The Home Stretch

 

Back in Florida. “Home Sweet Home” for the moment at Roberts, next to Sawgrass Lake Park.  Also next door to the Skeet Club and under the final approach path to St. Pete Clearwater Airport.  It’s still a great location.

We hurried in to St. Pete ahead of our self-imposed deadline, assisted by a cold front that looked pretty scary to Bob (wuss!).  After New Orleans, we stopped near Foley, Alabama, then followed US 98, the coastal route, passing through the numerous beach towns.  We wanted to spend a night in Panama City and get together with one of my former colleagues, but without advance planning discovered a huge motorcycle rally was taking place and no RV spots were to be found in the area.   We ended up in Mexico Beach that night, with a lovely pull through forested spot, then left early ahead of the rain showers, reaching Homosassa Springs near Crystal River.  The following day we arrived in St. Pete.

We’ve put about ten thousand miles on Rosy since April and are happy with the transition to RVing.  There are many similarities to the cruising life. We’re used to small living quarters and a constant change of scenery, and as Bob says, there is always something to fix.  Land travel is definitely more comfortable than boating.  While RV driving does not feel as risky (except for a few heart-stopping moments in the right seat from time to time) I’m guessing the odds of being injured on the highway are probably far greater.  One of the bonuses of RV travel is the ability to visit family and friends along the way, and that was one aspect we really enjoyed.

We continue to learn valuable lessons.  Trees may be larger at the bottom than at the top, and if your partner says you are going to hit a tree and is standing right next to it, “No, I’m not” is not the optimal response.  Checklists and departure routines are critical even if you’re only backing up 100 feet.  Always do a final walk around and make double sure you’re unplugged from the power pedestal before pulling away.  Lucky the damage was only on our end after one particular fiasco that I’ve been requested not to discuss further 🙂

From my perspective, the venture through mostly “red” states was enlightening and I’m glad I was persuaded to take this route.  We stopped in 45 red counties and and 17 blue counties (yes, I tracked) finding that blue states can have vast red areas and red states may have blue areas.  The definitive characteristics seem to be rural vs urban and multi-cultural vs non-diverse communities.  People were nice to us everywhere (except for one grumpy camp host) although I suspect that our reception might have been different in some places had our skin color, accents or attire been different.  The biggest takeaway I found was that the day to day life, demographics and economic needs are so different across America it’s no wonder we are a divided country, political affiliations and religion aside.  Not sure how you fix that, but trying to understand a little about other people and their communities is a place to start.

A frequent question is, “What was our favorite place?”  There are many places we’d love to return to and some we might enjoy for a seasonal visit.   Perhaps the best answer is that it’s not one specific place, it’s the journey.  For us, this journey from Florida to Michigan to Oregon and back, was simply awesome.

 

The land of cotton!  Along the way in Alabama.

Emmaus RV Resort in Summerdale, AL was one of our Passport America Club finds.  Cute park!

After an interesting fueling adventure on Orange Beach (no left turns allowed onto the gulf highway and we can’t make U-turns) we made our way down the Emerald Coast beaches. They are truly spectacular.

Tony & Dr. Mike met us for a coffee break in Panama City. So nice to catch up with my colleagues from the past.  What a treat!

Taking a break along Hwy 98 in N. FL.  Staying ahead of the rain.

Reached Eastern Time again as we continued along the FL panhandle.

North FL is so pretty. Love the beautiful beaches and quaint towns.  Sorry for the bug splatted windshield, and now there’s a new rock ding right in the middle of my view.  One more item for the to do list.

Rascal says Dad almost hit that tree . . . tightest pull-through ever at Homosassa Springs. Not really a good park for big rig overnights but we did it!

Special thanks to car-sitters Chuck & Sheree. They returned the beast in the finest condition it’s been in since purchase.

A little spa time for Rosy. Especially fun taking the motor home for service when it’s also your home!  Have to get her ready for the next adventure. A few more projects planned.

