Alaska, An Unplanned Adventure

Alaska has long been on my bucket list

Not so much for D.A. His memories of Alaska during his Orvis years involved black bears and swarms of mosquitoes.

I didn’t expect it would be by cruise however because of my previous experience cruising. A lifetime ago, I took a Western Mediterranean cruise; a Greek ship with about 500 passengers. It set the bar for me at a very high level. Later, I took a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean. It was not a carnival. It was living in a giant ashtray for a week with 2,500 passengers! The itinerary took us to many ports where Cuban cigars were sold. Those cigars could be purchased but not brought back to the U.S. 

I always said an ideal trip for me would be a cruise to Alaska on a small ship…

And then, one day in May, our dear Boise friends, Athena & Bob, called to say they had just booked an Alaska cruise and wanted us to go with them. I looked at D.A. and said, “Wanna go?” and he said YES! We booked. It wasn’t until afterwards that we realized the Norwegian Bliss carries 4,000 passengers and 1,700 crew. Oh my. How could it be that in Covid times we’d be traveling for a week with 6,000 strangers? How could it be we’d also paid for that?!! 

We arrived in Seattle for our transfer to the ship. After walking what seemed like many miles (thank goodness we are not those folks with huge bags packed to the gills), we were given a bus number, 21. At that moment, number 18 was boarding, so we thought it was no big deal and soon we would board our bus and be on our way. No. Not even close. It was cold in the boarding area. We had already surrendered our bags. We waited. We shivered. And we realized that while 4,000 people were embarking that day, 4,000 other people were also disembarking the same vessel. 

Finally, our bus arrived and we were off to our adventure. Well, not quite. We left the bus only to join a very long line of people trying to check in for their cruise. It’s not that it was an inefficient process, there were just so many people! 

Everything had to be checked and rechecked then checked again, I.D. photos taken for card keys, but eventually we ended up in our stateroom – a balcony room on the 9th floor – our little oasis – with a sliding glass door to magical views. Our friends arrived! Our luggage arrived! We sailed out of Seattle Saturday evening.

Our view of Seattle

D.A. on our balcony aboard Norwegian Bliss

Sunday was a sea day, so we wandered the ship and found what would be our two favorite places. (1) The spa. We bought a pass for the week to the spa area that included use of a huge hydro pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room, salt room, snow room, heated tiled lounges. It was money well spent, especially on rainy days. They sold a limited number of passes, so it was never crowded. (2) The Observation Lounge took up the entire 15th deck and was a lovely and restful place to spend time with its intimate lounge areas and floor to ceiling windows. 

Top rear deck on Norwegian Bliss Hydro Pool aboard Norwegian Bliss

Observation Deck aboard Norwegian Bliss

Early Monday we arrived in Sitka for the day. Unfortunately, another cruise ship arrived about the same time, so getting into town meant another l-o-n-g line. We hadn’t booked a tour there, which gave us time to explore the downtown area. We went to the museum and took a nice walk along the waterfront to Sitka National Historic Park to see the totem poles displayed there.

J&D Off to Discover Sitka

We didn’t book many tours in advance because the weather predictions included a lot of rain, but it turned out the weather was mostly perfect. The one tour we did book in advance was a Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari in Juneau.

The Norwegian Bliss at Juneau

I kept backing up and backing up to try to get the whole ship into a photo! It almost worked. Seeing those busses parked nearby kind of puts it in perspective.

This tour was a great experience. The bus delivered us near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center where we took the “Trail of Time” capturing the natural history of the glacier with our naturalist guide and photographer, ending with magnificent views of the glacier. Back on the bus we had snacks, “They tell us we must feed and water you every two hours!”

Mendenhall Glacier

The action started practically as soon as we boarded the whale watching vessel and continued throughout. We were in the area known as Stephens Passage and there were so many whales even our guide and captain were awestruck!

Whale Watching in Juneau

Whale Tour in Juneau

The vessels in the Gastineau fleet are specially designed and built to get you up close with the environment. The cabin has large panel windows that open from within to give unrestricted views (while keeping you dry). They are the only crafts of their kind in Southeast Alaska, custom built specifically for marine wildlife photography. We will never forget this experience.

We had a short visit on Day 5 to Icy Strait Point, a privately owned tourist destination just outside the small village of Hoonah. It had been raining and when it finally cleared, we took a walk to see the sights near the dock. Later we learned Icy Strait Point has the highest concentration of wild bears anywhere in the world! 

Its history is fascinating because Icy Strait Point did not even exist 50 years ago! In 1912, the Hoonah Packing Co. built a large salmon cannery. The cannery operated on and off under different ownership until the early 1950s, then it sat shuttered for decades until the local Alaska Native corporation, Huna Totem Corp., purchased and rehabilitated the facility which now houses a museum, local arts and crafts shops, restaurants and a mid-1930s cannery line display. Outside and easily seen on our walk from the ship to the cannery is the world’s largest and highest zip line – 5,330 feet long featuring a 1,300-foot vertical drop! If we had more time in port and a little better weather, we surely would have given that a try.

Sculpture at Icy Strait Point

Day 6 was Ketchikan, the salmon capital of the world, and it was time for salmon fishing! And it was raining. Nonetheless, we went out with a captain and four other passengers trolling with downriggers. There were three or four downriggers, so as a fish hit, we took turns reeling it in. I lost mine right at the boat, but D.A. brought his in. Five were caught in total – which were donated to the guy who was willing to pay $240 to have them processed and shipped home! Knowing D.A. was a “6-pack” captain too, our captain had him take the wheel several times while he was busy with other tasks. It won’t surprise you to hear D.A. would love to go back and spend a summer guiding in Alaska. Stay tuned.

D.A.'s salmon at Ketchikan

Our last full day was mostly at sea, but included an evening stop in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Not quite long enough (or early enough) for a visit to Butchart Gardens, or much else. I had to wonder why NCL would have an arrival at 8PM and departure at midnight. I learned that all cruises sailing from the U.S. must stop in Canada or another foreign port due to the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) of 1886. Foreign-flagged ships must visit at least one foreign country during the cruise. A cruise line would face significant penalties for not complying. That didn’t make much sense to me since NCL is a U.S. company, but it doesn’t matter where the company is domiciled, it matters where the ship is “flagged.” Most of the NCL ships are flagged in the Bahamas. Mystery solved!

Athena and I decided to take a walk to the historical harbor and a DIY tour of the Empress Hotel. It was the perfect choice to walk off the most decadent dinner of our voyage at Ocean Blue. 

Parliament in Victoria B.C.

Empress Hotel Victoria B.C.

I haven’t talked much about eating or entertainment. Suffice to say the options were generous. Eating-wise, there was a huge buffet on the 16th floor which offered breakfast, lunch and dinner. We avoided it because there were so many other choices where you could be seated and served. The food and service were excellent. The desserts were out of this world and we tried them all. There was entertainment all day in an area called the Atrium, and many shows to choose from at night, plus a wild assortment of opportunities, i.e., solo travelers, trivia, karaoke, wine and chocolate pairing, beer and whisky tasting, game show themes. And did I mention the casino? Huge. 

I personally would have loved talks by naturalists, but we got that kind of info on the tours. Had the weather predictions been better, we would have taken more tours.

It was a huge pain and inconvenience embarking. It was a huge pain and inconvenience debarking, but the time between couldn’t have been better. It was a level of luxury, alright decadence, we had not previously experienced, but thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed.

Would we go again? No. It’s really not our gig. We want to connect with people, spend time in places and get to know them.

Are we happy we went? Yes. It was an experience of a lifetime we will never forget or regret!

That being said, I personally would love to spend a summer touring around Alaska. There are a couple of considerations, the main one being road conditions of the 3,500 to 5,000 mile one-way drive. Only other RVers can understand this. You arrive at your destination, then wander around with your little baggie picking up screws that have become detached. Next step is trying to determine where they belong. Maybe we’ll hitchhike!

Up until that trip, we had spent the whole summer planning our next summer. We thought we would go to a couple of lakes in Oregon and Washington to fish for Kokanee, then follow the Missouri River – the longest river in the U.S. – from southwest Montana through North Dakota and South Dakota (where I will renew my driver’s license and we will meet our Casper friends for the 4th of July weekend). 

But who knows? There’s more to this story and it literally could take us anywhere!

Wait! It’s September??

Wyoming Wrap Up

We are very interested in what is happening on the Colorado River since we have been spending summers on the north end and always spend winters on the south end. We decided a visit to Fontenelle Dam was in order to wrap up our third summer in Wyoming.

The Green River is the major tributary to the Colorado River. Fontenelle Dam is at the northern end of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and Flaming Gorge Dam is at the southern end. From there it continues through eastern Utah, with a loop into northwestern Colorado, and back into Utah where it joins the Colorado River south of Moab, in Canyonlands National Park.

Fontenelle Reservoir acts primarily as a storage reservoir for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Storage Project, retaining Wyoming water in the state as a means of asserting Wyoming’s water rights, with a secondary purpose of power generation.

Interestingly, the land used for the Fontenelle Reservoir and dam was previously the Stepp Ranch, owned by one of the few black ranching families in Wyoming in the 1960s. The Stepps fought for their land in court, but ultimately lost. The land had been in the Stepp family since the turn of the 19th century. More of the story here

Eminent Domain. No further comment. I was happy to learn there are still many Stepp family members in the area.

We had our picnic lunch in the Weeping Rock campground where the chipmunks amused us. We tossed a saltine cracker to one, and then there were two chipmunks, then there were three. You know this story. It was such a lovely, serene spot with drift boats passing by, a cloudless sky – I see why people love it so. 

And we learned a couple of things. There was a sign that told us the water weeps through the rock formations on the east side of the dam until it “weeps” at this site. Unbeknownst to us, seepage and “weeping” are common occurrences at dam and reservoir facilities.

Weeping Rock Campground, WY

Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge (link) – has been a “must stop” for every visit to Wyoming. Just on the entry road we saw many redtails, a falcon, eagle, osprey. This Refuge was created to offset the loss of wildlife habitat that resulted when the Flaming Gorge and Fontenelle Dams were built so the Green River runs through it. The many aspects of the Refuge are fascinating. The Oregon, Mormon, California, and Pony Express trails all cross the Refuge. One of the original goals of the Refuge was to provide suitable nesting and rearing habitat for waterfowl. There is riparian habitat, wetland habitat, upland habitat – which can all be explored on the Auto Tour.

Seedskadee NWR, WYSeedskadee NWR WY

From there we took Hwy 28 over to Farson – not because it was the most direct route home. It was simply to enforce our belief that all roads in Wyoming lead to Farson Mercantile. Did I tell you about the world famous ice cream?

Antelope Warning on Hwy 28 WYSage Grouse Warning Sign on Hwy 28, WY

On our way out of Wyoming in mid-September, we decided to stop for a visit at Bear River State Park (add link) in Evanston. Somehow, in all our trips, we had overlooked this stop. There are small herds of bison and elk and more than four miles of paved and packed gravel trails along the beautiful Bear River. It connects to Evanston’s historic downtown district via the city’s Bear River Greenway trail system.

Buffalo at Bear River State Park, WYElk at Bear River State Park WY

Bear River at Bear River State Park WY

The visitor center sits above the park and has numerous interpretive wildlife displays that display Wyoming’s wildlife (more than 40 full-body taxidermy mounts including a grizzly bear boar, black-footed ferrets, golden eagles, black bears).

Bear River State Park is a day use only park so we needed to find a spot to spend the night. The only game in town is Phillips RV Park which has a very interesting history. A family owned business for over 80 years, it started in 1936 as a gas station (gas was $.19/gal.), with trailer spaces, tent camping and some cabins, then morphed and morphed into the current facility.

Returning to Salt Lake City for a couple of nights, we stayed at Sun Outdoors – off the 215 and near the airport. This was our first visit. It’s a full service resort and our space was large enough to fit the RV, truck and boat. The back-in sites are about $60/night, the pull-throughs about $70. Lots of sites and some rental cabins. We would stay again without hesitation.

It’s located along the North Segment of the Jordan River Parkway – a system I have really enjoyed exploring on previous visits. 

Sunset on the Jordan River Parkway, UT

The drive from Salt Lake City was harrowing. Rain, wind and traffic at various intervals throughout the day made it exhausting for both of us. I drive the truck towing the boat and am the navigator. D.A. drives the RV.

We spent our last night on the road at Beaver Dam Lodge – it’s located off Hwy 15 south of Littlefield AZ and north of Mesquite NV. This was our second visit. 29 Sites so far (the number will double in November 2022), the central sites (5 of them) are huge pull throughs. All have full hookups. While I was waiting at the desk to register, their phone never stopped ringing with people calling for winter reservations. The resort’s response? “Nope. Nothing. Call in November to reserve for next year!” Gives you an idea how popular this lifestyle has gotten. The charge for one night was $52.75. 

As we prepared to set up, the first thing we always check is that there is plenty of room for our slides to open on the utility side, then we walked around to the entry side. There we found a panel missing from the coach! The missing panel protects the fresh water tank… 

Panel missing from our Allegro Bus

We hadn’t noticed a problem with the panel. We assume it became detached when we were in the slow lane because it could have caused a horrific accident if we had been traveling in the left lane! Was it loose and if so, why? Of course we’ll never know, but that cover had been removed just before we left Havasu for the summer when we had maintenance done on the Aqua Hot system. 

So you check to be sure all your bays are closed properly before you hit the road, but would you ever think to check panels? We never did.

Back safely to home base but only briefly. We have a date with the Norwegian Bliss in Seattle in a couple of days!

Headed for the hills – the Black Hills, that is

 A beautiful stop to learn a sad, sad story

My most “mind-blowing” day of the summer was one enroute to Casper. We stopped at “Devil’s Gate,” a gorgeous setting near Independence Rock. We had no idea what we were about to learn. We’d been on this road before, but somehow missed this stop, a historic Oregon-California Trail landmark.

The Visitor Center tells the story of the Edward Martin Handcart Company, a horrible disaster of 1856 that resulted in the greatest loss of life from any single event during the entire Westward migration period.

While many U.S. Mormons had already relocated to Salt Lake City by the 1850’s, the ones traveling with this company were mostly converts from Europe. Many emigrants’ passage was supported by the church, but by the mid-1850’s, drought and famine struck Utah, and suddenly there was not as much wealth in church coffers to support the travels. To save money and time, church leaders in 1856 urged emigrants to use handcarts.

Handcart at Devil's Gate Museum, WY

The handcarts consisted almost entirely of green lumber and had been built in Iowa by the emigrants themselves. They were shallow, three feet wide and five feet long, and held skimpy supplies of food, plus 17 pounds of luggage—clothes, blankets, and personal possessions—for each person. A few ox-drawn wagons accompanied the party to carry tents, more food, and sick people. Rations were one pound of flour per person daily, plus any meat shot on the way. The carts were pulled by one or two people while other family members pushed behind or walked alongside.

So, five companies set out from Iowa City traveling to Salt Lake City that summer. Three made the journey without incident. The Martin Company set off from Iowa City traveling to Salt Lake City at the end of July 1856 with 600 emigrants. They did okay until they got into Wyoming in early October, but started suffering from shortened rations and fatigue. They discarded clothing and personal effects in order to lighten the handcarts. They were aware rescue wagons were coming for them and they didn’t want to run out of food or get stalled by winter storms. 

On October 19th, while trying to cross the North Platte River near Casper, a winter storm struck

The water was shallow, but the river was wide and freezing cold, so their clothing was frozen on them as they got to camp. It was too late to go for wood and water – the wood was far away. The ground was frozen hard and they were unable to drive tent pins, so they just laid on the ground and waited for morning.

Meanwhile, the rescue company from Salt Lake City was in search of the company, but it took another 10 days to find them. The Martin Company stalled because of the horrible conditions, which sadly resulted in the death of more than 50 handcart pioneers.

Heart-wrenching to see it as presented in this remote spot.

We were having dinner with friends in Casper, but we were actually on our way to Rapid City, South Dakota, so D.A. could renew his driver’s license. We are residents of Wyoming because they are one of a few states that make such a choice a good one. It turns out, though, that if your birthdays are less than six months apart, they let you renew at the same time. Ours, however, are not, so every five years, we make one trip to renew D.A.’s license, then go again the following year to renew mine. If these are the kinds of problems we have, nobody is going to feel very sorry for us! We always try to make it an adventure.

The plan was that we would stop in Spearfish, S.D., to visit the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery, a living fisheries museum which also houses the national fish hatchery archives. Heading east on Hwy. 90, it started to rain. By the time we’re close to Spearfish, it was pouring. We decided to pass on the visit. Only a few miles further east, the rain had let up somewhat and there was a road sign for the “Geographic Center of the Nation,” about nine miles off Hwy. 90. Sure, let’s go!

Geographic Center of the U.S.

Now, this is a little more complicated than it may seem. The Geographic Center of the Contiguous United States is located about two miles northwest of Lebanon, Kansas. But, in 1959, when Alaska and Hawaii were admitted statehood, the geographic center of the overall United States moved approximately 550 miles! And if that’s not confusing enough, the site we were visiting near Belle Fourche is not the real geographic center, it’s a “public commemoration” site, because the actual center – about 22 miles north – is in private pastureland!! 

By the time we left, though, the rain was completely over and we headed back to the fish hatchery. Really impressive grounds (and volunteers); it feels more like a museum than a working fish hatchery.

D.C. Booth National Fish Hatchery, Spearfish WY

National Archive Building, D.C. Booth

A very interesting aspect was the Fisheries Railcar which tells the story of when fish were transported by rail across the country. Crews actually lived and worked on the cars, delivering fish and stocking lakes and streams.

There were wonderful bronze sculptures by Jim Maher and nature trails throughout the grounds. At the Booth House, living quarters for hatchery superintendents and their families, a docent was waiting and gave us a personal tour through the residence built in 1905.

Bronze Sculptures at D.C. Booth National Fish Hatchery

Absolutely a “must see” if you are visiting the Black Hills. Speaking of the “Black Hills,” do you know how they got that name? I consulted my personal Living History Museum, D.A.: “A Lakota word, Paha Sapa, which means hills that are black.” Seen from a distance, these pine-covered hills appear black.

We were in and out of the licensing office in 10 minutes, then we were on our way back to Casper to spend the weekend with those same friends. We wanted to return by a different route, so Marilyn suggested two meaningful stops: Mammoth Site and Ayers Natural Bridge.

The Mammoth Site

The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, S.D. – In 1974, when ground was being leveled for a new housing development n Hot Springs, equipment operator George Hanson’s blade struck something that shone white in the sunlight. It looked like a tusk about seven feet long, sliced in half lengthwise along with other bones.

The property was owned by Phil Anderson. He contacted universities and colleges in South Dakota and Nebraska and could find no interest in this discovery!

Mr. Hanson’s son, Dan, had taken classes in geology and archaeology, so Dan contacted a former professor Dr. Larry Angenbroad, who was then on the faculty of Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska.

Dr. Angenbroad’s first assessment of the number of bones exposed suggested four to six mammoths. But he felt there had to be more. He involved some of his professional colleagues and they spent 10 days salvaging and stabilizing the bones that were exposed.

Phil Anderson agreed to suspend his project until there was a better idea of what was there.

In 1975, Dr. Angenbroad led a team of volunteer students to begin excavating the site. A complete skull with tusks intact was unearthed. They dug in the summer and then reburied in the winter to preserve them. By the end of 1975, Phil Anderson realized his 14 acres of land would be more valuable as a resource for scientific study than a housing development. Soon, a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization, the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, S.D., was born.

Today, the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, a National National Landmark, is an active paleontological dig site, which boasts the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world! The current mammoth count is 61, with 58 Columbian and 3 wooly mammoths.

Fossils of other Ice Age animals have also been discovered: camel, llama, giant short-faced bear, wolf, coyote and prairie dog to name a few. Imprint fossils of bird feathers, complete fish skeletons, and thousands of mollusk shells have also been recovered from this now-dry 26,000 year old sinkhole.

Knowing they would NEVER fully excavate the site, they enclosed and protected it with a climate controlled building. The bones are displayed as they were discovered, in the now dry pond sediments for an “in-situ” exhibit. Walkways allow visitors a close-up view of the fossils.

Mammoth Site at Hot Springs SD

Mammoth Site, Hot Springs SD

Another “must see”? Absolutely!

Ayers Natural Bridge

Just west of Douglas, a little south of the Oregon Trail and a few minutes off I-25, Ayers is one of only three natural bridges with water beneath. It is considered one of Wyoming’s first tourist attractions. In 1843, a pioneer described it as “A natural bridge of solid rock, over a rapid torrent, the arch being regular as tho’ shaped by art”. Located in a red rock canyon, the site includes a picnic area, playground, hiking paths, a volleyball court and horseshoe pits. A perfect rest stop on our return to Casper.

Ayers Natural Bridge


Ayers Natural Bridge


We Made It to the Beartooth Highway!

It was our long-held intention to drive the Beartooth Highway. For some reason during our summers in Wyoming, we never made it happen. But this year we weren’t leaving without the experience.

Heading for Cody, we found ourselves on the same road (yes, ice cream at Farson) as the one we recently traveled to Boysen State Park – Farson to Lander, Riverton, Thermopolis. But then on to Meeteetse (don’t blink) and Cody. This time we opted to camp in another state park, Buffalo Bill (of course) and we had a great campsite on the North Fork that came with a bonus – birdsong at breakfast!

Camping at Buffalo Bill State Park

This park has an interesting history. It was completed in 1910 and was then the highest dam in the country at 325 feet. Buffalo Bill State Park was established in 1957 and provided recreational areas along the shoreline. But then it was determined that the crest of the dam needed to be raised by 25 feet for increased reservoir storage. The reservoir inundated the former recreation area, so the park had to be redeveloped in the 1990’s!

Visitor Center Buffalo Bill State Park, WY

View from Buffalo Bill Dam, WY

Buffalo Bill Reservoir, WY

The Day of Endless Majesty

First thing the next morning, we headed for the Beartooth Highway via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. The 46-mile road follows the path taken by the Nez Perce as they fled the U.S. Calvary in 1977. Wyoming 296 links the town of Cody with the Beartooth Highway and the Northeast Gate of Yellowstone National Park. The route crosses the Shoshone National Forest through the Absaroka Mountains to the Clarks Fork Valley.

Ascending to Chief Scenic Byway

Beginning ascent on Chief Joseph Highway WY

At Dead Indian Pass, the highest elevation (8,000 ft.) on the route, a sign reads:

“The ridge you are standing on was the last significant barrier for more than 600 Nez Perce Indians and their 2,000 horses as they fled the pursuing U.S. Cavalry. After the battle of the Big Hole a month earlier, they knew the Army did not intend to leave any survivors. This became a flight for their lives.

Now on the run for more than 60 days, they had hoped that by crossing this pass and reaching the plains they could join their old allies, the Crows, or hasten on to join Sitting Bull in Canada. They began climbing to this point from the valley below. By this time, all were exhausted and heartbroken from the long journey and aiding their sick and wounded. But they also knew that winter was closing in. If they could make it over this mountain fast enough, they just might escape the Army and regain their freedom.

Accounts tell us that the Nez Perce left a wounded warrior on this mountain. He was discovered and killed by the Army scouts. Thus this site became known as ‘Dead Indian Pass.’”

Metal sculptures at Dead Indian Pass

Impossible not to relate to the history, but my memories here will be 1) Aromatherapy. As I stepped from the truck, there was a waft of perfumed scents: wildflowers, sage and pine to greet me. And then, (2), when we stopped at the view of the Clark’s Fork from high above, we found a large area of wild clover with countless pollinators, bees and tiny butterflies.

Another “must see” stop along the 46-mile road is where the byway crosses the Clark Fork Yellowstone River. The bridge is far above the river since the river flows through a deep canyon. There’s a scenic pullout, restrooms and sidewalk that leads across the bridge.

Clark's For View Area

The Beartooth

Then, and finally(!), onto the Beartooth “All-American Road” which is often referred to as “the most beautiful drive in the U.S.” It is a 68-mile route from that Yellowstone entrance mentioned above (7,500 ft.) to Red Lodge, Montana (6,400 ft). In between those elevations, the road rises to 10,947 at Beartooth Pass. There are many spectacular stops you can make along the way to enjoy lofty peaks, emerald valleys and 950 sparkling lakes. Even in August it was quite cool at high elevation, so don’t forget your windbreaker!

Entry to Beartooth Highway

At the summit, I discovered a Marmot community. They were running everywhere in all directions with such purpose!

Beartooth Highway near summit

Marmot at Beartooth Highway Summit

This will forever be “The Day of Endless Majesty.” If we were not completely in love with the natural world before that day, we would have been walking around Red Lodge with “Sold” stamped on our foreheads!

We had a fantastic lunch at Red Lodge Pizza Co. and visited with our server about the flood that occurred in mid-June. Rock Creek, which flows right through downtown Red Lodge, a town of 2,100 residents, swelled over its banks and flooded the downtown area – numerous homes and businesses were damaged or ruined.

The damage was very evident in the downtown area and our server told us the community banded together to help each other in such an admirable way at the time, and were only just then (60 days later) beginning to deal with the enormity of their own individual losses. They were already dealing with a housing crisis. Homes are expensive and hard to find.

Of course our desire to spend a day on the Beartooth could never have anticipated what we would see in Red Lodge. It makes us appreciate our lifestyle even more. It makes us want to get out there and see and fall in love even more. We could not be more grateful for the opportunities granted by this lifestyle!

Sinks Canyon State Park, Lander, WY

The highlight of our return trip was our first visit to Sinks Canyon State Park, about six miles southwest of Lander and a popular climbing destination. It had started to rain, so instead of truck camping, we rented Yurt #1 in the Popo Agie Campground. Little did we know that was probably the noisiest yurt location because of its close proximity to the parking area, but it made for a great alternative. The rain cleared and we walked around the visitor center and on the gorgeous nature trail.

Sinks Canyon Yurt Exterior Sinks Canyon Yurt Interior

The “Sinks” got its name because of the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie, a rushing mountain river that flows out of the Wind River Mountains and through the canyon. Halfway down, the river abruptly turns into a large limestone cavern, and the crashing water “sinks” into fissures and cracks at the back of the cave. The river is underground for a quarter mile until it emerges down the canyon in a large calm pool called “The Rise,” which is filled with huge trout.

The Sinks at Sinks Canyon S.P. WY

But there’s such an interesting mystery! A dye test proved the connection between the Sinks and the Rise, but it takes the water from the Sinks two hours to reappear at the Rise – only a quarter of a mile away. It should only take a few minutes flowing downhill… It was also determined that more water comes into the Rise than left the Sinks AND the water is warmer!!

The Rise at Sinks S.P. WY

Next stop on our summer travel agenda? The Black Hills.

Wandering Wyoming at 5 bucks a Gallon-1

It’s true – we never budgeted for  $5 a gallon gas

Soaring gas prices never raised the question of “go” or “not go,” if the alternative was staying in record heat in Arizona. We committed to reallocating our expenses up to but not including less ice cream. Ice Cream Diary should have been the name of our site.

Anxious to get back to catching and eating Kokanee from Flaming Gorge and planning some fun trips truck-camping, we set off. As for camping, knowing next summer we will resume our summer travels elsewhere, we decided to explore scenic byways.

Back to Buckboard

We came to Buckboard Marina three years ago as a great place to hang out and wait for Covid to pass. Little did we know that Covid will be part of our lives forevermore. There were new owners that year, Jen & Tony, and they have worked ceaselessly since they arrived. The improvements are significant and appreciated!

Buckboard Marina at Flaming Gorge, WY

RV & Boat

Driving the Beartooth Highway in Montana has been on our agenda for the last three summers, so that was easily our first choice.  Charles Kuralt, long ago roving correspondent for CBS, named it “Americas Most Beautiful Drive.” It runs 68 miles from the town of Red Lodge over a scenic pass that towers 11,000 feet, then across the Wyoming state line to Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, even before the highway opened for summer travel this year, it sustained intense rainfall and flooding which damaged at least many part of the roadway. As we were making plans to see it, the road was closed for extensive repairs.

Snowy Range Scenic Byway, “The Great Sky Road”

Returning from Denver in early June after the graduation of a grandchild, we visited our friends, Lynette and Ben, in Centennial, WY, about 30 miles west of Laramie. The live in an amazing community called North Fork. Most of the properties have private fishing ponds and access to the North Fork of the Platte River.

Centennial is the gateway to the Snowy Range and is home to 300 residents. The town was born in 1875 when gold was discovered.

Snowy Range Scenic Byway, WY

The scenic byway runs about 30 miles on Highway 130 through the Medicine Bow National Forest between Centennial and Ryan Park. Originally a wagon road built in the 1870’s, paved in the 1930’s, then designated the nation’s second Scenic Byway in 1988. At 10,000 feet above sea level, Libby Flats is the highest point on the Byway. From there, you can see mountain ranges in most directions.

All along the Byway there are numerous opportunities for outdoor adventures. It’s a land of many lakes, carpets of wildflowers, and deer and birds, oh my! There are numerous places to stop and enjoy the scenery. The Byway is closed in winter. We saw a lot of snow, but none on the roadway.

View from Snowy Range Scenic Byway, WY

Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway

We have admired the Wind River Range many times on various trips, but at the end of June we headed off to see the Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway, which begins in the town of Shoshoni at milepost 100. Following U.S. 20 north through Wind River Canyon and the Wind River Indian Reservation, the route ends just north of the city of Thermopolis at milepost 134.

While we had traveled the road to Riverton in a past summer, it is very scenic and historic, so we were happy to do it again – especially as it would give us the opportunity to eat ice cream at Farson Mercantile!

Ice Cream from Farson's Mercantile, WY
That’s a SINGLE SCOOP on the left!

Setting off east on Highway 28 from Farson, we crossed the Oregon Trail and the Continental Divide. This is gorgeous country with rock snow fences that provide an idea of what it must be like in winter.

There are ghost towns of South Pass City and Atlantic City to explore and then you come to Red Canyon, with its breathtaking vistas, and start your descent into the heart of Wind River Country. At Lander, we took Highway 789 towards Riverton and Shoshoni.

Boysen State Park

When we planned this trip, D.A. remembered that Bob, a friend from Minnesota, loved the area and should be able to recommend a campground. Sure enough, he suggested Upper Wind River Campground in Boysen State Park, not far north of Shoshoni. The park is named for Asmus Boysen who built the original dam and power plant in 1908.

Camping at Boysen State Park, WY

Wind River at Upper Campground, Boysen State Park WY

After setting up camp, we hopped back in the truck for the scenic drive. By then it was late afternoon and we couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to see this canyon with rock walls that rise 2,500 vertical feet on either side. These are some of the oldest rock formations in the world, dating back to the Precambrian period (more than 2.9 billion years ago).

Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway, WY

Amazingly, the Wind River flows north through the canyon. Before it leaves the canyon, the river changes names. At the “Wedding of the Waters,” the Wind River becomes the Rocky Mountain Bighorn River. The Bighorn River is the largest tributary of the Yellowstone River.

Wedding of the Waters, Thermopolis, WY

We had a quick drive through Thermopolis locating attractions since we planned to return the next day.

Hell’s Half Acre

Next morning we were up and out early to see something D.A. remembered from his youth on a school athletic trip. Returning to Shoshoni, we went about 50 miles east toward Casper. Hell’s Half Acre is barely off the highway, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. D.A.’s group arrived at a reception area and a guide took them by elevator down into the ravine and showed them around.

When we arrived, there was a parking area and a high chain link fence to prevent you from falling into the abyss.

