Of Moose and Men

Grand Lake, CO I don’t know exactly when I became fixated on moose. Somewhere around 20 years ago I suspect. I have no idea what started it but my love for these beasts is not waning.

Despite this my affection seems unrequited. They do not seem to be a fan of me. I have had very little contact with the creatures.

I was sure we would see lots of them when we vacationed in Alaska in 2006. We rented a class C and drove all over the state for a week. We saw a lot of amazing things but not one moose until our last night in the RV.

We stayed at a park on the outskirts of Anchorage. We were told we would almost certainly see a moose there. Sure enough at dusk a couple ladies made their way down the highway and bedded down near the entrance to the park.

This was my one and only moose encounter up to this summer. And it just wasn’t the kind I was hoping for. It was not the same as spotting a moose, preferably a male with a huge rack, in the wild.

So you can see why I was so excited when we had our run in with the moose near Flaming Gorge. Ok it wasn’t exactly up close and personal. But it was a bull and it was in the wild.

Our next stop seemed to promise more moose encounters. The town of Grand Lake sits on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. We fell in love with this little place and ended up staying 2 weeks.

Our very first morning there we went for a drive in the nearby national forest. We spotted a bull moose in the trees on the side of the road. Jim turned the truck around and the moose had crossed the road and climbed way up a hill.

We also saw a large female nearby. After further driving we saw 3 more moose! A young male …

and two females.

They were pretty near the road so I was able to get several good pics.

Thank goodness we had such a positive early experience because we didn’t see any more moose the remainder of our stay. We know they were around, we saw moose tracks and moose poop. Jim was walking along a river and a fisherwoman said “did you see those two moose that just passed?” Nope, he did not. But that’s OK, because we saw 5 moose in one morning!

Despite not seeing more moose we did have a wonderful time. The town was just big enough with great restaurants and nice gift shops. We had pizza the day we arrived at Grand Pizza and it was so good we went back for more before we left.

We also went out to breakfast one Saturday morning. The Fat Cat had the most amazing breakfast buffet. The chef was English I think and every dish was outstanding. I know, 3 meals out in only two weeks, what were we thinking?!

I don’t think the calories hurt us though. We did plenty of hiking, mostly in the national park. I’ll share that with you in my next post.

The town of Grand Lake is on the shores of Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake. It is not overly crowded and moves at the slower pace that Jim and I prefer. It had everything we wanted and we didn’t have to share everything with throngs of people.

One weekend while we were there they held a regatta. They had races for kayakers, SUPs, canoers, and rowers.

Another weekend they hosted a free corvette show. There were at least a hundred corvettes on Main Street.

We visited Shadow Mountain Lake and checked out the dam where they release the lake waters and they continue on for a few miles as the Colorado River before backing up and becoming another lake, Granby. What we saw there got my fisherman pretty excited. The trout and salmon were going crazy trying to jump up that dam and continue their trek upstream, impossible.

We returned to the spot several times and Jim enjoyed the fishing.

He had some luck and we have some trout in the freezer.

This was the perfect area for us because he was entertained and there was so much for me to explore. I hiked along the east side of Shadow Mountain Lake which is part of the 3,100 mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This is a trail that, when complete, will travel along or near the continental divide from our northern border with Canada to its southern terminus at the Mexican border. It is currently only 72% complete and for now requires some travel on motorized roads.

The mile and a half hike beside the lake was a bit difficult because of the number of downed trees I had to go over, under, or around. There were about 20. I counted them on my return trip. But it was worth it. The lake views were outstanding and I ran across a deer and her fawn. They were a little skittish but in the end they decided I wasn’t a threat.

That trail continued on south of the dam and was less difficult. Jim joined me on it another day when the fishing was disappointing. He is so much better than me at spotting wildlife. He saw this osprey which was just a blob in a tree and I had time to get my telephoto lens out before he flew away.

I also walked many miles through the on-site campground, Green Ridge, chasing photo opportunities. The hummingbirds were plentiful but just won’t be still enough for a good shot. The chipmunks were a little more cooperative.

The lake was just gorgeous in the mornings.

