Craters of the Moon

early June 2018

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There you are driving through Idaho’s hills and green fields with snow capped peaks in the distance and then suddenly you end up in this strange land.

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Craters of the Moon National Monument has been on our list since the start of this adventure. Since it wasn’t too far off our route to Utah we decided to spend a few days there.

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One day a group of vintage cars drove through the park.

Boy did we luck out. Without knowing it we hit prime wildflower bloom. The Monkeyflower’s entire life cycle (sprout, bloom, seed, wither and die) takes only 3 weeks and we were here for the bloom! Those tiny, pink flowers added a beautiful contrast to the dark volcanic rock.

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Monkeyflowers in bloom!

This place is really strange, especially for being in the middle of Idaho. It feels more like Hawaii, and in fact all the signs explaining the different types of rock had pictures of lava from Hawaii. Mostly this place reminded us of the lava flow we visited in New Mexico, Valley of Fires, especially on our first night when we walked from the campground to the Trail of Lava. 

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The next day we drove to the wilderness trail parking area. There were two trails, one to the tree molds which are impressions of trees laying flat in the lava. The other trail said it went to Lava Trees, described as an upright version. I thought this sounded interesting so off we went. The trail started out through some awesome lava rocks, then came into more of a meadow with small cinders, almost like lava rock gravel. The wildflowers seem to love these areas.

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Bitteroot blooms

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Finally we saw the sign for the lava trees. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was cool. The lava surrounded the tree and as the tree burned the steam cooled the lava enough to harden it into an impression of the tree leaving tree shaped voids. 

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On our last day we drove the short loop again, this time stopping at several other areas. We skipped the very popular Inferno Cone where lots of visitor’s were hiking up the barren cone and instead stopped at the nearby Spatter Cones area.

After a quick look into the spatter cones we hiked up the steep trail to Big Crater. We had been joking that there were no craters at Craters of the Moon, but after the short steep climb we found the craters! And great views around as well.

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It’s a hike that wasn’t really at the top of the ranger recommendations, but was definitely worth it! Our last stop on the loop was Devil’s Orchard, another great area to view wildflowers.

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Overall Craters of the Moon was a great stop with much more variety in the lava formations than we had seen at Valley of Fires, plus the wildflowers were gorgeous!

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This rock next to our campsite was my favorite. It seemed to have been frozen mid-eruption.

 

 

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!

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!

Quiet Acadia

Schoodic Woods Campground
Nights: 7
Bikes: 1
Paddles: 1
Timeframe: 1st week of August

So I’ve gotten even further behind on posting—we visited Schoodic nearly a month and a half ago! Here’s a quick recap.

After the busy Bar Harbor area of Acadia National Park we reveled in the peace and quiet on the Schoodic Peninsula. This part of the park is about an hour drive away (or a hop on the passenger ferry plus the bus) so not a lot of folks bother to explore Schoodic. That was okay with us because it made for a nice, relaxing week.

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After our awesome campsite at Bar Harbor we were ready to be a little let down, but we found another great spot waiting for us. The campground at Schoodic Woods has only been open about 2 years and it is beautiful! There are lots of trees but also lots of open sky which is what we like.

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Our awesome pull through site could have fit two giant motorhomes!

Spaces are big and come with electric hookups, rare for a national park campground.

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Bathroom Building

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The bathrooms are the nicest I’ve ever seen.

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The architecture of the visitor’s center is stunning. This campground is a great find.

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Selfie along the loop drive.

This side of the park is set on a peninsula. The 6 mile, one-way “loop” road travels along the entire shore, but doesn’t connect back to itself. We drove it our first day, but it was even better when we took our bikes later in the week.

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Since the road has two lanes, both going in the same direction, cars have their own lane to pass you. We could peddle along soaking in all the water views and not worry about holding up traffic.

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Awesome water views!
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A lighthouse on one of the islands. That’s Cadillac Mountain in the distance, which we drove up when we were on the other side of the park.
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Pink Granite “beach” at Schoodic Point, the tip of the peninsula. 
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Be sure to stop at the Schoodic Education and Research Center to tour the small visitor’s center in this building. It has really interesting brick and stone work and was used by the military for top secret communications.

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When you get to the end of the road you exit the park and have to return on regular roads with no shoulders so we were glad the ranger recommended a bike path that cuts back to the campground. Unfortunately the bike paths on this side of the park are not as nice as those over on Mount Desert Island. These are made of loose gravel, which made the uphill going even harder, but we made it back.

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By the time we took the spur out to the point and the trail back to the campground we ended up riding 10 miles.

Off course all that exercise meant we deserved a treat. I got out the solar oven and tried a new recipe for Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars (recipe below).

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The delicious smell of cookies baking attracted this fellow who I had to keep chasing off.

Most of the kayaking around here is for those used to ocean waves, and the ranger recommended that we go to a pond outside the park. Thanks to Google, Chuck found a a protected area right off the Frazer Point picnic area recommended by a local kayaker. Mosquito Harbor turned out to be perfect and not at all plagued by its namesake.

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We did a better job inflating the kayak this time which made the ride even better. It was fun tooling around exploring the little nooks and crannies.

Just so you don’t think it’s fun and games all the time we did have to do laundry (found the biggest laundromat ever!) and defrost the refrigerator, which meant time for a tiny snowman. 🙂

On our last day we couldn’t pass up one more drive along the loop. This time we stopped at a beach we spotted on our bike ride.

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We laughed about the sign but once we got down there we understood. The beach was covered with round stones, golf ball to basketball size, and it was so tempting to take one, but we resisted.

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It was mesmerizing to listen to the stones gently tumbling as a wave came in and then the water trickling back out as the wave receded. It would make for a very relaxing nature sound CD!

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If Acadia wasn’t so far out here I think we would come back to this little corner of the Schoodic Woods! Who knows, maybe someday we will. For now we’re checking off national park number 12 and heading back to Ohio for some warranty work.

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Oh, and if you’re ever in this neck of the woods there’s a great little farmer’s market in Winter Harbor. 🙂

Oatmeal Nut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars
Yield: 12 cookies with kind of a chewy muffin texture.

Ingredients
1/3 cup gluten-free thick rolled oats (33g)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup almond butter (64g)
1/4 cup peanut butter (64g)
1/3 cup brown sugar (70g)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup chocolate chips (57g)

Instructions

  1. Line GoSun oven tray with parchment paper.
  2. In medium bowl beat peanut butter, almond butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle baking soda, salt and oats into bowl. Mix until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. The dough will be very sticky!
  4. Scoop dough into prepared tray, smoothing out and leaving 1/2“ at ends (they puff up a lot and you don’t want them to hit the top of the tube).
  5. Bake in solar oven for 25 to 40 minutes (depending on your level of sun) or until top deflates a bit and toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy!

If you want a regular oven version of this recipe I adapted it from: http://meaningfuleats.com/flourless-oatmeal-almond-butter-chocolate-chip-cookies-gluten-free-dairy-free/

Busy Acadia

Bar Harbor Campground
Nights: 7
Hikes: 0
Bikes: 2
Paddles: 1

Our first week in Acadia was spent in the busy Mount Desert Island area of the park surrounding Bar Harbor. Last winter when we made plans to come this way, we studied the camping options. Campgrounds in the park were full and private options were cramped and expensive. We settled on a no reservations, cash only, private campground with reasonable rates and hoped for the best. Online reviews of Bar Harbor Campground promised that you could get a site here even on a busy weekend. Since we didn’t really have a back-up plan in this busy area we were a bit nervous. We showed up on Monday just before check-out time and were rewarded with an awesome spot.

Talking to some other campers later, they said they’ve been coming here for 8 years and have never been able to snag a spot with a view. We watched during our time here and you could always find a spot, especially if you didn’t need hook-ups, but the view sites didn’t come open often. Lucky us!

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The campground was busy and other areas were noisy, but our little corner was peaceful and we debated staying longer. There were blueberries for the picking right out our door and the views couldn’t be beat.

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Blueberry picking with a view!

The town of Bar Harbor and the park itself were another story. On our first day we headed to Acadia’s main visitor’s center and found cars circling the parking lot. We managed to snag a spot and headed into the unimpressive visitor’s center. Expecting some sort of display about the park, we found only a movie, store, and information desk.

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So we figured we do the loop drive. We found cars and people crowding the famous Thunder Hole area, but at least there were a few parking spots.

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Crowds waiting to catch the explosion of water at Thunder Hole.
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Watching the waves crash against the rocks was mesmerizing.
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Acadia’s famous pink granite shore

We tried to stop at Jordan Pond, an area famous for it’s lovely views of the pond and popovers at the restaurant, but found absolutely no open parking spaces. We continued on to the top of Cadillac Mountain and were met with a line of stopped cars just waiting to get in the parking lot and again not a spot in sight. So we ended up just driving back down.

Another day we tried to go into Bar Harbor to walk around and visit the grocery store. Even though it was a weekday with no cruise ship in port (yes there are actually cruise ships here), the town was crazy! We’re talking Disneyland crowds crazy. Throw in parked cars making the narrow roads even more so and people crossing everywhere and it was just too much for us. Again we ended up driving right back out. The key to Acadia seems is to be ride the shuttle bus (we saw lots of folks waiting for buses) or go places after 3pm. So we settled into a pattern of lazy mornings at camp with excursions into the park later in the day and our experience greatly improved.

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Our new bike rack makes it much easier to haul our bikes to the trails.

With Chuck’s knee still on the mend after the Camden hike, we turned to other ways to experience this national park. Luckily Acadia is famous for it’s carriage trails, financed by and built under the direction of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The trails are covered in well packed decomposed granite that provides a nice surface for bike riding.

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Carriage road signage is a bit confusing. Looking at the map is a must!

Rockefeller had a vision for drawing people out into nature by installing a system of trails suitable for horse drawn carriage rides. Thus the trails are no steeper than what a horse pulling a carriage can handle. This makes one think that these are fairly flat trails. Do not be fooled. We found lots of hills that had our heart rates climbing with the slow steady inclines, but they were doable. The exception was the path connecting the visitor center to the trails. That spur was steep and I ended up walking my bike.

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We rode to several of the bridges built to complement the landscape. Each one was styled for it’s location (one even frames a waterfall) with stones chiseled and fit by hand.

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The three we saw were built in 1924, 1925, and 1926 and the stonework was impressive. Apparently the masons got so good at expertly fitting and facing the stones that Rockefeller told them they need to make them more rustic to blend with the landscape.

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The stone bridges were pretty cool, but other than that the trails were mostly riding through woods.

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One of the few spots you could see a view. 

One day we rode the Witch Hole Pond loop (about 5 miles) and another day a loop near Upper Haddock Pond (about 4 miles).  It was a nice way to get some exercise but not the spectacular views I expected.

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The coping stones lining the trail are lovingly referred to as “Rockefeller’s teeth.”

Although we never went back to Bar Harbor we did make it back to Cadillac Mountain. I got to drive the narrow, windy road this time and Chuck got to enjoy the views.

At 4:30 we found plenty of parking at the top and great views all around.

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It reminded us of the views in the San Juan Islands of Washington.

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We even got to watch a cruise ship make a giant u-turn and head out of Bar Harbor.

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Our neighbors in the campground told us about a nearby beach and one day we took our new kayak out for it’s maiden voyage. We’ve been thinking about getting kayaks since we started this adventure. At first we didn’t want anything tied on top of our truck. We thought we might look a bit like hillbillies plus we were at the top of our weight limit. When we upgraded our truck weight was no longer an issue, but we still wrestled with hauling kayaks while having easy access to gear in the truck bed. Chuck finally solved all our issues by finding a really good inflatable.

We’d had a cheap inflatable when the girls were younger that seemed to only go in circles, but this boat surprised us. Even though we didn’t have it quite inflated all the way (our newbie error) and the outer cover was a little crooked it glided effortlessly through the water. We got a whole different perspective out on the water. I think we’re going to like it.

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Everyone who goes to Maine talks about lobster. We’re not big fans, and since it’s expensive we figured why waste our money. We did however enjoy fish and chips and a salmon sandwich at Beal’s Lobster Pier while on a drive to the quiet side of Mount Desert Island.

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Lobster buoy decor

 

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We had views of the working harbor from the outdoor deck.

We also enjoyed ice cream sundaes at Udder Heaven which was right next to our campground. Thank goodness we didn’t go until the last day or we might have become regulars.

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We were sad to leave this relaxing campground. With water views and blueberries right out our door and ice cream a short walk away it was a good spot.

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Goodbye peaceful water view

But with reservations at Schoodic Woods, a more remote area of Acadia, it was time to say goodbye.