Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the category “Boondock”

“We’re on a road to Nowhere”

We had four days with no agenda, no place to be, so we pulled out of Elk Neck and headed north. We wanted a cheap full hook up park for a few of days and after searching reviews and Passport America, decided on Spring Gulch RV Resort in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Spring Gulch is a Thousand Trails park, so our expectations were on the low side. We are members with a Zone Pass and have used their parks all over the country. This park was very similar, with their typical tight gravel sites. It seems to have quite a few amenities, but most were not open and we weren’t really interested anyway. But, we will probably not bother returning to the park, if only because of our interaction with the front desk. The ladies were nice enough but I just can’t get past our conversation. After finding our reservation, asking about our rig and assigning us a site, I asked if we could upgrade to full hookups instead of the E/W site we were assigned. She said, “Sure. You wouldn’t have fit in that site anyway.” I think my mouth actually hung open as I was left speechless. We did fit into the full hook up site we were eventually assigned, all 36′ of it for our 34′ bus. The campground itself was mostly empty except for the seasonal RVs so I’m not sure why she was so controlling on site assignment. My only thought is that she was worried she would have a sudden rush of campers on Tuesday and would need the larger sites for them.

The second big negative for the park was the laundry facilities. It was off by itself across a field with no parking anywhere. There were after hours campsites about 100 yards away (and over a fence, no less), so Mike parked there to lug our three loads of laundry. The spots, like the rest of the campground, were empty and it was during office hours so Mike thought it wouldn’t be a problem. Of course, one of the campground employees raced over to inform him that he couldn’t park there as they are campsites and someone else might park there. The employee ranted for a good five minutes about what is allowed and not allowed. The next morning, a back hoe and a couple of trucks were also parked in some of the after hours spots. I wonder if they had to listen to the old guy’s speech?

In spite of the campground, we did enjoy our stay in the area. Intercourse is one of our favorite towns in the Lancaster area. It is where you will find Immergut Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels, probably the best pretzels we have ever had. Stoltzfus Meats and Deli is also a great place to stop for local foods. Their restaurant isn’t bad either.

cm16cm15cm14

I didn’t do a lot of photographing here. While I would have loved to capture images of the Amish going about their daily business, I understand their desire not to have their picture taken.

We had another reason to run up to Pennsylvania this trip: my great great great great great grandfather got off a boat in 1750 and settled his family on a farm in Buffalo Valley. I had finally located where he and his son (my great X4 grandfather) were buried and I was interested in seeing the area in the US where this branch of my family started. We found the cemeteries in which they were buried but, unfortunately, 300+ years of weathering can do some damage to  stone. The cemetery plot map of the oldest section was not in the church (someone had taken it home) so I had to be content with the idea that I had probably seen their final resting places and I had seen (and walked) where they did.

For lunch, we stopped by a local favorite, the Cruiser’s Cafe. the place is tiny and crowded but the burgers are great and the service even better. And, how can you beat $2.60 for a hamburger? The broccoli cheddar poppers were very good, too.

cm10

After a long day of cemetery stalking, we headed back to the short bus. On the way, we stopped in Mount Joy for dinner and came upon Bubes Brewery.  The restaurant/bar/brewery is in a 200 year old building that just oozes atmosphere and time. While we were only able to enjoy the bottling works restaurant, which was extremely good, the place so impressed us we are returning when we head south in the fall to try the Catacombs. While there, we had really good food, tried five of their beers (loved them all except the fruity one), and people watched. We would have stayed for the beer pong tournament, but we were tired and it had been a really long day.

cm17

Friday morning we packed up and headed back south, to Lake Laurie RV Resort in Cape May, NJ. We had been invited to meet up with LEOOnly friends Kenny and Connie. They had a seasonal site at the park and spent many summer weekends there.

Lake Laurie RV Resort, owned by Sun Communities, had recently been taken over by KOA. While many of the reviews of the resort are less than stellar, the recent take over had brought some great improvements including the addition of large open pull through sites for transient RVers. The new sites were well tended, well spaced, and extremely level. Currently the sites only have electric and water but the park offers pump out service with 24 hour notice. Just beware: the gentleman pumping our tank was a little over zealous with his job. He worked hard to increase the suction to “get out the sludge” until we stopped him. It really isn’t a good idea to generate a lot of suction in a black tank which we knew from previous boating experience.

