Road Trip 2017 – Beam Me Up, Canada

Part III – Nova Scotia

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June 16 – We left the ferry at New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and hoteled it for the night.

The next morning we were off to Cape Breton Island, soon finding ourselves on the Ceilidh Trail (Scottish Gaelic). Community names along this route are in both English and Gaelic. It was a beautiful coastal drive on a rainy and cool day—very green with lots of inlets and great views. We stopped at the Glenora Distillery and picked up a sample for a friend.

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We reached the famous Cabot Trail in the afternoon. Driving into Cheticamp, we found a large and popular restaurant – La Gabriel. We passed on the daily special “Halibut Cheeks”.

Le Gabriel

Cheticamp Harbor

Only three miles further up the road we reached the entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park where we found a camp spot.

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June 18. We drove back into Cheticamp for ice and coffee at an eclectic little roadside coffeehouse/art gallery.

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Driving on up the coast, we stopped for a hike at the Skyline Trail. Why must so many hikes start downhill? It is so easy to hike down, until one has to hike back up. We passed several families, some carrying children on their backs, and were thankful we had only ourselves to push back up the trail.

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The coast continued to wow us with its varied topography of hills, valleys, and rivers.

We made a stop in Pleasant Bay for dinner at the Rusty Anchor while listening to a maritime version of country music. That evening we camped at the Intervale campground,

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which was small with only a few picnic tables and a pit toilet. No one else was camped there, so we picked a spot and set up, triggering mosquito apocalypse part two. We were unable to sit outside as the hordes covered the screens trying to get at us. A few even managed to crawl between window and screen and get inside.

We were pleased to see that PEI and Nova Scotia are serious about recycling. At each campground, there are multiple bins for compost, glass, cans, plastic, and trash, complete with instructions.

On the way to Meat Cove the next morning, we ran into Bernard, a German tourist who we had seen at several overlooks the previous day.

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He insisted we camp at the spot on Meat Cove that he had just vacated, and so we did.

Meat Cove is at the northern tip of Nova Scotia. It is off the Cabot Trail, and the road is partly paved and partly dirt. It was an incredible spot for camping as far as scenic views go. Bonus points for being so windy that no mosquitoes dared venture out.

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The winds picked up even more during the night, making it necessary to drop the pop-top around 1:30 in the morning. We reluctantly abandoned plans to stay longer at Meat Cove as the winds were so strong the next morning that it was difficult to stand up and we were getting sandblasted.  Sunrise was inspirational, however.

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On down the Cabot Trail to Ingonish, which had a decent looking campground in Cape Breton National Park. We passed it by and drove on to Englishtown via the shortest ferry distance we’ve ever traversed.

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We found the site of Donelda’s Puffin tours but opted to wait until the next day due to continued high winds.

Instead we made the trip to Louisbourg Fortress, which turned out to be much more impressive than we had anticipated. We got in free at the visitors’ center with our Canada 150 pass and then were bused out to the site. The fortress is a partial reconstruction of an 18th century French fortress. It is a huge site which has been carefully reconstructed and authenticated by the historians and archaeologists hired for the project. The reconstruction began in the 1960s as a way to find work for miners whose jobs had ended with the closing of the mines.

When visiting the site, it feels as though you have been transported back in time to the early 1700s.

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The gates and buildings are impressive, and the guides are in period dress. To add to the ambience, it was a damp, cool, and foggy day.

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There is a museum inside the King’s Bastion,

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which tells the story of the fortress and its reconstruction.

Bread is baked in the brick ovens and can be purchased.

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and there is a working forge on site.

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After leaving Louisbourg, we opted to stay in a KOA as we wanted a short drive to the Puffin boat tour the next morning. The North Sydney/Cabot Trail KOA was in a scenic area between an inlet and a bluff, was reasonably priced, and had nice clean facilities.

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June 21 Solstice. The sun was up a little after 0500. We made it to the Puffin boat a little early and were glad that the winds were calm and the day was sunny. There were only eight of us on a boat that holds forty, which made for easy maneuvering to take photos.

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It was nearly impossible to hear the captain’s words over the drone of the engine and with a very inadequate PA system, but she gave it her best. Soon after embarking, the captain tossed a fish up into the air and an eagle swooped down with practiced ease to claim his prize.

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The boat took us far out into St. Ann’s Bay to the Bird Islands, where we viewed all kinds of birds – kittiwake, razorbill, cormorant, heron, gulls, the occasional puffin and several grey seals.

We were fortunate to get a few pictures of the puffin as they are small and fly away when the boat approaches.

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The tour should really be called the “Bird Island Tour” but I guess “Puffin Tour” draws more people. The captain’s illustrated book was most helpful in identifying the many different types of birds we saw.

In the afternoon we went to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck. It is always interesting to challenge one’s superficial knowledge by diving into the details of a historical figure’s life. Bell was much more than the inventor of the telephone and his varied interests and insatiable curiosity led to all kinds of discoveries.

In 1914 he spoke about the greenhouse effect of particles in the air and later encouraged finding alternatives to oil and gas development. Both his mother and his wife were deaf and he was very involved in helping the deaf.

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More information here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Graham_Bell

From there we drove to Whycocomagh Provincial Park to find a campsite. It was a large campground on different levels and there weren’t more than a couple of other campers there. We parked on one of the higher levels and had a quiet night.

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There was no staff on site that we could see, but the facilities were nice and clean. There were interesting moths on the bathroom doors.

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June 22 – We made our way to Halifax, passing through New Glasgow again and then through Truro. We decided to stay in a hotel in Halifax so we could spend a couple of days touring the downtown area. We had dinner at the Stubborn Goat, which was one of the best meals of the entire trip. Steak and veggies were excellent!

The next morning we visited the Maritime Museum and the Citadel in downtown Halifax, and walked along the harbor.

The Maritime Museum had a Titanic exhibit, but another interesting exhibit was of the Halifax Explosion of 1917. A French munitions ship leaving the harbor collided with another vessel entering the harbor and a fire broke out. The munitions ship drifted back into the harbor and exploded, creating the largest pre-nuclear man-made explosion in history. Approximately 1,200 people died and 9,000 others were injured.

More details here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halifax_Explosion

We drove up to the Citadel, whose fortifications overlook downtown Halifax and the harbor. The first Citadel, built in 1749, was Britain’s answer to the French fortress at Louisbourg and was a key component of the Anglo-French rivalry in the area. The Citadel also played a part in protecting against both American and French forces during the American Revolutionary War. Further iterations of the Citadel were in use during the French Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the first World War.

