Up, Up, and Away in My Beautiful Balloon – October 2019

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is just an awesome experience! We linked up with two other couples that we know from Key West at the Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post. Being able to share the experience with friends definitely added to our enjoyment.

One of the neat things about Enchanted Trails RV Park is they have “vintage” trailers that you can rent. If you are camped there they will loan you a key to see the interiors.

None of us had made any specific plans prior to arriving in Albuquerque. We gathered for drinks and dinner and, after sharing some recent history, we got down to planning. The Fiesta operated at Park and Ride service that was the best deal. For one price we were able to take a shuttle from a nearby shopping mall to the Fiesta and entry to the Fiesta. We purchased tickets online and were ready for the adventure.

Our first day at the Fiesta started VERY early. We left the RV park at 4:30 to get an early shuttle. We were all impressed by the efficiency of the shuttle system. There was a huge fleet of busses, with one leaving every few minutes. The lines at security to get into the Fiesta moved quickly and it wasn’t long before we were inside. It was well before dawn and the crowds were huge. We purchased some breakfast burritos and headed on to the launching field. As we walked onto the field I kept waiting to run into the rope line or barrier that would keep us off the field, but we never got to it because it wasn’t there. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is unique in that visitors can walk out onto the launching field. We were able to talk with the balloon crews, stand next to the balloons as they were being inflated, and step aside as they took off. The fact that much of this was going on in the dark made it more impressive. Every direction we looked there were balloons being laid out, inflated, waiting to launch, and taking off.

One of the factors that make Albuquerque an excellent balloon site is the “box winds” in the area. The winds blow in different directions and speeds at different altitudes. We would track a balloon as it took off to the East at a brisk speed, and then see it fly to the North.  It would turn West and move at a slow speed, and continue to fly in a box until the crew decided to leave the circuit to fly to a landing site.

There is more to do in Albuquerque than the Balloon Fiesta. We all packed lunches and drove to take the tramway to Sandia Peak. This is the highest peak in New Mexico. There was a long wait to take the tram. It was interesting to see other people stand in line for an hour or more and then give up and leave. I guess frustration can be a terrible thing. The ride to the peak was spectacular but not as spectacular as the view from the peak itself. You could see for hundreds of miles!

Old Town is the historic root of Albuquerque. It was fascinating to me to walk through the area, to see the town square with the performance gazebo, the adobe buildings that housed shops, cafes and restaurants. All around the area one can listen to native Americans playing their ancestral flutes. In a courtyard off the main square I listened to a trio entertaining the shoppers. After we were done shopping and exploring we enjoyed a great dinner while being entertained by a harpist. What a treat!

Each evening of the Fiesta is the Balloon Glow. We took advantage of the Park and Ride again and took the shuttle from the mall. Inside the grounds we wandered through many of the vendor tents to check them out. In addition to vendor sales there were also exhibits from the Experimental Aviation Association and NASA. This event is certainly a great place to get young minds interested in aviation and space exploration.

After picking up some dinner we sat at the edge of the launching field to watch the sky diving demonstration. As a former paratrooper I really appreciate a good parachute demonstration and these guys did an outstanding job. After the skydiving, we wandered around the launching field to see the balloons. As it became darker the scene became more dramatic as multiple balloons would light their burners simultaneously. What a site! The pictures don’t do credit to the actual lighting.

The final activity was the fireworks display. This was preceded by a night skydiving demonstration. This was the first time I have ever seen sky divers illuminated with flares attached to their boots – a very spectacular display.

Throughout the time we were together we rotated from one rig to another for meals. The ladies thought it was a good deal to only prepare dinner every third night. We all enjoyed the great meals and good fellowship.

On October 15th we all hooked up and headed to different destinations. For us, the next stop was Hot Springs National Park.




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Hiking in Flagstaff and Standin’ on the Corner – October 2019

We planned to stop in Flagstaff because it was the right distance, but we had no idea what to do there. As we researched we quickly discovered there was more to do than we had time. I guess we will have to stop again on another trip!

We stayed at the Fort Tuthill County Park. We had made reservations because online it looked like the park was almost full. To our surprise the park was almost empty for the entire time we were there. Camping at Fort Tuthill is dry camping, in that there are no hookups. You fill your fresh water tank when you arrive and use the dump station when you leave. You provide electricity from your batteries and generators. This wasn’t anything new to us and we were prepared. That afternoon and evening I did some geocaching and we finalized our plans.

Our first stop was the Flagstaff Visitor Center. Here we learned a bit more of the city’s history and how it was affected by the development of the railroad. We also picked up a self-guided tour for the historical district. I love history and architecture; old buildings just fascinate me, especially when there is a good story involved. Why is the city named Flagstaff? In 1876 a group of men, known as the Boston Party, were traveling to Prescott, AZ and camped at the site on Independence Day. Being patriotic they stripped a pine tree and hung Old Glory at the top. From then on the stripped tree became a landmark for other travelers, eventually the area became known as Flag Staff and then Flagstaff. In 1881 it was officially named Flagstaff.

