She Flies with Her Own Wings*

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Hey, all! It’s been quite a while since we’ve posted. Some of you might be wondering if we fell off the edge of the United States!

We didn’t fall off, but we’ve just spent the last two months living on the edge … of the Oregon coast! We decided to do something a little different and have been working as park hosts. For those who are not RVers, most campgrounds and some RV parks employ people like us, mostly retirees, in part-time jobs. Instead of a paycheck, hosts are given a free campsite with full hookups for the duration of the job. It’s really a win/win situation — the workers are usually asked to put in about 20 hours of work per week, the campground doesn’t have to pay them money, retirees tend to be extremely reliable and are very happy to be in a really beautiful place for an extended period of time. 

There are tens of thousands of people in parks across the country doing what we are doing. The jobs can last anywhere from one to six months, and the tasks vary. Common host jobs are: cleaning campsites, front gate attendants, gift shop cashiers and park maintenance. We always knew that we would like to be park hosts at some point, and there’s nothing like a very expensive economy to push you into doing it!

As we traveled from Nevada up into the Pacific Northwest, the price of gas shot up. Unleaded regular was about $5.63 when we arrived in Brookings, Oregon, slowly dropped to about $4.99 before rebounding to $5.45. That’s kind of astonishing when you hear that your family back in Connecticut are buying gas for less than $3.00! Between gas and the astonishing increase in the price of groceries, our cost of living had risen about 36% compared to a year ago. We had to find a way to stop and let our bank accounts recover for a little while. There is no better way to do that than to find a park hosting job! 

We spent a few days looking online to see if any hosting jobs were available along our planned traveling route and were amazed to find several. (As with anything else, if you take the time to look, you’ll find all kinds of websites and social media pages devoted to camp hosting.) We applied for a couple of county and state park jobs and also inquired at private RV parks. Everything happened very quickly, and we were offered two jobs: a marina host position at a campground in Eugene, Oregon, and a position with the State of Oregon doing light maintenance at three day-use parks in Brookings. It was a very tough decision as we loved the Eugene area and the job would have been a fun way to learn more about boating. But, the idea of living along the Pacific Coast Highway and working at three ocean-front parks was something we could not pass up!

And what a good decision it was! Of all jobs to cut our hosting teeth on — we are living in a large campsite with full utilities less than 200 yards from the Pacific Ocean and the California border, and 18 miles from the Redwood forests of Northern California. In exchange for this beautiful site, we have agreed to work about four hours a day doing things like opening and closing park gates, picking up litter, emptying trash cans and dog poop buckets, making sure the poop bag dispensers are filled, and cleaning the Oregon Visitor’s Center. We’ve done a few extra projects, like weeding the patio areas around the Visitor’s Center and some small repair jobs. Overall, it’s been a great experience! We can’t believe that two months have already passed. Our job here will end on October 8. Then, we’ll make our way back to San Antonio for the winter.

Howland Hill Road, Crescent City, California … driving through the redwoods.
Bob at Grove of the Titans, Crescent City, CA.

The Pacific Northwest, particularly the coastline, is every bit as beautiful as people say. The beaches are shockingly devoid of people most of the time. We regularly take the dog for long beach walks and, when there isn’t another soul in sight, she gets to run around off leash. She’s having the time of her life, and we’ve all gained a new level of trust in each other. Tessa loves the tall dune grass, and will run up into the dunes, but comes right back when we whistle. She seems to understand that this is a special place, and has no problem being clipped back onto her leash if we see people coming.

Sunset on Crissey Field Beach.
Fog and low tide, Crissey Field Beach.

We’ve seen the lovely, calm ocean and the fierce, violent surf when storms are raging out at sea. We’ve seen an incredible number of dead birds, murres and cormorants, on the beach. They nest on the sea stacks (very large rocks that jut out of the ocean along the Pacific coast) and we think they must be knocked off their nests when huge waves crash into the rocks. At first we wondered if we should remove the carcasses from the beach, but rangers instructed us to just leave them in place, as the tides and scavengers take care of them. As we learned from The Lion King, this is the circle of life.

Waves crashing off sea stacks, Harris Beach.

I love watching the “sand fleas” as we walk the beach. I grew up seeing sand fleas on the New England beaches and assumed they were responsible for the itchy red spots I sometimes went home with. I’ve learned that sand fleas are not fleas at all, but an itty bitty crustacean. They don’t bite, so those itchy red spots are the result of some other type of pest at the beach. Sand fleas (they are really called Beach Hoppers) exist to clean the beach of debris. As you approach a dead crab, piece of washed up seaweed, or bird carcass, you’ll see an army of the tiny creatures jump off the object and run for their lives. They jump by curling up their tail and giving it a powerful flick to spring several inches in the air. Kelp is their favorite food, and Oregon’s massive off-shore kelp fields provide plenty of that.

This big pile of Bull Whip Kelp was washed up at high tide, Pelican State Beach, just over the California border.

Another thing we love watching is the feeding frenzies that take place when schools of fish get close to shore. Dozens of pelicans circle and dive like arrows into the shallow water, while dozens more gulls wait on shore for scraps. If we watch closely, we’ll see brown or grey heads pop up from the surf … sea lions and seals curiously watching us watch them! There are so many washed up trees on the beach that it’s easy to have a seat and spend an hour watching the commotion.

In Oregon, they say that these feeding frenzies can be a forerunner to humpback whales migrating through the area, as the birds are usually feeding on large schools of anchovies or herring. If this means that humpbacks aren’t far behind, we’ll be booking a whale watch soon! Dozens of whales migrate past these beaches, and grey whales call the waters of the Pacific Northwest their home. 

Back at our campsite, we’ve really enjoyed sitting outside and watching the local birds. There’s not much in the way of animal wildlife here, although we’ve seen coyote scat a couple of times. There’s no nut trees, so few squirrels. Although other camp hosts have spoken about elk sightings in their campgrounds, none have wandered through our parks.

Stellar’s Jay, a common bird here.

The ground in Oregon is pocked with so many holes, it’s like Swiss cheese — we can thank the gophers for that. In two months, we haven’t seen a single gopher, but we sure see the holes they leave behind. Tessa, with her canine super-senses, knows they are down there and will tiptoe around the yard, stopping and waiting for … what? We’ve never seen a gopher head pop up from a hole! Meanwhile, we’ve been enjoying the heck out of the hummingbirds, jays and hawks that share this spot with us.

Gophers are a real problem in Oregon.

Before coming to this part of the country, we didn’t know that this is the Easter Lily capital of the world. Yes, over 95% of all bulbs grown for the potted Easter Lily market are produced by just ten farms in a narrow coastal area straddling the California-Oregon border, from Smith River, California up to Brookings, Oregon. We’ve seen the fields of lilies, and watched farm workers planting bulbs. They have a piece of equipment with about eight platforms on which the field workers lay face down. The tractor pulls the equipment through the field, and workers pluck bulbs from a bucket in front of them and place them in the ground. These farms are not selling the actual plants, they raise the plants until they are a marketable size, then harvest the bulbs in the fall, sell the market-size bulbs to commercial greenhouses and replant the bulblets that have formed off the side of the main bulb. The greenhouses plant the bulbs in pots and grow them under controlled conditions to bloom for the Easter holiday.

Another thing we didn’t know before coming to Brookings is that most of the western coastline, from Washington, through Oregon and all the way down the California coast, is a tsunami hazard zone! As we traveled down the Pacific Coast Highway, we passed signs notifying us as we drove in and out of risk areas with the rise and fall in elevation. Our campsite, being so close to the beach, is within one of those risk areas as we are sitting about 25 feet above sea level.

