Power……

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Sunset over Laguna Madre – how in the world did I ever get this shot!?

I am doing the ultimate *happy dance* right now!!!  My last three years at Dartmouth College, I participated in a lunchtime line-dancing class which I absolutely loved.  One of the songs we routinely danced to was Happy, by Pharrell Williams.  Now, in all honesty, this was actually not my favorite line-dancing tune.  In fact, I came to really hate the song.  Not necessarily because of the song, however.  It was the choreography that bothered me most.   But, now – I feel like dancing this all over Big Bend National Park!

“(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
(Because I’m happy)
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do”

Okay – maybe I’ve gone a tad overboard.   But, something as simple as a 12v to 110 power inverter has changed my life today.

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Thanks Luke for the inverter – your new one will be on its way soon!

When Jim and I were planning our hiatus from the real world, we intentionally tried to keep it simple.  Instead of trying to figure out every last item we should bring along with us, we consciously decided to let experience and need *on the road* dictate our trajectory.   That said – we did not necessarily agree on what to bring or not to bring – we made compromises as we packed.  I, for example, really felt we should start the trip with a generator since I intended to utilize the boon-docking concept to the maximum when we traveled, and wanted a means to keep our batteries and my electronics charged.  Jim wanted to wait and try to do without this expensive piece of equipment as long as we could, in the hopes of adding solar capabilities along the way and eliminating the need for a generator completely.  He won that argument at the time.

Since the plan was to work along the way, and be connected to full hook-ups as much as possible, we went with the low-tech approach to full-time RV-ing.  And I must say we managed for more than 6 months this way.  Fast-forward to the present day…….

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I’ll be adding bird shots from Laguna Madre throughout – just for interest.  They have nothing to do with my story!

Since we’ve been spending more time boon-docking and unconnected to 110 power, I’ve been particularly challenged with keeping my laptop charged up.  Let’s be honest here – I have been downright “ugly” about it!  It’s been bad enough relying solely on cell data for internet access.  We tend to be drawn to areas that are not necessarily cell service friendly.  (Picture me sitting huddled over my computer being bombarded with gale-force winds on the deck at the Padre Island Visitor Center – plugged into an outlet and trying to access horribly inept WiFi.  It was not a pretty site).

As I mentioned in the previous post, we did finally break down and purchase a generator.  Let me paint the picture for you on how that happened.

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We had moved from our spot on South Beach at Padre Island to the campground at Bird Island Basin.  Our first night there was absolutely idyllic.  You remember the pictures of that beautiful sunset, right?  Well, little did we know as we gazed out over a tranquil lagoon watching the sun go down, that the weather was about to take a turn for the worst.  Without cell service, I was unable to keep up with the weather on a daily basis.  We found out the next day from fellow campers that things were going to go downhill weather-wise and fast.   Bird Island Basin is a wind-surfers paradise for a very good reason.  WIND!

We consider ourselves to be pretty hardy campers, having spent more than a few years’ tent camping and cold weather at night does not immediately register as cause for concern.  However, with the trailer things get a bit more complicated.  There is water involved, in pipes that might freeze.  And that is cause for concern!

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Loved watching those darn pelicans!

The wind was predicted to pick up and reach 30 – 40 mph gusts and the temperature was going to plummet over the next few hours.  And that’s exactly what happened.  We knew we were going to have to keep the furnace on all night to keep our pipes from freezing, and that it was going to put a strain on our batteries.  We discussed the situation and devised a plan.

Jim backed the truck up close to the hitch, and plugged it into the trailer.  We would be using the truck as an impromptu “generator”.  This is not an efficient or highly effective way to charge trailer batteries, but in an emergency, it will keep the batteries from discharging too much.  Jim would be getting up throughout the night to start up the truck, letting it idle for an hour at a time.

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A calm Laguna Madre 🙂

The wind howled that first night, alarmingly shaking the trailer and, even though Jim was the one scrambling out of bed into the windy, frigid night every two hours, neither one of us got much sleep.  But, at least, I was warm under the covers!  Jim, on the other hand, was just a tad on the ugly side the next morning.  To say he was in a foul mood is the understatement of the century.  As you might guess, I did not have to launch much of an argument in favor of purchasing a generator.  I had finally brought him over to my side – under much duress but still.  This weather was to continue at least another day and night.  Home Depot, here we come!  We hightailed it into town, and HD had the very generator that we wanted in stock – a Honda super-quiet 2000w.

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For a couple of weeks, I was blissfully happy now that I had the power to charge up all our necessary pieces of equipment.  We use the generator responsibly, and with the addition of our solar panels, it will be delegated to be our *emergency* back-up plan.

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Now, as often happens, one thing leads to another.  One problem was solved, but with our move to Big Bend, another one arose!

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Yucca torreyi –  blooms can occur throughout the year and found in all parts of Big Bend

When I am finally in a remote area and camped in a spot with decent cell service, I still have the challenge of not being able to charge my laptop.  Big Bend National Park bans all generator use – in campgrounds as well as back-country.  We have our solar panels installed and hooked up, but can only use 12v. And, as a result, my blog postings have suffered once again!  When I do have a connection so that I can post, I have been frantically trying to upload everything before the laptop dies.   Quality suffers, and frustration takes over.  So, I have been forced to find outlets in the park in order to charge my electronics – and this is not always ideal.  Big Bend is not friendly towards allowing visitors access to electrical outlets.  I have found only two public outlets for use – one at the laundromat in Rio Grande Village – 20 miles from where we are camped.  And one at the Chisos Lodge next to a very hard, wooden bench – 10 miles from us.

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Vermilion Flycatcher – entertained us around our campsite at Cottonwood CG along the Rio Grande River

Since the internet access is resolved here at Big Bend National Park (we are in a spot with decent cell service), I finally decided it was time to upgrade the old technology and invest in a portable inverter.  This way I could take advantage of the energy we are generating from the solar panels and charge my laptop in the trailer.  I discussed my dilemma with my two sons, and then looked up some possible inverters online.  The one I found on Amazon was a Bestek 300W inverter that has two 110 receptacles and a couple of USB ports.

I contacted my son Luke via Facebook Messenger (the only way to reach a 24-year-old in this day and age) and told him I wanted to order a 12v to 110 inverter.  I did not think Amazon would ship parcel post, so I said I would ship it to him and then, he could send it to me via parcel post General Delivery to Big Bend Post Office.  Well, it turns out that he had the exact inverter that I thought would work for me.  So, I struck a deal with him!  I really wanted this thing fast, so I asked him to ship me his inverter, and I would purchase a new one for him as replacement.  A win-win situation for both of us!

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View of the Rio Grande River valley atop the ridge on the Hot Springs Canyon Trail

Two days later, I have the power inverter and just tested it out.  Hurrah! It seems to work and hopefully, it will mean I can stay connected and update my blog much more frequently!  Hoping to shake things up a bit, write shorter more frequent postings – and add some poetry.   What poetry???  I’ll tell you later how I  got inspired to give poetry a try 🙂

It really is the simple things in life that are the most satisfying, you know?   All’s well that ends well……

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Moon over Laguna Madre

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Sunrise – our first morning on South Beach

That sounds very romantic, doesn’t it?  We did have the pleasure of viewing the full moon casting its light on Laguna Madre but I did not get a photo.  Sorry!  The full moon on January 12th was over the lagoon during the very early morning hours.  I did not notice the time.  All I know is the bright light woke me up!  Since our bedroom window faced the lagoon, we had a spectacular view of the moon and its reflection across the bay.  Instead of scrambling to get dressed and grab my camera for a nighttime shot, I just laid there and enjoyed it.  While I did not capture it *on film*, I did register that image into memory bank.

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One of those other moments in time!!

Throughout my life, there have been moments in time like this that I will always treasure.  These are not necessarily earth-shattering events but subtle flashes of ordinary occasions that stand out for me.  Like standing outside our old 240 Volvo in Avalon, NJ with baby Leif in my arms, gazing in at the keys in the ignition of the locked vehicle.  Or watching Leif take his first steps while visiting his Grandma Amber in Cape May Courthouse.  Like sitting in the rocking chair, gazing down at Luke while nursing him in the wee hours of the morning.  Or remembering the seriously intent look on Luke’s face when he was tasked with carrying the crate containing the baby ducks hatched in Leif’s first grade classroom out to our car.  We were taking them home to raise to adulthood.  There are many, many more of these split-second memories and watching the moon over Laguna Madre will join the list for sure.

Okay – back to Padre Island – the good, the bad and the ugly as promised.  I’ll let my readers decide where these labels apply 🙂   Padre Island is an imposing environment harboring a diverse landscape that includes beaches, dunes, wetlands, coastal prairies and tidal flats sandwiched between the salty waters of the Gulf and Laguna Madre.  The forces of nature are evident here in a big way.

We arrived on Padre Island facing a weather forecast that was somewhat ominous – gale-force winds and abnormally high tides.  I had seen a blog posting by a fellow Airstreamer that showed them happily camping on the beach at Padre Island, and was determined to give this a try despite the weather.  We pulled into the visitor center late in the day to ask about camping on the beach and were directed to South Beach.

South Beach starts where the pavement ends in the park, and from there you can drive for miles on the beach and camp.  The first 5 miles of shoreline is deemed safe for two-wheel drive vehicles (and brave RVer’s pulling a rig).  After that, 4-wheel drive is recommended and serious towing fees are imposed for recklessly ignoring the conditions.  It was interesting to learn that the 60-plus miles of shoreline in the national seashore from South Beach to the tip of the island is actually considered a public road in Texas.

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Misty morning looking back over the dunes from the beach

We drove to South Beach, and found a spot on the sand just a tad off the paved road.  It was very windy, and the surf was definitely up.  We could tell that the spot we chose was above the high tide mark and it was fairly level and somewhat protected by several dunes on the gulf side.  It was home for the next 6 days.  We had too much sense to venture any further out onto the beach!

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Some things to take into account when camping on the beach on Padre Island.

  • It’s windy much of the time. We did have several milder days with little wind and managed to get in a number of walks and bike rides along the beach.  The air temperatures were warm so that helped us endure those windy days.
  • Another point I’d like to impress upon anyone venturing onto the beach to camp – as I mentioned above, it is a public road. There was a fair amount of traffic streaming by us all day long – fishermen, other campers, and day use visitors just enjoying a drive down the shoreline.  I suppose if you traveled a few miles down the beach to camp this would be less noticeable.
  • It’s very important to track the weather. The tides were unusually high during our stay on the beach.  Some campers further down the beach from us had to pull out in the middle of the night as the water started washing up around their tires.  We were glad that we played it safe and did not venture too far out on to the beach.  Even though we were near the entrance to the beach, it was a cozy spot.
  • It’s free!! You need to get a permit at the entrance to the beach.  There is a self-serve registration station.
  • Cell service is non-existent most everywhere in the national seashore and the WiFi at the visitor center is intermittent – okay – a hint – this was one of the *ugly* times for me during our stay!!!!
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One of the problems Padre Island has is controlling the trash that washes up on shore from the Gulf.  Trash bags are given out at the visitor center so everyone can contribute to the on-going clean-up efforts

Lots and lots of bird activity on the beach – Padre Island is a sanctuary and migration stop for many bird species.

New Year’s Eve on the beach! A perfect evening!

The surf was so strong while we were there that these Portuguese Man-of-War’s littered the beach.  Interesting that they are actually siphonophores – animals made up of a colony of organisms.  Whatever – they are something to see up close!

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Caught this guy lording over the beach on  one beautiful early morning walk

After spending six days on the beach, we decided to move over to the Laguna Madre side of the island and experience life on the bay.  There are two established campgrounds in the park.  The Malaquite CG is located on the gulf-side just a short distance from the visitor center.  Bird Island Basin CG sits on Laguna Madre and actually resembles a large parking lot more than a campground.  It was less crowded than Malaquite and we found a spot towards the far end of the lot with space all around us.  With Jim’s interagency senior pass, we spent a whopping $2.50 a night to camp here.

