Edisto Beach State Park

Edisto Beach, SC – April, 2016 After our chilly weekend at Myrtle Beach a few weeks ago we were watching and waiting for some decent beach weather. Just as the weather was improving, we saw a 3 night opening at Edisto Beach State Park’s beach campground. When we stayed here last fall we had to stay in their Live Oak campground, a half mile up the highway from the beach. We really wanted to return but stay in one of the 75 beach side sites. Edisto Beach State Park is only 50 miles from our property so it was mucho convenient.

Our site, number 58, backed up to the marsh that fills up with water at high tide. The site was near the limit of what we are willing to pay for a campsite. It averaged $58 per night after all fees and had water and electric. But you cannot beat the convenience of walking past a couple rows of campers and over a dune and being on the beach. If one of you gets tired or bored they can just go back home without making the other one leave. If Jim wants to go fishing, there is nothing stopping him.

Last time we were on the east coast Jim saw a guy with a great beach cart that carried all his fishing gear and stuff. He has been looking for one with the right features and price ever since. He finally found exactly what he wanted for about a hundred dollars at Dick’s Sporting Goods near Brownsville, Texas. We have used it a couple times since, to carry our chairs and cooler to a nice riverside spot in Texas and to get our stuff to and from the camp’s laundry. But this was to be the cart’s true beach debut.

The big wheels were a must and worked great even in the loose sand. The cart folds down pretty well but those wheels still take up their fair share of the basement.

Totally worth it though when you can easily haul two chairs, fishing gear, and a cooler past the crowds on the beach and nab a secluded spot to spend the afternoon.

We spent our first full afternoon at the beach; sunning, fishing, generally being lazy. Here is a pic of one of the many beach accesses. We loved the dead tree and yellow flowers.

The next day we loaded up the kayaks and drove a couple miles to where the state park has a boat ramp on Big Bay Creek. From there you can paddle up the creek or out to the mouth of the South Edisto River and on into the ocean. The creek has more of a tide than a current. So our plan was to put in and float upstream with the tide, wait for the tide to turn, and float back with the tide.

It was a wide creek with grassy marsh on both sides. We floated up the creek and were passed by a group of dolphins.

There were at least four of them. We saw quite a bit of them for about a minute but they were fast so it was hard to get any picture at all especially since all I had was my iPhone.

After we floated past the state park’s property there were a dozen or so private docks crowded on one side of the creek, each with a long wooden sidewalk built between it and a big house back in the trees. Many of the docks had impressive boats. After them we had the creek to ourselves again.

We only went about a mile and a half and then tried to stay out of the current and wind that was pushing us upstream and wait for the tide to turn. There was such a strong wind coming up the creek that even when the tide turned and water started flowing toward the ocean the current wasn’t strong enough to counteract the wind. So we ended up having to paddle against it all the way back to the boat dock. We weren’t totally surprised by this outcome and were grateful we hadn’t gotten too far from the takeout. Next time we’d like to float toward the ocean just before low tide and hope the wind and the tide will carry us back to the dock with less effort.

Besides the dolphins we saw in the creek, we saw a lot more wildlife in general on this trip than we did during our last visit. We saw a huge turtle swimming in the ocean one day. The campground also has some very aggressive raccoons (the squirrels aren’t exactly shy either). This big fella had no problem walking into people’s camps in the middle of the day and rummaging through their things.

We were careful not to leave any trash out but Jim forgot to put his fishing gear away one day and they ate/stole/are wearing his plastic lure and they broke one of his poles, probably trying to get away after getting tangled up. Thankfully he was able to repair it.

When the tide went out the marsh behind our camp became a mud field. We were sitting there one afternoon and realized the whole thing was moving. There were a kazilion crabs about an inch wide, each waiving their little claw at us. How friendly!

The park’s learning center is located near the boat ramp. It’s definitely a must see if you visit. It’s much nicer than we expected. They have a beautiful building with a nice back porch full of rocking chairs.

They also have lots of live snakes, fish, and such in aquariums. Glad this fellow is no longer in that category.

The place has some beautiful murals and displays like this cool boat.

We had a wonderful three days in Edisto Beach and look forward to visiting again.

Texas’ Colorado River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunny And 75

It’s a holiday when we’re together, I wannna stay with you forever. Somewhere, somewhere sunny and 75…” Joe Nichols

Riviera to South Padre Island, TX – January/February 2016 We had two weeks of pretty perfect south Texas weather. All but a couple days were sunny and mid 70’s. Better yet the nights were mild and rarely got below 50.

We arrived at Seawind Campground on the banks of Baffin Bay exhausted from three long days of driving. We were greeted by a warm wind and flowering trees. Seawind is right next to the bay with only a public park separating it from the water. We had a good view of the bay from our site although we were separated from it by a tall chain link fence.

We were soon walking along the shore enjoying the balmy afternoon. When we awoke the next day to a 65 degree morning we couldn’t even wait for daylight to get moving and put in a couple miles.

We were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise. The park has a long fishing pier and a little strip of beach that disappears when the tide is high.

After two nights and one full day of rest we were ready to move on to our original destination. Our plan was to stay just north of Brownsville for a few nights at Palmdale RV Resort while we explored the area and decided where we wanted to spend the time we had. We really enjoyed this park. It was friendly and had a great heated pool.

It was only 26 miles to South Padre Island so we considered staying there and driving to the island a few times. The reality was that the drive took forever with all the speed zones. We drove out first thing to check out the available campgrounds and knew we didn’t want to make that drive more than necessary.

We decided to move to the county’s Isla Blanca Park for the few days that promised the best weather. They have sites from $30-40. We were surprised to find a premium beachside site available and gratefully accepted it. It had full hookups and included cable.

Our only concern about this park was that several reviews mentioned an odor. We checked it out on our first visit only briefly and agreed there was a slight odor we could live with. After getting set up we took a stroll around the park and quickly found the smell we had read about.

On the bay side of the park is a fenced in area where I presume they treat the sewer. It reeked and we walked quickly away and avoided that side of the park the remainder of our stay. If we had gotten one of the sites on that side of the park we would have complained about the odor too. Actually we would have moved, to the mainland if necessary. It was nasty!

But on our side of the park the world was lovely. The ocean breezes smelled sweet, the sun shone, the beach was a short walk away, and it went on for miles. There was no end to the beachcombing that could be done here.

On the very southernmost point of the island, inside the park, is this beautiful memorial to all the seamen that have sailed out of this port and never returned.

Jim finally succumbed to the call of his rod and reel. There was a long jetty at the end of the beach that was said to have good fishing.

He set off to the end of the jetty the first morning. He returned a couple hours later having enjoyed his outing but with only one fish story to share.

He hadn’t gotten a single nibble and the other fishermen didn’t appear to be having any luck either. However at one point several of them started catching pufferfish. Since the spines of the puffer are poisonous he was entertained watching them try to get them off their lines and return them to the water without getting stuck.

Just north of town is an area where you can drive on the beach. We loaded up our chairs and a cooler and headed there in the afternoon. We pulled out onto the beach and soon staked out a great spot. It was a gorgeous 75 degree afternoon. The wind was a bit chilly but I planted our chairs beside the truck and it blocked most of it.

It was a fun beach with people driving by and a couple kite surfers floating by. This sand surfer had a very interesting homemade, wind powered contraption.

We had a great afternoon and managed to get a little sun.

The next day we put our kayaks in on the west side of the island in the Laguna Madre, a coastal lagoon. The weather was warm again without a cloud in the sky. We paddled up wind for a mile or so then let the wind blow us back past our put in. The water was surprisingly clear and despite paddling quite a ways from shore I don’t think it was ever over our heads. Jim saw a ray and a few fish jumped around us.

