Lake Havasu and Beyond

A visit with family and friends in Lake Havasu City AZ was the perfect place to kick-off our winter 2017 travel. With San Antonio TX selected as our ultimate destination, we only had to figure out which route to take and what we wanted to see on the way.

We selected Prospectors RV Resort as our home for four nights in Havasu. Prospectors offers paved streets, large graveled sites with room enough for off-road vehicles alongside the RVs, spotless bathrooms and all the amenities expected by the long-term winter visitor.

London Bridge is an icon in Havasu. The original bridge built in the 1830’s in London was dismantled and rebuilt in Havasu by Robert P. McCulloch as a tourist attraction for the town he founded in the mid-sixties. Today the city boasts a population of approximately 53,000. Havasu is a popular destination for RVers who live in colder climates (affectionately referred to as snowbirds), college students on spring break, and people who are passionate about watersports.

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As happened during the start of our spring and summer 2016 trips, truck trouble slapped us in the face when the check engine light illuminated. Visions of our two weeks stuck in Elko NV last summer came into view. The dealer got us in on Monday morning, and in the time it took us to eat breakfast at Rusty’s they had replaced a bad sensor, which was covered under warranty. Good thing we were back on the road so soon because Prospectors was booked solid and we would have had to leave whether we had a truck or not.

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Rusty’s Great Place for Breakfast

On January 17, we headed south on I95 and made a quick stop at Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge. Behind me on the hill is the Hillcrest Bay Development, which has fantastic views of the refuge.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was our planned stop for a few nights, but when we neared Gila Bend, we opted to stay the night at the Gila Bend KOA. We didn’t want to arrive too late at the monument’s campground since the spots are first-come-first-served. We had stayed at the KOA last year and were pleased to see that they continued with their improvements by putting in a pool, a patio behind the activity building, tent sites, and soon to arrive a new building to house restrooms and showers.

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Abandoned Building Near Gila Bend KOA

The next morning the campsites that greeted us at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Alpine Campground included wide long spots with plenty of natural habitat between them giving us the feeling that we were camping in the wild. An added bonus was that we had no neighbors beside us or across the road.

We ate lunch after our quick set up (no water, electrical or sewer hookups to worry about), and took the 1.3-mile trail to the visitors center where border patrol folks gave a talk on their responsibilities. The monument’s property extends to the border with Mexico and the visitor’s center is about five miles from the nearest crossing.

Besides the checkpoints on major highways, the border agents grade roads and paths that illegal immigrants and drug runners cross to identify locations where recent activity has occurred. They also use technology such as night vision, infrared, dogs, aircraft, and drones. It was interesting to learn that this border patrol region was responsible for the seizure of about 50% of all drugs seized in the United States and exceeds the illegal immigrants crossing the border.

Ever since Trump promised to “build a wall,” I’ve been worried about the 1,254-mile border between Mexico and Texas, which is defined by the Rio Grande River. Learning that border patrol will work with other departments to find the best solution should a wall be mandated gave me hope that the natural habitat and view along the Rio Grande border between Mexico and Texas may escape disastrous consequences.

Sprinkles woke us Thursday morning along with a little wind, but by 11:30 a.m. the sun was shining bright. We opted for the Desert View hike through Saguaros, Ocotillo, Palo Verde and other plants and cactus and shrubs. A cabana covered table was a great place to eat our tuna sandwiches after the hike before heading to the visitor center.

We arrived in time for a ranger talk on the leaf-cutting ants, Atta mexicana. It’s amazing that new colonies of the ants have increased over the years since only five of the 500 queens that fly out of the nest to mate manage to establish a colony. These ants form fungus, which is their fuel. They discard the leftovers outside of their nests, which provides nutrients to the neighboring plants in a symbiotic relationship.

Afterward, we drove the north Puerto Blanco Road where numerous saguaros grow. Like snowflakes and fingerprints, each saguaro has its own personality and no two are alike. Some grow arms out their tops some grow them low to the ground. Many sport baby arms that look like little fluffy balls next to their brothers and sisters outstretched arms.

Back at our campsite, the sky was ablaze. Smoke from a fire beyond the left side of the photo’s frame made it look like the setting sun was the center of the conflagration.

