For the next three or four weeks I will be driving a semi tractor trailer hauling sugar beets, field corn and soybeans from the fields to various storage and collecting facilities. For some (like me) the methods, processes and machinery to plant, grow, harvest and process beets to sugar, corn to ethanol, and soybeans to everything? is fascinating. I’ll spare you the details.
Since we left you last in Rapid City in June there have been a few more miles and a few more sights along the way.
One of the questions we have always been asked, whether on the boats or in RVs is “what is your favorite place?”. Our stock answer is “everywhere we go has its own special characteristics and there is no one place”. If there was, we might be tempted to stay!
We must admit though to a certain attraction to the Black Hills of South Dakota. I understand why the Dakota, Cheyenne, Sioux and other great Indian tribes fought so hard to keep their land.(It was certainly managed much better in those days!)
We stayed in an RV park just outside of Rapid City most of June while exploring from Custer State Park in the southern part through the mountains, Hill City, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments, and up through the north to the old mining towns of Deadwood and Lead.
So much history combined with so much beauty and so many possibilities.
There is a 110 mile hiking trail from Custer State Park through the mountains all the way north past Sturgis. I called Ryan and Ian to say let’s do it! Ian had to decline as he is being transferred to the AFB in Tucson from Valdosta, but Ryan was enthusiastic. We planned for an early September start and 8-10 days to complete it.
With engagements looming in Michigan and North Carolina we headed east across South Dakota, Minnesota and then northeast towards Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan.
What a beautiful country! Long straight roads with vast vistas in every direction and nothing but prairies and planted fields. Many of the small towns on the two lane roads we travel on have the nicest city parks with a couple of camping spots.
We have thoroughly enjoyed these and have been surprised with Friday night high school football games, rodeos, old flour mills, lakes , paths and much more.
In a state park on Lake Superior on the northern shore of Michigan’s upper peninsula, on the longest day of the year (June 21) the temperature was 42, with winds to 25 mph. Mo loved surfing the cold waters of the lake!
We wandered down through cherry orchards and Lake Michigan shoreline drives to Muskegon to Ian and his new bride’s family home and celebration. Michiganders are good folks!
The Indiana State Fair people had called and wanted us back for the state fair to run their RV campground in August so we puttered our way to NC to spend time with Shelly’s Mom. The campground we ended up in was a gold and gem mining mini tourist place but absolutely beautiful in summer. Mo got to spend much time in the river for those two weeks!
July 23 – August 21 we were in Indianapolis IN in a big field under a walnut tree helping 350 RVs in and out of the parking spaces and popping over to the fairgrounds to watch the 450,000 or so visitors to the fair. (Few masks)
We did get to watch the one remaining Wilson brothers from the Beach Boys perform with a large band. The other major member of the band was the grown son of one of the other original members! It was memorable!
From Indianapolis, we turned back west through Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and back into South Dakota to meet up with Ryan for a 100 miles 10 day hike. As an aside we have now traveled through every state except CA, OR, WA, AK, and HI.
Here is a bit of advice. Do not go hiking in the mountains with a 30 pound pack with a time deadline so you try to make 15 miles a day with no practice. It is very – how shall I say – challenging?
It kicked our butts. On the morning of the 3rd day we hiked 10 more miles by 1030am and were now looking up at the Needles and the mountains where Mt Rushmore is. Steep and rocky.
With very sore feet, very sore hips where the packs rode, sore knee joints and 90% chance for heavy rain I made the call to turn around and hike a mile back to a highway we had crossed and call Shelly to come get us. I can’t say Ryan was too upset! I like to use the excuse that I was thinking of Shelly and wanted Ryan to spend some time with his Mom – but…
Next time we practice first. We both agree the 25 miles we did was awesome and we really want to do more.
After Ryan flew out to Atlanta, we had some decisions to make. We had been looking at property in the Black Hills but realized prices were so inflated that it would be insane to even look.
Then in my daily email showing people wanting temporary help from RVers, an ad for truck drivers for three weeks in Minnesota popped up. So here we sit on a very pretty lake in a county campground waiting for sugar beet, field corn and soybean harvest to start!
Both of us think this is a very good place to sit and watch the world fall apart. When it does we will be more than willing to help put it back together again.
It has been a fun spring into summer. Summer in South Dakota means 45 one day and 90 the next! We added lots of miles to the truck in the last three months and have seen some breathtaking scenery.
The video is long this time as I have again procrastinated posting but we hope you will watch it as it covers some of America’s most beautiful and open country. It is much better if you watch it full screen with the little button on lower left corner…
Tucson was dry, hot, windy and busy but the surrounding country was awesome. In a space of a week, we decided to swap our RV. We found the same floor plan 2010 Newmar in Mobile Al, made an offer, drove the 3600 miles round trip to get it and bring it back in three days. Then we deep cleaned it, moved everything from the 2007 Newmar to the newer one, swapped the tires (in the RV park), some of the furniture, all of my customized batteries, chargers etc, cleaned the old one and sold it in three days. The market is hot to say the least. Then we got back on the road!
The week we spent traveling from Tucson through Apache and Comanche country to New Mexico sure made you appreciate how the west was changed – by the native Indians to the Spanish to the miners, settlers and soldiers who all lived and died here. Through Globe, Show Low, and across into New Mexico where we found one of the old cattle and sheep drive destination towns that looks very similar to the way it did when the drivers spent weeks to get their herds to market.
Southern New Mexico including White Sands National Monument, 3 Rivers Petroglyphs Site, and the Lava Flows were all in the same basin and amazing to see.
If you ever get a chance to visit here – do it! Alamogordo, White Sands, Ski Apache, and amazing Pueblo sites all in a relatively small area.
On our first trip out here four years ago we found the 4 Corners area and especially Bluff, Utah and Valley of the Gods. We promised ourselves to come back and we did!
From there, we headed north towards Big Sky country through Moab, Wyoming, Ogden, and up into Idaho. The two lane backroads where we go are sometimes a bit intimidating, lightly trafficked, and usually extremely interesting. We love these roads and the things we stumble into. This trip is no exception.
It was chilly up through Idaho and into Montana (almost all the way to Canada!). But we were early in the season and there were no people anywhere! We visited friends in Troy, Montana for a couple of weeks (look at where it is on a map!) and helped with a project before heading back south towards Helena and Yellowstone. The forests of northeastern Montana have to be seen to be believed. Truly awe inspiring. When we arrived in Helena the weather was calling for 22 degrees and snow in Yellowstone (if you didn’t know Yellowstone sits atop the Rocky Mountains in northern Wyoming! in addition of the four access roads into the park only two had been opened yet, so we decided to pass this go round and keep moving east.
East meant across the grasslands to Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn (awesome!). To walk this battlefield where Custer probably got what he deserved is incredibly moving. They have stones where each of the over 250 army and some of the attacked Indians fell. There is also a national war cemetery here. Visiting here initiated interest in learning more that lead me to read a book about one of the Cheyenne tribe who fought here to learn that side of the story. There is always two sides to every story.
From there is more grasslands to the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota and the towns where Calamity Jane, Wild bill Hickock and others made history. As well, there are places we had heard stories of like Sturgis (largest motorcycle rally in the world in August), Deadwood, and Lead SD (an old frontier mountain mining town) where there is recently deactivated mine ONE MILE underground and where the Sanford Underground Laboratory at the bottom of the mine is helping business boom! Look that one up too!
We are already all the way back to North Carolina and I write this – and will have an update soon. If I don’t, it will be another 20 minute video!
And finally a comment about the current state of affairs in our country. If you are upset about the way things are going – may I suggest you get involved? Serve if you can in whatever capacity you can. Run for local office, school board, council, political party delegate. Whatever! If you can’t do that, then at minimum contribute your voice by attending council meetings or anything you can get to to be heard and find out what they are doing. We have to take this thing back before we lose it. I have faith in the bigger picture – but to ensure we fill the gap that is about to be created we need to be there ready to go. Just my two cents.
March 22, 2021. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico Elephant Butte State Park
Shelly is working at one computer writing service dog training manuals, the puppy is sleeping ( TTL!), and I sit with an iPad on my lap wondering how to begin a blog post way overdue.
The more I put off writing the post, the more there is to write and the harder to write. In addition, with the state of the world, and our former Republic, sometimes I feel like our travels are not what I should be writing about.
But if I don’t – what will Shelly and I have to look at when we get old and feeble?
So… we are in a desert campground on a reservoir that has shrunk to 30% its size because of a 15 year drought in the SW US. We are ready to get out of the desert dust and wind and head north but there seems to be blizzards between us and Montana!
We have really enjoyed the last several months across the southern coast, through Texas and a one month stay in Tucson AZ.
The video, though long, does give a fairly good idea of what we saw and visited.
Shelly’s Christmas gift this year was a 3 month old Chocolate Labrador puppy. His name is Mo Betta as life is mo betta with a dog! Mo has obviously changed our lives dramatically as you will see in the video.
Some highlights from this part of the trip:
Visiting St George’s Island Fl. As well as having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, I actually lived on the Island for a while as a boy and have many great memories although it is completely different 55 years later!
The coast and small towns of Louisiana. I hadn’t realized how horrific the damage from the 2020 hurricanes were on sections of the coast, especially around Lake Charles. All the way from Apalachicola FL, through Alabama, Mississippi and LA the damage received from recent storms makes you wonder at the resilience of the people who live there. Incredible.
The size and variety of Texas. We spent a couple of weeks just wandering around a small part of Texas. When you cross into Texas from Lake Charles LA to Beaumont on I 10 there is a sign that says 888 miles to El Paso on the western edge of the state. And that is if you go straight across!
There are six different geographical and terrainregionsin Texas. We went through the beaches, the hill country, and the desert/ badlands. Awesome state!
While in Tucson we decided to upgrade to a newer RV. Of course to us newer means a 2010 vs a 2007. It all happened very quickly over a week from the time we thought about it to finding what we wanted in Mobile AL. We were very fortunate to have it all work out including selling our former home (sad to see her go!) in just three days.
Tucson AZ is dry! We enjoyed hiking here but you really have to be careful of the plants. There are so many plants with thorns and spikes out here boots and jeans are a requirement. Mo learned very quickly to stay on the path or be quickly impaled. Absolutely gorgeous scenery with the mountains all around the desert.
Northern Arizona. Land of the Apache. The 380 miles through the White Mountains north from Tucson to Globe, across to Show Low and down through the Salt River Canyon into New Mexico and following the old cattle and sheep trails to Pie Town, Datil,Magdalena are some of the most amazing scenery in the US. And lonely. Everyone else takes the interstate route south through Las Cruces.
Now we are waiting for a couple of big replacement batteries and an auxiliary propane wall heater before we head north where it can get a bit chilly right into June!
That’s our story and we are sticking to it for now.
There is great pleasure in being debt free, with no bills to speak of (not even mail service, thanks to Shelly’s mom!) with freedom to go in any direction, at any time, with anyone, and stop for the night in any of thousands of parks, camps, wineries, and more – and have our home with us. It is a wonderful feeling!
This feeling is amplified at the end of a 6 month ‘project’ dedicating all of one’s time to a stated goal, and to complete that goal and get underway again.
So, we pull out of Islamorada in the Florida Keys and turn east and north. To all our friends who ask why we would leave paradise in the middle of winter and head north – our answer is paradise is only paradise when you have comparison to something else!
For the next month at least (that is today!) we will meander around Fl, GA, AL, and MS traveling no more than 50 miles every couple of days just exploring.
It was surprising to find how much time it took to ‘settle down’ and not ‘go to work’. It took two weeks!
First we had some visiting to do with old friends (and that term “old friends” is becoming more true every year!) in Palm Beach and Sebastian FL before we headed west across southern Fl towards Lake Kissimmee SP. Here we met a family of deer that kept crossing our paths (literally) as we started up our hiking again. An easy three miles here with an amazing dinner of crab cakes on the fire.
Then, another gem we stumble into. Bok Tower Gardens. An amazingly well crafted tower housing a beautiful 205 ft Carillion bells and 250 landscaped acres. Beautiful!
We really like Florida’s west coast! Much quieter and laid back. Homosassa Springs is a very small town we could almost live in! The manatees love the year round 72 degree springs here that bring 1,000,000 gallons of fresh water a minute to the gulf!
A couple of state parks later got us to Valdosta and Thanksgiving with the boys. We are so blessed!
From Valdosta we headed south and west towards Tallahassee on back roads. We try to stay off the interstate wherever possible and absolutely love seeing the country from 2 lane roads. Some of most memorable finds have been accidently made by wandering around.
Just west of Tallahassee, we found a little campground on a lake that had a snow white squirrel. While we were wondering how a squirrel would get white like that, we started seeing white squirrels everywhere! Apparently they are sort of famous around here! Something new to us!
That evening strange creaking noises in the RV got me out on the dark to find broken shackles on the suspension springs. Oops. Don’t want axles falling off! The next morning we also found we had picked up a nail in a tire and it was completely flat. Why does this stuff happen on the weekends and holidays? No worries as we found parts not too far away and a semi truck emergency tire guy 1 mile down the road who came out and helped me jack it up and make repairs. Then he just wanted a tip since he lived so close!
On to Panama City and St Andrews SP right on the inlet and the beach. Magnificent beaches and because it was a bit chilly we had them all to ourselves!
After a couple of off the path stops (a lavender farm, then a house north of Pensacola where a nicer lady was attempting to build a self-sustaining farm) we were on to a great find just north of Mobile at Blakely SP and battlefield. We did not know about the history. Watch the video for more. We hiked a lot here. One day we did 11.5 miles. Sore feet!
The battleship USS Alabama is the main attraction at the park in Mobile and we were honored to spend a cold, blustery Pearl Harbor day exploring the ship, the submarine USS Drum (I served in the nuclear subs in the Navy!) and lots of planes and other military pieces outside. Well worth the visit. Like everywhere else they are still cleaning up from the massive damage from several hurricanes all the way back to Katrina.
Of course we had to spend a day at Dauphin Island and ride the amazing beaches there before moving on the Pascagoula, Mississippi and Shepard SP. This is another of those awesome places we stumble into. Great trails, remote campsites, and not very many people.
Oysters from the bay on the half shell for lunch made the day!
It’s time to start back east and north for the holidays in NC and GA so we turn around although Texas is pulling at us hard!
We pulled into a small parking lot at the Gulf Coast Gator Farm for the night on a drizzly, overcast day. Behind some wood fencing that looked like it would fall down any minute we found about 50 alligators! There were gators there 14 feet long! They told us in Katrina most of them had escaped including the biggest one of all. Some came back as they like to be fed and cared for! We were the only ones on the airboat ride- which is really like a carnival ride as they run around doing doughnuts and sliding turns in 1-6 inches of swamp! It was fun.
In the morning fog, we pulled out on the highway and headed east, looking forward to Christmas and family