Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the category “Photography”

Watching the ships roll in

Scenes at the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge, the railroad crossing for the Cape Cod Canal. Trains still use it though we were never able to catch one on it. The bridge goes up and down, spending most of its time up for boat traffic.

At the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. It is free to get in and great for kids (or adults who love sea life). It isn’t very big but they do have touch tanks and lots of information. Mike and I both grew up on Jacques Cousteau and followed the explorations of Alvin, so  visiting Woods Hole was a no-brainer. The small town ended up being one of our favorites though we didn’t get to spend much time there.

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Probably the prettiest lighthouse we visited was Nobska Point Light just outside of Falmouth. The location is sublime (even in the rain) and just what one would expect of a New England Light house.

Falmouth is also a boating town, with a fairly large marina (by Cape Cod standards) and tons of mooring balls. They have a very good, small farmer’s market and a great, walkable downtown core. During our stay, we tried Maison Villatte for desert (amazing chocolate and almond croissants and bread). We had lunch at La Cucina Sul Mare and really enjoyed their lunch specials and their incredibly reasonable prices; definitely a place I would go back to. The food was prepared well. We met a friend for burgers and beer at Liam McGuire’s Irish Pub. Both were good as was the conversation. While we couldn’t stay for the daily live music we were assured that it was the big draw for the standing room only crowd. If you go, get there early!

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We thought the red boat would make a perfect Great Loop Boat. Its a little larger than we want but the big windows and all that deck space would be a wonderful place to watch the world drift by.

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Dexter Grist Mill in Sandwich. They still grind corn here, and they sell it, too. In the pond, we watched fish mark and protect their territory, making small circles free of debris which they circled to keep other fish out.

On another rainy day we passed through Barnstable and stopped at the Coast Guard Museum for a visit. Our actual reason for being there was the Old Jail, built in 1690. Its history is pretty cool but we didn’t get to see any of it – no one was there. It sits on the grounds of the Coast Guard Heritage Museum, so we wandered through that instead. The museum had displays starting from the beginning of the existence of the coast guards, right through modern times. What I found most fascinating was the light ships – boats that were constructed to be used as light houses where light houses couldn’t be built. Yes, I lead a sheltered life; I had never heard of them. There are none operating in the US (as commissioned light ships) at this time, but they can be found in places like New York, Virginia, Michigan, and Delaware. None currently on Cape Cod.

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See that little point sticking up on land way way over there (about center right in the image)? That is the Sandy Neck Lighthouse in Barnstable. Unless you have a boat, a resident sticker, or the ability to walk ten miles (round trip) in sand, that is as close as you can get to it. I had none of the above (okay, we could have walked the ten miles but had absolutely no desire to) and so we viewed it from the Barnstable Beach. Two things we noticed about parking on Cape Cod: the beach parking is expensive ($20/day, every day) and people go to parking lots and sit in their cars, especially parking lots with a view. All over Cape Cod, from the time we arrived to the time we left, there was not one parking lot we visited that did not have at least one car with a person in it just sitting. In some places, there were ten or more; some reading, some napping, some eating, some just staring. But there was always a person hanging out in their car. We go a lot of places. We have been all over the country and hung out in a lot of parking lots. But we have never seen anything like the parking lot vigils in Cape Cod.  Why? We will never know.

There was even a car parked at the Sargo Tower in Dennis. Okay, that is our jeep and it was us. The Scargo Tower was built specifically for the view. While we didn’t get the full view the day we were there, the view was pretty impressive. On a clear day, one can see all the way to Provincetown, which is where my camera was aimed for the bottom picture. We could see the Cape Cod Bay, but not any further.

We visited Chatham one day, a very pretty town at the elbow of Cape Cod. We caught the “Sharks in the Park” installation but missed out on the “Lifeboats in the Shops” scavenger hunt. I guess we don’t shop enough.  We managed to find (and get up close to) the Chatham Lighthouse and the beautiful beach attached.

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As you can see, the beach has some great sand bars off shore. From a map, it seems they stretch for miles. If we ever return, we will head here with our kayak. It looks like a great place to play Robinson Crusoe for a day.

We then headed up to Chatham Pier and Fish Market but it wasn’t open. We did get to see a few seals though, and a lot of work boats.

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If you want to buy a float, this is the place to do it. They also have wicked fudge. Eastham.

We also found another lighthouse, Nauset Light which had been moved a bit away from the coast. Fascinating fact about lighthouses – they each have their own light pattern. This enables boat/ship captains to verify their location at night or in fog when land masses can’t always be seen. This particular lighthouse is the one on the Cape Cod Potato Chip bag.ma301

We also spent an entire day wandering around Provincetown. It is like Key West of the North with the same funky beach vibe and far out people.

 

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This picture was taken a few hours earlier than the one before it. The streets get crowded as the day progresses.

The Pilgrim Memorial can be seen from just about everywhere in the town.

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The remains of the Provincetown Theatre

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We ate lunch at the Lobster Pot. Good food but pricey, a tourist location.

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lots and lots of boats in P-town.

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We also spent some time wandering the coast of Provincetown – there is a lot of it!

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The bay is taking back the land, including the parking lot. Way off in the distance (near center) is another lighthouse (Race Point Lighthouse).

