Trip 44: San Juan Islands Washington March 16-22, 2014

March 17: Bothell, WA
I am writing this very late Sunday night. It is pouring rain here in Bothell, Washington. I am camped in a small but quaint and scenic campground in a small sheltered valley. There must be about 150 sites here and they are all by a lake.We arrived here in the Seattle area yesterday, Saturday, midday after a 5 hour flight from NJ. Within that time, John became seriously ill with a small bowel obstruction. We both had the same breakfast in first class; small eggs and potatoes, a tiny sausage disk, and a very small portion of fruit. It seems that small amount of fruit, coupled with 5 hours of sitting in a bent position was enough to clog up his little intestine. I noticed him squirming a bit as we neared the end of the flight but I attributed that to a sore bum. No such luck…he told me it was obstructed in the airport as we collected our luggage, then the pain only intensified as we got the motor home out of storage. We did not travel far, just about 20 miles north of the Seattle area when he was overcome with abdominal pain. Then the nausea started. I made a bee line for the first hospital I saw and John found a close RV park. Just as we were pulling into our site, he turned white with pain and I dialed 911. A local ambulance arrived within minutes and the EMT crew assessed his condition and called for a backup. We were taken quickly and directly to Evergreen Medical Center in Kirkland where we went right to the ER. The vomiting and nausea stated soon after and John was ill. They assessed him with a quick CT scan and placed an NG tube in to relieve his stomach somewhat.So that I could get around and use the RV as a hotel, I called a taxi to take me back to SeaTac airport to rent a car from Enterprise, the only place open late on a Saturday night. I drove back to Kirkland, grateful for my sense of direction to get me back. The evening was long and agonizing watching him suffer but I waited till he was settled in a room upstairs and had sufficient meds to feel somewhat comfortable before I left exhausted. I did a quick food shop at the nearby Safeway in the pouring rain, but was too tired to eat anything when I got back to the motor home. Crashed, but did not sleep at all.

This morning, John woke me up with a phone call and he sounded much better. The rain was still coming down in buckets. I struggled to get the RV up and running, trying to get the water cleared of antifreeze and warmed up for a shower. No coffee was left in the RV after our last trip so I had to do without till I showered and headed back to the Safeway for Starbucks. With some caffeine in my brain, I managed to make it back to the medical center OK. I stayed with John all day, watching TV, doing some stitching, reading the Sunday paper, and doing some walking. John is doing much much better and is allowed clear liquids. A Doctor Tobin came around noon to get an assessment and felt that he was improving. Hopefully he will be let go tomorrow and we can crash somewhere nearby. It is late and I am back in the RV park after dinner at an Ivar’s seafood restaurant. Fabulous fish and chips! Still pouring rain, and chilly, in the 40′s. I have not been able to get the satellite to work so have given up and am going to read a bit before going to bed.

March 18: Bothell, WA
It is late Tuesday night as I write this. John is out of the hospital. It was chilly here when I woke up. I made coffee after a fitful night sleep. Could not find a good position on the deflated mattress and my hips hurt like hell. John’s call came in around 9 saying they were letting him go around 10. I brought some clothes and met him in his room all ready to bug outta there.Once back at the. RV park, we crashed for the afternoon. I finally got some sleep. The showery rains stopped and the sunshine managed to peek through the clouds. Finally some blue skies! We did a short walk around the small vale that the RV park is nestled in. I then went out for some dinner back to Ivar’s: grilled fresh salmon, fried jumbo shrimp, and Dungeness crab cocktail. Yummy! John went to bed early and I did some stitching as I watched the news still following the vanished Flight 370 out of Malaysia on CNN. Before bed, we did a short walk so that John could stretch his aching belly.
 March 19: Bothell, WA
We did not want to leave the area just in case if John became ill again and we needed to return to Evergreen Medical center.We spent a leisurely morning having coffee and watching the news as well as the multitude of different ducks right outside out window in the lake. John was feeling much better so we decided to take the rental car for a spin and head up eastward into the Cascades. We were looking at the area to get a feel for it as both of us are suddenly thinking about retirement years.We took Rt. 522 east through Monroe where we stopped at an RV dealer and bought a replacement shower hose. We continued up in elevation, coming upon deep snow and lush moss laden fir trees til we topped out at Stevens pass. Steven’s Pass ski area was at the top and we went in for a bite to eat. The amphitheater of peaks was hidden in fog and clouds. As we were leaving, I quietly asked the waitress where we could score some pot. Amazingly a patron at the bar offered us a small bags worth in exchange for a beer. Both of us were stunned. We left both the waitress and the patron a nice tip before we headed back down off the pass.Along the was back to Bothell,we stopped at a grocery store to get makings for brownies but as I spotted a tobacco shop, we decided we might as well buy a small glass pipe to try. Back at the RV park, John wasted no time in firing up the little glass pipe shaped like an eyeball. Ugh…one puff and I think I scorched the back of my throat! John puffed more than I did. Both of us fell into small fits of giggling and John felt as if the motor home was a train moving. I did not really get a sensation of being dopey or euphoric but just mellow. My throat still hurt after taking some more puffs so I stopped. John was relaxed and suddenly became hungry. Eh…I felt a bit hungry but could not say if it was the weed doing its thing.To bed early. It is raining now and hopefully we will be north of here tomorrow.

March 20: Bothell to West Beach, Orcas Island, WA
I am now eating a cream puff the size of a regulation softball. Other than a splitting headache all day, no worse for wear from last nights puffin. We are at the West Beach RV resort on the island of Orcas in the San Juan Islands. It is dark now and we just ate dinner to a spectacular sunset over the waters of the Straight of Georgia.The day started out a bit hectic in the pouring rain. We packed up and headed out around 10, returning the rental car to the Enterprise in Bothell. Driving through the lashing rain, We were determined to catch the 11:20am ferry out of Anacortes, but just missed it by 5 minutes!!! No worries though. We meandered back into Anacortes where we has a scrumptious lunch at the Calico Cupboard Cafe…smoked salmon omlettte and quite a few luscious deserts for later!! Afterwards, we took a small side trip to see a new home construction development called San Juan Passage. A bit pricey for us, but beautiful homes with water views of the ferry.We then stopped at Washington county park to check out their campsites (dense northwestern rain forest campground with dingly dell atmosphere.). Off to the ferry terminal where we got in line for a 2 hour wait. Both of us showered (combat showers) then read emails while waiting. Boarding time was 3:05pm and we stopped at Lopez island and Shaw Island before disembarking on Orcas Island. The sun came out and with it blue skies. Though the sun shone, it was breezy and cold on the water. We spotted lots of sea birds on the deep emerald green waters along the way.Once on Orcas Island, we drove our RV off the huge ferry and went a little ways along the narrow winding and hilly island roads through lush farmlands and deep rain forests. We stopped briefly at a hardware store for wood and tools (to assemble our flat screen TV in the back finally!), then drove a short ways to our destination, West End Resort Campground. The campground has quite a few cabins along the shoreline and a few campsites for rigs and tents. The office was just closing and we managed to check in and find our sight before it became dark. The ground here is saturated with water from the constant rainfall. The sunset across the bay was a spectacular ending to an adventurous day. No satellite signal, but we do have WiFi. Not many people around. Just those renting cabins. No other RV campers here. Off to bed after some needlework.

March 21: Orcas Island, WA
Today was an adventurous day spent in the cold sunshine of the vernal equinox. We left around 11, figuring out that the only place to dump on the island was Moran State Park. We headed eastward and once there, found a very small parking lot by the park office with no place to pull over. John went to purchase a year pass and a dumping permit.Afterwards, we headed east towards Doe Bay resort where we we stopped to visit Evans Icelandic Horse Farm. We were met outside by Wanda Evans who spent over 3 hours introducing us to her herd of about 20 horses. They were small, sturdy, hardy and exhibited excellent calmness, friendliness, and gentle dispositions. My favorite was a grey white mare called Soft Snow in Icelandic. Ever since I was a child, my uncle Stas told me about his trips to Iceland and of the small, tough Viking horses there. I always wanted to see one and also to ride one. Known for their walking trot called the ‘ tolt’ and a flying pace that they can sustain all day carrying an adult rider, I’ve always wanted to ride one, especially in the geothermal plains of Iceland. Wanda was not able to let me ride but I was very grateful for seeing her herd and learning all about her breeding and training efforts. I will keep her in mind in case I ever have the opportunity to buy a horse of my own.After saying goodbye, we headed back into Eastsound, dumping at Moran park, and had a late lunch of yummy fish sandwiches at a bar cafe overlooking the water in town. The day was sunny but cool and we did a bit of walking and shopping in the cute little village shops. We then drove a short ways to a small dead end street overlooking the water by the airport, where John graded some school work and I did some stitchery. Back to our camp for a second nite where we walked the small beach before retiring. We watched an episode of Sherlock and then to bed.
March 21: Orcas Island to Bellingham. WA
Today we returned to the mainland from our little San Juan island adventure. We left Orcas around 9:30 and hopped on the inter island ferry to San Juan island and Friday harbor. Once there, we fared about trying to fuel up on propane, finally ending up at the Ace hardware in town. After, we didn’t travel far to a western shore road overlooking the sound towards British Colombia, where we stopped to have lunch. Scrambled eggs, fresh Irish bacon and a fabulous view over the green blue waters.We traveled north about 8 miles or to visit the English Encampment, half of the San Juan National Park. Apparently in the late 1800′s both the British and Americans disputed the ownership of the islands, with things coming to a head when a farmer shot a pig. Both sides brought troops onto the island but no other shots were fired and the result was a decision made by Kaiser Wilhelm who established America (Oregon) as the owners of the territory. There was no visitor center at the English camp, so we walked around the pretty harbor grounds a bit before heading 13 miles to the southern end of the island and the American Camp.The day was very sunny and warm, even though it was only 48degrees out. San Juan island was a bit different from Orcas in that it had much more open pastureland and farmland and seemed more flat with small rolling hills. Once at the American camp, we got our cancellation stamp and spoke with the center host, a full time RVer from San Diego. We also caught a glimpse of a Bald eagle female sitting on a nest just steps from the centers front door. We did not linger, and instead decided to call it a day by heading back to Friday Harbor and quickly getting in line for the 3:40pm ferry back to Anacortes. A very scenic ride back to the mainland.Since it was late in the day, we headed north towards Bellingham and a state park campground called Larrebee right on the coast.  We managed to somehow get on the Chuckanut Scenic Drive, even tough our RV GPS alerted us to a vehicle weight restriction. We continued north anyway, faffing about trying to make a detour and not really knowing why the signs were saying the road ahead was closed to 18,000lb. vehicles. It wasn’t a bridge closed, or road works. We finally realized that it was the very narrow scenic drive itself, with its winding road and many cliff faces jutting out onto the roadway. We passed some wide eyed drivers and motorcycle riders. We arrived at the state park, but found that no site fresh water or a dump was available and we did not feel like doing a boonies camp. We drove onward, selecting a campground just north of Bellingham and right off of Interstate 5. Set up, hook up, cooked delish fresh wild coho salmon for dinner. Yum!!! Some stitching and grading, then off to bed. Return to NJ tomorrow. :(

March 22: Bellingham to Seattle, WA
Leaving this stunning area today and heading back to NJ…and possibly coming home to a huge snow storm. We spent the night in Bellingham, in the Bellingham RV park. We were told by several people that this area is a good area for retires so we decided to drive around a bit and get a feel for the land. We headed north a bit to a small community called Lynden, very Dutch by the many windmills we spotted. Most of the area was farmlands till we headed eastwards and into the foothills of the Cascades, where the terrain became rolling pine forests. We stopped by a few homesteads for sale and then had lunch in an Applebee’s.Since the service was slow, our free time before our flight was minimized so we headed back to Seattle where we picked up a rental car, then drove to the RV storage area where we put the Grey Haven to sleep before returning to the airport around 6pm. It was a long wait till our flight time at 10pm for the red eye homeward, but we made do in the United lounge and had dinner at Ivar’s seafood…yum! Once on the plane, we were delayed again for a malfunctioning circuit breaker on the brand new Boeing 737. Uneventful flight home as I slept most of the way. Landed after 6am Sunday morning just as the sky was turning rosy pink. Cold outside. Home to pups and bed.