We spent the first 10 days of our stay at Elk Creek Campground, an extremely nice, if a bit tight, RV park just outside the town of Grand Lake. We planned to stay 3 nights and then find a boondock in the national forest. But it was just so convenient there so when they said they had a cancellation and could accommodate us for another 7 days we decided to stay. Their daily rate for the full hookup site was $49 and the weekly rate was $309. It was definitely a splurge.

For our last three nights we moved over to our new happy place, Green Ridge Campground. We moved to the first come first served site early on a Friday morning. By early afternoon the place was packed. We paid $21 per night for a sight with zero amenities.

Flaming Gorge

July, 2017 Manila, UT We made our way northeast to a little town on the Wyoming state line to visit Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Manila was a quiet town, especially midweek. We stayed at the KOA ($43 per night, full hookups) as it was the only option I could find with electricity.

Flaming Gorge was aptly named for these beautiful red cliffs.

When it was named there was no lake but the Green River flowed at the base of the cliffs. When the river was damned up in the 1960’s, the resulting reservoir was named for the gorge it filled up.

The lake is very remote with few accesses so we decided to splurge on a boat rental so we could get a better look at it. Like much of this part of Utah, the views in each direction are vastly different.

You are just as likely to see imposing brown mountains.

Or you might see green hills.

But the red hills steal the show, especially when the sun lights them up.

We enjoyed our morning of boating very much even though it was cloudy most of the time and even rained for a while. We thought the rates at Lucerne Marina just outside of Manila were quite reasonable. We rented a 24 foot pontoon for 5 hours for only $165 plus the cost of gas which was less than $20.

We took a scenic drive another day along a road called the Sheep Creek Geological Loop. It was very aptly named. We spotted some bighorn sheep.

The road followed a creek for much of the way and we were surprised by this beautiful spring and its resulting waterfall. It’s called Big Spring.

The rock formations were the highlight; big, beautiful mountains of rock in every direction.

Near the end of the loop was a spur road that led to a fire tower. I had read that it was closed to tours but I was still hoping we could climb the stairs. We were headed down that spur road and about to turn onto the fire tower road when we saw a big black spot in the road ahead.

We figured it was a cow as we’d seen lots of black cows roaming freely during our backcountry drives. But we decided to proceed past our turn anyway and check it out. As we got nearer we saw our “cow” lift up its head and we both clearly saw a HUGE moose rack!

We were beyond excited and drove slowly forward hoping he wouldn’t disappear before we could get close enough for a picture. Alas, it was not to be. By the time we got to the spot, he had moved into the woods.

We spotted his massive shadow moving through the timber and then nothing. We drove slowly up the road a ways and then back but didn’t see him again. We were still elated to have had the encounter.

We proceeded to the lovely Ute Fire Lookout Tower. It had a small sign across the stairs that said closed. But it was easy to slip under and I decided if they really wanted to keep me from climbing it they would have tried harder.

The views were great.

Two of my favorite things are moose and fire towers, so to say that was a good day would be an understatement.

While we were on the mountain we checked out a few possible boondocking sites. The KOA was booked for the weekend and we weren’t ready to leave the area so early Friday morning we moved about 15 miles south and 1,200 feet higher in elevation. The site was just off Highway 44 on Forest Road 508.

We then enjoyed three more days of exploring on the mountain. We visited the Flaming Gorge Dam and took the free dam tour.

Jim fished in mountain lakes while I walked and photographed.

Here’s his first lake trout. As usual I was walking when he caught it so he got a quick shot with his phone before releasing it. The fish’s coloring is so striking, I asked Jim if he had enhanced the photo. He said that no, in fact he couldn’t even see the screen when he snapped it because it was so sunny out and he just hoped the fish was in the viewfinder. So here it is unbelievably unenhanced.

I made a new buddy, the Yellow Bellied Marmot.

He’s shy but he warms up to you.

We didn’t have cell service at our new campsite or on much of the mountain. We discovered that Dowd Mountain overlook had the best views and closest signal.

We went for a drive early one morning hoping to see more wildlife. We mostly saw more cows and more mule deer until we spotted these 3 guys in a field. They were crazy big and prehistoric looking.

I couldn’t imagine what they were. We finally got a chance to look them up in a book and our best guess is they are sandhill cranes. If anyone has a better answer I’d love to hear it.

Jim fished the Green River a few miles below the dam one morning. I wanted to walk up the river trail but I only got a half mile before the head high weeds were too thick to proceed. I turned back and just before I got to the trailhead I was stopped by this blocking my path.

He was the same kind of snake we saw in Kanab. We did not suspect it was poisonous but we still had not positively identified it either. He did not want to budge off the warm path and back into the chilly weeds. But I finally kicked a little gravel his way and he slithered off.

When we got off the mountain and had cell service again, we finally did look the snake up on the internet. We believe it is a gopher snake. I read on two seemingly reliable websites that there are only 6 poisonous snakes in Utah, 5 rattlers and a sidewinder. I know he wasn’t any of those.

I walked back to where Jim was fishing (OK I might have ran a little ways) and sat with him for a while. He’d gotten a few nibbles but his one solid bite of the morning had gotten off. This guy had dove into the river nearby him and was now perched high in a tree on the other side.

Apparently the bird wasn’t having any luck fishing either so Jim didn’t feel so bad. I got my telephoto lens out and got some good shots of him. We though he was some kind of kite but later realized it was an osprey.

Isn’t it amazing that I can be a football field away from a beautiful predator like this and with a few snaps and the aid of technology we can look him right in the eye and possibly catch a glimpse of his soul?

Our time on the mountain was just about perfect; great weather, campfires, lots of wildlife, and fresh air. We were sorry to leave but we’d already pushed back our next reservation once. So we somewhat reluctantly left our idyllic location.

Naples

Naples, FL – October, 2016 Soon after getting settled at our winter RV park it was time to pack up and head a whole 10 miles south to hang out with our friends. This was the third time we had rented the same beach house in North Naples. Our friend’s relatives own the property and we are grateful to benefit from the family discount.

We all adore the house and love the location in the well know neighborhood of Naples Park. The house is three bedrooms and two and a half baths. It is spacious, beautifully furnished, and best of all has a heated pool.

We enjoyed just over a week’s visit with one couple. Another couple that has joined us on previous visits said they couldn’t come but at the last minute they changed their minds and flew down for the weekend. We all had fun as always and got caught up on everything we had missed in the 3 months since we left Missouri.

The nearest beach to the house is called Vanderbilt Beach. It is a near perfect beach with soft sand and waste deep water for a long way out. This beach is close to neighborhoods, condos, and hotels so it is generally bustling.

The big event every day is sunset. They are just beautiful here. Since our visit was before the time change we often ate before 5:30 then made a beeline for the beach to catch the show.

Only a mile farther from the house was the Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. This beach gets a little narrow at high tide but it is a nice alternative to Vanderbilt and not quite as crowded. It’s always interesting to see what’s been washed up on the beach.

This state park is another good sunset spot.

There is a dead tree there that people have loaded with shells which looks pretty cool.

Jim and I don’t go to bars often but one notable exception is a dive near the Naples house that we simply must visit each time we are in town with our friends. Jim’s favorite T is from there and seems to sum up their outlook.

The bar is called the North Naples Country Club. The name is meant in jest as it is far from sophisticated. Just our kind of place!

The best part is it’s within walking distance of the rental house. It’s a fun, friendly place if you are ever in the vicinity. And the food ain’t bad either.

One of our favorite places to visit is in downtown Naples. The Naples Pier is an enjoyable, free place to kill an hour or two.

It is a free fishing pier so with or without a fishing license you can fish here to your heart’s content. If you hang around a little while you will likely encounter your fair share of interesting characters. You may overhear some colorful language and you will almost definitely note some distinct regional and foreign accents.

Many people, primarily older gentlemen, come here almost daily to fish and maybe share a fish story or two. Most of the fishermen are more than happy to offer advice on techniques, bait, and such. There are a few that are tightlipped and maybe a little grouchy, but very few.

The pier is also a great place to observe nature. You are almost guaranteed to see dolphins.

There are usually schools of bait fish around the pylons and if you are lucky you might see tarpon working them into a frenzy. I have also seen ray and jellyfish and we once saw a fisherman pull in a little blacktip shark!

Naples Beach stretches as far as you can see on either side of the pier.

