Sunday, September 25, 2011

The trip of a lifetime is done!

When I last wrote a blog about our trip this summer we were leaving Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas, and heading to Oklahoma City, OK. The trip was easy as we traveled on interstate all the way. Our plan was to "camp" at a Wal-Mart near our friends' home. We found it with no problem and parked, checked in with the manager and drove to see our friends. Actually, Frank is a friend of Jim from childhood. Frank and his wife, Kay, are old motorcycle traveling buddies of Jim's. They done lots of traveling in years past. We spent the entire afternoon and evening with Frank and Kay. The three friends reminised about old times and I enjoyed hearing new stories about those fun times. It was good to see them again.

The worst part of our trip happened that night. The generator on the motorhome just stopped. We had to endure the night of heat with no air conditioner!!! We opened all the windows and tried to remember how we survived as children in Texas without air conditioners. When I hit the bed the sheets were hot...the bed actually felt like there was a heated mattress. I could have enjoyed that in Alaska but it was tough when the air inside and out was HOT! We managed and woke up early to get on the road before the sun came up.

We drove all the way through Dallas and to our lakehouse on Cedar Creek Lake. Everything was fine at the house and it took us a short time to turn on the air conditioner and cool the place off. It helps that it is shaded by a huge oak tree and that it is almost as small as the motorhome! Jim spent the next days there doing a little work outside...mostly in early morning. It was just too hot to be outside much. We drove to Palestine to visit with my mom. I had a chance to go through the photos I sent while traveling and share some of our experiences. It was good to be back with my mom and closer to home.

After a few days at the lake house it was time to head back to our home in Covington, LA. I couldn't wait to see Zach and to also see how well he kept the house while we were away for 103 days. I was ready to be back in my own house but not too excited to live in the heat and humidity. I had so enjoyed the coolness of the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Canada.

The house was in great order. Zach took good care of everything. The weeds in the beds were chin high but the lawn looked nice and the house was not a disaster. I never thought it would be.
I still cannot believe we made this trip. I would do it again in a minute...not sure Jim would. He drove the motorhome 12,320 miles and put at least 4,000 miles on the tow car. Eventhough we took this trip day by day and mile by mile it still was a huge endeavor.
Now to start planning next summer's trip to cooler climate.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Palo Duro State Park, Canyon, TX, August 17-19, 2011

We have reserved a campsite at Palo Duro State Park near Amarillo, Texas. We also have tickets to the show TEXAS which is performed in the open-air theater right in the park. We've wanted to see this for years but have never been in the area at the right time. We are just making it though...our tickets are for Aug. 18th and the last performance is Aug. 20th. I just hoped the weather (meaning the HEAT) would not be a factor. It was not.

The only problem getting to the park was that when we unhooked the tow car to make the steep drive down into the canyon we discovered the car was dead. Jim had to get out the jumper cables and get it going. Our campsite is the same one we had here in 2007. It is all the way in the back of the park...8 miles from the entrance. We were the only ones camping there until the morning we left. Anyway, we got camped just fine. Thankfully the site has water and electric (50 amp.). We started both air conditioners to cool down the interior. It did not take long until we were very comfortable.

In the morning we got up and out early...Jim wanted to get a new battery for the car. We found the Walmart and had the battery checked. We did not get a new battery since we were told the one we had was good. We've had no problem since. We made the mistake of leaving a charger plugged into the cigarette lighter while we towed and that is what ran the battery down.

After running a few errands in Canyon, Texas, we went back to the rig to have some lunch and get ready for our dinner and show in the evening.

Our tickets were for a Big Texas Steak Dinner at the theater before the show. We arrived at around 7 PM and went through the buffet to get our steak, salad and fixin's. We sat at the covered tables where there were misting machines all around the covers. Some of those were doing more than misting and I got spit on a couple of times walking to our table. It helped with the heat and I didn't complain. The dinner was good. After eating we went to the courtyard area of the theater. They had a country band playing. We strolled through the gift shop and Jim stopped to talk to Gerald McCathern, a western author who was there autographing books. The only thing I purchased was water and a fan!

We went back outside and sat to listen to the band. The same misters were hanging all around to cool off the area. They did a good job. It was very pleasant. We met one of the greeters...there were lots of older people working there to greet the guests. The man we spoke to had formerly lived in Alaska! Jim talked to him and shared some of our adventures.

