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.
My first thought spending summer in Oregon will always be berries, berries, berries! From July we have picked almost everywhere we’ve visited. Fish always, and now berries – D.A. is calling us Subsistence RVers. Way to go!
Last winter near Lake Havasu we had the conversation about the probability that we were not getting any younger or healthier, and what was still on the list for us. For me it was seeing Costa Rica and Alaska. For D.A. it was Peacock Bass Fishing in the Amazon. We decided to see those places… soon.
In past summers we have volunteered at state parks, Corps of Engineers parks, National Wildlife Refuges and Habitat for Humanity. We had the idea it would be great to let an employer help us with our upcoming travel expenses. We were already aware of camphosting jobs at Portland General Electric campgrounds through our Workamper membership, so I sent off an email asking them to put us on the list for the summer.
I won’t bore you with the details, the story is here, and while the relationship only lasted three months, we had the opportunity to see a lot of Oregon — Mount Hood, Timberline Lodge, Hood River, the Columbia River Discovery Center. Where we were – near Madras – was great too, just east of the Cascades in the high desert. We spent days off at the Museum at Warm Springs, and in Bend, and all the gorgeous places surrounding it: Sisters, Camp Sherman and the headwaters of the Metolius River, Cascades Lakes Highway, McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory.
We were awaiting new eyeglasses at Costco in Bend when we decided to leave PGE, so we needed to stay in the Bend area a short time to take delivery on the glasses. I found a campground through our Coast to Coast membership, and it turned out to be quite an interesting experience. Sundance Meadows is about six miles from Bend. Our stay was free with our C2C membership, and I’m not sure we would have stayed if not for that fact. There was electricity and water to the sites, but no sewer. The sites for visitors (as compared to “owners”) were quite unlevel. As full-timers, our RV is our home, and just like “home” we like full hook-up, level sites. Nonetheless, once I went wandering the property, rustic as it was, I fell in love with the great opportunities for walking. The property was originally developed in the 1970s as a ranch and year-round vacation spot for families.
From there we moved south to Timber Valley SKP, an Escapee park, in Sutherlin, OR. Having been members of Escapees almost since our RVing departure from Tucson, this is the first SKP park we’ve visited.
The Escapee parking system provides a very comprehensive resource with 18 Escapee parks from Washington State to Florida plus a partnership with over 800 commercial RV parks that offer a 15 to 50 percent discount.
I’ve only heard great things about Escapee parks, now I have experienced one. I agree. This would be a lovely place to live (or even spend your summers, though lots of residents stay year around). Timber Valley SKP is a co-op. When owners leave for whatever reason, they can leave their spots empty for casual visitors (like us) to use. In return, the rental pot is split at some point and the owners get a proportional reduction on their annual fees. There is a waiting list to own a lot – about five to eight years. You give them a deposit and they save your space on the list.
For Boondockers looking for a lovely place to park, Timber Valley let’s you park along the boundary of the property – all well-marked spots (about 15 of them), that you can have for $5 a night! What a bargain!! I assume this happens at other Escapee parks also – it wouldn’t take long to recoup your membership cost.
We stayed a month for about $400, made the trip to Astoria and another to Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands with friends from Seattle. D.A. found a great place to fish, Cooper Creek Reservoir, which just happened to have a great hiking path for you know who.
We had two goals coming to Oregon. D.A. wanted to fish for salmon on the Columbia, and I wanted to visit Crater Lake NP. While at PGE, I made reservations for two nights at the end of August at Crater Lake National Park.
As everybody in the West knows, there have been a lot of fires this summer. Everywhere we went we had smoke to contend with – never terrible but always present. When we joined our friends from Seattle for a few days on Lopez Island in the San Juans, it was really smokey. We kept hoping for minimum smoke for our trip to Crater Lake.
We took that gorgeous Umpqua River Road with all the waterfalls and visited a few each way. It was a glorious day and a friend had suggested we see Diamond Lake. It turned out Diamond Lake would be a perfect lunch spot, but, sadly, by the time we arrived, there was a lot of smoke. The waiter said it was simply a fact of life at the lake in the summer now…
Our first view of Crater Lake was smokey yet FANTASTIC! We had two very full days including the boat tour that comes with a hike described by the ranger on our boat, “One mile down, ten back up.” On the third morning, we awoke, had breakfast, walked to the rim and no smoke! Post card perfect viewing for our rim tour.
