Monday, August 14, 2017

Another Midwestern summer

OK, I’m playing catch-up here again. Just been a busy summer. As we headed east from SE Colorado in early June, the elevation got lower & lower. People are often surprised how much of a climb going west thru western Kansas is so it was nice going down hill with a tailwind for a change. We spent the first night in Walmart’s parking lot in Lamar CO. John had never stayed at a Walmart before, choosing truck stops instead. It wasn’t bad at all. There were 5 or 6 other RVs near us by morning. And it was handy to rent a movie from Redbox right in the store & return it after watching. Of course the terrain flattened out severely after getting east of I-25 in Colorado, so the Kansas countryside just rolled by quickly.

We parked for free at Ford County State Fishing Lake, northeast of Dodge City KS for four nights. We had nDSC06040o trees to the west but we were parked on the slope above the cottonwood tree-lined lake with a nice big pine tree just outside the door.  We rode John’s motorcycle into Dodge City one windy day to investigate the town & get a few things from Walmart. Boot Hill is inside a building & isn’t free, so we skipped that but checked out the visitor center in town. The weekend got a little crowded at the Lake but thankfully no one was too DSC06043close to our location.   A fierce storm blew thru Saturday night but didn’t produce much lightening & thunder nor rain too hard for too long.

Sunday morning, we continued our easterly journey to get to Chase County State Fishing Lake, west of Emporia KS. I’d camped there several times before & it’s one of my favorite spots. Unfortunately, it was a FREE FISHING weekend & the place was packed & overflowing with pickups & people fishing along the shore line. There was no way to get into the area I’d hoped DSC06053to park so we ended up at the end of the road in a heavily treed loop big enough for both our rigs plus a few others. We weren’t along the main lake tho, just a small area at the end. We have a family of Canadian Geese with five babies nearby tho. And our dogs are mesmerized by the frolicking squirrels in the trees overhead. 

We took a bike ride thru Cottonwood Falls to actually see the falls & then the oldest still-functioning courthouse in Kansas, then into Emporia to see the town where we stopped to eat. Then we visited the Tallgrass Prairie National Park just north of Strong City. It was a totally self-sufficient farm in the late 1800s, with most buildings constructed with large local limestone blocks, even a 3-hole stone outhouse. The house was functional & large but very efficient & beautiful. The barn was HUGE, with three stories. And yes, I enjoyed the barn smells, even sitting on one of the saddles.

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We walked the dogs over to the swimming beach at the campground one seriously hot afternoon & sat on the sandy bottom in the warm (but cool) water to cool off (much like we did in Havasu City). There were trees all around & over our campsite so no satellite TV for a change. We rode his motorcycle south to view the wild horses in the sanctuary one day too.

After five nights in Kansas, we headed east again – to MO, my hometown, & my father. We stayed at a small campground south of town with full hookups. That AC was much needed as we visited during the hottest week of the year so far. We visited with my dad every day, visited several old friends of mine, & made a trip to my storage unit in Branson then visited with my girlfriend Jenni in Springfield. We took a long motorcycle ride around the countryside to try out the new better-fitting helmet I got. Wow, I was really tuckered out after that week. We left on Father’s Day after having lunch with my dad, heading north to South Dakota.

We parked in Harrah’s Casino parking lot Sunday night to visit & eat with more old friends of mine, Diana & Ward. That casino’s buffet was pretty expensive & they didn’t give any playing money to first-time members. Monday tho we drove up I-29 to south of Sioux City IA to a small casino (Winna Vegas) where John won $25 cash in a drawing then hit several good hands in the slots. For $15, we plugged in for AC at their little RV park.

Tuesday we ended up in Madison SD to renew both our driver’s licenses – but the DRV office is only open once a week & although it was the day we arrived, they close by 2:30 & we were too late. We did our mandatory one-night stay to qualify for SD residency at Lake Herman State Park west of Madison tho. Wednesday, we continued west to Mitchell SD where I renewed my driver’s license & John got his first one. Then we toured the Corn Palace before continuing west on I-90.

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We drove thru the Badlands National Park & were going to camp on the west side at a free boondocking area BUT. . .the 11-mile rough, dirt road getting there was too much for John’s rig & the campground was too crowded for both our rigs even if he’d have made the journey. We scrambled around as night was quickly approaching looking for a place to park after a very long day’s journey & ended up at RV Express in Wasta SD (20 miles west of Wall on I-90) for $5/night with electricity. We liked the cost so much, we stayed for 10 days. We made several 35 mile trips into Rapid City & one trip back to Wall Drug. Fun place to investigate once but basically just for tourists.

We became acquainted with our neighbors at the park in Wasta & ended up moving to the same campground (Sacora Station Campground) where they moved in Piedmont SD (just west of Rapid City) for a month. Our South Dakota adventure continued from there.

Friday, June 2, 2017

More High-Elevation Adventures

After spending nearly a month camped around Truth or Consequences NM, we FINALLY headed north, regardless of how cold it might still be. The afternoon temps were over 90˚ for too many days in TofC. We managed to drive the five lanes of traffic on I-25 north thru Albuquerque & jumped off at San Felipe Casino (halfway to Santa Fe) for a break. Since it was mid afternoon & we were hungry, we checked out the casino buffet. Then we both got a $30 new member card to get a discount eating & get familiar with their slot machines. Hmmmm, that was way more fun than we either expected. I won frequently playing the penny slots & walked away with nearly $22. And we parked for free for the night.

The next day, we drove thru Santa Fe to end up at another casino with overnight RV parking – Buffalo Thunder Casino. We ate, each got new member cards (mine was only $5 but John got $10) & I only won a little over $5 (still more than I started with). The big surprise was that my friends I met in Zion NP over 4 years before who came to visit me at the Wolf Sanctuary last spring were once again in the area where Aubrey works at the hospital in EspaƱola. They came over to visit & then we went to the grill at the casino where we all talked for several hours (until they were closing actually). Since we were up really late tho, we slept in the next day & generally didn’t do much & stayed a second night there just to recuperate from the late night.

Next we continued north on Highway 68 to the Ohkay Casino recommended to us by Aubrey & Sally. Friday night we even had the all you could eat crab legs meal. OMG, John knows how to seriously eat crab legs. IMG_20170519_180006I had coconut shrimp along with crab pieces John would give me. We just waddled out of there. We also got new member cards again, but only for $10 each. We got a little more serious with playing the penny slots but I didn’t win any money this time. John got into playing Black Jack (all digitized) & stretched playing with $3 for at least a half hour if not more. He should have cashed out when he was over $8 but didn’t. We ate at their grill several times & had breakfast twice with Aubrey & Sally.

We took a day to travel less than an hour west into the foothills of the western mountains to Los Alamos. We didn’t stop tho cause you aren’t really allowed to visit the A-bomb facilities so we continued to Bandelier National Monument. It’s 0520171420a huge canyon with ancient dwelling ruins. We just started out on the walking path but decided to actually try going up one of the ladders into a cave dwelling. Wow, we both handled the climb & the height without a problem so managed to climb up two more ladders. It was a surprising but great experience.

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Next we continued north thru Taos to cross the Rio Grande Gorge bridge & spend the night at the rest area. John has ridden motorcycles for decades & we’ve watched the movie Wild Hogs several times. The movie shows the four guys riding across that bridge. We even walked out to the middle of the bridge which shakes with traffic. There was a herd of six big horn sheep who hung around the rest area – quick unafraid of people & vehicles.

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0523170904We stopped at the Earthship visitor center but they didn’t open for an hour, & after walking around & taking pictures, we finally made the trip across the Carson National Forest at nearly 11,000’, thru Chama & into Pagosa Springs CO.

 

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We looked at a national forest camping area but wasn’t comfortable getting John’s rig into & out of it. Although there is now a Walmart in Pagosa, it isn’t 24/7 & doesn’t allow overnight RV parking due to no security. We ended up in the Junction Restaurant parking lot for two nights with numerous 18-wheelers.

That first afternoon, we headed up to Wolf Creek Pass. Geez, I love the scenes from that pass.

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We also stopped at Treasure Falls right on Hwy 160 just before climbing the pass. We noticed a path along one side & decided to hike up for a closer look at the falls. After stopping a couple of times, we finally made it – up close & personal enough to get wet from the spray. Wow, so worth the hike!

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The second day, we drove over to Durango & up Highway 550 thru Silverton & onto the Million Dollar Highway going to Ouray (pronounced Your-way).

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We stopped to view a gushing waterfall (Bear Creek Falls) going under the highway before getting to Ouray.

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We realized we were hungry so had swiss mushroom burgers & onion rings at Maggie’s Kitchen. That was good. We walked around town just a little bit & saw a sign for Cascade Falls just up the street. Seems we’ve really found a passion for waterfalls, hiking & all.

It wasn’t a bad hike up to Cascade Falls & definitely worth it. We saw people going up under the rocks to actually stand behind the falls. The place was really crawling with people that day.

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On the way out of town, we saw a sign for Box Canyon Falls, & of course, had to go check it out. It cost $3 a piece but was so worth it. There’s a short downhill hike along a canyon before entering a very narrow slot canyon. The walkway & guard rails were much appreciated. I’m not sure where that water was coming from (other than off the mountain) but it was totally roaring. There was leftover mining equipment around inside the slot too.

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Finally, we both managed to drive our rigs up Wolf Creek Pass without incident & found a spot called Old Spanish Trail BLM east of Del Norte CO. Very peaceful although quite windy for several days. The snow on the mountain to the south was a great view. Some ATVs & other locals came by & one morning a huge group of horseback riders. It was an excellent place to hang out thru Memorial weekend.

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One day we drove less than an hour over to Creede CO. I’d always wanted to visit & although it was a cloudy, threatening day, it was a lot of fun to see all the old mines in the area. We intended to take the road looping around past some of the old mines but ended up on a rough, four-wheel loop that literally inched up over a mountain by numerous hair-pin turns. It was only one lane so glad we didn’t meet any other idiots like us who took a wrong turn. But it was a gorgeous drive!

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Another day, we drove an hour east to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Some of the dunes are 750’ above the valley floor (the caldera of an extinct volcano)& the tallest in North America. These dunes don’t shift or move like the White Sands (gypsum) down by Alamogordo NM. Between the strong southwest winds blowing in new sand & the water flowing out of the surrounding San Cristo Mountains, the dunes just don’t move or change much. Unfortunately, the only way to actually walk in the dunes is to cross the wide but shallow stream flowing from the mountains. I didn’t want to get my feet wet or go barefoot & John wasn’t sure how well he could walk in water. Little did we suspect our next adventure!

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Upon leaving the Park, we noticed a sign for Zapata Falls just 17 miles down the road. Yeah – another falls to visit!. Well. . .it was a steep four-mile extremely rocky & rough drive up the side of a mountain, & then. . .a steep, extremely rocky & rough half-mile hike up to the 30’ falls. OMG, as if that wasn’t enough – you had to walk thru (not just cross) the COLD rushing water up the narrow canyon just to SEE the waterfall around the corner! We tried our best with a bunch of other people to get up to the falls WITHOUT walking in that cold, rushing water. No way tho! We weren’t willing to make that colossal effort just to GET to the falls without actually seeing it. So. . .we took the plunge & stepped into the stream, tennis shoes & all. OMG, OMG, OMG!!!! That melted snow water was rushing, gushing, & churning over head-sized rocks – BUT we both managed. I was so scared I’d fall into the water & drown both my phone & my camera. Nope, we didn’t either one fall. By the time we made it back to dry ground, our feet were numb & red.  We sure made it back down that rocky path without stopping tho. Even tho we were both sore & tired the next day, it was so worth it!!!

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A nice young man (20 yrs old) traveling in a Jeep with a dog camped next to us the last two days. He & John BOTH knew & talked a lot about beefing up trucks & cars for off-roading. It was like a foreign language to me but they were in hog heaven. We hope to run into Charles next winter in Quartzsite.

June 1st, we left the Del Norte CO area headed for Kansas, Central Time Zone, lower elevation, heat, & humidity to boondock for free at several State Fishing Lakes while working our way to Missouri & more adventures. We are both so happy & thankful to have found an adventurous travel companion to share unique experiences with.