Friday, December 26, 2008

One Year on the Road

Yes, it was one year ago today that we left San Jose, California and as I wrote then “Today truly was the first day of the rest of our lives”. Where has the time gone? It doesn’t seem like we have been on the road a whole year. Yet we have been to so many places and done so much it seems like it has been longer than a year.

So, how has life on the road been? Incredible!  As I wrote earlier, we have travelled 25,000 miles, visited 17 states, 5 Canadian provinces, and 14 national parks. We couldn’t begin to tell you how many national monuments, museums or historic sites we have seen!  We have had the opportunity to visit places we have always said we would go to “someday”. Like: Carlsbad Caverns, Mesa Verde, Arches and Canyonlands National parks. We have visited some wonderful places that we never knew existed, like: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument and the “Valley of the Gods”. We also were able to revisit some places we had not been to for many years, like Banff and Jasper National Parks. Above all we were able to fulfill our dream of spending the entire summer in Alaska and to explore the Yukon.

From our very first night on the road, when we met Jim and Ellie Meacham , we have met so many wonderful people; way too many to list them all. We have met in “real time” several bloggers whose blogs we follow. Many people that we have had conversations with through forums and emails and an incredible number of people along the way that we now stay in contact with. Part of the year we travelled with our friends Fred and Jo Wishine and met up with them several times when not traveling together.

No doubt many of you are wondering:  where is the best place you have been? There is no “best” place. If you have been following the blog and seen the 1,000s of pictures that Kathy has taken, you know that America and Canada are extraordinarily beautiful countries. We really enjoyed staying in Homer, Alaska for three weeks, our two weeks in Fairbanks, Alaska, the Williwaw Forest Service campground near Portage Glacier in Alaska, the two weeks at West Yellowstone in the snow, Jasper National Park both on our way to and from Alaska and Monument Valley even if it was windy. The worst place we stayed had to be the RV Park outside Aurora, Illinois.  It was the only RV Park near our son’s home! There we lost power everyday and water about every other day.

We have had many wonderful adventures and tours during this past year, but the most outlandish thing we did was the flight seeing tour of the summit of Mount McKinley! At 20,000 feet and only 2 miles from the summit; it was something that we didn’t even know was possible!

We did a “best guess” budget for the year based on what we had read on various blogs and RV forums. However, everyone has differences in lifestyle and travel style.  No one could have guessed that diesel fuel would be so high this year. The highest we paid was $6.34 a gallon in Dawson City, Yukon and the lowest was $2.29 a gallon in Morgan Hill, California this past week. From previous trips we knew that everything is more expensive in Alaska and Canada. Alaska and the Yukon due to the shipping costs  and all of Canada due the high taxes.

For our Birding Year we ended up with 245 species and 12 life birds. Neither is close to a record year for us and given all of the miles we travelled I am surprised we didn’t see more species and life birds.

Our first year general impressions include: both retirement and fulltime RV are actually better than we had expected, it’s great to never wake to an alarm clock, and fantastic to have the time to extend our stay whenever we like. Even with all of this time we don’t get as much exercise as we expected, the days fly by and there is still is always something that needs to be done. As Californians we expect the weather to be perfect every day, but in the rest of the US and Canada it RAINS and SNOWS even in the summer.

Our plans for year 2 is to tour the eastern half of America and possible visit eastern Canada as well. We let the weather decide where we go and how we get there. Hopefully we will get in more birding and astronomy during year 2 than we did in year 1.

In closing, we would like to thank you all for following our travels and we look forward to meeting more of you this coming year.

Fulltime RVing truly is “a wonderful life”.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

To all of our family, friends and blog readers:



Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How are you and where are you?

Since it has been almost a month since our last blog entry we have gotten a few inquiries asking if we are okay and a few asking where we are. First we are both fine and secondly we are in our former hometown of San Jose, California. We have been very busy getting our annual doctor and dentist checkups taken care of and visiting family and friends. We have had something going on every day since we have been back.

To bring you up to date on our travels, both Kathy and I have sisters that live in the greater Los Angeles area between I-5 and California Highway 14.  There aren’t many choices of RV Parks near there, but the closest one to them was only 50 miles off of our route back toward San Jose. We decided to make a small detour to visit with them for a few days. I wrote back on January 4th that while we were staying at this RV Park “the wind started to come up and the wind got stronger and colder all night.” This time the wind blew day and night from the moment we arrived until we left. However it wasn’t cold, this was the Santa Anna wind that comes off the desert and causes the fierce wildfires that are all too common in Southern California. We were there during the recent Sylmar, Newhall Pass and Freeway Complex fires. We were not close enough to be in any danger, but we could see the smoke from the fires during the day and the flames at night.

After a nice visit with our sisters we decided it was time for an ocean “fix”. It had been three months since we were last at the ocean back in Homer, Alaska. We decided to go to Morro Bay, California,  it is on California’s central coast north of San Luis Obispo. One of the best kept secrets of California are the coastal areas in the fall. There is usually less fog than in the summer months, the days are surprisingly warm and the crowds are gone.  We picked the Morro Dunes RV Park for our stay. The park was less than half full and is just across the road from the beach and Morro Rock.

Morro Bay is a typical California beach town with the usual string of motels, galleries, restaurants and curio shops. We did the obligatory stroll on the waterfront. Visited the galleries, curio shops and ate at the Great American Fish Company.  

Raider loves to run on sandy beaches and with the weather so nice he got two very long beach walks each day. He would run too exhaustion and then need to sleep until time for the next beach walk. 

After a great week in Morro Bay we had an uneventful trip to San Jose. We are staying at the Coyote Valley RV Resort where our adventure started 11 months ago. In those 11 months we have travelled 25,000 miles, visited 17 states, 5 Canadian provinces, gone to 14 national parks and spent $7,000 on diesel fuel. We will be here until just after Christmas and then back on the road for a new adventure in 2009.

Morro Bay slideshow

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pahrump, Nevada and Death Valley

More than a week since a blog posting! What can I say, except that I have been taking this retirement thing to heart and relaxing.

Pair A Dice COOP RV Park

We are members of the Escapees RV Club. It was founded by and for fulltime RVer’s more than 30 years ago. They have all kinds of information on the fulltime RV life style and were invaluable as we planned our new life. They do our mail forwarding. They also own 8 RV Parks for members scattered from Florida to Arizona. When they started building these parks there was a desire to speed up the process of adding parks, but they could only do so much and only had so much capital. Club members came forward with the idea of Escapee CO-OP Parks. These parks would be built and owned by groups of Escapee members that would make their sites available to other Escapee members when they were not in use by the original owners. There are 11 of these parks from Washington to Florida. Both the Escapee owned and CO-OP Parks are much nicer and cheaper than the typical commercial RV Park. After we left Kingman we went to our first CO-OP Park located in Pahrump, Nevada. Pahrump is about half way between Las Vegas and Death Valley or about 60 miles from each. The Pair A Dice CO-OP RV Park is one of the nicest parks we have been to and is in a very quiet area. We came here to relax for a few days and have ended up staying for 10 days. Everyone here is very friendly. It usually takes us an hour to do Raider’s morning walk, because everyone wants to pet him and take time to chat.

The town of Pahrump is spread out across a typical Nevada desert valley with some great views. The area has limited shopping (Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Albertsons) and 5 small casinos. Unfortunately, all of the casinos are very smoky and not somewhere we would want to spend any time.

Ash Meadow National Wildlife Refuge

A little more than half way between Pahrump and Death Valley is the Ash Meadow National Wildlife Refuge.

This refuge was created to protect Desert Pupfish. These fish are about the size of guppies and live in various small pools in this part of Nevada and California. Each pool has its very own distinct species of Pup Fish and all are endangered.

Although the refuge was created to protect the Pup Fish it also protects all of the other desert species in the adjacent area and with the pools make up a good birding area for desert birds such as Phainopepla, Gambel Quail, and Gold Finches.

