Sunday, March 15, 2015

Padre Island National Seashore

Sunrise While Camping on the Beach at Padre Island
Padre Island National Seashore protects the longest undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world. Sun, surf, amazing birding, and long stretches of drivable sand are what attract visitors.  When we mentioned to our daughter that we were headed for Padre Island in March, she asked if we knew Padre was a destination for spring break madness.  We quickly determined that spring breakers head for developed South Padre Island, a safe distance from the solitude to be found in the 70 miles of protected and undeveloped National Seashore. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Austin, TX

Texas Barbeque at the Salt Lick
Austin is the self proclaimed "live music capital of the world."  Austin also boasts the central campus of the University of Texas, the LBJ Library, and the Texas State Capitol.  We identified an interesting RV park just across the Colorado River (the other one) from downtown.  Most of the RVs at the Pecan Grove RV Park appeared semi-permanent, but the operators have a few transient sites for cash only, if you are fortunate enough to land one.  The campground is very much in the city and a moderate walk to downtown.  However, the major prime visitor sites are spread out and we quickly determined that public transit and cabs made more sense to sample the sites.  The bus system is actually very convenient and visitor friendly.

We took a slight detour between San Antonio and Austin to sample Texas Barbeque at the Salt Lick in the town of Driftwood.  The first things we noticed were the Texas sized parking lots, a guy unloading that day's truck load of hardwood, the smoke rising from a chimney in the large main building, and the unmistakable smell of grilled meat.  The Rancher Combo Plate (senior portion) was more than a senior should eat in a single sitting.  It was simply finger licking good.

Friday, March 6, 2015

San Antonio, Tx

Mission San Jose
San Antonio was on our path to the gulf coast.  We had visited the city many years ago and the city offers plenty of reasons to visit again.  High on the list are the famed River Walk with its unique urban park feel and many dining options, the Alamo with its revered history, and other missions in the area.  We find that a few days here and there in an urban area with full hookups at a private campground lets you catch up on house(truck)keeping chores and provides some convenience to do what needs to be done.  Clean laundry, an RV wash, an oil change, and some housekeeping and we are ready to test the public transit system and dine at highly rated Boudro's on the River Walk.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Big Bend National Park

Rio Grande Overlook With Mexico on the Left
One does not simply stumble across Big Bend National Park.  This 800,000 acre park is truly off the beaten path and the area was once referred to by early explorers as El Despoblado, the uninhabited land.  Elevations ranging from wooded 8,000 foot peaks to desert floor at below 1,800 feet provide diversity and varied opportunities to explore.  Varied elevations, wide open vistas, interesting and scenic geology, deep river canyons, and the shared southern border overlooking Mexico combine to make Big Bend a unique experience.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Arizona to Texas

Cattail Cove Campground on Lake Havasu
Our transit from Las Vegas to Guadelope Mountains and Carlsbad National Parks took us through Arizona.  As we had previously visited both Phoenix and Tucson, we explored a bit further and passed by both cities.  Based on distances to be made, we stayed at Cattail Cove, an Arizona State Park on Lake Havasu and at Picacho Peak State Park outside of Tucson.  By the time we neared the Guadelupe Mountains and Carlsbad, New Mexico, cold weather was reaching as far as Northern Texas with 6" of snow predicted in Guadelupe National Park.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Las Vegas by RV

Bellagio Fountain
After our visit to Death Valley, we stopped by Las Vegas as it was on our intended path.  Show girls and gambling are not high on our list of things to see and do.  However, Las Vegas also provides world class dining, entertainment, fun and extravagant architecture, and endless people watching.  There is nothing quite like the Las Vegas strip and we found ourselves meandering in and out of several of the more spectacular high end hotels while we logged roughly 10 miles of walking each of two days in the city.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley from Dante's View
Death Valley National Park is full of pleasant surprises, but it is important to time a visit based on seasonally cooler temparatures.  Extremes in elevations and seasonal temperatures combine to create unique and uncommon geological vistas and biological diversity.  Salt flats, palm oases with predicatable high volume springs, amazing night skies, colorful geologic deposits, a rich history, and even a "Castle" tour reflect a wide choice of things to do and see while visiting Death Valley.  The lowest, hottest, and driest location in the country, the Park is our largest National Park in the lower 48 states and  spans 3.4 million acres in CA and NV.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree and Typical View
Joshua Tree National Park is located near Palm Springs, CA and boasts a wide variety of features and activities.  Among these, the Park includes a couple of different desert climates to explore, world class rock climbing observation and experiences, an incredible night sky, and a concentration of the handsome Joshua tree and other interesting desert vegetation. 

We stayed at the Indian Cove Campground and found ourselves tucked into a very private site at the base of one of the many interesting rock formations in the Park. Cracked and weathered monoliths have left behind what appear to be piles of interestingly arranged boulders.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pinnacles National Park

Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies and Balconies Cave
Pinnacles National Park is our newest National Park.  It's more accessible eastern entrance is located roughly an hour and a half southeast of Monterey, CA.  Pinnacles became a National Park in 2013 and is not nearly as developed as most other National Parks. The Park is situated near the San Andreas Fault.  Earthquake and volcanic action created most of the major features found within the Park.  Interesting formations including balconied hills and talus caves attract visitors.  Talus caves lie beneath large boulders that form a roof over a narrow canyon. 

