Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Salt Lake City

Wednesday, May 24th 2017

Travel route from April 30th to May 24th
We have been to Salt Lake City three times before, so this stop not only was on the way, but a great place to restock.  Walmart, Costco, REI and other major retailers all had items on our shopping list. 

There was a major storm predicted when, after driving a long 240 miles, we arrived at the lovely KOA Salt Lake City Campground.  We are generally not a fan of KOA’s but this one was rather nice.  Sites were very close together, but it had trees and flowers and nicely laid out.  A surprise for a city campground.  We knew it had to be better than Mountain Shadows RV Park in Draper, UT that we stayed at before!  That place was horrible!

We stayed two nights, did our shopping, than headed toward to Creaters of the Moon National Park in Idaho.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Exploring the Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park

Tuesday, May 16th 2017

I hadn’t heard of Mesa Verde National Park, but thankfully Norm had.  This park offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 550 to 1300. 
This is a fabulous National Park in Mesa Verde, Colorado

One of the many cliff dwellings here in Mesa Verde National Park

This is part of Coyote Village which was built prior to the famous cliff dwellings in AD 975. They built, abandoned and rebuilt many times, often changing the style.  This Kiva, a keyhole shape popular at the time, was probably built between AD 1100- 1200
Scientists and volunteers are trying to piece together the history of these people by scouring the 5000 archeological sites, 600 of which are cliff dwellings, ranging in size from under 10 rooms to massive 150 room villages!  These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

This diorama was in the Visitor Center depicting the way of life of the Ancestral Puebloans.
There are several tours given by the park to see inside these dwellings, and since we had not previously made reservations, ( which we try to do ) we thought it best to get there when they open for any possible availability.  

The view from one of the "Scenic Vistas" on the way to Mesa Verde National Park.
The drive to Mesa Verde was an interesting one.  The road climbed steeply for many miles, and as we passed through a valley it began to snow steadily for a few miles.  My!  We just can’t get out of the snow!

Luckily it did stop before the seriously steep and winding roads began.  Up and up we went, ears popping yet again. I’m getting used to this.  Don’t get me wrong-  I love the mountains!

The sights you could miss if you don't get out of the car and look over the edge on a scenic lookout!  This is so beautiful!
 The only tour available was, of course, the most strenuous. We would be required to climb a 32 foot ladder to the center of the site, crawl through a 12 foot tunnel that was 27 inches high and 15 inches wide. Then climb a 60 foot open rock face with two more ladders 10-12 feet high and stone steps to exit the site! They warned of the difficulty of this excursion and those with medical conditions or not in good physical shape should not try!  Good Lord!  Thank goodness Norm and I don’t seem to be affected by the high elevation, or it would be all that more difficult. Hey – isn’t the new mid 60’s the new mid-40’s?  ( age )
Norm trying not to get kicked in the face by the guy ahead of him!

This isn't so tough, but I am glad I don't have to go back down!
My, they do make this a little tight, don't they? 12 feet of this? Perhaps I should not have worn my backpack?

The rewards of a short, mile long hike.
The tour was in the afternoon at 2pm, but there was plenty to see and hikes to take of varying difficulty. I must admit, I was a little nervous about this tour and didn’t want to get exhausted before it started.  The drive to the meeting spot for the tour was over an hour away so we took our time stopping at various vistas.

This cliff dwelling was called Balcony House, where we toured.  The arrow is pointing at one of the ladders we climbed up into the dwelling.

 The tour was so much fun even though, with the 40 plus other visitors, there was a lot of waiting while each person tackled the ladders and tunnels.  The tour guide, a young archeologist, told us of the culture and history they have discovered, and stressed the point that there was so much they still don’t know. They can only guess why they chose to live high up under the cliff edges where getting water and food was so difficult, not to mention the physical exertion it would have taken to get there at all!  Very interesting, and the views of the canyons and cliffs were phenomenal!


Collard Lizard found sunning himself


Saturday, May 27, 2017

A town built in 1881 - Durango, Colorado

The trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Durango, Colorado took about 4 hours
Sunday, May 14th 2017
Next stop – the railroad town of Durango, Colorado, built in 1881. We had heard so many great things (including a fabulous golf course) about Durango that we were dying to check it out! We were a little concerned about the weather turning cold, but after all the heat I was actually looking forward to it.
A lovely campsite beside a roaring brook! After the 1st night it was too cold to sit outside and enjoy nature and the rented gas fire pit.
As we drove down this barely two lane road to Lightner Creek Campground and Cabins we were becoming more than a little concerned.  Norm read it was a lovely place, but boy oh boy, this small, winding road riddled with blind corners and trees tickling the sides of the RV made us wonder where the GPS was taking us, and could we turn around if need be?
As we approached the campground there was a lovely sign and a driveway so steep it would challenge any braking system. After checking in we were escorted to our quiet site next to a roaring brook.  The campground’s wi-fi was useless, and Verizon calls “dropped” a lot, but the site was so cute it didn’t matter much.
Norm spent the next couple of hours fighting with his newly acquired satellite dish antenna and with Dish TV.  Giving up, frustrated Norm and I went downtown to book the 45 mile train ride from Durango to Silverton we heard so much about.  It is reported to be named “Best Train Experience” by Sunset Magazine in 2016.  This narrow gauge, historic railroad brings its passengers back in time exactly as it was in 1882.  It also has been honored with the designation of a National Historic Landmark!
I hate to say it, but I never took a picture of the adorable town of Durango.  I stole this from the internet at 

There were many choices to be made regarding this train ride.  We could take the train in both directions with a two hour stop to browse the old mining town of Silverton, or take the bus in one direction, which we opted for. 

We drove back to the RV campground and spent a quiet evening watching a movie after dinner.

Monday, May 15th 2017

We woke up nearly frozen to death.  As I lay huddled under several blankets, I could not understand it!  I had set the heat to come on at 55 degrees, why was it about 40 inside?  It was probably the first time we have needed heat since we purchased this motorhome last year.  We also had it checked out before we left, so what’s up?  Temperatures were going to be in the 20’s at night this week, so we had to figure it out!

The light snow was very pretty, and the air was nice and crisp.  However, we hoped we wouldn't encounter more snow in the mountains.

Not great biking weather!

At elevation of over 11,000 feet, there was plenty of snow still seen on the Million Dollar Highway from Durango to Silverton, Colorado.

The town of Silverton as seen from the bus as we drove up and over a huge mountain.


After about an hour trying this and that, it finally dawned on us that the electric heating system is a “heat pump” using the ambient outside air.  This works really well in moderate climates, but if it is really cold, all it was doing was blowing 20 degree air onto us inside!  That, I imagine, is why they install an alternative propane heater which, after we got it primed, worked wonderfully.  Thank goodness! We felt a little stupid not remembering that, but better late than never.

We left early to insure we had the best possible seats ( front seat, right side ) on the bus up the scenic “Million Dollar Highway”. This road is incredibly narrow, steep and dangerous and was originally built in the late 1880’s.  It runs from Durango, past Silverton and onto the tiny town of Ouray. Did I mention it is breath-takingly beautiful? 

Silverton was such an adorable little town nestled between the mountains, still looking as it did back in the 1800's.

This lovely hotel was totally restored to its original splendor.
During our 1 ½ hour bus ride the driver talked non-stop about the sights and history of the area.  She competently drove this huge bus on the horrifyingly narrow road that wound up and up the mountain to over 11,000 feet. It then steeply dropped down into the tiny old mining town of Silverton.

We walked around a bit then had a delicious bison burger at a totally restored historic saloon.  A talented pianist entertained with vintage music, transporting us back in time.

This young lady played ragtime and honky-tonk while we dined, adding to the vintage ambiance. We felt we walked back in time!

No Norm!  We have to ride in back!

Lucky us!  Back here we will have the best view, plus the soot from the steam engine won't reach us!

This railroad car was beautifully restored.  We traveled warm, dry and there was even a bartender serving liquid refreshments.

At 2:15 we boarded our train car, which happened to be the last in the line of many. We chose this car primarily because it had windows, ( the forecast promised low temps in the mountains ) fewer people, and above all… last minute availability!  It also had tables and chairs rather than rows of bench seats as well as our own private bar for our car complete with bartender in period attire.  What we didn’t realize was the incredible view we would have from the platform at the back of the train no other car had!  The fact that the plumes of soot didn’t reach us made it even more perfect, and worth every penny!  At $230 each, this had to be one of our more expensive day trips.  ( most cost nothing since we love the outdoors ).
As we began our journey back to Durango, I was nearly brought to tears by the beauty as I stood alone on the back platform enjoying the gorgeous day.
The weather was so incredible, and the mountains, rocks and waterfalls along the narrow tracks so mesmerizing, I opted to spend much of the 3 hour trip down the mountain outside drinking it all in.
Norm and I loved the proximity to the edge, but some were freaking out.
What a great day, and a fabulous way to experience the train, the historic towns and a lot of the Million Dollar Highway in the lap of luxury!
Could this be any more beautiful? 


