Winter in Florida – Month 2 (Jan. 2022)

We celebrated New Year’s Eve in our usual fashion, sound asleep before midnight.  However, Phil was awakened at midnight by our partying neighbors.  We met Jo and Dave Peterson that afternoon for a poolside hot dog and brat cookout.

On Sunday, January 2nd, we went to the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Bushnell for the 41st annual reenactment of the battle that launched the Second Seminole War.  We rode with Jo and Dave Peterson, but Roxi Rykal and Laurie Tamas parked next to us.  After strolling through demonstrations of period arts and trades, we joined the crowd in the bleachers for the reenactment.  More than 100 soldier re-enactors and Seminoles from across the United States participated.  Before the battle, one of the Seminoles and one of the soldiers explained each piece of their authentic period costumes.  The battle was narrated throughout with the ghosts of Private Ransom Clark and Chief Jumper telling their own perspectives of the conflict.  The battle, which started on December 28, 1835, was the result of Seminole resistance to removal to a reservation in Oklahoma.  A column of 107 soldiers, led by Major Francis Dade, were marching to re-supply and reinforce troops at Fort King, now Ocala.  An estimated 300 Seminoles lay in wait for them, hidden in the palmetos.  A sudden volley from their rifles killed half the command.  Major Dade, on horseback, was the first to die.  A second attack killed most of the remaining soldiers.  Only three soldiers escaped to recount the attack.  Following the re-enactment, the soldiers and Seminoles lined up and fired their weapons to clear the chambers. 

On Tuesday, we played bingo at the clubhouse with about 50 other campers.  Unlike bingo at Flora-Bama, this was a very professional and fast-moving operation.  We played 12 games in one hour and 40 minutes.  Unfortunately, we didn’t win any of the games. 

On Saturday afternoon, we met Jo and Dave Peterson by the pool to listen to a musician perform for a couple of hours.  He was very talented and was definitely the best entertainer we’d had since arriving at Oak Alley.

On Sunday, Jan joined the other ladies for lunch at the Sunrise Asian restaurant in Wildwood, FL.  Phil and Dave Peterson met Jan and Jo Peterson at the Big Bass Bar & Grill afterward.  Despite Jan’s having called and gotten assurance that there would be live music, there was no music while we were there.

On Monday, January 10th, Jan made ham and potato soup using the ham bone from our Christmas dinner.  Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, Roxi Rykal and Laurie Tamas joined us for dinner and brought an assortment of side dishes.

On Thursday, we took our bikes to the nearby General James A. Van Fleet State Trail and rode 13.2 miles.  The Van Fleet State Trail is one of Florida’s most rural trails, spanning 29.2 miles through Sumter, Lake and Polk counties.  This 8-foot-wide paved trail, originally a railroad corridor, runs through the Green Swamp, a system of cypress swamps, marshes, hardwood forests and flat pinewoods. The swamp is the habitat for lots of wildlife but, unfortunately, we didn’t see anything other than birds.

On Saturday, we rode with Dave and Jo Petersons to Crystal River, FL for the 35th annual Manatee Festival.  We met Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt and Laurie Tamas at the mall where we caught a shuttle bus to the festival.  The festival was quite popular and there were lines for everything.  Upon arrival, we wandered through block after block of vendor booths until we reached the main stage area.  We managed to find seats near the stage but had to wait nearly 1 ½ hours for the Tom Petty tribute band to perform.  Fortunately, the weather was very nice.

On Wednesday, January 19, we went with the Petersons to Lake Panasoftkee and did the Tom and Jerry’s Airboat Ride.  Our hour-long airboat ride took us through the Florida swamp and across the lake.  We spotted five alligators, numerous turtles and lots of waterfowl.  The highlight of the airboat ride was a section of the swamp where the trees were loaded with well over a hundred vultures.  When the ride was over, we took turns holding a four-foot-long alligator.

On Thursday, we went to the Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa.  Jo and Dave Peterson rode with us.  We met Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt and Judy and Rob Crosson for lunch and, then again, before leaving.  We spent most of our time in the two large expo halls visiting the many vendor booths.  We did visit the DRV display and walked through a few models.  It really didn’t tempt us to buy one.  If anything, it made us more appreciative of the unit we already own.

On Friday, we rode with the Petersons to Lake Pan RV Park where the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and Laurie Tamas are staying.  We spent the afternoon playing Giant Jenga, then enjoyed a fish fry using the fish Tom and Todd had caught on Lake Panasoftkee.

The weather cooled down considerably over the last week of January.  We had two nights with low temperatures below freezing. Although this cold weather affected our plans somewhat, our weather was much better than the winter storms that ravaged much of the country.

Winter in Florida – Month 1 (Dec. 2021)

On Wednesday, December 1st, we left Gulf Shores, AL and drove 285 miles to Madison, FL.  We spent the night at Ragans Family Campground.  The campground was very nice but rather pricey for an overnight stop.  Unfortunately, the much less expensive Deerfield Inn & Campground, where we had overnighted in 2020, was full.

On Thursday, we drove the remaining 170 miles to Oak Alley RV Resort in Webster, FL.  This will be our home for four months.  Although we had assistance from the workcamper, the lack of marked site boundaries made it challenging for Phil to get backed into our site.  After numerous back and forth moves, we did get parked and were glad we won’t have to move again for a while.  We had visited the campground in March 2021 when we booked our reservation but were impressed by the improvements that have been made in the past eight months.

While Jan was watering her potted plant upon our arrival, fire ants that had taken up residence in the pot while we were in Gulf Shores swarmed over her hand.  She sustained numerous bites and, almost immediately, these swelled up noticeably and caused her a lot of pain.  Since her reaction to these bites (as well as her previous fire ant bites) was so extreme, it is clear that she is allergic to fire ant venom.  After a couple of days and nights of pain and itching, Jan called her TeleMedicine service and got a prescription for antibiotics and ointment.  It took a few more days of discomfort but, eventually, the swelling and itching subsided.

On Friday, we attended a cookout lunch in the clubhouse.  We arrived a few minutes late and were the end of the line.  We learned later that only about 80 people had signed up but about 120 people showed up.  As a result, we missed out on some of the food but still had plenty to eat.

Phil quickly got into a routine of playing pickleball each morning for a couple of hours.  There are a number of very good pickleball players here but, through the first week, less than half of the 12 courts were being utilized.  Hopefully, that will change as we get into the busier months.

On Monday, December 6th, we visited the Swap-O-Rama’s Webster Westside Flea Market.  This flea market, which has existed for 50 years, covers 35 acres in an 80-acre compound.  It is open on Mondays year-round and also on Sundays during the winter months.  We only spent an hour wandering around and, although we did make several purchases, were not overly impressed.

On Wednesday, we attended a pot luck dinner in the clubhouse.  Although the turnout of only about 30 people was considerably less than the cook out, it was enjoyable and the food was delicious.

On Thursday, the Rykals, Ehlenfeldts and Laurie Tamas came to visit us at Oak Alley.  After showing them around our campground, we enjoyed sitting outside and having a happy hour.

On Tuesday, December 14th, Sheila Gaskins came to visit for five days.  Jan picked her up at the Orlando airport and they spent the next three nights at the Hilton in Lake Buena Vista.  They spent Wednesday at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

On Thursday, they visited Epcot.  That evening, they attended the Candlelight Processional, with a 50-piece orchestra and narrated by the actor, Andy Garcia.

