Chuck & Linda wanted to stop for lunch. Alan & I had the barn in sight & wanted to snack in the van. So we split up. I dropped Alan & the popup at Chuck & Linda’s house in Sanford. He moved his stuff from the popup into his car & went on to his home in Bluffton, SC. I didn’t wait for the popup. Planning to pick it up later, I took off for Apopka around 4:00.
Traffic in the west spoiled me. Took me well over an hour to get home. Makes me want to move.
But it is so good to be home. Keith was off for the day & greeted me with a big hug. Ajah was really glad to see me too. Elena came home from work & gave me a warm, fuzzy greeting too.
So. Trip over. I wonder where I’ll be going next summer?
We’re in Florida!!!! We drove down through Panama City & along the coast of the panhandle, which is largely awful until Mexico Beach. Traffic congestion I’m talking about. The beaches are wonderful, especially Grayton Beach State Park. We stopped for lunch there & walked the beach. No cars, no condos, no crowds, exquisite beach, makes Dr. Beach’s top 10 beaches in the world list every year.
We stopped in Appalachicola & bought shrimp & oysters for supper & to take home. Met the owner, Fred, an old man with a Gabby Hayes hat & no teeth, quite a character. He told me I looked like a little shore bird & thought I could walk really fast with my skinny, little legs.
We had never stayed at Ochlockonee River State Park, south of Sopchoppy, FL. before so we called it a day there. A nice little park, only 30 sites, but the restrooms were new & clean. The sites were large with pine forest & palmettos all around. We envision a jam/campout here with a sidetrip to Fred’s for oysters in the shell & shrimp. The ranger said we could camp free just for playing. The drawback is the location, 5 – 6 hours from Sanford.
Short driving day again today, only 183 miles. We stopped in Theodore, AL at Payne’s RV Park near Mobile & Bellingrath Gardens. Thanks goodness, these gardens were open. We all took in the gardens. Chuck & Linda toured the house too. Mr. Bellingrath had the first Coke-Cola distributorship in Alabama, got in when Coke first hit the market in Atlanta. He & his wife had no children so he deeded their lovely summer home & gardens to a foundation which keeps them beautifully for the public. Quite a place.
We went out for a seafood dinner, even me.
I asked Alan this morning, “Where will we cross the Mississippi?” We got to talking about something else & never got that question answered. Maybe I should have pursued that inquiry.
I had us heading to St. Francisville, LA, to the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge. I had read an articled that the largest tree of any species east of the Sierra Madres was located there, a huge cypress, bigger even than our own Senator, the Florida State Champion Tree.
I started getting worried when we saw a directional sign at an intersection, taking us to the St. Francisville Ferry. Ferry? Oh, yeah, in small print, it does say “toll ferry” on the map. So that’s where we would be crossing the Mississippi. We stopped & talked with a nice gentleman who eye-balled Chuck & Linda’s rig & thought it would fit. To get to St. Francisville, the options are the ferry or going all the way into Baton Rouge to get on another road.
So we went on to the ferry. A sign at a turnaround gave the length limit. Chuck would fit. They waved me on. They let the other cars go ahead of Chuck & put him on last, parking straight across the ferry. He was first off on the other side. It was actually a fun trip. Before departure I had climbed on top of the life preserver box to take pictures. I heard a voice over the long speaker, telling me to get down. Then I found out why. The captain let lose with an ear-piercing horn blast, signaling that the ferry was leaving the dock. I probably would have fallen right off the box.
We talked to another ferry passenger about Cat Island. He knew nothing about the tree & told us how bad the roads were there. Hmmm. We found a visitor’s center in town. The docent knew all about the tree, suggested we leave the 5th wheel & go in my van. Okay. No problem. We found the refuge, No problem. We drove it. The roads kept getting worse & worse, washboards so bad I couldn’t go more than 10 mph. There was no signage about the tree. We had no idea how much more we would have to endure, new shocks or not, it wasn’t fun. We gave up. I checked the mileage on the way out, 3 miles, felt like 30. Later we read that the tree was 5 miles in. Oh, well. I’ve had a lot of fabulous ideas this trip, but Cat Island wasn’t one of them.
St. Francisville is delightful, lots of shady streets & plantations. We took in Rosedown Plantation, toured the house & grounds.
Then we got too tired to go on & stopped in Amite, LA, at Natalbany Creek Campground & RV Park. We only did 185 miles today. Not surprising, with our misadventures in Cat Island. The campground came complete with a flock of beggar ducks. I got out of my camper in the morning to find the picnic table covered with ducks, waiting for me to come out & maybe feed them.
