Sunday, October 13, 2019

A very nice weekend

2019-10-12/13 (Saturday/Sunday)

Another boring blog with no photos, I am afraid. These days driving on the highway are not that picturesque—or maybe we’ve just stopped noticing all the things that are “different”. But Saturday was a very nice day, breaking up our drive home (which is basically what our travels have become now.) We had to drive about 5 hours from the Indiana border (western, that is) to central Ohio. So we stopped for lunch at Arby’s, but otherwise were trying not to waste any time. We wanted to get to our friends, Gary and Jan, by 3:30 if possible for the kickoff of the MSU game. (Gary is, sadly, an Ohio State Uber-fan, and last week we exchanged some unpleasant text messages as his team pummeled mine. But the rest of the year, he is fine rooting for the Spartans.)

We sadly got stuck in some serious traffic outside of Indianapolis, so we didn’t make it to Gary’s local Walmart before the game started. Luckily, he taped the game so we could pick it up whenever we got there. We drove to Walmart, and he met us there so that we didn’t have to unhook the Jeep to drive to his house.

We had an absolutely lovely time with our friends, despite the worst loss that MSU has suffered in years. I am going to have to stay away from paying ANY attention to football all week, because the articles online are just horrifying to read (the game was horrifying to watch.) Luckily, we had friends to divert us (me) from misery. We caught up with our lives, our children and grandchildren news, and all kinds of other stuff. We are really very fond of them, and it is great that our travelers take us through central Ohio with some regularity so we get to keep up. I think we last saw them in May of 2018, on our way to Wisconsin.

At about 9:00, after a delicious dinner, we hugged Jan goodbye, and Gary brought us back “home” to the Walmart. Joe went right to sleep, but I was sitting and reading, with our new propane heater on to alleviate the chill. The darn thing set off the carbon monoxide detector, which required Joe to get up and the two of us spent some time wafting fresh air into the RV. We didn’t think the heater would cause that to happen; we had a baby one that was fine, but Joe bought this new one which is more powerful, and we’ve only used it twice. This was just a surprise.

Once that excitement ended, I went to bed and slept VERY soundly, until 8 this morning! And then, all we did was drive. I drove the first two hours, passing Columbus and almost to the border before we stopped for some lunch at a rest stop. Then Joe drove us through the West Virginia panhandle into Pennsylvania.

We stopped tonight at a Pennsylvania State Park where we’ve stopped before, quite early for us— 4:30, I think. We wanted to take it easy. Plus it is 30 miles from where we want to go tomorrow, before we finish the drive home. I remembered one place that I’d wanted to see last year, and we didn’t quite manage it—so we are going to have one more “experience” before we get home tomorrow evening.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Rain, Pappy’s, and Driving Some More

Joe points to George Takei’s menu
2019-10-11 (Friday)

It rained a lot early this morning, and before bedtime last night too. Not sure I mentioned it in last night’s blog, but with all the rain, we discovered we have a leak over our bed where Joe replaced the old, non-working exhaust fan this summer with a new one. There was definitely a very damp spot in the ceiling before we fell asleep, and it was notably larger when we woke up. This is not good news, and will have to be dealt with asap (but not before we get home.)

We left our very damp campground at about 10 as usual, and noted that every river we passed in the vicinity was overflowing. Wow, it was wet everywhere! But we were fortunate that it didn’t rain at all today while we were driving. It was just gray skies all day, that’s all.

We stayed off the interstate as long as possible, rejoining it about 30 miles from St. Louis. Then we gave ourselves a treat—we drove into the city to have a late lunch at Pappy’s Smokehouse. Pappy’s was voted the best ribs in the country by the Food Network, and I think Joe agrees. However, today he didn’t have ribs, he had a pulled pork sandwich, while I had my usual, the BBQ pulled chicken. I even have notes on my phone to remind myself not to bother ordering the brisket, because the chicken is “that good!”  Seriously yummy— we really enjoyed it!

