Posted by: Michigan Traveler | August 14, 2016

Exploring the Olympic Peninsula, July 2016

Olympic NP MapOlympic National Park is a million acres in the Olympic Peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound.  The park is unique in that it is actually three parks in one.  First, there is the temperate rain forest in the Hoh and Quinault regions.  Second, the Pacific Coast at Kalaloch, Mora, and Ozette.  Finally the mountains, highlighted by Hurricane Ridge.  These three regions are tied together by the lakes, lowlands, and rivers of Elwa, Lake Crescent, Sol Duc, and Ozette.

We took our daughter, Elisabeth, and our three granddaughters, Katrina, Sierra, and Clarissa on a road trip to explore all three of these regions.

20160725_160030We drove about 110 miles to our first stop, the Quinault River Inn on the shore of Lake Quinault.  Elisabeth had done some preliminary research and we had a rough plan.  After setting up, we drove to the Quinault Ranger Station to DSCN0771get some detailed advice.  We got Junior Ranger workbooks for the girls and headed out from the Ranger Station on a short hike into the rain forest.  The rain forest was a different environment than I have hiked in before.  The amount of fallen trees and the moss that covered nearly everything was impressive.  The girls were checking off things in their workbooks and drawing sketches as we followed the trail.  We passed by a waterfall that they felt had to be explored in detail.  The trees were HUGE!  The amount of rainfall in this region causes trees to grow like they were on steroids.  The heavy rainfall also accelerates the decay and growth of moss and various fungi.

After this hike we took a short drive to see the world’s largest spruce tree.  This tree is 191 feet tall and almost 59 feet in circumference.  From there we drove to a nearby waterfall and climbed around the rocks at the base of the falls.  It was great fun that brought out the kid in all of us.

DSCN0805Many RV parks don’t allow ground fires, but the Quinault River Inn had a community fire pit with a rack of split wood.  For dinner on our first night, we gathered around the fire for pizza made in our cast iron pie-irons and S’mores, the girls’ favorite campground dessert.  The evening was cool, but comfortable in sweatshirts and it was a great end to our first day.20160726_110330

The next day we hiked a nature trail that gave the girls many opportunities to complete portions of their Junior Ranger workbooks.  We saw huge trees that had fallen due to wind or disease, one was so big we could walk the length of it.  After lunch we hiked another trail to a homestead.  Two families had occupied this homestead for over forty years.  We could see where and how they lived as we read the trail guide.  There was a big contrast between the old forest and the second growth trees that were taking over a portion of the land that had been cleared for the homestead.

The next day we drove to the Quilette Oceanside Resort, an operation of the Quilette Indian Tribe.  This RV park is right on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and is part of the coast area covered by the National Park.  The girls loved the beach and wanted to go swimming right away.  We walked the length of the beach and through the campground, and then they were off for the water.  I’m not sure they were prepared for water that cold, but that didn’t stop them.

DSCN0836The next morning we woke to a thick fog, so we took time to make pancakes for breakfast.  The girls always enjoy helping Pat in the kitchen.  The fog cleared a bit and we walked out on the breakwater, and then back to the beach.  The weather was strange.  While the girls were playing in the water and sand, the adults relaxed in the sun, although the beach was surrounded by fog.  After a break for lunch we were back on the beach again.  DSCN0852The girls enjoyed playing in the sand and climbing on the large trees that had washed up on the beach.  They always seem to enjoy burying themselves in the sand, but this time they took it to new heights, or should I say depths?

We had a fire pit at our campsite and treated everyone to apple pie, made in our pie-irons.  Another special treat!

Friday morning we drove to Port Angeles to visit the mountains of the Olympic National Forest.  Along the way we drove along the shore of Lake Crescent and stopped to enjoy a view of the lake.

20160729_152751After setting up camp at the KOA campground, we drove to the National Park Wilderness Information Center to get more information on hiking and Ranger-led activities so the girls could finish their last requirement in their Junior Ranger workbooks.  We got some great advice, checked out the displays, then headed to the Port Angeles Visitor Center.  There we picked up some maps, bought a few postcards and went up in the Observation Tower that gave us a great view of the harbor area.

That night, at the campground, the girls were able to take a short wagon ride and see a movie with the rest of the campground.  You can generally count on KOA campgrounds to have activities on the weekends.

We got an early start the next morning and drove into the park for a Ranger-led hike in the Heart of the Hills campground.  The Ranger, Kyle, was a kindergarten teacher during the school year and did a great job relating to the kids.  Even though the hike was geared to young kids, the adults learned a lot about the woods and its creatures.

20160730_122239(0)From there we drove to DSCN0901Hurricane Ridge to hike to Hurricane Hill.  The trail was only 1.3 miles one way, but we climbed 650 feet in elevation over that distance.  I didn’t think the girls would be excited about the hike, but they moved out quickly.  As we started out we spotted a black tail deer right next to the trail, so close you could almost reach out and touch it.  The deer are obviously very comfortable with people here!  In a little over an hour we reached the summit of Hurricane Hill.  Talk about an amazing view – awesome!  20160730_133903If we thought the deer were friendly, the chipmunks were more so.  As we were eating there were chipmunks scampering all around us, hoping for a handout.

The hike back to the truck was  a lot faster.  We stopped at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center to get the girls’ Junior Ranger Badges and we found Kyle, the Ranger from the morning, there to complete the process.  20160730_153213He complimented them on doing such a thorough job and swore them in as Junior Rangers for Olympic National Park.  Whoever dreamed up the Junior Ranger Program should get a raise.  It’s a wonderful way to encourage kids to learn about the National Parks.  After a full day of hiking we relaxed at the swimming pool and the hot tub – a great way to end the day.

Sunday morning we headed back to the Tacoma area and Camp Murray.  It was 410 miles all the way around the peninsula, but a wonderful trip.  We saw a lot, learned a lot more, and did it all with our daughter and our granddaughters, what a great time!

