Thursday, June 22, 2017

July 21, 2017. Traveling the Salmon River Scenic Byway

CAMPGROUND:  Wildwood Brewery!  See below
LOCATION:  Near Lolo Pass, Montana, in far western Montana
WEATHER:  Cooler.  High in upper 80s. Very cool at night.   
Taking advantage of the RV park's strong wifi, we did a lot of computer work in the morning. I was able to find a place to camp over the 4th of July weekend (always challenging), found storage for the Airstream while we are in Thailand, and reserved a Park and Fly motel to park the truck while we are gone.  Whew! Glad that is done.
We headed north from the Craters of the Moon area.  We are taking a rather circuitous route to Walla Walla, going up the eastern side of Idaho, then back south and west to follow some scenic byways.    
Our route today followed the Salmon River.  It is actually listed in my book "1000 Places to Go Before You Die".  The river was overflowing its banks from the recent snow melt.  We followed it for several hours.    
We stopped along the riverside for a lunch picnic.
The geography changed into tall pine trees and high mountains.  We climbed one summit, through many hairpin turns.  Lots of snowy patches.  We watched the thermometer in the car plunge from 82 to 62 at the top of the mountain,  then back up to the 80s as we descended.   
The highway actually takes us out of Idaho into a slice of Montana.  After 254  miles for the day, we started looking for a campground.  We had passed several nice-looking ones along the river, but that was early afternoon.  Now that we are ready to stop, we didn't see any.  George spotted a sign for a microbrewery outside of one town and pulled in, at about 4:00.  He went in to see if they were open, as there weren't any cars in the good-sized parking lot.  He came to the truck telling me we could camp here overnight!  The waitress called the owner who gave us permission.  Cool!   
The brewery is only open from 4:00 - 8:00, and they don't do a lot of business.  We went in for beers.  They were pretty good.  I had an IPA and George had a stout, then a bock.    
A guitarist played on the patio (not very well).    
Then, things quieted down at 8:00.  Everyone left and we had the place to ourselves.  Since it is cooler up here in the mountains, we are ok without electricity.  We have plenty of water and propane, so are in good shape.  
DINNER:  Fried rice.  This is the 3rd dinner I've made from the $7 rotisserie chicken I bought a few days ago. I also used it for lunch chicken salad sandwiches, and made chicken broth for breakfast grits one day.  A good buy!  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 20, 2017. Driving around the moon?

CAMPGROUND:  Mountain View RV Park.  5 stars out of 5.  Nice shaded sites with trees providing some privacy between sites.  Grills and picnic tables.  Beautiful bathrooms.  On-site restaurant with excellent food and drink. $35/night.
LOCATION:  South Central Idaho near Craters of the Moon National Monument and Reserve.
WEATHER:  Hot and sunny.  High 92.  Cool evening.
We awoke at City of Rocks State Park with a nice cool temperature.  We hurried over to the national preserve so that we could get in a hike before the sun heated things up.
These rock formations are very interesting.    
We found a nice Alpine meadow trail.  We hiked about 2 miles, first watching the rock climbers climb these impossibly vertical rocks.  Then, we joined the cows in a beautiful meadow full of migrating Monarch butterflies, birds chirping and mountain flowers at their best.    
By 9:00, it was getting hot, so we returned to the Airstream and packed up.  We only had a short distance to travel today, but there were no direct routes.  We had to zigzag first west then east.  It was 190 miles.
Our destination today was another place listed in my guidebook "1000 Places to Go Before You Die".  It is a national monument called Craters of the Moon.  About 2000 years ago, volcanic lava spewed all over this area creating interesting lava fields.  It supposedly looks like the moon.  We took a loop drive through the preserve and did a few short hikes.  
On this steep trail, I hiked right up a volcanic cone.
Back to the RV, I took advantage of their strong wifi.  I need to reserve a campground for the 4th of July weekend.  Campgrounds always fill up then.  I also have to find storage for our Airstream when we go to Bangkok in July.  When we are traveling in these remote places, wifi is hard to find, and the phone service is very spotty.
DINNER:  We ate in the restaurant in the RV office.  We shared some ribs and a huge Idaho baked potato.  It was some of the best ribs I've ever eaten.  It was interesting talking to the local waitress and the owner.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

June 19, 2017. Driving the California Trail like the pioneers!

CAMPGROUND:  Castle Rock State Park, Smoky Mountains Campground.  4 stars out of 5.  Would give it a 5, but the $36/night price is too high.  Electricity and water.  Woodsy sites with picnic tables and fire pits.  Decent, new  bathrooms.  
LOCATION:  City of Rocks National Monument and Reserve.  In southern Idaho, along the Nevada and Utah border.
WEATHER:  Hot and sunny, cooling down beautifully at night.
It was such a pleasant morning in Green River, Utah that we ate breakfast outside on the picnic table.  Then, we packed up and drove north and west.  The scenery was scenic again.  When we stopped at a rest stop, I watched a shepherd herding about 300 sheep with his sheepdog down a canyon. They were really baa-ing.
Our destination today was City of Rocks National Monument which our Walla Walla homeowners had recommended, and which is listed in my book "1000 Places To Go Before You Die".  Our route took us through Salt Lake City.  Guess who was driving!  :-( For about 75 miles, I drove through urban sprawl around Provo, Salt Lake City, Ogden and lots of other bedroom communities.  Instead of a bypass, the interstate is 6 lanes wide.  I got in the second to the right lane and stayed there the entire time.  Cars and trucks zoomed past me on both sides.  I didn't want to be in the far right lane as it would turn into an exit only lane periodically and vehicles merged into it often.  At one point, two semis passed me at the same time, and one was hogging the line.  It was scary.  We escaped the traffic about 2 hours later, and suddenly were in the wide open country.
We now have a GPS and were following it to the City of Rocks.  Suddenly, it said to get off the secondary road we were on.  It was a bumpy gravel road.  We couldn't believe this was the correct route, but had no other option.  In front of us were 2 deer running down the middle of the road.      
During the 20-mile bone-rattling gravel road, we felt we were really in cowboy country.  There were huge ranches with irrigation machines watering the hay.  These make those curious green circles you see from airplanes when flying over this part of the country.  We saw cowboy lassoing calves on the side of the road.  Really cool.        
We found later that this gravel road was part of the original California Trail.  We imagined Conistoga wagons bumping along this road many years ago.  Did I mention that the gas tank was on empty again? !!
Our drive today was a long 382 miles.     
The campground in the national park area was full  (as it is tiny), so we camped at the adjacent state park.  We unhooked the camper and drove over to the monument.  It is called City of Rocks as there are very interesting rock formations all around.  The early pioneers thought that the cavemen had created a "city" from these rocks, but it is just a natural phenomenon.  Tomorrow we hope to do some hiking (but not rock climbing which is very popular here)
DINNER:  It cooled down enough to have a campfire, our first on this trip.  It was fun to cook on the fire again.  Nothing gourmet --- corned beef hash.        

June 18, 2017. Southern Utah Majestic Scenery

CAMPGROUND:  Green River State Park.  4 stars out of 5.  Would rate it 5, but I think $30 for a state park is high.  Nice sites with picnic tables, grills, and fire pits.  Clean and updated bathrooms.  Electricity and water hookups.  Nice oasis with nothing else for about 2 hours in either direction.
LOCATION:  Green River, Utah
WEATHER:  Still hot. High 101.  
The nights in Chama really cool down, into the 30s.  George bundled up and I had to force him not to turn on the heat when we first woke up.     
By 10:00, it was pretty hot already, so we took off from Chama, in NW New Mexico.  We drove through a corner of Colorado.  There were pretty mountain cabins and cute touristy towns like Pagosa Springs and Durango.  We passed by Chimney Rock National Monument, which really does look like a chimney.    
Then, through southern Utah, passing by Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, and Moab, all great places we visited two years ago.  The scenery almost doesn't look real.      
Our plan was to drive until about 5:00, where we would stay in Green River State Park in southern Utah.  We have stayed here before and we knew it was a nice park.  It was a 323-mile day.  Thankfully, they had a spot open, one with electricity (for the all-important air conditioner).  Unfortunately, it was still 100 degrees when we arrived at 6:00.  We quickly turned on the A/C and stayed inside most of the evening.  
A note about lunches.....In an effort to keep down costs, and to travel long distances each day, we have been picnicking every day.  I try to do something other than lunchmeat sandwiches.  We have had tuna salad sandwiches twice,  one day was a pasta salad, another was chicken salad sandwiches made from leftover rotisserie chicken.  One day was too hot to even stop at a roadside stand (and come to think of it, there weren't any roadside stands in that desolate area of New Mexico), so we just ate cheese and crackers in the air conditioned truck.  In cooler weather, sometimes I heat up soup for lunch.  That is the nice thing about traveling with a trailer - you can actually cook something while traveling, if you would like.  
DINNER:  Chicken curry (spicy vindaloo) over rice.  Cooling yogurt  with diced cucumbers on the side.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June 17, 2017. Another check-off on my "1000 Places to Go Before You Die" list

LOCATION:  2nd night in Chama, New Mexico at Rio Chama RV Park
WEATHER:  Cool night and morning.  Back to the 90s during the day
The reason we are here in Chama is to ride the train on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.  It is listed in my guidebook "1000 Places to Go Before You Die".  It is North America's highest and longest narrow gauge railroad.        
We were glad to see that we would be able to enjoy a cold beverage while on the train ride...
We boarded the train at 10:00.  The other passengers were train buffs and families with young children.  We climbed steadily from Chama's 7871 foot elevation to the Cumbres summit at 10,015 feet.  
The scenery was beautiful.          
We spent most of the time standing in the open rail car so we could have a 360-degree view.  We spotted deer, a pronghorn (like an antelope), and herds of elk.  Trust me, there are elk in this picture down in the valley.
We stopped for a buffet lunch about midway.  People sure like to chow down!  
Then, the afternoon was spent descending back down to 7800 feet to a small town in Colorado on the New Mexico border.  We returned by bus, a 65-mile trip, in only an hour, compared to the 6-hour train ride.  
It was a great trip. It felt good to take showers when we returned, as cinders from the steam engine were on our skin and in our hair.
DINNER:  Salmon patties with leftover red beans on the side.  I almost never make dessert, but I had made some key lime pudding earlier for George.  He had bought a huge bag of key limes while in Texas that needed to be used up.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

June 16, 2017. Up to the mountains

CAMPGROUND:  Chama Rio RV Park.  5 stars out of 5.  Very friendly staff who guided us to our spot.  Shady.  Along the river.  Full hook-ups, picnic tables, group picnic area, fire pit.  Nice bathrooms.  $25/night with Good Sam

LOCATION:  Chama, New Mexico - in far north central part of state, along Colorado border
WEATHER:  High about 95.  Very cool nights - 40ish
We awoke in Santa Fe to very cool, clean temps.  It is so nice to sleep with the windows open.   Since we only had a short drive today, we took our time in the morning, using their good wifi.  I worked on our Thailand trip and booked our flights.  It is a definite!  
We drove through Santa Fe which is so pretty with its adobe houses.  We drove about 200 miles straight north, through majestic mountain scenery.   
We stopped for lunch at a picnic spot near a large reservoir.  It had nice shade and the lake was a pretty backdrop.  
When we pulled into the RV park, it looked like it was snowing!  It is the fluff from the cottonwood trees.    
After getting settled in, we walked to the railroad trestle next to the RV park.  This is the train that we will be taking tomorrow.  It is the reason we are in this town.  The train ride is supposed to be beautiful, and is featured in my book "1000 Places to Go Before You Die".    
Walking into town, we were surprised at how winded we were.  But we are, after all, at an elevation of 7850 feet.  Tomorrow we will go to 10,000+.    
Chama is a tourist town with a population of 1000.  It has a lot of lodges, B&Bs, and inns.  Many of the inns have Mexican Hatch peppers strung on their adobe fronts.  
People come up from Albuquerque and Santa Fe to escape the heat.  The train also brings in a lot of tourists.  We found a bar that serves New Mexico microbrews, so stopped there.  We met a couple who are hiking the Continental Divide Trail, from Mexico to Canada.  Chama is on the trail, and the hikers often stop here.  I can't imagine that 
DINNER:  Rotisserie chicken, baked potato, and sautéed carrots.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

June 15, 2017. Texas is so BIG!

CAMPGROUND:  Los Rancheros RV Park.  3 stars out of 5.  Former KOA.  Bit rundown.  OK showers, tight spaces, but with trees.   Swimming pool, although it closed at 7:00.  Full hook-ups.  Overpriced at $42/night.  

LOCATION:  Santa Fe, New Mexico


WEATHER:  HOT!!!  The thermometer in the car read between 103 - 108 all day!  Yikes!


We had called South Llano River State Park before arriving yesterday.  The office person said she was leaving at 5:00 yesteday evening, but we could just come in, park and pay in the morning.  We had all intentions of paying this morning, but we were ready to leave at 6:50 AM (an all-time earliest start for us ever) and the office didn't open until 8:00.   So, we felt bad (well, really not that bad), and left without paying.  We'll make it up with Texas State revenue some other time.  

We stopped in a McDonalds for breakfast.  We almost never stop in fast food places, but had a coupon for a free breakfast and wanted to use their wifi.  After all that, we hit the road at 8:00 AM.  The first several hours were on very boring Interstate 10. We watched the car thermometer steadily rise.  The speed limit is crazy at 80 mph.  At a sedate 62 mph, we were passed by virtually every vehicle on the highway.

Then, we got on a secondary 2-lane highway straight north.  It turned out to be a road mostly used by oil rig trucks.  Its speed limit was 75!  We drove hours upon hours through oil fields, desolate miles of sagebrush and mesquite, oil refineries, dust, and happily, an occasional pecan orchard.

The gas gauge was looking a bit low.  Then lower and lower.  George wanted to try to make it to New Mexico, where the gas is supposedly cheaper.  I hate it when this happens.  All I could think of is that one of us would die of heat stroke walking to the next town, and the other one would perish suffocated in the truck.  Miraculously, a town appeared when we had 5 miles left in the tank.  

(Turns out that gas is not cheaper in New Mexico!)  

It seemed forever to get through Texas.  At the New Mexico/Texas border, the thermometer reached a scorching 108...

It's bad enough to travel through, but I can't imagine living and working in this heat.  Among the oil fields, there were many RV parks and modular homes for the oil field workers to live in.  How awful!

We had no intention to drive so far, but we didn't want to stop when it was still 100+.  So, we kept on driving.  We passed through Carlsbad, NM, home of the Carslbad Caverns National Park, which we had visited before, and Roswell, NM, of UFO fame.  

We thought Santa Fe might be cooler, due to its higher elevation, so we kept heading north.  Outside of Santa Fe, we called the RV park that friends in Retama had recommended.  They were full, so we panicked a bit.  We found this park, not far off the highway and tiredly pulled in.  We drove a record 606 miles today!!

It started cooling off at about 9:00, and we were able to turn off the A/C and open up all the windows.  So much better for sleeping.  


DINNER:  Last of the leftovers.  Hot dogs wrapped in bacon and Mexican beans on the side.  Grocery shopping is in order tomorrow!