Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure, Journal #20

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

Sir John Lubbock

 

Monday, May 1, 2017:  Woke following a restful night of Blacktop Boondocking at The Wal*Mart in Peoria, Illinois.  Pulled out at 0730 under partly sunny (yep you read that right!) skies with a temperature of 48 degrees. Found Interstate-74 heading east and motored along enjoying the brief interlude from crummy weather.

After stopping for fuel and breakfast at a Flying J Truck Stop we continued to make tracks toward the east coast.  Around 1300, we merged onto Interstate-70 and continued East reaching the Ohio state border at 1405, where another pitstop was necessary.

Even though there were periods where the skies looked like they would dump rain on us, it stayed relatively dry throughout the day…a bit gloomy but 100% better than the past few days!

Shortly after 1500 hours, as the temperatures rose into the upper 60’s, we pulled the rig into Wright Patterson Air Force Base and found a nice site in their Bass Lake RV park.

After setting up camp for a few days stay, then partaking in a nice camper cooked meal, Kit and I enjoyed the prospect of being off the road for a spell while the setting sun painted the western sky.

Goodnight!

 

Tuesday, May 2 and Wednesday, May 3, 2017-Wright Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio:  This particular town has been a bucket list item of mine for some time, however it never worked out…until now!  So, what is so special about Dayton, Ohio?  Well to begin with it was the home of the Wright Brothers and their bicycle shop/aircraft manufacturing facility.  And it is also home to the National Museum of the US Air Force.

The museum contains over 360 aircraft within its sprawling 1,000,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space!  Many historic planes are on display and a number of one-of-a-kind prototypes are in residence as well.  In addition, the museum features thousands of USAF artifacts.  The exhibits are housed in four large interconnected buildings separated by era so the visitor can view planes from the earliest days of flight through the most modern aircraft and space vehicles.

With so many airplanes, it was hard to pick ones to profile in this journal.  So, since we’ve visited many other military museums where fighter aircraft are the main focus I decided to profile the US Air Forces stock in trade…the mighty bombers.  And, then add a few of the more interesting or unusual experimental aircraft.

The first building contained artifacts from WWI, such as this early bomber.

The Caproni CA-36 is an Italian designed, Fiat powered, heavy bomber capable of 87 MPH speeds up to an altitude of 14,765 feet while carrying 1,764 pounds of bombs.

Next is a WWII vintage B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber capable of speeds to 357 MPH at a maximum altitude of 33,600 feet, while carrying 20,000 pounds of bombs.

This particular aircraft, nicknamed “Bockscar” after the aircraft commander Captain Bock, performed a significant role in August 1945 when it dropped the world’s second, and hopefully last, nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, which is now credited for convincing the Japanese to surrender and bringing the end of World War II in the Pacific.

Following the war, B-29’s were used for other research and other missions, such as a launch plane for the experimental Bell X-1B.

The X-1B was a purpose-built aircraft to test the feasibility of supersonic flight.   Carried aloft by a mother ship, it was basically a manned rocket in that once the engine was ignited it flew at full power until the fuel was expended, which resulted in an average flight time of five minutes.  Then the X-1B was guided to a landing under dead-stick conditions.

Also on display was this 189-foot-long monster.

The XB-70 Valkyrie, was constructed in the early 1960’s as a long range, high speed, high altitude bomber.  The aircraft possessed six huge engines capable of propelling the giant plane to over 2,000 MPH and altitudes above 74,000 feet.

Around the time that the first XB-70 was being completed, its survivability was brought into question by advances in anti-aircraft missile capability.  The programs death knell was America’s development of the Inter Continental Ballistic Missile which rendered the XB-70 unneeded, so the program was cancelled…the XB-70 then became a very large, and very expensive, museum artifact.

And then there is this sinister looking aircraft.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber can fly up to 50,000 feet at a maximum speed of 630 MPH while carrying up to 50,000 pounds of ordnance.  A flying wing design, the bomber is inherently unstable without computer controlled flight assistance.  Since all B-2’s are in operational inventory, this display is a retired engineering mule from the manufacturer, Northrup Grumman.

Also in the museum collection are a number of historic aircraft that have carried the US President as Air Force One.  The first is a highly modified Boing-707 which served eight presidents, including John F. Kennedy on that fateful trip to Dallas in November of 1963.

One of the most poignant spaces on this plane is the area that carried the slain president back to Washington.

Since no one wanted the fallen president’s casket to ride in the baggage compartment, several seats were removed as well as the aft bulkhead in order for the casket to ride in the main cabin alongside Mrs. Kennedy who was accompanied by newly sworn in President Johnson.

Another interesting retired presidential plane is a VC-54 Skymaster, the first aircraft specifically built to carry the US President.

During his term, Franklin D. Roosevelt used “The Flying White House” which was built with a special elevator to allow the disabled president to access the plane while seated in his wheelchair.

President Roosevelt was the first Commander in Chief to have a military aircraft at his disposal, but, following his untimely demise, the plane went on the serve President Truman as well.

There are a number of very rare and unique flying craft in the museum as well…such as this XF-85 Goblin built in 1945.

Designed to be carried in the bomb-bay of a heavy bomber, the Goblin, known as a “parasite fighter”, was designed to be lowered on a trapeze, fired up and released, then fly to engage nearby enemy fighters.  Difficult to launch and almost impossible to retrieve, the lightly armed Goblin would have been in mortal peril…especially considering it had no landing gear.  There were only two XF-85’s built and neither were ever used for their intended purpose, although a few test flights were attempted with minimal success.

An experimental helicopter hanging from the ceiling was unique in that it did not have an engine!

Rather it possessed two pulsejets mounted on the tip of the rotors.  Built for the US Army as an “aerial jeep”, the XH-26 was surprisingly successful, but incredibly loud…which doomed its usefulness.

On the subject of useless aircraft, there is this flying saucer designed by the Canadians and built by the US Air Force in 1958.

The VZ-9 Avrocar was supposed to lift off vertically using its large Turbojet engine then transition to horizonal flight by vectoring the exhaust rearward to attain supersonic speed.  Its hovering stability was problematic, then when the contraption did move horizontally it was very unstable reaching a blazing speed of 35 MPH… the program was cancelled after one harrowing test flight.

A strangely configured experimental plane that did show some promise was this X-13 Vertijet.

The aircraft could launch vertically, pitch over to normal flight and when ready to land, transition back to vertical while slowly descending to its ground fixture where it would snag a landing hook.  The concept worked, but it took a very skilled pilot to successfully land the thing…that and cost overruns doomed the project to this single plane.

Another experimental plane that was used as a design and engineering mule was the X-29.

Built in the 1980’s to test the “forward-swept wing” configuration, as well as a number of other state of the art concepts, the X-29 reached supersonic speeds while testing flight dynamics.  Later in the decade, it retired to the museum after successfully completing the test program.  Many of its technical concepts have migrated to military aircraft currently in production.

The National Museum of the US Air Force, is a very popular tourist attraction…many tour and school groups visit the facility throughout the year.  It is bordered by Wright Patterson Air Force Base but has its own public entrance and admission is free.  According to one of the docents, many military related groups use the museum for ceremonial functions…such as this promotion, and change of command, for a couple of USAF Generals that I stumbled upon.

While loitering about the periphery and observing for a bit, I remembered the many “mandatory invitations” I had received while on active duty…standing at attention while grumbling at the loss of work or play time.  This assemblage of America’s best honoring the accomplishments of their brethren seemed more relevant.  Maybe I’ve developed a change in attitude over the years.

Since the US Air Force Museum possesses examples of America’s most important and iconic aircraft, it seemed fitting that one of the first artifacts to confront the visitor is the lowly bicycle.

This bike is an original built by Orville and Wilbur Wright in the late 1890’s.  The brothers, possessing only High School Diploma’s, designed and sold bicycles at their shop in nearby Dayton, Ohio…which gave them experience, confidence and the resources to build and fly the first practical aircraft.  Helping to prove that an advanced education is not always needed to be successful in life!

A great day at a great museum…if anywhere near Dayton, Ohio, be sure to visit!

Back at the campground, Kit and I spent time relaxing about the beautiful grounds.

And watching a family of geese, including the seven little yellow fur balls, paddling about the placid pond.

A very pleasant and entertaining stay in west-central Ohio…but, tomorrow we must trundle on toward the east.

 

Thursday, May 4, 2017:  On the road at 1015, under cool and rainy skies.  Kit and I have resigned ourselves to the fact that we will either be in a rain storm, or being chased by a rain storm, for the remainder of the trip.  Looking at the long-range forecast there are continuing lines of thunderstorms marching across the continent…oh, well.

Jumping back on I-70 we make tracks toward the right coast.

Originally, we thought we would drive up to Cleveland and visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a bucket list destination.  However, with the relentless rain, cool temperatures and a desire to just get home, we diverted to Interstate-76 and motored along until reaching I-90 and then headed eastward.

