The Sweet Wine Tour

Traveling in these COVID times is somewhat challenging but we feel a little safer when in our camper. A trip to Florida in November 2020 proved harrowing a couple of times but we survived and even had a wonderful time.

We try not to travel for more than four hours a day if we can help it, so our first night’s stop was a most pleasant vineyard, Hinnant Farm Vineyard and Winery in Pine Level in North Carolina, courtesy of Harvest Hosts. (Home – Hinnant Vineyards) This was our first taste of the muscadine family of grapes which grow well in the south. We much prefer dry wine but found the sweeter wines novel. 

As we both like history, we next stopped near Charleston to visit the Macleod Plantation Historic Site. (McLeod Plantation Historic Site | Charleston County Parks and Recreation (ccprc.com)

The classic allee approach

This is a former cotton plantation with a Georgian-style mansion, slave cabins and tours. It is one of the very few original plantation houses around Charleston. Most were burned by the Union Army during the Civil War, but this was commandeered to use as a headquarters.

We were interested in the history of the Gullah people of the area. We first heard Gullah in a museum in New Orleans and were stunned; Gullah sounds almost identical to the West African Pidgin that we knew in Cameroon. We were lucky enough to have a tour guide with Gullah origins, who had grown up in Beaufort nearby. He was a wonderful source for information about the unique sea island cotton grown previously at the plantation. This cotton is finer and softer even than Egyptian cotton and is exceedingly expensive. As a boy, our guide had worked in the cotton fields, so he was able to give us first hand memories.

The wealth of the plantation owner depended on the people who lived in these quarters.
After the Civil War some of these buildings were reused as churches and schools.

Ancient Tree
Sea Cotton Boll

We stayed at the Campground at James Island County Park, which proved to be a real find. (The Campground at James Island County Park | Charleston County Parks and Recreation (ccprc.com) Although a large campground, it was designed for maximum privacy with foliage separating campsites. There was also a shuttle bus to the Macleod Plantation, (which is also part of the County Park System), which proved useful in the rather heavy traffic. The park had also just opened its drive through Holiday Light display all around the campground and beyond. We took advantage of our location and drove through!

Our final stop, on the way to Orlando, was the Adamson Oaks Farm, again courtesy of Harvest Hosts. Here we enjoyed a farm tour and saw a variety of animals including horses, sheep, goats and llamas. But the highlight was the recent pecan harvest and the wonderful pecan pie, which we purchased! Friends all received fresh pecans for Christmas!

At a llama farm, you pet the llamas!

Our visit to Orlando included a visit to the Lakeridge Winery. (Welcome to Lakeridge Winery) Lakeridge is a huge winery complex with several sites and a selection of wines from locally grown muscadine grapes and blends using west coast juices. Again, the sweets predominated, especially with the local grapes. It was a lovely afternoon out as the grounds are extensive and the weather not too hot.

After a quick visit to St. Petersburg, where it was cool and windy and rather spoiled Denise’s beach walking plans, we headed north by stages.

Our first stop was the Pioneer Florida Museum, near Dade City. A low-key, open-air collection of historic buildings. Some nice insights into the old citrus industry and an insane collection of old Lionel electric trains! (Fred always had American Flyer, but, you get the idea.) (Pioneer Florida Museum, Dade City, Florida)

Trains moved citrus and timber
Citrus Packing Plant
We always visit the old houses

Then on to to Colt Creek State Park to relax and do some bicycling.  It proved to be a lovely spot and we enjoyed it although again, it was surprisingly cold.

Fred is getting to the point that he can assemble both bikes in about 20 minutes.

Out of Florida, we stopped at Fort McAllister State Park, just over the border with Georgia. (Fort McAllister State Park | Department Of Natural Resources Division (gastateparks.org) We have stayed here a couple of times and enjoy bicycling around and visiting the fort. Finally, after with another quick overnight at Hinnant Farm Vineyard and Winery, we were back home in Arlington.

THE TRIP OUT WEST THAT WASN’T! (Part Two)

Our initial plan was to go to the Hovenweep ruins as we headed west, so we went south to a very nice campsite on the edge of the Rio Grande to catch up on chores and evaluate the tales of heat that we were hearing from the news and friends in the west.  After considerable research, we decided that this was not the year to head west and that the Upper Peninsula of Michigan sounded like a better idea.   So, we retraced our steps and, after another night spent outside Leadville, we headed north-east to a town campground in Brush, Colorado.  Surviving this night proved our decision was wise.  It was hot, over 100F, and the Blue cat was so distressed that we had to hold him under the tap and cool him off in front of his personal fan. All the while, our air-conditioning labored to bring the temperature down to 85F inside the camper.  It was an unpleasant evening, and we were happy to continue heading north the next day.

Moving on into Nebraska and Iowa, we again used Harvest Hosts for some fascinating overnights.  The Anchor Meadow Farm in Milford, Nebraska, raises a specialized breed of pig and chickens and we enjoyed roaming, watching the evening feeding as all the pigs rushed to the meadow fence at 5:00 PM. (Be impressed; our first attempt at embedding a video.)

Blue cat met chickens for the first time and was not impressed.  Our generous hosts gave us power for the night and we enjoyed a night of air-conditioning.  The meat and eggs we purchased were wonderful.  While in Nebraska we stopped at the Homestead National Monument.  Who knew that homesteading started with Abraham Lincoln and continued until 1969?  Quite fascinating.

The museum looks out over the prairie. Very symbolic.
Homesteader’s cabin.

In Iowa, we stayed at the Wolf Creek Trail Ranch in Anthon, where it was wonderfully cool at last!  We also enjoyed a highly caloric visit to Le Mars, Iowa, Ice-Cream Capital of the World, and specifically to the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor.  Every Blue Bunny flavor was in view and the number of sundaes and milk shakes available quite made it difficult to choose.  But we did, and sat down to enjoy it!  It was well worth the visit!

Tasted as good as it looks.

On into Minnesota, we saw our first lake at the Split Rock Creek State Park in Jasper, Minnesota.  Well, it is supposedly the land of 10,000 lakes and we did see many more!  The state park was small and pleasant, and we enjoyed our stay.  We admired the Prairie Hill, which inspired the park’s creation, and which is believed to be an authentic prairie hillside.  We visited the Pipestone National Monument nearby, the source of sacred red pipestone quarried by many Indian tribes for making pipes. 

We wandered the trail, admired the quarry rock face, the prairie area and visited the waterfall. 

You can see the red sandstone everywhere.

Fred marveled at the inscription left in the 1800’s.

The explanation helped a lot.

We made a brief stop in New Ulm, Minnesota, in search of German food. We were not particularly successful, but but we visited the Hermann (Arminius – hero or villain of the Teutoburg Forest victory/massacre ) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Teutoburg_Forest) Fans of the TV series “Barbarians” will know at least one version of the story. New Ulm was a “Turner” community, founded by German socialists in the wake of the revolutions of 1848. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Ulm,_Minnesota) We visited the Carillion and the Hermann Heights monument.

Our next stop was Minneapolis so Denise could ride the river boat at Sweetwater.  We ended up taking a most pleasant evening supper cruise and even found a parking lot beside the river where we could park to ride our bicycles. 

New Bridge to Wisconsin.

We returned the following day and, as rain threatened, we rode across the new bridge into Wisconsin, took the bike trail back to the old bridge, and crossed back to Sweetwater for a pleasant outdoor lunch.  We got back to the truck and loaded up just as the rain began!

Our next stop was to be Duluth but we were unable to get a camping reservation for the Saturday night, so we headed back into Wisconsin for another winery stay, this time with live music. We should have stayed here in the first place!

Play that funky music, ol’ boyz! And the gentleman on the right even has an Ovation, similar to mine.
(He just plays it better.)

We continued to Duluth on Sunday to the Waterfront RV Parking at the Lakehead Boat Basin.  (http://www.lakeheadboatbasin.com/rv.html) This proved to be a wonderful find, a marina with RV parking on the water.  During the winter, the space is used to store boats, but in summer it was an amazingly pleasant little park.

Our stay included a great Italian meal, bike rides along the lake, and lots of ore carriers going through the raising bridge with loud horns on both the bridge and the passing ships. 

