Clueless Californians discover America!

Man, it’s really been awhile!  We have been making our way through the Northeast and down the Eastern seaboard and are just in awe of everyplace we’ve been!  It’s not overstating at all to say that every place we’ve been has been more beautiful than the last. Being California natives, I think we had fallen victim to the hype that the Golden State is the best place in the country, and it simply never occurred to us that any place else could possibly be as wonderful! But that’s before we discovered Michigan! 

Finally got to dip my toes in Lake Michigan! Not as cold as I was led to believe! I did later get to swim in it!

We arrived in Mackinaw City the 2nd week of June.  After so much anticipation, I was a bit afraid it would be a letdown.  This really was the impetus for the whole trip. Having seen a YouTube video from one of our favorite creators, Keep your Daydream (If you haven’t checked them out, you really should!) we knew that this was without a doubt the ONE place we needed to visit during this grand adventure.

We had made plans back in January to visit with our besties, the Gromises and the Tanjis, and reserved 2 nights at a Bed & Breakfast on the Island, and 10 days at the Mackinaw City KOA so we could explore more of the Upper Peninsula from that home base.  The whole first half of the trip felt a bit like a countdown to this way too short visit! We crammed so much into this week. Of course we spent a couple of nights on Mackinac, but we also went to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Tahquamenon Falls, Kitchitikipi Spring, the Great Lakes Shipwreck museum, and several assorted hikes to gorgeous waterfalls!

After our dear friends departed back to the Golden State, we went on to explore more of Michigan, visiting Traverse City and Grand Haven, giving the rest of the state our solemn promise to return as soon as we could!

I could go on for pages about this amazing area, but I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves and just say that Michigan did NOT disappoint!  Our goal is to go back another year and stay for at LEAST a month, and probably for a whole summer so we can spend more time seeing all that Michigan has to offer.  If it weren’t for the winters, we would seriously consider this as a potential retirement location! But of course, being California weather wimps, that’s not going to happen!

Once we reluctantly left the state, we passed again through Ohio, stopping at a few places along Lake Erie, including Erie itself to visit Underdog Barbecue,  (If you know, you know!) on our way to see some of our favorite buddies in Pennsylvania.  We have met up with our friends the Gens family a few times since they left California, and every time, we’ve just had a blast.  This trip was no exception!  We moochdocked on their driveway for several days and honestly, although it’s been almost 10 years since our last visit, it was almost like it was yesterday! We got to visit the Lucy & Desi Museum in Jamestown, (birthplace of Lucille Ball), go Kayaking on the Allegheny River, visit a railroad bridge that was completely destroyed by a tornado, and watch a movie in the park at the National Comedy Museum. It was a BUSY week!

From there we spent a couple of weeks enjoying Upstate New York, and once again were honestly shocked at how much we LOVED the whole region!  From the cities bordering Lake Ontario, to the idyllic towns along the Finger Lakes to Cooperstown and Syracuse, we honestly couldn’t tell you what town we loved more!  I have a thousand pictures I could show you but they’re going to have to wait until next trip, or I’ll never get this posted!

Sadly, this area is where we finally lost our beloved kitty, Oreo, who had been with us for nearly 20 years. We had been prepared for it but of course it’s always sad to lose a furry family member. We had her cremated and her ashes were scattered in the lovely memorial garden at Lollypop Farm, on the grounds of the Greater Rochester Humane Society.

We added this area to our list of places where we will definitely spend an entire summer exploring in another year, and very reluctantly moved on, passing way too quickly through Vermont and New Hampshire on our way to our second “Destination” for this trip, Acadia National Park in Maine! We’ll cover that next blog, where we’ll finally be just about caught up to “real time!

I’ll leave you with some teaser pictures from our time in NY, Vermont & NH, including some from our awesome Harvest Host stays!!

I keep having to pinch myself, and ask, “Is this really my life?”  I feel so blessed to be having this amazing adventure!

UP NEXT: We finally make it to the Atlantic Ocean!

Heading North in a hurry!

We were starting to get antsy to get to Michigan, which was actually the very first stop we planned back in January before we ever left home! In our minds, this was our “destination,” even though we kept saying we didn’t have one! We had 9 days to get there, and it was a balancing act between gaining ground and not rushing! We compromised by one 5 night stay and two 2-night stays. That turned out to be the right balance for us, but as usual, we wished we had had a bit more time everywhere!

Our first 2-night stay was in Celina, Ohio where we stayed just 2 nights at a wonderful Boondockers Welcome. We literally picked this place because it was about a 3-hr drive (our daily limit) in the right direction, and because the home offered 30 amp electric, which is the minimum we need to run our air conditioner. And boy, did we hit the jackpot!! Our hosts, Rich & Janelle, could NOT have been more charming or helpful! ! They also had a ton of wildlife there on their farmland, and we were fascinated by the baby birds in the birdhouses they had built.

There is a gorgeous lake in Celina, but we didn’t get a chance to do any watersports because we had some routine RV maintenance to take care of while we had all the amenities of a town. We did find a great car wash that also had a self-serve dog wash, so the Jeep and Pongo both got baths!

We were VERY excited about our next stop, because we were meeting our dear friends Pam & Tracy Thiel at Pokagon State Park in Indiana for a few nights! Their son Kevin went to school with Alison in Ohio, and we met them on her very first day there and we’ve been fast friends ever since! Pam likes to say we are “hair sisters” You can see why! We had so much fun exploring the area, and the guys broke out the kayak for an afternoon while it wasn’t raining. Of course, just after we took the group photo the skies opened up and poured, but that didn’t stop us from having a blast!

David could never remember the name of the park, so he began calling it Pokémon State Park and that’s what it’s been in our minds ever since! We pulled in the night before our friends arrived and got all set up.  We were the ONLY people in our section of the campground and it was SO peaceful!

We had one more day after Pam & Tracy left, and we decided to rent a small boat and go out on the lake. I really wanted to swim, and we wanted to get Pongo out in the water, and it turned out to be a perfect day! There were such gorgeous homes around the lake and we got to see them from the best vantage point! Pongo had to be physically lifted into the boat because he’s terrified of water, but once he was settled in he did fine.

Pongo glued to Mom’s side!

We read later that you’re not supposed to swim from these little boats, but oh, well! Turns out there’s a pretty good reason. It’s nearly impossible to get in and out of these fishing boats! We finally sidled up to a swimming platform the belonged to a local campground and I used that to get myself in and out of the water and back into the boat! I felt like such a trespasser!! Fortunately, no one protested, or I probably would have had a heart attack! This is the only pic we got and it’s terrible, but I did want to prove that I actually went in!

When Alison was in college in Ohio, she spent 2 summers in Warsaw, Indiana performing at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts. We had made the trek there both times to see some of her shows, and just loved the town and the theatre.

We were thrilled to learn that the theatre was just an hour away from where we were, so on a whim, we drove out to catch their production of The Wizard of Oz! It was SO GREAT to be seeing a live musical theatre production again! They had a rather unique take on the show, which made it fun. That’s what the arts are all about, right?

The next day we were finally in Michigan! I felt like we had reached the Promised Land! It’s a long state, and our goal was Mackinaw City, right at the tip of the “mitten” that shapes Michigan. We knew we didn’t want to drive it all in one day so we had arranged for another Boondockers Welcome stay in Clare, Michigan.

Unfortunately, there had been a TON of rain, and the spot we were supposed to park was on soft grass, AND David would have had to back down a pretty steep bank to get into the spot. Needless to say, ever since the Great Mud Disaster of 2021, we are extra careful, so we opted not to stay there.

The host was very understanding, and suggested a nearby city park where we would likely find availability. Sure enough, it was the perfect solution. They had 16 sites with water and electric, and it was only $25 per night!

The best part was that it was just down the street from the famous bakery: Cops & Donuts! Theirs is such a great story. The bakery that had been in operation at that location since 1896 had been about to close its doors forever after the economic downturn in 2008, when the entire (9-member) Clare City Police Department banded together to save it. They purchased it and have been continuously operating it ever since. Needless to say, the have incorporated all of the Cop & Donut jokes into the merch they sell and have a great time poking fun at themselves!

They also opened up the alleyway behind the shop to be a public art space, and we spent a lovely morning there eating our confections and enjoying the artwork!

So that’s our mad dash through Ohio, Indiana, and the lower half of Michigan! We kept saying, “It’s okay, we’ll be back!” Are you sick of hearing that yet? Seriously, we already know that Michigan will be the site of a future entire summer. And we cannot WAIT!

Up Next: FINALLY there! Now what?

My Old Kentucky Home

For over a year, we have looked forward to exploring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, because, although I really am not a huge bourbon fan, I love the science and history that comes along with distilling, especially in the Kentucky area. When we first drove through the area last June, everything was closed up tight due to COVID, so we were very excited to be back in the area now that everything is open again!

I’d been looking forward to this for a year!

Sadly, I didn’t account for the fact that there are still severe restrictions in place, including reduced hours, reduced number of guests on tours, and advance reservations! Since I did not make reservations prior to heading to Kentucky, we found that NONE of the places we had planned to visit had any availability for tours or tastings at all! As fate would have it we didn’t get to do a single official tasting or tour in Kentucky!! Now THAT was a tragedy! (although we were able to purchase bourbon at several bars along the way, so you don’t have to feel too sorry for us!)

That is one of the downfalls of the type of traveling we are doing. We prefer to have some flexibility to change our minds and go where our fancy takes us, so we are only booking about 30 days out for the most part. That means that we often have more challenges finding great places to stay, and it also can mean getting edged out of some tours we might have hoped to take. For us, the risk is worth the reward of not being too locked into a rigid schedule. We know we can always come back another time.

Even without any bourbon tours, there was still PLENTY to see in the area, and we started off with a tour of Churchill Downs. It was thrilling to see them training some horses on the track, and I could almost imagine myself in the stands wearing one of those really cool hats on Derby Day! Our tour guide, a lifelong Kentuckian, was an amazing storyteller, and after an hour with him, I found myself tearing up almost like a local at the strains of “My Old Kentucky Home.” I highly recommend this place if you’re in town! We had hoped to catch a race while we were in town, but there were none happening this trip.

In the museum, they have a wonderful theater, reminiscent of the CircleVision 360 theater they used to have a Disneyland, (although of course in the shape of an oval, like the racetrack!) They played all kinds of scenes from past races, showed the crowds on Derby Day, and made you really want to be there! We could have spent the whole day in the museum just learning the history of the Derby, but we wanted to see more of the town so we made do with just a morning.

We found another fun dog park bar, this one converted from an auto service center. It’s called PG & J’s Dog Park Bar. They had big roll up doors in the back that opened to the outdoors so the dogs could run in and out at will! The owner was so kind and informative. There’s apparently a huge community of owners all over the country who all share ideas for what has worked for them. I’m telling you, this is a genius idea! Someone needs to do it in Los Angeles.

We wanted to do the Louisville Slugger factory tour, but it was closed on the only day we had available. So we headed south a bit to the Mammoth Cave National Park. They aren’t kidding when they say “mammoth!” Although the national park itself is about 80 square miles, and they’ve mapped over 350 miles of caverns, they STILL haven’t found the end of this cave system, so no one really knows how big it is! They have one section they call the Church because an old time preacher used to do his Sunday services down there. He would lead the congregation down using his lantern, and once they got there, they were pretty much trapped until he decided he was done preaching, because there were no lights to get back out! We had the privilege of hearing one of the docents sing an old Spiritual, and with the acoustics in the cavern, it gave me chills!

Of course we HAD to at least try to taste some bourbon so we stopped by Maker’s Mark to see if we could sneak in on a tour or a tasting, but no luck. They did let us browse the grounds at will, and they had a bar open where you could buy a flight, so we at least got to drink a little, and I got to dip a bottle of my own in the gift shop!

Next we headed to a state park with the crazy name of Big Bone Lick! It was a very rustic park, and the site was extremely unlevel, so it took us over an hour in the rain to get ourselves level and set up. To make matters worse, it was absolutely COVERED in cicadas! There were thousands of them! Not only were they loud, but their decaying bodies stunk to high heaven, and quite honestly I couldn’t wait to get out of there!

They did have a very interesting visitors center and explanation of the name. Apparently it was a salt lick for huge animals such as the Mastodon and the Woooly Mammoth, and those animals had big bones. They also had a bison preserve and we (and Pongo) had fun checking them out!

Fortunately we were only there for 2 nights to visit the Ark and the Creation Museum. I had heard it was a realistic interpretation of the size of the Ark, but it was still a bit of a shock to see just how big it was. BTW, in case anyone is wondering, it’s actually a building built in the shape of the ark, not a ship, so no, it wouldn’t float!

The Ark was impressive, and the grounds of the Creation Museum were lovely. After 2 days, though, I was suffering from information overload. This whole section of time in Kentucky felt like a whirlwind. So much for slowing down. It was definitely time for a rest!

Up next: Chasing Pokemon?

Music and Whiskey- a winning combination!

Ah, Nashville…you stole a piece of our hearts, that’s for sure! I know I say this a lot, but seriously, we cannot wait to come back to this magical place!

But first, no visit to Tennessee would be complete without a visit to Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniels, so we were obliged to stop in and pay a visit on our way to Nashville!

It’s one of the few distilleries that are still doing large group tours. Many others are by appointment only, and/or are only on weekends. Jack Daniels is also unique in that it’s made in Lynchburg, TN, which is located in a DRY COUNTY! So all the tastings are purely for educational purposes, and the store can only sell “unique” bottles that are commemorative of something. Needless to say, that didn’t stop people from loading up on the unique bottles! The tasting at the end was truly the icing on the cake, and we joined our fellow tourists in picking up a bottle.

Since David was heading back to Los Angeles this week, we decided to once again stay at a KOA so that I would have all the comforts of home while he was gone, and wouldn’t have to worry if something went wrong. It was a great decision, and as you can see, I made great use of the facilities! That pool is open 24/7, so in addition to lounging by the pool in the sunshine, I ventured into the spa at night a few times. Highly recommended!

So I wouldn’t have to be alone the whole time, my friend Cheryl Ortiz came to hang out with me for a few days. We had a BLAST! I’m not much of a night owl, so we were thrilled to learn that there is live music available in just about every bar and restaurant on Broadway from opening to closing! We heard some really great bands and just had tons of fun! Obviously we went to a lot of distilleries once we cracked the code of which ones were open when. We didn’t get many tours, but we managed quite a few tastings! I think Belle Meade was my favorite.

Speaking of Belle Meade, we also toured Belle Meade Plantation, which was very interesting as far as it went, but because of COVID, they’ve broken their main tour into two different ones, and I kind of wish I had taken the other one, which gave you a glimpse of life from the perspective of the slaves. Or better yet, the Segway tour, which is ALWAYS my favorite way to tour anyplace! Yet another thing to add to the “next time” list!

Once David came back and Cheryl left, we still didn’t slow down much, because Nashville is just such an awesome place to visit, and there’s so much to do! We checked out The Hermitage, which was Andrew Jackson’s home. It was just gorgeous, and provided some fascinating insight into the storied past of our 7th President. It’s amazing how many other historical American figures that we’ve already learned about on this trip also stayed there! Davey Crockett, for example, a Tennessean who died at the Alamo, and Sam Houston (who did not!). I guess the world wasn’t so big back then after all!

In our opinion, no visit to Nashville is complete without a stop at the Grand Ole Opry, and although there were no acts playing that night, we had fun just stopping by. We also went next door to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel to do some real sightseeing. What a gorgeous place. Waterfalls, fountains, a boat ride, and beautiful gardens, all under a glass roof! Made me want to come back and stay there sometime!

We finished out our time in Nashville with an evening trip to Broadway. It really is beautiful at night, and there are such quirky characters and activities! There’s just something special about listening to live music in Nashville, the Music City. I will ALWAYS be ready to come back here!

Farewell for now, Nashville. Until we meet again. (Very likely in the not-too-distant future!)

Up next: In search of the Bourbon Trail

More Southern Hospitality

Heading north through Mississippi we really didn’t know what to expect. Neither of us has ever spent much time in the South but we’ve heard a lot about how kind the folks are, and BOY they did not disappoint!

Having watched a few episodes of the HGTV show, “Home Town” we were curious to stop in Laurel, MS just to take a peek. And it was a VERY good thing we did, because we discovered that our bike rack had broken and the bikes were in danger of falling off! As usual, David was able to jerry-rig a solution and we were on our way! Laurel was a lovely, quaint little town but we didn’t get to explore it this time around!

A couple of hours later, we pulled into our first Army Corp of Engineers park, Twiltley Branch. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it was really lovely. As with almost everywhere we go, it rained a lot while we were there, but we did manage to get a couple of nice days, and we finally installed the new awning toppers that had torn off in Arizona!

If you know David at all, you know he’s his father’s son, and has NEVER met a stranger! While walking Pongo around the campground one evening, he made the acquaintance of a local Pastor’s wife. In yet another display of southern hospitality, the lovely Sheronda invited us to visit their church the following Sunday. We couldn’t pass up that invitation, so on Sunday we were welcomed by this charming congregation into their fellowship as though we were family! Of course we were quite the novelty, being from California, and people couldn’t believe we had come all that way and were sitting there in tiny little Union, Mississippi! Naturally, they were having a community meal after the service and we were invited to join. YUM! All that Southern cooking really hit the spot! If you ever happen to find yourself in the Meridian, MS area, be sure to stop by! They will treat you like family!

So, before we left California, I decided it would be a good idea for me to learn to drive this behemoth just in case I ever needed to. Highly recommend the RV Driving School. They were great, and my instructor Eric Mount was SO patient! Poor David had to sit in the back and watch, biting his tongue the whole time, I’m sure! Thankfully, I haven’t needed to drive on the trip, but I am fully checked out just in case. I told David I thought it would be a good idea for me to practice occasionally just to keep my confidence up, so as we were leaving I pulled the rig out of the camping space and over to the dump station up the hill. I’ve still got it!

I’ve mentioned how we love our Harvest Host locations, and we were very thankful for this one outside of Birmingham, AL! The owner was so welcoming, and we were fascinated to hear the history of how his dad had quit his job to start this winery, eventually leaving it to his kids to make a career. He was quite the ambassador for the Birmingham metro area, even encouraging us to move there and offering to put us in touch with a local Realtor!

The next morning early, we set off for Chattanooga, TN. That really was the whole purpose for this leg of the trip. A few months ago we stumbled on a YouTube channel by a young couple who had been traveling in their van across the U.S. and had decided to come off the road to settle in Chattanooga while building out their next van. They said such wonderful things about their hometown that we decided we HAD to check it out! (I would encourage you to check out their channel if you like travel vlogs. You can find it here.) We had the opportunity to have lunch with them while we were in town, and let me tell you, they’re just as delightful and fun in person as they are in their vlog!

Just as they had said, Chattanooga is a delightful, diverse, hip, fun and lively town, and we wished we had planned more time there. But we met some new friends while we were there, and are planning another stop back through there in the fall to visit!

There was SO MUCH TO DO in Chattanooga. It’s a very outdoorsy place, which we loved. Lots of hiking and unique natural wonders, as well as some really interesting tourist places. I think it’s a testament to good old American ingenuity that so many of these places were developed by folks who saw potential in these places and decided to take a risk! Many of them are very kitschy and silly, but still a lot of fun!

The first tourist stop we visited was Ruby Falls. It’s an underground waterfall that you have to descend through a series of caves to visit. There are still a lot of COVID restrictions in place so we didn’t get to see it all, but it was quite interesting. Contrary to what I had assumed, it is not red at all, but was named for the wife of the man who discovered and developed the site.

If you’ve driven across middle America, chances are you’ve seen billboards and barns painted with the phrase, “See Rock City.” The developer of this quirky tourist site sent teams across America, offering to repaint farmers’ barns if they would let them also paint the phrase on the roof or side of the barn. HUNDREDS of farmers took him up on it, and there are still many of them out there today! This place really is amazing. And they still add new features all the time. Here are just a FEW of our many, many favorite features from this fun place! Located on Lookout Mountain, they claim you can see 7 states from the top of it. I don’t know that I believe them, but they did offer some proof!

But perhaps the most unusual (and bizarre) sections are the “Fairyland Caverns” and “Mother Goose Village” where they have created scenes from classic fairy tales, painted them in fluorescent colors and lit them with blacklights! I think someone did too many drugs!!

Chattanooga marked the first of what we have found is a growing trend in dog parks. We found a place called, “Play, Wash, Pint” that’s a combination bar/dog park! Owners can relax with an adult beverage and visit with other humans, while the dogs play under the watchful eye of “bark rangers” who are there to referee. When you’re done, if you want, you can wash your dog using their self-serve dog wash stations. BRILLIANT IDEA! We’ve since found other variations on this idea and I think it should catch on everywhere!

We capped off our time in Chattanooga with a visit to Cloudland Canyon State Park. We could have spent DAYS here! There are so many gorgeous hikes to do and it’s all dog-friendly! We contented ourselves with hikes to the 2 waterfalls in the park. They require climbing down/up a series of over 600 stairs, so I’m proud that we made it, but even more proud of Pongo who was a real trouper! The stairs are the open kind to let snow/water flow through, and he wasn’t too sure about them, but he stuck it out and we were richly rewarded with gorgeous views!

Leaving Cloudland we ran across the first of several Blessing Boxes we’ve seen on this trip. I think it’s SUCH an awesome idea! I think I’ll start one when we get home (or wherever we settle down!)

We really can’t wait to come back to Chattanooga, but we had to move on to Nashville! But you’ll have to wait until next time to read all about it because this is already a novel! (I’ll post again in the next few days, I promise, Miss Denise!)

DEEP in the South!

I keep thinking I’ll “catch up” and get you all closer to our actual time and place, but we are having so many exciting, unique and FUN experiences, that there’s just no time to blog, and I don’t want to leave stuff out, so it’s going pretty slow. Hope y’all don’t mind! (See how I sneaked in some Southern?) This is yet another really LONG one!

I was SO excited to get to Houston to visit my dear friend and college roommate, Kathy. I hadn’t seen her in about 20 years and we had a lot of catching up to do. As with some longstanding friendships, it was as though we had seen each other just last week! She and Brent relocated to Houston about 3 years ago (I think!) from the San Francisco Bay area, and they are loving it!

We “moochdocked” in front of their house (Moochdock: v. when you park your RV in front of a friend or family member’s house and use their power, water, laundry facilities, and/or in our case, their guest rooms!!) for 2 nights because the park where we were staying didn’t have any availability until the following Monday. I don’t know what Brent told their neighbors about the behemoth that was taking up half the street, but it must have been a great story because we never heard a peep from the neighbors or the local gendarmes! (Or maybe they just donate large amounts to the local Police benevolence fund.)

The 3 kitties stayed in the RV but Pongo made himself right at home! He loved having all the space to run up and down the stairs, and truth be told, I think Brent contemplated kidnapping him when it came time for us to leave! There’s just something about a boy and a dog!

We really didn’t do a whole lot of tourist things while we were here. We talked about doing things, but we were way too busy eating, drinking and catching up on 20 years’ worth of life! Plus, Kathy and I were plotting the Amazon Prime/Netflix movie we were going to write about some crazy experiences we had had! Amazing how creative you can get with the seeds of a good story and some excellent alcohol!

On Monday we moved the RV to the most amazing county park I’ve ever seen! It’s like what we would call a “regional park” at home, with baseball diamonds, basketball courts, tennis courts, acres and acres of rolling green hills, hiking trails and a meandering creek. But the kicker is that this place has 8 full hookup RV sites (by full hookups I mean 50 amp electric, water and sewer), and all 8 sites are absolutely free of charge! We were only able to book 4 nights here because weekends tend to book up far in advance, but we felt so blessed to be able to stay that long! Next time we plan to be in Houston we’ll book much farther in advance.

We didn’t spend a whole lot of time taking advantage of the amenities here because our purpose was to visit Kathy & Brent, but it sure was a wonderful place to wake up to each morning! The first night we were there, Kathy & Brent came out and we cooked a yummy dinner on the barbecue. Just as we were finishing dinner, I noticed some sort of foreign object in my mouth, and lo & behold, I had lost a filling!! JUST what you want to deal with in a strange city! But, of course, Kathy had an awesome dentist and I was able to get in to see him 2 days later. Unfortunately it turned out I needed a crown. Fortunately this young whipper-snapper dentist had the new-fangled 3D printing technology, and I walked out the same day with a shiny new crown ($900 poorer, however!).

We did manage to sneak in a visit with my niece, Erin and her husband Michael who drove in from the ‘burbs to have lunch with us. . We had only seen each other a couple of times before and it was really fun to catch up.

All too soon, it was time to head off for parts East, and we bid a very fond farewell to our friends, but not before Kathy and I solidified our plans to write that TV murder series or Netflix film based on the crazy adventures of our lives and my former career! We ended up killing pretty much everyone off, however, so I’m not sure that will ever pan out! Who knows??? Stranger things have happened, and Kathy is one of the most creative folks I know, so it may really happen!

Our first stop on our eastward trek was at a Harvest Host location in Beaumont, TX. We had been warned that there’s nothing much in Beaumont, so we weren’t expecting much, but upon driving around we did discover some really beautiful architecture.

Our host location was right next to the Police station, so we felt very safe. I insisted to the owner of the Brewery that I do NOT like beer, and much to my shock, he found one that I actually LIKED! My kids will tell you that they’ve tried for years without success to find one I’d drink, but this one was truly great. Sadly, it was only available on tap, so I couldn’t take any with me!

There was a really interesting museum on the campus of Lamar University that commemorates the discovery of oil in the area. It’s called the Boomtown Spindletop, and it’s a re-created village with a working model of the Spindletop oil derrick. I say “working” but in fact it was broken while we were there, so we didn’t get to see it shoot off, but kind of like Old Faithful, normally it shoots a geyser of water way into the air, simulating the oil strike that went on for DAYS when they first discovered oil there. We were bummed not to see it go off, but it was kind of fun to see the little town. We love this sort of “living history” village, so we still had a good time!

Our next stop was at another Harvest Host location; this time at the Vermilionville Living History Museum in Lafayette, Louisiana. It was quite interesting to see the influences of both the Cajun and the Creoles in the area. The welcome sign was in both English and French, which was kind of fun for me, since I’ve been working on my Duolingo French for almost 2 years now! I was fascinated to learn that the kids were forbidden from speaking French in the schools!

We were parked in the parking lot between the swamp and the bayou. There were signs everywhere warning about alligators in the area, and we looked carefully but didn’t spot any. However, then next morning, David and Pongo were out for their morning walk when they came across a HUGE one right in the dirt road between the two bodies of water! They skedaddled back to the RV on the run and didn’t get a picture of the guy, but they sure became believers, let me tell you!

Finally we were on our way to New Orleans to see David’s sister Elaine, our niece, Amy, and great niece Natalie! We’d been waiting for SO long to get to NOLA and had heard such wonderful things about it we couldn’t wait to get there!! It was really a novel experience to drive there and realize that the Interstate is built right through the swampland!

With much of the city still under COVID restrictions, we really didn’t get to experience all that NOLA has to offer. No music festivals or other fun spectacles were going on while we were there. But we did get to see the famed French Quarter and have some delicious beignets from Cafe du Monde, which was truly a highlight!

About the 3rd night we were once again awakened by an alert on our phones; this time with a tornado warning!! We had NO idea what to do, but we kept picturing the stories on the news showing RV parks laid waste by tornadoes, so we decided to heed the advice we found online to get to a concrete building ASAP! It was pouring rain, and the wind was blowing a gale, so we made the agonized decision to not try to corral the animals and take them out in the storm. (We’ve since made a better plan to evacuate them, but we just weren’t prepared this time!) We packed into the jeep and drove over to the laundry room on the premises and hunkered down there. We were the ONLY ones there! A security guard came through and said that this was the right place to be, and that another couple was next door in the restrooms. I guess everyone else wasn’t worried. There never really was an “all clear,” so after about 45 minutes, the rain let up a bit and we headed back to the RV. Needless to say we didn’t sleep much that night!

On our last day, we decided to take a swamp tour. We were SO glad we did! It was such a unique experience, and we highly recommend it!!

We were surprised to see actual homes on the swamp. You can only access some of them by boat. I kept expecting to hear banjo music like in “Pirates of the Caribbean!”

Well, that’s plenty to share this time around! Next up: More Southern hospitality!

Feelin’ Groovy!

Do you remember the “59th Street Bridge Song” by Simon & Garfunkel?  It goes, “Slow down, you move too fast.  You’ve got to make the morning last.  Just kickin’ down the cobblestones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy.”

Image credit: https://favpng.com

That song has been running through my head all month.  I have been feeling like no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to make ourselves slow down. We KNOW we aren’t in a real rush and that we have as much time as we want to see things, but it’s hard to get out of the “vacation” mode where we only have a couple of weeks before we have to get back to the grind!  So, my goal has been to try to stay at least 4 nights everywhere we go.  And that’s still not long enough.  You need at least a day for “chores” like laundry, grocery shopping, home maintenance, etc., and some time to just sit and take it all in.  But there’s always so much to see in a place, that we always leave feeling we have missed out.  I’m hoping we will eventually be able to slow down and stay a week or more each place. Let’s see how that works out in the future!

So.. we left San Antonio and headed northeast. We were VERY tempted to go back to Fredericksburg, but they didn’t have any availability anyway, so  we settled on Lake Bastrop. It is one of the many parks in Texas that are managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority.  They, like the Army Corps of Engineers, build dams which create lakes.  They build these lovely campgrounds in the areas surrounding them.  This was our first one of them and it will NOT be our last! OMG what a gorgeous place!  They even have cabins for those who don’t camp.

Our site was in the trees, which provided lots of shade. We could not believe the amazing barbecues they provided at every site! Unfortunately, when they cut down the trees, they left a stump RIGHT in the middle of the site.  While spreading out our outdoor rug, I tripped over it and once again went right down! Once again, David refrained from documenting my ignominious tumble, but I think if I go down a 3rd time, he won’t be able to resist!  I will say it was a really dumb place to leave a stump!

This was the first time we got to  break out the kayak and actually use it to explore the lake. (If you remember, we inflated it at Lake Powell, intending to use it then, but snow happened, so we didn’t get the chance!) It wasn’t a huge lake, and there wasn’t a whole lot to see but it was fun to try it out, finally, and on such a gorgeous day! David also had fun experimenting with his GoPro video software. Here’s what the camera came up with. Not exciting, but fun anyway.

We had fun exploring the local area, which wasn’t far from Austin.  We were just driving along through the city when David happened to spot the very famous El Arroyo restaurant whose sign he has been following on Instagram for years!  We drove around the block to get a picture of the sign and were excited that they were in the middle of changing it out!  So we parked to get a closer look, and much to our surprise, they had a whole crew of people there to do it. Turns out that the cast from the popular TV series, “Queer Eye” was there, and the restaurant was documenting it for the sign.  They wouldn’t let us get a great pic but it was fun to watch them. Of course, we stopped and had a snack at the restaurant which was YUMMY!

We also went to the nearby town of Smithville, where we found this adorable little  farmstand where people can take what they want and pay what they can, if at all. Others leave what they can. It was so cool to see folks blessing their neighbors with all sorts of free stuff. We had wanted to pick up some fresh eggs  but they were all out when we were there. Such a cool idea, though, don’t you think??

When it was time to move on from this lovely area, we found a really cute Harvest Host location called, The Whistling Duck Winery where we spent a really lovely night. It was pouring rain when we arrived, and we were very nervous about parking on the lawn, but they insisted that it would be fine, and it was! 

The next morning dawned spectacularly clear and sunny, so we explored a bit and found some fun critters on the farm, including a tortoise. Why DID the tortoise cross the road?  We queried, but it refused to answer! We did finally get our fresh eggs here, and of course we had some very tasty wines.  I also took the opportunity to gather more of the abundant Texas wildflowers, and had my first encounter with actually fire ants!  OUCH!  It was weeks before the bites finally healed. I’m MUCH more careful when scrounging in the weed now!

From here we went to Edna, TX where we stayed at a Boondockers Welcome location.  It was a private home where we enjoyed a quiet evening visiting with the homeowners, a lovely RVing couple who told us about some not-to-be missed sights at our next stop, Matagorda Bay. 

View of the Jeep and our Bounder at the home of our BW host where we spent a restful night in Edna, TX.

You have to drive across the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge to get there, and we were fascinated at the type of traffic we encountered, as well as the series of locks that are needed to navigate between the Gulf of Mexico and the Colorado River.  Of course, viewing the locks took us right back to our Panama Canal Cruise days and now we’re dreaming of cruising again one day!

We had chosen another LCRA park, right on the ocean where the Colorado River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a very quiet little beach community, way out kind of the middle of nowhere.  It was fun to see the colorful cottages up on stilts, a reminder that this is hurricane country!

The Matagorda Bay Nature Park was right at the tip of the peninsula, and was absolutely deserted!  I think there were only 4 other RVs there.  We soon found out why! The were doing HEAVY construction, which included driving massive concrete pylons into the ground directly across from our site! For 5-6 hours every day, the ground shook from the impact!

After 3 days we couldn’t take it anymore so we left and moved closer to our next destination, Houston, where we were to meet up with my college roommate and her husband, as well as my niece and her husband.

We did find the STRANGEST things in Texas, one of which is drive through liquor! Not just stores, but take-out! Of course we HAD to give them a try! They were delicious!!

It rained pretty much the whole time we were there, so we took advantage of the time to catch up on some reading, YouTube and laundry! We did take one day to visit the Johnson Space Center, which was fun. It wasn’t our first time there, but this time they had an exhibit dedicated to the Spacer Shuttle program, including the 747 that was used to transport it. We got to walk through, which was really interesting!

After a very quiet few days in Brazoria, TX, we were rested up and ready to party it up in Houston! But that’s a story for next time…

Poop happens!

We were sad to leave Bottomless Lakes campground, but as it turns out, we were lucky we left when we did! We met some folks a week later whose reservation there had been canceled by the State because their sewer lines had broken and they had to kick everyone out to get them fixed! We saw the heavy equipment arriving just as we were leaving, and had wondered what was happening, but didn’t ask, since it didn’t affect us. Dodged a bullet there!

Bidding a fond farewell to New Mexico, we turned our sights toward Texas! Our first stop was another Harvest Host location, this time at a Vineyard. The hosts were so delightful when we contacted them to request a stay, but they neglected to let us know that Apple Maps doesn’t direct you there, so at first we pulled up to a very baffled homeowner a few miles away who hadn’t a CLUE what we were talking about when we told him we were there to stay the night!! We were really quite a sight driving our huge rig down his bumpy dirt road! This was our first dose of Southern Hospitality, though, as he was so gracious and suggested a route that was likely to take us in the right direction.

After a text to the host, we leaned that we needed to use Google Maps to get us to the right place. We had more than a little angst as we pulled once again off the pavement onto a dirt road, envisioning a repeat of the mud experience, but we bravely soldiered on, and the host met us at the gate to let us in. She informed us that the road was not dirt, but in fact a crushed rock called caliche and was very safe! She did warn us NOT to go off the road because the sand next to it was 6′ deep and we would NOT be able to get out of it! We were believers, and dutifully stayed on the caliche road!

We got set up and joined our hosts on their front verandah for a tasting of their delightful wines. After some convincing by the hosts, we agreed to let Pongo off leash. The assured us that their 80 acres was completely fenced and that there was no wildlife that could hurt him this early in the season. I have never seen that boy so happy!!! He ran and ran for over an hour, swooping by to check in with us every 15 minutes or so and to steal a drink of water from their cat’s water bowl!

Our hosts, Bill & Judy, told us how they had relocated from Houston to start the winery and were living their dream out in the Lubbock area away from the big city. We bought 3 bottles and happily turned in for the night, sleeping soundly after several glasses of their delicious wines!

From the time we knew we were going to Texas, I wanted to stop in San Angelo, which is reported to be the city of my mother’s birth. I say that because there has long been some debate whether it was San Angelo or Pittsburgh, TX, but we all remember Mom saying it was San Angelo, and we even had an address where Grandma had a rooming house there, so we decided to add that as a stop.

We tried to book San Angelo State Park for our stay, but could only get one night there. We figured we’d either hope for a cancelation or else find someplace like a Cracker Barrel or a Wal-mart parking lot for the remaining nights there. The ranger at the gate was, as is very typical EXTREMELY kind and helpful and suggested we keep checking for cancelations, although it was Spring Break and they were completely booked for the week and weekend. As we pulled into our site, I started to once again feel lucky because I knew we really didn’t want to stay here more than 1 night. It was pretty desolate and although there is a lake, it was very low and the place just didn’t have the kind of charm we tend to seek. I got immediately online and booked something a couple of hours away for the next several days, and boy did it turn out to be a good thing I did!

We got hooked up and headed into San Angelo to try to find Mom’s old address and to see what the town had to offer. BOY were we surprised! What a lovely town it is! There was so much to see and do we spent most of the day wandering around just taking in the sights! We found ourselves kind of wishing we had found someplace in town to stay.

We discovered that the place where my grandmother had her rooming house is now a Women and Children’s Hospital. I was kind of sad not to see Mom’s home, but at least it’s now a wonderful place! I think she’d be glad.

We explored the Historic District, where we found several historic homes that I fancied were just like the one Mom grew up in as they were approximately the same vintage.

After that we moseyed down to the river walk area where there was a gorgeous lake and picnic area, with; sculptures, an Amphitheatre, an art museum and a public swimming pool. The city has invested so much in these lovely public spaces, and we were thrilled to see folks out enjoying them on a lovely day! Once again we found ourselves saying that we would have to come back another time. It was such a stark contrast to the state park!

That evening as we were having dinner, I looked over and noticed some liquid leaking from under the rig. We did some very rudimentary research and discovered that a long-dreaded issue had come to light. Some newer motorhomes use a toilet called a “Vacu-flush” system. If you’ve ever flushed a toilet on an airplane or a boat, it’s the same kind of toilet. You know, the one that makes you fear you’re going to be sucked out into the atmosphere or the depths if you get too close? Well, they are prone to failure. We had been reading about the issue, so it was not a complete surprise, but it was certainly unwelcome. David started investigating the situation, and boy did he strike gold! The seals had blown and the little part inside that makes the “woosh” was pumping the toilet contents all over a compartment under the rig instead of into the holding tank What a disaster!!

As frequently as these systems fail, we assumed every RV parts house in Texas would have what we needed, but oh no! They had to be ordered! Luckily, we found a Marine Supply store in Florida who guaranteed he’d ship the parts overnight to Texas, but due to the Easter weekend “overnight” meant Monday. We were without a working toilet from Thursday through the following Tuesday.

Thankfully, the place we had booked for the next several days had a lovely restroom very close to our site, so we really were able to make the best of things while we waited for it to arrive!

Also lucky for us, our daughter Alison’s roommate Tori was visiting her mom in San Antonio, so we had the part shipped there and drove down to pick it up. This also allowed us to have dinner with Tori and Kelly, where we could catch up and get recommendations on things to do in the Hill Country of Texas!

Equipped with rubber gloves and plenty of bathroom cleaner with bleach, David dove into the repair project by removing the whole system and disassembling it on our campsite picnic table (he put down a tarp to keep everything clean for the next campers there) and by the end of the day our toilets were “whooshing” once again! Needless to say, we’ve purchased a second replacement kit so next time we’ll be ready!

Remember our friends Bill and Judy? Well, being Texas wine aficionados they recommended we stop by Fredericksburg in the Texas “Hill Country” as it’s become a bit of a Napa Valley destination in Texas. We ended up staying at the best hidden gem: Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park just outside of Fredericksburg. We loved this place!! It had the biggest dog park we’ve ever seen and it was close to the downtown area that had wine tasting, an excellent WWII War of the Pacific Museum (Admiral Nimitz was born in Fredericksburg) and great German food. That’s right, this little town has an Alpine theme to it as German immigrants settled in this part of Texas once they arrived on the Gulf Coast.

Surprising to us to think of sauerkraut in the middle of Tex-Mex land!!! And speaking of food, we found some of the best refried beans and fresh made tortillas too! I think the most unique, though, was the deep fried Jack Daniels pecan pie. We couldn’t resist that, although we did share! Sadly, it looked better than it was, but that didn’t stop us from finishing every bite!

On our last day in Fredericksburg (after BEGGING to stay another week, but alas, there was no room at the inn!) we made a sunset trek to Enchanted Rock. It is a gorgeous hiking area that is dog-friendly, so Pongo enjoyed it immensely! We got to the top just before sunset and got some great photos, but we had neglected to bring flashlights, so we didn’t get to stay to watch the suns et fully. Again, we’ll be back!

I was sorely tempted by these gorgeous wildflowers, including the famous Texas Bluebonnets I’d been hearing about, but it’s illegal to pick flowers in a state park. Fortunately for me, they also grow in abundance along the sides of the roads, so I stopped to pick a bouquet on our way home.

With a promise to ourselves to plan a much longer visit in the future, we headed for San Antonio where we would spend the next 10 days. Our first order of business was to visit the famed Riverwalk for a boat ride and some Margaritas!

It’s not a trip to the Riverwalk without Margaritas!

The next day was really the only day David would have in town because he had to fly back to L.A. for some work meetings, so we made the most of it with a fascinating distillery tour at Maverick Distillery, and some yummy food at La Gloria!

The OH-SO YUMMY Queso Fundo at La Gloria Restaurant. Listen to that sizzle. TO DIE FOR!

No sooner had David left for L.A. than my beloved buddies Cheryl & Kimi flew out to stay with me. We had SUCH a great time! It was all of our first time in San Antonio and we all had advice from friends and family on what to see and do but it was SO hard to choose. We made a 4-hr trek up to Waco to visit Magnolia Farms at the Silos, made famous more recently by Chip & Joanna Gaines from the HGTV show “Fixer Upper.” Prior to that, you may remember it was notorious for the 51 day standoff between the Branch Davidians and the U.S. Government. I was so happy to see a much more happy reason for the town to be famous!

Mostly we ate our way around San Antonio! Everything from fast food to barbecue, it was all delicious, especially since it was all flavored with love between 3 friends who’ve spent our whole adult lives having adventures together! Of course Kimi appears to have been the designated photographer, so she’s not in any of the pix, but believe me, she chowed down as much as Cheryl and I did!

We did manage to visit the Alamo, which was seriously underwhelming. I thought it would be so much bigger with more to see. But we managed to work up an appetite and ended up visiting the strangest restaurant! Schilo’s is touted as the oldest restaurant in SA. It’s really just a coffee shop, but we wanted breakfast, so that worked. The menu looks kind of like it has a pic of Hitler drinking a beer on the cover, and in the back room there are animal heads on all the walls! Very strange, but a unique experience!

In the evenings we mostly just hung around the RV watching movies and catching up. It really felt so much like the old days when we would send the kids out to play and we’d sit on the couch enjoying our “girl time!”

Their visit as way too short, and it was soon time for them to leave, but we were comforted by the knowledge that we’ll have another LONG visit with hubbies included in June when we are in Michigan!

After they left I had a whole day before David came home so I spent it doing to some work. I am a personal shopper, and obviously my regular clients are all back in L.A. so I put myself on the schedule with Shipt and shopped for a few local folks. I met the most delightful family! Tara and her son Trevor met me at the door and helped me carry in the groceries, and we spent probably 45 minutes just chatting like old friends. That’s the thing about Texans. No one is really a stranger, everyone is welcome in their homes. We could have talked all day, and I left feeling like I had another friend in the world.

We are officially in love with Texas! The folks here are so delightful, and the countryside is beautiful! We are sad to leave San Antonio, but thankful that we still have a ton of Texas to explore!

Up next: This may be our favorite place in the world!

The best-laid plans and all that!

Well, when we left Lake Powell, we had planned to go through Flagstaff and down into New Mexico, but the forecast was calling for more snow that way, so we ended up going back the way we had come, through Monument Valley.

Our trusty co-pilot!

We had also planned to stay at a small State Park that first night, but when we got there, it was closed up tight! Turns out it is ALSO on Navajo land, so it wasn’t open yet! YIKES! We immediately pulled up our Harvest Host app and found a very fun-looking brewery in Gallup, NM called “Route 66 Junkyard Brewery” and called to see if they had space for the night. Yep! And we were on our way!

If you’re not familiar with Harvest Hosts, it’s a membership program for those with RVs of any kind where members can camp overnight for free at Wineries, Breweries, Distilleries, Farms, Museums, Tourist Attractions and sometimes Golf Courses. You are just staying in their parking lot or out on the “back 40” on grass, dirt or gravel, and there are usually no hookups, but it’s a free, safe, and usually fun place to stop for the night. In exchange, you are expected to support the business in some way. You can do a tasting, buy a bottle or 6-pack, eat in the restaurant, shop at the farm stand, visit the attraction or whatever is appropriate and suits your fancy!

In the past, we’ve stayed at a number of very cool locations, including some caverns in Missouri, wineries in Temecula and Indiana, and a couple of breweries. You always meet the nicest folks and usually get to meet the owners and hear how their small business got started. Most of the time their wares are just delightful and we’ve always enjoyed our stays! If you are interested, you can sign up through the link above and they’ll give you 15%.

So anyway, we were excited to stay at a new one at such an unusual location. It is an actual junkyard and an actual brewery! I will admit, it does look a little sketchy, but the reviews from other members were great, so we decided to give it a shot!

Going all the way to Gallup made for a VERY long day for us, especially since it was very windy. Plus, even going this way we had a bit of snow. We finally pulled in just at dusk, and saw that there were 2 other RVs situated in the dirt/gravel parking lot, so we swung in and started to line up behind them. Unbeknownst to us it had snowed/rained heavily the night before , so the center of the lot was a mud pit! We got about halfway through and became completely mired in the deep mud!

After about 30 minutes of “seesaw” action to try to extricate ourselves, the owner came out and helpfully commented that there was no way we were getting unstuck that night, so we might as well just hunker down. He said that they were expecting a freeze that night, and suggested that in the morning, we should be able to “drive right out” of the frozen mud. This was NOT welcome news, and we were both frustrated, exhausted and “hangry,” so we just gave up and unhooked the Jeep. Taking Pongo out in that muck was LOADS of fun, and we ended up using all of our beach towels trying to keep David & Pongo from tracking mud throughout the rig.

The entryway to the RV was a complete muddy mess!

By the time we were ready for bed, we were all covered in mud and barely speaking to each other! We never did make it into the brewery, although I’m sure we could have used a beer after all of that. We were just too discouraged and irritated, so we decided to just go to bed

Nobody slept much that night, for worrying about what the morning would bring. In the middle of the night it began to snow pretty heavily and we had visions of being stuck there for a week! Before dawn, David got in the Jeep with Pongo and went looking for a car wash that could accommodate the RV because he couldn’t sleep anyway and Pongo was whining constantly. I just sat there and thought maybe this whole trip wasn’t such a great idea after all!!!

The second it was light, David got to work trying to free us. Unfortunately we were not able to just “drive right out” as the owner had suggested, but David figured out to use all of our leveling blocks as ramps, and sort of “walked” us out of the muck. I offered to help but David figured there was no sense in all of us getting muddy yet again, and kindly suggested I leave him alone to figure it out. So I just laid on the bed and stayed out of his way. (Sometimes that’s the most helpful thing I can do! ) It took about an hour, but FINALLY we were free!

We drove STRAIGHT to the coin operated car wash and spent a couple of hours trying to get the mud dislodged from the undercarriage of the RV, out of the wheels and off the jeep.

We ended up having huge mud clods dropping from the RV for about a week, and it took 3 rounds at car washes over the next few days, but we finally got it all off/out of everything!

Being exhausted, we decided to go to Albuquerque and treat ourselves to a night at a very expensive KOA campground with full hookups so that we could do some laundry, get a good night’s sleep and know we didn’t have to deal with any more mud and dirt! It was a nice place with a concrete pad and grass, but we were so delirious from exhaustion that we didn’t take a single picture! We slept great, though, and were able to function a bit better the next day.

We had booked the next night at a private home through another app we love called Boondockers Welcome. Similar to Harvest Hosts, you get to stay for a night (or more, depending on the host) for free on someone’s private property. Sometimes they have acreage, and sometimes it’s a suburban driveway. Most hosts are RVers themselves and have fabulous recommendations for things to see and do in the local area, and for other great places they’ve traveled themselves. We have met some AMAZING hosts through this program and we highly recommend it as well. Again, if you are interested, click on the link and sign up. (No discount this time, but honestly, you’ll probably save the membership fee in your first stay!)

Our host in this case had a huge lot in a suburban neighborhood with 2 gravel driveways, water hookups, and 30amp electrical service! They could easily have accommodated 4 RVs our size, but we were the only ones there. The couple are avid RVers who travel half the year, and gave us some great recommendations for places to check out in our travels. We can’t wait to visit some of them! We were able to finally finish cleaning up from the mud disaster and set out to see what Albuquerque had to offer.

We didn’t get any photos of the host location. but because it was a private home with a fully fenced yard, we felt safe enough to finally let Kiya out on her leash and harness. She’s the only one who’s brave enough to venture outside, but she’s pretty skittish, so we are careful when we take her out. She had so much fun stalking bugs, birds and squirrels, as well as basking in the New Mexico sun! We will definitely take her out more often. Of course the other two just laid around like slugs, as usual. Even Pongo was feeling a bit lazy! You can see a bit of the property in these photos.

I feel so dumb that I had no idea what an awesome city Albuquerque is! Still being a bit tired, we kept it rather low-key. There is a TON to see and do here, and it’s yet another place that we will visit again. (I sometimes feel like this whole trip is just a sample platter of places we want to come back to!)

We just visited a couple of museums, including the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. It is an extremely well-done museum, and we came away with a much better understanding of the history of nuclear energy. They also had some retired aircraft in an outdoor exhibit but somehow I didn’t get any pix!

The next day we visited the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum. In stark contrast to the day before, this was probably the least organized museum I’ve ever visited! None of the exhibits seemed related to any of the others, and there was no cohesive storyline. It was just a random series of exhibits commemorating various accomplishments, mostly of the museum’s founder and his friends. If you go to Albuquerque, I would not recommend a stop at this place. It would be way better to get up early and go watch some balloons launch; something we missed this trip. Sorry to say, the only picture we took here was of me!

We enjoyed Albuquerque so much we ended up staying an extra day and when we finally left we were feeling so refreshed! We headed south toward Roswell, but naturally had to make a stop in Belen, the city of David’s mom’s birth. We didn’t grab any photos of the town this trip, but we did get an all-important photo of the “Tortilla Burger” from Circle T Burger, that was highly recommended by David’s former boss, Linda! (Now you know what our real priorities are!

We finally made it to our destination and boy what a gorgeous one it was! Bottomless Lakes State Park did not disappoint. I will say I was getting a bit tired of brown and red rock, so I was thankful for another dose of blue!

The closest town to this State Park is Roswell, NM, so of COURSE we had to go see if we could spot any aliens! They are actually on every street sign and light pole, and pretty much every business features some form of alien. Even the McDonald’s is spaceship-themed! We opted to give the UFO museum a miss and just enjoy people-watching and seeing the sights in the town, but we did watch some YouTube accounts of the museum and it looks like a hoot!

We spent 3 nights at this park and really had a relaxing time. We felt like we’d been through the wars, and enjoyed cooking outdoors, meandering through town, and taking Pongo to the local dog park.

We almost asked if we could stay an extra night, but alas, we decided it was time to move on. We STILL hadn’t learned that we need to slow down! The hardest part of this journey is keeping in mind that we are not on vacation and we don’t need to rush to the next destination. We are trying to learn to linger and just live life in the places we’re visiting. It’s been a slow learning curve but we are starting to figure it out!

Pongo hoping for scraps from our chicken tacos cooked ENTIRELY outdoors on the Blackstone Griddle.

NEXT UP: The hits just keep coming!

Flexible is our middle name

If you’ve seen almost any popular movies in the last 50 years, you’ve almost certainly seen Monument Valley. It’s that gorgeous area with towering rock formations that makes such picturesque a backdrop. It’s where Forrest Gump finally stopped running, where Marty McFly & Doc Brown ended up in Back to the Future III and where John Ford set many of his westerns in the 1940’s. It’s even featured in some animated films such as Cars and An American Tail: Feivel goes West! So we were very excited to add this stop to our trip. 

It was a short 3 hour drive from Moab, and we had pre-booked a stay at a full service RV park because we figured we’d want to have “unlimited” water and electricity after a week of boondocking in Moab, plus we would need to dump our tanks.  We should have known something was up when we pulled into the park and there were only 2 other RVs in the whole place!!  

Turns out that Monument Valley Tribal Park is on Navajo land and the Tribal Council, at the urging of their Public Health Department has made the decision not to re-open any of the monuments and parks.  As a matter of fact, they still had  a curfew on their people until very recently.  Schools have been closed for a year, and unlike in our neck of the woods, many of the families who live on the reservation are without running water or electricity. They drive into “town” with huge water tanks in the back of their trucks that they refill at the city supply every few days, and use generators for electricity.  Many also don’t have access to reliable internet, so online schooling is not possible.  Really makes you grateful for the things you have, doesn’t it?

So, although we had planned to stay there 4 days so we could really take everything in, we ended up just staying for 2 nights; long enough to do some laundry, recharge our batteries (figuratively and literally!) and meet a few local folks.

One local we met was Dennis, a Navajo guide who took us on a tour of the local area that did not include any tribal land, but that gave us some great history and explained something of the culture.  He took us to the site of some ruins in the local rocks and showed us some of the iconic monument formations from a distance. We even got to go into a “hogan,” or Native American dwelling. It was kind of incongruous to see a structure built entirely of logs, with no windows, but with air conditioning!  He said he has one at home with a big screen TV on the wall!  It was very interesting to hear his perspective on how the Tribal Council has tried to balance their response to the COVID crisis for their people.

We left early to head to Page, Arizona, and Lake Powell.  There is so much to see in that area, we wanted to really spend a few days.  We had a very windy drive again and were glad it was only a couple of hours’ drive!  We had booked a site at Wahweap RV park right on the lake, but since we were coming in a day early, we found a camping spot on public land across from the entrance and spent a VERY WINDY night there.  We were so thankful for our RV, and propane heat, let me tell you!  We could hear that one of our slide toppers had ripped during all of that wind, so we ended up pulling our slides in, which made it a bit squishy, but we didn’t care. One couple was there in a tent, and at one point they finally gave up and I think they just slept in their car.

Once we had settled into the RV park, we put out the slides to assess the damage. Sure enough, the bedroom slide  topper had ripped completely off.  That gave us a great excuse to head for WalMart to buy awning tape! (It’s kind of a camping tradition of ours to check out Wal-Mart in new towns, probably because we never had one locally when we were camping as our kids were growing up, so it felt like SUCH a novelty!) If you don’t know, they tend to have a pretty robust camping equipment section and sure enough, they had awning tape. 

Here’s a time lapse video of us up on the roof fixing the awning.  I was so proud of myself for being able to help because David can fix anything, but I tend to be all thumbs!  (I also tend toward a fear of heights, so this was a huge accomplishment for me!)

Fixing the awning

Once we got that sorted out we explored the area.  Our campground was absolutely beautiful as was Lake Powell.  Sadly, the one thing we had really wanted to do was also on Native American land, so it was closed.  Antelope Canyon is a “slot canyon” that has super narrow sides and almost closes at the top.  The colors and lighting inside make for spectacular views. Never fear, though, the lower part of it is available from the water, so you can kayak in and hike partway up.  We got out our trusty inflatable kayak and inflated it so that we could make sure it was lake-worthy in preparation for heading out the next day.

Then off we went to do the short hike to Horseshoe Bend.  It really is a lovely, easy hike that Pongo enjoyed immensely.  Unfortunately they do not have any trash receptacles on the trail or at the end of it, so when he decided to make a “deposit” about 1/4 of the way up the trail, we had to pack it in and pack it out!  Oh, the joys of having a dog!  Good thing he’s so darned adorable, isn’t it?

We stopped for some yummy Mexican food and then went back to the campsite so David could do some work (I promise, he’s working every day!!) I, on the other hand, and living the life of Riley and pretty much just lounged all afternoon. We decided to break out the bike leash and give it a try, and I have to say , he did a pretty good job, but we learned quickly that we need to use a shorter leash to keep him from crossing in front of the bike!

So, as fate would have it, the next day it was supposed to snow again, so we had to abandon the plan to kayak into Antelope Canyon.  We were pretty disappointed, but in the end, we realized it just gave us a great excuse to come back to Lake Powell.  There are so many fabulous hikes and kayak trips we want to do when it’s a bit warmer!  This is QUICKLY becoming a theme for us pretty much everywhere we’ve gone:  “We’ll be back!”  I’ll leave you with a few last photos so you can see why.

Up next:  Things get REAL!