Friday, December 13, 2013

Walking With the Wounded - South Pole Expedition

Do you ever take time to ponder on all the people you've met during your lifetime?   Of course the major players are our families and close friends.  But, how about the friends and acquaintances who play a smaller role?  Workmates, other RVers, shop keepers, waitstaff.  The list goes on and on.  A phenomenal pool of folks.

For the past few weeks, and especially today, I've been thinking a lot about a woman we met last year at Seminole Canyon State Park.  Therese Frentz.

I've been thinking about her because she was selected to be on the American team for the Walking With the Wounded South Pole Expedition.

What an amazing woman.  She was severely wounded in Iraq a number of years ago.  Since then she has battled to live as normal a life as she can.  She married a great guy, David, who is a Ranger for the Texas Parks and Wildlife.  Hence, they live at Seminole Canyon State Park where we spent last winter and to where we are headed again for this winter.

The expedition was originally slated to be, and started out as, a race between four teams representing three countries - USA, Canada, the UK and Australia.   Each team was comprised of wounded war veterans and seasoned expedition veterans.

Not long after the race began it was decided to forgo the race concept and combine the teams into one cohesive group.  After ditching the race scenario it became a cooperative expedition.  That did not eliminate the competition between man and nature, tho.  Abnormal polar ice conditions, temps of -30F and lower.

Today, Friday, December 13, 2013, at 12:48 GMT (7:48 AM Central) they reached the South Pole!

Wow!  That's all I can say.

Take a look at this:   Walking With the Wounded

Also, take some time to watch the YouTube videos of the veterans describing their injuries and how those injuries have affected their lives.

I repeat myself - Truly Amazing People.

Talk about "Chasin' Their Dreams..."   Wow...

Friday, July 5, 2013

What a 4th of July This Was!

Not your typical 4th of July.  We are in Yellowstone at Tower Falls General Store.  This is our favorite part of the park and it has not let us down one bit.

Today's 4th of July celebration started off with a bang.  We got up at 4:30am and were out the door shortly after 5.  We wanted to get over to Lamar Valley as there has been a lot of bear and wolf activity recently.

Not even a mile after our departure we came across a moose!!  We have not seen one in the park since we honeymooned here almost 30 years ago.

The local story goes that the  great fires of 1988 drove the moose from the park.  They apparently decided that they liked where they went and so never returned.  Is that true?  Who knows.  All I can say is that all last season and for the past three weeks we have seen absolutely no evidence of moose in the park.  Outside the park - that's another story.  We have seen them just out the east gate towards Cody and also in the south near the Tetons.

We have heard a few visitors say they saw some moose.  Are the moose (mooses, meece?) returning?

Needless to say, we were shocked to see this young cow within a mile of our parking area.

We were crawling through the construction area that is redoing the main road this year and I looked over in a small clearing.  We have seen black bears a couple times in this particular clearing so I was not surprised to see something move.  I exclaimed to Robin "Is that a moose??!!"  We stopped in the middle of the road, a la regular tourists (visitor driving hi jinks could fill many blog posts some other time.) Fortunately, there were no other cars within miles so we knew we weren't going to obstruct any traffic.  I hadn't even gotten the camera out of its case yet.  We were caught completely unaware.

I jumped out and sure enough, it was a young cow.  She was not comfortable with our stopping and had begun trotting up the hill to our rear.  We only got to watch her for a couple moments but we "Ooohed and Awwwd" at our own 4th of July celebration.

We both commented that no one was going to believe us when we tell them.  You know what they say "No pictures?  It didn't happen..."

What an exciting beginning to the most incredible wildlife viewing day of our lives so far.

Bears, Ducks and Wolves.  Oh, My!!

We drove out to Lamar Valley. The spot where bears and wolves have recently been viewed is near the eastern end of the valley.  There is a bison carcass they have been feeding on for about a week.

We got to the area shortly after 5:30 and were surprised to see a considerable number of cars on the sides of the road.  The carcass lies in a spot that is marked "No Parking and No Standing." That forces  watchers to gather literally right on the edge of the boundaries with spotting scopes and huge camera lenses pointed as best they can at the carcass.  The no-access section is about a mile long.  The road winds along the base of a hill.  The terrain was formed by Soda Butte Creek.  The carcass is right on the creek bank about 50 yards off the road.

When we approached the carcass spot I could see a grizzly working on it.  Because we could not stop, we passed on about a mile and then turned around to return and join the many viewers.

We decided that there were really no good spots to park so we drove to the opposite boundary point.  We parked at a pullout a couple hundred yards from the main viewing crowd.  Robin opted to remain in the truck.  She knew what was coming - I was headed toward a group of strangers.  She knows they will not be strangers for long.  She likes me to warm up the crowd and then she joins a bit later.  She is initially a bit uncomfortable in crowds so she lets me work on them first.  Hey, no problem for me!!

I approached the crowd and started looking through my binoculars.  There was a rise that blocked the view of the carcass.  Rats!  Then low and behold, I saw a big grizz approaching from the south.  Uh oh!  One already on the carcass and another big guy approaching.  What are we going to see?  Will there be fur flying?  Will the smaller one (the first on the carcass) high tail it out?  Nope -- apparently these guys were buddies.

As I said, we could not actually see them working the carcass but a relatively short time later we saw them head upstream.  They walked together.  They stopped a couple times and seemed to be checking each other out.  They touched noses, they played a bit and then crossed the stream.  I watched all this through the binocs.  Sure wish I had a good telephoto lens.  When they crossed the creek the sun was reflecting on the water and they were silhouetted.  We watchers remarked that it was a great picture.

Anyway, we watched them amble about and mildly play for about an hour.

Many of the viewers were hard-core wolf watchers.  They said that part of the local pack had been there a bit earlier.  Rats again!  We missed them.

