Still In The Magical Place…

Badwater Shadows

Our shadows, at Badwater.

Badwater Flats

Salt flats, Badwater, 255 feet below sea level.

Weird Camper at Furnace Creek

We are thinking about upgrading to a new RV. This is a distinct possibility.

Marshall Dylan Sleeping

Marshall Dylan, the Sun Magnate.

So, one of the problems with blogging while travelling is having to deal with crappy connections to the Inner-Net.  I sit here at the Furnace Creek Campground in Death Valley.  It’s the Day-After-Thanksgiving Day and I am thankful for being here with Dee Dee and our crazy friend, Gary (whose back has gone out – he is really suffering, poor guy.)  What I am not thankful for is the fact that every man, woman and child in the western United States is emailing, texting, browsing on their phones, most using Verizon.  Access to the Inner-Net is non-existent…the Personal Hot Spot on  my iPhone has puked…  And, the camp ground here is packed with Thanksgiving visitors.

OK, enough whining!

The Pointers at Bad Water

Holy Crap! Is that Superman??!!

I actually started writing this chapter two days ago, but suffered a brain-fart, probably due to that Bloody Mary I decided was an important element of the creative writing process.  Maybe I can become a vegan and live solely on BM’s?  Or not.

Telegraph Canyon Flowers

Delicate flowers in Telegraph Canyon

Outside Cottonwood Rocks

On the way to Cottonwood Canyon.

Farrabee

The REAL Farabee, owner of Farabee’s Jeep Rentals. A very cool guy.

I have posted a few more photos of our Farabee jeep-rental travels; Titus Canyon (this was our 3rd trip through…that’s enough for a long while), Cottonwood Canyon (out of Stove Pipe Wells) and up Telegraph Canyon (near the Mesquite Dunes).   Lots of fun…but made for a loooong day.  I think everyone had a good time.  BTW, John, Gary told me I had to mention your name in this post…so I did.)

Titus Canyon Back View

Looking east towards, Beatty, Nevada, from the top of Titus Canyon Road

Inside Titus Canyon

Inside Titus Canyon, entering The Narrows.

Coming out of Cottonwood

On the road to Cottonwood Canyon, outside of Stove Pipe Wells.

Gary Climbing Wall

Gary, risking his life wall climbing, a sport of which he has little knowledge. At this point, he had gone up about 100 feet.

Raven at Stove Pipe

Heckle, the raven, helping us eat lunch at Stove Pipe Wells. Jeckle, his brother, is just out of the picture.

We continue to delight in the wonders of Death Valley, sometimes travelling around, sometimes just sit’n and think’n.  Except for Gary, who is always moving, moving, moving – we keep telling him his is now RETIRED and to lighten up.  I think he is trying…but it’s a slow process for him.  He keeps us on our toes, that’s for sure.  We encourage him to relax, but our advice falls on deaf ears.

FC Hotel Martini

Martini’s on the veranda, Furnace Creek Inn. Miss Welch, our friendly waitress could not be convinced to give us more than two olives…a small request for a $12 drink.

Ranger Alan

Alan, an NPS Ranger, lead us on a very informative and interesting tour of the Furnace Creek in. This guy was a font of knowledge.

FC Hotel Pool

View of the spring-fed pool at the Furnace Creek Inn. Rooms here rent for about $350 – $450 per night. Believe it or not, summer is their busy time.

Last Sunday, we ventured over to Pahrump (sometimes pronounced ‘Pa-Dump’) where we blew in for shopping at their Super Walmart – mainly to buy ice and vodka for our Bloody Mary’s.  I swear that this is the store where all those Inner-Net Walmart photographs come from!  It was a visual wonderland.  Gas in Pahrump was $2/gallon for regular, so we were happy about that.

Dee Dee and Gary by Fire

Gary and Dee Dee at Furnace Creek – while in Death Valley we had a fire pretty much every night. We hauled in a lot of wood.

Cooking Foil Dinners

Cooking Dee Dee’s favorite – foil dinners on the fire.

I have enjoyed playing crappy golf at the Furnace Creek Golf Course.  The course is good…I am not.  Both times I have played I have been by myself, which is sorta fun.  I have seen the occasional other hacker out there, but not many.  No coyotes, either…which is unusual.  Maybe they all headed up to Pahrump to visit their relatives for Thanksgiving.