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | August 9, 2016

Whidbey Island, WA – July 2016

Whidbey Island MapWhidbey Island is located in Puget Sound, north of Seattle.  Our reason for traveling to Whidbey Island may seem a bit strange.  Many, many years ago I saw one of those disaster movies where the President and First Family were flown to Whidbey Island to escape some kind of virus.  Ever since I have wanted to see Whidbey Island.DSCN0582

We traveled from the Tacoma area on July 10th and enjoyed an easy drive on a beautiful day.  We stayed at the Cliffside RV Park that is part of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.  We have stayed at many military campgrounds across the country and Cliffside RV Park is THE BEST park we have seen.  The park is on the shore of Puget Sound and the sites are terraced so almost every site has a view of the water.  The park was rebuilt in 2012 and Ken, the camp host, gathered flowers from multiple sources and landscaped the entire park with flowers.  There are cut flowers in the restrooms and laundry room, and even available to put in your RV.

DSCN0604Whidbey Island is known for its kayaking and we spent an afternoon kayaking in Deception Pass. Deception Pass is a strait separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island. A group of sailors led by Joseph Whidbey, part of the Vancouver Expedition, found and mapped Deception Pass in 1792.  George Vancouver gave it the name “Deception” because it had misled him into thinking Whidbey Island was a peninsula.

DSCN0586You have to plan your kayaking DSCN0592around the tide as it is a major change in water level between high and low tide.  It was exciting to paddle in the open water along the high cliffs and watch a harbor dolphin playing nearby.  As we tried to paddle through Deception Pass we discovered just how strong the tide was.  As we entered the Pass it was a slack tide (high tide turning into a  low tide) we were paddling like mad and merely holding our position against the current.  After a few minutes of this we turned around and let the current push us back toward Puget Sound.

The period of time we were on Whidbey Island is known as “Race Week,” a series of sailing races in Penn Cove and the Saratoga Passage.  We did some sightseeing in the little village of Coupeville and we able to see the racers in Penn Cove.  Coupeville is a bit touristy, but not over the top.  It still looks like the small fishing village it was in the 1800s.

DSCN0646Deception Pass State Park has some great hiking trails.  One day, instead of our normal exercise walk at NAS Whidbey Island, we hiked the Summit Trail at Deception Pass.  The weather was perfect, cool, but clear most of the time.  There were excellent views of Deception Pass Bridge and you could see for miles from Goose Peak, the highest point on the hike.

I took a side trip to see Fort Casey and Admiralty Head Lighthouse on the Puget Sound shore.  Fort Casey was one of three forts constructed defend the naval base at Bremerton and the industrial base of Seattle/Tacoma.  This is the best maintained coastal artillery installation I have ever seen.  At most historical sites the fortifications have deteriorated to the degree that they are unsafe to walk on.  DSCN0621Not these, they were solid, with fresh paint.  The ladders and walkways were intact, safe, and available to visitors.  The most impressive part of the fort are two “disappearing cannons,” so named because they would be retracted out of sight after firing. In the early 1940s the U.S. military determined that naval and long-range aircraft had made the forts obsolete and the cannon were removed to be used as scrap metal.  The State of Washington was able to procure two “disappearing cannon” that were in the Philippines under Japanese control and not scrapped to install at Fort Casey.

We met some friends that we had made in Tampa, FL that live north of Deception Pass in Anacortes.  Larry and Tina gave us a tour of the area and we had dinner in town.  Larry and Tina are pretty unique in that they were fulltime cruisers, sailing the oceans before they settled in Anacortes.  While we were eating they told us about San Juan Island, the ferry system, and the best way to visit San Juan Island.

The next morning we were up early to take the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.  The fare is very reasonable if you are not taking a car, bikes, or kayak, and there is plenty of room for passengers.  There are even some jigsaw puzzles scattered around on the tables to use to pass the time.  Friday Harbor is quite touristy, but not oppressively so.  You feel like you are in a normal community as you walk through the shopping district.

DSCN0682Larry and Tina told us to make DSCN0684sure we visited the Whale Museum and that was great advice. In 1979 the Whale Museum became the first museum dedicated to whales living in the wild.  The museum promotes stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education and research. There were the usual displays of whale skeletons and charts of where they travel in the Puget Sound.  However, the surprise was that they have been able to identify specific whales and their family trees.  Notations are made as the families change with new births, deaths, and sometimes, just disappearance.   This identification is not done with beacons or GPS devices, but by physical attributes that are different from whale to whale.

DSCN0723We wanted to put the kayaks in the water one more time before we left, so we drove over to the former seaplane base of the Naval Air Station.  This time the tide was rising.  We could feel the current but it wasn’t as strong here as it was in Deception Pass.  We paddled up a small estuary and around the small harbor.  We saw a small harbor seal, but it was being shy with us and we couldn’t get very close to it.  We also paddled past several large sailboats and yachts in the harbor, they were all quite impressive, but more than I could or wanted to afford!

DSCN0730Sunday afternoon, we visited the Blooms Winery, that had live entertainment.  It’s a small winery in a small group of shops.  It was supposed to be a blue grass band, but one of the band members was sick so their violinist teamed up with a friend who played guitar and they improvised a great performance.  Sometimes the violinist would start a song, the guitarist would listen for awhile and then join in with a harmony.  I wish I could play a fraction as good as this guy!  We wandered through the shops for a while, and listened to the group while sharing a bottle of Riesling.  All in all, a nice afternoon.


Tuesday morning we got an early start to avoid some of the I-5 traffic near Seattle and headed back to Fort Lewis.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | July 2, 2016

We Finally Made It To Washington

Seattle MapWe began our journey to Washington in March and, eleven states later, we arrived at Camp Murray Beach Campground near Lakewood, WA on May 25th.  At the risk of revealing a great secret, Camp Murray Beach is a hidden jewel.  This military campground is operated by the National Guard Association of Washington at the Washington National Guard’s Camp Murray, adjacent to Fort Lewis.  It’s a small campground, right on the shore of American Lake.  Even if you don’t have a lakefront site, you can count on a view of the water.

DSCN0403Our oldest son, Scott, and his family live in the area.  We planned to spend most of the summer here, spending time with them and having our three granddaughters stay with us on occasion.  The girls’ end of the year school activities were in full swing.  Within a week we were able to attend Clarissa and Sierra’s violin concert and watch Katrina’s school choir performance.DSCN0437

Scott and Sandra bought kayaks for the girls and we brought the kayaks out to the campground for them.  This is perfect spot for kayaking.  They can paddle in a channel that is between the camp lakeshore and a small island, without worrying about power boat traffic.  The girls have been using our kayaks off and on for a couple of years and have become pretty good paddlers.  We paddled to Shoreline Park, the swimming beach at nearby Fort Lewis, and to the public boat launch next door.

DSCN0418The weather was getting better with every day and we took advantage of it to paddle our kayaks around American Lake.  The south end of the lake borders, Camp Murray, Fort Lewis, and the American Lake VA Medical Campus.  The north end is all civilian with a couple of parks, boat launches, and some really nice (expensive) private homes.  It’s fun to imagine owning some of these properties even though it will never happen.

DSCN0444The next weekend we were all on the lake.  Scott and Sandra bought a canoe to compliment the kayaks and the Wangen armada paddled to Shoreline Park.  While the girls played in the sand and swam in the very cold water, Scott, Sandra, and I paddled our respective boats around the south end of the lake.  We look forward to this as being the first of many such outings.

After our long journey from Florida, it’s nice to be in one spot for an extended period of time.  We walk almost every morning on a route that travels on some wooded trails along the lake, through the buildings of Camp Murray, and the Army Travel Camp of Fort Lewis.  It’s just a short drive to Fort Lewis for trips to the Post Exchange and the Commissary for shopping.

DSCN0423As a veteran, Memorial Day has always been an important day on the calendar.  This year we were able to attend the Memorial Day ceremony at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  It was held at the old Camp Lewis Cemetery.  There are very few recent burials here as this cemetery was established in 1917.  We were able to see headstones of soldiers who had fought in the Civil War as well as those who protected settlers in the western expansion along the Oregon Trail.  The ceremony, including personnel from the Army at Lewis Main and Air Force from McChord Field was moving as we rendered a salute to our fallen warriors to the sound of Taps.

DSCN0492All three girls have been involved in swim clubs since they were old enough to swim.  We attended a dual meet at their home pool one evening.  They have definitely improved since we last saw them.  That weekend we traveled to Port Orchard, near Bremerton, to watch them in a league meet that lasted the entire weekend.  Scott and Sandra were busy in the role of volunteer officials.  We were able to see them in action as well was cheer the girls in their events.  The pool area was not set up for such a large meet and people were sitting everywhere, even bringing in lawn chairs.  The last event was Katrina swimming the 400-yard freestyle.  What an endurance event!  She swam well and kept up a good form all through the event.  When she climbed out of the water she was totally exhausted – what a champ!

We celebrated Father’s Day by watching Scott serve as the day’s Worship Leader at his church.  Later we gathered at our trailer for more paddling on American Lake and having the whole family together for dinner.

We are looking forward to spending more time together over the next two months.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | June 10, 2016

The End of the Oregon Trail, Portland, OR – May 2016

Portland MapWhen the pioneers of the 1800s started their westward journey many were focused on what is now Portland, Oregon as their final destination.  Our journey west brought us to the Jantzen Beach RV Park on Hayden Island in the Columbia River, at the north end of Portland.  It wasn’t your typical campground in the woods, but very convenient for sightseeing in the area.DSCN0249

The weather was forecast to turn to cloudy with rain showers later in the week.  Consequently, on our first day,  we decided to backtrack to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to hike in the area of Multnomah Falls.  We originally planned to hike to the top of the falls.  However, we ran into a group that suggested we hike a loop that went beyond Multnomah Falls and followed another stream to the base of the mountain.  It was quite a climb as we hiked up a series of eleven switchbacks.  The view of the falls was incredible.  As we hiked higher we passed two other falls and then followed the trail to see the Fairy Falls.  From there we descended a series of switchbacks on the trail to the bottom.

DSCN0293After leaving the falls we drove to the town of Cascade Locks.  At one point the Cascade Locks were critical to the movement of commercial shipping on the Columbia River.  These locks have now been replaced by newer locks at the Bonneville Dam.  The town has created a park around the old lock chambers with a museum, picnic areas, and event center.

The next morning the awoke to weather that is typical of the Pacific Northwest, cloudy with what the locals call “sun breaks,” and occasional showers. However, we have never let the weather drive our agenda so we packed our rain jackets in my backpack and drove to the light rail train station across the river to head downtown.

DSCN0317Our first stop was to visit the International Rose Garden in Washington Park.  Pat is the flower and plant lover in the family, but even I was impressed with the size and the beauty of the roses.  There were so many varieties of roses.  I have never seen so many different flowers.

We rode a combination of busses and light rail trains to the other side of Portland to visit the Creo Chocolate Factory & Cafe.  This was an interesting and educational experience.  DSCN0336Creo Chocolate is a small, family-owned business that makes chocolate from cacao beans grown in Ecuador.  They have a relationship with a farm in Ecuador and purchase their beans directly from that farm.  Janet, one of the owners, led a tour of their process.  During the tour we saw processes that I had never heard of.  Some of their equipment has been built especially for their small scale operation.  Janet and her husband are passionate about their business, keeping things as natural as possible, giving tours to educate the public, and working with local providers.  I encourage anyone visiting Portland to check it out.  Take time for a hot chocolate and brownie.