We met up with Kenny and Connie that evening for happy hour at The Boiler Room, a bar/pizza/music room in the basement of Congress Hall. The pizza and beer were good, the conversation was great, and we returned to the park for entirely too much more happy hour to end the night.

cm1

Cape May evening shopping

If I was looking for a romantic getaway, Cape May would be the place. It has an understated elegance and refinement helped by the restored Victorian houses and sea breeze. One would be perfectly content to slowly stroll the streets, sip a glass of wine in a street side cafe; it radiates gentility and has just a little bit of (I hate to say it) southern charm.

We weren’t in the romantic mood on Saturday so we headed over to Wildwood, just down the road from Lake Laurie. If Cape May is a reserved, responsible older sister, Wildwood is a brash, in your face, younger brother. It is beer instead of wine, bouncing around instead of strolling, yelling and laughing instead of library voices. And we fit right in.

cm2cm3

cm4

How to solve the matching shirt dilemma without actually matching.

cm5

The beach at the boardwalk with the tide out.

cm6

Fun!

cm7

cm8

Panorama of the beach at the boardwalk

cm9

After a full day of bouncing around and stuffing our face with more pizza (it is New Jersey after all) we headed back to the short bus to meet up with Kenny and Connie for dinner. They were wonderful hosts who fed us again, this time with great beef skewers and burgers cooked on the grill. We had to shut it down early because of impending rain but we had a great time and look forward to meeting up with them again.

Sunday morning we packed up early and headed out to Cherry Hill, NJ. We had a ‘date’ with  Tim and Donna, more LEOOnly friends who offered us their driveway (and more food!) for the night. They are seriously considering full timing and wanted to pick our brains. We did our best to encourage them over a wonderful meal they cooked. Being in their house kind of made me jealous; Donna has an amazing sense of style and has built or designed quite a bit of their furniture. I don’t have the space for it now but if we ever stop full timing, I’m stealing some of her ideas.

Monday morning came and we pulled out of their driveway just after the worst of rush hour. We had nowhere specific to go, so we headed north into Pennsylvania. We landed at Mount Airy Lodge, in the Poconos. In the 60s and 70s, Mount Airy Lodge was the place to be, kind of the “Kellerman’s” of the Poconos. They then went ‘honeymoon’ with champagne tubs and mirrors on the ceiling. By the 80’s interest in the Poconos as a vacation destination died (just like the Catskills) and the resort closed. It was torn down and the new owners built a hotel and casino. The casino allows overnight RV parking in one of their parking lots so we took advantage of their hospitality and stayed a night, played a few slots (lost this time), and unwound from all activities of the weekend.

Advertisements

2015 – we had a blast!

(Yes, I know am way behind my blog posts. But my computer ate three before I published them and I just didn’t have the brain power to completely rewrite them. And then, we were kinda rushing around doing 100 things and nothing. But, they will be updated over the coming month, once I finally get the pictures edited. Again.) Anyway.

We started the blog in May and for quite a few months, updated it religiously. But, we did have plenty of adventures before May and we found some pretty amazing places that we want to return to in 2017.  In 2015, we didn’t make reservations anywhere, just moved and stopped when we felt like it, where we could find space. The results varied, from hell in Florida to bliss in Alaska and all the stages of both in between. So, here is part of our year in review, with highlights and pictures.

January found us in 18 different spots, from Maryland to Texas. Yes, we drove and moved that much. We were on a mission: to get to Alaska and, looking at January, we were hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. By the end of January we realized we needed to slow down and wait for the weather to catch up with us – it was still REALLY COLD in most of the country. We did manage to find some great spots for a couple of days (our longest stay was three days) and took some great pictures.

In Florida, we got to see manatees up close in Blue Springs State Park, eat great oysters at Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar (now closed), watch amazing sunsets at St. George Island State Park and visit with quite a few  friends.

In Texas, we met up with more friends, ate amazing BBQ at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, breezed through San Antonio, and set up camp in Big Bend.

manatees

Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

sunset

Sunset at St. George’s Island State Park

mission

Mission in San Antonio Texas

Rio Grande River

The Rio Grande near Big Bend, Tx

In February, we fell in love with the town of Terlingua then quickly made our way through New Mexico to stay awhile in Arizona. We browsed Arizona for a while, though we didn’t sit in one place for long. We had Marv Braun, of Precision RV fix the absolute clusterfu%k the dealer made when re-installing our solar system (he also added a panel and swapped our batteries for AGMs). We made a quick visit to Tombstone and Bisbee, got lost in the Dragoon Mountains, and wandered the back roads of Prescott. Our longest stay at a campground in February? Three days, if you don’t count the stop in Casa Grande to visit with Marv (six days). We were still in a hurry.

jeep

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

jeep

Lost in Arizona

jeep road

The backroad from Prescott to Jerome. Probably one of the funnest drives in the area.

