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Published: September 15th 2009
This is a COLOR photo @ Yellowstone N.P.
It is a color photo that looks like black & white. Look to the far left, someone has a red jacket on.
We started our 3 week vacation to Yellowstone National Park on Thursday, May 28th, 2009. Our route will take us up I-49 North into Arkansas, then US Hwy 71 until we catch I-29 which will take us as far north as we will go. Then in Fargo, ND we will take I-94 west to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
At approximately 9 am we departed from our home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We spent several weeks researching our trip route and plans for Yellowstone National Park and about a week packing and shopping. Having been to Yellowstone in 2000, we were able to see only part of the park as it is so massive and at that time we were in a rented RV.
We started out I-10 west and then north on I-49 through Alexandria, Shreveport and then took US Hwy 71 in Arkansas as planned. We had hoped to make it to Fort Smith, Arkansas before stopping for the night, but we only made it as far as Lockesburg, Arkansas before calling it quits for the night. There was a small sign that said RV Park and I think we paid $12.00 for a site, and
that was all it was, a site. It looked as though most, if not all of the RVs were permanent residents and did not keep their sites up very well. Our site was next door to one that was better kept and the owner arrived home later. Seemed to be a working guy and we never heard a peep from him or anyone else in the campground.
Friday, May 29th, we awoke about 7:30 anxious to hit the road. We enjoyed our morning Community Coffee (dark roast), and caught some local news while I put on make-up and we prepared the RV to travel. We were pleased that we were on the road by 9:00 am. We drove past the Baker Mountains off in the distance and the terrain changed drastically the further north we got. Like years before, we keep track of all of the car and RV license plates we encounter and try to find one from all 50 states usually averaging between 35 and 40. We also love to see the different models of RVs that we encounter along the way.
I snapped pictures of the changes in the landscape as we drove. Continuing on through
RV Park in Lockesburg, AR
This was our view...Ok, it was $12.00 and SAFE.
lunch we finally stopped at the Wal-Mart in Kansas City, Missouri for the night. We walked over to a McDonald's for supper rather than "unpacking" the kitchen, cooking and then cleaning. We were able to catch a few television stations with our antenna trying to keep up with the important national news. I am wondering what will happen on June 12th to our signals as we travel around. What effects will the new digital transition have on us?
Saturday, May 30th, we awoke to the alarm and started our morning routine of coffee, news, make-up (only me). We drove the rest of the way straight through Kansas, through Iowa when around 5:30 pm we stopped at another Wal-Mart in Brookings, South Dakota. We went into Wal-Mart to pick up a few items we decided we needed and took our time looking around, then back out to the RV to settle in for the night.
While Randy showered, I was looking out of the window across from where we were parked on the lot and I noticed a couple walking through what looked to be a large garden of some type. When I finished my shower, Randy and I
decided that despite the fact that it was pretty warm out, we would walk across the street and check it out. As we walked down the sidewalk, there was a marker that looked just like a tombstone and we went closer to take a look.
The marker read 'THE TURF GARDEN'. Wow~we own and operate a sod contracting business and thought that so ironic. We looked around and decided we had better see exactly what this place was before going any further and risking arrest!! We walked around to the corner of the highway and saw a sign that showed we were at South Dakota University's McCrory Gardens! It must be a public park and it looked very inviting.
The brochure that we acquired later in the walk, says it encompasses about 25 acres and joins the South Dakota Arboretum which unfortunately, we did not have time to see. Though it doesn't get really dark until around 9:30, we got a late start and saw as much as we could. I took lots of pictures and I wish I could post more. On the way out we put a donation in the lockbox to use toward the Garden's
Nice highways. Our Interstates in Louisiana are not this nice...
upkeep. That is where we found the lovely brochure that identifies most of the plantings on their grounds. GREAT JOB South Dakota University!
We made our way back across the street to our temporary "campsite" and caught the local 10 pm news then turned in after another long day, first setting our alarm clock for 7:30 am. We never like to over-stay our welcome at Wal-Mart and leave early enough to avoid causing any inconvenience to their other customers.
Sunday, May 31st, the alarm sounded promptly as alarm clocks should, and we quickly made the bed and readied the RV for travel then we turned on the morning news and learned that an Air France plane had crashed into the ocean.
Our youngest daughter had taken off Saturday morning for Rome to work in a hospital as part of her medical school program. It took me a moment before my mind could comprehend that she had flown to Italy, not France. My heart was hurting for the families of the missing passengers and we watched HLN as long as we could and then prepared to travel. We were much later than usual and pulled out at 9:30 am.
We drove and drove and made decent time despite the fact that it was getting somewhat windy. Not as bad as we usually experience when we travel west, but just enough to keep you on your toes. Just inside North Dakota, we saw the Welcome Center and the sign indicated they had Wifi. I was really anxious to check my Yahoo email to see if Kim had emailed us. I made her promise she would email me right away to let us know she was alright.
There was an email from her and all is good. Thank you Lord for her safe journey. Now that we knew she had arrived in Rome safely, we could continue on our trip with good thoughts. We certainly appreciated them allowing us the use of their internet and signed the guest register as we always do. The lady thanked us and said they use the logs to see which of the Welcome Centers receive the most visitors and evidently funds are allocated based on their usage. So everyone remember to sign!
As we drove we saw an unusual road ornament (?) in North Dakota that was really neat. It looked like an
eye with geese flying and it looked to be made of metal. Interesting. If anyone reading this has any info on it, I'd love to know the details! After making it all the way north as far as we were going, we saw a sign for Trapper's Inn and RV park and it was right at our junction with I-94. After 2 consecutive nights at Wal-Marts, we wanted to get a site to have access to cable, internet, and sewer connections. They had it all for $24.00. There was a restaurant attached to the Inn part, so after getting settled in and hooked up, we changed clothes and headed over to the restaurant.
The sign indicated they were serving a buffet but as we were paying we noticed they seemed to be covering and removing the buffet items. We inquired and the cook/server was kind enough to answer my question of "can we still have the buffet", with a yes! I had the barbecued ribs and mashed potatoes with gravy, and a nice salad. Randy had a couple of plates consisting of different items and he seemed to enjoy it as well.
The price was a little more than
I generally like to spend simply for the fact that Randy and I both eat VERY little. We never get our money's worth but we were pleasantly surprised when the lady checking us out asked what flavor of ice cream we would like, saying it came with our meal. The flavors were limited but Pink Bubblegum won out and it was pretty good.
Making our way slowly back to the RV, we settled back in with full bellies. We had our blinds open as we usually do until darkness falls, and noticed a man in a makeshift tent made out of a picnic table and a tarp. I commented that I hoped it didn't rain and sadly within an hour it rained very hard. Though I don't know the circumstances that brings people to their individual situations, my heart always goes out to them and I wish them better things in the future.
We watched the evening news anxious to hear anything new regarding survivors on the plane crash...so many unanswered questions for so many heartbroken families. We slept to the sound of the light rain hitting on the rubber roof of our RV. I love going to
sleep with the sound of rain, however I can do just fine without the thunder and lightning.
Monday, June 1st, we hit the road around 9:00 am more than ready to reach Yellowstone. We were on our final leg of the long journey from Louisiana to Wyoming. This will be our 5th day of almost constant driving of 8 hours per day, in order to get there within a reasonable amount of time. Despite the fact that we switch drivers at least every 3 hours, sometimes a little more, others a little less, it is still tiring. We find switching drivers usually runs about the same as filling our gas tank. Randy starts out driving when we fill up. Then drives until the tank is almost to the 1/2 way mark, then I drive until we reach about 1/4 then we stop and refill. We have found gas prices to be more reasonable than last year but they are sliding up 5 cents or so a day. In the outer lying areas, it is much higher so we find it wise to try to time our stops in the larger cities.
As we travel today, we are driving
in a misty rain that never materialized into a full-blown rain, but kept us aware so as not to have a collision with any wildlife.
Along the way, we planned to try to get a campground sort of close to the north entrance in Gardiner, Wyoming. Back in 2000 when we visited Yellowstone, we chose to see the western side of the park because it had the most well-known geysers such as Old Faithful. While we thoroughly enjoyed it then, we wanted to retrace and see it all again as well in addition to seeing new things. Our KOA Directory indicated that there was a KOA in Gardiner close to the North entrance so I called ahead to make sure they had available sites. They said they did and so that was the plan, however after studying the map and rechecking the KOA Directory, we noticed that the KOA in West Yellowstone seemed more central and therefore a more logical place to stay.
I grabbed for the cellphone and luckily still seemed to have a signal so I quickly called the KOA West which is located in Montana about 20 miles west of the West entrance. A pleasant-sounding
young man answered and said they had available sites. I told him we were about 30 minutes from the KOA in Gardiner, Wyoming and asked how far they were from that and he said about 100 miles. We looked at the time and though it was almost 4 pm, we had gained an hour from the time change and figured we could drive another hour and a half. True, we hadn't eaten yet that day and we were very hungry, but we decided to head on to the West Yellowstone KOA.
While making our reservations, somehow the nice young man managed to sell us a membership. He says that we will save 10%, which doesn't exactly excite us that much, but they have these Kamping Points that will add up and save us money, and before I know it, I am agreeing to give it a try. One of the nicest places we stayed last year was a KOA in Richfield, Utah although KOAs do tend to get a bit pricey depending on the location and time of the year. We know we can't stay at one every night but a few here and there won't break us.
We made the turn to head south and further south into Wyoming and drove what seemed like hours. In reality rather than the four or five hours it felt like, it did turn out to be over 2 hours. Guess it would have been wise to take into account that these were winding mountain roads and certainly not like driving on an Interstate. In addition to the roads, it was starting to mist rain.
As we drove, I began to notice something that ALWAYS gets me excited...SNOW! It was all over the tops of the mountains and if I was judging correctly, the same way we were heading. Suddenly, Randy loudly says "wolf" and before I could turn to look, he was gone. Our first real animal sighting and I had missed it. And so on we continued toward the KOA. We saw turnoffs for several of the places we planned to visit and began to see more geysers off in the distance, but for now the plan was to make it to our stopping point.
When we approached the North Gate to Yellowstone, we decided we wanted to buy the annual pass which allows us access to any
of our beautiful National Parks for one year. Last year we bought one and it got us in to Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyons and Zion (although we missed seeing Zion for reasons explained in our trip journal of 2008). It was a good deal last year and what better cause to support than our National Park Service. We probably won't make it to more than this park and hopefully Zion this year, but we bought it anyway. The friendly Ranger gave us a ton of reading materials including warnings about wildlife and roadwork, geyser safety and other things to be aware of during our stay.
Driving along we began to see the snow on the ground off the road a bit, then more of it and more until I couldn't stand it any longer and asked Randy to stop so we could have some fun. Down the road just a bit, we saw a pull off and stopped. I grabbed my jacket and gloves from the back, our camera, and we headed out the door. I threw a snowball at Randy and he returned one then we headed back on the road knowing the snow would still be there
The Aliens are here
Cool shop but I can't remember if it was in northern South Dakota, or North Dakota.
tomorrow and it was more widespread as we drove along. We saw a large crowd at Mammoth Springs which we want to hike around during our stay and saw too many steamy geysers to count off in the distance. You could tell by the huge plumes of steam seemingly rising out of the ground. Some of the large fields which don't have actual geysers, still have holes in the ground that have escaping steam.
We turned west on Hwy 20 toward the west gate where out KOA is located. One thing that caught our eyes as we drove by a lake on our right, was a sign that said NO STOPPING-EAGLE NESTING AREA. We scanned the treeline but failed to see a nest. We would remember to check it out more closely tomorrow and make a mental note that it is right by the lake.
As we approached the west gate, we saw a McDonald's just outside the park and pulled in to feed our stomachs before getting to the KOA. It sure didn't take long to finish our burgers and fries!
We found our campground. Our first impression was a very good one, the place looked
Unusual eye catcher
in southeast North Dakota
very nice and had bicycles and other types of things to enjoy. From what we could see from the office, including the pool, it looked to be a very nice place. There were a large number of RVs and families around who all seemed to be enjoying themselves. We knew we would enjoy our stay.
We entered the office and were greeted by the same young man I spoke to on the phone earlier, and told him it took us a lot longer to get there than we had anticipated. He assigned us a site and we drove around to find it. There was an awesome looking pool house with an enclosed pool and hot tub. Good thing because with the wind, light rain and clouds, it was really chilly.
Having easily found our site, we pulled in and grabbed our jackets to get hooked up. Cable TV, Wifi, hot tub, what could be better? Well maybe just a few degrees warmer and the light rain stopping, but then there might not be snow! After the news and Late Night with David Letterman, we turned in to be rested for the hiking we would be doing tomorrow.
Tuesday, June 2nd we awoke around 8 am and realized it was drizzling again and still pretty darn cold. We would have to pull out our "winter" clothing we brought along and make the best of the situation. We are here and we are going to enjoy it. I guess it was about an hour or so when we went to get dressed, that I could not find my jeans I packed. I looked, and looked and looked some more but other than an older pair I keep on the RV, I only had one good pair of jeans...although I remember washing and folding all of my jeans, they were definitely not on this RV. Luckily most campgrounds including this KOA have laundry facilities. Don't stress the small stuff. Surely there will be a mall somewhere that will have my Levis.
After I calmed down, we had our fill of coffee and morning news and got the RV ready to move. We do not haul a car when we travel so we must break camp each time we go somewhere, but we don't mind because that is what we decided worked best for us. In the event that
Still rainy as we enter Montana
we are eventually able to "fulltime", we will definitely consider hauling a "toad" which is RV talk for haul vehicle. That will be at least 4 or 5 years so no use to think about it now.
After looking over the Exploring Yellowstone brochure and other info given to us at the North gate of the park, we set out for Mammoth Hot Springs which we had seen briefly yesterday evening on the drive through to the west side. There was quite a crowd there yesterday so hopefully we'd get there before they got too crowded today. We headed out of the KOA and east on Hwy 20 which takes us back into the park. We noticed more things around the west gate such as some restaurants, IMAX Theater and other small stores and such.
We handed the Ranger at the gate our pass that we purchased yesterday and he waved us on through. These Rangers do a great job keeping the traffic flowing. We usually wait no more than 4 or 5 minutes in line to get in the gates and begin our adventure.
We kept reminding ourselves that we wanted to see if we could
spot the Eagle nest and I got the camera ready. We knew it wasn't too far inside the park and sure enough, there was the river now on our left, and the sign we saw yesterday. YEP, there is was. In the top of a tree that had burned back in the eighties, was a huge nest. That had to be the nest but it was pretty low compared to the one we saw back in the spring at Fontainebleau State Park back home in Louisiana. I tried to snap a picture but we couldn't slow too much and risk disturbing the nesting area. So unfortunately, we had no picture, but we did have to pass by again this evening on our way back to the KOA. I would try again.
