March 14, 2014

There's No Place Like Home...

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”  Mary Anne Radmacher

Carol writes:  For me, one of the fun parts of this blog has been researching appropriate quotes to capture a pertinent message or feeling for each blog.  I tried not to repeat any quotes (well, maybe a few at the end which were particular favorites of mine), but this time I will repeat two of my favorites, in their customary spots, that have acquired so much more meaning for us after the past year’s adventure. 

Our very last stop in our yearlong saga on the road was in Clovis, New Mexico, for a cherished visit with our dear daughter.

After such a long time apart, it was such a treat to be able to relax together as a family.  Cold, icy weather blew in and so we all decided to pile on the throw blankets and enjoy the long weekend together watching a marathon 5th season of “Breaking Bad.”  Excellent plan!  That was one terrific miniseries!

On our last day it seemed appropriate that maybe we could start patting ourselves on the back that we had managed to complete a fabulous year on the road--including 8 months driving, camping and sightseeing in Europe--without any major health problems or serious traffic mishaps.  Even our daughter confessed relief that we had traveled so happily and safely for so long. 

On leaving Clovis, we had one more full day on the road ahead of us before we would be pulling into our driveway on Highview.   We left town over slick, ice-packed roads on a frigid, snowy morning at dawn.  We were treated to a fabulous New Mexico sunrise as we left the outskirts of Clovis.

After about four hours, we finally reached the Colorado border.

I confess feeling a bit emotional as we entered our beloved home state.  As we traveled north up the familiar route of I-25, one by one we passed the Colorado landmarks that have become so familiar and dear to us over the past 24 years.  The always impressive Spanish Peaks had their typical winter blanket of snow, all the more gorgeous under a majestic Colorado blue sky.

We were blessed to have one of those crystal-clear winter days in which we could actually see Pikes Peak over 100 miles away.

Anticipation can sometimes be greater than realization…but that wasn’t the case for us when we actually pulled into our driveway and had our first glimpse of home in almost a year.  Yeah, there were a lot of goose bumps going on at that long-anticipated moment…

It was with a huge sense of relief and great pride in our accomplishment that we tucked our little home on wheels away in its designated parking place next to our home.

For those of you who are wondering how the caretaker situation turned out for us…we couldn’t be more pleased!  Our home was spotlessly clean and everything inside and outside was well taken care of by our live-in caretaker.  We would give the Colorado Springs affiliate of Caretakers of America our highest recommendation.  They, along with our caretaker, did everything as promised—and more--to take wonderful care of our home.  We will never forget how they vacated our house with all our personal boxed items and cherished family pictures when our neighborhood was put under a mandatory evacuation order during the past summer’s horrific Black Forest Fire.

Over the next few days, as we slowly unpacked all the boxes in which we had stored our personal belongings, our daily lives gradually returned to “normal.”  It seemed pretty luxurious to have our own spacious and private indoor bathrooms with large walk-in shower (plus soaking tub), full-size indoor kitchen with plenty of counter space, cable TV, heat at night, unlimited Internet service, and our comfy recliners.

For all of our readers who have followed us over the past year by means of our blog, we would like to extend a heartfelt thank-you.  Your Facebook ‘comments’ and ‘likes’ were most encouraging and much appreciated.

Al and I haven’t gotten into any detailed discussions on where our next RV adventure will take us, but we do know there will be future “chapters” on the road.  For now, we intend to enjoy a wonderful Colorado summer at home with occasional short RV trips to the mountains.  I want to get back to my quilting crafts and become more accomplished at catching those mountain lake rainbow trout, and Al has several more fourteeners he wants to conquer.  We have friends and family who have told us they will be visiting us this summer, and we look forward to that very much.

With a nod to my husband, who loves recordkeeping and math, I will sign off the last blog for this European “chapter” with a few facts and figures:

We visited 13 countries…

Drove 23,000 miles…

Spent 50 weeks on the road…

Read almost 100 books between the two of us (remember—we had no TV) :) ...


“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”   Miriam Beard

March 2, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Texas

“As a matter of cold legal fact, Roy Bean was no more justice of the peace than the first jack rabbit to be met in Big Bend brush.”  Saturday Evening Post, 1939

Carol writes:  After we left Padre Island on the Gulf Coast of Texas, we spent the next few days at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station where we relaxed over the long Presidents' Day weekend and caught up on laundry and commissary shopping chores.  We lucked out getting a campsite there due to a last-minute cancellation which worked to our advantage when we were in the right place at the right time.  It isn’t hard to understand why this campground is so popular--with its wide-open, sunny sites next to the fishing piers on Corpus Christi Bay.  Adding to the ambience, there was also a resident family of very entertaining long-eared jackrabbits.

For the camping finale to our marvelous year of RV adventures, our plan was to head toward Big Bend National Park along the Rio Grande River, one of our favorite camping spots in west Texas.  We knew from experience that we would have a very good chance of experiencing more welcome warm, clear days before we had to head north to finish out winter at our home in Colorado. 

On the way to Big Bend, we hopscotched from one Texas recreation site and/or state park to another, first at Lake Casa Blanca, where the desert plant life of large prickly pear cactus was starting to remind us of home.

Next, we spent three restful days at an Army recreation site along the shore of Lake Amistad, one of the major water sources for the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  The lake also serves as an international recreation area that is managed jointly by the United States and Mexico.  Fittingly, “amistad” is the Spanish word for “friendship.” 

There was something so peaceful about watching the daily trains in the distance as they made their way across the picturesque bridge over Lake Amistad.  Both of us especially liked the soothing sound of the train whistles during the night.

In the campground we had long conversations over three days with two very friendly couples camping nearby.  We were delighted one evening to accept an invitation from David and Mellie to join them for dinner at one of their favorite steakhouse restaurants on the outskirts of nearby Del Rio.  It was fun to share travel stories during dinner with such adventurous world travelers.  Incredibly, David and Mellie have been RV full-timers on the road since 1995, and have served as campground hosts at many of their favorite places.  They have spent an amazing 12 seasons volunteering their skills at Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward, Alaska.  One of our most beautiful days on our Alaska adventure in the summer of 2011 was spent on the waters of Kenai Fjords National Park where we viewed incredible animal life in a pristine glaciated landscape. 

Mellie’s love of quilting was “right up my alley,” and we talked quilts for a long time.  When she showed me some of her recent quilting projects, I grew green with envy as I marveled at all the space she had for her sewing machine, in addition to designated closets for fabric stashes in their large 5th wheel trailer.

As we left Lake Amistad, we headed along the Rio Grande River and stopped for the night at Seminole Canyon State Park.  Mellie had told us about a ranger-guided tour of the pictographs in Seminole Canyon, and so we made arrangements to take the afternoon tour.  Al and I both remembered staying at this park during our 1989-1990 Galus Family year on the road, but neither of us recalled anything about pictographs in the canyon.  As our ranger-led group headed down into the canyon,

we passed by this remarkable 17-ft bronze statue of an Indian shaman.

Many of Seminole Canyon’s most outstanding red and black pictographs were on the rear wall of a deep rocky overhang high on the canyon wall.

It wasn’t possible to include any kind of reference object in our photographs to indicate perspective, but these pictographs were approximately 2-3 feet high;

this scorpion-like drawing measured about 2-3 feet long. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our lovely afternoon walk in Seminole Canyon, and the Paleo Indian pictographs were the icing on the cake.

The next morning we had coffee at a lookout next to the bridge over the Pecos River—Judge Roy Bean country!

At the Texas Welcome Center in Langtry, we stopped for a visit at the home

and saloon of Judge Roy Bean, the legendary 19th century Justice of the Peace and sole dispenser of law west of the Pecos.  Old photographs of Judge Roy Bean in front of his saloon demonstrated just how perfectly preserved these buildings have remained from over a century ago.

The saloon and the city of Langtry were reportedly named in honor of the British actress Lillie Langtry, who was much admired by the Judge.    I found the simple bar in the Jersey Lilly Saloon from which Judge Roy Bean dispensed justice to be particularly fascinating. 

The legend goes that if the Judge found a jury trial necessary, he chose the jury from the customers in his saloon, and sometimes held court right on the front porch of the saloon.

After one final stop in Sanderson for gas, in addition to a few provisions from a “store” that we were told had “everything,”

we felt ready to head into Big Bend.

In Big Bend we camped for three days in the Rio Grande Village campground.

At the top of my wish list was a day trip across the Mexican border into the tiny Mexican village of Boquillas.  Historically, the 200-300 inhabitants of Boquillas had enjoyed a long period of easy visitation by Big Bend tourists.  In fact, the town’s livelihood had become very dependent on the American dollars that were spent on food in their restaurants and on souvenirs in the restaurant shops.  After 911, all that wonderful international cultural exchange came to a crashing halt, and the border crossing remained closed for over 10 years!  Over that decade many residents left Boquillas, but for those who stayed life could not have been easy, as we were told that access to Boquillas on the Mexican side is solely by means of a 150-mile dirt road!  

From our campground in Big Bend, we drove a few short miles to the brand new border crossing on the American side,

showed our passports, and headed down the dirt path for a rowboat ride across the Rio Grande into Mexico.

In our entire year of international travel, this was the first and only time we crossed from one country into another by means of a rowboat.  We were met by our guide, Gabriel, who led us on a 1-mile stroll through the sandy Rio Grande floodplain, then on up into town for lunch.

Although the temperature outside in the sun was well into the 90s, the shaded patio where we ate lunch kept us comfortable and cool.

Al’s Dos Equis beer and my bottle of Coke were deliciously ice cold,

and the view of the Rio Grande River below was awesome!

After lunch, led by our guide, we took a short stroll through the impoverished, yet proud dirt “streets” of Boquillas.

Several times we were approached by very young children who were selling trinkets of various simple crafts.  Houses were very small,

and the only means of generating electricity for a lucky few was by means of solar panels.  The Catholic church was simple, with no frills on the inside.  Gabriel told us that a priest comes once a month to say Mass…

The town has one telephone that is shared by all.  Boquillas has only one teacher, who teaches all grade levels, and one resident doctor and nurse who rotate in for 2-week stays.  Gabriel was very proud of the new medical clinic in Boquillas that was built by the Mexican government.  The 21st century certainly hasn’t arrived yet in Boquillas; yet, universal healthcare is available for those who need it.

Why do we like coming back to Big Bend, even though we have visited twice before?  For us, in addition to the incredibly scenic desert and mountain beauty, it is the fascination with the abundant animal and plant life in the Chihuahuan desert.  It is the turtles in the wetlands near the Rio Grande,

the eye-popping vermillion flycatcher,

the great-horned owl with its melodic hoots, and the always fascinating javelina at Cottonwood Campground.

Although technically February belongs to the season of winter, we found that by this time of year spring had already arrived at Big Bend.  Many large yucca plants were in magnificent bloom,

and the Texas bluebonnets (the Texas state flower) along the roadside were especially lovely.

Big Bend is largely a park for hiking, so it was no surprise that we were bound to meet up with some very extraordinary and adventurous fellow campers.  We talked with one couple, Don and Gwen, who were in their 80s, and they told us stories of many backpacking visits to Big Bend.  They had also hiked several hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail and many miles on the John Muir Trail in California.  It was a delight for us to meet and talk with such adventurous seniors, proudly still doing road trips from Pennsylvania in their homemade Ford conversion van with no built-in bathroom or kitchen.  I have stopped voicing that we had it hard in any way this past year living out of our 23-ft Pleasure-Way RV.

On the way out of Big Bend, we noticed a Fiat Global Car parked at one of the lookouts and immediately knew that it was from Europe.  Sure enough, the distinctive European license plates confirmed our suspicion, and the country designation of ‘D’ told us the occupants were from Germany (Deutschland).  We had a delightful conversation with the driver!  He told us he and his wife had been touring the United States and Canada for the past 10 months and would be winding up their trip in mid-April.  By an amazing coincidence, the timing of his RV adventure had just about paralleled ours in Europe!  He had even used the very same shipping agent (Seabridge) to ship his RV that we had used.  What a fitting chance meeting near the final stage of our adventure!  After all, it was a French family in their own European RV that we met in 2011 while panning for gold along Bonanza Creek in Dawson City that had first put the bug in our ear to ship our camper to  Europe and see the sights that way.  That day on Bonanza Creek we could never have envisioned what a magical year it would turn out to be...
“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”  AndrĂ© Gide

February 16, 2014

A Little Winter Along the Gulf Coast

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”  John Steinbeck

Carol writes:  We enjoyed our 5-week stay at Naval Station Mayport near Jacksonville.  It was great to get back to a few creature comforts in the Navy lodges and cabins as we waited for our RV to arrive.  In addition, Jacksonville was a very convenient place for us to get minor RV repairs and servicing.  For those of you who wonder, we were able to get the section of running board reattached that we had ripped off in Portugal.  It is so nice not to have to ride with that monstrosity inside the coach.  Certainly, taking it in and out every day when we camped was getting old for Al.

As we started our slow meander back to Colorado, we decided to linger along the Gulf coast,

where we hoped to soak up some warm, sunny days and reconnect with friends and family along the way. 

Camping at Camp Blanding on the shores of Kingsley Lake, a perfectly round lake that is called the ‘Silver Dollar Lake’ by pilots who use it as a landmark from the sky

Our first reunion was with Jim, a Naval Academy classmate of Al’s, and his wife, Anne.  We had a delightful lunch with them at the same restaurant where we had lunch together back in March 2013 when we were passing through on our way to the east coast at the start of our RV adventure.  It was interesting catching up on their family news, along with talking about how our life on the road in the European campground scene actually worked out.

After lunch with Jim and Anne, we spent a night at a Florida State Park where the sight of blue herons was a delight for all the birders.  Al got a pic of this one from a distance, but since he had to use maximum zoom quality wasn’t the best.

Over the next few days we started to read numerous reports about an ice storm that was headed our way—the so called “storm of a generation.”  We decided to hunker down in Destin at an Army recreation site that we had discovered when we were visiting our daughter back in March on our way to the east coast.  We wanted to check it out; with a storm bearing down on us, that seemed like a pretty sensible plan. 

I swear we actually sensed the precise moment the cold air arrived as we took a brief walk out on the piers of the recreation site.  It was eerie to see the fog blow in right before our eyes.  Time to head inside and hunker down!

As it turned out, the “storm of a generation” was a doozy! The day of the storm our campground hosts informed us that all the local bridges had been closed to traffic.  Life along the Emerald Coast pretty much had come to a screeching halt.  Overnight, the side of our RV side facing the water became encased in ice.

As experienced RVers, we should have known to disconnect the water hose overnight, but we didn’t and the next morning it was frozen solid.  Our water pump had also frozen, so that meant for the next day or so any water we needed for cooking, washing hands or flushing the toilet had to be poured out of portable plastic jugs.  We weren’t the only ones caught by surprise at the freezing temps; many fellow RVers in camp also had frozen lines of some sort.  This ‘fun in the sun thing’ along the Gulf coast wasn’t working out quite as we had planned! 

However, the day after the storm was beautiful and sunny, perfect for that meal that we had been looking forward to at McGuire’s Irish Pub, a favorite of our daughter’s during the time she lived in Destin.   

Before we crossed the Florida line into Alabama, we enjoyed one more brief visit to the incredibly beautiful ‘sugar beach’ along the National Seashore.

We spent the days around Super Bowl camped at one of our favorite stops in Alabama—Gulf State Park.  We spent a pleasant couple of days catching up with my cousin Jeanette and her husband Al.  Graciously, we were invited to a Super Bowl party hosted by one of Jeanette’s volleyball buddies.  Most of the partygoers were Bronco fans, so we felt very welcome…and had lots of sympathetic pats on the back throughout the game.  We had a wonderful time talking with various guests.  As always, it was great to drop in on Jeanette and Al, meet some of their friends, and share a bit of their lifestyle in Gulf Shores. 

The day after Super Bowl we headed to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, for a brief visit with Mike and Mary, dear friends that we met early in our marriage during our Slidell, Louisiana, days.  In Bay St. Louis we decided to try camping at the Hollywood Casino campground instead of our customary spot at the local state park.  Great choice!  For me, the trees draped in Spanish moss evoked wonderful iconic images of the years we lived in the Deep South.

As is always the case, we had laughing-good times with Mike and Mary and enjoyed catching up with their family news, and sharing our adventures of the past year with them.

I always feel like we are back west when we cross the Mississippi River,

but that’s just an arbitrary division and east Texas isn’t really the scenery that I have come to associate with our home in Colorado.  We will have to head several hundred more miles west for the sagebrush and dry mountain deserts of home.

Meanwhile…in Longview, Texas, we spent an afternoon visiting with Al’s Uncle Frank and Aunt Pat and several members of their large extended family.  The last time we visited them was 24 years ago—back in 1990 when we were on the road during our first RV adventure as a family of four in a 29-foot travel trailer pulled by a Suburban.  We had lots of fun reminiscing with them a quarter of a century down the road!  There sure were a lot of cousins, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that we had never met.

Hard as we tried, for the next several days we couldn’t catch a warm day anywhere in east Texas—not in Livingston Lake State Park,

not on Galveston Island,

not at Lake Texana,

and especially not along the bay south of Houston.

This winter the jet stream had certainly deviated from its customary path.  Lots of the campers we talked to were downright cranky with week upon week of unseasonably cold weather.  Even these horses on the beach showed reluctance to go very far into the cold Gulf waters.

A few days later, another winter storm of “potentially catastrophic proportions” blew through the Texas Gulf coast; however, when the day after dawned sunny and clear, we spotted lots of campers scurrying out of the doors of their trailers and RVs--like ants out of an anthill—just to catch some warm rays of sun on their faces for the first time in many days.  On Mustang Island we took a short beach walk to celebrate the end of a long string of cold, misty days.  Now, this is why we lingered on the Gulf instead of heading back to Colorado!

We continued heading south along the Texas barrier islands to Malaquite Beach Campground on Padre Island,

which had one of the most beautiful, unspoiled beaches we have ever seen.  The dunes, grasslands, and tidal flats have been restored to their natural habitat over the past 30 years, and the results are breathtaking! Padre Island lays claim to being the longest undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world, and it goes on for over 70 miles!  What a thrill to be able to camp right on the beach behind the dunes with a nearly full moon rising over the water.  We had found a little piece of paradise, and we decided to stay an extra day!

During our first day on Padre Island, as temperatures continued to climb, we couldn’t wait to get on the beach.  We were so enamored with Padre Island’s totally unspoiled landscape that on the spur of the moment we joined the afternoon birding excursion with a park volunteer so we could view some of the species of birds that can be found on this stretch of Padre Island, which claims to be a globally significant birding area.

Long-billed curlew

Blue Heron
After 3 days on lovely Padre Island, we were sorry we had to go, but by now we had a fairly firm schedule we had to keep as we slowly headed back to Colorado.  Our last walk on the beach was on Valentine’s Day, which also happened to be our 36th wedding anniversary.  As we neared the end of our wonderful year of adventure on the road together, we couldn’t think of a better way to spend our anniversary.

Happy Anniversary to Us!

What a treat to come upon this ghost crab as we headed back to camp.

 Ghost Crab with Chapstick for perspective

The full harvest moon rising over the Gulf of Mexico that night was the perfect ending to a wonderful stay on Padre Island.

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed ... We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”   Wallace Stegner,  “The Sound of Mountain Water”