Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

So Close, But So Far...

 At Majestic Pines RV Park, Willis, Texas...

We have moved near Conroe, Texas, but still trying to stay as far away from the Houston madness (and Covid) as possible. It has been excruciating to be so close to our family for weeks and not be able to see them due to Mindy's constant exposure to Covid as a nurse. But we have a plan for Christmas, involving all sorts of safeguards; can't wait!

Meanwhile, we have been catching up on seemingly endless medical checkups and Sandy's foot surgery, which has her pretty much immobile and has resulted in my new job as a housewife/nurse. I do it gladly, though; she has seen me through two surgeries, and it's hard to imagine having to recover without a thoughtful spouse to help with those things we can't do for ourselves. 

Unfortunately, her foot surgery was brutal, as the surgeon nearly had to rebuild it. She hadn't been injured; part of her problems stemmed from bunion surgery 40 years ago that was done using primitive methods that are not practiced now. This allowed her toes and metatarsals to become deformed--in essence, lapping over each other--and, thusly, becoming very painful. On the same foot, she had a large bone spur that was also removed during the surgery. I have some photos of her foot when they changed the bandage after the first week, but the pictures are just too gruesome to show here. I'll just include this one, which is the position she will mainly occupy for several weeks:


This photo was taken in Phannie only a couple of days after the surgery, and, as you can see, Sandy has a notably unstylish protective boot that she must wear for several weeks. The bag around her neck is a pump that periodically injects pain medication into the affected area. That she could manage any kind of smile in this photo was amazing. The empty recliner is mine, and the nearby computer--a Dell all-in-one--is where I'm writing this post right now.

If you're wondering how Sandy climbed the six steps into the coach, it took a few tries, ending with the use of her climbing on all-fours. I wanted desperately to take a video of this spectacle but, unfortunately, she knows where we keep the firearms and threatened to use them if I dared do such a thing.  

As I write this, the election is over and the winner declared by the press. I have learned over the years to keep this blog as apolitical as possible, but I'm pretty sure I won't be watching much TV news for the next four years. Instead, I'm going to enjoy being with family (soon, I hope) and friends and figuring out how we are going to transition from fulltiming to part-timing. We have some ideas, but Sandy's recovery from surgery will be mostly on our minds for quite a while. I'll check some reliably honest Internet news sites to keep up with events.

In a previous post, I mentioned my bad knees, but I'm going to put off that surgery as long as possible. Every six months, I get knee injections that supplement the missing collagen, and that helps immensely. My day of reckoning is coming, I'm afraid, but it will be well after Sandy is back up to full speed. I hope any young folks reading this blog will try to appreciate more keenly the gifts of youth while they can. It will not always be so, unfortunately, in your sunset years. It's pretty cool to have attained a lot of wisdom as I have aged, but I wouldn't mind being stupid for a while if I could do some of the things I used to be able to do.

We spent three weeks in the Lake Conroe Thousand Trails, and we are now out for a week, which is one of the membership requirements at our level. Except in our case, we will not be able to return to TT until late December due to heavy bookings. It seems that RVs have been deemed the ultimate Covid escape, and RV parks haven't kept pace with the demand for parking for all the new units being bought by the public. We'll probably find a park in a different location not far away to hang out for a month until we can go back to Lake Conroe TT.

I think we're just going to try to forget 2020 and hope 2021 will better for all of us. We'll give you an update with any changes that take place. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood










Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Going From Fulltime to Part Time May Have Some Complications

 At Bastrop KOA, Bastrop, Texas...

Let's see...I think we left off bemoaning the fact that we were having to leave the mountains and head back to Texas. We did that, stopping at Plainview, Texas to visit with longtime RV friends Bubba and LouAnn and their wonderful extended family. We think of all the Barkers as part of our own family, and it was hard to say goodbye. As usual, I forgot to take photos, doggone it. The old memory just isn't what it used to be.

The long and hurried drive through Texas (we had doctor appointments) doesn't produce much content for a blog post, but we count the trip's being uneventful as a blessing. We picked Bastrop to stay outside of nearby Austin, which is where Phannie's windshield would be replaced. You may remember that a large rock thrown by a vehicle going the opposite direction slammed into Phannie's lower left windshield just outside Golden, Colorado on our way to Yellowstone with the Turleys in the summer. The damage was fatal for the windshield, but I taped up the foot-long cracks that radiated from the main strike point, using clear shipping tape, and we were able to make the whole trip without the cracks growing longer.

We stayed outside of Austin because we try to avoid large cities whenever possible, due to the greater incidence of Covid. There's also the fact that Austin traffic is relatively insane. It has also been invaded by a whole passel of left coast lunatics that are trying to turn it into San Francisco or something equally despicable. They're calling it Austifornia, of all things. Anytime you see a city council trying to defund the police, you know something is terribly wrong. I can hardly believe it is happening here in my beloved Texas. It is so, well, un-Texan. There was a time when we had a sort of fundamental way of dealing with these things, but it's not the old West anymore, and it's kind of a pity.

Longhorn Glass had Phannie's windshield replaced in about four hours, including drying time for the sealant, and they seem to have done a good job. I had an insurance deductible to pay, but it was small potatoes compared to the insurance company's part. By the way, let me give a shout out to Texas Farm Bureau Insurance. We have been customers of theirs for years, and the few claims we've had have been handled superbly, beyond all expectations. They are good people. Our agent, Tyler Duniven, is Bubba's and LouAnn's son-in-law, but we don't think that gives us special treatment; the company's just good at what they do.