Driving toward Mammoth Hot Springs, which was north of where we are, we continued to see steam rising up out of the earth from everywhere. It was beautiful but eerie at the same time. Knowing this place could blow at any time really makes you think. We stopped at Gibbon Falls and had to grab jackets and gloves. It was raining lightly so I put my hood on to
keep my head dry. Randy just toughs it out while I snap pictures of the pretty falls.
From there we stopped at the Monument Geyser Basin and once again put on our warmer clothing before joining the small crowds that were taking in the sights. It was not overly crowded but certainly not deserted either. In fact, it was just right. We enjoyed hiking along the Upper and Lower Terraces and took a lot of pictures.
We stopped at the Artists Paintpots, Norris Geyser Basin and then made it to Mammoth Hot Springs. This place was a little crowded but they have it set up so that there is more than one parking area and we found a spot easily. At an elevation of 6,239 feet we hiked around the massive area and again took a lot of pictures. At times we got a little winded but stopping to take pictures gave us a short rest and we moved on our way. It continued to drizzle.
After leaving Mammoth Hot Springs basin, we turned east on Hwy 212 to head toward the side of the east side of the park we had not seen before. As we
Gysers in the distance
At Yellowstone National Park
climb in elevation on the mountain road, the fog started to get very heavy and very low. It was hard to see more than a few yards in front of the RV and then the light rain is starting to turn into sleet and it got dark. Put all this together with driving on a high, tiny, curvy mountain road and I have to be honest, it was scary.
Trying to make light of the situation I made the comment "What else could happen?" and before we knew it, a gigantic bison came around the curve of the mountain in the opposite lane!! Now we know what else can happen. Randy did a great job of braking although I can assure you we were already at a crawl and the animal looked toward us, then he continued along on his side of the road and disappeared around the curve. There was no time for a picture as it happened so quickly. We drove for miles barely breathing, or maybe that was only me. I am sooo glad I was not driving at the time. I did manage to take a bunch of pictures of the snow on the mountain
Our 1st Buffalo (Bison)
First sighting on this trip. We saw some in 2000 but they were very far off in the distance.
and I think that kept me from losing my composure.
After what seemed like an eternity, we descended from the mountain and to a much lower level of ground and even started to see the Bison again as we continued south toward Canyon Village to see the Lower and Upper Falls. After the falls we were going to backtrack a few miles north and catch the road the goes through the middle of the park and get back early so we could check our the indoor pool and hot tub. We had already covered several miles on foot today enduring rain and we were tired.
However, as things sometimes go, we got turned around and didn't realize it until we were almost to the Fishing Bridge. That means another 16 miles back on this windy road plus the 40 miles to get back to our KOA. Despite the fact that it was now much later than expected, we still wanted to try to get another try at the eagle picture. When the time came, someone else was STOPPED and taking pictures of the nest. The sign says no stopping and we would not want to disturb this nest
so we kept driving. I snapped the picture but another tree got in the way. There was not enough time to try a second time. Well, we still have tomorrow...
Along the miles we had to drive to get back to the west gate, I commented that I was hungry and maybe we could try to get something to eat in the town of West Yellowstone. Randy asked jokingly what I might like since we were only out in the middle of a National Forest. I answered with maybe some pizza and as we looked, sure enough as we entered the town, there was a sign for a small pizza place. We tried to find a place close by to park since it was STILL raining and rather hard at that point, but after making the block we couldn't find a street spot. Suddenly, Randy notices a huge parking lot not far from the pizza place and it had a sign that said it was Public Parking. Go Randy! We parked and quickly made our way across the parking lot, across the street to the pizza place on the corner.
We went in and were seated by a nice
young lady and we chose a pepperoni pizza. After a small wait, the lady brought us our pizza and it was pretty good. Maybe a little pricey but after all, we were at a National Park and there doesn't appear to be a lot of competition.
Making it back to our campground around 5 pm, we still had plenty of time before dark to check out the pool. Randy insisted on walking down to check it out before changing and so we did. There was a lady with a child and no one else. After a foot test in the pool, I thought it a bit cool for my taste but after testing the hot tub, I was convinced. We hurried back and changed and made it back to the pool house. It really was a very nice set up and the hot tub was wonderful. We set the timer to circulate the water and laid back to relax our tired muscles. Never think it is not hard on the body to travel a couple of thousand miles in a relatively short period of time because it is.
The lady and her child left and we were all
Our first hike at Mammoth Springs
It was icy and cold and still drizzling. We had to walk carefully to avoid sliding. The snow was all over the ground along our walk. It was AWESOME!
alone in this huge pool house. This is my kind of relaxation. After the bubbles stopped, Randy went and reset it for a few more minutes. It felt so good on our backs and legs making it hard to leave. During our last couple of minutes, my sister called to let us know everything back home was going fine. She and her friend volunteered to house sit and care for our cats, birds, plants, raccoons and other things that we care for on a daily basis.
We chatted for a few minutes and we told her our temperature was in the 50s and we were indoors in the hot tub. She commented that at home in Baton Rouge, they were in the upper 90s and it was dry and getting hotter by the day. She said it had rained right after we left and that had been all of the rain we had received since then. I was assured by her that all of our cats were fine and we hung up.
Randy and I finally got out of the hot tub and grabbed our towels. We quickly gathered our things and headed out into the cool air. By
At Mammoth Springs
It was so cold, and the geysers are so hot, that the steam prevented us from seeing the geysers as well.
then it was around 7:30 and we headed back to the RV to shower and clean up. We watched local news and Late Night with David Letterman. We also had a fairly inconsistent Wifi signal but I did manage to get another email from our daughter and return one to her. I did also manage to upload our pictures to Snapfish and realized we had taken about 250 so far. Some turned out better than others and we are both getting use to this new CoolPix. We do need to find an extra battery because this one seems to give out quickly. I do have to keep in mind that I have been leaving it on for extended periods of time because it seemed like every time I turned it off, something would appear that I needed to photograph. Maybe there will be a Radio Shack along the way and we can pick one up. Turned in and slept well.
Wednesday, June 3rd we awoke around 8 am, did the coffee, news and makeup routine and readied everything for travel. Our plans were to go back through the west gate and go south toward Old Faithful and stop along
the way to see Lower Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot, Midway Geyser Basin, and Upper Geyser Basin. This was our final day here at the KOA because we planned to head south and go through Salt Lake City leaving our KOA site early tomorrow morning. Previously on our trip this far north, they were doing major road construction in the Salt Lake City area so we chose to detour and go through Provo and missing something I had really didn't mind at the time. However, through the years I have read so many interesting articles and have seen things on TV about the Mormon Temple Square that I really wanted to check it out.
So off we go to see the final parts of Yellowstone that we will see this trip. I have really been looking forward to seeing the Grand Prismatic again. The colors that are visible in this spectacular spring are beyond words. It was my favorite last time and I am sure it will be the highlight once again. As we passed through the west gate to re-enter the Park this morning, I turned the camera on and got it ready to try to get a picture
Upper and Lower Terraces
We hike along geysers for a few miles. It was still rainy and cold.
of the eagle's nest.
As we near the spot where the nest is located, there is another car that has stopped to take a picture and is blocking part of our lane. Well, as luck would have it, I missed it once again. We guess it just wasn't to be so we traveled on. As we got to our turn and headed south, I looked at the Park Map that we study to decide which sites and trails to see, and wanted to see the Firehole Falls. We would have liked to have taken the Firehole Canyon Drive but the sign said NO RVs. Something else that was not to be...
We follow along side of the Firehole River and travel along the Lower Geyser Basin. This is the largest geyser basin in Yellowstone, spanning about 18 square miles consisting of a "flat plain interspersed with meadows and stands of lodgepole pine, with the Firehole River flowing through the central part of the basin". There you find the Fountain Paint Pot Nature Trail which is a walkway that you hike along and it brings you through and across several active thermal areas.
There's Jelly Geyser, Fountain Geyser,
Morning Geyser and Fountain Paint Pot to name a few. Due to lingering misty rain and foggy conditions, our sight was significantly diminished and I was starting to get worried about Grand Prismatic. Would these conditions clear up before we made it to MidWay Geyser Basin? I was seriously doubting it at this point but we continued to enjoy what we were able to see. Some thermal areas were less steamy and photographed better than others.
We came upon a couple who was taking a picture of a sign that said DO NOT ENTER~THERMAL AREA, and the wife commented to us that they collected photographs of signs that shouldn't be necessary to post. We all laughed at the thought that anyone might intentionally step off into that steamy burning pool, but keeping in mind that it DOES happen. We see many Bison footprints but no corpses so they must have a thick enough hide that it doesn't scald them. People are not so lucky. Randy and I figure the Bison come to the thermal areas when it is cold to warm themselves for a bit.
We hike the walkway and come to a part that is closed due
Randy in the snow
(He really did like it!)
to rotten boards and have to go way back and then turn to come back where the wooden walkway is broken, in order to see all of the areas. Despite the cold and light rain, it really does not take any time at all and I took a lot of pictures. There were a good many people out today but certainly not amounting to a crowd.
After our hike along the Fountain Paint Pot Nature Trail, we took off for more sights. Suddenly to our left we see a sign for Firehole Lake Drive and unlike Firehole Canyon Drive, we do not see a sign saying NO RVs, so we turned onto the small one way drive that rejoins the main road several miles down. Let's see what we might encounter on this not as traveled drive. We had hardly made the turn when we notice a car pulled off somewhat and taking pictures. Randy brakes and slows down to see what they are interested in and we see an elk, a rather large one at that, just standing there grazing. It was amazing. I snapped several pictures so I can tell the grandchildren we saw a reindeer. Hopefully
we will find a place tonight with a decent internet connection and I'll email it to them all. That was the only downside of our current KOA but we kept reminding ourselves that we ARE in the mountains and not the middle of a city so it was easier to get over no internet. My goodness I am spoiled!
As we near the end of Firehole Lake Drive, we walk to the Great Fountain Geyser which is said to have water that shoots between 75-220 feet high and an eruption that lasts from one to two hours, and said to be one of the great geysers of Yellowstone. Its intervals vary from 9 to 15 hours but they say the short-term average is usually stable enough that eruption times can be somewhat predicted. There was a sign with a predicted eruption but we could not wait until that evening at 7:00 so on we go toward the Midway Geyser Basin and Grand Prismatic.
Within a half hour or so we reach “Midway” because of its location between the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins, this area was once known as “Hell’s Half Acre.” It contains two of Yellowstone’s largest
hydrothermal features: Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser. I am still concerned that it is too steamy to view the Grand Prismatic but we remain optimistic and it has warmed up enough to leave our jackets behind and we head out to the walkway. We hurried along to see Grand Prismatic and just as we dreaded, it was way too steamy and foggy to see the beauty of this amazing thermal spring. I tried in vain to get a picture or two but neither came out so I settled for a picture of the sign...
Excelsior Geyser was much more visible and we got a few pictures of it before heading to our final stop in Yellowstone which was of course, Old Faithful. We pulled in to the huge parking lot at the upper geyser basin and easily parked our RV. One thing I can say is they are prepared for large crowds and there is ample parking for all. We pull in amongst the many RVs and by then it was about 2:00 pm. We were starving but decided to wait and see if we could find something around the area and have a late lunch/early supper.
Going up, up, up
As we gained elevation, snow covered the ground and it started sleeting on us. Not to forget the fog that covered the mountain...
We walked across the massive parking lot and noticed the sun was trying to break through the clouds. It was warming up more and more and after the walk we were actually getting hot. Keep in mind, we still had our thermal underwear on from earlier but since it was getting later in the day, we decided not to remove them. We might have to wait awhile for Old Faithful's eruption and we wanted to be prepared.
As we get near the viewing area we see a large number of people walking toward us. We remembered from last time that crowds going one way, mean one thing, that we had just missed the latest eruption. We continued to make our way against the flow of people and made it to the sign which indicated that Old Faithful's next eruption was estimated to be around 3:30 PM, which seemed more than enough time to grab some lunch.
We found a cafe and ate, then went to do some souvenir shopping for the 10 grandchildren, ages 13, 12, 6, 6, 5, 4, 3, 3, 2 and 6 months. They are split between 4 of our 5 children. We find that
the kids like T-shirts and we usually get them the ones that glow in the dark. We find some nice black ones with Coyotes on them, and some pretty pink ones with bears on them for the girls, and after dropping over a hundred dollars in the cashier's hand, she informs us that because of our rather large purchase, we are eligible for a gift! How nice, but then she points to a blanket, you know the ones you can buy down south for $5.00, and says for $18.00 we can have this "special commemorative blanket". I think Randy and my jaws both dropped at once and we politely declined. So the lady folded our purchases very neatly and we went on our way. Still wondering about the gift part.......
After our dining and shopping, it is close to 3:15 and we head back toward the geyser viewing area. There are miles of trails in this area that bring you along all different types of thermal features but we had hiked most of these trails back in June of 2000 and it was still drizzly so we opted to save the time and spend it at Zion National Park. We
made it back to Old Faithful in a matter of 5 minutes and secured a great seat to await the inevitable. There were a few people here and there but as the time grew closer, the crowds drew larger.
It is amazing to us that where ever we go in a crowd, no matter where we pick to sit, there will always be the loudest person (or persons) in the crowd RIGHT BEHIND US and today was no exception. Now we are not ancient and we like a good time but there were 4 or 5 girls, late teenaged or early 20's directly behind us that spoke extremely loud for the entire wait and throughout the geysers eruption. As Mother Nature would have it, the time drew past 3:30 and you would have thought they were going to have a hissy fit. How dare Old Faithful keep them waiting...but at about 3:35, it all started and it was beautiful. As quickly as I could, I took several pictures and then sat back to enjoy the wonderful power of Nature. Then just as it started, it slowly subsided and was gone.
Once it was over, the crowds once again disbursed
After reaching a lower altitude
We start to see less snow and more grass
and we looked around the old lodge before heading back to the RV. With a little luck we can make it close to Salt Lake City before we stop for the night. We want to at least see the Mormon Temple Square and maybe some other things in the area. We turned back north to leave Yellowstone through the west gate and we have one last chance to snap a picture of the eagle nest.
As we get close, I get the camera ready and suddenly we see a car STOPPED on the road and a lady outside of her car taking pictures of the nest. Randy had to brake rather hard to avoid hitting her since there were oncoming cars, and I was able to snap a picture of the nest and when the photo was uploaded, I realized that the mother eagle was in the nest. I sure hope the disrespectful lady did not disturb the mother and her nest. We wish people would realize there is a reason for the sign asking for an undisturbed nesting area.
We headed back toward our campground only to realize after what seemed to be about 10 miles, that
we had taken a wrong turn and we were on the wrong highway. After retracing our tracks back to the correct highway, we made it back to the RV and ate, showered and settled down for the evening.
