Mermaids!

Crystal River, FL – October, 2017 I have wanted to come to this area of Florida for many years. I certainly expected to make it part of our travel plans last season. When it didn’t work out that way, it shot to the top of the list of places to see this season.

The area is known for freshwater springs, manatee, and the famous and historic Weeki Wachee Mermaids. Since mermaids trump everything we made seeing them the number one priority our first full day there. They perform at what is now the Weeki Wachee Spring State Park, 28 miles south of our Crystal River campsite.

The attraction was created in 1947 by Newt Perry, a famous swimmer. He invented a method of breathing underwater from a free flowing air hose. He then trained pretty girls to perform underwater ballets.

Business was slow in the beginning but soon took off and in the 1950’s it became one of the country’s top tourist attractions. It was purchased by the American Broadcasting Company in 1959 and the business thrived for many years. It became a Florida State Park in 2008.

The entrance to the park is surrounded by statuary.

We arrived about an hour before the mermaid’s 11 am show and walked the entire park. Here is what the spring and underwater theater look like from above.

In the background are water slides which are open all summer and on weekends after school starts. There is also a swim lagoon which had half a dozen bathers during our visit. The theater doors opened about 10 minutes before show time and we wandered in and found a seat on the stadium like benches.

The performance began right on time.

I kept my expectations low. So I was pleasantly surprised what a great show they put on.

I wondered how they would tell the tale of The Little Mermaid in under an hour. But they did, quite effectively. Ariel meets a prince.

She innocently involves an evil sea witch in order to get some legs and join her beloved on land.

All seems well and the pair dance.

Then that darn sea witch actually demands payment, via the forfeiture of Ariel’s beautiful voice.

Everyone returns to the sea to fight this threat and save their world. The badly out-numbered witch is defeated and forced back to her underwater cave.

But not before she pops out of a trap door above the stage and scares the bajeezis out of everyone causing several youngsters to start wailing.

The show was something short of 45 minutes but they squeezed all the plot twists in quite effectively. I was very impressed with the performers’ swimming ability all while holding their breath for long periods between puffs on the air hoses that they sometimes held but were usually floating below them.

I loved how they used air bubbles for a curtain. They would release a massive amount of air below the glass and then when the scene was ready they would stop it and the “curtain” of air would rise on the next act.

It was a fun show but I can’t believe the performers get in that cold spring water for 2 shows a day (three on the weekends) every single day of the year. After the show we wandered to the back of the park for the animal show.

It was your basic talk about the local wildlife but the park ranger was engaging and funny. The park usually has a boat ride down the river included with your admission but that was shut down while we were there as they were waiting on their annual safety inspection.

This was our first Florida State Park this season and we chose to buy state park pass this year. They are $60 per person, or $120 for a family, so the same either way for us. It seemed a little steep but we can visit this attraction, and another I’ll tell you about next week, as often as we like. If we only visited them once, which is likely, we still have to visit almost 20 more state parks before the day use fees surpass the cost of the park pass. Challenge accepted!

While in Crystal River we stayed at Crystal Isle RV Resort. It is an Encore Resort, so it was pretty nice with a fitness room, pool, and hot tub. We got a sight for $25 per night through Passport America which is only available April through October.

Hurricane Nate

Gulf Shores, AL to Crawfordville, FL – October, 2017 We took three days to get to Gulf Shores, Alabama from Missouri. We didn’t watch any news during that time as at each stop we were either too tired to set up the satellite or there were trees blocking its reception. There was not much over the air TV available at any of our stops either.

When we finally reached Gulf State Park Jim set up the satellite and the first news report we heard told us about Hurricane Nate. We had reserved 5 days at this Alabama state park. But it looked like we were only going to get to enjoy two.

The good news was the next day was our anniversary and at least we could stay and enjoy it before leaving the following morning. Exactly one year before we had tried to celebrate our anniversary on the Atlantic coast and had to divert to inland Florida instead and wait out Hurricane Matthew. We’re thinking this is a sign and maybe we should spend future anniversaries in the mountains.

Gulf State Park is huge and it has a lot of new facilities since being rebuilt following the last major hurricane to come this way. There are 25 miles of trails and three large lakes. My sprained ankle was still healing so I wasn’t able to enjoy any long walks.

I reserved what stamina I did have for the beach. The park has 3 miles of beautiful beaches with several access points. The beach is 1 ½ miles from the campground so it’s a perfect ride if you own a bike or it was a short drive for us.

We enjoyed some wave watching and wading since the surf was pretty high. Then we had a lovely lunch beachside at The Gulf. We then headed to the park’s pool in the afternoon for a swim.

The campsites were about $40 per night for full hookups. It was pretty reasonable for all that the park offered. I liked that they didn’t nickel and dime you either. Parking at the beach, swimming in their pool, and access to their pier (which we didn’t have time to see) were all included in your camping fee.

We loved this park and hated to leave. They did refund us our camping fees when we chose to leave on Friday. I believe they shut the park down on Saturday.

We moved north of I10 and east a hundred miles to a camp near the town of Defuniak Springs, Florida. We found a park by a lake with a pool. Sunset King Lake RV Resort was a nice place for $35 per night.

The town of Defuniak Springs was pretty interesting and about a 10 mile drive from camp. It is built around a spring fed lake that they say is perfectly round and exactly one mile across. The town was organized in the 1880’s by the railroad and has an adorable train station.

It became the center of activities for the newly organized Florida Chautauqua Association in 1885. I had never before heard of Chautauqua but learned that it was an adult education movement that was very popular around the end of the 19th century and thru the mid 1920’s. It brought famous speakers and performers to the town each summer and so the well to do built second homes here so that they and their friends could enjoy the festivities.

There are many beautiful, mostly Victorian homes built here. It was a shame I couldn’t yet walk far as we would have really enjoyed walking these streets and seeing the many fine homes. We explored as best we could in the truck.

After our first day of exploring we hunkered down to watch and wait out Hurricane Nate. We were well out of harm’s way but it was still pretty wet. The park had a lot of things blown around, like trash cans and portable awnings, but no real damage.

Our next reservation was at the Florida state park, Topsail Hill Preserve, just east of Destin. We were supposed to go there Sunday and Monday but they shut down for the weekend and refunded our fees. So we finally got back to our planned itinerary on Tuesday when we headed for St. Andrews State Park.

This park is an oasis in the middle of Panama City. You drive through the city and onto the St. Andrews Peninsula and it’s like the city isn’t even there. It’s 1,200 acres of sand, sea, and swamp. The swamp is actually quite beautiful, especially in the morning light.

And there are tons of deer. They are a bit on the puny side. I imagine it’s a tough place to live.

This was the view of the bay from the back of our campsite. We had a tiny private beach and lots of water birds, crabs, and bunnies for neighbors. We loved our three day stay at this gem.

I finally started to be able to walk a bit farther and hobbled down the beach each morning. The sunrises were amazing.

The boating channel just beyond the sea wall was very busy at sunrise and it was neat to watch all the boats race out.

There is long jetty that the fisherman seemed to enjoy despite the signs warning to stay off it.

The seas were still pretty rough our first morning and got calmer as the week wore on. Here is the view of the park’s pier at the end of their beach and Panama City Beach beyond.

The park has a lovely protected bay.

One morning we went for a long swim after our walk and had the whole bay to ourselves until about 10 am. We went back that afternoon and snorkeled along the outer edges of the bay where the rocks are piled up to just below the water’s surface. It was fun but awfully crowded.

We vowed to take our snorkels the next morning but on that morning’s walk the beach was littered with tons of large jelly fish.

We finally did snorkel our last morning before we packed up and left. We saw a few jelly fish but were able to swim around them. We enjoyed some large schools of big fish, a few tiny but colorful fish, and one ridiculously large crab.

This park is a pretty special place. We were lucky to have snagged our weekday reservation but we had to get going on Friday. The site was around $30 with electric and water.

It’s often hard to find any place to stay on Friday and Saturday nights when you are in popular areas. We looked for some place along our route where we could wait out the weekend and stumbled across Newport Park, a county park along the St. Marks River. It was 10 miles to the nearest town of Crawfordville.

After lunch we visited the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. There was a $5 fee per car to enter the refuge and during our Friday afternoon visit it was collected via a self-pay station. We drove the 10 mile road through the refuge to get to the St. Mark’s Lighthouse, the second oldest in Florida.

I am not terribly excited by lighthouses. They’re OK but unless you can get inside one and climb it, I only have mild interest in them as interesting subjects to photograph.

I was under the mistaken impression that the light house was open and was a little disappointed when it was not. It did turn out to be an interesting drive through marshlands with lots of birds and one alligator.

The next day we planned to explore more of the area but after a morning trip to Crawfordville for provisions Jim wasn’t feeling well so we spent a quiet day in our weekend refuge. The camp was a good choice even though the sites were laid out a bit chaotically. It was $27 per night for full hookups which was payable by cash or check only.

We pulled out early Sunday morning as we were very excited to get to our next destination. I am equally excited to tell you about it in my next couple posts.

Catching Up and WOW

Springfield, MO – Aug. to Oct., 2017 We had reservations for the last week of August at Glacier Basin Campground on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Our intention all summer was to wrap up our visit to Colorado there. But several things caused us to rethink that plan.

The 45 mile road across the RMNP between Grand Lake and Estes Park is not big rig friendly. It has MANY tight switchbacks. We saw some big rigs crossing it but the more Jim thought about it the less he wanted to attempt it. We even got mixed answers as to whether it was allowed. One park ranger said there was no length limit on the road, another said they had only recently enacted a 32 foot limit. The 150 mile trip around the park was doable but did put a damper on our enthusiasm.