TRIP 43: Glaciers to Ocean in the Pacific Northwest

Day 1 : November 19  Billings to Helena, MT

I am writing this in the warm comfort of our Greyhaven in the Yellowstone River RV Park. We are in Billings and it is a grey and overcast morning. It is chilly, in the 30′s, but not bitter outside. I just have walked the pups and am enjoying my morning coffee with pumpkin spice creamer. Yumm! John is still asleep. After yesterday’ travel, he’s pooped. It was just an extremely long travel day yesterday. I got up around 2:30am having slept about 4 hours. John did not sleep at all and stayed up. It was pouring rain when we arrived at Newark. After boarding, the plane was suddenly delayed about an hour since it had to return to the gate. Apparently one of the flight attendants had a family emergency and had to disembark. A replacement was found and we continued on our way.

The flight out to Denver was beautiful (great breakfast of a cheese omlette), where we quickly switched planes and continued on to Billings. This plane was filled with mainly oil industry roughnecks, including one woman dressed to the nines and carrying a hardhat. Once in Billings, we collected luggage and the pups, who were jumping with joy to see us. As I picked up our suitcases, I happened to notice that the luggage carousel was full of large rectangular gun cases. It is hunting season out here in the mountain west. John got a rental car (a new Hyundai Santa Fe…nice large 3 row seater…very comfortable) and then collected the Greyhaven from the dealer just outside Billings. We headed to the Yellowstone River RV park and got a site for the night. The park was empty and basically shut down for the season, except for one area of sites. As I walked the pups later that night, I saw a group of hunters in camo gear discussing their day around a campfire.

Today, we plan on heading west towards Helena, and then northward up to Glacier National Park. Although the main attraction, the ‘Going-to-The-Sun’ road is closed with snow, we want to see the mountains and whatever we can of the glaciers.

We traveled about 240 miles northwest from Billings, along lonely and desolate highways to Helena, the state capital. It began as a decent traveling day, but the winds picked up in the afternoon and made driving challenging. The terrain changed from open grasslands and sprawling cattle ranches, to a valley along the Musselshell River. Then, the road began to climb into foothills and we found ourselves finally in between snow covered mountain ranges and forested hillsides. We traveled till near sunset and stopped for groceries just outside of Helena. I managed to pick up new flannel bedding and an inexpensive Crock Pot! Yummy stews are now on the menu! We then got a campsite just north of the city. As is usual with most campgrounds in the winter, there was no water available at the sites (closed for winter). But not a problem. We set up for the evening and I made scrambled eggs, bacon and home fried potatoes for dinner. Afterwards, I got out the new crock pot and put in all the ingredients for a yummy beef stew to cook overnight. Off  to bed early. (We could smell the stew cooking all night!)

Day 2 Nov. 20 Helena to Kalispel, MT

We awoke this morning to a winter wonderland! About an inch of snow fell overnight. When I walked the pups at about 3am, the moon was still out and shining behind a veil of thin, high clouds. The temperature had fallen and it was bitter.  Both pups had curled up tight with us all night long.

It was bitter cold out (14!) when we headed to the local shopping areas after breakfast to pick up a few essentials. First stop was to Petco for decent pup food, then to Sportsman’s Warehouse for gloves, wool socks, and flannel shirts. Then, we went to Albertson’s (grocery store chain here in the west) for lunch and dinner items, had a quick bite to eat while parked in the lot, and finally we were on our way. The roads were covered with dry blowing snow and were not slippery. We took it slow and easy traversing a 6300′ pass just west of Helena, and the road was OK. The temp dropped to 4 degrees at the summit! Once on the other side, we descended into a glacier-carved, wide u-shaped valley. Sheltered from the wind, the temp rose up to 35 degrees. We took Rt. 83 northwards towards Kalispel and were greeted with stunning views of the – Northern Rockies on one side, and pine forest and open water lakes on the other.

We noticed many summer and hunting cabins along the lakeshores, most of them occupied. The route also took us along famous trout rivers like the Blackfoot and the Flathead (both native american tribes in the area). Toward nightfall, which was around 5pm, we decided to find a safe harbor. The first RV campground we stopped at near Evergreen advertised it was open year round, but, after calling the number by the office and waiting, no one came to greet us. We left and drove up the road a half mile to another campground. We got a site, filling our water tank before setting up. Dinner was the fabulous crock pot beef stew…yummy!! No cable or satellite, so we watched an episode of Downton Abbey, season 3 before retiring for the night.

Day 3: Nov. 21 Kalispel to Whitefish, MT

The morning dawned bitter cold. I started to feel ill on towards midday. Hope I am not coming down with something. We did not travel far today, just 30 miles north or so into Glacier National Park via West Glacier and to Apgar Village. We were surrounded by 10,000′ snowy peaks and were amazed by the views. We were disappointed to find the Visitor’s Center closed (open only on weekends), so we did not obtain our cancellation stamp. We did visit a gift shop next door where we bought some handmade items. We drove up about 10 miles of the Going-To-The-Sun road along the shores of Lake McDonald and stopped at the Lake McDonald lodge where we walked around the huge empty and closed lodge, taking lots of photos of the mountains and lake.

 

We turned around and headed back out of the park. I was starting to feel worse so we decided to stay closer rather than travel west into Idaho. We drove to Whitefish, a beautiful year-round resort town with lots of outdoor sports and activities (skiing, hunting, golf, lake boating). However, now in the winter, most things were closed. We did find a very good RV campground with full hook up and a friendly manager. We set up for the night and relaxed for the evening.

 Day 4: Nov. 22 Whitefish, MT

We decided to stay another night here at Whitefish. The weather was cold and clear, with no chance of snow.  The surroundings were nice and I felt a little off all day yesterday. After lunch time, John and I walked across the street to a local mall and perused the various shops, stopping in a craft store, a Christmas shop, then doing some grocery shopping for ingredients for another crock pot supper. This time, I decided on a chicken stew. Back to our cozy site where John did some work and I did some needlework on a new pillow cover. On cable TV, we watched some of the many tributes and remembrances of the JF Kennedy assassination which occurred this day 50 years ago in Dallas Texas. To bed early.

Day 5 Nov. 23 Whitefish, MT to Sandpoint, ID

Like yesterday, my insides were not feeling all to well. We decided to travel north into Canada after we broke camp and crossed the border by Roosville. The Canadian border patrol guard was polite and trusting. We found ourselves in a wide valley with very high snow covered peaks on both sides. These were the southern part of the Canadian Rockies and they looked spectacular.

 

We headed westwards, towards Creston, but decided that getting our Idaho stamp was an important part of the trip. We crossed back into the US at Eastport, BC and into Idaho, then stopped at Bonner’s Ferrey to pick up some groceries. It was growing dark, so we quickly continued on to a lone open campground just south of Sandpoint. Before we went to the campground, we drove around the small town of Sandpoint admiring their downtown dressed in Christmas lights. The campground was a Travel Park right off the main highway. My stomach was still not feeling well and John and I butted heads. I  went for a nap and stayed in bed for most of the evening.

Day 6 Nov 24 Sandpoint, ID to Republic, WA

Sunday today and halfway through our journey. I got up feeling better after taking a few probiotics and some Tylenol before going to bed last night. It was bitter cold this morning when I walked the pups at around 4am. The frozen ground shone like diamonds in the light from my headlamp and the stars above were very bright and clear. All night long, we hears the sound of train whistles up and down the valley.

Winter camping is very challenging. We were lucky to find this campground open year round on our iPad apps. It was the only one open in the upper panhandle of Idaho. Most if not all campgrounds are closed till May up in the mountains. The very few that are open have limited facilities, such as only one or two rows open and only offering electric and sewer, no water. We do have water here, but we fill our tank, then tuck our water hose inside so it does not freeze solid. Also, we have noticed there are no other motorhomes on the highways traveling about. Maybe the one or two cab trailers over pickup trucks, but no Class A or Fifth wheelers anywhere. We are out of our element for sure, but I think heading west and nearer to the ocean we will start to see more. Off into Washington state today and hopefully along more spotty scenic roads.

Day 7 Nov. 25  Republic to Anacortes, WA

We managed to get away early today, turning the Greyhaven westward and aiming at the traverse of the mighty Northern Cascade mountain range. We were not sure we could make it since it was well over 200 miles and there were no open campgrounds along the way till  the small town of Rockport on the other side of the range. The day was cold and clear once more. I am very suprised at the way the weather has cooperated with us all during this trip. We have been watching the news and have heard of a huge winter storm forecast to sweep up the eastern seaboard and through New Jersey between now and Thursday, which is Thanksgiving Day. Heading west, we came upon two very scenic and quaint mountain towns at the foothills of the Cascades. They were called Twisp and Winthrop, and both were on the beautiful Methow River, but we could not stop at either to walk around since we needed to cross the mountains in one shot and hopefully before sunset.

It was a long, steep and winding highway up to Washington Pass (5477′) where we were above the snow line. Coming down to the second pass, Rainy Pass, we were surrounded by a winter wonderland of heavy snow-laden trees. This pass is closed in the winter, and again our luck held this trip for us to make this traverse and in good weather. The roads were wet from melting ice, but were gritted. Once over both passes, we started our descent down the other side, narrow and winding. John had to stop briefly as the motorhome suddenly went into neutral and we smelled a burning smell. We let the transmission cool a bit and it seemed alright after that. We stopped briefly at a trailhead where we got the pups and went for a short walk out on the snow and into the deep, dark pine forest. Both Daisy and Shelby were romping around like school kids on the first snow day! The snow was about a foot thick and we saw snowshoe tracks leading off on the trail up the canyon.

Back in the Greyhaven, we continued down, down the valley, following a small trickling stream of runoff which eventually became the huge, powerful Skagit River. Ah, back in civilization and back into warmer temperatures (40′s). We decided to head to the coast and to Anacortes where we knew there was the Fidalgo Bay RV Resort, a campground we stayed at about 5 years ago.Before heading there, John wanted to stop by a Walmart to pick up a small flatscreen TV for the bedroom in the RV to replace the old one, which has no HDMI connector. We got a small 29″ Visio and then headed to Fidalgo Bay.

The office was closed, so we picked a site by the waterfront and then crashed for the evening. I guess the descent in altitude affected my ears because they would not clear easily, and when they did, I was very dizzy. My appetite was gone as well, so I just had a few bites to eat for dinner as we watched a episode of ‘Downton Abbey’ on the new small TV. Off to bed soon after.

Day 8 Nov. 26  Anacortes, WA

I am writing this as I sip morning coffee on the shores of Fidalgo Bay while we are camping in one of our favorite RV campgrounds, Fidalgo Bay Resortnear Anacortes, WA. To our right is a huge oil refinery, and stretching before us is a huge bay with calm waters. I have spotted several groups of Bufflehead, a solitary common Loon, a Belted Kingfisher and a cormorant hinting for fish.

Today was spent running around, already getting things ready for our return to New Jersey. Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, and Friday many businesses are closed. I must admit, I already am missing the high plains and mountains of Montana. There is just something about the cold crisp air and the wide open valleys that stirs my psyche. The air here is heavy with moisture and being by the sea evokes a different mindset than being up in big sky country.