DSCN0345Our next stop was a walking tour of the old town area of Portland.  We looked at the bus schedules and decided it would take us as much time to travel by bus as it would to walk, so walk we did!  It was interesting to walk through this part of Portland.  We never felt uncomfortable and it was interesting to be that up close and personal in a strange city.  The tour was interesting in that we heard about the “seedy side” of Portland – the bars, strip joints, and houses of ill repute.  However, we were disappointed in that we had been promised a tour of “Underground Portland,” the tunnels below street level.  Instead of walking through tunnels we were taken into the basement of the tour’s office and shown a tunnel barricaded with rubble.  We were told that the tunnels were used for drainage and to move cargo from the docks to the stores, not for Shanghied sailors to serve on the ships that came to Portland.

DSCN0348Our final sightseeing stop of the day was Powell’s Bookstore.  Powell’s occupies an entire city block and has three stories of books.  I could have spent all day here, but we made it a short stop and then had dinner at Deschutes Brewery and Public House  This craft brewery has good food, good beer, good atmosphere, and great service.  If you are visiting Portland, it should be on your list.

DSCN0357The next day started out dreary and overcast, but weather doesn’t stop us from having a good time.  We took the train to China Town for Portland Saturday Market.  It was lots of fun to wander through the booths of vendors.  No matter how many fairs and shows we have been to, each one is different.  There were street performers as well.  The food booths were particularly inviting, but we were able to resist the temptation.

DSCN0343Voodoo Donuts is a Portland legend and is only a short walk from the Saturday Market.  We considered indulging ourselves but the line was a block long so we passed on the opportunity as well.

This trip has been a good one for seeing relatives.  My cousin, Barb, and her husband, Karl, live in Oregon, but not close to Portland.  Fortunately they are really into rock collecting and wanted to check out a source near us, so they joined us for lunch.  It has been literally a decade or two since we have seen each other.  We had a great time exchanging stories about what we had been up to and talking about our parents.

20160524_091916While on our morning fitness walks we saw something unique to the Pacific Northwest – floating houses!  Floating homes started as lodging for harbor workers and logging crews.  Now they have evolved into a unique (and not inexpensive) lifestyle.  They definitely got my attention –   what a great way to live if you love the water!

Our last sightseeing stop in Portland was actually across the river in Washington.  Fort Vancouver was originally established as a trading post of the British Hudson’s Bay Company.  Fort Vancouver was the heart of the company’s fur trading empire in the Pacific Northwest.  In 1846 the British and Americans agreed to set the northern border of the United States along the 49th Parallel and Fort Vancouver became an American fort.

DSCN0378We were able to tour the reconstructed Hudson’s Bay Company fort.  The fortifications were constructed more as a means to protect the furs and trades goods from theft than to protect the fort from an attack.  We were able to see the bakery that produced hardtack to supply the ships that carried goods to and from England, the blacksmith shop, the fur warehouse, the counting house, and others.  As impressive as the buildings were, the garden where the personnel of the fort raised food for themselves and the local community was equally impressive.

DSCN0365Over the years the Army expanded the fort to include barracks, warehouses, parade field, and rifle ranges.  The most historic part of the expansion was quarters on Officer’s Row.  Officers who lived on Officer’s Row include Ulysses S. Grant and George C. Marshall.  General Marshall served here as the commander for two years and his house is available to tour.  General Marshall was the Army Chief of Staff during WWII and the chief strategist of the Allied victory.  He was the author of the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe at the end of the war.  He also served as a former U.S. Secretary of State and President of the American Red Cross.  The Marshall House is a grand structure, has displays of General Marshall’s life, and is still used for meetings.


HO Scale Model of the Spruce Production Division

In 1911, local aeronauts began using the polo field of Fort Vancouver as their base of operations.  In 1912 the field was a stop for the first airmail service in the Pacific Northwest.  In 1914 America entered WWI and America needed spruce from the Pacific Northwest to build airplanes.  Due to labor uncertainty in the area, the Army created the Spruce Production Division, drafted many of the local loggers to log the lumber, and in 48 days built the world’s largest spruce cut-up mill.  Within days of the armistice in 1918, production was halted, the mill dismantled, and the Army discharged the workforce.  After WWII the Army declared Pearson Field to be surplus and transferred the title to the City of Vancouver.

It took most of the day to tour the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site and I can’t remember when I have walked through so much history in such a small area.

On Wednesday, May 25th we took the last step of the journey we started in March in Tampa, FL and headed to Camp Murray in Tacoma, WA.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | May 31, 2016

Mountain Home, IA – A Stop on the Oregon Trail – May 2016

Mountain Home MapWe selected Mountain Home, ID as our next waypoint on our journey to Washington.  Mountain Home is on the route of the Oregon Trail.  As I read about the western expansion and migration I couldn’t help but compare how easy our travels are compared to the hazards those pioneers faced.

We looked at several different RV parks in the area and chose the Mountain Home RV Park.  I was a little concerned when it kept coming up on Google Maps as Mountain Home Self Storage!  It turned out that these are two businesses owned by the same people on the same property.  The RV park was just great.  The sites are large and had well-maintained lawns for each site.  The staff was very friendly and helpful and their WIFI had a consistently strong signal.  The pool and hot tub were nice benefits that we enjoyed. Another plus that I always appreciate was free coffee in the office.

DSCN0141One of the first things we did DSCN0139was to visit one of Pat’s cousins, Jim, who lives nearby.  Jim had served in the U.S. Air Force and was an advisor to the Idaho Air National Guard before he retired and settled down in the area.  He lives on a mountain (literally) outside of Boise.  When we drove to meet him it took us almost a half hour to drive from the base of the mountain to his 20160510_150435home.  Talk about location, location, location!  He has the best view!  It is a rustic home and suits him just fine.  We talked a lot about what each of us had been up to and then drove down the mountain to have lunch in Idaho City.  This is an Old West Town that looks today like the towns we saw on Bonanza and Gunsmoke.  The old buildings have been maintained and re-purposed for today’s functions.   We also visited the Pioneer Cemetery.  It is always interesting to see how long people lived in those days and tragic to see how many children never saw their third birthday.  The oddest thing to me was the lack of organization.  There were no rows, but graves were scattered randomly within the cemetery.DSCN0184

A couple of days later we drove to the Craters of the Moon National Park.  “The surface of the moon as seen through a telescope,” is how geologist Harold Stearns described the area in 1923.  The area is a result of volcanic activity along a geologic fault known as the Great Rift.  The mounds in the area were formed from cinder thrown from the volcanoes as they erupted.  There are acres of lava that flowed from the volcanoes.  One of the interesting things is how vegetation has returned to the area and continues to flourish.