Tourists at Father Crowley Point

Tourists at Father Crowley Point, on the western edge of Death Valley National Park

Jet at Father Crowley Point

Your tax dollars at work, entering a canyon near Father Crowley Point. Death Valley NP.

 

Photographyer at Father Crowley Point

Waiting for the jets, Father Crowley Point,

Lars at Father Crowley Point

This a Lars, an incredible bicycle guy we met at Father Crowley Point. He has just peddled up the hill – a steep one. He cooked the hamburger he was eating over his little stove, in the parking lot. A very neat guy.

Gary at Father Crowley Point

Gary and his new tourist friends, at Father Crowley Point, Death Valley.

On Tuesday (November 24th) we headed up over Towne’s Pass, across the Panamint Valley, up the other side towards the Owens Valley.  It was a beautiful drive.  We stopped off at Father Crowley Point, which has one of the more spectacular views of the Panamint Valley.  Lots of tourists…just like us, I guess.  While we were there, the United States Government (‘your tax dollars at work’) treated us to an  absolutely spectacular air show.  The mountainous terrain here is a training ground for fighter pilots.  A couple of jets came blasting up the canyon in front of us, at a very low altitude, several times.  On their last pass they exited the canyon right in front of us and climbed straight up doing spins and wing-overs, and flying upside down.  Wow!  The noise literally shook your rib cage.  We had the feeling the show was just for us…and I bet it was.  What a thrill.

 

Dee Dee Victoria and Gary

Dee Dee, Victoria and Gary at the Panamint Valley Restaurant; Victoria is one of the owners.

On the way back from Fr. Crowley Point we stopped off at the Panamint Springs Diner for a beer and lunch.  Still the great place we remember from our past 3-4 visits there.  Panamint Springs Resort is in Death Valley National Park, but it’s an ‘island’ of private land, family owned.  There is the restaurant, an RV park and a gas station ($5.50 for regular, but it’s the only gas for about 100 miles in either direction, so they sorta gotcha.).

As we departed Panamint Springs, the wind really started to howl.  It was blowing so hard across the Panamint Valley that visibility dropped to zero and the road was almost impossible to see.  The cross-winds were at least 60 MPH, and we were worried that the blowing sand and pebbles were going to pit the paint on the car.  (Not the case, fortunately.)   Once we started ascending Towne’s Pass again, the wind seemed to abate, but by the time we got back to Furnace Creek it was still blowing like Hell.  Tents flying through the air.  People running around trying to find all of their stuff that had taken flight.  We had packed up pretty good before we left, but even so, a lot of our stuff was scattered around.  We managed to find all of it…some was 3 campsites over.

FC Thermometer

Nice and warm.

The high winds lasted until about 4 the next morning and pretty much cleared out about 50% of the campground.  We don’t know where they all went at 10 PM, but we assume either Pahrump or Las Vegas motels/hotels as all the lodging here was pretty full.  And once again, we had to pull in our slide-outs as it was blowing so hard.  Charlie and Marshall Dylan were pretty freaked out by all the noise.

We had a nice visit with our good friend, Shellye, who is a Ranger here in the Park.  She is the one who hired us back in 2010 when we worked as Campground Hosts in Stove Pipe Wells.  Shellye is a real hoot and fun to be around…and extremely knowledgeable about Death Valley.  We always  look forward to these visits with her.

FC Bar Popcorn

Another not-wasted day at the Furnace Creek bar. Love those ‘Stellas.’

So, there ya go, folks.  A lot less words than last time.  Enjoy the pictures.  We are here for a few more daze, then off to Sam’s Town in Las Vegas for a week.  One of our favorite spots.  But all that is the next chapter…

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

 

 

 

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…

The Big Easy

The Big Easy

The Crescent City

NOLA

The Mardi Gras City

Incredible trumpet player at Waterfront Park, near the French Quarter

Incredible trumpet player at Waterfront Park, near the French Quarter

They are all New Orleans, Louisiana.  An incredible, fun, amazing, delightful, friendly, historical city.  Visiting here for the first time and trying to see the sights is akin to trying to drink out of a fire hydrant.  And if you have ever been here, you know exactly what we mean.

