All posts by Al Simons

That’s a wrap – YEAR ONE!

Things are strange right about now. We’ve come off the road and are back on MDI, long enough to put our house on the market. (Anyone want a house on the Maine Coast, right outside Acadia National Park? Anyone?)

We’ve had a great time this past year and are looking forward to more adventures to come! But it is time for a bit of retrospection and possibly introspection.

How to describe the year? We can put some numbers on it:

  • 359 days, door to door
  • 858 hours of driving
  • 27,851 total miles driven (Kathe has well over 25,000 of our miles!)
  • 20,070 miles with the trailer. It is hard to believe that we roamed over 7,000 miles without the trailer. That was all day trips!
  • 2 wonderful grandchildren for 3 weeks
  • 28 National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Monuments, etc.
  • 30,206 pictures (And you thought we had posted a lot of pics!)

But those don’t really give a flavor of what we have experienced. If you have been following the blog you’ve seen many of the things we’ve seen, but not felt the impact of the openness of the west, nor had the many conversations we’ve had along the way.

The people we have met have been uniformly friendly, helpful, and as willing to share their journey with us as we have with them. Need a tool? Sure! Just put it on the table when you’re done.

Occasionally we’ve run across people who try to get into politics, but it has been very rare. Mostly, conversations have been about travel, enjoying the outdoors, families, rigs, and life experiences.

This country is huge! Having lived our entire lives in the Northeast, we had never known anything but the relatively dense population there. Once across the Mississippi river, you start to be aware that you’re driving for many miles without seeing any structure or other evidence of people.

Our country is beautiful, and varied (witness the 30,206 pictures)! We kept commenting to each other about beautiful scene after beautiful scene as we drove along . We had to be careful not to stop too frequently for photography, or we would have never gotten to our next destination.

When we started, we wondered what it would be like, to be sharing a roughly 300+/- square foot “house” with basically two rooms. We’re happy to report that it hasn’t been a problem at all.

When we started, we said that we’d live full time in our RV for a year before deciding whether to sell our house on Mount Desert Island. The six-month mark came, and we started to make those plans. Now that we’re at the year point and back on the island, we know that it is still the right answer for us.

We’re rattling around in our “large” (compared to the trailer) house, wondering why we ever thought we need so much space—and stuff. As we get ready to sell our house we have to part with things from our past. Most of that seems to not be a problem, but other things, like about 50 years of pictures… well, that is a bit harder. And as most men who have made this transition will tell you… “My tools!” Yeah, I won’t have all my tools! Being brought up with the viewpoint that it was important to have the right tool for whatever it is you’re trying to do, it is really hard to get rid of my tools.

Hard to get rid of in another way is all of our ham radio equipment. There’s just not much of a market for it. While we (especially Kathe) will still be involved in ham radio on the road, it will be done in a different way. Small radios. Small antennas (a bit of an oxymoron, that). There is no room in our 36′ trailer for a ninety foot plus antenna tower, and antennas that measure over 40′ by 20′ on top of the tower. So a lot to get rid of.

We know that we’ll need to come off the road at some point, determined either by health (no news there!) or by a yearning to settle down. But right now, that seems like a long way off. We’ve absolutely loved our past year and are looking forward to continuing for the foreseeable future. We hope that you’ve enjoyed traveling along with us, and that you’ll continue to share our adventure.

We’re still the Lobsters, but, for a while at least, we’re no longer “on the loose.” So we’ll take a break from the blog and pick it up again when we’re back on the road—probably in early October.

See you then!
Al & Kathe

Millions of Years!

The RVing “Rule of Twos:”

  • About 200 miles per day,
  • Arrive by 2:00 (or at least early enough to set up by late afternoon),
  • Stay at least two nights.

We’re retired, no need to push for long driving days. So when we plan our travels, one of the tasks is “Where to stop?” When we have a longish drive between two major stops, we have to break up the drive across multiple days. So we look on the map at “around” 200 miles, and see what looks promising.

When you notice the name, “Flaming Gorge,” the decision is pretty much made! We’re really glad that we saw that. And also that we decided on three nights!

Flaming Gorge

Flaming Gorge was named by John Wesley Powell in 1869 during his exploration of the west. The name stuck. When you see the reds of the surrounding cliffs, you can see why. Flaming Gorge is one of five distinct gorges/canyons in this stretch of the Green River. This pic is actually just before Flaming Gorge, in Red Canyon.

The Green River in Red Canyon, just above Flaming Gorge. Yes, the river really is green.

The gorge area is only about 30 miles from our campground, but it is thirty miles of twisting mountain road. I didn’t realize how strong my fear of edges was until I tried to drive on these. Fortunately, Kathe’s shoulder has now healed enough that she was able to resume her driving duties! Phew…

Geology is big here; there are signs along the roadside giving the current rock formation / era, and sayings like, “Dinosaurs roamed here,” or “Ancient seabed, shells and sand dunes.” Because of the erosion over the millennia, we travel backward and forward through the history of the earth as we drive up and down (or actually, down and up) the hillsides.

Sheep Creek Bay Overlook, at the south end of Flaming Gorge. The sun conditions make huge differences in the color of the water. The next day, the water here was gray. Notice the prominent evidence of tectonic activity with the upthrust formations tilting once horizontal sediment beds.

Parts of these gorges have been flooded to create the ninety-one mile long Flaming Gorge Reservoir by damming the Green River, the Colorado’s biggest tributary. We were able to take a tour of the 502′ high Flaming Gorge Dam, going down into the turbine room, and out at the downstream base. Thank goodness for elevators!

Flaming Gorge Dam
One of three turbine-driven generators. Together, the three turbines use 4,000 cubic feet of water per second. The dam can release more water if needed, through bypasses.
One of the turbine wheels that was removed during a retrofit.
I thought we used a lot of climbing rope on the MDI-SAR team! They do inspections by rappelling down the face of the dam. Oh! May I? May I, please? Please?

The dam has of course changed the ecology of the river. Some fish previously in the river are gone. But the Green River downstream of the dam is now apparently a world-class trout fishery. There were lots of very large trout swimming in the eddies of the generating plant outlets, but fishing is not allowed in the immediate downstream area.

Are you hungry yet?

As is frequently the case, the top of the dam is a roadway, usually a two direction road except when something like this is trying to cross!

Yes, it IS an oversize load…
At times, the road over the dam is definitely one way!

Dinosaur National Monument

About an hour and a half away from our campground (again over the mountains) lay Dinosaur National Monument. What kid (of any age) can resist dinosaurs? Sure! Let’s go.

Dinosaur NM is quite large, but its gem is just inside the western (nearest to us!) entrance. The “Quarry Exhibit Hall” is an enclosed cliff face of what was originally the river bed of an ancient river. Approximately 1,500 bones are visible here, from ten different species of dinosaurs. The site is estimated to have been formed about 149 million years ago. It was discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass of the Carnegie Museum when he found eight tail vertebrae of an Apatosaurus (how can they tell???). Many of the fossils discovered here were shipped to museums around the world, but many remain.

One side of the Quarry Exhibit Hall, showing how it is built right into the cliff face. This is the third such building. It appears robust; time will tell if this is the one that will last!

Naturally enough, the cliff face and the fossilized bones are pretty uniform in color. This makes discerning the bones somewhat difficult, especially in pictures.

As taken.

To make it easier to see the bones, I have enhanced the contrast and used edge sharpening in the remainder of these pictures. I should note that the National Park Service does the same thing on its website. (To a greater degree, in my opinion!)