Christmas Processional – O Holy Night
Christmas Processional – Hallelujah Chorus

On Saturday, we toured the Stetson Mansion in DeLand, FL.  This, Florida’s first luxury estate, was built in 1886 for famed hat maker, John B. Stetson.  It was the first home in Florida constructed with Edison electricity, steam heat, indoor plumbing and a call bell system.  The estate has recently been rescued and restored but it is still a private estate.  The mansion is lavishly decorated for Christmas each year.  The tour included all the rooms on the ground floor and the three bedrooms on the second floor (including the owner’s bedroom, bathroom and closet.) Due to COVID, the tours were self-guided this year and we were sent descriptions of the contents of each room via email.  Although photography was prohibited inside the mansion, we were permitted to take pictures of the outside and the grounds.

After leaving the Stetson Mansion, we visited historic downtown Mount Dora.  This town celebrates Christmas in a big way, with decorations that include three million lights.  We arrived around 5 pm and had to search to find one of the few available parking spots.  After wandering the streets a while, we attempted to get seated at The Frog and Monkey restaurant.  Our estimated 30-60 minute wait ended up being closer to two hours.  However, once we got in, the food was excellent and the band, a young couple named Sal & Izy, were very good.

On Sunday, December 19th, we took Sheila to the Orlando airport and returned in time to attend the campground’s 90-minute Christmas social event.  We met Jo and Dave Peterson there but, unfortunately, Jo got sick so the Petersons had to leave.  That left us alone to sing “two turtle doves” eleven times during the sing-along of The Twelve Days of Christmas. 

Our campground has an impressive woodshop that is available for use by the campers.  Jan had a project in mind so she spent quite a few hours over several days working on it under the tutelage of Randy, one of the other campers.  Unfortunately, due to waiting on a part for the laser, she’ll have to wait until the new year to complete it.

On Wednesday afternoon, we accompanied the Petersons to the Rocking Chair Bar & Grill, Webster’s dive bar.  The bartender was hard of hearing so we had somewhat of a challenge to place our order but, otherwise, had a pleasant visit.

On Friday, Christmas Eve, we picked up Jason at the Tampa airport for his weeklong stay.  We had planned to stop for dinner on the return trip but found that almost all the restaurants had closed for the evening.  We ended up getting our dinner at the Wendy’s drive-through.

On Christmas Day, we were joined by Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, Laurie Tamas, and Jo and Dave Peterson for an afternoon of dining, visiting, corn hole and part of the Packers’ game. We had purchased a Honey Baked Ham and, along with all the side dishes and desserts everyone brought, we all had more than enough to eat. The weather, with a high of 75 degrees, was ideal for sitting outside and enjoying being in Florida.

We spent most of the following week close to the campground.  Jan and Jason ventured out to the Flea Market and the Richloam General Store, a historic store that has been in business since 1928.  On New Year’s Eve, we took Jason to Orlando for his flight back to Nashville.  We stopped for lunch at Mooyah.

A Month in Gulf Shores, AL (November 1 – December 1, 2021)

On Monday, November 1st, we drove 226 miles from Livingston, LA to Gulf Shores, AL where we spent a month at Gulf State Park.  Our friends, Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt and Roxi and Tom Rykal, had arrived shortly before we did.  Todd and Tom helped guide Phil into our back-in site.  We spent the month in site #13, the same site as last year.  We had a beautiful view of the lake, although the wind off the lake sometimes made it too cool for sitting outside very long.  The Rykals were our next-door neighbors and the Ehlenfeldts were in our same circle, a stone’s throw away.

This was the fourth year in which we visited Gulf State Park for at least part of November.  It was also the second time we joined the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals for the full month of November.  As a result, we quickly fell into a routine that, although it didn’t include a lot of new experiences, was quite enjoyable.  Most mornings Jan went for long walks or bike rides, while Phil went to the Orange Beach Recreation Center to play pickleball for 2-3 hours.  Phil joined Jan for bike rides on the weekends when he didn’t have pickleball.  We saw lots of wildlife, including Lefty (a large gator whose nickname reflects his missing right foot), a baby bobcat and a snake. 

Most afternoons, we got together for a happy hour with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals.  Our social group expanded to include Rob and Judy Crosson, who the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals had met last winter in Arizona, and Scott and Gail Wahls, Rob and Judy’s neighbors in the campground.  Although most days we just sat around and chatted, we sometimes used these get-togethers to play games, such as cornhole, LCR and Chase the Ace.

We joined the Rykals one afternoon for a trip to Flora-Bama to play bingo.  However, Sam, the bingo caller, spent too much time telling the same jokes we’ve heard many years before and only got through three games in 2 ½ hours.  We won’t be returning any time soon.

One day, Jan drove all the ladies to Fairhope for a girls’ day out and spent the day shopping and dining.  Phil got together that afternoon with Tom and Todd for a visit to the Big Beach Brewing Company.

Jan joined Beth and the Rykals one day to observe the release of a loggerhead sea turtle at the local beach.  The turtle had been rescued at Gulf State Park in August and had undergone rehabilitation at the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, MS.

Promptly at 8 a.m. on November 15th, Gulf State Park opened a link on their website to allow people to book reservations for the 2022-2023 winter months.  Phil clicked on the link exactly when it opened and submitted the completed form in 101 seconds.  Despite this, we were #261 in the queue and were unable to get either of our requested sites (#13 and #11) for next November and December.  However, we were able to reserve site #12, where the Rykals are staying this month but had decided to change sites for next year.  None of us know whether we will actually return next year but we have until August 1st to cancel our reservations.

At one of our happy hours, Phil mentioned that Jan makes great fried chicken and Tom said he loves fried chicken.  This led to plans to have Jan fry some chicken for Tom on November 16th.  As the story spread, the group for dinner grew to ten people.  Tom cut up two whole chickens and Beth provided some additional pieces.  Jan fried all that chicken using her cast iron skillet and two electric fry pans.  The other families provided assorted side dishes and desserts.  We had a delicious meal, sitting around tables set up in the Rykals’ driveway.      

On Thursday, November 18th, we rode with the Elhenfeldts to Fort Morgan, where we boarded the Mobile Bay Ferry to Dauphin Island.  Rob and Judy drove separately and brought their dog, Lucy.  The ferry ride lasted about 35 minutes and took us past numerous oil rigs.  Upon our arrival, we attempted to drive to the west end beaches but we were turned back due to continuing clean-up from Hurricane Ike that hit in early September.  Instead, we drove to the public beach in the middle of the island.  After walking along the beach and watching Lucy chase her ball, we headed to the Islanders Restaurant for lunch.  The food was very good but the service was somewhat slow.  After lunch, we rushed back to the ferry and arrived just as they were getting ready to pull out.  We managed to get the last available slot on the ferry.  After reaching the mainland, we stopped at Tacky Jacks Two.

On Saturday, we picked up Jason at the Pensacola airport for his weeklong stay with us.  We celebrated his 39th birthday (the day before) that evening.

On Sunday, we hosted the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts, diehard Green Bay Packer fans, to watch the Vikings – Packers game on our outside TV.  The game was very close. Phil was the only one happy with the outcome, with the Vikings winning by three on the final play.

Thursday, November 25th, was Thanksgiving Day.  We picked up Jarrod and Jess at the Pensacola airport and returned to our campground for the holiday festivities.  At 1 pm, we gathered on the field inside our circle for some games of cornhole.  We then moved to the Ehlenfeldts’ site for dinner.  The five couples, plus Jason, Jarrod and Jess, gave us 13 for our Thanksgiving meal.  We had agreed ahead of time what each family would bring.  There was plenty of food and quite a variety.  After eating, Jason, Jarrod and Jess left to check in at the condo where they would be staying for three nights.  When they returned, they joined us and the rest of the group around the propane firepit at the Rykals’ site.

On Friday, the kids came back over and headed off to rent some bikes for two days.  They then took off for a nearly 14-mile bike ride with Jan.  Phil had to stay behind to wait for the DirecTV technician to come fix a recurring problem we’d had with our satellite TV reception for nearly a year.  We got a new receiver and wireless video bridge but it took the technician over 2 ½ hours to resolve his installation issues.  When the riders returned, the guys helped Phil finish installing tire guards in our bike tires to provide protection from punctures.  Unfortunately, one of the inner tubes on Jan’s bike sprung a leak, necessitating a trip to WalMart for a replacement.

That evening, we picked up the kids at their condo and headed to the Beach House for dinner.  After dinner, we returned to the condo and played a couple of games of Farkle.

On Saturday, the kids rode their bikes over for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes.  Then, Phil took the kids up to the tennis courts and taught Jarrod and Jess to play pickleball.  With both being athletic, they caught on quickly.  Jan joined us and we all went for a 12-mile bike ride.

We then headed to Doc’s Seafood and the kids treated Jan to an early birthday dinner.  We each ordered seafood platters and all but Jan shared a tray of oysters on the half shell. 

After dinner, we stopped at The Wharf for some pictures by the Christmas tree.  Despite being stuffed from our meal, we stopped and picked up individual cheesecake slices at Hope’s Cheesecake for later.  We dropped by the condo to play Farkle but retired early due to our busy day.

We woke to our alarm clocks at 4:40 a.m. on Sunday.  We picked up Jason at 5:15 and drove him to the Pensacola airport.  We got back home at 7 am but had to leave again at 10:30 to drive Jarrod and Jess to the Pensacola airport.  We took it easy the rest of the day, although Tom, Roxi and Beth dropped by to watch some of the second half of the Packers game when Tom lost the TV signal at his rig.

On Monday, November 29th, we began packing up for our departure on Wednesday.  We gathered at the Beach House with the four other couples for one last happy hour, since three of the couples were leaving on Tuesday morning, and also to have another early birthday celebration for Jan.

Tuesday was Jan’s birthday so, after playing pickleball in the morning, Phil took Jan to Fairhope and Foley to do some shopping.  We then had Jan’s birthday dinner at Lambert’s Café, known for their “throwed rolls.”  We both ordered sandwiches, which came with sides, as well as “pass arounds.”  Throughout the meal, servers walked around the restaurant with these “pass arounds,” large pots of fried okra, fried potatoes, cabbage, and macaroni and tomatoes, and would give you as much as you wanted.  In addition, a server would walk around with a tray of huge rolls and would throw one to you if you wanted one.  The food was very good and, needless to say, we both overate.

14 Day Rush to Alabama (October 19 – November 1, 2021)

After remaining parked in Glendale, UT for an additional day due to extremely gusty winds, we headed off to Flagstaff, AZ on Tuesday, October 19th. This was our first of nine days of driving over the next 14 days, covering the 2,100 miles necessary to reach Gulf Shores, AL, where we will spend November.

 The entire 229-mile drive to Flagstaff was on US-89 and took us through mostly desolate, although scenic, country.  The winds had died down considerably but we did encounter an accident with a travel trailer laying on its side, possibly due to wind. 

When we arrived at the Flagstaff KOA Holiday, Phil went inside to register.  The clerk, who admitted she was new, gave him a map to site 88.  The drive to site 88 was somewhat harrowing.  The roads were very narrow and there were trees close to the road.  Getting up the road to site 88 required making a sharp left turn.  When Phil got part-way through the turn, he could see that site 88 was occupied.  He called the office and a different clerk told him we were supposed to be in site 166.  However, completing the turn by site 88 required Jan to hold a wooden sign out of the way and Phil had to back up partially to avoid low-hanging branches. When we finally made it back to the office, we were met by a workcamper in a golf cart who led us to site 166.  Although this drive was somewhat easier, it required pulling far out on the shoulders to make the turns.  Needless to say, we had already concluded that this one-night stay would be our only visit to the Flagstaff KOA.

On Wednesday, we drove 268 miles to Tucson, AZ where we spent two nights at the Tucson / KOA Lazydays Resort.  The drive, almost entirely on interstate highways, involved numerous long, steep descents as we went from Flagstaff (elevation 6,900’) to Tucson (elevation 2,400’).  The temperature when we left Flagstaff that morning was 34 degrees, compared to 85 degrees when we arrived in Tucson.

The difference between the Tucson KOA and the Flagstaff KOA was like night and day.  The roads throughout the Tucson campground were wide and the site was extremely accessible.  The Tucson campground had several unique types of sites available, including covered sites and K9 sites with fenced enclosures.

On Thursday, we explored Historic Fourth Avenue in Tucson.  This district, close to the campus of the University of Arizona, has seen better days.  In addition to numerous unique restaurants, there were retail shops that mostly appeared to cater to alternative lifestyles.  In midday, there were numerous homeless individuals outside these businesses.  We spotted at least six Lock Your Love sculptures on Fourth Avenue.  Sweethearts inscribe their names on a lock, place it on the sculpture, and deposit the key into the base of the sculpture as a symbol of eternal love.

After strolling the length of the district, we had lunch at Tumerico.  Jan had a Sonora Dog and Phil had Al Pastor Tacos.  We were surprised when we learned later that Tumerico serves fresh Latin vegan and vegetarian food.  We now don’t know what we were eating but it was very tasty.

On Friday, we drove 272 miles on I-10 to Las Cruces, NM where we spent two nights at Hacienda RV Resort.  The campground was very spacious and well maintained.  We had a huge pull-through site.  However, with no pool and few amenities, it wasn’t exactly a resort.

On Saturday, we visited Las Mesilla to do some shopping.  This village has a long history.  Thick-walled adobe buildings, which once protected residents against Apache attacks, now house art galleries, restaurants and gift shops. Mesilla’s most notorious resident, Billy the Kid, was sentenced to death at the country courthouse (now a gift shop) but he escaped before the sentence was carried out.  Jan had purchased some jewelry at one of the many silver studios when we visited Mesilla in 2016 and she was determined to find that shop again.  After visiting many of the silver shops, she finally found the right one, which had moved down the street.

On Sunday, we drove 289 miles to Fort Stockton, TX.  This was the longest drive we had done in a long time and, combined with a late start and losing an hour due to crossing a time zone, had us arriving at the Fort Stockton RV Park at 6 pm.  Since we were leaving early the next morning, we left the fifth wheel hitched to the truck overnight.

We got a very early start on Monday morning.  Jan needed to get some lab work done in Kerrville for a doctor visit later in the week.  Since she needed to be fasting, she got up early and left Fort Stockton at 7 am for her four-hour drive.  Phil waited another hour, until sunrise, before beginning his 233-mile drive to Ingram, TX, where we spent four nights at Johnson Creek RV Resort & Park.

