May 2019: Starting the travels
[NOTE: You can click on any photo to see it enlarged.]
After two “practice” mini-trips in Florida, we loaded up the travel trailer, filled up the car, picked up our TripTiks from AAA, and headed west.
We departed Delray Beach in our new-to-us GMC Acadia and brand new Freedom Express travel trailer for a trip out west in several parts. Part 1 included Austin, Albuquerque, the Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, and Zion National Park. An amazing trip for us.
5.17 On our way
Our first stop was the Ponderosa RV camp, Kissimmee, FL (167 mi.), simply because it was halfway to Tallahassee, our first real stop. After all these years of living in Florida, we decided to visit the state capital, even though we were not generally pleased with the majority lawmakers. The Ponderosa RV camp provided electricity, water, and all our necessities for the stopover.
5.18 To Tallahassee RV camp, FL (263 mi.)
A narrated tour of the city in a 6-person electric cart was the best part of Tallahassee. Our historian/driver took us through the city to see lovely architecture. The historic Capital building was the best, known for its red-and-white striped awnings.
5.19 To Big Lagoon State Park, FL Panhandle
This beautiful state park on the Gulf of Mexico provided a wonderful boardwalk for our walk, with a great observation tower at water’s edge.
5.20 To New Orleans, LA
We drove to Pontchartrain Landing RV camp, same one as last year, which has a shuttle provided to and from downtown.
5.21 Shuttle to Bourbon Street area, New Orleans
After our shuttle ride into town, we started the day at Cafe du Monde so Stu could enjoy beignets, then walked through Jackson Sq. and along the Mississippi River seeing the sights.
After lunch we took a 2-hour narrated paddleboat ride down the Mississippi River on the Natchez.
We rode the Green Line trolley west to the end of the line and back to see that part of the city. Beautiful homes and other buildings.
We walked down Bourbon St. at dusk, then had a wonderful dinner at the Original French Market and Bar. We took Uber back to camp. Great day in NOLA.
5.22 To Lafayette LA
We stayed in Lafayette simply because it was halfway between NOLA and Bolivar Island. Along the way we found a lovely park on a lake at Baton Rouge LA, City Park, for lunch in our trailer – Costco chicken salad and leftover salad from the previous night. Dinner in the trailer at KOA Lafayette; Stu grilled pork loin. The KOA Lafayette turned out to be a pleasant surprise: site directly on the lake, with our own gazebo, table for 4, and swing.
5.23 To Bolivar Peninsula, TX
Bolivar is a wonderful place to visit – with homes of every color built up on stilts along the Gulf of Mexico – hopefully ready to withstand the next hurricane. We stayed at the Bolivar RV camp, across the street from the homes on the Gulf.
Dinner at Stingaree Restaurant, a favorite from last year. Right on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GICW), with a great view of the water and the barges coming and going.
5.24 Drove to Austin in terrible traffic.
We took the ferry from Bolivar Island to Galveston, and continued our drive to Austin, but it was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and traffic was awful. Have to remember that. We were invited to Rebecca’s for dinner but traffic made us very late. Arrived around 8pm. We got there before Sierra’s bedtime and she got to open our birthday present.
We stayed for 3 nights at the wonderful Emma Long Metropolitan Park, same as last year. The waterfront park is directly on the Colorado River.
5.25 Austin – Sierra’s Birthday Celebration
We enjoyed visiting Stu’s kids and grandkids in Austin, especially the Pig Roast party hosted by Miguel and Rebecca for Sierra’s 3rd birthday celebration.
5.26 Another day in Austin
We spent the morning at the Zinker Botanical Garden, a very beautiful place.
We had a wonderful lunch downtown at High Note Restaurant, quite a treat.
In the evening we went out for pizza with Josh and Jacob. Good to be with them. Good pizza.
5.27 To Quail Park, Sterling, TX
The drive to Sterling was enhanced by row after row of wildflowers growing along the side of most of the highway – and in the park where we stopped for lunch.
We stopped at Quail Park RV campground only because it was 1/3 of the way to Albuquerque, our next major destination. It was just a dirt lot with RVs parked on it, but it was good enough for a night. (Sauteed shrimp with veggies in the trailer)
We left the next morning and headed for Roswell. Again the drive was kept interesting – this time by wind farm after wind farm – and oil well after oil well.
Creating energy in two ways: oil wells and wind power.
One is good for the environment.
5.28 Red Barn RV in Roswell, NM
We stayed in Roswell because it was 2/3 of the way to Albuquerque and had an interesting reputation. It is known for an alleged unidentified flying object that landed there in 1947, and the fascination with UFOs has continued. The aliens in the site next to us made a lively neighbor.
From Wikipedia: In mid-1947, a United States Army Air Forces balloon crashed at a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico. Following wide initial interest in the crashed “flying disc”, the US military stated that it was merely a conventional weather balloon. Interest subsequently waned until the late 1970s, when UFO-ologists began promoting a variety of increasingly elaborate conspiracy theories, claiming that one or more alien spacecraft had crash-landed and that the extraterrestrial occupants had been recovered by the military, which then engaged in a cover-up.
The various equipment the farmers used to water their crops was interesting, as long as I didn’t get too close to a water stream changing to my direction.
5.29 Arrived in Albuquerque, NM
We stayed for 4 nights at the Albuquerque KOA. (First night – Cornish hen for dinner. People wonder why I record what we ate. Very simple – we are likely to do the same trip next year and it helps with the planning and food shopping.)
5.30 Day 2 in ABQ
The trailer’s hot water heater broke – get it repaired or face cold showers. We found a mobile repair man who came to the RV camp, made some phone calls, and found the board to get our hot water heater making hot water again. $400 for hot water. Worth it to us.
With the repairs completed, we headed for the Sandia Mountains down the road and drove the scenic road to the peak, the Sandia Crest, one mile above Albuquerque and 2 miles above sea level.
The view was terrific, but it was very cold and windy up there, so we aborted our plan to stay for the sunset and drove to the Sandia Peak Tramway – to enjoy the longest aerial tram in the US and watch the sunset from the warmth of the tram. Perfect timing. With a little urging, we got the tram driver to get started a few minutes early so we could be up in the air for the sunset. It set right on time.
After the Sandia adventures we had a late dinner at the Pelican Restaurant.
5.31 Day 3: Tour of Albuquerque
We met Michael (my oldest brother) and Carol at the Hotel Albuquerque in the Old Town for a narrated trolley tour of the city. Really enjoyed the tour, and then the lunch at the High Noon Restaurant. Unlike my usual self, I was so preoccupied with my family, I forgot to take pictures of them when it was a good time. So I got mostly backs of heads.
An even more special treat was seeing Michael’s properties in the city. Carol and Michael drove us to 2 different buildings, one completed and beautifully designed and decorated with Carol’s huge help, the other still under construction. Michael and Carol have worked together on these projects and have created beautiful buildings in a part of ABQ that the city would like to see upgraded. These buildings should be a great starter for the city plan.
6.1 Day 4: Dreskin family gathering
The family gathered at the home of Michael and Carol for an afternoon together. Carol prepared an enjoyable lunch of “do it yourself” tacos with all the fixings. Those present included Michael’s son Jeremy with wife Robin and little son Lazlo (3 years old) but daughter Emily did not join us, and two of Michael’s daughters – Mikki, with sons Jonathan and Landon – and Annie, with son Kaiden. It was quite wonderful to be with all of them.
Once again, contrary to my usual self, I forgot all about taking pictures. Having too much fun to think of anything else. Annie pulled out her cellphone and took a selfie of the 2 of us to send to Abbey, so I have one photo from the event.
Dinner was special too. We went to the Red Lobster Restaurant with my second brother Tom. We had a wonderful evening together.
6.2 Drive to Sun Valley, AZ after brunch
We still had more of the Albuquerque family to see. Rebekkah, Michael’s oldest daughter, joined us at the Egg and I with her daughter Tallulah, her mother Marty, and her partner Tricia. So glad to get to be with them before we left. And still no photos. (Sad)
After brunch we drove to the Sun Valley RV camp, the only RV camp near the Petrified Forest, and that made it a very attractive place to stay. However, it’s a quirky place with unique properties. It was recently purchased by an older gentleman who was retired and looking for something to fill his time. A study in contrasts, the park had a clean laundry room with some paid and some free washers and dryers; the family room had a big screen TV but only 3 old plastic chairs; the restrooms were clean but had no showers I could find. The owner/manager was so absent that many people gave up even trying to pay. We later learned that he had gone away for the weekend to visit family and left no one in charge.
We talked with him (Javier) and suggested that a simple honor box and posted rates would raise him a few hundred dollars when we was gone. The place has good water, strange plumbing problems, and great potential. It also has a huge area on the side filled with petrified wood of every size, for sale at $1.50 per pound. I bought 5 pounds to bring home for me and Abbey.
We drove through the Petrified Forest, entering from the North side, the Painted Desert side, before checking in at the RV camp. The colors in the Painted Desert are lovely.
6.3 The Petrified Forest – second day
Bob and Rita, our new friends in the next RV, joined us for lunch under our awning – with pork chops and potatoes grilled by Stu. Then we drove back to the Petrified Forest for another day of soaking in the beauty.
We started at the south end this time to see what we had missed the day before, and to get to the Painted Desert at the north end for the golden hour and sunset. As sunset neared, I dropped Stu off at the Chinde Point, so he could hike to the Painted Desert Inn (a national historic landmark) before dark.
How does wood petrify? A tree dies. The dead tree loses its branches and bark. The river undercuts the dead tree. The tree topples into he water. Sediment covers the log. Rapid burial seals the tree from bacteria and oxygen. The log exchanges minerals with the surrounding soils and fossilizes. The petrified wood is comprised primarily of colorless quartz, but small amounts of other elements produce a variety of colors.
6.4 To the Grand Canyon
We had an interesting drive to the Grand Canyon – with Humphrey Peak on our right most of the way.
We stopped in a park across the road from Humphrey to have lunch. To our surprise, two emergency vehicles pulled into the parking lot after us – and proceeded to move a patient from one vehicle to the other.
Next, we pulled into a gas station with a field of large “wild west” sculptures beside it.
We arrived at the Grand Canyon in time to check in at the Grand Canyon Trailer Village and walk to the first round of overlooks at the South Rim.
After dinner at the Yavapai Lodge, we attended a program at the McKee Amphitheater at 8:30pm – outside and a very cold, windy night, but a fairly interesting program on the Canyon.
6.5 Grand Canyon day
In the morning we were surprised to see a large number of elk quite near our trailer. They were dining on the grass and were not concerned at all about the people walking by. They were clearly used to humans not bothering them.
We spent the day going from one overlook to the next on the free shuttle bus that goes from one end of the South Rim to the other.
We especially enjoyed the rustic buildings designed by architect Mary Colter at a time when women were not permitted to be architects. The story is that she had to work under the auspices of a male architect, but she now gets all the credit for her beautiful designs that blend perfectly with the surrounding Canyon.
After a beautiful sunset at Hopi Point, we dined at El Tovar, a lodge with an excellent restaurant overlooking the South Rim.
6.6 to Williams, AZ
We could not get a reservation at the Grand Canyon Trailer Park for another night, so we enjoyed our last morning there and then drove south 50 miles to Williams, AZ. We stayed at the Grand Canyon Railroad RV Park, with tickets for a next-day round-trip train ride for another day in the Grand Canyon.
The best part of the trailer park were the antique cars waiting for the parade the next day.
6.7 Grand Canyon Railroad
Journey back in time on a restored train first used to carry passengers from Williams, Az to the Grand Canyon. This 50+ mile trip was not terribly interesting, following the same route we drove the day before to get there, but it got us back to the canyon.
The full day included a bus tour, again on the same route we took during our visit to the canyon. The tour included an expensive but poor quality buffet lunch that ran out of several choices and was cold and tasteless. Still it was a pleasure to be in the beautiful Grand Canyon and that made up for the drawbacks.
6.8 To Zion National Park, UT
The drive to Zion was a pleasure. We stopped for a trailer lunch along the way, and then came upon the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River, another wondrous site.
We got to the Zion Canyon Campground, set up the trailer, and walked to the shuttle that took us the 3 short stops to the Zion National Park entrance. There we caught another shuttle that took us 9 stops to the top of the Canyon in 40 minutes. The Riverside Walk awaited us, a paved trail that follows the Virgin River through a narrow canyon – a beautiful walk – followed by the 40-minute shuttle ride back to the Visitor Center – and back to our RV camp for dinner.
6.9 Zion all day
Spectacular would only begin to describe the scenery. We took several interesting and beautiful hikes, starting with a paved trail to the Lower Emerald Pool and waterfall (shuttle stop 5). The sign “Warning! Steep Cliffs” and the note “Avoid cliff edges” did not stop us, in spite of the sharp dropoffs just inches from our path. The trail ended under (behind) the waterfall, after a brief soaking as we approached it (and left it), keeping our cameras well covered. It was quite an experience to look up and see the water cascading over the ledge from behind the scene.
We had a great lunch at the Zion Lodge, enjoying the view under the tree outside the picture window, and then walked to the shuttle.
We rode the shuttle to the Weeping Rock trail (stop 7), a short but steep (ascent 98 feet) trail that ended at a rock alcove with spring water seeping out of the rock to create hanging gardens of flowers and greenery in the cracks and crevices.
6.10 Leaving Zion
In the morning we drove across the park to the Canyon Overlook Trail, where the hike turned out to be much harder than the “casual short hike with an ascent of 63 feet” in the brochure. The sign at the beginning of the trail described it as “moderate” with an ascent of 163 feet. In addition it said, “Warning: This rocky, uneven trail is not for anyone fearful of heights, although most dropoffs are fenced.”
Undeterred, we started up the steep steps of rocks, hoping to get to the “striking lookout perch” at the end. I soon became deterred by the steepness (and the total lack of anything to hold onto) and told Stu I would await him back at the bottom.
Stu continued up the Canyon Overlook Trail as it grew steeper and more narrow, hugging the cliff more closely until Stu was scared to continue. Like Moses, he saw the promised land but never quite made it.
There was one big bonus for us. On the sign at the base was a picture of a desert bighorn sheep in the canyon rocks. As we approached the base and looks skyward, what should appear before our wondering eyes but a desert bighorn sheep, high up on the cliff, looking around at the sights below him.
In the afternoon we left this wondrous place and drove to Lake Mead RV camp in Boulder City NV, where we parked our trailer at water’s edge and enjoyed the view of the lake.
Joan stayed just one night and then flew home to Florida. Stu was there for 2 more, and then headed north to see the sights (see Leg 2 of this journey) and deliver the rig to Portland, Oregon, where it will wait until we both return.