Christmas in the Big Apple (December 23 – 27, 2017)

After 14 straight years of meeting for Christmas in cabins at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park in Eva, TN, the group decided last Christmas that we should do something different for Christmas 2017. We all agreed that Christmas in New York City sounded like fun. Jan began last winter researching places to stay. She had considered hotel rooms but felt that it would be preferable for socializing if we could all share a townhouse. She looked at many options on Airbnb.com but most were too expensive or inconvenient. Finally, Jan found a brownstone in the Upper East Side that was large enough for us and booked it nine months in advance. The brownstone had the added advantage that it was only three blocks away from Jan’s niece, Katie Schlegel. In addition to our sons, Jarrod and Jason Bain, we were joined by Jessica Mollman, Brittany Dickerson and Caleb Dickerson.

Our flight departed the Austin airport at 9:15 on Saturday, December 23rd. Although the airport was only 33 miles from our campground in Georgetown, TX, it took us nearly an hour to get there so we got up at about 4 a.m. and departed at 5 a.m. The economy parking lots at the Austin airport were packed but there were numerous flagmen directing us to open parking spaces.

Our non-stop flight to JFK airport in New York was rather turbulent but we arrived on time. We used a Via driver to take us to the brownstone. We were greeted and shown around by Ben, the brother of the owner. Jason, Jarrod and Jess had arrived shortly before us and were returning from lunch as we arrived. After taking time to check out our residence and get unpacked, we walked up the street and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Brittany and Caleb arrived shortly after we returned from lunch. Katie came to visit and, after lots of chit-chatting, we walked up a few blocks to do our grocery shopping for the next few days. Since we’d been up since 4 a.m., we decided to go to bed while the rest of the group went out on the town.

On Christmas Eve morning, we had breakfast and then headed out. The weather was in the low 30s and windy so we had to bundle up. We walked a few blocks to Central Park and strolled around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”). We spent about 1 ½ hours exploring The Met, which was only enough time to see a small portion of the exhibits. We decided to walk back to our neighborhood and, although Jarrod and Jess went off to a ramen restaurant, the rest of us went to Joy Burger Bar for lunch. Katie’s boyfriend, Sheamus, joined us there. After lunch we returned to the brownstone to warm up and spend some time visiting.

In the evening we headed out in the bitter cold via the Metro subway to Gramercy Park, a private gated park that is only open to the general public for Christmas Eve caroling. Unfortunately we arrived as the caroling was ending and the park was no longer open to the public. We then decided to walk down to the Union Square Holiday Market but, again, arrived too late and only got to see the vendors taking down their booths. We next decided to go to Rockefeller Center where we saw the huge Christmas tree and the ice skating rink. The streets were mobbed with others who were as bundled up as we were. We had to stand for over 30 minutes while the ice was resurfaced before seeing any ice skating. We then walked up Broadway near Times Square and on to Macy’s on 34th Street. We were surprised to discover that Macy’s had closed at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve so we were unable to go inside to visit Santaland. We stopped off for a late night snack at Little Italy Pizza before returning home via the subway.

On Christmas Day, we had our breakfast and then did Dirty Santa gift exchanges. In the afternoon we walked to the Lasker Ice Rink in Upper Central Park. The temperature had dropped into the 20s. Despite not having ice skated in 20 years, Phil joined the younger folk on the ice. Jan opted to take pictures from the safety of the rink’s perimeter. Although we had bundled up for our walk across Central Park, it didn’t take Phil long to work up a sweat once the ice skating began.

After skating, we walked back to the brownstone and relaxed a while before dinner. Sheamus’ mother, Georgette, joined us. We called for a couple of Via drivers to take us to Carmine’s Italian restaurant in the Upper West Side. Carmine’s is a large restaurant and was filled to capacity for Christmas dinner. The food was served family style. We started with Caesar salad and calamari, then ordered four entrees. We all ate a lot but we still had plenty of leftovers to take with us at the end of the meal. After returning home by Via, we stayed up until almost 2 a.m. playing The Game of Things and having a lot of laughs.

Group at Carmine's
Christmas dinner at Carmine’s

On December 26th we walked to MYNY Bakery Café for breakfast. We then took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked part way up the bridge. The weather was still very cold and the wind discouraged from walking any farther across the bridge. We then walked down to the Financial District and visited the new structures on the former site of the World Trade Center towers. We warmed up inside the huge Oculus shopping mall and then visited the South 9/11 memorial pool. Next we walked to the Staten Island Ferry and rode for free back and forth across the Hudson River and got a great view of the Statue of Liberty. Katie joined us when we got off the ferry.

We took the subway to the East Village and had lunch at McSorley’s Old Ale House. McSorley’s was established in 1854 and is the oldest Irish pub in NYC. The floors are covered with sawdust and no memorabilia has been removed from the walls since 1910. McSorley’s is one of the last men-only pubs in NYC, only admitting women when legally forced to in 1970. After McSorley’s, we braved the cold again and strolled through Chinatown and Little Italy. We took the subway back home and dined on leftovers from our Christmas dinner. After dinner we played a round of The Game of Things but didn’t stay up too late since Caleb and Brittany needed to leave at 5 a.m. the next morning.

On December 27th, Jarrod, Jason and Jess picked up breakfast from MYNY Bakery Café. Their driver picked them up about 9:30 a.m. and, after saying our goodbyes, we headed out to do our last sight-seeing. We took the subway to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and viewed the spectacular architecture. We then walked to Grand Central Terminal and explored the huge structure. We found the opal-faced clock, valued at $20 million, above the Information Booth. We also located the world’s largest Tiffany Glass Clock, below the 48 foot, 1,500 ton, Transportation statue overlooking 42nd Street and Park Avenue. We then walked up to 33rd Street and then took the subway back to our neighborhood for another lunch at Joy Burger Bar. After retrieving our luggage at the house, we met our Via driver for a trip back to JFK airport.

We had a nice flight back to Austin, took the shuttle to our car and made the long drive back to our campground in Georgetown, TX. When we arrived at the campground at 11 p.m., we discovered that the gate closed at 10 p.m. and we were unable to drive to our site. After finding no alternatives, we parked our car outside the gate and Phil walked in the dark to our campsite and got the truck. We transferred our luggage to the truck and managed to get home and unpacked by about midnight. We retrieved our car in the morning. We were glad we had decided not to leave Georgetown until December 29th.

Our Final Road Trip of 2017 (November 13 – December 22, 2017)

Since we had a few weeks left before settling down in Texas for the winter, we decided to make a trip to Gulf Shores, AL. In addition to spending time on the beach, this trip will allow us to add Louisiana and Mississippi to the list of states where we have camped.

We left San Antonio the morning of November 13th and drove 240 miles to Cut and Shoot, TX where we stayed a week at the Country Place RV Park. Although our route skirted Houston, we hit two stretches of bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-10. The drive ended up taking about 6 hours. We didn’t pull into our campground until 5 pm but still managed to get set up before sunset. Although most of the other campers appeared to be long-term residents, we got one of the short-term sites. It was a long pull-through site directly across from the game room and one of the three fishing ponds. The view was beautiful and the owners were very friendly.

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Country Place RV Park in Cut and Shoot, TX

Phil had scheduled a service appointment for 10 a.m. on November 14th at Camperland Trailer Sales in Conroe, TX. We needed to have our bearings re-packed (a critical annual maintenance), a minor water leak fixed and the annual Texas inspection performed. So, the following morning we had to hook up and drive 10 miles to the dealer. When we were doing the paperwork in the service department, the scheduler asked Phil if he was dropping our rig off or would be waiting. Since we had Jan’s car and had intended to kill the day exploring the Conroe area, Phil told him that we would be dropping it off. We then spent the next five hours shopping at Sam’s Club and TJ Maxx, having lunch at Pei Wei Asian Diner and strolling through The Woodlands Mall. Although we hadn’t gotten a call from Camperland, we decided to return to check on the status of our service work. Upon our return, we learned that no work had been done yet. The service scheduler told Phil that they were short-staffed and he had interpreted Phil’s comment that we were “dropping off” to mean that we wouldn’t be back for several days. We later learned that this was only the service scheduler’s second day on the job. We also learned that Andy, the guy who does the annual Texas inspections, was at training that day so it appeared that we would have to reschedule the entire service for later that week. Fortunately there was an older gentleman listening in on our conversation (we now suspect he was the owner) and he intervened. He suggested that they could do the inspection while we were there and have Andy enter it into the state’s system when he returned. The inspection only consists of checking the lights and turn signals so that only took a few minutes. In the meantime, the older gentleman arranged to have one of the mechanics look at the leak. Phil had already identified the source of the leak but getting to it was a major undertaking. The mechanic spent nearly an hour removing the Kantleak panel (a misnomer if ever there was one) and wrapping Teflon tape around the leaking connection. Although the normal service rate is $100 per hour, the gentleman informed us that there was no charge for the inspection or the leak repair.

The sun was setting by the time we left the dealer and it was dark when we pulled back into our site at the campground. Phil called the following morning to verify that Andy had entered the inspection in the Texas system and to see if we could arrange to have the bearings repacked that week. The service scheduler told Phil that Andy was still out but he would leave a message for Andy to call him.

When Phil hadn’t heard from Andy by Wednesday afternoon, he decided to schedule the work to be done when we were in Hattiesburg, MS in mid-December. However, we still needed confirmation that the state inspection had been done so we drove Jan’s car to Camperland on Friday afternoon and finally got to speak with Andy. It was a good thing because Andy didn’t know anything about the inspection. The service scheduler who had performed the inspection on Tuesday still had his notes but, unfortunately, he had failed to request some of the required information such as the VIN and the license plate number. Fortunately, Andy was agreeable with having Phil call him with missing info and then emailed Phil the document confirming the inspection had been recorded in the Texas system.

On Saturday, November 18th, we attended a Thanksgiving pot luck dinner in the campground meeting room. We took a blueberry pie, baked with the last of the blueberries we had picked in Washington, and an Ambrosia salad. There were about 50 people at the dinner and, although we never did learn why the Thanksgiving pot luck was held on a Saturday, there was plenty of food for all.

On Sunday, we decided to take advantage of the cooler fall weather and drove 45 minutes to the Sam Houston National Forest to hike. When we arrived at the Kelly Pond trailhead, we learned that the trail was closed due to storm damage from Hurricane Harvey. We were somewhat relieved since we had driven 1.5 miles down a dirt road to reach the trailhead and had passed many hunter campsites along the road. The prospect of hiking so close to hunters seemed unwise. Fortunately we found another trailhead farther from the hunters and spent the next 2.5 hours hiking in the forest. Our hike began on a portion of the 96-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail but then veered off onto the North Wilderness Trail. The trail didn’t really go anywhere special but it was good to be hiking again after doing so much of it in the summer. We have no idea how far we hiked but we turned around after 1 ¼ hours and hiked back the way we came.