On Monday the weather was expected to be rainy and cold on the island but only 26 miles inland it reached over 80 degrees. We moved back to Palmdale first thing that morning before the rain came. It was a good deal at only $23 PN for full hookups with Passport America. The residents were entertaining and we had a fabulous afternoon visiting with them around the pool.

We explored the Brownsville area. Other than pretty decent shopping options I wasn’t terribly impressed. We drove out to the Brazos Island State Park which is the southernmost beach in Texas. It goes all the way to the Mexican border at the mouth of the Rio Grande River. It was a pretty and fairly deserted beach you can drive on. We chose to walk the beach as the tide was coming in and it was pretty narrow in places.

Since we eventually have to make our way north we decided to spend a few more days at Seawind, another great deal at $18 PN Passport America. It is only 8 miles off the highway and we really liked it there. We enjoyed more long walks along the shore. There were lots of birds.

None particularly special but entertaining none the less.

We had lots of colorful visitors to the fence outside our kitchen window. They would not come around when we were outside so I finally shot some through the glass.


We had a lovely two weeks in southern Texas. Almost every person we met exclaimed about the great weather they are having this year. Apparently the last couple years weren’t this pleasant. We are grateful to be living the way we are so we can just move when the weather doesn’t suit us.

Heaven

Cheyenne to Flaming Gorge NRA, Wyoming – September, 2015 Jim appeared mildly alarmed when I looked at him one afternoon and stated “I want to be more adventurous in our sleeping arrangements.”  Relief registered on his face as I went on to explain I thought we should be more daring in choosing boondocks. We were about to make our way across Wyoming and I had my eye on a couple of free camping arrangements. The weather was perfect for boondocking and Jim was agreeable.

Our first destination was Cheyenne. We expected to get there around lunch and needed a place to leave the trailer while we explored the town, then we planned to move on first thing the next morning. I saw Sierra Trading Post listed under overnight camping on my Allstays app. It looked great and a heck of a lot better than a Walmart. When we arrived we discovered it had a huge empty lot for RVs. The employees were also incredibly friendly and the store was pretty great too. They sell sporting goods and apparently do a huge amount of business online. The further you went into the store the bigger the discounts got.

I wanted to check out Cheyenne’s free botanical gardens. What we found was a lovely park that included walking trails, a lake, and the gardens. A big part of the gardens were closed for construction but what was left was very nice. My favorite part was the children’s garden. It was beautiful and extremely well planned and appealed to the child in each of us.

We returned to our home in the parking lot. We were joined by a motor home and a semi later that evening. It did turn out to be one of the louder places we have slept. Semi-trucks carrying goods to and from Sierra’s warehouse drove right by our rig all night long. But this minor inconvenience was worth the savings.

Our next stop was Flaming Gorge Reservoir. We aimed for a dispersed camping area on the west side of the lake called Buckboard South. I had reviewed the satellite image and thought it looked pretty safe. We actually did have some close calls on the road in and could have found a better route to our campsite if we had scouted it better, but it all worked out. We had a great spot right by the water with this view.

Which got even better at sunset.

We didn’t see another sole the whole first day. The next day we went for a walk and discovered a neighbor just a half mile from us. While kayaking we discovered there were about a dozen campers on the peninsula. The best campsights were at the very end but they also had the nearest neighbors. I liked our private site back in the cove.

We finally got our replacement solar panels installed. While working on the roof we discovered we had an audience, this pronghorn.

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We also saw about a million rabbits. They looked like a cottontail but were as big as jackrabbits.

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But the best part about this boondock in the middle of nowhere was the night sky. I woke up at 2 am one morning and stepped outside. It was amazing! I had been dying to play with the settings on my new camera so I dragged it and a tripod outside for about an hour. Jim was sound asleep and every time a fish jumped behind me I just about had a heart attack. I have a lot to learn about night photography. I believe a bit of beginner’s luck was involved when I captured a shooting star directly over my rig.

Not 20 minutes after I got back to my warm bed I heard a lot of scuffling noises outside. The next morning we discovered coyote tracks around camp and their hairs on our grill. Glad I didn’t run into them while I was out there!

