Outdoor Adventures

A Nashville Weekend

Not Everything Is A Motorhome Adventure!

It’s mid-January, chilly, rainy and a typical Atlanta winter, so Jackie and I got itchy to get out. Yes, we have been working in a few bike rides on the ebikes when the weather allows and a few pickleball attempts at the community center to stay active, but a crochet and knitting event called Jackie to Nashville. Actually, it was her sister who called but the event is supposed to be special for anyone into yarn craft hobbies. Didn’t take much convincing, since we really haven’t visited Nashville in a couple of years. But before we head to Nashville, let me recap some fall/winter fun at our place: Thanksgiving was wonderful with the family. Good food and cold weather that made it perfect for a bonfire at night. Then another Raclette party with our brewcrew. We had three grills going, blew a circuit, ran an extension cord to the living room and kept the party going. Pretty silly stuff but fun together. And an ebike ride with John down to Dry County Brewing for a beer and return trip.

Back to the Nashville weekend. It’s not really a bad trip, even with a quick stop in Chattanooga to check in with Alex, but of course the weather had to mess with things just a bit. The temperature kept dropping into the low 30’s and the drizzly light rain soon turned to snowflakes as we approached Monteagle. That is the first big climb you make up and onto the Cumberland Plateau and it seems to make its own weather anyway. So as we wiggled our way along and up the mountain the snow continued to a near whiteout for a bit, even sticking on the trees and ground. Pretty, but kinda sloppy too. Once up and over the ridge it eventually changed back to drizzle and stopped altogether.

So Nashville wasn’t much further ahead and we were soon unloading our bags at Judy and Craig’s and making plans for the weekend. Lots of options, starting with an evening of pickleball at their community center. We are still very much beginners, but it was fun to play a few games together and meet some of their fellow players. Back at their house we chatted rather late into the night with generous pours of Tennessee whiskey. Mmm, maybe just a little too generous, but in the morning we were up and ready for whatever. Jackie and Judy were to head off to The Big Stitch for yarn and classes and Craig had an idea for the two of us: Leiper’s Fork Distillery.

It really wasn’t too far to get to the Natchez Trace (lovely, winding parkway) and then to the town of Leiper’s Fork. We pulled into the distillery, discovered a tour had just started and hooked up with it in the main barn. Mmmm, what a great fragrance. Probably the best earthy, warm smell there is. Great tour leader filled us with the history of whiskey-making in Tennessee and their operation. I keep learning more about “tails”, “heads” and “heart” and how similar the process is to getting a grain mix to boil and ferment for either beer or distilled spirits.

Not sure I mentioned our fall trip to visit with nephews Adam and Chris and a trip to a distillery in Beaufort, SC: Rotten Little Bastard. Another great learning opportunity about the distilling process, with samplings of course. And we just had to stop by a local brewery later that day along the waterway: Shellring Ale Works. I will post a few pics of that trip below.

So, back to our Leiper’s Fork experience. Inside a wonderful restored Tennessee cabin we were treated to three samples of their whiskey with an explanation of how to enjoy the whiskey properly. We started with a white whiskey (the same recipe, just not aged in barrels so it is clear), their Tennessee whiskey and a bourbon. Yep, definitely a strong brew – the bourbon was a 4-year 100 proof sip. A short stop in their gift shop and we were on our way back to the house – oh yeah, pick up some good beef for tacos later tonight. Actually those tacos were more like fajitas with the thin pieces of strip steak that Craig cooked up. Yum. But we weren’t done for the day yet.

We headed into downtown Nashville for some people watching before an 8:30 show at The Listening Room. We got a gander at the “Nash Vegas” crowd along Broadway, complete with crazy party buses and crowds and traffic and then found our way to the venue for singer/songwriters. It turned out to be a great night of music with the songwriters performing some of their songs that were recorded by more notable country music singers. Decent local beer was served and we had some really good fried pickles, too.

Okay then, we must be done, right? Nope. Next morning, after coffee and breakfast, we played a few rounds of pickleball outside on their neighborhood tennis court. I think maybe Jackie and I are getting better, but we do feel like the t-shirt that says “What’s the score? Who’s serve is it? What day is it?” But good fun and exercise. And another short trip out to Tailgate Brewing to finish the day. This spot had a lot of beer on tap and we all ordered a flight. There was a good selection of sours, so my four were variations of apple, peach, raspberry and such. Actually all very good – but maybe not as special as some of our local Kennesaw brews. Craig was determined that we were going to learn the card game Euchre, so we gave it a go. Actually turned out to be pretty fun and a bit familiar to us as a variation of Spades (which we haven’t played since college).