Thank you, Oregon. Another summer has passed and just like we felt leaving Maryland, Maine, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin (and a few others). We could spend every summer here!
I awoke suddenly and glanced at the fluorescent face on my wrist watch. It shines back 4AM. I bolt out of bed as my alarm was set for 3:45AM. I feel an urgency as I click on the lamp.
I am going salmon fishing on the Columbia River!
I draw back the curtains and check the weather conditions. By the lights of a nearby marina, I can see that it is foggy and drizzling. I nod in acknowledgement that this is the Oregon coast and that I am in Astoria. I search for my rain pants!
With a scheduled meeting time at 4:45AM with my fishing guide at his marina, I hurry and complete the packing of my day pack. I feel excited as this is the second day of the opening of the Chinook Salmon fishing season.
Chinook or King Salmon are the largest of the salmon Species. They are highly priced for their mild flavor and of course, their size gives them the ability to put up a tremendous fight. They are a great sport fish!
As I drive to the guide’s boats mooring spot, I run through the information I had obtained from other fishing guides who I had queried the night before as to the quality of the fishing. I knew that for the entire month of July, fishing for any type of Salmon was closed. The closure was by the Oregon Fish & Game department as a measure to limit the fish caught and protect the fishery. So, when the sportfishing fishing resumed on August 1st, not a lot of information on fishing quality was available. The general report from the first day’s catch was that the nearby Ocean was good, but fishing in the Columbia was “slow.”
Graveyard of the Pacific
Not everyone knows about the Columbia Bar at the entrance of the river into the Northern Pacific waters is the most dangerous area on the entire U.S. coastline. It is called the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” More than 2000 boats have sunk trying to navigate the rough waters where the Columbia River meets the Pacific.
The Columbia is the fourth largest river in the U.S. When its four-mile-wide waters meet the prevailing winds and higher tides of the Pacific Ocean, waves up to 40 feet are often common and extremely dangerous for even large ships and boats. I sigh in relief as I know my guide does not chose to navigate the “Bar,” and only fishes the river!
My guide is youthful and bustles around his covered Hewes Boat prepping it for the day’s fishing. Almost immediately, he says the fishing is slow but reports from yesterday confirm that one area is producing some catches. He validates that we will be fishing in that area and “hopes” we will find some. I comment that I am a very “lucky” kind of fisherman and have total confidence that we will catch one.
The journey out to the fishing area is uneventful as his 22-foot Hewes river boat handles the waves into a comfortable ride. I am appreciative of the boat’s cover as it has continued to rain lightly. We arrive at the fishing area with the brightening sky, a fair wave chop on the water and about ten other boats in the area. My guide, Dan, relates to me that this area will have 100 boats on it as the day progresses. I state that I guess “We need to catch our fish early and get out of that potential mess!”
Dan finishes rigging two line-counter Shimano reels mounted on two eight foot Ugly Stick trolling rods with a trolling Chartreuse flasher tipped with a cut Herring bait fish. The idea was to have the Herring bait revolve in a wide circular motion behind the flasher. We set the line counter down to 18 feet and begin trolling.
The waves begin to increase, and as more and more boats arrive the waters begins to resemble those in a washing machine. I continue to monitor the trolling rod’s tip as the flasher continues to wobble just above the bottom of the river.
Suddenly, the rod bows and the drag on the reel begins to scream.
I knew by experience this was a fish. I grab the rod and begin to slowly reel. The fish surges again and again protesting the restraint of the line and rod. I let the fish continue his runs and only reel when he is not pulling line off the reel. I see the fish surface approximately 25 feet to the right of the boat.
Dan offers advice on how he wants me to guide the fish when it gets close enough for him to net. I follow his orders and he makes a stab at netting the Salmon. The Salmon sees the boat and the net and responds with a strong run away from the boat! I pray the barbless hooks remain embedded as these last-minute runs by powerful fish often result in lost fish. I concentrate in maintaining a tight line and for the first time see the Salmon’s size. I catch my breath and re-double my efforts to bring the fish to the net.