Thursday, June 4th, we left this very nice KOA around 10:30 am and headed further west into Idaho. We took Hwy 20 south until we met up with I-15 south. Idaho was nice but to be honest, we were just looking forward to Utah and being further south where it might be a somewhat warmer, less rainy and we can get some use of the shorts and T-shirts we packed, so other than stops for gas, we kept moving.
First Randy drives as we pass the Grand Tetons off to our east. They were still very snow-capped and looked most inviting but we had passed through them before and they are high and scary and that was without the snow! FOCUS FOCUS-we want to try to see some new stuff. We always make an initial plan of at least one major place we want to go, and then just be spontaneous from there. As children we both traveled with
our families and had to adhere to a strict travel schedule which was no fun. When my two children were young and we traveled, we always liked to see the caverns, the cliff dwellings and always take in a lot of hikes.
As we made it out of Iowa and closer to Salt Lake City the traffic began to get much heavier and by then it was around 5:30 pm. Randy thought maybe we should try to find a place to stop for the night and see the Temple tomorrow but we still had plenty of daylight left and I didn't want to waste it so I talked him in to heading toward the temple.
Unfortunately, our map got us lost and the convenience store clerk was certainly no help so it was around 6:30 pm when we finally made it to the Temple Square. We had some close calls with some very hilly streets and actually bottomed out a couple of times fighting through the construction that was going on all over downtown Salt Lake. We finally saw a man and a lady talking on the sidewalk so I rolled down the window and politely asked for
directions to the Temple Square. The lady told us her husband was in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the man there with her was in the Orchestra. They pointed over the hill and gave us wonderful directions to get us there. Thank you to all of you kind direction givers out there.
We started off at the museum after finding a metered parking spot. We deposited a couple of dollars in change into the parking meter until we read that it was free after 6:00 pm. Oh well, stimulus dollars. We started at the Church History Museum and we were greeted by a very nice gentleman. He welcomed us and told us to feel free to look around and ask any questions we might have. It was a most interesting place with some gorgeous art pieces and the complete history of the Mormons. They are open from 9 - 9 Monday through Friday so we were able to browse through their Mormon Church and local art and artifacts.
When we were finished there we headed across the street to the Salt Lake Temple which we were able to view from the outside. That appears to be the
only structure in the square that is not open for tours. There are guided tours or you are free to roam around on your own. We struck out on our own. Randy and I admired the beauty of the Temple from outside but I was most saddened to see that a huge condo was going up directly behind the Temple. It totally detracts from the beauty of it and I can only wonder how much someone was paid to approve that commercial condo building.
As we turned away from the temple there was a man standing at the door of the Tabernacle and he invited us in for a look around. The beauty of this place surpasses my imagination of what it would look like. We went in and took a seat with many other guests. Along with the people sitting in the pews there were several people standing around answering questions and chatting with the visitors. We heard one of them mentioning that they were about to perform the Pin Drop test and we are fortunate to be here for it. Then from about 170 feet away, we can hear a piece of paper being torn, a pin
drop, and a nail being dropped by a lady at the pulpit, all without benefit of a microphone! The sound was crystal clear~talk about amazing. I took a couple of pictures after that was over and we politely exited. Through the doors to our right were the gardens that surround the area. Our brochure points out that there are rooftop gardens on the roof of the conference center but we did feel we had time to see everything so we chose a few of the things that were available to see.
Next was the Assembly Hall, which was the first permanent structure on this site and was the so-called "Old Tabernacle," which was built in 1851-52. In 1877, Brigham Young announced plans to tear down the Old Tabernacle, and build a new one to accommodate somewhere around 3,000 people. According to one Salt Lake City newspaper, the decision to build another structure was due to the fact that the newer Tabernacle could not be adequately heated during the cold winter months. Consequently, the Old Tabernacle was removed in 1877 to make way for the Assembly Hall. The Old Tabernacle featured low adobe walls and a gabled roof, with
We saw this on the Firehole Lake Drive
the floor situated below ground level and accommodated approximately 2,500 people.
Assembly Hall serves primarily as the home to the Temple Square Concert Series and also used as a backup site for the daily organ recitals which are normally held in the Tabernacle. They say it is also used for occasional church meetings and as an overflow space for events in the Tabernacle and the Conference Center. Unbeknownst to many visitors to Temple Square, there are actually four pipe organs in the Assembly Hall, one in the main part of the building, and 3 practice instruments in the basement and the Assembly Hall is also home to two harpsichords.
Next we wandered in the North Visitor's Center which stays open until 8:15 pm. It stands at the northwest corner of Temple Square. Its most prominent feature is the 11-foot tall white Carrara marble Christ statue which stands in the central atrium, surrounded by a spiraling ramp and by murals depicting the vast expanse of the universe. I highly recommend staying for the short audio clip that the attendants play as you sit and look at the statue, as it was truly inspirational. There are two art galleries and
We offered to take a picture of a nice couple and they returned the favor!
we did our best to speed-view as many as possible as it was nearing 8:00 pm. Though there were still a couple of hours of daylight, we decided to make it out of Salt Lake City before nightfall so we headed out-of-town. There were storm clouds starting to accumulate off in the distance and they looked pretty scary. We had initially thought we'd stop and camp on Antelope Island but with the bad weather moving in, that seemed like a bad idea so we trudged on.
Then we did the unthinkable, we drove another 250 miles and had outrun the rain, before finally stopping for the night. I assure you that it was not by choice but out of necessity. We'd had enough rainy, cool weather for one vacation. The plan from here was to drive a few miles south on I-15 to Provo and then park at Wal-Mart for the night. However, when we got to the Wal-Mart in Provo we found that the parking lot was a parking garage! There was no way our RV that is approximately 11' 6" would fit, not to mention that it did not seem like a good idea at any time,
to park overnight in a parking garage so we circled the block just to be sure there was no additional parking and off we went.
And on we drove and drove, and drove until we reached Cedar City, Utah and we stopped at Wal-Mart to park. We were both starving by then and luckily there was an I-Hop within walking distance so we parked and walked right over enjoying a wonderful meal. Back to the RV for late night news and Late Night with David Letterman.
We awoke Friday, June 5th, excited to be within 200 miles of Zion National Park. Of course once we leave the interstate, we will be traveling through the mountains so it will take us a few hours to make it to Zion. We have been waiting to see Zion for over a year and hopefully nothing will go wrong that will cause us to miss it again. Since we are heading to the west entrance this year, we will avoid the spot where we broke down last year. The Tunnel that we never made it through was on the other side of the park and would probably be the way we leave
in a couple of days.
We went through our morning routines and left Wal-Mart around 9 after picking up a few things at Wal-Mart and we were on our way. It took us about 5 hours to make it to Zion National Park and we were hoping since it was around 3:30, that we could secure a campsite inside of the park but it was not to be. We are usually lucky when it comes to finding campsites without reservations but not always and this was one of those times. We got the Zion National Park packet that they give out and it includes a listing of nearby campgrounds along with all of the latest Park info, then turned around and headed out of the gate. We had seen a nice looking campground a mile or so from the gate so I located the telephone number and called to see if they had a site.
The lady who answered at the Zion Canyon Campground seemed overworked and frankly told me that they did not make reservations and that is was first come, first served basis and hung up. Hmmm, we decided we'd ride by and look
Old Faithful right on time!
As predictions go, Old Faithful was within 5 minutes of the predicted eruption.
at it again and see what we thought. We both quickly agreed that it looked like a place we could live with if the price were not outrageous and we pulled in. There were several RVs already pulled in to register and we were hoping they would have a site for us. We noticed several shops and restaurants right in the vicinity and it was not far from the gates at Zion NP.
We hopped out quickly before anyone else pulled in, went inside and got in line. There was one lady who obviously was unhappy about her stay for some reason and I didn't listen closely enough to hear why. We saw signs that indicated they offer cable tv, washer/dryer on site and WiFi in the lobby of the resort that is part of the facility. They also have a restaurant on the side that I assume is affiliated with the campground/resort because a guy came through a door on the employee side of the counter and we could see the restaurant through the open door. Again, we were hungry but needed to secure a campsite first.
It was our turn and we inquired about
Old Faithful Lodge
Very beautiful wooden interior that pictures fail to do it justice. From the upper floor there is a perfect view of Old Faithful Geyser.
the availability and price of a site. She told us it would be $35.00 per night which is more that we would like to pay but less than we expected. Afterall, we are a mile from the National Park and can take the shuttle from the campground straight to the Zion Visitor's Center and we quickly secured a night. After completing our registration and obtaining our campsite and map, we pulled around and quickly found our site. It was 3 spots from the end of one row and so it would be a fairly short walk to access the WiFi, food and shops.
We quickly hooked up the RV connections and I grabbed the laptop to go check email so I can see how Kim is doing on her trip to Rome. I also hope the connection will be a good one so I can send some pictures to several friends and family members. As luck would have it, the rain we had run from since Salt Lake City, caught up to us and it was raining lightly. No matter, at least it was not as cold as Yellowstone had been so we hurried the distance to the
resort lobby. I found an electric plug and fired up the laptop. After typing in the key (code) I had a great connection and uploaded loads of pictures to Snapfish. There was an email from Kim and all was well with her so I replied to her and sent her and others the link to view our pictures.
With that out-of-the-way, we were getting very hungry so we walked next door to the on site restaurant and went in. Randy eyed the menu displayed on the wall and said he was sick of burgers and wanted to check out the other places down the street. The rain had subsided somewhat and so we thanked them and left.
We walked down a ways then crossed the street to a restaurant that looked good from the outside. Just then we noticed the couple that had pulled in beside us at the campground coming out of the restaurant and we overheard something about it being very pricey so we made a u-turn and crossed the road to check out a small place that seemed like a bit less pricey but as soon as we opened the door we knew this
A walk along the river
If it weren't still so cold. I have on thermal layers.
was not going to be for us either. Just the nicely folded cloth napkins and the glasses set up on the tables told us this was not going to be our dining spot. We do not mind supporting the local economy but we were spending $35 for our site and were not going to spend $50 dollars for this meal.
Outside again and looking around, we were out of options so we made our way back toward our campground to decide if we wanted to prepare something in the RV or humbly return to the first place we had checked out. The latter won out. Upon returning to the diner, we were greeted again nicely and both of us ordered burgers and fries from the guy who appeared to be working there alone. Randy and I both thoroughly enjoyed our burgers while the guy struck up a conversation with us when he asked us where we were from. When we replied Louisiana, he told us he had just moved here from New Orleans back in February. He had lived in New Orleans for a few years and cooked in a restaurant there also. I asked him whether he
Eagle in the nest at Yellowstone
click to enlarge and see the mama on her nest
liked it here in Wyoming or New Orleans best and he said Wyoming after a moment of thought.
There were a few other patrons who came in and were enjoying soccer that was playing on the wall mounted TV. Evidently there must have been a playoff or something because several of them were really into it and cheering loudly but not overly so. It was just a laid back type atmosphere. While we relaxed and ate we looked over the brochures at many trails available for hiking and decided on the Narrows Trail and that we would hike it from the bottom up. The picture shows a hike along and in some spots in a river bed. It looks just like our kind of hike with us commenting on how much we love the trails in Tunica Hills, Mississippi which also allows you to hike a creek bed a good piece of the way.
Having finished our food, we thanked the guy and told him we might be back again tomorrow if we were too tired to cook after our through the Narrows and we headed back to the RV.
Sometimes when we are on the
road, good things happen and after scanning the cable channels, Randy found LSU baseball on one of the channels playing for the College World Series, so I thought I might luck out and connect to the internet from the RV, after all we are one of the closest to the lobby of the resort. Lo and behold it actually worked. So while Randy watched the game, I was able to connect and download more pictures, email our family and friends and even check on one of our grandson's online virtual Neopet. After the game was over we showered and prepared for sleep. We planned to be at the shuttle stop between 7:30 or 8:00 am to hit the trails.
Saturday, June 6th, we awoke a bit later than we had planned but come on, it's vacation. Getting busy, we dressed then gathered some crackers, nuts, chips, pop tarts and plenty of water to put in our backpacks along with our other gear we keep packed which include things like plastic cheap ponchos, matches, pedometer, solar blanket and a few other things we deem necessary for survival for short periods of time should an emergency occur (hopefully never).
We got to the shuttle around 9:00 am and there was one other couple who were already there. Within about 10 minutes the shuttle came down the road going toward the Park. Evidently we were not the first stop on their route. They must go further than a mile out to pick up at other campgrounds as well. As we boarded we realized it was very crowded and we had to stand and hold a rail that was fairly high for me. Good thing it was less than a mile to the Visitor's Center because that is where we planned to start out and review our plan to hike the Narrows. After checking the current weather conditions and reviewing the trail and which shuttle stop we needed, we left the Visitor's Center and boarded the shuttle headed north.
The NPS describes our trail as follows, "This is the easiest way to experience the Narrows. Ride the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava, walk one mile to the end of the paved Riverside Walk, and begin wading up the river. Almost immediately the views are breathtaking, and each bend of the river brings new delights. There is no formal
In Salt Lake City, Utah
destination, and you return the same way you came. Many hikers try to reach Orderville Canyon, a tributary creek that is approximately 2 hours upstream from the end of the paved trail. In the vicinity of Orderville Canyon the Narrows are at perhaps their most majestic. No permit is required for this day-hike. Traveling upstream beyond Big Springs requires a permit."
Ok, so we're up for the challenge and we are excited. I have brought along my hooded, lightweight fleece jacket as it is chilly this morning but we are both in shorts and tennis shoes. We have never worn hiking shoes or boots but I know lots of hikers swear by them. We have also yet to try the hiking sticks that we see more experienced hikers with. On our Grand Canyon hike we questioned several people and most had positive things to say about the poles, however after pricing them, we have opted to wait until a later time...
Naturally the last stop is at the Temple of Sinawava so we ride along the winding mountain roads as we stop at I think 8 different stops until ours. The scenery is so indescribable and I wanted
This was so beautiful and the people here were so nice.
to take pictures but they wouldn't have come out so well from inside the shuttle so I waited. We finally arrived at our stop after approximately 25 minutes and we exited the bus. It appeared that most of the riders had planned to hike Angel's Landing which is a 5 mile round trip, but several evidently had planned the Narrows Hike like us. Everyone was making last-minute adjustments to backpacks and making use of the bathroom facilities before heading out on the trail. So once that was all taken care of, we all made our way toward the trailhead.
It started out walking along the paved walkway and before too long we were starting to notice the rise in elevation. We admired the many desert flowers that were still in bloom. There were pink, yellow, white and some that were multi-colored. As usual, I took a bunch of pictures. As we neared the end of the walkway, we saw the trail continued through the river so we and about 15 others climbed down the riverbank and stepped to the edge of the water. Now I am no weather person, but it was cool enough for my jacket so
We heard the pin drop!