We hoped to spend the day with Margaret & Jerry Wright in Kennard & do some jamming. Unfortunately, we hadn’t made contact with them. They were away for the weekend at a dulcimer event, & we missed them. We had killed time, grocery shopping in Walmart, hoping to connect with them. By the time we gave up & went on, we got a really late start.
We went on to Louisiana. My plans to take in Hodges Gardens in Florien failed. The Gardens were closed, like permanently closed. Drat. Then we drove the Longleaf Trail Scenic Byway in the Kisatchie Forest. Interesting, but nothing special. We stopped for the night at Colfax at the Colfax Rec. Area. It was a really nice campground. New, the Core of Engineers had a hand in it so it was really well done, right along the river. The trees were still small, but the weather was pleasant. Shade wasn’t a big consideration. They even had wi-fi.
Along the route today, we got stopped along with gazillion other cars, by a bad traffic accident. They suggested we turn around & find another route. Well, how, exactly were we supposed to turn around. A nearby ranchhouse had a big front yard. They directed Chuck into the yard to turn around. We got one of the guys to have a couple of cars move, & we were able to swing wide & turn the van around.
Then we had to go way out of the way to find another route. We couldn’t find a campground & spent the night in a Walmart parking lot in Crockett, TX. We drove 443 miles today. We were exhausted.
We spent the morning touring Carlsbad Caverns. We rented audio wand-things & did the self-guided tour of The Big Room. We opted to take the elevator down & back up instead of climbing down the natural entrance (& past the bats). The Big Room is about the size of 5 football fields. I’ve never seen anything like it, even in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The formations were intricate, varying from enormous to minute. We all thoroughly enjoyed the tour.
We crossed the Texas line today & stayed the night in Big Spring, TX at the Big Spring RV Park.
We stayed at Windmill RV Park in Carlsbad, NM. The plan was to visit Carlsbad Caverns the next day & then head out. But then we read information about the nightly bat exodus from the Caverns. That sounded interesting so we got ourselves there by 6:15 & heard an interesting talk by one of the rangers before the bats started pouring out, some 321,000 plus. The ranger asked us to be as quiet as possible. Sometimes the bats get spooked by the crowd & go back in. So there we were, about 100 people, sitting ever so quietly in the amphitheatre, watching wide-eyed as bats upon bats spiraled up out of the mouth of the cavern. It was quite windy. As the bats got up to ground level, the winds disrupted their nice spiral & created chaos. They flew every which way, over our heads, right in front of our noses. There were so many bats that we could clearly hear their wings fluttering & feel the air movement that created.
Groups of bats would organize themselves & a squadron would fly off in one direction while another group would head somewhere else. Do bats have hierarchies? Does one lead a group? If so, how is it selected? So many questions come to mind.
It was one of my favorite experiences of the trip.
We included El Morro National Monument as a stop today. El Morro is a tall rock formation, rising up out of the desert with nothing else around for miles. It’s quite conspicuous. The streaks down the side are visible for quite a distance. Those streaks mean water. Rain & melting snow trickle through the limestone, making streaks where the most water is seeping through. At the base of the monolith is a pool of clear, cool water, 12 foot deep, the size of my living room.
Water in the desert. You can imagine how it attracted tired, thirsty travelers – for centuries. Many travelers were moved to inscribe their names & a message on the rock. The earliest inscriptions are petroglyphs. Later Spanish explorers, Franciscan priests, & Spanish governors (& wanna be governors) added their two cents. Then English messages showed up too. The most recent inscriptions were 1910. Then the place became a national monument & protected so no further writings were allowed. It was amazing to see so much history collected in one spot. Chuck spotted an inscription from an ancestor maybe.
We stopped for the night at Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park in San Antonio, NM. The mother & son who owned the place were so nice to us. She had just had a $55,000 win at bingo. She had won a couple of hundred thousand a few years ago. She gave us apples from her own trees & let us pick pears.
Chuck & Linda had visited Mesa Verde before. They relaxed at the campground while Alan & I visited the park. We had to leave the pop-up in a lot at the entrance. We went to the visitor’s center first (did I mention the steep, winding road to get there?). We bought tickets for a tour of Balcony House. Alan had visited Mesa Verde years before, but didn’t think he had toured that one. We paused at the museum for an orientation film, then had to move it to make the tour.
What a tour! It was advertised as an adventure tour, which involved climbing a 32 ft. ladder, crawling through a 12 ft.-long tunnel, squeezing through several narrow passages, & climbing up a 60 ft. open rock face with two loft ladders. My goodness. Sounds arduous, but then you think about the people who lived there. They climbed into & back out of their cliff dwelling many, many times, but they had only hand & toe holds hacked out of the side of the cliff, not ladders & stairs & chains.
As the guy ahead of me was preparing to crawl into the tunnel, I said, “Pardon me, sir. But could I take a picture of your butt?” He said, “Go right ahead. I’m wearing my good jeans today.” So I got a picture of him stuffing himself into that tunnel.
