September 21-30 Sonoma to Portland – wrapping up an Epic Journey

We arrived in Santa Rosa, mooch-docking off our friend Peter who has been a west coast mainstay throughout this journey.  It was a busy time as we had deep cleaning to do on the rig, readying it for prospective buyers back in Portland.  The weather was hot but mellowed out after a few days. 

On a foggy Sunday morning we woke up before dawn (we haven’t done that since we retired 😜), and headed for Old World Vineyards Winery to partake in the annual harvest and crush.  It was cold! After being briefed on how to harvest grapes we headed out to the heart of the Russian River Valley to their vineyard next to the famous Gallo Estates.  We parked up in a lovely grove of Redwoods with another fifteen or so folks along with the extremely industrious LatinX workers, got our gloves and clippers and walked through an apple orchard into the vines.  

Vineyards in the fog

The size of the clusters were amazing.  Unfortunately, due to the recent storms that had pummeled us on Highway 1, some of the larger clusters inside the vines had molded.  I spent time surgically removing these offenders, and the smell of the rot was certainly pervasive – in a wine grape sort of way.  After a couple of hours the sun began to break, and the hills and forests began to open up.  Being Sunday, and that we were out in the vineyards, it was pretty peaceful.  

The LatinX were like machines, plowing through the vines with precision.  They ranged from young to middle-aged.  I can’t fathom them doing this all day; we witnessed them picking the crops, mostly strawberries as we motored up from Santa Cruz.  

Being at ground zero at these agricultural centers is seriously eye-opening.  It’s not something you witness on a regular tour and you gain such an appreciation for the horrendous amount of thought and work that brings food to our tables.  

At Old World Wines the process is organic and they age the wine in neutral barrels.  After finishing up and peeling off layers of clothing, we journeyed back to the winery for a great Mexican lunch; we had huge burritos!!  The weather had warmed into the high 60’s with a pleasant breeze and inviting sun.  We tasted a few vintages processed from the same vines we had just picked; we opted for the Rose’ and Merlot – so tasty and Bob can drink both!

After getting slightly buzzed from the tastings, they set up the containers so we could do some good old fashioned crushing!  Well, it was an interesting experience that was purely performative; the grapes were cold as we had picked the grapes after they had been sitting in fifty-degree weather most of the night.  But we crushed all the same so we can honestly say we did the heavy lifting of what goes into wine making🍷🍇

Crushing it in Sonoma!

After working since the crack of dawn for several hours; stooping, bending and twisting, we wound up flaking out for the rest of the afternoon.  I was fine with that as Monday was a big day and we need to prep emotionally for the upcoming French Visa Interview. 

On Monday we toodled down to San Francisco, passing over the Golden Gate Bridge that was emerging from the fog.  The bridge was symbolic in a way, as we passed from this stage of our life to another.  We arrived in plenty of time for our appointments with HSBC (for opening up a US and French Bank Account) and then off to the Visa Processing Center. 

After finishing a smooth transaction with the bank, we grabbed a quick snack and then headed for the Visa Center – it’s actually VFS Global; they act as a broker for the French Consulate.  We were crammed into a small room with other applicants, some ranging from Portugal to the Netherlands and awaited our turn.  The desks that the processing agents sat at were tiny with only room for one chair and Bob had no choice but to stand behind me.  We gave them more documentation than what was required partly because we had been given advice for the helpline and other blogs on what to expect.  I was glad for it as other folks hadn’t made photo copies of their passport pages or thought their travel insurance would cover the requirements (it doesn’t – you have to pay for the more expensive coverage such as Cigna for actual full health insurance) resulting in denial of their application at the get-go.  We breathed a sigh of relief as the agent took our fingerprints and photos and we were on our way. 

We had one last dinner with Peter that evening, packed up the RV and bid a fond farewell; he had been a much-needed stop for us as we approached the end of our trip. 

We set out for McKinleyville the next morning, past the now dry rolling hills that were a lush green the last time we passed through here.   

We decided to stop at, you guessed it, our favorite spot, the Founders Grove in the Redwoods National Forest, for tea.

Teatime at Founders Grove

This was Grogu’s third time in the Redwoods; for Shoeless and Bob Jr. it was the first.  Grogu has been with us on this entire journey, having lost Dave at the Grand Canyon😥 

We were lucky to find an RV leaving as we arrived and gladly slid into their slot. We stepped outside with our tea and soaked in the atmosphere; I fantasized of having a log cabin with a large porch nestled in this grove, where I would sit for hours, in a tranquil respite, listening to their stories. 

We had been there in late winter and early spring when it was cold and damp; it was now early fall, with sentimental shafts of light breaking through an emperious embrace.  The dry, temperate air filled my lungs; the forest perfume swelled around me that I longed to capture in a forever memory.  The drying needles softened our footfalls as we got lost in our revelry.  And we literally got turned around!  But you didn’t find us complaining as we meandered through the grove, swiveling our heads to and fro as we finally made our way back to the rig. 

Memories don’t define the Redwoods very well; I still find myself in awe as they emerge from the forest proper, an astonishing contrast to human frailty.  They are not defined simply by a singular grove, but by an ancient ecosystem that lies deep in the heart of us all. Here we become true-to-nature, if even for a fleeting moment in time.  I am glad they have been preserved for all to explore, and that they inspire the human race of their importance; that they will continue to endure for centuries to come. 

We can only hope.

The next day, we left the Widow White RV Park and headed for the coast.  I wouldn’t recommend this park, it is a bit rundown and you only pay in cash, but it sufficed for a quick overnight, and heck, it seems like we’ve run the gamut on this journey! 

We journeyed through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, it was rainy and misty which only added to the atmosphere.  The weather finally broke, revealing stellar blue skies along Northern California and Southern Oregon Coast.  The wind wasn’t as fierce as it was in the spring and the temperature was certainly manageable. 

We hooked up at the Turtle Bay RV Resort at Gold Beach in the same spot we had in the spring.  We took a leisurely walk along the beach with its thundering surf, a stark contrast to what was hitting Florida. We felt so fortunate that the weather cooperated during our trip; we were concerned about hurricanes as we headed south, but August was void of any activity which was pretty unprecedented.  

Southern Oregon Coast

We watched in horror as Ian decimated south western Florida where some of my relatives live (who are now safe), but I can’t imagine what people will have to deal with in the aftermath as they pick up the pieces.  If we saw that sucker coming across our path, we would have aborted and avoided the Gulf Coast altogether on our way back to New Mexico.  

While we ogle at the treasures Mother Nature has blessed us with, she will equally remind us of her wrath – striking a balance we humans continue to disrupt.  

I slept hard, I suppose from the beach walk and ocean air. 

We took a morning stroll on the beach, it was calm and devoid of any people; only our tracks were apparent in the sand. 

When I looked back, I thought about our adventures, even with so much planning, we didn’t know what to expect, grateful that it turned out so well.  

We packed up and headed for Waldport; our last night in the rig🥲😘. Yeah, it’s an inanimate object, but she has taken us through such an incomparable epic adventure it will be hard saying goodbye.  

Misty Morning at Turtle Bay RV Park

We then headed up the coast via the 101 – one of my favorite haunts; the mist was thick and the coastal pines emerged like crooked wizards, bent and twisted, savaged by the merciless coastal winds.  The oceanic fog created a cataract over the mind’s eye, causing one to take the winding curves with caution.   

Then we approached Cape Perpetua – even the name evokes a sense of romanticism.  The immensity of this place isn’t truly captured with names such as “Devil’s Churn,” or “Cook’s Chasm.”  These conventions are an attempt to classify something that needs to be experienced first-hand; and one must get soaked to truly experience its wrath.  If Poseidon could spit fire he would have done so, content to have unburdened himself in the process of creation, then soaking his masterpiece with a thundering tidal wave.  

When not smothered by the approaching tide, Thors Well sits in obscurity until such a time as the tide breaches its edges before sliding into oblivion.  Get too close and you could become one with Davy Jones’ Locker.  The Well is an anomaly that requires a fair amount of patience and photographic skill to capture.  I have, back when I was a more serious photographer, spent time wrestling this beast through my lens; I did not come away particularly dry, but was victorious all the same.  

Thors Well – Cape Perpetua

We passed through Florence where I spent many summers with my extended family at nearby Mercer Lake.  I wanted one last A&W fix at the classic drive-in on the main drag and I was not disappointed.  After gorging ourselves one last time, we landed in Waldport at the KOA with a nice view of the bridge. 

View from the Waldport KOA

The fog came and went, but at least the rain dissipated and allowed us to get out for a walk.  Then we settled in for our final night in BigB.  

We woke to an elixir of coastal perfume mixed with dense forest; you breathe it in but you can’t get enough – if it was a drug I would be an addict!  This sensory combination I have not yet experienced anywhere else and will be missed. 

We had traveled 27,318 miles since February 20th, through snow, heat, frost heaves and flooding to witness some of the most stunning landscapes in North America.

It’s been a helluva ride!

September 14 – 20 From the Desert to the Sea

We finished our stint in Arizona with an overnight in Lake Havasu overlooking the London Bridge.  We stayed at a hotel once again due to the heat.  Lake Havasu really does look like an oasis in the desert, populated mostly by retirees as we soon discovered. The water levels were quite good considering it was fed by the Colorado River which seems to be under constant threat due to drought.  The London Bridge is quite something when you think that it was reconstructed brick by brick at this location.  

The London Bridge

We woke up to a toasty 82 degrees and decided to get out for a walk early.  We strolled along the esplanade as the sun rose, passing a touching tribute to the queen and other gift shops and restaurants.  

The next morning we headed out to Barstow; there isn’t much in this area and the Mojave National Reserve had been flooded out by monsoons (much like Death Valley) so we couldn’t swing by there for a look-see. I did find a feature near Barstow called the Rainbow Basin with colorful rock formations that reminded me of the Artist Palette in Death Valley. We decided that would be a fun geological adventure to hike, but we soon discovered that that road had been flooded out as well🌊

We decided to pack it in and went to the hotel.  We had plenty to do with prepping BigB for sale, and other logistics related to our impending move to France.  

The next morning we embarked to Bakersfield where we would spend the night at the Orange Grove RV Park.  We stopped by a rest stop to clown around the Joshua Trees, and then drove through Tehachapi which was now brown, quite the contrast of the rolling green hills of our spring jaunt through this region.  

Our stop over in Bakersfield this time was a bit different from our stay in the spring when we were surrounded by the heady scent of orange blossoms; there were now oranges on the trees, mostly green, and the temperature was a manageable 83 degrees.  

I sat amongst the orange trees until the sun faded, enveloped by the cooling breeze – there were no ponds here to reflect upon, only what I had brought with me as I pondered the last legs of our trip; the thunderstorms I was so fond of that came in multiples while in Sedona, were now behind me.   

The last strokes of the summer sun was now slipping past the fading fields, no longer in sway as we cross over from the solstice to the equinox of charitable memories.  In the aftermath of a desert glow, my pupils, thankfully, no longer felt fazed by the sun.  I watched the breeze as it ran its fingers through the trees, teasing the leaves as they turned to gold.  The idea of autumn was upon us.  

The next day we arrived at the California coast, specifically Morro Bay. I hadn’t seen my leggings and sweatshirts since we boondocked across the Columbia Icefields in  mid-June.  Thinking back on the early stage of this adventure it seems so long ago!  We were staying at a small RV Park, it was more like a space attached to an Airbnb that had a cabin and across from that full hookups for our rig.

It was rather cold and windy as we went for an evening walk on the beach; I can never inhale enough of the effervescent Pacific breeze.  We built a fire and roasted marshmallows then slumbered in the dark and quiet, only interrupted by the occasional calls of the nearby seals and then an owl.  

The next morning we strolled along the beach and then stopped in the cove  next to Morrow Rock where the sea otters 🦦 hung out.  We watched them for about an hour, ensconced in their rituals.  The rangers had set up scopes so we could see them closer.  One of them had a baby on her belly – they are the most charming sea creatures!!!  

Otter with Baby Through the Scope

We then turned our attention to the birders who were watching the Peregrine Falcons on the nearby Morro Rock – a beautifully stunning site.  

Morro Rock

We headed down the Embarcadero that had restaurants and shops dotted along the waterfront.  It was a perfectly sunny day, hovering in the low to mid-sixties that made for such a treat after months of intense heat and humidity.  We picked up a few souvenirs and then did some food shopping.  We wound up walking several miles!

After relaxing back at the rig, one of Bob’s ex-coworkers picked us and gave us a tour then we have a great seafood pub dinner on the bay.  It was a great end to a perfect day.  

View of the Bay

The next morning we headed out to Highway 1 to Big Sur and Carmel-By-The-Sea. 

What we didn’t realize was the storm system that had hit California a few days ago had spun around and we were getting hammered as we drove the curvaceous wonders of the coastal highway.  When we stopped at a viewpoint for tea, the rig was literally swaying due to the gusts. 

Highway 1 with the Boys

When we hit the road again we watched as a Class C in front of us was spraying water every which way as it hit the vehicle, the driver struggling to stay on the road; we could empathize with his plight.  

We made it to Carmel just in time for a respite from the storm.  We encountered some gusts and a few passing showers, but otherwise we were able to browse this charming city for a few hours.  The architecture was a cross between English Tudor with spanish influences. 

It was busy, and there were some boutique shops hugging the big box stores that looked rather meek; I guessed that Carmel has a city code on the type of facades that were allowed. Thankfully this helped with a more authentic ambience.  

In the afternoon, when we reached the KOA the rain had let up enough for us to get BigB set up, and we huddled for the evening as more storms were forecast.  As the night drew to a close, we slumbered under the passing showers churning up from the coast.  We woke to low clouds and then the blue sky opened up in all its glory. It was in the sixties and very comfortable, and the air smelled of eucalyptus and pine, courtesy of Mother Nature.

That afternoon we went to the beach, reading and watching surfers skate upon the waves. I observed the Pelicans diving for fish and the Curlews swirling in unison up, between and over the imperious waves.  It made for a relaxing afternoon, the arresting clouds with occasional sun breaks.  We were fortunate the storms were gone and we were able to laze in comfortable tempatures on a virtually empty beach. 

The Serenity of the Beach
Surfers!

When we returned, our side of the RV Park had emptied out and we sat in serenity by the fire with little wind, no bugs and other encumbrances we had so often encountered, especially in Canada and the east coast.  We didn’t know when we would experience another classic American campfire since the Oregon Coast was beginning to recede into fall, beckoning the rain and cooler temperatures.  

Relaxing at the Santa Cruz KOA

I roasted what would probably be my last marshmallows.  One became a casualty of the fire, but I was not be dissuaded as I still had half a bag. S’mores are one of my fond childhood memories that I recapture from time to time.  It can become quite the religion; weaponized with custom forged tongs for the very purpose of roasting the perfect marshmallow.  Part of the experience is to find the right convection in an open fire, and as is the case with all wild things, one must be patient.  

For those of us who revel in solitude, it was quite the treat to be on the California Coast lazing in the receding sun of the evening with only our low playing music, the surf and the organic sounds of wildlife.  

Bliss. 

We only have a few more nights in the rig, just overnight stops as we journey up the Oregon Coast.  It’s a nostalgic thing to think we have traveled over 26k since May 9.  So many of our experiences seem like an eternity ago.  And the thought we will be leaving America on our migration to France is now upon us, literally week’s away.  After years of dreaming and planning the stresses of this new and exciting reality are now taking hold.  

Our life is changing in concert with the seasons.  

September 8-13 Zion and Sedona

While we were heading for Zion, Bob received news that the queen had died. Being British it was an emotional moment and we, like so many others, processed the information for days to come.  I posted a separate tribute on my blog to commemorate this legendary monarch.

We decided to travel through the back roads of Navajo land in northern Arizona, with the Vermillion Cliffs to the left, passing by Lake Powell, etched into the orange and peach sandstone, though you could tell the water levels were quite low.  The terrain into Zion was a prelude of what was to come; we passed through the Paria wilderness, home of the famous “Wave” where we sadly were not able to pick up a permit during the lottery.  As we reached the Grand Escalante Staircase a fierce thunderstorm was rolling in that gave us a good drench but not flooding. 

When we arrived at the east side of Zion, the landscape turned into pink and apricot ridges, complimented by haystacks sculpted by the elements; you could still see what looked like ancient lava flow. 

Heading towards the Zion East Tunnel

When we reached the entrance to the park, we were issued the tunnel pass as we were within the limits to pass through (check the Zion NPS site for requirements and instructions) – we waited while the kind and humorous Park Ranger arranged our passage.  We were the only vehicle going through at that time, I suppose it was later in the day.  

If we thought what we had seen so far was astounding, we were certainly in for a treat when we passed through the tunnel.  

Just Wow!!!

The effect is the same as witnessing places like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite for the first time; it’s sometimes hard to believe such marvels exist for real.

Zion on the way to Springdale

We got settled into the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale for the evening.  Later we watched the full moon rise over the peaks outside our window; everywhere we looked there were lovely views of Zion. 

The next day we took the shuttle from Springdale to the Visitor Center where we picked up the Zion Shuttle to different spots around the park where you can hike.  We decided to do the Narrows, which is world renowned and we were accompanied by a fair stream of foreign tourists.  We walked via a well-groomed path to the riverbed and started wading through the knee deep water. I took my hiking poles as you can’t see the rocks and it’s easy to lose your balance.  We zigzagged from one “shore” to the other.  We were wearing hiking boots that we weren’t worried about getting soaked – I was thankful for that!  We saw people in sliders and other types of shoes that would not give you the support needed; the current could be quite strong in spots and the rocks were precarious.  We meandered, albeit slowly, through this wetland of a enthralling slot canyon.  Since it is cooler due to the canyon being mostly in the shade and being in the water I certainly didn’t feel dehydrated.  In the end we did eight miles🥾

The Narrows

When we finished we took the shuttle back to the village, jumping off to marvel at the scenery and hopefully spot  a condor or two.  We decided to have a nice pub lunch at the visitor center – we had earned it!   When we got back to the hotel, we put our feet up until we could muster the energy to check out the downtown area and grab a gelato.  Zion isn’t really big and we didn’t take too much time, checking out the usual shops and a few galleries. The shuttle system is great and it’s really easy to get around. 

We left the next day, delighted that we were going back through the tunnel and we could do more touring as we left the park, backtracking through the Grand Escalante Stair Case and Lake Powell.  

Like those other stupendous places we have visited so far on our journey, Zion must be experienced; it is truly in a class all by itself.  

We made our way to Sedona, a bit worried about the flash flood warnings and we saw some dandies on our weather app radar; lo and behold we wound up behind a long line heading into Flagstaff, and after about a half hour we managed to get through the flooded part of Highway 89, slick with mud but fortunately we are a high profile vehicle.  It was a different story on the other side as the road was completely flooded out and would take hours to get cleared out- we saw the long line of folks stuck coming the other way.  These storms are not to be trifled with!  

It was pouring heavily as we came into Sedona and we got to our site to wait out the storm before heading to the market to pick up supplies.  

As we learned, the weather app can say it’s a clear day then boom…in an hour you hear the thunder and then the rain starts.  One just crept up on us as I am writing this – it’s getting closer and the thunder is starting to crack and I can hear the rain on the awning.  Oddly these storms in Sedona haven’t kicked up a lot of wind.  

View as we walked from the RV Park to downtown Sedona

The next day proved to be warm and dry and we decided to promenade downtown Sedona.  Many of the shopkeepers were commenting that it is now the slow season and were slashing prices.  There were a fair amount of tourists but not as packed as when we were there in the spring.  It was nice to have elbow room to explore where we liked, in no rush and dining al fresco watching the world go by.  

The following day we picked up a rental car so we could hike Devil’s Bridge.  It was warm and I was struggling a bit to get up the ridge as the sun was extremely intense and it probably would have been a good idea to have started earlier.   After drinking electrolytes and downing a protein bar, I sat in the shade on the ridge overlooking the canyon, glad I had made the effort.  

Hanging out at the Devil’s Bridge Trail

We stopped by Exposures Gallery on the way back so I could ogle the artwork that was way out of my budget range when I spotted a Worrell;  they are one of the main galleries  representing his work and usually have an entire room filled with his creations – all found was a single wall; he died recently and there had been a run on his work… I found one of his smaller wall sculptures relinquished by his daughter that was available for sale at a reasonable price!  

The sculpture is a bronze called “Greet the Sun”. The etching on the back affected me deeply in the same way the sculpture did.  Knowing how fleeting life is, and having endured so much, I told myself “I can do this, I can afford this.”  This piece spoke to me so strongly it was as if Worrell’s spirit itself said “this is meant for you.”  I never had a piece of art give me such a high; it literally brought tears to my eyes.

James, one of the Gallery employees, passionately explained to me every detail of the piece and how a remote cave painting provided the inspiration for his work: The shield depicting protection, the staff for defense, the patina animal skin symbol of a shaman, and the symbols of journey etched into his tunic.  

This piece, though small, will remind me of the expanse of the spiritual journey I am currently on.  

We spent the rest of the afternoon doing laundry which was fine; an aggressive storm cell came through; thunder, lightning-wrath-of-god type stuff that drove us indoors.  After it dissipated we motored through the drenched streets, the sweet smell of the after-storm and cooling temperatures was downright intoxicating.  We dined at the El Rincon Restaurante in the lovely Tlaquepaque Village. I had a Navajo Pizza which is like having a green chili enchilada spread over some seriously deep fried Fry Bread.  That and a flavorful margarita closed out our epic experience in Sedona. We spent a somewhat restless night being battered by more storms, thundering overhead as we huddled in the wake of the unrelenting tempests.  

As many who have visited know, Sedona is a New Age center due to the theory of vortexes that promote well-being.   I cannot speak to that, but the atmosphere in this rarified space is like no other; the scenery, the intensity of alpine skies – you feel like you are floating on the very thunderheads that form in the distance, highlighting the rustic red buttes, encircled by the blue-green vegas that are embedded into the fabric of Sedona itself.  Even the seemingly apocalyptic storms that pass through enhance the experience, insisting that balance must be maintained. The contrasting landscapes of Sedona tell the tales that while we populate this land, we cannot fully claim it; Mother Nature reminds us of her presence when she mercilessly washes all who stand in her way down the unforgiving arroyos and onto oblivion.  

September 8 – RIP Queen Elizabeth

As many of you are aware my husband is British. We were driving through Utah on our way to Zion and Bob suddenly said “the Queen has died.” He gets feeds to his watch from the BBC and we sat and let this monumental moment sink it. It made for a sobering trip, disrupted only by the insane beauty of Zion as we approached the tunnel into the park. Queen Elizabeth was an icon of beauty, grace, and grit enduring until the end. I cannot fathom dedicating one’s life to that level of service: She guided Great Britain through its darkest hours until the bitter end.🇬🇧💂‍♀️

August 29 – September 7 The Navajo Nation by way of Texas

We hadn’t really intended to do much in the way of sightseeing in Texas:  We have to pass through Texas to get to New Mexico and it was still hot and sticky. We stopped to stay at the KOA in Brookeland, and then at Lake Medina just outside of San Antonio – tragically the lake had dried up. Otherwise we had long days of driving in between a few free days that were primarily consumed with working on our Visa documentation, reading and doing swimming aerobics. 

The Visa process has required plenty of documentation including medical insurance, national background checks, letters from our bankers including French translations.  We are hoping we are ahead of the game before our appointment on September 26.

At Lake Medina we at least had a campground with a lovely smell of pine and curious herds of whitetail deer.  They are everywhere and while sometimes we peaked their curiosity, they mostly were “meh” at our wanderings around the camp. 

A campground full of deer

We headed out through the flat landscape to San Angelo where we were met by a monsoon and flooding.  We stopped at the Roadhouse Steakhouse for Tex Mex in as a last hoorah and waited out the worst of the storm.  I had a six ounce steak and Bob had a half slab of ribs which were humungous!  We’re in Texas after all!

We navigated streets that were thankfully, only partially flooded. We were getting alerts on our phones about the flash floods and it was really coming down in torrents – though we were thankful for no hail.  We spent the rest of the day huddled in the RV watching 80’s movies and reading.  The rain dissapated later in the evening and cooled things down.  

We left the next morning excited to get back to the high desert of New Mexico and out of the unrelenting humidity that had plagued us for the last month.  We stopped in Carlsbad and walked along the Pecos River though the sun was pretty intense so we headed out to the Coyote Flats RV park on the outside of town – it was primarily a parking lot outside of Carlsbad, but we were close to the laundry and showers.  

We were heading to Fort Sumner to check out the history of Billy the Kid and get a feel for the Navajo Long walk. But since Roswell was on the way we of course had to stop off and take another look; we had been there during our Southwest trip in the spring but didn’t spend much time there. We had some coffee and picked up some more alien kitsch while in the shops. It’s always worth a couple of hours. Grogu was excited; it was his second time here and there was a huge baby Yoda display in one of the shops….it was such an inclusive environment👽

We arrived at Fort Sumner early in the afternoon after passing through endless plains with some cattle.  The elevation increased and the humidity dropped dramatically.  It was a Sunday so the Basque Redondo museum was closed, but the Billy the Kid Museum was open and had excellent artifacts and even a movie that the proprietors insisted was the most accurate history of “The Kid.”   We spent a fair amount of time poking around the museum and the drove to Lake Sumner State Park where we had partial hookups. 

As it was Labor Day weekend the park was pretty busy, but not packed.  It’s pretty remote with Albuquerque several hours away.  Folks had their jet skis and boats out on the lake and there was a pervasive smell of  camp fires and barbecues – the former smelling like Pinyon incense.  We couldn’t believe our luck; we got a spot with a view of the lake so we set up the chairs in the shade of the rig and took in the evening, surrounded by mesquite, juniper, prickly pear and cholla.  

I realized we were in a “dark sky” region, so committed to getting up later in the evening to see what the cosmos was offering up.  The half moon faded and around 2:00 a.m. we were able to look at a blanket of stars and galaxies.  Many of the RVs were still lit up detracting from the darkness, but I committed to another evening of stargazing the following night.  

Dark Skies in New Mexico

We decided to take the nature hike around the lake the next morning before it got too hot and we definitely finished well before noon.  It was Labor Day and everyone in the park started to make a mass exodus home, something we are all too familiar with and now, for us, it’s just another day.  By late afternoon we were the only RV left in this particular campground (Pecos) situated not far from the camp host.  It became deathly quiet, almost eerie as the wind gusted and the lake grew silent.  

We spent most of the day working on our Visa’s related activities, huddled in the air conditioning – to escape the intense midday heat.  By late afternoon we spilled outside to the sound of the wind and the occasional incursion of human traffic heading out.  Otherwise there was a beautiful balance of a temperate climate and solitude that we have rarely experienced since leaving Western Canada.

This park was pretty large and was surprisingly now empty.  You won’t hear us complaining!  

As I contemplated my solitude, I tried to imagine what it was like for the Navajo as they were forced to walk hundreds of miles to a part of New Mexico that could not support their way of life.  Hundreds died – all part of the “Manifest Destiny” of white man staking the claim to these new lands at the expense of the Native Americans. 

Soon, the quarter moon rose over the horizon, a faint sentinel that transitioned into a blazing lantern, a prelude to the impending harvest full moon of September 10.  Even with its halfling presence, you can see where you are walking; the desert becomes a lunar scape as the stars emerge.  

At around 4:00 a.m. I rose around and went outside after the moon had sunk below the horizon.  I stood in the cooling breeze, gazing at billions of unhindered stars, trails of dust and galaxies, feeling somewhat dizzy and displaced as I tried to reconcile my place in the cosmos; my mind just can’t seem to grasp the context of such infinite surroundings.  I cherished this moment of undisputed solitude; we were off the beaten track, slumbering in the slipstream of New Mexico stardust – steeped in the magic that makes this land so enchanting. 

I later awoke to a blinding sunrise that sent shocks of orange light through the rig. 

Sunrise at Sumner Lake

We had a long drive so set out at a reasonable time, heading for Gallup. After a few hours we stopped in Albuquerque to get propane and check out the Old Town area.  It’s a charming tourist site with plenty of shops and restaurants set in traditional adobe style like those found in Sedona and Santa Fe. 

As we approached Gallup, the late afternoon sun lit up nearby rock formations and decided to pull off and poke around the park.  This area is close to Monument Valley and peppered with the rounded haystacks common to the CanyonLands. 

The Boys in New Mexico

After amusing ourselves, we finished our day at the Holiday Inn next on the famous Route 66. 

The following day we went to Window Rock to visit the heart of the Navajo Nation.  We stopped at the museum that had an incredible display depicting the Treaty of 1968 and other artifacts related to the tragic Navajo Long Walk.  Then we wandered into the photographic display of – ironically – a Japanese American named Kenji Kawano who had been photographing the Navajo Code Talkers for decades.  Many of the pictures had a synopsis of their service in the Pacific, fighting in the same Pacific theater as my father.  It is an astounding display and how prophetic to think there was someone interested enough in their history to cover such a legacy over such a long span of time.   

Navajo Code Talkers Exhibit

We visited their museum’s accompanying zoo and botanical garden to learn more about the animals and plants that were part of the Navajo Dine culture.  

We then stopped by the Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise to browse through authentic Indian items; I picked up a gorgeously crafted bracelet and pendant;  they will always remind me of this beautiful people and landscape and I take comfort knowing that the money will get back to the artist.  

Finally, something that has been on my bucket list for years – the Window Rock Tribal Park and Veterans Memorial – the epicenter of the Navajo Nation. This is memorial is adjacent to the Navajo Nation Tribal Council and surrounding government entities. It was hot and quiet as we arrived around noon, but I ignored the sweat rolling down my face; considering what the Code Talkers and others, such as my father, went through in WWII. Window Rock itself is a sacred site, fenced off from those who decide they want to disrespect the sacred Indian rules and climb it – much the same as Shiprock. It’s a place everyone needs to visit – only 30 minutes from Gallup; to pay your respects and expand your horizons beyond the gob-smacking landscapes.

Navajo Code Talker Memorial

We had a farewell meal at the El Rancho Restaurant located in the historic hotel of the same name – my experience would not complete without some Hatch Green Chilis!!! The hotel sports celebrities such as John Wayne and Errol Flynn and a cast of thousands whom had filmed in the surrounding area and had been guests back in the hey day of Hollywood westerns – they really ham it up! But otherwise the hotel is steeped in local Indian and cinema history.

The Historic El Rancho Hotel

The next morning the sky blazed magenta as we gathered our things from the hotel and bugged out; we had our last 400 mile stint of the trip to get to Zion – meaning we wouldn’t be doing much more than 200 miles any given day until we were back in Portland. We had driven over 20,000 miles since the last time we had entered New Mexico in late March! Instead of snow and freezing winds 😅 the wildflowers were now in full bloom and the passing rains had stirred up the distinct scent of desert sagebrush.

We took the Arizona Indian 56 to the 160: These turned out to be spectacular backroads that lead us through Navajo ranches; we passed one gentleman herding his sheep – a tradition that dates back centuries. I felt as though I had been transported to a different time, something untouchable suddenly became tangible…the moment was surreal. We soon found ourselves back on the main road and onto Page, where we passed over Lake Powell bidding a fond farewell to the Navajo Nation as passed into Utah.

August 24 – 28 Florida and Louisiana…Oh Yes – The Big Easy

We left Georgia and headed south to Florida.  I had discovered what they call tree canopies and we decided to take a drive off of Old Centerville Road that leads into Tallahassee – upon arrival we discovered it was unpaved so decided not to do the whole road.  Regardless, it was quite beautiful with huge oaks sporting the long bearded moss that we discovered while traveling through Georgia. 

We also passed more  blackwater swamps on the side of the road, some of them had huge denuded cypress stumps that looked like the Baobab Trees in South Africa.

As we had time we scheduled a desperately needed pedicure – thankfully the stars aligned and our feet now look glorious!  

We stopped by one of our friend’s house (an Adidas employee) to pick up some sportswear we had ordered.  We had to cut the visit short as Bob had tested positive for Covid as a result of our exposure in Charleston – he is fortunately asymptomatic, but we want to be prudent on where we are hanging out though in this region of the country they seem pretty cavalier about masking. 

We overnighted at a hotel that had a kitchen so all in all it turned out pretty well and we were able to keep to ourselves.  The next day we set out for the Gulf Shores KOA; it rained most of the day as we were getting the remnants of the tropical storm that had pounded Texas and New Mexico.  We were getting flood alerts but the rain wasn’t any worse than what he had experienced in Oregon and we got to our destination safely.  

We woke up to the thunder of the Blue Angels practicing nearby:  This is where they are stationed and there is a subculture that caters to their notoriety including street names and eateries.  

We spent the day exploring Pensacola; I was on the prowl for some pink flamingo kitsch and we discovered that this area was a bit of a Hawaiian spin-off with Tiki bars and paraphernalia – I found it quite amusing!  We lunched at the Shrimp Basket and I had my first Shrimp and Grits.  It was like polenta with a creole spin and it was quite good🍤

Shrimp and Grits!

Having satisfied our cravings we poked around a bit more – it’s off-season and I can imagine this place buzzing when the weather is a bit cooler.  The humidity makes me feel like I’m drunk, and I have been getting my exercise at the hotel gyms or resort swimming pools.  Otherwise any minor exertion outdoors leaves me drenched in sweat.  

Per the local weather people this has been the least active August for weather events since 1982 – this has bode well for us as I was worried we would be driven north by storms but we are lucky, bearing only the occasional thunderstorms and humidity.  

We headed out the next day to New Orleans (NOLA)!  I was excited to visit the Angela King Gallery as I was looking into getting an original Anne Bachelier.  We left the Gulf Shores early to catch the gallery while it was still open as they closed at 5:00 on Saturday. We parked on the outskirts of the French Quarter and walked into town. When we arrived, and much to my disappointment, they had a sign on the door that they were closed until August 30th.  There was nothing listed on the website.  I emailed the owner about my discontent, though as it stood I would not be seeing the real paintings anytime soon.  We then walked down Bourbon Street and did not find much in the way of traditional jazz, but there were plenty of loud bands playing rock and roll and punk.  It was still quite busy considering this is the slowest month for New Orleans tourism, and there was a perpetual haze of pot smoke on this strip that was even worse than downtown Portland! This is definitely a spot for the marginally clothed party crowd.  

We were still hoping to catch an authentic jazz bar and after talking to a proprietor of one of the local shops she said we need to go down to Frenchman Street.  Upon further research we found that these were the clubs we were looking for and decided to save those for the next day, catching the bands as the city grew dark.  

We went into the shops around Jackson Square and perused the artists displaying their street crafts much like you see in Paris.  We promenaded for a while, marveling at some of the architecture and amusing ourselves at a voodoo shop though I couldn’t find much that actually inspired me.  We stopped by a small cafe to get some lunch; the poke with a Cajun twist was surprisingly good and Bob decided to try a beignet and became immediately addicted.  

Unfortunately the famous Cafe Du Monde had a huge line outside so we decided to try and catch it another time but we at least had a beignet fix😍

We finished meandering through the streets and as it had been a long day, we set out to the New Orleans KOA and relaxed for the rest of the evening.  

Artist rendition of what a fantasy New Orleans looks like

Bob decided to book a swamp tour on an air boat for the following afternoon and grab some lunch prior to the trip.  We stopped at the recommended restaurant next to the bayou and I had crawfish crepes that were fantastic.  What I love about Creole cuisine is that it’s spicy, but not obscenely so, and has a very definite taste; having had my fair share of West African food the spices were familiar.  Here we really got the Louisiana vibe, especially as the thunder rumbled nearby.  

We boarded the airboat piloted by Danny, a Louisiana native with a thick drawl.  It was one of the smaller vehicles that could go fast which beat the other overcrowded boats.  We skimmed past houses built over the bayou on stilts that were for rent then headed into the swamp with its lovely water lillies, egrets and herons.

Danny hit the accelerator and we torpedoed at warp speed through the wetlands.  When we slowed down, I noticed something coming through the water, skimming just above the surface; it was an alligator heading straight for the boat. In fact, everywhere we went they would come toward us, some would submerge as we got closure but otherwise they were pretty nonchalant. They ranged from 5 – 8 feet long and though not as big as the Cayman in Guyana, they could still do plenty of damage to a human.  

We stopped by one of the houses that was set on the bayou that had been devastated by Katrina then partially resurrected – the structure was now sound but there was still a fair amount of debris.  Here Danny showed us a massive “garden spider” that was black and yellow that freaked out the gals sitting behind us.  He then presented a baby alligator that if you hold it by the neck, it won’t bite you.  

Bob making friends with little dude

We went further down the bayou and Danny stopped looking for his “buddy.”  A large alligator appeared and he started feeding him marshmallows.  This beast had apparently been through a lot:  He had been injured by a boat and had a chunk taken out of his side by another alligator, yet he healed and was happily swirling around the boat while Danny continued to entice him with more marshmallows. 

Buddy

I almost prefer to call these ecosystems wetlands, rather than swamps, as the latter gives you a sense of something sinister and they are quite beautiful despite the idea there is wildlife in the water that can eat you. 

We headed back at warp speed until we got to the stilt homes and motored slowly back to the dock.  We then headed back to the French Quarter, parking on the outskirts hoping that no one would notice our RV; we had heard stories about break ins, though there were expensive cars in the vicinity so figured we would be fine.  

We walked through the neighborhoods and eventually stopped by Cafe Du Monde for the chicory roasted coffee and more beignets and more site seeing.  We then had a dinner at Muriel’s which is a stately restaurant built in the 1700’s by the French and eventually passed onto many different owners until it became the establishment it is today.  I had my first taste of Turtle Soup and then Drum Fish and it was all so very good.  It was starting to get dark so we headed out Frenchmen Street as the quarter started to ignite the gas lights.  It was Sunday night and the cruise ship crowds had apparently left.  It wasn’t crowded at all and some of the streets we strolled along were empty with the houses beautifully lit up with enticing court yards tucked behind wrought iron gates. 

The French-influenced iron work on the balconies and facades is what makes New Orleans architecture so distinctive and many have taken pride in keeping their homes restored.  It was humid, but not to the level of obscene, so I wasn’t on the verge of passing out.  We could hear the jazz drifting down the streets, riding along the vapors of Louisiana cuisine as we approached Frenchmen Street.  

The street itself is surprisingly cozy – meaning it isn’t a sprawl of clubs and eateries. Tucked into these smaller venues are the Spotted Cat which was pretty much standing room only, but is renowned for its hip NOLA jazz, and just down the street is Marigny’s that was belting out some fabulous more traditional jazz.  Marigny’s is also a cafe, and wasn’t crowded at all, which I found delightful but somewhat perplexing; perhaps due to it being Sunday and at the end of August.  Here we fulfilled our fantasy of live New Orleans jazz, sipping on whiskey at a table with plenty of elbow room.  

Bob diggin the local jazz on Frenchmen Street

After getting our jazz fix, we strolled through more quiet neighborhoods and onto Bourbon Street where the insanity spilled out in all its neon splendor (if that’s what you want to call it, though it didn’t quite fit the vision I had when I think of Bourbon Street). 

It was all a blur to me

Sadly New Orleans was a major hub of slave trading or in reality, human trafficking, even after slavery was abolished.  The Creole cuisine comes from the blending of French and West African cultures that becomes apparent as you immerse yourself in its delights.  Add to that the Venetian influence on Mardi Gras and you have yourself an intoxicating elixir that permeates throughout the cafes,  clubs, celebrations and architecture.  

But what brings the community together is the love of music, specifically jazz that evolved over the decades, creating a legendary hub for the Black community that has transcended into world-wide fame.  It was such a delight to partake in this indelible slice of Americana.  

The Big Easy

August 18 – 24 The Carolinas and Georgia

We took a “rest day” at the Lake Gaston which comprised of no schedule, no crowds, no obligations with a view of the lake in a wooded campground. We were again fortunate with the weather as it was mild, with cool evenings and the humidity wasn’t noticeable. We did housekeeping such as cleaning the rig and doing the laundry, otherwise we worked on our French Visa, language lessons and read.  It was a perfect area to unwind.  When I say this it may come as a surprise, but we have been on the move for months with a few pit stops with friends…but that also seems to include touring.  Rarely do we sit and read like we used to do on our camping trips back when we were still employed.  No news is good news! 

Sunset at Lake Gaston, North Carolina

We had a long drive to Charleston, SC so bugged out early.  We were staying at the Riverview Holiday Inn, another opportunity to “hotel” it for a few days; we might as well use up those points! The weather was fine when we arrived late afternoon, and then a thunderstorm rolled in. We watched it while sitting at the bar on the top floor, from there we also had a wonderful view of the bay while catching up with our friend, Sohayla, who we put up for a few months in Portland while she was interning at Adidas. 

Post libation, we returned to the RV to finish packing up items for our stay.  We could hear the thunder getting closer, and then, before we knew it, it was right on top of us. The sky lit up and the atmosphere around us went seismic.  The thunder was the most deafening I had experienced.  We hustled back to the hotel just before mother heaven unleashed her fury.  The rain fell so hard we couldn’t see the parking lot from our room!  This drama went on for a few hours.  

After the storm dissipated we got a decent night’s sleep.  We picked up our rental car and headed out to the Saturday Farmer’s Market and toured local historic sites.  

I visited the Aiken-Rhett House – a historical house that was built in 1820 and later occupied Governor William Aiken, Jr who owned vast property and housed slaves to serve the household.   He owned 878 slaves who maintained his vast cotton and rice plantations.  The house itself is “preserved,” not “restored.”  The paint and wallpaper have deteriorated into 200 years-old peeling remnants including damage from Hurricane Hugo; this reveals an authentic record untouched by modernization.  The house itself is as grand as any plantation house you can imagine, yet in the outbuildings lie the kitchen, laundry and stables where the slaves were housed.  While it’s possible some slaves were treated humanely, African American history bears out the starvation of many slaves while their masters lived in opulence.  Some who defend slavery saying the “North was equally oppressive,” ignore the true plight of these slaves.  Even those who managed to survive were not free to exercise the inalienable rights as a human being.  

The tour focuses on the slave aspect with commentary from local African Americans highlighting their plight; many tours show the homes for “historical reference,” overlooking the legacies of those who made the everyday running of the household possible. On this day the heat and humidity was oppressive and the large rooms and verandas were designed to allow for a cross breeze that somewhat mitigated the warmth. In the kitchen, despite the heat, the fire in the large fireplace was kept burning to ensure any hot water for tea or cooking was immediately available to the Aiken family.  The kitchen, laundry and accompanying rooms were small and must have been horribly stifling. The death of one 7 year-old-girl from starvation is pointed out as an example.  

Aiken-Rhett House including the slave quarters housed in the kitchen and laundry

Here I witness the decaying remains of a forgotten existence while wiping the sweat from the back of my neck, even though I was barely exerting myself.  I imagine the servants preparing elaborate meals; wondering how many tried to extricate – or in this case no doubt – steal leftovers to keep from starving to death; and wondering if they were punished if caught.  

While the South argued that abolishing slavery would ruin their economy, they treated their animals better than their slaves.  The mansion is now peeling away the truth, revealing the rot of a bygone era; the lathe and plaster unable to stand up to the elements of change.  

We decided to hop over to Sullivan’s Island to browse around and grab a casual lunch while watching the vast array of scantily clad beach goers promenade the main drag, or hauling their chairs to the beach.  This rounded out a pretty casual day and we headed back hoping to dodge any storms looming on the horizon.  

The next day we magically dodged the thunderstorms that were pretty vocal through the night and arrived at the Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, just north of Charleston.  These gardens house a swamp complete with alligators.  While that sounds a bit creepy, it is really quite stunning.  We started our tour by dropping into the butterfly farm; it’s like being tickled when they fly around your head.  They had a swallowtail that had emerged from its cocoon and Monarch caterpillars feeding on Milkweed; we used to plant Milkweed in Portland to attract Monarchs.  It was quite the whimsical experience being surrounded by these flirtatious aeronauts.

Monarchs, caterpillars and a Swallowtail emerging from its cocoon

We moved onto the boat dock and set sail through the deadcalm of the swamp, surrounded by partially submerged trees, buzzed by dragon flies and the cicadas with their perpetual serenade.  After about ten minutes Bob noticed a small alligator eyeing us near the lily pads; he eventually went under.  We dodged the trees and followed the markers though it would have been difficult to get lost.  We would stop and float for a while to see if anything else would emerge from the depths, but mostly enjoyed the magical calm.  

The gardens are actually a cypress black water swamp that had been wiped out by hurricanes and floods but lovingly resurrected, and we were enchanted by the whole experience.  And it was only modestly crowded, which made for a lovely afternoon.  

We went back to Charleston and went shopping at the Historic Charleston Market where I picked up a Sweetgrass Basket; a basket weaving craft that was passed down from the African heritage of former slaves and are now collectible works of art.  It’s great to browse around this sector, while they have the big box stores they are peppered with boutique shops and galleries.  I thoroughly enjoyed the aesthetic of Charleston; not New England and not quite Florida – though you see an attempt at Flamingo kitsch. 

We passed bold Greek revival mansions with their huge verandas; verandas are definitely part of the culture – we’re not talking just porches, but expansive, inviting terraces where you can catch a cooling breeze in style.  

We ended the day with a final dinner and farewell with Sohayla, who was just as lovely as ever, not knowing if or when we would be seeing her again.  But that is the case with so many folks we have visited on this trip – we hope that some do make the effort to visit us in France.  

We headed out to Georgia the next morning, specifically Commerce, overnighting with Keri and Sean, more of Bob’s friends from Adidas.  It was a long drive and we arrived late afternoon and spent the evening catching up.  We had to leave abruptly the next morning as Sean had tested positive for Covid😥

We headed out to Athens, touring the architecture; more massive mansions built in the early 1800’s housing the elite of Georgia.  

Architecture in Athens, Georgia

We then took the back roads through Macon County and its tree-lined highways. We sadly came across a new type of road kill: Armadillos.  These I had not seen before.  

We overnighted at Southern Dreams Ranch –  a Harvest Host in Americus. We parked up near the stables with a backdrop of peaceful green fields.  We visited one frisky stallion who would run up and down his corral and whinny to the heavens.  Since we were essentially dry camping we were thankful for the cloud cover and soon the temperature dropped, and we found ourselves surrounded by a cooling breeze.  We feel fortunate on the weather front so far, and this is one of our last boondocking venues which is fine, since we are heading further south and will be glad for the air conditioning along the Gulf and once we pass back through New Mexico we will be dealing with the late summer heat of Arizona and California.  

It had rained off and on through the night, otherwise it had been dark and quiet into the morning and we got a restful night’s sleep. We woke to an idyllic view of the fields and the whinnies coming from the nearby corral.  We were not in a rush as we didn’t have far to go to get to Tallahassee. We caught up on our reading and journaling, glad to be drifting if only for a morning.  

A dreamy landscape in Georgia

Taking the backroads through Georgia and the Carolinas gave us yet another slice of Americana:  It is a misty world, with impassable jungles skirting the highways, the trees suffocated by voracious vines, then fields appear, pushing against the unrelenting forests of southern pine, the air thick with perpetual dew.  Some of the houses and estates are quite impressive; less Greek revival but still sprawling all the same.  

We continued our lazy morning then headed out to Tallahassee through through the peach orchards of Macon County.  

August 13- 16 Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

After leaving the bustle of Jersey City, we spent the afternoon with one of Bob’s school chums, Julian and his wife Mary Ellen in Lancaster.  The heat had broken, and we were experiencing more tolerable temps, with a cooling breeze coming from the woods and river surrounding their property.  They even have a well with a bunker – you have to wonder if this wasn’t built in the fifties due to the threat of nuclear war back then.  Again, retired friends with the same idea as us – to transition to the “quiet life.”  I’ll take the well, but am intrigued by the bunker.  

Julian, Mary Ellen and Bob

After bidding farewell, we journeyed through the lush, green landscapes of Amish Country, kept verdant by passing thunderstorms.  We meandered through Gettysburg, thinking about the age of some of the buildings and then pushed our way through the more heavily touristed parts of town; it’s all very nice now, but what was it like back in the day?  

We were staying at the Gettysburg KOA set in the deep woods, with lovely, level sites.  We could have stayed here for a few days if time had allowed, and if we had been better informed of its tranquil and wooded nature.  Here families play and enjoy all the amenities that upscale camping has to offer.  I pause to think about the horrors that no doubt prevailed during the Civil War in these very woods.  We are not far from the major battle sites, and as we all know too well, wars don’t always favor boundaries.  

It was in the high 50’s early in the morning, a temperature we haven’t seen in quite a while and there was a slight hint of fall in the air. It was promising to be a beautiful day.  

We decided to take the auto tour of the battlefields; it’s a $10.00 app you can download and is quite useful.  We drove past fields of August corn, cannons serving as totems, showing us the way through what looked like, on the surface, simply Pennsylvania farmland. 

The August Corn of Gettysburg

Underneath this innocuous landscape, on a beautiful summer day, lie the relics of liberation, soaked in blood of thousands, their names forgotten, their memories buried in unmarked graves. The north wanted to liberate the black slaves and the south wouldn’t have it; so noble men took up the cause and made the ultimate sacrifice.  

So many dedicated souls maintain the sites so we can ponder our history and hopefully take in the significance of the sacrifices that were made here.  Gettysburg…a sobering segue to the memorials that awaited us in D.C.  

Demonstrations on how weapons were used back in the day
Never Forget

The cicadas bid us farewell, humbling us as we left Gettysburg; the voices of the visitors in the fields remained low out of respect, and eventually faded as we made our way down the road.  

We headed to D.C., excited about our stay at the Holiday Inn in Ballston.   After months in the RV with unpredictable sites and technology, we will be able to spread our wings a bit and had plenty of parking for the rig. As funny as it may seem to some, we have come to appreciate these little luxuries that we used to take for granted.  As a Hilton member we have wracked up enough points from all that expensive diesel we’ve consumed that we are now getting free hotel stays😍

The Washington subway was close to the hotel with our first stop at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s sobering going from one memorial to another.   As we wandered through endless grave sites, we saw a Navy burial going on in the background: The area was blocked off from the public, but saw the casket being pulled by a carriage, accompanied by the full regalia of Navy personnel. Then followed taps and the firing of the guns. The experience was as overwhelming as the cemetery itself.

The endless rows of grave stones at Arlington

Bob was feeling a bit under the weather so I went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and stumbled upon the changing of the guard. I don’t know how they manage to endure the heat or cold:  But they do.  

Arlington National Cemetery – the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

We walked across the mighty Potomac. Fortunately there had been rain and it was cloudy, though the humidity was a bit high but at least it wasn’t hot. We dropped off at a cafe for a respite.

We visited the inspiring Lincoln and WWII Memorials – the latter showing reliefs of the places my father had been during the war in the Pacific.  The scale of Washington D.C. is mind boggling.

By this time we had done 15,000 steps and decided to head back to the comfy confines of our hotel room. Thankfully the metro is super easy to navigate. 

The following day we went back to the Mall and visited the Botanical Gardens as our first stop. I loved the misty and warm tropical garden; it was such a soothing experience.

The Botanical Gardens

We then took a tour of the Capital that gave us a great perspective of the seat of our nation. The capital and the surrounding structures are just so impressive – it reminds me of Rome, which would make sense since that architecture inspired most of the Mall. 

The Capital and Rotunda

I then visited the U.S. Navy Memorial that is set across from the National Archives; I came here to pay homage and in a sense it gave me final closure now that all of my father’s letters, photos, artifacts and now his trombone are in the US Navy Fleet Band archives❤️🎼 While not at the same scale as the other sites, it is just as lovingly sculpted as the more popular memorials. Thank you dad, and all the other Navy personnel for your service and sacrifice 🙏⚓️

U.S. Navy Memorial

We then met Julian and Mary Ellen who decided to come to D.C. for the afternoon and headed out to the Natural History Museum.  While the dinosaur action was cool, the mineral and gemstone displays were off the charts; seriously impressive and mesmerizing.  It doesn’t help that I can’t resist bling in general.  It took us a few hours to get through that exhibit, and we stopped for coffee before they took off back to Lancaster with mutual commitments to meet up in France.

Bob and I realized it was getting late so we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian and were blown away by the Preston Singletary – Raven and the Box of Daylight exhibit.  This artist is Tlingit (First Nations) and from the Teslin area of the Yukon.  We had visited the Tlingit Cultural Center while in the area – it was an eye-opening cultural connection.  We had timed our visit just right; when we were just wrapping up our tour the museum announced it was closing!  It was a superb ending to another busy day.  

My experience over the last few days has given me pause: 

Freedom is not free – seeing this engraved in bold lettering at the Korean Memorial should be echoed from Gettysburg throughout the stately sentinels that line the Mall.  Freedom is not free… should be the signature text on every monument and museum as a reminder of centuries of sacrifice that has been made to maintain our liberty.  We live in a great nation that has overcome monumental obstacles to maintain our liberties that we all to easily take for granted.

August 6 – 12 Maine, Massachusetts and New York

We arrived in the lovely port city of Camden, ME.  I had been here years ago and spent only a few hours and it wasn’t enough.  I vowed to spent more time in this enchanting town and my wish came true! We dry-camped at the State Park and the weather was surprisingly nice;  we were bracing ourselves for a heatwave, but it turned out to be perfect, barely hitting 80 degrees and the humidity was keeping in check.  A thunderstorm rolled through that evening, pushing out the inversion that had been invading the coastline.  

The next day took the rig downtown and discovered that the parking spaces were not very accomodating for RVs – anywhere!  We wound up parking next to a church on Free St and Elm; there was a opportune curve on the street that accommodated us perfectly and we were within a respectable walking distance from town. 

We decided to breakfast at a spot that overlooked the harbor, marveling at the Clipper ships as they embarked on their morning excursions.  We wandered through the shops and happened upon a few galleries. The Small Wonder Gallery on the waterfront had some lovely nautical watercolors and prints that we added to our collection.  The Once at Tree shop had some fantastic woodworking, and other expertly curated pieces of art, and I was able to pick up a piece for one of my relatives.  These we had shipped to a friend since BigB can only take on so much.  I had visited this shop years ago and wondered if it was still there, and much to my delight it was. 

Camden, Maine

Camden is the essence of a New England setting complete with a fishing village and harbor. There were no vacancies anywhere and it’s understandable as to why.  There aren’t so many shops that you feel completely depleted by the afternoon.  In fact we found we had time on our hands so went back to the campsite and took a hike along the shoreline trail.  It doesn’t take you to a beach, but you can hike down to the rocks and boulders.  We sat down in the temperate afternoon breeze, gazing out to the Clipper ships in the distance, their sails shimmering in the sun.  A mist started to roll in, and I sat and meditated, listening to the incoming tide breaching the rocks, the salt air expanded my lungs and mind.  

A serene moment on the shore

We hiked back to the camp and had a nice fire and I broke out the s’mores once again; a guilty pleasure warranted under such circumstances.  The park grew dark and quiet and we slept like babies, bathed by the woods.  I love our occasional stops in campsite vs. RV parks – the latter being more like glorified parking lots in most cases. 

Our campsite at Camden State Park – yeah that is a neon palm tree!

Camden turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be and more; we couldn’t have asked for a more consummate visit – all the elements came together in perfect harmony.

We headed to Boston, bracing ourselves for the impending heat wave – we watched the thermometer rise to 100 degrees as the area was being blistered by record-breaking heat.   Thank god for air conditioning!  We were staying at the KOA in Middleboro, just outside of Boston, and were lucky to get a site in partial-shade.  

We opted to get a rental car to make it easier to get around Boston.  We landed on the waterfront and decided to do the Boston Tea Party Tour that turned out to be quite impressive including a replica of the actual ship used during the rebellion. I even threw tea overboard!  It’s fabulous to be able to experience our country’s history as we travel around the U.S. 

How liberating

We drove through Boston, checking out Fenway Park and later met up with some former co-workers of Bob’s for a nice meal. It turned out to be a pretty productive day despite the heat🥵

We headed out the next morning to visit with a friend, Janice Swanson, whom I hadn’t seen in 28 years and was vacationing on Sagamore Beach.  On the way we stopped by Plymouth as Bob is from…Plymouth, England and it was great checking out the Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock.  It was brutally hot and humidity pushing the temperature above 100 degree mark and I was glad to move on.  It really makes you feel like a slug – a really shriveled slug.

Plymouth Rock

We arrived at Janice’s charming beach retreat in Sagamore near Cape Cod. It was such a joy to see her and I was also greeted by another long time colleague, Mary Beth.  I worked with these gals back in the 80’s, when we were twenty-something’s during the software boom in Southern California.  It was a special time back in the day when Ashton-Tate was the fastest growing personal computer database company in the world; Boomers remember those days!  We were the top dogs along with Lotus and WordPerfect; later put out of their misery by – yep you got it – Microsoft.  We had front seats to a revolutionary time alongside the likes of Apple.  

We couldn’t have asked for a better setting!

We had parted ways but in the early 90’s I caught up with Janice in London on my way to Nepal; we hadn’t seen each other since; now 28 years later.  

We ate lunch and walked along a quintessential New England beachfront – it was hot but manageable with a cooling sea breeze and the surf bathing our feet. It was too bad we couldn’t have spent more time together but our schedules didn’t sync as much as we would have liked.  Still, it made for a great memory and we will always have a special bond.  

We don’t think about aging really until it catches up with you, and to see one another so many years on, it cultivates a certain level of gratefulness and respect that we have all struggled along through the years, making our transitions with as much grace as possible.  We joked about the shoulder pads from the 80’s and kicking our smoking habit.  Seeing some of her kids now grown added to the marvel.  

We bid a fond farewell, along with a Cape Cod bag and some napkins that I will cherish, and headed to Barnstable to the Cape Cod Brewery Harvest Host where we parked up for the night in their parking area.  They had a beer garden and we sat for a while, talking with a nice couple as the predicted thunderstorms rolled in, breaking the feverish heat that had been plaguing New England for days.  

We headed down through Rhode Island and Connecticut, pulling up to a lovely rest stop built from stone. The weather was perfect and we had tea in the shade.  We headed out for New York, bracing ourselves for the traffic.  Our stop is the Liberty Harbor RV Park in Jersey City right across the bay.  

I had been to New York a few years back as a contributor to a Rolling Stone Magazine article on the Children of Scientology (refer back to my about section on my website for further info), but hadn’t had a chance to check out all the sites. 

The next morning we took the Liberty Harbor ferry that dropped us off walking distance from the World Trade Center.  The WTC had created its own weather with cloud formations swooning around the top.  We had decided to take the Big Bus Tour to get around and headed for the Empire State Building. 

The mighty World Trade Center making its own weather!

We got off at Times Square amidst all the calamity and found a bite to eat.  We were now in the epicenter of the New York City vibe.  The New York crowds are a good precursor to those wanting to travel to Japan or China; there the crowds are so thick you don’t bother apologizing and just worm your way through the fray.  The tour of the Empire State Building is wonderfully impressive, displaying a full history of its construction along with the movies and a digital display of King Kong peeking through the windows which was really cool.  They really ham it up as part of the tour.  

We arrived at the observation tower and while crowded, it wasn’t that bad.  We got a fabo 360 view of the city, albeit from a terrifying height.  Art Deco permeates every aspect of the building and it’s too bad that this style has been left to the likes of history and nostalgia; a relic of a time and place where class and style were paramount.  I actually pine for those days – much like a character from “Midnight in Paris.”  Bob and I marveled at the detailing that culminates into this enduring icon.  

We left by way of the requisite gift shop and headed for the Chrysler Building.  Even though the heat wave had broken it was still warm and muggy.  When we got to the entrance we were told it was closed due to Covid🤬 We were certainly dismayed as this was a bucket list item. We could only marvel at the structure from afar.  We decided to take a break at Grand Central Station where we sat in awe at the ceiling depicting celestials and gods.  We had gelato and sorbet with iced lattes at the Italian cafe; there is a reason why you can’t find a Starbucks in Italy – like pizza, the Italians know when their craft is superior.  

Grand Central Station in all its glory

We headed back to the Wall Street District to check out the bull, only to discover there was a long line of tourists wanting to take pictures.  We did sneak in a selfie from the side and then called it a day. We took the ferry back to Liberty Harbor, fascinated by this form of commute that so many coming from New Jersey endure every day.  The river is teaming with yachts, ferries and jet skies; it’s a form of commerce I have not been that close to and immerses you into another aspect of the New York culture.  And the view is unbeatable as you pull away from the dock.  The landscape of New York is truly in a class all by itself, setting itself apart from the rest of the world, a maddening melting pot, teaming with diversity. 

I am now at an all time record on steps! 

We spent the evening winding down and washing off the mugginess of the day. We headed out the next morning to take the ferry back over and the find out way to Battery Park where we take another ferry to the Statue of Liberty.  It was a perfect morning in the 70’s and the humidity had dropped dramatically. We were really in for a treat.  When we docked we walked along the beautiful waterfront esplanade on and equally beautiful morning.  When we arrived at the Battery Park terminal we were greeted with the hordes of tourists such as ourselves waiting to board the ferry.  I had gotten the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty tickets packaged into our Big Bus Tour which came in handy and proved to be less of a hassle.  

We squirmed our way to the top deck for the best view and of course most everyone else had the same idea.  But we managed so the lovely lady as we cruised into the port of Liberty Island.  What an impressive site she is!!!!  We wandered around the base and then went to the museum where we were blown away by the digital displays of her initial conception and construction.  What an unbelievable feat and why the French are such great allies; it only reinforces my affinity for the French culture.  

The ultimate symbol of liberty – thank you France!

By the time we got something to eat, and when you factor in the long lines and general logistics it was already early afternoon.  We decided to not disembark on Ellis Island and go straight back to lower Manhattan to catch the Big Bus to Central Park.

We got off near 5th Avenue and walked by Radio City Music Hall and the famous Rockefeller Center where instead of a skating rink, it is now a roller skating rink for the summer. We then walked with the masses of shoppers along 5th Avenue where all the major players, Gucci, Ferragamo, Henry Winston, Dior etc. were all staking their claim; it reminded us a bit of Honolulu; while all the stores are along the main drag near Waikiki, in New York they are bigger and bolder as if saying “here I am,” and then the next one is saying “uh, uh, sister, Here I AM.”  

We walked through Central Park East, but didn’t get as immersed as we would have liked.  It would be nice to come back in the fall when the leaves are turning and spend some serious time in the park.  We got some soft scoop ice cream and decided for the sake of time to take the subway as the afternoon had pretty much slipped through our fingers; it’s cheap, and a visit to New York isn’t complete without a stint on the legendary New York Subway.  

We got off near the WTC; I get really choked up at the memorial.  I have pictures from my last visit so no need for any further representation here – it’s a must do, and when I look at the waterfalls cascading down the abyss I can only think of the tears that have been shed for all of those who have been lost from not only the horrific events of September 11, but for those who continue to defend our liberties. 

This day was a day about the importance of liberty and freedom. New York represents so many things; art, theater, architecture, hope – but the most enduring aspect of New York, at its very essence, is liberty.  The city displays this proudly, in an unsurpassing manner I have not felt anywhere else.  I forgive your maddening pace that I can only take in doses, because at your core, you are the apple that I desire a bigger bite of🗽

July 24 – August 5 The Maritimes: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia 

We arrived in New Brunswick, thus making our final transition into Canada.   We stayed at the Sussex, KOA which was part of a complex that included a drive-in theater that was showing Thor – Love and Thunder later that evening. The pool wasn’t crowded which was unusual, so we decided to go for a swim and I got in a half hour of intense swimming!    

After the sun set, we sat on the picnic table for a clear view of the screen, turned on the radio to the specified channel to get audio, and watched the movie from the convenience of our RV spot – how fun was that!

We set out the next day to Fundy National Park along the bay of the same namesake, and onto Hopewell Rocks. We wound up doing a coastal hike thinking it would take us right up to the shoreline but it didn’t – otherwise, we got a long hike through the woods which wasn’t so bad.  We ended up in Herring Cove just as a thunderstorm blew up the bay. Fortunately, we didn’t get the full brunt of it, but the winds were blowing up pretty hard and we worry about the rig when they threaten fifty-mile-an-hour winds.  Fortunately we escaped its wrath.

We headed out to the famous Hopewell Rocks thinking it would be a bit like Bandon, Oregon, where you just park up and walk along the beach to really cool rock formations.  As it turned out we had to pay to get in and it’s like a production line; we hiked for about fifteen minutes down a well-trod trail, followed by several flights of stairs that lead us down to sea level. 

The formations are mesmerizing and at low tide tourists pile in to walk around the beautifully sculpted “flower pots.” We wandered around the rocks, trying to dodge the other tourists, both greedy and patient to get shots that weren’t diluted with the selfie-obsessed.  The formations are quite captivating with swirling carpets of seaweed covering their base, sheathed in a deep teal green that I had not seen before.  

Much like Bandon, I felt like I was in a surrealistic painting where landscapes are exaggerated into impossible shapes, but they somehow make sense.  The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world; when the tide comes in at an astounding fifty feet, you can only gain access by boat – when the tide is out it becomes a wonderland with tidepools, cool formations and several caves for the curious to explore.  Many of the rocks looked as though they could have been an inspiration for the faces at Easter Island.  

We ended the day in Alma at a nice restaurant that only had seating outside.  It was blowing pretty hard and then the horizontal rain came – we thankfully got moved under the porch when other diners finished, though it was getting rather chilly. Then as fast as the storm came, it ceased, and the clouds started to break up.  We ended the day with the best sunset on our trip so far.

What a way to end another perfect day

I had done nearly 20,000 steps and almost 8 miles, so was pretty exhausted, but we got a real feel for New Brunswick and its magic. 

I slept hard that night and we managed to rest up the next day as we headed to Prince Edward Island, passing over the Confederation Bridge that spans an impressive eight miles.  It is a heck of a thing.  We have now entered the breadbasket of the region; fields of corn, wheat and potatoes spread across the afternoon horizon, kissed by the sea and sun.  The region is known for its potatoes that are rich in minerals due to the iron content of the soil. Here the weather remained in the 70’s which is considered hot by the local residents 🥵 Nothing looked dried out as it would be in Portland by now.  The well-manicured lawns and flowers hugged the highway looking as though we were in a springtime paradise vs. mid-summer. 

Confederation Bridge – it’s really long

We explored P.E.I the next day, visiting the famous Anne of Green Gables farm.  Her legacy permeates the island with stores, chocolates and inn’s named after her that seems like a contradiction to her ideology.  The farm is well-kept with working gardens and a path through the woods takes you into a childhood playground filled with ferns and streams.  Being as touristed as it is, you don’t get too much privacy and I wondered how many modern-day children actually get the chance to roam the woods freely as I did; to sit in contemplation of a babbling brook, feeling free, yet interconnected in those secret places where a child’s imagination weaves a web of delight, embracing the creatures of the forest.  In our overcrowded society it seems more like an exception where soon, we will need to pay a premium to enjoy. I bought her book at the giftshop, suspecting I will find it wonderfully relatable.  

Anne of Green Gables

As we drove along the coast, we stumbled upon a stately and curvaceous hotel known as Dalvay by the Sea.  It is prestigious enough to have warranted a visit by William and Kate during one of their tours.  The wrap-around porch with a view of the sea makes you want to sit, chat and read for the afternoon.  We decided to have lunch in their dining room; I had a lobster roll for a substantially lower cost than the one I had at Bar Harbor! The warm breeze and being surrounded by quietude in a white linen setting made for a memorable lunch.  It was a far cry from the bustling restaurants and RV dinners we’ve been having for quite a while now.  

Dalvay by the Sea

We eventually detached ourselves from our revelry and finished exploring the coastline, stopping at the picture-perfect Covehead Harbour Lighthouse that sits upon the dunes.  

Covehead Harbour Lighthouse

On our back to our campsite, we parked up in Charlottetown that has a Victorian quarter complete with a towering basilica.  The town has lovely restored buildings, and though the street with the shops and eateries isn’t very long, the local coffee bistro does a mean latte.  This topped off another lovely day in the Maritimes.  

Charlottetown, P.E.I

We headed out the next morning to Nova Scotia passing over the Confederation Bridge once more – this time they charged us a toll that was a hefty $50.00 Canadian which is $40.00 U.S.  I suppose they need to justify the building and maintenance of this monumental piece of infrastructure. 

We skirted the coastline of New Brunswick, passing through yet more picture-perfect coastal settings on our way to Caribou, Nova Scotia. We stumbled upon a lavender farm that I didn’t want to leave; I expressed this desire to the owners who acknowledged their place in Nirvana.  In addition to the lavender fields, they had a farm house surrounded by vegetable berms, flower beds and planter boxes. The scene was then topped off with a pond and large gazebo. My mind was bursting with imaginings of what we could do to replicate these ideas in France.  We completed our tour at the gift shop, immediately greeted by a long sigh of lavender that echoed its scent back to the RV, where we stuffed sachets behind our pillows and spritzed the room spray to enlighten our space.  

Nirvana

Driving through the Maritimes we have passed a beautiful array of bird life including bald eagles, ospreys and the elegant Blue Heron.  They are in abundance here and reminds me of our home in Portland, Oregon where we lived not far from the Sauvie Island Nature Reserve.  

We overnighted at Harbour Light Campground that had its own private beach.  We took a stroll and watched the fishing boats come in.  We dined on salmon and enjoyed the ocean breeze that kept the rig at a perfect sleeping temperature.  

We headed out to Cape Breton, driving along its dramatic shoreline.  Our next destination was the Waves End RV park that boasted spacious spots that came right up to the shoreline.  We had an ocean view interrupted by one class A but I could still see the surf, feel the breeze, smell the rarified air. Unfortunately, we arrived just as a storm system came in and pummeled us off and on for a couple of hours.  This warranted spaghetti in the Instapot.  I really don’t mind the occasional storms, just so long as no one gets injured. Since the winds were blowing a bit of a gale, we cozied up for the evening with a short break to walk along the seaside.  We watched the sun go down though we were confused as to the direction of the sun since we didn’t think we were facing west.  We actually were but we are used to seeing the sun set from the west coast😂

We ventured out the next day to hike the Skyline Trail along the famous Cabot Trail System of Cape Breton.  The Canadians are so well organized:  They always have ample parking and special spaces for RVs.  The trail was well-groomed and while busy, I found some solitude amongst the boreal forest boasting fragrant balsam fir while Bob took a separate loop. They reserved part of the park for the balsam seedlings to grow, it was fenced in to keep out the deer and moose who view these delicate shoots as a delicacy.

I kept pace with the cooling breeze, strolling along my private preserve set amongst the balsam and wild things where I always feel at peace; the trees are my temples, the sky is my heaven, the flowers and ferns my altar – dancing in the wind as wild things do.  Overhead, the gulls transform into winged angels, having made peace with the tempests, gliding amongst the towering cathedrals of cumulus that become one with the sun.  

Eventually arriving at the boardwalk you have a view over the vast seascape. The planked walk cascades below for a distance with lookouts and benches where you can contemplate the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the surrounding cape.  You do quite a few steps on the way back up😅

Skyline Trail, Cape Breton

We drove along the rugged coastline on our way to Cheticamp; Bob was excited to visit The Doryman pub and grill where they played live Irish music. When we arrived the place was packed; what we didn’t realize was this happened to be Joe Macmaster’s debut gig for his new CD; all we knew was there was a fiddler playing on Saturday afternoon, not realizing we chanced upon a world renown musician!  Some of the crowd, comprised mostly of retirees, would get up from their chairs and do Irish dancing.  It was quite fun. 

After having too much fun, and logging yet another 19,000 steps, we came back to spend the late afternoon catching a shower, reading and journaling. But the Cape wasn’t through with us yet.  As a glow began to permeate BigB, we wandered down to the bluff for yet another Maritime sunset, rivaling those of our beloved Pacific Coast.  

Waves End

We headed out to Halifax the next morning to visit Bob’s Aunty Brenda and Cousin Steven.  At 87, Brenda was now in a retirement home and we stopped in for dinner and then spent the evening chatting.  It had been twenty years since we’d seen her!  She was doing well, made us tea and gave us a tour of her lovely facility. We can only hope we can spend our twilight years in such a place.

We were staying at the KOA in Upper Sackville just outside of Halifax. It was a decent KOA though it was more geared for families with plenty of activities for the kids.  We soon discovered it was a holiday weekend and not everyone observed the quiet time.  We were also sandwiched between two highways so there was a fair amount of road noise.  I would only recommend this place if you have kids; it’s not a place you go to get “away from it all.”

Steven came by and picked us up the next morning and we drove into Halifax.  We had coffee and chatted for a while.  He dropped us off at the waterfront which was pretty crowded.

Modern-day Halifax contrasted by a classic Nova Scotia fishing village

We explored the shops and harbor and then Steven came to pick us again. We were thankful for being chauffeured around!  He took us to his house and then back to the KOA.  Thankfully it was a bit quieter that evening.  The weather was cool and we decided to have a campfire and I broke out the S’mores. All in all it ended pretty well.  

Bob and Steven at his house in Halifax

Halifax has changed dramatically from the last time we’d been there, with more big box stores squeezed into the tourist area.  The weather during our entire time in the Maritimes had been perfect; yes we’ve had some rain but, we haven’t been plagued with the heat and humidity like we had in Maine. 

We headed to Annapolis by way of Peggy’s Cove that sports a lighthouse set amongst some serious rock.  Again, it was crowded as it is understandably a popular place, though we didn’t stay too long as we had a long drive. 

The rugged shore and village at Peggy’s Cove

It rained most of the time we were on the road and luckily it was a travel day.  We arrived at the Lake Breeze Campground in some pretty thick fog.  We had a view of the lake and it was so quiet that we thought something had happened to humanity – perhaps a zombie invasion and no one thought to let us know.  They advertised “quiet,” and they weren’t kidding.  After the sparse traffic died down, the only noise we heard were the loons who haunted the lake, much like Nessie.  Yes, Nessie – Canadians have such a lovely sense of humor. 

Swimmer being chased by Nessie😱

We spent the day in Annapolis Royal, once a fort and major shipping hub.  We then went to the “tidal city” of Bear River, exploring the art communities; there are some very talented folks in this neck of the woods.  It has a “retreat” atmosphere, where one can contemplate and create amongst the verdant landscape.  This part of Nova Scotia can only be described as moderately busy; the highways and towns simply aren’t hectic like they are in the mainland U.S. – partly due to the low population density in Canada.  

We spent our last night by the fire, next to the lake, no bugs and yes….quiet.  What road noise there is dies down quickly, leaving us in the stillness, and we can drift without any further human incursions for the evening.  

It doesn’t get any better than this!!!

The next day we boarded the Fundy Rose, and ferried our way cross the Bay of Fundy to St. John’s, New Brunswick and our final overnight in Canada.  We sat in a lovely lounge entertained by a fiddler, watching the world go by.  The fog set in but we enjoyed our jaunt all the same.  The name Fundy Rose came from an African-Canadian woman from the 1800’s by the name of Rose Fortune, who trail blazed her way through history as a shrewd business woman and entrepreneur. We did notice a large black community in and around Halifax, even in the camp sites which in the U.S. is pretty rare. It’s lovely to see Canada embrace and celebrate their diversity.

The boys enjoying the ferry ride

Mon Dieu!!! We realized we had gone from one extreme of the U.S. to the other!  Google maps gave us perspective on how far we had come on this leg of our journey. So far we have logged over 20,000 miles since the 20th of February! 

From Anchorage to the farthest tip of Nova Scotia

Au revoir Canada🇨🇦 🦌🦬🦫🦅🦞🌲🏔🌅you will be missed; your incomparable landscapes and your hospitality will always be in my thoughts, hopefully I’ll be back to visit again one day❤️

I’ve been collecting these lovely cards by a local illustrator

July 12 – 23 Vermont, New Hampshire and Baa-Ha-Ba, Maine

After bidding farewell to Vanessa and Paul, we stopped by Canadian Tire to get a Bug Zapper Racket that was convenient when we were visiting Les and Monique: The mosquitoes were out in force in this part of Canada and we were anticipating using it tonight.  As we passed into Quebec, I thought I was in France all over again: The road and business signs (except for Subway and McDonalds) and even the cashiers all sported French as the primary language.  Bob and I spent time interpreting the signs as part of our French lessons!

We made it through the border without having to sacrifice any of our groceries. Once in Vermont we landed at Prouty Beach Campground and RV Park.  It was warm but not obscenely so and we went for a walk along the lake.  Now that we had decent wi-fi and cell coverage we spent a few hours devouring Stage 16 of the Tour de France and wondering how the riders were managing through the horrific heat wave plaguing Portugal, Spain, France and the UK.  Our relatives in England were managing ok with the heat but they certainly weren’t used to it.  We are definitely going to be retrofitting whatever house we get in France with air conditioning (usually the ductless units) in anticipation of the increasing temperatures.

The next day we decided to walk to Newport which is less than a mile away. We left late morning, it was in the 70’s and a bit muggy. We meandered through the streets, visited a large gothic Catholic Cathedral, took in the architecture of traditional New England homes that in our estimation must have housed a few generations of families based on their size. 

Impressive Catholic Church overlooking Newport

We then strolled along the waterfront replete with a fake swan along one of the canals that eventually changed its position when we left the next morning. By that time it was noon, and we were starting to feel that suffocating humidity that we hadn’t experienced in a long time.  We have been to the Amazon and Cambodia, and in those places the humidity is nearly 100% and in some cases nearly 100 degrees, but we’re not getting any younger! We were both sweating profusely and went into the supermarket to stick our heads into the freezers and grab some necessities – like wine….

We walked back to the RV and were fortunately getting some decent shade with the help of our awning that extended over the picnic table and a breeze started to kick up.  Bob announced that we had walked five miles with some decent uphill stints; that may explain why the back of my neck had created its own water feature🥵.  I broke out my special fan that you add water to that converts to a mister; I set it up on the table next to me and was quite comfortable. We had lunch and basically took a siesta until the hottest part of the afternoon subsided.  This is great practice for our transition to Europe where the shops close down in the afternoons anyway.

Our air conditioning unit is loud and we decided to save that for the evening when we catch up on the Tour de France and a movie. By that time the temperature had dropped to a reasonable level and we opened the windows for the remainder of the night.  

The next day we passed through New Hampshire on our way to Maine.  This area is stunning in the fall (as we experienced years before) as you imagine a carpet of blazing orange and red with the quintessential church spires erupting from the landscape.  We drove through Lancaster with its charming, traditional architecture.  We soon got more Moose caution signs – we hadn’t banked on that on the east coast and I have been educated yet again.

We settled into our spot at the KOA outside of Bar Harbor and set out for said location the next day.  

On our way to the harbor, we stopped by Acadia National Park; we had been there before during “leaf peeping” season and decided to drop into the visitor center, once again leveraging our National Parks Pass and collecting a magnet for the board.  Though it was a short hike, there was some rather steep uphill, it was nearly noon and really hot and muggy.  I felt like I was in a hot yoga session.  We headed out to the Bar Harbor (Baa Haa Baa), to cool off and grab a bite to eat; I had an overpriced but tasty Lobster Roll and lots of iced tea.  We bummed around the shops and visited the harbor itself.  It was super busy as its a tourist hot spot but fun all the same. 

Ships docked in Bar Harbor

We had parked the rig in the shade near an athletic field not far from the designated RV Parking.  Unfortunately all the designated RV parking spots were taken and the dirt lot next to it was virtually empty. We still paid for a ticket to avoid getting fined.  It all worked out great in the end as we scored a spot in the shade😍

On our way back to the KOA, we stopped by an extension of the bay to have our tea as we love picking interesting spots as part of the RV trippin experience. The idea was to sit at a shady picnic table at a rest stop that overlooked the bay, watch the bird life and contemplate our bucolic surroundings – well, the mosquitoes had a different agenda….so we wound up bagging that idea! 

After 13,000 steps in the heat, crowds and humidity, I opted for a shower and to spend the rest of the evening in the air conditioning, recouping from the day. 

The next day we headed down the coast of Maine via Highway 1.

Along the way we spotted a large blue building that was part of a larger blueberry attraction; Maine is apparently the blueberry capital of the world. We of course had to check it out and though they have a smorgasbord of blueberry products, oddly there were no fresh blueberries.  

Blueberry Land – they take their blueberries seriously

Moving on, we diverted to Jonesport to get closer to the sea. We found a camping area filled with RVs and sorta crashed it; the camp host asked us what we were doing and we responded that we were just taking pictures – she was cool with that and indicated that the camp was full anyway. Then the other camp host came by  and asked us if everything was ok and we inquired about having our tea in this really great spot; he extended his New England hospitality to us so we sat next to the bay and had our tea amongst the seagulls and salty air – sans the mosquitoes! We caught the interest of some of the nearby RV inhabitants and wound having a great conversation with some of the locals about our travels. The gals were playing a game under a pop up and the guys were under a nearby awning. When Bob asked the boys what they were up to they said they were going to visit the “Sardine Museum” – as if to say they weren’t up to anything. When we bid our farewell to these lovely New Englanders we passed by the Sardine Museum – such a beast does exist in Jonesport, Maine🎣🛖

The bay at Jonesport, Maine

We went through the backroads and ended back up on Highway 1 on our way to Houlton which is next to the Canadian border.  It was rural Maine with farms of barley, corn and other assorted crops.  As its now late-July, the sun is beginning to tilt in such a way that the fields and forests give off that summer smell of dry grass and pine needles that beckons the eventual transition to fall. We stopped at the Million Dollar Scenic View Byway that boasts a massive lake called “Grand Lake” with a view of New Brunswick just on the other side.  Granted there weren’t any other RV’s coming this way, let alone much traffic as this must be one of the roads less travelled despite its scenic byway designation (it could be one of the hotspots in the fall though). Yet here we were enveloped in an unexpected peace, surrounded by the quietude and shimmering of lakes and fields where the long shadows journey into the evening twilight. I suddenly felt encapsulated for a moment in the rarified presence of mid-summer, away from the incursions of civilization and shielded from the heat plaguing the rest of the Eastern Seaboard. Even the occasional farm seemed to be caught up in the ether of nature’s siesta.

The unexpected revelation of Grand Lake at the Million Dollar View viewpoint.

We stopped off to get groceries and I looked for the legendary wild Maine blueberries and oddly the store only had raspberries and blackberries.  I had become pretty perplexed by the whole blueberry business.  Yet….they had Washington Rainier Cherries!! I of course pounced on a bag like a hungry fox.

One of the stately buildings in Houlton, Maine

We ended the day at the Houlton KOA who had kindly reserved a cooked lobster for moi. 

The perfect specimen ready for devouring – and yes, Rainier Cherries

Bob, not being a shellfish, person opted for steak and we dined on surf and turf as the evening began to cool enough for a campfire.

We spent the evening by the fire catching up on decent wi-fi and cell coverage in anticipation of our next leg into Canada where we know we will get a Verizon throttling as we have before📶= not. And the wi-fi is always spotty at RV parks no matter where you go.

Weaponized for any potential invasion

July 11 – July 19 Niagara Falls and trippin through Ontario

Meet Shoeless (the White Sox Mascot)! Gifted to us by Bob’s friend Christina while we were in Chicago. The dashboard is getting a bit crowded with our growing family👨‍👩‍👦‍👦

Welcome Shoeless!

We left Chicago, driving through Indiana and Michigan into Ontario.  It turned out to be a long day with over 400 miles.  We stopped off at a Starbucks in the early evening and I saw a salon next door and luckily they were open with only one hairdresser in attendance and totally void of customers.  I just needed a quick trim and we struck up a conversation; I was curious as to where she was originally from due to her coloring and accent; she challenged me to guess and I said “Ethiopia.”  Her jaw dropped and she said I was the first person in twenty-five years that had guessed correctly. She is actually from Eritrea which is in the same region.  We had a great conversation about Africa and I got a much needed trim.  She loved my hair and I’ve heard this before; other hairdressers say the younger generation likes to die their hair my platinum gray color.  It’s nice to have low maintenance hair that is admired 😃.

We finally crossed the border into Ontario. I had downloaded the ArriveCanada app so I could easily update the border crossing info and present the electronic pass.  

This part of Canada reminded me of the Midwest with the rolling fields of corn, wheat and crops.  We passed through the border at Sarnia to Sun Retreats at Ipperwash.  This unfortunately turned out poorly as they advertised the standard, lovely RV sites with full hooks up with a concrete slab that you paid full price for and we found ourselves in the “rustic” campground with 15 amp electric with a filthy pit toilet surrounded by tractors, boats and abandoned equipment. Even the other facilities such as the showers hadn’t been cleaned in weeks and there was no hot water.  It was really a mobile home park with semi-permanent residents – there were no real RV sites for the transient crowd; they passed off the electrical in the camp as a full site which it is not.  It was a bait and switch and we let the owners and the corporation know. Do not stay at Sun Retreats as they will scam you!  We were glad to pack up early and head out. 

As we crossed over the Rainbow Bridge on the Canada side, we could see Niagara Falls on the right side. 

Niagara Falls from the Rainbow Bridge

When we arrived at the falls, we weren’t prepared for the Disneyland-like-carnival atmosphere complete with a dinosaur park that had a spewing volcano, and every circus ride imaginable.  Avoiding the mayhem, we decided to take the boat cruise that takes you right up to the falls: 

They hand you a rain poncho as you board – once you arrive at Horseshoe Falls, you can scream as loud as you want as you don’t just get misted, you are pressure-washed and any commentary or sounds of protest are drowned out by the sound of thousands of gallons of water gushing all around you.  It’s a great adrenaline rush with limited peril and to a certain extent the poncho is simply a suggestion; it did keep my camera dry at least. It was a sunny day so we grabbed a bite to eat and air dried our Niagara-saturated bodies at the cafe conveniently located at the exit of the boat launch.  It was so much fun!!!

Niagara Falls before being doused
Horseshoe Falls post dousing

We spent the evening at the Branches of the Niagara Campground which was at the opposite end of our experience at Sun Retreats; it was pristine and well-kept. We spent the evening getting dried out and cleaned up and then headed out the next morning back to see the falls from the U.S. side; it was structured more like a standard state park with overlooks and gift shops – otherwise it was the opposite of the Canadian circus which in a way is pretty surprising.  The views from the Canadian side are certainly much better.  

Rainbow at Niagara Falls from the New York side

We lucked out on a rainbow that stretched across the river as we watched the boats go into the falls, it was a lovely morning and good for getting our steps in while catching the thunder of this iconic spectacle.  It’s a lovely walk through the woods and park and is relatively quiet as most of the crowds don’t seem to linger at the wooded park benches.  

Tourists on their way through the ”mist”

We bid farewell to the thunder and mist and passed back into Canada at the other side of the Rainbow Bridge and on to Silent Lake where we were meeting up with Bob’s cousin Les and his wife Dominique:  They are both muscians – Les plays the flute and Dominique the violin; she is also French-Canadian.  

It rained most of the day and we arrived in pretty muddy conditions at the Provincial Park with a 15 amp plug we finally found after scouring the campsite; it was several yards away which was unusual – luckily our cord was long enough to reach it.  Les was kind enough to pick us up and we headed to their cabin in the woods.  The rain actually added to the porous, wooded atmosphere as they lit a fire in their cozy living room as we chatted over a super delicious Thai meal.  Dominique spent part of her childhood in Thailand and certainly nailed the quisine!  

Les took us back to the park and we woke up the next morning to a cloudless sky with the sun dappling the forest accompanied by the music of woodland birds and creatures.  We set out to canoe with Les and Dominique on Silent Lake and lucky for us the weather was perfect.  The lake does not allow any motorized vehicles and wasn’t crowded at all, hence the name.  We paddled across the main body and into an inlet that led to another part of the lake. 

Dominique and Les

We soon spotted a loon with chicks and then suddenly a large male appeared not far from our canoe, jolting us to attention with his loud, legendary call.  Then he disappeared under the water; I did not know that loons could hold their breath for about fifteen minutes!  We kept searching and saw him surface several yards away.

Lillies and loons

We passed lilly pads that hugged the marshes and partially submerged islands that invited exploration.  We docked on an esplanade of boulders, spread out a picnic, breathing in the beauty and around us; the modern world was at a standstill for a time. The lake wasn’t too cold so we all went for a swim; I can’t remember the last time I went swimming in a lake, I usually stick to oceans and pools.  There is something primal in this remote setting as if you are floating back in time in an undisturbed, restorative and soothing wilderness. We need more of this in our over-mechanized lives and to have this area preserved and left to its natural cycles feels miraculous. I felt like a kid again, dipped in the cooling waters of nostalgia, stretching my tendons past the dancing waterskippers and iridescent dragonflies. 

Taking a dip in Silent Lake

We paddled a while longer through more marshes, water lillies watching our progress, and then headed back to the launch area.  We stopped at one of the islands on the way and were able to dock the canoes in the island shallows and go for another swim.  

We ended the day back at their cabin; Bob made a curry and we polished off the strawberry rhubarb crisp Dominique had made.  One of their friends had invited us for a sunset cruise on his boat at the neighboring Paudas Lake.  It’s a huge lake and most of the shoreline is populated by homes.  We saw several loons and it was lovely hearing the haunting echo of their calls across the lake.  The sun slid behind some clouds but still backlit the sky with a lovely fuscia pink, complemented by an unexpected rainbow across the far horizon.  It was the end of a perfect summer day. 

The next morning, we joined Dominique and Les for breakfast and bid farewell, grateful for their hospitality and encouraging them to come and visit us in France.  Dominique’s sister lives in Paris so we are optimistic we will catch up in the future. On our way out, we stopped at the National Petroglyphs Park dating back to 900 A.D. and lovingly preserved by a structure that keeps the carvings from deteriorating further.  The First Nations mythology is so similar to the American Indians and even the impressions carved into the granite have the same structure. It has been a blessing to be able to study the history of so many different North American indigenous tribes.

After several days of having too much fun, as dumb as it sounds, Bob and I found ourselves rather tired and committed to spend the afternoon relaxing, reading and journaling the rest of the day. 

We have been so busy touring and visiting in the last few weeks, that sometimes we haven’t take enough time to simply sit still, giving ourselves time for reflection, enjoying the warmth of summer that goes by too fast. Life feels less compressed here in Canada, it’s not simply because we are retired, it just feels more mellow.  

We overnighted at a basic RV park next to a pond that had a resident toad who liked to croak repeatedly through the night – that being said I did manage to get some sleep and we spent the morning reading and working out, then gathered ourselves and pushed our tiny home towards Perth, where thankfully, we had pedicures scheduled as my toenails were taking on a patina of wildness that wasn’t particularly appealing.

We arrived at Paul and Vanessa’s, who, like the last two places we had mooch-docked, were in a rural setting that Bob and I dreamed of, with a resident deer known as Doris. After a nice dinner on the lake, and then catching up, we retired to the RV; later in the night I could hear the distant call of a loon drifting through the silence.

Doris and an apple

The next day we went to Merrickville which is one of Paul and Vanessa’s BNB’s that housed an entire collection of Beatlemania and has a Bohemian vibe to it.  Bob and Paul spent time reminiscing about their time as DJ’s including vintage recordings that Paul had lovingly preserved.  We then went to a vintage car show and found one that matched Paul’s shirt! 

Fashionista Paul!

It was a hot 90 degree day that ended with beer-butt chicken that felt off the bone; if you haven’t had beer-butt chicken google it – you can’t go wrong. We sat on the porch and enjoyed the cooling temperatures, then headed off for a good night’s sleep. We woke up to showers and then it started to pour so we took advantage of our temporary incarceration; journaling, editing, reading, backing up photos and watching bad TV. We had closed our vents but as we were parked under a pine tree Bob had to do roof duty to free the needles that got trapped when securing the rig. I imagined us pulling away and taking some branches with us.

Every time we enter Canada our Verizon service gets throttled. My US apps such as Peacock, Starz etc. don’t work over wifi as they recognize the IP address, but luckily we were able to do some minor streaming on Peacock(NBC) through our 4G LTE and catch the last half-hour of the Tour de France before the Verizon police text me and tank my speed into low data mode oblivion. I’m not sure why the app works this way but I’ll take it!

The sun burst through the morning morning as we prepared to leave for Vermont. We had a great time with Vanessa and Paul and always appreciate the great Canadian hospitality – we hope we will see them again soon!

Vanessa and Paul

July 2 – 10 Wisconsin…Michigan…Chi-Town!

We stopped over at Schwittay Farm; they are a dairy farm that makes cheese for Belgioioso which I’ve purchased and seen in Oregon.  It’s a pretty popular brand.  We were given those cute little cheese samples, and also purchased some brats, beef steaks, more cheese and eggs.  It was great to get it directly from the source. 

As we were dry camping on a dairy farm we found ourselves parked not far from the manure pit that posed many problems; the odor was too intense, it was difficult to breathe and there were flies.  We were by the barn that housed around one hundred head of dairy cows so we moved to the other side to get some relief.  It did help.

Outside of that experience we walked along the backroads of rural Wisconsin and returned to see a newborn calf and observe how the milking process was done. As usual it was Latino workers managing the cows and the process – always some of the hardest working people I know.  

There was one cow who was pregnant and overdue and they were having a fair amount of issues with her.  She looked so uncomfortable. She would complain into the night and we wound up not getting much sleep until, we believe, they moved her out of the pen.  I hope she gives birth soon and recovers.  

There were lovely Jersey cows, originally imported from England that would gave us big-eyed stares.   

Newborn calf and lovely Jersey

We now have a new appreciation of the work that goes into making the fantastic cheese we consume!

We left Wisconsin the next day and drove into Michigan, on our way to Marquette on the Upper Peninsula (UP). 

We were supposed to meet up with my brother and sister-in-law for the 4th of July but my brother came down with Covid😥  He’s fine but we sure miss meeting up with them.  We camped out at Rippling River Resort outside of Marquette.  The spot we got was closer to an actual campsite than an RV resort, we only had electrical, but that was fine as it was rustic and there was no need to use a generator which was perfect.  We were backed up to a meadow with daisies, the weather was beautiful and the perfect conditions for a barbecue and campfire.  

Relaxing at Rippling River

Rain was expected for the 4th of July and as predicted it arrived so we had a pretty lazy day in the rig and decided to take a cab into town and catch an early showing of Elvis – it appears half the town decided to do so as well😂

We got back to the campsite and went out for a walk but then it started pouring rain and we snuggled inside BigB and watched the Bridges of Madison County and then an episode of Obi-Wan.  Due to the weather it turned out to be the quietest 4th of July we ever had!  

The rain let up the next morning and we were able to go out for a nice long hike that skirted the campsite.  We read and then barbecued a steak dinner (the meat we had bought at Schwittay Farms).  This is probably the most we’ve stayed stationary in one place for a while.  

We headed for Sleeping Bear Dunes and overnighted at the Indigo Bluffs RV Park.  It’s a large RV park but the spaces are large, off the road and shaded.  We spent the evening by the fire and headed to the dunes the following day. 

We hiked up a couple of sets of large dunes and then realized it was several miles to actually get to the beach so we decided to do the scenic drive.  The mythology behind the Sleeping Bear is rather heartbreaking:

We stopped by some of the overlooks and watched people trying to hike up the side of the overlook – we decided to pass on that one!

Sleeping Bear Overlook

We headed out to visit our friends from Washington who had moved to the countryside outside of Traverse City. 

Their stunning log and pine lodge rests on several acres next to a small river.  This is the kind of place we dream of retiring to and hope we will find a similar setting in France.  We spent hours catching up on our adventures and got our first home cooked meal in a long time (we’re not counting the RV barbecues!).

This also gave us a chance to fix the step on the rig; it’s been impossible to find an RV repair place that will help us as they are overbooked, so Bob is doing it himself with the help of our friends.  And it worked – our step is now trouble free!

We had a great time catching up, eating and drinking as friends do, then bid farewell with the promise they will catch up with us in France.  

We set out early as we had a 350 mile journey the next day to a KOA outside of Chicago.  

We arrived to beautiful weather, not really humid and in the 70’s.  We were told it was the best weather so far this year!  The next day we parked up at the Crystal Lake train station not too far outside the KOA and went into Chicago.  We wound up in walking distance of everything and took in the sites at the Millenium Park including the “Bean.”  We had a nice lunch outside and then walked around Magnificent Mile.  As it was Sunday, and a spectacular day, it was understandably packed.  We certainly got our steps in🚶‍. 

The Bean

We went on a late afternoon architectural tour; given the Chicago is one of the great architectural cities it was a pleasant 1.5 boat tour along the canals. 

The river walk has been completely reconstructed and was beautiful with wrought iron fences and eateries.  

We met up with one of Bob’s collageagues from his Adidas days and ate and lovely Italian meal in a quite neighborhood in a relaxing outdoor setting.  It was a wonderful top off to a busy and fulfilling day, having emersed ourselves in one of America’s great cities 🏙 

June 26 – July 1 Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa… through the heart of the Midwest

We drove through the backroads from Sundance, WY to get a feel of the land and landed in Deadwood staying at the Deadwood Mountain Grand where we meandered through a Vegas-style lobby to get to the hotel itself.  We weren’t prepared for the casino culture that eclipsed the history we were seeking in town.  We loved the series and the movie and while the historical buildings and signs were apparent, they seemed more like an attraction for the casino crowd – we’re not casino people so it doesn’t appeal to us.  In Skagway, AK, you had interpretive centers and the money invested into education and museums that were part of the main drag: You got a real feel of the Klondike Goldrush.  

We decided to have dinner at the historical Franklin Hotel which had that grand old hotel feel to it and even the bar had the velvet covered chairs – yet you are again, surrounded by loud slot machines, so instead of immersing in the old west we finished our drinks and went outside because the noise was getting obnoxious.  We were then met with motorcyclists with loud engines who decided to blare their radios to compete with the sound of the engines. It was deafening.  

As we wandered around town, to the historical sites where Wild Bill Hickock was shot and Seth Bullock had established his hardware store, we also noticed deep pockmarks in some of the cars; a testimony to the violent storms that pass through this region.  Ouch!

Deadwood, South Dakota

We visited the Mount Moriah Cemetery the next morning which was a great experience; based on the date on the headstones, the mortality rate was just so low and many of them dated back to the mid-1800’s.  Of course Will Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane were the highlights – Seth Bullock’s grave site is a 1.5 mile hike up a gravel road; I suppose to secure his legacy in Deadwood’s history.  It was getting hot and we needed to hit the road so declined that particular adventure.  

Legends of Deadwood

Passing through more vast grasslands, we decided to stop by the Badlands National Park. It was in the 90’s and we came up from the south end of the park that turned out to be over thirty miles of gravel road (oops!).  It would have been easier to come off the I-90 but you still would need to do the mileage to get around the high points of the park; we went from south to north.   This desolate, fascinating landscape sprawls on for quite a ways with several overlooks. 

Badlands National Park

We saw a herd of bison on the open range and it gave me a sense of how it was on these prairies prior to the post-Civil War migration.  There were “villages” of charming prairie dogs scurrying across the roads and poking their heads out of the mounds.  

Bison roaming the Badlands

Amongst the many fascinating features are the Yellow Mounds – an anomaly we hadn’t encountered through our travels in the Southwest.  

Yellow Mounds, Badlands National Park

I loved the landscape of the badlands; they reminded me of the Bisti Badlands of New Mexico with the same clay-like soil, but of course on a grander scale and not as bizarre. 

I became fascinated by the White River Overlook, maybe because it took me to another planet, even though most of the Badlands is like that.  

White River Overlook, Badlands National Park

Outside the Badlands Visitor Center

It turned out to be a lovely evening as we passed through the Buffalo Gap National Forest (forest is a relative term as it’s mostly grass). Sadly there were a fair amount of casualties on the I-90; deer, porcupine, raccoons, rabbits.  We spent the night at the Landmark Country Inn that was run by a lovely Mexican family.  Another Mexican family was staying there; it was great to see a diversity of people and ownership in this area.  

The following day we found ourselves traveling through the the Fort Pierre National Grasslands that was part of the Great Plains, though so much is now cow pasture and corn.  Vast, endless, preturbed by agriculture though much remains virgin, it’s too vast for us to consume. 

We stopped at the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center in Chamberlain. It was so well put together and equally heartbreaking when you consider there is more land than we can possibly use,  yet we white people came and settled, pushing the Lakota, Sioux and accompanying tribes into finite reservations.  They had some of the artifacts from “Dances with Wolves” on display which was filmed in the area and goods for purchase made by local Indians – thankfully nothing from China was for sale.

Akta Lakota Museum

We ended the day at Sioux Falls KOA in the shade (thankfully) on a 90 degree day.  It was next to the interstate and a bit noisy, but otherwise well-kept. When I checked in I was directed to the shelter in case of a weather event.  We had seen the carnage with some granaries and barns that looked like they had been ripped open by a gargantuan can opener.  They apparently have had some very severe storms prior to us arriving.  I’ll take the hot weather over a nasty storm any day!  

What also drew my attention was that my father grew up on a farm north of Bismarck, ND, amongst the same grasslands of the Great Plains, and I got a sense of how it must have been before he joined the Navy and was deployed to the Pacific; quiet, vast, out of reach, still – until hammered by storms and plundered by dust.  It was even harsher for my grandparents who settled there, Russian Germans escaping persecution from the Czar, adjusting to this new, harsh environment.

We set out for Winterset the following day to see the covered bridges made famous by the “Bridges of Madison County.”  It was a very hot and windy day, and a long drive. We arrived at Covered Bridges Winery which is a Harvest Host site. We did some wine tasting; the local grapes are designed to withstand the harsh winters. I bought a nice bottle of Rose.  The wines are named after the bridges or characters from the movie, though it didn’t come across as over-commercialized.  Since it was so hot, and we didn’t want to be dry camping in the blazing sun, so we decided to see Winterset and the bridges.  I love those hot days when it starts to cool in the evening and the nostalgic smell of summer beckons. We walked along the quiet streets of Winterset, pride spilling onto the sidewalks, passing a smattering of quilt shops and peeking into the Northside Cafe; inside there was a jumble of movie props, apparently left for an undefined destiny. 

Winterset, Iowa

The city is shadowed by the Madison County Courthouse, that sits in stately residence, dominating the middle of town.   Winterset is also the birthplace of John Wayne and his history is proudly displayed in local museum. 

John Wayne Museum – saddle up partner!

The golden evening ended with a trip to the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway, including the famous Holliwell where the flies were tragically voracious if you ventured too far into the grass.

Holliwell Bridge, Madison County, Iowa

Otherwise these stops are a great way to picnic in the quiet amongst the cooling trees with the babbling undertows of passing rivers.  

A Beautiful Evening at Cedar Bridge

The sun set over the rolling hillsides and we parked up in the shade outside the winery with no one else around, the wind was now an inviting presence that flowed through our tiny rooms, humbling us to sleep.  

The following day we stayed at a shady and calm campsite on the edge of Monticello that wasn’t too far from the Field of Dreams site outside of Dyersville.  

It was seriously hot and humid and the wind seemed to provide litte relief. Fortunately the evening cooled off nicely allowing for a good night’s sleep. The next day was more palatable and the clouds were a respite from the blazing sun. This made for, in our estimation, a perfect day to visit the Field of Dreams.  

When we arrived it was just starting to get busy, but not overly so. 

Bob was glassy-eyed as we walked around the pitch, taking in the essence of the great American pastime.  It doesn’t take long to meander through the site that includes the field, house, gift shop, grounds and of course fields of corn.

What was even more lovely were fathers and coaches bringing their kids (yes girls included!), to the legendary pitch to practice. 

If you build it…

It makes you teary-eyed when you think with all the negativity in the world you can come to a special place like this – this enduring dream-like wonder that encompasses the heart of America, that on the surface seems so simple, but as you dig deeper you slip into a more profound sense that the fantasy here isn’t a mere fabrication – it truly delivers on its promise:

“They’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters.  The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.  People will come Ray.  The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game: it’s part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

James Earl Jones as Terrence Mann – Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams is about so much more than baseball – people who claim it’s the worst baseball film ever missed the entire essence of the movie, which is tragically their loss:  We dream, those dreams are crushed, we love, we lose, we get tangled in the past and cannot move forward.  Field of Dreams is a place that transcends all of that, it’s about resolution and the universal need for human connection.  The power of the storytelling hits you on a subconscious level and leaves you in a state of wonder: With baseball as its foil, you can stand on the pitch of nostalgia and allow yourself to dream across generations. 

It is timeless and just as relevant today as it was 33 years ago. 

Iowa itself touched me in a way that I had not expected, I felt as though I had stumbled upon a forgotten America, a place buried in my early childhood.  It was windy but we were not ravaged by the storms that had torn apart the livelihood of too many farmers.  Our eyes could stretch only so far into the horizon across the fledgling stalks of corn, interrupted by the tireless farms and stainless silos.  It was forever green, sliced and curved like carved fruit, lovingly pressed into the hills and fields.  The grass was the sea that rolled onto a beach of eternal sunshine.  The golden sunset and echoes of crickets welcomed the calm, distilling the absence of the unrelenting buffeting.  Constellations swirl and drop their seedlings; we dream while fireflies dance in the tall grass on a cool summer’s evening.

Is this heaven?  No, it’s Iowa.

June 22 – 26 Montana and Wyoming

We arrived in Montana and the lovely but packed Glacier West KOA.  We had cancelled our Xanterra Redbus Tour for Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR) as we received notification that the road was still not open and unlikely it would be until July, and very possibly not until after the 4th….it would be like going to an Adele concert with no Adele. Since we weren’t going to the GTTSR, I blew off needing a reservation from Recreation.gov…had I read the fine print or committed further critical thinking to the matter I would have found out it doesn’t matter whether the Going to the Sun Road is open – you need to be registered to get into the park:  This is in addition to the Park Entrance Fee (we have the National Park Pass so no issue for us).

When we arrived we were stopped by the GTTSR Road Rangers saying we needed a reservation for the not open GTTSR. We said we just wanted to go to Apgar and kayak Lake McDonald as the road wasn’t open – that didn’t matter – we either needed a tour operator or the Recreation.gov GTTSR reservation.  She directed us to Glacier Outfitters, we had to turn around and drive for about fifteen minutes to find a cell signal. Luckily Glacier Outfitters were very accommodating and got us a digital reservation to go kayaking on Lake McDonald. What also added to my confusion is the other boat tour operator – Glacier Boat Tours – that is listed on the National Parks site, doesn’t take reservations and when I called them they said they would take walk-ins. The NPS for Glacier keeps changing the web site so it’s a good idea just to get the GTTSR reservation if you can.  

When we got back to the entrance I flashed the reservation that they didn’t even read.  And I suppose if we didn’t have our RV we could have driven the GTTSR after our kayaking trip if it had been open.  So word to the wise – get online when the tickets are first available because they will probably be gone in a day or so: You have to nail down a date.  Otherwise book a tour or lodging within the park. And go mid-July through August.  It will be packed but this is the way of things now.  

It has to be difficult for these outfitters as they are now limited on the amount of walk-ins and they had a fair amount of kayaks available when we finally made it through. 

Dead calm on Lake McDonald with a view of the peaks

Sadly, this was the second time we tried to do the GTTSR, last time we didn’t see much due to wildfires.  You can’t have everything – but we got a nice two-hour kayak in and watched a deer roam around the village.  We also stopped off at a local kiosk and bought huckleberries and Rainier cherries – summer has officially arrived and the day was saved! 

A young buck just hanging out at the lake

We bid farewell to Glacier, traveling through the alpine forests of the Flathead National Forest, stopping for tea at a lake north of Seeley.  We could have easily dry camped there – the entire area was pristine with only a few people, and the summer air was so inviting.  Seeley itself was a charming town with a lovely outpost that did decent lattes.  

Soon the Bitterroot Mountains appeared in the distance, framing the open ranges filled with yellow and purple wildflowers.  The rolling hills were vast and verdant with the occasional century-old collapsed barn to add to the quintessential rustic views. 

We passed over the Continental Divide, strewn with massive granite boulders that spiraled onto the vast plains and plateaus, winding our way through the open ranges then settling in Bear Mountain Campground outside of Bozeman. It was too close to the interstate that seemed noisier than others we had overnighted, and the trains were interminable.  Regardless, it was a beautiful evening and we stretched our legs along the backroads that overlooked the farmlands. This region is prone to passing thunderstorms and can get pretty windy as we soon found out as the thunder rumbled overhead. 

Bozeman farmlands

We headed for Greybull, Wyoming the next day.  We crossed the Big Blackfoot River of a “River Runs Through It” fame, where you can imagine yourself lazing along the riverside chewing on a piece of grass – yeah like the song.

As we were skirting east of the Yellowstone National Park (closed due to flooding but we had already, thankfully, done Yellowstone) we crossed the said river a few times; it was swollen and violent, taking down the fragile “tree islands” that were probably stable during a normal season. The endless ranches of the Crow Indian territory disappeared into the snow capped peaks of the Custer and Teton ranges in the distance: I try to imagine what it was like before white man came here, when the buffalos roamed free and the Indians lived on the plains.

We settled for the evening at the quiet Greybull KOA, skirting yet more thunderstorms.  Otherwise, all you could hear was the wind and the cooing of pigeons and I got a good night’s sleep. It is a nicely kept KOA that I would recommend.  

The next morning we explored the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite outside of Shell, WY.  

The Bighorn Basin is home to some of the most astounding fossil discoveries in the country.  We sure had fun looking for 167 million-year-old tracks and I was able to collect (legally) some broken bits of fossilized ammolite, some with insect indentations on them. 

Jurassic tracks!
The boys were having a blast tracking dino’s!

This area used to be part of the “Sundance Sea,” and the tracks became fossilized from the dinosaur sinking its feet in mud on the shoreline.  I can understand how one can become obsessed with archeology and doing these digs! 

Red Gulch, Wyoming dinosaur country

The Red Gulch itself reminded me of the Painted Desert in Arizona – the whole area was quite a revelation:  We had no idea how stunning the Bighorn Scenic Byway was – it unfolded like a mini Grand Canyon!  As we drove down into the canyon there were signs depicting the year of a particular archeological stratus; the lowest was the “pre-Cambrian” period dating back 2.5 billion years.  As we gained elevation we saw different signs until we got to Triassic and then Jurassic periods.  Then a steep climb revealed a granite gulch and river thundering down its harrowing precipices.   

Bighorn Basin, what an unexpected pleasure!

We eventually found ourselves at 9000 feet passing over Granite Pass.  The alpine meadows had moose, elk and deer meandering about, oblivious to our presence.  I didn’t think there were moose in Wyoming, but like the buffalo in Canada I’m getting quite the education.  

Once back to a suitable elevation, we were now in quintessential cowboy country; watching them saddle up in the fields, a cowboy was herding the cattle into the ranch.  From the rolling red and green plateaus mounds appeared bearing no logic in their unique presence. 

The wind picked up, which seems to be a thing here in Wyoming, settling in Sundance on a clear evening at the Mountainview Campground not far from the Devil’s Tower.  They have great Wi-Fi and we were backed up against the mountains.

We had huckleberry pancakes for breakfast and headed to Devils Tower. When we arrived at the visitor center we were turned away as there was no RV parking spaces left – there was only room for about five rigs: Per the park ranger, no tows are allowed and any cars who stole RV spots were being kicked out. We turned around and drove about a mile down the road and turned off onto a gravel road, that, as it turned out, was the trailhead for the Joyner trail. It had a perfectly clear view of the tower – our “misfortune” turned into one of those situations where we made out like bandits.

The view from Joyner Trail

We hiked down the Joyner trail taking in the killer views with virtually no one else around, passing by the prayer bundles tied to the trees – placed by the local Indian tribe and thank god this area has been protected. We went down the gulch and ran into deer, listening to the echo of blackbirds against the still meadows. The temperature and blue sky allowed for lingering and letting your thoughts wander like a wildflower; the impossible tower looming in the background – one of America’s great geological and cultural treasures.

Looping around the still of alpine meadows

The trail eventually connected with the Redbed Trail and its beautiful red rock, then back to the crowded visitor center. All in all it was around three miles on a balmy Sunday.

Scenery along the Redbed Trail

We left the visitor center and took the road back down to the trailhead.

Alien spotting at the Devils Tower Visitor Center

We watched as RVs came up and then back down as there was no space. Some turned off to the Joyner Trailhead, others simply aborted altogether. If you want to do the Devils Tower in an RV then it’s a bit of crapshoot – if you are in the LTV you’ll be allowed if there is room – otherwise take an incredible hike around the tower = unforgettable. We stopped off to indulge in some well-earned ice cream on the way out and headed on down the road to South Dakota.

BigB and the Devils Tower – how cool is that

June 13 – 20 Jasper and Banff, Canada

We left Dawson Creek and the lovely Northern Lights RV park (I highly recommend them) and overnighted at a Harvest Host – a farm outside of Grande Prairie run by a friendly German couple.  It gave us a sense of what we would be looking for in France but on a smaller scale.   They showed us around the farm as their boy and two dogs frolicked in the fields – it was such a bucolic evening.

Harvest Host – Grand Prairie

We headed through more agricultural areas on our way to Hinton – just outside of Jasper National Park.  We went through a few rain storms but could see the Canadian Rockies emerge as we approached the RV Park (Jasper KOA).  Then the thunderstorms let loose – mon deiu!! – thunder and lightning that went on for a few hours.  

We were a bit worried about the weather but it cleared up nicely for a hike in Maligne Canyon – and due to the rain it was pretty muddy!  The canyon and waterfall were accompanied by the heady smell of balsam, otherwise the weather gods were being kind to us this day.  We stopped at the top of the trail for a cuppa where there was a convenient visitor center and restaurant.

Dirty paws and limbo dancing on the trail
Maligne Canyon, Jasper, Alberta

After doffing our muddy clothes we headed to Jasper and finally found some indigenous art that we had difficulty finding elsewhere – not sure why this was so difficult but this is Canada and not the U.S. So I got my fix and glad that proceeds were going back to the First Nations artist.  

On the way back the sky cleared up enough for us to see the peaks.  One looked as though Yosemite’s El Capitan had been put on a pedestal – there were these unusual half dome clefts instead of peaks.   That was just a teaser for what was to come. 

The next day we headed out to the Icefields Parkway.  The weather was inclement; while we could see much of the dramatic landscape the tops of many of the mountains were clouded over.  

We swung by the Athabasca Waterfall which was in high drama with all the torrential storms that had been pushing down the valley.  We hoped we wouldn’t experience what had been happening in Yellowstone as the weather apps had been posting flood warnings.  

The sky cleared and we stopped to have a traditional English “cream tea.”   I made the scones from a mix that morning and we had a jar of clotted cream along with strawberry jam.  We enjoyed the view while indulging in these delicacies.  These stops are part of planned experiences that make these journey even more memorable.  

After our posey respite, we soon we spotted our first icefields, solidified to rock faces while hanging precipitously off the sheer cliffs.  We counted three glaciers – massive in scale, somehow defying gravity.  

We soon stopped at the Columbia Ice Fields Visitor Center where you can conveniently boondock your RV – they have an entire parking lot right across from the Ice Fields and we settled in for the rest of the day; I had a view of the Athabasca Glacier from my window!

We decided to hike up to the glacier, navigating what we called the “Hillary Step” from Everest fame.  It was a steep, snow covered embankment that was part of the trail; we had witnessed a few people tumble, taking others down with them, as they slid down the slope – we were determined not to suffer the same fate.  I took my poles with me for good measure and was thankful for their support.  When we got closer to the”toe” of the glacier we realized we couldn’t actually hike onto it without a guide due to crevasses.  We were a bit disappointed, though weren’t really interested in the tour as it seems everything is becoming so over-touristed; we settled for a close up view and a good workout. They had educational posts along the route marking the years the glacier had receded; the advantage of walking from the visitor parking lot as everyone who drove to the trailhead never stopped to read the history.  

The rain began falling hard (thank your North Face, Columbia and Adidas for such great gear!) and we headed back.   Later in the evening the sky cleared and I could see low clouds rolling across the icefields which gave the atmosphere a sense of the mystical.  

Evening view from behind the rig

With the tours done for the day the glacier seemed lonely; we slide across her skin, the wind betrays her inhospitable existence, phantasms of mist cloak her slopes like a silkscreen.  And still she recedes, shrinking into the vaulted mountains and their impenetrable secrets.  Despite her slow death, she will outlive us all.

We woke to blinding sunlight and a chilly thirty-one degrees as the Columbia Icefield burst forth in all of its glory and we were excited for the next leg of the journey to Banff.  

Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefields

Back on the Icefields Parkway we were soon met with unsurpassed beauty, it was as though the mountain spirits had used a cleaver instead of a palette knife; vertical columns were scarred with horizontal serrations, sharp and turbulent with contradicting themes, ice flows clung to massive buttresses while escarpments wept along this indefatigable geography – all this chaos somehow sculpted into a magnificent panorama.  

Reality set back in as we approached Lake Louise….the road to Moraine Lake was blocked as the parking was full. We arrived at Lake Louise with the same message but ignored it and voila!  They were letting in RVs.  Even though it wasn’t even the high season yet the waterfront was pretty crowded and if we thought it was bad now, it would be getting worse as the season advanced.  Trying to get a picture amongst the usual selfie madness was a bit of a challenge as people muscle into your shot. This unfortunately is true everywhere that is popular in the world now.  While this rendition gives a sense of calm and beauty – it is not – except for maybe at dawn. 

Lake Louise Pano

I found myself taking iPhone Panos as I hadn’t brought along my wide angle lens for my Nikon – silly me!  

We found a shuttle that would take us to Moraine Lake and decided to pay the $25.00 per head – we most likely wouldn’t be back to this region and the day was still young and the weather was cooperating.  They weren’t kidding about the parking lot, it was small and RVs were not allowed.  

We decided to hike up the “rock pile” that wasn’t overly crowded as it was fifteen minutes up a vertical cliff with some pretty large steps – a good hike to get your “stairs” in for the day.  Moraine Lake was beautiful, and we had seen similar landscape at Muncho Lake further up north (see reference earlier in the blog).  The glacial powder seeps into the water giving it that effervescent blue.  

Moraine Lake Pano

By this time we were getting tired – can you get exhausted by so much beauty or was it the disruption of somewhat unruly crowds that impinged on my fantasy of serenity in this incomparable landscape.  I think it was a combination of the two. 

We set up camp at the Tunnel Mountain Village II site and crashed for the evening.  The timing was good as it began to rain and that lulled me to sleep. Tunnel Mountain Village II isn’t a place you really spend the day unless you are up by Tunnel Mountain Road – the Canadians have these spots figured out as they are more private and surrounded by trees with insane backdrops – otherwise you are basically parked on a paved road, opposite and parallel to other RVs.  Some spots have fire pits but it’s not the same experience as camping in the deep woods.  But they have free shuttle transportation, large shower and bathroom facilities.  And the views are astounding. 

We ventured into Banff the next day (they have a free shuttle into town and it only cost a Canadian Toonie to get back) and walked along a lovely path that runs next to the Bow River just on the edge of town. The river was also very swollen with the path partially flooded.

Bow River, Banff

We browsed in what seemed like an endless stream of stores, so many of them with the same stuff with some galleries and big box chains thrown in.  But the day was beautiful and the backdrops were breathtaking.  We dove into a restaurant for some local Indian curry; there is a large population of East Indians here and the food was so good, the place was quiet and we were the only white people dining which is a good sign that you are getting an authentic experience.  We decided to leave the crowds behind and head back to the camp, hugged by sunshine and encased by sheer peaks.  

We spent our final day in the Canadian Rockies at Fairmont Hotsprings, a perfect ending to our six week walk-about through Canada and Alaska. The resort is a civilized respite set amongst the wild, the RV sites are well manicured surrounded by rivers, forests and of course mountains. We snagged a spot on the far side and there were no RVs next to us and the park wasn’t full. Here we had a perfect fusion of the outback and structure lingering in the quietude, shaded by the fragrant incense of lilacs and pine.

The ”secret pools” along the creek at Fairmont Springs

Besides the hotsprings pool that is part of the resort there is a “secret” natural hotsprings down by the creek that you can hike into – at your own risk – as there are signs warning of bears and landslides, though the hike wasn’t that difficult.

What an amazing journey it has been, words and pictures cannot even begin to reflect what you experience here – we will not soon forget the avalanche of beauty and geological wonders that permeate every facet of the Canadian Rockies

June 10 -12 The Alaska Highway Expanse

On our way to Watson Lake the terrain leveled out into rolling hills with vast expanses of boreal forest.  The sunny delights of fair weather we had enjoyed for so many weeks ended as we rolled into passing rainstorms; it did help to clean off the layers of bug caracasses we had diligently collected and the rig looked a bit more cleansed for a change.  

We passed convoys of RVs thankful we were going the other direction it was starting to get pretty busy up north.  

We overnighted at the Downtown RV Park that we had stayed at on our way up to Alaska (this is the place with the “sign post” park).  It’s a parking lot but has good laundry and shower facilities and the Scottish proprietor was a pleasant albeit a bit stressed out fellow; this was prime time for him and he was working long days.  It had rained most of the day and let up enough for us to take a walk around Wye Lake that was right across from the RV park.  It’s nature trail and we spotted two beavers swimming through the lake. We noticed as we moved south, the sun was now setting at 10:30ish and the nights were a tad darker.

It rained overnight and didn’t let up as we pulled out and headed for Liard Hotsprings.  We entered British Columbia once again and bid our final farewell to the Yukon – reflecting on what an amazing experience it has been.  As we drove we saw ponds threatening to creep onto the road; the rivers were raging, showing signs of flooding as trees had become partially submerged.  The rain and late melt from the mountains was creating problems up and down the Alcan – we hoped we wouldn’t get caught in the middle of it and have to wait somewhere for the floods to recede.  We pulled off to a site called “Whirlpool Canyon” where the swollen Liard River clashed with contradicting tides; it was certainly unfriendly and the rain wasn’t putting a damper on the mosquitoes.  A couple who also stopped by said they would come down here every year and had never seen it so turbulent.  

We have been experiencing climate change all around us and have had too many vacations disrupted due to wildfires; we are glad we are doing this trip now – who knows what it will be like with more crowds and challenging weather systems in the near future. 

Beyond the “watch for caribou signs,” we saw new signs for bison with digital warnings that we were entering a crash corridor.  There were certainly a lot of spore on the highway and then we spotted a bison grazing on the side of the road.  I didn’t realize that bison were a thing in British Columbia and it turns out they were nearly wiped out due to the early trading in bison hide. Canada has the Woods and the Plains Bison and have been trying to conserve the species. It is great to see them roaming free and we did eventually see a small herd of them – those and the occasional black bear.

Canadian Bison!

We reached Liard Hotsprings Lodge that appeared to just now realize that it was almost summer and that they might want to clean up the lodge?  The RV park was operational enough with electricity and water, but the laundry and bathrooms were out of order and besides the log lodge itself, it looked like the additional rooms were containers shipped from a research facility in the arctic.

We waited for the showers to pass and as the blue skies opened up we walked over to the Liard Hot Springs located in the Provincial Park across the street.  Passing through the campsite that was surrounded by a Jurassic Park style electric fence (bison, bear, elk and moose all wander around this vicinity ready to wreak havoc on the human population), we went through the gate onto a long boardwalk that passed through a lightly wooded marsh. The hot springs were located in a lovely wooded setting, much like a grotto, surrounded by ferns that reveled in the perpetual steam.  There were bathrooms, changing rooms and cubbies for your stuff.  Fortunately it wasn’t too crowded and the smell of sulphur wasn’t too bad. We welcomed the heat as we lowered ourselves into the shallow, crystal-clear water. In some areas the temperature was scalding hot and I was instructed to stir up the colder water from the bottom.  

Liard Hotsprings

We wallowed in the healing waters for about an hour and decided to head back as another wave of thunderclouds had inched their way in our direction.  We got back to the rig just as the sky unleashed its burden.  Not much later the blue skies opened up once again.  

We headed out early as we had a long drive to Pink Mountain.  It wasn’t long until we saw the peaks of the Northern Canadian Rockies.  The boys enjoyed a bit of moose spotting.

We drove by Muncho Lake and its unreal larimar-blue waters that were disturbingly close to the edge of the road.  I can’t image how long we would have been stuck if the lake had flooded the road.  

We were hit by some heavy thunderstorms, the theatrics complete with thunder, lightning and hail.  When the storms dissipated the vast valleys lit up with mist as if the landscape had slid back into the steaming jungles dinosaur age.  It was a rare and breathtaking site to behold. 

Mist rising from the vast expanse after a thunderstorm

Further up the road we saw the warning signs for Bighorn Sheep and they weren’t kidding.  Other RVs were flashing us from the opposite direction as the sheep were here and there in small herds and weren’t easily spooked.  It was pretty cool to watch them as if we barely existed. 

Bighorn Sheep!

The land eventually leveled out into terraces and we hit an impasse on the road with vehicles blocking the shoulders on both sides.  The semi truck in front of us was struggling to get by.  We were too busy trying to navigate the obstacle course that I didn’t see the large black bear at 1:00 about to saunter right in front of BigB.  I gasped – OMG!  The bear must have had enough sense to stop in time as there was no visible “thud” as we rolled by.  What I found odd is that he had a piece of garbage in his mouth.  Canada has more garbage stations along the road than people have common sense and you barely see any debris, it’s absolutely pristine; it occurred to me that one of those wankers across the road was probably feeding this poor fellow and he was crossing the highway for more…..

We arrived at Pink Mountain and camped amongst the pines – ending a rather dramatic day in peace.  

After passing through the agricultural section of British Columbia, flat and beautiful, we arrived at Dawson Creek – Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. Now onto Jasper!

June 5 – 8 The Yukon to Skagway along the Klondike Highway

After leaving Tok (the Tok RV Park is great and we were nestled amongst the pines) We made it across the border but not before spotting a juvenile caribou on the side of the road.  He was freaked and froze in front of us before sprinting off to find his mother.

Little dude!

The RV traffic had picked up dramatically and we kept seeing the same caravan of three RV rentals being driven by Germans.  We seem to encounter a fair amount of Dutch and Germans. 

The frost heaves started not long after we left Tok – we were anticipating them this time. The “perma” in perma frost isn’t so permanent as the pavement gives way as the ground softens.  There are times on the Alaska Highway that you would expect the oxygen masks to fall if you were on an airplane.  Being in a higher profile vehicle only exacerbates the rumpy-bumpy ride.  

The wildflowers were in bloom and we even drove through a “pollen storm” – like a dust storm but it was orange-yellow pollen coming off the deciduous trees; the road was layered in it.  

We were curious to see how much had changed since we went through this area two weeks ago.  The Yukon Discovery Lodge was busy though they ran a generator all night as they had no other source of power.  Such is life in this part of the world.  

We left the next morning as the sun was rising over the nearby ridges.  Fog emerged from the valley and we had a clear view of the Kluane Range that had been socked in on our way up.  We witnessed massive icefields running vertically from the sides of peaks – amazing stuff.

We passed marshes and ponds with migratory birds including Trumpeter Swans;  one pond had two swans surrounded by ducks as if they were gathered to admire their magnificence. Unfortunately there wasn’t room to stop and enjoy the scene.  

We swung by Pickhandle Lake as the mist rose and the loons were making their way across the water.  

Pickhandle Lake and the Kluane Range

We then settled at Lakeview Campground for breakfast; the forest was rich with the scent of pine mixed with the heady essence of spring.  

As we made our way back down to Destruction Bay, we rounded corners with endless the endless mountain range welcoming us with open arms.  The bay was still partially frozen, quiet and still save for the distant cry of what sounded like a fox.  

Destruction Bay

After a peaceful overnight at the Caribou RV Park south of Whitehorse we headed to Skagway, AK via Highway #2 – known as the famous Klondike Highway that leads to the Inside Passage.  We essentially drove from the Yukon, through a spit of British Columbia and back into Alaska – all 100 miles from Whitehorse.  

As we headed west the terrain turned into granite outcroppings, more steep cliffs with cascading waterfalls, surrounded by partially frozen ponds.  Granite islands emerged from the waterways, covered in lichen with a smattering of boreal pine creating a very unique ecosystem.   The temperature dropped to the 40’s as we crossed from Canada back into the U.S.  It was an extraordinary site as we headed down the steep slopes into the bay.  

Along the Klondike Highway

The weather cleared as we parked up in Skagway at the Pullen Creek RV Park; there were four cruise ships up from Glacier Bay in the dock carrying some 12,000 people.  We encountered many of the ice-cream-consuming tourists as we explored Skagway; which turned out to be quite the destination with the Klondike Gold Rush mystique permeating the town, its old buildings giving off an aura of the Wild West.  The Gold Rush was brutal – when you consider that the prospectors had to endure such a savage environment in the hopes of striking it rich.  The museums along with the active, retro train station gave us a good feel of what it must have been like. 

They had an obscene amount of jewelry stores – I suppose because the whole idea is this is where gold is mined?  We did find a few nice art galleries amongst the interminable kitsch and discovered these gems (I go ape for art!).  The mother of the artist was there and said in the original painting of the Laughton Glacier her daughter painted in one of her boots that she had lost during a hike!

Whimsical Watercolors of the Inside Passage

Skagway reminded me a bit of Sisters, Oregon with the traditional facades and galleries and in the summer it is also teaming with tourists.

It’s now 6:00 a.m. and there is a loud hooting of a train then several crash-bangs!  The train has pulled into the harbor to greet the three cruise ships that had arrived – the fourth must be on its way. Either this is normal or they are making up with a post-Covid frenzy. Skagway must make a killing on tourism during this short window.  Come October the bay will start freezing over and the 300 some odd residents of Skagway will be encased in snow and ice until May.  I don’t know how they manage!  

We departed on a stellar warm day and headed out to Carcross, but were diverted several times to take in the scenery. 

We even spotted a pair of brown bears munching on dandelions on the side of the road.  

Brown Bear – ignoring us

Carcross is a charming town – the name is derived from Caribou Crossing.  The town was built to promote the indigenous tribes with lovely totems and buildings painted in the Tagish First Nations tradition.  The center was designed to represent local artists, but sadly there were only a few shops open.  Otherwise it is a lovely stop along the Klondike Highway.  

Carcross – Tagish First Nations

May 31 – June 3 Anchorage and Prince William Sound, Alaska

We landed in Anchorage during a rare heat wave; in Alaska that means temperatures into the high 70’s and it has been going on for days.  They usually don’t have weather like this until July and it’s very unusual for streaks like this to go on for days.  Well – it certainly worked out great for us.  After taking care of some personal business in Anchorage and picking up a rental car we headed to Whittier to kayak on Prince William Sound.  

The scenery was once again quintessential Alaska as we meandered along the Turnagain Arm with the sun reflecting from the dramatic peaks, creating an off-world metallic sheen along the water.  One pond we went by had mesmerizing ice sculptures partially submerged in glacial blue water  – the sun intensifying the ice into a sort of crystallized topaz.

We were scheduled to go through the Whittier Tunnel also known as the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel.  It stretches for 2.5 miles and is a one-way system, hence the set schedules to come and go.  So it’s important to plan your trip if you have an appointment for kayaking or a cruise.

As it turned out our kayak trip was cancelled due to high winds, so we decided to flex and when we arrived in Whittier we booked one of the four hour Prince William Cruises, and since we had time on our hands we decided to hike the Portage Pass Trail.  

It turned out to be pretty steep – more like level three to four in some places and some pretty long stretches of slushy snow.  But the view of the Portage Glacier was worth the effort.  

The view from Portage Pass Trail

After a thigh busting hike we boarded the cruise and headed towards Blackstone Bay.

On the way we saw Stellar Sea Lions (we have these in Oregon as well), a raft of sea otters and then some lone ones floating on their backs happily watching us go by.   There was healthy amount of bird  life and waterfalls everywhere, some seriously raging down the sides of the cliffs; it reminded me of the movie Avatar for some reason.  It was certainly windy and even on such a warm day that wind got cold and I wound up huddling a good portion of the time in the back where I was safe from the constant pummeling, coming out in intervals, bracing myself to take in the views. 

We finally slowed down near Blackstone Glacier; we got a quarter of a mile from the glacier which is a good but safe distance.  The crew were fishing out some of the bigger chunks of ice as it apparently gets caught in some of the motors of the boat.  

Flocks of gulls were perched on icebergs, taking flight in our wake. 

The wind calmed down once we started drifting through the ice, looking in awe at the waterfalls to the right of the glacier, and listening to the roar of a gargantuan spilling of its melt into the water.  

I had photographed an arch that a minute later calved into the bay, sending shock waves that dispersed the debris field of ice.  I was only able to catch the tail end of the event as I wasn’t quick enough to the draw.  

The arch before it collapsed
The arch after it collapsed

We moved onto the next tidewater glacier known as Tebenkof.  You could hear the shifting and cracking of cavernous ice, waiting for it to calve but alas, it was not our luck for this next one to give us a show.  

After standing out for quite a while I started to get really cold and finally wandered back for a hot chocolate inside the boat.  We stopped by the nesting area of the black legged kittiwakes; waterfall after waterfall – bucolic.  

We headed back through the tunnel and as we emerged the sun was intensifying the sheen across the water; it never really sets here in the traditional sense- I’ve been up at 2 or 3:00 a.m. and it feels more like early dawn.  It has been an adjustment to go to sleep at 10:00 p.m. and it’s still broad daylight out.  

We stopped at a touristy spot as Bob wanted to do some gold panning and managed to collect a few impressive flakes!  

As our trip came to a close, I had the opportunity to catch up with my dear friend Janet; we’ve known each other for forty years and still manage to stay in touch.  You know it’s a special relationship when you see each other after a lapse of so many years and the connections reignites immediately and you want to spend endless hours catching up.  We never have enough time so I planted the seed to visit us in France and I suspect this will happen – we can easily fly to anywhere her and her husband decide to visit in Europe.  Some places and people are simply meant to be and this is one of them. She was the closure to a stellar visit to the incomparable State of Alaska.  

We left Anchorage on our way to Tok only to be met with yet another unfathomable site –  the 27 mile long Matanuska Glacier.  Surrounded by the vast green egress of a new spring lies a massive glacier casually visible from the side of the road.  Upon investigation, this masterpiece emerges from the frozen vice of the jagged range belonging to the Chugach National Forest; on the other side of the range lies Prince William Sound.  Investigating the icey interior of this range with my zoom lens reminds me of the likes of Yukon Cornelius.  On the outer rim it is a balmy 70 degrees yet the interior reveals a permanent housing of ice, flanked by jealous mountains. I’m not quite clear how the geography works but to say it is simply a curiosity seems inadequate.  

Alaska sets itself apart as an imperious, untamed world…. truly the greatest of all the wildernesses the United States has to offer.  Untamed – a concept I can can certainly relate to.

May 30 – Denali, AK

We sighted a black bear not long after we crossed the border into Alaska.  We were glad to get our unlimited Verizon service back, but had to switch our brains back to miles vs kilometers and US cash.  

After a nice stay in Tok we headed for Fairbanks.  The weather was fantastic and we were optimistic that we would be seeing Mt. Denali in all its glory: The weather is such that the mountain is visible only around 40% of the time so we would be one of the lucky few. 

We kept passing sweeping, endless mountain ranges, pressing themselves against bountiful skies.  

We stayed at the Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks to give ourselves a scheduled break from the confines of BigB. They had a beautiful wildlife preserve adjacent to the resort – it’s a nice stroll through the boreal forest to a small lake where you maybe run into another person; it was a place of solitude with a chance for tree bathing.  

We arrived at the Denali RV Park and Motel and headed out to the National Park the next morning to go for a hike along the Savage River.  We stopped briefly at the visitor center on the way; we saw a moose and were warned about said moose by a ranger as she had a calf and had been getting aggressive.  Otherwise we navigated moose spoor that was prolific pretty much everywhere we went including the RV park.  

Savage River in Denali National Park

On our hike along the river we had the luck to spot Dall Sheep; one large male was sitting there along the ridge like a sphinx with a full set of curved horns on full display.  They were too far away for a photograph – even a high powered professional lens would have found the subject challenging to shoot.  We settled for what we could see through the binoculars and watched as several more came over the ridge. 

The hike along the river was exhilarating and there was still snow to navigate even though the weather was now in the sixties with barely a cloud in the sky.  The hike skirts the edge of the river and through portions of tundra with the Alaska range providing a dramatic backdrop.  I stopped on one of the upper trails to take it all in even though I really couldn’t; these dimensional spaces and experiences fill up too many senses – I settle for contemplating their existence and the associated memories.  

A gentle cooling breeze while the river raged on

You can take the bus through the park but due to landslides the trip is truncated – we opted for the drive to and from the trailhead instead – you can’t go any further into the park from Savage River without getting a ticket at the bus depot near the visitor center. We were happy with our sojourn as it was and were able to spot wildlife on our way back to the visitor center.

The wind blew heavily during the night and we woke without a cloud in the sky; this meant we were in luck to see the mountain itself.  We headed for the Denali South Viewpoint and about an hour into the drive we turned a corner and there it was – unmistakable, stately, towering above the vast tundra, subverting the surrounding peaks – the most majestic of the North American peaks. 

Mt Denali in all its glory

We were blessed to drive past the range and different variations of the mountain.  We arrived at Denali South Viewpoint and discovered many tourists had the same idea – though it wasn’t overly crowded.  The view was unbeatable and a short hike revealed an even better picture-perfect view.  Through the telescopes we could view the peak and the massive glacier running through the range.  

The boys were super happy they could see the mountain – no Jedi tricks here

The smell of spring permeated the surrounding forest, the warm breeze enveloped us and the view was beyond the imagination. 

Denali South Viewpoint

May 25 – Yukon Territory

We arrived at Watson Lake, the official switch-over to the Yukon Territory.  The Watson Lake RV Park is in a parking lot and was good for an overnight; it was quite crowded as the large caravans of RVs we had been warned about were starting to hit the road.  The showers were warm and clean and included in the price.  You get an hour of Wi-Fi but at least there was Verizon!  Verizon only allows 0.5 gb a day in Canada so it can get used up pretty fast before the data slows down considerably.  

We stopped by the famous “Sign Post Park” and found a few gems from Oregon.  

Watson Lake Signpost Park

We headed North along the Alaska Highway 1 which wasn’t too much different than the Stewart Cassiar but with a bit more traffic and there was some gravel along the way.  Otherwise the scenery was fantastic and we saw a bear and a caribou.

We played around trying to match the videos we were taking with the music we had playing on the stereo.  We had some success – adding music to the landscape brought tears to my eyes – it puts you in a place of awe.  

We reached the Yukon Motel and RV Park in Teslin which again was a bit of a parking lot, though it wasn’t crowded and had decent wi-fi just so long as you got close to the lodge itself.   They also had showers and bathrooms.  

We hiked around the marine park and hammed it up with the local wildlife.  

When I opened the skylight to the rig, I saw large muddy paw marks and realized that it wasn’t a squirrel that was fooling around on the roof at midnight when we were boondocking at the Clements Lake Recreation area; the Fisher Cat had come back and apparently partied for a while on top of our rig, muddying up the roof and solar panels. He then slid down the back (thankfully not scratching anything) onto our cargo carrier.  Bob cleaned up the mud and we can only guess this feline was marking its territory somehow.  

As it was Saturday night we decided to eat at the local restaurant – I had Yukon Elk sausage with perogies – quite the diverse combo and it was really good.  

We headed out to Whitehorse that we knew was more of a hub as it is also the capital.  The Caribou RV park turned out to be great; they had private bathrooms and showers and you got a voucher for Wi-Fi for the day.  Downtown Whitehorse was a bit of a ghost town as it was Sunday and also a holiday weekend for the Canadians so a lot of the shops were closed up.  

As we were there for a few days we decided to hike the Miles Canyon trail along the Yukon River.  We were told there were otter sightings but we didn’t see them – darn! They classify the hike as moderate but there were some seriously steep sections of the hill and one part that went straight up and you had to climb over large rocks to get up!  Thankfully I survived without incident as loose gravel is not my friend.  

Lower Canyon Trail

We stumbled upon Canyon City, that is an abandoned village in the woods that harks back to the gold rush days – the history of people coming to this wilderness in hopes of striking it rich are fascinating.  This part of the Yukon has been reclaimed by the wilderness – as unforgiving as the gold rush itself. 

Yukon River

We stopped by downtown Whitehorse again on our way out and one of the galleries was open so I took a gander and found a few cards but not a lot of First Nations artwork.  Mammoth fossils have apparently been found in this area and they had jewelry and figurines made from their bones which was interesting though I couldn’t find a piece that I had to have though.  

Polar Bear Reverie – Nathalie Parenteau

Our next stop was Destruction Bay through the Kluane mountain range.  We ran into inclement weather but we were heading into some more spectacular scenery.  The clouds clung to the mountain tops but the ice and snow fields were apparent along our drive.   The Kluane boasts several massive glaciers that are only accessible via plane – hence all the advertisements for air tours. 

We saw moose and elk along the road and though it had more traffic than Stewart Cassiar it still wasn’t overly busy.  

Not the best view – but still….

We reached Kluane Lake that was still frozen and stretched for miles – we saw our first caution sign for bighorn so kept an eye out but didn’t see any.  When we reached Destruction Bay Lodge there was only one other RV there.  The other RVs we saw along the way were boondocked in the day use pull outs.  The proprietor wasn’t there but had a sign on the office door that the 30 amp was working, but no water due to frozen pipes (similar to the Red Goat Lodge) and no available dump station and just go ahead and park up and then leave cash in an envelope.  Glad we decided to get cash in Vancouver!  We were thankful we had carried enough water to hold us over to the next RV Park near Beaver Creek.  The funny thing is we have great cell coverage – there is a gas station and a few homes but otherwise we haven’t seen much in the way of civilization.  

Canada has turned out to be full of contradictions for sure.  

Permafrost Parking – Destruction Bay

“In Destruction Bay it’s raining hard.  It’s a place where civilization shouldn’t be, had been blown from the face of the earth in decades past, but somehow remains, where nature keeps pushing its boundaries with unforgiving ice and wind that only abates for a few months in the summer.  The sun breaks through, a passing wave at the sky and mountains though it does less to warm than it does to illuminate.  The clouds clutch at the blue and then descend into gray, unable to completely smother the majesty of the Kluane snow fields and endless glaciers. The days grow long, the sun resting near midnight then awake again at dawn.  Casting shadows but little warmth as if the tilt of the earth is an annoyance to be toyed with.”

After a leisurely morning watching the sun spray across the mist between the splendor of the endless peaks, we headed north.  The road got pretty rough with some nasty swells and frost heaves then it dissipated as we approached the Lake Creek Campground where we stopped for tea.  It was devoid of campers and the smell of boreal pine was intense.  The creek flowed quietly along with the accompanying woodpeckers and ravens in chorus throughout the forest.  

Tea time at Lake Creek

It’s a bit of a haul to get from anywhere to these campgrounds and we wondered who actually comes here.  Unlike in the U.S. where there are substantial towns within a few hours of most campgrounds.  We were in no rush to get to Koidern just south of Beaver Creek.  I was glad for these shorter stops as spending all day on a potentially rough road didn’t seem too inviting.  

The frost heaves continued along with spots of simply gravel; when people talk about this stretch of road it actually starts above Destruction Bay and you will occasionally get a respite but not for long.  We traveled at a leisurely pace to keep the rig from being bunged up too much.  

We arrived at Discovery Yukon Lodge outside of Koidern; they had just switched on the water so we were lucky there and had full hookups.  The permafrost this time of year has made the water supplies a bit of a touch and go.  They didn’t have Wi-Fi in the lodge as advertised claiming they had no phone service (there was no cell service) and I had to pay in cash even though there was clearly a credit card machine on the counter.  I’m not sure how they function the rest of the year or if they wind up paying for a line via satellite during the high season.

We decided to stretch our legs and hiked along a game trail then to the river and got a good few miles in.  We ran across abandoned moose skulls – not sure why they were just deposited there but kinda cool just the same. The lodge has a bunch on its roof and quite a collection of taxidermy in the office.  

These are kinda heavy

The upside to traveling this time of year is the drama of the landscape that wouldn’t be the same without the snow.  

The Yukon evokes images of vast forests and tundras filled with caribou and wandering moose.  A place romanticized more by the gold rush than by its beauty that threatens to swallow you whole.  And on this trip we only scratched the surface.  

Pickax Lake

May 20 – Stewart Cassiar Highway, BC

After leaving Telkwa we headed for Highway 37, the Stewart Cassiar Highway.  We had more dramatic landscape for quite a while on the 16 before we turned onto Highway 37.  After a few hours the landscape started to unfold into a winter-spring melt, leaving thick snow on the mountain tops like a Dairy Queen soft swirl.  I felt like we were sliding along a tongue into great gaping jaws; the mountains erupt from around sea level, jutting straight up into jagged peaks that conversely cascade to the lush green valley floor.  The weather actually started to warm into the 60’s.  Soon, we spotted moose-poop-spore and the road signs were now showing symbols of moose and bear but not deer.  I suspect there are still deer but they certainly weren’t kidding on the bear. We spotted our first one off the side of the road in a small meadow munching on something and giving us an annoying look. We saw the next one a ways down the road, running across the highway into an oncoming vehicle – it made it to the other side safely.  We slowed down and saw it tucked amongst the trees.  The last one we saw just off the side of the road and we managed to get a shot.

Still no moose though! 

The roads were in good condition and there wasn’t much traffic.  Our plan was to head towards Stewart on Highway 37a that turned out to be insanely spectacular.  We passed multiple avalanche warnings with other signs that warned of planned explosions, an unnatural betrayal of the natural order.  Thankfully the threat of avalanches was over, but it was obvious where it could be problematic.  There were still signs of early spring snow on the sides of the highway, but otherwise the countryside was dry save for the numerous waterfalls cascading down the cliffs.  The roads were actually in good condition considering the brutal weather conditions they endure; we ran into a few frost heaves but nothing that slowed us down much.  

Then we turned a corner and were met with a glacier that spilled into a partially frozen lake.  We paused to contemplate the glacial blue melt against the slate and snow, the only sound being the wind, the only movement being the ice flows across the lake.  We didn’t realize that this was Bear Glacier. We were simply impressed with stumbling upon this stately feature along the road.  

As with the glacier, you can always expect the unexpected; due to the unusually cold spring the Kinaskan and Meziadin Provincial Parks closed and cancelled my reservations due to snow (though we couldn’t find any in the forecast) and wouldn’t open again until the 20th, then the RV Park in Stewart cancelled as well and closed permanently. Seriously, snow…..again!!!!  I scrambled for other accommodations and no one was answering their phones in either Stewart or Hyder.  I found a recreation site near Clements Lake and decided to take our chances and boondock there.  

When we arrived the road into the recreation area was covered in a couple of feet of slushy snow, something that BigB simply could not navigate so we wound up boondocking near the entrance amongst the pines, they had cleared out that area but for some reason not the road into the recreation area.  

Thankfully we are self-contained and set up house for the evening, along with another RV similar to our size.  Not long after we settled in we felt something rocking the RV; well the bear spray was in one of the bays so I handed Bob the pepper spray in case it was a curious bear.  He didn’t see anything but the neighbor in the RV parked behind us said a “Fisher Cat” had been walking all over our cargo rack!  We never saw it but found out it is like a large mongoose.  

Then we had a run of folks trying to find a place to camp or boondock and they saw us, looked at the road to Clements Lake and turned around.  One almost got stuck trying to drive through the snow and we were wondering if we needed to help bail them out.  The problem is none of the Provincial Parks in the area are open.  We were warned about the remoteness, but didn’t bank on everything in the area cancelling on us. 

About midnight I was awakened by a misdirected squirrel who had landed on our roof, chirping and confused.  It eventually quieted down. 

Like the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, despite the weather challenges we had, you certainly can’t beat the scenery.  

The next morning the sun broke through and we drove back to Bear Glacier for coffee and breakfast.  Like the Canyonlands Needles Outlook in Utah, there was no one around and we drank coffee in blissful solitude, watching the morning sun break over the ridge to illuminate the blue sky and surrounding cliffs. The gulls glided across the icefields that fed into the lake, celebrating the glorious morning.  The water falls tumbled down the precipices, feeding the lake below, converging its tears into a glacial translucence welcomed by the riverock, a pristine race easily witnessed through a magnificent wilderness lens. 

After this meditation, we spotted beaver further up the road and of course more bears.  

Breakfast Bear Glacier

Alas, still no moose….

Be warned that we had no cell service and even after driving back to Highway 37 we thought we would have encountered a cell tower but, hence no luck.  

We swung by the Kinaskan Provincial Park that was supposed to be closed but we found it open.  We stopped for tea and pondered whether to stay in one of the lovely spots but we really needed to get in touch with our realtor as our house is in the process of being sold.  

We arrived at Iskut thinking there would be a cell tower, still no luck.  We arrived at the Red Goat lodge and RV park and managed to get some wi-fi and hookups.  None of the major carriers can be bothered with cell service on the Stewart Cassiar Highway.  In a way it’s fitting, it forces you to embrace the remoteness we used to experience camping years ago.  If you want to be off-the-grid where the wild things are – this is your ticket!  

We set up camp across from the partially frozen Eddontenajon Lake.  The weather was nice and since there were so many sites available (until we pack of RVs showed up) we decided to be naughty and hijacked one of the camping spots that overlooked the lake to build a fire (they were 15 amp which is why we didn’t choose it in the first place); we essentially spread across two camping spots.  

We ended the day with our version of “Fire and Ice.”

Sheer bliss!!

After a cold night (down to 28 degrees) we headed out to Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory – this would take us through the remainder of the Stewart Cassiar Highway.  We drove for several non-descript miles until Dease Lake.  The traffic is scarce and there isn’t much along this stretch of highway; you really are in the wild.  No cell, no gas stations or towns for miles; not the best place to break down.  

We passed our first “caution – caribou” signs and then suddenly we saw a moose in a marsh along with swans, loons, geese, duck and other birds whose origin I wasn’t sure of.  

Our first moose!

We started to meander once again through spectacular mountain ranges with never-ending frozen lakes.  

Then, as you can expect the unexpected with wildlife, a caribou appeared on the side of the road – I only had a second to catch a poor quality iPhone image before it disappeared further into the forest.  

Poor image but still – we saw a caribou!

We continued our trek through this remote wilderness, barely seeing any other cars, disconnected from society wondering if this road ever got much busier; you drive through it and there are some campgrounds and the occasional towns where the population can’t be more than fifty people.

After nearly 180 miles and around four hours of driving we passed approximately 15 cars and 4 motorcycles.  

If you want to disappear into the wild, then the Stewart Cassiar Highway is a must-do.  

Stewart Cassiar Highway – where the wild things are!

May 18 – Fraser Valley, BC, Canada

We headed back to Vancouver via the ferry and were greeted with a hump whale sighting on the way over!  Nice to get a freebie along the way.  Once we hit the mainland we made our way up to the Cayoosh Campground in Lillooet.  The GPS took us on the Transcanada Highway 1 instead of 99.  While it was cloudy and rainy, we were greeted with towering peaks that jutted straight up six-thousand feet, they loomed behind breaks in the clouds, making their presence somewhat foreboding vs. the usually breathtaking reaction we have to such dramatic landscapes.  We wound through the Fraser Valley where the churning, muddy river cut through gorges that felt more like fjords; thousands of feet of sheer drops into the river below. 

We eventually  came through the rolling hills to Lillooet through a town called Lytton that had been completely gutted by wildfires.  It was looked like a scene from a holocaust; apparently sixty-five structures were consumed within one hour. With much dismay, we saw a fair amount of forest fire damage on our way through. This is one of the reasons we decided to come in the spring, as the fire seasons start earlier and earlier – as we experienced in Oregon over the last few years.  We are thankful we did New Mexico when we did – now the places we visited are being ravaged. 

We settled into a nice barbecue and campfire as we had sunny weather.  

We walked into town and had breakfast.  It’s a sleepy town but this is why we don’t mind going a bit off track; we get to experience parts of the country that may not be deemed as popular.  Somehow people subsist in these remote areas; you certainly can’t beat the scenery. 

Next we headed to the 100 Mile House.  There are various towns with the names such as 100 Mile House, 150 Mile House. These designations hark back to the Cariboo Gold Rush (we see the spelling “Cariboo” instead of “Caribou” for the most part).

Besides the leaping deer sign warnings we saw our moose first sign, and also our first frost heave sign (little pyramids warning you of their presence).  Then we saw the deer and moose combo sign.  I kept my eyes peeled for moose but only saw deer. 

We settled in for the night at the Big Country RV Park.  They hadn’t been busy in a while and said things were now really starting to pick up.  We parked next to some friendly Canadians amongst the aspens (lots of aspens and rolling hills in this region).  The showers there we great and really hot – yes!  The weather remained clear and we went on a lovely hike in the morning around the rolling pastures.  

That afternoon we arrived at the Sintich RV park after surviving a heck of a squall; rain and wind that lashed us to the point we almost pulled over.  The park was soaked with huge puddles that we hoped we wouldn’t have to park in.  They were covid-obsessed here; the first time masks have been required outside the Navajo nation.  The bathrooms and showers were closed; it was a bit much after having experienced better service in Canada so far.  The Wi-Fi was decent once we activated the Winegard booster, otherwise another RV park could have been a bit nicer; it was mostly long-term inhabitants surrounded by permanent mobile homes.  

We were told this weather is unusual as it’s usually dry, but they have been having a cold spring – oh joy!  But it beats wildfires.  

We stocked up on supplies in Prince George as we were warned things would start getting more sparse and expensive.  We even got haircuts!  We are now looking a bit more civilized.  

I had purchased a beautiful card in Victoria that I scanned and enlarged and is now on our well.  It fits the decor beautifully, is Native American, but is also tragic as it’s about women that have gone missing.  In a sense besides being enamored with the art, the deeper meaning behind it makes it that more profound.  

After a beautiful and uneventful drive up Highway 16 we stopped at the Fort Telkwa RV park that sits along the river. We were greeted by snow capped mountains on our way in – we are assuming this is our first taste of the landscapes we will be experiencing along the Stewart Cassiar Highway that we will be hitting today!  

The views from Fort Telkwa RV Park

May 13 – Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada

After ten days back on the mainland we are embarking on the first leg of our five month trip through Canada to Alaska!  

But first we feverishly finished up the prep on our home of twenty-two years and put it on the market on May 10; it sold in two days well over the asking price!  The rise in interest rates certainly hasn’t entirely dampened buyer’s appetites. 

BigB is now our home for the next five months until we move to France.

We stopped over in Seattle on our way to Canada to have dinner with my brother and sister-in-law whom we had just spent two weeks in Hawaii – and who just happen to live in Redmond – feast or famine!  

The next day we arrived in Vancouver B.C. – I didn’t realize that I had to fill out the government required ArriveCAN COVID-19 verification info for presentation at the border; I had been more concerned with what we could bring across the border,  I hadn’t checked the requirements for COVID-19 until the last minute! Thankfully the Canadians are not only lovely people, but extremely organized and I was able to complete the requirement online a few hours before arrival.  

After overnighting in Vancouver we headed for the Tsawwassen Ferry for our trip to Victoria.  I had booked the ferry tickets a week before-hand as you can’t expect to just show up and get on.  The boys were super excited, especially Bob Jr (our new minion!) as this was his first trip.  The trip over was a lovely sojourn through the surrounding islands. It was 1.5 hours but it went quickly.  

After getting settled in at the Fort Victoria RV Park, we spent the following day drifting around Victoria which is a lovely city; there is definitely an English tea culture here, that, and the English sweets that were in proliferation, really excited Bob.  

We stopped by Chinatown and Fan Tan Alley, enchanting remnants of the Chinese culture that helped build the city, then made our way through downtown to the Empress Hotel and waterfront.

 We discovered these darling water taxis, and though we would have loved to have taken a harbor tour it didn’t fit into our schedule.  Victoria is one of those historic and infinitely walkable cities.  As the day was cold we were glad to drop into the occasional cozy coffee shop for a pick-me-up.  

The real treat was the Butchart Gardens that we had planned for the next day as the weather was expected to be good – and it certainly lived up to the hype!  We spent four delirious hours touring a riot of tulips, rhododendrons, azaleas, cherry blossoms and the rare and amazing blue poppy. 

The rare blue poppy – found here and in Tibet.

There was also a species of tulip I had never seen – it looked more like a peony.

Peony or Tulip?

All of this blooming magnificence on unapologetic display; it was sheer luck that we had planned our trip to this utopia when the Canadian spring was in full swing.

By far, my favorite was the not-of-this-earth “Sunken Garden.”  It had been an old quarry that slowly morphed from an oasis of imagination.  It was difficult for me to catch my breath.  We left with our love of gardening ignited, pining for the day we would be settled in France and sinking our fingers and minds into the rich soil of the Dordogne Valley.  

The Sunken Garden of Fantastical Dreams
Garbage Couture

April 27 – The Sea Remembers its Own

This post is about a journey that started over 80 years ago that ferried my father from a remote farm in North Dakota to the tropical paradise island of Oahu as a U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet Band Member, Musician 2nd class. Having been deprived of his connection throughout most of my childhood, I have been like a stubborn orphan seeking a familial connection denied me, and through his letters I have joined him on his journey through the tumult of World War II.  I never flinched at the intergenerational trauma because, as a cult survivor, I have developed an unusual taste for the uncomfortable. 

Covid had put a damper on our trip to Hawaii that had originally been planned for 2020, this change of plan allowed me more time to explore what has turned out to be a legacy that has found its final resting place at Pearl Harbor. 

I have spent years, off and on, pulling together his letters, pictures, ancient negatives and periphenalia.  I recently contacted members of the US Navy Pacific Fleet Band to find a suitable home for these precious artifacts that laid dormant in a closet after his death in 1996.  I had the pleasure of connecting with the vibrant and dynamic Lt. Luslaida Barbosa, the Navy Pacific Fleet Bandmaster: She has an impressive resume – she is not only one of the few female US Navy Bandmasters, she is also a woman of color (Puerto Rican) and the only one who moved up the ranks while raising children.  I’m honored to know her and make the aquaintance of such a trailblazer.  

She met us briefly at the Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, but as we were boarding the ferry to the memorial our conversation was cut short.  So I asked to meet up with her again the following week. She has also been assisting me with finding a home for my father’s trombone that he played during the war – it is now destined for the Naval School of Music in Little Creek, Virginia. 

She also advised me there was a memorial ceremony at the USS Utah site for a musician from the Enterprise – Lt. Barbosa thought it was related to us – it was simply a fantastical coincidence amongst so many it seems.  

The USS Arizona Memorial

On the ferry, I was accommpanied by boat-load of strangers who were oblivious to my father’s history, feeling a lack of intimacy that I had hoped for as we were shuffled around the memorial for the short time allowed.  The Arizona Memorial isn’t simply a place of rememberance, but an underwater cemetery of the most profound kind; you come here to pay your respects to all those who died a ghastly death as it was sunk with precision by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.  When I contemplate this gargantuan, rusting tomb emitting its black tears, I hope those surrounding me also consider all that happened that day and how a slight turn of events could have changed the course of history for the U.S.  When I look up, the Mighty Mo stands guard in the distance, a sentinel, proud, defiant – unchallenged.  She is all that remains of battleship row – her brethren either submerged or eventually scrapped.  The power of the symbology becomes apparent:  Testimonies to the beginning and the end of one of the most devastating wars in history. #neverforget #neversurrender 

The Mighty Mo

I left with my mental notes to contemplate the wreckage and what my father would have witnessed as the USS Enterprise steamed into the harbor the day after the attack; the sky black with smoke, the massive hulks of mangled ships, the bodies of the unrecovered, flames – layers of carnage that would be forever fused in his mind. If the Enterprise has been moored in the harbor on December 7th, I probably wouldn’t be alive – writing this blog. 

Ten days later, after a lovely respite on the North Shore, my husband and I returned to Honolulu and spent our final day back at Pearl Harbor; our first stop was the USS Missouri – the Mighty Mo.

The scale and power of this battleship gave me perspective on what my father would have experienced during his service on the USS W. Virginia.  The guns must have been as deafening as the emotional toll on its inhabitants.

I’m always in awe at how mankind can accomplish such feats of engineering.  

There is a dent on the side of the Mo where a Kamakaze (aka Divine Wind) clipped the ship with its wing – and miraculously a ship photographer captured the exact moment of the crash.  It was a failed attempt but a fitting scar; these pilots gave their lives by the thousands.  My father wrote of them attacking the USS West Virginia. They did massive damage to the pacific fleet and were a force to be reckoned with.  

The slow unveiling of my father’s history is like the maze of a great battleship, you can easily get lost in the corridors, trip, bang your head on the low ceilings, bump into the narrow passage ways.  You pass the fortified and impregnable bulk heads thinking there is no way out, then you stumble across the engine room, the crew quarters and the mess hall.  You contemplate the inception of massive turrets that hold the outer world at bay. Then you some how find your way out of the darkness into the museum level and the #neverforget history of the ship itself.

When you emerge, back on deck, you face the Arizona Memorial, the three immortal gun turrets saluting all those who perished and praising the grit of all those who survived.  

I’m now standing still in the spot where the Japanese surrendered on September 2nd, 1945 that ended the war.  I welled up a bit as my father was so close to being at that very spot:  It would have been his final performance for the Navy. He decided to return home instead; he had survived too many conflicts and whatever twists of fate, while so many of his comrades perished – the toll of war left him devoid of any further adventure. I wonder in hindsight if he wished he had been part of such a significant, historical event.  

After our mesmerizing tour of the Mighty Mo, we went to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to meet up with Lt. Barbosa at the Pacific Fleet Band base. It turned out Bob could not join me, as he did not have his passport and is a dual citizen.  It was such a disappointment but you don’t argue with the Navy. 

She took me through the building that had been housing the fleet bands since the 1940’s.  I imagined my father walked these halls at some point.  There are no longer bands assigned to ships so this is now the hub that holds all their offices, where they rehearse for events; I met so many of the young band members in their fatigues – their respectability was refreshing and their fascination with my father’s history utterly endearing. 

Lt. Barbosa kindly drove me back to the visitor center to meet back up with Bob. Bidding my farewell, I realized I had done the right thing to cement my father’s legacy for future generations. So many I talk to, do not know what to do with their old letters and artifacts from wars gone past:   All I did was contact and see who could help me – the result has been beyond what I could have ever anticipated.  

We visited the WW II Aviation Museum, rode in a simulator, observed the relics of planes and bullet holes, and wandered through the hangers made familiar by Hollywood movies – but what happened here was far from Hollywood.

The Pearl Harbor Memorial not-so-gently reminds us of what we must never forget.  People visit in droves and I hope they internalize the sacrifices and suffering that too many endured for our freedoms.  These are not trite words, the Greatest Generation was born of tragedy and resiliency.  It’s ok to exceed your comfort zone as they did.

I have felt both empowered and desolate – not like those who lost loved ones to the war – but to a memory I never had the chance to fully understand.  I understand better now.  Having had no scattering of ashes, I instead decided to have a burial at sea, submerging his memory into the harbor itself where his time capsule rests like a pearl, in peace amongst the ghosts of his comrades.  The glass of the capsule will remain but the cap will eventually rust – the sand will drift and the photo will deteriorate.  It may surface someday as beach glass – beach glass of a special kind that maybe will transfer its magic to an aspiring sailor or musician.  Or if it surfaces intact there is a message there for anyone who will listen.  

As the spirit world has suggested, perhaps it’s as much closure for him as it is for me.  

RIP W.A Bender – you have now come full circle; the glass did not shatter, like the delicate resiliency of a human life, but it will meet its fate, as all things do, as the seal turns to rust.  Ashes and dust have no place here and disappear with the wind, but the sea, in its mighty wisdom….will always remember its own. 

April 26 Birthday Hawaiian Style

Today is my birthday and we are heading back to Honolulu after ten fabulous days on the North Shore of Oahu.  I can’t think of a better way to spend it than here on this beautiful island with family. 

We had a “High Surf Advisory” Sunday and here that means one thing – surfing!  We headed out to a lovely lagoon next to Shark’s Cove located just up from the “Pipeline.” 

The tide was seriously surging and it turned out to be a beautiful day; the rain decided to hold off while we spent hours snorkeling, soaking up the vibes and watching the mesmerizing surf.

The fish action was great and they acted as if we didn’t exist – I was literally swimming through large pools of them.

To top off our stay, we dined at Haleiwa Joe’s overlooking the harbor; nothing beats an authentic Mai Tai, tropical breezes and good company. It seems that cocktail mixers like to be more creative though I prefer to stick with the standards indigenous to the Island’s to include Pina Colada’s and the infamous Volcano.  

We bid farewell to my brother and sister-in-law, the local turtles who kept us thoroughly entertained, and headed back to Honolulu by way of Kaneohe.

My father had been stationed at the Kaneohe Air Base after the bombing of Pearl Harbor for a short while before he was redeployed to the mainland. The scenery was astounding – lush with valleys of jungles and skyrocketing escarpments that screamed tropical exotic. It’s no wonder so many movies are filmed here. I can imagine that during my father’s day it must have been utterly unspoiled.

We decided to drop into Kualoa Ranch where they filmed Jurassic Park. We skipped the tour but enjoyed the kitsch all the same.

Note the sunglasses

As it was my birthday we needed to top off the day with an authentic Pina Colada and we really scored at the “Lava Tube” in Honolulu where they serve them in pineapples!

My Pina Colada fix!

What a great a way to top of a memorable birthday with some Hawaiian flare!

April 22 North Shore Vibe

Every morning the alarm goes off which is actually a cacophony of birds, set to a backdrop of a swaying surf that complements your morning coffee.  No need to keep track of time here. 

Our humble cottage is tucked onto a public beach virtually devoid of human activity. This place is a bit of a dead-end as further up the road is the wildlife sanctuary and there are no resorts along this drive; there are private residences only, some that need updating and others that have been lavished on by their owners, but no McMansions – mostly plantation style abodes.  The indigenous inhabitants are the lovely Green Sea Turtles who come to forage the kelp near the shore; you easily become ensconced by the feeding habits of turtles as they float effortlessly with the tides. Sometimes they travel alone, but mostly they come in a group of three or four accompanied by the vast schools of colorful fish swimming along the coral reefs.  Occasional crabs sidewind out of your way.  

It’s truly a fusion of sea, sand and zen.  

The weather has been good but we are occasionally driven in by the wind and rain but if that is to be our greatest challenge here, and should I complain then I have grown as soft as a tropical breeze.

The North Shore itself throws a bohemian vibe along with an ocean of surfers coming to challenge some of the greatest wave action in the world.  It’s off season but they don’t care – the swells are large enough to entertain this ambitious crowd.

Cars are jammed into every available space along the highway as you approach the beach of the renowned Bonsai Pipeline, and even those who just wish to swim worm their way into spots that defy physics. 

Nearby Haleiwa is the small-town surfer hub and is also a fun tourist destination – there is enough island kitsch, with an undertow of surfer dude culture, to keep the curious shopper entertained.  Some of the stores, it appears, did not survive the pandemic and have shuttered, but with the tourist crowd virtually bursting at the seams again you can only hope there will be a revival.  

Further east is the lovely Waimea Valley where you find some fantastic botanic specimens that, upon further inspection, prove to be real. Exotic flowers are an essential ingredient to the elixir of paradise and these luscious babies make you want to stop and linger with a Mai Tai in hand to enhance the experience.  But at the gardens you can only observe and settle for a respite of coconut ice cream.

Waimea Falls

The valley itself is a stronghold of ancient Hawaiian heritage and like the Arizona Memorial, one comes here to pay their respects, strolling through the winding paths of massive, twisting, ficus trees that guard the ancient burial sites.  

Most tourists come to swim at the waterfall, missing the side paths that take you into the jungle, where the flora and quietude gives pause to the outside world.  The music here is delivered by exotic birds that refuse to reveal themselves even though you try and talk them down from their perch.  

Despite the crowds, these shores remain static as if to push those that it can’t accommodate back to Waikiki. If not for the private residences, this area would have been overrun by resorts and who knows what the fate of the turtle might have been. 

Afternoon tea in paradise

It’s like a dirty little secret since it’s public the beach isn’t easily accessible, so the turtles remain virtually undisturbed except for the occasional, curious snorkeler that they pay little heed to; drifting free, the envy of those who can only leave footprints that are soon wiped away but the evening tide.

April 15 E Ala E – A Hawaiian Rebirth

After making it back home to Portland, Oregon we had to hit the deck running as we needed to pack up the house for our eventual move to France and…we were leaving for Hawaii to join family in Oahu on the 14th; this trip had been cancelled two years prior due to Covid, and since then I had spent time scanning my father’s WWII letters from his service in the Pacific.  This will turn out to be a seminal experience as we will be meeting with the Pacific Fleet Band Master as part of our tour of the Arizona Memorial.  My father served as a Musician 2nd Class (eventually 1st Class) in the Navy aboard the Enterprise and W. Virginia and his letters ranging from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay captured a rare glimpse into the life of a musician during the war.  

When we arrived back in Portland it of course decided to snow!  The movers were coming the next day and we prayed the weather would clear, not just with the packing and moving, but making it to the airport for our flight. 

I’ve had far worse stressors in my life, but still, it was a lot and we both started to blow out some brain cells with all the details.  

Thankfully, we made it to the plane without incident, worn and a bit shattered from the last few days, convinced we forgot to bring necessary items only to find them shoved here and there in our luggage.  

Upon arrival I took a deep breath instead of a sigh of relief; I wanted to inhale the islands themselves.  We were greeted by the trade winds scented with plumeria as we explored the legendary Royal Hawaiian Resort, then we soaked our feet in the tropical blue surf of Waikiki Beach. Much has changed since my father sunbathed in front of this princess-pink landmark; it sits there defiant amongst the modern high rises – its place in history never to be questioned. And shopping mall laden Honolulu is no longer the quaint meandering village it was back in the 1940’s as described in his letters – more to come on this later after we meet with the US Navy Pacific Fleet Bandmaster on the 20th at Pearl Harbor; this subject deserves a special place in my blog.  

We dined at the Mai Tai Bar and I had the Vic’s 44 cocktail – a throwback to the Trader Vic’s Tiki Lounge that was founded back before the war.  I still have my father’s certificate.  Trader Vic’s is now all over the world except here in Honolulu which really escapes me as to why that is. The “International Market” is mostly box stores with a few galleries thrown in.

Give me some authentic Hawaiian crafts please!!!

After passing out from a long day we woke up at 4:00 a.m. —— just couldn’t get back to sleep. 

We decided to attend the Hiuwai Morning Ritual on the Royal Hawaiian Beachfront that started at 5:45 a.m. 

We were met by Kehaulani Kam, the Director of Cultural Services for the Marriott team in Hawaii, who introduced us to a traditional Hawaiian sunrise ritual that involved chants and baptizing ourselves in the ocean.  We weren’t prepared to swim but I decided to chuck formalities and go in mostly clothed.  This ritual involves the concept of rebirthing through the healing waters of Waikiki – which means “spouting fresh waters.”  The waters from the interior meld with the ocean creating an alchemy worshipped by the Hawaiians.  

What a great way to start our adventure as we are essentially going through a rebirth on this new chapter in our lives.  

Bob and I came out soaked and refreshed by the experience, glad to have immersed ourselves in this lovely tradition.  Kehaulani had explained the importance of their ancestors and carrying on these traditions – to never allow their heritage to disappear.  I let her know about my father’s legacy including the vintage photographs of Waikiki and sunbathing in front of the Royal Hawaiian and she was excited to know more. 

W.A Bender in front of the Royal Hawaiian – 1940
Waikiki Beach before and after – from in front of the Royal Hawaiian

As it turns out, I made this unexpected connection during this rebirthing ritual, resulting in my father’s legacy being introduced as part of the Royal Hawaiian historical collection that is destined for the display case in the lower lobby of the hotel!!!!!  

She was so excited to see what I had and to read his letters from his time in the Navy.  This is an ongoing development that I will continue to blog about – and I can’t wrap my head around the significance of what has emerged since our arrival. 

Despite the swarm of people and the overwhelming commercialism surrounding the resorts, when my feet touch these sands, I feel that I am cocooned in a special place and time – even though I share it, I cannot adequately interpret what the spirits are playing at.  I am grateful that I have been swept onto these shores, to convey this oceanic history and solidify my father’s legacy, that like this hotel, has withstood the test of time. 

E Ala E in Hawaiian means “Awaken

April 9 Oregon Coast

We headed back to Santa Rosa to mooch-dock and visit our friend Peter; the weather was glorious and dry and we shared some fabulous dinners together.  

Bob had purchased a couple of bicycles from him to be packed and shipped back to Portland and it turned out the boxes were bigger than anticipated – along with the costs, so we shipped one back and have managed to wedge the other one into the RV.  Fortunately it’s just for a few nights.  

Managing the physics

We made a pit stop on our way to the Oregon Coast at the Founder’s Grove in the Redwood National Forest. What a great tea time we had – it was so rejuvenating revisiting this place and tree bathing amongst these magnificent giants once again. #spoiled.

We finally arrived at the Turtle Rock RV Resort in Gold Beach and its stunning coastline – it was a long day of driving and being buffeted by the wind so instead of fixing dinner we dove into the local Mexican restaurant for a margarita and some nice chow.  Heck, it was Friday night! 

I enjoyed the chorus of frogs that lulled me to sleep.  The weather was clear but really windy in the morning and we struggled a bit with our beach walk (literally getting a sand facial) and decided to pack up for less windy climes. 

Our next destination was Heceta Beach RV Resort outside of Florence, Oregon.  This area has special meaning to me as generations of my family and friends have met up at nearby Mercer Lake over the 4th of July; many have passed on and it is time to bid a final farewell to this unspoiled paradise.  The resort had held out for so long but recently sold to a developer – it will not be the same.

Such is the sad passing of things.  

We stopped and strolled through our regular haunts in old-town Florence and picked up a few tokens – thankful for the beautiful weather; a fitting farewell.  

Reflecting back on the last seven weeks I cannot choose a favorite place because they are all so magnificent in their own distinct way. While we had a challenges with the weather, and the added stresses inherent to being in an RV during freezing weather, I have to confess that the beauty of snowfall made up for it. And we had all the gear to manage any conditions mother nature threw at us.

I’ve pulled together some impromptu highlights that made this trip even more memorable:

❤️Dim Sum in Chinatown, San Francisco

❤️Sunset Happy Hour at White Sands National Park 

❤️Elevenses at Mirror Lake in the shadow of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park 

❤️Barbecuing amongst the orange blossoms outside Bakersfield 

❤️Snow in the Grand Canyon 

❤️Impromptu balcony lunch at the Creekside Cafe in Sedona with a fabulous view of the surrounding buttes while they played “Stairway to Heaven” in the background – a perfect storm of pleasure 

❤️Meeting up with National Geographic photographer Nevada Wier in Santa Fe at the Obscura Gallery – I hope to join her on a photo tour someday

❤️Getting a tour of a traditional Navajo hogan at Canyon de Chelly 

❤️Enjoying a peaceful sunrise breakfast at the Needles Overlook in Canyonlands Rim Recreation area 

❤️The zen of Windwhistle Campground

❤️Watching the sunrise over Monument Valley after the snowfall 

❤️Tea time at the Founders Grove, Redwoods National Park 

❤️❤️The hospitality of the Navajo Nation….

I couldn’t have asked for a better overall experience and feel so blessed to have made the decision to embark on this adventure.

We arrive back in Portland after seven weeks on the road:  We are packing our house up for international shipping for our eventual relocation to France – and then we will sell in May.  

Our trip to Hawaii that was disrupted by the pandemic was rescheduled for April, so we will enjoy a couple of weeks being spoiled by tropical trade winds and hanging with my brother and sister-in-law on the North Shore of Oahu.  We will be visiting the Arizona Memorial in honor of my father’s memory who served on the Enterprise when Pearl Harbor was bombed and am hoping to catch up with the Pacific Navy Fleet Bandmaster to connect the past with the present.  It should prove to be an interesting blog considering his history during WWII.  

Next stop Honolulu!

April 5 Yosemite National Park

It didn’t really register to me that it was spring until we got to Bakersfield and saw various bulbs and even roses blooming.  Add the orange blossoms and I felt like we discovered a slice of paradise after being plagued by snow, hail and high deserts devoid of blossoms.  

We accidentally took the long route to get to Yosemite though it turned out to be quite beautiful with farmlands with blooming flowers and green fields.  As we gained elevation there was the welcome site of pine trees, mostly Ponderosa pines. When you are from the Pacific Northwest, making the transition back to the “green belt” is a welcoming event.  I was in need of some serious tree bathing.  

The rock here is like a seafoam colored granite with some sparkly bits that was quite beautiful.  The roads were hairpin with little or no gaurdrails, though the views made up for it.   The alpine lupines were blooming and there were occasional fields of wildflowers sprayed across the meadows. 

After a while, we lost signal thinking it would pick up again as we approached the park.  Civilization was starting to emerge so it was quite surprising when we got to the Lake Yosemite RV Park, while quite popular, was devoid of any signal.  We were fortunately blessed with lovely weather and a spot on the river, though the park was quite crowded and somewhat noisy and you had to pay for wifi.

We had several deer sightings and almost ran into Bambi on our way out of the RV Park.  All around Yosemite the deer tend to wander onto the roads.

Upon entering Yosemite we had expected more of a “slow reveal” of the wonders of the park.  Instead we came face-to-face with El Capitan – trying to reconcile what we were looking at…then the realization came.  The sheer scale of it emerging from the valley floor is incomparable to anything else we have witnessed.  Then came Horsetail Falls and all of its thundering glory.  The surrounding cliffs are like a supporting cast save for Half Dome that demands its own audience.  

As we were pretty early, and even then the park was getting busy, we snagged a parking spot at one of the campground trailheads.  Thankfully BigB is only 24 feet, anything bigger would have had a hard time.  Some of the roads into the trail heads has serious pot holes, not something you would expect in a major park such as this.  We trekked a couple of miles to Mirror Lake and were blessed with a gorgeous view down the valley with the monoliths reflecting in the water.  We stopped for a snack and to contemplate the scenery.  

Mirror Lake

The day was getting warmer than we had anticipated and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, it was hard to imagine it had snowed about a week before and the weather can be touch and go in April.  We wandered around the now packed visitor center, wondering what it must be like in the height of summer.  We are so fortunate to be doing this now as the National Parks are starting to require reservations and shuttle service to manage the increasing crowds.  

We left the park via “Tunnel View,” even though the parking was limited we managed to squeeze BigB into a couple of spaces – we were only going to be there for a little while. 

The name does not even begin to describe the sheer scale of what you are witnessing – this particular view is the one made famous by Ansel Adams; his renditions are magical though you need to see it in person – there are no substitutes for the real thing (sorry Ansel but I’m sure you understand).  You don’t embrace this view, it embraces you as if to say “thank you for preserving me – this is how I give back to those who will protect me for generations to come.”

The immensity of this gesture subdues you into a heavenly state of awe.  

Tunnel View

April 2 Joshua Tree National Park

We were thankfully reserved at Indian Cove Campground outside of Twentynine Palms, Ca several months ago – it is in high demand and we almost didn’t get a spot. We bypassed Phoenix on the way, but stopped briefly to view the Saguaro cactus indigenous to the area.  They were nothing really new to me but more novel to Bob and Grogu.  It’s fascinating that these forests stop just as abruptly as the start; why was this part of the desert conducive to their existence vs say Joshua Tree?

The same proved true for the Joshua trees – they suddenly appear and then drop off save for a few rebellious stragglers.  

The California desert proved to be more desolate than the New Mexico high desert; we went miles with no signs of life – not even structures.  Grogu wondered if we were on Tattooine or in the middle of a David Lynch movie.  The landscape is very monochrome and doesn’t appear to support much fauna; I doubt many humans have set foot in most of it.  

When we approached Twentynine Palms we saw more buildings though there was an abundance of abandoned structures, more so than anywhere else we had been.  It’s as though much of this region was settled in fits and starts.  

The main attraction in this area is Joshua Tree National Park and Indian Cove Campground. 

Much like the Alabama Hills, these massive clusters of boulders appear out of nowhere.  Indian Cove has about a hundred campsites tucked amongst them; I felt like I was in an episode of the Flintstones.  The weather was in the 80’s and we settled in and went for a hike along the nature trail.  It was a great space to stretch our legs after such a long drive.  

The fire pit beckoned as our happy hour blended into the evening, set against the massive boulders housing curious lizards and iguanas.  

This was the first fire we’ve had where we weren’t plagued by high winds or dipping temperatures.  We sat and watched the stars come out. This is a Dark Sky region but there was too much haze which muted the intensity of the night sky.  The rising moon hung low in a lovely crescent making for a perfect ending to the day.  We wish we could have stayed longer but we have to get back to Portland in the next week.  

We departed eventually arriving at the Orange Grove RV Park late in the afternoon of the 3rd, surrounded by an unexpected paradise of orange blossoms that wafted through the RV at a balmy 80 degrees – bliss!  As the evening cooled the scent became more intense – we will have nature’s aromatherapy to lull us to sleep.  

Next stop – Yosemite!

April 1 Sedona, AZ

We drove down 89A from Holbrook; I had been to Sedona a few times over thirty years ago when I lived in Scottsdale, but never came down through Flagstaff route. We had beautiful weather as we meandered through the stunning red rocks that make you feel as though you down in the Grand Canyon, but lush with blue-green junipers, pine, brush and unspoiled alpine air.  The red rocks enhance the springtime flora; the lantana and cactus were blooming giving the land a deep sense of renewal.  It was so nice to be warm, but not hot.

We arrived at the Rancho Sedona RV Park that sits on Oak Creek with views of the surrounding buttes.  The park was emaculate with large sycamore trees that gave our surroundings an ethereal feel.  A heron flew by adding to my increasing sense of euphoria; they were nesting in a nearby tree.

The best RV park ever!

We were walking distance to the galleries and also to trailheads that sent us a bit off the beaten track.  It was quiet as we were pushed out just enough from the main hub with the creek displacing any road noise.

Sedona certainly is not the laid back town I remember, but like so much “progress,” they too are being hammered with tourists; the traffic was thick and I was glad we didn’t have to park anywhere to visit the galleries. 

We lucked out at the Creekside Restaurant with a seat outside and a lovely view of the surrounding buttes.

Lucky lunch spot – we couldn’t have scored a better seat!

The town has kept it’s beauty and you actually sense they fight for it – there aren’t really any big box stores here with most of the popular lines being curated by the local mom and pop shops – I love that.  The gas stations and grocery stores etc. are on the main drag out of town so as not do disrupt the center. 

Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village was especially lovely with the rustic southwestern-style shops built around the giant sycamores and skirting Oak Creek.  The weather was in the 70’s – it was simply bucolic.  Despite the surge of humanity it felt well-kept and restrained.  

We saw the new age proprietors around town but they weren’t as pronounced as the galleries and boutiques.  I suppose I can understand the new age thing as the ether of this place has a very meditative quality to it; but simply embracing it is enough for me – I don’t need a psychic reading to appreciate my surroundings and life is a mystery to explore anyway.  

We had the added pleasure of catching up with the several Leisure Travel Van owners that had congregated creating our own vortex!  We bonded, drank wine, swapped stories, experiences and suggestions.  It was great to meet fellow nomads who just maybe will also visit us in France😍.

We curated art from some of the galleries, glad to find pieces within our budget as some of the art was well out of our range – it will be fun to unpack these gems in France and find them a permanent home.  

Wish we could have afforded this – I couldn’t stop drooling

Goodbye Sedona, you masterpiece on so many different levels. We are up early to Indian Cove Campground in Joshua Tree National Park – 350 some odd miles!   

Mar 30 Petrified Forest and Painted Desert

This is actually a two for one since the petrified wood is scattered all over the Painted Desert. The area is a vast and diverse geological pocket located in dinosaur territory – hence the large scale models of dino’s at the tourist stops along Route 66.  

It’s mind boggling to think this forest dates back 217 million years; dinosaurs roamed these woods and became part of the archeological landscape in the same manner as the trees.  Now desert, you see broken and shattered fragments all over the park in what was once a dense forest teaming with gargantuan wildlife.  

Even more intriguing is the beauty of the buttes and hills where the tree fragments are now on display.  Mother Nature, I guess, decided that she needed a more dramatic backdrop as part of her “preservation diorama.” 

We parked up by the TeePee mountains and discovered a trail that wasn’t marked on the map – and what a lucky find that was!   It was unspoiled with only a few other adventurous souls on their way back to the parking lot. 

The sun was at our back while the storm boiled in front of us with the wind kicking up – all of this making the hike more intense.  As we walked along the top of these hills, varying landscapes revealed themselves at every turn. 

We meandered through layers of oranges and blues that looked like they had been deposited by machines in some quarry, with eruptions of occasional hoodoos balanced by smooth clamshell-like formations.

The storms looming on the horizon added to the drama; we were really hoping we wouldn’t get drenched on our hike since hail had been part of the earlier downpours.

We left unscathed by the weather and stopped by the ancient ruins of long-abandoned villages and explored the many petroglyphs dotted throughout the park. 

Newspaper Rock

When we reached Blue Mesa the wind kicked up and we started getting pelted by hail.  It was so intense I had real difficulty getting the passenger door to close and the inside of BigB was getting drenched.  Though we didn’t really get to hike the Blue Mesa, which is lovingly paved by the National Park Service, we certainly got a dose of it on our earlier hike.  I felt bad for the people that were on the trail getting blasted with high winds and hail – it stung the bare skin.  

The squall eventually dissipated as we left to explore the rest of the park and BigB got a good wash and dry in the process!  Days of bug scum melted off the windshield.  

We ended the day picking up a piece of polished petrified wood to use as a bookend. This is a reminder of where we fit in the grand scheme of things; touching the smooth surface of an artifact that is over two hundred million years old. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it as we go through our daily lives. 

Mar 27-28 Roswell and Route 66

On a side note, we left Wilson-the-volleyball at the Carlsbad KOA recreation center; he needs to move around and he’s difficult to carry around on hikes – I’m sure he’ll be happier there playing with the kids.

We headed out to boondock at the Tumbleweed diner in Magdalena through our Harvest Host membership (pretty much out in the middle of nowhere). 

But first we decided to make a stop in Roswell to check out what all the hype was about.  We decided to tour the International UFO and Research Center.  Despite the kitsch most of us associate with Roswell, this center was well put together with extensive research on the Roswell incident and the ensuing cover up.  It’s fascinating that this incident needed to be covered up – I mean really – it wasn’t War of the Worlds and if aliens landed and were just checking us out why all the fear?   

The research and witnesses lent a lot of credibility to what happened and as far as we know it’s probably happened elsewhere.  Otherwise it was a fun adventure along with an entertaining mock up – a lot of effort went into all of this! 

We also decided to stop for a Sunday brunch at the Cowboy Cafe – if you are ever in town check it out – they also have dishes with my local favorite – you got it…..green chili!  My choice with the “Alien Omelette.”

We proceeded to our final destination through more high plains still wanting to know what people did out in this rather desolate land.  When we got to Magdalena and the Tumbleweeds Diner it certainly turned out to be a bright spot with it’s fantastic murals (note the spaceship that is ditched in the desert!). It’s about twenty miles from the Very Large Array (those big satellite dishes made famous by Hollywood) but unfortunately the visit center was closed so we decided to skip it.  

We overnighted in the diner parking area which is pretty much just an extension of the surrounding desert, it was super peaceful and we were streaming the Oscars but even that connection gave up after a while and all you could hear was the breeze.  In the morning we headed for Albuquerque and the Enchanted Trails RV park on Route 66.  It was close to the I-40 but it didn’t affect our sleep – you will find that is the case with most of Route 66 which is basically the I-40 anymore.  

We headed out early to get to the Petrified Forest with a stop in Gallup along the way.  I wanted to check out the Perry Null Trading Post as it has authentic art and I know the Navajo work and help run the place. I found a lovely turquoise pendant to add to my collection; the piece is inlaid with beautiful silver work and stamped with the artist’s initials and authenticity.  I wound up paying half price – I probably didn’t notice the sale sign.  Collecting authentic pieces gets the funds back to the Navajo.  I’ve gone into these other “trading posts” and have found southwest-themed merchandise made in India and China – no thank you!!

After two weeks touring New Mexico and all of its wonders we bid farewell.  We have seen so much of this enchanting state and it certainly delivered.  My only complaint would be the vast empty plains and the accompanying wind that was unrelenting, but the other endearing qualities along with the people certainly made up for it.   

Thank you Santa Fe, White Sands National Park, Carlsbad Caverns, Shiprock,  Bisti Badlands, and the Tumbleweed Diner for all the great memories.  

Mar 26 Carlsbad Caverns

We left White Sands and travelled through the Lincoln National Forest up to an elevation of 8500 feet (which explained the terrible mileage on BigB), then came to the endless plains that reminded us of “High Plains Drifter.”  I can’t imagine who put up all that fencing that goes on forever.  And as Bob commented, “that needs to be maintained.” 

We stopped by a quirky ranch known as Runyon Ranch, we bought some lemon lime roasted pistachios and marveled at the pet zoo; it turned out to be a cross between and ranch and circus – there were billy goats, donkies, sheep, a zebra, water buffalo and a camel. We could only speculate how they came in possession of the exotic beasts.  

What was equally entertaining was the cacophony of animal sounds that ensued during feeding time – it was a bit of a cross-cultural experience.  It’s a place you must stop by if you’re in the hood.  

We reached the Carlsbad KOA to settle in for the night.  We had reserved our time at the caverns that is now required by the National Parks.  It was already in the high 70’s pushing to the mid to high 80’s so the cavern was actually welcoming at a comfortable and humid 55 degrees (my sinuses were appreciative as they had been protesting against the high desert dryness).  

To say that the cavern is massive is an understatement – pictures barely convey the scale of this cavernous masterpiece.  The lighting is subdued and does not overcompensate thus enhancing the scale and mood.  The cavern is 750 feet below the surface and you take the winding path down, and down… and down as the wonderment reveals itself. 

There is something about caves, regardless of the size, that give you comfort and you can envision setting up shop here; possibly a primordial need for safety from man-eating dinosaurs.  

As a tourist you are only getting a nibble of the expanse that goes on for miles.  The path is well-paved though somewhat dim and thankfully there are railings to guide the way.  

It’s akin to a massive geode but without the bling factor.  The stalactites and stalagmites are truly massive.  There are ante rooms that look like they could be doll houses with it’s own cast of alien characters.  

I continually swirled around in awe – you need to look behind as much as forward.  If you decide to climb back out of the caverns be prepared for a workout; we opted for the elevator instead.  My thighs certainly got a workout on the downhill trek.  

Bless the souls who preserve these masterpieces to maintain our sense of wonder and awe.

Mar 25 White Sands National Park

We revelled in the warm weather – the temperature was destined to reach the low seventies and we were able to spill out of the rig and get some much needed house cleaning done.  Then off to the International Space Hall of Fame.

Grogu was certainly in his element and the space museum is a must-see when coming to Alamogordo – which, by the way, is a clean and well-structured city, probably due to all the military and government space-related activities there.  We spent more time than anticipated enthralled by the displays and history.  

Once inside the White Sands National Park, BigB felt more like a lunar module as we transitioned from pavement to hard-packed sand surrounded by voluminous white dunes on each side.  The dunes are made from gypsum, blinding in the sun, shifting with the light and the wind.  We parked at the Backcountry Trail as that is where you find the massive display of undulating fields, much of it devoid of vegetation.  The gypsum has a better grip than sand, and is less tiring to hike on. A slight breeze would catch us, a cooling contrast against the blinding landscape.  

Save for wandering footprints I have not experienced a more pristine environment, we had happened upon the perfect day to explore; any hotter and it would have detracted from the experience. 

The afternoon sun tilted, throwing shadows that crept along the basins, softening the harsh blows of light; it felt more like an awakening as the sensuality of the dunes came into full display – like deep sighs of relief after being long choked by the sun. 

We ended the day with what Bob describes as a tipple as we watched the shifting display of shadows. 

Surprisingly, it felt like the humidity began to rise along with the scent of sage as the sun set, bathing the inhabitants of the white sands in gold and pink.  

Mar 20-23 Santa Fe, New Mexico

We arrived at the Santa Fe skies RV Park which turned out to be a lovely location and facility.  We could have stayed a few days more but were looking forward to our stay at the Hilton in the historic plaza. This was our chance to get some elbow room after a month on the road and tour the beautiful offerings of this magical city. 

As has been our luck it snowed the next day as we ventured out.  The locals call it “corn snow” which is more like hail.  We thought it wo