And if you get bored with all that there’s shopping, restaurants, and more shopping within a few blocks. If we are there on a Saturday we enjoy a stroll through the farmers’ market. It’s a little high end for us with lots of food vendors (who spends $15 on lunch at a farmers’ market?) but colorful and entertaining just the same.

My girlfriends and I were lucky enough to run into this guy out shopping with his friends.

He even let us hold this one who was quite a ham.

Naples is quite large and I know it has a whole lot more to offer. Since it’s so close to our home for this winter, we are looking forward to discovering more of this great town.

Catskills

Accord, NY August-September, 2016 We briefly visited the Catskills in 2004 and longed to return. When I say briefly I mean it was one stop on a 5 day, 5 state whirlwind tour of the northeast that we dragged our youngest daughter, then 12, along on. It was a marvelous adventure and the only time we could spare from our busy lives at the time. We do things differently these days.

We chose to stay for a week this time and picked a home base in Accord from which to explore this vast park. At first it was hard to choose where would be best to launch our explorations from but after some research it started to become clearer pretty fast. We couldn’t afford to spend a whole week if we had to pay over $50 a night to camp. The only reasonably priced option we found that was close to where we hoped to be was SoHi Campground in Accord which offered a weekly Passport America rate of $225.

Minnewaska State Park had been our primary stop on that long ago trip and was high on our list of must sees. There the lovely Peter’s Kill (kill means creek in these parts) runs through the park. A hike takes you along the creek to the top of Awosting Falls.

Then it continues down to the bottom of the falls. The last time we visited in the spring so there was a lot more water. Here’s my baby in 2004.

Here is the falls on this visit. That’s Jim standing beside it.

You can see the falling water a little better from the side.

The rocky bed of the kill itself was just as fascinating as the waterfall.

There are other waterfalls if you continue downstream or you can head up to a gorgeous lake and hike all the way around it if you choose.

This park is only 10 miles off Interstate 87 and well worth a visit if you are passing through.

One of our favorite day trips this time around was to Kaaterskill Falls. It is the highest two tiered waterfall in New York state. The moderate 1.5 mile hike into it is accessed from a pretty small parking area and then a short walk down the highway. You should get there early if you want a space because the next best alternative is a hike of many miles.

We arrived around 8am on a drizzly weekday morning and were about the 4th vehicle there. We didn’t have to share the trail in with too many people but by the walk out the trail traffic had picked up considerably and the parking lot was almost full when we pulled out around 10am.

The view of the entirety of the falls is pretty.

You can then walk up around a hundred stairs to get a better view of the upper fall which is downright stunning. The stairs then continue to the top but we didn’t proceed.

Jim pointed out this fellow to me on the way in. I have an especially strong dislike of millipedes and was careful where I put my hands the rest of the hike. He was around 5 inches long!

Each day we explored another direction and enjoyed views like this one from the truck. This was because there were almost no scenic pullouts. We took turns driving so one of us could concentrate on keeping the truck safely on the narrow roads leaving the other free to rubberneck.

Jim tried his hand at fishing the famous local trout streams. The most disappointing part of this endeavor was just how limited the access was to these waters. It didn’t help that his back was bothering him and just about all of the limited accesses we did run across required scrambling down steep embankments which he was not up to. It wasn’t too big a deal since we didn’t see a single other fisherman (or fish for that matter) which is probably because the stocked streams are fished out by late summer.

Despite this fact we enjoyed a couple hours at the infamous Junction Pool where the Beaverkill and the Willowemoc Creek meet.

We wandered the main street of mountain towns like Phoenicia and Roscoe. Both were charming but didn’t take long to explore as many of the shops were closed on a weekday. Woodstock was the exception.

We stopped in after our hike to Kaaterskill Falls. We had lunch at the Catskill Mountain Pizza Company where they sell pizza by the slice for very reasonable prices. Jim’s sausage slices were bigger than his head and all three of our pieces came to just $10 (cash only).

This town has a lot going on and doesn’t slow down because it’s noon on a Wednesday. There are plenty of interesting shops offering everything from healing crystals, to funky clothing, to palm readings.

If you get tired of walking you can grab a seat and the people watching will keep you entertained while you rest. The folks here are all about self-expression. I’m certain we saw a few hippies that came to the area for the summer of love and loved it too much to ever leave.

When I heard that there are 5 old fire towers still standing throughout the park I wanted to climb at least one. There is an organization that maintains the trails to these gems and even opens them to visitors on summer weekends. We waited toward the end of our week when Jim’s back was better and headed to the Red Hill Fire Tower, the easiest one to reach.

The trail was 2.8 miles roundtrip but was still a bit of a struggle because it was rarely a clear trail. It was full of rough rocks and tree roots most of the way.

The elevation gain was around 1000 feet and was a pretty steady climb. You finally come out of the dark woods to a view of the sixty foot tower built in 1921.

We had come on a Friday so the top was not open but we climbed up to the top of the stairs and enjoyed some spectacular views of the mountains and forest to the east

and of the Rondout Reservoir to the south.

We thoroughly enjoyed our weeklong visit to the Catskills. It wasn’t exactly what we remembered or expected but was extraordinary all the same.

Pictured Rocks and Mooching at a Casino

Menominee to Munising, MI – August, 2016 We made our way into Michigan’s upper peninsula and stopped at J.W. Wells State Park. We snagged a lakeside site so our kitchen window looked out over Lake Michigan. It was a lovely place to relax for a couple days.

The next day we hauled the kayaks 20 feet to our beach and set off. We were shocked by how clear the water was. You could see the rocky bottom well after the water was over our heads.

On the left of the pic are some of the lakeside sites just up from ours. The arrow points to where we paddled to, the mouth of Cedar River, two miles away. We took a break on the beach before paddling back.

Jim bought a one day fishing license online for a reasonable $10. He had a few nibbles but finally on the way back he landed this good size bass. It was at least 12 inches. I was close enough to get a picture of his catch before he released it.

Everyone kept saying the sunrises were not to be missed. Each day seemed to dawn overcast and I never was blown away.

The campground was extremely nice and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The cost for the electric site was a reasonable $20 a night but we did also pony up $31 for a state park annual pass rather than pay the $8 per day park use fee. We expect to visit enough Michigan State Parks to come out ahead.

We were looking forward to our next stop and I was especially looking forward to saving some money on camping fees. I had read that just outside the town of Munising where we were headed was a casino with free electricity. I was so in.

We arrived before noon and had our pick of the 8 sites. Even though the marked spaces weren’t much bigger than standard parking spaces we were able to hang off the edge of the parking lot and mostly fit even with our slides out. Later that day a tiny Airstream moved in to the right of us and they were the perfect sized neighbor.

The next morning we had lots of neighbors but most cleared out pretty early and the next evening it filled up again. Our intel was correct, the sites were free and there was no registration or restrictions of any kind on their use. Sure it was crowded but we were busy sightseeing all day and I was sure ecstatic to save the $28 per night I would have spent at the next cheapest alternative.

The main draw here was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 42 miles of scenic shoreline on Lake Superior. There were also many beautiful waterfalls both in the national park and around Munising. First we visited the waterfalls nearest town. Both were just short walks from their parking areas.

I didn’t even notice the stacked rocks in this photo of Wagner Falls until I got it on the computer.

Next up was Munising Falls.

We also visited Sand Point just outside of town. It was a lovely beach with a view of the adorable East Channel Lighthouse across South Bay on Grand Island.

Then we headed out to explore Pictured Rocks. The most scenic spot that is easily viewed from land is Miners Castle. It is also closest to town so it was very crowded.

There was also a nice view from there of a good stretch of the shoreline. The local outfitters rent kayaks from Miners Beach below and lead trips out to the castle and back.

Next stop was Miners Falls.

It is a long drive between points of interest in this park. It was a 35 mile drive to our next stop, a walk along Twelve Mile Beach. Another 9 miles brought us to the Log Slide overlook where we had this beautiful view of Au Sable Light Station.

I would have loved to hike to it. But it is a 3 mile hike one way from the nearest access point and we had a pretty full day already. We would have come back to do it the next day if it hadn’t been such a long drive.

Our last stop was at Sable Falls 7 miles further.

And a short walk beyond that is a beach covered in beautiful multicolored stones.

From there it was an hour drive back to our parking lot with the free air conditioning. We had every intention of staying a third day and night to kayak either at Sand Point or Miners Beach. Even though the next day was the warmest of our visit it also turned out to be the windiest whipping the water into a frenzy. So we scratched that plan and departed for another adventure.

Roaring River State Park

Cassville, Missouri – June, 2016 Jim and I enjoyed a week living in the city, getting caught up on annual appointments, and visiting our kids. Then we were ready for some fresh air and fresh fish. So we headed to one of our favorite Missouri state parks, Roaring River. I mentioned it briefly last summer. But it has so much to offer it deserves its own post.

We have visited this park at least once a year for about 20 years. I clearly remember tent camping near this very spot when our baby was about 4. We have visited in a succession of campers since then; from our first 1970 Coleman popup, to our Trailmanor, and finally graduating to 5th wheels. We have so very many wonderful memories here!

I was really looking forward to hiking all my favorite trails again. There are 7 trails totaling just over 10 miles. You can also add a lot of mileage to the hikes by walking to the trailheads instead of driving.

The most interesting trail in the park is Devil’s Kitchen. It is a mile and a half with quite a bit of elevation gain. The payoff is beautiful bluffs along much of the trail followed by the highlight. Devil’s Kitchen is a half-hazard looking pile of rocks that form a cavern.

Supposedly the cavern hid guerilla soldiers during the civil war.

My favorite part of the Fire Tower Trail is the less than 1 mile section between the end of campground C and where the trail crosses the highway. The path leads you between the river and a very scenic series of bluffs.

The shortest hike in the park is Deer Leap. It is 100 steps leading to an overlook with a view of the hatchery and the spring pond.

The pond is where they keep the big momma trout they use to stock the remainder of the stream.

Spring water gushes out of the ground under this cliff and there is often some runoff from above creating a waterfall.

It’s fun to watch the fish in the stream even if you have no interest in catching and/or eating them. The water is so clear there are many great fish photo ops.

Trout is our favorite freshwater fish to eat so thankfully Jim did have some luck and caught enough for two plentiful meals. Here is day one’s catch.

You probably see some sad, dying fish. I see trout almandine!

It was super hot during our visit but thankfully there are plenty of places to keep cool around here. In the middle of the park is a popular swimming hole that is very family friendly and has enough water coming in and out to keep it fresh when the water is reasonably high.

Later in the summer this water can become a bit stagnant. Then people tend to gravitate to the camp swimming pool, which can be a lifesaver if you have kids in tow.

Some parts of the trout stream are designated multi-use and wading and swimming there can be fun. Our favorite swimming spot is a short drive past campground C. It is the first right after the Fire Tower Trailhead on the left. There is a memorial gravesite for the Russell’s, the original homesteaders, who wisely located their home next to a perfect little swimming hole. The water is usually about waste deep and has its own scenic bluff and waterfall.

We have visited this spot many times and never ran into another soul. I’m sure someone had swum their before our arrival one day because the generally clear water was mucked up. But it was still refreshing.

The campground here is extremely well maintained. Our spacious, electric only site averaged $24 per night including the reservation fee. The park has lots of cabins and a lovely lodge so it is a great place to meet family and friends that want to enjoy the great outdoors with you but aren’t thrilled about camping.

Texas’ Colorado River

Columbus, TX – February, 2016 West of Houston a short ways is the Colorado River, no relation to the more famous river by the same name out west. This Colorado River starts and ends in the state of Texas. We decided to spend a week at the Thousand Trails Colorado River Campground since the weather was looking promising, the river looked like a good one to kayak, and the campground was practically free with our membership.

The town of Columbus is fairly small and has many charming characteristics. It has the basic necessities: a far from super Walmart, two grocery stores, three Redbox. There are lots of beautiful old homes and a quaint town square with a gorgeous courthouse.

It is located between the banks of the river since the river makes a dramatic curve, an oxbow, north of town and returns on the other side of town.

We are always on the lookout for such a place where we can put the kayaks in on one side, have a pleasant float, and then take out on the other side and just walk back to get our truck. This place is perfect. It’s a 6 mile float but only a 1 mile walk between the two accesses. The walk is through the small town and the only downside is that you have to cross two bridges, the longest one had absolutely no room for pedestrians. We pondered this problem at length.

We looked for another access with no luck. We studied the nearby railroad bridge which had a nice wide platform you could walk on but also had a no trespassing sign. Jim was willing to walk the railroad bridge. I was willing to chance the highway since the cars can move over but a train cannot. We each thought the other was completely insane. We did agree if we only had a bike the bridge could be safely ridden over.

We had called the outfitter in town, Howell Canoe Livery, and left a message early in the week to ask about water conditions on the float. They didn’t open until Thursday so when they called back and said they’d help us shuttle our truck for only $10 we agreed our safety and marital bliss was worth that much.

We put in on Friday just before lunch. We only saw 3 other kayakers all day. The river was low but we never dragged. It was mostly flat water with only one or two minor rapids.

We watched this bird struggle with his meal for quite a while. No wonder, that’s a pretty big catch for someone with no teeth. He finally managed to swallow it.

The Colorado is considered a good bass river but the outfitter said no one was having much luck recently. Another kayaker that put in just after us and fishes the river frequently said he hadn’t caught a fish all year. So Jim was pleased that he caught 3 bass that day, the first before even leaving camp.

Earlier in the week we put in at the campground’s boat ramp one afternoon to see how far we could get up river. Jim has a trolling motor on a custom mount he built for his kayak. It is really great on lakes but can get him upstream in a river if the current is not too strong. In the slow stretches he can even tow me. Here is the view from my position of leisure.

I use a retractable pet leash as a tow rope. Jim seemed to take issue with being literally on a short leash when we first set up the system. It works well and he got over it. We do get some looks from other floaters and usually a comment or two. But on this day there was not another person on this stretch of the river and the only looks we got were from the many cows that stared at us from the river’s edge.

We got about a mile and a half up stream in an hour. We had plenty of battery power left and could have gone farther but it was already 2 o’clock. I paddled about half the way and let Jim tow me the rest.

The only problem with the motor is that it gets in the way of Jim’s paddling.  So he motored most of the way and only paddled in a couple places it was too shallow to run. There were very few places that had a strong current so we could have made it without the motor if we chose to.

Over the next two hours we floated back to camp and stopped at one gravel bar. Besides the cows we saw lots of turtles, two huge red headed woodpeckers, and a muskrat.

We visited Houston a couple times during the week to pick up this or that. Houston has about every store you could ever want. I had read about a restaurant in an old movie theatre that I wanted to visit. I decided it was a shame we had been to Texas twice in the last year and hadn’t gone to a Tex-Mex restaurant.

The restaurant was fun. They showed an old western on the screen while we ate. The food was pretty good and reasonably priced.

We thought we might go downtown after lunch but decided the trip from the store we wanted to visit to the restaurant was sightseeing enough. The fastest route was by a tollway that was exclusively for those with a prepaid tag. We really didn’t mind taking surface streets because we wanted to see more of Houston. What we saw was the grittier side of Houston, many miles of adult bookstores and strip clubs.

I’m sure if we had more time we would have found a lot of things we enjoyed in Houston but they sure don’t make it very easy to get around this city.  My biggest issue is with their toll roads.  They have many toll roads around the city and their system is not visitor friendly.

Most of their toll roads do not have manned toll booths.  They have entire highways that require you to pre-purchase a tag in order to access them.  This requires a one-time fee of $15 plus a deposit into your account of $40!  Ridiculous!

We encountered the same issue last year in Austin.  One particularly bad traffic day we said to heck with it and took the unmanned toll road.  We got a bill in the mail months later.  Ten dollars was high for 8 miles of toll road but better than being stuck in gridlock for hours.

Some of Houston’s roads say that you need a tag but it turns out that they have toll express lanes and you can in fact use the free lanes without getting charged a toll.  When a highway says things like “last free exit” and “EZ Tag required” I tend to believe it and get off the highway if there is another alternative.

After our first visit I went to their website to try to make sense of it.  It was not very helpful. So I called and waited 30 minutes for a customer service agent to answer my questions.  She was nice and helpful.  But it didn’t change the fact that their whole system sucks the big one!

The best advice she gave me was that if I chose to take a toll road, or inadvertently ended up on one, to just wait a couple days then give them a call. They would then be able to tell me what I owed and take a payment over the phone with only a $1.50 service fee.  OK rant over.