Rascal has updated his page too.  The littlest traveler seems to have adapted to the lifestyle and his crazy humans with a thirst for changing scenery.

So that’s a wrap on the 2017 adventure.  We hope to be blessed with another RV travel opportunity next year to continue the story.   Thanks for following along!

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This entry was posted on November 4, 2017.

Cruising in Cajun Country

 

Casino camping facility run by Louisiana’s Chitimacha tribe – perfect place to wait out the weather.

Louisiana lived up to our memories as a both a really fun place to visit and a horrible place to drive.  The road conditions were similar to those we experienced in 2000 during a cross-country drive to Arizona for Bob’s back surgery.   He spent the trip from Florida lying on his stomach in the back of our SUV,  the only place he could get comfortable.  I have memories of him barking at me to try a different lane to find a smoother ride and yelling “OUCH” at all the bumps.  This time we were yelling things other than “ouch”.  Poor Rosy certainly took a shaking.  At one point it was so bad that Bob suddenly took an exit ramp stating “I can’t take this any more!” and we scrambled to figure out which way to go next.  Amazing that the only noticeable damage was a broken kitchen drawer support and that might have happened as we were exiting Texas.

We delayed a stop in downtown New Orleans until stormy weather passed.  We didn’t want to waste time in the city on bad weather, nor did we want to drive in heavy rain.  Bob found a race track/casino just across the TX/LA border for a night of free camping in their parking lot.  Usually we crash after a long travel day but felt up to doing something different and had a really pleasant evening at this small town track.  Learned a little about horse racing too.

Then on to Charenton, south of Lafayette, to a full hook up RV park that was part of the Cypress Bayou Indian Casino.  That trip was a mere 146 miles but ended up taking us 6 1/2 hours, which sometimes happens when we take the scenic route.  As we pulled out of Delta Downs I was ready to get back on I-10 when Bob said, “No, we’re taking US 90 today”.  At one point we found the road closed for the International Rice Festival, a 4-day event, and learned that rice is a major product here.  Traveling behind a slow moving tractor and we identified the crop going to harvest was sugar cane, another big industry here. Rural Louisiana impressed us with the variety of small businesses we passed.  Certainly not a wealthy place, but very industrious.   A brunch stop at Shoney’s (breakfast buffet still being served!) plus a couple of additional rest stops/smoke breaks and some impromptu rerouting filled out the day.  Travel days are rarely boring on the Rosy Roads.

With large concrete parking spots surrounded by grass (thus no mud with rain) indoor activities and entertainment at a very reasonable camping price ($15/night weekdays, $22 weekends) the casino was a great spot to hang out for the deluge.  The weather arrived in multiple events, first with thunderstorms and a familiar blast of overpowering humidity from the Gulf.  The worst of the rain arrived in the middle of the night and I thought we might float away during one 6 inch downpour.  The next day we almost lost the awning, not noticing that the wind forecast had changed with an approaching cold front.  We were caught with it deployed and unable to get it down as a 60 mph gust front blasted through, with each of us hanging on to an end trying to keep the frame from ripping off the bus.  Bob spent the afternoon getting all the parts and pieces back in place, repairing the screen door which had gotten dislodged during the awning rescue and drying his tools.  If not for the rain protection provided for the smoking patio, the awning could have stayed tucked away that cloudy weekend!  That’s all I’m saying about that.

The road conditions got better as we traveled toward New Orleans.  We chose an RV park within walking distance of the French Quarter which made for an exciting approach into the city.  The GPS suddenly got confused due to the stacked highways and thought we were on a different road, calling out crazy directions at the precise moment we were depending upon good GPS assist to help sort out the map layers.  After a few seconds of chaos, we made the correct choices and kept Rosy on route.  Oh my goodness.

The crew (Rascal too) has been feeling a little under the weather, and once parked, our adventures in New Orleans were limited to a night on the town with a delicious meal, a little jazz and people -watching.  An exuberant place for sure, but a huge and filthy sewer/water line project smack in middle of Bourbon Street marred some of the ambiance.  Understand they are replacing ancient pipes, complicated by excessive amounts of grease found in the system, no doubt thanks to so many restaurants dispensing the rich local cuisine. Hope they get the French Quarter put back together in time for Mardi Gras.

