Sun, Wind, Rain – Repeat

Lately, each time I decide to start a new post, I’m amazed to see how much time has elapsed since the last one. Has it really been two weeks? This is our sixth campground since my last post, so I’ll just hit the high spots.

You are probably sick of hearing me rag about the Texas spring winds, but they were truly incredible and uncomfortable. When your camping plans include cooking and eating outside everyday, the last thing you want are howling 30mph winds.20180412_130530-1799708842.jpg They plagued us at our stops at Lofers Bend West and Ratcliff Lake. Both were pleasant spots to camp – Lofers Bend (on the water), and Ratcliff Lake (more of a woodsy, rustic spot). Nothing really remarkable about either of them, but both nice enough for a return trip for a quick overnight. I did have a horrifying encounter with this gigantic spider in the shower at Ratcliff Lake, but I think a few years of therapy will help me get past this. That’s a quarter placed in the vicinity for size perspective. That thing was a monster!20180414_1101071864957766.jpgNearly every year since we’ve been on the road, Galveston Island State Park has been a place where we’ve tried to land for several days. Although the Beachside campground is nothing more than a parking lot with decent-sized lots, firepits, and picnic tables, it IS right on the Gulf of Mexico. Listening to the roaring surf every night, having miles of beach to wander every day, in addition to all the historical sites of the area is a treat. (It was slightly less of a treat because of the extremely high winds when we were there, but…)20180415_1627591612159452.jpgFrom the campground, we can cycle on the beach, then down the Seawall all the way to the historic end of town – about 15 miles one way. It’s a great ride. Although you can’t tell from this photo, the seawall is about 6-8 feet above the sandy beach.20180416_1201491253756854.jpgThis year, we tried to do a couple of new things – we cycled all the way to the south (or west?) end of Galveston Island down the beach. The sand on the island is perfect for cycling. Just find the sweet spot between the not-too-wet, and the not-too-dry sand and crank away. It’s doable, but still much harder than trail or road riding.20180418_1043002011903451.jpgBy the time we made it 15 miles down the beach, we were whipped! But, we would not have been able to do this (with our mountain bikes) on the sand at San Clemente in CA, or along the Lake Michigan shoreline. It’s all about sand texture, baby.

On the way back, we mostly took the road, which was a comparative breeze! (pun intended) Along the way, we stopped to chat with an old hippie guy who had a bunch of kites up in the air. His biggest was 19 feet long! At one point, he had nine kites up at once.20180417_170808823855851.jpg20180418_1327161389457496.jpgFunny thing – the shark kite on the far right took a dive just as were were leaving – it punched over the string of the kite to its left, which then got tangled up in the string of the gigantic blue octopus kite. Both crashed onto the roof of a closed-up beach house. Lesson: Sharks are dangerous. Hope the owner was able to retrieve them. We didn’t hang around to find out.

The other new thing we did was to explore the Ocean Star Museum. This is an 1970s era Gulf of Mexico drilling rig/platform which has been turned into a museum. It was fascinating. Did you know that the oil company that President George HW Bush was an owner of the company that developed one of the first offshore drilling platforms? This particular rig was put into service in 1969, and decommissioned in 1984 – a reliatively short life, due to rapidly changing technology. Much of the original equipment is still there to see, as well as lots of photos and artifacts of life on the rig. Can you imagine having 28 people evacuate into this emergency “bell” lifeboat? It had food, water, and automatic sprayers on the outside to spray seawater on it to keep the occupants cool until rescue. It’s hard to tell size from the photo, but I can guarantee you that 28 people would be nose to nose inside. 20180419_1334521414555063.jpgA diving suit from the same era was also featured. Again, I was horrified at the thought of being encased inside.

The Ocean Star was designed to drill up to 5 miles deep, and to accommodate 100 workers. There were scale models of many types of platforms, and an area devoted to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf off the Louisiana coast.