The Salmon is swimming closer and closer to the side of the boat. I step backwards on the boat’s decking and the net flashes down. With a swift movement, Dan turns the net’s handle and traps the fish within it riggings. He lifts the Salmon over the gunnel and drops the load onto the boat’s decking. For the first time, we see the total size.
I announce, “That is a big fish! Is that a Chinook?” Dan replies, “Yeah, that is a Chinook and a really big one at that! At least 25 pounds!” We high-five as we hoot-out our excitement!
The limit for Salmon during the Summer Chinook run is one adult fish per angler per day. We are limited out in ten minutes of fishing!
Out of the forty boats that have shown-up in the area, we see no other fish caught. On the way back to the marina, Dan acknowledges my luck. I also acknowledge it and quietly, under my breath, state my gratefulness to the providing Universe!
From High and happy expectations to “how soon can we get outta here?!”
We expected to be camp hosting for Portland General Electric at Pelton Park until September 30, but left at the end of July due to issues mostly beyond our control.
We learned of the opportunities at PGE parks through Workamper, and sent off an email of interest last fall. We were told to register at PGE/Careers as Seasonal Park Attendants. I looked at workamper reviews of working at PGE and they were all positive. Great!
Sometime over that fall-winter stay at Havasu Springs, we had the conversation: “We’re probably not getting any younger. We’re probably not getting any healthier. Are there some things we still want to do?” For D.A. it was peacock bass fishing in the Amazon. For me it was a trip to Costa Rica and also a trip to Alaska. It got us thinking… Why not find out if PGE wanted to help us pay for it?
Sure enough, we were notified about open positions and applied. By the beginning of this year, we were pretty sure we would be offered a camp hosting position. Most of these seasonal jobs pay about $14.50 an hour (which is, as you may know, quite high for the industry). They like couples. The woman works in the office and the man in maintenance, though I think they might be open to other arrangements, and one of the three couples on our team both worked maintenance. Often they pick two couples and a solo.
In spite of our confidence, the obstacles to getting hired by PGE were daunting. They sent us to a local clinic for a drug test and physical. We complied with all instructions and after a long wait were informed they were unable to do all the tests PGE required. Actually they did none of them except the drug test. PGE said they would find another clinic to do the rest of the testing. Lake Havasu City is a town of about 70K, so we were surprised they couldn’t find another clinic nearby. They wanted us to go to Phoenix or Yuma – both more than two hour drives from us. We finally got them to agree to find us a clinic in Las Vegas – which we could visit on our way to Oregon.
During all this, my urine test result came back as inconclusive, so I needed to return to the original lab and take the test again with an audience. Ha! After the process the lab told me PGE was looking for Methadone. Methadone!?! I don’t think so. Needless to say, I passed the second test.
The actual physical turned out to be the most comprehensive I’ve ever had: hearing, eyesight, peeing in a cup, toe touching, squats – you name it. We did it all successfully, but it was a little daunting and the whole time I was thinking, “What could possibly be next?”
On arrival in Oregon at Pelton Park, we were put in a brand new camp host site. It was the first site you would see when you drove into the park, so it seemed a big benefit for PGE. They assured us they were aware it needed a lot of work, that they would level the site and bring a picnic table. Neither happened. The water service had been run from another camp host site and they had placed three hoses inside PVC pipe. One of the hose connections leaked continuously. It ran down the pipe and eroded the area around the electric pedestal! We brought it to their attention. It was never fixed. We discovered we had no cell service or wifi. Satellite TV was almost impossible, with no local channels. The worst of all though is we were parked under three huge trees that shed an unbelievable amount of biomass every day. It covered our truck, chairs, awning, screened room and of course RV. We couldn’t help but track it into the RV.
After more than a month in a bad situation, we had a potluck get-together for all the local staff. A long-time PGE employee who is host at a nearby day use area said, “You haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until the sap starts seeping from those trees!”
I told our supervisor we needed to move. NOW! There was another host site in the park, but while much better for us, it took away the advantage of having a second host near the entrance to the park for PGE. We really didn’t care. We moved.
in the meantime, the writing was on the wall but we failed to comprehend it.
I trained and learned the reservation system. The computer was mostly fine, but the wifi speed was dial-up, and the delay in accomplishing a reservation could be disheartening. Also, you could get caught in a loop and some transactions and the system would freeze, so you could do nothing until you shut down and rebooted the computer! The phone was just as bad. We had two lines. The “regular” line for reservations and park business and the other was an “emergency” line for PGE brass and local authorities to contact us. Many mornings (and throughout the day) when you tried to make a call, the regular line would be dead and you’d have to call its number from the emergency line to restart it!
D.A. had been learning the maintenance duties. He soon noticed a problem with the toilet plumbing – the toilet apertures were so small that when the park was full and there were many people using the toilets, they would clog – maybe 12 times a shift! So, on busy weekends, the crew spent their time driving their Gators between the four bathrooms clearing clogs – no time for any of their other routine duties. We complained, guests complained, but we were told the situation would be considered “off season.” Eventually, management told staff to “do their jobs” and later offered a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate to the crew member who cleared the most clogs! It wasn’t very well received by staff. Nobody applied for the prize.
These issues were compounding daily, with no solutions offered, when our supervisor made a totally inappropriate comment about another crew member. At first I was so mad I couldn’t speak, but eventually took an opportunity to discuss it with him. With one careless and thoughtless statement, I lost all confidence in his abilities and I surely didn’t want to be around someone who thought so little of his staff.
One particularly hot Sunday (Pelton Park is located in Oregon’s high desert east of the Cascades), guests starting arriving at ten in the morning. Check in time was four p.m. We had one guy working, D.A., and he hadn’t even begun cleaning sites by 10 a.m.; he was too busy unclogging toilets! The incoming guests were indignant. They were hot and wanted to unload into their sites before it got hotter. I asked them to return about one p.m., still three hours before actual check-in time. It didn’t matter. They were mad at me, they were mad at D.A., and they were mad at PGE for not having enough staff to accommodate their arrival six hours ahead of schedule. We’re not talking one guest, we’re talking six or eight of them – all furious!
That wasn’t the beginning of the end… It was the end of the end: bad management, woefully inadequate infrastructure, management that never followed through with anything they said, not to mention the significant health hazard presented by all those clogged toilets. We gave notice.
The manager of our supervisor told us there were other staffing opportunities they would like us to consider because they didn’t want to lose us. We said, “No, thank you,” and then we summarized it all – pretty much as I have above. In our remaining days, we never heard another peep out of Corporate.
Would we try it again? The wage is attractive. The reality is not. No. But guess what? The trip to Costa Rica is booked, and from there we go to the Amazon!
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.
Jude and I have spent a leisurely winter in Lake Havasu. One of the reasons we go to the “blue green” Colorado River impoundment is the benign weather plus it is a really beautiful. It is close to several National Wildlife Refuges. We love volunteering for the Bill Williams and Havasu Wildlife Refuges. That involvement with other people who love doing things for beautiful places has really influenced us. In fact it has led to this summer’s destination.
Threes years ago in 2013, we were nomad traveling through Minnesota, we happened upon a NWR named Tamarac. It was a natural jewel! Just driving around this refuge and seeing the Loons, Bald Eagles, and its most famous residents, the Trumpeter Swans were enough for us to send off a volunteer application. We waited anxiously!
We were accepted! Wow, were we excited and then we got the phone call that started a nearly two year quest to keep Jude’s youngest son Chance on the face of the planet. He was diagnosed with Glioblastoma which is the most aggressive type of brain cancer. We realized our caretaking duties and called Tamarac to cancel our volunteering commitment.
Chance graduated to heaven on July 7th, 2016. We began to pick up the pieces after his passing and our thoughts returned to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. Located on the western edge of Minnesota near the border with North Dakota, we contacted the Volunteer Coordinator and queried if the refuge remembered us. They did! They would love to offer us a position at the refuge. We accepted and were so excited!