I was kind of eavesdropping on their conversation when one of them called another "Laurie."  I recently joined a web site that gives daily updates on wolf activity.  The main player is a gal named Laurie.  Hmmm.  Is this her?

I walked over and said I heard someone call her Laurie.  I asked if she was the wolf gal on the website.  It was!

This started an informative conversation about the wolf situation in the park.  Wolves were "delisted" fairly recently.  That means they are no longer on the endangered species list.  There has actually been a hunting season as a result.  This has had a significant impact on the local wolf population.  Needless to say, the passion of the wolfers is amazing.  Laurie gave a compelling discussion on the situation.  She is understanding of the hunt process and the efforts to control the population but she is also upset that wolves outside the park are being killed.  Park wolves know no boundaries.  Hence, there has been a strong impact on the park population which has also been severely lessened by some natural events such as disease in recent years.

I could go on but I don't want to get into the ethics of hunting and, frankly, I don't know enough about it to really present much.  I am sure that if I were to talk to local outfitters or ranchers, they could give equally good pointers supporting the process.  We'll save that for another day.  But, it really was fun meeting Laurie and observing her and her friends talk about the different wolves as if they are all family.

Wolves with electronic collars have been assigned identification numbers which have become their names, just as our Sadie, Ebony and Teddy had their names.

Watcher conversations go something like this:

"Hey, did you see 439 the other day?  He looked great and is really interested in 236."

Now, others that are not collared are typically referred to by a generic name.  Another snippet may go something like:

"I saw the Big Gray Alpha sniffing around little 462.  238 did not like it but what is he going to do?  Big Gray Alpha will take him in a heartbeat."

Fun stuff.  These are some really neat people.

"I'm Gonna Get Me A Duck."

The two grizzlies visited and romped for a while.  All the sudden the smaller one started chasing a duck.  The duck looked like it was injured.  It would flap on the water for a bit with Small Grizz in pursuit.  The duck kept a safe distance but would not fly away.  It just flapped on the water and appeared to be fleeing.  We thought it may have been injured.  Occasionally it would take flight for a moment.

Small Grizz pursued Duck for about 20 minutes, Duck all the time keeping a safety margin.  We all started asking if perhaps the duck was taunting the bear.  Maybe Duck had a nest somewhere and was luring Small Grizz away.

It got quite comical as Small Grizz seemed a bit slow in the head, if you get my drift.

For a while we thought we could hear him slowly saying "dum dum dee dum, I'm a gonna get me a duck!  Hee Hee".  Repeated times he got close only to have the duck flap away.  They even disappeared into the tall grass along the creek. The duck suddenly popped out in the air and you could see the grass moving as Small Grizz gave chase.

At one point the chase got within about 50 yards of where our group of around 30 people watched spell bound.

Park guidelines state that viewers should get no closer than 100 yards to a bear.  Apparently no one told the bear but he was so focused on his elusive duck that he paid us no mind.

A couple times he had to stop and catch his breath.  He was really trying to catch that duck.  You could almost see the wheels turning, albeit slowly, as he wondered what the heck was going on.

You could even hear the duck quacking at him. It was hilarious.  Laurie said she had never seen anything like it.

Eventually, Small Grizz gave up and Duck went on its way.

Lots of Bear Activity

Earlier in the morning while Big Grizz and Small Grizz were working on the carcass there was another grizzly sow and a young cub on a hillside about 1/2 mile away.  We watched them for a while but they disappeared into a thicket and we never saw them again.  We all hoped they would approach the carcass but alas, they did not.

Also, earlier on the same hillside we had observed a cinnamon colored black bear ambling about.  I suspect he moved on when the grizz sow and her cub approached.

And - Later after the duck episode we saw another black bear way off in the distance to the north.  It never even indicated an interest in the carcass.  Amazing stuff.  I have never seen so much bear activity.

Wolves - OH, My!!

Yesterday, I met an Interpretive Ranger named Bill who was giving an impromptu lecture on wolves at the picnic tables outside the store.  We briefly talked about Interpretive Ranger work and some other things.  He is a high school teacher and spends his summers here as an interp.  Cool.

Lo and behold. Who is working crowd control this morning but Bill!  He really had his hands full with people not adhering to the no access boundaries.

A bit later he walked by and whispered "Wolves!"

What? Where?  He said they were by the next pullout area up the road.  I headed for the truck.  I looked up and here came Robin - Yay!

See, I knew she'd come along.  She had been observing as best she could from the truck.  She had even climbed on top of the camper for a while - smart lady - probably one of the best vantage points there was.

I shared Bill's information.  We jumped in the truck and zipped over to the next pullout, about a mile away.  Sure enough, there were four wolves under a tree about 75 yards distant.  I say four, but we only saw two.  We were told there were four.  The crowd was growing so they moved over the ridge and that was that, but still, finally seeing wild wolves that close was really something.  The two we saw were one gray and one black.  Neat!

Breakfast and Another Grizz!!!

By now it was near 9:30 or 10am.  We had not eaten.  We were near the northeast entrance to the park so we headed out and over to the town of Silver Gate which is right on the boundary.  At the restaurant we visited first with a gal riding her Harley with some other women who are members of a large, women-only motorcycle organization.  She has traveled across the country on her 1998 retired police Harley.

When she left a family of three sat down at her vacated table.  Because we were sitting outside, the truck was parked closeby.  The father asked the surrounding tables who owned the truck and camper.   Well, you know what happened next...

We had a fun visit with them about their travels.  They are possibly interested in our camper when we are ready to sell it (BTW - that is another story - hang on!!)

They are visiting from Chattanooga, TN and thoroughly love the area - how could anyone not!

Encounters like this combined with a setting that leaves us speechless make us feel so blessed to be able to live and play as we do.  We are thankful every day.

After breakfast we headed back to the motorhome.  We wanted to put some water in the camper's fresh water tank and we needed to dump the camper's holding tanks.  I told Robin that there is convenient dump station at Canyon.  It is 15 miles south of us and we would get to go over Dunraven pass.  "Let's go!" she replied.

The wildflowers are nothing short of spectacular right now.  The drive was magnificent and the dump was, well - it was a dump - but we all felt better.

I observed that since we were so close to Hayden Valley, how about we head there and see what we can see.  I had heard that there was a grizz over there recently.  Off we went.

Again, we were treated to a spectacular grizzly.  He was HUGE and a very fluffy light brown color.

He was about 1/2 mile off the road in a sagebrush field.  He ambled about for a bit and then seemed to pick up the scent of something.  He pointed his nose to the north and started moving in that direction.  There were about 20 bison with some calves roughly 1/4 mile from him. They must have been watching because when he headed in their direction they took off.

He followed his nose for a hundred yards or so and then turned to the west and followed a stream until it wound behind a rise and we lost sight of him.

What a day!!!  Without a doubt our best wildlife day ever - so far.  Were we "Chasin' our Dreams?"  You betcha.

Sorry, no pictures.  I was so engrossed I did not get any.  Plus, the distances probably would not have borne good pics.  I'll try getting some tomorrow.  We are getting up even earlier so we can be back at the carcass when the sky lightens at 4:30am.  3:30am alarm - here we go!!

Stay tuned!!!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Family Get-Together, Driver's License Woes and RV Shopping...

Fun Family Time...
May 15-18 we spent in Boulder, CO at a mini-family-reunion.  Robin's parents came in from NC and we all met at her brother and sister-in-law's wonderful home in the hills outside of Boulder.

One evening Robin's cousin, Gary, and his wife, Sherilyn, dropped by.  All 8 of us went to a nice Mexican food restaurant.  Good food, good company - things don't get a lot better.

Driven to Distraction Getting our Driver's Licenses...
Prior to the family thing, we stored the motorhome and trailer in Cheyenne, WY and ran up to Rapid City, SD to finally get our drivers' licenses.  That turned into a fiasco because we arrived at the DL place early Monday morning only to find it is closed on Mondays.  Sheesh.

I had read that the smaller towns in SD have only a day or two of DL office operations per week.  Knowing that, I called Rapid City a while back and specifically asked if they were open "every day" compared to smaller towns.  I must have been unclear because the person assured me that they certainly are open everyday.  I guess every day in this scenario means that they are open every day that they are open.  Grrrrr.

Anyway, we stayed in the area an extra day.  We ran up to Mt. Rushmore and then relaxed at a campground back in Rapid City.

Mt. Rushmore is pretty neat.  We liked it but it is one of those "been there, done that" places.

Tuesday morning we hurried over to the DL place to get things wrapped up.  Not so quick and easy there pardner.  We are the government and we do things our own way.

I knew I had all the documentation necessary because I had called to make sure.  You see, any name change in a person's history must be documented.  We had Robin's birth certificate and marriage licenses showing her full history.  Guess what - her birth certificate did not have that fancy embossed circle saying it is an "Official Certified Copy" so the uber helpful DL gal cheerily told us we could  not get her DL.  No offer for further help or anything  - "Photo copies of birth certs are not acceptable - you can't get your DL."

Needless to say, we were a bit miffed.

We left grumbling to ourselves that our 600 mile round trip from Cheyenne to Rapid City was a bust.  Then I remembered "Hey, I  used to work for the government.  There is always a way around something, you just have to get to the right person."

We returned to the office and I asked to speak to a manager.  We explained that we were in the midst of a 600 mile trip specifically for this purpose and hoped that there was an answer.

We were referred to a supervisor who apparently needed to establish his superiority.  He gruffly wanted to know what was going on.  I explained that we are full-time RVers and had driven specifically to Rapid City in order to get our our DLs and were hoping for help in avoiding another long trip.

He responded contemptuously "So you want to get a driver's license here but you don't want to spend any time in our state."

"Yeah, right.  We just want to give you all our taxes!"

Now, with both our attitudes sufficiently piqued we got down to business.

We had another issue:  our marriage certificate did not have the all-so-important embossed seal.  Rats.

Oh - and guess what.  In order to get a DL, one must show a receipt of having stayed in a hotel or campground for at least one night.  No problem.  I knew the regulation and we had just spent two nights.  Wellllllll.  Said receipt was made out to Kevin.  Unbeknownst to us, we needed to have Robin's name on the receipt.  I guess they were concerned that she may have hitch-hiked in that morning from out of state to get her DL.   Sheesh #2.

I called the RV park and explained the situation.  The owner laughed and said he knew of the requirement.  He added Robin's name to the receipt and faxed it to the DL office.   We really appreciated his assistance.  (Sure glad it did not require an embossed seal of some sort...)

If you ever pass through Rapid City, SD be sure to camp or rent a cabin at Lake Park Campground.  Besides being helpful to us, this is a very nice campground.

Scrooge harrumphed away from his desk.   The workers at positions on each side offered smiles and eye-rolls toward his vacant spot.  I told them I got the message and was certainly glad to not be in their roles.  It must be frustrating trying to work within the crazy constraints.  Their friendliness and brief interaction helped us improve our attitude toward the whole ridiculous process.

Scrooge returned.  He said he was going to give Robin a 6 month extension on her TX license.  We need to gather the required embossed items and send them to Pierre.

"Great - who is Pierre?"  Oh.  Right.  Pierre is the capital of South Dakota - As a resident I should have known that right away.  Sheesh on me this time!!

We left with somewhat of a feeling of accomplishment toward getting a resolution.  We were happy I got my DL with no problems.  We'll see what Pierre has to say....

Having Fun Looking at New Rigs...
After leaving Rapid City we scooted over to Casper, WY to visit one of the larger Arctic Fox RV dealerships in this part of the country.  Arctic Fox is renowned for their 4 season utility.   They are a relatively low volume manufacturer so there are not many to view in person.  We have heard nothing but good things about them and wanted to tour some units.

Were we impressed.  We fell in love with a 2013 model 32-5M.  It was a struggle resisting the temptation to work a deal on the spot.

After Arctic Fox we headed south toward Boulder and stopped at a Montana dealer in Longmont, CO.  Boy, were we surprised and impressed with the Montana lines.  We used to lump Montanas into the mid-range line of 5th wheels.  They have really stepped up their quality in the last few years.  Were we to buy, Montana would be a contender.

We enjoy RV shopping.  Fortunately, we are not in any kind of hurry to purchase something.  We will research and tour more rigs as we can.

Our visit in Boulder was a lot of fun.  We always enjoy our time with Robin's family.  Visiting family counts as "Chasin' Our Dreams!"

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

San Angelo, TX - A Taste of Mayberry

Tuesday was an interesting day.  We went to our favorite Whataburger for breakfast.  The usual crowd was there visiting and laughing.

Following a quick trip to the post office.  I had to send a prepaid return package.  I swear, so often I leave a post office shaking my head.  It is not surprising that it appears to be about the worst run business out there.  Although I think being able to send an ounce of mail from door stop to door stop for 46 cents is a bargain, I have a real problem with so many other facets of the operation.

When I took the package to the counter, the woman had just stepped up from being away.  With absolutely no personality she mumbled 'next'.   I gave her the package and with no comment she looked it over and said 'ok'.  I asked if I could get a tracking number so I could follow the progress and delivery.

She said "it's already paid for."
"Yes, I  know.  I just want to be able to track it."
"You will have to pay for it."
Thinking that maybe for a buck or two it would be worth it "How much would it cost?"
"You have to pay for shipping."
"What - in order to get a tracking number I have to completely pay for shipping again!?"
"Yes." No offer of an alternative or other options.
I had already pegged her as an example of what seems to be so commonly perceived of PO folks.   She lived up to that image except I could not see a gun...   At that point I would have been more surprised if she had offered an alternative.   Fortunately, my heart was saved from a shock and I left frustrated.  Hope the package arrives intact.    Sheesh...

Fortunately, that is the only negative example regarding the people of San Angelo.  We have become quite fond of this city.

One of our favorite spots is Rita's Book Exchange.  What a fun place.  Rita has put together an incredible inventory of used books.  She is a delight to visit with and absolutely knows her inventory.  Ask for a book and she knows if she has it and exactly where it is.  If it is not on the shelf, she goes to her warehouse and checks.  She said her warehouse has as many books as are on her shelve in the retail section.

Her customer's are equally fun and interesting.  New customers are instant family.  Everyone knows names and will take time to visit.  This bookstore feels like it was dropped out of Mayberry into San Angelo.  A perfect example of San Angelo.

Many of you probably know that this area of west Texas is in the midst of a huge oil boom.  Besides oil rigs, wind generators are popping up on all ridge lines.  Part of the business of erecting the wind generators is getting the parts to the site.  You've all seen the huge blades on the roads.  Some are as long as 185 feet!!

Transporting them requires pilot/escort vehicles.  I've noticed the pilot vehicles about town and finally cornered a driver at Rita's.  Brian Cunningham was happy to visit for a bit.  He told me a lot about the business.  With our trucking background I've often thought about a pilot operation.

Brian is from Hayword, WI.  He is out here transporting wind generator blades.  Right now business is taking a break and holding its breath due to the uncertainty of the economy and congress's inability to get its act together a la sequester.  He has found a lot of time on his hands the last few weeks and so has become quite a customer of Rita's.

I was surprised to learn that he actually steers the rear axles on the trailer of the truck via remote control in his van as he follows along.  I had no idea.  Given the length and that the blade extends 35 feet beyond the end of the trailer it makes perfect sense that the rear axles are steerable but I had no idea it was done from a separate vehicle.

When we were driving trucks we saw log trucks in Oregon that had a small compartment below the trailer directly in front of the rear axles with a man in a reclining position who steered.  His butt was literally inches off the road.  We were always glad that was not our job.  It had to be like a carnival ride every day, all day.  Whew!

Earlier in the week we went to the main library and had equally as good experiences.  Everyone was so friendly and accommodating.  Robin got a card and all set up for e-books on her Kindle.  We had a happy visit with the ladies running the checkout counter.  We asked if they were volunteers as they were so friendly and upbeat.  Nope - they just have fun at work!!!

We have noticed a trend in libraries - Coffee Shops!!!  How cool is that?   San Angelo's coffee shop opened up just this week.  We got a chocolate brownie sample.   Yummm.  I guess it was a good thing the sample was just a bite.  I was surely tempted to get a whole one but alas, my recent weight loss prevailed.  But, man was it good.

Robin had a little problem getting the e-book operation to work on her laptop.  The help desk fixed her up immediately.  Turns out there is a problem with her browser.

Anyway, all the positives of the town certainly outweigh the single negative.  If you pass through this area try to spend a day or two experiencing the people.  You won't be disappointed.

Today, Wednesday, we are up and getting ready to leave.  We are going north about 300 miles and will be spending the night at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  We are excited to spend a day or two as we are slated for a two month stint in October and November.   We'll keep you posted....

San Angelo - definitely a place for "Chasin' Our Dreams!"

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Time in Texas is Almost Over

We finished our stint at Seminole Canyon State Park.  We spent a few weeks touring around Texas before we head north to Yellowstone for our second summer.

We are at San Angelo State Park.  We'll leave here Wednesday for Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the panhandle near Amarillo.

I'm working on a few Texas recaps.  One outlining our time at Seminole Canyon State Park and a couple others covering our time since we finished up.  Stay tuned.

We've been quiet for some time.  Everything is great as we continue "Chasin' Our Dreams!"

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fun Times In North Carolina

In North Carolina For November
We arrived at Robin's parents' home in North Carolina at the beginning of November.  That was the start of a fun month.

A couple days after our arrival we all loaded up in the truck and headed to Indiana to visit our girls and Robin's aunt and uncle.

Our first stop was in Newport, TN to visit friends Phil and Dixie. You may recall that we stopped and visited Phil in the hospital where he was recovering from a hip replacement.  We were amazed to see how well he walked into the Cracker Barrel.  Good Job Phil, and you too Dixie!

On to Muncie Indiana.  Our girls, Michelle and Jessica met us there for a fun evening.  Jess came up from Indianapolis and Michelle and her daughter Katie came over from Winchester.  Dinner was fun with lots of catching up on things.

Katie was a dream.  Good kid.  We sure are proud of her.  I recall her Mom, Michelle, telling us about an incident with some of Katie's homework.  She was supposed to answer some questions about Indiana, the Hoosier State.  One question asked the kids what the state motto was.  Katie had written down "Who's your daddy?"

Needless to say, Michelle quickly explained to Katie that that was not the state motto and helped her get the question right.   Remember Art Linkletter and 'Kids say the darndest things'???

We all stayed in a motel.  The truck camper sniveled its night away in the parking lot.  Sorry guy.  We'll be camping in you soon...

The next day we headed north to Redkey, IN to visit Robin's aunt and uncle, Louis and Glenna.  We always look forward to visiting them.  They are in their mid 90s and you would swear they are in their 70s.

Louis took Richard and me out to his shop to help him with a mechanical issue on his riding lawnmower.  Meanwhile, Glenna whipped up a four course lunch with dessert.  It was fantastic.  We can only hope to reach their years and be in as good health.

After Louis and Glenna we went over to see Robin's other aunt, Concheta at her nursing home.  What a hoot!  She is in her early 90s and is amazingly spry.  We had a lot fun getting all the scoop on the nursing home.  Lot's of stuff going on for sure!  It keeps her busy and entertained.

We returned to the hotel in Muncie and headed back to North Carolina the next morning.  It was a whirlwind trip but we had a fun time seeing all the family.

The presidential election was looming and a lot of political discussion took place around the kitchen table.  Robin's parents, Richard and Norma, and her aunt, Margaret, are staunch supporters of President Obama.  They have contributed time and money to his campaign.  Their knowledge of the issues was immense.  We learned a lot.

We all sat in the living room and watched the election with baited breath.  Needless to say, we were all relieved to see how things turned out.  We remain hopeful the impass between the parties can be broken and progress be made toward getting the country on a positive track.  Good luck to all.

We have so much fun spending time in NC.  The days are all basically the same. Norma (Robin's mother) fixes breakfast at 9:00am.  We all sit around the kitchen table reading newspapers, doing crosswords, surfing the internet or just talking.  That can last for a couple hours.

Then we head to the camper and get all cleaned up for the rest of the day.

Around noon to 1:00 we pile into Richard and Norma's car and head to a local restaurant for lunch, followed by a stop by Burger King for ice cream.  If any shopping needs done we hit the stores and then mosey back to the house/camper.

Late afternoon I fire up the latte machine and fix lattes for everyone.  Robin's aunt Margaret comes over and joins us.

Evenings are spent visiting and talking mostly about politics.  Once the election was over things lightened up a bit.  Still lots of fun things to talk about.  I think we finally got the world pretty well straightened out.  We'll talk more when we get together in May and see how things are going!

Thanksgiving was great.  Michelle, Katie and Jess came out to NC for the holiday.  Lots of fun.  It was the first time Michelle and Katie had been out.

Surprisingly, we did not do any hiking in the area this visit.  Rats.   We'll fix that next time.

North Carolina is always a shining destination in our windshield as we move down the road "Chasin' Our Dreams."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hightailing it to North Carolina

After we stored the motor home in Del Rio we headed east.  Our destination was Robin's parents' house in Weaverville, NC just outside of Asheville.

Vagabonding Requires a Certain Mindset
We meet people all the time who travel serendipitously - no itinerary and few plans.  I also read some blogs and participate in some forums that are full of this type of travelers.  I dream about the spontaneous and complete freedom of these folks.  Robin and I have tried it but we just can't get our arms around it.  After a few days we feel anxious and end up planning a route and a destination.  I know we are missing some great points of interest but we get destination oriented and away we go.   Sheesh.  Maybe we'll get it some day...

Great Friends, Great Food and Contented Cows in Victoria
We took off from Del Rio and hit it hard - no relaxing this day - across the state to Victoria, TX.   We were going to visit with good friends Brenda and Larry.

Brenda and I worked together at the Attorney General's Office for the last couple years of both of our careers.  Brenda hired me into the field support side of things when I realized it was time for me to move away from IT.  My time working with her were definitely some of the best years of my career.  We clicked and were a great team.

Brenda and Larry treated Robin and me to a marvelous evening at their home.  They have a small ranch near Victoria.  Their home is like something out of Southern Living.  Beautiful!  The yard is perfect for relaxing and visiting.

The evening was splendid.  We all had a grand time on their patio:  steaks on the grill, a little wine and great conversation.  Before dinner, around dusk, they took us on a tour of their ranch. They don't have a lot of cows but the ones they have are certainly pampered.    How to describe them?   They just looked - happy.  Very contented cows.  These are beef and breeders, no dairy cows, but they were as happy as any dairy cow I've ever seen.  Given their ranch and the care that Larry dotes on them I think I wouldn't mind living there myself!!!

The evening ended too soon.  We left with fond "Good Byes" and promises to get together again.  Brenda and Larry have a neat old Airstream trailer that they have done a bunch of restoration work on.  They travel as much as they can so we're confident we'll meet up sometime, somewhere.

After leaving Brenda & Larry's, we went to Goliad State Park for the night.  This is definitely a no-frills park.  The campground is pretty much just a large parking lot with an island of hookups in the center.  It was fine for an overnighter.  We would not hesitate to stop there again.   It was pretty late when we arrived so we did not get to explore before turning in.

Little Rock and the Clinton Library
The next morning we packed up and worked our way north-easterly through Houston and on to Little Rock, Arkansas.  Nothing of interest, just hammer down and pound out miles.

We spent the night right on the river in Little Rock.  Easy access to the river front activities and the Clinton Library.  The park could have been something terrific with their location but they missed the mark.  No frills.  The restrooms were barely adequate.   We will most likely not return.  Too bad, it has potential to be pretty neat.

The next day we went to the Clinton Library.  We walked in, looked around and decided that, being the skinflints that we are, it was not worth $14.

We left Little Rock and headed for Tennessee.  What a beautiful state.  We always enjoy passing through.  Interstate 40 is in much better shape than in the past.  It's a long drive west to east tho.

Relaxin' Through Tennessee
We did slow down a bit in Tennessee.  We saw Natchez Trace State Park on the map so we decided to check it out.  Wow!  What a great park.  The campground was perfect.  We drove around and picked a spot, got set up and then walked around a bit.  There is a lake and the people were very friendly.  The restroom and laundry facilities were top notch.  Clean, well kept and private.  This park rates very high on our scale.  Without a doubt, we'll be returning.

The next day, more travel and an early night at our first TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) park:  Melton Hill Dam.  Another hit.  It was fun driving through seeing all the campers decorated for Halloween.  We spent another comfortable night.  We'll be returning there too.

Phil Knocks One Out of the Park in Knoxville
We left Melton Hill and drove a short while into Knoxville.  We wanted to visit friends Phil and Dixie.  Phil was in the hospital recovering from a recent hip replacement.  We were pleasantly surprised by his recovery.  The last time we saw him he was very uncomfortable and not moving too well.  Now, just a few days post surgery and still in the hospital, he looked and sounded better than we had seen him for some time.  Good Job, Phil!  Definitely a home run!   Dixie is a rock; one incredible woman.  I could spend a full blog entry on nothing but this neat couple.  We consider ourselves privileged to be counted among their friends.

We left Phil and Dixie and made the short trip on to Robin's parents' home outside Asheville where we spent most of November.

We hit it hard for a bit and then slowed down.  We got to see great friends and some new areas.  Can't ask for more than that while we're "Chasin' Our Dreams!"

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Wyoming to Texas ... via North Carolina

A Round-About Path From Wyoming to Texas For the Winter

And the Beet Goes On...
We left Yellowstone on September 26.  Our first stop was Cody, WY.  We parked for a few days in anticipation of working the sugar beet harvest.  We had been accepted for positions on the loaders for the duration of the short harvest.  Unfortunately for us, the harvest started early and due to our commitment to Yellowstone, we were not available.

The harvest lasts a few short weeks.  The weather dictated it to begin around the 17th of September; we did not finish in Yellowstone until the 26th.  That date combined with travel time made us unavailable until the 27th at the very earliest.   We would have missed the first 10 days of a 21 to 28 day harvest.

The employment agency in Billings, MT was great.  We clicked with the agent when we met her earlier in the year.  She understood our schedule problem so she offered us positions at the factory in Worland, WY.  We agreed to her offer but as the time drew near we decided that we were more interested in the experience of the harvest in the field rather than the factory, so we opted out of the opportunity.

How About Heading South?
That freed us up for October and November.
What to do, what to do.  Hmmmm.
We decided to run down to Del Rio, TX and store the motor home until December 1st when we begin our Seminole Canyon stint.

We delayed leaving Cody for a bit and spent time visiting my sister and her husband.  Fall was in the air; things were getting cold.  It was not too surprising when the RV park owner notified us we needed to leave so he could winterize the park and close for the season.

We packed up and headed south.  Our route had stops in Rawlins, WY,  Cheyenne,WY,  Lamar, CO, Amarillo, TX,  Big Spring, TX and finally, Del Rio.

This was mostly a reverse of our trip north earlier in the year.  We again, stayed a couple days in Amarillo and relaxed.  We had dinner at the famous "Big Texan" restaurant.  I was not up to the 72 ounce steak so I did not compete to see if I could eat one in an hour.  If you can eat the steak plus some sides within an hour you get it free.  Big Texan has been featured on many of the food programs on TV.

The 2nd Largest Canyon in the Country
You may recall that when we were in Amarillo a few months ago, we had planned to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  The weather was so hot we decided to pass.  This time we went to the park.

WOW!  It is incredible.  There is no indication of its existence as you travel across the plains.  Suddenly, the ground opens and the  H-U-G-E canyon is presented.

I lifted this text from the above link:
"...The canyon is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. ... It is often claimed that Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States."

We spent some time at the Visitor Center and then explored the campgrounds.  We talked about a volunteer stint and so we had to inspect the bathrooms in one camping loop.  There were just a few people in the park that day.  A couple was walking in our direction when we emerged from the bathroom.  They waved and shouted "Hi!"

We met up and began visiting.  They were the camp hosts for the loop.  We talked about a possible stint.  We ended up visiting for an hour or so.  Great people.  The information was so good that we did contact the volunteer coordinator about a position.  Unfortunately, their seasons were booked up for the next year.  Rats.

We got on the list in case anyone cancels.  We'll see what happens.