In March, we ran the border at Organ Pipe National Monument, went to the Escapees Escapade, hung out with my brother in Gilbert, then raced to Desert Hot Springs, CA. We ended the month with a week in Coarsegold at the Escapees Co-Op just outside of Yosemite.

We fell in love with Organ Pipe and in Desert Hot Springs, we had the best sushi ever (and really good noodles) at Domo Sushi. We visited Joshua Tree National Park and found it completely packed with Spring Breakers so we beat a hasty retreat out a back road that had us testing the abilities of the Jeep (it passed). After browsing for a day in Yosemite, we cancelled our week of reservations at one of the Valley campgrounds – it was just entirely too crowded and most of the campgrounds hadn’t even opened yet!

border stop

The US border in Organ Pipe.

creek

Creek in the Superstition Mountains

IMG_5858

Joshua tree near Palm Springs, CA

Yosemite

Yosemite Valley in March

April had us pushing northward faster than we expected because of the crowds. We had no reservations and they were hard to come by. Many of the state parks had sites available but they were too short for our rig. So we made our way North to Oregon and then Washington.

We found a peaceful site in Klamath where we wandered around huge trees for a couple of days. We landed a last minute oceanview campsite in Harris State Park in Oregon and stayed put for a week – until the rain drove us out. We stopped at Newport (loved it) and Seaside (loved it more), then raced up to Chimicum, WA in need of some rig repairs. We then bummed around Washington and continued to do that the first two weeks of May as we waited for our departure to Alaska.

jeep

In the Redwoods, the jeep is very tiny.

marina docks

Newport Marina Sunset

ocean

The Oregon Coastline

In May, we did last minute prepping and purchasing, including getting Belle’s shots before we took off for the Great White North. The border crossing was easy but the price shock wasn’t. Gas and many food items doubled in price. But, the scenery was amazing, the places to boondock beautiful and we were finally on our way to Alaska!

We were wowed by Fraser Canyon, enjoyed  Terrace and Stewart, got an oil change in Whitehorse, and finally settled for a breather in Haines. We got to see bears, moose, foxes, and glaciers and we were barely in Alaska.

June found us in Wrangell St. Elias Park finding McCarthy, then Valdez  watching eagles play, and left us on the Kenai Peninsula dodging forest fires.

While McCarthy didn’t live up to expectations, Valdez kept our attention and we managed to stay a week. It ended up being our favorite Alaska town (though Haines was a close second). Seward was beautiful, Homer was busy, and the Kenai River was crowded. June was more than sensory overload but if I had to relive one month of my life over and over, it would be this one.

In July we made back up to the heart of Alaska, visiting Anchorage and Fairbanks, then pushing north to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, while there, Belle had another stroke. We were tired and she was sick, so we began our push back south. It wasn’t really a direct path, as it took us through Chicken, Dawson City, Skagway, Toad River and down into Montana by the end of the month. There are many places we missed – we drove through the Canadian Rockies but didn’t have a chance to stop for long – but it gives us an excuse to go back.

The month of August was spent bouncing around Montana, with a brief ‘vacation’ down in Cody Wyoming. We found some beautiful places to stop and spend some time. We also found the best brisket in the country and the best biscuits and gravy in the country (sorry – it is a friend who is an amazing cook!). We found ghost towns, an endless number of backroads, and quiet, out of the way, places to hide.

The weather was finally turning so we headed south in September, spending a couple of weeks in Utah before ending up in Usery Park.  We finally followed the White Rim trail, nearly got car-jacked by wild horses and got to watch an amazing lunar eclipse before meeting up with family at the end of the month.

October was almost completely dominated with visiting family, though we did get a brief break at Balloon Fiesta. Another bucket list item done! Seriously, if you ever get the change to go to Balloon Fiesta, do it. And I highly recommend it in an RV.

The first half of November we chilled with family around Phoenix and then raced back to Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We managed to stop for some amazing meals and moments with both friends and family on our trip east (Did I mention the most amazing burgers that are worth a 200 mile detour in Roswell? Yeah, we are still reminiscing about those.)  and then settled in Wakefield, VA on the family farm.

December we holed up just outside DC at Cherry Hill RV park, where we caught up with dentists and doctors, more friends and family, and celebrated the holidays.

squirrel

We finished up the month in South Carolina, and started the new year there, too.

IMG_20160103_161447717

If I had to do it all again, I would. And I probably would only change one or two things. Yes, we sped through many, many states when I would have preferred to linger. And yes, we acted like vacationers with a time limit rather than permanent travelers. But, now that we have done the trip once, we can do it again in 2017, but a little bit slower. There is still so much of the country to see…

Big Sheep Creek Back Country Byway

Not far from Clark Canyon Reservoir is the Big Sheep Creek Back Country Byway, a gravel and dirt road that winds it way through BLM and private land for 50 miles. Any time I see scenic and back country in the same sentence, I am in. And so we went.

We stopped first in Dell, where the road starts, at Dell Mercantile, a small side of the road store that sells one of everything. And gas. We grabbed a giant cinnamon bun for a sugar rush later and headed west.

The Big Sheep Creek Back Country Byway starts out following Big Sheep Creek back into a canyon.

Big SheepCreek Canyon

Start of the drive

The road here is pretty easy – wide gravel with only a few potholes and an occasional washboard area. The area is teeming with wildflowers, prickly pear cacti, and sagebrush.

salsify

western salsify – they looked like dandelions on steroids

A couple of miles down the road is Deadwood Gulch Campground. The campground is on the creek and, with only six sites, would be a great place to get away from the crowds. In this area of Montana though, there really aren’t many crowds. One note about the campground and Big Sheep Creek Back Country Byway: there are many small bridges to cross and they all have weight limits. The one into the campground is seven tons (too low for the short bus). Others on the road are five tons. There is boondocking all over the place along the byway but it is best done with a small trailer or class B and we saw a few of both.

Deadwood Gulch Campground

Deadwood Gulch Campground

The road continues following the creek into a small canyon.

big sheep creek

Edge of the canyon

Further upstream, the creek is wide and slow – it might be an enjoyable area to kayak, provided the water level is high enough.

Big Sheep Creek

big sheep creek

The road then turns away from the creek and heads into a completely different landscape.

cliffs

cliffs along the road

natural arch

a natural arch/bridge in the eroding cliffs

The changed once again and we were in rolling hills and grassland.

back country byway

back country byway

We came to a fork in the road, and we took it.

sign

directional sign. Go right to stay on the byway

Actually, we first went left. There was a giant hill with a road running up it beside the left fork. We just had to look.

view

view at the top looking back

road up the hill

road up the hill at the top

We continued along the back country byway.

pothole

pothole along the road

We started to get hungry so we looked for a place to stop. Mike saw a road going up toward the right so he took it. From the bottom, it didn’t look too steep. By the time we got halfway up, we realized our mistake. The road was so steep that, when we stopped, I didn’t want to sit in the jeep for fear it would slide down the hill.

side road

the side road up the mountain we climbed

jeep

the jeep on the road

view

the drive back down in 4 wheel drive low

My camera cannot adequately capture the steepness of the hill – two dimensions just don’t convey it very well, especially using a wide angle lens. But, as usual, the jeep was more capable than we were and five minutes later, after picking our way back down through ruts and rocks, we were safely back on the ‘real’ road. (See that thin scratch of white just right of center? that is the road.) I will admit, the view is spectacular up there. And we ‘could’ have gone higher. But, without climbing it first on foot to see what was coming, I wasn’t ready to continue up. We hadn’t had enough sugar for that.

We continued on the Byway through a huge unpopulated valley. The only traffic we saw was six bicyclists, going the other way.

valley

valley – with a bicyclist on the road

And then the terrain, and the road changed again.  I had read somewhere that, after rain, some of the road may be impassible due to deep mud. It had rained yesterday, and rain was threatening today, but so far, the main road had been easy.

 

dirt road

dirt road of the byway

The gathering clouds gave us pause but, like most times, we didn’t want to go back the way we came. The dirt got softer and softer until the ruts were too deep to fight against. It was obvious that a truck had recently passed, when the ground was REALLY wet, and the truck had a wider wheelbase than we did. We popped the jeep into four wheel drive and went for it. I would have pictures of the road but it was too bumpy to capture anything usable (try snapping while hitting your head on the roof) and if we stopped, we weren’t going to move for a very long time – it was starting to rain which would only make the road worse.

mountain view

chocolate mountains

The clay mud mire only lasted a couple of miles and we were free, though we picked up a few more pounds of mud to add to our collection under the jeep (chunks of it would fall off over the next few days) and the road changed again. We were in a ranching area – mot of it owned by one family. It was huge and went on for miles. We dodged cows now instead of rocks and potholes.

view

Montana ranch house view

At the end of the road, we took a right, and headed a few miles back to Clark Canyon Reservoir. All things considered, it was a beautiful drive. We got to see more of the Montana back country with its huge variety of terrain. We spent a few wonderful hours off the beaten path testing ourselves and testing the jeep.

When we travel these roads, which we do often, we are fully prepared. We go with food, water, a full gas tank, paper maps, a car GPS, a handheld GPS, and a DeLorme Inreach. If we can’t see the road ahead, or we question its condition, we scout ahead on foot (we can get miles of hiking in just by scouting roads). While we have run into problems (high centering the jeep in a creek and being trapped in a pasture with an angry bull are two of the most memorable), we have gotten pretty good at avoiding them or being prepared when we don’t. This particular road is pretty benign and can *usually* be traveled by a two wheel drive passenger car; we try to make the most of it and add side roads for a little fun.

 

 

Free Camping – Clark Canyon Reservoir

After spending a couple of days in a private park, we were looking to ‘get away.’ So we headed south looking for a place to boondock. We made it all the way down to Clark Canyon Reservoir, a Bureau of Reclamation area with many campgrounds around the lake. We checked out a few of the campgrounds and returned to the first one: it was closer to the highway but it provided beautiful views, sheltered picnic tables, a water pump, and a large lakeside site. On the other side, if needed there is a full hookup campground for RVs ($30/night).

campground view

view from the campground

In the afternoons, clouds would roll in providing a wonderful respite from the heat. The winds would pick up, the sky would drizzle for about half an hour, and then it would all go away.

campsite

Clouds rolling in

While there, we got to see lots of birds, including bald and golden eagles and strangely, pelicans. I had always thought Pelicans were a more tropical bird. See, I learn something every day.

Pelicans

pelicans at Clark Canyon

We spent afternoons watching the shadows move across the mountains.

campsite

The view from our campsite – shadows moving all afternoon

Clark Canyon Reservoir was a very peaceful, enjoyable location to take in the sun, relax and just zone out. I even got out my hammock and hung it up in the shelter to rock in the breeze. We would have stayed longer than we did but we ran out of water. We will one day be back, though.

Boondocking, repairs, and crowds, oh my

I woke up, pulled on some sweats, and shuffled to the kitchen to check our battery charge. 75%. More than enough for a pot of coffee. I flipped on the inverter, then the coffee pot, grabbed my kindle and flopped on the couch. I raised the blackout shade to take in the view and let in some much needed light.

ACK!

fiver

Boondocking? (note, this is taken with a really wide angle lens. Objects are much closer than they appear.)

Some time after midnight, a fifth wheel had pulled in, so close he would hit the short bus with his awning if he extended it. Yikes. I pulled the shade closed. In the world of boondocking etiquette, this is a no-no. The parking area we were in would hold ten rigs easily and none of them within spitting distance of each other. There was a second parking lot one had to pass through to get to the parking lot we were in, and it was empty. Why was he here? On top of us?

It didn’t much matter anyway. We needed to run back into Kalispell to fix our water problem. At our last campground, we were pretty sure we blew our water inlet pressure valve as every time we turned on our water pump, water gushed out the city water connection. We bought a replacement and did the repair at our boondocking spot, but water still spewed. There was a connector attached to the check valve, and the water seemed to come from there. We tried to replace the connector with another one we had but the hose clamp was a permanent clamp, not the typical unscrewable type. I have no idea why these are used as hoses can and often do ‘pop,’ but these permanent hose clamps must be cut off and even then, leave what they are connected to with a piece of hose hanging off of it that is impossible to remove without a chance of serious finger injury (we know, we tried – if you know of tool that can remove them, please let me know!). So that we would have water for the night, we McGyvered it. For the record, a Sharpie fits quite well into the hoses used on a Bounder. We duct taped the Sharpie in place and we had water again!

So we went back to the RV parts store we had found outside Kalispell and picked up the new part we needed, and a bunch more of similar parts and some hose. Just in case. It took all of three minutes to make the repair, after over an hour the day before of trying unsuccessfully to get that stupid hose clamp off the hose.

We wanted to test our system and stay close to Kalispell so we found a private RV Park (Crooked Tree Motel and RV Park – $35) not too far away and hid out there for a day. It was the weekend so were weren’t going to have any luck finding a public campground – everything is packed this close to Glacier. We grabbed burgers, t-shirts, and huckleberry stuff right next door at the Huckleberry Patch  and, for the prices, the burger and fries were pretty good. The burgers are extremely customizable, so we both got what we wanted.

Sunday, we headed out to Salmon Lake State Park for four days of relaxation.

Post Navigation