Category Archives: USA

The Countdown

For a multitude of reasons, none of which are even remotely tethered to a desire to stop travelling or depart from our new life on the road, we’d made the decision a couple of months ago to head back to Australia!

Sadly South America will have to wait a little longer…

One of the main factors was that after such a long time on the road we’d finally hit our groove! So why are we stopping I hear you ask??… Well, we felt that our new “groove” would, without doubt, require more time be spent in South America than we can realistically afford to dedicate to it at the moment.

Oh and did I mention that we ran out of cash!! Hahaha…

Well, not quite, but if we had shipped the Patrol across to South America, we would have been committing to an onward journey of unknown duration. We weren’t prepared to rush this wonderful continent and money for large up front costs was thinning hence a future Expedition will need to be planned.

I must admit that I also quite like the idea of having the South American carrot dangling in front of my nose – I’m not quite ready to consider this being our last international overland journey.

But on with the job at hand…

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A flash of internet coverage revealed Laurie the Cat Lady and Yukon Ron were parked-up at Imperial Dam just north of Yuma. Being only an hour or so drive east of us, east we went!

Date Palms abound in this area and the landscape was mildly reminiscent of Morocco but Moroccan’s haven’t yet figured out the “Date Shake” – a luxurious ice cream and date puree thick shake. YUM!!!

Near Yuma

Near Yuma

Imperial Dam Recreation Area

Imperial Dam Recreation Area

After a few more days in great company, it was time to move on. Difficult farewells were exchanged and we made north-west through the heart of the Imperial Sand Dunes.

Highway through the Dunes

Highway through the Dunes

It was hard not to marvel at the sheer quantity of RV’s and ATV’s in these adventure-promising sand dunes! Petrol powered machines testing themselves against the vastness of the shifting sands!

The amount of money thrashing around hour after hour before needing to return to the 50ft Winnebago for a snack and refuel, before once again tearing off into the Martian Landscape was truly astounding! But hey it’s America.

RV's flocking to the Imperial Sand Dunes

RV’s flocking to the Imperial Sand Dunes

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Dune Buggy Action

Dune Buggy Action

Continuing west we were treated to an aerial display by the Blue Angels as they practiced for an upcoming Air Show in Yuma! No one even takes any notice over here; it’s all happening so frequently – amazing!

In some ways, we’d been avoiding what felt like the final turn north. There was a deep down anxiety about heading toward the finish line I suppose. It had to happen eventually and so it was that the compass needle now settled on a northerly bearing. The GPS for the first time, counted down to a final destination, rather than from a start point! All a bit weird really…

Those 4 People must be important

Those 4 People must be important

Slab City is named after the remnant concrete foundations from the WW2 Marine Corp Barracks of Camp Dunlap. It developed as an inexpensive haven for RV’s over the winter months before the frying pan temperatures forced their migration northwards. In later years however, it’s become a nest for those living off the grid and others not wishing to take part in life as we know it – all have found their way to Slab City.

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Despite it’s generally grungy appearance, it is a most interesting site for a wander especially as it sports a huge sculpture – one mans labor of love over many years after he found God!

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A highlight for us was meeting more overland travellers; Kenny and Tine were about to embark on their dream of wandering south along the Pan-Am route for the foreseeable future! I’m happy to report these cool dudes have now crossed into Mexico as they follow their dream. Their blog as follows if you’re interested – http://www.adventureofhanselandgretel.com/

Kenny and Tine

Kenny and Tine

Just northwest of Slab City is the Salton Sea. This below sea level lake sits within some lovely geography and during its heyday, supported numerous resorts, RV campgrounds and boating marinas. Unfortunately human activity over time has left the lake extremely saline, polluted with agricultural runoff and a rather putrid smell that wafts over the surrounding landscape when the wind is up. Hence the whole area and the promise it held has become an abandoned wasteland and it’s also one of the underlying reasons Slab City became more of a fringe settlement than a retreat for those on the road.

Some of the residents

Some of the residents

The casualties of Salton Sea's toxicity - dead fish

The casualties of Salton Sea’s toxicity – dead fish

 

Now running north along the banks of the Salton Sea, we encountered more “men of God” living off the grid before we camped just outside the town of Mecca. I now have a rather nice collection of business card size ideological constructs for life going forward or coasters I guess, depending on your persuasion!

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Salton Sea

Salton Sea

A road runs from Mecca up through rather scenic Box Canyon before arriving at Joshua Tree NP’s southern entrance. We had endeavoured to camp within internet coverage because some insane Canadians that we seem to have had an effect on, decided to throw a tent in their luggage and fly from Calgary to San Francisco, hire a car and drive 1600km to catch-up with us for a couple of nights…

Road Runner

the coyote’s after you…

Well, there was an ulterior motive to this little escapade! The delivery of a gift that needed to be packed in the Patrol for return to Australia! And that gift is just bloody fantastic, but you’ll have to wait to see what it is – guess I can keep you on the hook that way and force you to keep reading my monologue…

Morning!!!

Morning!!!

Opening gifts from Crazy Canadians

Opening gifts from Crazy Canadians

You'll have to wait for the big reveal

You’ll have to wait for the big reveal

The opportunity to spend a couple of days with Alison and David before our return down under requires no elaboration our end, primarily because I don’t have the words to adequately express how we feel about such an amazing gesture. Thanks Guys!

Box Canyon

Box Canyon

Joshua Tree NP

Joshua Tree NP

Our last night camped together before the crazy Canadians made the dash back to San Francisco saw us struggling a little to find somewhere suitable.  With deteriorating weather adding to the pressure, we did as we always do and eventually found a home. That change in the forecast resulted in a bloody cold night and well we may have a small camper but it proved it’s metal that evening! The 4 of us enjoyed the Webasto heater whilst we managed to cook and devour a roast within our tiny confines, I’m pretty proud of that effort. Oh and we drank a little too!

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It may be a small camper but 4 of us dined in comfort!!!

Our last camp with David and Alison

Our last camp with David and Alison

We enjoyed an early lunch at the Café 247 in Lucerne Valley (conveniently located on Hwy 247) where we said our goodbyes before Alison and David departed for the long drive north back to San Francisco and a flight back to frozen Calgary!

Cafe 247

Cafe 247

Whoever owned the café must have been to Australia as the walls were decorated with Automotive memorabilia (as is often the case in the good old USA), but this was the first time I’d seen Holden collectables and Aussie number plates as decoration (tags for those who don’t speak Aussie English) Even Western Australian ones…

Western Australian Licence Plates on the wall

Western Australian Licence Plates on the wall

After Alison and David departed we actually started to believe that we truly were heading back to Australia. Weird I guess but that’s the truth of it.

More friendly locals spot the Patrol

More friendly locals spot the Patrol

Now it was time to get to work cleaning the car. We settled on a few nights at Sawtooth canyon, the same campsite where Jen had previously upset some locals with a generator resulting in there timely departure! Anyway, as like minded travellers are like minded, we ran into Kenni and Tine again, requiring more social interaction, it’s tuff being nomadic!

Close to Barstow and a high-pressure wash facility, we began cleaning the Patrol for its transit down under.

We spent about 3 days on the car, pressure washing the undercarriage and engine bay, pulling up floor mats and trim, vacuuming everything, checking radiator fins for bugs and seeds and removing dust from every nook and cranny with a toothbrush! Not an overly enjoyable task especially when you know in the back of your mind that despite the vehicle now looking better than when it left the Nissan Factory, it’s more than likely that Australian Quarantine Inspectors will still find some reason to send it for “cleaning” and a large cleaning bill could follow…

Cleaning the car...

Cleaning the car…

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Looking for dirt in every nook and cranny…

Hopefully I’m wrong, but that seems to be the general experience amongst travellers. I do wonder if it’s random or whether returning to Australia from an overseas journey just gets their heckles up and they feel the need for a little fleecing! Ahhh well, we shall see if I’m wrong on the above count shortly… Wharfies, Customs and Quarantine are generally easy to deal with aren’t they??

The only real goal that remained on our agenda was a run up Hwy 1 along the California coast, so we best get moving! Across the top of LA we travelled via Vasquez Rocks – a famous Hollywood filming location – and on to Santa Barbara.

Vasquez Rocks

Vasquez Rocks

We popped out at Ventura and hit Hwy 1. Onward to Santa Barbara, we followed the coast taking in the sights as good tourists do.

Seaside Santa Barbara

Seaside Santa Barbara

Once again, I have to give the Americans credit here. A large section of old Hwy 1 has been set aside along the drive specifically for RV’s to camp in the narrow band that divides road and ocean and enjoy the lovely scenery. Can’t imagine Australia instigating that sort of freedom any time soon…

Road/Seaside Camping

Road/Seaside Camping

Our night’s camp was at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area , a section of beach set aside for leisure and camping amidst a populated stretch of coast. I’m starting think Australian councils should visit California – I guess they do when the tax payer funds a junket! I suppose they only see the insides of restaurants on those trips now that I think about it. Ouch the cynicism is rampant now!

Camped at Oceano Dunes

Camped at Oceano Dunes

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Other campers - there is a river crossing involved to get this far!

Other campers – there is a river crossing involved to get this far!

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Amidst suburbia!

Amidst suburbia!

