The Dacotahs

Dacotah is a Native American word for “friend.”

After achieving our legal requirements for South Dakota residency, voter registration, re-establishing Medicare coverage and plethora of sight-seeing tours around the Black Hills, we headed out into the vastness of the rolling prairies that lay from Rapid City in western South Dakota to the eastern city of Sioux City.

The Coach now travels along easier without the long grinding steep inclines so common in Colorado, Wyoming and the Black Hills of South Dakota.  We make good time as we follow Inter-State 90 towards the Lake Cochrane Recreational area run by the South Dakota Parks Department.  This allowed us to make several stops along the way for points of interest.

We stopped in Wall Drug. I have seen their bumper stickers on cars as long as I can remember! Well, it is the biggest commercial entity I have seen outside of Yellowstone. There were stall and more stalls, selling everything from sports pennants, rubber tomahawks, and high priced Western prints to a hundred different formulations of fudge flavors.  We partook of the fudge settling on a combination of peanut butter and dark chocolate! YUM!

The next stop along the I-90 Corridor was the Corn Palace.  It is called the Madison Square Garden of the Mid-West.  It is an arena that features concerts, theatre plays, comedians, magic acts and most importantly, basketball games for the local high schools.  Its Taj Mahal type towers, all its outer and inner mural panels are totally constructed of different colored corn cobs cut and shaped into scenes.  These scenes change in variety and complexity twice a year.  I marveled at the mural’s depth and scope. This is different and neat, but I wondered how one becomes a corn cob mural artist.

Closer to Sioux City, the high plains prairies with their open range pastures turned without protest into fields of endless corn and soy bean fields. Each field is the same as the last in a seemingly endless progression of bright green leaves waving in the southern breezes. They remind me of a sea with rolling waves that shimmer and shine with the changing light.  It is a pleasant visual experience.

Here along the inter-state medians and shoulder areas are mowed.  I quickly realized that the adjacent landowners are mowing them and collecting the cuttings into four-foot high round bales. What seems to be present is cooperation between the state and the landowners.  When I asked about the practice at a local station they told me it is necessary to help protect the highway travelers from deer crossings, that without those cuttings, deer would just suddenly appear, and you can guess the rest.  It must work as there are absolutely no dead dear carcasses along any of the highways and it gives highway systems a total look of being manicured, almost estate-like!

We find Lake Cochrane Recreational Area to be the most rural place we have stayed so far!  Jude reports to me that there will be no Interstate noise here.  I laugh as we have had our brushes with Colorado RV Parks that are close to the constant rumble of interstate travelers.

The Recreational area features two lakes. Cochrane is a large body of water with its twin lake called Oliver right next door.  This presence of two bodies of water makes it very convenient for me to fish and the warm temperatures and humidity made it possible to fish at night.

I forgot how pleasant it is to fish at that time.  The rural nature allowed a really nice view of the Milky Way and all the stars present on a New Moon.  The shore line has limited access places and was almost entirely wooded with mature Oaks and Cottonwoods.  Among the trees and bushes is an old friend that I have not seen since my Army enlistment days at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri…Fire Flies!

There is a sentiment of peace with the gentle winds, the star-lit skies punctuated with the occasional shooting star, the sounds of the nocturnal animals and then the on and off bursts of light from the fire flies.  Nice, really nice, and oh, did I mention the fishing? Blazing!!!

The bass were eager to cooperate and throughout the evening, I caught nearly thirty bass. This was just the icing on the cake of a wonderful summer evening. Within my stay around the Cochrane and Lake Oliver area, I had a very successful fishing adventure with numerous catches of Large Mouth Bass, Walleye and Northern Pike.  One Walleye measured over 20” and one Northern measured in at 33 inches.  Wow!! I am grateful for my nomad travels. What fisherman could not like this!

One thing I have always said about quality involved fisherman is that they are the first witness to water and environmental issues.  They notice things going on negatively and are involved with trying to create better fishing and that includes the environment where fish live. I was going to be a witness. It was during an afternoon fishing on Lake Oliver, I noticed an animal in the shoreline bushes.

It looked like a beaver and I wondered how a beaver lived here as I never noticed the presence of a domed stick beaver house anywhere in the two lakes.  I sit motionless in my float tube and studied the large brown animal.  I guessed it to be nearly 10-15 pounds and watched it stripping the bark and leaves from a bush.  I waited until it turned to see if I could see the flat tail and positively identify it as a beaver. It eventually turns.  No flat tail!  This animal has the tail of a rat!

So here was an animal that looked like a beaver but was not. It was way too large to be a Muskrat.  That could only mean one thing.  I believed I was watching a Nutria. They are an invasive species from South America.  They are a large rodent and do considerable damage to waterway shorelines and dams by digging their denning burrows.  Where they are common in such states as Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana, and other southern states, their Game & Fish Departments have full time employees who do nothing else but attempt to eradicate the Nutria.

Their ability for frequent litters and few animals that can help control them; they are a serious problem where they are found.  But this is South Dakota, a very harsh climate in the winter with snow and ice.  How could this animal be so far north?

I quickly go to the internet to make sure…Wow!! There is no doubt.  The Nutria in the images section are a dead ringer for what I saw on the shoreline.

I seek out the Park staff and report my sighting.  They quickly report the incident to the South Dakota Department of Fish & Game.  The very next morning, a game warden comes and interviews me concerning my discovery along the shoreline of Oliver Lake. I report to him the where and when, size and everything else I can remember!

He says that they are taking the report very seriously and are mobilizing a team within the Department to arrive and find the reported critter as they are fully aware of the destructive nature of the Nutria on aquatic environments.  I am happy that I was able to report such a threat to the authorities, but I would have no closure on this as we were leaving the recreation area and traveling north and east to the Detroit Lake Area in Minnesota the next day.

Corn Palace Image courtesy of Sean Jackson via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

Land of 10,000 Lakes

Again, the traveling is easier as we move north into North Dakota and then east into Minnesota toward the Detroit Lake.  This area is near Fargo and touts 400 lakes in the surrounding area.  Are you kidding me? This is a fisherman’s dream!  I can’t wait to explore.

A quick trip to the local tackle store for information effectively narrows the number of lakes that fit my requirements.  The number one lake was named Little Cormorant Lake.  It is even close to our parking space at Forest Hills Golf & RV Resort, a Coast to Coast resort. My first visit was an early morning excursion.  As I quietly paddle up a shoreline, I hear the call of Loons.

