Wandering (Wondering?) Our Way to South Dakota

So, I bet you are all wondering, “What the hell happened to that Gauvreau blog thing?”  Good question.  Let’s just say that the intensity of posting most of last year got to me and I needed a vacation.

Or something…

Anyhow, for what ever reason for being gone, it’s back again.  Big yip, huh?

So, we are starting off by going w-a-y back to last September, when we began our next big adventure, heading off to South Dakota and the goal of seeing Mt. Rushmore.  So, here we go…

IMG_3585

We left our home in Silver Lake, Washington, on September 13, 2016, kicking off a 4-week trip to South Dakota. Our first stop was in Walla Walla, Washington, probably best known for the large herds of (now-extinct) Walla Walla’s that roamed the surrounding hills, eons ago. Today it is best known for over-rated $14 martini’s at a local bar, and an RV park run by an insane woman. Oh, and the chickens there are mighty big, too…


After leaving Walla Walla, we stopped in Spokane where we visited our little niece and nephew, Kim and Selby. We always have a great time with these two characters. We closed down the bar in the Elks Lodge one night; the 2nd night we headed out for dinner to a great place on the river, where Selby managed to eat something that disagreed with him – a lot. Enough so to cause them to miss our planned 3 days of camping with them in Montana. Even so, they did manage to drive over to see us for a few hours.


We ran across this odd truck on Highway 84, on the way to Walla Walla. I talked to the driver, who told me that is was a prototype design for Freightliner that he was testing. The complex graphic is actually make up of a peel-and-stick (no kidding…) material design to mask the lines of the truck. I guess…at least that’s what he told me.


With our (really) old buddies, Steve and Linda McCullough – from high school and college times. They took us ATVing up in the hills above Townsend, Montana. We spent a great 2 daze with them – such good friends and wonderful hosts. Charlie greatly appreciated their charming hospitality, at least the 2 lbs. of raw roasts that he swiped off their kitchen counter and ate all in one sitting. Oh, and Steve makes a MEAN martini.


With Steve and Linda, at an old cabin about 15 miles back in the hills. We had a great trip back there and it capped a super-fun day…only to be bested by Steve’s martini’s once we returned to their house; they have a full bar in the garage, and in the kitchen, and in the den, and in the living room and on the deck. You don’t need to walk for a drink when you visit.


Life would not be complete without a stop in Butte, Montana, where we had a great visit with our old Modesto friends and neighbors, Ed and Betty Banderob. Butte is the consummate mining town, and Ed is a veritable font of information about the entire area, since both he and Betty grew up there, and their families go back generations. We were really lucky to have Ed drive us around town in his old, but mint condition, Cadillac. What a treat! Such great hosts!


A tunnel under an open-pit mine access road, Butte, Montana. It led from a visitor information center to a viewpoint.


One of many abandoned mining ‘gallows’ in Butte. This one is fairly contemporary; many are decades old. All are part of the colorful history of the town.


Dee Dee just after we arrived at Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming. A cold, nasty day…we had this magnificent view all to ourselves.


Another view of Devil’s Tower the next day, complete with buffalo and a Texas Longhorn.


We hiked up and around Devil’s Tower. This is a view from the base of the Tower, looking back towards our campground. Close as a crow flies, but several miles by car. Did you ever see the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind?” Portions of it really were filmed at Devil’s Tower. The production company was based at this campground.


And yet still another view of Devil’s Tower, taken from the trail around the base. You can’t see them here, but there were about a dozen or so climbers up there.


On the way down from our 3.5 mile hike around Devil’s Tower. There was a beer waiting just outside the frame…


After about two weeks of traveling, with many stops, we finally made it Hill City, South Dakota, our base camp for a week while we explored the area: Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Sturgis, Deadwood, and surrounding towns. This campground was a great central location; it had only 6 spaces, and 2 of them were occupied by work-campers who maintained the grounds and took care of several cabins on the grounds. It was a perfect location and the guy who runs the place is a total delight.


After almost 2 weeks on the road, Dee Dee and the Boyz are taking a much-needed break.


Dee Dee’s scratched one off her Bucket List when we arrived at Mt. Rushmore! This was the goal of the trip, and we made it. By the way, if you have seen the iconic Hitchcock movie, “North by North West,” part of it was filmed here…but don’t expect to see anything remaining from that time, except for the mountain. No longer can you drive right up to a viewpoint. You are now required to park ($11, no discounts) in a seven-story parking garage and walk about 1/2 mile to the viewpoint. The National Park Service has done a good job in developing the area. You do pay to park (no choice), but entry to the Monument is still free.


After Mt. Rushmore, we visited the privately (tribal) operated Crazy Horse Monument. This is a bigger-than-life-size mock-up sculpture located in the expansive visitor’s center. Work on this monument is largely funded by private resources and donations. It’s been going on for 2 generations and it is anticipated that it will not be completed for several more. In other words, your kid’s kid’s kid’s kid’s may be lucky to see the final product. it is really unbelievable what is going into the development of this area…not just the Monument, but also an expansive regional educational center. Has to be seen to be believed.


Us at Crazy Horse Monument. You can see they have a l-o-n-g way to go before it is completed.


One of the many breweries and wineries in the Hill City area. No shortage of beer here. Lucky for us, we were here at the tail-end of the tourist season. Many businesses were literally within a few days of closing down for the winter. Things really start to taper off after October 15th.


We made it to Sturgis! Not much going on, but at least we have the picture of the Harley Dealership to prove we made it. And yes, we did get t-shirts.

There is a magnificent motorcycle museum in Sturgis. Totally supported by private funds and donations. If you are into bikes, and in the area, this place is not to be missed.

This is one of the many great exhibits in the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum. They had a whole series of Honda’s from 50cc circa 1964 scooters to contemporary Gold Wings. I owned a Honda 305 Super Hawk just like this one, in 1968. It was a great bike. Still miss it.


A portion of a Big Round Thing, on display in Leadville. It was part of a very important project, related more to nuclear science that mining. It just forget what it was part of… The diameter was over 15 feet.


Fall colors in a magnificent canyon between Deadwood and Sturgis. We were there at absolutely prime time.


“Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the ANTELOPE play…” This was taken near a small town in Wyoming. Dee Dee and I were sitting in a local bar having a beer and we told a guy sitting next to us about this herd. “No way,” says he. “Antelopes (sic) have been extinct for over 200 years.” So much for local knowledge.


Storage silos, near Wall, South Dakota. We stopped at the famous Wall Drug (immediately behind where I was standing to take this pic.) It was OK. Great for kids. It’s still a monster tourist trap.


A herd of mountain sheep, blocking the road on the way to Badlands National Park, in Wyoming, about a 125 mile drive from our base camp in Hill City and about 100 miles from Rapid City, South Dakota. No, they (the sheep) are not as yet extinct, but then again, we did not inquire with the locals to be sure…


Entering Badlands National Park, just like the sign says…


Badlands National Park is a small, but immensely spectacular place. The geological formations were amazing. You could spend days here wandering around, exploring. You can actually meander through the entire park in about 2 hours, it’s that small. We were lucky, again, to be here in early October: good weather and few other visitors. It was a great time to be there.


More Badlands…


And even more Badlands…


…and here we leave you with a magnificent view of a portion of Badlands National Park. You have the bench all to yourself. Badlands National Park was the end of our long journey eastward, from our home in Washington to South Dakota.


The way home was not as enjoyable as the trip out. The end of good fall weather was upon us, and winter was rapidly setting in. We encountered nothing but wind and rain all the way back home. Many visitor places, such as RV parks and other campgrounds were closing down or were already closed, on the route home (South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington.)

But we made it just fine, and our RV managed to survive the trip with no major problems or breakdowns. (We did have it service by a Freightliner dealer in Rapid City, South Dakota, while we were there.) We arrived home about mid-October, got unpacked, did some work around the place, and then took off again about 10 days later, headed for a 3-month gig as campground hosts at Death Valley National Park, and then some travels in Nevada and Arizona, capped by 10 days in delightful Puerto Penasco, Mexico.

But that’s the next installment of the Blog…stay tuned…

Maravilloso, encantador, amable Puerto Penasco, Mexico!

Maravilloso, encantador, amable Puerto Penasco!

(Translation: Wonderful, delightful, friendly Puerto Penasco, Mexico!)

Un saludo a nuestros lectores dle blog! Esperamos que disfrute de esta ultima (#7) la publicacion de los viajes de este ano…

(Translation: Greetins to our blog readers!  We hope you enjoy this last (#7) posting of this year’s travels.)

Dinosaurs

Wild dinosaurs still roam the desert near Gila Bend, Arizona. We were fortunate to find these fine species near the Shell Station as we were filling Das Boot with gas.

Playa Bonita Entrance

Entrance to the Play Bonita RV Resort in Puerto Penasco, Mexico. We spent 10 delightful days here and plan to return again, this time for a month, in February, 2017,

As you many have read in our last Blog installment, our travel plans changed whilst we were staying in Benson, Arizona.  As it turns out, this may have been one of the VERY BEST travel adjustment we have ever made!

Charlie Howling

The first day of our arrival in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, Charlie bolted for the beach and sat there, howling in delight! It took about 5 days for his stitches (see last blog installment) to heal. He finally got to enjoy a few days running in the waves. Wahoo!

To make a long story short (well, sorta short), we ended up with this Winnebago-sponsored group of travelers on a caravan to Puerto Penasco, Mexico. We all (36 coaches of various sizes and shapes, almost all Winnebago) met in early February, in Gila Bend, Arizona, for a dinner and orientation.  We met a lot of wonderful people there, many of whom, as the 10-day trip progressed, became some new and very good friends.  (We learned once again not to rely on first impressions.  Many of those changed as we got to know people better.)

Winnie Pano

Our site in the Play Bonita RV Resort was about 75 feet from the beach. There were 36 coaches in our group. All very cool folks.

Anyhow’s, we traveled as a well-healed ‘pack’ and all got across the border (Lukeville, AZ/Sonoyta, Mexico) with minimal hassles by the kind and friendly Mexican Border Guards. Another 65 miles south of the Border, we landed in our very nice, almost-beach-front site at the Playa Bonita RV Park, which is conveniently attached to a nice hotel and beach-front BAR (an important factor for about 95% of this crew.)

Sue and Jerry

Our 2 most excellent trip leaders – Jerry and Sue, along with their neat aussie, Cooper. He and Charlie became best buds. Our 2 assistant leaders (not pictured) were Paul and Kathy. Also the very best!

Our professional hosts handled all the important marshalling details, border crossings, some meals and entertainment, RV Park arrangements, parking, etc. It was all a total piece of cake, thanks to all 4 of these fine folks.  And if you have heard that Mexico is dangerous and not a good place to be, forget it.  Our TOTAL experience was filled with friendly, helpful, smiling people.  We felt welcome and respected.  (And the drinks were cheap, too!)  Better yet, Puerto Penasco – although only 65 miles south of the Border, FEELS like Mexico – border and almost-border towns like Tijuana, Ensenada, Tecate, etc. all pale by comparison.

Within 4 hours of our arrival, Dee Dee and I had already committed to return next February for a month…this place is THAT GOOD. We made a deposit and then headed for the bar.  And once again, we beat all 65 of the others to Happy Hour.  We always strive for excellence!

Dee Dee and Sand Dollar Pickers

Dee Dee looking for sand dollars on the beach near Cholla Bay. A magnificent day to be out (but weren’t they all…?) Dee Dee scored several great finds.

The 10 days there found us with many beach walks (Charlie’s most favorite thing), a sunset cruise, sand-dollar picking about 10 miles up the beach at Cholla Bay, walking around the Malecon (Old Port) Plaza, shopping and bargaining with the locals – in the many shops off- and on-the beach, eating at several fine restaurants, playing golf at a magnificent Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course near the Mayan Palace development about 25 miles south of town, etc. Did I mention drinking?  Pardon my exclusion…

Pacifico Can

One of the GREATEST discoveries we made in Mexico was Pacifico in CANS. Never have seen that before. Before we left, there were no more to be found…anywhere. Really.

This ‘tour’ was actually a non-tour. Our hosts got us there and got us back to the States safely and trouble-free.  There were very few scheduled activities except for a daily Happy Hour and six SUPERB meals.  Other than that, you did what you wanted, when you wanted to do it.  Trips, tours etc. were done almost on-the-fly, and you could participate if you were interested.  If you wanted to sit on the beach all day long and suck down Pacifico’s, you could.

Bloody Mary's

Every day started, and most certainly ended, like this. Times like this are what stick and get you coming back…

We met some amazing, incredible, (generally) friendly folks. Many became fast future friends.  Many were from the Mid-West; being the compassionate people we are, we forgave them for that – Republicans or not.  (The ‘Bernie’ sticker on our RV was a point of much discussion.)

So, here we are back in California, on our way north to home in Silver Lake, Washington, wishing we were back in lovely Puerto Penasco. We will be counting the daze until next February 6, when we will be there again.

As usual, and assuming you even bothered to read the above (we have found most of our readers to be visual learners), following are some pics and captions.

Adios y mejores deseos, amigos!

Drink Bill

Our first bar tab – 3 jumbo (double) margarita’s for 180 pesos…$12. No wonder we drink…

 

Us with Steve and Mona Liza

With our new and very good friends, Steve and Mona Liza. We had some great times with them…a couple of characters, just like us.

Randy and Karen

Some more good buddies we made – Randy and Karen – really fun people. We liked them, even though they like Ted Cruz. We all can’t be perfect…

Dee Dee and Hats

Dee Dee doing her favorite thing in life – trying on hats. We bought a lot of stuff from local vendors on the beach in front of our campground. Everyone was soooo friendly, smiling all the time.

Beach Hat People

Portrait of all the ‘Hat People.’ So friendly, and so shy.

Matt and Gloria

This is Matt and Gloria, from Edmonton, Alberta. Matt was a total hoot and so much fun to be around. Gloria was his antithesis, but clearly the one in charge. You always knew when Matt was in the area…believe me!

Shy Taco Guy

The cook at Cabo Taco, an excellent tacos-only place we found. No one spoke English and the menu’s were only in Spanish. Amazing fare, ‘really real,’ and inexpensive. This fellow was extremely shy and would not look up for the picture. A fine young man, indeed.

Dirt Mall Wall Detail

Entering a local place called ‘The Dirt Mall’ (because the road running through it used to be dirt.) Lots of really good shops here – mainly tourist stuff, but if you looked hard you could find some treasures.

Dirt Mall Pots 2

Pots at the Dirt Mall.

Dirt Mall shop guys

Shop owner and employee at this very cool place we found at The Dirt Mall. Super friendly and we think they gave us a good deal…”For you, Senior, very cheap – almost free!”

Wood Carver Guy

An excellent woodworker we met on the beach in front of the Playa Bonita Bar. Extremely skilled (45 years a woodworker) and very shy. We bought this excellent carved ironwood pelican from him. We feel honored to own his work.

Whalebone Spine

Whale spine detail at the Land And Sea Center a bit south of town. En excellent endeavor to sustain the local flora and fauna.

Ugly Fish at CEDO

A species of fish on the endangered species list. Sorry, but I forgot the name. Found at The Land And Sea Center.

Roman the Condo Guy

This is Roman, a cool guy we met at the ‘free’ parking lot near the Malecon. Roman was selling condos at the Mayan Palace, which is located about 25 miles south of town. A neat guy, low pressure and friendly. Cool dude.

Dee Dee and Mr. Fish

Dee Dee and ‘Mr. Fish,’ who ran a fish stand on the Malecon. Extremely friendly – lots of people we met got stuff from him. We ended up with 6 pounds of jumbo shrimp and 3 pounds of scallops. All very fresh.

Harbor Dredge Pipe

The harbor in Puerto Penasco requires constant dredging. This tailings pipe ran from the harbor, around a point and back about 500 feet above the high tide line. It was about 16 inches in diameter.

Kites

Extreme kite flying on (as you can see) and extreme weather day. On the beach in front of our camp site.

Brian at Rey Sol Resturant

One morning we stopped for breakfast at the Rey Sol restaurant, on the way out to the Malecon. We always chat it up with waiters to find out their name and what they know about the area. Usually we encounter people with names like Jose, Roberto, Juan, Pablo, Jamie, Jesus, Estaban, etc. Meet Brian.

Boat Guy and Dee Dee

Dee Dee and the boat captain on the sunset cruise we took. (Seen one, seen them all…) Neat guy, crappy margaritas. No buzzzzz….

Beach T-Shirt Guy

The t-shirt guy, on the beach in front of our camp site. We bought two. Got really good deal, “For you Senior, very cheap…almost free…”

Dirt Mall Frogs

Frog pots at The Dirt Mall.

Beach Mobile Guy

The Mobile Guy, on the beach in front of our camp site.

Beach Table Guy

This guy made some beautiful hand-painted snack tables. We bought one. (Hell, we ended up buying A LOT of stuff on the beach.) All of it ‘A very good deal. Very cheap…almost free…”

Beach Scene

Late evening clouds and beach, in front of our camp site.

Steve and Monkey

Our new friend, Steve, with his latest beach-purchase. Never buy anything when you have been drinking…

Playa Bonita Resturant Head

You guessed it…then men’s restroom in the Playa Bonita bar…

Nick and Karen

More new friends, Nick and Karen, from Morro Bay. Funny and fun.

Gol Guys

My great golfing buddies when we all played the superb Jack Nicklaus course about 25 miles south of town – Terry, me, Doug and Dave…very cool guys.

Dirt Mall Pots 1

More stuff found at The Dirt Mall.

Us with Bev and Marilyn

Once we got back to Yuma, we met up with some long-time RV friends, Marilyn and Bev. We ALWAYS have such a fun time with these folks. We manage to cross paths every year, or so.

Big Ass Pipe in Gila Bend

I just could not leave out the photograph of this GIANT pipe I discovered in the Shell gas station parking lot in Gila Bend. It just looked very cool.

Moonrise ofver Beach

And finally, what a way to end this Blog but with a ‘Moon Rise Over The Beach and Ocean, Puerto Penasco, Mexico.” El Solongo, mis amigos…

NOLA: Nada

Hola!

When you are travelling for any length of time, measured either in the number of years you have done it, and/or the length of time you have allowed for a given trip, two of the fundamental concepts that should be at the top of your ‘whatever’ list are, ‘always expect the unexpected,’ and ‘roll with the punches.’

Things were going pretty much according to plan for us on this trip (well, more or less…) until we arrived in Benson, AZ. It was there that our travel plans changed.  It was actually all for the best, because Dee Dee, Charlie, Marshall Dylan and I are pretty independent and once we were back on our own.  We took the time to re-evaluate our initial travel plans to go as far as Lafayette and New Orleans, LA, and decided that going another 3500 miles (round trip) and dealing with what could very well have been some really snotty weather, was maybe not the best idea.

As we were drinking a beer and contemplating our next move, we got an email from WIT (Winnebago International Travelers – we are members) advising us they had some last minute cancellations for a 10-day trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico, and they were looking for people to fill the spots. YEAH!  So we immediately called them, but too late…they were already filled.  We were pretty bummed.  But, the story has a happy ending: they opened up a few extra spots and we got in.  YAHOO.

OK, now for the not-so-good stuff. I was taking Charlie out for an evening constitutional and noticed a black ‘something’ hanging from his butt.  At first it looked like a residual turd, but upon closer inspection it looked a like hemorrhoid that appeared to be bugging him.  We found a wonderful vet in Benson who got us in, and just in time.  To make a long story short, they got him in for surgery a few days later and removed it, and another (fatty) growth on one of his rear legs.  Turns out that first growth was cancerous, but they said they thought they got all of it.  We still have to watch him for a re-occurrence.

About a week later we were in Dateland, AZ, visiting some friends and noticed that one of the incisions had torn open (probably due to him licking the dissolving stitches.) Once again we found another great vet (we had to drive into Yuma) who got him in right away and closed up the wound.  Poor guy.  He never wants to see another vet again…all this has totally freaked him out.  Fortunately, Charlie found a job at Walmart as a canine greeter – $5/hour and all the kibble he wants.  He should have his credit paid off in about 3 years.

OK, those are the high/low points since our last installment. While waiting to depart for Mexico on February 9, we have visited some really great places:  Bisbee (where we DID NOT see the famous Juan Alvarez) and Douglas, Roper Lake State Park (near Safford, AZ), where we also drove over to New Mexico and blasted through Lordsburg (OK, that did suck) and then back into Arizona.  After we finally left Benson (after staying for a month in the same place), we headed for West Tucson and stayed near Old Tucson and the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.  In our (humble) opinion, Old Tucson was pretty much a waste of time and VERY expensive.  The Desert Museum was magnificent – we spent all day there and experienced about 10% of what there was to see.  And, we really learned a lot.  I thought we were fairly experienced ‘desert rats’, but discovered we had a lot more to learn about flora and fauna.

After 3 days there (where we scoped out some places to maybe stay longer-term next year as we really liked what the Tucson area has to offer), we headed off for a 125 mile windy drive on very narrow road to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (about 5 miles from Lukeville and the US/Mexican border) . Let me tell you that we have travelled to many places over the years and this place has to be among the top 3 we have ever experienced.  It’s magnificent!  Small, uncrowded, with incredible scenery.  The campground is well laid-out and every spot has an amazing view.  It’s totally dry camping (with very restrictive generator hours), but for old geezers like us, with our Senior Pass, entry is free and camping is $8/night.  You can’t beat that.

As I type this missive, we are parked in a fairly decent KOA (as far as KOA’s go) in Gila Bend, AZ, where all the other ‘Winnies’ in our travel caravan are marshalling for our departure tomorrow (February 9) down Highway 85 to Lukeville and then on to Puerto Penasco. It’s a one day, 160 mile, trip.

OK, as usual there are lots of pics for your viewing pleasure. Our next installment, hopefully documenting our time south of the border, should hit when we are back in the ‘States.  We plan to hang out in Yuma for a few days, visiting friends, and then meander back North to Washington, via Modesto to visit our many old and good friends.

Open Pit Mine

Open pit copper mine, Bisbee, AZ

Mine Detail

Excavation detail, open pit copper mine, Bisbee, AZ.

RV at Roper Lake

Our campsite at Roper Lake State Park, near Safford, AZ.

Flying Birds at Roper Lake

Flock of birds starting to roost in trees, dusk, Roper Lake State Park. I sat and watched hundreds of these birds descend on this and other surrounding trees. And – I KID YOU NOT – that night on TV I watched a re-run of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds.’ Sorta creeped me out…

Flying Birds and Roper Lake

Roper Lake State Park, near Safford, AZ.

Dylan

Marshall Dylan getting his heath certificate so he can travel to Mexico. Most excellent, friendly and compassionate staff at the Benson Animal Hospital. He is working on meowing in Spanish.

Charlie Collar

Charlie is not happy about his anti-lick collar. ‘Zen’ it is not…

Stanfords

With our friends Ed and Sharon Stanford, at dinner in Benson, AZ.

Horse Nose

We made a new friend in Old Tucson. We would have taken him home with us, but he would not fit through the door of our RV.

Horse Meeting

Horse meeting, plotting the overthrow of all cowboys. Old Tuscon, AZ.

Dee Dee in Coffin

Dee Dee was arrested, then shot by this handsome cowboy. We had to leave her there to be embalmed. (OK, not really…)

Dee Dee and High Chaparral

Set of the TV show, The High Chaparral, Old Tucson.