Okay, let's get to the part where we talk about the subject of this post. I tend to digress more and more often these days, don't you think?  We are approaching five years of fulltiming since we sold our house in Fort Worth and hit the road. It has been a glorious adventure, and we've seen so much of the country that we're close to completing our bucket list. Would we do it all again? Absolutely. 

Phannie has covered almost 60,000 miles while fulltiming, and our two toads (we wore out the first one) named Mae have been driven much more, besides being towed for all those miles behind Phannie. What is amazing is that, in all her miles (110,000 total) and her 15 years of age, Phannie has been nothing but dependable as a home on the road. We've replaced air conditioners, the microwave oven, the tires (twice), the refrigerator (changed from Norcold to residential) and installed at new jack system, but the Caterpillar engine, the Allison transmission and the rest of the chassis have operated without a single hiccup. And we haven't had to buy a single drop of DEF!

With that in mind, maybe you can understand why we don't want to giver her up. The truth, is, Sandy and I are the ones who are beginning to need repairs instead of Phannie. Sandy is having foot surgery later this month, and I don't know how much longer my knees are going to hold out without new parts. There are a few other non-serious health issues that are also going to need some attention before long.

These are signs that are pointing to a new paradigm. Luckily, we've had five good years on the road, and we're not ready to give up our occasional traveling in Phannie, but we know we need get ourselves repaired and find a home base where we have terra firma of our own--where we can keep our "stuff" and put down some roots, if only temporary ones. The question is, what will that look like, and where will it be? You might be surprised that we didn't have an exit plan from fulltiming, but we didn't. I am not a planner by nature, and I have always believed in the old Yiddish adage, "Man plans, and God laughs."

One big complication is that the pandemic is keeping us from being in contact with our family for the time being. Our daughter is a nurse who is constantly in contact with Covid patients and, thereby, her whole family are potential carriers. If we were exposed, it could be lethal for us, being in the riskiest group as we are. By mutual agreement, we've decided to stay apart until there is some kind of resolution in place, which we pray will be soon. Thank goodness for Facetime!

With this in mind, we want to find some place that is not too far from the kids and the medical facilities we have been using, so that may preclude our consideration of a permanent dwelling like buying or building a house, because we may eventually want to move closer. We're looking for something small, close to a good-sized town. As we look at various opportunities, we are trying to be open-minded and hoping the right thing will come along, praying for clarity when it does. In fact, we've already made one offer--a very reasonable one--but it didn't work out. So, that's a door closed--a step toward clarity, we think--and we'll see what happens next.

I'll give you an update after Sandy's surgery, so hang in there, and send a prayer her way, if you're so inclined. This part of our RV life may prove to be interesting, since we don't know how it's going to turn out. You can be surprised right along with us!


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood








Thursday, September 24, 2020

Where Are We Now?

 At Circle the Waggins RV Park, La Veta, Colorado...

Well, sorry I sort of left you hanging after we made our break from Washington State. We have put quite a few miles behind us since then on our way back to Texas: Spokane, Butte, Pocatello, Salt Lake City, Durango and now, La Veta, Colorado. These have been mostly one- or two-night stays, and it's not easy to come up with something worthy of a blog post with such short stays. Fortunately, there are already posts in the blog for Butte, Salt Lake City and Durango, so I haven't exactly left you empty-handed. All you have to do is search on the city names.

So why, you may ask, do you feel the urge to post about tiny La Veta, Colorado when this is also only a one-nighter? Well, two reasons:  1) There may be a handful of readers who wonder what we're doing and 2) La Veta was far more interesting than I thought. We got here over the famed 10,800-foot Wolf Creek Pass (also the Continental Divide) and, I must say, the drive down 160 from Durango was simply beautiful. I could have stopped at a dozen places and taken some great mountain photos, but we already have dozens of photos of beautiful mountain scenery in many different locations, so I decided not to take the effort to find places to pull off the road with the 65 feet of vehicles we were driving. We are also eager to get back to Texas in order to have Sandy's foot surgery done. She has suffered far too long, and I suppose that was part of my thinking.

Admittedly, there are other issues. We know we're going to be transitioning to part-time status soon, given that we are having more joint problems (my knees need attention rather badly). But there are other reasons we're making the change. By the time we make the changeover, we will have been RVing for 16 years and fulltiming for five years. Things have changed a lot in that time. First of all, we've just about fulfilled our bucket list and, at the time of this writing, I can't think of a state we haven't at least traversed. Secondly,  many of our formerly fulltiming friends have left the road, so we aren't able to get together with them nearly as often. A third consideration is the difficulty of finding RV spaces in parks we prefer. The RV manufacturers are turning them out by the hundreds of thousands, and few new RV parks are being built to accommodate them. And lastly, we know it's time. It's sort of like before Sandy and I retired; we would ask our retired friends, how do you know when to retire? Invariably, they said, "You'll know." And we did.

Verifying my frustration at finding RV spaces, I wanted to stop desperately at Moab and take a look at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks again but, alas, there was no room in the inn. Moab was covered up with tourists! The best I could do was to get a photo of an arch south of town as we headed to Durango:


Just because we're changing from fulltiming, that doesn't mean we're getting rid of Phannie. As long as we're able, she will handle our part-time journeys--I'm sure as faithfully as she has for the last 11 years she has served us so well. 

