Last September we stored our Vistabule in Grand Junction, Colorado and then I took a blogging vacation. I thinka case of Covid blues was a large part of this long hiatus but I’m happy to be back with a photo recap and highlights of the last seven months.
In October we travelled to Denver, Colorado and rented an Airbnb while awaiting the arrival of our first grandchild.
An extended house-sit in Fort Collins, Colorado allowed us to spend the months of November, December and January near our family and close to bike trails.
In search of warm weather, Palm Springs was our February destination….
…and Lucy visited for five days.
March took us to Southern Arizona where we fell in love with Green Valley…a smallish town 25 miles south of Tucson. In April we purchased a home and decided to make Green Valley our permanent residence. Currently we’re making a few updates to the house and preparing to move our belongings from Minnesota to Arizona.
Now that our vaccinations are behind us, we will pull the Vistabule from storage in July and explore Western Colorado and New Mexico.
We hiked so much this summer that Stephen wore through the soles of his shoes. Fortunately we found an REI in Grand Junction, CO and he was able to purchase a replacement.
With the changing weather, we finally conceded that summer is over and it’s time to move indoors. After winterizing the Vistabule, we found a storage space in Grand Junction and then performed the big switcheroo. Shorts and sandals pushed to the bottom of the suitcase and jeans along with fleece jackets moved to the top.
While not originally planned, we made a quick trip to Minnesota to collect our bicycles and tie up loose ends. This included a dentist appointment, arranging for absentee ballots and organizing our storage bin.
We also made time for one Minnesota bike ride along the Mississippi…the colors were spectacular.
Currently we are in Colorado…..and will remain here until mid January.
It has been a wonderful summer and we look forward to more adventures in the Vistabule beginning in Arizona early next spring.
As we turned the corner and headed for Natural Bridges National Monument the road sign in front of us clearly stated No Services for 121 Miles.
We knew this place was remote so we prepared with a full tank of gas and multiple jugs of water. Immediately after passing the no service sign, our check engine light illuminated. Ugh! If we were in the city we may have ignored this warning but not in this situation. Our car is seventeen years old and the odometer is nearing 200,000 miles. We’ve done all regular maintenance but one can’t help thinking of worst case scenarios.
Finding a mechanic in a small town is a challenge but fortunately Montella’s car repair was willing to run an engine diagnostic check immediately. Fifteen minutes later the mechanic returned with a smile and the results. The gas cap was not properly tightened.
Just a small hiccup in our day and we were off to see the beautiful natural bridges and arches deep in the wilderness of Utah.
We also hiked to several 13th century adobe ruins built in caves and on canyon rims. It’s amazing that these stone buildings created by the Ute Indians have remained intact.
Finally a small detour took us to Goosenecks State Park. Many years ago I saw a photo of this amazing sight…it’s the San Juan River carving its way through the desert. Seeing it up close was breathtaking.
Last week a women walked by our campsite and suddenly stopped in front of us. She looked at us, then looked at the Vistabule and then looked back at us and said “Wow, you must really like each other.” After spending three months together and seldom more than three feet apart, I’d say yes…we really like each other. Living “tiny” has been a great experience.
After six weeks in the Pacific Northwest we were headed for Colorado but wildfires in Grand Junction put a wrench in our plans. Instead, we extended our time in Green River, Utah. The river that runs through this small town is appropriately named with a lovely green hue. The temperatures were climbing above 100 degrees so hiking was out of the question. We figured swimming would be our best option. If only we could find access to the river.
Over the last several weeks most of our campsites have been by a lake, a river or a reservoir but we never had an opportunity to swim. Sometimes the water was too cold or the reservoir was too low or a NO SWIMMING sign was posted.
Although we could see the Green River from our campsite there was no shoreline. We were wilting and really needed a dip to cool off.
Stephen did some research and discovered a place called Swasey’s beach…a sandy spot with river access. I was hesitant because online reviews said it was twelve miles down a remote and partially paved road.
Even so, we needed a respite from the heat. It was a bumpy drive with craggy cliffs and bluffs along the way but when I spotted the cottonwood trees and the beach I knew we had arrived. We attempted to park in what little shade was available and quickly made our way across the burning sand. Even with shoes it was a tough go. As soon as we reached the water’s edge we jumped in and ducked our heads under water. Aah…that first douse of cool water was glorious.
Words can not describe the relief we felt from the heat. In the end, we returned three consecutive days and after each visit we marveled at the beautiful green river that flowed through this parched desert. It was so refreshing!
If you look closely at the photo you will see Stephen standing at the bottom of a sand dune amidst a wind storm….and if you zoom in, you might see a grimace on his face.
We were camping at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area near Coos Bay and decided to hike the six mile circle trail across the dunes to the ocean.
The information kiosk and our AllTrails app both stated that wood pillars with a blue stripe mark the trail. We easily sighted all the pillars on our trip to the beach but the return walk was a different story. We spotted the first two pillars and then they disappeared. The wind and shifting sand buried our markers…we were lost. While Stephen remained in place, I climbed up several dunes in hopes of spotting a marker but I could only see sand in every direction.
Fortunately we had cell service and Google maps came to the rescue. We were able to see our location on our phone and then slowly plot our way home. Traversing up and down the dunes in a sand storm was tough but two hours later we spotted a familiar pillar and finally exited the dune. Later that evening while resting our legs and enjoying a glass of wine we both agreed it was a rough day but we wouldn’t trade the experience.
We’ve been on the road for six weeks. Stephen and I have become very efficient with setting up and tearing down a campsite. With careful planning our refrigerator can hold nearly a weeks worth of food and I love cooking meals in the Vistabule kitchen.
Last week we visited Crater Lake….and I just had to share this photo!
North Cascades National Park in Washington is remote. We’ve attempted to visit this place for three years and in July we finally made it. With the Vistabule in tow it’s a tough climb over several mountain ranges but certainly worth the effort.
Half-way up the mountain
Wildflowers take center stage after a recent fire
Lucky for us, we arrived during huckleberry season and collected a bowl of berries. Without access to an oven, I attempted to make huckleberry crisp in a frying pan. Not bad!
The Hiawatha Trail in Northern Idaho is a converted railroad track turned epic bike trail. It’s a fifteen mile ride through a pine forest. Often dubbed the crown jewel of the Rails-to-Trails, it includes seven trestles and nine long tunnels. With a solid recommendation from our friend Kim, we decided to give it a go.
Because of limited space we were not able to travel with our own bikes so our best option was rental bikes. We tried to avoid the crowds and departed early in the morning for the cycle shop but it seems many others had the same plan. It was a long ordeal to collect and load our gear but with everything finally sorted, we googled directions to our next stop…the trailhead.
The start of the trail was an unexpected fifteen mile drive up a curvy, single lane gravel road. It was a chore to navigate as we honked our horns around blind curves and prayed there were no cars driving the opposite direction. Stephen and I looked at each other and wondered if we’d gotten in over our heads.
Two hours later with bikes unloaded and helmets donned we looked at the view in front of us. Wow!
While our drive up to the trail was rather hairy, the bike ride itself was relaxing and quite easy. We hardly needed to pedal with a slight two percent grade and gravity propelling us to the bottom of the hill. Our biggest challenge through the tunnels was remembering to remove our sunglasses.
There were many people enjoying the trail but we all kept at a safe distance.
After two hours of easy riding and multiple photo stops we pedaled to the end. While we could have jumped on a bus that would return us to our car, we chose to turn around and cycle back to the top. The fifteen mile return was more challenging but we never tired of the view. Stephen and I have been on several Rails-to-Trails and we both agree the Hiawatha truly is the crown jewel.
Travel during a pandemic is a scary proposition but after reading several articles on risk level, it seems that camping is probably a safe option..all things considered! Based on this and other factors, we decided to explore the Pacific Northwest. There are a plethora of parks to explore in this area, particularly North Cascade National Park in Washington. We departed the first of July with a quick stop in Glacier National Park and currently we’re traveling through the panhandle of Idaho and the Coeur D’Alene area.
Kootenai River Falls Suspension Bridge, Montana
Now that we’ve been on the road for a week, Stephen and I have figured out a routine that allows us to remain safe. We have set up our own changing tent and we choose campsites that are less popular and provide ample space.
Remote campgrounds generally mean limited cell and internet connection but quite honestly a break from all the news has been a welcome respite. I feel calm and relaxed for the first time in months
While we expect to be on the road for awhile, there is a second factor that propelled us to travel during a pandemic. We sold our condominium earlier this month and are home free. The Vistabule is our abode until we figure out a new plan. We’d like a warmer climate and are considering a move to Arizona. The timing is uncertain but a plan is slowly unfolding.
Right now we are enjoying the simplicity of a small space, the warm summer months and the opportunity to read, write and explore. I’m happy to report that our camper is completely repaired and leak free. Bert and his team at Vistabule did a great job of finding and repairing the problem.
Stephen continues to research and write baseball articles for SABR (Society for Baseball Research). If you are a baseball fan, check out the links to his most recently published articles.
Along with all of you, we have been in self quarantine. I wrote this blog several weeks ago before Covid-19 was on our radar. I hope that reading about Death Valley NP will create a small diversion as we all shelter in place.
Our quest to visit all the U.S. National Parks continues and because we were in Palm Springs this winter, a trip to Death Valley was within reach. With such a foreboding name, I could not generate much interest in this park… but Stephen was game.
While Stephen spent several days researching and planning a full day of park highlights, I dragged my feet and reminded him that Death Valley is the hottest and driest park in the nation. He was undeterred so I figured a quick drive-by would satisfy him and also allow us to cross this park off our bucket list.
With several spots marked on our map, Stephen began driving while I sat dubiously in the passenger seat sipping coffee and hoping the day would pass quickly. Just ten minutes after crossing the park boundary my entire demeanor changed. I sat up and realized this was no ordinary park. Rugged mountain ranges on both sides enveloped us and the further we drove the landscape became more interesting.
We were in a desolate place but the landscape was stunning. Sharp angled rocks and mountains eventually turned to sandstone and white rolling hills. There was very little vegetation which added to the peculiar but beautiful landscape. Zabriskie Point was our first stop and we embarked on a three mile hike over the white sandstone hills and into the canyons. There were others exploring in the park but we were very much alone in this area.
Following the hike we visited the famous area called Badwater Basin, the lowest North American elevation at 282 feet below sea level. The white stuff in the photo appears to be snow but is actually a salt flat with briny puddles in the background.
The day continued with a trip through Artist Canyon where pink, aqua, and purple hills are the result of metal oxidation in the soil. The beautiful view looked like someone had splashed buckets of paint throughout the hillsides.
We had a terrific day and I apologized to Stephen for dragging my feet. While I originally thought this park was inaccurately named, we encountered some crazy weather events that caused me to think otherwise. An unexpected windstorm stirred up dust thicker than fog and a blinding snow storm appeared out of nowhere. I’m not keen on the name Death Valley but maybe it has earned its reputation. Regardless, this is a beautiful park that is now on our top five list. It is worthy of a second visit.
After Stephen fulfilled his condo board responsibilities we decided to celebrate by heading east and experiencing the colors in the most visited national park in the nation; The Great Smoky Mountains… located in both Tennessee and North Carolina.
“Stop the car, we gotta get a selfie”
Our Vistabule was still in for repairs so instead we arranged for a house-sit in Asheville, North Carolina through TrustedHousesitters.com and filled in the gaps with Airbnb’s along the way. On our drive east we made two quick stops in Kentucky at Lincoln’s boyhood home and Mammoth Caves National Park but the main attraction was the Smoky Mountains. WOW! We arrived during peak color season and the leaves provided a rainbow of yellows, reds and golds. As we drove through the park every turn was more beautiful than the next.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The park is enormous so we selected some well known hiking trails and started walking as beauty surrounded us.
The Smoky Mountains are also home to one of the most famous long distance hiking trails in the world; The Appalachian Trail, also known as the AT. This 2,200 mile trail stretches from Maine to Georgia and every year hundreds of people attempt to hike the entirety.
We hiked five miles and then turned around as the sun went behind the mountain
Fifty years ago when Stephen was a young lad he hiked 100 miles of the AT with his Boy Scout troop at the northern tip in Pennsylvania. Last week we had the opportunity to hike a portion of the trail that meanders through North Carolina.
A dream fulfilled
It was a fantastic day for both of us and fulfilled a bucket list item for Stephen. We had fleeting thoughts of returning next year to hike a larger chunk of the Appalachian Trail but after visiting one of the trail huts we decided a day hike would suffice.
AT Trail Cabin
Sleeping with strangers…no thanks!
We encountered lots of traffic on this trip as everyone was out to enjoy the colors but this gave us more time to enjoy the view. Such beauty!