We were there for the famous pin drop sound test. It was amazing.
I was pretty sure that water was not going to be warm, and a quick hand splash confirmed our fears, the water was FREEZING! Slowly, one by one we all stepped off into the icy cold water and immediately our feet were burning from the cold water. Randy and I looked at each other but kept moving slowly behind the others while slipping on the rocks that moved underneath our feet, and fighting against the intense river current to make it to the other side.
By the time we reached the other side to rest, two or three people had turned back but I took out the camera and started taking pictures. It really was beautiful despite the fact that our feet were soaking wet and burning and tingling like being stuck by a thousand needles. Randy and I along with several other hikers, watched as the 6' plus guy ahead kept going down deeper and deeper until he was up to his neck in that cold water! He was holding his backpack up in the air to keep it from getting wet. The ones of us who had hung back to watch, slowly turned back one by
Golden Shepherd at the Temple Square
look to the left of the left part of the Temple
one. We heard someone say the guy and his crew had wet suits or warm suits or something like that on to keep them from freezing.
So disappointed, we slowly retraced our tracks back across the Virgin River and with each carefully placed step, the force of the current was trying to slam us down which would not be a pretty sight. On the way we were traveling against the current but it was now worse traveling with it. A few minutes later we had all made it back to the paved trail and saw loads of people watching what we had just been through. We overheard a guy saying that there had been a lot of rain recently and the river was higher than usual.
We hiked the mile back to the trailhead and sat down to re-group. We decided that due to the time we had spent attempting to hike the Narrows, that would preclude us from taking a longer hike such as Angel's Landing. Another 5 hours we did not have especially since the skies were clouding up and we never take unnecessary chances so we settled on Emerald Pools, a much shorter hike. According to
the National Park Service, "Emerald Pools is one of Zion's sweetest signature trails. Generously endowed with breathtaking scenery, this trail is one that children and adults alike will have fun hiking. Waterfalls, pools and a dazzling display of monoliths create the Emerald Pools Trail System".
It was only 3 miles roundtrip and we did not have the elevation climb that is involved in a lot of the other trails. It was pleasant enough and Randy worked up a sweat, I just "glowed" a bit. After making it to the 2nd pool we decided to stop and enjoy the snacks we had brought along. We still had plenty of water and so we drank as much as possible to lighten our load back. Of course there is a fine line in depleting the water because there are no restrooms along the trail but we easily made it back. There are restrooms at the Shuttle stops and they are located conveniently to most trailheads.
Along our hike a couple of nice young ladies volunteered to take our picture. In the event they ever run across our trip journal, we wish to thank you again, the picture turned out nicely. We caught the
shuttle back toward the Visitor's Center and on the way back our Shuttle almost ran over a wolf. The driver did an amazing job of avoiding the collision when the thing jumped off of an embankment right into our path. I saw it just as it jumped but Randy missed the whole thing. Timing is everything.
We made it back to the RV around 6 pm and decided to whip up a fine supper of crawfish etouffee with the pound of frozen crawfish we had brought along from home. No luck with the internet connecting again from the RV after supper so I had to walk back up to the lobby to check email and upload pictures. Randy came along and we ended up going next door to the Cafe we had eaten at the night before, and enjoyed a delicious ice cream sundae. After filling our bellies to the limit, we made our way back to the RV to make plans for the remainder of our trip.
While making plans we thought it might be nice to stop in and see our friend Nick Ramsay who we met last year. When I say met, I mean he
was our tow truck driver who towed our old RV from the tunnel at Zion National Park. He towed us to his shop in Kanab, Utah and we spent the night in his parking lot hooked up to his electricity. First thing the next morning, they found our fuel pump had gone out and had it replaced with us on the road by 12:00 noon that day. We are eternally grateful to him and would love to show him our new RV. Since we are headed toward Albuquerque, New Mexico next, Ramsay Towing is right on the way.
The next morning, Sunday, June 7th, we pulled out of the Zion Canyon Campground around 10:00 am. Neither of us were too anxious to leave this beautiful place but the hiking hadn't worked out so well here and we had hoped to make it to Pala Duro Canyon in Amarillo, Texas toward the end of our trip for some more hiking. We tried to visit Pala Duro Canyon last year but due to extreme weather conditions in Amarillo, which resulted in all of our overhead vents on our brand new RV being broken by hail, we left Amarillo the next day and
didn't stop until we were far away from the Texas Panhandle. Hopefully this year will be different but in the meantime, we are headed for Enchanted Trails RV Resort in Albuquerque. We have stayed two or three nights at a time at the Enchanted Trails for the past several years.
They have fairly spacious sites, Cable TV, WiFi, pool, hot tub, game room, laundry and a Camping World next door which is where we bought our new RV last year. We stayed there over Memorial Day Weekend while we broke the new RV in, to make sure everything was fully functional before heading home. That was right before our stop in Amarillo and the hail storm.
Also as a side note, today is Kim's 24th birthday and she is spending it in Rome. She has always been a very driven young lady and has worked hard to be where she is in life. We have been fortunate that our children are wonderful, hard-working adults that we are proud to call our own. I emailed Kim our birthday wishes before we left Zion but I missed being able to call her at midnight to wish her a Happy Birthday.
As we drove out of Zion National Park I took several pictures that reminded me of the Grand Canyon which is my very favorite place. It was hard last year to pass so closely and not stop and it will be the same this year. As we neared the tunnel where we broke down last year, Randy and I held our breath as we passed through but I did manage a victory picture that wasn't too clear through the windshield.
We both surprised that we did not see a single Bison this year around Zion, whereas last year we saw a good many along the roadway. We turned south toward Kanab, Utah which is just barely north of the Arizona state line. We enjoyed the same scenery we had seen from the cab of Nick's tow truck but this year we weren't worried our RV would swing off the mountain. Don't get me wrong, Nick was a great driver and never gave me reason to be concerned about our safety, but all the while I still worried maybe a chain would break or some other unforeseen catastrophe would happen but all in good time, we had made it
safely to his shop. This year our 1-year-old RV did an excellent job climbing all of the mountains without the aid of a wrecker and we made it to Kanab in good time.
Now I don't know if this happens to those of you that travel, but if we are gone over a week or so, I tend to lose track of the day of the week which is what happened to us. Only after we had parked and walked to the door of Ramsay's did we realize that it was Sunday. We were both disappointed that we wouldn't get to say hello, so we decided to write a short note on the back of our Zion Tunnel Pass and leave it on his door. As I wrote the note we talked about making the block to grab a coke at the McDonald's we had eaten at last year when we were broken down. This year we won't have to walk in the sweltering heat.
After jotting the note I hopped out to stick it on the door and I noticed someone looking out from the other side of the glass. It was Nick! He opened the
Zion Shuttle Map
It's free and easy to use and keeps traffic to a minimum inside the park.
door and I quickly reminded him who we were and he laughed as we showed him the new RV. We thanked him again for his kindness and getting us safely back on the road last year; we told him we had made it through the tunnel and into Zion this time and really enjoyed it. We chatted for a few more minutes and he told us he had just come by to catch up on some paperwork and was glad we had stopped by.
We left and drove the 2 blocks to McD's to grab a fountain coke, fueled up the RV and hit the road again. Kanab is a beautiful city which we enjoyed for several hours last year even though the RV was rather sickly at the time, but I can tell you one thing for sure, it is hot here during the summer. Last year we went through here the last week in May and it was already hot. We had sat out front of Ramsay's while we waited for our fuel pump to arrive via courier and watched the outdoor thermometer climb rapidly.
Just south of Kanab, Utah is the Arizona State line and
Flowers in the park @Zion N.P.
we were lucky that some spring flowers were still in bloom
we crossed over and continued south on Hwy 89 which runs along side of the outskirts of the Kaibab Indian Reservation and on the other side, the Vermillion Cliffs. We have traveled through this area many times but never tire of the beautiful scenery. We passed through Fredonia, Arizona and outside of Jacob Lake we then passed over the Vermillion Cliffs and across the Colorado River, then the Echo Cliffs, and across the Painted Desert. Really, the beauty of this area is indescribable as I said before and though it takes a good bit of driving time, we really enjoy the ride. It still amazes me with the vastness of the wide open West. The sky is so close it appears that you could reach out and touch a cloud.
Once we finally reached I-40 we turned east and before we knew it, we had made it to Winslow, Arizona and we did something we had been wanting to do for several years but hadn't as of yet, we actually found the right
corner and pulled over for a couple of pictures. As we pulled over to park, we could hear music playing which sounded like it was
Hike through the bottom of the Narrows
we were hiking in freezing cold water.
coming from one of the two or three souvenir shops which were all right around this immediate area. I took a picture of Randy "standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona" and he took one of me. He didn't zoom on my picture but I really was there too! Since we were stopped, we decided to get a Route 66 magnet for our collection and chose the shop across the street where the Eagles music seemed to be coming from.
We went in and saw some really awesome stuff like jewelry, clothing, blankets, drinking glasses and yes, magnets. It was hard picking one but I finally found the perfect one to add to our collection. Being someone who collects enough clutter but tries hard not to, through the years rather than add to a clutter collection of vacation memories, we buy magnets to remember our travels by. They are usually rather inexpensive (although I have found a few that made me take a second look at their price), easy to bring back as I place them on the hood of our range while we are traveling, and then transfer them to the refrigerator when we return home. We
The hike that was not to be...
too cold & too deep to continue was the consensus of all in our immediate area. We watched until a 6' guy was neck deep.
will need a larger one soon...
As we got back on I-40, we realized that in the past we had been getting off the interstate one exit past that elusive corner and that is why we never found it. Leaving Winslow feeling rather proud of ourselves for finally finding this elusive corner, we decide to ride a little further and find a campground for the night. And that we did, but the campground we found is a story in itself. Randy and I know we are creatures of habit but somehow, along the interstate we saw a campground sign in Holbrook, nothing special just a campground sign and we decided it was time for rest.
It had been a long day of driving across mountains and deserts with wind and winding roads and we were tired. We exited the interstate and turned off of the main road and followed the signs straight to the OK RV Park. It was only as we pulled in that we realized we had stayed here last year and it was a very nice campground. We are so blessed to have found the same safe, reasonably priced park that also has reliable Wifi
and cable tv. Pulling in about 8 pm we are hoping the office would still be open which makes check in easier. Lucky again, the clerk was still there and checked us in right away. It was $25.00 with our Good Sam discount and we told her how we had stayed here last year and really enjoyed our stay. She assigned us a perfect site and we were quickly set up despite the wind that continued to blow rather steadily. We prepared our supper and ended our day with showers, television and much-needed sleep. The website for the OK RV Park which we highly recommend is: http://www.okrvpk-llc.com/
The city of Holbrook is described by the rv park as the toughest, most rugged and lawless town of the Old West. Last year we hiked the Petroglyph Trail at Lyman State Park and really enjoyed it. There is also a Petrified Wood Museum owned by Jim Gray and we had been through it with my two children some 10 years ago. It was rather interesting to us at the time because Randy was working with wood at the time. There is a Historic Navajo County Courthouse and Jail built-in 1898 but
we have not seen it yet. Maybe one year. Monday, June 8th,
we pulled out of Holbrook mid morning and continued east toward New Mexico. Since we have covered the major three things we wanted to do this trip, Yellowstone, Zion and the Mormon Temple Square, we can cut back some on the driving and try to relax some. We continued our drive on I-40 east out of Arizona and into New Mexico, through Gallup and finally stopping in Grants. We admire the beautiful bridge art and the gorgeous colors they paint on the overpasses and underpasses.
After stopping for gas, we saw a sign for the Grants Mining Museum and decided to see if they were open. It was 3:45 and they were opened and we were able to take a tour of the actual mine. The self-guided tour allows you to view the mine at your own pace for a small fee. We stepped into an elevator and descended in the "cage" to the mine shaft. In a real mine, the descent could plunge down 900 feet or more, but our "Section 26" is just a short ride down, ending at the station where workers, materials
and mine ore, leave and enter the mine. We learn about the "lunchroom," drilling and blasting techniques and the forbidden "open stope" by pushing audio buttons on the wall of each station.
In less than an hour we were on our way out of the museum only to find when we reached the large parking lot across the street where we had parked, that someone had parked another RV where we could not pull out. Now normally that would not be a problem because we could back up, but they way they were parked wouldn't allow easy backing so I jumped out and helped guide Randy inch by inch out of our tight squeeze. Really, I could understand if it were Mardi Gras in New Orleans but this was an ordinary Monday afternoon and we were the only 2 vehicles on this particular lot. I would like to think that the driver of this RV simply did not look at the situation before parking otherwise they would have left us more room to maneuver. Life goes on and so do we, on to find some late lunch/early supper. The past couple of years we have managed to make
it to the Route 66 Casino for the Hungry Cowboy Buffet, but it has never really impressed me although Randy seems to enjoy it. We see signs for a buffet at Sky City Casino and decide to give it a try.
We exited and followed the well-marked signs for RV parking at the casino and hurriedly changed out of our traveling clothes (shorts and T-shirts) and into our casino buffet eating clothes, jeans
and clean T-Shirts. 😱
In no time at all we were seated at a table in the Huwak'a Restaurant and enjoying a buffet. As usual, Randy enjoys the buffet more than I did but he tends to eat more of a variety of foods than me. I never feel like I eat my money's worth but hopefully Randy makes up for some. The service was ok despite the fact that us and one other guy were the only ones in the place. Most of the ladies who worked there chatted by the cash register while we waited for drink refills. 😞 http://www.skycity.com/Dining/
We resisted the temptation to lose a few dollars in the casino after we ate and headed straight back to the
On the way back
This is a very large rock but looks small from so far up.
RV to make it the last few miles to Albuquerque and to Enchanted Trails RV Park. http://www.enchantedtrails.com/
Pulling into Enchanted Trails is almost like being home to us. One of our favorite homes away from home. We have camped here so many times we really do feel right at home. There was a new young lady in the office and she promptly checked us in after having found us on her computer and assigned us a site. The park was not full but certainly not empty either. We had a nice spacious site and settled in right away. This year they have changed their WiFi to a more reliable system for which I am thankful. I'll be able to upload more pictures and email family and friends as to our current location and that we are still safe and sound and having a wonderful time. Most of our close people understand that we are out in the boonies a lot and have a not so consistent cell signal so unless an emergency arises, most wait for us to send emails.
After showers we settled down to decide the next stop of our journey. Last year, our wonderful RV
salesman Walt, had recommended the Sandia Parkway Tram as a day trip but the rain last year prevented us from taking his advice to experience the tram. Perhaps tomorrow's weather will hold out and we can check it out this trip. We definitely have the time. Having decided on a plan, we enjoyed internet, snacks and some late night tv before showering and turning in for the night.