Shortly after crossing the Pennsylvania border both Kit and I were growing a bit weary, so a quick look on All Stays provided a recommendation for an overnight stay on a rain soaked parking lot at The Wal*Mart in Harbor Creek, PA.

Positioning the rig on the outskirts of the large parking lot near an overhead light we settled in for the evening.

 

Friday, May 5, 2017:  Hey, guess what?  It’s raining!  Kit and I enjoyed a quiet and very restful night aided by the relentless mesmerizing rain on the camper roof and very little traffic motoring by.  Noticing there was a Bob Evans Restaurant on the far side of the parking lot, we decided to treat ourselves to breakfast.

Following a very nice meal, it was once again time to dodge the raindrops as we headed out on the highway, and yes, another full day of steady rain was endured as we drove east.  You know, I think our forward speed is matching the overall speed of these rain systems.  When Kit and I stop for the evening, the storm moves on, but another system will march in from the west to take its place just as morning breaks!?!?

Within 30 minutes, we crossed into the state of New York and encounter the NY Thruway…the main east west artery in this part of the country.  Expensive yes, but also convenient and a quick way to pile on mileage in the waning days of this year’s Excellent Adventure trip.  Besides, the Turnpike Authority allows overnight parking at their Service Plaza’s…so at 1600 hours, that is where we landed for the night.

As you can see, we have successfully outrun the latest rainstorm…but never fear, there is surely another in the wings.

 

Saturday, May 6, 2017:  Woke to rain, of course, and temperatures in the mid-50’s.  After a quick breakfast in the travel plaza food court, we pulled out at 0930 and continued east on the NY Thruway.

Shortly before noon found us crossing the Hudson River and a few minutes later entering the State of Massachusetts and merging onto the Mass Pike.  After stopping for lunch and fuel at a Turnpike Travel Plaza, we made good time heading east and crossed the New Hampshire border just as the rain began to subside.  At 1600 hours, Kit and I motored over the Piscataqua River Bridge leading to our home state of Maine!

Yep, the rain has been supplanted by…fog!?!?!?!?  It’s great to be back in Coastal Maine…now, where is the spring weather?!

As has become tradition when returning from these trips, Kit and I made a stop at Kittery Trading Post (KTP), a premier Maine Outdoor Outfitter. KTP has plenty of parking, a great place to stretch our legs while looking for that must have gear, and it is close to our first opportunity for some Maine seafood.

We like to park on the perimeter of their lot, which we did this day.  However, being a weekend, the availability of suitable spots was slim, so I squeezed the camper between cars to make it all work…another good reason for a relatively short rig.

Following an hour of stretching our legs and browsing the merchandise, Kit and I walked across the street to The Weathervane Restaurant.

Where the indulgence of the day was a heaping plate of fried Maine Clams!

And some delightful chatter with the waitress, who was amazed we had driven from California just to visit her establishment!

Back on the road and heading north on I-95, Kit and I spent the next hour and a half discussing the highlights of this year’s trip, and decided that we are indeed blessed.  Our life on the road for six months’ is very enjoyable, and our life in Maine for the remainder of the year, is equally as enjoyable…the perfect combination for us.

Pulling into the dooryard shortly before 2000, and backing the camper into the driveway, Kit and I returned to family, friends and all our stuff pretty much as we left them back in November.

It’s good to be home!

Kit’s Bit’s: Yes, it’s GREAT to be home!  Even though we have frequent communications with our kids and grandkids, it’s just nice to see them in person!  We always have quite a bit of catching up to do and this year was special because Joe, our son, turned 50 on May 15th and we wanted to be home for that.  Since Mother’s Day fell on the 14th, as it did the year Joe was born, we had a nice family gathering and surprised Joe with his favorite German Chocolate cake to celebrate!  It was a very nice family gathering and wished Suzie, Kevin, Jack & Tucker could have been there.  Thanks Katie, for helping me plan everything!  Love you!

And, here are the statistics for our 2017 Excellent Adventure:

  • Length of Trip:   157 Days
  • Total Distance:   12,007 Miles
  • Total Fuel Used:   1,106.3 Gallons
  • Average Fuel Economy:   10.9 MPG
  • Highest Diesel Fuel Cost:  $2.99 in California
  • Lowest Diesel Fuel Cost:  $2.24 in Louisiana
  • Highest Camping Cost with Hook-up’s:  $67.00 in Las Vegas, NV
  • Lowest Camping Cost with Hook-up’s: $17.00 in El Paso, TX
  • Average Camping Cost:  $21.54 per Night
  • Freebie Camping:  25 Nights, “THANK’S FOLKS!”

Happy to have everyone along for the ride…see you next year!

Bill

Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure, Journal #19

Our Nature lies in movement; complete calm is death.

Blaise Pascal

 

Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22, 2017-Aurora, Colorado:  Woke to clear and sunny skies with temperatures in the mid 50’s.  Looking to the west we spied evidence of the storm that passed through last night…fresh snow in the Rockies!

Kit and I are camped for a few days on Buckley Air Force Base…home of the US Air Force Space Command.

Bristling with domed antennas and other passive listening, and space surveillance equipment, this facility is responsible for the early detection of incoming ballistic missiles and other space shenanigans.

Aurora, Colorado is also the home of folks from our own military past…the daughter, and her family, of good Navy friends from eons ago.

We first knew Laura when she was a two year old in Lemon Grove, CA, then, a bit older while running the streets of Virginia Beach with our children.  Laura, a veteran of the US Army along with her husband Gary who retired from the Navy, are raising two delightful children, William and Sara.  Laura is the daughter of Larry, a Chief Petty Officer onboard one of my earlier ships, the USS Hamner (DD-718), way back in the mid 1970’s.  They kindly invited us to their beautiful home for an excellent meal of smoked pork and beef, fried catfish, and some incredible side dishes.

Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them and chatting about days gone by while sitting around their backyard fire ring…thanks for the hospitality folks!

This area is also home to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Arsenal, a decommissioned US Army chemical weapons manufacturing facility.

The visitors center features maps and guides to the wildlife refuge as well as a small museum detailing the history of once top secret chemical and biological munitions factories.

The site has undergone extensive remediation efforts and driving through the peaceful grounds belies its former military use.

Replacing the chemical weapons bunkers are American Bison.

And, deer romp on the grasslands that once contained huge Biological and Chemical laboratories.

And no, I did not see any unusual animal deformations…well this fellow was a bit suspect.

Until I realized that he was just using that convenient electrical transmission tower to help rub off his winter coat.

On the drive back to the campground, I stopped to top off the fuel tank…an easier process without the 30-foot camper astern.  Then, made a stop at the local bank where I noticed this unusual sight, at least for an urban setting.

Inside, I asked the teller about their neighbor and was told she has returned to the same spot to create life every spring for the past few years.  Thinking it may be the proverbial Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, I set up surveillance.

However, even though these eggs were precious they were not made of gold.  It was amazing that mom was oblivious to the traffic and many customers that walked by, many who didn’t even realize she was there.  Fortunately, the kind bank employees have provided food and water, while watching out for her welfare.

Returning to the campground, I noticed some more weather is moving in from the west.

Since we plan on departing tomorrow, I hooked up and prepared the camper for an early morning departure in the hopes of staying in front of the looming storm.

 

Sunday, April 23, 2017:  Underway from Buckley AFB and heading north on I-76 under cloudy and threatening skies.

A bit of rain and wind, but otherwise an uneventful travel day as we motored along toward the right coast.

Historically, the main goal at this juncture of our Excellent Adventure trips, is to make steady progress toward the northeast in order to arrive in Maine by June 1st, while stopping for any bucket list opportunities that may arise.  However, this year our son Joe will celebrate an important milestone birthday and his son, Chris is in the midst of a competitive high school lacrosse season…both of which we want to participate in.  In addition, our granddaughter Katie is home for a few short weeks before beginning her internship in New York City and grandson Joe is preparing for another summer of white water raft guiding in Northern Maine…in other words, lots of very good reasons to cut our trip short and enjoy family time.

Crossed into Nebraska at 1352 hours and moved over to Interstate-80 continuing east before encountering the Central Time Zone.  Other than stops for fuel, rest, and the necessities, we trundled along.  When our self-imposed daily travel mileage loomed into view, Kit started looking on All Stays for a suitable overnight venue, which she found at a 24 hour Wal*Mart in North Platte, Nebraska.

Following some walk about time in the store and inquiring at the service desk if it was OK to remain overnight, we settled in next to some truckers as evening crept across the tarmac.

Scored yet another overnight freebie in a RV friendly community…thanks Wal*Mart!

 

Monday, April 24, 20127:  Up and on the road at 0745!  We seem to be able to get an earlier start when “Blacktop Boondocking” then when we stay in a paid campground.  Our usual MO for a “travel day” after dry-camping in a parking lot is to leave early, pile on some miles, stop for a meal and repeat until hitting the self-imposed 300-mile daily limit.  Today however we encountered an interesting sight, and pulled in for a look.

Spanning Interstate-80 near the town of Kearny, Nebraska.

The Great Platte River Road Archway was constructed in the late 1990’s as a monument to the intrepid travelers of yesteryear who converged on this point during their trek toward the western promised lands.

Walking across the arch on two levels takes the visitor on an audio-visual tour of early trips westward starting with the Conestoga Wagons era.

Progressing to rail travel and finishing with the depiction of early automobile camping trips along the famed Lincoln Highway.

Kit and I were glad we pulled in…it was an interesting stop and a nice interlude to the day of travel.

We continued east throughout the afternoon until arriving in Omaha where Kit started looking for a place to stay.  Since Warren Buffett’s home wasn’t available for a dooryard surfing opportunity, we headed to Offutt Air Force Base and set up in their very nice lakeside recreation facility.

Following a nice meal and with a glass of wine in hand, we watched as the sun bid farewell to the day as it sank into the pond behind our camper.

Goodnight!

 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017:  Offutt AFB, Omaha, Nebraska:  After two travel days, where we stopped both nights to blacktop boondock at Wal*Mart’s, we were in need of a down day.  And even though the weather was crummy, it was a nice relaxing and productive 24-hour layover as there was much that needed to be accomplished.  Kit did laundry while I performed some routine maintenance on the truck and trailer.  It was also a great opportunity to catch up on correspondence and journal writing.

 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017:  On the road again at 1035 hours found us winding our way through the corn fields of Nebraska.

We are certainly in agriculture country as there are as many farm implements on the roads as there are automobiles!

Within 15 minutes, we were motoring over the Missouri River.

And crossed into the state of Iowa, the home turf of Larry and Janice mentioned earlier.  They had moved back to the family farm following their retirement from the Navy and since Kit and I haven’t visited in a few years, we were pleased that they could spend some time with us.  We diverted north on State Highway 59, stopped for a quick roadside lunch, then continued to the community of Cherokee.  Pulling off the highway found us driving down a dirt roads bordered by farm fields.

Then at 1400 hours I pulled the rig into Larry’s farmstead.

After setting up the camper, Kit and I spent the remainder of the day, visiting and getting reacquainted with Larry.

Cold and rain kept us close to the farm for the afternoon and a long day of driving convinced us to call for an early evening.

 

Thursday, April 27 and Friday, April 28, 2017-Cherokee, Iowa:  Woke to much better weather and was able to snap a photo of the rig parked next to one of the outbuildings.

Larry’s former spouse Janice lives in town, and invited Kit, I and Larry over for a visit and dinner.

We had a great time reminiscing about our times in San Diego, and later while living in Virginia Beach, over an excellent meal of pork, potatoes, and carrots followed by strawberry shortcake.

On day two of our stay, since our truck was still attached to the trailer, Larry was kind enough to take Kit over to Janice’s place for a visit.  Then Larry and I spent the day at his farm…being a city kid, I’m always fascinated by the farm life.  In past years, Larry has allowed me to “help” with the animals and some of the many chores that come from running a 240-acre farming operation.  Larry is now leasing a big chunk of his land to a neighbor, and has reduced his animal population to a few mules.

Which he still uses for hunting trips and muzzleloader rendezvous outings.  Then there is trusty companion, Hank.

Even though he doesn’t farm as much nowadays, Larry still has the required machinery such as this skid-steer loader.

Which he allowed me to operate following a brief but detailed instruction session.

My main task for the afternoon was to run laps about the field trying to follow my own tracks so as to minimize the abstract art effect.

The skid-steer was very maneuverable, able to spin around in its own wheelbase, and a blast to drive!

Later that evening, Larry and I joined Kit and Janice in town for some great pizza and visiting, before returning to our camper for the evening.

 

Friday, April 28, 2017:  Up to cloudy skies and a temperature of 38 degrees.  Following breakfast, Kit and I made preparations to leave the farm then walked up to the house to thank Larry for the hospitality.

Knowing my love of antiques, Larry frequently will gift me an item from the farm that has been lying about the barn…however, this year, his gift was far more valuable and sentimental.

Since I wish to not expose the item to the WebCrawler’s on the internet, I’m withholding a photo.  However, if interested please reply via e-mail and I’ll send a brief discerption.  Thanks Larry, we really enjoyed the midwestern hospitality, your friendship, and the very thoughtful gift!

Underway at 0912 under the same threatening skies that have been plaguing our homeward progress.

It seems that we have been imbedded in the continuing line of spring storms that have been marching across the country.

Even if we stop for a down day, we either catch up to the storm that just passed or get caught by the next one coming from the west!

Headed back south until we came to US-20 before turning toward the east as the rain picked up in intensity.  The weather didn’t dampen our spirits (pun intended) nor did it persuade us from veering off course to enjoy attractions of significant historical value…such as the world’s largest popcorn ball!

A 9,370 pound ball of candied popcorn housed in its own climate controlled enclosure.  Why?  Well, why not, the 2,220 citizens of Sac City, Iowa respond!?

Back on Highway US-20, we were passed by this vehicle towing a trailer.

Kit was ecstatic…she loves the concept of Little Free Libraries!

The tiny neighborhood libraries have become a worldwide phenomenon that began in 2009.  Mr. Todd Bol installed the first library on his front lawn in Kit’s mom’s hometown of Hudson, Wisconsin as a tribute to his book loving mother.  The Little Free Library organization lists over 50,000 units and growing.  Check it out at:  https://littlefreelibrary.org/

Shortly after noon, we moved over to Interstate-35 and headed South around Des Moines and to US-34 which we took east.  At 1600, as we were nearing the town of Ottumwa, Kit began looking for a place to overnight…finding a suitable town owned campground we made that our destination for the evening.  Being very sparsely populated this time of the year, we were able to score a nice spot without a problem.

Weary from the days’ travel, we ate a quick meal and settled in for the evening as the relentless rain pelted the side of the camper.

 

Saturday, April 29, 2017:  Woke to a lot more of the same…cold, rainy, windblown weather.  Over coffee in our cozy camper, Kit and I decided to wait out the storm here in the hopes for a better travel day tomorrow.

About mid-morning, a lot of commotion began around a large picnic pavilion across the road from our site.

Donning rain slickers followed by a quick dash to the enclosure resulted in our being in the middle of the annual Ottumwa Polar Plunge for Special Olympics!

After a quick interview by a DJ from KRKN Radio, we were introduced as Maine visitors to polite applause and many town folks greeting us throughout the afternoon.  Being invited to participate caused me to divulge my heart condition…which is; my heart just wasn’t into diving in a pool of ice cold water.

We did however make a donation by participating in the silent auction and were invited to the pork tenderloin barbeque.

A regional favorite, and very delicious…however the carrots looked a bit odd.

 

Sunday, April 30, 2017:  Rolled out of camp at 1057 under, you guessed it, clouds and rain!  One reason for a later than usual start was our next bucket list destination was only 30 miles away…a  short drive to the east brought us to this famous house.

Recognize it?

How about now?

Yep, it’s the famed background home in the Grant Wood painting, American Gothic.  As the story goes, Mr. Wood, already an accomplished painter of midwestern life, was attending a showing of his work in the town of Eldon, Iowa when he spied this home.  He loved the ornate church window adorning such a plain farmhouse so drew a quick sketch on an envelope.  Then, when back at his studio, Grant Wood produced his most famous work ever.

The models were his sister, Nan Wood and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby.

Nan was overjoyed with the instant notoriety, but the good doctor was appalled and their professional relationship never recovered.

The iconic image has played a humorous roll in our lives over the years.  Back in the late 1960’s I cut out a parody of this famous painting from a gentleman’s magazine, inscribed it; To Bill, Love Mom and Dad, then placed the picture in my wallet…well, once Kit noticed the humorous photo it would pop up in the most unusual, and embarrassing, locations.  The photo is still around somewhere.

Over the years, many other parodies of the painting have been produced by amateurs and professionals alike, including this Navy inspired one.

The swab is a nice touch, as well as the mop he is holding!

Completed the tour of the American Gothic museum shortly before 1500 and headed out on US-34 crossing the Mississippi River before entering the state of Illinois ninety minutes later, then within the hour we merged with I-74 and continued East.

The overcast skies and relentless rain makes for an early dusk, so once again, Kit finds a nice quick overnight stop at a Wal*Mart to the east of the Illinois River in Peoria, Illinois.

With that ending, I will close this addition of Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure…stay tuned for the final addition coming soon!

Kit’s Bit’s:  This was a slightly different route home, this year.  I love traveling through the Midwest, it seems like the most direct route home for us.  However, being plagued with cold and rainy weather for most of the trip slowed us down a bit.  It was great seeing Lora and family in Colorado and her folks in Iowa.  Both stops made for nice “warm and cozy” stops as we trundled through rain, sleet, snow and very cold temps!  Brrrrr!

Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure, Journal #18

Camping without beer is just sleeping in a box.

Wilber

 

Monday, April 17, 2017:  Final morning at Oasis RV Park in Las Vegas for this year, as today Kit and I continue our eastward trek toward home.

Broke camp and pulled out at 0917 under partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 75 degrees.  While winding our way through this vast RV Park, a woman waved excitedly and pointed at the side of our camper…taking a glance in the driver’s side rearview mirror I saw the bedroom slide was still extended!?!?  First time that’s happened!  Even though we have many years’ experience, and use a detailed check sheet before departure, mistakes can still occur.  Fortunately, that slide only extends 16 inches and we hadn’t left the campground premises, so no harm.  Kit or I have alerted many other campers of similar situations concerning their rigs over the years, so blunders of that nature are more common than one would think…fortunately, RV’rs tend to look out for each other.

Driving on Interstate 15 heading north, we soon left the congestion of Vegas traffic and eased into the vast desert.

Snipping the extreme Northwest corner of Arizona, we then crossed into Utah at 1123 and promptly lost an hour because of transitioning to the Mountain Time Zone.

As a benefit, this loss of an hour gained us access to the famed Red Rock area of Southern Utah.

After nine extended winter RV trips during which Kit and I have visited every state in the lower 48, our favorite southern states to explore are…California, Arizona and Utah.  And, in our opinion, the latter has some of the most beautiful landscapes around!

These vast areas are sparsely populated and mainly inhabited by hardy creatures, such as the iconic Southwestern Lizard.

Who seem to be scampering about at every stop, darting from their protective cover of rocks or bushes to see who was intruding upon their domain.

After a refreshing lunch break in one of the nicest highway rest areas of this trip, we continued north until intersecting Interstate-70 where we turned the rig the east.  A few hours later it was time for another stop, so into a rest area we drove and sidled up to our camper’s twin!

The owners of the identical Arctic Fox 27-5L were a nice couple from Montana.  Kit and I spent about 30 minutes talking about our respective rigs, how we had modified them, and the places we’ve traveled…another in a continuing series of forging serendipity friendship’s.

Back underway and continuing east, Kit began looking for our next overnight camping opportunity.

Over the years, we have extensively explored Southern Utah and its many famous National Parks…so this trip the decision was made to skip these in favor of making more progress toward the east.  Kit found an RV friendly shopping center using the All Stays App, where we stopped for an evening of “Blacktop Boondocking” at the Wal*Mart in Richfield, Utah.

Following some shopping and walking around time, we ordered some Subway sandwiches for dinner, then spent the evening on our computers while watching the coming and goings of cars, trucks and other RV’rs as the sun set over our urban campground.

Goodnight!

 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017:  Woke to a temperature of 48 degrees…at an elevation of 7,000 feet of elevation, the weather is a whole lot different than yesterday’s desert environment!  This is the first morning in months we’ve had to use the heater.

One of my routines before departure is to check the rig for anything amiss and part of that is to check all eight tires for proper pressures and look for any unusual wear patterns.  This morning, I noticed the left rear trailer tire was exhibiting some tread separation, so since a tire shop was just down the road that was where we headed first.

The offending tire was the last of the OEM tires and at close to 30,000 rugged miles was due for replacement soon anyway.  The shop made quick work of changing out the tire and we were rolling out of town by 0830 hours.

Back on Interstate-70, we continued to roll toward the East as the sun was slowly rising.

Crossing over the Colorado border shortly before 1300, the imposing Rocky Mountains began to come into view.

Thinking it would be prudent to make the trek over the Rocky’s in the morning, Kit and I decided to stay the night at a nice riverside state park located near the town of Fruita, Colorado.

In fact, it was so nice that we made the decision to stay two nights!

Walking about the campground along the Colorado River, reaffirmed our opinion that the various state and municipal state parks are far superior to most commercial campgrounds.

Enjoyed a camper cooked meal, a few glasses of wine, and a dramatic sunset over the river.

Goodnight!

 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017-Fruita, Colorado:  The town of Fruita is the gateway to a little-known unit of the US National Park System…so on this bonus day off the road we decided to explore this interesting park.

The 32-square mile monument located on the Colorado Plateau is defined by spectacular canyons cut deep into the sandstone revealing many layers of geologic history.  Designated as a National Monument by President Taft in 1911, the park was accessible to only the most intrepid visitor.  Then in the 1930’s, the depression era Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed Rim Rock Drive which opened up the monument to more folks.

The 32-mile serpentine road covers only eight linear miles and was built using manual labor by a crew of approximately 800 men.

In addition to slicing through sandstone, there were three tunnels bored through the rock.

Which creates a unique sensation as one drives from utter darkness into the brilliant Colorado sunshine.

A bit disconcerting what with no guardrails and a 300-foot drop!?!?

Once at elevation, Rim Rock Drive meanders along one of the largest flat top mesas in the world where incredible views can be enjoyed.

On this beautiful clear day, we could see the town of Fruita, and further in the distance the city of Grand Junction with the foothills of the Rocky Mountains on the horizon.

There are a number of Turnouts to pull off allowing for walking about and gazing at some of the more unique rock formations, such as the 450-foot-tall Independence Monument…a prime desert tower rock climbing venue.

Protected by a solid capstone, Independence provides a challenging scramble to the summit for experienced climbers.

At one of the Turnouts, we came across this fellow.

Lizards are all over the Southwest, and are relatively easy to photograph with my weenie camera…unlike the many winged critters that fly about.

Along the drive there are areas that feature picnic shelters, one of the nicest is this place where we stopped to enjoy our lunch.

Nestled into the sandstone cliffs, the shelter features covered as well as open tables.  I was intrigued by the sun shining through the open weave design of the picnic tables which cast an unusual shadow pattern on the ground and the table legs.

Not sure why unusual geometric designs like that impress me, but they do!

Heading back to the campground, we made a stop in downtown Fruita.

This village of 12,640 folks bordering the Colorado River started life as a fruit grove, hence the name.  Today it is a regionally popular outdoor recreation venue and one corner of the famed Dinosaur Diamond Byway, a 512-mile circuit that connects several prehistoric fossil sites.  Throughout the town there are reminders of these two obsessions.

Another claim to fame of Fruita is Mike the Headless Chicken.

Who is honored and memorialized annually during Mike the Headless Chicken Day…read all about this unusual barnyard animal at:

http://www.miketheheadlesschicken.org/mike/page/history.

Interesting read…throughout my life, I have encountered some people that act like Mike!

Back at the state park, Kit and I relaxed about the ground’s taking in the beautiful weather and enjoying the scenery.

Also, our final sunset while West of the Rockies.

Tomorrow it is up and over the Big Hill on our quest toward home!

 

Thursday, April 20, 2017:  Woke to news of a pending storm bearing in from the west that is slated to bring snow and sleet to higher elevations.  Wanting to move east, without being stuck in the Rockies, Kit and I departed the campground at 0750 hours and headed for the hills.

Continuing Interstate-70 we paralleled the narrow Colorado River valley…so narrow, that the highway heading west is stacked over the one heading east.

Gaining altitude brought us views of lofty snowcapped peaks.

At 10,662 foot Vail Pass it was time to pull over for breakfast and the obligatory “camper in the Snow” photo shoot.

Since it looked a bit ominous to the west, we didn’t dally long but continued eastward climbing into the upper reaches of the Rockies.  I generally take such long and steep climbs a bit slower than I need to with this diesel truck, but concerned with the looming storm I drove a bit faster.  Apparently, the truck didn’t like the thin air coupled with the heavy engine load, and I received a warning on the console to slow down due to turbo overheating.  Tucking in amongst the long-haul truckers crawling up the grade, the turbo cooled and the truck returned to normal…lesson learned!

Topping out at 11,158 feet we punched through the mountain via the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Bored in the 1970’s in order to bring this portion of I-70 into compliance with the Interstate Highway system.  The Eisenhower Tunnel’s altitude and length make it one of the most unusual highway structures in the world.

The tunnel features a unique traffic control system…it monitors a vehicles height, width and weight, then sets the speed limit for the safety of the largest vehicle entering, in our case 40 MPH.

Exiting the Eisenhower Tunnel, we began the long steep decent down the Eastern Slope of the Rockies, through the city of Denver and toward the town of Aurora, Colorado.  Nearby, we found Buckley Air Force Base and stopped for the evening at their very nice lakeside Recreation Facility.

Following dinner, Kit and I enjoyed the sunset while toasting our successful crossing of the mighty Rocky Mountain’s.

Goodnight!  Stay tuned for another addition/edition/eposide/chapter of Bill and Kit’s Excellent Adventure…coming soon!

Kit’s Bit’s:  After a few months of easy travel and many stops, we had to adjust to a more arduous schedule.  Plus, the weather was becoming a factor.  We had to dig out our winter duds and stow the summer clothes.  Wind, snow and rain were becoming factors to consider.  Fortunately, we had enough time to get home that we could stop after two or three days of driving, to rest up.  We also had a couple of nice days; cold, but sunny, which made the harsh weather a bit more bearable.  And, for me, seeing nice green trees was a huge treat!

Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure, Journal #17

Presents

Jack and Tucker’s Most Excellent Spring Break Camping Adventure

 That’s why I love road trips, dude. It’s like doing something without actually doing anything.

John Greene

 

Monday, April 10, 2017:  Leaving Oasis RV Park in Las Vegas with these two chuckleheads in tow.

The morning is sunny and clear with temperatures near 70 degrees which makes it a great day for a road trip.  Heading south, we passed through Boulder City and down into the valley of the Colorado River and its impoundment, Lake Mead.

Due to the recent rains, the lake is much higher than in the past, and the snows in the mountains haven’t begun to melt yet!

A successful road trip requires entertainment along the way, and plenty of rest stops for food, drink, and exercise.

Where the boys can release some energy by running amuck in the vast desert.

The reason for the barbed wire is to keep pre-teen boys away from the free-range cattle.

This is a surprise road trip so neither Jack of Tucker know where we are headed.  However, Jack took that as a challenge.  Paying attention to our direction and asking a few questions he deduced that we were heading to Arizona…and he was correct!

Doesn’t look like Arizona? Well, that’s because this is one of the most ecologically diverse states in the union and we are in high desert country heading toward the mountains!  An hour to the east brought us to our first destination…Williams, Arizona.

Where we set up camp at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park.

Tomorrow, the train to The Grand Canyon and the boys are some excited!

 

Tuesday, April 11 and Wednesday, April 12, 2017-Williams, Arizona:  Up early to catch the train to the South Rim…but first we enjoyed an introduction to western culture.

Where we interrupted an “encounter” between some outlaws.

And the law.

And, as the song goes…the law won!

Next it was time to board the train to Grand Canyon National Park.

The trainway was developed from an old ore mining track by The Santa Fe Railroad in the early 1900’s.  It was the primary vehicle (no pun intended) to bring folks to the railroads hotels and tourist camps at the new Grand Canyon National Monument, recently protected under the Antiquities Act by President Theodore Roosevelt.

An agreement was worked out by the boys as to who would sit with whom during the trip.  Tucker has a window seat with Gumbo.

And Jack got stuck with me.

Then on the return trip, the boys agreed to swap…pretty diplomatic as well as a great compromise.

During the two-hour trip, there were a series of musicians that came through the coach to entertain the passengers.

While the high desert countryside rolled by.

Many trips to the diner car, resulted in the boys discovering they could straddle the coupling between cars and feel the sensation of the two coaches moving over the rails independently.

Arriving at Grand Canyon National Park train station, we made our way up the hill toward the rim.  Allowing Jack and Tucker to lead the way was strategic, as we knew the “oh wow” factor of seeing the canyon for the first time.

And…as if on que, upon initially viewing the grandeur, both boys gasped and emitted the waited for “oh wow”!

They both divulged that this was their first National Park, but it wouldn’t be the last!  Glad we could be a part of it!!

We walked the rim trail toward the west and stopped for lunch at Bright Angel Lodge.  Then it was back east along the trail where some Navajo Indians were holding court.

Then some more gawking at the magnificent Grand Canyon!

What a great day!

Walking to the train station, we spotted this unique camper.

Kit and I have seen a number of bus conversions on the road…but never a Woodie!

Back on the train, Jack who usually has his head buried in his iPad, was lost in quiet reverie as the train rolled along.

We firmly believe that exposing children to Americas natural wonders in the various units of the National Park System will create lifelong conservationists, and adults that will protect funding for these beautiful places.

The trip back to Williams had musical entertainment as well.

And those dastardly outlaws reappeared!

This time to hold up the passengers!

It should be noted that these outlaws have a warm heart as all their ill-gotten booty went to charity.

A great day was had by all at one of America’s great National Parks!

Thanks Jack and Tucker for sharing the day with us!

We also spent some time touring the frontier town of Williams, which being on Historic Route 66, had its fair share of gift shops.

This particular place features many sculptures and other items made from castoff junk and expended brass.

As we walked down the street, music from the early years of rock was heard emitting from Cruisers Café.

Which lured us in for some great barbeque.

While John kept us entertained with many classic tunes.

Tomorrow we are off to the next stop on Jack and Tuckers Spring Break Adventure!

 

Thursday, April 13, 2017:  Woke to sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60’s.  Broke camp then headed east on Route 66, until we came to I-40 which we traveled on toward the town of Flagstaff.

That’s 12,633-foot Mount Humphries in the photo above…it usually has snow until late spring, and sometimes even longer.  Heading south a short distance from town found us at Fort Tuthill, a US Military Recreation Facility located in the foothills of the San Francisco Mountains.

Unlike campgrounds found on most military installations, these recreation facilities are for the troops and their families to get away for, well…recreation.  In this case, 140 miles away from its sponsoring installation of Luke Air Force Base outside Phoenix.

In addition to a nice wilderness campground, Fort Tuthill also features a lodge, cabins and yurt’s. on elevated platforms

Located in the Coconino Forest, the area contains the largest stand of Ponderosa Pine in the world, so the boys found plenty of room to explore.

On one of their hikes, Jack and Tucker discovered a “debris hut” that someone had meticulously created.

Evidence showed that this rather large structure made of branches, twigs and pine boughs had a substantial roof and was relatively weathertight.  Unfortunately, the ravages of the severe winters and/or human vandalism has caused the hut to deteriorate.  Nowadays, the only inhabitants are forest creatures such as this fellow scurrying about the branches and twigs.

That folks, is a Horned Toad similar to the species I used to capture for pets as a youngster…and chase the neighborhood girls with.

So, what do two city boys do when in the forest?  Why dig in the dirt of course!

They both fashioned primitive tools and used basic physics to try and unearth a rather large boulder.  A great effort, but that was one huge boulder!

Back at the camper, and following dinner, it was time for a game called “Pile on Gumbo!

Goodnight…tomorrow more adventures await!

 

Friday, April 14, 2017-Flagstaff, Arizona:  Woke early to sunny but cool weather with temperatures in the 50’s.

“While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping”… Yep, while lying in bed enjoying the cloud formations viewed through the skylight and waiting for the boys to begin stirring about, this visitor appeared.

Being an inventive soul I decided to name him/her, Nevermore!  Which was appropriate as he/she never appeared again during our stay.  If it hadn’t been for my iPhone nearby I would not have photographic evidence and the family would think I’m crazier than I actually am.

There are many reasons Kit and I decided to bring the boys to this part of Northern Arizona…cool crisp mountain air in a pine forest surrounded by lofty peaks, and one of the premier Ropes Courses in the country!

Within walking distance of the campground lies a tree-top adventure course known as Flag-X which features a series of challenging sections one must negotiate to move along the course.  Able to proceed independently at your own speed, and having the opportunity to descend to ground level when desired, makes this course suitable for most every ability.

After signing the waiver forms, the next step is to harness up with two opposing safety lines then test out the safety gear on a low-level rope…actually, a steel cable.

Then it’s off to the first course which consists of logs,

Plank Bridges,

And Zip Lines.

Both boys aced the first course, then it was off to the next one.

A bit higher, and more challenging, Jack made short work of this course as well…doing the route three times, and with each lap he gained more confidence.  Tucker, however had a bit of difficulty with this more difficult course.  A Flag-X staff person climbed up into the trees and spent a great deal of time working with him which gained his success in a few more of the sections.

But at the swinging log bridge, he couldn’t quite make it across…maybe next year!  Jack on the other hand was all smiles as he zipped the final section.

Both boys were happy and tired at the end of the day and agreed a return trip to Flag-X was in their future!

 

Saturday, April 15, 2017: Today we head back into the city of Las Vegas.  Deciding to take a different route home, we headed for Laughlin, Nevada and then northerly on US-95 paralleling the west shore of the Colorado River.  And, no surprise, windflowers were carpeting the desert here as well!

Along the way, the boys discovered our antique music playlist on my iPad and started rocking out to classics from The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Beach Boys, and others.  Kit and I enjoyed the tunes and the boys received an education in great music…a win-win!

Back in town, we backed the camper into the kid’s driveway to unload gear.  Since it was Easter eve, and the nonbelieving boys were sure they would wake to plastic eggs full of money, both Jack and Tucker wanted to stay in their home this evening.  So, Kit and I headed over to Oasis RV, enjoyed a nice meal and a few cocktails before dropping off to sleep.

 

Sunday, April 16, 2017-Las Vegas, Nevada:  Woke to really nice spring weather.  Suzie has invited us over for a traditional Easter backyard barbeque this afternoon, so we spent the morning relaxing about the RV park.

Our contribution to the meal was goodies from Freed’s Bakery…a Vegas institution, where we stopped on the way over.

This place is consistently packed with drooling patrons.

We selected four large pieces of cake…Chocolate Parisian, Lemon Chiffon, and Carrot Cake.

Hey, don’t be judgmental…the chocolate deliciousness is balanced out by the fruit and vegetable offering!

We also enjoyed grilled meat, broccoli salad, and deviled eggs made from the boys Easter handiwork.

After the meal, there were a few rounds of full contact ping-pong which provided a lot of entertainment.

New rules were developed that allowed caroming off the side of the house, and multiple do-overs of the serve.

Saying our goodbyes and getting prolonged grandkid hugs, Kit and I headed back to the RV park for the evening.  Tomorrow we continue east toward home…stay tuned!

Gumbo’s Brief’s:  We thoroughly enjoyed our Spring Break Adventure with Jack and Tucker!  The train ride to The Grand Canyon was fun.  We were able to see a lot of the countryside without having to worry about driving.  A rare treat for us!  The boys had so much fun, both at the Grand Canyon and Fort Tuthill.  Much of my enjoyment comes from the fact that Pop is “reliving his childhood” with the kids.  Watching the three of them “playing” is a hoot, as you can imagine!  He never misses an opportunity to be a kid again.  😉

Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure, Journal #16

 Travel makes one modest.  You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.

Arthur R Olson

 

Sunday, April 2 through Wednesday, April 5, 2017-Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, Nevada: This RV park in North Vegas is our go-to facility when we want to be near our daughter and her family but not too close as to interfere with their weekday routines.  Desert Eagle, as it is called, has always been one of the top rated military RV Park’s in the system and is consistently at near full capacity.

Since Kit and I rarely make advanced reservations, we usually are relegated to an older partial hook-up site, as we were during this stay…or to the no hook-up area of overflow, which is basically a large dirt parking lot.  Fortunately, Desert Eagle is undergoing a major expansion this year that will nearly double their campsites, so on future trips we may be able to score a full hook up spot!

Kit and I spent most of our down time while at Desert Eagle doing chores…cleaning the road grime and suicidal bugs off the RV, vacuuming up the dust from our wind storm experience, attending to some administrative issues and shopping for kid friendly food for the upcoming Jack and Tucker Spring Break Adventure. We also relaxed bit enjoying the reprieve from the road and the spectacular sunsets.

On April 4th, which happened to be someone’s 70th birthday, said someone wanted to go down to the Vegas Strip and ride a Ferris Wheel…but not just any old wimpy Ferris Wheel…nope, the largest Ferris Wheel in the world!

The High Roller is a 550-foot-tall giant that towers over the Las Vegas strip.  Built in 2014 by the Caesar’s Palace folks to anchor their new destination shopping, gambling, and dining plaza called LINQ, the High Roller features 28 “Passenger Capsules”.  Each 22-foot diameter capsule is capable of carrying up to 40 folks while it makes a thirty-minute round (no pun intended) trip rotating on a vertical axis to keep the floor of the capsule horizontal to the horizon.

And as expected, the views are spectacular!

And a bit unnerving!

Full size automobiles look like little toy Matchbook cars!

However, the ride is mesmerizing, and as smooth as glass…speaking of which much of the Passenger Capsule is glass!

What a thrill!  If your travels ever find you in Las Vegas, check out The High Roller, it’s an unforgettable experience!

Next on the agenda for the milestone birthday boy was a walk about a nearby car dealership, The Auto Collection.

Located on the fifth floor of the Imperial Palace Hotel, this 125,000-square foot auto dealership contains over 250 classic automobiles, most of which are for sale!  MSRP’s range from $30,000.00 to several million for the rarest examples on the lot.  Some of my favorites were the 1969 Camaro SS/L78 at only $85,000.00.

And a rare 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500.

This is the famed “Eleanor” from the film “Gone in Sixty Seconds” …a steal (pun intended) at only $1,300,000.00!

A sentimental favorite of mine was this classic family car…a 1955 Ford Station Wagon.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t for sale!?!?  Must be a sentimental favorite of the dealership as well!  Spent a lot of time riding in that buggy going on motor trips to the mountains or hauling the neighborhood kids to the beach.

Also, I drooled over this 1933 Ford 3-Window Coupe!

A classic design, the resto-rod has been updated with modern drive train…and this creampuff can be yours for only $85,000.00!

Also, there was this plain looking sedan.

A 1965 Dodge Coronet two-door sedan, this rather pedestrian looking (no pun intended) automobile is a real “sleeper” with its original 383 CID engine modified to produce over 500 horsepower!  And with an asking price of $32,500.00 relatively affordable as well!

While I was enjoying the many cars in the collection, Kit was enjoying some much needed “Retail Therapy”.  Eventually we reconnected on the LINQ Plaza and wandered into a nice brewpub called The Yard House.

Where we enjoyed a late afternoon lunch and a few of the tavern’s barley pop’s!

Kit enjoyed the Salmon.

While I indulged in the shrimp, crab and lobster noodles.

Which paired well with a vintage Porter.

The food and drink were fantastic!

Relaxing over coffee, we discussed what to do next.  Since it was getting near dusk we (I…the birthday boy) decided to ride The High Roller again.

Kit and I were able to time it just right to view the sun setting over the western mountains as the lights of Las Vegas came to life!

It is a whole different experience riding through the Nevada night sky.

But just as awe-inspiring and enjoyable as the first time!

What a great way to spend my 70th birthday…thanks Kit, for accommodating my wishes!

 

Thursday, April 6, 2017:  Departed Desert Eagle RV Park on Nellis Air Force Base at 1120.  Hopped on Interstate 15 for the short 21-mile trip south toward our next camping opportunity…Oasis RV Park, a spot we have enjoyed many times in the past.

We asked for, and received a deluxe site in order to be close to the clubhouse and pool area.  In addition, the space is larger than the standard site and features real grass…a unique commodity in the arid desert!

The main reason we relocated just a short distance away and to an RV Park that costs three times as much, is location, amenities, and location.  Oasis RV Park is a mere five minutes from the kids’ house and it has a nice swimming pool!

Which the boy’s enjoyed frolicking about in until late in the evening.

Also, since spring break for Jack and Tucker begins tomorrow, we wanted to start the adventure early while their parents enjoyed some time off as well.  To this end, Kit and I volunteered to take Tucker to his electric guitar lesson at the School of Rock.

Where we got to sit in on a jam session and enjoy him performing classic rock songs on his Fender.

We also hung around the neighborhood and met some of his schoolmates.

Faith is one of Tucker’s best friends, and they seem to hit it off very well!

On Sunday, which was Kit’s birthday, the whole family gathered at the Silverton to enjoy a fabulous brunch.

The food and the company was very enjoyable!

And as a special birthday treat for Kit, I was able to snap a few photos of daughter Suzie, son-in-law, Kevin and the boy’s…Jack, age 12 and Tucker age, 9 and 9/10ths.

Since this is the final evening before we take the kids on a weeklong camping adventure, they wanted to sleep in their own beds.  So, Kit and I returned to the RV Park, and readied for an early morning departure.  We also walked about the park a bit where we noticed this interesting RV and matching trailer.

That’s about a million dollars of motorhome and car-hauler trailer there folks, taking up two expensive RV sites.  Rumor has it that the trailer contains two exotic supercars, one of with is reported to be a Lamborghini!  No sign of the owners was detected during the time we were there…must be nice to have the big bucks!?!?

Stopping by the pool, we sat and reflected (pun intended) on the day.

And discussed the upcoming grandkid camping trip while indulging in a birthday treat.

As night fell on the entertainment capital of the world, we bid you a pleasant goodnight.

Stay tuned for “Jack and Tucker’s Excellent Spring Break Adventure” coming soon to a website near you.

Gumbo’s Briefs (pun intended):  Well, suddenly, I’m Gumbo!  When our two youngest Grand Boys were small, they came up with this name for me.  Since my original name is Guma, from our oldest Grand Boy, Joe, when the younger two are in Maine, all five Grands call me Guma.  In Las Vegas, they call me Gumbo.  We thoroughly enjoyed Bill’s 70th Birthday, and riding the big Ferris wheel.  I wasn’t too keen on it at first but, it was so smooth and provided the most awesome view of Las Vegas!  It was also fun to ride it at night, too.  Even more spectacular!  Only thing I can’t quite get used to is, 70?  How did this come so quickly????

Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure, Journal #15

Life’s like a road that you travel; When there’s one day here and the next day; Sometimes you bend and sometimes you stand; Sometimes you turn your back to the wind.

