Strange Bedfellows or Life Slices

NC CAMPGROUND-100Travel shakes up habits and preconceptions.  I have strong opinions, likes, and dislikes—a tendency likely to get more pronounced in geezerhood.  That’s a scary thought.  Fortunately, this trip may slow that progression in causing me to reconsider old opinions and take more care in my judgments.

There was a time when I would have been appalled to stay for several weeks at a campground in full view of an interstate highway.  Who does that?  Noisy, crowded, what’s the point?  I like space and nature.  But we stayed in such a campground, and it was (mostly) a pleasure and an education.

Aaah, the interstate.

Aaah, the interstate.

It is not easy to find a good campground in North Carolina’s upscale region.  The Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill is full of universities, smart people, tech jobs, good restaurants, large subdivisions, and acres of shopping opportunities.  Not much room for campgrounds.  But we wanted to spend a few weeks there to visit our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren and their neighborhood does not allow trailers in driveways.

We made reservations in a campground that appeared to be the best choice in the area.  We knew it was near the interstate.  In fact, it turned out to be within waving distance of the passing cars and trucks.  When we arrived, we were told that we had been bumped from the quieter area that we had requested to a space near the highway, next to a rusty trailer that looked like it had not been moved or had the shades opened in a decade. When we drove back to the office to request another space, we were scolded for going over the 8 mph (strictly enforced!) speed limit.  I looked at George.  “Should we just leave?”  I wanted to, but there were no ready alternatives.

Our personal live oak tree

Our personal live oak.

After some discussion with the management, who turned out to be very nice, we ended up in a lovely space, under an acorn-bombing live oak tree.  Closer to the traffic noise than we would have liked, but—and here’s my first assumption smashed—traffic noise is not so bad.  I always assumed that people who live near interstates had no alternative and simply learn to put up with the noise.  Maybe not.  They may like it.  Because, believe it or not, it can have a soothing quality, especially at night, a sort of traffic white noise lulling you to sleep.  Add varying levels of train whistles and you have a symphony.



Nighttime highway

And–second assumption smashed—the people sitting in front of their trailers watching the interstate aren’t odd or starved for entertainment (well, they may be, but not necessarily).  Interstate watching is like sitting on your front porch and watching the street activity—but on steroids.

Watching the trucks roll by

Watching the trucks roll by

Sunset and the traffic keeps moving

Sunset and the traffic keeps on

It’s fascinating to see this East Coast road artery pulsing with varying degrees of activity throughout the day and night.  It’s always moving except for a few periods of dead quiet in the early morning hours.

NC CAMPGROUND-38Then you will hear the sound of a truck approaching, swooshing by, fading into the distance, followed by dead quiet again.  Traffic gradually picks up in the predawn and reaches full force when the sun comes up, ebbing and flowing throughout the day, with occasional breakdowns on the side of the road.  It is almost musical in the tempos, tentative and quiet to swelling, pulsating energy.

NC CAMPGROUND-42All those lives passing by at 70 miles per hour—it’s fascinating and hypnotic.  Who are they? Where are they going?  What is their story?  So many people, each with a unique pattern of connections and—what is for them—the all-consuming business of their own lives that we will never know.  It’s mind boggling.

Some of those people stop off at the campground for a night or several.  And we got to hear about their lives.  A woman across from us sat out at her picnic table with her little white pup.  She just sat, doing nothing.  It turns out she had a gas leak in her new RV and was waiting for a repair person.  She was 68 years old and by herself.  Her husband had retired some years ago and then had taken on a second career.  As he again neared retirement, they picked out their ideal RV for retirement travel.  Then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He died six months ago and she bought a puppy and the RV she and her husband had picked out.  It was brand new and she was taking this trip, only 37 miles from her home, because it was her anniversary and she needed to get out of the house.


Another woman came out of her trailer specifically to see Zoe.  She sells knitted hats at venues throughout the South.  Last year, a wind shear blew her trailer off the road and “into a mountain” on her way to a show, banging her up, destroying her trailer, and letting her dogs loose on the highway.  She was headed to the same show this year, but leaving her trailer at the campground, and just driving her truck, because she wasn’t quite ready to drive that stretch of road with a trailer again.  She was delighted to have a spot in front of the campground’s little lake, so she could look out her window while she knitted her hats.

Sunset over the campground lake and interstate

The knitted hat woman’s view from her trailer.  If you look carefully, you can see the traffic on the right.

Nice women, both.  They brought home how ridiculously fortunate we are to be able to do this trip while we are still healthy and kicking.

Other folks presented living theater.  Our first weekend, we were surrounded by an uninhibited multi-RV group, chain smoking, chain drinking, chain eating, ignoring everyone else while they socialized in happy clumps near one RV or the other.  On Sunday morning, they all started hitching up, and we were presented window-side with a view of an ample beluga-white plumber’s crack bent over the hitch for what seemed like ages while its owner let loose with a deep and resonant smoker’s cough.  It was a charming breakfast accompaniment.

We had less neighbors during the week

We had fewer neighbors during the week

But the ducks were permanent residents

But the ducks were permanent residents

These two appeared to watch the sunset from the same spot on shore every night

These two appeared to watch the sunset from the same spot on shore every night

This RV park was like a stagecoach stop.  For most, it was not a destination, just a temporary stop—unhitch, rest for a bit, hitch up again.  People of every economic level and background were thrown together for a night or two, mingling or not, and then moving on.


I won’t be shopping for a house next to an interstate, but I’m glad we stayed there.  It’s easy to surround ourselves with people like us and to seek out idyllic places.  But it’s nice to break out of that mold and stay in places that are not so pretty with people who are not like us.  I’m hoping to expand experiences as we age, not narrow them.

The skies at our interstate campground were amazing

The skies at our interstate campground were amazing.

The full moon as beautiful as anywhere else

The sunsets were gorgeous.


And we grew fond of the tiny neighboring town

And the neighboring area had its own kind of beauty, too.


Visiting with the grands

Boston Minuteman Campground

Lovely Boston Minuteman Campground–our first stop in Massachusetts

Our daughter and grandbabies drove up from North Carolina and spent the week with us and a multitude of cousins, aunts, uncles, and other assorted relatives and friends.  We all stayed for several days at a lake house in Plymouth, Massachusetts, thanks to George’s sister, and his cousin, who kindly made the cottage available as a gathering place.

We did not do anything noteworthy to the outside world while we were there–we just visited. It’s exactly what we wanted to do.  We did a lot of sitting around and talking while the kids played in the lake. We played in the lake some, too.

We watched the super moon rise over the lake.

We watched the super moon rise over the lake.

Waiting for the kayak

Waiting for the kayak

We did take a quick visit to the Cape (Cod that is) for fried clams.  It was our first foray in our quest to find the best full-bellied fried claims in New England.  They were not bad, but not great.


Getting acquainted with a gull

Getting acquainted with a gull

On our last morning, heading out of town, we had breakfast at a good old-fashioned diner.  The roof leaked over my seat, with large, slow drips of water hitting me in various places throughout the meal.  I finally had enough and changed seats when it dripped in my orange juice.  The meal was delicious, with real scrambled eggs, burnt home fries, buttery corn bread heated on the grill, and Mickey Mouse pancakes for the kids.


We then brought the whole North Carolina contingent to Connecticut for more visits.  My brother and sister-in-law were nice enough to put us up even though they were in the midst of a move.  We were introduced to the horses at the farm …


IMG_2352… and cooled off in the pool.



And then they headed back to North Carolina.  It was week packed with playing, eating, swimming, talking, drinking, driving (not together), and hardly a second to even think about blogging.  The next week and a half will be much the same and then we will be slowing down again.


Visiting my greats–history on a personal level

We came through Pennsylvania so that I could explore family history.  All the branches of my father’s family originally settled in Eastern Pennsylvania, yet I visited here only once when I was a child.  Thanks to extensive research by my cousin (of some degree) Arlene, I knew exactly where I wanted to go this time.

We first drove the back roads of Berks County to see the house and mill that my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Johann (John) Conrad Bobb, bought in 1744, which his son and grandson, both named Daniel, (also my great grandfathers, however many times) continued to run after his death.  Here’s more:

We found them easily, in a rural, wooded, hilly area—house and barn right on the road, which seems to be common in Pennsylvania—with the mill set back on a creek.

The mill

The mill

The property was heavily posted with “No Trespassing” signs—too many curious Bobbs?  Even though I couldn’t explore as I would have liked, it was extraordinary to stand there and try to absorb the fact that, for over a hundred years, generations of my family had carried on all the good and bad of their lives in this particular place.

Bobb homestead

Bobb homestead

It wasn’t just a lovely old stone house and historical mill building—it was our family’s house and mill.  Hard to digest, really.


The barns

View of the mill at the back of the property

View of the mill at the back of the property

As a fortuitous follow-up, we visited the Hopewell Furnace Historical Site the next day and were able to see the inner workings of a preserved building with a functioning water wheel.  The wheel powered a mill furnace, not grist wheels, but it gave a sense of what the Bobb mill must have been like.  I hope so, because it was efficient, rhythmic, and visually beautiful at the same time.

Hopewell furnace waterwheel

Hopewell furnace waterwheel

The Hopewell Furnace site is an open-air museum of a 1700’s iron forge.  It has farm, home, and furnace buildings, and you are free to wander around at your leisure.  As an added bonus, it was dog-friendly and Zoe was able to accompany us.

Hopewell furnace workers' houses

Hopewell furnace workers’ houses

Hopewell furnace

Hopewell furnace

As a counterpoint to the iron forge–an early pre-industrial energy source—the plumes from the nearby Limerick nuclear power plant rise over the fields where the sheep are grazing at Hopewell Furnace.

Limerick plumes

Limerick plumes

I tried to come up with a power plant limerick, but couldn’t get any farther than, “There was an old lady from Hopewell, Whose furnace was hopelessly unwell …”

One of the most intriguing branches of my Dad’s family tree is the Schwenkfelder contingent.  They are the descendants of followers of Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig, a German Reformer and contemporary of Martin Luther.  After severe persecution in Silesia (now in Poland), eventually they were given refuge in Saxony and then emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in the 1730s.  They valued education highly, and—unlike other Anabaptist sects such as the Amish—the Schwenkfelder communities did not remain insular, but became integrated into mainstream society during the 1800s.

I believe that my great grandmother, Emma Kriebel, was in the first generation to marry outside of the sect.  She married Abraham Bobb, great-grandson of Daniel Bobb, Sr., the mill owner mentioned above.

The Schwenkfelders have a beautiful museum and library in Pennsburg.  When I entered, the first thing I saw was a full-wall photo of a 1912 family reunion.  I looked at it with mild interest and then … whoa … I recognized a face, then another.

Kriebel family reunion 1912

Kriebel family reunion 1912

Amazingly, it was a Kriebel family reunion, our branch of the Schwenkfelders, and I found my grandparents, great grandparents, grand uncles and aunts, and, most amazingly, my father, at the age of one—a blur in his father’s arms.  My grandmother, who died well before I was born, was there, looking beautiful.  What an unexpected treat.

Grandmother in center, Dad is the blur

Grandmother in center, Dad is the blur

The museum display had a whole section on how the Schwenkfelders were well-known as spinners and weavers, in Silesia and in Pennsylvania.  The Bobbs also were weavers.  Creeped me out a little.  I don’t know if weaving has a genetic component, but I bought a loom and started weaving and spinning when I was high school.  Maybe we don’t have as much free will as we think.

We visited two cemeteries, full of family names and family members.  History made very personal.

Old hill cemetery, lots of ancestors here, many headstones in German

Old hill cemetery, lots of ancestors here, many headstones in German

Old Towamencin Schwenkfelder cemetary

Old Towamencin Schwenkfelder cemetery

Visiting with the greats

Time travel


Morning farmland

We are in a time warp in the Lancaster farmlands of Pennsylvania. Every day, except Sunday, we have watched the local Amish and Mennonite farmers working the fields (spreading manure, haying, and tilling) with teams of anywhere from two to six draft horses.  At our campsite in the evening, we hear the clop, clop, clop of hoof beats as the local buggies pass by.  It is eerily as if we have been transported to the 1800s.

Evening walk with buggy traffic

Evening walk with buggy traffic

Of course, we drove to the 1800s by interstate, how else?  With continued unsettled weather licking at our heels, we decided to take the fastest route across the Midwest, which meant the interstate.  Ugh.  The highways were in terrible shape and totally inadequate for the amount of traffic—especially truck traffic—that clogged every highway, even at midday.

Construction and trucks--not fun

Construction and trucks–not fun

The drive across Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania presented a never-ending and varied assortment of rough roads, potholes, narrow lanes, construction zones without actual visible work, and trucks, trucks, and more trucks.  Pennsylvania added to the pain by charging over $36.00 to use its turnpike, which was an absolute mess.

Pennsylvania, it turns out, it not the most RV-friendly place around.  We spent one night at a KOA in the western part of the state, tucked in an Appalachian-style hollow, inhabited primarily by oil and gas workers living in their RVs—presumably working on the Marcellus Shale development.  When we arrived, we were given two free jugs of drinking water, because their well had “just been chlorinated.”  We later found that it had been chlorinated because it was contaminated with E. coli. Fortunately, we hadn’t hooked up to their water.  We woke early to the sound of large pickups (plates mostly from Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma) starting up as the RV park residents headed out to work.  Good riddance to that campground.

View of the gourd farm from the campground

View of the neighboring gourd (and dairy) farm from the campground

Our current campground could not be more different.  It is perched on a hill overlooking Amish and Mennonite farms, in a relatively non-touristy area of the county.  The farms are worked with traditional methods from the 1700 and 1800s, with horse (or mule) power for farm work and transportation, off-the-grid electrical power (if any), and families in traditional Amish dress.

Six horsepower.  Some pictures are taken from the car, so the quality is not great

Six horsepower. Some pictures are taken from the car, so the quality is not great

There are some interesting and illogical concessions to modern times, but the opportunity we have here to live among these farms is the closest we will ever come to time travel.  It is one thing to see old farm machinery and implements in museums—it is quite another to see farmers and horses actually maneuvering corn fields with harrows for weeding between the rows, spreading manure, and haying with horsepower rather than modern tractors.

Closed in buggy, many have headlights and turn signals

Closed in buggy, many have headlights and turn signals

Actually, the Amish do make some concessions for haying—an important part of dairy farming—which we found as we heard the rhythmic chuck and clatter of a hay baler with an internal combustion engine being pulled by three horses and periodically spitting out newly-baled hay.  Fascinating to watch.

We are getting to see, touch, smell, and hear what this country’s rural land was like in pre-industrial times, except I would be willing to bet that the Amish farms are far more immaculate than most were then.  I have never seen such well-cared for and prosperous looking farms, with immaculate barns, gorgeous, weed-free flower and vegetable gardens, and long ever-present lines of wash—mostly somber colors, but punctuated by some blue, teal, and purple.

Laundry line seen on every farm

Laundry line seen on every farm

Penn Plus-41

No weeds, and they don’t use herbicides.

The buggies and carriages come out in full force in the evenings, with high-stepping buggy horses at full trot, and a wave from the driver as they pass by.  The local stores, including Costco, have buggy sheds for parking.  The nearest grocery store, Yoder’s, has Amish romance novels.  I would love to know the target audience.

Hitching post at the feed store

Hitching post at the feed store

We have been eating like royalty.  We visit a nearby farm stand every day for fresh vegetables—peas, green onions, beans, tomatoes, new potatoes, zucchini, and beets—fresh eggs, and homemade root beer.  We caught the end of strawberry season, and I ate them with yeasty fresh donuts baked on the farm across the street.

The experience we have enjoyed the most, however, was our quest for some local meat.  We asked the young woman at the farm stand if she knew of any place we could get local chickens.  She appraised us—checking for undercover health inspectors or just general obnoxiousness, perhaps.  Apparently we passed the test, because she said, “I have a friend.”  We followed her directions and drove into the farm yard a little hesitantly, not sure what kind of reception we would receive from what was obviously a traditional Amish family.

We needn’t have worried.  As is often the case, our Alaskan license plates made us a source of curiosity, especially to the two children who came running outside.  We discussed grizzly bears, black bears, moose in the garden, farm animals, and bought several frozen chickens.  The farmer urged us to return on Tuesday if we wanted fresh chickens and the kids ran behind us as we drove out, calling: “See you on Tuesday!”

Team of horses are in the lower right

How could we resist a Tuesday visit?  We couldn’t.  When we returned, the farmer said his wife wanted to meet us, because the kids had been excited to meet Alaskans.  We also met their brother-in-law (related to the woman at the farm stand) who was there to get his buggy repaired and we bought some more chickens and eggs.  I wondered what the kids thought of us—the five-year old girl with a sweet face alight with curiousity, hair pulled tightly back into a coiled braid bound by net, running to meet us in delight at our reappearance, so eager to please—me with my Mexican embroidered blouse, leather flip-flops, Hawaiian shell earrings, and our stories of Alaska and trailer traveling? I don’t know, but we were clearly a diversion and one that the parents did not discourage.

We really liked this family.  They were welcoming and kind.  It was refreshing to talk to people who were curious about Alaska for reasons other than the recent spate of increasingly bizarre reality shows (or Sarah Palin).  I do not have a romantic view of the Amish—I wouldn’t last five minutes in their culture—but there is a certain calm way and deliberateness about those we met that is noticeable and appealing.  And, it is wonderful to see viable family farms.

Wheat field

Wheat field

It feels as though our time here has been punctuated by glimpses of other times, including our childhood: young teenage girls riding on bike handlebars, shrieking on the downhill; a group of small children totally absorbed in ring-around-the rosy (or something similar); whole families sitting out on the front steps in the evening; and talking over the fence.  I experienced the fence talk on an evening walk over a back road when I was lovingly assaulted by five chocolate labs.  Their owner—an Amish farmer—came down to the fence for a leisurely conversation about the dogs.  It was hot and he bemoaned the fact that they had no place to swim but a jury-rigged water trough that he had provided.  No car transport to a sweet swimming lake for Amish labs.  They seemed pretty happy, though, and delighted with my attentions.  My hands smelled of manure afterwards, the ever-present perfume of dairy farms.

Evening sky over campground hill

Evening sky over campground hill

Badlands and bad weather

Badlands-15_edited-1On Monday night, I was sitting in a campground on an Iowa interstate, swatting flies, monitoring the radio for tornadoes, and wishing we were back in the Badlands.  It had been a stressful day and the Badlands already seemed like a sweet, distant dream.

We took the back route (Route 44) from the Black Hills, through ranch land, prairie, and the southern reaches of the Badlands.  Our campground was our first KOA experience–in years anyway–and it was a good one.  It was laid out in a loop of the White River, surrounded by an earthen dike and filled with birds.  Swallows had mud nests under the overhang of the river bridge and swarmed up every time we drove the bridge. Thunderstorms moved in that night but they weren’t severe and made the trailer seem cozy with the rain on the roof.

Early the next morning, we set out to drive the Badlands loop but got hit with some gusty winds and rain. It was actually quite lovely for a time, but when the lightning got closer and we climbed up to the prairie, we had to pull over and wait it out. I pulled up next to a tall van so that we wouldn’t be the highest thing around for a lightning strike. I know, ridiculous, but it made me feel better.

Overcast when we set out

Lowering skies when we set out

The weather continued to deteriorate that morning

The weather continued to deteriorate that morning.  But the cloud patterns were a pleasure to watch.

When the rain let up a bit, we turned around and headed back to the campground. In the hour or so we had been out, more than an inch of rain had fallen and the previously dry draws and creeks were rushing with water. It was an in-your-face demonstration of how quickly a flash flood can develop, and fascinating to watch the transformation from arid, rocky gullies to gushing waterways in such a short time.

This small creek turned into a milk white torrent after the rain

This formerly small creek turned into a milk white (or more cafe-au-lait?) water highway after the rain

By noon, the rain had passed and we set out again. The weather became exquisite, with the fresh-washed quality of air and light that you only get after a storm. The main loop road was filled with weekend tourists and we decided to take the Sage Creek Rim Road, a dirt road that was in excellent shape despite the recent downpour.

Lots of people on the main loop road

People everywhere on the main loop road


badlands in every direction

People are allowed to walk among the rocks and cliffs.  No dogs allowed, though, even on the trails.

The vivid yellow-green color is from the yellow clover that covered everything.  It's a pest species, but was gorgeous.

The vivid yellow-green color is from the clover that covered everything. It’s an invasive species, but a gorgeous one.

Sage Creek Rim road

Sage Creek Rim Road

There were several groups of bison right next to the road, grazing and lying around. Startling to see them up so close.


It was one of the nicest drives of our trip so far.


We left the Badlands on Sunday and had a beautiful drive across South Dakota, with a brilliant blue sky and small puffy clouds all along the way.  We camped that night at Lake Vermillion State Park near Sioux Falls and enjoyed a warm, clear evening, oblivious as to what Monday would bring.

Peaceful Lake Vermillion near Sioux Falls, SD

Peaceful Lake Vermillion

We planned to get an early start because thunderstorms were forecast for Iowa (where we were headed) on Monday afternoon and we wanted to avoid hitting the bad weather. Ha.

When we woke up, there was a low overcast, which progressed to a very low deep gray schmutz hanging over everything as we drove further south.  It just looked odd.  The Sioux Falls radio stations continued to give the same chirpy forecast of increasing clouds with a possibility of thunder showers in the afternoon.  Nothing to give us pause.

We stopped at the post office in Onawa, Iowa (right across the border from Nebraska) at about 9:30 to pick up our forwarded mail and the first weather alert came across the radio.  A severe thunderstorm cell had hit Nebraska, southwest of Onawa, with reported 60 mph winds and–I kid you not–baseball-sized hail.  It was headed in our direction.

What to do?  We are living in a tin can and extremely vulnerable to high winds and enormous hail.  On the other hand, we can move.  And that is what we did.  After consulting with some locals at the gas pump, we hightailed it out of there and headed east and then south to avoid the storm front.  It was a little dicey but we outran it and arrived at a campground near Iowa City in mid-afternoon when it looked like we would be safely out of the worst of it.  About half an hour after we set up, a massive wind came out of nowhere and slammed into the park.  From a minor breeze to a 50 mph gale in about a minute.  It did not last long but, to use my mother’s expression, it scared the living daylights out of me.

That rogue wind hit us at about the same time the two tornadoes hit Nebraska, just west of Onawa, in the same general area as the morning hail and wind storms.  All of this mess arose out of one ugly storm front (deep red on the radar), which had hung around eastern Nebraska and western Iowa all day,slowly working its way northeast.

As the evening progressed, more and more Iowa counties came under tornado watch.  We had moved far enough southeast to avoid the tornado danger (we hoped) but were smack in the middle of the severe thunderstorm area.  We had one storm cell move through at about 11 pm, which wasn’t too bad.  But we went to bed with everything prepared to take shelter in the campground bathroom if necessary.  Another storm hit at about 2:30 am and it was really frightening.  I generally enjoy thunderstorms.  This one was not fun.  And the speed with which the wind arose was unbelievable.  There was no time to do anything.  We watched the red headlights of one, then two, vehicles drove over to the bathrooms, but I didn’t want to even run to the truck, the wind was blowing so hard.  It blew down branches all over the park, and kept us awake for quite a while, but there was no damage to the truck or trailer, fortunately.

We got out of there as quickly as we could in the morning and continued to head southeast, out of the worst of the storm zone.  We were buffeted by strong winds all day driving, but finally arrived at a peaceful Indiana campground next to a cornfield.  It was very hot—in the 90’s—“good corn-growing weather,” as they said on the radio, and sunny.  A nice respite.

Indiana cornfield, our neighbor for the evening

Indiana cornfield, our neighbor for the evening

The Mottled Hills

Years ago, on a trip with the kids, we traveled through the Black Hills.  We did not have a burning urge to return on this trip.  But there they sat, between Devil’s Tower and the Badlands–two new places we wanted to visit–so we decided to explore a bit more.

The hills are not so black now.  Years of pine beetle infestations have left large swaths of dead reddish-brown trees, or the infested trees have been taken down, leaving clear cuts alternating with the dark forest.  As a result, the hills have a mottled, mangy look.

We left the trailer at the RV park in Custer and drove the Needles Highway, a narrow, twisting road carved through an area of rocky pinnacles, with one-lane tunnels hacked out of the rock face.

Along the Needles Highway.

Along the Needles Highway.  Some of the rocks resembled people or animals.


I guess it's stating the obvious to say that the rock formations were unmistakably phallic.

I guess it’s stating the obvious, however, to say that most of the rock formations were unmistakably phallic.  Hard to avoid that perception.

Black Hills-25

Blind curves and narrow tunnels through rock spires.

Black Hills-26

Notice the trees growing out the side of the rock face.

Pull in the side mirrors.

Pull in the side mirrors.

No scrapes.

Halfway through. A car is waiting on the other side.

We wanted to do some hiking and chose the Sylvan Lake area so that Zoe could swim. The hike provided more rock pinnacle Rorschach tests.

To me this one looks like a salmon pointing to the sky next to a dog.

To me this one looks like a salmon pointing to the sky next to a dog sitting on its haunches.

Black Hills-34

Zoe’s in her element–a swim and a hike.

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

Fishing and a wedding on the shore.

Fishing and a wedding on the shore.

Our favorite activity in the Black Hills was deer watching from our campsite.  We stayed at a tiny private RV park, the Roost Resort, which overlooked a large field with a herd of whitetail deer, including a young fawn.

Our camping spot at the Roost.

Our camping spot at the Roost.

The deer were active all day, jumping and running, with their white tails flying high at the sign of any danger.   George caught some nice shots of the mother and baby.





Black Hills-44


Black Hills-46

Black Hills-48

The bushes at our campsite were inundated with bumble bees and a few honey bees.


We also enjoyed a pair of mountain bluebirds that were unusually social.

Nothing lovelier to find on the dump station water hose than a bluebird.

Nothing lovelier to find on the dump station water hose than a bluebird.

Off to the Badlands.



Driving toward Stanley


We continue to luck out with campgrounds and weather.  On a recommendation from a couple we met in Oregon, we headed to Stanley, Idaho–specifically, Redfish Lake in the Sawtooth Range.

The fences were works of art

The fences were works of art

Once again, even though it’s now June, the campgrounds there were almost empty.  They will be filling up over the weekend, but during the week, we owned the place.  We had a huge space with a panoramic view of the Sawtooth Mountains and Redfish Lake.

Pristine Redfish Lake

Pristine Redfish Lake

Redfish is a natural lake, not a reservoir (making it extra beautiful, in my opinion), and was named for its salmon spawns.

Zoe had her own private beachThere is a designated dog beach right down the hill from our campsite and Zoe swam three times a day.  She was so stiff and sore from all the exercise that she was hobbling around on our second evening there. The intense blue and green lake colors were like the Caribbean and the dog beach was so beautiful most humans have never had the opportunity to swim in such surroundings.  Lucky dog.  I went swimming too, very briefly.  It was extremely cold.

Spectacular water colors

Spectacular water colors and the trees almost look like palms in the way they lean.

It was so deserted, I was able to play the fiddle outside on the hillside near our campsite and took an outside solar shower (with bathing suit).  Lovely.  As our last evening was winding down, we heard a very loud repeated eek, eek, eek, call and an osprey flew over the campsite toward the lake carrying a fish in its talons.  There were butterflies and birds everywhere—and no people.  The place was magical.



Zoe is done posing for this staged shot, but it was a good end to a good day


Over Bend (Bent?)

We needed to find a population center big enough to support some RV services because we had a few minor kinks to iron out after several weeks on the road.  RV refrigerators are notoriously temperamental, but ours seemed to take it to new heights, barely managing to function if the outside temperature is over 70 degrees.  We also needed some fine tuning for out tank systems.  Our options were Bend, Spokane, or Boise.

Crown Villa Resort in Bend.  High end for us.

Crown Villa Resort in Bend. High end for us.

We chose Bend.  We intend to scope out different areas of the country as possible alternatives to Alaska for settling down after this trip is over. I was intrigued by Bend because I knew of several Alaskans who recently retired there.  People rhapsodize about the place, so we decided to check out it.  We are glad we did because now we can cross it off our list of possible places to settle. I don’t want to be too hard on Bend, but, for us, it was no nirvana—too many drawbacks.

First, the weather—it goes from warm and sunny to cold (very cold) in about half an hour.  It has been in the low 30’s every night we have been here—not surprising since this is high desert.  But the growing season here is really short, a huge negative for us since we want to do some serious gardening.  Second, Bend’s recent population boom has vastly exceeded the infrastructure–it feels crowded, with congested traffic for its size (every time you go to pull out anywhere, you have to wait for an endless line of cars), and an overpriced housing market.  Third, it’s just too trendy.  I think we are too Alaskan for such a Portlandia-type environment.

Snow-capped mountains string the western

Snow-capped mountains string the western horizon.

Bend feels like a college town in search of a college.  It has a little downtown area on the Deschutes River, with lots of restaurants, antique stores, and other expensive-looking shops.  There is a beautiful park by the river that looks like a college campus on the East Coast.  South of downtown is the Old Mill District, which is a mix of meticulously restored buildings (old lumber mills) and new ones, again full of high-end shops, restaurants, and galleries.  North, east, and south of town also have large shopping areas, with pretty much every retail outlet imaginable.  I don’t know who is buying all that stuff.  There are clearly a lot of people with money here and then there are those (hipsters included) who are scraping by working at low-paying retail jobs.  Maybe we aren’t going to the right places, but everyone here seems to be white, outdoorsy, and … well … trendy.  Not a lot of diversity.

Our view of the place may be jaundiced by our experiences here.  When we arrived, construction blocked our turn off the main road for the RV park and we then had to drive about 15 miles before there was any place to turn around.  When we finally got here and pulled into our site, it was startlingly cold, started pouring (it was sunny a few miles down the road), and progressed to pea-sized hail.  Not a good introduction to the area.  Things went downhill when we brought the trailer in—we didn’t have a great experience with the folks at the RV place.  Part of the reason may be that they were so swamped with work, but it colored our perception of Bend—not in a good way.

The sky after the hail storm.  A colorful and frigid evening.

The sky after the hail storm. A colorful and frigid evening.

On the plus side, we have enjoyed the restaurants and our RV park.  We had an excellent dinner downtown at Zydeco, where we sat outside with Zoe.  They brought her homemade dog biscuits and a big bowl of water.  I loved them for that.  They brought us Cajun barbequed shrimp, wild boar, mussels and clams, and duck fat fries (among other things), and I loved them for that, as well.  The town is awash in breweries and good beer.  We ate at Crux yesterday (called a “fermentation project” not a brewery)—another dog-friendly venue.  Dogs seemed to have reached almost a cult status in Bend.

Zoe enjoyed the restaurant experiences.  The little bag on the table was dog biscuits.

Zoe enjoyed the restaurant experiences. The little bag on the table was dog biscuits.

The RV park (make that “resort”), Crown Villa, delivers a paper to the trailer every morning, has great WiFi, empties our personal garbage can, has a steam room, tennis courts, a gym, and spacious sites.  All for a price, of course, but it’s been kind of fun.  Our wee trailer sticks out like a sore thumb among all the gargantuan RVs here.

Unfortunately, we haven’t had the time to explore the outlying areas or do any real hiking–the real attraction here. We managed to fit in a short hike today on Pilot Butte, the local knob in the middle of town.  Tomorrow, we’ll be heading east.

At the top of Pilot Butte.  Zoe liked the photographer.  This view gives a good idea of what Bend looks like.

At the top of Pilot Butte. Zoe liked the photographer. This view gives a good idea of what Bend looks like.

Our mini-hike.

Our mini-hike.  Looking down on the shopping sprawl east of town.

Loved the juniper trees.

Loved the juniper trees.

Route 97

We have become Route 97 fans, following it from Canada through Eastern Washington to Bend, Oregon.  Its landscapes change abruptly.  Turn a corner, go over a hill, and you are in a different world.  And it runs through country we haven’t explored before.

After leaving Oroville, Washington on Monday, we continued on through the Okanagan Valley orchards and vineyards and then emerged into the really arid hills around Lake Chelan and the upper Columbia River area.

Zoe smells a marmot.

Zoe smells a marmot.

We spent Monday night near Wenatchee at Lincoln Rock State Park, which I will forever remember for the marmot infestation. The park has three different grassy and treed loops for camping, which wind around a very dry hillside covered with sagebrush and rocks.  As we drove around looking for a campsite, clusters of marmots were scavenging at recently vacated campsites (it was the end of the long weekend) and would waddle off to the safety of the hillside only to reemerge after our car passed.  They were hardly recognizable as the wild marmots we see on our Alaskan hikes.  They were fat, slow, and kind of like big old rats, only they flattened out when you approached.  I bit nightmarish, really.

Fortunately, we found a nice spot by the water that seemed marmot-free (who knows what they did when the lights were out). It was still busy in the park into late Monday evening, with lots of families swimming, soccer games, and teenagers cruising around.  We were definitely back in civilization.  What a lovely view, though.

Morning view at our campsite at Lincoln Rock

Morning at our campsite at Lincoln Rock

On Tuesday we headed down through the apple growing region around Wenatchee and into the pine hills near Cashmere–a really pretty area as you begin to leave the valley.  The road passes into woodsy mountain terrain and then descends into the Yakima area.  We did not spend much time in Yakima (bank and grocery store time), but I kind of liked it.  It’s a huge, wide valley of farmland with Mediterranean-like hillsides planted with fruit trees and some grapes.

The road changes again as it climbs into another set of hills on the Yakama Reservation, where the smell of pine resin was intoxicating. The trees thinned out again as we descended to the big Columbia River on the Washington/Oregon border.

The hills before the final descent to the river gorge were covered with windmills.  They may be an eyesore to some, but I loved them.  They looked like moving sculptures on the hill tops and sides, moving in unison—or not.  Either way, it was like a dance.  We met our first real wind that afternoon, with lots of swirling gusts coming through the gullies and over the hillsides.  Windmill watching for me and concentrated driving for George, as we were hit from every direction by gusts.

Descent to the river by Maryhill S.P.

Descent to the river by Maryhill S.P.


We camped at Maryhill State Park that night, right on the banks of the Columbia.  It was absolutely beautiful, with the cut banks of the river, a field of grass behind our campsite, and mature sweet gums, maples, birches, and other ornamentals planted throughout the park. There must not be any concern about drought in Eastern Washington, because sprinklers were going in every park we visiting as if there was water to spare—and then some.

Maryhill State Park

Maryhill State Park

The Columbia from Maryhill

The Columbia from Maryhill

We woke to increased winds in the morning and huge whitecaps on the river. The bridge to Oregon is a fairly high one and I was picturing a gust blowing the trailer right off the bridge (one of my only irrational fears).  The winds were forecast to get worse, so off we went.  The bridge was fine—a stupid fear overcome–and we followed Route 97 into Oregon.

Route 97 near Moro, Oregon

Route 97 near Moro, Oregon

Takhini hot and cold

Our WiFi access is limited in Canada, so I haven’t been able to post anything lately.   I will try to get this short post out.

We left Haines Junction Tuesday on another brilliantly sunny morning. There were several herds of horses grazing near the road with foals and cowbells around their necks.


Our destination was Takhini Hot Springs, outside of Whitehorse. It is a beautiful two-pool spring (hot and hotter) with an adjacent, poplar-wooded campground. Once again, the campground was almost empty and there were very few people at the pools. Mostly sweet solitude.

Here’s the campground.


I had one social soak where I spent a good forty-five minutes talking with a teacher from East Germany, who is on sabbatical traveling for a year. She was twenty-seven when the wall came down–very interesting to hear her experiences then and now. Great conversation with someone whose life has been so different than mine–while soaking in a an outdoor hot spring–is my idea of a good time. Not my typical day in Anchorage. I love travel.

Even though the hot springs is at the end of a road without much nearby, there is a coffee shop set back in the woods within walking distance.  It was rainy and cold on Wednesday, so the coffee shop was a nice haven for lunch.  They had homemade soup and sandwiches and good WiFi.

It started to dry up on Wednesday evening and the temperatures plummeted. By early morning, it was down to twenty-six degrees. On to warmer destinations. We hope.

Bathing suit and woodsmoke

Bathing suit and woodsmoke