Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Friday, December 25, 2020

2020: When It's Mentioned in the Future, We'll Just Smile Nervously and Change the Subject

 At Thousand Trails, Willis, Texas...

This year just keeps on giving, doesn't it?  I mentioned Sandy's foot surgery in the last post but, since then, things haven't gone so well. Five weeks after the initial surgery, it had to be redone because a screw came loose from the straightened array of bones, and one of the bones broke. The surgeon replaced the screws with metal rods to hold the bones in place. He said this was the old, tried and true method, although it is more painful, obviously. The ends of the metal rods are exposed outside the foot, so they can be removed when the bones have fully fused.  This means, of course, that five weeks of recovery have been lost, not to mention the added pain of metal rods inserted into her foot. Sandy calls them "swords," which probably gives you an idea of her discomfort. Yes, she has painkillers to help, but she refuses to take opioids. I never cease to be amazed at her lack of complaining. I can guarantee you that I wouldn't have handled it as well.  But then, I think God gave pain tolerance to women for a reason:  They are the ones who have babies; if it were left up to men to have them, the population would eventually fall to zero.  I admit to being a resentful whiner when I'm sick or in pain; when I get a cold, I think Sandy considers hospice care for me. When I have my upcoming knee surgery (I'm putting that off for a while), she'll probably trade me in for a new model.

If that weren't enough, Sandy has also been having worsening shoulder pain and immobility, and a recent MRI showed that she is going to need shoulder joint replacement surgery. That will happen after her foot heals sufficiently. Yet she takes it in stride, merely eager to get it all behind her. I simply can't match that; I think I would be looking for a cliff. Well, not really. All we need to remember is that these things are all fixable. When we think not of ourselves, but of so many others whose medical conditions are much worse or hopeless, our problems become small by comparison. But how fitting that all this would happen in 2020.

Well, I have strayed a good bit from the subject of RVs, but I want these thoughts recorded in this blog for that time when the memory isn't as sharp. The year of the plague and the masks will not soon be forgotten.

Getting back to RV life, we think it was perhaps Providential that we happened to be in this fulltiming lifestyle at this time. As it happens, we can easily be isolated and move from places where virus hotspots develop, and that's what we have done, mostly. We were able to stay in lowly impacted areas for months and, after we left, many of them turned into hot spots. Look at California now, for example. When we were there, the virus was almost unknown. We spent the winter, spring and summer in areas of very low population, and we felt quite safe. We wouldn't be here now near Houston if it weren't for the chance of finally seeing the kids if we can get vaccinated and, oh yes, Sandy's surgery.  Thank goodness there's now a vaccine and life, hopefully will get back to normal one of these days.

We are beginning to notice that a surprising number of new RV parks are being built in this area of Texas. I think the park builders are finally beginning to catch on to the great proliferation of RVs in the past few years--especially during the pandemic. It is really hard for me to keep up with the good ones that would be worthy of listing on my 'Best of the Best' page.

Obviously, we're not going to be mobile enough for a while to do much reconnoitering of the 'part time' digs we have in mind. We are looking for a 55+ community of small houses--larger than park models--that are located in inland Texas, not too far from the kids, but not near the coast with its humidity, hurricanes and mosquitoes. There are hundreds of these communities in Arizona and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas that are beautiful and well-landscaped, but they are too far away from where we want to be. We've looked at Del Webb, Robson Ranch and such developments that are within our budget, but their houses are too large. If we wanted that, we would have kept the house we had. We're accustomed now to minimalism, and we like the simplicity of a small space; however, we're nearly convinced that what we're looking for in a 55+ housing community doesn't exist outside the hellish heat areas like those we've seen in far-away Arizona and in south Texas. 

It was nice to see old friends when we returned here at TT Lake Conroe. We even met some new ones--new to us, not our other friends--and we have been in (safe) contact, as in this outdoor lunch at P. F. Chang's the other day in The Woodlands:

Clockwise around the table, starting with Sandy-- Janice (new friend), Ed, Rick (new friend) Dave, Janice and Debi. Sandy was in a good deal of pain during this lunch, but it wasn't going to prevent her from having such a good time among dear friends.