More extensive history available from Wikipedia and other sources.

June 24 – It was foggy, windy and cool as we drove to Peggy’s Cove. We took a few pictures there in the fog and had coffee at a local shop.

We drove on to Lunenberg, a colorful little fishing village,

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where we had lunch at Magnolia’s Grill. Maggie tried the Creole Peanut Soup and highly recommends it! Lar had scallops, which were also good.

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We enjoyed touring the village and seeing all the colorful architecture.

When we stopped for gas, we met a family who were dressed as different characters from the Wizard of Oz. They do an annual family retreat with a different theme each year. Fun!

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We learned some new terms during the trip, including “CFA”, meaning “Comes from Away”. This is a term used in Atlantic Canada and Maine to describe anyone not born locally. You may have lived in a place 30 years, but you are still considered “CFA”.

We drove on to Shelburne in off-and-on rain and found a very nice campsite at The Islands Provincial Park just outside town. We were parked right on the shore with no one nearby. We enjoyed sitting in the bus in the rain with our coffee and watching the tide ebb and flow.

June 25 – We drove back into Shelburne and walked along the harbor. Shelburne still exhibits its “Loyalist” ties, as the community was supportive of the British during the American Revolutionary War, and many British sympathizers moved here after American Independence. There are both British and Canadian flags on display throughout the town, and some businesses sport Loyalist names.

We headed off then to Digby with a plan to catch the ferry over to New Brunswick. We crossed to St. John in about 2-1/4 hours. It was a smooth ride with the usual marginal food and coffee on board. I guess it doesn’t have to be good when you have a captive audience, eh? (We say “eh?” a lot now).

Road Trip 2017 – Beam Me Up, Canada

Part II – Montreal, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island

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Against all advice, we drove into Montreal. Driving in Montreal is not for the faint of heart, the easily frustrated, or especially those given to episodes of road rage. While other Canadian Provinces opt to use signs in both English and French, Montreal would have none of that, and all road signs are in French only.  Highway construction and detours added to the issues, and to make matters worse, we learned that the Canadian Grand Prix was being held that day. Some drivers appeared confused and seemed to think they were driving in the event.

Once downtown, we found the district of Old Montreal and a parking space. We visited a few shops, had lunch, and watched some street artists. We then did a walking tour, which included the beautiful Hotel de Ville (City Hall) and the Notre-Dame Basilica.

The next morning, June 12, we stopped at Tim Horton’s for coffee and a bit of breakfast. Although it doesn’t match the quality of our home-roasted coffee, it is decent. Timmy’s are everywhere and they are open 24 hours a day. We were many times thankful for this!

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Soon we were on our way out of Montreal and on the way to Quebec City.

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Getting into Quebec City was a breeze and we easily got down to Old Quebec and parked at the Plains of Abraham.

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We walked most of the old city, which is enclosed by fortified walls, some very old, some rebuilt or restored.  Old Quebec was built on a promontory overlooking the St. Lawrence River, which, along with the fortifications, provided it a good defensive position.

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We made our way down its narrow streets to the square at the St. Lawrence River and stood in awe of the historic Chateau Frontenac, with it’s 611 rooms and 18 floors.

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We enjoyed the art and architecture of Old Quebec, although Salvador Dali’s elephant did seem a bit out of place on the boardwalk next to Chateau Frontenac and the statue of Quebec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain.  

We then took a 30-mile detour north to Basilique Ste. Anne de Beaupre. It is cavernous, with multiple chapels and alcoves, and fantastic artwork. It is both awe-inspiring and a bit troubling when one contemplates the enormous expense of both building and maintaining such monumental architecture.

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We drove from Quebec City to Fredericton, New Brunswick, the next day and saw the only moose of the entire 9-week trip. There are miles and miles of “moose fence” on the highway in New Brunswick, with one-way “moose gates” to allow them off the highway but not back on.

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The first one we saw had gotten out and was being herded toward a gate by a highway worker in a truck. The only other moose we saw was grazing just inside the fence by the road.

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Between 1995 and 2000, there were 5,000 collisions and 21 fatalities involving deer or moose on the New Brunswick section of the TransCanada highway. An adult moose can weigh from 800 to 1000 pounds! Thus the moose fence – at least 250 miles of it so far, with wildlife underpasses as well.

Driving on to Fredericton, we found a laundry, drove through the downtown, got a coffee at Starbucks, and settled in at the local Walmart parking lot for the night. We went to bed early as the sunset also arrived earlier with the change to the Atlantic Time zone.

We digress here to mention one of Canada’s staples – Poutine. For the uninitiated, poutine is french fries and cheese curds covered in brown gravy. Larry had taken a liking to this dish on a previous trip to British Columbia, but Maggie had rejected it as unhealthy. Nevertheless, Larry continues to lobby to have it added to our daily fare.

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June 14 – We were up early and headed to Prince Edward Island, driving through a lot of beautiful country – lakes, rivers, forests, hills, and rock outcrops.

There are two ways to reach Prince Edward Island if you are driving: The ferry, or the Confederation Bridge. We opted for the bridge, an 8-mile long 2-lane bridge, on a very windy day. It was difficult to hold the bus steady and in our lane.  

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On our way to Cedar Dunes Provincial Park, we passed through Summerside and visited the harbor there. This was our first taste of Scottish influence in the Provinces as they have a “piping college”

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Driving further, we noted a lot of agricultural fields, mostly potatoes – and a potato museum! We were told that those Lays potato chips you are munching on are made from potatoes grown on PEI.

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We arrived at Cedar Dunes to discover that there were only a couple of other campers on site, as full tourist season doesn’t start until July. Due to the high winds, we opted to camp in a sheltered spot. This turned out to be a mistake, as we had not counted on the mosquitoes, lots of mosquitoes. So many mosquitoes that Lar decided not to grill outside. Before the mosquito apocalypse, we hiked to the West Point Lighthouse, which is now a functioning lighthouse, museum, and bed and breakfast.

Temperatures were in the 40s during the night and made morning coffee even more enjoyable. We drove up the scenic west coast of PEI

and stopped at the harbor in the small town of Miminegash where we visited with a fisherman, who was on the dock with his dog.

