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!
Homer, Alaska

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!!