Autumn in Michigan (part II) – You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometime you find,
You get what you need.
The Rolling Stones

We were disgruntled, frustrated, and anxious. This was the third time we changed plans to support an extended stay with our parents. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t angry about it, we were just feeling a little defeated by the responsibility of having aging parents and the benefit of a flexible lifestyle. We had a rough sketch of our plans through the middle of October and made the decision to scrap them in favor of returning to Michigan. We had no idea what we were getting into as we drove eastward across the country, trying to find the silver lining was proving difficult. We didn’t know how long we were going to stay in Michigan and couldn’t even think about what we would do when we left. One thing we did know was that we would need to escape periodically. We finally decided to use my Dad’s yard as a home base. We would spend a week or so visiting him and then make short trips to explore areas we missed last summer. Additionally, these mini-trips had the side-benefit of the opportunity to dump our holding tanks.

Our arrival in Michigan coincided with an unseasonably hot September. With temperatures hovering into the 90s, after nine days in my Dad’s yard we decided to escape the cornfields and relocate to the Lake Michigan beach.

skateboard

Owen shredding in Grandpa’s driveway.

I grew up about 25-miles from Lake Michigan and spent many summer days at the beach at Holland State Park. I hadn’t been there in well over 20-years, so the opportunity to share some of my youth with Anna and Owen sounded pretty good. The night before we left the paterfamilias homestead, Anna received a text from the Alumalarkies; they decided to ditch their Chicago plans and crash our beach party! So on a hot and sticky late-September afternoon, we headed to the beach and another sandy rendezvous with our some of our favorite full-timers.

An impromptu Airstream Rendezvous at Lake Michigan.

An impromptu Airstream Rendezvous at Lake Michigan.

Over the next three days, we had a great time pretending to be weekend warriors with Brea, Shannon, and their boys—the dogs had a great time too. We frolicked on the beach, sat around the campfire, solved world peace, and practiced our skills at breaking into an Airstream. On Wednesday morning we said goodbye as our friends headed to points east. We were staying for one more day before returning to family homestead.

SUP on Beach

There seems to be a pattern forming with these three… [Holland State Park, Michigan]

Our second respite from patriarchal moochdocking occurred about a week later. This time, we wanted to extend our legs slightly beyond 25-miles. Heading up north for an autumn colors trip sounded about right.

We visited Traverse City during last summer’s northern Michigan tour. We both like the area and wanted to take another look around. Also, I’ve wanted to fly fish northern Michigan’s Au Sable River for years. This moochdocking hiatus looked like the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

The Old Mission Lighthouse

The Old Mission Lighthouse

We arrived at Traverse City State Park on Wednesday, October 4th. Last year we stayed for only two days. This time around, we planned to spend four days exploring the downtown area and the Old Mission Peninsula.

I see Uranus on the TART [Traverse City, Michigan]

I see Uranus on the TART [Traverse City, Michigan]

Youthful and vibrant, Traverse City’s downtown area is a mix of charming and eclectic shops, breweries, and eateries. The State Park is located about 4-miles from the downtown district, but is connected to it by the very nice Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails. We spent one afternoon riding our bikes downtown and grabbing a late lunch and beers at The Filling Station, a wonderful microbrewery and pizza place located in an old railroad station. On another day we spent a few hours exploring the downtown area neighborhoods, trying to imagine ourselves settling down there. While we love the area, the summers can be incredibly crowded and the winters can be, to quote a local, “Brutal!” Suffice it to say, the jury’s still out on this one, but the Traverse City area is on our short list…

Hartwick Pines Autumn Airstream

Our Campsite at Hartwick Pines State Park [Grayling, Michigan]

After Traverse City we moved 52-miles east to Grayling, Michigan. The main reason we relocated was so that I could fish the “Holy Waters” of the Au Sable River. We managed to snag a rare full hook-up campsite at Hartwick Pines State Park. I spent three days fishing, but took Tuesday off so Owen and I could visit Hartwick Pine’s main attractions: a very nice visitor center, a 49-acre tract of Old Growth Pines, and a CCC-constructed Logging Museum.

By the 1860s the country’s eastern forests were depleted. By 1869, Michigan’s large tracts of virgin White Pine earned it the distinction of being the largest lumber producer in the country. Michigan’s seemingly unlimited quantities of white pine rebuilt Chicago after the great fire and helped build hundreds of small towns on the Great Plains as the railways worked westward. In the late-1800s, the Hartwick tract was spared when a recession slowed the building boom. The loggers never really returned to this tract and 85-acres of Old Growth Pine were preserved. A November 1940 blizzard destroyed 36-acres and Hartwick Pines’ remaining 49-acres of 300+ year-old-trees is one of the last continuous stands of old growth white pines in the nation.

By the 1860s the country’s eastern forests were depleted. By 1869, Michigan’s large tracts of virgin White Pine earned it the distinction of being the largest lumber producer in the country. Michigan’s seemingly unlimited quantities of white pine rebuilt Chicago after the great fire and helped build hundreds of small towns on the Great Plains as the railways worked westward. In the late-1800s, the Hartwick tract was spared when a recession slowed the building boom. The loggers never really returned to this tract and 85-acres of Old Growth Pine were preserved. A November 1940 blizzard destroyed 36-acres and Hartwick Pines’ remaining 49-acres of 300+ year-old-trees is one of the last continuous stands of old growth white pines in the nation.

While not as impressive size-wise as other old growth trees we’ve visited, Hartwick Pines is awe-inspiring simply because it exists. In an era of exuberant growth and unchecked greed, it’s strange to fathom that these trees were left behind. Walking among the majestic monarchs was a like taking a stroll back in time. It’s hard and humbling to imagine that 160-years ago the majority of Michigan was covered with these immense giants. More than just a campground close to legendary trout waters, Hartwick Pines State Park provided a valuable lesson in not only our nation’s logging history, but also in the cost of our avarice and the benefits of our desire to conserve and preserve the environment.