We dropped the old, heavy and out of date TV at a Goodwill Center in Mount Vernon after fiddling around Anacortes trying to find the recycling Center near downtown. We also had a bite to eat in town. We then drove a little ways to Burlington where we did some shopping at Costco (shrimp!) and Home Depot. We then took the pups for their vet check at the local PetSmart/Banfield Vet clinic. The vet said they were good to fly except that their rabies certificates did not state the vaccine lot number. She would not sign the certificae unless she had that number, so she contacted Readington Animal Hospital in NJ, who said they did not have that info either. Ugh. So, both pups received a new rabies vaccine and were cleared to fly. By this time, it was after 5pm and it was dark out. Back to our campsite at Fidalgo Bay and a cilantro lime shrimp and pasta dinner!

Day 9 Nov.27 Anacortes, WA

Today, we hung around this quaint town, doing some grocery shopping and having a fabulous lunch at Anthony’s Seafood restaurant right on the waterfront. John had cod and chips and I had a ponzu salmon on jasmine rice. To die for!! Spent the day relaxing on Fidalgo Bay, watching ‘Gone with the Wind’ and enjoying another shrimp dinner.

Day 10 Nov. 28 Anacortes to Kent, WA  Thanksgiving Day

We traveled south towards Seattle after a late start. The day was warm, upper 40′s, and clear. However, when we apprached Seattle downtown, the entire area was blanketed in low lying smog/fog. We first went to the SeaTac airport to pick up our rental car, then traveled a short distance to our ‘campground’, a dingy trailer park located in an industrial area. Not the greatest, but it does offer storage and close camping to the airport.

We had our Thanksgiving dinner at a local Denny’s. Turkey and all the trimmings. Back to the RV to watch TV and read a bit before retiring for the evening.

Day 11 Nov. 29 Seattle, WA

Black Friday dawned foggy with drizzle.  We almost were tempted to join the thousands in stampeding the local malls, but thought better of it. We did move our campground to the local KOA and spent part of the day setting up storage at a local secure RV/boat storage facility. Watched the rest of ‘Downton Abbey Season 3′ and just relaxed for the remainder of the day.

Day 12 Nov 30: Seattle, Wa to Newark, NJ

We left Seattle around 2pm, after putting the Greyhaven to sleep in Renton, in a gated storage center and with a protective roof! Direct flight back home. Arrived after midnight to an empty Newark airport. Pups were OK. Very glad to be back home.

TRIP 42: The Beartooth Highway Sep. 9-23, 2013

Day 3: Sept 10 Laramie, WY

I awoke this morning to heavy rain pattering on our roof. We are in Laramie, Wyoming and I have just begun our journal entries this morning after not having my computer for 2 days. What a screw up!!!

We arrived in Denver on Monday, Sept. 9 around 11:00am. It was very hot and sunny when we landed, around 90 degrees. The first thing we did was get our rental car at Avis, then zoomed off to collect the two pups at United Cargo. They were safe and sound. Then, we zoomed off again to retrieve the Greyhaven from TrasWest, an RV repair dealership near Longmont, where we left it after last trip so that they could repair the ABS light which kept coming on, reseal the roof, and do other odds and ends. So, we were very eager to get out on the road, and being totally out of it from getting up at 4AM to catch our flight, we packed the Greyhaven with dogs, crates, luggage,  etc. only to attempt to drive off and found the battery totally dead. The shop guy had to come out and jump start us, telling us not to shut the engine off for a while till our battery recharged. Ugh. We then headed out, only to find the gas tank totally empty and the ABS light STILL on! We drove to the nearest gas station and filled up with the engine running, a BIG no-no. After grabbing a quick bite at Micky D’s, we decided to get the ABS light rechecked, returning to TransWest. There, they told us they did not repair it, but a garage up in Greeley did. So we trekked the 20 odd miles up there,with the western skies darkening with thunder clouds and lightning. We showed the technician at the repair shop the ABS light still on. He fiddled with connections then took us out on a test drive, when the skies opened up and it began to pour. He checked the system out, we returned to the garage, and he rechecked connections with the new computer panel he had installed. The light went out and we were good to go.

When we were going through security at Newark airport, John realized he had left his computer at home. I did not hear the scream since I was in the Pre-Check line, a new security check were pre-screened travelers breeze through without taking computers out of bags and shoes and belts off.  Too late to do anything about it, we boarded the plane. Now, in Colorado, we headed to Loveland RV resort for the night. Pooped, weary, and frustrated, we crashed for the night. Well, we didn’t because I went to look for my computer case, which held my iPad and medicines, and found it missing!!!! ARRGGGGG!!! The first thing I did was rip John’s pretty little head off for not packing it right at the airport, or forgetting to pack it at the RV dealership. But no, it was my fault. I finally remembered getting off the bus at the Avis car rental and grabbing my heavy suitcase and camera bag, but forgetting the computer bag as we were rushing to pick up the car!!! I was crying at tearing my hair out at this point. We called Avis and of course the Lost and Found office was closed for the day. Too pooped to do anything, we settled in to a fitful night sleep in the lightning and thunder and pouring rain.

The next morning, Tuesday, I called the Avis car rental office and, after many prayers to St. Anthony, saint of locating lost items, the office attendant said my bag was turned in by the bus driver. I jumped for joy!!! We showered and packed up, heading back all the way to Denver airport, where I picked up my computer, gave the receptionist a $100 for the bus driver and his honesty, returned the rental car, then we finally off on our way on out trip. We stopped in Bloomfield off Rt. 287 at a Starbucks for a panini and coffee lunch, then continued on up the Rocky Mountain foothills on Rt. 287 through Longmont, Loveland, and Ft. Collins, and finally up out of the cities into the barren high desert and into Wyoming.

We did not travel far. Just about 50 miles and into Laramie, where we selected the KOA just to the west of town and got a site. We traveled into town to see the environs. It is the hometown of the University of Wyoming and all the telephone poles were dressed in the gold and brown flags of the cowboy on a bucking bronco mascot. Laramie resembled New Brunswick and Rutgers in many ways: Large campus centers, students milling about going to classes, big dorm room buildings, and a huge football stadium. With one major difference. There was not one black person in sight. Strange and disturbing. I just recalled that Laramie also was the town where the gay college student Matthew Sheppard was murdered, tied to a barbed wire fence miles outside of town during a snowstorm, and left to freeze to death. We did a bit of shopping  to pick up some wine, then returned to the campsite where we ordered out to Dominoes Pizza. A warm luscious bacon, chicken and ranch pizza was delivered to the site. After dinner, the skies opened again with lightning and thunder. To bed early.

Day 4 Sept. 11: Laramie to Saratoga, WY via the Snowy Range Scenic Byway Through the Medicine Bow National Forest

The day dawned with pouring rain again. We arose after 9, sleeping the clock around. Both of us were out of it from the stress and high altitude. John made some calls to Christopher and we decided to make for Saratoga, on the North Platte River west of Laramie, for a drop off point for his computer via a UPS overnight shipment. We stopped at a fly fishing shop right in Laramie after we left the KOA, so that we could pick up a Wyoming license for me, as well as fishing info. We were greeted with a very friendly shop owner who was only to pleased to show me a selection of flies for the upper Platte, and explain water and fishing conditions. I thanked him for the info, since it is rare that I meet a fly shop owner who treats a women fisher well.

We traveled west a bit on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway before we stopped for lunch at a pull out on the high vast open plains. We then continued onward and upward on Rt. 130, up into the lowering clouds and misty pine forests. We topped out at 10700′ on the pass in heavy fog. We stopped at Mirror lake where I managed to wet a line in the heavy drizzle. I caught a beautiful wild 12″ rainbow using a dry parachute caddis, after many bites and nibbles on olive and black wooley buggers. I wanted to stay and fish the afternoon away but we needed to get to our campground. We descended off the ridge and came to the small town of Saratoga, where we got a site on the North Platte River at Deer Run RV campground. We then went into town for a fabulous steak dinner at the Wolf Hotel. There was a real mineral hot spring in town, open 24/7 to the public, with 109 degree waters, but I didn’t have a bathing suit and neither did John. We will have to return here someday. Back to camp, and off to bed early.

 

Day 5: Sept. 12 Saratoga to Thermopolis, WY

The heavy rains pattering on the roof of the motorhome woke me early. As I turned on the TV, I saw coverage of spectacular flooding in Boulder Colorado, where we had just left a day ago. Roads and bridges were washed out and there were landslides and rising river waters. I looked out our front window, which faced the North Platte River and saw that the water level had risen since last evening. John was eagerly awaiting the arrival of his computer via UPS. The campground owner said the delivery was usually around 11am. I walked the pups then we just waited till the little brown truck came down the driveway with the promised computer. John was thrilled.

We were finally off. We headed northwards and stopped in Rawlins, an oil refinery and drilling town,for some groceries and lunch. Then we took off northwards on Rt. 287 and traveled through vast , barren open desert prairie land with sage brush in bloom that stretched to all surrounding horizons. A simple photo could not do the view enough justice, even a panoramic view stitched together with the aid of a computer. With Black Angus, Longhorn, and Polled Hereford cattle dotting the landscape, we also spotted many prong horn antelope. Somewhere in the Great Divide Basin north of Sweetwater Station, we climbed in elevation and disappeared into a thick fog. We drove very carefully and slowly, and finally dipped below the fog level near Riverton. Still enjoying the extended daylight of the end of summer, we decided to continue on northward to Thermopolis.

Along the way, we stumbled upon a spectacular scenic drive that was not shown on any of our maps. Usually, we aim to include scenic byways and spotted roads on our journeys. Rt. 20 north of Shoshoni brought us through the stunning Wind River Canyon on the wind River Indian Reservation. The twisting, winding highway took us through 3 tunnels hewn out of the granite mountainsides. The river looked like a white water rafting paradise. Along the highway, there were signs posted showing the geological time frame and period of the different layers and rock strata. There were a few fly fishermen about as well and I took note of a couple of campgrounds along the way where we could come back tomorrow so I could try and fish. Once through the canyon, we arrived in Thermopolis where we got one of the last sites at a campground. Apparently there was a A-Line camper rally and most of the sites were taken.

It is late evening now, and John is finally on his computer catching up on e-mails and work. I am going to settle back and do some beading and needlework. Hopefully, the rains will move away tonight and we will have clear skies tomorrow.

Day 6 Sept 13: Thermoplolis, WY

The skies were grey when I awoke this morning and it was raining steadily. We decided to stay here at this campground another night so that I could fish the Big Horn. Well, I don’t mind fishing in the rain..I have all the gear for it.During the night, it looked as if more little A-Liner campers arrived for the rally. I counted 24 and the resembled a field of mushrooms sprung up overnight. While I was walking the pups with John, we were invited to visit a couple. They were actually very cozy inside, and had a sink, a fridge, a dinette that could be folded down into a single bed, and a double/queen bed. One of the owners said they were much better than canvas pop-ups and some campgrounds did not allow canvas sided campers, only hard sides. The owners very very proud of their little chalets and were more than happy to talk about how they added features or modified things to suit their needs.

Because it was raining buckets, we decided to visit the thermal pools that Thermopolis is famous for. They claim to be the world’s largest and a state park was built surrounding them to protect them. The Big Horn river runs by the state park in a steep canyon and there is a suspension bridge across it called the Swinging bridge. We had a bite to eat, then took a stroll in the rain with the pups near the hot pools and across the bridge. The pools stunk of sulfur and it reminded me of Yellowstone National Park which is not too far west of here. I had entertained the idea of taking a dip into a hot spring pool but I did not have a bathing suit with me. We visited the Wyoming State Park Hot Spring and found out that we were allowed a free 20 minute dip in either the indoor or outdoor pools. I thought about purchasing a bathing suit, but decided it was best left to another day.