On the Road Again

Point Lobos near Monterey and Carmel, CA
Following our last trip, we stored the beast in Alameda, CA in early November before flying to our new home in Michigan for the holidays.  In early February, we picked up the beast and headed off to explore several warm weather sights in CA, NV, AZ, and TX.

Storing the RV in different locations has made a lot of sense as it has allowed us a great deal of flexibility in scheduling our trips, the ability to store the RV in more forgiving climates, and the incentive to leisurely explore several parts of the country with desirable seasonal changes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

Sequoias in the Giant Forest
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are two separate parks, but managed jointly by the Park Service and are best visited together as main features of both parks are about an hour and a half apart.  Deep canyons, high mountains, and standing in awe of several of the largest and oldest trees in the world are some of the more obvious reasons for coming.  Both parks are accessed from the west as the width and elevation of several Sierra Nevada peaks in this area precludes a road passing through to the eastern side.  From the Big Stump entrance to Kings Canyon Park, one can continue Northeasterly into Kings Canyon Park or Southeasterly into Sequoia National Park.  The area becomes a bit confusing as one passes through acreage designated National Forest, National Monument, and National Park.  Regardless, there are only a couple of major roads to learn.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley With El Capitan and Half Dome
Some of the world’s most photographed and recognizable natural features are found in Yosemite National Park.  Yosemite Valley alone  includes El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world, Yosemite Falls, the tallest falls in North America and second tallest in the world, and Half Dome, perhaps the most photographed glacier sculpted rock in the world.  Yosemite is full of natural wonder, history, and visitors, which number over 3.5 million a year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe From Sugar Pine Pt State Park
Lake Tahoe straddles the California and Nevada state lines.  With a surface elevation of 6,229 feet, Lake Tahoe is the highest alpine lake in North America.  The lake is the second deepest in the U.S.  measured at 1,645 feet and is large with 72 miles of shoeline.  The depth, size, and elevation combine to provide a broad range of summer and winter activities for area residents and visitors.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Thermal Features on Bumpass Hell Trail
A visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park is an education in volcanism.  The Lassen Peak eruptions in 1915 – 1917 were the last major volcanic eruption in the Cascade Range prior to the Mount St Helens eruption in 1980.  There are dozens of quietly active and dormant volcanoes in the western states, primarily in the Cascade Range.  Therefore, Lassen Volcanic Park is an important and natural study center of volcanoes as it contains all four types of volcanoes and many types of thermal features associated with volcanic activity.  It is also a good example of volcanic activity recovery in the Cascade Range.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lava Beds National Monument

Large Lava Bed Next to Main Road
The Lava Beds National Monument is located in Tulelake, CA, near the Oregon border.  The main attraction of the monument is the ability to explore 20+ of the over 700 lava tubes within the park.  The area also includes other volcanic features such as lava beds, cinder cones, and spatter cones.  Evidence of native peoples dating back 10,000 years are also reflected in petroglyphs and pictographs within the Monument.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Crater Lake National Park

Wizard Island in Crater Lake From Rim Drive
Crater Lake is both a geologic and scenic wonder.  The 33 mile Rim Drive provides dozens of breathtaking views of the deepest lake in America and reportedly clearest lake in the world.  The lake basin is at a high elevation as it is the remains of a 14,000 foot volcanic mountain that erupted and then collapsed onto itself 7,700 years ago leaving interesting geologic  formations and a “caldera” to trap rain and snow melt to create a deep and unusually environmentally isolated body of water.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Oregon Coast

Central Oregon Coast
After leaving Willamette Valley, we landed on the Oregon Central Coast at Lincoln City and traveled south to the Coos Bay Area.  The Oregon Cost is noted for its scenic variety, ruggedness, and the amount of public access.  Blue skies mixed with dense fog, and periods of high moisture (rain or drizzle) combine to provide interesting coastal weather.  The moisture helps make the landscape relatively lush and picturesque.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Willamette Valley Oregon

Willamette Valley Vineyard
Willamette Valley, Oregon is often associated with high quality Pinot Noir wine.  Sampling a few wines while passing by was our primary reason for scheduling a few days in the Valley.  However, we quickly found that Willamette Valley also offers the visitor much in the way of history, varied produce, and a quick realization as to why the Oregon Trail landed many pioneers here.  The combination of fertile soil, long growing season, and the level of moisture favor many types of agriculture that support an impressive array of orchards, vineyards, hop farms, sod farms, vegetable farms, and countless nurseries producing a broad range of landscaping trees and shrubs.  When early pioneers came upon this fertile Valley, many saw little reason to proceed further.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mount Hood

Mount Hood From Trillium Lake Campground
Mount Hood provides spectacular views and photo opportunities from many miles while approaching the area, if the mountain is not obscured by clouds.   A rugged peak that stands out against the horizon remains snow capped throughout the year and remains a summer haven for snow buffs.  The main roads provide access to many National Forest campgrounds in the summer.  In the winter, these roads provide access to many “snow-parks.”  Permit stickers are required to use the  snow parks that provide access to snow mobiles, and alpine and downhill skiers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Columbia River & Gorge

Long Beach, Washington Near Cape Disappointment
As you travel in the Northwest on the western side of the Continental Divide, you are often reminded of the importance of the Columbia River Watershed.  You are left with little doubt that the Columbia River has been historically important to Native Americans, early western traders and explorers, hydroelectric power grids, irrigation needs for many western crops, salmon spawning, transportation, and recreation

Lewis and Clark Expedition

Exhibit at Lewis and Clark National Historic Park
A very interesting dimension to the area including the mouth of the Columbia River and the Columbia River Gorge is the history surrounding the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Many historical markers note locations visited by the expedition while in the area, and there is a cooperative National, Oregon, and Washington effort to guide visitors to many of these sites within a 40 mile radius.  Particularly impressive and informative is the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park at Fort Clatsop where Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery wintered in 1805 – 1806 before beginning the journey back to St. Louis.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Olympic National Park

View of Road to Hurricane Ridge

The overall size of the Park and the diverse environments available within Olympic National Park provide exploration opportunities that can fill several days.  Snow capped mountain peaks, crystal clear fresh water lakes, rain forests, hot springs, and rugged ocean beaches are all within the Park in different areas.  We spent six nights in four different campgrounds and did not lack for vistas, education, and hiking opportunities.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mount Rainer National Park

Glacier Capped Mt Rainier
We did not see Mt Rainier on our way from Seattle or upon our arrival at the Park’s Cougar Rock Campground, as it was not a clear travel day.  At the campground we were greeted with a sign notifying us that we were camping in a “Hazardous Area” potentially subject to mudslides, debris flows, and volcanic activity.  Mt. Rainier is one of several active volcanoes in the Cascade Range and there is little doubt (certainly in the mind of the attorney who drafted the notice) that the rapid melting of its glaciated cap would reek havoc on the campground and surrounding area.

Monday, September 22, 2014

North Cascades to Rainier

View from Anacortes
On our way from North Cascades to the Rainier National Park, we spent time visiting a niece in Seattle while staying both north and south of Seattle.  We spent a couple of nights at Deception Pass State Park at Whidbey Island north of Seattle and made a visit to nearby Anacortes.  Clearly a boater's paradise with plenty of islands and coves to explore in the many large and small islands in the area.

Monday, September 15, 2014

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades View
North Cascades National Park has few facilities and services.  This Park bordering Canada is all about wildness and relatively extreme back country experiences.  Leaving the quaint western theme town of Winthrop, WA on the western side of the one road through the Park, there should have been a sign that read no gas for 74 miles.  We made it, but the driver was criticized for starting through the Park with only an eighth of a tank of gas.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Grand Coulee Dam

Grand Coulee Dam
We made Grand Coulee Dam a rest stop between Glacier National Park and North Cascades National Park.  A visit to the dam and hydroelectric facility are a good introduction to how the northwestern states have harnessed some of the powerful water resources available for both power and irrigation needs.  We would not describe the dam and surrounding area as a destination, but a good and very interesting rest stop, if in the vicinity.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Glacier National Park

Going to The Sun Road
Glacier Park does contain some modest glaciers.  However, the Park's name is more based on the landscape of formations and geology left behind by long past and much larger glaciers.  Many impressive large and deep lakes, broad U shaped valleys, and steep glacial slopes were left behind by impressive historical glacial action.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Yellowstone National Park

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Yellowstone is special enough to have been made the first national park in the world in 1872.  The initial reports of explorers carried descriptions of thermal features, other geological wonders, and animal variety and abundance that were difficult to comprehend.  Later photographic evidence supported by color paintings ultimately played a meaningful role in catching congressional attention toward protecting the contents of the park.  Visitors continue to arrive from around the world to experience Yellowstone first hand.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Grand Teton National Park

Tetons Viewed From Jackson Hole
Many make a destination visit to this scenic park.  However, a big attraction is the proximity of Yellowstone National Park and the western feeling city of Jackson, WY.  The spectacular rugged mountain vistas of the Tetons is the major draw here.  While the elevation rise of many other high mountain ranges is made via extensive foothills, the Tetons view is of a rise by as much as 7,000 feet pretty much unobstructed by foothills.  The views are available from many perspectives over many miles as the roads in the relatively flat valley called Jackson Hole provide many photo opportunities.

Southern Wyoming

Flaming Gorge Campground, WY
After attending the wedding of a niece in the Denver area, we crossed southern Wyoming heading to Jackson and the Grand Teton National Park.  Southern Wyoming is largely characterized by sagebrush priaries, small towns, and some oil well development.

We spent a night at the Firehole Canyon campground in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation area near Rock Springs, WY.  This was a bit off the beaten track, but a pleasant surprise with spectacular chimney rock formations, water access on a reservoir, cabana type shaded picnic tables at each site, and solar heated hot water showers.