On this weekday night, the track at Delta Downs was not crowded and it was fun to get up close to view the action.

This was a race of horses that had never won a race before. We learned that you might do just as well betting on the jockey’s record as the horse.

Didn’t place any bets, but we rooted for this skinny horse (they all seem way too thin) who was the longshot. He came in last as predicted.

View from inside, with buffet dining while enjoying the races.

Had to laugh and ask how can they just close a US Route without any warning? Well, they did, and no detour routing was provided either.

When we found a place to pull over and check rerouting options, discovered rice on the ground and all the rice storage containers.

Followed this slow moving tractor for nearly 10 miles with no passing opportunities.

End of the tractor line and the sugar processing plant.

Miles of highway are bridges over the bayous

French Quarter RV Resort is one of the more unusual campgrounds we’ve visited, located right next to the elevated I-10 highway. Nicely done given the limited real estate.  Maybe we should have played Powerball?

Many of the bands in venues along Bourbon Street were just too loud for us to want to venture inside . . . found this delightful and quieter jazz quartet at an inviting spot.

Here’s a sample.

 

This entry was posted on October 26, 2017.

Travelin’ Thru Texas

Eastbound through Texas we deviated from I-10.  Ideally we would have traveled the length of the Tex-Mex border to Brownsville, and perhaps ventured into Mexico on a day trip or two, but time did not permit.  Bob’s mother had a special place in her heart for Mexico, and had even lived there for a short time.  We haven’t gained that same appreciation for Mexico in the tourist towns we’ve visited and would like to experience the small-town Mexico Marie so loved.  Of course that was many years ago . . .

On the Texas side of the border, we stopped in a large US border city (El Paso, population 683,000) and also got to see a smaller US border town (Del Rio, population 36,000).  In between, we saw a little of the Big Bend area, with a stop in Alpine, an interesting place with Western/Texas local culture combined with a strong arts community.  At an altitude of 4475 feet it beckons as a summer haven, 10 degrees cooler than the coastal towns, and well positioned to explore Big Bend area natural attractions.   Bob had stayed here once on a pilot overnight trip, transporting sport hunters to a private ranch.  After Del Rio, we stopped in San Antonio, then had a long day’s drive on I-10 navigating the Houston traffic to exit Texas. We would have enjoyed extra time in Houston, another place Bob had lived as a child, but weren’t sure what to expect post-hurricane and thought we’d leave that for another time.  Austin was another stop we skipped, a place neither of us has visited.  So Texas will be on the list as a destination to re-explore when we have more time.

We got to see some examples of border security and caught a couple of glimpses of the Rio Grande.  On one of our excursions by car we even found a few inexpensive riverfront lots for sale and briefly contemplated owning a piece of the border, with Mexico just a stone’s throw (literally!) away.  I know, we are strange . . .

We got our fill of Mexican flavors, mostly on our brunch stops, where we found the Hispanic restaurants tend to stop serving breakfast food after 11 am and the choices emphasized Tex Mex creations.  We had some of the best sushi ever in El Paso (one of Bob’s TripAdvisor picks, where strangely we were the only customers in the place but it was exceptional), gourmet cowboy-themed cooking in Alpine (at Reata, a place Bob recalled from that long ago layover) and a fun night on the San Antonio Riverwalk topped with a fabulous meal.  Bob finally got the Whataburger he was craving on one of our lunch stops.  Not so easy driving Rosy through one of those fast food outlets!

Then on through Houston and Beaumont to the Louisiana border, to complete one of our longest travel days so far, 317 or so miles.   You had to look closely from the highway to see signs of flood damage, with occasional debris, a tarp here and there and a couple of damaged docks visible from the highway.  From all the traffic you would have no idea that disaster recovery was ongoing.