Back home to some chicken tortilla soup from Judy’s Instapot and maybe a little more of that Tennessee whiskey and we were done for the day. Oh, wait, there was the hot tub. Yeah, it’s like 30 something degrees outside and we are doing what? Well, it did feel good as the steam rose around while we bubbled in the box. Quick run for the towels and then we were done for sure.

Yep, it was a great visit. I debated about titling this “A Nashville Quickie” which is what it seemed like. We packed in a lot of fun on a long weekend. Before leaving the final morning we had a fast game of Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza to a rousing bit of laughter and hand slapping. If you know the game, you get it. I am still a bit challenged by it, but it sure is crazy fun.

Soooooo, what’s next? In two weeks we head to Orlando and Port Canaveral to set sail aboard the new NCL Prima cruise ship for a week in the Caribbean. Should be nice warm water, lots of sunshine, amazing food and cold drinks. Yes, we are a bit crazy but this one is to celebrate our milestone 70th birthdays. Hope to post some stories, pictures and videos of the trip. Meantime, be sure to watch some of the videos I recently posted of our adventures of the last two years (adventureswithdougandjackie). Thanks for visiting and spread the word.

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Florida Fall Family Camping

It is a rainy morning in the motorhome, in fact there is thunder rattling around the Grand Lagoon and the pelting rain is getting pretty loud in here, so it is a good time to sit and compose the latest blog of our current adventure.  We have been camping at one of our favorite spots in Florida:  St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach.  There are several reasons why this visit has been special, the most important of which is that the campground is finally open again after all the damage and restoration from Hurricane Michael in 2018.  You may recall that we were here that October when we were suddenly evacuated and spent the better part of a week camping around the panhandle of Florida as one-by-one each state park closed due to the storm. (You can search the blog for some of those posts). 

Well the rebuild of the park is remarkable, with each campsite now having full hookups, level and well-defined with a pea gravel base and very well maintained. In fact they have specially built rakes they use to drag across the sites between each occupancy.  What is lacking, though, is the unique charm the campground used to have.  Nearly all the trees are gone, they don’t allow haphazard parking and boats on trailers in the campground and perhaps because of the sewer hookups, there are many more trailers and motorhomes than tents and pop-ups.  But for us it is an easy site to use. 

We booked this week last January with Judy and Craig because their Tennessee school had fall break and we wanted to camp together.  Then we alerted Jackie’s brother John, who was buying a truck camper, and Alex and Bethany, who are working to restore an adorable fiberglass Trillium mini-trailer and we soon had all four of us booked for the week.  Great plan – what could go wrong?

Well around December of last year both Craig and John ordered new Ford trucks from a dealer in Iowa.  Craig needed a bigger truck to pull their trailer out to Colorado and Utah this summer and John needed the Super Duty to mount his nearly-new slide-in truck camper.  Eight months, should be no problem.  Well the trucks weren’t ready for pickup until September, which meant Craig had to use his older truck for the summer trip and John drove his back to NC just a week before we were to camp.  And Alex still had more work to do on their unit.  Eventually everyone got set and packed, except Judy and Craig.  At the last minute he had to fly to Phoenix, Arizona to help his mother return home from rehab following an operation and Judy was not prepared to haul the trailer to Florida.  That’s ok, we have room in the motorhome, so she and daughter Rachel joined us for part of the week.  They set up a tent in their site next to us to hold most of their clothes and extras.  

So we each arrived in stages – John stopped at our house a few days prior and we drove to Lakepoint State Park in Alabama for a night.  We stopped in LaGrange to have lunch and a beer at Wild Leap Distilling – only to find out it was the finish line for a fundraising run.  Pretty busy so we just ate lunch in the motorhome, then on to Eufaula for the night.  We prefer to break up the 6-7 hour trip this way because, well, because we have the time to do it.  So far so good.  Next morning (Sunday) it was off to the beach for the week.  But the rest of Tennessee was also on fall break, so once at the campground and beach it felt more like spring break than the middle of October.  We zipped around on our new eBikes, which was really easy on the flat roads. But the best part is the beach and the water – absolutely clear, slightly cool water with gentle waves and wonderful white sand beaches.  

The beach has been renourished with sand pumped from the inlet, so it was filled with shell bits and was a very high dune hill, but with the repairs to the rock jetty and all the new sand, at least it looked more like the beach of the past.  But it did make for a hike to and from the water’s edge with our well-used Tommy Bahama cart loaded with chairs, umbrellas and beach beer.

