Exploring Florida’s Space Coast, Oct-Dec 2021

Manatee Cove RV Park at Patrick Space Force Base is a nice location. The park itself is right on the shore of the Banana River and a short bike ride away from the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day (or night) you have a great view of launches from the Kennedy Space Center. The downside is that they don’t accept reservations and you drive down with no guarantee of getting a site. We were lucky and we are all set on site #61.

We made contact with a veteran of my old National Guard unit, Company F (RANGER) 425th Infantry. Gary Siedel and his wife, Linda, moved to nearby Melbourne after he retired from the Southfield Fire Department. We shared a meal at the Manatee Cove Marina and an evening of Karaoke at their community clubhouse.

Our oldest granddaughter, Katrina, is enrolled in her freshman year at the University of Central Florida. We couldn’t be this close to her with paying her a visit. We enjoyed having lunch with her and getting a tour of the campus. It’s hard to believe this child I used to rock to sleep is now a young woman, starting out on her own! Unfortunately we were having so much fun together, we forgot to take any pictures.

The shortage of workers is affecting the Outdoor Recreation Department like the rest of the country. It took awhile for them to get activities coordinated, but they overcame that and got activities going as in past years. We now have karaoke once a week in the Community Center and the campground bowling league had its first practice session on November 15th with competition starting on November 20th. The league is fun. While everyone tries to bowl their best game, no one really cares about the score, just having a good time. The league is scheduled on a day when the bowling alley is not open, and we have the place to ourselves. Although no one really cares about the score, it’s pretty bad to get beat by VACANT, a player who isn’t even there!

Outdoor Recreation hosted a Welcome Back Luncheon to kick off the “high” season (when the bulk of the campers are here) and I was able to entertain everyone with a guitar concert while we were waiting for the food to be served. Unfortunately, there were no pictures.

After spending the summer in Washington with almost no rain, we have been blessed with an abundance of it here. Our site is prone to flooding and we have had a small lake next to our door several times. Fortunately, we have a platform so we can sit outside even when the ground is saturated. Thank goodness for small favors!

The Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts at nearby Eastern Florida State College is the venue for many great performances. We have listened to Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas albums for years. Now we were able to watch Mannheim Steamroller give a Christmas performance at the King Center. What a great performance! Watching the musicians was as entertaining as listening to them.

We were considering several options for Thanksgiving dinner when one of our friends suggested that a group of us go to the “Mansion.” That sounded good to us and we couldn’t have been more thrilled. Tony and Lori invited their neighbors, Josh and Cassandra. While the Mansion was very busy, we had a small alcove all to ourselves. The food was delicious and the portions were huge! All of us took leftovers home with us. After our meal, we retired to Tony and Lori’s RV for a game of Dominoes. We had introduced them to Dominoes the week before and Tony fell in love with the game!

We discovered that Josh and Cassandra were also kayakers. Consequently, we invited both couples to join us for kayaking in the Thousand Islands at Ramp Road. We enjoyed paddling the trail through the mangroves and we checked the homes that none of us could afford in some nearby canals.

I enjoy entertaining with my guitar and I followed up my performance at the Welcome Luncheon with another performance in our Community Center. We had about twenty people show up and it was a good night for all.

One of the benefits of staying on the Space Coast is the opportunity to watch launches from the Kennedy Space Center. For nighttime launches, we only have to walk to the north end of the campground for a clear view of the launch. I want to thank my friend, Jim Belisle, who is a better photographer and has better equipment than I do for these terrific shots.

Every year Wickham Park, part of the Brevard County park system, hosts a fundraiser for the local Boy Scouts with their Space Coast Christmas Light Fest. One of the weekends is set aside as a “stroll though,” with no cars allowed. Two of our Key West friends, Steve and Kathleen, joined us for this. We started with a meal from a group of food trucks and then walked the 1.1 miles of lighted displays. It was a pleasant night for it and we had a wonderful time.

One of the last things we did was to visit the crafts fair at Historic Cocoa with Tony and Lori. There were plenty of shops and street music. One of the treasures we left with was a small steel drum. The jury is still out on how well I can play it!

Eventually, our time at Patrick SPB came to an end. We pulled out on December 9th and headed south to the Southernmost point in the USA – Key West.