We wandered through the town and could see the history of old Flagstaff families by the buildings they owned and businesses they operated. Of course the best stop was for lunch at Collins Irish Pub & Grill in the old Aubineau building. This was the fourth building on this site and was constructed in 1912.

Not everything is fun and games on the road. We aren’t on vacation, this is our normal life and day-to-day activities must be done. We took some time to take the truck into the local Chevrolet dealer to get the oil changed.

After that we headed to Walnut Canyon National Monument. This is the site of ancient cliff dwellings. The first permanent residents inhabited the area from 600 to 1400 AD. They began by farming the lands around the canyon rim and in the 1100’s developed the dwellings in the alcoves of the cliffs inside the canyon. The cliff dwellings gave them protection from the weather as well as hostile tribes. We had seen the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde and the Walnut Canyon dwellings were as, if not more, impressive than those in Mesa Verde.

Today more than 100,000 people a year visit Walnut Canyon. We should all be thankful to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Park Service for preserving this monument for us and future generations.

Enroute to Albuquerque we stopped in Winslow, AZ to go to the corner of Kingsley Avenue and Second Street (Old Highway 66). This intersection is the “Standin’ on the Corner Park,” and is the famous “Corner” highlighted in the song by the country-rock band, the Eagles – “Take It Easy.”

This corner has joined the ranks of many famous corners. There is a mural of the girl in the flat-bed Ford, bronze statues of “a relaxed dude with a guitar” and Eagles’ Glenn Frey, and an actual flat-bed Ford at the curb. It is the ultimate photo op for any music lover.

But why Winslow, AZ?  Jackson Browne started writing this song for his first album, but he didn’t know how to finish it. At the time, his upstairs neighbor was Glenn Frey, who needed songs for his new band – the Eagles. Browne told Frey he was having trouble completing the song, and played what he had of it. When he got to the second verse, Frey came up with a key lyric: “It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me.”

The real-life auto-breakdown incident that inspired the second verse actually happened to Browne in Flagstaff, but it was changed to Winslow. Why? Because in the songwriting Winslow fit better in the lyrics. By the way, neither Browne or Frey had been to Winslow when they wrote the song.

Next stop – Albuquerque, NM and the International Balloon Fiesta!

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Exploring Death Valley – September 2019

Our route to Albuquerque was by way of Henderson, NV, to visit some friends from our RV caravan to Alaska in 2013. As we would be traveling near Death Valley we decided it would be good to visit there. We had visited Death Valley once before, but only for one day and we wanted to see more of it.

We checked out the campgrounds in Death Valley National Park, but decided it would be better to stay in the town of Beatty, the Gateway to Death Valley, and drive into the park. We stayed at the Beatty RV Park. It is a small park just outside of Beatty that has pull through, full hook up sites for a very reasonable rate. Mike, the manager, gave us some good advice on how to tour the park and gave us some brochures to help us plan our visit.

The Beatty Chamber of Commerce has developed a series of brochures that make planning a trip to Death Valley a breeze. Our biggest help was the “5 Day Itinerary 360° of Adventure.” The 24 page “Gateway to Death Valley 360° of Adventure added more in depth information on each stop. You can get digital versions of these at http://www.beattynevada.org/BrochureRack.html.

The next day we were on the move early to avoid as much heat as possible. We were generally following the itinerary from Day One in the “5 Day Itinerary 360° of Adventure.” Our first stop was Rhyolite, a historic gold mining town site. In 1904 prospectors Shorty Harris and Ed Cross found gold in the area. In 1905 Rhyolite was established and platted. By 1908 the population was estimated at between 5,000 and 8,000. However about that time the mine production began to drop and by 1920 the population was down to 14. There are relics of the old buildings still standing and one of the most interesting is the “Bottle House.” This was built by Tom Kelley and was make of empty wine and whiskey bottles and mortar. When it was completed it was given away in a raffle.

Near Rhyolite is the Goldwell Open Air Museum. This is an art museum in the middle of the desert. Here you can see the Painted Lady reaching to the sky, a ghostly depiction of the Last Supper, a ghostly bike rider and more. A strange, but interesting site.

Leaving Rhyolite we had the Hell’s Gate Experience. We descended into Death Valley at Hell’s Gate near Mile Marker 10. The temperature on the dashboard was showing 79°. By the time we had descended to the valley floor the temperature had increased to 101° – a 22 degree change!

The temperature rose throughout the day as we toured the park. By the time we got to Badwater in the afternoon the temperature was 108°. Even though we were sweating we couldn’t feel it because it evaporated out of your clothes before they felt damp.