On Monday, November 20th, it was time to get back on the road again. Since we only had to drive 100 miles and since checkout wasn’t until noon, we took our time getting ready to go. Our trip took us through Livingston, TX so we stopped to pick up our mail at the Escapees park where our mail forwarding service is based. We hadn’t been to Livingston since November 2015 even though it is our legal address. We then continued on for another hour to the Sandy Creek Corp of Engineers campground, 10 miles west of Jasper, TX. Phil had reserved a long pull-through site for three nights and we were pleased to discover that our site provided a beautiful view of the lake from our living room windows.

We took advantage of temperatures in the 60s over the next two days to get out and explore the campground. On Tuesday, we strolled along the road that followed the banks of B. A. Steinhagen Lake. On Wednesday, we got out the bicycles and rode through the entire campground.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 23rd, we drove 158 miles to Duson, Louisiana where we spent two nights at Frog City RV Park. We arrived at 3:30 pm and were invited to a Thanksgiving pot luck dinner that began at 4 pm. We hurried to get set up and made it to dinner in time. Since we hadn’t known there would be a pot luck dinner, we only had a jar of pickles to contribute to the pot luck. It didn’t really matter as there was plenty of food for everyone.

On Friday, we drove outside Lafayette, LA to the Cypress Island Preserve and hiked the nature trail. It was a lovely walk along the bayou surrounding Lake Martin even though it was the wrong season for seeing much wildlife. Cypress Island Preserve provides wetland habitat for a large wading bird rookery that supports more than 20,000 pairs of birds during peak nesting season (April – May). The Preserve also supports many alligators, including some of the largest in Louisiana. Between March and October, alligators up to 10-15 feet can be seen along the western edge of Lake Martin.

On Saturday, November 25th, we drove 140 miles to Fontainebleau State Park, a few miles east of Mandeville, LA and on the northern coast of Lake Pontchartrain, and stayed there for six days. Our site was the only one that was both a pull-through and had a sewer hookup. The pull-through required some maneuvering to get to a level spot but we managed. The water and electric hookups were on the opposite side from where they should be but, fortunately, we were able to reach them by running our electric cord and water hose under our rig.  We were surprised and pleased to find that we had a satellite signal despite being among a lot of trees. Our first night of camping in Louisiana represented the 30th state we’d camped in since we started full-timing 25 months earlier.

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On Sunday, we got down our bicycles and rode to the fishing pier on Lake Pontchartrain and along the beach. We attempted to walk on the Alligator Marsh Boardwalk but most of it was closed. We also visited the ruins of an old sugar mill.

On Tuesday, we rode our bikes for several miles along the Tammany Trace, a 31-mile protected bike path, and took a break by the Lake Pontchartrain Yacht Club.

On Wednesday, we returned to the ruins of the Fontainebleau Plantation Sugar Mill, the summer home and plantation of Bernard de Marigny (1785 – 1868). Then we hiked the Bayou Cane Hiking Trail. We understood why most of the Alligator Marsh Boardwalk is closed when we discovered a couple of large sections of boardwalk washed up on the shore, presumably by one of the recent hurricanes. Although we didn’t come across any alligators on our hike, we did have an armadillo cross the trail in front of us.

Thursday, November 30th, was Jan’s birthday. We had heavy rains in the morning but the weather cleared up around 1 pm and we headed off to New Orleans. We took the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, a 24-mile long bridge that is the world’s longest continuous over-water highway bridge. It was a little scary driving 65 mph across the open water but it helped that the fog was so thick that we really couldn’t see the water. Upon arriving in New Orleans, we walked along the Riverwalk and watched the Natchez paddleboat depart from the dock and head up the Mississippi River. Next we strolled around the French Quarter and went to see the St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the nation. When we got tired of walking, we sat outside at the Palace Café on Canal Street and watched the world go by. Our next stop was Pat O’Brien’s Bar where we enjoyed drinks in the piano bar. One of the piano players performed a song for Jan’s birthday. Our next stop was at Pat O’Brien’s Courtyard Restaurant where we had dinner and huge desserts. After dinner we strolled back through the French Quarter to our car. We drove back home across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and, as we were driving through the state park, spotted a couple of wild boars. Unfortunately the boars ran back into the forest before Jan could get her camera out.

On Friday, December 1st, we drove 180 miles to Gulf Shores, AL where we spent 10 days at Gulf State Park. The campground is quite large by itself but is only a fraction of this huge state park. The campground is much more like a resort than any other state park we’ve been to.

On Saturday we rode our bikes around part of the park. We rode out to the Alligator Island Pier and spotted our first alligator in the wild.

Alligator

On Sunday we drove to the Gulf State Park Beach Pavilion and caught the end of the Christmas performances by a large number of elementary school children. Then we walked down to the beach and strolled a long distance along the shore. We first spotted several dolphins off in the distance and then saw numerous small groups of rays swimming rapidly about ten feet from the shore line. Our next stop was at the Gulf State Park Pier. We walked to the end of the pier, watched the fishermen and spotted a pelican that allowed us to walk right up to it.

On Monday and Tuesday we rode our bikes around the park. There are a huge number of paved trails and boardwalks throughout the park restricted just for walking and bicycling. We frequently came to forks in the road and had to choose between trails to continue along. There were seemingly an unlimited number of possible combinations that could have kept us riding all day.  We also strolled along the beach again.

After several days of beautiful weather with highs in the 70s, the weather on Wednesday turned much colder and rainy and stayed that way for most of our remaining stay. We spent Wednesday afternoon browsing in the shops at The Wharf in Orange Beach. On Friday we returned to The Wharf and went to the movies to see Wonder. After the movie we drove to Pensacola, FL and had a seafood dinner at Flora-Bama. Donald Trump was also in Pensacola while we were there but we didn’t run into him.

On Saturday afternoon we met up with Carol Ann and Shane Snider at Hope’s Cheesecake and had some wonderful cheesecake and conversation. The Sniders, who used to live in Jan’s hometown in TN, now live in Gulf Shores. That evening, we had dinner with Cathy and Phil Schirtzinger at The Steamers. We had gotten to know the Schirtzinger’s at Buckhorn Lake Resort the past two winters. We shared an order of Royal Red shrimp and crab legs. Royal Red shrimp are considered to be the crowned jewel of Alabama shrimp and are tastier than other varieties. Cathy and Phil, who had dined at The Steamers previously, assured us that one order was plenty for two people and they were right. We struggled to eat all that came with our one order but it was delicious.

On Monday, December 11th, we drove 169 miles to Paul B. Johnson State Park, near Hattiesburg, MS, where we stayed for two nights. The state park is large so we had to drive quite a distance to reach our campsite. We had a full hook-up site but it was a fairly narrow back-in. Our site provided a lovely view of a lake. There was an island in the lake, with a bridge to it from the mainland. The temperature dropped below freezing both nights, resulting in morning fog across the lake. We were joined by a group of ducks who successfully persuaded Jan to give them a handout. Our stay in Mississippi represented the 31st state where we’ve camped since beginning our RV adventure in October 2015. On Tuesday we drove into Hattiesburg and got the bearings on our fifth wheel serviced. This was the service that we had attempted unsuccessfully to have done in Conroe, TX.  Unfortunately this required us to back into our site a second time upon our return from the dealer.

On Wednesday, December 13th, we packed up and drove 230 miles to Sterlington, LA, about 15 miles north of Monroe, where we spent two nights at Bayou Boeuf RV Park. The campground owner was very friendly and gave us our choice of sites. There were quite a few to choose from since the park was mostly empty. On Thursday we drove into Monroe. We stopped at Catfish Charlies for lunch and had a very filling and tasty meal of catfish strips. Later we drove to the AT&T store where we took advantage of a special offer to get new iPhones. We had both had our old iPhones for many years (Jan’s was a 5 and Phil’s was a 5C) and both phones were having issues. Jan upgraded to an 8 Plus and Phil upgraded to an 8. The special offer enabled us to buy one iPhone and get a second one for free. Unfortunately, the free phone required a new line so Jan has a new phone number and her old number had to be deactivated.

On Friday, December 15th, we drove 219 miles to Tyler, TX where we spent three nights at Tyler Oaks RV Resort. Although the drive was almost entirely on I-20, the road was extremely rough most of the way and we were very glad when the drive was over. We were also glad to find that the RV park was where we thought it was. Phil always checks the satellite picture for our destination coordinates on Google Earth before we begin our drive but, in this instance, the satellite picture showed nothing but an open field. Fortunately, Tyler Oaks RV Resort turned out to be a large, modern campground where the open field had once been.

On Saturday we drove into downtown Tyler and visited the 1859 Goodman-LeGrand House & Museum. In 1859, a Tyler attorney and bachelor named Samuel Gallatin Smith built a one-story four room house on the highest knoll of a nine acre tract. Dr. Samuel Goodman purchased the house in 1866 and sold it to his son, Dr. William Jeffries, a Confederate Major and general surgeon, in 1867. Dr. and Mrs. W. J. Goodman raised three children, Sallie, Will and Etta Goodman. The second story was added around 1880. In 1893, Sallie married James LeGrand and they both continued to live in the family home, which Sallie inherited upon her father’s death in 1921. The house was remodeled in 1926 when the two-story columns were added. Much of the community activity in the early days of Tyler centered around the Goodman home.  Upon her death in 1939, Sallie bequeathed the nine acres and the mansion to the City of Tyler with the stipulation that the house be maintained as a museum for future generations to enjoy.

On Sunday evening we drove to downtown Tyler and cruised through the historic Azalea District and Brick Street Village to see the Christmas lights. In the early 1900s the City of Tyler installed 14 miles of brick roads because merchants were complaining that their wares were arriving covered with dust. The brick roads are still maintained by the city today at great expense. We saw lots of beautiful old homes in these neighborhoods, most of which were ornately decorated for Christmas. We stopped at the city square and saw the official Tyler Christmas tree.

We had torrential rain that night and, in the morning, discovered some water against the inside bathroom walls. The location was odd since we couldn’t find where it would have come from since there was no sign of a leak.

On Monday, December 18th, we drove 240 miles to Austin Lone Star RV Resort in Austin, TX where we stayed for three days. We were fortunate that we had no rain when we were hooking up in Tyler, nor when we arrived in Austin. However, the entire day was foggy and very dreary.

