One of our first excursions had to be a return to Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. As we pulled into the parking lot at the boat launch, we saw a moose in the marsh, then a trumpeter swan – even before we could get out of the truck and focus our cameras. This place holds a special place in our hearts and we were jazzed to return. Seedskadee is a 27,000 acre refuge that protects a variety of habitats for over 350 species of wildlife.
Sheep Creek Geologic Loop
New friends at Buckboard told us about the Sheep Creek Geologic Loop. It is a 13-mile loop off Highway 44 on the way to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Center Visitor Center. It follows the visually dramatic Uinta Fault. Mind-blowing rock formations can be seen along the fault: towering monoliths along with rock that has been fractured, jumbled, discombobulated. Give yourself plenty of time because if you are sightseers like us, at the end you will turn right around and drive it the other way!
Grand Teton and Yellowstone
In July we had a great family visit when Mia, Haley and Mandy arrived. None had been to the Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Parks before, so we planned a whirlwind trip. For me, the only way to see these parks is escorted by D.A. because he lived in the area for more than 30 years, and was a trail crew foreman at Grand Teton. He definitely knows where to go and what to see. We stayed at one of those darling cabins at the Cowboy Village and had great meals at Snake River Brewing and Mangy Moose Steakhouse. The parks were as crowded and smoky as we expected, but why would anyone miss the opportunity to see these outstanding areas of natural beauty? Not this troop!
Fishing at Flaming Gorge
Did somebody say, “How’s the fishing?” I thought so. We fished for kokanee primarily and a variety of trout. Kokanee salmon are landlocked sockeye salmon (live their entire lives in fresh water). I think we ate our combined weight in kokanee. Of all the fish we catch and eat, kokanee is our favorite.
The pic at the top of this post is a view from the Flaming Gorge NRA Visitor Center taken last year. This year, we saw the view from the water. We trailered the boat to Lucerne, just north of Manila, UT and traveled through the gorge. Awesome! And it goes right to the top of the list for future visitors. Debbie & Bruce and Lynette & Ben summer in Centennial and came for a visit – and this was a great excursion with them.
The next day, the “Girls” traveled south through Manila and up the mountain to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area Visitor Center.
Green River Lake
On one of our early trips to Wyoming, we camped a few nights at Green River Lake. This was long before our RVing days. We were living in Tucson – at the end of the spigot – and I was curious to see where Arizona’s water came from. We traveled north on US 191 through the magical Apache National Forest, and visited Canyon De Chelly National Monument. Crossing into Utah, in Canyonlands National Park, we saw the confluence of the Colorado River and the Green River, Moab, and Arches National Park. We continued on 191 north into Wyoming, the Flaming Gorge area, then far north into the Bridger Teton National Forest near Cora. After 30 miles of unpaved road, we arrived at Green River Lake – the origin of the Green River. It was an astonishingly beautiful journey and the destination left me in breathless wonder. To this day, and after criss-crossing the country several times, that trip remains my favorite.
This year, however, conditions were quite different with all the fires raging on the West Coast and Colorado. As in other places we visited, there was a lot of smoke, though nothing could really ruin the grandeur of the sight or the joy I felt in returning.
(Stepping on soapbox.) The point of all this is that in this Covid summer, people flocked to and overran our national parks. Yet there are county and state parks, national forests, monuments and wildlife refuges, equally dramatic, equally awe-inspiring, where you won’t have the crowds and can still truly enjoy the glory of nature. (Stepping off soapbox.)
Farson Mercantile ice cream was calling to us on our way home. I think you can see why…
Fossil Butte National Monument
Another fascinating journey took us to the Fossil Butte National Monument near Kemmerer. The unusual number, variety, and detail of freshwater fish fossils provide a window into life at Fossil Lake 52 million years ago! You have to wonder why the conditions were so perfect there, and the answer is equally surprising: An essential ingredient for preservation, calcium carbonate, precipitated out of the water and fell, like gentle rain, to the bottom of the lake – for thousands of years. It formed a protective blanket that covered whatever sank to the bottom – dead fish, fallen leaves. Not being a science geek by any stretch of the imagination, I had to ask about this precipitation process. In chemistry, it means to separate a substance in solid form from a solution. Aha! Got it.
We returned to Jackson again Labor Day weekend, but this time stayed at Mountain Inn Condos about an hour and a half away in Afton. Excellent choice. We were visiting Intermittent (or Periodic or Rhythmic) Spring – also known as the spring that breathes. Located within the Bridger Teton National Forest, a few minutes outside Afton. You drive about a 4-mile unpaved road, then walk a 3/4 mile slight uphill path that turns more strenuous as you reach the source of the spring.
This is a cold water geyser (the largest and one of only three in the world) that comes forth from the mountain. This time of year, it lasts about 18 minutes, then stops for about 18 minutes! I thought I would find a good YouTube showing the walk and the water running, but no luck, so we’ve accepted the challenge to go back and make one next year. Life is good in Wyoming (in spite of the fact that snow and gusting winds to 60 mph are expected tonight at Flaming Gorge)!
We awoke – only two days later – to this:
Very good clue that it may be time to pack up the Mothership for the trip south.
But not without one final sunset –
Thank you, Wyoming! We managed a Covid-free summer!! And Buckboard Marina feels even more like home (thanks especially to the very special friends we found there). We’ll be back in May!
With the advent of Covid in Arizona, it was an easy decision to end our fish guiding season early and spend the whole summer at Flaming Gorge. We spent a month there last summer and – at 25 miles from the nearest services of any kind – it seemed quite a safe and prudent option.
We planned to spend our first month at a new-to-us resort in Bullhead City, but it was so darn hot, we only spent about a week before moving north. Sunrise Adventures Ridgeview Resort turned out to be a great stopover and we know we’ll enjoy it in future during times of cooler weather. It is part of our Colorado River Adventure membership.
On to Utah…
We usually stay at KOA in Salt Lake City. But this year checked out Mountain Shadows located almost next door to Camping World. We were having work done there on our coach. The Draper location is excellent – all the stores we hoped to visit were close by and we discovered Scheels! We got haircuts (which was a very big deal since all the shops had been closed for months)!! Best of all, we had a couple of visits with D.A.’s sister and nephew.
Soon it was time to continue north, but little did we know the adventure that awaited us. Coming north on Highway 80 out of Salt Lake City, the RV engine overheated. We pulled over, discovered no water in the radiator. This was concerning because D.A. always checks fluid levels. From where we were parked on the side of the highway, we could see a small pond a little ways back, so off we set over very tough terrain with two empty water gallon jugs. Down where the Gadwalls were swimming, we filled our bottles with Wyoming snow melt water. You may ask why we had empty water bottles, rather than full water bottles, but I would change the subject.
Satisfied to have that be our entire adventure, we only traveled another couple of miles before the light came on again. We were close to the Wyoming Port of Entry, so we limped in, called our tow service and they sent a mobile mechanic.
Though we had a wait for his arrival, the mechanic quickly found a coolant leak and set about fixing it. Soon we were back on the road.
Going east on Highway 80, the first town is Evanston at Exit 6. As we approached Exit 10, the engine line came on AGAIN! We called the tow service and they said they would send a driver to tow us to their shop in Ogden, UT. No, we were less than a hundred miles from our destination, and Ogden was 105 miles in the opposite direction. We asked them to refer us to an RV service shop in Evanston and they gave us a number. We called and learned, “We don’t work on RVs.” We asked for another referral and the same thing happened. Fortunately though at the end of that call, he mentioned there was a Pilot Flying J Truck Care service back at Exit 6. Back in limping mode, we returned to Evanston.
The service at Pilot Flying J couldn’t have been better BUT they couldn’t fix our problem. They spent lots of time, determined we were losing pressure and came up with a laundry list of what might be wrong, but didn’t have the diagnostic equipment to identify the problem with certainty. They suggested we continue east to Rock Springs to the Cummins dealer (only ten miles past our exit in Green River) or return to Salt Lake City. It was an easy choice. Gratefully, Pilot Flying J did not charge us one dime for the hours their crew spent trying to find our problem. By then it was getting late, so they offered a parking place in their lot for the night.
We arranged a tow that night so we would be in Rock Springs first thing the next morning.
This will seem unbelievable. The tow truck arrived, took great care getting our rig hoisted – and then discovered their truck had a hydraulic leak. We would be spending the night in the Evanston parking lot.
We were instructed to call our tow service at 6AM the next morning. The truck arrived about noon, after many more calls.
Nonetheless, we made it to Cummins late in the afternoon. They were going to diagnose the problem first thing the next morning, so we went to a motel for the night. And that’s when we discovered the restaurant called Old Chicago – which in one meal moved right up our list to number one.
The problem was an R&R EGR Cooler and R&R Crank Case Filter. We were back on the road to our summer home by early afternoon.
Headed south on WY 530
There’s something so sweet returning to a place you’ve visited before. It was good to reconnect with other summer residents. It was good to walk around the beautiful grounds. But the best surprise was the new management! Everything was spruced up and the store/registration area had a complete transformation. “Cabins” to rent for our guests! They even have a food truck!
We needed to be back in the area in mid-September for a number of reasons. Due to restrictions in our Colorado River Adventures (CRA) membership, we can only stay six months at our favorite resort, Havasu Springs. We booked a month’s stay at CRA’s Lake Havasu location.
This “resort” is a place to park your RV with full hookups and, really, little else. It’s quite a large park, with parking facilities on both sides of London Bridge Road, though the east side is currently closed. It will get crowded this time next month and they will offer winter activities, but right now it’s a ghost town. No matter to us. It was a great location for all we need to do in the next month.
A new venture
Last summer, D.A. decided to start business as a fishing guide from our “home” at Havasu Springs. “Havasu Net Em” was born. D.A. has been fishing his whole life, and was once a professional fisherman. He even traveled the world for Orvis for a while, catching fish for their videos. D.A. loves to fish and he also loves to share his knowledge. A match made in heaven.
While preparing for the AZ Game & Fish Guide Test, he learned the Coast Guard has jurisdiction for Lake Havasu too. This meant he would have to take and pass the Coast Guard Captain’s Test! This news changed our plans dramatically. A lot of studying has been taking place since. The test is on October 9th.
At the beginning of September, Joey, the Wildlife Refuge Specialist at Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge, started weekly nature tours at the “Bill Will.” He hoped this activity would eventually be taken over by our Friends Group. Then it turned out he was going to be away on the 26th, so he asked me to conduct the tour.
Great opportunity! I asked one other Board member, Sue, to join me since she, too, is interested in leading tours, and then I asked D.A. to join us for his “birding” skills.
I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but D.A. is also an excellent photographer. He knows the birds and waterfowl on our end of the lake, and could add much to our tour.
Are you kidding? Is it really going to rain in September in Arizona??
On the day of our tour, it rained and no one showed up for the tour!! We hatched a new plan within a few minutes, because the sun came out and our boat was already moored practically next door at Havasu Springs… “Let’s go fishin’!”
We were on the water only a few minutes when we had our first “Striper.” It was nice size but we let it go… later we regretted that decision. We caught a couple of smaller Stripers, and then found ourselves in Smallmouthland. Look at this beauty –
We kept this one and another a little smaller.
The clouds in the mountains above Bill Williams River were growing dark and we could hear thunder, so we started back. I took this picture to show the relationship of the communities on this end of the lake.
On the right is the Havasu Springs Resort. On the left, going up the hill, is the Hillcrest Bay Community. In the middle is the Bill Williams River NWR. The bridge on Highway 95 and the actual river are to the left of Hillcrest.
We visited Colorado (Colorado Springs, Denver and points east) six years ago – our first summer full-time RVing. But now we have a Granddaughter, Haley, going to grad school in Denver, so we planned a trip back to Colorado for a end-of-summer reunion with she and her Mom, Mandy, who lives in Albuquerque.
Mandy had a new tent to try out, so I searched Colorado Springs for a camping spot where we could have our RV and a tent site. Turns out the parks in Colorado Springs are mostly old with tiny spaces – and they didn’t allow tent camping! I expanded our search and we ended up at South Meadows (a Pike National Forest campground) about five miles from Woodland Park. The space we were assigned was HUGE, the camphosts awesome, and the proximity to area attractions couldn’t have been better. It was an excellent choice.
Garden of the Gods and Manitou Springs
Our first day, Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center was a unanimous choice. This is the number one attraction in Colorado Springs (30,000+ Google Reviews) and its free!
A little fascinating history from the website: “By the 1870’s, the railroads had forged their way west. In 1871, General William Jackson Palmer founded Colorado Springs while extending the lines of his Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. In 1879, General Palmer repeatedly urged his friend, Charles Elliott Perkins, the head of the Burlington Railroad, to establish a home in the Garden of the Gods and to build his railroad from Chicago to Colorado Springs. Although the Burlington never reached Colorado Springs directly, Perkins did purchase two-hundred and forty acres in the Garden of the Gods for a summer home in 1879. He later added to the property but never built on it, preferring to leave his wonderland in its natural state for the enjoyment of the public. Perkins died in 1907 before he made arrangements for the land to become a public park, although it had been open to the public for years. In 1909, Perkins’ children, knowing their father’s feeling for the Garden of the Gods, conveyed his four-hundred eighty acres to the City of Colorado Springs. It would be known forever as the Garden of the Gods ‘where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park.'”
It was very hot and quite humid on the day of our visit, so we hopped the 1909 Trolley for a narrated tour. Good choice! The trolley seats 14 guests and provides fantastic views around the entire park.
Another day we visited the town of Manitou Springs. Our first stop was the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, a group of relocated Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and museums. The Anasazi Museum was established and the cliff dwellings were built starting in 1904, and were opened to the public in 1907.
Later we drove through the scenic town and learned about the healing mineral waters that have been attracting visitors for centuries. The water contains lithium, magnesium and potassium. American Natives considered the land around the water sacred and the natural carbonation in the water the “breath of the Great Spirit, Manitou.” It is said many tribes from different areas put down their weapons in hopes of gaining health and wellness.
We celebrated our 13th anniversary with lunch at the Cliff House known as the historic hotel nestled at the foot of Pike’s Peak that provides an atmosphere of Victorian romance and opulence dating back nearly 150 years. We sat on the veranda and enjoyed a great meal.
Later we walked around town and sampled the waters which are provided in public fountains.
Blue Mesa and Curecanti National Recreation Area
The drive from Colorado Springs to Gunnison (about 150 miles) through the center of the Rockies (on our favorite Highway 50) was fantastic! In doing some advance checking, I saw lots of concern if that stretch of road was suitable for large or towing vehicles. Let me assure you, the road is great. Monarch Pass (11,312 feet) was gorgeous, but so was every other mile.
The Curecanti National Recreation Area is a series of three reservoirs along the once wild Gunnison River. Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest body of water in Colorado, boasting 96 miles of shoreline. On our first visit to Colorado, I read about the area and the Blue Mesa Recreational Ranch and hoped someday to visit. Fortunately, someday arrived!
One day at the Curecanti Visitor Center, we learned about the Morrow Point Boat Tours, a 1-1/2 hour boat tour on the Morrow Point Reservoir. Traveling into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, it provides an opportunity to learn about geology, wildlife, early inhabitants, the narrow-gauge railroad, dams and reservoirs. Sure – sign us up!
Tours begin at the Pine Creek boat dock, accessed from the Pine Creek Trail on U.S. Highway 50 (35 miles east of Montrose and 25 miles west of Gunnison). From the parking area, you walk down 232 stairs, then enjoy an easy 3/4 mile scenic walk along the old narrow-gauge rail bed before reaching the boat dock. The tours are led by Park Rangers.