Inside Pappy’s— walls lined with celebrity menus
Just a little more about Pappy’s— it is not a pretentious place, but man, is it popular! We were there at about 2:30 or 3:00... and there were about 20-30 people in line ahead of us! The place just never stops. The wait time is pretty short, and while you are on line, you can read all the famous autographed messages on menus lining the walls. (We sat next to one from George Takei.) In order to make it go fast (which it does), they hand out menus while you wait in line. Then you get up to the cashier, give him your order, pay, and move out of the way. If you ordered a fountain drink, they give you a huge cup, and you move on to fill it. Then another staff person finds you a table in the large but basic dining room. A minute or two later (literally), another staff person emerges from the kitchen with your food on a plate, calling out your name. I went to the ladies room to wash my hands as soon as we were given a table, and by the time I came back (and wash my hands was ALL I did!), the sandwiches were already on the table.

Folks waiting on line at Pappy’s. Sometimes the line is out the back door.
So we tried not to wolf our food down, hungry as we were by that time. Another thing I didn’t mention was the parking. You’d think it’s brave to take an RV towing a Jeep into a city. And it is. But I just don’t “get” this neighborhood. The street Pappy’s is on—a major street with a bus route—never has anyone parked on it! It has metered spaces, and we just drove up to the curb and parked (we took up two spaces with the Jeep.) This has been our experience every time we’ve gone there. I think maybe it’s kind of on the fringes, in a semi-industrial area on one side of the street, and a small college on the other (we parked next to the college.) But in any other place with a college, all the spaces would be taken. We’ve never seen that here. And it’s only a few blocks from the interstate exit. So we get off, drive two blocks, park on this totally empty street, eat, come back, and hop back on the interstate. It’s ridiculous by east coast standards, if you ask me.

Anyway.... that was our excitement for the day. After lunch, back on the I-70,and we zoomed past the St. Louis Arch, over the Mississippi River, and into Illinois. We planned to stop at the Illinois side of the border with Indiana, but the Walmart we went to, despite getting good “overnight reviews” on our RV Parky app, told us (when we asked inside) that we couldn’t stay there. So we had to drive another 25 miles or so into Indiana, and we are staying at a Walmart in Terre Haute. We were tired and not very hungry when we got here, so we “hung out” a little bit, and now we’re going to sleep. We want to make a reasonably early start tomorrow, because we are heading to visit Jan and Gary in Ohio, and watch the football game with them.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Driving Driving Driving

2019-10-10 (Thursday)

We’be sure been having a lot of weather lately. For several days, we were driving under cloudless blue skies through Nevada and Colorado. Yesterday afternoon we finally noticed clouds had arrived, but it was still a HOT day (in the 80s). Except by the time we parked, it was getting a bit breezy. The temperature didn’t drop too much overnight-it was about 60 when we woke up this morning—but we had wind through our open windows all night, and it seemed to be really whipping up in the morning.

As we dressed and had breakfast, we were pretty worried about driving—the wind was rocking our RV noticeably. We are nothing but a big box on the highway, when all is said and done, and driving in high winds is pretty scary if not downright dangerous. We checked all the weather reports locally and ahead of us on the road, and were somewhat alarmed at mentions of a storm front, and severe rainstorms in central Missouri, our destination for the day.

Finally we decided to go as far as Wichita, only an hour away, and see what the current reports were. We got on the road at 8:45 (early!!!!) and were happy to not feel buffeting as we drove. In fact, the wind seemed to be at our back. By Wichita, there was nothing to note that was alarming, so we kept on driving. We adhered to a strict one-hour schedule, taking turns, because it was a pretty monotonous road, and hard on the eyes.

That was pretty much the sum of our day— taking turns driving. The sky was overcast most of the day, although it seemed we were headed toward slightly lighter clouds. We stopped in Eureka, Kansas, for lunch. We drove down a side street to the local park, where we were the only people to be seen. Cassie appreciated the grass very much. Then we drove on. At about 2:00, we crossed the state line into Kansas (I was driving and Joey didn’t get any photos for me). And still things were going smoothly. We made good time on US-54, still going due east.

As the afternoon wore on, we projected where we might be able to stop, and ended up finding a town near the Lake of the Ozarks, which seems to be an enormous reservoir, judging by all the irregular edges. After two nights at Walmart, we voted for showers, so I used my Good Sam app and found a nice campground in the town of Osage Beach.

Just as we checked in, we heard lots of loud thunder, and by the time we reached our assigned site, it was raining cats and dogs. It has been raining most of the evening since. Not only that, our phone weather alarm apps both went off a few minutes ago, warning of flood alerts in this area. Poor Cassie does NOT like this weather—she has been shoved under the kitchen table for a while to stay safe, although she has now come out as the rain lessened a bit.

