Springfield to Doniphan

Missouri – July, 2015 We had told very few people we were heading home for the month of July so it was fun to surprise them since they thought we were hundreds of miles west. I finally let the cat out of the bag on Facebook Sunday that we were at Downstream Casino and would be in Springfield the next morning. Our phones were blowing up for two hours with invitations to stay and making plans to hang out. We made the one hour drive Monday morning and set up camp on a some vacant land that good friends of ours own about 30 miles outside Springfield. It was private and had all the amenities. The next two weeks were a blur of pool parties, cookouts, and campouts.

We celebrated Independence Day where we have for many years, by the pool of some friends that live in South Springfield. They have the most amazing view from their deck of a ton of fireworks displays and are just outside the city limits so they can shoot their own fireworks as well. I really wish I had a better camera to capture it but here is a glimpse of the fireworks from their deck and our kids at the bottom of the street shooting off fireworks.

The frustration of not being able to properly capture such an amazing scene led me to finally order a new camera. I look forward to learning to use it over the coming year and next year I hope to have much better shots of the spectacle.

The next weekend we invited all our friends to a home my family built on the banks of the lower Current River near Doniphan, Missouri. Another couple and ourselves managed to get there Thursday and had a great float Friday despite the fact that the water was rising. The Current was flooding up stream and the flood waters were heading our way. We expected the water to be dark and there to be no gravel bars to stop on. The Current is normally remarkably clear with unbelievable visibility. So despite the rising water it was still clearer than many rivers. And there are generally tons of gravel bars so even though the water was a few feet over normal there were still many places to stop. The river here is plenty wide and most people tube it which is what I grew up doing. But there are a lot of root wads and I much prefer kayaking and stopping at the many gravel bars when I choose to. Here is the stretch of the river we consider home. I took this after the river had pretty much returned to normal.

The river forecast called for it to rise to 8 feet above normal so we thought the weekend would be salvageable even if it was too high to float again Saturday. The rest of our party arrived late Friday night and we all set up our trailers on the riverbank below the house. When we awoke Saturday morning the forecast had changed. It was now supposed to crest at 12 feet. This would get up into the yard and make it impossible for us to camp there. I suggested we move the trailers to a safe place and all pile in to the house but our friends with campers that had just arrived the night before were ready to find some floatable water so they headed to the northern Current where the flood waters had already passed.

The remainder of our group spent the day Saturday watching the water rise. Yes this is about as exciting as it sounds but somehow we kept ourselves entertained. Jim and I moved our trailer to the tiny front yard of the house right by the road. I’m sure the neighbors just loved us! The road is 20 feet above normal river height and the house was built 6 feet above that, which is 1 foot over the highest point the river has ever crested. Sunday morning we awoke to water across most of the lower yard. Our friend decided kayak around ours and the neighbors’ yards. Here is a pic from the deck of him in our yard.

We would have joined him but had already loaded our kayaks and were too lazy to take them down. The water crested just before noon and then receded remarkably fast. By Monday morning when we left it was well within its banks again.

Colorado River

Colorado River below the Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona– May 2015

I was enjoying my camp on Lake Powell in Utah very much but I’m really a river person at heart. So I drove a little south into Arizona, over the dam that created Lake Powell, and looked down at the Colorado River emerging on the other side of the dam. I then drove a bit further and walked a half mile to the viewpoint for Horseshoe Bend 6 river miles from the dam.

It did look like an amazing portion of the Colorado. So I drove to the only public access point below the dam for several hundred miles called Lee’s Ferry. It was only another 9 river miles but 40 miles by road. The water was crystal clear but at less than 50 degrees it hurt to put your feet in it for more than 30 seconds so swimming was out of the question.

This area is considered the beginning of the Grand Canyon. Because it is the last access point before the canyon and where outfitters put in for their river excursions through the canyon. Soon after Lee’s Ferry the canyon walls close in around you and the only way out is to float on through or climb out. I hope to raft through the Grand Canyon someday but for now I was more interested in the 15 miles of river between the dam and this takeout.

I put in at Lee’s Ferry to see how far I could kayak up river. The output from the dam was high that day so there was a healthy current. The winds were also against me but I managed to paddle for three miles to this beautiful spot mostly by staying in the shallows along the edge.

As I was floating back to my truck I saw several big blue rafts that take sightseers for an hour long raft ride down this section. They had dropped their passengers off at Lee’s Ferry and they had kayakers loaded on and were hauling them up the river. I made a note of the company’s name, Colorado River Discovery (CRD), and called them the next day to make a reservation. They charge $25 per person, $22 per boat, and $25 for gear in excess of 50 pounds. They only take 8 passengers at 2 pm every day. I was able to make a reservation for early the next week.

I arrived a couple hours early on the day of my reservation. I had watched some of the Grand Canyon outfitters load passengers on their huge rafts during my last visit. It was later in the day this time and I had seen 4 rafts full of passengers float under the bridge 10 miles downstream when I stopped to have lunch. I couldn’t help thinking “how did they find 120 people that could spend $2800 to go camping for a week?” Now the outfitters were loading 2 big rafts with supplies from a semi-truck. There were so many boxes but the ones that stood out read Pabst, Budweiser, Corona. I think every beer was represented there. When you consider the amount of food and manpower (and don’t forget BEER) necessary to comfortably transport passengers through the canyon I realized $400 per day was probably fair.

While waiting I met 4 other paddlers that were waiting for a ride upriver that day, a Texas couple around 30 on a week’s vacation without the kiddos and another couple, 20ish from Phoenix celebrating the young lady’s birthday. CRD’s rafts arrived on time and unloaded their passengers and we all pitched in and helped load each other’s gear onto three of their rafts and were off. It took almost an hour to raft upstream. We chatted with the girl who drove the raft. She was about 20 and I was surprised to learn the job didn’t require any special training and was relatively easy to obtain. She pointed out the campsites that were available to us and other points of interest along the way before dropping us at a tiny beach just below the dam.

I planned to cover between 3 and 6 miles between being dropped off and making camp for the night. I had read there were 6 campsites available to campers on this section (turns out there were only 3). I thought I’d be happy with any of the first 4 as long as they offered solitude and a decent tent site. The other floaters seemed to feel the same. As soon as we got on the water a cold wind hit us. It was fierce and although there was a reasonable current you still had to paddle hard to get down river. We passed the first campsite after about a mile. It had no beach or gravel bar at all. You had to carry all your gear and your boat up a steep sandy path. After another couple of miles of grueling wind we reached the second campsite. The sun was setting fast in the canyon and it appeared everyone had had enough. No one was interested in going a few more miles to the next site. Solitude be damned!

There were two fire rings at this site. And there was a couple already camped at one. There were a few possible sites in some trees but the bugs got really bad away from the water. The two couples I rode up with shared a sandy area near the second fire ring and invited me to join them but I chose a clearing in the grass between them and the beach. I’m sure it was not what any of us had in mind when we started this adventure but everyone seemed happy to be out of the wind, setting up camp, and getting dinner ready. After dinner I took a walk and met the 4th couple. They had spent two days kayaking up to the dam under their own power. They had a tandem kayak with pedals and had often got out and pulled the kayak along from the bank. They had peddled, paddled, and ported the entire 15 miles to the dam before starting the float back just before we were dropped off. I was impressed!

The night was colder than I anticipated. I was grateful I had packed an extra layer of clothing because the blanket I brought was not enough and I got up and put on more clothing during the night. I had been unable to stay awake much past sunset the evening before but when the cold woke me at 2 am I couldn’t help but take a look outside and was pleased to find the night sky of my dreams. I took a short walk to the beach and sat under a billion stars for almost an hour marveling at the Milky Way clearly visible in the moonless sky.

The next morning I woke up anxious for the suns warmth and ready to start the day. After an hour cooking a warm breakfast and packing up camp I set off on the river. I enjoyed a near perfect day floating the last 11 miles. Horseshoe bend wasn’t nearly as dramatic from the perspective of the river, but still pretty.

I didn’t experience any more head wind until the last mile or so. I got back to Lees Ferry early in the afternoon and made the hour long drive back to my camp at Lake Powell.

Lake Powell

Glen Canyon NRA, Utah – May 2015 Lake Powell had been on my must see list since reading a blog a few years ago about a kayaker paddling its slot canyons. Fortunately it was also the warmest destination in Utah so that is where I set my sights. I found a campground near its southern end that looked promising called Lone Rock. It was a beach with no designated campsites so you could set up anywhere you could find an open spot. Everything I read said it was free but when I arrived I found you are supposed to pay $10 per night but there wasn’t anyone around most of the time to collect it or enforce it.

The view from my front door was lovely and I enjoyed it so much I stayed for 10 days.

The weather was mid 70s and sunny most days. This was plenty warm enough to get wet and the lake water was clear and inviting. I kayaked out around Lone Rock my first day and explored the shoreline beyond. I discovered a cove that just kept going with many twists and turns creating many private lagoons, a couple with nice beaches. I made plans to return later in the week with all the provisions for a private beach party.

I set out the next Wednesday morning loaded up with lunch, a few adult beverages, a beach chair, and music. There were a few other people in the area and my location of choice was occupied when I got there. But I found another even better spot a little farther inside the cove. Here is a shot of it from the rocks above.

Within an hour the other parties (two kayakers, a jet skier, and a paddleboarder) had explored to their heart’s content and departed. I didn’t see another soul the rest of the day. I enjoyed the rare solitude until my beverages were gone and I had a pink hue.

One afternoon I drove 30 miles west to a place I had seen on my way in called Toadstools. It is on the very edge of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It’s an easy hike of a couple miles to an area that has many toadstool shaped hoodoos. This is a picture of the main formation of them but there are many others scattered behind them and on the ledge above.

I noticed not much further west of Toadstools and still inside the national monument the map said “Paria ghost town”. It was 6 miles from the highway on a very well maintained gravel road. It turned out it was actually the site of an old town and later the site of a Hollywood movie set where several movies were filmed. Both the real town and the set built nearby could not withstand the constant flooding of the Paria River that flowed past, and too often through, the area. I was disappointed not to find any remains at all of either; not a single board, piece of rusted metal, or pile of rock.

But the scenery more than made up for my disappointment. The view of these mountains was stunning. You could clearly see every layer of rock, each with its own vivid color. My favorite layer was a beautiful purple color. I wish I could have taken a picture that did them justice. But this is the best I was able to do.

I didn’t realize until later that these distinctive layers of rock are the grand staircase they are referring to in the name of the national monument. I was grateful to have accidentally included it in my itinerary.

Lake Mead

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada – April 2015

I was meeting some friends in Vegas the last week in April and since I had cut my time at the Grand Canyon short I had 10 days to kill. I camped in Henderson on the outskirts of Vegas for two nights at a reasonably priced but horribly cramped parking lot they called Duck Creek RV Park. But it did the trick and I left with my batteries charged up, my tanks emptied, and fresh water on board. I was ready for more dry camping.

Lake Mead is just 17 miles outside of Henderson and offers many camping options. The one that interested me was a place called Government Wash. Once you paid your entrance fee for the national recreation area (which is covered by the annual park pass I purchased at the beginning of my trip) you can camp for free for up to 14 nights. There are several places around the lake that allow dispersed camping but Government Wash offered the most options and best roads. There is a large parking lot at the entrance that you can camp in if you don’t want to brave the washboard dirt roads but I chose to go a half mile farther, taking the road at a snail’s pace, and finding a great big gravel area that I could turn my rig around in and that had a decent view of the lake. The area was huge with roads going off in several directions. During my stay there were between one and two dozen camps in the area but it was so big you didn’t feel crowded. Here is a pic from my front door:

You can only see one other camper in the picture but just over that hill there were a half dozen tent, van, and small RV campers.

This lake, like Roosevelt Lake I visited a few weeks ago, is at about 50% capacity. Government wash has a boat dock, now closed, that goes in to a wash that is currently nowhere near the water’s edge. The water was a half mile past my campsite. I could drive the truck down to it once I unhooked the trailer or it made a nice walk in the mornings and evenings. I spent only one afternoon hanging out by the water and enjoying the sun. The lake water had a light film of algae on it and wasn’t particularly appealing but I cooled off in it anyway. I fully intended to spend another day kayaking on the lake but never managed it.

I drove about 45 miles to see the Colorado River where it flows below the Hoover dam at a place called Willow Beach Marina. The water was clear and inviting here and rather lake like.

I put in and kayaked up a few miles without too much trouble. The current seemed negligible. But when I turned the kayak back to the marina it took a surprisingly short amount of time to drift back.

I drove 45 miles in the other direction another day and visited Valley of Fire State Park. I had visited before when I had been in the area but had forgotten how strange and wonderful a place it is. The sandstone rocks go on for miles and are every shade between white and red.

I could easily spend a week here some day walking the many trails and scrambling over the huge sandstone boulders. If you are ever in Vegas this is an easy half day excursion that is worth a look.

Water in the Desert

Case Grande to Roosevelt Lake, Arizona – April 2015

After roughing it in a city parking lot for 5 days I decided to take a vacation from my retirement or at least from hiking and sightseeing. I headed about an hour north of Tucson to Case Grande. I found an RV park called High Chaparral just outside of town with a heated pool and hot tub. The park didn’t look like much at first, just a gravel parking lot with a variety of palms scattered throughout. But it came through where it mattered. The pool was fabulous, the people were friendly, the park was well maintained and quiet, the sites were full hookups, and the cost was $27 per night.

I planned to stay 2 nights here and charge up my batteries, fill up on water, and dump my tanks before my next boondocking destination. I had such a good time I stayed a third night. I started each day swimming in the pool and hitting the hot tub. By 2 each afternoon I was back to play in the pool and catch some rays. I got caught up on trailer maintenance, grocery shopping, and blog writing. I enjoyed all the creature comforts of full hookups; air conditioning, long showers, and a microwave oven.

I was enjoying the sun and water so I looked for a place I could continue to enjoy them without paying so much. I found Roosevelt Lake a couple hours north east of Phoenix. It had hundreds of first come first served sites with no utilities for $6 per night in well laid out and maintained campgrounds. There was very little access to the water from the campgrounds. This was partially due to the lake level being at only 50% capacity. But there was still plenty of water to enjoy once you got to it.

IMG_1801

I noticed one area that allowed camping anywhere you could find to park along the lakeshore. It was a madhouse during the weekend but come Monday morning it looked more reasonable so I decided to move there so I could walk out my front door to fish and launch my kayak any time I wanted. It cost the same $6 per night whether you were in a campground or on the beach. Here’s a sunrise from my front door:

I stayed 7 full days and didn’t stray far from camp.  I did check out the local ruins:

And the dam and the bridge where pretty cool looking:

The only thing I did not like about the area was that these tiny bugs came out each evening that could get through the screens on the camper. Thankfully they didn’t bite but they were a nuisance. I had a great visit here but when my water tank ran dry I was happy to move on.

Santa Elena Canyon

Big Bend NP, Texas – March 2015

I was determined to get my kayak on the Rio Grande River. I had read that because of the limited number of put ins the shortest float available was about 10 miles. Given the slow pace of the river I imagined that would be a very long day. Luckily I ran in to an outfitter on the riverbank my first day.   He was setting up lunch for his charges at a riverside picnic area and I asked him about the river conditions. He said the prettiest place in the park was inside the Santa Elena Canyon and that the simplest way to see it was to put in at the end of it and paddle up as far as I could.

So the very next day I loaded up the kayak and headed that way. The canyon is located at the very end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. At the outfitter’s suggestion I drove past the official boat launch about a mile before the end of the road and parked instead at the trail head. I then carried the kayak several hundred feet to the water’s edge.

Paddling up the river was pretty easy. The river averaged only about 20 feet wide inside the canyon and although I knew the water level was down I was still very surprised to realize it was rarely over 2 feet deep. The water was gray and you couldn’t see into it at all. The biggest challenge was finding a channel deep enough to paddle through. It was often easier to get out and pull the kayak over a shallow area than fight the current in the narrow channel deep enough to float.

I quickly got beyond where the hikers could see and the canyon was stunning.DIGITAL CAMERA

I made it one and a half miles upriver to this spot.