That night we had another rainstorm and, at 4 a.m., Phil discovered that the hallway floor by the bathroom was quite wet. This time we discovered some water dripping from the light fixture in the hallway. In the morning Phil climbed up on the roof and spread our tarp over the area above the light fixture. He removed the light fixture from the ceiling and a couple of cups of water poured out. We had more rain later in the morning but the tarp appeared to do the trick. Despite spending more time on the roof, Phil has not yet discovered the source of the leak but this is obviously something that has to be fixed.

On December 21st we drove 37 miles to Georgetown, TX where we parked our rig at the Cedar Breaks Corp of Engineers (COE) Park for eight nights (even though we only slept there for four nights). Although it was a short drive, the traffic through Austin was horrible and we were delayed by a bad accident on I-35. The Cedar Breaks COE Park is on the edge of Lake Georgetown and our site (#15) overlooked the lake. We had a back-in site but getting backed into our site wasn’t too difficult. The only real challenge was that there was a tree at the back of our asphalt pad that limited how far back we could park. Phil struggled greatly with the tree branches when he climbed up on the roof to spread out the tarp. The wind was so strong that he had to carry several boards, as well as a log and a large rock, up on the roof to help hold down the tarp. He also used a tie down on either side of the rig to keep the tarp from blowing away. The wind gusts kept the tarp flapping throughout the night but it managed to stay in place.

On December 22nd we prepared for our trip to New York City.

Hot Times in San Antonio (October 13 – November 13, 2017)

We decided to return to San Antonio so that Jan would be in a familiar location for the two weeks Phil returned to Malta for work. We had stayed at Traveler’s World twice before so we knew it provided a safe and well maintained campground that was convenient to both downtown and the freeways.

Jan’s friends, Sheila Gaskin and Michelle DeBartolo, flew into San Antonio Saturday morning, October 14th.  Phil left for his two-week contract assignment in Malta just a few hours later.

This was Phil’s fourth trip to Malta in 14 months. Once again he stayed at the Westin Dragonara, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The weather in Malta in October was very nice, with highs around 75 and lows around 65. Although the weather was too cool and windy for the pool to be an option, Phil and his colleagues ate many meals outdoors with views of the Mediterranean.

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View from the balcony of the Westin Dragonara, overlooking the Mediterranean

Meanwhile, back in San Antonio, Jan kept quite busy with her friends. After Phil’s departure, they took the bus downtown and had dinner on the Riverwalk. On Sunday, October 15th, they drove to Luckenbach and Fredericksburg to do some sightseeing. On Monday, October 16th, they explored San Antonio on the Hop-on, Hop-Off bus. On Tuesday, October 17th, they went to the Aztec Theater where they attended “Get the Led Out,” a tribute to the rock band Led Zeppelin. Michelle flew back to Tennessee on Wednesday evening but Sheila stayed on for another week.

On Thursday, October 19th, Jan and Shelia went to see “The King and I” at the Majestic Theater and enjoyed the show a lot.

On Sunday,  October 22nd, Jan and Sheila went to Sea World for a day of fun. Sheila left on Tuesday to return to Tennessee.

Phil returned on the evening of Saturday, October 28th.  We spent a very relaxing week after Phil’s return, in large part due to hot and humid weather. The daytime highs were in the mid-80s and the humidity was stifling so we spent most of the week indoors enjoying our air conditioning. Phil took advantage of this downtime to finish some work he had started in Malta, as well as finalizing our travel plans for the balance of 2017.

On Saturday night, November 4th, we forced ourselves to brave the hot weather and ventured downtown for “Opera in the Park.”

The hot temperatures continued for several more days and then dropped like a rock. On November 7th, we spent the afternoon at the campground swimming pool and enjoyed the 80 degree weather. The next day, the afternoon temperature got down to 46 degrees. Although the weather did climb back into the 70’s during the balance of our stay in San Antonio, we really didn’t do anything noteworthy. We both had dentist appointments; Jan had her annual physical; and Phil took both vehicles for their annual inspections. We had been experiencing a slow loss of tire pressure in one of the RV tires so Phil removed the tire and took it to a tire dealer to have it inspected. He first learned that Discount Tire doesn’t handle truck tires so he then had to take the tire to a commercial truck tire dealer. They couldn’t detect the source of the leak so, for now, Phil will have to continue to add air each time we travel. It’s a hassle but, fortunately, we have a portable air compressor.

 

Heading Back to San Antonio (September 29 – October 13, 2017)

Our arrival in Barstow, CA marked over 6,800 miles since we left San Antonio on May 9, 2017. We still had over 1,500 miles left in our return trip to San Antonio. When we began our trip, we had not had a specific return date. However, Phil accepted another two week contract job in Malta in late October so we must be return to San Antonio by October 13th.

On September 29th we drove 199 miles to Golden Valley, AZ where we spent the night at Tradewinds RV Park. Although the first part of the drive was on I-15, we then turned on to state roads and the drive became more challenging. There were many steep climbs and descents along the way. The campground was largely a gravel parking lot but our site was plenty large enough. There were lots of old pieces of farm machinery scattered around the campground.

On September 30th we drove 155 miles to Prescott, AZ. Most of the drive headed east on I-40; then the last 50 miles headed south on AZ-89. Although the drive was relatively short, it was another challenging drive with only one stop along the way. After three straight days of driving, we were exhausted when we arrived. We spent five nights at Point of Rocks RV Campground. The campground is among rocky hills but all the roads are quite dusty, prompting one reviewer to refer to it rather unflatteringly as “Piece of Dirt” rather than “Point of Rocks.” We were assigned site 56 in the upper section of the campground. It was a back-in site but was fairly easy to back into. We were under some large tree branches so we had no chance of using our satellite dish. The campground didn’t have cable but fortunately we were able to get 24 channels over the air.

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On October 1st we wandered down the trail from the campground to Watson Lake. The lake is a beautiful shade of blue and is surrounded on three sides by large granite boulders. There is a combination of hiking trails that loop the lake but we were not prepared that day for a 4.5 mile hike. In the neighboring park, we discovered that the city was having a large dog show that they called Dog-tober. We watched part of the costume contest on our walk back to our campsite.

On October 2nd we decided to hike the Watson Lake trails that loop the lake. The weather was sunny with a nice breeze and temperatures in the low 70s.  The beginning of the hike was fairly easy and took us around the southern tip of the lake. However, the final two-thirds of the hike was quite challenging. We saw a sign that warned us that the trail required climbing on some steep rocks and would be quite strenuous. We decided to hike the strenuous route since our alternatives were either to return the way we’d come or walk along a vehicle road that wouldn’t have provided much of a view of the lake. It was a beautiful hike but clearly longer and more strenuous than hikes we’d done previously. Including the trail to and from our campsite, the hike took us over five miles. However, given the amount of care we had to take to walk along the rocky trail, the hike seemed much longer. Since most of this portion of the trail was over rocks, it was often difficult to follow the trail.  Fortunately, someone had painted small white dots on the rocks along the trail so we were able to follow these dots.  We were glad we chose to take the strenuous route but were very happy to relax when we got back home.

On October 3rd we drove to historic downtown Prescott and strolled along Whiskey Row several times trying to decide on where to have lunch. We finally decided on The Palace Restaurant and Saloon. The Palace is both the oldest business and oldest bar operating in the state of Arizona. It opened in 1877 and was rebuilt in 1901 after a disastrous fire swept a four block section of the downtown district. Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday frequented The Palace in the 1870s before they headed to Tombstone. Wyatt Earp was involved in several gunfights behind the saloon, killing two men. Doc Holliday also killed a man in the saloon during a knife fight. Our lunch at The Palace was much more peaceful and our appetizers of chicken wings and fried artichoke hearts were both very good. The wait staff were all dressed in period costumes, including the sheriff who was seating patrons.

On October 5th we drove 187 miles to Holbrook, AZ where we spent two nights at OK RV Park. The name was appropriate as the campground was only OK. We were parked in a site that they seldom use and we found out why. Because of the placement of the electrical box, we had to pull up to the front of the site. This put us door-to-door with our neighbor who was facing the opposite direction. It also us under a tree which meant we couldn’t use our satellite. That shouldn’t have been a problem, since the campground provided cable TV with 50 channels. Unfortunately, we were expected to use their coaxial cable that ran underground to a splitter bar at the neighbor’s pole. The campground rules made it clear that we were not supposed to disconnect their cable. When Phil wasn’t able to get help from the office staff, he ignored the rules, connected our own coaxial cable to the splitter bar and the problem was solved.

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Welcome to Holbrook Arizona sign

We arrived early enough to allow us time to explore the nearby Petrified Forest National Park. We started at the Painted Desert Visitor Center at the north end of the park where we watched the park film. Then we drove the 28 mile road through the park and stopped at numerous scenic overlooks. We ended the drive with a stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum at the southern end of the park.

We learned that a log is petrified when all of the original plant material is replaced by minerals. Approximately 216 million years ago, trees dies and fell into a river. They were covered by layers of silt, mud, sand, and volcanic ash, which protected them from decay. Mineral-laden ground water percolated through the layers, carrying silica from the volcanic ash and other trace minerals. The absorbent dead wood became saturated with these minerals. The silica, or quartz, crystals slowly bonded with the cells of the tree replicating the organic material in perfect detail. Eventually, silica replaced the wood material. Now this petrified forest is not made of wood, but of stone.

We began the following morning by returning to the Rainbow Forest Museum where we first walked the self-guided .4 mile Giant Logs Trail. This included a stop at a 35-foot petrified log nicknamed Old Faithful.

We next hiked 2.6 miles along the Long Logs Trail and the Agate House Trail. The Long Log Trail took us through the site of a Triassic log jam where we saw a large number of especially long petrified tree trunks. The Agate House, originally built with petrified wood blocks and mud mortar, likely housed a single family between 1050 and 1300. The house was reconstructed by the Civil Works Administration in 1934.

After a picnic lunch, we drove the Blue Mesa Road and hiked the 1 mile loop trail. This steep trail took us through vibrant blue, purple and gray badlands dotted with colorful petrified wood. We ended the day by hiking the .8 mile Crystal Forest loop trail where we viewed numerous beautiful petrified logs.

On October 7th we drove 153 miles to Milan, NM where we spent the night at Bar S RV Park.