Stuntmen

Cowboy stuntman, Old Tucson. They put on a pretty good show. Very funny guys. At least their guns were not loaded…not the case in Tombstone.

Gila Monster

Gila Monster, Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.

Desert Museum Guide

Our fascinating tour guide at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. This guy really knew his stuff.

Backlit Yucca

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum – yucca plant.

Barrell Cactus and Palo Verde

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum – barrel cactus and palo verde tree.

Us With Chappell

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – with our friend John Chappell.

Teddy Bear and Ocotillo

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – teddy bear cholla and ocotillo tree.

Teddy Bear and Desert

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – teddy bear cactus.

Saguaro Foreground and Background

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – saguaro and organ pipe cactus.

Saguaro Close Up

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – saguaro cactus detail.

Organ Pipe and Cholla

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – saguaro and organ pipe cactus.

Dusk Organ Pipe Group

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – organ pipe cactus.

Cholla and Saguaro

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – teddy bear cholla and saguaro cactus.

Ocotillo Maze

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – leaving ocotillo cactus.

challenge2

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – cholla cactus.

Blooming Odd Saguaro

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – blooming, distinguished, saguaro cactus.

Saguaro in Center

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument – saguaro cactus statues.

John and Betty

With our friends John and Betty, near Dateland, AZ.  (See what happens when you have a finger print on the lense of your iPhone camera?  Instant soft-focus.)

Salmon

Getting ready to poach some of the salmon we caught last summer near Tokeland, WA. Near Dateland, AZ, with our friends John and Betty Gallagher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Las Vegas, Legends and Whiskey Lickers

Panorama of our companion RV's, Furnace Creek Campground, Death Valley National Park

Panorama of our companion RV’s, Furnace Creek Campground, Death Valley National Park.

Our last exciting chapter left us still in the depths of Death Valley National Park, known to many at ‘The Magical Place.’  Gary whipped up a great Walmart Special turkey breast in his convection microwave (it was remarkably good) and Dee Dee made smashed potatoes (originals from our garden), gravy, peas (also from our garden) and a salad.  Wahoo.  I brought the wine and the Bloody Mary’s and the screwdrivers and the string cheese.  The weather cooperated and the afternoon was delightful; we ate outdoors on a picnic table, next to a roaring fire.  Lots-o-fun.

Gary, Bob and Dee Dee - Thanksgiving dinner in Death Valley

Gary, Bob and Dee Dee – Thanksgiving dinner in Death Valley.

Ricing bikes, Furnace Creek Campground, Death Valley National Park

Ricing bikes, Furnace Creek Campground, Death Valley National Park.

Our very friendly waitress at diner in Beatty, Nevada

Maria, our very friendly waitress at a diner in Beatty, Nevada.

Waiter and bus-boy at diner in Beatty

Jim, the waiter and bus-boy at a diner in Beatty, Nevada.

Cook in the diner where we had a terrific lunch, Beatty, Nevada

Miguel, the cook in the diner where we had a terrific lunch, Beatty, Nevada.

We took a day trip up to Beatty, Nevada, where we (once again) raided the Beatty Nut and Candy Company, and then had a really fine lunch at the little diner where we had eaten several times before.  I should qualify this by saying that at one time it WAS a really good Mexican restaurant, then changed hands and went all to hell, then, about 4 years ago, a new family took it over and it is now back to being beyond good – and they still serve good Mexican food.  Remarkable.  Great cook, great service.  Highly recommend; it’s located at the ‘Y’ headed south on Highway 95, just on the edge of town (sorta across from the newer RV park.)

Mr. Roadrunner, near Furnace Creek, Death Valley

Mr. Roadrunner, near Furnace Creek, Death Valley.  Friendly dude with almost no fear of humans…wonder why?

Furnace Creek Post Office, Death Valley National Park

Furnace Creek Post Office, Death Valley National Park.

Warning signs marking big-ass drop off, near Rhyolyte, Nevada (just outside of Death Valley National Park)

Warning signs marking big-ass drop off, near Rhyolyte, Nevada (just outside of Death Valley National Park.)

Old bank building, Rhyolyte, Nevada

Façade of old bank building, Rhyolyte, Nevada.

The Bob and Rudolf's brother, Beatty Nut and Candy Company, Beatty, Nevada

The Bob and Rudolf’s brother, Ned, Beatty Nut and Candy Company, Beatty, Nevada

We also stopped at Rhyolyte, a defunct mining town that was home to over 8,000 people in the early part of the 20th century.  It pretty much closed down after the 1908-1910 financial crash.  It had several banks, a Union Hall, train station, churches, assy offices, many restaurants and the requisite number of bustling brothels.  It’s also home to a very intact ‘bottle house’ that has been successfully restored after being ravaged by mindless vandals over the years.  The first time I visited it (the bottle house) was in 1969, in the middle of winter, on a road trip with 2 hippie buddies (Jim Barnaby and Jim Warren) from Ellensburg, WA to Tempe, AZ, and back in my 1964-push-button-shifting-transmission-4-door Dodge – investigating ASU as a possible graduate school (ended up going there.)  Anyhow, in 1969 one could walk right up to it and it was is fine condition; today, it’s surrounded by a very high fence.

Dee Dee getting blown away at Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park

Dee Dee getting blown away at Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park. To get a sense of scale, it’s almost a mile to the other side.  One very big hole.

Road leading up to Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley

Road leading up to Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley.

Spent another day driving up to Ubehebe Crater, near the north end of Death Valley, not too far from Mesquite Springs Campground.  There were an amazing number of people there – the parking lot on the west side was totally full of cars, surprising since it was the Sunday after Thanksgiving and most people had pretty much headed for home.  One reason might be that Scotty’s Castle (which is just a few miles away) was completely closed due to the October floods, so perhaps people just diverted there.

The Bob, Gary and Dee Dee, with the Giant Cow, Armagosa, Nevada

The Bob, Gary and Dee Dee, with the Giant Cow, Armagosa, Nevada.  Some people have commented that the Giant Cow was ‘photo-bombing’ the picture.  Not true.  He was asked to join us.

On Monday, November 30, after spending two delightful weeks in Death Valley, we headed up the long grade through Furnace Creek Wash – Highway 190 – and made our way to Sam’s Town in Las Vegas, after making that usual obligatory stop at the Area 51 Alien Gas Station on Highway 95.

Michael, from Red Rock RV Washers, who did a terrific job washing our RV

Michael, from Red Rock RV Washers, who did a terrific job washing our RV.  A very cool, hardworking humble guy (his one flaw was that he did not like Russell Wilson…we pressed him as to why and he said he thought he was ‘overly humble.’  Hmmmm…

Michael, from Red Rock RV Washers, pressure washing our roof

Michael, from Red Rock RV Washers, pressure washing our roof.

Gary and his Giant Margarita, Mexican restaurant in Sam's Town Casino, Las Vegas

Gary and his Giant Margarita, Mexican restaurant in Sam’s Town Casino, Las Vegas.

Jocelyn and Alex, our friendly servers at Panda Express, in Sam's Town Casino, Las Vegas

Jocelyn and Alex, our friendly servers at Panda Express, in Sam’s Town Casino, Las Vegas

So, as I type this missive, we are just wrapping up a week’s stay here at Sam’s.  We really like this place and have stayed here at least 5 times in the past (we have also stayed at Main Street Station, near Fremont Street and in North Las Vegas – both areas we now avoid like the plague.  Dangerous, dirty, crime-ridden and to be avoided.)

Frank Sinatra impersonator at 'Legends' show, Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas

Frank Sinatra impersonator at ‘Legends’ show, Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas.  We felt ripped off (see accompanying text as to why…)

Very tall man, evening show at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville in Las Vegas

Very tall man, evening show at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville in Las Vegas.

Adrian, dancer at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, Las Vegas

Adrian, dancer at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Las Vegas.

The Bob and his new friend, Adrian, the Margaritaville Girl, at Jimmy Buffet's

The Bob and his new friend, Adrian, the Margaritaville Girl, at Jimmy Buffet’s.

Gary and show performer, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, Las Vegas Strip

Gary and show performer, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Las Vegas Strip.

Mark, our super-nice bus driver, Sam's Town shuttle to The Strip

Mark, our super-nice bus driver, Sam’s Town shuttle to The Strip.

Todd, our Sam's Town shuttle driver...very experienced and a lot friendlier that he looks

Todd, our Sam’s Town shuttle driver…very experienced and a lot friendlier that he looks.

Security guard, Harrahs Casino, Las Vegas

Security guard, Harrah’s Casino, Las Vegas.

Sam’s Town: it’s been fun – cheap drinks, a multiplex theatre complex, great buffet, many good restaurants and free shuttle to both The Strip and Fremont Street.  We had one both disappointing and yet exceptional evening:  We bought tickets months ago to a show called “Legends”, at the Flamingo Hotel on The Strip , an evening  that features impersonators of performing ‘Legends.’  We had front row seats – pretty cool except the chairs were like the kind you would find at a crappy buffet restaurant.  The performances were just OK, (Michael Jackson, Madona, Taylor Swift (gag) and Frank Sinatra (yea).)  What was not cool was that they also advertised Elvis and Celine Dion – both no-shows.  We also paid for a dinner as part of the ticket…but they neglected to tell us the restaurant was closed that day – even though we called to check a few days in advance and were told it was open.  No refund was offered (we did not even bother asking we were so pissed-off.)  So, the evening semi-sucked – we have actually been to a few free cabaret shows that have been better.  Not a total loss, but a big disappointment.  (I went online and gave them a scathing review…check it out at http://legendsinconcert.com – assuming they have the guts to post it.)  One thing worth mentioning is that we have seen several other big-ticket shows over the years and have always been treated like royalty.  No more Flamingo for us.

HOWEVER, after the disappointing show, that same evening we decided to go to our most favorite place in Las Vegas, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.  WOW!  DOUBLE WOW!  It was the best time we have EVER had there – by far (and we must have been there at least 4-5 times previously.)  We had the best table in the house – really – and were right in the middle of the evening show.  AMAZING!  The performers were friendly and spent time talking with us – especially Adrian, the beautiful lady who comes down the slide and drops into the giant blender (right next to our table).  She was incredibly gracious and so humble; must have spent about 5 minutes chatting with us (as she toweled off.)  The drinks were good and quite potent.  Dinner was acceptable.

So, a crappy event was balanced with an amazing one.  See, good things can happen to good people.

Dee Dee and The Bob, at Boulder/Hoover Dam; Lake Mead and 'bath tub ring' in the back ground.

Dee Dee and The Bob, at Boulder/Hoover Dam; Lake Mead and ‘bath tub ring’ in the back ground.

Tillman Bridge, near Boulder/Hoover Dam

Tillman Bridge at sunset, near Boulder/Hoover Dam.

Late afternoon light, Boulder/Hoover Dam

Late afternoon light, Boulder/Hoover Dam.

Four Korean tourists, from LA, we met at Bould/Hoover Dam. Talk about FRIENDLY!

Four Korean tourists, from LA, we met at Boulder/Hoover Dam. Talk about FRIENDLY!  I offered to take their picture with their camera, and then I said ‘My turn.’  They were so honored that I was interested in them.  What a nice group.

Friendly Harley trike guy, Boulder/Hoover dam; he must have had at least $75,000 tied up in the custom-built Road King conversion. Magnificent machine

Joe, the Friendly Harley trike guy, Boulder/Hoover dam; he must have had at least $75,000 tied up in the custom-built Road King conversion. Magnificent machine.  He told me he lives in Henderson, NV, and rides out to the dam 2-3 times a week.  He was very quiet and unassuming.  Very nice man – he was at least 75 years old.

Garty and our waitress, TC, restaurant in Boulder City, Nevada

Garty and our waitress, TC, at a restaurant in Boulder City, Nevada.  She was somewhat skeptical of my picture-taking motives at first, but once she saw my charming personality, quickly succumbed.