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Home to Michigan and Our “Sprint” to Florida – October 2021

We love going back to Michigan for several reasons. Not only do we enjoy Michigan as a pleasant place to stay, but a lot of our family and many of our friends are still here. We also maintain our doctors, dentist, and financial advisor here.

Our first stop was in Grand Rapids. Our “go to” campground for this area is Woodchip Campground. Woodchip is like a wilderness oasis in a residential neighborhood. Here we feel like we are “up north” but have a short drive to shopping.

We had my cousin, Barb, and her husband, Karl, join us for lunch so we could catch up on what they have been doing. We are close friends with two of Pat’s high school classmates and we were able to meet them for dinner at a local pub. They had recently returned from a river cruise in Europe. Their stories got us thinking about taking another cruise sooner rather than later!

Our next stop was Bad Axe where we “moochdocked” in Pat’s brother’s backyard. Geri and his wife, Marcia, are always great hosts. I was able to wash our trailer and truck and get some other small maintenance items completed. It is so much fun to crawl under the trailer to grease our suspension! Pat and Marcia shared the meals and Geri and I did the grilling. One of our “go to” RV dealers is Marlette RV, south of Bad Axe. We arranged for them to check and repack the seals on the trailer wheels on the day we moved from Bad Axe to Lansing. Marlette RV is very dependable. If you find yourself in the Michigan Thumb and need RV repairs or service, check them out.

Our final stop in Michigan was where we started our RV journey over ten years ago, Lansing, MI. Our favorite campground here is Lansing Cottonwood Campground. Once a KOA, it is now family owned and the staff does a great job. We make an annual pilgrimage here to see our doctors, dentist, and financial advisor. Between initial examinations, test, and follow-ups we were pretty busy. Of course, we had time to see our son, David, at our favorite pizza place. Our friends, Sue and Gary Aten had us over for dinner as well. My sister, Susan, drove down from Canadian Lakes to join Dave and us for lunch. After a week taking care of business, we began our drive south to Florida.

Our plan was to stay at Patrick Space Force Base’s RV park, Manatee Cove, before we continued on to Key West. The problem was that Manatee Cove doesn’t take reservations. We really didn’t want to drive down there and find there were no sites available. We decided we had to “sprint” from Michigan.

We drove 1,256 miles with a Walmart stop in Lancaster, OH, a KOA campground in Wytheville, VA, another Walmart in Walterboro, SC.

Our final en-route stop was at Naval Station Mayport near Jacksonville, FL.

Finally we made it! We pulled into Manatee Cove shortly before noon on our fifth day (Oct 18) on the road, and were able to get a nice site. There were eight sites open, but only two that we liked. It was good to get somewhere to stay for a while. We had a busy afternoon washing the bugs off the front of the trailer, borrowing a mower to mow the grass on our site. (Yes, the park does it, but no one knows when they will get around to it and the camp host had a loaner.)

Sunset at the Manatee Cove Marina

We are here until December 9th when we will move to NAS Key West. We are hanging out, doing some serious relaxing. This is the first time we have stopped for more than a week since we left Washington on September 7th.We have already met two other couples that we know from previous stays and are looking forward to some kayaking, rocket launches, and some beach time with swimming in the Atlantic.

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The Journey East (to Michigan) – September 2021

We left Camp Murray on the Tuesday after Labor Day (September 7). We had a variety of stops planned, some quick overnights in truck stops and Walmarts, combined with longer stays in established campgrounds.

Our first significant stop was in Montana. A couple of years ago we celebrated our wedding anniversary with a wine tasting and rafting trip on the Clark Fork River with Pangaea River Rafting in Superior, MT, near Missoula. We decided to try their white water rafting this time. I have decided one benefit of rafting late in the season is you may be the only ones in the raft! On both trips, we signed up for a public trip and ended up getting a private trip.

Our river guide was Holli and she was great, very professional and personable. She kept us entertained with a running commentary on the river and other sights. The water levels were lower than spring and early summer, but it was still fun. The water may not have been as fast, but there were more rocks exposed, or just below the surface. That made it entertaining. This river trip included a lunch on shore. Holli pulled us onto a small beach and proceeded to get things set up while Pat and I explored along the shore. What a delicious lunch! Grilled chicken salad with chocolate brownies, made fresh that morning for dessert!

We camped at the nearby Quartz Flats National Forest Campground. This is a unique campground in that you enter it through a highway rest area. There are loops of the campground on both the east and westbound sides with a tunnel that connects them. There are no utilities in the campground so we fired up our generators for electrical power.