The view from our site, Lake Ponchartrain RV Park, New Orleans, LA

The view from our site, Lake Ponchartrain RV Park, New Orleans, LA

When we last left you, we had just arrived and checked into the Pontchartrain Landing RV Park, located on a canal, near Lake Pontchartrain, that connects the Lake to the Mississippi River.  It’s a nice place, fairly high class (meaning pricey), with lots of nice amenities, such a restaurant (of sorts) a huge dog park (so Charlie is happy), a pretty good bar and garbage pick-up at your site.   We scored a great space on the canal, in front of a dock where lots of boats are berthed.  Nice atmosphere.  It’s a little weird getting into this place:  you drive through a light industrial area (mainly boat building and repair), over some really nasty roads – fairly typical of most of the streets and highways we encountered in the NOLA area.

One of the nice services of this RV Park is a shuttle bus they operate that, for $6, will drop you off  (and pick you up) near the corner of Toulouse and Decatur Streets in the French Quarter.  We had the same shuttle driver all three days.  Now those of you who know me will agree that I am a world-class bullshitter.  Well, our driver was the consummate PROFESSIONAL – he made me feel like a total amateur.  Although he was not a native of New Orleans, he did seem to know a fair amount stuff, and what he did not know, he just made up.  And, you could truly believe about 30% of what he said.

Newer buildings, on the River side of the French Quarter

Newer buildings, on the River side of the French Quarter

Entrance to the French Market

Entrance to the French Market

Looking down Bourbon Street towards Canal Street and the downtown area

Looking down Bourbon Street towards Canal Street and the downtown area

View of street in the French Quarter

View of street in the French Quarter

Joan of Arc sculpture, donated to the City of New Orleans by French Prime Minister Charles de Gaullle

Joan of Arc sculpture, donated to the City of New Orleans by French Prime Minister Charles de Gaullle

Dee Dee and the Meals-On-Wheels lady, near the  Mississippi River Front and Jackson Square

Dee Dee and the Meals-On-Wheels lady, near the Mississippi River Front and Jackson Square

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

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

Bicycles, near Jackson Square, French Quarter

Bicycles, near Jackson Square, French Quarter

Corner on Bourbon Street, French Quarter

Corner on Bourbon Street, French Quarter

We spent the better part of 3 glorious, sunny, warm days in New Orleans.  We had an absolutely delightful time eating, drinking, walking, eating, meeting interesting and friendly people, eating, walking, walking, walking and drinking.  And eating, too.  And walking.

Big mask, Voodoo shop in the French Quarter

Big mask, Voodoo shop in the French Quarter

Voodoo shop window, French Quarter

Voodoo shop window, French Quarter

 

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

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

Mufuletta sandwiches, black beans and rice, and jambalaya, Napoleon House, French Quarter

Muffuletta sandwiches, black beans and rice, and jambalaya, Napoleon House, French Quarter

Coffee and beignets at the Café Du Mond, French Quarter

Coffee and beignets at the Café Du Monde, French Quarter

Café Du Mond; looking towards the French Quarter

Café Du Monde; looking towards the French Quarter

'Oysters Royal House', Hurricanes and stuff mushrooms, on the second story street balcony, Royal House, in the French Quarter

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

The food here is incredible!  Several people we met asked us to recommend good restaurants – well, they are ALL good.  And, we got good advice from others on good places to eat.   I am sure we both gained at least 10 pounds, dining on a variety of meals, such as muffuletta sandwiches, for instance.  A traditional style muffuletta sandwich consists of a muffuletta loaf split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone. The sandwich is heated to soften the provolone.  Totally delicious!  (We had these at the Napoleon House.)  We also started each day with sumptuous coffee and beignets at the famous Café du Monde , located near the French Market.  Let’s not leave out delicious stuffed mushrooms and baked oysters (we had these at the Royal Restaurant) and Po’ Boy sandwiches (at the Remoulade Resturant), too.  Everything was soooo good!  As far as drinks go, you definitely got a full-plus pour of whatever you ordered.

The Blacksmith Shop Bar, Bourbon Street; one of the oldest bars in the United States, serving drinks libations continuously for over 250 years.  We had Bloody Mary's here at 10:30 AM, and that was pretty much the end of the day...

The Blacksmith Shop Bar, Bourbon Street; one of the oldest bars in the United States, serving drinks libations continuously for over 250 years. We had Bloody Mary’s here at 10:30 AM, and that was pretty much marked the end of the day…

The first day we were in the French Quarter, we went to a bar called ‘The Blacksmith,’ that was recommended by some folk we met.   It is one of the oldest bars in the United States and has been serving libations for over 250 years.  We had a Bloody Mary at about 10:30 AM and that pretty much destroyed the day…or made it better, depending on one’s perspective.  We had a few Hurricanes, a local drink composed of several varieties of rum; they will definitely kick your butt.  Let’s not leave out the local beer, either…lots of really great brews.

Street musicians, Bourbon Street

Street musicians, Bourbon Street

Street musicians, Bourbon Street

Street musicians, Bourbon Street

Street musicians and little kids dancing, Bourbon Street, French Quarter

Street musicians and little kids dancing, Bourbon Street, French Quarter

Almost everywhere you go there is great jazz and zydeco music…much of it right on the street.  The action starts everyday about noon and continues on into the evening.  And it’s really, really good stuff.

Historic Oak tree with moss, City Park

Historic Oak tree with moss, City Park

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

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

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

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

Dee Dee and The Boyz, Sculpture Garden, City Park, New Orleans

Dee Dee and The Boyz, Sculpture Garden, City Park, New Orleans

Giant safety pin in the Sculpture Garden, City Park, New Orleans

Giant safety pin in the Sculpture Garden, City Park, New Orleans

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

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

Although I am not much of ‘bus tour’ person, we did spend a few hours one day on a Grayline Tour bus, doing a ‘City-Wide’ tour that covered a majority of NOLA and the surrounding neighborhoods.  I have to admit it was worth the time, and we learned a lot about the history and culture of New Orleans.  We probably should have done it the first day we got there (we went the 4th day), as it really helped to put things into perspective.  And we had a great local guide who gave it an excellent personal touch.

Gin and tonic af the end of a looong day of walking around the French Quarter

Gin and tonic af the end of a looong day of walking around the French Quarter

All in all, we must get back to New Orleans again – very soon.  So far, it has been the very, very, VERY best place we have visited on this trip.  We saw a lot, but there is so much more to do.  Six days just did not give us enough time.

We were due to head out of The Big Easy on Friday, January 23, and head for Pensacola, Florida, but had to delay for a day due to some heavy rains and winds that have blanketed southern Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi and part of the Florida Panhandle, for the last 36 hours.  So, we are off tomorrow, Saturday, instead.  Stay tuned for the next exciting episode…

Boudin And Cracklins

Sunday, January, 18, 2015

Good day to y’all from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Vintage McDonalds, New Orleans, LA

Vintage McDonalds, New Orleans, LA

Our last installment ended as we were departing Galveston, Texas, headed for Lafayette, Louisiana.  As we were leaving, the weather seemed to be breaking – we had actually seen the sun peek through on occasion.  Not much, but it gave us some degree of hope…

Almost all of the roads we travelled in Texas were pretty good.  (Certainly better than the I-5 through California, Oregon and Washington, which, in many places, is in dire need of maintenance.)   However, once you cross over into Louisiana, the freeways, at least the I-10, deteriorated somewhat.  It seemed that truck traffic, for whatever reason, increased markedly, and the lanes and shoulders were narrower.  You have to be on your toes all the time when driving.  Also, the pavement was generally poured concrete slabs, so you got this constant ‘wumpa-wumpa-wumpa’ feeling.  When you get off the freeway, the roads really turn to crap.  Skinny, with lots of potholes and uneven pavement…and almost no shoulders.

Entrance to the Bayou Wilderness RV Resort (of sorts), Lafayette, LA

Entrance to the Bayou Wilderness RV Resort (of sorts), Lafayette, LA

Cypress tree and moss, Lafayette, LA

Cypress tree and moss, Lafayette, LA

Baby cypress trees, Bayou Wilderness RV Resort, Lafayette, LA

Baby cypress shoots, Bayou Wilderness RV Resort, Lafayette, LA

Baby cypress trees, Lafayette, LA

Cypress trees and shoots, Lafayette, LA

Spanish moss on cypress tree, Bayou Wilderness RV Resort, Lafayette, LA

Moss on cypress tree, Bayou Wilderness RV Resort, Lafayette, LA

But, we survived and ended up at this place called ‘Bayou Wilderness RV Park,’ about 10 miles or so off the freeway, and it really was in bayou country.  When we checked in we asked about alligators.  They said there were none there (at least that they knew of), except for one, about 4 feet long, that mysteriously appeared in the swamp there several years previously…but he has since departed.  Anyhow, this place was OK; a bit pricey for what you got, and it looked a little tired and worn out.   But, it was quiet and the folks there were friendly.  So, no real complaints.

We ended up in Lafayette on the advice of our primary care doc back home in Toledo, Washington, who was from there (Lafayette).  She told us that if we wanted some of the best Cajun food in Louisiana, then Lafayette is the place to go.  And she was spot on!  It seems the whole area is nothing by eateries, with the main fare being boudin (pronounced ‘bo-deen’) and cracklins – fried pork rinds.  Boudin comes in two forms: primary is a pork and rice sausage.  In Southeast Louisiana, folks take boudin, remove it from its casing, and form it into balls that are then breaded and deep-fried.  Both are excellent, but are an acquired taste.

Entrance to Prejean's Cajun Restaurant, Lafayette, LA

Entrance to Prejean’s Cajun Restaurant, Lafayette, LA

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

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

Fried catfish with shrimp sauce, dirty rice and smoked corn, Prelean's Cajun Restaurant, Lafayette, LA

Fried catfish with shrimp sauce, dirty rice and smoked corn, Prejean’s Cajun Restaurant, Lafayette, LA

Dee Dee and 'Big Al' the Gator, Prelean's Cajun Restaurant, Lafayette, LA.

Dee Dee and ‘Big Al’ the 18′ Gator, Prejean’s Cajun Restaurant, Lafayette, LA.

We ate at a couple of places that were highly recommended by the locals: Prejeans (pronounced ‘prey-johns’) and Don’s (pronounced ‘don’s’) Meats.  Twice we had fried green tomatoes smothered in a shrimp sauce, also fried catfish (the best I have ever had!), also covered in the same shrimp sauce, boudin balls, and shrimp wraps.  Gads…the food was soooo good.  And, if you ate out a couple of times a week, for a week, you most likely would suffer from cardiac arrest:  everything seemed to be fried and covered with some sort of shrimp sauce.  Oh well, you only live once…and then that’s it for y’all.

T-shirt from Cajun Harley Davidson, Scott, LA

T-shirt from Cajun Harley Davidson, Scott (Lafayette), LA

We stopped in at Cajun Harley Davidson in Scott, not too far from Lafayette.  Bought some over-price clothing and also talked with a really cool biker salesman, Sean, who turned us on to the best eateries in the area.  We also talked a lot about Harley Trikes.  This is the largest Harley Dealership we have ever been in…they must have had 100+ new bikes on the floor, and who knows how many more were in their warehouse.  “Get’n stocked for tax season,’ Sean told us.

Don's Boudin and Cracklins Cajun Resturant, Scott, LA.  Damn good food!

Don’s Boudin and Cracklins Cajun Resturant, Scott, LA. Damn good food!

Totasco Visitors Center, Avery Island, LA

Totasco Visitors Center, Avery Island, LA

On a whim, we took off down to Avery Island (about 25 miles south of Lafayette) and visited the Tobasco  manufacturing facility.  They do a pretty good tour: you learn the history of Avery Island (which sits atop a mountain of 97.5% pure salt that is purportedly as deep as Mt. Everest is tall.)  The Tobasco brand is wholly owned by the McIlhenny family; the creation and manufacturing facility is huge, and still uses several of the original buildings.  Anyhow, once you finish the tour (they give you several mini-bottles of their sauce), you can visit their on-site store which features lots and lots of free samples.  Basically, you take a pretzel stick and dip it into your sauce of choice (no ‘double-dipping’…remember George in a Seinfeld episode?) and take a taste.  The first one I tried was called ‘Family Reserve’; it was being re-released in limited quantities.  I put ONE drop (ONE!) on the end of the pretzel.  Two seconds later they had to call the paramedics and sew up the whole it burned in my tongue.  (OK, I exaggerate slightly, but not much.)   It was incredibly HOT.  Dee Dee was most attracted to the tobacsco/cherry and jalapeño ice creams.

Dee Dee at the Tobasco manufacturing facility, Avery Island, LA

Dee Dee at the Tobasco manufacturing facility, Avery Island, LA

Thinking about getting some new "aggressive" tires for the truck, Commercial Tire Store, Scott, LA

Thinking about getting some new “aggressive” tires for the truck, Commercial Tire Store, Scott, LA

Getting the truck washed at a really funky, but functional, hand car wash, Lafayette, LS

Getting the truck washed at a really funky, but functional, hand car wash, Lafayette, LS.  The Boys at the Commercial Tire place told us they would ‘treat us good,’ and then did.

Our last day in the Lafayette area we partook of more of the local cuisine and then sought out a place to have the tires on the truck rotated.  The first place we checked wanted $15 PER TIRE.  We passed on him and found this commercial tire place that told us (over the phone) that they charged $20 for the whole job (pretty much a normal price.)  We headed on over and, yes, it was really a commercial tire place.  I think the smallest tire we saw in their yard was about 5 feet tall (see attached picture of Dee Dee to illustrate this.)  They got us right in; the guy in the office turned us over to a couple of good ol’ boys out in the shop who really know their stuff, and also how to have a good time.  As they were removing and moving the tires around, one of them found this GIANT thorn we had picked up (probably in Corpus Christi, Texas) on the edge of a sidewall.  He told us that technically it was right on the edge of (legally) being repaired, and he was not supposed to fix it (it had poked all the way through), but he went ahead and did it anyway.  These guys were so good and so happy.  I slipped him a ten spot for his courtesy.  When I went back into the office to pay, the manager told me not to worry about it and just be on my way.  So, our already high opinion of the friendly people in the South was elevated another notch or two!  And it was not just these folks…EVERYONE met and talked with was so polite and gracious.

On our way back to the park where we were staying, I managed to miss the last turn, about a mile away from our destination.  ‘No problem,’ says I.  ‘We can keep going strait and still get there.’  (Dee Dee jast sat there and shook here head…she had ‘been here’ before with me.)  Wahl….about 30 minutes later we were still not there, actually about 25 miles away (go figure)…and it took us another 40 minutes to find our way back (using the GPS Guy.)  It was not a totally wasted trip, however, as we got to see a lot of the bayou country surrounding us.  It seems as if most of the newer houses we saw were built of brick.  We surmised that brick houses are harder to blow down in hurricanes and that brick must be cheap in this part of the country.

We departed Lafayette on Saturday morning (January 17) and headed off to New Orleans, where we are now.  The roads continue to suck, and once you hit New Orleans they REALLY, REALLY suck.  Most of the drive here from Lafayette was on causeways through more bayou country swamps.  Despite the roads, it was beautiful drive.

The view from our site, Lake Ponchartrain RV Park, New Orleans, LA

The view from our site, Lake Ponchartrain RV Park, New Orleans, LA  Life is good, the weather is great, there is a good bar on-site and the neighbors are friendly.

So here we are, in exciting and historic New Orleans, Louisiana.  Oh, and one more little thing…THE SEAHAWKS ARE GOING TO THE SUPERBOWL!!

Stay tuned for the next installment – NEW ORLEANS.

Waiting For The Sun…

Back-Track To January 1, 2015…

So, to bring you all up to speed, recall that we decided to depart Big Bend National Park (heading for Del Rio, Texas) a few days early due to impending snotty weather (which we escaped by a matter of hours) and just way too much humanity.

But, let’s back up just a bit.  I wrote all of the last blog post whilst still in the midst of a nasty bout with the flu.  In doing so, I left out some stuff I should not have (and left in quite a few typos…).

First of all, I forgot to post a picture of my friend Neil Miller and me, sitting in his classic Morgan roadster, while we were still at Lost Dutchman State Park, near Apache Junction.  A thousand pardons Neil…so here it is now.

Bob and Neil, in Neil's very cool historic Morgan.  Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

Bob and Neil, in Neil’s very cool historic Morgan. Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona.

Next, fast forwarding to Big Bend National Park, I neglected to mention a side trip we took into an area called Chisos Basin.  It’s about an 8 mile drive off of Highway 385, turning off not too far from the Panther Junction Visitor Center.  The drive into the area offers some magnificent views as you pass through several different desert and high desert ecosystems during the roughly 2000 foot elevation gain on the way in.  An extremely magnificent part of the Park…at least until you get to Chisos Basin.  What the NPS has allowed to happen there (for whatever reason) is a total atrocity.   After passing through a beautiful environment on the way in, you are dismayed to find a hotel, restaurant, bar, incredibly horrible traffic and a campground that is so cramped and crowded that it comes close to resembling tenement housing.  OK, this is just our opinion.   Also, unless you are either tent camping or pulling a small tent trailer, you won’t even make it down the road.  Perhaps this place would be more palatable during such a non-busy time of the year, and yes, the time between Christmas and New Year’s is probably about the worst time to be staying almost anywhere.  But, that’s just our opinion.

January 3, 2015 – San Antonio, Texas

Don't mess with Texas

Don’t mess with Texas

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

The Bob, San Antonio River Walk, Texas

The Bob, San Antonio River Walk, Texas

Ceviche, San Antonio River Walk, Texas

Ceviche, San Antonio River Walk, Texas

We arrived in San Antonio, Texas, with me still fighting the flu and a persistent, horrible cough.  Despite this, we did some normal tourist stuff, like going to The Alamo and then to the River Walk.  The Alamo on a Sunday was predictably crowded.  But, still and all, it’s an extremely informative historical site, about 30% of which has been preserved (the rest falling to ‘progress.’)  The monument is maintained and funded by a Historical Society, composed totally of volunteers; they have done an extremely commendable job.  It’s free to get in, but there are copious donation boxes spread throughout the site.  What is somewhat disappointing is what now surrounds The Alamo: a sprawling mass of places like ‘Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not’ and numerous other establishments of the same venue.  Sorta takes the air out of the piece of history you have just visited.  The River Walk area is OK…but touristy as one would expect.  We had a couple of over-priced margaritas and some damnpretty good ceviche.  Another kinda cool thing we did was take the city bus from the RV Park where we were staying into the downtown area.  Not bad at all getting there, but the trip back proved to be somewhat of a challenge for two old geezers who have not had to figure out a bus schedule in years.  After about an hour or so and walking more than a just few block, we finally found the right stop.   The Bob was so excited on the way home that he pulled the ‘stop cord’ about ½ mile too early.  You could see Dee Dee mouthing the words ‘Dumb Ass.’

January 7, 2015 – Corpus Christi, Texas

We are now at the Mustang Island State Park, located on Mustang Island, just South East of Corpus Christi.

It has been 10 days since we last saw the sun (except for a brief moment in San Antonio).  We feel like we are doomed.  And, we gulped down our last dose of Vitamin D several days ago.

Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Blowing sand and barrier fence, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Blowing sand and barrier fence, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Beach cabanas, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Beach cabanas, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Wahooo!  Charlie is in Doggy Heaven on the beach, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Wahooo! Charlie is in Doggy Heaven on the beach, Mustang Island State Park, Texas

This Texas State Park has a good campground, complete with a cabana to provide shade from the sun, which we did not have to worry about the whole time we were there.  It rained hard and was very windy most of the time.  The only saving grace in all of this was the fact that the rattle snakes stayed ‘indoors’, which certainly provided Dee Dee with a certain degree of relief.  We were almost right on the beach – maybe only about a 3 block walk.  Charlie was in doggy heaven; he got to chase a tennis ball and swim in the surf until he could hardly lift his tongue off the sand.  Wahoo!  Texas State Parks has an interesting fee structure:  the campsites are fairly spacious and have water and power (there is a sewer dump conveniently located on the way out.)  The rate is $20 per night, which seems reasonable until you factor in a $5 per day, per person, park use fee.  That brings your stay there to $30 per night.  Still and all, given the locale, not too bad a deal.

Ferry docks, Mustang Island, texas

Ferry docks, Mustang Island, texas

ferry view mirror dee dee

Barrier posts in surf, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Barrier posts in surf, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

We drove down the island and took the FREE ferry (there were FIVE of them running full-tilt boogie) off the Island and over to the mainland, and then drove a big circle back through Corpus Christi and back to Mustang Island.  The next day, we headed over to Padre Island, driving over a small causeway that links it to Mustang Island.  At the end of the road is Padre Island National Seashore.  Located on the south Texas coast, Padre Island National Seashore protects the longest undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world, with nearly 70 miles of sand and shell beaches, windswept dunes and seemingly endless grasslands.  And the majority of the 70 miles is roadless.  But, you can drive on the beach (most of the time, except certain portions that are closed when sea turtle are nesting) and camp.  Four-wheel drive is almost required to do this.  There is an excellent campground there as well, but it’s total dry camping.  The cool thing about this campground is that it is RIGHT on the beach.  The surf seems to almost break into your campsite.  This place is first-come-first-serve, and it was pretty full.

Due to the still crappy weather in the area, we opted to spend an additional day here and wait out the weather.

January 11, 2015 – Galveston Island, Texas

It’s been more than 2 weeks since we have seen the sun (well, it did manage to peak out for about 5 seconds one afternoon.)  Our skin is taking on a bluish tint and our hands are now perpetually wrinkled due to the rain.  One piece of good news is that finally, after more than 2 weeks, my case of the flu and cough seems to have almost totally dissipated.

Diesel price, just outside of Galveston, Texas.  We drove a mile further down the road and it was $2.49/gallon

Diesel price, just outside of Galveston, Texas. We drove a mile further down the road and it was $2.49/gallon

Galveston is a very cool place.  And, it’s really a ‘summer-time’ place as you can see by the multitude of tourist business that dominate the 14+ mile long Seawall Boulevard.  It almost resembles Coney Island in many ways.  As your drive down this long stretch, the city is on one side of the road and the Gulf of Mexico is on the other.  We are staying at this very neat place called Dellanera RV Park, which is run by the County Parks.  Our site is right on the beach – so close that we hear the Gulf of Mexico surf breaking, all the time.  As we look out our back window, and especially at night, we can see a few off-shore oil rigs and several anchored tankers, waiting to be off-loaded at the several refineries in the area.

Dee Dee and the Boyz, Dellenera RV Park, Galveston Island, Texas

Dee Dee and the Boyz, Dellenera RV Park, Galveston Island, Texas

Fence, washed out beach and surf, Dellenera RV Park, Galveston Island, Texas

Fence, washed out beach and surf, Dellenera RV Park, Galveston Island, Texas

One issue we encountered, however, is that the beach immediately out front was being reconstructed because it was pretty much destroyed during the last hurricane.  This is accomplished by essentially hauling tons and tons and tons of sand and re-positioning it on the beach.  This is really a minor issue as we can walk about a block through the RV Park and take a small path down to portion of the frontage that is still in good condition.  Once again, Charlie is very appreciative of the surf-and-sand environment we continue to provide for him.  And, he now seems to spend an equal amount of time in the surf as he does chasing a tennis ball.  We need to get him a board.

Prop and ferry dock, Galveston Island, Texas

Prop and ferry dock, Galveston Island, Texas

New house foundation, Galveston Island, Texas

New house foundation, Galveston Island, Texas

House, Galveston Island, Texas

House, Galveston Island, Texas

Houses, Galveston Island, Texas

Houses, Galveston Island, Texas

As we drove around exploring, we came across another of the FREE Texas ferries, off the north east side of Galveston Island.  Very efficient operation.  We counted 5 ferry docks at this location.  Another thing we noticed is that almost all the houses on Galveston Island are built on ‘stilts’ – 12” X 12” pressure-treated timbers (or in some cases, telephone poles) driven into the ground.  The actual house sits about 12 – 18 feet in the air.  The reason is obvious – protection from flooding caused by hurricanes.

January 15 – still no sun!  We depart here (Galveston Island) this morning, headed for Carencro, Louisiana, where we will be staying at the Bayou Wilderness RV Park.  Stay tuned…