Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer 2017 Part 1

June 2017    Back on the road!

Kris here.  A few words about our traveling philosophy - On our last trip. I reread Blue Highways  by William Least Heat-Moon and read his more recently published Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road so I will quote him here: "I'm always trying to memorize the face of America." He advocates getting off the interstates and driving the "blue highways" that are found on road maps.  For the past 40 years, we have been doing the same thing and have yet to get tired of watching the landscape of our great country, from mountains to deserts, canyons to mesas, and small towns everywhere.  We keep an open mind and are often surprised at what we find when we least expect it.

It has been three months since our last cross country excursion.  We enjoyed grandchildren's birthdays, a niece's graduation, and some nice weather in Houston.  As soon as various doctors' appointments and medical tests were completed, we packed up our truck and headed east.

We managed to get all the way across Louisiana before stopping for our first geocache of the trip.  If you have read our blog posts in the past, you know that we love to visit National Park System sites so we drove to Selma, Alabama and followed the civil rights march route to Montgomery.  We also visited Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, site of a battle in 1814 involving Andrew Jackson and warring factions of the Creek Nation.

Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma

Bird Dog Field Trial Capital of the World in Union Springs, AL - this statue is in the middle of the road.

Statue of native son Joe Louis in Chambers County, Alabama where we completed the Alabama 67 County Geocaching Challenge.

We entered Georgia on a Saturday and drove to Plains to visit the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.  The national park ranger at the Visitor Center asked us if we were going to attend President Carter's Sunday School lesson.  What an opportunity!  We decided to stay in the area overnight and arrived at the Maranatha Baptist Church at 6:30 a.m. and received our line-up number (29).  After passing through the Secret Service checkpoint, we took our place in the sanctuary to wait and be given instructions.  President Carter came in at 10:00 and started addressing the guests.  He spoke about his upcoming trips and said Habitat for Humanity was going to build 150 houses in Canada this summer.  He asked the group if anyone knew why 150 was a significant number.  Brian raised his hand and was called on and replied correctly that it was because this year is the 150th anniversary of Confederation in Canada.

After Sunday School and the church service (President and Mrs. Carter sat three pews in front of us), the visitors were allowed to line up for a photo with the Carters.  We did not actually meet - no introductions or handshakes - but an honor to stand next to them.  This remarkable couple have accomplished so much in the 72 years they have been married.  They truly live their Christian faith to help others from tiny Plains, Georgia to countries around the world.  One would be hard-pressed to find anyone else who has accomplished so much.

Jimmy Carter's boyhood farm

Brian pretends to sign important papers at the museum

President Carter's Nobel Peace Prize

He has been teaching Sunday School since he was 18 years old at the Naval Academy.

President Carter is an accomplished woodworker,  He made the wooden collection plates (note the initials JC by my thumb) and the large cross at the front of the sanctuary.  He and his wife are very active church members.

No label necessary

"Goober's" father (right Kim?) in Plains, GA

After the excitement of Plains and the Carters, we paid a visit to Andersonville National Historic Site and Cemetery just up the road.  A very sobering and solemn place.  If any place could be said to be haunted, this is it.  33,000  Union prisoners of war were held in a stockade  built to hold 10,000 men.  Without adequate food, no shelter, and contaminated water, the men died so fast that they were buried shoulder to shoulder and the headstones are very close together.  The graves were marked with numbers, but remarkably, a former prisoner was able to smuggle out a list of names and numbers and returned with Clara Barton and each grave was properly marked with a name.

Andersonville National Historic Site and Cemetery

We also visited Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia.  Archaeologists think this is the oldest continuously occupied site in the U.S. - over 10,000 years of habitation.

Great Temple Mound - Ocmulgee National Monument

 Great and Little Temple Mounds

As usual, our geocaching takes us to unusual sites:

Pasaquan near Buena Vista, GA
   Statue commemorating Lindbergh's first solo fight, Americus, GA

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

March 2017

­March 2017

We made it home last night after traveling 6,100 miles in 38 days. A summary of the past week:


Before we left the Phoenix area, Kris was determined to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ. We met long time friend, Martha Gomez and her husband for a tour of this unique place. Wright was quite the architectural visionary and genius and we thoroughly enjoyed our tour of his home and studio.


    our campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park with a good view of Superstition Mountain

    Superstition Mountain at sunset

    Taliesin West

     Lego model of Taliesin West

  Taliesin West

We left Scottsdale and headed north to Show Low, crossing the Salt River Canyon – a very scenic drive. The next morning found us driving through Snowflake, AZ with snow falling. Before the road got too treacherous, we were clear of the snow and near Petrified Forest National Park. We had planned to hike a bit and explore more than we been able to on previous summer visits, but the day was overcast and blustery so we made just a quick visit. We continued on to Gallup, NM to a motel for the night – no camping in 16 degree weather for us as we have no heat source in our truck camper! We did enjoy finding some geocaches relating to Historic Route 66 in town. The cliffs around Gallup were quite pretty with snow contrasting with the red rock and evergreen foliage. We drove across New Mexico and through Albuquerque without stopping – Kris' sister moved back to Houston last year so we have no family or friends there to visit anymore. We stopped at Ute Lake State Park near the town of Logan and prepared for a night of camping in below-freezing weather. Low temperature was 28, but we were fine sleeping in our long underwear and heavy sleeping bags. We kept hand and foot warmer handy but did not need them. There was a coating of ice on the inside of the camper windows in the morning . . . we are pretty tough, but I don't think we want to try camping in temperatures any lower than 28!