Misery

Missouri – July 2015 When we headed to Missouri a month ago we thought we would go west again right after my family reunion last weekend. I had hoped to be in Montana by now. But the universe had other plans and so we are still here and will be for another week or two. Two of our income properties have unexpectedly been vacated in the last 10 days. We joke that there is a conspiracy to keep us here in the state we fondly refer to as Misery instead of Missouri. But we are quite lucky this happened while we were in the area instead of 2000 miles away.

When we do finally break away in a couple weeks we are actually planning a road trip east and then swinging back through Missouri about Labor Day before finally proceeding west, most likely skipping Montana and Washington and going to Oregon. While we are here we are enjoying the beautiful rivers the Ozarks are blessed with. We’ve got plenty of free places to park our home. And we are saving a ton on fuel!

We enjoyed the Current River some more now that it is near normal river level. We backed our rig up to the river bank so that there was an amazing view outside our kitchen window. And we parked under a huge tree where we got lots of shade. One evening a pretty large limb in that tree broke. It was tenuously hanging on to the tree but most of it was on our trailer. We thought it was best to leave it and hoped we could drive out from under it when we left in several days. A big storm the next night moved it around quite a bit but it still held on. The day we prepared to leave we discovered this.

It fell the rest of the way down and was resting on top of our trailer. We hadn’t heard it fall so assume it wasn’t terribly violent and thankfully there was no damage to the trailer roof. I started to shove it off the roof but was damaging the roof’s edge in the process. Jim got a saw and we cut it in to 3 pieces we could safely throw off the roof.

The next weekend we parked in our friends’ driveway 20 miles south of Springfield and enjoyed their property and pool for a few days. They live very near the James River which is a pretty little river that is a convenient place to float when you are in the Springfield area. We chose to float from Hootentown to mud bank on Sunday. Hootentown is a campground that is as hick as its name implies and mud bank is exactly that, a muddy, messy take out just off the highway. There were a ton of people floating above Hootentown as evidenced by those waiting for a shuttle when we put in. But we only saw a half dozen other kayakers on our 9 mile float.

The boys had fun fishing and caught bluegill, smallmouth bass, and goggle eye. It didn’t matter what they caught because we wouldn’t have eaten anything out of this part of the river that flows out of Springfield Lake.

The next weekend we took our 4 year old granddaughter camping at Roaring River Park near Cassville, Missouri. It is a trout park operated by the Missouri State Parks. It’s about an hour from Springfield and since Jim loves to fish for trout we have camped here many, many times over the years. We had not taken our grandchild here before but knew that it would be the perfect place.

There are some great, short hikes (our favorite is Devil’s Kitchen). It has wonderful playgrounds (some right by the stream) and lots of places to wade and take a dip. Of course, the fishing is good but as we expected it didn’t hold a 4 year old’s attention for very long.

The highlight of her trip was the swimming pool. They have a very nice pool. It does cost a few dollars extra to get in but was so worth it. We spent about an hour each afternoon there. Our granddaughter had a ball each time, made some new friends, and sufficiently wore herself out so that we didn’t have to worry about a struggle at bedtime. She was more than ready to go to sleep by the time it was lights out.

Buffalo National River

Yellville, Arkansas – July, 2015 We love the Buffalo National River and jumped at the chance to plan a weekend there with our friends while we were home. It is about 2 hours south of our hometown of Springfield, Missouri so we have visited often throughout the years. We generally would do at least one campout there every year and we often drove down for the day to hike or float the area. There are over 120 miles of federally protected waters, so even after all these years of exploring I still don’t consider myself familiar with the river.

