From Zion to Wisconsin – the “final” blog

This likely wzion1on’t be the final blog but it is the last leg of the journey. The drive from the Grand Canyon to Zion was less than 3 hours and we only had the following day to see the area, so we picked The Narrows hike which is considered one of the premier hikes on the Colorado Plateau. The shuttles to the trailhead were overflowing and the number of people of all ages was astounding. They recommended walking sticks which we rented and I can’t imagine attempting it without one, but people did—both young and old!

It had rained the night before so the typically clear rushing water was instead murky and brown like chocolate milk. This just made it more of an adventure because you couldn’t see the rocks under the water. The hike is slow going, and we only made the first part of the hike but it still took about 2 hours.

Zion2

The following day, we were on our way to Mesa Verde when our RV started having acceleration problems. Yes, yet again, we deserthad to change our plans. Rather than making it to Mesa Verde, we literally spent the night in the desert on an Indian Reservation on Highway 160 between Red Mesa and Teec Nos Pos, AZ. on Indian Route 5043. At this point, the boys (and all of us) were great about rolling with the changes. Most of the local folks didn’t bat an eyelash at our hard-to-miss presence, but one friendly gentleman stopped to chat. He told us that “his people” would not bother us nor be bothered by our presence. It was an interesting experience that we’ll always remember and ended with a beautiful sunset as the air cooled down.

The tow truck picked us up at 5:30am and actually kept us in the RV during the hour long tow! Once we got to Cortez, CO we were told by the service station that they couldn’t handle an RV so we had to find another place (yes, we told them we had a 24ft RV before we had it towed there). Thankfully, we did find another place and rather than another tow, we took our chances and drove 1.7 slow miles to the next place where she was eventually repaired.

Again, another rental car and motel were required. We stayed at The Retro Inn which was not bad (they had a great breakfast and even shipped my glasses to me after I left them behind). While in Cortez we were able to stick with our plan to visit Mesa Verde where we did the amazing Balcony House Tour. The tour is known asmesa1 the “adventurous cliff dwelling tour” and is a one hour ranger-lead tour that involves climbing a 32 foot ladder, crawling through at 12 foot long tunnel that is only 18 inches wide, and climbing up a 60 foot open rock face with two 10 foot ladders in order to exit the site! Yes, it was adventurous and very unique.

mesa3

Since we had broken down and were unable to drive through Four Corners on the way to Mesa Verde, we took the opportunity to drive there while staying in Cortez. It was obviously super touristy—surrounded by booths selling trinkets and jewelry, but it still makes for a fun picture and a great memory!

Four Corners

Unfortunately, the fuel pump problem kept us in Cortez for a couple extra days and prevented us from our next stop at Dead Horse Point State Park where we planned to visit the Moab area and do a bike ride. We just had to let that go and went on a day early to Rocky Mountain National Park—our last national park stop of the journey!

After a beautiful, but long and treacherous drive all the way through the park to our campsite at Glacier Basic Campground, we settled in for dinnrocky2er and a campfire. The next day, we had planned a hike, but after taking the shuttle to the trailhead, my son and I both felt ill and after trying to start the hike, thought it would be best to skip it and take the day to adjust to the altitude. So we had a quiet day at the campground and tried a new hike the following day. Success!  We enjoyed a hike to Emerald Lake and on the way passed Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. It was chilly when we got to Emerald Lake but the return trip was quick as more of it was downhill. rocky3

On the way home from Colorado, we had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with cousins in Lawrence, KS. We all had a great time and when we left, we planned to head to Dubuque, IA for one last night of camping when, you guessed it; change of plans. The fuel pump was acting up (or something seemingly related) so we decided to scratch that plan and make a B-line for HOME!

We were determined to get home and made it despite horrible weather that followed us most of the way. We all felt strange walking into the house after so long. It was immaculate (the renters had left it as I had for them) and quiet (Charlie the Beagle was still on the farm). The kids were super excited to be home and had huge smiles the entire night as they walked around in awe of each room in the house.

Oh, and guess what the final surprise was? The next morning we were unable to unlock Loretta! The lock was broken and we now have to get in and out with a ladder through the emergency exit window. Sheesh! We still love her (our RV) and had a great time, but boy, I tell you…to do it again, I think I’d find new wheels!

I personally have mixed feelings about being home. Things are pretty much as they were before we left, yet nothing will ever be the same again. We all have seen and experienced and grown so much. More on that in another blog maybe! Peace

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Escape to Vegas

Because we’re wimps and couldn’t handle Death Valley, we tried to get an early night reservation at The Red Rock Resort where we were scheduled for the following nights, but since they were almost sold out the rate was $650 fovegasr the night. We passed on that and found a fabulous hotel (Westin Element) that had a full kitchen and refreshing pool with cabanas. We really wished we could stay there, but on we went to the Red Rock. The room there was nice room too and there was a great pool for the boys packed with families. We had fun walking through the casino on the way to just about anything. We mostly relaxed and stayed cool in the pool, went to a movie (Ant Man).  One highlight for the boys was the arcade where after spending $3.00 playing one game, Ellis (with Mike’s help) won a Samsung Galaxy tablet and it almost turned our youngest into an arcade addict!

We then headed to Sedona and were wowed by the beauty. We had a nice drive into town on Hwy 89 and got a sense for the area. The following day, we had a tour scheduled with Pink Jeep at 8:00am. It was incredible! The boys were a bit nervous about sitting in the back and getting bounced around, but I was there immediately and eventually they joined me. We loved every minute of the tour. We had the Jeep to ourselves and a wonderful guide named John who told us about the geology and some of the native plants we were curious about: agave, juniper and prickly pear.

Sedona

After the tour, we went to a nearby restaurant called Cowboy Club and tried some local delicacies like rattlesnake, bison and prickly pear cactus fries. They were all tasty and although our youngest wouldn’t try anything, our oldest did and thought it was “okay.”Slide Rock

On the way out of town, we remembered passing Slide Rock State Park and decided since we’d left early, we stopped there on the way out.  What a cool place!  It was gorgeous and had slippery rocks with water flowing over them where you could just hop in and slide down. We all tried it a few times then walked upstream to  enjoy another swimming hole. On the way back to the car, we stumbled on some people jumping off tall rocks into a deep pool. Mike can never resist that and eventually the boys both jumped in too.

Grand Canyon was next and I’ll be honest, it was just something I felt we had to do since none of us had ever been. I didn’t expect to be wowed for some reason, but I was! Each and every place has surpassed our expectations but I think the Grand Canyon the most. The first views were amazing. We visited a nearby overlook and couldn’t believe our eyes. The views were vast, deep and spectacular. To top things off, there were two huge California condors right over the railing. They eventually flew off and soared where we could watch them for a bit.

Condors

The next day, we headed out early to beat the heat and avoid theh rain. We hiked down into the Canyon and while it was relatively steep, the boys did great—even on the way back up.  Each and every turn gave us a new perspective on how incredible the canyon is. We also had a chance to cgrand canyonhat with some other hikers and were intrigued enough to consider a future visit where we hike and camp down in the canyon. We’ll see about that!

Later that afternoon, we took a shuttle to a trail we were planning to hike but shortly after we got on (after hiking a bit to get to the shuttle) we were informed they were evacuating the South rim due to lightning storms. It was pretty crazy and the boys were nervous but it makes for quite the story. We weren’t able to get back out but we were very pleased we had managed to hike into the canyon. The following morning we left very early and Ellis and I were in the back sleeping. Unfortunately, we missed some truly unbelievable views that Mike and Owen saw and they didn’t even get photos!

On our way to Zion next!

The Hot Part of the Journey

Yes, I am behind in my blog. Sometimes it’s because we don’t have wifi, but mostly it’s because I’m trying to soak it up and enjoy the ride.  Right now we are on the road from Grand Canyon to Zion so I am playing catcOceanh up.

After a couple relatively uneventful, but enjoyable stops in Idaho at Hell’s Gate State Park and Hood River, Oregon, we headed to the Oregon Coast! The Pacific Ocean was definitely a highlight of the trip. Neither of the boys had been to the ocean before and they love the sand and water. We spent hours at the beach—one of which was hiking to and from the beach which was a mile away. This photo shows how deserted the beach was. We had it mostly to ourselves!

 Next up was the San Francisco Bay Area where we had five days visiting family and friends. We mostly spent time with family: swimming at various pools, hanging with the cousins, playing chess with Grandpa and making treats with Grandma. It was the best family visit yet as my parents are aging and our boys are of an age where they will absolutely remember this visit.  

chess               family

Here I am with my siblings at our family reunion in Danville. Our family tradition is when all five of the children are together we do a pyramid. 

pyramid

Sad to leave family and friends but happy to be back on the road, we drove South to Sequoia. We had a great campsite next to other families with kids who became friends with our boys. There was a nice creek nearby with a swimming hole and lots of rocks to climb on and the boys spent lots of time there with their newly made friends.

The main attraction was the Giant Forest Trail where we saw most of the largest trees in the park.  At one point we went searching for a different trail and somehow got off the path a bit. Suddenly, Owen started screaming and I felt a sharp pain in my leg. We had no idea what was going on. Ellis started crying and Mike was just confused! Someone had disturbed a wasp nest and between the boys and I, we ended up with eight stings! After that, we saw our second black bear but we were so uncomfortable from the stings, we barely bothered to stop and look at it! No pictures for now…trying to save some time and get this blog out!

We made it just one night in Death Valley; it was insanely hot! When we first arrived at what we thought was our campsite, it was completely deserted!  We decided it was too hot and isolated and we’d try to see if there was a room at The Furnace Creek Inn. Well, there wasn’t, but that’s where we learned where our campsite was and therdeath valleye were plenty of other campers, a restaurant and bar and a pool. The pool was fed by a thermal spring and I was told it was 85 degrees but there is no way it was less than 90+. It was so hot. The only way to cool down was to go into the pool and get out—you would cool down for about one minute! A cold drink and something to eat and back to the RV with the air conditioning cranked! We decided to head out the next day for an early arrival in Vegas. Most of what we saw of Death Valley was on the drive through it which was extensive, and it was fascinating. The geologic diversity was very cool.

No, I am not caught up but I am catching up. It’s not my fault we are busy having fun and doing so muich!

Back and better than ever!

We decided to go for Glacier in one long day. It took us 10 hours, but we quickly settled back into Loretta and took it easy the first day there. From our campsite at Fishcreek Campground, we had a short walk to a fantastic glacial lake (McDonald Lake) and of course had to show how brave we were by going in for a swim! The lake is shallow to about 15 yards then it suddenly drops off and at its deepest, it’s almost 500 feet deep.

While at Glacier wMcD Lakee did a tour on an old boat around the lake (photo) and a full day of white water rafting on the Flathead River. The rafting in particular was memorable. We all had to paddle (which was a first for our 7 year old) and the trip was overGlacier Pic 6 hours. We stopped for an incredible lunch prepared by the tour company and all of my boys (including dad) had to swim even though the water was 56 degrees! The second half was a bit more exciting with class 2 and 3 rapids which were thrilling. All in all, it was a huge deal because before we left home, our 7 year old was refusing to do such a thing!

Next we headed to Sex Peak Lookout Tower in Kootenai National Forest (if you want to know more about how it got its name you can read it here). The drive to get there had a 12 mile grind at the end that was treacherous driving but it was worth Sex Peakit. It was by far the most spectacular place I’ve ever stayed! Three hundred sixty degree views above the tree line, beautiful sunrises and sunsets and total privacy for miles!  There wasn’t much to do there so two nights and one full day was just right.

We were scheduled for another lookout tower, the Up Up Tower in Lolo National Forest, but after speaking to the ranger, it sounded like it was not passable in Loretta so we changed plans and added a second night at Hell’s Gate State Park in Idaho. We Hells Gatewere right on the Snake River so we enjoyed a day at the beach and left early this morning for Hood River as a stopping point on our way to the Oregon Coast.

Next Up: Oregon Coast and visit with friends and family in Bay Area.

Badlands, Custer, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone

Yes, this is a LOT of ground to cover in one blog, but with all the troubles we’ve had, and limited cell coverage, we have been somewhat unavailable.

After the generator hiccup, we did finally make it to the Badlands. On our way, we paid a visit to the almost obligatory Wall Drug. Our expectations of it were low, so we left thinking it was a pretty cool place. We had hoped to hit a few other places while in the area, but didn’t end up getting to: the drive-through wildlife park, Bear Country USA; Lewie’s Burgers and Brews in Lead, SD (voted best burger in South Dakota); and Jewel Cave (the third largest cave in North America).

We are now in our fourth week of our ten week journey. After the Badlands we went to Custer State Park which was a mere 2 hours away. While both Custer and Badlands are stunningly beautiful, the contrast is significant. The dry, virtually treeless rocky hills of the Badlands was very different from the soft, rolling, tree-covered hills and beautiful views at Custer. Every time we get to a new place, it seems as though it becomes my favorite, but Custer really is a special place. Shortly after we drove into the park, we saw a huge bison at the side of the road. Thankfully, visitors are pretty good about slowing down and pulling over safely, so we can take it all in.

Custer Bison'

While at Custer we hiked around and swam in Sylvan Lake (below) and I got the laundry done while taking in the view.

sylvan lake

The second day, we drove the Wildlife Loop and saw an endless number of prairie dogs, dozens of bison (some from afar, some up close) and a group of burros. The burros were brought into the park in the nineteenth century to help visitors get around. When the company closed down its business, they let the burros go free and they have lived there since.  When we came upon them and got out to visit, we almost immediately felt threatened and ran back to the RV. They seemed very interested in us and wondered if we had food. A moment later another family pulled up and jumped out of their car to pet them and feed them doughnuts, fruits and vegetables! We got such a kick out of how frightened we were at first and how tame they really were. They are indeed “begging burros.”

As we left for the Grand Tetons, we suddenly had brake problems that forced us to skip Mount Rushmore and head directly to Jackson, WY. After 8 hours of skillful driving by Mike (my hero), we were able to leave Loretta to get checked and fixed. Instead of staying in the RV at the Colter Bay RV Park as planned, we rented a car and stayed at the Jackson Lake Lodge. Again, we had to consider ourselves “lucky” that we were able to get a 3 night reservation on the 4th of July and find an available rental car.

grand tetonsWhile in the Tetons, we did a 2+ hour rafting trip on the Snake River which was the highlight for all of us up to this point. Our rafting guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the area and told many stories (some surely tall tales) about the park bison and bears and its history.

Friends of ours who are moving to San Diego for a year, happened to be at the same campgrounds as we were at Custer and then we met up again in Grand Tetons fojackson lodger dinner and drinks at the historic Jackson Lake Lodge. The view at the lodge is absolutely incredible, but you don’t have to spend money to eat at the restaurant or stay at the lodge—you can get it for free (photo here).

Since our brake problem ended up requiring a few days in Jackson, WY, we kept the rental car and bought $600 of camping basics and went along our way to Yellowstone where we camped for two nights in our new gear.  We were all mostly excited about doing something new but two nights was enough for us. The gear we had was not adequate for the 40 degree overnight temperatures at our campsite so we hit Yellowstone in two days and were able to take in the major sites: Old Faithful and the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. We also saw bears, elk and bison.

YStone YStone2 old faith

We made it back to Jackson to pick up Loretta first thing tomorrow. We then head near Butte, MT as a stop on our way to Glacier National Park which was one destination I wasn’t willing to consider optional.

Next up our two day drive to Glacier! Peace.

Silver linings are everywhere (if you know how to find them)

Loretta Tow

Unfortunately, our troubles did not end in Superior. After finally getting Loretta back at the expense of $900, we thought we were back on track when we made it to Sioux Falls, SD. After one night’s stay, we were headed to the Badlands when a horrible, loud, scraping sound started. Mike pulled over and we found that the generator had fallen down and was being dragged underneath! (photo below)

generator

We are always looking for the silver lining and the good news here was a) Mike got the fantastic picture above; b) we have AAA so the towing was free; c) the RV service place is next door to the campgrounds where we had stayed the night prior and it has wifi, a pool, and cabins, so back we went!

Owen and I took a cab back to the campgrounds and Ellis and Mike rode with Loretta. It was great that the driver, Eldon (pushing 80 years old) was able to pick us up right on the side of the highway, but when he started out, he was going less than 20 MPH (on a freeway with a 70 MPH speed limit)! After numerous cars stacked up behind us, he decided to get into the left lane and make a U turn! We then came to a complete stop so he could switch lanes. He was swearing at all the cars passing him and was not happy when I suggested that it was because he’d come to a stop and everyone was trying to get around us. We did make it  back in one piece and had just enough cash to pay him. We were thrilled to be back at the campsite and felt lucky to get a cabin for the night.

welding

When the RV place opened up this morning, they told us they were too busy to take us in, and they referred us to a welder nearby (see photo to the right). Glad we have our bikes because I had to ride alongside Loretta to keep an eye on the chained up generator.  Thankfully, Custom Welding was able to sew her up in a few hours, and $350 later, we have her back for a final night in Sioux Falls.

Tomorrow, we get back on the road and are back on track to Badlands National Park. Only one night behind schedule and one night less in the Badlands (and $1,400 poorer).

Tonight we are celebrating our “good fortune” and tomorrow we are back on the road! Peace.

back on the road

Cheeseburger threats and WalMart tears

Loretta2Compared to last week’s “bump in the road,” this week seemed like a MAJOR construction zone that had numerous detours and sometimes seemed unending! It started after the car was loaded and we were ready to leave Tomah to head to Evanston for Mike’s conference, and I couldn’t find the keys to the rental car anywhere! We looked in every inch of the small hotel, all of our luggage, laundry, and garbage – over and over for more than a day!

Did you know losing the keys to a rental car is a HUGE NIGHTMARE? Especially if you’re in a rural area. We had to have the car unlocked by AAA so we could look for the keys in the trunk. No luck, but now that the car was unlocked, we weren’t immediately concerned about getting our things out of the trunk. So Mike closed it and…later we learned that without a key, there is NO WAY to open the trunk. None! So we had to have the car towed 50 miles to a dealership where they would eventually make a replacement key (in a few days) and we could get a new rental car (in a few hours). We had to leave all our belongings behind in La Crosse—the belongings that weren’t already left behind in Superior in Loretta, the RV—so we could get to Mike’s conference in Evanston (a day late and more than a dollar short!).

I won’t get into all the details, but I will share the best ones because I did say I’d share the ugly. Suffice it to say, I threatened to throw my son’s cheese burger out the window when he demanded I bring it directly to his mouth in the back seat; I cried at the checkout line at Walmart where we were buying clothes and sundries to get us through the next 4 days (and one of my sons vomited). Yes, there were other unpleasant exchanges, but none were as good as these two stories, so on we went.

Eventually we arrived in Evanston and after a night’s sleep, we woke up feeling relatively refreshed. We were happy to have a pool for the boys to swim in, cable TV for them to watch cartoons (we don’t have cable at home), and to be near enough to visit the beach at Lake Michigan.

evanston lake mi

After a couple days here, we have decided to head out a day early so we can cut the long drive to Superior in half and get to La Crosse to get our belongings out of the rental car and head Up North to get Loretta.

It feels like we are heading back on track. In a couple of days, we’ll have a fixed Loretta and ALL our belongings, and we’ll be on our way to South Dakota and soon our first national park!

Many of you have suggested that maybe we are just getting the bad things out of the way so the rest of the trip will be smooth sailing. The scary thing is, as hard as some of these moments have been, I don’t think we’ve hit rock bottom yet! Maybe that’s because I try to see the silver lining in things and bounce back quickly. I hope I am wrong on this and hope that we have nothing but blue skies ahead, but I’m the one that planned this adventure, and I’ll take it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Peace.