Wikipedia describes it as a large “scarp.”  A scarp is a a steep slope or cliff found at the margin of a flat or gently sloping area, usually against the dip of the rocks. Knowing that description did not do justice to what we were seeing, we excerpted the following info from the Geology Wyoming website. There simply were no words we knew to explain what we were seeing.

Hell's Half Acre, WY

“Forty miles northwest of Casper lies an other worldly badland landscape so eerie it was used for the 1997 movie “Starship Troopers” as the set for planet Klendathu, the home of a species of hostile Arachnids. These fictional aliens were colonizing new worlds and were at war with humans for survival.  The location set was at a place called “Hells Half Acre” on the south side of U.S. Highways 20/26.

The badlands encompass an area of 320 acres along the western toe of the Casper Arch. The land was donated by the Federal Government to Natrona County as part of a 960-acre grant in 1924. [It was privately-run when D.A. visited.] The Casper Arch is one of the major structures elevated during the Laramide Orogeny (70-55 million years ago). The name Hells Half Acre came from an advertising campaign by boosters in Casper wanting to bring more tourists to the area with a roadside attraction. They ordered thousands of picture postcards with the name “Devil’s Kitchen,” but they arrived with the name Hells Half Acre. Not wanting to lose money, the cards were used, and the name changed.

Native Americans often used local topography in their hunting strategy. The fall of 180 feet off the rim of Hells Half Acre was a good spot for herding bison over and they used the area as a bison kill site. Bison falling over the rim or trapped in the ravines could be easily slaughtered. A 2006 archaeological investigation by John Albanese found bison bones and spear points dated as 3,000 to 1,200-years-old.
Hell's Half Acre, WY
Geology – ​The badlands at Hells Half Acre are developed in the Lysite Member of the Wind River Formation. The 150-foot-deep gorge, and the badland features were created through differential erosion by wind, gravity and intermittent streams flowing south into South Fork of Powder River. Lithologies of Lysite Member strata are red, purple, gray, greenish-gray, and white siltstone and claystone interbedded with white, gray, and buff lenticular sandstones. These beds have a pronounced angular unconformity with the underlying Paleocene Fort Union Formation and Cretaceous Lance Formations. An angular unconformity is an erosion surface where the underlying older beds dip at a different angle than the overlying younger beds. This contact relationship and the presence of Precambrian clasts in the Wind River Formation shows the relative timing of major movement on the Casper Arch thrust fault.”
See what I mean? But it’s true, “angular unconformity” is a perfect descriptor.
Hell's Half Acre, WY
Driving back, we saw a small green sign on the side of the highway, “Castle Gardens” 28 miles. We made a note to look it up. Once back at camp, we grabbed our swimming gear and headed to the Star Plunge at Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis. Good choice!
Over a hundred years ago, the first Star Plunge was a canvas-topped hole in the formation. It was sometimes drained for boxing matches, speeches, and church services. Currently there are pools, water slides and a vapor cave. As promised, our visit soothed us beautifully, body and soul.
Star Plunge, Thermopolis, WY
We rounded out the day with a visit to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center which houses one of the largest and unique fossil collections in the world. Unbelievably, most of the fossils were found within a ten minute drive of the Center.
Wyoming Dinosaur Museum, Thermopolis

165 million years ago, Thermopolis, Wyoming was covered in a shallow ocean called the Sundance Sea. This was a shallow, inland sea that extended across parts of the North American Continent during the Middle to Late Jurassic Period. Evidence suggests that this deposit was created by a series of events that caused the ocean to progress and regress repeatedly across the continent.

Above the Sundance Formation lies the Morrison Formation, deposited roughly 150 million years ago. This distinctive sequence of sedimentary rocks has been among the most fertile sources of dinosaur fossils in the entire world. It is within this formation that the Wyoming Dinosaur Center staff focuses their search for fossils. Finding new places to dig is the first step in the paleontological process and it takes both keen observational skills and patience. One thing out there to help them is erosion which exposes new material every year. Over the past 24 years, WDC field technicians have found and identified over 130 dig sites on the Warm Spring Ranch.

Leaving Thermopolis, we looked up Castle Gardens while we had cell and Wi-Fi. It looked great, so we made a plan to see it if possible.

The wind had picked up by the time we returned to camp, and we were grateful to have our stuff stowed in our Decathlon shelter. We sleep comfortably on a mountain of memory foam in the back of the truck, but we got the tent so we could stow our stuff in case of inclement weather – and isn’t there always inclement weather when you camp?

Eventually the wind calmed, so after dinner we built a fire and talked to neighbors (there were only three including the camp host!) as they walked their dogs. No sooner had we slipped into our sleeping bags when the wind picked up again and never let up all night.

We didn’t sleep well that night and decided when the wind was still howling as we got up and started our day, that we would pack up, head for Shoshoni where we would have Wi-Fi to get a weather check. Sure enough, it was going to be very windy all day, so we decided to head home – via Castle Gardens.

Castle Gardens

We followed the small green signs on unpaved roads for many miles through the most typical Wyoming high prairie – rolling hills, red dirt, sage, antelope and cattle, then there was a turn to the left that led about six miles to a parking area, a gate and signage. This is a petroglyph site. The name of the area comes from the outcropping of sandstone which the wind has eroded into fanciful shapes resembling the turrets and towers of castle. This unusual formation has been luring visitors for thousands of years, and many of them left their mark in the soft sandstone–the area holds a treasure of Native American rock art, or petroglyphs.

As strange and other-worldly as Hells Half Acre was, here we found the exact opposite. It felt sacred, it felt like home. We were awestruck and humbled as we walked the one-mile path. We were the only visitors at the time we were there.

A consensus of researchers is that the figures were carved by Athabaskans related to the Navajo and Apache, some time between 1000 AD and 1250 AD.

Petroglyph at Castle Gardens WY

From Historic Wyoming:  “The most famous petroglyphs were done in the Castle Gardens Shield Style, the oldest recognizable example of the shield-bearing warrior figure type. It is described as “elaborate and carefully made figures,” and it “combines several different manufacturing techniques that serve to distinguish the type as unique in the Bighorn and Wind River Basins. The style is also unique in that it depicts shields alone as well as shield-bearing warriors.”

The BLM site explains: “Improvements to the site have been made over the past several years to enhance the experience and to better protect the petroglyphs. A fine crushed gravel walking trail exists throughout the site, with foot bridges to ease the crossing of deep drainages and a new parking area.”

Castle Gardens, Wy

Even though it remained windy, we were completely enchanted and grateful for the opportunity to spend time there. If you find yourself in the area, this is a “must see.”

We returned to the main road, turned left, and in a few miles came to Highway 136. Forty minutes later we were back in Riverton.

This needs a few tweaks and there are more pics to load, but gotta run! A couple of days ago we learned the Beartooth Highway has reopened and we just decided we’re going – first thing in the morning!!


Northward Bound Once More

An interesting conundrum

Spending most of our time on each end of the Colorado River these days keeps us entrenched in a well-publicized and dire predicament for seven Western states. Drought.

Map of Colorado River Basin

I spent a lot of time last summer trying to organize a public event for my Friends Group – Friends of Bill Williams River & Havasu National Wildlife Refuges – along with Lake Havasu State Park, AZ Game & Fish, Corps of Engineers, to try to help local residents better understand the situation. In Lake Havasu, year after year you look out at the lake and it always looks the same. It’s easy to be lulled into belief that for some reason, we are not subject to what has already happened at Lake Powell and Lake Mead. And the truth is complicated:

  • More water is released from Lake Mead and Lake Powell to supply demand, and
  • California has the largest entitlements to these lakes, and
  • Lake Havasu serves as a balancing reservoir.

A balancing reservoir in a water supply distribution system is to address the frequent fluctuations in the rate of consumption. To supply this, Lake Havasu does not vary more than five feet.

After many months of work, we shelved the project. It’s not that people don’t know, but, as I said, the truth is complicated. It’s complicated because if there is no water, there is no water, and Lake Havasu will be affected.

The Colorado River provides drinking water for more than 40 million people, hydroelectric power to meet the needs of over 7 million people, and water for 30 Native American Tribes. It irrigates around 5 million acres of fields that supply vegetables to the entire world and supports a thriving $26-billion recreation and tourism economy, as well as a wide variety of wildlife.

In August 2021, due to the low levels of water at Lake Mead, the federal government declared a Tier 1 water shortage in the Colorado River for the first time ever. These Arizona reductions will be borne by Central Arizona Project (CAP) water users. The result will be less available Colorado River water for central Arizona agriculture.

Computer models predict Lake Mead could drop below 1,050 feet by November 2022, triggering a Tier 2 shortage, under which Arizona would lose another 80,000 acre-feet and Nevada an additional 4,000. By July 2023, the furthest forecast in a 24-month study, the lake could drop to 1,038 feet, at which point California would take its first cut of 200,000 acre-feet.

See what I mean? It’s difficult to get a grasp on the enormity of this.

Meanwhile, back at Havasu Springs…

Our 2021-22 guided fishing season at was a huge success and is already just a blur in our memories.  D.A. worked 190 days! He worked seven days a week, holidays and his birthday included. The only way he got time off was when the wind created unsafe conditions – and the customers did not like getting those calls. So if the Captain worked 190 days, his Chief Sidekick and Windshield Washer was working too. All I can say is bless my kayak and line-dancing communities for providing much needed respite.

On the road again

We moved from Havasu Springs to Lake Havasu City at the end of April for maintenance on the RV and boat – anxious to get on the road headed north as daily temps were nearing 100 degrees. Headed for Salt Lake City (on our way back to Buckboard), but we hadn’t made reservations in advance because we didn’t know what day our maintenance would be completed.

Thinking we would spend one night near St. George, we couldn’t find reservations for the coming days in the Salt Lake City area, so we spent a second night at Southern Utah RV Resort. This is a fairly new park, quite nice except it is located next to the I-15, so the road noise is constant. It’s definitely an upgrade from Temple View RV Park in St. George that I mentioned in a previous post.

While there however, we discovered a brand new park only about a mile away (a mile away from I-15!) which we will try when we are next in the area. It is Settler’s Point Luxury RV Resort.

We were scheduled to take the boat to Fred’s Marine in Layton (north of Salt Lake) for some wiring issues and installation of new electronics. We figured we would be in the Salt Lake area for a week or two, but we could not find accommodations. The Salt Lake area is really limited in parks. A couple of existing ones are affiliated with theme parks, which might be great for families, but not really interesting to us. We’d much prefer accessibility to the natural areas we always visit on our trips to the area: Antelope Island State Park (near Layton) and Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge (near Brigham City).

We ended up at  Century RV Park & Campground in Ogden – a spot also previously mentioned in an earlier post, but this time our report is not quite as glowing as our last visit. This is because, since we were staying more than a week, they put us in one of the long-term sections. It had quite a different feel – not bad, just not as nice… and the low water pressure took some getting used to.

I scouted other possibilities here for future too and found a gorgeous spot just a few miles away in South Weber. Riverside RV Resort is also brand new and near Highway 84 (much less busy than I-15), and there’s a beautiful multi-use path adjacent to the property along the Weber River. Bingo! We’ll be back!!

While in Ogden, we discovered some new attractions

Ogden Nature Center – A 152-acre nature preserve and education center that offers a wide variety of activities from walking trails to educational programs for all ages.

Ogden Nature Center

And a birdhouse competition was going on. These are not the winners, just a couple of my favorites.

Apple Birdhouse





Ogden Botanical Gardens – The mission of the Ogden Botanical Gardens is to promote inner-city beauty and educational opportunities for everyone in a diverse and sustainable garden setting. There are numerous gardens: Accessibility, Collections, Conifer, Cottage, Edible, Asian, Pollinator, Rose, Water Conservation, and Water-Wise Perennial! And it’s adjacent to the Ogden River Parkway Trail, so you can easily spend hours seeing all the sights.

Another day, D.A.’s sister (Irene) and nephew (Chad) joined us for a field trip to Golden Spike National Historic Park about 30 miles east of Brigham City. The park commemorates the completion of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States. Visitor can see the location of the Last Spike Site, 1869 railroad construction features, walk or drive on the original railroad grade, and get an up close view of Victorian era replica locomotives.

Golden Spike NHP


As we arrived, Chad said the Spiral Jetty – a site he had learned about in an Art History class in high school, was only about 15 miles away. He had never been there, nor had we, so when we finished up at the Park, we continued to the jetty.

Spiral Jetty Earthwork

Spiral Jetty (1970) is located at Rozel Point peninsula on the northeastern shore of Great Salt Lake. Using over six thousand tons of black basalt rocks and earth from the site, Smithson formed a coil 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide that winds counterclockwise off the shore into the water. Or at least it was intended to wind to the shore. “Mind-blowing” is an understatement for this project. Incredible undertaking. After walking the spiral, we wandered down to the shore of the Great Salt Lake.
The lake is ringed by extensive wetlands, making Great Salt Lake (which has no outlet) one of the most important resources for migrating and nesting birds.
Great Salt Lake Shoreline near Spiral Jetty

Back to Wyoming

About May 20th, we arrived at Buckboard Marina – our summer home base again this year. Located on Flaming Gorge Reservoir of the Green River (major tributary to the Colorado River), I’ll give you one guess about the issue concerning our neighbors. And you’re correct: dwindling water reserves!

Flaming Gorge is the only reservoir in the Colorado system that has ample water resources. People here are upset – because they have water – that it is being drained. They don’t remember that Flaming Gorge was built (completed in 1964) to supply water to Lake Powell. Flaming Gorge has sent 25 feet to Lake Powell over the past two years and is scheduled to send another 10 feet this water year. (A water year on the Colorado River is May through April of the following year.)

Lake Powell is experiencing Tier 2 conditions and is already cutting back 480,000 acre feet. Estimates to the water level rise in Lake Powell (because of these efforts by both Flaming Gorge and Lake Powell) is 12 to 16 feet.

Wyoming’s Wind River Basin which feeds Flaming Gorge is at 91% of the median snowpack – snow water equivalent. So Flaming Gorge can expect what is called “unregulated flow” from this snowpack. Because nobody knows when it all melts and when it all arrives at the reservoir, Flaming Gorge can experience some increase in inflows that exceed outflows.

Crossing fingers and sending up prayers; we’ll see how it all works out.

RV Campgrounds – Summer 2021

First off, I think I should tell you what we look for in a RV campground when we are traveling. Our RV is our home (40′, 4 slides), so we don’t boondock or rough it. We look for the best spots we can find with full hookups (and overflow parking for our boat if it won’t fit in our spot). We avoid spots near major highways and train tracks when possible.


Havasu Falls RV Resort, 928-764-0050, 877-843-3255, 3493 Highway 95 North, Lake Havasu City AZ 86404

We’ve stayed here before. About 80 Pull-thru and 50 Back-ins, all 30/50 AMP combos. Good  location for all our errands as we kick-off or wrap-up our seasonal guided fishing at Havasu Springs Resort. This resort overlooks the lake, is not located on it. Nice pool and clubhouse and facilities are well maintained.

Would I recommend? Yes, absolutely.


Temple View RV Resort, 435-673-6400, 800-776-6410, 975 S. Main, St. George UT 84770

This park was highly recommended by friends and we were only there a couple of nights. An older park, it is well-maintained, with a lot of long-term sites. The sites were small and all back-ins. I didn’t have a real complaint here, just the thought we could do better on a return trip.

Would I recommend? No, unless the other parks I want to try are unavailable. At a minimum, it is clean and safe.

Circle L Manufactured Home Community, 801-544-8945, 231 North Main Street, Layton UT 84041 – Rate was $260/week

We chose this park because it was close to where we were having work done on our boat. We have family in Salt Lake City, so we always plan a stop to have time with them. The parks near Salt Lake City are far and few between. Last year we found one to the north, near Ogden, which was very nice. A note about that one follows this.

Circle L is about 40 years old. One area is for short term and one is for long-term. The long-term is on the seedy side. (I’m always looking for good places to walk nearby our stays.) We were there a week and though we don’t know why, there was police activity in the park every day!

Would I recommend? No. (Next time I will try Pony Express, which is closer to Salt Lake City.)

A note on Century Mobile Home & RV Park, 801-731-3800, 1483 West 2100 S, West Haven, UT 84401. We stayed about a week in the summer of 2020 and it was an excellent choice. It’s closer to Ogden, which means further from Salt Lake City. We would definitely stay again.


Oregon Trail RV Park & Campground, 208-733-0853, 2733 Kimberly Road, Twin Falls ID 83301 – Rate was $35/night

Friends who stay here in summer recommended this location. We were visiting other friends in Twin Falls and decided to stay here so we could easily see both sets of friends. Most of the sites are pull-through and they are good size.  The managers are a young couple who could not be more pleasant or more helpful.

Would I recommend? Absolutely!

Boise Riverside RV Park, 208-375-7432, 6000 N. Glenwood, Garden City, ID 83714

A friend who we were going to visit in Boise recommended this one. I called some time ahead of our arrival for a two-week reservation and learned they only had one spot, which happened to be a back-in site with no sewer connection. They told me they had a weekly service to dump the tanks, so I reserved the site. They also told me they had overflow parking for our boat.

On arrival, the manager looked out the window at our pick-up towing the boat and said, “What are you going to do with that?” I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t. Fortunately, our friends were with us and said they could store the boat at their house.

We planned on being in the park for the first week, and then traveling around the state for the second week. When I finally got around to visiting the office to clarify arrangements about dumping the water tanks, the manager said you did not have to be present if you would vent the tank before you left. I wasn’t sure about this term, but she meant to prop the toilet in the open position when we left. She added casually, “It may stink when you return!” Ha ha. I don’t think so. By then I had learned there were 100 pull-through sites with sewer connections – but they didn’t have one available on such short notice. We checked out after one week.

Would I recommend? Absolutely! And here’s why. This park is located on the Boise River Greenbelt which runs four miles to the north and five miles to the south. It is GORGEOUS. (The park has bike rentals, and the walking was awesome.) I would love to have more time to explore that greenbelt. Next time though, I’d make sure I had a pull-through spot and I would make a reservation for boat-parking at the same time.


All this traveling was taking us to our summer destination, Buckboard Marina, on Flaming Gorge, which would be our home base for the next four months. The first year we visited, it was more of a fish camp than an RV resort, but that’s the year I discovered Kokanee (landlocked Sockeye Salmon), and my life has never been the same!

Turns out, new owners were taking over as we left that season, so we had a big surprise on arrival at the end of May 2021. Improvements were significant and included a bar and restaurant. It was sliding nicely to the RV resort side of the equation.

Buckboard is halfway between Green River, WY, and Manila, UT. A short drive through Manila puts you further into Ashley National Forest,  Sheep Creek Geological Loop, and Flaming Gorge Visitor Center – some of the most spectacular scenery we’ve ever seen.

Would I recommend? Absolutely!



Joseph and the Wallowas 2021

Joseph is a tiny town in northeast Oregon named for Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. Originally named Silver Lake and Lake City, the city formally named itself in 1880 for Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people. When faced with settlement by whites of tribal lands in Oregon, Chief Joseph led his followers in a dramatic effort to escape to Canada.

At least 700 men, women, and children led by Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs were pursued by the U.S. Army in a 1,170-mile (1,900 km) fighting retreat known as the Nez Perce War. The skill with which the Nez Perce fought and the manner in which they conducted themselves in the face of incredible adversity earned them widespread admiration from their military opponents and the American public, and coverage of the war in U.S. newspapers led to popular recognition of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce.

The Wallowas are majestic mountains (known as the American Alps or Little Switzerland) located above Joseph. From “In the Wallowas, you can look down from an alpine summit and see the high desert of Indian country roll out in front of you in one direction, and then turn around and see past Hells Canyon into the next state, and some say all the way past it to the next one after that.”

A dream deferred.

A few years ago, I was volunteering in the Visitor Center at the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge, which happens to be located next door to our winter home, Havasu Springs Resort (half way between Parker and Lake Havasu City, AZ).

We were going to spend summer in Oregon that year, and I always asked refuge visitors where they were from. If they said Oregon, I’d say, “Good, we are going there this summer. Can you tell me just one thing I must see or do while I’m in Oregon?” And so when we left, we had a list of 15 attractions that those visitors rated number one.

Over the summer, we visited all but one: Joseph and the Wallowas. It was just far enough out of the way that we never got there. But it stayed on my bucket list.

During the winter of 2020, I was out filling up our bird feeders one day when a woman came toward me walking her dog. I said, “I remember you,” and she said she remembered me too. As we visited, we recalled we had walked together with a group a few times a couple of years earlier. I recalled the wonderful stories she told of her childhood.

We chatted and Karen asked where we were going this summer and I told her Flaming Gorge, Wyoming, but we would visit Idaho on the way. She asked where in Idaho and I started explaining, but then added – not really having a clue why I was doing so – “Where I really want to go is in Oregon. I think it may be easier to get there from Idaho than from Oregon.”

She asked where specifically just as I remembered she was from Oregon! I said, “Wait! Where do you live,” and we both said, “Joseph” together!!! She added, “And if you come, I’ll show you around.”

Quite a coincidence, wouldn’t you say? But there’s more.

A friend from California sent me a note saying, “Aren’t you planning to go to Joseph, OR, this summer? There’s an article about it this month in Smithsonian Magazine.” We were near Salt Lake City at the time, so I jumped in the truck, went to Barnes & Noble and bought a copy. I mean, really, what are the chances?



The Road is Where We Like to Be

While it’s not much fun packing up to leave each season, being on the road is our favorite place!

It goes without saying that we seek natural places wherever we go.

We left Lake Havasu City last Tuesday for St. George. After driving all day, the last thing I would have expected D.A. to say was, “Let’s go to Zion tomorrow.” If I had really thought about it I would have gone right online for any news about visiting Zion NP, but no, it did not occur.

Zion National Park

Zion is one of the most-visited national parks in the U.S., was Utah’s first national park and is definitely the most popular of the five national parks in Utah.

The next morning, nearing the park, we saw a sign that said, “Visitor Parking Full – Take Shuttle.” Oh-oh!

They waived us right through the main gate, like we knew what we were doing, but alas, the parking lot was full. Thinking we’d just drive up the road until we found someone to talk to, we only went a short distance when we saw a sign for the museum. We stopped and were happy to see a Ranger standing outside answering questions. She told us the main “Scenic Drive” was closed to all traffic except the shuttles. However, there were a couple of other drives we could take.

She also told us 16,000 people visit the park each weekday, 17,000 to 20,000 on the weekends. At 2PM each day, you can go to the Visitor Center to buy any remaining shuttle tickets for the day. The alternative is to buy in advance. 50% of the daily amount of tickets go on sale online each day at 3PM. They are sold out in 3 to 5 minutes!

We first took the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway to the east entrance. It was a gorgeous drive (and quite crowded) but very much worth the effort and we found a nice spot for a picnic lunch.

Canyon Overlook in Zion N.P.
View from Canyon Overlook on Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

View from Tunnel on Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

As we drove through the Park and happened to pass several shuttle busses, we couldn’t help but notice they were nearly empty – one or two passengers max. Ha ha and Oh Well!

Later, we went back the way we came to the park originally to the town of Virgin and took Kolob Terrace Road to the Lava Point Overlook (almost 8,000 feet elevation) and no traffic to speak of. It too was a gorgeous ride and even more geologically diverse, ending in tall pines and snow.

Ranch on Kolob Terrace Road, Zion N.P.
Ranch on Kolob Terrace Road
Kolob Terrace Road, Zion N.P.
Geologic diversity on Kolob Terrace Road
View from Lava Point Overlook, Zion N.P.
The view from Lava Point Overlook

On the way back to Virgin, we talked about how the day did not turn out at all as expected, yet it was one of our best days on the road ever!

“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” -Paul Coelho

The next morning we continued to Salt Lake City. We dropped our boat at Fred’s Marine in Layton for a floor replacement and headed to our reserved “camp” at Circle L Mobile Home and RV Community. It’s a tiny park with lots of grass and huge trees, only a few RV spots and, seemingly, a lot of long-term residents. A little different experience than what we usually have in an “RV Resort” but pleasant enough, at least until we passed two police cars as we were leaving to go touring the next morning. Makes one wonder but at least they didn’t tell us to leave the area immediately or get back to the safety of our RV…

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Visitor Center Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Visitor Center – rear view that faces marsh and boardwalk

Our destination was the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge near Brigham City. This was our third visit and we couldn’t wait to get back on the 12-mile auto tour. I am re-reading (for the third time also) Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams, a poet and naturalist. The memoir takes place in 1983 as Terry was losing her Mother to cancer while, at the same time, she was losing the place she most loved in her home state of Utah – the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge – to flooding. Just as the first and second times I read it, I often think, “I cannot bear to read this,” because it brings up such strong emotion, but then I realize I cannot bear not to read it equally because I love this book so dearly.

I gave D.A. a lightweight scope and tripod for Christmas. I thought we would use it for the Christmas Bird Count at the “Bill Will,” but we ended up doing our share by boat so the scope and tripod didn’t seem accompany us. Now we were going to do some serious (for us) birding and we came to the refuge with the scope, tripod and my eBird app loaded for Utah.

The Refuge and other wetlands associated with the Great Salt Lake provide critical habitat for migrating birds from both the Pacific and Central Flyway of North America. This area contains abundant food for birds, including very important brine shrimp and other macroinvertebrates as well as necessary plants like sago pondweed.  Birds come to the Refuge by the millions to eat and rest during migration, and many other species stay to breed, nest and raise their young across the Refuge wetlands. Several of the Refuge’s priority species are American Avocet, White-faced Ibis, American Pelican, Snowy Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Cinnamon Teal, Tundra Swan.

We were fortunate enough to see all but the Snowy Plover and Tundra Swan. We saw 29 “Taxa” (unit species) and counted 1,509 individuals but I’m happy to admit I stopped counting individual Franklin’s or Ring-billed Gull, Violet-green Swallow, Brewer’s Blackbird when the count went over 200 each!

Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve

The gate at GSL Shorelands Preserve
Entrance to GSL Shorelands Preserve

Today, we discovered a new destination near us in Layton: the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, the first Nature Conservancy preserve in Utah.

This Preserve spans 4,400 acres of wetlands and uplands habitat along the eastern edge of the Great Salt Lake. As the largest saline lake in the Western Hemisphere, the Great Salt Lake is crucial to both people and nature. The lake is a rich feeding ground for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl, supporting between four and six million migratory birds as they journey from as far north as the Arctic to southern points in Central and South America.

Some of the largest gatherings of wildlife ever recorded on the Great Salt Lake have been observed from the preserve’s visitor center, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise as well as the perfect place for visitors to appreciate the importance of the Great Salt Lake.

Visitor Center at GSL Shorelands Preserve
Visitor Center
Observation Tower at GSL Shorelands Preserve
Observation Tower

Here we saw a total of 12 Taxa and 70 individuals but the highlight came at the top of the observation tower. D.A. thought he heard a Sora, but the eBird app said they were not common in the area. We waited and listened and waited some more and sure enough, we SAW the Sora. Sora’s are mysterious marsh birds. Here’s the description from Cornell Lab:

“A descending whinny emanates from the depths of cattails and rushes, but the source of this sound rarely shows itself. This secretive brown-and-gray marsh bird is a Sora, but drab it is not. When it finally pokes its head out of the reeds its bright yellow bill might have you thinking about Halloween candy corns. The Sora walks slowly through shallow wetlands a bit like a chicken that has had too much coffee, nervously flicking its tail and exposing the white feathers below.”

D.A. has great photos (unfortunately not quite fast enough to get the Sora) that he will share on Facebook.

See what I mean? The road is the place we like to be!

Hualapais … Camping … Nomadland … Kudos

Hualapai Mountain Park

Hualapai Mountain Park – We finally got around to visiting after so many winters in the Havasu area. This is a Mohave County Park high above Kingman with 11 miles of trails and elevations ranging from 6,200 to 8,400. Absolutely gorgeous – Ponderosa and Pinon pines and huge granite rock formations – though we certainly felt the elevation since we have spent the last six months at 400! We normally acclimatize at a couple thousand feet per day – not six.

The name ‘Hualapai’ is derived from the word for “People of the Tall Pines” for the Native American tribe that once called these mountains home until they were relocated by the military in the 1870s.

Originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930’s, it today offers 20 cabins, 70 campsites, picnic areas, a playground and 35 RV camping sites are just across the street from the main entrance.

Hualapai Mountain Park is home to elk, mule deer, fox, raccoon, squirrels, chipmunks and skunks. There are also a variety of songbirds and birds of prey including hawks, owls and an occasional Golden Eagle.

Now that we’ve finally visited, this will be a great place to escape the heat that often happens in October when we return from our travels.

New campershell for our Silverado

Camping – we bought a camper shell!

And some would say, why do you want to go camping when that’s all you do? But it’s not really like that.

Our RV is our home and we travel from one gorgeous campground with full hookups to the next. In eight years, we have spent exactly one week and one day without hookups. That was plenty; we don’t need to ever do it again.

There are places we love to go and would love to spend a few days, but there is no way we are driving our home down a 30-mile washboard!

A camper shell gives us the flexibility to visit and stay at some of our favorite places just like “back in the day!” (And then we’ll be happy to return to our rolling home.)

Can’t wait!


At dinner the other night, our friend asked if we had seen Nomadland and what we, as full-time RVers, thought. We hadn’t seen it, but it was not that I didn’t want to. The only movie we’ve seen in a theater this year was “News of the World,” which we very much enjoyed. Between Covid restrictions and always trying to contain our wi-fi usage (a problem we can talk about another time), we seldom stream.

Since we are currently using Havasu Falls’ wi-fi instead of our own hotspot through Verizon, I took the opportunity to see it.

In a word or two: “Heartbreaking yet inspirational.”

We are not naïve to this… We winter in AZ, about 50 miles from Quartzsite. I have visited a couple of those “boondocking” communities to see friends. One I visited travels with a group of Escapees (a club). Some have homes in cold regions and travel winters and some are full-timers, but these folks have assets and are traveling in a way they love. One day my friend was talking about going dancing every night and I said, “I didn’t know you were a dancer,” and he said, “Neither did I!” His statement made me so happy for him. Our lives expand exponentially when given the opportunity. We don’t always know what an “opportunity” looks like.

There but for the grace of God

The flipside to that seems to be Fern’s situation and you really saw how difficult it all looked: a 5-gallon bucket for a toilet (and how the heck do they dispose of the contents anyway) is probably the most obvious, having to travel from one grueling job to another, never being able to get to a point where a needed vehicle repair wasn’t a disaster. But who wouldn’t be inspired by the sweet connections she made with people and the incredible natural sights she/we saw while traveling the country?

Fern was very brave. Imagine how desperate you would have to be to leave your former life with only what you could carry in your van. She became an – the only suitable word I can find – “immigrant” in her own country. I related completely to her return where she noted she no longer wanted or needed those items she had carefully placed in storage.

Remember, Fern had options. People offered her other living arrangements and she turned them down. Who are we to judge what is right or wrong for another person? Fern had her happy and sad moments – don’t we all?

The point to me is – a recurring theme of our times – we cannot judge another’s life, values or decisions. We can help, assist, aid, but we cannot judge until we – as they say – “walk a mile in my moccasins.” There are people who would never want that experience. There are people who would give anything to “go on the road,” whatever that means to them.

Nomadland gave us the opportunity to see that in such an up-close-and-personal way. I am touched and grateful.

Kudos to my Sidekick

Don (D.A.) Allen is that Sidekick. We are starting our 15th year together, 8 of which have been full-time RVing. I could not have made a better choice. I once stated I loved him because he was happy to eat leftovers and could fix anything, but it’s grown a lot from there. I simply could not have picked a better partner for this stage in my life. I am touched and I am grateful.

Jude & D.A. at Hualapai Mountain Park

See ‘ya down the road…