On Sunday, October 8th we drove 73 miles to Albuquerque, NM where we spent three nights at Enchanted Trails RV Park. We arrived in Albuquerque shortly after noon so we were still able to attend the evening session of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Since we’d read about how bad the traffic would be, we arrived at the Balloon Fiesta around 4 pm for the events that were scheduled to begin at 6 pm. Unfortunately, the winds were too strong for the balloons to be inflated until about an hour late. We were seated near the Canon balloon and, since Canon was the primary corporate sponsor, they were the first balloon inflated. However, we were unaware that there were approximately 600 other balloons being readied to be inflated immediately after the Canon balloon. Once the balloons were inflated, they began what is known as the “Balloon Glow” where the burners of the tethered balloons were ignited, illuminating the night with colorfully glowing envelopes that guests were able to wander amongst. After the Balloon Glow, we stayed for the Laser Light Show and the AfterGlow Fireworks Show.

We set our alarm for 4 am and got up and headed back to the Balloon Fiesta at 4:30 am. We arrived for another Laser Light Show that began at 5:45 am. It was around 50 degrees but the wind made it feel much colder. Once again, the winds caused the events to be delayed. The next event, the Dawn Patrol, consisted of the launch of a small number of balloons to enable the pilot to determine the day’s winds aloft conditions. After the Dawn Patrol, the other hundreds of balloons were inflated and most of them set sail. We walked all over the infield watching the balloons being inflated and launched.

We took a day off from the Balloon Fiesta on Tuesday to take care of multiple errands, including picking up our mail at the downtown Albuquerque post office and rinsing out the hot water heater.

Even though Wednesday was a travel day, we decided to get up early (4 am) and attend the Balloon Fiesta before we hit the road since it was our only opportunity to watch a Mass Ascension. A Mass Ascension occurs when hundreds of balloons lift off and fill the horizon over about a little more than an hour. On Wednesday, they held the Flight of Nations Mass Ascension which began with select pilots from participating countries lifting off carrying their country’s flag. This event recognizes the international community that participates in Balloon Fiesta to help make it the largest of its kind in the world.

The traffic was much heavier than it had been on Monday. The police redirected us to another entrance so we had to watch some of the preliminary events from our car as we sat in traffic. It was 39 degrees when we arrived at the Balloon Fiesta but, fortunately, we had learned from Monday’s experience and had dressed more warmly. We walked all over the field and were able to watch from close-up as hundreds of balloons were inflated and took off into the sky. Before long, the sky was filled with hot air balloons and it made for a beautiful site. Attending the Balloon Fiesta was definitely a bucket list event for us but we would love to attend again some time. Although pictures don’t adequately capture the beauty of the event, Jan took hundreds of photos during our three days. It was very difficult to select a few pictures to include with the blog.

We left the Balloon Fiesta before the last of the balloons had ascended but we were cold and needed to get back on the road. We left the campground around 10 am and began our 237 mile drive to Clovis, NM. As soon as we pulled away, Phil discovered that one of our trailer tires was 10 lbs. low so we had to return to add some air. After having gotten up at 4 am, driving 4+ hours was not enjoyable but we successfully completed the trip without further incident. We spent the night at the Travelers World Campground outside of Clovis, NM. The odor made it clear than Clovis is cattle country. We went to bed early and had no trouble sleeping despite being situated between a highway and train tracks.

On Thursday, October 12th, we drove 307 miles to San Angelo, TX where we spent the night at the San Angelo KOA. This was the longest drive we had made since beginning our RV life but we managed to make the trip successfully. This was also our 2-year anniversary of when we began our RV life. It seems like it’s been much longer since we’ve had so many memorable experiences in the past two years.

On October 13th we completed our return to San Antonio with a 220 mile drive. We arrived at Traveler’s World at 2 pm and successfully executed our back-in. We chose not to back into the site completely since there were tree branches that would have blocked our satellite signal. We managed to find a middle ground, one that allowed us to get a satellite signal but still leaving enough room to park our vehicles so they are off the road and not on the grass.  We will be at Traveler’s World for a month.  Phil leaves for a 2-week contract assignment on October 14th.

 

California Dreaming Has Become a Reality (September 5 – 29, 2017)

On September 5th we drove 141 miles down US-101 to Mad River Rapids RV Park in Arcata, CA where we spent five days. The first 40 miles or so of the drive were through smoky skies but the air gradually got clearer as we got into California. Due to a shortage of rest areas along the route, we had to use the Home Depot parking lot in Crescent City, CA as our lunch stop.

We had read some negative reviews of our new campground but we were quite relieved when we arrived and found it to be rather nice. Our site was too short to hold both our car and truck so we had to park the car by the office. Other than that, we were very comfortable with the campground. The weather was in the 60s most of our stay and cloudy every day. We actually had some rain briefly one day, the first rain we’d seen in about two months.

On September 6th we drove nine miles north to the town of Eureka, CA. After having a very filling lunch at Chapala, a Mexican restaurant, we strolled the streets and wharf in historic Old Town Eureka. Being a Wednesday afternoon, the streets were pretty empty except for a large number of homeless people milling around.

On September 8th we spent the day in the nearby Redwood National and State Parks. In the 1920’s, the State of California had established three state parks to protect the redwood forests from being wiped out by the logging industry. When the ecology continued to suffer from logging, Congress created a national park in the adjacent land in 1968. The four parks are now jointly managed by the National Park Service and the California State Parks. We first stopped at the Thomas H. Kushell Visitor Center where we watched a video about the park and got some advice on hiking trails. Our next stop was at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, honoring the environmentally-minded former First Lady. When we arrived, the 20-car parking lot was full and other cars were waiting. We waited for a while but no one was leaving so we drove another ¼-mile and parked at a pullout along the road. Not surprisingly, when we hiked back to the parking lot, there were some empty spaces. Oh well, we got some extra steps in. We hiked the 1.4-mile Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail through an upland redwood grove.

We next drove to Elk Meadow where we had our lunch in the picnic area. After lunch we hiked the 2.8-mile Trillium Falls Trail. It was a beautiful trail through an old-growth redwood forest. The volunteer at the Visitor Center had told us that the Trillium Falls were more of a cascade than vertical waterfalls. However, even with that warning, we didn’t realize we were at the falls when we arrived and, thus, did not take any pictures while we were there. We had to use an Internet picture of the falls for this post. The rest of the hike was much more impressive.

After completing the hike, we watched a large number of wild elk grazing in the meadow.  We stopped on the drive home so Jan could shoot a picture of some interesting plants that lined the highway.

On September 10th it was time for us to move farther down the coast. We drove 250 miles to Bodega Bay, CA where we stayed at the Bodega Bay RV Park for five days. Although a 250 mile drive is not unusual for us, this drive was more challenging than usual. The first 230 miles were on US-101 and had many sharp curves and construction zones that kept us from making good time. There was only one rest area along this route and it was after 133 miles of driving. We stopped in Ukiah, CA to refuel the truck at a truck stop but, after a few unsuccessful attempts, the store owner decided the pump was broken. We ended up parking the truck and trailer at the truck stop and driving our car to a small neighboring gas station where we got five gallons of diesel in our fuel can. After having lunch at In-N-Out Burger, we poured the diesel into the truck and continued on our way. It was 99 degrees when we left Ukiah and it remained between 99 and 100 degrees for the next 60 miles. The last 20 miles turned toward the Pacific coast and, although the temperature dropped quickly, the roads were narrow and very winding. The last mile took us north on CA-1 through the town of Bodega Bay and there were many tight, sharp turns. We were very happy when we pulled into our campground over six hours after leaving Arcata. We were able to upgrade our reservation to a full hookup site, rather than just the water and electric site we had reserved. This meant we would not need to move our rig mid-week to dump our gray tank.

Bodega Bay is a small coastal community about 40 miles northwest of San Francisco. It is probably best known for being the location of the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds.” The town’s primary industries these days appear to be tourism and fishing.

We spent most of September 11th taking care of domestic duties. Since Bodega Bay is rather limited in its business establishments, Phil had to drive the truck 10 miles up CA-1 to find diesel. The drive took him along some beautiful overlooks of the Pacific but the road was again very narrow and winding. He was glad he hadn’t had to bring the fifth wheel that route.  Later, we drove about 15 miles east to the towns of Sebastopol and Rohnert Park where we were able to find a US Bank, Target, Safeway and an Aveda salon. Once again, the temperatures in these inland communities were in the 90s and we were glad to return to cooler temperatures in Bodega Bay at the end of the day. We had dinner at a local casual restaurant, The Boat House, where Jan had fish and chips and Phil had clam strips. Everything was good and very fresh. We sat by a window that gave us a clear view of the deck where the restaurant owner shucked his oysters and would simply toss the shells on the ground. There were deep piles of oyster shells all around the deck.

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On September 12th we stayed closer to home. We drove to Bodega Head, a small promontory rising above the Pacific Ocean. We hiked the Bodega Head Trail that first took us along the coastline and then along the entrance to Bodega Bay. There were many spectacular sites, including a small island where numerous sea lions were yelping loudly. The trail was listed as being 1.9 miles long but we took so many side trips that our hike was considerably longer.

There were lots of small rodents scurrying around in the ground cover and Jan was startled by a small snake that slithered across the path in front of her. There were many raptors and large crows circling just above us while they hunted for food. With the movie “The Birds” in mind, we were somewhat concerned when the birds got too close.

Speaking of “The Birds,” our last stop for the day was in the town of Bodega where we visited the old schoolhouse and church where parts of the movie were filmed in 1962. The Potter School, built in 1873, has served as a private residence since 1966. The monkey bars from the movie were removed long ago. The church, St. Teresa of Avila, is still in use as a Catholic church.

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Potter School, used in “The Birds”
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St. Teresa of Avila, used in “The Birds”

On Wednesday, September 13th, we stopped off at Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy to load up with a variety of flavors of salt water taffy. Next to the store was an old, abandoned wharf. We visited the gas station that had appeared in “The Birds” but found that it had been refurbished and bore no resemblance to the one in the movie.

Jan had read on the Internet that there was an old boat that had been abandoned in the woods near the marina. We had the coordinates but it was only on the third drive-by that we finally spotted the boat. It was several hundred yards from the water so we have no idea how the boat ended up in its final resting place.

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Landlocked, abandoned boat far from water

Next we drove north on Highway 1 and stopped at the overlooks for various Sonoma Coast State Beaches. We watched surfers at the North Salmon Creek beach. Then we stopped to look at the Arched Rock from two vantage points.

At 4 pm we drove to the Spud Point Marina and had an early dinner at Spud Point Crab Company. It was the #1 rated restaurant in Bodega Bay on TripAdvisor. We both had a crab sandwich and a large bowl of New England Clam Chowder. The crab sandwich was loaded with crab and was very good. The chowder was the best either of us had ever had. It was loaded with clams and had just the right amount of seasonings. Jan ended up taking half of her chowder home with her and found that it was still delicious the next day for breakfast.