The report is that it will rain all night, and early in the morning. There are all kinds of random threats to go with it, such as nickel-sized hail and even tornadoes. Usually nothing like that really happens, though, so I’m not too worried, but I hope it stops before it’s time for us to really start driving. We are heading toward St. Louis, and then into Illinois, and will be forced to take the interstate sometime during the day. We are so glad to have stayed off it until now; it’s difficult driving with all the trucks blowing us around. We’re happier taking our risks with Mother Nature. Our worries about the high winds this morning turned out to be nothing, and I’m sure I’ll sleep just fine tonight.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

We're Back in Kansas, Toto

2019-10-09 (Wednesday)

As exquisite a day for scenery as yesterday was, that's how bland today was. It's a bit of a difficult transition to drive from Colorado to Kansas, and that's just the truth.

We had a good night at the Walmart lot in La Junta, Colorado, and woke up expecting to get a pretty early start. We WOULD have gotten out before 9:30 (that's early for us!), but I noticed after I walked the dog that I couldn't find my phone. Joe was helping a neighbor--an older woman on her own in a large RV who couldn't get her generator to start, and I was cleaning up our RV, and then I realized I didn't see my phone.

I had actually thought I'd taken it out with me when I took Cassie out, maybe 30 minutes earlier, and I realized before the walk was finished that I didn't have it. I assumed I hadn't really taken it-- I mean, it would have been in my shirt pocket, which is hard to lose something. But I got Joe to come help me, and we spent an hour searching for the phone both in the RV and combing the area where I'd walked. The Life 360 app on the phone said it was still where we were, but we were stymied. After an hour, I went into the Walmart to ask if by chance, someone had found a phone. It seemed like a long shot, but.... YES! They had my phone! So I guess miracles CAN happen.

After that, we got going pretty quickly, but it was already something like 11:00ish. The roads in the eastern park of Colorado are not very fascinating, although the southeast corner where we were today sure beat the I-70 corridor we took last year, which we thought was pretty much unsurpassed for drabness. At least we passed through some small towns.

Just at the state border, there was a rest area, and we stopped there for lunch. We were also happy that they had a dump, because we'd felt perhaps we needed that particular facility. So it was a reasonable stop, except I was somewhat in despair that we were still not even out of Colorado, and it was about 2pm when we left the rest area.

Luckily, the rest of today's drive was less dilatory. The only issue was the significant wind we encountered in Kansas a bit before Dodge City, through tonight when we stopped at Pratt, Kansas's Walmart. (Joe says one thing he likes about this campground is "No quiet hours," ha ha!!) Anyway, I drove the last 80 miles, I think, and the wind was something not fun to deal with. The road was a 65mph road, but that was too fast to drive; I stuck to about 60 instead.

We got to Walmart just at sundown, having made 299 miles (our goal for the day is 250-300 miles.) We had dinner, and I thought we had a long evening ahead, but we just figured out, we are now in the Central Time Zone. So we are only one hour behind home now! Oh, we did have to leave US-50, our road since Reno; US-50 wants to join up with an interstate highway soon, and we'd like to avoid that as long as possible. So we plan one more day on the "blue highways."

No photos today--I was driving a lot, and there was really nothing exciting to photograph. We did note the fields of sorghum, which were impressive, but otherwise nothing really exciting. We were beside the Arkansas River all day, but it seems to peter out in Kansas, and the bed was pretty dry a lot of the time. So... no scenery. It's just Kansas. As we passed through a small town somewhere, there was a sign at the far end of town: "I'd turn back if I were you!" We laughed, but besides that fact that that's an OZ warning, and we were still in Kansas, it's no joke. If we could turn back to Colorado, we just might do that! Except, I have to admit, I miss my babies! So Eastward Ho tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Colorado US-50

Along the Gunnison River
2019-10-08 (Tuesday)

We woke up to an exquisite morning at 8,000 feet-- a blue dome of a sky uninterrupted by a single cloud, crisp mountain air, and the colors of fall all around us, reds, yellows, and rusts (plus evergreen, of course.) I guess that was invigorating enough that it got us moving a little ahead of our usual departure time.

The Jeep, of course, was not attached to the RV, so we drove down the mountainside with me leading Joe in Samantha. What we got to see was what we'd missed driving up-- the valley below us spread out in an endless vista. Wow, it was spectacular-- but of course, no one could take a photo, because we were both driving. We got to the bottom quickly (a lot easier than laboring up the mountain yesterday), and I soon found a pullout so we could hook the Jeep back up to the RV. And then we were back on the road again.