After two overnights in a truck stop in Bozeman, MT and a Walmart in Sheridan, WY, we arrived at Ellsworth AFB in Box Elder, SD. This was not a random stop. We are members of Americas Mailbox, a mail forwarding service that provides us with a legal physical address as well as forwarding our mail. We have to stop in South Dakota once every five years to renew our driver licenses. We drove to the Americas Mailbox office to pick up our mail and then to the Driver License Bureau to renew our licenses. Now that the important stuff was completed, we could relax. If you like aviation history, Box Elder is home to its own Air and Space Museum. It is quite impressive and includes a B-52, B-1, and B-2 bombers in its outdoor display.

After four nights at Ellsworth, we left on September 16th. We spent an overnight in a Walmart in Sioux Falls before we arrived at the Veterans Memorial Campground in LaCrosse, WI.

This is a county-run campground on a first-come, first-served basis. We had no problem getting a nice site, but we had called several times to make sure there would be sites available before we arrived.

Wisconsin has a series of state-operated bicycle trails, based on old railroad lines. The LaCrosse River Trail has a short connecting trail from the campground, so Pat and I rode our bikes from the campground into LaCrosse. After wandering around the downtown area for a while, we had pizza at Polito’s, a very minimalist, but welcoming establishment and rode back home. It was about a twenty-six mile round trip.

The last time we came this way we camped on an island in the Mississippi River and kayaked in the main channel of the Mississippi. This time we paddled the Lake Onalaska Canoe Trail through the backwaters of the Mississippi. What a difference! I dropped Pat and the kayaks off at our launch point, dropped off the truck at our take-out point and rode my bike back to the start. We were on small canals through hammocks and grasslands. Between the directional signs and my GPS, we were able to stay on course. It was a nice way to see a different part of this historic river.

On our way back to the campground, we stopped at Grandad Bluff. This commanding viewpoint overlooks the entire LaCrosse area. From this vantage point, you can see forever! There are several picnic areas in the complex, including a shelter at the highest peak.

Our last stop in the area was the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge Center. Much of it was closed off due to COVID protocols, but we walked the nature trails through the grassland prairie.

We left LaCrosse on September 21st to drive to Milwaukee. There is only one RV park in Milwaukee and that is the State Fairgrounds. If you are looking for a campground in a natural, wooded setting, this is not it! It is essentially a parking lot with water and electrical hookups. As bad as this may sound, it was perfect for what we wanted. Pat’s sister, Mary Lee, and her family live in Milwaukee and their daughter, Ashley, works for Summerfest, an annual music festival in Milwaukee. In our planning, we thought that the last weekend of Summerfest would be while we were there. Well our planning was off and we missed it by a week! However, Ashley gave us a tour of the Summerfest grounds.

The State Fairgrounds are right off of another one of Wisconsin’s bicycle trails, the Hank Aaron State Trail. Before we could use the trail, I had to get one of Pat’s bike wheels replaced. I had contacted a local shop called “Wheel & Sprocket” while we were in Washington. They set aside the proper wheel and were ready for me when I brought the bike in. They had it done the next day and had adjusted the brakes for no additional charge. If you are ever looking for a good bike shop in Milwaukee, I heartily recommend “Wheel & Sprocket.”

We enjoyed our time with Mary Lee and on Sunday, September 26th, we left for Michigan.

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Camp Murray – One of Our Favorite Campgrounds – May-Sep 2021

There are three military campgrounds in the area of Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). The Army Travel Camp at Lewis North, the Holiday Park FAMCAMP at McChord Field, and the Camp Murray Beach Campground. While the Army Travel Camp and Holiday Park are operated by the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) Program at JBLM, Camp Murray Beach is located at the National Guard Headquarters at Camp Murray, and operated by the National Guard Association of Washington.

Camp Murray is our favorite of the three and I hesitate to tell everyone about this hidden gem. It is tucked away on the shores of American Lake. The shoreline of the campground is a channel between the mainland and Barlow Island. This channel is blocked by mooring buoys, making it a safe place for swimming and other kid activities.

All of the sites are full hookup sites and, with a couple of exceptions, are pretty spacious. When we first arrived we were fortunate to get into site A-1. I consider this to be the best site in the park and could not believe we were lucky enough to get it. It is right on the lake and your door opens directly onto the beach area. Later in our stay, we moved to C-5 on the back row. The “backyard” areas here are huge with three community fire pits.

