Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Monday, October 14, 2019

Rolling Across the Country

After visiting Niobrara National Scenic River, we continued eastward on Highway 20, which runs across the top of the state of Nebraska and into Iowa. It was really nice to avoid the monotonous driving on Interstate 80 and drive on a leisurely pace, watching the small farming communities as we steadily moved eastward. We dropped back down to I-80 in Iowa and continued on that to Indiana Dunes State Park, next door to our newest national park, Indiana Dunes National Park on the south shore of Lake Michigan, east of Chicago. Indiana Dunes was a national seashore, designated in 1966, but was formally designated as a national park just this year. As it is our mission to collect as many national park cancellation stamps as possible in our lifetime and we were heading towards Shipshewana, IN, to pick up some RV furniture we had ordered in the spring, it was a no-brainer to plan a stop here for a couple of days to explore our newest park.

Our first night in the state park, we took a short hike from the campground over the dunes to the shore. It was a little hazy, but if you enlarge the picture, you can see the Chicago skyline on the horizon. Just outside the park entrance, you can get a train that will take you into the city, but we really didn't schedule enough time to add that to our itinerary. 

One of the interesting exhibits is five model homes from the 1933 Chicago World Fair, known as the Century of Progress Fair. The exhibit homes were bought by real estate developer Robert Bartlett after the fair and barged to their current location within the boundaries of what is now the national park. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are leased to private individuals who are in the process of renovating them. The picture below shows two of the homes, the Florida Tropical home and Weibolt-Rostone home, the two directly on the shore. The other three are across the street. You can read more about it here.


At the east end of the park is Mount Baldy, a 126-foot sand dune that is moving inland at the rate of  4 feet per year. There used to be a trail up and over Mount Baldy, but it has been closed as it's very unstable and has deep pits hiding under the surface that people have fallen into. 


These pictures are from the West End Beach area, with boardwalk trail up and over the dunes called the Dune Succession Trail. It highlights the four successive stages of dune growth as you go along the trail. It's 250 steps up to the top, and then a long meander down the trail to the shoreline. It's very pretty and must be very busy in the summer season, but it was very quiet this time of year.

This was at Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk. A canal led from the shore underneath the highway to a marina community. It looked like another busy summer area!

Our tour of Indiana Dunes completed and all five national park stamps collected :-), we then headed over to Shipshewana to have our furniture installed. We had ordered new theater seats and a glider chair to replace our lousy Thomas Payne theater seats and rear couch. We got them from Lambright's, having been recommended by our friends at RV-Dreams, Howard and Linda Payne. So far, we are very happy with the comfort and quality of the chairs. I think they'll last a lot longer than the stock furniture did.

While setting up in Shipshewana, though, for the night, Al noticed our passenger side front tire of the rig was severely worn on the outside, so much so that it needed to be replaced immediately. He figured it was an alignment issue that caused it, so we decided to stay an extra night and he was able to get a morning appointment at MorRyde to look at the suspension alignment. We also got a replacement tire ordered from Triple-M Tires in Shipshewana, and they would have it the next day also. 

So he changed it out to the spare tire, and we took the rig up to Elkhart in the morning. As soon as a bay opened, they took it in and did find the alignment was way off on that one tire. They fixed that and also redid the alignment on all three other tires. We headed back to the tire shop, had the new tire installed, and by 3:00 we were finally on the road towards Dayton, OH. Unfortunately, we lost a day so we did not have time to tour the Dayton Aviation Heritage Historical Site, so no park cancellation stamp this time. 

 Our next stop was in Hendersonville, N.C., for four days, with plans to visit with our friends Ken and Jodi Himes. While here, we had plans to visit the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site (yes, another national park stamp!), Chimney Rock State Park, Lake Lure, and visit other friends, Jim Walker and Judy Edwards over in Charlotte, N.C. We also drove over to Waynesville, N.C., for dinner at a new favorite restaurant since visiting last year, The Sweet Onion. If you're in the area, check it out! The food's delicious :-).