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The campsites at Bird Island Basin were just lined up like this along the lagoon, but we had a site near the end of the line and no immediate neighbors most of the time!

Laguna Madre is an incredibly unique environment.  I was totally unaware of this until arriving here and reading about this lagoon.  It’s a very shallow, ultra-saline body of water and home to a diverse bird and fish population.  Bird Island Basin is also one of the most popular wind-surfing destinations in the country – for good reason!  Did I mention it’s windy here???????

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By far, one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever experienced occurred our first night on the Laguna Madre

While it did feel like we were camped in a parking lot, we actually really enjoyed our stay at Bird Island Basin.  We used up the rest of our allotted days in the park here on the lagoon.  There were several other campers here for extended days and we met some very interesting folks.  The comradery experienced among campers is truly unrivaled. The only downside to staying here in Padre Island is the amount of generator use.  On the beach, we really did not notice it much since we had no one camped right next to us most of the time.  But, at Bird Island, it was prevalent.  There are no hookups in either campground and generator use is allowed from 6am to 10 pm.  And some folks took full advantage of that.  We were lucky to have tent campers on one side of us most of the time.  And the setting made up for having to endure some generator noise on occasion.

Okay – so I should mention that we contributed to that generator noise on a small scale!  It got incredibly cold and windy for a few nights and we had to break down and buy a generator!

My fondest memories from Padre Island:

  • Listening to the surf all night long on the beach
  • Toasting the New Year on a beautiful beach evening with a campfire, a glass of wine and my best friend Jim
  • Watching those amazing brown and white pelicans endlessly soaring over the gulf and the lagoon
  • Biking on the beach
  • Early morning solitary walks up the beach with coffee thermos and camera in hand
  • Once again, that full moon over Laguna Madre

 

Views from our campsite along the lagoon

It was not all rest and relaxation during our stay on the island.  We completed a major project while camped at Bird Island Basin – getting our 200 Watt solar panels mounted and hooked up.   That’s another story  🙂

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Greetings and Happy New Year from Padre Island

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Brown Pelicans at Malaquite Beach

Happy New Year from Padre Island  National Seashore!  We’ve been hanging out here since December 29 enjoying the gulf coast and relaxing.  After a few days just winding down from our Amazon adventure, we are starting to tackle some Airstream projects before getting back on the road.  Can’t beat free camping on the beach!  I’ve been somewhat challenged regarding connectivity issues here on the island – hence the unacceptable period of time that has elapsed since my last post.  You’ll hear more about this later…..

So, what have we been up to since leaving Alvord, and landing on the coast?  The past few weeks  since Christmas have been a whirlwind of activity!

On Monday, December 26th we pulled up the stabilizers and hit the road again.  Our general plan was to set our sights on the gulf coast by way of San Antonio.  Experiencing the renowned River Walk in San Antonio has been on my bucket list and since it was on the way to the coast, our logical first destination.

Always expect the unexpected when traveling with the Ambers!  We got a late start (not surprising if you know us!) leaving Alvord because Jim wanted to change the oil in the truck. Not ideal but we both agreed that it was a good idea to get the oil changed before leaving because it was so convenient in the RV Park here in Alvord.  So, we finally pulled out of the campground at around 2pm.    This meant arriving in San Antonio after dark and looking for a campsite.  We did not relish the idea of navigating in a foreign city after dark.  I started searching on the smart phone and found an Army Corps of Engineers campground north of the city that would be a better spot to find in the early evening and, so that’s where we headed.

Canyon Lake is a reservoir north of San Antonio operated by the Army Corps of Engineers.  There is a campground here called Potters Creek Park campground.  We like the idea of using federal campgrounds since Jim has the interagency senior pass and it gives us a 50% discount on campsites.  Plus, we prefer the federal campgrounds for their ambience.  These campgrounds tend to be more rustic and rural, and the campsites are generally more spacious and private.

Apparently, a couple of years ago, the campground suffered from a devastating flood.  Two of the three loops were still closed and not repaired.  Curiously, there was no indication of this on the website.  It did not matter though since there were very few people here anyway, and the gate attendant gave us a site that backed right up to the lake and we had no one either side of us.  The cost for a water/electric site with the senior pass was only $13.00 so we could definitely live with that for a night!

I chatted with the gate attendant for a while and asked him about working for the Army Corps.  Jobs in the Army Corps campgrounds are put out on bid each year and it’s something I’ve thought about trying.  He was not enthusiastic about  this particular site, but mentioned a campground they work for Missouri that they really liked.  As with any place, the local federal workforce varies.  He does not find the workforce at this Army Corps site to be as easy to work with compared to other places.  Good information to know when searching for a site to bid on!

It was a decent place to set up for a night and we were happy.  We met a nice couple camped in a Class A across from us.  He had installed the same type of solar panel kit that we just bought, so Jim picked his brain for ideas and looked at how he set it up.  We’d be tackling this project in the very near future!

The next morning, we headed on into San Antonio to the local KOA.  We’re not really huge fans of KOA’s, especially those located near metropolitan areas.  But, it was convenient to exploring downtown San Antonio.  The city bus stop was directly across the street which meant we could leave the truck parked and save the hassle of finding parking in downtown.  For a couple of nights, we would survive.  As it turned out, since we wanted the *cheaper* site with just water and electric, we were put on a spot that backed up to some green space and a bike trail.  We also had no campers on either side of us for the first night!

We got set up on our site around 2pm and then headed to the bus stop to explore the River Walk.  Since it was the holiday week, I expected crowds and was not disappointed!  I’ve had some people tell me they loved the River Walk, and others who were not enamored with the place.  So, I decided to arrive with no preconceived ideas and form my own opinions.

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River Walk  viewed from street level

A Brief History of River Walk  – The River Walk started as a flood control project to save downtown San Antonio, and a series of canals with flood control gates was established.   In the early 1940’s the project to construct the walkway, stairs and footbridges was undertaken, along with the rock walls lining the walkway.  In addition, the Arneson River Theater was constructed and the historic area of La Villita was restored.  Over the years, improvements continued as the commercial and economic potential for developing this area was realized.  Now lined by bars, shops, restaurants, the pedestrian River Walk is a vital part of the city’s urban identity and a popular tourist attraction.

Side Note: We met a gentleman who was camped next to us here at Padre Island who was stationed in the military in San Antonio 50 + years ago.  He said that back then, the River Walk was not a place you ventured after dark!   Clearly, a lot has changed in 50 years 🙂

When we arrived downtown, it was getting on to late afternoon.  I think this must be when the River Walk comes to life.  It was literally packed with people making it difficult to walk at times depending on where you were along the route.  I started to wonder how many people ended up taking an unexpected swim in the river!  In most places, there is no barrier to the river – literally just a drop-off.  While the river is not deep, I still would not want to get wet!  There were times when the crowd was such that I found it a little dicey on the river side of the walkway and a subtle shift in the crowd could mean a not-too-pleasant dip in the water!

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Some areas of the River Walk are lined with restaurants and shops and very busy but other parts of the walkway are more  tranquil
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Love the colorful umbrellas at this Mexican restaurant and flowers in December!
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The Alamo Bowl college football game between (my old alma mater) University of Colorado and Oklahoma State University was happening the week we were there.  We stumbled upon a pep rally in the Arneson River Theatre for OSU.

Oddly, this type of crowd would normally bother me.  But, it was such a festive time of year and the lights were so beautiful along the river, that I actually was energized and refreshed by the masses.  We walked around for a while looking for a spot to eat dinner, and settled on a Mexican restaurant (one of many along the walk).  Since I was determined to have a table right on the river, we would have to wait an hour to be seated.  So, we headed in to the bar for a couple of beers and settled in to watch the college bowl game on TV and wait for our table.  Lucky for us, it was happy hour!  That helped take away the pain of waiting an hour before dinner!

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After an hour went by, the bartender was concerned that we were overlooked and went to check on our reservations.  And sure enough, they bypassed us!  (The host said she had come in and called our name and did not get a response  – but we were diligently listening and making eye contact with the hosts every time they traveled through).  The bartender came back in and informed us it would be another 30 minutes to put us back on the list for a river-side table.  With an hour already invested, we said we would wait.  Jim then headed right back out and spoke with the host personally, and 5 minutes later we had a table.  Not sure what he said – but it worked. He can be very persuasive 🙂

I was delighted to have a table right on the water, and really enjoyed watching the boat tours travel by, and the pedestrians.  Great place to people-watch!  We ordered dinner and a couple glasses of wine and settled in.  When our dinner came, they had messed up my order and I had to send it back.  By this time, I was pretty hungry and thinking perhaps we had not made a good choice in restaurants!  The waiter felt bad and quickly replaced my dinner with the correct order.  And to our surprise, when we got the check we were only charged for Jim’s meal and drink.  So, all in all, a win-win situation for us despite all the delays.  I was impressed that they acknowledged their mistakes regarding our questionable service.

The highlight of our dinner was due to a older gentleman dining alone who occupied the table directly behind me.  He was immaculately dressed in an authentic *ranch* style outfit and caught our eye when he first sat down.  During his meal, he called over the wandering Mariachi band and requested a song.  We got the benefit of this serenade and it was awesome!!  Afterwards, we thanked him and asked him about the song – since it was in Spanish.  He got a tad emotional and with a tear in his eye told us the song was a favorite of his mother’s, who had passed away just a short few months ago.  It was so touching and he was so genuine in his feelings that it brought a tear to my eye too!

 

After dinner, we found a quieter section of the River Walk to meander along and then caught the late bus back to the campground.

It was interesting trying to assess whether we were at the correct bus stop, and we enlisted the help of some other local folks nearby to assist us.  Everyone was friendly and willing to weigh in on what bus we needed.  We made it back to the campground with no issues! (Although, when riding the city bus back late at night, I was struck by a vision of a recent Lee Child mystery I had read where Jack Reacher was in a subway car -not a bus but close enough – and assessing the occupants for terrorist-like attributes!)  It’s funny how something as commonplace as public transportation can be so daunting to those who never use it!  No such thing in rural Vermont!

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Could not resist snapping this photo of a seat on the city bus – made an impression on me

My goal the next day was the Alamo.  I’ve always wanted to see the Alamo – not sure why really –  but I wasn’t leaving San Antonio without visiting this historic site.  Now, admittedly, my memory of the history of the Alamo was somewhat fuzzy.  I remembered that it involved Texans and Mexicans, was a lost cause under overwhelming odds, and that Davy Crockett perished during the battle.  I also remembered the famous cry later issued by Sam Houston – Remember the Alamo!

So, for all those with equally fuzzy memories, here goes! Short and sweet recap of the Alamo!  The Alamo started out as a Spanish mission in the 1700’s – the Mission San Antonio de Valero. When the mission eventually closed 70 years after it opened its doors, the Spanish military took over the compound, followed by the Mexican military after Mexico won its independence from Spain.  Mexico inherited the territory of Texas from Spain and, in an effort to increase the settlement of this territory, the Mexican government encouraged immigration from citizens of the United States.   This colonization of Texas was carried out through the use of land agents called empresarios who acted as recruiters and middle-men, screening potential immigrants and taking responsibility for them as new settlers.  The project was so successful that the immigrant population of Texas increased from around 500 to over 30,000 in just five years.

During this time, Texas enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy as a *department* of Mexico, but wanted to achieve statehood within the Mexican government and decided to fight for statehood.  The Mexican government was opposed to Texas statehood and started to feel threatened by the increased immigrant population.  So, in an effort to restrict more colonization and control the territory, the government halted the immigration practice. This, of course, angered the colonial population that had come to Texas and started to fuel a movement for independence from Mexico.