We had visited Estes Park briefly and even checked out the campground. Glacier Basin was nothing to write home about. It was an open area with few trees. The roads through it were rather tight and lined with large rocks. The pull thru we had reserved was so awkward we were certain we’d have to pass it and back into it.

Then there were the crowds. Even on a Monday the eastern side of the RMNP had lines of traffic, congested parking lots, and the stores in the little town were packed. No thank you! We finally decided to cancel our reservation all together and head back to Missouri to get a head start on remodeling one of our rentals.

We hoped the remodel could be completed in as little as three weeks but allowed five weeks for good measure. Good thing we did. I left Jim for almost a week when I flew to Florida to help our daughter evacuate.

I was only home a couple days when I badly sprained my ankle. This laid me up completely for almost another week and slowed me down considerably for the remainder of the month. So Jim got stuck remodeling the house mostly by himself. It took the whole 5 weeks and we finally delegated a bit of the work and made our escape on October 2nd.

We kept our nose the grindstone most of the time we were there (or at least Jim did). But we did have plans to keep our granddaughter the last weekend in September. We were thrilled when we realized the much anticipated and long awaited Wonders of Wildlife (WOW) National Museum & Aquarium was opening just in time for our weekend with her. It is part of the Bass Pro complex in Springfield and has been closed for remodeling for many years.

We arranged to meet my cousins and enjoy the tour with them. They have a daughter almost the same age as our granddaughter. Here is our picture taken by our 7 year old granddaughter.

We started our tour on the museum side.

So obviously this included a LOT of stuffed animals.

Their dioramas were amazingly detailed and quite stunning.

There were also rooms full of artifacts and informative displays on everything from indians to conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt. It took us about 2 hours to tour the museum and then we proceeded to the aquarium.

This is when things got really interesting.

I’m talking 3 story circular tanks you can walk around on multiple levels. This picture gives you some idea what I am talking about. We were standing on the second level on the outside and you can clearly see the other side of the tank and people standing on the first level.

After traveling up and down and around this amazing display we thought we were about done. No. This was just the beginning. The aquarium went on, and on, and on!

One of mine and Jim’s favorite places was this bait ball display. Being able to see the fish’s reaction when a predator swam by was very entertaining.

We also really enjoyed the jelly fish display.

The kids were pretty much enthralled with everything in the aquarium.

They especially enjoyed the touch tanks. The first, smaller one is in the middle of the tour. Isn’t this the oddest looking shark ever?

The tour ends at a really big touch tank full of rays. The rays swim around in a pool that circles another massive tank. So the ray at the bottom of this picture is in the touch tank and everything else is swimming in an aquarium. There is so much reflection going on it is hard to tell where one tank ends and the other starts.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and were completely worn out by the end. It took us around 4 hours total and that was a bit rushed. The ticket is good for the entire day so if we had it to do over again we’d probably visit the aquarium first, then go have lunch (and maybe a nap), then return to visit the museum. If you are taking kids and are short on either time or money you might consider skipping the museum.

The one day admission tickets may seem steep to some. Compared to the aquariums we’ve visited throughout the country it was an average price for an above average experience. The adult aquarium tickets are $30, the museum tickets are $15, or the combo ticket to visit both in one day is $40. Children 4-11 are $20, $10, and $24 respectively.

If you live in the area I would highly recommend the annual membership. I like that it includes two adults and their designated children OR grandchildren under 18. It is $250 or for $300 it includes two guest passes. We may consider a membership as we definitely want to return.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Lake, CO – August, 2017 We treasured our time in the town of Grand Lake on the western edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). It was so convenient to slip into the park for a quick visit or for an entire day.

One of the most popular hikes from Grand Lake is Adams Falls. It is an easy half mile walk from a parking lot on the edge of town.

Our first foray into RMNP proper we saw a heard of elk in a field beside the road. We stopped for some photos. A storm was brewing and the wind was fierce. I had to lean on a sign to steady my shot.

They were a group of females and young’uns. I believe there was one young buck among them. See his little horns on the right hand side of the photo? On that same day I stared into the forest as Jim drove and saw a large buck with huge horns. I swear they stood at least 3 feet straight up.

We ventured in on a weekend thinking we would visit one of the sites close to the western edge of the park but couldn’t even find a parking space. Traffic was crazy so we turned around the first chance we got and hightailed it outta there. We returned on Monday morning and crossed the park on Trail Ridge Road. The views along the road were breathtaking.

We visited the Alpine Visitor Center at almost 12,000 foot elevation just as it was opening at 9am. Here is the view from their patio.

There are several elk grazing below that glacial ice. We climbed the Alpine Ridge Trail for more astounding views.

It was drop dead gorgeous in every direction.