Restroom door, in back of restaurant, Boulder City, Nevada

Restroom door, in back of restaurant, Boulder City, Nevada.

We did a few other things while in the Las Vegas area: drove down to Lake Mead to take Charlie swimming, had lunch in Boulder City at a place we have enjoyed several times previously, drove across Boulder Dam, met some interesting people, found a new and very cool RV park (amazing and right on the lake.)

Dee Dee, The Bob, 'Photo Bomber's', Gary and Debbie, Harrah's, Las Vegas

Dee Dee, The Bob, ‘Photo Bomber’s’, Gary and Debbie, Harrah’s, Las Vegas.

Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas, Nevada

Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas, Nevada.  We never, ever tire of this funny, funky, delightful place.  There is one of everything here.

The Bob with Fremont Street characters, Las Vegas

The Bob with Fremont Street Gunslingers, Las Vegas.

"My Girls', Fremont Steet, Las Vegas. I had my picture taken with them a couple of years ago. Cuties!

“My Girls’, Fremont Steet, Las Vegas. I had my picture taken with them a couple of years ago. Cuties!  (And this one was free…)

Dee Dee at one of our most favorite bars in Las Vegas, on Fremont Street. Very potent pours.

Dee Dee at one of our most favorite bars in Las Vegas, on Fremont Street. Very potent pours.

Last drink of the day, boarding the bus near Fremont Street for Sam's Town

Last drink of the day, boarding the bus near Fremont Street for Sam’s Town.  Too much tequila.

We spent a fun evening at Fremont Street, a place we never tire of visiting.  Stopped at the Whiskey Licker Bar – a favorite of ours – and got the usual super-cheep, super-strength drinks.  We tried to get on the new ZIP line that runs the 6-block length of Fremont, but the wait was over 5 hours, so (regretfully) we had to pass.  Next time we will either try to get our tickets on-line or buy them sooner.  If you are interested, as of this date they are $40 for the 90 second – or so – ride, but worth it (at least in our opinion).

You will note that in this edition of the blog there are lots of pictures of interesting people we had the pleasure of meeting during this leg of the trip.  All of the shots were done with my iPhone; all I did was say to them, “Can I take your picture?”  I was never turned town.  Some asked “Why me?” My explanation was always “Souvenir of our trip; I like your looks.”  All were flattered and very gracious.

Anyhow, enough words for now.  Gotta go as the 2-for-1 Happy Hour is starting at The Waterfall in Sam’s…can’t be late – it only lasts for 2 hours with no limit on drinks!

Back To The Magical Place

We’re off!

Welcome to the first installment the blog chronicling our travels this winter season.  If all goes as expected (and it usually never does…) we hope to post something about every 10 days or so, but that largely depends on where we are and the Wi-Fi connection situation.  Most of the time, the Wi-Fi where we stay sucks, or is non-existent.  Usually not a big problem as I can use the personal hotspot on my iPhone…but then I have to have some sort of signal from Verizon, usually ‘3 dots’ or more.

I post the blog text and photographs using some really elegant blog software known as WordPress.  (You will see their logo at the very bottom of all the posts.)  My usual process is to write the text in Microsoft Word, edit, spell-check, then upload it to a WordPress ‘storage’ area.  Next, I use Adobe Lightroom to organize and edit all the photographs that you see.  I usually start with a 300-400, then cull that down to about 75-100, then cull again to get it to about 25-50, give or take.  Before I upload those images, I watermark them with a copyright, then export them into Adobe Photoshop for some post-processing (color and contrast correction, some other ‘tweaking and then file compression), and finally upload them into WordPress ‘storage’ as well.  Finally, I put it all together into a chapter, ‘tweak it a bit more, and, finally, post it.  Posting it means that an announcement hits Facebook and, for those of you have email subscriptions, the installment is delivered to your email box.

All of this usually takes anywhere from 8-16 hours.  But that’s OK…’cuz I love you guys…

Oh, and just one more thing…

Those of you who know me (and for those of you who don’t…) most of what I write here is somewhat the truth.  Some of it is truth as I see it.  And the rest of it is pretty much BS.  Hay, it’s my blog.

OK, no more things.

It took us about 6 easy weeks to prepare for this trip; Dee Dee is very organized and makes lots of lists.  So, getting ready to depart is pretty stress-free.  Usually.  In general, we have to shut the house down for the winter.  This includes arming our very extensive security system, which we can monitor from our iPhones; we can view our place using several security cameras around the property.  We also have a neighbor kid who keeps an eye on things (he is heavily armed…), as well as a few others who stop by on random occasions.

Taco, Charlie's itinerant litter-mate, is watching our place while we travel far and wide this year. He's a nice, gentle boy, who does not take crap from anyone, as you can clearly see.

Taco, Charlie’s itinerant litter-mate, is watching our place while we travel far and wide this year. He’s a nice, gentle boy, who does not take crap from anyone, as you can clearly see.

Just as we were getting ready to leave, my phone rang.  It was the great people at the Animal Rescue Shelter in Amargosa, California.  This was the place where we got (rescued) Charlie back in 2010, when he was about 4 years old.  Anyhow, it turns out that Charlie had another brother who had led a pretty tough life.  He had been in and out of shelters (jail) and homes for the past 5 years.  Lots of street fights.  He had finally ended up in back in Amargosa.  Anyhow, the Shelter people needed a place to foster care him for a short time while they tried to find him a new home.  Could we please take him for a while?

I explained that we were getting ready to hit the road a while and, regretfully, could not do it.  Well, it turns out that “Taco” (that’s his name) is a pretty good independent watch dog and could survive pretty much on his own at our place.  Not a bad idea as it would certainly complement our security system.  All he needed was a blanket to sleep on, and some food and water.

So, we agreed.  They stuck him on a plane and shipped him up to us.  After a tearful, bark-ridden reunion with Charlie, and a property orientation (guided by Charlie), we departed, leaving Taco in charge of things.  It was a reassuring feeling knowing we had a constant canine presence.  The Shelter people agreed to come and get him after a few months, so the whole deal worked out for everyone involved.

After a few days delay getting all this done, once again we were off…after we found Charlie, who decided that running deer through our woods was more exciting than leaving with us…

Grain Towers

Grain towers, Arlington RV Park, Arlington, Oregon

Marina Water

Marina on the Columbia River, Arlington, Oregon

Day One of our travels ended after about a 225 mile drive to Arlington, Oregon, a little town on the Columbia River. We stayed at tiny RV park run by the City of Arlington.  It only had about 10 spots, and shared the area with a grain storage facility.  Also, and this was pretty cool, it had its set of train tracks, with its very own freight train that ran back-and-forth about every 15 minutes, sounding a whistle at a near-by intersection.  Wahoo!  A great way to nod off to no-sleep.  Anyhow, we had driven by this place for years and had always wanted to stop (at least I did.) So we did.  Once.

Next stop was Caldwell (near Boise), Idaho, where we stopped at the Country Corners RV Park, a place we stayed a couple of years ago.  New owners, very friendly and very accommodating.

Still trucking along, our next stop was supposed to be Arco, Idaho, where we were going to spend some time at Craters of the Moon.  Well, that got kyboshed when we ran into heavy snow on the way there.  We chickened out and discontinued this route.  We swung “The Boat” around and headed back down to the freeway (still Highway 84) and high-tailed it for Fort Hall, Idaho (near Blackfoot.)

Fence and sky, at the Shoshone/Bannock RV Park in Fort Hall, Idaho.

Fence and sky, at the Shoshone/Bannock RV Park in Fort Hall, Idaho.

The RV park were we stayed is on the Shoshone/Bannock Reservation, adjacent to a casino (slots only) and a pretty good size hotel…all of this seemingly in the middle of almost nowhere.  The RV park as good one – clean, quiet and empty.  When we pulled in it was still snowing pretty good, but it abated pretty quickly after that.

Craters Bush

Craters of the Moon, Idaho.

Craters Bushes

Craters of the Moon, Idaho.

Craters Lava

Craters of the Moon, Idaho.

Crates Vertical Lava

Craters of the Moon, Idaho.

Arco, Idaho. Every graduating class since about 1920 has painted their 'year' on this mountain above the town. Or, as the locals told us, the numbers mark the high water level...

Arco, Idaho. Every graduating class since about 1920 has painted their ‘year’ on this mountain above the town. Or, as the locals told us, the numbers indicate the high water level…

Arco Motel

Motel in Arco, Idaho.

We spent the next 6 days there, the first of which we drove about 60 miles back up to Arco, ID, gateway to Craters of the Moon National Monument.  This is a very cool, visually rich, environment.  And cold, very cold.  We spent some time in the Visitors Center, and then walked the single trail that was open, as they were in the process of closing most of the place up for the winter.  We also took a look at the campground – a good one, but older and designed mainly for tent campers.

Craters of the Moon is a place worthy of more time visiting and we would definitely go back again…when it’s a tad warmer.

Shut softly

Seen in a restaurant in Blackfoot, Idaho.

Here comes 'Da Judge...

Here comes ‘Da Judge…

The Girls

The Girls, Sami and Shea. Charlie’s Best Buddies.

Group in Front of Mexican Rest

What a great time we had with these guys – Nick, Jennifer and The Girls – Shea and Sami. Such wonderful hosts!

Shea and Glasses

Girls and Charlie

Charlie with his best buddies.

The rest of our time in the area was spent up in Blackfoot, where we visited Dee Dee’s niece, Jennifer, her husband, Nick (here comes da Judge…) and their two delightful girls, Sami and Shea.  Charlie loves these kids and they love him right back.  Anyhow, they put up with our several visits and showed us a great time.  Terrific folks and easy to be around.  Bob and Nick played a round at the Blackfoot Golf Course (had to wait for the frost to melt off the greens).  Dee Dee and Charlie entertained The Girls.  Lots of fun.

November 9 found us in Wells, Nevada.  Cold, snowy, but with clear roads all the way from Fort Hall.  Not much in Wells to speak of.  The folks at the Angel Lake RV Park were very friendly and helpful.  We used their showers instead of ours and were impressed.  Eternal hot water and great pressure.

RV at Ely

Ely, Nevada, at a KOA 3 miles south of town. They had to snowplow our spot so we could get into it.

Dee Dee and Charlie in Snow, Ely

Charley in Snow

Ely Snow and Tank

Next day we made the relatively short drive (175 miles) down Highway 93 to Ely, Nevada.  The day before they had over 14” of snow and the roads were still somewhat clogged.  We stayed at a KOA about 3 miles south of town.  The road in was a bit of a challenge, but we made it in OK.  The maintenance guy had to go ahead of us to snowplow spot clear.

Winning in Ely

Bob and Wine in Ely

The lady in the KOA office told us about a local casino that would pick you up in a shuttle, and their restaurant supposedly (and it really did) had a great prime rib dinner, so we decided to go for it.  They picked us up in a stretch LIMO and were super nice.  Dinner was really pretty good (for casino food) and, because of this, I decided that I needed to contribute $75 to their Gamblers Relief Fund.  Interestingly there are only two “live” blackjack tables in the entire town of Ely; all the rest of the casinos are entirely slots.  Something to do with Nevada and Federal gaming laws.  The upside of this downside was that we won ‘BIG’ on a slot machine.

Heating Lights

Our ‘Rube Goldberg’ heating system to keep our propane regulators from freezing up while we endured the 3-degree cold in Ely, Nevada. It worked great.

We stayed in Ely for 2 days, waiting for the road going West, Highway 6, to clear of snow.  The first night there the temperature dropped to 3 degrees.  It was so cold that our propane regulators froze up, so we had no gas heat.  We had to depend on the two 1500 watt electric heaters we carry, which could barely keep up.  The next morning we drove into town and picked up another (third) heater, as well as some 60 watt light bulbs that we rigged up to warm the 2 gas regulators and keep them from freezing up.  That night, we had a heat wave – it got clear up to 6 degrees!  Everything worked like a charm.  We had wonderful gas heat again.