When Antonio López de Santa Anna rose to power in Mexico he adopted a more centralized government, and wanted more control over the colonies.  He seriously restricted the self-government of various territories and states.  One thing led to another as tensions arose, and the Battle of the Alamo and fight for independence erupted with an incident between Mexican soldiers and Texas colonials.  The colonists fought against huge odds at the Alamo and lost, but the Texas Revolution was inevitable now that the colonists were energized by the bravery of those who fell at the Alamo.  Eventually, Texas won its independence from Mexico.  Texas would remain independent until annexed to the United States 10 years later.  I thought the  immigration problem hauntingly similar to recent modern day issues and arguments.  Allow immigration until it does not suit us anymore – then deny it.  Did not work then, will not work now……but I digress…..

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Front of the old mission
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Research Center on Alamo grounds
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The gardens were beautiful – like a small oasis in the city
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Loved this pergola that ran alongside the church
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Live Oak at the Alamo

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I really enjoyed touring the old mission and the gardens surrounding the Alamo compound.  The museum that is housed in the old barracks was well-done and worth spending some time perusing.  We loved passing under the old live oak outside the museum and reading about its history!

After touring the Alamo, it was time to re-visit the River Walk and we decided to be real tourists and take a boat tour on the river.  The 30-minute wait was worth it, and while we both thought the guide could have been better informed and more entertaining, the boat trip was still fun.

We exited the boat just in time to find the bar that a college friend recommended we visit – The Esquire – and enjoy a happy hour beer.  The Esquire is notorious for housing the longest continuous bar in Texas.  We were advised to go and experience this old, traditional establishment!

On the way to the bar, we stumbled across the Main Plaza area and the San Fernando Cathedral.  So, we detoured into the cathedral for a spell.  It was breathtakingly beautiful and so peaceful inside the cathedral. So glad we happened upon it.  A nice respite from the crowds on the River Walk.

Back to finding The Esquire!  We arrived at the beginning of happy hour, and it was not crowded at the bar on the street-level entrance.  Definitely enjoyed the atmosphere and thanks to my college friend Renice for the recommendation!

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The Esquire Tavern opened its doors the day after Prohibition in 1933 and boasts having the longing wooden bar top in Texas.  Put it on your Bucket List folks!

After enjoying our brews, I wanted to wander on over to the outdoor amphitheater called the Arneson River Theatre.  There was a Chanukah celebration on the river that night, and a Jewish-American rock band from New York City was going to be giving an outdoor concert at the theater.  We arrived in plenty of time to get some seats and settle in for the performance.    San Antonio is home to a diverse Jewish population and the downtown area has been hosting a Chanukah festival on the river for a number of years.  It was really nice to see!  The band played some traditional, folk-style music that was very entertaining.

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Mariachi Band entertaining the crowd before the concert began
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Soul Farm – Jewish-American band from New York City – their first time playing in San Antonio
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Local military man from the Jewish community lighting the Menorah

We left the River Walk shortly after the concert, and headed back to the campground to get some dinner going.  We were not interested in battling the crowds again, and wanted to settle in and get ready to leave the next morning.

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Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia species) along River Walk

The weather reports for Padre Island National Seashore were calling for gale-force winds and cool temps.  Hmm…..  what were we getting ourselves in to??  Coincidentally, a couple from Kentucky with two children had pulled into the site next to us that day.  They were stopping off for a day in San Antonio and then also heading to Padre Island.  We compared notes on the weather report, and both decided to give it a go.  This would not be the last time we saw them!

I promise a more timely posting on our adventures here on Padre Island.  The good, the bad, and the ugly….

Ready to Roll once again…..

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Happy Holidays from Jim and Lynn!

Our two months here in Texas  working for Amazon seem like a blur!  We spent most of the time working, with little spare time for sight-seeing.  In a previous post, I mentioned a trip to the LBJ National Grassland.  A couple of weeks ago, we decided to explore the town of Denton – home to the Texas Women’s University and University of North Texas.  There is an awesome little museum in the courthouse that is well worth a visit.

The courthouse was designed by architect W.C. Dodson in the Romanesque style and built in 1896.  It is a great example of courthouses built during this era and is beautiful inside.  The museum occupies space on the main floor and is operated and maintained by the Denton County Historical Commission.  It was interesting to see how much education was a factor in the success of the town and surrounding area.  The founding fathers of Denton understood the importance of strong educational foundations for community success and supported the establishment of two universities early on in the town’s formative years.

 

There were some informative exhibits highlighting early regional history including the Texas Rangers and early settlers.  There was also a display showcasing some of the history of Bonnie and Clyde!

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Clyde Barrow and brother Melvin
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Texas Rangers

I especially got a kick out of the cattle branding exhibit!

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And the early period sampler quilt…..

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After visiting the museum, we headed across the street to a local food establishment for some much needed sustenance.

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We were very surprised to see an entry on the menu for a “Texas Philly Cheesesteak”. Jim is a HUGE cheesesteak fan having been raised just outside of Philadelphia so he could not resist trying this dish.  He warned the waitress that he was from Philadelphia and would be doing a comparative analysis 🙂 The verdict?   He gave the Texas-style Philly cheesesteak a thumbs up.  The only minor problem was that he had to request ketchup over the offered mayo or mustard.  A Philly cheesesteak really demands ketchup!

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It was a very busy week leading up to the holiday weekend!  We worked over 50 hours, and still found time to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary and my 60th birthday!

On December 20, 2016, we headed into Decatur to have dinner – for several reasons.  Jim and I wanted to acknowledge 35 years of marriage (Yikes!), and we wanted to spend a nice evening with my sister and brother-in-law before we parted ways.  It could very well be a year or more before we see them again.  Vicki and Harry were heading out before us on Friday for California and a rendezvous with their son, Geoff for the holidays.   We extended our Amazon commitment by one day – so our last work day would be Saturday the 24th.

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Downtown Decatur – view of courthouse
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Sweetie Pie’s Ribeye restaurant – how appropriate for an anniversary dinner! 🙂

I highly recommend Sweetie Pie’s – it is known for its rib-eye steak and everyone selected some form of the rib-eye for dinner, with me being the exception of course.  Not a huge meat eater, I opted for the Lemon Sole – which was actually quite good!

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Interesting decor at Sweetie Pie’s – wall full of old truck pictures!!

The restaurant was decorated for the holidays, and it really was a festive atmosphere and a lot of fun.

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Our home away from home for two months – Amazon Fulfillment Center, Haslet Texas

Our last week at Amazon was uneventful.  However, we did draw some overtime and accumulated enough hours to qualify for 5 hours each of personal time – which allowed us to get a full day’s pay for December 24th even though management let everyone go home early.  An extra bonus!

So, of course, for me the reward in receiving half-a-day off on the 24th was football-related 🙂

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My favorite quarterback – Aaron Rodgers!

We left work at 12:30 and were able to make it to Chili’s restaurant in Decatur just in time for the second half – Minnesota vs. Green Bay.  Crucial game for both teams – and my team prevailed!  I must admit the one drawback to being on the road ( and not opting to get TV service) is missing football season.  I need to start planning now for a place to watch the BIG game on January 1st against Detroit!

We spent Sunday, the 25th, getting things packed up and ready for travel – doing laundry, securing stuff inside and out, and re-arranging the truck for travel.   I did manage to throw together a mini-holiday dinner – marinated chicken breasts cooked on the stove-top, sweet potatoes, broccoli and fresh cranberry sauce made with PURE VERMONT maple syrup, of course!  We also enjoyed a late afternoon glass of wine with some fellow Amazon workampers still here in the RV park.

While we miss being near our sons and family this holiday, all in all it was an okay day.  We chatted with most of our family via phone, and also received some pictures from Vermont.  I even took a nap mid-day, which is highly unusual for me!  I think that I finally allowed myself to relax.  Usually on our days off, we were scrambling to get things done since our workdays left no time for anything but eating and sleeping.

The final word on Amazon Camperforce?  We survived the tour of duty unscathed and actually managed to get used to the 11-hour days, 2-hour round-trip commute and physical nature of the work.  It’s not for everyone, and some folks probably could not adapt to the demanding schedule, but we did and it was rewarding to know that we could do it.  Everything the recruiters say is true – it is hard work.  You are on your feet all day – bending, lifting and standing.  It’s noisy, and busy.  You have to be vigilant about your surroundings as you are working around conveyor belts, industrial equipment, and robotic machinery.  If you have issues with your health or your stamina, it’s probably not going to work for you.

We met some fantastic workampers, and also many full-time employees who made the days bearable.  One of the assistant managers on our team really looked out for the camperforce folks, and she gave me a BIG hug on our last day and truly expressed how much she was going to miss us.  She rescued me from *Damageland* on our next to last day (I had been sent there to work since there were no stations available that morning), and I’ll always be grateful to her for that!  Ha!  Ask me about Damageland someday!

We are still searching for a job to get us through the winter.  It’s much harder to secure paid positions during the winter months since they are predominantly in the southern half of the country, and there’s more competition.  While we continue to search, we are heading out tomorrow from Alvord and the A+ RV park  for a short stop-over in San Antonio.  From there, we will travel to the gulf coast and do some boon-docking on the beach at Padre Island National Seashore.

From the mountains of the Eastern Sierras to the coastline of Texas – on to the next!

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Death Valley in September 2016

 

 

 

Road Trip to Texas: Canyon Tour Con’t….

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Okay – back to those awesome canyons!!  We left our beloved boon-docking site outside of Zion National Park and headed to Kanab, Utah.  Instead of driving up to Bryce with the trailer, we opted to stay in (cringing here) an RV park in Kanab.  Three reasons:  the weather was supposed to get real cold up in Bryce Canyon and possibly snow, we wanted to charge up our batteries,  and I wanted to take advantage of the campground WiFi to get some blog posting done and job searching.

Some advice regarding RV/campground review sites is in order here.   I checked with some RV park review sites prior to making reservations and the RV park we decided to stay in received *mostly* really good ratings – especially with regards to WiFi, which was the main reason I chose this spot.  I am learning that while these reviews can be somewhat worthwhile, there are definite flaws.

  1. Make sure you check the date of the review.  Things can change dramatically from year to year -even month to month.  Always look for recent reviews. Two recent reviews for the campground in Kanab where we stayed read like this:  “Were going to stay overnite but decided another nite. Clean restrooms, excellent wifi, good selection of local channels. Owners very nice & accommodating. Nicest one in Kanab.
    Would stay here again.”  And, “A gravel parking lot scrunched between a busy highway and a street. Very crowded. Much highway noise. Walmart would be a better choice but there isn’t one. We came to spend the day at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary so we were not able to site shop. But I wouldn’t recommend this as a comfortable place to stay.”  There were more positive reviews than negative by far, so it seemed like a safe bet.  My experience was akin to the second review and I tried in vain to get on WiFi to no avail, and the office was always closed when we were there in the evening.  The staff was unfriendly almost to the point of being rude.
  2. Notice the affiliations the park has with major RV clubs and ratings with them.  Again, while this is not always fool-proof, it is a good consideration to investigate.   This park gave both Good Sam discounts and AAA discounts – so it seemed like it would be okay.  Not the case unfortunately!
  3. Know your camping preferences well, and how they compare to other types of RVer’s. We know that our style of camping is contrary to those folks who prefer private RV parks with regard to quality and overall experience.  So, while we chose to stay here, our expectations were low.  The experience would have been a bit better had I been able to at least get  WiFi!
  4. Check the surrounding area and location of the park carefully.  This park was located right on a busy 4-lane highway, and in town.  We expected traffic noise, and a less than ideal view!  And were not disappointed!
  5. If possible, check to see how long the park has been in existence.  This was an old park, space was limited and our neighbors septic was right next to our picnic table.  You could reach out and touch your neighbor’s RV.  The landscaping was tired, and everything needed upgraded in my opinion.  The campground was for sale – so that might be one reason for the poor service.

To end this RV park saga on a positive note,  we were able to get our batteries charged up, and we could walk to the local grocery store.

BRYCE CANYON – LAND OF THE HOODOOS!