Our friends wanted to stay at a national park campground called Buffalo Point which is on the lower section of the river. It is an extremely nice campground with water and electric sites for $22 per night. It is well maintained and well managed. There are 5 loops, 3 with reservable sites and 2 that are first come first served. We didn’t make the decision to head there for the weekend until it was too late to make a reservation. But we hoped that by getting there Thursday afternoon we had a good chance of snagging walkup sites for ourselves and another couple with a camper. We arrived at 4:30 and discovered there were only a few sites in each of the non reservable loops that were large enough for our campers and they were all filled for the night. We were lucky enough to find one reservable site in the D loop that hadn’t been reserved for the weekend and since the reservation window had closed we knew we could stay there for three days.

Friday morning we scoped out the possibility of anyone leaving a walkup site that day that was large enough for our friends’ camper. We walked around checking tags and talking to people to see if anyone was leaving. Almost everyone was staying put. We discovered only one site that would accommodate a trailer and the tag said the person in it had only paid for one night. That didn’t mean much since we had only paid for one night but very much hoped to stay for more. The people on the site were in a tent and they hadn’t emerged yet.

It was still early so we headed to town for groceries and to check out an alternate campground. We intended to move if we couldn’t procure a 2nd site. We weren’t very impressed with the alternate campground but it would have worked. We came back intending to offer the occupants money to move to one of the other available tent sites. I was so grateful they were outside when we got back so we could at least get it over with and know if we needed to move or not. I asked the young lady if they were leaving that day and when she said yes I was so relieved I almost hugged her. I explained our predicament and asked if we could put some chairs on the site and a tag on it showing we had paid for it and she was kind enough to agree.

There is absolutely no cell service in Buffalo Point Campground and some of our friends were already on their way down and were waiting for us to tell them where they were going. I had gotten a signal earlier while walking on a gravel bar by the river below camp. So I walked down there again to text everyone our location. Earlier I had gotten 2 bars and 4G but now I could only get 1 bar and E. It got better the closer I got to the river. I finally took my shoes off and walked 15 feet in to the water and got enough service to get texts out to everyone.

One couple arrived at noon and were ready to go kayaking. They had already scoped out the available shuttles. We loaded the boats and were on the water within the hour. We put in at the nearby Highway 14 Bridge and an outfitter moved their vehicle to the takeout at Rush Landing for $28.

It was an awesome float, about 8 miles. There was very little other traffic on a Thursday afternoon. The water was clear and refreshing but not as cold as many of the spring fed rivers we usually float in Missouri. It was blistering hot and we didn’t stay on our boats for very long at a time. I believe this rock is what is called Buffalo Point.  I would have called it turtle point but no one asked me.

The other couple with the trailer showed up after dinner and we got them set up in the dark and another friend showed up and set up a tent outside our trailer. The next morning we were raring to get on the river. Some more friends drove down to float with us for the day and getting 9 people and boats and coolers and lunches together was like herding cats. We chose to float 10.5 miles from South Maumee to the bridge we had put in at the day before. We stopped at Dirst Outfitters and they quickly arranged to shuttle two trucks for us for a very reasonable $25 each. We finally got to the put in and on the water about noon.

This was another awesome day on the water. The Buffalo River is just gorgeous with lots of beautiful bluffs and tons of great gravel bars. There is no development allowed on it at all; no commercial campgrounds, no houses, no stores. Since this float was on a Saturday it was rather busy but occasionally it is fun to float around the crowds and interact with the nuts. If you have not floated the Buffalo before I would highly recommend putting it on your bucket list. We hope to float its entire length one summer in the future.

We got back to a crockpot full of brisket and had some amazing sandwiches. Everyone was worn out and retired rather early. The next morning they started scattering. Since the site we were in was reserved that night we knew we had to move by noon. I thought this would avoid any discussion about whether to stay or go. But I was wrong!

Jim realized the site next to us was available and begged to move into it for the night with the retired man’s version of “just 5 more minutes mom”. Instead it’s “just one more night, pleeeaaassse”. I wasn’t hard to convince so we have a new record for shortest move in our record book. We had to pack everything up and secure it for a move of 20 feet from site 64 to site 65. Here is a pick of our site for the weekend on the right and us set up in the new site to the left for the night.

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.

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.

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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.