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Death Valley

Death Valley is truly a unique place. The valley’s lowest point is 282 feet below sea level (and the lowest point in North America), but its highest peak is over 11,000 feet and both can be seen in the same frame from Dante’s View. The hills in Death Valley are so barren that not even weeds can grow on them. It had been 34 years since Kathy and I had been to Death Valley and happy to say that it hasn’t changed at all. Death Valley covers 3,000 square miles; it’s all time high temperature was 134 degrees and it regularly hits 120 in the summer. In the winter and spring it can get down to freezing on the valley floor with deep snow on the high peaks. During the prime visitation seasons of fall and spring it also gets thousands of RVs.

On our day trip to Death Valley we even found a few roads that we had not been on before and our total mileage for the day was 230 miles. The weather was outstanding in the high 70s and as you can beautiful blue skies.

Below are just some of the pictures Kathy took while we were at Death Valley; for more pictures click on: Additional Pictures of Death Valley

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Grand Canyon Caverns & Route 66

After our last posting we spent two more days at Bosque Birdwatcher RV Park. The days remained great, but the nights were dropping in to the low 30s. Each day we saw large V’s of Sandhill Cranes, Ross’s and Snow Geese in migration. We stopped by on the last evening to visit the ponds on the refuge for the sundown “Fly in” of the cranes and the “Fly Out” of the geese. The geese take off to forage in the nearby corn fields during the night, while the cranes to roost the night in the refuge. There was lots of honking when the geese finally decided to leave.

One thing we forgot to mention in our last posting was the Socorro Springs Brewing Company. They have really good wood oven pizza and good beer. It makes it into our top 5 brew pub list.

As we were leaving Bosque Birdwatcher RV Park, we got a call from our mail forwarding service that our absentee ballots were in our mail box and that they had to be back in Texas by Election Day. So we had them overnight via FedEx our ballots to Gallup, New Mexico, our next stop. The RV Park in Gallup was conveniently located between I-40 and a very busy train track. It was a nice park but noisy. The overnight temperatures dropped into the 20s!

For our next stop we picked an RV park 5 miles outside of Williams, Arizona. No Interstate and no railroad tracks nearby. Although this RV Park is open year round we were their only customers. Their main building had burnt down last year and they are just rebuilding it. They have no amenities at all and no full hookup sites, just water and electric. Also they have red volcanic rock down in place of gravel, which hurt Raider’s feet so he didn't want to go outside at all. It was very quiet though! Unfortunately it was also overpriced! We moved on after one night.

Next we went to Grand Canyon Caverns on old route 66. It is 25 miles off of I-40. The area was bypassed when I-40 was built. The 84 miles from Seligman to Kingman is the longest stretch of old route 66 still in use.

I went to Grand Canyon Caverns when I was 12 years old and it is the first cavern I was ever in. I remembered very little about the cavern or the tour. It is different from the other caverns we visited, because it is now and always was a "dry" cavern, so there aren't any stalactites or stalagmites. It has mostly very delicate formations and crystals. It is called a “dry” cavern because it never had water running through it. It was a good tour and there were only 6 people on the tour.

After the Grand Canyon Caverns tour we went to an RV Park just outside of Kingman, Arizona. We have dropped about 3,500 feet in elevation since we left Williams so, it is much warmer here. Last night's low was 60 degrees, much better than the 20’s and low 30’s we have had lately.

Bosque del Apache slideshow part 2

Grand Canyon Caverns and Route 66 slideshow

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge – New Mexico

Our trip from Clovis to Socorro, New Mexico was along US 60, a road that could qualify as one of the “loneliest” roads in America. There are only a very few towns and most of them have more buildings boarded up than occupied. The trip is 250 miles of mostly flat arid land. 

Just before meeting I-25 the road drops into the Rio Grande Valley of Central New Mexico. It is still arid just not quite as flat. Our destination was the Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park. How cool is that: an Rv Park that actually has Bird Watching as part of its name. In reality it is just a very large gravel lot with hookups. However, after our trip to Alaska we consider anywhere where the power stays on and the water works all day as good. The owners are real friendly and give you choices of sites to stay depending on which direction is your preference. Full hookups at $20 a night is a good deal! Plus it is so quiet. After being near the highways at the previous campgrounds, this was a very welcomed amenity!

The area around the RV Park is miles off of the main highway and very quiet. The area around the RV Park is typical of rural New Mexico, mostly arid land with an occasional farm. The real beauty of the RV Park is that it is just a few miles from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is as their website says “One of the Premier Birding and Wildlife Refuges in the World” Friends of the Bosque. The wildlife refuge was established in 1939 and is over 57,000 acres. It is the winter home to 25,000 Sandhill Cranes and over 20,000 Ross’s and Snow Geese. Every November they have a Festival of the Cranes. This major birding event attracts 8,000 to 9,000 birders each year and has had just about ever famous birder for the last 20 years as the keynote speaker at one time or another. As usual for us our timing is off and we won’t be here for the festival and most of the Sandhill Cranes and Ross’s and Snow Geese have yet to arrive. However, they have started to arrive so that although we haven’t seen cranes and geese in the thousands or tens of thousands we have seen them in the hundreds. We have seen waves of cranes and geese flying over in huge V formations. As with all wildlife refuges there are many other species of birds than just the species that the refuge was setup to protect. In our first two days of birding we saw 38 species on the refuge. The largest number of “other” species was various ducks. Our year list is now up to 244 species.

Western Grebe

Snow Geese

Sandhill Cranes

New Mexico is also noted for their very dark skies. There are few cities nearby and therefore there is little or no night time light pollution. We took advantage of this and did some star gazing. It is the first time we have had an opportunity to use our telescopes since we have been on the road. Since it had been so long since we used our astronomy equipment pretty much everything that uses a battery needed a new one and we had forgotten how to use some of it. Also we were very rusty at finding our way around the night sky. All that being said we had a nice time tracking down star clusters and a few galaxies. (Sorry but we don’t have any pictures from our astronomy session)

One final picture of fall in New Mexico

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Texas Panhandle and Palo Duro Canyon

Our trip across the rest of Missouri and Oklahoma was very nice and uneventful. The weather was warm and clear. The scenery was mostly farms with either flat or rolling fields. In Oklahoma the roads from the Missouri border to just past Oklahoma City are toll roads. It is always fun trying to get close enough to the toll booth to pay the outrageous fare ($8.50 at 2 toll booths and $2 at 2 others), but in Oklahoma City the booths are not manned. You need exact change, as in coins and you throw it in a basket. This can be a problem if you don’t know in advance that you need exact change or how much they are going to charge you for the truck and the trailer. Also the length between toll booths and number of toll booths has no reason to them. From the Missouri border to Tulsa there is only one toll booth, but the much smaller bypass around Oklahoma City had 4 toll booths! We didn’t have any change, nor did their change machine work, for the last unmanned toll booth, so we had to just drive through and will wait for a bill or a ticket in the mail.

Our route since we have left the Chicago area has paralleled the famous Route 66. Every town has a Route 66 museum and the main business area is still Route 66. One of the unforgettable features of Route 66 is on the Will Rogers Turnpike near Tulsa. It is a restaurant that spans the highway.  Both Kathy and I remember it from family cross country trips in the 60s. I am sure that everyone that past this way as a child remembers it as well. Kathy remembers it as being a Howard Johnson sit down restaurant and I remember it as a more of a cafeteria. No doubt it has changed hands many times over the years, but today it is like all restaurants on the toll road, it is a McDonald’s.

Another unforgettable place on the old Route 66 that is still there is the Big Texan Steakranch. Is has billboards for several states before you get there that they have a free 72 ounce steak. The only catch is you have to eat the entire meal (which also includes a bread roll with butter, potato, ranch beans, shrimp cocktail, and salad) in less than one hour  That is a four and half pound steak. Neither of us thought we wanted to give it a try.

Our objective was Palo Duro Canyon State Park just south of Amarillo, Texas. We know several RVers that have stayed there and they all agreed we had to see it. Apparently, we picked a bad time to come. The weekend we arrived Palo Duro Canyon hosted a series of endurance races: 20K, 40K and 50 miles. I may have been dumb enough to run a marathon in my 30’s, but 50 miles on dirt trails in 78 degree heat sounds like too much. The next weekend they have a Palo Duro Canyon balloon festival: “Pirates of the Canyon Balloon Liftoff”. Their write-up says they had over 1,100 cars come into the park for last year’s balloon event. I am sure it would be pretty exciting to see, however I don't see how they can launch with all of the wind they have. Also the event starts TWO HOURS before sunrise!  Sunrise is at 8:02 AM.

We stayed at an RV park just outside of Canyon, Texas, about 12 miles from Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The first order of business was to get groceries. This is when we came across a new phenomena for us: a “dry county”. We have been to other places where the grocery stores don’t sell beer, but in Canyon, Texas there is no place to buy any kind of alcohol. We found out that there is nowhere to buy liquor in the 112 miles between Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas. We were also told that much of north Texas is like this. This was odd because several parts of Texas have Drive-Through Liquor Stores! One extreme to another!

Although we call ourselves the BirdingRVers, about the only birding we have done lately has been on Raider’s walks or as we drive down the highway. While staying in Canyon we drove a few miles to Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  Buffalo Lake NWR covers over 7,600 acres, has recorded over 300 bird species and is a major stop for migrating birds. However, the day we were there is was very windy and we saw less than a dozen species. We didn’t add anything to our year list, but it was nice to be out birding.

When we checked into the RV Park, the two ladies behind the counter said “you really should go see the museum while you are here”. The very nice lady who had the neighboring RV site said “you really should go see the museum while you are here”.  We, of course, said “what museum?” Canyon is home to West Texas A&M and on the corner of their campus they have the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum the “largest history museum in Texas”. This really is a quite remarkable museum with exhibits that cover pre-Columbian native culture to the history and modern day farming and oil producing methods. We wandered the museum for 3 and ½ hours, by then our legs were giving out. Unlike the Royal Tyrrell Museum back in Drumheller, Alberta,  the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum does not have a food court where you can have lunch and rest for a bit.

Finally, on Monday the runners had left Palo Duro Canyon State park and the only ones there were retired people like us. This part of Texas is flat plains. You can see the end of the earth in any direction. As you drive toward Palo Canyon State Park you suddenly come to a canyon that is 120 miles long and up to 20 miles wide at the widest place. They refer to it as “the Grand Canyon of Texas”. The park does not include the entire canyon but does cover over 26,000 acres of the northern part of the canyon. Palo Duro Canyon has a long history of use by Native Americans and in the late 1800’s a ranch supported 100,000 head of cattle. In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corp built the roads and buildings that are still in use today.

The canyon provided some protection from the strong winds blowing above the rim. So the weather was warm with a little breeze for the most part. This Texas State Park allows dogs everywhere, except in the buildings, including the trails. We stopped for a little birding, a picnic and for a couple of short walks at some of the turn outs. It may have been due to the wind not being as strong in the canyon, but for some reason this was the birdiest spot we have been for awhile. We saw several bird species including our first Cardinals for quite some time. We added Golden-fronted Woodpecker to our year list, which brings the year list to 241. All of the time we were in the canyon we saw huge formations of Sandhill Cranes flying west, circling and catching the thermals, calling out that prehistoric-sounding call, so they are definitely migrating. We hope their flight takes them to Bosque del Apache in central New Mexico near Socorro, our next destination. It is a National Wildlife Refuge and they have the Festival of the Cranes in the middle of November, to celebrate their arrival.

Our next stop was Tire Country in Farwell, Texas to see our friend Lonnie Bussey. We came to Farwell in March to have Lonnie replace our trailer tires before the long trip to Alaska. This time we came back to make sure that we hadn’t broken the springs, axles, etc. on the rough roads. We also had Lonnie replace the tires on the truck. We have driven an unbelievable 20,000 mile since we were at Tire Country in March!

BirdingRVers slide show