Our next stop was the Harmony Borax Works. Here are the remains of the Harmony Borax processing plant and the wagons that were used to haul the borax to Mojave by teams of twenty mules. The twenty mule team wagons were made famous by the TV series in the early 1970’s called “Death Valley Days,” portraying true stories of the Old West. The series was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Borax Company (20 Mule Team Borax) and the last host of the series was Ronald Reagan. The radio and television versions combined to make the show “one of the longest-running western programs in broadcast history.”If you’ve never heard of it, talk to your grandparents.

After a brief stop at the Visitor Center we drove to Badwater, the lowest elevation in the United States. Here there is a spring from seepage of water that has worked its way down from the surrounding cliffs. The water is so salty that even mules won’t drink it. There is a sign 282 feet above Badwater that says, “Sea Level.” This is where our thermometer read 108°.

From Badwater we drove to the Natural Bridge. The road is not for the faint hearted, it is a washboard with potholes. I thought the truck was going to shake apart a couple of times and I felt like a “bobble-head.”

The Natural Bridge was made by erosion. As a stream bed was being cut by water, the water ran into erosion resistant rock and the stream flowed around it to the north. After a time the water again sought a more direct path and it undercut the harder rock, forming the bridge. When I see formations like this I am awestruck by the immense, unrelenting power of nature.

From there we drove to the Artist’s Palette. The colors of the minerals in the soil have created a geological artist’s palette of bold and pastel colors.

Zabriskie Point is where we started our hike when we were here is 2012. The second half of that hike was quite challenging, but this time we just enjoyed the view and the memories.

On September 26th we drove to Henderson, NV to stay at the Sam’s Town KOA RV Park. Our purpose was to visit with some friends from the RV Caravan trip to Alaska in 2013, George and Ann.

We signed up with the casino and got some coupons and gaming credits. Sam’s Town has a free shuttle to the Vegas Strip and we rode it to check out the Strip. We wondered around, did a little gambling, and had some fun.

George and Ann are avid hikers. George had a short hike near where they live that he thought we would enjoy. It was a nice four-mile round trip to Petroglyph Canyon. It was a nice hike with some dry waterfalls that we had to scramble (that’s a rock climbing term for easy rock climbing) up. That made the hike more interesting. We were so focused on the trail that George had to point out the petroglyphs. There must have been dozens of them and it was interesting to try to figure out their meanings.

The next evening we met them for dinner at a seafood restaurant. It’s nice to be able to share a meal with good food and great friends.

Next stop – Zion National Park in Utah.

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Crater Lake, Oregon – September 2019

We left the Tacoma area with our ultimate destination of Albuquerque, NM. We started with that and looked at the most direct route. However, our routes they are rarely a direct route from Point A to Point B. We looked at locations along the way that would be interesting to visit. That often changes the route into something much less direct, but more interesting. This is how we decided to visit Crater Lake National Park. National Parks are always places we look to visit on our travels.

Crater Lake is exactly what its name implies. It is the crater formed by an erupting volcano  The vent is closed and the crater filled with water. In fact, it filled with enough water to make it the deepest lake in the U.S.

There were no sites available in the National Park campgrounds so we stayed at Crater Lake RV Park in Prospect, OR. This is a nice park that is big rig friendly and has full hook up sites. There is a mix of transient campers like us and seasonal campers. The staff was very friendly and helpful. As we were setting up our neighbors were sitting outside and we introduced ourselves. In our conversation they mentioned that the Rim Road was going to be closed on the next day for the annual bicycle “Ride the Rim” event. They were planning on riding it and we went online to see if that was something that would interest us. The bottom line of our research was that the ride would be much too demanding for our level of cycling. Consequently we decided to drive into the park for what was left of the day and drive the Rim Road. We stopped several times to explore the lake from different viewpoints. I found it surprising how each stop gave us a unique view. By the time we got to the last viewpoint it was getting close to evening and the temperature was definitely falling. It was good to get back to our trailer.

There is more to see in the area than Crater Lake and we took the next day to explore some of those other sites. Our first stop was Flounce Rock. This is the highest summit in the area. We drove most of the way (Thank goodness for having a high clearance, four-wheel drive truck) and hiked the short remaining distance. What a view! We could see all the way to Mount Shasta in California! I picked up a geocache that was related to a memorial on the mountain top.

After that we hiked to a series of waterfalls in the area. It made for a pleasant day and we ate lunch while looking at the Mill Creek Falls.

When we got back we talked with our neighbors about the bike ride around the rim. They said they enjoyed it but it was sort of painful with the big changes in elevation along the road. After talking with them we were glad that we passed on that opportunity.

On Sunday, September 22nd, we hooked up and headed for Death Valley.