We headed up into the Wind River Canyon, stopping at a few points so that I could scout out the river. The canyon is on tribal lands so I would need a tribal fishing permit to fish there. Not having one, we continued up river to Boysen State Park where we stopped in the upper campground. John relaxed and did computer work (read:napping) and the skies began to clear. I spent the next three hours in beautiful golden sunlight and blue skies fishing my heart out. Not one bite, not one hit, even trying all different flies, but I did manage to see a monster cutthroat’s back surface by my caddis like a dolphin, nose it, then disappear below the waters. I could just hear him saying “You’re kidding me, right?” after looking at my fly. After fishing, we tried to drive upriver to the dam but the highway was blocked by an overturned flatbed carrying huge rolls of hay. We passed the accident scene, then turned around at the reservoir, only to get stuck in traffic again going the other way. Back at camp, we had dinner, and I spent the rest of the evening doing some beadwork, braiding some bead and leather bracelets I had purchased at a bead show in May.

Day 7 Sept. 15: Thermopolis to Cody, WY

The morning sunshine and beautiful blue western skies were a welcome site. They did not last long though as we packed up camp and headed west, traveling through rolling hills and canyons for 70 miles to Cody, one of my favorite western towns. By the time we checked into the Ponderosa Campground, it was pouring buckets. We secured 2 nights in a large comfotable site, then ventured into town, first to stop at the Sierra Trading Post so that John could pick up a rain coat and fleece jacket, then later on in the evening for dinner at the Wyoming Rib and Chop house. We had salmon and steak..delicious! Back to our campground in the pouring rain. We stayed up late reading and playing with the pups.

Day 8 Sept.16: Cody, WY

The skies cleared this morning. We remained in Cody for the day, taking a leisurely drive up the north fork of the Shoshoni River, which is the eastern entrance to Yellowstone NP. The river was running high and looked like chocolate milk from all the recent heavy rains, so fly fishing was out. We returned to town and strolled around the shops, stopping in the famous Irma Hotel to see the cherrywood barfront which was a gift to Buffalo Bill Cody from Queen Victoria. We shared a snack and a drink, then did some shopping. Back to camp to watch some movies and relax.

Day 9: Sept. 17: Cody to Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone NP

Finally! Bright blue skies and sunshine! We left Cody late (noonish) and headed west back up the north fork of the Shoshoni River towards the east entrance to Yellowstone. The river itself was still silt laden, but not as bad as yesterday. I decided to take advantage of the weather and hop on a trial ride. Just past the Buffalo Bill Cody Reservoir the Shoshoni canyon narrows and the area is dotted with ranches that offer fly fishing, hunting trips, cabin rental, meals and trail riding up into the side canyons. We stopped at Bill Cody Ranch and I joined a 2 hour trail ride with 4v other ranch guests. The ride was led by wrangler Cole and I was given a sturdy pack horse named Trixie. Out of the group[, I looked like I was the only experienced rider and the only one with western boots. The others had just sneakers. The four riders were a family visiting from New York and were actually from England. The trail took us up a stunning canyon, with quaking aspen just starting to fade to golden yellow for fall, tall red sandstone cliffs and hoodoo formations, and brilliant blue skies overhead. We criss-crossed a stream that meandered down the canyon and all the horses were very calm and surefooted. I assume they might be pack horses because they looked like a cross between a draft and a quarter horse and had very wide hooves.

The last time I was on horseback was more than 30 years ago when I used to ride at Lord Sterling Riding Stable in Basking Ridge. That was english riding, this was western. I felt beyond elated to finally be on the back of a horse in the beautiful scenery of the wild west! On the way back down, my mount decided to scratch an itch on her left flank. She brushed closely to a pine tree, smacking my knee out of the stirrup and almost tossing me off. It was a gentle move, but she knew what she was doing. I stayed aboard, and later saw that I got a big scratch and bruise. Alas, the ride was over too soon. I was stiff and achy, but none the worse for wear. Back in our motorhome, we kept heading west and entered Yellowstone NP around 4. Along the route, we saw several cars pulled over by the side of the road, so we slowed down and managed to catch a spectacular view of a huge Grizzly Bear crossing the road!! It seemed totally unconcerned with the road or cars and waled with purpose into the opposite side of the woods.

We stopped and registered a site for the night at Fishing Bridge RV Park, just north of Lake Yellowstone. We set up our site, the took a casual stroll down to the village mercantile and visitors center, where I purchased a fishing permit, a large can of bear spray, and we got a cancellation stamp for the park. Back to our site, where we had a Indian curry, then watched some ‘Longmire’ and then to bed.

Day 10 Sept. 18: Fishing Bridge, Yellowstone NP, WY to Red Lodge, MT

All night long, our fitful sleep was disturbed by heavy lightning, thunder, and pelting hail showers. I wore earplugs and I was still wakened by the crashing and banging! The morning dawned overcast, rainy and with thunder all around. John got up early to walk the pups. He took the bear spray with him just in case. I was wiped out, probably from the altitude (we were above 8000′), so we did not leave till 11am. We traveled north towards the Yellowstone ‘grand canyon’ and we stopped alongside the Yellowstone River where I managed to wet a fly for about 15 minutes before the sky lit up with lightning and thunder rumbled close by. The skies opened and it began to pour. We drove north just a little bit to see the Upper and Lower Falls. The parking areas were quite crowded so we only took a quick look before the heavy rains came and the lightning grew closer. We then traveled up to Canyon Junction village where we grabbed lunch and walked the pups a bit.

For many years, John and I dreamed about traversing the Beartooth Highway from Cook City to Red Lodge Montana. We were in this area back in 2005 when we had just become really interested in motorhome travel and we rented a C-class RV from Salt Lake City. We visited Jackson Hole, the Tetons and Yellowstone back then, but when we exited the park’s northeast entrance, we had to divert down to Cody since it was mid October and the Beartooth highway was already closed due to snow. Now, we were in a position to traverse the 10,900′ Beartooth pass on one, if not the, most scenic mountain road in all of America. The skies seemed to clear a bit, so we decided to give it a go. We left Yellowstone NP on Rt. 212 eastward and kept on this route till we began the Beartooth Scenic Byway. Along the way, we ascended slowly through 8000, then 9000′. We were stopped at one point for about 30 minutes near Long Lake for road works. John made hot chocolate for both of us as we waited. When the pilot car arrived, it guided us through a very narrow dirt track and rickety bridge next to the newly built bridge. We climbed and climbed, the road twisting its way up above treeline and into tundra fields, with small snow and ice glaciers visible on the distant peaks. I drove most of the way to the saddle of the summit, where we topped out at a spectacular 360 degree view of surrounding peaks and sheer drops down into valleys. It really felt as if we were on top of the world. The weather held for us with just a shower, and we had a clear view in all directions into Wyoming and Montana. John and I switched driving and John got the more nail biting and nerve rattling ride down through the four steep switchbacks on the other side of the pass, down the 4000′ descent into the Rock Creek canyon. The views up and down the steep valleys just could not be captured by a camera, even a digital SLR. The distances were so vast and the views were so enormous that a panoramic photo was needed to capture the essence of being up on the highway. Both John and I were just stunned by the engineering of the road and how it was cut into the mountainsides, allowing access in the most inaccessible areas. Dark storm clouds boiled over the distant ridges and the afternoon light began to fade as we finally made it down the other side of the pass and into Red Lodge. We drove about 5 miles outside of town to the KOA campground where we stopped for the night.

Day 11 Sept. 19: Red Lodge to Billings, MT

We spent the morning browsing the shops in Red Lodge after a great breakfast at the Red Lodge Cafe. We then spent the day traveling the short distance to Billings where we got a campsite near the Yellowstone river. Alas, fishing was out due to the silt laden waters and heavy rain later in the afternoon. We learned from local news that the Beartooth highway was closed due to snow at high elevations!!! We considered ourselves very lucky to have completed that drive yesterday, knowing that the window for doing so was very tight because of unpredictable mountain weather. We plan to spend the next few days in the surrounding area visiting some national parks, wildlife refuges and doing odds and ends before we depart.

Day 12 Sept.20: Billings To Crow Agency,MT

The area surrounding Billings is rich in history, especially Native American history. The Lewis and Clark expedition explored this area two hundred years ago, especially the length of the Yellowstone River, searching for a river passage westward. They passed a sandstone formation about 30 miles east of Billings and Lewis named it Pompey’s Pillar after Sacajewea’s son, Pomp. We visited that pillar and climbed to the top (on stairway), and saw where M. Lewis carved his name into the soft sandstone in 1806. Afterwards,we did some preparations for our departure Sunday, stopping at an RV dealer to arrange work on the Greyhaven while we are away, and going to a vet to get travel clearance for Daisy and Shelby. We then headed east out of town to the Battle of Little Bighorn site near Crow Agency on the Crow Reservation. It was late in the day so we camped nearby. We took the pups out for a walk on the surrounding hillsides, letting them off leash to explore and romp around.

Day 13 Sept. 21: Crow Agency to Red Lodge, MT

I walked the pups around 7 this morning beneath a glorious setting full moon in the western sky. We set off around noon and stopped by the battlefield site of the Battle of Little Bighorn. There was a small visitors center where we watched a 20 minute video explaining the battle. I was pleased that both sides of the conflict we given proper attention, especially the native american tribes in the area. We walked near the site of Last Stand hill where there were about 30 or so US soldier headstones. New to the site were indian headstones as well as a memorial to the indians who fought there. Afterwards, we had lunch at the Custer Trading Post. We both had Indian (or Navaho) Tacos, chili on top of this wonderful sweet bread with lettuce, tomato, cheese and salsa. Yummy! The cafe was filled with native locals also enjoying the great food.

We then decided to head back out to the mountains. Red Lodge was only an hour away, so we headed there and camped for the night at Perry’s RV park, just up the hill from the main town. We had a site by Rock Creek and after dinner, watched a Longmire episode or two, then to bed.

Day 14 Sept. 22: Red Lodge to Billings, MT

Spent the day on Rock Creek while John did computer work. Caught two browns in the crystal clear, cold waters. Returned back to Billings later in the afternoon where we picked up our rental car at Avia at the tiny airport, then got a campsite at the KOA. Did laundry and cleaning up, headed out for dinner at Texas Roadhouse.

 

TRIP 41 There…and Back Again Houston to Denver, CO May 27-Jun 12, 2013

May 27, 2013 Newark, NJ to The Woodlands, Houston, TX

We used the holiday to get away early and start a much needed R&R away from the bump and grind of both our jobs. I am looking forward to this trip and to kicking back, doing lots of birding at some famous birding sites along the Texas coast, and then, if we feel like it, going along where the winds take us. John is looking forward to getting away from school and his work on FS projects that he has been at non stop for months.

We decided to take a limo to Newark this time, packing up the dogs and our luggage and leaving at early light. The flight was a bit bumpy, and we arrived in the heat and humidity of Houston at midday. We picked up the dogs, who were safe and sound, and headed to our motorhome at The Woodlands RV park. Both of us were wilting rather quickly after getting the Greyhaven started and squared away in a beautiful site by the pond. We did a very quick shopping run for a few necessities to the local Target, then returned and melted in the air conditioning. Our plan is to stay the night, then decide where to go in the morning. To bed early after dinner.

