Monument Valley & Southern Utah: April 10-13, 2017

We arrived at Monument Valley’s ‘The View’ campground early in the afternoon. About a third of the pull through spots face cabins. Another third faces the restroom, office and tent campground. The last third has a beautiful view of the monuments. Fortunately, we were there early enough to pick a prime spot.

 

 

If you stay at The View campground consider that there is a $20/car fee to enter the Navajo grounds. This is over and above the campground cost, and they state that it is a per day fee.

After parking the RV we jumped in the Jeep and began our self-guided tour through monument valley. The 17 mile scenic drive was very bumpy and dusty, but the beautiful views made it worthwhile.

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Sunset from our prime spot was spectacular. Immediately after sunset there was a full moon rising between the monuments.

 

Charlie had been sick through most of our stay in Page, AZ, to the point where he finally visited the ER room before we departed for Monument Valley. He was starting to feel a little better at Monument Valley but he passed his cold onto me. Therefore, we spent our first full day at Monument Valley resting in the RV. We went out for a short walk and about collapsed with exhaustion. We were miserable.

The next day we were still moving slowly but felt compelled to get out and do some sightseeing. We headed up into Utah. We stopped in Mexican Hat to get a picture of the iconic stone.

We also stopped for breakfast at a great little café on the river: Olde Bridge Grill Café. Next to the café was a beautiful blooming cactus.

From there we went to the Valley of the Gods. We toured along the 17 mile bumpy and sandy road. Thankfully, it was a bit smoother than the one in Monument Valley. Valley of the Gods is considered by some to be a mini Monument Valley. However, we felt that the buttes, towering pinnacles and mesas of Monument Valley were far more spectacular. That’s not to say that Valley of the Gods isn’t beautiful in its own right.

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Our next stop was Natural Bridges National Monument. In order to get there we had to climb up this huge mesa, along Hwy 261.

Natural Bridges National Monument is Utah’s first national monument. Within the park there are three majestic natural bridges. We took the loop drive to view the bridges. I think the view from down in the valley would have been very nice. However, neither of us had the energy to take any type of hike, especially considering the higher altitude we were at.

Our final stop for the day was at Utah’s Gooseneck’s State Park. Here you get a view of the San Juan River making numerous tight turns around a canyon landscape that resembles goosenecks.

That wrapped up our stay at Monument Valley. Still feeling under the weather, it was time to move on. We packed up and headed to Santa Fe, NM, with a short stop in Chinle, AZ. More on that later…..

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Page, Arizona: April 3-10, 2017

We left the Grand Canyon South Rim and headed for Page, AZ on a very dreary day. Snow was forecasted for the South Rim and rain for Page so we got an early start. We arrived at the Wahweap Campground, right on Lake Powell, early in the afternoon. As soon as we parked the RV the rain started and it continued until around midnight. I was worried that with so much rain our pre-planned Antelope Canyon tours would be cancelled the next day.

The view from our campsite was very nice.

Below is a picture from a lookout above the campground.

The water level of the lake is very low in the winter, compared to summer. They expect the level to rise 40-50 feet over the next couple of months, once the snow in the mountains upstream begins to melt.

We awoke the next morning to beautiful blue skies and headed over to the Antelope Canyons. I was scheduled for a photography tour of the Upper Antelope Canyon, while Charlie was scheduled for a general tour. The photography tour allows you to carry a tripod, and the guide keeps people out of your photograph. We took the 10:30 am tour so that we would be in the Upper Canyon when the beam of light came through. We both enjoyed our tours, but the canyon was jam packed with people and that kind of takes away from its surreal beauty.

After visiting the Upper Antelope Canyon we grabbed lunch and then headed over to the Lower Antelope Canyon for a slightly different tour. There are no longer photography tours allowed in the Lower Antelope Canyons during this time of the year so we were both on the general tour. This meant that I could not use my tripod and therefore, could not get good detail throughout most of my photos without using a very high ISO. Regardless, I did manage to get a few good pictures. I found the Lower Antelope Canyon to be more visually spectacular than the Upper and I would definitely like to come back during the off-season, when the crowds are thinned out and I can take in my tripod.

The picture below is interesting in that you can see a lady exiting the canyon. The canyon is behind her and seen as a very narrow slit in the rock.

 

By the time we finished our Lower Antelope Canyon tour it was getting close to sunset. Horseshoe Bend was on my agenda for photographing at sunset. Horseshoe Bend is an iconic place, where the Colorado River meanders around a horseshoe-shaped bend in the canyon. It is a breathtaking view from the top of the ridge.

 

It can be quite windy and people tend to take extreme risk venturing out on the rocks, which hang precariously 1,000 ft above the river, for that perfect selfie shot. They have had a number of people fall to their death over the years. I did get right up to the edge, but on my hands and knees. It was far too windy for me to stand there. I returned to Horseshoe bend a couple days later for a cloud covered afternoon shot. It was even windier and there were even crazier people out there. Consider this woman in her high heals standing on a rock for a photoshoot.

 

Here is another shot, with a different perspective. Look closely on the highest peak and you can see people standing there.

And finally, my mid-afternoon shot of Horseshoe bend

 

On my way back to the car I spotted this bike and was impressed that the owner was pedaling across the country. The sign on the back says ‘Cross Country’. The funny thing is that a couple days later, when we were moving the RV from Page to Monument Valley, we passed this bike (with his owner riding it) on the road.

 

 

Charlie was starting to come down with a cold and was quite exhausted by the end of the day. It was our 1-year anniversary with the RV and last year when we picked it up (literally to the day) Charlie came down with an allergy-influenced cold, which stayed with him for 7 weeks, the entire time of our first RV trip. We were not looking forward to anything like that again.

In an effort to take it easy, we took a scenic drive from Page to Kanab, UT via Hwy 89 and then from Kanab back to Page via Hwy 89A. On the way to Kanab, just west of Big Water, we stopped in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for a short hike to the Toadstools. These are balanced rock formations, which look like mushrooms.

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We had hoped to be able to hike to the Wahweap Hoodoos as well. However, Charlie was feeling quite under the weather and it was a much longer hike so we decided to put that off for a later date.

Further down Hwy 89 we turned onto a dirt road to visit the historic Paria movie set. The movie set depicts a “western town”. It was built in 1963 for the film, “Sergeants Three” and later used for other movies, including Clint Eastwood’s “The Outlaw Josey Wales”. However, shortly after we turned onto the dirt road we found this bus blocking the road! Not sure what he was thinking.

 

While we didn’t make it to the movie set, we did get to take in the beautiful surrounding scenery.

We continued on our journey with a final stop in the Lee’s Ferry area, off Hwy 89A. This area brought back memories for Charlie, as he took off on a 2 week rafting trip out of Lee’s Ferry some years back. The surrounding area, of Marble Canyon, is very picturesque.

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Below are pictures of the Navajo Bridge in Lee’s Ferry. The original bridge was completed in the 1920s. By the 1990s it was concluded that a wider bridge was needed, and that the original bridge did not meet modern day federal highway requirements. In order to resolve the issue they built a new bridge right next to the old one and made them look nearly the same. One is used for vehicle traffic while the other for foot traffic.

Under the foot traffic bridge I found a couple of California Condors hanging out.

While in Page, we enjoyed a tour of the Glen Canyon Dam. They had just opened up a brand new interpretive visitor’s center. They did a great job with it.

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We spent a day taking a boat ride on Lake Powell, over to Rainbow Bridge National Monument. This bridge is one of the world’s largest known natural bridges. The bridge stands 234 ft tall. At the top it is 42 feet thick and 33 feet wide.

I found a little creature on my walk up to the bridge, as well as some pretty purple flowers blooming.

The rock formations seen along the boat ride were also very interesting.

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These rocks were especially interesting. Look closely and you can see an owl and an elephant.

During our stay in Page I found a few blooming cactus bushes.

Outside our RV we spotted lots of Jack Rabbits. This one refused to look at me. I loved his ears though.

 

On our final day in Page, just before our departure to Monument Valley, I spotted a couple of Osprey. This one was taking some branches back to his nest.

And lastly, one more picture of beautiful Lake Powell.

 

Charlie is still feeling under the weather, but it is time to move on to Monument Valley. More on that later…..

*** For more pictures, and higher quality, check out my photography site: http://www.schobelphotography.com

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The Grand Canyon, South Rim: Mar. 30 – Apr. 3, 2017

When we arrived in the Grand Canyon National Park we were welcomed by an elk cow. I didn’t even know what an elk cow was before we went to the Grand Canyon. They are all over the campground and canyon.

After we parked the RV at the Grand Canyon Village RV Resort we headed over to the visitor’s center. The Grand Canyon South Rim park covers just a small section of the entire Grand Canyon, about 30 miles of it. In order to see the west area of the G.C. South Rim park, during this time of the year, you need to either walk, bike or take a bus. The bus stops at 9 points along the rim and takes about 80 minutes roundtrip.

Because it was later in the afternoon when we arrived we chose to simply check out the rim behind the Visitor’s Center and then explore more over the next couple of days.

We woke up the next morning to a dusting of snow on the ground. I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to capture some pictures of the canyon with snow on it. Because it was so cold we did a car trip, as opposed to a hike. The Desert View Tower is 22 miles to the East of the Visitor’s Center. Along the route are a number of great canyon viewing areas. We found a bit of snow at a couple of the points, but it diminished as we approached the Tower, due to its lower altitude.

Desert View Tower

At the Tower, I found a Yellow Bluebird resting on a snow covered branch.

 

From the Tower you are able to see the Colorado River snaking through the canyon.

In the distance the low clouds spilled over hills of the canyon.

By late afternoon the clouds had diminished so we headed out to the west side of the park. We took the bus to Hopi Point, as it is noted as being good for sunset photography.

The next day we hopped on the west rim bus and took it to the end of the route, to Hermits Rest. From there we began our hike along the canyon rim. We hiked 6.2 miles to Powell Point. At times, we found ourselves precariously close to the canyon’s edge. In the picture below you can see the trail skirting the edge.

As if that wasn’t close enough, Charlie decided to hang out over the edge.

No harm came to him and he was, therefore, able to take a picture of me 🙂

Below are some of the pictures I captured of the canyon during our hikes.

Back at the Canyon Village Center we watched an Indian performance.

For our last evening we headed to Grandview Point for sunset. It is one of my favorite points along this area of the rim. I think my second favorite is Pima Point. Then again, they are all beautiful.

After a few days of glorious views and crazy weather (snow, sun, temps ranging from 20 to 65 degrees) we concluded our visit to the Grand Canyon and headed to Page, AZ. More on that later……

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Sedona, AZ: March 27-30, 2017

We only had two full days in Sedona so we worked hard to optimize our time. We stayed at the Rancho Sedona RV Resort, located right in the heart of downtown Sedona. It is a very nice resort, but like so often, we did not spend much time in there. We were busy exploring the area.

In the trees, within the resort, there are a number of Blue Heron nests. We frequently spotted the herons flying over our RV. Below is a picture of one of the herons in his/her nest.

On our first morning in Sedona we awoke early and headed to the Airport Mesa for sunrise. The landscape glowed in red, as the sun rose up behind us.

Later in the day we went for a great hike. The skies were fairly cloudy so I wasn’t able to get great photos, but we really enjoyed the hike and scenery. We had many mountain bikers ride past us. What a great area for that!

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The following day we took a drive around the area and enjoyed a few short hikes with fantastic views.

Below is a picture of the famous Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into the Red Rocks. You have to look very close to see the church in the mammoth sized red rock.

We also spotted a bird waiting for me to take his picture.

While driving around the area we stumbled into the small town of Cottonwood. Now, Charlie and I absolutely LOVE French Fries so we decided that we just had to stop by this cute diner for fries and a malt. They were great!

For sunset we headed to Mt. Doe. It is a 0.7 mile hike up 400 ft, so not too difficult. It was close to sunset time so we hustled up the mountain. We were rewarded with a pretty sunset. We even had time to capture a couple of selfies.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our short visit in Sedona. Our next destination: The Grand Canyon

 

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Prescott, AZ: Mar. 20-27, 2017

When we arrived in Prescott the weather was beautiful. It felt cool and refreshing, after having been in Tucson and Phoenix for the past couple of weeks while they were experiencing 15+ degree hotter than normal temperatures. We stayed at the Point of Rocks RV Park. Prescott hadn’t had precipitation for awhile and therefore, the park was quite dusty. The roads and sites are all gravel. Aside from that, we were happy with the site size and the surrounding area. The RV park is adjacent to the Watson Lake Park. After parking the RV we took a walk over to the park/lake. It is a very unusual lake with massive round boulders in and around it.

The photo below is of Point of Rocks RV Resort, as seen from atop the boulders. I decided to climb up and take a picture from above. Who needs a drone, right?

Pictures of Watson Lake and its unique landscape

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During our stay we took a day trip to Jerome. The drive there through the Prescott National Forest was fun, that is if you don’t mind hairpin type turns around steep mountain corners. The weather was perfect for a walk around Jerome. My favorite shop was one that was filled with kaleidoscopes. I could have spent hours in there looking into each and every one on display.

“The town of Jerome”

From Jerome you can see the red rocks of the Sedona area and the snow covered Flagstaff mountains in the distance.

 

We spotted a pretty neat old truck parked on the street. Based on the plates, I’d say its been around.

On the way back to Prescott we diverted to Mingus Mountain Recreation Area. After entering, we drove up a long dirt road on the edge of the mountain. It took us through the forest, but we ended up at a dead end. The park was closed for the season. We turned around and worked our way back down the mountain.

We returned to the RV exhausted. For the next 2 days we hunkered down. The weather turned cold and rainy. We were happy to have a reason to stay indoors.

The sun came out for the last couple of days we had in Prescott so we seized the opportunity and took a bike ride. We biked the Rails to Trails path along Watson Lake. It was very scenic.

At one point we parked the bikes and climbed up and over the rocks.

 

We enjoyed the town of Prescott. One street in the square is called Whiskey Row. It was developed after a fire in 1900 destroyed the entire original block. During the rebuilding phase a large number of saloons were added. It is stated that at one point there were 40 of them. The high number of saloons was contributed to the gold rush culture that drew all kinds of settlers, cowboys, prospectors, gamblers, and outlaws to the town. Of course when you put saloons and cowboys together you eventually end up with shootouts. Prescott considers that part of their heritage and has annual shoot out events. Today Whiskey Row is lined with not only saloons, but art galleries, shops and restaurants.

We were able to visit with some great friends while in Prescott and we were able to introduce them to a great restaurant in their town. If you are ever in the area, try out ‘The Local’:  https://www.facebook.com/thelocalprescott . It is a very small, off the beaten path, restaurant with a unique breakfast and lunch menu. Their food is fantastic.

 

After a week in Prescott we headed off to Sedona. More on that later……

 

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Phoenix, AZ: March 15-20, 2017

We spent 5 nights at Lost Dutchman State Park in Phoenix. It is a beautiful park at the base of the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. I was hoping that a lot of Spring wildflowers would be in bloom. However, the high Spring temperatures and lack of water has made for a pretty dull bloom. I was able to find some flowers, but not many.

As soon as we arrived at the campground I was helping Charlie back the RV into our spot. It was a tight fit and I needed to see how the front of the coach was doing. I walked in front of the RV, along the edge of the road. I felt something, looked down at my legs and was horrified to find that a ‘jumping’ cactus had attacked me. Seriously! I should have gotten a picture. I had about 10 thorns (similar to Porcupine thorns) in one leg and another 10 in the other. One leg had the end of a branch with thorns surrounding it, making it impossible to pull out. Every time I grabbed one thorn and tried to pull it out of my leg another one would go in. It was horrible! Charlie had to bring me some tweezers and then it was still difficult. Some of the thorns had something similar to a hook at the end so they did not want to come out at all. I now avoid these types of bushes like the plague.

The attacking cactus bush:

Our site at Lost Dutchman State Park

Like Tucson, the temperatures in Phoenix were about 15 degrees above normal. The average was in the low 90s. It was too hot for us to hike in the middle of the day so we tried to get out early and do short hikes around the Superstition Mountains.

The 4 mile roundtrip hike to the basin of the mountains is a beautiful hike. We enjoyed it, and the scenery, very much.

Pictures of the Superstition Mountains:

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Birds in the campground:

The park is located on AZ 88, otherwise known as the Apache Trail. The Apache Trail is a 40 mile road of steep, winding and mostly unpaved road past magnificent scenery of twisted igneous mountains with dense forests of saguaro. There are several deep blue lakes along the trail. It is one of the most popular sight seeing roads in Arizona. We took a day trip along the trail, to Roosevelt Lake and Dam. It was fun driving around the curves, up and down the hillside. The scenery was spectacular.

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Roosevelt Lake Dam:

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The trail ends at AZ 188, which is also a pretty drive.

After a couple days of hiking and sightseeing we decided to spend an afternoon strolling around Old Town Scottsdale. We took a trolley ride around the area and scoped out the best galleries and shops to visit. We then had a fantastic lunch at Cowboy Caoi.

We were originally scheduled to stay in Phoenix for 7 nights. However, it was so hot that we decided to head north a little early. After 5 nights we packed up and headed for Prescott. More on that later…..

 

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Tucson, AZ: Mar. 8-15, 2017

We headed to Tucson on March 8th. The drive from Alamogordo, NM to Tucson was very pretty. It wasn’t at all what I had expected. There is a lot more color, rolling hills, mountains and beautiful rock landscapes then what I had envisioned being in the desert.

We spent 5 nights at Justin Diamond J’s RV Park on the West side of Tucson. The resort resides on the border of the Tucson Mountain Park. There are many miles of park trails accessible right from the resort. We enjoyed sunset, and a moonrise, from these beautiful trails.

The Saguaro National Park is also very close to Justin’s. We took a drive through the park, and a couple of small hikes. The landscape was covered with cactus trees and rolling hills. It was very pretty.

One of our favorite activities in Tucson was hiking in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. They have a trolley that tours up through the canyon. You have the opportunity to jump on and off the trolley at 9 different stops. We chose the last stop and then took a 5 mile hike. The canyon area is absolutely beautiful. However, it was over 90 degrees during our hike and we found it to be quite exhausting. Fortunately, halfway through the hike is a river. We filled an empty water bottle and poured the cold water over our heads. It was very refreshing. We found that the amount of drinking water we took for the hike was insufficient in the Arizona heat. At the end of the hike I immediately went to REI and bought a new backpack with a large water bladder. I wanted to make sure I was never low on water again!

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We took a day trip to Tombstone. On the way there we stopped by the Titan Missile Museum for a tour. It was fascinating to learn about a time, not that long ago, when the US Government felt it important to have a large number of missiles distributed underground throughout Arizona, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

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We also stopped along the way to take in the beautiful scenery of the Coronado National Forest.

Our final stop on the way to Tombstone was at the Fairbank Historic District, an old ghost town. The trees along the nearby river looked out of place, amongst the stark cactus covered landscape surrounding them.

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We arrived in Tombstone late in the afternoon, just in time to browse the old cemetery and to catch a gunfight. Tombstone has done well in commercializing the old time Western town. It was fun to see though, as I love the movie Tombstone.

 

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After 5 nights at Justin’s we moved to the Northeast side of Tucson, to Catalina State Park. We loved this area of town. Unlike Justin’s, Catalina has many restaurants and stores nearby, while being out in nature. We had a very large site with a great view of the mountains. The Park has miles of trails throughout the desert. We took a 4 mile hike along one of the trails. It was very nice.

During the night we could hear many coyotes out in the desert. I was glad to be safe in our RV, away from the coyotes and rattle snakes!

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The Biosphere 2 is a short drive from Catalina. You may recall that the Biosphere 2 was meant to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space. Two experiments were conducted where humans remained in the biosphere and lived off of only what could be grown inside.

 

After visiting the Biosphere, we took a drive up to Mt. Lemmon. The rock formations along the road to Mt. Lemmon are quite interesting. They appear to be straddling vicariously on top of each other.

There are spectacular views all the way up the mountain. At one point we found a spot to climb out on the rocks and take in the view.

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There is a ski resort at the top of Mt. Lemmon. It was strange being around snow while just an hour ago we were sweltering in 90+ degree weather.

We dined out a couple of times while in Tucson. A cashier at REI recommended a great restaurant, Guadalajara, to us. We would have driven right by it had it not been recommended, as it appears to be a small place on a road with few other restaurants or shops. The food was excellent and we enjoyed the table side salsa.

Our paramount awning broke again while in Tucson. I wish I could have gotten a picture of Charlie and I on the roof of the RV trying to get it pulled back in, using a rope and screwdriver. We were successful. However, we now have to schedule another stop at the service center in Red Bay, AL to get it fixed.

After a great week in Tucson we headed up to Phoenix. More on that later…..

By the way, if you would like to see high resolution photos of the beautiful Tucson landscape please visit my photography website, as this blog only shows low res photos. http://www.schobelphotography.com/p720828896

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New Mexico-Southern Area: Feb 28- Mar 8, 2017

We had a great week exploring the southern area of New Mexico. Our first destination was Carlsbad. We drove to Carlsbad from San Antonio on an extremely windy day. Crosswinds were significant and we were going through some pretty sandy areas. Not only was the shaking of the RV a little nerving, but we were also worried about sandblasting the vehicles. We were happy to finally get to Carlsbad unscathed.

We had read that the Carlsbad Caverns were like no other caverns. Hidden beneath the surface of the Chihuahuan Desert are more than 119 known caves. They were formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone, forming the caverns. You are able to take a self-guided tour through the Big Room chamber, which is over a mile long. You can also take a self-guided tour through the Natural Entrance, which is a 750-foot trail down into the cavern. In the summertime millions of bats fly out of the Natural Entrance each night. We would have like to have seen that, but we were too early in the year. In addition to doing both self-guided tours we took one guided tour into the King’s Palace. At one point they turn the lights off and it is pitch black. Pretty neat. We spent nearly the entire day in the caverns and really enjoyed it.

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The pictures below show the area where the caverns are. It is amazing to think that just behind / underneath these hillsides that the deep caverns exist.

We ran into some wild mountain goats in the park.

While visiting the caverns we stayed at White’s City RV Park. Although I have to say that ‘City’ is quite an overstatement. There is nothing around for many miles. The advantage of this place though is that it is located literally at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park and that you have a great view of the Guadeloupe Mountains. We were lucky to get a corner lot with lots of room.

After Carlsbad we headed over to Las Cruces for a few nights. On the way we made a stop at the Border Patrol Museum in El Paso. It was interesting to see the history and how the process of patrolling the border has evolved over time.

In Las Cruces we stayed at the Hacienda RV Resort. It is a very nice resort located a stone’s throw away from Old Town Mesilla. After parking the rig we decided to head over there for some window shopping and drinks. I did find some awesome black bean salsa and smoky mountain whiskey glaze at one of the shops. We’ve been enjoying the salsa on eggs each morning and the whiskey glaze on chicken. Yummy!

The next day we decided to take a day trip on the Geronimo Trail Scenic Byway. The landscape is absolutely beautiful. I think the highlight of the trip was a ‘ghost town’ called Chloride. When the town was deserted many years ago the owner of the general store left the contents in tact and simply closed up shop. That general store is now a free museum. It is really interesting.

The town of Chloride, on the northern portion of the Geronimo Trail:

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Before you turn down the road to Chloride you find yourself in Winston. There is a quaint General Store where you can buy anything from milk to guns and gas.:

Landscape from the Geronimo Trail, North and South portions:

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When we arrived at the vista point in the Gila National Forest we noticed that many of the trees had been burned. Turns out, they had a large fire in 2013.

After spending the majority of the last few days driving we decided to get out and do some hiking. We headed over to the Dripping Springs Natural Area, in the Organ Mountains. The Dripping Springs trail leads you to an old resort which was built back in the 1870s by Colonel Eugene Van Patten. The last owner, a doctor, turned it into a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. The resort was deserted around 1946.

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After a good hike out in the sun we decided to head over to White Sands National Monument. On the way there we passed the White Sands Missile Range Museum so we decided to stop by and take a look.

The missile park displays a variety of missiles and rockets, which have been tested at White Sands. There is also an indoor museum. Both are free. There are over 50 missiles on display, including everything from the WAC Corporal and Loon to a Pershing II and Patriot.

We arrived at White Sands a few hours before sunset. We found the park to be amazing. There is white sand for as far as you can see. Some people put up little tents and spend the day there. It is like a massive beach, without the water. The sand is cool, and extremely soft. We enjoyed sledding down the large hills and photographing the spectacular sunset.

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After enjoying the Las Cruces area for a few days we moved over to Tularosa. Some good friends hosted us for a few days. From their house we had a great view of the mountains, and White Sands in the distance.

We took a scenic drive through the mountains outside of Tularosa, stopped in Cloudcroft for some shopping, and had lunch at The Lodge. Apparently, Judy Garland and Clark Gable have also enjoyed dining at The Lodge. It is said that they each carved their names into the wall.

The Lodge in Cloudcroft:

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The mountain region outside of Tularosa:

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After visiting Cloudcroft we stopped at the Sunspot Astronomy center. Unfortunately, it was closed for the day. However, we did get to walk around and go into one of the buildings.

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Back in Tularosa we enjoyed dinner at The Grill 49. We highly recommend it. We also recommend Casa de Suenos, if you are in the mood for a great Mexican meal.

Also note that the area around Tularosa and Alamogordo are known for their pecans and pistachios. There are many opportunities to grab some fresh nuts, and wine.

On our last day in New Mexico we had breakfast at a tiny café in Carrizozo; the Carrizozo Cafe. The breakfast was fabulous.

We then checked out the Valley of Fires Recreation Area. It was a quick stop to see the volcanic landscape that was created over 5,000 years ago.

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Our next stop was the town of Lincoln. We toured the historic district and learned all about Billy the Kid and the Wild West.

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It was a whirlwind stay in New Mexico. We loved the landscape of White Sands, the beautiful mountains and the brush covered rolling hills on Geronimo Trail. It is definitely an area we would like to come back to.

Our next destination is Arizona. We’ll be spending about 6 weeks in the state working our way up from Tucson to Page.

We’ve actually already finished our Tucson portion of the trip and are currently in Phoenix. I’ve got some work to do in order to catch up on my blog. So much to do and see though.

Best wishes to everybody!

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San Antonio, TX: Feb 24 – 28, 2017

We spent a long weekend in San Antonio, Texas and loved it.

We visited all 5 historic missions. These missions have recently been awarded the designation of a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Mission Concepcion was dedicated in 1755. It is said to be the oldest unrestored stone church in America.

Mission San Francisco was founded in 1690 near Weches, Texas. It was the first mission in Texas. In 1731 the mission transferred to the San Antonio River area and was renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada. The new church was not completed until 1756. Life in this Franciscan missionary followed closely to that of a Spanish village and Spanish culture. Native Americans joined the missionary and were integral to the success of it.

Mission San Jose is known as the “Queen of the Missions.” It is the largest of the missions and was almost fully restored to its original design in the 1930s. Spanish missions were not churches, but communities with the church as the focus. When it was first built it was covered in a colorful geometric pattern. There is one area where you can still see some remnants of this.

Mission San Juan was originally founded in 1716 in eastern Texas. It was transferred to the San Antonio location in 1731. As a side note, this simply means that the members moved to San Antonio to start a new missionary. The Church was built in 1756. San Juan was a self-sustaining community. Within the compound, Indian artisans produced iron tools, cloth and prepared hides. There were many orchards and gardens just outside the mission’s walls.

The most popular mission of course is the Alamo. It served as a Spanish Mission from 1718 – 1793, a Fortress from 1803 – 1835 and a Battlefield from 1835-1836.

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We enjoyed the downtown Riverwalk area and had dinner along the river at Landry’s Seafood.

Our favorite area was the Pearl Brewery District. We strolled through a Farmers Market there on Saturday morning and then we found the Hotel Emma. This is a hotel that was once the Pearl Brewery. The transformation from the brewery to Hotel Emma is spectacular. The hotel incorporates a large amount of the old brewery mechanics and architecture. We absolutely loved it!

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In the evening we returned to the Pearl Brewery District to listen to a great Jazz band at Jazz TX. If you like Jazz, we highly recommend that you check this place out.

We enjoyed dinner at Botika in the district and highly recommend it. Here are a few more pictures from the Pearl area.

Finally, we enjoyed a nice bike ride along the river. The city recently completed a 15 mile bike trail along the river, heading out from the city to the Missions. It is a paved path with a multitude of parks and nature areas along the way.

We were surprised to see that the area around the river was filled with litter, especially considering how clean the city was. We spoke with a local and found out that the recent heavy rains resulted in the need to open the flood gates. All of the garbage was carried down from areas upstream. In the first picture below you can see how high the water level was based on where the trash is in the trees.

We stayed at the San Antonio KOA. It is a large RV resort centrally located for access to the city. We utilized the public transportation, since the bus pick-up location was right in front of the resort. It worked out great. The resort was very clean and they even deliver in-house made pizza to your site. We would definitely stay there again.

Now it is onto the Carlsbad Caverns. More on that later.

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Austin, TX: Feb 19 – 24, 2017

After a short visit in Houston we headed off to Austin. We left mid-morning for the 3.5 hr drive. Since we were on the road during lunchtime I started looking at Google Maps for an interesting place to stop at for a bite to eat. I discovered that just up ahead was a place called Hruska’s: http://www.hruskas-bakery.com/ . This Deli / Restaurant / General Store was established back in 1912. I figured that any such place that has lasted over 100 years in a very small town must be good. Their specialty is a dessert called Kolache. Essentially, it was a divine sweet tasting roll with fruit filling in the middle; a donut-want-a-be? They also have rolls stuffed with sausages, cheeses, and other such things. They are known for their burgers, so not knowing much about their other specialties we went with that. They were very good. Before we left though we stocked up on a few of the sweets and stuffed rolls for future meals. Everything was good, but not something we could eat very often.

Once we arrived in Austin, at the McKinney Falls State Park, we set up the RV and headed out for a bike ride around the campground. They have a 2.8 mile loop which travels along a creek. The campground is a wonderful resort just 15 minutes from downtown Austin. We had a very large and private lot, surrounded by nature. After our bike ride we hunkered down in the RV, as a storm was expected before to long.

The storm did not arrive until midnight and it came with a vengeance. We woke up to the RV swaying, which is saying a lot for a 20-ton vehicle! The phone was hollering with Severe Weather and Tornado Warnings. The rain was pounding the RV and the skies appeared bright with so much lightening going on. It was our first, and I hope our last, such storm in the RV. I actually got up and got dressed in case we got blown away. I wanted to look decent in such an event. The storm raged for nearly 4 hours. In the morning we learned that a couple tornadoes did touch down less than 5-10 miles from us. We felt fortunate to have gotten through it unscathed.

Since we had been up nearly all night with the storm we were pretty lazy in the morning. In the afternoon we went to a hip coffee shop to enjoy some Java and Wi-Fi.

On the way back we checked out the SoCo (South Congress) district. This is an area of trendy shops, artisan crafts, art galleries and local restaurants. We enjoyed a stroll up and down the streets window-shopping. Charlie enjoyed some Nitrogen Ice Cream.

The Continental in SoCo is a retro bar featuring a variety of bands. We stopped by to check out the music. We loved the environment and vibe, but the music was far too loud and not quite the type we enjoy.

The next day, back at the campground, we were hoping to hike a few more trails. However, in order to access the trails you have to cross the river and with all of the recent rainfall the river was raging. There was no way to cross it. So we went golfing instead. It was a beautiful day and the course was just down the street.

We had read about a couple of interesting towns an hour and a half away so we took a day trip. As we drove towards Luckenbach and Fredericksburg we passed the Lyndon B Johnson Estate. We  took a tour of the “Texas White House.” I recommend it if you are ever in the area.

We also passed a large number of wineries along Rt 290. Little did we know that we were on the Texas Hill Country Trail, touted as the #2 wine destination in America. Unfortunately, we were not able to enjoy them since we had a lot of driving to do. Maybe next time.

We stopped in Luckenbach, a ghost-town like community with a population of 3. In 1970 a rancher and Texas folklorist bought Luckenbach for $30,000. This enabled him to govern the dance hall as he saw fit. There are only 2 buildings in the town. One is the dance hall. The other, remnants of an old post office, serves as a working saloon and general store. After a 10-minute walk around the area we got back in the car and continued our journey to Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg is on the National Register of Historic Places in Texas. It was founded in 1846 and populated primarily by German descendants. We didn’t have a lot of time for our visit. If we had more time we would have visited the National Museum of the Pacific War. It is located in Fredericksburg in honor of Admiral Nimitz’s birthplace.

For our last day in Austin we toured the downtown area. We found a brand new YETI corporate store. We just had to stop by and check it out. It’s a very hip store. They have a bar, with YETI coolers for seats, a stage where bands play on weekends and an area where you can customize your new YETI cooler.

After drooling over YETI products, and playing with bears, we crossed the river into the city. We took a tour of the State’s Capitol building. It is a beautiful castle like building. There is an interesting story about the exterior. The designers had planned to clad it with limestone. They procured the necessary quantities only to discover that the high iron content of the limestone led it to rapidly discolor with rust stains when exposed to the elements. Fortunately, the owners of a nearby granite mountain offered to donate, free of charge, the necessary amount of sunset red granite as an alternative. The original limestone was used for much of the interior structure.

In the early 90s they expanded the capitol building by adding 4 extra stories. Since they did not want to change the way the building looked they added all of the extra stories below ground. It is pretty phenomenal. This being Texas, they had to have the largest US capitol building.

We indulged at Frank’s for lunch. They offer very unique, and fabulous tasting, hot dogs. I enjoyed a FICO ANATRA: custom-made duck and pork sausage dressed with fig Mostarda, crispy shallots and goat cheese. It was divine!   http://www.hotdogscoldbeer.com/austin/eats/

Here are a few more pictures from the McKinney Falls State Park. As you can see, the bluebonnets were starting to bloom and the deer were excited to graze around them.

Our next destination is San Antonio.

 

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