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Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

We had made reservations in Reno for a few reasons. One was to (finally) get one of our levelers replaced at an RV shop that had fit us into their schedule. Maybe we’d also see a show, go to a museum, explore the area, whatever. Then we discovered that the weekend that we were there was the Reno Balloon Festival. Balloons!

The day before the festival officially started we went to the launch location and did a bit of a walkabout. I spoke to a volunteer trying to find a good location to see the early morning launch without having to deal with the large crowds that were expected. He pointed out a neighborhood that looked down on the site that had a nice road to park on. We checked it out and it looked too good to be true. Easy access, easy parking. What the hell, we’ll give it a try.

We decided that the sunrise launch was a bit early for us, so we planned on getting up at the crack of dawn in order to get to the site before 6:30 (7:00-7:30 mass launch). As we left the park, Patti saw the “Dawn Patrol” in the air: still dark out and there were 5 or 6 lit up balloons in the air. It was surreal and only the beginning.

We arrived at the viewing location and there was plenty of room. It was also fantastic. Looking down on the field with more than 60 hot air balloons spread out on the ground was pretty cool. We watched them fill their envelopes with hot air and start rising in twos and threes until the sky was filled with them going in many directions. Many came right over our heads and landed beyond the small hill behind us with the tops of the balloons just peeking over the rise. Several landed right in front of us. And the sight of all of those balloons at about our altitude was mind-blowing. Crazy. An experience we’ll always remember. And totally worth setting the alarm for 4 AM. By 10 AM we had gotten breakfast and were back at the RV having had a full day’s worth of memories.

Oh yeah, while in Reno we also went to Virginia City. Saw camels. Drank a beer over lunch. Just another day on the road.

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Camels! The camel races were taking place while we were there. Virginia City, NV 9/7/19

 

We reluctantly headed out of Bend and started our meander south with a goal of hitting Vegas by early October. We really liked Bend and will certainly return, but we need to keep moving. Our first stop is an interesting park located smack in the middle of a working ranch. Seriously, we were in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cattle, coyotes and lots of birds. We spent two nights there and did a lot of nothing. We took several walks, I shot some mediocre photos, and we generally just relaxed. Very nice.

From there we started down US Highway 395 which we will stay on the length of California. We spent a week at a golf resort in Likely, California. And by golf resort I mean a pleasant little course surrounded by lots of nothing that had an RV park in the middle. (We were held up by a cattle drive taking place down the middle of the road into the park. Cowboys!) One of the attractions of the place, beyond providing the opportunity to frustrate yourself by whacking a tiny white ball with expensive sticks, is the darkness of the sky at night. You know they’re serious about this when you notice that the date of the new moon is listed each month on their events calendar. They even have pads set up with power provided to support folks with their telescopes. I made my first stabs at night photography by taking some shots of the Milky Way and a “Star Trail” shot of the Northern sky. They came out OK. More to come on that front.

After some walks to waterfalls and around lakes we headed on down 395 for some more adventures. They just keep coming.

My first ever Milky Way shot. Likely, CA 8/28/19

And my first ever Star Trails shot. Likely, CA 8/30/19

Blue Lake near Likely, CA 9/1/19

Mill Creek Falls near Likely, CA 9/1/19

After our short but beautiful trip to Crater Lake, we headed back up to Bend. We stayed at the Expo Fairgrounds, which proved to be a nice base to continue to explore the area. The first place we went was Smith Rock State Park, a crazy pretty small park just up the street that is very popular with climbers. We can see why. While there we saw several different parties climbing the face and one group training/teaching. A real gem near Redmond, OR. I spoke with a local photographer who tipped me off as to where to set up for a great sunset photo. Maybe next time.

We also drove up into the mountains to the Dee Wright Observatory at the summit of McKenzie Pass. This place is smack in the middle of a desolate lava field and is just surreal. It seems like we’ve been surrounded by lava and other signs of volcanic activity for weeks. Probably because we have been.

Barrel racing at the Expo one night was fun to stumble across. I’d never seen this live before and it was a lot of fun. Lots of families watching their daughters ride. It was just like soccer, little league, hockey league, etc…except with horses. And more expensive. I loved it.

We really liked the Bend area and could have spent more time there. This refrain has been repeated several times in our travels so far and I’ll say it again: we’ll be back. Sorry, Arnold.