May 28, 2013 The Woodlands to Bolivar Peninsula, TX

The night was not as restful as planned. The pain I have been having in my hip joints and thigh muscles returned with a vengeance. I think many, many hours pushing broken stretchers and heavy patients at my job took its toll on the hip bursa and tendons. Advil helped, but complete rest is what it needs. John felt as if he was coming down with a cold. We departed the Houston area, travelling east on I10 to Anahuac (pronounced ‘ann-a-hwack’, and Aztec word meaning salt plain) national wildlife refuge, just on the eastern side of Galveson bay. We stopped by the new visitor’s center, which was closed due to the on-going government sequestration. (It was only open 4 days a week). The day was again very humid and sweltering, so we spent a few moments looking at Inca ground doves in the flower garden, then we decided to try an auto tour of the refuge to see some very famous birding sites, while remaining in the air conditioned RV. Along the entrance road, we had some spectacular views of scissor-tailed flycatchers sitting on the wire fences and posts.

We briefly stopped at the visitor’s kiosk, where we got some very close views of cliff and barn swallows nesting in their clay clumped nests beneath the roof eaves. We then stopped by the famous Willows, a small willow grove that has been the site of numerous record-breaking ‘fallouts’, a phenomenon during spring migration where northbound birds, exhausted from their crossing of the vast Gulf of Mexico, literally fall out of the sky into the first cover they see, namely these few willow trees on a huge open marsh plain. The trees and marshes were all silent now, the migration having gone through weeks ago at the mid point of April. We managed to spook a small alligator in the pond reeds, and spotted an eastern Kingbird.

We moved on to another world-famous birding site, the Shoveler Pond loop, where we spotted Black-Necked stilts, Fulvous Whistling ducks, several Purple Gallinules which we at first mistook for Moorhens, a few Great Egrets, and several Orchard Orioles. At the far end of the loop drive, we were astounded at a huge flock of Roseate Spoonbills in all their pink plumage. The entire flock took to the sky at one point, beautiful pink wings in the afternoon sunlight. We then travelled southward onto the Bolivar peninsula barrier island, where we were greeted with most of the homes raised up high on 20” pylons. There seemed to be remnants of damage from Hurricane Ike, which roared through this area in 2008. We stopped by for some groceries at the local mart, and were unable to buy local fresh shrimp (only frozen). We checked in to the Bolivar Peninsula RV park for the night, and after a simple shrimp dinner, crashed for the evening.

May 29, 2012 Crystal Beach, Bolivar Peninsula, TX

Both John and I awoke feeling as if we had both come down with illnesses. John sneezed all last night, and I just felt exhausted. We did not stir much today, and ventured out after lunchtime for a bit of birding at High Island. Though the day was overcast and the winds were blowing strongly onshore, it was still very humid and uncomfortable. We drove back up the island to another IBA (Important Birding Area) and world famous High Island, a tiny town situated on a 20’ high salt dome which has many groves and thickets of oak scrub trees and dense protected wooded areas where many, many species of birds are spotted during the spring time migration. In the Boy Scout Woods thicket, an astounding 92 species of birds were spotted and counted in a 2 hour period (!) just a month ago this past April. We spenta short time here walking around the thicket along the boardwalks in the heat of the afternoon. We heard very few birdsongs, and did not spot anything of note. It was actually kind of eerie being here, with no one about, knowing what crowds this place must draw during peak season, but seeing only empty trails now.

We decided to stick to the cool air conditioned RV and bird some shorebird areas. First, we stopped at Rollover Pass, a short narrow inlet that connects the east Galveston Bay and the Gulf. The waters were churned up from the high winds and there were many birds soaring the breezes and zooming around the waters for fish in the waves. John did not come out in the winds, but I took a short stroll to see the Gulf and took some photos of terns and gulls hunkered down behind the sand dunes. We continued down the peninsula towards Port Bolivar, where we looked for shorebirds at Fort Travis Seashore Park and at the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. Not many birds at either place, but we did manage to see willets, night herons and white ibises. Back to our camp where we promptly took a long nap before dinner, then bed.

May 30 Bolivar Peninsula to Galveston, TX

John’s 60th Birthday!!!

We celebrated John’s 60 trip around the sun in the morning, before our traditional 11:00 campground departure. We crossed Galveston Bay on the free ferry, and were rewarded with spectacular views of several magnificent frigate birds soaring effortlessly on the breezes behind the boat. Once in Galveston, the heat and humidity began to build. We stopped briefly at a Target for some supplies, then drove down to Galveston Island State Park, where we secured a campsite on the bay side, and promptly closed all the curtains and had a long siesta in the air conditioning. John was not feeling too well, but we did go out later in the evening for a celebratory dinner after doing some birding at Apfel Park by the bay channel. We ate at Casey’s, enjoying fresh seafood outside on the open air verandah, looking out over the churning waves of the Gulf. Not much beach sand here, infront of the massive barrier wall which protects the city from hurricanes. It looked as if this area fared much better than Bolivar Peninsula from Hurricane Ike. Back to the state park, where we had an early evening.

May 31 Galveston to Texarkana, AR

We decided to depart the sticky gulf humidity and heat and try to reposition the Greyhaven for a cooler area, namely aiming for Denver. We left Galveston, heading north along I45, then onto Rt. 59 north of the city and up into the piney woods of east Texas. We passed through sleepy little towns and large tracts of planted pine trees. It was an exhausting day in the end. We traversed about 370 miles, arriving in Texarkana Arkansas around 8:30pm. We did not really stay up much later, except to watch a bit of the Weather channel and the devastating tornadoes that just hit Oklahoma City and St. Louis this afternoon. The Weather Channel Tornado hunt crew became trapped in a surprise twister which rolled their car 200 yards and crushed the entire roof. There were some injuries, but none life threatening. We are planning on turning westward, but will wait till this cold front passes along with the twister threat.

June1 Texarkana, AR to Hot Springs, AR

The day dawned cloudy and threatening, and when we broke camp around 11, the skies opened up in torrential downpours. We stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel, which turned out to be very disappointing (skimpy portions, weird service). The heavy rains, lightning and thunder continued throughout the afternoon, so we headed to the Hot Springs KOA where we took shelter for the rest of the day. Thankfully, there were no tornado warnings. I managed to do some laundry later in the evening, staying up late for clothes to dry.

June 2 Hot Springs AR to Tulsa, OK

In the morning, we could feel the dry, cooler air brought in by the cold front. After a bite to eat and some quick emails, we headed into Hot Springs. The town is situated in a narrow gap in the rolling hills of the Ouachita mountains. Thousands of feet below the ground, hot thermal waters bubble up through the cracks in the rock. The unique feature about these waters is that they have no sulphurous odor or taste, as often accompanies thermal spring waters. This spot became a popular attraction in the early 1920’s and 30’s for its medicinal and rehabilitative qualities, and many bath houses were built to take advantage of the natural steaming waters. The National Park Service preserved at least 10 of these large, elegant mansions, restoring two of them to their opulent glory. We got our cancellation stamp at the visitor’s center in the Forsythe Bath House mansion, then walked along the main street called ‘Bathhouse Row’. There were fountains here and there with steaming hot water, as well as taps where people were filling bottles for free.

We had a late breakfast at a great pancake house, then headed north out of the town and onto Scenic Rt. 7 through the Ouachita National Forest. The route was very scenic, and there were many Harley riders out, enjoying the good weather, and curving roads through the rolling hills. Many of the rivers and streams were churned up and muddy from the recent rains. We stopped by the flooded Little Fourche River to walk the pups, and someone stopped by the parking area looking for their boat that they tied up yesterday, probably during the heavy downpours. The boat was gone, probably swept downstream by the muddy currents. We met up with Interstate 40, and turned westward, traveling on into the darkness till we reached Tulsa Oklahoma sometime around 8:30pm. We stopped briefly to pick up groceries and have a bite to eat, so when we arrived at the campground, we went to bed immediately.

June 3 Tulsa, OK to Goodland, KS

Today was what we named a ‘repositioning day,’ or a thrashing day, depending on how you looked at it. We covered about 500 miles, starting at noon, and ending up near midnight. We diligently took breaks every so often, switching driving every hour and walking the pups every few hours. The weather held, even into the evening when we watch a huge storm blow up north of us with dark thunderheads and pink lightning illuminating the clouds. We even tried stopping for a nap at a rest area, but the humid weather and noise did not lend for a good rest. We finally decided a proper camp was best and stopped at a KOA almost near the Colorado border for the night.

June 4 Goodland, KS to Leporte, CO

 After a restless sleep, we got up bleary eyed and continued our trek across the vast open and empty grassy plains of the heartland. We finally reached Denver around 4, where we promptly checked a KOA not far from the Denver airport and reserved storage for the motorhome for the end of our trip. Continuing on, we headed north of the major city, returning back to one of our familiar and favorite places, the Cache la Poudre Canyon just north of Ft. Collins. After stopping for dinner at a Texas Roadhouse for some fabulous steaks, we reached our camping destination around 8pm, another KOA just at the entrance highway of the canyon. The skies clouded over with showers and it was cool and refreshing to feel the mountain breezes.

June 5 Leporte, CO

There is nothing quite like the cool mountain air to bring on deep and dreamless sleep. This morning, we both got up around 11!! Check out time was 10am, so we kind of staggered about til the camp owners tapped on the door to tell us our water hose was leaking (but really they wanted to see if we were up and ready to leave.) At this point, we decided staying another day and night to regroup and rest was a better idea than pressing onwards. John needed to see a doctor anyway for his sinuses which were acting up. We spent the day in Fort Collins, first seeing a doc at an urgent care, then picking up supplies here and there, stopping for a cappuccino at a Barnes & Noble. Later, we picked up the prescription meds and groceries at a Wally world, headed back to camp, and crashed. In the evening, we did some birding in the fading light, spotting several beautiful Bullock’s Orioles, western kingbirds, and a European collared dove.

June 6 Leporte to Steamboat Springs, CO

During the night, either Shelby or Daisy woke me up by stomping on the bed and it signaled that they needed to go out. I took them outside for a potty break around 4:00am. The campground was filled with some birdsong, and what sounded like several nightjars or nighthawks calling in the pines. The sky was brightening a bit towards the east, and overhead amongst the scattering of stars, I spotted a very bright star moving slowly and constantly from west to east. I think it was the international space station, gliding silently in its orbit into the sunrise.

We did manage to get up this time before the check out time. The weather was crisp and clear, and almost felt like an autumn day.  We left Leporte and headed into the Cache la Poudre canyon. The waters were running very high and were discolored brown from the turbulence. We did spot several rafts full of rafters enjoying the churning rapids. We did not stop to fish as the conditions of the water were dangerous. We stopped for a picnic lunch up the river, above the burned area from a huge forest fire that occurred in this canyon last summer.

We continued on, over the mountain passes, and decided to head to Steamboat Springs, a ski town similar to Aspen and Breckenridge that is a sports mecca year round (biking, fly fishing, shopping, dining, camping, hiking, etc.) We found the only campground on the west side of town, and managed to get one of the last sites. The campground computer system had crashed and we could not make reservations for the weekend. So, after walking the pups, and taking a nap, we had dinner and planned on spending several days in this beautiful valley.

June 7 Steamboat Springs, CO

The morning dawned, cool and clear and promised a beautiful day with dry, crisp mountain air. I was up early so I went to check on the availability of campsites for the weekend. The camp hosts still were struggling with computer problems, but we did manage to secure a site for the next 3 nights. We then moved our site over to a full hookup site beneath a shady tree. There, we enjoyed a lazy day reading and relaxing in the shade.

Some time after lunch, we took the dogs to run free off leash in the tent only camping area on a small island over the bridge crossing the Yampa. In the late afternoon, I travelled into town using Steamboat’s free shuttle service. The town is an ole western town, very similar to Breckenridge and Aspen. Lots of shops, restaurants, boutiques and of course one good book store! I purchased some local soy candles, some Rocky Mountain chocolate, and greeting cards. Back at camp, I tried my hand at some fishing on a side feeder stream. Though the waters were swift and high, I managed to get a few nibbles, all the while watching huge trout leap from the waters near the farther bank. No luck, but a fellow RV camper whom we have made friends with, Jenn Gher (travelling with her husband Bill, full timers in a 5th wheel), managed to catch 4 using a tiny Hendrickson and a shiny silver muddler minnow. She is an avid fly fisherwoman like me and has travelled with her husband and fished Colorado extensively. After a dinner of curry, we settled down to watch some tv and read and catch up on emails.

