More of Ohio

After all the activity at Alumapalooza we needed a little time to recharge. Chuck found the perfect spot on the shores of Lake Erie at Maumee Bay Campground.

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Bunnies sniffing our fire pit.

This large park was peaceful and green, just what we needed. The sites had a semi-manicured garden sort of feel and there are lots of birds to watch. There was even a small laundry room on site so we were able to catch up.

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Can’t escape laundry!

We enjoyed a ride on one of the many bike trails out to views of the lake, but mostly we just relaxed and killed the tiny black ants that had found a path inside (our first invasion since we hit the road). Luckily there were just a few.

Before the weekend got underway we headed out to Stow, Ohio where a small city campground had first-come first-serve sites. There are no campgrounds at Cuyahoga Valley National Park and this was the closest option, plus at just $11 for electric hook-ups the price couldn’t be beat. It was a bit like camping in a city park, you know the kind with baseball fields and basketball courts, but served the purpose.

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There was no site post, but a neighbor assured us it was a site.

It was hard to tell exactly where the sites were because there were no defined parking pads, just a big grassy field dotted with trees and power posts randomly placed down the middle. Luckily one of the regulars helped us figure out the boundaries of the huge sites. It felt weird to drive right on the grass and park, but later when the park supervisor came through to collect our fee he said we were good. Even with the weird “camping next to a baseball field behind a neighborhood” vibe, it was convenient to Cuyahoga.

We made two trips into the park and we kept wondering how this got to be a national park. Most of it looked like many of the city parks in Seattle, with trees and greenery and a bike path next to the river. We could have been on the bike path back in Bothell—it looked exactly the same. I’m guessing that folks who aren’t from Seattle probably have a better appreciation for this park, but we did find a few cool things.

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Many folks take a train ride through the park, but we didn’t figure you would see anything different than the scenery we saw driving through so skipped it. We wished they had an option to ride a canal boat through the locks, that would have been cool! But I think much of the passageway is no longer deep enough for boat travel although if you had your own kayak you could float sections of it.

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This section of the canal is pretty shallow now.

We started our visit at the Boston Store Visitor Center. This restored 1836 building focuses on the craft of building canal boats which became a big industry in the area.

The boats were 14 feet wide and up to 80 feet long. They had to be able to float in just four feet of water. Some boats were for carrying goods and others for carrying passengers but all were pulled by teams of mules who walked along the towpath on the sides of the canal. Boats often carried an extra set of mules. Sometimes whole families lived on the boats and parents would tie young children with rope to the center of the boat so they couldn’t fall overboard.

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After that we walked the boardwalk to Brandywine Falls but skipped the loop trail as there really was nothing to see.

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Brandywine Falls

Then we headed over to the Ledges Trail and walked 1.5 miles of the trail and while the rock ledge formations were kinda cool, the trail made us think of Seattle.

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I think we had a tree just like that in our backyard, except it wasn’t on a rock ledge.
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Gotta love the pants tucked into socks look. A sign warned it was an especially bad year for ticks.
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Looks a lot like the northwest!
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A ranger told us we’d have a view of the whole southern section of the park. Just looks like treetops to me 🙂

On our last day we drove the scenic gorge Parkway and walked out to Bridal Veil Falls. After all the flat farmland in the midwest I’m not sure why we weren’t more excited to be in the trees, but after all our years in the Northwest I think we just yearn for a different kind of scenery.

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Bridal Veil Falls

After that we headed to the another visitor’s center.

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This one told the history of the canal system. I think this was the most interesting part of the park. Both Jefferson and Washington were proponents of building a national canal system back in the late 1700s and by 1840 there were over 3000 miles of canals in the US linking New York to New Orleans. The Ohio & Erie Canal (not to be confused with the Erie Canal in NY) opened in 1827 between Cleveland on Lake Erie and Akron. When finally finished in 1932 it was 308 miles long, with 146 locks and a rise of 1206 feet and connected to the Ohio River.

The canal became a major transportation artery for goods heading out of and into Ohio. On the outbound trip boats mostly carried farm products and raw goods like timber and coal and on the inbound trip they carried manufactured goods like nails and cloth. Before this everything had to be carted by horse and wagon, so most folks grew or made what they needed. The canal system led to a national economy. The canal system was short lived though. By the 1860s railroads were prominent and became the favored mode of transport. One interesting fact, President James Garfield was a canal boat worker as a teenager, driving the mules that pulled barges along the canal.

Since we were there on Saturday we got to see one of the original, hand-operated locks in action.

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Step 1: close the gates on the higher side (imagine a boat in there).
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Step 2: Open the wickets (little doors underwater) to let water through.
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Step 3: Once the water level goes down open the gates to let the boat through then close them.
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Step 4: Open the wickets on the other gate to fill the lock with water back up to the level of the canal.

I don’t think Cuyahoga will make the list of our favorite parks. It seems like a great  regional park. Supporting that is the fact that by far most of its visitors are locals who come to bike or jog along the river towpath, hike in the woods, or mountain bike (they had an impressive mtb trail system in the Gorge Parkway area). Still I was excited to put sticker number 11 on the map. Only 48 more parks to go!

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Jackson Center of the Universe

Imagine 135 Airstreams gathered amidst the hustle and bustle of the working Airstream factory. Throw in some BBQs, seminars, factory tours, music, happy hour prize drawings and you have Alumapalooza, a fun filled week of all things Airstream. Held every year at the mothership in Jackson Center, Ohio (this was the 8th one) this rally is one of the biggies for Airstream owners and it’s been on our bucket list for a while. We weren’t sure what to expect, but ended up having a great time.

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Are we there yet? Getting close…
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Definitely close…

We arrived Saturday of Memorial Day weekend for the “early bird” parking. This not only meant we didn’t have to fight the Memorial Day camping crowds, but it positioned us near the front of the field and gave us some time to settle in before the event began.

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Soon that field will be covered with Airstreams!

The organizers have this thing down. You are directed into your spot by volunteers who line up the shiny trailers in perfect rows, and while the field was a bit muddy we had no problems since our spot was level and slightly elevated. Our neighbors weren’t so lucky as their leveling blocks kept sinking into the mud. They said a few years ago it was so muddy they had to get tractors to pull the trailers out of the field at the end of the week. While we were treated to some heavy thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday nights, for the most part we had beautiful, albeit windy, weather the whole week and didn’t have that problem. Thanks goodness!

On Sunday we drove to nearby Dayton to visit the Dayton Aviation Historical Park. This site recounts the early days of Orville and Wilbur Wright in some of the very places where they worked, including one their bike shops (their shop had five different locations over time and one is preserved here). It was fascinating, especially since we plan to visit Kitty Hawk in the fall.

I loved the fact that they got their mechanical aptitude from their mother who invented toys for her children and things to help with the housework. Having attended college, unusual for a women of her time, she encouraged the boys in their intellectual interests and fostered an environment where their curiosity led to investigation. Later, this served them well as they would request information from the government on aeronautics and used models to test ideas for their airplane. The museum showed how important their bike building and repair were to their eventual success in flying too. Many of the parts on their airplane were modified bicycle parts.

Back in Jackson Center trailers kept arriving. By Tuesday, the official arrival day,  the field was full. It was fun to see all that shiny metal and we took walks through the field eyeing all the different models.

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Lots of shiny trailers reflecting the setting sun!
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An older model polished into a shiny beauty!
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If we had a motorhome it would have to be one of these, just like the Astronauts used!

As with any of these social events we are always a little apprehensive at first, feeling like the outsiders. Since we’re mostly home bodies it takes a bit to put ourselves out there, but with fellow Airstreamers there’s a quick ease that develops. After all you both have an affinity for these shiny things on wheels. The conversation usually starts with the details of your trailers (model, length, year), moves onto places to go in your trailer and just keeps flowing from there. It seems there’s no shortage of conversation once you get going.

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We enjoyed meeting Bruce and Denise, fellow full timers.

Each day there were several seminars. We attended sessions on proper hitching, changing a tire, tips on riveting from Airstream technicians (with an Airstream you will eventually have to rivet something—we’ve had a few rivets pop out), taking a trip to Alaska, maintaining your Zipdee awning, and so much more. Lots of good information that we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. Plus we made several trips to the Airstream store and came away with a few new shirts. 🙂

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Listening to the President of Airstream at happy hour one night.
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After 11 months on the road we had a few ideas to share at the manager’s product feedback session.
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Pilgrim performed at Open Mic night. They were part of Airstream’s Endless Caravan, traveling in an Airstream for 3 months giving free backyard concerts.

Daily happy hours meant door prizes, and we won one of the big ones, a free Zip Dee chair. Turned out that wasn’t the only luck we had during our week. The absolute highlight of our week was a private factory tour we won in a silent auction benefitting the local food bank. We toured the factory 10 years ago with our daughters on a trip to Ohio, and went on the regular tour early in the week, but this was a whole different experience.

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On the regular factory tour we had over 60 people with us.

It was phenominal. As Chuck says, we were both grinning ear to ear for the entire 3+ hours. Marion Slater, Director of Manufacturing graciously donated his time to take us on this comprehensive tour. He told us stories and answered our questions and let us peek in places the regular tour doesn’t go. Not once did he check the time or look at his phone. We were blown away by his graciousness with his time as well as his knowledge, pride in their product, and relationship with the production team.

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Private tour so much better!

Marion explained each step in the process. They begin with a chassis, add axles, wheels, water tanks, wrap the belly, and top it with a layer of Reflectix insulation (like shiny bubble wrap). At the same time another team is working on the body. A CNC machine routes the aluminum side panels which are tack riveted to the ribs and fit onto the plywood subfloor. Along with the end pieces these form a shell which is hoisted up and set on top of the chassis assembly. From there all the exterior pieces are attached, lights, vents, etc. and a team buck rivets every panel, one guy on the outside pushing the rivets in and another on the inside holding a metal buck tool which flattens the inside of the rivet. Marion let me step inside to see them in action. They can’t see or hear each other so they have to know how to work in sync and have a system of taps to communicate.

Once the outside shell is complete it is tested in a spray booth to make sure there are no leaks. Only 5 people in the company can clear a trailer to move past the water test, the 3 water test technicians, Marion, and another Director.

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Yes, every single Airstream goes through this water test.

Next is when the inside magic begins. Wiring is run, insulation made from recycled cotton goes in, the inside aluminum walls are riveted in place, flooring is laid down, furniture is scribed and fit into place, and appliances are installed. It’s a lot of work and they do it all. From making their own cabinets to sewing the curtains. It takes 4 days from start to finish and they make about 85 units a week. With the increased popularity of Airstreams in the last few years they expanded the factory and now employ over 800. We were really impressed with the quality (from the water test to the multiple QC checks on the line, and the final check at the end) and the fact that these trailers are still handmade. There are some machines to help, but no robotic arms or conveyor belts.

One of those machines is in the original building where they have been making Airstreams since 1952. This machine forms aluminum sheets into the curved end panels that give Airstreams their rounded look. Amazingly it’s the exact same machine they’ve been using since 1952 and it’s still operated by feel, no fancy electronics here.

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This one machine forms every curved end panel on every Airstream trailer.

We saw the Interstate (Class B van) production line and learned that they import Mercedes vans with all the top of the line safety and comfort features, including a stereo they rip out just to keep the wiring harness.

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The tour was quite thorough and after over 3 hours we ended up in the offices, which hide right above the production floor, and were surprised with an Airstream goodie bag. It was a great day and made the perfect early birthday present for Chuck!

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“To place the great wide world at your doorstep for you who yearn to travel with the comforts of home…” -Wally Byam  Sounds like he was talking about us!
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We never stopped grinning!

All in all it was a great week. We learned a lot, made new friends, enjoyed great weather, and had a good time. Kudos to R & B events who put forth a well organized event!

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The sun sets on Alumapalooza 8.

Next up for us is a short drive north to Cuyahoga National Park.

Ohio or Bust!

It has been a cold spring in the Northwest and we were hoping to escape to better weather as we made our way east to Ohio for the big rally at the Airstream factory. Unfortunately that didn’t happen but luckily we managed to mostly stay out of the snow. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Leaving Missoula we were barely 25 miles out of town before we got stuck in a 2 hour back-up, totally stopped, because of an accident that blocked eastbound I-90. We heard about the accident on the news just before we left, but knew were were heading westbound. They neglected to mention that the highway patrol was alternating traffic in the westbound lanes to let the eastbound cars get around as there are no other roads to get through this stretch. What a mess!

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You know it’s bad when people start getting out of their cars and chatting to pass the time!
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There’s a big line behind us too.

This was one of those times I was glad I could run back to grab food and use the restroom in the trailer!

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What did we do to pass the time? Watch Star Trek on the iPhone! 🙂

Luckily we hadn’t planned too long of a driving day and stopped for the night at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, a bit east of Butte. This was one of our stops last summer and back then it was sunny and warm. This time we awoke to big snowflakes coming down and skedaddled out of there before it started to stick.

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That rain turned to snow the next morning.

We hoped we could out drive the front, but it seemed like we just kept traveling with it.

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Yep, that’s snow on the hill…
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And snow flying past the window…
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And snow building up on the front of the Airstream.

Some days we’d drive all day and finally make it out of the storm only to have it catch up to us in the evening. The whole drive across the country is a blur of rainy highway and chilly nights. Bottom line: we will not be coming north this early in the future!

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A quick, chilly stop at Little Bighorn Battlefield, site of Custer’s Last Stand.
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That’s mile marker 553 on I-90 in Montana. Will we ever make it out of this state?
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Finally, made it to Wyoming.

We had planned to stop at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, but with the bad weather there was no point so we just stayed at a KOA near the freeway and kept driving. We did see lots of pronghorn antelope (like 100) through Wyoming and Western South Dakota which was kinda cool. We spent the next night in Chamberlain, SD at an overpriced Army COE campground (sorry no picture of that one). Finally after 4 days straight on the road we decided we needed a day to recuperate and stayed 2 nights in Sioux Falls, SD at a nice little campground in the middle of a neighborhood.

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Our spot at Big Sioux Recreation Area.

Even thought it was rainy and cool, we managed to see the falls. On a sunny day Falls Park looked like it would be a nice place to hang out and enjoy the trails, cafe and picnic areas. They even have music and a farmer’s market there in the summer.

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We also went to the biggest outdoor store I have ever seen, Scheels. This place was like it’s own mall with a ferris wheel inside, a mini bowling game called roller ball, video shooting gallery (it was a little disconcerting to see a 7 year old girl holding a rifle and nonchalantly shooting deer on the screen, poor Bambi!) and it’s own restaurant. They had casual clothes and shoes plus clothes and gear for every outdoor sport imaginable and even home decorating stuff. It was like REI, Cabella’s and Sports Authority all rolled into one and then some.

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We didn’t take a spin but it was amazing to see!

But alas, the weather was still windy and wet and we had miles to cover so after our shopping day we hit the road again.

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Minnesota, another state to drive across!

Are we there yet?! I guess I never realized exactly how far east it is to Ohio. We needed something interesting to see so headed for Effigy Mounds National Monument on the Iowa/Wisconsin border.

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Native Americans in this area created huge mounds of dirt in the shape of bears and birds and other animals nearly 1000 years ago. There wasn’t a lot of definitive information at the visitor’s center but it seems it was a spiritual act used for burial. Today all you see are grassy mounds. Maybe from above it would be cooler. But we did enjoy a short hike during a brief sun filled morning and great views of the Mississippi River.

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We stayed at nearby Pikes Peak State Park, not to be confused with Pikes Peak in Colorado. It was discovered and named by the same man. The campground was a little dark and compact for us, but luckily it was pretty empty mid-week.

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It did have some great views of the Wisconsin river meeting the Mississippi.

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After 2 nights it was time to keep moving. Somehow I missed the sign for Iowa, but we made our way across all the “I” states.

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We were headed for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Knowing that we loved Padre Island National Seashore, when I saw Indiana Dunes on the map I thought it would be a great place to stay our last few days before making the final trek to Ohio. Not so much.

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The National Lakeshore is a disconnected park, with bits and pieces surrounded by neighborhoods (some nice and some not so nice), a prison, and a couple of towns that seem down on their luck. Not far to the south is a steel mill. This area is a suburb of Chicago, as evidenced by the packed parking lot at the train station. It’s an hour and a half ride into the city and some campers make the trip.

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Tucked in the trees, this is not our kind of camping but we did find a spot with some “sun” for the solar panels.
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The Rolling Stonebaker, even with the rain and thunder they were baking away.

Just across the street from the campground entrance was a wood fired pizza oven in an old Studebaker. For less than $20 we got two thin crust pizzas and a bottle of butterscotch root beer. Their speciality, The Purple Pig, with pulled pork, barbecue sauce and a tangy purple cabbage slaw on top was delicious!

As for the lakeshore, you have to drive to the disconnected beaches from the campground. So after doing laundry and errands and enduring the rain, I decided we had to see at least one of the beaches.

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Found this cool metal bench at the visitor’s center.

After a quick visit to the small visitor’s center (not much exciting there except for the outdoor art), we visited Beverly Shores. It looked just like the ocean. I was surprised by how soft the beach sand was, but just to remind us we weren’t in Mexico the cold wind kept whipping at our faces and we could see industrial bulidings along the shore both to the east and the west.

The best part was a collection of houses from the 1933-34 World’s Fair. A developer moved them here to entice people to buy his houses in the area. Each house is unique. You can look at them from the street, but they are occupied so you can’t go inside except for once a year when they have an open house. There is some sort of partnership where people live in them as they work on restoration.

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The pink Florida house was pretty cool, as was the cabin, but our favorite was the one made from metal panels kinda like an Airstream! 🙂  It was modern looking on the outside but the inside was supposed to have a traditional layout and furnishings.

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We loved the shiny metal siding.

I’m sure there are some more scenic parts to the National Lakeshore that we missed, at least I hope that’s the case since we weren’t impressed. We were not sad when it came time to move on.

Next up Jackson Center, Ohio, home of Airstream and the reason we’ve been making this crazy, long trek across the country in the chilly spring weather.

Four Years Later…

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Guess we should have told her she was holding her cap upside down 🙂

After our time in the Seattle area we headed to Missoula for our daughter’s graduation from the University of Montana. Just four short years ago we travelled here in our much smaller 23′ Airstream to drop her off for her freshman year. Then Chuck and I spent a week on Flathead Lake with a quick jaunt into Glacier National Park. I think that trip started us thinking more seriously about our desire to hit the road.

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Celebrating with family. Of course our daughters were playing tabletop football with the folded napkin ring as the ball just like Chuck taught them as little girls!

It had been a while since both of our daughters and my parents were all together in one spot so it was another nice week filled with family. Even though graduation day turned out cold (it was 42 degrees in the outdoor stadium where the big event was held) we huddled proudly in the stands with blankets wrapped around our legs to cheer our daughter for her accomplishments. We were so glad the rain held off!

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That’s her on the big screen! You could send a tweet to display a message up there so Chuck sent his first ever tweet.
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Isn’t she a cutie?! So proud of all she’s accomplished!

Our older daughter stayed at Jellystone RV Park in one of the camping cabins. We had stayed there on our way to Mount Rushmore in our very first trailer when the girls were little so they have fond memories of the place. Of course the mini-golf, pool and nightly ice cream helped. That’s them climbing the rocks at Mt. Rushmore on that long ago trip and them now posing with Yogi.

One highlight of our time in Missoula was a Mother’s Day round of mini-golf including 3 generations. You’ll notice the winter jackets. It was cold when the sun hid behind the clouds!

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Next up we’ll be making our way across the country to Ohio for a big rally at the Airstream Factory. Hopefully we can escape the cold, wet weather!

 

Visiting Family

As we sat at Lake Mead enjoying the sunshine we kept putting off heading north because every time we checked the weather looked cold and wet. Finally we just had to bite the bullet and go. Crossing from Nevada through the tiny northwest corner of Arizona and into Utah on I-15 we drove through a spectacular pass that gave us a taste of the beauty available in this area. Unfortunately we had to drive right by all the exit signs for the national parks that are high on our list (Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands). With snow still a threat in those places we’ll be saving them for our next time through.

We spent one night at Yuba Lake, a nice little spot not far off the interstate.

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We managed to get level without unhitching!
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Not a bad view of the lake and at least it was still sunny!

Then a couple of very windy nights in North Salt Lake City at Pony Express RV Park to do laundry and grocery shopping. They had a nice clean laundry room and we hung out in the comfy clubhouse while our clothes washed away. Just as we were finishing up another patron came in with their heavily soiled, dog hair laden laundry and left the machines and counters covered in crud. Guess timing is everything.

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Fun how they made the electric/water posts look like lighthouses. They even glowed at night!

The next night we stayed at a lovely city park on the Snake River in southern Idaho. Heyburn Riverside RV Park made for a great stopover with a level pull through site so we didn’t need to unhitch. We took advantage of the sun to ride our bikes on the riverside path and found a cool covered bridge. We could feel a chill in the air!

Then on Easter Sunday we arrived at a crowded, busy KOA to spend a week visiting my parents and sister who recently moved to Boise. While the park was not the best, it was so nice to spend some time with family. We had a mix of sun and rain and it was definitely cooler, but it didn’t matter because we mostly sat around sharing tales of our adventures and hearing tales of theirs. Sorry I didn’t snap any photos.

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Saw this shiny beauty while we were in Boise. The couple who owned it had done all the restoration themselves.

After a lovely week we headed to Washington, spending one night on the river at Umatilla in an Army COE park enjoying a welcome bit of sunshine.

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Then we trekked on to Western Washington staying at Kanaskat-Palmer State Park near Covington. This was full on Northwest camping, with mossy wooded trees blocking the sky and rain pouring down. After all our time in the desert, I can’t believe we used to enjoy camping this way. But it did put us close to our Airstream dealer, where we dropped off our trailer for service.

We spent one night at McMenamins in Bothell, a cool Northwest chain that turns old historic buildings into hotels and restaurants filled with local lore. This one was an old school. We’ve gotten so used to having everything we own right at our fingertips that it was hard to pack for a night away and it felt weird to be without all our worldly possessions.

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The view from our window of the Woodshed, one of the bars on the property.
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The hallway is full of old light fixtures and pictures telling the stories of Anderson School and Bothell inhabitants.

Luckily we picked up the trailer (and all our belongings) the next day and settled into one of the few RV parks in the area, Lake Pleasant. This is where we stayed when we first moved into the trailer after selling our house last May and it is pleasant, but being back in our old neighborhood felt strange. There were so many people, cars, businesses, and stress. It was a bit of shock. I found it hard to wrap my head around the sheer number of people who live in the area. Plus with the rainy, grey weather I kept thinking “How do people live here?” Hard to believe that we did it for over 18 years (and I was there another 18 before I met Chuck). True, when the sun shines it is beautiful, but I’m not sure I could survive the grey days there anymore.

The other weird thing about being back was I realized there really wasn’t anywhere I had to go. There were no restaurants, stores, or sights that I just had to visit again. The only thing I cared about was seeing family and friends. So between all our doctor and dentist appointments I packed my days full with visits.

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My daughter and I took the ferry to Langley and enjoyed exploring the shops amid the more relaxed island vibe.
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We spent a while at the glass blowing shop marveling at their skills. 
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Next to the glass shop was this walkway and garden decorated with their creations.

Putting up with grey skies, rain, traffic and a stressed out population for 2 weeks made us feel our decision to escape had been the right one. We’re ready to hit the road again but there’s one more family stop on the way. I’ll save that for next time.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

It’s been a while since I last posted. We’ve been covering lots of ground visiting family, which I’ll get to in another post, and there hasn’t been much time to write. But I realized I never posted this blog about our great time at Lake Mead in April. Reading it over, I’m wishing I was back there right now…

Las Vegas Bay Campground
Nights: 2

After boondocking at Trona Pinnacles we needed a place to dump our tanks and get fresh water. We also needed a city so we could run errands (Easter basket traditions must live on!). Las Vegas Bay Campground on Lake Mead didn’t get great reviews, but it was close to Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas with lots of shopping.

As we were driving toward Henderson we were following the tail end of a huge storm that dropped hail and rain on Vegas. Luckily we only caught a little of the rain and by the time we made it to the campground it had cleared up. We had our pick of spots since much of the place was empty.

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Sadly this campground had an abandoned, sketchy feel to it. We couldn’t quite put our finger on why, but it partly had to do with a couple of run down trailers that looked like they had been parked there a while. This campground had the longest stay limit we have ever seen, 30 days, and they looked like they had been there longer than that. Plus this wasn’t a campground active with people walking their dogs or anything. We did see the host a couple of times out pruning the landscaping and there was a great view from our site, but it just didn’t feel like a place we wanted to hang out much. That’s ok. We were here to get things done.

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Reading the park brochure I discovered we were only 10 miles from Hoover Dam so we decided to go there first thing in the morning. Of course for us that means about 10 am. 🙂  I had been once as a kid, but didn’t remember much about it and I have to say it wasn’t what I was expecting. Other dams we have seen are massive and can be viewed from a distance. Hoover Dam, while very tall, is wedged in a narrow canyon. It was crazy-filled with people like Disneyland. For some reason I thought there would be a big parking lot and a visitor’s center that overlooked the dam, but parking was $10 or in a couple of small lots on the hillside.

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As close as we got to the visitor’s center.

They do however let you drive across the dam. So after going through the security check-point and letting them look at all the gear stowed under our bed cover, we followed the line of cars winding their way down into the canyon, across the dam while avoiding the pedestrians crossing, and up the other side to a viewpoint high above.

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That white “bathtub ring” is the high mark the lake reached in the 1980s.

I snapped photos out the window and we parked on the hill, but didn’t want to trek all the way down to the visitor’s center with Chuck’s bum knee and all the throngs of people to contend with.

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View from the free parking lot way above the dam.

So we were satisfied to see what we did and headed back across. Instead we stopped at the small Lake Mead Visitor’s center which was pretty informative.

Then we headed into Henderson to get some lunch. We wanted to go to REI so found a BBQ place nearby that wasn’t great. Traffic and lots of freeways in Henderson made us want to get out of there. It just didn’t seem like a great area. We shopped for Easter goodies for our daughters’ baskets, did a grocery run, stopped at the post office and headed back to the trailer.

Stewart’s Point
Nights: 7
Campfires: 1

The next morning we were hitched up and ready to leave the area. As we headed north through the park we got a big surprise. This area is stunningly beautiful. Colorful cliffs rise out of the desert and wildflowers dot the side of the road. If you’re ever in Las Vegas I recommend taking the drive along the western side of Lake Mead and exploring the natural beauty of the area.

Our destination was Stewart’s Point, a very large boondocking area at the northwestern edge of Lake Mead. It was strange driving in because you suddenly enter a section of houses before coming to the boondocking area, but it turned out to be perfect. We parked the trailer and took the bikes around to explore since there were huge ruts in many of the roads. We settled on a large open gravel area on a high point overlooking the shoreline and the distant mountains on the other side. Turned out to be a great spot with views all around.

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There is plenty of room here to explore and all sorts of cool pebbles to discover underfoot, even some kind of small white shells. Just like at Trona, we had very strong winds one day making it hard to go outside (I guess that’s just something you find in the desert), but other days we rode bikes around and sat outside enjoying the views.

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Taken with NightCap Pro. Stars mode, 10.06 second exposure.
The full moon over the lake was awesome!

Another Airstream pulled into a spot nearby and soon we met Rhonda and Bruce, full-time RVers for 8.5 years. They invited us over for a delicious dinner in their vintage trailer. Bruce made chili and homemade gluten free cornbread, yum! We swapped stories for quite a while and hope to cross paths again so we can return their hospitality.

We took a very worthwhile trip to Valley of the Fire State Park. It is only about 12 miles away, but a whole different world of amazing red rock scenery.

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We drove out the White Domes Scenic Byway. It was a beautiful drive and we were surprised when the stunning red rocks gave way to pastel ridges of white and peach and gold.

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The hike down into the canyon was definitely worth it. This is another place that has provided a backdrop for movies. The way the wind and water have eroded the sandstone it so cool.

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In another part of the park we found these cool rock cabins build by the CCC in an area with petroglyphs.

Another day we walked the short 1/2 mile loop around Redstone, a smaller area of red sandstone in Lake Mead. It’s a nice picnic stop if you take the drive to explore the lake.

We celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary while we were here. I never would have thought that this is where we would end up all these years later. Chuck kept saying let’s spend the whole day together for our anniversary. Ha Ha. We do that every day.

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But to make it special we opened a bottle of wine, broke out some appetizers and enjoyed the view. And after dinner we lit a campfire. We’ve only had 3 or 4 campfires since hitting the road. We don’t really like to end up smelling like smoke, but once in a while a spot really calls out for a campfire and this was one of them. It was a fitting end to our special day.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Long Exposure mode, 6.69 second exposure.

The rest of California

Since leaving Death Valley we’ve been hopping around like bunnies. The big reason is not that Easter is on the way, but that we needed to be outside Sacramento for some service and we were trying to dodge the cold, wet weather. So here are three stops that cover the rest of our time in central CA and our retreat back to the warmth of the desert.

Rancho Seco Recreational Area
Nights: 2

Needing a place to spend the weekend near our service location, we found Rancho Seco, a park run by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, just a few miles away. Even though the camping rates were kinda steep ($30/night), we had water and electric so we could run our space heater during the cool nights. This area has seen so much rain this winter that many of the fields and some of the campsites were giant puddles, but we lucked into the best spot in the park. We had pastoral views of cows munching grass in the rolling hills out to the front and the lake to the back and a huge amount of space. The site was even level enough that we didn’t need to unhitch the trailer. This park seems popular for fishing (they stock the lake), renting non-motorized boats, and picnicking. The brochure said it’s a great place to learn to windsurf. For us it was a nice place to relax for the weekend.

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With the cooler weather I had to trade my flip flops for boots.
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Yep, this campground sits at the base of a retired nuclear power plant.

On Monday we were up early to pack up and deliver the trailer for service. Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream Repair recently moved to Wilton, CA and we were the sixth rig at his new site. Moving from Santa Rosa (where I grew up), I can only imagine how peaceful it must feel at this site compared to that busy city! Here, surrounded by farmland, our Airstream got new 16” wheels and tires. The tires that come with Airstreams are notorious for blow-outs and we weren’t keen on experiencing that so we’ve been planning this upgrade for a while. Vinnie turned out to be a wealth of information (we now leave our propane refrigerator on while in transit, have a bone tool for future projects and are ordering a replacement bracket so we’re prepared when our bike rack breaks). We wished we could just spend a day chatting with him and soaking up all his knowledge. He’s a great guy and went above and beyond when things didn’t go as planned with some skylight work even though it wasn’t his fault at all. Needless to say, I highly recommend his services. While he worked, we had a few hours to spend in nearby Elk Grove getting groceries and having lunch at a wonderful farm to table restaurant, Bravo’s Soup and Sandwich (Chuck loved the BBQ park sandwich). This is a nice area and I can see why Vinnie chose to move here.

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Shiny new wheels and tires!

Harris Ranch
Night: 1

Back on the road in the afternoon, we made our way down I-5 through the nut orchards and grape vineyards of southern CA and found better road conditions than we had on highway 99. Knowing we’d be setting out late in the day we planned to overnight at a place with rave reviews, Harris Ranch. Well known for their beef, they run a restaurant, hotel, gift store and gas station in the middle of nowhere. As we approached the exit, the smell of manure nearly knocked us out. This should have been our first clue, but there were very few areas to spend the night and it was getting close to dark. Pulling into the RV parking area we found it nearly full already at 5:30. Asking inside we were told there was more space to park in back of the hotel so that is where we went and settled in for the night. After eating the leftovers from lunch we settled on the couch to enjoy cheesecake from the on-site bakery and watch TV. About 9pm there was a knock on the door. It was security telling us we couldn’t park there and had to move out to the RV area. I quickly stowed the few things we had out (luckily since we were overnighting we hadn’t unhitched) and moved to the last spot available in the other parking lot with Chuck doing a fantastic job of parallel parking the trailer.

In the back it had been dark and quiet, but out here the parking lot lights shone in our windows and the buzz of freeway traffic assaulted our ears. Needless to say we did not get a good night’s sleep at all and were awake and on the road early the next morning. Heading back across the same pass we had driven just six days before on Highway 58, we got to see the rolling green hills disappear into Joshua trees and then barren desert landscape. Hmmm, maybe I miss that green.

Trona Pinnacles
Nights: 6
Wind Speed: 35+ mph

After 4 miles down a washboarded, rutted dirt road we made it. I’m not sure we would have come to Trona Pinnacles if we knew how bad the road was. It definitely put our new tires to the test and we we’re glad for the extra inch of clearance they provided. We parked in the large open lot near the vault toilet and trail to take stock. Even though I had visions of our refrigerator popping open and spewing its contents on the floor, everything had survived.

We knew there were more scenic camping spots but decided to take the bikes off to explore further before taking the trailer. I was glad we did. We found the access road even rougher that what we had just driven and bumping our way back to the open lot we knew this was the best spot for the trailer and settled in to make camp.

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Our spot looks like it’s right against the pinnacles, but there’s actually a huge sandy parking lot behind us.
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Always a bonus to have a good view from the loo!

After moving around so much (10 stops in the month of March!), it was nice to be in one spot for more than a few nights. On our first evening we climbed through the nearby pinnacles and then settled in for the best nights sleep I’ve had in a while. Even the folks here to take nighttime photos at 1am didn’t disturb me.

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We took a long bike ride around the bumpy roads to view the pinnacles. These weird outcroppings were formed at the bottom of the lake that covered this area thousands of years ago. The result of calcium and carbon interacting, they have a strange holey look, like porous bone.

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Since they appear other-worldly they have been featured in numerous movies, including Planet of the Apes and Star Trek V. In fact, one afternoon we watched a small film crew capturing a group of men in colorful bike shorts whooping and hopping around like cave men. There was also a strange green creature with long arms made from odds and ends  (kinda R2D2 like) and a girl in bright flowing attire. They stayed past dark filming their scenes using spotlights on the pinnacles.

This area is know for being windy and we got a good taste. One day the wind whipped up dust clouds obscuring the views and even a car parked nearby. We got an emergency alert not to travel because of the dust storm.

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The beginnings of the dust storm. Later it totally obscured the mountains.

Even with the wind well over the reported 35mph we were cozy inside the trailer. Thank goodness for it’s aerodynamic shape. Chuck googled it and found that people have been in 80mph winds and had no problem. Still, my eyes got big every time a huge gust rocked us around and dried brush went flying by. Needless to say we had an indoors day. Chuck had loaded a bunch of Star Trek episodes while we were in Elk Grove (thank you fast Starbucks wi-fi!) so we had an Enterprise marathon and thanks to great Verizon service could keep in touch and surf the web.

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We took several bike rides on the dirt roads hitting sandy patches where you quickly slowed and could barely pedal (now I understand those brake failure exit ramps filled with sand). Sometimes it was nearly impossible and I had to walk pushing my bike through. On one ride something went flying across the road in front of me so fast I could hardly tell what it was. It moved as fast as a hummingbird and looked like it was flying just above the ground, but I could tell it had a longer body shape. Soon I saw a few more, not quite so fast, and discovered they were some kind of desert lizard. I have never seen a lizard move so fast!

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Usually the photos we take of the places we visit do not convey the awesome views, but looking back at these photos we decided this is one of those rare places that looks better in the photos than it does up close. Even though the pinnacles weren’t quite as impressive as we thought they’d be, we were glad to be back to the warm weather and enjoyed our stay.