That first weekend with just John, Jackie and I was pretty special.  We had delicious fish and ahi tuna tacos at the local Patches Pub and after dinner we sat out and were surprised by a beautiful fireworks display across the lagoon.  We learned it was the end of Pirate Weekend.  Better than the 4th!  And we were later treated to a gorgeous moonrise as a golden full moon slowly rose above the water and totally dominated the skyline.

So what else did we do all week once everyone arrived at camp?  First off we had to check out Alex and Bethany’s setup, then John gave his camper a once-over to be sure all was working.  Judy and Rachel set their tent and we walked around the “new” campground to try and remember how it was and where we might have camped before.  But the beach was calling, so we spent most afternoons in our beach chairs, sipping beach beer, splashing in the water, a bit of snorkeling, dolphin watching … basic beach fun.

Judy was anxious to find a pickleball court, which we did, and play a bit with us.  We have just recently started to learn the sport and have had a few practice games at our local community center.  Well the spot we found was pretty busy and we got swept up in the “put your paddle in the rack, you can play the next team up when there is an open court.”  Yikes, these folks are pretty serious.  Turns out we got an open court for all four of us and we spent an hour or more just between Rachel (tough competitor), Judy, Jackie and I.  Good exercise. 

Meal planning became important, too.  Each night someone hosted everyone at their site and cooked up a delicious meal.  Sausage, peppers and potatoes grilled up by John, steak night at Doug and Jackie’s, a seafood night grilled over a wood fire at Alex and Bethany’s – awesome eats.  That seafood night featured Mahi-Mahi, Ahi tuna, shrimp, scallops … doesn’t get any better.

And of course we wanted to eat at some of the beach bars and restaurants.  Let’s go out to Schooners then!  Barely a mile from the campsite and right on the beach, this favorite is cool because they shoot off a canon at sunset, plus serve good food.  By now I had lowered the canvas top of the Jeep and was ready for some true beach driving (ok, the doors stayed on).  And we had some rubber ducks ready for “ducking” other Jeeps.  If you aren’t familiar with this tradition, it’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand.

So Alex and John jumped in the Jeep with me, the girls in Bethany’s Jeep and off to Schooners we went.  Parked cars, put in our names – an hour and a half wait!  Hmm, maybe Plan B?  We called to another spot over the bridge that had no waiting: Off the Hook.  So back in Jeeps, but ooops, the sky doesn’t look too good.  Off we go and down came the rain.  Darn, the wipers aren’t working!  Hey, John might have left his awning out, we need to check on that – girls you go get a table at Off the Hook and we will meet you there.  We put the roof up, but I didn’t have the window panels, so backseat rider got a bit wet.  Campsites were ok, so back to the restaurant before it got worse.

Just as we got to the outdoor bar the wind whipped up and things were blowing everywhere – umbrellas lifting up and out, napkins and plates flipping and blowing, people running for cover … time for Plan C.  Patches Pub was best choice, so over there we drove.  All of this is within maybe 2 miles of campsite, so we were kind of driving around in a circle.  Got a table outside under a roof, the rain and wind died down and we ordered up a great meal of Ahi tacos, fish sandwiches, pizza and beer.  Probably should have started here since it was reasonable, delicious and a fun vibe.

Back at camp we tried to prepare for overnight rain but early morning brought another blast of rain and thunder and things got … wet.  Probably the worst was Judy’s tent and contents.  Towels, blankets, and clothes were laid out to dry, I mopped out water from the back of the Jeep, and we all hoped it would dry as we headed up to the beach.  The day turned out to be a perfect one and we soon forgot all about the rain.  Mostly.  

Big waves were hitting the beach this day and we all got our fill of diving under, getting dunked and trying to swim up and over.  Hats got soaked and knocked off, sunglasses held tight, but it was really a lot of fun.  By the next day the waves had simmered to mild ripples, but the storm also changed up the water a bit, we now had pink meanie jellyfish (that eat moon jellies, but still have stinging tentacles) in the surf to avoid.  Alex declared we needed to institute a buddy system to watch for them while swimming.  We made it with no stings.

The night before Judy and Rachel were set to return home we tried for another beachside bar and drove to Pineapple Willy’s.  Not much of a wait for an outside table, and we were already enjoying the sunset while sipping on our frozen Daquiri’s.  Alex got clever and ordered two Miami Vices (strawberry mixed with pina colada) – I guess he got the hang of cruise drinking after all.  We had some gator bites and I had a delicious fried oyster Po’boy. Nice night beachside, plus no rain.  John hung on in the back seat of the Jeep as we turned up the volume and drove back along the beach road to camp, open air.  

Friday it was time for Judy to pack up and head out, so we took some time to dry out her tent first – kind of like waving a flag in the breeze.  A bald eagle that had been spotted all week circled above as if to say goodbye.  Soon they were off and the rest of us hit the beach again.

Sunday morning we were saying goodbye to John and Alex and Bethany as they packed up, pulled out and headed home.  We were staying another four days, so suddenly it seemed just a bit quieter.  All week the motorhome had become the dog house for Kodi, Toby and Allie daytime, so when we got back to the door there was only one barky voice left.  

What else?  We watched the many pelicans, egrets, herons and osprey that fly about and splash into the water, occasionally getting a fish.  Our electric bikes were awesome down here.  The flat roadways made it so easy to zip around camp and off to the beach.  We are still quite cautious with our trips – preferring not to leave them locked at racks beachside.  But they are a definite new fun addition to our adventures.  The Hollywood rack on the Jeep worked just fine and the bikes haven’t lost much of their battery power all week.  Lots of other eBikes around camp, too.  But the golf carts still dominate the traffic around the campground (mostly with kids driving them).

Well, by now the rain has stopped, it is still cloudy, but I need to walk Kodi, pour the water puddle off the Jeep roof and squeeze out the towels and bathing suits.  Maybe a trip down to Pier Park or the t-shirt shops (like we need another?) today while we wait for the weather to clear and beach time begins again. 

It did clear and we had another perfect day at the beach, still dodging a few jellyfish.  But the next day it got cold and windy and a planned bike trip was postponed in favor of lunch at Sharkey’s – you know, it is something of a tradition.  We had a wonderful lunch beachside: fish tacos and nachos with frozen daquiris.  Yum.  We noticed the growing crowd of motorcycles and learned Sharkey’s is one of the sponsors of Thunder Beach, which was just starting up.  Hmmm, we do have a history of being in places where motorcycle rallys happen.  Does an eBike count?

You probably know about the big cold snap hitting the southeast, and we were just learning that it might have been the end of our houseplants on the back deck at home.  For us at the beach, we hit the low 40’s on departure morning and were thankful we had packed at least one pair of long pants and long t-shirts each, just in case.  We rolled out early enough to get to Eufaula by noon and then to a new Georgia State Park: Chattahoochee Bend State Park outside Newnan.  Got there around 4:30 after getting gas (and remember, an hour difference across the border).  We have a great pull-through spot for the night and are maybe 2 hours from home.  The nice part is we aren’t driving through Atlanta at rush hour.  In the morning we can miss the interstates and make our way home on more local roads.

So our fall beach break has come to an end and we are slowly unpacking clothes, food, and such  Need to clean out the Jeep and motorhome from the sandy fun and attend to a few minor issues.  It was a great time in the sun, on the beach and with family.  John and Alex and Bethany got just a little more comfortable with their rigs.  Couldn’t ask for better.

I probably should have mentioned a summer camping adventure on our local lake with the grandsons.  We had a great lakeside spot, Alex and Bethany joined us for their first outing and it was great – until it wasn’t.  Every afternoon a wild thunderstorm whipped up and we had to pull in awnings, take down screen rooms, collect chairs and tables … it was really wild times.  But daytime the water was warm and perfect for floating, paddling or just splashing around.

Next up? No motorhome camping, but we have a cruise planned for late January on the brand new NCL Prima. It is a 70th birthday treat for us. Can’t wait for that Caribbean adventure.  

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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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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.

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.

 

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.  

 

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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” adventures … 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!

Exploring Canyonlands Island in the Sky

It is hard to describe just how vast and beautiful the landscape of Canyonlands National Park is, even pictures don’t fully capture the breathtaking beauty. Our Western adventure in October 2021 took us to the Moab region of Utah to camp in an amazing campground: Dead Horse Point State Park. We explored the Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands in this video, with a snippet of our drive down the Shafer Trail in our Jeep.

Exploring Dead Horse Point to Moab

Camping at Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah was an unforgettable experience for us. This stop on our October 2021 trip to Colorado and Utah was the highlight for sure, with 4-wheeling adventures on Long Canyon Road, Shafer Trail and Potash Road plus grand overlooks and hikes across the mesas and slickrock. This is but one of the videos of that adventure in Canyonlands and more.

Rafting the Colorado River in Moab (UT)

While camping at Dead Horse State Park in Canyonlands we booked a half-day rafting adventure on the Colorado River. It was a pretty amazing trip between the red sandstone cliffs as our guide navigated the muddy rapids and our raftmates had a wet and wild time.

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 v