With boosted contrast and sharpening.

One of the things that makes this site so different is not just the density of preserved bones (which of course are now fossilized, i.e., they are rock, not bone), but also the number of bones that are still articulated—attached to the bones next to them. It is very rare to find skulls still articulated to the cervical vertebrae.

Skull still attached.

Many species died here. In this picture are large bones from two different species. Across the top is an Apatosaurus scapula. Below it, going from lower left toward the upper right is a Diplodocus scapula. And from lower right toward upper left is an Apatosaurus femur.

Scapula, scapula, femur.

Apparently, mostly complete skeletons are exceedingly rare. The NPS publication describing this part of the wall says, “Articulated Skeleton: Paleontologist’s Dream.” This picture is of a nearly complete Camarasaurus. I couldn’t see all of what they were describing, but then, I’m not a paleontologist!

“Nearly complete.” If you say so!

And if I could be permitted a slight aside here, whatever happened to the dinosaur names that I learned as a kid? My grandkids (and this exhibit) and I speak a completely different “language” of dino names! I want my T-Rex back!

Aside to the aside: I really put that in for a bit of humor, but decided to do a little web searching and came across this. Apparently, Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus (Thunder Lizard) were initially thought to be different species, but soon thereafter they were “determined” to be the same, with the animal identified as Apatosaurus being simply a juvenile Brontosaurus. Since the name Apotosaurus was published first, the name Brontosaurus was dropped from the formal nomenclature in the early 20th century, but not from many museum exhibits, nor from popular use. But wait! There’s more! In 2015, a new study “determined” that they are indeed separate species, and that there may be a third closely related species. So I guess I get my Brontosaurus back.

Whatever their names, some of the beasts were BIG! This is a Camarasaurus femur.

Don’t meet this one on a dark night…

Notice that parts of that femur are dark and shiny. That is from the oil on many people’s hands. Most of the gallery is under a “don’t touch” policy, but in some places the kids (again, of all ages!) are invited to touch.

Please touch me!

As part of the preservation efforts here, the wall is being monitored for seismic activity. There are strain gauges across many of the cracks, and there are other detectors at several places. I was not able to find a ranger who could identify what those were for.

Monitoring the rock. Notice that one of the bones is broken at a crack.

Dinosaur National Monument is big; we only dipped our toes into the water, so to speak. We did go another mile or so in to “Swelter Shelter,” to see some 1,000 year-old pictographs and petroglyphs, created by the Fremont people. I learned the difference here; the terms are not synonyms. A pictograph is created by staining the surface of the stone, usually with red ocher (ochre if you’re a Brit). A petroglyph is formed by chipping or etching the stone. Both are present at this site, but most are petroglyphs.

Combining both forms here. Notice that there is some evidence of ocher staining that remains.
Do these remind you of 1950’s depictions of aliens? Wavy, sinuous arms, tentacles from their heads? Hmmm.

Unfortunately, there were also etchings that were less than 1,000 years old. Why do people feel the need to carve their initials into irreplaceable sites like this?

For an “in between” stop in our adventure, this one had some pretty great stuff! Our countries are so full of fascinating nature, history, and people. We keep marveling!

We are about to join with our two oldest grandkids for several weeks, so get ready for some guest bloggers!

We’ll see you again down the road.

geysers, grizzlies, and guardrails

“All animals in Yellowstone National Park are wild and dangerous!”

“All wildlife is dangerous! Remain at least 25 yards from any animal.  Remain at least 100 yards away from bison and bear.”

“Yellowstone is a Dangerous Place”

These and similar signs are all over Yellowstone.  We need to be wary of all the animals!

Beware dangerous chipmunks! Or is it some kind of western squirrel? He was greatly enjoying a gourmet mushroom he’d found nearby.

We did see quite an array of wildlife in the park, in addition to the chipmunk.  We saw bison, including some close enough to get good pictures of (but far enough to still be safe). We also saw deer, elk, and an osprey.  No bear (of which I’m very glad), and no moose (of which there are very few remaining in the park).

Practicing for rutting season, I guess.
An after dinner drink!
An osprey on the prowl for dinner,
Gotcha! How would you like your trout?

There are many dangerous things in the park, as in most of the National Parks.  Their wildness is what calls many of us to go to them; it is what makes these places special.  Being attacked by wild animals, driving off the edge of a narrow mountain road, or falling into a pool of boiling water are some of the things that can befall a careless or inattentive visitor.

We got a late start on our first day in the park, so we decided to just do the north part of the park (we were staying outside the north entrance). We’d go down the western side through Mammoth Hot Springs, to Norris, across to Canyon, up through Tower, and then back to Mammoth. Here’s a picture of the Yellowstone river near Tower.

Yellowstone River

We had visited Yellowstone eleven years ago after a service trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with our church.  We were in a small rental car and enjoyed driving in the park. The roads on the east side of the park are quite mountainous, twisty and narrow—a challenge! Fun! 

Driving them in a crew cab long bed dually pickup truck (basically, the biggest F350 that Ford makes) is an entirely different experience from driving them in a compact!  White knuckle time. Through a good portion of the park, there were no guardrails. And it was hundreds and hundreds of feet to the ground below. We decided to not go to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Lamar Valley because they would have required retracing some of that route.  But those were the only places we had wanted to visit that we missed. If we go back in the future, we may rent a compact car to make touring the park less terrifying!

The geysers and geothermal pools are, of course, Yellowstone’s calling card. The density of these features is unique in the world. They are unquestionably beautiful and awe inspiring, but you need to be careful.  There are boardwalks in many of the dense areas of springs, pools, and geysers, and there are frequent signs warning people to stay on the boardwalks.  The “ground” they traverse is often simply a thin coating over a hot spring, most of which will be fatal if a person becomes immersed.

Travertine and hot pools in the Norris Basin area.

On our previous visit, I watched two men ahead of me on a boardwalk.  They came to one of the “Danger! Hot water. Stay on the boardwalk” signs, and one handed the other his camera, stepped off the boardwalk (right next to the sign), and had his friend take a picture of him and the sign.  As a former boss of mine was fond of saying, “You can’t fix stupid.”  But Darwin clearly missed an opportunity here.

This time, we saw many unattended small children on the boardwalks, some standing on the edge of the boardwalks (there are often no railings), or kneeling at the edge leaning over—presumably, “to get a better view.” As parents, it was very tough to see these situations.

But… these pools and springs are unquestionably beautiful!

Grand Prismatic Spring

The colors of the pools are caused by thermophyllic bacteria, also referred to as “extremophiles.” Different types of bacteria have different colors and live in different water temperature ranges: blue indicates the hottest temperatures, then yellow, then red.

I didn’t get a good picture of it, but the steam drifting above the Grand Prismatic Spring was tinged with the reds and blues of the water.

Quick: what was the Roman Coliseum built out of?  Travertine. Didn’t know that myself until a few hours ago. Travertine is a type of rock made by the evaporation of mineral laden water.  And it is all over Yellowstone, particularly in the Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Basin areas.

Travertine terraces.
I wish I knew what causes it to form terraces instead of just smooth slopes.

Over time, the travertine will envelop anything it encounters.

Such as this tree…
Or this walkway.

The pools and springs sometimes warn of their danger by continuously steaming. 

Caution: blue indicates the hottest springs and pools.

Others are quiet and appear inviting!

Quiet, but deadly. Notice how thin the crust is!

