30A Ok

Next on our spring hit list this year is a 2 week stay on the panhandle of Florida at one of our favorite campgrounds:  Grayton Beach State Park along highway 30a.  Booked this one about a year ago and were excited to have our good friends Dan and Terri also book a week at a condo in Seagrove, just next door.  We are all quite familiar with the local breweries, eateries, bike paths and beaches, so this should be a great adventure.

The drive is about 7 hours but we thought we would break it up by heading out a day early and stopping halfway for the night.  One other trip south we stopped in Eufaula, AL at Lakepoint State Park, an easy stop.  But by the time we got past Columbus and were headed toward Eufaula and Dothan, it was still early in the day, so we searched out some options further south.  Jackie found Florida Caverns State Park near Mariana and pretty much just along our route.  We pulled up, asked about a spot for the night and were told, yes, they did have a site, but because we were 33’ we would have to use one of the equestrian sites.  Ok, no problem.  Actually, the three spots were level, full utilities and off by ourselves – with paddocks and stalls available if we wanted to hitch our horse there (um, no). But Kodi did pick up a lot of burrs, so he had to get brushed out a bit.

It was still early afternoon and as Jackie was reading through the park information sheet she said “hey, they have cave tours.  But not tomorrow.”  Well, guess that means we have to hustle over to the visitor’s center and get a tour.  Lucky for us the 4:00 tour was the last of the day and we made it with minutes to spare.  Down into the cave we went, 65 feet underground and still above the lower levels of the cave/aquifer complex.  It felt nice and cool on a hot and humid afternoon and we enjoyed ducking and dodging the stalagmites and stalactites.  We have been in several cave systems and while this wasn’t on the scale of some, it was certainly very scenic.  Outside there were blooming columbine, hydrangea and other wildflowers.  As we exited, we were reminded of just how hot and humid the weather had become.  Can’t wait to hit the cool water of the Gulf of Mexico!

It was a quick 2 hours, plus a stop for gas, and we were nearing Grayton Beach the next morning.  We didn’t rush out, but got here just after noon and the site was ready for us.  Full utilities and a nice roomy spot.  Connected up to water and electricity, put out the chairs, set up the screen house (bugs??), took down the canvas roof of the Jeep and off we went to the beach.  You are pretty close to the beach, but it is either a long walk, shorter bike ride or even shorter trip in the jeep.  Ah, the gorgeous blue-green, crystal clear water and sugar white sands were just what we remembered.  Soon we were splashing in and leaving all our worries behind.

We had a couple of days before Terri and Dan were to arrive, so that meant we could check out the local scene.  Grayton Beach is pretty quiet compared to Destin and Panama City Beach, but the Seaside and Watercolor neighborhoods are a destination all their own.  And it was indeed just as busy with cars, bikes and people as ever.  But we only drove through, on our way to check out two breweries:  Grayton Brewing and Idyll Hounds.  Made it to Idyll for a couple of sips and met a crowd of 5 other local teachers (it was the end of the school day) and we chatted for a bit.  Also met another couple who were great fun – we shared stories of our camping adventures, our beer adventures and some “curly girl” hair advice.  

Right next to Idyll Hounds was a new building with a sign “Distillery 98” – so naturally that meant we had to check it out.  Aha! a vodka distillery and bar for Dune Laker vodka.  Jackie forced herself to have an espresso martini and I had … well a refreshing drink with cucumber and something and something and vodka.  It was good, even if I can’t recall the ingredients.

A couple of really nice days at the beach, another beer selection with Bavarian pretzels at Beach Camp brewpub (used to be affiliated with Grayton Beer) here in Grayton and we are just loving it.  Oh, and a helpful camper told us that the night before they spotted a big fat snake under our Jeep, probably a cottonmouth.  Just thought we should know.  Gee, thanks.  Well, we kind of think that it was probably a brown or banded water snake so no worries.  Our site is just steps from the water of Western Lake.  Good to know.

The Jeep has been fun, with the top down and wide open – and I have been putting a cover over it each night to keep the birds off and stay dry from the morning dew.  But rain was predicted and we debated what to do (nothing was the decision).  Well, Kodi woke us up around 6 am with thunder in the distance.  I got out to check things – did see a cool sunrise – but I wasn’t yet awake enough to put the top up.  After thunder and light rain (and coffee) we waited for a break and went ahead and put the top on, side and back windows back in and made it water tight.  Good thing, as it wasn’t long before we had a pretty severe downpour.  

We waited it out and when it seemed to pass we drove east to Pier Park in Panama City to do some quick shopping and especially to have our favorite grouper sandwich at Sharkey’s.  Dang, just as good as ever!  But the gulf was angry.  The storm continued to whip up the waves, rain and thunder and really blow pretty hard.  Looks like time to head back to camp and check on things and Kodi.  Once there, all was well, nothing blew away, the awning was still fine, but Kodi was definitely glad we came back to rescue him!

While chilling in the motorhome and catching up on blog writing and photo editing we got a text from Dan and Terri to say they were an hour out and wanted to meet up at Grayton Beer.  Well, okay, that didn’t take much persuasion.  So, since it is still raining and definitely NOT a beach day, we met up, sampled some flights of beer, caught up on what we have been doing and planned out the week.  Well, Dan declared “there is no agenda” for the week, so yeah, I know it’s tough being retired.

So a recap of the week (which is a bit heavy on food and beer, I admit) includes:

A delicious grilled steak dinner at the campsite for four, complete with, um, three (?) bottles of red wine.

Mother’s Day dinner at Cafe 30A for some delicious seafood.  Ahi tuna for Jackie (and a proper beet salad – check the “Harmony” blog for the story), a spicy seafood pasta for Doug and a bit of a debate over dessert.  More on that later.

A trip back to Idyll Hounds for more beer sampling and the vodka distillery next door for some bloody marys, martinis and frozen cocktails.

A walkabout at Seaside with fish tacos for lunch.  A very cute gathering spot along highway 30A, but very congested with people, cars, bikes, trucks, strollers, golf carts and dog walkers all competing for space.

Beautiful sunny, cool and dry weather the entire week, with plenty of beach time reading and sipping “beach beer.”  The water was absolutely the most gorgeous color, crystal clear to your toes with the aptly named sugar sand beaches.  Unfortunately we have no underwater critter sightings to report, maybe one or two rays spotted moving past.