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There were plenty more hikes and things to see at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument that we have to save for another trip. We didn’t bring our generator on this tour and our batteries required a fresh charge, so it was time to move on. Next stop? Benson AZ.

Safe travels.

Morro Bay and Cambria

Road trip in December, could it be true? The dealership called to let us know our trailer was ready for pick up after its third roof repair, the service manager promised no leak after a downpour the night before. Seven days until Christmas with presents under the tree and menu set for the big day. “Morro Bay here we come.”

On December 19, 2017, we snagged a spot at Morro Dunes RV Park, our go to park in the area for its location within walking distance to the beach and Morro Rock.

We opted for an early dinner of salmon for me and fish and chips for Jon at Dutchman’s Seafood House. From our window table, we watched seagulls trailing fishing boats as they entered the harbor, otters playing in the bay, and the sun sinking into the sea. Then it was off to the grocery store to stock our refrigerator.

The next day we drove up to Cambria. We had often passed by without stopping, time to check it out. We walked along the streets wandering in and out of antique stores and one-of-a-kind gift and art stores. Usually, the offerings in touristy locations repeat from one store to the next, but not here. Each establishment had unique items to purchase.

Our favorite store was the Garden Shed where we admired birdhouses, hats, gloves, aprons, and all types of garden tools and indoor plants. The back of the store opened onto flagstone and mosaic-tile paths lined with fountains, statuary, pottery and repurposed items.

Tucked in the corners of the property are five more stores. Junk Girls was my favorite. They display their handmade products and items rescued from the landfill in such a way the browser feels compelled to purchase at least one item to take home.

We stopped in at Robin’s Restaurant for lunch. I ordered the salmon bisque and salad and Jon had the southwest bean soup and Garlic Bread. We can’t speak to other menu items, but we both enjoyed our selections.

The Cambria Historical Museum offers a walking tour for download, which details the people and families that inhabited the town dating back to the mid-1800s.

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Cambria Historical Museum

On our way back to camp, we visited Harmony Cellars, in Harmony, California. We were disappointed to learn they had no chardonnay for purchase. Although Rieslings often run too sweet for our taste, Harmony’s Riesling was a refreshing complement to the vermillion salmon we bought at Dockside Fish Market.

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Harmony Cellars Tasting Room

After a breakfast of raspberry topped pancakes on our last full day, we drove out to Museum of Natural History Morro Bay State Park. The museum overlooks the Morro Bay Estuary, features interactive exhibits of the Morro Bay site and panoramic views of the coastline. A leisurely lunch at La Palapa in Los Osos and a walk in downtown Morro Bay topped off our day.

Signs directed us to Mission San Miguel on our trip home. We had often passed by without stopping and now it was time to visit. Franciscan Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen founded Mission San Miguel in 1797. The church was completed in 1821 along with the interior frescos designed by Esteban Munras. The original frescos still decorate the walls of the church, which has never been repainted.

As we left with our memories, we headed home with renewed Christmas spirit and anticipation for a wondrous holiday with our family.

Until next trip, safe travels.

The Trail Home

We plotted a route home and left the Grand Tetons on August 12, stopping for lunch at the Heart & Soul Bakery in Pinedale WY. Pinedale is a place I’d like to spend some time in the future. They offer an abundance of recreational activities in the winter and summer months, from swooshing down hills on skis and riding snowmobiles to hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and hunting. You can even hop on the free wagon shuttle to get around town.

The Rock Springs/Green River KOA in Rock Springs WY,  just north of Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area provided a nice spot for the night. After setting up camp and eating dinner, we took Highway 530 on the west side of the gorge to an overlook and then a marina. In the distance, beyond sagebrush-covered hills, stood tops of buttes banded with red, orange, yellow, and white. A few miles later, a small herd of pronghorn antelope was feeding a few yards off the road.

The Flaming Gorge Reservoir area is a great place if you have a four-wheel drive vehicle and/or a boat. Having neither we couldn’t get close enough to see the canyon walls and the water below. The next morning we packed up and took the east road, Highway 191, crossed over the reservoir bridge and made our way to Dinosaur National Monument.

We arrived early enough to snag a spot along the river in the Green River Campground and take the tram up to the dinosaur bones and see other sights in the area.