Geysers are the other thermal features most people associate with Yellowstone. Some are grand, but erupt unpredictably; others are small and erupt frequently. A few are large and predictable. Eruptions can last for a short time, releasing all their pressure quickly, or they can last for hours. We saw quite a few of the small geysers,

Even small geysers can build up a significant cone over time from the dissolved minerals.
Not sure whether this is a small geyser or just a bubbling spring.

And what visit to Yellowstone National Park is complete without watching Old Faithful erupt?

It really is impressive seeing this eruption. Not the biggest in the park, but the biggest we were to see on this trip.

We had the great pleasure of meeting a member of the Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue team who is now a law enforcement ranger at the Old Faithful District. We hadn’t seen each other since last July, and it was very good to see him again!

We finished our trip by hiking to the Morning Glory Pool. When we visited eleven years ago, it was about six weeks earlier in the year than we were here this time. On our previous visit, the Morning Glory area was closed due to grizzly bear activity in the area, feeding on several bison which had not survived the winter.

Morning Glory has a reputation of being one of the prettiest pools in the park and I was really looking forward to finally getting to see it this time. It was pretty, but I was somewhat disappointed.

It is widely reported that Morning Glory has been damaged by visitors throwing coins and trash into it, and the colors are reportedly not as striking as before; some articles refer to the name “Faded Glory,” The park is making efforts to try to repair the damage, but it is unknown whether it will ever be completely restored.

Morning Glory Pool

It was a real treat to be able to explore and enjoy Yellowstone again—it’s a real gem and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Olympic Peninsula

We had the good fortune to spend a week on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. We visited four major areas on the peninsula, each one very different.

Sol Duc

We started out by camping in Sol Duc (Sole Duck), deep in Olympic National Park. The campground was run by the concessionaire, and was part of the Sol Duc Resort. We sort of lucked into this one via Sir Google; there are actually two campgrounds in Sol Duc that take RVs. The other one was heavily wooded and we would probably not have been successful getting Scarlet and Rhett in there. The one we had was small (about 15 sites), but wide open. The site was nestled in a grove of birch trees.

Beautiful in the morning

It was also a short walk to one of Sol Duc’s main attractions: thermal springs! We spent quite a bit of time soaking… The spring water is 150°, and is mixed with the river water to the desired temp for each of three pools. The hot one was hot enough that even I couldn’t stay in it for more than about 10 minutes—and I love hot baths! Just like in the Three Bears, the middle one (temperature) was just right.

Ummm. Sorry. No pictures; we were too busy relaxing!

You may have heard that the Pacific Northwest (PNW) gets a LOT of rain. There are several rainforests within the park. We were not in one, but looking around at the trees it sure looked like it. The older trees were covered in moss!

There are several trails leading out of the Sol Duc campgrounds; we encountered some deer browsing just off one of the trails.

Only about 15 feet off the trail.

We followed one of the trails out to the Sol Duc waterfall.

It is hard to comprehend the amount of water that cascades through these falls every day.

On the way back home (yes, the trailer really is “home”) we found another waterfall, albeit not quite as large.

A pretty, small stream, part way up a hill from the trail.

Sol Duc is completely surrounded by mountains. Nice scenery! Lousy connectivity! For the first time ever, we had to send a text message out through the Garmin Inreach satellite communicator that we carry for back country emergencies. (It wasn’t an emergency…)

Crescent Beach

Sol Duc is southwest of Port Angeles, which seems to be the major town on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the northern boundary of the Olympic Peninsula. Crescent Beach is a little west of Port Angeles, but is on the shore of the Strait.

Being here made us appreciate Oregon’s beach access law. Directly across the road from the campground was “their” beach, but “don’t go past the rainbow pole! That’s not our beach and you’ll be trespassing.”

In the distance (right side) is Vancouver Island, Canada!

About 1/2 way toward the trees in the distance, the beach belongs to someone else, and campers can’t go there. Sigh.

A state park, at the other end of the beach… and people in the park can’t go onto the campground’s beach, either.

Nevertheless, it was a beautiful setting and we enjoyed strolling on the sand.

Can you find Kathe? What’s she looking for?

Kathe normally beachcombs for sea glass, but we haven’t been successful finding any in the PNW. Here she was looking for…

Sand dollars!

We had a visitor.

But what are all those dark spots on the beach? Something is living in the sand (clams?). It leaves two kinds of markings.

Tracks from the creature from the deep!
They can be quite complex.
Piles of sand, expelled from below. These are all over the beach, and are those dark markings in the previous picture.

Please leave a comment if you know what animal is creating these tracks and the… what shall I call them?

Sometimes I wonder about the people who lay out campgrounds. Who would think that putting the sewer connection at the highest point in the site would be a good idea? Remember: it flows downhill!

Hurricane Ridge

Crescent Beach isn’t part of Olympic National Park, but we went back into the park to visit Hurricane Ridge on the recommendation of a friend who is a former park ranger there. So, so, so glad!

Also we were so glad that we didn’t have our trailer hooked up to our truck for this one! The road up the ridge is steep and twisty. But the views are worth it. Down at sea level the skies were gray and cloudy, so we almost didn’t go. (Note to self as a future reminder… Always go!) Up top? Take a look!

Kathe getting pix of the horizon.
Yes, it was worth …
… the drive up the ridge.

Despite the name, the weather was quite mild with calm winds. We enjoyed our hike to the end of the currently open trail. The remaining trail to the peak of Hurricane Hill was still closed due to snow.

And there was still lots of snow on the ridge. Some people like to fight with Darwin’s attempts to clean the gene pool. The pictures below are at the top of a very steep slope down into the valley.

Stating the obvious: “Caution. The contents of this coffee cup may be hot.”
Close up of the signs.

They are doing a lot of work on the trail up to Hurricane Mountain. It seems like they are widening it, and are using a lot of large rocks along the up-slope edge of the trail. I was quite surprised to see what appear to be ferns on this rock. I don’t know whether they are fossilized in the rocks, or somehow imprinted on the rock after it was split. I suspect the latter, but…

Images of fern leaves on the rock.

Fort Worden State Park

Unexpectedly, Fort Worden turned out to be the highlight of our time on the peninsula. Located on the northeast corner of the peninsula, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north and west, and Puget Sound to the east and south, it was the main one of three forts that guarded Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, and Seattle. The driving force for the creation of the fort was the shipyard, not the city! Fort Worden was built between 1898 and 1917 in the second wave of the Endicott Board forts; the first wave (of which Fort Stevens was part) was built before the establishment of the shipyard when defense of the Sound was not deemed critical. The fort was activated with the arrival of the first troops in 1902, and served in both World Wars I and II. The gun emplacements were never used; the guns were removed in WWI, for use in Europe. The primary use for the fort after that was training.

Reduce, reuse, recycle! Fort Worden is a poster child for reuse. Decommissioned by the Army in 1953, it was purchased by the State of Washington in 1957 to become “Fort Worden Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center,” for troubled youth. This center closed in 1971, and in 1973, Washington re-created it as the current state park. For a more detailed history of this fascinating fort, read Fort Worden: Rebirth Through Decay, by Peter St. George.

What makes Fort Worden special, compared, for instance, to Fort Stevens, is that a large number of its original buildings are intact. Most other forts of this era have had their (mostly wooden) structures torn down leaving only the foundations.

A Public Development Authority (PDA) was created by the city of PortTownsend, WA, to

“help renovate and fill the 70-plus historic buildings on Fort Worden’s campus, expand the number and types of partners and programming at the fort, and create an outstanding hospitality experience for guests.”

The state still owns the property; the PDA has a 99 year lease on the buildings. The PDA is renovating the existing buildings to enable other uses. The base hospital is now a remote campus for Goddard College. Local businesses at the fort include two publishing / printing companies, a yoga studio, a massage therapist, the Port Townsend School of the Arts, and Centrum Arts Foundation. There are concert series, with some of the larger concerts held in the WWI-era balloon hangar!

The officers’ and NCOs’ residences and a dormitory are being refurbished and furnished with antique period furniture. These are available for rental, from 30 beds down to three or four. Apparently many family reunions and some weddings book there. We were taken on a tour by one of the PDA board members! We were so gobsmacked by what we were walking through that we forgot to take any pictures. (Us? Forget pictures???) But you can see some of the refurbished officer’s houses and other residences on the PDA’s website. (You can also reserve time in them on those pages, if you will be in the PNW.)

Finally, not all of the buildings remain. There are foundations here too, all that is left of some of the quarters. The PDA is in the process of building new structures there, within the original building footprints.

The state park also includes the remains of the gun emplacements, in pretty much the same state as those we found in Fort Stevens. However, we found some types that we didn’t see in Oregon.

Mounting for a five inch gun. Much lighter construction than for the ten inch rifles used in both forts.
Mount for a three inch anti-aircraft gun.

The fort was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Being engineers, they were very detailed. Being the Army, meticulous records were kept. Here are some pictures of the plan for the three inch anti-aircraft gun mounts pictured above.

Diagram of this battery of anti-aircraft guns. (Can you find Kathe?)
Closeup showing measurements.

North 317.39 feet, East 231.25 feet. But from where? The entire fort was laid out from a single benchmark, which still exists.

The benchmark is the brass point on the side of this block. Note the engraved, “B.M.”

The trees have grown in the many years since the fort was active, but in some places you can still see what the soldiers would have seen.

Looking east across Puget Sound, to Whidbey Island. Taken from the roof of one of the ten inch batteries.

In other areas, you can’t.

Looking out from an observation bunker.

We’re now over 20,000 miles into our adventure, and are still having a great time.

Loving our new life—and each other!

Playtime!

A long-planned highlight of our spring was our visit to Beth and Jon’s family in Vancouver, BC. Planned in two parts, it exceeded our already high expectations. We had a wonderful time!

The first part of our visit was a weekend joint camping trip to Alice Lake Provincial Park. We arranged for two adjacent campsites so that we would all be together. An idea that we haven’t seen in US parks is to have a subset of campsites set up as pairs, and reservable only as a pair. It makes family camp outs much easier to arrange.

Our plan was that Kasper and Nyssa sleep with us in the RV, and Jon and Beth would be in their tent. They had primarily camped in the summer before; we all found out that late April was not quite the same. EVERYONE ended up sleeping in the camper, to stay warm!

Nicely spaced out wooded sites.
What is a camp out without s-mores???!!!
A family stroll on the beach
If there is a log across a stream, well… Ya just gotta!
Sing it with us: “Anything you can do, I can do…”

After our stay at Alice Lake, we all went back to Vancouver; we stayed at the only campground actually in Vancouver proper, just north of the wonderful Stanley Park, and about 20 minutes from Beth and Jon’s apartment via Vancouver’s excellent public transportation system. (We were not about to try to drive our truck, Scarlett, in Vancouver!)

Note to selves: Do NOT put your transit card, loose, in the same pocket with your phone in a sticky Otter case. We each lost a card when we pulled our phone out.

In addition to a huge fleet of buses and an extensive light rail system, Vancouver has an inlet (“False Creek”) intruding into the heavily populated area, so it has a fleet of small (10 – 12 passengers) ferries.

Going for a (short) cruise!

One of the things that we missed living on the coast of Maine was a variety of cuisines, particularly Asian. Vancouver has plenty! We had Japanese (Sushi) (twice!), Afghani, and several others. Unfortunately, we ran out of nights before we could make a dent in the variety.

Sushi in the Pacific Northwest and Canadian southwest is hard to beat!
… as witnessed by THIS smile!

Kasper and Nyssa spent two more nights with us while in Vancouver. For those who don’t already know it, one of a grandparent’s most important duties is spoiling the grandkids. We take our duties seriously! What better way to do it than by having chocolate ice cream for breakfast!

Breakfast of… champions?

We played a lot of board and card games during the week, including The Mind (you can’t talk), Pandemic, Hanabi (you’re the only one who can’t see your cards), Camel Up, Welcome to, King Domino, Go Fish, and Memory!

Among MANY others!

Memory with Grandma Lobster. What could be better?

Kasper and Grandpa also shared some good time together, working on K’s first book of logic puzzles, e.g., “Rita married Joe, but not on Wednesday. Carla was married on Sunday on the village green. Who did Tess marry?” The major learning from this was that Grandpa needs to (re-)start doing these as well! I loved these as a kid, but I’ve lost the knack. We also worked on ways to present data… How to graph seven different aspects of each of 12 chapters in Roald Dahl’s “Danny the Champion of the World.”

Multi-color line graph anyone?

We visited Science World, a must-stop on each of our visits. Their current featured exhibit is a hall of mirrors… No, you can’t just walk straight ahead in the picture below!

Anyhting but straight!

And Kasper got to be part of the presentation team in a chemistry demonstration!

Shake, shake, shake! What is going to happen?

Vancouver also has many playgrounds scattered around the city…

The young sometimes need (want) help on the swings.
(As do—sometimes—the old(er))
While others do just fine by themselves!
Do you remember your adventures on the monkey bars? I sure do! Mine weren’t this fancy…

Kasper had a birthday very near our visit, and Grandma had a VERY special birthday present ready for him. A handmade robot quilt!

We won’t count the hours…
Happy, and happy!

One of the (many) highlights of our visit was being able to attend Beth’s concert. Celebrating the director’s twenty years with the choir, it was titled simply, “Donna’s Favorites.”

In a surprise ending, a sextet from the choir gave the premiere performance of a commission using Emily Dickinson’s poem, “It’s All I Have to Bring Today” as the text. Set to music by Donna’s favorite composer, Larry Nickel, it is dedicated to Donna Brown.

Our visit ended all too soon; it was time to head to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

But we’ll be back for Christmas! Yea!

Oregon Coast

From Sequoia National Park, we boogied pretty quickly up to the Oregon coast. We wanted to encapsulate this part of the adventure into one post rather than sending several with only a day or two apart, so it is a bit long. Go get a cup of tea or other beverage of your choice.

Here’s what I really wanted the title of this post to be, but it is (way) too long!

The Oregon Coast: Waves, Windy, Winding Roads, Weed…

Let’s get the “Weed” out of the way. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession in 1973, although it didn’t legalize recreational marijuana until 2014—two years after Colorado and California. There are “Cannabis Dispensaries,” “Bud Barns,” and “Pot Shops” everywhere you look. It seems every small town has one or two. No, we didn’t partake.

The Oregon coast is amazingly beautiful. We went up US 101, which runs near the coast—at times, right along it. There are many sea stacks (very large rocks out in the water), which together with frequent cliffs on the shoreline make excellent targets for the waves to crash against. It is frequently very foggy!

Sea stack through the fog
Waves crashing… minute after minute, hour after hour, year after year.

In the sections below, you can paste the latitude and longitude into Google maps to see where we camped…

Gold Beach: 42.536509 -124.396648

We had been advised to check out the area around Gold Beach by many people. We found Honey Bear RV Resort and Campgrounds a little north of there. As we drove in the campgrounds’s driveway, I noticed two small elk in a field. Cool! We decided to have dinner in the campground’s restaurant (is that what makes it qualify as a “resort?” I still don’t understand the distinctions…), and I was carrying my camera with me as I often do in new places. A man came up to us, and asked if we’d like to get some pictures of elk. Of course! Our order had just gone into the kitchen so we had some time.

We followed the man out of the restaurant, down the road a bit, and then he turned and said, “I normally don’t let campers in here, but this is the best place to get elk pictures.” He was the campground owner!

Part of the campground’s herd… wild elk that happen to graze here.

Kathe and I walked down to the beach just before sunset. Our first night on the coast…

Sunset over the ocean. A Pacific Ocean treat.

Gold Beach is just past the north end of the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. Coming north from California, we had decided that we would drive past the sights to get to the campground, and then return south without the trailer on our first day at Honey Bear to see all (OK, “some of”) the scenic pull outs the state has marked. We had divided the coast roughly into fourths, with the idea that we’d day trip up and down the coast from our campsites in order to see the sights. Rocks and water! The same draw that made us love Acadia so much.

Aside… Oregon has a crazy number of State Parks—255, to be exact. Incredibly, 93 of those state parks are along the coast! Granted, many of are very small with some being little more than a parking lot for beach or view access. But fifty seven of them have campgrounds, and we made use of two of them.

The Oregon Beach Bill was signed into law in 1967 and
established a permanent public easement for access and recreation along the ocean shore seaward of the existing line of vegetation, regardless of ownership. A policy soon followed that provided for public access to the 362 miles of beach at regular intervals.

The next day we headed north on the coast for another day of sea-gazing… This brought us past three of the nine lighthouses on the coast, and many more spectacular shore vistas!

Coquille River Light
Arago Light
Cape Blanco Lighthouse

Florence: 43.922106 -124.113042

Dunes… The only sand dunes I had experienced were on the Outer Banks of North Carolina’s shore. They were big! Ummm… Not as big as Oregon’s dunes.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area stretches for over 40 miles, and encompasses 31,500 acres. For part of its stretch near Florence, it is bordered by the Honeyman State Park, our next stop. The dunes near Florence are not the tallest in this huge dune field, so where we saw them they weren’t as tall as in NC. Our particular campsite was backed by a steep, thickly vegetated hillside. I’ll guess it was 50 to 60 feet high. I found a nearby trail and went up. When I got to the top, the other side was sand dunes! We were right on the edge of the recreational area.

Kathe and I hiked into the dunes in another spot a few miles away. There, the dunes were heavily grassed, and the dunes went right down to the beach.

The grasses are now considered an invasive species.

Depoe Bay: 44.860257 -124.04309

They advertise the Sea and Sand RV Park as “Camping on the beautiful Oregon Coast.” They aren’t kidding! Driving to our campsite we thought we were going to drive right into the ocean.

Come ride with us, and remember that we have over seven tons of trailer pushing us down the hill.


We had possibly the best space in the campground (94, if you want to book it). There were no more sites on our door side, so no neighbors there, and we were on the third of three tiers, about 60 feet above the ocean with a completely unobstructed view! Simply amazing. Apparently this site is usually booked a year ahead of time; we had called about a week and a half before, so someone must have just cancelled! Hooray for us! (As we were getting ready to leave, another camper stopped by to tell us that they had just booked the site for this same week, next year…)

Hard not to love this campsite!
This is the life…

There is a downside to camping this near the ocean. The waves make a lot of noise all night. I know… poor me.

Someone turn the waves off! I can’t sleep!

Tillamook: 45.428327 -123.937862

This was the least picturesque stop on our trip up the Oregon coast. There is a large dairy processing plant which produces mostly cheese but also ice cream and yogurt, known locally as “The Cheese Factory.”

“Are you going to the Cheese Factory??” “Have you been to the Cheese Factory?” Everyone in the area wants to know… Apparently it is The Big Thing in the area.

They have an interesting self-guided tour via a glass-walled walkway above the factory floor. I was surprised to learn that it takes less than 24 hours for the milk arriving in the tanker truck to be turned into a block of cheese ready for aging. According to a Tillamook website, the warehouse next door where they age the cheese accounts for about ten percent of the nation’s cheese supply. I guess it is a Big Thing!

Coastal scenery wise, there is a “three capes drive,” which held promise. But most of the time the road was behind trees, and the access to the capes was via hikes of a mile or more. It was cold and raw, and we decided to not hike it.

We did get to one part where we could drive to the shore. We almost got stuck one more time in deep loose sand! Fortunately, we didn’t have the trailer with us this time…

There at the beach we saw these folks having fun on the winds from the ocean hitting the dunes to give them lift.

I’m wishing that it were me up in the parachute! It looks like so much fun…

Wildlife

In addition to the elk, above, we saw sea lions at several locations, as well as large colonies of birds.

Soaking up those rays…
Incoming! Common murres, a relative of the penguin but in the northern hemisphere. Unlike penguins, they can fly!
… and outbound.

Astoria / Fort Stevens:
46.181835 -123.965693

Fort Stevens is the farthest north state park in Oregon, and also the largest. We were in a very nice campground of over 500 sites, which actually had full hookups for RVs: 50 amps, water, and sewer. Sewer hookups are very rare in state parks! We saw another Solitude (our type of trailer) with a different floor plan and much more storage capacity. That—or something like it—might be a next camper… but certainly not this year. We’re just getting this one the way we like it!

The address of the park is on Peter Iredale Rd., which got me wondering… “Who was Peter Iredale?”

Peter Iredale

That was the wrong question. Not who, but what.

The Peter Iredale was a four-masted, steel hulled sailing ship around the turn of the 20th century that carried grain from this area to Australia. (Peter Iredale was one of the owners of the company that owned the ship, so there is also a who—but he’s not the reason that “Peter Iredale” is a common place name in the area.)

The Peter Iredale

The ship was wrecked here during a storm in 1908. Much of her hull was cut up and sold for scrap, but the forward part was left on the beach. Nature will eventually reclaim her, but for now she is an interesting subject for photography.

The steel plating of the hull is gone to scrap, but a small amount of the iron framing remains.

South Jetty

The land currently occupied by Fort Stevens forms the southern portion of the mouth of the Columbia River, a vital, but very dangerous shipping lane.

The geography was constantly changing as storms moved the land, and deposited much of it on the bottom of the channel, increasing the navigational challenges. The area needed to be stabilized.

There were three jettys built by the US Army Corps of Engineers at the mouth of the river, of which the south jetty is one. It was started in 1885, and the whole project of controlling the mouth of the Columbia took 50 years.

The jetty is four and a half miles long and projected into the ocean one mile; at the time of its completion it was the longest in the world. To build it, they had to first build a railroad track on trestles out into the ocean to transport the rocks.

The South Jetty of the Columbia River. It still extends far into the ocean.
Some of the pilings remaining from the many miles long trestle built to create the south jetty.

The Fort

So why is this “Fort Stevens” State Park?

Fort Stevens was the primary installation of three forts guarding the mouth of the Columbia River. The fort saw duty in the Civil War, Spanish-American war, and World Wars I and II. It started as an earthen construction in the Civil War and was enhanced with large concrete installations for several batteries of ten inch rifles by the First World War. Improvements in ship construction (thicker hulls and steel decks) made those guns largely obsolete by WWII, at which point the river was primarily guarded by a mine field comprising up to 148 mines that were electrically controlled from Fort Stevens. (I had assumed that they were contact mines, but not so.)

Fort Stevens holds the distinction of being one of only two places in the continental US to be fired upon by a foreign power. On June 22, 1942, a Japanese submarine fired nine five inch projectiles at the fort. They landed without harm, and the fire was not returned from the fort. Later, the captain of the sub was quoted as saying that if he had known how many large rifles were at the fort, he would not have been anywhere in the area!

The guns are long gone and the emplacements are deteriorating, but some are still open to be wandered in and on.

A gun emplacement; the circular structure allowed aiming the gun through an arc of about 200 degrees.
Fixtures like this one allowed pulling the gun mount to aim it.
The back side of one of the batteries.
A magazine for storing projectiles and powder, immediately below the gun deck.

What’s next?

We have one more stop before we cross into Canada, to visit with Beth, Jon, and the kids. Can’t wait to get there!

We’re starting to plan our travel after we visit with Beth’s family, and are starting to run into problems finding a campground with available space. We had heard about this, but hadn’t experienced it up until now. We’ve plotted our travels up through the second week of June, and now have to slot in the remaining two weeks until our grandsons Graham and Dean join us to visit National Parks in Utah! Lots of possibilities…

Big Mountains, Giant Trees

We’ve left our winter home of Quartzsite, AZ, and are headed north—initially to Vancouver, BC, to visit our daughter Beth’s family. Can’t wait! As much as we enjoyed being in the desert in Quartzsite (thank you BLM!), it is good to be on the road again and seeing new things.

Our second stop was in Three Rivers, CA, just outside the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park, the second National Park (what was the first???). Nestled in the western flank of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the scenery was gorgeous!

There is a downside to being surrounded by mountains… No cell signal. Nada. Zilch. Zip. It made us long for the very slow connectivity in Quartzsite! However, the campsite had a poor WiFi signal—I think through a satellite—so we could occasionally check our mail / Facebook messages. Sigh. We’re addicted to the net.

The restaurant we went to for breakfast was using dial-up to tie into their credit card system. When was the last time you heard the dulcet (!?) tones of a dial-up modem?

The reason for being here was to go into Sequoia NP, so let’s get to it!

The major attraction here is the trees, of course. In terms of volume (mass), the giant sequoias are the largest living trees. Coastal redwoods can grow taller, but they have a smaller diameter, and don’t retain that diameter at higher heights as much as sequoias do. The sequoias are limited in height due to limits on the capillary action which brings water and nutrients up from the root system. The redwoods can take in moisture through their leaves more efficiently, and thus grow higher than capillary action by itself would allow. (The ranger giving the talk accused the redwoods of “cheating!”—he must be a sequoia fan)

Note the building for scale!

We went up into the mountains to see the tree named “General Sherman,” the largest known living tree in the world, in terms of volume. The diameter at the base is greater than 36 feet! And the volume of its trunk is more than 52,000 CUBIC FEET. It is up at around 6,900 feet elevation; getting there was fun. Vehicles over 22 feet long are prohibited from making the drive. Our truck is exactly 22 feet; we can see why longer vehicles are excluded!

Unfortunately, I forgot to dump the dashcam that evening, and the video of the drive got overwritten. However, here are a few pics showing the road.

I don’t want to think about the effort it took to create the road! The designers did an excellent job of siting it; with very few exceptions the road above you is invisible. Looking down (way down), you can occasionally see the path ahead of you.

Yes. That’s road WAAAY down there!
All those sections of road that you can see are one road, back and forth and back and …
A portrait of the artist.

We were particularly taken with this roadside wall construction; it is so different from what we were used to at Acadia!

Smooth, flat walls, with a precise 90° corner to the smooth, flat top.

What were we talking about? Oh, yes. The trees!

General Sherman. World’s largest living tree
Can you find Kathe?

There are 75 known groves of giant sequoias in the world. The adjacent Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks protect “over 30” (NPS statistic) of those groves. (Three more groves are protected in nearby Yosemite NP.) General Sherman is in the grove named Giant Forest, an apt name if ever there was one. It contains 2,161 sequoias with a base diameter of over ten feet.

The sequoias live for a very long time. The ages of General Sherman and “The Sentinel” (near the museum in Giant Forest) are both estimated to be 2,200 years (“plus or minus 600 years,” according to one research article, we were told by a ranger). A page in the Yosemite NP site refers to a sequoia 3,266 years old, but is written in the past tense, so it may not still be living. Yes, you can buy giant sequoia seeds in the gift shop, but you’d better will them to your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren!

The Sentinel—at least, a part of it!
The base of The Sentinel, showing fire damage.

Giant sequoias require fire to reproduce! The fire does two things. It causes the seed cones (should these be called “sequoia cones,” like “pine cones?”) to open and release their seeds, and it removes the debris covering the forest floor so that the seeds can reach the soil and take root. A decades-long policy of complete fire suppression resulted in unhealthy groves with dense underbrush of other trees. That policy has been reversed, allowing some fires to take their natural course; the groves are regaining their health and there are now immature giant sequoias of different ages growing in the forest. There are few trees in the Giant Forest that do not bear signs of fire. Fortunately, they are able to withstand the fires, in part due to a bark that is up to two feet thick.

With a person for scale.
Amazingly, still alive!

A good portion of the park is still closed due to snow. It is hard to believe that only a few days ago we were in the desert, with the temps in the high 80’s. When we drove through the park gate, the ranger told us, “You can’t go through to King’s Canyon. The road is closed due to last night’s avalanche.” Never been told that before!

Speed limit…. BLANK? Let’s go fast!

In addition to the trees, the park has high mountains, deep valleys, and fast flowing streams.

Do they really need to say this?
We’re really both still traveling together!

Before Europeans discovered this area, indigenous people were here. There is at least one site with pictographs; quite possibly more that they don’t tell visitors about.

Pictographs at Hospital Rock

And we found this “community kitchen” fascinating.

Grinding holes worn into the rock in the kitchen
Can you get acorn flower at Whole Foods?

We enjoy visiting parks “out of season;” not only are the crowds thinner (sometimes non-existent), but it also forces you to come back again to see the parts that are currently closed! Lots more to see here.

Our next post will probably be from the Oregon coast… See you there!

More than anywhere else in the world

A short post, for a change…

More than anywhere else in the world is a pretty bold claim. But that is just what Los Algodones, Mexico claims. More dentists in a four-block area (the size of the town center / business district) and more dentists per-capita than anywhere else on the face of the earth. According to one report, more than 350 dentists.

Going from just outside Yuma, AZ to Los Algodones Mexico is fairly simple. You walk through a turnstile. No checks, no passports, no guards (at least no visible guards). We crossed the border just to take a look see; we had nothing in mind that we needed to get there.

I tend to believe the claim about dentists! The montage below is a small sampling of the photos I took of the dental storefronts.

Just SOME of the dentist shop-front signs! Yes, an ad for honey was on one of the dentist signs. Drumming up business?

And it isn’t just dentists. Los Algodones is a mecca for American and Canadian snowbirds, for dentists, drugs (prescription), and glasses (couldn’t think of an alliterative “d” word for vision things). It is said that on a typical winter day, there are more Canadians in Los Algodones than Mexicans. I’m sure that the same could be said for the Americans.

As you can see from the montage, the dentists offer everything from simple cleanings to implants, the optical stores go from vision tests through delivery of the glasses, and in the pharmacies, no prescriptions are apparently needed. We didn’t make use of them (our medicare drug plan is great), but a neighbor here in Quartzsite told us you just tell them what you’re taking. Simply ‘mazing.

The usual caveats apply. Do your homework. Get recommendations. Talk to your doctor about using Mexican drugs. But we know someone who has been using a dentist there for 15 years, and have been told of a retired dentist who goes there (“a friend of a friend,” so apply judgement). Are Mexican cleanings in our future next year? Maybe. Implants? That would take a lot of convincing.

The prices are much, much lower than in the states and Canada, and everything is negotiable. “How much is this?” “Forty dollars.” “Sorry, too much; have a nice afternoon.” “Wait! How much do you want to pay?” And so it begins.

Let me tell you, Kathe is one good bargainer! One item she got was a dollar over half the original price.

Los Algodones has one business: selling to the snowbirds. We happened to go there on the day they were having a “Goodbye and thanks, snowbirds” party. There were tent booths on the streets with free food and booze… and lines… which we didn’t partake of. But they also had a stage with performances by several dance schools. We stayed there for a while.

In addition to the high profile items (dentists, drugs, and glasses), the people of Los Algodones are happy to sell you other things as well! Leather goods, hats, clothes, jewelry, etc. In addition to the stalls on every sidewalk, there are merchants walking the streets and the restaurants offering you items to buy.
“No, thank you.” … “No, thank you.” … “No, thank you.”

“Shoeshine mister? Ten bucks.” “No thanks.” “They need it.” Well, yeah, they did, but I wasn’t in the mood.

Being a geek, one of the things that struck me was the tangle of overhead wires (phone and power). As much as I dislike “telephone” poles and overhead wires in the US, this was overhead wiring of an entirely other order!

We only spent about three hours there; we just wanted to see what all the talk was about. We did have a nice shrimp taco lunch (not all that much cheaper than it would have been in Quartzsite), and then we headed back.

Remember how simple it was to get into Mexico? Well, to come back to the US, we walked across the border, too. But that’s where the similarity ended. Passports, Customs and Border Protection personnel, and a 38-minute line. Can’t complain though. We’re told that later in the day the line can be two hours!

Trivia: Los Algodones is the nickname for Vicente Guerrero. It means “Molar City.”

Sorry, no sunset for this post; we were back in the US and our car by 1:00 PM!

“Paging Dr. Seuss!”

Joshua Tree National Park is a great playground with varied terrain; large portions are covered with myriad granite structures. Some are weathered and rounded, with large smooth (-ish) boulders in the area. Some are jagged with rubble scree at their base instead of the boulders. The geology of the area is complex. From what I’m reading, some of that difference depends on the depth of the magma that was the source. The crystalline structure of much of the granite is quite large and rough; this draws rock climbers from all around the world. We saw many there.

We traveled to Joshua Tree NP with friends James and Gloria, whom we met first at the Grand Design RV Owners’ rally back in January. James is a ham radio operator, so we also went to the Quartzfest gathering together.

The park has two very different ecosystems, the Mojave desert and the Colorado desert; they are distinguished by elevation with the Mojave much higher than the Colorado. Vegetation and animals are different between the two, with the higher Mojave being both wetter and more vegetated, and the Colorado more arid. We spent our first two days in the Mojave desert on the north side of the park, which contains the majority of the Joshua Trees.

The northern part, Mojave desert

The scale of some of the rock formations is hard to get across in pictures, until you see some with people in them. Can you find the four climbers in the picture below? Hint: one of them is the climber in the picture above.

Climbers’ playground! And a nice place for us to pause for lunch and to watch.
No people in this one (to the best of my knowledge!) But trust me; it is big. Larger than the surfaces the climbers were using.
Can you find Kathe?
With rocks like these, who needs a gym???

Joshua trees

Have you ever looked at the trees in Dr. Seuss’ books, such as the cover of The Lorax? It is said that the Joshua trees are the inspiration for his Truffula trees; he lived and worked in the southern California area.

They are oddly shaped! Twisty and gnarly. But oh, so cool to look at.

Kathe and James, both looking for the best picture of this tree.

Technically, Joshua Trees aren’t trees, but related to the agave. They are long lived, typically living several hundred years. The visitor center was selling Joshua Tree seeds and a little, itty-bitty pot to plant them in. Might work, if the person buying them can wait a few hundred years!

We were very lucky to be there while the Joshua Trees were blooming. There are several fairly distinct stages to the bloom cycle.

The lower right picture is a fully formed bloom. Not a usual “flower” structure!
Art in nature!
Joshua tree blooms
Another tree in bloom. It seems to be a young tree, but that’s a guess.

A part of the Mojave desert portion of the park holds a Joshua tree forest. It isn’t a dense forest, but there sure are a lot of Joshua trees!

A view of the forest; the tree in the foreground is blooming.

A few more pictures of scenes from the Mojave part of the park that I just found visually magnetic.

Yes, there is vegetation other than Joshua trees//

Life in the desert is hard. Even for the cholla (CHOY-ah) cacti. The lace-like skeleton of the cholla is interesting.

Do you know the purpose of this mesh-like construction? I don’t. Another year’s free subscription to our blog to whoever dreams up the funniest answer.

But life tries hard to find a foothold! (“roothold”?)

The transition zone

Where the two deserts meet is called the “transition zone.” Overlooking the transition zone is the highest point in the park reachable by vehicle, Keys View.

Looking southwest, toward the Colorado desert. The Coachella Valley in the midground is nearly a mile below us. The dark stripe on the right a little above the midpoint is a section of the San Andreas fault which runs through the valley. Just to the left of the picture is the Salton Sea, at 230 feet below sea level.

Although the transition zone contains animals from both sections, we saw very little wildlife in the park at all, just a few lizards. We’re just as glad that we didn’t see any of the rattlesnakes which are starting to come out as the days grow warmer. (People camping near us in Quartzsite have seen them!)

The Colorado desert

It is possible to drive from the northern part of the park to the southern part through the park but it is an approximately two hour drive due to the speed limit in the park. We opted to pick up our stakes and bring our rigs to the southern entrance, going around the west side of the park. Part of the reason for moving instead of just doing the southern part as a day trip from the north is that this brought us that much closer to “home,” i.e., Quartzsite.

Going around the park that way on I-8 (or, “the 8,” out here) one comes across this.

Think this is a windy stretch of road?

If you’re hauling an RV as we were, you better hope it isn’t a windy day! But we’re really glad to see large wind and solar farms. This one went on for miles; it is the largest we had seen since Texas.

There is a BLM dry camping area immediately outside the park at the southern entrance (the area abuts the park). This turned out to be one of the prettiest places we have ever camped, with desert flowers blooming right alongside our camper and all around us, and mountains in the background. We would go back there in a heartbeat!

Desert lupine, smaller than the kind we have in Maine. Nice campsite!

The southern part of the park has few Joshua Trees. Being more arid, the main vegetation here is various types of cacti. The main draw there, especially this time of year, is the desert bloom—at least it was for us.

This has been an exceptional year for the bloom.  We didn’t go to two highly reported areas, one near Tucson and one in Southern California where the authorities had to close a town of 60,000 people when 100,000 people tried to come photograph the flowers one Sunday.

But Joshua Tree was really pretty!

Fields of flowers in the desert.

The Cholla Garden

“Be careful! They’ll jump out at you and attack you!” Gloria warned us as we were getting out of the car at the Cholla (CHOY-ah) Garden section of the park.

The Cholla Garden

“Yeah. Ha ha ha ha.” That’s me, of course. (You’d think I would have learned by now…)

Cholla are well guarded, but those needles are for transportation, not protection!

Cholla cacti spread by dropping small sections to the ground which then take root. The dropped sections are transported by passing animals, including those of the homo sapiens variety. See all those needles? Barbed!

I was walking through the garden being careful to not brush against cacti. Then the wind blew a small dropped section against my boot. Instantly about twenty needles were stuck in the leather (thank goodness that I wasn’t wearing sandals or even regular low shoes)! Did I mention that the needles are barbed? Trying to pull the needles out of my boot’s heavy leather simply resulted in them breaking off.

The cholla bloom isn’t a typical flower.

We really enjoyed our three days in JTNP. There is much more to do there, including several hikes we’d like to take. We’ll be back.

So closes another portion of our adventure. We wish you the best on your own adventure through life, whatever it may be!

Camping is tough when you have to put up with scenes like this every evening! The view from our BLM campsite south of Joshua Tree NP.

Sunrise, Sunset: swiftly FLY the days

Each sunset marks another day of our adventure together.

Al: “I retired seven months ago today.”

Kathe: “That’s not possible!”

We’ve been living here on the desert for over three months. The time has gone by so quickly. We are now starting to plan our spring and summer travel; it is almost time to leave.

We’ve come to love it here on the desert. At our own choosing, we can be quiet or busy—with friends or on our own.  And, with apologies to all our family and friends still in the colder climes, the weather hasn’t been too bad, either!

Palm Canyon

Last week, we went with some friends to Palm Canyon, in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. According to this, it is the last place in Arizona that California palm trees grow in their native environment. A nice one-mile in-and-out walk, it was our first time up actually near the mountains that surround us.

Entrance to the NWR: Several miles down a dirt road.
We’re walking back in there! The start of the Palm Canyon trail, yet several more miles down the dirt road.
Kathe, on the trail!
Surrounded by the remains of volcanos

A comment I had read on the net said that the viewing point was a half mile up the trail, but that the palms themselves could be reached in an additional third of a mile “up a fairly steep trail.”

Yeah. Got rope?

At the viewing point.
“Up a fairly steep trail.” Yeah.
A closer view. Longer lens; we didn’t go toward the palms past the viewing point!

The desert is greening up. We’ve apparently had an unusually large amount of rain this winter. A person we met on the trail said that in a normal year, this scenery would be brown.

Not lush like in non-desert areas, but there is green there!

And we’re starting to see some flowers blooming. We hope to see more of the “desert bloom” when we go to Joshua Tree National Park in California for a few days this week.

The “ghost flower” (Mohavia Confertiflora). The petals are translucent!

Et cetera

So what else have we been doing these “desert days?” Some of it we’ve written about before, like Kathe’s quilting, the rock and gem shows, and our trip to visit Mike’s family over Christmas.

Out of town

We had been warned that for a few weeks in January Quartzsite is an overcrowded madhouse with long lines, terrible traffic in town and so on due to multiple rock and gem shows, and a big RV show. Additionally, the population on the LTVA (BLM’s Long Term Visitors Area), where we are living, swells. We wanted to avoid all that humanity if we could.

Fortunately in addition to the LTVA, the BLM has six “fourteen day” camping locations in the Quartzsite area. These sites have no services whatsoever, but are free to camp in for 14 days. After that you have to leave for at least fourteen days. If you want to continue to use free BLM land in that time period, you must move at least 25 miles away.

We were fortunate that we had two back-to-back events at a fourteen day area three miles farther out of town than we normally reside: a (yes, another) Grand Design RV owners’ rally, and a ham radio gathering, “Quartzfest.” These allowed us to avoid the worst of the Q-crush. Just to experience the big RV show in town we did ride our bikes there one afternoon; no way we were going to try to drive in and find a parking space. For all the hype surrounding the “big tent” show, we were unimpressed.

Quilt Show!

We had fun helping with the Quartzsite Quilt Show put on by the local quilting group Kathe is part of! I helped set up (and tear down) the exhibit space, and Kathe was busy before, during, and after the show. The quilts were quite impressive.

“Wolf Maiden” by Janet Nieuwenhoff. More than 68,000 1/4-inch squares.
“Hummingbird” by Kathy Chesher
“Running Free” by Kathy Chesher and granddaughter Kaylee Wilcox
“Storm at Sea” by Cara Osmin

Road Trip: Yuma

We spent a week in the Yuma area, staying at BLM’s Imperial Dam LTVA in California with “blast from the past” friends, Henk and Mary.

Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912; Yuma had Arizona’s first prison, in use from 1876 to 1909. A portion of the prison, now called the “Territorial Prison,” is preserved as a state park (part was long ago demolished to make way for a railroad line). There is a museum with many displays about prison life. One showed interesting information about the prisoner demographics; some that stuck out to me were that most of the prisoners were considered to be literate, and virtually all used tobacco of one form or another.

Entrance sally port into the prison.
Some of the timeline stones…
The original cell block. The doors had a second identical grate about 18″ inside; the two were interlocked so that it was impossible to open both at the same time. Only a few of the cells still have this mechanism intact.
The “new” cell block. The interlocked double-gate mechanism seen in the old cell block did not seem to be used here. (Remember, the prison was shut down in 1909.)

The territorial prison had enlightened leadership. From one of the museum displays:

The Prison had more modern amenities than most homes in Yuma, and Yumans resented that.

  • Electricity
  • Forced Ventilation
  • Sanitation, including two bathtubs and three showers
  • A library with 2,000 books, the most in the Territory at the time
  • Enlightened, progressive administration
  • Even a Prison Band!

Some of the cells are open to enter, and, of course, pretend to lock your friend in!

Each cell housed twelve inmates, and was exposed to the weather. Note the steel bunks. Ouch!
Prisoner Al!

From Yuma, Kathe went to Corning to play Grandma Lobster, giving Mike and Laurelyn the opportunity to travel during school vacation week. While Kathe was gone, I went to another ham radio gathering in Yuma.

By the time we got back to Quartzsite it was obvious that the exodus had begun. The desert is emptier again; so is the town. People have started heading north preparing the way for us.

Sunrises and Sunsets

One of the advantages of living on the desert is the essentially unrestricted view of the horizon, especially compared to New England. We have been (usually!) waking up before sunrise, and have gotten in the habit of looking for the sunrise, and again for the sunset every day.

Click on any of the pictures below to see them all as a slideshow of larger versions, and remember you can always right click on any picture in our blog and choose “open image in new tab” or similar, to see the largest resolution that we uploaded..

One other thing…

Drum roll please! When we set out on our adventure, we told ourselves that we would try RV “full-timing” for a year before deciding whether to sell our house on Mount Desert Island.

Well, it hasn’t been a year, but we’ve made the decision! We want to continue this adventure for the foreseeable future, so we will be putting the house on the market this summer. We’ll fly back to MDI to take care of all that has to be done to get a house ready for new occupants.

That’s about it for now. Life has been fairly quiet so we haven’t been posting frequently. Rest assured that as we start to travel again we’ll be keeping you up to date with the activities of your favorite lobsters!