Our first full day was typical weather for us here in the Smoky Mountains: teeming rainstorms! We spent the morning at the rig, chatting and catching up with Ken and Jodi all morning. Then, as the rain lightened up, we drove over to the Carl Sandburg Home, and we took the tour of the home. No pictures, but it was very interesting. I knew he was a poet, but he was also a prolific writer and political activist for civil rights at the time. His wife, Paula, was also a world-class goat breeder once they moved to Hendersonville. It was quite an educational afternoon :-). You never know what you're going to learn.

The next day was beautiful after the storm cleared things out. We headed over to do some hiking at Chimney Rock State Park. It's quite a twisty, steep road up to the visitor area. From there, there's an elevator up to the staging point to start walking up to the "Rock" and continue up to Exclamation Point. The Rock itself is a granite monolith, and its elevation is 2,280 feet; it's just a little hill compared to the mountains out west :-). 
Continuing on up to Exclamation Point, you reach the highest point in the park at 2,480 feet, climbing up many, many steps in the process. It's only another half a mile from the Rock, but it's just about all uphill!

The view of the main channel of Lake Lure as seen from Exclamation Point. This area is known as the Hickory Nut Gorge, and the movie Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis was filmed here. Down below, in the Lake Lure area, the film Dirty Dancing was filmed. 

We descended from Exclamation Point and continued down further to pick up the Hickory Nut Trail to get to the bottom of Hickory Nut Falls. We had been told that the falls were quite full because of the recent rain. I will say, I was expecting much grander falls than actually was there, but this section was kind of interesting to see how the falls are eroding away a section of the cliff face. I imagine at some point down the years that this section will be sheared right off. 

By now, it was time to head back down the mountain and get some lunch! We had a good meal at an Italian place, La Strada, right on the shore of Lake Lure. We had hoped to take a boat tour of the lake after lunch, but they were sold out for the rest of the day. I kept forgetting it's actually a holiday weekend! So we walked along the boardwalk running along the lake through town and visited what's called the Flowering Bridge. The bridge was closed to traffic in 2011 when the new roadway was completed, and The Friends of the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge was formed and designed a garden along the 155 feet of the bridge and pathways at either end of it with an emphasis on native plants. I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the summer when most everything is blooming. 






There were all different kinds of garden art everywhere along the bridge, but I particularly enjoyed these metal dogs playing mahjong!


There were so many different kinds of bees and butterflies feeding on all the different plants. It was wonderful to see as many monarch butterflies as we did.

Sadly, it was the end of the day and we had to bid a fond farewell to Ken and Jodi. As much fun and enjoyment we've gotten out of traveling the past 9 years, the best part has been finding such great friends and maintaining the ties. It's a bonus that I hadn't imagined would have happened, and I'm so grateful that it has!

Tomorrow, we head to Charlotte to visit with Jim and Judy, then Wednesday, we head further down the road to Bluffton, S.C., to visit family before finding turning completely south to Florida. Hopefully, we have more good weather and enjoyable adventures to relate before settling in for the winter!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Farewell, Grand Teton National Park

Well, so four months have gone by, pretty much in a flash. Just a few things....

We have finished our sixth season working at Luton's Teton Cabins. It's been a great run, a job we truly enjoyed, working for some of the nicest folks we've ever had the pleasure of meeting, and living in one of the country's greatest natural playgrounds. Does that sound like it's done? At least for next year, it is. We are taking next summer off, and most of you know that we have plans to travel from mid-May to mid-September, exploring British Columbia, Yukon Territories, Alaska, and Alberta. It's been the top of the bucket list since we went on the road, and time and circumstances conspired to bring it about next year. We are very excited, and it's even better that we'll be traveling with such wonderful friends: Dan and Jonell Anderson, and Richard and Bonnie Waltman. Another couple is joining us that we haven't met yet, but I'm sure it's going to be great! Bonnie and I had been working on the plans and itinerary since last winter, and after consulting with everyone during the summer, we're pretty sure we have a very comprehensive list compiled. I do plan on keeping this blog much better next year during our travels, so long as connectivity isn't too big of an issue. That's Al's project this winter, along with the terribly important plans for all the fishing that will be happening! He's been researching the best ways for us to stay connected to the internet while traveling, not only for research and blogging reasons, but I do plan to continue doing my proofreading as we go along. Tech changes so fast these days, though, so the final iteration of our cell service will be determined early this spring.

So what have we been up to this summer? This summer has seen some pretty radical changes to our RVing family unit. I had already written about the loss of Casey. Our loss doubled on July 1 when we also lost Honey, our Golden Retriever that we had adopted in 2014 when she was 10 years old. We never expected to have her with us for almost 6 more years, but she was a trooper and kept up with the three of us no matter what we did! The veterinarian here feels she had something neurological happen, most likely a stroke. She was such a good girl and always happy. We were very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be her forever family.
So we are now down to just the two of us, Al and I, something that hasn't happened since we've been married. We will adopt another dog at some point, maybe even a cat too, but we've decided that we will wait until we return to Florida next fall.

Such a sweetie!

Another big change for us is that we are not returning to Amazon this fall. The most prominent reason for that is that Al is having heart surgery in Tampa in November. Most of you know that he's been battling atrial fibrillation for over 15 years, and he did have surgery back in 2009. That initial surgery took care of it for 4 years, but then it sporadically would rear its ugly head, usually during the winter when we were in Florida, and it never lasted more than 10 days or so. Well, he flipped into afib while we were on the way west this spring, and he never converted on his own. He ended up in the hospital in Jackson and had what's called a cardioversion to return him to normal sinus rhythm. He's been fine ever since, but the cardiologist both in Jackson and Florida felt it was time to see an electrophysiologist for assessment of another surgery. He flew to Tampa early in September for the appointment and is now scheduled for surgery on Nov. 22. So no Amazon for him this year, which is fine as it's really becoming a giant pain in the neck to deal with. Al is kind of getting tired of dealing with it, and we're thinking it's time to explore other opportunities.

Our last major change is that we no longer have the second car. Our 2007 Trailblazer finally needed so much work to keep her going that I'm not willing to put thousands of dollars into a 13-year-old car. So she went to a company in Wyoming that takes old cars and either fixes them up or scraps them,  and I am driving home in the truck with Al. He was going to be lonely without the dogs anyway!

We had quite a busy summer at the cabins. We had all the same people working this year that we had last year, so we settled into a good work rhythm pretty quickly. It's so nice when everyone knows what they're doing and when to do it. On our off days, we did a lot of hiking, revisiting many old favorites and exploring some new ones. We had visits from a few folks this year: Bill and Nancy Mills, that we had met at the 2011 RV-Dreams rally; my sister, Amy, and her husband, Mike; an Amazon friend Tom Ross and his friend; Bar Harbor coworkers Mark and Debi Warner. It's always nice to visit with friends and family. 



 Upper and Lower Jade Lakes was a new hike for us this year. The color of the water was beautiful when the sun was out, briefly!


After six years, we finally made it up to Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone. The terraces were very beautiful, and, again, brilliant colors when the sun was out. The elk were hanging out on the village green of the town of Mammoth, and this bull elk was doing a great job of rounding up his harem. 


On one hike around Heron Pond this year, we ran into this mama moose and her twins. It was amazing to be so close, but we did have our bear spray handy. Luckily she led them on a wide berth around us!

We are currently heading back east, having left the ranch on October 1. We stopped for two nights in Valentine, Nebraska, to visit the Niobrara National Scenic River and Wildlife Refuge. It's very beautiful and we would love to come back someday and kayak the river. 

Niobrara River

Berry Falls. There are over 200 waterfalls flowing into the Niobrara River.

Fort Falls 

Prairie dog town at the Wildlife Refuge

Tomorrow we start heading east again, arriving at Indiana Dunes State Park for a three-night stay. We have plans of visiting the newest national park, Indiana Dunes National Park. After that, we head to Shipshewana, Indiana, for a quick stop to pick up some RV furniture that we had ordered in the spring, and then we head south, with stops planned at Dayton, Ohio, for the Dayton Aviation Heritage Historical Park; Henderson, N.C., at Chimney Rock State Park and visits with our friends, Ken and Jodi Himes and Jim and Judy in Concord; Bluffton, S.C., to visit our cousins, Bill and Denise; and finally, a three-night stay at Disney World for the Food and Wine Festival at EPCOT. Then we'll head to the house and start dealing with medical stuff. 

That's what's been happening with us. I'll try to show some pictures of our various stops along the way, and I'll definitely be posting with the positive results of the surgery. Thanks for reading!!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Loss

I've been putting off this post for quite a while now.

A week after we left Rodanthe, we lost a huge member of our traveling household. Most people we have met along this RV road since 2011 have remembered us because of one thing, I think: our two dogs, Chelsea and Casey. We lost Chelsea back in Maine in 2013, devastatingly quick. It was a terrible blow to Casey, who had grown up with Chelsea since we had adopted him at 4 months old. He was 8 years old at that time and already getting a little gray in the muzzle.

We've never had a dog live longer than 10 years old before, so as he surpassed that age and kept on going strong, we were counting our lucky stars. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with kidney disease after he began to lose some weight. He was always thin to begin with, so it was quite noticeable when it happened. Fortunately, we had good veterinary care for him in our three main locations: Jackson, WY; Homosassa, FL; and Campbellsville, KY.

We could see him losing ground this past winter, but he still wasn't giving up. However, as we left Rodanthe, NC, and headed to Gettysburg, PA, he became very ill, and we found a veterinary practice close by the campground who would see us the day we arrived. They tried their best, but it was finally time to let him go. We said goodbye on April 27.

Hiking at Calf Creek Falls, UT

Hiking in Colorado with his friends, Kyoto and Osaka

Colorado hiking with Chelsea

Exploring the Beartooth Highway, MT, with Al and Honey


Saturday, April 20, 2019

On the Road Again


Our three months in Florida sure did go fast! It seemed as if we had no sooner arrived there than it was time to start heading out again. We had a wonderful time visiting with so many different family members during our stay at Walt Disney World. Due to the high cost, I don't foresee another such long stay there for us, but it sure was fun while it lasted :-). We also worked our customary 2 weeks at the Florida State Fair for Scootaround. Back in Homosassa, we finished up seeing our doctors for our annual exams, accomplished a good bit of yard work at the house, did some maintenance work (and repair work) on the rig, did our best to keep our two senior citizens, Honey and Casey :-), on their feet, and did a lot of preliminary planning for our big trip to Canada and Alaska in 2020. Our friends Bonnie and Richard have been an invaluable help to us this winter with Bonnie's help in the trip planning and Richard's tireless assistance on work on the rig. We've never had a name for our rig before now, but we think the appropriate name at this time is "Bionic." 

We actually left Florida on March 31. Our first destination was Charlotte, N.C., to work at the Auto fair again for Scootaround. I will say this will be our last year working the Auto Fair. We only do a couple of shows a year for Scootaround, and we have only worked for one managing team, Sandi and Dave. We mainly came to this show this year because they were working it. This year, though, the work at the show really beat us up. I think we were tired already when we arrived as we had done a ton of work in the yard at the house and a pretty grueling day of work on the rig two days before leaving -- we had to replace the underbelly covering of the rig. If you haven't had to do that yourself, it isn't fun. A huge "thank you" to Richard for his assistance! 

Once we were finished in Charlotte, we headed over to Charleston for some downtime, visiting our friends from New York, Bob and Chrissie Savage. They have retired to the Charleston area and spent the week showing us some of their favorite spots. We had been to Charleston a couple years ago and had already done the historic walking tour of the historic district, visited the Straw Market, and seen Fort Sumter Visitor Center and the USS Yorktown. So it was nice to see new areas.

On John's Island, we stopped to see the Charleston Angel Oak Tree. It's a massive live oak tree estimated to be 400-500 years old, possibly older. It's 66.5 feet tall, 28 feet in circumference, and the longest branch is 187 feet. 

The next day we went with Bob to go on a bird walk at Caw Caw Interpretive Center. It was about 3 hours long and introduced us to the history of rice farming plantations in the South Carolina coastal area. I had no idea that there was rice farming there! But this tract of land was once home to several rice plantations and home to enslaved Africans who worked on them. It was labor-intensive work, wet and dangerous with the alligators and snakes. It is humbling to think of the work involved to carve out a rice-growing plantation out of the cypress swamps. 

 These canals of water were carved out of the land for growing the rice.

Hanging out with the bird nerds :-). Most folks are regulars at the park and very nice. It's a wonderful spot to take a walk at. 

Fields of wild iris growing in the cypress swamp. 

Another excursion was to Middleton Plantation. Of course, Charleston is home to many plantations, and Middleton is one that has been saved and restored for its historical significance to our country. The Foundation has done a wonderful job of keeping the plantation historically accurate and researching the Middleton family and African-American slaves' stories. The plantation is said to host America's oldest landscaped gardens which Henry Middleton envisioned and began creating in 1741. 

The view from the ruins of the main plantation house, home to the Middletons. The main house was destroyed in the Civil War. 

The South Flanker of the home, shown above, was the surviving portion of the home and houses the plantation museum today, filled with original furniture, portraits, silver, china, documents, and more belonging to the family. I asked how much of this was saved from the ravages of the war and was told the family had warning that the Union Army was on the way and had time to spirit away most of their valuables. 

The gardens and view of the Ashley River were beautiful.

Our last day in Charleston was spent with a visit to Fort Moultrie National Historic Park on Sullivan's Island north of Charleston. Fort Moultrie has a long history starting with the Revolutionary War, being attacked by the British on June 28, 1776. After the Revolution, it was neglected and abandoned until 1794, when war broke out between Great Britain and France and the U.S. wanted to fortify its coastal defenses. The second Fort Moultrie was also neglected and eventually destroyed by a hurricane. In 1809, a third Fort Moultrie was built and manned. The Federal garrison abandoned the fort in 1860 when South Carolina seceded the Union in favor of the more easily defended Fort Sumter, which also fell to the Confederate forces in 1865. After the world wars and the advent of nuclear weapons and guided missiles, the fort was rendered obsolete, and today, the fort has been restored to portray the major periods of its history. It was a very interesting visit.

Our next stop was a place that's been on our radar for a long time but never made it onto the travel itinerary. This year it did! We have been camped for the last week at Camp Hatteras in Rodanthe, N.C., in the Outer Banks. It is beautiful here and really reminds us of a lot of home. For our folks back on the Island, picture Napeague Stretch, but going on for about 100 miles! 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches north to south across three islands: Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocracoke. We stayed on Hatteras Island, in the middle of the three, which is also the longest island. Highway 12 runs the length of the 3 islands, with bridges connecting Bodie to the mainland and Hatteras, and a ferry connecting Hatteras to Ocracoke. We didn't make it to Ocracoke on this trip. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse above is one of the world's most recognizable lighthouses and is also the tallest brick lighthouse, standing at 208 feet tall. Its light beam reaches out 20 miles into the ocean, protecting vessels from one of the most treacherous stretches of waterways on the East Coast. Coastal erosion threatened to topple the lighthouse in the early 1990s, and in 1999, the lighthouse was carefully moved 2900 feet inland to a safer location. If you don't mind heights, heat, and walking up 248 steps, you can even climb up to the top of the lighthouse!

These were the home buildings for the lighthouse keepers and now house the museum. 

Inside the museum is a map of the shipwrecks, over 600 of them, in this area, known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic."

In fact, in the town of Hatteras is the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. There are no entrance fees, and it's a very well-done museum of exhibits detailing the history of the coast from The American Revolution through the Civil War and the world wars, with an emphasis on the German U-boats that were wreaking havoc on our shipping.  There were also exhibits on the history of diving, pirates, and fishing along the coast.

Al had a shocking moment in the fishing exhibit when he realized some of the equipment depicted is equipment he used to use on his boat out at Montauk. He said seeing that stuff in a museum made him feel really old. 

The mansions along the ocean at the tip of Hatteras Island. 

North of Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the town of Nag's Head, where you can find your major shopping area, and Kill Devil Hills, where the Wright Brothers National Monument is. This is where the Wright brothers had their famous first flight. There are a small museum and a short drive loop to different sites within the park.

Replica of the original aircraft. There's a piece of the original cloth of the wing material in a dark box. 

60-foot monument on top of Kill Devil Hill honors the Wright Brothers and marks the site of the hundreds of glider flights that preceded the first powered flight.

This bronze-and-steel sculpture recreates the historic 1903 flight. The powered glider is in front, with life-sized figures representing the local townfolks that had come out to assist with the tests.  The photographer who is taking the historic photo is John T. Daniels, a local member of the U.S. Life- Saving Service.

This marker commemorates the exact spot where the glider took off from the ground the first time. 
Smaller stone markers chart the first four flights' paths, distances, and landings. 

While in Rodanthe, we were fortunate to discover that there was going to be a demonstration by a team of volunteers showing how an actual rescue of shipwrecked people happens. The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station in Rodanthe held a lecture about the history and then walked us out to the dunes behind the boathouse to show us the Beach Apparatus Drill. 

The boathouse and life-saving crew wheeling out the cart holding all of the rescue equipment.

The cart and equipment weigh about 1,000 pounds. It looked difficult enough for them to wheel it out the short distance they did here. In reality, they would be wheeling it out in the most horrid storm conditions, possibly up to 3 miles down the beach in either direction. There are 16 stations total spaced out along the coastline, but depending upon where a ship comes to be in distress, the distance can be quite formidable to get to it. 

Each seaman would step forward and recite the particular steps that were their requirement to get the job done. There are 8 seamen working in concert with each other. Each step has to be done at the exact right time to keep lines from becoming tangled. 

Drill in progress. They are shooting the rescue line to the mock ship's mast on the beach.

Simulated rescue of a ship's passenger on the rescue line in the breeches buoy.

The demonstration was totally fascinating and humbling to think of how hard men used to work to rescue people in danger, putting themselves in danger as well. I am very happy that we were here at the right time to be able to join the group. Afterward, there was a BBQ chicken dinner put on by the volunteers to raise money for the foundation that has kept the property in such good shape. I feel it is very important to keep pieces of our country's history intact like this and applaud those who donate their time and money to doing so. And the chicken was really good!

While we've been here, we've also gone through two pretty respectable storms. I'm happy to report that the rig easily withstood sustained winds of 40+ knots with a couple of gusts up to 60 knots! Not something that I really care to repeat often, but we did fine :-). 

Tomorrow we will be back on the road, headed further north. We'll be stopping for a couple of days in Richmond, VA., and then Gettysburg, PA., for a few days. From there, we're headed to Elkhart, IN., to the MoRyde factory, where we're having the IS suspension and disc brakes put on. Remember, we're Bionic now ;-). Hopefully, the weather will be a little more cooperative and the storms are behind us for a while.