Over the next four days, we had doctor and vision appointments, along with several medical tests.  Phil got the annual inspections done on the truck and trailer.  We made a trip to Fredericksburg to load up on our favorite sauces.  Phil also managed to drop in at Buckhorn Lake Resort a couple of days for pickleball.  On Tuesday, we purchased a couple of Townie bikes at a Kerrville bicycle shop.  Phil hadn’t had a bike since he abandoned his broken one on Mackinac Island in June.  Jan’s old bike was badly rusted by the salt air during our stay in Brownsville, TX two years ago.  Since the Townies are aluminum, rust shouldn’t be a problem.

On Friday, we drove 200 miles to Weimar, TX where we spent the night at Whispering Oaks RV Park. This was the first of four straight days of driving.

On Saturday, we drove 160 miles to Beaumont, TX and spent the night at Hidden Lake RV Park.  Our drive took us through the middle of Houston on I-10 at 12:30 pm.  We had made this drive in April on a Wednesday at 10:30 am and it had been very easy.  We made the mistake of assuming that it would also be an easy drive on a Saturday but we were wrong.  Traffic was very heavy and the challenge was compounded by lots of construction zones.  We were glad it was a short drive because the Houston experience left us exhausted.

Sunday’s drive was 219 miles and took us to Livingston, LA where we spent the night at Lakeside RV Park.  Nearly the entire drive was on interstate highways (I-10 and I-12) and, other than several construction zones, was rather boring.  After three straight days of driving, we were now only one more day of driving away from our month-long stay at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL.

St. George & Glendale, UT (October 11 – 19, 2021)

We had originally planned to spend the next four days at a campground in Bryce Canyon City, UT.  However, we checked the weather forecast while we were in Torrey and found that the nighttime lows for all four nights were in the low teens.  In addition, the forecast for one night called for up to three inches of snow.  We immediately began looking for warmer weather and decided to visit St. George, UT instead.  Unfortunately, St. George is right by Zion National Park and is quite popular.  Given the short notice, we were only able to find available campground space for two nights.  We were able to add the remaining two nights onto our next scheduled stop, in Glendale, UT.  The forecast for Glendale called for nighttime lows in the mid-20s, but that was better than mid-teens. 

On Monday, October 11, we left Torrey, UT and made the 250 drive to St. George.  The routing was rather frustrating because we had to drive north about 60 miles before turning south.  There were shorter routes available but, because of the mountains and winding roads, these were not selected for pulling our trailer by Phil’s GPS or our mapping apps. 

When we had been setting up in Torrey five days earlier, we heard a loud noise as we were extending the RV’s legs.  It sounded like metal breaking but we couldn’t identify the source.  Over the next few days, Phil kept examining the RV’s suspension but couldn’t find anything broken.  So, it was with some degree of trepidation that we pulled away from Torrey and began the drive.  Fortunately, we were able to make the drive without incident.  We still don’t know the source of the noise but, for now, we are breathing easier.

The front that was bringing the colder weather also brought strong winds.  As our drive progressed, the winds grew stronger and made driving more of a challenge.  We were glad to arrive at Desert Canyons RV Park in St. George before the winds grew even stronger. 

After a rainy night and strong winds that continued through the morning, we finally got out to explore St. George on Tuesday afternoon.  Our first stop was at the St. George Temple.  However, similar to the Salt Lake Temple, this temple was undergoing renovation.  Both renovations are primarily driven by the desire to make the temples earthquake-proof. 

We then visited Brigham Young’s winter home for the final seven years of his life (1870 – 1877).  We were given a tour of the house by a Mormon missionary and learned much about the man.  Brigham Young had led the emigration of Mormons to Utah in 1848 and served as the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 29 years.  He also served as the first governor of the Utah Territory.  He led the founding of the precursors to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.  Young directed the establishment of 350 settlements throughout the Southwest.  Young was a strong supporter of slavery, which he considered a “divine institution,” and of polygamy.  Although the variety of his marriages makes it difficult to know the exact number, recent studies have found 55 well-documented marriages.  All but about 19 of these “marriages” were simply “sealing” rituals, performed in an LDS temple with the purpose being to make possible family relationships throughout eternity.  He fathered 56 children with 16 of his wives.

We next drove around St. George’s historic downtown and had dinner at a restaurant in Ancestor Square.

On Wednesday morning, we prepared to make our 115-mile drive to Glendale, UT where we would spend the next five nights at Bauer’s Canyon Ranch RV Park.  Since checkout wasn’t until noon and the drive was relatively short, we took our time in getting ready to go.  However, at 11 am, we discovered that our rooftop satellite dish had not stowed.  The control panel was showing an “EL Motor Home Failure.”  We recalled that we’d had this issue some years ago and Jan had gotten a solution via Google, referred to as “EL re-calibration.”  The re-calibration involved multiple steps that were rather hard to follow.  After Phil made several unsuccessful attempts to follow the instructions, he did what he usually does when faced with technology problems; he turned it over to Jan.  After a couple more unsuccessful attempts, Jan figured out the mistake we were making and finally got the dish to stow.  We finished getting hooked up and were on the road shortly before noon. 

The drive to Glendale was mainly on a backroad highway with many sharp curves and steep ascents/descents.  We had stayed at Bauer’s Canyon Ranch RV Park five years ago and, although the sites are rather tight, the campground is conveniently located between Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.

The overnight low dropped to 25 degrees so we waited until late morning on Thursday before heading to Zion National Park.  This proved to be somewhat of a bad decision.  Upon arriving at the Visitor Center at noon, the parking lot was full and we needed to find parking in the neighboring town of Springdale.  After driving three miles into Springdale, we managed to find an empty parking space.  Parking cost $15 for the day and we then had to walk .3 mile to catch a shuttle back to the Visitor Center. 

Upon arriving back at the Visitor Center, we switched to another shuttle bus that took us on the scenic drive through the national park.  We first rode the shuttle to the final stop and hiked a short distance on the riverside walk along the Virgin River.  We then took the shuttle to the Big Bend stop, where we were able to watch hikers high above us on the Angels Landing trail along the rim of the canyon.

Our next stop was at the Zion Lodge where we had lunch.  We considered doing a hike but, given the dropping temperature and rising winds, we decided against it.  Our final stop was the overview of the Court of the Patriarchs.  Named for three towering figures of the Old Testament, these sandstone cliffs include Abraham Peak, Isaac Peak, and Jacob Peak.

The return to our campground was along the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway.  This highway, which we had taken in the morning, connects the Zion Canyon with the east park entrance.  After taking a steep climb along numerous switchbacks, we drove through the 1.1-mile Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel.  This tunnel was built in the 1920s when large vehicles were less common.  One-way traffic is offered during daytime hours so vehicles up to 13’ 1” tall can drive through the tunnel while straddling the middle lane.

Our original schedule had us leaving Glendale on Monday, October 18, and driving 223 miles to Flagstaff, AZ.  However, as we started watching the weather forecasts for Monday, they showed winds of 25-35 mph with gusts exceeding 40 mph in Flagstaff, and similar in Glendale.  This would have made driving our high-profile RV very dangerous.  When the forecast remained unchanged on Saturday morning, we extended our stay in Glendale until Tuesday morning and cancelled our Monday night reservation in Flagstaff.  A subsequent wind advisory called for wind gusts on Monday afternoon up to 50 mph.

We spent Saturday at Bryce Canyon National Park.  Bryce Canyon was considerably less crowded that Zion had been earlier in the week, probably due to a noontime temperature of only 49 degrees and snow on the ground in many places. 

After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove the scenic drive.  Our first stop was at Natural Bridge where we enjoyed posing with the snow.

We then drove to Rainbow Point (elevation 9,115 feet) at the end of the 18-mile scenic drive and began working our way back.  We stopped at most of the overlooks before stopping for lunch at a very popular food truck.

We were unable to find an empty parking spot at Inspiration Point, so continued on to Paria View.  We then drove to Bryce Point and hiked the 1.5-mile rim trail back to Inspiration Point.  Although the scenery was spectacular, the melting snow made the dirt trail a very muddy, and slippery, mess.

After enjoying the view at Inspiration Point, we caught the shuttle to Sunset Point and Sunrise Point.  We then took the shuttle back to Bryce Point to retrieve our car.  On our exit from Bryce Canyon, we made our obligatory stop at the park sign. 

Torrey, UT (October 6 – 11, 2021)

On Wednesday, October 6th, we drove 209 miles to Torrey, UT where we had booked five nights at Wonderland RV Park.  Torrey is a small town in southeastern Utah that is three miles from Capitol Reef National Park.  It was drizzling as we prepared to depart Heber City and the rainfall became heavier as we got underway.  A few miles after we got on I-15 in Orem, the traffic came to a complete standstill due to a collision between two semis.  We sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for the next two miles.  Fortunately, the rain slacked off shortly after we got past the crash site.  Despite getting on the road by 9:30 am, we didn’t arrive at the campground until 3 pm.

On Thursday, we visited Capitol Reef National Park.  Having visited Zion and Bryce Canyon several years ago, Capitol Reef represents the fifth of our visits to the five national parks referred to as “Utah’s Mighty 5.”  After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove the 8-mile scenic drive.  Capitol Reef’s defining geologic feature is known as the waterpocket fold, essentially a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that extends nearly 100 miles.

We had hoped to drive the unpaved Capitol Gorge Road to the Capitol Gorge Trailhead but it was closed to vehicular traffic, So, instead, we hiked about 1.5 miles along the road before turning back.

On our return trip on the scenic drive, we stopped at numerous pullouts and then turned up the 1.3-mile unpaved Grand Wash Road. 

Having developed quite an appetite, we stopped at the Gifford House for a couple of individual-sized pies.  The Gifford House was the heart of the small Mormon pioneer village of Fruita, settled in 1880.  The surrounding fruit orchards are a remnant of this community and, today, are the largest historic orchards in the National Parks system.

After spending a rainy Friday at home, we returned to Capitol Reef National Park on Saturday.  Our first stop took us on a couple of short hikes to the Goosenecks Overlook and the Sunset Point Trail.  The Goosenecks is where the Sulphur Creek carved out a canyon, its curving path resembling that of a gooseneck.  As the creek cut downward over time, it exposed different colored rock layers.

Our next stop was at the one-room schoolhouse for the children of the ten or so families of Fruita.  The schoolhouse was built in 1896 and continued in use through 1941.  The student’s desks were not attached to the floor so the building could also be used as a church meeting place, as well as for dances, meetings and other social events.

We then stopped to see the petroglyphs carved on the rock walls by Native Americans.

Our final activity for the day was a 2-mile moderately strenuous hike to the Hickman Bridge natural sandstone arch. 

On our return home, we stopped for a picture at the park sign.

Heber City, UT (Oct. 1 – 6, 2021)

On Friday, October 1st, we drove 229 miles to Heber City where we will spend five nights at Mountain Valley RV Resort.  We’ve stayed at lots of campgrounds with “resort” in their names but this one truly qualifies as a resort.  We have a huge pull-through site with a concrete pad that is double-wide and very long.  The resort has two clubhouses, three pools and six pickleball courts.

On Saturday, we drove to Salt Lake City for Jason to catch his flight back to Nashville.  His original itinerary had a 45-minute layover in Phoenix but the first flight was delayed.  By the time we reached Salt Lake City, the layover was down to 13 minutes.  Fortunately, Jason was able to get rebooked on a non-stop flight.  Although the new flight left an hour earlier, it would get him back to Nashville three hours earlier.

We spent the next couple of hours exploring downtown Salt Lake City.  We drove to Temple Square.  Unfortunately, the Salt Lake Temple has been closed since December 2019 for a 4-year renovation project.  The entire temple was surrounded by scaffolding.  We then walked up a steep hill to the State of Utah Capitol.  Upon returning to Temple Square, we had lunch at an office complex food court before dropping Jason off at the airport.

On Sunday, we visited Park City, UT and spent a couple of hours strolling along Main Street.  Phil had come to Park City to ski for four winters in the past but, since his last stay in 1985, things had really expanded.  There was still an over-abundance of art galleries and other shops catering to an upper-income clientele.  We checked out the listings at some of the real estate offices and found that most of the condos were listed for over a million dollars.  We stopped for a snack at the Wasatch Brewing Company and made some purchases at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company.

After leaving Main Street, we drove to the nearby Deer Valley Ski Resort.  The trees on the mountainsides were quite picturesque with their fall colors. 

When we had parked on Main Street, Phil was about to pay for parking at the meter but two people told him that parking was free on Sunday.  Phil attempted to pay it forward by advising another couple who were about to pay for parking.  When we got back to our campsite, we discovered a parking violation notice on our windshield.  Apparently, parking is not free on Sundays.  Fortunately, there was no fine for the first offence.

On Monday, we went to the Wasatch Mountain State Park and hiked the 3-mile Little Joe Loop and Lake Brimhall Trail.  Getting to the trailhead required driving six miles up a very steep and winding road with a speed limit of 15 mph.  The Wasatch Mountains were ablaze with fall colors and the aspens lining the road were bright yellow and orange.  The hike itself was very enjoyable.  The first part took us through an aspen forest.  As we got higher, there were an increasing number of pine trees and the fragrance was wonderful.

On Tuesday, we drove to the neighboring communities of Orem and Provo, UT to get an oil change for the Mazda and to visit numerous retail establishments.  As we drove to Provo, we passed through the campus of Brigham Young University and were very impressed with the surrounding neighborhoods.  Coincidently, the drive to and from Orem took us along the Provo Valley Scenic Highway.  This highway was very winding and took us along colorful hills on both sides of the roadway.

Moab, UT (Sept. 24 – Oct. 1, 2021)

Our older son, Jason, joined us for the week.  His flight into Montrose, CO arrived shortly before 10 am on Friday, September 24th, which enabled us to pick him up and return to our rig in time to check-out by 11 am.  We then drove 198 miles to Moab, UT where we spent the week at OK RV Park.  As we reached downtown Moab, an apparent watermain break forced us to take a long detour through the back streets.  Although the detour was poorly marked, Phil kept following a semi and it led us to where we needed to go.

The months of May through October are the peak tourist season for the five Utah national parks.  The National Park Service advises visitors to either arrive before 8 am or after 3 pm, or risk being turned away for 3-5 hours.  Since we’re not early morning people, we chose to visit the parks later in the day.