What was most fascinating to me was how these platforms are installed. They are erected onshore then towed into place on huge barges, which then tip the platforms off into the sea where they are fastened down by underwater robots and secured by cables stretching miles out from the platform in every direction. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see one on the move?20180419_1409251212290084.jpgFrom our campsite at Galveston Island, we could see several working platforms in the Gulf – there are hundreds of them out there. At night especially, the lights twinkle in the distance. Three other mothballed platforms, either undergoing repairs or waiting for a new assignment waited in the harbor. These smaller exploration platforms are called ‘jackups’, because they can be jacked up on a base, then moved when their task is finished. The larger production platforms are permanent until decommissioned after approximately 30 years.20180421_133503675878780.jpg It was an interesting afternoon. There’s much to be learned here – a bargain for the $10 entry fee.20180419_1402071281299882.jpgOf course, we had to wander around Galveston for a few hours. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, many homeowners turned their downed trees into sculptures, primarily by three chainsaw sculptors. How about this one with a Wizard of Oz theme?20180419_1528511278978464.jpgLots of interesting things to do and see in Galveston. We’ll be back again.

Our next camp was a fisherman’s dream at S. Toledo Bend State Park, just across the border into Louisiana. If you’re into bass fishing, Toledo Bend is sacred ground. Ours was one of the few campsites that didn’t have a bigass bass boat parked alongside.20180420_1816101022983571.jpgWe had a great site there, and enjoyed all the commotion of a busy weekend. Kids and bikes everywhere – 50 Cubscouts, a gigantic thunderstorm, and a free concert by a group of mountain dulcimer enthusiasts. 20180421_155536650940952.jpgWhile I have to admit that each song sounded pretty much the same (even the ones they sang), their warmth and dedication was infectious. This guy tapped on the board (secured by his butt), and it forced the little wooden dolls to dance. 20180421_1559351717086712.jpg

I did a bit of wandering on my bike, as I wanted to see the dam that formed Toledo Bend. I managed to get down a sandy road on the back side of the dam. There were folks fishing everywhere, although there didn’t seem to be too many fish being caught. Sometimes it’s more about the fishing than the fish, I guess. I did see one guy down at the shore who was bowfishing. Ugh – I gave him a pretty wide berth.20180421_1226111968847915.jpg20180421_12332946344939.jpgThere was just one gate open in the dam releasing water to the back. Probably 100 white pelicans were hanging around there, watching the water rush down the backside of the dam, waiting for a fish to fly past. Pity the poor fish who thought he had finally made it to freedom from the pursuit of 100s of fishermen to be nabbed by a pelican on the final burst to freedom.20180421_13070898435999.jpgWe spent a single night alongside the Natchez Trace in Mississippi as we plow eastward. Perhaps on a different day this would be a pleasant stop, but we were terrorized by thousands of mosquitos, each easily the size of a Buick. We could hardly cover up enough to run down to the bathroom. omg – it was awful at Rocky Springs Campground

But tonight is our reward. A lucky pick of a campground at Deerlick Creek Recreation Area (Corps of Engineers) in Tuscaloosa has rewarded us with probably the most beautiful campsite we have ever had.20180423_1620001136378522.jpgOur own deck, water/electric, and a great view of Deerlick Creek. Every now and the a barge rumbles past, pushing some unknown commodity down toward the Gulf. All this for only $13/night with our Senior Pass. Although we’ve only been here for a few hours, we’re already sad that we can only stay two nights. If any readers of this blog are Spartan fans, you’ll be happy to know that we thumbed our noses as we passed Nick Sabin’s Crimson Tide cathedral on the way in. We may have to cycle over there to explore a bit tomorrow.

And…We’re Off!

It’s always a good thing when a long trip gets off to a good start. Although it’s kind of a mixed bag for us so far (five days), we’ve had magnificent weather, which makes up for plenty of other shortcomings. And, for this post, we won’t talk about those at all.

Leaving home in a snowstorm is never a good thing, but for us, it’s better than sticking around because we pulled out of the driveway, put on the windshield wipers, and never looked back. Less than a hundred miles out of town, the roads were dry, and all the snow was gone after another 100 miles after that.

We spent our first two nights at the Evansville Spa (our name for John’s brother’s posh home). Our time there was marred only by the fact that they were both sick with hacking coughs/colds. Is it better to get sick before the holidays, and get it over with, or wait until January? The Evansville duo apparently went the pre-Christmas route. Modern pharmacology is hopefully speeding them toward recovery.

Our first camping night was at T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis. When we stayed there in the spring, it was jam-packed, so the nearly-empty campground was a pleasure for a quick stop. Our sunny day turned into a brisk night (temps in the low 30s). Deluxe sleeping weather for our deluxe new flannel sheets. Two days later, we found that Jezzy also loves these new sheets. She had very neatly unmade the bed so that she could sprawl in warm comfort on the warm sheets. Are all dogs such princesses, or just ours?

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Since our goal is Christmas in Vegas with my entire immediate family (all ten of us), were doing a bunch of one-night stops. So, the next night finds us at Arlie Moore Campground, near Texarkana AR. What a gorgeous campground! Our large site was near the water, and we enjoyed a another quiet, cold night.

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For sure, we’ll be back to this spot – $9 with our America the Beautiful Senior Pass.

After a long day on the road through beautiful Arkansas and Oklahoma State highways, we arrived at Buckhorn Campground, at Lake of the Arbuckles in OK. It’s part of the Chickasaw Recreation Area. Tonight, our rate for  this spectacular spot for just $12. (Every now and then, it pays to be old!)

20171215_171938442154091.jpg20171215_171758740144347.jpgAnd the bonus? For the first time, I saw a (live) armadillo! In the past five years, there have been plenty of unfortunate armadillos along the roadside, but this beauty is alive and well. I named her Arnette.20171215_172119882436188.jpgI especially like this photo of her with her natural camoflage, standing next to a corrugated pipe. Looks very organic, doesn’t it? 20171215_193732995633263.jpgAlthough you can’t really see it in these photos, armadillos have very cute little cone-shaped ears. She was much bigger than I would have imagined.

We’re taking a little highway hiatus for the next three days after we get to our next destination. Palo Duro State Park near Amarillo is a spot we have enjoyed in the past, and were hoping to (finally) snag a site in the Juniper CG there for the next three night to hike and bike, and just generally get out of the truck for a few days. In past years, we’ve never been able to get a site in this area. Hopefully the camping gods will see fit to help us out this time. The other campgrounds are fine, but we really want a site in this smaller campground, nestled back in the rocks. Keeping our fingers crossed.

Hope you all have something to look forward to over the holidays, whether it’s time with family and friends, or maybe an extra day or two away from work.

Onward

It’s been a week. That’s putting it mildly.

Most importantly, Jezzy is doing well. Before we left Las Vegas, we returned to the Vet, and he removed the drain from her eye socket, which must have been extremely uncomfortable for her. We also ditched the rigid plastic Cone in favor of a Boo-Balloon, which is an inflatable collar.wp-1491537425604.jpg It keeps her from digging at her face with her feet, but lets her navigate a bit better, because she can actually see where she’s going. It also enabled us to hit the road in the Fireball. She would not have been able to turn around wearing the Cone, as the diameter was at least as wide as the available floor space. Anyway, it’s going well. Her stitches come out Monday (writing this Thursday). Sister Gail has a friend in Payson who is a steadfast volunteer with the Humane Society. She’s arranged for a Vet Tech to remove Jezzy’s stitches. I love this option, since Jezzy came to me via the Humane Society in Michigan. Wonderful folks. Great organization. We are anxious to try to put this horrible incident behind us. She felt well enough the last night to help John with his NY Times crossword puzzle. That’s got to be a good sign.wp-1491536344772.jpgOur usual leisurely travel schedule was tossed aside, since we had only two days to make a reservation that we had planned for a five day trip. So, we relaxed for one night at Burro Creek Campground, a gorgeous pull-off spot near Wikieup, AZ. wp-1491536696137.jpgThis beautiful quiet canyon was the perfect spot for our first night back on the road.

Yavapai Campground in Prescott, AZ is one of our very favorite spots to camp. We’ve been there four times in the five years we’ve had the Fireball. Sadly, our four night stay was condensed into one night, and what a night it was! We went from warm sunshine to clouds, wind, sleet, snow, then back to rain. All in about an hour, and all during the time John was outside trying to grill dinner. It was wild! We had enough time in the morning for a quick hike with Jezzy before heading to Cottonwood, AZ and a three night stay at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

This park has a crazy variety of sites. Our loop had a few stunted trees and small sites, but was more expensive than the larger, unprotected sites up on the hill. wp-1491536574188.jpgI guess that’s because this IS Arizona, after all, and summer must be beastly here. The Park is immaculate, and has hiking, biking, horse trails everywhere. It’s a place we certainly will revisit. One benfit to having a tree onsite is that it gives us a spot to hang a cooking light. (It was grilled pizza night!)wp-1491535722709.jpgOur first day, we cycled around a bit, and visited the Tuzigoot National Monument, a pueblo built by the people of the Sinagua culture between 1000 and 1400. wp-1491536506592.jpgwp-1491536438946.jpgwp-1491536373197.jpgLike many of the other Arizona pueblo societies, it seems to have dissapated around 1300, due perhaps to climate change, which made farming unsustainable. The Visitor Center was well done, and featured some huge pottery vessels.wp-1491536470019.jpg The site was excavated by unemployed miners under the supervision of college archeology students in the 1930s. That remarkable achievement alone makes it worthy of a visit.

On Day 2, we hopped back in the truck and went back to explore the old mining/new hippie community of Jerome. During peak copper mining years, Jerome sported a population of about 15,000, which dwindled to about 1000 in the 1950s, and then finally down to about 50 inhabitants when it was declared a Ghost Town. That’s when the hippies discovered it, rehabbed many of the buildings, and set about making it a vibrant tourist spot. It’s a quirky place – old mining culture meets wine tastings.

We enjoyed wandering around for several hours. Jerome looks like it’s about to tumble off the mountainside at any moment, and a few churches (and the jail) have indeed been relocated by landslides.wp-1491536136999.jpgwp-1491536101472.jpgwp-1491507902281.jpgwp-1491507858594.jpgwp-1491507709606.jpg wp-1491536282397.jpgMy mediocre photos aren’t really representative of all the unusual sights here. The sun was high and hot. Too bright to get any kind of decent shot. But, there’s lots to see here, and plenty of places to poke around and spend money (we refrained). The Historical Society Museum is well worth a visit – it’s full of tidbits about prostitution, medical care, education, and the like. It’s the best $1 we spent all day.

Tomorrow (Friday) morning, we leave our civilized campsite at the State Park, and head back off into the Coconino National Forest for several days of camping. We are hoping to regain some of our happy camping vibe, and are optimistic that Jezzy will perk up after Monday, once she no longer has to drag her inflatable collar along. We need our happy girl back, and are pretty sure we can coax Jezzy into being our laid-back camping buddy again.

Thank you for reading, and for all the kind thoughts you’ve passed along during this very stressful time. John and I really appreciate your comments.

Random Musings

After six weeks of being on the road, a few things keep coming to my mind.  Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Coolest town name ever:  Castle Danger, MN.  Nothing else even comes close.
  • Camping in cold rain is not as much fun as camping in warm sun.
  • Many nights by the campfire have been ruined by swirling smoke.  It’s annoying to have to move every couple of minutes.  The solution?  The Campfire Lazy Judy.  I envision this as a large collapsible ring of some type that has a center hole large enough to fit over a 4′ fire ring.  The edges will be wide enough to accommodate a camp chair.  When the smoke swirls your way, simply rotate the Lazy Judy (your foot against the edge of the fire pit) until your chair is no longer in the line of smoke.  No more disruptive getting up and running around!  I need some engineering work, and then a Kickstarter campaign.  Sounds good, right?
  • We have some friends in Arizona who are from Minnesota.  They’ve used the phrase “Minnesota Nice” in conversation.  Now, I know what they’re talking about.  Should be “Minnesota Super Nice”.  People here are amazing.
  • Ashland, Wisconsin has the worst laundromat I’ve ever been in.  Best is the Loads of Fun in Marquette, MI.  There’s one in Beaver Falls, MN called The Mother Load.  That makes me smile.
  • Hope I never get tired of riding my bike.  They are essential for us.  But, I am concerned that we’ve done so much casual riding that I may never be able to hop on my road bike and really roll.  What if my top speed now is 12mph?
  • On the other hand, I see able-bodied folks in campgrounds who DRIVE to the bathrooms.  Seriously?
  • For six weeks, we’ve seen Lake Superior every day.  It has so many faces and shorelines.  Here are a few.  I’m really going to miss this.
    Porcupine Mountain SP, MI

    Porcupine Mountain SP, MI

    Near Bay View Campground

    Near Bay View Campground, MI

    Gooseberry Falls SP, MN

    Gooseberry Falls SP, MN

    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI

    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI

  • Favorite town (so far):  Duluth, MN.  Hands down winner, for me.
  • Favorite campsite:  Bay View Campground in Hiawatha State Forest, MI
  • Worst campsite:  Lakehead Marina, Duluth.  But…location, location…..
  • When you’re traveling, seek out local food purveyors.  Sixth Street Market in Ashland has the best brats I’ve ever had.  Heard their ad on the radio….
  • Don’t think I would mind if I never had TV again.  But, I get really cranky when we’re in a location with no radio stations, and no cell service.
  • The bed in the Fireball is 70″ x 50″ (slightly smaller than a standard double bed).  John is shoehorned into one half.  Jezzy gets about 28% of my half.  My next dog will sleep on the floor!
  • This town has 181 residents, and one is a cop?  A bit of overkill, perhaps?wpid-20141008_130754-1.jpg
  • I get a kick out of sending postcards to John’s folks.
  • John is the Dutch Oven King.

As we sat around the campfire last night, John looked over at me and said, “This really is the life, isn’t it?”  Agreed.

A Mixed Bag of Camping

It’s late summer, and the camping bug is biting.  The Fireball sits in the driveway, begging to be hooked up and towed out of the city.  We surrender to the call, and hit the road.

It’s always a temptation to head to our favorite spot, but we resist, grabbing our worn copy of Michigan’s Best Campgrounds (Jim DuFresne, out of print), and pointing the truck north.  We land at Lake Dubonnet State Forest Campground, west of Traverse City.  What a great choice that turned out to be.20140808_155226 Our large campsite let us put the Fireball in the afternoon shade, while keeping our Zamp Solar panel out in full sunshine all day. 20140809_16343420140809_16393320140809_164343 20140807_163719Clean vault toilets, distant neighbors, trails to hike.  Perfect.

We were close to Interlochen Center for the Arts, so we pedaled over to explore one afternoon.  Interlochen students study music, fine arts, film making, and other arts in a gorgeous campus.  The campus is a varied collection of practice rooms, dorms, and open-air performance venues, all enhanced by music drifting through from various locations.  It’s a popular site for summer band camps, and percussion groups were practicing in earnest everywhere.  Naturally, I forgot my camera that day, so I have just one photo to share, which I shot with John’s iphone.  Bummer. photo 1(1) We cruised through Interlochen State Park, with its two enormous campgrounds.  They were jam-packed – not an empty site to be found.  Campers piled on top of each other, vying for a bit of space.  Yikes!  Get me outta here.  Controlled chaos.

Happy Anniversary to us!  We celebrated with ice cream at Moomers.  Cow Tracks/Key Lime for me – Butter Pecan/Orange Dark Chocolate for John.  A great stop on a hot day, and fun way to mark our six years together.  We befriended Chas, a big St. Bernard, who seemed to love us more for the possibility of getting a lick of our ice cream, than for getting an ear rub.wpid-20140808_133556.jpg

Time to move on.  We consulted a map, and decided to head for Fisherman’s Island SP, just south of Charlevoix, on Lake Michigan.  Score!  Bingo!  Rustic camping means fewer campers.  Again, we lucked out and found a huge shady site. We could hear the waves lapping on the shore, although the water wasn’t visible from our site.  Peaceful.  Wonderful.20140813_083148 In my view, this is one of the best places EVER to camp.  We had miles of shoreline to wander – tons of Petoskey stones and granite of every color begging to be picked up. 20140811_103644 I remember, as a kid, always having a jar of beautiful stones in water to admire.  Must be I’m reverting back to my childhood, as looking at this collection makes me happy.wpid-20140817_091524.jpgA day of rain posed no problem.20140811_143634One bad thing did happen here – our refrigerator crapped out.  Somehow, the door had swung open during our trip over a very bumpy gravel road.  Although the light was on, it no longer cooled.  We turned it off, thinking that it just needed to rest/reset.  Nope.  After three days, we still had nothing. John’s research and phone calls seemed to offer us two options – a $400 compressor and three hours of RV dealer labor ($110/hr), or a replacement refrigerator for about $700.  Hmmmmm, let’s think about that for about a minute.  He ordered a new Norcold fridge – shipped to the house in three days.

We did head out to dinner with some Grand Rapids friends who had been tandem mountain bike racing in the Upper Penninsula.  They are fearless on the trail, and did well in the 50 mile Oar to Shore race.  At dinner, John ordered a mac & cheese SANDWICH.  Of course, when offered the option of adding bacon to the stack, he said yes.  Oh, and throw in some avocado as well.  Heart attack on a plate!wpid-20140810_191136.jpgLots of beautiful sightseeing in the Charlevoix area.  It’s a treat.20140810_18313820140810_18253520140810_204205We packed up and headed toward Torch Lake, where a friend had rented a cottage for the week.  Driveway camping!  A real shower!  Beer!  Detroit Tiger baseball on TV!  Life suddenly looks good again.  It’s unseasonably cold, with big winds.  Too windy for a campfire, and too cold for a pontoon boat ride.  We settle in, like only good old friends can do, with beer, wine, brats, and conversation.  Ahhhhh.  Morning brings a long walk with Jezzy, corned beef hash and eggs, gallons of coffee, and bloody marys.  It also brings the startling discovery that our refrigerator has rumbled to life.  Crap!  Yea?  We’ve already got a new one in transit.

We head home.  I want to return new fridge, John wants to install.  It arrives, and (as anticipated), it’s a different interior configuration.  To me, the new design is stupid.  It’s got a huge shelf in the door, which juts into the interior space.wpid-20140817_102259.jpg A useless freezer takes up a full third of the interior space. The temperature control is located in the back of the unit, so to see or change the setting, one needs to unload the top shelf. wpid-20140817_100919.jpg wpid-20140817_100754.jpgThere’s an annoying blue interior light.  The whole design is just lame.  But, John’s already got it installed, so it appears that I’ve lost this battle. Bonus is that it’s extremely quiet, and supposed to be more energy efficient.  Less draw on the solar, which we like.  We were happy to have thought of taking the old broken one to Goodwill for recycling.  Now that it’s still functional, it will probably wind up in the garage with all our other crap.  Arrrggh!

One more thing…..my garden hasn’t done well at all this summer.  Cool days and a less than optimum spot for my tomatoes make for a sad crop.  However, I had high hopes for two big tomatoes, which were beginning to ripen as we left.  First thing when we got home, I rushed to check their progress, sighting their ruby globes from a distance.  Dang!  Here’s the entire crop from six tomato plants.20140814_19515520140814_195144 They’ll be going to the plant dump tomorrow.

Hopefully, by the time another blog post is due, I’ll be over this.  Maybe I’ll just spend more time gazing at my stone jar, absorbing the good vibes that emanate from that.  ;-)

End of rant.