June 8 Steamboat Springs, CO

Saturday today, and another brilliant blue sky over Steamboat Springs. While walking the pups at 3 in the morning, I was stunned to see all the brilliant stars and the Milky Way galaxy arcing over from horizon to horizon, a sight we never see in New Jersey due to all the light pollution. Many satellites zooming silently overhead, along with a meteorite or two.

After coffee, and some lazy hours reading, I decided to try fishing again. This time, I put on my leaky hip boots and tried a shallow area up a feeder creek leading to the roaring Yampa river. I tried my best with wooley buggers, hare ear nymphs, then switched to a tiny Hendrickson’s, then a BWO and even a small tan caddis. Not a hit or a nibble. Sloshed back to the campsite and had some lunch. Enjoyed the day reading and doing some stitch work. We went into town after 6 for dinner at the 8th Street Steakhouse, a unique restaurant where we were able to select our own cuts of prime Angus steak and cook them ourselves on a huge grill!! Not too complicated, as I have always known, but John got to grill his first steak up just to his liking (read:black). Afterwards, we strolled through town a bit, stopping at a fly shop to pick up some ‘blood worm’ patterns I had read about in the Colorado fishing guide that were made exclusively for the Yampa. Back at camp while walking the pups, I met up with Jenn Gehr fishing the same spot. She had been there 2 hours and tried everything and got no hits at all! The book was true to its word…the Yampa is a very fickle river where one day is completely different from the next. This place has grown on me…it is too beautiful to leave. While shopping in town, I saw a sign in a boutique that sums it all up: “I wasn’t born in the mountains, but I came as fast as I could.”

June 9-11 Steamboat Lake State Park, Clark, CO

We took the advice of our new friends Bill and Jenn and headed north from the town of Steamboat Springs about 25 miles to Steamboat Lake State Park, probably the most scenic and spectacular parks in all of Colorado. Before we left town, we wished Bill and Jenn happy trails, then went to stock up on groceries at the Safeway. The road leading up to the lake was simply spectacular. It curved along the Elk River and we passed many stunning log homes perched high up on the mountainsides with fabulous views of the valley below. Our thoughts turned to winter and the view they must have when the heavy snow falls. We reached the state park after noon, where we secured a campsite for a couple of nights. And, oh the views!!! Stunning brilliant blue skies, and a deep sapphire blue lake ringed by mountain peaks! We managed to get a site on Dutch Hill overlooking the lake and surrounding peaks. Like in Silverthorne, at the Blue River campsite we stayed in last summer, all of the pine trees here have been removed due to the pine beetle infestation. So, the views were created by the removal of all of the pine trees in the campground. We set up our chairs to overlook the lake and also set out our hummingbird feeder. Within an hour, we heard the trill of zooming broad-tailed hummingbird males zipping by to inspect our feeder and take a sip. Sitting in our camp chairs, we managed to do some great birding, The sky was full of dozens of tree swallows. We even spotted a par if sandhill cranes (heard their call before seeing them), a lone snow goose in a flock of Canada geese, and a golden eagle.

For two days and nights, we relaxed on our perch above the lake. The lake is at 8800’ or so, and the altitude left us both breathless and sleepless. Also, the dry air affected both our sinuses, and we were having a time of it to adjust. There weren’t many campers here, surprisingly since the schools are out in Colorado. Most of our fellow campers had two dogs, a pair of black labs, a pair of Boston terrier pups, and a pair of brittany’s. We enjoyed the stunning views while getting some serious relaxing and reading time in. In the evenings, the winds kicked up, and one night we had a spectacular red sunset with the cumulous clouds. At night, the stars here were even more brilliant than in town, and I was happy to see the Milky Way galaxy while walking the pups. Great cell signal, as well as satellite, gave this campground top marks. This camp site and park probably rates in the top three of all our camping destinations, those others being on Victoria Island in British Columbia and Whitby Island, near Seattle. This park is open year round, and has ice fishing, snowmobiling, yurt and cabin camping, cross country skiing, and other activities in the winter. I would love to come up here and enjoy all of those sports, especially for the views in the snow if anything else.

It is very difficult to leave this place. I could camp here for a month and never get tired of the view, the fishing, the birding, the clear mountain air. But, our thoughts have turned to New Jersey and all the preparations needed to be made before the journey home.

June 12-13 Steamboat Lake SP to St. Vrain SP, Longmont, CO

Time to depart this beautiful mountain paradise. The dry air and high altitude has taken its toll on both of us. I have had trouble sleeping and breathing, and John is just wiped out. We left the lake and headed south through Steamboat Springs, down a very scenic route through winding hills and valleys and tiny western towns. We finally reached I70 just west of Vail. The remainder of the afternoon was spent struggling up the Vail pass, through the high plateau near Silverthorne, then struggling up the Loveland pass (11,000’!). The Greyhaven does not do well on steep inclines such as these and the rest of the journey became a long, hot, exhausting slog. The skies became very hazy as we neared the Denver metro area. Also, the lover in altitude we went, the hotter it became, topping out at 92 with very high winds. We later learned that wildfires were burning in several areas of Colorado, including Canon City to the south and Rocky Mountain National Park to the north. We headed towards St. Vrain State Park, a very convenient park located right on I-25 in Longmont with water and electric. There, we set up our site and crashed, doing some birding around the ponds later in the day when the air cooled off.

On Wednesday, we began our preparations to return home. This included picking up a rental car in Longmont, taking the pups to a vet for their health clearance to fly, and checking out ta local RV repair place that might install better suspension (as well as store the motorhome till our return in July). We managed to get all of it done and have some time to do some birding around the ponds in the state park. Lots of cormorants, white pelicans and an osprey or two. We discovered horned larks with chicks! In the evening, the skies to the south of us darkened once more with smoke from fires, and the temps remained hot and roasting like an oven. We went to bed worried about tomorrow’s travel weather, which showed severe thunderstorms and possible tornados over a wide swath of the east coast, including NJ. We decided to play it by ear and see if there are delays in the morning. If so, we decided we would stay another two nights if we could, then return to NJ in better weather conditions.

TRIP 40: Texas Winter Migration Jan 7-18, 2013

Day 1: Jan 7 (Readington, NJ to Denver, CO)

Our 40th trip in the Greyhaven! We left Newark at the crack of dawn, taking Shelby and Daisy with us for our adventure. This time, we were much better prepared for their trip, having the correct vet clearance certificates. We followed the United website directions to drop them off at the north cargo area, but were told it was the wrong area and proceeded to drop them off at the PetSafe office in terminal C. Our flight was a quick four hours and, apart from the incessant kicking of my seat by a toddler behind me, it was relatively a smooth trip with the pups. We picked up the pups at the United Cargo office, then our rental car at Avis (a nice new Nissan Pathfinder), then picked up our Greyhaven in Aurora, and proceeded to Cherry Creek Park to camp for the night. After a quick grocery shop, we went straight to bed. It was clear and cool in Denver (in the 50′s), with a dusting of snow on the ground.

Day 2: Jan 8 (Denver to Walsenburg, CO)

The high altitude and thin air gave me nightmares and a headache during the night. I was only able to sleep here and there, taking the dogs out for a few night walks. In the morning, we packed up and returned our rental car to Avis at the airport, then turned our sights southwards. As our routes are never really planned ahead of time, we decided that a visit to southern Texas and some good relaxing birding were in order and long over due. Driving south towards New Mexico along the Rocky Mountain foothills seemed like a more scenic route than straight east into Kansas and open boring prairie, so we drove south on I25 towards Colorado Springs, stopping for lunch at  a Round Robin for juicy burgers. Towards evening, we were pooped and stopped near Walsenburg at Lathrop State Park for the night. It was a small park near a frozen lake, and we were the only campers there. Dinner, typing, some movies, then bed.

Day 3: Jan 9 (Walsenburg, CO to Raton, NM)

There are some times when we camp that I get the creeps. It’s just me being paranoid, I think. Still, the surroundings or the camp site itself, or the lack of people being around makes me feel very unsettled. This campground gave me the willies, especially when I walked the pups for their last walk before bedtime. No one was around and not a sound was to be heard. The stars were twinkling brilliantly overhead, and though it was cold out, I did not feel too uncomfortable. By morning, and the morning walk, I felt more settled. A crescent moon was rising in the eastern sky with Venus just below it.

Our adventure of the day was to visit the remote Great Sand Dunes National Monument, located in the southern region of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The route there was very scenic, passing through vast open desert valleys. The crisp blue sky overhead enhanced the snow covered peaks in the distance. The National Park was situated above seven thousand feet and the ground was covered with about 3″ of snow. We briefly walked through the visitor’s center to get our cancellation stamp. I say brief because both of us suddenly felt very weak and wobbly. Perhaps it was the altitude, or us being dehydrated, or both, but we returned to the RV for lunch. Feeling better, we ventured to where we could walk out onto the sand dunes. Taking the pups along with us, we struggled to reach the closest dunes which were over a kilometer away. Breathless, we did not stay long in the cold air.

We returned on the route we took, and stopped as a lark at a small roadside hut called ’4Real’ with a green First Aid cross flag hanging outside. Last year, Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize the sale of marajuana, and being in the neighborhood, we were curious and wanted to know what the status was for buying some. We were stopped at the door by two very kind gentlemen who proceeded to ask us for our red cards. Not knowing what they were, they spent some time explaining how the sale of weed was done in Colorado (have to be a resident, need a special red card obtained by the state through a licensed physician for medicinal purposes only). All the while, we were not allowed in the building, but did manage to get some nostrils full of weed scent from inside. They even asked if we were interested in buying land (to become land owners to qualify). They were gracious and we thanked them for the info and left quickly.

We travelled south and into the northern part of New Mexico, where we stopped for the night at a KOA in Raton. After a small shopping trip for food, we crashed for the night.

Day 4: Jan 10 (Raton, NM to Amarillo, TX)

An uncomfortable night for me last night resulted in me sleeping past 9 and a late start. After getting ourselves together, we left Raton and stopped at the nearby Capulin Volcano National Monument for lunch. The ranger at the visitor’s center had to make sure the narrow road up to the summit parking lot was clear of cars. When it was clear, she led us up the twisting route. She said she would return in an hour, and we enjoyed a fabulous lunch high up on the rim of the cinder cone. The desert stretched out far into the distance, and we could spot many other old cinder cones far off. Incredible views! The rest of the day was spent traversing some very empty and desolate prairie land, with sprawling grain fields and very few cattle.

The drought of last year seems to have affected the farming here. Crossing into Texas, it was much of the same. Mile after mile of open, flat land stretching to all horizons, dotted here and there by grain silos. We arrived after nightfall in Amarillo, stopping at the KOA near the airport to pick a site, then headed towards town to the world famous Big Texan Steak Ranch, home of the 72 oz. steak challenge. I had heard about this restaurant from a CBS Sunday Morning program hosted by Bill Geist. He did take the 72 oz challenge, but did not complete the massive steak dinner in under an hour. We ate more reasonable sized steaks for dinner. Yum! They were delicious! Back to the KOA for some rest before bed.

