The Rockie Route

A couple of coffees, a six pack or a bottle of red! This is a long one! I’m blaming it on a lack of sufficient internet…

Moab! Favoured destination of the rock crawling 4×4 community along with every other type of powered ATV you can imagine! But this town doesn’t rely on the off road fraternity alone, it’s also the gateway to any and all adventure sports – kayaking and rafting, rock climbing and hiking – it’s all there.

RV parks on acres of land announce you’re arrival in this centre of outdoor adventure! Loaded with fifth wheel campers neatly parked in rows like a freshly planted crop, their associated trailer loads of toys and shiny heavily modified rock crawling jeeps released from their tow vehicles and ready for action, it really is a sight to see!

This interesting town is rooted amongst red sandstone of all shapes and sizes and has its own appeal but adding to the impressive location is Canyonlands and Arches National Parks located just outside the township.

A little research at the National Park office produced the news that the White Rim Trail was washed out part way along its 160km loop! Regarded as one of the best 4×4 loops in Canyonlands National Park, it requires a few days to transit, a permit and campsite bookings. We were all geared up and ready to get underway but the heavy rains and rising creeks had taken their toll on the track. Whilst disappointed at the time, with the benefit of hindsight and after having wandered all over southern Utah, I’d have to say that you really can’t go wrong. All of the 4×4 trails provide superb scenery and camping! Now I have the very valid reason that I may need to justify a second visit to this off-road paradise.

The scenery around Moab and Potash Road

The scenery around Moab and Potash Road

The Potash Rd, just out of Moab along the Colorado River was another of Utah’s famed 4×4 trails and whilst only mildly corrugated with the odd rocky section, this gravel road traverses scenery that is just superb.

Potash Road

Potash Road

Colorado River Scenery - Moab

Colorado River Scenery – Moab

More Petroglyphs - Potash Road

More Petroglyphs – Potash Road

"Thelma and Louise" Point from the Movie

“Thelma and Louise” Point from the Movie

Arriving at the terminus of this trail sees you enter Canyonlands National Park just below a section of steep road known as the Shaffer Switchbacks. Driving this road you quickly ascend above the canyon via a series of exhilarating steep narrow switchbacks where, once on top, you join the main scenic drive through the National Park.

Shaffer Switchbacks

Shaffer Switchbacks

Canyonlands NP

Canyonlands NP

Camp...

Camp… 

Satisfied with our visit, the following day we headed over to Arches National Park and I’ll admit, I almost turned around at the entrance! The queue was about a km long and after days and days of relaxed solo travel, it’s always a smack in the face when you find yourself amongst high-density tourism. Of course, often the reward is worth the wait and that was definitely the case in this instance.

Arches NP

Arches NP

The iconic "Delicate Arch"

The iconic “Delicate Arch”

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After a spell of sweaty hot weather, we headed back up into the mountains east of Moab for a cool nights camp enroute to the town of Grand Junction in northwest Colorado. Jen had found a nice dirt alternative to the F1 track that seems to hold attraction for most travellers. Not only a great relaxing campsite, but we were also rewarded the following morning with our first view of a wild Black Bear! The photo is not the best given we were chatting away in the Patrol as we rounded a corner and saw this wonderful creature. It’s rather staggering we got a pic at all as we were in shock really!

Our First Bear Sighting!!

Our First Bear Sighting!!

Into the town of Grand Junction and we headed for the UPS office to collect our replacement Clear View Mirror parts – Mike and Jay from Clear View Mirrors, that we’d met at Overland Expo, had stunned us with an offer of sending out all the parts required to repair our mirrors! We’d managed to damage one way back in Mongolia and the second in the narrow lanes of Cornwall!! Given the whack it received in Mongolia, I’m still amazed it hadn’t taken the door off the car let alone survive the impact and it remained completely serviceable! It was such a generous offer and we were quite humbled by it.

As with Moab, Grand Junction’s geographic location leads to a rather severe northward traverse of the thermometer during the summer months and our visit to both locations landed right within a slightly unseasonal heat wave! Fortunately, as with Moab, just outside of this township, the terrain rises dramatically and campsites amongst the dwindling remnants of snow are available within an hour or so of travel. We spent a few relaxing nights catching up on chores and soaking in the clear air.

Repairing the Clearview mirrors

Repairing the Clearview mirrors

Mountains, canyons, gorges, rivers and picturesque towns provided the entertainment for our run south on what is known as the “Million Dollar Hwy” due to its stupendous views!

Scenic Colorado

Scenic Colorado

Ouray

Ouray

Abandoned "Yankee Girl" Silver Mine

Abandoned “Yankee Girl” Silver Mine

Silverton

Silverton

Silverton has the old “Wild West” feel in spades and is great for a wander with plenty of old-world shops and establishments to keep you entertained. It’s also the start point for the Alpine Pass 4×4 trail! Old abandoned mines litter the terrain around this historic town and allowed for a never-ending stream of interesting stopping opportunities.

We’d decided to head west up and over Engineer’s Pass to Lake City on the Alpine trail and it proved to be a really interesting drive. Not only for it’s history as an original horse drawn stagecoach route (with a daily service over the mountains all of those years ago), but the fact that it had about half a dozen very nasty sections along its length!

Animas Forks Ghost Town

Animas Forks Ghost Town

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Engineers Pass - 12800ft

Engineers Pass – 12800ft

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Reaching 3950m, it’s only 700m shy of our high altitude run through Tajikistan on the Pamir Hwy! On that occasion we spent a considerable amount of days at altitude rather than up one side and down the other but it was strangely nice being up amongst the ethereal heights again!

Cresting the pass, we began our wander down toward Lake City, an interesting little township with timber sidewalks and quaint period style shops. An effort has really been made to retain the look of a mining hub in the 1800’s and achieve that result they have!

Lake City

Lake City

Lake City

Lake City

Western Colorado is laced with mountain ridges and high peaks. Roads dart along the lower terrain and often along the banks of boulder-strewn rivers that gurgle with opaque cold-water streams that power their way down from the mountains. Every now and then, the highways rise up and over the high ridges with many passes above 10000ft! Balmy and warm one minute and amongst snowy crests the next, even during summer.

McDonaugh Reservoir Camp

McDonaugh Reservoir Camp

Colorado is known for its ghost towns – relics from a bygone mining era. Whilst many lay abandoned and neglected, we chose to visit St Elmo – repaired over the years to preserve its history, the town is very much original in its appearance and effortlessly takes you back a century the moment you enter its main street.

St Elmo

St Elmo

St Elmo

St Elmo

Hummingbird

Hummingbird

Unfortunately torrential rain and thunderstorms joined us for the duration of our visit. With the weekend approaching we were on the campsite hunt once more! The locals would be eager to slip their collars and head into the bush for some R&R over the weekend, hence we endeavored to find ourselves a campsite that would do for a few days! Generally after the weekends have slipped into history, finding campsites becomes considerably easier, especially in these more accessible areas

Salida, Colorado

Salida, Colorado

Woodpecker

Woodpecker

Drifting northerly, we wound our way down the Boulder River Canyon into the town of Boulder. Lying on the fringe of the Rockies, the area beyond descends into spirit level flat terrain as far as the eye can see.

Boulder River Canyon

Boulder River Canyon

I’d have to say, Boulder was quite a refreshing visit! The pleasant Pearl St pedestrian mall cuts its way down the centre of town with lovely shady areas to relax and while away the day! “Foolish Craig’s Café” for lunch capped off a great visit!

Boulder, Colorado

Boulder, Colorado

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With the 4th of July looming, we had to work pretty hard in order to locate a campsite that would do for a few days! It would seem the only way the locals can secure a site is to head out a day or 2 before the expected throng of campers and set up their chosen area to claim it and then return home until the weekend. Technically you are not allowed to leave your campsite unattended for the first 24 hours but I guess, with the pressure for a good spot rather pressing, everyone seems happy to flaunt that law! Anyway we succeeded in attaining one of the last reasonable sites amongst the flag waving locals.

The 4th of July weekend was slightly reminiscent of a Sunday at the gun club. The only thing separating the spirited celebrations from those you often see on television in the Middle East was that the rounds were going into targets and trees rather than vertically released which has to be marginally safer!? All in all it was great to see such Nationalism and on our departure a few days later, we were greeted with the Red White and Blue laced through fences and displayed proudly upon houses in every form imaginable. I really enjoyed the display.

Patriotic Red Lodge, Montana

Patriotic

Across Wyoming and into Nebraska, the latter gave us our first real taste of the Great Plains east of the Rockies. Picture perfect rolling grassy hills stretching to infinity; you could just imagine the Bison careering across the terrain all those years ago. Generally fenced for cattle and farming these days. it’s still a spectacle.

Nebraska

Nebraska

I’m constantly amazed at the amount of fossil sites that have been discovered all throughout the mid west, spewing forward our history back to the days of the dinosaurs and beyond. Seeing these sites and observing actual bones seems as alien as anything Hollywood could invent.

Dinosaur Footprints near camp

Dinosaur Footprints near camp – Utah

Fossilised Redwoods preserved by volcanic ash - Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument Colorado

Fossilised Redwoods preserved by volcanic ash – Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument Colorado

The Daemonelix or Devils Spiral. Actually the fossilised remains of a gopher like animal's underground housing - Agate Fossil Beds - Nebraska

The Daemonelix or Devils Spiral. Actually the fossilised remains of a gopher like animal’s underground housing – Agate Fossil Beds – Nebraska

Mammoth Site in Hotsprings, SD. An intact bone bed of Columbian Mammoths - 120+ so far identified

Mammoth Site in Hotsprings, South Dakota. An intact bone bed of Columbian Mammoths – 120+ so far identified

Mammoth Molars

Mammoth Molars

The Black Hills of South Dakota, also home to Mt Rushmore, really are quite stunning! The township of Keystone is the gateway town for your visit to the famous mountain sculptures. Nearby Mt Rushmore, an enormous depiction of Crazy Horse is slowly emerging from the Mountains. Privately funded and with some time, it will no doubt be an overdue and endearing statement!

Mt Rushmore

Mt Rushmore

Crazy Horse Monument still under construction

Crazy Horse Monument still under construction

Wherever basalt columns are exposed from below the earth, some form of spectacle is normal and Devils Tower is right up their as an example of these amazing formations! So out of place amongst its surrounds and for it’s movie notoriety, it really requires a visit. Who hasn’t seen “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” after all, although if you’re a little younger “Paul” may do it for you!

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Apparently it was also beckoning everyone else within a large circumference as the queue to enter was well over a km long and not moving at all.

The Queue for Devils Tower

The Queue for Devils Tower

When finally we arrived at the head of the line we were staggered to see only one little old lady handling incoming visitors. In an amazingly slow droll, she performed the rehearsed and repetitive tourist spiel, took payments or checked park passes with seemingly oblivious disregard to the line of cars waiting to enter. Meanwhile, other park staff stood chatting in groups rather than display any form of initiative. Staggeringly inept organization in my opinion but hey what can you do! Hahaha

Devil's Tower of "Close Encounters" Fame

Devil’s Tower of “Close Encounters” Fame

With a flush of gentle grey springing forth, Jen awoke on her 45th Birthday and we celebrated with a brownie and slice of cherry pie in the little town of Hulett and well that was that. Wonder where we will be next year! Yep it was very romantic…

Jens Birthday

Jens Birthday

Western South Dakota and Montana really were out of the bag for us. I didn’t have much of an idea what to expect but often it can be the best way to experience any new destination! Plenty of opportunities to explore back roads, slow down and peruse the surrounds.

The Little Big Horn National Monument preserves the battle site probably better known as “Custer’s Last Stand”. A treaty with Indian tribes back in the 1800’s saw the Black Hills of South Dakota (home to Mt Rushmore), set aside as part of a large area to be recognized as tribal lands. However, after rumours spread of gold in the mountains, the US government wanted to open the land up for settlement and reneged on the treaty.

Custer was one of those empowered with the task of removing the Indian folk (even though he’d previously vowed never to go to battle against the Cheyenne again and smoked a peace pipe to cement his word). There is a lot more to the story but that’s certainly part of the reason that Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and other Indian chiefs along with their people, the Lakota, Cheyenne and others came into conflict with the US cavalry.

Completely preserved, you can observe the land as it was on the day of the battle. a rare thing to be able to stand on hallowed ground and actually picture the gruesome events taking place all around you.

Custers Last Stand...

Custers Last Stand…

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Custer broke his promise...

Custer broke his promise…

Battle of Little Bighorn

Battle of Little Bighorn

Up and over the famed Bear Tooth Hwy into Yellowstone was the plan but unfortunately, we camped on our way up to the high pass and by the time we ascended 2 days later, we were met with sleet and snow and a big barrier right near the summit informing us the road was now closed! (Turned out it had only been closed about 2 hours earlier, but would not be opening again that day) 

Beartooth Highway Closed

Beartooth Highway Closed

A detour via Chief Joseph Hwy was now to be our path into the park, and a lovely drive it was!

Into Yellowstone and the Lamar valley is a favored section of road renowned for animal sightings! We did see a few mountain goats and a black bear, but all were well beyond comfortable viewing distance! Bison were common.

Bison

Bison

A Big Fella

A Big Fella

Yellowstone is a really large park. It’s about 200km to drive around the ring road within the park center and it would seem an unending stream of tourist vehicles felt the drive was more like the Nuremburg Ring in Germany than a wildlife spotting scenic drive! I’m sure many visitors drive from scenic point to scenic point expecting to see all the park has to offer in those individual locations – truly ridiculous!

Time and time again we were passed, although we were generally at the speed limit (or speed target maybe). Usually, if you see cars stopped near the road an animal has been spotted, so slowing down for a look is the general idea!

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Jen managed a marvellous bit of spotting on our second day – a large Black Bear about 30m off the road! Hazard lights on we pulled to a halt much to the confusion and ire of the cars behind, as was obvious by their overtaking maneuvers and rapid re-acceleration! So for a few minutes we had this remarkable creature to ourselves before a slowing passer by realised that we were in a National Park and that we had spotted a bear!! We ended up with about a 5km (no exaggeration) queue of cars slowing, stopping and jostling for camera positions! 2 Bears at the one location in the end… Awesome!

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Black Bear but brown in colour

Black Bear but brown in colour

At a guess, there is about 1000 campsites within Yellowstone and all were full every day we were there! Each afternoon we’d depart the park and camp somewhere, maybe 20km, outside before returning the following day! With all of those people you are not going to have it to yourself. It was truly diabolical and although I enjoyed our visit immensely, by day 3, I was chewing the steering wheel and couldn’t wait to leave it behind!

Old Faithful - Yellowstone NP

Old Faithful – Yellowstone NP

Only a few tourists waiting for Old Faithful...

Only a few tourists waiting for Old Faithful…

Mammoth Hot Springs - Yellowstone NP

Mammoth Hot Springs – Yellowstone NP

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Grand Prismatic Spring - Yellowstone NP

Grand Prismatic Spring – Yellowstone NP

One of our excursions from the park, in the hunt for a campsite, produced a great little spot with a few others along the shores of a lake with a consistent stream of fisherman coming and going.

Local Fisherman Bill and his dog Walter

Local Fisherman Bill and his dog Walter

This is where we camped!

This is where we camped!

It was here that Jen got talking to a Forestry Service Officer; he explained that he was checking fishing licenses as people were returning from their outings! A licence costs about $20 a day (or there is a cheaper annual licence.)

If you don’t have one however, the fine is US$230! Two punters learnt that lesson upon the conclusion of their fishing outing – ouch! They were laughing on the outside but I guess they were crying on the inside.

Get a licence!!!

Get a licence!!!

Onward through Montana and the lovely town of Bozeman! Big Bang fans might remember that episode…

Just north of Bozeman we camped on the Missouri river for a couple of nights!

With glorious blue skies and warm sun, the locals were out to play and lobbed anything that floated into the fast flowing river a few miles upstream from our location. Loaded up with refreshments and snacks, they’d spend the next few hours floating down to our site before falling overboard and staggering ashore to be picked up by waiting friends! It was an hilarious and inviting spectacle!

Our Missouri River Camp

Our Missouri River Camp

Locals enjoying the great outdoors

Locals enjoying the great outdoors

The second morning was the most interesting however. Nothing like the sound of a semi-automatic 22 caliber rifle being unloaded across the river (and just over his swimming dogs head) 20 metres away whilst Bon Jovi pounds out of the car stereo at 9am, oh and not forgetting a few Budweiser’s just to help the guy relax!, hey it was Sunday!

Later visitors were discussing time spent in jail! One wearing a correctional facility ankle bracelet whilst his counterpart had his very nice camouflaged hand gun in it’s holster… just in case a trout leapt from the river and attacked I guess! Really it’s just bloody hilarious; I can’t get enough of it…

Tags on legs

Tags on legs

Guns on hips

Guns on hips

Great scenery abounded throughout Montana as we continued the route north!

Awesome view from the kitchen window - Swan River Campsite

Awesome view from the kitchen window – Swan River Campsite

Mouse nesting under the bonnet

Mouse nesting under the bonnet

God Botherer's Unite here

God Botherer’s Unite here

Glacier National Park was our last destination of note before crossing into Canada and a scenic drive known as “The Going to the Sun Road” was absolutely stunning.

Panorama of "Going to The Sun Road"

Panorama of “Going to The Sun Road” Glacier NP

Wild Goose Island

Wild Goose Island

Justin liked the scenery....

Justin liked the scenery….

Selfie at Glacier NP

Selfie at Glacier NP

St Mary's Lake Campsite View

St Mary’s Lake Campsite View

The Maple Leaf flag greeted us as we arrived at the Canadian Border! Speed signs in Km/h and litres again – Oh Joy!!! Canada here we come…

Canada!!

Canada!!

Justin.

Things are Hotting Up!

I generally avoid answering questions regarding when we will be returning to Australia, as we have no desire to pinpoint an end date and then feel obligated to keep it. Hence a visit from my parents has diverted any feelings of guilt I may have felt regarding time between catch-ups and the possibility of missing my Mum’s 70th Birthday! So thanks to their initiative we’ve dodged a bullet!!

They would cruise the Pacific for a few weeks before arriving in Seattle, have a wander around San Francisco and then head for a reunion with us in Flagstaff!

Sounds like a good idea!

I know I will sound spoilt, but we were quite envious of the few weeks my folks spent cruising! Yes, we spend time as ferals in the scrub, but we can also use cutlery in the correct order and have no problem undertaking the arduous task of eating, drinking and relaxing aboard a 5 star moving Hotel!!

Reunion hugs dealt with, we proceeded to smash our way through a mountain of smoked ribs and other samples of local cuisine at the “Bigfoot BBQ” in Flagstaff before the 4 of us headed out toward the Grand Canyon.

Welcome Bear!

Welcome Bear!

We had a lovely log cabin booked about 80km from the South Rim sporting great views across the Arizona plains and it proved to be an idyllic location to catch up and relax!

South Rim - Grand Canyon

South Rim – Grand Canyon

The next few days passed easily with another visit to the Grand Canyon South Rim, (which never gets old), along with a journey to the picturesque towns of Sedona and Jerome where we again practiced stomach extension exercises devouring lunch at the Haunted Hamburger!

Sedona.

Sedona.

Lunch in Jerome!

Lunch in Jerome!

Williams.

Williams.

Valle - Arizona!

Valle – Arizona!

 

Our time under one roof ended with a road trip to Seligman on the old “Route 66” and then into Las Vegas via the Hoover Dam.

Seligman - Route 66!

Seligman – Route 66!

An original Route 66 House

An original Route 66 House

The tourist trap

The tourist trap

Dead Chicken sounds appetising!

Dead Chicken sounds appetising!

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More Sustaining than Meat!!!

More Sustaining than Meat!!!

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

Downstream

Downstream

Linq Hotel in Las Vegas had a perfect location and provided my folks with the next few nights’ relaxation whilst Jen and I settled into the Circus Circus RV Park within walking distance of all things bright and shiny on the strip!

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I guess you could call Las Vegas a bit of a zoo but we absolutely loved it. From the tacky kitchiness of the souvenir shops to the upmarket hotel end of town it was a truly liberal party zone with entertainment to suit all expectations from the seediest imaginable right through to Broadway shows and 5 star cuisine!

People watching takes on an almost professional level of intensity, and at times the lack of clothing can be rather nice – at other times, however, it’s a little startling! Hard to believer that it’s possible to expose skin in such large cubic meterage but when you are 150kg, I guess the wrapper has to go with it! Goggling tourists and stress relief seeking locals had the overall effect of a pretty friendly vibe, maybe the giant Pina Colada was helping!

Ahhh I needed that!

Ahhh I needed that!

Wrap it up!

Wrap it up!

The Bellagio Fountain gracefully enhanced the strip during its regular choreographed performances and The Venetian Hotel was another standout with amazing spaces created to replicate Venice! Some may think it’s a tasteless reflection of the real thing, but I beg to differ. It has the clear advantage that if you fall into the canals in Las Vegas, you won’t die of an incurable disease!

Bellagio Fountain

Bellagio Fountain

The Venetian

The Venetian

Gondola's of Venice?

Gondola’s of Venice?

The attention to detail is amazing but they forgot the disease ridden water

The attention to detail is amazing but they forgot the disease ridden water

Amazing ceiling art! The Venetian

Amazing ceiling art! The Venetian

Gondoliers - you would think this was outdoors!!!

Gondoliers – you would think this was outdoors!!!

Alcohol is a wonderful sightseeing tool

Alcohol is a wonderful sightseeing tool

Paris?

Paris?

New York?

New York?

Venice?

Venice?

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas Scum pretending to be homeless!!!

Las Vegas Scum pretending to be homeless!!!

Hugs and sad faces were inevitable as our time together drew to an end! My folks continued their own adventure via Los Angeles and then made the long flight back to Australia. We had spent a great week together and despite the internet technology that keeps us so easily in touch, a personal rendezvous can’t be undervalued.

The Gang!

The Gang!

Death by Cheese!!!

Death by Cheese!!!

Farewell!

Farewell!

The mercury had been rising constantly whilst we’d been in Vegas and was pushing 40 degrees C when we departed. Adding to the oppressive heat, it had also been Memorial Day Weekend, which was reported to have brought in somewhere in the order of 330,000 extra hot and sweaty visitors to the desert metropolis! It was certainly packed and yet I thought the overall feel had been enhanced by the inundation of weekend revelers.

Departing Vegas and an hour or so later we were camped upon the shore of Lake Mead and by ourselves once more.

Camped on Lake Mead

Camped on Lake Mead

Ahhh The Serenity!!!

Ahhh The Serenity!!!

Basking in the glow of Las Vegas

Basking in the glow of Las Vegas

Zion National Park is a stunning gorge with sheer rock faces enclosing a lush, almost tropical, valley. Climbers dangle here and there from cams jammed into cracks as they defy gravity! You have to submit yourself to mass commercial tourism at this heavily visited wonder; an official bus the only way to access the numerous locations within the park assuming you can even find a parking space on the bus route!

A great campsite enroute to Zion NP

A great campsite enroute to Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Can you spot the climbers?

Can you spot the climbers?

It was all a little too much for me. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit but after a few hours of what was really comparable to wandering around a large supermarket on Christmas Eve trying to get those last minute items, we bailed out! I’d lost the ability to concentrate on the marvellous scenery, not able to see anything past the sea of “North Face” clothing being worn by the unquantifiable number of adventure seeking visitors.

I think I’ve had it on my own terms for far too long now. The smothering effect of the masses is something I need to prepare myself for. Visiting Vegas and other such destinations, you just expect it and I guess, as such, don’t really notice it. Then again, in those destinations it’s the people, in a way, that make the experience, where as a National Park for me is an interlude with nature and solitude rather than a trip to Walmart!

A Day out at Zion National Park

A Day out at Zion National Park

The drive east from Zion NP was spectacular. A vista of ancient creamy coloured sand dunes turned to stone with the obvious windswept patterns that we see so often in shifting sands, now laid bear after centuries of nature’s chiseling efforts.

Ancient Sand Dunes

Ancient Sand Dunes

Sand Lines

Sand Lines

Onward to the south through the rather attractive little town of Kanab and a stop at the visitor info centre bore fruit! On their advice we backtracked a few miles up the highway before we deflated the tyres and drove a long sandy stretch of arid landscape and descended into a dry riverbed. A little while later and we were camped right at the entrance to Peek-a-boo slot canyon! We had our own private slot canyon for the afternoon and relished in the cool environment that lay within.

Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon

Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon

Camped outside Peek-a boo

Camped outside Peek-a boo

Cooling off in our own private slot canyon.

Cooling off in our own private slot canyon.

National Forest camping is as easily located near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon as it is on the South Rim but with sites even presenting on the rim itself! At around 800ft higher than the South Rim, it does have a different feel! Having had the privilege of spending time at each geographic location, I’d have to say they both have their own attraction and if you’ve the chance and time, then I’d suggest you indulge in a visit to both!

The edge of the Grand Canyon North Rim

The edge of the Grand Canyon North Rim

Deep Contemplation or waiting for a beer?

Deep Contemplation or waiting for a beer?

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Art!

Art!

Picking our way into the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, (GSENM) we were looking for Buckskin Gulch, a photo of which we’d seen on the cover of a Utah tourism publication! After a long dusty drive, we found the Wire Pass car park with a full quota of cars resting in the blazing sun whilst their occupants were out and about exploring various trails in the area!

Spellbinding is the only description I have for this treasure. I’ll admit it was quite difficult getting motivated to hike the exposed mile and a half to the start of the canyon after soaking in the Patrol’s icy air con whilst outside temperatures stayed in the high 30’s despite the late afternoon hour! We stood outside with solar radiation microwaving us as we loaded up the backpack and staggered off along the dry red sandy track in a style akin to Lawrence of Arabia!

Interesting Formations

Interesting Formations

Baby Rattlesnake

Baby Rattlesnake

Coiled ready to strike!

Coiled ready to strike!

After a couple of kms, the track narrowed and the sandstone rose skyward. Just like that, you’re in a slot canyon! Cool and shaded, it was like diving into a clear blue sea on a hot summers day! Ahead of us lay around 25km of the most stunning slot canyon in the US! It’s able to be hiked end to end if you’re prepared and have a ride organised at the other end, but for us a few km was enough to be subdued by it’s beauty.

Perspective

Perspective

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Buckskin Gulch

Buckskin Gulch

Narrow and high, strewn with rounded formations along its sandy base, it twists and winds its way along the desert floor! From above it must appear as a maze, a groove threaded through the inhospitable red desert landscape whilst down below it’s truly magnificent.

A few hours later, the Patrol was a welcome site after the shimmering return stumble along the baked sandy track. In need of a campsite, we’d not seen much in the way of shaded offerings in the area, but fortunately a chat with a great BLM officer pointed us in the direction of Pareah Townsite a little further north!

BLM Officer Kara

BLM Officer Kara

With a little maneuvering, we were able to camp within the limbs of a huge foliage laden cottonwood tree, even indulging ourselves with a swim in the clear running creek just behind the camper! We were grateful for the fortuitous meeting with Kara as a sun soaked campsite with glaring heat by 5 in the morning was not something we had been looking forward too! In complete shade with a cool breeze we’d arsed the perfect site!

Layers

Great Layers

Treehouse

Treehouse

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A not so ancient petroglyph!!

A not so ancient petroglyph!!

Great Scenery

Great Scenery

Grosvenor Arch

Grosvenor Arch

Kodachrome State Park

Kodachrome State Park

Dusty washboard roads and capstone before again popping out on the black top – Bryce Canyon luring us in for a visit!

The professional pictures seen constantly in tourist brochures really do show many natural wonders in a manner that seems quite alien to their actual appearance – Bryce a victim of this style of art! Much like an airbrushed anorexic pale-faced super model that in person looks more like a starving homeless person than a sexy example of what we all apparently strive for!

Absolutely stunning and with amazingly eroded sandstone spires, particularly due to the light altering effects of sunset, but for me there was only really one overlook that made Bryce a must see.

Bryce Canyon NP

Bryce Canyon NP

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Stunning!

Stunning!

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A good picture of us thanks to a passing photographer

A good picture of us thanks to a passing photographer

Every location/state/country has it’s list of scenic attractions but when you put them all together in global terms, attractions that could be perceived magnificent in isolation may pale against greater world comparison. With the unfortunate problem of that perspective, it’s pretty easy to cherry pick the magnificent from the amazing and the “really? -that’s it?” When travelling for a shorter duration or to single destinations, I don’t really think the comparison angle comes into it!

We chose to drive the Burr Trail – around 100km of more ridiculously lovely natural landscape. I’ll have to lay off the descriptions as I’m running out of ways to describe such beauty without constant repetition!

Waterfold Pocket South - Capitol Reef NP

Waterfold Pocket South – Capitol Reef NP

Waterfold Pocket North

Waterfold Pocket North

Our Office

Our Office

Another lakeside camp, although on this occasion, found with a lot of U-turns and dead ends! It felt as though every gap along the shoreline of Lake Powell that was available to camp in was filled with some form of camping equipment!

Lake Powell Camping

Lake Powell Camping

Watersport Playground

Watersport Playground

Lake Powell is a large watery playground fed by the Colorado and San Juan Rivers in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and extends from the previously visited Page in the south, northeast for 185 miles. Houseboats tethered to moorings in their hundreds, jet ski’s and ski boats providing noise pollution like a swarm of hornets and kayaks in every nook and cranny! If the Bass Pro Shop sells it then it’s to be found here!!! With miles of navigable canyon formed by the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, there is without doubt a truly relaxing waterborne journey to be had wandering downstream and exploring the water filled canyons. Might put that on the bucket list!

Swimming in the lake was akin to sensual pleasure as that evening, the mercury strayed no lower than 26°C! Our little “swampy” aircon in the camper, whilst a welcome relief against the stifling oppression, was providing a breeze akin to laying in front of an exhaust fan in a fish and chip shop!

Car ferry across the Lake and the journey led us onward to Natural Bridges National Monument.

Natural Bridges National Monument.

Natural Bridges National Monument.

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We ascended the “Bears Ears” peak to find ourselves aloft the hot desert landscape in a cool forest respite perfect for camping. We explored a 4WD trail to Beef Basin for a bit more Ancestral Puebloan Indian history! A fairly rough track with constant rock steps requiring some concentration, I was rather keen on keeping the oil in my diffs rather then returning it to the earth via the actions of a rock encounter, so it was a slow journey and I wasn’t overly sad to complete it.

Cool Forest Camp!

Cool Forest Camp!

Beef basin Ancient Indian ruins.

Beef basin Ancient Indian ruins.

A slow travel day.

A slow travel day.

The heavens opened the following day with torrential rain and thunderstorms – care would be required whilst off the beaten path now as without doubt there would be inundation of tracks traversing low canyons and creeks!

A cool change afoot!

A cool change afoot!

Creeks filling quickly after the heavy rains!

Creeks filling quickly after the heavy rains!

Receiving our first taste of Canyonlands NP with a visit to the Needles District, it already seemed as if the descriptions of the inspiring terrain ahead were understated.

The storms vanished as quickly as they had arrived and the dust reappeared unfortunately.

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Canyonlands NP – Needles District

Needles overlook.

Needles overlook.

Newspaper Rock Petroglyph site.

Newspaper Rock Petroglyph site.

Picture Frame arch!

Picture Frame arch!

Needles overlook pics cave houses pics and hole in rock bridge cave thing pic.

Approaching Moab, we again looked for high, forested ground for the night. The cooling effects of camping at altitude are addictive and fortunately the Manti La-Sal National Forest in this part of Utah provided the opportunity to retreat thousands of feet above the hot desert floor to camp providing a much cooler nights sleep.

The following day we continued up the scenic forestry track to around 11000ft with the cold demonstrated by a good covering of snow. Unfortunately the trail surrendered itself to a rather large snowdrift as we approached the pass that would see us descend into Moab on the other side. Judging by the lack of wheel tracks in the snow beyond our location, I felt we’d reached the limit of our travel on this trail and a U turn was required.

U-turn time!

U-turn time!

Walking the snowy section, I was quite relieved that I’d called it when I had. There was no way past the snowy blockage without shoveling for hours or foolishly trying to drive over the snowy obstacle no doubt resulting in an exciting slide down the near vertical pine tree laden scree that awaited.

I’m sure the intrepid driver before us found himself vacuumed onto his seat given the near death location of his tyre tracks. He’d obviously come to the same realization as I only 50 meters farther along the track before precariously reversing out!

Straight down under those shrubs!

Straight down under those shrubs!

We later discovered, via the Forestry Service Office in Moab, that all of the high trails in the area were completely impassable having received a completely unseasonal and late dose of snow!

Hmmm – that would have saved us some time! Funny how you always find out after the event…

Cya – Justin.

 

The Overland Affliction!

We ventured along Comb Ridge, an area of around 100km in length that exhibits the obvious results of an ancient upheaval of the Earth’s crust. As with much of southern Utah, the forces that have been acting on our tiny planet over millennia are stark and so very obvious!

Aerial Photo of Comb Ridge courtesy of a San Juan Chamber of Commerce Publication

Aerial Photo of Comb Ridge courtesy of a San Juan Chamber of Commerce Publication

A constant display of Ancestral Puebloan dwellings are to be found lining almost every canyon wall with an undercut along this stunning geological formation. A couple of days easily vanished as we wandered valleys, explored caves and relaxed below brilliant night skies.

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Hidden in every alcove

Hidden in every alcove

More Ruins

More Ruins

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The grooves in the rock are where the original inhabitants used to grind corn into flour

The grooves in the rock are where the original inhabitants used to grind corn into flour

View from inside the ancient cave

View from inside the ancient cave

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Ancestral Puebloan Ruins

Ancestral Puebloan Ruins

A great little lizard enroute

A great little lizard enroute

The grey rippled piece is 800 yr old pottery

The grey rippled piece is 800 yr old pottery

“Monument Valley” had been visible in the distance when at elevation for some time now and we really had the feeling that we were entering an area of special beauty as we pushed west. “Valley of the Gods” sits around 45 minutes drive north-east of “Monument Valley” and we had high hopes that stunning scenery awaited our senses as we turned of the highway! I’ll let you be the judge based on the pictures below…

Monument Valley in the distance

Monument Valley in the distance

Driving in to Valley of the Gods

Driving in to Valley of the Gods

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Camped at Valley of the Gods

Camped at Valley of the Gods

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Awesome Formations

Awesome Formations

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We immersed ourselves in stunning topography that really requires a personal visit in order to fully appreciate it! The ability to wild camp amongst and wander below these magnificent monuments to Mother Nature make this valley an absolute must see!!

At the western end of the “Valley of the Gods” drive, “Moki Dugway” is a stunning switchback road that elevates you from the valley floor containing the aforementioned monoliths up into cooler air and yet another sensory overload. You gaze out over an ancient sea floor with the knowledge that millennia of exposure to the forces of nature has created such a marvel and it’s still quite hard if not impossible to comprehend it.

Moki Dugway

Moki Dugway

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Back on the canyon floor and “Gooseneck State Park “awaits which contains a riverbend formation that follows the San Juan River for 6 miles or so whilst only moving 1 mile as the crow flies. Such is the meandering power of this river as it sculpts its path onward and downward throughout time and sandstone.

Gooseneck State Park

Gooseneck State Park

Aptly named Mexican Hat

Aptly named Mexican Hat

We moved into Arizona with “Monument Valley” absolutely dominating the view!

Approaching Monument Valley

Approaching Monument Valley

Thousands have visited this famous location and judging by the never-ending stream of tour buses, RV’s and selfie sticks, it would seem the allure of red sandstone spires is as strong as ever!

The queue for Monument Valley

The queue for Monument Valley

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I must admit that we found “Valley of the Gods” to be more to our liking. With its own notoriety and stream of keen visitors, it still affords you a personal visit whilst receiving the protection and management from the authorities that it deserves.

Monument Valley, however, is a little more touristic as it is located in Navajo Nation land and every effort is being made by them to capitalize on the natural wonder in their midst – an up close visit was not for us, especially as it’s majesty is visible from miles around.

Such observations are not meant to detract from the experience; I’m just really cynical!

There will always be a good argument and imperative requirement for intensive management at such heavily visited sites. It’s just the murmurings of my mind as I observe locations the world over that easily lend themselves to being locked off from public access to become an attractive and juicy business model!

The town of Page appeared and a Laundromat was first on the list followed very closely by the thirsty desire to restock the alcohol supplies. The Navajo Nation is a dry community and rather hot!!!

The smell of soap powder, wet underwear and grey balls of lint is an atmosphere that only a communal clothes-washing establishment can provide and is always a pleasure! Adding to the experience, I was asked to provide a little liquidity to a local whilst waiting for the dryer cycle, he was out of cash and also quite thirsty but alas I’d used all of my quarters on the wash cycle!

Page is an unusual but pleasant town. It was built in the 60’s for the purpose of supporting the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River which is a carbon copy in many ways of the Hoover Dam. Located in such an arid and inhospitable location, the dramatic changes to the landscape due to the damming of the river are quite astounding. Viewpoints provide striking colour combinations of pinks, reds and creams in every direction with the desolate rocky landscape protruding from the absolutely azure blue of the dammed water upstream of the concrete blockage. This area is now a boating playground known as Lake Powell. A truly man made oasis in the desert easily describes Page!

Lake Powell

Lake Powell

Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam

Colorado River as it winds its way toward the Grand Canyon

Colorado River as it winds its way toward the Grand Canyon

Our First Slot Canyon

Our First Slot Canyon

Very photogenic!

Very photogenic!

That crumpled bit of stuff at the bottom is actually a car!!!

That crumpled bit of stuff at the bottom is actually a car!!!

Who doesn’t love dinosaur footprints! The opportunity to tangibly see and in some cases touch imprints left by creatures of such ancient history has to be a draw for anyone fascinated with such creatures! Well, west of Tuba City on the run south from Page, there is an area a few acres or so in size that is littered with not only the clawed prints of huge creatures but also the remains of – would you believe – Dinosaur eggs! You can’t help but imagine how the Earth must have appeared all of those centuries ago!

Dinosaur Footprints

Dinosaur Footprints

Dinosaur Eggs!!

Dinosaur Eggs!!

Following the Colorado River, we turned west into the Kaibab National Forest and camped just shy of the Grand Canyon South Rim National Park entrance in another free dispersed/wild camping area! Have to give credit to these national agencies (Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest Service) for allowing such free and easy access to camping in the wilderness where solitude enhances the interaction with nature.

Kaibab National Forest Camp

Kaibab National Forest Camp

Moving slowly along the South Rim, we caught our first views of the magnificent Grand Canyon! No need for words other than to say that it is bloody huge!

First View

First View

West of the South Rim Visitor Centre there is a section of National Park, rarely visited by tourists, right on the Rim. We had booked one of only 3 campsites at Havasupai Point about a week earlier and needed to pick up our National Park “back country” camping permit before heading out there. A stop at the permit office resulted in a 45 minute information session to receive instructions on how to access the area via Native Indian land and a description of the rather harrowing, possibly impassable, terrain that lay ahead of us.

We were also advised not to use GPS mapping, as GPS units don’t work out there because of high levels of iron in the ground! Maybe the ranger uses a magnetic GPS – ours works off satellites but I thought I’d let that slide… Anyway we were finally permitted and underway with a list of instructions and a mud map drawn by the ranger, which turned out to be really handy as there were some confusing turns.

A mild section of track to Havasupai Point

A mild section of track to Havasupai Point

Our GPS mapping system concurred with the mud map and after a long afternoon of quite slow track work and the odd uncomfortable angle just to keep you on your game, we arrived at our campsite on the rim of the Grand Canyon! The track was a very skinny trail and I suspect quite nasty if it was wet! With a great deal of thickly trunked trees on either side sporting limbs stretching across the track above, it created a tunnel effect and likely restricted access to anything much larger than our vehicle in places (noted by the smashed wing mirrors on the ground here and there).

In an aside, we made the journey to Havasupai Point much longer than it needed to be, as Jen thought she had found a trail that would bypass the Indian lands and hence save us the US$25 to traverse the 5kms of Indian land before once again emerging back into the National Park. Needless to say that the trail shown on the maps no longer existed, petering out as we thought we were getting close, and proved to be a sheer waste of time as the car suffered way more overgrown track work than was necessary. When we finally did reach the Indian Lands Boundary, the gentleman that greeted us was so nice and amiable that paying the $25 seemed more than fair. Jen learnt her lesson!!!!

Driving right on the edge

Driving right on the edge

It still amazes me that we were able to camp in complete isolation without the interference of a light anywhere. We had the Grand Canyon completely and utterly to ourselves except for one lone KTM visitor.

Just enormous!!!

Just enormous!!!

Camped at Havasupai Point

Camped at Havasupai Point

A KTM Visitor - Ralph

A KTM Visitor – Ralph

Our lovely camp on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Our lovely camp on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon from our Camp

Grand Canyon from our Camp

Flagstaff sits below snow-capped peaks and just north of Mormon Lake – the chosen location for Overland Expo. We’d been keen to attend this event for some time and had arrived on schedule with a day to kill before registration – primed and ready to enjoy the company of other liked minded travellers.

In need of a restock and a pressing desire to upload a post, as we’d been off the grid for some time, we sat in a shopping centre car park with good coverage and began the task of refreshing our blog! Glancing in my side mirror, I observed a ridiculously large Winnebago making a B-line for us! Must want a chat I thought? The clown driving swings along side with inches to spare between his mirror and my vehicle and immediately put me on the defensive. Ready to get out and attack the occupants, I looked over at the Muppet driving and was met with the laughing Dutch mugs of Erik and Mieke!

This guys going to hit us!!! Good one Erik and Mieke

This guys going to hit us!!! Good one Erik and Mieke

Stunned, speechless, akin to being in shock, is the only description that I think covers this event!

We’d been in touch regularly via “whatsapp” and these sneaky Dutch folk had been sending erroneous messages with the intent of making us think they were still hard at work in Holland, not to mention sending those messages on Dutch time whilst they were cruising the states in Minnie Winnie!!!

Apparently they had arrived in Flagstaff and were just about to order lunch when the “whatsapp” beep on their phone alerted them to the fact that we were only 1km away. Menus dropped and they made straight to our location! WOW!!

Lunch in Flagstaff - still in shock!!

Lunch in Flagstaff – still in shock!!

To add another level of treachery to their planned surprise, we had spent a week together in the UK over Christmas and, you guessed it, they had already planned and booked their journey with tickets to Overland Expo! How they kept that a secret is beyond me…

We managed to find an isolated campsite in a forested area that night that accommodated the Minnie Winnie mere metres from the bitumen and settled in for too much alcohol and a lovely campfire.

Minnie Winnie and us in our forest camp

Minnie Winnie and us in our forest camp

The next morning we convoyed the last few kms together and booked into Overland Expo.

Allotted a location amongst a few other vehicles on their own world travel adventures, we set up our camper and 30 seconds later had a frosty beverage, found Erik and Mieke, and began a preliminary wander of the event!

All set up - a2a expedition with their Land Rover 130 and roof top tent

All set up – a2a expedition with their Land Rover 130 and roof top tent

There was an interesting mix of equipment on display with a reasonable spread of RV’s such as Sportsmobile, All Terrain Warrior (from Queensland, Australia) XP campers and the list goes on! Of course modified jeeps were in abundance – rock crawlers to tourers – they were all there.

All Terrain Warrior

All Terrain Warrior

XP Camper on a Toyota Tundra

XP Camper on a Toyota Tundra

Sportsmobile

Sportsmobile

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Humvee Conversion

Humvee Conversion

Classics!!

Classics!!

Another XP Camper model

Another XP Camper model

Rover Lander Discovery

Rover Lander Discovery by Phoenix Pop-up Campers

Phoenix Pop-up Campers

Phoenix Pop-up Campers

Classic 60 Series Land Cruiser

Classic 60 Series Land Cruiser

We were provided with a bit of a show during the afternoon when a Ford F350 with a massive slide on became bogged whilst attempting to find a camp spot. An attempt to retrieve the poor souls was made with a backhoe by the organisers but unfortunately, it seemed as if the operator of the earthmoving machine had, well, frankly NO BLOODY IDEA how to operate it! Hence with the recovery attempt abandoned, the machinery operator informed the stricken owners that he might be back on Monday if the ground dried out a bit and have another go! (It was Friday!).

We were all becoming more and more miffed as time passed and we consumed a little more relaxation juice! Right alongside the bogged Ford was the Land Rover Test and Recovery Course!! Land Rovers smothered in Camel Trophy livery with drivers sporting all sorts of Land Rover branded outfits and Disco’s partying their way around the pre-tested obstacle course!

Alas, it would seem that only staged recoveries were to be undertaken during this display of Land Rover prowess – wouldn’t want to attempt an actual recovery …???

Anyway as the afternoon ran on, the Aussie in me couldn’t stand it any longer. I was becoming more and more mystified as I watched double locked, twin winch toting , maxx trax carrying, 40 inch mud tyre wielding, off road, ready to go anywhere Jeeps and the like cruising past with no intention of helping one of their kin! I guess that’s how they keep their recovery gear so clean and shiny, they never get it out…

In Australia, if you get stuck in the process of an attempted recovery it just becomes a bit more of a laugh! Anyway, I’m digressing… in the end, it was 2 Aussies, 2 Dutch folk and a German in an F250 that resolved the situation, with a large crowd of onlookers, I might add! Anyway, no Jeeps were harmed or got dirty during the production of this story so that’s a positive… Must also be said that 2 locals in an enormous ex-military truck were preparing to assist as the events were drawing to a close. These guys were camped next to Erik and Mieke and were an absolute laugh!! We nicknamed them Wanker 1 and Wanker 2 which they thought hilarious, whilst they camped separately in truck and tent to dispel rumours that they might be intimately involved !!! Which they are not. Hilarious guys!!!

Wanker 1 and Wanker 2

Wanker 1 and Wanker 2

Their enormous army truck!!

Their enormous army truck!!

Unfortunately, the next few days were to deliver gale force winds in a non-stop fashion! Tents and marquees slowly disintegrated into tattered shreds of Chinese manufacturing! Nonetheless, all of the visitors deserve full credit, as they arrived in their droves and admirably wandered the displays in the face of the sand grit bath that blasted them all day! It was also great to see the determination of the exhibitors as smiles remained and laughs were had!

Happy Retailers

Happy Retailers

An interested visitor to our little display sported a Clearview mirrors baseball cap and Mike turned out to be the owner of Clearview Mirrors Australia! Seeking American business opportunities, he and his business colleague Jay had been wandering the show and had spotted our Patrol with their mirrors fitted! That definitely called for a chat!

Mike and Jay from Clearview Mirrors

Mike and Jay from Clearview Mirrors

They couldn’t believe there was an Aussie Patrol parked in the middle of a 4×4 show in Arizona sporting Clearview Mirrors! Meeting these guys was fantastic. We spent some time relaying how impressed we were with their product as they’ve saved us numerous times by providing such an excellent field of vision (not to mention a great step up from the factory fitted Patrol Ute mirror) whilst being almost indestructible! I know that for a fact having had a Mongolian Bongo van bounce off one amongst other tests of their construction. Check them out at clearviewaccessories.com.au

The style of travel we have chosen is an amazingly rewarding experience if you’re into it! But it can be a little isolationist as well. Apart from a little contact here and there via the Internet, we really are very much on our own and generally for a very long time, often with a rather large language barrier.

Events such as this help you realise that you are not alone in your travel desires. Approaching the event, you see the odd other intrepid traveller, descending on the same location with a big grin ear to ear and an equal desire for a bit of traveller to traveller time!

The Earth Roamer in the middle belongs to Rob and Nina from whiteacorn.com

The Earth Roamer in the middle belongs to Rob and Nina from whiteacorn.com

Jan and Leone have been travelling the world in their Forward Control Land Rover Camper on and off for 18yrs!!!

Jan and Leone have been travelling the world in their Forward Control Land Rover Camper on and off for 18yrs visiting 69 countries and counting!!!

Mitsubishi Fuso Overland Truck

Mitsubishi Fuso Overland Truck

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The first thing that comes to mind when I meet others on their own world journeys, is the strong sense of character they all seem in possession of!

Amazing sessions of story swapping were a highlight of this event! Collective understanding nods when tales of travel woes, experiences and highlights float amongst the group. It does happen to all of us after all!!

The opportunity to also meet an eclectic range of prospective travellers was not to be forgotten with many people stopping for a chat and a look over the map. A high percentage were in the process of planning their own departure from normality and were attending the event in research mode!

Discussions with travellers old and new

Discussions with travellers old and new

A final night was enjoyed with Erik and Mieke! I’ll say no more about their amazing visit, they know! San Francisco was their destination before they returned to the Netherlands.

Farewell to great friends

Farewell to great friends

Group Hug

Group Hug

The whole experience provided us with a fresh intensity around our travels and we really hope to meet some of our newfound family elsewhere on Earth… Our neighbours at the event were a family of 4 South Africans who have been travelling Southern Africa, South America and the USA for 4yrs. Australians and South Africans are such kindred spirits and I know we will see these guys again!!! Check them out at a2aexpedition.com

Graeme, Luisa, son Keelan and daughter Jessica from a2aexpedition.com

Graeme, Luisa, son Keelan and daughter Jessica from a2aexpedition.com

Last night drinks with travellers

Last night drinks with travellers

Flagstaff and a few days out of the camper in the next instalment!

Justin.

The Truth is Out There Scully!!!

Firstly, I always re-read my previous post before beginning the next in an effort to ensure some form of flow and continuity! Having done this, I felt it came across with an air of negativity toward our time in the US to date – polar opposite from the reality of it… In an attempt to dissect why that may have been, I can only surmise that with such strong similarities between our two nations (Australia & USA), I’ve found the most fodder in those experiences that differ, hence providing an edge to pick at and muse about, not forgetting my love of sarcasm!

So for my American friends out there, of which the number is growing exponentially, I hope you can laugh along with the observations from a convict descendant that calls an island a long way away his home as we indulge ourselves in the fabulous land you call home.

Nick the "Coon Ass" Louisianan

Nick the “Coon Ass” Louisianan

Now for the close encounters!

On the aforementioned island home of ours, we’re no strangers to out of this world contact. Unfortunately, these remarkable happenings generally seem to occur to people whom don’t like to visit a dentist and for some reason are always on a lonely stretch of highway where along with their toothless kin and unfortunate lack of skill with a camera they become first point of contact for these interstellar visitors. Travelling distances that we are unable to comprehend, I imagine there must be a rather large collective sigh and shake of the head and/or appendages within the cockpit as a gloomy acceptance dawns –“what a waste of time and wear and tear on the warp drive that journey was!”

So now in East Texas, we found ourselves camped on a fishing lake with a boat ramp and enjoyed watching the local comings and goings.

Lake Limestone Camp

Lake Limestone Camp

They launched their craft and opened the throttles as wide as they would go, heading off to their secret fishing spots. The noise of the outboards and Airboats on their rev limiters, the local landholder about a hundred metres in the other direction with stereo blaring and unloading every firearm he had in rapid succession, really made for a lovely relaxing atmosphere!  It was pretty relaxing actually!!

Full Throttle!!!

Full Throttle!!!

Could be forgiven for thinking we were in the South Pacific except for the gunfire!!

Could be forgiven for thinking we were in the South Pacific!!

With a few lines baited and taught in the lake, a couple fishing just near us made comment that it’s illegal to shoot out onto the lake as they had also noticed the D-day re-enactment close by! That comment provided the catalyst for them to engage us in conversation! The first question was:

Where are you from?

“Australia”

Question number 2 – “Y’all Christians?”

I did think about responding that well… “We’re people of Science, really” (as taken from the movie “Paul”) but hey, we were in East Texas with D-day playing out in the background so…

“Yes! Absolutely” was the appropriate answer!

Anyway we chatted for quite a while and at the conclusion of the discussion, I made for the Mac and quickly typed the general content of the conversation so as not to forget anything! It’s a bit wordy and excuse the lack of flow, but here it is roughly verbatim! Whilst I found it fascinating you may not! So if you’d rather move on, then scroll down to the dot point to skip!

Lake Limestone Experience!

Met a couple fishing, he is 63 (2016)

When he was 15, he got up early to go hunting between the house and the barn. (Liked it more than his brothers and they wouldn’t get up early) He heard the chickens going nuts and looked around – a bright light appeared like a beam of white along the ground but you could look right at this really bright light and it didn’t hurt your eyes. It was 3 UFO’s; as they flew above him absolutely silently he could see the upside down triangular shaped windows and lights that appeared from a control panel inside. Couldn’t make out the occupants however and after a brief period of time, the light disappeared and they flew away absolutely silently.

*****

Down along the river one night they were fishing. Upstream a little, there was some chanting coming from a group of people around a massive fire – Satan worshippers most likely – (apparently there are huge trees in the area and they were burning one or more) and they were speaking some sort of foreign or other language.  After a while the massive fire was extinguished absolutely instantaneously – I mean instantaneously! Then suddenly a huge UFO around 100 yards long rose from the site and hovered in a spot in the sky absolutely silently for some time before he noticed another UFO coming from the opposite direction and they both met and joined in mid air before instantaneously, silently departing together.

*****

The Giants mentioned in the Bible have been breeding! Each time they breed, their offspring are smaller and smaller until they are able to mimic humans, then they breed with us and slowly they have been able to dilute our pure blood – this is Satan’s army of sorts, for God needs pure human blood to defeat Satan. Any contaminant in our bloodline renders us unable to fight Satan’s army.

Aliens are fallen angels! They are also the offspring of the Giants and that’s why the ones found at Roswell are so small – it’s taken generations of giants breeding to create such small alien looking offspring. The only reason they are able to die is because they are part human due to their interbreeding with humans and dilution of their blood with human blood. Otherwise we would not be able to destroy them. He has seen thousands of UFO’s flying in Vic formation across the skies!

*****

Satan’s goal is to suck the power out of the United States.

Barack Obama is a Muslim and sits on some sort of iron throne along with some sort of chalice – (he was losing me by now…)

*****

God flooded the earth to kill the fallen angel half-breeds (Noah’s ark)

Apparently the word Giant hasn’t been translated correctly from (we think she said Hebrew Bible) but it actually means fallen ones – ie – Angels.

Webbed feet and suction cups on the hybrid Angels by the way (i.e. aliens in the spacecraft).

The UFO’s are demonic activity (hence piloted by fallen angels).

His wife wasn’t afraid of Satan’s army because her belief in God protects her from Demonic activity and that the Masons believe that Lucifer is the true Son of God!

*****

The aliens have been abducting thousands of Americans and impregnating them with their demon babies before re-abducting them to remove the foetus so that they are able to dilute the pure human blood line and reduce the amount of warriors against the small giant fallen angel demon army.

*****

US Air Force Colonel Willingham, on an escort mission in 1955 in Langtree (“the second Roswell”), was alerted to an incoming aircraft travelling at 2000 miles an hour and was tasked with observing it – he saw it crash and was told to break away from the bomber escort and investigate. He saw a half buried disk that had crashed and went on to report that. His life was threatened in order to maintain the secrecy. However he and another pilot took a private aircraft and landed at the site but there were Mexican military all around the crashed craft with guns. He managed to talk his way out of being shot and even managed to souvenir a small piece of the alien craft along with a quick glimpse of the small large-headed, thin-armed dead creatures in the craft! He later tried to destroy this small piece he ‘d souvenired by burning and angle grinding with no success (I’m not sure how he managed to obtain the piece! If it was that strong how did it separate from the main craft???) Anyway later on in 1969, he was in Japan with the Air Force and decided to make everything public and subsequently had his military records expunged as if he’d never existed along with him losing his entitlements and pension. (It’s worth a Google!…)

*****

Those con trails you see appearing behind jet aircraft – well, they are actually trails of chemicals being sprayed all over the population in order to control and manage them. Along with fluoride, it is another contaminant designed by the government to poison us! Even with a filter you soak it up when showering!

*****

Well that’s a quick assessment of our chat! They were really nice folk and invited us back to their ranch to stay with them, a lovely offer! Unfortunately we weren’t going in that direction – I don’t know which direction their ranch was, but it wasn’t where we were going!!

  • Phew!! That was intense!!!!…You can Rejoin Now!!!

Departing Lake Limestone it was easy to forget where we were, with flattening dry terrain and long stretches of empty tarmac you could easily have been forgiven for confusing our location with outback Western Australia or Central Queensland!

Looks an awful lot like the Nullabor!

Looks an awful lot like the Nullabor!

The great little town of Albany, Texas

The great little town of Albany, Texas

The Proud Texas Bullhorns...

The Proud Texas Bullhorns…

and Star...

and Star…

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Black Gold, Texas Tea!! Oil

Black Gold, Texas Tea!! Oil

The scenery is getting better...

The scenery is getting better…

I’d been noticing for a while now that our solar charge was down quite substantially and with full sunshine there was obviously an issue somewhere! That’s the problem when you build things yourself – you can’t blame anyone!!

After spending some time diagnosing the problem, we found the fault. With diagnosis complete, it took about 2 minutes to sort it out and electricity from the sun flowed freely again! A mandatory requirement if you like cold beer and prefer to camp quietly…

Diagnostics

Diagnostics

Palo Duro Canyon State Park for a night was our next stop before heading into Amarillo.

Woodpecker in Palo Duro

Woodpecker in Palo Duro

Wild Turkey (not the drink!)

Wild Turkey (not the drink!)

Palo Duro

Palo Duro

Amarillo is famous for wind and we weren’t let down. I was expecting to see children flying vertically towards the ionosphere given the strength of the gusts, but after enquiring with a local, he replied that it wasn’t really windy, just normal and pointed out that if it’s not windy in Amarillo, you should be worried!!

Drive thru ATM!!!

Drive thru ATM!!!

Must have run out of targets!!

Must have run out of targets!!

An unusual city – it has the feeling of having been plonked in the middle of a very big and extremely flat paddock – guess that’s part of the reason for the windy lifestyle.

Checking out “Trip Advisor” and looking at the top 10 things to do as we enter a new area, generally reveals “visit the Museum” as number 1 followed by “the Aquarium” then the “Old Town Centre” and generally goes down hill from there! Well we chose to visit the “Jack Sisemore’s RV Museum” in Amarillo and whilst it might not be to everyone’s taste, it proved to be quite an outstanding collection!

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Check out the comfort!!

Check out the comfort!!

IMG_8590 IMG_8598Leaving Amarillo we went west on Old Route 66 and completed the mandatory graffiti session visit at “Cadillac Ranch!“

Check out the layers of paint!!!

Check out the layers of paint!!!

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Wow!

Wow!

The skies looked extremely ominous and a check of the forecast revealed active tornado warnings further east and that was the only catalyst required to get us moving west!

Oasis State Park New Mexico

Oasis State Park New Mexico

A visit to Fort Sumner and the Grave of Billy the Kid! An odd thing to do possibly, as I was under the impression he was a rather ruthless murderer, but sometimes you have to be tourists!

"Billy the Kid" Grave

“Billy the Kid” Grave

We detoured a considerable distance south to visit Roswell and while you’re probably over alien stories by now, I’ll throw in some pics and stop typing for a minute.

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Look! They caught one in a Dyson Vacuum Cleaner!!!!

Look! They caught one in a Dyson Vacuum Cleaner!!!!

Paul????

Paul????

Roswell is certainly a city living vicariously through its past but it was a hoot!! Reminds me of Silverton in NSW where Mad Max was filmed – draining it for every last dollar!!

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We had a couple of really interesting campsites around the area however and one night in particular ,we were enthralled by the howling of Coyote’s, quite spooky in the darkness!

Bottomless Lake State Park

Bottomless Lake State Park

A genuine Roadrunner!!! Beep Beep!!

A genuine Roadrunner!!! Beep Beep!!

We continued on to the touted “most original wild west town in the US”of Lincoln, New Mexico and we were still on the trail of “The Kid!” Lincoln is the town where the young outlaw began to achieve his notoriety.

As you wander the town, information boards provide great insight into the goings on during those days. It would seem that “Billy the Kid” was rather harshly dealt with by an extremely corrupt system back in those days and may well have been justified in some of his actions – in my quick assessment anyway! Certainly a much deeper background to his story than I was previously aware.

"Billy the Kid" Story

“Billy the Kid” Story

Lincoln Courthouse and Jail from which "Billy The Kid" escaped

Lincoln Courthouse and Jail from which “Billy The Kid” escaped

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Bullet hole from Shootout!!

Bullet hole from Shootout!!

The only known photo of "Billy the Kid"

The only known photo of “Billy the Kid”

Leaving Lincoln, we made west then north through New Mexico and while sticking to dusty trails, you could almost feel the gunslingers presence as the odd ruin appeared on the landscape. Colourful streetscapes, ancient ruins and even a lava field were to feature in our travels.

Old Schoolhouse

Old Schoolhouse

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Volcanic evidence outside Carozizzo

Lava Field outside Carozizzo

Gran Quivera Ruins

Gran Quivera Ruins

Here we came head to head with an old 45 Series Land Cruiser from Queensland, imported to the US by it’s current owner, Carter, whom was just as surprised to see our Aussie registered Patrol as we were to see the US tag on his old girl!

Carter and his expat Cruiser

Carter and his expat Cruiser

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We found some great campsites as we ventured northward, but it was quite early in the day and with a harsh wind laden with dust, we decided to move on!

What may be obvious to those of you whom live in the shadow of snow and the weather that creates it, was not overly obvious to us sun bathed Sand Gropers!! Gaining in altitude and noticing quite unusual cloud formations cutting our path, we carried on none the wiser and even decided to head up into a mountain range to camp! In fairness we were looking for a little cooler mountain weather as who doesn’t prefer the “snuggled up under the doona” feeling to the musky odour of sweaty pheromones all night!

Weird looking weather?

Weird looking weather?

Anyway no sooner had we arrived at a suitable campsite and the small hail began! Very blue sky and shorts an hour earlier, we were now looking for thermals whilst the dusty wind of the lower lands a few hours earlier, now seemed a little more alluring.

Not much chance of a fire today!!!

Not much chance of a fire today!!!

By far, however, the most interesting part of the evening was at the point we were about to retire. With the heater running, we’d been engrossed in our little habitat and remained completely ignorant to the state of affairs outside our little house and upon opening the curtains and flicking on the outside lights, were staggered to see what was nearing a blizzard of snow swirling around in the light! With a couple of inches of snow now on the bonnet and the land taking on the appearance of an Alpine Mountain in mid winter, closing the curtains and worrying about it in the morning seemed the best option!

Ahhh - the Sun!!!

Ahhh – the Sun!!!

IMG_8833We stopped by Albuquerque for a wander of the old town! Turning right at an intersection here and having right of way (I checked the rules again afterward to make sure I was in the right) a rough looking pedestrian walked straight out in front of us and proceeded to pull a hammer from his slightly stained gym shorts and began brandishing it toward us! I guess he felt empowered to cross at will regardless of the lights and I was more than happy to let him have his way! Maybe he thought better of it when he saw the crash camera recording his actions!!! It’s quite amusing to watch back!

The old part of Albuquerque was rather attractive with strong Mexican influence in the architecture and in many of the food options on offer. Flat roofed earthy buildings with exposed beams protruding from the render. I suppose why it’s called “New Mexico”

Albuquerque Old Town

Albuquerque Old Town

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New Mexican Architecture in trademark dusty pink render

New Mexican Architecture in trademark dusty pink render

A visit to the acclaimed petroglyph site near town proved utterly disappointing but was soon made up for after we departed Albuquerque.

After quite a few U-turns and some creative map reading, we managed to locate an old section of Route 66 – a lesser known set of switchbacks dating to 1928 that ascended the ….. plateau. It was an extremely eroded track that had the Patrol doing what it does best! A real bonus to visiting this area was the discovery of vast numbers of awesome Petroglyphs just off the side of the trail!

Abandoned Route 66

Abandoned Route 66. The pics won’t do the terrain justice here!

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Santa Fe saw us negotiating more airborne snow and further north, the beginning of the Colorado Plateau! Departing the red and brown hues of the landscape, the ascent north into Colorado quickly captivated the eye with a hint of snow once again sitting upon the mountains and the beautiful green that only dense forest can provide.

The beginnings of the Colorado Plateau

The beginnings of the Colorado Plateau

Echo Amphitheatre

Echo Amphitheatre

Lovely Durango, Colorado

Lovely Durango, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park in Southern Colorado was truly outstanding! Ancestral Puebloan Indian houses and cliff dwellings litter the landscape all through the Four Corners region of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and undoubtedly elsewhere! Generally thought to be around 800 years old, these sites were not discovered until the mid to late 1800’s and were built under naturally eroded cliff overhangs. Due to their sheltered locations and frequent orientation away from the prevailing weather, many of the structures have been protected from the harmful erosive effects of the elements and are in absolutely remarkable condition.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park left by Ancestral Puebloan Indians

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park left by Ancestral Puebloan Indians

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Climb to Balcony House

Climb to Balcony House

Inside Balcony House

Inside Balcony House

The climb out!

The climb out!

BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and National Forest lands encompass an exhilarating range of terrains and in most cases allow what is called dispersed camping (camping in nature, on your own, with no facilities!). Finally we can once again free and wild camp in the manner that we love most, connect with the environment, spot the wildlife and soak it up! It is also a pleasant break from having to listen to other people’s generators (which I have a passionate disdain for), music and morning rituals in an RV park!

Fantastic BLM Camps

Fantastic BLM Camps

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View of Monument Valley from our campsite

View of Monument Valley from our campsite

Praise where it’s due, almost every campsite we’ve used in areas belonging to the BLM or National Forest (the Australian equivalent would be State Forest or Crown Land) has been absolutely pristine, which gives way to an understanding that the American traveller is very respectful of his environment, which is really wonderful and heartwarming to see.

With such a strong ethos of pack it in and pack it out and leave nothing but footprints, I found it a little odd, however, that when you purchase groceries at an outlet such as Wal-Mart, the checkout operator will pack your bags for you and, should you not intervene, you’re likely to depart with close to a plastic bag per item! I’ve no doubt that, eventually, the US will fall in line with the no bag policies of Europe, as we’re doing in Australia!

Overland Expo was sneaking up on us and required our attendance in Arizona in the coming weeks. With no desire to rush our travels, we began to curve southwest so as not to be left with a last minute dash to meet the deadline, but not before we got our first taste of Utah!!! WOW!!!

Four Corners Monument

Four Corners Monument

Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument

More Ancestral Puebloan Structures in Hovenweep

More Ancestral Puebloan Structures in Hovenweep

Owl Spotting can be dangerous!!!

Owl Spotting can be dangerous!!!

Next – Landscapes that defy description as we make for Overland Expo and an unexpected rendezvous!

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For now Justin…

I’m all shook up – # 2

Now some of you may have noticed that we had already uploaded this post about two weeks ago and some were even kind enough to make comments.  However, due to the magic of the internet (which has been less than consistent in its coverage despite the most expensive data sim card to date!!!), it vanished leaving no trace of it’s existence in any way or form along with your comments

!!! So we are having another go and hope this one might stick around???

Take 2….

Travelling the length of the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park, south from the small town of Front Royal, Virginia, we enjoyed a relaxed pace along quiet roads. Overall however, the scenery was not on the scale of grandeur that I’d been expecting – just a nice pleasant route to follow and certainly better than travelling the interstate!!

Skyline Drive in Spring

Skyline Drive in Spring

The uninspiring Interstates

The uninspiring Interstates

What I was feeling vindicated about, however, was the decision to ship the Patrol into Baltimore rather than Halifax. The weather certainly had not made much headway toward the warmth we had hoped to encounter during spring.

Camping at a site called Lewis Mountain, we experienced -5.5 Celsius and winds approaching 70 mph! Rather unpleasant all around and that observation was easily backed up by the fact the almost full campsite the previous evening was devoid of patrons as morning broke!

Still Haven't Seen Any...

Still Haven’t Seen Any…

As we continued south, the Skyline Drive morphed into the Blue Ridge Parkway Drive, losing its National Park status. As such, I was expecting a transit along less attractive countryside but was more than pleasantly surprised to find it quite a bit more scenic– well in my opinion anyway!

View from Blue Ridge Parkway

View from Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the more interesting experiences to date was a quick resupply at a Walmart, providing us with our first taste of American civilian gun culture! Certainly the first time anywhere in the world that I’ve travelled where I’ve observed a woman grocery shopping with her children whilst sporting a handgun on her belt! Nice to see it secured tightly in place, partly due to the fact her belt was a few holes too tight, but hey, I guess muffin tops are in fashion and can be useful!

Not being naive to the fact that such a culture exists in the US, it’s still quite odd for us, seeing firearms displayed in public in such a manner. It does sadden me to think that some locals feel so frightened within their own community that they feel they need to trust in carrying a firearm! I just can’t imagine loading and holstering a 9mm Glock before going down to Woolworths to pick up some milk!!

Off course there will always be conflicting opinions on this subject and it is every nations right to choose their own path.

Being in need of butane cannisters, we were on a little bit of a shopping hunt, which led us to an “Outdoor World/Bass Pro Shop”! Absolutely unbelievable!!! I’ll not even try to explain the shopping experience that awaits consumers in such establishments. The pictures might help a little…

Outdoor World

Outdoor World

The Entry!!

The Entry!!

Enormous Fish tanks and Bears

Enormous Fish tanks and Bears

We headed westward toward Daniel Boone country and Cumberland Gap National Park. The Park encompasses the aforementioned “gap” in the Appalachian Mountains where Daniel Boone managed to find a passage west after following the native Indians along a trading path. It was at this park that we found ourselves in stitches of laughter as a Park Police Officer entertained us.

Before I go on, I’ll have to explain the Park Police idea here in the US. Along with National Park Rangers, these guys provide a Police Service to the National Parks. As they are Federal officers rather than state, they have powers on a national level and across state borders. Having police cruising campgrounds whilst armed with Tazers and handguns, hand cuffs and protected with bullet proof vests (we should note here that he pointed out that wearing his bullet proof vest inside his shirt avoided assailants knowing that they should shoot him in the head!!!), oh and not forgetting the AR15 assault rifle, pump action shot gun and the considerable armoury of ammunition preloaded in clips in the police vehicle along with who knows what else, is also a surprise to us Aussies!

Imagine that at Kakadu or on Fraser Island?? Still I guess we’d have less people dodging the honor box at some campsites!! Hahaha

Anyway this guy was hilarious. His animated description of the local hill folk along with so many other dissections of some portions of American life and personal experiences made for an entertaining afternoon!!

Great Smokey Mountains National Park was next in our sights and finally we had the chance to travel some dirt roads within the park and walk some interesting hiking trails

Nice Hiking Trails

Nice Hiking Trails

There is an obvious gap between the haves and have-nots as you wander the backcountry. From magnificent log mansions nestled amongst acres of stunning green undulating terrain, to the other end of the spectrum – acres of stereotypical trailer park homes with corrugated iron fixed in various ways in an attempt at covering the chassis to conceal their mobile beginnings I guess.

The Have's

The Have’s

The Have Not's

The Have Not’s

They come in all shapes and sizes, some quite attractive and modern along with those examples that haven’t seen any form of maintenance since they departed the factory!

I'll see if the bank will loan me some money?

I’ll see if the bank will loan me some money?

Many are obviously not weather tight and many have sunken and degraded foundations causing them to be far from level platforms to live in (guess the rain runs off better that way!!) Much of the time, even the most derelict building that you’d surely think condemned, will show the obvious signs of habitation, generally demonstrated in the form of a very expensive or late model car out front or maybe even a classic American Muscle car completely restored! Initially I wasn’t sure if my observations were just, however I’ve had it confirmed to me on numerous occasions by locals, that yes, a $60 000 Dodge Ram is far more important than a watertight healthy living space!

Suburbia

Suburbia

This American Life

This American Life

Still the Americans certainly are a very patriotic bunch with the Red White and Blue proudly displayed no matter the home. I haven’t seen such open patriotism since our travels in Russia.

Even the mobile homes have flags!

Even the mobile homes have flags!

Another observation is the amount of dead and decaying cars scattered amongst not only these lower economic areas, but also regularly viewed on expensive acreage, to the point where the quantity of wrecks must almost be viewed as some sort of status symbol.

Status maybe?

Status maybe?

Still Driving...

Still Driving…

Pimp My Ride

Pimp My Ride

Onward through Cherokee Indian Land and our first observation of how the Casino Industry has transformed the freedom to gamble on such native lands into a multi million-dollar venture! Huge hotel structures with “—- Casino” emblazened across the facade and in most cases RV parking right next door crammed full of fifth wheel’s and motor homes – shuttle buses running the hopeful punters back and forth as they pursue their chance at the big time…

The town of Cherokee

The town of Cherokee

Following the very scenic Ocoee River, we were rewarded with gorgeous views and watched on as large groups of white water rafting enthusiasts bobbed along. I could only guess at the competition between the many companies advertising adventure sports and rafting as we traversed the valley – how steep the competition must be during those few months of activity.

Spotting a supermarket called Piggly Wiggly and needing a few items, we just had to try out a store with such a name! Turns out that in 1916 it was dubbed the world’s first “supermarket” by offering self-service shopping such as we all enjoy today! Just a little trivia to keep you enthralled…

Piggly Wiggly in Ducktown, Tennessee

Piggly Wiggly in Ducktown, Tennessee

Just love it!

Just love it!

Through Chattanooga (choo-choo) and, well, that’s about as exciting as we found this well-known town.

Chattanooga

Chattanooga

Seems every city has a Martin Luther King Blvd and Chattanooga was no exception

Seems every city has a Martin Luther King Blvd and Chattanooga was no exception

Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey, was next. We enjoyed a tour of the distillery and a wander around the historic town, which was really nice.

Jack Daniels Distillery Lynchburg

Jack Daniels Distillery Lynchburg

Jack Daniels

Jack Daniels

Lynchburg, Tennessee

Lynchburg, Tennessee

I see raccoon hats are in fashion

I see raccoon hats are in fashion

Dolly needs to slow down with the facelifts

Dolly needs to slow down with the facelifts

I do have to recount one conversation that we had at the distillery however. We purchased a bottle of “Gentleman Jack” at the cellar door where they offer a service where by they can etch the bottle with text and or a logo. Of course we opted for GLOBATROL as the text and were perusing the clipart with the assistance of a young sales girl, looking for something that might enhance it further. The sales girl suggested an outline of the State of Tennessee and we considered the fact that it might look quite good!

Jen pointed out, however, that just an outline of the State wouldn’t be obviously recognizable to anyone at home as being the State of Tennessee to which the sales girl replied – “well I don’t know what it’s like in your country, but here we have to learn that in school so everyone will know it’s the outline of Tennessee!” Now had I been a little faster off the mark, instead of staring at her and wondering if I’d heard correctly, I’d like to have suggested she draw the State of Western Australia for me! We can all guess the result that would have had!

Gentleman Jack

Gentleman Jack

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt though, as she was quite young and hopefully will come to understand that there is a wide world out there full of other wondrous things!

Continuing west we visited many quintessential American towns and ended the day camped on the Natchez Trace Parkway, An historic Native American Indian trading route, camped at a site called Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clarke expedition notoriety. The expedition basically opened up the country west of the Mississippi.

Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis

The Amish wagon

The Amish wagon

Amish

Amish

So this is where they got the Angry Birds from??

So this is where they got the Angry Birds from?? (It’s called a Cardinal by the way!)

Arriving in Memphis and it was straight to Graceland, home of the King, which was far better than I’d expected, as I’m not a huge Elvis fan. I do have a lot more admiration for his career and the man himself now that I’ve enjoyed the experience.

The Patrol in the carpark

The Patrol in the carpark

Graceland

Graceland

The Famous Gates

The Famous Gates

The Famous Costumes

The Famous Costumes

The Jungle Room with its plush carpet ceiling

The Jungle Room with its plush carpet ceiling

Justin in The Jungle Room

Justin in The Jungle Room

The Pool Room at Graceland

The Pool Room at Graceland

TV Room-note 3 TV's

TV Room-note 3 TV’s

Countless Gold Records

Countless Gold Records

Elvis's Grave in the Garden

Elvis’s Grave in the Garden

There is also another Bass Pro shop in Memphis – unbelievable and there are others yet to visit!

Bass Pro Shop

Bass Pro Shop

More Bass Pro Shop

More Bass Pro Shop

Beale St, Memphis

Beale St, Memphis

The Mighty Mississippi, Memphis

The Mighty Mississippi, Memphis

Trusting our SatNav to Guide us south, led us through some less than desirable suburbs not far from downtown Memphis and was the first time since leaving Australia that we felt it prudent to lock the doors on the car as we transited.

Gotta Watch The SatNav!!

Gotta Watch The SatNav!!

Having survived the foray into dodgy territory, we couldn’t visit Memphis without sampling some famous Memphis BBQ and we chose Marlowe’s, which we had seen on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives.” Disappointed we were not! Delectable dry rubbed bbq pork ribs, coleslaw and baked beans the likes of which we had never tasted before! We crawled out the door a while later and no – we didn’t finish it all but they obligingly packed the remains into a doggy bag for us to enjoy later!

Marlowe's Ribs!!!

Marlowe’s Ribs!!!

South along the grand Mississippi River and I was surprised to find that viewing this snaking body of water is all but impossible as it’s bordered both sides by a levee bank to provide flood defences – guess I should have researched it a little better! It wasn’t overly easy finding campsites either as we descended south. There had recently been very heavy rains and flooding in the area and as such nearly all of the small campgrounds along the route were well and truly under water. It did however provide us with the opportunity to camp in a bayou and experience some very loud splashes and unusual noises during the hours of darkness – I locked the back door that dark night.

Underwater Campgrounds

Underwater Campgrounds

There's Gators in them there swamps!!

There’s Gators in them there swamps!!

The bayous

The bayous

More Underwater Campsites

More Underwater Campsites

Swamp Camp

Swamp Camp

Vicksburg and Natchez were inviting towns along the drive south and afforded us a nice glimpse of southern life before we made our way into New Orleans.

Vicksburg

Vicksburg

Vicksburg Antique Shop

Vicksburg Antique Shop

Natchez

Natchez

We caught the historic Algiers Ferry across the Mississippi and arrived right in the heart of the downtown New Orleans.

Prepared for anything on a 10 minute ferry ride!!

Prepared for anything on a 10 minute ferry ride!!

Now this is a district that I’m sure if you’ve not visited, you’ve probably heard about. Bourbon Street, in the French Quarter, is supposed to be the main attraction but personally, I couldn’t get out of there quick enough – nothing like the stench of stale urine, homeless folk everywhere and a sleezy bar scene, mixed with a good percentage of weirdo’s and those only interested in separating you from your cash! A tourist destination not to be missed??

The Grunge that is Bourbon Street

The Grunge that is Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street

However just south of this tourist trap street, there are some exquisite historic streets lined with lovely architecture toting café’s and quaint little shops and galleries and an open air plaza providing a space for artists, street performers and musicians to captivate you as you wander around. So in the end, the French Quarter in New Orleans was well worth the effort but I expect it will be my only visit.

Bubba and his Tuba

Bubba and his Tuba

Downtown New Orleans

Downtown New Orleans

French Quarter Architecture

French Quarter Architecture

Iconic Mississippi Paddle Steamer

Iconic Mississippi Paddle Steamer

New Orleans Street Performers

New Orleans Street Performers

The Feather Man

The Feather Man

North of New Orleans along the Mississippi sits a string of grand houses from the days of slavery and sugar cane plantations. Most have been restored or converted into upmarket venues or period tourist attractions, whilst some still remain in private hands as residences.

Evergreen is one of the few more original plantation houses and also has the largest surviving group of original slave quarters. We ended up being on a tour with a group of school students and were the only ones not associated with the school! I was less than excited about that idea when we bought the tickets but as it turned out, they were not only extremely well behaved, but we were able to glean a little more information than the general tour as the guide and teacher went to great depths to explain the goings on in those days.

Evergreen Plantation

Evergreen Plantation

Evergreen Outbuildings

Evergreen Outbuildings

Slave inventory and their values

Slave inventory and their values

Slave Quarters

Slave Quarters

Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss

Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss

Evergreen is also a favourite film location for film-makers for films such as Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” due to its original state. Evergreen had only just reopened after filming a remake of “Roots” with Forrest Whitaker. As the crew were just cleaning up when we arrived, we enjoyed an interesting chat with some of them.

Onward thorough the land of the “Swamp People” (yep, where they actually live!) and a deviation allowed us our first view of the Gulf of Mexico and a look at some amazing homes erected on hefty stilts due to the obvious flood risk and built along small waterways that provides them easy access to the sea.

Stilted Community

Stilted Community

A brief stint on the Interstate (not a pleasurable way to travel) as we made for Texas and the sky told us that a change in the weather was imminent – from blue to black with solid rain and heavy winds. Thankfully we dodged most of the nasty weather that tormented Houston with flooding and it was a reminder of how nasty the elements can be!

Weather On The Change

Weather On The Change

In East Texas, we had a terrific encounter with first hand UFO witnesses and a discussion on Satan’s army and his plans for sapping strength from the USA with his gang of Giant Fallen Angel beings!

I kid you not……..Stay tuned for details but before we sign off here are some random snaps to keep you entertained…

Do you really need to tell people this??

Do you really need to tell people this??

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Or this????

The street sign says Historic District?

The street sign says Historic District?

The theory of Abundance

The theory of Abundance

The name says it all..

The name says it all..

Really - It's Closed??

Really – It’s Closed??

Met some of these!!

Met some of these!!

Driving By Numbers

Driving By Numbers

Campfires!!!

Campfires!!!

Cheers for now

Justin…

 

One Small Step for Man…

The first months of 2016 have been a little bit of a blur! Littlehampton has become like a second or maybe third home given our camper is our current home in reality. It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to new surroundings and burrow in. We really enjoyed our time in Littlehampton; everything from walking the Schnauzer Digby to day trips provided by friends Gerry and Margaret and the odd night at the pub! The small pubs tend to have a great ambience about them with such history and often cosy surrounds – I will miss that a little I think!

Dog Walking

Dog Walking

Digby's Birthday

Digby’s Birthday

Excursions to Worthing Pier

Excursions to Worthing Pier

Littlehampton Pier

Littlehampton Pier

In preparation for the next leg of our journey, much time has been spent on Internet forums, such as Expedition Portal and The Hubb, in search of current info (in an attempt to stay ahead of bureaucracy) and travel tips from like-minded wanderers! Both sites generally provide a reliable database of current world info from travellers on the move and it’s surprising just how many travellers are out and about enjoying their own version of overlanding the world or parts there of…

Unfortunately, the existence of such forums has also spawned a group that I like to call “Keyboard Warriors!” From the confines of a dark room late at night and probably with a blanket over them – optic fibre connections allow them to add all sorts of useless suggestions and comments from a knowledge base of hot air! It does require a reasonable amount of effort to sort out the first hand and recent knowledge from the other! Anyway I digress – they do wind me up if you hadn’t noticed – hahaha.

The side effect of such forums is that you can connect with other travellers on the move and one such connection has been with fellow Aussie overlanders Kev and Em – www.kevandemgoglobal.com Anyway we have been intermittently in touch with them during their time on the road as they have made their way through South America!

A collection of Patrol's

A collection of Patrol’s

A twist of fate saw our 2 paths converge in Littlehampton and so there it was, in the small enclave on the south coast of England, that 2 Nissan Patrols from Australia parked whilst we swapped stories of life on the road from an Aussie perspective! They will be making their way down toward Turkey before hitting North Africa on the road south so maybe we will see them back in Oz.

Distant lands were calling us and as our departure from the UK began accelerating toward us, I have to admit that I was pretty keen to get underway.

Our last night in Littlehampton was not a quiet affair spent in reflection of our time there but rather a huge bash in celebration of Anthony’s 60th birthday! (Anthony and Trina being our friends who have allowed us to enjoy their home over the last months whilst they were enjoying some downtime) Anthony actually only turned 15 as his birthday falls on the 29th February and only comes around every 4 years!!

The lovely Anthony and Trina

The lovely Anthony and Trina

He only looks 15!!!

He only looks 15!!!

With goodbyes said, we were back in the Patrol heading for one final crossing of the channel but not before stopping in the small town of Kemsing in Sevenoaks, Kent, where I have a distant relative buried. Joan Chapman has the oldest surviving headstone in that particular cemetery dated 1666! It was quite odd visiting the site really, hard to grasp the long distant connection.

Joan Chapman 1666

Joan Chapman 1666

The whole day was quite dismal actually – grey sky and fog with consistent rain for the journey all the way to Dover and Security only added to the grey flavour! After being stamped out of the UK we entered a security check area with the car where I was asked if I had a pepper spray, which I did! Well you’d think I was on Interpol’s watch list – “that is considered a firearms offence here in England” I was quickly advised as the officer’s eyes lit up! Finally he had a collar! Well that tiny pepper spray has been in the car for a year and a half and I don’t recall reading anything with regard to it not being allowed in the UK, but long story short, you are allowed to have them in Europe but not England! Guess it must have been written somewhere…

“Anyway you will have to park over here Sir, whilst we call the Police.”

“You’re kidding me right!”

“NO! You will have to wait and the police will deal with you!”

Whatever…

Ten minutes later the Policeman arrived – at that point I think the customs officials moment in the sun got a little overcast, as the Bobby was more interested in the Patrol and Camper than the apparent firearms offence! The short of it – Every truck departing Europe is carrying pepper spray as violence around Calais’s “jungle” camp has escalated beyond what is apparent on the media coverage! You are supposed to throw away your spray as you depart Europe and buy another one when you re-enter! Just another sign of the gap between European thinking and that of our English friends I suppose!

Jen having some fun with the Bobby's helmet!

Jen having some fun with the Bobby’s helmet!

Given we had technically been stamped out of the UK however, it seemed odd that we were bothered at all! Ahhh well, it all makes for travel stories… so after opening up the camper and giving the curious officer a guided tour and having a brief discussion on traveling and cool destinations, we were again on our way.

Back on European soil and heading north back across Belgium, the refugee influx was once again front and centre. Police performing cursory checks for illegal people movements staffed all roads crossing the non-existent Schengen border between France and Belgium.

Overnight stop in Veurne

Overnight stop in Veurne

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We spent the night in the Belgium town of Veurne, another example of grand architecture and character filled open spaces. The following day we arrived back at “Adventure Trucks” in the Netherlands and the beginning of a gluttonous couple of weeks requiring us to devour copious amounts of delicious food lovingly prepared by Erik and Mieke! I repaid them in full by passing on a nasty head cold that I didn’t know I had until I’d arrived…. I didn’t want to arrive empty handed…

Beef Wellington...

Beef Wellington…

Cataplana...

Cataplana…

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Looks trustworthy!!

Looks trustworthy!!

In preparation for it’s voyage, we spent the next few days stripping and cleaning the Patrol. Removing accessories was also one of the tasks to be undertaken as the car will be shipped on what’s known as a RO-RO (roll on-roll off), which is where the shipping company loads your vehicle and unloads it. It’s generally a bit cheaper than containering and can be a little easier to organise, but the downside is handing over your keys and exposing your mobile home to the possibility of sticky fingers! However, lots of European RV’s head to America and there is a German company called “Seabridge” with a good reputation and hence my decision to ship in this manner.

Preparing the Patrol

Preparing the Patrol

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So on the 7th March we dropped the car off in the port of Antwerp, Belgium and found ourselves car-less!! Big thanks to Erik driving the 200km round trip to pick us up!! When they finally make it back to Australia, payback will be huge!!! Hahaha…

Delivering the Car to the port

Delivering the Car to the port

As fortune would have it we were lucky enough to be able to enjoy the next weeks in Veghel where Jen has family. Rose-Marie and Jan travel each year to Portugal for a little warm weather during the northern winter and let us use their house during our stay. Enjoying some nice weather further south seems a good idea to me – we had snow and some intensely cold weather during our stay in their home – maybe we are just soft Aussies.

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Veghel

Veghel

We filled our days with walking and exploring the region and, as always, a bit of trip planning and prep . A couple of weeks later and after a last lovely dinner with more of Jen’s relatives, Marian and Theo, we said our goodbyes to Erik and Mieke and headed for Amsterdam, still one of my favourite cities.

Farewell gift for Erik and Mieke

Farewell gift for Erik and Mieke

Sad to see us go??

Sad to see us go??

Arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on the morning of the 22nd of March we were greeted with very heavy security. We are quite used to large amounts of obvious security by now, but this was a little different. Unbeknownst to us, there had been a terrorist attack on Belgium’s International Airport sparking the added measures. I’ll not go into my thoughts regarding these barbarous acts on top of so many other atrocities being committed under the cloak of religious righteousness’ other than to say that I see dark times ahead in the attempt to deal with this current scourge.

14 hours later and we arrived in Orlando, Florida to warm weather and a weird colour in the sky! I later realised it was blue – couldn’t remember what it was called as it had been so long since I’d seen it – hahaha

Flying over frozen Nova Scotia

Flying over frozen Nova Scotia

The 23rd saw us visit some friends who live just north of Orlando in a lovely home on a lake with alligators in it! Well, all the lakes have ‘gators in them apparently but it was still pretty cool! We finished off the day with a huge serve of Ribs and Pulled Pork, which was excellent. Thanks Barry and Karen!

Barry and Karen

Barry and Karen

Gators

Gators

 

The following day we drove out to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre (the prime purpose of our stop in Orlando) as it is somewhere I’d wanted to visit for a while. The whole experience was excellent overall, but the Shuttle Atlantis display really won the day! We moved on to the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo 14 Command module along with replica moon rover and of course the list goes on and on. By the end of the day we were feeling quite “spaced” out and wandered back to our accommodation and a nice cold Bud!

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Apollo 14 Module

Apollo 14 Module

Saturn V Rocket

Saturn V Rocket

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Next day back to the airport and on to Washington DC! As cities go I have to admit that I didn’t really have much of an expectation for Washington DC, but found it to be a fabulous destination. Jen had managed to find a reasonably priced hotel only 200m from the White House and just off the National Mall. We visited much of what DC has to offer – the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum occupied hours of our time! The Apollo 11 command module, a Lunar Lander and thousands of other incredible displays, including Buzz Aldrin’s father’s Beech Staggerwing (one of my favourite aircraft) and the original Wright Flyer!!!

Original Wright Flyer

Original Wright Flyer

Staggerwing

Staggerwing

Apollo 11 Command Module

Apollo 11 Command Module

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Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

White House

White House

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

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Washington Monument

Washington Monument

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At other museums, we managed a glimpse of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution before viewing a T-Rex skull. It’s hard to quantify the vast amount of antiquities available for you to visit for free throughout the Smithsonian museums – it really is fabulous. The downside, to be expected, is the queues that you may need to suffer to gain entry!

From the Capitol Building down to the Potomac and the Pentagon, the city is laid out with vast areas of public space and, as luck would have it, made all the more attractive as the cherry blossoms were in full swing.

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Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

Baltimore was next and we stayed by the inner harbour. A “light festival” being held around the harbour late into the evening brought out thousands of locals and tourists alike providing interesting versions of modern art through lighting and projection. Johnny Rockets Burgers for dinner!

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Some Local "COPS" Action

Some Local “COPS” Action

Finally the day had arrived. We went to the port to retrieve the Patrol and due to diligent work by Seabridge and its affiliates, the process was very efficient and we had the car back promptly. Seeing our Patrol again and in perfect condition was quite a relief.

Reunited

Reunited

So the night of the 29th of March provided us with our first night back in the camper in a lovely National Park forest camp only 12 miles from the White House and with a campfire! It was a great culmination to a week of intense travel.

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I found a company to perform a “ground force” wheel balance for me as I’d had new tyres fitted in France but wasn’t happy with the balance. I only mention it as in order to kill some time whilst the work was performed, we had a coffee with another customer also having some work performed. I couldn’t believe my ears when we ended up discussing occupations, I was having coffee with an SR71 Blackbird Pilot – if you know anything about aviation then your jaw should be hitting your chest about now!

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Pops from Goss’s Garage

With the wheel balance as it should be after great service from Pop’s and the guys at Goss’s Garage, we made west for the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum near Dulles International Airport, where there is an aforementioned SR71 on display! Everything from the “Enola Gay” to the Space Shuttle Discovery is mixed with every other kind of aircraft ever dreamt up to occupy this huge building.

SR71

SR71

Discovery

Discovery

Enola Gay

Enola Gay

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Flying weirdness

Flying weirdness

Cross eyed after a few hours, we headed toward the town of Front Royal, the northern starting point for the Skyline Drive which travels south west through the Appalachian Mountains and joins the Blue Ridge Parkway Drive said to be one of Americas best scenic drives. After some great scenery, we are currently camped in the forest enjoying a day off and getting ourselves up to date.

Just too Cute!!!

Just too Cute!!!

Back soon with soon with tales from the country where everything is supersized and so far the people are polite to a level that I struggle to comprehend!

 

Justin.

 

Time for a rest

Firstly, Jen and I both hope that all have experienced a wonderfully relaxing Christmas and New Year and we sincerely hope that you are as excited about the year ahead as we are.

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So it’s been a while since we last posted an update but we didn’t want to intrude on our valued friends Christmas and New Year celebrations with incoherent ramblings from the other side of the Globe!

I hear you scoffing at that little white lie! It’s true – I’ve been pretty slack!

Or maybe it was a case of writers block as has been suggested to me in a pleasant email that I just received! Thanks for that Bec… Just the motivation I needed!

It was time to leave Morocco behind and begin the journey toward the UK for a rest and refresh before the next leg!

A quick check of the ferry timetable and the decision was taken to make an early start for the final 100km’s back to Tanger Med Port for the 11am departure! Arriving on time it was nice to hear that the 11am ferry would not be running providing us with plenty of time to relax in the car park before the 2pm ferry –Yaaaayh!

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European Mainland within Sight!

The rock of Gibraltar really is quite striking as you approach from the straights!

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Off the ferry and firmly back on European soil in Algeciras, it was only a short drive around the coast to where our Camper Contact App (best €6 we’ve ever spent!) once again provided us with a great location to park up for the night.

View by Night

View by Night

View at Dawn

View at Dawn

The following day, we found ourselves wandering across a border and airstrip into what really is an unusual little enclave that has remained firmly in the possession of the United Kingdom for decades – Gibraltar. Even someone completely devoid of any knowledge of military tactics would, I’m sure, with one gaze across the narrow straight separating Europe from Africa, realise why being in possession of the Rock of Gibraltar is such an obvious tactical coup.

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The small community south of the Spanish border really does provide the illusion that your back in Britain with numerous little English pubs displaying lunch boards with that ubiquitous English favourite, Fish and Chips!

Gibraltar Main Street

Main Street, Gibraltar

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Moorish Castle

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Wandering amongst heritage buildings bordered by a lovely waterfront that sports apartments, restaurants and hotels all sitting snuggly with the backdrop of the white sandstone rock, the whole area does have a nice vibe about it. Certainly not for the budgeting traveller however, it was easy to see why there is an exodus north into Spain for anything from accommodation to food once you start noticing the prices!

Floating Hotel

Floating Hotel

An example for you! – There was a Burger King sign displaying a special XXL Bacon Cheese burger with fries and a drink for the very XXL tariff of £8 .10 which for those Aussies on the slipping $AUD equates to just under $17! Ouch… The same billboard a couple of hundred metres to the north back in Spain provided the same Burger King meal for €7.15 or $11AUD…..

Beautiful Coastal Vistas

Beautiful Coastal Vistas

Through numerous towns and small roads we wandered north-enjoying Spanish highlights such as Seville, with its lovely historic buildings set amongst swathe’s of lovely parklands. It’s rapidly back to tourist reality however, with strings of huge tour coaches and people moving in every direction like ants! I’d have to admit I wasn’t all that sorry to see it in the rear view mirror!

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We made a detour west in order to have a little taste of Portugal along with the fact that your allowed to free camp alongside reservoirs in Portugal – numerous opportunities were presenting on the map and, along with our handy Camper Contact App, we found ourselves relaxing on the shores of a pretty lake with that lovely feeling of being far away from the pressures of life. Had it not been for the ever-present time limit attached to the Schengen zone we ‘d have stayed a lot longer – Alas…

Nature camping at its best

Nature camping at its best

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Friendly Dutchman Emile and his trusty travelling companion

Friendly Dutchman Emile and his trusty travelling companion

We spent a couple more days wandering north via Portugal before heading back into Spain.

Harvested Cork Tree

Harvested Cork Tree

Small Portuguese villages

Small Portuguese villages

Not the recommended way to level your camper!!!

Not the recommended way to level your camper!!!

Camped beneath the castle walls in Bragança, Portugal

Camped beneath the castle walls in Bragança, Portugal

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We endeavoured to find the largest Carrefour shopping centre that we could in order to load up on drinks priced in Euro’s rather than Pounds for our upcoming stay back in England. We have never seen duty free alcohol limits the likes of the UK!!! (with the caveat of “Personal Use Only”)a pallet load of Alcohol (I’m exaggerating of course) loaded into the Patrol, we boarded the Ferry from Santander late in the afternoon for an overnight sailing to Portsmouth!

Yes - that's Litres!!!!

Yes – that’s Litres!!!!

Departing Santander

Departing Santander

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Sunset on board...

Sunset on board…

The cruise was quite relaxing with a mix of entertainment on board but it did become quite rough during the wee hours to the point where we began to wonder if our vehicle would still be where we left it when we went down to retrieve it at journeys end!

Portsmouth

Portsmouth

Arriving back in Littlehampton was strangely like returning home! Familiar faces and another stint enjoying the fantastic house we’ve been lucky to ride out 2 winters in to date! Jen wandered into a local bookshop that we’d patronized the previous year and was recognized immediately – “you’re the Australian girl staying here in Littlehampton!” Followed by an invite to join them after hours along with some of their other select customers to enjoy some pre-Christmas snacks, drinks and live music! We might even miss Littlehampton…!!

Justin And Gerry

Justin And Gerry

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Another couple of local stalwarts, Gerry and Margaret, kindly offered us a space where we would be able park the Patrol on the hardstand at the rear of there home, which was eagerly accepted!

Parking around the UK is a real nightmare. The moment you drive off, your street parking space is gone and you end up lapping the neighborhood numerous times in the hunt for a new one. So with off street parking sorted, we’ve been able to start preparing the Patrol for it’s next sojourn.

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We have spent quite a few hours high pressure spraying and cleaning the vehicle and camper in preparation for a customs and quarantine inspection upon its arrival into North America. Removing the seats and much of the interior ended up being part of the process. Dead bugs, grass and dirt seems to find its way into every nook and cranny, but we are now confident that we’ve managed to clean it to an acceptable standard.

Another important task on our to do list was to apply for our US Visa’s. As we plan to stay in the US longer than 90 days, we needed to apply for a full B1/B2 non-resident tourist visa instead of the usual electronic authorisation.

Getting Visa Photos

Getting Visa Photos – No Smiling

After filling out the requisite forms with our life and financial history, and of course paying the required fee, we needed to schedule an interview appointment at the nearest US Embassy, which of course was in London! After shipping and flights, visas would have to be one of the most expensive parts of this sort of travel!

It had been 10years since our last visit to London so we were due a visit to refresh our memory. 

After 2 hours inside the US Embassy, (along with hundreds of other hopefuls), we left with the knowledge that our visa’s had been approved and it was on to sightseeing before our return to Littlehampton. Surprisingly, we had better weather this time in winter than we did on our last visit in the middle of summer! Who can pick the British weather…

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A greater armed presence…

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Number 10 Downing Street

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Picadilly Circus

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Big Ben

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Houses of Parliament, Westminster

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Christmas Eve heralded the arrival of some travelling companions that we were keen to catch up with. Land Cruiser packed, Erik and Mieke departed Holland after 1pm with half a days work already behind them and after several hours driving and a ferry ride that, according to Erik, was something akin to a Rollercoaster, they arrived at 10pm to enjoy Christmas with us.

Erik and Justin

Erik and Justin

Mieke and Jen

Mieke and Jen

We weren’t surprised by the description of the ferry crossing as the sea had been a boiling mess of windy white-capped fury all day from our balcony view…

We enjoyed a festive week of drinking, cooking and eating.  Not just simple cooking either – Eric basted and cooked Peking Duck on one occasion and Jen cooked the full Traditional Christmas Dinner – examples of the tuff times that we had to endure over the Christmas period.

Christmas Feast

Christmas Feast

Highlights of our time with them included freezing walks along the coast, a day trip to both Arundel and Brighton and a couple of days rest in the middle (allowing our swollen livers to resume normal function) whilst our guests ventured into London for their own memory refresher.

Brighton Royal Pavillion

Brighton Royal Pavillion – Could be forgiven for thinking you were in India!

Not really the weather for swimming!

Not really the weather for swimming!

Another highlight was our own personal sky-show! Unlike our home island where you have to protect stupid people from themselves, it does seem the Brits are considerably more liberal in this regard.

And I have to say that $60 AUD worth of exploding pyrotechnics that lasted about 2 minutes would have to be some of the best fun I’ve had in a long time.

I will really miss setting off rockets!

In the coming weeks, we will depart Littlehampton heading for Belgium where we will drop off our trusty Patrol for it’s cruise across the Atlantic! We will spend some time back in Holland before departing Europe one last time for Orlando in Florida.

A week later, which will be roughly the end of March, we should be reunited with our vehicle and begin our North American adventures.

Stay with us as we journey across, up and down the Americas and hopefully tick off our own version of the Pan-American drive….

Cheers

Justin

Gremlins!

Hi Everyone!

Been a few gremlins floating around in globatrol cyberspace for a while now. It would seem they have been covertly attempting to stop our email updates from making it to your inbox!

Fortunately for us we have our own anti gremlin specialist commando called Mike! After releasing him, it appears he’s performed his duties once again and assures us that emails will once again flow!

Just in case you haven’t checked our site of late, we have had a few posts uploaded that you may have missed…

We are now soaking up grey sky and sheets of rain back in the UK but with no end in sight of tasks to perform as we get planning underway for next year!

Good news is that we have been invited to attend Overland Expo West in Arizona, the largest 4×4 and adventure overland shown the world,  which will no doubt be a great chance to catch up on the latest overland gear! Check it out at www.overlandexpo.com

We’ve also decided to launch a Facebook page in order to compliment our website. Hopefully we can keep you up to date with snippets of life on the road in-between our posts. so if Facebook is your thing then head on over and click “Like”

facebook.com/globatrol

Moroccan Gremlin?

Moroccan Gremlin?

Trip Planning

Trip Planning

Cheers

Justin and Jen

 

 

Morocco

Our European counterparts may not have as easy access to unpopulated lands as the Australian local, but WOW! – With Morocco just over that narrow gap of sea between continents, they do have outstanding opportunities to test their cultural comfort zone!

A few hours drive and a car ferry and you could well be on Mars! Such a contrast in lifestyle and culture…

Can’t recall the last time I camped whilst Bedouin nomads lit a fire within metres of our camp and spent the evening observing us like we were an episode of “Neighbours”, before hinting that we could unburden ourselves of anything we didn’t need in their direction, including our dinner! Returning at dawn, they sat amongst the dunes for one final episode and with some fossils and trinkets to sell, they made some cash before the entertainment disappeared through the sand dunes with a puff of black smoke.

Nomad Family watching "Neighbours"

Nomad Family watching “Neighbours”

You can see them sitting just behind the cars

You can see them sitting just behind the cars waiting for us to wake up.

It’s an odd experience! You may well be on Mars, but to these locals you’re the Martian!

So for the European 4×4 enthusiast it’s no surprise that Morocco is their “Mecca” and beckons their return time and time again.

Now for Morocco!

90 minutes on the ferry and Spain slips away! With Gibraltar hazily visible on the horizon, the first challenge is negotiating customs! It was weirdly refreshing to once again dodge scam artists around the port and receive mixed instructions from officials without much in the way of a streamlined process!

Gibraltar across the narrow sea

Gibraltar across the narrow sea

“You don’t have the right signature!” (Well I think that is what he said!) “Go back that way somewhere” is suggested with a wave through 90 degrees of the hand to get the extra signature.  As expected there was no one back in that general direction to provide any form of mark on the confusing piece of paper! No wait – there he is, he wasn’t at his control station because he was hungry/tired/angry just as the ferry arrived!

To be honest though, Morocco was the height of efficiency compared to many of the Central Asian border crossings…

I expected it to take a little time readjusting to life beyond Europe but was comfortably surprised to feel quite at home from the off!

Whilst Morocco has it’s share of modern town infrastructure with golf courses and the like, they are certainly aimed squarely at the tourist and very, very few and far between.

Within metres of leaving these towns, you’ll not see anything remotely touristy, it’s back to mud huts, donkeys for transport, poor quality infrastructure and butchers with the day’s carcass swinging in the breeze on the sidewalk.

Shopping Moroccan Style

Shopping Moroccan Style

The iconic blue buildings of Chefchaouen

The iconic blue buildings of Chefchaouen

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Combined people and animal transport

Combined people and animal transport

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This was one of the better ones!

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Cities such as Fes and Marrakech absolutely ooze Moroccan character with the medinas (old town) and souks (markets) virtually unchanged after hundreds of years (except maybe for the infiltration of Chinese plastic goods!) Particularly so in the case of Fes – the medina and souk there contain the famous tannery that literally oozes not to mention the marvellous miasma of fumes that tends to emanate from such places.  You can actually pass out whilst walking and wake up a few metres further on without breaking step so I discovered!

The Souk in Fes

The Souk in Fes

If you could bottle it, you’d surely outsell pepper spray as a personal deterrent!

Good way of hiding mobile phone infrastructure!

Good way of hiding mobile phone infrastructure!

Following some GPS track files passed on to us by our friends back at Globe Camper in Narbonne, we found our way easily and quickly into areas of Central Morocco that were wonderfully eye catching with friendly people and terrain loaded with perfect camping opportunities. We wasted a few days just wandering the landscape enjoying the sensation of wild camping by ourselves again. One day we only moved 8kms!!

Great camping terrain

Great camping terrain

IMG_4526Low mountains in the mid north of the country are loaded with interesting outcrops of granite interspersed with wonderfully attractive forests of cedar trees. These give way to the Middle then High Atlas Mountains, still with a smattering of snow in Autumn – lovely scenery that reminded me why we love to travel.

Huge Cedar Trees

Huge Cedar Trees

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Diverse terrain

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Interesting Villages

Interesting Villages

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Heading south the mountains began to relinquish their hold as the atrophy of millennia has ground away the geography to create stunning river canyons before dissipating into the stark beauty that is the Sahara Desert.

The entrance to Dades Gorge

The entrance to Dades Gorge

Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge

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Beautiful date palm valleys

Beautiful date palm valleys

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and special tourists....

and special tourists….

As the track files ran out, we gravitated back to our usual style of route finding. Morocco is loaded with off road tracks so it’s not at all difficult to plan a journey to suit.

Came across a wedding celebration

Came across a wedding celebration

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Not sure why they needed the rifle!!!

Not sure why they needed a  rifle!!!

Travelling through the Atlas however was a little bitter sweet. One of my most memorable interactions with the locals north of the Atlas, was a farmer and his family stopping their tractor in order to welcome us to Morocco and provide us with a swag of delicious fruit they had just harvested. Once in the midst of the Atlas however, I was close to being put off the country completely!

Local Farmer welcoming us to Morocco

Local Farmer welcoming us to Morocco

Of all of the countries, people, customs and practices that we’ve experienced during our travels, this was the first time we’ve had rocks thrown at the Patrol, Jen hissed at by devout women for not being completely covered as we drove by and horses ushered across the road in an attempt to force us to stop. Large rocks rolled in front of us whilst under way, groups of young boys on hilltops with rock laden slingshots aimed at us and being abused as you travel thorough a village slowly so as not to either run over someone or cover them in mud.

I’ve no doubt this behaviour is as a result of well meaning tourists travelling the backcountry in and out of relatively poor villages handing out swathes of first world stuff such as lollies, cheap souvenirs and probably the odd cash/coin hand out as well! Possibly feeling they have descended on the tribe as the missionaries of an era gone by, they broach the differences and befriend the indigenous folk with trinkets from the north, thus providing themselves with a warm glow and tales of the exotic beyond the seas to tell late into the night upon their return.

IMG_4646However, this behaviour only instills in the children that the distinctive foreign vehicle is a source of easy income and goods for a family living off the land and suddenly schooling is abandoned (along with any future that it may provide) in favour of begging and ambushing tourists. So it goes without saying that when you travel through one of these villages without spewing forth such items, you are then the target of their anger and frustration and the aforementioned rock throwing begins!

As it’s becomes worse, no doubt some travellers may fold to the pressure in order to avoid the friction, dents and broken windows that may ensue but ultimately that will encourage the behaviour, as children will pursue what yields results!

The lower agricultural lands have an obviously higher standard of income and far less, if any, begging was experienced. The problems encountered were only in a localized section of the Atlas Mountains and a few hours driving saw us clear to engage and enjoy local hospitality once again!

Buying potatoes from a local farmer whose wife then suggested I should give her my Seiko watch!

Buying potatoes from a local farmer whose wife then suggested I should give her my Seiko watch! The potatoes weren’t that good!!!!

Our nights meal being prepared

Our nights meal being prepared

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Evening entertainment

Evening entertainment

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A bit of dancing!

We did cross this area again on our return northwards with similar behaviour experienced but we were a bit more proactive the second time, thanks to some sound advice from a French overlander. Slamming on the brakes and pulling out the camera in order to mug shot the perpetrators proved remarkably effective in dissuading rock throwing.

Yes, you will be punished if you’re caught on film with such intention and Jen leaping from the car, camera in hand, to leg it after the culprits also proved to be a hilarious deterrent!!

One of the culprits!

One of the culprits!

No doubt, tourism is the big earner for Morocco and stopping for any length of time, and on occasion even when camped in secure compounds, your subjected to the usual barrage!

“You want to see Sahara my friend?”

“You must have me as guide! I can do this for you!”

“What do you mean? “no – you don’t need a guide!””

“You can’t drive the Sahara alone!! You will die without my skills!“

“OK OK! Maybe you want buy genuine Berbere carpet (for a ridiculously exorbitant amount of money!) or jewellery maybe? My uncle he makes himself!”

Yada yada yada…

It’s continual and predictable, but easily overcome!

Another Moroccan oddity is the Bedouin! Nomadic and wandering every nook and cranny all over southern Morocco, it’s almost impossible to expect a night of solitude.

At some point, just as you relax into your calming beverage, the sound of approaching goats lets you know they are on their way. You will be visited and eventually met with a request for food, clothes or other, again most likely driven by their past experiences with tourists doling out their discards. Generally speaking, these people were not necessarily poor by Moroccan standards, more so opportunistic, but in a way that was not confronting or off putting. They would eventually wave and wander off with a smile to relocate their herd of goats!

IMG_5701 IMG_4976 On quite a few occasions, souvenir sellers would suggest whisky or wine as a universal currency able to be traded at substantially more than its face value for nearly anything, which surprised me considerably given the non drinking religious status of the locals!

For a people that don't drink they certainly produce a lot of wine!

For a people that don’t drink they certainly produce a lot of wine!

We felt that the more remote nomads to the southeast had a better handle on the tourist. In the middle of nowhere, rather than beg, on many an occasion they would have a little trestle with some homemade camel souvenirs or maybe a collection of locally found fossils for sale. They were not pushy or aggressive and as a result we purchased quite a few items from such enterprising locals, frequently children. We can only hope these lessons spread further to the north and penetrate the thinking there for I fear it won’t be long before some areas within the Atlas region will find themselves devoid of tourists and the cash injection they bring to the community in general.

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Buying locally made toy camels

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Fossils for sale

Enroute to the Saharan dunes of Erg Chebbi, we met up with a Swedish family travelling solo and, as we were heading in the same direction, ended up spending a week together before parting company! It was nice chatting away into the evening with other independent travellers with there own interesting stories.

Fredrik and Cathrin

Fredrik and Cathrin

Fredrik and Cathrin's GQ Patrol having a swim

Fredrik and Cathrin’s GQ Patrol having a swim

Over extremely harsh, rocky tyre smashing terrain we descended off the plateau and into a more Saharan landscape and discovered our first true Saharan Oasis! The stunning backdrop of shifting dunes overlooking a grove of date palms loaded with yellow fruit and a Bedouin pulling water from a hole was really just as you would expect it look!

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Saharan Oasis

Saharan Oasis Camp

 

The dunes of Erg Chebbi really are stunning and sunset is when the colour palate expands and the red sand becomes a canvas on some huge imaginary easel. The striking scenes change within seconds as darkness descends and the desert night sky reveals its bright pin pricks of light from horizon to horizon. It’s so encompassing that you could be forgiven for ducking your head to avoid colliding with a star!

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View from camp

View from camp

With tyre pressures lowered, we just had to sample the great dunes, however, I’ve no doubt that with an uncontrolled spike in adrenalin you could find yourself quickly on your lid amongst these grand sandy peaks.

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Fredrik got a bit excited!

Fredrik got a bit excited!

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Satellite imagery for navigation around the back of the dunes

Satellite imagery for navigation around the back of the dunes

 

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Across the border into Algeria, the Erg (sand sea) and palm tree spectacle continues for another 1000km or so… However, setting foot into the Algerian Sahara comes with it’s own risks; not returning with your head attached being one of them!

Along Morocco’s southern border with Algeria we travelled in and out of sporadic villages whilst picking up clouds of bull dust (locally called “feche feche”) as heavy as anything I’ve ever encountered in Australia. Hence, we were very happy that dust sealing had been such a high priority in our camper design – without that feature, it would have been the same powder dust experience inside as out without doubt!

With a strong military presence along the border we found ourselves being stopped consistently for passport checks. It’s all a little “Keystone Cops” really as checkpoints are many km’s apart and you can roam in any direction without ever being spotted! It was made all the more humorous when, within site of one outpost, we wandered north into Moroccan territory for a few km’s, very slowly in low range, with the aim of looking around some small valleys that looked rather interesting – something we’d been doing all along this route.

Moroccan Army

Moroccan Army

All the while we were clearly visible to our military protectors until the last 50 or so metres when we parked in a small valley! Ten minutes later and there they were, camouflage uniforms, flip-flop sandals and a custom LandCruiser that rarely touched mother earth, it was going so fast!

Honestly, I think they were just bored and looking for some excitement, as they seemed disappointed when we were just tourists! Radio calls were made to report back the results of their scramble to action and every checkpoint after knew that we were the “Australians” on the radio!!!

Anyway it was nice to have them looking out for us!

We ended up camping just outside a small military compound that night. One of the troops provided us with some vegies for dinner with the obvious ulterior motive of engaging Jen in what bordered on inappropriate conversation! Sick of having goats to keep them warm at night I guess! Nonetheless it was an experience!

Military outpost

Military outpost

Turning northwards, we visited Ait Ben Haddou and its famous Ksar then headed via Tata and Tafraoute where we experienced some of the most stunning drives we encountered in Morocco before we popped out on the Atlantic Coast near Agadir.

The Ksar at Ait Ben Haddou - famous film location

The Ksar at Ait Ben Haddou – a famous film location over the years

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Moroccan Aerospace development

Moroccan Aerospace development

Not really sure how this found its way to Morocco

Not really sure how this found its way to Morocco

Or how I even begin to explain this...

Or how I even begin to explain this…

The beautiful scenery of Tafraoute

The beautiful scenery of Tafraoute

Locals swimming near Agadir

Locals swimming near Agadir

Camels Ploughing Fields

Camel and Donkey ploughing fields

Our beach camp overlooking the Atlantic

Our beach camp overlooking the Atlantic

Making our way north, we visited Essaouira and it’s famous fish market! The town although rather touristy, still managed to charm us with a great vibe, narrow streets and interesting views along with a wind whipped sea crashing into the old town’s sea wall!

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IMG_5961 The fish market was the second time I managed to pass out whilst walking, only this time I think I managed a 100-metre wander before coming to!

Not sure if Justin is conscious...

Not sure if Justin is conscious…

From there it was finally to Marrakech and despite some mixed opinions from other travellers, we really enjoyed the souk experience and wandering around the old medina. We were expecting to be harassed by relentless touts offering to be our guide and stifling crowds, but instead found it to be a much more pleasant experience. I suppose it all depends on your expectations and the extremities of your comfort zone.

Koutoubia Mosque - Marrakech

Koutoubia Mosque – Marrakech

The Souk - Marrakech

The Souk – Marrakech

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A slow doddle north via a mix of geography including another stint in the High Atlas, the Roman archaeological site of Volubilis and a few more days relaxing on the sea, we arrived back where we’d started at the Port of Tanger Med. Nearly 5000km of Morocco behind us we crossed back to Algeciras and straight into a Lidl Supermarket! Ahhhh it’s amazing the things you miss…

Imi-n-Ifri Natural Bridge

Imi-n-Ifri Natural Bridge

Volubilis Roman Ruins

Volubilis Roman Ruins

Intricate Roman Mosaics

Intricate Roman Mosaics

The harbour at Moulay Bousselham

The harbour at Moulay Bousselham

Not so sure about the quality of the electrical supply in the campground but I'm sure there was an RCD somewhere??? We actually used this!

Not so sure about the quality of the electrical supply in the campground but I’m sure there was an RCD somewhere??? We were actually expected to use this!!!

Gibraltar, Spain and the dash across Portugal next time!

Justin.

Onward We Go!

Keeping posts coming with the regularity that you, our valued readers, deserve can be quite difficult at times. In my defense (Rebecca), we’ve been on the road consistently for the last few weeks and have been drinking and relaxing on the Med with friends, which is quite taxing! As such, the rigors of travel haven’t provided me with the space and time needed to dictate my thoughts and hence this post will be a long one to get things up to date! But I have included an intermission!!

Boo Hoo I hear you say!! Swanning around Europe and can’t find the time to keep your extended family of followers in the loop! Fair comment – but Jen takes an awful lot of looking after! So here goes….

We were keen on spending some time travelling west through the Alps but first on the list was a stop at Berchtesgaden – the home of Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” and it afforded us a lovely drive into these incredible mountains.

Hitler’s 50th Birthday present was built in 3 years atop a mountain precipice with jaw dropping views across the Alps and, on a clear day, as far as Salzburg.

Eagles Nest

Eagles Nest

Left untouched by the Allied bombing campaign, the only real damage was inflicted by the troops liberating the country after the fall of the Nazi Regime. Chunks of a red marble fireplace installed in the building as a gift from megalomaniac Mussolini to his megalomaniac associate were popular souvenirs.

Mussolini"s Marble Fireplace

Mussolini”s Marble Fireplace

It’s a rather simple almost unimpressive structure not exuding the level of grandeur you might expect. Certainly an incredible feat of engineering, the building now finds itself purposed as a restaurant and although I’d expected more of a museum experience with the usual dissection of Nazi ideals, the structure has been given a new life beyond it’s dark reasons for existing which in many ways have saved it from being another example of tyranny.

The 80mtr tunnel to the Brass Elevator

The 80mtr tunnel to the Brass Elevator

Hitler"s Brass Elevator

Hitler”s Brass Elevator

Eagles Nest Restaurant

Eagles Nest Restaurant

Making west, it’s easy to find your jaw hurting a little as every road and km really provides splendid jaw dropping scenery.

Lovely Alpine Architecture

Lovely Alpine Architecture

Crossing into Italy, the Dolomites made an appearance on the GPS screen and I expected to see a continuation of the same type of mountain topography as that throughout Austria. Singularly unique, the Dolomites certainly have their very own character – colours, formations and appeal, placing themselves well apart from the Alps in character almost as if they want to be different.

Dolomites Scenery

Dolomites Scenery

Dolomites Driving

Dolomites Driving

Dolomites Pass

Dolomites Pass

This whole region is as visually stunning as anywhere else that I’ve had the fortune to visit. An autumn visit also has it’s positives – great hiking trails and a lack of closed roads along with the missing tourists that would no doubt patronise this area during ski season.

The Stelvio Pass is a mandatory drive with its 48 hairpin turns up and 40 hairpin turns down depending on your direction of travel. You can share the drive with Ferrari’s and Porsche’s and every kind of motorbike sporting want-to-be Casey Stoners perched on them. Some of them may have actually been stoners given their lack of adherence to any form of road rules. They seem to feel a sense of entitlement when on these powerful machines and get angry at the fact they have to share the road! Following a heavy Nissan Patrol wasn’t what they had in mind when they plastered on their saddle cream and strapped on their leathers in anticipation of a record fast ascent to boast about over a pizza and beer later that day.

48 Switchbacks up...

48 Switchbacks up…

And 40 Switchbacks down

And 40 Switchbacks down

Beer and Pizza

Pizza and Beer!

Let’s also not forget the supercars that hammer up the straights only to find they need to take the hairpin corners slower than we do! When the hairpins are close together as with Stelvio, it would seem that “made in Japan” and a top speed of 140km an hour down hill with a tail wind is just as fast on hill climbs as all of those stallions!!

That Patrol is still behind me!!!!

That Patrol is still behind me!!!!

I found it all rather amusing really!

Out of Italy and through Saint Moritz in Switzerland, it was the first time we’d encountered a re-activated border checkpoint within the Eurozone. Later we discovered that most Schengen borders were now, once again, manned in an attempt to stem the Syrian Refugee flow, along with the sudden exodus of people from Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and so on, in search of a slice of Germany’s economic generosity whilst Mrs. Merkel remains at the helm and in charge of the cheque book.

Back into Italy and a look at the famous Lake Como but unfortunately it rained incessantly all day. Views of the lake were still lovely but gloomy and with a distinct lack of visibility and complete loss of vibrancy.

Lake Como

Lake Como

The wet theme continued as we travelled via Lake Lugano, venturing back into Switzerland before once again entering Italy on our way to France. You’ll need a map to follow that lot!

Lugano, Switzerland

Lugano, Switzerland

Trippy Tunnel!!

Trippy Tunnel!!

 

Bormio, Italy

Bormio, Italy

Beautiful Bormio by night

Beautiful Bormio by night

Montiglio Monferrato

Montiglio Monferrato, Italy

San Lorenzo Church dating from the 12 century

San Lorenzo Church dating from the 12 century

Village Scenery enroute

Village Scenery enroute

A night spent in the French town of Sospel deserves a mention – a classic example of a French village, as the pictures will display. Nestled amongst large mountains and sporting beautiful scenery along with character loaded buildings hundreds of years old, it’s affordable and a real taste of village life in France, yet your only 20km from Monaco!

Sospel

Sospel

 

Historic Bridge in Sospel

Historic Bridge in Sospel

More Sospel

More Sospel

We’d had a date booked in for some time to meet up with friends from Perth who were staying near Saint Tropez as guests for a wedding.

So onward through Nice, as we thought it would be good to have a look at the area and see if any memories were jogged as we’d stayed there in 2005. In the end, it was worth the detour but the traffic was diabolical and slowed us down to a snails pace. We managed our rendezvous  though, after submitting to the use of French toll roads in order to pick up the pace.

Friends Mick and Sue met us as we entered the village of Cogolin and Sue’s brother Chris led us out of the town via small roads and tracks to the place he calls home with wife Julie.

One minute you’re in the hustle and bustle that is life on the Med and a mere 10 minutes later, it’s peace and quite amongst vineyards and cork trees interspersed with sporadic dwellings – such a contrast.

St Tropez - Home of the Beautiful People!!

St Tropez – Home of the Plastic People!!

St Tropez

St Tropez

St Tropez Boats v Buildings

St Tropez Boats v Buildings

With such a relaxing, peaceful location away from the hustle and bustle but with such convenient access to the sparkle and glitter of Saint Tropez and the beautiful haven of Port Grimaud, it was easy to see the appeal.

Market Day, Port Grimaud

Market Day, Port Grimaud

Ample supplies of beer and wine left over from Chris and Julie’s daughter’s wedding just days earlier, made our stay even more enjoyable! The stun juice flowed endlessly and it seemed a shame to let it go to waste!

Drinks with old and new friends!

Drinks with old and new friends!

With Chris displaying exemplary skills in both fire making and BBQ techniques combined with Julie’s continuous supply of tasty treats we left indebted to these great people and hope to see them again should our paths cross.

Chris's Swedish Candle?

Chris’s Swedish Candle?

Catching up With Mick and Sue was a great distraction from life on the road. So nice to meet up with friends from home and speak some Australian for a few days.

Intermission – Time to grab a coffee or go back to work!!

Pernes les Fontaines was the town in our sights now after an invitation arrived in our inbox from Philip and Bianca (whom we’d been so fortunate to spend time with in Germany) to join them for dinner. On offer was a restaurant with a highly regarded menu of quality produce, a waiting list for reservations and overnight camper van parking! “Would we be able to join them as a space could be made available for us?”

Well, we like our food and it can be a real challenge finding a venue that will live up to your expectations and budget when you have very limited language skills. Wow! It was worth the effort! Outstanding food along with emotive and full-bodied conversation, we’d had yet another sensational interlude with 2 of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. It was over all too quickly for my liking. The following morning with hopeful plans of future interludes in place, we departed in opposite directions.

Pont du Gard, Avignon, France

Pont du Gard, Avignon, France

Sommieres

Sommieres

Sommieres Architecture

Sommieres Architecture

Sommieres River

Sommieres River

A poignant reminder...

A poignant reminder…

Roman ruins and ancient villages rolling by, we found our way a few days later to Narbonne in the South of France. Back in Turkey, we’d met some avid travellers who had invited us to visit en-route to Morocco along with offering the use of their factory should we need to perform any maintenance. Not just a factory, but a 4×4 specialist camper building facility! Being on the same page as these guys made life very easy for me.

Globe Camper

Globe Camper

Mecca Engineering and Globe Camper combine to build custom camper units along with all of the upgrades to the 4×4 that you could ever require. Skander and Dave have one of those unique working relationships that just works, not to mention Skander’s wife Veronique TIG welding in the background whilst Dave’s wife Monica fits a Webasto heater and plumbs it up. 2 great couples combining to build high quality campers ready for Morocco’s High Atlas or anywhere else you’d like to venture sums these dynamos up.

Skander and Veronique at work

Skander and Veronique at work

From the moment we entered the factory it was like being with family! Nothing was too much trouble and work was instantly put on hold to provide us with what ever we needed.

First on the agenda were replacement tyres! At the end of this post there is a little more about the tyre situation for those who are interested.

With tyres ordered, I now had time to service the Patrol whilst Jen tinted the passenger’s side window! The replacement window that I’d fitted after it was shot with an air rifle in the UK wasn’t tinted and she was complaining of getting burnt – the little petal!

Over the next couple of days we ticked off numerous other little jobs that we hadn’t had the time or a suitable venue to sort out. It was incredibly nice having a fully functioning factory to perform such tasks as opposed to what had become the standard – a paddock or car park! I cannot over-emphasise how grateful we were to have unlimited use of their factory, equipment and knowledge.  Big THANKS guys!!!

Being treated to a lovely Tapas lunch in Narbonne was totally unexpected especially since we knew these guys were under pressure to get a camper delivered in a couple of days but still they made time to ensure our stay was outstanding.

We did eventually leave them to get back on with their lives but not before they’d made sure we had track files for the Pyrenees and Morocco and anything else we required had been taken care of. Cant’ thank them enough! Hopefully we can convince them to join us for a tour of WA sometime in the future.

Our friends at Globe Campers and Mecca Engineering

Our friends at Globe Campers and Mecca Engineering

With days slipping by it was into the Pyrenees via the unusual little country of Andorra with its tax-free cigarettes and alcohol along with much cheaper fuel. It is an odd little place full of fancy ski resorts and not overly appealing other than the standard mountain views that are always welcome. It does however have some great off road trails meandering thorough its countryside.

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Carcassone, France, enroute to Andorra

Andorra

Andorra

We managed to depart Andorra via a well-known trail aptly called the Smuggler’s Route due to the trafficking of tax-free goods over the mountains and into Spain. It must be fact, as after a long low range descent and now finding ourselves within Spain’s’ borders, we were stopped for a cursory check and questioning as to whether we were carrying any of those cheap Andorran products via the local Police! Another visit to the Pyrenees without the time pressure of a dwindling Schengen Visa would be welcome as without doubt these lovely mountains offer some great camping and off road driving.

Smuggler's Route Terrain

Smuggler’s Route Terrain

Great Pyrenees Scenery

Great Pyrenees Scenery

We pretty much hit the highway at this point and put in 1100km over the next 2 days. We did manage a few side detours and interesting visits along the way however, probably one of the most notable being Toledo.

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Jen had visited previously and remembered it to be worth the effort! It all went a bit pear shaped as we decided that we would break our own rule and drive near to the centre rather than a long walk, as time was an issue.

Passing the maximum width 2m sign, I already knew I’d made a mistake. I’ve been caught before but it would seem I’m a slow learner. (PS. We are exactly 2 mtrs wide!)

Well about 20 minutes of extremely stressful navigation amongst throngs of goggle eyed tourists along cobbled very narrow lane ways ensued! Wing mirrors grazing buildings as you idle by and tourists gasping as you just miss historic brickwork in order to make ridiculously tight corners is a give away that you shouldn’t be there! I even had to park up for a while after it was all over to settle the nerves! But the town was pretty nice!!!

Anyway it’s all on the car camera so I’ll see how it looks and put it up for all to see and as a warning to others! PARK OUTSIDE the CENTRE and walk in rather than thinking it’ll be OK!

The Spanish countryside along the South East is rather dull and uninteresting with km after km of flat and uninteresting terrain reminiscent of central Queensland I thought. The odd visit to a village made the journey seem less rushed and broke the monotony of the highway.

Castles and windmills in Spain

Castles and windmills in Spain

Gibraltar appeared and we arranged our ferry tickets from an agent in Algeciras recommended by Dave from Globe Camper. Good thing too as it was much cheaper than the internet and others!! A quick stock up with shopping including a reasonable selection of alcoholic beverages and it was onto the ferry. We hit the North African coast at the port of Tanger Med.

Ferry to Morocco

Ferry to Morocco

Stay tuned for the next instalment!

Cheers – Justin.

Tyre Update for those interested.

We’ve had a few problems with the Cooper ST MAXX tyres as some of you may know but were hopeful of continuing on the current set through to the USA as Cooper Australia had indicated to me some time ago that they may be able to sort something out with Cooper Head Office in the USA for our onward journey – an offer of which I am very appreciative.

As such, with intermittent visits to tire shops for rebalancing as best they could and one tyre losing air via splitting around the bead I was left with only 1 reliable spare but I’d still persisted with the vision of stretching their lifespan a little longer.

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It had come to the point however that I felt the possibility of a blowout or other high-speed incident was likely with really bad splits developing around the beads and a lot of delamination between the white lettering and black rubber.

Delamination

Delamination

The prospect of thousands of kms of harsh terrain in Morocco made the decision for me – they had to come off.

I’ve had numerous sets of Cooper STT’s prior to this version and found them to be a thoroughly reliable tyre, albeit with a low km lifespan as expected from a mud profile tyre. The ST MAXX’s have now travelled an admirable 56000km with plenty of tread remaining and if it weren’t for the presence of these faults, would have met the task required of them and fulfilled their life expectancy.

Still plenty of tread

Still plenty of tread

Uneven wear

Uneven wear

Vertical splits on the sidewall and lateral splitting around the bead however, of which there are many reports on the Internet, would seem to be an issue with this version. Maybe they’ve sorted it out with newer models but I can only go on my own experience. With 2 complete failures and all the others indicating similar areas of concern, it was an easy decision.

Vertical Sidewall split replaced in Russia

Vertical Sidewall split replaced in Russia

 

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Reluctant to find myself in the same situation again, I replaced them with BFG Ko2’s, which are BFGoodrich’s latest offering and competitor to the Cooper ST MAXX. I’ll see how these go over the next months and hopefully report back with all positives.

New Boots!

New Boots!