Saturday, October 26, 2013

Texas day of the dead

Dear Briggz,

            West Texas is a whole lot of nothing. The Shutdown continues so any thought of heading to Bing Bend National Park is out the door. The “Plan”, head east toward San Antonio. Grandma and Grandpa have a timeshare type of condo thing that we are going to take advantage of. It happens to be in “Hill Country" north of the city. The condo was a nice change apart from the phone calls from the folks there to urge us to buy into it a bit more.  You know how it goes, more money = Presidential suite.  No thanks. Plus the Sox are in the hunt for the ALCS pennant. That last sentence may give you a hint as to what we did for a couple of our days there. One day two though, we ventured into San Antonio. Mom and I wanted the boys to see the River Walk, which is pretty cool. There are a bunch of restaurants and shops that line the river walk set below the main streets of the city. The walkway follows the river a god ways from the hotel district to the convention center area. From there you can pop up to street level and go take a tour of the Alamo.  So that is what we did. The Alamo is a lot smaller than everyone pictures it in their head. It is an old mission and remains a religious building. Throughout the tour we saw artifacts from the Texas Revolution where the pivotal Battle of the Alamo took place in 1836. The Siege lasted only 13 days. The Texians were defending the Mission against the Mexican Troops who were retaliating against the Texians after being driven out of Mexican Texas several months prior.

The boys at the Alamo
            Because we can only stay at the condo for three nights at a time we packed up and headed a short jog north and settled in a place called Buchanan Dam. Buchanan Dam happens to be about an hour west of Austin Texas. We decided to set up shop and stay for five nights. Buchanan Lake has a few interesting features, the first one noted was the lack of water. Above the dam there has been a drought for several years now and the water level is approx.. 20-25 ft. lower than what it was normally. So you may ask, What there is to see? I mean, you camp near a lake you expect to see water… Well what you can do if you have 4 wheel drive, is head on out about ¾ to a 1 mile to the waters edge. There you can fish, or scour the lakebed for arrowheads. So that’s what we did. We actually found several arrowheads and could have spent even more time there but this stop was more to relax and to fill our days in an adventure.
            We did however take time to drive into Austin for a Dia de los Muertos festival. There were all sorts of crafts and music and face paintings celebrating the Day of the Dead. We also visited the Capital Building and got a nice glimpse of Texan history and the birth of the “Cowboy”.

Day of the dead cowboy!

That’s all for now. We will write soon.

Be a good boy!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Over 55?

Dear Briggz,

            Ok so when you are at a 55 and older RV park/resort you really need to keep an eye on your kids. They were very strict on this matter, but the weather was nice and the area had a lot to do in the form of activities so we just took it all in stride. 

We were right next the Davis-Monthan Air Force base. The boys loved it as fighter jets were taking off and landing like clock work. The University of Arizona was the place to be though. We traveled to the university on a couple of occasions. Once, to take in a view of the night sky, more specifically the moon, the other was to watch a “Pumpkin Chunkin” competition. We were able to experience looking through the universities huge telescope that enabled us to see, in detail, every crater on this side of the moon. Several much smaller telescopes were set up outside and were focused on other celestial objects.
            Pumpkin Chunkin is quite an event. The teams were from local middle school, high schools and the university as well. The objective is to make a trebuchet that can launch a 5lb. pumpkin the farthest, and to be able to hit targets placed out onto the fire field. It was interesting to see the designs of the trebuchets and how similar and how different some of them were. The winning group was from a middle school that may have finished second in distance, but they dominated the ability to hit their target that was approximately 80 meters out.
            When some folks think of traveling through southern Arizona they think of one tourist trap in particular, Tombstone, a small western town that was made famous by Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Doc Holiday, and the shootout at the OK Coral. Upon entering the town we were greeted by the Boot Hill Graveyard. Interestingly enough we were able to take a tour through the graveyard and see several of the burial sites of some of the earliest pioneers as well as some of the baddest hombres including non other than the Clanton Brothers whom on October 26, 1881 during the infamous “Gunfight at the OK Coral” were killed in a shootout with the Earps and Doc Holiday. I should note that the Clanton’s were responsible for a few other individuals that were laid to rest in Boot Hill.

From there we took in a Wild West show where a bank robbery was acted out and the sheriff had to get the bad guys after a shootout. A bit hokey but we enjoyed it. 

            Tucson was fun and we all enjoyed both where we stayed and the town surrounding us. It’s time again to pack up the camper and seek out yet another adventure.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Route 66

Dear Briggz,

            Well, I would say that Zion and the Grand Canyon are awesome. But, as the government shall have it, we have been locked out. So instead we travel along old Route 66. We actually found a nice place to stay named the Grand Canyon Railway Resort. The thought was to hang near the canyon just incase we were able to get into our campsite within our reservation time. The town of Williams, AZ was one of the last places on Route 66 to be bypassed by the newer, faster, less interesting Interstate 40. We took a stroll down what some old timers would call memory lane, as the shops were filled with period auto memorabilia. The tunes were from the 60’s and people would drive “slow and low”. Like a scene out of the movie Cars, we were in a town of vintage gas stations and hotels. Lightening McQueen would have high tailed it outta here. We thought that the town was kind of cool. We took in a vintage Datsun auto contest. Who had the best, tricked out Datsun? ….  Wait a minute aren’t those but Nissans now???
            Ok, we had a good time, it was quiet but we were able to enjoy the heated pool and hot tub.
            After three nights with no movement in the government standoff it looks as if we are going to miss out on the Grand Canyon and possibly some other parks as well. We decided that we would head south to Tucson… Who knows where this adventure is going to lead us.

valley of fire

Dear Briggz,

            Some how we ended up about an hour north of Las Vegas at a state park named the Valley of Fire, which was very appropriately named. We grabbed the last campsite in the park. The Park was packed with tourists due to the fact that the shutdown closed everyone out of the national parks. We are all scrambling to adjust our plans with a slight hope that our elected leaders will figure out what the hell they are doing. In Fact we would like to thank the government for shutting down, if they kept running as they do every day we certainly would have missed out on this hidden gem.We were able to grab the last spot at the campground, a double wide handicap spot. An other camper was following us hoping to find a spot as well. We realized the spot could fit both campers we quickly asked the park ranger if it would be OK and with his approval we had neighbors. We had a great time with our new friends who happen to have kids the same age as J and A. the kids played watched movies and the adults talked around the fire. It was a great night.
The boys learned light painting photo technique from their new friends
            The Valley of Fire lies just west of Lake Mead, (Nat. Park). The rock actually looks like fire!!  Deep oranges and reds surround us in this valley. There were a few short hikes to take which on many you can see prehistoric petroglyphs. Some amazing rock formations and as evening falls, some of the prettiest sunsets.

We saw Cabins that were made out of the stone that would house travelers as they passed through the valley, an area of narrows called the Mouse Tank that was a hold out for a bank robber, and on an afternoon drive through the park, came across a group of three long horned sheep grazing on the slim pickings of vegetation in the rocks.

            We will see how long this shutdown will last as our plans have us headed towards Zion National Park and then on to the Grand Canyon.

Death Valley

Dear Briggz,

            Eager for warmer weather we worked our way to the Mojave Desert area with a destination of Death Valley. The roads to get to Death Valley were challenging in that there were road closures due to flash flooding that had occurred some four weeks prior to our traveling on them. I much more appreciate the men and women that work for the DOT back home. Four weeks and the road was not even touched! Gumby and Pokey had their work cut out as we definitely took the road less traveled, and perhaps it may have been the road NEVER traveled.  I will leave it at that and if you want to hear more about that, just ask any one of us.
            Death Valley is hard on vehicles. The uphill climb entering the valley from the west has a very steep grade. Signs along the road tell motorists to turn off their air conditioners to help prevent their cars, trucks, or RV’s from overheating. It winds for a climb of over 4000 ft.  An equally impressive downhill that will grind your brakes followed, and then you see it…
You can view the desert floor for miles, and far off in the distance there are mountains on the other side.
our campsite

the view from our site
            An RV park named Stovepipe Wells is where we stopped. We planned to stay for 4 nights. Death Valley is an appropriate name. It is so dry and hot that it does not seem possible for anything to survive out here. Miles of arid desert, and the only oasis is the few hotels or campgrounds that have somehow over the years found a way to pipe water into the desert. We took a couple trips while we were in Death Valley. One was Scotty’s Castle, an incomplete hotel resort that was the brainchild of a so-called miner. He duped forks into buying shares in his mining business and used the money to build his own fortune. Did I mention that he never found any gold or any other precious ore in that mine. The “Mine” was a complete scam. He teamed up with a fairly wealthy gentleman from Chicago and the idea for the resort was born.

            We also visited the Ubehebe Crater. This is the remnant of a volcano that erupted which strewn chunks of lava rock throughout the park. It is about 500 ft. deep and  a half mile wide.  It was cool to be able to walk along the craters edge.

We hiked through the Mosaic Canyon with it’s narrows and limestone.

We also took the time to visit the ghost town of Rhyolite. With the mining boom, those miners built this town. It had a school, a bank, among other municipalities that all towns have. As the Borax mining slowed down, so with it went the town.

                                                      Then it happened, the Shutdown…   

We were on our way to Badwater to head to the lowest, hottest place on the planet, and the barricades were up. The federal government had closed us out! Well that is really where our tour of Death Valley ended. We were planned to leave the following morning, so we hung out at the pool, had lunch and prepared for our next voyage. Where that will be, who knows???

Talk to you soon.



Dear Briggz,

            Yosemite was our next destination. As we entered the park there was so much evidence of this past summers fire. Acres and acres of charred pines were seen, which can only be explained by viewing it all in person. Yes, forest fires bring renewal to the forest, by allowing the forest floor to be seeded, but it also gave us a sad feeling that the land had been robbed of its beauty. We continued on to our campsite. Daylight was dwindling so we only had time to set up camp and turn our focus to dinner.
only a small spot of fire damage. We saw much worse
The following morning we drove down to Yosemite Valley. The views of Half Dome and El Capitan were amazing. We took small walks to Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls was not as amazing. Yosemite falls was as dry as a dogs bone while Bridalveil Falls offered a small peak of water the was seen as wisps in the air as the wind blew. We took the time for the boys to complete the Junior Ranger program, which they have done throughout the trip accumulating a total of approximately 17 Junior Ranger badges and patches.
Mom and the boys in front of half dome. We also learned this is where north face started and half dome is now its logo.

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Bridalvail falls
Yosemite falls all dried up

cool dear
El Capitan
The nights in Yosemite were chilly. We decided to keep the tented ends of our camper folded up and to sleep as though we were boondocking. We did take the liberty of using the fire pit to stay warm prior to turning in for the night. I have to say that I think we are a group of warm weather campers.
We left Yosemite through the south gate. Lush green pines covered the landscape, far different from what we saw as we entered from the Northwest. We then traveled to a campground located about 45 minutes from Sequoia National Park.
Since we missed the big trees of the Redwood Forest we felt it necessary to see these giant Sequoias. These trees are something from another world. The General Sherman Tree, largest by volume in the world, was amazing. We took a hike through the forest to view as many of these giants as we could.
that's a big tree

the trees made us feel very small

The experience of getting to see all the beauty of this land we call home is truly humbling. You don’t realize how small we actually are in this big world. We Miss you a lot. Be a good boy.

Love all of us.