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Cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage, September 2019

It goes without saying – Cruising is fun! While talking to our daughter, Elisabeth, She suggested that we do a cruise to Alaska while we were in Washington. “Sure,” we said and we began to plan. After searching multiple websites we decided on a 7-Day cruise on the Norwegian Joy. While we were still in the Great Lakes area and on the drive west to Washington we spent a lot of time researching and on the phone to agree upon and reserve shore excursions. As with most cruises, we had a mix of ship-based shore excursions and touring on our own.

Sailing out of Seattle made the beginning and end very simple. We packed everything in Elisabeth’s car and her brother, Scott, drove us to the Bell Cruise Ship Terminal and picked us up at the end. We had a relatively short wait to board the ship. We had to wait for our cabin to be ready and our luggage to be delivered, but there was plenty to do. We had lunch in one of the ship’s dining rooms, toured the ship, and relaxed on the pool deck. Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) has an app for your smart phone that keeps you up to date on all of the activities on board and your selected shore excursions. This app became our “go to” source for ship board information. There are also touch screens near every staircase with more information and where you can make reservations for shows.

As we set sail from the Port of Seattle we viewed the Seattle skyline.

Our first day was at sea as we sailed north up the Inside Passage of southeastern Alaska. We relaxed, checked the ship, made plans and spent time in the Observation Lounge.

Our first port of call was Alaska’s First City – Ketchikan. While we were at sea on the first day Pat and Elisabeth attended some presentations on shopping opportunities and had their stores all picked out. Consequently we descended on the jewelry shops. Actually all three of us had a lot of fun and the ladies walked away with all kinds of freebies for their charm bracelets.

While they were returning their purchases to the ship I walked to Creek Street to the original business district of Ketchikan. This is along the Ketchikan Creek. Here there was a ready source of fresh water and a good current to operate the mills. There is little flat land here and the shops were built on platforms extending over the river. While walking through the shops I discovered that the early city leadership had rounded up all of the prostitutes that were operating in the residential areas and consolidated them in the business district. One of these “houses of ill repute,” Dolly’s House, is available to tour. As the sign says, ”Dolly’s House – Where both men and salmon came upstream to spawn.”

Our big excursion was the Alaska Lodge Adventure & Seafeast. We took a boat cruise around the Grant Island State Marine Park. We were only a short distance from the dock when we saw an eagle’s nest that had a couple of eaglets. Our guide tossed a fish into the water and we watched as the eagle swooped down on the water to grab it. My finger was quick on the shutter and I got the perfect shot.

As we continued on we saw where the U.S. Navy does underwater sound tests on its nuclear submarines. There was a submarine in port for testing but we never saw it. As we cruised we saw sea lions and seals sunning themselves, and Sitka black-tailed deer. At the end of our boat tour we arrived at the Silver King Lodge. There we were guided on a short tour of the rain forest. The moist conditions of temperate rain forests generally support an understory of mosses, ferns and some shrubs. This rain forest was a mix of coniferous and  broadleaf  forest. The finale was a fish boil that included Dungeness crab. There were seven of us at our table. The server dumped a big pot of food (crab, shrimp, clams, mussels, potatoes, onions, garlic, corn and sausage) in the middle of our table that was covered in newspaper and we all dug in. It was delicious! Being a meat and potatoes guy I had never eaten crab before and now I think it will be one of my seafood favorites.

We returned to the port and did some final souvenir shopping near the pier. We boarded in time to get cleaned up and enjoy another dinner. After dinner we enjoyed a presentation of the musical Footloose in the Deck 7 theater.

Our next port of call was Juneau, the capital of Alaska. As many of the cities in southeastern Alaska it is only accessible by plane or boat. We opted to not sign up for any of the cruise excursions, but to tour on our own. We took a cab to the Mendenhall Glacier. Our driver, Mac, had lived in Juneau his whole life and was a good tour guide. He kept a running commentary on sites that we passed and what it was like to live there as a native.

The Mendenhall Glacier extends from the Juneau Icefield and is about 13.6 miles long and hundreds of feet deep. Even though we viewed it from across Mendenhall Lake it is huge. The catabatic wind coming off the glacier is definitely chilling, it felt about ten degrees cooler that at the Visitor Center. In the Visitor Center we saw time-lapsed photos of the glacier showing how it extends and retreats due to the amount of snow that falls on it every winter. Mac came back to pick us up and dropped us off at the Mount Roberts Tramway. We had purchased tickets through the ship and rode the tram to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately it was a very cloudy day (Welcome to the temperate rain forest!) and our view was not very good. We took the opportunity to hike on some trails near the mountain top and we were not able to see much below, even as we descended on the tram.

The last part of the day was to cruise in the Endicott Arm and view the Dawes Glacier. The Captain allowed passengers to go onto the forward part of the ship that was normally off limits. We were there, with our binoculars and cameras, but the fog was too thick and the Captain, citing safety concerns, choose not to risk the ship under such poor visibility and we headed back to the main channel.

