Monthly Archives: May 2012

America’s First National Park: Yellowstone

View of Yellowstone Lake

Geysers, waterfalls and snow are the images embedded in our minds after our stay at Yellowstone National Park.  The day we drove from Grand Teton NP to Yellowstone was crisp and clear with a beautiful blue sky.  Upon entering Yellowstone, we began to see drifts of snow and we could not resist stopping and getting photographs.  It was truly a Merry May!

John at South Entrance to Yellowstone

Waterfall near the South Entrance to Yellowstone

Lake Lewis- still frozen!

Yellowstone Vista on way to Fishing Bridge

After registering at Fishing Bridge RV Park, we took a bike ride to explore the Fishing Bridge area.  The next morning, there was a light dusting of snow on the ground.  The weather cleared near noon so we set off for Old Faithful.

Old Faithful Geyser

Arriving at Old Faithful was truly exciting; within 5 minutes of our arrival Old Faithful erupted and with it brought back those long ago grade school memories of learning about Old Faithful from a textbook.  We then proceeded into the Old Faithful Inn to soak up its “parkitecture” as they call it.  After touring the Inn, we sat down in the Dining Room for a gourmet lunch in front of their huge hearth.  Following lunch, we made our way back to the viewing area to watch Old Faithful erupt for a second time.  Later, as we walked back to the parking lot, we discovered a bison directly in front of our truck!

Old Faithful Inn

That evening and the following five days, we experienced snow falling for the first time in a number of years.  Despite the snowy conditions, there was a period in each day that we were able to venture out to experience the wonders of this park.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Yellowstone River running through the Grand Canyon of YNP

Joy at Grand Canyon Overlook

John, Lower Falls of Grand Canyon YNP

Lower Falls

Hydrothermals at West Thumb, YNP

Upper Falls, Grand Canyon of YNP

Elk enjoying West Thumb

Iconic Yellow Schoolbus at the Lake Hotel

View of Yellowstone Lake

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Grand Teton National Park

Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park

We decided to “break camp” at Antelope Island the night before our departure for Grand Teton National Park in anticipation of a longer drive than we generally like to travel – about 300 miles or roughly six hours. All that was left to do in the morning was to unplug, do a few other small chores and head the Silver Manatee toward the causeway. Fortunately, we did not wait until the morning for our preparations as during the night, a Pacific storm front moved in bringing a good deal of rain and heavy wind. At sundown there were two tent campers within sight of us who were not there in the morning. Departing from Antelope, John dodged bolts of lightning as we were on our way in a rain/hail storm which made so much noise hitting the truck we could hardly hear one another. The wind, however, was not as severe as during the night. Visibility was just adequate, the wind was tolerable, and so our journey continued.

Once we reached Idaho, we were out of the storm front and were able to truly experience Idaho’s landscape which neither of us had ever seen.  Idaho appeared to be quite a productive state, at least from an agricultural point of view. From our car window, the green rolling countryside showed evidence of a wide variety of crops and the farmlands appeared healthy and prosperous. Previously, we have driven through some areas of the country which are mile after mile of corn or scrub land which gets tiresome, but Idaho had variety which made it interesting to try to guess what they were growing. Since we were pressed for time, John thought it best to pass on the Potato Museum.

Just before we came to the Wyoming state line, we found ourselves in Idaho Falls where we decided to take a lunch break. We found a local “hot spot”- the North Highway Café, established in 1934. We are confident that some of the people, waiters and alike, are the same as when the café first opened. This café would remind you of Wheelers in Arcadia. The place was full; everyone knew one another and cordially looked after the new strangers in town. We ordered the special of the day – Shrimpkin. Before you read further, define Shrimpkin. Time is up. This is a combination of shrimp and chicken! After our enjoyable lunch break, we headed out of Idaho Falls along Highway 26 where the mountains around Targhee started reaching for the sky and you wished you could linger and try your hand at fly fishing along the crystal clear Snake River.

Later that afternoon, we arrived in Jackson, Wyoming, often called Jackson Hole, with its singular Teton peaks, the teenagers of the Rockies. We skied Jackson Hole a number of years ago and left with respect for the steep rugged terrain. This mountain range goes from flat plains straight up to the most jagged show covered mountain tops we have seen thus far.

As we proceeded through Jackson, the road skirted the National Elk Refuge along the way to Colter Bay Campground where we would stay for 3 nights. Some of our highlights of Grand Teton Nation Park were: the Chapel of the Transfiguration, built in 1925, which frames one of the most famous views of the Tetons; Oxbow Bend Turnout with its willow thickets and the stunning backdrop of Mount Moran; Jenny Lake Overlook with its view of Cascade Canyon, the trail along Lake Jenny, String Lake and Lake Leigh and the Bridger-Teton National Forest access road where we had our first sighting of a Grizzly.

Canadian Geese on Lake Jackson

Grizzly, Grand Teton National Park

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Antelope Island State Park, Syracuse, Utah

We discovered Antelope Island State Park quite by accident. Joy spontaneously picked up a free RV travel publication that happened to have an article describing the park. We decided the park was centrally located on our fall line from Durango to Yellowstone so we called and made reservations. The initial park alerts warned about this being the hatching season for fierce gnats immune to bug sprays and described the only remedy was to wear long sleeved shirts, long pants and hats with nets. The entry to this isolated island in the Great Salt Lake is a seven mile causeway. While coming across the causeway, there was a distinct odor coming from the marsh on each side. We both looked at each other and agreed this stop was going to be a boom or bust and that we may have to cancel our reservations for the following 3 days.

Antelope Island had been the working ranch of the Garr family at its inception in 1878 and remained a working ranch until it was turned over to the state of Utah in 1981. The island is approximately 14 miles long and 4 ½ miles wide. In this relatively small area, it is amazing how the terrain changes from flat plains to steep rocky hill tops. Today the park service offers only 26 primitive camp sites (no electricity or running water). The camp sites are excellent- each with paved pads and covered picnic tables with wonderful panoramic views. There are some paved roads on the island and an estimated 30 miles of hiking trails. Today Antelope Island is the home of 500-700 buffalo, an untold number of birds, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope along with all sorts of other wildlife.

We are pleased to report we did not experience the gnats we were warned about and the marsh odor ended as soon as we got off the causeway. While here, we have had 3 Buffalo, we nicknamed “Los Tres Amigos”, visit our campsite each day.  Yesterday (while in the truck) we stopped to watch a herd of about 150 buffalo heading toward us. Within a few minutes, we found ourselves in the middle of the herd as they crossed the road to reach the grasslands on the other side. The animals kept within 10—15 feet of the truck.  This stop on the way to Alaska has turned out to be nothing short of amazing.

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A View of Colorado from 10,910’

Saying good-bye to the Hill Country in Texas, we set our sights for Durango, Colorado.  Along the way we visited Fort Stockton, TX (depicted in the header of this blog), Roswell, New Mexico of UFO fame and Albuquerque, New Mexico, home of the famous Hot Air Balloon Festival.  Ft. Stockton was our first experience with a rugged, desert town. From our location at the Hill Top RV Park, we were able to see an awesome view and desert sunset. Roswell was a charming small town celebrating the Cinco de Mayo along with the Kentucky Derby and  very proud of its UFO notoriety. In fact, as we were following our GPS, we became ensconced in a traffic jam due to roads being closed for the Cinco de Mayo festival- John with help from some locals had to move barricades in order to get the Silver Manatee to our home for the night!  Later, relaxing at the restuarant  at the Roswell Elks Lodge, we were informed that a former Kentucky Derby winner was from Roswell, No Bird of Mine and that a local jockey was riding one of the contenders!  So, needless to say, we had a great time watching the Derby. We found Albuquerque to be a vibrant city as we did some of our necessary shopping and treated ourselves to dinner at  Pappadeux’s restaurant that had been suggested by Mike Treworgy.  The crawfish bisque was just as delicious as Mike described, the ambience was casually elegant and we left feeling very pampered.    On another journey to the West, we hope to return to Albuquerque inorder to experience the Hot Air Balloon festival which takes place in the Fall.

Arriving in Durango, Colorado was breathtaking with its majestic Purgatory Mountain.

The historic town of Durango , perched at 6512′ above sea level, was founded back in 1880 with the development of the narrow gauge railroad to Silverton.  Consequently, Durango became the hub of the mining towns in the San Juan Mountains.  To this day, the railroad plays an important role in Durango. One day during our stay, we drove over the 10,910′ pass to Silverton only to see snow still on the ground and warnings of snow that very afternoon. Being flatlanders, we explored Silverton, had a wonderful lunch at a former  turn of the century saloon and made sure to head back to Durango before the snow fall!   On another day, we decided to take a hike that had been described as “Easy” from the downtown area inorder to see a vista of the town with the mountains; however, once we were at the trailhead we only saw this rocky incline ahead of us.  So, we proceeded to hike thinking it was going to level out- wrong.  The trail only continued to climb and after going about 2 miles up and finally coming to a trail map, we decided this was definitely not the “Easy” trail and hiked back down the mountain.  Once arriving at the base,we saw the other trail to our right and there was not a rock to be seen on that path!  The third highlight of Durango for us was our meeting of the photographer and author of the book Colorado’s Wild Horses, Claude Steelman.  Mr. Steelman was a delightful, humble man who shared many interesting insights about the wild horses with us. We found Durango to be a fascinating combination of outdoor recreation with its many hiking and biking trails and culture with its public art collection, numerous galleries and Ft. Lewis College.  With its southwest location in Colorado near the four corners area, Durango is a true destination.

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The Texas Two Step to the Hill Country

Beaumont and Brenham, TX were two overnight stops on our way to the Texas Hill Country. The oil industry was in evidence everywhere- drilling, refineries, chemical plants etc. We lucked into a BBQ cook off in Beaumont by a statewide group called the Go Texans which benefits education. The night before the judging they had a Fish Fry and dance which they invited us to join. The catfish was outstanding and watching them Two Step was really enjoyable. We’ve decided the next time we come to Texas we will know how to Two Step and line dance! We stayed on the grounds of Elk lodges in both towns and were warmly welcomed and given some great local information. They treated us to Boudin and Armadillo Ball appetizers which we will try to replicate when we return home.

Driving from Brenham and then on through Austin brought  two lane country roads lined with the wild flowers, the meandering narrow rivers and the rustic small towns of the Hill Country.  Along the road to the picturesque German town of Fredericksburg, we purchased freshly picked peaches from the Vogel Orchard- the sweetest, juiciest peaches we have ever eaten.  We finally got to see the iconic Longhorn close up along the winding roads near the Pedernales Falls State Park.  For us, two of the highlights of the Park were the Bird Blind with its viewing area of the migratory and native birds and the hike through the rocky terrain to the Falls.  The LBJ Ranch located on the Pedernales River along with the Texas White House was a fascinating personal glimpse of a President’s life.  The ranch was a unique blend of history and nature.

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Baton Rouge, LA

  Baton Rouge was a touch and go; we visited the LSU campus which was quite attractive with its large trees and Creole inspired architecture. Elaborate construction was underway not only on the Tiger Stadium but throughout the campus. A benefit run was in progress which added to the lively atmosphere along with a cool slogan posted around the campus, “Love Purple, Live Gold.”  Sorry to report, we had no sightings of Les Miles. The Lakeside RV Resort just east of Baton Rouge was a terrific overnight spot to prepare our Airstream Safari for its next adventure.

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Pensacola, FL

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Following Gary Wilkins’ suggestion, we packed up the Silver Manatee in Tally and headed to Pensacola on April 23rd (aka John’s Birthday) and traveled to the Blue Lagoon State Park.  One of the high points of this stop was the National Naval Air Museum located on the Naval Air Station (NAS) which is also the home base for the Blue Angels.  The Naval Air Museum is a state of the art museum which houses 150+ vintage military airplanes and special walk through exhibits primarily run by volunteers.  Fortunately for us, the Blue Angels were in town and early one morning, we were able to watch their practice with a small hometown crowd right beside the runway for a very special experience. Also located on the NAS, was the historic Pensacola Lighthouse built in 1859 on the Pensacola Bay. We took a car tour through the Seville Square Historic district filled with charming shops, galleries & cafes.  On our next visit, we will definitely plan to take a walking tour of the historic downtown topped off with a dinner at McGuire’s, but we had another “not to miss” rec by Gary to see- Ft. Pickens, a pre-Civil War brick fort, used by the Army until 1947.  Ironically, the Fort was built by slave labor from 1829-1834 to fight off foreign entities to protect Pensacola Bay and the Navy yard, but the only shots ever fired from the Fort were during the Civil War.  The Fort was utilized by the government to detain military prisoners and housed Geronimo and a small group of Apaches in Ft. Pickens as prisoners for one year prior to their transportation to Fort Sill, OK where Geronimo subsequently passed away.  The approach to Ft. Pickens from downtown is a scenic drive through the Gulf Islands National Seashore with pristine sand dunes, sea oats and white sugar sand on both sides. Pensacola truly gave us a hands on history lesson and a chance to see the awesome beauty of Florida & the Gulf Islands.

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Tallahassee, FL

We arrived in Tallahassee April 19th after spending a night on the road in Manatee Springs State Park. (Chiefland, FL).  The Big Oak RV Park was our base while in the state capital for 4 days.  The Park is properly named as it has one of the largest live oaks you will ever see.  We were fortunate to have tickets for 2 of the 3 sellout games in the FSU-Miami baseball series.  For the first time in 10 years, the Noles got a clean sweep over Miami!  If you are ever in Tallahassee, the Shell Oyster Bar restaurant is a colorful experience.  Appalachian Bay oysters have been their specialty since we both attended FSU.  For shrimp lovers, their shrimp burgers are outstanding.  While in Tally, we took the opportunity on a beautiful, clear day to visit the Historic Capitol and to take the elevator to the 22nd floor of the new capitol for a 360 degree view of the city. Image

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Preparing for the Journey

Departing from Punta Gorda was a bit of a challenge with the sale of our home while in the midst of preparing for this journey.  Additionally, John was tied up with a number of last minute work related details.  We actually moved aboard the Silver Manatee on April 1st.  The subsequent 2 weeks were filled with the closing of our home, moving everything into storage and last minute preparatory details for our land cruise.  We came to realize that due to Spring Break we could not stay in one location during this period, but needed to move 4 times! But, it was all good practice as we were able to get the bugs worked out to include John setting up our satellite antenna.  Also, we got to enjoy some great wildlife and biking while we were at Koreshan State Park, Highlands Hammock and Oscar Scherer. Finally, on April 18th we set out for our first stop- Tallahassee.Image

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