We are still following US Route 50, which started out in Reno, became the "Loneliest Highway", and now is not lonely, merely beautiful, through most of central Colorado. We had driven on this road before, back in 2015, and I think I must have taken a lot of the same photos back then! We drove through canyons, and past ranch land, but the most beautiful areas were Blue Mesa Reservoir, and the Arkansas River canyon after the reservoir, to the town of Canyon City. Really, it was a lot of "wows" again. The only problem was, it was pretty slow driving, and we were trying to make our "average" of about 275 miles/day so we get home on time.

Along US 50 in Colorado
 One thing that slowed us down was the Monarch Pass. Some time last night, I remembered that we had gone over it in 2015, and it was HIGH! 11,300+ feet. So we made plans to unhook the Jeep yet again before we headed up the mountain. I have a book for truckers, which describes all the high passes in the western states, so I looked up our route, and Monarch was the only high pass on our trip today. So, using the info from this book, we figured out we needed to stop in the little nothing town of Sargents to unhook, and we could re-attach ourselves someplace around 10 miles down the mountain after we went over the pass. And that is what we did! It all worked very smoothly, but I figure at about 15 minutes per hookup or un-hook, it added almost an hour to our day.

Blue Mesa Reservoir
 In any case, we traveled safely over the mountain, and I took a selfie at the summit to commemorate the event. And from there, we headed through along the Arkansas River, with more oohing and aahing, until suddenly we seemed to be back into traffic! From Canyon City we drove to Pueblo, which is a REAL city, and then, one final hour (I was driving by this time) to La Junta. And we are spending the night in the Walmart parking lot here. It's not a typical Yom Kippur, that is for sure, but we are being truly appreciative of what we are lucky to have, and pondering the coming year with both hope and gratitude. We'll continue to be introspective tomorrow as we head on into Kansas, still following US-50.

Arkansas River Canyon

Walls of Arkansas River Canyon

Me and the Jeep on the Continental Divide, Monarch Pass

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

2019-10-07 Monday

Joey and I both slept really soundly last night--so much so that we were quite unprepared when the alarm went off this morning. I personally could have easily slept another hour. But needs must, so we got ourselves together, walked the dog, tweaked something on the tire (I forget what), and left Green River at about 10:00, as usual. Less than an hour later, we were in “Wild, Wonderful Colorado.”

We followed US 50 (which was still twinned with I-70) to Grand Junction, then peeled off toward Delta and Montrose. We had decided to go to the visitor center at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, look around, and then decide if we were staying or not. We’d gone past the turnoff to the park a couple of times, most recently in 2015. I decided maybe it was time for us to go there, before we really hit the road hard to get home.

We arrived at the turnoff at about 2:30pm, which was what I’d anticipated. What no one had told me about this park was that it is HIGH UP! I knew it was 6 miles after the turnoff from US 50. But almost immediately we began to climb. And climb. And climb. I was driving and we were getting nowhere fast!

View of Canyon Walls from an overlook
At about mile 3, when I’d been driving in first gear for a while, we finally found a large enough turnout that we could get off the road and consult the map. Lo and behold, this darn park is 8,000 feet elevation!!  Had we any clue, we’d have unhooked the Jeep at the turnoff. So that’s what we did at mile 3-- detached the Jeep, and I drove that and Joe followed in the RV, just as we had previously on our way west. The RV had no problem at all once the 3,000 extra pounds weighing down the tail end was removed.

We arrived at the visitor center a little short of breath, both from the ascent and the 8,000 feet once we arrived. I talked to someone about some ideas, and decided our plans had now changed-- after all the trouble it had been to get up the mountain into the park, we were NOT about to just look around quickly and leave. So we went to the campground and found a nice pull-through site and got ourselves set up there. Then, around 4:30 or so, we took the Jeep on the 7-mile Rim Road which leads to overlooks of the park.

Very Narrow Canyon

The Black Canyon is pretty amazing, with its steep dark walls and being so narrow. It is very vertiginous to look down at the various view points, and since the paths tend to slant down to those views, I was constantly feeling a bit off balance. Joe was feeling exhausted, and I was pretty huffy and puffy from the thin air. So we didn’t stop at all of the viewpoints, particularly because most of them required a short hike (300 yards or so) to get to them. We finished up at Sunset Point, and waited until the sun went down. The view of the mountains was very pretty.