DIGITAL CAMERA

Unfortunately I could not explore this cave because it was on the Mexico side of the river and landing on their shore is against the law. A couple local canoers floated by and I asked them if the cave was natural or man made because it looked like it could be a mine. They said it was natural, the result of volcanic activity. They also said I should be able to make it another mile and a half up river before I would have to turn back. I decided I was satisfied with the days paddling. Instead I enjoyed the large American gravel bar across from the cave for a while then slowly floated back out.

DIGITAL CAMERA

I would definitely like to do this float again on a warmer day, start earlier, and try to get 3 miles up it as they suggested. Maybe on my next visit to Big Bend.

Hit the Road Jack!!

Missouri to San Antonio – February 2015

After years of dreaming, months of planning, and weeks of packing it’s finally a reality. No more sticks and bricks home for me. The house is remodeled, emptied, and on the market. Practically everything I own is packed in to (stuffed under or strapped on to) my 30 foot fifth wheel and Ford pickup.

The first day of this epic adventure I woke up at 4 am excited to get under way. I still had to finish loading up, clean the house for the last time, and hook up the trailer. I finally hit the road about 9 am. I originally planned to get to my first destination, Dallas, by dinnertime. I got to Tulsa by lunchtime and things went downhill from there. The Oklahoma roads from Tulsa to the state line were terrible! I’ve made the trip several times but never with the trailer and facing a headwind the whole way.

About three I started looking for a place to call it a day. I wanted to get out of Oklahoma though so I stopped at the first Texas State Park I could find. Eisenhower State Park is on Texoma Lake which, as the name implies, is on the Texas Oklahoma state line. It was a very nice place to call home for the night, reasonably priced, and, most important, in the right place.

The next day I finally pulled in to a little town east of Dallas where my brother lives to visit with him and his family for the weekend. There were not a lot of camping options there so I chose an RV park behind a gas station for its proximity to my brother’s home and reasonable rates. I didn’t have very high expectations but it actually turned out to be clean, quiet, and much more pleasant than expected.

After a weekend spent visiting, eating too much, and playing with the great-nephews I was ready to move on Monday morning and see what this full time lifestyle was really about. I had planned to head to San Antonio next but because of a recommendation from my nephew I decided instead to go to San Marcos which is just an hour north of San Antonio. It turned out to be excellent advice.

I found a very nice campground that was well out of the price range I have budgeted per night. But Pecan Park Riverside RV had a coupon on their website for 30% off weeknights, they were right on the river and next door to the outfitter I planned to use, and they had an indoor heated pool. Sold!!

This was my first look at the San Marcos River where it flowed past camp.

IMG_1417-0

The town of San Marcos is built around the river. It is spring water and incredibly clear for several miles. I checked out the town and access the first day and floated the second. The river first flows through the University of Texas campus. I put in at the city park and then paddled up stream through the campus.

If I ever went back to college this would be my kind of school with a beautiful, clear river running through it. There are big wide steps down to the water so the students can access the swimming area, a shed full of kayaks, and a boat dock.

IMG_1456-0

The river flowed through town for several miles and there were beautiful pedestrian bridges over it and parks built along it. The best parts of the float were definitely in town since that is where the water was clearest and because of the sheer novelty of floating through a town of 50 some thousand people but feeling relatively remote. After the last city park the river was a bit slow and not as clear. And then there was this!

IMG_1453-0

The outfitter had mentioned porting over a dam but I never expected anything this big. It was a little intimidating from the top but turned out to be not as hard as it looked. Those big blocks were very helpful. It would have been very difficult to do had I been alone. The view of the dam from below was pretty.

IMG_1454-0

I would definitely recommend this float. But if I had it to do again I would have just floated through town and taken out at the last city park.

On my last day in San Marcos I drove in to San Antonio. I have been trying to visit this city for 15 years and it never seemed to work out. I’m very glad I finally made it. I went to The Alamo and then walked around the oldest portion of the riverwalk where it makes a loop through the historic district. My first trip around the loop I was getting a sense of the place and oohing and ahhing over all the old buildings and bridges. Next I took the riverboat tour which I considered reasonably priced at only $8 per person and extremely informative. I then took another walk around the loop to get a better look at all the things they’d pointed out on the tour that I’d missed the first time.

IMG_1443-0

It is a beautiful place and I definitely plan to come back and spend a week or so here in the years to come.