DSCN0220When a lava flow develops a hard crust, forming a roof over the still-flowing lava stream.  Eventually the lava blocks itself at the source.  The remaining lava flows out from under the roof, leaving a cave known as a “lava tube.”  There are several lava tubes in the park.  Most are fragile enough that visitors are not allowed in them.  DSCN0231However, the Park Service has set aside four caves and tunnels formed by lava tubes for visitors to explore.  These are not like the Carlsbad and Mammoth Caves.   They are not developed, they are completely natural and a unique experience.  We walk through the largest one, called the “Tunnel.” It was interesting and challenging as we walked around some fallen rubble and crawled over other rubble piles.  We literally crawled out through a hole in the rock to exit the lava tube.

After a few days of relaxing, we left on May 16th for Portland, OR

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | May 24, 2016

Salt Lake City, UT – April/May 2016

SLC MapSalt Lake City is a stimulating and inspiring place to visit.  The valley that is bordered on the east by the Wasatch Mountain range and the west by the Bonneville Salt Flats is a interesting contrast in geography.  We set up at the Air Force FAMCAMP (Family Camp) at Hill Air Force Base, near Layton, UT, north of Salt Lake City.  Hill is a nice location, close to facilities on base and local shopping.

We had visited the Salt Lake area twice before for a month or more each time.  We felt we had seen most of the sites we wanted to see and planned for a nice, relaxing stay while we waited for the weather to warm up in Washington.

The Salt Lake area is known for its high winds and we were not disappointed.  One day the radio and TV were broadcasting high wind warnings.  We stowed chairs and loose items in preparation and it was a good thing.  During the night we could feel the trailer rocking from the gusts of wind.  The next morning we heard that there were 70 mph winds in our area and gusts of 90 mph just south of us.  20160504_111254There were reports of downed power lines and we saw tree branches on the ground all over the base.

The city of Ogden has developed numerous bicycle and walking/running trails.  We rode the Weber/Ogden River Trail and enjoyed to views of the mountains of the Wasatch Range in the background.

20160505_161929I don’t think anyone should 20160505_192836visit the Salt Lake area without seeing Temple Square and listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  You can arrange to a guided tour of the Temple building and the Conference Center.  There are two Visitor Centers as well as the Church History Museum.  Many of us know little about the Mormon religion and these sites offer a great opportunity to learn.  We were guided through the Assembly Hall and Tabernacle by two Mormon Sisters, one from the Philippines and one from Micronesia.  We had a light dinner in the Utah Hotel’s Nauvoo Cafe before we attended the Thursday rehearsal of the Tabernacle Choir.  Their rehearsals are open to the public and a great experience.  The Choir has over 400 members and is backed up by a full orchestra.  What a wonderful way to spend an evening!

20160508_131300We spent the remainder of our time taking it easy.  We celebrated Mother’s Day with a buffet at one of the clubs on base.

Monday, May 9th, we were on our way to Mountain Home, ID.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | May 21, 2016

Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, UT, April 2016

Arches NP MapAs we were planning our route to Washington we had the option of traveling north through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, or west through Pueblo, CO to Moab, UT.  Our research revealed that Yellowstone “could” open as early as the second week in May.  We didn’t want to arrive in Yellowstone and find it blanketed in snow and closed, so we opted to travel west through Moab.

If you are visiting Canyonlands or Arches National Parks, Moab, UT is the nearest place to camp if you have an RV as big as ours.  Also the campgrounds in these National Parks fill up early.  We visited Arches National Park in 2014, but we had not been to Canyonlands.DSCN6709

On Monday, April 25th we arrived at the Moab Valley RV Park.  Moab is a very busy place and we could only get a reservation for three nights.  However, that was sufficient time for our purposes.  Moab Valley is a nice park.  The sites are a good size and most of them are pull-through sites with full hook-ups.  There is a pool with a hot tub and a small gift shop with free coffee.

As soon as we were set up, we drove to the Arches National Park Visitor Center.  There we picked up a map and brochure for Arches and we were fortunate to get a map and brochure for Canyonlands from a helpful Ranger.  Then we checked the weather forecast for the area.  Tuesday was not very good, with a strong possibility of rain and continued cloudy weather.  Wednesday had a better forecast for clear skies with almost no chance of rain.  We decided to spend Tuesday going to a couple of specific sites at Arches and then spend Wednesday at Canyonlands.

20160426_112121True to the forecast we woke 20160426_112529-1up to cloudy skies, cool temperatures and light rain.  Not to be deterred we put on our rain jackets and headed to the park.  Our first stop was Delicate Arch.  This is one of the more popular sites.  The last time we were here we saw it from an overlook, this time we made the three mile, round-trip hike to the Arch.  The winds were blowing strong and the rain was off and on.  There were a lot of people taking pictures at the Arch and we were fortunate to enlist one to take our picture under the arch.

20160426_135756Our next stop was Landscape Arch.  Of all of the arches in the park this is the one that I like the most.  In 1991, 180 tons of rock fell off the arch leaving a slender span between the two bases of the arch.  Now it looks more delicate than Delicate Arch.  20160426_142951Just past Landscape Arch is a split from the main trail to Navaho Arch and Partition Arch.  There were only a few other hikers by these arches and little evidence of much traffic.  Each of the arches was unique.  Navaho Arch led into a small alcove that would have made a great campsite for a backpacker.  Partition Arch is actually two arches in 20160426_141001one.  The view from Partition Arch was outstanding.  On our way back to the parking lot we took a brief detour to see Pine Arch and Tunnel Arch.  It’s amazing to me how unique each of these arches are.  Arches National Park is a delight for a twelve year old kid who loves to climb on rocks, and a nightmare for his parents, who are scared he will hurt himself.

20160426_162626After that we headed out of the park.  We had done a lot of hiking (and climbing), but we made a brief stop to see Park Ave.  This is a long, eroded fin that looks like a series of buildings, hence the name, Park Ave.  What really caught our attention was one rock formation that looked like it was ready to topple off at any minute.  Considering that it had been there for thousands of years, it probably won’t happen anytime soon!

20160427_092808Wednesday we awoke to clear skies and cool temperatures.  The Canyonlands Visitor Center was about a half-hour drive from the RV park.  We stopped there to view the displays and I bought a medallion for my hiking staff, then we were off to cover as much ground as we could in the day.

Canyonlands National Park is really three parks in one.  The main park, and the one most visited, is the “Island in the Sky.”  This rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain.  Second is the “Needles.”  This forms the southeast corner of the Park and was named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area.  The “Maze” is the third and least accessible district.  Due to its remoteness and the difficulty of roads and trails, travel requires a four-wheel vehicle and a greater degree of self-sufficiency.

20160427_111609We confined our visit to the “Island in the Sky” and our first stop was the Grand Overlook.  Here we lucked out and arrived shortly before a Ranger talk on the geology of the “Island in the Sky.”  It was interesting to hear about the millions of years of evolution of the earth, specifically this small part of it.  Understanding how the earth developed puts all the talk about “global warming” and “climate change” into a different perspective.  It didn’t take more than a short hike to see how this mesa towers over the surrounding country and understand why it is called the “Island in the Sky.”

20160427_125720Our next stop was the Upheaval Dome.  There is a lot of controversy about this huge depression.  Was it the result of an explosive meteor strike, or was it a dome built up from a salt deposit below the surface that dissolved as water seeped through the surface with a resulting collapse?  There is a large volume of evidence to support both theories.  We hiked to the first and second overlooks and each one gave us a different perspective of the competing theories.  The hike to the second overlook was much tougher than we originally thought and we took a break for lunch at the second overlook.20160427_143558

Our last stop of the day was the Mesa Arch.  Enroute we stopped at the Green River Overlook.  The Green River and the Colorado River join at the Confluence at the southern base of the Island in the Sky and continue as the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  In 1869 John Wesley Powell started a three-month expedition on the Green River to explore the Green and Colorado Rivers through the Grand Canyon.  He and his expedition were the first Europeans to pass through the Grand Canyon.  Lake Powell in Nevada is named for John Wesley Powell.

20160427_150429Mesa Arch was the only arch that we observed in Canyonlands and it was a unique experience to get as close to the arch portion.  Here, as with every other stop we made in the park we were awed by the magnitude of the mesa and the views of the valley below.

After five miles of hiking and climbing on the mesa, we decided to call it a day so we headed back to pack up for the next leg of our journey.  The next morning we checked the weather on the Soldier Summit to make sure the pass wasn’t blocked by the snow that fell in the mountains overnight.  By 8:15 we were hooked up and on our way to Salt Lake City, UT.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | May 16, 2016

Manitou Springs, CO – April 2016

Colorado Springs MapIt was a long drive from Dodge City to Manitou Springs, but pleasant to see the terrain change from flat grasslands to Rocky Mountain foothills.  We were headed for Pikes Peak RV Park in downtown Manitou Springs.  As with many of the RV parks and campgrounds, we had selected it by searching on Google Maps based on its location to areas we wanted to explore.  Pikes Peak RV Park had good reviews on Google and Trip Advisor and seemed to be centrally located.  It is in a perfect location to see sites such as Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, and the U.S. Air Force Academy to name a few.  The sites are nice and the management goes a long way to be helpful to everyone.  Right behind the park is a trail, used by runners and walkers, that goes west to downtown Manitou Springs and east to Colorado Springs.

We arrived on Thursday, April 14th and in regards to the weather, our timing could have been better.  We soon discovered there was a cold front coming through the Rockies and the forecast was that we could get snow as early as Friday.  We had planned to ride the Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak and the expected snow would block the tracks.  When we woke up Friday morning the weather was chilly, but clear.  We could see clouds covering the top of Pikes Peak and felt that even if we got to the top we wouldn’t be able to see anything.  Instead we opted to hike in the Garden of the Gods.  We got there before the Visitor Center opened, but the trails are well marked so we started hiking right away.

DSCN6547Back in the 1859 two surveyors came upon the rock formations.  Malancthon Beach said this would be a “capital place for a beer garden.”  His companion, Rufus Cable replied, “Beer Garden!  Why this is a place fit for the Gods to assemble.”  Hence came the name Garden of the Gods.  In 1879, General William Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs, convinced his friend, Charles Perkins to purchase land in the Garden of the Gods.  Perkins bought 480 acres for $22 per acre.  He never built on this land but allowed the public to enjoy the property.  He wanted the land to become a public park but died before he could DSCN6523accomplish this.  Perkin’s children followed their father’s wishes and in 1909 the City Council accepted the land, with the provision that the park would be open to the public at no charge.  In 1972 Garden of the Gods was recognized as a National Natural Landmark.

20160415_101058We hiked through Central Garden area that is handicapped accessible with paved paths, then went on to the Ute Trail that explored the grasslands that were once a reservoir that supplied water to the Rock Ledge Ranch.  The Central Garden area has the most dramatic and most photographed rock formations. DSCN6533It has been used for community activities, such as Easter Morning Sunrise Services and Chuck Wagon Dinners.  Throughout the park you are allowed to climb on the lower rocks, but permits and proper climbing equipment are required to climb the more difficult sections.  While we were hiking on the Ute Trail we spotted a climber on the Cathedral Rock.  He looked like a speck on the cliff wall from our location.  As we hiked we looked to Pikes Peak and saw it surrounded by clear skies and hoped we hadn’t missed a good opportunity.  After hiking we went to the Visitor Center and toured their displays and picked up some more detailed hiking maps of the area.

DSCN6562That afternoon the snow began to fall and by morning we were covered with 6-8 inches of the white stuff.  The skies were cloudy and there was more snow in the forecast. Not to be deterred by the weather, we put on our hiking boots, hats and gloves and went for a walk along the trail that ran behind the RV park.  The tree branches were hanging low from the weight of the heavy snow and we got dumped on more than once.  A light snow continued to fall and it made for a pleasant, if not unusual, morning walk.  That afternoon the manager of the RV park came around and asked us to fill our fresh water tank and disconnect from the outdoor faucet.  They were expecting overnight temperatures in the 20’s and didn’t want the water lines to freeze.  So much for never traveling where it is snowing!  We hibernated the rest of the day and did some planning for the rest of our journey.DSCN6563

One of my high school classmates, David Coward, lives in the area and we made arrangements to get together.  The road conditions between where he lives and Manitou Springs were very bad and we decided we could meet on Monday.  That morning Dave joined us at our trailer and we talked for hours about high school memories, what our families have been up to, and what it was like living in Colorado.  It was surprising how much the two of us have in common.  Dave and his girlfriend, Regina, are trying to visit all of the National Parks.  I’m not sure he realizes how much of a challenge that is, but we had a great time sharing National Park stories.  After lunch he headed for home with hopes to see each other again in our travels.

DSCN6582By Tuesday the snow had melted away in most areas.  That afternoon we visited the Manitou Caves Dwellings in Manitou Springs.  I originally thought that Pueblo Indian tribes had lived in the area in these dwellings.  I was surprised to find out that they had moved these dwellings from Mesa Verde, NM and rebuilt them in Manitou Springs.  They also have the Anasazi Museum, which was originally opened in 1907, and depicts the daily life of the Pueblo Indians.  Although these are not actual cave dwellings, they are authentic and you can follow the self-guided tour through them and see up close the way the Anasazi lived.


We had been monitoring the DSCN6590Cog Railway and discovered that it was only able to travel six of the nine miles to Pikes Peak, and not able to make it to the top due to snow on the tracks.  On Wednesday the weather was beautiful, but snow drifts still blocked the tracks so we gave up on riding the train to Pikes Peak and decided to hike some different trails in the Garden of the Gods.  We combined several short trails into a hike of about five miles and were able to see a nice cross section of the geological features of the park.

That afternoon we walked the trail into downtown Manitou Springs.  To provide some history here, long before American explorers discovered the Pikes Peak region, the American Indians of the area knew of the bubbling soda springs at the base of their sacred mountain, Tava, now known as Pikes Peak.  The nations of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache were all visitors to the springs.  Though enemies, most of these tribes would practice restraint around what they called medicine springs.  In 1833 Captain John C. Fremont reported on his scientific findings at these medicinal springs after his 1824 expedition.  Since 1872 thousands of sufferers have flocked to the dry air and the healing waters of Manitou Springs.

DSCN6618Today there are four springs in downtown Manitou Springs and everyone is welcome to drink from them.  They are different in their tastes and whether you like each taste is up to you.  We spent Wednesday afternoon wandering through the downtown area sampling the springs and thought it an appropriate way to end our visit.

Thursday, April 21st, we  awoke to a beautiful day, hitched up our trailer and headed west for the Curecanti National Recreation Area in the Blue Mesa area of western Colorado.

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | May 7, 2016

The Blue Mesa of Colorado, April 2016

DSCN6653When we left Manitou Springs on DSCN6655Thursday, April 21st, we were at about 6,500 feet above sea level.  As we drove west through the Monarch Pass we climbed to 11, 312 feet and crossed the Continental Divide into the western watershed of the Rocky Mountains.  Needless to say the temperature was colder than in Manitou Springs and the snow was piled high along the shoulder of the road.  We stopped for lunch at a parking area on the Continental Divide, enjoying the view and the warmth of the sun.  As we descended to the Curecanti National Recreation Area near Gunnison, CO we were thankful for our previous mountain driving experience and the exhaust brake on our truck.  Click here to read our post on tips for driving in the mountains.

DSCN6669We arrived at the Curecanti National Recreation Area about 3:00 in the afternoon.  We stopped at the Boat Inspection Station (where they check to insure you aren’t bringing any invasive species to the lake) and filled our fresh water tank.  Curecanti offers mostly dry camping (no electric, water, and sewer hookups), but Loop D has 50 amp electrical hookups.  Normally we would have filled up at the dump station, but we were so early in their camping season that they didn’t have the water turned on yet.  One of the problems we have recently encountered is that the campgrounds we are staying at are just opening and are not always fully operational.  After getting into a pull through site, we went to the Visitor Center to register and get some information on hiking and kayaking opportunities in the area.

DSCN6689The area around the Curecanti National Recreation Area  is called the Blue Mesa because of the reservoir.  The Blue Mesa Reservoir is one of Colorado’s must see destinations. Blue Mesa is Colorado’s largest lake being twenty miles long with 96 miles of shoreline. The reservoirs are all part of a hydroelectric project supplying electricity to the region. The reservoirs also play a very important role in water storage and management for the entire four corners area.

The Blue Mesa Reservoir is a popular destination for outdoor recreation. The lake is very popular with fisherman summer and winter. A number of fish species are in the lake, including lake trout which grow to be very large trophy fish.

DSCN6663Friday morning was cool but sunny and we decided to hike the Dillon Pinnacles Trail.  This was a four-mile round trip that was not supposed to be very strenuous.  As we started from the trailhead we talked to a couple of Park Rangers who were going to lead a class of sixth graders on the same trail.  They suggested we might want to get started quickly unless we wanted to join their group for a sixth grade level geology lesson.  As we left we could see their busses arriving and thought it would be better to he ahead of them on the trail.

I estimate that we climbed about 1,000 feet over the two miles to the turnaround.  It wasn’t too bad but when you consider we were starting at an elevation of about 7,400 feet above sea level, the air was a bit thin and our breathing showed it.  The trail was easy and the views were amazing!  Much of the rock formations in this area are the result of volcanic activity thousands of years ago.  On the cliffs you could see where the lava had flowed down the side of the volcanic cone and over the years the softer rock has been eroded away leaving big “creases,” for lack of a better term, down the sides of the cliffs.  Years ago, volcanic debris and ash has piled on top of the cliffs and “cemented” by a combination of ash and water to make the caps harder than the surrounding area, more resistant to erosion creating the pinnacles.

DSCN6683The next morning we decided DSCN6675to do another hike to find a geocache in Haystack Gulch, just across the road from the campground.  We followed an old, two-track trail into the gulch and then went up a steep slope into the saddle between two pinnacles.  The cache was at the base of one of the pinnacles and was a steeper climb to get to it.  We found it and I logged my second find for the area.  Our hike was only 3.68 miles, but we ascended 1,973 feet with most of that in a half mile distance!  We descended into the gulch and hiked deeper into it before returning to the campground.

After we cleaned up and had lunch the weather turned for the worse and we had heavy winds, gusting to 30-40 mph with driving rain.  By dinner it was starting to clear and we had hopes of being able to get our kayaks into the reservoir in the morning.

DSCN6701On Sunday morning we awoke to clear skies, but winds blowing at least 15 mph, gusting to 25, did not make very nice kayaking weather.  Instead we decided to hike back into East Elk Creek to find another geocache.  We were able to hike in along a dirt road to a group campsite.  DSCN6694It looked like a great place to take a troop of Boy Scouts.  We hiked past the campsite until my GPS showed the cache was straight off the trail to the East.  We climbed up a very steep slope until we got to the base of a series of pinnacles.  The pinnacles are composed of volcanic breccia from mud and debris from the now extinct West Elk Volcano.  The breccia are capped by layers of welded tuff which are solidified red-hot ash belched out of the San Juan volcanic centers located 40-50 miles to the south.  I was pleasantly surprised to climb to the back side of a pinnacle and see the cache hidden by a small pile of rocks, but in plain view.  After logging my find, we enjoyed the outstanding view and headed back.

DSCN6703On the trek back we observed a mountain stream that had a heavy flow of water from the spring snow melt.  We commented that it was going to take a lot of water to raise the lake levels up to where they were before.  You can see from the sandy shore surrounding the lake that the level was down considerably.

There were high winds forecasted for Monday so we were up early for an early start on the next leg of our trip, Moab, UT – Canyonlands and Arches National Parks here we come!

Posted by: Michigan Traveler | May 1, 2016

Dodge City, KS April 2016

DSCN6481How many of you grew up watching “Gunsmoke” on TV?  Marshal Matt Dillon and his sidekick deputy Fetus?  How about Miss Kitty and Doc hanging out at the Long Branch Saloon?

As we were planning our trip from Florida to Washington it was pretty simple to select the major stops along the way.  After that we looked for places to break the rest of the trip up into reasonable drives.  As we planned the route between Branson, MO and Colorado Springs, Dodge City, KS was the perfect distance.  When I saw this I said to myself, “We have to stop at Dodge City, if only to say we visited the site of “Gunsmoke.”

DSCN6478We stayed at the Gunsmoke RV Park on the west side of town.  This is a nice campground with a lot of pull-through sites and trees and grass.  We relaxed after a long drive and did some research on what to see in the area.

The next morning we started by going to the Visitor Center and got a map of the self-guided walking tour around town, as well as some other advice on what to see.  For all of you geocachers, the Visitor Center is a geocache.  Go in and ask for the geocache and they will hand you the container that is kept behind the desk.  This was probably the easiest and most creative geocache I have picked up.  As a bonus I got my picture taken with Marshal Matt Dillon.

DSCN6485We followed the route of the walking tour.  The city has metal “pole art banners” mounted on lampposts that highlight periods of history. Periodically we came across interpretive signs, “story boards,” describing the actions and people involved in the city’s history.  Along the route there are “Trail of Fame Medallions.” Like the stars on the sidewalk in Hollywood these medallions recognize key figures in the history of Dodge City.  The medallions recognized Wyatt Earp – formerly the US Marshal for Dodge City, John Henry “Doc” Holliday and his girlfriend, “Big Nose” Kate Elder, and others.  They also recognized the cast of “Gunsmoke” and other TV westerns that involved Dodge City.

DSCN6492The site of the original Front Street in Dodge City is now occupied by current businesses.  The architecture of the buildings has changed due to fires and urban renewal projects so it has no resemblance to what we all watched on the TV show.  However, it was interesting to see the site of the original Long Branch Saloon and the Dodge House.

We walked up Boot Hill, and although the original cemetery was replaced by a municipal building, we were able to view a commemorative marker of Boot Hill.

DSCN6500DSCN6503Fort Dodge was established to provide security for the area and the trade routes before Dodge City existed.  Because of problems with excessive drinking at Fort Dodge, the Post Commander forbid any alcohol within five miles of the fort.  To remedy this situation George Hoover put a board across two piles of sod exactly five miles west of Fort Dodge to open the first bar in what would become Dodge City.

20160412_175113Fort Dodge is now the site of a VA medical facility and a state run Veterans Home.  We toured the Fort dodge complex and the museum.  Between the displays and the volunteer docent we came away with a clear picture of life on the frontier.

The next day was spent taking it easy and practicing the “fine art of doing nothing.”  On Thursday, April 14th we headed for Colorado Springs.

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