Smith Rock State Park. 8/21/19

Climbing the wall. Smith Rock State Park. 8/21/19

Practice, practice, practice. Smith Rock State Park. 8/21/19

Horses! Barrels! Fun! Deschutes Fairgrounds. 8/22/19

Horses! Barrels! Fun! Deschutes Fairgrounds. 8/22/19

Dee Wright Observatory 8/23/19

The view of the Sisters from McKenzie Pass. 8/23/19

View over the city of Bend 8/24/19

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge 8/5/19

I’ve never been to Oregon, although from what I’ve heard, read and seen in movies/TV I’d always thought that I’d like it. My impression was one of lush, green mountainsides with running water, decaying huge trees and wildlife running around everywhere. What we got was either flattish desert or dry high country with beautiful canyon drives and walks through huge ponderosa pines.

We stayed a week in Burns, which is about the midway point between Boise and Bend. It’s really the only point between those locations and a week was a bit much, even for slow movers like us. We explored south into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and north into the Malheur National Forest. Walked through the woods, looked at more lava fields, even took a nice soak in some hot springs. Mostly we took it easy (hey, it’s allowed) and then moved on to Bend.

We had a busy four days in Bend. The two big things of interest were our visit to Tumalo Falls and our drive on the Cascade Lake Scenic Byway. The drive was very nice. We took the ski lift to the top of Mt. Bachelor, drove as far as Elk Lake (after receiving assurances from a nice ranger that we would see the prettiest spots if we drove that far), and took a beautiful walk circumnavigating Todd Lake. While on that walk we built up our karma by finding car keys in the grass on the far side of the lake. We rescued them and pretty easily found the owner. She would have had serious issues if they hadn’t been found as there was no cell signal and we were a long way from anywhere. Our good deed of the day.

We really liked the Bend area. Which is a good thing, since we’ll be back for a week’s stay.

PS: On the drive from Burns to Bend we picked up four chips in our windshield from flying stones. I mentioned this to a random guy in a rest stop and he told me he picked one up too. He was pissed. He’d had his windshield replaced a week earlier. So it goes.

This fellow said good morning to me on my morning walks. Burns, OR 8/5/19

Tumalo Falls 8/12/19

The South Sister with the Middle and North Sisters in the background. They are known as The Sisters or The Three Sisters. 8/13/19

View from Mt. Bachelor 8/13/19

Mt. Bachelor and Todd Lake. This is just about where we found the keys. 8/13/19

Broken Top Mountain 8/13/19

From Ennis we drove out of the lush Madison Valley and into the quite different landscape of the Idaho high desert to Arco. This area has two claims to fame, one natural and one very definitely manmade. The natural one is the surreal and starkly beautiful landscape that makes up the Craters of the Moon National Monument. Summer had finally arrived in full force which limited the time we were comfortable wandering around this crazy landscape but we returned several times in order to fully appreciate the forces that created this harsh environment. It really is other-worldly. Lava tubes, cinder cones, spatter cones; we learned about and saw them all. We walked/crawled through a lava tube “cave” and climbed to the top of a huge cinder cone. This place is unlike any other we’ve been to. Well worth the trip (and a strong NASA connection, too).

Rising from the desert, a conning tower. Arco, ID 7/24/19

The second claim to fame in the area is atomic power. The large, and frankly mysterious, Idaho National Lab is just down the road. While it’s not exactly in the middle of nowhere, you can see it from there. Among other things, this is where the world’s first breeder reactor was brought on-line. Arco, Idaho is the first town to be totally powered by atomic energy. And this is where the technology, processes, and procedures were created to power the Navy’s submarines with nuclear reactors, thus explaining the conning tower rising out of the ground as you enter town. It’s more than a little strange.

We took some nice drives, toured the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (EHB-1), ate some good ribs and smoked baked potatoes, and generally enjoyed our time in Arco. Especially when Patti was able to enjoy horses right outside our window. Simple pleasures.