Another Remarkable Encounter
While visiting with the hosts we got to talking about RVs.  Nothing unusual there.  Rigs are the main topics for many conversations in this lifestyle.  Great ice breakers and always a common interest.

Anyway, the conversation progressed to a point where they were telling us about a family member who has a Wanderlodge bus RV.  He was telling me about a great mechanic the family member had found.  Then he said something about Indiana.  My ears pricked up.

I interrupted him and asked for clarification on the family member and Indiana.  He told me the family member (unfortunately, I don't recall the exact relationship so I'll refer to him as "FamMem") is a commercial pilot and lives in Houston, TX.  He said there is a familial connection with Muncie, Indiana.   Hmmmmm.  Could it be????

I asked if FamMem was by any chance married to a Houston veterinarian who is dealing with some severe health issues.  I'm angry at myself for not being able to recall the host's name so I'll have to refer to him as "Host".  Anyway...

When I asked about the veterinarian connection etc., Host's eyes grew large and he said "Yes that's them!"  I laughed as I told Host about an encounter at a remote RV park in Muncie a year or so ago.

Remember from earlier posts that Robin and I spent some time last year in Muncie while we visited our daughters and family?

While there I noticed a nice Wanderlodge RV enter the park.  Later I saw an attractive woman emerge with a large dog.  She and the dog went for a walk.

A bit later I had an opportunity to visit with the guy from the Wanderlodge.  During our chat he mentioned that they are from Houston where he is a commercial pilot and his wife is a veterinarian  He also said she is dealing with some severe health issues.  I was touched by how he talked about his wife.  He was so much in love and concerned for her well being.  It was a special encounter that I have thought about many times.

I've even spent some time on the Internet to see if I could find any information on her condition.   I did not find any, tho.

Anyway, back to Palo Duro...
Robin and I and the Hosts all had a good laugh over the coincidence.  I was relieved to hear that Dr. FamMem is still with us.

I pray that her health improves.  FamMem's love is so strong.   Pretty neat....

The crazy things we experience and the small world we travel still amaze us!!

Headin' South - No Room At The Inn
We returned to Amarillo and left a day or two later.

All went well until we got to to our planned stopover at Big Spring, TX.  We had not made a reservation and were surprised when we could not find a place to park for the night.  The oil and natural gas boom, combined with many huge wind generator projects had all the RV parks chock full. Nothing was available.  Good for them.  Glad to see all the prosperity!  Guess we had better move on...

We checked the map and saw San Angelo State Park about 90 miles south.  A quick phone call had us confirmed for a night.  Problem solved.

Sssssay, Can I Have Ssssssome Privacy?
The drive to San Angelo was uneventful.  We got there around 9:00pm; way later than we like to travel.  We got all set up and walked over to the bath house.  Robin walked in and immediately emerged; her eyes as big as saucers.  "There's a snake in there!"
"Cool!" I replied and headed in.
Along with being surprised, her big eyes clearly indicated she thought I was crazy.

Sure enough, there was a snake.  I don't know much about them so I could not identify it.  I did note that it did not have any rattles nor a viper head, so I was not concerned.  I watched it slither through a hole in the wall behind the commode.  I'm sure it wanted to get away from me far more than I wanted to be gone from it.  If it came back in through the hole in the wall I bet someone else got a surprise later on.

Good Time Near Goodfellow
The next day we extended our stay for a bit - Isn't this retired and free lifestyle great???

We explored San Angelo.  I was stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base for six months in 1977 for a school.  I don't recall much about the city.  Our visit did not trigger any deja vu.  I suspect it has changed quite a bit in the past 30+ years.  Boy, time sure does fly...

South to the Border, Down Del Rio Way
A few days later we put San Angelo in our mirror and headed for southwest Texas.  Del Rio is right on the US-Mexico border.  Our ultimate destination, Seminole Canyon State Park, is 40 miles west of Del Rio.  Our plan was to store the motor home in Del Rio and take the truck and trailer to North Carolina for a family visit through Thanksgiving.

We arrived in Del Rio and got the motor home settled in for a 6 week nap.  We patted her good by, jumped in the truck and pointed our noses east toward our next adventure while "Chasin' Our Dreams!"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

We Closed Yellowstone For The Season
We finished up our Yellowstone experience at the end of September.  Here is a recap:

Our daughter, Jess, and her cousin, Shaunna, joined us the first week of September.  We had a ball showing them everything we could squeeze in in four days.

Day 1 - South to Jackson, WY
First day we headed south to Jackson, WY.  You can't visit the area without seeing that.

Not far south of Yellowstone is Jenny Lake.  Robin took a hike with the girls.  I had a sore foot so I had to (got to??) veg out in the truck with a good book while they tromped around the lake.

They went inland a ways to Inspiration Point:

After leaving Jenny Lake we ran across this guy hanging out in a creek:
What you don't see in the pic is the hundreds of people lining the bank across from him.

Fortunately, the forest fire smoke was almost non-existent that day so the views of the Grand Tetons were terrific.

Once in Jackson we headed to the elk antler arch in the downtown park:

Next stop was the Cowboy Bar.  For decades this has been a must see in the town.  I don't know if it is losing its appeal or what, but it was interesting to note that Robin and I were some of the youngest people there.  Jess and Shaunna were expecting any moment to get their cheeks tweaked by some of the grandmotherly patrons!

On the way back to the park we saw a momma griz and THREE cubs off in the distance.  Local watchers said they are frequent visitors.  They said Momma had two cubs and had adopted an orphan.  Exciting!!!
Click on the pic to get a bigger and better view

We had a fun drive back.  We stopped in the forest and watched the stars for a bit.  There was absolutely no light pollution.  It was spectacular.

You may recall that I have a history of camera problems. For a time I had to resort to some rather primitive illustrations while I made up my mind what camera was going to replace our trusty old Nikon Coolpix 995.   We ended up with a Canon PowerShot S100.

A great little camera but it is one of the modern pocket-sized types.  I have been concerned that given my tendency to leave things laying about I may loose it.  Wellll....

The morning after our drive to Jackson, sure enough, I could not find the camera.  We looked high and low.  I went through every nook and cranny of the truck. No luck.  Rats!!

I knew I had used it the previous evening to take pictures of the grizzlies.  I did not remember what I did with it after that.  I took the grizz pics while standing in the bed of the truck.  Uh Oh...

I was upset with myself.  Robin looked out the window and asked "What is that black thing on top of the truck?"
"That's the antenna module for the satellite radio."
"No, I don't think so" she responded.

Well, I went out and sure enough, there on the roof of the truck was the camera.  It was covered with frost but it was still there!!

We were all amazed.  It had ridden about 65 miles and held on through numerous twists and turns including a stop at Leeks Pizzeria.

I took it inside the RV and let it warm up.  It's working great.  That says something for Canon's camera as well as the smooth ride of our one-ton Dodge Ram!!

Day 2 - Car Tour
We did the entire figure-8 tour of the park in one day.  Great day and some beautiful scenery.

We saw a fox hunting along the road.  It crossed over to a ravine and stood still, cocking its head one way and then the other homing in on the sounds of a small animal, mouse, vole or whatever.

Suddenly it jumped straight up in the air and flipped to come down nose and front feet first.  It disappeared into the grass, then emerged with something in its mouth.  Very fun to see.

The girls got to see elk, bison, deer and as many of the natural features as we could find.  The bison were in rut.  That provided some exciting moments when we were stopped on the road while a herd passed by.  They completely surrounded us.  Suddenly, a couple bulls decided to claim territory and discuss harem ownership right next to our truck.

I told everyone all dents would be battle souvenirs and I was NOT going to get them fixed!
No dents - Rats.

We traversed Lamar Valley toward  the park's northeast entrance at Cooke City, Montana.  Had a scenic and fun picnic on the way:

We backtracked through Lamar Valley and headed north to Mammoth Hot Springs.  We saw elk in "downtown" Mammoth Hot Springs:

Had to get a pic of the North Entrance at Gardiner, MT:

Leaving Gardiner put us back in Mammoth Hot Springs.  We grabbed a bite and drove the looonnnggg 70+ miles back to Grant Village.

Day 3 - Girls Day Out
Robin had finished her work season at the store; I was still on the clock.  That worked out well as it gave Robin and the girls some time to hike and do whatever females do out in the woods sans my protection.  They made it back just fine.  I guess they didn't need my masculine presence.  Hmmmm...

They explored West Thumb Overlook:

Did a Ranger guided walk around the West Thumb Geyser Basin, home of the famous Fishing Cone:

The Fishing Cone is interesting.  Decades ago fishermen were allowed to stand on the cone and fish.  At that time it was an active thermal.  When a fish was snagged they'd turn around and pop into the thermal.  Instant fish sticks!!

I'm sure you're not surprised to hear that is no longer allowed.  Can you imagine the legal battle if someone cooked himself or got sick from the cooking process??!!   Sheesh....

West Thumb Geyser Basin:

That afternoon after I got off work, we all walked around Grand Prismatic Spring.  Shaunna had seen pictures of it and wanted to see it for real.  Unfortunately, the light was not too great.  The colors were not as brilliant as she hoped.  It was pretty chilly that evening too so there was a lot of steam obstructing the views.

Here is a aerial shot I lifted off the Internet.  The gray line on the left is a boardwalk.  That tells you how big the pool is.  You can understand why she wanted to see it:

We did get a nice sunset at the Grand Prismatic Spring basin:

We returned to the motor home in time for dinner and lattes - Doesn't get better than that!

Day 4 - More Girl Time (I'm still working - Rats!)
The next day the ladies did Lonestar geyser and Elephant Back.  They all agreed Lonestar Geyser is more impressive than Old Faithful (which we visited in moonlight on their first night).

Elephant Back trail's 800 foot elevation gain gets the heart going.  The view at the top overlooks Yellowstone Lake and is well worth the hike:

The hike to Lonestar Geyser is beautiful:

Lonestar Geyser is spectacular.  It has a three hour eruption schedule.  An eruption lasts about 45 minutes.  That's amazing compared to Old Faithful which erupts for about 3 minutes.  It erupted within minutes of their arrival.

Some features of the geyser are its remote location and the ability for viewers to get close:

What a great ending to a fun-filled four days!!!

Day 5 - Back to Civilization 
The girls' visit ended way too soon.

We drove Jess and Shaunna to Billings, MT.  They jumped on a plane and flew back to the real world.

"Love you guys - glad you came!!"

The Grant Village General Store Closes For The Season
The park season wound down.  We closed the store on September 24.  That was an interesting day.  It started as usual and moved quickly into organized chaos.

We closed the doors at noon.  By 3 (or 4, can't remember) everything was inventoried, packed and stored for the winter.

I had heard how it worked but I was amazed to participate in the transformation from a working store to a retail skeleton in just a few hours.  The next step was to board up the windows and doors and bid it "Good Night!" for its winter nap.  There is a special crew that does that.

Yellowstone Waves Farewell with a Grand Good-Bye
We packed up and left the park on September 26.  All went well.  Within a mile of leaving the park's east gate, headed toward Cody, WY, a beautiful grizzly ran across the road.  I saw him run across but before I got the motor home stopped and the camera ready he was a ways down the lane.  Looked like someone at the lodge was going to get a surprise!

What a good bye present!!

Yellowstone - We'll Be Back!!
In November we were contacted by Delaware North and offered a position for next summer back at Grant Village.  We readily accepted!!

The fun never stops while we're "Chasin' Our Dreams!!"