Bridge down.

A couple went through at 5 AM which was exciting. We loved it!

The ore carriers are enormous and sized to fit the locks exactly. Lake ships are divided in to “Lakers” and “Salties” – ships that go all the way to the Atlantic.

Duluth has lovely gardens, with a view of the harbor and a peace bell from Japan. (https://explorationvacation.net/enger-park-gardens-duluth-minnesota/)

We never pass up a railroad museum. Duluth’s museum is a bit different as it has exhibits dedicated to all of the women, wives and fiancées, who came as immigrants to join their husbands and boyfriends working in the mines. They were detained at the station until someone came to pick them up. And, of course, great trains from different ages.

The classic 4-4-0.
Dinner is served.

We had decided to come to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (UP) seeking cooler weather. But, without camping reservations. This proved to be a bit challenging, and we found ourselves constrained by reservation options. All the State Parks and most of the town camping parks were full.  But it all worked out.  As Canada was still closed, we headed east to Ontonagon Township Park, where the campsite assured us that if there was a space available, they would save one for us!  A little nerve racking but we drove there as quickly as possible with our fingers crossed.  And indeed, we were given a space, not beside the lake, but close by in the forest.  We biked into the town a couple of times and had a great visit to the Adventure Mining Company copper mine in Greenland.  (http://www.ontonagon.net/adventuremine/)  It was our first visit to a copper mine, and we learned all about it!  Amazing to consider that the copper can actually be too pure and the nuggets too large.

Narrow Gallery
Large Room
Air Drill

We made a brief stop in Marquette for a wonderful Mexican lunch on the deck overlooking the town, a visit to the first ore dock, the one that established the standards for ore transport on the lakes.

The railway tracks led to the top. The train dumped its ore and then, when ships tied up, the ore flowed by gravity through the chutes on the sides. Simple, fast, and effective.

We then drove on to our next stop, Munising.  We had managed to get a reservation for several nights, including July 4, at the KOA campground, albeit in two different sites.  The weather was still quite hot, but the sites were fairly shady, and we were able to keep Blue cool.  Munising proved to be a great base and we enjoyed our time there.  The only pity is that the campground was on a narrow, very busy two-lane road with rumble strips on the shoulders, which made us reluctant to use the bicycles. 

Two boat rides, one to look at various wrecked boats and another one to view the Pictured Rocks National Park from the water were fun.  (Click for captions and full size images.)

The boat ride to the Pictured Rocks proved to be the right choice as you cannot really see the colors from the cliff tops. (https://www.nps.gov/piro/index.htm)  We also visited a waterfall or two and enjoyed miniature golf for the first time in years.  The ice-cream shop at the miniature golf course sold us an ice-cream flight which was a wonderful idea!  We also tried the local specialty, a pasty, which we found rather heavy.  We much prefer the ones sold in Devon and Cornwall in the UK.  On the other hand, we loved the white lake fish and chips we bought from a food truck(!) – it was simply amazing.

Fred wanted to go to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point.  And as we did not want to drive there and back, we found a most interesting campground called Kritter’s Northcountry Campground.  (https://www.northcountrycampground.com/ )  Although full, they agreed to give us a tent site, so before our arrival there, we seized the day to visit the Seul Choix Lighthouse.  (http://www.greatlakelighthouse.com/)  Unfortunately, the ghosts took the day off, but it was a most interesting visit and we climbed to the top of the tower to admire the view. 

We also went to Palms Book State Park near Manistique, where a Big Spring (Kitch-iti-kipi) has a large raft which can be moved across and back by means of a large wheel and some tourist muscle power.  (https://www.michigan.org/property/palms-book-state-park

We were early enough to walk onto the raft though by the time we left there was a considerable line. (Did we mention the crowds everywhere?)

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum has displays of various shipwrecks including the Edmund Fitzgerald, which has always interested Fred because of the song by Gordon Lightfoot. We were there nice and early and were absolutely stunned by the number of people who found their way to it. 

By the time we left, it was packed with people and parking was difficult.  (https://www.shipwreckmuseum.com/)  (And yes, the Edmund Fitzgerald is still sunk.)  We then wanted to visit the Taquamenon Falls and could not even get into the State Park, let alone park there.  Cars were lined up on the entry road outside.  It was becoming clear that after the July 4 holiday, tourism had increased in the area and that it was time for us to head south and home.  Also, the weather had turned rainy and cold, and we crossed the Mackinaw Bridge, saying goodbye to the UP.

We stopped in Petoskey, Michigan to spend the night at the Boyne Valley Vineyards.  (https://boynevalleyvineyards.com/)  What an amazing place!  Our designated camping spot was deep in the woods and we happened to hit the night when the Petoskey High School Alumni Steel Band was performing.  So, not only did we enjoy tasting great wine and flatbread, but we got to hear a wonderful concert (and a free hotdog!).  Altogether an amazing experience.  Oh, and the wine was good as well.

We stopped off at the Historic White Pine Village and had a great time learning about the lumber industry and chatting with Civil War reenactors. (https://historicwhitepinevillage.org/

After another night spent at Christofferson Fruit Farms in nearby Ludington, we continued south to the Detroit area, where Fred had plans to visit a guitar playing friend. 

Running early, we stopped off at an outlet mall for some shopping.  As we were leaving the clutch suddenly dropped right to the floor – we were immobile.  Panicked telephone calls to our mechanic friends (Thank you, Rob!) ensued.  Worse, all of the local tow companies told us that, as it was a Saturday night, tows weren’t available.  In the middle of all of this, a gentleman walked up and said that he owned an expedition camper company, about a mile away. His company turned out to be Adventure Mobil and he had even visited our Tiger at a show some years ago.  (https://www.advmobil.com/)  Would we like some help?

Would we?  We jumped at the kind offer.  So, his friend, visiting from Tennessee quickly pulled the cab apart and diagnosed the problem as a small, broken piece of plastic in the clutch linkage. What to do?  “Oh, I’m good at speed shifting, I’ll just drive the truck to the shop and we can fabricate a new piece.”  And he was a good as his word. Denise was impressed, hills and crossing a four-lane road notwithstanding, he only stalled once. (Fred is now practicing speed shifting!)  Once at the shop, the troops turned to and, in an hour or so, had fabricated a replacement part out of a billet of aluminum – even stronger than the original!  As they refused any payment, we took the troops out to dinner. 

After the repairs were finished, they offered us a wonderful overnight camping spotand we all settled in for a snooze.  Sometimes the overland gods are kind! 

From there we made our way home.

THE TRIP OUT WEST THAT WASN’T! (Part One)

(In which we get on the road)

As we decided to travel in the US again this year, we set off at the end of May, full of plans to visit Colorado, Nevada, California, and perhaps, Oregon, before returning via Canada.  Enough said!  Some of that worked, most of it did not, but we had a great trip anyway!

We started out a bit late, at the end of May, due to some commitments in Arlington and headed west. Our first two nights stays were courtesy of Harvest Hosts and we enjoyed sampling the wine at Christian W. Klay Winery http://www.cwklaywinery.com/wines/and Ravens Glenn Winery https://ravensglenn.com/.  We also paid a visit to the Fort Necessity National Battlefield https://www.nps.gov/fone/index.htm

A reconstruction, of course, but it wasn’t much when it was built. Depending on who you believe, George Washington may have single handedly started the French and Indian War here.

As a friend of ours put it, there is not much there!  But we enjoyed our visit to the reconstruction of the site and to the excellent visitor center, and we chatted with several of the rangers who came to see our “strange” camper.

The French lines are believed to have been at the present tree line.

Next up was a visit to friends in Columbus, Ohio. We then continued our trip west with a night at the Tuscan Hills Winery https://www.effinghamwinery.com/.  And on into Kansas which can be such a big state to cross!  The fan in the bathroom died at this point, which was annoying as we use two fans to keep the camper as cool as possible for Blue, our cat.  So we went to a Camping World, found one last fan on their shelves and bought it quickly!  We then spent a couple of nights at the Kansas City East/Oak Grove KOA where Fred spent an entire day removing one fan and installing the new one.  Murphy was, as usual, alive and well, but was vanquished in the end!

After this trauma, we gave ourselves a break and camped for two nights at the Kanopolis State Park in Marquette, Kansas.  Our campsite had a beautiful view of the reservoir and sunsets looking across it. 

Yes, we really are in Kansas!

We enjoyed some bicycling in the park, especially the ride across the dam.  As we headed out, we also visited Mushroom Rock State Park.  Just up the road but, unfortunately, too far to bicycle.  This is a very low-key park with some amazing rocks that look like, well, mushrooms!  Quite fun. 

Denise contemplates a magic mushroom.

There were actually people wild camping here. It was really very pleasant.

Still enroute for Colorado, we set off again and were horrified to discover a window had been sucked out of the camper by a tractor trailer which cut in close while on the interstate.  We can only suppose that we had not latched it correctly.  A trip to a wonderful and helpful ACE hardware store in Colby, Kansas (https://www.acehardware.com/store-details/17353) produced a sheet of plexiglass to fill the hole until we can obtain a new pane.  (Three months later we think we have found a vendor in the UK and we await shipment, we hope!! Further update – the windows arrived in time for Christmas.)  So, minus an important window for cross ventilation, we continued onwards.  (Months later we realized that we should have swapped the good window from the passenger side, where the door limits its opening, and put the plexiglass in its place! Duh!)

As we approached Colorado Springs, we spotted the Paint Mines Interpretive Park on the map and, as lunch time loomed, we decided to stop and explore.  (https://www.visitcos.com/things-to-do/outdoors/parks-trails/paint-mines-park/) It proved to be an amazing place, a little like the Painted Desert National Park in miniature, but with stronger colors and various trails to explore throughout.  A great find.  Lunch was good, too.

The entire area was not that large
The colors were deep and amazing.

We were staying in Manitou Springs at a Boondockers Welcome site. (Boondockers Welcome has been acquired by Harvest Hosts. https://harvesthosts.com/) It is in Crystal Park, a gated community, up a steep and winding mountain road with incredible views toward Colorado Springs.  It actually rivaled roads we had driven in the Andes, only there you must use your horn on the blind corners.  This was not encouraged here!

Back in the 1930’s you they ran touring cars up the road which was so narrow that they used a turntable to turn the cars for the descent.  But we made it up the mountain and met our wonderful hosts and settled in.  We were already feeling the effects of a warm summer when in downtown Manitou Springs but found it delightfully cool at our 8,000-foot-high camping spot.

Looking out towards Manitou Springs.
An afternoon visitor.
Touring car turntable.

We had already booked seats on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and once we sorted out the logistics of where to park the camper and where to take the shuttle, we spent an enjoyable, bright and sunny day on the mountain.  

Colorado Springs below Pike’s Peak
These diesel railcars from Switzerland replaced the old steam engines.

We also visited the Garden of the Gods, with its interesting rock formations.  A special treat was a concert by the Peak Horn Ensemble and Woodland Park Wind Symphony, to which we were invited by our hosts, one of whom was playing French horn in the concert.  A wonderful evening which made our stay even more memorable.  A tour at the Cave of the Winds completed this visit to Manitou Springs and then we headed to Leadville for the Tiger Rally.

We always enjoy Leadville and this time was no exception.  We camped in the diverse camping area just outside Leadville, where the cell phone reception is great(!) and then met friends in town for lunch one day before heading to Camp Hale. Some will recognize Rick and Kathy Howe, (http://www.travelin-tortuga.com/Travelin-Tortuga/index.html) and Ron and Ton Corbin. (https://travelintiger.com/) It is always fun to meet up with old friends who share our silly passion for travel.


Denise keeping hydrated.

We were prepared for the weather to be chilly but to our surprise, it was warmer than we expected in Leadville and much warmer in Camp Hale.  No coats or hats need apply; t-shirts were the order of the day.  We enjoyed meeting old friends and current Tiger owners and hearing their news.  Fred led a couple of discussion groups on batteries and how to manage them.  Then it was time to head out.

Short Trips in the Time of COVID-19

We had not considered a long trip this year due to the Covid 19 crisis and our age.  But we have used the camper briefly and enjoyed each short outing.

N.B. Some minor photo notes:
— All photos with the tiny Sony RX-100 VI (RX100 VI Premium Compact Camera | Super-Fast AF, 4K HLG Video | Sony US)
— All photos should expand to full resolution and snap back to the blog. Fun for pixel peeping!

A Visit to Maryland.

Our first trip took place in early July.   We went to Western Maryland where we stayed in the nicely shaded, and almost deserted campground of the Fort Frederick State Park. 

Fort Frederick was built during the Seven Years/French and Indian War. It is an amazing stone structure.

We wanted to try our new electric assist Gocycles on the West Maryland Rail Trail.  We rode as far as Hancock, about 13 miles distant, on the Rail Trail which was paved and flat. 

Lovely, smooth trail – except for the roots!

Knowing we would need sustenance before returning to the campground, we were interested in something cold to drink and ice-cream at the very least and possibly lunch.  We found all three at Buddy Lou’s, right beside the Rail Trail in Hancock, MD.  (Buddy Lou’s – Eats Drinks & Antiques)  The food was amazing, both the chicken sandwich and the crab cake sandwich.  And the lemonade and soft ice-cream were good too!  Next time we are anywhere near Hancock we shall return!  We rode back along the C&O Canal, which is also flat but unpaved, so a bit more challenging with loose rocks and roots. 

Beautiful views of the Potomac River.

The bikes performed well and we made it back successfully.  We then realized that the shade had reduced the amount of solar charging into our batteries.  This was a manageable problem for the short term and we have since taken steps to improve the situation!  On our way home we even stopped to visit the original Washington Monument and enjoy the view.

Believe it or not, this is the original Washington Monument.
Denise enjoying the view of Boonsboro.

Discovering West Virginia

By September, we decided that we needed another short trip for our mental health, so we planned a week away with primarily outdoor activities.  We started our trip at the Muse Winery in Woodstock, Virginia (Wine Tasting Near Me | Day Trips DC | Things To Do Shenandoah Valley | Muse Vineyards | Wineries Near DC | Vineyards Near DC | Wine Tasting Near Me) to take part in a lunch and tour hosted by the Foreign Affairs Retirees of Northern Virginia (FARNOVA), of which Fred is a member.  It is a delightful winery, owned by a former Foreign Service colleague.  It is at the end of an unpaved narrow road, with a tight, right-angled turn onto a bridge.  We had been warned about the access but we had no problem negotiating it – the joys of a really short wheelbase!  The wine was excellent, and of course, we bought some for our “wine fridge”. 

Bunch of old Foreign Circus types.

One of these things is not like the others …
The racoons know when the grapes are ready for harvest.

We then headed into West Virginia and spent a somewhat rainy night camped at the Wolf Gap Recreation Area SR 675 in Wardensville.  The campground is free but has only 10 sites.  We fortunately were able to grab the last one!  We then headed towards Cass, West Virginia where we planned to ride the Cass Scenic Railroad from Cass to Bald Knob.  (Cass Scenic Railroad State Park – West Virginia State Parks – West Virginia State Parks (wvstateparks.com)) We stopped en route at the Seneca Rocks in the Monongahela National Forest.  The cliffs are much climbed but we admired from a distance.  We also enjoyed the old cabin, which had been expanded into a house in the late 18th century, complete with historical garden.

The rocks. (Don’t think I caught any climbers, but you can zoom in and search.)

The Seneca State Forest campground was our home for the next couple of nights.  We were in the overflow camping area, which was close to the children’s playground and provided what we needed, a flat space to park.  We did take on water before leaving West Virginia but fine sunny, cool weather meant we had no power problems.

Off to Cass the next day, we boarded our open-air carriage and rode up to Bald Knob pulled by two Shay steam engines. 

These engines are specially built for steep slopes and were used in West Virginia in the logging industry. 

The magic of the Shay, the side geared drive that engages all of the wheels.
Settled in for the climb.
Ruins of the old sawmill.

The train took a few hours to grind its way up the mountain via several swtichbacks.

Logging camp. The big red thing is a log skipper, which can carry logs from thousands of feet away, across valleys and up the slope.