We went back around the loop again & this time stopped at the overlooks. We stopped at the Cliff Palace. We didn’t tour it, but were able to get some great pictures from the starting point of the tour.
We also stopped at Park Point, the highest point in the park, around 8800 feet. The amount of smog on all sides was distressing.
Chuck & Linda met us at the lot where we left the pop-up, and we moved on. We seriously considered redoing our itinerary & going to Durango for a ride on the Durango to Silverton narrow gauge railroad, but decided to head south instead. I had thought we might camp at El Morro Natl. Monument, but it has no elec. & the weather won’t be as cold tonight (to keep the fish frozen in Chuck’s freezer). So we stopped at Red Rock State Park, just east of Gallup, New Mexico.
Had a nice jam outside. It was warm this afternoon, maybe 80. But we parked in the shade. Very pleasant & breezy. There was some kind of problem in Gallup with the water lines so we were without water for a good bit of the evening.
The park is kind of scruffy. But there is a rock formation called Chimney Rock clearly visible through the mouth of the canyon. We watched the sunlight change on the face of the rock as we were eating supper while the sun was making its way toward the horizon.
On towards Mesa Verde, CO, today. We stopped at Four Corners where we saw Utah, Arizona, Colorado & New Mexico from one vantage point. Alan laid down, spread eagled so he was in all four states at once. We ate Navaho fry bread tacos for lunch.
We kind of hoped to get to the campground near Mesa Verde early enough to take in the park today, But we didn’t allow for the cliff dwellings being 20 miles in from the park entrance, 20 steep, winding miles. So we soaked in the hot tub, had a leisurely dinner, & jammed in the log cabin rec. room at A & A Mesa Verde RV Park Campground.
I had trouble putting my water hose away this morning. The water inside it was frozen solid. Alan coiled it as best he could & we piled it in the bed of Chuck’s truck to thaw.
Chuck & Linda found a place to park their rig. Then we drove about 20 miles, past many loose herds of cattle, from the park entrance to the North Rim. There were lots of signs, warning to be careful of deer & cattle. But the cattle were all busy eating grass, minding their cow business. We walked trails to overlooks near the visitor’s center until we were tired, had lunch, then took off.
The Grand Canyon is, well, grand. Huge. You can only see a small portion of it from any one overlook. I would love to spend days here & do some longer hikes. But, you know, I think I liked Bryce better.
We drove back towards the park entrance. Chuck was perched on my stool, looking out the front between Linda & me. Look out! Smack down the middle of the road came about a dozen head of cattle, sporting impressive horns, not at all inclined to move out of the way. A little farther on, a deer darted across the road right in front of us. Good grief.
With the weather so cool, we decided we didn’t need to worry about elec. for Chuck & Linda’s freezer full of fish. We stopped for the night at a Walmart in Page. The drive from the Grand Canyon to Page, along the Vermillion Cliffs Scenic Highway was boggling. You never know how scenic those scenic byway designations will actually be. This one truly was. Red, sheer, sandstone cliffs for miles & miles, with the road running parallel. Wow.
Sat., Sept. 16th
We had planned to move the campers to Zion Natl. Park & spend the rest of the day & the night there. We changed our minds, all of us feeling eager to get home, & decided to spend part of the day there & then drive on to the Grand Canyon North Rim.
Good thing we made that decision. First of all, the park campground was full. Second, we were entering the park from the east entrance. We didn’t realize that would mean going through a tunnel more than a mile long, low & narrow. Chuck & Linda’s rig would fit, barely, but they would have to stop traffic coming the other way so that only one lane was occupied, for a fee, of course. They had space at the entrance gate so we left their rig & took off in my van.
The drive from the east into Zion was awesome. After making it through that incredible tunnel, we traversed seven levels down into the canyon. Needless to say, I didn’t get too much gawking done. It was a white knuckle drive. Private vehicles are not allowed up into the canyon. There is an extensive shuttle service. We had to drive out of the park into Springdale, leave the van, take a town shuttle into the park, & then catch a park shuttle. Whew. A ranger gave us his recommendation about which stops were must sees since we only wanted to spend a few hours.
This was a very different experience than Bryce where we were on the rim looking down. Here we were on the bottom of the canyon, looking up. Not so many red formation, but bigger ones.
We all had a wonderful time. Then we had to reverse the whole process, shuttle back to the visitor’s center, shuttle back to town, drive back through (gulp) the seven levels & (eek) the tunnel.
And on to the Grand Canyon. Linda called ahead & found out that the campground there was full too. Who would have thought we’d have trouble getting sites in the off season. But she found a private campground in Jacob Lake, Kaibab Camper RV Village.