On September 14th we returned to Bodega Head and enjoyed walking barefoot on the beach. The wave action was quite strong and inconsistent. Several times we were lulled into a false sense of security by waves that didn’t come up the beach very far, only to be surprised by a large wave that would soak our pant legs.

On Friday, September 15th, we drove 140 miles south to Felton, CA where we stayed at Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort. Although the drive was shorter than usual, it was through the Bay Area and was quite stressful. We were on interstates most of the way and the traffic was quite heavy. There were many times when we were forced to stop suddenly. We were quite relieved to reach our destination, where we had stayed before in April 2016. We had reserved a pull-through site and it was quite large. The campground is filled with very tall redwoods so there was no chance our satellite dish was going to work. Fortunately, the campground had a cable hookup.

That evening we drove to Santa Cruz and spent the evening with our daughter and son-in-law, Alison and Bill Lynch. We dropped off our truck at their house for the 10 days rather than pay the $20 per day the campground charges for an extra vehicle, then went out for pizza. After dinner we got a tour of their new house and then they drove us back to the campground.

On Saturday, September 16th, we spent the day with Alison and Bill exploring parts of Santa Cruz we had not visited last year. Our first stop was Natural Bridges State Beach. The natural bridge, a large stone arch, was clearly visible from the beach. Since it was low tide, we were able to climb along the tidepools and explore a variety of ocean life, such as mussels, crabs and sea anemones. Then we explored the Monarch Butterfly Nature Preserve where thousands of Monarch Butterflies reside from late-fall until spring. Although it was too early in the season for seeing the masses of butterflies, we were able to see a few of the early arrivers. We hiked the Monarch Trail before returning to the car.

After stopping off for snacks and cold drinks, we visited the Mystery Spot for a 45-minute tour. The Mystery Spot is a visual illusion-based tourist attraction, opened in 1941. Our tour guide mixed in corny jokes while explaining the history of the property and the phenomena that seems to defy the laws of gravity and physics. We climbed a steep hill to reach a tilted shed. We had a lot of fun as we watched balls that appeared to roll uphill and people leaning far past their toes without tumbling over. Although we kept reminding ourselves it was just an illusion, it was real enough to throw us off our equilibrium.

After the Mystery Spot, we returned to Alison and Bill’s house for dinner followed by some rousing games of Codenames.

On Sunday, September 17th, Alison and Bill came to visit us at the campsite and we spent a relaxing afternoon sitting outside and then dining on grilled chicken.

On September 19th we went for a hike in the Henry Cowell Redwood State Park. We started at a trailhead off of Hwy. 9 and descended a great distance until we reached the San Lorenzo River. At first the trail ran parallel to the river and the hike was fairly easy. We reached a couple of places where the trail turned sharply back toward the highway and we needed to climb some steep banks. The first time, the trail eventually turned back toward the river and resumed its path along the river bank. The second time, we climbed and climbed some steep banks but never found a path bath to the river. Rather than return down the steep path we had climbed, we trail blazed a path back down to the river, sometimes on the seat of our pants. We were quite exhausted by the time we returned to our car.

On September 20th we explored a couple of beach areas that were photogenic. Our first stop was at the Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse (also known as Walton Lighthouse). The lighthouse is at the entrance to Santa Cruz Harbor.

Next we drove to Seacliff Beach in Aptos, CA to see a sunken concrete ship. The S. S. Palo Alto is the most famous concrete ship on the west coast. The Palo Alto was built in 1919 as an oil tanker with a concrete hull. She remained docked in the San Francisco Bay for over 10 years before being purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Company and towed to Seacliff Beach. The ship was grounded in the bay and connected by a long pier. An arcade, dining room, dance hall and swimming pool were built on the ship. Unfortunately, the Seacliff Amusement Company went out of business during the Great Depression. Then, in the following winter, a storm cracked the ship across her midsection. The sunken Palo Alto was stripped of all salvageable metal and fixtures and turned into a fishing pier. The end of the fishing pier was damaged during the 2015/16 winter storms and is now closed so we had to take our pictures from the shore.

On September 21st we drove down the California coastline on Hwy. 1 to the Pfeifer State Park in Big Sur. Hwy. 1 was closed beyond this point. The Big Sur area experienced multiple natural disasters over the past year. The Soberanes Fire burned 134,000 acres from July to October 2016. Then, last winter they received record rainfall, causing immense flooding and landslides on trails and roads. The Pfeifer Canyon Bridge, a quarter mile south of the Pfeifer State Park, failed in February 2017, leading to the closure of Hwy. 1 to the south.

We ate lunch at the park’s picnic area. We were accompanied by a flock of blue birds that we later identified as Steller’s Jays. Each time we flicked a crumb off the picnic table, the birds swooped down on it and then immediately disappeared. We knew we were being watched but we couldn’t see them.

After lunch, we hiked the 2-mile Valley View Trail through a redwood and oak woodland. The trail which climbed to the Valley View Overlook was moderately strenuous. The one mile hike to the overlook was almost entirely uphill, with a 750 foot rise in elevation. Fortunately, the temperature was only 64 degrees and it was quite breezy so we didn’t get too overheated. The overlook provided a panoramic view of the Big Sur River Valley, Point Sur and the Andrew Molera State Park. Fortunately, the return hike was much easier as it was almost entirely downhill.

We then hiked the short River Path back to our car.

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We stopped at several overlooks as we drove back up the Big Sur coastline to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

On Friday, September 22nd, we spent most of the day taking care of domestic duties, then hosted Alison and Bill for dinner. On Saturday, September 23rd, we spent the afternoon and evening with Alison and Bill. Our first stop was at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, photographs, oral histories and moving images.

We next stopped at the Drunken Lobster restaurant in Mountain View and each had a slice of pizza. After the pizza, we strolled along Castro Street and examined the storefronts.

Our next stop at Omescape, an escape room facility in San Jose. Our challenge was named Pandemic Zero and was described as: “A super virus has infected 95% of the world’s population. You have discovered the location of a secret lab. However, the entrance to it has been locked because of a citywide quarantine. Can you find the hidden entrance underneath the city in the sewers and finish work on the cure before it is too late?” We were given 60 minutes to discover clues and figure out ways to gain access through the four rooms needed to save the world. Although Alison and Bill had done other escape rooms before, this was a new experience for us. The Pandemic Zero challenge had a posted historical success rate of 26% so there would have been no shame if we had to failed to solve it. However, we were up to the challenge and completed our mission in 52 minutes. It was a lot of fun, albeit with stress from the time limit.

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The “Serious Serum Seekers” celebrating our success.

To celebrate our success, we stopped off for dessert at Dolce Spazio Dessert Café in Los Gatos. Phil had a slice of fresh banana cake, with the rest of the group had gelato. It was the perfect way to end a very busy, but enjoyable, day.

On Sunday, we drove to Alison and Bill’s house and played a rousing game of Betrayal at House on the Hill. Although we all started out as allies, Bill eventually became the traitor and had no trouble killing off the rest of us. After dinner, it was time for us to say our goodbyes and take one more group photo.

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On Monday, September 25th, we drove 141 miles to the Paso Robles RV Camp in Paso Robles, CA. We had stayed there in April 2016 and it was still very nice. We got a long, although somewhat narrow, pull-through site with plenty of room to park our vehicles on the ends. The host gave Phil many suggestions for sites to see and vineyards to visit.

On September 26th, we drove to the Pacific Coast. The campground host had recommended we go see the elephant seals. Our first stop was at the address for the Friends of the Elephant Seals but, although this gave us our last opportunity for a while to walk on the beach, we did not see any seals. We then drove four miles farther north on Highway 1 until we reached the Piedras Blancas viewing platform where we found a large number of elephant seals. Although the number of elephant seals on the beach will be in the thousands from January through May, September is a slow period with only a few hundred, mostly male, elephant seals there. While some of the seals were playing in the shallow water, most were stretched out on the beach. It was funny to see them using their flippers to toss sand up on their backs.

We drove a mile farther north on Highway 1 in an attempt to get a picture of the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Unfortunately, the gates were locked so we had to settle for pictures from the road. The light at Piedras Blancas was first illuminated in 1875 and is still in use. The lighthouse originally stood 100 feet in height and is presently being restored to its original appearance.

Our next stop was a visit to Hearst Castle, a national Historic Landmark. The estate was designed by architect Julia Morgan, between 1919 and 1947, as a residence for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who died in 1951. In 1954, it became a California State Park and it was opened to visitors in 1958. It is still operated as a working cattle ranch.

Hearst Castle features 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater and airfield. At one time, it also held the world’s largest private zoo. We took the Grand Rooms Tour which took us through the main floor of Casa Grande, the largest house at Hearst Castle. The rooms we visited included the Assembly Room, Refectory (dining room), Morning Room, Billiard Room, and Theater. These rooms were ornately decorated with Renaissance and Baroque tapestries and masterpieces of neoclassical sculptures. We also strolled through the gardens and visited the outdoor Neptune Pool (currently under restoration) and the indoor Roman Baths.

For dinner, we drove to Morro Bay and ate at Dorn’s Original Breakers Café that provided a scenic view of Morro Bay and its iconic rock. Our final stop was at Carousel Taffy where we stocked up on salt water taffy.

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View from our table at Dorn’s Original Breakers Café in Morro Bay

When Phil checked in on Monday, the host gave him coupons for taste tastings at two local wineries. The Paso Robles area is a major wine producing region. Over our three days in the area, we drove through miles and miles of vineyards and passed dozens of wineries. On Wednesday, we headed out to the winery that had provided a coupon for two free wine tastings. Unfortunately, after driving 25 minutes, we arrived at the winery and found that it was closed. So then we drove 30 minutes to the winery that had provided the coupon for two-for-one wine tastings. We stopped along the way to photograph some of the huge vineyards. Upon arrival, we found that they were only open on the weekends unless we had made an appointment. At that point, we decided to simply return home and enjoy some of our box wine.

On September 28th we drove 234 miles to Barstow, CA where we spent the night at Shady Lane RV Camp. We left Paso Robles at 9 a.m. to try to minimize the amount of driving during the heat of the afternoon. The drive was not very scenic and we were glad when we arrived at the campground. We had stayed at Shady Lane RV Camp in April 2016. It’s a small, not very attractive, park and appears to be mostly filled with long-term residents. The manager led us to our site and encouraged us to set up first and then come to the office to register. Our site was a pull-through with plenty of room for both our vehicles. One end of the wooden valence above our dining room table, which had started pulling away from the cabinets for a couple of months, had dropped a lot more during the day’s drive. We knew we needed to fix it before driving any farther, rather than risk having it crash down while we were driving. After having pizza for dinner at Oggi’s Sports Bar, we made two trips to Home Depot to find screws of the right length to reattach the valence to the cabinets. We then spent our last night in California, before heading for Arizona in the morning.