The most striking feature of the lower reservoirs is the 700 foot granite spirelike Curecanti Needle, which was used for many years as an advertising symbol for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway. The narrow-gauge railway famously ran along the northern bank of the river and passed near the Needle.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
It was early afternoon when we returned to the truck after the tour, so we decided to venture on into the National Park. Having viewed it from the water, we were anxious to see the dramatic views from the top.
“…no other North American canyon combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness, and somber countenance of the Black Canyon.” – Geologist Wallace R. Hansen
The size and scale of the imposing canyon is enormous – the walls on average are 2,000 feet deep. Rock walls are only 40 feet apart and plunge directly into the river at “The Narrows.” We checked out the movie at the Visitor Center and visited many overlooks.
Delores and McPhee Reservoir
We chose The Views RV Park in Delores because of it’s proximity to McPhee Reservoir – another great fishing spot. The Views was probably our favorite camp of the season. We had a huge spot with a wonderful view. The owners were a darling young couple who kept the park immaculate.
McPhee Reservoir is the second largest lake in the state of Colorado and we caught Kokanee there on numerous fishing trips.
Mesa Verde National Park
The Views was conveniently located to other awesome attractions. The drive to Mesa Verde National Park was only about 30 minutes. Mesa Verde is known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, notably the huge Cliff Palace. The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum has exhibits on the ancient Native American culture. Mesa Top Loop Road winds past archaeological sites and overlooks, including Sun Point Overlook with panoramic canyon views.
Canyon of the Ancients National Monument
One of the biggest surprises of our summer was this monument. It was less than a mile from our camp and we hadn’t heard of it before. The monument encompasses more than 170,000 acres of high desert in this part of Colorado, and is part of the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System. We stumbled into a tour in the Visitor Center and it was helpful to have a little context in this huge monument.
Thousands of archaeological sites have been recorded in the monument, and thousands more await documentation and study.
Lowry Pueblo National Historic Landmark is the only developed recreation site with the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Lowry Pueblo has stabilized standing walls, 40 rooms, eight kivas and a Great Kiva.
In the meantime, it’s early September. Temps are cooling… must be time to head for Arizona!
It was early July when we arrived at Buckboard Marina on Flaming Gorge, Wyoming. This is a full-hookup campground in Ashley National Forest. There is a large NFS campground (Buckboard Crossing) nearby, mostly without hookups, and many areas where you can camp on your own. It’s gorgeous with huge skies and expansive views of the Gorge and Uintas.
And wrapped in a blanket of stars…
I hope to add a short video of D.A.’s “star track,” but as I write this, the camera is in the shop for repair. Flaming Gorge is filled with cool places that have zero light pollution and low humidity, making for prime star gazing conditions.
We fished a lot and caught Kokanee Salmon (and a few Lake Trout) that we thoroughly enjoyed eating. Arriving at the fish-cleaning station after a morning fishing was always exciting where we would learn how the other fisherpersons had done. They mostly caught more and larger fish than ours, but they were using downriggers and we were using leadcore. The fish we were seeking were going deeper the whole time we were there, so it was hard for us to reach them. Nonetheless, we were very happy with the ones we caught.
Buckboard Marina is about halfway between the town of Manila, Utah, and Green River, Wyoming (about 20 miles either direction). No facilities except a small store, but from now on when I think of “getting away from it all,” I will be thinking about our time at Buckboard.
We stayed a month and had several excursions to local attractions.
One day we took a ride out of Rock Springs (about 20 miles from Green River) to visit the “Firehole” area. The pinnacles and mesas are the remains of prehistoric volcanic activity. It is breathtakingly beautiful.
On two Saturday mornings, we found ourselves at Farson Mercantile, reputed to have the best ice cream in Wyoming. Who knows if it’s best, it certainly IS the most generous servings I’ve ever seen! The first visit, I ordered a single, which was bigger than what you would expect from a double. The second visit, I ordered a Baby Scoop, which was about perfect. Actually, this is a great stop for ice cream and interesting shopping – no matter it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere (which I think could be said for most attractions in that part of Wyoming). And P.S., we no longer eat ice cream for breakfast!
Farson is about 40 miles north of Green River on Highway 191, which happens to be one of our favorite highways. If you ever get the chance to take Highway 191 from southern AZ to Canada, DO IT!!
On the road to Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge we found the sign that heads this post. It gets my vote for innovation. It makes you laugh and it makes you think. Here’s another one:
Seedskadee NWR runs along the Green River about 40 miles north of the town of Green River and is an oasis for wildlife. Thousands of waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, and songbirds migrate through the Refuge each year and some, like trumpeter swans and bald eagles, nest here. We saw Sandhill Cranes the day we visited.
One of our last and favorite excursions was to the Red Canyon Visitor Center in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. A long-time summer resident at Buckboard Marina told us it was a “must see” in the area and we couldn’t agree more. The site offers paths and commanding views of the 700′ wide and 1,400′ deep Red Canyon that frames the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The red canyons we were used to in other places were more orange than red. These were more purple than red. Green river, purple mountains – stunning!
“We name it Flaming Gorge”
“John Wesley Powell may not have been the first to navigate the Green River corridor but he was the first scientific explorer to journey down and document his findings along the Green and Colorado rivers. In May of 1869, he left Green River, Wyoming and entered the Uinta Mountains. The Green River, he said, ‘enters the range by a flaring brilliant red gorge. We name it Flaming Gorge.'” (From a sign on the road to the Red Canyon Visitor Center.)
Attractions in Casper
We were visiting friends in Casper and I was anxious to see a few attractions I missed the last time we visited.
First on my list was the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center which commemorates Native American history, early explorers, and the travel corridor of the Oregon, Mormon, California, and Pony Express trails. There are many hands-on, interactive exhibits, and at the end I saw the 18-minute multi-media program. This was the perfect way to visit in my estimation because the program at the end brought to life all the exhibits.
Another day I hiked all around the Garden Creek Waterfall at Rotary Park on Casper Mountain. There are over five miles of trails at an elevation of about 8500 feet. The park is gorgeous and the views spectacular.
Later, I stopped at the Tate Geological Museum at Casper College and met Dee, an 11,600 year-old Columbian mammoth. I was also introduced to a large number of prehistoric amphibians, and many dinosaur-types I had never heard of.
Can you imagine? All these attractions were free!
Home of Kool-Aid
We spent a few days in Hastings, Nebraska, to attend a wedding. Now, we were there for the romantic event, but guess what? Hastings, NE, is the official birthplace of Kool-Aid, and it also happened to be the “22nd Annual Kool-Aid Days!” We went to the Saturday morning parade. This year the theme was “Jamaican Me Smile!” Floats and and participants were decorated in brilliant colors with prominent palm trees, flamingos – you get the idea. Great fun, so I won’t even mention the heat and humidity…
A visit with the good sheriff from Absaroka County
When we checked friends’ availability in Centennial, WY (on the edge of the Snowy Range), they were going to be in town on the day specified, but they were involved in a fundraiser for the local library. I said, “Good, sign us up.” And that is how we came to meet Craig Johnson, the author of the Longmire series. It was a lovely event and Craig Johnson is a great entertainer. He told us how the book (and then the TV series) came to be and what his life has been like since.
Craig loves public libraries and does his best to support them. He’s actually spoken at all the libraries in Wyoming (four times in Centennial), and his honorarium is always a six-pack of Rainier beer! What a hero!!
What a state! It’s just possible we may be spending future summers here.
Sadly, we had to leave Bridgeport earlier than planned because we had a broken valve on our water tank. We could have had a mechanic travel out from Carson City at enormous expense (and he might have had to return with parts so you could pay that expense more than once), so we decided to move to Carson City for a couple of days.
In talking with our mobile mechanic, who turned out to be a fisherman, we asked for his suggestion for our onward travel to Salt Lake City. We thought we’d just go over Hwy. 80, but now we had a couple of extra days and it would be nice to find a unique place to spend them. He didn’t hesitate to recommend the town of Ely and Lake Comins – which was near Hwy. 50, the Loneliest Road in America. Last year on the way to Oregon, we spent a short time on that area of Hwy. 50. It was gorgeous, and we promised ourselves we’d be back. Little did we know…
6th Year of RVing brings our first campground complaint
We stayed at the Ely KOA and while I have no complaints whatsoever with the facility, I’ve never had a worse experience anywhere at check-in. Always, when I make reservations, I call them rather than booking online to tell them our arrangement (two vehicles and a boat/trailer). I ask if they have an overflow area for parking if all our vehicles won’t fit in our space.
A clerk, Jennifer, said here were no notes in the file, she knew the person who had made the reservation, and she would not omit making such a note on the reservation! It went downhill from there and I won’t go into the details. Suffice to say if you find yourself at Ely KOA and Jennifer checks you in, watch yourself!!!
I sent an email to Judy, the Ely KOA Manager, asking her to review the videotape made at my check-in for training purposes. No reply.
Nonetheless, we enjoyed the town of Ely, particularly the Renaissance Village, we prized our very windy day fishing at Comins Lake and most of all, we loved the day we spent at Great Basin National Park (60 miles from Ely).
The park derives its name from the Great Basin, the largest area of contiguous watersheds that normally retain water and allow no outflow to other external bodies of water in North America. It spans nearly all of Nevada, much of Oregon and Utah, and portions of California, Idaho, and Wyoming.
The park is notable for its groves of ancient bristlecone pines, the Lehman Caves, Wheeler Peak, and the Wheeler Peak Glacier. A day there is not enough!
Warning if you visit Ely
What all visitors need to know about visiting Ely though is to watch out for speed traps. They are literally everywhere, city police, tribal police, highway patrol – all enforcing a 35 mph speed limit. We were stopped but not ticketed, but we were shocked at the number of “official” vehicles we saw in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere!!
North to Salt Lake City
While we don’t always stay at KOA (by a long shot), we always stay at the KOA in Salt Lake City because it’s the only game in town! Seriously. It’s a huge facility, close to Temple Square and lots of sightseeing and best of all, is situated on the Jordan River Trail, so you can walk out the back gate at KOA and walk about 20 miles in either direction along the Jordan River. I walk out there every day I’m there (but not 20 miles, ha ha).
On Day 2, Irene, D.A.’s sister, took us on a tour of Temple Square. I was especially interested to see the Family History Center. Irene is a genealogist, so she was the perfect tour director for the library and surrounding area.
A couple of years ago, I read the book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Time and Place by Terry Tempest Williams. It was a poet and naturalist’s personal story of losing her mother to cancer at the same time in 1983 the Great Salt Lake began to rise to record heights causing untold destruction to public facilities along the lake like Antelope Island and Bear River Migratory Bird National Wildlife Refuge.
Because of our love affair with the National Wildlife Refuges, I wanted to visit the one at Bear River. We were joined by Irene and her son, Chad, for the field trip, followed by a picnic at a big park in Brigham City. The facility at Bear River was completely lost in the flood and the one rebuilt is very impressive. It is surrounded by marshlands and walks, and they also have a 12-mile auto tour through the heart of the refuge. Unlimited birdwatching!
Our first stop after leaving Arizona was Lighthouse Resort in the thousand mile waterway between Sacramento and San Francisco known as “The Delta.” We had been there once before for a lengthy time when my son was diagnosed with brain cancer – a whole “nuther” story.
D.A. loves the world-class fishery, and I was hoping to visit family and friends in the Bay Area I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.
Generally, resorts along the Delta are dated. Development has been slowed, and so a visit to the Delta is the opportunity to step back in time to a less-complex lifestyle. While the towns of Antioch, Oakley, Stockton, Lodi continue to grow like crazy, the towns of Rio Vista, Isleton, Walnut Grove are reflective of mid-last century, rather than the current one-delightful in many ways!
We chose Lighthouse because of its very close proximity to Willow Berm Marina, the perfect place to moor a boat in the area. Since the truck is how we move around once the RV is parked, we’re often trying to figure out how two people can be in two places at the same time. A marina across from our camp is a great solution! D.A. can drive over in the morning with all the fishing gear he needs, and then I can walk over later and pick up the truck for whatever I need to do.
Another benefit is that the Lighthouse has rental cabins, which is great when we have visitors, rather than trying to put extra people in the RV. Yes, our little couch and dining area can be made into sleeping areas, but in a 31-foot RV, it is very crowded.
During our month in the Delta, I rented two cabins at Lighthouse, and an AirBnB “flat” (a common San Francisco term meaning two separate housing units under one roof) near Sugar Barge Resort to accommodate guests.
Of the two cabins at Lighthouse, one I would recommend with reservation, and one I would not recommend.
This is #L3, a cute little cabin near the pool and miniature golf, that was perfectly suitable in many ways. It had one bedroom downstairs and a loft that would be great for kids. It had a lovely deck with a nice table and chairs.
My complaints: The kitchen table in the unit. It was tiny, with two leaves. When you pulled out the little wood block to put up either leaf, the block didn’t fit properly, so anything you set on the leaf was subject to sliding off the table! There was only one lamp in the bedroom, but no light on either side of the bed.
Nonetheless, I would rent this one again (and I’d bring a folding plastic table and a reading light – ha ha).
I didn’t take a photo of the second cabin, #6 aka 2. The layout was actually better than the first. There was a bedroom at each end of the cabin BUT the exterior stairs and deck were very badly worn and there was no table or chairs on the deck. No table or chairs on a deck at a resort? #ohwell
Heads up if you go: The cabins near L3 (L1 through L5 and 20, 21) are newer and nicer.
My dear friend, Sharon, visiting from New York, caught a trout!
Sonora Pass to the Eastern Sierra
Friends we met in Havasu Springs, Gail & Don, told us about the summers they spend in Bridgeport, CA, on the eastern side of the Sierras. We decided to see it for ourselves this summer on our way north. By the time we got around to making reservations, everything was pretty well booked, but we could stay a few nights at one of the resorts our friends recommended, Twin Lakes Resort.
Heading east from the CA Delta (our vehicles configured as in the picture above), GPS guided us to Hwy 108. Little did we know what we were in for on that amazing and mostly gorgeous ride…
Eventually we found ourselves in what was left of Dardanelle after the 2018 fire – an event we remembered from national news last summer. We had been climbing for a long time by the time we reached the camping/skiing destinations near Dardanelle, and we kept climbing our way to Sonora Pass (9643 ft.) when we saw the scariest sign we’ve ever seen in our nomad travels: 26% Downgrade Ahead!
When traveling, we communicate by walkie-talkie. D.A. asked if I saw the sign. I said yes. He said there was no place to turn around, so… ONWARD!
Endless alpine views and wildflowers, but guess what? No guardrails. 26% downgrade, 15 miles. You tell me. I eventually had to stop to give the truck brakes (being constantly pushed by the boat and trailer) a rest. D.A. did fine in the Mothership. This is not considering the fear factor in either vehicle. Enormous!
From the summit, CA 108 drops dramatically into the Walter River Valley, ending at its junction with U.S. 395, and it comes out 17 miles northwest of Bridgeport. About four miles before that intersection, you pass the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center that trains service members to survive and fight in cold weather and mountainous environments across 46,000 acres of the Toiyabe National Forest.
Note to self: When planning travel, don’t rely entirely on GPS. It would be okay to look at the Road Atlas too!!
Driving into Bridgeport was enchanting. Bridgeport is the center of a summer-to-winter recreational playground. It is popular with fishing, hiking and outdoor enthusiasts as a gateway to High Sierra canyons, peaks, lakes, streams, and hot springs. Stunning.
But, Bridgeport had a big surprise waiting: $5.09 a gallon gas!!
As we turned on the road to Twin Lakes, the views, the setting, was even more spectacular. Upper Twin covers nearly 400 acres and Lower Twin more than 250. They offer legendary fishing. The boating, camping and cabin rental options at Twin Lakes are excellent. The views the lakes afford, however, are what really distinguish them.
The large alpine lakes are lined by evergreens and run along what is often called the “California Alps,” the Sawtooth Ridge and Sierra Crest, which divide the Twin Lakes Basin from Yosemite National Park.
While the Twin Lakes Basin is certainly beautiful, it’s also home to some of the best trout fishing in the Golden State. The state record brown trout—weighing in at 26 pounds, 8 ounces—was caught in Upper Twin in 1987. That fish knocked off the reigning champ, which had been landed in Lower Twin Lakes, by just a few ounces. D.A. caught a selection of Rainbow trout, from three to six pounds.
We camped at Twin Lakes Resort, on the lower lake. They had a marina, cafe, and convenience store. They offer eight cabins, four premium RV sites (10 are being added this summer), and 16 standard RV sites with full hookups. We were in the standard sites (two wagon-wheel loops of eight sites each), which were fine, with a huge laundry/shower facility.
Our days there passed too quickly: fishing, visiting with our friends, sightseeing. We easily see why our friends spend summers there. We also learned they honeymooned at Upper Twin Lakes some 40+ years ago.
What an awesome way to start our summer. Can’t wait to see what happens next!!
My dream was of Costa Rica; D.A.’s was Peacock Bass fishing in the Amazon.
So here we go!
Leaving San Jose, Costa Rica, our next stop was Miami. We had a five-hour layover and it was freezing in the airport. Not really freezing of course, but our clothes were for the tropics, not for winter. D.A. bought us travel blankets.
Our tour provider, Acute Angling, offered us branded items that would serve to identify us to their driver. We chose tackle bags that first served to identify us to other Acute Angling customers on the trip – which was an unexpected benefit.
Acute Angling offers a variety of accommodations, but D.A. wanted to try the floating bungalows because the site was more wild, out on the frontier, where we could truly experience the rain forest.
Arriving in Manaus, Brazil, about midnight, we were taken to the Nobile Suites very near the airport. We were instructed to check in and be ready for breakfast at six a.m., with departure to our float plane at seven. The hotel was beautiful and very modern but the rooms had no reading lights, no glasses, no bottled water. We brushed our teeth with Listerine and fell into bed.
A nice breakfast buffet greeted us in the early morning and then we were on our way to the domestic airport. There were only four of us. Jim and Barbara from Washington state would be joining us. The other folks we met last night were taking other Acute Angling trips. After having all literature from the company telling us our checked bag must not weigh more than 33 pounds, since there were only four of us, I don’t think our bags were even weighed!
The float plane could accommodate eight passengers, but two guys missed their connection to Miami and would be joining us the next day.
A few minutes later, all we could see was water and canopy – no boats, no habitations, no roads. We were truly in the jungle!
So much water! So many trees! It was hard for us to wrap our “extended-drought” minds around it. Two hours later, the pilots put the plane down in the river in front of the bungalow community. We were met by two fishing boats: one boat took us passengers, and the other our luggage.
Waiting on shore was the resident manager, Heraldo Regis. We checked out our individual bungalows, and then all met in the dining/cooking facility – the larger bungalow on the right. There we found a table for eight and a smaller kitchen than we have in our RV. We met Ruth, our Chef, had a bite to eat, and were briefed on what to expect from life at the floating bungalow community.
There was also a large boat (reminiscent of “African Queen”), the staff sleeping accommodations, and a laundry boat.
We met our guide and went fishing! Seriously, a couple of hours after leaving Manaus, we were with our guide, Brahma, Peacock Bass fishing!
We learned there are 15 Peacock Bass color variations. The first afternoon, we caught one paca and one butterfly.
They are gorgeous! The fishery is on the Rio Negro and is strictly catch-and-release, unless the fish is injured.
Happily, we learned there are no mosquitoes in this fishery because the water is tannic. As vegetation decays, tannins leach into the water making a transparent, acidic water that is darkly stained, resembling tea – hence the name “Black River.” Mosquitos don’t like it.
A visit to a local village
The second morning we visited Ponte de Terra, a village of about 25 people, five families, about 20 minutes from the floating bungalows. Acute Angling helps support numerous villages in the fishery. At Ponte de Terra, they have provided a generator and diesel fuel, satellite TV, and lots of items for the children.
About a mile and a half trek from the village is their manitowoc farm – a crop used in farina and a local hot sauce. While there, we tasted Brazil nuts right off the tree and wild pineapple right off the bush. The Brazil nut pods fall from the very tall trees, just to be picked up and enjoyed (unless you happen to be hit by one!). I had no idea we would be walking so far and didn’t bring my water from the boat. It was really hot! Fortunately, Brahma surprised me with a bottle of water.
As we prepared to leave the village, two fishing boats approached with the guys who had missed the plane: Don from Utah and Bill from Michigan. It was time to fish!
When the fishing is not good or slow at a particular spot, they move the whole camp to a different location. Heraldo also said they occasionally seek new places for the floating bungalow community to camp, but it’s a very expensive process with paying for permits, gasoline, and all the associated expenses. Nonetheless, this is how they find the villages they later support.
The second day we saw terns, night hawks, green herons, and a raptor that was too far away to identify.
Our third day was one of those days they decided to move the whole camp. I decided to stay in to see the process and give D.A. the opportunity to work more closely with our guide. Fascinating! A fishing boat led, tethered to the dining boat, the staff boat, the laundry boat, then the four floating bungalows.
This has to be a wildly expensive and time-consuming operation, so I wondered why they would bother to move. I was amazed by Heraldo’s answer: The Rio Negro is the largest tributary in the world at 1,400 miles. It is tributary to the Amazon River, the largest river in the world at 4,000 miles. At the point the rivers converge, both are moving so fast, the Rio Negro cannot penetrate the Amazon. It creates a “water dam” that causes the Rio Negro to back up and flood its tributaries. As the water rises, the fish move back into the tributaries and become harder to catch. In order to keep the clients on the fish, sometimes they have to move several times in a week!
It rained most of the day. I’m feeling so fortunate I chose this day to stay at home.
Speaking of home, here’s the interior of our’s
A typical day:
Heraldo wakes us up each morning at 6AM with coffee delivered to the bungalow.
At 6:30AM, breakfast is served in the dining/cooking bungalow. Ruth prepares huge meals. For breakfast, there would be pancakes or french toast plus two other homemade breads, bacon, chicken wings, pineapple and papaya juice, sliced pineapple, papaya, and watermelon. She would make eggs to order. All this comes with bottomless coffee with hot milk and honey. (ohmy!)
As the meal ends, Ruth and Heraldo bring trays of meat and cheeses to make sandwiches to take along while fishing. Often there was leftover meat or bacon, and always fresh cookies and brownies. You choose what you want for lunch, put it into a plastic container, and give it to your guide to keep in the cooler along with the soda, water and beer that is freshly stocked every morning.
By 7:30AM, we’re headed out fishing.
Lunch happens out in the fishery. Sometimes we ate with our guide, sometimes we’d meet up with others from our party. And don’t get the impression the river is full of guides and boats because we only saw one boat from another guide service the whole time we were there.
The fishery is catch and release but occasionally a fish will be injured, and if so, the guides bring it back to camp. So, a couple of days while there, we had the opportunity to taste Peacock Bass.
Dinner is served at 6:30PM and always starts with soup. One night we had carrot curry soup, ginger-breaded peacock bass, pot roast, salad with gorgonzola and apples, mashed potatoes, and a rice and beans combo, followed by a frozen creamy chocolate or fruit dessert. There is a ton of food, invariably delicious, and always plenty left over. I was happy to learn the staff eats after us.
Other notes about our stay
There is a pan of water outside each bungalow and dining area so you can rinse off sand and dirt from the bottom of your shoes before entering. What a great idea!!
Laundry (including towels) is washed, dried and returned every day. While it may seem like a luxury, there is a very good reasons: On the floatplane, you can only have 33 pounds checked luggage. They provide rods and reels, but you bring your own lures, which are heavy. Daily laundry means you can get by with fewer clothes!
The good news: There are no mosquitos.
The bad news: There are wasps.
Our neighbor, Jim, left his exterior light on last night. As we sat drinking coffee and awaiting breakfast, we saw him exit his bungalow, start swatting the air and then running for the dining bungalow. Heraldo realized quickly what happened and rushed out to help him. He had six or seven stings around his face and we watched – our growing concern and his growing lip – as it became more and more swollen as he tried to eat.
Ruth is a great chef with a first aid specialty, so she brought him dressings, ointment and benadryl. He rested in his bungalow for a time, and was doing much better when we saw him later.
During one of those camp moves, Harold hurt his foot. A stick he stepped on without seeing went right through his Croc and into his foot.. All this is said to tell you that if you need to buy a pair of Crocs locally, you will spend $100. And gas is $10 a gallon in this remote locale.
Catch. Release. Repeat.
Peacock bass were caught by all fishers every day, many times up to 20 each.
The guides were impressive with their “catching” strategies and most of all, patient with their clients. Of course, D.A. is an expert, but me? We can leave it at “lots to learn.”
One day we moved the boat to clear a snag in really shallow water. As we did, peacock bass were scurrying in all directions, then a big stingray zoomed past. The rivers are full of caimen, but you mainly see them (their eyes) at night.
Another day, we’d had rain showers all day and I finally donned my rain gear because it looked like heavier rain was coming. We repositioned the boat again and sure enough, it started to rain harder. I requested return to the bungalow and of course it stopped as we arrived. Nonetheless, I called it a day and went in for a shower and a nap.
After the guys dropped me off, they went back out fishing nearby. D.A. casted and the wind carried his lure far up into a tree. The guides all had cool tools for extracting lures: long tree limbs with a “v” notch at the end. Worked like magic! As they approached the tree with D.A.’s lure, Brahma voiced an alarm. D.A. feared a snake was on the tree, so he froze and the Brahma said “Bees!” D.A. turned his attention to where the guide was looking, and then he could see a large nest with wasps flying all around. Brahma held a finger to his lips for silence and said “Just a minute.” He shut off the trolling motor to let the bees calm, and then he started whistling, mimicking a bird. After a few moments, he moved closer, all the time whistling softly as he retrieved the lure with his face about three feet from the nest. He continued to whistle as he backed out a safe distance and D.A. started clapping. He had never seen such a performance!
A couple hours later it started to rain much harder and D.A. and Brahma returned to camp. Within five minutes we had a downpour the likes of which we’ve never seen, and we hoped our fishing buddies were safely in. (Of course they were not!)
We went in Brazil’s summer season. Prime Peacock Bass fishing is from September through March, and we were there the first week of February. It’s rained every day and the water is rising which makes fishing poor. Last night Heraldo said they may have to cancel upcoming trips.
The largest town nearby is Barcelos, the place from where they ship tropical fish all over the world. It’s about two hours by boat (and about 250 miles from Manaus). It can only be reached by boat or sporadic flights from Manaus. This is the only city in the central Brazil Amazon, and this is where the young people like those that lived in the village we visited find work.
I know the fishermen who come are dedicated to the sport and would probably like nothing better than ten to twelve hours of fishing every day, but from a woman’s perspective (and I know there are plenty who would love to fish all day, every day), so I should say MY perspective… five hours a day fishing would be plenty. Of course you can return to camp at any time and if you chose not to go out, staff will do all within their power to make you comfortable.
So thinking what would make this a better experience from my perspective, I had a couple of thoughts: (1) I would love to have a kayak to use on the days I don’t go fishing, (2) A bird and botany list would be wonderful. Our guide gives us names, but he doesn’t know them in English. Heraldo has been in the area for some time, so maybe he could give the newbies a talk one evening early in their trip.
The next morning I stayed home, so they set me up on the water’s edge with a lounge chair, table and umbrella. It was raining softly, warm but not hot, and it felt like a little piece of heaven.
After a while, I looked up from my book and our darling chef, Ruth, is crossing the river in a kayak. A kayak!! She shouted, “Piranha,” so I’m guessing piranha will be soup or entree for dinner. In the next 30 minutes or so, I saw her catch a couple.
I’m instantly back to thinking how much I would like to be out there in a kayak. I’m not unaware of the liabilities you would take on by having kayaks available to guests, but I surely would love the opportunity.
Later I noticed Ruth wasn’t across the river any longer, so I went to the side of the dining boat to see how many fish she caught. When she saw me, she thought I wanted the kayak and brought it to me! I hopped in – no sunscreen, no water, hat or gloves – and of course no phone camera. As I passed the boat a little later, Ruth and her helper were cleaning fish. Ruth held up seven fingers and I asked, “Soup?” and she nodded affirmatively. We’ll see!
I made a little trip past the other side of camp and returned to a great Tern ruckus. About eight or ten were attracted by the fish cleaning. I ventured back to where I had turned the first time and when I started back, some big carpenter-like bees joined me. They don’t sting, I didn’t think, but I returned to camp. Ruth came out to meet me and said they have another kayak in case my “esposo” wanted to join me sometime.
The piranha soup was great. The meals have been amazing. Last night’s soup was followed by lasagne and chicken stroganoff, and then desert was chocolate cake with coconut, creme, caramel and a touch of liquor!
Before we knew it, it was time to go
We go out in the morning, and other anglers will take our places. D.A. is contemplating an identity theft if any of the new guys look like him. He would stay a month in a heartbeat.
But on our last morning, probably on D.A.’s second cast, up came a large Paku and then he dove into some submerged logs. D.A. tried his best to get him loose, and then Brahma stripped down and jumped in the river! He was gone for a long time but finally came up for a breath, and then it took two more dives to free the fish and bring it to the surface.
We caught 13 before I left the boat in mid-afternoon – and they caught a total of 20 for the day.
Returning to camp, staff was busy setting up for a party on the beach – which included a huge bonfire.
Sure enough, next morning a different plane with different pilots arrived bringing new guests. Shortly after takeoff, our pilot took out an automotive sun shade and covered the windshield! I mean really, the whole windshield. He returned us to Manaus using a phone app!
Our flight back to Miami departed at midnight, so we took a sightseeing tour of Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonia, home to more than two million people.
Manaus is located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, and access to the city is primarily by boat or airplane. This isolation helped preserve both the natural environment as well as the culture of the city. The culture of Manaus, more than in any other urban area of Brazil, preserves the habits of Native Brazilian tribes. The city is the main access point for visiting the fauna and flora of the Brazilian Amazon.
Manaus was at the center of the Amazon region’s rubber boom during the late 19th century. For a time, it was “one of the gaudiest cities of the world”. Historian Robin Furneaux wrote of this period, “No extravagance, however absurd, deterred” the rubber barons.” The city built a grand opera house, with vast domes and gilded balconies, and using marble, glass, and crystal, from around Europe. The opera house cost ten million (public-funded) dollars. In one season, half the members of one visiting opera troupe died of yellow fever. The opera house, called the Teatro Amazonas, was effectively closed for most of the 20th Century. After a gap of almost 90 years, it reopened to produce live opera in 1997 and is now attracting performers from all over the world.
When the seeds of the rubber tree were smuggled out of the Amazon region to be cultivated on plantations in Southeast Asia, Brazil and Peru lost their monopoly on the product. The rubber boom ended abruptly, many people left its major cities, and Manaus fell into poverty. The rubber boom had made possible electrification of the city before it was installed on many European cities, but the end of the rubber boom made the generators too expensive to run. The city was not able to generate electricity again for years.
The 1960’s (during the establishment of the military dictatorship in Brazil) was a time of introducing numerous projects in the interior of the country, especially in the Amazon region. With the introduction of the Manaus free trade zone in 1967, and with the opening of new roads within the region, the city had a wide period of investments in financial and economic capital. This resulted in enormous growth and Manaus became one of the most populous cities in Brazil.
Another dream trip, into the bucket…
This was D.A.’s dream, so I asked him to sum up our time in Brazil. “Spine-tingling adventure in the Amazon wilderness where you expected something spectacular at any given moment. And that is exactly what happened!”
It was a year ago we had the conversation. If it’s true that we’re not getting younger or healthier, are there places we still want to go? For me it was Costa Rica and Alaska. For D.A. it was Peacock Bass fishing in the Amazon. Actually, our lists are endless, but these topped our lists.
So today, Wednesday, January 23, 2019, starts the adventure: Southwest Airlines to San Jose, C.R., with a layover in Houston to meet up with our darling traveling companion and daughter-in-law, Mandy.
We’re flying from Las Vegas which has a few options for long-term parking other than the airport (we’ll be away almost a month). There are several hotels that offer parking in their lots – just like any other guests – for a discounted rate from what you would pay at the airport. I found it at vegas-airport-parking. We chose the Hampton Inn. You put your name in the book at the registration desk and hop on the shuttle – at least that’s how it happened for us. We gave ourselves plenty of extra time for delays we might encounter, so we encountered none!
I booked our trip through Anywhere because of their great reputation on the Internet and their intuitive website. You pick your dates, the type of trip you are planning, what you like to do, and they come up with a very flexible itinerary. The rep I heard from was Alfonso. I told him we were a three-person family interested in birding, wildlife, outdoor adventures and fishing, wanted private drivers or shared vans – no busses or rental cars – and looking to stay at moderately-priced hotels where at breakfast we would hear six languages. He laughed and said he could do that.
Arrival in “Fantasy Island”
We arrived in San Jose at 9PM. Once through Customs, we found our driver before he found us, and then we had a three hour drive by private van on very steep and foggy mountain roads to the Los Lagos Hotel near La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano. Even in the dark, we could tell the grounds were huge and gorgeous – a combination of Jurassic Park and Avatar movie sets – and we were not disappointed when we awoke in the morning.
Day 2 Arenal Volcano Vicinity
We caught the hotel shuttle down the hill for a sumptuous buffet breakfast, followed by a quick walk to see the cocodrilos, mariposas and tortugas (oh my!). By then our driver was waiting for us for our first Tico adventure… a tour to the LaFortuna waterfall and a hike on Mt. Arenal. We spent the first half of the tour hiking DOWN to see the waterfall – then afterwards spent the balance of the tour hiking UP to see the volcano.
Our guide, Hansel from Rain Forest Explorers, was bright, funny and very knowledgeable of the area’s history, geology, flora and fauna (not to mention pharmaceutical research on arachnids!). We saw and photographed a yellow-throated toucan, 3-toed sloth, many butterflies and flowers, bats, and even had an amazing discussion about the hybrid dairy cows that were from Brahma, Jersey and Holstein stock. He told us the skinny cows were the best milk producers because they converted all their fat into their milk.
We saw our first sloth!
Hansel said that before Lake Arenal was created in the 1970s, the area had been cattle ranches and farms, which all went under water when the valley was flooded. Many people lost their homes and property and were not paid for the land and that is why – to this day – those ranchers and their heirs bring their cattle to graze in the national park.
Returning to the van from our hike, our driver, Minor, had prepared a fruit treat for us, pineapple and watermelon, which attracted a family of coati. Hansel told us how careful they were to clean up and leave no trace, but we were a little sorry to disappoint the coati family.
Day 3 Lake Arenal
The following morning was our sportfishing adventure. We were picked up and delivered to Lake Arenal where Antonio awaited. We departed on his homemade fiberglass fishing boat. He took us to some shallow, weedy coves and Mandy, D.A., and Antonio caught Rainbow bass. We had a cup of delicious coffee and I asked Antonio if his family was from the area. He said yes, so I asked if they had been there when the valley was flooded to create the lake. He said yes again and that it was very sad. His family was paid $35 for their home and land, and then they were sold a new house for $250 – which they lost 10 years later when they no longer could afford to pay for it! Because of the valley being flooded, they lost their family home twice!!
Day 4 Lake Arenal Crossing, Transport to Monteverde
We were actually creating two itineraries at once as we will be going to Brazil following this trip, so while I looked over the itinerary and tweaked until I thought it was fine, I didn’t really pay too much attention to fine details. So, the following morning we checked out of Los Lagos and met our driver who surprised us with the news that we were going back to Lake Arenal for a boat crossing(!) and then would be met by another driver for the trip up to Monteverde – the cloud forest. Once on the boat he told us that the boats always traveled on one side of the lake because the other side had “murder winds.” Also, that the road on the far side of the lake was unpaved for about 18 miles, so to consider it a complimentary Costa Rica chair massage. No joke! Unpaved, rocky, steep… you get the idea.
Arriving at Hotel Poco a Poco, we knew we were in for another treat. If the Las Lagos was awesome, Poco a Poco was spectacular. A small and beautiful hotel with sustainable practices and a great restaurant surrounded by lovely amenities and a huge garden. Already we’re saying we could have spent a month at each of the hotels we’ve visited so far.
Somewhere along the way we heard about a popular 3-in-1 tour in Monteverde. The Don Juan Plantation tour included coffee, cacao and sugar cane. We called from Poco a Poco and they said we would be picked up in 30 minutes!
The tour with Alex was very informative as he told us the entire process of growing to roasting coffee. We learned about the migrant workers who come each year from Nicaragua and were welcomed because Ticos no longer wanted to pick coffee. What a novel idea BUT no politics here. Actually, when I asked Alex about Costa Rica politics, he said, “I’m sorry that’s a different tour!!”
Beans are hand-picked – red beans only – from trees about 6-feet tall (tops are trimmed to keep them in reach). The beans are put into baskets with a leather strap that goes around the picker’s waist to free both hands. A full basket weighs about 20 kilos. When the picker turns in the basket, the beans are put into water. Unripe ones float and they don’t get paid for those. Alex walked us through the whole process including removing the outer layer, drying, putting into bags to age for a year, crushing to remove another layer, and ultimately roasting.
And then came my favorite part – chocolate! While the origin of roasting the coffee beans resulted from a fire in Ethiopia, no one knows how the cacao-to-chocolate process began. The cacao beans are fermented, roasted, cracked, crushed, ground into paste, conched (a device that mixes and mashes) and then tempered (heated, cooled, heated and cooled) multiple times. We were surprised to know these seeds only become chocolate when vanilla is added – it has nothing to do with sugar being added.
Moving on to sugar cane, when a frond appears at the top of the stalk, it is ready to harvest. The stalk grows about six 8″ segments in a few months. The segments lower to the ground are sweetest. We saw the juice extraction process and tasted fresh sugar cane juice mixed with lime (which is the only way you can drink it fresh because it starts to ferment immediately).
Day 5 Zipline and Suspension Bridges at Selvatura Park
Next morning was our Canopy Tour at Selvatura Park, the only zipline built entirely within the cloud forest. The Canopy Tour features 13 cables (two of which must be ridden tandem to create enough weight to reach the long distance covered), including a 1-km cable, 15 platforms and one Tarzan Swing. There is a total of 2.2 miles of total cable length, and tons of uphill and downhill walking between ziplines. That portion of the tour lasted about 2-1/2 hours.
After a delicious lunch at the park restaurant, we met our guide, Jose, at the entrance to the suspension bridges path. He said, “Everybody goes this way. We are going to do it in reverse and you’ll see, nobody else goes that way.”
The Treetop Walkways Suspension Bridges Tour consists of 1.9 miles of trails with eight bridges of various lengths, ranging between 170 feet and 560 feet. Each bridge has a five-foot width and the largest capacity in Costa Rica of up to 80 people per bridge which make the treetop walkways at Selvatura Park not only the longest bridge system in Costa Rica but also the safest and strongest.
Jose was fun and informative. He said, “If the average year has 365 days, it rains here 500 and that’s because many days it rains more than once.” Fortunately for us, the weather couldn’t have been better: Warm, blue skies, beautiful clouds. When we were riding the zipline, we could see hikers on the suspension bridges. Now we were on the suspension bridges watching the zipliners.
Jose told us there were Quetzels (Resplendent Quetzel, Trogon family, found from Chiapas, Mexico to western Panama) in the park and that they are endangered. The reason is they eat wild avocados which are growing scarce due to climate change. We were fortunate enough to see some Quetzels, but they were difficult to spot because their primary color is green in a huge forest of green colors. On the other hand, it was very easy to see the wild avocados because their leaves have a brown tint. Another 2-1/2 hours very well-spent! We were tired and ready to go back to the hotel, but there were other attractions we could have seen, an art gallery, butterfly and hummingbird gardens and a reptile exhibit.
Day 6 Manual Antonio National Park
The following morning we were picked up to make our way down the mountains to Manual Antonio, a National Park on the Pacific side, in Quepos. Here we were in a van, trying to pass a van, when a third van passed on the left of a very narrow road. Be advised. Ha!
Along the way, we visited the “Crocodile Bridge” over the Rio Tarcoles. Which are logs and which are crocs? We were not about to find out.
Hotel Plaza Yara, a beautiful hotel and gallery, backs up to Manual Antonio National Park. Sadly, we were only there for one night. We would have liked to stay longer.
In the pool area, we saw a orange iguana, and a blue rope that ran from behind the hotel, over the busy street to the other side – the monkey highway!
Day 7 Catamaran Tour and return to San Jose
The catamaran tour was one of our favorite days. Still working on story and photos – check back soon!
We spent our final night at the Adventure Inn near the international airport in San Jose. It was the perfect conclusion to the trip – unique and totally charming – and it made us miss Costa Rica even before we left!
In a nutshell… 7 Days is not nearly enough!
Random observations, sweet memories:
The living fences. Everywhere living fences were planted and could range in size from flowering plants, bushes, even trees. Gorgeous!
How many ways can you fry a banana?
There was no litter. I don’t know where it went, but seriously, no litter.
Costa Rica is about the size of West Virginia. There are five million people (including about 50,000 U.S. citizens – a 67% increase since 2002). San Jose has a population of about 400,000.
Notes in case you go:
You can use dollars (often credit or debit cards) most everywhere. If you pay in dollars, you may get colones (or a combination) in change. Breaking bills for change can be difficult but you can often do it at point of purchase. In future, for a week, I would bring $50 in ones, and $50 in fives.
Breakfast was included at every hotel – great convenience.
The dry season, considered summer by Costa Ricans, is from mid-November to April. Flying insects are rare.
Private vans with drivers are certainly not required but such a blessing on a short trip like this. The drivers didn’t speak much English (and it was okay since Mandy’s Spanish is SO much better than mine), but were friendly and fun and went out of their way to assure our comfort. Anywhere Travel offers wifi hotspots in their vehicles (and they usually worked).
Speaking of wifi specifically and technology in general, wifi was excellent almost everywhere we visited. It was everywhere. Additionally, our cell service is provider is Verizon. We use TravelPass when we are out of the country. It’s a great service costing $10 per day if you use it and it provides the same level of talk, text and data you would have at home.
Speaking in Spanish is always appreciated.
Water, fruit, and vegetables are all safe to consume. The only tummy trouble I had was the day after eating a cheese quesadilla for lunch. Absolutely delicious but there was a lot of cheese and I don’t normally eat it. Short term effect, not terrible.
There are two international airports, San Jose (SJO) and Libera (LIR).
Last but not least, don’t forget that the toilet paper ALWAYS goes in the trash bin, never flush.
Alfonso didn’t let us down. We often heard six languages at breakfast. This trip could not have been better. And something else happened… Costa Rica moves off the list. Brazil next week. Alaska next year. But… the process evolves and now we are very sure we should be making one of these “once-in-a-lifetime” trips every year.
Leave a comment and tell me about travels on your bucket list.
It’s kind of an oxymoron, the words Winter and Arizona
Jude and I always say, “We can be anywhere in the summer, but Arizona is where we spend our Winters.” It is funny to call the season winter when you are blessed with a constant everyday repeat of sunshine, mild temperatures, and gentle winds. When you check the national weather, it is not hard to see how fortunate we are living in on the shores of the blue green waters of Lake Havasu!
While weather draws us to the Arizona/California state line on the Colorado River, it is not the only positive that exists here. The Sonoran and the Mohave deserts jostle for territory here. The Mohave is the driest desert and the Sonoran is the wettest. The Sonoran desert’s trademark of the Saguaro cactus is scattered here due to encroaching dryness of the Mohave. Throw in towering nameless Basalt thousand-foot rock cliffs that rise directly from the lake’s edge, and the jagged Needle Mountains that create a dark saw blade silhouette against violet blue sky. This place is often beyond words with its stunning beauty!
The Friends of Bill Williams River and Havasu NWRs
Punctuating the beauty along the Colorado River are two National Wildlife Refuges: the Bill Williams River and Havasu. They are a mere 30 miles apart and offer a wild variety of outdoor opportunities including kayaking, bird watching, photography, and fishing. But almost as important to us is that these NWRs usually have groups of individuals who form together and support the refuges in ways that the refuges cannot do themselves. These individuals are a source of community for us. Early on in our travels, we found that just visiting beautiful places was not enough for us. We needed the company of other like-minded people who exhibited the same appreciation of these places and would do anything to protect them. We gratefully joined the two refuge’s friends group.
So, beauty and community helped us choose the Lake Havasu, but there is something else: the importance of fishing to us choosing any destination. Our choice for our winter destination is no different!
I don’t often write much about fishing in our Nomad Travels, but it is one of the most important considerations in us choosing both our summer and winter destinations. The reason fishing is not logged as it is difficult to project what fishing is all about in our travel destinations. When you mention fishing to some individuals, they conjure up a vision of someone sitting on a water’s edge in a lounge chair drinking beer while chewing tobacco. It is one of the most misunderstood sports around!
I have fished all my life ever since I was young enough to follow behind my mother. Usually little boys are taught fishing by their father, but it was my mother who instilled my love for fishing. As I matured, I developed a solid mastery of fishing that in no way resembled an over-weight person in a lounge chair. I was always willing to expand that mastery and that led to being around other fisherman whose expertise was easily transferrable. I was the sponge!
Now I am a multi-species fisherman and enjoy the challenges fishing different waters in our travels. Each destination holds specific variances and discovering those little differences is exciting for me. Along with these variances is that different species have separate angling approaches. Over the years I have learned these approaches and become proficient in their applications. This sets me apart from most other fisherman who often usually concentrate on single species. Between the Stripers, Bass, Red Ear, and the occasional Flathead Catfish present in Lake Havasu, it is not uncommon for me to come in after a day of fishing with a catch bag of these species.
60 Minutes gave us a head’s up
When Jude and I left on our RV journey, we happened to watch an episode on 60 Minutes that featured some alarming information about the fish for sale in supermarkets. It reported that almost 60 percent of all fish sold in those national grocery chains were fillets that were mis-labeled. This percentage was due to the long supply chains associated with fish suppliers who substituted like-tasting cuts and sold them as the more expensive cuts. This percentage increased to 80 percent in smaller grocery outlets.
After years of being a catch-and-release fisherman, I turned to Jude and announced, “I know what species I catch!” From that moment on, I moved forward from catch-and-release to a subsistence fisherman! Oh sure, I catch and release sometimes, but that usually means the freezer is already full.
Fish live in beautiful places
Therefore, we choose our summer destinations with the idea that my love of fishing can produce meals of excellent nutrition for us. These are healthy additions to our diet, but also a filter for all Nomad Travel destinations. Fish live in beautiful places! Lake Havasu is beautiful! Its crystal- clear waters are a famed fishery for species including Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Striped Bass, and a world class Red Ear population. Warm temperatures, sun-filled days, community and beauty cement our choice for our winter destination.