The view out our window. Arco, ID 7/22/19

The Big Southern Butte viewed from the Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 (EHB-1) 7/24/19

Simulated spent nuclear rods art the EHB-1. I was surprised at how small they were. 7/27/19

The moon peaking over the lip of a lava tube. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/25/19

A cinder cone across a desolate landscape of lava. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/25/19

More desolation with the Big Southern Butte in the distance. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/25/19

The huge cinder cone. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/23/19

View from the top of the cone. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/25/19

Nature. Just…nature. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/25/19

Snow in the bottom of a splatter cone, creating some needed coolness. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/23/19

 

We eased our way out of Montana with a stay in Ennis, located in the heart of the Madison River Valley and, apparently, Mecca for fly fisherman. If you could see the river the odds were good that you could also see fishermen. We’re not into fishing, but we had no trouble keeping busy in this gorgeous place. Among other things, we toured a lake created by an earthquake in 1959 (this story should be made into a movie…check it out here), visited the touristy “ghost town” of Virginia City, took a lengthy and very interesting tour of the region with our nephew, drove up a canyon to see a “real” ghost town, hung out in a hot spring, and sat in the front of the coach and watched the colors change on the Madison Mountains.

We had a good time. Here are lots of pictures.

The rock slide on the opposite face cut across the valley and more than 400′ up the other side. It blocked the Madison and created Earthquake Lake. 7/16/19

This boulder surfed down the mountain, across the valley, and up the other side. Without rolling. Earthquake Lake 7/16/19

A drowned cabin. Earthquake Lake 7/19/19

Structures at the “Smugglersville” ghost town. 7/18/19

Structures at the “Smugglersville” ghost town. 7/18/19

The mine in “Smugglersville” 7/18/19

The Explosives Shed in “Smugglersville” 7/18/19

Ennis Lake 7/20/19

Ennis Lake 7/20/19

Ennis Lake 7/20/19

The Madison River Valley 7/20/19

This post will be short on words, long on pictures. We saw a bunch of animals while in the park which is as expected. With only a 200mm lens I didn’t have the reach to even get a shot at many of them (I’m looking at you, wolf) and many that I did get from extreme distance don’t make for compelling photos (mama and baby bighorns, several bears, etc.). Others I got so many excellent shots that it’s hard to whittle them down. I captured so many of the coyote that virtually walked right up to me that it is truly difficult to choose. I should always have such problems.

This elk was just hanging out to welcome me on my first morning walk into the park. Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

And this elk stopped by for dinner. Taken from the front seat of the RV. Gardiner, MT 6/21/19

Mama and baby Griz. I could have used a longer lens since this was about as close as this city boy was going to get. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Fun fact: both male and female bison have horns. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Fun fact #2: the baby bison are called “Red Dogs”. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Getting side eye from a bison was a new experience. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

This was NOT taken with a long lens. I thought I was going to get up close and personal with this coyote. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Looking for lunch. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

The title of this post is a phrase I use when I’m in an area that is just so beautiful and/or interesting that anywhere I point my camera there is a potential “keeper” photograph. Yellowstone National Park falls well into this category. We had briefly visited the park on a couple of occasions in the past, but this was to be our first extended stay. We were parked just outside the north entrance in Gardiner and were close enough that my morning walks took me from the RV through town and into the park. Nice.

We saw way too much to cover in one post. This one focuses on the geothermal delights to be found in virtually every corner of the park and even many nooks and crannies outside it. It’s odd to be driving down the road and see steam and/or bubbling “water” coming out of the ground. It’s even odder when you just start taking it for granted. One thing we didn’t take for granted was just how pretty these things are. The colors can be spectacular. The bottom line, though, is that things can look pretty damn primal and dangerous. It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature, especially when she has very hot, very acidic liquids flying around.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

Artists Paint Pot, Yellowstone NP 6/18/19

Random thermal feature seen from the side of the road, Yellowstone NP 6/18/19

The Fountain Geyser, Yellowstone NP 6/18/19

We have a motto for when we are out and about having a good time. “No ER, No Bail” which means no matter how much fun we’re having we WILL NOT end up in the ER or jail. Our status on that is now 50 percent successful. <sigh> More on this subject later.

Our first stop after leaving Spearfish was Sheridan, WY. Sheridan is a nice little city sitting beneath the Bighorn Mountains. A really nice city center with lots of sculpture, great parks and recreation, and large enough to support decent groceries and shopping which we have learned to appreciate. We really liked it and will stop by again if we are ever in the neighborhood.

The major thing we did while here was visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. We really enjoyed the visit. The area is beautiful and the presentation of the events was interesting and well balanced between both sides of the events that took place. As a history buff I really enjoyed seeing the terrain. We walked the area of the “last stand” and drove the loop road that covers the overall territory. Fascinating. The Federal lands are actually in two areas connected by that road crossing Indian land which is used for grazing horses. Lots of horses. At one point a herd was crossing the road. What was apparently the alpha male blocked traffic (with help from one of his paramours) until everybody got across, then human and horse each went about their business. My horse-loving wife was thrilled.

When we checked into the campground, the nice gentleman recommended a loop drive through the mountains. It was only “90 miles” and would just take a “couple of hours”. Cool. We set out one day to give it a shot. 90 minutes, 60 miles, and a couple thousand feet of elevation later we came across a road sign that explicitly defined our path. We still had another 180 miles to go. Having been doing a lot of driving recently we noped right out of that, went home, and curled up with our books. That’s what I get for not doing due diligence. Google later told me it was just under a 5 hour drive. As an aside: the part we did do was very pretty.

Back to my lead in: one morning I was roused from sleep by major back pain that I, unfortunately, recognized. Kidney stones, and it was the worst I have ever experienced. That’s how we found ourselves in the Sheridan ER at 6:30 AM on a Saturday. We had an excellent experience, if I can say that considering the circumstances. Everybody was very supportive and helpful, although you know you’re in trouble when experienced nurses are looking at you with pity in their eyes. After judicious applications of opiates and various other drugs they sent me on my way, happy and relaxed. Apparently while I was drugged and numb I passed the stone, since I’ve been fine ever since. Cross the ER experience off of our checklist.

We left Sheridan and moved on to the thriving town of Reed Point, MT, population 185. Nice little town with a very funky saloon. We attempted to drive the Beartooth Highway but turned around due to weather. We enjoyed a nice lunch in Red Lodge instead. There was also a lovely walk to the Natural Bridge Falls, a trip to a real grocery store and some downtime. A good time was, once again, had by all.

Locations of fallen Native Americans, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 6/9/19

Locations of fallen soldiers, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 6/9/19

Native American Memorial, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 6/9/19

Reed Point, MT 6/15/19

Natural Bridge Falls 6/13/19

Natural Bridge Falls 6/13/19

Custer State Park, SD 5/25/19

As you can tell from our last post, we were still continuing our run of bad weather. Including here at Custer Gulch, we have set up camp 7 times in a row under wet, soggy, flooded, or even snowy conditions. Rain, wind and snow have forced us to change plans at least twice. And we are over it. Finally, here in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the weather broke.

The day after we arrived, we slogged through the snow to the truck and took off to explore. This area, near the town of Custer, is target rich for sights to see and things to do, so we started right in by heading to Mount Rushmore. The route we took was through Custer State Park, which we have been told is the top state park in the country. I don’t know if that’s true but if it is, I can see why. More on that later, but a nice windy drive through spectacular scenery and tiny tunnels led us to the monument. It pretty much speaks for itself, but I was bummed to hear that the old visitors center, including the dining room, was torn down and replaced with a more modern facility. I was really looking forward to seeing the location where a famous scene from the movie North By Northwest was set. It was not to be. Still, we had a good time on a bright, breezy day seeing this iconic place.

From there we went to the nearby Crazy Horse Monument. It was a very interesting sight with an excellent museum focusing on the Native community. This is definitely still a work in progress that will not be completed in my lifetime but impressive nonetheless. All in all, we had a pretty good day. And when we returned, all of the snow in the campground had melted! And it’s been nice ever since.

The next day we took a drive on the wildlife loop in Custer State Park. Takes about an hour to do. About 10 minutes in, we had already seen a couple of bison and deer. We were impressed. Little did we know that in the next hour or so we would see many deer and hundreds of bison, including some calves. It was great. Afterwards we had a nice lunch at the Blue Bell Lodge where I enjoyed munching a burger made of some of the unlucky bison. So it goes. Then up the Needles Highway, which is just another spectacular drive, and back to base. Lots of photos were taken and a very good time was had by all. We could get used to this.

The view from our window shortly after our arrival. This family was roaming the campground our entire visit. Custer, SD 5/23/19

Again, out our window within minutes of our arrival. Custer, SD 5/23/19

On the road to Rushmore. 5/24/19 Custer SP

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, 5/24/19

Crazy Horse Memorial, 5/24/19

Custer SP, 5/25/19

Custer SP, 5/25/19

Custer SP, 5/25/19