My first impression of Bryce Canyon was how utterly different it is from Zion.  The name Bryce Canyon is somewhat misleading as it is not technically a canyon but a series of large amphitheaters carved out of the limestone rock.  Over time,  water seeping into cracks was subject to a “freeze-thaw” weathering action and this type of erosion formed the basis of the geological landscape we see today.  The cracks were formed during a major uplift many, many years ago that created the Colorado Plateau and the Grand Staircase.  The principle rock in Bryce Canyon is referred to as the Pink Cliffs – an apt description given the color of the rock!

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Our plan was to only spend one day in the park so we had to make some decisions regarding how to budget our time.  We wanted to get down into the canyon and hike for most of the day, and the Peekaboo Trail was recommended to us by some folks we talked to in Zion.  We hiked what is referred to as the Navajo-Peekaboo Loop starting at Sunset Point. The total mileage is about 5 miles – so perfect for half a day of hiking!

The Navajo Trail descends steeply for about a mile and then intersects with the Peek-a-Boo Trail.

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Switchbacks on the Navajo Trail

 

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Jim hiking the switchbacks

It was hard to keep up a strong pace – around every corner in the trail there was another photo opportunity!

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We hiked out this narrow side trail to get a sweeping view of the canyon!  There was some scary exposure on either side 🙂
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Looking back on the trail carved into the side of the rock
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More incredible views from the trail!

I would highly recommend this trail – while it’s not extremely strenuous it does have multiple elevation changes along the way to keep things interesting and it’s not hard to keep the heart rate up!

After our hike on the Peek-a-Boo Trail, we had some daylight left so we decided to take a driving tour along the whole park to the end of the road at Rainbow Point.  We stopped at all of the scenic pull-offs along the way!

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Natural Bridge Overlook

At Rainbow Point, there is a short 2-mile hike called the Bristlecone Pine Loop.  We decided to hike this trail in search of some more of the cool pine trees!  At the far end of the loop, there is a daunting drop-off and view of the valley beyond.

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Serious drop-off here! Oh my!

We enjoyed our day trip to Bryce.  There are a number of other trails that would be nice to hike if we ever get in this area again.  There are also some backpacking areas that might be appealing towards the south end of the park.

 

CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is unique among our national treasures.  It is located withing the Navajo Reservation near Chinle, Arizona.  The area is administered jointly by the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation.  The Navajo have made their home here since the 1700’s and they continue to farm and raise livestock within the canyon today.  Because of this, many parts of the canyon are off-limits to tourists unless accompanied by Navajo guides.

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Amazing sky the day we explored the canyon!

We stayed in only campground within the park – the Cottonwood Campground.  There are no hook-ups but there is a dump station on-site.  The campground is operated by the Navajo and was very convenient for exploring the park.

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There were plenty of sites available and we choose a site set away from the crowd!  Very spacious sites but watch out for those spiny plants!  Stay on the pavement!

There is only one trail that allows public access without a guide called the White House Trail.  It leads to an ancient Puebloan village ruin that was occupied about 1,000 years ago.  We opted to hike this trail and then take a road trip along the South Rim Drive to see more of the canyon from the top.

While the hike is only 2.5 miles round-trip, it is a canyon after all!  So, it’s steep going down and steep going back up – no getting around that unless you take one of the jeep tours that drive you right up to the ruins!  It’s an absolutely breathtaking hike.  The canyon is beautiful.  It’s not hard to understand why it’s been inhabited for thousands of years.  What an oasis!

The White House Ruins are fascinating.  There is a tall fence that prohibits access up close, but you can still get a pretty terrific view of the ancient village and some petroglyphs.

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Standing near the ruins looking in the opposite direction.  Clouds piling up!  It looked like serious weather moving in several times during out hike, but it never materialized into rain.

Since it was October when we visited, the farms were all put to rest in the bottom of the canyon, but you could still see evidence of the small plots of cultivated earth.

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Looking down onto the canyon floor at one of the farm plots

 

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Found this little critter sunbathing on a piece of wood along the trail 🙂

Our drive along the South Rim road was relaxing and we stopped off at many of the overlooks along the way.  Usually, in the parking lots of the overlooks, there would be several Navajo selling various pieces of artwork and crafts.  While we did not buy anything, we did chat with many of the merchants and it was interesting to hear a little about their lives and some of the crafts they were selling.

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Look at that sky!

I highly recommend taking the time to detour to Canyon de Chelly if you are in the area.  It’s deep in Navajo country, and not exactly on the way to anywhere – but well worth the effort.  By the time we left, we were enchanted with this special place.  There truly is something very mystical about the place.

One more canyon to go – but I’ll leave that for the next post since it’s in Texas!

Eastern Sierras Revisited

We’ve been in Texas almost a month now, and I thought it was time to catch up on showcasing more of our summer adventures.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you have no doubt discovered that the Eastern Sierra region is, at this point in time, one of my favorite places!  I’ve written some individual posts about some of the places/hikes that we were particularly fond of – but there is much, much more to add.

So, here goes…..briefly highlighted below are some of the day trips that are most memorable for me, in addition to the detailed posts I’ve already shared.  I will cherish these moments in time forever.  I’ve tried to be concise with descriptions so I could share more adventures, so more pictures than words!

DEVILS POSTPILE NATIONAL MONUMENT

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Since I am a big fan of national parks and associated monuments and historic places, Devils Postpile near Mammoth was high on my list of places to visit.  The trip to the monument was one of the first day trips of the summer.

Getting there in mid-summer requires some advanced planning.  The road to the national monument is closed to traffic during the summer months for good reason.   It is a narrow, winding road that cannot support high traffic volume.  During the summer, shuttle buses transport visitors to the monument and back, making a number of stops along the way.  There are numerous forest service campgrounds and trailhead access points along the route.  This is a popular area for backpacking, and there are many back-country access points for both the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail here.

sign-at-mammoth-mountainWe chose to drive all the way to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and hop on the shuttle bus at the Adventure Center.   It’s a $7.00 fee for adults and $4.00 fee for children over 2 to ride the bus.  And the national parks senior pass (that Jim qualifies for – not me yet!) does not apply unfortunately.  I’m not totally on board with this fee, and feel that it could be restrictive for families wanting to access the monument.  However, it’s a seasonal shuttle during peak visitation so it is possible to access the monument in the off-season for free when local traffic is allowed on the road.

 

devils-postpile-signDevils Postpile became a national monument in 1911 to protect its unique geologic formation – one of the best examples of columnar basalt in the world.  It all began 100,000 years ago, when a lava vent started spewing basaltic lava into the valley where the current day formation exists.  Read more about this geologic wonder here.  It’s a complicated sequence of events that created the basalt columns we see today, and knowing a bit about the science of the site makes you appreciate the rock outcropping even more.

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View of Basalt Columns

The national monument also protects the surrounding landscape and Rainbow Falls.  We hiked from the ranger station shuttle stop to Rainbow Falls and back, creating a loop and ending up at another shuttle stop for the ride back to Mammoth Mountain.  Along the way, we encountered the fire-damaged area caused by the Rainbow Fire, that took place in 1992.  Interesting to imagine the devastation and how much the land has rebounded from the fire, with new plant growth.

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Lynn along the trail near the monument
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Looking down along the San Joaquin River
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The Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail intersect here near Red Meadows –  a popular backpacking destination

 

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Top of Rainbow Falls
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Entering Ansel Adams Wilderness Area just before the Falls
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Jim’s smiling face at the falls
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Caught a rainbow at Rainbow Falls – look closely!!

DUCK PASS TRAIL

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Lodgepole Pine near Duck Pass

Since Devils Postpile is in the Mammoth area, I decided to stay with the Mammoth theme and share our adventurous hike up to Duke Lake.  My niece, Olivia, was in Mammoth over the summer for a weekend visit with her boyfriend’s family and they had chosen this as one of their day hikes.  She mentioned that it was an awesome hike, so we made sure to give this trek top priority.  The trail head for this hike is located at the Coldwater Campground off Lake Mary Road out of Mammoth.   The Duck Pass Trail ascends through the Coldwater Creek watershed, past several lakes and climbs over Duck Pass to Duke Lake.

 

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Last stretch of trail through the rocks up to Duck Pass
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Duck Pass looking east
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Great shot of the steep switchback trail up from Barney Lake

The hike is about a 7-mile round-trip trek depending on how far you traverse around Duck Lake.  Parts of the trail are steep so it’s important to be acclimated before attempting this hike, or your pace will be decidedly slower!  There is an elevation gain of about 1800 feet with the elevation at Duck Pass around 9,100 feet.  If you hike all the way to the other side of Duck Lake, you would intersect with the Pacific Crest Trail.  The scenery was terrific on the exhilarating hike!

Plant life along the way 🙂

Favorite pictures from Duck Pass Trail

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Looking down on Barney Lake – my favorite spot on the hike!  What a view!
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Stopped by Arrowhead Lake to see what all the yelling was that we could hear from trail – bunch of young men taking the plunge into the lake from the cliffs.  Local sports team, perhaps?

HOT CREEK GEOLOGIC SITE

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Looking down Hot Creek Gorge towards the Sierras

On the outskirts of Mammoth east of Route 395, the Hot Creek Geologic Site sits within the Hot Creek Gorge and is an active geothermal wonder.  It is within the Long Valley Caldera which runs from Mono Lake to the start of the Owens River Valley.  The hot springs sit atop an ancient volcano and are subject to change with seismic activity, potentially causing sudden changes in water temperature.  There are over a dozen steam vents and pools, and if you’re lucky you may even be entertained by rare geyser eruptions.

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Along the Hot Creek Fish Hatchery Road are numerous access points to the gorge as it is a popular “catch and release” fly-fishing spot.  There is a trail that runs along the south side of the creek.  While the hot springs are fenced off, there are still numerous places along the river where you can see small fumaroles and notice water bubbling up from below.   If you test the water, you will find it is very HOT at these locations.

The gorge is quite unique, and I recommend taking the time to walk along the creek.  I found its beauty to be serene and inspiring.  The day we visited there were threats of rain and thunderstorms interspersed with some sun.  It made for a dramatic landscape as you can see from some of my photos.

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One of my favorite photos – looking east along the gorge trail
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Oh my – came across this skeleton – unlucky recipient of the scalding water, perhaps?
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Stormy day in the Sierras – view from above the hot springs area

REVERSED PEAK HIKING TRAIL

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Sunrise from atop Reversed Peak

One of the last hikes we did in the Eastern Sierras was right in our backyard.  From our campsite, we had a great view of Reversed Peak – the highest point within the inner circle of the June Lake Loop.  I read that the summit offers a 360-degree view of the entire loop.  I also discovered that the best time to climb the peak is during the pre-dawn hour to take advantage of watching the sunrise across the valley and the loop. It was a hard sell convincing Jim to get up before dawn for the trek up the mountain, but I was relentless and he reluctantly agreed to go.  Since we waited until September to do this hike, it was rather chilly when we started off, and windy – but, donned with headlamps, we picked up the pace to get warm and it was not long before we shook off the chill.  Jim had not dressed quite warm enough, and I think it was the first time all summer that he out-paced me on a hike!

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First light on the Sierras

It’s about a 6-mile round-trip hike and the trailhead is a bit tricky to find.  You can access the trail off of the North Shore Dr. in two places, but there are no signs indicating that the trail even exists until you walk back on two forest service roads.  Here is a link to a description of the trail and a vague map I found that *sort of* indicates where to find the trail.  (The link takes you to the website for the Double Eagle Resort on the June Lake Loop – which by the way has a nice, small bar and Happy Hour every day!)  We had hiked the lower loop trail once without taking the side trail to the summit (due to bad storms) and it is a 3.5-mile loop.  For the summit hike, we started on the trailhead across from the ballpark – steeper at the onset but a shorter hike to the summit.  The trail is steadily uphill and steep in spots with a hard-to-find scramble to the summit.  The trail to the top was marked with cairns but they were at times difficult to see.