Unfortunately, the storms which had given us a mud bath back in Mexico, had released the brunt of their force on California. The tourist drive up through Big Sur sits along a steep section of coastline and was completely washed away with the obvious consequence of the road being closed until further notice. We were aware of it before we headed up Hwy 1 but decided to see what we could see anyway.

Elephant Seal

Elephant Seal

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Bull Elephant Seal

Bull Elephant Seal

Hearst Castle in the distance

Hearst Castle in the distance

As the saying goes, clouds often have a silver lining! In our quest to avoid the main route around the closed scenic drive, we ended up on an older narrower and far less used road following the San Andreas Fault – a truly lovely and relaxing transit away from the racetrack.

The scenic route...

The scenic route…

Another 4WD vehicle recreation area camp

Another 4WD vehicle recreation area camp

A while back we’d received a few questions about our camper via our website contact page from Mike and Wendy who live just outside San Francisco. We’d tentatively made plans to meet up for a coffee and a chat whilst in the area as it’s always nice to meet up with people with similar interests who have made an effort to contact us. With their nicely set up Tacoma they have some plans in motion for a little more exploring of the US and presented us with a parting gift leaving us with even more fond memories of our American Adventure.

Justin, Michael and Wendy with their nicely set up Tacoma (Hilux)

Justin, Michael and Wendy with their nicely set up Tacoma (Hilux)

We spent the night in the Anthony Chabot Regional Park campsite just east of the Port of San Francisco. It is a lovely, elevated forest campsite sitting amongst the range of hills that hems in the city east of the Bay. It poured rain and was bloody freezing so, with the Patrol due to be delivered to West Coast Shipping in 2 days time, we decided to move into a motel for our last night as we really needed the camper to be as dry as possible. Breathing and the general humidity created by the human body needed to be mitigated as best we could this close to departure.

Anthony Chabot Campground just out of San Francisco

Anthony Chabot Campground just out of San Francisco

I’ll take responsibility because I chose it. “Motel 6” for the night was the closest we could find to the port. Well that was an experience! Picture the dodgiest part of your city, park a motel in it with tired decor, surround it with weirdo’s moving around outside all night, and you will be about 20% there! We were expecting it to be character building as a security officer had made his way over to us before we’d actually checked in (although we had booked and paid) and asked where we were staying. When I told him, he suggested it was the best part of the precinct but it would be better to move somewhere else – that had us filled with confidence! hahaha

High Class Motel!!! - read the fine print...

High Class Motel!!! – read the fine print…

This one is busted!

This one is busted!

Fortunately we had a break in the weather and were able to pop the roof and get everything pretty dry whilst at the motel making the whole experience much more palatable.

A final touch up

A final touch up

The following morning, we pulled the furniture away from the door and peaked out (kidding of course!) and jumped into the Patrol for the short drive to the port.

We found “West Coast Shipping” and met up with Alex, the shipping agent we’d been liaising with for some time. I felt pretty comfortable with these guys and after a look around their facility we departed with 2 small suitcases, no longer Overlanders…

Delivering the car to West Coast Shipping

Delivering the car to West Coast Shipping

Justin and Alex

Justin and Alex

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Without the Patrol it was into an “uber” for the first time and onto the train for the run into San Francisco for a night in a proper hotel and a little more exploration.

A last wander in San Francisco...

A last wander in San Francisco…

Cable Car Museum

Cable Car Museum

Before we knew it we were heading for the airport…

With a little reflection I’ve come to realise that this whole experience has left quite an indelible mark on my consciousness. I can still tap into the excitement around packing the Patrol in Perth and then unloading it in Vladivostok before finding our first camp almost 3 years ago. Whilst more recent events covet the most vivid recollections, so many of our earlier experiences still manage to emerge with such gusto that it’s as if they happened yesterday, I guess an overall measure of how I’ve enjoyed my time on the road!

We think we decide how the pages of our travel journal will be filled by the destinations we choose, but its the human connections and experiences along the way which truly dictate the narrative and if you stay open to it, the book will write itself.

All we need to do is get to the end of our book without a blank sheet of paper remaining and preferably very small print! The key is in the realisation that the tale you tell is your tale and it’s a tale for you!

Hmmm don’t know where that came from, a bit deep but I’ll leave it in the post as it probably gives an insight into the effect our journey has had on us. Oh and the couple of beers I’ve had might have helped get it out…

The Big Island awaits!

Back soon with The Final Destination.

Justin

1000days, 100000k’s

Ridgecrest is a town that primarily exists for the purpose of supporting the extensive Air Force base community on its doorstep. Anyway, we needed a tyre repair as it would seem that we can drive off-road over all sorts of nasty shale and rocks and the only two punctures we have received all trip have been from nails!!!! I’d plugged it myself but thought a professional repair may help the tyre reach the end of its serviceable life without further attention.

Getting our tyre repaired in Ridgecrest

Getting our tyre repaired in Ridgecrest

The guy who owned this tyre should've stopped sooner - speed may have been a factor??

The guy who owned this tyre should’ve stopped sooner – speed may have been a factor??

After a resupply, we headed for the ghost town of Randsburg that we had heard was worthy of a visit but they clearly weren’t in any need of an economic boost as all the tourist related businesses were closed!

Randsburg all closed for business today but interesting to look at

Randsburg all closed for business today but interesting to look at

More Randsburg

More Randsburg

Speed definitely a factor!!!

Speed definitely a factor!!!

South of Barstow, we camped in a BLM campsite named Sawtooth Canyon. Not surprisingly, this is a favourite with climbers due to the amazing granite rock formations all over the site.

Have to love the BLM!

Have to love the BLM!

Sawtooth Canyon Camp

Sawtooth Canyon Camp

We ended up staying around 5 nights and it was just lovely although a weekend falling within the duration of our stay did have the unfortunate side effect of filling every campsite with some sort of temporary home.

Lovely skies

Lovely skies

We’d noticed a large 5th wheel upon our arrival and at one stage I thought I heard the unmistakable twang of an Australian accent! Turned out that it was some little West Aussie Battlers, proving I do listen contrary to Jennifer’s observations…

Now residents of the US, Amber and her parents Gloria and Ted (originally from Perth) husband Charlie (the outsider in this group being a born and bred American) and their children Piper and Peyton, decided much to the confused reactions of family and friends that they would all head off and wander the USA for a couple of years in an RV together! What better way to see the sights of this large land than via a long-term road trip! Full points to them and they were a wonderful bunch to hang out with!!!

From left to right - Amber, PIper, Charlie, Peyton, Gloria and Ted

From left to right – Amber, PIper, Charlie, Peyton, Gloria and Ted

Over the weekend, a little extra excitement was had by one unfortunate visitor thanks to rather gusty conditions. It made for a rather expensive day out …

Expensive day out for this guy...

Expensive day out for this guy…

Given my comments on generators in various posts, and their ability to remove any sense of tranquility, I urge you to read on!

Sawtooth Canyon boasts a nice large sign at the entrance stating the rules and regulations including QUIET time between 10pm and 8am. Obviously the nearby couple in a mid size camper van must have been illiterate!

Yep you can see it coming can’t you!

They started their generator at 5am (I know because that’s when it woke me). The subsequent brain aneurism that Jen appeared to suffer resulted in her rapidly getting up and heading off into the darkness toward the now very brightly lit RV from whence the noise was emanating! The next thing I heard was a dog barking before the pleasant sound of nothing as the generator was quickly killed! Ahhh she really is a tyrant!

Jen, after knocking on their door, was greeted with startled looks before she graciously pointed out that campsite QUIET time certainly stretches past 5am and right through to 8am! As it turned out, she was even more effective than I could have imagined, for not 20 minutes later the vehicle came to life and they promptly departed. We watched their taillights reducing in size as they followed the track out and we were really disappointed to see them leave… Hahaha

Just north of Barstow

Just north of Barstow

We visited Barstow again and travelled a bit more of historic “Route 66” through town before making our way further east into the Mojave desert in order to travel the historic Mojave Trail. Enroute is a military storage facility in which is parked acre after acre of military Humvee’s and various other armored equipment, row after row. Many had flat tyres and doors left wide-open suggesting its all surplus and in case of global emergency only I guess!

Barstow

Barstow

Military Surplus

Military Surplus

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Humvees to the horizon...

Humvees to the horizon…

As we pulled up alongside the security fence for a photo opportunity, passers by slowed and stared, scrutinising us as they assumed the weird vehicle and it’s camera-toting occupants must be up to no good! No doubt the dry and arid atmosphere supplies the perfect location for storing equipment long term as corrosion is reduced considerably.

Originally a Mohave Indian Trading Route, it subsequently became a military wagon trail to provide supplies to Fort Mojave on the Colorado River before being replaced by a railroad in 1883. The Mojave Trail today, is generally traversed by 4×4 enthusiasts looking for a more challenging and alternate entry point into Mojave National Preserve. It was a great way to experience a bit of history whilst enjoying more of our favourite dark night skies and even some Desert Big Horn Sheep.

Desert Big Horn Sheep

Desert Big Horn Sheep

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The Mojave Road

The Mojave Road

Mojave Road Guestbook and Shrine

Mojave Road Guestbook and Shrine

I’ve noticed that during our time in the US traversing some of the more famous 4×4 trails, US perceptions of remote travel are vastly different from those in Australia. You certainly can get yourself into trouble and need to be prepared out in these areas, but rarely have we been in a situation where we would not encounter another vehicle within a few days or require extended fuel range for that matter.

For example, much of the Mojave Trail is just within view of the Interstate! I do not wish to detract from these journeys, as they are really outstanding, and offer varied and lovely scenery with challenging driving – it’s just the higher population density I suppose!

The interstate is just visible in the background whilst we are driving Soda Lake on the Mojave Road

The interstate is just visible in the background whilst we are driving Soda Lake on the Mojave Road

Mojave National Preserve provided an amazing variation of scenery within its desert terrain – ancient volcanic lava fields, Joshua Tree forests, stunning granite boulders and trails for both hiking and 4wding.

Inside Lava Tubes in Mojave NP

Inside Lava Tubes in Mojave NP

Mojave Vista

Mojave Vista

Wildcamping in Mojave

Wildcamping in Mojave

Appropriately named "Ringloops" trail

Appropriately named “Ringloops” trail

We found a 4wd only trail in the east of the park called the Macedonia Canyon Trail and it was a lovely drive. However the maps failed to advise that where the western end of the trail exits back onto the main road again involves passing under a railway line with a car no bigger than a Corolla!!!! We had to drive about 5kms north on an extremely sandy, overgrown track until we finally found a spot with just enough clearance.

Macedonia Canyon Trail

Macedonia Canyon Trail

I don't know how many 4WD's could make it under this exit?

I don’t know how many 4WD’s could make it under this exit?

This is the main exit!!! Never going to make it!

This is the main exit!!! Never going to make it!

So we keep looking for a way out

So we keep looking for a way out

Finally!!!

Finally!!!

It was in the south of Mojave NP whilst camped amongst these wonderful granite boulder formations, that the wind decided to interrupt us as it came in with vengeance. I’d heard on the radio that there was a severe wind warning in effect for the area and they were certainly accurate!!!

Our lovely granite boulder camp before the wind!

Our lovely granite boulder camp before the wind!

Quite late in the evening, the winds slowly increased in ferocity and although our camper is able to withstand such gusts (and has done so previously), we elected, for the first time in our whole journey, to retract the camper roof and enjoy a less appealing sleeping position, safe in the knowledge that no damage could be sustained should the situation deteriorate any further.  A brief step outside proved that the camper had indeed belied the true severity of the situation, as I could barely stand upright into the wind!!!

Fortunately we are able to sleep in our little camper with the roof down although being rather short is an advantage!

New sleeping arrangements

New sleeping arrangements

Enroute to Joshua Tree National Park via Amboy and we were once again traversing an old section of Route 66 and relics of a bygone era. To the south and in light of the previous nights experience with the wind, we sought to find a sheltered camp and hit the jackpot! Lovely granite once again but obviously another popular area for target practice as you couldn’t walk more than a step in any direction without spotting used shells and damaged projectiles!

Amboy on Old Route 66 - now pretty much abandoned

Amboy on Old Route 66 – now pretty much abandoned

Nearby Amboy Crater and Lava Field

Nearby Amboy Crater and Lava Field

Our Protected Camp - Blissfully still!

Our Protected Camp – Blissfully still!

When do you ever find a campsite like this???

When do you ever find a campsite like this???

Clearly a favourite spot for target practice - a 10 minute walk found all this

Clearly a favourite spot for target practice – a 10 minute walk found all this

The whole area north and east of Palm Springs and around the town of 29 Palms is a bit weird I’d have to say. Completely dilapidated with the most popular form of housing sitting atop decayed tyres and decorated in a style only achievable by doing nothing to your trailer home for 30 years other than live in it and throw your rubbish out the door!

Got to minus 6 degrees C

Got to -6C overnight!

The northwestern portion of Joshua Tree NP is by far the stand out with superb vistas of the namesake Joshua Trees amongst stunning granite formations. Further in, the Cholla Cactus Garden was also a worthy stop.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden

Also known as Teddy Bear Cactus because they look so cuddly from a distance!

Also known as Teddy Bear Cactus because they look so cuddly from a distance!

Ocotillo Cactus

Ocotillo Cactus

Just south of Joshua Tree, we camped once again with our nomadic friends, Laurie and Ron, and enjoyed Christmas Lunch this time! Seems we’ve been able to time our interludes quite nicely to appropriately line up with celebrations that include Laurie preparing some form of fabulous meal for us to enjoy whilst Ron and I relax with a few ales! At this rate I’ll only need the fridge to keep the beer cold!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Back with Laurie, Ron and Jeff

Back with Laurie, Ron and Jeff

It also became apparent that we had more in common with these guys than would seem statistically possible!

One night whilst enjoying a few beverages, Laurie and Ron were showing us some pictures of Ron’s Cabin in the Yukon and one view of the area looked remarkably familiar! Some comparing of maps and photos revealed that we had in fact camped less than 500mtrs from Ron’s Yukon home!

The statistical anomaly came into play when we realised that the Yukon has a population of approx. 35,000 people of which some 30,000+ live in the territory capital of Whitehorse and other regional towns leaving barely a few thousand people to inhabit the remaining 536,000 square kms that is the Yukon Territory. That we would then meet Laurie and Ron in a country with a population of 330 million people and even then cross paths with them in a remote part of the Nevada Desert just seemed staggering to both us and them! In fact we camped at the exact spot that Laurie had camped when she first met Ron…

Yukon River Camp

Yukon River Camp – Ron’s place is just in those trees beyond

Whilst here and with the weather quite dreary, Jen and Laurie headed into Palm Springs for a day of shopping, leaving the men folk to relish in their absence, and enjoyable it most definitely was!

Desert Training Camp

We were camped at one of General Patton’s Desert Training Camps for WWII

It was very late in the day before they returned in possession of a brand new Dodge Ram!! Seems Laurie does take her shopping quite seriously! After we all stood there with mouths ajar for a spell contemplating the depth of the days purchases, it became apparent it was all a rouse with the intention of giving Ron a heart attack!

In fact, the truth of the matter was that they had driven Laurie’s Chevy the whole 50km into town that morning in limp mode. Upon departure, the Chevy’s computer had spat out a fault code that rendered the vehicle unable to achieve speeds above 40km/h on the Interstate where the limit of 120km/h is seen more as a minimum! After leaving it at a dealership for repairs they decided to have a bit of a laugh at Ron’s expense with the hire car… Poor bastard!

Happy endings however, as they returned the following day and retrieved the now repaired Chevy. The downside of course was the lighter load in Laurie’s wallet after the bill was paid!

Look at the size of these things!

Look at the size of these things! We are heading to the snowbird nest!

On the move again, we made for Quartzsite. This odd little town deserves a special mention! Grey Nomads in Australia are known as Snowbirds here! Well if you’re a Snowbird, it seems that this is where you will ALL be nesting during the winter months.

Acres and acres of RV’s occupied and for sale! The amount of money parked around this town is absolutely staggering. There are 4 areas known as LTVA’s (long term visitor areas), where for a small fee ($US180 so we’ve been told) you can park for up to 6 months in the desert just outside Quartzsite with services such as rubbish collection, water and sanitary dump points, making it the true nomad Mecca!

Motorhome and RV Mecca

Motorhome and RV Mecca

We had no chance capturing it with our camera as it really is a vast sea of RV’s in every direction.

The LTVA south of Quartzsite

The LTVA south of Quartzsite

They even have shuttle buses to transport the Snowbirds into town for events organised solely for the greying fraternity. From dances and shows, book signings, restaurant deals, expos and flea markets, along with RV repair shops and dealers the list goes on and on. Not to mention a strange little bookstore…

Cool Stuff in Quartzsite! Everything is for sale

Cool Stuff in Quartzsite! Everything is for sale

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Bought Vintage Snow Shoes Here...

Bought Vintage Snow Shoes Here…

One owner-always loved???

One owner-always loved???

A notorious local who owns the bookstore...

A notorious local who owns the bookstore…

There is also quite a lot of BLM land available in the area which allows up to 14 days free camping and gives travellers preferring the wide open spaces a little more choice over the fairly high density camping nearer the town.  No prize for guessing where we headed…

Saguaro Giant Cactus

Saguaro Giant Cactus

New Year arrived quite suddenly for us, as it seems calendars and even the date for that matter have lost more and more relevance the longer we’ve been travelling!

With the end of 2016 upon us, we thought we’d try and make midnight rather than end up in bed by 10pm and thanks to a little internet compliments of Ronald McDonald, we achieved that end after making a slight detour and found ourselves dribbling into the early hours of 2017 in the comfort of the 5th wheel with Laurie and Ron once again.

New Years and what do you know - back with Laurie, Ron and Jeff!

New Years and what do you know – back with Laurie, Ron and Jeff!

I think these guys are stalking us to be honest or maybe it’s the other way around?

KofA (King of Arizona) National Wildlife Refuge proved to be perfectly in sync with the way we love to travel – excellent 4×4 tracks amongst sensational scenery. Although we’d spotted the odd Saguaro cactus as we’d moved back toward Arizona this was our first taste of these terrific cactus in large numbers and we found them truly amazing and wonderful to camp amongst.

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

Trails in Kofa

Trails in Kofa

Spiky little things!

Spiky little things!

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With a multitude of cactus varieties in the area growing amongst the desert varnished rocks and ridges, the whole reserve has quite a unique persona.

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No hunting now that you are leaving the refuge???

No hunting now that you are leaving the refuge???