Tuesday, June 9th, we awoke around 8 am and enjoyed coffee while watching the morning news. We dressed and quickly readied the RV for the travel to the tram. We had googled the location and figured it sounded easy enough to locate. http://www.sandiapeak.com/
As we fought our way through morning traffic to the Sandia Parkway, I couldn't help but notice so many rooftops (as they are mostly eye level) that could be made into rooftop gardens. I hear that is popular in some cities and seems to help with the reduction of heat due to the heated brick or tiles on the roofs, and as an added plus it would be very attractive.
We stopped for fuel and made it to the tram around noon and found the
We made it through!
Though we were going the opposite way, we made it through without breaking down this year.
parking lot to be virtually empty. These hard economic times must be hurting attractions like this and what a shame. We changed from shorts to long pants and I grabbed my trusty fleece jacket while Randy just grabbed his long-sleeved shirt and we headed toward the steps. There were pretty flower gardens planted all around the entrance and butterflies flying about enjoying the flowers. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were really excited about this Tram.
The website invites you to take, "A trip on the world’s longest aerial tramway that transports you above deep canyons and breathtaking terrain a distance of 2.7 miles. See some of nature’s more dramatic beauty unfold before you. At sunset the desert skies produce a spectacular array of color, and your vantage point from the observation deck atop 10,378 foot Sandia Peak in the Cibola National Forest affords an 11,000 square-mile panoramic view of the Rio Grande Valley and the Land of Enchantment. Located on the eastern edge of Albuquerque in the Sandia Foothills at the end of Tramway Road."
Well we definitely will not be there at sunset but think we will enjoy it all the same
but what we aren't sure about, that it is the longest ariel tram in the world. It looks really nice but it certainly doesn't look that far up to the top of the mountain.
After going through the entrance we see the sign for the tram pointing upstairs, so after climbing more stairs, whew, we see a lot of people already in line. Where did all these people come from when there are only a few vehicles in the parking lot? Later as we ascended in the tram-car, we could see a massive parking lot in the back of the building that was mostly full and that was a good sign. Hopefully despite the slow economy, that some people will continue to utilize our country's greatest treasures and that is obviously happening here today.
There was a tram-car on the way back from the top so we quickly got in line, bought our tickets and got in the boarding line to wait. When the car arrived and we all piled in, the car was packed. What are the weight limits on this thing?????
The tram operator started up and we cruised along at 12 mph
or 20 feet per second which seems faster, maybe due to the wind as we continue to climb toward what Randy and I assumed was the top. Notice I said assumed? What we could actually see from the ground was only the first of two towers and then there was the terminal itself and we were now climbing much higher and swaying much more than the distance of the first tower. The tram operator answered questions and gave us history on the Sandia Tram Parkway seeming to really enjoy his job and was very knowledgeable.
I seem to remember it taking approximately 20 or 25 minutes to make it to the top and unloaded from our car. When the door was opened, there were some people who really wished they had warmer clothing and some (us and a few others) that were really glad we did! It was freezing with the wind gusting from 30 - 40 mph with sustained wind of around 25. The guy inside the shack said they suspend operation of the tram if the winds reach a sustained speed of 45 mph if I remember correctly.
Our entire car quickly went from
Looks like the Grand Canyon
It resembles it a lot in certain areas.
the tram car straight inside the building that is a type of museum and interpretive center/gift shop. There are windows all around and you can look out at the ski slopes that are now out of use for summer months and the hiking trails. There is a ski lift that sits empty and rocks all around. Really, it is a beautiful view so after we read and study the exhibits and our bodies have somewhat acclimated to the rapid temperature change, we stepped outside to fight the wind and see the panoramic view from outdoors.
Even with the wind trying to blow us off of this mountain and the haze over the city, the scenery was breathtaking. As we walked toward the restaurant located at the top, we overheard someone say they spotted a chipmunk. I looked but he was very fast and ducked under a rock before I could snap his (or her) picture. After peeking through the door into the restaurant, once again we pre-judged it and did not go further than the doorway before ducking out quickly, chipmunk style! It looked very pricey and we just were not that into eating at that price. So
a late, late lunch it would be again and we walked around the nice wooden walkway enjoying the view. I saw a tram-car coming from below and Randy and I decided that would be our car to go back down. It was just too cold to stay up there very long. We went back inside the center and waited by the door for the car. We were hoping to be one of the first to board so we could get a better standing spot maybe closer to a window and not in the middle.
I guess several others had the same idea and the area where we were standing filled up quickly. We chatted with the man in the booth who helps with the controls and keeps track of the wind gusts so that if the winds get too high, they can shut it down. I asked him what the wind would have to reach for that to happen and I think he said sustained winds of 45 mph. I can tell you that would not be a pleasant ride down.
On our very pleasant ride down, I managed to snap several pictures from our much better position
but they all had an orange tint, from the tint in the windows I suppose. The operator pointed out the rock formation they call the Cannon, and a couple of other landmarks including a rock cabin that sits way up on a ledge in case hikers get lost they can utilize for shelter, assuming they can make it there.
As we reached about 10 feet from the ground, Randy told me to look and there were two Roadrunners running along the rocks below, but once again, missed a picture of them too...
We made a quick stop at the gift shop to get our magnet and I saw an awesome pair of wind chimes that I could not leave without. They were one of the prettiest I have ever seen so against my better judgment, and in a moment of weakness, I bought them! Let's just say they were probably as much as that meal we passed up earlier but they would bring much more enjoyment although I ended up giving them to my sister when we got home.
On the way out we stopped in the adjacent skier's museum and saw one of the first
ski lift cars that had been refurbished and was super cool to see. They had pairs and pairs of skis used through the years and other historical ski memorabilia. On the way out I stopped to take a few pictures of their flowers before departing Sandia Peak. All in all it was a very nice afternoon. Back on the Sandia Parkway we encountered a traffic accident but thankfully everyone appeared to be ok.
Back on I-40 eastbound, out of Albuquerque around 2 pm, and on to Amarillo to another of our favorite campgrounds. The first two years we stayed there it was called RV XPRESS, then the third year they had changed the name to Oasis RV Resort which seems to fit them best. Be sure to check them out on their website: http://myrvoasis.com/
As usual we see some pretty awesome and odd sights on our travels across this great country. A lot of people ask us why we don't fly instead in order to get to our destination faster, but we think the trip is a lot of the journey and there would be so many things we would miss by just flying over. Such
is the case of the Roadrunner that ran across the highway as I drove this afternoon. I yelled quickly enough that Randy was able to see it. It looked just like in the cartoons and I do believe he looked toward us as we approached him but of course I was able to brake slightly (I brake for almost any living creature including and certainly not limited to, Butterflies) to avoid scaring the little thing too badly. He was much too quick to get a picture of him. We also saw a cool old truck being towed on another truck but couldn't get a picture of it either, however later it passed again and this time I got it!
We saw a train car and a regular car mounted high in the sky. These folks out west sure love to mount things high up and they love their billboards. We never get too bored reading cleverly thought out billboards. Later we saw 3 large army helicopters flying overhead fairly low so I rolled the window down and waved at them and as it is becoming more and more common out west, we saw bunches of windmills.
Randy Standing on the corner in Windslow, AZ
Who is that girl in the flat bed Ford slowing down to take a look at him? LOL
pm, we were within a few miles of Oasis RV Resort and we were both feeling pretty tired. Though we love traveling, it does tend to tire out these old muscles and bones but we are both perking up nicely as we approach our exit and just in time for their gorgeous Texas sunset. Isn't life wonderful?
Then we both spot the large billboard for the Oasis RV Resort and see their prices have actually dropped! They were already the most reasonably priced place we have stayed in since we have been RVing and now even cheaper. As we pull in through the gate and stop alongside the office, we see a sign indicating that they have moved the office to the massive clubhouse on the opposite side of the park. That seems smart since there is so much room and it seems more centrally located.
We drive across the massive 192 site resort over to the new office and park the RV next to the building. Carefully making our way out of our seats and climbing out slowly to allow the muscles time to stretch back out, we make our way around the corner to
the pool area, where memories of last years hailstorm come flashing back and I pointed to where I gathered several large hailstones after it had all stopped.
This year there seemed to be many more RVs here than the previous years. evidently word is getting around that this is an awesome place. To start with all roads and approaches are all evenly paved. A 30' x 20' concrete pad is guaranteed level
along with a 7' x 14' picnic patio.
They provide 20/30/50 amp electric, cable TV, WiFi and FREE LAUNDRY. Yes that is right, free laundry. Last trip we took them up on it but this year we did laundry at our previous stop, Enchanted Trails. One thing few are accustomed to at a campground is that they offer 15 sparkling clean, private baths for your comfort! WOW~does anyone else have that? They also allow you to wash & wax your vehicles on site. That is most unusual in most campgrounds that we have stayed in. Vending machines, ice and well you get the picture, we love this place.
So in we go and see that the new check in area is bustling with people and they have
opened a small restaurant type area where they are serving up bar-b-que and other specials nightly. And to think we were going to walk the mile or so to Subway like we did last year. After driving all day we are too tired to cook and clean so this will work out nicely. The special tonight was barbecued brisket and it sure smelled nice. While we were being checked in I joked with a couple standing in line to eat, that they'd better save some of that for us, and the co-owner who was checking us in laughed and said they had plenty.
After pulling around to our site and setting up camp, we walked back to the clubhouse to eat a well deserved meal and to our surprise, found they had indeed run out of the brisket but offered us sausage and ham as a substitute, which came with cole slaw, baked beans, bread and a large glass of iced tea.
As we waited for them to serve our meal, we noticed that they have made a lot of changes all of which we definitely like. Even a small gift shop is now in the clubhouse
with a computer set up for guests to use if needed. The Oasis RV Resort has really thought of everything and we certainly appreciate it.
After showers and watching an amazing Texas sunset at 9:00 pm, we enjoyed a snack during the Late Show, and soon after we turn in. I am finally getting quite used to our shower and I really, really, really like not having to use public restrooms. Not that most are not kept quite clean, but you just never know who was there right before you. Our old RV had a shower that drained so slowly that we had to wait in between our showers or risk overflowing the bathroom. And our bathroom area, I also love which is separate from the shower where it is not so cramped while attending to our needs. It is most convenient to not have to lug all of our toiletries to the campground bath houses or rush back to our site during cold or rainy weather.
Wednesday, June 10th, we awoke around 8 am and enjoyed our coffee while catching up on the morning's news and packing the RV for travel. Whether it is a 5
These 2 are usually always here
minute trip or a 5 hour trip, everything must be put away in its proper place for the road. Unsecured items not only make a lot of noise but pose a significant danger in case of an accident or mishap along the road. We are both pretty good about picking up after ourselves. Randy tends to be neater than I am initially but I always pick up before going to bed for the night. Women just seem to have more things lying around like fingernail files, brush, nail clippers, hair ties or whatever else I might possibly need at any given moment.
Stopping briefly at the clubhouse to check out and say goodbye, Doug offered a workkamping position should the need ever arise and we find ourselves lucky enough to be able to spend some long-term time on the road. Randy and I have discussed several times that we would enjoy working at a National Park in return for a campsite and a small monetary compensation. I think that would be the life!...
We turn to leave the RV park and take the service road to the Cadillac Ranch and we both notice the clouds are
starting to get rather dark and rain looks to be imminent. Sure enough, in the time it took to drive down the service road less than a mile, the skies started to open up and rain was beginning to fall. We pulled over to the side of the road where there is safe parking and grab our old tennis shoes for the walk down to the cars. We need to keep at least one clean, dry pair of shoes and we'd already muddied up a pair each at Yellowstone playing in the snow and in Zion trying to hike the Narrows.
While we were changing shoes, we noticed several cars were pulling in and people would hop out and take off walking fast down the trail to the cars and even one large tour bus packed with adult travelers stopped. As each person on the bus exited, the driver handed them each a can of spray paint to paint their names or whatever they might like on the cars. It is encouraged or tolerated, not sure which, but we do not have spray paint so we will leave our footprints on the ground and nothing more.
tell you between walking against that strong wind that had picked up, and the rain, it was rather cool so I was glad I had grabbed my trusty fleece jacket with the hood. We walked up to each of the cars and took pictures and then left before the rain got worse. We both hate driving in this weather but we had already checked out and the sky had looked fine 10 minutes before. While I am 100% positive we could have driven right back to our site and stayed until the storm passed, we chose to push on, slowly, toward Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, Texas approximately 27 miles southeast of Amarillo.
As we drove south, we looked behind us and the skies where we had just come from were so dark, however the skies above us were clearing and we were feeling pretty good about our decision to keep going as it looked like we were definitely in the clear. We followed the signs and easily found Palo Duro Canyon. Along the last part of the road leading up to the park, we saw a few small campgrounds that must make their livings supplying
overflow sites for campers not lucky enough to get a site inside the state park.
It must have been around 1 pm when we pulled up to the window at the entrance and with it being a Wednesday, we were feeling pretty good the odds would be in our favor to get a prime campsite for at least tonight and tomorrow night and then we'd move on. The attendant/ranger who opened the window to the booth, was all to quick to let us know there were no sites available and did not seem at all too concerned about answering our day use questions. She did so half heartedly, handed us some literature and instructed us to go through the gate and make a U-turn to exit. We have met much nicer State and Federal employees along our way and feel she must not be very happy with her job, or just having a bad day.
Trying not to be too disappointed, we decided to backtrack and get a spot at one of those little mom and pop operations back up the road a ways. The first one we came to on our left was less than
a mile from the state park but left a bit to be desired at first glance, but we went in to check it out. I immediately knew cable and internet would be out of the question but at least we could get a good night of sleep and get in some nice hiking tomorrow without having to drive too far.
I guess the man working on the truck in the parking lot in front of the office should have been an indicator, but we tried not to pre-judge the place and pull in. We both got out and the man didn't bother to speak as we passed him and he looked too busy to interrupt so we kept walking. We entered the office and an older lady greeted us along with several small dogs that ran up to us as well.
The lady immediately told the dogs to settle down and asked if we were afraid of dogs and we told her that we were not afraid of most dogs and hers certainly did not look threatening, although one laid in the corner and did not seem to be as friendly but if he left us
alone, we would do the same. She pointed through the back window to the RV lot out back and told us it would be $15.00 for electric and water. Randy and I looked at each other and rather than search any further we decided to stay and paid her cash.
There was only one other camper in the place so we pretty much had our pick. We made the loop around and we picked a site that seemed to have a nice view of a canyon. Since we had to go back and tell her which site we had chosen, we thought we might go ahead and drive back to the park and spend a few hours hiking before nightfall which won't be until around 9 pm.
We pulled through our chosen lumpy bumpy site then back out to the office as Randy stops and I hopped out, ran inside and gave her our site number. I told her we were going back to the park for a few hours and then we'd be back for the night.
Now we have to go back and enjoy the pleasure of the park ranger's company to get a
day use pass. We are most determined to do some hiking at Palo Duro State Park and within 5 minutes or so, we had our pass and were driving through the park. Once the Canyon came into view we could definitely see the resemblance between Palo Duro Canyon and The Grand Canyon but on a much smaller scale. But let's face it, a canyon is a massive crevice in the earth and beautiful no matter how large or small.
The speed limit on this small winding canyon road is 30 mph and honestly I don't see how anyone could travel any faster. The first thing we came to were a cluster of cabins and then a sign for the Visitor's Center just up ahead so we decided to start there. As we turn into the parking lot there is little parking for a 30' RV but somehow we managed to make it safely in a spot that shouldn't cause anyone a problem. Then we had to hike down a steep hill to get to the Visitor's Center at the bottom and saw there was a larger parking area down below but there was no way we could have
made it without scraping off the rear end of our vehicle.
The cool air inside felt really good after that hot walk and the inside of the place was decorated with all kinds of cool Native American memorabilia, then as you walk down a ramp you enter the gift shop. Now being from the South, I guess we are spoiled because when you are down south, and you enter a small gift shop or store, people generally say hello or good afternoon, but the ladies here totally ignored us and chatted with the only other person, a lady, the entire time we were there. We had hoped to ask a few general questions about hiking and maybe for a trail map or something, after all it was the VISITOR'S CENTER, but we never had the chance. Neither clerk ever even looked our way. Oh well, that's 20 minutes or so we'll never get back, so we cut our loss on time and headed out on our own.
Once we made it back up that long, steep hill, I pulled out the paper the ranger had given us when we bought our pass, and decided we'd do the
best we could to figure out the trails from the sheet. After studying it for a few minutes, we were shocked to see that they had about 150 total campsites, some tent sites, some RV sites and some cabins and all booked. You can see Texans loves their State Parks as much as we do in Louisiana. Just try to get a spot at Tickfaw State Park in the Spring, Summer or Fall...It won't happen unless you reserve months in advance.
Pulling out of the visitor's center parking lot, we head back out on the main road and it soon gets very, very steep. As it winds around the canyon walls I am wondering if we are going to make it through but there's only one road in and the same road out, so I suppose other motorhomes have made it and I hoped we would too. I held my breath several times until we made it to a flatter section and started to see signs for a running trail and day use areas. We pulled in to the China berry Day Use Area and found a large spot to park. I hopped out first and couldn't believe my
eyes. There were thousands of huge Red Ants all over the ground going in and out of holes in the parched, cracked ground. I jumped back in and told Randy we needed to find another place because I did not want to wake up in the middle of the night with trails of these ants munching on our bodies.
So we started back up and headed further down the road until we came to a much larger area that was paved and pulled over to the side out-of-the-way. I opened the door and looked out and other than an ant or two, there were no large accumulations of ants roaming around. This should do just fine and according to the information sheet, it looked like we were heading for the Lighthouse Trail. 5.75 miles roundtrip leading to a rock lighthouse formation.
I grabbed our hiking pouches along with water, some nuts and a few other necessities, and took off out of the door first while Randy was still securing the RV for our hike. I wandered a few yards over to study the trailhead map when I suddenly felt a bite on my shoulder. I looked
and didn't see anything but my arm was sort of stinging. By then Randy had come up behind me and began looking at the map too when another man drove up and got out of his car. He was obviously going to hike the same trail and we exchanged hellos and he took off ahead while we lingered behind. Randy was ahead of me as usual on the trails that aren't wide enough to walk side by side, and I walk a little slower and take pictures.
We were making pretty good time despite the sweltering heat as I began to notice something biting me. Evidently there was a flying bug that I could not seem to shake despite hitting at it and trying to run ahead. Not wanting to be a big baby, I kept moving but finally told Randy that something was biting the crap out of me and it hurt like crazy. I told him we would have to move faster to get out of this area and maybe the bug would leave me alone, but then I realized that it wasn't just one, but several and they were swarming all around me.
Randy told me to turn around and then he hollered that they were all over my back and swarming around everywhere. Not on him, just ME! I kept moving around and waving my arms to keep them off of me and we quickly wondered whether to go on or turn back. We hadn't thought to bring Cutter along and the RV was already quite a ways back so what do we do? Randy decides for me that the bugs are too bad to continue so we turn around. He is behind me now and cannot believe how they are chasing me. Before long, I am literally running to keep them from biting me but I can feel them trying to land on me.
I must say that I made it back in record time and unfortunately we did not get to see the Lighthouse. So sad. Turns out that they must have been little horseflies that hatched out after the rain they had this morning and they were all very hungry. Why did they only want me? We finally decide it must have been the lotion I had put on my legs and arms earlier in the day
and those bugs really, really liked my Mary Kay Lotion.
We left all of the bugs at the trailhead almost like magic. They never followed me in to the parking lot but I did not stop moving until I was safely inside and the RV door was locked. We sat down at the dinette looking at each other in disbelief, and halfway laughing. We were really looking forward to some hiking and again it was not to be, at least not today. Time to re-group...
Despite the fact that we had a site we had already paid for and we were less than a mile away from it, there was really no need to spend tonight at the family campground with unlevel sites, no cable, no internet, no pool, no hot tub, hmmm this is not rocket science so after some consideration, we decided to give up on the long hikes and concentrate on just having some fun. So it was back to Oasis RV Resort for another night and decide what to do from there. We would cut our losses and certainly not ask for our campsite fee back from the lady. They looked like they could
use the money as I know most people can and it wasn't their fault the horseflies were horrendous and I was fed up.
Now Randy wanted to just pass the campground and keep going but I felt obligated to at least stop and tell the lady at the RV park that we were going back to Amarillo since I had told her earlier we were going to be doing some hiking. I didn't want her to possibly become concerned when we didn't show up that night and call out the Texas Rangers for a search and rescue! (just in case) So Randy pulled in and I went in to tell her we would not be staying. She asked me gingerly if I wanted our money back and I told her that we wanted her to keep it. She thanked me and I left. Yeah, back to Oasis.
On the drive back north to Amarillo, the skies were clear and it looked like we would make good time getting back to the resort despite the fact that it was now rush hour. Despite missing a short cut that would have saved us 30 minutes, we ended up
on the interstate which would do just as well, however we were both concentrating on the sky which was starting to darken. Now we had already been through this stormy weather this morning and were not in the mood to do it again, but nevertheless, with only a few miles to go the weather was quickly going downhill fast.
Luck had found us once again because we made it to our exit just as the rain was starting to get hard and we high-tailed it into the resort and around toward the office. Suddenly the wind starts blowing like crazy and the sky is turning black and we look at each other again in disbelief. Every year in Amarillo we hit scary weather and this year was going to be no exception. Before we can stop the RV the rain starts pounding and we get ready to jump out and run. There is no way we are riding out a tornado in this RV and if you look at the photo of what we saw, you will understand. It looked like a tornado coming straight for us and I grabbed the camera, took a picture and then opened the
We saw this guy twice
the first time I wasn't fast enough to snap a picture then he passed again later that day.
door and ran toward the clubhouse/office.
As we rounded the corner, people were getting out the pool and hot tub headed inside the clubhouse and we ran with them not stopping until we were all inside. Everyone was talking and freaking out as we looked out the window at the winds blowing profusely. Then we heard people talking about the storm from earlier today that hit just as we were leaving for Palo Duro Canyon. Turns out that the storm was relatively harmless here, just some rain, but strengthened as it headed straight for Dallas and tore them up. Flooding, tornadoes and torrential rains had done serious damage and we had no clue. They had reports of winds exceeding 64 mph! Since the storm more or less continued to travel east, with us going straight south, we had missed it all. Funny how things work out. We were very grateful that we had not been on the road during that storm.
So here we are now back at the check-in desk and the lady who had checked us out earlier this morning was still working. She looked at us in surprise until we told her about
our hike and how we just wanted to spend a day in the pool and hot tub. She laughed as she apologized that we hadn't enjoyed the canyon as much as we had hoped but told us they were happy to have us back so quickly and that by staying tonight we would receive our 3rd night free! Wasn't that awesome of them to give us their special promotion rate despite the fact that we had checked out and left? We certainly thought so and it also made up for the campsite fee we had already paid at the Palo Duro Canyon place.
Our site from last night was still available despite the fact that several new motorhomes had arrived since we had left this morning. We are glad that one of our favorite RV places is doing well in a not so good economy. Surely their promotional pricing is helping to promote travel in some way for people who might appreciate saving money along the way. It really shows us that they really do care about their place and the people who stay here. Since it was still raining and too windy to move the RV to our
site, we decided to finally take advantage of our time we are spending here at the clubhouse and try that brisket we had missed out on last night along with the cole slaw, bread, beans and tea. We have been missing our weekly visit to Jay's Bar-b-que back home, which is locally owned and has been in business since 1954.
I'll have to be honest, the brisket was no better than the ham and sausage we had last night but we were hungry and ate it. Tomorrow night we will cook up some crawfish ettouffee with the some of frozen crawfish we have been carting around the country. That always turns out well and is usually the only seafood we eat on our vacations. Being from Louisiana we are very spoiled when it comes to seafood and not all seafood will do. When we first began traveling yearly with my two children, we tried seafood in other states and were always disappointed. Now that's not to say there aren't some wonderful seafood restaurants around the country, we just haven't found them.
By the time we were finished with our meals, the storm had passed and we picked up
our plates and utensils and discarded them in the trash and said our goodnights to all who were still hanging around. We proceeded to move the few hundred yards to our site and as I got out to help Randy hook up, I saw a faint Rainbow in the sky. I took a few pictures before we continued the hookup process. Basically that consists of taking our surge protector out of the drawer inside, pulling the electric cord from its compartment on the side of the RV, plugging the surge protector into the campsite electric and if all green lights come on, we hook our plug into it. Then the water is hooked up in a matter of 2 minutes, cable 2 minutes, pull the steps down and we are HOME!
We tuned in to the Weather Channel to see what the radar was showing on the storm that had just passed us. They were also giving details and showing clips of the damage that was done in Dallas earlier today.
Thursday, June 11th, we slept in until around 9:30, lounged around watching HLN, browsing the internet and drinking coffee while waiting for 11:00 am or so, to
head over to the pool and hot tub area. It is hot enough here that we will have as long as we'd like to just lounge around and enjoy the sunny day. We watched as a few of the motorhomes are being packed up to leave but the majority of them are like us and not in a hurry to do much.
We love to people watch from our window as I am imagine others surely do. People are so interesting and we meet so many awesome people on our travels. We also enjoy seeing other RVs and how people decorate them to reflect their personalities or interests. We like to add temporary decorations sometimes when we camp for several days during holidays, in fact we are starting to accumulate a few things that we like to make our RV homey.
We have a plug-in fish aquarium with fake fish that we bought for one of our grandchildren and then liked it so much we kept it. Our grandson still enjoys it when he camps with us. We have bought a set of LSU Tiger canopy lights and Randy's oldest daughter Shannon, gave us a nice
set of lights for Christmas one year. We have a battery operated bat that flies around at Halloween, flags for our patriotic holidays, some really cool Mardi Gras banners and a few other things that make us feel festive while we are on the road.
There is a check out time of 2:00 pm so there are still people heading out as we walk toward the clubhouse and pool area. When we got to the pool we were pleasantly surprised to have the pool area to ourselves. We don't mind kids but a few minutes alone to rest our aching bones would be a nice thing to have. As in the past years, the pool was pretty cold but the hot tub felt just right! We were still a little sore from the hiking in Zion so this will hit the spot and it did. We hung out about 45 minutes before a couple of ladies joined us and they did brave the cold pool. Randy and I decided it had warmed up enough outside and we were starting to sweat so we jumped in as well. It was still pretty darn cold but our bodies adjusted fairly quickly.
The ladies along with their families, were from Alabama and were coming from Colorado. We chatted about our respective travels and stayed about another hour before a load of kids showed up. They headed straight for the small hot tub and though they tried to be careful, they kept jumping in and splashing us in the face. Their mom told them to stop but they were just being kids having fun so we gave it up to them and packed up our stuff to head back to the RV. It was getting close to lunch anyway but as we went through the side door we saw the adult only hot tub that we had forgotten about and it is much larger than the other and no one was in it. We tried the water and it was perfect so we delayed the lunch and laid back in the water and enjoyed the day.
It must have been about 2:00 when we finally went back to eat lunch and get out of the sun. I could tell I have had my share of sun rays for the day so we had showers after lunch and lounged around some
more. Since we had eaten lunch fairly late in the afternoon, we had several hours before we would need to start the ettouffee so we both ended up resting on the bed and falling asleep for an hour or so.
I really do not mind cooking in the RV although I like the outside grill also. Our stove has a super easy lighting feature so no need for striking ten matches to get the burners lit. The rice has to be started much earlier than the ettouffee which is made from a mix, yes a mix, but it's Zataran's and no one could possibly tell the difference from their mix and making it from scratch. A late supper was enjoyed by us as we were treated us to another awesome Texas sunset, which I took pictures of. I still cannot get over how late it is before the sky is completely dark so yes, I took a picture of that too. This is our last night here and we will now slowly start the journey eastbound during the last 9 days of our vacation as we are due back on June 20th. Goodness, time sure goes by fast when
we are enjoying our great country.
We now have to decide where we will head from here. There are millions of things to do between here and Baton Rouge but we are both at a loss for something we haven't done or seen that we really want to. Randy finally suggests Hodges Gardens State Park which we have been wanting to visit for a couple of years since it was repaired after Hurricane Katrina. But Hodges Gardens is in Louisiana and we are on the west side of Texas, miles and miles away. That would take a lot of serious driving to get there but then we would at least be close to home. They have a newly renovated campground that was recently opened and it really looks nice in the brochure we have been carrying around for several months.
Now that our decision has been made to head to Hodges Gardens in our home state of Louisiana, we map out our route while watching our Late Night shows and surfing the internet to catch up on our RVUSA Forum.
On the morning of Friday, June 12th, the weather was clear and hot as we prepared to
Can't seem to get them all in one shot.
leave Oasis RV Resort. Not really being in a huge hurry to leave, we enjoyed our coffee while checking The Weather Channel for travel advisories. Today is the long-awaited Digital Transition day. Of course we noticed no changes since we were connected to satellite cable right now.
I sent my last few emails for a day or two since we would be on the road and more than likely not able to pick up a wireless signal in Wal-Mart's parking lot tonight. The groceries and supplies are running low so we can kill two birds with one stone. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to have a Murphy Oil Gasoline Station on the Wal-Mart site and we always fuel up or top off, no matter what. That saves a stop later on.
Today is also one of our grandsons birthday and he is 6. He has lived with us on and off since he was born. We will call him later in the day to wish him a Happy Birthday. He is a glorious child and we are blessed to have 9 more grandchildren that are equally awesome!