The views from Bald Knob were spectacular, as it was a cloudless clear day. 

We acquired leaflets which gave us the history of the logging in that area, including the description of the reconstructed logging camp, Whittaker Camp #1. The train did not stop at the camp which is not open.

We shall return to West Virginia.  This was our first foray and we enjoyed it.

And Back to Virginia

We then headed back to Virginia, heading towards Appomattox, which neither of us had visited.  Fred commented that the road would be excellent practice for driving in the UK, as it was a narrow two (and sometimes only one!) lane road that wound through the mountains and had spectacular views. 

Fortunately, traffic was light so the only challenge was the road itself!

Appomattox

Park entrance.
The 917 enjoying the sun. Coffee break!

We stayed at the Holliday Lake State Park near Appomattox, in a delightful spot, with a lot of privacy.  (General information (virginia.gov))The weather gods were still being kind and it was a brisk sunny day for our visit.  The Visitor Center at Appomattox was closed but the McLean House was open with social distancing and mask requirements and Park Service employees were stationed to answer questions. 

The McClean House – almost a complete reconstruction.
The original Appomattox court house.

We saw the sitting room in which the final Agreement was signed and wandered through the “town” to visit other open building. 

Street view, looking west. The Union troops were on the ridge in the background.
The sitting room where the surrender was actually signed.

Log cabin construction of the outdoor kitchen.

The printing shop where the parole certificates were printed was open, as was a lawyer’s office.  The paperwork never ends – some 30,000 defeated Confederate soldiers had to be issued with parole certificates so that they could go home. Somehow you never think about the administrative details of ending a war.

Presses.

After lunch we headed for the High Bridge State Park.  This is a 31mile Rail Trail, a Virginia Historic Landmark on the National Historic Register of Places.  (General information (virginia.gov))  We had an initial problem getting to the parking lot as a bridge on the road was too low for us, but, after a successful detour we made it.  So, short wheelbase, tall camper!  We cycled first to look at the High Bridge, which is simply amazing, and then backtracked into the little town of Farmville before returning to the camper and driving back to our campsite.

“There are longer bridges and there are taller bridges, but there is no longer, taller bridge.”
Denise at the bridge.
Long way down.
Civil War image.

The bridge was built before the Civil War. The Confederates attempted to burn it, but the Union troops put out the fire and used the bridge to cross the Appomattox river and attach the Confederates near the court house. Rebuilt several times after the Civil War, the high bridge was finally abandoned around 2005 and then made into a park.

Our next stop was a visit to the Hampton Roads Winery at White Oak Farm.  (Hampton Roads Winery)  We enjoyed our tasting and chatting with the owners.  We admired the goat tower (!!) and goats who used it.  

It was hard to believe we were a few miles from a short ferry ride to the bustling Williamsburg area.

Working our way towards Norfolk, we visited Fort Huger, a tiny restored Confederate battery. Normally, you can see lots of ships anchored in the river, but the day we visited there were none.

Fiberglass cannon.

We were looking forward to taking the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, but there were repairs underway and the overlook points were closed. We had to content ourselves with a look back.

The gull was unimpressed.

Chincoteague

And on to Chincoteague.  Our last visit was too many years ago to count but Denise had happy memories of lots of bike friendly paths and so we hoped to be able to visit Assateague Island by bike.  We stayed at the KOA campsite as it was centrally located.  Unfortunately, the weather gods decided we had seen enough glorious sunshine and a cloudy, cool day greeted us.  We set off anyway and did enjoy biking the island.  It was much too cool to dip our toes in the ocean.  We did spot Chincoteague ponies from afar and a Sika deer, so we considered our ride a success. 

Sitka deer. (Yes, from Japan.)
The ponies were not receiving socially.
Denise, discussing tourism with the deer.

After a rainstorm, we headed out for ice-cream, as you cannot go to the beach without having ice-cream! The following day we drove home, through some mixed could and rain. All in all, a great little trip.

Idaho and Homewards!

Important new photo news. Through the magic of the new editor from WordPress, you can see the full size images simply by clicking on the image in the blog. Cool!

We had been notified that our new refrigerator was en route to the Turners in Nevada so we did rather shorten our planned time in southern Idaho.  It was time to get our new refrigerator installed and we had an invitation to attend a steak fry at the local Volunteer Fire Department in Wellington, NV.  How could we say “no”?

We had previously visited and admired the north of Idaho and its incredible scenery but as we entered Idaho from southwestern Montana we found the scenery totally different.

Our first stop was the Craters of the Moon National Monument and its totally lunar looking landscape.  We had heard that the campground filled up each day despite its bleakness and we made a point of getting there in time to get a space, before we set out on foot for the visitor center to orient ourselves. 

Not a lot of shade at noon.

Bleak, but the flowers were sprouting through.

It was just as well that we walked from the campground as the parking was impossible for bigger vehicles.  Regular cars had taken all the RV spots.  (GRRRR!) After the usual movie, which we always enjoy, we set out to drive the loop with its various scenic view points.  We climbed the Inferno Cone, a large cinder cone.

It was almost like being at sea or in the air – there was nothing to give any perspective.
Top of the Inferno.
Beautiful, sparkling stone on the trail.
Looking down at the parking lot.
Ice! Down at the bottom of the vent. Amazing.
Panorama from the top of Inferno cone.

When you get to the top you keep expecting to find a crater – but there is none. The cinder cone was built up of cinders blown in from three little vents to the west. One of which now has ice in it. (See image, above.)

We hiked out to view the bigger lava tubes at Indian Tunnel, but did not enter any as we did not have a permit. 

Hmmm. Child sacrifice?
Hard to capture the size.

We continued south and decided we needed to visit at least one real waterfall before leaving the mountains, so we set off for the Soshone Falls near Twin Falls, Idaho.  On line research produced horror stories from drivers of long RV’s about the dangers of the narrow winding road to access the falls.  We had no problems, especially after driving in the Andes, and really enjoyed our visit.  The falls are controlled as needed for irrigation and other uses and can be quite dry, but they were flowing splendidly during our visit.

Falls
View downriver.
One of the few European campers that we saw this trip.
Denise at falls.

We then set off for Nevada as temperatures climbed.  We began looking for campgrounds that advertised shade and bringing the Blue Cat up front into the air-conditioned cab during the afternoon as the camper was just too hot for him.

Safely back in Nevada, the fridge installation was an interesting experience, as yet again, the skylight had to be removed for access. We used a neighbor’s hoist to remove the old fridge and install the new one. The Blue Cat was distraught when his camper left to go next door without him!  He ended up underneath Robinson Fuso, the Turners old camper, which he obviously felt was familiar territory! He came running when the 917 returned.

After another enjoyable stay, including the aforementioned steak dinner, we headed east on Route 50, again, this time on our way home.  We planned a leisurely wander, not a mad dash, and began with a visit to the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Historic Park.  The wonderful book “Traveling America’s Loneliest Road” (https://www.amazon.com/Traveling-Americas-Loneliest-Road-Geologic/dp/1888035056) is full of intriguing side trips from Route 50 and this time we actually had the time to take some.

We turned down a side road until we came to a magnesia mining complex at Gabbs, Nevada. (https://www.premiermagnesia.com/)

Premier Magnesia Mine. Click for full size: https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169635497

From there we wound our way over the mountains and across the valley to the Berlin-Ichthyosaur park. (http://parks.nv.gov/parks/berlin-ichthyosaur)

Denise really enjoyed seeing the ichthyosaur fossils on display.  The shelter had been built over where the bones had been discovered and showed them in the ground, as found, and not rearranged to make a complete skeleton. Over 40 skeletons had been discovered there but many were not in good condition or were incomplete.   

Denise and the one that got away.
You really have to look to see the fossils.
Inside the shelter.
Denise with fossils outside. A cover was planned, but never built. If you don’t know what to look for, you will never notice them.

The site of the Berlin Mine ghost town is fascinating.

Lots of cool stuff to see.
Ore crusher.
Secondary ore chute leading to the main mill.
Inside the Mill.
We came across the mountains in the background and the valley in the foreground to reach Berlin.
The huge mill ore mill dominates the scene.
The main entrance to the mine was not very impressive, just an angled shed.
Tires are a bit flat.
We were grateful for the facilities in the 917.
Artistic massive beams.