There are information boards in town telling the history of the 2011 tsunami that hit the Oregon coast. That episode was set off by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that occurred 50 miles off the coast of Japan. Several hours later, three tsunami waves hit the Oregon coast. Those waves were only 3’ tall, but the tide was on its way out which meant the coastal rivers were pushing water out to the ocean. The speed and power of the incoming tsunami waves crashing into outgoing river water caused $7 million in damage. Fortunately, residents had hours of notice to evacuate before the waves arrived and there were no lives lost.

That tsunami occurred because of an earthquake 4,000 miles away, which explains the low wave height. The worry is that there is a fault roughly 100 miles off the west coast of the US that is overdue for an earthquake. Geologists say that there have been 41 quakes in that fault over the last 10,000 years, the last one being a massive 9.0 quake in the year 1700. It seems that 322 years without a break in that fault is a very long time, and seismologists warn that there is a 37% chance that an earthquake greater than a magnitude 7 will occur in this fault in the next 50 years. A quake of that size so close to the coast would set off a tsunami wave up to 100’ high that would crash into the coastline within seconds. There would be no time to evacuate. One article we read said, “if you feel the earth shake when you’re on the coast, run uphill as fast as you can.” Another article said, “If you see the wave coming, it’s too late.” I won’t lie … those words have been on my mind every day that we’ve been here. 

I almost forgot to mention the weather. How can I forget the weather? It has only rained here two or three times in the past two months, but the skies are almost perpetually grey. The fog is incredible! It’s beautiful and depressing at the same time. We have become quite adept at joking about it … if we didn’t laugh at the fog, I think we’d be on anti-depressants by now. We’ll hear the weather forecast on the radio and do our own voiceover: “Today on the coast, we’ll see fog mixed with fog. Skies will clear to grey this afternoon, giving way to fog in the evening.” When the sun does make an appearance, we run outside, pull out our chairs and bask in it’s rays! What’s even funnier is hearing the locals when the temperature climbs above 70° … “Oh, my gosh, it’s so HOT! And we don’t have A/C here!”

Tessa, fog and low tide at Crissey Field Beach.

Finally, for a delicious piece of history. We all know that the mainland United States was never bombed during World War II, right? Wrong! Would you believe the Japanese dropped two bombs on Oregon? 

I know what you’re saying, “that’s impossible … I never learned about that in school, in any museum or any book that I’ve ever read.” Well, it’s true! On September 9, the local movie theater in Brookings showed a documentary called “Samarai in the Oregon Sky” to mark the 80th anniversary of the bombing. It’s an amazing story of how a Japanese pilot dropped two bombs, one in Brookings and another in Gold Beach, and how twenty years later the people of Brookings searched for that pilot and reached out to him in peace, invited the pilot and his family to Brookings, and forged a bond of brotherhood between two former enemy nations. It’s a fantastic true story that you can watch on Vimeo for a small fee of $3.99. Here is a link to that documentary:

But, now we are counting down to departure. We leave Brookings on October 8, will head up the coast a little ways before turning east and then south toward our winter home.

Low tide on a sunny day at McVay Rock Beach.

* Official motto of the state of Oregon (pronounced OR-ee-gn, by the way … I have been corrected). The motto is said to represent both sentiments of independence from Britain and the independent nature of the early settlers in their abilities to make a living in the new territory and create a new government.

W is for Wow!

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“Does it rain a lot?” That’s the first question people ask about the state of Washington. It was our first thought before visiting the state, too … did we have enough rain gear for Washington? I don’t remember when I got the notion that Washington is wet – maybe Hollywood has always made it appear that way.

Well, it turns out that generalizing about the weather in Washington State is a fool’s game. There are more micro-climates in this state than you would believe!

We entered Washington from the eastern border with Idaho. Contrary to all that we imagined, the eastern part of Washington is high desert like so much of the West — rolling hills and farmland interspersed with fields of fragrant sagebrush, and rocky canyons framing the Columbia River. The weather was lovely the last week in June, warming to around 80° during the day and 60° at night. It felt great to sleep with the windows open again after being chilled for a couple of weeks in Montana and Yellowstone.

Moving further west, we transitioned into a hillier area of really rich farmland: the Columbia, Wenatchee and Yakima valleys where most of your grocery store’s apples and other fruits are grown. Columbia Valley is also Washington’s wine region; you can find well-known Columbia Valley labels like Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, and 14 Hands in your local stores. Of course we stopped at an orchard and small family-owned winery on a beautiful, breezy summer day.

Continuing west, the Kitsap Peninsula is the lobe of land that sits across Puget Sound from Seattle. There are areas of the Kitsap that are very reminiscent of Cape Cod or South County, Rhode Island. Bainbridge Island, as well, was lovely and almost nostalgic. The sound gave us cooler days, and morning fog that burned off slowly.


As a side note, the body of water between Kitsap Peninsula and Seattle is called Elliott Bay; its part of Puget Sound (which is enormous and broken into countless bays and straits). I came across these fascinating facts about Elliott Bay: it is 600 feet deep and home to a species of octopus that can reach 300 pounds, squid twenty-four feet long, century-old clams of amazing size and starfish bigger than a large pizza. It is home to more than two thousand kinds of invertebrates. And in the summer, the water temperature rarely climbs above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


Things really got interesting when we moved further west from Kitsap onto the Olympic Peninsula. This is big timber country, where Weyerhaeuser tree farms and logging trucks are a common sight. The snow-capped peaks of the Olympic mountains reach up 8,000 feet and grab the clouds. The combination of mountains, dense trees, and so much water is what makes the meteorological magic happen! The weather got cooler, breezier, and damper the closer we got to the mountains.

Most visitors to Washington expect to find horizontal rains and gray skies. Instead, they find the Blue Hole, a term used by pilots and sailors navigating around the peninsula. The warm, moist air blowing in from the Pacific Ocean gets snagged by the dense forest of super tall pine, fir and spruce in the Olympic Mountains. The moisture is trapped between the mountains where it rises as clouds that are wrung like a wet washcloth only to rise and rain again in a never-ending process. 

The entrapment of clouds prevents them from moving beyond the mountains and creates a rain-scarce zone over the flat shoreland north and east of the Olympic Mountains. This zone is known as The Blue Hole. The San Juan Islands and the lower part of Vancouver Island are included in the zone. So, while the mountains receive 150 inches or more of rain every year, a few miles away, the towns of Neah Bay, Sequim, Bainbridge, etc., only get about 15 inches of rain, less than the national average. They also only get a couple of inches of snow in winter!

Two photos of the Olympic Mountains from our campground. Every day the mountains were in the clouds while we, in The Blue Hole, had pleasant sunshine.
The Olympic Mountains viewed from the top of Hurricane Ridge.

This environment of continuous moisture has created a temperate rainforest within Olympic National Park. Walking through the rainforest is other-worldly — seeing a hobbit or gnome creep out from under a moss-covered log wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. We visited the rain forest and camped on it’s fringes and found that the rain was not intolerable (at least while we were there). There were never soaking downpours. We’d have some clouds, drizzle and sun in short spurts throughout the days. Our explorations were never curtailed or even hampered by the drizzle, as it never lasted long and was usually followed by a little sun.

Scenes from our walk through the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park.

Far from Disappointing

Since the early 1700’s, explorers had been searching for a waterway that would connect the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic via inland river routes. Dozens of explorers tried to find that “northwest passage” and all failed. Some were so frustrated that they flat-out declared that such a waterway didn’t exist, even though Lewis and Clark had followed a large river thousands of miles from an inland position and eventually found themselves looking at the Pacific Ocean. Countless men expected to be the one to find the mouth of the waterway, and failed. 

In 1788, a fur trader named Captain John Meares conducted his own search. He found the prominent rocky peninsula that others had written about, and a bay where the ocean churned up an incredibly dangerous surf with breakers, some as high as 40 feet, slamming into the bluffs. He wrote in his journal “Disappointment continues to accompany us. We can now safely assert that no such River exists.” He left the rocky point with the name ‘Cape Disappointment’ and the bay with the name ‘Deception.’

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver, exploring for England, made his third attempt to locate the river’s mouth. At the same time, Captain Robert Gray of Tiverton, Rhode Island, backed by investors from Boston, was also on a mission to find the river. The two met off the coast of Washington and shared information. Exasperated, Vancouver continued north exploring the coast and Gray remained at Cape Disappointment for nine days observing conditions at the bay. On the ninth day, the sea calmed to such a point that Gray was able to make his way past the sand bar and explore the bay. It wasn’t just a bay, he had found the mouth of the great river.

The Columbia River, as it was subsequently named, is a beast of a river, muscling glacial runoff and snowmelt more than a thousand miles in a rush to the ocean. In some spots, the Columbia is hundreds of feet deep and a mile wide, but just as the river meets the sea, the mouth expanded to four miles wide where a sand bar sticks out its big toe to trip the Columbia and send it crashing into the Pacific. The eastward push of the open Pacific meeting the westward charge of the Columbia creates a confluence of monsterous proportions.

The Columbia River sandbar has swallowed more ships than any other location in North America in it’s raging breakers. In the last 300 or so years, more than 2,100 shipwrecks have occurred here, from huge cargo vessels to personal fishing boats. There is a big Coast Guard presence here, and an assignment at Cape Disappointment is considered to be one of the most dangerous. The Coast Guard conducts one rescue mission each day, on average. During our stay, we heard about a fisherman who had fallen out of his boat just the day before, and visitors at the lighthouse watched the rescue. The following day, we watched a Coast Guard boat and helicopter as they appeared to be lifting someone or something out of the water. Today, a Coast Guard helicopter flew over the beach and around the corner, out of sight. It’s not called “Graveyard of the Pacific” for nothing.

Short video about the Coast Guard service at Cape Disappointment; also shows the massive waves that kept explorers from finding the river in the 1800’s.

The Columbia River bar is always shifting and so dangerous that vessels over a certain size are required to have a “bar pilot” on board to guide them through. The bar pilot will board the ship either via a Jacob’s ladder up the side of the ship, or by being dropped onto the deck from a Coast Guard helicopter.

We were lucky to find a campsite at Cape Disappointment State Park, but really won the lottery when we discovered that our site was less than twenty yards from the short path to the beach. We just gasped when we saw the size of this beach, and how empty it is!

The short beach path from our campsite brought us here.
Beautiful sunsets every night.

Needless to say, this stop was the cherry on our visit to Washington. What a fanscinating, breathtaking state! We would love to come back here!

Timing really IS everything.

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Many of you already know that we visited both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. We traveled north through the two parks camping in various strategic places and ending our visit at Mammoth Hot Springs campground within the park.

We left Yellowstone on June 10 via the North Entrance Road through Gardiner, Montana. Three days later, the Yellowstone River flooded and destroyed the North Entrance Road and several others, including the long drive through beautiful Lamar Valley, which is the prime area for viewing wildlife.

Both parks were wonderful! Both Bob and I were somewhat hesitant to visit Yellowstone because of the stories we’d heard about long lines of people waiting to get in, but we are now so glad we didn’t skip it. Yellowstone is truly a marvel that everyone should see.

Yellowstone is the first and largest national park at more than 3,500 square miles, containing more than 10,000 hydrothermal features (geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots). The 500 geysers comprise half of the geysers in the entire world. There are also 290 waterfalls. It’s really staggering to drive through the park and see just how big it is.

Scientists believe that this area of the country was created by a massive volcanic explosion a very long time ago that left behind vertical tunnels from the Earth’s crust down to the hot magma. The water is very acidic, in some places the acid is so potent that it will melt flesh, and with the surface being fragile it’s no wonder there are so many signs warning people to stay on the designated paths. Yet, every so often you hear about someone who wants to see just how hot the water is, and they generally lose their life for it. (The water can be close to 200°F and the steam over 300°F … stay on the path!)

After witnessing the remarkable beauty and nature of Grand Teton and Yellowstone, we are so sad that this disaster happened, but grateful that nobody was injured and also that we were not there when it happened!

On that note, enjoy a few photos of Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

Grand Teton National Park
Spotted on the Moose-Wilson Road, Grand Teton NP
At the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, they have taken in bears who were unable to live in the wild (usually because they discovered human food sources and became a nuisance and dangerous in campgrounds, etc.), bears that would have otherwise have been shot. In some cases, they have taken in the cubs of bears who were shot for becoming a nuisance. They have built a huge environment for them where caretakers hide food in different places every day to allow the bears for forage. They also occasionally leave various baited containers to test their bear-proof abilities. Garbage cans, coolers, dumpsters … companies pay the center to have them bear tested. Some of a bear’s favorite food is put inside, the item is placed in the habitat, a bear finds it and tries to get the food out. The bear gets some brain exercise, the company finds out if they can claim their product is bear proof. These are some tested products.
Bob got this incredible shot of Old Faithful erupting. Look at that plume! A professional couldn’t have done better!
A couple of the thermal features … from crystal-clear blue water to acidic mud that bubbles, it’s all incredibly hot and dangerous! Nowhere else have we felt so close to the core of the Earth.
“The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.” Pictures taken from various distances from the waterfall at top left.
One of many waterfalls. Can’t honestly remember which one this was! They were all beautiful.
Patience is a virtue. This eagle sat on that dead tree for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, it took off.
Beautiful blonde grizzly bear with dark brown “grizzle,” was just foraging in Lamar Valley.
Never have we ever seen something like this. Top is a coyote. Following it up the hill was a badger. People said that they are often spotted together in Lamar Valley. We Googled it, and this is not unheard of … other coyotes and badgers have also teamed up for hunting. The coyote can chase prey down on land, and the badger can dig up prey from the earth. They share the bounty. Is there a lesson there, or what?!
Mama and baby moose in Lamar Valley.
I can’t believe we actually saw a wolf in the wild. Just a glimpse! He or she was walking up the crest of a hill and disappeared seconds after I took this picture.

Before Yellowstone, we passed through southern Idaho. What a delightful surprise that state is!

The trip into Idaho from Salt Lake City was quite pretty with the Wasatch Mountains framing us on the east and the Great Salt Lake peeking at us now and again on our west. That lake is huge! We knew it was big, but we didn’t know that it is the 6th largest lake in the US, only smaller than the five Great Lakes. But, just like every other lake and reservoir we’ve seen in the southwest, it’s shrinking. The lake is about 75 miles long and 35 miles wide, but it’s maximum depth when full is only 33’. It hasn’t been full for a long time. I’ve seen estimates of it’s current depth being 11 to 14 feet. We saw a lot of salt flats when we viewed the lake from Antelope Island.

Great Salt Lake viewed from Antelope Island. You can see how badly the lake has receded by the visible salt flats.

Approaching Idaho, the terrain turns to beautiful rolling hills, fields of green very reminiscent of Vermont, but, unlike Vermont, hardly any trees. That trend continued all through southern Idaho. Miles and miles of fields planted with America’s favorite carbohydrate … potatoes! We have never seen so many irrigation devices going at the same time. Coming from the drought-stricken southwest, it was really strange to see so much water, especially since it rained a fair amount while we were in Idaho. I’m not going to lie, the bright spring green is absolutely lovely to look at following three brown months!

Rolling hills and potato fields in southern Idaho.
This picture may not look like much, but it’s typical of the “big sky” western states. Southern Idaho.