Tom Cochrane

 

Sunday, March 26, 2017:  On the road at 1000 hours from Seal Beach, California and heading home…well, heading easterly anyway.  Can’t very well go west any distance, and we’ve spent considerable time in the south.  Originally, we intended to head north to explore more of Oregon and Washington, but Kit and I recently received an offer that was impossible to pass up!  Our Vegas grandchildren are starting spring break in a few weeks, and we have an opportunity to hang out with them!

Soon we were rolling by the cities of Anaheim, Garden Grove and Corona, while mixing it up with the typical California traffic.

The morning coastal fog began to dissipate as we traversed the Santa Ana Mountains while heading toward the city of Riverside.

Where we made a stop at the National Cemetery to pay respects to Kit’s mom and dad who are at rest there.

With both of our parents gone, Kit and I are now the “older generation” in our respective families… a fact that seems surreal at times!  We spent an hour wandering about the nicely landscaped grounds while visiting with the many departed veterans, including Frank and Charlotte.

The many US National Cemeteries spread across this land are, in addition to an honored spot of eternal repose, a history lesson in the sacrifice our servicemen and women had made to keep America free…thank you for your service!

Back on the road, and heading northeast on Interstate 215, we encountered the desert “Super-Bloom” that has been in the press as of late!

A rare occurrence, that takes the right amount of moisture and temperatures to develop, the desert floor erupts into a spectacular show of color!

Intersecting I-10, we headed east for our next stop of Twenty Nine Palms, California.

And found the campground onboard Twenty Nine Palms Marine Corps Base…our planned home for the next few days.

The base campground used to be a mobile home park so the sites are large, well spread out, and feature covered car ports and utility sheds.

This base is a prime training facility for marines headed for combat in the Middle East.  The weather and terrain here resembles the land in that war-torn area of the world.

And as the day closes, the desert sunsets are almost as spectacular as those over the Pacific Ocean!

Goodnight!

 

Monday, May 27 through Friday, May 31, 2017 Twenty Nine Palms, California: The main reason for this stop was to spend a few days exploring Joshua Tree National Park, which is located about 10 miles to the south.  J Tree, as it is called, is a relatively new National Park having been so designated in 1994.

It’s 790,636 acres covers parts of two deserts…the Mojave and the Colorado.  The higher and cooler Mojave Desert is the home of the Joshua Tree, actually a species of Yucca, and was named by early Mormon settlers because the tree’s form reminded them of the prophet Joshua praying with outstretched arms.

To me however, the Joshua Tree looks more like something that Doctor Seuss would have designed!

At the tips of the arms on the Joshua Tree during this time of the year, you can frequently see blooms of creamy white flowers.

The next most prevalent plant in the park is the iconic Cholla.

And many of these are blooming like crazy as well!

In fact, driving through J Tree it is evident that the abundant spring rains have produced colorful blooms in every direction.

So, fellow residents of the Joshua Tree and Cholla are also in bloom…such as the Yucca.

And the Ocotillo.

Even the lowly Prickly Pear Cactus gets into the act.

And a lot of wildflowers also dot the desert floor.

Which bloom in a variety of colors.

Many times, they struggle in the open and are barely noticed by passersby…such as this little fellow.

Where there are springs bubbling to the surface you will find larger trees and plants…such as the Palm, the Cedar, the Pinion Pine and the Sagebrush.

Whenever Kit and I explore a National Park, we drive through the campgrounds to see if our rig would fit in any of the spaces.  J Tree, being a newer park did have some suitable sites, but they were reserved many months ago thanks to spring break season.  In rounding a bend on one of the campground loops we encountered this sight.

Yep, it’s a T-Rex…and he stopped by for a visit!

Yep, it is definitely Spring Break in the Pacific Southwest!

So, what brings college kids to J Tree?  Well, in addition to the beautiful desert landscape, there are rocks to climb!

Some of which put on a rather sinister face!

Kit and I have tried to visit J Tree during past Excellent Adventure trips but it has never worked out…we are sure glad we finally made it…and Kit made a new friend!

We had planned to only spend three nights here in Twenty Nine Palms, but a ferocious wind storm came up and pinned us down for an additional two nights.

The 60 MPH desert storm was blowing sand everywhere, and making travel difficult!

The fine sand and dust even found their way into the closed-up camper!

And it masked the sun for much of the day!

One day we never left the camper, just spent time catching up on reading, correspondence and online banking…Kit also put up a nice crockpot of pork ribs to lighten the mood!

And, the second day of the storm we sought refuge at the Post Exchange. That’s the nature of being on the road…you just roll with the punches!  Tomorrow we head to Las Vegas!

 

Saturday, April 1, 2017:  Oh boy…we had planned on leaving this morning, but another weather issue has confronted us!?!?

What a cruel joke to play…not on me and Kit, but you folks!  Happy April Fool’s Day!  It is actually 73 degrees and sunny with calmer winds…finally!

As I’ve mentioned in many journals, the information that allows these journals to be developed are due to the efforts of Kit keeping a detailed account in a spiral bound notebook.  There is a funny quote in today’s notebook entry where she wrote: “Sayonara, nice to know you…once is enough”!  Guess she didn’t like all that wind!

Oh, and ask her about the nylon reusable grocery bag that took flight.  Reenactment photo is provided above as I was laughing too hard when it happened to snap a photo!

On the road at 1030 hours and making tracks for Las Vegas!  As Kit and I headed out of Twenty-Nine Palms, we encountered this strange contraption.

Guess that sailor really doesn’t want to heel over too much!?!?

Pulling off on Amboy Road we headed toward the northeast and the Bullion Mountains.

Rolling through the foothills Kit noticed a few riparian areas where small settlements were thriving.

After threading our way through the mountains, we descended back into flat desert terrain.

Intersecting US Route 66 Kit and I hopped on the historic highway and headed into the town of Amboy, California.

Photo From the Web

Amboy was a thriving stop for the Santa Fe Railroad as well as the motoring public heading to the coast…until 1973.  That’s when Interstate 40 opened and the town slowly died.  A scrappy town, it is self-described by the 4 remaining residents as “The Ghost Town that Ain’t Dead Yet”.  However, Amboy is beginning to come back to life with the purchase by a wealthy businessman who intends to market the location to Hollywood for movie shoots.

Just outside the town of Amboy lies the salt extraction operation of The National Chloride Corporation.

Located at Bristol Dry Lake the area contains an estimated 60,000,000 Tons of salt in repository.

Kit and I had intended to head north through Death Valley toward the town of Lone Pine, California and visit the Manzanar National Historic Site.  However, the two-day windstorm delay caused us to reschedule this bucket list item until a future trip.

After a meander on Route 66 we moved over to its nemesis I-40 and continued toward the east.  By early afternoon, we encountered US-95 and headed north through the town of Searchlight and crossed the Nevada border.  Pulling off the highway as we neared Las Vegas, we encountered this western scene.

There are a surprising number of horses in the Las Vegas area…most of which are on the periphery of the city.

At 1615 hours we arrived at Nellis AFB and set up at their RV Park in “The Low Rent District”…partial hookups and off by itself.

Oh well, it was flat, clean and cheap.

Since we arrived a few days earlier than anticipated, no one knows we are in town…time for some stealth “touristing” (is this even a word? Kit) before we pick up the boys for their week of spring break.

Stay Tuned!

Kit’s Bit’s:  Glad to have finally seen Twenty Nine Palms!  I’ve heard about it for many years and always imagined it as a lush green oasis in the desert. Not! The town itself was interesting, there are many murals on the town buildings which are interesting.  And, the town itself was quite nice.  However, I wasn’t prepared for the worst wind storm we’ve ever experienced!  I was very thankful we were in a rather heavy camper.  If we had been in a tent, well, no telling what would have happened.  We may have blown over to those very rugged mountains and been lost forever!

Bill and Kit’s 2017 Excellent Adventure, Journal #14

You can’t buy happiness…but you can buy an RV, and that’s pretty close.

Unknown

 

Sunday, March 19 through Saturday, March 25, 2017-Seal Beach, California:  This is our second stay in the Seal Beach area, and it is quickly becoming one of our top ten favorite RV locations.  It is close to the megalopolis of Los Angeles, but small enough to still have that California beach vibe of the 1960’s…and it is close to other classic California beach communities.  The town is nestled between the industrial port city of Long Beach to the north and the more touristy, self-proclaimed “Surf City” of Huntington Beach to the south.

A relatively small town of 24,000 folks Seal Beach’s main employer is the Boeing Company whose prime customer is NASA.  Originally known as Anaheim Landing, a seaside resort area of the California city of Anaheim, the Town of Seal Beach is a quaint, quiet, and as of yet undiscovered by the throngs, beach town.

Seal Beach is also home to the US Navy Weapons Station, a port call we made frequently on the way to the Western pacific and the waters off Vietnam.  Needing a sizable area for safety and security reasons, the weapons station has put much of the its land into conservation by hosting the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge.