We then headed to Ely for the required Chinese meal. May not meet purist standards, but we enjoyed it, as usual. We took on diesel and were starting to head out of town when we saw a sign for the Success Loop, a 30 mile off road loop which begins after the Cave Lake State Park near Ely and ends five miles north of the town of McGill on Route 93.  Hmmmm. Sounds like our kind of road!

The views were spectacular, especially as we approached the Success Summit, with the Schell Creek Range in the background. 

After passing a flock of sheep with their shepherd, we camped in the mountains, off of one of the side trails. The night was delightfully cool as we were at about 8,000 feet. 

The Blue Cat getting back to his wild roots and sampling a mountain stream!

We had now spent two months at between five and ten thousand feet and really noticed the heat as we dropped below that to return home.

The next morning, we dropped back into Ely for a cappuccino at the combination coffee and flower shop, then got back on Route 50 to take the Osceola trail and enjoy lunch at the top of the pass. A future camping site!

Hard to show the steepness in a photo.
That is US 50 down on the valley floor.
Wonderful future campsite, just over the pass from the Great Basin National Park.
Spectacular mountain after the Great Basin National Park.

We flew past the Capitol Reef, but this time did not go up to the “Temples.”

Nearing the Capitol Reef.
From the Goosenecks towards the hills.
The “Goosenecks” at Capitol Reef.

Denise wanted to see some ruins so we were planning to go to Cortez to the Hovenweep National Monument but after a night spent in the Natural Bridge National Park campsite, we got sidetracked by some ruins in Mule Canyon.  We were looking for a ruin known as the “House on Fire.” In actual fact, despite extensive internet research, we were not able to find them.  We finally followed one set of directions and hiked to find a couple of houses on a ledge with spectacular views but gave up on the rest! 

Not on “fire” perhaps, but spectacular.
We were getting quite good at finding water courses.
Denise admires the view.
The trails were narrow, but it was the trees that kept the 917 out.
And another view. Can you find the tiny building on the ledge?
Lunch in the shade.

With temperatures near 100F, we decided to leave Hovenweep for a future visit and continued east and stayed in Durango, at the campsite astride the Silverton railway line. Always fun to see the trains. (http://www.unitedcampgrounddurango.com/)

Fred was thrilled to drive the Wolf Creek Pass over the Rockies (he likes the song) and as usual the scenery was spectacular, though a lot less snowy than our previous crossing at the Monarch Pass. 

Me an’ Earl was haulin’ chickens, on a flatbed out of Wiggins, and we’d spent all night on the uphill side of thirty-seven miles of hell called Wolf Creek Pass. Which is up on the Great Divide.

No chickens, just a cat.

We made a quick trip to Taos, New Mexico, hoping for Indian Fry Bread, but in vain.  However we did a little shopping and enjoyed some New Mexican food for lunch.  (http://taoseno.com/) Who knew that the gentleman running a jewelry store on the corner of the main tourist square would be a Palestinian from Jerusalem? Sadly, or fortunately, perhaps, we were not in the market for jewelry.

Sopaipillas may not be Navajo Fry Bread, but they are good.

We later discovered that friends from our days in Cuba are living in Santa Fe, and had we known, we would have kept going for a visit.  Next trip!

We camped at Raton Pass which Fred found interesting, especially as they were having visits from bears and were refusing to accept tent campers.  Blue was kept on his leash when outside!

The look you give when they tell you that you will have to stay on your leash.

The Appalachians were much less spectacular than the Rockies but we enjoyed our journey home through them.  It is good to be home again!

And On to Montana

Our first stop in Montana was at the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where Custer was defeated by Indians from the Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes.  We, of course, arrived at Saturday noon along with lots of other people but we were able to find a parking space tucked in with the other RV’s. So we had lunch and then set out to walk to the Memorial at the site of Custer’s final stand. 

We also walked to the Indian Memorial, a modern and moving site with comments from all the different tribes and a spectacular sculpture. It is hard to imagine a more evocative image.

It was interesting to see the white remembrance stones dotted around the hillsides.  These represented the Cavalry dead.  Interesting information, more than half of the 7th Cavalry troops were foreign born, representing about thirty nations.

The Indian dead were represented by brown remembrance stones. There are not many of these as the victorious Sioux and others removed their dead and wounded from the field immediately. We drove from the site of the final stand to the Reno/Benteen defensive site and dutifully read all the signs along the road.

Note: From this point we are using a new image hosting system. If there is a link below an image you may click it to see the image in a range of different sizes.

The paintings, which matched the actual landscape, made it very easy to imagine the scene. The effect was all the more dramatic as we were there on June 29 and the battle took place on June 25, so even the yellow flowers are correct.
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169600293

Books have been written about the battle, but Fred would opine that Custer was not quite the vainglorious idiot as portrayed in modern movies. That said, he made a huge mistake and it cost him his life and half of his command. He was worried that the Sioux would try to escape – he didn’t realize that they had the strength to actually attack.

His deputies took casualties, but, after getting caught in the open against superior forces, they actually managed to do it by the book and retreated to high ground where they held off repeated attacks for over a day. In the zeal to portray Custer as a hero, back in the day, Reno had his career ended. Read the Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Little_Bighorn#Controversies

Our next stop was Great Falls where we discovered and stayed in an amazing KOA campsite.  The incredible landscaping made this the Taj Mahal of KOA’s. We had a pleasant shady spot and enjoyed a campground fireworks display in honor of Canada Day!  Adding in free pancakes for breakfast and a great ice-cream bar, we decided to stay a second night as the day’s adventures had lasted longer than expected!  Though fireworks were lacking the second night! https://koa.com/campgrounds/great-falls/

Our first visit in Great Falls was to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and we enjoyed it very much.  The Interpretive Center is located on the Missouri River and there is a delightful river walk and some pioneer activities taking place there.  We walked down along the River Walk to see the Giant Spring, one of the largest springs that Lewis and Clark documented on their trip. The whole complex is well worth a visit.  (https://www.visitmt.com/listings/general/museum/lewis-and-clark-national-historic-trail-interpretive-center.html) Inside the center, the displays follow the rivers taken by the group and their timeline, so we progressed through their journey, learning of their successes and challenges.  And, of course, there was a film, this time by Ken Burns, which was well worth watching.  Because of waterfalls they actually had to portage their canoes 18 miles around five large waterfalls, so it was easy to look at the area and imagine their problems. 

Our other visit in Great Falls was to the Malstrom Air Force Base to visit the Museum there.  (https://www.malmstrom.af.mil/About-Us/Malmstrom-Museum/) Once we were cleared to visit by the Visitor Center, we made our way to the museum passing by a selection of planes on display.  The museum itself was fascinating.  It explained the mission of the base which was to maintain and keep in constant readiness a number of Minuteman missiles.  Two excellent films explained how this was achieved.  There were also examples of various pieces of missile and control consoles.  The Museum Director was an enthusiastic source of lots of information. And we learned that we had actually seen the relocation of a missile on previous day’s drive towards Great Falls; we had thought it was simply the National Guard. Interesting aside, the museum had a map of the route that Lewis and Clarke took across what is now the air base. (Sorry, no pictures taken on base.)

While everybody knows about the mighty Mississippi River and can probably even remember how to spell it, the Missouri is a bit overlooked. Pity, because it is a huge river, a major tributary of the Mississippi, and, of course, the focus of Jefferson’s dreams of a river route to the Pacific Ocean. As lamented previously, the Lewis and Clarke Expedition is too little taught in US schools. We have joyed retracing the routes in this and previous trips – freely admitting, that we started doing this after stumbling over Lewis and Clarke sites in our own, total ignorance. Upriver from Great Falls, the Missouri passes through an impressive valley, dubbed the “Gates of the Mountains” by Clarke. So naturally, we had to pay a visit. It was pouring rain when we arrived and boarded the boat, but over the course of the visit, the sun came out and, by the time we finished, the boat was in full sunlight.

The tour actually starts upriver, goes downriver, and then returns. But Clarke was coming from the portage at Great Falls, so his first view was of the “Gates” themselves.

