Stateside Again

After just a week of foreign (Canadian) travel, we ducked back across the Border into New York for a brief romp through the Adirondacks and Vermont. I was a bit cheesed off to have two lemons and two of the best-selling tomatoes I’ve had all summer (purchased from an Amish roadside stand near Montreal) confiscated at the Border. I was really tempted to just eat those two tomatoes on the spot – it really broke my heart to lose them. The funny thing was that the Border guard was from Grand Rapids – attended the high school just a few miles from our house. By the time we were finally released to cross into New York (after a brief search of the Campsh@ck), we were punch, and ready for something good to happen.

So, rolling into Durant Lake State Park in New York was just what we needed to lift our spirits. What a gem! We had a giant site, well-separated from our neighbors.

The big letdown? It rained every day. We had a hard time finding a break to go for a hike (but we managed). Nearby Blue Mountain Lake offered a great trail to Castle Rock, which offered a great view of the surrounding area. For us, it’s always more fun to hike with some ups and downs in elevation. There’s something wonderful about reaching a point where there’s a break in the scenery, and a whole world opens up in front of you. It’s addictive, and it keeps up coming back for more hikes.

We had the same experience at our next stop at Moreau Lake State Park, a short hop down the road. Again, we had a gigantic campsite in a quiet campground. New York State Parks rock! Even those with aging facilities still provide a great camping experience, primarily due to the layout of the campground itself.

Our hike at Moreau Lake took us to a high spot above a dam on the Hudson River.

What we thought would be a six mile jaunt became a ten mile grind, featuring a face-plant by me in the middle of the trail. Luckily, nobody was around to witness my downfall (literally)! Ten days later, the scabs and bruises have nearly disappeared.

We were lucky enough to be camped at Lake Moreau during the weekend of their annual Nature Festival. Every environmentally-related organization has a booth or demo. Both kids and adults had some hands-on learning about groundwater, recycling, raptor rehabilitation, and more. For a small community, it was an impressive display.

One disappointment we experienced was the surprising lack of fall color. It must be too early, but we were foolish enough to hope for a splashy show of red and yellow. Nope – wherever we looked, it was just green….

Our next stop was a quick two-night hop to Winhall Brook Campground, around the end of Lake Champlain in Vermont. What a spectacular drive this is – a tidy two-lane rolling road past some extraordinarily beautiful rustic farmland. This would be a drive worthy of a day trip in any season. Sprawling farms, roadside stands, and farmer’s markets all provide plenty of fodder for speculation about packing up and moving to a new state.

Again at Winhall, we dealt with rain as well as the possibility of some severe weather. During our previous week at Moreau Lake and Durand Lake were in rustic campgrounds. Cloudy conditions, rain, and heavily wooded campsites meant that we had no opportunity to use our solar panels to recharge the batteries in the Campsh@ck, so, we were nearly depleted after six days. So, for the first night at Winhall, we elected to have an electric site, to give us a much-needed power boost. But, the site we were assigned was VERY low, and already mushy from recent rains. The forecast was for heavy rain during our second night, so we packed up and moved to a quiet site on much higher ground. Good choice. We were pounded by a big storm, and would have been submerged at our original site. In the 20 days or so that we had been on the road, we had significant rain for at least 13 or 14 days. Everything we owned was damp, or just outright wet. Enough!

Originally, we planned to spend a few nights with our old T@DA pals Cathie and Jay at their home in St. Albans, VT. Would it be possible to arrive a few days early? We honestly couldn’t face breaking camp with a bunch of sodden gear, and setting up again in the rain. Whew! They took us in. Happy times commence.

Cathie is a volunteer at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, so that was our destination for our first day of exploration.

We looked and looked, but in six miles of hiking, we saw nary a bird, fish, or turtle. There was one comatose bee on a stalk of goldenrod, but that was about it. Dreary skies made for few decent photo opportunities, so I don’t have much to show for this day. But, this would be a great place to explore at a busier time of year. There is one area here with lots of sugar maples, and we got to see how maple syrup is harvested in these days. Think it’s individual taps pounded into a tree, dripping into a bucket? No, it’s actually yards and yards (probably miles) of blue vinyl tubing wound through a groove a trees. Taps are connected to various parts of the system into the trees. When the sap begins to run, a portable pump is rolled onsite, and it pulls the sap from the trees. Who knew?

Here’s a real conversation starter….when was the last wolf in Franklin County, VT killed? Why, I’ve got the answer right here…it’s possible that trusty Vermonters have documented every facet of early life in the 14th State.