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The causeway will take you to Woods End Light Station on the Provincetown Spit. The lighthouse is that bump above the couple’s head.

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Our two weeks on Cape Cod went very, very fast. We only saw and did about half of what we planned to. We never made it to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. We didn’t spend a lot of time at Cape Cod National Seashore.  We didn’t eat a gazillion lobsters or gallons of chowder. Time got away from us. If we had been ‘vacationing’ for two weeks, we probably would have done all that and more but we would have been exhausted afterwards. We tried that last year in Alaska and burned out after about 10 weeks of non-stop go. So we took it easy in Cape Cod and still enjoyed every minute.

One thing Cape Cod did was solidify our desire for a boat. We spent hours looking at boats and debating the kind of boat we want. Like RVs, there isn’t a single boat that can do everything we want well. But there are a few that can do much of what we want well enough. Being raised around the Chesapeake Bay, we love gunkholing. Sailboats are very limited in their gunkholing ability (don’t tell a sailor that!) so we are looking at shallow draft trawlers. Our previous boat would float in 18 inches of water and we loved getting all the way into little creeks to hide away from the deep vee and sailboat crowds of the bay. With that settled, we debate on towable vs. non-towable and keep going back and forth, debating live aboard size vs. ability to drag the boat around the country visiting water from coast to coast. Depending on the day, we vote for one or the other. Some day we will figure it out. Or, the perfect boat will magically appear in front of us one day like a rainbow and it will be too good to resist.

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taken while driving.

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Sitting on the dock of the bay

Back when we decided we were heading to New England for the summer, at the top of our list was Cape Cod.  Neither of us had ever been there so we really wanted to plan ahead to make the most of our trip. After a couple of weeks of back and forth about campgrounds – how often to move, where to move to – we decided we would like to chill at one location for the entire two weeks, moving our Jeep from place to place rather than our bus. Our place of choice: Scusset Beach State Reservation in Sandwich, MA. The location for us was perfect – not in the middle of all the ‘to-do’ (read traffic) in Cape Cod but close enough to anything we might need or want to do. The campground itself was also perfect. While it only had 50A and water hook ups, it had nice open sites right next to the beach and the Cape Cod Canal.

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The campground from the beach parking lot. In the fog. The short bus is on the right.

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From our site, #98, we could see the end of the canal and the tall ships that passed by. We lucked out in that the Mayflower II, on its trip from repairs in Connecticut  back to Plymouth, passed right through the canal.

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We were also an easy walk to the beach, which was very popular. Even in the fog.

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There was a lot to do in the campground itself: walking, hiking, fishing, swimming, and what we did most, lazing around in the sun. While we did have some foggy days and a couple of rainy days, most were warm and sunny. There is a fishing pier on the canal, a breakwater that extends 1/2 a mile out into the bay, and access to the Canal Path, a seven mile end to end bike path.

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The light at the end of the breakwater, about 1/2 a mile from shore.

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Tug and barge passing the breakwater

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rock detail. there were some pretty cool rocks.

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Looking back to land from the end.

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Foggy day at the beach.

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We were there for two weeks so we had to visit the dump station on day seven. Word of warning: the dump station is only open until 3:30 PM every day. I have no idea why. Also, the setup is kind of strange; rather than a pipe straight down, it is off to the side. Mike says it smells really bad, worse than a normal dump station. I had to make sure our chairs didn’t blow away 😉 so I didn’t get the pleasure.

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The campground is just outside of Sandwich, which is on the other side of one of two car bridges that cross the Cape Code Canal. In Sandwich, there are two grocery stores (I highly recommend the Market Basket both for prices and fresh foods), quite a few restaurants (definitely stop in Cafe Chew), and the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center. On the campground side of the bridge is a McDonalds, a gas station and a tourist visitor center. Based on my experience, I will never attempt to cross over the Canal Bridge on a Sunday ever again. To get from the grocery store to the campground took almost an hour. It is 4.8 miles away. Most of that time was spent waiting in traffic for 1/2 a mile of the entire route, to get onto the bridge. Once on the bridge, the drive was all of five minutes. I have heard that crossing onto the Cape on Fridays is also time consuming.

All in all, we had a great time at Scussett Beach. We had family stop and visit for an afternoon and met up a couple of times with friends in the area to catch up and hang out. We also did a ton of sightseeing which I’ll post in the next entry.

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Sunset, our second to last night. Pretty amazing and bested all the other things we saw.

“You can’t always get what you want…*

While in Connecticut, we were not only able to fix our vacu-flush problem, we managed to secure a site for a few days at Fishermen’s Memorial State Park in Rhode Island. Someone  canceled a two day reservation in the water view area with full hook ups and then someone else canceled four more days in the same area! We were set for the week before memorial day, though we still didn’t have a site for Saturday and Sunday.

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Fisherman’s Memorial State Park is a very nicely kept park. The grounds are impeccably landscaped, the full hook ups are well placed, many (but not all) sites are very level, and the location is great – not too far from the beach, Narragansett and pretty much the entire state of Rhode Island (it is a very small state). We really enjoyed our six days here and didn’t want to leave.

When we weren’t being lazy, we wandered around Narragansett, a beautiful small coastal town with a bit of history. We also wandered around for the day in Newport, one of our favorite towns we have visited so far.  One of the highlights was The Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile wander along the coast past huge mansions and beautiful views. It just so happened to be a sunny seventy degree day so the walk/hike was one of our favorites so far.

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One of the many mansions along the Newport coast.

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Used to be a mansion, now being used by the college.

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The view at “the steps.”

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We also spent some time wandering around the pier and old town. All told, we probably walked seven miles or more just seeing the sites. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera on that day.

While at Fisherman’s, we hunted for a place to stay Saturday and Sunday nights, Memorial Weekend. The pickings were pretty slim. We also needed a place to stay Monday and Tuesday. Charlestown Breachway had a few spots available so we drove the fifteen miles to the campground to check it out. It is dry camping but right next to the beach, so we were hoping for the best. We figured out why there were sites available still, despite the location: it was a parking lot. Literally. There are 75 sites in the parking lot, all of them about 15′ wide and 40′ long. While we were desperate, we just weren’t desperate enough to squish in with 74 other RVs during the heat and the holiday, with generators running non-stop. My claustrophobia kicked in just looking at it.

So, we resigned ourselves to boondocking at a rest area or a Walmart. On Friday morning, luck smiled on us. Someone canceled their site at West Thompson Lake, a COE park about 60 miles away in Connecticut. It would be back tracking just a bit, but it was an electric and water site long enough for us to fit. So Saturday morning we packed up and headed that way.

The park itself is small, very wooded, and very quiet. It isn’t my favorite campground, but the parking situation was way better than the Breachway. We spent a quiet two days hiding out in the woods, dodging gypsy moth caterpillars. I did get the opportunity, during the down time, to make my first ever batch of hamburger buns using the breadmaker to knead the dough. I just used a basic recipe from Food.com and they turned out excellent. Way better than what I typically get at the grocery store.

I also had a craving for Naan bread, so I gave it a try. I substituted heavy cream for the lowfat milk, olive oil for the canola oil, and added a bit of garlic. It turned out amazing, way better than I expected (I gotta start getting pictures of bread!). I whipped up some tzatziki sauce, browned some chicken, and we had a great meal.

Sunday morning we were wondering if we should stay put for two more days or chance a Walmart. We were both a bit claustrophobic by then, as the woods seemed to grow closer with each passing hour. And then someone cancelled their days at Horseneck Beach State Reservation in Massachusetts. I don’t blame them – the weather report was for cold and rain and the sites were dry camping. But the site they canceled was on the beach! So we booked it and took off Monday morning for Massachusetts.

I completely fell in love with Horseneck Beach and could probably have spent the rest of the summer there. Our site was right on the beach and, in spite of the fog our first day, the place is beautiful.

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Our beach front camping site. Rated to hold a 40′, which it easily could.

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Sunset over the beach sites.

While we only spent two days here, it was as relaxing as an entire week. We drove around the area, the highlight being Westport Point, 17th and 18th century houses leading down to the docks. We enjoyed a good lunch at The Bayside Restaurant, and oogled the RVs parked on lots on the ocean. It was a great way to end the month of May.

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These beach roses smelled amazing and added to the atmosphere here. There were tons of them between the beach and the campsites.

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The singing rocks. The beach is rocks and pebbles. When the tide was going out, it was strong enough to pull smaller rocks towards the water. They would bounce and skip over each other, sounding like ‘singing.’ It kept us enthralled for a good hour a day.

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*…But if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.”

Nothing would be finer than to be in Carolina…

Continuing our trek north, we headed into South Carolina. We managed to pass through Atlanta at about 11AM and hit no traffic. I don’t know if we are lucky or have great timing but, in our two passes through Atlanta this year, we passed through without problems. Yeah, some of the drivers are a little nuts, but we are so used to DC driving that Atlanta is a cake walk. So far.

In looking for a campground not too far off the highway but in a pretty area preferably near water, we found South Cove County Park. It is on a little peninsula in Lake Keowee just outside of Seneca, SC. Because it has sites right on the water, it won out over the many other parks in the area.

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The campground from the office

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Our campsite, #33

We did not reserve our campsite ahead of time but on weekends during the spring and summer, it might be advised. If reserving ahead of time, ignore the driveway lengths when making your decision. The sites on the water are pull-throughs but the entrance and exit are shared by the sites in front or behind yours. This can be a tight situation when the campground is busy but it was pretty empty while we were here.

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The site behind us. Our shadow is where the shared entrance/exit is.

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In front of us, from left to right, a hill site, the road, and a site further down the lake.

The campground was very quiet though there was the occasional power boat passing by.

We set up and ate lunch then relaxed and caught up on with things on social media (excellent Verizon signal here). About an hour later, we heard the familiar sound of Harley pipes. The bike came back around and stopped in the site in front of us. “We have neighbors – we need to move the jeep.” We had parked it in the empty campsite in front of us. Turns out, it was Bill and Mary Ann. They had seen Mike’s check in on Facebook and happened to be in the neighborhood. We first met Bill in Hunting Island last year through LEO Only and spent a couple of hours catching up.

They knew we liked off-roading and beautiful views so they suggested we head up to Jumping Off Rock where we would get a little bit of both. They were right – the place is beautiful, the road is fun but not challenging, and there are no crowds.

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One of the views at Jumping Off Rock.

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Most of the road is easily passable by passenger cars. But a high clearance vehicle will be needed in some parts, including at the beginning.