What I liked about the trail was the diversity of terrain.  Along the way, the trail passes through an aspen grove, skirts a pine forest and, of course, wanders through the typical sagebrush meadows that I love.  The view from the top was awesome!  We enjoyed a leisurely cup of coffee while watching the sunrise and it was spectacular.   Jim had to admit that it was well worth the pain of such an early morning start time 🙂

The pictures below are heading down the trail after our relaxing visit on Reversed Peak.  We were headed for Trout Town Joe’s in June Lake for a hearty breakfast – our motivation to get moving!

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Last look down into the valley from the summit – Oh! Ridge Campground at the top of the picture!
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Jim leading the way back down too!  He wanted to get to Trout Town Joe’s!
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View from the meadow looking towards Sierras.  The depression in the center of the picture is a Snow Pond
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What would a hike in the Eastern Sierras be without sagebrush meadows!
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Aspens in all their glorious fall color – just starting to turn high up on the mountain
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Could not resist a close-up of these quaking aspen leaves
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The June Lake Triathlon uses this trail as part of the running portion of the competition

 

 

Behind the scenes at Amazon CamperForce

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Sunset on Lake Arrowhead State Park near Whichita Falls – our last stop before Alvord, TX

We landed in Alvord, Texas at the A+ RV Park on October 31, and it’s been a whirlwind of activity for us.  After three weeks at Amazon, I’m ready to give first impressions about the place, the company and our home away from home – Alvord.

Jim and I (Jim reluctantly I might add!) signed up last winter to join the Amazon CamperForce for their annual PEAK holiday season in the Fall.  Due to Jim’s mishap in CA this summer with his broken bone, we arrived for the last orientation session on November 2 instead of our planned start date in October.   When we signed up for CamperForce, we intended for it to be our Plan B.  If no other satisfactory workamping position landed in our lap for the Fall/Winter, then at least we had an alternative.  Since we turned down a couple of other offers for very specific reasons, we turned to Plan B!

Grand Opening Of Amazon Fulfillment Center Features State Of The Art Technology
Haslet, Texas fulfillment center

Photo credit:  http://us105fm.com/amazon-building-fourth-fulfillment-center-in-texas/   Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Our brother-in-law, Harry, worked the CamperForce here in Haslet, Texas last year and joined up again this year.   So, we had an idea what we might be getting ourselves into, and went in with both eyes wide open, so to speak.  We are camped in the same RV Park with Harry as well as several other full-time RVer’s engaging in what I affectionately call the *Amazon* marathon.   Since the commute to Haslet from Alvord is one hour from clock in/out to doorstep, it’s great to be able to carpool with others.

Amazon’s website explains the whole CamperForce  program in detail, so I will not focus too much on the generalities of the job.  Feel free to check out their company information page.  Or email me with questions.  A few basics, however:

  1. Amazon hires seasonal workers in their fulfillment centers to process the enormous amount of orders coming in during the holidays. Some of the seasonal workers are garnered from the local population.   Several of their distribution centers, however, are located in areas where the local population is not sufficient enough to fill demand.   At these distribution centers, Amazon came up with a brilliant concept.  Hire full-time RVer’s – or *Workampers*, pay them a fair hourly rate with an end of season completion bonus, and provide them with a free campsite.
  2. Workampers are trained to fill positions in receiving, stowing, picking and inventory control.
  3. Amazon hires workampers as early as the beginning of September and as late as the first of November. So, some flexibility exists as to how long you want to endure the fun!  The season is over just before December 25th.   This year our last day to work is the 23rd.

THE CAMPSITE

First order of business upon arriving in Texas was to get settled into our spot at the A+ RV Park.   I know – if you remember my post from Montana – you will no doubt be asking yourself “Is she out of her mind????   Why is she staying in an RV park, and especially one that has at least 10-12 permanent residents?!”  All I can say is – we had highly reputable recommendations from those who stayed here last year that it was a well-run campground.   This is how it works – Amazon contracts with specific RV parks and campgrounds in the area.   Due to the inadequate supply of campgrounds near the plant, choices are limited.  The other sites were less than desirable, so while not our preference, we could live with it for a couple of months.   I did meet another couple who attended our orientation session who opted to pay for their own site and choose a campground not on Amazon’s list.   So, if you have the means, that’s an alternative.

campsite-at-a-plus-rv-parkOur campsite is a typical RV park site – close neighbors with not much privacy.  However, the distance between sites is a tad better than most I’ve seen, and the sites were planned well with regard to placement of E/W/S hook-ups and private space.  All sites are pull-through and angled, allowing each RV to be slightly staggered from the neighboring rig.   In other words, outside picnic areas are therefore not adjacent to your neighbor’s septic hook-up!!   The sites consist of a hard-packed gravel pad surrounded by grass.

The difference between this RV Park and the one in Whitefish, Montana is the degree of visible management – the campgrounds are polar opposites with regard to on-site oversight and administration.  A+ RV is run by a husband and wife team and they are vigilant in making sure the place is clean and the guests are following the rules.   Paula, the most visible of the two, keeps a very close watch over the place and does not tolerate any deviance from the rules and regulations.  As a result, the facilities are spotless and the atmosphere is one of respect and courtesy for all guests – whether here for one night or several months.

The facility includes free laundry access which is unusual for a campground.  Typically, RV Parks have a laundry but the machines are still coin-operated.  What I find utterly amazing is how these laundry facilities are arranged here.  There is a *men’s* laundry and a *women’s* laundry and you are not permitted to be in the opposite sex’s laundry room!  And, I might add, this is strictly enforced.   The other day, Jim and I were taking a walk and noticed my brother-in-law was in the men’s laundry doing his wash.  The door was propped open, so we stopped and chatted with him.  (I made sure I was out on the sidewalk and not breaking any rules).  Not long after, here comes Paula out of the campground office.  She was actually checking to make sure that I was not *in* the men’s laundry room as she had noticed us walking over that way.  Yes – she is a bit obsessive about enforcing the policies.  But, I’m not complaining.  At least I know someone is paying attention.  This lady is no pushover and I respect her tenacity and fearlessness when it comes to keeping a well-kept campground.

The campground is positively one I would recommend for anyone passing through the area and needing a place to stay for a night.  Sometimes it is hard to judge whether a roadside RV park is okay – but without a doubt you cannot go wrong stopping off here for a night.  It is a bit noisy with road traffic from Rt. 287, and there is a very active railroad just behind the campground.  We hear train whistles and the clickety-clack of train cars rumbling through the area all night long.   I am someone who does not mind the sound of trains and actually find it rather soothing to hear at night.   The truck/car traffic is, by far, more annoying to me.  For a couple of months, however, it is certainly tolerable.

LOCAL SURROUNDINGS

Amazon pays all expenses for a full hook-up site, and extends that for two days prior to start date, and two days after end date.  So, it was nice to be able to arrive and have two days to set up and acclimate to our surroundings.  We are just 10 minutes north of Decatur where you have your choice of a multitude of shopping options – complete with a Walmart Superstore and Lowe’s.  Starbuck’s? Yes.  CVS? Yes.  Public library? Yes.  And I obtained my library card the first week we were here!  (Although, it took some cajoling on my part to acquire library borrowing privileges since I’m not a Texas resident – hard to believe they denied me this privilege at first request! What’s up with that Texas?)

We have not had time to explore the town of Denton (30 minutes away), but I did find a listing online for a food co-op located in this college town.  I’m definitely missing my local co-ops in Vermont and New Hampshire.   Hopefully, next week we will venture over there and check that out.  Unfortunately, we have not found a good place to enjoy happy hour and watch Sunday/Monday night football, either.   Did I mention that this area is considered part of the Bible Belt, and it’s hard to find an actual restaurant with a bar?  While it’s possible to buy wine and beer in the grocery store, when in a restaurant (at least in Decatur) you have to be a member of their *club* in order to enjoy a glass of wine or beer with your meal.  This is totally foreign to me.   Interesting.  To become a member, you show a driver’s license and then they hand you a membership card for free.  Okay – so who’s kidding who here?  I was told this is a dry county and that’s the reason for this charade.  But, when I looked online I found that Wise County (where we are staying) is actually *part wet*.  And the wording is:  Counties (in part) in Which Beer, Wine, and Distilled Spirits Are Legal (143).   Further reading showed me that within *part wet* counties, there may still be local ordinances that differ with respect to alcohol sales in stores and restaurants.  Obviously, that must be what is driving the disparity of alcohol sales in this area. And within Wise County, there are several towns that are completely dry.  My point is – when traveling across country, be aware of the many different laws governing when and where you can purchase/consume alcohol.  Too confusing! I make no judgement about the laws but it’s good to be prepared if that matters to you.

We are located right smack in the middle of the LBJ National Grassland, and did venture over to find some multiuse hiking/horse trails last week.  Not exactly the Eastern Sierras in regards to picturesque scenery!   We did a short 3-mile hike from the TADRA area on the blue trail.  Everything was good until halfway through our hike, when I heard the distinctive sound of a pig squeal off to my left.  I’ve heard stories about the wild hogs in Texas, and all I can say is, I picked up the pace and was uncomfortable for the rest of the hike.   I did read later that the hogs tend to be nocturnal, and similar to other wild animals – preferring to run away from you.  But, that was little comfort and I’m not convinced!

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Picnic Shelter with post in foreground marking trialheads – trails are identified by color.  We hiked part of the Blue Trail.

Picnic

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Dispersed camping area at TADRA

AMAZON

Okay – so on to Amazon and their CamperForce program.  Our first day at work we attended an intensive orientation that included some typical training sessions that anyone in corporate/industrial settings should be familiar with – safety training and workplace harassment awareness – are the two major ones.  More time was spent on safety training than anything else during the day.  And for good reason.  DFW7, the code name for the Haslet fulfillment center, is a state-of-the-art distribution center with miles upon miles of conveyor belts and complicated robotics throughout the plant.  Since we’ve never really worked in an environment like this, the safety training was absolutely necessary – if for no other reason than to impress upon us the need to be aware of our surroundings at all times.

After a full-day of orientation, Amazon works the CamperForce at half-time hours for the first week so that we can slowly acclimate to the physically demanding work.  I think this corporate decision was exceptionally wise!  The work is not mentally hard, but physically demanding and it’s important to understand this before accepting a seasonal position here.  As an employee, you are basically on your feet for the entire day, bending and lifting repetitively.  It’s not for the faint of heart!

We did not get a chance to ease into overtime hours since we started so late in the season.  After our first week of part-time hours, we reported to work our first day back and were informed that mandatory 11-hour days were effective starting the next day.  As workcampers, we have the option to only work 4 10-hour days – but let’s face it – we are here to work and make some extra money.  So, we started almost right away working 11-hour days, and also got offered our 5th overtime day at 11 hours.  Whew!  I’m told that the overtime offerings this year are late in coming as compared to last year.   But, I cannot speak to that.  I guess timing is everything.

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Overhead view of the main floor

Photo credit:  http://www.socalcommercialrealestateblog.com/how-e-commerce-is-impacting-commercial-real-estate/

Let me back up just a bit.  We were initially hired to work in ICQA – Inventory Control Quality Assurance.  Our first week on the job, we were trained on two different processes relevant to this department.  Our second week, we got the opportunity to train as Stowers – and took it.  The more you know how to do, the greater variety you can have in your day, and the increased opportunity for overtime.   Stowers are the folks who take the material received off the trucks in Inbound, and *stow* it in bins (on pods).  Once an order is placed for that item, the *pickers* are the ones who retrieve the material from the pods, fill the order and send the material on its way to be packaged and shipped out.  Okay – got the picture??

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Pods that store merchandise with robots that move these around the floor and to stations

Photo credit: http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/keller-citizen/article9367301.html

So, three weeks into our jobs, we are now trained to do more tasks than some of the fulltime Amazon employees.  It’s important to push for this extra training because the physical demands are slightly different with each job.  I prefer to alternate between jobs throughout the day – as it keeps my back and knees from enduring too much repetitive stress.

So, a typical day is as follows:

  1. Report to Stand-up – this is a twice-daily gathering of all members of a team with their managers. Every day, safety tips are reviewed and announcements are made. Before reporting to your assigned station, everyone participates in a series of stretching exercises to loosen up for the physical work.  At Stand-up, employees are assigned a *station* and task for the morning.   Stations are set up differently for different tasks – and customized depending on whether you are Picking, Stowing or Counting (ICQA).
  2. The morning is spent doing your assigned task with a 15-minute break midway between start time and lunch.
  3. After lunch, you report back to the midday Stand-up where you might find that your task and station is identical to the morning, or that your assignment has changed.
  4. The afternoon hours are much like the morning – with an additional 15-minute break. One thing to know – breaks and lunch are cherished as this is an opportunity to give your body a much-needed break.

All Amazon employees work 4 10-hour days as their normal work schedule.  Once PEAK season starts, they are required to work overtime when asked and cannot take any personal time off between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  CamperForce seasonal employees have the option, but most are here to work overtime, so they do.

Some observations I’ve made over the past 3 weeks as a newbie to the CamperForce contingent:

  1. The manager you are assigned when you start work makes all the difference in the world with regard to your experience as a workamper. I’ve had people say that they’ve heard the CamperForce work is grueling and expectations are unreasonable.  This has not been my experience.  I have yet to have anyone comment on my *rate* of productivity or * number* of errors.  We are blessed with a good management team in our area.  Full-time employees are required to achieve a certain level of productivity, but I’ve not experienced this with the CamperForce.  They are happy to have us, and there has been no pressure from management.
  2. Flexibility is the name of the game. As a workamper, it’s important to be flexible and be willing to move to the area where the demand is needed.  You will be appreciated for this, and it’s more rewarding.
  3. The full-time employees who we’ve worked with are awesome, and have been extremely friendly. We’ve had excellent and thorough trainers.  I have spent many years training personnel, and I recognize a good trainer.  I’m told not all workampers have had the same experience.  Again, it all comes down to how effective your manager is in choosing employees
  4. Getting to know and interact with our fellow workampers has been fun. The collective knowledge and wisdom of the group is refreshing and informative.  It’s been enlightening to hear how others travel, and to learn about their  different workamping experiences.  It’s a great networking opportunity!

Well – Jim and I signed up to work on Thanksgiving Day for voluntary overtime.  So, I better get this posted and get to bed!  They made us an offer we could not refuse!  More on our CamperForce experience in the weeks to come……forgive any writing errors as I hurried to get this online!

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Caprock Canyon State Park in Texas – another brief stopover before arriving in Alvord.

Road Trip to Texas: Canyon Tour – Zion – the promised land!

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Without consciously planning it this way, our journey to Texas since leaving Sequoia became a study in canyons!  While each canyon we visited has its unique character and landscape, these canyons all have one thing in common.

Water was the key force that molded many of the canyons we see today throughout much of the southwest.  But, that’s not the whole story.  Zion and Bryce Canyons are part of what is described as the Grand Staircase.  This is a series of *steps* that traverse the landscape in southwestern Utah starting at Utah’s High Plateau at 9,000 feet and ending with the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  These steps are actually numerous bands of colorful cliffs that define each *riser* in the step, and this is what distinguishes Zion and Bryce Canyons.   I found a great illustration of this online:

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Diagram of the Grand Staircase from Geology of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by Doelling et al

Zion National Park is mostly representative of the Vermillion, Chocolate and White Cliffs of the Grand Staircase while in Bryce Canyon, the Gray and Pink Cliffs persist.  Over time, as varying geologic environments and forces occurred in this area (oceans, deserts, earthquakes, and volcanoes), many different layers of sediment, mud and ash were deposited.  Pressure and heat caused these layers to turn to stone.   The different stratified layers of rock give these canyons a special look and feel.  It was interesting to learn that these rock layers formed in such diverse environments as desert sand dunes and sea floors.  Some of the rock formations really do resemble giant sand dunes even though they are solid rock!  While Zion Canyon was mostly formed by the eroding powers of the Virgin River, apparently the large amphitheaters that comprise Bryce Canyon were formed through the freezing and thawing of water in the cracks of the rocks.

The article linked above (where I grabbed the diagram) gives a very scientific, detailed explanation of the geology of this area of Utah if you are interested in reading more!  It’s wicked comprehensive!

ZION IN THREE DAYS!

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Another one of those Manzanita plants!!

Our first canyon visit was to Zion National Park located near Springdale, Utah.  I have been researching Zion for a while – reading various blogs as well as tapping into Luke’s knowledge of the area.  He had recently visited Zion with his girlfriend Sharon in the Spring of 2016 and had some definite suggestions on places we should explore.

Our first major decision, of course, was where to camp.  Initially, I had wanted to set up base camp in one of the national park service campgrounds since that would give us easy access to explore with minimal driving.  Zion has two RV-friendly campgrounds both of which are located near the South Entrance in Springdale.  Watchman Campground allows reservations and I had been checking online for a couple of weeks – there were no open spots for the time we would be in Zion.  South Campground is first-come, first-serve only so that was our best hope.  I read that you really needed to arrive at the campground early in the morning for any chance at a campsite.  The strategy is to be there as soon as the camp hosts know there will be a vacancy, and be in line to grab that site.  It was still very crowded in Zion this time of year and like all national parks, they were seeing record numbers of visitors.

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Looking north from our boon-docking spot!

We would not make it to Zion until late afternoon, so we needed to come up with an alternative plan for the first night.  There happens to be acres and acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property surrounding Zion and several popular boondocking spots in this area have been written about and shared on some blogs that I follow.  On BLM land, as well as other federal land, the public is allowed to engage in what is commonly called dispersed camping.  You can simply find a spot on federal land, usually off of dirt access roads, and camp for free.  Some restrictions do apply and it’s always best to check with local land management offices or district ranger stations if you are not certain about where you can and cannot camp.  There have been many blog posting detailing the fine art of boon-docking on federal lands if you desire more information!

I knew about a spot accessed via a dirt road in the small town of Virgin, Utah about 15 miles from the park entrance.  We decided to give it a try.  The road was a breeze to find with help via Google maps, and we turned onto it and headed off into BLM land.   At first, the road seemed in good shape – wide and nicely graded.  After crossing a bridge that spans the Virgin River, the road got a tad bumpy and rocky – but still quite passable.  When we got to the top of the first hill, there was an ideal spot off to the right on a smaller dirt road that would be perfect for us.  It was a large circular dirt patch complete with a stone fire ring.  Often times, on federal lands, it is recommended to camp in spots that have been established by other campers in order to lessen the impact to the environment.

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Ya gotta love this view!

There was a sharp rise going from the main dirt road to the side road, and Jim had to put the truck in 4-wheel drive in order to pull the trailer up smoothly.  We were able to position the trailer and level it up with very little effort and the view was amazing!   We could barely make out the tops of several other RV’s further down the dirt road but no one was camped within a quarter mile of us.  We really enjoyed this location.  As it turned out, we could not get a spot in the park and ended up just staying here for free for four nights.  Zion was only 15 miles down the road and since it was so busy this time of year, it was actually a pleasure to get away from the park in the evening and come back to our secluded and quiet location.  Our solitude and 360 degree views of the surrounding cliffs were unrivaled.

I understand that this area is known as Hurricane Cliffs and is a popular mountain-biking destination.  While we did not do any biking here on this trip, it is something we’ll definitely explore next time!

Day 1

Since this was our first real boon-docking experience, the first full day here we were somewhat hesitant to leave our trailer without some sort of protection from theft.  We should have already planned for this, but it just slipped our minds until the time was at hand.   So, the first order of business was to venture into the small town of Hurricane, Utah for a hitch lock.  Now, you would think that all hitch locks are generally fairly universal.  Nope.  We found out the hard way this is not so.  I’m not going to admit to how many trips back and forth we made from the town of Hurricane to our boon-docking spot – but let’s just say that we had to test and return at least two hitch locks.  So, you do the math!

The one we finally found that actually fit our hitch came from an RV supply store.  The two that did not work came from an auto parts store.   So, what’s the lesson here folks??  We were actually on our way to the RV supply store when we passed an auto parts store – and decided to go there first.  Big mistake.  Live and learn. The sales lady at the RV Store was great and very knowledgeable.  By this time, we were somewhat leery that anything was going to fit our trailer.  Airstreams are known for being a tad *unique*.  We relayed to her our tragic story about returning  hitch locks that did not work.  She said that she would pay us $100 if we had to return the one she sold us.  She was that confident!  Too funny — and she was dead right!

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The one that worked!

By the time we got the proper hitch lock secured, and ventured into Zion that first day it was late afternoon.  The visitor center was just closing, but I was able to get some basic information and we had time for an early evening hike up the Watchman Overlook Trail, which is accessible from the visitor center parking lot.

Watchman Overlook Trail

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Lower end of the trail – and heading up!

It turned out to be a perfect time for this hike.  This is classified as a moderate, 3.3-mile hike that winds its way up to a viewpoint overlooking Watchman, lower Zion Canyon, the visitor center and campgrounds, and Springdale.  We could not have timed it better for the opportunity to grab some classic sunset shots of Watchman and the surrounding rock outcroppings.  This late in the afternoon, we also managed to miss most of the throngs of people.

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Along the Virgin River

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Yours truly at the Watchman Overlook – Jim is getting better with the camera!

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The landscape aglow with the evening light!

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Heading back down the trail, Watchman lit up with the setting sun and the rainbow of colors in the sky was breathtaking!

Day 2

We were on the fence as to what to do the remaining two full days we planned on spending in the park.  On the one hand, we wanted to drive the scenic Zion-Mt. Carmel Road (Route 9) through the park and see the eastern side of Zion.   We also wanted to do some day hikes in the canyon.  We tossed a coin and the road trip through the park won out for the next day.

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Morning light in Zion

Luke had given us a list of places to stop and explore on our scenic road trip.  We managed to capture all of them with time left over to briefly ride the shuttle up Zion Canyon at the end of the day.   Our first stop along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Road was the Canyon Overlook Trail.  This trail is accessed just past the mile-long tunnel.   Wow!  What an experience that was going through this tunnel.  Mom- don’t think you could have done this or did you??

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Looking down on the mile-long tunnel from the Canyon Overlook Trail

The Canyon Overlook Trail is a short mile-long trail with some pretty serious drop-offs.  Most of the worst drop-offs are protected with a railing but there is some exposure for those who don’t handle heights.   So, beware.  As it turns out, this is common on most of the trails in the park.  So, get used to it if you plan on hiking here!

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View down Pine Canyon from the overlook – can you see the road??

The trail ends at a viewpoint looking down Pine Canyon towards lower Zion Canyon.  It really is quite a sight to behold, and although a short hike, a worthwhile trek.  I’ve read that there is a less-marked trail from the viewpoint that takes you around and over some of the rock formations nearby such as East Temple.  For the more adventurous, it would be worth researching this.  You can find information on the side trail online here.

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Tunnel going under bridge that leads to the petroglypths!!

Our next stop was an unmarked trail that leads to some petroglyphs in the park.  We had to rely on information from Luke in order to find this trail.   It is apparently not advertised by the park, and rangers will not tell you where to find this trail.  We followed Luke’s directions and parked in a small turn-out near the trail access point.  To get to the petroglyphs, you have to hike down an embankment from the turn-out, and go through a large stone culvert/tunnel that forms a small bridge on the road.   We passed through this culvert and headed down into the canyon.  It was not long before we looked to our left and could see the rock wall that contained the petroglyphs.

What a treat!   Not very many visitors to Zion are even aware of their existence so I was thrilled to be able to see them up close and personal.  Thanks Luke for letting us know they existed and telling us how to find them!  They were strikingly similar to the petroglyphs we found in the Eastern Sierras (a post I have yet to write, but coming soon!)

We walked the length of the rock wall twice examining the rock carvings and speculating on their meaning.  We found a great spot to eat lunch further back in this canyon and spent some time there just relaxing and enjoying a spot removed from the beaten path.

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Lunch spot in the shade past the petroglyph wall!
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We walked further up the canyon beyond the petroglyphs and found these many pools of water – creating really cool patterns in the rock!

After lunch, we headed back to our truck and came up on the other side of the road instead of passing through the culvert again.  There was a very animated crowd gathered where we had initially walked down to the canyon, and they were enjoying a fantastic view of a herd of Bighorn Sheep!  The sheep were gathered in the very spot we had walked less than an hour before.  We would have walked right into the middle of the herd had we gone back through the culvert.  I perched myself on a rock above the small depression where they were grazing and shot way too many *sheep* photos.  I won’t subject you to all of them!  I was close enough to reach out and touch some of the sheep as I photographed.  Very Cool!

After the sheep moved on, we did too and headed east towards the Checkerboard Mesa.  This is an interesting rock formation that really highlights how water and erosion have played a part in creating the marvelous, diverse patterns in the rocks that you see throughout Zion.  We stopped off at many turn-outs along the way and just hiked up into small canyons that looked interesting – mostly in pursuit of Keyhole Canyon.

Luke indicted that we had to find and hike up into Keyhole Canyon.   Since there was nothing to indicate the name of the canyons along this road, we did not know whether we were finding the right one.  At one point, we hiked up this very narrow slot canyon, and found some hikers coming down  in the shallow water – complete with wet-suits and climbing gear.   They had rappelled down into the canyon and hiked/swam in the slot – a popular activity here in the park.  I started talking to one of the gentlemen and asked him if this canyon had a name.  He said it was Keyhole Canyon.  Success!!  We had found the final spot that Luke had mentioned.  The guy also shared that it was in this slot canyon where seven hikers were killed the previous year due to a flash flood.  I remembered hearing about that, and being in the canyon where it happened was a tad eerie and sad.

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Jim testing the water temperature in Keyhole Canyon
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Looking up the slot in Keyhole Canyon
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Never a dull moment along this scenic route – gorgeous!

After returning to the canyon area on Route 9, we still had plenty of time to take the shuttle up Zion Canyon and hopefully come up with a hiking plan for the next day.  We parked at the Canyon Junction shuttle stop and rode the shuttle all the way to the last stop – the Temple of Sinawava.  At this stop, we hiked the Riverside Trail to the beginning of the Narrows just to get a look at this famous part of the canyon.  Then, we rode back to Canyon Junction while checking out the other potential hiking trails along the way.

Again, our timing was perfect and we were dropped off at Canyon Junction late in the afternoon.  The bridge at Canyon Junction is a popular spot for sunset photos, and I could not resist joining the masses in the hopes of getting a good shot!  I suppose I should have waited a bit longer for the sun to start setting the rocks on fire, but it was getting brutally crowded on the bridge.  Time to go!

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From Canyon Junction Bridge looking towards Watchman

Day 3

The next day we woke up early and headed into the park so we could get a jump on the day.  I know what you are thinking – totally out of character for us to get an early start, but Zion was more populated than we had anticipated and we needed to get on the trail early!  We decided to hike to Upper Emerald Pool, then take the spur trail (Kayenta Trail) over to the West Rim Trail.   From there we would hike up the West Rim Trail past the trail that goes to the top of Angel’s Landing.  Navigating this network of trails would allow us to cover more territory and experience some of the sights in the canyon.  It was a total of about an 8-mile hike, with a very steep 2-mile section from the Grotto to the Angel’s Landing trail.

The section of the trail between the Grotto and Angel’s Landing trail was characterized by numerous steep switchbacks, and the famous section called Walter’s Wiggles – a series of  20 very tight and steep twists and turns.  We were in great shape by this time of the season, and easily managed the climb.  I was surprised to find the trail was paved all of the way to the junction with the Angel’s Landing trail.

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Not a great shot – but if you looked closely you can see this is a set of terraced switchbacks. Can you spot the person down below??
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And looking UP Walter’s Wiggles from below

We stopped for lunch just past the Angel’s Landing trail.  It was a good vantage point to people-watch!  There was a steady stream of hikers making their way up the ½ mile trail to the top of Angel’s Landing.  It was literally like an expressway during rush hour traffic.  No thanks!  Angel’s Landing is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and one of the most popular hikes within the national parks system.

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Notice the line of people climbing up the narrow trail to the top of Angel’s Landing!
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View of the top of Angel’s Landing

We opted to hike past Scout’s Lookout (at the base of the Angel’s Landing trail) on the West Rim Trail and avoid the crowds.

Part of the West Rim Trail past Angel’s Landing

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Gorgeous rock formations on the West Rim Trail

We started hiking back down to the Grotto, and caught the shuttle back to the visitor center later in the afternoon.  It was about 3 pm by then, and we decided to leave Zion Canyon and visit a less-traveled section of the park.

In the town near where we were boon-docking, the Kolob Terrace Road travels for about 22 miles north up to Lava Point – located in a remote north-central section of the park.  The road traverses in and out of national park property as you wind your way to Lava Point and the scenery was spectacular.  The late afternoon light created some interesting opportunities for photographing.

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Ranch land along Kolob Terrace Rd
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Can’t beat that color!!
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Well – maybe you can – even better!!

Lava Point is the western terminus for the West Rim Trail we had been hiking earlier in the day.  If you can arrange a shuttle, starting at Lava Point on the West Rim Trail and hiking to the Zion Canyon makes for a terrific day hike at about 10 miles for overall distance.  It’s also a popular overnight hike.

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View from Lava Point looking down on Zion Canyon!
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This interpretive sign was extremely helpful in identifying what we were looking towards on Lava Point

We arrived back at our campsite towards dusk, and discovered that we had neighbors – very close neighbors.  We noticed a motorcycle and a tent set up on the opposite side of our campsite, and we could make out someone hunched over a small backpacker’s stove cooking up something to eat.   After parking the truck, we went over to introduce ourselves.  The young gentleman interrupted his cooking to shake our hands and told us his name was Frank.   A few seconds later, his travel mate, Kate, emerged from the tent.  What struck us most about this couple was the condition of the bike they were riding.  This was no ordinary bike.  It was a 1100 cc BMW and had obviously seen some serious mileage.   It was also heavily loaded with gear – appearing to be strapped quite haphazardly around the bike!  There was a method to their madness, however.  We were curious and asked them where they were headed.  This is their amazing story.

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Frank and Kate

Frank and Kate are Czechoslovakian.  They started their journey in Czechoslovakia, and are navigating around the world.  They crossed Russia and Asia including Mongolia, shipped their bike to North America from South Korea and had traveled at this point from Alaska down to Zion – where we met them.  They are recent college graduates – Frank with a mechanical engineering degree and Kate with a degree in Tourism – and are on the final leg of their journey more or less.  From Zion, they are heading south and east into Mexico, Central America and ultimately into South America and Argentina before shipping their stuff and themselves back to Europe.  I was so impressed with what they were doing.  Their genuine interest in meeting other people and seeing other cultures was infectious.

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Had to get a shot of that bike!!

They told us some entertaining stories of their journey through Russia and Mongolia – peppered with tales about the incredibly congenial, helpful people they have met in all places they’ve traveled.  Frank is bilingual while Kate speaks several languages including Russian and Spanish.  Certainly, that has helped them in their travels.  Their expert command of English was notable.  They were equally interested in the life style that Jim and I had chosen to live for a while, and just as curious about us.   One thing that struck me the most was our mutual faith that humankind – no matter their culture – was inherently good and if everyone could travel and experience first-hand the culture and life style of others, then we would be a more tolerant world community.

Here are some links to their website and social media – I will be anxiously waiting for a book of their travels!

 

One thing I know for sure – it’s not just the places we are seeing and experiencing that make our RV adventure memorable – but also the unique people like Frank and Kate that we are meeting along the way.

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Along the Kolob Terrace Road at Sunset

 

Road Trip to Texas – First Leg of the Journey

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Grant Grove grouping

Our first destination on our road trip was a stopover in Sequoia National Park.   Now, this was not at all planned!  A couple of weeks before we were to be leaving June Lake, our son Luke called and said that he would be in Sequoia NP the weekend of October 14/15 for a college friend’s wedding.  He wanted to know if we would still be in CA at that time, and could we rendezvous with him there.  Our original plan was to head south and then east right away.   To get to Sequoia from June Lake is a somewhat round-a-bout drive – or as they say in Vermont – you can’t get there from here.   There are few roads going west over the Sierras as one might expect and those that do are not RV friendly, so it meant going all the way south and around the Sierras.   And then, back up north again!  But, it’s good to be flexible and we wanted to see Luke – however short the visit would be.

As it turned out, we also ended up with more time than originally planned to get to Texas.   Jim’s broken bone needed more time to heal, and we needed to stay in June Lake longer so he could complete the medical treatment.  We were able to extend our start date at Amazon’s Camperforce location in Haslett.  So, everything fell into place for us to take an extra week and head to Sequoia.

Luke’s friend Christine was getting married at the Wuksachi Lodge located deep in Sequoia National Park.

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Wuksachi Lodge

We needed to stay in a campground close to the lodge so Luke could conveniently get to the wedding.  The Lodgepole Campground was located behind the Lodgepole Visitor Center and claimed to have sites for rigs up to 42 feet – so that worked for us.   We did have to go into the park from the north entrance however since you cannot take a trailer up from the south entrance – too many tight switchbacks!  Always good to check the road restrictions within national parks!!

This campground normally allows reservations on Recreation.gov but this late in the season it was first come, first serve only.  So, we were driving way into the park hoping for a spot.   I called ahead and asked how it looked for availability since we were coming in mid-week and was assured we would be able to find a spot.  Good thing we arrived on Wednesday though!!

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Site # 162 – Lodgepole Campground

Now, while the Lodgepole Campground data on the NPS website indicates that it is RV friendly for rigs up to 42 foot in length, these sites must have been on the loops they had closed down for the season!  There were only two loops open when we were there in mid-October and the one that allowed RV’s was not big rig friendly.  Our trailer is 25’ long and with the truck added to that, we are at least 40 foot.  The loops were very tight and cramped with many obstacles such as large rocks and trees that meant, at one point, I had to get out of the truck and guide Jim around some turns in the campground as we were looking for an open site.   We finally found a site that could accommodate us – but I must say that there were not many sites in this loop that would fit a rig any larger than ours, if any.  Most of the other RV’s in the campground were Class C’s and did not need as much length thankfully.

By Friday, the two loops that were open filled up.  And with no camp host on the premises, people were coming in and just camping willy-nilly – parking their vehicles in the overflow parking and pitching their tents literally in other folk’s campsites!   One group even took over someone’s campfire after they went to bed!  And were not quiet about it.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think the National Park Service should be more flexible in recognizing that weekends will be busy and providing more park service personnel to police the campground during busy days.  Perhaps, another loop could have temporarily been opened.  (We gauged the demand at our forest service campground in October, and opened up closed loops when necessary, if only for a couple of days).  It was almost a free for all on Friday night.  We were lucky in that we had a *corner* site and thus had a little more room, but this campground is tight with very little privacy between sites.

Now, to be fair, maybe some of the other loops that were closed were nicer and offered more privacy.   So, I will be fair and offer up some positives!  Wednesday and Thursday night we did enjoy some solitude with no one camped around us.  Lodgepole CG is a nice central location for exploring Sequoia and perhaps that’s the draw.   We were close to some of the places we wanted to see.  The other positive was that it was convenient for Luke and his need to have easy access to Wuksachi Lodge.

Confession:  I want to admit right now that I have become somewhat of an Eastern Sierra snob!  It’s true.  And I do feel bad about that – really.   I fell in love with the *other* side and it took me a couple of days to become enamored with Sequoia.  But, I did.  We explored our immediate surroundings on Thursday and Friday and saw some really nice scenery and enjoyed some quiet solitude on some of the trails.

On Thursday, we opted to keep the truck parked, and hiked the 6-mile roundtrip trail from Lodgepole to Wuksachi.  It was a nice trail with very little traffic and went through a mostly fir/pine forest – crossing a couple of streams along the way.

The first stream crossing had a substantial bridge that we walked over, and could look down on a pool of water that harbored an incredible number of actively-feeding trout.   What a treat!   We watched the trout for quite a while.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that many trout in one spot so readily visible.

We also explored Wuksachi Lodge to get a sense of what the wedding would be like, and where it would be held.  On the grounds at the lodge, there is a hiking trail, and on this trail, we crossed a large bridge called the Sequoia Bridge.  I mentioned to Jim that if I was getting married, I would have the ceremony right on this bridge.  (As it turned out, that is precisely where the wedding ceremony was!)

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Sequoia Bridge

On Friday, we drove the short distance to the Sherman Grove of Sequoias.  We did the customary and popular hike around the grove of giant trees.  We had been at this very site in March several years ago with my sister and her husband.  It’s amazing how different it all looked.  When we were here in the spring of the year, there was still feet of snow in the woods.  I could not get my bearings as to exactly what path we took then through the grove.   I will say that the trees really are amazing up close and personal.

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We left the Sherman Grove and continued on down the road to the Giant Forest Museum.   This is a nice museum that offered some great exhibits explaining the critical habitat of the Sequoias.  There are also some interesting old photos depicting the park in the early 1900’s when over development almost ruined the sequoia grove here.

Across the street from the museum, we found a spot to eat lunch on Beetle Rock.  This granite dome outcropping looks down on the Sierra Nevada foothills and is really a cool spot to relax and take in a tremendous view.  One of the interpretive signs indicates that on a clear day you can see the coastal mountains from here.   I do not believe there are too many clear days anymore!  The pollution and smog from the valley prevents this – except perhaps in late fall and winter.

After lunch, we walked a trail from the museum to the top of Bear Hill.  There were a few sequoias along this trail and it was a relatively quiet trail with few other hikers.

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Really nice little loop offering pleasant walk through the forest!

After returning to the museum via this loop trail, we still had a good piece of the day left, so we decided to take the road on the right side of the museum that takes you back to the Moro Rock trail.  I read about the hike up Moro Rock and it sounded intriguing.  It is a short hike, but a classic hike that takes you up the side of the granite dome via 350 stairs complete with railings along the way to steady those who may get a tad queasy from the exposure.

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From the top gazing east, you look down into the canyon formed by the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River and beyond.  Toward the west, some of the summits that form the Great Western Divide of the Sierras are visible including Triple Divide Peak, Loin Rock, Mount Stewart, Lawson Peak, Kaweah Queen, Black Kaweah, Lippincott Mountain, and Mount Eisen.  Interpretive signs show the ridge and identify the mountain tops.   Mt. Whitney is blocked from view here even though it is the highest peak in the lower 48 states.

Just before reaching the top of the dome, we stopped to take in the view at a small overlook.  We heard a little commotion behind us, and I turned around just in time to see a young gentleman down on his knees proposing to his gal!  He whipped out an engagement ring, and she accepted.  It was very touching!  What a romantic!  Apparently, the top of Moro Rock is a famous spot for popping the question – much like Baker Tower at Dartmouth.  What is it about height that prompts folks to choose these spots for proposing??

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Moro Rock

On our hike back to the truck, we detoured on a small trail that skirted us past the Roosevelt Tree, and also took a small trail that lead to the Hanging Rock, a formation visible from Moro Rock.

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Roosevelt Tree
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Hanging Rock
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Jim looking out over the valley from Hanging Rock

The highlight of our time in Sequoia was of course our visit with Luke.  He arrived late Friday night, driving from LA airport in a rental car.  We were able to spend Saturday morning and early afternoon with him – setting up his new-fangled tent for a show-n-tell – and taking a short hike up the canyon on a trail from the campground.  He stayed at the lodge Saturday night with friends, but we connected again on Sunday morning and heard all about the wedding.

 

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Luke and Jim on the Tokopah Falls Trail

Luke planned on hiking with friends Sunday afternoon and then leaving from there to catch his flight back to Detroit.  So, we said our good-byes and headed off on our own mid-day Sunday to explore the northern part of the park.  We headed for the Grant Grove of Sequoias, and in the process noticed another campground near this grove and the north entrance to the park – Azalea Campground.  The weather was turning, and it was getting incredibly foggy, which actually made for some interesting pictures in the sequoia forest!  This campground looked nice, and we cruised through it and found it to be one of the nicest campgrounds we have ever seen.   There were lots of open sites, so we booked on back to Lodgepole CG, hooked up the trailer and moved ourselves to Azalea CG.  It was only for one night, as we were planning on leaving Monday, but it would save us a least 2 hours in the morning since it was right near the north entrance, and our exit location.

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Fog starting to roll up the mountain

The ride over to Azalea from Lodgepole was a little dicey as it just continued to get foggier and foggier as the day wore on.   Jim did a great job, even though at times, it was so foggy we practically had to come to a complete stop on the winding, narrow road.  It reminded us of the worst fog we have ever been in –near Jim’s sister Susan’s place in Washington State!   Anyway, it was a beautiful site with total privacy from other campers.   I highly recommend this campground if you are planning on staying within the park.

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Site # 23 – Azalea Campground

Oh, and by the way, the Grant Grove was amazing.  This grove was different from the Sherman Grove.  The undergrowth was more diverse, and the *feel* of the grove was just more impressive to me.  I cannot really put my finger on why – maybe it was the weather and the fog moving in.  Maybe it was a conversation I overheard on my way into the grove.  As I was crossing the parking lot to enter the grove, a young man was pushing an elderly lady in a wheelchair back to their vehicle.  As they passed me, I heard her heartfelt exclamation: “This has been the happiest day of my life.  I feel so blessed to have been able to see these remarkable trees once again.”   Her facial expression was one of pure joy.  I could tell I was in for a treat as I headed to walk among these giant trees.  On this day, at that time – the Grant Grove really found a special place in my heart.

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Grant Grove

Coming up!  Adventures in Zion, Bryce and beyond……I’ll once again have limited WiFi – so be patient!

Road Trip To Texas – Getting Packed Up

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Red Rock Canyon State Park, Southern CA

Our last day of work at Oh! Ridge Campground was October 8th.   Hard to believe it’s time to pack up and move on.  It’s amazing how settled in we got in just 3 months.  We had a checklist of things we wanted to do while parked for 3 months.  We were able to whittle down the list considerably, but some tasks will wait until we settle in Texas for a couple of months.  This was the first time we had spent more than a couple of weeks in our Airstream, and all in all, we are quite happy with life in a small RV!

I hauled out the Airstream manual a couple of weeks prior to our departure to go over the maintenance checklist and see what was essential, or at least reasonable to get done before our exit date.  We also wanted to do some routine truck maintenance.  It was hard to shift gears and start to think about getting back on the road, but also exciting to think of the possible places we would visit en route to Texas.

What did we accomplish?

  • Washed and waxed the Airstream – washed several times over the summer, and waxed once.
  • Cleaned all exterior window wells and seals.  Jim then applied some butcher’s wax to the window seals as we noticed the windows sticking a tad when we opened them.
  • Washed and waxed the truck as well – much needed as the volcanic pumice in this area coated everything!
  • Checked all the tires and lug nuts – tightened the lug nuts and checked and adjusted the tire pressure. He did a manual inspection of the tires for wear and tear.  We had purchased wheel covers over the summer to protect against deterioration from the sun.   A must in California in the summer!
  • Inspected the air conditioner/heat pump cover, and checked underneath for debris. We do have a small crack appearing in the cover that will have to be dealt with at some point.  That goes on my list of things that will need replaced!
  • Oiled all the outriggers so they operate more smoothly.
  • Purchased a heavy duty jack in case we need to change out a tire in a remote area. After getting stuck in New Hampshire right after Leif’s wedding with a flat tire, and waiting for hours for AAA to come and put the spare on, we decided that it was a worthwhile investment.  At least now, we have a jack that will lift trailer so that we can take care of business ourselves.  We also wanted to use it for wheel bearings.
  • Bought weather-stripping and started prepping the screen door and outside door compartments so that we could put new stripping on once we get to Texas.
  • Cleaned thoroughly the interior of the Airstream
  • Re-packed the truck
  • Replaced the propane regulator and pigtails for the propane tanks (they seemed to have been original so felt that it was important preventative maintenance to do)
  • Changed the oil and filter in the Chevy truck
  • Replaced burnt light bulbs in truck (running lights)

What do we need to do in Texas?

  • Repack wheel bearings – Jim’s broken bone prevented him from doing this as planned this summer, so we now have the jack and will get this done in Texas
  • Investigate more solar panels for re-charging our batteries while boon-docking
  • Evaluate the need for a new air conditioner cover. A previous owner seems to have glued the cover down – perhaps because of crack??  Who knows – but something we cannot work on unless we have a new cover!
  • Re-check all our exterior seams and reseal as needed (We did this before leaving Vermont but would be good to check mid-year)
  • Purchase a torque wrench so we can properly test the lug nuts
  • Re-think how  the interior closet is organized. Lots of wasted space!

Not too shabby – looks like we did get some things accomplished!

We stopped work on Saturday, October 8th and had two days to pack up and leave – with Tuesday morning the 11th as our anticipated departure date.  Jim used the wind shelter we had at our site to *stash* things he accumulated over the summer and to store things so we had more room in the truck. (You need to know Jim’s habits to understand the humor in this!) Let’s just say that the wind shelter acted as his surrogate garage.  His pack rat tendencies, though, were held in check over the summer thank goodness!  He spent a few days after work that last week sorting through things – returning some stuff to the campground *pod* and packing the rest.

I can honestly say that we really did not accrue too much *stuff* during our stay here this summer.  We bought an outdoor rug to place at the entrance to the trailer to keep from tracking in too much dirt.  We also bought a cute, collapsible aluminum table that sits between our outdoor Airstream chairs.   And we purchased some much needed essential tools .

Packing up after an extended stay can be somewhat stressful, but we employed the *divide and conquer* strategy and were successful in getting everything in order with minimal combative episodes, and actually had a very amiable two days getting ready.   The division of labor was simple – I handled everything interior, and Jim took charge of all exterior chores.  I was charged with getting the inside of the Airstream travel-ready, and Jim was responsible for packing up the truck and checking exterior systems.   It was a fair and equitable division of labor.  We could work independently with minimal conversation, and therefore, avoided most opportunities for conflict!

We were all set to go Tuesday morning.  All systems go – until Jim tried to start the truck to get hitched up.  The truck turned over, and then stalled.  Visions of chipmunk-eaten wires came to mind.   Yup – those pesky little rodents had once again overnight made a nest in the box with the wiring harness!!  We let our guard down one night, and they moved right in.  Luckily, only one wire was damaged and Jim was prepared this time – armed with liquid electrical tape and small electrical connectors.  It was a bit more of a challenge with his still-injured right hand not quite up to speed, but he persevered and got the job done.   It still cost us a couple of hours of time in the morning but we were not planning on travelling very far the first day, so it all worked out.  Never a dull moment!

We made it to Red Rock Canyon State Park that day and got a nice site nestled along the canyon wall with enough daylight to take a short walk before starting dinner.  We are making our way to Texas on a somewhat circuitous route – headed to Sequoia National Park to rendezvous with Luke for a couple of days, and then spending some time traveling through some of our nation’s national parks and monuments in the Southwest – those that have been on my list of places to see for quite some time.

Stay tuned…….more to come on our favorite summer hikes and day trips in the Eastern Sierras, as well as our adventures in Sequoia NP, and our unscheduled stopover in Bakersfield due to adverse weather ahead of us!  We will undoubtedly have spotty internet over the next two weeks so I will try my best to write off-line and post when able.

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Red Rock Canyon State Park
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Dry-camping in Lodgepole Campground, Sequoia National Park