These calls are the epitome of wilderness.  Their haunting Tremolo and Yodel calls take me back to my fishing days with my dear friend Paul Bruun.  These birds, although rarer in our Wyoming home than here where it is the Minnesota state bird, were our accepted good fishing charm.  We always said that where the loons are, that is where the fish are and that is where we should fish. These calls this morning take me to a pleasant place with a forever friend.  I am grateful!

Staying in our Coast to Coast RV site is a perk for our purchased membership in the Colorado River Resorts.  That membership allows us to stay in Coast to Coast resorts for free. Well not technically as we had to put out the original purchase price for the membership.  There are restrictions and Jude is getting to be a master at their navigation.  Jude’s skills greatly help reduce our nomad traveling cost.

That leaves more funds to go on adventures and see the surrounding countryside.   Our first adventure is Itasca Park.  The lake that the park surrounds is the headwaters for the Mississippi River. It is cool that a mere wading stream becomes the major American river.  It drains over 51 percent of the country and it travels nearly 2600 miles before it drains into the Gulf of Mexico; it takes a drop of water 90 days to travel that distance.

I am reminded that I have stood at the headwaters of Green River, the Snake and the Yellowstone River all within my home state of Wyoming.  Wyoming is like an island in the United States and all rivers originated there and flow out.  No rivers flow into the state.

The Yellowstone is the major tributary of the Missouri and it is the major tributary to the Mississippi.  The Snake River is the major tributary to the Columbia and the Green River is the main tributary to the Colorado River.  Thus, Wyoming is a major contributor to four important river systems.  The only system originating in Wyoming that I have not been to is the Platte.  It is the major tributary to the Rio Grande.

I am blessed with such an acquired list.  I can honestly say that every headwater originates in very beautiful places. Itasca is no different just a little more accessible than the Wyoming River starts.

It is a very different experience driving here in Minnesota.  It is hard to imagine all this water especially after years in sunbaked Arizona where the mere trickle of water is a novelty.  Here it is the common almost at every bend in the road.

I realized that I am haunted by water.  I cannot pass the myriad of lakes and ponds without wondering what angling opportunities exist there, what monsters live there and how I would catch them.  With all these bodies of water, my mind is very busy. Whew!

Other ventures into the Minnesota countryside included a beautiful state park, called Maplewood.  It was adorned with beautiful tree lined driving paths, groomed picnic areas and vistas of seven lakes within its borders.  It has a history of being one of Minnesota’s first ski areas with multiple rope tows.

We see Minnesota with all of its summer greenness and it is not apparent that these beautiful lakes and surrounding country are very snow bound and frozen most of the winter!  I learned that living in Wyoming if you did not find something to do outside in the winter, you would not endure. I am sure it is the same here.

We pack tonight, July 27th, and tomorrow make the longest drive we have had this summer season, pushing towards Lake Michigan.  In Milwaukie, we will send our 13-year old traveling companion, Mia, home to California.  We have enjoyed having her share our adventures and have already started making plans for our time with her next summer.

Wisconsin hints at a total adventure with travels up towards Sturgeon Bay and through the northern limits of both Wisconsin and Minnesota.  This area is called the boundary waters. I think I hear the Loon calling!

The Black Hills

We found South Dakota and especially the Black Hills so very green and lush.  The cows grazing in the fields were fat and slick, a testimony to the plentiful grass available to them, but again you could see the tremendous presence of those dead and dying red bug trees.  We were relieved when the fire danger was rated as low basically based on the ample moisture that fell during the winter and spring!

South Dakota is our intended place of residency as the state has a very attractive program for full-time RVers. We jumped right into getting insurance for me, driver’s licenses for both of us, and voter registrations. All things were simple and easily done as the processes were streamlined and painless to accomplish. We were officially residents of South Dakota after a single day!

We were free to explore the plentiful sites of interest in the Black Hills.  I was astounded at not only the variety but the sheer number of things to do.  It was kind of a RV wonderland with the granite carving of Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse nestled near to Custer State Park and all its pristine lakes, tunnels and rock spires.

The Wind Cave was one of the largest caves in the U.S.  It was made a National Park in 1903 and even today has not been fully explored but guesstimates of it being 140 miles long. It is a dry cave meaning there was little moisture still coming into the caverns, so that was different as we were used to younger caves that still had aquifers feeding them. The caverns were large but the passages were narrow and I spent a lot of time bent over as the ceiling was not set for anybody over 5’10” plus the tour we chose had 450 up and down steps.  It was like exercising at 53 degrees Fahrenheit while being at half-mast! It was fun to walk along exploring its limestone caverns. Caves are cool! LOL

That large cave wetted our curiosity, so we went to another Cave that held the largest Dog Tooth crystals in the world. They were indeed large at 18” long and this cave was a wet cave with the occasional cave kiss coming down on us.

Practically next door to our RV resort was a drive through safari like park called Bear Country,  The two mile auto trek was full of wolves, Elk, Deer, Caribou, Mountain Lions and tons of Bears. They kept the Grizzlies separate. I wonder why? NOT!  This made for some really good close up pictures of animals without the usual wire separation between the animal and visitors.  I usually would shy away from these types of displays, but this was so tastefully done, it was really enjoyable.  I got some really good photos of animals not normally available.

The icing on the South Dakota stay was a helicopter trip around Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monuments.  It was a special treat to honor Mia’s near perfect report card! It was really grand to see the carved faces with their brilliant white granite looking straight at us.  It was quite the feat to take photos as the vibration and plexus-glass of the helicopter made long efforts to get a perfect focus near impossible.  I relied on pulling the trigger the instant the landscape came into focus  It worked as I got some incredible shots of the monuments and surrounding area.

The Fourth of July burst on to the Black Hills with a brilliant clear day and our thoughts turned to the planned events around Rapid City, but within hours a solid line of thunderstorms descended on area. They lingered for hours with a steady drenching downpour of two-pound raindrops.  I can imagine the concern of all those pyro-technicians around the area hustling and covering their fireworks against that kind of moisture onslaught.

We settled in and laughed all day at America’s Funniest Videos, ate cookies and chocolate and had a blast!! Fireworks or not we had a great 4th of July just doing nothing but being together. Sometimes it is just fun doing nothing but chilling out.

We were coming to the end of our stay in the Black Hills.  We are headed to the adventure of the Great areas of U.S… the northern Great Plains and the Great Lakes! Our next stop was near the border of South Dakota and Minnesota to gather ourselves for a final push towards the Great Lakes.

Colorado Fire & Smoke

Jude and I headed west towards the Colorado Front range.  It was great to see the trees again after spending more than a week on the Colorado Plains.  My mind skipped to the French Trappers who after leaving the East Coast of the Americas and encountering the vastness, utter openness of the Great Plains were very happy when they beheld the Rockies and their trees.  That is why most states north of New Mexico have towns named Du Bois or more specifically “the Trees.”

We had reservations at a Coast to Coast Resort just a little north of Colorado Springs.  When we were close, I noticed the elevation at 7000 feet.  That meant we climbed steadily off the plains with an elevation of 3700 feet.

I noticed the RV’s engine as it was working a little harder climbing up the hills to Monument Colorado.  Our camping site was on the side of a treed knoll but it was not far from the constant rumbling of I-25.  I could hear other engines working hard to reach the crests and peaks of the I-25 corridor.

Colorado Springs is green.  It is a welcome treat for the eye from the endless brown of eastern Arizona, New Mexico and southern Colorado.  Jude and I could not help to just jump in the HHR Toad and take a short drive through lush green pastures settled among rolling foothills at the sunset on Highway 105.  It was a pleasant drive counting the various shades of green as they progressed up the sharp inclines of the Rocky Mountains!

The next day was cool and windy.  Again, I have never seen such a constant weather factor.  Since we entered Colorado, the wind was beyond breezy, bordering on gale force some days.  I remembered the carriage of tents in Lake Hasty campground when the winds struck with a vengeance one night.

Undeterred, we made plans to visit the Air Force Academy.  We could see the gleaming structures nestled up again the mountains but as we entered the entrance gate, the sparkle of the buildings was augmented by our closeness.  Our eyes could not escape the draw of the spired Chapel.

We arrived at the Visitor’s center where we explored all the niches and corners with all their information panels and displays.  At the movie outlining the progression of cadets, I thought they kind of played down the six-week break down period.  I remember my long ago entry into Officer’s Candidate School. I’m still not sure how the U.S. Military still gets away with that elevation of hazing while it is taboo in joining most any other organization.

After the visitor’s center, it was a short walk to the Cadets Chapel. Jude and I were not prepared for the total majesty with this part of the Air Force Academy.  As with others who were in the chapel, our eyes were drawn upward to the lighting effects present at the top of the chapel. Once there, then our eyes followed the side panels downward to the chapel floor.  All around was this royal blue hue that gave the chapel an elegance that I have never experienced from any other chapel, church or any other place of worship I have visited.  It was definitely the highlight of our visit to the Air Force Academy campus.

Within the next week, we mustered several driving adventures. One was to the top of Pike’s Peak.  It is the highest point of earth I have attained, a whopping 14,000+ elevation.  We did not experience any shortness of breath, so we wondered around looking in the distance in every direction.  It was hard to judge just how far in actual miles you could see as the distance was so far away it was just a vague outline of purple especially to the north, west and south. I could see now what inspired Katharine Lee Bates to pen the Classic American song, “America the Beautiful” after visiting Pike’s Peak and especially the part about “purple mountain majesties.”

On another drive, we traveled up Highway 24 and explored three other Colorado State Parks.  Jude and I have started to develop an affinity for State Parks.  They have great services, are in beautiful locations, have friendly staff and great supporting communities. Today we were visiting Eleven Mile Reservoir, Spiny Mountain and Mueller to check out possibilities of a future stay.

We liked Eleven Mile Reservoir as it was on a high plateau, offered trophy fishing for trout, and its remoteness.  Camping there would be like a grand safari as the nearest grocery store was close to 20 miles away and was more like a garage, beer, liquor and convenience store and would certainly not have the items a regular grocery store would carry. But what an adventure with plenty to see, fish and explore.  We would just have to herd our Mirada up the steep grades of a Rocky Mountain pass, not impossible, just slow.

We also stopped at the last gold rush in the lower United States.  It was at Cripple Creek and its wealth attracted thousands of men who developed the phrase, “Pike’s Peak or Bust.”  It was a story of every gold discovery, men who made fortunes, men who lost fortunes and those individuals who did not do either but came anyway!

There was also the Florescent National Fossil Bed Monument.  We got there late in the day and only had just a few minutes to view the exhibits of fossilized insects, red wood tree stumps and plant leaves, along with dinosaur’s bones.  This is one of the most prolific fossil beds ever found in America and the local citizens pushed to have it preserved from commercialization. Perhaps another time, we could wonder the trails to see more of the monument.

On our way home, we started to notice our next experience in Colorado.  There was a huge smoke plume on the horizon.  As we dropped down to Colorado Springs, this smoke plume was gigantic, and it actually was very close to our camping site in Monument.

The Black Forest fire is located mere miles from our location.  Its power was fueled by the dry bug tree infected pine forest fanned by 20 to 40 mile winds that was devouring residence after residence in this Colorado Springs wooded suburb.

You could actually see the puffs of black smoke on the horizon.  These were a dead give-away of some person’s home exploding.  This fire was a monster and headed our way.  We were glued to the TV and learned of the hurried evacuations by thousands of people (38K), the fear on the unpredictability of the fire, the contributions of high wind and low humidity and the army of firefighters ascending on it.  We went to a fitful sleep as helicopters and tankers continued their drops at night over the campground.  We were hoping not to hear that the campground was ordered to evacuate in the middle of the night!

The next morning we learned that the RV camp site was just on the outside edge of pre-evacuation.  Jude and I weighed our options.  We were scheduled not to leave it for three days, but the concern of possible evacuation and the increasing air quality made our decision for us!

We left Colorado Springs and headed north!  We had reservations at a State Park called St. Vrain but not for three more days. But because we were displaced by the fire, they opened up a camp host site until our reservations matured!

We continued to follow the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs.  It burned 14,000 acres and destroyed nearly 500 homes before fire fighters could defend a fire line.  It was a heartbreak thinking of those home owners who lost everything.  Jude and I are grateful that all we had to do was pack up a few belongings and move our home out of harm’s way!