The “Gate” as seen looking upriver.
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169600305

From Great Falls we moved on to Deer Lodge.  July 4 was approaching and we decided we wanted to be in a small town to see a celebration.  Denise also wanted to visit the National Park Service Grant-Kohrs Ranch Historical Site in Deer Lodge.  (https://www.nps.gov/grko/index.htm) This site preserves the ranch, founded by Johnny Grant and then bought by Conrad Kohrs, one of the great cattle barons of the 1800’s.  The ranch originally grew when Grant, who spoke only French and a number of Indian languages, had the brilliant idea of exchanging worn out, stressed cattle from the wagon trains for his well fed, thriving animals.  He exchanged one of his for two of the others.  Needless to say, his herds grew as he fattened up the new cattle and then traded them for even more cattle.

The first view of the house is a simple frame building.
But walk around back and it is a huge edifice.

Conrad Kohrs was a German immigrant and we were fascinated by his very decorated Victorian house, not at all what we expected from a frontier home.  It could have been a historical site in Boston or New York. Sadly, such is the fear of people not being able to shut off their flashes, that no photography is allowed inside the house.

The ranch is still functioning and gives wonderful insights into the history of and current methods of ranching, explaining how the bad winter of 1868 changed cattle ranching.  The tremendous loss of animals after a summer drought and vicious winter, led to the realization that winter feed was needed to maintain the herds.

We enjoyed cowboy coffee from the chuck wagon and we chatted to a guitarist/luthier (!) from Pennsylvania who was singing original cowboy songs. 

Coffee fix at the chuck wagon.
Memories of how we used to cook when camping in Botswana.
Like many National Park Service sites, the ranch featured active displays, like the blacksmith’s shop.
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169600296
The ranch extended all the way to the mountains – simply huge.
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169600299
Official National Park Service cat – bored with tourists.
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169600300

It was very pleasant visit.

The July 4 celebration in town took place inside the Old Prison compound and took the form of a pig roast and pot luck.  We were somewhat amazed that a town could be small enough to hold a pot luck that everyone could attend!  We dutifully stopped at the supermarket in town and purchased makings for a pasta salad for our pot luck contribution.  As we are still using the ARB electric cooler, we were unable to refrigerate anything large.  Armed with the salad and insect repellent against the vicious mosquitoes, we set off for the celebration.  It was fun, there was live music for the first part and then we ate dinner. 

No, they didn’t play Folsom Prison Blues!
With the second set, folks were dancing.
Enough for the whole town. Literally.

The pig was excellent!  By this point we were cold,  so we retired to the camper for a coffee and some warmth before returning for the fireworks.  When it is still light at 10.15 PM, showing fireworks gets very late!  But the firework display was fantastic.  It lasted about 20 minutes and was even more amazing as it was one of at least four displays, all at the same time.

As we had received notification that our new fridge was being delivered, we began heading south back to Nevada.  We did make a couple of stops en route.  The first was to Bannack State Park.  We had originally stopped at Nevada City, hoping to ride the Alder Gulch narrow gauge railway to Virginia City.  We discovered it was not running on the day we arrived and Nevada City, a rebuilt town, looked rather like a tourist trap.  So the authentic ghost town at Bannack State Park looked more like something we would enjoy, plus there was a campsite there.  (http://bannack.org) So, off we went. 

The campsite was lovely and we ended up staying two nights.  We walked over to the “town” and had a most interesting and enjoyable visit.  We purchased the information and self guided tour book for $2.00 which proved to be most worthwhile.  It contained lots of information about life in the mining town and how hard it was.

Looking over the town towards the river and the hillside where most of the gold was found. Most of the gold was placer gold, dredged out of the river.

https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169604544
School/Masonic Lodge
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169604537
Mining gear – dredge buckets, torpedo hoist buckets, and hydraulic cannons/nozzles.
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169604541
One of the first houses built, expanded and used well into the twentieth century.
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169604535
Beautiful stairway from hotel lobby.
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169604545
Grave above the town. Mining took its toll.
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169604543
Some of the houses looked as if people had just stepped out for a moment.
https://pbase.com/diplostrat/image/169604536

And then we headed for Idaho.  

Still Searching for Moose!

We left Casper heading north-west en route to Thermopolis.  On the way, we stopped for lunch, quite by accident, at a pull off at Hell’s Half Acre!  It looks over a small, isolated, and deeply eroded valley full of painted desert colors and fanciful shapes. It used to have a restaurant, but now there are only slabs at the overlook. Hell’s Half Acre has been used in various movies, most famously “Starship Troopers” where it became Klendathau, the bug planet! 

As lunch spots go, it was quite spectacular! And we were not bothered by bugs, big or small. Movie fans take note. Like the Alabama Hills, Hell’s Half Acre is an interesting study in how a tiny space can appear huge when you carefully control the camera angles. Hell’s Half Acre was used for the scenes of the capture of the Brain Bug. Other scenes were shot in South Dakota and California.

Thermopolis sounds rather Greek but is actually a pleasant Wyoming town which is the site of multiple hot springs.  (http://thermopolis.com) We stopped at the Hot Springs State Park but decided not to soak there with hundreds of our nearest and dearest acquaintances. It was a Saturday afternoon and the places were all heaving.  So we headed for the Fountain of Youth campground which had its own pools for soaking. It turned out to be a rather ordinary commercial campground, but has three large hot spring pools.  (https://camphotsprings.com) Denise soaked a while in the coolest of the three, which was plenty warm enough for her!  Fred did get into the middle pool for a short while and he said it was hot!  The third pool was too hot to enter, but flowed into the second, which flowed into the first, which flowed out via a channel.  All quite ingenious.  We both enjoyed it all more than we expected to!  We should note that no photos of the soaking experience were taken!

Heading north again, we stopped in Cody, home of Buffalo Bill Cody.  To say that it is his town would not be an exaggeration!  We camped in a lovely campsite beside the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, in the Buffalo Bill State Park. 

And while in Cody we spent a day at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which was a most interesting collection of museums, connected to the Smithsonian in DC.  (https://centerofthewest.org)  Sounds a bit like a tourist trap, but it is actually a very serious set of museums. All were excellently done, especially the Draper Museum of Natural History, which gave insights into local flora and fauna.  We also enjoyed the Museum of William Cody (Buffalo Bill) and the Plains Indian Gallery.  Denise enjoyed the Gallery of Western Art with paintings both historic and modern.  The Firearms Museum was under renovation.  They also have a selection of raptors and we enjoyed meeting a very well behaved screech owl! These are all birds that have been injured and cannot survive on their own in the wild.

Our next adventure was a visit to the town of Kirwin, a ghost mining town in the mountains about 60 miles away.  (https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/kirwin-wyoming)  We were initially worried by all of the “we’re-all-going-to-die” posts on the Internet, especially as the 917 is a bit bigger than a Jeep, but after a lifetime in Africa and especially in the Andes, we decided to give it a try. The first part was paved to Meeteetse and a bit beyond.  Then the road was a well graded gravel one. 

Finally, as we started to climb into the mountains through the Shoshone National Forest, the road was rockier and rougher.  It also included four river crossings, one of these involved driving down the river for 100 yards or so!  This reminded us of the times we hiked to view the forest elephants in Bangui which also involved much time walking through a river!  We were concerned about the water levels in the river as there had been so much rain this spring, but the the crossings were made without a problem. 

While it is clear that the road could get interesting in the rain or snow, it turned out to be very easy when dry.

The trail was almost always at least one lane wide.

The ghost town was at 9,000 feet and a bit bleak on a cloudy day, with 12,000 foot peaks all around. 

The mines were long abandoned but some of the buildings remained.

While we only met one vehicle on the way in, there was a constant stream of trucks and 4×4 off road buggies coming and going.  The flowers however, were beautiful in the slightly lower altitudes; miniature lupins, purple milk vetch, harebells and possibly Rocky Mountain iris. 

 

9,000 feet is high, so we descended a bit and camped at the Brown Mountain Campground run by the Forestry Service. It proved a delightful spot.  We were the only people there and enjoyed seeing a number of pronghorn and mule deer, passing by to feed and drink.  And, the next morning, we finally saw a moose! A young one, but a real, live, moose at last! 

Back in Cody, we treated ourselves to a lunch of wood fired pizza at the Trailhead restaurant (http://www.trailheadcodywy.com) and returned to the campground at Buffalo Bill State Park.

We wanted to see the Medicine Wheel, a sacred American Indian site in the Big Horn Mountains, but on our way, we stopped for lunch at the Visitor Center for the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.  (https://www.nps.gov/bica/index.htm) A gentleman we met in the parking lot recommended that we visit the Canyon, chatting as he admired the camper!  So into the Visitor Center we went and saw the movie and then asked for information.  The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area stretches into Montana and in fact we ended up camping at the Barry’s Landing campground in Montana.  There are wild horses, bighorn sheep and various other deer wandering in certain areas, though in our particular case the bighorn sheep had gone to higher altitudes as it was hot.  We stopped at the Devil Canyon Overlook for spectacular views of the Bighorn Canyon and Lake before camping. 

While we admired the view, the deer admired us.

We also visited a ghost ranch  owned by the “cattle queens”, Caroline Lockhart, also an author and journalist.  The site was green and lovely but one could only imagine how cold it is in the winter!

Descending the road we stopped to admire the tipi circles and mustangs.

The valley has hundreds of these stone circles. The stones were used to anchor the bases of tipis.

Back on route to the Medicine Wheel, we tackled one of the most spectacular roads we have ever driven, Wyoming 14 Alt.  The road closes in the winter and we can certainly see why.  (http://www.whp.dot.state.wy.us/home/ports/mountain_road_information.html) It climbs about 4,000 feet in about 5 miles at a 10 percent grade and would be just as bad going down as going up. 

We did rather crawl at times, but we made it and enjoyed the spectacular views some of which are over 200 miles. Much has been written about the Moki Dugway, but we think that 14A matches it.

The Medicine Wheel was well worth the visit.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicine_Wheel/Medicine_Mountain_National_Historic_Landmark) The Forest Service had only just opened it for the season and there were still some snow banks covering the trail but the views were spectacular.  The Medicine Wheel is sacred to several American Indian tribes and we saw various offerings and prayer bundles at different spots.  Interestingly, since no one really knows who built the circle or when, it is considered a universal site and thus, unlike Devil’s Tower, there are no restrictions on photography of offerings, etc. The roundtrip path is only about three miles but at 10,000 feet of altitude and clambering through the snowbanks, we felt it. 

The trail rises up to the wheel.

How long have these rocks been arranged like this? Why? And by whom?

We then headed for a Forest Service campground back on Rte 14A where we found a lovely site and settled in for the night.

The next morning we headed out heading for Montana and to Denise’s delight there was a moose on duty, browsing at the entrance to the campground.  Denise was happy!

A moose at last!

Going to the Devil 

We set off to Devils Tower through a rainstorm or two and arrived at the National Park Service campsite just before the next downpour! 

Devils Tower from the road in. And yes, the mountains on the left are new towers in the making.

From the campsite, we were able to walk up to visit with the prairie dogs in a huge prairie dog town. They are so cute, popping in and out of their holes and chittering warnings to the rest of the pack.  Cutest were the little ones who liked to play as well as eat!

Back at our campsite we took in the Ranger presentation and simply marveled at that the Tower was RIGHT THERE, completely dominating our view. Never have we seen a campsite with an equal view.

That night the heavens opened. No flying saucers, but lots of rain.

The next morning it was obvious that we were going to have to stay a second night in order to fully enjoy the park, so after getting change from a nearby camper, we paid our fee!  

We then set off to hike up to the Visitor Center and walk the Tower Trail around the base of the Tower.  The 1.3 miles to the Visitor Center felt a lot further as most of it was seriously uphill but we made it and joined a Ranger tour of the Tower Trail.  He was a source of great information including where the ladder up the tower was located and various dates connected to its history.  Sadly, we learned that the flying saucers actually landed in a building in Mobile, Alabama. (Curse you, Steven Spielberg!) After a quick visit to the Visitor Center, we hiked back to the campground and to our lunch! (And vowed to bring granola bars or trail mix the next time!)

Along the way we met a lady who shared this truism: You climb on your heart and descend on your knees. Ain’t it the truth! Total distance was about four miles, which gave us a great appetite!

The next day we set off for Deadwood, a historical site and former mining town in South Dakota that has kept a lot of its old buildings and charm.  We wandered the Main Street, admired some of the architecture and even managed to find a latte in former gasoline station. And, if that were not odd enough, they also did glass blowing. 

It turns out that we were seen by some friends with a Tiger who live nearby. They were not in their Tiger, so we did not recognize them and, by the time we got their phone messages, it was too late to visit. But this gives us all the more incentive to return.

Courtesy of the Reader’s Digest book, “Off the Beaten Path,” we knew that there is the Chapel in the Hills, a copy of a Norwegian “Stavekirk” or wooden stave church, in Rapid City. This we had to see! It turned out the be a simply lovely site, on the side of a mountain, right in a residential area. The church resembles the wooden construction of a Viking Long Ship and is simply beautiful. And yes, it is in daily use. (http://www.chapel-in-the-hills.org)

We wanted to drive the Wildlife Viewing Loop at Custer State Park because they have about 1500 bison and Denise wanted to see the bison (and other animals).  Camping space is at a premium, so we had booked one of the last three sites available. By sheer dumb luck, it turned out to be just lovely. Animal viewing is often best at the end of the day, and so, with our fingers crossed, we set out on the wildlife viewing loop. It was a disappointing tour.  We saw both mule and pronghorn deer, wild donkeys, and some wild turkeys. Finally, we saw one lone bison, trying to shelter from the pouring rain.  So back to the campsite for supper we went, vowing to try again in the morning.

And after breakfast, we set off again.  This time our loop was much more successful.  We had a bison traffic jam and found bison all around us, behind us, next to us and in front of us.  Most had calves with them and they were so darling.  A bit playful and a bit scared at the same time. 

When we finally ran out of bison, we left the park to head back to Casper and drove through the Wind Cave Park, where we saw even more bison and some more prairie dogs.  So feeling well and truly fortunate, we headed for our campsite in Casper.  

We did make one stop at the Ayres Natural Bridge, an absolutely gorgeous and green oasis in the middle of the generally dry desert. The Bridge was noted by some heading west in the wagon trains.  We even saw domestic bison in a field as we drove to it! (https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/ayres-natural-bridge)

But then it was time to sort out fridges and coolers at our campsite, do laundry and other chores before heading out north the next day.

The Oregon Trail Revisited

The BNSF railroad runs massive coal trains from Wyoming to electrical plants in the south. We were used to big trains, but this empty train heading north was one of the longest we have ever seen.

Entering Wyoming we spent our first night at an amazing campground at the Vedauwoo Recreation Area.  It is an area full of huge boulders and cliffs and is a very popular climbing site.  It reminded us of an area south of Jos in Nigeria, that we had camped in during our trip across the Sahara. (https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/regions/Rocky_Mountain/VedauwooRecAreaPoleMtn/index.shtml)

We then headed north to Casper through some lovely green country (obviously lots of rain here also!) where we saw lots of pronghorn deer grazing in the meadows with the cattle.  And there were lots of cattle!  Courtesy of the Harvest Hosts website  we found Historic Trails West, who offered free camping for the night if we joined one of their covered Conestoga wagon expeditions along the Oregon Trail.  (https://www.historictrailswest.com)

This sounded like tons of fun, and is just the sort of silly thing we enjoy, so we signed up for a wagon ride/pioneer dinner.  And it WAS tons of fun!  The driver included explanations of the Trail and background into the lives of those heading west.  Most fascinating was how to get the two Percheron horses (not authentic from the time but practical) and the wagonload of people safely down a steep part of the trail.  Not to mention getting them up it again on the return.  Our meal was excellent, especially the cherry cobbler!

We spent a pleasant night up on the bluff surrounded by pronghorn deer and stayed warm and dry while the wind howled and the rain fell!  We have been experiencing lots of afternoon storms in Colorado and in Wyoming and some of them are quite violent.