What we don't know is what--or where--our not-on-wheels home will ultimately be. That, of course, has been on our mind as well, so we'll have a number of things coming up that will be occupying our time and thought.

With that out of the way, allow me to chat about La Veta for a bit. This little one-horse town is a first visit for us and, from the looks of it, there wasn't much to expect. However, it is one of the last towns where we will see vestiges of our beloved Rocky Mountains, and highway 12 that runs through it is one of Colorado's Scenic Byways--and for good reason. We got here early enough to do some driving around, and we found some pretty fascinating geology, that I'll briefly describe. First of all, let's get downtown La Veta out of the way--a cute little town, quite rundown in places, and some of the streets are dirt. But the vibe was a little Santa Fe-ish--maybe a hundred years ago!


Driving out Route 12, we ran into some interesting mountain features that we happened to learn a little about by reading roadside signs.


First, there was the East Spanish Peak (or the West Spanish Peak; I'm not quite sure which it is) shown above which, at about 13,000 feet, I hadn't seen before. Notice the protrusion of rock above the trees in the lower left of the photo. I don't pretend to be a geologist, but I have read that this is harder rock than that around it, so it erodes more slowly. The interesting thing about this is that it forms a sort of backbone line that can be seen in the next photo. I'm sure there's a much more esoteric explanation available from someone less ignorant of geology--like my friend and geology professor Pat Sharp, for example. I'll get her take on it one of these days.


Here is the end of the backbone that I found interesting with colorful vegetation around it:


According to the information on the road signs, this is what's left of a volcano that failed to erupt, although it came close. The protrusion above the ground, presumably, is the magma that entered the throat of the fissure but chickened out. Since it is harder rock than that which surrounded it, its erosion has been slower:


We love anything to do with folklore, so take a look at the photo below:


Taken at a very long range, you can see stones protruding from the mountain that form a stairstep pattern. You may be able to see them better in this next one:


According to the information on the roadside signs, ancient Indians believed this was the stairwell the devil took when he came up from the underworld to wreak havoc (who knows what trials they may have endured?) Then, according to legend, God--or the supreme being in which they believed--ultimately forced the demon back down the stairs to the world below, and he has never emerged again. How can you not find that interesting?

I'll leave you with this photo of some more mountains around La Veta in the very late evening. It saddens me to be leaving my beloved mountains, though we must. I take some comfort in the fact that, since we don't live among them, we flatlanders perhaps wouldn't be as excited or appreciative when we see them again.


Stick around--I'll get an update to you before long. Thanks to all who have made this journey with us all these years!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood




Monday, September 14, 2020

Making A Run For It

At Alderbrook RV Park, Spokane, Washington...

The west coast seems to be on fire! Whenever we go to the Pacific Northwest, smoke follows us in the same way as it does our friend Ed Dray when he builds a campfire. Ed is famous for this, much in the same way he is famous for taking guests to restaurants that are closed.  It's all in fun, of course, and Ed laughs as much as anyone.

But this, unfortunately, was serious. Forty-something fires in three states on the west coast were causing death and mass destruction. We really hadn't been watching the news, but we began to pay more attention after the last post and the nice photo of Mt. Rainier. We got up one morning, and all of northwest Washington was enveloped in thick smoke. At first, I thought it was just cloudy, but the skies were clear!  The smoke was so intense that you could look directly a the sun and it would not hurt your eyes; it just looked like a bright moon.

We had never seen anything like this, so we thought it would be a good idea to get the heck outta Dodge--but which way? There were fires to the south of us and to the east of us, and the other two directions would take us into the Pacific Ocean or Canada, neither of which was possible at the moment.

After a little homework, I decided to head eastward (the fire east of Seattle was not close to I-90) and then southward toward Texas. Since it was more than 350 miles to Spokane, I thought that would  relieve some of the smoke problem, so we fired up Phannie and took off. 

Did it help? Well....no. The slight wind was out of the west, and it was blowing the smoke all the way to Spokane. Here's proof: In the photo below, taken not far from Spokane, there is a large overhead bridge about a half-mile in front of us. To the right and left of the roadway is a large lake--except you can't see it. If you look very closely, you might be able to make out faintly the end of the superstructure of the bridge:



Beyond the bridge is a ridge of forested hills that you might be able to make out faintly. I'm sure it was a scenic area, but we'll never know.

So what had we accomplished? We certainly didn't improve things smokewise, but at least we're out of any fire danger. When we arrived at our RV park, neither of us felt like preparing any food, so we tried a very nice Thai restaurant that had one of the most interesting ceilings we've seen. Although you can't see them in the photo, there were hundreds of tiny embedded lights representing stars. Unfortunately, the food was just okay, so it won't make the favorites list. We thought the decor was quite beautiful, though:


Somehow, this made us feel better about driving I-90 for the entire day and seeing virtually nothing but a half-mile of pavement in front of us. It reminded me of a few of my flying days when the flight was made entirely within the clouds, the only thing actually being seen was the takeoff and landing. My friend Ed, whom I mentioned above and who flew a corporate jet for years, knows what I'm talking about.

Tomorrow we're leaving for Butte, Montana, where the visibility report at this writing is three miles in smoke. Hey, that sounds pretty good; it's about a 500 percent improvement!


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood






Friday, September 11, 2020

Mt. Rainier - King of the Cascades - And the Most Dangerous

 At Midway RV Park, Centralia, Washington...

I almost never write a post that has no photos, and I just as rarely write one that includes only a single photo. However, of all the photos that I took of Mt. Rainier during this visit, this one was, hands down, the best:


Covering some 236,000 acres, Mt. Rainier National Park is the fifth to be dedicated as such in the U. S., in 1899. This shot was taken from about the 5,000 foot level, which means that the remaining 9,441 feet upward is what you are observing in this photo. Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in the Cascade range and is one of the five active volcanoes in the Washington State--the others being Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. All except Mt. Adams have erupted in the last 250 years--averaging about one every 50 years. (It has been 41 years since Mt. St. Helens erupted, so beware!) It also should be noted that, in the entire Cascade mountain range, there are no fewer than 20 active volcanoes.

Rainier is considered the most dangerous of the volcanoes (see the steam venting from the top?) because of its size and its vast number of glaciers and potential debris fields. If it should have a major eruption, some 80,000 people would be in imminent danger. The volcano, of course, is closely monitored so, presumably, there would be enough warning for an evacuation. Upon its slopes are no fewer than 25 glaciers, two of which are the largest in the U. S. It is said that if Rainier should erupt, the flooding from the melting of the immense glaciers, carrying with it enormous debris fields, would be nothing short of cataclysmic.

The mountain was named, oddly, by Captain George Vancouver of the British Navy, who gave it the name of his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, also an officer in the Royal Navy. Vancouver's claim to fame was his expeditions in the late 18th century, wherein he charted much of the coastal areas of the northern U. S. and southern Canada. Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver in Canada are named for him, as is the U. S. city of Vancouver, Washington. Add to that Vancouver Mountain, on the U. S./Canada border, and about a half dozen other mountains worldwide. I certainly wouldn't be one to deny Captain Vancouver his due, but this just strikes me as a trifle overdone (unless I were British, I guess). As for Mt. Rainier, I don't know, perhaps it's the idea of such a breathtaking national U. S. landmark carrying the name of a British Admiral. That just doesn't seem kosher. (My apology for that atrocious non sequitur.) By the way, you may be surprised to know that the name of the mountain is almost always mispronounced by those from other places. The accent is on the first syllable, not the last. (Credit this to my friend John Abbey, who has friends here among the locals.)

Mt. Rainier is a mountaineer's dream; its ascent is attempted by approximately 10,000 climbers each year--half of whom actually make it to the summit. It is also surrounded by 91,000 acres of old-growth forest and scores of wildlife types, some of which could be quite dangerous for humans unprepared to encounter them.

I really didn't intend for this to be a geology lesson, although it sort of sounds like one, doesn't it? I was merely trying to present some facts that I didn't know but found interesting. As for the single photo, I don't think including anything else would be appropriate. Mount Rainier is often shrouded in clouds, so this post is short, celebrating my good fortune in photographing this gorgeous peak in all its glory on a clear day.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood



Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Mt. St. Helens

 At Midway RV Park, Centralia, Washington...

Looking at the title of this post, I guess it's no secret now where we were headed. 

We were in this area around five years ago when it occurred to us that we really didn't want to go home. At least we didn't want to be forced to return for the sake of taking care of our stick and brick house, worried as we were about its condition and whether it had been burgled, as indeed had happened before. It was during that trip that we decided to sell the custom-built house--complete with an RV port--and stay on the road as fulltimers. No matter how perfectly designed or constructed, the house was always calling--demanding our attention and return from what we really enjoyed doing--rolling down the highway to see what was around the next curve. 

Nothing could have prepared us for the realization that we would make that decision on that trip, after having put so much of our money, time and planning into building that house exactly to our specifications. But sell it we did and, after doing so, I felt a sense of freedom that was at least as significant as that of my retirement.

I say all that to explain, possibly, how we managed to miss seeing Mt. St. Helens, which had always been on my bucket list. After all, we passed right by it on I-5 when we were southbound toward California. My only explanation is that, in the excitement of having made the momentous decision to go fulltime (which I had desired long before Sandy's epiphany), I simply forgot. 

I might mention that we hadn't really intended to correct my forgetfulness this summer, as we were traveling with Larry and Carolyn, and it simply wasn't their desire to make such a long trip. However, when we learned they would be leaving us in Salt Lake City (to get back to their stick and brick house--whose call we've already discussed), they suggested that we should go ahead and go back to Washington and see Mt. St. Helens; when would we ever be so close again?

The more we thought about it, the more sense it made, since we were only a couple of states away; and so we did. I must admit that I have always been fascinated by the world of geological wonders, especially earthquakes, faults, volcanoes and the like. If you recall, we stood astride the San Andreas fault during last winter's trip into California, and I still haven't gotten over the fact that Volcanoes National Park was closed during an eruption on our recent trip to Hawaii with some of our friends.

And so, we finally drove up the nearly empty highway to Mt. St. Helens. It was the day after Labor Day, and we saw perhaps only a dozen other visitors during the entire journey to the volcano. There were turnouts at various locations on the access road, each with a more spectacular view. I suppose it's time to get to some photos but, first, let me insert this link to show you the eruption that occurred on May 18, 1980:  https://youtu.be/7RQ6DEPxaS4.

It was the most disastrous volcanic eruption in the history of the United States and produced an ash cloud 80,000 feet high. It deposited ash in 11 U. S. states and two Canadian provinces. The blast was equivalent to 26 megatons of TNT and killed every living thing, including 57 humans, within hundreds of square miles as the north face of the mountain blew out. The damage it caused, in today' s value, was about four billion dollars.

I decided to include the most revealing photo first, showing the massive void that is the crater. You cannot really appreciate the size of this from the photo; it simply must be seen in person:


If you look closely, you can see smoke wafting from the right side of the top of the crater and a steam vent further down the mountain underneath the smoke stream at the top. This is after 44 years, mind you. The forces that caused this cataclysm are lurking not far beneath the surface. The mass of debris in the foreground is that which was deposited by the eruption and the landslide that followed. Even after all this time, vegetation is still slow to grow back in this particular area, although it is happening much faster in others.

In the next photo, for example, forests are growing back quickly around Castle Lake, which was formed by the eruption. Above and to the left of the lake, you can see one of the steam vents I mentioned earlier.


Here are some photos showing the trees that still lay on the ground among the millions that were blown over by the blast. Some were recovered for lumber, but most are simply lying in a state of decay after all these years, their bases pointing toward the blast. New trees are growing, however; the cycle goes on:




From a distance, Mt. St. Helens looks like just another beautiful mountain, it's not until you get close that you realize the unimaginable explosion that happened that day--an explosion no one lived to recount after seeing it. At the time, the land containing Mt. St. Helens belonged to Burlington Northern Railroad. Later, it was deeded to the United States to form the Mount St. Helens National Monument.

I must say, the absence of other visitors at the point where we were closest to the mountain was a blessing. Much like our being alone at Promontory Point, Utah, where the first transcontinental railroad linked, I could imagine, even almost feeling, what this event must have been like, yet I would never know for sure. Being at the very place where it happened was the best I could do, and it was enough. In my thoughts, I was there, if for only a few minutes.

 
Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood


Monday, August 31, 2020

Salt Lake City

 At Mountain Home RV Resort, Mountain Home, Idaho...

It looks like I'm almost caught up now, even though we've moved on from Salt Lake City, but I need to tell you about our short time there. Since we had visited several times before, Larry and Carolyn, our wonderful traveling partners, wanted to go there, but they tried to talk us into skipping it because of our several previous visits. Since we were going to part ways there, we couldn't miss it, of course, because we always have a lot of fun together, and we wanted to take advantage of their company as long as possible. Besides, we know the city pretty well, and we felt we could take them to some interesting places.

Our first day was a down day to just rest up and catch up on laundry. Larry and Carolyn did go out on their own downtown to catch some of the sights. Unfortunately, the Mormon Temple is undergoing a massive renovation, so they didn't get to see much of the grounds that surround it or the tabernacle. Furthermore, because of the virus, they weren't able to attend a rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so we were sorry they didn't get to see everything we did on previous trips.

This is what they missed:

Photo from a previous trip

We were able, however, to accompany them to the visitor center at the Great Salt Lake--a must see, since it was their first time. Even though Sandy and Carolyn were both suffering from mobility problems, I was able to coax them to go down to the water's edge with Larry and me and take a sniff. (If you've been there, you know what I mean.)  


I think they enjoyed learning about the Great Salt Lake and its unique history. They didn't choose to go swimming, however, even though the lake is so salty, it's buoyancy makes it almost impossible for a swimmer even to submerge. After gathering a few souvenirs for our grandkids, we went downtown to a restaurant to celebrate Sandy's birthday.

The next day, we took them on a long ride past the north end of the lake to Promontory Point, the place at which the transcontinental railroad joined for the first time in 1869.  Fortunately, the replicas of the old locomotives had been brought out to their respective positions on that occasion, and we took some photos that we didn't get to include in our previous post, which I urge you to read if you wish to know more about this historical event. It happens to be one of my favorite posts, by the way.

Here are the locomotives, positioned approximately as they were in 1869:



Below is a closer view:


And here we are, standing on the last tie laid (the varnished one) in the photo below. There's more about this in the post whose link I've placed above, which we hope you'll check out. In that post, I discuss the incalculable importance to the country of this moment in history. Not many people know that at the same time the tracks met, the first transcontinental telegraph line was also connected. It was nothing less than, at last, the uniting of the country in these two incredible and simultaneous events. There was great celebration across the country at the time. Yet, as important as it is, this park is one of the least visited in the U. S. It almost saddens me that so few seem to recognize the magnitude of the history that was made here.


We couldn't leave Salt Lake City without checking out the old Union Pacific train station which, as you know, I find fascinating:


The city had done a good job of preserving the old station, and the inside--now a great gathering hall with all the benches removed, was splendid, indeed. I love the mural painted on the far wall. Notice the ticket booths on the left side of the photo:


And so we say goodbye to Larry and Carolyn and the million laughs we've had since we met up in Colorado Springs. They are the perfect traveling pals, and we hope to see them again soon.


From here in Salt Lake--well, you sort of know where we're headed, because we're already there, and that's from where I'm writing this blog post--Mountain Home, Idaho. Mountain Home is sort of a two-bit town, but it's not far from Boise, which is a city much more to glampers' liking: good shopping and good restaurants. We've already been up there once, and we'll be going again before we leave for...(drum roll, please)...Pasco, Washington. That's just another interim stop, however; we can't yet reveal where we're ultimately heading, lest you stop reading! Pasco is where we're settling in for the Labor Day holiday; we were lucky to get a spot there at the KOA during that busy time. We'll be leaving this beautiful park here in Mountain Home in a few days, so stay tuned as we head out again soon!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood





 












Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Grand Tetons

 At Mountain Home RV Resort, Mountain Home, Idaho...

As you can see, we are no longer in Salt Lake City, or even in Utah, or even in Wyoming. We're in Idaho! And yet, this post is about the Tetons! That's why it's been so hard to get caught up! We need to slow down and take a break, and that's kinda what we're doing.

But where are you headed, you ask? Well, let's let that be a surprise. (We may even be surprised ourselves! All we know is that it's still too hot in Texas, and the virus is still a problem there.) 

Right now, we're in a very nice RV park here in Mountain Home--so nice, in fact, that it is found in the "Best of the Best" RV Park Listings. The link is on the right side over there. 




Now, this will be a relatively short post...okay, please, your applause is a little annoying! 

The reason for this bit of abbreviation is that the Tetons are a relatively short mountain range, running from Yellowstone National Park to Jackson, Wyoming. However, it is one of the most stunning because of its sharp rise from the Jackson Hole valley with no foothills preceding the sudden uplift of the mountains, as is the case almost everywhere else. 

According to geologists, this is due to a fault 40 miles long north of Jackson, under which the Jackson Hole Valley is slowly moving downward, lifting the Tetons higher and higher. It is one of the youngest mountain ranges, said to be less than 10 million years old. That's why the peaks are so jagged; there has been insufficient time for erosion to have had a smoothing effect on the peaks. Because the uplifting activity is still going on, the Tetons are still growing in height, albeit slowly, of course:



As you near the south exit from Yellowstone, the photo below is the first view of the Tetons you'll see:


Unfortunately, smoke from forest fires that seem inevitable every August had drifted into Wyoming and Utah, so this photo isn't as impressive as it would be on a clear day. Next is a photo I really like, taken from a bit farther down the road and showing the shoreline of Lake Jackson:


However, I think the photo below is my favorite of the Teton lake views.  Remember you can click on the photos to enlarge them.




The photo above was taken from the Jackson, Wyoming end of the range, looking in the opposite direction from the first one in this group.


The photo above shows the unusual near-absence of foothills before the mountains spring up, but the next photo is the one I really wanted. It is probably the most photographed barn in the world, situated in a little Mormon community near the mountain range. We weren't able to find it until this trip, and I'm very happy to have it in this blog. 

To me, it's interesting not only for the contrast of the slowly dilapidating barn with the Tetons as its backdrop, but the contrast of those things made by human hands that inevitably deteriorate and eventually disappear, juxtaposed against those things formed by Divine hand that last for uncountable millenia. You have probably seen this photo in countless publications, but here is my very own version:


Oddly, we've never seen the Tetons from the western side, so that will have to go on our list of things we must investigate. It seems the list never ends!

We had to do our sightseeing of the Tetons from about 50 miles south of Jackson at Star Valley Ranch--a large RV and modular home park (900 spaces) with several very small towns around. One of the towns was Alpine, Wyoming, where we found a delightful restaurant--open only 90 days a year--where we could dine outdoors and enjoy the perfect temperature in the 70s. Yes, as my friend Ed always says, "Life is Good."


We've gotten some feedback asking how it is we are blatantly continuing our travels, seemingly without concern about the pandemic that has gripped so many parts of the nation? It seems there are still quite a number of folks who remain terribly fearful and sequestered in one spot, rarely going out except for groceries or other necessities. I will admit that, during the first couple of months of the virus, when we knew little about it, we did the same thing until we learned how to take proper precautions and we saw the reports of parts of the country where the incidence of the virus is quite rare. It must be evident that we have confined our travels to parts of the county where virus patient counts are low--some of them so low that the locals really don't seem to pay much attention to it.

So, we are concerned about it, and we remain cautious. But there are other reasons we have elected not to hide away. For one thing,  the virus cannot survive in fresh air and sunshine, and when we are not outside enjoying the wonderful climate and scenery, we're inside Phannie, with our own "stuff" that hasn't been touched by anyone else, and that can't be bad. By the way, it seems that a lot of other people have the same idea, as RV parks are nearly full everywhere we go. Yes, we're at that vulnerable age, but we take proper precautions, and we don't wish to spend our remaining years cooped up. 

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood




Sunday, August 23, 2020

Some of the Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph Byway. Caution: Read carefully; this could be confusing.

At the Salt Lake City KOA, Salt Lake City, Utah...

Before we begin, let me tell you that I have added some photos to the previous post, "Yellowstone!" Because I have taken so many photographs on this trip, I sometimes overlook some that would add some interest to a post, so I occasionally have to go back and add them to a post that I've already published. I think it turned out better, and I hope you think so, too.

As you can see from the location header above (which I wish every blogger would put in their posts), we are suddenly in Salt Lake City, and I'm not even finished posting about Wyoming! Well, the problem is that I haven't caught the blog up with the trip, and I'm trying feverishly to get that done. I can just hear you now--"Okay, Mike, but what does this have to do with Salt Lake City? I thought you were spending the summer in the Rockies!" 

Well, just so you'll know, we are, technically, still in the Rockies; the Wasatch Mountains just east of Salt Lake City form the Wasatch Range that is part of a whole panoply of ranges that form the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico into Canada. It just doesn't seem that Salt Lake City itself is mountainous, because it's not...but it almost is, especially if you look to the east toward the beautiful Wasatch range. The problem is that the city itself is situated at the bottom of the mountains and on the edge of a large salt flat that contains the Great Salt Lake. Its lower elevation means that it gets hot here in the summer, so it doesn't feel to us like we're in the Rockies, either. Confused? Well, if you were here, you would understand. 

But hang on--there's a little more to this side story that I need to include. We're really here because we are bidding goodbye to Larry and Carolyn, our caravan partners, as they leave us here in Salt Lake City and make their way back to Arkansas to take care of things back home. They expressed a desire to see some sights here on their way home so, having visited here several times over the years, we insisted on accompanying them for a last hurrah and perhaps some guidance to places we think they might like to go. 

To make this explanation even more confusing, we got a call while en route down here from Wyoming, and we learned that we will be joined here in Salt Lake by Doug and Michelle, whom you met in our Quartzsite post from a few months ago. They are arriving on the same day that Larry and Carolyn are leaving so, unfortunately, they will miss each other by a few hours. They are all great people, and it is a shame the whole bunch won't get to meet. Sometimes, I wish we could have a gathering of all the friends we know in the RV world, so they could get to know each other and enjoy their company as much as we do. 

Now, in the paragraph below, we are going to return magically to Wyoming, at least in print. However, since we are here in Salt Lake, having leaped ahead of the normal blog-posting sequence, never fear: You will be reading in a later post about what we're doing in Salt Lake City right now. However, in the next post, you'll read about the Tetons, as I catch up to keep things in some kind of chronological order with our trip. I just hope I can remember it all. It wouldn't surprise me if you're scratching your head, but this is my best hack at explaining why you're reading a post about Wyoming when we're in Utah. I think I should also get some kind of award for the longest digression ever from the title of a post.

Now, let's back up to Wyoming and the real subject of this post. (I'll bet you thought I forgot, didn't you?) Well, I almost forgot to include this post about the Beartooth Highway and the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, but thanks to a suggestion by dear friend and avid reader Janice, I remembered that I hadn't mentioned it, and, of all things, it certainly couldn't be left out. 

There's a twist, though. We seem to be jinxed in seeing the Beartooth Highway, one of the most scenic in the country, according to the late Charles Kuralt, an anchor of CBS TV's Sunday Morning for 15 years. A few years ago, we had tried to drive the road, which stretches from Red Lodge, Montana to a point near the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. However, the western states' forest fires were so bad that year that the views were almost totally obscured by smoke. After driving a short distance, we realized this would be a wasted effort, so we turned around and went back to Billings. We then decided to head for the Pacific Northwest, but we couldn't find any reservations on such short notice, so we just abandoned the effort and slowly made our way back to Texas.

This time, there was no smoke to obscure the scenery, so we set out from west to east, exiting through the north entrance to Yellowstone. We hadn't traveled very far until we noticed one of those dreaded construction signs flashing the message that the Beartooth Highway was closed ahead for construction and that we should exit at the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, which would take us back to Cody. Well, that was a fine kettle of fish! We've now driven trips of several thousand miles to drive this highway, and we still won't be able to see it all even this time!

As it turned out, however, the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway was gorgeous, and it was something we wouldn't have wanted to miss anyway. So one day, we'll hope to make good on that final leg of the Beartooth.

Let's get to some photos, shall we? This first one is perhaps the piece de resistance. It was our first look at the Beartooth Mountain Range, which we would not be able to traverse fully, including the 10,000+ ft. high Beartooth Pass, because of the detour. Since we had to turn off on the Chief Joseph, we were only able to see 17 miles of the Beartooth Highway, leaving the most scenic part unobserved. It was a nice preview, however, of what we will hopefully see all the way down highway 212 one of these days. So close, but so far. (Sigh.)


Meanwhile, during our 17 miles, we did observe some wonderful clear streams with mountains in the background, as well as several female elks and their calves foraging near the highway:




That's about all the photos we got from this part of the Beartooth Highway, but the ones from the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway made up for it. I'll bet you're wondering why it's named after Chief Joseph. Well, he was chief of a part of the Nez Perce Indian tribe, being chased at the time (1877) by the U. S. Cavalry during the Indian Wars. Chief Joseph chose this route in an attempt to evade the soldiers and flee to Canada. The problem was that the army was having no difficulty tracking the Indians, so Joseph devised a plan for his tribesmen to ride their horses in a large circular series of turns, leaving their hoofprints in a nondescript pattern in soft ground. Then the Indians rode off on harder ground in a direction different from that anticipated by the soldiers, and the plan worked. The Nez Perce got away, but they were eventually captured near the Canadian border. From there, they were relocated eventually to Idaho. Chief Joseph died of natural causes in 1904, said by his followers of a broken heart.

Okay, that's your history lesson. Let's get to the photos and give respect to the resourcefulness of the chief and the U. S. government for naming this beautiful highway for him:

A dying thunderstorm beyond the mountains at sunset. Double majesty.

Do views like this ever get old?

Strangely striated sandstone seemed incongruous with the grayish granite mountains surrounding it.


Mountains and trees as far as the eyes can see.

Evening shadows accentuate these craggy mountains.

This may be my favorite for contrast;
a look eastward from the mountains to the plains of Wyoming at sunset.

More thunderstorms beyond the mountains;
they won't bother us, but they are well illuminated by the setting sun. Their noisy violence will go unheard because of their vast distance from us. The important thing is how far you can see. Those storms are probably a hundred miles away.

What beautiful scene awaits us just beyond this craggy pass? One can hardly wait to see.

As it turned out, we were nearing Cody at this point and, because we were able to drive the Chief Joseph Byway, we weren't at all disappointed in the day. We're still determined to see the rest of the Beartooth, though.

My goodness! Will I ever get caught up? Remember, the next post will be about the Grand Tetons, and then we'll have a post from Salt Lake City, as I indicated while I was digressing earlier in this post. We've got to get caught up before we figure out where we're going next!  So stick around; you can be surprised along with us!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood




 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Yellowstone!

At Star Valley Ranch RV Park, Thayne, Wyoming...

This will be mostly a reprise of our previous visits to Yellowstone. The reason for this is that our fellow travelers, Larry and Carolyn, had never before seen the nation's largest national park so, with the exception of a short introductory trip together, they did their tour by themselves. Below are a couple of shots from that introductory trip. The Abyss Pool is among the first geologic features you can see when you enter through the eastern gate of the park. Carolyn accompanied me down to see it. Then I took a closeup view shot, and you can see why it is called the Abyss. One can't help but wonder from what depth the steaming water comes:



The only part of the park Sandy and I hadn't seen before was Mammoth Hot Springs, near the north entrance, and that would be our focus this time. Larry and Carolyn seemed content to do their own thing, and that was fine with us.

Let me begin by encouraging anyone who has not visited Yellowstone to do so. This was our fourth visit, and it never ceases to amaze us as one of the strangest and most fascinating places on earth. There's nothing like it anywhere else, and it's right here in our own country!

Consider that you get to drive around in the caldera of a giant volcano that erupted more than 600,000 years ago and is actually due again for an eruption, according to the history of its activity cycle. The presence of the hot magma reservoir under your feet is evidenced in many places by the hissing of steam, geysers and pools of near-boiling water that is forced upward by the hellish molten lava so near the surface. 

Yet there is beauty all around, with Lake Yellowstone and the Yellowstone River being the most significant of the non-geyser features you can see. I will begin with a photo of Old Faithful that is not up to my normal standards, taken, unfortunately, as the geyser was winding down from its main thrust of spray activity. I do have a video of the entire eruption, but Sandy won't let me publish it, as she was narrating it for our very young grandsons at the time, and there are some parts that, well, didn't go perfectly (in fact, they were quite funny). Since she has final editorial control, I suppose it'll have to remain private.


There are numerous other areas around the park where you can see the unworldly sights we mentioned--even mud pots that bubble up many odd colors that are influenced by the minerals within. I think I'll just post these--most of which were found in the Norris geyser basin--for your viewing pleasure. I really can't comment about them because, at the time, I neglected to use the name of the feature in the photo title:










Aside from the another-world nature of the hissing geyser basins, a visit to the Yellowstone River is impressive. This is a photo of the massive power of the river just before it plunged over Yellowstone Falls, captured in the photo below this one. You can almost hear the roar as it plunges 308 feet into the riverbed at its base.  



Yellowstone Falls is one of the most photographed in the country, due to its beauty and the yellow color of the surrounding rocks--perhaps from which the park gets its name. I was pleased how my photo turned out, immortalized now forever for those times when we want to relive the memories. What appears to be water turning leftward from the falls is actually huge volumes of spray produced by the water impacting the bottom of the falls:

And, of course, you can't miss the beauty of massive Lake Yellowstone in the heart of the caldera. The lake will, of course, be vaporized by the next eruption, which will likely be huge and devastating to several surrounding states:


Of course, one rarely misses the many buffaloes, especially one like this huge bull, who strolls slowly by our car as if he owns the park. 

The next bull buffalo walked into the roadway and just stood there, regally, for about ten minutes, seemingly delighted to be backing up traffic both ways for nearly a mile. Shortly after I took this photo, he took a few steps forward to the middle of the road, so as to be sure no one would pass around him. What a snob!


As I stated earlier, our focus this trip was on Mammoth Hot Springs, the one geyser area we had missed on previous trips. We didn't realize until we had arrived that getting a really good view of the feature would require as much as two miles of walking, much of which would be climbing stairs. This wasn't possible for either of us due to our foot and knee problems. All we could get was a photo of the top of the spring--fed by the two blue pools of hot water, which then cascaded down the huge layered structure beyond that was formed from chemicals in the water.


Because of our physical limitations, I had to do something I am loath to do: Use a stock photo that I didn't personally take to present the beauty of this feature:


This was a bit of a jarring revelation for us, as it was one of the very few times in our 16 years of RVing that we have not been able to see something we wanted to observe personally because of the physical limitations brought about by aging limbs. This reminded us of a previous prediction we made in this blog that our fulltiming days may be drawing to a close, in favor of perhaps part-timing. We know that surgery is in our near future; the convalescence will be lengthy, and the result unpredictable.

Our advice to readers would be to make the most of the years when you don't yet have such limitations. We have done that, and we have this blog to prove it and with which we will enjoy the countless memories we have made. Yet we know of many friends who waited too late and missed out on so much the country has to offer. Please don't let that happen to you.

Not wishing to end on a less-than-positive note, you can expect our next post to include some beautiful shots from the Beartooth Highway and the Chief Joseph Byway. The one after that will include scenes from Grand Teton National Park. Stick around with us as we enjoy some of the most beautiful places in the country.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood