Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #13

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

 Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #13

Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers…..the mind can never break off from the journey. 

Pat Conroy

Wednesday, April 18, 2012:  It was a cold and rainy morning as we arose with the dawn after sleeping in the parking lot of the Chippewa Tribe Casino.  Sounds like the lead sentence of a bad novel, doesn’t it?  However, it’s all true.

We enjoyed a very restful night and still can’t believe our good fortune last night…..locating the only safe camping opportunity for many miles around just when we needed it and at no cost!  True “Road Magic” again!!

Back on US-2 at 0930 and heading east along the south shoreline of Lake Superior in Wisconsin.

Within the hour we crossed over into Eastern Time Zone, a sure sign that we are heading home, and entered the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan.  Folks in these parts are known as Yoopers and are an unusual and hardy bunch.  Most everyone we were to meet proved to be friendly and had a general zest for life.

Near Wakefield, Michigan we moved over to state highway M-28 and continued to follow the shoreline.  Stopping in Marquette for fuel and groceries I inquired about any open campgrounds and learned that just a few miles east of town is a place called Gitche Gumee…..the Indian name for Lake Superior.  Pulling off M-28 and down a narrow dirt road we came into view of the campground.

Gitche Gumee is owned by a very interesting and quirky gentleman named Jeff who interrupted his work on a large bulldozer to meet us at his lodge.

Jeff’s campground service vehicle is a 1953 Chevrolet Sedan Delivery he has had for many years.  It is powered by an old Corvette engine and is pressed into service for many campground tasks.

One of which was guiding us through the woods to our full hook-up site for the evening.

After a walk down to the lake and making a few phone calls we settled in for the night and enjoyed some reading before dropping off to sleep.

Thursday, April 19, 2012:  I was up early and out on scout and patrol about the Gitche Gumee Campground.  Jeff was down by the office so I stopped to visit and get his story.

Apparently, when Jeff first laid eyes on this land he had just graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Electrical Engineering.  Finding a job in Jackson Hole he supplemented his income by being a ski instructor at the famous ski area.  However, wanting to live near his home town, Jeff and his new wife Nancy left Wyoming in 1974 and bought 52 heavily wooded acres in Michigan where they proceeded to clear a building lot.  At the time of purchase there was only an old jeep trail and little else.  He hand built a log home from trees on his property and looked for engineering work in the area.

Deciding that a campground on the shores of Lake Superior would be a great business opportunity, Jeff did all the work to grade the roads and put in campsites with water, electricity and sewer connections.  After the campground started to turn a profit, Jeff continued to design and build a log bath house, office and an octagonal lodge building with a central stone fireplace for community gatherings……all with his own timber and using his own hands!

We often meet the most interesting people with the most fascinating stories while on the road…..Jeff was just the latest.

At around 1120 we broke camp and headed out by continuing on M-28 heading east.  Within an hour if started to rain…..then the rain turned to snow flurries and then the flurries started to accumulate on the road.  Just when we thought we might have to retreat to the campground we just left, the sun peaked out.

Continuing east we ironically passed through Christmas, Michigan before stopping at a National Interagency Visitors Center in Munising.

The park ranger was very informative and helpful, loading us with maps and brochures on both The Hiawatha National Forest and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  We heard the all too familiar warning that the campgrounds were not technically open yet.  However the ranger said to feel free to find a spot anyway in one of the three drive-in campgrounds in the National Lakeshore.  She also said that the self-registration station was secured for the winter so there was no way to pay the $7.50 senior rate and that the camping would be free!  In addition, her son, a park ranger as well, would come by periodically to check up on us!  Gotta love the National Park Service!!

Moving over to County Road H-58, a park service road, we continued east entering the Hiawatha National Forest.  The weather broke and the skies began to clear.

Checking out the campgrounds within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore we choose the lower Hurricane River facility and picked a nice secluded spot.

Secluded because the closest human being to us was probably 20 miles away.  As far as we could determine, we were the only campers in this 73,000 acre park.

So what is a Pictured Rock?  Well, they are colorful sandstone cliffs…..some rising over 200 feet above lake level.

Their coloration comes from minerals being leeched out of the stone due to the forces of erosion.  In addition the lake is crystal clear imparting a turquoise hue to the shallow water.  The best views of the formations are from the water.  However this early in the season there is no safe way to get on the lake and paddle around the formations.

There have been times that Kit notices a neat photo opportunity that I had missed.  While we were at the overlook for Miners Castle, she noticed a low rectangular window for kid level viewing.  Mentioning that it would make a nice frame for a photo, I agreed and this was the result.

Pretty neat, huh?  Notice the cave at the bottom of the cliff?  The hole penetrates clear through the cliff and as wind driven waves hit the far side, the pressurized water pours out the cave opening…..pretty amazing to watch.

Back at the campground, Kit wanted to have some quiet time, which is Kit speak for go away Bill and do something somewhere else.  So I decided to take a hike on the North Country Trail that parallels the lakeshore.  After about 2 miles I came to the Au Sable Lighthouse built in 1874 and it is still an active navigational aid today.

The light warns mariners of the treacherous Au Sable Point reef which extends a mile out from the lakefront, and in places is only six feet underwater.  The solar powered light is maintained by the US Coast Guard and the light tower and associated buildings are maintained by the National Park Service.  Incidentally, there is no way to drive to the lighthouse, only the footpath from a parking area in the campground provides access.  The day I visited, there was no one there, however during the summer season volunteers live and interpret at the facility for a week at a time…..great volunteer opportunity I’d say!

For my return hike, I decided to walk the Lake Superior Beachfront.

In many places, the packed sand was replaced by smooth stones and the walking became more difficult.

The smooth round and colorful stones offered a neat photo opportunity when paired with the surrounding reddish sand.

I particularly like this photo with the seagull foot prints about…..or would that be lakegulls? Can never get that straight.

This stretch of Lake Superior is known as “shipwreck coast” and true to its notoriety there are many hulks resting on or near the sandstone reefs.  Some hapless ships were holed by the reef and blown to shore by violent winds where they foundered on the beach.  This is the remains of the Steamer Sitka that ran aground in 1904.

The ravages of time and the salvage efforts of the locals leave only the bottom longitudinals and their associated iron fasteners remaining.  The three shipwreck sites within Pictured Rocks are now protected by the National Park Service.

It was getting late and I didn’t want the tide to come in and catch me on the beach so I picked up the pace and made it back to camp safe and dry.

As night fell we realized just how remote we were.  There was virtually no ambient light, and due to the cloud cover, there was no effect from the moon and stars…..it was pitch black!

Perfect for telling scary camp stories, but alas…..Kit was asleep already.

Friday, April 20, 2012:  Up and after a nice breakfast and walk about the park we were once again on the road.  It is 1000 and a cool 39 degrees under partly cloudy skies.

We traversed the remaining part of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by completing the park road.  As we exited the east side of the park, we found ourselves in the town of Grand Marais, Michigan and noticed this intriguing sign for a local business.

Turns out that Pasties are a form of meat pie introduced to the UP by Finnish miners in the 1800’s…..they are still popular today.

Dropped down to State highway M-28 once again to connect with M-123 which took us north toward Whitefish Point, Michigan.

Driving through several small towns we discovered the average resident was pretty patient and tolerant of travelers.  Then there was this turkey, who jaywalked across the highway right in front of our rig causing a panic stop!

Now you would think the local politicians, who are probably the jay walkers’ kin, would erect signs that indicated there were fast moving RV’s ahead driven by clueless tourists and to proceed with caution.  Most likely, it would do no good as I’m convinced these turkeys would just ignore the signs.

At the end of M-123 we reached Paradise, Michigan which is hard up against the shore of Lake Superior.

Turning left we followed a local road to Whitefish Point that marks the entrance into Whitefish Bay.  The Soo Locks of Sault Saint Marie lie just to the east and these waters are the final resting place of over 240 sunken ships, including the SS Edmund Fitzgerald of which the singer Gordon Lightfoot chronicled.

The shipwreck carnage is in spite of a very powerful Lighthouse, radio navigation beacon and fog horn built on the point.

Still, regardless of the risk, dozens of massive 1,000 foot freighters pass this way on a daily basis.

Belying the treacherous nature of the rocks and shoals that exist just off shore the beach is littered with those now familiar smooth and colorful stones.

Retracing our route down M-123 we eventually had to move over to I-75 in order to cross the straits on the Mackinaw Bridge.

As it was getting late we decided to make our way to Wilderness State Park where we found a nice campsite on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Following dinner we sat on the sand and watched the sun as it set in the western sky.

Saturday, April 21, 2012:  Up and on the road by 1030 under sunny skies and temperatures of 41 degrees.  We decided to stop in Mackinaw City to see if there was much open this early in the season.  Parking was no problem as the main street was virtually deserted.

Turns out that Mackinaw City is not a city at all, but rather technically a village due to the small population.  The original city fathers thought naming it a city might be proactive as they were sure their little village would grow…..nope, not yet.

Mackinaw City is a summer tourist town and is the gateway to Mackinac Island three miles offshore in Lake Huron.  The only other tourist dumb enough to visit this time of year was this Canadian fella.

Hey…..I think I saw this guy in old Orchard Beach last summer enjoying some Salty Vinegar Fries and Fried Dough.

As suspected, most of the shops were just now being set up for the summer tourist traffic.  I bet this place is booming come July!

I did find a kite shop and although it wasn’t officially opened the owner welcomed me in and we talked kite flying for an hour or so.  Kit found a few gift shops open and more importantly was able to acquire some Mackinaw Fudge which we enjoyed for lunch.

Leaving Mackinaw City we decided to travel on US-23 which parallels Lake Huron’s eastern  shoreline.  We wandered through the coastal towns of Cheboygan, Rogers City and Presque Isle before arriving in Alpena, Michigan late in the afternoon.

We decided to stop for the night at the Joint Military Training Base in Alpena.  A rather large base that provides training for all branches of the US Military and State Militias as well as local, state and federal law enforcement.  There is a campground on base located right on the Thunder River.

Why is such a placid stream called Thunder River you ask?  Well, before the damming of this wild and scenic waterway there were large rapids that made a lot of noise so the name fit.  However after a few hydroelectric dams were built the river has been tamed considerably.

As has been our experience, there was only one other camper in residence so we set up on a nice site and watched as the sun set in the western sky over the Thunder River.

Sunday, April 22, 2012:  Woke to frigid temperatures…..26 degrees to be exact.  However with the heater set to come on at 45 degrees we were OK.  I got up, raised the thermostat, jumped back in bed and waited to start my day.  Soon our cozy camper was comfortable enough to get up make coffee and check the news of the day on the laptop.  A few hours later Kit rolled out and we enjoyed a nice breakfast before breaking camp and heading out.  We were supposed to sign in and pay at Lodging Services on the way out, but being a Sunday they were closed so I left them a note.  Have no idea what the stay will cost but doubt it will be very much.

Continuing along the coast on US-23 we passed Squaw Bay, Harrisville, Au Sable, Alabaster, and Pinconning before arriving at Bay City where we stopped for lunch.  Over taco’s we decided to continue by traversing “the Thumb” of Michigan’s mitten…..yep, look it up on Google Maps.  So we spent the rest of the day following US-25 or every shoreline road we could find as we wound our way north than east than south about the thumb.

Most towns were called Port something or other, we drove through Bay Port, the self-proclaimed “Home of the Fish Sandwich Festival” before encountering Port Austin, one of the neatest little thumb towns.

 Port Austin featured many unique old homes and churches.

Since we had recently stopped, we decided to keep rolling.  However this is a spot we want to return to and explore more extensively.

As we continued to head south we crossed the 45th Parallel…..defining the exact halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator.  To demonstrate, if one started from this exact geographic point and walked due north they would likely drown in Lake Huron before making it to the Arctic Circle. So probably should just take their word for it.

Lots of municipal campgrounds along this stretch of Lake Huron coastline, many right on the water…..however, most were closed until May 1st.  Oh well, story of our 2012 Excellent Adventure life.  Next time through we will have to make it a few weeks later in the year.

Nearing Port Huron and the border into Canada we decided to stop for the evening at another great Michigan State Park.  Lakeport campground was right on the Lake Huron shoreline and there was hardly anyone there…..surprise!