While not as impressive size-wise as other old growth trees we’ve visited, Hartwick Pines is awe-inspiring simply because it exists. In an era of exuberant growth and unchecked greed, it’s strange to fathom that these trees were left behind. Walking among the majestic monarchs was a like taking a stroll back in time. It’s hard and humbling to imagine that 160-years ago the majority of Michigan was covered with these immense giants. More than just a campground close to legendary trout waters, Hartwick Pines State Park provided a valuable lesson in not only our nation’s logging history, but also in the cost of our avarice and the benefits of our desire to conserve and preserve the environment.

Au Sable River Brown TroutOn the days that I fished, Anna and Owen kept busy with school work, exploring the State Park, and poking around the downtown Grayling area. Anna also spent a fair amount of time working on paperwork for her upcoming temporary job—I’ll provide more information on this development in a few weeks.

In 1959, a group of frustrated anglers met on the Au Sable River near Grayling, Michigan and formed a conservation organization dedicated to ensuring that wild and native trout populations were allowed to thrive as nature intended. As a Lifetime Member of Trout Unlimited, as well a Michigan native, fishing the Holy Waters of the Au Sable River has been something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. While I would miss the epic summer evening hatches, I would be able to chase the legendary—and hopefully angry—pre-spawn Browns for which the Au Sable is famous.

In 1959, a group of frustrated anglers met on the Au Sable River near Grayling, Michigan and formed a conservation organization dedicated to ensuring that wild and native trout populations were allowed to thrive as nature intended. As a Lifetime Member of Trout Unlimited, as well a Michigan native, fishing the Holy Waters of the Au Sable River has been something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. While I would miss the epic summer evening hatches, I would be able to chase the legendary—and hopefully angry—pre-spawn Browns for which the Au Sable is famous.

With limited time to explore and not sure where begin my hunt, I learned a long time ago that enlisting the talents of a fly fishing guide dramatically shortens the learning curve and pays ample long-term dividends. Also, sans a drift boat, a guide would be my only option to float this storied waterway. Being sort of a traditionalist, my only real choice was turn to Gates Au Sable Lodge for help with a guide and deciphering the Au Sable.

With limited time to explore and not sure where begin my hunt, I learned a long time ago that enlisting the talents of a fly fishing guide dramatically shortens the learning curve and pays ample long-term dividends. Also, sans a drift boat, a guide would be my only option to float this storied waterway. Being sort of a traditionalist, my only real choice was turn to Gates Au Sable Lodge for help with a guide and deciphering the Au Sable.

 

Au Sable River Trout [Photo by Gates Au Sable Lodge Guide, Steve Pels]

Au Sable River Trout [Photo by Gates Au Sable Lodge Guide, Steve Pels]

I spent two days floating the river with two of Gates’ great fly-fishing guides and one day exploring the “Holy Waters” on my own. I’m not the best score keeper, but I think I managed to entice close to two dozen trout to chase my streamer. I actually caught six or seven nice Browns and hooked but lost (long-distance released—LDR’d—if you’re keeping score at home) about another half dozen. All-in-all, it was a great three days of fishing on the Au Sable River.

 

After ten days of autumn exploring in northern Michigan, we hitched up and headed back to the Grand Rapids area on Friday, October 13th. After a few weeks of discussion, we finally had a rough game plan for after Michigan. We would stay in Michigan through the end of the month and head out on November 1st. This would give us a few more weeks with my Dad and also let Owen spend Halloween with his cousins. After that, we will begin a slow’ish journey westward.

Autumn in northern Michigan [Hartwick Pines State Park - Grayling, Michigan]

Drying my wading boots at the Campfire: Autumn in northern Michigan [Hartwick Pines State Park – Grayling, Michigan]

Shopping for a Halloween Costume...sad!

Shopping for a Halloween Costume…sad!

We really weren’t sure what we were getting into when we made the quick decision to ditch our autumn in Washington and return to Michigan. We had no idea what we were going to do once we got here, no clue how long we were going to stay, and no inkling of what we would do next. The benefits of this lifestyle have been the freedom and flexibility to do what we want, when we want. Towing our home with us has allowed us to comfortably change tacks and easily relocate. I left home when I was 18-years-old. Throughout our married life, we’ve never lived closer than 300-miles from our families. With aging parents, the freedom of this lifestyle has given us the opportunity to spend more time with them and to give Owen more opportunity to know his extended family. In fact, it’s a little shocking when I look back at our travels and realize that we’ve spent over a quarter of our time moochdocking at our parents’ homes. It isn’t how we envisioned this great adventure when we started, but it’s funny how things seem to evolve into exactly what you need even if you don’t know it at the time…

Airstream and Milky Way

Night Skies at Hartwick Pines State Park

 

Posted in 2017, Michigan, Midwest | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

An Autumn Return to Michigan

Over Labor Day Weekend, days after our return to the Pacific Northwest, we received word from Michigan that my Stepmother passed away. We debated flying from Seattle for the service, but quickly ruled that out after a myriad of scheduling constraints prevented the three of us making it to funeral. Ultimately, after consultation with my family, we decided that our best course of action would be to scrap our plans for an autumn in the Pacific Northwest and head back (we were just there in May) to Michigan for an extended stay. On Sunday, the 10th of September, following a week of medical and VA appointments in Seattle, and one final PNW hurrah at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, we departed on the 2,400-mile drive to Michigan.

Roslyn Washington Airstream GMC Northern Exposure

We stopped for lunch in the small Washington town of Roslyn. Located east of the Cascade Mountains, Roslyn was used for the town in the TV series Northern Exposure.

We allotted ourselves six days to drive from western Washington to southwest Michigan. Our planned route was across Washington, Idaho, and western Montana via I-90. Then we would veer north on I-94, traveling through eastern Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, before finally skirting around Chicago and reaching southwestern Michigan. This route had us driving through North Dakota (which we had not yet visited) and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which has been on our bucket list for years.

Thorp's Market Airstream GMC

Stopping for fruit in central Washington. The box of Honey Crisp Apples we picked up here lasted us through early October.

Our usual, run-of-the-mill, travel days average around 170-miles, but when we’re trying to put miles behind us we average between 350- and 400-miles. Practice has shown that after two or three 400-mile days, we are all a little stir crazy and in need of break. With a week of 400+ mile days planned, a day off in the middle would be a welcomed respite. Since Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park was almost exactly our halfway point, spending some time there recovering from the previous three travel days and preparing for the next three made a lot of sense. Therefore, we adjusted our travel days accordingly and spent Wednesday, September 13th taking a day-off from traveling and exploring a wonderfully diverse National Park. As luck would have it, Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t the only NPS site we visited during our eastward trek.

Continental Divide along I-90

Crossing the Continental Divide, eastbound on I-90.

During long travel days, we try to plan interesting and extended lunch stops in order to get out of the truck, get some exercise, and unwind a bit during the middle of the day. I also appreciate the opportunity to grab a 20-30 minute nap (the old Navy habit of a “nooner”—no not that kind!—has proven difficult to break!) Two of our more memorable lunch stops happened to coincide with opportunities for us all to learn something and for Owen to earn two additional Junior Ranger badges.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Still an operating cattle ranch, Grant-Kohrs preserves and commemorates the era of open range ranching and the role of the Cowboy and Cattleman in our Nation’s history [Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site]

When researching our route east, I came across the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge, Montana. This Historic Site became a planned lunch stop for Day Two. Set aside in 1972, Grant-Kohrs is a wonderful little National Historical Site that that is both educational and entertaining. If you ever find yourself passing through Deer Lodge, Montana, do yourselves a favor and visit. We spent three-hours there and could have stayed longer.

Owen learning about cattle drives at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.

Owen learning about cattle drives at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.

On the morning of Day 3, about 45-minutes after leaving the Billings, Montana Cabela’s parking lot (where we spent our second night on the road), we came across a sign for Pompeys Pillar National Monument. Located east of Billings, off I-94 on the Yellowstone River, Pompey’s Pillar wasn’t on our radar. Because Pompey’s Pillar is administered by the BLM vice the NPS, it wasn’t listed in any of our National Park resources. [Ed. we have since learned to peruse the BLM and National Forest Service websites, as well as the NPS site when we’re doing travel research.] However, the name rang a bell. I couldn’t recall the details, but I knew it had something to do with the Corps of Discovery.

Pompey's Pillar and the National Monument Visitor Center. [Photo Credit: Friends of Pompey's Pillar http://www.pompeyspillar.org]

Pompey’s Pillar and the National Monument Visitor Center. [Photo Credit: Friends of Pompey’s Pillar, http://www.pompeyspillar.org]

In 1806, on Lewis and Clarks’ return trip from the Pacific, in order to cover more territory, they split up in western Montana and traveled separate routes back to the Missouri River. Lewis headed north to determine the northern extent of the Missouri River tributaries and Clark crossed Bozeman Pass and descended the Yellowstone River. The two parties reunited back on the Missouri River in early August 1806.

Anna and Owen studying Clark's signature (along with almost two centuries of others wanting to leave their mark). [Pompey's Pillar National Monument]

Anna and Owen studying Clark’s signature (along with almost two centuries of others wanting to leave their mark). [Pompey’s Pillar National Monument]

While the Blackfeet Indians would eventually chase Lewis and his party out of northern Montana, Clark had relatively few problems on his leg of the journey. On July 25th, Clark camped near a rock outcropping on the Yellowstone River that he named in honor of Sacagawea’s son, whom he nicknamed Pompey.

Like any good soldier, upon discovery Clark immediately climbed to the top of the pillar and desecrated it by carving his name and date into it (Go Navy, Beat Army!) Clark's graffiti on the top of Pompey’s Pillar is some of the only surviving evidence that we have of their amazing and world-changing journey in 1804-1806. Also, it seems to be one of the only explorers’ only tributes to one of the more valuable members of their expedition, Sacagawea—albeit the tribute is to her son and not her…

Like any good soldier, upon discovery Clark immediately climbed to the top of the pillar and desecrated it by carving his name and date into it (Go Navy, Beat Army!) Clark’s graffiti on the top of Pompey’s Pillar is some of the only surviving evidence that we have of their amazing and world-changing journey in 1804-1806. Also, it seems to be one of the only explorers’ only tributes to one of the more valuable members of their expedition, Sacagawea—albeit the tribute is to her son and not her…

While our stop at Pompey’s Pillar was significantly earlier in the day than we would have liked, it was definitely worth it because the monument and visitor center were absolutely excellent. We had a great time exploring visitor center, climbing the pillar, learning more about Lewis and Clark, and earning another Junior Ranger badge.

With Junior Ranger badge in-hand and the memories filed away, we pulled out and continued our eastward trek in Clark’s wake until the Yellowstone River meandered north from I-94 and we finally exited Montana at the North Dakota state line.

With Junior Ranger badge in-hand and the memories filed away, we pulled out and continued our eastward trek in Clark’s wake until the Yellowstone River meandered north from I-94 and we finally exited Montana at the North Dakota state line.

Soon after leaving Pompey’s Pillar we encountered thick smoke from the wildfires raging in northern Montana. While the smoke abated slightly as we traveled east, it would be an ever-present companion for the next three days until we got east of Bismarck, North Dakota.

We pulled into Medora, North Dakota and because of the smoke debated staying in an RV park vice inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The private campground did not look appealing so we decided to drive into the park and check out the NPS campground. We would make a decision at that point. A combination of beauty and abundant wildlife convinced us that staying in the park was the right decision—we could live with a little smoke.

Owen watching prairie dogs through the thick and persistent wildfire smoke [Theodore Roosevelt National Park]

Owen watching prairie dogs through the thick and persistent wildfire smoke [Theodore Roosevelt National Park]

While all the literature said that Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Cottonwood Campground rarely fills midweek, we were surprised to find that it was filled-up on a Tuesday night because of the wildfire refugee campers that relocated from Glacier National Park. Luckily, the campground hosts let us spend the night in a very nice overflow site until we could move to a regular site in the morning. Although it was smoky and moving our rig was a lot of rigmarole, we are glad we stayed inside the park.

Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin

Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin

Inside the Maltese Cross cabin at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Inside the Maltese Cross cabin at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is divided into three units: the Northern Unit, the Southern Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. We stayed at the Southern Unit, which is located along I-94 in Medora, ND. The Northern Unit is located 68-miles north of the Southern Unit and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit is located between, and just west of, the two other units. Although we wanted to visit the other units, we didn’t have enough time to do so. Regardless, the Southern Unit was impressive enough to whet our appetites for another, longer and more in-depth, visit.

Our Campsite at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Our second campsite at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

During our 38-hours in the park, we drove the Southern Unit’s loop road, did a short hike to a few scenic overlooks, toured TR’s first ranch (moved from its original location several miles south of the park), watched prairie dogs frolic and a Coyote stalk his dinner at two of the Park’s three prairie dog towns, got a little too up-close and personal with a Bison, and saw several more, as well as few antelope playing. Both nights of our stay, we were serenaded to sleep by the haunting howls of Coyotes somewhere along with Little Missouri River valley. While our stay at Theodore Roosevelt National Park was short, it left a lasting impression and we are really looking forward to another visit.

North Dakota Badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

North Dakota Badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

We departed Medora, ND on Thursday morning and continued our journey east to Michigan. The next three days of driving all seemed to blend together as we made our way across North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and into Michigan. About midway through North Dakota we could feel the air becoming more humid and unpleasant—welcome to the Midwest! On Thursday, we spent an uncomfortable and loud night in a Minnesota WalMart parking lot and decided to pay for a campsite on Friday. We set our sights on a Madison, Wisconsin KOA for Friday night in order to full hook-ups, giving us air conditioning and the ability to pull into my Dad’s yard with empty grey and black tanks. On Saturday, the 16th of September, after 2,477-miles and 34+ hours of driving, we arrived in Michigan at my Dad’s house.

Airstream GMC Byron Center Yard Moochdocking

Homebase for the next six weeks.  A LOT of bugs were harmed in the making of this journey…

Since early September, when we decided to scrap our Pacific Northwest plans and head back to Michigan, we hadn’t really discussed plans much beyond a few weeks at my Dad’s. That really didn’t change as we go closer. While going home was the right thing to do, we were both a little frustrated and slightly anxious about the change and didn’t want to think about what was next. Since August, Anna has been working with a variety of headhunters to coordinate a temporary job to earn some extra money and keep her proficiency up. We had previously been limiting our search to the west coast, but decided to expand it during our trek eastward. After our drive from Washington to Michigan, we were having a hard time fathoming a return trip. Her temporary employment options appear more limited on this side of the country, so even as I write this post in early October, we don’t know what’s next. We plan to stay in Michigan through Halloween so Owen can enjoy trick or treating with his cousins. We intend to leave Michigan on either the 1st or 2nd of November, but we’re not sure where we will be going. The jobs Anna looked at on this side of the country haven’t panned out, so we’re still focusing our search on the west coast and that’s ok…at this point, three weeks since we arrived, the pain of that cross-country pseudo-sprint has faded quite a bit, so I guess we’ll see what happens next…

 

 

Posted in 2017, Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site, Great Plains, Idaho, Michigan, Midwest, Montana, National Parks Service (NPS) Sites, North Dakota, Pacific Northwest, Pompey's Pillar National Monument, Rocky Mountains, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Wisconsin | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Return to the Pacific Northwest

This gallery contains 25 photos.

After our long Eclipse Weekend in Madras, Oregon, our plan was to spend seven or eight weeks hanging around Washington and Oregon. Besides missing the upper-left coast, we needed to catch-up on some of the necessities of modern life (annual … Continue reading

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Traveling Towards Syzygy

The last time I saw an eclipse was February 1979. I would have been eight years old and my memory of it is hazy. I remember standing outside my elementary school watching the moon eat away the sun through makeshift cardboard box viewers. I remember the strange twilight’ish color of the middle-of-the-day sky, but I don’t remember much else. Wikipedia tells me that my hometown experienced around 80-percent of Totatility and I thought that was pretty cool. I also thought the 1979 eclipse prepared me for this past August’s total solar eclipse. I was wrong.

We began discussing witnessing the August Total Eclipse this past winter. We had planned to view the eclipse while boondocking on Federal Land in eastern Oregon, but changed our minds once we realized how popular the eclipse was predicted to be. Also, after Chris @13Roads mentioned the possibility of meeting up for Totality at some hippy-dippy eclipse festival in central Oregon, we jumped in with both feet.

With no real idea of what we were in for, we quickly purchased tickets for a dry camping site at Madras, Oregon’s SolarTown. SolarTown was part of the town’s bigger Solar Festival, which was expected to draw over a hundred thousand people to this high plains Oregon farming community.

As the eclipse drew nearer, the plan began to build speed and momentum as several additional Airstream Families jumped onboard. Ultimately, we would meet up with four other Airstream Families.  This small traveling community made the experience even more enjoyable and infinitely more memorable!

Airstream Syzygy [Photo by Sean Slattery of @nemo_and_bubbles_travels]

Airstream Syzygy in Madras, Oregon [Photo by Sean Slattery of @nemo_and_bubbles_travels]

After a summer of milling about the Rocky Mountains, we departed Colorado on Saturday, August 12th and took five days to drive the 1,160-miles to Madras, Oregon. We spent our nights on the road at Colorado National Monument in Fruita, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Mountain Home, Idaho; and finally in Prineville, Oregon.

Colorado National Monument

Between the wildlife and awesome scenery, Colorado National Monument wasn’t too bad for a park for which we had no real expectations beyond a campsite for a night.

Our first night out of Avon, Colorado was spent just a few hours down I-70 at Colorado National Monument. Planned strictly as an overnight stay, we ended getting much more out of Colorado NM than a place to park. We spent two nights in Salt Lake City and used the time to stock-up on groceries, get haircuts, and enjoy the conveniences of civilization (much needed after a couple of weeks in the Vail Valley).

We spent our first night en-route to the eclipse at Colorado National Monument. We were completely surprised by the awe-inspiring beauty of this little-known NPS site. Within minutes of entering the park, while we were driving up into and through some awesome rock formations that were straight out of the Flintstones, we came across our first Bighorn Sheep of the Big Big Trip. It was an impressive and majestic younger Ram and it was standing about 100-ft above us on the side of a cliff. He was totally unfazed by our presence. Later in the evening, we saw two more Bighorn Sheep—females this time—just hanging out on the side of the road.

We spent our first night en-route to the eclipse at Colorado National Monument. We were completely surprised by the awe-inspiring beauty of this little-known NPS site. Within minutes of entering the park, while we were driving up into and through some awesome rock formations that were straight out of the Flintstones, we came across our first Bighorn Sheep of the Big Big Trip. It was an impressive and majestic younger Ram and it was standing about 100-ft above us on the side of a cliff. He was totally unfazed by our presence. Later in the evening, we saw two more Bighorn Sheep—females this time—just hanging out on the side of the road.

Between Salt Lake City and Oregon, we spent one night in Mountain Home, Idaho, following a prolonged lunch stop at the Minidoka National Historic Site outside Jerome, ID. Finally, the night before our arrival in Madras, we staged ourselves 45-minutes south in Oregon’s Prineville Reservoir State Park.

EO 9066 was executed under the pretext of “the successful prosecution of the war [requiring] every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities.” The Executive Order was conceived and carried out in an environment of fear; war hysteria; and actual, no-shit, fake news. Even though the FBI investigated and found no truth to rumors of Japanese residents conspiring with the enemy, it didn’t matter—Roosevelt was persuaded by his advisers to persecute thousands of his fellow citizens. A small group of powerful people was able to leverage the nation’s anxiety and indifference to incarcerate 110,000 residents and American citizens without due process. This happened 75-years ago because of prejudice, intolerance, ignorance, and apathy. The two hours we spent at Minidoka were both sobering and saddening. When viewed through the lens of current events, we drove away feeling dejected, but also hopeful for our Nation’s future.

For some reason, given recent political current events, stopping at a former internment camp seemed like the right thing to do. It was… On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. A little over five weeks later, approximately 200 people were rounded up on Bainbridge Island, Washington and were eventually moved to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho. These Bainbridge Islanders were the first group of people to be forcibly moved into internment camps under the auspices of EO 9066. The Minidoka Camp would eventually imprison over 13,000 people and become the 7th largest “city” in Idaho.

EO 9066 was executed under the pretext of “the successful prosecution of the war [requiring] every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities.” The Executive Order was conceived and carried out in an environment of fear; war hysteria; and actual, no-shit, fake news. Even though the FBI investigated and found no truth to rumors of Japanese residents conspiring with the enemy, it didn’t matter—Roosevelt was persuaded by his advisers to persecute thousands of his fellow citizens. A small group of powerful people was able to leverage the nation’s anxiety and indifference to incarcerate 110,000 residents and American citizens without due process. This happened 75-years ago because of prejudice, intolerance, ignorance, and apathy. The two hours we spent at Minidoka were both sobering and saddening. When viewed through the lens of current events, we drove away feeling dejected, but also hopeful for our Nation’s future.

EO 9066 was executed under the pretext of “the successful prosecution of the war [requiring] every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities.” The Executive Order was conceived and carried out in an environment of fear; war hysteria; and actual, no-shit, fake news. Even though the FBI investigated and found no truth to rumors of Japanese residents conspiring with the enemy, it didn’t matter—Roosevelt was persuaded by his advisers to persecute thousands of his fellow citizens. A small group of powerful people was able to leverage the nation’s anxiety and indifference to incarcerate 110,000 residents and American citizens without due process. This happened 75-years ago because of prejudice, intolerance, ignorance, and apathy. The two hours we spent at Minidoka were both sobering and saddening. When viewed through the lens of current events, we drove away feeling dejected, but also hopeful for our Nation’s future.

Our final night on the road to the Eclipse was spent at a full hook-up site in Oregon’s Prineville Reservoir State Park. Only 40-odd miles south of Madras, Prineville put us within easy striking distance of SolarTown and, even more importantly, set us up with full water tanks and empty grey and black tanks for our five days of dry camping in a farmer’s field.

[Prineville was our first experience with an Oregon State Park and we were impressed. We had heard great things about Oregon’s State Parks and the three we’ve visited have lived up to the hype—BZ Oregon!]

 

On Thursday, August 17th, after a leisurely lunch at a brewery in downtown Prineville, we arrived at the SolarTown queue around 2:30pm. Obviously, Madras had put a lot of planning into this event, but like every special evolution there were opening night jitters. Given the state of the line trying to get into the SolarTown camping area, Madras’ initial plan did not survive first contact with the enemy. We arrived at the back of a line of several hundred RVs that stretched about 2-miles. It was obvious that the organizers were a little over-whelmed. After ninety minutes of sitting the line finally started to slowly move after some behind-the-scenes organizational adjustments. All told, we spent about 2-1/2 hours sitting in line. The wait was about what I had expected. It was clear that the organizers were doing their best, but preparing for something this big is always challenging. From our vantage point, everyone around us remained fairly good-natured and took the chaos in stride. As I sat there, I found it valuable to reflect back on our lives prior to the Big Big Trip—a few years earlier, during our high stress, high op-tempo lives, dual income lives, this type of entropy, combined with a 2-1/2 hour wait, would have had me steaming mad and weaving a “tapestry of obscenities…” that would still be hanging over the high desert of Madras. 1

1 A Christmas Story
Christmas Story Profanity Quote

For the first few hours in-line in Madras, buffoonery was running amok. It’s amazing what 15-months of full time Airstream living will do for a guy’s attitude! Prior to the Big Big Trip, my high stress job in the Navy made me a master of profanity and I wasn’t afraid to unleash my creative juices at the first sign of out of control buffoonery… [Meme borrowed from Pinterest]

By 8pm on Thursday, all five families were parked and settled-in for Monday’s total eclipse. We spent the next three days hanging out around the camping area, lightly exploring the surrounding locale, enjoying the many delicious food trucks, and spending quality time with some like-minded full time (and one part-time) Airstreaming families. The kids had a blast playing with each other and running amok with their Nerf guns and a homemade ball of slime. We never ventured into the actual “SolarFest” festival at the Madras Fairgrounds because of the cost, the hassle of dealing with the traffic (or the wait to get on the buses into/out of town), and the fact that we were having such a good time just hanging out at SolarTown.

Behold the epic proportions of SolarTown. Our small Airstream Caravan can be seen center, right of photo - Look for the yellow truck! [Photo by Sean Slattery of @nemo_and_bubbles_travels]

Behold the epic proportions of SolarTown. Our small Airstream Caravan can be seen center, right of photo – Look for the yellow truck! [Photo by Sean Slattery of @nemo_and_bubbles_travels]

On Saturday we decided to break up the monotony and headed to Cove Palisades State Park with the Alumalarkies so the kids and the dogs could play in the water—it was a good distraction from the hot and dry field we were camping in.

Our little caravan of Airstreams at Madras' SolarTown. [Photo by Sean Slattery of @nemo_and_bubbles_travels]

Our little caravan of Airstreams at Madras’ SolarTown. [Photo by Sean Slattery of @nemo_and_bubbles_travels]

Daytime temps were in 80s and 90s, but luckily at night it dropped down into the 50s. It was quite pleasant and with strong, all-day sunshine, solid prior planning, and a strict water-conservation regime, we had no problems managing both electricity and water. Our prior boondocking experience set our total no-facility dry camping limit at four days. We purchased water, utilized the available shower-trucks when we could and easily made it to Day 5, with room to spare. Although, this experience has us seriously thinking about a Composting Toilet…

Overall, the atmosphere was wonderful. Our fellow eclipse campers were all super-friendly. Almost everyone cleaned-up after themselves and we saw absolutely no unpleasantness anywhere. Given current events, my fellow SolarTowners gave me a renewed sense of faith in our shared humanity. The eclipse felt like a truce in the current pseudo-culture war raging on over the airwaves of TV & radio and in the ether of social media.

By Monday morning, we were ready for the big show. We awoke early to prepare for the eclipse—Anna made eggs and banana bread; I prepared Bloody Marys and Mimosas. The show started with First Contact a little after 9am and totality occurred about 10:19am.

The Eclipse can be seen in the front window stone guard of our Airstream [Madras, Oregon]

The Eclipse can be seen in the front window stone guard of our Airstream [Madras, Oregon]

Airstreams Nissan Owen and I enjoying the show [Madras, Oregon]

Owen and I enjoying the show [Madras, Oregon]

The show up to Totality was pretty cool and similar to my memory from 1979. However, Totality was definitely the highlight! I can’t describe what it was like to see the Corona and the Diamond Ring that we had heard so much about in the weeks leading up to the eclipse. I could go on-and-on about the beauty and majesty of the Total Eclipse, but we have all seen and heard enough about it. Suffice it to say that it was one of those things in life that didn’t disappoint. I only have a few photos I took during the eclipse because I wanted to just be in the moment with Anna and Owen (plus, I couldn’t compete with Sean and Shannon!)  Part of me was hoping for some type of life changing epiphany at the moment of Totality—something that would finally make clear where we should settle and what I should do when I grow up, but none appeared. Maybe that was the epiphany?!?!

Totality [photo by Sean Slattery of @nemo_and_bubbles_travels]

Totality–really cool, but no epiphany… [photo by Sean Slattery of @nemo_and_bubbles_travels]

Frankly, I still haven’t digested the whole Totality thing. It was amazing and the one thing I do know is I can’t wait to experience another one! I guess I’ll have to wait until April 8th, 2024 to get that feeling again. Hopefully, I’ll have a better handle on it by then!?!?

Totality [Madras, Oregon]

This is the only photo I took during Totality [Madras, Oregon]

We spent the remainder of the day talking about what we had seen and what we felt. We watched our fellow SolarTowners pack up, head out, and then sit in traffic for hours. We also slowly started enjoying the return of reasonable cell connectivity. On Tuesday morning, we awoke to a relatively empty field and slowly hooked up our rigs for departure. By late-morning we were headed south towards Eugene and our rendezvous with Anna’s family.

The Day After the Eclipse [Photo by Sean Slattery of @nemo_and_bubbles_travels]

The Day After the Eclipse [Photo by Sean Slattery of @nemo_and_bubbles_travels]

In the past 15-months, we’ve seen and done some amazing things on the Big Big Trip, but the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 has definitely been the highlight. More than just the syzygy of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon, it was the syzygy of five-fulltime Airstream families that made the Eclipse so memorable and special. Special thanks to the Alumarkies, Nemo_and_bubbles, 13roads, and Upintheairstream for sharing this amazing experience with us and making it so special.

Watching the eclipse [photo by Shannon Able of @mr_alumalarky]

Airstreaming Syzygy – Six Traveling Families Watching the Eclipse [photo by Shannon Able of @mr_alumalarky]

 

Posted in 2017, Colorado, Colorado National Monument, Idaho, Minidoka National Historic Site, Oregon, Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer in the Rockies

Well we’ve almost wrapped up our second busy summer on the road and once again I’ve managed to get behind in my blogging. While this was predictable, it is still disappointing! So, in an effort to catch-up…

We spent most of the summer hanging around the Rocky Mountain west. Home-basing ourselves at Anna’s parents’ in the Colorado high country, we spent part of June visiting Yellowstone National Park, Montana, and Wyoming. In July, we headed south to explore southern Colorado. We left Colorado in mid-August for a prior engagement with the Solar Eclipse–we made plans with four other Airstream families to spend the eclipse in Madras, Oregon at SolarTown.

Colorado Springs was our first stop during our July southern Colorado swing, followed by Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks. We also spent time at Curecanti National Recreation Area and Dillon Lake in Frisco before returning to the In-Law’s driveway.

On our first full day in Colorado Springs, we headed back into the mountains to visit Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Situated in a beautiful grassy mountain valley, about 50-minutes northwest of Colorado Springs off US24, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument holds fossils from about 1,700 species, including over 1,500 insects and several petrified giant Redwood trees (Yes, giant Redwoods in Colorado!) At only 6,000’ish acres, Florissant is an easily digested stop that can be seen in few hours. Overall, we spent about two hours exploring the monument, talking to the rangers, and working on Owen’s Junior Ranger Badge. Florissant continued our unbroken streak of super-friendly, highly educational, and entertaining small NPS sites.

On our first full day in Colorado Springs, we headed back into the mountains to visit Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Situated in a beautiful grassy mountain valley, about 50-minutes northwest of Colorado Springs off US24, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument holds fossils from about 1,700 species, including over 1,500 insects and several petrified giant Redwood trees (Yes, giant Redwoods in Colorado!) At only 6,000’ish acres, Florissant is an easily digested stop that can be seen in few hours. Overall, we spent about two hours exploring the monument, talking to the rangers, and working on Owen’s Junior Ranger Badge. Florissant continued our unbroken streak of super-friendly, highly educational, and entertaining small NPS sites.

Evidently, you have to go to Garden of the Gods if you visit Colorado Springs, and based on the high density of tourists during our visit, we can attest to the fact the Colorado Springs’ tourists are carefully adhering to this rule. Garden of the Gods is a Colorado Springs City Park that encompasses some very impressive suburban red rock formations. With several easy trails winding through the formations, everyone has a chance to get up-close and personal with geology…that is if you define up-close and personal as ignoring the Area Closed and No Climbing signs and doing whatever the fuck you feel like doing (such as climbing up behind the No Climbing signs and taking a selfie on the side of a rock). Garden of the Gods was beautiful, but way too crowded and way too uncontrolled for us to really enjoy ourselves. We did it, so we didn’t need to worry about violating any City Ordnance.

Evidently there is a city statute that states you must go to Garden of the Gods when you visit Colorado Springs.  Based on the high density of tourists we encountered during our visit, we can attest to the fact the Colorado Springs’ tourists are carefully adhering to this rule. Garden of the Gods is a Colorado Springs City Park that encompasses some very impressive suburban red rock formations. With several easy trails winding through the formations, everyone has a chance to get up-close and personal with geology…that is if you define up-close and personal as ignoring the Area Closed and No Climbing signs and doing whatever the fuck you feel like doing (such as climbing up behind the No Climbing signs and taking a selfie on the side of a rock). Regardless, Garden of the Gods was beautiful.  However, we found it way too crowded and way too uncontrolled to really enjoy ourselves. We visited though, so we don’t need to worry about violating any City Ordnance.

On Friday, July 14th, we left Colorado Springs well before 8am and ventured southwest towards Great Sand Dunes National Park. We weren’t positive that we would be able to find a campsite inside the park at the Piñon Flats Campground, so we had Plans B and C in our back pocket. Since the campground can fill-up pretty quickly on summer weekends, we wanted to get into the campground before noon. Luckily, we didn’t need to execute Plans B or C, as we were able to find a big enough site at Piñon Flats. Had we arrived an hour later, we may have been out of luck.

On Friday, July 14th, we left Colorado Springs well before 8am and ventured southwest towards Great Sand Dunes National Park. We weren’t positive that we would be able to find a campsite inside the park at the Piñon Flats Campground, so we had Plans B and C in our back pocket. Since the campground can fill-up pretty quickly on summer weekends, we wanted to get into the campground before noon. Luckily, we didn’t need to execute Plans B or C, as we were able to find a big enough site at Piñon Flats. Had we arrived an hour later, we may have been out of luck.

At slightly over 40,000 acres, Great Sand Dunes National Park sits in the San Luis Valley at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The National Park encompasses not only the tallest sand dunes in North America, but also the high elevation watershed that is responsible for creating and maintaining the dunes. Having visited Indiana Dunes and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashores, we thought we knew what to expect. Great Sand Dunes National Park confounded those expectations and blew our minds!

At slightly over 40,000 acres, Great Sand Dunes National Park sits in the San Luis Valley at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The National Park encompasses not only the tallest sand dunes in North America, but also the high elevation watershed that is responsible for creating and maintaining the dunes. Having visited Indiana Dunes and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashores, we thought we knew what to expect. Great Sand Dunes National Park confounded those expectations and blew our minds!

 

On Monday the 17th, we hitched up and headed west over Wolf Creek Pass towards Mesa Verde National Park. Anna’s parents had wanted to meet up with us somewhere during our Rocky Mountain travels and Mesa Verde became the rendezvous point. We planned to stay in the National Park’s Morefield Campground and Anna’s Parents had reservations at the Park’s Far View Lodge.

On Monday the 17th, we hitched up and headed west over Wolf Creek Pass towards Mesa Verde National Park. Anna’s parents had wanted to meet up with us somewhere during our Rocky Mountain travels and Mesa Verde became the rendezvous point. We planned to stay in the National Park’s Morefield Campground and Anna’s Parents had reservations at the Park’s Far View Lodge.

Home of Ancestral Pueblo people for over 700 years (up until AD 1300), Mesa Verde is one of our favorite National Parks. Not only does the park hold dozens of beautiful and stunning vistas, but it also protects close to 5,000 known archeological sites, including over 600 cliff dwellings. We spent three days exploring the park with Anna’s parents and two additional days exploring on our own. We visited three of the most famous cliff dwellings (Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Step House), took one of the Park’s four-hour long guided tours through Mesa Verde’s 700-year history, and hiked the Petroglyph Point Trail to see some ancient petroglyphs. We wanted to do the self-guided tour of Spruce Tree House, but it was closed during our visit. Mesa Verde is truly one of our favorite National Parks.

Home of Ancestral Pueblo people for over 700 years (up until AD 1300), Mesa Verde is one of our favorite National Parks. Not only does the park hold dozens of beautiful and stunning vistas, but it also protects close to 5,000 known archeological sites, including over 600 cliff dwellings. We spent three days exploring the park with Anna’s parents and two additional days exploring on our own. We visited three of the most famous cliff dwellings (Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Step House), took one of the Park’s four-hour long guided tours through Mesa Verde’s 700-year history, and hiked the Petroglyph Point Trail to see some ancient petroglyphs. We wanted to do the self-guided tour of Spruce Tree House, but it was closed during our visit. Mesa Verde is truly one of our favorite National Parks.

Our next stop on our southern Colorado swing was Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Located northeast of Mesa Verde, we had never visited the Black Canyon and weren’t sure what to expect. En-route to Black Canyon, we considered riding the Durango-Silverton Railroad, but ultimately decided against it because of cost and logistical concerns. This left us free to take the Million Dollar Highway to the Black Canyon and spend a night in Silverton along the way.

For those of you not familiar with the Million Dollar Highway (U.S. 550, between Ouray and Silverton), here are a couple of links for you (Introduction to the Million Dollar Highway from a website called DangerousRoads.org and Outside Magazine’s article on the DOT snowplow drivers that keep U.S. 550 clear in the winter between Ouray and Red Mountain Pass). We debated bypassing U.S. 550 via the more westerly CO-145. My preference was U.S. 550 because it is supposed to be such an amazing drive. And, after all, it’s the journey more than the destination…right? As long as that destination isn’t at the bottom of the Uncompahgre Gorge!

On Sunday, the 23rd of July, we departed Mesa Verde and drove north out of Durango. We spent one night outside of Silverton at Anvil Creek, a free National Forest dispersed camping area next to the South Fork of Mineral Creek and had a nice time wandering around Silverton and enjoying some really good pizza and beer. The next day, we had a spectacular and uneventful drive up and over Red Mountain Pass, around the Uncompahgre Gorge, down into Ouray, and through Montrose before spending two nights at the South Rim Campground inside Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison would end up soaking up the next five days of our journey.

Once again, we weren’t sure what to expect from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. And once again, we were surprised by what we found. We were awestruck by the immensity, depth, and sheer beauty of the Black Canyon’s cliffs. Even two thousand feet up you could hear the roar of the pounding Gunnison River as it cascaded through the canyon on the steepest river run in North America. The canyon earns its name from the inability of light to penetrate all the way to its vast depths due to the steepness of its walls and the narrowness of its bottom. In places, the Black Canyon squeezes the Gunnison River into narrow slots only a few feet across.

Once again, we weren’t sure what to expect from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. And once again, we were surprised by what we found. We were awestruck by the immensity, depth, and sheer beauty of the Black Canyon’s cliffs. Even two thousand feet up you could hear the roar of the pounding Gunnison River as it cascaded through the canyon on the steepest river run in North America. The canyon earns its name from the inability of light to penetrate all the way to its vast depths due to the steepness of its walls and the narrowness of its bottom. In places, the Black Canyon squeezes the Gunnison River into narrow slots only a few feet across.

Owen looking over the Gunnison River at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison East Portal

The Gunnison River can be accessed from the South Rim via the East Portal Road. River access for fishing, a campground, and a day-use picnic area are located at the end of the road at the bottom of the canyon. The road is not recommended for trailers and the drive is not for the faint of heart! We did spend one morning down at the river. Anna used the time to finish up Owen’s classes for the day while I fished. The Gunnison is a Colorado Blue Ribbon fishery and could see dozens of wise and weary trout suspiciously eyeing my feathery offering. Once Owen finished his schoolwork, I put my rod up and spent over an hour helping him fine-tune is fly-fishing bona fides on this challenging fishery. We both easily accepted the fishes’ rejection and didn’t take it [too] personally.

Boat Tour Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Owen enjoying the National Park Boat Tour of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Our Airstream at the campsite at Dillon Lake's Peak One National Forest Campground

Our campsite at Dillon Lake’s Peak One National Forest Campground

We plan to spend the late-summer and early fall in the Pacific Northwest. After the eclipse, we spent a few days with family outside Eugene, Oregon before traveling north to Mt Hood, followed by another rendezvous with the Alumalarkies on the Oregon Coast. Next up will be a few weeks around Puget Sound and who knows after that?!?!

Posted in 2017, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado, Florissant Fossil Beds, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, Rocky Mountains | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment