Jon & Sherry's RV life…

Welcome to Jon, Sherry, & Dixie's Travel Blog

Home is where we park it! We're full-time RVers moving from job to job and season to season throughout the country, exploring the sights along the way. You can subscribe to the blog at the very bottom of the page and get an email whenever we update this...scroll down, it's there somewhere.

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October 17, 2009 – October 23, 2022 One heckuva road trip…

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ~Ursula K. Le Guin 

That quote, or a version of it, has sorta been my mantra for a long time. Since the summer after high school graduation, when I went on a month-long trip to Europe, I’ve had a yearning for travel. It’s why I enlisted in the military; “Join the Navy and See the World…” I suppose I could go back even further to when I was younger, to all those fun summertime family camping vacations from our home in Arizona to Wyoming, Colorado, or some other western state, mostly so Dad could fish for trout at a scenic mountain lake or river. Of course I didn’t appreciate it then, I was just a kid impatiently waiting in the camper, staring out the window until we got there, wherever “there” was so I could go exploring. Are we there yet? I guess I was just born with itchy feet. 

And then many decades later I developed chronic hitch-itch, a pleasant condition created by full-time RV living and a desire to see what’s around the bend. Sherry, Dixie and I hit the road 13 years ago and we’ve been scratching that itch un-regrettably ever since. But there’s change a-coming and I have another quote to share…

“I think I’m done writing the blog for a while.” ~Jon Hockersmith

I’ll explain that later, first I want to re-share the beginning of our story. The following is an excerpt from the first page of my blog…

October 17, 2009 Day numbah one of a new lifestyle. What a wicked good feeling to finally be on the road, starting a somewhat whole new way of life for us—full-time RVers.  We left Jellystone Park this afternoon turning right at the exit which immediately pointed us in the desired direction—South. South ‘cause that’s where Florida is located relative to New England.  

This is the beginning of a journey we hope will last many years. We’ve planned and prepared for this day and the new lifestyle for years. In fact, I can trace it back to sometime in 1998, I think, when a Navy friend I worked with at Combat Camera in Norfolk retired and headed to Idaho with his bride to do seasonal work on some remote BLM land, live in a mobile home provided by the government, and receive a small monthly stipend. He told me there are lots of “workamping” opportunities like this and referred me to the Workamper News magazine and website, a resource for finding these jobs.  I was instantly hooked on the idea of traveling around the country in order to be able to work and live in a variety of locations, most of which are vacation destinations. Yellowstone was always my favorite example back then when gushing about workamping to Sherry…imagine spending a whole summer there so you could really explore the park, while at the same time getting a paycheck. Well, work would be necessary, but it’d be worth it.    

So, the seed was planted in ’98.  I never stopped wondering about how/if Sherry and I could do that.  For those not familiar with workamping, the lifestyle generally involves living in an RV of some sort, as many jobs are in campgrounds or provide sites as part of the deal, and having a home on wheels just makes sense when chasing seasonal jobs all over the country.  Therefore, the tough sell would be Sherry. She liked living in a sticks and bricks home, having a base, and most of all, having stuff.  Although she loved camping and traveling – heck, we tent-camped on a pseudo honeymoon trip from Washington to Arizona – and we had many adventures in two different pop-up trailers, getting her to LIVE in a trailer was altogether different.  She was never fond of the idea when I shared my workamping fantasies with her prior to my retirement in 2003. At one point she was kind and supportive enough to say to me “Jon, why don’t you go do it. Go to Yellowstone for a summer and get it out of your system.” Bless her heart. “…get it out of my system.” Right.   

There had to be way…   So I approached her from a different angle.  In the summer of 2003, while on a well-planned three and half month terminal leave, we hit the road pulling a 24-foot travel trailer. Retiring from the Navy, we were moving from Rhode Island to New Hampshire by way of Alaska. Calling it the Big Trip, we traveled more than 15,000 miles that wonderful summer and our home was an 8 X 24 box on wheels filled with just the stuff we needed including our two cats (copies of that trip journal are still available!). Sherry enjoyed nearly every minute – there was a nasty canoe paddling incident one windy day – and she softened to the idea of doing it full time. 

We went on to our post-Navy life in New Hampshire; our nice log home, building wood boats for a little while, and college–Sherry on staff and me in class.  We liked New England and our home but eventually we both realized we had itchy feet. Every three or four years during the first 15 years of our marriage we transferred to a new area and had fun exploring new places and seeing the sites.  We missed that. But how could we travel AND earn a living. Hmmm.  

“Hey Sherry, what about workamping? We could buy us a big ol’ trailer, one that has a space for you to work on stamping and crafts, and is set up for comfortable living. We could work down south in the winter so you wouldn’t have to drive on the snow and ice we occasionally get during New England winters. Remember how much fun we had on the Big Trip?” 

That was the hard part, selling it to Sherry. But I was patient and persistent. She’ll say it was her idea. I respond thusly: “Yes dear.” 

The easy part was selling our home. That happened last summer and coincidentally our new 35-foot fifth wheel trailer was delivered from a dealer in South Dakota about that time. Several yard sales and donations took care of most of the stuff, and by mid July we were living in the trailer in nearby Jellystone Park Camp Resort, a campground which by another coincidence was my employer the past four summers, where I was getting valuable workamper experience.  Most importantly, working there helped answer the question “could I work in a campground full of screaming kids and costumed cartoon characters?”    

We wintered in a small rented cottage on Loon Lake in Plymouth. Sherry continued to work at Plymouth State and my job was to keep Dixie (our little Muggin) and Sherry fed and exercised, as well as clean up after them. In February we bought a great used Chevy 1-ton dually set up for towing a 5th wheel from a nice couple who gave up traveling the country, and I used it in March to deliver a load of goods to Sherry’s mom in Texas (stuff we didn’t want to get rid of but couldn’t carry in the trailer). 

In the spring, May 3rd to be exact, we moved back into the trailer at Jellystone. Technically this should be the date we began the full-time RV lifestyle, maybe we should refer to it as the “soft” date we started.  Fast forward through a normal summer at Jellystone, which included selling a few more big ticket items – a car, teardrop trailer, canoe trailer, the Voyager strip canoe, some antiques…and we’re ready to hit the road today. The only kink was the Jeep; we haven’t been able to sell it yet, dangit!  All our planning and preparing, really since 1998 when the seed was planted, has paid off and we’re able to enter this new lifestyle fairly well set. There were/are a thousand details to consider in making the transition to an RV life, but we were fortunate enough to have the time – a year and a half, and employer – Jellystone, to make it possible and less stressful.

So…somewhere in the middle of all that we swapped the “sticks and bricks” for a wood/fiberglass/metal box on wheels. Soon we’ll be swapping the full-time RVer lifestyle for the part-time Snowbird RVer lifestyle. The beach house we bought last year in Washington will be our summer home, and we’ll spend the winters in Arizona in The Fox, our current trailer. 

Next April we’ll haul our stuff — new stuff we’ve acquired and carried around since getting rid of the old stuff along with the stuff we never got rid of — up to Washington and move in. In a nutshell, we’re coming to the end we’ve journeyed towards. 

Therefore, since we are parked at Mom’s house until then and will be doing pretty much what we’ve always done during the winters here, everyday things that you may have already read about or cheerfully skipped over in years past, I’m gonna take a sabbatical from doing the blog every two weeks. The next time we hitch up will be in the spring when we beeline to Washington, then after that maybe not again until October or November when we head south again. Not sure when I’ll post again. The long term plan is to travel overseas and spend some time exploring our neighbor’s exotic backyards, which you know really means “go geocaching” in foreign lands, when we sadly lose our little Dixie anchor. I’ll probably write up those trips and any longer RV trips we go on, perhaps the occasional hiking/backpacking/canoeing photo treks I do, and Sherry has plans to drive Route 66 from Chicago to LA sometime. We’ll need something in writing to refer back to when we’re sitting in our porch rockers someday reminiscing about that trip to Taiwan…or was it Italy?…it had a T in it…when was that?

To kinda memorialize our extended road trip I recently spent several hours reading through the blog from day one in order to roughly trace out our journey since 2009 on a map suitable for hanging above the mantle, or in a closet Sherry says. Now you know why I always included the boring route details every time we hitched up…to give my aging brain assistance in creating this work of art. I chose a blue sharpie in honor of the book Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon, an inspiring roadtrip book that helped me figure myself out in the early 1980s. We’ve covered a lot of asphalt and dirt roads, touched every state (well, not Hawaii), commonwealth, and district, but you can see there’s some gaps. Future trips?

Thank you for subscribing and reading my blog but please don’t give up on us, we’re not going away. I’m just going to pause the bi-monthly dose of wherervgoing-Metamucil.

Life is Good!

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time

~T.S. Elliot

October 11 – 22, 2022

With the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in our rearview mirror, we had just 12 more days left of Summer ’22 Roadtrip. Some of that relatively short stretch of time was planned and mapped out months ago while some of it fell into the category of “let’s see how the weather is and we’ll decide then.”

{Wanted to share these photos Sherry came across on Facebook of her Fiesta balloon flight on October 7th, taken when they did the “splash and dash” at the Rio Grande River} 

Oct 11, 12, 13 – Hit the road on the 11th, heading east on I-40 then US 285 southeast to Roswell where we stopped at Red Barn RV Park, a nice, small, shady park in the farm fields about a mile east of town. Roswell is famous for an alleged event that occurred nearby 75 years ago, an event  involving a flying object and its passengers possibly not from this planet coming to an immediate and destructive stop when it hit this planet. The town has done its best to capitalize on this encounter and their effective marketing campaign worked on us. This is the sort of quirky and “fun” stuff Sherry likes to see. She wasted little time, after we got set up she went out on another one of her Jon-less geocaching adventures. The next day I joined her for a short geo-tour (it’s not a huge town) of the downtown area where we spent some time learning all about the 1947 Roswell Incident and other UFO related stuff in the International UFO Museum. Thanks to the lack of any physical evidence — government agents apparently weren’t in the mood to share back then — most of the exhibit was a textual eyewitness timeline. In other words, there was a lot of reading. But every half hour a flying saucer spun around, hissed, spit out some steamy vapor, and the classic looking bug-eyed alien crew made a few otherworldly noises to keep us entertained. Sherry’s purchase of the requisite magnet and postcards indicated she became a believer…me, I’m not saying it happened and I’m not saying it didn’t. Hey, I’m a guy who can’t commit. On the third day Sherry did another Jon-less geo-tour while I did a whole lot of nothing and a load of laundry at home.

Oct 14, 15, 16 – Hitched up and left Roswell on the 14th. Continued south on US 285 to Carlsbad then US 180 to Guadalupe Mountains National Park just over the border in Texas. Set up in the park’s Pine Springs Campground, which should really be called Pine Springs Parking Lot. Our site was one of the five longer RV sites marked off in the middle of a big paved lot, part of the adjacent busy trailhead parking area, that probably was a regular parking lot years ago until some lazy planner (or were they smart?) in the cash-strapped national park service said “hey, if we just paint a number on the space we can charge ‘em to camp there.” Even though we were close to our neighbor campers and cars were coming and going all the time at the popular park trailhead it wasn’t that bad, it was scenic and all the activity out our windows gave us nosy busybodies something to watch and discuss. Of course we checked out the nearby visitor center and ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station, in the evening we checked out the historic Frijole Ranch.

Early on the 15th before Sherry got out of bed I hiked from our parking lot/campsite a couple miles up-canyon to Devil’s Hall and back. Then we drove to the northeast corner of the park to hike McKittrick Canyon up to Pratt Cabin, a picturesque early 20th century summer retreat. Along the way we saw a Tarantula, what I think was a small Ringneck snake, and at the cabin a friendly pair of informative English Docents. 

Crappy weather was forecast to move in on the 16th and stick around for a few days, we’d shortened our stay at Guadalupe by two nights because of it, and the weather people were correct. Since it wasn’t going to be pleasant outside we planned a day inside…inside the big hole in the ground at Carlsbad Caverns National Park about 35 minutes back up highway 180 in New Mexico. Touring the Big Room part of the caverns requires advance online reservations for a self-guided tour, you have to pick a one-hour block of time to enter, and if you want to do a ranger-guided tour of another part of the caverns you need reservations for that too. Since we were a month too late to reserve online, we got there right when they opened at 8 a.m. to get a pair of the limited (only 24 available!) walk-in guided King’s Palace Tour tickets. We entered the caverns via the Natural Entrance trail during our permitted 8:30-9:30 time block — remember the good ol’ days when you could just show up and see things in the parks without reservations? I’m surprised we can see Yellowstone’s Old Faithful erupt without a reservation — and walked 1.25 miles and 750’ down in the semi-darkness to the rest area/lunchroom. The King’s Palace tour left from there promptly at 10; we backtracked a little on the Natural Entrance trail then descended even deeper on a one mile loop trail through various chambers filled with all kinds of interesting underground formations. The Ranger stopped often to do his informative spiel and at one point he turned all the lights off then threatened to leave us if we didn’t fill up his tip jar. Not really, but that’s what I would have done. After the tour we ate the lunches we brought down with us then did the Big Room Route, a 1.25 mile stroll around the perimeter of the cave’s largest room (8.2 acres). It was impressive but we thought the King’s Palace was better, there it was more “intimate” and we were much closer to the formations. The Big Room was just kinda “meh” after the King’s Palace. The three trails combined made it an awesome underground hike on a cold rainy day. We took the lazy way out, a quick elevator ride from the rest area up to the visitor center.

Oct 17, 18 – Hitched up and left the parking lot on a drizzly, windy, and cold morning but soon we were out of the Guadalupes and the weather improved. Headed west on US 180 a couple hours to El Paso and stopped at our usual place on the northeast side of the city, Ft. Bliss Army FamCamp just off US 54. We stopped there last year but don’t particularly like the area…here’s what I said in last year’s blog: “El Paso is not a city we’d normally choose to stop in but it was convenient; my Texas driver’s license expires next June and I had to renew in person this time. This corner of the state was the best place to do it without going “deep in the heart of Texas…” Well, it was convenient again but this time because I broke a tooth with an old metal filling several weeks back and wanted to find a dentist just across the border in Juarez, Mexico to get a crown. I had already made contact with a very eager and flexible Dr. Jasso; as soon as we were set up I texted him and he said that afternoon would work for him. After a short drive to a parking lot in a sketchy-looking commercial/residential neighborhood and a quick walk over the Rio Grande River into Juarez, Dr. Jasso picked me up in his beat up Chevy truck and took me to his office a few miles away. Yeah, the dentist was also my personal cab driver! His wife, supposedly an orthodontist (Dr. Jasso had braces on his teeth), was his sole partner/assistant/hygienist. Together they did the crown work, replaced another old metal filling, and a cleaning. Then he drove me back to the border, gave me 30 Pesos for the border pedestrian toll, and said Hasta bye-bye. All that for $450. You can’t beat that, unless you shop around for another Mexican dentist/cab driver. In Albuquerque just a crown was around $1500. I have to admit I was a bit concerned and nervous about all this beforehand, not about the dental work, about the process. It had all the ingredients of a scam, kidnapping, or robbery. Perhaps I’ve watched too many movies or bad TV shows. The dental work complete, the next day we did the base shopping tour and relaxed a bit.

Oct 19, 20 – Back on the road. To bypass El Paso I-10 traffic, went north a little on US 54 then state 375 west through the Franklin Mountains to the north side of the city. Kept going west on New Mexico highway 9 along the Mexico border to Columbus, north on state 11 up to US 180 in Deming, continued through Silver City to Glenwood where we found a forest service road to the Catwalk Recreation Area. On our bucket list for a long time, the Catwalk Trail has a section with a quarter-mile long bridge over a creek running through a narrow canyon. We had to see it and walk it. First we had to drive up the winding narrow, but paved, road pulling the trailer, unhitch the trailer along the road so we could drive through a swollen creek crossing to reach the trailhead parking lot, and walk in a continuous cloud of flying bugs to get there. The air was filled with thin little quarter-inch long green flying things, thankfully they didn’t land on us much but we could certainly feel them and didn’t dare open our mouths to breathe. They weren’t as bad in the shady spots but they sure made it a quick, short walk on a unique and scenic trail. 

Hitched up and back on the road, continued north on 180, climbing higher and higher in the mountains to Alpine, a small village just over the border in Arizona. Set up in Meadow View RV Park which, like Guadalupe Park’s campground, was also mis-named. There was no meadow in view, our site was situated right behind a bar & grill, the view was of the restaurant’s backside. At least it was quiet and it gave us nosy busybodies something to watch and discuss.

On the 20th we went on a leaf-peeping geocaching drive north on US 191 to Eager, back south over the hills and through the woods on backroads 261 and 273 to Alpine, then south twenty-something miles to Hannagan Meadow and back home again. Had perfect sunny Fall weather and most of the Aspens were in full color.

Oct 21 – Said goodbye to the restaurant trash cans and headed west on backroad 273 again past Big Lake to state 260 and on down to Pinetop-Lakeside. Parked for a night at C & D’s Driveway, the appropriately named parking spot for the trailer at my Uncle Charlie & Aunt Donna’s home. Spent the afternoon and evening visiting and playing games with them and enjoyed Donna’s home cooked meal.

Oct 22 – Went out for breakfast then went to visit part of Uncle Charlie’s “kid collection,” Cyndy and Rob, two cousins I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years. They and their spouses were busy working on a home renovation and we needed to get on the road so the visit was short. 

Hitched up one last time, headed down to Show Low on 260 a few miles then the very familiar  US 60 out of the White Mountains, down and up the Salt River Canyon, and on to Mom’s house in Globe, our home base until next April.

Thus endeth the Summer ’22 Roadtrip. Looking back at all the places we stayed, the stuff we did, the people we saw, the miles we traveled…some of it seems so long ago, especially way back in April. It’s a good thing I write all about it here, sometimes we have a tough time remembering where we were just two weeks ago. It was great roadtrip with just a few deviations from original plans and even with the higher diesel fuel prices we pretty much saw and did what we wanted to see and do. The “new” truck performed flawlessly and the smaller trailer was every bit as comfortable as the big 5th wheel and was easier to tow, we have no regrets about downsizing. 

Sherry covered the trailer fridge with postcards and other stuff from many of the places we visited this summer

Here are some numbers from the trip:

Departed Globe — April 4th

Returned to Globe — October 22nd

Length of trip — 6 months, 17 days / 200 days

Miles traveled — 13,770

Average fuel cost — $5.13 per gal for diesel

Highest fuel cost — $5.89

Lowest Fuel cost — $4.13

Average camping fee — $20.09 per night

Number of states — 14

Number of countries — 3

National parks — 14 (parks, monuments and historic sites counted)

LIFE IS GOOD!

September 16 – October 10, 2022 Balloon Fiesta!

Another busy chapter completed in the book of Summer ’22. Twenty-five days of living at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) with a mix of volunteer work, geocaching, daytrips, chill time, and an unexpected experience of a lifetime.

The 16th was our first full day at AIBF (we arrived in the afternoon on the 15th), after a few hours of early morning work prepping the South RV lot we were the first to move from the President’s lot directly above the balloon launch field a mile away to the South lot. Although it’s not adjacent to the field we still had electric and water hookups, and for half a day we had an 80 acre empty field to ourselves until the rest of the crew moved over after they got their rigs pumped out, a free service provided to us twice a week. Then we had a weekend off. Not a bad gig so far. 

The following week was pretty easy too. The guys, and some of the ladies, met at 7 a.m. to work on various tasks to get the RV lot ready for guests. We strung flag lines on posts, measured and marked out hundreds upon hundreds of individual sites, checked water lines, etc. A couple times Sherry and the others not out in the field went off to stuff guest goodie bags or envelopes or pitch in with other stuff the management needed help with. Since it was getting too warm by noon, we’d call it a day around 11ish.

The lot officially opened to guests on Monday the 26th, six days before the first day of the big event. Like last year, I was a “parker” and Sherry worked in the registration “blue building.” Also like last year her shifts were shorter than mine and she didn’t have as many as I did. But she didn’t get to drive around in a golf cart for six hours (7 in the morning to 1 or 1 to 7 in the afternoon) taking RVers to a site and helping them back into just the right position and work on her tan at the same time. On a couple days that first week all the parkers were scheduled a full day to accommodate big numbers of arrivals but fortunately things turned out a bit easier than expected and some of us got off early. I wasn’t one of ‘em. Oh well, it was a fun and easy job, most arriving people were nice, and my tan just got better. One couple from Louisiana I parked early in a good spot made sure Sherry and I got two bowls of her homemade gumbo. 

In the evenings many of the crew would gather in a big tent set up for us, kind of a break room with a fridge and microwave, for an informal happy hour. Eventually it became more like a restaurant. One of the several RV tour groups in our lot had many of their dinners catered in their own big tent, afterwards they’d bring the leftovers to us poor starving volunteers, a group text announcing “food in the tent!” was sent out, and we’d descend on the buffet spread like poor starving volunteers. The first couple of times this happened we were just about to eat our prepared dinner at home when the text came. We quickly learned to wait until about 7 p.m. for the text dinner bell. Once the event began, food from the Navigator tent (volunteers at AIBF are called navigators) at the launch field was brought over for us to pick over. Spicy breakfast burritos were a standard in the morning (I skipped those), sometimes we got burgers or pizzas for lunch and dinner. And all kinds of sugary unhealthy snacks, sodas, and water were always available. Any leftovers from our big tent went to the Full-time Families RV group. So, with all the free food, Sherry and I tried not to be too bad in the tent and our grocery expenses will be much lower for a brief period.

Besides all the free food, RV Sites Navigators also got free admission to all the balloon events, three different t-shirts, a heavyweight winter jacket with an embroidered 50th anniversary design on the back, and of course a free site with pumpouts.

The Fiesta opened on Saturday the 1st, a perfect blue-sky sunny morning with hundreds of colorful balloons going up in the “mass ascension.” Sherry worked that morning but was able to enjoy it from the cheap seats in the RV lot while I went to the launch field. That evening we both went to the field for the evening balloon glow, when the balloons inflate and light up with their gas burners at night but don’t launch, and to see the amazing drone light show and fireworks. Windy weather cancelled the glow but the drones did their thing and we chatted for quite a while with Rick & Debbie, geocaching friends of friends we met in the middle of the balloon field. 

As it turned out, that first morning was the only sunny morning of the whole nine-day Fiesta. A week of cloudy, rainy, and sometimes windy weather followed, very un-typical weather for Albuquerque in early October. One week I’m working on a tan and the next we were dressing in multiple layers. Mornings were usually better; most of morning launches took place although they were often delayed an hour or so. I think all the evening glows were a bust due to wind or possibility of showers, but the one on the 7th was a particularly special bust. That night the weather was good enough for the officials to raise the “green flag” and we walked over to the field for the glow. The field was filled with inflated and inflating balloons for a short time but suddenly they began to deflate and a minute later an announcement told the 40,000 ooh-ing and ahh-ing people a storm appeared nearby and we should seek shelter. What!? Then lightning flashed and thunder roared…you could hear the whole crowd say “whoa!” simultaneously…and it began to rain, hard. By the time we found shelter in the Navigator tent we were soaked. There we sat with a few coworkers about half an hour until the all clear announcement went out. Some kind of weird cosmic atmospheric things happened that night to create a microburst storm over the balloon field. Balloonists spent the next day, after yet another cancelled morning ascension, drying their balloons at large indoor venues all over the city. That was a first in the 50-year history of the event.

Fortunately several of the morning launches took place. On that first sunny Saturday morning, on a whim, I signed up to crew a balloon that needed help (anybody can volunteer to do this, I did this last year too) the next morning. That’s when I met Roman and Lio, the Swiss pilot and German crew chief for the Swiss Chalet, a unique special-shaped balloon. They also had a couple of their friends/crewmembers with them who are from The Netherlands, so along with me and six other American volunteers we were an international team working together to set the balloon up and get it in the air. I was scheduled for just one morning shift at the RV lot all week, it was fun working with them, and I was able to crew with them the rest of the week during morning events. Roman had room for two others in his basket and liked to take different people on each flight, including the volunteer crew; on the third day he said I’d go up the next time. Cool.

I got to go up in a mass ascension when I crewed last year for a pilot from New Hampshire. This time I wanted Sherry to have that awesome experience and Roman and Lio graciously welcomed her to take my spot on the morning of the 7th. Sherry earned her crew “designation” by passing out the popular balloon trading cards on the first day I crewed and holding the inflation fan this time. Fortunately, after a short weather delay, they got a green flag for launch, Sherry climbed into the basket, and after an emotional moment with the other lady crewmembers, off she went into the wild gray yonder. They went up pretty high to the east at first, drifted west over the field, dropped down to do a “splash & dash” (the balloon just touches the river and goes right back up) on the Rio Grande River but in this case he did it on a sand bar, then landed in a narrow fenced-in pasture. It wasn’t the best spot to come down but sometimes a balloon just has to come down, now. In the chase truck, it took us a while to find them and when we did it didn’t look good. When the balloons land and there’s any sort of wind, the pilot lets the air out to avoid being dragged and causing damage to the basket or balloon fabric (it’s called the envelope). When Roman did this, some of the envelope settled in some fruit trees and even worse, on the barb wire strands lining the top of the chain fence enclosing the pasture. Roman, Sherry, and Robin the other passenger were all fine but the envelope had a few tears in it. We could see he was really angry at himself. We didn’t need to speak German to understand what he was saying. But then again it always sounds like Germans are cussing when they speak.

The property owner didn’t want us driving the truck on his wet muddy pastures, we had to drag the basket and its gas tanks a ways to the truck so Roman and one other crewmember could get back to the field to get the propane tanks filled before they shut that operation down for the morning. In the meantime we packed the envelope and a friendly neighbor used his ATV to drag it to the truck access point where the crew sat around for nearly two hours waiting for the truck to get back. Lio gave money to the friendly neighbor and he went off to buy some refreshments; I didn’t want to be late for my afternoon parker shift so I opted to walk home, an easy 25 minute walk but I missed the party. Despite the adventure on the ground, in Sherry’s words, “IT WAS AN AWESOME EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME!”

Before the Fiesta began, when we had time during all the hot air balloon excitement, and our schedules were free, we occasionally did other stuff. Sherry attended several geo-events last year where she met quite a few of the local geocachers and this year she was reunited with them at several more events during their 30-day “event blitz.” She even hosted one event on the 17th just after we arrived in town. One morning before it got too warm, back before the cool and stormy Fiesta week, Sherry and I drove north of town a short ways to do a short hike into the hills to find the oldest active geocache in New Mexico. On the 2nd we drove part of highway 14 east of Albuquerque, the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, up to the funky/artsy old mining town of Madrid with a stop along the way at Tinkertown, a folk art museum full of quirky stuff where Sherry chatted with the deceased creator’s wife (Carla) out front. After wandering the main street in Madrid — we couldn’t geocache because there was no cell signal — we headed home via a dirt road through the scenic countryside over to I-25, along the way we were surprised to see a small herd of Bison including a few “white” ones. Our last adventure was a trip on the Rail Runner commuter train up to Santa Fe on the 8th. There with just a few hours before our return train, in an all-day light rain, we geocached our way over to the historic plaza district, ate a pizza slice and salad lunch, checked out a few shops and a marketplace, and geocached our way back to the depot.

I crewed for the Swiss Chalet the last time on the 9th but Roman chose not to set up and fly in the iffy weather, he didn’t want to risk getting the temporarily repaired balloon wet before shipping it out the following day. Instead he just burned off four tanks of propane on the field while other regular balloons launched that breezy morning. After the morning launch, the Fiesta ended. Back on the South RV lot, the RV crew started packing things away and on the 10th as the remaining RV guests were pulling out we rolled up the water lines and locked the storage container until next year. Done by lunchtime. And wouldn’t you know it…it was a perfect sunny day for flying balloons. In the evening, those of us poor starving volunteers sticking around for another free night of camping all went out for a farewell dinner at Rudy’s BBQ. 

Another fun volunteer gig in the books. 

September 1 – 15, 2022 Montana to New Mexico

(Warning…this is a long one and it’s full of photos. Enjoy!) 

We ended a busy August in Washington with a drive to the west entrance of Glacier National Park in Montana where we set up a dry camp at Fish Creek on the shore of Lake McDonald. From there we headed south for a relatively quick drive to New Mexico for the next phase of Summer ’22.

Sep 1 – The number one thing people do when visiting Glacier is the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, the scenic 50 mile road over Logan Pass between the West and East park entrances. In the summer the park is so heavily visited a reservation is required to access the road during peak hours…unless you’re staying in the park, like us, or a hop-on-hop-off shuttle bus system will do the driving for you. So that was first on our list since Labor Day Weekend was just a couple days away, we thought we might avoid some of the weekend crowd. We opted for the self-drive method early on the 1st. It’s a beautiful drive in the valley along big Lake McDonald then a long twisting climb up a narrow ledge on “The Wall” with little room on either side of the road for mistakes. Take your pick…a long fall with a sudden impact or a broken side view mirror and severe body damage. Sherry was a little uncomfortable being so close to the edge on the way up. Hey, I haven’t accidentally driven through a rock wall and over a cliff in…well, never. Stopped at a small pull out just below Logan Pass for the view, a virtual geocache, and shots of a cooperative Mountain Goat. And as it turned out, the only empty parking spot anywhere near the pass. Sherry wanted to grab another cache at the pass visitor center but the parking lot can’t accommodate all us self-drivers, I waited in the truck and moved around the lot to avoid a ranger scolding while she did her thing among the hordes of tourists and hikers. Next stop was down a ways on the east side above Saint Mary Lake where we hiked a few miles to see St. Mary Falls, Virginia Falls, Baring Falls, and a couple moose keeping cool in the lake way below. On the way home on the west side, stopped cars alerted us to a bear crossing the river next to the road. We watched what turned out to be a Black Bear doing a really good Grizzly impression pick berries for a while. It was a good drive with good scenery and wildlife. At the campsite in the evening, we were chagrined by our close by generator-loving neighbor; he promptly fired up his generator at the 5 o’clock starting time and ran it until the 7 o’clock shut-off time. We’re pretty sure he was doing it so he could watch TV. Tsk Tsk Tsk.