Our first stop was just outside of Twin Falls, Idaho. With a name like Twin Falls, we just had to go looking for those two waterfalls. What a surprise — there are at least a dozen natural waterfalls here! The 50 mile long Snake River Canyon skirts past the southern end of this town, and the snow melt from the mountains makes this the perfect time to go waterfall hunting. Some are big, thundering falls strong enough to supply power to the area, others are delicate ribbons of water cascading from the cliffs. It was fun driving around and hiking in search of them.

Two of the many waterfalls we found in Twin Falls, Idaho.

The drive from Twin Falls to Idaho Falls held another surprise: we passed signs telling us we were on the road to a place called Atomic City. Now, that’s a name we wouldn’t have been surprised to see in Nevada or even New Mexico, but Idaho? Our curiosity was piqued as we drove through the little town of Arco, past potato fields and into miles and miles of wide open, empty, desolate high desert. After about 30 miles of nothing, we came to a small cluster of signs: Atomic City; INL: Idaho National Laboratory; and EBR-1 Atomic Museum, A National Landmark. A museum in the middle of miles and miles of nothing? This deserved inspection and, lucky for us, the facility is now a museum was open.

Experimental Breeder Reactor 1, now a museum.

In the 1940’s, after years of experimenting with nuclear energy in populated places like Chicago, the US Department of Energy went looking for a very large, desolate tract of land on which to build an experimental facility far from any populated area. They found this 890 square mile piece of barren desert in Idaho and began construction of the National Reactor Testing Station in 1949. Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (EBR-1) was the first reactor built here. It would be followed by 52 more.

Two years after the experimental reactor was built, engineers successfully used nuclear fuel to power four 200-watt lightbulbs. The following day, they were able to power the entire building and parking lot. By 1953, the reactor was producing more power than it was using, and the nearby town of Arco became the first town in the world to be entire powered by nuclear energy!

Bob listening to the tour guide explain how the reactor worked.

For several years, the Idaho National Laboratory used EBR-1 and also constructed other experimental reactors on this site, learning and growing as they went along. Until 1961 when the first nuclear accident occurred. At that time, control rods were inserted and removed manually, and on January 3 three military employees of EBR-1 were tasked with powering up the reactor after a Christmas break. Twenty-six-year-old Richard Legg was on top of the reactor and the two other men were off to the side. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but the speculation is that the rod somehow stuck as Legg was attempting to carefully pull the rod up causing him to accidentally pull the rod too quickly or too far out of the reactor. It took 4 milliseconds for the explosion to occur. The entire reactor was lifted nine feet off the ground, the two men standing nearby were killed where they stood and Legg was found impaled to the ceiling. Radiological team members assigned to examining and cleaning up the scene were allowed into the building for only one minute at a time. The three dead men’s bodies were ultimately encased in lead and buried.

The field of nuclear engineering learned some very important lessons from this accident, not the least of which is to never again allow a human to manually manipulate a control rod. That tasks has been relegated to computers ever since.

These are experimental reactors that were built for possible inclusion in nuclear military jets … the things were so darn enormous and heavy that the idea was scrapped. By the way, this facility is also where the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, was built. It is now open to the public in Groton, CT.

Today, EBR-1 has been decontaminated, protected and is open to the public as a museum which President Lyndon Johnson designated a National Landmark. It’s a fascinating look at the development of an industry that most of us know little about. Nuclear experimentation continues on this 890 square mile property now known as the Idaho National Laboratory.

One final note ..

I logged onto WordPress to write this blog post and received a congratulatory note … my blog has been viewed 5,000 times since I started it. In the grand scheme of blogs, that’s a drop in the bucket. But, for a tool that we started to give friends and family a single place to keep up with our adventures and find out where we are, that’s kind of huge! There are a few folks following us who we have never met, as well as friends we’ve met along the way. So, thanks to everyone for stopping by! We hope you’re enjoying our stories!

You can bet on Nevada!

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I’m going to be completely honest … we didn’t have great expectations for the state of Nevada. We didn’t really know anything about the state, except that this is the home of Las Vegas and Reno (baby Vegas). If you are not into gambling, neon lights and super expensive stage shows, as we are not, then what would draw you to this state?

But, the map that is stuck on our motorhome door still showed a dozen western states that we had not visited, and Nevada was one of them. May as well use this opportunity to investigate. There is, after all, some allure to a place that counts the Extraterrestrial Highway and The Loneliest Road in America among it’s claims to fame. So, we headed into Nevada to see what we could find out.

Valley of Fire

Our first stop was a state park an hour east of Las Vegas called Valley of Fire. We’ve said before that so many state parks have proven even more beautiful than the National parks, and Valley of Fire is no exception! The park was so named because of the bright red rocks that seem to glow with the dark brown Muddy Mountains behind them. Of course, this geologic work of art was achieved over the course of millions of years. It’s no wonder Nevada dedicated this 40,000 acre marvel as it’s first state park in 1935.

One of the best parts of our visit here was meeting Richard and Elke, new friends who we really ‘clicked’ with. We’re glad that we extended our stay from two nights to four or we wouldn’t have met them!

Rachel, Nevada

From Valley of Fire, we headed north past huge installations of solar panels, through tiny desert towns with the ultimate destination being the tiny hamlet of Rachel, Nevada. Rachel’s claim to fame is that it is the location of the entrance gate to Area 51 and the back entrance to the Nevada Proving Grounds, 680 square miles of top secret federal land where nuclear bombs were tested during the Cold War and where, in 1947, a flying saucer was said to have crashed. Thus, the road that runs through this part of Nevada is known as The Extraterrestrial Highway. In reality, Area 51 is home to the nation’s overhead surveillance program and most likely where future generations of military aircraft are designed, built and tested. We were lucky to have seen two low-flying military jets whiz past, followed about 10 minutes later by a sonic boom … one flyboy’s lucky day to break the sound barrier!

Rachel, Nevada, circled in red.

Rachel, Nevada, turned out to be one of the most interesting places we’ve visited in recent months. The town consists of a few prefab homes and travel trailers surrounding the one business, the Little A’le’inn, with a cafe, gift shop, and a few motel rooms. It’s difficult to determine the population of this town, as it seems to be constantly fluctuating. The internet claims it to be somewhere around 50 people, but since nobody responded to the 2020 census, who knows?!

Notice the “Self Parking” sign to the right.

We parked in the huge, empty gravel lot across the street and went into the cafe for supper. We learned from our friend Ledge Clayton that the best place to sit if you really want to talk to locals is the counter, so we took two seats there. Bob immediately started a conversation with a young man who was sitting a few stools down from us, asking if he’s from Rachel. He said that he lives there now, but didn’t grow up there. Bob asked how he came to live in Rachel, and he replied, “I was traveling around the country and stopped here for supper. They asked me if I wanted a job. I said, “sure.” That was a year-and-a-half ago.” When we mentioned that we are traveling across the country, he quipped, “And you’re here for supper. Want a job? You’re almost living here now.”

Moments later, we were joined by Smitty. He traveled through Rachel 14 years ago, stopped and spent a couple of months. That was the beginning of his love affair with Rachel, as he now travels back and forth between Washington state in summer and Arizona in winter, and he always stops in Rachel for about a month twice a year.

It takes a certain kind of fortitude to live in a place like Rachel, Nevada. The nearest gas station is 33 miles away. That is also the location of the nearest “grocery store,” which I put in quotation marks as it’s more like a very large convenience store (I shopped there). The nearest large store for groceries and staple supplies is the Walmart 99 miles away.

We had a fantastic time visiting Rachel, sitting outside with the locals for a while, enjoying a beer and trading stories. We may have to find a way to visit again on our way back to Texas.

Hickison Petroglyphs

Hickison Petroglyphs was our next stop. This was a tiny free campground with no services on Highway 50. These are some of the oldest petroglyphs in the country, thought to be some 10,000 years old. Unfortunately, the area went unprotected for so long that it was apparently a hangout for partying kids who scratched so much graffiti into the rocks that it’s pretty hard to tell what’s real and what’s vandalism. It was still a beautiful, quiet place to camp and hike for a couple of nights.