The show began at 8:30 PM. The theater was just about full. It was hot but, thankfully, the sun had gone down behind the canyon rim. I won't tell you about the show except to say it was great! Outside with the canyon rim wall as a backdrop. Horses being ridden and pulling wagons and carriages moved in the background area. A deer even pranced across...don't think that was part of the show, it just happened. We had seen lots of deer in the area. There was a storm with lightening and even the shrubs caught fire at one time. It was all well done and we enjoyed it very much. It is put on by young college students and others and one runs during the summer months. It is worth the trip to Palo Duro Canyon.

We left there the next morning and headed to Oklahoma City. We are going there to see some old friends of Jim's. I'm sure there will be lots of reminising and laughing. We don't have a campground. Our plan is to stay at the Walmart near our friends home. We'll see how we manage the 100+ temps!

Castle Rock, Colorado, August 15-16, 2011

We left Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, WY, early on August 14th, our oldest son’s, Zach, birthday. He is 27! I miss him so much and wish we could have been at home with him. We did talk on the phone and will have a birthday dinner when we get home. We are all going together to Houston for my nephew’s wedding. That will be fun.

We are stopping in Rawlins, WY, for the night since it’s a long way to Castle Rock, Colorado. We found an rv park, Western Hills, just off the interstate. It reminded me of the park we stopped at in Van Horn, Texas, at the beginning of this adventure. Big open gravel area with electrical posts sticking up all over. Very easy to get in and out of. There were clouds in the sky which made for the most beautiful sunset. I will miss Wyoming.

We got an early start next morning and headed towards Castle Rock just beyond Denver. We are planning to see some old Texaco friends who have retired there. We didn’t know exactly the plans to get together so we pulled into a Wal-Mart to camp and to shop, of course. The first thing Jim wanted to do was get the tow car washed. He says it looks like a mudball…it’s nothing compared to what it looked like in Alaska.

Got the car washed and had a look around the town…found a Dairy Queen and couldn’t resist the urge to have a blizzard. We will miss those too when we get back to Louisiana. Jim talked to one of our friends and we decided to meet for drinks. Met Phil at one restaurant which turned out to be closed on Mondays so he took us in his car to meet John and Flora at Rodney’s for some drinks. Phil had one drink but needed to go but John and Flora stayed and we ate some dinner. We were invited to a wine tasting on the patio so we had a nice evening. We went with John and Flora to their home and took a tour of the place. Beautiful! We sat on the upper patio and had a nightcap while we watched the sun set. I could get used to this!

Finally got back to the motorhome at the Walmart and had a good night with the windows open and a nice cool breeze. Had alot of traffic noise from the highway and some train noise from all that traffic nearby. No problem sleeping though. We got up the next morning and moved to a campground down the highway in Larkspur. We took care of some rv maintenance and laundry and just general things around the rig. We met Phil and Sandy and John and Flora at The Stone Church restaurant for happy hour then dinner. The food was delicious and we really enjoyed visiting with our friends. It's been too long a time since we've seen each other. Hope we can see them again soon.

After saying goodbye to our friends Jim and I went back to the motorhome and got ready to break camp in the morning. We are headed to Texas!!!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Grand Teton National Park, August 12-13, 2011

We had to drive back through Yellowstone to get to Grand Teton NP. We got to see more geysers from the road. They were very steamy this morning. The road is like a very good two lane highway with lots of turnouts. It was very easy to travel through the park. Part of the road on the south entrance is very high up and hanging out off the side of a mountain with a canyon below. I just kept looking ahead and tried not to think about where we were driving and praying we would not meet a big motorhome coming from the other direction. Made it through and finally to Grand Teton. The parks are connected and you go right from one to the other. We didn’t have a campground yet but hoped to camp at Colter Bay campground…we were lucky and got a nice long site for the night. We got set up and headed out to drive the loop road. We had seen the mountains from the road as we drove into the park but we hadn’t seen anything yet. We drove up Signal Mountain road expecting to see a fantastic view of the mountains and the lake. Wrong!!! The view at the top of Signal Mountain was of the area opposite the mountains and Jackson, WY, in the distance. I was very disappointed. As we headed back down the road we stopped at Jackson overlook and walked down a trail to a view of Grand Teton Mountain. I walked a little bit further through some scrub and flowers to finally see a full view of the entire mountain range and also the lake. It was spectacular. We took lots of pics.

When we got to the main road we continued on around the loop stopping at all the turnouts to take more photos. As we turned towards the Gros Verde campground we saw a large bison herd on the plains. This is so cool. I love to see bison. We drove through the campground to have a look as we are planning on moving there tomorrow.
We continued on around the loop road stopping at an old homestead on Mormon Row. We walked through the yards and around all the buildings. I took some more photos. It seems like everywhere you stop you get a different view of the mountains. It all so close and the sky is so clear the view is full.

When we headed back to our campground we stopped at the Jackson Lodge. We found the bar area and sat down to try some local brew. We saw a wedding which was happening on the patio. Beautiful backdrop but the sun was so brilliant it was blinding. Didn’t see our old friends from Yellowstone…maybe they are staying at another lodge.
Made it back to our campground and had a good evening listening to our audio book then to bed.

The next morning we packed up and moved to the Gros Verde campground near the south side of the park. Got set up then headed out to Jackson, WY, to see the town. It is a really cute, typical tourist town. I bet it is jumping during the winter. We could see ski slopes right at the end of town. We walked through several galleries and even had a beer at the The Wort Hotel in their Silver Dollar Saloon. The entire bar is covered with Silver dollars. The halls near the bar are covered with framed photos from movies which were filmed in the area. I must watch some of those films now that I’ve been here.
We drove back into Grand Teton NP and went to see the Chapel of the Transfiguration. The window in the Sanctuary has a view of Grand Teton Mountain. Beautiful!!

We walked down to the old ferry on the Snake River and visited with the “shop keeper” in the General Store. He was a full-time RV’er who has worked in the park the last 6 years. He gave Jim the website where he found the job. I think Jim is interested in doing this next summer. We will probably want to find somewhere cool to go to get away from the southern heat! Sounds like it would be something fun to try.
Got back to the motorhome and fixed dinner. We finally sat outside to eat and had wine with dinner. We got the chairs out and finished the wine watching the sun set over the mountains. Not a bad way to spend an evening. Tomorrow we will head down the road. We are planning on getting to Denver in a couple of days and seeing some old friends there.

Yellowstone National Park, August 9-11, 2011

We really didn’t have far to drive to make it to Yellowstone. We took 287 out of Helena and saw some more open spaces. Connected with I-90 but took off near Bozeman and headed down 191 to West Yellowstone where we found a campground. The drive down 191 was along side Gallatin River. We saw lots of fly fishermen and rafters. So exciting to see. We got to our campground fairly early and wanted to go into Yellowstone to spend the afternoon. We had heard there was road construction on the West Entrance road and we did see them putting down new gravel. We had no problem getting through that road. We saw elk on some of the meadows we passed as we headed to Madison and the Grand Loop Road. We turned south towards Old Faithful and stopped at every trail to see geysers and thermal ponds. You could see steam rising from far away…it almost looked like the forest was on fire. Whenever we saw cars stopped or grouped on the road we knew there was wildlife nearby. Mostly saw elk. We finally made it to Old Faithful area. Jim had been there years ago when traveling on his motorcycle. There is a new visitor’s center which we visited then walked to the Old Faithful Inn where Jim had stayed. He didn’t remember much about it. It was beautiful…built with logs with huge fireplace in the reception area. We found the bar to get a drink before Old Faithful was scheduled to erupt at 7:19 PM. We met a couple of older gentlemen at the bar who were at Yellowstone with a family reunion. The older of the two lives in South Dakota and the other lives in Florida. We had a very enjoyable talk sharing some of our trip details and asked lots of questions about what to see in South Dakota. We’re having fun trying local beers and meeting people. Everyone is so amazed to hear we’re traveling in a motorhome and that we drove all the way to Alaska.
After our drink we went out and found a front row seat to wait for Old Faithful. It was very overcast and had sprinkled rain a little. The wind was very strong and I was only dressed in a little shirt…no jacket. I was freezing. Jim had to wrap me in his arms to warm me up. I was still cold.
We chatted with the lady next to us while we waited. Old Faithful teased us a bit by steaming and spitting water several times. The benches were full of people cameras in hand. Some kept standing every time the geyser spitted. Finally at 7:24 PM Old Faithful finally came to life. I took lots of pics. When it was finished all the people disappeared inside to get out of the cold. Jim and I got to the car and headed back to the campground for the night.
When we got back I made hot chocolate…I’ll miss this cool weather when we get back home to 100+ degree temps.
In the morning we set out again and headed north on the Grand Loop Road to check out more geysers, falls and wildlife. It is all so beautiful. Yellowstone covers a huge area and has so many different types of landscape. We drove to The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and saw the falls. They have a North Rim Drive and a South Rim Drive. We did both. On the South Rim Drive I saw a bison right on the side of the road then also saw a couple of beautiful antlered elk grazing near one of the trailheads. Lots of people were there takings photos. One lady started yelling, either to her husband or son, telling them every thing to do. I couldn’t believe it. Most of the people were laughing but one young man told her to “be quiet”. It was unbelieveable that she would stand there yelling at the top of her lungs.
On our drive around the rest of the loop we ran into a herd of bison. One young bison was crossing the road. A park ranger tried to get him across so the traffic could go on but the bison kept getting in the road. By the time we got up near them we saw the young bison on one side and probably his mother on the opposite side. Hopefully, that finally got together. I took some pics and that was fun to see. We made it back around to Old Faithful again and went back to the Inn bar for a beer and to check out the next scheduled eruption. Just as we walked up we saw everyone sitting on the benches and figured out it was about that time. In five minutes time, Old Faithful came to life again. It was beautifully sunny and hot. I got some pics with my phone as well as a good video. Now I just need to figure out how to get the video to my PC. After that we headed to the bar and found our two old friends from the day before. We sat again and visited with them about what we had done and seen that day and they also shared there activities and their plans for the coming days. They are also leaving on the Friday and traveling to Grand Teton NP just like us. I wonder if we’ll see them there.
The second full day in Yellowstone we wanted to drive the Upper Loop. The Upper Loop road climbs through the mountains. We stopped at a fantastic overlook and could see for miles and miles. The hillside there was covered with wildflowers. People had crossed the road and were taking photos of each other sitting in the flowers. That loop road is so different than the lower loop where all the geysers are. We also ran into some construction at the junction with the northeast entrance road. We sat there on the road for about 30 minutes before we got to move. We had planned to stop at the lodge for lunch but decided to get out of the area and head for Mammoth Springs.
When we got there the town was packed with cars and people. We were lucky to find a parking place and decided to go to the grill for lunch instead of the cafĂ©. Bad decision!!! I got a cheeseburger. It was cold and the cheese was not even warm enough to be soft. I was very unhappy and completed a survey and left it in the box. It won’t matter…they don’t read those things anyway. We left there and walked to the Mammoth Spring. It was a huge mound of tiered levels of mineral deposits. So otherworldly looking. As we walked back to the car we stopped to get ice cream. The guy dipping was from Texas and he gave me two Texas-sized scoops. It was about a pint of ice cream. It made up for the horrible lunch.
We headed back down towards Madison and the road out of the park. On the way we saw more bison. They are everywhere in this park. They have flashing signs warning about bison.
We left the next morning and drove through the park again to get to Grand Teton NP. More about that later.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Glacier National Park to Helena, Montana, August 7-8, 2011

A little worried about the road out of St. Mary’s but Jim had no problem. It was a little curvy and narrow and up and down but we got out of that and into some wide open spaces nearer to Helena. We are camping at the Lincoln RV Park north of Helena. As soon as we were camped a monster rig towing a HUGE matching trailer pulled into the park a couple of spaces from ours. It was the largest thing we’ve ever seen. Never did find out who they were…decided it was some kind of entertainer with equipment in the trailer. Actually we never found out who it was but they had a Lexus and a couple of motorcycles in the trailer!
Jim has an old college friend who lives in Montana so he looked up his address…he lives right in Helena! We decided to give him a call after we returned from our shopping trip to Walmart. This is the first supercenter we’ve shopped at since we left the continental US.
Jim called his friend, Farrell, and invited him to our campground for hamburgers. It was good to meet him. Jim and Farrell had not seen each other since 1959! They just took up like no time had passed. That’s what’s great about friends. We had fun visiting with Farrell and made plans to get together the next day. Jim is planning to finally have the windshield chips repaired in the morning then we’ll check with Farrell.
The windshield repairman came to the campground and worked for a couple of hours repairing the two chips in the motorhome and two others in the tow car. While he was working Jim checked with Farrell. We will meet him for lunch in town then Farrell has some plans for us to see Helena. At lunch we met Farrell’s wife, Nancy, their daughter, Melanie, and their granddaughter, Carly. We enjoyed talking about our lives and our families over good food. Once we were done, Farrell took us to the Helena Historical Society museum for a ride on the Train Tour of Helena. We had some time so we decided to have a look in the museum. They are offering free admission to veterans and their family members so we all got in free. We only had a little time before the “train” left so we spent it looking at a special exhibit of Charlie Russell paintings and sculptures. They were beautiful. The were of the old west….indians, cowboys, horses and buffalo. They also had letters he had written friends and on each letter he had painted a little piece of art. What a great thing to send to a friend.
We finally got on the “Train” and the conductor drove us around town and told us all about the buildings and the people who had built homes in the early days. I was amazed to see so much original construction which is still being used today. I really loved Helena. Farrell also took us on a tour of the capitol building and the old Catholic cathedral. We finished the day by having dinner at The Broadway. It was a great day and we enjoyed the time spent with Farrell.
We went back to the motorhome and planned our departure in the morning. We are headed to Yellowstone National Park. Hope we can find a campground!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Banff, AB, to Glacier National Park, Montana, August 5-7, 2011

We got on the PH 1 in the morning and planned to connect with PH 2 in Calgary to start our trip south. We saw some signs as we entered Calgary for PH 2 so we took the exit and ended up driving through busy roads through new shopping areas and restaurants to finally get to PH 2A then PH 2 outside of Calgary. Not the route I expected but we made it out alive.
The road to Calgary was more like interstates in the US and Jim mentioned how easy it was to drive now than it had been on gravel roads in Alaska and parts of Canada near there. The land also changed to very Texas looking pastures and ranches.
We took a small detour off PH 2 just before the border crossing to check out the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump National Historic Monument. We had been advised to see this by our friends, and former RVers, Ed and Reta. It was well worth the trip. It was a beautifully designed building…constructed so that it fit right in the side of a hill and looked like part of the landscape. We watched a film at the beginning of our tour through the facility. The movie depicted how the natives who hunted buffalo 6,000 years ago herded the buffalo and stampeded them over a cliff. It was a community effort every year where several different groups came together to organize this hunt. There were other exhibits about the natives and about the archeological digs which made studies and discoveries about the event.
We had a little lunch in the motorhome before getting back on the road to the border. When we reached the border crossing it began to storm…dark clouds, rain, lightening and thunder. This was the first hard rain we’ve seen since our trip began. I know we’ve had rain on this trip but usually at night and not a real storm.
It wasn’t very far to our campground from the border. We’re camping at Johnson’s Campground and RV Park in St. Mary, Montana, just outside Glacier National Park. I had made reservations before we left Banff. We also made reservations to do the Crown of the Continent Red Bus Tour on Saturday.
After we got settled we went up to the office to try and connect with wifi using our phones. It worked well and I checked email and facebook. We walked to the office and back to the rig. I ran first up a steep path before Jim left the office. It looked like more rain was coming but it never developed. We had some soup then Jim went back to the office with his laptop to do some real work.
In the morning I had set my alarm to get up in time to shower and wash my hair before we went on our red bus tour. We had plenty of time to get ready and went to the office early to check out email. The bus picked us up at the office at about 9:45. We had a full bus…we were packed in like sardines. Not much legroom and four sitting on a bench seat. Jim and I sat in the first row behind the driver. I don’t know why the others already on the bus hadn’t sat there but I was happy we did. I could hear the bus driver very well even when his voice missed the microphone. The drive into the park was beautiful. We stopped at St. Mary’s lake for photos and along the way for other picture opportunities. We made it to Logan’s Pass where we got out to stretch before heading on up the road. We saw some mountain goats and snow still on the mountain peaks. Then came the real ride…the road was cut out of the side of a mountain…sometimes they didn’t cut out enough!! We could see the road wrapping around the side up ahead because the road was also climbing and curvy. We even saw a trail also just on the side of the same mountain only higher. I couldn’t believe people we walking on it! The views were spectacular. Waterfalls were all over the place. We even drove along a portion of the road called Weeping Wall…waterfalls were just pouring out of the rock wall and falling on the road. We ended up going down to the canyon floor and driving through the trees and along McDonald Creek. We stopped at the lodge at McDonald Lake and had an hour’s break for lunch. Jim and I ate in the bar area…I had salad and Jim a turkey sandwich.
There were other RVers on the bus tour. One of the couples right behind us is also going to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton NP. They were also in Alaska and visited a lot of the places we visited. It was fun to share information and compare notes about the places we’ve seen. The couple who sat next to us on the bus were from Boston and had flown in with their two young sons. I still love meeting all the different people. Tomorrow we head to Helena, Montana, on our way to Yellowstone.