An interesting side note is that this 965-acre Salt Water Marsh, is managed by the National Fish and Game Department and overseen by a young Game Warden from Bath, Maine!

Many coastal California towns feature a pier jutting out into the ocean and Seal Beach is no exception.

Suitable for fishing and pedestrian strolling it provides a view of the town normally enjoyed only by boaters or surfers.

Kit and I enjoyed walking about this small beach community and poking into the shops, galleries and restaurant that line Main Street.

One of the RV’rs favorite pastimes is to wander about the campground and check out license plates to see where everyone hails from.  Being this far from the Northeast, it is rare to spot any plates from New England and especially from the state of Maine…I’m guessing due to Maine retired folks’ predisposition to head directly to Florida for the winter.

However, during our stay we met these fine folks camping directly across the road from us!

Darrell and Becky live near Maine’s Pleasant Pond, just a few miles from our home.  Darrell, retired from the Navy and Becky who retired from the Supervisor of Shipbuilding have also been snow-birding throughout the country.  We hit it off immediately, and spent a few pleasant evenings sharing cocktails and stories.

They seemed to be interested in my passion for high performance kite flying, so one day we met on the beach and I broke out the kites.  After some very brief instructions, they took turns flying and soon had the 1.5 meter parafoil dancing in the sky!

Following a few enjoyable hours on the beach, we retired to a nice beachside restaurant called The Hangout.

Where we continued to enjoy their company over a few beers and some excellent food.

Exchanging contact information, we vowed to stay in touch and connect when we all returned to Maine.

As the sun set in the western sky, Kit and I walked back to our truck where I snapped the following photo looking across the bay toward Long Beach.

Not your typical California sunset photo, but I thought it striking enough to close out the day with.  And, by the way, that photo is in full color…believe it or not!

One item on Kit’s Bucket List was to visit San Juan Capistrano.  This quaint and historic town of 34,500 folks sits 35 miles to the south just inland from Dana Point.  Settled in 1776 around the Spanish Mission of the same name, many adobe buildings have stood in town since the early 1800’s.  Visiting the area in 1830 while serving aboard the sailing brig Pilgrim, Richard Dana, author of the classic Two Years Before the Mast, exclaimed; “San Juan is the only romantic spot in California” …a statement that may still be true to this day.

The chapel on the grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano is the oldest structure in continuous use in the state of California.

Daily Catholic Mass has been said in the mission chapel for the past 241 years!

Once again, as in other mission buildings, the narrow profile of the chapel is a direct result of the height of the available trees in the area that were downed to form the roof rafters.

This is the only mission church where Father Junipero Serra, the Apostle of California, was known to have held services.  As in the past, Kit and I lit a votive candle for the many departed family and friends we have lost.

Also on the premises is a much larger house of worship, that was constructed in 1986.

The interior of The Basilica is very impressive indeed.

The Grand Retablo with The Trinity at top center is carved from cedar, and covered completely in gold leaf.

Also, many hand painted murals decorate the Basilica walls.

As a nod to modernization, the votive candles located throughout The Basilica are electrified.  One just makes a donation and flips a switch to send your prayers and wishes to the heavens…not sure how I feel about that but we “energized” a candle anyway.

San Juan Capistrano is also famous for the seasonal return of the American Cliff Swallows who build their mud nests under the eaves of various Mission structures.

The swallows make their annual migration from their winter roost in Argentina flying over 6,000 miles to their summer home in the Mission San Juan Capistrano.  Which makes them, I would surmise, the original snowbirds!

Also on the mission grounds lies a beautiful courtyard.

Which was incredibly landscaped with native vegetation, trees and bushes.

Such as this colorful flowering bush.

There is also a central fountain and lily pond.

Containing colorful Koi.

A perfect environment to rest and reflect.

For man, woman, or beast.

At the end of the day exploring the San Juan Capistrano Mission District Kit and I were getting hungry, so on advice of one of the Mission docents we walked into town for a fine Mexican meal at El Maguey’s.  The restaurant is under third generation management and the food was incredible!  I had the Carne Asada plate with house made rice and refried beans.

Kit enjoyed a burrito with Mole Poblano sauce.

Which was a first for her and she really enjoyed the flavor this Mexican condiment gave the food.

Then, on yet another day, Kit and I took a ride south on the Pacific Coast Highway toward Surf City USA.

Huntington Beach, a city of 190,000 folks, came by the moniker of “Surf City” when the California surf-music duo Jan and Dean divulged that their classic 1963 song “Surf City USA” was inspired by Huntington Beach.  So, it is appropriate that the World Surfing Championship is held in the waters off Huntington Beach each summer.

And yes, this beach community features a pier jutting into the ocean as well.

From which a panoramic view of the beach can be enjoyed.

And a bird’s eye view of the locals catching winter shore breaks nearby.

At the foot of the 1000-foot pier lies Ruby’s, a local dining institution.

And many of California’s Gull population hover in the onshore breeze above fisherman, and the occasional unsuspecting tourist.

As picturesque as these scenes are, just a few miles offshore there is some serious submerged drilling and pumping going on.

Oil drilling has been going on in this part of California since the 1920’s.

Many years ago, on the rare occasion when we could gather enough gas money and pile our boards on someone’s barely running car, we would head north from San Diego to sample the surf in Huntington Beach.  But unlike those days, the oil drilling process is far cleaner now…no longer is there “Tar Balls” washing ashore, nor is there the smell of oil in the air.

One of the legends in the early years of California surf history is a local gentleman by the name of Bob Bolen.

Professionally known as “The Greek”, Bob started shaping surfboards as a teenager in his garage…as most of us did.

Yep, that skinny dork on the right is a 13-year-old Bill posing with the crude surfboard I built in my garage.  Next to me is my brother Don, a lot smarter and wealthier…he had a “store-bought” board as my buddy Billy did, a nice Gordon and Smith model.  The “kid” on the left is Billy’s brother, Tommy, sporting a skim-board of the day.

Unlike most teen surfers of the early 1960’s, The Greek persevered and became a nationally ranked competitive surfer as well as one of the top shapers in the Huntington Beach area…and at 74 years old, he’s still at it!

It was thoroughly enjoyable to visit Bob and “talk story” about the early days of surfing in California.  In addition to his surf shop, Bob is a real estate broker in town.  If you’re ever in Huntington Beach, stop by his office and learn more about his fascinating life.

Another must stop in “Surf City” is The International Surfing Museum.

Not as large or well displayed as Oceanside’s California Surfing Museum, it does have some interesting artifacts from the golden age of surfing.

The bottom board in the photo above is representative of the size and design we used to catch waves on at the breaks in and around San Diego.  Today the rage is the “short board” about half that size and providing little flotation.

A short board partially sinks until the surfer paddles hard and catches a wave.

At that point, a short board becomes superior to the long board, able to snap turns quickly and accelerate without walking the nose…guess if I was younger and just learning to surf I would select a short board as well.

The museum also has a very unique and interesting surfboard…one of a kind!

The board, so large it had to be exhibited outside, was used to break the Guinness Record for the most surfers riding a wave on one surfboard!

Other than the record 66 folks on one board riding a wave, the other unique thing about this 42-foot-long, 11-foot-wide monster, is that it was shaped by a little know surfboard manufacturer in…Rhode Island!?!?

Huntington Beach is a fun place to walk about, take in the sights and meet the locals…such as this retiree and his parrot who ride their bike into town and visit other retirees on the beach.

The Pistachio you see in the bird’s beak was plucked from my fingers just seconds before.

It is also fun to just to sit and watch some of the nice cars cruise down Beach Boulevard.

A great day in a classic beach community!

Back at the camp, we also spent time enjoying our spacious site by sitting outside to read, or just relax.

Oh, one funny thing happened as I was preparing the truck and camper for departure.  Kit came out and asked me to pick up the wadded-up paper towel she claimed I had dropped.

Yep, time for your annual eye exam there, Kit!

So, as the sun sets on our final day along the coast of California, I feel compelled to add one last Pacific Ocean sunset scene.

Tomorrow we begin heading east…stay tuned!

Kit’s Bit’s:  I particularly enjoyed Seal Beach, both the RV Park and the town itself.  It’s much smaller than either Huntington Beach or Pacific Beach where we hung out during our teen years, thus, easier to walk about, browse the shops and get a bite to eat.  It was great meeting Darrell and Becky from Maine and getting to know them.  Hope to see them again this summer.  I thoroughly enjoyed finally seeing San Juan Capistrano in its entirety!  During our very brief “honeymoon” which was one night in a motel in Orange, CA, I wanted to stop by and visit the mission on our way home.  Bill had planned to go surfing late that afternoon with his buddies Rodney & Billy and, well, I hadn’t quite learned to speak up yet so, he got his way.  I learned quickly after that, though!  I toured it briefly with my sister many years later but we didn’t have the time to see the entire mission.  So, finally, I can check it off my Bucket List, after nearly 52 years.