View from our hike to the summit.
So sad that we were unable to tell if these petroglyphs are original or have been tampered with. (Coincidentally, some look like shooting stars, and we saw a huge meteor that night!)
A Western Fence Lizard sitting on … a fence!

The Loneliest Road in America

In 1986, Life magazine went in search of the place in America that had the fewest points of interest and services. They found U.S. Highway 50 in Nevada. “It’s totally empty. There are no points of interest. We don’t recommend it. We warn all motorists not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills,” the July issue of Life quoted an unnamed AAA counselor as saying about Highway 50. They crowned it “The Loneliest Road in America.”

Nevada, being the quirky place that we have, by now, discovered it to be, did not take offense. On the contrary, they grabbed those words like the mane of a wild mustang and rode them straight to the tourism department. They issued a challenge to vacationers to try their luck at surviving “The Loneliest Road in America.”

We expected desolate, barren land from this highway … brown and harsh with signs warning, “Last Gas for 300 Miles.” What we found was a truly magnificent slice of Americana!

We drove 161 miles west on Highway 50 from Hickison Petroglyphs to the town of Fernley outside of Reno. Our first surprise was the long, winding climb up the beautiful Toiyabe mountain range and down the other side through the mountainside town of Austin, Nevada, population 101. It seemed to me that many of the buildings looked darn authentic, all connected with mis-matched covered porches. Austin was the first town we came to, and it was 25 miles from our campground.

We continued west through the monstrous Reese River Valley, a 65-mile long stretch of open range grazing land interrupted by the occasional salt flat (dried up lake beds). The valley winds it’s way around small mountain ranges that making for a very picturesque drive. The vastness of flat, straight roadway surrounded by open range simply can’t be communicated with photographs. After leaving the town of Austin, we didn’t see another homestead for 34 miles.

We drove for miles and miles, and every now and again, we’d get a surprise treat, like the old, narrow dirt road that crossed the highway with a short sign that read “Pony Express Trail 1860-1861.” Wow! Imagine that!

The Pony Express trail.

Another surprise was the “shoe tree.” Passing by a small stand of cottonwood trees, I noticed that there was something unusual growing on the largest tree. I turned around to have a look and found that the tree was covered with old sneakers! There was no sign explaining what the significance was, but the website Travel Nevada gave me the answer:

“Many decades ago, a newlywed couple was returning home, traveling eastbound on Highway 50 after being married at a Reno wedding chapel. While traveling this lonely highway, the couple got into their very first argument and pulled over on the side of the road… next to an outcropping of trees. In protest, the hot-tempered woman proclaimed that she would rather walk home. The man retorted with telling her that if she wanted to walk home, she could do it barefoot – then proceeded to grab her shoes and toss them up on the nearest tree. The man angrily jumped in his car and blasted off down the highway, leaving his new bride alongside the road to follow through with her threat of walking home. He pulled over at the first bar he encountered, and began drowning his sorrows. Lucky for him [and his new wife] an upstanding bartender convinced him to return to her in an attempt to make up. He did just that, they managed to work out their sorrows, and lived happily ever after. From that point on, the couple returned to the tree on their anniversary each year, tossing a celebratory pair of shoes around the same exact tree as an emblem of their unwavering love for each other.”
The shoe tree.

Bonneville Salt Flats

We would be remiss in visiting this part of the country without stopping at the Bonneville Salt Flats and Speedway. Since 1935, there have been 38 land speed records set here using a variety of cars, motorcycles and specialized vehicles. What surprised me most was learning that 39% of those records have been set by women!

What makes the Bonneville Salt Flats ideal for setting speed records? At 12 miles long and 5 miles wide, Bonneville’s long, thick stretches of salt-encrusted earth are perfect for driving at high speed. The area was formed during the last Ice Age, when a huge lake dried up, leaving behind mineral deposits. Every summer the flats’ salt crust hardens again after the winter rains, leaving a perfect speedway of salt that sits 5 feet thick at it’s center. The terrain is ideal for racing: The moisture in the surface prevents tires from overheating at high speeds; plus, it’s barren and flat, allowing cars to drive straight without obstacles for miles on end.

Way out in the distance behind us, you can see a black dot. That’s a vehicle driving on the salt flat.

Bonneville Salt Flats are used for more than racing, however. If you ever see an advertisement showing a scantily-clad model standing on snow, those photos were probably shot here. From car commercials to alien movies, the salt flats are a popular spot. The day we visited, there were trucks loading up the equipment they had just used for a commercial shoot for the clothing company Buckle.

While we were there, we met four women who met while traveling solo to Glacier National Park several years ago. They hit it off and have been meeting up in different parts of the country once or twice a year ever since. They were so excited to learn that we are full-time RVers and even more excited that we have this travel blog. We didn’t get their names, but here’s a shout-out to the ladies … keep in touch and let us know if you have any questions about this lifestyle!


Anyone who knows me well knows that I love data. I found Nevada to be such a fascinating state that I had to investigate the statistics.

At 110,572 square miles, Nevada is the 7th largest state in the country. For the folks back in New England, you could fit almost TWENTY Connecticut’s into Nevada. The Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise metropolitan area is actually larger than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. With 2.3 million residents, that metro area holds 74% of the state’s population. This leaves less than 8 people per square mile residing in the rest of Nevada!

We drove for miles without seeing a homestead or town. Sometimes we’d pass a sign pointing out that if you turn here, you’ll reach a town. Many of them are now ghost towns, but a few, like the town of Middlegate, may have a cluster of a half dozen mailboxes at the corner. (Middlegate’s population is approximately 17.)

Driving through the Reese River Valley.

What we expected to be a very boring part of our journey ended up being unexpectedly fascinating! We’re new fans of Nevada!

It’s been a long time …

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… since we’ve entered a new state. We’ve been living the full-time RV lifestyle for 20 months now — wow! That sounds like such a long time! It honestly doesn’t seem that long for us. I don’t know if it’s because we spent two months in Connecticut last spring, or because we haven’t been anyplace new in quite a while.

We’ve tried to visit Utah three times previously, but for one reason or another we had to change our plans each time. In our case the fourth time was the charm! We just wrapped up a three-week tour of southern Utah, the “Mighty Five” National Parks and a few State Parks. Surprisingly, nothing important or shocking happened, no run-ins with wildlife, thank goodness! We simply spent a few weeks enjoying the jaw-dropping beauty of this state, the warmth and sunshine, and a couple of great meals along the way.

I don’t think I really have any great stories to tell, so I’ll let my pictures do the talking. Instead of stories and history, the usual things I post about, this is more of a photo album. Enjoy!

Monument Valley – Arizona/Utah Border

This is where Forrest Gump stopped running.

Goosenecks State Park, Mexican Hat, Utah

The “goosenecks” formed over the course of about 300 million years as the San Juan River, once much wider and stronger, carved it’s course through the rocks.
Our motorhome is up there on the edge of that 1000 foot high cliff.
A beautiful spiral labyrinth created on the cliff by a former camper.

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Famous “Delicate Arch.”
I forget the name of this arch. There are about 2000 arches in the park, and 43 have fallen down. Eventually all the arches will disappear, although that could take tens of thousands of years. This arch used to be much smaller, until a large stone fell out of the middle.

Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah

I like this photo because it looks like it must have been taken from an airplane. It was actually taken from a scenic overlook.
It’s easy to look at Canyonlands and see that there was an ocean that once covered a vast part of the western U.S.

Capitol Reef National Park, Fruita, Utah

Hiking in the “grand wash.” A “wash” or “arroyo” is a dry riverbed. Caution is required when hiking in a wash, as a big rain storm 50 miles away could cause far flung rivers to flood, filling these dry beds with flash flood waters. Signs at the entrance tell you that if you hear what sounds like a train coming, climb as high as you can as fast as you can! (I suspect it’s been a very long time since water has touched this one as it is one of the most popular hikes in the park.)
Crazy holes pock-mark the rocks in some places. Most of the holes are filled with small rocks … left behind by a flash flood years ago?

Goblin Valley State Park, Green River, Utah

Wild Horse Butte marks the entrance to Goblin Valley. (The huge cloud behind looked like a tornado, but wasn’t.)
The top of Wild Horse Butte is a narrow rock column striped with hundreds of colors of stone. Very visible even from the ground!
Looking down at Goblin Valley, an area filled with petrified sand formations that have been worn into cool shapes by wind and rain.
People are allowed to free hike through Goblin Valley, trusting that they will not try to climb the more delicate formations.
After a while, you start to see faces and creatures everywhere you look.
This might be the coolest campsite backdrop we’ve ever had!

Bryce Canyon National Park and Red Canyon, Bryce, Utah

Bryce is not really a canyon, it’s a collection of a dozen or so areas where the stone has been eroded into weird formations called “hoodoos.” There are also arches and natural bridges.
For Bob’s birthday, we took a UTV tour of a couple of caves, also called “slot canyons” because they are so narrow and open at the top.
Again, it has taken millions of years for water and wind to erode the rock walls of these caves into smooth, multi-colored formations.

Zion National Park, Springdale, Utah

Zion was our favorite National Park. It’s SO majestic! Photos never do places like this justice. There were “wow’s” around every corner at Zion!
From rugged, angular mountains …
… to rocks that look like they had been poured onto the earth.
This was our sunset view at the campground, the rocks glowing orange!

You have entered the Twilight Zone …

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The weirdness began on March 31 as we traveled from City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico to Roper Lake State Park in Safford, Arizona. We stay off the interstates whenever possible as the local roads are more interesting. We passed some huge copper mines, a couple of quaint towns, drove through the Little Burro Mountains and dropped down into the Chihuahuan dessert, an expansive flatness surrounded by distant mountains. We were on Highway 70, a local two-lane highway, when we approached a mild bend in the road and noticed a large carcass on the right shoulder. A mule deer, probably. Several vultures were snacking and, as we approached, the vultures took flight off into the dessert. All but one vulture. That one remaining vulture stared us down as we lumbered closer, seeming to say, “This is MY carcass, and YOU can’t have it!”

I watched the vulture while thinking silently to myself, “Animals are so unpredictable.” Bob was probably thinking something similar, but before either of us could speak, we were at the carcass and that dang vulture decided to fly toward us! I wonder if it was trying to scare us away or simply a case of poor judgement? Whatever the motive, I heard either Bob or myself (or maybe both of us) calmly say, “Oh, shit.”

For a couple of seconds, it looked like the bird was attempting to back-pedal — wings were flapping all akimbo, and then … our windshield shattered like a huge spiderweb.

The darn thing left a large dent in the glass.

I think we may have both said, again, “oh, shit.” Despite being tempered, there were still tiny shards of glass in the cockpit area of the motorhome. We grabbed Tessa and rushed her out the door and into the car, I grabbed the phone and looked for glass businesses in Safford, the town we were heading for. The first company on the list, Boulevard Glass, said that yes, they worked on motorhome windshields. “Great,” I said. “A vulture just hit our windshield on Highway 70. We’re heading to you right now.” Bob drove the motorhome (wearing safety goggles just in case) and I followed in the car with Tessa. It was 44 miles to Safford; we took our time and arrived with the windshield intact.

When we pulled into the parking lot of Boulevard Glass the owner, Rhett Dodge, came out the door and was assessing the damage before Bob even turned off the engine. In short order, Seth and Patricia in the office got in touch with our insurance provider and the windshield manufacturer. Rhett assured us that the windshield wouldn’t fall in on us and we could continue the 7 miles to Roper Lake to wait for the new glass to arrive. (He was also kind enough to offer us a parking spot behind their shop, but obviously that wouldn’t have been nearly as comfortable, quiet or picturesque as the state park.)

The good news was that the glass manufacturer, Coach Glass, had a distribution center in Phoenix, just two hours away, and had a windshield for us that would ship it to arrive the following Tuesday. (Not much happens over the weekend out here, compared to the Northeast.) Tuesday was also our check-out date from Roper Lake, so the timing was perfect, we could go right back to the glass shop for installation.

Tuesday came, and we readied the motorhome for campground check-out, excited to get the new windshield installed. We called Boulevard Glass to let them know we were on our way. This should have been our first indication that we were in the Twilight Zone … our new windshield had arrived broken! The glass shop rejected the windshield and told the company to send another one. We had to wait three more days for the second windshield, and reserve another campsite at Roper Lake.

On Friday, when the windshield did not arrive, Boulevard called Coach Glass and learned that it had not been shipped from Phoenix, like the previous glass, but from Oregon! Shipping time to Safford from Oregon was expected to take five days, not three. But, again, it was the weekend, and nothing happens out here on weekends. We had to get another campsite at Roper Lake.

Back at the campground, Bob kept busy with maintenance tasks while I canceled and rescheduled campground reservations that were coming up. Bob was putting rubber dressing on the tires and checking their condition when he noticed that two of our rear tires had some pretty serious wear on them. We decided to use our extra time in Safford to get new tires before heading into the wilds of Utah and Nevada.

That Monday, we drove the rig over to Haralson’s Tire and got six brand new tires and an oil change to boot. We felt good that we accomplished something. The next morning, Bob discovered that one of our brand new tires was almost flat! He was able to pump it up with our compressor, and we drove back to Haralson’s to have it checked. It turned out to be the valve stem, easily fixed, fortunately!

Just as we were pulling into the tire dealer, Boulevard Glass called to let us know that the windshield, which was supposed to arrive in Safford Monday or Tuesday, had been shipped to Phoenix instead of Safford! Coach Glass said it would take another two to three days for them to send it to us in Safford!

It’s hard not to lose your mind when you have campgrounds reserved and you’re trying to stay as close to on-track as possible with this ever-changing situation. But, we went back to the campground, reserved another site, and I worked on adjusting our route and reservations … again. It was then that Bob noticed the gap above the cabinet.

Red arrow points to where the gap was, now shored up with an L-bracket.

The cockpit of our motorhome has wrap-around style cabinets along the ceiling right over the dashboard, and right in the middle of those cabinets there is a frame in which the television is mounted. The cabinet above the passenger seat (my seat) was drooping slightly on one corner. Closer inspection revealed that the two screws in the front corner were pulling out of the ceiling. The weight was also causing the cabinet to pull on the television frame. Basically, if that cabinet was not securely attached to the ceiling, any jarring ride on a poorly paved road (we encounter a lot of them) could cause the entire thing … cabinets and TV … to fall on us.

Bob spent hours that night and the next morning investigating the construction of the cabinet to see how to fix it. After trying several ideas, he finally got the job done by securing an L-bracket to the cabinet and ceiling and adding screws to the side that joins the TV cabinet. I know it’s not the ‘pretty’ job he was hoping for, but it was the best solution given our current situation. The bracket is holding the cabinet and we’ll be able to travel safely!

Back at the glass shop, Rhett was at the end of his rope with Coach Glass. His whole staff was trying to get our windshield installed so we could get back on the road. Rhett told Coach that he’d be sending a truck to Phoenix to pick up the windshield. Funny thing was, the people at the Phoenix warehouse didn’t know where it was. They lost our huge windshield?! Apparently it was just a temporary misplacement, as they called Boulevard a short time later to say they had found it. They also found five other windshields just like it. We don’t know for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise us if those other windshields were there the entire two weeks that we were dealing with this fiasco!