Day 5: Jan 11 (Amarillo to Kerrville, TX)

The strong seasonal howling winds from out of the southwest made our travel very challenging today. We left Amarillo round 10am, and stopped by a Target and Barnes & Noble for groceries and some reading. I could barely close the door on the motorhome after the shopping trip! Though the sun was out, the blue sky disappeared into a dull brownish haze from all the blowing sand particles across the vast open spaces. Travelling southwards, we were pushed all over the interstate and had a difficult time steering in our high profile vehicle.  Somewhere south of Lubbock, the winds died a bit, and after eating and taking a breather, we decided to push onwards towards San Antonio to see how far we could get. Night fell, and with it the winds. Around 11pm we pulled up in Kerrville in the Texas Hill Country and stopped, weary and motion sick, at the KOA. The night air was misty and warm and was a big difference from the dry cold air of the Colorado plateau.

Day 6: Jan 12 (Kerrville to Padre Island, Corpus Christi, TX)

We awoke to a totally changed landscape. Where before there was hundreds of miles of plowed sandy crop fields stretching to the horizon in all directions, there was now gently rolling hills covered in mossy trees, and a misty fog hung in the air. Breakfast was enjoying the Texas birds right outside our window: Golden Fronted Woodpecker (male and female looking for grubs on the roof of a gazeebo), Boat Tailed Grackles, and white-winged doves. We stopped by the Riverside Nature Center on the banks of the Guadalupe River after breaking camp, and though the center was closed, a short walk about revealed a Green Kingfisher by the stream bank! What a find! After a bite to eat, we got back on our way south eastwards. Stopping to walk the pups near Corpus Christi, we spotted two Crested Caracaras in the parking area! Night fell fast, and we entered the Corpus Christi city limits. The outskirts were illuminated with the galaxies of many oil refineries. We crossed the causway and onto Padre Island and headed a bit northwards to Mustang Island State Park, right on the seashore, where we stopped for the night. Chicken dinner, a movie, then sleep. So glad the motorhome has stopped moving!

Day 7: Jan 13 (Mustang Island, Padre Island National Seashore, to Port Aransas, TX)

Very, very late start today. In fact, we both went back to bed after 9 and did not get up till noon. The long travelling of the last two days took their toll, and the high winds howling off the Gulf and rocking the motorhome back and forth made us sleep. Once more, we awoke to a changed landscape. This time, we were on the barrier island, surrounded by grass covered dunes, in a small cramped campground without a view of the Gulf waters. We roused ourselves slowly and stopped by the park office for a small refund (we deposited money into the slot for the site last night) before heading south to the main visitors center for Padre Island National Seashore. Along the way, we stopped by the roadside to bird the shallow inlets. After a small salad lunch at the visitor’s center, we got our cancellation stamp and did some birding on the sand by the water, then went to do some birding nearby on Bird Island Basin. We were leaving when I spotted the sleek triangular wings of a falcon, moving swiftly in a straight line over the dunes. Dark on top and beneath, with narrow wing tips and tail, I could not believe I was seeing an rare Aplomado Falcon. The folks at the visitor center said that someone had spotted one and that they might be found on the island.

We headed out of the park and stopped by a German bakery and cafe where we picked up cappuchinos and a loaf of freshly baked wood oven bread and some German cookies and pastries. We travelled up the island a bit to Port Aransas, where we decided to stop early for the night. The closest campground was a ‘resort’ with very tightly packed side-by-side motorhomes. Not wanting to travel any farther, we got a site. Laundry, some cooking, a taco dinner and some TV, then to bed.

Day 8: Jan 14 (Port Aransas to Goose Island SP, Rockport, TX)

Poor Daisy was sick late in the night, as well as after she ate breakfast. I don’t know what upset her so, but she remained listless all day. The weather remained overcast and cold with strong winds out of the northwest. We left Port Aransas via a small ferry over Aransas Pass (channel), spotting several dolphins in the waters. Then, we stopped in the misting rain on a causeway and birded while we ate lunch. We did not venture far today, just a little past Rockport and onto Goose Island where were decided to take in the fabulous shoreline campground at the state park. The park hosts even said there were whooping cranes nearby! We drove around both the shoreline sites and the wooded area sites and decided on one overlooking the bay. There we spent the afternoon writing, reading, and resting.

Day 9: Jan 15 (Goose Island SP, Rockport, TX)

We decided to spend the night by the shoreline and then spend tomorrow night up in the oak woods campground so that we could spot a variety of birds. Today was a very slow start for me. I think I got up around 11 because I just felt awful. It was still overcast and very cold. When I walked the pups at 2 in the morning, it was misting/drizzling heavily and almost felt like ice pellets. Feeling woozy, we went up to the campground office and selected a site in the oak woods. Then, we went into Fulton to see if we could find a seafood restaurant and a seafood market for some local shrimp. In Fulton, we ate at the Charlotte Plummer’s which overlooked the small harbor and the clam and fishing boats. While eating delicious coconut fried shrimp, we watched a boat come in and unload 50 large sacks of fresh oysters.

We then stopped by Wally World for fresh water and then stopped by Alby’s Fresh seafood where we picked up more fresh shrimp for tomorrow’s dinner. It was even colder out now and foggy when we returned to Goose Island. Before we went to our camps, we took a short drive out onto the island where we spotted 7 wild Whooping cranes!! Three mated pairs and one chick, now almost fully grown but with rusty wing feathers still showing over the snowy white ones. They were very close too, perhaps only 50 yards or so. We the stopped by the gigantic Big Tree, a 1000+ year old coastal oak, where we quickly walked the dogs in the freezing wind. Back to our wooded campsite, where we then hunkered down in the descending darkness in our warm, cozy motorhome.

 

Day 10: Jan 16 (Rockport to Houston, TX)

We left Goose Island after a brief birdwalk near the campsites in the far corner of the oak woods. There was a wash house where the park staff had set up some bird and hummingbird feeders as well as a couple of dribble fountains (sounds of water attract many birds). We spotted several Inca doves, and two Rufous Hummers. We left the state park and headed north to visit Aransas NWR. There, we had lunch and did a short auto tour, stopping at an enormous birding platform to spot a pair of whooping cranes out on the marsh flats, as well as many other shore birds. As we had lots to plan, we headed straight north to Houston, stopping at a rest area to call ahead to set up camping and storage. We arrived in The Woodlands area north of Houston sometime around 7:30, well after dark. We cooked up the fresh gulf shrimp in some Louisiana boiling spices and had a tasty dinner.

Day 11: Jan 17 (Houston, TX)

We spent the day doing preparations for putting the motorhome to sleep and heading home. We picked up a rental car in Conroe a few miles north and then had the pups checked for the flight back by a vet in a Banfield Pet Hospital at PetSmart. In the evening, we took a short trip to the sprawling Woodlands Mall complex, which had many restaurants, shopping areas, a huge mall, office buildings and a riverwalk similar to the one in San Antonio. The area still had Christmas lights still up from the holidays. We enjoyed a great dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.

Day 12: Jan 18 (Houston, TX to Readington, NJ)

We headed home after closing up the Greyhaven. Of course the weather turned nice, clear and warm (in the high 60′s). Got the pups off to the cargo area and Petsafe transport. Departed Houston half an hour late and arrived in cold New Jersey around 9pm. Pups safe and sound.

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TRIP 39: Colorado Mountain Fly Fishing Aug. 13-22, 2012

Day 1: Aug 13 (Readington, NJ to Denver, CO)

It has been two months to the day since our last RV excursion and we are heading west once more for some well- deserved rest and relaxation. Both John and I have been working overtime, John doing two FiberSigma orders and me working extra hours at both Morristown and St. Pete’s. The 8:50am flight this morning to Denver meant getting up before 5am, but neither of us got much sleep the night before. I was up late watching the Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics and John was up helping Christopher with pre-calc homework for a summer course. I had just come off a seven day stretch of shifts and felt wiped out. The flight was a bit delayed due to a change of aircraft and crews, but that didn’t matter since we enjoyed the United Club lounge while we waited. The flight out west was OK and I even managed to sleep a bit. Coming into Denver, looking out of the airplane, I noticed how totally dry and desicated the land looked from the continuing drought hitting this area of the country. Once in Denver, the Mile High altitude did a number on both of us. We picked up a rental car, had a bite to eat at Ruby Tuesday’s near the airport, then picked up the Greyhaven out of storage, followed by dropping of the rental car again at the airport. A quick stop at a Target for a few groceries and supplies left both of us breathless and wilting. Instead of heading west, we quickly returned to nearby Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora and got a site for the night. Even though it was only around 4 in the afternoon, we both collapsed, going to bed around 8pm. Planning ahead was just beyond our abilities at the moment. We both missed Daisy and Shelby terribly.

Day 2: Aug 14 (Denver to Breckenridge, CO)

We went to bed around 8pm and got up (barely) after 9am. Even after 13 hours of sleep, we were definitely not in functional mode till noon, when we left Cherry Creek. Before we left the area, we decided to drive by the multiplex cinema in Aurora where the now famous mass shooting occurred at the midnight showing of ‘Batman’ in July and where a gunman killed 12 and injured scores more. It felt eerie and very unsettling to pass by the scene, the completely empty parking lot still corded off by police tape and a huge memorial of signs, crosses, candles and flowers just across the street. We turned the Greyhaven westward onto I-70 and stopped for lunch at the scenic Red Rocks State Park/Ampitheater just outside Denver.

 The weather was very hot and dry, with temps near 92. As we travelled westward and upward in altitude, the temps dropped into the 70′s as we passed through the Loveland Pass/Eisenhower Tunnel at 11,000 feet. Our goal was the Breckenridge area, so we stopped briefly in Frisco for an iced coffee, some river maps and info at the local fly shop, then continued on to get a site at the Tiger Run RV resort. We returned to the Frisco Walmart to get a Colorado fly fishing license for myself and to pick up some odds and ends. Back to the RV resort, where John crashed for a few hours while I tried my skills on the Blue River till twilight. No need for full waders here as the river is only a foot deep and had great access along the steep banks. I simply wore cotton socks, my wading boots, and shorts. The stretch along the RV resort was full of great pools, waterfalls, flats, riffles and runs. I managed to get three small browns and temp at least three more before they spit the fly out. As twilight fell, I called it a day and we had a late dinner, some reading, then to bed.

Day 3: Aug 15 (Breckenridge to Silverthorne, CO)

For me, the names of these mountain places in Colorado that we are traveling through, (Breckenridge, Aspen, Vail, Steamboat Springs) conjure up images of deep snow, skiing, ski areas, chair lifts, mountain towns, and cold mountain rivers. The same goes for the names of these Gold Medal rivers that we are traveling near, such as the Eagle, the Roaring Fork, the Frying Pan, the Colorado. The Gold Medal awards go to only 200 out of the 6000 Colorado rivers and streams and signify the best of the best trout fishing in the entire country (and that applies to size of fish, number of fish and health of fish population). The Blue River that I fished last night is a Gold Medal river, but not in the area I was fishing. The very large trout (10 lbs or so and often referred to as ‘slabs’, ‘lunkers’, ‘hogs’ or ‘footballs’) are to be found north of the Dillon Reservoir and beneath the I-70 interstate overpass, where the Blue river exits the reservoir.

With all these images floating through my mind, it has been quite a shock to see the area as it is now in the high summer month of August. There is no snow, not even on any of the high peaks above 12,000′. The skiers have all been replaced with bikers and mountain bikers, who ride the fabulous paved bike paths that line all the roadways, even from Frisco up into Breckenridge. The upper reaches of the Blue River, (all 4 miles of it!) which pass right through downtown Breckenridge, was once ‘dredge mined’ up to 30 feet deep for gold, essentially destroying the river. Thus, the entire river down the valley is lined with large, ugly heaps of stone dredging mounds. This being said, the local fly fishermen have lovingly restored the upper region to a fabulous trout fishery, creating man-made pools, riffles, and runs that are the natural trout habitat. All of this is accessible to the public by the bike path that parallels it down the valley.