The driver of our Conestoga wagon told us about the annual National Collegiate Rodeo Championship taking place in Casper at that time, so we decided to delay a day to attend the semi finals.  We had no idea that Western universities had rodeo teams and competed against each other for money and prizes.  We thoroughly enjoyed our first rodeo and watched with awe the bronco riding, the steer riding, and all the other events.  The skill of the riders and their horses is incredible. Fred, on the other hand, was most impressed that the majority of the broncos, steers, and even goats, made an immediate bee line for the exit chute as soon as their event was over. There were, of course, “shaggers” to catch and direct the animals, but in most cases it simply wasn’t  necessary, the animals knew when their event was over and left of their own accord. It may have been our first rodeo, but it was clearly not theirs.

We also visited the Fort Caspar fort and museum.  The site had long been used by traders, emigrants, and settlers. Over the years various trading posts, military installations, fords, ferries, and a bridge were built there.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Caspar)

Still in Oregon Trail mode, we headed south to visit Independence Rock.  This rock was a gathering point and market for those heading west. Lots of names were carved on it by the settlers and it was known as the goal to be reached by July 4, so as to avoid the greater likelihood of winter snows in the mountains as they progressed to Oregon.  We did not find many clear inscriptions probably as we did not climb the rock itself. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence_Rock_(Wyoming)) We also went to look at Devil’s Gate, a cleft in the mountain that the settlers had noted and visited on their route west. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_Gate_(Wyoming)) We were not able to get closer than the overlook. From Independence Rock, the emigrants began an easy, one hundred mile climb to South Pass, a remarkably low and wide pass in the Rocky Mountains. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pass_(Wyoming)) Looking back at Lewis and Clark, and others, the South Pass was a kind of Shangri-La for European Americans trying to travel west. And by making it easy to cross the Rocky Mountains, the South Pass helped spell the death knell for the Plains Indian nations.

New and improved panorama! Now even wider!

While on this jaunt, we realized that our refrigerator was not working well, again! So we turned it off, restarted it and prayed it would get its act together. We camped for the night beside the North Platte River in one of the BLM fishing camps, Chalk Bluffs.

The next morning our refrigerator (the one that was replaced last year in Maine) was really dead. So we returned to our campground in Casper with the aim of getting it looked at. The campground, the Casper East RV park (http://caspereastrvpark.com), welcomed us back and recommended a local RV repair shop. The shop, however However, told us to go away until August so we decided on Plan B. We ordered an ARB 50 quart plug in unit from Amazon and a new refrigerator,  a Nova Kool this time, the same as we had in the Tiger. We no longer trust the Thetford Norcold.  Meanwhile Denise borrowed a cooler from the camp owner which she will return when we return on Thursday to pick up our ARB. We did mention that the RV park was wonderful?

Why We Love the Loneliest Road or back on Route 50 again.

Our next stop was in Nevada to visit friends. They are long time travelers who recently moved to Nevada following a disastrous house fire. (http://robinsonfuso.com) Now established in Nevada, Jon has let his tool and equipment fancy take flight and has, I think, one each of everything from 3D printer to tractor.

The perfect place to pull out the cassette toilet and replace it with a composting toilet. We loved our Nature’s Head on the Tiger, but this time went with a C-Head as it is a better fit for the tiny bath on the 917. Jon was in fine form, machining a foot for the front of the toilet, reworking the teak shower floor, 3D printing a shower plug, and even repurposing the fan and vent from the SOG so that the C-Head has a power vent. Did I mention Jon’s superb craftsmanship?

And if you were wondering, the C-Head is wonderful. (http://c-head.com) Look for a compare/contrast with the Nature’s Head in a future post.

Time to head east for our appointment at Terry Lee Enterprises in La Junta so we set off east along Route 50.  What more could we ask?  The pavement is good, the traffic light, and the scenery spectacular. Plus we know where the camping places are.  We ran in and out of rainstorms as we drove, which helped to explain how green everything was this year (much greener than the last time we drove Route 50 two years ago).

And we stopped, as always, in our favorite town of Ely.  Ely always provides what we need, when we need it and whatever it may be.  Previously we needed a car wash, a new fuse for electric steps, and espresso.  Ely provided.  On that trip we discovered the Happy Valley Chinese restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed lunch there.  Another time, all we needed  was dinner at the Happy Valley restaurant and a state park for an overnight. Again, Ely provided. This time we needed peat moss in a reasonably sized package for our new composting toilet, a supermarket, and of course lunch.  Ely provided, so we bought a perfectly sized pack of peat moss and our Chinese lunch was wonderful.  (And the portions so large that we got three more dinners out of it!) Unfortunately we have never managed to be there at the weekend to ride the steam train, but we live in hopes that we may manage that one of these days. Any excuse to return.

We continued east towards the Great Basin.

After a nostalgic night’s camping in the Great Basin National Park, we entered Utah near the town of Delta where Route 50 wanders rather and finally becomes 1-70. 

But we were back on 50 as we left Grand Junction, heading through Colorado. Another night of nostalgia as we found the Dry Gulch campground in the Curecanti National Recreation Area for the third time.

Our first tourist stop was Fort Uncompaghre in Delta, Colorado.  (http://fortuncompahgre.org) It took us a while to find it and we enjoyed our driving tour of the town!  The fort, like Bents Old Fort near La Junta, which we had previously visited, was a trading post in the 1800’s. This is a reconstructed site and extremely well done.  We have visited a couple of these forts and we learn something new each time. 

The whole history of the Santa Fe trail and the “Old Spanish Trail” to Mexico City and Los Angeles (La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de los Angles) is fascinating and relatively little known. This time we learned how valuable were the furs which the trappers caught and the reason for the preference for beaver hats in Europe – the fur is naturally waterproof. Georgette Heyer and Jane Austin fans take note! Now you know why Mr. Darcy, and others, favored curly beaver hats.

The various trails, Oregon, Santa Fe, “Old Spanish”,  and the rest, are interesting studies in geography as destiny. Some of them went hundreds of miles out of the way to find a lower pass through the mountains, or more assured water and grazing for animals. We you consider that they were all traversed mostly on foot, this could mean weeks of extra travel. On the other hand, it could be the difference between arriving alive and perishing in the desert. In contrast, European trade routes were known and in habited for thousands of years. The only thing similar may be the Silk Road. Even the trans Sahara routes had been used for millennia.

We spent the night at the Winery of the Holy Cross Abbey, in Cañon City, Colorado, courtesy of the Harvest Hosts group.  (Of course we purchased a couple of bottles of wine, which we shall enjoy!)  It was a pleasant spot with nice views of the abbey.

On a whim, we decided to ride the the Royal Gorge Railroad through Colorado’s Royal Gorge.  This proved to be great trip on a beautiful sunny morning.  We booked breakfast on the 9.15 a.m. train and enjoyed our 2 hour ride, through the Gorge, with eyes open for animals, while enjoying our breakfast burritos and coffee.  We saw various deer, both mule and pronghorn, and missed the supposed sightings of the bighorn sheep, though some saw them!  The camouflage is so good it is hard to see the animals unless they move.  

We then headed up the road to La Junta. We checked into the little motel and took the 917 to Terry Lee Enterprises bright and early on Monday morning. We didn’t need much, and indeed, the spare tire carrier probably could have been modified by any welding shop, but it felt good to let Billy modify his own creation. We changed every fluid and replaced several pinion seals. The bottom of the truck is much cleaner now.

The truck done, we headed back to Cañon City to buy more wine. (Well, it was excellent and they let us stay a second night!) The next morning we took a four mile walk along the old railroad path overlooking the Arkansas River. We went through three tunnels which had been cut by hand by prisoners from the penitentiary in Cañon City. Cut by hand as no one was going to give prisoners dynamite! We took photos of the train as it went and returned and then we met a herd of big horn sheep. None of this viewing through the train window – we were up close and personal. To be fair, I think the sheep were much less impressed than we were.

We then headed off for Leadville with an afternoon coffee stop at the Brown Dog in Buena Vista, another find from a previous trip. (https://browndogcoffee.com) We found a wonderful, huge dispersed camping area just outside of town and settled in for the night.

The great AT&T coverage let us make our first blog post of this trip.