Rather than fight the crowds at the national parks on a Saturday, we opted to spend the day at Dead Horse Point State Park.  This relatively small state park is on a plateau that is surrounded by vast canyons and leads to a sharp point.  According to legend, the point was once used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa.  Cowboys rounded up these horses and herded them across the narrow neck of land onto the point.  The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush, creating a natural corral surrounded by steep cliffs.  The cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and, for reasons unknown, left the other horses to die of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

After stopping at the Visitor Center, we drove on to Dead Horse Point Overlook.  We then hiked the 3-mile West Rim Trail back to the Visitor Center.  After eating lunch at the Visitor Center, Phil and Jason hiked 2-miles on the East Rim Trail back to Dead Horse Point Overlook to get our car.

After leaving the park, we drove back toward Moab and decided to look for the location where the final scene of the film “Thelma and Louise” had been filmed.  Google provided various directions but we took the one that appeared the most detailed.  We drove along a road that had steep cliffs on one side and the Colorado River on the other.  We came to an unpaved road and continued on despite the feeling that this was probably a bad idea.  As the road became more rugged, we kept going “just past the next curve” and “just over the next hill.”  Finally, we decided we really needed a 4-wheel-drive vehicle if we were going to go any farther and, very carefully, turned around.  On the return, we stopped to watch some rock climbers who were attempting to scale the steep cliffs.

On Sunday, we waited until 3 pm for the crowds to clear out before visiting Arches National Park.  We drove non-stop along the scenic drive to reach the parking area at Wolfe Ranch and were able find one of the few open spots.  We then hiked the 3-mile out-and-back trail to Delicate Arch, the iconic feature of Arches National Park.  This hike involved climbing 480 feet up a steep slickrock slope.  Just before reaching Delicate Arch, the trail followed a narrow rock ledge for about 200 yards.  This hike was quite strenuous but we took it slowly.  The view at Delicate Arch was fabulous and made the effort worthwhile.  The arch is 45 feet high and 33 feet wide, but seems much larger.

After descending from Delicate Arch, we drove a mile farther up the road to a couple of other Delicate Arch overlooks.  These provided a view from the opposite site of the arch, across a canyon.

The sun was setting as we left the national park.  We stopped at Balanced Rock for some photos.

On Monday afternoon, we visited Canyonland National Park.  Canyonland consists of four districts, which are divided by the Green and Colorado Rivers.  We limited our visit to Island in the Sky, the district closest to Moab and the most visited district.  After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove to Grand View Point and hiked a two-mile out-and-back trail along the rim of the canyon.

We next headed to Mesa Arch.  A half-mile loop trail took us to this natural stone arch that frames spectacular views of the La Sal Mountains, Buck Canyon, Washer Woman Arch and Monster Tower.

Our next stop was at Green River Overlook, with its views of high plateaus and the Green River.

Our final stop for the day was at Upheaval Dome.  We hiked a half-mile to the first overlook.  Upheaval Dome is a crater in which the rock layers are fractured and tilted, forming a circular depression more than two miles wide. There is disagreement as to the cause but recent findings support the belief that it was caused by a violent meteorite impact.

On Tuesday, we took a day off from hiking.  Jan and Jason went exploring downtown Moab while Phil gave our rig a long-overdue bath.

On Wednesday, we attempted to visit Arches National Park at 1:30 pm but were greeted by a sign that said “Park Full – Return in 3-5 hours.”  Instead of returning home, we drove a few miles away and did the 3-mile hike to the Corona and Bowtie Arches.  The trail crosses wide expanses of slickrock pavement.  A couple of slickrock sections have metal safety cables to use as handrails as well a steel ladder bolted into the rock on one steep step.  We reached Bowtie Arch first.  This pothole arch formed when a pothole above, usually filled with water, eroded down into the cave below.  We then came to the massive Corona Arch, measuring 140 feet across and 105 feet high.

After finishing this hike, we returned to Arches National Park at 4:30 pm and had no trouble getting in.  We drove to the windows section of the park.  As we drove past the towering peaks, it was fun to imagine what the shapes resemble.  We spotted one rock that all three of us thought looked like a baby. We walked along a short path to Double Arch.  The larger of these twin arches has a span of 144 feet – the third largest in the park – and a height of 112 feet – the highest in the park. 

From the same parking lot, we then hiked to the North Window, South Window and Turret Arch.

Thursday was our final full day in Moab so we arose early and arrived at Arches National Park at 6:45 am.  Sunrise wasn’t until 7:13 am so we drove to the northernmost end of the scenic highway while the sun rose.  We then walked a short path to the Skyline Arch.  Along the path, we spotted seven deer grazing on the brush. Their greenish coats made them difficult to spot within the foliage.

We then drove to Sand Dune Arch and hiked .3-mile through deep sand to a secluded arch tucked among sandstone fins.

From the same parking area, we then hiked .6-mile to Broken Arch.  After scrambling up the rock face of Broken Arch, we continued on another .8-mile to Tapestry Arch, before hiking back the way we had come.

On next stop was at Balanced Rock.  We walked a .3-mile loop around the base of this fragile, picturesque rock formation.

Our final stop was at Courthouse Towers Viewpoint.  We hiked a portion of the Park Avenue Trail along the canyon floor, providing close up views of massive fins, balanced rocks and lofty monoliths. 

Western CO, but mostly DC (Sept. 15 – 24, 2021)

On Wednesday, September 15th, we drove 288 miles to Grand Junction, CO where we spent two nights at the Grand Junction KOA.  After the first 60 miles, most of the drive was on I-70.  Phil was able to maintain close to highway speed most of the trip.  There were some steep inclines that had the truck struggling to exceed 40 mph but, at least, Phil was able to keep up with the semis. 

When we arrived at the KOA, Jan had a difficult time getting the front legs to extend.  This had been an ongoing problem but appeared to be getting progressively worse.  Jan spotted an RV tech’s truck two sites over from us and, after he finished with that customer, he came over to see us.  After testing our batteries, he concluded that we needed new batteries.  Our dealer had told us in August that we could probably get a couple of more years from the old batteries but the RV tech seemed pretty confident that the batteries were causing our problems.  If the batteries didn’t solve the problem, the RV tech’ s second guess was that we needed a new trombetta switch.  Our dealer had identified the need for a new trombetta switch but didn’t think this part was causing the leg extension issue. 

On Thursday morning, Phil drove to the battery store and bought four deep cycle 6-volt marine batteries, at a cost of $1,200.  Each of the batteries weighed about 50 lbs. and, due to the numerous cables connected to the batteries in the two small battery compartments, they were a challenge to install.  Unfortunately, after the new batteries were installed, the problem with the leveling system remained unresolved. 

As Phil returned the old batteries for the core deposit, Jan called a nearby RV dealer and was able to find a trombetta switch.  Phil picked up the switch and, after taking pictures of the existing wiring, we began to replace the switch.  Although Phil had disconnected our shore power and had turned the battery disconnect to “off,” we kept getting sparks when we connected some of the 12 cables to the six posts.  We were very frustrated and not sure what we would do next.  By this time, it was dark and we were operating by lantern.  Jan continued to analyze the photos to see what we had done wrong.  Finally, she spotted a couple of similarly colored wires that appeared to be crossed.  We started over again and, this time, we were able to get the wires connected with no sparks.  With the wires properly installed, we found that our leveling system problem was solved.  We were both ecstatic and relieved!

On Friday, we drove 68 miles to Montrose, CO where we had reservations at Centennial RV Park.  Although we had booked the site for a week, our actual time in Montrose was much shorter.  Phil’s mother had passed away in February 2020 and was due to have her ashes interred at Arlington National Cemetery.  Unfortunately, due to COVID, the ceremony was delayed until now.  On Saturday, we flew to Washington, DC.  With a three-hour layover in Denver and a long delay at the rental car center at Dulles, we didn’t get to our hotel room until 1:15 am on Sunday morning.

Alison and Bill had flown to NYC and had spent a couple of days there.  On Sunday morning, they took the Amtrak to DC and we picked them up at Union Station.  While they waited for their hotel room to be available, we walked down the street and had lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant.  We sat outside and talked for a couple of hours.  That evening, we had a group dinner with Phil’s siblings and in-laws, as well as many of Phil’s mother’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Rather than try to find a restaurant that could accommodate a group of 17, each family picked up their own food and brought it back to the hotel dining room. 

On Monday morning, we picked up Lizzi at Reagan National Airport.  That afternoon, we, and Lizzi, Alison and Bill, took the Metro to the National Mall.  We visited the United States Botanic Garden. 

After lunch at Potbelly, we visited the International Spy Museum.  It was a very fun museum, both highly educational and interactive.  We were each assigned characters as spies and performed various activities to evaluate our aptitude for these roles.  Phil was Mickey Garcia and Jan was Adrian Steyn.  For dinner, we had another group get-together at the hotel.

On Tuesday morning, we drove to Arlington National Cemetery for the interment ceremony.  Although the ceremony only lasted about 20 minutes, it included a eulogy by a Navy chaplain, a 21-gun salute, a bugler playing Taps, and a presentation of the American flag.  We then all walked to the vault where Phil’s mother’s urn was placed beside his father’s urn.  After the ceremony, we all met for lunch at Federico Ristorante before saying our goodbyes to most of the group.

Later that afternoon, we received an email from American Airlines telling us that our Wednesday flights back to Montrose had been rebooked on Thursday.  We spent the next seven hours trying to get better flights.  When we called AA, we were placed on a callback with a 1-1/4 to a 1-3/4 hour wait.  Phil thought he had resolved the issue during the first callback but, when we got the confirmation email, we found that they had eliminated the first flight from Reagan National to Dallas Fort Worth.  Phil’s next callback took over two hours but, since his phone was set to Do Not Disturb at 11 pm, the call went to voicemail.  We finally tried calling and remaining on hold, rather than relying on a callback.  After over an hour, we got to talk to an agent but he told us that, since we had booked our tickets using Rewards miles, he would have to transfer us to another agent.  That transfer put us on hold for another hour.  We finally were able to book a flight to DFW on Wednesday afternoon and a flight to Montrose on Thursday morning but, by this time, it was 1:30 am.

On Wednesday morning, we said goodbye to Lizzi, Alison and Bill and headed to the airport.  Upon arriving in Dallas, we were able to secure a hotel voucher for the nearby Sheraton and $24 in meal vouchers.  We took the shuttle to the Sheraton and, after dinner at the hotel restaurant, headed to bed early.

We caught the 7 am shuttle back to DFW on Thursday for our 8:45 flight to Montrose.  The flight pulled back from the gate on time.  Unfortunately, a mechanical problem forced us to return to the gate and resulted in a 1h 20m delay.

When we finally arrived in Montrose, we were determined to see some of the sights before leaving town.  We headed to the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and drove the South Rim scenic drive.  Due to our time crunch, we only stopped at five of the 12 scenic overlooks but did hit all four of the “must see” views.  One of the stops was at Painted Wall, with a 2,250-foot vertical cliff that is the tallest in Colorado and one of the highest in the United States.  If the Empire State Building were placed on the canyon floor, it would only reach about halfway up the cliff.

We spent the rest of the day preparing for our Friday morning departure from Montrose.

Grand Lake, CO (September 8 – 15, 2021)

On Wednesday, September 8th, we drove 155 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake, CO.  Although there was a 48-mile route available by driving through Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), the steep inclines and sharp drop-offs on this route made us decide to take an easier, although longer, path.  The new route took us in a southerly direction from Estes Park to I-70 and then up the other side of the park to Grand Lake.  Although the drive required lots of ascents and descents and many sharp turns, it was quite scenic and a lot less scary that a drive through RMNP would have been.

The Grand Lake area was savaged by a wildfire in October 2020 that burned 194,000-acres, making it the second-largest fire in Colorado history.  In fact, it burned 120,000-acres in a single day, making it the fastest-spreading fire in Colorado history.  We checked in to Winding River Resort for a one-week stay.  Although the campground was now nearly 100% operational, the surrounding hills were black with debris from the fire.

Jarrod and Jess drove up from Denver late that night.  Since Jess needed to work on Thursday and Friday, they stayed at a nearby hotel for the first two nights. On Thursday, Jarrod rode his bike over from the hotel.  We headed to the Arapahoe National Forest and hiked the 4-mile loop trail around Monarch Lake.  The trail wasn’t too taxing and was mostly shaded.

As we walked along the far side of the lake, Jan noticed a bull moose at the water’s edge.  Although the trail was well above the water, we were eventually about to make out two bull moose, each with a large rack.

Video of bull moose

As we approached the end of the loop around the lake, we found a sandy beach and Jarrod was able to do some fly-fishing.  Unfortunately, he was only able to get a nibble.

Jess came by for dinner, after completing her workday.  The campground caters to horse owners and has their own horses for trail rides.  Although most of the horses are in pens or a pasture near our site, there are a pony and a small burro who seem to have free range of the campground.  The pony and burro dropped by after dinner to munch on the limited grass on our site.

On Friday morning, we relaxed and took care of domestic chores while Jarrod fished and Jess worked a half day.  In the afternoon, we entered RMNP on the eastern edge of Grand Lake and hiked the East Inlet Trail.  The hike was only about 2.5-miles but took us out to a spectacular valley with a panoramic view of the mountains and a stream running through it.  There was a log stretched across the stream.  First, Jess went part-way across but, then, Jarrod successfully got all the way across and returned without ending up in the water.

After dinner, we drove into RMNP and observed lots of elk and moose grazing near the Trail Ridge Road.

On Saturday, we drove up the western portion of RMNP’s Trail Ridge Road almost to the summit.  We stopped several times along the way.  We spent some time observing a female moose grazing on the grass and then did a couple of short hikes. 

Later, we went into the town of Grand Lake and had ice cream at Dairy King, a small shop that’s been in business for 68 years.  Next, we strolled along the main street of downtown Grand Lake and visited a number of shops. Jarrod and Jess headed for home after breakfast on Sunday.

On Saturday evening, Phil had developed the chills and his temperature rose overnight to 102.6.  Very similar to his health issue in August, his temperature would lower to nearly normal in the morning but would creep back to a high fever in the afternoon and evening.  Rather than wait four days to seek medical attention, as we had done in August, we decided to hit an Urgent Care on Monday.  We drove 82-miles to an Urgent Care in Breckenridge, CO because Jan needed to pick up a prescription from Walgreens and the nearest Walgreens was in Dillon, 10 miles from Breckenridge.  As before, Phil was tested for Covid, got a negative result and the doctor prescribed antibiotics.  The highlight of the day was really the drive to and from Breckenridge.  The vistas around every bend were stunningly beautiful. 

After a day and a half on antibiotics, Phil’s temperature stayed below normal all day and night and he felt well enough to make the long drive to Grand Junction on Wednesday.

Estes Park, CO (September 3 – 8, 2021)

On Friday, September 3rd, we drove 223 miles to Estes Park, CO where we spent five nights at Elk Meadow Lodge & RV Resort.  The drive was mostly along I-25, but the last 26 miles were through the steep and rocky Big Thompson Canyon and had nearly continuous curves.  The campground is located a short distance from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  We had a beautiful view of some of the surrounding mountains from our living room window.  Shortly after getting set up, we had a brief drizzle that provided us with a fabulous double rainbow.  The campground was then visited by a huge bull elk that drew quite a crowd of campers to watch it.  While the elk was still in the field below us, Jarrod and Jess arrived for their three-night visit.

After breakfast on Saturday, Jess and Jarrod took turns driving us through the eastern portion of RMNP.  We first drove up the Trail Ridge Road to the Ute Trail.  We hiked a short distance on the Ute Trail but the cold temperature and strong winds forced us to turn back. 

We then drove down Bear Lake Road to Sprague Lake, where we hiked around the lake.  We took a shuttle to the Glacier Basin campground where we hiked the Glacier Basin and Wind River trails. 

After completing these hikes, we walked a mile back to Sprague Lake where we had left the car.  When we arrived at Sprague Lake, we discovered a large moose in the lake that had drawn quite a crowd of spectators.  After observing the moose for a while, we drove back to our campground.  As we exited Bear Lake Road, we observed a large herd of elk by the road.

On Sunday, Jarrod and Jess again drove us through the eastern portion of RMNP.  We first drove to Lava Cliffs, near the highest point in the park.  We hiked out to the rocks, despite strong winds and cold temps.  After visiting the cliffs, we continued up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center.  During this drive, we passed through the highest point on the road at 12,183 feet.  On our return down the Trail Ridge Road, we stopped at a couple of parking areas and went for short walks into the park.

We spent Sunday afternoon in the town of Estes Park.  We first visited the Estes Park Arts & Crafts Festival.  Afterward, we drove to The Dunraven Inn on Lake Estes and enjoyed some drinks and appetizers.  On our way back to the campground, we passed the Stanley Hotel where a portion of the film “The Shining,” based on Stephen King’s novel, was filmed.

On Monday, we returned to RMNP and hiked the six-mile Cull Lake loop trail.  It was a warm day but the cool breeze and shade on much of the trail make it a delightful day for a hike. 

After reaching Cull Lake, the return portion of the loop trail was largely downhill and took us along a stream.  We took a break along this portion of the trail and enjoyed dunking our feet in the cold water of the stream.  After completing the hike, we stopped at the RMNP sign for our photo shoot.

Upon returning to our rig, Jarrod and Jess packed up and headed for home.  We will see them again in a few days in Grand Lake.  After dinner, we returned to RMNP to look for elk.  We drove around quite a while and, although we did see a few elk and deer, we didn’t find a large herd of elk until we headed for home.

Custer, SD Area & Douglas, WY (August 25 – September 3, 2021)

On Wednesday, August 25th, we arrived at Fort Welikit Family Campground in Custer, SD in the mid-afternoon for a weeklong stay.  Our pull-through site was long enough but required a lot of care to fit in between trees on all sides.  The trees precluded the use of our satellite dish but, fortunately, the campground provided 70 cable channels.

After dinner, we went for a walk around the campground.  It was quickly apparent that we were going to need to get adjusted to the high altitude.

On Thursday, we drove to Custer State Park.  We first stopped at the Visitor Center.  We examined many of the displays and watched a video about the park, narrated by Kevin Costner.  Then, we drove the Wilderness Loop through the park.  Our first animal encounter was with a bison that was sauntering up the middle of the road.  Rather than risk trying to pass it, we followed behind it until it finally decided to leave the road.  Farther down the road, we encountered a large herd of bison crossing the road and we watched from a safe distance.  There were quite a large number of calves with their mothers.  We got lunch at a food truck and, somewhat rudely, both ordered bison burgers.

After lunch, we continued on the Wilderness Loop and encountered a pack of burros.  They had been fairly far away until some of the spectators pulled out bags of carrots and apples.  It didn’t take long before the crowd was surrounded by burros looking for a handout.  Jan got to feed one of them, then made friends with one of the babies.

When the food ran out, the burros departed and we continued our drive.  At the end of the loop, we drove up a one-mile gravel road to the Mt. Coolidge Scenic Overlook.  The drive was somewhat scary, since we were next to a cliff with few guardrails, but, fortunately, there was very little opposing traffic.  Once we reached the summit, we climbed the observation tower but we were chased back down by a huge swarm of gnats.

On Thursday, we returned to Custer State Park and drove the 14-mile stretch of SD-87 known as the Needles Highway due to its tall granite peaks, resembling needles.  The highway was constructed in 1922, when it was considered by many to be impossible to complete.  The highway was extremely winding but contained numerous pull-offs that allowed us to enjoy the scenery. 

The most famous part of the drive is the Needle Eye Tunnel.  This one-way tunnel is only 8’0” wide by 9’9” high.  We were lucky to get through the tunnel with no delay but watched quite a traffic jam develop once we reached the other side.  A large crowd grew to watch a dually squeeze through the tunnel.

Needle Eye Tunnel, as seen through our dirty windshield

Our final stop was at Sylvan Lake.  We ate lunch, then hiked the one-mile trail around the lake. 

After a relaxing day on Saturday, we were back on the road on Sunday.  We began by driving the Iron Mountain scenic highway.  Like the Wilderness Loop and Needles Highway we had done previously, this highway was designed on foot and horseback by Peter Norbeck, former South Dakota governor and US senator.  All three of these highways were designed to be driven no faster than 25 mph.  The 17-mile Iron Mountain Road was constructed in 1933 and includes magnificent views of the Black Hills, single-lane tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore and three pigtail bridges.  A pigtail bridge is a road bridge that loops over its own road, allowing the road to climb rapidly. 

After completing the Iron Mountain Road, we visited the Mount Rushmore National Monument.  We hiked the one-mile Presidential Trail that took us near the base of the monument.  Unlike our previous visit to Mount Rushmore many years ago when we froze, the weather on Sunday was sunny and a comfortable 77 degrees. 

On Monday, August 30th, we met Eric and Julie Paulikonis for lunch at Bumpin’ Buffalo Bar and Grill in Hill City, SD.  Eric and Julie had been the tail gunners for our caravan to Alaska in the summer of 2018.  It was great to see them again and catch up on what we’d been doing since that trip.  After lunch, we went to the Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City for a wine tasting. 

We both had dentist appointments in Rapid City, SD on Tuesday morning.  On the drive to Rapid City, Jan was able to capture some pictures of the Crazy Horse Memorial.  This monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion.  Our morning appointments were finished by 11:30 but, since Jan needed to return at 1:30 for a minor repair to some previous dental work, we had two hours to kill.  We drove to downtown Rapid City and explored the Main Street Square.  Rapid City has sculptures of all of the US Presidents on the downtown street corners.  After checking out several of the Presidents, we stopped for lunch at the Firehouse Brewing Company.  The restaurant is in a former station of the Rapid City Fire Department.

On Wednesday, September 1st, we drove 168 miles to Douglas, WY, where we spent two nights at the Douglas KOA.  Other than a couple of long construction zones, the drive went smoothly.  There was little to do in Douglas so we spent a couple of leisurely days there.