When I read they displayed dinosaur bones, I imagined boredom setting in while we wandered around a building housing glass-covered tables filled with bones. Instead, the two-story building protects a preserved dig site from weather and erosion. The bones are still encased in the sandstone mountain.

 

Next, we took the driving tour around the park. First stop, Swelter Shelter where a short walk later we viewed petroglyphs. I can see why some people would believe in ETs after seeing the carved designs in the sandstone. The images do look otherworldly.

Hills across from Split Mountain Campground show how the earth has lifted revealing the different layers of sediment.

Erosion from wind and rain on the sandstone created Turtle Rock and Elephant Toes Butte. The tour pamphlet did not mention the three mounds in front of Turtle Rock, so I named them The Three Crabs.

Our final stop on the tour was the Josie Morris Cabin. Josie arrived in the area in 1914 and built several cabins on her homestead. The cabin shown in the pictures was built in 1935. She tried married life five times but eventually chose to live alone and work her land by raising and butchering cattle, pigs, chickens, and geese. Until her death in 1965, she lived without electricity and burned wood for heat inside her cabin. The box canyon in the photos is where she corralled her livestock. I admire Josie for her bravery and toughness to eke out a living on her own terms in such a hostile environment.

The next morning we took US Route 40 out of Vernal UT, the gateway to Dinosaur National Monument. In Vernal, they decorate their streets by lining them with baskets and planters brimming with purple and white petunias. The petunias distract from the billboards and signs advertising the businesses.

We then turned southwest on US Route 91, west on US Route 6 and south on Interstate 15 to the Big Mountain Campground just a few miles east of Nephi and south of Provo. This campground was my favorite of all the places we stayed. The huge trees provided shade, and the green grass and sprinklers cooled the air. They rent cabins and offer tent spots in addition to the full hookup sites for RVs. It looked like a perfect place for a writing retreat, family reunion, or just a respite from traveling. I would have liked to stay there more than one night, but we had to get back on the road.

US Route 6 took us through Utah and Nevada, connecting with US Route 395 in California after an overnight stay in Tonopah NV. Jon and I did a double take when we saw a Tesla charging station in the middle of this old mining town. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop to get a picture.

We decided to stay a few days in June Lake, one of our old stomping grounds from when we took our kids on vacation. Jon finally got an opportunity to wet a line after renting a boat at Gull Lake Marina. Although both of our mouths watered for fresh trout, Jon wasn’t able to catch our dinner. We opted for dinner out that night at the Sierra Inn Restaurant.

On August 19, we pulled up in front of our house with visions of a luxuriously long hot shower and a good night’s sleep in our king size bed.

In case you are interested, here are the stats from our Yellowstone Summer 2016 trip:

  • Nights – 44
  • Total miles driven – 4,780
  • Miles pulling fifth wheel – 2,525
  • Diesel Fuel – 379 gallons
  • RV Parks/Campgrounds – 12
  • States – 6
  • National Parks – 3
  • National Monuments – 2
  • National Forests – 8
  • National Historic Trails – 3

 

Grand Tetons National Park

Wanting to avoid the wildlife-sighting traffic jams in Yellowstone Park, we left early in the morning on August 9 heading west on Highway 14 through Yellowstone Park and then south on Highway 191 into Grand Teton National Park. Few drivers were on the road, and it reminded me of how calm and peaceful most of our trip had been so far. Jon and I often commented on the friendly and polite people we had met so far on this trip, even the drivers. Navigating the traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area can be a challenge with millions of people rushing to work or school or to shop. We were able to relax more since we weren’t on constant alert to avoid pushy or inattentive drivers.

I enjoyed the scenery of trees, sagebrush, and mountain peaks as we rolled along the road until a car passed our rig and barely made it back in the lane before causing a head-on collision. I gripped the door’s grab handle and scanned the traffic for possible danger. Then we approached a four-way intersection crowded with cars stopped and waiting to make their moves. No stop sign, we had the right of way. A car pulled out from the right side and turned left in front of us. A Mercedes jetted out from the same direction, turned right, then reduced speed. We were not slowing or stopping. “Watch out.” Red lights illuminated the rear of the Mercedes. “Stop!” Brakes slammed, tires squealed, a horn blared, burnt rubber lingered in the air, my heart pounded, and hands shook. The Mercedes finally got the message and took off. Whew! We survived without any damage. With caution, we continued on our route to the Gros Ventre campground.

