Sunday, September 3, 2017

Summary of Summer 2017

Here are some final thoughts and stats of my 2017 summer trip.

I was gone from home 67 days (that's two weeks longer than last year!) I traveled 5957 miles through 6 states (Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana). I visited 5 national parks (Bryce, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore and Glacier), as well as some national monuments and state parks.

This year I didn't track my campground spending, but I know I stayed in more forest service campgrounds than last year and did fewer nights of free dispersed camping. I've learned I like the secure feeling of having other campers nearby, and also knowing the roads will be relatively decent. But with my senior pass which gets me half off, it's still a very economical way to overnight.

I also stayed in RV parks more nights this year, but that was out of necessity. There is no free camping in Boise/Eagle, so I stay at HiValley RV Park when I'm visiting Robin and Ken. I also paid for four nights of full hookups in SD near Mt Rushmore with the boys, because I thought we would need air conditioning during the day.

Last summer, I averaged 8.32 mpg in my Minnie. This year, towing the Fit, my mileage fell to 7.55 mpg, but having the car to run around made that totally worthwhile. And the Fit averages 41 mpg, so I more than made up those lost miles by camping longer in many spots and using the car for errands and sight seeing. The biggest negative was discovering gas was so much more expensive outside Arizona. I filled up my tank in Mesa for $2.119 before I left, and $2.099 when I came home. But on the road, gas prices averaged $2.46. I paid as high as $2.749 in Grangeville, ID.  Overall, I spent $1950 on gas.

One thing I learned this year is that nine weeks is a little too long, for me, to be out. By six or seven weeks, I was ready for home. I think in the future, I'll split my trips up into six week chunks, with a respite at home in between. Additionally, next summer, I want to try to be home during at least part of the monsoon. This year was a spectacular season of storms and I missed every single one of them. All I could do was watch my security cameras and listen to the What's App chatter of my brothers who were enjoying the downpours in real life. This Arizona gal loves a good thunder storm.

With that wrap up, I want to end with a list that I have been mentally composing throughout this summer of all the things that made me grumble, and all the things that made me smile.

Eight things I hate while RVing
  1. Washboard roads - they shake, rattle and tear apart everything in my motor home, including every nut, bolt, and screw, and every item in my cupboards.
  2. Narrow mountain roads, especially when I'm on the outside lane with a big drop off and nowhere to pull off if I meet another car.
  3. Steep grades, which rev my engine, slow my speed and drain my gas tank.
  4. Cities and towns that are not laid out in a grid, with terrible signage, and hard to find my way around. (i.e. Flagstaff)
  5. Being both navigator and driver, and sometimes getting myself lost.
  6. ATVers who don't slow down on dirt roads near camp sites, which generates aggravating dust and noise.
  7. Getting to a campsite and discovering there's no cell signal.
  8. Mosquitoes!
Eight things I love while RVing
  1. Seeing the most beautiful countryside in the world, off the beaten track.
  2. Taking grandkids to see the most beautiful countryside in the world.
  3. Occasional rain on the roof of my Minnie.
  4. Having my own bathroom, kitchen and bed anywhere I go. 
  5. Taking my own sweet time going places and staying as long as I want. Or moving on if I want.
  6. Meeting other like minded folks.
  7. Chasing the best weather.
  8. Living a life filled with nostalgia from my childhood family camp trips and the legacy of my parent's retirement lifestyle, visiting many of the same places.



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Home!

I left Boise on Thursday morning, and drove about 200 miles a day, stopping overnight in various camping areas along the way, and arrived home on Monday just before 11:00. (I gained an hour coming back into Arizona.) It feels great to be home, but it is hot as the blazes here. I just about melted emptying my belongings from Minnie and carting them into the house.

The first night out of Boise, I drove 13 miles east of I-84 into the Sawtooth Forest to Sublett Campground near Sublett Reservoir. This was a free forest service campground, and only had a vault toilet and rough spaces, and NO cell signal. It was totally empty when I arrived. I picked a spot and set up camp. I heard one other group of campers drive in and around the loops, but they exited and set up a dispersed camp about 1/4 mile up the road. Hanna and I walked by their spot as we did our evening miles.

The second night I pulled into Maple Bench southeast of Payson, UT and found my favorite space available. I've camped here two other times, and like the location, plus there is cell signal. A couple hours later, a group of Boy Scouts pulled in and occupied two spaces nearby, but they were well behaved and quieted for the night well before 9:00.

I went back to Dave's Hollow near Bryce Canyon National Park for the next night, and set up in the exact same dispersed spot I had stayed in on my way north in June. Hanna and I again saw a couple of beautiful pronghorn grazing in the meadow as we walked that evening.
Hello Beautiful. I've missed you!
The last night I had planned to go back to A-1 Mountain Road outside Flagstaff where I disperse camped last year with Dale. But when I got there, I discovered a new sign stating that road was now closed to camping. I drove around some of the nearby forest roads, but every decent space that I could have gotten my rig into was taken.

I had to stop and unhitch my car twice, because I got into areas where I couldn't turn around. I was sorely tempted at that point to just get back on I-17 and head for home. But then Richard suggested I drive to Blue Ridge Ranger station and park in the compound right next to them. It was closer than Mesa, and I could also dump the next morning before going home. It sounded like a good idea.

It would have been a beautiful drive along Lake Mary Road, except about 20 miles in -- and after I lost cell reception -- I came to a construction zone, where the road was so torn up I had to slow to 6mph in some spots, and rarely got over 12mph for about 8 miles. Apparently, Richard had texted me to warn me about the construction, but it was after I went out of range. It was sure a miserable drive. To top it off, it started raining on the way!
Hard to see the ridges, but the road was terrible!
I finally made it to the compound -- after the gate had been locked. I was able to use my Verizon hotspot to get one quick text through to R, and he drove up and opened the gate for me. I pulled in, set up, and joined him and Dianna for dinner in their trailer. That hit the spot after a long tiring day.

That night, I did not sleep well, and was awake at 2:30 a.m. and could not get back to sleep. I finally got up at 5:30 and got some coffee. I piddled around getting things put away, took Hanna for a walk, and dumped my tanks. I was on the road home by 8:45 a.m.

I pulled up in front of my house just before 11:00. It was 109°. I unloaded as much as I could stand to before jumping into a cool shower and collapsing on the couch for the rest of the day. I didn't even take Hanna for a walk. But she found her basket of toys, and made sure they all got a good workout all evening.

So that's another summer trip in the books. I have some stats that I am putting together and will post a final recap in the next few days. It was a great trip, but it's good to be home.



Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Solar Eclipse

Daryl and Dale have already blogged about our viewing of the Great American Solar Eclipse 2017, but I want to add my recap.

After I left Glacier National Park a couple weeks ago, I was having trouble finding cool campgrounds with good cell signal. Coupled with smoke from over 500 wildfires in British Columbia and the northwestern U.S., I was starting to get discouraged and ready to head home. I've been on the road for almost 9 weeks, and I am done; ready for my comfortable house, bed, shower and TV. Besides, I was getting bored and lonely and wanted family and city. But there was one thing remaining that kept me from making a beeline south, and that was the solar eclipse.

Daryl was the first of us to make plans to travel to Idaho to see the eclipse, and when I heard he would be heading to Boise where Robin and Ken lived, I jumped on board. My summer plans of going to northwestern Montana after dropping the boys off would be convenient to making my way back down to the path of totality by August 21. Earlier this summer, Dale also began to think he would likely be far enough south to join us. And that's what we did.

As I wrote in my last post, I spent 2 weeks leading up to the eclipse in French Creek Campground, and Dale arrived on the 17th. He and I drove south of our campground scoping out possibilities for viewing, and making many contingency plans if traffic was dense that morning. When Daryl and Gisele arrived, we also took another drive south of Lake Cascade all the way to Cabarton and across the Payette River. We found a great spot, and hoped for the best on Monday morning.

As it turned out, our prime spot was open and waiting for us when we got there at about 9:30 a.m. We set up our lawn chairs, and sat back with our solar glasses to wait for the astronomical performance. The skies did not disappoint. 


Describing a total solar eclipse is difficult to do. I came up with these three terms: Wow, Oh My Goodness, and Awesome!! I'm glad I turned my iPhone video on to try to capture it. The quality is terrible, but you can hear our excitement as the sky grew dark, the air grew cold and the moon's shadow overtook the sun. I thought the light/dark effect was as if a big black bowl was being placed over us, but not quite touching down to the horizon. If we looked up, it was as dark as night, with stars visible. But if we looked down around the earth, it was twilight for 360° around us, as if someone had left a gap at the rim of the bowl. 

Many people have said they enjoyed the partial eclipse and felt like they had a great experience. But one reporter accurately opined, "The difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is like the difference between a lightning bug and lightning." As we watched the crescent of sun become smaller and smaller, the difference in illumination was startling. Even the smallest sliver of sunshine was enough to give a soft glow to the entire sky and area all around us. But the light switch was turned off at the moment of totality.

And the corona! That was the star of the show. The black orb surrounded by the ring of beautiful light dancing outward was so surreal, it was almost as if we were watching something created by CGI. Except it was much more magnificent than anything I have ever seen on screen.

All too quickly, a piercing dot of light shone through and the totality was over. Our heartbeats began  to slow, and our conversation picked up, and we sat back down in our lawn chairs to contemplate what we had just experienced. We stayed through the end of the credits, packing up our chairs as just the tiniest little speck of shadow was creeping away from the face of the sun. We drove into Cascade and had lunch at a pizza joint, before heading back to our campground. 

They say once you have experienced a total solar eclipse, you understand why people race all over the globe to try to see every one. We four vowed to make every effort to be in the path of totality in 2024, and I know many of our family members will be there with us. How about you?





Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Interlude

The longest I've ever stayed in one campground is four days. But that changed this week. I've been camped at French Creek Campground on Lake Cascade in Idaho for a week already and may be here another week before I move on. I'm hanging out in the path of totality waiting for the solar eclipse on the 21st of August.

When I arrived here last weekend, I found the best site in the campground, set up my camp and paid for three nights. I had plans to do some scouting around the nearby forest roads and see if I could find any good spots to disperse camp. What I discovered was the roads around here are in terrible shape and the dispersed camping that I could get my Minnie to is extremely limited. The only decent spots I've found are right off the county roads without much privacy or security. I've been out driving through the woods several times and not found anything better.

So I decided to stay in the campground until Dale gets here this week. We can check out the spots I found and decide if we want to move or just hang out in the campground the rest of the week. Daryl and Gisele are flying up this weekend to see the eclipse, and we want to stay fairly close to where they will be renting a condo. We plan to view the eclipse together on Monday morning.

Yesterday I drove down to see Robin and the kids (Ken is traveling this week) and also visit Walmart. Today, I'm staying close to camp. Tomorrow I'll go into Cascade and do a load of laundry. (I could have taken it to Robin's, but decided not to spend my visit babysitting the washer and dryer. Instead, I'll make an excursion into town out of my chore.)

The weather has been magnificent here, ranging from overnight lows in the 40s-50s and daytime highs in the 70s most days. The skies were really smoky last week from the Canadian fires, but light showers this past weekend washed the air quite a lot and the sky looks much bluer now. Hopefully we are on track for a clear day to watch the total eclipse.
 Last week
Today

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fires

I've made my way all the way back down to Cascade, ID where I'll spend the next two weeks waiting for the Great Solar Eclipse 2017. I've been dodging forest fires all over the northwest. As I wrote and posted in my last entry, there was a pretty big fire just west of the campground near Lolo in the Lolo National Forest.



When I drove from there to my next camp outside Grangeville, there was a lot of smoke over Highway 12 until I got near Kooskia, then it was pretty clear from there. I found a really nice Campground seven miles southeast of Grangeville. There were several trails around the campground, the temperature was perfect, the other campers were quiet and well behaved, and I had a prime site. If I'd had better cell signal, I would have stayed for a week, but I only had one sporadic bar of 4G, so I only paid for three days.

I drove down to Grangeville one day for an internet connection so I could catch up on news and blogs, but otherwise, Hanna and I stuck close to our camp, and did a little hiking.

On Thursday morning, I moved back down to Last Chance Campground just outside McCall, where I'd spent a couple of nights last month on my way north. I knew there was a little signal and the campground was nice, right on rushing Goose Creek. This time I snagged the best site in the campground and paid for another three nights. The creek was just over the hill from our front yard, and I left my bedroom window open, so I could hear the flowing water  all night.


The second and third days, I started noticing a "haze" in the morning sky and thought it was low clouds. Today, as I drove south to Cascade, I realized it was smoke from nearby forest fires. The closer I got to Cascade, the denser it got, and when I reached the lake, I discovered you could hardly see across it.
I'm set up for just a couple of days in French Creek Campground. I got a nice roomy spot, but there are mosquitoes here, so I won't be spending much time outside. I've already had to get out the insect repellant.
Tomorrow I'll take the Fit and explore the nearby forest roads, looking for a dispersed campsite to settle into until after the eclipse. I've already checked the MVUM and found there are lots of designated areas nearby, so I'm hopeful I'll be able to find someplace nice. I just hope the smoke clears before August 21!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

No beating the heat

I drove 2000 miles north looking for cold weather (should I tell you how many pullover sweaters and jeans I brought with me?) but it is not to be found. Part of the problem is there are not a lot of mountains with forest camping in northwestern Montana. I have had trouble finding campgrounds above 3500 feet elevation (that are not too far off the beaten path), and you need to be a lot higher than that to stay cool during the summer afternoons.

The other thing I have been chasing is a cell phone signal. Short of staying in an RV park in some city, I've been hard pressed to find many bars of service. In the past ~10 days, I've only had four days with at least one bar of 4G. That's just enough to get an occasional text message through, but not even enough to check the internet news, blogs and Facebook. Streaming Netflix? Forget about that!

Faced with these challenges, I guess it's time to turn back south. I gave some thought to going into Canada and driving to Banff. Dale told me Canadian National Parks are free this year. But without internet availability to put plans and routes in place and also knowing I'd have to turn off my phone while I am north of the border (to avoid expensive roaming charges), it would be hard to travel in a strange location without the resources I've become dependent on. So Canada will wait for another year.

After I left the Glacier area, I stayed in a large, busy campground on Kookanusa Lake just outside Eureka for three nights.

A couple days, Hanna and I drove into Eureka for groceries and internet signal. We got our two walks a day and 10,000 steps in. We saw this on one of those walks.

This morning we moved south of Missoula to a small campground near Lolo.
Tomorrow, I'll take the car back into Missoula to print out a temporary 30 day license for Minnie. I didn't realize when I left home in June that it would come due at the end of July AND that I needed an Emmissions check this year. After many phone calls and run around trying to obtain an out of state waiver, I've decided it will be cheaper and easier to buy a $15 temp permit and pay the $8 late fee when I get home and can license it in town. But I need to print the permit and attach it to my license plate and for that I need a copy/print shop.

It's also time to do some laundry, so I'll take care of that in Missoula tomorrow and come back here for one more night. Then I'll take that beautiful road I wrote about last week back west where I have my eye on a campground near Grangeville, ID.

Here's the sun this evening. Unfortunately, the beautiful red glow is caused by the smoke of a nearby forest fire. But it's still pretty.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Incredible Beauty

I'm a bit behind on blog posts because I have been camping in areas without cell signal. That's been okay, though, because it has allowed me to be alone with my thoughts and to take in the special meaning of where I have been this past week.

It's been a very emotional few days for me. After Mom died in February. I gathered up her ~2 dozen journals and took them home to read. She and my dad did a lot of camp travel, especially in their retirement years. I've enjoyed reading about their many trips to different national parks, back to New York and Pennsylvania, and to the lakes in New Mexico. Sometimes they took a grandkid or two along with them; sometimes it was just the two of them.

She always wrote her diary days as they happened, with no details of plans or preamble, as if the reader would know where they were headed. I don't remember where they went and when, so it's always a surprise reveal to read through the years. In 1987 (I think it was about that time; but I didn't bring those journals with me, so can't be positive of the year), they headed north to Montana. It eventually became apparent they were going to Glacier National Park. They stopped to visit friends and relatives on the way, and came into Glacier from the east. They camped nearby, left the trailer and drove the truck over Going To The Sun Road. Mom didn't write many details, but the way she worded her experience of the day really struck a chord with me. "Incredible Beauty". Just those two words. It was unlike her usual way of describing things, and I knew it must be something really special. That's when I decided Glacier National Park would be my ultimate destination this summer. I knew I would be in a good position to go north to Glacier after dropping the boys off in Boise after our Rushmore trip. Well, you've read my recaps of my journey thus far, so no need to go over it all again.

As I started nearing Glacier, I felt myself welling up with emotion thinking about it. It was almost as if Mom had lead me there, and she had something to show me. Something she wanted me to experience, just as she had experienced it.

On Sunday morning, I arrived at Glacier National Park and was disappointed to discover the campgrounds were full. I turned around and went out to find a place to camp in the surrounding forest, and ended up in a large pullout near Hungry Horse Reservoir with two couples who were tent camping.

I got up very early the next morning and arrived at Glacier's entrance before 8:00. Apgar Campground (which doesn't take reservations) had open spaces! I drove right over, and joined about 40 other campers trolling for someone's spot the minute they pulled out. At 9:30, on my ~20th circle through the loops, the Full signs went up. Out of luck! I stopped at the Visitor's Center and gift shop in Apgar Village, then headed back to Hungry Horse, where I lucked into an available spot in a forest campground. I paid for 2 nights.
 Monday morning, Hanna and I got in the car and set out on Going To The Sun Road. I stopped at many many pullouts and overlooks just to drink in the beauty and spectacular views. Each time I did, I told myself, Mom was here and saw this. Often times, I couldn't see the scenery for the tears in my eyes. I tried to take pictures, but it's impossible to capture the grandeur on digital bits, especially when the lens is only an iPhone. But I captured it in my heart and will treasure the experience.













At Logan Pass Visitor's Center, I drove around the parking lot for over an hour trying to snag a spot so I could take a short hike and go inside the VC, but finally gave up and headed on down the mountain. I stopped a few more times, simply because I was reluctant for the drive to end. By the time I got back to my camp at Hungry Horse, it was mid-afternoon and I just curled up in my recliner. It had been an exhausting journey.

Maybe some day I'll go back to Glacier National Park, in May or September, when the crowds are thinner and the campgrounds and parking lots are emptier. Maybe the mountains will look different, with snow or a different angle of the sun. Maybe I'll have someone with me to share the beauty. Or maybe I'll just tuck this one special trip into my treasure box and let it be enough.