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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Views from a SoCal RVer


After returning from a 3,000 mile motor home trip last year, my husband and I started reminiscing about our trip.

Utah is a visual kaleidoscope - the scenery ranges from stark to magnificent. We made a stop at Zion
National Park and were blown away by what we were able to see -  refreshing river walk, rare hanging gardens, brave wildlife (a squirrel that sat unperturbed as we hiked right next to it and a bird that landed on my knee - and we didn’t feed either one), weeping walls and a shuttle system that ran like clockwork. Our next stop was Salt Lake City where most of our time revolved around an Irish feis my granddaughter was participating in.  SLC is diversified as well. The cityscape ranges from religions archtecture to a KOA, where you might forget you are in an urban setting if you leave through the back gate and walk along the river.
                                                                                    
We had one overnight in Rawlins, Wyoming, so didn’t get a chance to make many observations other than everyone we met was nice. We did make time to check out the Wyoming State Prison before we left. Our tour guide was young and enthusiastic, telling us many interesting stories about the prison. Archie enjoyed the tour, too. 
We arrived at our South Dakota destination in time to set-up and make dinner. We’d been there before but we discovered some new things:
> If you really want to get up close to the Black Hills, rent an ATV - another Archie-included activity.
> People get friendly really fast riding in the back of a horse drawn wagon and even friendlier when, while eating outside, it starts to rain with a little thunder and lightning thrown in to add to the excitement.
 > If you really want to see wildlife, go to a drive-thru park where the animals can’t hide. I learned three things there: 1) wolves look a lot like some mixed-breed dogs I‘ve seen so I need to be careful of strays I might see on a hike, 2) bears are very curious animals - an inquisitive one held us hostage on the “bear” road while he inspected our front tow hitch and used it for a back scratch, and 3) coyotes are better looking when they eat well.
> There are fascinating things to see underground - caves are fun to walk through, especially when your guide tells good stories.
> Try looking at things from a different angle, like a chairlift, for a different perspective on the landscape.
Check your pulse if you don’t feel patriotic at Mt. Rushmore. We’d seen the moving lighting ceremony before but this time we walked the presidential trail (seeing the monument up close and at different angles) and visited the exhibits. (I still can’t believe they were able to do such intricate work back then.)
> The Iron Mountain and Needles Highways are a marvel and kind of scary with their tiny tunnels (no RV’s for sure) and present pleasant visual surprises as you drive around corners.
> If you drive through Custer State Park, be sure to take carrots for the wild donkeys; we didn’t and those donkeys really seemed disappointed when they stuck their heads inside our car window.
> People will take unbelievable chances to get close to wildlife.
> Clouds can get mighty scary looking, especially if you’re from SoCal where we just don’t get that much sky action.

   
Next stop, Thermopolis, Wyoming. We drove the Red Feather Highway to get there, scenic and scary - I mean steep. We discovered the hot springs - just like bath water but after being home a week and several washings, I could still smell sulfur on my bathing suit.

Then it was on to Yellowstone - an area of contrasts. One minute there are lush forests, lakes, and water flowing down the side of the mountain. Next there are trees that look like match sticks (forest fire), steam coming straight up from the ground and bubbling mud pots. We spent a few days in this spectacular park. Some spots look like hell is trying to escape from the middle of the earth. Then there are colors so vibrant they don’t look real while the next spot looks as desolate as a moonscape. There were powerful waterfalls and tranquil lakes. Can all of this and Old Faithful all be in one park? Yep, and lots of bison and elk, too. There is a lot to see and too much ground to cover. We put it on our list for a return trip.

  



After Yellowstone, it was time to head for home. We spent just one night in Provo, Utah, and a couple in Las Vegas visiting relatives where it was so hot, when we opened the door for Archie to go out, we got blasted by hot air. Archie stopped in his tracks, made a U-turn and headed under the table.
 
What did we learn on this trip?
    > Grandkids make everything more fun (including breakfast) and remind you how awesome every day things can be, like butterflies and other insects.
    > I've come to the conclusion that most people on the road are friendly because it was not unusual for me to return to the RV to find my husband “chatting” with someone who had been a complete stranger before I left.
    > There is a lot to see in the USA and some of the most spectacular views are on the way to where you are going - something you miss if you aren’t traveling via the roads.
    STAY SAFE OUT THERE!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What's Going to Happen to Me?

Mom ready for her talk at
 The Well Red Coyote, 3190 W. Highway 89A - Suite 400
in Sedona, Arizona
Archie helping Dad with his morning devotions.
We just returned from an eye-opening trip with my folks to Sedona. I am so blessed that my parents have lived long enough that I have gotten to know them, not only as a mother and father, but also as friends.

We have been on several motor home trips together. The first one was was a previous trip to Arizona, about five years ago, because my mom was participating in a book fair in Prescott. Since we helped them set up, I asked how they were able to do it when we weren’t around. She said someone always noticed two old people struggling with their gear and would come running to help. (Side note to anyone out there that might have helped them out over the years, thanks!) While Mom worked her booth, Mike, Dad and I had a great time checking out nearby sites, sometimes leaving Mom at her table too long, as we were promptly informed on our return. The next day, we made a perilous drive from Prescott to Sedona through Jerome - after which I told my husband, “no one can steer finer.”  Literally, I could touch the sides of buildings when I reached my hand out the window of the motor home. There was also an interesting encounter with a tour bus coming from the other direction - talk about a tight squeeze. Once we arrived at the campground, we enjoyed it so much that we didn't leave.  When we finally headed into Sedona for Mom's next talk and got a look at that landscape, needless to say, we wished we'd ventured out sooner.

There was a trip to Sacramento, just for fun. We checked out the auto and train museums, as well as some of the great restaurants and shops. We stayed at a KOA there and were so impressed with how much nature there was in that urban setting.

Another time, we happened to be in the midwest just as a writers' convention Mom was participating in ended. So, we swung by and picked them up. It was fun riding home together, stopping for a couple of days in Colorado to enjoy the mountains and even a little snow, in the first part of June.

For one of my birthdays, they met us at Lake Nacimiento, memorable because the air conditioner in the motor home broke. My folks live in an area where it is hot, hot, hot in the summer, so they were accustomed to the heat. My husband and I, on the other hand, live on the coast where it rarely gets over 80 and boy, did he whine. (I prefer to suffer in silence and wish those around me would do the same.) Even so, it was a fun trip because we were in the water most of the time. While we were floating in the lake,  Mom and I even got circled by a buzzard. We decided we better move around a little more so he’d know we were still alive - we waved our arms and after looking at us a little closer, he flew off. I also think of Dad cruising by himself across the lake on our PWC (personal water craft) with a big grin on his face as the rest of us motored back to camp in my daughter's boat.

We’ve made some great memories together in the motor home. There is, however, a down side to spending time with my parents at this stage of their lives - a peek into my own future. I have been truly blessed because I remember my mothers’ grandparents (my great-grandparents) and my own grandparents but their physical limitations didn’t mean too much to me at the time, after all, I was young and didn’t really think too much about the aging process.

It’s a different story now. Being closer to 60 than 50, tends to change your perception. My mom is only 19 years older than I am, so my future, their present, is not all that far away, especially if the next 19 years go as fast as my last. My parents are both still bright and articulate but, physically, they are having a hard time getting around. This was really noticeable on the motor home steps - so much so, one of our camping neighbors pulled Mike aside and told him they’d almost had a heart attack watching my mom go into the motor home. Since I had tumbled out of our old motor home once (which, luckily, was built closer to the ground than this one), I laid down the law - they had to hold on to the handle when entering or leaving. They mind pretty good, so I wasn’t too worried about them getting hurt, even though it was scary to watch. I noticed as the week progressed, their agility actually seemed to improve, so maybe the key to being spry into your 80's is to keep RVing. At least, that sounds good to me!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

TRIP TO SEDONA

Mom at the Sedona Library.



Just got back from a trip to Sedona, Arizona - a place of jaw-dropping, naturally sculptured landscapes. My mom had two speaking engagements there and she thought it would be fun to make a motor home trip out of it - she was right. 






It took us about 12 hours to get there from our (upper) SoCal home. (I think people in cars can do it in less time and if you don’t need to stop very often.) June can be sweltering in Sedona, but we lucked out, weather was just about perfect. We stayed at Lo Lo Mai Springs Campgroundl in Cornville, just a few miles south of Sedona proper. Mom had her speaking gigs on Tuesday and Saturday, and participated in a friend’s writing group on Thursday, the rest of the time we enjoyed Sedona’s sites and even had a nice visit with a nephew who lives in Prescott and stopped by. We (well, Mom and I, not sure about Dad and Mike) had fun shopping along the stores on Highway 89An, took a Pink Jeep Tourt, and ate a “cowboy” dinnerv. Spent a lot of time driving around in our tow car “gawking” because Sedona is a place where there is plenty to “gawk” at. You can see beautiful “red rock” scenery and natural monumental bluffs as you drive along Highway 179 but we did pull off to see The Chapel
of the Holy Cross­z . On the southern section of   89A, we stopped at Red Rock State Park£. Of course, like just about every trip we take, I’m     hoping to go back to see the things I missed        this time around. Believe it or not, I do research a place before we go to learn about all the “must see” places but once I get, there I always discover something I missed.    

(To read more about the places I mentioned here, see the matching symbol below.)


Archie spent most of his time at the camp ground and as long as he was making friends, he didn’t mind a bit. As usual, he enjoyed his new “home” of the week but the creek running through the camp ground was his favorite location where it didn’t take him long to find golden retriever fans, as you can see.  Then he met other kids at the duck pond; once they found out Archie could “high-five,” they thought he was more interesting than the ducks!


Just so you can see, Archie doesn't just like young girls -  here he buddies up with some older ones:

Notes:
l I liked Lo Lo Mai Springs Campground
www.lolomai.com), it was well kept, the people (who ran it and fellow campers) were friendly, appreciated animals (wild and domestic), and there were nice camp amenities. The campground has a duck pond with a resident otter (not sure on that, I saw it but not an expert on those kind of things and that’s what another camper told us) and stream running through it with Oak Creek running beside it. One evening walk, in front of our flashlight, we spotted what we think was a porcupine but before we could tell for sure, a skunk approached from our left and we made a hasty retreat. There’s also a nice pool and Jacuzzi but we couldn’t seem to find the time to try it out, unusual for us when the weather is so nice. There are a few items for sale near the camp office (cash only for purchases), but there’s not a big variety, so come fully stocked or prepared to drive a bit to get to a store. Wi-fi is available with a good connection at the club house. (My mom's service did not work at all; mine only worked at the club house - at a certain spot on a certain table.) As for cell phone service, Mom's never could pick up a signal but mine did work if you crossed the road from the motor home. Spotty connections are not an unexpected situation when traveling, especially in more remote areas.) The portion of Oak Creek that is located by the camp ground is truly beautiful. (2 pics) Many campers enjoyed the natural water - some brought tubes, others brought folding chairs to sit in the water. The only negative experience at the camp ground was a neighbor’s rooster that insisted on waking everyone up at 4:22am and a kamikaze bird who spent two early mornings pecking at my bedroom window at first light. (I think he didn’t like his reflection.) Unexpected wake-up calls are part of the RV-ing experience; just wish I could’ve captured that bird on camera.
n Was especially happy to find a Sedona T-shirt made in the USA at Western Trading Post (aka Cheers of Sedona, www.cheersofsedona.com). I don’t usually purchase souvenir t-shirts, but made an exception here. Also enjoyed eating at the Cowboy Club (restaurant, www.cowboyclub.com) where we tried rattlesnake, buffalo and cactus. Had a great waiter, Felix, who helped us make our selections from the menu.
t Thoroughly enjoyed the Pink Jeep Tour (www.pinkjeap.com), which was fun; great scenery was complimented by our driver, Joe, who knew a lot about the area and didn't mind answering our questions. (We took the Coyote Canyon Tour, the easiest one, which had been suggested for my parents.)
vThe cowboy dinner was in Cottonwood at the Blazin' M Ranch (www.blazinm.com). We had been to a cowboy dinner in Colorado a couple of hears ago and while we were there, all I could think of was how much my dad would've enjoyed it. So, here was our chance. Have to admit, when we drove up, I was a little disappointed with the ambiance but the performers/serviers and the food more than made up for it. I wasn't expecting the flavorful cold corn salad that had so many fresh tasting ingredients, ribs that practically fel off the bone, a BBQ sauce that was some of the best I've tasted, as well as chicken, baked beans and "thrown" biscuits. Everyone who worked there seemed to really get into the spirit of the show, even the younger ones who acted interested in the guests, interacted and didn't seem bored with their work. Once the show got under way, I was surprised to see many of the perfomers had been involved in other chores beforehand. I'm not usually that crazy about Western music, but this group was harmonious and their sound was smooth. They had special affects with the "Ghost Rider" number and a comic who added just the right touch of corniness - you couldn't help but laugh.
zThe Chapel of the Holy Cross (www.chapeloftheholycross.com) is a small but serene Catholic chapel (very ecumenical) set in the the scenic vista in such a way that it almost seems to be a part of the natural landscape. There are some natural rock formations in back of the chapel, one even looks like the Madonna and child.
.£ We spent one afternoon at Red Rock State Park which was beautiful. There are lots of hiking trails but we didn’t try them out this time around. We did check out their display of wildlife and flora/fauna below the gift shop and watched the DVD in their little theater. My dad enjoyed it so much, he bought a copy. (Note: No dogs allowed in this park; very fragile ecosystem.)

We also found an interesting little store, Desert Market, at the end of Paige Springs Road (1160 South) in Cornville. It had some health food and local beer and wine and the clerk there was happy to answer my questions about their honey.

In case you are planning a trip to Sedona, also want to suggest a stop at Tlaquepaque. It is worth visiting just to see how it was designed and built around the natural landscape that was already there.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hey - Don't Wreck It for the Rest of Us!

We visited Yellowstone National Park last year and we weren’t home long before there were TV news reports of bison charging people. It didn’t surprise me, having seen how some tourists act around them.

The landscape in Yellowstone is awesome and, sometimes, includes wild animals. Don’t worry about missing an animal near the roadway as you drive along; traffic comes to a complete stop if there's anything to see. Since bison don’t usually stroll through our neighborhood, we were happy to stop, too. However, some tourists didn’t take as much precaution as I would with a stray dog.
There was a mother with several young children, crouched behind a bush to get a closer look at one bison munching away on the other side. Did she think that bush would provide protection if he decided he really wanted to be alone while he ate? At another section of the park, people walked on a boardwalk while, a few feet away, a bison ambled along beside it. We thought maybe they knew bison don’t like to walk on boards. Wrong! The beg fella just stepped right on up and over to the other side - after using the boardwalk for a chin scratch.
I think we're safe up here, don't you?
Ahh, that feels good!






Bison are magnificent animals, easily ascertained from the relative safety of your car; you don’t need to get out and examine them. Young men seem to have an uncontrollable urge to leave their vehicles and walk beside bison - at least we kept seeing them do that. Are they performing some age-passage ritual? This behavior could have had a real impact on us since we were stuck in the gawking traffic. If the bison had become agitated and charged, we would have been collateral damage since, at the time, we were sitting in our tow car which is probably smaller than most of the bison in direct line of impact.

One day, as we drove to different geothermal sites, we came to an area full of deserted trucks and equipment. Everything looked like it had been quickly abandoned, which it had been, due to a “buffalo” break. One big bison had wandered over to check out the job they were doing and the workers quickly got out of his way. Now, if people who are in the park daily and see these animals on a regular basis scramble for cover, shouldn’t tourists?

Garrett & Peyton demonstrate the safe way to approach wildlife - in the museum.
  Many people who get “up close and personal” with the wildlife, usually do so to get a better picture. With today’s cameras and computer programs, just how close do you need to be to get a “good shot?”

Archie knows the only wildlife
you should approach. 



The news clip stated that the stomped-on camera-holder, the recipient of one charge, was on the mend, thankfully, but mentioned there had been three other recent bison attacks in Yellowstone, each one a result of tourist actions. Considering the number of people who cruise through there each year, that is actually a relatively small number. However, any violent run-ins between wildlife and humans are going to make an impact on innocent bystanders who happen to be there and see it. So, please, think before you get out of your car; don’t wreck it for the rest of us.

All pictures of bison displayed in this blog were taken from a safe distance in my car.

RVs and Dogs

What would possess someone to take up RVing anyway? For us, it was a progressive process, same with our dogs.

Our first camping trip as a married couple was after our baby was about a year old. We threw some sleeping bags, a cooler, a habachi and a diaper bag in our van and away we went. We had a little black dog, Cole, said to be a schnauzer mix, who had joined our family when the first owner could no longer keep him. Since some of the wild life was bigger than he was, he didn't really care for camping.


Cole - usually referred to as Mr. Cole
Soon after our second child, we graduated to a pick-up truck and a cab over camper because, well, all our friends had them. This was a transition period in our dog-dom, too - the only time in our lives that we’ve had two dogs at the same time. Cole was joined by a puppy from my sister’s dog’s litter because my brother-in-law fell in love with one of the pups and insisted that was the perfect dog for us; he was right.
A few years later, my husband became fixated on a motor home he’d seen at work - a 1972 Pace Arrow without a refrigerator.  Mike eventually got it. We stuck an ice chest in the big hole; worked for us. By then, our little black dog was gone and our puppy had turned into a big tan dog. Rocky, an Akita mix, who thought he was one of the kids, especially when it came to eating popcorn and going camping. 
Rocky with our kids on a camping trip.
Mike was so strict about dirt, that motor home experience wasn’t so great. He didn’t want any dirt on the floor - camping without dirt? I knew that wasn't going to work and the motor home became a memory.

So, we dropped out of the RV scene for awhile and as the years went by, our Rocky developed hip dysplasia. We watched as our poor buddy deteriorated until he could no longer stand and cried out in pain when his legs would give out. We still miss that dog.

Psycho Jane - because if you
 pointed a finger at her, she
showed her teeth!
A month later our son found our next canine family member, Jane, at school, dirty and scared. It appeared someone had dropped the pup, which the vet said wasn’t even 8 weeks old, to fend for itself. We never were sure what her bloodline was, although everybody made guesses from Doberman to greyhound. 

Not too long after that, we bought a personal water craft. Most of the time, we would just go out for the day at either the lake by my folks’ or the one by our kids’, both about 150 miles away. Every now and then, we would pack our tent and stay at a lake for vacation. On one trip, we finished in the water and came back to our tent site to shower and eat dinner. It was so hot, after our march back from the bath house, we were sweaty and ready for another shower. I started to fix our food and noticed my husband was sulking. When I asked him what was wrong, he pointed to a fellow parked below us in a motor home. He was relaxing in a chair, munching his popcorn and didn’t look the least bit warm. Mike said he was never going tent camping again. I thought that meant we weren’t going to take anymore tent vacations; I was wrong.


I did my best to point out the drawbacks of owning another motor home, including his behavior the last time we had one. I couldn’t convince him but he promised to behave himself this time around - the grandkids would be allowed to get it dirty. I resigned myself to this fact: our bank account was about to take a big hit. It didn’t take Mike long to find just the right motor home, a used 1995 Winnebago Brave.

Turned out, camping and traveling in a motor home was a lot of fun this time. Jane proved to be a great traveler who insisted on riding shot gun most of the way. When I would finally insist on a front seat, she would go under the dinette table and pout. Unfortunately, she didn’t live too much longer after we started RVing.

My husband said he wouldn’t get another dog and I said we weren’t getting another motor home; we were both wrong. As it turned out, my husband had always wanted a golden retriever and mentioned it enough that on Valentine’s Day, 2003, we brought home our pal, Archie. As it turns out, we bought our new motor home about a year later, a 2004 Itasca Sunova.


When we talk about traveling by motor home, some people like the idea of being at home wherever they go while others prefer room service. It’s a lot like the reaction we get when Archie comes up in a conversation - either people like dogs or they don’t. They either understand the lure of the open road and seeing what’s out there along the way or they don’t. They either get what a dog adds to your life or they don’t - simple as that.