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A small waterfall along the way

We aren’t sure if our timing was impeccable or if we were lucky or if there was some sort of rules change but a gate was open that allowed us to get all the way down to the lake on a peninsula.

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If you have a tent, this would be a great place to camp.

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Rope swings at the end of the road.

Lake Jocassee is beautiful and we decided that it is definitely a future kayak trip. This end of the lake is fairly remote and the scenery outstanding. One could probably spend a week on the water and still not see everything.

On our way back to camp, we stopped by Bill and Mary Ann’s house. It is beautiful, set in  hills overlooking the lake – a dream place to retire to. They made one more suggestion: Paesano’s Italian Restaurant.  When someone from New York and/or New Jersey suggests Italian, I’m inclined to believe their recommendation. That suggestion was as good as the first (I love local knowledge!); the food and service were excellent and I’m still thinking about the tiramisu.

We returned to camp and Mike made friends with the local ducks while I got caught up on blog posts. By the end of our second night here, he had them practically eating out of his hands.

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A word of warning about camping here on the lake shore, and probably any other shore: overnight a storm blew in. We knew it was coming but our neighbor didn’t and lost his awning. The lake here is 26 miles long and the wind can build up to a gale over that distance if coming from the right direction.

Also on our last night here, we went outside to see if we could see the storm rolling in. It was chilly, so we closed our door. After a few minutes of star gazing, we tried to go back inside. And we were locked out. Even using our spare key, which happened to be in the jeep, wouldn’t get us in. Mike gave me a boost to the passenger window where I crawled inside to let him in (luckily, our windows aren’t always locked). After about five minutes of fiddling with the locks and banging the door, it finally released. And has worked perfectly ever since.

Reluctantly, we packed up and headed on. We stopped overnight at a rest area near Burlington, NC after making a pit stop at Walmart to pick up some needed supplies. The rest area has separate parking for RVs and we spent a fairly quiet night. Walmart may begin to rival Amazon for convenience in shopping. They now offer ‘pick up in store’ service with no added shipping charges. I ordered a collapsible ladder in South Carolina and was able to pick it up two days later in North Carolina. How is that for convenient? I didn’t need a shipping address or a few days to hang out in town to wait for it to arrive.

Our next spot was Holly Point Campground, part of the Falls Lake Recreation Area. The area is beautiful and not too far from Wake Forest, which has a lot to do. We didn’t make reservations early enough to get a lakefront site but we did manage to snag a beautiful, open wooded site with electric and water.

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loop 3, site 80

We later found out that loop 3 is known as ‘the retiree’ loop – it is very quiet and, according to the rangers, usually booked by retirees. It would seem to hold true during our stay as we were joined by four class Bs holding four retired couples meeting up for the weekend.

The sites here are huge and very well spread apart. Most are fairly level and extremely long, long enough for a 45′ class A and a toad and a couple of guests’ cars. While we had one of the most open sites in the campground, the majority of them are shaded with very tall trees, lending a very ‘woodland feel’ to the experience. We knew this weekend would have a cold spell so a sunny site would keep us warm.

We stopped here at the suggestion of Greg, another LEO Only friend who happens to be a Ranger here. We hung out and got to know Greg and Kimberly  and had a couple of great days trading camping horror stories, general life stories, and learning what it is like to be a Park Ranger. We are looking forward to our next pass through the area.

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Pine Mountain, GA

We looked around Macon and Augusta, Georgia, for the next place to land and quickly realized: 1) there aren’t many public RV parks in that area and 2) the Masters Golf Tournament was soon to begin and anything there was was booked. I started looking around around Helen and Dahlonega, in my favorite area of Georgia. It was kind of out of our way but the area is so beautiful it would be worth it. In my browsing I stumbled across F.D. Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain. The campground was booked solid for the weekend. I kept checking for two days (my OCD kicking in) and on Wednesday, someone cancelled. We immediately booked, starting Thursday, for the weekend. This cut our stay down in Albany to two days, but we got the highlights of the area, and managed to see what we wanted to see.

We got an early start (for us) to the campground and made it there just before 1PM. This is important in Georgia State Parks because, while you can reserve a site large enough for your RV, there is no guarantee you will have a site you like. The later you get there and the more crowded the park, the more likely you will end up with an unlevel, hard to get into site next to the dump station. Okay, it isn’t always that bad, but we have had some pretty awful sites in our time. We got extremely lucky. The sites around the lake were completely empty and we pulled into the first one – a pull through overlooking the lake.

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The view from site 101

The site was nice and large and open with a beautiful view of the 25 acre lake the campground surrounded. It could hold a 45′ RV easily though a bus that size might have to back out as the turns and trees deeper in the loop are a little tight for a 35′ short bus. By Thursday afternoon, the campground was nearly full. First thing Friday morning, any remaining sites were gone as people raced in (beginning at 8AM) to claim their favorite site or what they could get.

We explored the very tiny town of Pine Mountain, which took all of five minutes. We ended up eating at Aspen’s Mountain Grill, one of the few restaurants open at the time. We stuck with our standards, Steak Salad for Mike and burger for me, and both were good. The burger was supposed to have pimento cheese on it – a South Carolina staple – but I couldn’t taste it.

Friday it rained. and rained. and rained. We had more rain in the last week than we had even in Alaska, where it rained a lot. Maybe that is why someone canceled their reservations. Further north and east, a tornado touched down and took out a few houses. We felt safe where we were, in spite of the trees. They seemed to have been there a long time and had probably seen more adverse weather than we have.

We had wanted to go to Callaway Gardens on Friday, to avoid some of the weekend crowds, but put it off until Saturday. The gardens were one of the reasons we had stopped here: 6,000 acres of wild and cultivated rhododendrons, beautiful gardens, a butterfly center, lakes, ponds, walking and biking trails… If that isn’t enough, they also have zip lines, golf, cottages, a beach, boat rentals, and at Christmastime, a light show that might rival Disney. We packed a pretty full day in, wandering around the various areas.

Yeah, I love butterflies. And the Day Butterfly Center is the perfect place to practice shooting them and to get images of the ones I will rarely see in the wild. Because they move so fast and the Center is pretty shady, I had to use an ISO of 800 with the smallest aperture on the lens: 4.5. I probably would have had better luck with focus had I brought my 100 mm macro; at the same distance (about 6′) it has a deeper depth of field than the 75-300mm with which I was I was shooting. But, because the depth of field was so tight, I got better bokeh. There are always trade-offs…

Because of the previous days brutal downpour, some of the azaleas and rhododendrons looked a little worse for the wear and tear. But for the most part, the gardens were beautiful.

And there were also plenty of other flowers to photograph.

The walking paths and biking paths wandered all over the property – I think there are 30 miles of trails – more than enough to while away an entire day.

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We took a break for lunch at The Gardens Restaurant which had just opened for lunchtime for the spring season. The food and service was great and the location and ‘ambiance’ was excellent. We would eat here again if ever in the area.

All in all, we had a wonderful spring day in the gardens, got a lot of walking in, and some shooting practice to boot.

At about 10PM Saturday night, while relaxing on the couch, I saw it: EEK! a mouse. It came out from under the bathroom door, saw us sitting there, and did an abrupt U-turn. ACK! I like mice but I’m not fond of sharing my tiny little house with them. We looked in the bathroom – it must have squeezed behind the sink to escape. We moved the sink pedestal against the wall so tight that ants could barely crawl through. We started looking around the RV. It had gotten into  the toilet paper drawer, the pot drawer in the kitchen, and the trash cabinet under the sink. We actually had two traps left over from our experience in Cody, Wyoming: a live trap and a not-so-live trap. We put them out and went to bed.

Sunday morning our plan was to visit the Wild Animal Safari just up the road. Our plans changed, as we had our own wild animal to take care of. We ran up to LaGrange, the closest town with a Home Depot/Lowe’s to stock up on supplies. We got a few more mouse traps and some spray foam to seal up whatever gaps we could find.

There was only two ways for it to get in: up the water hose into the utility cabinet where, from there, it could follow electric and waterlines to anywhere; or up the front passenger leveling jack, where wires would allow it into the propane cabinet where it could follow electrical and propane lines into the space under the fridge and from there, into the bathroom. We spray foamed both areas extensively, where water and electrical lines entered the house and for good measure, spray foamed under the TP drawer so we wouldn’t lose any more TP. We didn’t know if we had blocked the mice in or out, but they would eventually need to eat. Then we spent the rest of the day cleaning, vacuuming, and sanitizing anything and everything in the bus.

Our conclusions on where it may have come in were proved correct when we found a mouse in the propane cabinet. We couldn’t get him out, but we set a live trap there, just in case. We also ended up catching one (in a not-so-live trap) in the water closet under the house. In the few days since, we have seen no sign of any mice and are hopeful that the one we caught is the only one that was here.

 

 

Albany, Ga

While waiting out the rain in Eastbank, I looked around for a place to stop next, somewhat north, that had a laundry and something of interest to do. My first go to is always US Campgrounds, a website with maps of every public campground in the US. It includes the smaller city and county parks that are typically very hard to find without knowing the area. And that is how I found The Parks at Chehaw. They have a zoo! It was 100 miles from Eastbank, in the general direction we were traveling, had laundry, and was within an hour of driving to Ashburn, GA.

The reception at the front desk wasn’t the greatest when we arrived and the short road into the campground could use quite a bit of work. If one overlooked the trash strewn about (some kids obviously had a fun easter) the campground was quite pleasant. The sites are not private but they are wonderfully shaded by tall pines and very level. The power and water pressure is good and we had a sewer hook up. While the laundry room only had one washer and dryer, they were both clean and worked well. The park was mostly empty so we had no problems doing four loads of laundry.

Our reason for a quick run to Ashburn, GA was to visit Carroll’s Sausage and Country Store. We had visited there a couple of years ago while staying in Wanee Lake Golf and RV Resort, a wonderful place to stop over on a trek north or south. Carroll’s Sausage is probably the best hot pan sausage we have ever tasted. So good in fact, that two years later we were willing to drive 45 miles each way to get some more. As luck would have it, on our way into Chehaw Park, we saw a Carroll’s Sausage store right near the entrance. No visit to Ashburn needed, and we stocked up on quite a few pounds of hot pan along with thick peppered bacon and some smoked jalapeno link.

Chehaw Zoo is a very small zoo, with about 85 different species. But, the enclosures are large and open and the different animals have space to move around, hide if they want to, get away from the crowds if they need to. The draw for me was the black rhinoceros, a critically endangered species that may not survive in the wild for much longer due to poaching. There are only about 5,000 left in the world.

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Chehaw Zoo works with many conservation groups, including the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Right now, there are only about 10,000 cheetahs in the world, and the Conservation Fund is working hard to fix that. The two at Chehaw Zoo seemed very happy, though I didn’t get a chance to see the Cheetah Run.

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I was fascinated by this bird’s head and how abruptly it erupted in feathers

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The bobcats had a very open enclosure, enabling them to climb about 30′ or more up into trees. This one was sleeping sitting up about 20′ over my head (the walkway is a raised platform).

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The meerkat enclosure was small, at least the visible part. This particular one was looking for any way to get out.

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A frog in a pond of the lemur enclosure. The lemur enclosure was huge – open air – and viewers were more enclosed then they were. Unfortunately, while we were there, they were all sleeping and looked like furry lumps.

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Colobus Monkey and baby. They were fun to watch.

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The zoo had the biggest alligators I have ever seen in a huge open swampy area where the people were confined to a raised walkway and they were not. That 800 lb. gator recently killed in Florida? I’ll bet there were at least three here that would rival that one.

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I love camels, as long as they aren’t close enough to spit on me. These were almost that close but seemed good natured. This is the first time I remember seeing two hump camels (bactrian).

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Chameleons are so cool. The skin texture, the colors, the way they move…

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There were also Kangaroos, emus, wolves, snakes, various birds, and a petting zoo. The walk around the grounds made for a very pleasant afternoon.

Chehaw Park also has a very large frisbee golf course, a lake one can fish in for free, lots of walking and biking trails, a huge kids playground, and a bmx race track. If we had had more time, we would have stayed a while longer.

 

Turning North – Eastbank

Spring is here! Of course, it took three days of rain to see it. We arrived around 2PM on Thursday and it started raining around 6PM. And it didn’t stop until Sunday evening. This blew our plans for kayaking and fishing but we had a lovely site with a beautiful view so we didn’t mind too much.

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The view towards the campground from our campsite, #3.

 

Eastbank is an Army Core of Engineers campground on the banks of Lake Seminole.  It has large, mostly level sites that will hold any kind of RV. The sites come with water and electric and there is a dump station within the grounds. The lake itself is listed as one of the best places to catch large mouth bass in the state of Georgia and it is pretty easy to launch a kayak from most sites. Some sites even had small motor powered boats tied up next to shore.

The campground is closest to Chattahoochee, Florida, a small town where one can get a few supplies but not much else. We did a bit of driving around the area to keep cabin fever at bay and have one suggestion: stay off the back roads during heavy rain. Most of the back roads were clay. Deep red clay that sticks to tires and turns them into slicks. While we didn’t get stuck we did a fair amount of sliding around – even four wheel drive doesn’t help much in soggy wet clay. Our GPS routed us on these roads and we were thankful we figured it out before driving on them in the short bus. We would have been stuck for days…

When the rain finally broke, the wildflowers came out. They were the tiniest flowers I had ever seen, each the size of a babies finger nail. There were thousands of them and I could have spent hours getting pictures. To get them, I used my 100mm macro, the only thing I have that can focus closely enough to have these tiny flowers fill the frame.

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Once the rains were gone, the sunsets were beautiful. But we only got to enjoy two as we needed to head north.

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the view from our campsite

We had to change our plans. We were supposed to go to Savannah to spend a few days visiting with friends and family, then on to Charleston for some good low country food. Due to a death in the family, we needed to reroute to be in Maryland by April 15 instead of May 5. It wasn’t too much of a strain – we only had one reservation booked until June. We looked at the routes between Eastbank and DC and the shortest was right through the foothills of Georgia and South Carolina. Since we hadn’t spent much time in the area at all, rerouted our path north.

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Finally Florida – Fort Clinch

It was finally time to move further south. The weather was just going to get colder and we had reservations for the next stop already. 180 miles, 5 degrees, and a new state for the year!

We have stopped in Fort Clinch State Park twice before, once as a stop over on our way to the Keys and once for a few days to get business done. Both times were in the Amelia River Campground, which we love. This time, we lucked into beachside when someone else canceled. The two campgrounds are exact opposites in personality. Amelia River feels small and intimate whereas the beachside site are wide open and airy. Sometimes Amelia River  makes me feel claustrophobic but sometimes beachside feels cold and impersonal. You really can’t lose with either side though; both have a nice easy walk to water, bathrooms, and washing machines.

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For a first timer with a tall bus or fifth wheel, the road into the park can seem daunting. None of the trees here grow straight nor in any particular direction. But, the rangers here are pretty good about marking low hanging branches and, if you stay close to the center when you can and take it slow, you should have no problem getting to the campgrounds. We made it with a foot to spare with a 12’10” clearance.

The highlight of the park is the fort and its museum; one can spend a couple of hours just wandering around. What amazed me was the brickwork. If one considers they were all made and laid by hand, a couple of hundred years ago, and then considers the scale, it is a massive undertaking, indeed.