Sep 2 – The next day we took the Camas Road north from the campground to the west border of the park then continued along the North Fork Flathead River to Polebridge, a rustic historic village that is a popular stopping point near the entry point of Glacier’s more primitive northwest backcountry. Our friend Dick, who we met for lunch in Columbia Falls when passing through back in July and spends the summer in the woods further north, met us at the sorta quirky and well-known Polebridge Mercantile. After stocking up on huckleberry pastries, he led us about 12 miles further up the dirt road to his friend’s secluded acreage and timber-frame home with a million dollar mountain view where he parks his little trailer, then a further drive to his secret lake for a bit of “looning.” He shared with us the Loon family he’s been photo-documenting all summer for a little while then we headed home with a few geo-stops along the way. We made it home in time for Generator Guy’s two hour session. Ugh.

Sep 3 – Sherry’s birthday! I won’t say which one but she’s been saying it’s her last year in the fifties. Left early to catch a shuttle to a trailhead but we were too early, oops misread the schedule, and self-drove again hoping we were early enough to grab one of the limited parking spots, and we were, just barely. Hiked a couple miles up to scenic Avalanche Lake and joined the crowd watching a pair of young Black Bear cavort high up on a rocky ledge. Hung out on the shore for a while then headed back down; counted 180 people heading up during the two mile hike. Almost to the parking lot, I chose to take the five mile trail down to Lake McDonald Lodge while Sherry hopped on a shuttle bus, after waiting an hour for the supposedly every half hour scheduled stop, to avoid having to prowl the lodge parking lot there in search of an empty spot. I got there in time for a birthday lunch in the historic wooden lodge dining room. That evening in camp was quieter, Generator Guy’s significant other joined him for the weekend and she must have insisted on conversation by a campfire instead of TV. Much nicer.

Sep 4 – Last day in the park and we took it easy. Hung around the trailer, walked around over by the Apgar visitor center and village area near the lake, sat in the lakeshore picnic area next to the campground where the best cell signal was, and went to the evening program to learn more about bears. We looked forward to visiting Glacier for a long time, it was Sherry’s first, but I have to say we were a bit “disenchanted” by the experience. Granted it was late in the season, but a lack of snow on the mountains made them less visually dramatic, and thanks to wildfires it was very smoky most of the time, further affecting the hoped-for mountain vistas. And the crowds, geesh, the crowds of people and all the traffic! It was like being in a city where you have to be very aware of rush hour times and parking availability everywhere you go. No thanks.

Sep 5 – Hitched up and headed south on familiar US 2, state 206, 35, and 83 to 200 east; state 141 to US 12 west; I-90 east through Butte; state 2 and finally US 287 down to Ennis for a long, warm travel day. Stopped at Ennis RV Park for the night and didn’t bother to unhitch.

Sep 6 – A two-park day. Continued down US 287 to US 191 and West Yellowstone where we rolled past the Best Western hotel we worked in 2017 and on through the west gate of Yellowstone National Park. We had no plans to sight-see or stay in the park, it just happened to be the most direct and of course scenic route to our destination for the day, and we hoped to see some wildlife. Drove down through the Old Faithful area and out the south gate into Grand Tetons National Park without seeing so much as a flattened squirrel. Stopped for a two night stay in the Colter Bay Campground (the no-hookup side). Went for a short drive in the evening to nearby Oxbow Bend, hoping to see some Moose or a squirrel at a scenic spot known for this sort of thing, according to the park newspaper, but all we saw were a lot of people with the same idea.

Sep 7 – Drove further south in the park a bit to a trailhead on the north side of Jenny Lake, just early enough to find the last parking spot, and hiked through an old burnt out area along the lake to Hidden Falls and up to Inspiration Point, both crowded with visitors thanks to a shuttle boat that carries less adventurous visitors across the lake to a dock just below Hidden Falls. We were happy to get away from the dock area and the goofy tourists. In the evening I went on a short hike from the campground to Heron Pond and while I sat motionless close by was fortunate to watch the resident Beavers in the water and, to my surprise, waddle on shore to groom themselves, eat a salad, and do a little dance (well it kinda looked like a dance). Finally, wildlife.

Sep 8 – Hitched up and drove about 65 miles on US 26/287 through the very scenic Wind River Range to Dubois, Wyoming, and stopped at Windhaven RV Park. Found the three geocaches in town, spent money in the thrift shop, washed the truck, and did laundry at the RV park. Tough day.

Sep 9 – When we had lunch with Dick back in July, he told us about a museum full of tanks and half-tracks, some rich guy’s private collection in Dubois, WY. “Ooohhh…you had me at tanks, Dick.” I researched it, fit it to our route south, and made camping reservations not long after that. The National Museum of Military Vehicles is eight miles south of Dubois, that’s why we went just 65 miles yesterday. Sherry was a bit iffy about going to the huge Amazon-warehouse-size museum, but she took a chance and was glad she did although she went through it much quicker than I, a U.S. military history buff since I was a young’un. First we watched the intro movie then did a two-hour walking tour with a curator through the hand weapons vault, including the musket that fired the first shot at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the World War II vehicles. After lunch in the new Canteen (the museum was dedicated this last May), we started at the vault again and walked through it all at our own pace. It was an impressive collection of all kinds of authentic tanks, half-tracks, guns, trucks, amphibious craft…every kind of American military vehicle and a few British, Japanese, German, Russian vehicles…presented in well laid out displays. Some of the vehicles still had the original paint and markings or were documented to have been in specific battles. This was original stuff. There were also sections for the Korean and Vietnam Wars. I think we spent about five hours there; I was an awed model-building teenager for a few hours. 

Sep 10 – Continued on scenic US 26/287 to Riverton for a Walmart stop, then state 135 down to 287 again and on to Rawlins for a stay-hitched overnight at Western Hills Campground.

Sep 11 – West a little on I-80 then south on state 789 to Colorado state 13 through Craig, Meeker, and Rifle, I-70 east to state 82 south in Glenwood Springs, and finally state 133 to Redstone Forest Service Campground for a night. Went into the small historic mining town of Redstone a mile down the lane from camp; the first yard we came to along the road had a small tree-climbing apple-loving Black Bear in it to stop traffic. Checked out the old coal coke ovens and a few shops in town, which was really just a small village with one narrow lane lined with nicely restored homes and shops, and an old resort on the north end.

Sep 12 – Continued on state 133 up and over McClure Pass; turned southeast on state 135, an unusual road for us to take pulling the trailer. In a few miles the “pavement ends” and begins a climb into the Ruby Range, over Kebler Pass at 9,980 feet, through an Aspen forest just beginning to show autumn color, and down out of the mountains into Crested Butte. What a nice drive, and our rig did fine on the graded dirt road. Stopped in Crested Butte to do an Adventure Lab in the old downtown district and get an expensive sandwich to go (the look of the town and people shopping there gave us the impression there’s a lot of money in the area, like Aspen). Continued on to US 50 at Gunnison, then state 149 south to Lake City where we stopped at River Fork RV Park. In the evening we wandered up and down some of the streets in the historic district, some are still dirt, in this small town tucked nicely in a narrow mountainous valley. Jeeping, ATVing and other outdoor recreation is big here and I felt more in my element there than Crested Butte.

Sep 13 – More great mountain driving in the morning when leaving Lake City on 149. Quickly climbed up for a view of Lake San Cristobal, then to Slumgullion Pass at more than 11,000 feet where Sherry had to stop to search for a letterbox in the thin air. After another pass and another letterbox search, we dropped out of the high mountains and went east on US 160 to Alamosa, south on US 285 into New Mexico, state 30 to White Rock, and finally state 4 to Bandelier National Monument where we set up for a couple nights. Had just enough time to drive a few more miles down into Frijoles Canyon to check out the visitor center and get the passport book stamped. After dinner I walked the trail from the campground about 1.5 miles to an overlook of the canyon that has several interesting ancient Native American cultural sites dating between 1150 and 1550.

Sep 14 – Put on our hiking shoes early and took another trail from the campground, this time eventually dropping on switchbacks to the canyon floor and connecting with trails to and through  the cultural sites. We’ve seen a lot of ruins throughout the Southwest and they’ve all been different in some way, mostly due to the natural environment they were built in. Bandelier’s uniqueness is the Ancestral Pueblo people’s integration of the natural caves or holes in the cliff walls in their dwellings. Up-canyon a half mile from the large pueblo-style site and the Long House at the cliff base, we climbed up several ladders and steps to Alcove House. We were smart to go early, we had it to ourselves but soon afterward the canyon was crawling with visitors shuttled in from White Rock (access to the canyon in peak season is by shuttle only between 9 and 3). After sharing a fried-bread burger for lunch, naturally with a bit of New Mexico’s ever-present green chile, we took advantage of the shuttle to the campground to avoid a hot walk up the switchbacks and relaxed the rest of the day.

Sep 15 – Hitched up for the final push for this phase. Took 4 to White Rock again, then state 502 to US 285 south, 599 around Santa Fe, and I-25 to Balloon Fiesta Park on the north side of Albuquerque. Yep, we’re volunteering again this year for the 50th anniversary of the Fiesta. Met our leader from last year and set up temporarily in the President’s Lot above the balloon field. The Fiesta runs from October 1st to the 9th, we’ve got some RV lots to get ready and bag stuffing to do before then. 

Geesh, that was a lot to cover for two weeks. Life is Good. 