Our third port of call was Icy Strait Point on Chichagof Island. This was originally the site of the Hoonah Packing Company, a salmon packing cannery that was established in 1912. In 1953 the cannery operations ended and the facility was converted into a maintenance facility for the Hoonah fishing fleet in 1954. The facility was converted into a tourism center and welcomed its first cruise ship as Icy Strait Point in 2004.

We chose to do the combination of the Whale Watching & Zip Rider excursion. The Zip Rider is a pure adrenalin rush. We took a 45-minute bus ride to get to the top of the mountain. Here we were briefed on the ride and climbed into our harnesses. The Zip Rider descends 1300 feet and lasts about 90 seconds. What a ride!

After the wild ride we walked to the cannery docks and boarded our boat for the whale watching. Needless to say, everyone was dressed in layers for a chilly afternoon. We spend the whole time on the exposed upper deck to insure we had a good view. As we headed out our captain got a radio call advising him that a pod of Orca whales had been spotted. Orcas are not seen here on a regular basis, so he altered course to check it out. We were not disappointed. We circled this pod for quite awhile until we had to move on to other sites.

About halfway back to the port we came upon several humpback whales. Unlike Orcas, humpbacks do not jump out of the water. However, they will raise their huge tails out of the water and use that weight to drive them deep in the water as they dive. This “tail flip” is the hole in one of whale watching. One after another the whales would come up to “sound,” blowing water out of their air hole and breathing before diving again. At one point we spotted three of them traveling as a group. We watched and I took pictures for so long that I had filled my camera’s memory card and had to resort to my cell phone camera for the remainder of my shots.

All good things must come to an end and we headed back to board the Norwegian Joy for our next leg.

Our next day was spent at sea. We took advantage of this by sleeping in and relaxing. There are always things to do on board – musical performers, workshops, gambling, or just practicing the fine art of doing nothing. That evening we enjoyed watching Elements – a dazzling show incorporating the four elements of earth, air, water and fire. This was an incredible show. It was dynamic and I never knew what was going to come next.

Our final port of call was Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island. We took advantage of the shore excursion – Victoria by Bike to see Victoria up close and personal. We met our guides and picked up our bikes and helmets near the ship and rode out of the port.

Victoria is known as the cycling capital of Canada and offers great cycling routes throughout the city. Our guide led us on a leisurely circular route through quiet neighborhoods, tree-lined streets to see some of the highlights of the city. Our first stop was Beacon Hill Park where we saw the World’s Largest Totem Pole made from a single tree. We made several other stops along the way – Chinatown, the Royal Parliament Buildings, and Fisherman’s Wharf. From Fisherman’s Wharf we made the short ride to the bike shop. Some of our group turned in their bikes and headed back to the ship, but we rented ours for a while longer and rode to some more attractions. One point we felt was a “must see” was the Mile Zero marker for the TransCanada Highway. Now we have pictures of us at Mile Zero in Key West and Mile Zero in Canada.

We dropped off the bikes at The Peddler  bike shop and started to walk back to the ship. On the way we stopped at Fisherman’s Wharf to get a better look at the floating houses and enjoy an ice cream cone. Enroute to the ship I was able to pick up two more geocaches. That was the icing on the cake.

Back onboard we began organizing our stuff and packing. We hit one of our favorite restaurants for dinner and, after dinner, listened to the great piano player who entertained in the Atrium.

Because we didn’t have to connect with an airline flight we were able to have a relaxing breakfast before they called for our group to disembark. We had no problems with our luggage or U.S. Customs, Scott was waiting for us where we had agreed to meet, and we were on our way home.

It was a great trip. We were able to see parts of Alaska that we had not seen before. We are looking forward to possibly revisiting Vancouver Island on another trip in the future.

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Hiking Mount Rainer – August 2019

You can’t be in the Seattle/Tacoma area and not know about Mount Rainer. On a clear day it is visible from almost everywhere. In my opinion it is one of the best attractions in the area.

We were able to take the twins, Clarissa and Sierra, for a day trip to Mount Rainer. We had taken all three granddaughters with us three years ago and the twins had visited there with a group earlier, but all of those trips had been to the Paradise area at the southern end of the park. This year we decided to go to the northern end and visit the Sunrise Visitor Center and hike in that area.

It is about an hour and a half drive to Sunrise and we could see the clouds surrounding the mountain in the distance. The curving road afforded some great views (for those who were not driving!).

The history of these mountains goes back to the early Indian tribes. They have several stories that describe their origins. Visiting these mountains and bringing our kids continues to keep this history alive.

Our first stop was the Visitor Center where we got our Junior Ranger workbooks (yes, I did too). As I have said before, I hope whoever developed this got a raise, because this is a great way for visitors of all ages to learn about the park. I have a friend (my age) who has a Junior Ranger badge from every National Park they have visited. While we learned a lot in the Visitor Center, the display that impressed me the most was the plaque memorializing five employees who died in the line of duty. That’s something we never consider, the sacrifices that are made by the people that work in the parks.

We participated in a Ranger presentation on volcanoes (including an eruption with lava). After that we ate lunch at the picnic area where we planned our route and worked on our Junior Ranger workbooks. We laid out a hike of about four miles that would be fun and not too challenging.

It was an absolutely beautiful day for a hike; sunny, with mild temperatures so we weren’t too hot or too cold. The skies around the mountain cleared and we were treated to awesome views of the mountain and the glaciers on its slopes.

Our first stop overlooked some sub-alpine meadows that reminded me of those we had seen in Germany.

We continued our climb and looked back at the Visitor Center seeing how high we had climbed.

We climbed into the Alpine Zone above the tree line and couldn’t help but see the difference.

We had some company while we took a break near Frozen Lake.

The downhill side of the hike brought us into some meadows and a hike-in campground near Shadow Lake. On the last leg of the hike we had the best view of the Emmons Glacier.

Back at the Visitor Center we turned in our workbooks and all three of us were sworn in as Junior Rangers of Mount Rainer. The drive back was an anti-climax but an easy drive.

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Mount St. Helens – August 2019

For weeks U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey volcanologist David Johnston had been giving warnings that the volcano of Mount St. Helens was unstable and showing signs that it could erupt at any time. In his words, “The fuse has been lit. We just don’t know how long the fuse is.”

Nearby residents had been evacuated, but the mountain became quiet. Everyone thought the danger had passed. On May 17, 1980 a convoy of residents was escorted back to their homes by police to recover more belongings, and another convoy was planned for the next day.

On May 18th David Johnston was on duty monitoring the volcanic activity from an observation post on nearby Coldwater Ridge. A huge bulge had formed on the north face of the mountain as gases pushed up and became trapped by the surface crust. An earthquake, measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale occurred and the bulge started to slide. Johnston radioed his headquarters in Vancouver, WA “Vancouver, Vancouver, This is it!” That the last anyone heard from Johnston and his body was never recovered. He had been killed by the magma in St. Helens that burst in a large-scale pyroclastic flow that flattened vegetation and buildings over 230 square miles

Being from Michigan we had heard of the eruption, but it wasn’t a big impact on our lives. That wasn’t the case in Washington. It was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history. Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways, and 185 miles of highway were destroyed.

The collapse of the bulge mixed with ice, snow, and water to create lahars (volcanic mudflows). The lahars flowed many miles down the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers, destroying bridges and lumber camps. A total of 3,900,000 cubic yards of material was transported 17 miles south into the Columbia River by the mudflows. So much mud flowed into the Columbia River that ocean going vessels that traveled the river were going aground and the Columbia River had to be blocked to such vessels until it could be dredged. For more than nine hours, a plume of ash erupted, eventually reaching 12 to 16 miles above sea level. The plume moved eastward at an average speed of 60 miles per hour with ash reaching Idaho by noon and blocking the sun, turning the day into night. We had ash fall in Michigan and weeks later some of the ash landed again on Mount St. Helens, having been carried by the winds completely around the world.

On August 10th and 11th, Scott and his family, Elisabeth, Pat and I all drove to spend the weekend touring Mount St. Helens. We started at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center. This center is operated by the State of Washington.

The most informative part of our visit was the Ranger Talk that described the series of events that led up to the 1980 eruption and the resulting damage to the area.

The girls were awarded their Junior Geologist badges after completing their workbooks.

We set up camp at the Kid Valley RV Park and then went to visit the North Fork Survivors Gift Shop and A-Frame House. The A-Frame House was within days of being completed when the 1980 eruption took place. The mud slide caused by the melting of the Mount St Helens glacier and landslide altered the landscape and destroyed many of the structures in the area. Today you can see how the entire first floor was completely filled with mud and debris. The focus of the North Fork Survivors was on Mount St Helens and on the Sasquatch or “Big Foot.” I must have expressed too much interest in the Sasquatch because the woman at the cash register asked me if I was a “believer.”

For dinner we hiked over to the Fire Mountain Grill for a good meal and even better view of the river. The place was packed with both visitors and locals.

On Sunday we drove to the Johnston Ridge Observatory (named after volcanologist David Johnston) where we watched a couple of videos and Ranger Talks about volcanoes and Mount St. Helens. I am always surprised, no matter how much you know about a subject, how much you can learn from these presentations. As we hiked around the ½ mile Eruption Trail we saw where trees were sheared off by the initial blast and boulders that were hurled miles by the force of the eruption. Wow! Talk about the power of nature.

Weyerhaeuser and other lumber companies have done much to renew the forested areas that were destroyed in 1980. The National Park Service has allowed the land under its control to renew itself without human intervention or assistance. It’s quite impressive to see how much the land has rebounded without assistance. It is an example of how resilient nature is and how it can renew itself.

There are a lot of things to do in the greater Seattle/Tacoma area, but make sure you include a trip to Mount St. Helens. It’s well worth your time.





Posted in Fulltime RV, Michigan Traveler, National Parks, Washington | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Whidbey Island, WA – July 2019

We arrived in Washington in early June, and most of the first month was spent helping our daughter rehab her new condominium. Wow, what a lot of work! We removed a floor to ceiling mirror that covered one of her living room walls, removed old florescent fixtures and replaced them with LED lights, replaced a bathroom sink, and painted almost every room. After all of that we were ready for a vacation!

On July 10th we headed up to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and their Cliffside RV Park. Cliffside is, in our opinion, the prettiest military RV park in the country. In 2012 they rebuilt the entire park from one circle of twenty sites to sixty sites in concentric arcs that are terraced so every site has an unobstructed view of Puget Sound. If that wasn’t enough Ken, the camp host and an avid gardener, has transplanted flowers from other locations to the campground. He keeps fresh flowers in the office and laundry rooms.

We walked or rode our bikes around the base every morning and generally kicked back and relaxed.  We shared the walking path with Whidbey Island rabbits that are everywhere.

We were here three years ago and did a lot of sightseeing then, so we didn’t feel we were missing out on too much by just relaxing. I did some geocaching in the local area and picked up a few more caches for my log. My favorite was at the local VFW and I took some time to admire their well-done veteran’s memorial.

Most of the time we did a lot of just kicking back and watching Puget Sound. Occasionally we were fortunate enough to see some grey whales right off shore from the campground.

Walking along the beach was amazing! Huge logs of driftwood are scattered along the shore. At various points kids had built shelters and forts. I couldn’t resist trying one of them out.

The weather was pleasant during most of our stay, but one day we had a heckofa blow and the surf showed it.

Our daughter, Elisabeth, joined us for a long weekend. We took the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. We had thought about taking Elisabeth’s car on the ferry, but all of the reservations for the morning were taken, so we opted for Plan B. Plan B was to walk on the ferry and take the hop on, hop off Trolley around the island. The only problem with this is that once you hop off it’s another hour before the next trolley come along to hop back on.

The ferry ride was interesting and, as always, I was fascinated by the loading and unloading of the vehicles. There was comfortable seating, a snack bar with ridiculous prices, and great views of the islands of the Strait of Juan DeFuca.

We got our tickets for the Trolley and checked out the local wine shop, appropriately named the Island Wine Company. We sampled the wine, and bought a souvenir wine glass. We wandered around the area a bit and then hopped on the Trolley. Our first stop was Roche Harbor where we toured the Sculpture Park and the downtown area. This was initially the main British port for the island, but eventually turned into a huge tourist resort.

After that we stopped at the English Camp. There was a major dispute over the ownership of San Juan Island. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 identified the 49th Parallel as the border between Canada and the United States, but the border in the Straits of Juan DeFuca was unclear. While the dispute was being settled by a neutral international arbitration commission the British and U.S. jointly occupied the island. The English Camp and American Camp were on opposite sides of the island. The British allocated large amounts of resources to make life comfortable for their soldiers, sadly the same could not be said for the Americans who made do with minimal support and went through 15 commanders in 12 years. In 1872 the three-man commission led by German emperor Wilhelm I decided in favor of the U.S. The British forces withdrew in November of 1872 and the U.S. Army withdrew in July, 1874.

Our last stop was the Lime Kiln Point State Park (AKA Whale Watch Park) where we listened to a Ranger Talk on whales. Unfortunately we didn’t see any, but we did check out the nearby lighthouse.

Back in Friday Harbor we had dinner at the Cask & Schooner Public House & Restaurant overlooking the harbor before we boarded the ferry for the trip back to Anacortes.

Later in the weekend our son, Scott, and his twin daughters came up and camped in the nearby Deception Pass State Park. We all hiked up to and across the bridge over Deception Pass. The bridge is a tourist destination. The traffic slows as people gaze down at Deception Pass as they drive onto the island. We enjoyed meals together, the twins swam in the Sound, and Scott and I did some kayaking on nearby Cranberry Lake. What a great weekend.

On Wednesday, we packed up and headed back to Lakewood and finishing up Elisabeth’s condo.

Posted in Michigan Traveler, Washington | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Westward Bound for Washington, May 2019

Many times family is the primary factor in our planning on where to travel. Our oldest son, Scott, and his family (which includes our three granddaughters) have been living in University Place, near Tacoma, WA for several years. Last year our daughter, Elisabeth, moved from North Carolina to join them and now lives in nearby Lakewood. With most of the rest of our family back in Michigan we are trying to split our summers between Washington and Michigan.

