Hunting Island, South Carolina August, 2015 – I fell in love with the pictures I’d seen of Hunting Island, a South Carolina State Park. We were traveling on I-95 on a Monday morning when Jim pointed out we didn’t have to be at our next stop for another day and asked if there was any place else I would rather go. Just 5 miles before the exit I made a quick call and secured a site for one night and off we went.

What an amazing island! We loved this beach which was plenty long for walks and not terribly crowded. We saw lots of dolphins. One surfaced just 30 feet from where we were swimming. The water here didn’t have the visibility we prefer. In fact, you couldn’t see your feet standing in 1 foot of water. But it felt great to finally be back in salt water. It was surprisingly warm, but not too warm. I just expected colder water in the Atlantic.

There were a few fishermen on the beach. We spoke to one who said he had caught a 50 inch shark there a few days before. They have a free fishing pier at one end of the park where you don’t even need a license. It’s a shame we didn’t have time to even wet a line on this short visit but we’ll definitely stay longer next time.

There were a couple shrimp boats trawling off the island the afternoon we were there which were entertaining to watch. Before we left we visited a couple fish markets about 5 miles from the park on St. Helena Island. We found the best prices at Gay Fish Company and picked up 4 pounds of shrimp, fresh off the boat, for $7 per pound. We were told by one of the park employees that some of the Forrest Gump movie was shot in this area and they used this fish company’s boat.

The next morning I hopped out of bed, grabbed a cup of coffee and my camera, and we headed out to catch the sunrise. I was mesmerized by the reflection of the sunrise in the tidal pools.

But what I really wanted to capture were these dead trees and root wads that are at one end of the beach.

There are hundreds of them, mostly lying on the beach. But a few are still standing.

Just beyond these is a lighthouse. So we headed up to it to take a look and presumably get some good pictures. Just as we reached the lighthouse we were swarmed by hundreds of mosquitos. I fled back to the beach covered in bites that itched for days. This is the best picture I could get of the lighthouse from the beach and that is as close as I ever plan to get to it again.

This is a very popular state park and for good reason. When I looked at the park’s reservation system every site was booked on the weekends for several weeks in advance. So I knew if we were going to squeeze in a visit it would have to be midweek. We ended up with a very spacious water and electric site just 3 rows back from the beach for $37. You generally must reserve these sites at and they require a two night minimum stay at this park. Since they can’t do same day reservations you are able to call the park directly and just stay one night. I believe I saved a $5 reservation fee by going this route as well. Two points for poor planning!!

Here is the campground viewed from the beach.

The first two rigs you see are the only ones with direct beach access. They are in sites 47 and 48. Those sites are booked up through the end of the year and probably well in to next except for a day here and there. Every other camper has to walk to one of the breaks in the fence to get to the beach. All the sites in the beachside loops 1 & 2 were pretty nice and the roads were a little rough and tight but passable. There were some mosquitos in camp but as soon as you cleared the trees and got on the beach they were gone. We drove loops 3, 4, & 5 farther back from the beach and were less than impressed. I wouldn’t be very comfortable taking my rig back there and I’d bet the bugs are pretty bad there too.

Durango & Silverton Train

Durango, Colorado – June 2015 The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a big part of Durango. When the train goes by people step out of their homes, hotels, and businesses to waive. It creates quite a stir. And this happens up to 8 times a day as the trains depart and return from their trip up the mountain to Silverton.

The 45 miles of track from Durango to Silverton were laid in the 1880’s to carry silver and gold ore out of the San Juan Mountains. The train has operated as a tourist attraction for over 30 years now. Riding it is an all day affair. If you catch the 8 am train you will not get back until after 5 pm. You can take a bus one way which is faster. You can also arrange to ride the train in conjunction with another adventure like horseback riding or zip lining. You can even arrange to get off the train in the middle of nowhere, spend a day, or several, backpacking and camping, and then hail a train to catch a ride back to civilization.

Jim is quite the train enthusiast so a ride on the train was high on our list of things to do here. We wanted to ride it when we visited many years ago but the price was well out of our budget then. We felt it was worth the splurge this time. A standard ticket is almost a $100. You get your choice of riding in an enclosed coach or an open gondola. Since it was supposed to rain that afternoon we wisely chose the closed car.

There are premium ticket options like a car with a narrator and cars with more comfortable seats and larger windows. They also offer special wine trains, brew trains, and blues trains, among others, throughout the year. I would consider paying higher rates for one of those in the future but none were scheduled during our visit and I understand they sell out months in advance anyway.

The ride up was fun. The tracks follow the Animas River most of the way and it was raging from snowmelt and recent rains.

At times the river was right beside us. Water even covered the tracks in places. Other times we were high above it.

The scenery was gorgeous! There were lots of beautiful waterfalls.