The area had also been a testing range for WW2 ordinance and signs recommending caution when out wandering were there for good reason!

Live rounds...

Live rounds…

Enroute to our border crossing into Mexico, we passed through Yuma Proving Ground where all manner of armament is tried and thoroughly tested!

Yuma Proving Grounds Display

Yuma Proving Grounds Display

Migs on sticks - choppers on sticks - same, same

After a restock in the town of Yuma, where we sat in the car outside a Starbucks for what seemed like hours sucking free WIFI, we spent our last night in the US camped on Sidewinder road, only made auspicious in our minds by the fact that our trip counter had just clocked 1000days of travel and coincidentally 100,000km as well since departing Vladivostok!

100,000kms on the trip!

100,000kms on the trip!

1000 days travelling

1000 days travelling

Just arbitrary numbers I guess but it held some value for us!

Sidewinder Rd Camp - Mexico tomorrow...

Sidewinder Rd Camp – Mexico tomorrow…

Mexico was beckoning us to become sunburnt beach bums so Baja here we come!!

Justin.

 

Do You Believe???

Generally we like to settle down for our camping experiences away from the generator crowd, a point I’ve no doubt made previously!

Meaning that if you see a caravan, 5th wheel, small camper van or “A” Class motor home (Winnebago style coach camper) pretty well anywhere in the US, then run the other way as the chances of them not requiring petrol powered electricity to run their coffee maker, microwave and hair dryer is rather slim! There are the exceptions however and they do seem to be growing in number.

So there we are, camped all by our lonesome near the Fish Lake Hot Springs when a cloud of dust appears in the distance – incoming visitors no doubt. Eventually the vehicle stirring up the dust appeared ahead of the dust cloud much like a passenger jet leading a jet stream. I use that analogy because the vehicle approaching wasn’t a lot smaller than a Russian Antonov!

We look at each other and sigh, “well it’s their country and we can’t very well tell them to go away and desist from damaging our calm now can we?”…

Closer now and our upside down smiles slowly recover to reveal a happier expression as we see the whole roof is covered in solar panels!

Laurie's Solar Wonder!

Laurie’s Solar Wonder!

And so it was that we met Cat Lady Laurie and Yukon Ron and of course their resident cats!

Laurie has been on the road pretty much full time since 2002. She’s a little smarter than your average RV’er and made the move early on to complete self-reliance through solar! Not only that but Laurie completes all the solar and electrical installations herself – right down to converting all her RV light fixtures to low draw LED technology!

Having a look at this installation quickly showed how fastidious she is and makes other off grid power systems I’ve seen look pretty second rate.

Anyway she has a massive solar setup with a battery bank of 960A/H and 1602 watts of solar, that’s 1.6-kilowatts! It allows them complete electrical freedom without requiring hookups or a generator EVER and yes – she can use the microwave!

If you just greyed out and that all sounded like gobbledy gook, I apologise. I just love solar power along with the freedom and peaceful camping experience that it provides. If you’re not overly savvy on solar systems, I’ll put it in simple terms – Laurie’s RV puts out more solar power than an average solar installation on a house!!!

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After a soak in nature’s hot tub, we all ended up drinking back in the 5th wheel. As it turns out, Laurie’s partner, Ron, has a gold mining lease in the Yukon where, until recently, he lived full time for the better part of the last 40 years. Hearing about the conditions he’s experienced during that time in the Yukon, I was amazed! Temperatures below minus 40°C in the winter, hearing your breath freeze as you exhale, the northern lights, panning for gold and living off the land. An easy guy to chat with, although it meant that we managed to run down both of our beer supplies rather quickly. Make of that what you will…

Laurie was a wealth of information regarding free camping and she shared a few favourite spots before we departed with tentative plans to catch up with these cool travellers in the weeks ahead.

Desert Sands in the Wind

Desert Sands in the Wind

We made a brief stop in Tonopah and with strong winds whipping the desert sands, we sought (at some length) to find a sheltered camp. However, nothing could stop the overnight temperatures diving below zero for the next few days, once to -8°C! The following days saw the wind abate slightly and we made a side trip to Lunar Crater, an interesting area of ancient volcanic activity.

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The volcanic landscape around Lunar Crater

The volcanic landscape around Lunar Crater

Lunar Crater

Lunar Crater

Wide Open Spaces

Wide Open Spaces

Enroute to the Extraterrestrial Hwy

Enroute to the Extraterrestrial Hwy

The Extraterrestrial Hwy came into view as we wandered across Nevada’s desert backcountry and skirted Area 51… this is what the crowd came to see!!! All in good humour of course….

The Little A’le’Inn is a mandatory stop if you’ve ever watched the movie “Paul” and had Jen tasting what may have been the smallest hotdog ever created – luckily she ordered a side of fries! Given the “super size” reputation of serves in the US generally, this came as a bit of a shock! The hotdog was made even harder to spot on the plate given that it wasn’t much larger than the fries themselves… No I’m not kidding!

Commencing the Extraterrestrial Hwy

Commencing the Extraterrestrial Hwy

Our Alien Guide

Our Alien Guide

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The Little A'Le'Inn - home of the worlds smallest hotdog!!

The Little A’Le’Inn – home of the worlds smallest hotdog!!

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On to the Black Mail Box, a supposed alien communication point, which sadly has become a rubbish dump for passers by, so often the case when sites are accessible to human degenerates without any real effort required!

The Black Mailbox

The Black Mailbox

It’s not hard to see why Area 51 is geographically located where it is, with large expanses of flat featureless terrain between jagged mountain ranges with only low vegetation and an obviously arid dry climate. It’s a first class area to test out your military aircraft or maybe encounter the odd crash-landed Alien Space Ship.

The whole area is an air force training playground including the real Top Gun training facility so it’s not surprising that you might see and hear a fighter jet or 2!

With eyes wandering skyward now and then to keep an eye on the jet streams, we could easily tell when the air force were out playing as you don’t often see commercial jets making knife edge turns, not to mention that the air force were out playing pretty much all of the time making the task pretty easy.

It had us enjoying our own private air show with sonic boom after sonic boom, dog fighting and low fly-bys!

Dogfighting Jets above complete with sonic booms

Dogfighting Jets above complete with sonic booms

The locals have really taken to the concept

The locals have really taken to the concept

So did this touring family...Alien Roadtrip!!

So did this touring family…Alien Roadtrip!!

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Alien Research Center

IMG_5663 IMG_5667Arriving at end of the Extraterrestrial Hwy and with the lights of Las Vegas once again easily visible during the hours of darkness we spent a few nights camped at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge!

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

I only make mention of National Wildlife Refuges as it has come to my attention that wildlife refuges don’t necessarily mean safe haven for animals! Remembering context here, we are in the USA, the land of firearms so yes, you can hunt in these refuges! Whilst there are restrictions, I’m not sure if the meaning of “refuge” has been lost somewhere in the vocabulary over here! Haha

Photo Courtesy of Pahranaget NWR Website - seriously!

Photo Courtesy of Pahranaget NWR Website – seriously!

With information from the helpful volunteers at the NWR visitor centre, we decided to wander a track known as the Alamo Road toward Vegas. Although not so far from Vegas, the whole area really has quite a remote feel to it. A couple of days elapsed as we wandered it’s length with only 1 other vehicle encountered, rather more relaxing than the Interstate and certainly rougher and dustier.

Joshua Trees

Joshua Trees

Alamo Road Scenery

Alamo Road Scenery

More Alamo Road

More Alamo Road

Justin fixing a puncture

Justin fixing a puncture

You're never far from a bombing range in Nevada

You’re never far from a bombing range in Nevada

The outskirts of Las Vegas was next for a quick restock before we enjoyed a few of the scenic drives to the west.

Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas

Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas

More Red Rock Canyon

More Red Rock Canyon

Heading north-west now toward Death Valley National Park, we found free campsites pretty easy to find, although locating one not already occupied by a local practicing his quick draw routine with his Glock hand gun was a little more tricky! Truly you wander just off the Hwy around this part of the world and you’ll more than likely run into someone practicing his or her rapid-fire technique.

Laurie and Ron, mentioned earlier, had provided us with the location they would probably be at just outside Death Valley for a spell, so in the end we made for their site and found them camped up with another RV that they often travel with containing Jeff and Larry the Lynx Point cat! The drinks came easily and an invite was forwarded our way should we like to celebrate Thanksgiving with these guys!

Lunch was prepared by Laurie for the Thanksgiving celebrations and I can only describe it as bloody lovely! Probably made even more so by the amount of beer that Ron and I consumed as our entrée! It should be noted that Thanksgiving is generally a bigger celebration than Christmas here in the states.

Inside Laurie and Ron's Palatial 5th Wheel

Inside Laurie and Ron’s Palatial 5th Wheel

Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving!

Ron opted to skip the pumpkin pie and go straight for the aerosol cream!!!

Ron opted to skip the pumpkin pie and go straight for the aerosol cream!!!

Armed with another list of travel tips such as where to find cheap clothes washing and top up with water in Death Valley NP, we finally departed again! Might not sound like much if you’re at home with your Maytag idling in the background and your water dispenser on your fridge but for us that sort of info has serious value!

$8 was the requested remuneration for a loaf of bread in the town of Furnace Creek within the park – that’s $11 Australian. Unbelievable! Made even ruder by the fact that you’re only an hours drive from the nearest town with supermarkets, so knowing where to stock up can be handy when towns like Furnace Creek attempt to take you for a ride.

Jen and Laurie attended a stone tool making demonstration called flintknapping

Jen and Laurie attended a stone tool making demonstration called Flintknapping in Furnace Creek, Death Valley NP

Some examples of the tools

Some examples of the tools made from Obsidian using traditional methods

Cholla Cactus (Pronounced Choya)

Cholla Cactus (Pronounced Choya)

Beautiful California Barrel Cactus

Beautiful California Barrel Cactus

Desert Holly

Desert Holly

Snapshots of Death Valley

Snapshots of Death Valley

Death Valley NP is also a 4×4 friendly park with lots of off road trails as well as allowing wild camping in many places within the reserve. Given the size of the park however, it really makes sense to allow a little more personal freedom as quite a lot of driving is required if you wish to discover much of what’s on offer.

Cool Stew Mcgoo - a fellow traveller

Cool Stew Mcgoo – a fellow traveller

Stew Mcgoo's notes on Death Valley

Stew Mcgoo’s cool notes on Death Valley

From altitudes of 11,049ft (3367mtrs) at Telescope Peak (Death Valley’s Highest Peak) to the lowest point in North America at -282ft (-86mtrs) at Badwater Basin salt lake, you can encounter everything from snow to swelteringly hot weather within the parks confines, depending on when you choose to visit of course.

Badwater Basin 282ft Below Sea Level

Badwater Basin 282ft Below Sea Level

Lowest Point in North America -282ft

Lowest Point in North America -282ft

Charcoal Kilns in Death Valley

Charcoal Kilns in Death Valley

That's snow at the base!!!

That’s snow at the base!!!

Death Valley also holds the record for being the hottest place on Earth with temperatures as high as 134° F (Nearly 57°C!!!)

Badwater Basin Viewed from Dante's Peak

Badwater Basin Viewed from Dante’s Peak

Twenty Mule Team Canyon Drive

Twenty Mule Team Canyon Drive

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Always good to wear appropriate footwear

Always good to wear appropriate footwear

Artists Palette Drive

Artists Palette Drive

Titus Canyon was definitely a stand out for us in the park. A 60km one way drive with the first half being rather mundane washboard but followed by a lovely gradual descent thorough an ever-narrowing canyon back to the centre of the park.

Titus Canyon

Titus Canyon

Lots of 4x4 Trails

Lots of 4×4 Trails

Looking for a camp a bit later than normal

Looking for a camp a bit later than normal

This is isolation!!

This is isolation!!

Devils Golf Course

Devils Golf Course

Tricky Hikes

Tricky Hikes

Another park highlight is known as the Race Track. A long and very corrugated track leads to a salt lake at altitude, which had for years, been the subject of conjecture amongst geologists and locals alike! Large rocks leave tracks over the surface of the lake, as they wander aimlessly across the dead flat surface of the lake.

Ubehebe Crater

Ubehebe Crater

Teakettle Junction enroute to the Racetrack

Teakettle Junction enroute to the Racetrack

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The Racetrack

The Racetrack and it was bloody freezing!

IMG_6173The mystery was finally solved with the use of time-lapse photography. Seems that in just the right conditions, those being an almost frozen moist lake surface and a strong wind, the rocks are able to skid along the surface! I’m not surprised there are so many tracks given one of the ingredients for creating them is near freezing conditions as we spent a bloody cold night camped nearby! I love my camper heater very much I have to admit…

We opted to exit the Race Track area, and ultimately the park, via the Lippincott Pass 4×4 Trail. Glad we weren’t in anything larger than our Patrol or we’d be on our lid! A great drive but it certainly did require 4×4! After departing the park we wandered around all over the place seeing what we could see!

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Checking the track

Checking the track

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Apart from a couple of features, much of the landscape outside Death Valley shares the same odd geological components as the Park itself and gives some insight into just how large this arid sunburnt and often frozen landscape really is.

Remains of old tramway in Saline Valley

Remains of old tramway in Saline Valley

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Such an arid landscape

Such an arid landscape

More washboard!!! YAY!!!

More washboard!!! YAY!!!

Burro!

Burro!

We continued south and found ourselves camped in an odd landscape known as Trona Pinnacles – a filming location for over thirty film projects a year which are shot amongst these tufa (limestone) pinnacles, including series such as Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Lost in Space, and Planet of the Apes. But the highlight for us was the vivid sunsets and the resident Kit Fox.

Kit Fox

Kit Fox

Obviously quite comfortable in our presence....

Obviously quite comfortable in our presence….

Trona Pinnacles - filming location of "Planet of the Apes"

Trona Pinnacles

Our camp at Trona Pinnacles - not an ape in sight, except for Justin

Our camp at Trona Pinnacles – not an ape in sight, except for Justin

Sunset Pics - Trona Pinnacles

Sunset Pics – Trona Pinnacles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Justin.

 

 

 

 

 

Make America Great Again!

Following our usual travel ethos, we followed a reasonable selection of back roads that eventually deposited us at the Boeing Factory car park where we enjoyed a tour of the facility. To be honest it wasn’t overly riveting, a bit like watching paint dry really and a lot of time observing workers making use of their smart phones!

Boeing Factory Delivery Lot

Boeing Factory Delivery Lot

The "large" Boeing Assembly Building

The “large” Boeing Assembly Building

The “Airbus” brand bashing by the tour guide did get a little tiring after a while, but left us in no doubt that he loves being part of Boeing! He was very well versed on the size of the Boeing facility and complex as well with a never ending stream of statistics about the facility. But to be fair, it’s pretty hard to zaz up watching a few pieces of a Boeing passenger jet come together when you only have a small window of time in which to observe the procedure. All in all however it was worth the effort and well organised.

A little more effort is required in securing campsites along the west coast as it’s intermittently dotted with high density population centres that make cheap overnight camping more of a challenge unless you are a Walmart or Casino Camper victim as mentioned in the last post! Since we’d broken the Walmart HooDoo, an overnight casino stop wasn’t much of a stretch.

Security at work in the Tulalip Resort Casino Carpark

Security at work in the Tulalip Resort Casino Carpark

Tulalip Casino car park proved quite interesting. The following morning as we enjoyed our coffee, we were entertained by the security staff as they did their best to explain the clearly stated rules nicely posted on a large sign at the entry gate to a small group of, shall we say, vagrant travellers. They didn’t seem overly keen to be moved on however!

Whilst a bit of a laugh watching from afar, it’s rather sad but I’m under no illusion, however, that for some it’s a lifestyle choice and not a reflection of the general state of things. Rather, it’s their chosen variant on what we may consider normal.

A detour to Snohomish, known for it’s antique shops, was worth the effort as it was quite a nice little town!

Snohomish Antique Stores

Snohomish Antique Stores

We entered Seattle from the north via an area known as the Gas Works, an old power station that’s been reworked as modern art and public open space.

Seattle Gasworks

Seattle Gasworks

It was a really nice way to enter the city, as we were able to view the city skyline from across the bay and watch floatplanes arrive and depart right alongside the city centre. We spent a little time in the area as we needed to source a new filter for our Seagull drinking water system and also have Jen’s quite expensive Pacsafe travel bag replaced under warranty and it just so happened that both of these tasks could be completed in the same area!

Seattle Skyline

Seattle Skyline

Seattle Residential Waterfront

Seattle Residential Waterfront

Along the coast and after a few U-turns on the south side of the city, we visited the Pacific Galleries Antique Mall recommended to us by Alison and David in Calgary.

Downtown Seattle

Downtown Seattle

Seattle - Home of Starbucks

Seattle – Home of Starbucks

img_5025Renowned for it’s antiques, there were some very cool bits and pieces available within this huge building! Luckily we don’t have a lot of space which rendered our visit one of observation rather than purchasing! Next time maybe…

Pacific Galleries Antique Mall

Pacific Galleries Antique Mall

A late departure from the Antique mall and still being within the confines of suburbia meant our overnight camping options were once again limited and Muckleshoot Casino car park became our home for the night!

Muckleshoot Casino

Muckleshoot Casino

I have to admit that it’s a laugh staying in these car parks and watching the weirdo’s that we share the Earth with but not an experience I’d like to consistently indulge in.

Lunch on the beach

Lunch on the beach

Bridges along the coast drive

Bridges along the coast drive

Tsunami Evacuation Route

Tsunami Evacuation Route

Elk in the park

Elk in the park

Oregon Coastline

Oregon Coastline

Our next model???

Our next model???

We deviated inland from the coast to McMinnville in Oregon to visit the Evergreen Air and Space Museum, now home to Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose“ along with many other amazing aircraft and space related displays.

Spruce Goose

Spruce Goose

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Nick-named the “Spruce Goose” by the antagonistic media of the day (but actually made from Birch); this really is an outstanding looking aircraft. Clean lines and beautifully finished, it truly is a tremendous credit to those craftsman that constructed her under such difficult conditions – both due to the eccentricities of Howard Hughes and the ridicule he was bombarded with by the media, but also the lack of materials available for the construction of this amazing machine which prompted it to be made from wood in the first place.

It really was a little sad to see it hangered permanently – it looks ready to be fuelled and take to the sky- wouldn’t that be a fantastic sight.

Believe it or not this 747 has been converted into a waterslide

Believe it or not this 747 has been converted into a waterslide

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Another added bonus for those wishing to visit this Museum is that you’re able to camp in their car park.

Camped at the Museum

Camped at the Museum

Heavy rains made it imperative to make south. We clung to the coast most of the way to San Francisco. Enjoying a mixture of weather conditions! A few pics below of our varied campsites along the way, some of which were surprisingly isolated given the increase in population and infrastructure. There are good opportunities to get off the beaten path here and there with a network of rather dilapidated roads criss-crossing the highway allowing access to excellent coastal areas.

Not so nice weather

Not so nice weather

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California and the sun is out!

California and the sun is out!

Some locals got creative...

Some locals got creative…

Beach camping

Beach camping the day Trump was elected… What can I say

Make Russia Great Again!

Make Russia Great Again!

The Humboldt National Forest and Redwood National Park were standouts for us. Our first taste of the huge Redwood trees that so many come to see. Majestic and massive, these really are goliaths of nature not only in size but also in age with some surviving upwards of 2000 years.

This one is for you Jim...

This one’s for you Jim…

Redwoods

Redwoods

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Heavy traffic and you know you’re getting close to San Francisco but just before the Golden Gate Bridge you can exit the highway and head into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Traffic enroute to San Francisco

Traffic enroute to San Francisco

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Skyline

San Francisco Skyline

A huge area of walking trails and natural coastal landscape awaits with a smattering of now defunct coastal defence bunkers with westerly views to the Pacific and easterly views back across the famous bridge with the city beyond.

Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast

Driving the bridge

Driving the bridge

Downtown San Francisco

Downtown San Francisco

About 10km south of the City we checked into an RV park allowing us a little easier explorations of the area.

The Crooked Street

The Crooked Street

Some of the locals

Some of the locals

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

Pier 39

Pier 39

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Cable Cars

Cable Cars

Chinatown

Chinatown

Eastward and over the Oakland Bay Bridge! These steel structures really do amaze me with double-decker lanes of traffic and not a gap between the cars day and night. The amount of traffic pulsing in and out of such large suburban centres is really staggering.

Oakland Bay Bridge

Oakland Bay Bridge

Not to mention the ridiculous antics that you witness whenever you are in heavy traffic. There is always one that thinks they are smarter than everyone else and it is not hard to see why multi-car pile-ups occur in such environments.

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El Capitan

El Capitan

Half Dome

Half Dome

We’d pushed along a little during our transit to Yosemite in the hope that the Tioga Rd, which travels east west through the park, would still be open. It always closes around the middle of November depending on when the first heavy snow falls begin. A really scenic way to continue travelling east, it also allowed us to visit the Ghost town of Bodie without a rather large detour. As luck would have it the road closed 2 days after our transit!

Tioga Rd Scenery

Tioga Rd Scenery

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The road will be closed soon

The road will be closed soon

Parked on Ice

Parked on Ice

More Tioga Rd Scenery

More Tioga Rd Scenery

Now over the Sierra Nevada Range, there is a distinct change in the landscape. Gone is the green and moist feeling encountered west of the mountains as they push against the incoming fronts causing them to release their store of rain. Replaced now by more reds and creams, the desert varnish has reappeared on the sandstone and the flora has taken on that more distinct form of arid shrub with skinny leaves and a more pale appearance.

Mono Lake view from our camp

Mono Lake view from our camp

Why is the engine getting hot???

Why is the engine getting hot???

Bodie Ghost Town

Bodie Ghost Town

img_5419 img_5427 img_5456 img_5468The other stark change is the collapse in population – from metropolis to lonely backcountry in only a few hundred kms. Continuing on, we found our way to Fish Lake Hot Springs, emerging from what looks like a flood plain between small ranges it’s reached via about 10km of good dirt road.

Bull Dust

Bull Dust

Maintained by the local community, it’s favored as a camping area by ATV riders and other locals from mining ventures and the like in the area.

Fish Lake Hotsprings

Fish Lake Hotsprings

38 Degrees ... Nice!!!

38 Degrees … Nice!!!

The 38-degree water was extremely therapeutic. We soaked in the rudimentary concrete tub plumbed into the natural spring well into the evening. The “Super Moon” provided the natural lighting whilst we watched flocks of small birds take to the sky in swarms before they descended back into the small shrubs around the springs. Eventually they settled in for the night, as did we.

The Super Moon

The Super Moon

Next up the Extra-Terrestrial Hwy as we wander around Nevada.

Justin.

 

 

 

Grizzlies, Glaciers and Gold!

Travelling a little later in the tourist season and post what most would consider to be the opportune weather window was a deliberate choice for us. We had wanted to enjoy the amazing palate of autumn colour generated by the foliage as Mother Nature’s clock recognises the imminent onset of winter and also have a distinct night time for Aurora Spotting.

Amazing autumn colours

Amazing autumn colours

img_4033It’s one thing to traverse these stunning landscapes beneath blue skies, wearing a T-shirt and enjoying balmy days, but if the gamble of travelling in the Autumn pays off and the weather holds, the landscape comes alive as the ocean of green transforms itself into an almost luminescent vista of reds and vivid gold over a few weeks before a gusty breeze separates the leaves from their source and again transforms the scene as it literally rains colour!

The gamble did pay off for us and although the change of season did offer up the odd few dreary days with solid rainfall, the colour spectacle had been worth it!

We had saved the last few days remaining on our original 6 month US visa in order to head back into Alaska and visit the little township of Haines. It lies near the head of the largest fjord in Alaska and its only road access is via Canada but enjoys seaborne access to the rest of the US. This area of Alaska is known for it’s fjord like waterways and is one of the ports visited should you embark on the inside passage ferry route.

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

Our visit, however, was based on the hope of viewing some Grizzly Bears as the town is also well known as a Grizzly hotspot, even late in the season.

Wandering around the coastline back and forward for a few hours, we began to think that our chances of an encounter were evaporating. At the point we were about to consider the exercise a failure and depart Haines, fate shone upon us. A large Grizzly and her 2 cubs made their way along the shoreline of the Chilkoot Inlet and began wandering the shoreline, catching Salmon, swimming and playing in the freezing waters as they went!

Mama and her cubs out for a stroll

Mama and her cubs out for a stroll

The bears are just there!!

The bears are just there!!

img_4127-version-2The cubs were probably last year’s brood as they were quite large. Generally cubs stick with their mother for a couple of years before venturing solo!

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Mama keeping an eye on her cubs

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One of the cubs

One of the cubs

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Foraging

Foraging

Love that Salmon

Love that Salmon

Mama Grizzly waiting for cub no.2 while cub no.1 keeps an eye on us

Mama Grizzly waiting for cub no.2 while cub no.1 keeps an eye on us

Grizzly bear footprint

Grizzly bear footprint

Pretty bloody cool if I do say so myself! We watched them for 2-3 hrs!!! Worth every bit of the detour!!!!!

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Heading Back to Canada

The Tundra

The Tundra

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Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Back on Canadian soil, a blur of fur scurried across the road a couple of hundred metres ahead and of course we had to investigate!!! Turned out to be a River Otter crossing the Hwy before it disappeared in a creek! He’d given up his location however, so after parking and going into stealth mode, we listened for a while as the Otter family screeched warnings of danger to each other!

River Otters

River Otters

Fascinating creatures! We could have stayed for hours as they hid themselves under the embankment only to reveal their hiding places intermittently to check on the status of the predator (us) as they hung onto tree roots and dislodged plumes of mud in the fast flowing water. Every now and then one would pop out for a look-see before darting back under the vegetation. We left them to enjoy their watery home after a short visit.

Another reminder of days gone by in Whitehorse

Another reminder of days gone by in Whitehorse

We made a detour to the Carcross Desert and the town of Carcross (an amalgamation of CARibou CROSSsing), an historic little town worth the wander. When the lady at the tourist info told us of gold panning in the remote town of Atlin, Jen was sold!!

Carcross Desert - the smallest desert in the world!

Carcross Desert – the smallest desert in the world!

Carcross town site

Carcross town site

Carcross History

Carcross History

Great totem pole art

Great totem pole art

Lots of early mining ruins interspersed with a reasonable spread of current workings around Atilin provided a great opportunity for fossicking. We managed a great little campsite that afforded Jen another opportunity to spend her time panning and yes she managed a few “colours” in the pan, as the old salts say! Could probably exchange it for 20 cents!!!

Mining Relics

Mining Relics

The Luke Warm Spring

The “Luke Warm” Spring as we called it because you certainly couldn’t call it hot!

Someone thought shrimp would be a good idea in the warm spring

Someone thought shrimp would be a good idea in the warm spring…

Love these guys!

Love these guys!

It was our intention to travel the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy south, which would allow us the opportunity to again return to Alaska and the little town of Hyder.

Ian and Anna from Broome

Ian and Anna from Broome

South Canol Road

South Canol Road

Hmmmm!

Hmmmm!

Cassiar Hwy Jade store coming to a TV near you soon!

Stewart – Cassiar Hwy Jade store coming to a TV near you soon!

After Jade City, we detoured to the historic town of Telegraph along a route referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Stikine. A lovely sticky layer of muddy soup coated the dirt road surface for the next 100km, as we were only a day or so behind the first heavy rains of the season.

A slippery and dirty transit was in store but the scenery fast trumped any bleating about the cleanup job the Patrol would need.

Lovely old relics

Lovely old relics

Telegraph Creek

Telegraph Creek

Old Town Telegraph Creek

Old Town Telegraph Creek

Our great Stikine Valley Camp

Our great Stikine Valley Camp

Amongst the myriad of creatures we’d now encountered in our recent travels, Jen managed to add a Lynx (Bobcat) crossing a sidetrack to the mix! Unfortunately I missed the elusive animal and without a photo, I suspect she’s pulling my leg, but I’ll have to give her the benefit of the doubt I suppose…

While looking for a campsite at Meziadin Junction, before making the trip out to Stewart and Hyder, we encountered black bears on the road and even in people’s gardens!!!!

Bears In Gardens!

Bears In Gardens!

img_4571The drive out to Stewart was very scenic with glaciers and sheer rock face canyons. Stewart is the last town on Canadian soil before crossing back into Alaska and the little town of Hyder, only a couple of kms away. Luckily there is no border control on the US side here so a valid US visa wasn’t necessary. Hyder is home to the Fish Creek bear-viewing platform but being well late in the season, we weren’t holding our breath as far as another Grizzly encounter was concerned and that was fortunate, as we didn’t see one!

Back in Alaska but not for long

Back in Alaska but not for long

The bay leading to Stewart, Canada

The bay leading to Stewart, Canada

Truthfully, I wasn’t too bothered. The viewing platform gives the whole experience the feel of being at the local Zoo. Designed to keep humans separated from the bears as they chow down on the salmon in Fish Creek, it’s definitely better than having swarms of camera toting tourists getting up close and personal with a Grizzly, as someone is bound to get eaten through stupidity!

That mark on the ground is a grizzly bear footprint!!! Huge!!!

That mark on the ground is a grizzly bear footprint!!! Huge!!!

Continuing along a terribly potholed dirt road for what seemed an eternity, we arrived at Salmon Glacier. Just amazing! The patterns within the ice sheet gave it a completely fluid appearance. We could just imagine it ebbing out of the mountains in a matter of hours rather than millennia! The other glaciers we have seen to date paled terribly compared to the vista here!!!

Awesome Salmon Glacier

Awesome Salmon Glacier

After re-entering Canada at Hyder, we made our way back to the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy, which was a pleasure to travel. Strangely the general store in Stewart had a stash of Vegemite at only a dollar a jar so, naturally, we assisted them in clearing the stock!!!

Spot the Suicidal Salmon bottom right

Spot the Suicidal Salmon bottom right

Old truck graveyard

Old truck graveyard

I really don't know what to say???

I really don’t know what to say???

Arriving in Clinton enroute to Lillooet we found a great back road in our quest to avoid the highway and see what the country has to offer! Up and over a large range with the all too familiar “stunning scenery” that is becoming a little old hat, (hahaha) before we descended into Lillooet!

Great Unimog overland vehicle with owners Stephan and Petra

Unimog overland vehicle with owners Stephan and Petra

With a deteriorating forecast in the weather we opted to head south, remaining inland a little longer in the hope of avoiding the worst of the expected frontal system. F,rom Chilliwack we turned northwest and made a transit along the Harrison Lake 4WD trail – approx. 160km on reasonable dirt that would take us back up to the town of Pemberton. A highlight of this trail was the Sloquet Hot Springs, run by the local First Nation in the area. It was a great little spot to while away the hours and camp for the night.

Getting colder!!

Getting colder!!

The whole experience was very relaxing, made even more so by the fact that we had this little paradise to ourselves for the most part. These springs are described as “rustic” meaning they have been left primarily in their natural state and not enhanced for tourism so of course that appealed to us tremendously!!

Sloquet Hot Springs

Sloquet Hot Springs

The freezing river beyond

The freezing river beyond

The lack of human modification only added to the therapeutic effect of the site as we sat in 38°C natural rock pools whilst a near freezing river flowed only metres away!!

Sloquet Hot Springs

Sloquet Hot Springs

Back on the blacktop, we wandered down toward famous Whistler. Staffed by more Australians than locals, it is a quintessential mountain ski resort town with an affluent vista of log cabins, hotels and ski lifts!

Deciding a course of travel after Whistler, we found we were still in the presence of the rough weather that had been forecast around the Vancouver areas and so took the decision to head back North East to Lillooet! Once again the topography and scenery was absolutely stunning and made the diversion feel more like a must see than a detour. High Mountain passes shrouded in snow; sheer rock faces bordering the Hwy in places and just a generally spectacular transit.

Bit of snow about at altitude

Bit of snow about at altitude

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A couple of weeks earlier we’d taken the decision to apply for a spot of housesitting and now had a rare fixed date to work toward – something that tends to really throw our planning into disarray. In our opinion, this sort of travel does not bode well for a fixed schedule and we seem to have less and less of a plan as we continue! We follow the impulse of the day and would battle to know where we would be in a week never mind in a month!

We’d been given the opportunity to house sit a wonderful home just outside the town of Chilliwack, which lies about 100km east of Vancouver. With our arrival date set, we wanted to camp close by prior to our start date, so for the first time in our North American travels we ended up camping in a Walmart carpark!

Walmart Camping?

Walmart Camping?

Nearly all of these superstores allow you to camp in your RV in the parking lot (along with most Casinos for that matter). I’ve even read other travellers blogs whom have almost solely used these carparks for their journeys across this large land! I must admit with the amount of free and amazing camping available all over the place, why you’d choose Walmart everynight is beyond me!

Paul and Anne Marie were off to Hawaii for a couple of weeks of sunshine and diving, leaving us to keep an eye on the house and their 2 lovely cats! Being 4×4 enthusiasts themselves, we had a lot in common and many destination tips to share!

The awesome rock crawler

The awesome rock crawler

Chilliwack provided us with the perfect opportunity for a little relaxation and undercover parking for the Patrol not to mention the perfect opportunity to get some mail forwarded!!

View from the house sit

View from the house sit

My Birthday happened to fall during our stay! A knock on the front door and we received a pizza delivery that we hadn’t ordered, a Birthday surprise from Erik and Mieke in the Netherlands! Thanks for thinking of me guys and I really appreciated paying for my surprise as well – Haha! It’s the thought that counts isn’t it!

Happy Birthday!! Thanks Erik

Happy Birthday!! Thanks Erik

Erik had attempted to pay on line but without success, well that’s what he latter told me with a big smile on his face!

As luck would have it, David and Alison, whom had looked after us way back in Calgary, just happened to be visiting Vancouver! Perfect timing for us so off to the city for a day of sightseeing and a catch-up.

Vancouver Waterfront

Vancouver Waterfront

Floating Houses Vancouver

Floating Houses Vancouver

Great silo art

Great silo art

Lunch on the pier

Lunch on the pier

Markets on Granville Island

Markets on Granville Island

Vancouver

Vancouver

Granville Island Vancouver

Granville Island Vancouver

The Awesome David and Alison

The Awesome David and Alison

Always nice when locals can show you the sights!

All too quickly, our 2 weeks were at an end. Stories of Hawaiian sunshine and crystal clear waters had us ready to head south rapidly!

That makes the whole transition back into the US sound a lot more efficient and far more pleasant than the detestable, rude, arrogant and downright insulting experience that it actually was and for that matter appears to be consistently for Overland Travellers with plans requiring multiple entries!

Always nice finishing a post on a high!

Time to head for the Oregon coast and see what the Pacific US States have to offer!

Cheers Justin

The Last Frontier

Cottesloe Beach – a Perth institution that attracts bathers by the thousands on a lovely sunny day. So many in fact that you will struggle to wander the sands without falling on someone!

Well, if you are a moose and find yourself just across the border into Alaska and you replace the beach with tundra and scrub and bathers with camouflage wearing, armed, quad bike riding hunters then that would be your impression should you be that moose!

American hunters returning home with their trophy

American hunters with their trophy

Must be a gory old afternoon dressing down one of these animals back to the bone for meat and a set of antlers, but hey, what else can you hang on your wall!

After passing through several old gold mining tenements we arrived in the odd little town of Chicken!

The town of Chicken, Alaska

The town of Chicken, Alaska

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Back on the black top and Delta Junction signalled the end of the Alaska Hwy! Mosquitos had become prevalent of late and a local sculpture suggested that it wasn’t rare…

The end of the Alaska Hwy

The end of the Alaska Hwy

This is how big the Mosquitos felt too!

This is how big the Mosquitos felt too!

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Next destination was the town of North Pole! Named by some enterprising locals who had hoped they would become a mecca for toy manufacturers, the name stuck and Santa Claus House (the year round Xmas Shop with resident Santa) was born.

Not exactly the Geographic North Pole but as close as we'll get!

Not exactly the Geographic North Pole but as close as we’ll get!

Santa's Throne

Santa’s Throne

Jen was keen to walk away with a Xmas souvenir from a town named North Pole but those hopes were quickly dashed as we entered the gift shop and observed some of the prices! Shouldn’t take long to pay back that 19 000 000 000 000 (yep that’s how many zeros are in trillion) National debt at such prices although I guess it’s all made in China – hmmmm! A souvenir from the North Pole Safeway would have to suffice!

Real Live Reindeer!!!

Real Live Reindeer!!!

Fairbanks came and went as we began our descent south toward Anchorage but not before meeting some Brazilian overlanders on the road – literally!

Brazillian Travellers

Brazillian Travellers

Denali National Park provided an opportunity to make a little headway west from the Hwy and enjoy some magnificent scenery! We wandered along the road back and forward in what turned out to be a futile attempt to spot some rutting moose!

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Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Husky Pups that will grow up to be Ranger Sled Dogs in Denali NP

Husky Pups that will grow up to be Ranger Sled Dogs in Denali NP

Murphy’s law would have it that just outside the Park and back on the Hwy, a moose pair were munching away on the side of the road. We enjoyed watching them at a comfortable distance for some time before a mini bus load of tourists turned up with enormous zoom lenses but decided that approaching them within metres was the only way to secure a good photo! Moose ran away – Moose viewing over. Pure Genius!!

Moose!!!

Moose!!!

Moose Buck and Cow

Moose Buck and Cow

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A dodgy rest bay with a free camping area was next in our very long list of places we’ve slept! A few vehicles were parked sporadically around the allotted area and opposite us was a VW camper. In the morning we would meet the occupants Myron, Mary-Bethe and their son Bryan.

Myron and Mary-Bethe at Camp

Myron and Mary-Bethe at Camp

On our journey through the Yukon and Alaska, we’d been lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis quite a few times in varying states of allure! On the night we camped opposite the VW, we’d camped alongside some tall trees and thought our Aurora viewing would be limited, so decided on a solid nights sleep instead!! Little did we know that we had missed an excellent light display according to our VW camp buddies! Isn’t it always the way? Nonetheless we were lucky enough to enjoy this cosmic lightshow the following night with a spectacular display and felt relieved that we hadn’t missed what may have been the one and only night!

The Aurora as best as my happy snap could get it

The Aurora as best as my happy snap could get it

Another of my efforts

Another of my efforts

The Aurora is more fluid than I’d imagined. It ebbs and flows, a curtain of striking greens, yellows and occasionally red swirling in the night sky.   It really did convey our proximity to the North Pole as it wrapped the horizon.

We headed through Anchorage toward the Kenai Peninsula and as luck would have it, we managed to time our travel with a bore tide in Turnagain Arm! The whole bay is filled with a sort of bottomless quicksand and, on a high negative tide, the water rises from the Cook Inlet (named after Captain Cook) with a constant wave and a steady stream of surfers riding it! Of more interest to us though was the opportunity to view Beluga wales as they drift in with the deepening water and fill their bellies on salmon and other fishy treats.

Bore Tide arriving in Turnagain Arm

Bore Tide arriving in Turnagain Arm

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The best shot i could get of a beluga whale

The best shot I could get of a beluga whale

Mo and Jude met while watching the Bore Tide

Mo and Jude met while watching the Bore Tide

Turnagain Arm

Turnagain Arm

Salmon! What a weird life these fish have… a life designed around making their way to the ocean, maturing and then swimming back upstream to spawn and die in the same place they were spawned. We’ve all seen it on TV so I’ll just wack in a few pics of our various encounters with jumping and dying fish over our time here.

Salmon waiting to spawn

Salmon waiting to spawn

Red Salmon

Red Salmon

With a long weekend in full swing, we set about campsite hunting and with a little luck; we managed a nice little site right alongside a creek on the road out to Hope which lies on the opposite side of Turnagain Arm to Anchorage!

Occupied when we arrived, the campsite incumbents told us they were moving on and that we were welcome to the site! Not only that but there was the possibility of gold being panned! And it got better; Kath and Roger provided us with a bag of organic veggies from their home garden and also invited us to visit them should we be in their neighbourhood!

The rain settled in giving a stark grey feel to the campsite, pools of water slowly enlarging around our camp but it wasn’t enough of to stimey Jens gold panning enthusiasm and wouldn’t you know it, arsy Jen grabbed a shovel full of mud from right beside the car and yep – found a nice little spec!

Gold panning and found some!

Gold panning and found some!

Worth more than the spec of Gold, however, was the amount of free time I was now finding myself with as Jen spent every waking minute panning until her hands were blue! And not another spec was released from it’s watery home!

Continuing down the Kenai it’s pretty easy to make numerous stops and side trips, one such was to Russian River Falls where we were able to view Salmon making their blind leaps in the hope of clearing the white water blocking their onward journey, seems that only one in every hundred jumps is successful, Amazing!

Airborne Salmon

Airborne Salmon

Skilak Lake was another great detour, nice camping and wildlife spotting opportunities; we saw a Black Bear and 3 cubs cross the road here!

Two bear cubs

Two bear cubs

Rainbows are always nice to see

Rainbows are always nice to see

Gotta love this camera setting

Gotta love this camera setting

Onto the beach at Anchor Point and we were now as far west as we were able to drive in Alaska and hence all of a sudden we realised we’d just driven “Around The World!”

We've made it as far as we can drive west without being back where we started in Vladivostok.

We’ve made it as far as we can drive west without being back where we started in Vladivostok.

Our Cook Inlet beach camp with volcano across the bay

Our Cook Inlet beach camp with volcano across the bay

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Sea Otter

Sea Otter

Russian Influence leftover from when Alaska was Russian territory

Russian Influence leftover from when Alaska was Russian territory

Jen the aggressive statistician has a few stats for those interested!

Time away to get to this point : 2yrs 5months exactly

Kms Travelled : 86,356kms

Hottest Temperature experienced : 46 Celcius in Uzbekistan

Coldest Temperature experienced :   -12 Celcius in Siberia

Countries Visited : 41

Continents visited : 4

Awesome people met : countless!!!!

Homer is as far south as you can drive on the Kenai but you can explore a little farther if you wish to board a car ferry but we were content.

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We met Laura and Doug from Texas...

We met Laura and Doug from Texas…

Seafarer's Memorial Homer

Seafarer’s Memorial Homer

Pretty much a fishing port, it’s also home port to some of the boats from the TV show “Deadliest Catch”… Whilst I’m on the subject I was also enlightened to the fact that one such TV show regarding Wild Alaskan folk out hunting and struggling to stay alive failed to mention that a Safeway supermarket is 7 miles from their remote island cabin where they struggle for survival on a daily basis! A little like our Australian “Outback Truckers” I guess. Truckers battling the elements in the North of Australia on the edge of survival the whole time! Only an onboard fridge full of food and cold beer and roadhouse food to sustain them! Staggering stuff really and about 180 degrees opposite to the actual situation but hey it sells!

Homer Harbour

Homer Harbour

On our way down to Homer we’d stopped by Kath and Roger’s home in the hamlet of Clam Gulch and they’d kindly invited us to drop in on our return for a night of relaxation! An offer too good to refuse.

Upon our arrival, these awesome people had organised a Margarita beach party. Their amazing log home sits atop a cliff above said beach and overlooks Cook Inlet and 5 active volcanoes. Truly stunning!

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Volcanoes across the bay

Volcanoes across the bay

Neighbours Debbie and Robert joined us on the beach and we began guzzling margarita’s and cold beer whilst wolfing down sausages and amazing salads. It was one of those experiences that I can’t really describe effectively here, partly due to the fact I can’t remember quite a bit of it!! Hahaha. It was one of the highlights of our trip to Alaska and epitomised the hospitality and generosity of Alaskans!

All set and ready to drink!

All set and ready to drink!

Important to have the generator to run the margarita maker!

Important to have the generator to run the margarita maker!

These Alaskan's made us feel so welcome

These Alaskan’s made us feel so welcome

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What better than a night by the fire on the beach in Alaska!!

What better than a night by the fire on the beach in Alaska!!

So much of our trip has been about the people we have met and we really have been lucky consistently since the moment we began our journey!

The lovely Rog and Kath!

The lovely Rog and Kath!

Leaving these people was tough and they saw to it that we would not starve on their watch! With a fridge full of delicious Salmon and Halibut fillets, and some home smoked Salmon courtesy of Robert, we headed out to Seward for a visit.

Last cruise ship of the season in Seward

Last cruise ship of the season in Seward

The weather was forecast to deteriorate and that it did, Rain, rain and more rain for a spell as we headed north back to Anchorage.

We arranged to visit the VW campers, Myron and Mary Bethe whilst back in Anchorage. They had only just arrived back from a short trip of their own but were keen for us to drop by.

Myron and Mary-Bethe

Myron and Mary-Bethe

It seemed that whilst we’d been in bed back at that roadside camp whilst the Aurora did its thing over our snoring selves, Myron (being a professional photographer) had snapped a rather cool pic of our Patrol! I think you’ll agree…

A copy of Myron Wright's Photo

A copy of Myron Wright’s Photo

Couldn’t thank him enough. He generously printed off a copy for us to frame when we return home. A great afternoon of conversation and great people.

Lake Hood Float Plane Base

Lake Hood Float Plane Base

Sitting at the end of the runway at Anchorage Airport

Sitting at the end of the runway at Anchorage Airport

Whatever Dude!!

Whatever Dude!!

After a last lap around Anchorage, we made toward the Canadian border. The Autumn colours were striking! Although travelling a little later in the season has some negatives such as bouts of rain and cooling temperatures, the advantages are stark! A huge reduction in other tourists and being able to witness Alaska and the north in the Fall

Amazing autumn colours

Amazing autumn colours

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

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Before we knew it we were back in Canada but our Alaskan adventures would continue with a visit to Haines, land locked within Canada but accessible by sea. Tight planning meant that we had just enough time left on our US visa to allow a visit!

Till then

Justin

 

 

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 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…