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I finally calmed down from the near miss when we arrived at our campsite and took in the view from the back of our trailer and camp spot. Washing dishes will be a pleasure with that scene in my picture window.

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View from Gros Ventre Campground Spot

We set up camp and drove into town for a leisurely walk along the streets of Jackson, wandering in and out of stores and finding one-of-a-kind souvenirs. What we found was the hustle and bustle the likes you’d see in New York City. People crowded the sidewalks, drivers ignored speed limits and honked their horns and not a parking spot in sight. A car zoomed past us almost sideswiping our truck. My knuckles turned white. The grocery store was no different. The impatience we saw on the road spilled over into the grocery aisles with shoppers using their carts as battering rams. I thought for sure I’d be run over while deciding which product to buy. Somehow, we managed to make it back to our peaceful campsite surrounded by trees and grass and sage with lots of elbow room and space.

We braved the chaos the next day to take in the majestic towers of granite that are The Grand Tetons. The peaks rise out of the Snake River Basin reaching heights of 13,775 feet. What is unique about these mountains is the lack of foothills surrounding their base. Throughout our stay, it seemed like they were always there, whether front and center or in the background, rising up from the earth in all their splendor.

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Grand Tetons

We first explored the Bridger-Teton Gros Ventre Slide Geological Area where a slide occurred on the 9,000 foot Sheep Mountain and deposited debris in the valley. It is remarkable that evidence of the destruction is still evident 90 years later.

I love the contrast of the red iron oxide hillsides with the green trees and blue sky.

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Our next stop was Mormon Row, which was a community of homesteads settled by the LDS church during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Several buildings and a barn have been preserved and improved. It took hearty folk to settle in this valley where the growing season lasts only two months out of the year.

At the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, we learned of a ranger talk at Menor’s Ferry Historic District. The ranger told the story about William Menor who operated the general store on the west side of the river and Holiday Menor, William’s brother, who operated a lime pit on the east side of the river. William rigged a system to transport local residents and travelers across the Snake River. The replica ferry is large enough to hold a wagon and a four-horse team.

William sold out to Maude Noble who added a cabin and barn to the Menor homestead. The cabin was the meeting site in July 1923, where Horace Albright, Yellowstone National Park superintendent, met with local ranchers and businessmen to discuss the process of creating Grand Teton National Park.

The red Robert Miller wagon is one of three that entered Jackson Hole in 1885. The yellow wagon is from the JY Dude Ranch opened in 1906 by Louis Joy. John D. Rockefeller purchased the ranch as part of a 35,000-acre acquisition. The Rockefellers used the ranch as their private summer retreat for nearly 70 years then donated the property to the park service. He also donated the funds to return the ranch to its natural habitat, and convert it into the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center.

Nearby was the Chapel of Transfiguration where visitors enter to pray and meditate under the watchful eye of the Tetons. Even children who entered the chapel quieted their voices and walked softly on the wood floors.

The next morning as we left to sightsee, we came across a group of female moose (cows) eating their breakfast in the campground.

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We took a tour of the Miller House, which was the first property purchased to create the National Elk Refuge established in 1912. The elk (7,500 on average) return to the refuge each winter and leave for the high country in April and May.

Parking was limited at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, but the 15-minute wait was worth it to hike to Phelps Lake. As I walked along the 2 ½ mile loop trail, through the towering trees, over hills, beside creeks, across a road, and on to Phelps Lake, I thanked LSR for conserving this paradise so all that visit can experience the power that nature can exert on one’s soul.

The architecture of the ranger station and restrooms at the preserve was so different from what I’ve seen in any of the national parks. Instead of the typical log buildings or forest-green siding, the modern mid-century look with clean lines, angles, and reflective surfaces welcome the observer.

We could have stayed for another three or four days and seen the whole park, but we decided to explore the northern part on a future trip. Before leaving the area we ventured into town early in the morning for a hot breakfast and friendly service at The Bunnery. Then as we packed up to leave for our next destination, a mother deer and its fawn grazed on the grass a few yards from our campsite, a memory of our stay at Grand Teton National Park for us to tuck away.