Dinner at the Red Bar – a famous watering hole in the cute bungalow community of Grayton Beach.  I  had a delicious crab cake and salad, Jackie had some chicken penne, I think Dan had gumbo and Terri had a large salad … it was all filling, but kinda pricey, too.  Definitely a busy spot and we had to take their free shuttle from the parking area.  But we did catch the sunset on the beach. 

More sunsets. It’s just something you do at the beach: watch the sunset from the water’s edge.  By then the sand is cool on your feet, the water feels warmer as it washes over your toes and the bright yellow sun turns orange as it slips below the horizon.  Definitely cool and we tried it a few nights.

E-bike rentals and a ride down to Blue Mountain Beach and back to Seaside.  Jackie has been researching e-bikes for a while and we had the chance to try some out.  A great guy ran a local service (rentelectricbikes.com) that delivered the bikes to our campsite, then picked them up the next morning.  At $50 per day each that was a deal.  We rented RadRover bikes that had rather fat tires and a step-through frame. They were pedal-assist but you could also just use the throttle alone and zip along just fine.  Wow, what a cool ride.  Terri and Dan rented beach cruiser bikes in Seagrove and met us at the campsite.  We all rode a couple of miles on the bike path along 30a to Blue Mountain Beach and then back to Seaside to leave Terri and Dan before we turned back to the campground.  Very cool experience.

A last night dinner at Hurricane Oyster Bar with the most monstrous oysters ever.  Dan ordered six grilled and I ordered six baked with crab and cheese, thinking they would be small appetizer size, but they were a meal in themselves (but I had also ordered a fried oyster po boy, so it was a major oyster feast that night).

Oh, and the key lime pie affair.

I mentioned Mother’s Day dinner at a wonderful restaurant – Cafe 30A – and how we debated our dessert choice.  Naturally, they had key lime pie and we were tempted to finish off the meal with some, but Terri said she had one back at their condo to share.  “Yeah, but how big?” Dan asked.  “Well, you know, about six inches, a Publix one,” Terri replied.  “That won’t be enough, we’ll only have a sliver each,” Dan countered.  So the discussion went, but it was silly really, since we were all stuffed anyway.  I shared how when we were in Key West years back they had key lime pie covered in chocolate on a stick that I really wanted to try.  But we managed to leave the Keys before I managed to snag one to try.  “Oooh, that sounds delicious,” was the general comment.  But back at the condo we had a very nice slice each of the key lime pie Terri bought and it was just fine.

The next day Terri texted us a picture of a sandwich board from a spot in Seaside that advertised “chocolate covered key lime pie” – Aha!  It did exist.  Well, of course that meant we had to arrange a trip back to get ourselves some of that, so the next afternoon we all arrived at Nigel’s Chocolate Covered Bananas to get our key lime pie on a stick, dipped in chocolate.  “Oh, sorry, we are out for today.”  What??  “We should have some tomorrow.”  Grr.

That meant another trip the next day to see if indeed they would have more.  “Oh, yes I remember you from yesterday.  We have the pie today.”  Great, we will take four slices.  Out came the first monstrous slice, on a stick, that was gently dipped into the pool of dark chocolate. “What do you want on the outside?”  Oh, there’s more?  Well the choice for most was to cover it in crushed pecan shortbread cookies, but I opted for toasted coconut.  

Jackie said she didn’t want it on a stick, but they all were set in paper baskets anyway and we grabbed forks to help.  As we sat outside on benches and devoured our slices of heaven, all we could say was how lucky we were that we found a local source for this decadent treat.  In all the excitement I forgot to snap a picture of the pie, but imagine if you will a 3 inch thick slice of pie with a generous graham cracker crust, dipped in dark chocolate that already was crackly and then coated with cookie crumbs or toasted coconut.  Way too many calories.  And pretty much our afternoon meal.  That’s how it goes at the beach.

What’s next? 

Well, a good cleaning of the RV for one thing and a check on our maternity ward backyard to see how many new fawns have been born. Someone said we are headed out on another cruise and we plan to spend a week camping at our nearby Lake Allatoona with the grandsons. Never a dull moment. Stay tuned.

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Family Sail-Away to the Caribbean

So the topic around the dinner table was whether or not lobster would be a good choice the next night.  About half of us were looking forward to it and the rest were “so-so” about it, saying that it was often disappointing – being a bit tough, not too tasty and well, just not the best.  Four of us were scheduled to eat at the Sabor Mexican specialty restaurant and would be missing the last fancy meal (I didn’t time that meal choice right) and even Jackie expressed concern that we would miss out.  She was reminded that she has a shellfish allergy and wouldn’t be eating it anyway, but she felt bad for Doug missing it.  But before we finish that story, let’s start at the beginning.

Last April my brother Jeff announced that he and Vickie were going to spend spring break on Harmony of the Seas and did anyone want to join?  Since it seemed likely the pandemic restrictions would be gone and cruising would surely be back to normal by then, we said sure and talked it up.  Soon we had nearly the whole family booked (14 of us) and were excitedly planning the adventure.  My nephews Adam and Chris had gotten married during the pandemic and were anxious for something fun to celebrate with the family – their wives Ashley and Becca were all in, plus Ashley’s twin sister Chelsey had also gotten married last year to Eric and they were also up for some fun.  Our son Alex and wife Bethany were in and my sister Linda and husband Norm said they would fly in from California to be part of this.  Ok, big group!

Fun times started right away.  The cruise departed from Port Canaveral, Florida so we all planned to travel the day before and stay local overnight before boarding.  The SC gang quickly posted a travel selfie from the road followed by us (taken safely while stopped) as we made our way to Orlando and Cocoa Beach.  It was something of a relief to be on the road, considering that we each had to have a negative COVID test the day before – which also involved a lot of “negative” text messages among the group as we sweated the results.  

Next morning I dropped Linda and Norm at the airport so they could catch the shuttle bus to the port, circled back to the hotel, packed up the rest of our crew and we were off to the port.  Checking in at the port was a bit of a crowd at first as everyone had to pass a health check, wear their masks and go through security, but once aboard we were told the masks can come off and it wasn’t long before we all caught up on the top deck to gather and grab that “Welcome Aboard” first drink.  Yeah, we all bought the drink package.  Oh, and somebody’s hat decided to sail away overboard as we departed Port Canaveral.

Ok, so here are some stories from the trip – at least those that I know about.  For some of us it was our first time cruising, for some it was the first time on Harmony of the Seas, for some of us it was our second time aboard, and for a few it was our third time on the ship. Newbies went exploring right away and we all had different activities on our “checklist.” (You can now watch some video highlights at “How we did Harmony of the Seas . . . Again“).

Flowrider and Waterslides

Jeff and I got on the Flowrider almost first thing and mostly got the hang of it again.  The boys joined us and did well considering it was their first time.  Linda was in charge of photos “Is it on?” and did a decent job.  Of course we all had to try the waterslides, some of us nearly getting stuck mid-way with not enough water pressure and the day was VERY windy at the top. 

Onboard Entertainment

I think we tried to catch everything on board, from “Grease” to the ice show and aqua show to comedy to trivia and dance parties.  Some of us did quite well with the dancing, others not so much.  The gaming tables were probably a break-even plus a little more for the craps and roulette players, but I think some of the guys did better at blackjack.  It was exciting fun anyway.

Poolside on Sea Days

We started off on the solarium deck the first day, but once we found a better spot by the pool with good bar service and mostly enough chairs, it made for a base of operations.  The sun got pretty strong, so some of us moved in and out of the shade, grabbed munchies at the mini-bites and solarium bistro and had our share of frozen drinks and beer.  Oh, and milkshakes from Johnny Rockets!  A few braved the Abyss dry slide, which we were told “needed waxing” so it wasn’t too zippy scary.  

St. Marten

Our first port of call was Phillipsburg in St. Marten.  It was going to be a busy day with four big ships in port.  Half the group had an awesome ATV trip around the island exploring beaches and mountains and half the group had an excursion to Creole Rock on jet boats to try snorkeling.  Jackie and I were on the jet boats with Norm, Linda, Alex and Bethany and had a blast bouncing across the blue waters and among lots of sailboats.  The snorkeling was not great, since the reefs were pretty well blitzed, but the water felt wonderful and it was a thrill on the boats.

St. Thomas

Our second port of call was St. Thomas and we again split up for different excursions.  Jackie and I, Norm and Linda took a FastCat boat to snorkel at Turtle Cove and then hang at Hollywood Beach on Water Island.  Snorkeling was much better, water was awesome and clear – we did not see turtles but there was a barracuda under the boat that most of us spotted.  The beach spot was just perfect, as we bobbed in the clear shallow water.   

Perfect Day at Coco Cay

We were joined by Independence of the Seas at the dock on CoCo Cay, so it was going to be a crowd at the watery oasis.  Some of us found chairs at the Oasis Lagoon pool, some at the South beach area in the sand.  We spent time at both spots and I enjoyed the pool, which was a bit chilly, except that the music by the swim up bar was rather loud and created a very congested “spring break” style crowd.  Too many people, too loud.  Otherwise we all got plenty of water, sun, drinks and snacks.

Dinner

Our plans for dinner were to eat in the main dining room and I thought I had things pretty much set for everyone to be together at a reserved time each night, but it took a little negotiating at first to smooth things out – the result was a long table for 14 and the BEST dinner service ever.  A few of us had specialty restaurant reservations during the week, but the table was lively every night.  Our first night was a champagne toast to Dad, who along with Mom, introduced the joy of cruising to all of us.

For the most part the food was excellent and well received by all.  The prime rib slices were huge, the apps delicious – although there was some discussion about the lack of beets and oranges in the beet and citrus salad by some among us.  Someone finally got a banana split, french fries were quickly brought out for some of our diners and then there was the lobster affair.

You will recall I mentioned that the next-to-last meal was the fancy lobster tail meal choice.  Linda and I had booked the Mexican restaurant for that night, not knowing it was lobster night, so we were going to miss it.  Well, we resigned ourselves to missing what could have been a meal of average lobster – and most of us figured it would be chewy and tough anyway.  But the next day our crew said, guardedly, that it really was a spectacular meal and the lobster was the best they had ever had.  In fact, beside two tails each, the wait staff brought our extra plates of tails.  Oh, boy, that news didn’t help.

As we sat for dinner the last night and our waiter described the choices, I made pinching motions with my hands and told him that he could bring me my missing lobster tail from the night before.  I joked with him quite a bit but ordered the short rib anyway – and when taking my order Al said he would try.  Word around the dining room was that they had exhausted their supply the night before and not a lobster was on the ship.  That’s ok, I was fine with my order of short rib – I won’t pout.

When I finished my appetizer, the dining room manager Catherine came to my shoulder and asked how my day went in Coco Cay.  She said she saw I missed the lobster dinner the night before and then slipped a plate in front of me and revealed … a whole lobster, split and beautifully broiled!!  

After that last meal together we took some last group shots, broke off into small groups, packed our bags and some of us returned to sit on our connected balcony overlooking Central Park and reflected on a very satisfying family get-together that was the perfect start to the summer.  Even our armadillo mascot Heffe enjoyed himself.  I love our family!

I have some video I will soon edit and post, both here and on the “Videos” page, so watch for that update.  

What’s next?  This upcoming weekend we volunteer to pour at the Kennesaw Beer Fest and in 2 weeks we take the motorhome down to the panhandle of Florida and Grayton Beach State Park, meeting our good friends Dan and Terry, and … another cruise?  Stay tuned.

 

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Waterfalls of Little River Canyon, AL

For our first outing of spring 2022 we chose an area of northeastern Alabama that has been on our list for a few years: DeSoto State Park and the Little River Canyon National Preserve.  It was about a 2 hour drive from home, so that was a very easy choice to do a shakedown trip for the start of the year; we are only staying 3 nights.

 

We unwrapped the RV from its winter cover and in preparation we sanitized the water tank, checked tires and had to replace the valve extension again on one set of rear tires in order to get pressurized.  Aired out and packed up for a short trip, we had layers of clothes and hiking gear, ready for some hiking in either cool or warm weather.  Kodi was in his crate and ready to roll as we connected the Jeep (much easier than the tow dolly) and headed northwest.

The drive took us through Cartersville to Rome and across the hills heading to Ft. Payne, Alabama where we had a pretty steep, steady climb up to the top of Lookout Mountain.  It is part of the Cumberland Plateau, the southernmost extension of the Appalachian Plateau.  It was another slow climb, but soon we crossed the Little River and caught a glimpse of the falls.  A dozen miles further and we were in DeSoto State Park, disconnecting the Jeep and looking for our campsite.  Alabama does a nice job with their campgrounds and the site was level gravel, plenty long enough and faced the woods.  We went through the arrival routine to level, connect electric and water, run out the slides and set up chairs and tables.  

It was still early in the day so we went for a hike around the park with Kodi, leaving the campground and trekking to Azalea Cascade, across some boardwalk and then to Indian Falls.  Both were nice waterfalls on a creek that flowed into the Little River below us.  Might have been a mile and a half in the cool, sunny afternoon, but the trail is covered with roots and rocks that reach up to grab your toes if you aren’t careful.  So you look at the scenery when you stop, not while you walk.

On day two (day after arrival) we drove back to the falls and had a good look at the cascade of water over the rocks and the beautiful blue-green color of the clear water.  The Little River has the distinction of being one of the very few rivers to mostly flow across a mountain.  It eventually carves its way down through the sometimes 500 foot deep canyon to Weiss Lake below.  We drove the scenic 11 mile drive along the rim downstream, stopping at several overlooks.  One spot was a wet bog on the exposed rock that was home to several rare and unique wildflowers and sundews.  The bright red Elf Orpine was the most visible plant, but the water was filled with little tadpoles.

We made our way along the twisty roller coaster roadway to the Canyon Mouth park at the bottom and stopped for lunch.  A narrow trail along the river led to a lovely stream splashing its way to the river’s edge.  It is about a week or two before most of the spring wildflowers will bloom, but we did see some of the early bloomers such as foam flower, bluets, violets, dwarf crested iris, mayapples poking up through the leaves, fern fiddleheads uncurling and a few others that I will have to research.

 

 

Back in camp we relaxed a bit before dinner, then enjoyed a deliciously grilled steak with a bottle of red wine and sat around the firepit (our easy propane one) until the stars came out and we got chilly.

On day three we were just finishing breakfast at the dinette when “whoosh” a big visitor flew down to the rotting stump next to us.  It was a bright red and black pileated woodpecker and he was having a nice breakfast of bugs.  Whack, whack into the stump went his beak.  Jackie handed me the camera for a quick shot or two and then he flew closer to a tree that was maybe 4 feet away.  Ok then, guess I will get the close-up.  How wild – even though we have seen the birds on our travels and at home, this one was way cool.

         

We were set to drive a bit north to see the DeSoto Falls on the West Fork of the Little River so back in the Jeep we went.  When we got to the main observation area for the falls and the picnic area it was closed off for dredging and maintenance, so we turned back about a mile to a trailhead for another spot to view the falls.  This was another trail of roots, bare and rubble rock, and a few places where you had to definitely watch the edge.  But the payoff was a gorgeous view of a waterfall framed by a wide circular canyon wall and a deep plunge pool below.  There were also several private residences and cabins along the upper falls that must have spectacular views all year.

DeSoto Falls

 

A little further down the road we hoped to have lunch in the town of Mentone, but the artsy/eclectic little spot was pretty much shut down.  Too early in the season I guess.  We made our way back along the ridge where houses and cabins had a beautiful view across the valley below.  

After lunch at camp we trekked our final hike with Kodi to some falls further upstream from the Azalea Cascade in camp.  The trail crossed lots of muddy springs and wet seeps across the exposed bedrock and a couple of stream crossings, but Kodi did fine and we found the Laurel Falls spot, with a half-dozen youngsters and dogs splashing in the pools of water below.  Yikes, it had to be cold.  What fun, though.  

Final night in camp was quiet.  A couple of deer walked along the edge of our site – they probably got a text from our herd at home.  These were definitely smaller than ours, though.  Next morning it was an easy pack and roll and soon we were back home, where the yellow pollen is starting to cover everything.  Well it was a good start to the spring, the weather was dry and sunny – warm enough daytime to enjoy being outside, chilly enough at night to cuddle. And since you asked, yes, it was very strange and sad not to have Merlin with us. That amazing cat was on every adventure with us and was so much a part of our trips that it definitely was hard not to think about him. Even Kodi had a few moments where he seemed to look for him.

 

What’s next?  In less than 2 weeks we head to Port Canaveral to set sail aboard Harmony of the Seas and within 2 weeks of that we take the motorhome down the the panhandle of Florida and Grayton Beach State Park.  Finally nice enough to get busy outside.  (Although I have been busy with baking.  Rye sourdough is my latest bread and I baked a jelly roll and pound cake – thanks to inspiration from British Baking Show).  Oops, sorry – forgot to leave you some.

 

 

        

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Remembering Merlin

We lost one of our travel companions this week, one who was with us on all our motorhome adventures and who was a wonderful companion and member of the family.


Merlin was with us just over 11 years, but it seems like so much longer than that. If you follow Jackie’s facebook you already know of his passing, but I wanted to post a page about this amazing animal, though it is not easy.  You see, he was not “just a cat” but truly a member of the family. 

Merlin was aptly named because he would suddenly appear and often just as quickly disappear from your side. He was a very good buddy for his first brother, Benji, and he took to his second brother, Kodi very quickly. Actually, we are sure he told the young pup just how things were going to work around the house and so long as he listened to Merlin, things would be just fine.  The way he interacted with them, he might have thought he was a dog, too.  He tolerated others too, such as Allie when she came to stay.

Merlin and puppy Kodi

Merlin and Ally

Benji and Merlin in 2016

Merlin and Kodi got along so well – their play antics were crazy wrestling sessions followed by “chase” up and down the stairs. Kodi would chase Merlin down, Merlin would chase him back up – and then there might be a little hide and seek. I think Merlin saw himself as a dog and not the Maine Coon breed that he was.



When we decided to buy our motorhome for retirement travel and adventures, one of the reasons was that we could bring our pets along with us. So glad that we did that, because they were able to travel south to Key West, north to Canada and the coast of Maine, northwest to Glacier NP and southwest to the Grand Canyon.

Rocky Mountain NP

Benji and Kodi only made half the trips but Merlin saw it all – Yellowstone to Acadia, Arches to Sleeping Bear Dunes. He was such a good travel companion – and somehow managed to post some comments himself. Check out his section of this Blog for some thoughts : MEWS

Jackie said that having pets is tough, because you know you will outlive them – but you love and enjoy their devoted companionship every day they are with you and you cry and miss them terribly when they are gone. Like family.

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Whales and Tales from the West Coast

Welcome 2022!  It was a simple, quiet Christmas 2021 – the cast of Chicken Run went out in the Jeep to find a tree, after 4-wheeling through Monument Valley (yeah, right). And Merlin gave us a scare when he refused to eat and curled up under the bed. After spending time at the vet, he came home with a pink paw and wore his fur boots around the house. He had some bowel, pancreas, and liver inflammation, but we think it is under control now with a change in diet and some pills.

Ok then, we are starting our new year with the kind of trip we haven’t tried since this whole pandemic started: a trip on an airplane!  Seemed like it would be a safe bet when we booked it a year ago, but it is something to take with caution these days.  So off we go for more than a week to visit Linda and Norm in San Diego – all masked up and ready to see some whales. 

We left chilly Atlanta to arrive in warm, mostly sunny southern California.  From my window seat I tried to follow our recent trip across the southern states … pretty much scouting the landscape across Mississppi, Arkansas, Texas and New Mexico.  Kinda cool to see some of these spots from the air. Easy trip and we were soon at their house overlooking a canyon just inland from Mission Bay. How wonderful.

Whale watching was on the list for the next day, so Linda, Jackie and I hustled down to Mission Bay with minutes to spare to board, only to learn the boat was now docked about a quarter mile further down — so that meant a fast dash to board as the engines revved up and we set out. Some California sea lions lounged in the harbor near the inlet as we hit the Pacific Ocean on a very calm day, optimistic that we would see some of the migrating whales headed south to warmer Mexican waters.

We were told to watch for the spouting plumes of water that would indicate a whale had surfaced. These were going to be gray whales that do not have a big dorsal fin, so you have a little less to spot on the water. Soon we had a few just ahead and we were treated to about 5 or 6 gray whales, interspersed with lots of common dolphin. Some nice tail flukes popped up just as they made their deep dives. Wow, lots of action, but not quite as flamboyant as the humpback we saw in Alaska. These guys don’t usually breach out of the water. But when you do see them, they are covered in crusty barnacles.

If you want to watch a video recap of our whale watching, check out the link: Whales off San Diego

All that whale watching made us hungry and thirsty, so we stopped along the bay at Linda and Norm’s favorite stop on their bike rides for some tacos and beer. Soon a great band started playing and we were totally enjoying the vibe. Great day.

Next day we were off to visit a winery in the hills that was … a bit eclectic, but with some delicious Italian wines. You can’t sip a flight of wine without something good to eat, so we ordered up a cheese and meat plate and then some pizza and deep fried Calzones. We had the company of an assortment of chickens, ducks, peacocks, rabbits and two goats that wandered off and enjoyed the warm sunny afternoon. Back at the house we went for a soak, bubble and “swim” in the swim spa as the sun set on a perfect day.

On Saturday, Norm joined us as we drove down to Liberty Station, a former Navy recruit training camp that was now home to shops and restaurants – particularly Stone Brewing’s World Bistro. We sat out on the patio, had a delicious flight of beer and some yummy nibbles. Maybe another beer, too. We were joined by Linda’s friend Petra and soon realized that the flight path for the airport had shifted around so that the flights descended just above us. That meant we had to adjourn to the harbor and watch them land. Another amazing sunset, with a double rainbow thrown in.

On Sunday we drove to the beach to see what the Tonga tsunami warning had been about and watched the surfers. We also wanted to head up to Miramar to check out Cutwater Distillery. Good decision, as we chose from the brunch menu – and I ordered their brunch flight of Bloody Mary, White Russian and Café Horchata. And a delicious flatbread to round out the meal. Around the corner was Ballast Point Brewery, so of course that meant a visit and a flight. So many beers, so little time!

Monday was to have been a second whale watch, but the trip was sold out, so we stopped at the Belmont rollercoaster, walked the beach and did a bit of people watching. Such a nice day meant we drove along the coast to La Jolla to wander the Children’s Pool and search for the sea lions. Linda and I were looking over the beach and I said “I thought there would be sea lions here .. but nothing is in the water.” Umm, well, did you notice those rocks on the beach were wiggling about? “Those aren’t rocks, Doug,” Linda helpfully pointed out. And indeed they were the sleeping sea lions. Duh. There was a wonderful retirement community along the shore with gorgeous plantings and an incredible view.

Tuesday we were back on the water searching for whales. We saw maybe 7 or more, with some dolphin among them. Chilly out on the water and mostly overcast, but a great day. There was even one of the gray whales who hung out inside the harbor. Just had to follow that boating adventure with a short drive to the Embarcadero along San Diego Harbor to eat and drink at an awesome spot over the water: Ketch Brewing and Miguel’s Cocina. Then a walk down the waterfront to see the Star of India, Midway Aircraft Carrier and the Maritime Museum of ships and submarines.

That means Wednesday was the San Diego Trolley Tour, starting at Old Town and looping along the waterfront, up and over the Coronado Bridge (wave to Norm) and out to the Hotel del Coronado. We had lunch at an Irish Pub – mmm, Reubens and Guinness with orange wit. Back on the trolley and we went through the Gaslamp Quarter, Balboa Park and Little Italy before getting off back at Old Town.

One more good soak in the swim spa at night before we packed up and headed back home the next day. Lots of good memories — and at least a decent drink or two on the plane. Good thing we had our warm jackets in our carryon, since it was 37 degrees when we landed back home. Brrrr.

We collected Merlin from the vet – looking good and acting very hungry – drove up to Chattanooga to get Kodi (thanks to Bethany and Alex) and settled in back home. Now, what is the next trip? A big family cruise in April aboard the Harmony of the Seas. Can’t wait.

Thanks for reading along. More adventures to come!

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New Videos of Western Trip

I finally managed to coax my GoPro Studio to stop crashing and I have some videos of our trip our west this fall (2021). Some pretty amazing sights, a few classic drives and “bucket list” ventures … and yes, some of the driving ones are a bit on the long side. But heck, you want to see the whole experience, right? Put them on your widescreen TV, grab a brew and sit back to enjoy (or chuckle) and maybe plan your OWN adventure!

Snow Day in Colorado (Crawford, CO)

Part of our big western trip in September and October, 2021 – we were camped in Crawford Lake State Park, Colorado and planned to visit the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. But an afternoon sleet storm postponed that till the next day – which turned out to be our second snowy day of the trip. Absolutely gorgeous and made for a nice trip over to the Canyon later in the day. We were a bit worried about the 19 degree overnight temperature, but everything worked out fine.

Corona Arch / Bowtie Arch Trail Hike (Moab, Utah)

A fall 2021 hike to the Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch outside Moab, Utah. This 3 mile out-and-back hike was surprisingly tricky for a Sunday morning, traversing some dry washes, rocky climbs and slickrock outcroppings with cables and ladders. But the view and interaction with Corona Arch was worth the effort, though, and in some ways more spectacular than similar ones in Arches. Easy access from a parking lot along the Colorado River and a good addition to a drive along the Potash Road/Shafer Trail.

Shafer Trail / Potash Road (Canyonlands, Moab, Utah)

This was an amazing down-the-canyon drive even the video can’t fully capture. A trip from the Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park to the Colorado River outside Moab, Utah. The GoPro Hero9 is so good at image stabilization that it looks like a smooth ride – and it was anything but. No guard rails, either, so you had to hope you didn’t run into someone coming the other way!

Long Canyon Road (Canyonlands, Moab, Utah)

Another “bucket list” off-road drive not to be missed in Canyonlands outside Moab, Utah. Who wouldn’t want to experience “Pucker Pass” and this massive chunk of rock you drive under … very slowly. Watch for Jackie to jump out for a closer look (that I missed on editing). We love our new Jeep.

Bryce Canyon Hike (Utah)

An otherworldly landscape that we experienced on a beautiful, crisp fall day. The day was perfect and the scenery was breathtaking – literally, since we were huffing and puffing our way along the 3 mile hike that dropped down about 600 feet at the 8,000 ft. elevation — and then back up again along some challenging switchbacks. You don’t want to miss the Wall Street section of the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop trail. The next day we left the area in a snowstorm that dropped about 6 inches of snow, so our day turned out to be the best chance for hiking.

Great Sand Dunes Hike (Colorado)

While camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park we headed out to hike up to the summit of the dunes. Well, it was a pretty cold start to the day, about 35 degrees, and gradually became more windy. But we hiked our way about halfway to the top, we figure maybe a 450 foot elevation gain. Given that we were already at about 8,200 feet elevation, it was a surprisingly “breathless” hike – plus, we learned that sand dunes are not the easiest to climb. One unintentional glitch was with the lens shade I put on the GoPro. I was hoping to cut down on lens flare, but in the widescreen mode it caught it in the edges of the picture. Ah well, another learning experience. The hike was worth it though – seemed like something out of Star Wars – how the heck did C3PO do it?

More videos to come …

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OK Winnie, Take Us Home

Up early after a windy night, the temp down to 41 degrees, we quickly got dressed, drove to dump wastewater and hooked up the Jeep.  The dunes were highlighted by the sun but the backdrop was pretty ominous.  The wind was whipping the sand off the tops of the dunes, not a good day to be climbing.

Already the mountain peaks had disappeared as dark clouds drooped over them and tentacles of precipitation (looked like snow) reached downward.  Good thing we were headed south, ahead of the incoming cold front, as a wintry mix chased us to our next thrill – a 9,000 ft mountain peak that should finally be our last climb.

Before we started to climb, we unhooked the Jeep at the chain station (emergency brake fully engaged this time) and Jackie drove to the other side where we connected back again.  Not nearly as tough as we expected.

We now drove straight and flat across the grasslands to Lamar on a 2-lane road with no shoulders at all. Saw a few pronghorn, but little else.  We were pretty much alone, except then an 18-wheeler pulling half a house “wide load” came toward us.  Nowhere to go except the white line to the right and “whooosh” it zoomed past, probably with only inches to spare.  At 65+ mph.  Sigh… until the other half came barrelling down the road toward us.  A repeat of the “whooosh” as we white-knuckled it past, holding our breath as if that would help.

But we were soon in Lamar (home to a pretty large cattle feed lot), getting gas and making a quick stop at Walmart (yippee!) for some fresh food.  The campsite was nearby and what a cool spot.  At Sundance-High Plains RV Park we were given a “deluxe” spot along the grassland, facing the western sunset.  Wonderful.  Electric and water with a nice shower facility.  We are told that pronghorn might be in the grassland along with quail and roadrunners, who apparently eat the quail.  Only one night to show yourself, roadrunner!  Whoops, just as I am writing this a covey of quail ran across in front of the motorhome… let’s see if I can get a shot. Yep, but they are fast runners.

Since we also have great wifi here, I was able to upload two posts to the blog!  And saw a news report that the cold front we were out-running had dropped major snow in Monarch Pass – where we drove through just two days ago, Sunday.  An overnight Monday photo was posted, and as you can see, we would NOT have made it through that pass in that condition.  Yikes.

The overnight temps only got down to low 40’s, but we had some pretty strong gusty winds to start off the evening.  This area, due to their drought, has a red flag warning, which means a high risk of wildfires.  Since we got up early, we both had a chance to use the showers at Sundance High Plains before heading east toward Wichita, Kansas.  

The drive was straight and mostly flat, as you would expect, and very gusty and windy.  We were driving a nice 2-lane highway, which gave you a good look at local life.  The dry, scrub pastures and high plains of eastern Colorado gave way to irrigated fields of hay, alfalfa and sorghum.  It was harvest time for all of that and we saw loads of hay bales in the fields and on trucks, plus sorghum being cut, trucked and massed into huge piles.  Trucks of livestock, hay and grains would rush past (speed limit is 65) the motorhome and those with sorghum would splash a blast of grains on the windshield as they passed, quite a jolt.  You got a good sense of the scale of work involved in making the harvest of all these crops.

We also passed many feed yards of cattle and a couple of processing plants in towns like Garden City and the outskirts of Dodge City, which explained all of the livestock trailers.  We drove through micro-towns like Cimmaron and Ingalls, Ford and Mullinville.  So many have the remnants of 1950’s storefronts, motels and gas stations long abandoned.  One of the little towns had a crazy display of metal folk art that was spinning in the breeze.  Quite the installation, along with some commentary.

Always a Story

We kept driving east until Wichita, where Jackie called in a reservation inside the city limits at Air Capital RV Park.  This was a well-developed spot, all concrete drives with patches of lush green grass between the slips.  We asked for a back-in site and at the front office we disconnected the Jeep, ready to follow Melvin in his golf cart.  Except that the Jeep would not start again.  Tried the instant jump, no good – several times.  Took out the jumper cables and hooked to the generator to jump it, not working.  By this time we had Melvin looking on, another helpful resident who wanted to jump it from his semi, but it was all to no avail.  Battery was dead beyond reviving.

Well, what do you do?  Melvin said it was fine to leave the Jeep parked where it was, but we still needed a replacement battery.  Two blocks away there was an O’Reilly Auto Parts shop, we were told, so we drove the motorhome there, parked in the next door Dillon’s lot (one of the Kroger stores) and I went over to the auto parts store with a picture of the battery.  Hmm, well they had a battery that was recommended for the Rubicon but which was stronger and slightly longer than the one I had.  But it was at their other location.  Could they get it here today?  Yep, would be on the truck and here by 5:30 (it was like 3:30 now).  Ok, so you will call me when it comes in?  Yep.

Back to RV park, slipped into our spot but only plugged in electric.  I went over to unhook the battery, while Melvin looked on, got a call the new battery was ready, Melvin drive his golf cart with me and battery to RV so we could return it for the core refund.  Unhooked electric, drove over to O’Reilly’s and swapped batteries.  Back to park, dropped battery at Jeep, parked motorhome in site, hooked up electric, leveled and put out slides.  Then I went to Jeep to lift and insert the new, slightly longer, slightly heavier battery.  A passing dog-walker stopped to help me negotiate the battery into place, I clamped it all down and connected terminals and accidentally set off the car alarm.  Ok, it works.  Started up, drove to the slip and collapsed on the couch. Maybe we finally solved the battery problem.

Not for long, though, as we had plans to find breweries in Wichita.  Not hard, as we have driven through here before.  We went back to River City Brewing in Old Town and soon ordered up Mediterranean Pizza and something I loved before: BBQ Mac ‘n Cheese.  Yummy, creamy, smoky flavor that went great with a house Dunkel.  Jackie ordered a strawberry kolsch but promptly swapped beers for the Dunkel (which really was good).  We later walked a few blocks to Third Place Brewing and had one more beer each.  We sampled several they had and then Jackie had a gose she liked and I tried their Red Truck IPA.  Good conversation with the bartender (we were the ONLY folks in there) who was a theater major teaching special ed.  The stories, the stories … Oh to be retired – we love it!

Back in minutes to our motorhome in a Jeep that runs and we are set for the night.  Tomorrow we head to Springfield, Missouri to find an easy spot for the night.

Yes, we drove eastward toward Missouri on the continuation of the 2-lane road from the day before.  Early start, but since we are now on Central time, we lost an hour to start with.  Pretty much the same flat fields to start with, more hawk sightings on fence posts, electric wires and low flying – I think they were mostly rough-legged hawks.  The fields gradually turned to rolling tree covered hills as we traveled eastern Kansas toward Missouri.  It began to remind me of northern New Jersey with juniper, oaks and sumac. 

Our stop for the night was at Missouri RV Park in Mountain Grove, Missouri just east of Springfield.  Actually, for an older park just off the highway it was quite nice.  Heck, all we need is a level spot with electric and water, but this had grass and trees and room between sites.  Kodi enjoyed some “fetch” for a while and I had time to fix a bucket of soapy water and washed down the Jeep, plus cleaned the bugs off the motorhome windshield.  Losing some of the Utah and Colorado dust that is pretty persistent.  And Kodi is happy not to be picking up burrs or spikes on his feet.  Speaking of dogs and cats, both Kodi and Merlin have been wonderful on the trip.  Merlin soaks up the sun on the dashboard (parked) and while on the road, Kodi is great about getting in his crate on the couch and curling up. 

Get up, drive, stop, sleep, repeat.  This last run home is kind of like that.  Our next day goal is just east of Memphis.  The drive in Missouri took us through rolling fields and pastures with plenty of green trees and then across the Ozarks in Arkansas.  Some uphill climbs, but nothing like the Rockies.  Then the drive drops down to the Mississippi River valley and there are plenty of fields being harvested.  Mostly cotton, but also soybeans and some hay.  The drive was pretty easy and soon we were crossing the Mississippi and circling to the south of Memphis. We were soon in Mississippi heading toward with a couple of good prospects for camping.  We stretched the drive to reach beyond Tupelo to stay at Tombigbee State Park.  Not far off I-22, but the final 5 miles or so were a narrow, curving squiggle of a road to the park.  An absolutely delightful spot in the trees with plenty of room and full hookups, so no complaints at all.  Kodi got some fetch time in the playground, which helped get the kinks out from the drive.

This should be our last night in camp, as home is supposed to be four and a half hours away.  I know that by the time we reach Birmingham I will want to just press on until we are in the driveway.  Then comes the task of unpacking the laundry, the fridge, the bathroom — but it will be just fine, considering the trip we have had.  A couple of soapy washings of the Jeep and motorhome and maybe the blower to get the Utah red dust out of the Jeep.  

Last Night in Camp

So by the time you read this we will be stretching out at home, not banging into things, taking at least one or two nice long hot showers in something bigger than a phone booth and thinking back to the many hikes, 4WD trails, jaw-dropping scenery, small towns, breweries and just a few minor “learning opportunities” with overheating engines and battery life.

I really do enjoy posting the pictures and stories and hope you enjoy them as well.  So, until our next adventure . . . 

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Sand Dunes in Colorado?

You bet! And they are spectacular.

Funny how maps only show you so much – depending on how closely you look.  The trip from Crawford down to Great Sand Dunes NP looked as though our trickiest part was going to be the drive to Gunnison.  How wrong we were.  We did opt to take the route up and around to the west, going through Delta and Montrose down to Gunnison, reasoning that the easterly route we had traveled the day before was just too mountainous, curvy, icy … all of that, and the westerly route was not closed for construction on the weekend, and this was Sunday.

That was a smart move, since it was pretty much the same time and a much easier drive.  The narrow pass where the rock sides of the road were being blasted back to widen the passage was tricky but not a problem.  So as we drove alongside the beautiful, if low, Blue Mesa reservoir we were thinking we were finally out of the mountains and into smooth valley roads.  That was until we were to pass over the Rocky Mountains and the continental divide toward Poncha Springs.  We passed a tire chain spot and wondered about that, and then a sign announced the Monarch Pass Summit was 10 miles ahead.  Yep, 10 miles of unrelenting 6 – 8% uphill grade.  It was a slow go and as the engine temperature started to climb I pulled over to a nice paved pullout.  We decided to have lunch while the very hot engine cooled down.  Kinda thought it would be good to disconnect the Jeep if we were level enough, so back we went to pull the pins and disconnect.  The last pin gave us some trouble, but we cheered when we finally pulled it out. And, hey, the Jeep is rolling backward … I quickly grabbed the bumper and dug in, Jackie ran around to jump in and mash the brakes and pulled the emergency brake up one more good click (it HAD been on) and we saved the Jeep from rolling off the hillside.  Yeah, that woulda been fun.

So Jackie drove behind me as we slowly made our way up – this was an elevation change of 6,000 ft from where we started.  At the top we paused once again at almost 12,000 ft, surrounded by spruce and alpine hillsides.  Then down we went, shifting into low gear, heater blasting to peel off some of the heat load.  With our 2-way radios Jackie said she would just keep driving the rest of the way and we figured we were home free until the road started climbing again with “Poncha Summit 7 miles” sign staring at us and another 6% climb.  But without the Jeep attached the motorhome did not overheat and we made it back down the other side.  Then the road became the straightest, flattest, most boring road ever through the valley.  A couple of turns and we were at the park, headed for our campsite in Pinyon Flats campground.  Pinyon trees, yes, flat, no.  Tight spots, yes.  Backed in like an expert – yes.

What a view!  Across from our site was a mountain of tan sand dunes, hundreds of feet high.  Shadows played across the dunes and it just seemed so out of place.  The prevailing winds from the west long ago blew the sand from the ancient dry flat lake bottom across to the base of the Sangre De Cristo mountains, where lighter winds from the east blew it back into dunes.  Awesome.

We were set for the night, this being a dry site we had plenty of water and were prepared for no electricity.  We earlier figured out how to power Jackie’s BiPap machine from the house batteries and we were using the propane heater.  If needed, we could fire up the generator to make coffee and charge the devices.

Overnight was not as cold, only got to 34 degrees, and by 9 or so we were out starting our hike to the dunes.  We were layered up, hats and gloves, had water and walking sticks and were going to do our best to climb that sand.  Yep.  Going up, trying to stay on the ridgeline, no real path to follow, soft sand making for slow going.  Many “catch your breath spots” as we are at about 8,500 ft and even tying your shoes gets you winded.  We set a goal of a dune crest that was more than halfway up and figured that would be enough.  I think the summit is about an 800 ft climb.  Since we didn’t have sandboards to slide down, we just slid/stepped our way back down the sandhill.  Loads of fun going down.  And at the bottom we emptied out about a cup of sand from our shoes and socks.  At least I did.

Check out a video of the hike here: Great Sand Dunes Hike

After lunch we hopped in the Jeep to drive back to Visitor’s Center and then to try a 4WD roadway that went up the mountain slope.  They caution you to use 4L and to drive quickly across the soft sand, and lucky for us no one else was on the track.  It was fun as you drove through tight turns banked up the sides and then across pretty deep sandy stretches.  We turned around at the aptly named “Point of No Return” and did it all again.  Had we been serious about going further we would have had to deflate the tires a bit, but with no compressor to refill them, not gonna happen.  On the way back we finally saw a couple of Mule Deer bucks on the roadside, and despite ALL the whitetail deer we see at home, it was still cool.

Tomorrow we start the journey back home and plans are a little fuzzy.  We called in a reservation at a campground in Lamar, Colorado for tomorrow night and are trying to figure whether to drop down to Oklahoma or keep heading east to Wichita, Kansas.  I think we want to eventually drop down to Memphis rather than across to St. Louis, but we shall see.

Thanks for sticking with our western adventure.  I know I can get a little wordy sometimes, but if you ever consider doing the sort of travel we do, you ought to know what to expect – great and not-so-great.

And I have to think that Mom and Dad are looking down on us and helping smooth the way for our adventures – they loved camping, travel and the outdoors so much I am sure they are with us on this adventure.

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Colorado Chill

Ok then, where did we leave off?  Ah, yes, we were in Fruita, Colorado enjoying some beer at three breweries.  We started off at Monumental Beer Works in Grand Junction and had some very good brews in a flight or so.  I really enjoyed one they brewed with some Pinot Noir that had a very distinctive flavor.  Next stop was back in Fruita at Suds Brothers Brewery where we had two pizzas to share (yay it was pizza special night) and some honey wheat beer.  Third stop was at Copper Canyon for a flight of beer and then back the 2 miles or so to camp.  Campground here is excellent – paved sites that are clean and level, with the Colorado River just a short walk away.  Kodi loved the lush green grass, a nice change from the rocks and sand of the desert landscapes we just left.  He probably didn’t get as excited about the afternoon grooming and nail clipping that he got.

I have to share something from the day before.  Driving through a stretch of Utah we had another road sign warning “Eagles on Roadway.”  Really.  Not the shoulders, not in the sky, but on the roadway?  “Next 5 miles”  Of course we didn’t see the eagles, just tire retreads.

Overnight was rain once again, but clear by morning and cold.  Some of the dust grime got washed off the jeep and motorhome, but that will probably soon change.  We didn’t have an especially long drive today, so breakfast was pancakes and we savored two cups of coffee.  Grand Junction had fairly reasonable gas prices ($3.50 instead of $3.99) so we filled up and drove south to Delta, where we took Hwy 92 southeast toward Crawford instead of Hwy 50 toward Montrose.  Ok, that probably makes no sense to you, but months ago we read about the construction on 50 south of Montrose that shut down the road for hours at a time, sometimes half a day.  We routed ourselves on 92 to avoid that delay and thus would be on the north rim of Black Canyon instead of the more popular south rim.  And frankly, the road and drive has been easy so far.

Oops, spoke too soon.  There was a warning about an accident ahead and rather soon flashing lights and police cars had the road blocked and we were sent across the railroad tracks on a detour around this accident.  Smaller 2-lane farm road then, the kind that goes in rectangular directions around the farms, with sharp right angle turns and non-existent shoulders.  That was tolerable, but the first mile or so was an elevation change of 1,000 ft up on switchbacks that were not fun.  I was doing my best at 10 – 15 mph, but we made it up and across and around and down, making it back to the original highway with no idea of this accident.  Exactly the kind of thing we were trying to avoid, however.

The towns of Hotchkiss and Crawford were cute and soon we saw these huge looming mountains – I think Saddleback Mountain, that were draped in snow and clouds, part of the southern Rockies.  The contrast of the golden yellow cottonwoods against the grey blue of the mountains was spectacular.  Ok, well we were soon in Crawford State Park with a campsite lakeside, but no water in the reservoir.  No matter, it is a level site that has a shelter and gravel and nice view of the mountains.  Unhitched, jump started the Jeep and had lunch.  We figured we ought to go straight to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison that was almost across the street (10 miles) so we grabbed coats and such and hopped in the Jeep.