As opposed to the other two parks that are limited to 14-day stays, you can get a reservation at Camp Murray for up to 30-days. When your time is up you have to leave for a minimum of three days before you can return. Another benefit is that you can wash and do maintenance on your RV in the park, which is not allowed at Lewis or McChord.

American Lake is a popular destination for boating. Many of the service members live in the housing areas near the lake and take advantage of this great recreational resource. A marina on base supports JBLM families. Weekends find the portion of the lake surrounded by JBLM property a popular spot for boaters to relax and swim. We like to kayak in the lake and found some of the best blackberry plants along the shore for easy picking.

A special attraction of Camp Murray is the opportunity to watch military exercises on American Lake. We have been able to watch helicopter helo-casting by the 2nd Ranger Battalion and helicopter personnel recovery winch operations.

At Camp Murray, there is a green space between two rows of campsites that forms a natural amphitheater. I took advantage of this to present two folk music performances to our little RV community.

We enjoyed bicycling in the area. From Camp Murray, it was a short ride over Freedom Bridge to Lewis Main (the old Fort Lewis) and Unity Bridge connects Lewis Main to McChord Field. Most of the roads in the area have paved bike/walking paths or bike lanes on the roads. On occasion, we would combine our biking with shopping at the Base Exchange or Commissary.

Obviously, we enjoyed our time at Camp Murray. The staff is friendly and cooperative. It was fun having the family join us for fun in the water and dinner.

However, in life all good things come to an end and we hooked up our trailer and started our journey east on September 7th.

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Hiking the Local Trails – August 2021

The “Go To” hiking in the Seattle/Tacoma area is Mount Rainer. There are great trails there and the sights are truly amazing. However, it is a long drive to get to these trails and I wanted to check out some of the local trails.

Sequalitchew Creek Trail

The Sequalitchew Creek Trail is in the small town of DuPont, right across I-5 from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. This is a short trail, (3-mile round trip). The transition from urban to forest and back provides a great distraction from the buzz of urban life.

From the City Hall parking lot, I followed a little trail down through a forested canyon for about one and a half miles. I searched for and discovered several geocaches along the trail. The cool green tunnel was welcome respite on a hot day. At the end of the trail, there is a pebbled beach where there are old rail lines. I took a break for lunch and relaxed while watching the boat traffic in the Tacoma Narrows. Further out on the horizon, I saw some great views of Puget Sound and the mountains beyond.

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The Nisqually River Delta, a biologically rich and diverse area at the southern end of Puget Sound, supports a variety of habitats. Here, the freshwater of the Nisqually River combines with the saltwater of Puget Sound to form an estuary rich in nutrients and detritus. These nutrients support a web of sea life – the benefits which extend throughout Puget Sound and beyond.

The Refuge is located eight miles east of Olympia and has four miles of trails. The one–mile accessible Twin Barns Loop Trail is open year round. The Nisqually Estuary Trail is four-mile round trip from the Visitor Center. A portion of this trail is closed seasonally during the waterfowl hunting season. The trails provide views of wildlife habitats and access to observation platforms, a tower, and blind.

Our daughter, Elisabeth, has been out here before and she took Pat and me along to show us the sights. A lot of this refuge is reclaimed land formed when dams and levees were built to create a rich farmland. Eventually the farm failed as a result of many factors and the National Wildlife Refuge was established. Although the visitor center was closed due to the pandemic, the trails were open. The tidal area had a lot of wading birds as well as other wildlife.

Point Defiance Park

I hiked the Outer Loop Trail (4.3 miles). This is the longest trail in the park. I wanted to try out a new backpack and thought this would be a good shakedown for it. The trail is well established and well marked. This trail is used by many walkers, hikers, and runners. Even though it is located in north Tacoma it has the same feeling of many of the trails at Mount Rainer. The views across the Tacoma Narrows are scenic. The deer in the area are very used to people and did not dart off into the trees when I happened across them.

Point Defiance is also home to the Point Defiance Zoo and the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. The original Fort Nisqually was located in nearby DuPont, home to the Sequalitchew Creek Trail. This replica was built in the 1930’s by the Work Progress Administration (WPA) as a part of the larger Point Defiance Park. The fort is staffed with re-enactors that demonstrate living in the frontier Pacific Northwest.