After our 2 days in Ely, we headed down Highway 6 – a magnificent, scenic drive.  And lonely.  I swear, and no BS, that we saw less than 10 cars over the 150 miles that we drove on this road.  And no services…hell, there was almost nothing but scenery.  Delightful.

Beatty RV Park

Mike, our delightful, friendly host at the Beatty RV Park ('Always $25 A Night').

Mike, our delightful, friendly host at the Beatty RV Park (‘Always $25 A Night’).

Having Beers in Beatty

In Beatty, Nevada…we are finally WARM.

We finally hit Tonopah (a town that you want to pass through as quickly as possible), where we connected up with Highway 95, that took us through Goldfield (a really cool old mining town…Neil Miller would go ape in this place; it’s a visual smorgasbord.)  From there it was just a  short 65 mile jaunt down the hill to Beatty, Nevada, where we stayed at one of our favorite places, the Beatty RV Park…”always $25 per nite,” and it really has been for years.  We have stopped there at least 5 times before and always enjoyed the hospitality of our kind host, Mike.

Saltwater Candy

Red Candy

Dee Dee with Larry Zabel....who, coincidentally, we met at the Beatty Nut and Candy Company.

Dee Dee with Larry Zabel….who, coincidentally, we met at the Beatty Nut and Candy Company.

Dee Dee and Bird

Dee Dee and her temporary pet bird, seeing just as it was flying away, in Beatty, Nevada.

Angels Landing

Angel’s Ladies Whore House, almost right across Highway 95 from the Beatty RV Park.

We spent a couple of days in Beatty where we visited their great candy store (at the Beatty Nut and Candy Company); we stocked up on sugar and “Really Good” beef jerky.  We had a beer and local bar where we encountered their local bar dog, a not-so-friendly-critter…had some junk yard stuff in him.  While we were still there sucking down $3.50 Miller Lites, some guy came by and gave Dee Dee a bird; I guess he did not want it anymore and figured that she did.  Anyhow, the bird sat on her should for a minute or so, and before we even had time to give it a name, it flew away.  Must have been the cat scent he detected on Dee Dee.  Oh well, we stifled our grief and moved on.

Broad Death Valley View from Daylight

View of Death Valley, from Hell’s Gate.

Death Valley view from Daylight

Ridge view, from Hell’s Gate, Death Valley.

Phil, the Campground Host at Stove Pipe Wells (where we were hosts in late 2010). Neat guy.

Phil, the Campground Host at Stove Pipe Wells (where we were hosts in late 2010). Neat guy.

While based in Beatty, we drove over Daylight Pass, into Death Valley – a “Magical Place,” if you allow it to be; we estimated that this was at least our 20th visit, starting in about 1976 – we love it!  We headed out to Stove Pipe Wells, where we were Campground Hosts for 3 months in late 2010.  Here we ran into Phil, the current host and a really cool guy.  Mello, laid back and friendly…a perfect combination of traits for this job.  We had a great visit and he comp’ed us a couple of camping nights (“Professional Courtesy” among present and former Stove Pipe hosts.)

So, we returned to Beatty and the next morning (it’s now Saturday, November 14th) and headed for Stove Pipe (quite a thrill going over and down Daylight Pass in an RV) where we dry-camped for 2 days.  Very quiet (as usual), and it almost emptied out on Sunday.  (The previous 4 days were more crowded than usual as this was when about 10,000 members of the “Death Valley 49’ers” convene each year…fortunately mainly in the Furnace Creek area, about 35 miles away.)

While at Stove Pipe dry camping, we decided to see if we could go for 2 days without running our generator.  We made it about a day and a half, and then the inverter managed to suck enough juice out of our 4 big-ass house batteries and all the AC (meaning the refrigerator and TV) shut down…right in the middle of the ‘Chick-Flick’ movie we were watching.  So, we woos’d out and fired the sucker up, for about an hour, to recharge the batteries.

One good/bad thing about our RV is that it has a full-size residential refrigerator; good if you are tethered to 50 amp power in an RV park, but not-so-good when you are dry camping.  We do have a 100 watt solar panel our roof which usually provides enough juice to allow the batteries (powering the inverter) to keep up with the refer, but if the sun is not shining – which it was not at this time – the batteries drain more quickly.

Not that running our generator is a big deal, it was just a matter of ‘pride.’  Anyhow all of this was important to us, but probably not you…

Charlie in Desert

Charlie in the desert, Stove Pipe Wells, Death Valley.

Coyote

Charile’s Coyote Buddy, in the desert at Stove Pipe Wells, Death Valley.

Sunset, Panamint Range, near Stove Pipe Wells.

Sunset, Panamint Range, near Stove Pipe Wells.

Day One at Stove Pipe was magnificent.  Day Two was not so good, sorta.  The day started off with Dee Dee taking Charlie out into the desert for his morning constitutional.  So, he pees, and then, you know.  Then, he USUALLY just sticks with Dee Dee and they walk back together.  But this time he makes a trotting bee-line back to the RV and waits by the door.  Then, about 30 seconds later this big-ass coyote heads out across the same stretch of desert from whence Charlie has just crossed.  Charlie proved, once again that he has great critter sense.  Conflict avoided.

Next, starting in the afternoon, we has sustained 40 – 50 MPH winds, and the usual accompanying dust; this lasted for the next 36 hours, which a bit unusual, and the wind usually comes in fast and leave fast, the entire event lasting only an hour or 2.  It was blowing so hard that night that, about midnight, we had to get up and pull in the slides.  Not a big deal, really, just a minor annoyance.  But, the animals were kind of freaked out by all the noise.

Two RVs Furnace Creek

In the Furnace Creek Campground. Us on the left, Gary on the right. Twins.

On Monday, November 16th, we bid goodbye to our new friend, Phil, and headed off to Furnace Creek, where we would be for the next 2 weeks.  Here we met our crazy friend, Gary, and his even crazier brother, John.  We have been enjoying the relative quiet (almost all of the 10,000 ‘49’ers have departed).  We also made our ritual first-day trip to the Furnace Creek bar and had a few beers.  What fun!

Zabriskie Mud Hills

Hills at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley.

Manley Beacon

Manly Beacon, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley.

Gary and Dee Dee

Gary and Dee Dee at Zabriskie Point, in Death Valley. Manly Beacon in the left background.

Dee Dee and John and Gary

Dee Dee, John and Gary, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley.

Dee Dee and Charlie

Charlie and Dee Dee, Dante’s View, Death Valley.

So far, we have spent some time showing Gary and John a few of the more popular ‘tourist’ sights (Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, Bad Water, Artist’s Drive, etc.)  We also drove up Highway 190, out of the park to check out Slab City, a possible dry-camping place.  Turns out it has great access and is pretty large-RV friendly.  Might be a place to stop and hang out at some point.  Tomorrow we head out to see some more subtle places in the Valley; we have all chipped in to rent a jeep and intend to do a lot of off-roading.

Whew!  That’s enough (actually, waaaay more than enough) for now.  Hope you enjoyed the prose and the pics.  The next installment should show up in about 2 weeks.

Over n’ out for now – we are off  to spend more time in this Magical Place…

The Final Chapter…

The Final Chapter…

I bet you all have been wondering just what the hell happened to us?  Were we swallowed by a haunted bayou someplace in the wilds of Louisiana?  Or eaten by a pack of ravenous ‘gators?  Kidnapped by Crazy Canadians? Or did we just turn around and head back to Key West, to lay on the beach, drink margaritas and chill until all of our credit cards were maxed out or we ran out of Land Shark beer?

Well, none of the above, actually.  You can attribute this prolonged lack of our communication to just sloth and pure laziness on my part.  (The reality is that it take me about 12-16 hours to prepare each chapter of this blog and I simply just could not bring myself to sit down and get to it.)

Until now…

We made it home pretty much in one piece (well, some pieces got left and other pieces got added, but you are going to have to keep reading to figure out exactly what that means.)  We have been back home in Silver Lake, WA, since Sunday, March 22.  But, let’s go back several weeks to where we left off, near Lafayette, Louisiana…

We stayed a couple of nights at the Frog City RV Park, in Duson.  We had intended on going back to Prejean’s Cajun Restaurant in Lafayette one more time but decided to try this other place, near Duson (just down the road from Lafayette) on the advice of some locals.  Big mistake.  BIG mistake.  Deep fried everything.  And pretty bland.  And over cooked.  And mediocre service.  But, at least the beer was cold.  Oh well…we can always head back to Prejean’s on the next trip.

Entering Texas on the way back West - Mile Marker 899

Entering Texas on the way back West – Mile Marker 899

On the road once again, we passed through Lake Charles and then exited Louisiana on Interstate 10 and entered Texas…dismayed, but not surprised to note that the first mile marker we saw indicated ‘899.’  Gads!  (By comparison, from San Ysidro, near Tijuana, to the Oregon border –  taking The 5 all the way – is only 796 miles…so that gives you a sense of scale.)  It’s a l-o-n-g way across Texas on The 10 – it took us over 4 days of pretty steady driving.

After passing through Beaumont, the first major city we came to was Houston – and it’s one huge city.  We were on the beltway going around the major metropolitan area and were cruising along in fairly light traffic until we encountered this incredible traffic jam that went on for miles and miles.  Turns out there was some major bridge construction going on that caused a ‘funneling’ from 6 lanes down to ONE lane.  That delayed us by about 2 hours.  Oh well…

First overnight stop in Texas was at Columbus, where we stayed in a funky, but functional, RV park.  We had dinner at a pretty good Tex/Mex place nearby (Los Cabos) that evening.

Next day, back again on The 10 headed west.  We skirted San Antonio on the Beltway without encountering much traffic, and are now headed into the wilds of West Texas.  There just ain’t much out there.

At all.  Hardly anything.

Including RV parks.  Even Google Maps gets confounded when you do a search for them.  We ended up in Ozona, where we stopped at one of the few-and-far-between spots we could find.  This place did not even have a name, unless you call the giant sign by the freeway that said, in ten-foot-tall letters, ‘RV Park,’ a name.  Actually, it should have been called ‘Shit-Hole RV Park.’  It was raining and we were tired, so we pulled into the place and discovered that we had to walk a 2 blocks block back across the highway to a motel (a Super 8 – another dump) to check in.  Got a ride from some guy who dropped me off out front.  Went inside, no one there.  Waited 20 minutes.  Finally walked over to an adjacent restaurant and asked them where the guy was who runs the motel.  They called him and he showed up 10 minutes later, with no apology.  So I tell him we want to check into the ‘RV Park’ across the highway.  “Forty dolla,” says he, in his middle-eastern accent.  “Did you say ’20 dollars?’,” says I.  “No, 40 dolla, cash, no discounts,” snarls he.  “Not even Good Sam, AARP, AAA, anything?” says I.  “No.” says he.  “And cash.” says he.  So, I paid it, with a mental protest, plotting someway to get even (and I did…)  I walked back across the street to find a spot (“Stay anywhere you can find,” said he.)  The place was a total Shit Hole, like I said above.  A third world country.  Dirty.  Garbage everywhere.  And dog crap (That’s how Charlie and I got even.)  It looked like most of the spots were occupied by (fracking) oil workers (there is a major oil boom going on in Texas.)  We pulled into a spot, leveled the RV and retreated inside until morning.  Took the Glock with us, just in case.

The next morning, we could not get out of there fast enough.

OK, on the road again.  Still in Texas and still heading west on The 10.  Next stop was Van Horn, a dying West Texas town (somewhat reminiscent of the town in the movie, “The Last Picture Show”)  but with a remarkably nice RV Park – clean, friendly and big spaces.  And a nice dog run for the dog.  We headed out to get diesel for the truck and find a place to eat.  Found fuel, but no restaurant.

