2 More National Parks!

November 2017

After a road weary fall, we decided to head to the Texas coast. We loved our stay there last year for Thanksgiving and two weeks at the National Seashore sounded like just the break we needed. We also wanted to check out some RV casitas we’ve been researching as an option for a winter base. Plus, there was a week of nice weather in the forecast. This meant we could hit up two more national parks, Guadelupe and Carlsbad, that we haven’t been able to visit because of their high elevation.

We arrived at Guadelupe Mountains National Park on November 3rd. The RV camping is basically spots in the parking lot so nothing special, but it put us right in the middle of the views. Guadelupe is a “desert meets mountains” sort of place so you have yucca and cactus alongside juniper and pine.

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You can see our shiny trailer parked in the “camping” area.

This parking lot was also the major trailhead so we saw a lot of backpackers getting their permits and heading out for multi-night treks. As the weather turned chillier and stormier over the weekend we were glad to be snug in our trailer!

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Lucky for us we picked a beautiful morning to hike to Devil’s Hall. Being in the desert we’ve missed out on fall colors so it was a treat to see so much beautiful color on the trees along the way.

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Before you get to Devil’s Hall You have to navigate the Devil’s Staircase.

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I’m about half way up it here. It was even trickier coming back down.  🙂 The hall is a narrow passage between two cliffs of layered stone. It was pretty cool.

The color was just as amazing on our way back.

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We also visited a couple of sights in the park. There are ruins of a Butterfield Overland Mail Stagecoach Stop, the highest on the route at 5,534 feet. Butterfield was the first transcontinental mail service. The coaches ran round the clock, covering the 2800 miles in 25 days or less. The stations were important to provide food and fresh horses.

We walked around the Frijole Ranch. The buildings weren’t open the day we were there, but we peered in the windows. The red building was once the schoolhouse. They also had an amazing spring-fed irrigation system that watered an orchard.

Guadelupe and Carlsbad are about 45 miles apart so we could have driven to the caverns, but we opted to move our trailer to a boondocking spot closer to the park.

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By now you should know that caves are not really my thing, but I have to say Carlsbad blew me away. I had researched the options and found you could hike through the Natural Opening and down into the cave at your own pace. It didn’t look like there were any tight spaces so I thought I’d be fine and I was.

Turns out I was too enthralled by all the cool cave formations to feel claustrophobic, plus the rooms are huge!

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Every turn brought another amazing view.

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Often times it felt like we were on the set of Star Trek landing on a distant planet.

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After walking the paved trail from the Natural Entrance, you end up 800 feet below the surface in the Big Room, which has a 1.25 mile loop trail.

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This room is gigantic, the size of 14 football fields, and filled with formations.

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By the end we were on overload and happy to take the elevator back up 38 floors to the surface.

If you only visit one cave in your lifetime, this is the one. What an amazing journey into a strange underground world. Even though I’m not a cave person I loved it. Although I do think I’ve now fulfilled all my cave needs for a lifetime. 🙂

Well that brings our grand total to 15 National Parks!

Hopping Around Arizona

I can’t believe it’s been almost 3 months since I’ve posted. I knew I was behind, but I didn’t realize it was that bad. A little while back a fellow RV blogger (watsonswander.com) posted about her struggles to keep updated on her blog and I could totally relate. I just haven’t felt like writing. Maybe it’s because we haven’t been to a lot of new places, or I’ve been kinda road weary from our busy fall, or maybe because a lot of times I feel like I send these blogs out into the online universe and don’t really know if anyone is reading them. Well, that’s not totally true. I know my mom is reading 🙂 and I like having a record of our travels, so here comes some catching up.

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Nice large site at Gilbert Ray

After our mid-October stay at Lost Dutchman State Park just north of Phoenix, we returned to the SKP Coop in Benson AZ. We were headed to an Airstream Rally in New Mexico, but realized we were both worn out and just needed to find a spot to lay low for a bit. With one of our favorite parks only an hour away we headed back to Tucson and spent a few days among the saguaros at Gilbert Ray Campground. Its so peaceful among the saguaros and it was just what we needed.

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The sunsets are always amazing!

We lucked into a few nights at Dead Horse Ranch State Park just outside Sedona. While the park itself was nothing spectacular, the surrounding area is amazing.

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Our site at Dead Horse Ranch

We took a long drive down dirt roads scoping out some of the boondocking in the area and enjoying the views.

We walked through downtown reading about the history of the area…

enjoyed tamales at a cute little spot…

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Our lunch at Tamaliza was delicious!

and played the giant xylophone.

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Everywhere you turned there were great views of the red rocks. This is an area that definitely requires a return visit. There is so much to explore and we didn’t even get to experience any of the great hiking.

Next up was a stay at a park many folks have recommended, Catalina State Park, just north of Tucson. While we enjoyed the views and the proximity to amenities, our campsite was not so appealing with it’s setting among the sandy scrub.

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If you stood out on the road you could see the beautiful view and not see the major ant highway crossing our site. 🙂

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Hiking in Catalina State Park

I guess we can’t complain too much when we’re enjoying so much sunny weather.

After Catalina we were headed east (more on that next time) so ended up at the Benson SKP park again to catch up on laundry. After all, it had been two weeks. With four different stops in that time I don’t think we did anything to help our road weariness, but we’re planning for some down time soon.

More New Mexico Adventures

Traveling further south we stopped for a few nights at City of Rocks State Park. It’s kinda strange because you are driving through grasslands and fields and then these rocks just pop up out of nowhere.

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There are lots of cool rock formations to climb on and around.

 

You can camp right up among the rocks, but we chose the hook-up sites and had this great view of the rocks from our site.

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There were both cottontails and jackrabbits all over the campground.

One afternoon I took my bike on the trail that loops the campground.

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The trail was longer and hillier than it looked and I had forgotten we were still at a high elevation and it was nearly 90 degrees so I very nearly didn’t make it back. Boy that dry desert air really takes it out of you! Took me a couple of days to recoup.

We made a visit to Silver City which was supposed to have lots of cool artist shops, but most were closed on Tuesday. The few we did find had interesting stuff.

We had more great evening views.

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Sadly we had to leave New Mexico and head toward Phoenix so I could fly to Boise for my nephew’s wedding. On the way we stopped in Benson AZ at an Escapees Park. We love the Escapees parks for their friendly folks, reasonable rates, and especially their clean, cheap laundry facilities! This one had great desert views and we enjoyed the sunny weather.

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There were a couple of folks who had train displays. 

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On our way to Phoenix we needed a place to stop for lunch. Luckily we happened upon the Casa Grande National Monument. It was a great stop for lunch and a little exploration.

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Outside Phoenix we stayed at Lost Dutchmen State Park. We had heard so many good things about this park that we were disappointed when our spot turned out to be in a crowded loop. Riding through the campground we found other nicer spots but none were open for the 9 days we were staying. Luckily during the week it was quieter and less crowded.

Still the views of the Superstition Mountains as they changed in the evening light were great. While Chuck enjoyed those and some 90 degree days, I flew to Boise for highs in the 50s and a great visit with family.

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The happy couple cutting the cake that my niece baked for them. 
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I got to hang out with our beautiful daughters.
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A family photo at the wedding.

So after Chuck’s week of projects around the trailer and my busy week with family, it’s time to make some decisions about where we head next. There are so many possibilities that sometimes it can be daunting. We’ve had such a busy month that I think we need a few days to relax before we decide.

Valley of Fires

After Taos, we headed to Valley of Fires Recreation Area in Carrizozo. Here we were greeted by stunning views, a walk through black lava fields, and lots of wind. This place is definitely worth a stop, even if you just walk the path through the lava field.

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From the hilltop observation point you can see our trailer with the lava fields to the left.
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Looking south from the start of the lava trail toward the observation hill.
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These ropey strands of lava rock have a special Hawaiian name that I can’t remember. 🙂

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Looking back up from the trail you can see out great spot on the ridge. 
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The clouds and sun made for dramatic views.
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We had views of the lava field right out our windows!
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The clouds made for a spectacular sunset!

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Since we had been moving around quite a bit we opted to stay in our awesome site instead of moving closer to the other places we wanted to explore. This meant about an hour’s drive to White Sands National Monument but it was a beautiful day so it wasn’t bad.

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This is one of those beautiful national park buildings. It was built by the WPA in the late 1930s from adobe bricks covered with stucco.

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After a few miles you are driving right on the sand.

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We enjoyed walking barefoot in the dunes. The sand is super soft and it was cool and damp even though it was around 80 degrees out.

Another day we drove 45 minutes to Three Rivers Petroglyph Recreation Site. They have over 21,000 petroglyphs that were chipped into the rock over 600 years ago. They are so cool that it took us forever to hike the 1.5 mile trail. By the time we came back down we were the only car left in the parking lot!

This was such a cool area that we will have to come back. After all we missed the Smokey the Bear Museum and gravesite. Yes, there was an actual Smokey the Bear and he was from New Mexico. Who knew?

 

A few days in Taos

No matter how hard I try it seems like I’m only getting further behind on the blog. So in a last ditch effort to catch up I posted two blogs last week and now I’m blowing through the last month with multiple posts today.

We arrived in New Mexico to cooler, cloudy weather in the mountains north of Taos. We stayed a couple of nights at Eagle’s Nest State Park, part of New Mexico’s Enchanted Loop. There was some pretty mountain scenery heading through the pass and nice views from our campsite, but we didn’t do much exploring. At over 8,000 feet in elevation it was cooler than we wanted so we headed to the lower elevation of Taos at 6,900 feet.

The Taos Valley RV Park was kinda quirky and in need of some attention, but it got us close to the sights.

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Your neighbor pulls in from the opposite direction so their door faces you and you share the center strip. Behind the little fence is their table. It’s a little odd.

We walked on the Rio Grande Bridge, the most beautiful steel bridge according to the sign, in Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. I had never seen crisis hotline phones out on a bridge, but it makes sense. We even spotted a big horn sheep.

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Afterwards we stopped at Taos Brewing Company for some food and beer. We found the coolest old truck in their parking lot. Someone is also putting in a collection of old trailers for overnight rentals. I would have loved to peek inside in all of them.

Another day we explored the Taos Pueblo. I expected the pueblo to have plaques explaining the history, but I guess you have to take a tour to get information, which we weren’t keen on doing. Still it was a photographer’s dream to just wander around.

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We walked around Taos’ central square but found it a bit touristy. We preferred the metal sculptures and Mexican imported goods at a shop on the outskirts of town. We also found a cool local t-shirt shop.

This has been our first stay in New Mexico and it’s left me excited to see more.

 

KY to OH to KS to OK

September 6 – 21, 2017

Even though it’s only been a few weeks since we left Ohio, it seems like a blur. We’ve made so many stops that it’s hard to keep them straight in my mind. So I’ll try my best to lay it out.

Originally we had planned to head to Shenandoah National Park and then onto the Outer Banks of North Carolina and down the coast into Florida for the winter. With Hurricane Irma churning out at sea we decided to head toward Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky instead. We figured we could re-evaluate after we had a better idea of what Irma would do and either head back toward Virginia or make a new plan. So off to Kentucky we drove.

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First stop Big Bone Lick State Park. We didn’t see much of the park because we only spent one night, but we did find that not one spot was level. There was mini-golf and a pool (closed for the season) so I’m sure this place is popular with families. Since the campground is up a very steep hill we didn’t even make the trek down to check out the lake.

Continuing on Chuck found the driving tough. The roads were in bad shape and crowded with semi trucks. I think Louisville must be a big shipping hub because the airport was filled with UPS cargo planes.

When we made it to Mammoth Cave we found a mostly empty campground. The ranger recommended a pull through spot with some sun for our solar and we got set up and rode our bikes down to the visitor’s center. There we found interesting exhibits about the formation and history of the caves and picked up information about cave tours that are friendly to those of us who are clautrophobic. 😉

On Friday we rode the gravel trail through the woods to a pond where I had my first ever sighting of actual frogs jumping on lily pads. Sorry no photo. On Saturday they have an open cave tour where you can go at your own pace which sounded perfect to me. It started at the cave’s historic entrance.

 

A nice big opening leading down a wide hallway into a massive room. This is just my style. While it was warm outside it was around 50 degrees in the cave. In fact you could feel a good breeze at the opening and in the morning there is often fog emerging from the cave. This large entrance goes about 1/4 mile into the cave with smaller passageways branching off.

 

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The hallway coming in
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In the middle are remains of old salt peter mining operations. On the right are memorials to fallen soldiers from WWI. 
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Proof I made it in the cave.
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The end of the big room.

While the caves were cool, above ground this was another woodsy, dark park. So we were glad to think about making our way somewhere with open, sunny skies. With Hurricane Irma still looming ominously off Florida’s coast we decided to ditch any hopes we had of staying east this fall and winter. Instead we set a course to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

Stopping overnight in Tennessee, we found a site at Pin Oak Campground that was level enough to stay hitched up. That night the rains, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, moved in. I heard a drip in the night, but told myself it was outside and went back to sleep. In the morning we awoke to a huge puddle of water on our table and floor. The new skylight was leaking in a big way. Chuck removed the interior frame and water came pouring out. Water was running behind our aluminum walls and dripping out at the seams.

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Drips coming down from each screw and the wood framing is soaked.

It was a no-brainer to turn ourselves around and head back the way we had come, covering the 500 miles back to the factory in one very long driving day. Luckily the rain let off after a bit so we got some relief, but about 1/2 hour outside Jackson Center it started raining again. So after finding a spot we got to work tying a tarp over the skylight and turned on the dehumidifier to try to dry things out.

They couldn’t squeeze us in the next day, but did get us taken care of the following day. So more time spent hanging out at the factory. Not so bad as I do love it there. It’s sort of comforting and calming to be surrounded by lots of other Airstream trailers. We did more laundry, chatted with other folks who were there getting service, and found a few more things we needed in the Airstream store. 🙂

The most exciting part was meeting Brian and Leigh, fellow Airstream full-timers who started Campendium, a website with reviews and information about campgrounds. We discovered Campendium before we left Seattle, and it has been our go to source for finding places to camp, including those great boondocking spots. Chuck posts reviews of every place we stay on the site and was even a beta tester of their new app so it was so fun to meet them in person. So there was some good that came out of this return trip to Ohio!

We also decided to head straight for the southwest and skip Hot Springs. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to drive down crowded, bumpy I-75, I-71, and I-65 again. Instead we headed for New Mexico with a short stop in Wichita, KS for a visit with Chuck’s brother.

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Stop 1 – Lincoln Trail State Park, IL for one buggy, humid night. Thankfully we had hook-ups!

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Notice how high the front of the trailer is!

Stop 2 – Cottonwoods RV Park, Columbia, MO for one cramped night where we had to unhitch to get level.

Stop 3 – USI RV Park, Wichita, KS for 3 nights and a nice visit with family.

Stop 4 – Corral Drive-In RV Park, Guymon, OK. Finally some wide open views, but also very windy. This place is the best idea ever! Over a year ago Chuck and I said that someday we should buy an old drive-in movie theater and convert it to an RV park where you could watch movies. Well, someone did just that in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. Too bad they only show movies in the summer. It would have been so cool to watch one from our site!

Next stop, New Mexico!

Back at the Factory

August 31 – September 5, 2017

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We really enjoyed our time here at the factory in June for the Alumapalooza rally. This time I wasn’t sure how we would like it without all the excitement of the rally. No need to worry, it was just as great this time around.

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Trailers waiting for service. They’ll be working overtime all winter long.

Airstream has a small camping area with full hook-ups called the Terraport. Our appointment was on Tuesday after Labor Day so we arrived on Thursday figuring we’d spend the holiday weekend in the terraport and skip the crowds at all the campgrounds.

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Our terraport spot

We picked a spot that had our windows looking out on the factory and it was fun to watch all the comings and goings—workers leaving at the end of their shifts, half-finished vans driving around, semis dropping off vans to be made into Airstream Interstates.

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Vans waiting to be turned into Airstream Interstates

The best was watching the steady parade of finished trailers leaving the lot. It was the end of the month so I’m sure they were trying to get as many out the door as possible. We’d watch pick-up trucks arrive, stop at the guard house to check in and then a little while later stop back at the guard house to check out, this time with a brand new trailer in tow. Amazing that this is how all those trailers get to the dealers, one pick-up at a time.

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Shiny trailers out every window!

Even with all the noise of the factory machinery, the train that goes through town, semis coming and going, and tractors hitching up and moving trailers (back-up beeps galore), it was a calming place for us to be. There just something about being where people are building beautiful, functional, portable living spaces by hand.

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Chassis for the new Atlas Motorhome

Friday morning our phone rang and the service advisor said they had a free technician and wanted to start us early. We quickly dressed and stowed everything, just in time for the tractor to arrive and pull our trailer into the service bay.

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Our trailer heading off for service

We went over all the work with the tech and then headed down to Dayton to grab lunch and run errands. We returned just before they towed our trailer back out to our spot in the terraport. The tech was proud to show us all he had finished up, including a new skylight replacing one that had cracked.

We spent the weekend relaxing, watching the always interesting parade of trucks in and out of the factory, and getting things done around the trailer. I had tried to find a local fair or event to visit, but had no luck.

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Airstream Lobby

On Monday, bright and early at 7am, the technician was back to pick up our trailer and finish up the work. Their work day is 7am – 3:30pm. We headed off for breakfast, did laundry in town, returned to spend a little time shopping in the Airstream store, and hang out in the nice lobby chatting with other folks there for service. By afternoon Joel had finished up all the work and returned our trailer to our spot ready for it’s next adventure!

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I have to admit I’m a little sad to leave this place but more parks are calling and the weather’s getting ready to turn so we must move on.