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Enjoying the Pacific Coast – August 2021

After spending two months in the south Tacoma (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) area we decided for a change of scenery and traveled to Westport on the Pacific coast. What a change in temperature! We went from hot to generally cool temperatures. Depending on the winds, it got downright cold for short periods.We stayed at the American Sunset RV Park and Campground. Our daughter, Elisabeth, and our daughter-in-law, Sandra, and our granddaughters, Katrina, Clarissa, and Sierra, joined us. Sunset is a nice park, right in the town of Westport, making it very convenient for a number of reasons. The twins, Clarissa and Sierra, are doing summer workouts for fall cross-country; Pat and I like to ride our bikes in the morning; and it is a short drive to shops and dining.

We started out walking along the shore at the entrance to Half-Moon Bay. This wall of boulders is a big line of defense against storm winds and erosion. To say it was fun traversing the boulders was an understatement; our granddaughters love to climb on rocks!

There was an unloaded freighter riding at anchor in the bay, but the big attraction was a kite-boarder. We watched him preparing his rig on the beach and then heading downwind. Even though he was wearing a wetsuit, he still looked COLD!

Sandra and Katrina (oldest granddaughter) had to go back home after a few days. The next day we took the twins kayaking on the John’s River, east of town. It was a great day for kayaking. The current was light enough that we could paddle up and down stream with little effort. On our way back to the boat ramp, we turned off the main channel and wandered through some side channels for a little adventure.

One afternoon, Pat, Elisabeth, granddaughter Sierra, and I hiked some of the trails at Twin Harbors State Park. There is a good-sized network of trails in the park. They pass by some of the campground, the inner dune zone, and onto the beach. The beaches in Washington are busy places. You can expect to see picnickers, clammers (people digging for clams), vehicles driving on the beach, and surfers. Making makeshift shelters from driftwood is also a popular activity.

One afternoon I rode my bike to the Westport Maritime Museum. I am the big museum person in the group and visited this one on my own while the rest relaxed at the RV park. The museum occupies the old Coast Guard Station. This building provided the office and living spaces for the Coast Guardsmen who operated the station. The displays described the life of the Coast Guard and the fishing community in Westport. For me the highlight of the visit was in the building that used to house the lifeboats – it now holds a display of the Destruction Island Lighthouse lens. The Fresnel (pronounced Fruh-nel) Lens was a revolutionary improvement to lighthouses. This unique lens focused a relatively small light so it could be seen for miles. A First Order Lens is the largest and used to mark hazards to ships. The smallest is a Sixth Order Lens and is used to mark docks and other structures in a harbor. The museum has a First Order Lens that has been fully restored. This is the only First Order Lens I have ever seen up close and personal. The docent on duty did an excellent job of explaining the lenses and their uses. For a lighthouse fanatic like me, it was an excellent visit.

That afternoon our son, Scott, joined us and the next day we drove south to Willapa Bay to kayak on Smith Creek. The paddling was great. We paddled upstream until we ran into a logjam that we couldn’t cross. If the tide had been in, we might have been able to explore farther upstream. We paddled downstream until we found a tributary and turned into that. We eventually ran into a dead end and headed back to our launch site. Overall, it was a good time.

On Saturday, we went to the beach at the Westport Light State Park. Going to the beach in Washington is not like going to the beach in Florida. There weren’t many sunbathers as there wasn’t much sun and it was a cool day. There were many surfers as a lot of the local shops offer surfing classes on the weekends. There were strong winds and we brought our kites along to fly. After our time at the beach, we went to the downtown area for ice cream cones. A fitting end to a good day.

Sunday, we packed up and drove to the Holiday Park FAMCAMP at McChord AFB.  While at McChord, we reorganized and repacked some of our gear that we used at Westport and relaxed. We had a mobile RV repair come out to work on our air conditioner and, fortunately, it was an easy fix and they were able to repair it onsite.

A week later, we were back at Camp Murray. Our next move will start our journey to Michigan.

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Getting the Gang (Family) Together – June 2021

For the last several years, we visited the Tacoma, WA area in the summer to see our oldest son, Scott, and daughter, Elisabeth. Then the next summer we would see our other son, David, in Lansing, MI. This year we decided to break the mold and get everyone together in Washington. Dave flew out to join us for a week.

We got everyone together for dinner at our campsite and spent a lot of time catching up and playing games. Sorry, I was too busy enjoying the time to take any pictures!

Scott, and his oldest daughter, Katrina, joined the rest of us (Elisabeth, Dave, Pat and I) to travel to Mount Rainer to hike some of the trails. Our first stop was the Grove of the Patriarchs. This is a small island of HUGE trees. Some are more the 40 feet in diameter and over 300 feet tall. The trail led us to a suspension bridge across the river to the Grove. The National Park Service has limited the bridge to one person at a time. With traffic going in both directions there was quite a wait before we could cross. As I crossed the bridge I recognized the wisdom of this limitation, the bridge was very wiggly as we crossed!

The trees in the Grove are just awesome; to say they are huge is an understatement. These trees are thousands of years old! Where trees have died and fallen, there are new trees growing out of the old trunks.

After we finished the Grove of the Patriarchs, we crossed the road to hike the Silver Falls Loop. What a change from the Patriarchs, with much younger trees on a trail that followed the Ohanapecosh River. We passed several small waterfalls and rapids until we reached Silver Falls. It was a great day for a hike and the scenery was terrific.

On our way out of the park, we stopped at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center. The Center is at a higher elevation then the Grove and we were treated to a good view of the snowfield at the base of Mount Rainer, even on June 29th! Many of the trails were closed due to the snow. We were able to give Dave a great view of Mount Rainer.

Thursday Dave and I drove to Everett to visit the Boeing Museum of Flight. Dave and I are both aviation junkies and we loved touring the museum. Boeing has done a professional job in displaying their collection.  

The T.A. Wilson Great Gallery displays more than fifty historic aircraft from a replica of the Wright Flyer to the M21 Blackbird (a variation of the SR-71 Blackbird). Aircraft are displayed on the floor and suspended from the ceiling. The display discussed the development of aviation and aviation services, such as airmail, crop dusters, and bush pilots.

The J. Elroy McCae Personal Courage Wing displays aircraft from WWI and WWII. While we enjoyed seeing aircraft that have been restored to flying condition, the personal stories of the pilots and commanders were more interesting to me.

The outdoor Aviation Pavilion gave us the opportunity to see large aircraft like the B-17 and B-29. We were able to go inside the Boeing 707 (VC-137) Air Force One that supported Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Secretary of State Kissinger later used it in his “shuttle diplomacy” for the Vietnam and the Middle East. We were also able to tour the original Boeing 747, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and Boeing 727.

Air Force One

Our final stop was the “Red Barn,” the original Boeing manufacturing plant. Inside we were able to see some of the original tools and replicas of aircraft of the era under construction.

On Friday, we celebrated Dave’s birthday with a special meal and Saturday we were up before dawn to take Dave to the airport. It was a great visit and even better to have our whole family in one place, even for a short time.

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Fathers Day and Ape Cave – June 2021

It was nice to celebrate Father’s Day with my daughter and oldest son. Scott is also a father, so we were both able to choose what we would like to eat. We all met at our campsite at Camp Murray Beach, where we had a great view of American Lake.

The next day we drove to the southern part of the Mount Saint Helens Volcanic Park to hike through Ape Cave. My first thought was, “Why is it called Apr Cave?” Ape Cave is actually a lava tube. A lava tube is a cylindrical cave formed by flowing lava from a volcanic vent that moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. As the lava in the tube empties, it creates a cave.

This particular lava tube was discovered by Lawrence Johnson in late 1951 when he almost drove his tractor into it. He told his friend, Harry Reese. Over the next few years Reese and his sons explored the cavern. The Reese boys were members of the Mount St. Helens Apes, a local outdoor club, and they led many visitors through the tube during the 1950s. Eventually the lava tube was named the “Apr Cave” to honor these early explorers.

What makes Ape Cave unique from other caves we have explored was that there are no artificial lights in this cave system. The only light is provided by your own flashlights and headlamps. We began with the Lower Cave. It’s a broad lava tube that descends gently to its end. The floor is flat (though a bit uneven at first), then sandy later on from a mud flow that filled the lower portion centuries ago. The end of the cave now is where the sand has filled in to within a couple feet of the ceiling. The Lower Cave is an easy walk, for a 1.5 mile round trip.

From the end of the Lower Cave we retraced our steps to the Upper Cave. It’s a 1.5 rugged miles one way, requiring significantly more time, caution, and some physical agility. It is a more interesting route, with the lava tube shape, size, and geology changing frequently. The passage encounters many rock piles. You must climb up, over, or around the rocks, taking care not to twist an ankle or, in some places, bump your head. After the first rock pile most of us had had enough, but our granddaughter, Sierra, wanted to continue. She and her parents finished the journey, overcoming the many rock piles and obstacles along the way. Some day, I want to go back and hike this part of the cave system.

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On the Mat in Washington – June 2021

We arrived in Washington on May 26th and set up at the Camp Murray Beach RV Park. Camp Murray is the Headquarters of the Washington National Guard and the RV park is operated by the Washington National Guard Association. Camp Murray is our favorite campground in the area. All the sites are full hookups and on the shore of American Lake. We lucked out on our campsite and got Site A-1. This, in my opinion, is the best site in the park. It is the only site that has your door facing the lake and is easy to back into.

Family was our reason for visiting the area. Our oldest son and his family (including our three granddaughters), and our daughter live in the area. We wanted to be there in time for the year-end school activities.

Several years ago, our granddaughters got involved in wrestling, first as a club sport and now in high school. As with most sports, the girls have had a shortened season and had to follow COVID-19 protocols. They wore masks while wrestling, the number of visitors was limited, and we had to enroll in contact tracing before we could enter the gymnasium. All three girls are very skilled wrestlers and win their matches pretty consistently. Because there are fewer girls involved in the sport, they sometimes wrestle with boys that are in their weight class. While they don’t always win these bouts, it does give them a good opportunity to improve their skills. I think they did enjoy competing against boys and winning!

The primary reason we wanted to get to the area so early was that our oldest granddaughter, Katrina, was graduating from high school – at sixteen years old! We are all so proud of her. She has been able to take classes at Tacoma Community College in addition to her high school classes and, as a result, will also graduate from Tacoma Community College with two Associate Degrees. Her plans are to attend college at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

COVID-19 had an impact on her graduation. The graduation ceremony was held in four sessions to reduce the number of students, parents and guests in attendance. At that ceremony each student was presented with their diploma folder. The next day, they had a drive through at the high school where the students picked up their actual diploma. It was fun to help decorate the car and watch the procession of cars past the high school.

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Prisons in Boise and Hiking in Oregon – May 2021

While staying in Boise, ID we checked out a new campground, the RV park at Gowen Field. Gowen Field is the Headquarters of the Idaho National Guard and operates an RV park with seven sites. It’s small but nice. All of the sites are paved and full hookups and the proceeds support the base Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) program. There is a small convenience store nearby and the base gym is right across the road with a fitness track and all kinds of equipment. It was nice to walk around the base and then ride a stationary bike to finish my workout.

One of Pat’s cousins used to be stationed here and still lives in the area. We were able to visit with him and have lunch. I was enjoying the conversation so much I forgot to take any pictures.

The next day we drove to the Old Idaho Penitentiary. If you are ever in this area, I highly recommend this historic site. We were able to tour the various cell blocks and see how prisoners were housed and treated over the years. We attended a slide presentation on the history of the prison that was very interesting and informative. Would you believe that an architect who was a prisoner designed the prison dining facility? You can visit the maximum-security cell block that housed death row and the gallows. When I think of gallows, I imagine a large wooden structure, but this was nothing more than a room with a trap door in the floor and a huge eyebolt in the ceiling to attach the noose. Hanging was the most frequent method for applying a death sentence.

After that, we had lunch at a classic Boise restaurant, the Boise Fry Company. After all, we are in potato country and what could be better than an order of Idaho potatoes with a side of hamburger?

On Saturday, May 27th we headed farther west for the Deschutes State Recreation Area in Oregon.

The Deschutes State Recreation Area in Oregon is at the confluence of the Deschutes River and the Columbia River. The campground is right on the shore of the Deschutes River and is an idyllic setting. The temperatures were cool and comfortable but the winds were blowing hard every day. We were able to hike every morning along hiking trails that paralleled the river and we had some great views. We spent most of our time enjoying the nature in the area, but did take some time to visit a nearby winery.

My only issue with the park is that there is no dump station and the closest dump station is twelve miles away at the Port of The Dalles. No a big problem, but I wish we had noticed it in our planning.

On Wednesday, May 26th we headed out on our last leg of this trip. Next stop is Camp Murray Beach Campground near Tacoma, WA.

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