A day later, STILL in Texas, but FINALLY getting to El Paso and then crossing back into New Mexico.  Wahoo!  We passed through Las Cruces and stopped in Lordsburg.  Now, we usually avoid KOA’s like the plague (they are usually over-priced and under-aesthic’ed), but RV parks in Lordsburg were on the sparse side so we had to opt for this place.  I have to admit we were pleasantly surprised.  Reasonable rate.  Nice size space.  Friendly.  Clean.  OK, we’re happy.  Nearby was Kranberries Family Restaurant (when you see ‘Family’ in the name of a restaurant, it also means ‘no beer.’)  Dinner was pretty blah, with probably the weirdest nacho’s we have ever had: 50 chips-out-of-a-bag and smothered in at least a gallon of genuine Velveeta.  Oh, and 10 pepper slices on top, too.  Dee Dee told me to quit bitching about them and lighten up…it’s probably just a local custom, some sort of Tex/Mex thing.   But, the employees were, as in the custom almost everywhere in Texas, very friendly.

Bob, Carol and Dee Dee - old Modesto friends

Bob, Carol and Dee Dee – old Modesto friends, in Tucson

Back on The 10, headed out of New Mexico, into Arizona.  Passed through Benson (where we stayed with our friends Gary and Debbie a couple of months before, on the way East.)  On to Tucson, were we first headed to an RV park we found on the Inner-Net (and the Inner-Net never lies – never ever.)   Pulled in, drove around, and headed right back out.  It was ghetto.  Found another place near Old Tucson – Desert Trails RV Park.  The owner’s first name was Pericles and he was one terrific guy.  They had ONE spot available (it’s still high-season in the desert) and we got it.  This was a great place – outside of town in the midst of the Sonoran Desert and very peaceful.  Incredible landscapes and scenery.  We loved it.  While there we had a delightful visit with an old Modesto friend, Carol Lancaster-Mingus, who taught Television classes and was a stellar member of the faculty.  Such a great, gracious, lady who showed us around her home town and treated us to an absolutely delightful dinner in a restaurant where we watched the sun set on the Catalina Mountains.  Wonderful evening!

After departing the Tucson area, we were on to Mesa, where we checked into a very high-class RV park, called Mesa Spirit, where we stayed for FREE, courtesy of LaMesa RV, in Mesa.  Here is the ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of the next part of the story:

Just picked up the new RV...leaving the lot at LaMesa RV in Mesa

Just picked up the new RV…leaving the lot at LaMesa RV in Mesa

Just picked up the new RV...leaving the lot at LaMesa RV in Mesa

Just picked up the new RV…leaving the lot at LaMesa RV in Mesa

Our new RV basking in the Arizona sun, a 2015 Class A Winnebago Adventurer

Our new RV basking in the Arizona sun, a 2015 Class A Winnebago Adventurer

Dee Dee waxing the new 'Winnie'

Dee Dee waxing the new ‘Winnie’

We had been talking on-and-off for over a year about possibly trading in our 5th-wheel for a Class A motor home.  While on this trip, we started doing lots of research on what we wanted, and once that was done, finding a dealer with the right price.  We talked to several in Washington and Oregon, but could not come to terms on either the trade-in value and/or the purchase price.  So, we finally settled on LaMesa RV (in Mesa) who gave us a fair deal and treated us well.  Plus, it was the end of the RV season for them, so they were unloading inventory.  So, on Saturday, March 7, (after closing the deal and spending the night in the LaMesa RV parking lot) we moved from one unit to the other; this was a long, stressful day that almost did us in, as it got very warm in the afternoon.  Plus, we had A LOT of stuff.

Our new rig is a Class A 2015 Winnebago Adventurer.  We opted for gas instead of diesel.  Yes, there are many pro’s and con’s regarding this choice, but we just could not justify the huge additional expense of a diesel pusher.  And, as it turns out, we have been very pleased with our choice.  It’s a great coach.

In 1970, when Dee Dee and I were living in a double-wide trailer out in Mesa, I built this sink for my darkroom.  When we sold the place and moved to New York in 1973, I sold it to Neil for $10.  And he still has it...one frugal guy.

In 1970, when Dee Dee and I were living in a double-wide trailer out in Mesa, I built this sink for my darkroom. When we sold the place and moved to New York in 1973, I sold it to my friend, Neil Miller, for $10. And he still has it…one frugal guy.

Neil, in front of some of his multitude of 'stuff', discussing a new group of prints

Neil, in front of some of his multitude of ‘stuff’, discussing a new group of prints

"Neil, I TOLD you not to tell THAT story..."

“Neil, I TOLD you not to tell THAT story…”

After moving all our ‘stuff’ across from the 5th wheel to the Winnie, we drove back to the Mesa Spirit RV Park and stayed another 3 days, once again compliments of LaMesa RV.   While we were based here, we headed down to Gilbert to have lunch with an old friend from my ASU graduate school days, Neil Miller, and his wife, Marilyn.  They have a great place and we really had a great time…especially seeing all of Neil’s ‘stuff.’  What a collector he is.

I spent the next 2 days about as close to death (and hell) as I ever want to come.  Somehow I either got a massive dose of food poisoning, or some kind of really virulent flu.  Whatever it was, it really tore me up for 36 hours.  Not at all pleasant.

At a Mariners game - Bob, Dee Dee, Gary and Debbie

At a Mariners game – Bob, Dee Dee, Gary and Debbie

Moment of the pitch, Mariners vs. Rockies

Moment of the pitch, Mariners vs. Rockies

Us in Peoria at a Mariners vs. Rockies game

Us in Peoria at a Mariners vs. Rockies game

As the ‘disease’ was beginning to wane, we limped back out to Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction.  We had stayed there several months before, at the beginning of our trip and enjoyed it so much that we booked in for another 5 days.  Here we once again met up with our Prescott buddies, Debbie and Gary.  We took in a Mariners/Rockies spring training game out in Peoria (it takes 75 minutes, driving 60 miles an hour on the freeways, to get from Mesa to Peoria…the Phoenix area is huge.)  Seattle lost 4-1, but we still had a great time.  The Peoria stadium facility is very nice venue (heck, beer is only $7 for a 16 oz. can) and we chatted with lots of folks who come down here mainly to watch the pre-season games.  Everybody was having a good time.

Cook'n chick'n, watching the sunset on the Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park

Cook’n chick’n, watching the sunset on the Superstition Mountains, Lost Dutchman State Park

The end of the day, just after sunset, Superstition Mountains

The end of the day, just after sunset, Superstition Mountains

Well, just as our last stay (in December) at Lost Dutchman was disrupted by a chronic truck problem, this one was no different.   The day after the game, Dee Dee and I were out getting diesel for the pickup (we did not trade this in on new RV) and we got a text message from Gary telling us he was in the hospital.  What the heck is this??!!  Turns out that about 11 PM the night before he started experiencing some chest pain, so he called the paramedics and they came out to get him.  The weird thing is that they were staying right across the road from us and we did not hear a thing!  And there was both an ambulance AND a fire truck!  So, we head right over to the hospital to see him.  He looks good, and is in fine spirits, but they want to do an angiogram to take a look at his heart, so he has to hang out for another day.

The day he was discharged was the same day we had to depart Lost Dutchman State Park and continue heading back home.  So, we worked with the Park to get his stay extended for a few hours to allow him time to get ready to leave.  We got his RV squared away and left.  Turns out that he felt well enough (even after the angiogram) to drive back to Prescott.  Debbie followed in their car.  (We talked with him the next day and he said he was really tired and pretty sore – felt rode hard and put away dirty.)

Dusk, Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction.

Dusk, Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction.

Whew.  Well, we have not given up on Lost Dutchman…as they say, 3rd time’s a charm…

So, we continue west, stopping at this totally cool RV park right on the river in Needles – Fender’s River Road Resort.  We had this HUGE spot with a great view.  Once again, we lucked out and got their last spot, due to a recent cancellation.  This is on our list of good places to stay if we make a return trip in this direction.

The view from our spot at Fender's River's Edge RV Resort.  Quiet place, lots of space and a place for Charlie to take a swim in the Mighty Colorado.

The view from our spot at Fender’s River’s Edge RV Resort. Quiet place, lots of space and a place for Charlie to take a swim in the Mighty Colorado.

By this time, the ‘free’ 1/2 tank of gas that La Mesa RV had given us was pretty much gone, so we headed out in the truck to find a place to re-fuel.  We had heard that gas prices in California were out of line with other states, but imagine our surprise when every gas station in Needles was over $4 per gallon!  We mentioned our dismay to our waitress at dinner (Wagon Wheel Restaurant, great place) and she told us to head back across the river into Arizona where it was about $1/gallon less.  What a difference a mile can make.  Turns out that Needles gas stations (greedy bastards) were an anomaly; the remainder of our gas stops in California were not that far out of line.

Next destination, Bakersfield, at a regular stopping place, the Orange Grove RV Park.  We stayed there for a couple of days to cool our jets (we had an absolutely ‘delightful’ meal at Sizzler…don’t ask why we stopped there…just dumb, I guess.)

(Really) old golfing buddies: Bob, Juan and Bill.  We had a wonderful day playing together again at the Spanos Reserve Course in Lodi

(Really) old golfing buddies: Bob, Juan and Bill. We had a wonderful day playing together again at the Spanos Reserve Course in Lodi

On to Lodi for 2 more days, where we stayed at this fairly nice, but W-A-Y overpriced place, Flag City RV Park, located near the intersection of Highway 12 and The 5.  I guess you could say the best thing about it was the 5 acre fenced dog run; Charlie was in Dog Heaven.  Here Bob met up with 2 really old and good friends and golfing buddies from Modesto Daze, Bill Woodard and Juan Alvarez.  What a great time we all had playing a round at the Spanos Reserve course.  Hard, but fair.  Re-kindled many great memories.  We also had a great dinner with an old water-skiing-and-drinking buddy, Daryl Verkerk, and his new girl friend, a delightful lady and lots of fun.  That was a nostalgic evening of reminiscing about days gone by.

We left Lodi on March 20th and now the ‘end’ is really in sight.  Next stop was Yreka at another funky place that we managed to squeeze into (also on our list of places to skip next time…).  Then on to Albany, Oregon, for a stay at the Blue Ox RV park, a bit hard to find, and sorta cramped spaces, but adequate…except for no dog run at all.

And then, down the home stretch to Silver Lake, where we finally arrived HOME at noon on Sunday, March 22, after a short 3-hour drive.  We made it down the driveway with no problems (I drove the RV all the way back from Mesa, with Dee Dee following in the truck.)  We pulled in and let ‘The Boys’ out to finally be able to run free after being pretty much confined for over 4 months.  They were pretty pleased about that.  The house looked great – just like we had left it.  Thanks to our neighbor, Karson, for checking it a couple of times a week and texting us that things looked good, and to our nephew Stacey and his wife, Lynne, who came down once a month to start the vehicles, water the plants and look things over.

So there you have it, folks.  The end of our 4-month, 12,000+ mile journey all the way to Key West and back.  We stayed at 50 different locations.  What a wonderful, memorable time we had.  We enjoyed sharing our adventures (and mis-adventures) with all of you and hope you had a good – vicarious – experience.  This installment to the blog, Chapter 12, is the last for this trip…but stay tuned.  There will be other travel experiences in our not-too-distant future that we will be sharing with you.  We have already started the preliminary plans for our next trip, which will probably begin around next November 1.  We might even head back to Florida…one never knows…

Following are the ‘Top 46’ most favorite pictures of our journey, since this post was somewhat devoid of visuals (too busy travelling…)

Steve, Big Al, Bob and Bud, long-time golf partners

Steve, Big Al, Bob and Bud, long-time golf partners

Dee Dee with a Rocker after the seeing 'Rock of Ages' in Las Vegas

Dee Dee with a Rocker after the seeing ‘Rock of Ages’ at the Venetian in Las Vegas

Charlie doing his most favorite thing at Lake Mead

Charlie doing his most favorite thing at Lake Mead

 

Side wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash. Death Valley National Park

Side wash, flowing into Furnace Creek Wash. Death Valley National Park

Probably an Alien spaceship, commandeered by the NPS, near Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park

Probably an Alien spaceship, commandeered by the NPS, near Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park

Prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Prickly pear cactus, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Cool looking flowers, near our B & B, Key West, Florida.

Cool looking flowers, near our B & B, Key West, Florida.

Live Oak and palmettos, near the 'Shell Mound' area, Cedar Key, FL.

Live Oak and palmettos, near the ‘Shell Mound’ area, Cedar Key, Florida

Dee Dee and Peggy Sue at Peggy Sue's 50's Diner, near Yermo, CA

Dee Dee and Peggy Sue at Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner, near Yermo, CA

Dee Dee and Charlie, at Hole in the Wall, Death Valley National Park

Dee Dee and Charlie, at Hole in the Wall, Death Valley National Park

Cloud inversion, canyon view, off of Hermit's Rest Road, Grand Canyou South Rim

Cloud inversion, canyon view, off of Hermit’s Rest Road, Grand Canyon South Rim

Giant cow, probably affected by CIA Area 51 'testing' in the 1950's.  Our truck and 5th wheel are there to give it some perspective

Giant cow, probably affected by CIA Area 51 ‘testing’ in the 1950’s. Our truck and 5th wheel are there, parked just a few feet away,  to give it some perspective

Marshall Dylan and Jeckle-The Raven, Trailer Village Campground, Grand Canyon

Marshall Dylan and Jeckle-The Raven, Trailer Village Campground, Grand Canyon National Park

Cockatiel, Oasis Bird Sancturary, near Benson, Arizona.  Pretty smart bird who gnawed away part of a protective barrier to get a better view

Cockatiel, Oasis Bird Sancturary, near Benson, Arizona. Pretty smart bird who gnawed away part of a protective barrier to get a better view

Dee Dee and Charlie walking the dunes at White Sand National Monument, New Mexico

Dee Dee and Charlie walking the dunes at White Sand National Monument, New Mexico

Dee Dee and her Boys, Tombstone, Arizona

Dee Dee and her Boys, Tombstone, Arizona

Ocotillo cactus detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Ocotillo cactus detail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

View of Mexico, the Rio Grande River and Texas, Big Bend National Park.  Look carefully and you can see our 5th wheel in the left center of the image

View of Mexico, the Rio Grande River and Texas, Big Bend National Park. Look carefully and you can see our 5th wheel in the left center of the image

Beach cabanas, Mustang Island State Park, near Corpus Christi, Texas

Beach cabanas, Mustang Island State Park, near Corpus Christi, Texas

Yum yum!  Fried green tomatoes with shrimp sauce, Prelean's Cajun Restaurant, Lafayette, LA

Yum yum! Fried green tomatoes with shrimp sauce, Prelean’s Cajun Restaurant, Lafayette, LA

Two really honest, friendly, guys mooching for bucks, French Quarter

Two really honest, friendly, guys mooching for bucks, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Big mask, Voodoo shop in the French Quarter

Big mask, Voodoo shop in the French Quarter

Bicycles, near Jackson Square, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Bicycles, near Jackson Square, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

'Oysters Royal House', Hurricanes and stuffed mushrooms, on the second story street balcony, Royal House, in the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

‘Oysters Royal House’, Hurricanes and stuffed mushrooms, on the second story street balcony, Royal House, in the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Dee Dee and  her new friend, voodoo shop in the French quarter

Dee Dee and her new friend, voodoo shop in the French quarter

Historic Oak tree with moss, City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

Historic Oak tree with moss, City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana

View of family tombs, St. Louis Cemetery #3, New Orleans, Louisiana

View of family tombs, St. Louis Cemetery #3, New Orleans, Louisiana

Voodoo shop window, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Voodoo shop window, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Sunrise, from our spot at thee Ho-Hum RV Park in Carrabelle, Florida.  And it's like this almost every morning.

Sunrise, from our spot at thee Ho-Hum RV Park in Carrabelle, Florida. And it’s like this almost every morning.

Porch at the Sunset RV Park, Cedar Key, Florida

Porch at the Sunset RV Park, Cedar Key, Florida

Giant shell, Pensacola, FL.

Giant shell, Pensacola, Florida

Foam on the beach, near our site at the Ho-Hum RV Park, Carrabelle, Florida

Foam on the beach, near our site at the Ho-Hum RV Park, Carrabelle, Florida

View from our site, Ho-Hum RV Park, Carrabelle, Florida

View from our site, Ho-Hum RV Park, Carrabelle, Florida

Dusk, Carrabelle, Florida

Dusk, Carrabelle, Florida

Live Oaks, near 'Shell Mound,' Cedar Key, Florida

Live Oaks, near ‘Shell Mound,’ Cedar Key, Florida

Giant stone crab, Carrabelle, Florida

Giant stone crab, Carrabelle, Florida

Why did the chicken(s) cross the road?  Key West, Florida

Why did the chicken(s) cross the road? Key West, Florida

Having a Land Shark Beer at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

Having a Land Shark Beer at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

On air boat tour of the mangroves, Everglades National Park, Florida

On air boat tour of the mangroves, Everglades National Park, Florida

The attack of the giant crustaceans, near Marathon, Florida, in the Keys.

The attack of the giant crustaceans, near Marathon, Florida, in the Keys.

Bog-ass ' gator in sunning himself in the mangroves, Everglades National Park, Florida

Bog-ass ‘ gator in sunning himself in the mangroves, Everglades National Park, Florida

Key West - the end, and the beginning - of the trail for us.

Key West – the end, and the beginning – of the trail for us.

Our digs at the Chokoloskee RV Park, in Florida.

Our digs at the Chokoloskee RV Park, in Florida.

Palm trees on the shore at Chokoloskee RV Park, Florida

Palm trees on the shore at Chokoloskee RV Park, Florida

(Really) old golfing buddies: Bob, Juan and Bill.  We had a wonderful day playing together again at the Spanos Reserve Course in Lodi

(Really) old golfing buddies: Bob, Juan and Bill. We had a wonderful day playing together again at the Spanos Reserve Course in Lodi

Us, in the a mangrove tunnel, Everglades National Park, Florida

Us, in the a mangrove tunnel, Everglades National Park, Florida

 

All the best to each of you,

 

Bob, Dee Dee, Charlie and Marshall Dylan

On to Key West – The Conch Republic

Key West, the turning point of our trip.  Wahoo!

Key West, the turning point of our trip. Wahoo!

The further we get into Florida, the more crowded it gets.  More traffic and the campground spaces are smaller – and less available.  This all started once we left Carrabelle (on Florida’s ‘Forgotten Coast.’)  But, that’s to be expected this time of the year.  Everyone knows that Florida is a mecca for snowbirds (OK, we are one); in particular South Florida on the Gulf side.

Our drive from Dade City to Chokoloskee seemed like 250 miles of construction zones.  Then, once we hit Everglade City (about 3 miles from Chokoloskee Island) we ran smack into the annual Seafood Festival that dominates the entire town for 3 days.  After about 15 detours, we made it through town and to our destination – Chokoloskee Island RV Park, where we stayed for 2 weeks.  The folks who run this place, Sonny and Carmen, were super friendly and pretty much set the ‘climate’ for the place.  It’s an older park, composed of about 70% park models and 30% RV spaces.  We had a pretty good spot, wedged (literally) in between 2 park models.  It took a bit of doing to get in, but with Sonny’s expert help we made it unscathed.  Downside of this place – no dog run.  Charlie was bummed.

Our digs at the Chokoloskee RV Park, in Florida.

Our digs at the Chokoloskee RV Park, in Florida.

Palm trees on the shore at Chokoloskee RV Park.

Palm trees on the Gulf shore at Chokoloskee RV Park.

This was a beautiful place, at the end of the road; there is a 3-mile long causeway that gets you there.  It’s on the edge of Everglades National Park, and it really feels like it.  Most of the folks we met here were from places like Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan and even Maine – but not a soul from west of the Mississippi River.  No ‘Left Coasters;’ we were it.  All the folks very laid back and friendly, most cordial and welcoming – easy to be around.  However, when we told them where were from, their eyes just glazed over; they had no concept of the ‘Left Coast’, and really did not seem to care too much about it.  The end of the world for them seemed to be the Mississippi River.  No kidding.  The most common comment we got was, “Don’t it rain a lot up there?”

Platters of food at the Seafood Festival in Everglades City, Florida.

Platters of food at the Seafood Festival in Everglades City, Florida.

Bike parking lot at the Seafood Festival, Everglade City, Florida.

Bike parking lot at the Seafood Festival, Everglades City, Florida.

Once we got settled in we headed back over to Everglades City for the annual Seafood Festival.  This is a big deal here and it swells the population of the area from about 5,000 to 100,000 for 3 days.  We got there early, but still had to park about 6 blocks away.  To be honest, the most we can say about it was that it was extremely crowded.  The seafood was mediocre and very expensive – and mostly deep fried.  The vendors that sold other stuff were essentially the same ones you will find at almost street fair anywhere.  We stayed about 3 hours and then left when it got so crowded you could hardly move.  But, we now can say we had been there.

One of the most popular foods in the area is Stone crab; they were in season when we were there.  They are harvested in traps about 10 – 20 miles off-shore.  When caught, one claw is broken off and the crab is return to regenerate a new one; they can do this 4-5 times in their life-cycle.  We went to a local restaurant one day to try them out.  They were on the menu as a side dish – $26 for four claws! (Tourist price…much cheaper for locals as we discovered later.)  The shells are very thick and hard, and come to you pre-cracked since is takes a small hammer to break them open.  There is not much meat to them, and what there is somewhat bland.  But, we are spoiled on Dungeness crabs from the PNW.

This was the air boat we were on during a tour of the mangroves in Everglades National Park.

This was the air boat we were on during a tour of the mangroves in Everglades National Park.

On the airboat in the Everglades, with Jim and Linda, a couple from Ontario that we met in Chokoloskee.  Interesting couple...

On the airboat in the Everglades, with Jim and Linda, a couple from Ontario that we met in Chokoloskee. Interesting folks…

On air boat tour of the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

On air boat tour of the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

With Bobby, our Everglades airboat tour guide.

With Bobby, our Everglades airboat tour guide.

We took an air boat tour through the mangrove swamp; pretty interesting.  Our guide, Bobby (a local good ol’ boy), was a fun guy and knew the area well.  In some ways, it’s designed to be a thrill ride through mangrove tunnels, accompanied with a lot of sliding sharp turns.  It was an OK experience and we had a good time.  We asked Bobbie if we would see any ‘gators and he told us no, as they don’t like salt water – a statement that was later nullified when we took a NPS boat tour (in a small boat powered by an outboard motor) a few days later, with a different guide; he told us that was BS…and we saw a big-ass ‘gator to prove it.  We also saw a few manatees – beautiful, huge mammals.  That was pretty cool.

Us, in the a mangrove tunnel, Everglades National Park.

Us, in the a mangrove tunnel, Everglades National Park.

Our NPS tour guide, during a boat trip in the Everglades.  Cool guy, calm, laid back and we forgot his name...

Our NPS tour guide, during a boat trip in the Everglades. Cool guy, calm, laid back and we forgot his name…

Pelican on a post, in Everglades National Park.

Pelican on a post, in Everglades National Park.

Osprey, feeding on a fish, in the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

Osprey, feeding on a fish, in the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

Bog-ass ' gator in sunning himself in the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

Bog-ass ‘ gator in sunning himself in the mangroves, Everglades National Park.