And we had it pretty much to ourselves at that hour of the day. It was a bit chilly, around 40 degrees.

We briefly visited the eastern side of the park and checked out Estes Park. Then we drove back via the incredibly scenic AND rustic Old Fall River Road. It was a gravel road with one switchback after another. We had to back up to make several of the sharp turns. Soooo worth it!

We enjoyed a stop at Chasm Falls.

And found a quiet place to enjoy our lunch.

We continued on to where the one-way gravel road brings you back to the Alpine Visitor Center. Here is a view of the center from below. It’s that tiny rectangle to the right of the snow.

We passed through the almost full parking lot of the visitor center. The trail up to the ridge was now crowded with hundreds of people. We were very glad we had braved the chill and had those moments alone with the views.

Irma on my Mind

With hurricane Irma poised to strike the west coast of Florida today I’m going to take an intermission from my stories about our trip west this summer to tell you about my week. I was trying to finish and post my next blog about our first stop in Colorado at the beginning of August. But I just can’t concentrate on that while worrying about all our friends in Bonita Springs, Florida.

We had returned to Missouri at the end of August and planned to spend the month of September remodeling one of our rental houses that had become vacant and that needed a complete overhaul. So we were diligently working on it when we started hearing about Irma. We kept an eye on it hoping, like everyone else, that it would head harmlessly out to sea.

At the beginning of this week that started looking more and more unlikely to happen. So we started talking to our daughter about preparing for the hurricane and for evacuation. She had moved down to Bonita Springs last fall while we were there and was living in a small trailer in the same RV park we spent last winter in.

She had already decided she didn’t want to become a permanent Floridian and was looking for jobs in other states. So when faced with evacuating she decided she would just move. She agreed that coming back to Missouri where she had lots of friends and family would be a good idea and she could figure out where to go from there.

On Tuesday, amid talk of traffic snarls and gas shortages, Jim and I decided that we didn’t want her facing all that mess alone. I bought a one way ticket to Fort Myers for Wednesday morning for myself. It was a one person job and Jim would be most useful keeping the remodel going.

My plane left Springfield in the dark.

And the sun rose as we did.

I changed planes in Chicago. The clouds over Lake Michigan were gorgeous.

I spoke to or overheard about half a dozen other passengers. Everyone on the plane seemed to be doing the same thing I was; flying in to get mom, dad, aunt so and so, and drive them out of the state.

I arrived in Florida just after noon and my daughter was there to pick me up. We went straight to the trailer park and checked in with the office. She let them know her intentions and settled her bill.

They only charge a small storage fee if you leave your rig there in the off season. A lot of snowbirds choose to do this rather than haul their trailers back and forth for the season. So the park looks pretty full but most of the rigs are empty.

I thought a lot of folks would come down to drive their rigs out but that didn’t seem to be the case. In fact, some people that were there and capable of hauling their trailers chose not too because of fears of gas shortages. They knew they’d get much better gas mileage if they weren’t towing and have a better chance of escaping the state.

I was pleased to find my daughter was all packed and had her car loaded. I had brought a car top carrier bag and all that was left was to load it and strap it down. Then we just had to do what we could to make her trailer ready for the storm and vacancy.

We cleaned up everything outside and what was left we strapped to the trailer. We filled the water tank to make the trailer heavier and less likely to tip over. Then we disconnected the water and electric and turned off the propane.

We were getting all sorts of travel reports. The most reliable were from the park staff who said residents who had left super early Wednesday morning (like 2am) had made it out of the state, no problem. But that those that had left late morning were still stuck on the interstate just 90 miles away.

We were all done at 4 in the afternoon. We considered trying to rest and leaving in the middle of the night. But we were both too wound up and knew we couldn’t sleep.

We made the decision to start the drive and just roll with the punches. We figured we were two smart, resourceful, females and we were confident we could handle whatever came our way. And we were tired of wondering what was in store and ready to go out and see for ourselves.

Thankfully she had managed to fill up her gas tank on Tuesday. We had heard there was no gas in the area but we checked a few gas stations on our way out of town just in case we could find a place to top off her tank. No dice!

We jumped on the interstate for only about 20 miles and exited in Fort Myers before Google showed the traffic backing up. Then we took state highways for a long way. There were plenty of turns, and traffic lights, and even some construction but the traffic wasn’t terribly heavy and at least we were moving.

We kept an eye out for gas but didn’t see any signs of it. We still had ¾ of a tank when we saw the first station with gas just south of Bowling Green. The lines were long and we figured if they had gas so would the stations farther north.

We were right. A little ways up the road we stopped at a Murphy station and only had to wait behind one person before filling up. There were no problems finding gas from there north.

At this point we had some idea where we hoped to end up for the night and we started trying to find a room. We had the granddoggy, Sasha with us so we were looking for a pet friendly room. Later we started asking for any room and kept getting the same answer.

For several hours one of us would drive and the other was surfing for a place to stay. We exhausted every possibility in the state and started looking toward Georgia. Finally around 12:30 we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were gonna drive through the night.

My dad lives in Alabama. It would normally have been a 10 hour drive but it took us 15. We got there around 7 am central time on Thursday.

We stopped pretty often. We made laps around the insides of several Walmarts. We hung out at truck stops and walked Sasha. The rest areas looked like parking lots so we avoided them.

We finally hopped on the interstate at Ocala just after midnight. From there on out traffic kept moving, usually at or above the speed limit, for the rest of the night. Traffic was still heavy though. It was like rush hour all night long until we turned on to I20 in Atlanta and headed west.

We never saw any wrecks and only saw one semi-truck swerving dangerously. It was really a miracle that all those sleep deprived drivers were keeping it together and not making any stupid mistakes. I know there were plenty of wrecks on Florida highways this week but we were lucky and didn’t witness them during our trip.

We spent 24 hours at my father’s. We got caught up on our sleep and had her vehicle serviced. My father and stepmother were incredible hosts and fed us till we thought we might pop.

We couldn’t face the 10 hour drive to Springfield in one day so we started looking for a room half-way, around Memphis. Even there the rooms were filling up with evacuees. The only pet friendly rooms we could find were outrageously expensive.

My brilliant daughter finally found us an awesome place on Airbnb. She snagged a one bedroom duplex in Memphis’ Cooper Young neighborhood. It was pet friendly and even had a yard for Sasha to run in. After fees and taxes she paid $120.

We got there around 1. We checked out the house and got Sasha settled then we walked a mile to a restaurant. We had an awesome lunch at Imagine Vegan Café, the first meal we had eaten at a restaurant the whole trip. We had snacked on the remains of her frig and the things I had brought with me throughout our long night’s drive.

We shopped along the way during our walk home. It was a very neat neighborhood with used book stores, a record store, and our favorite, an Urban Outfitters. Loved the way they decorated this overpass.

We stayed in during the evening, enjoying the free wifi and satellite tv. The neighborhood was super quiet and we never felt unsafe. We got another great night’s sleep and woke up ready to finish our trip.

So we are now home safe. Our daughter will be doing some couch surfing for the near future until she decides her next step. We are keeping an eye on the tv and Facebook for news from Florida.

If the worst happens her trailer will likely be destroyed. If it doesn’t sustain any wind damage, the storm surge is expected to reach a level where it would at least reach the door. It is only worth about $5,000 so it is not the end of the world. But we are still hoping we may somehow escape that reality.

The last we heard the employees of the RV park were all staying put and the couple we sold our old 5th wheel to, the Alpenlite, were as well. They text us last night with a question about pulling in the slides. There was a mandatory evacuation for all trailer park residents so we don’t know if they will actually stay in the park, whether in their trailers or in the rec hall, or if they’ve gone to shelters.

Jim has family just north of Fort Myers. We know they’ve left the state but are very worried about their homes. I have family on the east coast who have evacuated and I’m sure are worried as well. Our daughter has plenty of friends in Bonita Springs, most of which have evacuated.

So we will all just wait, and watch, and hope …

Dinosaur National Monument

Jensen, UT – July, 2017 We got an early start to get down off our mountain near Flaming Gorge. It was only 70 some miles to our next campsite but it was 4000 feet down. There were about 10 miles of 5-8% downgrade and switchbacks. Jim had not enjoyed the drive up and was not looking forward to the drive down so he wanted to get it over with, hopefully while traffic was light.

One of the dangers of traveling at this time of day though is that wildlife is very active. In that area there were tons of cattle grazing alongside the roadway. Jim is pretty cautious, going below the speed limit and scanning the sides of the road for movement.

That is the only reason he managed to avoid hitting the deer that sprang in front of us. Thankfully we were on a long straight stretch and he saw her on the side of the road some distance away and started braking. Neither of us was sure we weren’t going to clip her though.

We were holding our breath when the tiny foal we hadn’t even seen made the rather late decision to follow her. Jim was already trying to come to a stop so there was nothing more that he could do. We didn’t think it possible that the babe would make it and weren’t sure it had until it emerged unscathed within inches of our bumper. Whew!

After four days on a mountaintop, coming down to 5500 foot elevation felt like descending into hell. The highs were only in the mid-90’s with little humidity so it couldn’t have been that bad. We were just spoiled to cooler temps and it took some getting used to.

We arrived at Outlaw RV in Jensen before 10am. We had a full hookup site for $36 per night but there was no shade so our AC was going to be working double time the next couple days. Once we got set up our next order of business was getting some groceries. There were no stores in Jensen so we drove 8 miles to Vernal.

Vernal is a very nice town. We had stayed there one night at the Fossil Valley RV Park ($39 full hookups) on our way to Flaming Gorge. A lot of people stay in Vernal when they visit Dinosaur National Monument.

The town is very dinosaur themed.

It is also picturesque. Main Street is decorated with more flowers than I have ever seen in one town. There are hundreds of arrangements like this one lining the street.

We happened through Vernal the first time on a Utah state holiday, Pioneer Day. We were treated to an awesome parade.

Apparently it is otherwise known as bring your tractor to town day. Now here is something I’ve never seen before.

After stocking up in Vernal we returned home for lunch and later made the short drive to check out the visitor center at Dinosaur National Monument. We picked up some information, saw all the displays, watched their movie, and were back home in about an hour. It was really crowded mid-afternoon and did I mention it was hellishly HOT.

We returned the next morning just after the park opened at 8 am. For the first hour or so you are allowed to drive directly to Quarry Exhibit Hall. After that you are required to take the shuttle bus from the visitor center.

It is a very short drive and we were the first visitors in the building. In fact, we did not have to share this incredible place with more than a half dozen people the entire hour we spent there.

The hall was built over the original dig site and now protects the remaining bones. There are thousands of real, really old bones sticking out of the earth. There’s even some you can touch.

There are some great interactive displays telling you about the original owners of these bones you see in front of you, what type of dinosaurs they belong to, and where the bone fits into their skeleton. I’m sure later in the day it would have been impossible to get your hand on these displays. We were able to play with them for as long as we wanted.

There is also plenty of information about the people who discovered this site, the process of excavating it, and where the bones dug from here ended up. It was all very interesting and I’m so grateful we had an unhurried and uncrowded opportunity to explore all this place had to offer.

After thoroughly exploring the hall we left to explore the remainder of the park available from this location. The mountains here often look otherworldly, like a dinosaur peeking out from behind them would not seem out of place.

There is a river through the park, the Green River, which flows here after leaving Flaming Gorge.

We drove to the end of Cub Creek Road to an old homestead. Jossie Morris lived here, mostly by herself, for over 40 years. She used two nearby canyons to coral her livestock. We enjoyed a hike into Box Canyon.

The colors of the rocks were unbelievable.

The final thing we were interested in here were the ancient petroglyphs. We made a few stops along the road on the way back. Sometimes the petroglyphs were a few steps from the road and sometimes we hiked up the hill to see them.

Some were obvious but others were easy to miss. There were hundreds of them, apparently etched into the rock by the Fremont people around 1000 years ago.

We left by noon before it got too warm. We really felt like we had seen all we had come to see. We had been willing to stay another day to explore more but it just wasn’t necessary. We were satisfied with our brief visit.

Dinosaur National Monument is actually millions of acres and is accessible via several roads hours apart. It would take a week and a lot of miles to really cover this park. But we were primarily interested in the dinosaurs and the petroglyphs and they are both found in this little corner of it so that is why we concentrated our visit on this part of the park near Jensen.

We LOVED our 3 week stay in Utah and definitely plan to return again and again. It offers so many varied environments. But we were ready to move on to Colorado.

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.

Chillin’ at Altitude

Duchesne County, UT – July, 2017 Choosing a destination, or even a direction, can be difficult when you have too many options. We hadn’t made any solid plans for the month of July past visiting the North Rim and Bryce Canyon. We finally made up our mind where to go and we headed north.

We first stopped in Richfield, Utah along I-70 because we needed a few things. We stayed at the only campground in town, a KOA, for which we paid almost $50 per night. Other than plenty of retail options there was nothing special about the town of Richfield. It was a flat space between barren hills.

After getting the things we needed we were anxious to move on. We had plenty of time so there was no reason to make any long or multiday drives. Even though our next destination was only 150 miles away I found a campground halfway there and booked it for 2 nights.

Huntington State Park was a man-made oasis in the desert. It was surrounded by fields that, when irrigated, appeared to produce crops to feed livestock. Further away were some brown mountains. The lake appeared clean and the locals certainly enjoyed its waters.

We had a site that backed up to the lake, sorta. The water level was way down so the shore was some distance away. It was a nice site though with a good view and reasonably priced at $25 for water and electric.

My favorite thing about this park was the 3 mile walking path all the way around it. It was relatively cool if you hit the trail early enough in the morning. The only downside was that sometimes you would get a whiff of a truly awful smell. Jim said it was the fertilizer they were spraying on their fields. It was good motivation to pick up the pace through those sections. Other than that it made for a very pleasant walk each morning with bees buzzing, bunnies hopping across the path, and fish jumping in the lake.

We weren’t at all sorry to leave as we were really excited to get to our next stop. Avintaquin Campground in the Ashley National Forrest is at 9,000 foot elevation which sounded like heaven. So even though there was limited information available about it, we took a chance and booked 3 nights. At $5 per night it would help offset some of our more costly campsites as well. It had absolutely no services; no electricity, no dump, no water.

We obviously expected a climb to get there and had no concerns about our 1 ton truck being able to handle the roads. We got stuck behind a semi with tandem trailers that was crawling up the mountain between 8 and 12 miles per hour for the entire four mile section of 8% grade. We then pulled onto the road to the campground which the few reviews we found said was a good road and discovered it was the real challenge. It had somehow escaped me that it was a whole mile of gravel to the camp.

It was barely more than a one lane road with hardly any place to pull off if you were unfortunate enough to meet someone. We also still had several hundred feet to climb and most of that took place on one short hill. It was the only hill Jim has ever seriously worried about this truck pulling the camper up. He had to switch to low 4 wheel-drive, all the time praying no one topped the hill in front of him.

We made it though and gratefully pulled into the campground and found a place to pull over. Jim let the truck cool down, and did a little chilling himself. And I walked the loop our site was located on and made sure it was safe to drive.

I wasn’t crazy about how tight the loop road was but I was confident we could make it. Thankfully our site, #5, was at an angle that would make backing in pretty easy. It also turned out to be the levelest of the ones in that loop. Here we are all snug in our site.

I don’t think Jim will agree to come back again but our 3 day stay has been wonderful. There is one site not too far behind us but thankfully noone has used it during our stay. There is a barbed wire fence about 40 feet from our front door and I will admit the neighbors on that side do sometimes look at us a little weird.

Storm clouds formed each afternoon. Twice they circled all around and we only got a sprinkle. But one afternoon the thunder was calamitous and the clouds were pretty ominous looking.

It rained for a good while and we even got some pea sized hail. In general the weather was awesome though, with highs in the mid 70’s and lows around 50.

The same road we drove to the campground on continues past the camp for 13 miles. It is called Reservation Ridge Road and it is a scenic backway. There are plenty of boondocking sites along the way. If we did return here we would likely choose one of them rather than stay in the campground.

We decided to follow this road on a Friday morning and see what there was to see. There were lots of views of the surrounding mountains but most of those views were only visible through a stand of pines. Rarely did we get an unobstructed view like this one of a valley and mountains to the north.

We finally found an overlook to the South. The spot of blue smack dab in the middle is a little mountain lake.

Since the road was curvy and just one lane we were grateful we didn’t meet another vehicle. We did have to put up with some local traffic. Like this guy who wasn’t taking any bull. He refused to move for a minute but finally yielded the right of way.

The entire trip was between 9,000 foot elevation and just under 10,000. I loved the wildflowers in every color.

The only part of the trip I didn’t enjoy was at the very end of the road where it made a long decent while clinging to the side of a very tall hill. The scenic backway then ended abruptly in the middle of nowhere. We planned to take a different forest road back to a highway and return by way of the blacktop.

We turned down that road and were confronted with barely a tunnel through the trees and a mud pit the length of a football field. Nope, it was back the way we’d come. I didn’t mind at all except for having to climb up the side of that hill. Here was my view straight down the hill from the passenger seat.

I know it doesn’t look that bad but as we climbed higher those aspens got farther and farther away. We had an uneventful trip back and enjoyed seeing the views in reverse. We saw pheasants on the way in and again on the way back. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pheasant in the wild before.

I had hoped we’d see an elk or, better yet, a bear, both of which are supposed to be common in the area. We probably saw a thousand chipmunks. They were constantly zipping across the road in front of us.

The next day we drove down from the mountain to the town of Price. We got a few groceries, filled the truck’s tank, and picked up lunch. We then chose a spot on the map we thought would be good for a picnic.

We drove 3 miles of road that wasn’t much better than the scenic backway from the day before except it was paved and they had widened the road on the corners so that it was almost 2 lanes. That was good because there were alot of corners. It was just one switchback after another.

At the end was a parking lot with a few picnic tables overlooking Price Canyon. We had the place to ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch with a view.

On Sunday morning we reluctantly came down off our cool mountain and faced the heat of summer again.

Kanab

Kanab, UT – July, 2017 We headed next to Kanab, Utah, just over the Arizona border. It was meant to be a stop on the way to the next place we wanted to be. But we ended up enjoying the layover very much.

We had driven straight through Kanab without stopping our first year out. We were on our way from visiting Zion to seeing Lake Powell. I recently read a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Ingrid at Live Laugh RV, about tent camping in a state park near Kanab called Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. I thought “we were right there, how’d we miss that?”

So bright and early our first morning in the area we drove over to check it out. The park seems specifically designed to appeal to those with ATV’s (all terrain vehicles) or as they are often referred to in these parts OHV’s (off highway vehicles). The campground loop was pretty tight and I wouldn’t want to try to get my 5th wheel through it.

The sand really was a very nice shade of coral.

blog121b n park

We were most intrigued with trying to guess which animals the many footprints in the sand belonged to.

There was basically just the one viewing platform in the park. From there you could hike off across the sand if you wanted. We didn’t relish starting our day with sand in our shoes so we passed and left the park.

The views from the road just outside the park’s gates were so enticing that we stopped at the first pullout. From there you had no option but to climb a pink mountain if you wanted a better look. We decided to go for it and shake out our shoes later.

When we tackled the mountain we found that the sand had a wonderful powdered sugar quality to it. It was amazingly soft and for some reason not prone to getting in your shoes. You didn’t sink into it as much as expected and it didn’t fly around as much as normal sand.

At the second pullout after we left the park was a very large parking area. It appeared boondocking (free camping, dispersed camping, etc.) was allowed. It was too hot to consider this option in July but if we returned during the spring or fall we would absolutely consider camping there and exploring the fluffy, pink mounds some more.

You could easily stop at either of these pullouts to explore the sands and avoid the $8 per day state park fee. But we don’t begrudge the state a reasonable fee for protecting such an awesome area. We enjoyed meeting the work camper that collected that fee and talked to her about her and her husband’s life as hosts and full-time RVers.

Since arriving in Kanab, we had seen several of the same type of snake dead on the road. While in the state park we finally saw one alive, thankfully from the safety of our truck. He was crossing a parking lot.

He was quite lively so we didn’t really get close enough to tell if he was poisonous. We didn’t think he was. Even so it reminded us to stay on trails where we could see that there was a clear path in front of us.

Kanab was a very nice town with an outstanding visitor center, two small but excellent grocery stores, and a pleasant vibe. We inquired about hiking trails and were directed to a hike around the hill that dominated the skyline to the east of the town. The hill proudly displayed the town’s initial K on it. We stayed on the path but this entire family chose to scramble up the hill and onto said K.

The hill provided welcome shade at the beginning and the end of the hike.

And the path afforded excellent views of the town and the surrounding red cliffs.

Highway 89 through Kanab was the main thoroughfare we drove each day while exploring the area. It is a scenic highway and the views all along it are incredible. There is no reason to explore beyond the highway when it affords you views like these.

And this cool pond we passed every day. Apparently there used to be a campground here but it was bankrupt by a snail. According to our RoadsideAmerica app there was an endangered snail in this pond and the powers that be gave them so much trouble they had to shut the campground down.

I kept seeing the same striking blue bird in the area but never could catch a pic of it. I finally saw one that stayed still long enough for a photo op.

Jim was taken by this beautiful bloom. It had such detail for a small flower. It wasn’t much bigger than an inch in size.

I chose a campground 10 miles north of Kanab as the attractions in the area I was interested in were all just north of the town. The campground was called East Zion Riverside RV Park but it was part of the Thunderbird Lodge in Mt. Carmel. The rates were reasonable at $40 for full hookups but the perks were priceless.

They had a nice pool and a hot tub that were available 24 hours a day. We only made it to the pool one afternoon. But we were in the hot tub by 7 every morning of our stay and had it all to ourselves while the rest of the guests slept.

There is one day of our stay in Kanab that deserves it’s very own blog. I’ll get that post up within a few days!

Westward Ho

Missouri to Arizona – July, 2017 We left Missouri and headed west. The first day, we drove all day and put the entire state of Oklahoma behind us. Then we slowed a bit, averaging about 3 hours a day, and only taking one day completely off during that first week.

It wasn’t a bad trip but it wasn’t terribly exciting either. There certainly wasn’t much to write home about. We found Tucumcari, New Mexico the most interesting stop of the trip.

We pulled in to the Cactus RV Park before lunchtime.

We thought it was one of the more interesting RV parks we have stayed at. RV spaces are in the courtyard of an old Route 66 hotel originally known as the Cactus Motor Lodge. The property was built in the early 1940’s and originally included a dance hall.

The motel rooms are no longer in use but are still cool looking.

They have some neat features including this detail in the handrails.

It’s a shame the buildings have fallen into such disrepair. Here is a postcard I found online promoting the hotel in its heyday.

Tucumcari turned out to be an interesting little town full of similar establishments. Some were in operation despite being a little rundown.

Others were lovingly restored.

There were some fun gift shops with classic Route 66 souvenirs.

We walked the strip a couple times, first in the afternoon, and again early in the morning while some of the neon still glowed. The Blue Swallow is a 1939 built motor court with garages attached to most rooms. It is beautifully restored.

Following is my favorite picture of the Blue Swallow. I took some liberties with it and the photo editor app, Snapseed.

The town of Tucumcari is relatively flat but is lorded over by the imposing Mount Tucumcari. You can see it from almost any place in town. We thought we might drive up it but didn’t get too far before the rough road made us turn around.

I doubt we could have entertained ourselves in Tucumcari for a whole other day. But it was a pleasant stopover on a long road trip and we certainly would stop again. The Cactus RV Park was peaceful and clean and you can’t beat $20 per night for a full hookup site with a Passport America discount.