California

Sent on November 21, 2015

Hi all,

I seem to be failing at doing this in order. I suspect it’s because we’re sitting here in Vacaville, California, very close to our end destination, and I might be rushing a bit to get everyone up to speed.

Let’s just back up a little bit here to Pismo Beach. When you live in an area frequented by tourists, you tend to avoid the tourist areas. I suspect there are a lot of people who grew up in Arizona who have never seen the grand canyon for themselves, for example. In Pismo Beach, every year, Monarch butterflies flock to a grove of eucalyptus trees. It’s kind of a big deal – although they only had 30,000 Monarchs this year, in past years they’ve seen up to 230,000. In all the time I lived in the area, I’d never seen the butterfly groves (in spite of there being another in Morro Bay, where I lived). The Monarchs that come to Pismo have never been there before – they have a lifespan of only six months, so it’s a bit of a mystery why they show up every winter. Scientists have suggested that perhaps it’s a genetic homing system. There are several sites in California and Mexico where they arrive in the winter, but the Pismo grove sees the largest Monarch population in the nation.

In order to see this, DH had to pull off the road onto the shoulder and park the RV next to some eucalyptus. We followed the examples before us – cars lined the sides of the road – although we are just a bit bigger than your average Honda or Toyota. We took Milo, who was dying to get out and explore, and crossed the road to enter the grove. At first doesn’t look like much. Tree branches with brown leaves everywhere. Not such a big deal – just a few Monarchs fluttering about. Then the sun comes through the trees and hits the branches, and you realize each one of those brown leaves is a Monarch, and your mind blows up a little. It’s quite a reveal. We all were impressed – even Youngest – although Milo was more interested in sniffing the other dog present – both stretching out to the ends of their leashes to circle each other, noses to butts.

The San Luis Obispo area, which I consider as Pismo all the way to Cayucos, including Morro Bay, Los Osos, and all the other wee places around that part of the California central coast, is just lovely – rolling hills, mountains, oceans and trees – everything a nature enthusiast would want, all in one area. I took DH to Montana De Oro – a state park in Los Osos, and explained to him for the thousandth time that it was one of my favorite natural areas. To get there, you follow a winding road through giant eucalyptus trees and come out of the trees right before a parking area facing the beach in a small cove. At night, as teenagers, we would drive out there just to sit and talk (yes, just talk), and as soon as the headlights of the car hit the beach, you would see hundreds of little raccoon eyes reflecting light back at you. It’s a fairly popular beach for picnics and family outings, and kids can climb the rocks and the caves, or splash in the (cold) water, or just bury their siblings in the rocky sand. Somewhere I have a photo of Youngest on top of a rock at Montana De Oro, during a visit to his grandma’s years ago, holding a stick with a leaf shoved onto the end of it up high, over his head. He looks like a poster boy for the Lord of the Flies, almost, his makeshift spear high as he blustered for the photo. I think he must have been seven or eight at the time.

The cities are all quite different, really. San Luis Obispo is a college town – with Cal Poly nearby, it’s not unusual to drive past three fraternity/sorority houses next to regular houses and small businesses. It’s a bit like a small town – people are friendly, relaxed, happy – and it’s becoming more like a city as the malls are erected, the boutique shops making room for chain bookstores and trendy clothing stores. I spent a lot of time walking around the streets of San Luis Obispo with friends, and I made sure to show DH all my old haunts. The San Luis Obispo creek runs right through downtown, and if you turn off onto a walkway that appears to be just a small mall, you can come out the other end at the stone walls on either side of the creek. It’s not much of a creek, anymore – plants cover 75% of the creek bed, with just a trickle of water still flowing through. But we sat on a bench overlooking it, and I explained how much time I spent there as a frustrated kid, how peaceful it was, how I would write in my journals, or listen to music, while on that bench overlooking the water. It feels very much like a hidden spot. DH said, “You are SUCH a hippy!” Whatever. Maybe I am, a little. So what?

If you take Los Osos Valley Rd out to Los Osos, you pass low rolling hills, farmland, pastures with cows grazing, and as you roll into Los Osos, you realize it almost looks haphazard – a town that just decided to be, and with quirky and strangely shaped houses on hills, in some places crammed in next to each other oddly, and roads that almost, but not quite, make sense. The ground on either side of the road (in fact the ground everywhere in Los Osos) is a fine mix of dirt and sand, with ice plant and other hardy succulent type plants scattered everywhere. The oaks in Los Osos are warped, bent, and you almost expect to see Hobbits or elves sitting beneath them.  So J’s house, with a lovely Oak under her front deck, fits right in. We spent a week at J’s, and she kindly let us use her car, so we crammed in a lot of events during that week. The day after we arrived was Eric’s memorial, at Morro Rock in Morro Bay.

Morro Bay is different from Los Osos – more beach access, more surfers, and an embarcadero stretching along the beach with dozens of tourist type shops. Seashells! Windsocks! Kites! There are a lot of fishing boats around the bay, so you see a lot of seafood restaurants, with wooden statues of old sailors and anchors as decor. We took the embarcadero out to the the rock, which is just what it sounds like. A giant rock in the bay, with the land coming out to it in a point before curving away again as you leave Morro Bay and get into Cayucos, the next beach town down the road. My friend Eric’s favorite place in the world was around the back of the rock, where you could sit on boulders facing the ocean, with the rock at your back. The memorial was there.

It was a beautiful event. A microphone was set up, and Kevin (probably Eric’s closest friend) eulogized Eric, and then asked people to get up and share stories about him. Funny stories, preferably. So we did. We heard about his love of buying various things and selling them at a profit (at one point Kevin asked, “Who here bought or sold a car to Eric?” and 90% of the 30 or 40 people there raised their hand, a subtle rumble of chuckles throughout). We heard about his bad times, the times when he would go to Kevin and say, “I’m not OK,” and Kevin and his wife would kidnap Eric and keep him safe, or take him to a hospital until he was OK. We heard Kevin say that it was a miracle we had Eric as long as we did, with his mental illness issues, and we all agreed. We heard how, with the issues Eric had, he never should have been able to connect in long term relationships with anyone, and yet, we looked around and saw all the people there who loved him, and realized he’d connected in a very special way with each and every one of us. Everyone had a story about how Eric had helped them, or been there when no one else was, or appeared at just the right moment to support someone, or even saved their life. It was stunning to see, and such a beautiful way to say goodbye. I think Eric would have heartily approved, and I think he would have gotten a huge kick out of seeing so many people come together who hadn’t all been in one place like that in a good decade. When Kevin asked me to come share, I told the story of my first car, a car Eric gave me when I was 18. Afterward we all went to lunch (on Eric, Kevin explained, though I suspect Kevin footed the bill) at The Great American Fish Company, a place Eric worked for a while. We took up so many tables that we practically had the entire place to ourselves. There was chatter, and laughter, and everyone remembering things, and then at one point someone yelled, “For Eric!” and raised their glass, and we all did likewise, the shouts of “For Eric!” ringing through the place.

The rest of the trip in the area I will skate past. It was lunch with old friends, people I hadn’t seen in ten or twenty years. Dinner with more old friends. Coffee with yet more. It was lovely peace at J’s house, as she and I sat under her oak tree on the front deck. DH cooked us all roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. We laughed, and listened to music, and drove around the sights of the area, and listened to the ocean. When we left J’s, we went on to Youngest’s grandma’s house, feeling like we wanted a few more days to stay in the area. She lives in San Luis Obispo, and she kindly offered us her home while she was on a trip. Youngest’s dad let us in, and set us up with a key to Youngest’s grandma’s car (but only for DH, he said, and I laughed, and said it was probably best he be the one to drive the Mercedes anyway). So once again, normality blessed us. We did laundry, and cooked, and barbecued with Youngest’s dad (which was not awkward at all, strangely enough). Youngest slept in every day, which made him much more fun to be around, and DH and I visited the Thursday night Farmer’s Market on the main street of San Luis Obispo, and ate crepes and pasties.

From San Luis we drove off slowly. We saw Cayucos, where my first apartment was on the beach. DH said, “Why did you ever leave?” We went up to San Simeon our first day out, and camped in a state park there, with a short walk from our site to the beach. We wandered the beach and I took way too many photos of a Heron and attempted photos of an egret. The beach was deserted, and it was lovely to be out there, just the two of us (Youngest passed on the walk). After San Simeon, we stopped and watched elephant seals on the beach, and then rolled up into Carmel, where we stayed in another RV park. This one with a giant (19 pound) cat named Simba, who adored DH. Everyone was lovely, friendly, and the weather was cool enough we needed light jackets at night, and we had to remember to shut the windows so it wouldn’t get too cold while we slept. But during the day the sun shone, and we peeled off our jackets and soaked it in.

Our next stop was Half Moon Bay. See, I told you I would get up to it in my next email. But I fear I’ve rambled a bit too much. And I’m all sentimental now, so I’m going to cut this short (not so short, eh?) here. More to come.

xo

Arizona to California

Sent on November 15, 2015

Hi again,

So….I was going to pick up at the California crossing, but I ought to back up a little and tell you about Salt River Canyon, in Arizona. In Pie Town we got into a discussion with a guy in the Pie Source about the best route to take for scenery on the way to California, and he recommended a route that sounded lovely, if not the shortest route. It took us through Salt River Canyon. This is about when DH started teasing me about my horrible map reading skills. To be fair, we were using a road atlas instead of a phone, since we had no service through that part of Arizona. It was rugged mountains, huge canyons, giant cliffs. It was stunning enough that I stopped taking photos because I would have filled up my memory card if I photographed every pretty sight on that route. Salt River Canyon Wilderness is a 32,101 acre wilderness area, its entire length bisected by the Salt River and its surrounding canyon. White water rafting is apparently quite popular there, and the elevation goes up to 4200 feet. I have to say that while it didn’t beat the Grand Canyon for views, it was a solid competitor. I recommend driving through with someone who can read maps, or you may end up with someone like me saying, “Hmm, that’s a canyon. Maybe that’s it?” Until, of course, you see the giant bridge across it, with the rest area on the other side, clearly labeled, “Salt River Canyon Rest Area.” At the rest area you can get out and wander down to the rocky ledges near the river, under the bridge, and it’s quite breath-taking how beautiful it is. Youngest checked out the restrooms and told me a big story about how there was no toilet, you just went in a hole above the river. I chose to think he was pulling my leg. Oh gosh, how I hope he was. After the Salt River Canyon (and kudos to DH for driving it – he kept looking at me, on the windy roads, and saying, “Hey maybe you should drive this part!” And I just glared at him in response) was our stop in Avondale, Arizona.

The only other stop we made in Arizona was in Quartzsite, where we picked up some “Fresh Jerky” – Tuna, Venison, Elk, and some plain old beef jerky. Not that plain – sweet/spicy and teriyaki. So so very delicious. DH thoroughly enjoyed the tuna jerky while Milo stared at him hopefully. I also wandered across the road, while DH was getting gas, and went into a store that claimed it sold everything (and inside it had a warning: “You will find things here you paid a LOT MORE FOR somewhere else”) where I bought a hackey sack for a dollar. A hackey sack is a little beanbag type ball, and in high school we played quite a lot. You stand in a circle and just kick it around – the only rule being that you can’t touch it with your hands. I was reminiscing, and on my way to my high school town, to stay with a friend who probably taught me the game. It will surprise no one that we never brought it out. Not after DH looked at me and said, “Do you really think you can all still play at your ages?” After I punched him I realized he was probably right. Anyway, I have a shiny new hackey sack just the same.

Now. On to California! We stopped at the agricultural checkpoint long enough for a guy in a uniform to say, “No, come on, you’re fine.” I assume he was using X-ray vision to determine how much produce we had inside. Or you know, he saw the New York license plates on our RV. Either way, we skated right through. The closest thing to fresh produce in our RV was that jerky, and it was being eaten pretty quickly.

California, when you enter on the 10, definitely screams drought. Part of that is that you are entering in a desert. We journeyed past the Joshua Tree National Park, which I had never seen, and I told DH how everyone I knew in San Diego would go out there and camp, and how I never really got the attraction. I’m more of a mountains, rivers and trees girl, I suppose. But I have to admit it was prettier than expected. Almost alien, with the huge rocks and warped trees, and the miles of nothing but sand and scrubby plants. At times rocks rose on either side of our RV, and I started to see the appeal – the dead silence, the starkness of it all, the calmness. We pulled over at one point and poked around in the desert. DH wandered off looking for rattlesnakes (really!) while I freaked out and said, “NO NO, you aren’t suppose to LOOK FOR THEM.” Then I turned to Youngest and said, “Keep your ears peeled. You know what they sound like, right?” And he rolled his eyes and said something like, “Duh, mom.”

Our stop that night was in Thermal, California. Thermal is just Northwest of the top of the Salton Sea. The RV park was lovely, and we were warmly welcomed. In fact, more warmly welcomed than we were at any other RV park to date. The woman at the front walked us around, showed us the pool, the bathrooms, the laundry, and invited us to pick fruit from the many trees. Grapefruit, lemons, oranges, tangerines, and dates were everywhere. Unfortunately it was October, so there wasn’t much to be had. After we parked and put our slides out, we could have opened the dinette windows and picked oranges…had they not all been either rotten or green. We did manage to score a couple of nice lemons, though. I wanted dates, but the dates were swarming with bees, and I was a bit too nervous to dive in. We tried to swim, but the pool wasn’t heated, and even Thermal gets chilly at night. So our swimming lasted long enough for DH’s voice to raise an octave and then we were done.

The morning after Thermal, we headed over to see the Salton Sea. I’d seen photos of it before, and always wanted to go myself. It’s not beautiful. It’s apocalyptic. It is a photographer’s dream, however, if you’re into catching moody and stark scenes. The Sea was created accidentally. In 1905, engineers decided to dig irrigation canals from the Colorado River into the valley. They then made a cut in the bank of the river to increase water flow and prevent silt buildup. The resulting outflow overwhelmed the canal and filled the Salton basin, which was a dry lakebed at the time. The Salton Sea’s surface area is about 350 square miles, making it the largest lake in California. The salinity of the Sea is greater than that of the Pacific Ocean, and tilapia both thrive and die in large numbers, depending on the outflow into the Sea and the temperature changes. When we were there, the shore was littered with dessicated tilapia, eyes gone, bones showing. We initially brought Milo with us to walk up to the water, but after he discovered FISH YUMMY DEAD FISH DH had to take him back. The bird population is insane – one year an arctic gull was spotted there, and because it is a common stopping point during migration, over 400 avian species have been spotted there. When we were there we saw a lot of pelicans and gulls, but that was about it.

We left the Salton Sea and headed off to Lake Piru, northwest of Santa Clarita, in Fillmore, California. Lake Piru seems to be a hidden gem – and we hit the park during off peak, so it was fairly empty. You could tell, however, that summer time would bring crowds. It’s the only lake in the county that allows swimming. On the way to Lake Piru we passed a ranch, and as is our norm, we said, “Look Milo, moo dogs!” Then we both went, “OH MY GOSH ZEBRAS! And a camel!” Turns out it was a ranch that rents exotic animals out to movie studios in the Los Angeles area. They even had an ostrich. Once Milo caught a whiff through my open window, he stood up on his hind legs and proceeded to whine the dog words for, “Please let me out, I must chase them and sniff their bottoms.” Needless to say…we didn’t. While in Lake Piru we sighted dozens of deer, just browsing in the foliage, not concerned about all the two legged (or four legged, in Milo’s case) creatures. The only time they ran is when Milo tried to speak to them. I don’t speak dog, so I can’t swear to it, but he may have come across a bit too needy, and that scared them away.

After Lake Piru it was a bit of a traffic mess. But soon we started seeing places I knew. Santa Barbara. Pismo Beach. Avila Beach. All beautiful places. I texted my friend J to let her know to be ready for us soon, but we still managed to surprise her – she’d taken a nap and missed the text completely. There isn’t much to tell about the drive between Pismo and Los Osos. It was all about me saying excitedly to DH, “Look! Margie’s Diner is still there!” or, “Avila Pier is the one we used to jump from!” We did stop in Avila for a quick walk to the beach and a cinnamon roll, but we were both anxious to arrive and be done. So we rolled into Los Osos, surprised J, and backed right in to her driveway. Her dad lives next door to her, and he’s a bit of an RV fan (he has an old OLD Dodge RV he’s going to restore someday, I’m sure, really. No, really!), so thankfully we were able to hook up to electric, water, and there was even a sewage outlet in the drive.

Now is when we get into old friends, and peaceful times, and bittersweet memorials. So I’ll end this here. Imagine us, in J’s house, where her porch has an oak growing under it, with the branches all winding about and going right through the deck, so that when you sit on her porch, you feel like you’re in a treehouse. The branches arched above you, the trunk hidden, and honestly, it was a wonderful place. We now understand why she calls it the Tree House.

More soon! Tonight we are in Half Moon Bay, so you’ll have that to look forward to. Eventually.

xo

Texas to Arizona

Sent on November 12, 2015

Greetings again,

I am in a strange place right now – I am in a city that was my home, my favorite home of all the places we lived when I was a kid. All I want to write about is that, but I must keep things on track. So instead, back to Bottomless Lake, where we stayed on October 24th and 25th.

Bottomless Lake State Park is in New Mexico, near Roswell, and if you are ever quizzed on which place you’d rather live, pick Bottomless Lake. Roswell is flat, uninspiring, and a mix of boring storefronts and random alien references. Bottomless Lake is rocky, rugged, and beautiful, if you like the desert type landscape – what I generally refer to as “scrubby brush.” The park has the honor of being the first state park in New Mexico, and was named for its nine lakes located on the eastern escarpment of the Pecos River Valley. It’s a limestone escarpment, and the lakes were formed due to erosion, which caused caves to collapse and create lakes. The campsites are near Lea Lake, which is the only lake in the bunch that you’re allowed to swim in. Lea lake itself is very dark (as are the others we saw, which I attributed to the depth), but the streams coming from it were crystal clear – as was the water near the shore. Of the nine lakes, Lea is one of the largest, and I looked it up – only two of the lakes don’t have a recorded depth. I wonder if, when they do determine the depth, they will have to change their name.

The park was not very full – I suspect we hit it during the off-season this time around. There was a very fancy RV across the RV area that had its engine running. When we’d been there an hour or two, DH decided to go check it out. I said, “Be nice!” And he said, “Grrr GRUMBLE grrrrrrrrr,” or something like that. I believe he ended his sentence with, “…get him to turn his *expletive* engine off!” A few moments later I heard his voice raised, and an answering male voice, just as loud. I thought, “Ack! He is Britishing them to death!” I looked out the window, and of course, there were DH and the owner of the RV, crouched down, looking at the generator under the RV. They were yelling because the RV was so loud. He spent a good hour or two over there, helping the guy, who was having trouble getting his slides back in and had become convinced it was a voltage issue. He had two 6 volt batteries connected as one, and yet he thought he should be able to read 12 volts off either one of them. Eventually others drifted over to offer their manly advice and solutions, and ultimately DH determined the motor for the slides wasn’t working. He explained what to do, left them charging their cordless drill (borrowed from another RV resident nearby) to use for winding the slides back in, and said, “If you have any trouble, come on by.”

Meanwhile, Youngest kept staring at the “dog” the neighbor had on a harness and a long leash. “Seriously, mom, it’s like a dog that has a cat tail! It’s a dog-cat!” During one of his stops back by the RV, DH looked at it and said, “It’s some kind of terrier, surely?” We considered asking the dog-cat owner more about it, but he seemed grumpy – not even a “hi” when we walked by – and I didn’t want to intrude. So instead we did something a little creepy – we used my camera’s zoom lens to get a closer look. Well, readers, you can remove the ‘dog’ part of that label. It was a very large cat on a harness and leash.

The next morning, there was a tapping at our door. I opened it up to find the owners of the problem RV. Let’s call them Bob and Marge, since I have forgotten their names. Bob was gruff and bearded – Marge was short, with very long gray hair, and had that eternal wide eyed look of those who wear certain types of glasses. I called for DH, he came to the door, and left with Bob, leaving me standing awkwardly with Marge at our screen door. Marge smiled, started to step up, and said, “Can I come in?” Brutal honesty, here, people, I really didn’t want to chat. I was relaxing, I was sitting around drinking coffee and trying not to think very much, to be honest. I was feeling a wee bit introverted. But when someone invites themselves in, I can’t be mean and say, “Actually no! Go away!” So in she came. I didn’t, however, offer her any soda or anything. I drew the line there. When I explained that later, to DH, he laughed. So back to it – Marge and I, sitting at the dinette in the RV, me trying to make small talk, her telling me everything about her son (in relation to how much money he makes, and how she gave him a book titled, “How to be a CEO,” which REALLY helped his career, bless her heart). I thought, well, this isn’t someone I’ll be lifelong friends with, but hey, maybe we should talk shop. So I brought up RV parks, and our travels, and asked about theirs. Marge proceeds to tell me how *lovely* the Arizona RV parks are, as long as you “stay north.” Then she says, “You know, I don’t want to be racial, but the southern parks really aren’t places we’d be willing to stay.” It was right around then that I decided a couple of things. I was glad I hadn’t offered her a drink, and she would probably be voting Trump for president. Which led me to a third – how do I get her to leave without being rude? It wasn’t until DH returned that it felt like I could politely escort her out, but I think I managed to be diplomatic and courteous, and not once did I roll my eyes (teenager style) and say, “Can you PLEASE GO?”

That was our Bottomless Lake adventure. We also hiked around, of course, and took photos, and Milo found several amazing sticks…which he lost interest in two seconds after picking them up – honestly, he always thinks “THIS ONE IS PERFECT” and then “NO THAT ONE IS BETTER.” Dogs think in all capital letters, of course. That dog will just never be satisfied.

After Bottomless Lake, we headed out for the place we were ever so excited to see again – Pie Town, New Mexico. We arranged for our same spot at the same RV park, and called ahead, hoping to arrange for pie, but unfortunately they had just had a big pie festival, and didn’t have much for us this time. We spent some time chatting with Cyndi, the woman who runs the Windmill Museum and Pie Source, and she explained she’s been playing with creating pies with a different flavor in each slice. That sounded absolutely divine, but we were hoping for a frozen pie, and they’d all been baked. We settled for a half and half peach/apple pie and four small pies – peach/blueberry and of course, Southwestern apple. Who would have thought piñon nuts, red chili and apples would be so delicious in a pie?

We did some wandering about in Pie Town. As DH says, “It’s a proper rugged place.” Signs on the road warn about wolves and advise to keep pets and children close. We crossed the road from the RV park and wandered down an unpaved road, just a bit aimless, wanting to see things, and ended up spotting a couple of elk and a small bunch of deer in the woods. We saw coyote tracks and what looked like wolf tracks, but who knows. The sunset was gorgeous, of course, since New Mexico at 8000 feet elevation boasts a fabulous sky.

The next morning we headed out, and as we passed out of the area we once again stopped on the side of the road and took photos of pronghorn antelope grazing on the plains.

We planned for some long drives with nice spots in between, this time – and because we didn’t have time to make it to my dad’s, in Lake Havasu, we decided to get through Arizona as quickly as possible. We boondocked the night of October 27th in a Walmart in Avondale, Arizona, and the next day we made it to Thermal, California. Crossing the border to California was exciting for me – hard to explain how much it felt like coming home. I know, it’s just another state on top of all the others – and the border is pretty boring, just an agricultural checkpoint to make sure we’re not sneaking in hordes of fruit fly larva or anything – but it’s home, and it made me sad and happy all at once. I do so love the travels. I love seeing all these places, meeting all these people (perhaps not Marge), and just looking around in wonder at antelope, elephants, deserts and plains and mountains, waterfalls, monuments, national parks. Don’t tell DH, but I find my country beautiful. Yes, we have our issues (see above, regarding Trump), but it’s such a vast place, and so varied, that its hard to imagine not finding a place for everyone to love.

Thermal is a bit of a hippy town, on the edge of nothing, really, and near the Salton Sea. My next email will tell you all about that sea. It’s actually the largest lake in California, and saltwater. But I’d hate to spoil it. So, um, tune in next time, for another nomadic update.

xo

Oklahoma to Texas

Sent on November 11, 2015

And I’m back! I apologize for the infrequent updates. Since hearing of Eric’s passing, I’ve been a bit bad about writing. Which is silly. Eric was one of many people I knew in my teens who gave me tons of encouragement to write. To keep writing. When I read my poetry at my favorite little coffee shop in San Luis Obispo (I think I was the only teen who showed up), he was there to hear me.

So back to it. Where were we, readers? Sawyer? Ah yes, home of the sweet old guy who really wanted to keep Milo.

While in Sawyer for the night, DH was doing some poking around for our next campsite. What he found was a discount campsite called the Wagonmaster RV park…AND ALPACA FARM. (http://www.wagonmasterrv.com/alpacas.html) Apparently you can go on a tour of the alpaca pen and hand feed them. Naturally we headed there. The Wagonmaster alpaca farm is near Sanger, Texas, and we arrived on October 12th. It was mostly a dusty and gravelly lot, with a huge fenced in area for the alpacas, who were guarded by two giant dogs – an Anatolia Shepherd/Great Pyrenees mix and a Great Pyrenees puppy. They looked a bit like giant labs, only much more ferocious (not really, only if you tried to steal the alpacas). While there we got to talking to the owner, who sells alpaca yarn out of the office, and she told us the story – the answer to, “Why alpacas?” She was a teacher, and she and her husband saw an alpaca years ago, and she “burst into tears” at how beautiful it was. She became convinced she had to have them. So when they had a chance to buy a lot with room for an alpaca herd, they took it, and opened the RV site there. It’s a bit like me with the elephants, I suppose, only buying land for a herd of elephants will be quite impossible for us unless we win the lottery.

The alpaca tour started at 5:30 or so, and all three of us went (Milo was not invited). We boarded a golf cart, and the owner drove us into the pen to the barn, stopping along the way to give each of the guard dogs a rawhide bone. Along the very short drive, she explained that alpacas’ claws are very thin – like human toenails, really – and so are not much use as defensive weapons. They have no teeth on the top, only some on the bottom of their mouths, which they use to scoop things into their mouths. The dogs – Clarabelle and Gus – were raised in the pen, to bond more with the alpacas than humans. They were very sweet and excellent guards. One night I took Milo out for a walk and when we got within 20 ft of the pen, one dog came to bark at us while the other stayed with the herd. Upon arrival, we were given handfuls of pellets, which the alpacas LOVED, and we stood around while they pushed and shoved their way to anyone holding food.

What can I say about alpacas? They’re strange animals – their eyes look too big for their heads, and their fleece is a lot rougher than you’d think it would be. The names varied, as well. One was Johnny Cash and another was Kismet. They’re going with more western themed names now, but the ones they purchased kept the names they came with. We stayed at Wagonmaster two nights, and both nights saw DH and I feeding the alpacas – Youngest skipped the second trip, though he enjoyed it. I think once was enough for him.

On the 14th of October we were in Dallas, and after we stopped at “Deep South Burgers” (Delicious), we headed to Lakeside RV park. We’d found Lakeside (near Coolidge, Texas) in our list of discount RV parks, and it was cheap (I think 10 dollars a night) and in a location along the way to the Texas World Speedway, so hey, why not? What we didn’t know is that Lakeside RV park had a dozen or so donkeys. DH and I were laughing about it, because hey – first we feed elephants, then alpacas, and now…donkeys? We were surely moving downward in the animal kingdom somehow, but it amused us that we kept ending up at “feed the animal” places. If I really stretch the link I could say every night was feed the border collie in our RV, but honestly if we’d skipped that we’d have a very (very) unhappy Milo. Plus we never hand feed him his dinner. A snack, maybe, or a treat, but…anyway. I digress.

After we got to know some lovely little donkeys at Lakeside RV park, we went on to the Texas World Speedway. This was going to be a stressful time, I thought, because they didn’t allow dogs anywhere inside, and we’d be camping in the RV right near the track. But the guy at the place told DH, “Hey, if you keep Milo out of sight, and are subtle about it, it’ll be fine.” We stayed three nights, and DH did some work for D again, and by the second night we realized other people had dogs, and they weren’t being anywhere near as sneaky as us, so to heck with it. It was a lot less stressful at that point. For Milo too, I’m sure. I mean how much fun can it be when I’m loudly whispering, “GO POTTY” at him while a dozen loud cars roared past. Every morning DH would go off to work at the track or in the paddock while Youngest and I either wandered around taking photos or found things to occupy our time in the RV (books, TV, video games). DH teased me for being all “house wifey” because I brought him lunch and bottles of water, but it was nice to be able to help, and I’m not the only one in the family who doesn’t drink enough water. It was a fun time there, wandering around and watching the variety of cars. Our last night there they had a big barbecue for everyone and a band came to play. A band of kids, really – they were anywhere from 15 to 20, and they were all fantastic. One of the kids did a Led Zeppelin song I love, and when he did the drum solo I actually got goosebumps, it was so close to the original. On the evening we were to leave we took Milo out off his lead, and of course, with our impending departure a few moments away, he found a dead thing to roll around in. We had to fit a quick bath for Milo into the schedule, and by the time we left it was dark.

We boondocked at Lowes near College Station, Texas, as it was just a quick hop down the road from us. It was also right by Sodolak’s Beefmasters, which, as you may (or may not) remember, we visited before for chicken fried bacon. Our last visit didn’t include Youngest (it was a date night for DH and I) and we really loved their food and wanted Youngest to have a chance to try it. We headed there a little bit after they opened for lunch, and had a fantastic meal. Youngest was awed by the size of his steak (bigger than his head), but a little bit intimidated by it too, and he left not quite as impressed as DH and I.

From Sodolak’s in Bryan, Texas, we moved on to Berry Springs RV park – another one we’d stayed at previously, and we wandered around the neighboring preserve looking for deer (and fox, and birds and anything else we could find). Then we moved on, on October 20th, to a Corps of Engineers park called Cedar Breaks Park that DH found, right on a lake. We stayed there until the 23rd, in peace and quiet, enjoying the quite unafraid deer population and the views. D rented a car for DH, and he went off each day we were there to yet more work while Youngest and I took photos of deer, who liked to come just close enough to drive Milo crazy. On our last day, Youngest asked for a haircut, so I drove him into the nearest town and he had all of his hair chopped off – which thrilled me, as I love it when he isn’t hiding his face! He immediately looked a couple years older – more his age than he ever looks with a mop.

Our next stop was Bottomless Lake State Park in New Mexico. The last time we stopped there, we were in a hurry to get on with our journey, and although Youngest wanted us to camp there, we didn’t. So this time we made sure to get in for a couple of days. However, I am going to pick up there in my next email.

Love to all

Georgia to Oklahoma

Sent on November 6th, 2015.

Hi everyone,

I seem to have done it again. Days have passed since I last wrote, and when I went and refreshed my memory I realized we were in Stone Mountain, Georgia when you all heard from me. So now I need to unpack the days into moments and get you all back in the loop.

At the end of our Stone Mountain visit, DH returned from Road Atlanta, and we decided to go see the Stone Mountain memorial in the RV before driving to our next spot. It was when we were there that I checked Facebook on my phone and discovered my friend Eric had passed away. He’d been struggling with mental illnesses for years (bipolar, depression, etc) and it finally just got to be too much, apparently. The fact that he’d made it to his 50’s was a miracle, really. But even knowing that, I was pretty shattered. I called Youngest’s dad, who also knew him, to find out what happened, and had to hand the phone to DH because I was too broken up to talk. After that it was a bit of a blur – I contacted all the folk I knew who knew Eric, just to make sure they knew, and DH and I started talking about maybe going to the Memorial, which wouldn’t be for a while.

I did photograph Stone Mountain, in spite of the news, because, well. Sometimes you just keep completing tasks just to maintain. If that makes any sense. It was a grey day, and the skies were threatening rain, and the mountain looked a bit dull through the viewfinder, but I think the photos turned out just right. Somehow I managed to capture a moment I wasn’t sure I wanted to remember.

Youngest returned to us at the end of our Atlanta time – much rested and rejuvenated from his time away – being a bit spoiled by his grandmothers. Our next couple nights were spent boon docking for free in places like Lowes and Walmart as we worked back towards Texas. We spent two nights at Poverty Point Reservoir, in Louisiana, just because we liked it the first time through that area, and we wanted Youngest to see it. I often remember places by the animals we saw – Poverty Point was the spot with the fish cleaning station that had been taken over by feral cats. We spied a few armadillos as well. Although they boast of a large black bear population (this was also the place where the ranger at the front assured us that as far as wildlife, they had “ERRRRYTHING.”) we saw no bears. Overall it was quiet and peaceful, which was much needed.

Then it was back to Cresson, Texas, to the Motorsports Ranch, where DH had some work to do, and we camped at the track in the RV. We hung out a bit with D, his client there, and had some excellent barbecue at a place called Rudy’s. Their pulled pork was amazing, and the green chili stew was delicious. Rudy’s had fantastic cobbler, so we got some peach cobbler to go, and we committed the first crime against desserts a week later, when we realized we hadn’t eaten any of it beyond the first taste test…and we’d let it sit too long…so we had to throw it out.

We left Cresson on October 9th, and for those of you keeping track, our appointment with the Hugo elephant sanctuary was on October 10th, in the morning. The night of the 9th was spent with our old friends Walmart, in Hugo, Oklahoma. It was a strange night – we were less than a mile from elephants, and I knew it, and I was quite excited. The entire city of Hugo is a bit like the parking lot and streets around a fair ground or circus, on the days following the event. Strange characters wandering about, old fliers and empty cups roaming the ground, and even a stray dog that kept surfacing on one end of the car park or the other. It’s the sort of place where you wouldn’t be surprised if you spotted a clown escorting a llama. The cars all look well used, the clothing faded, the people tired and leathered from the sun.

But the weather was lovely, and we opened windows and fell asleep to the not-soothing sounds of cars in the parking lot and (at least for me) thoughts of elephants.

The next morning off we went to the Endangered Ark Foundation – the elephant sanctuary started by circus pioneers and inhabited by a variety of Asian elephants: trouble makers, bulls, babies and their mums, and two rowdy escape artist elephants named Isa and Lilly. The parking lot was really a giant dirt lot with hay bales scattered and lots of gravel. We parked the RV (OK, yes, DH parked it, because I still have not driven much), opened some windows for Milo, got our camera bags all ready, and off we went to join the other folk milling around waiting for the elephant tour. The crowd was varied – a young blonde woman with too much makeup and her husband/boyfriend, a motley crew of dog rescue types (you know the sort, with the “my dog rescued me!” bumper stickers and dog hair everywhere – and I am not stereotyping – they worked for an animal rescue group!), a couple with their young daughter, and well, all sorts, really. There were maybe a dozen of us, and everyone made small talk until we were invited to board the “trolley” and start the tour.

The trolley was a trailer attached to a tractor. On the trolley were several metal benches, and we all piled on eagerly. The tour guide explained that she was new to this – the president of the organization would typically run a tour, but she had a family emergency, so she was out of town. We went through a large gate and into the sanctuary, where we stopped about 15 feet from a pen holding a very young elephant and its mum. Adam, the caretaker of the elephants, joined us then, and I will admit to being very hopeful when I saw he held a large shopping bag of carrots. Yes, everything I read said we would have a chance to get close to the elephants, but DH can tell you I am not an optimistic sort, and I had already started worrying this tour would not include that. He talked about his background, his time caring for elephants, learning about them, and how he was the sole caretaker at the EAF, which meant he didn’t sleep much (and some nights slept in the barn), he was always on call, and he often worked 12 hour days. Watching the baby elephant run towards him like they were old friends, in spite of his long hours, I thought, “Man, this would be the best job ever.” I mean, I’ve worked in IT since ’99, and much of those years were spent on call, working 12 hour days, and well. Not sleeping. So to do that AND have elephants totally would balance out for me.

baby effalump

Through this whole thing Youngest and I were snapping photo after photo. When he first spied the baby, he went, “Awwwwwwww,” as did I, and we just grinned at each other. Even DH might have cracked a smile, though I didn’t capture that on camera.

On we went, through the tour, and the very best part was when we met Isa and Lilly. To give you some background on these two – in 1975, when they were approximately 5 years old, they escaped from a circus in Hugo, Oklahoma, and managed to live in the woods surrounding the city for over a month. This was huge – they had a reporter from New York visit in his fancy suit and say things like, “How do you lose an elephant? I bet I can find them!” And off he went to look, only to return a few days later, muddy and discouraged, and disappear back to the city. Jokers in town altered lost dog forms at animal control, adding elephant ears and descriptions of the two renegade pachyderms. When they were finally discovered they weren’t any worse for the “vacation” and they were put into the Endangered Ark Foundation, where they have been ever since, living in comfort, roaming through a large fenced plot covered in trees, weeds and grass. I liked to imagine their conversations – they probably figured the sanctuary was their reward for surviving on their own in the woods all that time, evading authorities. Our trolley had to go through an extra fence to get to the part of the sanctuary where we could find the two escapists. It stopped next to a fence, and Adam walked over and called them in. When they appeared out of the brush, one of them (not sure which) was making a sound just like a large idling truck engine – they were so excited! They came up the fence and Adam greeted them, and explained to us that we would all file off the trolley, one bench at a time, and come to the wire fence to feed them carrots. The tour guide gave all of us a carrot (and the smart ones broke it up so we’d have more interaction chances), and DH, Youngest and I waited for the benches in front of us to have their turns.

It seemed to take forever, but soon we were there, standing face to trunk with Isa and Lilly, while Adam stood between them, facing us. As soon as I fed the first bit of carrot to Isa, I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe I was there! There, with elephants looking down at me with their big brown eyes and long lashes, and seeming to know I was having what DH would call, “a moment.” Adam took one look at my face and said to the tour guide, “Um, we’re gonna need more carrots over here.” DH took photos. Youngest and I, first gingerly and then more comfortably, touched their trunks, their foreheads when they bend down, and handed them carrot after carrot. Whenever Lily (I think it was Lily) got a carrot she would put it in her mouth and then do a very dignified nod, and I suspected it was an old circus thing, though I’d prefer to think she was thanking us.

It was lovely – beyond lovely, really. We had tons of time with them, and it was a dream come true for me. Their trunks kept poking about, looking for carrots – I had elephant slobber on my hands, my legs (I was in shorts), and my shirt. And that wasn’t even the end of the tour! After that, we got back on the trolley and went back towards the pens. Adam led a very large elephant out of a pen, walked her past us, and proceeded to give her a pedicure on her front foot (to show us how they care for their toenails) and then a bath. That elephant looked downright delirious when the water hit her.

The tour wrapped up, sadly, and we all went back to our vehicles. When we hit the RV, Milo was all excitable, but had to sniff every inch of us thoroughly to try and decipher the smells. I didn’t want to leave, but we had a new destination planned. DH had to be in College Station, Texas, for yet another event.

Before leaving Hugo, we stopped at the Mt Olivet Cemetery. They have a section called, “Showman’s Rest,” where circus performers are buried. We wandered through the plots, reading them aloud and taking photos. “Popcorn” read one stone, with clown shoes carved into it and the birth and death dates. One woman was praised as the queen of bareback riding, and the front of her stone had a photo of her and her horse. It was impressive, really, but nothing compared to actually feeding elephants, if I were honest.

I will end this here, and pick up more tomorrow. Our next spot was Sawyer RV park, in Sawyer, near Hugo. So imagine us there, with an 80 year old man driving us around in a golf cart (although I could have walked the distance we traveled through the park in half the time) to pick our campsite. Telling us how he’d owned a bunch of these parks, that we ought to buy one. He also warned us that if Milo disappeared, we would find him in the office, and he might be feeding him treats – he was quite taken with our dog. So imagine us there, in a rundown teeny RV park, but comfortable, and relaxed, and planning our dinner, or walking the dog, or wandering out to stare at the night sky.

I love you all, and miss you all, and I wish you were all traveling with us sometimes. I’ve been carrying a heavy weight of sadness since learning about Eric, and honestly what really hit me was that I hadn’t seen him in ten years, and that I couldn’t recall if I’d told him how much I loved him. So I’ve vowed to tell people things, and see them, and make sure they know they matter to me. All of you do.

Missouri to Texas to Georgia

Sent on Oct 1, 2015

Hi again, everyone!

I believe the last time I wrote we were about to depart from Branson, Missouri. It’s getting tough to remember who got which update, so if you already know everything, please feel free to step away and read a book. 🙂

From Branson, we drove to Natural Falls State Park, in West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma. Natural Falls State Park used to be called, “Dripping Springs,” but was renamed some years back. It was the location used for the first movie based on the Wilson Rawls book, “Where the Red Fern Grows.” So I was excited to see it not only for the location, but to reconcile the memories of the book with an actual location. Is that weird? Maybe. I read my copy of Where the Red Fern Grows so many times, growing up, that it fell apart. If you’re not familiar, its the story of a boy who saved and scrimped, pennies at a time, to buy himself two hunting dogs, and how those dogs changed his life. It sounds silly and sappy, and yes, it made me cry every time I read it, but oh, how I loved it. It takes place in the Ozarks, it was written in 1961, and the boy hikes miles through the mountains to fetch the pups, and then spends every day (and many nights) in the woods hunting raccoons with the dogs. I was thrilled to see the Ozarks in Missouri, and knowing the film was shot in this little spot in Oklahoma, I wanted to see that too. So thank you, DH, for finding it!

The park was quiet, and beautiful, and it was a short walk from the RV site to the waterfall. In typical “Let’s capitalize on the connection” style, the trails were named after hunts in the book. The restrooms…were named after the dogs. Women’s side was “Little Anns” and the men’s side was, “Old Dans.” It was a little surreal – the landscape so well suited the book that I told DH, “It’s weird, I keep thinking how I could totally see Billy and his dogs here, and then I have to remember: THEY’RE NOT REAL.” Hahaha.

Anyway, the waterfall itself is 77ft tall (23m), and just lovely. It’s in the middle of a dense forest of maples, chinquapin and white oaks. There is flowering dogwood, redbud, and pawpaw all over the place, with the moisture from the falls helping ferns and mosses thrive. Yes. It’s beautiful. I could have stayed, honestly.

It was around this time that Youngest started really working on getting his grandma to fly him out for a visit. He was cranky, and irritable, and sick of being cooped up with us. I suspect he was suffering from a severe case of cabin fever, complicated by his teenager-itis and exacerbated by a very logical british stepdad and a silly flapping californian mom. They don’t make creams for that, you know. But the tension was palpable, and I spent a lot of time sitting on the bench down by the falls, just trying to find my inner calm.

A butterfly kept me company, and I have entirely too many photos of him/her, madly stabbing its proboscis into the railing…collecting moisture maybe?

After Natural Falls we moved on towards Texas. We made a quick stop in Hugo, Oklahoma, which is also known as “Circus City,” due to the numerous Circuses based there. We had brunch at “Angie’s Circus City Diner,” which I found online, as it sounded like a fun spot to see. The walls are papered in old Circus posters, fliers, and tickets. It was not quite as quirky as we expected, but the food was good. The frustrating thing is that it wasn’t until we’d driven on to Austin that I discovered there is an elephant sanctuary in Hugo called the Endangered Ark Foundation. You can tour it, and get close to the elephants, for $20 dollars a person. The elephants comprise the second largest Asian elephant herd in the US, and are elephants who have managed to escape the brutal life of the circus as well as other elephants needing sanctuary for whatever reason. Gah! We missed it!

After Hugo we drove off to Paris, Texas, where we saw the tiniest recreation of the Eiffel Tower…with a red cowboy hat on the top.

We stayed at Berry Springs RV park again (home of the giant spiders, if you all remember those!), spent a night at Harris Hill Raceway, and then went on to Austin, Texas, where we practically homesteaded at the Austin Lodestar RV Resort – we stayed there a month! Youngest flew out to San Diego to see my mom and brother on Sept 4th, and DH and I puttered around, passing time between DH’s various events with dog walks and nice dinners, and stretching out and wondering how just one person leaving could make the RV feel so grand?

DH also did quite a lot of work on the RV. Electrical fixes to some lamps that had mysteriously stopped working after the tire blowout (which we discovered was because the wiring had been run through the wheel well and had torn out entirely during the blow out). The leveling jacks were also repaired…somewhat…though they are still a bit flaky. He also replaced two broken bedside lamps in our room with two cute little LED reading lamps. We also booked a tour into the elephant sanctuary in Hugo for October 10th, which I am very very VERY excited about. DH predicts I will cry like a baby when we get there, and hey, it’s possible. I do love elephants dearly, and the chance to see them in a place providing sanctuary is the next best thing to a proper safari in Africa. We’ll have to win the lottery before a safari becomes possible, I suspect.

On September 22, we moved out of Lonestar and started heading towards Georgia. Youngest’s return date had arrived, and in typical last minute fashion, his grandma asked if he could stay longer, so she changed his return flight to send him to Atlanta in early October. We camped our first night in Laguna Vista RV Park, which was a steal at 17 dollars a night. We pulled in and saw it was another boring gravel lot with RV spots laid out, but we thought, “eh, it’s only a night, and it’s cheap!” Well, it was run by an Argentenian man, who had lived in New Zealand before Texas, and he had a lovely big property right next door, which he let us wander around. There was a large pond (I assumed this was the “Laguna”), huge oaks, and….several cows. Milo was NOT impressed by the cows, and barked a lot, but when they weren’t looking I saw him flop down and roll all over in a patch of cow pee, and later, in a cow patty. His joy was evident – clearly there is nothing better than a good roll in some fragrant cow excrement! That was his good times – the bad time was when we brought him back to the RV and bathed him. I tried to explain this was the standard price of enjoying an excrement roll, but I don’t think he listened. Or if he did, he didn’t care.

I haven’t been around cows since I was a kid, and in talking with the guy running the place, I said, “I’d love to touch them! Are they friendly?” He fetched a bucket full of mysterious cow food pellets, and whistled to bring the cows over, and there we all were (minus Milo, who had been imprisoned in the RV for liking poop too much), handing cows pellets over the top of a wire fence, while they rolled their eyes, and snuffled, and wrapped their bristly tongues around our hands looking for more. What a strange and delightful experience it was. Maybe it makes me childish, to find joy in silly things like this, but honestly, life is too short! I’m too old to care if I look childish. In spite of the velvety look to their hides – no, of course, they weren’t soft. We had quite an entertaining conversation with the Argententian, as well – he was explaining that in Mexican Spanish, the word for “dishes” sounds just like the Argentenian Spanish word for “Bottoms.” So when he went to dinner at his brother’s girlfriend’s house for the first time (she was Mexican), after dinner, when she stood up, she announced to everyone she was off to wash everyone’s…bottoms. Or so he heard. Here is Milo, plotting his poop roll.

Poverty Point Reservoir State Park, in Louisiana was next. Where we wandered on trails, and met a whole gang of feral cats, hanging hopefully around a fish cleaning station near the water.

After that was a night in Meridian, Mississippi, at Benchmark RV Park, which wasn’t memorable, but nice enough. All along this trip, I look up strange roadside sites, for little side trips, or quick cures for boredom. Meridian, Mississippi was where we found the graves of the “King and Queen of Gypsies.” Considering our nomadic lifestyle, it made sense to stop, although Meridian was not a very nice town, and we worried about the RV being out of sight long enough for us to duck into the cemetery. The Queen of the Gypsies (long before they decided they preferred the term Romani) died in 1915 while giving birth to her 15th child. She was 47. Her husband went on to remarry and died years later, in his 70’s, but was buried next to his original queen. More than 20,000 Romani folk traveled to Meridian, and camped everywhere, so they could attend the funeral, although the church was so small most of them had to stand outside. There is a belief that if you bring a trinket or token to the Gypsy Queen’s grave, she will come to you in your dreams to help you solve a problem. The grave is covered – Mardi Gras beads, a license plate, small toys, coins, and what have you, with a framed photo of the queen leaning on the tombstone.

On we rolled, stopping at the Coleman Lake campground in the Talladega National Forest near Fruithurst, Alabama. What a place! We had some trouble getting there – I will tell you it was DH’s fault, and he will tell you it was mine, but really..well. OK. Maybe it was mine. I dunno. We took a lot of small one lane country roads before getting to an even smaller one, with a warning that a vehicle with our weight couldn’t cross the bridge the GPS wanted us to cross. So we had to reroute, and it took another 30 minutes to get to the camp itself. The forest is gorgeous – we were near a lake with a trail around it, and there was access to the trail right from our campsite. We spent two lovely nights there in the woods, with no cell service and no Internet. In spite of the withdrawal, we managed to relax and enjoy our time – reading, sitting outside, walking the dog endlessly. I didn’t get many photos due to my stupid idea of waiting for the cloudy skies to go away first – they only cleared up at the end of our stay. But here was our view from the campsite.

We re-entered Georgia next, and drove to Stone Mountain, where we’ve been since Sept 27th. DH took off the day after we arrived, to go stay in Atlanta for an event. Stone Mountain Park is a historical site – the mountain is actually a quartz monzonite dome 1,686 feet (514 m) at its summit. It has the “Largest bas-relief in the world,” apparently (I say apparently because we see a lot of “largest” and “tallest” and honestly, when three different states claim the largest ball of twine, you start getting suspicious). The carving depicts three Confederate leaders of the Civil War – President Jefferson Davis and generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. It’s kind of a weird place, because the history around it really isn’t something I think we should celebrate. The Ku Klux Klan had a huge revival after a new iteration of the Klan was started in a meeting at Stone Mountain in 1915. The Confederate leaders on the carving were fighting for the cause supported slavery. The Stone Mountain park has a whole slew of things – historic plantation houses, slaves quarters, etc. – that just make me uncomfortable. I don’t like seeing hatred memorialized, I suppose. So, yes, it makes me think of how horrible we, as a nation, have been. But at the same time, I really want to see the carving and photograph it. When we passed through Vicksburg, MS, we talked about stopping at an Old Courthouse museum, briefly, but the things it contains are all related to the Confederacy, slavery, and such. I said I had no interest in it, I said, “Why would anyone want to memorialize those things?” DH posited that we should remember the wrongs as well – he said, “What about things like Auschwitz?” I said, “Well, people go there to remember those who died. That’s different. They’re not setting up a Hitler museum, eh?” Anyway. That was our deep discussion of the day. We skipped that museum. I don’t know if we’ll get to see the mountain properly here, either. It’s a good 5 mile walk (and quite humid/hot outside), and we’ll have to drive the RV over before we leave, should we decide to. I dunno. Maybe we will.

With DH gone, I have been puttering around…um…being SUPER PRODUCTIVE. Today I thought about doing the laundry. I took Milo on two long walks around the lake. I finished an excellent book. And I wrote a very long email.

And now I leave you, all up to date and with a long boring email to read. For those of you who went off to read a book – you missed ALL THE FUN. Coming up next – Elephant Sanctuary! Back across Texas! Hopefully a return to Pie Town!

Oh, and I will tell you one more thing – today I visited Stone Mountain RV park’s “library” (a bookshelf with random books people have left behind). Two books stood out to me. The first, “The Pop-up Book of Nightmares,” amused me due to its very existence. What a strange idea for a book!

The other book I found was more amusing. It was Art Linkletter’s “Kids Sure Rite [sic] Funny.” Someone had copied the title onto the front of the cover (maybe a missing book sleeve), and in very childish handwriting had referenced page numbers. I was curious. So I checked out the pages. Clearly this is a note. A note from one small giggling child to the next. A note that says, “Forget everything else, because I am helping you find the GOOD STUFF.”

Spoiler! All the pages mentioned had cartoons of half naked ladies. Mhm. Kids may get the internet now, and video games, and all that business, but they never really change, do they? They still just want to know where the naughty pictures are.

Sending all my love to all of you – hope you are all well and happy.

XO

Wisconsin to Missouri

Sent on August 21, 2015

I’m thinking about it now, and we’re about to leave a week long stop in Branson, Missouri, and I’ll not be emailing much until we get to Texas in a week or so. So here’s the next chapter, so to speak.

In Wisconsin we stayed at the Westward Ho RV Resort for a week while DH stayed with the rest of the team nearer to the track. Youngest and I did laundry and other household stuff, ate up leftovers, watched TV and surfed the internet, and Youngest caught up on some Xbox gaming. The place was pretty – and it had tons of stuff to do – a pool, miniature golf, a clubhouse, a bar, a “snack shop”, an arcade, and of course, a fenced in dog park (with GRASS, which Milo LOVED). It was surrounded by forest, but we didn’t see any wildlife beyond the small petting zoo at the site with an alpaca, a sheep and a goat.

We made sure to stop, when we got into Wisconsin, for cheese. Schultz’s Cheese Haus, which is but one cheese shop of many, we picked because it was just there, and we remembered we wanted cheese, and hey, WISCONSIN and cheese, right? Or something like that. DH was a bit disappointed there were no English cheeses. What they had, and what we really wanted, was 15 year old cheddar. But at 70 dollars a pound, we settled for a free sample, and instead, bought the 8 year old cheddar. They had cheddar with onion, cheddar with bacon, cheddar with everything you could imagine. They had colby, jack, and oh, more cheddar. The people in Wisconsin were quite friendly, as well – and in all the parks we’ve stayed, with all the amenities, I was struck by how frequently the people were out enjoying the amenities at the Westward Ho! Volleyball games, the pool was full of swimmers, kids and parents playing catch on the grassy field, the arcade was used, and I even witnessed a full on horseshoe tournament. With crowds. I left Wisconsin thinking, “Man, when those people go out to play, they really go play hard!”

The events we’d planned for in Virginia were cancelled, so after Wisconsin we realized we had a lot of time on our hands before we had to be in Texas. So we decided to take a route that would take us through some new states.

We boondocked our way out of Wisconsin, through Illinois, to Clarksville, Missouri. We’ve learned that if we’re planning to camp out in a Walmart for free for the night, it’s always better to find a Lowes Home Improvement – they will let you park overnight, and they have fantastic wireless signal. We spent a few days in a resort in Clarksville that, on paper, looked great. A pool! Wireless! Trails! But in reality, the pool was a good half a mile walk, and the wireless only available on the other side of a small lake, with no cell signal to speak of. We hiked over to the wireless one night (and spotted otters swimming in the lake, which was fantastic), and it was tortuously slow. How were we to plan the rest of our trip without any network? So we left and moved on to Branson, Missouri, to where we are now, at the Branson Stagecoach RV Resort. It has a restaurant that does a good breakfast, a pool, and is surrounded by Table Rock State Park, which boasts wildlife from foxes to black bears (so far, none seen, though I heard what sounded like wolves in the woods late last night through the window). There are fireflies at night, and tons of grass for Milo, and up til today we had some friendly (but not annoyingly friendly) neighbors to chat with in the next site. The bread in the restaurant is fresh baked, so when we ran low, I went to get a loaf, and the woman cooking offered to bake me up a fresh loaf. So of course I asked for two (“It freezes well,” she told me).

What we’ve seen between Wisconsin and here? Well. In Illinois we saw a house with a gold plated pyramid (the largest gold plated object in North America, a dubious honor), a moat, and a 50 ft tall statue in the front yard. You can read more about that here:

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/onans-gold-pyramid-house

But suffice to say – it was weird. Just a wee bit out of place, surrounded by trees and normal bungalows and ranch style homes.

In Missouri, we passed through a city called, “Uranus.” Which brought up a lot of giggling over, “We just drove through Uranus, Missouri!” And so on. We’re not the most mature, I suppose. We neglected to stop at the Uranus Fudge Factory (yes, it really exists), and we noticed a lot of the cities in Missouri are named after other places or things. Bourbon, Mexico, Louisiana – all Missouri cities. There is one called, “Huzzah” as well, which made me smile.

After this, we’ll be moving on to Oklahoma, to the National Falls State Park, which has a 70 ft tall waterfall. We’ll go through the upper left corner of Arkansas in the process. The National Falls State Park was where the movie “Where the Red Fern Grows” was filmed. Most of you have probably not heard of it, but I read that book to tatters as a kid, and I’m quite thrilled to see the Ozark mountains (more than we’ve seen from Branson, Missouri, anyway), where the book was set. It’s a book about a young kid, living in poverty, who saves pennies until he can afford his very own hunting hounds. It has a hike (barefoot) through the Ozarks, a battle with a mountain lion, several raccoon hunts, the boy grows up quite a lot and starts selling pelts, and of course…as most of these dog stories do, it has a sad ending. During this trip, it came up, and when I tried to tell DH the plot, I teared up, which he teased me about. But really – it’s quite a book. And yes, it’s fictional, but I’m still excited about the Ozarks. From Oklahoma we’ll head into Texas, and probably revisit some of the route we took before.

xo

Pie Town

If you have not been to Pie Town, New Mexico, I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. We’ve seen so many places, and laughed at so many town names. Uranus, Missouri, for example, or Huzzah, Louisiana. But Pie Town was the most memorable of the small towns. It was out of our way – we were intending to go through Albuquerque. But DH found the name amusing. On the way, I did research, and the more we read about it, the more we wanted to go and meet everyone, and try the namesake delicacy, of course.

We thought, well, there may not even be an RV park there. But of course there is. The website for the park is enough to pull us in, if the pie hadn’t already. We contacted the owner of the park to ensure there was a spot, and mentioned our hope to try the pie. She told us we had to get pie from the Windmill Museum and let us know that although the museum might be out of pie by the time we got there, we could call them and ask to have some set aside for us. I called and left a message, and a little bit later, the owner of the RV park called back, from the Museum, to say, “Cyndi has been busy, so I ran down here – what kind of pie would you like?” We went for the Southwestern Apple, naturally – red chili, apples, pinon nuts – and we weren’t sorry. On leaving Pie Town, there was a frozen Southwestern Apple tucked away in our freezer for our visit with my folks.

Pie Town is high up, at 8k ft elevation, and the weather was lovely. There isn’t much there – if you blink, you’ll miss it, but what is there is rich with history and honestly, just the nicest damn people you’d ever meet. Within an hour of arriving in Pie Town, we’d met people from England, from the city I lived in, in California, and an RV neighbor who had family in the very small California town I grew up in. Bizarre small world encounter – though they told us, “This happens all the time here!”

The sunsets are stunning – from that elevation, it would be hard for them to not be – and we had excellent seats to a lightning show, as well. I didn’t want to leave.

As if the kindness, and the name, and the pie, and the lovely hospitality weren’t enough to make it feel magical, when we left Pie Town, we lucked into a glimpse of a Sonoran Pronghorn herd. There are only 160 of them left in the US, and we saw 6 or 7. They’re known as “Prairie Ghosts,” and you can understand why – we stopped and pulled out our zoom lenses, and though we were a good mile or two away from them, off they went, white bottoms puffed up, all skittish, over the next hill.

Arizona to Wisconsin

Sent on August 21, 2015

Hi all!

I cannot believe it’s been so long since I have updated everyone. Am I missing an email in my sent box? I’ll be struggling with this one, as so very much has happened. I hope you all aren’t bored to tears by these. Maybe some of you were thinking they’d finally stop! Well. Tough. 🙂

I’ll see if I can make this a bit shorter and stick to highlights (and perhaps lowlights as well).

Lake Havasu – lovely, but so very very hot. While there, at the fine old age of 42, I confirmed that yes, dry heat is a lot more tolerable to me than humid. I think it may come from growing up in California summers where it would often hit 100 degrees F, and we would spend days on end in pools, or run around barefoot on the blacktop like ragamuffins. Humidity, on the other hand, makes me feel sick if I’m out in it too long. Even so, we took every opportunity to swim at my dad’s. We enjoyed he and D’s (my stepmom for most of my life, really) beautiful home, and swam with his two great Golden Retrievers, and yes. Yes. We taught Milo not to fear the water quite so much by making him swim. It took some work! Both of us were quite often covered in scratches during the first few days of this. DH or I would pick him up, walk down the steps into the pool and just hold him in the water, where he would relax as long as he felt supported. Then we would have him swim back and forth to us, but it was the catching of him that left us battered – he would worry, and try to get better purchase with all four legs, and there were a few times he almost climbed on top of my head. I followed my dad’s sage advice, most of the time, and did not laugh at him. Dogs know, my dad says, and I think Milo would. So I stifled the giggles, and tried to be calm and patient. Toward the end he was not quite so scared when we picked him up, but his favorite activity, I think, was climbing up on a floaty ring with my dad and cuddling while they floated around the pool. Lake Havasu was all good as far as we went – Youngest swam every day, and my middle son, J, drove out and spent about a week with us, so I almost had all my boys together (Oldest couldn’t get the time off work), and my folks, and DH and Milo, and it was wonderful to be around so much family.

The lowlights, so to speak? A vibration, from the drive shaft of the RV, persisted after the big blow out of Flagstaff, Arizona. So while we stayed in the lap of luxury, our poor old RV sat at a workshop, where our amazing insurance paid to have the drive shaft fixed. It was hard to leave my folks, and I may have cried a bit when J left, but soon enough (too soon) we got back on the road for Wisconsin.

The tire (or tyre, as DH would write) blow-out was the gift that kept on giving, though! We left Lake Havasu on July 28th, and on the way to our first stop in Las Vegas, noticed the vibration was still present. So we checked in to the Duck Creek RV park in Las Vegas and then headed for yet another repair shop in the morning, where we found two of our wheels were bent. Of course they didn’t have them in stock, so we planned to order them in Wisconsin, and just live with the vibration til then.

See, now the tale gets a bit harder to keep short. I’m sitting here thinking of all the things we saw on the way to Wisconsin, and really, there is so much to tell about all of it. But again, I’ll do my best to stick to the interesting bits. It was a fast trip, but we packed an awful lot into it!

The drive from Las Vegas to our next stop in Fillmore, Utah, started with desert that gradually morphed into jagged rocky cliffs around us, and windy roads, and climbs where DH had to put on the hazards to warn people, since our RV can’t quite pick up the speed like those fast little cars zooming past us. Then as we hit Utah it started moving into smaller mountains, farmland, and when we got to our next park in Fillmore, it had some penned in goats at one end of it, with farmland all around them. But it was nice and quiet, and it was there we managed some maintenance on our fridge, which had started to quit after Lake Havasu. I suspect the heat and the loneliness just made it give up, but to that, DH would say, “Stop anthropomorphizing!” And I would say, “No, you!” And he would say, “That makes no sense!” And I would laugh.

The fridge runs on propane when there is no electric, and on the outside of the RV is a cabinet, within which lives the propane burner and what I would term, “the guts of the thing.” Apparently a lot of issues (or so we found online) with these can be resolved by cleaning the burner out, so we tackled that in Fillmore. We took enough ash out of the burner that I wondered if a small volcano had erupted in there. I stood by in the supporting role, handing over tools, helping to clean out the ash, while DH used tools and muttered and mumbled to himself. It was together time! Quality family fun! Hee. No, really, it was fun to do it, it was satisfying to see it clean. I even sacrificed a makeup brush (not much of a sacrifice, since I haven’t touched makeup in 3 months) to clean out the small holes in the metal burner tube.

After that the fridge seemed better, but it was hard to say, since it ran fine on electric – it was only when it had to run on propane that it struggled. So we purchased a couple thermometers – one for the freezer, one for the fridge, and we ate out for a few days while we waited to see how it would do.

On July 30th we landed in Rawlins, Wyoming, which was a new state for all of us. It met my expectations, I have to say. Miles and miles of plains with farms and cattle everywhere. On the way, we stopped to give Milo a chance to mark yet more territory, and managed to pull ourselves into a rest stop that adjoined to the historic Independence Rock site. Independence Rock is either a very large rock or a very small mountain – either way, it’s made of granite. We wandered up the trail with Milo and read the signs dutifully, and nodded respectfully, and I’d say it was a bit impressive. The rock got its name due to it being directly on the Emigrant Trail – so emigrant wagons bound for Oregon or California, would try and reach the rock by July 4th (Independence Day), in order to reach their destinations before the first snowfalls. Travelers would carve their names into it, as they passed by (in the 1840’s or so), but there were several stern signs prohibiting anyone from doing the same now. DH posited – “Wouldn’t carving our names now match the spirit of the rock?” Which I thought was a valid point, but even so, since neither of us were young, stupid or rebellious, we left it alone.

In Rawlins we stayed at an RV park that was, essentially, a large dusty gravel lot right off the highway. Nothing fancy, but it served. We did not partake in the miniature golf they offered, nor did we visit the clubhouse or play a round of pool. We did sleep, and sit around, and relax a bit, and we planned more of our travels.

July 31st was a very, very busy day. A packed day. That was the day we started into South Dakota. We knew very little about South Dakota and it was a new state for all of us. My sister lived near Sioux Falls off and on for years (she moves around a lot), and from her I knew the winters were harsh. We knew Mount Rushmore was there, and I knew (from my younger days) that one of the biggest biker rallies took place in Sturgis, South Dakota, every summer.

We didn’t know that South Dakota was beautiful country. We entered the state right in the Black Hills National Forest, which is stunning, so our first view of the state was of the forest. We drove up to Custer, where we stopped, briefly, to see the Crazy Horse Memorial, which has been in progress (and is still not done) since 1948. We planned to see it, but admission was pricy, so we skipped that one. We did, however, manage to catch a view of Crazy Horse’s head at the top of the mountain from the parking lot. I’d always heard about Custer’s last stand, and had a vague idea who Crazy Horse was, but DH asked, so I looked it up to refresh my memory. He was a Lakota Native American Warrior chief, who fought the US government’s encroachment. Custer was the idiot who decided to try and keep fighting back. America, historically, has done horrible things to Native Americans – this was a spectacular example of us being wrong. So native americans asked to have Crazy Horse memorialized out of Thunderhead Mountain, a mountain considered sacred by the Native Americans, and when it is completed, the planned statue will be 195 meters wide and 172 meters high.  What they have done since 1948? Blasted quite a lot, and well. The head. Which is significantly larger than the any of the heads at Mt Rushmore. I was glad we saw it. It touched me. Part of the reason the work is so slow is that they keep refusing help or funding from the US government. They work only on donations.

We started noticing an unusually excessive amount of motorcycles passing us somewhere along the way into South Dakota, so I looked it up. We arrived in the state on July 31, and the Sturgis rally started a few days later. What timing, eh?

From Crazy Horse we moved on to Mt Rushmore. I know this will sound strange, but it was so clean, so well done, with a nice walkway leading to the view, lined with columns that held state flags – with plaques announcing when those states joined the union. It was stark, and a bit heartless (which maybe makes me unpatriotic), and all about love for the country. Ok, yes, it was impressive. But Crazy Horse – that had heart. That was being built out of love for a hero. The president heads at Mt Rushmore – yes, while they all did quite a lot – they were…presidents. I don’t know. Maybe that makes no sense. Maybe I’m rambling.

So. Back to it. We stayed in Hermosa, South Dakota, at an RV park with a restaurant in the parking lot. The restaurant had decent burgers but a bit of a fly problem. We ate there anyway. Oddly enough, in front of the RV park were three large president busts. John F Kennedy, Reagan, and George Bush Sr. They were, at 15 ft high, only impressive in that someone must have, somewhere, at some point, been *paid* to create a sculpture of George W Bush. Baffling!

Wrapping up our South Dakota adventure, and rushing now, in light of how rambly I have been, we also managed to see Wall Drug, in Wall, South Dakota, which is a labyrinthian tourist stop that started out as a simple pharmacy offering ice water for free to travelers. Now it’s taxidermied buffalos, tourist shops, a few restaurants, ice cream shops, fudge and candy shops, etc etc. It was swarming with bikers. Then it was off to see the “World’s Only Corn Palace” in Mitchell, SD, which is a monument to…yes. Corn. Every year they decorate the inside and outside walls with murals made of South Dakota grown corn. Strange and impressive, and they invited us to bring Milo in, which made them awesome in my book. Then, as we walked back to the RV, we passed several tough looking bikers taking a selfie in front of a statue of corn, which my research has shown is named, aptly, “Cornelius.” Corny, right? HAHAHA. Sorry.

What else can I say? The fridge is all on the mend, now, and I think its forgiven us. Minnesota was pretty but unremarkable. We stayed in a weird place with no cell reception or wireless, and in spite of the electricity, felt a bit uncivilized. Then we hit Wisconsin. There, I will stop (although we’re in Missouri now, my own fault for not updating you all more often) for now. I will pick this up in a day or two and carry on.

We are all fine – I hope this finds you all healthy and well. We’ve hit a cold here and there, and had our wheels replaced (paid for by insurance again, my gosh) in Wisconsin, in a city called Sheboygan. So all is well.

Sending love and best wishes to all of you. And just think, when I pick this up again, I can tell you all about what Wisconsin is known for! CHEESE!

xo

Texas to Arizona

Sent on July 27, 2015

You will all be glad to know we haven’t been baked to a crisp in Arizona, though the sun sure has tried!

Picking up on my last update – I’d gotten up to the Wagon Wheel Ranch in Texas, where the giant grasshoppers roamed. According to the calendar, we stayed at Midway RV park after that, near Roswell, New Mexico, but honestly, the real gem, the real beauty, was Pie Town, New Mexico.

DH and I were looking at the map, plotting our next few stops, and DH said, “There is a town in New Mexico called ‘Pie Town’! Can we go there?” Well of course we could! I did some poking around online and found a load of history on Pie Town. It’s located on a continental divide, at 8000 feet elevation, and was founded during the dust bowl days, when a man named Clyde Norman settled there (1920’s). Clyde loved to bake, and would make pies, and as travelers came through, they would stop and have a slice. After a while, people started referring to Clyde’s little spot on the map as Pie Town. In the 40’s, a photographer for the Farm Security Administration went out and photographed the homesteaders in Pie Town, with their dug out houses, farming, and of course, pies. Those photos are all available in the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian did an article that revisited all those photos, and showed the town today. The way the story goes, when it came time for them to get a Post Office, they said, “We’re Pie Town,” and New Mexico said, “Um, no, really?” The settlers said, “It’s Pie Town or no name at all,” and managed to get the name made official, though the city is still unincorporated.

The motto of Pie Town is, “America’s Friendliest Little Town.” It fits. We called ahead to the RV park, to mention our hope to have pie, and they had a spot available for us, and Penny, the woman who owns the RV park, said, “You have to go to the Pie Town Windmill museum for pie! Call ahead and Cyndi will put some aside for you in case you get in late!” A little bit later that day, Penny called us back. She said, “Cyndi is really busy, so I’m here at the museum – what pies do you want?” She saved us a pecan, a southwest apple (with piñon nuts and red chili), a mixed berry pie, and a normal apple pie for Youngest. They’re small – little individual pies. We also asked for a full size frozen southwest apple so we could take it to my dad’s.

When we pulled in to Pie Town – well, we couldn’t miss the museum. Old windmills filled the front lot, and there were signs everywhere – “PIE!” and “STOP FOR PIE!” We went inside a small two room cabin (one of the original houses in Pie Town), and in the back, Cyndi and her husband greeted us, and we all sat around a table and had coffee and chatted. Milo was invited in as well, with the only rule being he couldn’t lift his leg on anything, which he was fine with.

The RV park was just as welcoming – everyone in Pie Town was just lovely. We met some other RV-ers at the park, and one of them had family in the very small town I’m from in California. The owners of the Museum and pie shop were from San Diego, and DH met a man in the pie shop who was English and had been living in Canada. Penny said that happens all the time there – you really see what a small world it is, and clearly its pie that brings everyone together. 🙂

We only stayed a night in Pie Town, then took off in the morning towards Arizona and the Canyon Motel and RV park in Williams. On the way out of New Mexico we were driving through country side when we spotted some animals, and we stopped to run back and take photos. Turns out it was a herd of Sonoran Pronghorn antelope. Youngest, DH and I all stood with our zoom lenses, trying desperately to get some clear shots of them (not realizing what they were yet – that came later) before they took off. They were easily spooked, it seemed, and soon enough they ran off. When I looked up what they were, I was thrilled. There are only about 160 Sonoran Pronghorn in the US, and we saw about ten of them. They’re known as “Prairie Ghosts,” for how elusive they are, and they are the second fastest land mammal (after the cheetah). What a thrill. When I read about them online I broke out in goosebumps all down my arms, and then wished I’d gotten better photos. But I sure won’t forget the sight of them. My dad tells me he saw a herd of antelope in Nebraska when he was young, and he never forgot that, either.

We also stopped in Arizona to see a meteor crater. Pshaw! I said, and PFFT. I was tired, and had my eye on a nap, and told the boys to go on in without me. But DH convinced me to go, and it blew my mind. The crater is estimated to be 50,000 years old, and in the early 1900’s was purchased by the Barringer family. It is still owned by them. Daniel Barringer, a mining engineer, thought for sure if he drilled down into it he would find the meteor and be wealthy beyond his dreams. He never did, and when he passed away he’d run out of money. It is 1200 meters in diameter and 170 meters deep – not a small hole in the ground. Astronauts trained in there, years ago, because it was similar to craters on the moon.

After the crater we also stopped at the Petrified Forest, which is amazing – I remember seeing petrified wood as a kid and not being impressed. But wow – whether I’ve grown old or more easily impressed, I don’t know, but the stuff is just beautiful. The gift stores were dreamy – native american wood carvings, crystals, agates, and of course, lots of beautiful hand made jewelry by the Hopi and Zuni tribes.

Our trip to Williams was not all wonderful, however. Somewhere around Flagstaff I went in the back to take a nap, and was woken up by a loud CLANG BANG, and a shudder in the RV, and a sudden slowing. I went out to the front to see what happened, and Youngest had this look of shock on his face – “We blew a tire!” It was the left rear tire, and when it went it knocked out the exhaust as well as the generator exhaust (which wasn’t that bad, since it needed patching). The main exhaust went up and over the prop shaft underneath. We called our insurance, and they wanted to tow us, but since there was a truck stop a mile or so up the road, DH just drove, very slowly, along the shoulder until we got there. Then insurance arranged for someone to come out and help switch to the spare tire. DH went underneath the RV and pulled the exhaust clear off to prevent it causing any more damage.

Cue a montage of us in Williams – sleeping each night at the Canyon motel and RV park, and packing up each morning to drive to an auto parts store, a muffler shop, a tire shop, etc. We got very quick at plugging into power/water/etc, and then pulling it all the next morning again. We had all tires replaced, new exhausts fitted for the generator and the main exhaust, and then, finally, when all seemed done, we spent the last full day we were there at the Grand Canyon. We were in Williams from July 15th to the 19th. Hopefully the insurance will cover all of the costs, but we’ll see.

The Grand Canyon – what can I say about that? When we took Chris to see Niagara Falls, he said, “Pfft, it’s just a waterfall.” And when we arrived you could see the astonishment on his face – the “WOW!” I think Youngest went through something similar with the Grand Canyon, as did I, really. Eh, it’s just a big hole in the ground! Haha, you think we would have learned from the crater – a big hole can be darned impressive!

The first thing that struck me on driving to the Grand Canyon was the forest – I’d pictured it as desert plains with a hole. I did not expect the green forest surrounding the canyon. We paid the 30 dollar entrance fee and drove in and found a spot to park, and then went out to hike the path around the edge of the south rim. Walking out there, it was a tad boring, and I was anxious to get to it, you know? But when we did – we were stunned. We came out to the edge and just stopped and stared. I could say it’s immense, amazing, mind blowing, and beautiful, and those would all be understatements. I could try and describe the way the shadows of the clouds and the colors of the rock looked like a painting, or tell you how we were able to see rain coming on the far side of the canyon, and the Colorado river at the bottom was just a splinter of water winding through, or I could try and describe the clarity of the air and the vertigo we felt when walking alongside the depths of the canyon, but…honestly…you just can’t know it unless you go. So instead of flailing about with words, I’ll just say, if you get a chance to see it for yourself, Go. Really.

As we started heading back to the RV, the rain hit. The weather was lovely and cool, but the rain was quite chilly, and we legged it back to the RV pretty quick. Once back in the parking lot, we put out the slide, dried off, and DH cooked us all bacon sandwiches. What a treat! People passing the RV in the lot kept turning and doing double takes, and I suspect they were smelling the bacon. So I sat in the front and felt like we were queens and kings of the place, having our lovely food while the rain poured down, in the safety of our home on wheels.

The next day we headed off to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, the home of my folks, and along the way DH grew concerned about a vibration. So once here in Lake Havasu, we took the RV to have the prop shaft rebalanced, due to the damage it received from our exhaust slapping along it during the blow-out.

While the RV has sat at a shop getting repairs, we have been in my dad and stepmom’s beautiful house, swimming and eating fine food, and having great discussions. My middle son drove out to stay from Los Angeles, and so we had a little bit of a family reunion feel around here, which was much needed after all the time on the road. Dad and D have two great golden retrievers who are natural born swimmers, and they’ll fetch the ball from the pool over and over again, which got Milo quite flustered. He thinks the pool is a giant water bowl. We determined, some time back, that Milo has some reticence where water is concerned. He doesn’t much like rain, and when we took him in the ocean in Florida, he seemed a bit nervous. So we started taking him into the pool, to see if we could help him get over it. After several days of taking him into the pool every day we have several scratches to show for it, a dog who is not afraid of it anymore, and we’ve made one huge discovery. Milo LOVES to float. Just be held and float. He nearly falls asleep, he gets so relaxed. He’s spent some time curled up against my dad on the floaty, and a lot of time in my arms or DH’s. After he gets out he prances and frolics and rubs his face on every towel he can find, then he circles back to the pool to lick DH’s face from the edge. Between the pool, the steak scraps, the doggy company, the extra affection and cuddles from dad and D, and the daily dog park trips, Milo thinks he’s in heaven, I suspect.

The Southwest Apple Pie from Pie Town was a hit with my folks! It made me wish we’d bought two.

While here we’ve learned that DH won’t be able to fly to his next thing in Wisconsin. So instead of going on to California, we’re turning around and heading North east tomorrow. After Wisconsin is Virginia, and then, hopefully, we’ll be good for DH to fly to his next one in Texas, so we can meander back to California at our own pace, and not revisit Texas in the RV. Don’t get me wrong – Texas was OK, but if we’re driving across again, I’d like us to hit states we haven’t yet seen. Who knows where the next antelope might be?

One thing you all may not know about Lake Havasu City – the London Bridge is here. This is *the* London Bridge, from the children’s song. It originally spanned the river Thames, and was relocated to Lake Havasu City in 1967, as a way to revitalize the place, to give it a quirk, something to make people talk about it. We saw it up close yesterday, when we took a ferry across the lake to have lunch on the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation, which I believe is in California. So you could say we made it – sort of.

With that, I’ll close this out. Much love to all of you, and I hope I’m not boring you with these updates!

Xo