Little 'gators, Everglades National Park.

Little ‘gators, Everglades National Park.

Dee Dee, ' gator wrestling in the Everglades, Florida.

Dee Dee, ‘ gator wrestling in the Everglades, Florida.

We booked a room in Key West and headed down there for a few days.  On the way there, you head deeper into the Everglades and have the opportunity to see an immense amount of wildlife – mainly a variety of birds.  It’s really a beautiful and quite amazing journey.  On the way to Key West we made a stop at the smallest US Post Office in the United States, located in Ochopee, FL.

The smallest UP Post Office in the United States, Ocallal, Florida.

The smallest UP Post Office in the United States, Ochopee, Florida.

About 22 miles south of Homestead you come to Key Largo, the beginning of the 100 miles drive on the causeways to Key West.  The average speed the entire way is 45 MPH.  We were travelling on a Sunday – that slowed us down quite a bit.  It seemed like it was bumper-to-bumper traffic the entire trip, but that was fine since it was a great drive.

Front view of our B & B in Key West.

Front view of our B & B in Key West.

A view of our B & B in Key West, Florida.

A view of our B & B in Key West, Florida.

Key West is nothing like we had envisioned.  I was thinking of sandy, palm tree-lined beaches with a few people sitting on them, drinking margaritas, kick’n back listening to Jimmy Buffet tunes.  (OK, not really, but that would have been the ideal, huh?)  In reality, it’s about 8 square miles packed with humanity.  Lots of traffic – and zillions of motor scooters – and very old and narrow streets.  It’s a real party town with lots of and bars (all good) and restaurants (mostly all good).  We found this pet-friendly B & B place at the last minute – a bit pricey ($275/night), but it was right downtown.  We were there in ‘high season’ so there was really not that much to choose from – especially since we waited until about 2 days before to try to get a room reservation.  (We decided not to bring our 5th wheel down for the stay, as RV parks – if you could even get in – and you could not – were charging from $150 – $300+ per NIGHT.  Arrrgghhhh!!)

Cool looking flowers, near our B & B in Key West, Florida.

Cool looking flowers, near our B & B in Key West, Florida.

Palms outside our B & B in Key West, Florida.

Palms outside our B & B in Key West, Florida.

Anyhow, once we found our B & B, we discovered that there was no designated parking – you were on your own.  (This fact was conveniently not mentioned when we made the reservation.)  But, it all worked out great.  I let Dee Dee off in front of the house and then circled the block about 5 times until a disabled spot opened up RIGHT IN FRONT!  Wahoo!!  (We have a disabled placard from Washington.)  We squeezed in and dropped anchor there for 2 days.  The room was very nice – old, ‘Key West Funky,’ in a nice old, historic, neighborhood about a block from the Trolley line (a really neat way to get around – we used it a lot), and the downtown area.  We had a terrific time here and loved every minute of it!  The people are great and there is so much to see and do.  And yes, we did seek out the original Jimmy Buffet’s Margaretiville Bar and had a beer.  It was a cool place, with a great bartender; and we just missed seeing Jimmy…he was there about 6 weeks before we got there.  Oh yeah, also made it to the Hog’s Breath Bar, drank, and bought several of their obligatory t-shirts.  One downside to being in Key West this time of the year, we discovered, were the HUGE cruise ships that came in constantly, sometimes 2-3 at a time; each one dumped a couple thousand folks into town.  Oh well…

Southern most point of the United States in Key West.  We don't know any of these people.  There as a line of folks over a block long, waiting to get a picture of themselves here.  This one was taken from the trolley...

Southern most point of the United States in Key West. We don’t know any of these people. There was a line of folks over a block long, waiting to get a picture of themselves here. This one was taken from the (moving)  trolley…

Tourist waiting for sunset, an evening ritual in Key West.  We don't know any of these people.

Tourists waiting for sunset, an evening ritual in Key West. We don’t know any of these people.  But, it was a really good excuse to drink…

Sunset, Key West, Florida.

Sunset, Key West, Florida.

Cool old truck outside a restaurant in Key West, Florida.

Cool old truck outside B.O.’s Fish Wagon in Key West, Florida.

B.O.'s Fish Wagon, Key West, Florida.  We had beer and conch fritters here.  The inside was funkier than the outside...

B.O.’s Fish Wagon, Key West, Florida. We had beer and conch fritters here. The inside was funkier than the outside…

Conch fritters, Key West, Florida.  Delicious!

Conch fritters at B.O.’s Fish Wagon, Key West, Florida. Delicious!

Dee Dee, at Pepe's Resturant in Key West.  Pepe's is the oldest restaurant in Key West, in continuous operation for over 100 years.  It was about a block from our B & B; we ate there every morning.

Dee Dee, at Pepe’s Cafe in Key West. Pepe’s is the oldest restaurant in Key West, in continuous operation for over 100 years. It was about a block from our B & B; we ate there every morning.

Two obvious bikers, waiting for a table at Pepe's Restaurant in Key West.  We don't know these people, they just looked great in their matching shirts...

Two obvious bikers, waiting for a table at Pepe’s Café, in Key West. We don’t know these people, they just looked great in their matching shirts…

Outside Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

Outside Jimmy Buffett’s original Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

Having a Land Shark Beer at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

Having a Land Shark Beer at Jimmy Buffett’s original Margaritaville, Key West, Florida.

Key West - the end, and the beginning - of the trail for us.

Key West – the end, and the beginning – of the trail for us.

Why did the chicken(s) cross the road?

Why did the chicken(s) cross the road?

After 2 days, we departed Paradise, much poorer but happy, and headed back up to Chokoloskee.  Our stay here marked the turning point of our trip.  After driving over 8,500 miles, we were now officially starting our journey back to Washington.  It was a sad, and yet happy time.  And what better place than Key West, Florida, for it to happen.  And, we will so miss all the chickens that populate the place…

The attack of the giant crustaceans, near Marathon, Florida, in the Keys.

The attack of the giant crustaceans, near Marathon, Florida, in the Keys.

On the way back up Highway 1, through the Keys, we stopped at a few RV Parks to see about booking for a month next year.  Once we found out what it would cost we decided to reconsider.  We found this KOA about 14 miles from Key West that was over $3,000 (plus tax) per month, and units were crammed so tight it was a true wonderment as to how they even managed to get in in the first place.  Unbelievable.  About 30 miles further up on the road, in Grassy Key – not too far from Marathon – we found a ‘much better’ deal – only $2,300 (plus tax) per month.  We decided that if we ever returned (and we hope to, someday), we would probably stay at one of the several RV campgrounds in the Everglades, drive down to Key West and then stay in one of the pet-friendly hotels we found that are on the Trolley line.  And, we would make our room reservations a year in advance – almost a necessity.  After checking with several locals, they suggested coming in December.  The crowds are smaller and the weather is not too bad.

The day we drove back up to Chokoloskee was a warm one – about 80 degrees.  When we passed back through Everglades National Park (again) we counted at least 50 ‘gators sunning themselves on the shores of the canal that bordered the highway.  That was a really great experience.

With our old Modesto friends, Jim and Diane Weatherford, who now live in Dade City, Florida.

With our old Modesto friends, Jim and Diane Weatherford, who now live in Dade City, Florida.

After 2 relaxing weeks on Chokoloskee Island, we headed back north to Dade City to visit some old friends from Modesto, Jim and Diane Weatherford – that was a hoot.  Such great people.  On the way there, we got stuck in a huge traffic jam on Highway 75.  The freeway was totally closed for about 5 hours.  We detoured around the area (along with everyone else…); that elongated our drive by about 4 hours.  Made for a very looong day.

After Dade City, our next stop was Tallahassee where we stayed at one of the crappiest RV parks of the trip – semi-rude (and clueless) check-in lady and way over-priced.  But, we were tired and there was just no place else to stop.  There is much more to this story, but let’s just say it’s on our list of places not to stay ever again.  Not that Tallahassee is a place to be avoided – it’s definitely a great city; we would definitely visit there again…just stay someplace else.

Inside the oldest Catholic Church in Alabama; Mobile, Alabama.

Inside the oldest Catholic Church in Alabama; Mobile, Alabama.

Highway 10, coming out of the tunnel, in Mobile, Alabama.  Their unique City Hall/Courthouse is in the background.

Highway 10, coming out of the tunnel, in Mobile, Alabama. Their unique City Hall/Courthouse is in the background.

Detail, Courthouse Building, Mobile, Alabama.

Detail, Courthouse Building, Mobile, Alabama.

Eggs benedict, ala Spot of Tea Restaurant, Mobile, Alabama.

Eggs benedict, ala Spot of Tea Restaurant, Mobile, Alabama.

Our wonderful host and owner, Ruby, at the Spot of Tea restaurant in old downtown Mobile, Alabama.

Our wonderful host and owner, Ruby, at the Spot of Tea restaurant in old downtown Mobile, Alabama.

View of the USS 'Alabama,' in Mobile, Alabama.

View of the USS ‘Alabama,’ in Mobile, Alabama.

In Mobile, Alabama.  From the bow of the USS Alabama looking aft.

In Mobile, Alabama. From the bow of the USS Alabama looking aft.

Dee Dee on the USS Alabama in Mobile.  Big-ass guns, huh?

Dee Dee on the USS Alabama in Mobile. Big-ass guns, huh?

Dog repair facility on the USS Alabama, in Mobile.  Charlie was beyond repair...

Dog repair facility on the USS Alabama, in Mobile. Charlie was beyond repair…

Getting ready to board the submarine 'Drum' in Mobile, Alabama.

Getting ready to board the submarine ‘Drum’ in Mobile, Alabama.

As we progressed further West, our next stop was Mobile, Alabama.  We spent 3 days here resting up at this terrific RV park – clean, quite, in the woods just outside of town and – can you believe it? – $23 per night!  The cheapest stay of our entire trip, so far.  Not to mention our gracious (it seems everyone in the south is gracious) host, Charlie.  What a neat guy.  We took a day and enjoyed old downtown Mobile where we toured a (4/5 scale) reconstruction historic Fort Conte and then took the free trolley around the historic district.  We had a very friendly driver to explain stuff, and shared the bus with several ‘locals’ who kept us thoroughly entertained.  We had an incredible meal at this very nice restaurant, ‘Spot of Tea,’ where we met Ruby, the owner, who is also a great ambassador for the city of Mobile.  Next we headed over to see the warship USS ‘Alabama’ and the submarine, ‘Drum,’ as well as a very good aerospace museum.  We did more walking and climbing then one could ever imagine.  Exciting, and very tiring, day.  We would come back to Mobile in a heat beat.  It’s a great city.

Thibodeaux's Restaurant in Duson, LA - we took a risk for dinner and it really paid off.  Great place.

Thibodeaux’s Restaurant in Duson, LA – we took a risk for dinner and it really paid off. Great place.

OK, as I type, we are back near Lafayette, Louisiana, where we stayed about 6 weeks ago, on our way to Florida.  A great town with incredible Cajun food.  We are staying at a different place, about 10 miles down the road in Deson.  Nice park, great place to run Charlie-the-Dog, and very friendly.  Last night, we drove into town (Duson) and found this really funky restaurant called Thibodeaux’s.  Looked questionable from the outside, and when we walked in the question got bigger…two old folks watching Judge Judy on an old TV, and not another person to be seen.  But what the hell, we risked it.  Oh, and ‘no alcohol served here,’ when we asked our waiter for a beer (he was partially deaf and had to get his wife to come over to get order.)  But, the food was excellent, and as we sat there, we discovered that they did a terrific take-out business.  So, don’t let outward appearances deceive you…

Later today, we are going back to Prejean’s Cajun Restaurant (we ate there twice on our trip east) for more of our favorite – fried green tomatoes.  Tomorrow, we are headed further west on Interstate 10 and plan to stop about 100 miles or so, on the other side of Houston…

Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter…