Friday, October 22, 2010

Wintering at Fort McDowell, AZ

We found a very nice campground out of town with a view of the desert, mountains and the Fountain Hills fountain.  It's a reasonable commute for Ann and a nice quiet place for me to work.  A great place to spend the winter.  We'll be here until at least mid-April and we will evaluate as we get closer.  We just need to be to Seattle by the end of June.

Here is a link to our winter residence.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Summer trip summary

I’m back at Cave Creek Recreation area after 6200 miles over the summer.  It’s fitting to stay here a night since this is where we stayed our first nights back the beginning of June.  We will look for a place to park long-term so we can winter in the valley.  Unfortunately they don’t have sewer hook-ups here or this is where we would stay because we love this place.

Now that I’m back in the valley of the sun for the winter I thought I would reflect on the trip this summer.  Here are some random thoughts:
- New Mexico needs to learn to smoothly transition road and overpass so that a motor home doesn’t fly into outer space at each and every one.  And fix the pot holes that a motor home can sometimes get lost in too!
- Illinois Beach State Park was one of my favorite campgrounds
- it was so great to see a lot of old friends back in MI and WI and spend more time with family than I had in forever
- the state animal for MN and SD should be the skunk (if it isn’t already)
- I can’t wait to get back to the U.P. and spend a lot of time there
- Illinois had the worst roads of the trip
- The Black Hills of SD are very pretty
- I wonder why Pronghorn Antelope like to hang out next to a highway when there is open prairie as far as the eye can see
- The trip to Grand Forks to see The Ralph was worth it
- It was interesting spending time in a new biome, the grasslands.
- most people say that miles upon miles of prairie or farm land are boring… I say that you need to learn to appreciate the journey and stop worrying about being entertained.  I’m fortunate to have read a lot about explorers and westward expansion so I was always thinking about what those people went through.
- now that I’m back to AZ, upper 90’s here still feels better than humid 80s in the Midwest.  Yes, dry heat is for real folks.
- Camp Verde is still pretty hot.  That valley’s elevation isn’t high enough to be dramatically cooler than Phoenix.
- I’m really excited for hockey season to begin!
- I can’t wait to hit the road again in the spring.  What’s the agenda?  Slow trip up the west coast to Washington for an event in July.  Then Glacier National Park and work back east (Devils Tower); spend time in the U.P.; down through MI to visit again; work down through the Smokies and the Carolinas; maybe winter next year in Florida?  Just thoughts and dreams (why stop dreaming now).

Here is a map of the travels.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Back in AZ

I got up this morning at the truck stop in Casa Blanca NM and the lot had filled up with trucks over night. That’s a lot of trucks.  I pulled out and headed west on I-40 continuing the climb in elevation until I hit the Continental Divide, east of Gallup, at around 7260 feet.  The drive across here is pretty nice until into AZ and then it is pretty drab.

I saw a group of Harley riders go by me on I-40 and based on British flags on each bike and a trailing mini-van I believe it was one of those guided tours.

I headed south on 87 from Winslow AZ to my planned campground at Clints Well.  I planned to stay at this cool high country campground for a few weeks until it cooled off down in the valley.  I goofed, however, and missed my turn off of 87.  Unfortunately, 87 is a typical mountain road with no pull offs much less a place to turn around a motor home pulling a car.  When I reached the turn for Camp Verde and still was unsuccessful, I decided just to head to Camp Verde and plan B.

So, I’m at a campground near Camp Verde where unfortunately it is 25 degrees warmer (because it is 3600 feet lower) than what I had hoped for.  Oh well, at least it’s cooler than Phoenix.  I’ll stay here a couple of weeks.

Friday, September 17, 2010

On the move

On Sunday Sept 12 Ann flew to Phoenix and I drove south to Monument, CO to a campground that was a little cheaper and to start my way out of the big city.  It was only about 50 miles but it was up hill all the way.  I stayed in Monument until Friday the 17th.

NM just south of Raton
It's Friday the 17th and I had fun once again watching the elevation on my GPS as I drove all day.  I pulled out of the campground at Monument , CO and headed south on I-25.  Over the last 2 weeks I drove the entire length of I-25 in CO and it turns out that where I was parked at Monument I was at the highest elevation (7360) along that route except right at the NM border.  Now I know why the campground is called “Colorado Heights”.  As I drove south through Colorado Springs and Pueblo the elevation continually dropped and turned back into prairie.  Elevation leveled out around 4700 feet and then a gradual climb began again into Trinidad.  Leaving Trinidad going south is all up hill until just as you hit the New Mexico boarder (at Raton pass) where you are at about 7800 feet and then coast down the NM side into Raton.

NM south of Raton-6400 ft
New Mexico is then more high elevation grassy prairie until south of Las Vegas where the highway turns around the mountains and heads west to Santa Fe.  From Raton to Las Vegas the elevation hung in there between 6000 and 6400 feet.  The drive from Las Vegas to Santa Fe is beautiful through the mountains and up over another 7500 foot pass.

About 20 east of Santa Fe
Santa Fe is at about the same elevation as Flagstaff but the similarities end there.   The drive from Santa Fe south to Albuquerque is down hill through very rough, rocky terrain with a view of mountains far to the west. 

Antrak running along I-40
I headed west on I-40 at Albuquerque which starts with long, steady climb back up to around 5800 feet.  Initially you drive through very arid, uninteresting country but within 40 miles it becomes very pretty with colorful buttes, cliffs and canyons.  I decided to stop at Casa Blanca after 450 miles today.  Not a lot by car, but it’s plenty by 40 ft motorhome.  I’m parked way in the back of the lot at a truck stop where I shall spend the night.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Drive to Denver

Our next journey leg began on Tuesday when we left the campground near Black Hawk and headed south.  We repeated the drive down the east side of the Black Hills on 79 and across 18 through Hot Springs again.  West of Hot Springs the hills gave way to more prairie land and some down right nasty, dry terrain full of rocky ravines and almost no vegetation for a while.  As we got into Wyoming it turned into mile upon mile of high elevation prairie at an elevation averaging around 4500 feet.  We decided to stop for the night at an RV park near Glendo, WY.

We headed out Tuesday to more high elevation prairie.  The 100 miles from Glendo to Cheyenne on I-25 just kept climbing gradually until we reached 6400 feet, still prairie as far as you could see but now with mountains far to the west.  Cheyenne being the capital of Wyoming meant a visit to the Capital building was in order.  We parked the motor home at a truck stop, unhooked the car, and drove into town.  It was a very nice old building built in the 1880s and recently refurbished so it was immaculate.

As we headed south out of Cheyenne the elevation gradually went down until it leveled out around 5100 feet which was consistent then on to Denver.  Once into Colorado the Rockies were on our right all the way into Denver.  The drive was pretty flat and the road was horrible.  Colorado needs to invest in some road work here.  We arrived in Denver and made our way through traffic to the oasis called Cherry Creek State Park right in the middle of the metro area.  We’ll stay here until Sunday visiting with Angela and Jake and chilling.  Ann will fly back to Phoenix Sunday (12th).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Labor Day Weekend

We had a great weekend in the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota.  It began Saturday with me picking Ann up at the Rapid City airport.  We headed out from the airport to Badlands National Park where we took the loop through the park.  It is understandable how it got its name from being difficult to travel through or live in.  It was quite interesting how the prairie abruptly changes into the rock formations.  The formations are all a bland grey color from volcanic ash.
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

Since the end of the loop ended at the city Wall, home of Wall Drug, we decided to go ahead and check it out.  It is the ultimate gift shop, if you are interested in such a thing, extending a full block long.  From here we headed back “home” and called it a day.

Sunday morning we got up and headed to Mount Rushmore.  I liked it more than I thought I would.  The old movie on its creation was really cool.  We next headed out on the scenic Iron Mountain Road through the black hills toward Custer State Park.  This was a very slow, curvy, pretty drive that included tunnels, pig tail bridges and whatever it took to wind through the hills.  We stopped for a picnic lunch and climbed until we could take some pictures of Mt Rushmore way back across the hills.  Custer State Park was also very pretty with more prairie openness.  We got our first look at Pronghorn Antelope here but learned the rest of the weekend that they are everywhere.
Mount Rushmore
Deadwood SD

The weather forecast for Monday was not good and we wanted to have nice weather to visit Lead and Deadwood so we took off back north, past our RV park, to visit these historic mining towns.  Lead was very sleepy and reminded us a lot of Bisbee AZ or Hancock MI as it was built on the steep hills.  Deadwood was far from sleepy as it was full of casinos and does a lot of advertising (successfully) to attract tourism.  Both towns had nice old buildings (by American standards) and were fun to walk around.  Deadwood is where Wild Bill Hickok was killed and buried so we wrapped it up by doing the touristy thing and went to the cemetery to see his grave along with Calamity Jane’s and a few other famous people.

We woke up Monday to a cold, raw wind as predicted.  However, the overnight rain had stopped and by 9 the clouds were breaking up.  We decided to drive back south to Wind Cave National park with a stop at the Crazy Horse Memorial along the way.  As we drove, the sky cleared nicely although the cold wind continued to blow with gusts of 40 mph.  We took a cave tour (no wind in there) and learned how this cave was formed differently than most other caves and thus had unique formations.  When we left Wind Cave we decided to check out the town of Hot Springs which had a lot of nice old sandstone buildings.  We saw the turn for “The Mammoth Site” so we did a spontaneous stop there to see one of the largest concentrations of mammoth bones found anywhere.  It was impressive.  At this point we headed back to Rapid City for dinner.
Wind Cave National Park
The Mammoth Site

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Driving across South Dakota

Today was a battle with the wind as I crossed South Dakota.  I left Summit, in the northeast part of the state, and headed due west on US 12 for 145 miles.  This drive was mostly flat with a scattering of lakes for the first 30 miles or so.  I saw a lot of ducks, geese, and cranes when around the lakes.  I saw turkeys twice within the first 15 minutes of my drive and later saw a couple of pheasants.  I almost hit a few birds that tried flying against the wind in front of me before they realized that flying against the wind was not happening today.

I then headed south on US 83.  The scene was pretty much the same except road kill changed from just skunks and raccoons to also some fox and deer.  After the turn south it was about 85 miles into Pierre.  I like to visit state capitals so I had my eye open for an opportunity to stop and visit this one.  I got lucky and as I saw the dome a few blocks over on my right I was able to pull over on a side street.  I walked over and was lucky again as it was open to the public on a Sunday.  It was 100 years old the end of June so it was all cleaned up and restored to celebrate.  It was a very cool building. 

I then walked about 6-7 blocks over to check out the Missouri River.  I was surprised how huge it is in SD.  I took a couple of pictures, well I thought I did, that turned out to be mini movies because I somehow moved the setting on my camera.

It was then on south from Pierre to I-90 where I went west about 70 miles to my stopping point at a KOA just east of Belvidere.  No in route pictures for today as the battle with the wind required both hands on the wheel and there weren’t any places to pull off.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Day trip to Grand Forks

I put on 389 miles today going round trip to Grand Forks, ND.  Why?  To see Ralph Engelstad Arena - "The Ralph", home of the University of North Dakota hockey team.  I've heard so much about it during my Frozen Four trips that I just had to go.  It was as amazing as the hype.  UND certainly got a wonderful gift from Ralph.  The grandeur surpasses any arena I've ever been in.  It isn't the largest arena compared to the pros (it is the largest for college hockey) but it is the most plush starting with all marble everything.  It's no wonder UND can attract talent to it's team.  Here are a few pictures and a link to their site to read some statistics:

I drove around Grand Forks and UND some to check it out.  I liked what I saw.  I'll throw in a picture of the drive across eastern Dakotas.  Pretty much level farmland.

Southeast North Dakota
Two things got my curiosity up while driving.  First seeing a sign for the Continental Divide.  As I thought about it, there has to be a north-south one as much as east-west.  Sure enough, I found this website that discusses continental divides just in case you are in a learning frame of mind:

Wind turbine piece
The second thing was seeing many parts to the giant wind turbines going by on trucks. The length of those "arms" of the spinny things (is that technical enough?).  I found a number of sites on wind farms in the Dakotas and it seems to be a very big thing which I think is very cool.

Friday, August 20, 2010

August 2010 - so far

Crossing the Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge from lookout on US 2
From Gaylord, it was a weekend of driving (8/7-8) to get to a new area other than MI and WI where I’ve been for almost 2 months. I headed north back across “The Bridge” and then took US 2, all day, all the way to Ashland, WI on Lake Superior. It again was a familiar drive from many years ago. We used to go up to Ironwood from Green Bay to go skiing. The old ski areas are still there and looked to be kept up based on the entrance signs (no I didn’t pull in). I slept overnight in the Ashland city beach parking lot with a storm raging much of the night. I just can’t seem to shake the rain and storms. It seems that wherever I’ve been the last month the rain and storms appear. It’s like it is making up for the last 12 years of AZ living or something. I woke up Sunday morning to dense fog so my hopes of nice sunrise pictures of the bay and Apostle Islands were not going to happen so I just hit the road to my next destination. This drive ran the experience gamut.  It was nice in WI but became very scary where construction had the lane down to barely a foot on each side of me as I left Duluth going south.  Then when I headed west in MN I was thinking “land-o-lakes”, not, it is “land-o-swamp”.  It was miles and miles of swamp across northern MN.

Sherwood Forest guard
Parked at Sherwood Forest
I arrived at Sherwood Forest CG (8/8) just north of Garrison, MN early afternoon on Sunday. This was a huge place that was 99.9 percent purchased camping lots. People buy a small lot and put something on it as their place up north. I think it is maybe 2 hours at the most due north of the twin cities so it is a convenient destination for weekends. I spent the week working and listening to rain pound on the roof. Did I mention that it rains every where I go? I parked on the highest spot I could in the designated space. By the time I left a puddle of water was several inches deep to within a foot of my door. Ugh.

Sherwood Forest CG lots
I finally had a nice sunny day on Saturday (8/14) so I drove back up to Aitkin. I had driven through on my way to the CG and noticed the welcome sign reading “Riverboat city on the Mississippi”. I thought this would be interesting to check out since I figure I have to be within 100 miles of the river’s origin. Seeing the river here versus St Louis was really cool. Riverboats? There were none to be found but I wasn’t surprised by that.
Mississippi at Aitkin, MN
Sunday (8/15) was travel day again. The planned destination was Big Stone City, SD. I left the CG and headed south on 169 and then west on 23 through St. Cloud where the Mississippi was quite large already! Once I started across highway 23 it wasn’t so swampy anymore. Starting maybe around New London it was all pretty flat, open, farmland all the way west. I arrived at my CG, paid and headed to my campsite. Well, did I mention there had been a lot of rain). This campground really should not have sent a 40 foot motor home down their narrow road. It’s a pretty new CG and they aren’t very experienced. When I tried to squeeze into my site I had to swing wide for my long wheel base and guess what. The soil under the grass was so saturated it was like quicksand. Down I went. So, 2 hours and a tow truck later (at least it was an easy pull out) I’m pulling back up on dry land and cranking up the computer to look for a new destination. I got really, really lucky. A campground only 35-40 miles away came up in my search. I called and yes there was a spot that can handle me (lots of questions asked). So, off I go and arrived to a very nice, brand new (but well run by a knowledgeable guy) CG in Summit, SD. What a relief after a stressful last few hours.

Summit is a tiny town but the CG is great, the owner is a super guy, a local farmer brings by free, fresh produce. Cell/air card reception is the best of the trip – all is good. Oh, and so far I’ve had a lot of sunshine and only one day/night of fog, rain and storms. Pretty much constant wind, but at least I can recharge in some sun.
County-Line CG Summit, SD
At County-Line campground, Summit, SD

July 2010 Summary

The next leg took us to Manistique, MI (7/2). We had a very nice drive across northern WI and into the UP of MI on a beautiful day. This brought back memories of the old days fishing, camping and motorcycle riding all around there. Our stay in Manistique was a nice 6 days over the July 4 weekend. We walked the boardwalk, visited Big Spring (Kitch-iti-kipi), visited Fayette and went to the beach. Then the rain came just in time for us to leave.

On 7/6 we drove across one of my favorite roads, US 2, on the south edge of the UP to St. Ignace. It had been many years (maybe 15+) and it was surprising to see how the shore line of Lake Michigan has changed so much. The water level had been way down for years and it looks like vegetation took hold on the old beaches. Now that the water levels came back up, there are no beaches where there used to be miles and miles of beach. There is still the one stretch where people stop all the time but that is about it. Oh well.

Lake MI between Petoskey and Charlevoix
We crossed the Mackinac Bridge (Ann went in the back and didn’t watch) to the LP and on to our next CG near Gaylord. We stayed there for a week and visited the Elk herd, took some walks, and did a day trip to Petoskey and Charlevoix that was very beautiful. It was cherry season so we got some fresh cherries, oh so good.

Did I mention that I work during the week and we do this stuff evenings and weekends? It will be nice to retire and be able to spend all day every day doing fun stuff.
Papa Elk

Where to next? It was south (7/11) to the White Cloud/Newaygo area to the Woodlands on the Lake CG for 2 weeks. This was the cheapest place within driving distance of Rockford (my parents) and Grand Rapids (old friends). Based from here we visited family and friends. Ann flew back to Phoenix in the middle of this period (7/17) to go back to work (ugh). So, starting the second week here I’m on my own for a couple of months or so. This is also when the rain set in. Every day! We are at mid-July and it is supposed to be dry and hot. Well, it is wet and hot. I had to sneak walks in the woods and around the CG between rain downpours. I had forgotten about deer flies.  OMG, they were horrible!

I pulled out of this CG (7/25) and parked at my brother’s place for a week while I made a trip to Virginia for work. When I got back I headed north (7/31) back to the same campground near Gaylord. On the way up I spent the afternoon at a friend’s cottage on Lake Mitchell in Cadillac. It was a great time (in spite of more rain) visiting with a bunch of college friends that gathered there for the day. I didn’t really do anything special during the week in Gaylord other than a drive (8/7) down to Houghton Lake and back (go to Camping World for RV stuff) and see the area.

The Journey Begins - June 2010

Once the vacation ended (6/28) Ann and I headed to a campground (I shall abbreviate campground as CG from now on for brevity) just north of Madison, WI where we stayed a couple of days so we could visit friends. The main attraction was the Harmony Bar in Poynette (6/29) owned by Frozen Four friend Mark and frequented by newer Frozen Four friend Monty.

We next headed straight north (6/30) to Rhinelander and the West Bay Camping Resort with a stop in Steven’s Point to have dinner with Nola. Our stay in Rhinelander was a great 3 days. The CG and weather were both very nice. A nice canoe trip around the lake was very enjoyable.
West Bay Camping Resort

The Vacation

Illinois Beach State Park
We hung out around Evanston and Chicago for a couple of days. The really big news on 6/17 was Jake proposing to Angela while in Chicago. He even invited Alex, me, Ann and his parents (who flew in from Seattle just for this) to a celebration dinner after proposing (we obviously knew about it ahead of time).  It was a surprise to Angela when we were all sitting around the dinner table waiting for them.

Parked at Illinois Beach State Park

After we gathered our emotions we headed to Rockford, MI (6/18) where a family gathering was scheduled. We had to drive the motor home because, of course, everyone wanted to see our new house. Visualize a rookie 40 ft motor home driver going through Chicago and around the Loop, but I made it.
In Chicago just hours before the proposal

Dinner after proposal
We hung out in Rockford for a few days. The original plan would have now taken us north across “the bridge”, across the UP, down through Green Bay and back. That just wasn’t going to work for 5 people in the motor home so we headed back to IL Beach State Park (6/21) where we stayed and did day trips from there. We drove up to Green Bay and visited friends whom we hadn’t seen in eons, went to Krolls, and did a tour of Lambeau Field. The next day we drove back down to Milwaukee to do a Miller Brewery tour and attend the Mariners/Brewers game at Miller Park. We drove back “home” after the game.
At family gathering
On Lambeau field
Wait the excitement isn't over, the next day we attended a wedding of a high school friend of Angela’s in Chicago (Sears Tower). Sadly, the next day was the end of the fun when Angela and Jake flew home (6/27).

Where to first?

The somewhat ironic thing was that we had already had a 2 week vacation planned in Michigan and Wisconsin with the kids which fell one week after the house closing. Angela and Jake were to meet us at Alex’s place in Evanston, IL and we would make a loop from there visiting family, friends and the sites (most important – Lambeau field). Plan B kicked in now – we would drive rather than fly. So, off we went.

Because this vacation had a particular window when everyone was available, we didn’t get to take our time getting to Evanston. We had to bust butt to be on time for our vacation. Not the way this lifestyle is meant to be, but, things happen.

Since this all happened 2 months ago (June) and I'm just getting this blog going, I’m not going to give details like I will in the ongoing blog. The short story is, we left Phoenix (6/9) and drove south to Tucson to drop off some stuff with Martha and pick up Alex’s marimba from Scott. Over the next 6 days we headed east on I-10 into NM. North on I-25 to Bernardo where we took US 60/US 54 east to Santa Rosa; I-40 to Oklahoma City; I-44 to St. Louis; I-55 to Chicago; 294/94 north to Illinois Beach State Park near Waukegan IL (6/15) which was the closest campground to Alex in Evanston.

Here are a couple of pictures along the way.  We didn't take many because we were kind of stressed being new to driving a 40 foot motor home (pulling a car), fighting a gusty 25 mile and hour side wind for 3 days, trying to "make time", learning to navigate truck stops and fuel with truckers, figuring out where we will stay the next night, and we were familiar with the drive so it's not like it was new.  Taking pictures just wasn't on our mind yet.  By the way, throughout the blog you can click on pictures to get bigger images and then use the browser "back" button to go back to the blog (don't "close" the picture or you will close the blog).
Along I-40 in Oklahoma
Also in Oklahoma on I-40

The Start

Although the dream had existed for a long time the real thing still actually started suddenly in May.  We had been trying to sell the house, off and on, for a couple of years with no luck in this market.  The new house that we were supposed to move into was leased so no big rush.  We were once again just seeing what would happen by having it listed.  People would ask (including Ann) “what are we going to do if it sells” and I would say “move into an RV!”  Laughs would always be the reply.  Well, it sold and we bought an RV.  Surprise!  Chaos ensued for the next 5 weeks trying to buy an RV, downsize from 3,000 sq ft to a motor home and a storage unit, and of course our renters gave notice on the other house (sigh). I’m not even going to try to relive those 5 weeks here.  The carrot on the stick that kept us going was “hitting the road”.