We broke camp around 9a and headed into Breckenridge for some water proof socks and fly patterns. The town was situated right in the slopes of the sprawling ski area, with chair lifts rising from several points right in the town! We visited Breckenridge Outfitters and as John played with the store black lab, I got some local caddis patterns and neoprene socks. We then had brunch at the Columbine Cafe (eggs and their famous apple-wood smoked beef hash), then walked about the town a bit. We decided to head down river, past Silverthorne, to check out the national forest campground at Blue River as well as river access. Another shock to us was the sight of the very low water levels on the Dillon reservoir (at least 20′ deep of bare banks showing!) and the clear cut areas of pine forest on the adjacent hillsides. Apparently, this area has been very hard hit by the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle (EAB), which bores into healthy pine trees and kills them quickly. Entire mountainsides here are stripped bare of trees and the area looks like a giant came with a grass stripper and cut everything away! All up the river past Silverthorn we saw similar clear-cut regions of mountainside. The region looked more like desert than forested mountain valley. The Blue river meandered into the Green Mountain Reservoir and here the water level was even lower than the Dillon Reservoir! Boat ramps and launches sat high and dry on the bare banks.

We returned to the Blue River Campground, only to find it totally stripped of trees and shade. The campground was almost empty, except for a few day-use fishermen. We managed to find a site long enough for the Greyhaven and decided to dry camp for the evening. The campground was littered with new saplings planted here and there by the US forest service and protected by black netting, but it looked devastated by the beetle and there was no shade. I fished for a few hours, but the water was relatively shallow, the temperature was warm, and I saw no fish at all, even in the deeper runs. We had a small dinner and watched the broad-tailed hummingbirds zooming around the thistle flowers and the multitudes of chipmunks chopping down and eating the tall grasses laden with seeds. Off to bed at sunset.

Day 4: Aug 16 (Silverthorn to Glenwood Springs, CO)

OUR 8th WEDDING ANNIVERSARY!

We had a leisurely start on our anniversary morning. Not too bad a night sleep either, but the new wet wading socks I purchased have already started to cause my feet to break out. I have found I have become sensitized to the neoprene, specifically the chemical thiourea that is used to manufacture the flexible fabric. Just have to live with it. We headed westward on I -70, out over Vail pass, and stopped in the village of Vail for lunch at Donovan Park. Vail is a narrow valley and another very wealthy ski area with large expensive homes. The famous gold medal Gore Creek runs through the length of the village and after lunch, I tried my skills on the boulder-strewn stream. The creek had many deep pools and riffles and runs, and crystal clear cold water. Not one hit on any of the patterns I presented, but I did not have a great deal of hope as this creek is probably hit hard by the locals and is situated right in a major town.

Afterwards, we continued on I-70 into the spectacular Glenwood Canyon. The interstate wound its way through towering red cliffs with the rushing Colorado river below. At Glenwood Springs, we decided to stay the night in the Glenwood RV resort right on the Colorado river. Not much fishing here as the water was discolored and rushing fast. We took a walk by the river and watched an Amtrak train with sleeper and sightseeing cars pass by on the opposite side of the river. After cooling off and settling a bit, we headed into the town of Glenwood Springs for an anniversary dinner at Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse. Yum! Wonderful steak and wine. Back to our RV and a deep dreamy sleep.

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The Juicy Lucy Grill

Day 5: Aug 17  (Glenwood Springs to Redstone, CO)

I am writing this section from the National Forest campground in Redstone, right on the Crystal River. The canyon we are in is lined with towering cliffs of deep red sandstone. Yesterday, we were not sure we could get a campsite here, especially on a weekend, since this is one of the rare national forest operated campground which has water and electric at certain sites. We left Glenwood Springs yesterday, stopping at a Safeway to grocery shop and have lunch. Unfortunately, the rash on my lower legs and feet became much worse during the night. The itching became unbearable, so I stopped by the pharmacy in Safeway, spoke with the pharmacist, and had Dr. Pecora call in a renewal of my mometasone cream prescription. Aha! Instant relief. After lunch at Wendy’s we continued on to the campground at Redstone to get a site, and we were in luck! We managed to get one of the last two sites and for 2 days! After settling in, I grabbed my rod to explore the Crystal river while John did some programming. The river was as clear as its name implied. A few fishermen were on one stretch, so I walked a ways down and up river, casting a few different patterns (Royal Wulff, Yellow Sally, Green Drake, PMD) but not one hit. There were many bathers in the deeper pools and lots of noise from kids yelling, so the conditions were not ideal. I returned to our site for a break and some iced tea and returned later for an hour or so. No luck, but I did enjoy the spectacular scenery of the red stone boulders and white marble slabs in the stream bed. As evening fell, we settled down to a freshly made healthy pasta salad sitting outside our motorhome and watching the sun set on the red cliffs above.

Day 6: Aug 18 (Redstone, CO)

What a spectacular day!!  The day dawned cool with clear skies, and we started out slowly, taking our time to get going. I did some birding down by the Crystal river, all the while admiring the towering red cliffs above, and looking for bighorn sheep. Around lunchtime, we set out to explore the area, stopping in the town of Basalt first to have lunch and for John to do some Fiber Sigma communications with the cell signal. We stopped in a pull off by the famous Frying Pan River and I tried a few casts in the canyon section. The waters were moving too swiftly for my taste, so we headed farther up river. The scenery was stunning! The entire canyon was lined with red sandstone cliffs and there were many beautiful log homes dotting the hillsides. The Frying Pan is another designated Gold Medal trout river, and there were quite a few access pull offs along the roadway, as well as anglers out for the weekend. We found another shady spot, with calmer waters, and I tried again. This time, a Jeep pulled right up to the water where I was casting, then let a dog out, which promptly leapt into the water! I was stunned. The people who got out plopped down a blanket and didn’t even bat an eye that I was fishing there! How very rude and inconsiderate! I was mad. I just left the stream, wondering why people feel the need to step all over other people. Moving upstream again, we found another run clear of other anglers, and this time I donned my waders since the water was very cold. After an hour or so of trying different patterns, I finally got a hit on a black ant pattern with a white fluff!! A nice 12′ brown! I got two others after that on the same fly, and they were just as big. The skies clouded over and I was preparing to leave when I switched to a Green Drake pattern and caught two more, the last one a very large fish that yanked my line deep into the stream and beneath a boulder, where the fly snapped off. Ugh. I think it was either a brook or cutthroat.

We decided to call it a day fishing. We headed farther up the canyon towards the famous Ruedi Dam, where the trout are reported to grow to enormous 10 pound ‘football’ size (like near the Dillon Reservoir). Here, they also feed on mysis shrimp and are very, very challenging to catch. We crossed over the pass and stopped by a campground ((Millie B) near the Ruedi Reservoir where we dumped our tanks, then headed back down the Frying Pan canyon. We turned east and travelled up Rt. 82 to Aspen, where we passed the Aspen airport full of private and corporate jets, and through the town of Aspen with its multimillion dollar mansions. The entire area dripped of wealth. Continuing on, we took Rt. 82 up to the 12,096′ Independence Pass, way up past the tree line. Ignoring the 35′ vehicle length restriction, the road was a narrow and winding driving challenge with rock overhangs, single lane areas and steep grades. Both of us didn’t feel we could make it, but we did! At the summit was a spectacular view across both sides of the Continental Divide. It was very chilly (47) and we were both breathless from the lack of air. We took a short hiking path to the overlooks, then returned to the motorhome for the long slow trip back down the Aspen valley in the twilight. Back to our little campsite in Redstone and a very late bite to eat.

Day 7: Aug 19 (Redstone to Gunnison, CO)

It was with a heavy heart that we left this beautiful area and headed westward once more. We briefly stopped in the small village of Redstone, where we browsed a local rustic home furnishings store by the Redstone Inn. We then travelled up and over McClure Pass and then down into the Uncompaghre River valley. The scenery changed from red rock canyons to irrigated farmlands to bare desert mesas. We turned eastwards on Rt. 50 in Montrose and stopped to see the magnificent and stunning Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The canyon in a very deep (2700′!!), narrow gorge created by the Gunnison River over millions of years. the walls are sheer and straight down. We stopped by the visitor’s center and at the first lookout there, John was very scared of the precipitous drop off. It is straight down to the tiny river below. Even so, the Gunnison river roars over rocks and waterfalls and is very loud. There are no trails down to the river, and the access is strictly enforced by the Park Rangers by permits. The Gunnison river can be floated for a boat fly fishing trip, and the waters are Gold Medal rated. We took our time along the Rim Road, stopping at most of the vertiginous lookouts down sheer granite walls of thousands of feet. It was more impressive to me than the Grand Canyon, which was crowded full of tourists. Afterwards, we stopped for an ice cream, then headed east along the Blue Mesa reservoir, stopping briefly at one of the visitor’s centers for a cancellation stamp. We then travelled to the mountain town of Gunnison, where we settled down for the night at the KOA campground. Dinner, a bit of laundry, then to bed.

Day 8: Aug 20 (Gunnison to Divide, CO)

I am writing this piece at about 9600′ while sipping coffee in a Colorado State Park, and overlooking the sunrise on Pike’s Peak. Yesterday, the weather changed to cool and rainy, and it was a welcome respite from the hot sunny days we have been having. We travelled up and over the Continental Divide once more, this time over Monarch Pass (11,312′) and down into the Arkansas River Valley near Salida. We then kept travelling eastward and the scenery changed to a desolate, barren moonscape known as the ‘south park’ or just ‘south park.’ A ‘park’ here in the Rockies is vast open space nestled between mountain peaks and was once a huge lake millions of years ago. No large trees have grown here and the remnants of the lake are sometimes still present (here, the Eleven Mile and Spiney Mountain reservoirs). Areas of sediment and stratification of lakebeds are perfect sites for fossils, and thus there was a famous fossil bed area nearby. We visited the Flourissant Fossil Beds National Park near Flourissant, arriving an hour before closing. A new visitor’s center was under construction, but we managed to see some fossil specimens and a brief video on the area before taking a short walk to see several enormous fossilized redwood tree stumps.

Along the path, we were surrounded by chirping pygmy nuthatches in the pine trees. Afterwards, we decided to find a campground closeby and went to explore the Muller State Park a few miles away. A relatively new park, the campground offered electric, water and a dump station, and was situated high on a ridge (9600′) overlooking Pike’s Peak. We arrived near sundown and got excellent views of the 14,000′ Peak across the valley. We did manage to get a satellite signal and were able to get 3G cell phone signal (though it occasionally dropped connection). Both of us did not get a great night sleep, perhaps from the altitude.

Day 9: Aug 21 (Divide to Denver, CO)

Not a very exciting day today. We took our time enjoying our morning coffee while looking at the spectacular mountain scenery. We descended out of the mountains and into Colorado Springs area, where we stopped by a Camping World for supplies and lunch, then headed north into Centennial where we picked up a rental car near Centennial airport. Then, it was off to Cherry Creek State Park, where we got a site for the night. The rest of the evening was spent getting ready for tomorrow and putting the motorhome to sleep for our next visit. I am already missing the sounds of the rushing waters and casting my fly…

Day 10: Aug 22 (Denver, CO to Readington, NJ)

Just a hectic packing and prep day. We winterized the motorhome in Cherry Creek Park before we left, filling the pipes and plumbing with antifreeze, dumping all garbage and groceries, and packing suitcases. We took the short trip to the self-storage in Aurora, then left the Greyhaven till our next journey. We drove our rental car to Denver international airport, dropped it off, then spent the remaining few hours in the United Lounge. The flight back home was uneventful. Christopher picked us up at Newark.