After a few times across the U.S. in our travels, we were familiar with deciding the best most direct route complete with our favorite campgrounds along the way. With our passage determined, we set out from Havasu and arrived in Tamarac May 9th. Our early arrival was timed to assist the Refuge staff with its spring bird festival.
Tamarac Wildlife refuge is famous for its populations of Warblers. Hundreds of people attend these expert-led adventures into the secret world of Tamarac to not only to catch a glimpse of the thirty-five different Warblers, but the Wood Ducks, Scarlett Tanagers, and Baltimore Orioles. In the first two weeks of being there, I took nearly 500 photos. That’s how spectacular this refuge is!
Tamarac NWR lies in the heart of one of the most diverse zones in North America. Here the Eastern Deciduous hardwoods, the Northern Coniferous forests and the Western tall grass prairie all converge. This convergence creates a rich assemblage of plants, animals and birds. The refuge is well known for its high numbers of Golden-Winged Warblers and its successful reintroduction of Trumpeter Swans.
The sheer numbers of birds was nothing short of magnificent. Equally, the numbers of wildflowers, Orchids, Whitetail deer, Porcupines, and other mammals were impressive. To put it mildly, there was so much to focus upon (LOL)! This area was beyond our expectations. We loved our opportunity to work and live here. We felt so grateful!
As usual, there were some set-backs to the full-frontal nature in your face. Nature has a few critters that are less inviting. The Rocky Mountain Spotted Ticks were of biblical numbers. It was creepy the numbers we found crawling on our clothing. On our first day, Tamarac staff issued us a small pill bottle filled with Rubbing Alcohol and a pair of tweezers so that when we found ticks we would deposit them in the Tick Hotel” to kill them. Around the first of July, their numbers declined but Jude and I had deposited over a hundred ticks apiece. Yuk!
Following the Ticks was a mind-boggling number of Deer Flies. Everywhere in the forests, you were buzzed by thirty to forty of these biting flies. When working outside, we were adorned with head and body netting to keep their painful bites abetted. Walking place to place, we carried paperback books to wave around hoping to discourage them.
We had been warned to next expect mosquitos! With lakes, sloughs, and ponds everywhere, we believed the biting scourge of outdoors would descend in clouds, but no, they did not – they never showed up at all! The colder summer temperatures curtailed their development. All of Eastern Minnesota celebrated! And we joined in!
On our first summer of being full-time RVers, we traveled from campground to campground in fifteen states. We found our sense of community was never established. We would find very interesting people that we would love spend some time with, then either we had to leave the next day or they were leaving! That summer moved us in the volunteering arena. We felt that staying in a central place would allow us to develop a deeper sense of community. We were right!
The staff of Tamarac welcomed us with open arms. Our continued relationship just grew and grew. Soon they were telling places to visit and things to see not only in Tamarac but in the supporting lands. Venturing out on their recommendations was an absolute joy. We worked four six hour days leaving us three and a half days a week for exploration.
Mia came for her annual visit, and we even traveled to Winnipeg and visited the Human Rights Museum.
The eight story museum was a slick modern monolith dedicated to record the history of human rights violations. Its continuing theme was equality and acceptance formed the higher road. We visited each exhibit and were informed at each station the leaders who dedicated and even sacrificed their lives to attain that equality. I would highly recommend this museum to everyone.
One of the most unique things about nearby areas exploration is the number of statues that are displayed. It seems that every central town in an area would celebrate its claim to fame with a statue. Around Tamarac were the world’s largest Turkey statue, Paul Bunyon and Babe his blue ox,a giant Loon, the World Largest Bluegill or Smallmouth Bass and a fifty- foot Holstein Cow. These were always announced with a huge sign that was almost equally impressive!
Our 24 hours a week became a blur of visitor services at the Visitor Center and mowing. Because of my experience of being a Trail Crew Foreman in Grand Teton National Park, I was put in charge of developing a new trail around the refuge’s Discovery Center.
The Discovery Center was the refuge’s educational building. It was a half million dollar building gift from the Friends of Tamarac! It was the epicenter for adults and children programs. I was privileged to enjoy a photographic wildflower excursion and a Dragonfly identification seminar. The center was well designed for formal classes coupled with guided field trips that would apply the material introduced to practical real-time applications. Both were very enjoyable!