Anyway, Boulevard did pick up our windshield in Phoenix. We were camped out in the shop’s back yard when the truck arrived, and we cheered on the truck! Sixteen days after that #$@& vulture flew into our path, Bob pulled our motorhome into the big bay at Boulevard and they worked their magic. We felt like we were saying goodbye to family, and when they asked where we were headed, we jokingly said, “Out of Safford as fast at possible!”

Finally!! A brand new windshield!

Despite the entire crazy ill-fated situation, Roper Lake State Park was a pretty darned good place to be “stuck.” It’s a migratory bird area, and we saw birds that we’d never seen before. I hung a nectar feeder from our shrubs and not only hummingbirds, but a pair of hooded orioles were constant visitors. There were just enough trails to get a little exercise, Tessa swam and ran almost every day … something for everyone. And the dessert was just starting to bloom! We got to stare at Mount Graham, the highest peak in Arizona, every day and we drove up to 9,200 feet one day (the end of the paved part of the mountain road). The camp hosts, particularly Tim and Kathy, Steve and Caren, and the park rangers were a great help at getting us settled in new campsites each time we had to extend our stay. We were stars of the campground, as other campers would wander by just to take a look at the windshield and ask what happened.

Hooded Orioles at the feeder.
Vermillion Flycatcher.
Mount Graham, highest point in Arizona.

And now, we’re back on the road. When we’re traveling, everything pretty much falls into place, we have routines for arriving, departing, getting gas, dumping tanks, etc. In only two weeks, we’re out of the groove and have to move for a couple of days to get it back. Tonight we’re in one of the loudest Walmart lots we’ve ever been in. There’s unfortunately a train track right across the street that has to blow it’s horn right there. There are quite a few more RVs here than we ever see in Walmart, maybe about 7 or 8. There was a character selling Piñon nuts earlier, another who told Bob that he’s walking from his home in Portland, Oregon, to Washington, DC, because he wants to run for President. Tomorrow we finally get to catch up with friends Kathleen and Ruben, who we met in San Antonio. Then we finally start heading toward Utah!

The last bad decision it ever made.

Two vultures are on the side of the road eating a dead clown. One says, “Does this taste funny to you?”

The drought problem.

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EDITOR’S ERROR: I thought I had published this a couple of weeks ago but just discovered that I hadn’t. Whoops! Enjoy this belated post!

After leaving Lost Maples State Park, we spent a few nights exploring San Angelo, Texas and it’s huge state park. There’s really not much to say about this spot. The campground itself is nicely laid out with some huge sites, but very little shade for the warmer months and no apparently regular upkeep of the sites by campground hosts. For instance, our fire ring contained the remnants of previous campfires and some old aluminum foil, and we had to pick up lots of broken glass laying around the picnic table. I had images of rowdy, drunken campers throwing their beer bottles at the fire ring and missing, shattering a whole bunch of bottles. By contrast, we had paid the same price for our site at Lost Maples where the camp hosts thoroughly cleaned every site as soon as the campers checked out. The value of a good campground host is immeasurable.

San Angelo State Park has an extensive hiking trail system, but a prescribed burn had been conducted shortly before our visit, so the landscape was all charred. We understand the need for burns like this to control invasive species, but it’s unfortunate that we were unaware before arriving. No surprise to us was the water level of the lake … it is only 5.9% of normal operating capacity, and the amount of mature vegetation that has grown up between the ends of the boat ramps and the water tells us this has been the case for quite some time. With very little online research, I found data showing that the last time this lake was “full” was around 1960. The more we explore the west and, in particular the southwest, the more shocked we are by the drought conditions.

Google Earth image of O.C. Fisher Reservoir, San Angelo State Park. You can see that the reservoir used to be more than twice the current size.
The boat ramps above appear to have been permanently closed due to low water levels.

In the book Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West, author Timothy Egan explains that the southwest was never meant to be populated with places like Phoenix and Las Vegas. Kit Carson said southern Arizona was “so desolate, deserted and God-forsaken that a wolf could not make a living upon it.” While that may have been an exaggeration, the point he made was that this land was not meant for habitation by anything but the most specialized of creatures. The Native Indians knew that, nomadically moving with the weather, crops and wildlife. Between 1850, when California became a state, and 1890, when the United States declared the western frontier closed, millions of mostly European-born Americans flooded the west looking for their slice of the pie and, wanting to ensure settlement by Anglo-Americans, the government looked for ways to make this land more hospitable. European-born Americans were not interested in living where the land is hot, prickly and in a perpetual state of beige, they wanted greenery and cool running water.

The government’s solution was to damn up the Colorado River to contain multiple pools of water to supply green lawns and shrubs in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles … places that nature never intended to be green. After all, there is an endless supply of water beneath the earth, isn’t there? Theodore Roosevelt disagreed: “Leave it as it is, you cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.” Even so, in 1902 he signed the Reclamation Act to address water scarcity and lack of settlement in far western states, and in 1905 construction began on the Laguna Dam, the first built on the Colorado River. In 1922, the “Law of the River” allocated the waters of the Colorado to the various states and cities and 14 additional dams were built to control the river, diverting it to reservoirs in the name of settlement of land that was never meant to be settled. Ecosystems were destroyed, cultural remains and ancestral villages flooded and the landscaped permanently changed in the name of “progress.”

The problem is that when the water was allocated in 1922, it provided a substantial enough supply to allow for growth of Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson. It did not take into account the growth of those cities. In 1920, the combined population of those cities was about one million people. By 2020, the combined population had soared to over 44 million! The Reclamation Service also didn’t consider that this part of the country is subject to periods of drought. The current drought is currently in it’s 21st year and shows no sign of ending.

To add insult to injury, when the water was allocated to states, there was zero water allocated to the 30 native Indian tribal lands that are located near it’s banks. Tribes have been seeking correction of that “oversight” in the form of lawsuits for the past 60 years. While they have had some victories in court, they lack the infrastructure to draw and pipe the water to their towns, leaving cities and states downstream free to poach the water that the tribes are unable to collect.

Photo from August 2021 showing the water line of a seriously depleted reservoir at a campground near Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

Everywhere we travel in the west we encounter similar signs of drought. It would be interesting to look 50 years into the future to see the condition of those major cities as well as the rural areas. How will they survive without water? How will the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon and Utah’s Canyonlands look with just a dry trickle where rushing rapids used to be?

We’re on the road again!

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EDIT: I published the initial essay with pictures that were too big … they took forever to load. Three months away from the blog, I forgot that I have to resize them first. Hopefully the pictures will now load quickly.

The past few days have been kind of odd. We spent 3-1/2 months at Travelers World in San Antonio, which is 6 weeks longer than we stayed last year. Last winter, all park events were cancelled due to Covid, except for a couple of outdoor dances thanks to the resident DJ, Skip. It was difficult to get to know people under those circumstances. Things loosened up a bit more this year, and we were able to play darts, Pickleball and cards with other Winter Texans here. This is quite a friendly community, and we felt fully welcomed into the fold.

Preparing to depart was bittersweet. We have a huge itinerary of places to see over the next 8-1/2 months (a milestone … the longest we’ll have traveled in the motorhome without settling down), and fingers are crossed that we don’t suffer any big glitches along the way. If all goes according to plan, we’ll visit all the western and northwestern states on this trip, from the red rock and cactus of the southwest the to mountains and redwoods of the Pacific Northwest. We’re going to miss our San Antonio friends and look forward to reuniting in November, 2022.

First stop … getting back to basics.