Sunset is a great time to be out on the park pier. While it can be a little windy out there, the views are stunning. It is probably one of the longest piers I have ever walked, jutting way out into the Amelia River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

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There are two walks in Fort Clinch; one is a short meandering 1/2 mile through woodland and swamp, the other a 6 mile multi-use trail around the park. Be careful of the quick moving bike riders on the second. The path is narrow and cyclists often like to ride fast. There is also an overlook from which one can see the lighthouse.

We really like the town of Fernandina Beach. It is small and not too busy, at least in January. While it does have some spread – most of the island is completely built up – the historic downtown is cute and restrained, more closely resembling Beaufort, SC than Myrtle Beach.  There are a lot of really good restaurants, specialty shops, and places to just stop and watch the crowd go by.  We tried Arte Pizza which has really good pizza and salads and great cannolis. We also stopped by Timoti‘s for lunch and had great blackened grouper and a salad. But, if you can only eat one thing while in Fernandina Beach, I highly suggest you make it the Hush Puppies at Timoti‘s. These are the best I remember ever having had, though Mike says we had some as good at The Dixie Pig in Rock Hill, SC.

Fort Clinch State Park is an excellent introduction to Florida. One gets a taste of Old Florida, the beach, New Florida, history, and good food, all in a small fairly uncrowded area. There is quite a bit to see and do and in the five days we were here, we didn’t get bored.

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.

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Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

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Sunset at St. George’s Island State Park

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Mission in San Antonio Texas

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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.

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Great Sand Dunes National Monument

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Lost in Arizona

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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!

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The US border in Organ Pipe.

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Creek in the Superstition Mountains

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Joshua tree near Palm Springs, CA

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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.

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In the Redwoods, the jeep is very tiny.

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Newport Marina Sunset

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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.

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

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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…

The White Rim Road in 10 hours or less

We didn’t set out that morning to run the entire 100 or so miles White Rim Road in a day. In fact, it wasn’t until 10AM that we had any idea of what we might do. But, I had been browsing the internet and saw that there were permits available for the trail and we had nothing better to do…

The White Rim Trail is a beautiful road that runs through Canyonlands National Park in the Island in the Sky area. Because it is unimproved and remote, recommendations are to have both high clearance and four wheel drive. Since we have both and, since we were staying at Dead Horse Point State Park right down the road, we figured we would drop down the rim and take a closer look.

There are two routes to get to White Rim Road, the Shafer Trail, which we had done two days before, and Mineral Bottom at the other end. Our goal, at 10AM, was to go down Mineral Bottom, check things out for a couple of hours, then come back up. So, by 11AM we were in the Jeep heading over to Mineral Bottom along BLM 129 just outside of our campground.

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The view at the top of Mineral Bottom switchbacks

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On the switchbacks. The straight ways weren’t so bad if you don’t mind edges. The turns were another story.

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Another view of the road from further down. The two dark diagonals are the road we drove on.

We made it down to the bottom with clean and dry seats in spite of the fact that we passed two other cars going up. In our case, it was much worse for the passenger than the driver, as the driver at least has a steering wheel to brace themself with (Here is a video of someone else going down the road). Honestly, for me, who is really afraid of edges, going up Shafer Trail is way worse than coming down Mineral Bottom. Coming down, you can see the road ahead of you for a bit and you don’t have to worry about rolling backwards over the edge.

Once we got down there, we could make a left or a right. Mike decided on left, which took us onto White Rim Road. We figured we would head a couple of miles down the road, see a little, wander, then turn around and head back.

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The road follows the river for a while and we passed people camping and quite a few bike riders. We pass through some pretty deep sand that we had to race through and I felt sorry for the bicyclists coming up to it – it was going to be a rough slog and there was no path around it.

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The scenery just kept getting more beautiful and the road more bumpy.

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And then we finally hit it – our first tight squeeze.

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Making our way around the cliff.

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A picture from inside the jeep for perspective. Yes, we were extremely close to the edge – the rocks jutting out of the cliff face forces you that way.

After making our way around the cliff, the world opened up a little onto a plateau.

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And then continued back around towards the mesa.

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Where we were met with this:

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We weren’t sure what to make of it. We were pretty sure there was a road up there because the road supposedly went all the way around. We just couldn’t see it. Until we spotted the bright yellow jeep. It is impossible to find in the picture above, so here is a crop of near the center:

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That is how incredibly large the wall before us was.  While we waited for the jeep to get where we were (a good five minutes at least), we had a talk.

M – “We can go forward, or turn around here.”

C – “You mean go back along that cliff?”

M – “Either forward along that cliff or back along the other.”

C – “Or just live here on granola bars and handouts.”

M – “…”

C – “Okay, I prefer the dangers I don’t know to the ones I do. How much gas do we have?”

M – “A little over 1/2 a tank.”

C – “What time is it?”

M – “12:30. Best case, we make it back to camp when the low fuel light comes on at around 9PM. Worst case, we fly off the cliff. In between case, we end up stuck somewhere on the road eating granola bars and hand outs.”

C – “…”

M – “…”

C – “Forward it is.”

And that is how we ended up trying to drive 100 miles at about 10 miles an hour through Islands of the Sky on the White Rim Road.

When the yellow jeep made it down to us, we got ready to go up. They waved to us and drove over. They were being followed by three street motorcycles (they didn’t know them) and one of the drivers was petrified. He kept getting off and walking his bike, afraid he would fly off the cliff. I honestly didn’t blame him.

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When the motorcycles finally made it down and on their way, we headed up the side of the mountain. We stopped for a minute when we saw this:

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This is where we were headed. How amazing is that?

We started up the cliff face and  I didn’t take a picture for ten minutes. I’m guessing I was too busy holding on to pay attention to taking pictures.  I did get a shot 11 minutes later of the road we had been on, and another one of the road we were on.

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From the top of the mesa we could see where we were headed next.

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We just had to get down there. I was kind of looking forward to it. It wasn’t possible that going down was worse than going up. Mostly.

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We hit the first major ‘down,’ a 45 degree hill that banked to the left into what felt like a slolom course for luge sleds. And just as suddenly we were out, down by the water and in a new landscape.

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The world was full of cracks. Large gaping cracks in what looked like an otherwise normal desert landscape. It was both beautiful and scary at the same time. Not an ‘I’m afraid of edges scary,’ more of an ‘I am so completely awestruck by this amazing scene it might swallow me whole scary.’

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Then the cracks become canyons and then their bottoms fall away into deeper canyons and the white rim dribbles over the side sucking you into the view. In one moment you suddenly realize you no longer know where the bottom is anymore because a minute ago you were at the bottom, the cliffs to your back, but now you are at the top of cliffs before you and there are more cliffs below them and it just becomes one insane Ecsher painting you may never be able to escape and so you sigh. And you sigh deep because you want to catch your breath – the view took it away and you realize – this is islands in the sky what can the maze possibly be like? And suddenly, for just a moment, I understand how Billy Pilgrim felt.

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Or maybe we had just been here for too long without a break.

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If you look closely at the top of the left hand ‘pour out’ you will see two windows of a cliff dwelling buried deep in the recess (near the center of the image).

We noticed the shadows getting longer and checked the time. 2:30, and we weren’t halfway through. We decided we needed to stop a little less and move a little more. The road and the terrain changed once again as we move away from the river.

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It was about here that we hit a blind hill. I failed to take a picture of it, but the road went up at a really steep angle and disappeared. Because we needed to accelerate hard to get up the hill and we didn’t know what was on the other side, we stopped. I jumped out to see where the road went and literally ran into a park ranger. He was coming up the other side at the same time and must have seen my head pop up over the ridge. He was on a motorcycle and cut his engine and steered away. It could have been really messy, probably more for him than us, had we continued up without checking.

We chatted for a few minutes. His job is patrolling the White Rim Road which he does by off road motorcycle. He really loved his job and I really couldn’t blame him. Back and forth a couple of times a day, checking for wayward hikers, broken down cars, injured campers and whatever else may happen along. He told us we should have no problem making it out as he had already run the road. The Hogback was dry and fairly safe (it had rained off and on the day before) and only a little scary. We both moved on in opposite directions.

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And then we came to the Murphy Hogback. The hogback is a ridge that must be ascended and descended to run the White Rim Road. It brings together all the impediments to easy off-road driving: steepness, loose sand and gravel, slick clay and cliffs. On our ascent, we only had to worry about three.

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People at the top cheering on those that ascend the hogback.

To ascend the hogback, you need forward momentum and traction. But, if you have too much speed, you run the risk of being bounced right off the trail and off the side. So we popped the jeep into four wheel low and went for it. The very last hill, just below the top, is incredibly steep. We could feel gravity pulling us back as the jeep tried to move forward. Its a delicate balancing act: torque vs. weight vs. speed vs. traction. In the end, momentum won and we crested the top.

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There was a crowd at the top, some of them campers some of them day trippers wanting to run the hogback on bicycles. It was a party atmosphere as everyone celebrated every crest of the hill. We took a short break then headed over to the descent.

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We made it down to the bottom with way less drama than we had reaching the top. Gravity assisted on the steep hill.

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It was now 3:30 PM and we still had about 50 more miles to go. We sped up, knowing there would be a lot of things we missed.

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We passed through some beautiful landscapes that demanded further exploring – some other day. We hit an area of slick rock, some of it steep, but the ground was dry and the jeep had no problems climbing it.

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We kept moving, through sublime landscapes, trying to beat the sun to the top.

 

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We would our way around canyons and cliffs as the sun sunk further. Photography became difficult as the shadows overtook the view.

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We made it to the Shafer trail at dusk with just enough light to see our way up. While I couldn’t get good photos of it this day, we had run the Shafer Trail two days before and include a picture from that here:

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We crawled out of the canyon around 7PM. Our low fuel light came on just as we made the main road in the park. We made it!

It is possible to do the White Rim Road in Canyonlands in a day, though it is a very long day and we missed a lot. But we would not hesitate to do it again and plan on it in April of next year. This time, though we start with the Shafer Trail earlier in the morning and follow the sun around to the other side.

A high clearance vehicle is definitely a requirement. There are some ledges and rocks to scramble over. Because the road was dry, we may have been able to get by without four wheel drive, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There are a few spots of deep sand easier to navigate in four high and some of the steep hills are easier done in four low. Our jeep has a manual transmission which made controlling speed on the steep down hills simple. I’m guessing an automatic could run in first gear and accomplish the same thing. But, compared to many of the jeep trails around Moab, the White Rim Road is easy for a stock jeep with a capable driver.

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