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As happened with others on our tour of Canada, he wanted to talk about American politics, and Donald Trump in particular. “We never thought he could get elected”, he said of 45, also remarking that, “He needs to stop tweeting!” He then talked about the local fishing seasons – lobster, mackerel, scallops, etc., and how over-fishing in the past has diminished the numbers that are caught. He voiced concerns about the impact of agriculture, with its pesticides, and the muddying of the waters near shore from runoff.

We bid him farewell, and continued our drive to the town of Tiglish, where we had lunch and bad coffee before heading off east along the coast. We passed Jacques Cartier Provincial Park, which looked like a nice camp spot – small, quiet and right on the coast. We continued on, planning to camp at Cavendish Beach, only to discover it was closed for construction.

We found a private campground, the New Glasgow Highlands, picking a site in one of the cleanest and quietest campgrounds we’ve ever encountered.

New Glasgow Highlands Campground

We then drove into the town of New Glasgow to the famous and well-advertised New Glasgow Lobster Suppers. We were afraid that it might not live up to the hype, but were pleasantly surprised. Being the fishy one in the family, Larry got lobster, while Maggie had steak. Dinner included the one entrée and all the soup/chowder, mussels, salad, potato salad, veggies, rolls, and dessert you could eat. The food was good and we were seated next to a window overlooking an inlet.

June 16 – we were up early and decided it was too cold to shower given the 40 F and no heat in the bathrooms. We drove up to PEI National Park’s Barkley Beach, where we parked and walked along the beach with no one else in sight.

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We passed by the home of Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, which is now a tourist destination.

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We continued on east along the coast before heading south towards the capital, Charlottetown, to search for coffee and late breakfast.

We walked the downtown

and stumbled across a First Peoples dance performance outside the art museum.

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We then toured the art museum

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before heading to the Woods Island Ferry, which would take us to Nova Scotia.

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Road Trip 2017 – Beam Me Up, Canada

9 weeks, 7,832 miles, 19.3 mpg

2Part I – Oklahoma to Bus Fusion

Given the climate, both meteorological and political, we decided that heading north this year would be the best plan. The idea was to explore Atlantic Canada, attend a couple of events in Ontario, and visit with many of our friends in the northeast. We left on May 29, stopping to visit family in Kansas.

Our early travels through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, were thankfully uneventful and the weather was perfect with 70s during the day and 50s at night. We stayed at two campgrounds that we would recommend: Graham Cave State Park in Missouri, and Leiber State Recreation area in Indiana. We do not recommend Charles Mill Lake Park in Ohio ($31 for pit toilet and picnic table) and instead opted for a Walmart parking lot. There, the first of many subsequent VW bus admirers jumped out of their car to snap pictures and exclaim “Badass!” before driving off.

The back roads through Amish country in Ohio seemed to have become even more burdened with tourist traps, and less authentic than we remembered from a trip 10 years ago. It’s our understanding that many Amish are now abandoning Ohio in favor of other, more affordable places.

Our first goal was to visit friends Dave and Sandy Milo in Zelienople, PA, whom we had not visited in 10 years.

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Dave & Sandy

Dave was the master mechanic behind the Roadhaus Subie transplant on that visit. We have since traveled many miles and had many wonderful adventures as a result. We took a scenic drive with them and walked at McConnell’s Mills State Park.

We had dinner with Dave and Sandy at Harmony Inn, which has been reported by many to be haunted. Over the years, people have experienced icy cold winds and the appearance of apparitions inside this former home.

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Sadly we did not experience any of these phenomena.

We had bypassed Niagara Falls on previous trips but this time resistance was futile and we succumbed to the draw of falling waters. As expected, there were a lot of tourists, both domestic and foreign. We skipped the Maid of the Mist tour due to crowds and inclement weather.

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We drove further east and north and entered Canada via the Thousand Islands Bridge.

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We entered without incident, unlike a previous visit in which Maggie’s answers had resulted in a very thorough search of the bus and some strange questions, such as “If you had a gun, where would it be?” Larry’s answer: “Oklahoma”.

We headed on north toward Bus Fusion! We arrived at Frank and Rita’s house in Almonte on Wednesday afternoon and several people showed up to stuff goody bags for the event, followed by pizza and beer.  It was good to see our old friends Frank and Rita, who we have the pleasure of seeing on their way south for the winter most years.

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We camped at the fairgrounds that night among a handful of other early birds. Temps in the 50s made for good sleeping.

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Thursday morning, June 8, buses began to pull in a few at a time. We walked to downtown Almonte, which is close by and very picturesque.

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We took the river walk on the way back to camp. By nightfall, there were a significant number of buses present, with more to come over the next couple of days.We had a very enjoyable time visiting with friends, some of whom we had met before and some who had previously been only Facebook friends. Our good friends Peter and Andrea camped next to us and we enjoyed visiting with them and so many others, including Frank and Rita, Marcus and Natalie, Doug and Linda, Guy and Joan, Greg and Colleen, George, Joel, and Jamie, to name a few.

After three days of visiting, enjoying the food, listening to some good music, and admiring the 284 buses registered for the event, we packed up on Sunday morning to head east.

Got Rocks New Mexico? Texas?

Past time to catch up with the end of our 2015 trip.  It’s a long one so you can always just look at the pretty pictures!

12/2/15 We left Arizona and drove into New Mexico, stopping in Deming for an early dinner at Si Señor – highly recommended!  We drove on to Rockhound State Park and found a camp site.  Located in the Florida (Flor-ee-da) Mountains southeast of Deming, the park is a great place to hike and collect rocks of all kinds.

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We tucked in for the night and turned on the heat.  The temperature got down to 22 degrees but we were comfy in the bus.

12/3 After a delicious breakfast of pancakes, yogurt, and coffee, we set off to hike the trails and look for rocks.  Everything is uphill from the campground.

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Rockhound State Park allows you to hike anywhere on or off the trail in search of geodes, crystals, thunder eggs, or any of many other types of rock.  You can carry a pick or other digging tools and are allowed to keep up to 15 pounds of rocks.

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We spent three hours hiking up trails and arroyos and picking up “pretty rocks” for our garden.  After studying the geodes and thunder eggs at the visitors’ center, we were no closer to being able to identify such.

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With no room to carry our collection, Larry loaded them into an appropriately sized flat-rate box and mailed them home.  They might have been a pound or two over the park’s collection limit.  The lady at the Post Office had seen heavier flat-rate boxes and wasn’t impressed.

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12/4 We packed up after breakfast, took another short hike up into the rocks, and then drove back into Deming for errands, supplies, and another trip to Si Señor for some great green chile chicken enchiladas.

On our way out of town, we passed a cowboy standing on a corner, holding the reins of his horse.  He was wearing a six-shooter, a cowboy hat, and holding a “Need Work” sign.

Our next stop was City of Rocks State Park northwest of Deming.  Are you picking up a theme here?

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City of Rocks is a collection of large volcanic boulders in the middle of a desert landscape.  This is where we met for the first time in October of 2006, nine years ago.  We managed to get the same campsite on the west side of the “city” and settled in with a campfire.

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12/5  The next morning we hiked among the rocks for a couple of hours enjoying some sunshine and a bit of warmth after the cold night.

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OK, if you insist, more rocks…

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The winds picked up in the afternoon and continued into the night with slightly higher temps in the 40s.  We baked brownies in the camp oven to celebrate our return to this special place.

12/6 Mag took a walk on the desert trail after breakfast and was relieved not to encounter any rattlesnakes as we had on our first meeting here.  We packed up and drove to Faywood Hot Springs nearby for an hour’s soak in the springs.  The Springs have seen better days but provided a nice hot soak.

Reluctant to leave New Mexico, we nevertheless had plans to see some sights in Texas on our way home to have Christmas with family.  It would be great-granddaughter Melody’s first and we didn’t want to miss that!

By nightfall, we had left New Mexico and hoteled it in El Paso for real showers, a steak dinner, and a Krispy Kreme donut.  Civilization does have its perks, and we enjoyed our dose of grease and sugar.

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12/7  We were headed for Big Bend National Park but there are a lot of desert miles between El Paso and Big Bend.  Fortunately, we love desert.

We stopped in Van Horn, where lunch at La Cocina de Maria was very good.  There is a picturesque hotel in Van Horn, although it is rumored to be haunted.

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Driving on, in the middle of the desert before reaching Valentine, Texas, we came across an odd sight.  A small storefront building near the highway with the name “Prada” on the front.  Across the highway was a man with camera and tripod taking photos of the building.  He was wearing roller skates.  We are not making this up.  It turns out the building is an art piece with an interesting history:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prada_Marfa

We later passed through Marfa which has a growing art community and a lot of reconstruction going on.

We stayed the night in Alpine, a pleasant little university town.  We stopped for a cappuccino at Cedar Coffee Supply and a walk through downtown.

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There was a historic hotel downtown, The Holland, that was quite inviting.

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12/8 Driving on towards Big Bend, we stopped in Marathon, Texas, after spotting some very colorful buildings which turned out to be “Eve’s Garden” bed and breakfast.

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Finally, we reach our destination, Big Bend National Park.  We realized that, due to time constraints, we were not going to be able to see and do all that we wanted in only three days.

Our first stop was the Persimmon Gap Visitors’ Center at the far north end of the park.  From there it was 26 miles to Park Headquarters at Panther Junction and another 23 miles to Cottonwood Campground where we spent our first night.  It was a scenic drive.

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When we got to the campground, there were only 2 or 3 other campsites in use and we had our pick.  We shared the campground with a group of javelina.

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Although they generally ignore humans, they will defend themselves if one gets too close.  They are omnivores and will eat small animals.  Don’t tie your dog to the picnic table as some have learned.

After securing our campsite, we set off to hike at Santa Elena Canyon where the Rio Grande has cut through a spectacular wall of rock.

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Unfortunately, the river had risen in the last couple of days and traversing Terlingua Creek, which empties into the Rio Grande here, was only possible through deep mud and water, which we had not prepared for.  Yes, we wimped out.

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Nevertheless, we walked around the riverbank and watched a family cross after the dad waded chest-deep before backing out and going the deep muddy route.

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Terlingua Creek

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We drove back to camp as the afternoon sun sank toward the towering walls of the canyon.

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We stopped at Castolon Visitor Center, near the campground, and checked out some of the historical artifacts.

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After returning to the campground, Mag took a walk along the river with her camera.  She was excited when she thought she spotted a big cat across the river – until she zoomed in and discovered some feral vegetation.

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one of the park volunteers came by and reported a great horned owl in one of the trees at the campground.  She said he was a young one whose parents and sibling had recently left, although he looked full grown.

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That evening, around dusk, he flew into a tree next to the bus.  He made a squawking sound, and not the usual hooting sound.  Soon another owl, perhaps his sibling, showed up and parked in a tree on the other side of the bus.  He made the hooting sound and the two of them kept up a dialogue until dark.

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After a beautiful day where the temperature reached 70, we were treated to a nice sunset.  Temps dropped to 28 during the night.

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12/9 After a quiet night’s sleep, we caffeinated up and drove to the Burro Mesa Pour-Off Trail.  Although there are great distances to drive in Big Bend, the drive is always enjoyable.

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We embarked on the trail and Mag was enjoying taking photos…

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Until she dropped her iPhone face-down on the rocks.  All subsequent photos of hers are taken with the Panasonic.

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We walked up a wash and around the bend to find the pour-off. Spectacular!

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We stopped for another short hike to the old Sam Nail Ranch site.

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It didn’t seem the most hospitable location for a ranch.  Mag is betting Sam’s wife didn’t have much say in the decision.  Raising kids in the midst of vegetation that is out to get you must have been a challenge.

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Moving on, we turned south to head up to the Chisos Basin, which has an elevation of around 5400 ft.  The road climbs quickly and the vegetation changes dramatically as it does.  Fall colors were in evidence although this was December.

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We soon found ourselves in a new ecozone.

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Arriving at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, we made use of the wifi at the Lodge to make an appointment with the Apple store in Austin to assess the damage to Mag’s iPhone.

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We found a campsite, lucky #13, and sat outside enjoying the sunshine before cooking steaks for dinner.  We did no hiking at Chisos Basin (this time) due to Mag’s having a health issue and the higher elevation.  We plan a return trip to remedy this.

12/10 After a leisurely breakfast and the usual second coffee, we headed back down into the low desert.  The drive was again enjoyable.  If you don’t care for pictures of plants, you must know that we brake for vegetation!

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The weather was great as we drove on to the Rio Grande Village campground and picked out a site.  Again, there were plenty of open sites and we happened on one with a gorgeous yellow ash tree.

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After claiming a spot, we drove to the camp store and checked out the laundry and showers for later.  Then we drove on to the Rio Grande Hot Springs down an interesting road (no RVs or trailers).

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We walked up a quarter-mile trail to the Springs.  There evidently was a spa here at some time in the past.

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Along the trail are crafts made by Mexican people across the river who leave them with a container for cash and a suggested price.  This is an illegal practice but we saw it in more than one location.

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Arriving at the spring, we found a few people already enjoying the spring waters.  The river had recently overflowed the spring and left a deposit of silt/mud in the bottom but it was nevertheless enjoyable.  The Rio Grande water was freezing cold in contrast to the springs and a couple of young boys jumped from the springs into the river – very briefly.

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Leaving the hot springs, we stopped at the village store for laundry and showers, then drove toward the Boquillas Canyon Overlook.  Did I mention that we love the desert, and desert landscapes?

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The Mexican town of Boquillas Del Carmen lies across the river and one can take a short ferry ride, sans vehicle, from the park over to the town to visit.

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Some on the other side have their own way of crossing the river.  This canoe was spotted from the Boquillas Overlook.

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Back at the campground, it was near dusk but there was time for a walk on the nature trail where we spotted a great blue heron.

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Back to the bus for a dinner of Thai chicken peanut wraps.  Yum.  It reached 80 degrees today, marking the first time the entire trip that we could wear short pants and t-shirts.  Finally found the warmth, but now it is time to head north again.

12/11 Packed up and left Big Bend, continuing to enjoy the scenery on our way out.  We hope to return and spend more time in this park, and especially in the backcountry.  It’s big!

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We left the park and drove toward Ft. Stockton.  We traversed the “Sierra Madre Astrobleme” before reaching Ft. Stockton.  We had to Google that.  You can too!   Reaching Ft. Stockton, we stopped for coffee at The Garage:  Music, Coffee and More.  Eclectic, but coffee was good.

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We continued on to our destination for the night – Caverns of Sonora.  Mag had camped here some 26 years ago and has a funny story involving peacocks, spring-break kids, drunks, and mariachi music.  Hopefully, things will be better this trip.

We arrived just as the last tour of the day was starting, around 3:45 p.m.  It is a 1-3/4 hour tour down and back up 360 steps.  It is a beautifully decorated cave, one that evokes the feeling of being inside a giant geode.  Unlike most caves, it was uncomfortably warm and humid throughout the tour.  Although we took dozens of photos, they can’t do justice to this beautiful cave.  Here are a few.

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After the tour, we camped in the tent area, thankfully alone and without peacocks.

12/12  On the road out of Sonora the next morning, we got on I-10 for Austin.  We noticed frequent signs warning “Guardrail Damage”.  We counted 14 of these before we turned off of I-10.  Hmm, is it the 80 mph speed limit?  Crazy Texas drivers?  This question goes unanswered.

We drove through some beautiful Texas Hill Country, noting that anyone with an acreage of  any size seemed to find it necessary to put up a huge gate with solar-powered opener.  We passed several larger ranches with extra high fences and spotted some exotic game animals ostensibly being raised for hunting.

We passed a huge number of dead and broken cedar and live oak trees.  Texas A&M University estimates 506 million trees have died in Texas, weakened first by drought, then becoming susceptible to insects, herbicides, etc.  It was a sad sight.

We entered the German town of Fredericksburg and Lar decided he wanted some good German food.  While he Googled restaurant reviews, Mag cornered a local and got the skinny on where to eat.  The Rathskeller, located in the basement of an old hospital in downtown Fredericksburg, did not disappoint.

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We walked around the touristy downtown and stopped for coffee.

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We continued on our way to Austin and were glad it was a Saturday and not rush hour as the traffic was crazy enough, and we decided Nascar skills would be helpful here.  We hoteled it again in order to pamper ourselves with showers and restaurant food.

12/13 After breakfast we headed to the Apple Store to get Mag’s phone checked out.  The store is located in “The Domain”, an upscale living/working/shopping area.  There were four purse stores in one block.  Mag allowed as how the purse she’s been carrying since 2008, from REI, was still fine.

Although there were 20-30 people in line when the store opened, we had an appointment and were immediately handed off to a technician.  He told us to come back in an hour while they evaluated the phone.  We returned before the hour was up and the phone had been repaired and did not need to be replaced.  Oh happy day!

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We walked around the downtown Congress/6th Street area and were disappointed with the seediness of the area.  Lar had been here a few years before when it was in better condition.

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Back at the hotel, we had dessert for dinner and watched football.

12/14 Heading for Oklahoma.  North of Austin on I-35, there was construction for 50 miles or more.  Very few construction workers were in evidence, but everything was a mess the whole length of the project.

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Reaching the Oklahoma line, we were tired after 260 miles of Interstate, much of which was under construction, and stopped for the night at Winstar Casino.  The place is huge and is touted as the largest casino in North America with over 8,000 slots.  Reminiscent of Las Vegas, it has different areas representing different parts of the world.

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Spending a couple hours there in the afternoon, we came out roughly $500 ahead and called it a day.  We camped for free in the RV campground with great showers and electric.  When you sign up for a player’s card, you get a free night.

12/15 Headed homeward, we stopped in Davis, Oklahoma, to have lunch with cousin Janie and her husband Bruce at Main Street Bistro.  We need to see these people more often!

After 6,250 miles averaging 17.5 mpg, two minor mechanical issues, and travel through 8 states, 9 National Parks, and 11 State Parks, we were home and looking forward to Christmas with family.

Arid-Zona!

11/10/15  Leaving southwest Utah, we made our way to Laughlin, Nevada, for a brief stay before heading to Arizona and hopefully warmer weather.

We drove up the Needles Highway, the California portion of which was potholed and rough – not recommended.  I guess California can’t afford to patch the holes.  As we had noted on previous trips, gas prices in Needles are much higher than anyplace else.  Gas was $4.09/gallon vs. the $2.50 we had been paying elsewhere on the trip.

11/12  We drove on to Lake Havasu, Arizona, where it was indeed warmer – in the 70s.  The state park was full due to a radio-controlled seaplane gathering.  Are there really that many RC seaplane nuts out there?  We camped in overflow so we could use the showers and drove into town for laundry purposes.  Although we had been to Havasu several times in the past for Buses by the Bridge, we decided it was time to do the tourist thing and walk around London Bridge and have ice cream.

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11/13  We stayed the next night at Cattail Cove south of Havasu which had a nice white sand beach and good hot showers.  It was suggested that we visit the “Desert Bar” further south and Mag recalled Bev telling us about it in the past.  So Lar contacted Bev to see if it would be worth it and if we should go.  “Yes and Yes” was the reply.

11/14 We packed up and drove to the Desert Bar near Parker.  The bar is about five miles out a rough old mining road.  4WD isn’t a necessity, but high clearance is a good idea and you will have to contend with a barrage of 4-wheelers running up and down the road.  This guy didn’t make it!

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The bar is only open from October through April and only on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.  They are completely off the grid and the place is mostly open-air, making it uninhabitable during summer.

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It is quite an eclectic place and we arrived as a cowboy wedding was about to commence.

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They were also advertising a classic car show but apparently no one was willing to bring their prized vehicle down that road.  For more, see http://www.thedesertbar.com  We had a burger and fries, got the t-shirt, and left.

We drove through Quartzite, finding the place nearly deserted, and went on towards Prescott.  After miles of mesquite-filled desert, we climbed steeply up to the mountains and the beautiful little town of Yarnell, which might be remembered for the fire that claimed 19 firefighters’ lives in 2013.  The town is surrounded by boulders reminiscent of the uplands in Baja.

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We continued on to Prescott where we had some good Thai food and decided to hotel it in order to watch the OU-Baylor game (OU won).  It’s odd that we sleep better in the bus than in a hotel, but we do.

11/15  We arrived in Clarkdale after lunch to visit Geneva and Mike, authors of the blog “It’s not a slow car, it’s a fast house”.  They are located, until the next trip, on VW Bug Blvd.

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Miles and Aaron were there attempting to put a Zetec engine in their Syncro Adventurewagon.  It was a busy place and we wandered around the yard noting the large quantity of VW Bug parts.  Geneva’s dad was a VW mechanic and had quite a collection.

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11/16  It rained off and on during the night and the next morning we headed into Cottonwood.  We had been thinking about Old Town Cafe there ever since our last visit almost three years ago.  They have the most amazing almond croissants.  We got there in time for the last two croissants and noted the usual collection of old-timers sitting around one of the few tables in the place.  After a nice visit with Geneva and Mike, we left for Scottsdale.  Rain changed to snow as we gained elevation but the roads were clear.

We got to Lar’s family’s house in the afternoon and were greeted by barks from their huge Golden Doodle, Luci, although she refused to come out of the bedroom.  Carrie, Mike, and Brandon arrived later and there was a lot of catching up to do.  Luci decided we were OK and came out of the bedroom.  She even sat in on the ironing lesson with Lar and grandson Brandon.

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11/17  The next few days in Scottsdale kept us busy with walks, visiting with family and friends, attending a basketball game and occasionally eating out.  One day we were invited by our friend Trina Lindal to visit her at Taliesen West where she is attending architecture school.  She gave us a wonderful tour of the desert dwellings that the students design, build, and live in while they are attending school.  Here are just a few examples:

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We had lunch with the students in the cafeteria and then attended an informative tour of the campus which was built by Frank Lloyd Wright.

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We had lunch with our friend Bill Barley and on another day, breakfast with Karl and Stephanie Wolz.  We couldn’t resist bringing out the pig snouts for the “Oink” cafe.

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The snouts seemed especially appropriate after we sampled the “BACON DONUT”.

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On Saturday, Carrie took us to “The Big Heap” which was a fun vintage-type flea market, followed by dinner and the OU/TCU game (OU won).  Movies, football, food and visits with family filled the week.  We celebrated Carrie’s birthday a week early, but she was camera shy.

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As we prepare to leave Carrie’s, Luci is thinking maybe she will hitch a ride.

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11/23  We said our goodbyes promising to return in a week for Brandon’s first basketball game of the season.  We reached our friend Hobie’s house near Saguaro National Park West in Tucson in the afternoon.  We have blogged about Hobie before – once at his desert home and last year at his home in Gig Harbor, Washington.  So he should be familiar by now!  Hobie was waiting for us with his delicious chili and cornbread, after which we sat on his west-facing back porch for an incredible sunset.

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11/24  Hobie took us on two hiking trails in Saguaro NP, one a view trail of the valley and the other a climb up to some petroglyphs and another nice view.  As noted last year at Mt. Rainier, we have trouble keeping up with this 88-year young friend.

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That evening we drove into town to have dinner with John and Bergit Ranney.  Bergit is an artist and we proudly display some of her paintings in our home.  She works in many different mediums and showed us some of her beautiful pencil drawings.  Here are some of the painted rocks she did recently:

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Roadhaus overheard our plans to see John (owner of European Auto Tech) and decided to act up a bit on our way to dinner.  Her dash lights wouldn’t work and the engine wouldn’t shut off until the headlights were turned off.  Plans were made to take her in to John’s shop in the morning and in short order the problem was resolved.  John took us for a ride in his “beast” to have lunch.

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11/26  Thanksgiving.  As we had no plans, Hobie invited us to Thanksgiving dinner with the Unitarian Universalist fellowship he attends.  We enjoyed the dinner and the walk around the labyrinth inspired by Hobie who has two of his own in the backyard of his casita.  No dinner was needed after this feast.

11/27  After a stop at Raging Sage Coffee Roasters, we went to visit Pat Gilman and Paul Minnis, two of Mag’s former professors at OU who have recently moved to Tucson.  After a tour of the house and beautiful desert backyard garden, we had lunch and a nice visit, and Paul gave us a demo of his latest recumbent bike.

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We took a walk in the eclectic 4th street shopping district and popped into a couple of the shops.  On the street we saw several displays of “love locks”, which we had seen in other locations we visited.  A good marketing ploy, we think.

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We met friend Scott Schuhle for dinner that evening at Mi Nidito.  The wait was long but the food was good and we then followed Scott home where we spent a couple of days.

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11/28  We drove up to Sabino Canyon where Scott’s wife Jan’s ashes were scattered recently.  Jan passed away in March after a long battle with cancer and we wanted to visit the canyon in her memory.  We took the shuttle up to the last stop and walked the four miles back down.  The weather was perfect – cool, but sunny.

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Back at Scott’s house we ordered pizza and watched the Bedlam game, OU vs OSU, which OU won, ensuring the Big 12 championship.  After the game we retired to the bus and slept well except for the noisy party the coyotes had nearby.  The next morning we said goodbye to Scott and drove to Whitewater Draw in hopes of seeing lots of cranes.

11/29  We got to Whitewater Draw in early afternoon and no cranes were to be found.  We did, however, spot this Great Horned Owl hanging out in a tree near the ponds.

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Weather was nice during the day – in the 60s, but low 20s at night.  We watched at sunset and no cranes flew in, a contrast to the tens of thousands we had seen in a previous visit.  Looking back, it was the first of February the last time we were here, so we may simply be too early this year.

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11/30  After an early morning walk around the ponds, we packed up to drive to Tombstone to meet our friend Barb Cotton for lunch.  We met at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon and took pictures at the bar and had lunch followed by a short walk around the downtown.  If you’re in Tombstone this winter, stop by and see Barb at the Margarita Cafe.

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We drove back through Tucson and camped at Picacho Peak State Park so that we could attend Brandon’s bball game the next night.

12/1  A cold morning required coffee and a shower in an unheated bathhouse to get us awake and on the road to Phoenix for the game, stopping in Florence for haircuts and lunch.  We were glad to get a chance to see Brandon play and later had dinner with Carrie before driving back to Picacho Peak.

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12/2  Wednesday morning, after packing up to leave Arizona, we stopped at the park interpretive area to learn a bit of the history of Picacho Peak.  We knew it had been the site of a Civil War skirmish, reportedly the westernmost such engagement, but it was also a Butterfield Overland Stage stop.

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We bid farewell to Arizona, for now, and headed east to New Mexico.  Warm weather had eluded us in Arizona except for a couple of days in the Lake Havasu area.  We were hopeful that our luck would change.

Utah Rocks! Part Two

11/6/15  It was a cold morning at Goblin Valley State Park as we had coffee and packed up to leave.  Fortunately, the bathrooms are heated and hot water was available.  We much prefer the facilities at state parks to the ones in the federal parks.  The trade-off is the costs at the state parks are more expensive.

We said farewell to Miles and Aaron and wished them well on their adventures.  We backtracked through Hanksville and headed west to Capitol Reef, a scenic 37-mile drive.  It’s difficult to find a road in southern Utah that isn’t scenic!

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Arriving in Capitol Reef National Park, we were treated to more “oohs” and “ahhs”.

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After settling in at the campground, we went off to do several short  hikes to the Petroglyphs, Sunset Point, and the Gooseneck Overlook.

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After the hikes, we returned to the campground and prepared Spicy Thai chicken wraps for dinner and turned on the Propex – still cold.  After drifting off to sleep under the down, we were awakened around 11:30 p.m. by the sound of yelling, doors slamming, and raucous laughter.  Three cars pulled into the spot across from us and 8 or 9 people got out and commenced to party–until 1:00 a.m.

11/7 Up at 0600 for coffee and packing up – 39 degrees inside the bus this morning. Noted the partiers from the night before were either asleep on the ground, in various small tents, or hanging out the back of a pickup camper.  CU sticker indicated college students – just a “wild” guess.

We drove west into Torrey for gas and food and then took Scenic Highway 12 south on the way to Bryce Canyon.  What a gorgeous drive – there was snow in the higher elevations.  We stopped in Boulder to visit Anasazi State Park, ruins and museum.

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It is impossible to capture the scale and beauty of the drive on Highway 12.  At times you find the road crosses a narrow neck of land between two canyons.   We stopped in Escalante and had a great burger lunch at the Circle D restaurant.

Checking the weather, we discovered that Bryce Canyon National Park was expecting 16 degree temps, so we opted to spend the night 2000 ft. lower at Kodachrome Basin State Park, which is beautiful in its own right – and has hot showers to boot.

We picked a camp site and then went off to hike to Shakespeare’s Arch. “Blow, blow, thou winter wind! Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.”  Yes, it was 4 layers cold.  

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Back in camp, a planning meeting ensued.  We were growing weary of the cold and decided to spend the next day at Bryce and then camp at Zion which is at lower elevation and is warmer – then head south!  The three-week delay in starting the trip has resulted in much colder temperatures than anticipated.

11/8 Left Kodachrome and drove the short uphill distance to Bryce.  It was 21 degrees and windy as we hiked the rim trails.  The cold and the number of European tourists coming behind us in buses kept us moving at a fast pace.  We apologize for posting so many pictures.  It’s just insanely picturesque.

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Hmm, how did that bus picture get in there?  Never miss an opportunity to post a bus pic.  This one was in the Sunset View parking lot.

After a few hours at Bryce, we headed for warmer temps and lower elevation – with a quick stop when Larry saw the sign that said “Soup and Pie” at Bryce Canyon Pines just west of the park.  A quick lunch complete with coconut cream pie, and we were on our way.

Another scenic drive on the way to Zion National Park.  How come Utah gets all the gorgeous scenery and parks?  We need to petition Oklahoma for one of our own.

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Arriving in Zion on Highway 9, we entered the 1.1 mile-long Zion tunnel.  If you are claustrophobic, you might wish to find an alternate route into the park.  There is no “light at the end of the tunnel” until you are nearly at the end as there are several turns inside.  Oversized vehicles require stopping traffic from one direction so that the larger vehicle can travel down the middle of the curved-ceiling tunnel.  Exiting the tunnel, the road switchbacks steeply down to the canyon floor below.  Just another scenic wonder.

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April through October are said to be pretty crazy here and camp sites require reservations, but this was November and we were fortunate to get one of only a few available sites.  After popping the top, we walked across the bridge to a brew pub for dinner and watched the Broncos lose to the Colts.

Back to the bus and we noticed a young couple camped in the site next to us.  They had no previous camping experience at all and didn’t know how to set up their tent.  They borrowed a hammer from us and with the help of the camp host and Lar, they managed to get set up.  Ah, youth.  They’ll figure it out.

Breakfast the next morning – fresh coffee and cinnamon rolls right out of the camp oven.  Life is good.

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The temps were somewhat warmer but still required layers for hiking.

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We drove up-canyon planning to do more hikes but all the trailhead parking lots were full – in November.  The shuttle buses had quit running the day we came in, so we settled for hikes from camp.  Although spending less time in southern Utah than we had planned, we truly enjoyed all it had to show us.  Now on to warmer climes.

Utah Rocks! Part One.

10/29/15 Leaving Colorado, we entered Utah through Monticello and drove the beautiful route north to Moab through canyon country, our favorite part of the U. S. of A

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Arriving in Moab, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center and picked up some local maps, then went straight to Milt’s, at the suggestion of friends Bob Stevens and Richard & Susie Jones.  Burgers and shakes, yum!

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We then drove around eleven miles west of town on Kane Creek Road where Maggie had camped before, but things have changed in twenty years. Camping is now only allowed in campgrounds.  We camped in the last BLM site just before the Chicken Corners junction.

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The amenities were adequate if not somewhat primitive.  Bring your own umbrella and dry toilet paper.

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We were alone in the area except for tent campers about 1/4 mile away.  It was a good night for campfire and then reading in the bus.  The next morning we drove back into Moab, stopping to look at petroglyphs along the way.

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After restocking in Moab, we drove several miles up Sand Flats Road to Juniper Campground.  Snow on the LaSals!  We opted not to go any higher.

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A cool night called for a campfire followed by a tortellini dinner and reading in the bus.

10/31 Happy Halloween!  36 degrees on a beautiful sunny morning, but Skitter didn’t seem bothered by the cold.

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We hiked around the area and spent a quiet evening reading and journaling.  Meanwhile, back home, great-granddaughter Melody was dressed for the occasion.  Sweet as punkin pie:

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11/1  Drove into town to Moab Coffee Roasters, then headed out to Dead Horse Point.  Found a nice campsite and then drove out to the point for a picnic lunch and a hike on the rim trail.

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The loss of daylight saving time made for a short day, but we managed a campfire before the cold drove us inside.  Great bathrooms at Dead Horse Point, by the way.  Individual rooms are heated and have hot running water.

11/2 We planned to camp on Willow Springs Road (the back road into Arches) where it enters the park, but some recently placed signs said “no camping”, so we opted to go on into Arches the back way.  4WD is helpful in this situation.  High clearance is a must.

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There were dinosaurs in them there hills. Though long gone, they left some tracks.  Lar had difficulty trying to match their stride.

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Unable to camp where we planned, we drove on into Arches, stopping at balanced rock to make lunch, and on to the campground where we were fortunate enough to get a campsite.

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There were some interesting campers nearby, but they weren’t very talkative.

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With perfect weather, temps in the 60s, we hiked a bit from the campground, enjoying the drop-dead scenery everywhere we looked.

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11/3  The winds came up after dark and battered the bus most of the night.  We got up at 0400, had leisurely coffee, and watched the sun come up.

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Then we battened down the hatches and took a nice drive through Arches.  We stopped at the Delicate Arch viewpoint and climbed the steep trail up to the high viewpoint.  Mag had hiked to the Arch with family and friends many times in the past.

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We took our time traversing the park road to the Visitor’s Center.  The senior parks pass is the greatest thing.  We’ve had ours for a few years now and what a bargain.  $10 gets you into all National Parks and National Monuments free and camping is half-price.

We drove into Moab and filled all the tanks:  water, gas, and propane.  Then checked into a hotel for much-needed showers and laundry. Had dinner at the Moab Brewery and then came back and soaked in the hot tub before the rain and winds hit.

11/4 Left the hotel, stopped at Moab Coffee Roasters, and took off for Bluff.  The weather was great until we got closer to Monticello and snow.  Drove on to Blanding where it was sleeting.

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It was raining when we got into Bluff and we stopped for Navajo Tacos at Twin Rocks.  We had planned to stop for the night at Sand Island and proceed to Muley Point the next day, but we opted to just push on despite the weather.  The weather, however, continued to deteriorate as we approached Cedar Mesa and the Moki Dugway.

For the uninitiated, the Moki Dugway is a steep, graveled switchback road with a 10% grade that climbs up the face of Cedar Mesa for 1200 heart-stopping feet (Mag’s description).  It is narrow in some spots as well.  We have been up and down it many times but today was different.  With Mag driving, we started up in rain which changed to sleet and then snow as we gained elevation.  We have a 10-minute video of this fun trip.  It was snowing hard at the top.

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We turned onto the 5-mile road to Muley Point.  It is normally passable dirt, but now was 4″ deep mud – slick clay.  Mag had been stuck on Cedar Mesa in a similar situation in the past and we didn’t want a repeat.  So we backed out and drove on up to Natural Bridges.

It was cold and breezy but not yet snowing at Natural Bridges although there were signs of more inclement weather to come.  We followed the scenic drive and did some short hikes.

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We got back to the campground just as it began to sleet and snow.  Popped the top and turned on some heat.  We went to bed early after a nice pasta dinner, thankful for down comforters and the Propex heater.

11/5 We awakened to a layer of snow on the bus and surrounding landscape.  Although the temp in the bus was 41 degrees, we turned on the heat and soon brought it up into the 60s.  Hot coffee made the world right again.

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Our plans to enjoy the dark skies of Muley Point and Natural Bridges were thwarted, but the landscape was lovely as we drove north toward Hanksville.

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We soon dropped down in elevation and lost the snow, but the views kept on coming.  We took dozens of photos as the landscape continued to inspire us.  There were miles and miles of deep sandstone canyons and towering mesas.  Here are but a few:

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When we stopped by Hite, we were surprised to find the boat ramps high and dry and Lake Powell just barely visible to the south. We drove on over the Colorado River and up towards Hanksville.

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After gassing up at Hanksville, we went north to Goblin Valley State Park, a wonderland of hoodoos of all sizes and shapes, including Mr. Potato Head.

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Taking a cue from our brother-in-law Stan, Larry appears to try and tip over a hoodoo.  He may have been trying to apply for a position as a Utah Boy Scout leader.  Mag was able to prevent mayhem and we drove on to the campground to find a site.

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As we drove into the campground, we spotted a white Syncro Adventurewagon parked in a site and two guys came out to the road to greet us.  Introductions were made and they recognized the Roadhaus from our website and we recognized them from a Kickstarter project that had been posted on the Facebook Vanagon Owners page.  Miles and Aaron and their dog Nietzsche are in the early stages of a major adventure, taking the van to multiple countries while filming along the way.  You can follow their adventures at http://www.headfirstdiaries.com

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We enjoyed visiting with the guys and we all contributed to dinner and a roaring campfire.  The guys are headed to Arizona after this to install a Zetec in the bus before heading south – really, really south.