St. Vrain State Park is a series of ponds.  They hold the usual suspects of Canada Geese, White Pelicans, Cormorants, Red Wing Blackbirds, Killdeers and assorted ducks but they also had several nesting Ospreys.   We see them hunting the ponds for Trout, Bass, Crappie, and Carp!  They dive feet first and make a huge explosion on top of the water trying to grab their intended prey.   I have always wanted to capture the moment on camera as they dive in the water from high but talk about timing. One might wait years to get on such moment let alone have one in focus.

I decided to concentrate my photographs to the open area species such as Western and Eastern Kingbirds, the Western Meadow Lark and especially the Horned Lark. Since they were accustomed to campers, they were very willing to pose.  I have included a few photos of their posing.

One of the reasons we made reservations is so that we can pick up Jude’s Granddaughter Mia.  She is flying into Denver and the park is just a few miles north of the airport.  Having a 13-year old for five weeks in our RV should be an experience for all!

After we picked her up, we drove the toad to Rocky Mountain National Park for a day’s visit. Similar to Pike’s Peak, there was a highway to a really high pass with a grand view!  It was spectacular driving through the canyons up past the tree line. It reminded me of the many times I wandered above the trees in my Wyoming home.  Maybe that’s why Forget-Me-Nots grow there.

Then the next day, we packed and organized the RV and headed to South Dakota to do our residency programs with some tentative plans to spend the 4th of July at Mt. Rushmore.

Personalizing the Sea Eagle 375fc FoldCat

Fishermen are tinkerers. They are always pushing the envelope of what is there, hoping to reform what is in front of them into a more personalized or customized thing.  This engineering is also pragmatic-based. It is revising tools, lures and especially boats to customize them into a machine that fits their fishing style.  While the 375 FoldCat is a well-designed fishing platform, there is room for improvement. As a tinkerer, I gaze on the Sea Eagle with a critical eye for personalizing!

The hard-sided boats I was used to before the Sea Eagle FoldCat were equipped with both bow and rear transom power packages.  The transom motor is usually gasoline and designed to move the boat forward with more speed.  It is designed to travel to locations on the lakes or reservoirs.  The bow mount was generally an electric motor that could guide the boat into more shallow depths and do it with precision. This electric motor receives its power from an on-board battery.  From the factory, Sea Eagle provides a Minn Kota electric trolling motor.  I open the Sea Eagle manual to the FoldCat’s specifications.

There I discover that the 375FC would support a three-horse power outboard motor. Great! I could move the transom-mounted Minn Kota electric trolling motor to the front of the boat. All I need is a new transom on the front of the Sea Eagle. The new wooden front transom would easily attach to the front floor aluminum cross slat.  The front transom would provide support for the electric motor leaving room on the rear transom for a small outboard motor.  I begin the search for that motor.

The Sea Eagle 375fc FoldCat has these aluminum slats that provide structure for tying the two inflatable pontoons together.  Underneath the slats is a thick vinyl fabric running the full length of the boat that resembles a floor but has a warning on, “DO NOT STEP UPON!” I need to step wherever I want.  I need to supplement the slats with a floor that will allow me and my passenger to step wherever without concern of a misstep.

Measuring the distance between the slats, I easily conclude that the distances between the slats are easily filled with custom-cut plywood sections.  Since all plywood sheets are 4 feet wide and 8 feet long, they are perfect to construct a permanent floor in the Sea Eagle 375FC that would support me and my feet! Wow!!! What a transformation.  The Sea Eagle now has a floor that allows me to place my weight anywhere.

After constructing the floor, I turn my thoughts back to the transoms and their motors.  When I moved the electric motor to the front of the FoldCat, I realize that when mounted on that front transom, the directions the motor would go was reversed.  On the rear transom, turning on the power forward would move the boat forward.  On the front transom, turning on the forward power would move the boat in reverse.

The solution to this issue was very simple. I discovered that if I disconnected the head of the electric motor and turned it 180 degrees, that would resolve the reversal direction.  If I applied forward power on the electric, it would move forward.  Yeah!! Now the selection for the rear motor.

After a thorough search, I located a 2-½ hp Yamaha outboard.  I was blessed as a Marina in Florida had a new Yamaha that was last year’s model.  They were very willing to turn over their unsold inventory.  As a result, the price was well below many other listings I had seen.  I quickly purchase and arrange shipping.

My new Yamaha is a perfect fit

Soon after arriving, I attach the Yamaha to the Sea Eagle 375fc FoldCat.  It is a perfect fit. The motor starts easily and is capable of moving the FoldCat at a whopping 5mph – while providing 67 miles per gallon! The FoldCat has a great stance on the water and is totally stable. With ease, I can transfer myself from the rear pedestal seat to the forward seat. I can stand or sit in the rotating pedestal seats and cast in any direction. When you start with a well-designed inflatable pontoon, personalization from there is easy and produces a wonderful fishing boat.

I am blessed that Sea Eagle manufacturing has engineered such a quality boat that partners easily with my nomadic life style.  It is a totally comfortable platform for fishing. The FoldCat 375 is easily stowed away on the mothership. The FoldCat is so well constructed, extremely tough and can easily handle the conditions lakes and reservoirs can dish out.  It is so easily transformed into a complete fishing package machine.  I recommend this Sea Eagle FoldCat 375 for not only full-time RVers, but anyone who desires a fishing boat that is versatile, lightweight, transportable, and tough as nails!

Rocky Mountain High

We traveled north out of Albuquerque on I-25.  Its steep grades and climbs held our traveling time down.  Our next destination was Trinidad State Park just inside the Colorado Line!

Our camp site was made for a tent camper, so it set up some challenges to fit in our 31 foot coach.

Those years of truck driving experience as a Beer Distributor paid dividends as with just some back and forth adjustments we were able to find the best angle that we could find the best coach position to get it to level.  Our replaced leveling motor preformed handsomely, and it was just a short time that we were settled in and ready to explore, and fish!

Trinidad Lake is held captive by the drought that seems to have no state boundaries.  The ranger reported it was down about half way, but I noticed its waters were clear most likely direct from the towering Rockies off in the Westerly direction that still held their wintery snow caps!  Maybe some of that snow pack will find its way to this shinning blue Gem of a lake!

Just as we began to make plans, Jude became victim to an intestinal bug. I stood by offering condolences and sympathy while symptoms peaked and waned.  Jude is the healthiest person I have ever known and when she goes down, it is rare but that being said, it is that health and the resilience it provides that soon had her feeling fine and ready to explore our new surroundings.

highway of legends

We took a drive on what was called the Highway of Legends.  It traveled west of Trinidad for a while passing through old turn-of-the-20th-century  coal producing towns that provided fuel for the railroads that were the arteries for the newly blossoming Industrial Revolution sweeping America and the world!

Suddenly we were in the Front Range climbing higher and higher past geological formation such as the Dakota Wall that rose vertically for over two hundred feet.  We did not know that this formation was a totally unique feature of the Rocky Mountain and was present throughout its traverse as the spine of America!

We traveled over a 10,000-foot pass.  I remembered that is was well over a decade ago that my travels in Wyoming and its neighbor states took me that high. Jude and I both noticed the pressure difference but our slow ascent in altitude over the past month spared us any altitude adjustment problems such as headache or fatigue.

The highway wandered through summer homes built by their owners to effectively escape whatever urban confines their winter residences held.  They ranged from the anointed to simple in style but my mind could not stop thinking of the drought and seeing these dream homes completely surrounded by bug infested forests.

The Legends Highway found its way back to I-25 but not until it wondered through golf courses, bedroom communities, and resorts dotting the eastern front range.  It was a pleasurable journey of a hundred miles where we were blessed with a plethora of Juniper and Pine foothills, dotted with small Alpine lakes fed by snow melt and framed by crystal blue skies against snow-capped towering mountains!

One look at Trinidad Lake led me to believe that the Rainbow Trout that lived there would seldom see hand-flies from anglers. They would be fed a never-ending menu of green, yellow, garlic Power baits by its visiting anglers.  I pulled my fly tying box and in a short time produced a dozen Double Renegades flies.

Rattle Snake Kindgom

I tie one fly on my fly rod and headed in the direction to the lake near the campground. I ended up scrambling down a steep bluff to the water’s edge.  All the time going down bouncing from rock outcropping to another, I was thinking that I may very well be in Rattle Snake kingdom, but the water called!

A dozen casts produced a scrappy Rainbow!  In Quick succession, four more Trout followed.  We feasted on fresh trout that evening.

The next morning when we were on a Trinidad State Park sponsored bird walking tour, we came across a coiled Western Diamondback Rattle Snake sunning itself in the morning sun!!  The very area I bounced down the previous evening was indeed snake kingdom and that forays off steep rocky inclines was not really the smartest thing to do!  I revised quickly how to present a fly to those willing Rainbows.

Our sea eagle fold-cat (“the meal ticket”)

One of the toys we have is a Sea Eagle Inflatable Pontoon style Fold Cat boat with a  Minkota 30 pound thrust motor.  It is equipped with two seats and is quite comfortable and very stable.  It was a perfect platform for Jude’s continuing fishing lessons.

As an adult, Jude has never caught a fish.  As her mentor, I hoped to use that comfortable boat and fly rod to catch her first fish.  It is always special when a beginning angler can say that their first fish caught was on a fly.

We set out early the next morning.  Within a few hundred yards, Jude’s first fish was a reality.  We released it and I was proud of her.  I went on to catch more trout and some Walleye that I was targeting.  I had always heard that they were excellent table fare. We found that they were as we had them grilled on coals that evening.  There is nothing like fresh fish.

The next morning, we were moving on deeper into Colorado but since Memorial Day weekend was upon us and that traditional mile marker of summer meant everyone with a trailer, tent or coach was out seeking what we were seeking. Adventure!

We found eight days at another Colorado State Park named John Martin and thanked our lucky stars as it only had one reservation left when we called.  We packed the coach and set off again.  There is something thrilling about being able to do that.

We found our spot at the Lake Hasty (just below John Martin Dam) to be outside the rows of shady spots nestled with rows of Cottonwood trees at the Lake Hasty Campground.  With temperatures pushing 10 degrees above normal at 87, we knew that without some quick action, our coach’s air conditioning would run 24 hours a day.

We contacted the staff with hope of moving to a more benign spot.  We just happened to inquire at the same time a Ranger was at the front desk.  He knew exactly what to do.  He okayed us to stay in the Camp Host spot that was adjacent to the Lake and blessed with shade most of the day!  Jude and I realized that through constant checking with reservation staff, we could benefit when often online reservations present a different situation.

After visiting a local tackle store, we went armed to the lake with that local insight to catch two species that I had little experience with in my history of fishing. One was called a Wiper (a hybrid between a Striped Bass and a White Bass) and a Crappie.

Jude had become fond of my ultra-lite spinning rod I had that featured 4-pound test line. When I was a professional fisherman, I used that rod to win over $1500.  It just catches big fish being that it presents lures in such a finesse way.  Well, two days in a row, she caught the largest fish. One was over five pounds.  Not bad for four-pound test line.  She is on her way as an angler!

The one thing I can say about this part of Colorado which is in the southeast corner is that the wind does blow and blow hard.  Two evenings in our stay at the Campground had winds that I estimated to be over 50 mph and wiped out at least a dozen tents.  I am not sure any tent could make it those gale winds.

Being from Wyoming, I have some experience with wind, but I am used to wind that comes and goes. The wind here is constant.  I can tell you that wind of that duration and intensity is hard to sleep through in our coach.  A couple times I told Jude that we needed wind tie-downs that mobile home owners use.  I laughed but those gusts shook our coach pretty good.  It also limited our boating/fishing to just a few hours in the morning because the wind would come up and literally blow us off the water.

miller migration

In Arizona, I was always surprised at insect migrations that would suddenly occur.  Tarantula, Sphinx Moths, Praying Mantis, Lubber Head Grasshoppers were some of the insects I noticed in Arizona. After spending one night in the campground, I moved one of our camp chairs and between 30 and 40 little Millers flew out!  Over the next few days, we noticed more and more Millers/Moths in the RV.

I quickly realized that they could not have traveled into the coach in the number that was present primarily through the door.  They were in fact coming up from underneath the coach. They would seek refuge from the wind and daylight by roosting in the sanctuary that the Mirada provided.  When it became dark, they would climb up through the smallest spaces or cracks and enter the coach and then flutter about trying to escape the coach’s cabin.  We were constantly trying to keep them under control inside the camper.  There is something annoying when you are watching TV and a Moth is crawling or fluttering on the screen.

We then started to notice the birds.  Every day we would see birds line up on the campground’s bathroom, showers and laundry sidewalk.  What they were waiting for was the staff to sweep the interior rooms and then sweep the pile of moths outside.  It was like free food for the Western Kingbird, Robins and the Grackles. It was quite a scene watching the birds wait for the staff to open the door.

We spoke to the staff and they said that this was a mild year for the Millers!  Last year they were refunding people’s camping fees because of the thousands of the moths entering travel trailers, and when the owners would open a cabinet, hundreds of them would flutter out!

Jude and I are constantly reminded to the blessings that this life has.  The scenery, the fishing, the freedom and now we are blessed with only have five or ten moths a night and it was fun watching the birds line up for a buffet or chase the moths in a 20 mph wind!

Our version of ‘Centennial’

One thing that surprised us about this part of Colorado was the historical part it played in the development of the West.  The Arkansas River was once an International boundary for Spain, Mexico, France, the U.S., and Texas!  Kit Carson is buried here in his home at Boggsville.  The river was part of the Santa Fe Trail which eventually led to the statehood of New Mexico and Arizona.

I was impressed at Bent’s Fort, as every room was chocked full of authentic tools, buffalo robes, furniture, clothes and other authentic era artifacts. It really added to the experience and I have never seen a National Monument so authentically dressed.

We are off to the Denver area tomorrow, so back to civilization.

Our Search for a Perfect Packable Boat

Going on the road takes some extensive planning. Absolutely.  Let’s face it, we were reducing all our worldly possessions and putting them into the storage compartments on the Mothership!  It takes some ingenuity to organize what we could not live without into just eight storage areas.

We couldn’t do it initially.  We hit the road with many items that we really had no idea where to stow. So, for the next three months, we were in a constant state of shedding possessions at every thrift shop we could find. Having things orderly and some space to move around provided more peace of mind than all that “stuff.” It took 90 days, but we were down to travel weight. We never regretted parting with all those possessions.

Even with that success, we had some interesting problems that were not easily resolved.  One of the more pressing issues was how were we going to incorporate a fishing boat into the already stuffed Mothership.  Fishing is not only important for our recreation but provides fresh and healthy meals for us.

Since we were towing the Chevy HHR behind the Mothership, we could not  trailer a boat.  Also, the HHR was a small car without a roof rack, so putting a reasonable length boat on top of the car was not practical.  We needed a reliable and safe boat that could fold down to a reasonable size AND that could fit in the compartment area of the HHR. My Internet search began!

Click, click, click, revise search, click, click, well, you get it, but this was a serious endeavor!  The parameters were narrow. It had to have good reviews, it had to be a stable fishing platform, and most of all safe. The most important thing about fishing is coming back from fishing! Click, click, click…

Sea Eagle pops-up! Mmm. They are a manufacturer of inflatable, rafts, kayaks, and what’s this?  A pontoon inflatable that has a four-foot-wide stance, measuring twelve feet long with oars, swivel seats and a transom for an electric motor. Very interesting!

I looked at a lot of boats, but the Sea Eagle 375fc FoldCat got my attention.  It is a serious contender for the position “Meal Ticket;” we named it before we found it! So many positive attributes keep coming up! It folds down to a miniscule 75 pounds and the folded boat is only four feet long.  The 375fc FoldCat is engineered so that two pontoon tubes are joined together with a super strong fabric floor.  It gets additional cross support from four aluminum slats that completely stabilize the inflated FoldCat and appear to provide a comfortable fishing platform. It is powered with a 30 lbs. thrust Minn Kota electric motor that is transom mounted on the boat’s rear.  This gives the Sea Eagle 375fc FoldCat plenty of forward speed.

The 375fc FoldCat is adaptable to floating rivers and with its serious ten foot oars and quality oar locks, it can easily become a fly fishing platform. I really don’t have any aspirations for floating on rivers.  I prefer to fish on lakes. My mind is racing with anticipation that just gets higher and higher with every review I read. This inflatable is lightweight, stable and nearly indestructible!  I believe this 375fc FoldCat from Sea Eagle is the perfect boat for our Nomad Travels.  I order our “Meal Ticket!


Finally! We are Full-Time RVers!!

we will never say it was easy but, indeed, we are full-time rvers!

In the final days before becoming full-time RVers, we had challenges on top of challenges. The biggest was the LaMesa dealer in Tucson. After our shakedown trip to Roper Lake State Park, we returned the RV for a number of things needing attention. We were promised a date and time to pick up the vehicle, but we encountered delay after delay on their part. We were finally down to only one day before we had to leave our house when we finally got possession, so it was a haphazard packing job, at best, and an impossible challenge at worst.

We will leave the Southwest tomorrow.  That part of our migration was delayed by the fact that we did not wish to proceed to the northern tier states too early to avoid some of their lingering cool spring temps, but little did we know that we were going to be completely held up by the failure of a major part on our motor home!

When we were visiting Bill Evans Lake, testing the limits of our ability to dry camp without the amenities of water, sewer and electrical hookups, the leveler motor on the RV failed to retract. Eventually, I was able to retract the levelers manually and proceed to Albuquerque.

Surprising Diagnosis

The diagnosis at the Camping World service center was delivered, short and curt.  Jude and I looked at each other and acknowledged that buying the most comprehensive insurance coverage had been a benefit after only a couple of weeks on the road.

Little did we know that the procedure for coverage (and how the insurance would do anything to get out of paying the entire amount) plus the availability of the part would completely obliterate our carefully laid out itinerary.

Wow! Who would know that since RV vehicles range from the very old that toil up a hill in a hundred years to the glossy new thousand horse power million-dollar diesel pusher, and that no manufacturer of RV parts keeps any kind of inventory?  They all built their respective parts to order!!  The time estimate to get the part manufactured and installed was jaw dropping, a minimum of two weeks and possibly longer since an insurance adjuster had to come to Camping World to validate their replacement diagnosis, and then oversee it every step of the way.

Jude and I accepted the sentence with silence and justified it with rationalizations that it was an opportunity to continue to adjust our coach to our expectations.  That list included peeling the old weather-cracked decals off the coach’s sides, using a high-quality rubbing compound, then polishing to restore the outside finish.

Our new TV was purchased with the mission to replace the old analog set that was as wide as it was deep.  The Orion set was the perfect size and allowed us to join the 21st century as far as high definition picture. Unfortunately, its sound system consisted of little speakers that faced backwards resulting in an excruciating low sound level even when turned completely up!  Finding and installing a sound bar was also on the list.

Servicing our generator was another item we needed to do so as the keep our options open when camping in a site that is dry or without amenities. This engine servicing joined other items such as installing latches on some of our cabinet doors designed to keep their contents contained when driving over the assorted road obstacles such as speed bumps that are determined to rock the coach side-to-side with sufficient force to completely empty a kitchen cabinet in 1.2 seconds!

Other items needing attention was the bicycle rack.  While the rack easily carried Jude’s 1960 Western Auto Galaxy Flyer, it was taxed when it was asked to also carry our ladder.  It definitely needed a Macgiver approach that would marry the bike and ladder and carry them with ease.

One by one these items were checked off until finally we woke up one morning and realized everything was done.  This came just one day before we were called by Camping World staff informing us to have our coach at their service entrance at 8am for leveler motor installation.  Yeah!

All work, no play? No way!

While this was a lot of work and required daily focus, we did have time to explore Los Alamos and the WWII Manhattan Project.  We explored several state monuments and two national monuments named Bandelier and Tent Rocks.  We also started each morning with a daily walk along the Rio Grande River, walking through its ancient towering Cottonwoods and scrub willows that provided subsistence and cover for many new species of birds that I had not seen before.

Being spring time, the Spotted Towee, The Cedar Waxwing, the Yellow Rumped Warbler, Canada Geese, Mountain Blue Bird and various species of shore birds all blessed us with their mating colors and display songs.

Tomorrow we take our repaired leveler motor northward into Colorado.  Our first stop is Trinidad Lake State Park.  We will stay there a couple of weeks.  Our new Sea Eagle inflatable “Fold Cat” boat will start to assume its duties to put us in position to catch their Rainbow and Brown trout, perhaps a few Bass or Crappie.

Now that our coach’s list was eliminated, the Sea Eagle will be the next focus for upgrading to our fishing preferences.  Since Jude has decided to learn to fish, there are additional demands for storage and comfort, but that is another story in our continuing nomadic journey.

Image courtesy of Joe Cross via Creative Commons License, some rights reserved.

Fishing Full Circle

It’s three a.m. Even though I had the opportunity to view the heavens as few people have ever seen, I am amazed at the amount of stars that escape the influence of the Tucson urban lights.  I conclude it is another Sonora desert phenomenon. They are everywhere if you just notice.  I am grateful for noticing.

The lake’s water is rippling, fed by the slight southwest breeze and enhanced by the park lamps into a million refractions.  There is the usual medley of sirens, airplanes, and motorcycles from the city mixed with the calls of owls, coots, and night hawks from the desert’s edge, but essentially it is peaceful here.  I interrupt its tranquility with a cast.

The snap of the wrist, the whir of the line thru the rod’s guides and the plop of the lure temporary overpower the medley.  I love fishing.

It’s been like this since my youth.  I remember countless mornings spent in Idaho and Wyoming, watching the world awake.  I remember sunrises that defied any artist’s stroke, where it seemed there were two skies; one on top of another with colors in them that no one could name.  I have snapshot memories of animals, birds, and reptiles and my encounters with them that would surpass any nature documentary.  Most of all, I recall epic battles with worthy adversaries. Fishing was always good to me.  It has always given me solitude without loneliness and it did not take a rocket scientist to determine that fish live in beautiful places.  All I needed to do was notice.

The lake’s resident geese stir and announce a winged entry into the water with a chorus of raucous alarm. I direct my gaze in their direction.  In the gloom, I see a coyote prancing, not even mildly interested in the geese.

Over the years, I developed the ability to mimic birds and animals. I learned how to purse my lips, suck in air and create a sound similar to a predator call.  I could not help to give the coyote my best imitation.

Instantly, the animal freezes, peering toward the open water. My thoughts call up the fact the canines have 100 times better night vision than humans.  I wonder if it can see me.  I wonder what’s going on in its mind, hearing a rabbit call coming from the middle of the lake.  I conclude it can’t see me.  I cast a low silhouette when I am in my float tube. This is one of the reasons fishing from a float tube is so effective.  Even the fish cannot see you as well as they see individuals in a boat.  The animal regains purpose to his journey and leaves without a second look.

I reposition my body with my float tube’s seat. My float tube has always been an attraction to anyone on shore and in other watercraft. They would stare in silence, some would ask if my legs were in the water, others would just laugh, point me out to their children. It becomes even more atypical when I use my fly rod. I laugh that it still remains the same after thirty years. They usually stop chucking when they see me catch a fish.

It is serving me well again after years of being stored in a closet.  My tube lay dormant for years while my fishing watercrafts evolved through a wide variety of boat styles and motors. It re-emerged after a required selling of my Ranger bass boat to return to college and my self imposed fishing sabbatical while I finished my educational goals. Soon after I started my second career, my association with my tube was reborn.

I feel like I have come full circle as I return to my old way of fishing.  I cannot help remembering that day when my picture was taken by my good friend Tom Montgomery. Being a professional photographer, he sold that print to “Sports Afield” as a cover photo.

I was a cover boy.  It was start of a long relationship I had with every form of media.  I enjoyed that attention, but now I am just a simple man, relieving stress, enjoying the Arizona summer morning.

The water feels cool around my wader protected legs. It is serene and there is no human audience present in the early Tucson morning. The army of arm chair fishermen and the families picnicking will arrive later this weekend morning. Right now my SCUBA fins are moving me silently, efficiently around the lake’s shore line.  My casts are rhythmic, directional, and searching the water’s depths. The crank bait imitates the shad my quarry feeds on.  I am fishing for the lake’s apex predator, Largemouth Bass.

Of all the fish that I have caught, this fish is a very different denizen of the water.  The bass is not the “King” (Tarpon) with their towering continuous jump ability; nor the Prince (The Rainbow), with their wide beautiful flashing red side stripe.  The bass is the thug, the mugger, and an ambusher and will eat anything they are bigger than.  They apply their trade very successfully in the dark.  It is dark now.

The bass feeds along a continuum ranging from the gentle flair of his gills, creating a vacuum and sucking their unfortunate prey into their cavernous mouths to slamming anything that moves with the tenderness of a jackhammer.  Most fish eat to satisfy hunger and while the bass does this, the bass does something else.  They strike out of anger. They react with blinding speed and brute force with actions bordering on hatred.

So much has been written about this magnificent creature.  I agree with all of the words used to describe it.  What I like most about bass fishing are most people who pursue bass practice catch and release.  Bass do not attract the meat fisherman.  They are usually too hard to catch.  Individuals who eat fish focus on easily caught fish such as the catfish, bluegill or the stocked Rainbow trout.

Catch and release was a natural for me to incorporate into my fishing.  I was very young in my fishing experience when I realized fish were not always a renewable resource. The quickest way to ruin a good fishing spot or stop the growth of fish was to add grease.  As my love of fishing grew, intentionally killing a fish was like murdering a friend or business associate.  It was easy to let the fish go, knowing that it had the opportunity to learn from the experience, becoming wiser, and more selective in its menu choices.

 Being more selective means growing into a bigger fish.  It is the quest of all fishermen to catch the bigger fish.  They are worthy opponents simply because they are hard to catch. There is a sense of accomplishment, a sense of mastery, joined with total exhilaration at the sight and feel of such a fish.  I am here for all sizes of bass, but every cast has a personal hope of the larger fish.  Hope is a good thing in fishing.

The “Big Dipper” is starting to fade now, yielding to twilight.  The hot Arizona sun will soon be completely dominant. The wind switches slightly.  My fishing wisdom recalls that the fish always face the wind direction.  I adjust the direction of my casts.

I am nearing the dam, with its deeper water, and underwater rock points.  I have experience here.  I cast to a rock formation. I retrieve slowly, pausing periodically to allow the small crank bait to rise slowly. At the end of one pause, the lure is stopped before it can continue. Built on years of conditioning, the wrist snaps and the rod tip is swept in a low arc.  The line tightens, emitting a high pitch whine, the fish is hooked.

The Shimano rod announces its testimony to the strength and power of the fish by bowing elegantly.  Its tip nods, bounces and shakes again and again in reaction to the fish’s tenacious struggle against the rod’s restraint.  Suddenly, the tautness of the line relaxes as the fish telegraphs its intension to rise to the surface.

The water breaks with the force of breaching submarine escaping depth charges.  With gills flaring, head shaking, and tale walking, the fish launches itself towards the brightening skies. I gasp! The fish is large. It lands, spraying water violently against the water’s surface calmness.  The fish sounds and races towards deeper water.  The reel reaches its preset release point and releases the line with a controlled slip.

When the reel’s drag stops releasing, I apply side rod pressure and start reeling in line, stopping only briefly when the fish surges again the constant pull of the line.  I reposition my hand’s grip on the rod’s handle, hoping to ease the pressure being placed on my wrist. The bass races to the left, with the fishing line slicing a “V” in the water.  The sudden side pressure causes the tube to rotate. I apply right side pressure with the rod and the fish stops, flounders on the surface before racing in a new direction; right at me.

I reel as fast as I can, trying to erase the slack in the line.  Too much slack allows the lure to loosen and possibly shaken easily.  I kick my fins strongly, trying to increase the distance between me and the charging fish.  It is useless.  The line goes slack.

I feel my heart sink as I momentary think the fish might be lost. I must regain line tension, but I realize this is a critical juncture in the fight.  I reel line very slowly.  I know that when fish do not feel pressure from the line and rod, they often stop, but if tension is regained too fast, the fish can react so quickly to the new pressure that it gives the line a sudden shock and breaks it.

I feel the fish.  It is below my tube.  I tighten gradually and the fight resumes with another dash.  The reel performs flawlessly, its drag releasing before reaching terminal breaking point for the line. I reel again when the drag stops. I am gaining more and more line. The fish begins to tire.

Bass never really quit fighting.  They struggle continuously, shaking their head, diving again and again.  It is in the last moment of a contest that inexperienced fisherman lose fish, especially large fish.  Their enthusiasm to lay their hands on the fish results in misjudging the fish’s reserve ability of unpredictability.  This being said, one simply cannot engage in holding a fish forever in their fighting mode.  Fish can often fatigue themselves so much they can literally die from the over execration.  Catch and release then becomes non-functional because the whole purpose of the concept is for the fish to live.

So the trick is to catch the fish early enough in the contest and in such a fashion that it reduces the fish’s propensity from releasing itself.  In most other watercraft, the need to fill this requirement is nicely accomplished with a net.  In a float tube, nets are usually not an option. Their bulk encumbers, their nettings tangling with reel handles, treble hooks, shore and underwater cover.  Nets in a float do not work over the long run.

The greatest feature about the fishing industry is that where there is a need, there is usually a product invented for it.  Such is the case in this situation, the fishing industry has provided.  It is called a Boga grip.

It is a stainless steel precision machined jaw gripping tool.  Its dual grips are not serrated, but curved at the tips and no amount of pressure can reopen them when the spring loaded trigger is down in the locked position. The trigger is finger operated from any position making easily released and engaged.  Its length is less than ten inches and will land any fish.  Its handle is foam padded and mildew resistant.  It also weights the fish with a surprising accurate scale that is easily read.  It is the perfect fish landing tool when I am my tube, especially when the fish’s mouth is loaded with treble hooks.

The rod is doing its job.  The fish is tiring quickly.   Now is the time! I transfer the rod to my other hand and quickly unzip the compartment housing the Boga grip.  I slip my hand into its strapped handle to prevent from being dropped overboard. With the Boga secure, I quickly reel the fish towards the tube.  At arm’s length, I extend the Boga towards the fish’s huge open mouth.  I release the trigger and feel the grip tighten around the fish’s lip.

I lift the bass out of the water.  The Boga registers the weight. Not quite seven and a half pounds.  Wow, what a fish! I marvel at its color, its huge mouth and body mass.  I reach for my hemostats tangling on a cord around my neck.  I quickly removed the crank bait’s hooks.  One last look! I turn the fish, sideways and back again, viewing nature’s work with the eye of a true admirer.  With a single finger movement to the Boga’s trigger, I release the fish into the water.

The adrenaline is coursing through my body.  My breaths are shallow and rapid.  My heart feels like it is racing and my hands tremble.   I think to myself that the day I stop feeling like this after catching a large fish is the day I stop fishing.

Suddenly, from shore, not too far away, I hear “Hey, mister, what is that you are fishing in?” “Are your feet in the water?”

I answer. “It is a float tube and yes, my feet are in the water” all the while patting my tube with an affectionate “Atta boy!”