After leaving Brian and Leah’s wedding in Michigan, we dropped our trailer in Milwaukee and flew to Tampa, FL for the graduation of Robin’s (our niece) daughter, Destiny from high school. It was like a mini family reunion and everyone had a wonderful time.

We spend Memorial Day in Milwaukee and my sister-in-law, Mary Lee, told us the traveling Vietnam Memorial was in a nearby town. We visited it to honor those servicemen and women who died defending freedom around the world. 1LT Ralph Miller, a former member of a National Guard unit that I commanded, was Killed in Action in Vietnam and I always locate his name whenever I visit the wall in his memory.

We stopped in Box Elder, SD and stayed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in their FAMCAMP (Family Camp/RV Park). It’s a nice place to stay with full hookups and FREE laundry. We drove over to Americas Mailbox to pick up our mail, but generally just relaxed On our way to Ellsworth we took a detour to drive through the Badlands National Park. It’s amazing to me to look out over this huge basin and realize this was once a huge inland sea until the Rocky Mountains erupted and caused this sea to drain into the Pacific Ocean. They have found fossils of all sorts of aquatic life in the area, but today we saw bison.

Our drive across the northern states was essentially a sprint in that we didn’t stay long at any stop and our sightseeing was kept to a minimum. Several times we crossed the route that Lewis and Clark took as they explored the new territory acquired as a part of Louisiana Purchase. It’s always s special to see places where significant historical events took place. For anyone interested in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, I recommend the book, Undaunted Courage. It’s a great description of leadership and discipline in an extremely challenging situation.

As we drove into eastern Washington we noticed the huge irrigation booms irrigating the fields. Eastern Washington is normally dry as the Cascade Mountain Range forces rainfall in the west leaving no moisture left in the clouds for the east and is especially so this year. Western Washington is also having a very dry spring. This was in sharp contrast to the flooding we saw in so many areas between Florida and Washington. We saw streams and rivers flooding over their banks, ponds and lakes instead of puddles in farm fields, and wooded areas along shorelines inundated from flooding.

You know you’re getting close to the Pacific Northwest when you see mountain ranges appear in your windshield. We’ll be staying in the Seattle/Tacoma area for the rest of the summer.

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Friends, Family, Doctors, Awards, and Weddings – May 2019

Our first stop in Michigan was the Woodchip Campground. This is our “go to” campground for the Grand Rapids area. It’s like an outdoor oasis in the middle of a suburban area. Whenever we are in the area we try to meet up with two of Pat’s friends from high school. This time they introduced us to a new eatery. It’s always fun to meet up with Kay and Lynn whether it is in Florida or Michigan.

My sister, Susan, and I arranged to meet our Uncle Jack at his new place in Spring Lake. Ever since our father passed away in 2010 we have tried to stay in touch with his brothers. Jack recently moved into a retirement home and is dealing with the change in living arrangements. His daughter, Barb, joined us and we were able to have lunch together and walk around his new community.

After that Pat and I drove down to Holland to see my other uncle, Norm. He is in the process of moving to a retirement home near Cleveland where he can be close to one of his two daughters and they can help him when he needs it.

From Woodchip we made the short drive to Lansing to stay at our local favorite, Lansing Cottonwood Campground. Here we saw our dentist and I had my final checkup on my knee surgery from the summer (All was good there!). Some of our Lansing friends have gotten into ukulele playing and this weekend was Mighty Uke Day (MUD). Our friends were participating in a ukulele flash mob in downtown Lansing and we enjoyed watching their performance.

Even though we were only in town for a short time I was able to play at Open Mic Nights at Moriarity’s Pub and the Blue Owl Coffee.

Our daughter, Elisabeth, flew in from Tacoma, WA to be with us for a wedding later in our stay. She was able to do some shopping with Pat and see some of her friends. She and our son, Dave, treated Pat to dinner for Mother’s Day.

Last year Elisabeth had nominated me to be inducted into the Central Michigan University ROTC Hall of Fame. Around Christmas time we were informed that I was to be the 2019 Inductee. Pat, Elisabeth, my sister, and I drove to CMU on Tuesday, May 14th where I received my plaque from the Professor of Military Science. I was thrilled to be honored for my service to my nation and community in this way.

Later that week we drove to Saint Joseph, MI for the wedding of our nephew, Brian, to his fiancée, Leah. The wedding was in a pavilion on the beach at the local county park. Everyone was holding their breath about the weather and they couldn’t have been any luckier. The weather was cold and rainy until the day before this 3:00 PM ceremony. Then the skies cleared, the temperature rose, and it was a beautiful ceremony. The wedding couple was pushing their luck with the reception in an open air patio, but their luck continued through the reception.

On Sunday Dave drove Elisabeth to the airport on his way back to Lansing and the next morning we were on our way to Milwaukee.

Posted in Michigan, Michigan Traveler | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments