Thursday, November 5, 2009

Speed touring Capital Reef, Bryce & Zion National Parks

Utah has some great National Parks. I think Arches and Canyonlands are probably the crown jewels but Capital Reef, Bryce and Zion all have much to offer as well.

Capital Reef is suppose to be the least visited of the Utah National Parks but we found crowds there, just as we have at every other national park we visited this summer. The Visitor’s center was so crowded you could hardly move so we headed out just as another tour bus pulled up. The Reef was created by what’s called a Waterpocket Fold, which caused a 100-mile large rock upheaval many moons ago. Like most of Southern Utah it has lots of cool rock formations, but it also has the Fremont River that allowed both Indians and early Mormons to settle and farm in the area. We picked apples in one of the half dozen or more orchards in the park. We found great homemade salsa and jam at the Fremont store and enjoyed lunch along the Fremont River under the cover of huge shade trees. We found cool rock formations, canyons and petroglyphs in the park and probably could/ should have spent a couple more days in there. We were however, speed touring, something I don’t recommend but something our schedule necessitated.

Near Capital Reef is the town of Torrey, where we found an amazing restaurant called Café Diablo. It has been voted a ‘Best of the Torrey’ restaurant and indeed it is fabulous. The town itself is about 2 blocks long and doesn’t even have a real grocery store. Café Diablo is certainly a stand out here but it would be a stand out in any western megacity as well. It was the most creative presentation and best food that I have tasted in a very long time. We ate there both nights we were in the area.

From Capital Reef and Torrey we set out for Bryce National Park via Scenic Byway 12. As you leave Torrey you start to climb into mountains before descending back down to rocks and canyons of the Escalante National Monument. We hit the mountains when the aspen were at peak and it was certainly a very scenic drive.

Bryce was nice and was the least crowded of all three parks. We shopped at Ruby’s since it was the largest store of any kind we had seen for a few days.
We saw the amphitheater from several viewpoints but didn’t get to do any of the hikes down among the pinnacles. We did walk a little in Red Canyon State Park, which I like just as much as Bryce.

Zion was the most crowded of the three parks. The huge rocks mountains are quite nice but difficult to see when you can’t find a parking spot. The shuttles do help if you can find a parking spot by a shuttle spot. Part of the park can only be seen by shuttle. My sister and I did the Riverside hike. The hanging gardens there were very nice but the trail was crowded. We had read that the Emerald Pools were a ‘must see’ in the park so we headed there next. We were very disappointed with the pools. Someone said that they are best in the spring and we were there in September, maybe that was the problem or maybe it was our expectations. I was expecting emerald pools like in Yellowstone and my sister expected pools like in Hawaii. We made our own fun on the hike but definitely wouldn’t recommend what we called ‘the puddles’ to anyone. Next time I visit Zion I will try and go in the spring and try some of the longer hikes. I really want to do the Angel’s Landing hike one of these days, but that will have to wait. Our time in the Utah was up! Vegas awaited..

Monday, October 26, 2009

Delicate Arch Hike in Arches National Park

The Delicate Arch hike is pretty much obligatory if you go to Arches National Park. It is the most famous arch in the park, its featured on the Welcome to Utah signs and their license plates. It is a 3 mile round trip hike with around with a 480’ foot elevation. The lighting is best for photographing the arch in the evening. So this being my sister’s first trip to the area we had to do it.

Having done this hike before, making sure I had enough water was a priority. My first trek to the arch had been at high noon on a warm August day with an 8 ounce bottle of water. I was ten years younger and still thought I might have to be medevacted off the trail. I learned a valuable lesson about respecting the desert heat that day. So this time, I armed myself with two big bottles of water in my waist pack. My sister chose to take a small bottle despite my urgings for her to take more. Whatever … we are going at sunset and not high noon.

When we got to the trailhead, it was so packed that we could not park, so mom took over the driving duties as we sat in traffic and Wen and I headed up the trail. We thought this beautiful midweek September evening would be a great time for a hike. Apparently everyone in a 100 mile radius did too! Some of the tour buses had gotten an earlier start and were on their way down the trail as we were going up. There were people of all creed, color and age coming down the trail. Some older folks even had canes. I wanted to take a picture of them to show my mom who had played the ‘age and sore hip’ card to get out of the trek, but I resisted. My main goal was to get up to the arch before sunset and before the tour bus group that had just started to unload at the trailhead. I view hiking as a solitary or small group activity. Not something you do with 40 plus people!

The first part of this hike is pretty easy. It winds and rolls a little but there is no real elevation gain. The middle part of the hike proves a little more difficult as you hit a slick rock slab that seems to go straight up. This isn’t just a small rock slab .. it goes on and on and on. Once we hit the slab, we had a good vantage point of the trail below. As we sucked some wind and checked out the view, I could see the mass of touries coming! No time to suck wind, we had to keep moving. Our conversation waned as the elevation grew. Once you make it up the slab it levels out but you continue over sand and slick rock with cairns as the trail marker. Once you wind along a narrow ledge you are getting close. Finally, we come to sort of a narrow plateau and a crowd. Beyond the crowd sits the arch in all its glory.

It is kind of a freak of nature. A huge free standing arch out there all by its lonesome. It is on the far side of what looks like a rock bowl. On the south side of the arch it is just drop off. The La Mountains are visible beyond the arch. The crowd hangs on the northside of the rock bowl waiting for a clear picture of the arch. People take turns going to the middle of the arch & having their picture taken. Cheers go up when you hear, yet another water bottle that wasn’t held onto well enough, bounce its way to the abyss of the rock bowl. Wen’s water, that she so carefully saved, met this fate. Luckily I still had some to share. My camera was saved from the abyss by an attentive fellow hiker. We took pictures, sat and admired the arch and people watched until it was close to sunset. It seemed there were people from every corner of the earth up there just gazing at this arch in the middle of the Utah desert. I heard more languages being spoken than I could identify. People were smiling, friendly, patient and helpful to each other despite being different. It was pleasant to people watch here.

Not wanting to traverse the trail in complete darkness with 100 other people we headed back down the trail before the actual sunset. Going down was much easier on the lungs but harder on the knees. We made it down as the sun slipped below the rocks in the west. It was a nice evening.

As we get in the car, I am thinking about what a wonderful thing it is that so many different kinds of people can come together and appreciate the beauty of nature. My sister meanwhile, is telling our mother that I made her ‘flipping climb Rock Everest’ and that park service would have all the money it needed if it just built a gondola for people to pay to ride to see the arch instead having to hike it.

I guess we all look at the world a little differently!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Moab, Utah

What a fine place to visit. I visit often and I always see something new. This year’s visit included my mom & sister. This was my sister’s first visit to the area and our time was limited so we did the bare essentials: a visit to Arches and Canyonlands National parks and a drive along the river to Castle valley. Though Moab is well known for it’s mountain biking and jeep trails. We had neither a bike or a jeep and still had a great time. At Canyonlands, we explored the Islands in the Sky section and enjoyed the Mesa Arch trail. I longed to try the Schaffer Canyon road down to the white rim even though I did not have a high clearance vehicle but my mothers glares at the mention of it, kept us up top. We did attempt the Long Canyon road on our way back to Moab but low clearance had me turning back there as well.

At Arches we enjoyed the Balanced Rock, the Window arches and the Delicate Arch hike. We visited both parks on week days when there were no special events going on in town, yet we found crowds and tour buses throughout both parks. The parking areas were often full and several times we had to circle to find a parking spot .

With two huge national parks, Dead Horse Point State park, the La Sal mountains, the Colorado river, Slick rock and a few blocks of shops, three days is just not enough time to see it all. I have probably spent a couple of months of time in Moab and haven’t come close to seeing it all. Which is why I keep going back. I love the huge rocks and the incredible maze of canyons created by the Green & Colorado rivers. The vastness of the canyons and rocks always makes me feel very small. I love the reds in the rocks that change with the angle of the sun, the arches and other formations that you just don’t see everywhere. When you get tired of seeing red the La Sal Mountain Loop road makes for a nice day trip. It offers your typical green mountain environment but also great views of the high desert surrounding them. The Colorado river brings the desert to life and adds to the recreational opportunities in the area.

I would say, ‘Moab has something for every one and is someplace everyone should experience’, but apparently the words already out!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Revisiting Yellowstone

I LOVE Yellowstone.. I had the pleasure of work camping in Yellowstone a few years ago and make it a point to return every year. I still find that after my 5 month stint and yearly visits that I have not come close to seeing all there is to see in this 2.2 million acre park. Though my visit this year was way too short, it was a brought back pleasant memories of beautiful flowers, waterfalls, critter watching, beautiful sunsets over the lake and watching geysers explode into the air or slowly bubble and steam.

I find it interesting at how many folks go to Yellowstone, see Old Faithful and the Lower Falls in a one day tour and believe they 'have seen' the park. In my opinion to truly begin to see this park, you have to get off of the tour bus route, take a hike .. even a short one and spend some time away from the crowds. That is where you find the true beauty of one of the most remarkable places in North America.

Yellowstone is truly the gem of our National Park system. It has mountains, rivers, streams, lakes, waterfalls, geysers, mud pots, steam vents, grassland, forest, foot hills, bears, birds, bison, wolves, pronghorn and more. I don't know of anyplace else that boasts that kind of diversity. I hope to one day 'see it all' .... something to shoot for I guess, over my next 20 years.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hanging out in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

The San Juan Mountains are a part of the Rocky Mountains in SW Colorado. I am hanging in the area around Silverton, Ouray & Telluride. This is a beautiful part of the country. Beautiful enough that even as a full-time Rver, I take note of the properties for sale in the region every time I come here. I do try to come here often. This is one of few places that I could settle and be content .. as long as I had a jeep. This is jeeping country. There are 100's of miles of jeeping roads in the San Juans that offer breathtaking views of flowers, waterfalls and peaks as for as the eye can see. Of course, hiking is big as well and probably a quicker route to the top sometimes than negotiating some of the roads.

Silverton is an old mining town with a lots of tales to tell of boom & bust and all that goes with its mining past. The Durango-Silverton rail passengers descend upon the town everyday close to noon to shop the stores, explore the mining history and have some lunch. It's always a good idea to hit your lunch spot in Silverton (and they do have a variety of choices) before the train arrives. Many of the jeep roads start outside of Silverton. The ghost town of Animas Forks can be reached by passenger car from town but you wouldn't want to go much further or on many of the travels leading off this 10 -12 mile jot back into the mountains without a 4wd high clearance vehicle. The 4wd Alpine Scenic Loop road that goes over Engineer pass and Cinnamon pass is probably the most popular.

Telluride is much more your upscale little mountain town. It boosts a ski resort, great outdoor music festivals and is surrounded by million dollar homes. I was able to lend a hand doing dry wall in home in the area that was going for $11 million a few years back. In town you find an eclectic mix of folks .. from old hippy's, to millionaires to joe blow tourist .. they get the gamut. There is hiking and jeeping in this area as well. The notorious expert only Black Bear Road 4wd winds it way down the mountain face of the box canyon at the south end of town. Imogene 4wd road takes you through some very scenic country between Telluride and Ouray. The ski resort Gondola also runs during the summer months, taking you to the top of Mt. Sophia which offers great views of the town below.

Between Silverton and Telluride is the town of Ouray, aka Little Switzerland of America. Ouray is surrounded by a high amphitheater of peaks, main street has some nice shops and they are several jeep tour companies based out of here. Yankee Boy Basin is a nice jeep road that starts near the south end of town. It also has hot springs, a few of the motels give you access to the hot springs, there is a large public hot springs pool to play in as well. My favorite is the Orvis Hot Springs, which is a clothing optional, natural hot springs pool surrounded by flowers north of town. I do find dusk and night time to be the best time to go for a soak there. :-)

I would be remiss in not mentioning the scenic San Juan Scenic Byway loop that goes from Silverton, Ouray, Telluride & down to Durango and back. It includes the Million Dollar highway section between Silverton and Ouray. It is a beautiful drive especially when the aspen's turn golden in the fall.

Every season in this area has something to offer but the one thing that is consistent throughout the year is that these mountains are beautiful!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Country Living

As I mentioned before, I am a city girl , well maybe more of a Burb girl.  I was born, raised and have always lived ‘in town’.  Neighborhoods, sidewalks, a backyard you could do with a push mower if need be, you could ride your bike to the store.  You can buy anything you need within a 2 mile radius of your home, you see your neighbors backyard and know their goings and comings… basic Burb living.
Recently, I was to have a brief stay in the North Carolina countryside with some friends of friends.  They had an RV spot on their land that I could store my rig for a  couple weeks while I made a trip to the Midwest.    We had planned a night stay either side of storing the rig.  That plan didn’t quite work out and I ended up in staying over a month and learning much about country living.
First, I now get ‘going to town’ is an event and not the 2 minute jot city folks take for granted.  I learned that you have to have a tractor … your own tractor.  My new friends had 3, one for each person, all different sizes for all different purposes.  When you have a tractor you have to have lots of things to pull behind your tractor AND you have to have a barn to park all of your tractor related items in.   Chain saws are similar to the tractors.  You don’t have just one, as they too come in different sizes for different purposes.  Three ‘working’ ones seem to be the norm with extra ones for parts.   In the Burbs, you are lucky if one guy on the block has a chainsaw.  We call the Tree guys to do our tree trimming.  I am now convinced the Tree guys all come from ‘the country’ and they laugh all the way home with the wad they make dropping trees for the Burbites.
I found the people in the country to be genuine, friendly and always willing to help someone in need.   I fed deer, learned about chickens, guineas and bees, watched the corn grow, picked strawberries, learned how to BBQ a chicken on a can and learned to sit back and relax, listen to the frogs in the pond and enjoy good company.   Dog learned to be a country dog and had the job of keeping the squirrels and foxes away from the bird feeders.   She went on patrol with our host everyday while he put corn out for the deer and fed the birds.  She even helped ‘rescue’ an escaped rooster.  My hosts didn’t know me from Eve and accepted me like family.  I guess they correctly deducted that I would not know how to hold an axe much less be an axe murderer, as we so often think of strangers in the city.  I am most grateful of their kindness.   I think that, I too, want to live in the country and have a tractor one day..

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dinner with a Pirate

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I met Captain Horiato Sinbad for dinner in Morehead City, NC.  He is a pirate, privateer, boat builder, engineer, adventurer, writer, and moviemaker. He built his first ship at 11 and took off to sail the West Indies at 16, returned to his home in Detroit to build a pirate ship in his backyard at age 24. He has received Privateer commissions from a President, a couple of North Carolina Governors, has been featured in a number of articles and shunned by Disney (Guess they found a real pirate intimidating). I had heard stories of he & his mates capturing local waitress, scaring tourist with cannon fire and even toying with the Coast Guard. Not the typical experiences of folks that I have dined with to say the least.

I half expected a guy with an eye patch and a wooden leg. I fully expected a big guy that, as they say, ‘swore like a sailor’. I did not expect the soft spoken, gentle spirited, intelligent and driven man that I met. He and his 1st mate, Lt. Terry Brown, were quite patient with me and my barrage of inquires about boats, movies and all things piraty.. Sinbad and Terry were kind enough to allow me to come out and see their boat and his moviemaking base the next day. In addition to boatbuilding, participating in historical reenactments and delighting tourist, Sinbad has written a book called the Sword of Tortuga. He is currently making a movie based on this book. So far it is an independent film that he is producing. He is driven to bring this project to the big screen and I certainly believe that he will.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Captain Sinbad and Lt. Brown. The pirate ship was a little cozier and had a bit more movement to it than this land lover could handle but I would have dinner with these Pirates in any port.

Sinbad says “You aren’t a real pirate unless you have the Pirate ship”. He’s got the ship, the girl, the clothes, the parrot, the sword and quite an interesting story. For more information on Sinbad or the Sword of Tortuga check out his site here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Charming Charleston

I see why this is city is such a popular destination. It’s certainly got charm. Charming Antebullum homes, charming streets, churches, marina’s, parks, gardens, plantations and more. I 'speedsaw' Charleston, SC .. packed in all I could in 24 hours, namely because the RV park I stayed had extremely unfriendly staff. One night at Oak Plantation RV was all I could make myself pay for and that was only because I really wanted to see the city.

With dog in tow and in the rain, I saw what I could of the historic area. All the bushes, trees and flowers in bloom really added to the charm of the area. The secret gardens and large sitting porches finally made me feel like I was really in the south. A new England feel with palm trees and southern charm. It may top New Orleans for my favorite southern city. I really would like to go back, not as a traveler but to write or work for a few months so I can really soak up this town. I think I could handle sitting out on one of those porches one spring writing and people watching.

I did get to the Swamp gardens at Magnolia Plantation and would have liked to explore more of the gardens in the area. I did meet a retired dock builder named Gary at the local Waffle House. He confirmed I had not had the only negative experience with staff at Oak Plantation, gave me some scoop on what to see when I returned and where to go up the coast. When I go back I want to go hang on a dock built by Gary!. ☺

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jekyll Island, the Jewel of Georgia's Golden Isles

Jekyll Island .. cool place on Georgia’s Coast.  Once the private playground of the rich and famous, now for $3 you can come and play too.  I did 5 sleeps exploring the island’s beaches, trails and historical area, as well as the surrounding coast.   I loved the huge moss draped live oak trees, quiet beaches and old mansions in the historical area.   Though I was there on a holiday when the campground and picnic areas were packed, I was able over and over again to find solace on the beaches and trails.  The Wildbirds Unlimited store was able to direct me to a rookery behind the old amphitheater where I found dozens of nesting Wood Storks and Egrets. 

The historical area where the Rockefeller, Morgan and Vanderbilt’s all built homes is a fabulous place for a stroll.  Now the homes are either shops or hotels.   There are nice wide bike paths that can get you almost anyplace on the island.  A pedalers dream.   Dog & I opted for strolls instead to do some birding and watch the fabulous sunsets.

We stayed at Blythe Island Regional Park and at Jekyll Island Campground.  Blythe Island was very nice.  Decent sized lots, lots of trails, little lakes and friendly staff, all about 10 miles from Jekyll.  Jekyll Island Campground was not my favorite.  It has lots of trees, tighter spots, lots of sap, utilities questionably placed and very young staff.  What it lacks in the way it is set-up it does make up in location, especially if you want to bike the island.  I would stay at both campgrounds again.

St. Simons Island is Jekyll’s big populated brother to the north.  It has a lighthouse, with a touristy area, and lots of crowded beaches.  The city of Brunswick has a nice downtown area but it was quite empty when I was there.  In fact the whole town seemed empty.  I had me wondering if a bomb had exploded or the rapture occurred it was so empty.   I actually think all the Brunswick folks were at the beaches in St. Simon that day.

I found Jekyll Island a great place to relax and enjoy the beauty.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Learning to Travel Alone..

Today as I sat alone in a family restaurant on the North Carolina coast, debating the merits of the rib special with another diner, I was reminded of my first experience dining alone on the road.  It was in a one stop town in Nebraska on a Saturday morning. A group of older men were drinking their coffee's and wagging their tongues on all the town gossip. Kind of reminded me of a beauty shop except these guys didn't seem to have much hair under their John Deere hats. I was a little nervous being the lone outsider at first, but then I settled in. I enjoyed getting the 'picture' of their town through their interactions and conversations just as much as I did the eggs and ham.

I was on this journey through Nebraska because my friend and I had planned a 3 weeks trip to travel through the the Northwest. I was in Colorado. She was in California. The plan was for me to go get her, then we would head north and work our way back to Denver.  This was pre RV days.   Our plan was to tent with a motel thrown in here and there.  I found out a few weeks before I was scheduled to leave that she couldn't make it and was terribly bummed out  that we had to cancel the trip.  After all who in their right mind would take a trip by their self .. on purpose?  I had always vacationed with family or friends, after all that's what you are suppose to do right??   

Then, while on a business trip to Missouri 2 weeks prior to my vacation, I heard a gal speak at an AA meeting. I think her name was Gwen.  She was about my age and had just gotten back from a solo camping trip out in Wyoming. "You did what?!", I questioned her after the meeting, "You just took a trip by yourself?  On purpose? Weren't you scared? Bored?".   I had a ton of questions, since I had never even contemplated such a thing. I could not shake thinking about what this gal had done and 'lived to tell about'.   As I traveled back to Denver, I decided that if she could do it then I could do it too. I called my friend in California and told her that I was still gonna do the trip. I would do it in reverse order and pick her up in the end and she could travel back to Denver with me. She thought I was nuts. I thought I was nuts, but I set out nonetheless. Map, sleeping bag, cooler and tent all in tow ... ready to stretch my horizons.  Or at least spend a weekend out of town in a Motel and come up with a good excuse for my friends why I couldn't continue the trip ...  I could find some way to save face rather than admit I was too scared to stay in a tent by myself if need be.

That was not necessary.  After a couple of tossing and turning nights staying awake, I was so tired that I slept fine and an axe murder did not get me.  I went to Sturgis, discovered Banff, Vancouver Island, the Oregon Coast and much in between. I meet other people traveling alone from all over the world. I shared a table on separate occasions with a gal from Britain and a Canadian Mountie from Ontario just so we could get in a restaurant quicker. I meet people in campgrounds, on tours and in restaurant lines. I was not at all lonely. Being by myself actually gave me more opportunity to meet people. It was a fabulous trip. What I didn't know was that this trip would lay the groundwork for me being able to travel as I do now. It was only a three week trip but the experience broadened my horizons immensely. It helped me think about travel differently and ultimately played a part in me being able to take the plunge into the RV lifestyle. Funny how life has a way of preparing us for life..

Friday, April 10, 2009

Florida's Forgotten Coast

A freaky dream had me up at sunset and ready to move on.  A birder suggested Florida's St. George Island as a 'do not miss' place to bird.  My 'friend' June, suggested that Destin was a place that I needed to drive through and see.  So I set out from Gulf Shores, AL south on US 98 which goes through Destin against my gut feeling which said take the interstate & drop down.  I assumed my 'friend' would not steer me wrong.   Destin was beautiful driving into ..  white sand, beautiful water, marina's the whole bit .. then you get into the city .. it's spring break, it takes 3 changes to make it through a light.  I can put the rig in park, get up & get myself a drink, then a snack, then Trailer Life .. the traffic was horrid.  It was horrid through Panama city.  It took 8 hours to go approximately 230 miles!  It was awful and I was ready to bail out of Florida and head west.  I tried to envision driving in Utah as I sat through light after light ...  wide open spaces, pretty red rocks, and not a vehicle on the horizon.  I turned on Classical music to calm myself as I had to brake yet again.  Not a pleasant drive, but I am glad that I did not give up and head west.

Once I hit Mexico Beach, everything changed.  The traffic was gone, I began to see pine trees, the towns were small, the beaches uncrowded, there were signs for bears and not a high rise in sight.  I almost thought I was someplace out west.  Who knew Florida had bears and really tall pine trees?   This was a different world than the craziness of Destin and I was happy for the change.

The island campground had been full, so I ended up about 25 miles further down the coast outside the town of Carrabelle at Ho Hum Rv park, a small park along a quiet stretch of  waterfront.  If you aren't on the water, the sites are a bit tight and just sand but with wifi and cable.  The beach here was not huge, there are not waves crashing in and the water is brown instead of the pretty blue by Destin.  It's just a calm strip with plenty of water birds and waders hanging out.

I drove back to St. George Island the next day to check out the birds.  A front was coming through and it was very cold and windy.  Birding was not great and I had to wear gloves to hold my binoculars.  (There were kids on the beach in swimming suits!)  The island has nice beaches, vacation homes and a lighthouse. By afternoon, it warmed up and I headed to Apalachicola, an interesting town about 9 miles from the island.  I found this to be a refreshing little town.  I get tired of little tourist towns that all have the same stores with the same tourist stuff.  Apalachicola had a little of that but for the most part it was unique items from local artist.  The Malt shop was getting rave reviews from passerby's, as was the chocolate store  .. I stuck to my guns and just had a piece of salt water taffy .. okay so I had two.  Oysters are a big deal in this area.  In fact, 90 % of the oysters from Florida are suppose to come from this area.  There are mounds of oyster shells in this town.  I did not partake of the local seafood but my fellow campers said it was excellent. 

The whole Forgotten Coast area looked interesting and begged discovery, though I could only get a space for 2 nights.  The area deemed the Forgotten Coast runs from Mexico beach south to Carrabelle.  Mellow, uncrowded, lots of places to bird and hike, good food, not a bad place to hang for a while.  This is an area I would definitely like to return and spend more time though I won't be taking Hwy 98 through Destin to get there!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Alabama Coast

I headed into Mobile, Alabama ... the big boats, sky scrapers, and battleship tried to woo me but the water lapping at the stop sign at the bottom of the exit ramp keep me moving.  Next time.   I headed to Gulf Shores to see if I could connect with road buddies I hadn't seen for a while.  We did at Gulf State Park where they were spending their second winter.  

Gulf State park is a big park, has a campground, 2 lakes, golf course, many walking and biking trails and multiple places to access the beautiful white sand beach.  It has been rebuilt since being hit by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.  Many of the park and area trees have been wiped out.  It is still a neat place.

I had considered staying at Dauphin Island Campground to have easy access to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary adjacent to it before catching up with my friends but had skipped it.  Dauphin Island is one island to the east of Gulf Shores.  I still wanted to check out the Sanctuary so I caught the Mobile Bay Ferry between Fort Morgan and the island.  This is about a 40 minute ride across Mobile Bay.  (You can take RV's on the ferry.)  I chose the cheap route ($5 rt) and walked on with my bike.   I saw lots of sea birds, lots of oil rigs and lots of interesting people on the ferry.  I took a chance and approached a couple with safari hats, cargo pants and binoculars also on bikes hoping they might be birders.  My hunch bore out and I scored up to date info on what birds were where on the island.  I headed to Shell Mounds instead of the sanctuary and saw some good birds and made some new friends.  I toured the Campground before heading back and decided I had made a good choice on my campground at the State park.  

Gulf Shores is a tourist area.  It has high rise hotels along the beach, all the restaurants and souvenir shops you find at any other beautiful beach.  The State Park offers some buffer from this but you an see the high rise hotels from the Park.  Still at night the park was quiet with a chorus of frogs singing their hearts out.  The people I met here where extremely friendly.  I was on the move again after three sleeps, but could have easily stayed a month and not been bored.  There is plenty that I did not do or see here this trip. There were several birding sites on Dauphin, between Fort Morgan and Gulf Shores and between Gulf Shores and the Florida line that I did not get to.  I do hope to return.

Tales from the road: Gulf Coast

Well, it was hard to head east from New Orleans.  I could have headed north to the 'land of familiar' and watched my youngest niece do her first Easter egg hunt.  I was torn, resisted and headed for new territory ..  I hope she will understand when she's older.

As I headed east out of New Orleans I finally started to really see Katrina's destruction for the first time.  Shingles hanging off roofs and piles of debris were still there .. almost five later.  Amazing.   I headed out in the midst of severe flooding throughout the Southeast.  Roads, parks, campgrounds were closed and flooded.  The night before on the news they showed a campground on the Louisiana/Mississippi border with water halfway up the side of a 5th wheel.  That got my attention!  I had wanted to experience Biloxi but the closure signs, swollen rivers and the air force jets scaring the beejeebers out of dog & I as we stopped to contemplate the matter keep me moving. 

As we went on, I keep noticing people pulled off the highway .. not on the shoulder but on the grass beyond that.   There were lots of cars spread out.  I looked closer.  There were people fishing! ... right off the interstate!   I-10 a fishing hole .. who knew.  I had never seen people fishing along a interstate .. one guy had either a big gator or a big turtle.  It was hard to tell at 65 mph.  You don't see that everywhere.

Driving along the coast, I have seen lots of things that you don't in the west and midwest where I have spent most of my life.  Causeways, bridges, bayous, swamps, evacuation signs, pastel colored houses on stilts, fish markets, boats, boats and more boats all novel as I headed up the coast from Texas.  Now I get that is just life along the coast.   But fishing off the interstate??

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New Orleans: More than the French Quarter

The sun is setting on a day I wish wouldn't end here in SE Louisiana. I down my last handful of Mulberries picked on the boardwalk at Bayou Segnette State park, where I have spent the last couple weeks. It's a beautiful evening in the park. I think I am beginning to like adventuring along the coast. Maybe its the Mulberry trees loaded with berries that remind me of sitting in a tree eating hundreds in a day when I was a kid. Maybe its just that this is a cool place. Bayou Segnette is 18 minutes driving distance from the New Orleans French Quarter yet worlds apart from it.

The city of New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter is something everyone should experience at least once. Stroll the flowered balcony lined streets. Enjoy the live music from the clubs or the street corners. Have a beignet at Cafe du Monde, try a muffuletta, etouffee and don't miss the double chocolate bread pudding at the Red Fish Grill on Bourbon Street. Cruise St. Charles avenue, tour the many famous cemeteries, ride the street car down Canal street, there is plenty to see and do in the city.

What many people don't realize that there is plenty to see outside of the city as well. Opportunities to fish abound in the local lakes, rivers and bayou's that are pretty much everywhere. We had a deluge of rain that flooded the campground ... water birds were fishing outside my door, I am guessing I could have too! West of the Mississippi, where Bayou Segnette is located, you can find several swamp tours and fish markets. I enjoyed looking around at the Westwego Fish market but couldn't bring myself to buy critters with there heads still on or in the case of the crawfish and crabs, critters that were still alive. I pulled in today to let a vender know that one of his crabs had escaped and was headed for traffic! I am not sure if boiling is any better than being squished, but I thought it was the right thing to do at the time. The near by, Perrino's, had a interesting fish market where you could get fresh fried shrimp and homemade bread pudding.

Jean Lafitte Preserve I found fascinating. I loved all the sights and sounds of the swamp. Birds, Gators, snakes, frogs, and dragon flies among the moss draped trees. Eerily cool.  There are opportunities to kayak or canoe the preserve as well.

There is much more here that I would like to see and do but I have reached this parks limit so I must move on. After experiencing this park, with its nice sized sites, wifi, free laundry, abundance of water birds, mulberries and proximity to all the the places I like to go for a reasonable price ..  it would be hard to stay anyplace else.   I am already looking forward to my next visit.

What's that Mr. Ranger? You aren't suppose to pick the berries? Oh those berry stains on my fingers are from cleaning them off my shoe. What, I have some on my mouth? Ur.. um.. Yeah I think it spurted when I stepped on it .. Yeah that's it... that's more story and I am sticking to it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Beach Adventures '09 - Day 1

This Mountain girl has decided to expand her horizons and head to the beach to see what all the buzz is about.  Personally, I like clean air, clear mountain lakes, snowy peaks and my heart beating out of my chest as I try to walk at 12,000 .. makes me feel alive.  They say your either a city, beach, desert or mountain person.   I am without a doubt a mountain person but I believe we should all stretch ourselves and try and walk in others shoes .. it's suppose to make us more well rounded.  So my plan, is to spend a season checking out beaches along the Gulf Coast, the East Coast and then along the Great Lakes to see if I get the 'draw'.

Today is day 1.  I am in Port Aransas, TX, on the beach along with thousands of other people .. it is Spring Break.  I am not a crowd person and was expecting the more contemplative strolling along, waves crashing at sunset experience you see on tv rather than college kids hooping and hollering, as the do donuts in their monster trucks!   Popped my dream world bubble real fast, as I grabbed dog to keep her from getting hit by my fellow beach bums.   Had I realized it was Spring Break I might have started this adventure a little later .. but I guess it is always good to start a new adventure with a party.  I don't think I will put on a bikini and join a volleyball game but I might try the donut in the sand with a little holler!   :-)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Facebook: Not just for the under 30 crowd

As of mid-Feb Facebook reached 175 million users and was growing at a rate of 600,000 users per day.  Yet when I mentioned Facebook to my 'over 60' card playing cohorts the other night, they looked at me like I had two heads.  I got head cocks, blank stares and one 'that's a kid thing' comment.  My appeal that it was a good way to keep up with their grandkids was dismissed and the conversation moved on.

The truth is that the largest increase in Facebook users is women over 55.  Why??  My theory is that woman are simply more communicative than men and they do want to connect with their kids and grandkids by whatever the current means of communication is .. even if it takes them out of their comfort zone.  My god mother has a cell phone that she barely knows how to use just so she can talk to her grandkids whenever they want.  Most of my older friends that are on Facebook, originally got on because a grandchild asked them and in many cases set-it up for them.  Grandparents connecting with their grandkids made for more Grandparents on Facebook which then has made the Grandparents Friend networks grow to something that can be relative to their everyday life.

Yes, Facebook 'can be' relative to and enhance your everyday life.  People are still learning how to use social networking in their lives.  Kids use Facebook somewhat differently than adults.  Every kid I know has no less than 500 friends, most whom they barely know or may have met once or may just be a friend of a friend. Facebook started as a way for college and high school kids to connect and has evolved from there.  President Obama used social networking to rally volunteers and support during his run for office.  Pastors use Facebook and MySpace to keep in touch with their flocks.  Non-profits, Businesses and Politicians are going to where the people are learning how to use social networks to further their causes.  Most people are just using it as a means to connect with their family and friends.  

I see Facebook as a non-invasive means to streamline my communications with friends.  I have cut back my personal email to almost nothing and use Facebook to share videos, links, and pictures with my friends instead of emailing.  I can Instant Message with them or play a game of scrabble.  I don't have to worry about who has a fast or slow internet connection or sending something that they don't want to see.  I post it all on Facebook once and then people can choose to look at a pic, or check out a video or not.  I am not clogging anyone's email box.   I make a daily post on whatever is going on in my life that all my friends can see.  (A post or status update is one line long.)  They can comment if they want or not .. doesn't matter.  I don't have or want 500 Facebook friends, just folks I know and want to stay connected with.  I find that with most of my Facebook friends that I see in person or talk to on the phone, we just pick up our conversation with what one of us has posted on Facebook.  It's nice.  No need to back track on what's been going on in life, they know Aunt Millie was having surgery today for her gall bladder and we can pick up the conversation on how Aunt Millie is rather than going through the whole "Oh know, what happened to Aunt Millie" dialog from the start.

For the streamline thing to work though your friends need to post to.  I am committed to making a post everyday that I have access to internet.   I commit at least 2 minutes every morning to make my post & check my News feeds and friends status's, look at pictures and make comments.   About half of my friends make regular status updates as well, it gives me a glimpse of what is going on in their life.  I enjoy it and wish the other half of my friends did the same.  It is after all a communication tool.  Communication always works best when both sides are involved.
Most of the Facebook naysayers I have run into are over 40 and haven't tried it.  They have a million excuses and unfounded worries.  Like anything online, you do need to smart and accept only people you know as friends, use the privacy controls, don't post your address, and those sorts of things.  We can learn from the mistakes of youth in this area.  The truth is that Facebook is here to stay, just as the remote control, cell phones and email, so we need to get over it.    What was a 'kid thing' is being woven into the fabric of our society .. resistance is futile.  The older we are the harder it is to embrace change but I encourage you to lay down the excuses for a day, add a profile and give Facebook serious chance.  There is always the off chance that our kids actually can teach us better ways to communicate.  It's a free and just takes a small investment of time.   Not much of a cost to build your relationships whether they are family or friends near are far from you.   Excuse me while I get back to Facebook, I think it's my turn to play a Scrabble word, I need to Instant message with a friend in Alaska and am hoping my cousin in Japan posts some new pics today.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Zippity Do Da Zippity Day - Family has come my way..

Yep, mom's back and my sister too!  They say that RV's are made for two & indeed I think that is true.  Dog & I make two and we are quite comfy with that.  Add in mom and it gets a little interesting, add my sister with her hair towels, multi-sized curling iron, blow dryer contraptions, make up bags and the fun begins!  Hair towels & curling irons .. we are camping for pete's sake!  Of course, I don't use those things when I am not camping and my sister is certainly much more pleasant too look at after she has done her morning beautifying ritual, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

The truth is, it's nice to have company .. for a while.  Visiting friends and family shake up the full-time rving routine and make life more exciting.  While I don't care to sleep on the pull-out couch forever or fight with 6 towels hanging over the tiny shower and makeup cases stacked on the sink everyday, the laughs created by 3 very different people trying to maneuver in one small space is priceless.  It kind of reminds me of the 'good ole days' growing up.

Of course, 6 people plus assorted friends and relatives in a small 1 bathroom home didn't seem fun at the time, but looking back it did create a lot of fond memories and a bond that has not been shaken. We spent a lot of time at my cousins 3 room house.  They had four kids in 1 room smaller than my RV.  Their room had two sets of bunkbeds across from each other.  There was a narrow space to walk through between the beds.  The entire room had the two beds and 1 stand up dresser.   When we stayed there, we doubled up kids in each bunk and we had a blast diving across from 1 set of beds to the other and doing the whole 'goodnight John boy' thing.  

By todays standards, I guess we would have been considered poor. No big box home with our own potty, tv or anything else.  It never crossed our minds that we were poor. We were rich in our relationships and that filled something in our lives that money can't come close to buying.

I am not sure how 'the wealth' of Americans and giving our kids 'a better life than we had' really is working out for our youth.  I do know, however, that sometimes the best memories in life are born in small spaces.


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