We’ve been spoiled since mid-November with great restaurants nearby, three grocery stores within a three-mile radius, cable TV and internet strong enough to stream movies. Today, we are in Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool, Texas. Here, we have no cell signal, nothing within a ten-mile radius and we’ll entertain ourselves with multiple games of Parchisi and lots of reading. Bob just said, “I miss the simple things in life, like knowing what the temperature is outside.” (We have no access to our weather apps.) There’s no time like the present to get used to not having services, as we’ll be heading into some pretty remote areas over the next few months. At least we still have electricity and water at our campsite!

Lost Maples is named for the stands of Sawtooth Maple trees that grow along the banks of the Sabinal River, protected from the elements of excessive heat and drought by the surrounding canyon. This is the only place in Texas where you will find maple trees growing wild as they need too much moisture to survive here.

The park is locally famous for it’s challenging hiking trails, and, oh my, the trail we hiked was a challenge! Our friends Doyle and Dawn had warned us that this trail was very rocky, and they weren’t kidding. We took their advice and did a counter-clockwise loop hike. Doyle didn’t say that it was easier, he sort of called it the lesser of the two evils. Hiking counter-clockwise meant we had to climb 8/10 of a mile up a very steep, rocky hill (boulders serving as steps, almost), while coming down we had to navigate 4/10 mile of steep loose scree. Even on a good day, going down is harder than going up a hill, but putting loose stones into the scenario makes for a very difficult descent … it took about twice as long to descend than to climb. Thank goodness for adjustable hiking poles!

The hike got off to a good start.
We found Monkey Rock.
The climb.
The descent.
More than five miles into the hike, Tessa got a refreshing break followed by a case of the zoomies with still another mile to go.
There were multiple picturesque crossings of the Sabinal River and Dry Can Creek.

After 6-1/2 miles of hiking, Bob, Tessa and I were all worn out. Tessa found a sunbeam to lay in and didn’t move for at least an hour. And, boy, that cold Commissar beer by Texas’ own Real Ale Brewing went down soooo easy! We were in bed by 8:00 that night and slept a full twelve hours.

While in this area, we had to check out the closest town. Utopia, Texas, boasts one general store (with reportedly the best bacon you’ll ever eat), one feed store, a post office, and the Lost Maple Cafe where one can find the best pies. We were up for some small town cafe fare. The cafe is cute as can be with mismatched Formica-top tables and Naugahyde-covered chairs from the 1960’s. The waitress greeted us with a big smile, took our order and promptly relayed it verbally to the cook. I thought it was sweet that the cook (a very big dude with a bald head and long beard) sent out a small salad for me, since I turned down the beans that should have been served with my enchilada. Bob’s lamb sliders were produced by a local ranch, and he proclaimed them delicious. The best part of dinner was watching the locals come and go. In a tiny town like Utopia, everybody knows everyone. It’s fun to see all the folks on a first-name basis in such a tight-knit community. Of course we left with pie. I’d never heard of Buttermilk pie before, but now I know that it’s pretty much a baked mixture of sugar and buttermilk and, wow, is it sweet!

Entering Utopia; 70 mph speed limit on narrow country road; dinner at the Lost Maple Cafe.

Fun fact about Utopia, Texas … a movie was filmed there in 2011. “Seven Days in Utopia” starring Robert Duvall, Lucas Black and Melissa Leo. The film got mixed reviews, but in my humble opinion there is no such thing as a bad Robert Duvall movie. The cafe walls were covered with photos of the cast and crew. Of course we’ll be looking for the movie … when we get internet service again!

All in all, the trip is off to a good start! We’re enjoying the absolute quiet of the forest, fresh air, exercise and sunshine.

Now all I need is some internet service to post this!!!

Yes, We are Still Here!

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A friend of mine reminded me that there hasn’t been a blog post in quite some time, and she is right! It’s funny how you pull into a spot that you know is going to be “home” for a while, and the blog just kind of slips into the background. Meanwhile, all the folks back home are wondering what happened to Louise and Bob!!

We have been in San Antonio, Texas, for our second winter. After having made two short visits to the city in previous trips, we spent two months here last winter. This year we are staying for just over three months. We obviously like it here! San Antonio is the 7th most populous city in the USA, and that is really the only downfall to San Antonio — it’s popularity. With 1.4 million residents, this city’s metro area has exploded— in the past 35 years, the population has doubled. That being said, it’s amazingly easy to navigate. It’s very obvious that this city makes an effort to keep up with the growth by maintaining and adding to the infrastructure. And they really do offer SO many things to do all over the city, not just downtown.

Between the city itself and Travelers World RV Park, there is no excuse for being bored. We’ve got pot luck and game night, darts night, a weekly bike ride and happy hour every Friday. There’s football game gatherings, a chili cook off, and the guys get together for MEWS (that’s “Men Eating Without Supervision” … it apparently involves sausages on the grill). I’ve learned a couple of new card games and started smacking the ball around the Pickleball court. We went to the Opry in Floresville to see a Patsy Cline performer, and took a few swing dance classes. Don’t forget that we also have Tessa and the Riverwalk at our doorstep, so our walking has increased. Honestly, we need to pace ourselves!

For those wondering about our Covid protection status, we are vaccinated and boosted and have boxes of masks all over the place. This is Texas, and most of the winter residents here are from places far and wide. We do not know other folks’ vaccination status unless they are willing to share. So, people tend to do what they are comfortable with. We mask when we are in stores and crowds, and try to do as much as possible outdoors. When indoors for things like darts, each couple takes a different table so we are some distance from each other. So far, so good!

We do meet the nicest people here, too. And people from some very interesting walks of life! Last year, we became friends with a fellow named Tom who was a drummer for one of the first punk rock bands in Chicago, and in his day-job he was an iron worker. We miss him this year as he took an apartment in Seattle and didn’t come back. We’ve got friends from Alabama, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Ontario, Montana, Wyoming and right here in San Antonio … people who have traveled this great country and share their stories. A few weeks ago, we met a fellow who used to drive stage equipment for Reba McIntyre for 7 years and Robert Cray for 15 years, and many other performers in between. It’s amazing who you meet when you live the RV life!

Our friends Dawn and Doyle are back! They are an awesome couple from Alabama and beyond (they are full-timers also) who we met last year. Our dogs, Tessa and Winky, became friends first, and then we discovered that the four of us really enjoy each other’s company! Dogs bring folks together.

Bob and I became grandparents recently! His son Derrick and wife Christy delivered the ultimate Christmas present on December 19, baby Kai. Bob flew back to Connecticut as soon as we heard they were going to the hospital. I’m currently sitting in San Antonio airport waiting for my flight back to Connecticut to meet my granddaughter. It still feels odd calling myself a grandmother, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it. This starts a new chapter in our lives and has us thinking more about settling down somewhere. For now, the ridiculous housing market is going to keep us as full-time RVers … it’s a good thing we have frequent flyer miles so we can visit once in a while!

We’re very happy that some of our favorite people were able to visit us this winter — Bob’s brother Dan and wife Cathy and my daughter Laura were able to visit for a few days. We practically wore ourselves out being tour guides and eating at some great restaurants. We also welcomed my sister, Carolyn and husband Bob to the park. They brought their RV down from Tennessee for two weeks and ended up liking it so much that they stayed for a month and already booked for next winter.

We also booked our stay here next winter. Our current plan is to leave San Antonio on March 1 and head northwest. We’ll do a loop through Arizona, Utah, Nevada, up to Montana, Washington and Oregon, then back down through California and back to San Antonio. You’ll start to see more posts once we hit the road.

To all of our family and friends, Happy New Year and Happy Valentine’s Day! If we’ve learned one thing in the last two years it’s that life can change in an instant. Love the one you’re with, give hugs if you’re able, tell those around you how much they mean to you. We love you all! Stay safe! Get your booster! Wear your masks! You are important to us.