Monday, May 22, 2017

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Friday, May 12th 2017

You don't see a 1954 Vakashunette and a 1950 Hudson every day in a campground, unless you are on Route 66, that is!
Since we shaved a day from the heat of southern Texas, we were able to add a day to Albuquerque.   Norm was not aware of my desire to see the town and had reserved a campground out of town to merely stop for the night.  Now we have an extra day, but a longer than optimal drive back into the city.
1963 Winnebago "Dot .  Boy, RV's sure have gotten bigger over the years!These are impeccably restored, and available for rent!

Enchanted Trails RV Park was a campground situated on old Route 66. Not much more than a glorified parking lot, but this place was a hoot!  Antique motorhomes were for rent and there was an abundance of unusually old motorhomes and campers that were there as guests.  Our 6 year old motorhome was probably the newest there! 

We spent a quiet evening planning the next day’s activities.  A must see was the Scandia Tramway, a gondola a 2.7 mile ride up to the crest of the Scandia Mountains; the longest in the U.S. and ranking 3rd longest in the world.  We also thought the best way to see Albuquerque was to do a City Tour on an open bus with ABQ Trolley Company.

Saturday, May 14th 2017

We spent a lovely 3 hours on ABQ Trolley's  city tour
We woke up to quite a bit of haze in the distant mountains so in hopes of it burning off during the morning, we decided to grab the first bus tour of the day.  We stopped at a farmers market, then headed to the Albuquerque Hotel to get the bus.
With only one other passenger, it was almost like a private tour!

Once again luck was with us, but certainly not for the couple of guys who seem to own the trolley since there was only one other person on board with us! We love not being in the midst of tourists, which is why we try to pick the times most people are not at the big attractions.

Albuquerque has become well know for their movie sets.  Most recently, the Netflix series “Breaking Bad” was made here, so that was of some interest to Norm and I.  We drove around the city learning bits and pieces of its history and culture.

We browsed a few little shops along an alley in the historic section

Craftsmen had their wares spread out before them
 We got off the bus in a historic/tourist section and had a pretty horrible yet expensive Mexican lunch, then headed for the Tram while the weather was still good.

We got our tickets, glided up the beautiful mountainside while taking a slew of pictures, braved the winds for perhaps 15 minutes, then went down. 

The Scania tram took us up over 10,000 feet!  This is the longest tram in the US, and the 3rd longest in the world!  We would have loved to hike up there, but it was too windy and we were warned not to venture off incase they had to get us down in a hurry due to the winds.

The view of the Scandia Mountains was disappointingly hazy, but still amazing.  Oh, we sure love both heights and the mountains.

Next stop was to get the car washed, so we figured the best place was at the scene of Breaking Bad’s frequently filmed ABC Car Wash.  What an operation!  You could have you car washed “self-serve” or get the works done, inside and out.  I have never seen so many employees rushing everyone in and out of there.  Very efficient.

By now it was after 6pm, so after a quick trip to Best Buy for help with my cell phone, we drove to Nobb Hill for a great meal at a place touted by the tour guides as “the best northern Italian in the city”. 

There are many things to see and do here in Alburqueque, and should I return ( the International Balloon fest is on my bucket list ) I would like to stay for maybe 5 days. 



Sunday, May 21, 2017

The unbelievable Carlsbad Caverns National Park!

Tuesday, May 9th 2017

Next stop - from outside Big Bend National Park north to Carlsbad Caverns National Park

 The next destination on the fabulous vacation is Carlsbad Caverns National Park; a magnificent world under the Guadalupe Mountains near the Texas-New Mexico border.  Underground there is a maze of passages and gigantic caverns with mind-boggling rock formations created during climate changes 250 million years ago! Carlsbad Caverns has what is considered to be the world’s most wondrous collection of cave formations, and we intended to spend a couple of full days exploring as much of this underground treasure as possible.

We were glad to leave the extreme heat and bleak landscape behind us to head to Carlsbad Caverns where even if it’s hot, the caves are a pretty consistent 59 degrees. Now THAT’S more like it, and the sun is not hot 750-900 feet underground!

For the first several hours there was hardly another vehicle on the road.  Then we hit “oil country”.  Truck after truck roared passed us.  Suddenly, a huge landscape timber probably 8 feet long, 10 inch square flew up in front of us!  Norman’s quick reflexes managed to avoid it! Several miles later he avoided another that the truck in front of us went up and over! I can only imagine the damage that would have caused had we hit it! 