August 17 – 31, 2022

…and now, Puget Sound Part II: Hitched up and left the RV park in Ferndale, just north of Bellingham, early on the 17th and headed south on I-5 toward all that wonderful traffic in the Seattle metro area. Sherry had a 12:30 appointment for a tour of the Geocaching Headquarters in Fremont, one of the many sub-city neighborhoods making up greater Seattle, so we had to make the drive down, get checked in early at Lake Pleasant RV Park in Bothell on the north end, set the trailer up, drive into Fremont, find parking, etc… Fortunately the RV park, one of the nicest urban parks we’ve stayed in, was able to get us in early and everything went as planned, even the heavy traffic. It was somewhat of a stressful morning but we made the tour appointment with a little extra geocaching time to spare. The tour really wasn’t much of a tour…sign in, wait outside the lobby door with a few other anxious cachers, enter when the last group exits, a staffer points out the various exhibits, and we were free to roam the lobby and ask questions. That’s it. To a diehard geocacher, that’s enough, they get a specific one-of-a-kind virtual souvenir and bragging rights. 

After the tour we drove down the street a short distance to Gasworks Park, a scenic and popular spot on Lake Union directly across from downtown Seattle, for a stroll down memory lane — Sherry lived in Seattle when we met and just about every Seattle location I’m going to write about here was a part of our two and a half year courting history — and of course some Adventure Labs. Then we made our way to the Seattle Center for a quick and expensive elevator ride up to the top of the iconic Space Needle. Back near the RV park in Bothell, we met Jim & Cheri, fellow Arizona geocacher friends in town for the coming event and coincidentally staying in the same RV park, for some delicious creamy clam chowder at Ivar’s, a favorite local restaurant chain from the past.  

Aug 18 – The four of us piled into our truck and drove about an hour on backroads, with a quick stop at Snoqualmie Falls, to North Bend for a cachers meet & greet then continued on I-90 up to Snoqualmie Pass. There’s a popular trail up there on a former rail bed that goes through a two mile long tunnel and on the far side there happens to be a rare and famous sought-after geocache, Mission 9: Tunnel of Light (a Project APE cache hidden for a Planet of the Apes movie promotion in 2001, it originally contained a movie prop). With a big geocaching event set to happen in two days in Seattle, we were just a small part of a large crowd there to make the hike and get the cache. I’d be very impressed if any of you remember we did this hike seven years ago, but the cache was temporarily inactive then and that’s why we trekked through the tunnel again with Jim & Cheri. Even if you’re not a geocacher, it’s an interesting hike, there really is a light at the end of the tunnel…the long, long tunnel. Our post hike found the cache reward afterwards was tasty vittles at Scott’s Dairy Freeze in North Bend.

Aug 19 – With no specific plans for the day when we woke up, things changed quickly. Checking email, Facebook, and other usual online stuff during my early morning routine before Sherry gets up, there was a surprise message from Nick, the husband half of our bike rental shop coworkers in Bar Harbor, Maine a few summers ago. He and his daughter Brooke have been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail since April, starting at the California-Mexico border with plans to finish at the Washington-Canada border in early September. I messaged him a few weeks back, letting them know we’d be in Washington at the same time…maybe we could meet up if it worked out. Well, his surprise message said they were at Snoqualmie Pass, “would meeting them in a few days at Stevens Pass (further north) work for us?” Oh man, we were just up there yesterday! As we later found out, they got there before noon and we practically passed each other in the rail tunnel parking lot. Ain’t it funny how friends on two independent journeys thousands of miles long can cross paths at the same time without even trying? Long story short…after a brief call with Nick, Sherry and I quickly got ready and drove back up to Snoqualmie Pass where we met Nick & Brooke, my heroes, at a hiker hostel for a short visit and tour of the hostel before they hit the trail again. 

On the way home we stopped for a geocaching wander around the small town of Snoqualmie, then took the rest of the afternoon off.

Aug 20 – The day of the long-anticipated big event…the Geocaching (belated) 20th Anniversary Celebration hosted by Geocaching HQ. Jim & Cheri picked us up for the drive down to the Seattle Center early so we could find parking. What can I tell you…there were thousands of happy cachers from around the world milling about, meeting old friends and making new ones, walking around with their eyes glued to their phones or GPSs in search of caches, standing in lines waiting for their turn to sign a log or figure out a gadget cache, listening to guest speakers, swapping path tags, and generally having a good time in nice cloudy Seattle weather. Sherry met up with Joshua, the Geocaching Vlogger, to have him sign his newly published comic book, we chatted with some of the gang from North Dakota again, and like all the others we wandered around with our faces glued to the phone. By mid-afternoon we were partied out and headed home with a stop at Applebee’s in Bothell for an early dinner and yep, there was a geocache near the parking lot.

Aug 21 – The next day was Sunday, a day of rest for me. Not for the intrepid geocachers still on a GPS high, the call of unfound caches and Adventure Labs nearby was too irresistible. They went out for another day of fun in Bothell. Dixie and I napped.

Aug 22 to 28 – For Part 2 of Part II, we hitched up and left the nice park in Bothell mid-morning on Monday the 22nd. Headed south on I-405 through Bellevue and Renton then I-5 during the 56 minute window when the awful freeway traffic is lightest. Moved from the north side of Seattle to the south side, setting up our new home base at Saltwater State Park, a small waterfront urban park with attention-getting signs stating it’s a “High Theft Area, lock your valuables…” in Des Moines. This part of the trip was more about visiting friends, family, and past haunts than geocaching. During the busy and theft-free (whew!) week we: rode the light rail to downtown Seattle to explore the Alaskan Way Viaduct-free waterfront (a few years ago the city removed an ugly elevated concrete highway that dominated the otherwise nice waterfront scene and is now renovating and developing the area), Pike Place Market, and some of the downtown streets; our matchmaker friend Wendy, she “arranged” our meeting in 1985, came over for dinner; rode the light rail into town again for an afternoon Seattle Mariners ballgame, they beat the Cleveland Guardians 3 – 1; drove down to Sid & Martha’s in South Hill for dinner; mooched on Sid’s Costco membership the next day, had lunch with him, and I chatted with him over a beer while Sherry went to visit with her Covid-induced socially distanced sister Teresa in Burien; wandered the empty streets and waterfront on a Sunday in downtown Tacoma in search of caches, some of which were near the colorful glass museum, and then did the same at the busier scenic Point Defiance Park. In between all the stuff we managed to find a little time to relax, walk the short hiking trail in the state park every day (me), and do a little shopping.

Aug 29, 30 – Time to move on, we had calendar deadlines to meet, more friends to visit, and places to see. Made our way via highway 18 from Des Moines/Kent to east I-90 from the Seattle area, north on US 97 from Cle Elum, then east again on US 2 until stopping for a quiet night at Lincoln County Fairgrounds RV Park in Davenport, WA.

Continued on the next day…to bypass Spokane and see new country we turned north on state 231, east on 292 to Loon Lake, and then various backroads to US 2 again. In Sandpoint, Idaho took state 200 along huge Lake Pend Oreille and the Clark Fork River to Trout Creek, Montana where we stopped for the night at shady Trout Creek RV Park. Ah, back in Montana, land of cheaper fuel prices (the price for diesel in the Seattle area was crazy high with some stations more than $6 a gallon, while in Montana it was usually less that $5) and one of Sherry’s high school friends, Darlene and her partner Kenny. They came to visit us at the trailer then we ate a brisket dinner at the popular local watering hole and grill where everyone knows your (their) name.

Aug 31 – Hitched up to move on from Trout Creek; stopped at Darlene & Kenny’s beautiful home in the forest a few miles down the road for a tour and visit on our way. Continued on highway 200 then north on 28, 93, 82 and 35 to US 2 outside Columbia Falls, and on up to the west entrance of Glacier National Park for a five night stay at Fish Creek Campground. I’ll leave that part for the next blog. 

Life is Good.

August 3 – 16, 2022 Go West, Some More…

The Heat Wave Struggle continued, but not much longer. We beelined to better weather at the coast and our routine shifted to seeing old friends, revisiting the past, and big events.

Aug 3 – Hitched up and left Coeur d’Alene westbound into Washington on I-90. Took US 2 from Spokane, state highways 174 and 17 to US 97, and finally state highways 153 and 20 into the Cascades. Stopped for the night just past Mazama at thickly wooded, cool, and half-priced Klipchuck forest service campground. I was ready to relax; Sherry went back down the valley a ways to touristy, rustic Winthrop to find geocaches and scout out possibilities for an Adventure Lab cache she can “place.”

Aug 4 – With a relatively short distance to cover before check-in time at the next stop, we took our time getting on the road. Before hitching up we drove a few miles into the village of Mazama for a short walk in the woods to claim another cache at a scenic suspension bridge. That trek complete and the trailer now attached to us, we continued west on highway 20 up into and through North Cascades National Park, a beautiful winding drive through rugged mountains and around green-blue lakes. “We’re home!” Down on the other side in Sedro Woolley, stopped for lunch at Hal’s Drive-in, an old favorite where the tasty burgers rival In-n-Out Burgers for messy goodness. Further on 20, we were surprised to see a gas station with diesel at $4.69 a gallon, the best price we’d seen in months and a lot less than any other station we’d seen so far in Washington. Stopped for a week-long stay at Cliffside RV Park on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, easily one of the best military campgrounds of the 40ish we’ve stayed at through the years. I was stationed there in the mid 1980s, it’s where half the courtship of Jon & Sherry took place (the other half was in Seattle where Sherry lived), my golf game went to a new level, and we have great Whidbey Island memories. Every five of six years we somehow seem to find ourselves back on the island. The last time was a volunteer camp host gig at Fort Casey State Park in 2016. 

We felt lucky to be at Cliffside. It took a few phone calls to get an initial four night reservation at the popular waterfront RV park and additional pestering calls to see if cancellations would allow us to stay longer. Persistence, an up-sell by the staff, and our somewhat flexible plans eventually got us a waterfront site at a weekly rate. After setting up, Sherry headed out for a walk around the flower-filled RV park and on the beach; I immediately felt drawn to the base’s Gallery Golf Course to relive the 9-hole evening walks of my young bachelor days. 

Aug 5 to 10 – With nice weather, a nice site, familiar surroundings, and that comfortable “at home” vibe, the week was bound to slip by quickly. I played golf on four of the seven days; we went for walks on the beach and on the cliffside path; Sherry geocached up and down the island, one excursion included a visit to Fort Casey during an historical reenactment; I did some whittling on a neglected caricature project; took the ferry over to Port Townsend for more geocaching and met Mitch & Kim, neighbors/friends since the early ‘90s, for dinner and laughs; met island residents/long time friends Howard & Sherrie for lunch and laughs in quaint but busy Coupeville, then geocached in the nearby Price Sculpture Garden, a walk in the woods filled with whimsical artwork. It was sunny and the temperature was perfect when we arrived and it stayed that way nearly all week. After the lengthy heat wave in Montana and Idaho it was just what we needed. 

Aug 11, 12, 13 – Hitched up and left Whidbey Island on highway 20 east to Burlington then north on I-5 to Bellingham for a mid-morning geocaching meet and greet event at a waterfront park, a warm-up for geocachers in the area for a huge event a couple days later. From B-ham we headed northeast about 15 miles to Everson and stopped at Camp M-J-J, otherwise known as our friends Mike & Jill’s home and we were the only campers at their exclusive driveway surrounded by cornfields and pastures at the edge of town. They were gracious hosts while we increased their electric bill for a few days, beat them at “Farkle” and lost to them at “Take Out,” and shared good times at the dinner table. 

Camp M-J-J is conveniently located close to the Sumas, WA border crossing into Abbotsford, B.C. Canada, the setting for GEOWOODSTOCK XVIII, a huge gathering of geocachers that’s been on hold for two years due to that Covid virus thing and Canada’s tough Americans Stay Out of Our Country policy. This was one of the key parts of our summer ’22 itinerary (there’s another key part to follow in the next blog) and was also the reason Sherry was diligently geocaching recently. At some point a couple months back I asked her how many geocache finds she had — remember…geocachers keep track of statistics and all kinds of numbers as a matter of self-pride and goal achievement — and she replied she was something like 200ish away from 10,000. “Huh, you should try to get the 10,000th at one of the big events in August to make it special” I suggested. “Nah, that’s too many in such a short time…” she said. Now you know why you’ve read so much about geocaching here this summer. She changed her mind. Women do that. Often.

We went over on the 12th to do the 15-stop Abbotsford Geotour to earn a coin and also met with Lisa, Sherry’s childhood Canadian friend, for lunch and laughs. The big event was on the 13th at the exhibition center. We ran into several familiar geocaching faces from around the country, and even met a few new faces like Bryan, one of the co-founders of the geocaching website and HQ, while checking out all the stuff and doing multiple adventure labs on site. And yes, Sherry managed to get the finds and worked it out so magic number 10,000 would be a special one, the event itself; she brought a hand-made sign and we found Signal the Frog, the official geocaching mascot, to mark her milestone in Digital form. She’s (we’ve) been caching since 2012…that’s an average of 1,000 found caches per year. 

Aug 14, 15, 16 – We lost a “Take Out” game bet with Mike & Jill (I’m pretty sure it was rigged so we’d have to get out of the way) and had to leave Camp M-J-J on the 14th. Went back to Ferndale, just a few miles north of Bellingham, and set up in The Cedars RV Resort, an RV park we worked at in the summer of 2012. In case you didn’t know, Sherry was born and raised in Bellingham and nearby Lynden…she still has a lot of friendly connections there, she/we had some visiting to do. That first afternoon we went to Dennise’s; in the evening we found George & Darlene who live in the RV park, coinkidenkally they live in the same site we were on in 2012; Sherry spent all day hanging out with master gardener Sheryl on the 15th while I walked into Ferndale for a booster covid shot so I could feel icky for a while and do nothing; Sherry geocached with Renee at historical Hovander Park on the 16th and visited more with Darlene that evening.

That was Puget Sound Part I…

 July 18 – August 2, 2022

It’s a simple concept…when it starts getting warm at our winter “home” in Arizona, usually in early April, it’s time to begin the northward migration toward cooler more comfortable summer weather. In the Fall when it begins to get too cold, or as we like to say “if it snows it’s time to go,” then it’s time to head south for the winter. This concept worked perfectly every year with the exception of Winter 2015-16 when we chose to stay in the Puget Sound region. And this summer. These two weeks, unusually high temps made us rethink and alter our plans to spend a lot of time camping and hiking in the Montana mountains. I half-expected hot weather east of the Divide, that’s why we didn’t linger there for a canoe trip on the Missouri River and bee-lined to the mountains a few weeks back, but after the perfect summer weather at Georgetown Lake the weatherman (weatherperson) let us down.

Jul 18, 19, 20 – We left Georgetown Lake on the 18th; took Montana highway 1 back through Anaconda, highway 569 down to 43 west, met US 93 at Lost Trail Pass and headed north up the Bitterroot Valley to just a few miles beyond Darby and stopped at the USFS Lake Como Lower Campground. This is one of the rare forest service campgrounds, at least it is in this part of the woods, with electric and water hookups. Forecasted temperatures in the sunny days to come were supposed to be in the vicinity of 90, even in the cool shady pines by a beautiful lake tucked in a mountain valley, electricity would make life in the Fox a bit more comfortable. But there’s only 10 sites and they’re all first-come first-serve. Fortunately we have Jon & Sherry’s luck…there were no empty sites but we noticed a guy disconnecting his water hose as we slowly cruised the loop; Sherry hopped out and asked if they were leaving…“Yes, in about 10 minutes.” Alright! We patiently waited in the extra long site driveway until he left, then had air conditioning for our afternoon naps.

The next morning we set out to hike and geocache our way around the lake. It was an 3.5 easy miles across the dam and on to a nice waterfall at the inlet end of the lake; there were 19 caches to find on the headin’ home sunny side, but even before noon it was already getting a bit too warm and Sherry was fadin’ fast. We skipped the last few caches to seek refuge in the air-conditioned Fox; according to her Fitbit the total hike was about 9.5 miles, which is about 8.5 miles in reality (yeah, I’m a Fitbit skeptic). We went back to get the caches we missed on our last morning while it was still comfortable, then went into Darby to grab a few more caches, get a cell signal, and satisfy Sherry’s ice cream craving. Found out from a local grocery clerk that a segment of Yellowstone, a favorite of Sherry’s, was being filmed in town. Much to Sherry’s disappointment, we didn’t get a glimpse of Kevin Costner and I’m surprised she didn’t demand we stay in the area longer so she could stalk the set.

Jul 21 – We still wanted to explore different areas of western Montana. Every day I’d study the map and check local forecasts, when we had a cell signal, looking for good places to spend a few days in “cooler” areas. We decided to give up the hookup site at Lake Como and try our luck in the Swan River Valley. Hitched up and headed north on US 93 into Missoula, got on I-90 east for about five miles, exited onto our ol’ friend state 200, then a bit later onto state 83 north through the scenic lake-filled Swan River Valley. Jon & Sherry’s luck wasn’t with us that time, I mean not the good kind of luck. The first forest service campground we checked at Seeley Lake didn’t have any shady sites and a couple others on the other side of the lake were full full full. Appears we weren’t the only campers seeking to escape the heat. Continued further up the valley, driving way more than we intended for the day, and finally found a suitable site in the USFS Swan Lake Campground. By suitable I mean it was unoccupied and available for a night and shady, at first. Late in the day the sun hit the trailer, there was no breeze, and things warmed up. It was a no-hookup campground — that means no AC — by dinnertime we were hot, miserable, and cranky. The good news is…by bedtime we were just warm, miserable, and cranky. 

Jul 22, 23, 24, 25 – Despite the warm afternoons, mornings were always pleasant and sometimes even cool enough for an extra shirt layer. That’s a good, temporary, cure for crankiness. Before moving on, we walked over to check out Swan Lake in the morning. On the the road, continued on 83, took 82 over to US 93 north and on into Kalispell. Staying in a city is not usually our first choice and in our ideal plan we were just going to pass through Kalispell between perfect forest service campgrounds at nice, cool mountain lakes. But the heat wave was just going to get worse, we wanted electricity, and we didn’t have much choice. We were able to book two nights at Mountain Hi RV Park, a busy tightly-packed campground just north of town that actually felt like we were “in the country.” It’s also one of several RV parks within easy driving distance of ultra-popular Glacier National Park. That means ultra-expensive. Mountain Hi was the cheapest we could find at a discounted $50+ a night; we had to loosen our self-imposed campsite fee limit in order to nap in air conditioned comfort and keep Dixie cool.

After the first night and further weather research, we extended our stay an additional two nights but we had to move to another site for the extra nights. Didn’t do much during the three days in Kalispell…Sherry geocached and did laundry, I helped her once (with the geocaching), we read a lot, watched DVDs (we buy them cheap at thrift stores and libraries), washed the truck, napped in air conditioned comfort, etc. On the 23rd we met Dick, a long-time friend escaping another Florida summer in the Montana woods and the main reason we chose to park it in Kalispell, for lunch in Columbia Falls.

Jul 26, 27, 28, 29 – Well, Kalispell wasn’t hot enough for us so we felt it was time to move on to Libby via a longer scenic route, rather than the straight shot west on busy US 2. Zigged and zagged a short ways up and over to US 93 in Whitefish, north from there to Eureka near the US/Canada border, turned south on state 37 to skirt the long shoreline of Lake Koocanusa to Libby, a much smaller town with a much less crowded Woodland RV Park. 

A heat wave was a-coming…temps in Libby were forecast to hit 100 toward the end of our booked four nights there. Ugh. Our site was shaded by tall pines in the morning but not in the afternoons when it was the hottest. The AC was doing its best to keep us cool inside that first day but with all the other campers crankin’ it the antiquated electrical system (the 30 amp electric pedestal I plugged into had a type of breaker I’d never seen before…two shotgun shell-sized fuses mounted in a plastic insert thingie) on our row of sites created a problem. Our AC suddenly began to groan unusually, like it was about to give up and quit. Yikes, what are we going to do if it craps out on us?! And the breaker in the trailer tripped indicating we were drawing too many amps; the only other thing “on” was the fridge so we switched it over to gas. I asked the host if there was a history of low voltage problems but he wasn’t much help…“It sounds fine to me, it’ll be OK.” Fortunately the AC kept going but we were a bit nervous. 

The same groaning noise happened the next afternoon, and even with the fridge on gas and no other big electrical stuff running, the the breaker tripped a couple more times. A different host was on duty, his very first day at work, and he got the owner involved in checking it out. Long story shorter…in the peak of the late afternoon heat with the trailer warming up quickly with all the AC off/on happening, we moved to a shadier site with a newer electric pedestal. No more groaning AC, tripped breakers, and worrying about getting a new AC installed in a small town in the middle of a heat wave.

It’s probably obvious by now, any outing or activity we did was in the cooler mornings. If we went out, we were home by lunchtime in order to veg in air conditioned comfort during the hottest part of the day. Those of you living in places where temps over 90 are the norm might be shaking your head in wonder. Well, it’s simple. We’re wimps when it comes to that kind of heat, we’re not used to it and don’t really like being out in it for long.

Our big outing in Libby was a short drive on US 2 on the 27th to see Kootenai Falls and the Swinging Bridge, then a little further west and south on state 56 to do a short walk in the Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area. Sherry also did her usual solo geocache outing in town one morning and on our last day we ventured out to find some more along the Kootenai River on highway 37.

Jul 30, 31, Aug 1, 2 – Hitched up and headed to the next hot spot in the heat wave, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Stayed on US 2 west up into Idaho then south down to US 95 and on to Tamarack RV Park, another urban park smack in the middle of Anywhere America…shopping centers, gas stations, restaurants, Costco next door, etc. It’s a tightly packed RV park but nicely maintained. This being our third expensive (to us) camping site in a row, my wallet now has stretch marks. We’d booked this place well before we changed our plans due to the heat wave, Sherry had a nostalgic yearning to see the Lake Coeur d’Alene boardwalk downtown, and we arrived on what turned out to be the hottest days of the wave…100 degrees. Oh well. We stuck to the morning/afternoon plan: a couple long walks to hunt for wily geocaches in the vicinity and a geocaching walkabout in the downtown waterfront area. 

In the afternoons we napped in air conditioned comfort. Thank you Willis Carrier.

July 1 – 18, 2022

Dang, the Summer ’22 trip is already half over, but if my old school math is correct that means there’s still another half left, so…Woohoo! The trip has gone pretty much according to plan so far…explore a little in northern Arizona and Utah; head northeasterly through Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska; shoot north to the eastern side of the Dakotas; zig and zag our way through North Dakota; take a breather on a month-long Camp Hosting gig in western North Dakota; head west into Montana. We visited friends, made new ones, found a few geocaches, and saw a mix of new and familiar territory. The only real hiccup in the plan was the canceled canoe trip I had planned for the Boundary Waters in Minnesota.

The last few days at Lewis & Clark State Park flew by, as expected. Fourth of July weekend wasn’t any different, we always had a full house on weekends. With the extra day for the holiday we just had to spread out our site clean-up routine a little and we sold a little more firewood. On the 5th, the park managers, Katie and Zach, hosted a BBQ get-together so the staff could unwind a little after the busy stretch. The next evening Zach, George (half of the other Host couple), and I unwound a little more on a short 9-hole vacation home development golf course a few miles down the lake. 

Our month was up on the 11th and it was time to get on with the summer journey (it was actually up on Friday the 8th, but we asked to stay and work through the weekend so we wouldn’t have worry about finding a site on the road, as mentioned, campgrounds fill up on Fridays and Saturdays). We had a good, relaxing time at L & C. The work was easy and the weather was pleasant enough; everyone on staff was easygoing and we enjoyed getting to know them, particularly the seasonal “younger” crew who were either still in college, recently graduated, and/or hoping to figure out what to do next in life. One of the students, Kathryn, was a Navy Vet like me…that connection and “swapping sea stories” took this ol’ Chief back a few years. We also enjoyed working with and sharing campfires with the other Host couple, George & Dawn from Winnipeg, Manitoba who also happened to be retired military (Canadian, of course, but that’s a whole ‘nuther culture and language with an accent). A few days before leaving, the four of us left the park host-less long enough to try out the tasty Walleye fish sandwiches at a marina resort place nearby. Oh, writing of Walleye…one week there were two retired local couples camping in the site across from ours, we referred to them as “regulars” because they came every other week to fish. I jokingly(?) said to one of the guys “if you happen to catch any extra Walleye, we’d be happy to take it off your hands.” Well, one day they had extra and they delivered a package of fresh-caught, cleaned, and filleted fish for our happy-to-oblige consumption. Nice people. If it’s not obvious, we like Walleye.

Jul 11 – Hitched up and said goodbye early on the 11th; headed into Williston for a 9:00 appointment at an RV service center to get the big patio awning replaced and repair part of its attachment rail on the side of the trailer. They had it ready to go by lunchtime and we hit the road, destination…West. Took North Dakota highways 1804 and 58 down to 200 where we slipped across the border into Montana and another time zone. Stayed on lonely 200 more than 150 miles across gently rolling ranch land — Big Sky Country! — to Jordan and stopped for the night at a six-site RV park tucked in the houses a block off the quiet main drag. Walked out in the evening to find the two geocaches in town and called it a good day.

Jul 12 – Continued on highway 200 west several hours, through Lewistown, then south on state 427 to US 89 just before Great Falls. Plan A (yeah, yeah, me and my plans…) was to park it for a week so I could do another canoe trip, this time in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, a stretch that still looks like it did when the Lewis & Clark gang paddled and rowed through. But like Minnesota, the weather changed my mind. It was going to be too dang hot, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 degrees. I can do it some other time and be more comfortable, maybe in September some year. So…Plan B went into effect, don’t mess around, get to the mountains and shady pines where it should be cooler. The Little Belt Mountains were the first serious looking range of mountains we’d seen in a couple months and US 89 cut through ‘em. Just below 7300’ Kings Hill Pass we parked for the night in the US Forest Service (USFS) Many Pines Campground, two dusty loops with primitive sites just off the highway and nothing much to do. AHHH…cool, pine scented air.

Jul 13 -Kept going south on US 89, out of the Little Belts, then west on US 12 through the Big Belts, Helena, then on I-90 down to Deer Lodge. Stopped at a place we checked out in 2003, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, so Sherry could get the stamp for her park passport book (she didn’t collect ‘em back then).We had fond memories of the chuckwagon beans and cowboy coffee an interpreter did there last time, unfortunately this time the cook only had a coffee pot going. A few more miles down the interstate we exited onto hwy 273 down to Anaconda, then west on hwy 1 to the USFS Philipsburg Bay Campground on Georgetown Lake. We hoped to get a first come-first serve site but that loop was full; lucked out and found one open, perfect, no hook-up site in a “reserved” loop Sharon, the nicest Host, let us have for a couple nights. If the campgrounds are full even on Wednesdays, it must be summer vacation time and it must be at a lake.

Jul 14, 15, 16, 17 – Even though it was relatively warm during the day the pines kept the trailer comfortably cool; with constant maneuvering I was able to use the solar panel to keep the batteries charged; the trailer has a big 67 gallon fresh water tank; there was plenty to do and see in the area…why not stay five nights? Checked out historic Philipsburg just up the highway and Granite, a mining ghost town, on the mountain high above town one day. Another day we went back to geocache in Anaconda and reaffirm my belief that Pizza Hut still makes the tastiest pizza.  The rest of the time we spent in the usual relaxing manner without electricity…books, games, crafts, naps, scenic drives, walks. An extra bonus was the almost daily afternoon thunderstorms and rain. Nothing makes a summer day better. Had to move to another open “reserved” site for the last three nights, not as perfect but still nice.

 June 16 – 30, 2022

Still sittin’ still at Lewis and Clark State Park in Northwest North Dakota, just a little more than a week left on our volunteer camp host gig. It’s been a nice break after the two months on the road from Arizona. Although we like moving around to see and do different things, this month-long stop gave us a chance to “set up house” and relax for a while, order parts and fix some things on the trailer, get mail, and finally eat some fresh-caught Walleye, courtesy of a friendly camper. The camp host work can hardly be called work…check sites for bits of trash and messy fire pits when campers check out. We split the workload with another host couple, most days except Sunday we may do only a dozen or so sites while Sunday is the day of Mass Exodus and there will be about 40-50 sites to do. In the evenings we cruise through the campground a couple times in our Kubota UTV buggy to sell firewood.

Unlike some of our previous host gigs we haven’t had to deal with any problem campers or “the rules don’t apply to me” chuckleheads here. I guesstimate 90% of the campers who stay here are locals from about 20 miles away in Williston and they want to keep coming back; this is like a backyard city park for them, they leave clean camp sites, play by the rules, and don’t cause problems. Even the mass of kids we see running all over on the weekends seem to be fairly well behaved. The other 10% of campers are travelers passing through for a quick stop and are like ghosts we hardly get a glimpse of. There is one slightly questionable trend I’ve noticed…several campers have displayed flags that let everyone know they’re alcoholics. One motorhome flew a big flag on a pole, below the stars and stripes, that said “Cold Beer” and we’ve seen several little yard flags proclaiming “…Drunk Campers Matter.” I’m not sure this is a personal trait or matter of pride that needs to be broadcast, made light of, or encouraged in others, especially kids. Just saying.

On the 17th we took a little time off to check out the Rendezvous, a reenactment of the early 1800s fur trade fairs, at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site to the west of Williston on the Montana border. Wandered through the tent encampment outside the gate of the reconstructed trading post, talked with some of the reenactors, swapped some of our greenbacks for some of their trade goods, and watched a flintlock rifle firing demonstration.

The 23rd through the 26th was a serendipitous time for us to be at Lewis and Clark, especially for the geocacher half of us. The North Dakota Geocaching Association held its annual Caching and Camping event at the park and several friendly (we’re all friendly) geocachers were camped near us, including folks Sherry’s met in Arizona and Trycacheus Chad, the Walt Disney of Gilby we met a few weeks back. The events started Thursday evening with a movie meet & greet in Williston, another dinner gathering at a pavilion next to our campsite on Friday, a day-long geocaching adventure to Montana on Saturday when Sherry hitched a ride with the Gilby gang, and an organized hike and CITO (Cache In Trash Out) event on Sunday. We still had our host duties to fulfill so I stayed home to work, except for the dinner event near our site (free food, yes!), while Sherry played and had a good time with other cachers of like mind. I didn’t even have to be “just the driver” but I was welcomed to their evening campfires.

Our “weekend” is Tuesday and Wednesday when we flip the host sign to off duty and turn the park radio off. On the 28th I convinced Sherry the north unit of Teddy Roosevelt National Park didn’t have anything she needed to see and took off by myself to make sure. Went south of Williston about 60 miles on US 85 to the Park where I pitched a tent in the Juniper Campground amidst a pesky swarm of gnats and biting flies that were persistent the entire time I was in the Park. Spent a lazy afternoon reading and napping in the shaded bug-free tent, then drove the rest of the 14 mile park scenic road in search of wildlife and did a short hike for a view of the Little Missouri River valley in the evening. Got up early the next morning to hike the 4.2 mile Caprock Coulee Loop Trail, a nice walk through a variety of terrain with great views. Headed home after that, ran errands in Williston, and was back at the Fox in time for lunch…a 24 hour getaway that checked off a bucket list item for me and gave Sherry free rein of the TV for a Downton Abbey DVD binge.

Soon we’ll be on the road again. When we’re asked “where to next?” our reply is “West.”

 June 1 – 15, 2022

The first week of June was the last week to scratch our wandering itch for the month. After that it was time to sit put for a month in one spot, save a little camping money, fix and clean some things in the trailer, and, most of all, try to spend more time reading, crafting, and doing other non-essential sit-around-the-trailer stuff. 

Jun 1 – Hitched up after a second night in the quiet Stanton town park campground — I say quiet yet there was a curious and steady procession of vehicles rolling through the park’s loop road past our campsite, it seemed like every 10-15 minutes a car or truck went by…were the townsfolk on shifts to keep an eye on strange visitors or were they just bored?…“hey dear, let’s go for a drive in the park, it’s been a couple hours since we last saw it.” — and headed west on 200A and 200 to Beulah, south on 49, and west again on scenic byway state 10 to Taylor, another small farm town, and set up in their empty RV park that was a mobile home park in a previous life. This site didn’t compare much to all the previous town parks we’d stopped at, but it was quiet and convenient for our next geo-adventure. To check on availability at the park or if it was even still open, Sherry called while we were on the road. The guy who answered said to call when we were a half hour away and he’d meet us when we got to town and take us to the park. In the meantime he was in his tractor seeding a field 25 miles away. “Never mind, we can find it on our own, go ahead and plant your crops.” Later that evening he stopped by to check on us and collect the rent; since we picked a spot without water, they’d “run it over to the picnic shelter,” he said “how about $5?” I gave him $10 and we had a nice chat.

After setting up and lunch we drove a few more miles west then turned south on the Enchanted Highway to begin our geo-adventure/roadside attractions tour. The North Dakota map we’re using doesn’t show a highway number, it actually says Enchanted Highway betweenGladstone at the north end and Regent, 32 miles to the south. It gets this exalted designation thanks to the efforts of one man in Regent trying to keep his small town alive… using scrap metal Gary cut, bent, shaped, welded, painted, and erected several huge oversize pieces of folk art at various intervals along the road cutting through wide open prairie and farmland. This decades-long project is all about getting people to exit off I-94 (near Gladstone where the first big sculpture, Geese in Flight, is visible from the freeway), travel down to his little hometown, stay awhile, and spend a bit of money. At each site there’s a spacious gravel parking area and naturally, where there’s a roadside oddity, there’s usually a geocache. It took us a little more than an hour to do the highway, stopping at all seven spots, and we found his work in progress, a knight battling a dragon, in Regent. Stepped into the Enchanted Highway Gift Shop and who else but the man himself, Gary, is there to sell us postcards and talk about his work and dream for Regent. It has to be a tough sell, Regent isn’t exactly a destination town, or on the way to any other destination for that matter. It’s real close to the Middle of Nowhere, but that generally describes all of North Dakota. Hmmm…maybe the whole state is the middle of nowhere…

Jun 2 to 7 – One night in Taylor was sufficient; hitched up on the 2nd and continued west on state 10 roughly parallel to I-94, through Dickinson, until we had to get on 94 for the final few miles to Medora, another nice short driving day. Had a reservation at one of the private RV parks in town but in the last mile we decided to see if there might be an available first-come first serve site in Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Cottonwood campground. The park entrance gate is literally in Medora and there was surprisingly no line, the ranger told us we were in luck (Jon’s luck!) as she’d just received a call informing her there were 13 sites available. Five and half miles and 20 minutes later we had a nice site in the park for six nights. Although it’s a no-hookup campground, we were happy to be “camping” and saving a bunch of money…$42 each night in town vs. $42 for the entire six nights in the park.

We did a quick visit to this park in 2013 on a weekend off when we worked at Mt Rushmore and were eager to spend more quality time there, we hoped five and a half days would be enough to see all three parts…the North and South Units, and Teddy’s Elkhorn Ranch in the grasslands between the two. Our campground was in the South Unit, a relatively small area compared to many of the great national parks farther west, with just one scenic loop road (a four mile stretch is currently closed due to erosion so it’s an out and back road) slicing through the badlands landscape. 

Took a short drive up the road the first evening hoping to spot some of the wildlife and weren’t disappointed, Bison and Prairie Dogs are almost guaranteed. The next morning Sherry dropped me off just south of Medora and I paddled down the Little Missouri River about six miles to our campground while Sherry did her usual thing in Medora, a small historic but touristy town filled with boutiquey shops and a few places to eat. It was an uneventful, meh, paddle — I might have been spoiled by the Green River in Utah — but at the end there was a small bunch of the park’s wild horses on the river bank who seemed just as curious about me in the canoe as I did about them. In the evening, we drove several miles up the scenic road and I was dropped off again to do a 3.5 mile hike down the Jones Creek Trail. Before picking me at the other end, Sherry went off in search of a letterbox at the park boundary but instead found a couple rattlesnakes, one in a spot she’d been standing in just a minute earlier. She had a mild case of the heebie jeebies after that.

Woke up on the 4th to a pair of dead trailer batteries and consequently a non-functioning refrigerator. This was the first campsite we’d had without electricity since Arches in mid April, sometime since then our batteries decided to give up holding a charge. That can be a big problem when dry camping, a good 12 volt battery is essential not just for lights but also for the fridge, furnace (yeah, it was chilly at night), water pump, and closing the slides to hitch up. The solar panels weren’t much help and it was going to be cloudy and rainy in the coming days anyway, and we didn’t want to run the generator constantly. So…our Saturday morning unplanned activity was a trip to Dickinson to find replacement batteries. I wanted to get 6 volt golf cart batteries, they work better than marine batteries in our RV situation, and fortunately we found them. By mid-afternoon the trailer systems were operational again. After a celebratory nap, we went on another evening drive and I went on another solo one way 3.7 mile hike on the Lower Paddock Creek Trail.

The forecast for 5th and 6th were accurate, rain and lots of it. It was wet, cold, and muddy for two days and we hunkered down in the trailer most of the time. Unsure if we’d get a better chance, we walked the streets of Medora in pouring rain on the 6th to do an adventure lab and a multi-stop puzzle geocache, and I splurged on a steak lunch for my 60th birthday. The weather improved on our last day; we checked out the small visitor center and view at the interstate rest area on the southern park border east of Medora, enjoyed a more leisurely walk around Medora, and did another evening drive on the scenic road to say farewell to the Bison, Prairie Dogs, Coyotes, Horses, Deer, Snakes, Pronghorn and Turkeys. There were some other off the beaten path parts of the park we hoped to see but muddy road conditions prevented that.

Jun 8 to 15 – Time to move on. Once out of the park, headed east on I-94 a short ways, US 85 north about 100 miles, past the North Unit of Teddy Roosevelt Park, to Williston for groceries and to give the truck and trailer a much-needed and expensive bath, then state 1804 for 20 miles to Lewis and Clark State Park on the north shore of Lake Sakakawea. 

Back in March, with diesel fuel prices going up and a blank June-July calendar, we decided to find a place to volunteer and sit still for a month. With a quick internet search, a few emails and a phone call, we secured a one month campground host gig at this North Dakota state park until July 8. Our duties are pretty simple…clean campsites when campers leave (101 campsites and two cabins), sell and deliver firewood and be the “eyes and ears” in the campground for the park staff. We’re supposed to work 24 hours, combined, in a week. Piece of cake. In exchange we get a full hookup site and all the left behind firewood we can burn.

Set up in our site and met the other host couple the first afternoon. Took a tour with Katie, the park manager the next morning then played a small part in probably the only “excitement” we’ll experience all month. A local sheriff deputy found a car belonging to a reported missing person in one of our parking lots by the lake. The other host and I were asked to set up “perimeter security” to prevent unauthorized access to the scene while they investigated and searched, which meant we put traffic cones across the road and sat there in the utility cart reading a book. I had the first, and as it turned out, the only shift before we were let go. I had the privilege of asking two deputies in civvies and an unmarked car for some identification. “Oooohh, that’s a shiny badge, thank you.” Using a drone, they eventually found the missing guy way down the beach (the water level is down quite a bit). Suicide.

On Friday the 10th we met with Zach, our ranger supervisor, to get more duty info and then we were official, just in time for a full campground over the weekend. It’s been easy so far. We have a radio in the trailer, we just hang out, answer an occasional delivery call; visit the office on the other side of the boat marina basin for daily check-in/check-out reports; clean sites and pitch in for other things when asked.

Our site had a pair of guardians, a creepy form of mouse prevention. Two friendly Bull Snakes appeared to be living in a small drainage channel filled with big rocks right behind the trailer. Park staff chased them out a couple times but it wasn’t long before they returned so we named them Pete and Re-Pete. The other host couple said they didn’t have snakes but had a couple mice get in their rig; their time was up and they pulled out on the 15th. Zach thought it best we were in their site so we moved over that morning and got set up again on a different camp loop. We prefer the snakes.

Life is Good.