!  To give visitor’s an idea how tall it is, the trail from the parking lot 1/2 mile away begins at treetop height (275 feet).  Walking back up the trail afterwards…at an altitude of 6000 feet above sea level…really drives the point home.  This tree is simply magnificent.

Next up is Sequoia’s neighbor to the north, Kings Canyon National Park!  Be sure to stay tuned!

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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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 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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The Manitou Islands

Approxametely 15 miles west of Leland, the Manitou Islands rise from Lake Michigan. This archipelago is a vital part of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, yet very few visitors ever get there. A few weeks ago, Diana discovered a trip that the Leland Historical Society was taking to both North and South Manitou Islands on the same day. Ferry riders normally get to choose between one or the other, and the transit schedule North Manitou requires overnight tent camping. This once-a-year trip offered both islands! Seeing that we had never been to either one, we decided to join the tour. Joining us would be our friends Camilla, Lane and Patti. The trip was supposed to take place on Tuesday, August 23, but it was delayed two days because of strong southwesterly winds. As luck would have it, that put the trip on Thursday, August 25th…the 100th birthday of the National Park Service!

We arrived at Fishtown in the village of Leland, ready for adventure! For those who have never been to Leland, Fishtown is the historic dock where Lake Leelanau empties into Lake Michigan. Some of the old fish processing shanties have been turned into a collection of gift shops, while others still house fisheries.

Our vessel for this special trip was the 52 foot Manitou Isle. Built in 1946, she has seen a lot of use in her 70 years. The larger and newer ferry on the left is the one that is used daily.

On the way to the islands, we passed the North Manitou Shoal Light Station. This lighthouse was built in 1935 and was the last manned offshore light on the Great Lakes when it was automated in 1980. It sits in 26 feet of water and the focal plane of the light is 79 feet above the surface of the lake. The sea birds sure appreciate it! The lighthouse is currently up for auction, with a bid of $10,000 already posted online. If you are considering bidding on it, be warned that it is still active…including the fog horn. 🙂

As we approached our first stop, the South Manitou Light Station came into view. 

After years of visiting this region, we’ve finally made it to South Manitou Island! The smaller of the two isles, South Manitou is 8.2 square miles. There is a ranger station that houses a few seasonal workers, but no permanent residents. That’s not to say it was always that way though. The island has been home to lumbermen, farmers, lighthouse keepers, and lifesaving crews. 
 

This relief model of the island shows how the western side is dominated by dunes. Both North and South share this feature, as do the Fox islands to the north, as well as most of the shoreline of the mainland in Leelanau County. The model also shows the crescent-shaped harbor, which is the only natural deep water harbor between Buffalo, NY and Chicago. The football-shapes in the water are shipwrecks. The one on the right is the latest shipwreck, the Francisco Morazan…a 234 foot steamer which ran aground in a November gale in 1960. Most of the vessel is still visible above the waterline. Time constraints did not allow us to visit the wreck or the giant 500 year old cedar trees that stand west of it.

If you recall in my previous post, Port Oneida Fair, I spoke of a ship owner named Thomas Kelderhouse. On this day, we were honored to have our tour guide be his great-great-great granddaughter, Kim Kelderhouse! Here she is explaining the legend of the Sleeping Bear, which is how the dunes and the national lakeshore received their names. According to Native American folklore, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a great forest fire in Wisconsin. Knowing their only escape was to get to the other side, they swam day and night. The cubs lagged behind and drowned just off the Michigan shore, where their mother waited for them. The Great Spirit eventually covered the cubs with sand, creating the Manitou Islands. As the mother bear slept, he also blanketed her, creating the Sleeping Bear dunes. As Kim stated, it is indeed a sad tale.

After leaving the dock area, which is where the former lifesaving station stands, we split up into two groups. One group headed to the farm and cemetery, and our group headed with Kim to the lighthouse.

South Manitou Light Station was first established in 1840. The original tower was replaced in 1858 by the cream brick structure in the photo above, which had a lantern room on top. It was deemed that light was too short (64 feet), so the current tower was built in 1872, closer to the water. It has a focal plane of 104 feet above the lake surface.

Kim explained how the spiral staircase is only supported in the center. If it were attached to the sides, the tower would crumble as it shifted in the wind and the stairs pulled at the walls. I’ve been to many lighthouses over the years and never knew that fact. Learn something new every day!

The third order Fresnel lens is a replica. The light shines nightly from May through October.

Here’s the motley crew on the lighthouse gallery!

Kim took us into the keeper’s quarters, which is awaiting restoration. The windows were recently replaced, thereby stabilizing the building.

The lack of a ceiling upstairs allowed us to see this interesting twist in the chimney, which made it possible to exit the roof without disrupting the rafters.

From the lighthouse, we headed back to the boat and headed off to North Manitou Island.

Just a couple of kids out for a boat ride.  🙂

As was the case at our previous stop, North Manitou Island’s dock is near the lifesaving station.

The unique thing about this location is that it is the only remaining station to have buildings that were used from the beginning of the Lifesaving Service through the Coast Guard.  This boathouse is the only remaining example that used the original 1854 standardized plans, and it was built that same year.

The 1877 Lifesaving Station was a combination crew quarters and boathouse.  It was later converted to quarters and a storehouse by the Manitou Island Association, and then to a dormitory by the National Park Service.

As was the case on South Manitou, North started out in the lumbering business selling cordwood to passing steamers.  When the trees were exhausted, the Manitou Island Association formed, which farmed the land.  A large barn from the farming era still exists to the north of the village near the dock.

A unique feature on North Manitou is Cottage Row.  There are 10 parcels that were owned by successful Chicago business owners who vacationed  here in the summer months.  The cottages on these lots were built between 1893 and 1924.

This cottage, the Monte Carlo, was designed by a 26 year old Frank Lloyd Wright when he was employed at the Sullivan firm in Chicago.  It was built in 1894.

Also built that year was the Trude-Fiske cottage.  It remained in the family until 1979.

The Wing Cottage was also built in 1894 and was owned by several families over the years.  Note the fieldstone foundation.

The Riggs-Londergan Cottage was built in 1924.  The Manitou Island Association purchased it in 1958.

This is the Katie Shepard Hotel, which is currently being restored by Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear volunteers.  It was built in 1895.  Although plans aren’t firm, the thought is that visitors will be able to use it as an alternative to tent camping, similar to a hostel.

There are a few other cottages, including one that was ordered out of the Sears catalogue.  Diana found it interesting that, of all the places these wealthy city dwellers could have chosen to spend their summers, they decided on an island in northern Lake Michigan without electricity or running water.

From North Manitou, we headed back to the mainland to the dock at Fishtown.

Camilla took one of her famous selfies to document our safe return!  What a great day with friends!

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