Our site at Carlsbad Cavern RV Campground was about a 30 minute drive to the National Park.

We didn’t stop enough to stretch our muscles, so after 6 hours of driving when we finally arrived at Carlsbad Cavern RV Campground we were both stiff and tired.  I was exhausted! We jokingly call the passenger seat “the sleepy seat”.

We were escorted to our site, set up then decided to muster some energy to get in the car and drive  to the National Park’s visitor center to get the lay of the land. From our campground the trip was 30 minutes, a bit further than we had thought.  Today the trip felt like 100 miles!

A big attraction to Carlsbad Cavern National Park are the bats.  Millions of them. Looking at the size of the amphitheater right outside the cave entrance, I would say they are the featured attraction!  Each day (weather permitting ) there is a mass exodus at dusk where thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats to begin their night of feasting on insects and return at dawn in what appears to be black clouds.

The Natural Entrance where thousands of bats take flight  at dusk each day, weather permitting. This cave was discovered by teenager Jim White, who thought there was a fire in the hillside.  Upon investigation, what he assumed was a cloud of smoke, was actually a "cloud" of bats!
 Unfortunately, bats are dying by the millions.  Since 2006 over 5 million bats have died of a disease called “White-nose Syndrome” that affects hibernating bats. It is so deadly, that it has been reported that 90-100% of bats in some colonies have died of this white substance growing around noses, ears and wing membranes.  It unfortunately has spread to 14 states, and is suspected that people can transport these long-surviving fungus spores on their clothing and equipment visiting an infected cave to one that has not.

I had read about this before the trip, so was prepared when asked if we had been in any other caves.  But in 11 years?  That had me pausing.  I went back to the computer and looked for pictures to see what clothes, shoes and equipment we had been wearing in our cave explorations of the past, so we would be sure not to enter this cave with any of those.  (Google’s photo storage cloud came in handy)

Wednesday, May 10th 2017

We drove back to the Caverns to tour the areas that the general public were allowed to see. Walking along paved trails that are relatively level, you are a staggering 750 feet below the service. ( Visitors can take the elevator down, or a steep paved trail that we chose ).  This place is just mind-blowing. Miles of huge subterranean chambers, such as The Big Room which is estimated to be 600,000 square feet ( or the size of 14 football fields ) with ceiling height maxing out at 255 feet! Stalagmites, stalactites, and all the other “tites” were humungous, lit up by some engineering feat to showcase some of this earth’s most unbelievable creations. 

These were created drip by drip over thousands of years!
We spent several hours walking many miles with our jaws hanging.  What made our experience even better was the lack of many visitors!  We practically had the place to ourselves, which eliminated hearing people talk ( which echoes throughout the cavern) and of course the annoying flash of cameras, or people taking selfies, blocking the view or path.  Awesome luck, once again!

Everywhere you looked you would see the most exquisitely decorated rooms. Note the "fans" coming from the ceilings.  These all were created drip by drip! 

It was about 3pm when we surfaced above ground into the bright, sunny day.  Because sunset was another 4 plus hours away, and we were rather tired, we decided to forgo the possible bat emergence at sunset. It was extremely windy, and it was not guaranteed they would take flight, anyway.

 Thursday, May 11th 2017

We hustled out early to make our reserved tour of the caves on time.  This tour called “The lower cave tour”  was described as one of the more adventurous, with the usual warnings for anyone with physical limitations or health issues.  We are so fortunate, that at our age, ( 62 and 68 ) we are not disqualified from doing these fantastic tours!

Alison lowering herself down into the cave
It was a lot of fun, but not the physical challenge we had hoped for. After the dozen or so of us were fitted with hard hats, lights and gloves, we took the elevator down 750 feet, then descended another 150 feet by lowering ourselves with a rope, crawling through very narrow tunnels and down ladders.

The park rangers were terrific describing how precious these caverns are, which were 250 million years in the making.  They related what the geologists have discovered, and the story of how the cave was discovered.
Norm taking his turn crawling through this tight tunnel!

At one point, we took turns exploring a long, completely dark tunnel by ourselves in order to experience what the original cave explorer, Jim White, felt being alone so deep in the cave.  When we met up, the guide had us sit down and turn off all lights as we sat soundless for several minutes in total, absolutely complete darkness.  A very unusual sensation.  I thought of those unfortunate people that are totally deaf and blind.

We learned so much during this fun tour .

 This tour was very interesting, however I enjoyed the views of the public viewing areas more than this dark, lower cave.  Perhaps it was because of the lack of lighting?  We did things that were a little out of our comfort zone, so that is really neat!
If I had advice for someone, it would be to do the cave tours first, then the large, public areas.  What a place, and we were lucky enough to have 3 days to enjoy!

After emerging once again from the depths of the earth, we again decided to forgo the awesome bat flight at dusk, 4 hours later.  ( Well, we are “elderly” you know. )








Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A little Big Bend, a lot of Big Ben Ranch SP

Sunday, May 7th 2017

One of several Border Patrol inspection stations we had to go through.
Getting up and out early is beginning to be our norm. Not a bad thing.  Today’s drive was approximately 230 miles and took about 5 hours of driving through hundreds of miles of flat land littered with scrub brush, dotted with US Customs Agents patrolling the nearby Mexican border.  Destination: Big Bend National Park, in a very remote part of westernTexas where gas stations and water sources are few and far between.  Cell service is very unreliable, and some roads are only navigable by 4 wheel drive.

After speaking with some locals regarding road conditions, we opted to take the scenic route through the national park seldom driven by RV’s.  This route allowed us to stop at the Visitor’s Center, watch the movie, and get a feel for the park. 

 Oh Lord, it was 99 degrees, and we were told that at our campground, Maverick Ranch RV Park in Lajitas the temps were 103 degrees, with a heat index of 118.  Oh, fun!  We were glad there will be 50 amp electrical service because we will certainly be giving our air conditioners a work out!

Maverick Ranch RV Park was gorgeous, and almost empty! Awesome!

When we arrived at this RV “resort” in the middle of nowhere, we saw one of several couples we met the night before who were also from Florida.

We picked a site in the nearly deserted part of the campground ( orienting the motorhome so the awning would shade us ) unhooked the car and set up as we staggered from the heat.
11:00 PM and still 98 degrees? OMG!

 People say dry heat is so much better, but I’m sorry.  Aren’t you uncomfortable when you open your oven?  I can’t say I have ever experienced such a wind that was so very hot.  Dust devils circled around, tossing camp chairs in its “mini tornados” path. Needless to say we didn’t risk damaging the awning by putting it out.

That evening we hid inside from the heat and wind thinking of all the poor people out there in tents!

Monday, May 8th 2017

Early in morning, and already hot.  This trail was lovely, but had to turn around a few miles in due to the treacherous terrain.
After several days of non-stop driving, we could not muster even the thought of spending more hours in the car touring Big Bend National Park’s scenic auto road.  We drove through the heart of it yesterday in the RV, and the views from our tall motorhome would far surpass that seen from a car.  Hiking in this heat was out of the question, so we decided to check out nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park where Norm read there was a shaded hike into a slot canyon.

 Arriving at the Visitor’s Center as soon as they opened at 8am, we got some info and maps plus the mandatory $6 parking pass and headed out.

This picture doesn't really capture the steepness of these roads.  Awesome!
As we admired the incredible scenery we experimented with our new GoPro camera, comparing it with our smart phone cameras.

The views of rugged mountains and steep canyons in this high desert surrounded us as we went up and down 15% grades!  Yikes, that is steep!  We practiced making some videos, hiked along the canyon, and enjoyed the morning.

We met a 71 year old woman from Denmark at a scenic turnout and talked with her for about an hour.  She shared how she travels alone, tent camping ( she was one of those who could not sleep last night because of heat and wind ) and just goes where her mood takes her!  It was interesting to listen to her views of US politics, how they almost exactly mimic Norm’s and mine. 

Norm found this lovely slot canyon to avoid the sun and 100 plus temps.

Some spots were more physically challenging.  We love trails like this!

 We checked out the Maverick Ranch’s  golf course just for hoots.  It was so weird to see lush green grass amongst the scrub land, which is why they charge the “bargain” price of $125 for hotel guests.  Others pay $175.  To pay that for golf in temperatures nearing 100 degrees, was not going to happen. Even Norm wouldn’t consider it!

Late afternoon ( aka Happy Hour ) was spent with the German couple from Florida I mentioned earlier.  We hope to get together with them again when we return.  Because of the incredible heat we decided to cut our stay here short and head north, adding an additional night to Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Cave Junction, Obrien, Oregon

August 17 th – 19 th ,2017 We were so surprised to see what looked like Customs down the road.  Did we take a wrong turn? I thought...