You are allowed to get up and move around the train, even encouraged to visit the concession car. Most of the cars have a restroom or two. The trip is 3 ½ hours up, then you get 2 hours to explore Silverton before you start home.

Silverton was a pleasant surprise. It had a plenty of shops and restaurants. We enjoyed an awesome lunch at Handlebars Saloon then walked down a couple of residential streets. We liked the unique architecture of many homes, the cute little churches, and the impressive public buildings.

We enjoyed the ride immensely and it was generally quite comfortable. If you get motion sickness I would suggest you take some medication before you go. You do get jostled around a bit at times. I felt a little altitude sickness but it didn’t last. It’s quite a bit colder in Silverton so be sure and bring plenty of layers. The day got a little long by the end but we were lucky to find interesting people to talk to on the trip down which helped pass the time. If you are in Durango and aren’t inclined or able to take the train, do at least check out their free train museum. It was quite extensive and included a lot of historical items beyond their train collection.

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Moab, Utah May 2015 – I knew Moab was a very popular place on Memorial Day and that all the RV parks were booked for the weekend but I justified heading that way without a reservation because it was only the Wednesday before the holiday weekend and there were so many first come first serve campgrounds listed in the directories of the area. I stopped at a campground in town that was reported to offer water and a dump for only $5, Slickrock Campground. Without much optimism I asked if they might have a site for the night. They said they did but only for Wednesday night and I gratefully paid them $43 for a water and electric site so that I didn’t have to drag my rig all over the countryside looking for a campsite.

I dropped my 5th wheel in a site and headed out to find a place to plant myself for the remainder of the week. I drove over 70 miles to a half dozen BLM campsites and an area called Sand Flats Recreation Area. I looked at about 200 sites only to find few large enough for my rig and all of those taken. I was about to head back to camp to rest and look again after dinner when I decided to try one more spot. I read that Ken’s Lake, 8 miles south of Moab, had 31 sites, all large enough for a medium sized rig. I arrived and found this was not completely true but was happy to find 2 sites large enough to accommodate me still available. I gratefully paid $15 per night for the next 6 nights including the one I had already paid for in town. I locked up my scooter and cooler in plain sight, put my paid receipt on the pole, and a line of rocks across the drive, and headed back to Moab for the night. I am grateful I found this campsite when I did. By the time I moved in Thursday morning every site was full and stayed that way until Monday.

Ken’s lake turned out to be an amazing camp. My site was HUGE. A stream runs behind the campsite and a half mile walk downstream brings you to the lake and a half mile walk upstream takes you to a large waterfall. They diverted water from the other side of a mountain, through a large pipe, and let it flow down this side of the mountain. Then they built the lake to hold the water. They call it Faux Falls but only the source of the water is manipulated. The rocks and stream are natural.

The falls were a welcome sight when I was driving in to camp.

And they were a great destination walk on a hot day.

I was dying to see Arches National Park so I headed there on Friday knowing it would be a madhouse with so many people in town. I drove first to the windows section and hiked a total of about 3 miles to see everything that area had to offer. I loved the North and South windows from the primitive trail that loops behind them. They look like two eyes.

Double Arch was quite remarkable as well.

I then drove to the Delicate Arch area. The trailhead parking was full so I proceeded to the viewpoint parking area and was happy with the short walk and the view of the arch in the distance. I saved the Devil’s Garden area for a second visit.

I returned the next week on Tuesday. The last hike I wanted to do was one of the most popular in the park. So I arrived before 8 and walked the developed portion of the path to Devil’s Garden where you can see half a dozen arches from the trail. Landscape Arch was my favorite.

I was glad I arrived as early as I did. I still had to share the trail with dozens of people but by the time I left the expansive parking lot was almost full and groups were pouring down the path.

I went to the Islands in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park on Memorial Day. It was a beautiful place. I hiked to Upheaval dome which is a deep, unexplained crater with a gray mountain range jutting up in the middle of it.

I then hiked the rim trail. It was just gorgeous but a rainstorm was threatening so it was hard to get a good shot. If you are viewing this on your mobile device zooming in on this pic may give you a better idea of what an interesting landscape it was.

Canyonlands has its own pretty incredible arch. There were no signs against standing on this one. So I did! It was a few feet wide in the middle so not difficult to get out on at all. But there is about a thousand foot drop behind the arch if you happen to make a misstep.

The two ladies that did it before me were doing yoga poses and standing on one tiptoe. I was happy to just stand there firmly planted on two feet.

I passed through Moab about 2 on Memorial Day. There was an incredible traffic jam. Apparently the visitors who had been filing in all week all had to leave after lunch Monday. The two lanes leading north toward interstate 70 were packed all the way through town, about 5 miles. Thankfully I was headed south to camp. The campground was fairly deserted when I got back and stayed that way till I left on Thursday.