All in all, I did not fall in love with this park the way I did at Lassen or Olympic NP. The Black Canyon is really impressive, but to me lacked the same spirituality as Lassen or the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula. So to each his own, I guess... we are glad we came up here, but it’s not a park I think I would return to.

Tomorrow we will head east again on US 50, and I am concerned because I remembered that in 2015, we took this route and crossed the 11,000 foot Monarch Pass. I told Joe, we are going to have to unhook the Jeep yet again after we leave here (we’ll plan to hook up tomorrow morning once we get down the mountain.) Sam made it over the Monarch Pass back then, and we have the photos to prove it, but not pulling a Jeep! At least I remembered ahead of time this time! And after that, we’ll probably be angling up to intercept I-70 again and drive hard through the midwest states. Once we leave Colorado, we’ll officially be in the midwest (Kansas, that is). And we’ll have left the beautiful western states behind us for this year.
Another View of an overlook with canyon walls beyond it

Gunnison River looking west toward mountains and sunset, from Sunset Point

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Great Basin, and Great Scenery

2019-10-06 (Sunday)

We woke up to blue skies again, and another cold morning. But after getting ourselves all ready to leave Great Basin National Park, we went on a walk first. And that changed our whole perspective of the park! I was just about to take a photo of our truly beautifully located campsite (inconvenient though it was to get into last night), when Joe and Cassie noticed a small herd of deer in the site next to us. They slowly came into sight behind us, and until Cassie barked, they were just going about their business. That was a nice scene.

There's a deer to the right of the big tree

Then Joey pointed out the pinyon pine nuts on the trees growing next to us. The park's newspaper specifically says that these nuts can be gathered during their season. Well, it seems this is the season! I gathered two pocketsful of nuts--they will have to be shelled, but still, we got them fresh on the ground right under the tree. There were zillions--the park allows 25 lbs per family per year. I guess there must be millions going to waste, but we will take some home.

Then we followed the sound of a rushing brook, and it was lovely too! Really, it's an inconvenient campground in some ways, but the location is absolutely gorgeous. On our way out, the view of the valley ahead of us was fantastic also.

Valley view
 I was feeling fine, and able to drive the RV down the mountain to the visitor center, while Joe drove the Jeep. We were aggravated to find the center was closed until Wednesday, so we couldn't look at the displays, or pick up my pin! However, Joe discovered a small item which needed repair on one of the RV wheels, so he took care of that. We then got some gas, and headed for Utah-- we were only about 10 miles from the border.

The Loneliest Highway continues into Utah--but the mountains come sooner, and are very cool. I have to save my greatest superlatives for later in the day, but I didn't remember that, so I took some photos of the mountains as we went through them. Joe said, "Didn't we drive this road before? I remember this scenery!" And then I remembered, we did-- we drove this same route in 2007!

Western Utah, US-50

Remembering that helped when US 50 finally merged with I-70 in Salina, Utah. The stretch from there to Green River, a bit over 100 miles, has no services at all-- but it is the most spectacular road I've ever driven. I didn't even try to take many photos, because I remembered I took dozens with my good camera in 2007. So I am going to revisit those for this  blog and save time, LOL!  We even stopped at the same scenic pullout, and took some of the same exact photos (I couldn't resist, after all.) There was an Indian woman with her jewelry and pottery spread out at the pullout, as well, and I bought myself a necklace. It will make me think of that location when I wear it!

  Suffice to say that the road was beyond exquisite-- there are not enough superlatives to describe the incredible rock formations and colors that you pass in those 100 miles. Not to mention all the steep climbs and scary descents you have to drive down!

Teaser: Moon over the Rafael Swell on I-70, Utah
 I drove the last hour of the trip, as Joe finally admitted to being a bit weary (no wonder! He'd been the only driver for the past two days, on some pretty difficult mountain roads.) We were headed for Green River, where we stopped over in 2007. But this time, we decided to go to the Green River State Park. As usual lately, we got here a bit later than planned, and it was dark. We were very happy to see there was a ranger in the welcome booth, who could send us to the only empty site in the park--a group site. As such, it had plenty of room for us, although we did unhook the Jeep to back in.