View of El Paso and beyond it Ciudad Juarez, Mexico from the Scenic Drive.

The Rio Grande border is a very small ditch in El Paso.  The Border Patrol vehicle is on the US side, and a Carnival on the Mexican side, with fences on both sides of the ditch.

Had some education on Border Patrol history at the US Border Patrol Museum in El Paso. Didn’t realize there were all these different sectors. The agency has been bounced around among different US Departments in the past, currently with Homeland Security. A dangerous job at times, and the exhibit honored many agents who lost their lives on duty.

One of the rafts used by 4 Cuban refugees to cross to the Florida Keys in 1994. They landed and were arrested . . . and the exhibit doesn’t tell what happened to them. Can’t imagine the ride through the Gulf Stream!

One of two Border Patrol checkpoints along the US main highways (I-10 and I-90) well within the US. At one we were asked if we were both US citizens (no documents required). At the second we were told to “Have a nice day” and proceed. Guessing if we didn’t look like two waspy old people from Florida there might have been more questions.

Transitioning from the desert to a moister mountainous climate on our way to Alpine in the Big Bend area. Just gorgeous scenery and the clouds that had been absent in the desert are back!

Had wondered why it was called Alpine!

Junction of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande in the distance, with Mexico beyond. Much of this country is uninhabited and desert-like, with steep canyon walls along the border.

Many sightings of the green-striped Border Patrol vehicles perched on bluffs along the highway throughout regions near the border.

Border fence in Del Rio. There is significant land between the fence and the Rio Grande, and it was being mowed on this day. We thought it a shame there couldn’t be a beautiful riverfront park at that spot.

Another Rio Grande sighting, with the horses grazing on US soil and Mexico beyond the river.  No border fence, just a little fence for the horses.  Wonder how they’d build The Wall here?  Border Patrol had a heavy presence along the adjacent road and apparently this is one of the safest neighborhoods in town.

Border lots for sale here. So close at this point our phones welcomed us to Mexico.

Twilight in San Antonio

Beautiful night for a stroll along the San Antonio Riverwalk and dinner.

Ok, how hard could it be to drive the bus around the Whataburger, park along the far side, grab a burger and exit?

 

Well, it wasn’t easy. An employee had earlier crashed their truck at that spot and it was disabled and awaiting tow. Couldn’t make the turn, requiring a car disconnect to back up both vehicles and get out of that tight spot. Bob had his Whataburger, however!

Another one of a kind experience at a brand new Buc-ees mega gas station in Katy, TX with 120 fuel pumps. Mega convenience store and mega car wash there too.  Cheapest fuel we found on this segment.  Very pleasant and customer oriented employees.  Noticed a big sign inside stating their starting minimum hourly wage is $14 – 16.

Not so much fun driving through Houston but we made it!  The backseat driver was more stressed out than the driver.

We’ve made it to Louisiana where we are hanging out at a very nice full hook up casino RV park in Charenton with a rainy weekend forecast.  Have to get used to rain again after a month in the desert!

This entry was posted on October 21, 2017.

Desert Observations

Since Las Vegas, we’ve continued our eastbound travels with two nights in Quartzsite, Arizona, two nights in Tucson and one night in Deming, New Mexico.  Currently in  El Paso, Tx.  We try to limit the daily distance to around 250 miles per day and plan an extra night in most places to allow for an easier pace and sightseeing.  I can’t believe we once drove from Florida to Phoenix by car in less than 3 days.  It just seems more tiring with the large vehicle.  Or maybe we are getting old!  We are finding more rest areas on our current route, which has included portions of I-10.  Sometimes we only go 20 or 30 minutes between rest stops!  We had to laugh after talking to a couple of truckers who complained they were limited to 11 hours driving time per day.  Can’t image that!

With this desert theme I’m wishing we had made extra time to visit the highly recommended Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. The scenery is subtly changing, but it’s definitely desert, with sparse vegetation, dry conditions and mostly uninhabited.  Apparently we have passed through 4 different desert climates and multiple sub-climates, and both hot and cold deserts.   It’s interesting to see how this vast and mostly inhospitable land is used.

Entertainment and gambling tourism is a pretty smart use of the desert exemplified by the successful Las Vegas economy. Civilization seemed packed into a relatively small area without the sprawling suburbs you often see in metro areas.

Wild mustangs graze the desert near water sources. Since my nose was buried in the Ipad looking for an all day breakfast stop, I missed the horse photo opp. Was really sorry about that.  This photo is our memory of the mustangs.

Tomb of Hadji Ali (Americanized as “Hi Jolly”), a camel caretaker from the Middle East imported with 70 camels in 1856 for a project (ultimately unsuccessful) to explore using camels for transporting people and freight across the desert.  Hi Jolly was very popular with the locals in Quartzsite, thus the special memorial, created in 1903.  Have to wonder how a Muslim camel driver would be received here today?

Quartzsite, AZ, a town of 3600, boasts a million winter visitors taking advantage of numerous boon-docking opportunities and inexpensive RV sites.  It seemed like the middle of nowhere to us without much infrastructure other than more gravel or dirt RV spaces than you can imagine.  If you are into off-roading or rock/gem shows, the most popular local activities, this place might be a winner.

The dry desert climate is excellent for preserving aircraft.  We toured the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, made extra special by our tour guide, a retired AF aviator.  Learned that Jackie Kennedy was tasked with redesigning the color and paint scheme used by Air Force 1 above, a scheme still in use today.

Inside the museum were more fascinating aircraft. This one’s for Joe who will recognize the significance of the CAP emblem on the suspended plane. We almost missed it!  Nice to see that AF auxiliary group recognized here.

Solar farm makes sense with so much sunshine.  Large power lines noted nearby, so presumably the energy is being transferred from this remote spot to useful purpose.

Solar panel covered parking spaces are even cooler!

We found more seasonal RV resorts in Tucson in closer proximity to “stuff” although not at the same discount as Quartzsite. In October the  winter crowd is just starting to trickle in.

Spotted this Roadrunner sculpture made of recycled materials at a New Mexico rest area overlooking Las Cruces, a tribute to this desert inhabitant.  It’s quite a bit larger than the live roadrunners, which are actually pretty small, not at all like the famous one we remember from Roadrunner & Coyote cartoons.  The live ones also ran too fast to photograph.

Jerky is heavily marketed here and seems like an efficient and simple food for the desert.  Wish my carnivores agreed.

Passed several desert prisons and an area used as an internment camp during WWII.  Same territory as Sheriff Joe’s place.  Can only imagine how hot it gets in the summer. Unassisted escape would be pretty tough.

Tons of BLM public land free for camping. We might have taken advantage except for high daytime temps and we wanted electricity for AC.

At first glance thought we were seeing a moving train. Turns out the arid climate is also good for locomotive engine storage. Passed by hundreds of choo-choos  just hanging out here in the desert.

Many tacky tourist stops, with recurrent billboards to draw you in.  This one advertising “The Thing”.  We read the reviews, didn’t stop.

Pistachio orchards! Patches of greenery in the distance mean a river or some source of irrigation, and usually a town or small settlement and some sort of agriculture.

Creative private picnic shelters at a rest stop.  Shade rules!

More shaded NM picnic shelters.  Love those frequent rest stops.

Rascal appreciated the occasional grassy cultivations, this one at the Escapees Dream Catcher RV park in Deming.

Well, we’re off to the Border Patrol Museum in El Paso.  Thought that would be appropriate as our upcoming route will follow along the Tex-Mex border.

This entry was posted on October 12, 2017.

The Unimaginable in Vegas

Our experience in Las Vegas was clouded by the mass shooting.  As chance would have it, we were on the strip at the time. Bob said it was a good thing we didn’t get a hankering to listen to live country music that night.

Bob loves Vegas and wanted to spend a full week there.   I’m a fan of the shows, not a gambler, but what the heck. Our friends Deb & Bill from St. George who come to Vegas frequently got us a free pet-friendly room at Caesar’s Palace for a couple of nights through their rewards perks.  Wow – what a treat and we enjoyed a fun weekend playing with Deb & Bill.

We left Rosy at the KOA Sam’s Town.  This was our first KOA experience after Bob came to the conclusion it just didn’t make sense to pay all the extra fees to “camp” on the strip at the Circus Circus RV Park.   It probably worked out for the best anyway, given the situation downtown.  I’m still trying to figure out how a campground chain with a tee-pee in their logo could prohibit tent camping, though.  Not that we wanted to do that or anything.

Vegas has changed since our last visit in 2006.  The economy is booming and casinos thriving, packed with young fashionable gamblers and foreign tourists. Gone from the strip are the loss-leader buffets and super cheap eats enticing casino visitors. The formerly family-friendly old downtown area appeared to have given up on family for a somewhat seedy and rowdier Freemont Street experience, with sidewalk entertainers reminiscent of Key West’s Mallory Square and outdoor DJ’s catering to an older and more middle class appearing crowd.  A zip-line over the pedestrian mall accented the craziness with human “aircraft” zooming overhead at regular intervals.

Sunday night we were tired from a late night on Saturday (for us that means midnight) and returned from a downtown outing around 10.  The guys were asleep when Deb called around 11:30 from the casino saying there was an active shooter, everyone was being evacuated to the basement and to stay in our room.  From her shaky voice the situation sounded serious.  I closed the curtains, double locked the door, turned out the lights and did a quick internet search which indicated that the heaviest police activity was  near the Mandalay.  I woke Bob to alert him and remind him not to go out to smoke during the night.  Yeah, yeah, that’s a mile away . . . and he went back to sleep.    I followed the events online until the situation was under control.  Google maps were helpful,  placing a bulls eye at the crime scene and showing all the streets in the area that were closed.  Twitter was also a good source of information, especially the local police department account.

Deb called two hours later when casino evacuees were cleared to return to their rooms.  In the morning we learned the full scope of the tragedy.  If only this event could be a game-changer in how we think and act about gun violence.  Our little household exemplifies the divergent views, from which neither of us budged following our proximity to the horrifying event:  A) It is ludicrous for people to be allowed to own an arsenal including automatic weapons and B) This is allowed by the Second Amendment.  From our glimpse of America on this trip I’m not optimistic that a big change in people’s attitudes toward guns or a willingness to consider how this issue is approached more successfully in other countries will happen anytime soon.  The gun culture is too strong.

We are getting ready to head back to Florida, which will happen at a quicker pace than our trip westward.  Travel planning has gotten easier, possibly due to more experience and also due to fewer route choices.  Bob has a general itinerary in mind and we may do more “winging it” depending upon how we feel.

Caesar’s Palace! What a beautiful place. Rascal unpredictably loved the little astro-turf dog potty area.  Well-seasoned, perhaps.

A prince’s welcome & treated like royalty.

Special dog-friendly floor too!

Such luxury for a little old guy!

And huge hallways! Wow!!!

Bob & Deb waiting to get in to Caesar’s Coliseum, a great indoor venue. Security screening and metal detectors required for access. Didn’t fully appreciate all those features until the following night.

Celine Dion – what a performer! So enjoyed her show.

Rascal skipped the show but we had to get this photo op over his wiggly protests.

Sunday night on the town with Deb & Bill at Hugo’s Cellar, wonderful long standing restaurant in the old section of Vegas.

Freemont Street.  See us flying by up there on the zip line?? Okay, we confess, that’s not us . . .

Finally!  A new bus fridge takes more coordination than a home installation.  Figure out how to obtain one of the few brands that will fit the space and coordinate delivery.  Disassemble old fridge, remove bus window, remove fridge via window, disassemble new fridge, pop inside via window, reassemble new fridge, replace window, connect  and secure. Bob took Rosy to a vendor for help and he gets credit for resolving all the painful details on this job. Yeah!

This entry was posted on October 4, 2017.