 Roosevelt Lake Bridge

    Salt River Canyon between Globe and Show Low, AZ
      Salt River Canyon
        Finding a geocache in Snowflake, AZ
     Snowing in Snowflake, AZ
       Petrified Forest National Park
      Petrified Forest NP
      Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park, old Route 66  (of course there is a geocache under it)

Back in Texas, we settled in at Palo Duro Canyon State Park (our last visit there was 30 years ago). We had planned to stay three nights, but there was a county-wide burn ban in effect that included propane stoves. Without a way of cooking, we decided to stay only two nights. We were able to plug in our electric coffee pot in the restroom and use it to heat up water for instant oatmeal. As long as we could start the day with our coffee, we were okay! There are dozens of geocaches in PDSP so we kept busy. We did run into a 'bump in the road' when the truck wouldn't start after one of our stops so we had to call the auto club for a tow into the nearest town, Canyon. It turned out to be an easy fix – a new battery – and we took the opportunity while in town to grab a hot restaurant meal before returning to the park. We only lost about 4 hours of the day so we embarked on the Lighthouse Trail (6 miles round trip) and spent the rest of the day marveling at the colorful cliffs and the iconic hoodoo called The Lighthouse. We took full advantage of a recently remodeled bathhouse in the park and took long, hot showers after the hike – bliss! We met a friendly, helpful park volunteer named Eddie on several occasions while in the park. In fact, he was the only one to stop and check on us while we waited for the tow truck with our hood open on the side of the road. He even extended an invitation to share his campsite if we needed a place to stay. Perhaps one day we will volunteer in parks like he does – when we run out of places to go and things to see.

     Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon SP
      Lighthouse Trail
           Lighthouse Trail
        Lighthouse Trail
      gypsum layer along the trail (orange pen for scale)

     One of four greeters in our campground - he wandered off after we didn't feed him.

Next we moved on to Caprock Canyon State Park – our favorite Texas state park. As soon as we crossed the cattle guard into the park, we saw some of the bison that make their home in the park. We were pleasantly surprised to see a prairie dog colony right next to one of the campgrounds as well. We don't remember seeing these entertaining creatures at this park on our previous visits. As soon as we found our campsite, we got out our propane stove and cooked up the food we had in our cooler – chicken fajitas with onion, bell pepper, and shredded cheese on tortillas – a great camping meal that requires only one pan! With enough daylight to explore, we drove to the end of the park road to look for a geocache and met a young couple from Dallas who were on their first camping trip together. We chatted a bit and found out that the young man had grown up in our neighborhood and graduated from Clear Lake High School. They graciously invited us to share their campfire and we spent an enjoyable evening talking about great parks to visit and our travel experiences. They seemed to be genuinely receptive to our suggestions and it is always nice to hear others affirm our travel choices. We wish them well on their adventures together.

As we were leaving Caprock Canyon SP, we stopped to watch the bison herd cross the road in front of us. We drove across the Texas Panhandle plains and into central Texas. We stopped to visit our friend, Margaret, in Clifton and visited Waco Mammoth National Monument before stopping for the night in Austin to see our son, Joel. He is in the middle of his Social Work internship where he is researching and analyzing new legislation during the current legislative session. Our visit was too short, but he is quite busy these days.

    Columbian mammoth bones near Waco

     Columbian mammoths were 14 feet tall!

Brian negotiated the nerve-wracking Houston traffic through freeway construction zones after dark and we arrived in our driveway safely. Again, we count ourselves lucky and blessed for another awesome adventure together. Now we have 4 days to turn around and get ready for a family campout at Huntsville State Park with some of our children and grandchildren next week. Life is good!













Monday, February 27, 2017

Winter 2017 Part 2

Kris here:

Our last post was from Yuma, Arizona and we have so much more to share. We are visiting family and friends in the Phoenix area now, but we did not simply drive from one city in Arizona to another . . . that is not our style. We came by way of Mexico, California, and Nevada before returning to Arizona. Here are the highlights . . .

Before going very far down the road from Yuma, we had a little more geocaching business related to the big event. We revisited the small Mexican town of Los Algodones to attend a breakfast event with fellow geocachers and find 5 caches in town. (On our last visit a few years ago, we found only one.) It was so much more enjoyable in the cool of winter than when we broiled there before in summer.
with fellow cachers in Los Algodones, Mexico

Another prime objective for this trip is to revisit national parks that we have only experienced in summer so after waiting in line for 30 minutes to clear customs and walk back to our truck on the U.S. side, we set off for Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. We drove north past the Salton Sea and traveled along Box Canyon Road to the south entrance to JTNP and selected a campsite. It was too hot to camp here on our last visit so we were eager for some desert camping where we could leave the back of the truck open to the night air. We selected Fortynine Palms Oasis for our hiking destination and were not disappointed. It was a moderate three-mile hike involving a 300 foot elevation gain over the mountainside, 300 feet down into the oasis, and retracing ourselves for a few minutes before other hikers arrived. The temperature was 72 degrees and the blue sky was stunning. We timed our return to the campground late enough in the evening so that we could spend time driving across Pinto Wash well after sunset, stopping to gaze at the stars and get a faint hint of the Milky Way. Standing under the night sky in the stillness and darkness all by ourselves is part of the magic of the desert.
Joshua tree

hummingbird at our campsite

on the way to Fortynine Palms Oasis

You can see the oasis far behind us.

Almost there....
Brian at the end of the trail.  The palms can grow more than 80 feet tall.

We spent the next night at a Cleveland National Forest campground, then drove the winding scenic road down into San Juan Capistrano the next morning. We enjoyed an unhurried visit to the mission and were amused by the students on field trips who were clowning around and feeling glad that our days of chaperoning field trips are over, at least until we voluntarily go with grandkids.

Retablo in the church, Mission San Juan Capistrano

ruins of the old church destroyed by earthquake 200 years ago

We drove across the LA area knowing that a heavy rainstorm was predicted. We saw the ocean from the Pacific Coast Highway on our way to Ventura, and passed up our state park where we had reserved a site, and checked into a motel. Our boat trip to Channel Islands National Park was canceled and we endured a whole day and two nights in the motel until the rains abated. We will have to plan that excursion for another day.
view of Pacific Ocean from Malibu
(dark clouds in the other direction as a storm was approaching)

The #1 destination for this trip was Death Valley National Park, a park we have never been able to visit in the past when our traveling was limited to summer months. What a stunning, expansive, remarkable place. Because yesterday's rain dumped .6 inch of rain (the valley gets only 2 inches a year on average), some park locations were closed because of road washouts. We still had plenty to see and do and spent three nights in the campground.

on the way to Death Valley, California

on the way to DV

Our first stop in Death Valley National Park - Panamint Valley

We drove out to Badwater Basin – lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level – and walked out onto the salt flats. We visited the ruins of the Harmony Borax Works and hiked into Golden Canyon for about a mile. We drove up to Dante's View overlook (elevation 5475 feet) and looked down into Badwater Basin more than a mile below. Panamint Mountains to the west had snow on the peaks and the size and scope of Death Valley is truly awe-inspiring.

Harmony Borax Works ruins - you can see the big wagons that were pulled by 20-mule teams
Harmony Borax Works
282 feet below sea level - lowest point in North America
Salt under our feet in Badwater Basin
Golden Canyon Trail
Golden Canyon trail
This panorama picture doesn't quite capture the immensity of Death Valley - taken from Dante's View
sunrise as we left Death Valley NP

We were reluctant to leave Death Valley, but we had reservations at the El Tovar Hotel on the south rim of the Grand Canyon so we crossed southern Nevada without stopping in Las Vegas (again, not our 'cup of tea') and back into Arizona. Our favorite campground in Kaibab National Forest near Williams was closed for the winter, so we stayed at KOA to be close to the start of the next day's adventure.

One item on my bucket list has been to see the Grand Canyon in the winter when there is snow on the ground. We have also promised ourselves that one day we would stay in a national park lodge. We also wanted to take the historic Grand Canyon train from Williams to the canyon, so we set off on the train and stayed one night in the El Tovar Hotel. There was no precipitation in the forecast when we went to bed so I was pleasantly surprised to see snow on the ground the next morning. I was prepared for this! I put on my long underwear, a jacket over my hoodie, and gloves and we went outside in 22 degree weather to stand at the rim and watch the rising sun light up the canyon walls – magic! We made use of the park shuttle bus system for the next few hours before boarding the train to go back to Williams.

On the train from Williams, AZ to Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon Railway
(not the best selfie)
Last rays of sunlight on the canyon wall
El Tovar when we arrived . . .
. . . and the next morning with snow
The first rays of the morning sun lighting up the canyon wall
Looking down into the canyon with a dusting of snow
early morning flag raising
at Grand Canyon depot
Arizona in February is wonderful so we decided to revisit some national monuments (Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle) on our way to Phoenix. More of our adventures in the next post.

ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma Well

Our "home away from home" - this picture was left out of our last post,

Seen while geocaching between Mojave, CA and Death Valley:

Kris is retrieving the geocache here.