After unhooking the electric, dumping the tanks, and disconnecting
the water and cable, the steps are up and locked in place and now it's time to check out. After saying quick goodbyes we are on the road by 10:00 am. Our plan is to take US Hwy 287 southeast toward Wichita Falls and drive as far as we can until we start getting tired and then we'll stop at a Wal-Mart probably in Sherman, Texas if all goes well.
Texas is a lovely state and we never tire of looking at the beautiful lakes. The northern and western parts of Texas resemble more desert like conditions but the further south we get, the more trees we see. Another thing we see are storm clouds and they are starting to look rather threatening, however we continue on as long as we don't encounter any torrential rains.
In Henrietta we took US Hwy 82 east to Sherman and found our Wal-Mart thanks again to our trusty Rand McNally Atlas. After pulling around to a side of the store that looks out-of-the-way, we select a parking spot for the night.
Looking at the distant sky tells the onset of rain could be soon, so it is time to get
The Lighthouse Trail
5.75 miles roundtrip to a lighthouse formation.
our shopping done, and quick. Sometimes things really go our way and other times not so much, but we both noticed about the same time that this Wal-Mart had a Subway Sandwich Shop which was going to be our evening meal. So after stocking up on the essentials and the delicious, we both ordered Foot Long Ham and Cheese Subs to go and made it back to the RV before the rain made it here. We even got a nice picture of a Sherman, Texas sunset before the clouds totally covered the sky.
The thunderstorms did catch up with us during the night, shaking the RV while pelting us with heavy rain, roaring thunder and bright lightning. A couple of times during the night I leaned over to peek out but it was raining too hard to see much.
Leaving Sherman, Texas on Saturday, June 13th, we continued east to US Hwy 59 which turns us south to Center, Texas, then US Hwy 96 and finally State Hwy 21 crossing the Sabine River into Louisiana. About 5:00 pm we passed the Toledo Bend Reservoir which was packed with fishermen and water lovers. There are several campgrounds in this
area but since Hodges Gardens State Park has their own, we can spend a few days hiking around the gardens and grounds.
Before too long we were passing through Many, LA on US Hwy 171 South and within a few miles of Hodges Gardens. We have waited quite a while to see this place which is one of our newer State Parks here in Louisiana.
The interesting thing about Hodges Gardens is that it is in a fairly rural area of northern Louisiana and it is evidently not very easy to find because before we knew it, we were in a small city named Hornbeck. Really, I am not kidding there is really a town in our state named Hornbeck. It seems we have stopped at their only gas station and it doesn't look open. We could really use the gas before turning around to go back to look for Hodges Gardens but as we are discussing how we missed it, a guy came out of the store and got on a motorcycle that was in the parking lot. Randy got out and asked him how to find Hodges Gardens and he told us we had
passed it about 2 miles back, directly across from a brand new hotel. I did remember seeing that new place out in the middle of nowhere, so I suppose I was looking on the right and the park was on the left, naturally...
So after fueling up, we turned back and kept our eyes focused on the road so as not to miss the sign. Honestly, after finding it and seeing the sign, I am surprised anyone finds the place. It seems to me that if you are going to have a State Park for people to enjoy, you should take the time and money to put up a sign that people can actually SEE! I no longer felt bad about missing it and we did have a full tank of gas now, so Hodges Gardens, bring it on!
It must have been around 6:00 pm when we pulled up to the guard shack and I was relieved to find the Park Ranger still inside. We asked if there were openings for a 30' RV and she looked at us like we were crazy then replied that they did not have a campground. Of course my
Road through Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The roads were very steep and we drug the bottom a couple of times despite driving very slowly.
reply to that was, "What do you mean you have no campground, we have driven from Amarillo, Texas to spend a few days at this State Park". I told her to hold on while I went and retrieved the brochure from the RV and brought it to her to see.
She then tells us they use to have one but it had been closed for some time. After further questioning as to why it was closed but still being promoted, she said that they had some electrical problems so they were going to build a new campground in the future. I asked if it would not be more economical to REPAIR the existing campground rather than focus on a brand new one, but of course, she really wasn't the one making that decision.
Thoroughly frustrated (but still nice-it wasn't her fault), we told her we would be back tomorrow to see the place since it wasn't worth the price to roam around for an hour or two. In Louisiana it gets dark around 8:30 during the Summer months and by now it was getting closer to 6:30. I asked who I could call to complain to
and she gave me a comment card to mail in with my complaints and comments.
Hmmm, now we have to decide where to stay tonight, somewhere that is still in close proximity to the park so we won't have too far to drive in the morning while keeping in mind that most of the campgrounds were an hour or so back at Toledo Bend. Leesville, LA which is maybe 11 miles south of here lists a Wal-Mart in our Atlas so hopefully we can find some fast food and a place to stay that won't be too far out-of-the-way.
Within a few minutes we are heading back through Hornbeck to get to Leesville. Leesville, Louisiana is a nice, quaint little city and it rates a larger spot on the map than some of these small towns, especially since it does have a Wal-Mart, several restaurants and more than 1 store with gas.
Randy and I both agree that despite the fact that we are staying in another Wal-Mart parking lot, it was a better decision than trying to drive back toward Toledo Bend and trying to find a campground in the dark. I do not like to travel
on the road at night unless we absolutely have to. Thanks again Wal-Mart for helping to keep us safe.
Sunday, June 14th,we awoke and prepared to drive the 12 miles or so back to Hodges Gardens and arrived around 10:00 am. There was a different Park Ranger at the entrance so I once again politely voiced my displeasure of having spent a night in the parking lot of Wal-Mart as opposed to their falsely advertised campground while Randy paid the entrance fee and off we went.
As the heavily tree covered roadway gives way to a wide open space, the park reveals meticulously placed lilies, native grasses and other various plants, the road then continues on past the cabins, horse stables and toward the exit or back around once again.
After making the complete circle around the lake, we pulled into the parking lot which was not very crowded. We have a park brochure that we were given at the guard shack that has numbered areas from 1 to 36, which correspond with the various gardens and attractions located at the park.
Number 1 is the Petrified Tree they found while constructing the dam and is
believed to be a tropical tree that is thousands of years old. From there we walk through Rose Gardens, Butterfly Gardens and Azalea Gardens. It is much too late in the season for the Azaleas to be in bloom but most of the other blooming flowers were struggling to survive as evidently there is a drought in this area. There appears to be a non-functioning irrigation system, but I suppose like the campground, maybe they are starting over with a totally new irrigation system.
It would seem logical to me, as a Louisiana taxpayer, that if our flowers are dying, and they are somewhat of a tourist attraction in this little speck of the state, that someone would see to it that they get watered...What is going on Governor Jindal? I will mention that as well when I fill out that comment card I got yesterday afternoon.
So on we go, hiking amongst the gardens though we tended to linger under the shady tree areas as it must have been all of a hundred degrees out. As we came upon the Observation Tower, we sought refuge from the searing sun and climbed the many steps up to the
top. We were sweating and very hot by the time we reached the top but the view it afforded us, was beyond belief. Just sitting there in the peaceful tower as the breezes cooled us, listening to the birds singing and looking out at the view in all directions. It just doesn't get much better than this.
After having spent half an hour or so atop the tower, we set out to complete the rest of our tour ending up at the strategically placed gift shop as our final stop. There were some pretty awesome things but I couldn't find a magnet for our collection. As we exited the shop I spotted a bluebird and managed to get a picture of him resting on the Hodges Gardens sign.
On our way out of the park, we stopped and took a picture of the Texas Overlook which gives a beautiful view 14 miles away toward the Louisiana/Texas border. Now that our several day stay we had planned here, had turned into only a few hours, we were now faced with the fact that we still had 6 days of vacation remaining and we were both at a loss on
what to do next.
I think it was me who suggested looking for a KOA in our immediate vicinity and just lounging around the pool some more, for the remainder of the trip and drive home Friday or Saturday depending on how it was going. There was one KOA right inside the Arkansas State line, and one just west of us in Brookeland, Texas. Both offer cable tv, important we have now found out since the digital transition, both have pools, but Brookeland lists wi-fi, so that is a no brainer for me. Most people would not believe that we would now turn around and drive another 75 miles or so back to Texas for the last few days of vacation, but as the saying goes, that's just how we roll! 😱
The first 25 miles or so were on the same road we traveled on coming into Louisiana, but we still enjoy the scenery, although most of it is brown from the lack of rainfall. By 4:00 pm we were parked at the Brookeland/Lake Sam Rayburn KOA, checked in and assigned our site. There is an old wheel at the entrance to the campground and the information
I read says the town of Brookeland was named for John C. Brooke, who served as first postmaster when the community received their post office in 1866. The population was estimated at 300 in 1884, when it had one steam cotton gin, two general stores, a lumber and grist mill powered by water from Mill Creek upon this very site. Brookeland attracts visitors largely because of its close proximity to Sam Rayburn Reservoir which is said to have attracted 2.6 million visitors in 1980.
The nice lady in the office gave us information on the hiking trail listed in the KOA Directory after we completed all of our paperwork. She made Randy and I both smile when she told us we had accumulated enough "Kamping" Points to get our site at a most reasonable rate! Now that's our kind of "Kamping".
Once we have made the turn to pull into our site, I must admit I was more than a little disappointed. The sites were all on grass/dirt, unlevel, trees all around the site and not pruned back to look nice, and generally made me feel closed in. But despite my initial disappointment, we proceeded to hook up and
Family hot tub
I don't know why I forgot to take one of the Adult Only hot tub. It is much nicer.
settle in. After all of the normal hookup procedures are taken care of, we had plenty of time to get in some hiking and still bar-b-que up some steaks and sausage for supper.
We took off looking for the trail and before long we found the trailhead and followed it alongside of an overgrown creek. We stopped for a moment when we first saw the creek but the mosquitos swarmed and we took off quickly. From there we had to decide whether to turn back or go on ahead so we just kept going. Flashbacks of Palo Duro Canyon in my mind. Then the mosquitos seemed to give us a break for a moment of two, and I made friends with a tiny frog we saw on the trail. Suddenly, we were seeing more and more tiny frogs until we had to watch where we were walking in order not to squash them, after all they eat mosquitos and there are plenty here to feed each frog well into adulthood.
Stopping another time or two to keep hydrated, we made pretty good time and made it back to the RV to cool off. What? Time for a swim?
Well yes it is, so suits on and off we go. The pool was really, really nice. The temperature was just right and we were the only ones in the pool. After enjoying the pool for an hour or so, Randy has cooled off enough that he to agree to grill. That's going to be hot. And it was, very hot, but the steaks, sausage, our (microwaved) baked potatoes and baked beans were well worth the heat.
Once our bellies were full we sat back to relax a while before cleaning the kitchen. I was able to upload the most recent pictures of Hodges Gardens to the laptop hard drive during which time I tried over and over to secure an internet connection. Finally, I gave up and put the laptop away, however Randy was having an equally hard time trying to tune in a station on the tv, any station, but much like the internet, it was not meant to be. It seems I must have misread the chart and there is no cable TV and way too many trees to get much of anything. Thanks Digital Transition, so we decide it is time to re-group once again.
After studying the KOA Directory, we find a KOA in Lake Conroe/Houston North area, then I called them to verify they have cable TV, wi-fi, pool, yep~ they have it all and have plenty of room, so no need to make a reservation.
After the kitchen was cleaned, we tried to sit outside for a few minutes as the sun was going down, but the mosquitos drove us back indoors. During that time we did see several groups of people who were carrying fishing poles and gear, coming in from a day of fishing, and I'll bet they were hot and tired. They could probably care less that there is no cable tv or wi-fi, just glad to clean up, eat and go to bed. So us city slickers prepared for bed and hope to get an "earlyish" start toward Lake Conroe. Once again, it really isn't a long distance from where we are now, so it isn't crucial that we leave at any certain time.
Monday, June 15th, we awoke around 8:30 am. Our bodies must have finally adapted to the western time zone and now we are back in Central time. Just my luck. While enjoying
Sunset in Sherman, Texas
From the Wal-Mart parking lot
our morning coffee, I got the bright idea to try the wireless internet connection in hope that maybe there would be less activity and maybe I could catch a connection. I spent way too long trying and we got off to a late start. Check-out is 11:00 am and we couldn't have been too far from that when we finally pulled out. If we ever decide to start fishing again, which I won't, we may come back here but otherwise this would be our only stay at this particular KOA. The workers and everyone here seemed very nice, but this campground is not for me.
Somehow, we took a wrong turn and ended up a pretty good distance from the highway we thought we were on, but luckily thanks to our trusty atlas, we picked up the right road many miles out of our way. Well we did see some nice scenery but it was around 4:00 pm when we arrived at Lake Conroe/Houston North KOA. All I can say is, WOW! Now this is my idea of a nice KOA.
There is a large building with a restaurant and the office is located on the side, and
the size of this place is massive. Following the sign toward the office we cannot help but notice how neat and well-kept this area is. As we entered the office, we were greeted by a nice young lady but I was busy focusing on the sign that advertised pedal boats for rent! We (mainly I) love the boats but rarely find them at campgrounds.
After she was finished assigning our site and completing the rental papers for 2 nights, I asked about the pedal boats. She said it was too late this evening but to check back in with the office tomorrow. Randy then asked about the restaurant and she replied that they were only open on the weekends. Oh well, we have plenty of food in the RV but are always willing to try new places especially when they cook and clean up for us.
So we gathered our paperwork and headed off to find our site. We were very surprised to see only 4 or 5 other campers in the place, especially with it being such a very large campground consisting of 190 RV sites and several cabins. All of the sites are nicely landscaped and
well-kept, the pad is concrete and perfectly level.
Cable tv is hooked up, internet connection secured and working properly, so after checking email we decided to go check out the pools. The brochure we were given lists a large indoor pool, a kiddie pool, a hot tub with several party rooms all inside that large metal building.
We changed into our swimsuits, grabbed our towels and headed out for the pool. Goodness it was hot out there, and on that black asphalt road it felt even hotter. It couldn't have been more than 2 minutes and we were both sweating bullets. Despite the fact that it was close to 6 pm, it must have been at least 98 degrees with no wind blowing whatsoever.
Just about the time we started thinking we might not make the trek to the pool, we heard a small noise behind us and a man in a golf cart pulled up alongside of us. He generously asked if we'd like a ride up to the pool and we graciously accepted and hopped in. What luck was that to have a camping neighbor pass by us at just that time, especially since there
weren't many people there at all. In no time at all he was dropping us at the door of the pool house and we were thanking him very much.
As we entered the building I was amazed at the size of the pool which had a nice sized water slide at one end. The roof had retractable panels which allow sun when you want it, or protection from the wind and rain if needed. We were the only ones in the building and I quickly kicked off my flip-flops, stuck my foot in the pool to check out the temperature and ooh wee, it was cold!
Randy was much braver (and warmer) than I and he ventured on further into the pool, but I was busy heading over to the hot tub. Maybe I'd warm my body up a little more, then get in the bigger pool, however the hot tub did not appear to be working at it was every bit as cold as the pool, but when I tried the smallest pool, it was just right so I plopped down to relax for a while.
Just then a man in a bright yellow KOA shirt
came in from the other side of the building. Neither Randy nor I have ever met a stranger, so before long the three of us are discussing the weather which he describes as a several week drought with temperatures topping out in the hundreds, daily. Come to think of it, we had noticed that the ground had looked pretty dry and cracked back in Brookeland and along the way here, a lot of the shrubbery and foliage along the way had looked pretty water deprived. Having been up north where we were literally running from the rain almost daily, this was quite a difference. The guy went on to tell us where he was from and we talked about traveling and really enjoyed the conversation with him. He told us he had been working on a Coi Pond out back where the deck is and that we should check it out before we leave.
By now it is starting to get late and we are getting fairly hungry so it's time to think about supper. I wanted to swim a bit before heading back down that long road and across that huge campground so I dove in and joined
Randy for a few minutes before going to check out the deck and coi pond out back. I forget the guy's name, but he had done a really nice job on the pond and there are several fish swimming in and out of the strategically placed rocks. The wooden deck is spacious and has several umbrella tables with chairs that look out over the campground and that is when we realized that we didn't have to walk way down that long road, but could cut through the playground and we wouldn't be nearly as far away from the RV so we grabbed our stuff and headed off.
I really love these long Texas days so by the time we prepared supper, ate and cleaned up, we still had time to take a quick walk around to the lake where the cabins are located. It was just beginning to get dark but the place was well-lit. We walked past the 15 or so cabins and noticed they were all empty despite the fact that they looked very cozy. The lake was also very nice and we saw 2 new looking pedal boats tied up to a small pier on the
wooden walkway, which extended across the lake right through the middle. I couldn't wait until tomorrow so we could take a ride in the boats, but there was a very threatening sign on the gated pier that said something about joy riding and police so we didn't hang around long for fear they would think we were joyriders.
The mosquitos were really starting to annoy us at that point so we decided to head back to the RV for some late night tv and internet surfing. Showers, snacks, and a few hours later we dozed off.
Tuesday, June 16th, we awoke bright and somewhat early excited about pedal boating in the lake. We ate a light breakfast, which we rarely do, watched some HLN and caught up on some more emailing. We even had a fast enough connection that I was able to upload pictures to Snapfish and email links to family and friends. After finishing up our coffee, we dressed and headed over to the office. We cut through the playground and the pool house and made it to the office around 11 am. It was already hot but not as hot as it would be later.
There was a different lady at the counter when we went inside and we told her we wanted to rent one of the boats for a couple of hours and she replied that they were not being rented out. WHAT? Are you kidding me? Nope, she wasn't and nothing I said would change her mind and she would not give us a reason. I'll tell you what, I was not a happy camper at that point so I suppose Randy thought it was wise to get me out of there. We walked all that way up here because the girl told us yesterday to come back today. What a waste of a resource. That really got us to thinking that without pedal boats, there really wasn't much else to do around here. There were no hiking trails, only the walkway across the lake, no attractions within walking distance so we came to the conclusion that we weren't staying past tomorrow. We'd lounge around the pool for a while and then head back and check out our trusty atlas for a final stop to spend our last few days, perhaps somewhere closer to home. Texas is just too hot and
too dry and there is simply not enough to do here at this KOA other than swim and walk.
Disappointed, we walked the long way back to the RV to change into our swimsuits, then walked back to the pool house. When we finally made it back to the pool area we were very hot and the pool felt really nice. There were several people enjoying the pool this morning and one lady was giving swimming lessons to some very small children, including one child who looked to be about 1-year-old and was not happy about it. She cried and cried and I started feeling bad for her, but the teacher was very patient with her and it is for her own good.
During our swim, I got brave and decided to go down the twisting slide. Randy laughed at me and probably didn't think I would, but I did! The twists and turns weren't great for my aging body but it was fun, once. It must have looked like it was more fun than it actually was because Randy decided to follow and I laughed at him too. After all that physical exertion we were getting tired
and more parents with children are coming in obviously for swimming lessons. They were all so cute in their little suits. It makes me miss mine children being young...
It's great that KOA allows them to use the pool during the weekdays when their campgrounds aren't as crowded. I am sure they charge a fee but hopefully it isn't that much.
Back to the RV for some lunch and a plan, a new plan, hopefully the perfect plan. One that take us to Friday or Saturday if we are really having fun. Where can we go? Then Randy had an idea! Paragon Casino in Marksville, Louisiana has a fairly new RV resort and so we googled it to see what it was all about. Casino, buffets, wide cement pads, cable, Wi fi and even buses to chauffeur you from your RV to the casino and back. So it was decided that we would travel back to Louisiana and stay at Paragon Casino for the duration of our trip.
Now that our plans are made, we focus on lunch, a very late lunch but that's nothing new for us. Randy remembered there was a restaurant listed in the Lake
Conroe KOA brochure called Magnolia Diner. Says it is Montgomery's best kept secret, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner all day, every day. According to the map on the KOA brochure, it's across the busy highway and about a half a mile down.
It didn't take too long to convince ourselves that we would hike over to the diner and have a nice meal. Granted, by this time it must have been about 2:00 pm and part of the hottest time of the day, maybe 100 or more, when we started back up to the front of the KOA toward the highway. Hot was not the word for it as we made it to the highway. This was almost as hot as our Grand Canyon hike and we were only to the road. We still had to not only cross this busy multi-lane highway, but then walk the half a mile to the diner. I was hoping we hadn't made a mistake because it felt like we were in Death Valley.
After carefully navigating across the highway, with the sun beating down on us and no shade in sight, we struggled past the Rancho Grande Grill & Cantina which
Observation Tower at Hodges Gardens
This was a nice climb but it was really hot. There was a nice breeze blowing up top so we hung out a while looking out toward the lake and gardens.
was closed and a German theme restaurant, our eyes still set on the Magnolia Diner. When we finally staggered up to the open door and walked in, the lady by the door tells us their electricity is out and they cannot serve us. What? Are you kidding me AGAIN?
As hot as we were, we really did feel bad for the one table of around 6 who had obviously been enjoying a nice late afternoon lunch with drinks, because the heat inside of that cafe was stifling, however with no electricity they would not be able to cook food for us. The lady felt really bad when we told her we had walked from the KOA and invited us to come back later but we told her thanks, but no thanks. Walking there once was enough for us so we headed back to the KOA. It must have taken us 30 minutes to make it back and by then we were now really hot and really hungry . I had the brilliant idea to google Dominos and had a pizza at our doorstep within 30 minutes. Mmmm, pepperoni and pineapple. Another walk around the lake once the sun was down,
showers, late night TV and a snack, we are off to bed. A nice day all in all, just HOT!
Wednesday, June 17th, we awoke to another bright sunny Texas morning and prepared the RV for the final leg of our 2009 vacation which has taken us from the deep south of Louisiana to as far north as Montana and numerous places in between, and now we are headed back south. Things have been packed away, unhooked, dumped and we are on the road and rolling by 10:00 am. We will travel about 6 hours to make it to Marksville, Louisiana this afternoon. We are assuming they will have available sites so no reservations are made.
I didn't take many pictures along the way through the rest of Texas and in to Louisiana but I couldn't resist one of a Rolls Royce fueling up at a convenience store. It was silver and shiny and pretty sharp!
We easily found Paragon Casino once we made it into Marksville. That is the main attraction in this somewhat small Louisiana city, and they certainly don't skimp on their signs (Hodges Gardens). This casino has really put the once small town
of Marksville on the map. We have visited several of the casinos around the state at least once, not so much for gambling, but for the buffets and frankly to hang out and see the nice surroundings. These casinos spend a lot of money to bring in people and spare little expense to find unique drawing points.
Around 3:30 we pulled into the casino and followed the signs which directed us down the street alongside the large casino. There is a spacious office building and it is very nicely furnished inside. There is a pool table, several large screen tvs, snack and drink machines and out back there is a pool that looks very inviting.
During the check in I asked about the wi-fi code and was told that we didn't need a code but would have to register with some online internet provider and provide them with our credit card in order to access the internet. I immediately began to have a cow. No way am I giving out our credit card info to some fly by night company that I have never heard of, so right off the bat I am once again becoming an
Look at the top right of the sign
I managed to catch a Bluebird resting for a moment
unhappy camper. I had figured on spending some time on our Trip Journal and uploading more pictures. That was not going to happen and I voiced my displeasure for a few minutes before Randy thought they had heard enough and steered me out of the office.
As we pulled around toward our site, I calmed down a bit when I saw the nice large cement pads with picnic tables and even a little box with a light that comes on when it gets dark. It is well-kept and a really nice setup. Once the routine of hooking up is over, we went inside to cool off a bit and read some of the literature that we were given at the office. While we are reading and looking around outside, we saw one of the buses that they provide to shuttle us to the casino. Not that the walk is that far, but it is almost as hot as Texas and those shuttle buses look air-conditioned.
After cleaning up and changing, we thought we'd go take advantage of the buffet at the casino. They had a special tonight on all you can eat boiled crawfish and buffet advertised in
the brochure and as usual, we are hungry. While we were reading up on the place we had seen those shuttles going by every 5 to 10 minutes but now that we are outside and waiting there are no shuttles to be seen.
So not being ones to be idle for long, we started walking. Whew, it was hot and it is looking like it may be further than we anticipated, but before we knew it, a bus came along from the casino way and turned around to come back for us. What a nice driver. He must have known he has saved us from heat stroke. My goodness it felt like 50 degrees in that bus and when he dropped us off at the door of the casino, we tipped him well.
The Casino was crowded with people and the restaurant was not easy to find. Naturally they put it in the back corner where you are forced to walk through the entire casino in order to get to the buffet. The line was not too long so we were seated and filling our plates in no time at all. Randy headed off to the crawfish while I
went for the salad and when we met back at the table, he had two buckets of boiled crawfish on the table for the two of us. Why two, I asked him and he said the guy just shoved them in his hands so he took them. I hadn't figured on spending an hour or more peeling and eating crawfish but I needn't have worried. Once I peeled and ate the first one, I was disgusted. They were so bland that I had trouble swallowing the one I had put in my mouth.
Needless to say there were two wasted buckets of crawfish and we both complained to the server. We were told that too many people found them too spicy so they were cutting back on the seasoning in order to make people happy...WHAT? CRAWFISH ARE SPICY~It's not an option, it is what they are. Without seasoning they are horrible. We filled up on salad and other miscellaneous dishes and left without getting our money's worth. Seems they charge extra on All You Can Eat Crawfish Night and what a let down.
On the way out, we thought we'd kill a little time and play a few
Tiny frog we met on our hike in Brookland, TX @KOA
Not KOA's finest. We stayed 1 night. Great place if you fish.
slots. On the rare occasions we do play slot machines, we allot ourselves about $20.00 and when it's gone, we're gone. As we played we'd win a few dollars then lose a few and this went back and forth until I hit pay dirt and won $60.00! That paid for our meal and the $20.00 we started with so we hightailed it for the exit and caught a shuttle back to the RV. Another nice driver and another tip.
Thursday, June 18th, we were both feeling lazy and neither one of us were in a hurry to jump out of bed. When we finally managed to drag ourselves out of bed, we enjoyed our morning coffee while watching some local and national news and they were calling for some extremely hot conditions again today. This will be a perfect time to lounge around the nice pool we had seen yesterday while checking in. So around 1:00 we changed into our swimsuits and headed across the campground to the office and pool area. It wasn't far enough to catch a shuttle and honestly we really didn't feel like waiting for one.
When we got to the pool area, we
found the gate locked and had to go inside and ask why it was closed. The lady said that someone had broken the rope that separated the shallow end from the deep end and it wouldn't be repaired until tomorrow, so swimming was out. Back to the RV to cool off and decide how to spend the rest of the day.
After some thought, we decided to bar-b-que our last steaks and eat in tonight. Another decision was to make this our last night and head home tomorrow instead of Saturday. We've been gone since the 28th of May and we are ready to get back home. I miss my cats, birds, squirrels and other wildlife that we feed around our yard.
We thoroughly enjoyed the steaks and later that evening when the sun had gone down, we walked about a mile to McDonald's and bought ourselves some strawberry shakes. On the way back, we stopped at casino to walk around. Paragon is a huge place with over 1,000,000 square feet total area, including over 64,000 square feet of gaming area, including a hotel. They offer free valet, covered parking and even a parking garage.
KOA in North Conroe, TX
This is a super nice KOA.
The hotel has over 500 rooms and suites in three different towers, with a jacuzzi, indoor and outdoor pools and a hot tub. Unfortunately the RV Resort Patrons were not allowed to use the pools at the hotel...
My favorite part of the whole place was the Bayou Swamp themed atrium with a bar, coffee shop, several retail stores, a movie theater, salon and even a fitness center! We were also not allowed to take advantage of Spa La Vie, which is a full service spa and salon offering a variety of treatments like facials, body wraps and massage therapies. Boy that would be amazing. I was really wishing I had brought the camera along but I made Randy promise we'd stop here again in the morning before we leave because I must have pictures of the live alligators that are in enclosures in the lobby. I had originally thought they were all fake alligators and turtles until I saw them start moving. There had to have been at least 20 alligators, all very healthy and well cared for. I spoke to a guy who worked there and he said when they get too large they are taken
and released in the wild to help re-poplulate the areas where they have been depleted.
We both really enjoyed the time we spent there looking around and by the time we caught a shuttle back, it was time for our showers, then news, Late Night with David Letterman and finally, sleep. This will be the last night we'll be spending in the RV for a while. We are hoping to make it to the Northeastern part of the Country this Fall to see the leaves changing . Not for three weeks but maybe two.
The next morning, Friday, June 19th,
we slept in a bit since we are only an hour and a half from home. We put everything away that we have taken out over the past couple of days, including our awning. This was the first place that we felt safe enough to extend our awning without fear of it flying off. Despite my failure to reiterate it frequently, the winds were really hellacious our entire trip until we reached N. Lake Conroe, Texas a few days ago. The winds and intense storms that pound the west, are really the only downside to traveling this
part of the country, but the sights are worth the extra caution that must be taken.
After checking out, we pulled around and parked in the huge parking lot near the casino. I brought the camera and we walked around for an hour or so taking pictures of the place before hitting the road. On Fridays, traffic in our city starts getting very heavy by 2:00 and if you haven't crossed the Mississippi River Bridge into Baton Rouge by then, you will be stuck in traffic for hours.
Once again, with luck and traffic on our side, we crossed into Baton Rouge around 1:00 pm and were home by 1:30 and that was the end of our 2009 Yellowstone Vacation!
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