John and I have tried to visit as many State Capitals as we can. So, after the rain finally cleared on our third day, we headed off to explore the State House in Montpelier. Here are two fun facts. Montpelier is the only State Capital in the US that doesn’t have a McDonalds. It’s also the smallest city to be a Capital, with a population of only 8000 (give or take a few). The State House itself is stunning, with its gold-plated done.

The best tidbit I picked up during our tour? The Governor’s chair is crafted from wood from the USS Constitution. No one but the Gov him/herself is allowed to sit in the chair, and it was impossible to get a photo of it, no matter how I tried. But, it was impressive. We had a great tour of this gorgeous building. Although we were unable to view the rotunda, photos inside the State House show the elaborate wooden framework that supports the heavy done, plated in actual gold. The current State House was constructed in the 1850s. Probably few modern buildings feature gold domes these days – it’s amazing how many State capitol buildings actually do.

Oh, how I would love a peek at this. As you can see from the exterior photo above, renovation is in process, to be completed next month. A brand new 14-foot statue of Ceres will Grace the top. The former statue, crafted in pine had nearly rotted away – the new version is mahogany.

Our last full day in Vermont was spent chasing the elusive, migrating broad-winged hawk, which passes through Mount Philo State Park every year. Often, thousands of hawks are seen on a single day in this area, but we were shut out. Zero sightings. The buzz among the birders was that most of the hawks were already gone. In exchange, we had a beautiful, sunny, cool day with spectacular views. I did see one red-tailed hawk though. (I know, I know…big deal)

In the distance is Lake Champlain, which separates one corner of New York and Vermont. Unlike the Great Lakes which surround Michigan, this lake is chock full of islands and shallow reefs. It must be a kayaker’s heaven. These islands are dotted with small towns, full of fall activities – cider mills, pumpkin patches, and the like. It’s an idyllic setting, although one best absorbed in small doses. Norman Rockwell-ish, but beautiful.

Tomorrow, we head back into Canada – Quebec City, the Bay of Fundy, and the Maritime Provinces. Loonies and Toonies. Bonjour and merci beaucoup. Away from a comfy bed, great friends, and dry towels. Back to iffy showers and damp campgrounds…

Man, we had fun.

Note: if you are reading this soon after its posting, you won’t see any links to locations or reference tags. I’ll get back and add these when I can.

Campshaws Internationale

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? The summer has passed, with little camping for the Campshaws. But, it’s September, one of our favorite times of the year to head out. So, you’re going to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly in Campshaws Internationale. Yep, the Campsh@ck is in Canada – home of fabulous Provincial Parks, poutine, a beautiful capital city, and lots of other treats

To get to Canada, we started our journey in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, specifically Brimley State Park. Although it stormed, or threatened to every day, we still managed to do some typical UP stuff – eat smoked fish, watch a freighter pass through the Soo Locks, and quaff a beer or two. There’s lots of good cycling here, and many great views.

That’s in spite of being cheek to jowl with hundreds of other campers. I’m sorry to say that the more I camp in Michigan, the more I dislike our State Parks. The goal here seems to be maximim density, minimum genuine camping experience. It just isn’t good.

But the best, most interesting thing about being at Brimley at that time happened late at night on our second night in camp. John had gone in for the night, and I was feeding the campfire while trying to finish a book. It was overcast, and very dark in the campground as my fire faded away to embers near midnight. I looked up into the trees behind our site, and it was as if someone has strung hundreds of fuzzy, hazy green lights in the trees. Randomly. As far as I could tell, it was only the trees behind our campsite. I woke John, and made him come out to see this. When we shined a flashlight into the trees, the green lights vanished. Know what this is? Foxfire! It was amazing. I don’t have the ability on my camera to take a time exposure, so this is the best I could capture. There were three exceptionally bright spots low to the ground. I realize its not too impressive, but I wish that you all could actually have been there to see this. Makes me smile to think about it more than a week later. It looked like fairies had strung Christmas lights. It was such a disappointment not to be able to get a representative photo.

Of course, the next night I was all geared up to explore this further. I decided to find a few spots which were readily accessible, and put a twist tie around that branch, so that I could examine it in the daylight. Oh yeah, I had my Junior Scientist cap on! Sadly, we didn’t see them again, despite my staying up into the wee hours of the morning, waiting for it to happen. But, being able to experience it one time was thrilling.

If you never have the chance to travel Queen’s Highway 17 from Ste Sainte Marie to Ottawa, just do it. What a fantastically beautiful roadway. Rolling hills, waterways, wildflowers, AMD mosses/lichens of every color (green) imaginable pass by at speeds of 40-60mph. John drove, while I was on High Alert for moose along the roadside. It’s the kind of scenery where one would actually expect to see a few casual moose lolling about in the ponds. Roadside picnic areas are everywhere.

For the three days it took us to wander toward Ottawa, we loved every mile.

Our first night was spent at Chutes Provincial Park. Since our travel time was relatively short, we had time to enjoy a five mile hike along the old logging river. It was named Chutes, because the loggers actually had to build wooden chutes to get the logs down the twisting river – the twists and turns were too sharp to force the logs through the bends. This was the perfect way to begin our Canadian adventure.

Day 2 took us to Samuel Champlain Provincial Park. Have I mentioned that it has barely stopped raining since we left home at week ago? We arrived in a deluge, and stayed inside, and out of the muck as much as we could. This may be a lovely Park, but that determination will have to be made on a future visit. It was miserable.

On to Ottawa! If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we are fans of visiting US state capitals, and exploring the amazing government buildings and public areas . Ottawa would be our first foreign Capitol, and it did not disappoint. Cantley Camping was our home for a couple of nights, and it was a good choice, despite being a few miles out of from town. We had an easy commute to the local bus station, and a great experience with public transportation into town. We got dropped off at Parliament Hill, the government hub. Wow!

Many of the buildings were undergoing exterior cleaning, but the disruption was minimal. We toured the Parliament, which was reconstructed after a fire destroyed everything but the library 100 years ago. Most of the areas were difficult to photograph with my phone camera, so I didn’t even try. But, the library, (not touched by the fire because iron doors separated it from the rest of Parliament), was jaw-dropping.

My apologies to Queen Victoria for cutting off her head. Queen Victoria was the Monarch who selected Ottawa to be the capital of Canada. Her official portrait displayed in Parliament is one that she disliked, because she felt that it made her left arm appear deformed. But, since she never actually visited Canada, it had hung with all the other Kings/Queen’s portraits there.

An amazing feature in Ottawa was the Rideau Waterway. A series of huge locks in Ottawa make the passage from Kingston to Ottawa possible. It’s over 125 miles long, constructed in 1832.

Ottawa is beautiful city, which we surely didn’t explore in just two days. I’ve already got places to visit mapped out for our next trip.

Getting to Montreal was a challenge. Endless road construction and detours, combined with our lack of ability to speak French made it a tense trip to Camping Amerique. Don’t be fooled by the greenery in the photos – these are seasonal camping sites. We were assigned a few square feet in a gravel parking lot, vitually on top of our neighbors. It was bad.

One of the main reasons we went to Montreal at this time was to see the Grand Prix (pro cycling race). Held on a hilly 7k circuit in the central city, it was exciting to watch. We had front row seats from every vantage point. These are Tier 2 pro cyclists – some will probably make it to the top tier of Tour de France racing. But these are top pro teams, and we had a blast watching them.

Our hearts were with the Cannondale team, which didn’t place well, but it was a blast, anyway. This is a whole level of cycling we hadn’t experienced. These are amazing athletes.

I had watched a video of two guys slurping noodles in Montreal Chinatown, and marked two restaurants I’d like to visit, so we found ourselves at Maxim. John is an excellent slurper, I’m less so. This simple, inexpensive food was probably the best we’ve had in a long time.

Omg, that was tasty! We each had a noodle bowl, and shared a scallion pancake. I want to make noodles like this guy!

We spent time just wandering around, enjoying the sights of a big city. Once again (and we knew in advance), we didn’t budget enough time to really explore. The Basilica Notre Dame was awe-inspiring. We were a bit chagrined to realize (upon exiting), that we had entered unofficially from a side street, and had not paid the admittance fee. Oops.

(I apologize for the unedited photos). We have had little or no internet since we left home, and I’ve often uploaded photos when we found a bit of WiFi). Using the WordPress app instead of my laptop is cumbersome for me, so things might look a bit haphazard.

We’re back in the States now for two weeks, then heading to Quebec City, and on to the Bay of Fundy. Not sure if we’re going to go to PEI and Nova Scotia, or leave that for another trip. Perhaps part of that decision will be weather-driven. We are soggy and a bit mildewed around the edges after endless day nof rain. We get a snippet of sunshine, followed by a deluge.

Camping is more fun in good weather than bad. That’s Rule #1.

More to follow…

Still Here

Hard to believe that it’s been less than two months since my last post. It seems like a lifetime ago.

We were camping at Tallulah Gorge State Park in northern Georgia when I got a late night call from my nephew. My sister Gail, who was hospitalized in Vegas, had taken a down turn and her prospects for survival were very uncertain. I was able to get an early morning direct flight from Atlanta direct to Vegas. John piled both Jezzy and me into the truck and we headed for the airport at 4am, stopping briefly at a Walmart to buy a duffel bag, so that I wouldn’t have to use a Trader Joe shopping bag as my carry-on.

By the time I arrived in Vegas, Gail was gone.

I stayed in Vegas for about a week, then flew to Charlottesville, VA as it was the closest airport to Shenandoah National Park, where John was camping on a long-planned escapade with some of our T@DA pals. A week later, we were finally back home in time for Mother’s Day.

It seems ridiculous to try to recreate that last month of camping anymore. Hikes and bike rides – so what? We have plans for later in the summer and fall, so I’ll probably pick the blog back up then.

But here’s a favorite photo of the two best sisters any girl could have. We were all at Lake Mead sometime back in the late 70s or early 80s. It has always been called The Hottie and The Hippie. Nice to remember better times.20171225_093449538983299348892679.jpg

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.

Wild Animals and Wilderness

Wow! What a week. If you don’t want to plow through all the yadayadayada, just skip around and take a look at some of the photos…we’ve had some interesting times. One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep a record – for us – of our adventures. In a few years, when we’re in The Home, drooling on ourselves, we’ll be able to re-live these times. These are some of the things I hope we’ll remember.

We decided to leave Valley of Fires a day ahead of our plan, and shorten the lengthy drive to our next scheduled stop. Oasis State Park (NM) seemed like a good choice for an intermediate stop. Well, maybe….we drove through miles of flat territory, studded with cattle feedlots. Oasis SP is an odd spot – a small campground stuck out in a huge flatland. There is absolutely nothing nearby. I’m not sure why anybody would actually plan to camp here. It’s barren. 20180410_171905944341651.jpg20180403_1832351700276330.jpgThe wind was roaring – we sat outside for a few minutes, and congratulated ourselves with having a shorter drive for the next day, then dove inside to seek shelter from the wind and cold. It wasn’t pleasant.

Several years ago, we stayed at Caprock Canyons State Park (TX), and my most best memory of it was the prairie dog village.20180404_171509487528699.jpg With my cellphone camera, it’s impossible to get a decent photo of this experience – prairie dogs and their environment are nearly the same color, and I couldn’t get close enough for a clear shot. But this video gives you a great idea of  what the experience is. Enjoy. It’s crazy. When I walked past the village with Jezzy, the activity and chatter between prairie dog ‘condos’ increases. Jezzy is entranced. Prairie dog is the new squirrel.

But, this trip to Caprock was all about the bison. Their stately presence is something we’ve enjoyed at Custer State Park and Teddy Roosevelt National Park, but this was contact on a whole new level. (This guy is nuts for turning his back as he did.)C9C05651-69C9-45BB-B219-E9CDB2C50C69 They wander everywhere – disrupting traffic and foot-flow whever they pass. Our campground was a prime target. I awoke one night at 4am to a strange noise directly outside the window that I couldn’t identify. When I opened the shade, all I could see was the huge body of a bison, standing three feet from my reach – right at the edge of the trailer hitch! Apparently, the Campsh@ck was perched on some tender shoots he wanted to have. Although he never bumped the camper, it took a long time to get back to sleep that night. In the morning, we discovered a delightful ‘hostess gift’ which he left for us. 20180410_1734141033266775.jpgOur new neighbor the next day had a similar experience. She rolled in with her small camper to the sight of the bison hanging out in her campsite. 20180410_1742562001968800.jpgHe was nearly as big as her camper.IMG_20180407_173257.jpg There was a bit of cat-and-mouse as she tried to wait him out before leaving on her bicycle. Nerve-wracking, to be sure.

It’s impossible to explore the Canyons without a bison encounter. 20180410_173218708221960.jpgWe hiked the 6.5 mile Rim Canyon loop, and met up with a few surly-looking beasts. For sure, we gave them a wide berth, and moved on. But, I believe it was this same group who caught up with us as soon as we entered the enclosed campground for people camping with horses. Although it looks like I’m right next to them, we were (thankfully) separated by a thin strand of barbed wire.

 

Bison may look stupid and docile, but they are quick and agile. From the protection of our truck, we viewed one lone bison racing across the prairie – apparently waking up from a nap to find the herd had left him behind. Believe me, he was hauling ass! It was amazing to see. I was even attacked by a bison statue. Nobody was injured.20180406_1151231800038015.jpgOn one particularly cold morning, we left in the truck to explore nearby Turkey TX. Upon returning, we met our neighbors who told us that we had a big bull bison using our electric post as his scratching post. He inadvertently turned on our water spigot (we had turned it off and disconnected the hose due to 20 degree temps the night before). Water was spraying everywhere! They waited for him to wander off, then turned off the water.

We hiked another day from the far end of the Canyon into a completely different landscape. A3B3AAB4-4125-4BDD-9B94-A65E55098D0F5C7F3612-5944-4650-BDD1-12D26625CF14 20180410_1743511652084639.jpgAlthough we were plagued by fierce winds and plunging temps, I’d go back there in a minute. It’s so beautiful.20180406_1043551261039530.jpg20180406_1043121373068015.jpg20180405_1239331453774573.jpgWe were sad to leave Caprock, but hopeful to find some warmer temps. The dry 30mph winds and below freezing temps at night were wearing us down. We couldn’t have a fire, it was too windy to keep our awning up to sit outside, and we were a bit tired of the close contact of being stuck inside a small space (small campers are even smaller after a few days of inclement weather)

One more curiosity about this area – on the road into the Park, there’s a fence stretching about 3/4 mile on which folks have decorated boots and hung them on the fenceposts. Here are a few of my favorites.

We didn’t have high expectations for our next stop – Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. But, what an interesting spot! More bison, Oklahoma Longhorns, coyotes, turkeys, geese, a primo lakeside campsite for $10, and more.20180410_1803002120749914.jpg20180409_195102713387479.jpgOne big downside.20180410_1747531235530549.jpg This is the third time we have encountered a water-warning in a western State or Federal campground on this trip, and it’s worrisome. Twice, the warning was for high nitrates, but the e-coli warning to avoid all contact and boil water was scary. There were several pit toilets around the campgroud which had been de-commissioned, and I’m pretty sure that was related to the e-coli contamination. Creepy. Once our clean water is gone, what’s next? We had five gallons of drinking water with us (way more than enough), and we used water from our tank for dish washing. But, I did take showers there – yuck!

The Visitor Center in the NWR is amazing – videos and displays about rejuvenation of the prairie, saving the bison, and restoration of the prairie. Between 1830 and 1860, the American bison herd was reduced from 50 million head to a few hundred. For me, those numbers are incomprehensible. Old photos show settlers sitting in stacks of bison hides or amidst piled of bison-head skeletons. President McKinley signed the Wichita Mountains NWR into existence, and thus began the long, slow process of saving the bison from extinction. Hooray for that effort. Longhorn cattle are also prominent in the NWR landscape.20180408_1403421539330140.jpg20180409_12474982827992.jpgIn the middle of this National Wildlife Refuge in western Oklahoma is a curious area called Holy City. 20180410_175538681212606.jpgAlthough I can’t speak to the religious aspect of this site, it certainly was a fantastic photo op.20180410_175659957570438.jpg20180409_140056961592622.jpg20180409_140604206578278.jpg20180409_140644805783642.jpg Since is was just a week after Easter, I can only imagine what it must have been like the previous week. Holy City was built in 1926, and is the site of the longest running annual Passion Play in the US.

One other event affected our visit to the NWR. While we were there, there was a full-scale controlled burn of the prairie inside the NWR being conducted by the Forest Service. We planned to cycle to the Visitor Center, then on down to a trail around Scott Mountain. Once we passed the VC, we noticed an unusual amount of smoke. Soon, signs appeared about the burn.20180410_175436416705792.jpg In this area, the Eastern Red Cedar is an invasive tree, which (left uncontrolled) would totally dominate the landscape. Burning is a method used to eliminate the cedar, since they perish, the native oaks survive, and the prairie grasses re-establish themselves within a matter of days. It’s easy to see the effectiveness of this tactic. Areas which have been burned are easily distinguished from those that have not, based on the scrub, and the trees. The area to the right of the sign in the above had been previously burned.The smoke from the burn was horrible though, and we were prohibited from cycling through the area we planned. 20180410_175354836702364.jpg Here’s what it looks like – I would love to go back in a month or two and take a photo from the same corner to see the difference.20180409_1422391573388771.jpg20180409_142127435293032.jpgThe hazy smoke affected all my photos from the day, although we enjoyed our ride and the sights.

We loved the historic stone buildings there. The photo below shows John near an early gas station. 20180410_1752381222561205.jpgThere are several dams in the area, and we found a terrific spot for lunch. 20180409_143549378829547.jpgThe Wichita Mountains NWR turned out to be a terrific spot to explore, and we were sad to leave. There’s much to see here, and we will definitely be back.

Heading toward an old favorite site – Galveston Island State Park. On the way there, we’re staying at two new (to us) campgrounds. Stay tuned….20180409_1523241213192847.jpg