A major part of the children’s programs was walking the surrounding trails around the center and experiencing the refuge first- hand. The trail needed a redesign. It was the refuge’s hope that eventually the re-design would eventually morph into an American Disabilities Act trail. That meant reducing steep grades, constructing rest areas, updating signage, and improving the functionality of the trail. It was nice to bring a skill forward from my youth and build a new trail that would provide a pleasing experience for children and adults for a long time. It was great to put my stamp on Tamarac that would remain for an extended amount of time!
The lakes and ponds around Tamarac were prolific with wild rice. It is the Americas only natural grain. It is remarkably nutritious and these lakes produced huge acres areas of this natural grain. It is a staple of not only humans but countless birds. By Minnesota state law, the crop can only be harvested by the state’s Native Americas. Here on Tamarac, the Ojibwa has the rights for harvest. It was very interesting watching them gather the grain that they use the crop for their own nutrition and as a revenue crop.
They used narrow canoes and pushed them into the shallow waters with long poles. The wild rice stalks are over three feet high and densely-spaced. Accessing the areas is very physical and difficult. Then, once the canoe enters the green-walled rice areas, a person in the middle of the boat bends the rice stalks inside the boats and beats the stalks to loosen the grains into the canoe’s bottom.
This is only part of the process. Then they take the load and knead them to loosen the flax around the kernels. They then toss small amount into the air to separate the flax and then parch the kernels. Here’s where the different types of wild rice are produced.
When you see packaged Wild Rice, it is either rather dark, almost black to light brown. The darker variety is parched (dried) with propane heat while the lighter variety is parched with wood fires using cedar. The gas parched wild rice requires longer cooking time while the lighter variety does not require so much energy. We found the wood parched to be more flavorful. Yum, Yum!
Rice gathering season is the beginning of the fall. Already the Signet Trumpeter Swans are flying, and the Loon calls grow more haunting in the foggy colder morning mists! The solid green canopies of the deciduous trees are punctuated with larger and larger areas of red, orange and yellows! I call this the cusp of fall. It is so beautiful and at the same time, sad.
We gather our belongings and pack them away. Our volunteer time here at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge is ending. While it is sad that we are leaving, it is also exciting as our nomad travels are taking us to other roads and to a winter destination that we also love, Lake Havasu, Arizona.
The call of benign Winter temperatures, the contrast of the “blue-green waters” against the towering Basalt granite Colorado River mountains is truly a beautiful area. I think of the Winter friends Jude and I will soon connect with; I think of the future angling experiences on Lake Havasu and my sadness turns to anticipation. I turn the key and start the key to the mother ship. We close our wonderful time here in Minnesota. And once again, our departing emotion is gratitude.
Jude and I have spent the winter at Havasu Springs resort nestled on the southern end of Lake Havasu. We arrived in early December fresh from our Amazon Camperforce adventure. We welcomed the more benign temperature here in western Arizona. It was a balmy 19 degrees when we left Campbellsville, KY.
After enduring the snow storms with our cross county trip, we welcome the 70 degree days and bring out our shorts. There is somethings so comforting as to wearing shorts and t-shirts on Christmas day!
We settle in but it soon becomes apparent that this will not be a normal winter in Arizona. The first clue is the amount of rain that comes in waves throughout January and February. Normally the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges suck all the moisture out of the storms and leave very little for the Mohave Desert. This year the Pacific storms overpower this barren and unleash their plentiful moisture on the steppes and mountains. It is still warm but the desert southwest is not behaving as a desert but more like the Amazon rainforest. We look at the radar when making plans.
With the increased precipitation, we are soon rewarded with an explosion of bloom. The desert has what is called a Super Bloom. This has not happened since 2006. It is so spectacular to see this phenomenon. It is just another reminder that the nomad life has such unexpected rewards at time when you least expect it. We are grateful and look for our plant identification books.
Havasu Springs is a resort of snow birds and golfers but they are also drawn to its shores because they like to fish. I don’t talk too much about fishing, but I love fishing!