 

 

 

Our Oregon Adventure (August 13 – September 5, 2017)

On August 13th we packed up and moved 84 miles to Fort Stevens State Park in Hammond, OR in the Northwest corner of Oregon. Phil had reserved the second-largest site in the park but, unfortunately, all the sites were back-ins. Due to the narrow driveway and pressure to get out of the way of another RV following behind him, it took Phil several tries to get properly aligned on our site. Phil later noticed that he had snapped off our neighbor’s plastic site marker while backing into our site but had done no damage to our truck. Although the site’s driveway was rather narrow, the site itself was very large so we had plenty of privacy. We had no cell service and, due to the surrounding trees, we also had no satellite TV reception.

With our first night’s stay in Oregon, we achieved the 29th state we’ve camped in since beginning our full-time RV adventure 22 months earlier.

After getting set up, we drove to the nearby Fort Stevens. Fort Stevens had served as a military outpost from the Civil War through World War II, protecting the entrance to the Columbia River. We first looked at exhibits in the museum, including video footage of interviews with soldiers who had been at the post when a Japanese submarine fired several shells at them during WWII. We then explored the remains of several artillery batteries.

On Monday, August 14th, we began our day exploring the small town of Astoria, OR. We drove to the highest point in town and climbed the 265-step spiral staircase up the 225’ tall Astoria Column. From the observation tower, we could see out across the Columbia River and the surrounding valley.

We next drove to the John Jacob Astor elementary school where the movie Kindergarten Cop, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, had been filmed. As we were leaving, we spotted a buck munching on the bushes in the front yard of one of the neighboring houses.

We crossed the four mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge to Washington. This is the longest truss bridge in North America and was the last completed segment of US Route 101 between Olympia, WA and Los Angeles, CA. We spent the afternoon at Cape Disappointment State Park, in the extreme SW corner of Washington. The cape was named in 1788 by British fur trader John Meares who was sailing south in search of trade. After a storm, he turned his ship around just north of the Cape and therefore just missed discovering the Columbia River. Cape Disappointment is reputed to be one of the foggiest places in the United States but it was fairly clear when we were there. We first walked down to the North Head Lighthouse but it was closed for renovation. We then drove to the North Jetty and walked along it before stopping for our picnic lunch. After lunch, we visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center where we viewed the many exhibits related to the Lewis and Clark exploration. Our final activity was a hike up a steep path to the Cape Discovery Lighthouse, one mile each way.

We then returned to Astoria and strolled along the riverfront boardwalk. We ended our day with dinner in Warrenton, OR at Doogers’ Seafood and Grill. We each had a cup of clam chowder. For our entrees, Jason had halibut Cajun-style; Jan had calamari; and Phil had fried oysters. The food was very good and we all left feeling overly full.

On Tuesday, August 15th, we drove to the beach community of Seaside, OR. We first strolled along the shops on Broadway on our way to the beach. We then walked about a mile up the paved walkway that paralleled the ocean. On our return, we removed our shoes and walked along the wet sand and, occasionally, into the water. For lunch, we stopped at Angelina’s for pizza topped with pineapple, Canadian bacon, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. It sounded like an odd combination but was very delicious.

Later that afternoon, Phil and Jason rode our bikes down to the beach near the campground to see the wreckage of the Peter Iredale, a four-masted steel sailing vessel that ran ashore Oct. 25, 1906 on the Oregon coast in route to the Columbia River. Much of the ship is still visible on the beach.

On Wednesday, August 17th, Jason took Jan down to the beach to see the Peter Iredale.

Then it was time for us to head to our next destination, in Portland, OR. Since we had not had a sewer hookup at our campground, Phil had to stop at the dump station on the way out. Fortunately the waiting line was much shorter than when we had arrived on Sunday. We then drove 104 miles to the Columbia River RV Park in Portland where we had reserved a site for a week. Since we had not had cell service at Fort Stevens, Phil had not been able to research the best route to the campground and had to rely entirely on his GPS. This resulted in us making some strange turns but we managed to complete the trip without any major problems. As the name indicates, the Columbia River RV Park is across the street from the Columbia River. It was also a short distance from the Portland airport and, although we were under the flight path for many planes leaving the airport, it didn’t affect our sleeping. The campground lies between the marina and a residential neighborhood. It is very well maintained but appears to cater to mostly long-term residents rather than travelers. There is very little activity in the campground and it doesn’t have many amenities such as picnic tables or a pool.

On Thursday, August 18th, we dropped off the Ram at the local dealer to get our windshield wiper arm repaired and a safety recall addressed. Then we drove to downtown Portland and explored the city using a map we had obtained at the airport when Jason arrived. Our first stop was at Voodoo Doughnuts. Jason and Jan each ordered the “Dirty Old Bastard” which was a donut coated with crushed Oreo and peanut butter. Phil ordered the “Portland Cream” which was a chocolate-coated cream-filled donut.

We then strolled along the streets of Portland and stopped in at the Patagonia store and Powell’s Books, the world’s largest new and used bookstore. After returning to our car to feed the parking meter, we walked along the Waterfront Park trail that paralleled the Willamette River. We then walked to Pioneer Courthouse Square where we discovered that auditions for American Idol were being held. After watching a couple of the auditions, it was time for lunch so we headed to an area where we had seen food trucks earlier in the day. The hardest part was selecting what to order since there were about 50 food trucks circling an entire city block. We finally decided to order Chinese food and Jason got a burrito from a Mexican food truck. We carried our food to a nearby park, O’Bryant Square, and were able to find seats on a retaining wall. Although Portland is a lovely city, it is overrun by homeless people, many of whom demonstrate mental or drug-related problems, and the city appears to simply tolerate their presence. We saw them everywhere we went in the city. Since there were lots of people eating lunch in O’Bryant Square, numerous homeless men were attracted to the park and dug through the trash cans looking for food scraps while we ate. It was both sad and disgusting.

On Friday, August 18th, we explored the Columbia River Gorge. Our first stop was at Vista House, one of the scenic lookouts along the Historic Columbia River Highway. This structure, built in 1918, stands 733’ above the Columbia River and the observation deck provides panoramic views up and down the river valley. We also looked at the exhibits in the basement dealing with the construction of the highway and the lifestyle of tourists to the area prior to the Great Depression.

We then drove in heavy traffic along the Historic Columbia River Highway until we reached Multnomah Falls. The Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon, totaling 620’ in height. There are two steps to the falls. The upper falls drop 542’ while the lower falls drop 69’. We had originally planned to just make a quick stop to see Multnomah Falls and then continue on to hike at other waterfalls. However, given how long it took to get a parking spot at Multnomah Falls, we decided to simply hike there. We ended up hiking a total of 4 miles. The hike began up a steep 1.2 mile-long path with 11 switchbacks to the Multnomah Falls overlook. We then hiked past the overlook up an unpaved trail to the Weisendanger Falls and the Ecola Falls. We ended up hiking a total of 4 miles and were quite hungry when we finished. We ate our picnic lunch near the falls and then returned to Portland.

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Multnomah Falls

We stopped to pick up the Ram from the dealer and Phil was surprised and pleased to learn that all the work had been done at no charge. It turned out that the wiper arm retaining nut had backed off and the wiper arm had become unseated. The mechanic had only had to re-seat the retaining nut and the problem was fixed.

On Saturday, August 19th, we had a relaxing breakfast of blueberry pancakes before taking Jason to the Portland airport for his 2:15 pm flight back home.

On Monday, August 21st, we dropped off Jan’s Nissan for service. Our appointment was for 10 am but we dropped it off early so we could be back at our rig in time to watch the eclipse. As we drove back from the Nissan dealership, we saw many cars and RV’s lined up along the Columbia River to watch the eclipse. Being in Portland, we were only 60 miles away from the path of the total solar eclipse and were able to experience 99.2% coverage of the sun. We had not ordered the special glasses needed to look directly at the sun so we had to rely on the “old school” approach. Phil prepared a paper plate with a pinhole in the center and projected the sun’s image on another plate. This enabled us to watch the movement of the moon in front of the sun. One of our neighbors also let us borrow her glasses briefly so we could look at the eclipse directly. When the eclipse hit its peak at 10:21 am Pacific time, the sky got slightly darker and the temperature got noticeably cooler.

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Phil capturing shadow from solar eclipse
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Remaining sliver of sunlight visible as the solar eclipse approached total coverage

On August 23rd, we drove 127 miles south on I-5 to Creswell, OR (nine miles south of Eugene, OR). We spent two nights at Meadowlark RV Park. Although we had a pull-through site with full hookups, the campground was not really somewhere we would have chosen to stay for more than a couple of days.

On August 24th, we drove to Eugene. Our first stop was at Hayward Field, on the campus of the University of Oregon. Since Phil had been a long distance runner in high school, Hayward Field has a special significance to him. Although the field was originally built in 1919 for the football team, it had been used for both football and track until 1967. After the football team got a new stadium, Hayward Field was remodeled and is now one of the top venues in America for track and field. It has been the site for three Olympic trials and nine NCAA championships. Since school was not in session, we were not able to enter the stadium but got to look through the gates. Outside the field were signs honoring two legendary Oregon track coaches and Steve Prefontaine, the nation’s leading long distance runner during Phil’s high school years.

Our next stop was at the Cascades Raptor Center. Through wildlife rehabilitation and public education, the center fosters a connection between people and birds of prey, consisting of eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, osprey and kites. These hunting birds have keen senses, strong feet with sharp talons for grasping and killing prey, and curved beaks for ripping up their food. Raptors are the only birds that hunt with their feet. The Cascades Raptor Center has 39 large enclosures containing a number of each type of raptor. Each enclosure had signs explaining some of the characteristics of the species as well as an explanation as to how the specific bird came to be at the Raptor Center and why it had not been reintroduced into the wild.

After stopping at a local farmers’ market and having a picnic lunch in the park, we next headed to the Mount Pisgah Arboretum to do some hiking. We ended up hiking about 2 miles along a path that consisted of several trails. Some of the trail intersections were lacking trail markers so we ended up going off course on a few occasions but had an enjoyable hike.

On August 25th we drove 105 miles to Seal Rock on the Oregon coast where we will camp at Seal Rocks RV Cove for a week. Although we knew that we had reserved an ocean-view site, upon our arrival we found that our site greatly exceeded our expectations. We sit up on a hill and our living room windows overlook the Pacific Ocean. After setting up, we went for a short stroll on the beach. Although the forecast calls for sunny days during our stay, the daytime highs are expected to be in the low 60s. The steady wind makes it feel even cooler. It’s quite a change from the warm weather we had in Portland and Eugene.

On Saturday, August 26th, we drove 10 miles north to Newport, OR and spent most of the afternoon strolling along the historic bayfront. There were dozens of fishing boats docked in the harbor and the smell of fish was quite strong. Visiting the bayfront was obviously a popular thing to do and we had to drive quite a distance to find a parking spot. Sea lions were piled up on the jetty and the docks. Their barking was almost constant. We spent time on the pier watching them jockey for position on the small docks. After visiting some of the local shops, we had an early dinner of seafood at a restaurant overlooking the bay.

That evening, we strolled across the road from our campsite and watched the setting sun.

On August 27th we took an afternoon stroll along the beach by our campsite. That evening we watched the sunset from our living room window.

On Monday morning, August 28th, Phil drove five miles south to the town of Waldport to pick up our mail and refuel the truck. That afternoon we drove 15 miles south to the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, a U.S. Forest Service site. First we hiked the 1.5mile Discovery Loop Trail that took us through old growth forest. Next we visited the Visitor Center where we were able to observe several grey whales from the observation deck. Finally we hiked a 2.5 mile section of the Oregon Coast Trail that took us through the forest as the trail ran parallel to the rocky ocean shoreline.

On August 29th we drove 27 miles south along the coastline to the trailhead for the Hobbit Trail. We had done this hike when we vacationed in Oregon three years ago and remember being concerned after reading the posted bear and cougar warnings. The warning are still posted but we were less concerned this time. We chose to hike first to the Heceta Head Lighthouse. The trail to the lighthouse was 1.5 miles one-way and took us through thick forest with several overlooks high above the beaches. The weather was quite foggy and more humid than usual. The first mile was largely a gradual incline but the final half-mile was a steep decline. This made us aware that the beginning of the return trip would be a challenge, and it was. We were exhausted by the time we returned to our car at the trailhead so we decided to eat our lunch in the car before tackling the Hobbit Beach trail.

After lunch, we hiked the Hobbit Trail to the beach. The trail, which is only one half-mile each way, winds through the forest and ends with a tunnel through thick shrubs before opening up at the beach. We enjoyed some time walking on the beach before hiking back to our car and returning home to relax.

On August 30th we drove 38 miles south to the town of Florence. We parked in the Old Town section of Florence and had lunch outdoors on the deck along the Siuslaw River at International C-Food Markets. Then we strolled along Bay Street and visited a number of small shops. We walked along the waterfront and got a close-up view of the Siuslaw River Bridge which was completed in 1936 by the Public Works Administration.

That evening we went walking on our beach at high tide. It was sunny and the wind had died down so it felt warmer than it had all week, although the temperature was still only 62 degrees. With the tide in, we had a hard time getting around the rocks that block off sections of the beach. We thought we might be able to outrun some of the waves as they receded from the rocks but we were wrong. We ended up getting soaked up to our knees by the next incoming wave.

On August 31st we stayed closer to home and prepared for our travel the following day. We went for our last walk on our beach at low tide in the middle of the afternoon. It was interesting to note how much more rock and sand were exposed when the tide was out. We were easily able to walk out on rocks that had been under water at high tide.  We revisited the area where we had gotten soaked the previous evening and had no trouble getting around the rocks this time.

There were several driftwood huts constructed on the beach. We had fun exploring these little houses.

On Friday, September 1st, we had to leave the beauty of our ocean view at Seal Rock and drive 155 miles south on Highway 101 to the Honey Bear By The Sea campground. The campground is about 10 miles north of Gold Beach, OR. We had learned that a huge forest fire, the Chetco Bar fire, was burning five miles northeast of Brookings, OR, about 38 miles south of our campground. The fire had already burned 139,000 acres of forest and was only 10% contained. It wasn’t expected to be fully contained until mid-October. Since we needed to drive through Brookings on our way to California, we were concerned that Highway 101 might be closed at some point, There is no other reasonable route to the Northern California coast. We considered continuing our drive through the fire zone on Friday but, given that it was the start of Labor Day weekend, we didn’t think we’d be able to find another campground with availability farther down the coast. The sky was increasingly smoky as we approached the campground and it immediately affected our eyes.

On September 2nd, Phil drove into the town of Gold Beach to refuel the truck and do some grocery shopping. The skies were even smokier than at the campground but people were going about their business as usual. We decided to drive back up to the coast to get some cleaner air that afternoon. We ended up driving 45 miles north to the town of Bandon, OR where, although the air was still hazy, it was much clearer that at our campground. We spent a couple of hours in Old Town Bandon where we strolled through the farmers market and numerous little shops. We walked out on the pier and watched lots of people fishing for crabs. There were a variety of types of crab cages but there was no variety in the type of bait used; everyone used chicken leg quarters to bait their cages.

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As we walked back to our car, we visited the museum of an organization named WashedAshore.org. Its slogan is “Art to Save the Sea.” They make art work using litter that has washed up on beaches.

From Old Town Bandon we had been able to see the Coquille River Lighthouse across the bay. We drove through Bullard State Park to visit the lighthouse and the north jetty protecting the entrance to the Coquille River.

On our drive back to our campground, we spotted a sign for the Cape Blanco Lighthouse and made a six-mile side trip to see this lighthouse. We arrived too late for a tour and there was a locked gate preventing us from driving to the lighthouse. Initially we decided to just climb the nearby grassy hills to get pictures of the lighthouse from a distance. However, after we had climbed the hills, we noticed other people were just walking up the road all the way to the lighthouse so we did the same.

Our final stop was at Sisters Rock, about three miles north of our campground. We stopped to get a picture that captured the smoky haze over the beach.

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We stayed inside most of the day on September 3rd to avoid exposure to the smoke. On Labor Day, September 4th, the air was considerably less smoky so we were able to get out and explore around the campground. We first walked the various short nature trails within the campground, then walked across Highway 101 to the beach. Although this beach lacked the rocks and tidal pools we’d had at the other beaches, the wave action was more dramatic. We strolled along the sand and both got our pant legs soaked by waves that came in farther and faster than we had expected.

 

Exploring Washington State (July 9 – August 13, 2017)

On July 9th we drove 182 miles from Sprague, WA to Winthrop, WA. The drive took us through lots of wide open spaces on single lane highways with few opportunities for rest stops. We stayed for three nights at the Winthrop / North Cascades National Park KOA. The campground name was a little misleading. Although it was only a mile from the little town of Winthrop, it was 75 miles from the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center.

On July 10th we drove Highway 20 along the Cascade Loop to North Cascades National Park. In addition to seeing the beautiful scenery, it gave Phil a chance to see the hills he would have to climb when pulling the rig a couple of days later. The highway had a long, steep climb near the Washington Pass but didn’t appear to be too difficult after that point.

We made several stops at scenic overlooks, including a view of Diablo Lake and the Diablo Dam. We stopped at Gorge Lake and walked a short trail to see the Gorge High Dam.

We stopped at the Visitor Center where we watched a short video on grizzly bears, examined some of the exhibits and had a picnic lunch.

After getting gas in the little town of Marblemount, we headed back eastward again. We stopped at the Happy Creek Nature Trail and walked the .3 mile boardwalk loop through tall trees and along Happy Creek. We attempted to follow a trail that was supposed to continue on for 1 ½ miles to a waterfall but fallen timber blocked this trail.

Next we stopped at the Rainy Pass Picnic Area and hiked the 2-mile Rainy Lake Trail. At the end of the trail was a beautiful lake with numerous large waterfalls cascading down to the lake. We attempted to blaze a trail along the bank of the lake to bring us closer to the waterfalls. Unfortunately we only got about ¼ mile before our path became pinched in between the water and the cliffs.

Our final stop for the day was at the Washington Pass Overlook. From this vantage point we had spectacular views of the mountains and Highway 20.

On July 11th we stayed closer to Winthrop. Our first stop was at the Smokejumper Base. This facility is considered the “birthplace of smokejumping” since the U.S. Forest Service made its initial experimental jumps here in 1939. Smokejumping was developed as a means to quickly reach fires in remote roadless areas for initial attack. This is one of the smallest of the eight smokejumping bases in the western U.S. (including Alaska) with 30 smokejumpers based here. We were given an individual guided tour by Nick, a first-year smokejumper who has been in the fire service for nine years. The tour began in the hanger where we learned about the equipment used by the smokejumpers and saw how the parachutes are inspected and packed. Since the smokejumpers often land in trees, we learned how they rappel down from a tree and how the parachute is recovered. We next climbed aboard the airplane and learned how the spotters identify the landing zones and how the smokejumpers exit the plane. Our final stop was the warehouse where we saw the many boxes of supplies that are dropped from the plane to the smokejumpers.  On our exit from the smokejumpers’ base, we encountered a deer standing in the road having a meal.

Next we drove to downtown Winthrop. We had lunch at Carlos 1800, a Mexican restaurant and cantina. After lunch we strolled along the downtown boardwalk. Winthrop was founded in 1891. In the 1970’s the downtown district was restored to reflect its original appearance.

Next we drove 12 miles north of Winthrop to the Okanogan National Forest where we hiked the trail to the Falls Creek Falls. We enjoyed dipping our feet in the creek, although the water was quite cold. Phil crossed the creek to take pictures from the other side using two logs that spanned the water.

On July 12th we drove 180 miles from Winthrop to Bothell, WA (about 20 miles north of Seattle). The drive took us through the North Cascades National Park and had some very steep climbs. Although the truck strained a bit during the climb, it managed to make it up the hills without dropping below 40 mph. We spent two nights at the Lake Pleasant RV Park in Bothell, WA and had lots of ducks on the lake right outside our living room window. We had been surprised to learn that we had reserved a back-in site but we managed to get backed into our site without too much difficulty.

On July 13th we got together with Phil’s sister, Joan Gordon, and spent the day exploring Whidbey Island. After taking a 20-minute ferry ride from Mukilteo to Clinton, we drove to the small town of Coupeville which is the second oldest town in Washington. Coupeville has over 100 buildings on the National Historic Register. We ate lunch at the café on the wharf.

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Whale bones at Coupeville wharf

After lunch we drove to the community of Oak Harbor and walked the trail out to the marina and back.

Our final stop for the day was at Deception Pass. We spent time on the ridge that overlooked the bridge connecting Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island. The bridge was built in 1935 over the strong objections of the woman who ran the ferry between the two islands.

On July 14th we moved on to the Olympic Peninsula. The beginning of the drive took us through horrendous Seattle traffic but things got much easier after we escaped the city. We scheduled six days at the Olympic Peninsula / Port Angeles KOA.  Our site was in the new pull-through area and, although it was quite roomy with good hookups, it was basically an unattractive gravel parking lot. Having said that, we could see mountains all around us.

On July 15th we began our day at the Port Angeles farmers market. We were disappointed by the limited supply of produce being sold so, instead, we walked down to the city pier where we were able to see numerous large cargo ships waiting to enter Puget Sound. Then we visited the Olympic National Park visitor center and watched an introductory video.

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In the afternoon we visited a couple of waterfalls in the park. Our first stop was Madison Falls, a moss-covered waterfall that was accessed via a .1 mile walkway from the Elwha Entrance Station.

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Madison Falls

Next we drove to Lake Crescent and hiked the 1.8 mile Marymere Falls Trail. The trail took us through lush vegetation and required a steep climb as we neared the falls.

On July 16th we drove 18 miles up Hurricane Ridge Road in the Olympic National Park. From the Hurricane Ridge visitor center there was a tremendous vista from which we could see over 15 snow-capped mountain peaks. We hiked the Hurricane Hills Trail. The trail itself is 1.6 miles each way to and from the summit but, because it was a Sunday and the parking lots were full, we had to hike another half-mile each way to reach the trail head. The temperature was only 46 degrees when we started. It didn’t take long for us to warm up as the trail was almost entirely uphill to the summit. The hillsides were covered with wildflowers and we spotted seven deer and an Olympic marmot (which only exists in the Olympic National Park). When we reached the summit, we were at an elevation of over 5,700 feet and the clouds settled down around us.

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View of Olympic Mountains from Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center

On July 17th we drove to Sol Duc Road and hiked a couple of trails. The first was the Ancient Groves Nature Trail, a .6 mile loop which took us through a lush forest of very large trees and along a cliff above the Sol Duc River.

Our next hike was a 1.6 mile trail that took us through the forest to Sol Duc Falls and back.

After hiking, we stopped at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Lodge where we watched lots of people bathing in the three mineral hot springs pools. The spring water comes from rain and melting snow, which seeps through sedimentary rocks where it mingles with gasses coming from cooling volcanic rocks. The mineralized spring waters then rise to the surface along a larger crack or fissure. We hadn’t brought our swimsuits so we had to pass on this experience.

On July 18th we spent much of the day in the small town of Sequim (pronounced Skwim). Sequim is known for the commercial cultivation of lavender, supported by its unique climate. Sequim is known as the “Lavender Capital of North America,” rivaled only by France. They hold a large Lavender Weekend the third weekend in July; unfortunately this comes the day after we leave the area.

We visited Graysmarsh Farms where they grow lavender and a wide variety of berries on their 1,000 acre farm. We picked over 6 pounds of blueberries, guaranteeing a supply of pies over the coming year. Although strawberry season is in mid-June, we were able to find a few remaining berries on the vine. For lunch, we picnicked at Sequim Bay State Park.

On July 19th we drove over two hours each way to Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point in the contiguous 48 U.S. states. It is on the Makah Indian reservation and is the northern boundary of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. We hiked the Cape Flattery Trail (3/4 mile each way) through a thick forest out to overlooks above the Pacific Ocean. From the overlooks we were able to see beautiful rock formations and sea caves carved out of the sandstone. When large waves hit the caves, you can actually feel the earth shake. We arrived at the overlook facing Tatoosh Island and Cape Flattery Lighthouse about 20 minutes after a pod of six orcas had swum by. After our hike, we picnicked at Hobuck Beach.

On July 20th we packed up and moved 64 miles down Highway 101 to the Forks 101 RV Park in Forks, WA. Forks is on the western side of the Olympic Peninsula and is the rainiest town in the contiguous United States. It is also known as the location where Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight book and movie series are based. Although the campground lacks frills, our site was grassy, quite large and very quiet.

That afternoon we drove to the Hoh Rain Forest. Mild winters, cool summers and up to 12 feet of annual precipitation produce giant conifers that dominate this rain forest, one of the most spectacular examples of a temperate rain forest in the world. First we hiked the .8 mile Hall of Mosses loop trail through massive old growth trees such as Sitka spruce which average 220 feet tall with some reaching 300 feet tall. The forest floor is so thickly covered with vines, ferns and salmonberry bushes that tree saplings would be choked out on the forest floor. Instead, the tree saplings grow on top of decaying fallen timbers, known as nurselogs. We encountered two large elk grazing on the lush undergrowth. Then we hiked the 1.2 mile loop Spruce Nature Trail that passes along the 50-mile-long Hoh River that starts at glacier-capped Mount Olympus and descends 7,000 feet to the Pacific Ocean.

Half-way to the rain forest, we had discovered that we left the camera’s memory card in our laptop so we were limited to taking pictures on Jan’s cell phone. The pictures turned out so mediocre that we decided to return to this location two days later.

That evening Jan baked a blueberry pie with some of the berries we picked in Sequim. On July 21st we had blueberry pie for breakfast. Then we drove to Rialto Beach and hiked 1.5 miles each way along the Pacific Ocean on the North Coast Wilderness trail to an arch and tidepools at Hole-in-the-Wall. The thick forest extends to within 100 yards of the ocean and there were massive downed tree trunks strewn along the beach. Since the tide had come in, Phil had to climb along the walls to reach the Hole-in-the-Wall.

In the morning of July 22nd we returned to the Hoh Rain Forest to get some better pictures. We hiked the Hall of Mosses Trail and Spruce Trail again.

That afternoon we hiked a .7 mile trail through thick forest to reach Second Beach and return. We walked about a mile along the ocean, enjoying the tidepools and dozens of sea stacks. There were lots of tents erected on the beach for campers who were staying there overnight.

On Sunday, July 23rd, we packed up and drove 99 miles down the Washington coast to the small beach town of Copalis Beach where we stayed for a week. Our site at the Copalis Beach Resort was only a few minute walk from the Pacific Ocean; in fact, we could see the Pacific from our living room window. After setting up, we went for a long walk up the large, sandy beach. The temperature was about 62 degrees and the wind was blowing hard, making for a chilly walk. Our return walk was into the wind which made for quite a workout. Despite walking a mile in each direction, we only saw about a dozen people on the beach. We had never encountered such an empty beach.

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On July 24th we explored the neighboring town of Ocean Shores, WA and had dinner at Mike’s Seafood. Later, we walked along the beach and watched the sun set at 8:59 pm. It was shortly after low tide so we had to walk about an extra 100 yards to reach the ocean. Once again, the beach was almost totally deserted.

On July 25th we drove to Aberdeen, WA, the closest city of note (population 17,000) to do our grocery shopping and to use the library’s wifi to post our blog. Although Aberdeen had an unseemly past and was known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific” in the early 1900’s, there didn’t appear to have been anything particularly memorable about the town in recent years. One claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Kurt Cobain, the founder and lead singer of the band Nirvana and originator of what is now known as grunge music. After his suicide in 1994, the city of Aberdeen established the Kurt Cobain Memorial Park. We visited this very small park, which is at the end of a dead end street and is by an old bridge under which Cobain reportedly hung out. Appropriately, we found this to be one of the grungiest memorial parks we’d ever visited. The most amusing aspect of the park were the signs hanging in front of the house closest to the park, obviously the result of the frustrations of dealing with questions from visitors. There was also a stand that said it held “Kurt’s Air Guitar” but we couldn’t see it since, after all, it was an air guitar.

On July 26th we returned to the Olympic National Park and visited the Quinault Temperate Rain Forest. We first hiked the 1.7 mile loop trail that combined the Maple Glade Trail through thick foliage and the Kestner Homestead Trail through someone’s farm.

Next we drove to the Irely Lake Trail trailhead. This drive included several miles on a very rough gravel road. Shortly before reaching the trailhead, the front of our car started to squeal and grind. Phil was concerned that we had broken something in the suspension. This was particularly concerning since we were quite a few miles from civilization and out of cell phone range. We hiked 1.2 miles each way to the lake and back. The trail was clearly not heavily used as the path was largely overgrown. Upon our arrival at Lake Irely, we concluded that the destination probably wasn’t memorable enough to warrant the effort it took to reach it. Upon returning to the car, Phil drove very slowly back down the gravel road and eventually the squealing sound stopped and we were able to get back home without any incident.

On July 27th we drove to the southernmost point of Ocean Shores and walked on the North Jetty at high tide. The North Jetty protects the northern beaches along Grays Harbor. We intended to stroll along the jetty but found that it took a lot of planning and daring just to find our way across the large boulders far enough to view the water.

We didn’t venture very far from home over the next two days. However, we did go strolling along the beach both days.

On August 1st we drove 100 miles to Randle, WA. Randle is situated midway between the Mt. Rainier National Park and the Mt. St. Helens National Monument. We spent five nights at the Shady Firs RV Park. With our Passport America card, five nights only cost us $97. Upon arrival, Phil rode around with the owner and was given a choice of sites. We would normally have selected one away from the trees so our satellite TV would work. However, since the forecast was calling for three straight days of 100+ degree temperatures, we opted for a site under a nice canopy of large fir trees. We were fortunate to get one of the two sites with a sewer connection so we didn’t have to hookup and drive to the dump station during our stay. We were also happy to have our son, Jarrod Bain, and his girlfriend, Jessica Mollman, join us the first three days.

On August 2nd we arose early to get on the road before the extreme hot weather set in. We drove to the Paradise Visitor Center in Mt. Rainier National Park and hiked some trails. Jarrod and Jess hiked the 5.5 Skyline Trail with a 1,700’ elevation gain. We opted for an abbreviated version of the Skyline Trail that took us 1.5 miles each way to the Glacier Vista (6,336’ elevation) and back. Although shorter, this hike was quite strenuous. We then hiked the easier 1 mile round-trip to Myrtle Falls. Although the weather was cooler than in Randle, it was still in the 80s while we were hiking. There was still snow on certain parts of the trails and this provided some relief from the heat. Following our hikes, we watched a video at the Visitor Center and then had lunch at the Paradise Picnic Area. After lunch we stopped at Narada Falls and walked down the steep path that led to the spectacular lookout at the base of the falls. Our final hike was the .4 mile Twin Firs loop trail through old growth forest.