We are beginning to get a complex!  Actually traveling in this neck of the woods at this time of the year has advantages and disadvantages.  On the one hand there are no crowds or bugs…..on the other hand it is cold and most touristy places are closed….and on the next hand we kinda like it this way, being three handed freaks that we are.

We did notice that in the state of Michigan, there are very few foreign cars.  Ford, Chrysler and GM vehicles are preferred……which makes sense.  Actually we have noticed that away from either coast and away from the larger cities, American manufactured automobiles are more abundant then those foreign jobs…..no comment, just a casual observation.

As we buttoned up for the night, we noticed that the wind was beginning to pick up and the temperatures were dropping.  I usually do not extend the campers stabilizing jacks especially if we remain connected to the truck and we are only planning on being there overnight.  However I thought it prudent to do so tonight…..good thing.

Monday, April 23, 2012:  Woke to cold and howling winds and the trailer was being buffeted about quite a bit.  Checking the weather on the internet, this condition is going to remain for the next 24 hours.  To complicate matters even more, New England is experiencing a genuine Nor’easter and travel in that direction might be an issue for the next few days.  Soooo, we decided to just hunker down here…..not a hard decision as it is a very nice State Park.

Walking the short path down to the lake I was able to see what effect 40 knot winds from the north have on a large lake such as Huron.

Those are wind driven wave’s folks and even with the gale force winds, the freighters were out making their way to or from Lake Erie.

Sensing that Kit needed some quiet time, I pulled my bike out and spent a few hours exploring the many multi-purpose trails that meander about this large state park.

Some of the trails popped out of the woods and onto the beach.

However the wind and sand conspired against me and I quickly found refuge back in the forest.  Riding along, I came to a remarkable sight.

Not sure what these pretty little white wildflowers are.

 However they framed the trail for a few hundred yards and smelled very nice.

Back at the trailer, Kit was peacefully checking for light leaks in her eyelids, so I quietly grabbed a couple of kites to try in the heavy winds.  The first kite I tried was way too big and pert near pulled me off my feet.  Bringing that one down rather abruptly I tried the smallest kite I own.  Even with that kite flying in such strong winds was a real challenge…..however a blast as well!  Think I need to order a much smaller high wind kite.  Don’t tell Kit……she think’s I’ve gone overboard already.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012:  Up early and on the road before breakfast.  The wind has subsided for now and we want to capitalize on the better weather.  It is cloudy and 43 degrees as we make our way to Lakeport, Michigan.  Spotting a nice looking diner with a number of cars in the parking lot we decided to treat ourselves to breakfast.  Pulling behind the restaurant we find a couple of vacant spots just big enough to park our little truck and trailer.  Turns out, the Daybreak Café is a local institution known for very good and very large portions at a reasonable price.  We order omelets which come with their popular pancakes.

The meal was incredible and should tide us over until dinner.

Taking a detour through the small downtown area we stop so Kit can peruse some Michigan gift shops before we head into Canada.  By 1030 we were heading across the border at Port Huron.

No sooner did we enter Canada than the wind and rain reappeared.  We had originally thought of dropping south to explore the northern shore of Lake Erie as we head east.  However with the crummy weather we decided to stick to the main roads and get across this portion of Canada quickly.  And, before we needed to gas up with very expensive Canadian fuel.

Traveling on Ontario Highway 401 we motored on through largely rural areas of the country.  Come midafternoon it began to snow which alarmed me as the temperature was only 10 degrees!  Now, I know that there is a difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit…..but do the snowflakes know that?  Apparently so as the flakes melted on contact with the road.

By 1600 we crossed back into the United States at the Lewiston, New York border station.

This is the fifth or sixth time that we have crossed a border into the US since 9-11 and by far this experience was the most pleasant.  The Border Patrol agent was courteous and respectful…..even kidding around with us a bit.  Other agents can take a lesson from that guy!

Crossing the Niagara River we noticed a flock of Geese that were flapping their wings like crazy but making very little progress as they tried to fly north.  Some of them appeared to be suspended in midair and a few others gave up, turned downwind and quickly disappeared.  That scene just goes to prove that traveling in this kinda weather is for the birds…..well at least some of the more hardy ones!

The weather was still pretty crummy and the driving was a challenge due to the wind and rain.  We decided to stick to the most direct way to get across New York and jumped on the NY Thruway just east of Buffalo.  After another hour we were beat and decided to stay the night at the NY Thruway Travel Plaza in Clifton Springs.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012:  Up and into the Travel Plaza for breakfast and on the road by 0900.  It is currently 480 miles from home and as the proverbial horse picks up speed as it spies the barn we decided to gallop along today and see if we can make it before nightfall.  Normally our preferred daily limit is less than 300 miles…..however since we don’t have to worry about locating a place to camp and since the weather is still kinda crummy, and since we have lived in the northeast for the past 32 years and have explored this area pretty extensively, we made tracks for home by staying on the NY thruway.

That is until we spotted this sign a few hours later.

So we take the next exit, locate a Best Buy and purchase two hands free phones.  Not sure why NY has this weird law but we had a great time talking to each other with these funny things attached to our ears…..made the miles go by a bit faster as well.

As we left the state of New York we paid our toll of $27.95 for the use of their thruway and crossed into Massachusetts, it was shortly before 1400.  It is still cloudy, windy and rainy but we are making pretty good time on the interstates.

This weekend our Square Dance club is attending the New England Convention in Hartford, Connecticut.  Looking at the map it appears we will be passing just north of the location and we discussed dropping in as a surprise.  However the convention is still two days away and it has been a long trip…..we are anxious to get home and see the kids.  Sorry folks…..maybe next year.

At 1752 we crossed the state border into New Hampshire and twenty minutes later we viewed this familiar and comforting sight.

Followed by the familiar sign that indicates we are getting very close to home.

After an uneventful trip through the Maine countryside on Interstate 95 we arrived home at 1940, or to put it in civilian time twenty minutes to twenty.

Thanks to everyone who elected to share this trip with us and for all the kind words posted as comments on the website.  We have enjoyed reading each and every one of them and they will remain a permanent part of our Travel Journal.

After a few weeks to get accustomed to being home and taking care of all the chores that come with being gone for a few months we will update our lessons learned file and post it to the website.  It’s funny that after 389 days on the road over the past four years traveling 51,512 miles we still learn, or sometimes relearn, new things.

In the meantime here are the raw statistics from this year’s Excellent Adventure:

Days on the Road–107

Total Miles–9,562

Total Gallon–963.2

Average MPG–9.9

Highest Gas–$4.13 in New York

Lowest Gas–$3.10 in New Mexico

Highest Full Hook-up Camping–$37.00 in Sun City, AZ

Lowest Full Hook-up Camping–$7.00 in Gila Bend, AZ

Freebie Camping–27, Thanks Folks!

Kit’s Corner:  As usual, I love spending about 4 months of the year traveling around the US, seeing so many different places and more importantly, visiting with family and friends.  However, it’s SO GOOD to be home!  Our little house feels like a mansion compared to our 176 square foot seasonal home on wheels.  Now, to get busy with unloading the trailer and preparing to put it into storage for a while.  And, more importantly, enjoy our beautiful Maine Summer Season with family and friends!

Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #12

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

 Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #12

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles

Tim Cahill

Wednesday, April 4, 2012:  Today is a major milestone…..I have finally reached Medicare age and can officially start boring everyone I meet with all my aches, pains and ailments…..YEA!!!!

Being the birthday boy I was able to choose to do anything I wanted.  Being a bit too old to successfully accomplish what I really wanted I settled on my next choices:

Spending the day with my good friend and Navy buddy, Larry…..

And his dog, Lena…..

At the cabin on the Little Sioux River…..

Where we fired a few of Larry’s handguns…..

And I could asses my expert marksmanship by viewing the many rounds that found their mark on this previously un-penetrated whiskey sign.

Followed by driving a tractor about a real honest-to-goodness farm…..

Before joining up with Kit and Janice for an incredible meal followed by a festive Birthday Cake…..

What a great day…..turning 65 years old wasn’t too bad after all!

Kit has been working hard to knit an Afghan for Janice the past month or so and was able to present it to her during our stay.

The little pooch by her side is a miniature Dachshund named Levi……don’t they both look comfortable, and warm?

Last year Larry had a herd of sheep and it was lambing season during our visit.  So the frustrated farm boy in me was thrilled to get in and “help”.  However, this year he didn’t bother as the sheep market was shrinking.   Which makes sense as sheep are made of wool, and they stay outdoors most of the time, and it rains in Iowa.  Jeez……even I could have predicted that!

Not having any sheep chores to step into, so to speak, I was able to get better acquainted with his donkey and mules.

One mule in particular took a liking to me…..his name is Custer.

I think we really connected on some kinda Jackass level.  Kit thinks Custer and I share a family resemblance.

Larry’s farm has been in his family for many generations.  Years ago, when farming was the main family enterprise, they had a farmhand that lived in an apartment above the garage.

The apartment is still there, however no one has lived in it for many years.  Larry has plans this summer to tear it down and build a larger garage.

Also scattered about the farm fields were vehicles of yesteryear that had been put to pasture as they were replaced by more modern implements.  Since the price of scrape iron has risen, Larry has decided to cut up and truck to the scrap dealer much of this old iron.  Spotting an opportunity to pick up an authentic farm wagon of my own, I asked Larry about buying one from him for the scrap price it would otherwise bring.  Larry thought that a wagon that would fit my personality was this old horse drawn Manure Spreader.

Not sure how to haul a fully intact manure spreader to Maine, and not sure how it would be received by my neighbors, I decided to ask for just the wheels.

So this summer, when Larry salvages the wagon, he has promised to keep the wheels for me which I will pick up next year.

Thursday, April 5, 2012:  Up and on the road at 0950 under sunny skies and a temperature of 53 degrees.  Jumped on IA-3 then over to US-71 traveling north through Spencer, Iowa and past many fields being prepared for the upcoming growing season.

The US Corn Belt has enjoyed a boom with the development of ethanol which is added to petroleum fuels.  A large portion of the corn crop is harvested and sent to huge grain bins.

The crop is then stored until needed at one of the many ethanol plants that dot the landscape.

Around these parts ethanol, also known as E-85 for its 85% Grain Alcohol and 15% Gasoline blend, sells for a full dollar a gallon less than regular gasoline.  Unfortunately one needs a Flex-Fuel engine to burn ethanol and our truck does not have that capability.  However studies have shown that the lower “energy level” of E-85 which results in an approximate 25% decrease in fuel mileage offsets any potential economic gain.  The main benefit remains the lessening of dependence on imported oil.  Most gas pumps in this area dispense E-85 and often from a common nozzle requiring the motorist to be careful as they select the grade on the pump.  More modern service stations have a separate island for E-85, much as is done with diesel fuel.

At 1330 we motor across the Minnesota state line and make our way to Shetek Lake State Park near the town of Currie for the evening.  The park has just opened for the season and there are no other campers.  The park ranger was kind enough to put us in the Camp Host site so we could have full hook up’s which would otherwise not be available.

After a walk about the grounds and a nice meal, we settle in for the night.

Thursday, April 5, 2012:  We make a decision to stay an additional evening at this nice campground on the shore of Lake Shetek.  This early in the season there are only four employees in the park and we have met them all.  They have gone above and beyond to make us feel welcome and comfortable.  In fact they even opened the historic Koch Cabin for our enjoyment.

As the story goes, the Koch family were German immigrants that had staked a claim in 1859 for this land where they farmed and built their family home.  All was well until an altercation with the Dakota Indian tribe ended their lives.  Their remains rest at a grave marker nearby and the cabin has been restored with period furnishings.

Within the state park there is an island in Lake Shetek that is connected by a causeway built by the CCC in the 1930’s.

Loon Island has a hiking trail that circles the shoreline that Kit and I enjoyed walking.

This was a real treat as Kit seldom accompanies me on my outdoor excursions.

After a very pleasant walk we returned to the campsite and enjoyed a quiet afternoon, dinner and a glass of wine as the sun set over Lake Shetek closing another great day.

Saturday, April 7, 2012:  Up, got dressed, ate breakfast and hit the road at 0900.  Today is a special day as we will finally get to Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota which is just south of the twin cities and the home of my father and his friend Henrietta.

Since there are no Interstates that go from here to there, we decide to stay on the back roads…..yea, I know, big surprise.  So we choose CR-38 which meanders through the western Minnesota countryside.

We soon moved over to CR-11 heading north before taking US-14 near the town of Tracy, MN and heading east.  Being farming country, the roads are laid out in a north-south-east-west grid…..it is virtually impossible to head due northeast toward the twin cities, unless one engages in some agricultural driving.

While enjoying the countryside along the state highway we came to the small town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota and notice it is the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Since we couldn’t agree on what books this famous American author penned we stopped at the visitor’s center.

They weren’t technically open for the season yet but the ladies cleaning and dusting took a break and visited with us for a few minutes.  We were surprised that Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Pepin, Wisconsin…..the birthplace of Kit’s mother, Charlotte.  However, Laura spent her formative years in the small prairie town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota.  Oh, and the books are “The Little House (insert location here)” series.

Back on the road we traveled through the towns of Lamberton (Population 824) and Cobdon (Population 36), before pulling into the metropolis of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota (Population 3,599).

Since it was noon we pulled over for lunch which we enjoyed in the trailer while watching the world of Sleepy Eye move past our dinette window.

After a restful stop, we jumped on US-15 heading north and trundled through the towns of Klossner, Winthrop, Gaylord and the village of Henderson which is located on the Minnesota River.

From here we continued north on US-169 through Belle Plaine, Shakopee and on into Savage, Minnesota where we planned to stay for the night.  Locating the Town and Country RV Park by mid-afternoon, we quickly disconnected the trailer and settled in for a few days stay.

Within the hour we drove over to Inver Grove Heights to visit my father in his nice room at an assisted living facility.

Where Henrietta, a close family friend was visiting as well.

After a nice visit, we went over to Henrietta’s house to drop off the package we had picked up for her in Colorado.  We spent some time getting reacquainted with Gracie and Baby, then enjoyed a nice home cooked meal.  Here is a photo of the little rascal, Gracie.

Back at the campground, we turned in early to prepare for a very busy couple of days.

Sunday, April 8, 2012 through Sunday, April 15, 2012-The Twin Cities area of Minnesota:  The eight days we spent in this area were busy and extremely enjoyable.  In addition to taking care of some family business for my father we enjoyed visiting with the many folks that live in the area.

My father lives in a very nice assisted living facility a short distance from Henrietta and has adapted quite well.  I made it a point to spend a few hours with him most every day.  Being as he was a WWII Navy veteran, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his stories of serving in the South Pacific during that critical time in our nation’s history.  In addition, he was able to relate stories from his childhood growing up during the depression.  He is in the process of updating a chronology of his life and I am anxiously waiting to receive this family heirloom.

Dad retired from 3M Corporation where he worked on cutting edge technology after a military career of working on the earliest computers.  As such, he is very comfortable with technology so I was pleased that I was able to set him up with a new laptop.

During the time that dad and i visited and reminisced, Kit and Henrietta spent time together shopping and going out to lunch.

On April 9th it was Kit’s birthday, and as such it was her turn to do whatever she wanted.  So a full day of shopping was in store (pun intended) for us.  First it was to The Container Store which is a big box (pun intended) store that sells small boxes.  Following that we made a pilgrimage to the Land’s End Inlet store, then out to dinner where she enjoyed a birthday Strawberry Daiquiri.

I wanted to light the straw on fire and sing happy birthday but she thought that might ruin the mood.

After dinner, and much to my pleasant surprise, Kit wanted to stop by REI to pick up a new sunhat.

Looks pretty good for sixtysomething years old, eh?

One treat that Henrietta set me up with while we were visiting the big city was to have dinner with a bunny.  This is something that has been on my “Private Bucket List” ever since I was a young teen reading the articles in Hugh Heffner’s literary periodical.   However an even bigger surprise was in store for me when we arrived.

Not quite what I suspected but still a treat anyway as Kit and I were able to share Easter Dinner with my father for the first time in many a year.

Even though this area of Minnesota is a very large metropolitan area the surrounding Twin Cities communities still have a small town feel and Inver Grove Heights is no exception.  There are many parks that attract wildlife such as these Mallards.

And with the advent of an early spring, the flowering trees were bursting with color.

We ate out most every day, often with Henrietta and even on one occasion with my dad.  One of the nice local places we enjoyed was the Cahill Diner which is within walking distance of Henrietta’s home and owned by one of her friends.  The food was good and plentiful, as evident by the Cajun Omelet I enjoyed.

Kit has some relatives in the area as well.  On one occasion we met up with Kit’s aunt for a nice meal at The Olive Garden.

Aunt Vi, a self-described “tough old swede” is 93 and lives independently at a nice senior housing complex west of the city.  Fortunately her oldest son David lives nearby and was able to join us as well.

We had an enjoyable meal and a great time catching up on family news.

On our last evening in the area, we enjoyed the sunset over the western mountains as we counted our blessings and reminisced about our great stay in this part of the country.

Last fall when we made an urgent car trip out here, my dad was critically ill.  It is with great joy and relief that he has mostly recovered and at 88 years old appears to be doing very well.  It is tough being so far from him and my mother in Arizona but those are the cards we were dealt and everyone is making the best of it.  Fortunately we have some incredible relatives and friends in both areas to be our ears and eyes and to help watch over mom and dad…..we love you and appreciate you all very much!

Monday, April 16, 2012:  Woke up and had a nice breakfast as we discussed the next phase of our trip.  Last year we headed north and hugged the northern shore of Lake Superior and through Canada as we meandered our way home.  On this trip we would like to explore the southern shore of that same lake by heading easterly.  However, Kit’s cousin Billy lives a short distance to the north and they were available to spend some time with us so at 1100 we hit the road on US-13 toward Blaine, Minnesota.  It is cloudy and cold with temperatures in the mid 30’s.

After an unplanned but very rewarding detour through an older part of Minneapolis and Hiawatha Falls Park we made it to Billy’s dooryard where we snugged into his driveway for the night.

Billy and Char have been gracious to us in the past and this time was no exception.  Being fellow RV’rs they know the value of a flat spot to park and an available electrical source, both of which they provided.

Another frequent visitor to their home is a red fox that, like us, comes a begging on occasion.

Foxy’s consistent arrival makes a lot more sense when I noticed Billy tossing some chicken over the fence.  The critter grabbed it and high tailed itself back into the weeds.

After a pleasant visit we all decided to go out to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, Keys Café and Bakery where we had a great meal and literally shut the place down as the cleaning crew was doing their thing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012:  Up to an incredible sunrise……well, at least some of us are.

After Kit woke from her slumber, we made our way into the house for a nice breakfast complete with freshly baked cinnamon rolls and more great conversation.

At around noon we said our goodbyes and hit the road, crossing over into Wisconsin traveling northeast toward the shore of Lake Superior.  We spent the afternoon paralleling the shoreline as much as possible.

Getting late and tired, we started looking for our next camping opportunity.  There are plenty of state and municipal campgrounds in this area, as well as many commercial campgrounds.  However most do not open until May 1st so finding an appropriate spot could be a challenge over the next few days.

Well, road magic was once again with us as we entered the Chippewa Indian Reservation and came upon the Bad River Casino.  Pulling in, we noticed a number of back in parking spots anchored by electrical boxes and water spigots.  Parking in one of these spots I went inside to inquire what it would cost…..turns out the camping is free!

And, even though they have not turned the water on to the sites yet, a very nice American Indian gentleman came out and turned on the electricity for us…..now that’s service!

Stay tuned……our travels are beginning to come to an end for this year and you don’t want to miss what’s next!

Kit’s Corner:  Our travels through Iowa and Minnesota have allowed us to spend time with our old friends, Larry & Janice as well as much needed time with our relatives.  With friends and family scattered all over the US, we are incredibly fortunate to be able to spend some of our retirement years reconnecting with people we hadn’t seen in many years.  We are thankful they have all opened their hearts and homes (driveways) to us and welcomed us into their lives for a short time.  We love each and every one of the people we have visited with during our last four trips around the country.

Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #11

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

 Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #11

 Not all those who wander are lost

J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, March 27, 2012:  Up and on the road at 0955…..leaving Bryce Canyon National Park under mostly sunny skies and a temperature of 31 degrees.  After three great days exploring this magnificent park we vow to return soon.  At this rate we will have to live to 103 to see and/or return to all the incredible places the US has to offer.  Wonder why some folks fly across the pond to tour foreign countries and ignore the sights in their own backyard?

As we meandered our way through the campground we spotted this colorful bird in a pine tree.

My crude bird ID skill combined with the phone app iBird leads me to believe it may be a Stellar Jay.  I hope if I’m wrong, that my bird expert friends David or Dewey will set me straight.

If you ever find yourself wondering what a particular bird is, then the application iBird Pro is a handy reference.  It is available for either iPhones of Droid machines at a nominal price.

Following state highway UT-12 we connected to US-89 and began to make our way northerly.

Interstate 70 is a few miles to the west and basically parallels US-89 but, as has been our modus operandi, we prefer to stay on the back roads.  In fact we feel silly if anyone spots us on any major turnpikes…..wonder why?

Yea, I know that the truck registration will likely expire before we return home.  That’s the beauty of a Veterans Plate…..most cops are Vets!  However one fella asked when spotting the license plate…..”What’s a Maine Backward Veteran?”  Tried to convince him that everywhere I drove was in reverse.  I think he actually believed it!?!?

On the narrow two lane back roads that we prefer, Kit is a valuable asset.  Constantly looking about for any potential road hazard and she also frequently “helps” Lucy with the navigation chores.  Here is a photo of Kit on vigilant watch.

Hope we don’t get stopped by the Homeland Security folks as I think she is knitting an Afghan.

It’s a good thing that Kit is constantly scanning the road ahead as occasionally whole mountains will jump up in front of our intended path of travel.

Now you may be questioning our sanity, traveling as we are north into what is sure to be colder weather…..especially considering that our home on wheels can essentially be pulled anywhere.  Well we have promised to do a favor for a dear friend and that requires us to visit northern Colorado.  So it was either up and over the Rockies via the Vail Pass or more northerly toward Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Considering the projected weather forecast for snow and ice at elevations above 10,000 feet we stayed on the west side of the mountains to ensure safe passage.

We traveled through many small towns…..such as Panguitch, Circleville, Junction, Marysville and Gunnison before fighting our way through Salt Lake City traffic to Hill Air Force Base in Layton, Utah.  Since it was after 1600, we decided to pull in for the evening at the campground where we selected a site next to an interesting family from Texas.  These nice folks were living, traveling and homeschooling their two boys in a nice large fifth wheel trailer.

The father, an Air Force sergeant was in the bomb disposal business and frequently was called upon to travel to various bases to ply his trade.  On one assignment he and his family (sans trailer) lived on the Puerto Rican island of Culebra.  He was there to help clean up a defunct Navy bombing range on the nearby island of Viegues that I had previously spent many a day offshore helping to deposit lead on.  Even though their family disagreed with this couples way of life, we believe they are living an ideal existence, well….maybe except for the unexploded ordnance handling business.  They keep an online journal as well and we intend to follow their travels and exploits.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012:  Today is a down day.  Spent it dumping tanks, sanitizing the fresh water system, tightening up loose screws and hinges, doing laundry, and otherwise relaxing.  Hill Air Force Base sits in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains and is home to the Worldwide Logistics Group, supplying everything from aircraft to staples to forces throughout the world.

The campground is across the street from the USAF gym and next door to a very nice walking track.  With I-pods in place we walked many a lap in the 65 degree sun before settling in for a good nights sleep.

Thursday, March 29, 2012:  Up and on the road at shortly after 0900 under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 40’s.  Choosing US-84 we headed east up into the mountains.

Soon we were bumping up against the clouds with steep mountain peaks on either side.

Hooking up with I-80 we spent the majority of the day staring at high elevation pointy roads.

Interrupted only by the sporadic mountain which the highway engineers decided to punch a tunnel through.

At 1040 we crossed over into Wyoming and pulled into the welcome station where we were met by this fellow.

The sign sez the critter is a Bison…..not sure how it differs from a Buffalo, but either way it’s a big mother.  Yea, you read right…..the sign also said it was expecting and was planning a natural childbirth.  Her name is “Quasimodo”…..well, that’s what I named her anyway.  Yea I know it’s cruel and I should be ashamed of myself but it is very near Easter after all.  On closer examination (of the photo…..not the Bison) I notice a beard and horns……maybe the critter is a big father instead, which would be an animal husbandry miracle.

I’m much better with smaller animals, those with similar sized brains as mine…..like this little fella who was flitting about.

Kit quickly looked it up on iBird and believes it to be a Magpie.  Again, please tell us if we are mistaken.  The Magpie was striking as it took flight…..not in the “bombardment” sense but in appearance.

The stark black and white bird was incredible looking as the wings were almost translucent flashing in the morning sun.

At 1426, and again at 1630 we crossed the Continental Divide…..not sure how that happens unless we were going in circles!

Stopped for a break at a state rest area in the middle of nowhere.  It has been windy all day and as I climbed out of the truck a valuable Wal*Mart bag took to the wind with Kit in hot pursuit.  A hundred yards away she tackled the errant bag as it was slowed by a snow fence and triumphantly raised her arm in the traditional Wal*Mart victory salute.

Thanks to Kit, another beautiful and pristine environment was saved from the scourge of Witches Knickers!

It is 1840 and after a very long, and obviously boring day, we pull into Cheyenne, Wyoming. Where we locate Warren Air Force Base and make our way to their sparsely populated campground for the evening.

Friday, March 30, 2012-Cheyenne, Wyoming:  Decided to take another day off the road so we could make contact with folks in northern Colorado that we wanted to see.

While on base, we decided to take a look around.  Warren Air Force base is home to the 90th Missile Wing responsible for the many ICBM sites spread about Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado.  It is the oldest active Air Force base and was originally established by the US Army in 1867 to help protect settlers and workers in the area.  Interesting…..didn’t know that the ICBM even existed in the 1800’s.

Anyway, the base is designated a National Historic Landmark and most of the early buildings have been restored.  It also houses a very rare facility on an active US military installation……a cemetery.

The base, back in the 1800 was very remote so any personnel that expired were interred within the facility.  Although the cemetery is not in use today, it is still being kept up by base personnel and is listed as a historical landmark as well.

Every once in a while, I notice an object that seems out of place and, therefore humorous…..well, at least to me.  Such was the case at the gate to the cemetery.

Not sure if this was for incoming or outgoing mail, but then again, does it really matter?  Talk about trying to communicate with the dead.

Another unique feature of this cemetery is a separate enclosed area containing nine headstones marking the final resting place of WWII prisoners of war.  This base was one of many remote POW detention camps and some prisoners expired during their stay.  After VE day, the base personnel offered to exhume these folks but there was nowhere for them to return home to so they remained on US soil.

These are being kept up as well and receive the same dignity and attention as the US graves.

We also noticed that scampering about the base is a rather large herd of Antelope playing at home, on the range, without the deer…..guess they’re mad at them.

The buck seemed to be a bit agitated that I was getting a bit close to his posse.

Not wanting to take the bull by the horns, I slowly backed off and went about my business.

That evening, over dinner, we enjoyed a nice sunset over the flat plains of Wyoming.

There is little ambient light in the area of Warren AFB that we are camping in, which makes for spectacular star gazing.  While in Tucson, Dewey told me of a phone app called Google Sky which I have used many times since.  The app is inexpensive to download and much easier to understand and use then a traditional star wheel…..I highly recommend it!

Saturday, March 31, 2012:  Woke to an unseasonably warm morning with temperatures projected to be in the mid 70’s.  Last time we were in this area at this time of the year it was very cold, however Wyoming as much of the rest of the US is experiencing a winter that wasn’t.

Hit the road at 1000 and found our way onto US-25 which took us south toward Colorado where we crossed the state line a half hour later.  Nearing noontime we pulled off in Fort Collins at a nice rest area for lunch and to contact an acquaintance of our dear friend Henrietta.  There are some items she would like picked up and delivered to her home in Minnesota, and since we are in the area and in a week should be in Minnesota, we volunteered to transport them.  With the packages safely aboard we continued south toward the Denver suburb of Aurora for the evening.  Locating Cherry Creek State Park, we selected a nice full hook up site on the edge of a meadow and within walking distance of the reservoir.

After settling in, we made some calls to see if we could visit some friends and relatives that had relocated to the Denver Area.

As it turns out, and much to our disappointment, Kit’s nephew, Josh and his family are staying a few weeks at their condo in Florida so we will not be able to visit with them this trip.

However, the daughter of our old Navy friends Janice and Larry is available and invited us over for dinner.  Off we head a few miles to the east and have an incredible visit with Lora, Gary, Billy and Sarah.

The last time we saw Lora she was six years old and running the streets of Virginia Beach with our daughter Suzie.  Laura is a former Army medic and currently a nurse working in radiology.  Gary, a retired Navy submariner and diver, has had an interesting military career…..spending part of the time piloting a Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle.

After a very enjoyable meal and lots of conversation we returned to or camper for the evening.

Sunday, April 1, 2012:  WOW…..what a difference a day makes!  Woke to this incredible sight!!

There is a truck and trailer in there under all that snow…..it’s also April 1st, funny how stuff like that happens on that specific day of the year?!?!

It is actually warm and sunny so we decided to take another down day.  Kit spent the afternoon reading and knitting while I took off on my bike to explore this 4,000 acre state park.

The park features 35 miles of multi-use trails that wind through the woods and around the 880 acre reservoir, which on this, a warm weekend day, had plenty of activity.

The lake is a man made reservoir, one of many that surround the city of Denver.  Most are filled by large underground aqueducts that gravity feed snowmelt from high up in the Rocky Mountains.  The lakes are used for drinking water, firefighting, recreation and to minimize flooding from any rapid snowmelt.

Came upon these two Canadian visitors enjoying the sun and water as well.

Wonder where their Touque’s and Speedo’s are?

This park in Denver’s back yard also features a model airplane field with an archery range close by…..must be an unusual sporting event in the making.  There is also a gun range in a more isolated portion of the park.

Returning from my bike ride, and finding Kit snoozing in her lounge chair in the shade, I quietly put the bike away.  Then pulling out a few of my kites I made my way to the adjacent meadow to try the winds.  Now generally the best flying wind is near the ocean…..strong and consistent.  However due to the relatively flat terrain in this area I was able to enjoy a few hours of quality flying.

This is one of my newer kites.  It is a very lite, dual line delta and is fast and responsive…..flies kinda like a bumblebee on steroids!  What a blast!

All and all…..a great stay in the Denver area, our only regret was the inability to see Josh, Cindy and Calista.

Monday, April 2, 2012:  Pulled out of Cherry Creek State Park around 1000 under cloudy skies and temperatures in the 30’s…..yep, yesterday topped out at 79 degrees!  In addition there was a very strong wind coming out of the north.  Fortunately we were headed mainly east so other than a bit of buffeting, there should be little effect on our travels.

Wanting to stay off the Interstates, we pieced together a variety of US Highways, County Roads and Farm Roads to make our way toward Iowa.  We were on US-70 heading east for about an hour before deciding to take CR-36 which soon turned to dirt.

As you can see, the road was fairly smooth and we motored along without trouble for the next hour or so…..albeit trailing a large smoke screen worthy of a politician.

Frankly, this road was far more interesting than any Interstate.  First there were the cattle yards…..another interesting political metaphor.

Followed by farmers getting their fields ready for the April 11th planting.

Why April 11th?  Well apparently in this part of the country any farmer that tempts fate by planting early will not be reimbursed by Government Crop Insurance if their efforts fail.

Intersecting US-36 we continued east toward Anton, population 20, and jumped on CO-385 known as The High Plains Highway.  We soon wandered into Nebraska, and the Central Time Zone.  At 1945, dragging our keesters, we decided to pull off and stay the night at Johnson Lake State Park in Byers, Nebraska.  The campground was empty and the water was turned off, however there were no closed signed so we picked a spot next to the water and settled in for the night.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012:  Up early and departed the campground under cloudy skies and a temperature of 42 degrees.  The wind is still strong from the north, our direction of travel, so poor fuel economy is expected.

Johnson Lake State Park looks like a great place to spend a few days in warmer weather.  The lake is large and there are many homes and camps on the shore.  We never did see anyone so we left a note with a check for $10.00…..hope that covers the stay.

Stopped to fuel up in the small town of Bethel, Nebraska.  We pulled into a service station that thoughtfully memorialized the creatures that gave their lives so we could bounce about the US in a 10 MPG vehicle.

Within a half hour we crossed the Platte River and decided to hook up with I-80 to make better time.  Shortly before noon, and tiring of the interstate boredom we moved over to US-30, continuing east and pulled over in Columbus, Nebraska where we treated ourselves to lunch at Dairy Queen.

On the road and after a few hours we reached the town of Norfolk, Nebraska.  We traveled down the center of town on Johnny Carson Boulevard and pulled into a nice town park for a break.  Stretching our legs, we discovered a brand new municipal campground had been developed adjacent to the park.  In talking to the workmen we discovered that today was their official opening, though there were no campers yet.  Fighting the temptation to stay and become known as the first ever to register, we motored on toward a rendezvous with our old Navy friends in Iowa.

We spent the afternoon meandering through Nebraska farm country on US-20 before crossing the Missouri River around 1630 and then meandering through Iowa farm country on US-59.

In order to humor myself, I decided to change the language of the truck’s Driver Information Center to Spanish.  I then began to be informed of the vehicles, Odometro, Viaja, Radio Combust, Consumo Prom and Combust Consumido…..amazing the things that entertain the retiree mind!

Fortunately, before experimenting any more with the truck’s many options, we arrived in Cherokee, Iowa where we accepted the kind offer to Farmyard Surf at my buddy Larry’s family farmstead.

Stay tuned for the Adventures of the City Kid and The Iowa Farm Boy!  Coming soon to an inbox near you!!

Kit’s Corner:  We love wandering through the mountains and farmlands in the West/Midwest.  It seems with every turn we make, we discover new and interesting things to explore and often meet real interesting people to chat with.  I can’t imagine traveling any other way, at least for us.  We miss some of the big city offerings (at least I do), but we find crazy things along the countryside to investigate.  We were bummed to miss Josh, Cindy and Calista.  It’s been 3 years since we’ve seen them.  Next time, for sure.  We enjoyed our visit with Lora, Gary and kids.  We hadn’t seen Lora in nearly 40 years so had lots of things to catch up on.  It was good to meet Gary and the kids for the first time and what a hoot with Sarah, who seems to be a clone of Lora when she was younger.

Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #10

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

  In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world

 John Muir

Friday, March 23, 2012:  We reluctantly leave The Desert Eagle RV Park at Nellis Air Force Base and, more importantly we leave the hometown of our youngest, Suzie, her husband Kevin and our two special little guys, Jack and Tucker.

It is sunny and 69 degrees as we head north out of Las Vegas on I-15.

Within an hour we cross back into the Mountain Time Zone and enter the state of Utah, where we decided to pull off the road at Cedar City for fuel and lunch.

Back on the road and tiring of I-15 we move over to UT-20 and started climbing into the mountains as we make our way through the Dixie National Forest.

Transferring over to US-89 and then onto UT-12 we topped out at 7,920 feet before finding our way to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Flashing our senior pass we motored through the gate and found the only campground open this time of the year was Loop A of the North facility.  Being sparsely populated, we were able to select a nice secluded site for the next few days.

Yep…..that’s snow in the background, the current temperature is 59 degrees but the overnights have been below freezing and a few spring storms have recently cycled through.

As in most National Park camping facilities, there are no hookups.  However we will be fine in our cozy little camper.  Besides…..we have the benefit of The Bill and Kit Power and Light Company if the batteries should run low.

 

Saturday, March 24, 2012 through Monday, March 26, 2012-Bryce Canyon National Park:  Over the three days we spent here, most mornings were clear and cool with temperatures in the 40’s, and the afternoons were relatively warm and pleasant.  There were many birds and critters about, most too quick for me to capture on my camera.

Out for my usual morning amble about a newly arrived at campground, I ran into this unusual and surprising sight a short distance away.

This “trailer” was sitting in a campsite behind a Ford pickup.  It was either the most unusual camper in the world or someone has a real beef with the National Park Service!  Turns out this front nose of an authentic military jet was a static display used at air shows.  Colonel Steve, the gentleman that owned the jet bound trailer, was between shows and decided to spend a few days in the park.

The fuselage is the front of an F-4 phantom from the Vietnam days.  The canopy opens and folks can climb up, sit in one of the two seats, feel what it’s like to sit at the controls of a high performance jet and have their picture taken.  Although the fuselage is not outfitted as a camper, Steve has thought of making it into one.  While on the road he sleeps in his truck mounted camper.  Oh, and Colonel Steve is retired Air Force…..he just thinks the graphics of the Blue Angels team made for better photography.

Bryce Canyon is the upper “step” of the Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau.  It is followed by Zion National Park and The Grand Canyon, which is the bottom step.  Ironically, the visitor’s center of Zion National Park is situated in a canyon and the ones in Bryce Canyon and The Grand Canyon are located on their rims.  After making a few trips to each of these three jewels of the National Park system I can honestly say that my favorite is whichever I happen to be visiting at the moment.  They are all incredible, individually unique and worthy of repeated visits!

On the first morning at altitude I learned an important lesson about the physics of differential pressure.  Apparently when one opens a container of Yoplait Strawberry-Banana Yogurt at an elevation of 8,000 feet that was purchased at a store down at 2,000 feet…..a very colorful and somewhat messy surprise awaits.  Yea…..Kit wasn’t impressed.

This is our second visit to Bryce Canyon National Park, the first being four years ago which was too short and we vowed to return and explore this remarkable region further.  After a quick stop at the visitor’s center for information and maps we drove the 36 mile park road to get a feel for the park.

There are many turn offs and spurs that lead to overlooks featuring views of the incredible topography of this unique National Park…..such as this sight:

And this one:

Also this one:

And yet, another:

These fantastic geologic formations are called Fin’s, Spires, and my favorite formation, hoodoos, also called Fairy Rocks.  Hoodoos are tall thin towers of rock formed by the effect of rain and wind erosion on soft sedimentary rock.  Normally all the soft rock material would be eroded away at the same rate, however in some areas there is an overlying deposit of harder “cap-rock” that prevents this.

The erosion first creates “Fin’s:

And after a few seasons of vertical cracking caused by freezing, the fins deteriorate further and form either hoodoos which are flat topped, or spires which are kinda pointy.

This erosion process is ongoing and the terrain changes from year to year.  The red color comes from minerals trapped millions of years ago in the sedimentary layers of stone.  And, where hoodoos have little color there is less of these minerals.

Occasionally during the rocks transformation from a fin to a hoodoo a unique formation evolves called a window.

These penetrations through a fin of stone usually frame a spectacular image worthy of Mother Nature’s work.  Windows that reach the ground before the top falls in are known as Natural Bridges

A misnomer because flowing water had little to do with the formations development…..rather it was the usual forces of erosion caused by wind and rain on the softest portions of the stone.

One of the most photographed formations in the park is Thor’s Hammer……wonder how much longer before this pinnacle meets the same fate as new Hampshire’s Man in the Mountain formation did a few years back?

Note the shadow cast by Thor’s Hammer on the below canyon wall……a lot of photography, at least for me, is just pure dumb luck!

As incredible as the rock formations were, there was a lot more to keep our interest.  First off, at one of the overlooks, a pair of Raven were posing, much as models would.  They were very used to folks gawking as I was able to get within about six feet to capture the following photo.

His and/or her partner was a short distance away and didn’t appear to be very happy.

I guess I should of offered them a few dollars…..what do I know, there were no hand lettered signs or a tin can or anything!

 

Bryce Canyon, as other area National Parks, were on the Union Pacific Railroads sights for a destination stop.  So in 1924, the railroad folks built track to the park, constructed a lodge and started selling tickets.

The rail lines are long gone but the lodge, and surrounding cottages are still accommodating guests.

The lodge was built with local timbers and stone, try to do that in a National Park today, and the roofs feature a unique shingling pattern.

Oh by the way, that roof is dead flat…..the wavy look is an optical illusion created by how the shingle courses were laid down.  Pretty cool, huh?

One of the days Kit wanted some quiet time…..which is my signal to go away and play.  Since I had read that the two must-do’s while at Bryce Canyon National Park was to view the hoodoos under a full moon and the other being hiking to the bottom of the canyon to walk amongst them.  Since a full moon was another week and a half away, that will have to wait until our next visit.  However, with a whole day to myself a nice long hike was in the making.

Stopping at the visitor’s center for more detailed maps and consultation with the very knowledgeable ranger, I mapped out a nice route that linked three of Bryce Canyon’s premier hikes into a loop trek of about eight miles…..and best of all, I could depart from our campsite!

So at 0915, with pack, food, water and trekking poles I started off.  The Rim Trail passed about 50 yards from the campsite and it connected with one of the below the rim paths called The Queens Garden Trail.

I began to understand the attraction of hiking in this canyon as I dropped below the rim and became eye-to-eye with the formations.

The path meandered through this incredible landscape as it descended some 600 feet over patches of snow and ice.

As I reached the cool canyon floor the Queens Garden Trail intersected with the Peekaboo Trail.

From this unique vantage point the fins and hoodoo’s soared above my head…..making me appreciate the relative insignificance of man when in nature.

Veering off on the Peekaboo Trail the path rose and fell in elevation…..

…..as it looped around the famous Cathedral Formation.

And through narrow canyon passages.

Where the trail could not go around, over or under a particular fin…..a tunnel had been carved.

The following formation was shown earlier in the journal…..however it takes on a whole different look from this perspective.

At midday, the sun reached into the canyon depths, the temperature rose rapidly and the formations seemed to glow.

Along the trail there were many window’s…..this particular arrowhead shaped one caught my eye and camera.

By midafternoon, I was climbing out of the canyon by way of the Navajo Trail.

Once on top, I retraced my steps on the Rim Trail back to the campsite and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and reflecting on the day.  The overall elevation loss and gain on this hike was reported to be 1,631 feet, much of which came from the rise and fall of the Peekaboo Trail on the canyon floor.  By comparison, most of my favorite trails back home feature more elevation change but are summit treks so the gain all comes in the beginning.  The hikes in Bryce Canyon require you to start at the highest elevation and descend, which of course means that at the end of the day, when you are likely the most fatigued, you have to climb back up to the canyon rim.  However it is all well worth it.  It is my opinion to truly experience the magic of Bryce canyon; one must make the trek to the bottom and pause frequently to take it all in.

On the final morning, we woke to a blanket of new fallen snow and bright blue skies.

The accumulation was less than two inches…..however with the wind blowing, drifts reached 5 inches or more!  Fortunately with four wheel drive we were not camp bound so off to the visitor’s center once more to take a leisurely look at the films and displays.

Since a few photos of the canyon with the fresh snowfall and blue sky as accents seemed appropriate…..we drove some of the park road and stopped at selected overlooks.

Like other National Parks we have enjoyed, Bryce takes on a different appearance depending on the time of day and the season of the year.

I bet today would be a great choice to trek down into the canyon and walk among the hoodoos, fins and spires.

However the Rangers are advising against it as the snowfall combined with the overnight temperatures have made some of the trails a bit treacherous.

Back at our campsite we visited with an interesting neighbor.  Dan, a retired HVAC engineer from Colorado, is traveling in a nifty rig.

A one ton Dodge sporting a Lance camper, pulling a flatbed trailer housing a modified jeep and a BMW off road capable motorcycle…..now that guy has his priorities straight!

Well tomorrow we head east, or maybe north, or maybe north east…..time will tell!

Kit’s Corner:  We had a real nice and relaxing time in Bryce Canyon.  Well, I should clarify; I had a nice relaxing time.  Bill is always up and outdoors doing something, anything.  He can’t be cooped up in the trailer during the daylight hours; it drives him (and me) nuts.  So, I take the time to read, knit, play on the computer, get my little bit of housework done and fix dinner.  This system works well for us as it gives us both time to do the things we enjoy.

Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #9

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

 

The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.

Samuel Johnson

 

Saturday, February 25, 2012 through Thursday March 22, 2012-Las Vegas, Nevada-PART #2:  After 14 days on a Nellis AFB partial hook-up site where we had electric and water but no sewer connection, we were able to move to a full hook up site.

During our 14 day stay at the previous site, we only had to dump our tanks once, on day 10…..which is about average for us.  However we did make frequent use of the very clean and convenient bathhouse.

As luck would have it, the word that a site was available was one of the weekends we had the kiddles…..so we made a big adventure out of it.  With their help the move only took twice as long, but was a heck of a lot more fun.

The Air Force base has a lot to keep a 5, 7 and 65 year old kid entertained and since we were chaperoned by Kit no one became lost, overly cranky or got into any trouble…..for the most part.

One of the must see’s, according to all three kiddles, was the USAF Thunderbird Museum and Maintenance Hanger.

The team was at their home base of Nellis preparing for the upcoming show season.  We were able to have a guided tour of the museum, witness some of their ceremonial activities and watch a few of the planes get serviced.  Both the younger kids were able to spend some time in the cockpit trainer…..first older brother Jack had a turn and listened intently as the Technical Sargent explained all the controls, switches and gauges.

Then Tucker hopped in and immediately started pushing, pulling or turning anything that would push, pull or turn.

All the while making jet noises and wearing an ear to ear smile.  Tucker would have spent days in that cockpit if we had let him…..he was none too happy about being unceremoniously ejected.

All three kids scored some nifty souvenirs…..photos, patches, booklets and authentic Thunderbird dog tags.  Here Jack displays his dog tag alongside the one he acquired during our visit last year.

The Thunderbirds are coming to our hometown in Maine this August and everyone on the team that we talked to was looking forward to the trip.

Being on a military installation there is military protocol that active duty service members must follow and civilian visitors are advised to as well…..one of these is evening colors when the American Flag is lowered.  Generally what happens is there is a bugle call signifying “call to colors”, followed by the playing of the national anthem.  All activity on base stops and either a hand salute is rendered or ones hand is placed over the heart, as appropriate.  Since the weather was great and we were usually outside when evening colors were held, we taught Jack and Tucker the proper flag etiquette.  We only had to show them once, and when they heard the bugle they immediately stopped playing and stood facing the music while placing their hand over their heart.

Now the kids normally slept in most mornings…..a good sign that we had successfully kept them busy and basically wore them out.  However, one morning at 0630, a bugle sounded reveille, a different call altogether.  Tucker leapt up, yelled “Poppy the music”, and stood at attention on the bed and in his pajamas with his hand over his heart.  I followed suit while Guma and Jack snoozed on.  I didn’t have the heart to explain that he only had to do that when outside and then only when colors are being held.

The base has a number of playgrounds that we frequented.  The kiddles favorite was in Freedom Park and included what they called The Rollie Slide.

I was able to capture their antics on this particular contraption on video.  Please check it out at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlCjvd_jRS8&feature=g-upl&context=G249af68AUAAAAAAAAAA

With active and adventurous youngsters, occasionally someone gets hurt.  Tucker contracted a boo-boo while at the playground and needed medical attention by Guma when we got back to the camper.

Trouble was that he couldn’t remember which finger got hurt so she covered all the bases.  We think the bandage on the right middle finger was so he could spend the rest of the day going around saying:  “Wanna see my boo-boo”.  And the two bandages on the left hand made his “finger gun” more authentic.

Last week while poking around the vast complex of Las Vegas International Raceway, I came across a large building that got my attention.

That’s the world headquarters of Shelby American, Inc.  Any car nut can tell you about Carroll Shelby and his AC Cobra sports car which he built in 1962.  There is a small museum inside that showcases these iconic automobiles…..below is the first AC Cobra ever built and raced.

Carroll, being a Ford man wanted a car that could compete with the Chevrolet Corvette in sports car racing.  So he built one by taking an English AC Bristol, removing the anemic engine, while re-engineering the suspension, brakes and drive train.  Then he shoehorned in a Ford 260 cubic inch (CI) V8 engine that was modified to produce 335 horsepower (HP).  All in a 2000 pound car!  In order to qualify for production sports car racing, 100 cars had to be produced for sale.  Between 1962 and 1965 a total of 655 Shelby Cobras were manufactured and sold for an MSRP of $5,995.00.  Today those original cars are going, at auction, for a million dollars plus!

Then in late 1965, Carroll Shelby started installing Ford 427 CI engines producing 485 HP in these little cars.  He had the bodies custom fabricated out of aluminum and used a racing chassis and associated components.  A number of these hot little cars were fitted with a windshield and horn…..then sold as street legal machines.  One was bought by the comedian Bill Cosby, who quipped “this thing goes 200 miles an hour…..in reverse”!

This 427 upgrade increased the cars weight by 300 pounds and the MSRP by an additional $2000.00.  Since only 348 cars were ever built, and the horsepower to weight ratio was among the best in the world, these cars are now selling for many millions of dollars, if they ever come to market.

Looking at expanding his car manufacturing business and Ford Motor Company looking to provide excitement to the recently released Mustang, Carroll Shelby created the GT-350 out of stock factory supplied 1965 Mustangs.

The name “350” came about by Carroll being exasperated by the Ford suits squabbling over a fitting name for the new high performance specialty vehicle.  He finally asked how far it was to the corporate headquarters from the conference room they had spent most of the day in.  When one of the Ford exec’s said about 350 yards…..Carroll said, “That’s the name…..I’m going out for a beer”.

Shelby American is still a viable manufacturing business and produces a rolling chassis Cobra identified with a CSX (Carroll Shelby Experimental) Serial Number rather than a VIN (Vehicle identification Number) in order to dodge modern government safety requirements.  When completed by the buyer, these machines retail for up to a quarter million dollars.

And sticking with his Ford relationship, Shelby also makes a modern GT-350 as well as an unbelievable car called the Super Snake which features an 800 HP engine and turn-key ready for sale at around $80,000!

We were allowed to access their attached manufacturing facility as well…..however the tour guide did not allow any photography.  Both the Cobra factory and the Mustang assembly shops were immaculate and I spent quite a while watching the mechanics manufacture and assemble these incredible machines.

While looking around the Mustang portion of the Shelby American shop, we noticed that there were a few cars being worked on that looked different than the others.  The tour guide mentioned they were a new product that was going to be unveiled in April and couldn’t tell us any more about them…..perhaps that is why the no photography rule was imposed.

Every visitor to the Shelby American shop is invited to sign their name on the factory wall…..so I added my name to the thousands that have gone before me.

If you are a car nut, the Shelby American tour is free and a Las Vegas must see.

Las Vegas tries to make the ubiquitous Cellular Tower blend in to the surrounding countryside as much as possible.

This particular cell tower is in South Vegas…..gee, I hardly noticed the fake pine tree amongst all the rest of the desert vegetation.

There are a number of ways to go from our campsite on the north side of town down to where the kid’s home is.  Either the turnpike, or the back roads through the neighborhoods east of downtown, or straight down Las Vegas Boulevard…..better known as The Strip.  Since there is far more entertainment value by going down the strip, that turned into our preferred commuting route.

It was especially entertaining at night, when thousands of folks walked from casino to bar to casino, etc.

Kit really wanted to see the Donny and Marie show so one day we headed back down to the strip.  However while waiting in line at the ticket office a sign went up that changed our plans.

She was a bit disappointed but I was able to persuade Flat Donny to pose for a fan photo with her.

He wasn’t talkative and his personality was a bit cardboard like, however Kit didn’t seem to mind…..she said Flat Donny was far more animated than me.

Well…..since we were already downtown and I had learned of a rather unique used car lot nearby I guess one could say that the day was not a total loss.  While Kit did some shopping I went off in search of the Imperial Palace, an older casino on the strip.

Locating the place, I made my way to the fifth floor where approximately 200 antique and classic cars waited buyers flush with their gambling winnings.  Make no mistake about it…..this is an actual used car business complete with salesmen and on site financing and vehicle registration.  Below is just a small sampling of the cars offered for sale.

A 1937 Bentley Sedanca Coupe could be yours for only $475,000.00.

A 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible, a steal for $145,000.00.

A 1957 Ford Thunderbird, sale priced at $175,000.00

A 1962 Chevrolet Corvette, actually a pretty good deal at $85,000.00

This one might get our old friend Randy excited…..a 1957 Volkswagen Beetle Ragtop for a mere $35,000.00!

And the bargain of the lot…..a 1960 Rolls Royce, only $1,500,000.00.

Since I had a little stashed away from my gambling winnings, I was particularly interested in this cream puff.

That’s a 1975 Jakarta Rickshaw folks and at only $500.00!  Drat…..Kit said no.

Leaving Las Vegas (hey…..that might make a nifty movie title), I encountered a particularly low portion of the Imperial Palace parking garage…..good thing I removed the kayak a few days earlier.

You don’t think a journal would pass without a photo of food.

This incredible breakfast was enjoyed at a place called Baby Cakes…..that’s a Mexican omelet with chorizo and a short stack of Red Velvet pancakes…..it was as delicious as it looks!

On another day, we took the kids to Town Square, a nifty shopping area made up to look like Anytown USA.  After a fun time at California Pizza Kitchen we needed to run off some calories at the playground.  The kiddles had a blast hiding from Guma in the Hedge Maze.

And enjoying the many opportunities to play make believe.

While walking about Town Square, I spotted this unusual sign.

Pretty exclusive place when they can fill their fish pond with Perrier?!?!

Well, all good things have to come to an end and we reluctantly had to return the kiddles home.  However, we were able to spend a few more hours with them watching their marksmanship at play by shooting arrows at the upstairs windows while bouncing on their living room installed trampoline.

Boy, to be a kid in this day and age…..all I had to play with was myself, um…..so to speak.

Every winter while home in Maine, I spend time in the workshop making wooden toys and furniture for the grandkids to receive at Christmas.  Our three in Maine receive these gifts on time, but the two in Nevada have to wait until we make our way here.  Well the other day was the unveiling.

A couple of SUV’s just like their dads, wooden you know (pun intended)…..one made in Mahogany and the other made in Maple.

Also, while at the kid’s house we were able to enjoy a demonstration of the Lego Rubik Cube solving robot.

This fantastic machine can analyze the cube, devise multiple ways to resolve it and then proceed to manipulate the cube so all the colors were together.  A much more elegant way then I used to use…..peeling the colored squares off the cube and reapplying them with the appropriate colors on each of the six sides.

Later, all the kids in the house decided to get silly and don ridiculous hats…..sooooo, who looked the silliest?

Just to go on record…..we also have three great older grandkids back in Maine who we get to see quite often.

First there is Joe, Age 19 and a sophomore at the University of Maine.  He is an avid outdoorsman and is readying himself for a trip this summer to Washington State and an assault on Mount Rainer.  Being of voting age he has become quite politically active.

Katie is 16 years old, a high school sophomore, and an excellent student and athlete playing on her schools soccer and lacrosse teams.  During the summer, she loves to hang with us at camp and enjoys fishing, kayaking, and water skiing.  During the winter she is an avid snowmobiler and snowboarder.  Oh…..and she is driving the boy’s crazy, which in turn, drives her dad crazy.  She also got her driver’s license recently so is on the road most days.

CJ, age 12, is in Middle School and is also an excellent student athlete.  He excels in soccer, lacrosse and basketball, winning the free throw competition for his town.  He too enjoys winter sports as well as visiting with Guma and Poppy at the family lakeside camp.

We are immensely proud of all our grandchildren and enjoy spending time with them.  In fact, had we known they were going to be so much fun…..we would have had them first!

Kit’s Corner:  I’m not sure who had more fun during our time in Las Vegas, us or the grand kids.  We love to have them hang out with us in the camper and they love hanging with us.  Both Jack and Tucker are growing up so fast, as are our other three Maine grand kids.  We feel incredibly fortunate to have special times with each of the grands and hope they have fond memories of their old geezer grandparents that they can share with their family and friends.

Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #8

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #8

People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home

Dagobert D. Runes

Saturday, February 25, 2012 through Thursday March 22, 2012-Las Vegas, Nevada:

Spent an enjoyable four weeks in Las Vegas, taking some time off the road and visiting our youngest daughter and her family.  Suzie, Kevin, Jack (age 7) and Tucker (age 5) live, work and play in this town, one of the most interesting and misunderstood cities in the world.

Las Vegas comes by its handle “Sin City” naturally and most citizens accept, or even embrace, their town’s notoriety.  It’s obvious that a need exists for a place where folks can visit, be entertained and let off a little steam. Otherwise, some forty million people that visit annually would not bother.

In my opinion, Las Vegas is the most non-hypocritical municipality in the United States.  The city administrators support what takes place here and frequently lobby for more of the same.  In many other cities similar activity goes on, however it is usually underground…..not being legal, regulated or taxed.

The entertainment district is a very small part of this diverse city.  There are numerous other business, museums, factories and world class parks spread about.  There are many diverse outdoor opportunities around Las Vegas and even skiing up in the mountains.  In addition, Las Vegas is a prime staging area for visits to some of the United States best National Park’s located in Arizona and Utah.

Kit and I are generally pretty nomadic on these trips, staying only a few days at any one place…..however we usually stay a few weeks in Las Vegas.  Our two youngest grandchildren live here and we only get to see them about twice a year, and we all know how fast grandchildren grow.  The last point was startlingly evident to us when we first laid eyes on Tucker.

Both boys are both bright, inquisitive, and a blast to be around.  Tucker is a bit more mischievous and Jack is at the age where everything is wondrous and requires detailed exploration and endless questions.

Jack and Tucker have two partners in crime…..Toby and Rosie.

These four contribute equally to the fascinating chaos that transpires daily in the family home.

One of the first orders of business was for Jack and Tucker to help set up the trailer for a few days of dooryard surfing.

After which they proceeded to explore every nook and cranny of the camper.

They were amazed that our dinette transformed into a bed and pleaded with their folks for permission to sleep in the camper with Guma and Poppy.  Suzie and Kevin readily agreed so,  after telling a few camp ghost stories, we all fell into a restful slumber.

Saturday morning dawned sunny and warm with cobalt blue skies.

So into the house we quietly trooped and while mom and dad got some well-deserved sleeping in time…..Tucker volunteered to make breakfast.

Fueled up, it was outside to enjoy a beautiful southern Nevada day.  Jack and I went mountain biking in a field near their home.

While Guma watched Tucker ride his scooter round and round and round to the point of her exhaustion.

The kiddles also enjoyed just lounging around their dooryard campsite.

Until they heard the universal jingle of the Ice Cream Man and both took off like a shot with me in cold pursuit.  Can you tell which flavor of Popsicle’s they chose?

We enjoyed a great couple of days playing, visiting, playing, eating, playing and even got some playing in……however it was time to move to our traditional Las Vegas campsite at Nellis Air Force Base just to the north.

Staying in the kid’s driveway is always nice but it does disrupt their schedule a bit, and with us staying in the area for a few weeks it works better for everyone if we set up at an actual campground.

The campground at Nellis, called Desert Eagle, features numerous sites and plenty of overflow capacity for dry camping.  We were only able to score a partial hook-up site because the NASCAR boys are coming to town and the main park was full.

Yep…..we just happened to be in Las Vegas when the tour came to town.  Kit thinks it was planned, but honest it was just a co-ink-e-dink.  Considering that one of my bucket list items is to see a NASCAR race and Kit was in need of some quiet reading and knitting time it turned into a win-win for the both of us.

Early on Saturday, I headed out to the track…..a mere 4 miles down Las Vegas Boulevard from the Air Force Base.  During NASCAR weekend hundreds of thousands of folks show up and most visit the area to get in some gambling and partying before coming to the racetrack.  After parking my truck, one of these guys pulled in behind me and misjudged the distance a bit.

He and his buddies were pretty hung-over and therefore nonchalant about the mishap.  Since my truck suffered no damage we ended up laughing about the incident.  I usually keep the trailer hitch on the truck and attached the orange strips to help prevent mishaps such as this…..oh well.

Now for those that live and breathe all things NASCAR, my apologies……even though I’m a car nut and have notched previous bucket list items such as attending national level Indy and NHRA races, I have little knowledge of NASCAR.  So, if you are a NASCAR fan, feel free to just skip over this whole next section.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) is fairly new and a very well designed complex.  Getting the 150,000 spectators to the track, around the facility and out at the end of the day is a study in extreme crowd control.  They LVMS folks do this effortlessly and have the enjoyment of the fan in mind at each step of the way.

Some folks follow the NASCAR tour from race to race in huge, expensive motorhomes and trailers.

Just parking one of these things can set you back from two hundred to over a thousand dollars depending on how close to the track you want to be.

There are actually four racing surfaces not counting the roads into and out of the place.  Something about going to a race…..some folks like to pretend they are Bobbie Allison as they leave the track.

NASCAR stands for National Association of Stock Car Racing.  However there is nothing stock about these pure bred racing machines.

They don’t even look stock from underneath.

I don’t think these cars could be driven anywhere near Boston as they don’t have horns.  However each driver does have two middle fingers so they might qualify as Massachusetts transportation after all.

This particular track is a tri-oval, 1.5 miles around and features 20 degree banked corners.  This helps keep the drivers from flying off the while turning left at over 200 MPH.

The grand marshal for today’s race was Oscar Goodman, the former mayor of Las Vegas.  He showed up on the podium for the drivers introductions with a martini in hand and flanked by two show girls…..another example of this town promoting its unique status.

A neat feature of this track is called The Neon Garage.  This area has live entertainment and unprecedented access to the drivers and their garage areas.  It was a blast to watch the drivers come in, get their cars worked on and listen to the race chatter.  A virtual NASCAR Disneyland!

One thing that I noticed is that NASCAR fans are intensely loyal to their individual driver and engage in good natured bantering with other fans that support a different team.  In addition they are very friendly and helpful to a newbie like me.

Not knowing who was who, I just watched where the folks wearing the NASCAR clothing, which by the way were covered with team sponsors logos, and went wherever they went.  I did end up asking a ton of questions of those around me and learned a great deal about the various drivers, cars and race teams.

This fellow seemed to always draw a crowd.

He is the son of the late, great NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt and an accomplished racer in his own right.

This guy received a lot of attention as well.

That’s Jeff Gordon, a multi time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and one of the poster boys for modern NASCAR racing.

Not sure who drives this car, but the word in the pits is that he is really cleaning up in NASCAR.

An up and comer on the NASCAR circuit is a young woman by the name of Danica Patrick.

Formerly of Indy Car Racing, Danica has made the transition to NASCAR and races in the Nationwide Series.

At Las Vegas, she did well and at one point was in the number 4 position before falling back to finish 12th.  Speculation is that her first NASCAR win is imminent as she has succeeded in every other form of motor racing she has participated in.

There are multiple levels of racing in NASCAR.  The big boys race in the Sprint Cup and the next tier race in the Nationwide Series.  In addition there are numerous regional levels of lesser known drivers.  The race I enjoyed was in the Nationwide series, although a number of Sprint Cup drivers raced as well……clear?  Actually there is a ton of NASCAR lingo that one has to learn in order to truly understand the sport.  Until this past weekend I thought a Sprint Cup was a device that elite runners wore to give them an aerodynamic advantage and a wedge was that undergarment thing.

The Las Vegas race in the Nationwide Series is called the Sam’s Town 300…..a 200 lap event that lasted for about three hours.  The sounds, sights and smells of a national event like this can only be imagined by those watching the race on TV.  The actual sensory load and visual excitement is incredible.

Occasionally politicians get involved in NASCAR as well.

Which makes sense as they are already accustomed to going in circles, making a lot of noise and being supported by corporate sponsors.  Poor Rick did not fare too well because on the first lap of the race, when the field turned left he went right and ended up in the crazyland.

A great day of racing at a great track…..might have to see the big boys run here someday in the Sprint Cup series.

We were able to have the kiddles out at our Nellis campsite on two consecutive long weekends.  Not only does this give us some quality time with Jack and Tucker, but it allows their parents to have a break and go off on a mini vacation of their own.

Don’t the parents look sad?

And don’t the kiddles look happy?

After a run through Savers, a west coast store featuring quality previously used items, we made the obligatory stop at In and Out Burger.  Arriving at the campsite by early afternoon we enjoyed the fresh air and each other’s company for the remainder of the day.

During the three days it seemed that we were constantly on the go.  There were playgrounds to explore.

And Poppy’s kayak to play in.

And lots of running around and games to play.  At the end of each day everyone dropped off early and had a restful night.

On one of the camp day’s we took the kids to The Lied Discovery Children’s Museum.  This kid friendly museum features over 100 interactive displays.  Jack and Tucker waited patiently for the doors to open…..this was going to be a fun day!

There are exhibits on different occupations where you can try out the equipment.

There are places to climb up, on and in.

There are experiments on surface tension of soapy water

There are displays of hydro dynamics and controlling water flow and velocity.

And a Hurricane Simulator, capable of demonstrating the effect of hurricane winds.  The Kiddles went through many cycles of this demo, one of which I was able to capture on video…..check it out at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-7rZeurr1g&feature=g-upl&context=G249af68AUAAAAAAAAAA

We spent six fun filled hours at the museum and will need to return in order to further explore this unique and fascinating place.

It was opening weekend for the new movie based on the Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax”.  On another camp day, we treated ourselves and the kiddles to the film complete with buckets of salty popcorn and gallons of watered down soda.

The movie was true to the book, contains a valuable lesson, and is adult friendly…..we highly recommend everyone make time to see it.

Dropping the kids back off at their home after three delightful days, Kevin surprised us with comp tickets to see Cirque du Soleil “O”, one of the longest running Cirque shows in the US.  So off we went to the LV strip.

One of my favorite pastimes is people watching, and this town is the greatest people watching venue in the world.  Folks from all over come to Vegas and turn into their alter ego’s.  It is not uncommon to see Asians dressed as cowboys and housewives from Peoria dressed as hookers.  It is also a major hangout for the area’s homeless…..every block has panhandlers looking for financial help with shelter and food.  However unique to this trip was the number of homeless that had acquired pets and only wanted money to feed their pet.  Last year they all claimed to be combat veterans…..I guess whatever works to scam money for booze.

After walking the strip and enjoying a meal at the Bellagio we stepped outside just in time to witness this spectacle.

It was the traditional “Hauler Parade” where the NASCAR car haulers drive down the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard with horns honking and people waving from the sidelines.  In order to not be outdone The Bellagio lit off it’s its water show with accompanying music.

The whole thing was a sensory extravaganza much like a three ring circus; I didn’t know where to watch as it all was unfolding.

The Cirque show was outstanding as expected.

If you haven’t seen a Cirque performance this is one that showcases the unique Cirque style on an unusual stage.  The show has been in residence at the Bellagio since 1998 and still packs the house.  Kevin was able to get us prime seats since he works on another Cirque show, Viva Elvis, which we enjoyed last year.

There is much more to report from Las Vegas, however I’ll have to continue in Part #2 as this is getting near the maximum download…..stay tuned.

Kit’s Corner:  As one would expect, this part of our trip is always my favorite.  Love hangin out with the grandkids, even though they always glom onto Poppy like Super Glue..LOL.

We spent quite a bit of time with them this trip and it’s just amazing not only how fast they are growing but how much they love being with us, considering we only get to see them once or twice a year.  Other than the fact that Vegas has “The Strip” with all its entertainment and craziness, life in this town is much like growing up in San Diego.  The weather is almost always beautiful, the neighborhoods, schools and shopping areas resemble those in SD and getting around the city feels very comfortable to us.

Bill and Kit’s 2012 Excellent Adventure-Journal #7

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

 I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine.

Caskie Stinnett

Monday, February 13, 2012:  As we reluctantly leave Tucson, the realization is beginning to set in that this year, unlike the past three Excellent Adventure trips, we will not be visiting our childhood hometown of San Diego.  We love returning home to poke around the old neighborhood and beachside haunts, and we love visiting our friends and relatives even more.  However ongoing family needs cause us to take a different path this year……hope all in SoCal understand.  We miss you!

Heading north on I-10 we pass our old landmark Picacho Peak.  How would you like to climb that sucker, there grandson Joe?

This 3,300 foot spire rising from the surrounding desert is another example of redundant naming.  Picacho means Big Peak in Spanish…..so Picacho Peak technically means Big Peak Peak……kinda like Mount Kathadin in Maine which means Mount Greatest Mountain in the native Abenaki language.  There is a semi-technical via ferrata trail to a small flat spot near the peak for the fit and adventurous.  I’m neither, but I would love to attempt the climb at some point anyway.

Stopped in Casa Grande to fuel and resupply at The Wal*Mart.  We then headed west on I-8 toward the setting sun before exiting on US-85 South toward Gila Bend.  On the exit ramp, I had to make a quick evasive move as a Roadrunner darted in front of the truck.  Not the Plymouth type but the flightless bird type, well actually it used to fly until the TSA started making it take of his little shoes.  The poor fellow almost became a Roadrunover and Wile E Coyote would finally have had his day.

After a pleasant but short drive toward nothingness, we rolled into the Gila Bend AFAF at 1545 and made our way to the campground for the night.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012:  Woke to warm sunny skies and not much else.  Gila Bend AFAF (Air Force Auxiliary Field) is a satellite facility of Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix.  It can best be described as a military ghost town…..even the Air Force left and turned the operation over to civilian contractors.  The campground is located in the old abandoned mobile home park so each site has tons of room and features full hookup’s for only $7.00 a night!

Here is the road into the base.

Here is the road into the campground.

Here is the Gila River.

Here is our campsite.

And here are our neighbors.

There is no office, no registration building, no bath house and no camp host.  Fortunately the few hermits that winter over here are very helpful and made sure we knew what to do.  There is a metal shed with a couple of washers and dryers that are free to use and where the “special key” to turn on the water is stored.  Why a special key…..well apparently the remoteness of this area make it an ideal corridor for illegals heading to jobs in Las Vegas and since the water is unhealthy the government doesn’t want these undocumented workers getting sick on their journey.

Oh yea….. Here is our individual campsite reverse osmosis water treatment unit, no key required.

We stared at the red light, a lot.  Apparently the ground water is a tiny bit contaminated……gee, I wonder why?

So…..why is there little here?  And why did the Air Force move all their personnel out and deactivate the base?  Well…..Gila Bend AFAF happens to be smack dab in the middle of the Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range.  So the only folks left to be in danger are a few hapless defense contractors and a bunch of pensioners living in their RV’s, who by the way, are long past their childbearing years……so I guess are not in any environmental danger.

There is one lone remaining runway where bomb laden jets do incessant touch and go’s before heading out on the range to turn sand into glass.  The runway is also used for training pilots in risky approach maneuvers including an emergency procedure called dead stick……I don’t even like the name of that!

Well, what do we decide to do in this God forsaken place?  Why stay a few days of course!  After all, $7.00 a night for full hook up’s is a bargain…..even if our lives are continuously in imminent danger.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012:  Up late because, well frankly there is little excitement to look forward to.  However I did take advantage of this down time to fix a few things on the truck, trailer and bicycle.  Speaking of bike’s there is a multi-use trail that meanders about in the desert.

Without the rocks defining the trail one could easily wander into the wrong areas.  However, I guess the Air Force pilots like having a moving target scurrying about the bombing range.

As I popped off the trail and onto a dirt road, This sign did give me cause for concern…..the gate was open, but I decided to turn back toward camp not being sure whether those were clouds or puffs of smoke.

Back at the campground, I came across this rather unique barbeque pit.

I guess this one came a little close so the resourceful snowbirds turned it into something more useful.  Imagine the first person lighting the old briquettes in that thing?  The parking lot in the above picture is surrounded by cement slabs where buildings once stood before the Air Force moved out.

Being that this is the desert…..there are great sunsets however.

Of course, this photo was taken midday after a too close bombing run…..just kidding.

Thursday, February 16, 2012:  Please see Wednesday, February 15, 2012.

Friday, February 17, 2012:  Up and on the road under clear skies and a temperature of 68 degrees.

Kit and I had a “heated discussion” (if you know what I mean) on where to go next…..not who to see, but where to base our next stop out of.  I was looking forward to spending a few days at Lake Pleasant Regional Park north of Phoenix and Kit wanted to go to Paradise RV Resort in Sun City.

Decided to stay on US 85 but heading north in order to see some sights that we have never seen before.  We quickly passed through downtown Gila Bend, population 2,800 and 5 old crabs…..according to the town line sign.  Somehow we missed a turn and ended up on Old US-80 but since we were still basically heading northerly we motored on……besides, this road looked like fun!

Soon we noticed a highway sign for Gila Bend Aqua Farm.  This is probably where H2O is planted, cultivated and harvested for use in this parched environment.  I’m guessing they irrigate with sand as there is plenty of the stuff in these parts.  However as we neared the facility we noticed a sign that read: Desert Sweet Shrimp…..never heard of the stuff.

And apparently they don’t grow shrimp in these parts…..so, if you invested in a shrimp fishing operation in the middle of the Sonoran Desert than you are S-O-L!

A little ways down the road we started noticing green fields of cotton.

Sharing the road with us were a variety of farm implements including truck after truck loaded with manure headed for the vast fields.  Now, I’m no farmer…..but wouldn’t it make more sense to just let the cattle roam about the cotton fields and allow nature to take its course…..so to speak.

Near Buckeye, Arizona we moved over to US-85 heading north and passed The Lewis penitentiary and the famed chain-gangs.  Arizona’s hard line that require inmates to work and repay their debt to society is well known…..makes one proud to be an honest citizen.

At 1545 we arrived at Paradise RV Resort in Sun City and set up for a few days stay.  This place is a huge 5 star senior RV resort with over 850 sites, mostly year round vacation homes.  It is nationally known for its wide selection of activities including, lawn bowling, swimming, exercise classes, ceramics, sewing, tennis, horseshoes, quilting, urn turning, shuffleboard, woodworking, and lots of cheap entertainment……some even intentional.

The minimum size of RV allowed is 24 foot…..however the management overlooked the fact that our little camper was only 22 feet and allowed us to stay anyway.  We were given a site along the perimeter where the traveling RV’r is generally placed but still allowed to enjoy all the resort had to offer.

After a nice trailer cooked meal we turned in for the evening…..tomorrow, it’s fun and games in paradise.

Saturday, February 18 and Sunday, February 19, 2012:  Woke to sunny blue skies and temperatures in the 70’s…..yep, both days!  After breakfast we walked about to reacquaint ourselves with the place.  The resort is laid out like a small community and most units are park model type trailers that are individually landscaped.  The primary mode of transportation is walking, bicycle riding or for longer distances the golf carts.

The pool area is very attractive and features a large hot tub, sauna and shower facility.

Kit especially appreciated all the colorful flowers that were in bloom and frequently sat poolside and enjoyed the warm breezes and fragrance.

All the trees, plants and flowers attract a variety of wildlife and even some animals as well.  This little fellow sat in a tree above my poolside lounge and kept mocking me.  Saying things like “so there, sport……I see she got her way!”

In this place you expect Truman Burbank to come walking down the street at any moment.

Also, you may have noticed that occasionally one has to deal with traffic during the rush hour bingo commute.

The first day in paradise we received a phone call from some expat square dancers about a dance that evening.  So we donned our best western wear and headed out to allemande left the night away.

Martha and Tommy live in Sun City and are the main reason we made this city a stop on our travels.  They came to visit us in Maine last year and we had a great time showing them out little corner of the world.  Martha invited us over for dinner and conversation on Sunday afternoon.  Martha’s brother Rodney and his wife Gloria visited us in Maine last summer as well…..unfortunately they were not able to travel from San Diego to Sun City and join us.  However their 95 year young father, never one to miss a party, was able to drive over from his place a few blocks away.

They have a very nice home right on the golf course.  The landscaping is sculpted and well cared for…..this Carob tree looked as if it could have been featured in a Doctor Seuss story.

Monday, February 20, 2012:  Up and on the road by 1000 and heading north.  Since we got our “resort RV fix” I needed a “middle of nowhere camping fix” so off we headed toward Peoria, Arizona and Pleasant Lake.  However as we left Sun City I got a bit turned around in ended up in Surprise…..yea kinda ironic, I know.  Nice town however, looked to be another retirement community with mostly new developments and retail establishments.

Soon we were back on track, on US-60 and heading westerly into a less populated area.

Lucy was having a heck of a morning as she once again led us on a wild goose chase trying to find the access road to Lake Pleasant Regional Park.  After a 22 mile detour we were finally on track and arrived at our next camping destination shortly after noon.

Lake Pleasant is an impoundment that provides drinking water, flood protection, hydroelectric power, irrigation and recreation to the greater Phoenix area.  The 10,000 acre artificial lake is formed by a 4,770 foot long earthen dam and is partially filled by the Aqua Fria River.  However, Lake Pleasant gets most of its water from the Colorado River 170 miles to the west via the Central Arizona Project Aqueduct.

We selected a nice secluded campsite overlooking the lake with a trail leading down to the water’s edge.

And became the proverbial “happy campers”.

Where we entertained one of our neighbors…..or maybe he entertained us.  I didn’t ask but I think he is in the insurance business.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012:  Decided to stay a second night so we could more thoroughly enjoy this beautiful lake.  In addition, I was overjoyed that I could finally use the kayak I’ve been toting around for the past 6 weeks, well other than sliding down sand dunes.  Being an impoundment the lake had many interesting coves and inundated villages to explore.  And being sheltered by the surrounding terrain the lake surface was mostly calm and glassy smooth.

I used to think that few places in this country had clear clean water like back home in Maine.  However on many kayak paddles out west I’ve discovered that the water here is just as clear.

Here is an unusual shot of me and the kayak reflecting a shadow on the lake floor some 10 feet below.

One afternoon we had the resident Camp Host drop by.  Usually when this happens you’ve done something wrong.  However his statement caused us to scratch our heads when we announced:  You guys have to leave…..this campground is only big enough for one Maine couple and we got here first”.  Come to find out, Bill and his wife Doris were from the town of Topsham, Maine which is just on the other side of the river form our town of Brunswick.

And to top it all off…..Doris is a retired RN from Mid Coast Hospital and worked for many years with our daughter, Kim.  Indeed a small world!

We had a very nice and relaxing time on the shore of Pleasant Lake but tomorrow we must continue on our trek north.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012:  Woke up to an incredible sunrise streaming through the window of the camper…..well, at least one of us did.

Moving about a bit slow this morning as I must have torqued my back a bit when climbing in or out of the kayak yesterday.  Oh well, a few ibuprofens and I should be good to go.

After dumping tanks we were on the road by 0930 under partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 59 degrees.  We selected US-17, The Arizona Veterans Highway, and headed north.  Passing through the towns of Ele and Mesa we then moved over to US-69 and continued north through the town of Mayer arriving in Dewey, Arizona shortly after noon.  Since the town of Prescott, our intended destination, was just down the road, and since we thought it would be fun to stay in a town named after my favorite bruzzin…..we pulled into The Orchard RV Resort in Dewey and set up camp for a few nights.

This park, like the Paradise RV Resort in Sun City, is a senior park with primarily park model trailers and modular homes.  We took a tour of the newer portion that was being developed and the facility impressed us with its affordability and amenities……not as fancy as Paradise RV Resort in Sun City but more rustic and a whole lot less expensive.

Thursday, February 23, 2012:  Up to cool 50 degree temperatures under sunny blue skies.  This area is considered high desert and at 5400 feet elevation they occasionally get snow.  The temperatures dipped below freezing overnight but quickly recovered come sunup.

There are a number of Maine expatriates that have resettled in this area, mostly in Prescott and Prescott Valley.  Ironically most of them are friends from our community of square dancers.  Nancy, originally from Portland, Maine just moved out here this past fall.  We had a great time seeing her new digs and catching up on all the news.

Also, Terri and Charlie as well as Mary and her mother Cindy have been here for a few years and we had an opportunity to visit with them as well.

All seemed pleased that we made the effort to stop by on our way north and spend a few hours with them.  We certainly were pleased to visit with them as well.

Friday, February 24, 2012:  Up and on the road at 0950 with sunny skies and a temperature of 41 degrees.  We are very excited as today we finally reach Nevada and the home of our youngest daughter Suzie and her family.

Driving north on US-89 we enjoyed the unique topography of the Prescott area.  Just as we rounded a corner, we spotted a coyote saunter across the road.

Were you trying to find the critter in the photo above?  Well, don’t bother…..I couldn’t get my camera turned on fast enough to capture the fellow.

An hour later we entered the Kaibab National Forest and noticed more evergreens and very little typical desert plant life.

Leaving the mountains we soon reached I-40 and headed west.  After an hour of making great time but being bored out of our skulls, we noticed that US-66 still exists in the area and basically heads in a westerly direction as well…..so off we went to get our Kicks on Route 66.

Just before noon we pulled into the town of Seligman, Arizona, a once thriving town that virtually dried up and was reduced to a mere 400 hardy souls after Interstate 40 was constructed further to the south.

 Main Street, which doubles as US-66 is wide with plenty of parking space.  We found a convenient place to park for a walk about town and grab some lunch.

The aptly titled Road Kill Café seemed like an interesting, and convenient place to eat and it was!  Now, folks up in Maine enjoy eating at Road Kill as well.  However, there, it takes at least three people to enjoy the meal…..two eating as the third looks for any oncoming cars.  Actually there is a Road Kill Restaurant up in Greenville, Maine with an interesting menu.  However, I’ve learned the hard way to never assume that the garnish is actually raisins.

Leaving the café, we discovered the truth about a prominent political figure.  The press has it all wrong…..Mitt did not make his fortune with Bain Capital but as an innkeeper here in Seligman, Arizona.

And, as with most politicians, he requires one to park it in the rear.

After lunch, we walked the two block downtown district and stopped to visit with a couple of the towns more interesting, and animated, inhabitants.

Following an enjoyable time in Seligman we continued north on US-66 and I began to wonder…..what ever happened to Burma-Shave and their entertaining roadside signs?  Oh, wait a minute…..never mind.

Driving along historic Route 66 we both speculated that our parents used this main artery to travel from the northeast to the coast back in the 1950’s.  We wondered how much, if any, the topography had changed.

Arriving in Kingman we once again had to move over to I-40 in order to head toward the Nevada Border.  However, one of these days we intend to retrace the entire US-66 highway from Illinois to California.

Descending from the high desert of northern Arizona into the Colorado River valley we soon crossed over the Pat Tillman & “some Nevada politician” Memorial Bridge entering the state of Nevada and the Pacific Coast Time Zone.  As you may recall, Pat Tillman from Arizona was a true American patriot who gave up a lucrative career playing professional football to serve in the military and ultimately made the supreme sacrifice.  The “politician from Nevada” was, um well…..just another politician on the public dole.

At 1730 we rolled up to our daughter Suzie’s place in Las Vegas and anxiously waited for her to arrive with our two youngest grandchildren, Jack and Tucker.  Within a few minutes they came around the corner to much celebration.

This officially starts our three week stay in the Las Vegas area to enjoy time with Suzie and company.

Kit’s Corner:  Imagine our surprise, when Bill & Doris came to greet us at Pleasant Lake Camp Ground!  Usually, it’s us scouting around a new park to find some friendly faces.  Here, they found us (after reviewing our sign in paperwork) and what a SURPRISE it was!  I was on the phone with my sister at the time and I kept hearing familiar words outside.  Going out to check things out, I discovered one of Kimber’s good friends from MCH.  We spent a couple of hours getting re-acquainted and comparing notes.

Also noteworthy was our arrival at Suzie’s house.  We always text our ETA when we get close so she was right on time bringing the kids home!  Both kids were so excited, she let them climb out of the car to run up and greet us with big hugs and kisses!  How’s that for a Great Welcome!!