I think I'm going to toss into these posts a favorite photo from our travels while we're grounded. Maybe that'll make it a little more interesting for newcomers. I know we'll enjoy seeing them again. By the way, if you're new to fulltime RVing, I urge you to keep a journal of some kind. Our blog helps us remember so many things we've forgotten. When you get older, you'll understand. 

Here's a nice view of the Grand Canyon at sunset:

We'll keep you posted on Sandy's progress. In the meantime, please include her in your prayer list.

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, December 6, 2020

In a Painful Holding Pattern

 At Pearland RV Park, Pearland, Texas...

I suppose it's about time to publish an update, something I don't do often when we're not traveling. In our case, we're not traveling for two reasons: First of all, we're hoping for a Christmas visit with our "kids," as we call our daughter and her husband and our grandsons. As I mentioned before, this has to be under careful circumstances due to our daughter Mindy's occupation as a nurse in a major Houston hospital with Covid patients.

Besides that, Sandy has suffered a setback in the foot surgery she had five weeks ago. After the surgeon's rebuilding of her foot, the stresses thereof apparently caused a bone to break in the area of the repair. This was allowing the repair to come apart, so it had to be done all over again, this time with some hardware installed in her foot to stabilize the bones in their new paths. As I noted in the last post, the surgery is brutal, and now, we are starting over with the healing process, the five weeks we had behind us being lost, of course. Radical foot surgery is among the most painful, and I feel so sorry for her having to endure the painful recovery all over again.

My arthritic knees have improved via the injections I have every six months, so I really don't have any complaints, compared to poor Sandy. I won't even be considering knee surgery until my condition becomes unmanageable. 

As we have had healthy lives for so long, it is a little difficult adjusting to the maladies that age brings upon us. Fortunately, our problems, so far, are fixable with modern medicine, and we are remaining positive about our prospects after we are past these bumps in the road. What this has done, however, is to force us to face the reality of aging, although we may not have wanted to do that. We have had five fabulous years of fulltime RV travel and pretty well checked off our bucket list, so it seems prudent to think of our exit plan, as we explained in previous posts. However, because of Sandy's lack of mobility, we can't do much in that regard for a while, so that's why I mentioned we're in a holding pattern.

We have had some nice visits with fulltiming friends Dave and Janice--who have left the fulltiming life now--and Steve and Jackie, who have not. Steve and Jackie stopped by to visit us on their way to Florida for the winter, and we're so glad they did. The following photo shows us at Pappas' Seafood House in Webster, where we had a great meal and good times together:

As you can see, Sandy's left foot is in the chair (the white thing is my mask) to lessen the pain. Her repair surgery was only a few days away at this point.

I know you hear these kinds of stories all the time, but our friendship with Steve and Jackie was totally a matter of fate. In an RV park in Austin, I had pulled Phannie into a parking spot next to a couple (Steve and Jackie) who were sitting outside their fifth wheel next door. If I see occupants of an adjacent site outside, I have a habit of going over to greet them in a friendly way since we'll be in such close proximity. When I went over to chat with them, they were extraordinarly friendly and invited me to sit in a nearby chair--a bit unusual, since we had never met. But I sat, and we began to talk a bit. Meanwhile, Sandy wondered what had happened to me, as I hadn't even begun to set up the coach. She eventually came looking for me, was drawn into the conversation, and our friendship has blossomed ever since. Steve and Jackie even switched their planned purchase of a new fifth wheel to buying a Phaeton motorhome, based on what they saw and liked about Phannie. 

There are similar stories about dozens of RV friends we've made, and that's part of the mystique, I suppose, of this type of living. We became friends with Dave and Janice, for example, in Idaho, of all places--merely by their recognizing through RVillage that we were both Texans in the same RV park. We met, the chemistry was right, and now we're friends forever.

I can't mention all the stories here, but there are many similar ones. This phenomenon--of RVers being some of the nicest people we've ever met--has been an unexpected benefit that, in our view, eclipses the grandness of all we have seen and experienced in our travels.

We are staying here until we can get back into Thousand Trails in Conroe. Most of the parks seem to be quite full these days, and reservations are required far ahead in some cases. After our three-week stay there, who knows? We've not been hobbled like this before, so we're sort of making it up as we go along.

Thanks for reading--more later!

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, 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? 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:

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