Friday, January 13, 2017

More of Utah

All told, we spent about a month in Utah, and felt like we saw just a tiny piece of it.   Bryce Canyon is as spectacular as in the pictures, and it is a nice, challenging hike down to the bottom and back up again.  Or, if you prefer, you can just walk the paved path along the rim.   Either way, amazing.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon, from down below

Also on our list was a drive through Grand Staircase.  Most of it is only accessible by hiking in, but there is an amazing 20 or 30 mile drive that you can take.  At one point we were driving along the top of one of the ridges, with drop-offs of hundreds of feet on either side of the two-lane road.     The views are spectacular.

A farm along the highway in Grand Staircase

Part of the road through Grand Staircase

There's not much I can say about this that isn't in the guidebooks and websites.   Utah is amazing.   I would love to spend a lot more time there.

All In

OK, so it's been a while since I've written anything here.   No excuses, I just know my how few people read it.  But part of the reason I write it is for myself, sort of as a history, a diary.

So when we started this, our goal was to buy a sailboat.   It turned out, for tax reasons, it was cheaper to do six months of RVing first than to go directly to sailboat.   So we figured we may as well give that experience to ourselves rather than a big chunk of money to the IRS.

But now, after 4 months of doing this, we love it and have decided we will be doing this for a while.   And that our old RV, the 20 year old Class A we started with when we were trying to get by as cheaply as possible, was not adequate for that.   There were two big problems that made it tough.  First, the kids didn't have their own space.  That meant that there were always toys and things everywhere, and we had to fold out the beds and make them every night.   Second, we found ourselves skipping day trips because the Class A was too hard to drive anywhere interesting (try parking a 33 foot vehicle at a national park!), and only got 7 MPG when it did.

So we started looking for what we could replace it with and found a trailer we liked in Modesto, CA.   Unfortunately, they wouldn't take trade ins and had no way of helping us with a truck.   So one day, in St George, UT, we saw some RVs in the Wal-Mart parking lot.   We talked to the salesman, and he assured us he could help with the transition.   So the next day we went to the dealership and found a trailer that was perfect for us.  We also went to a used car dealer and found a perfect truck.   The two of them worked together on financing and delivery.   So after a couple weeks, we pulled our old Class A up next to our new trailer, moved everything over, and we are now living much more comfortably, and getting around much more easily.   We are already finding ourselves enjoying the local areas more, and the trailer is designed much better.    So, without further ado, our new setup:

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Utah, and we're not done yet.

After we left California we spent a few days at an "RV park", i.e., parking lot, behind Circus Circus in Las Vegas.   Las Vegas was, well, Las Vegas.   Dumpy, noisy, cheesy, obnoxious.   Then we moved on to Utah.

Our first stop there was St. George.   It's a cute little town next to some spectacular mountains.   It's a reasonable drive to Zion National Park.   What a beautiful place.  There's a reason it's one of the top destinations.   The pictures can't do justice, but I'll try anyway:

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

The other thing that is near (very near) St. George is some sand dunes.  So we rented a dune buggy and drove about 15 minutes out to the dune.  I've seen people riding sand dunes on TV and it looked really fun, but it's one of those things that is so much more fun in person than you can imagine it will be.   We drove through amazing scenery, and the dunes were huge.   If you didn't get a good run, you'd get stuck, bury it, and have to back down and try again.   And going down is exciting, too.  You can't see where you are going, it's a bit of a leap of faith to go over the edge.   We also got to drive up a rock formation where we could see forever.   We try to be careful with our spending, and this was on the spendy side, but I would do this again in a second!

The dune buggy we rented

The kids by our dune buggy
Erin climbs a rock formation

From St. George, we headed up to central Utah to a little town called Fillmore.   It's a town whose primary claim to fame is "we're close to stuff".    We had several good adventures here.   Just outside of town, after a short hike, there are some hieroglyphs carved into the rock.  They were discovered in the 1930s, but nobody knows how long they've been there, who wrote them, or what they mean.  A couple of leading theories is that they are from Incans or Mayans who wandered far from home.   One "expert" decided they told of some gold tablets buried nearby, and after several people died looking for them, the search was ended.

Fillmore also has a territorial capital museum.  Fillmore was once the capital of Utah Territory.  They built a big statehouse.  But the federal government was suspicious of Utah territory (too independent) and broke it up into Utah, Nevada and parts of some other states.   And Fillmore was no longer central to the state, and was a long trip from Salt Lake City, so after just one legislative session they moved the capital to the bigger city.

As if that's not enough...

I have a nephew who lives in Salt Lake City.   We met up with him in Provo, and did a hike up a mountain to some hot springs.  They were amazing.  The trail was along a windy creek with lots of minor waterfalls along the way.   As you get close to the hot springs, the smell of sulfur gets stronger and stronger, and the water temperature in the creek keeps going up.   There are a series of pool by at the hot springs.   There is strange algae, and lots of weird colors in the water from the minerals.   The temperature of the pools range from 'comfy bath' to 'uncomfortably hot hot tub'.   A short hike further there is a falls, and just above that, there were some undergarments hanging in the bushes, marking another hot spring that was probably occupied by people who didn't want to be interrupted.  (Oh, the choices: respect their privacy, or make them internet famous....)

Daughter Erin crossing the stream on a fallen tree

Son Ethan on a cliff at the top of the waterfall

All of us hanging out by the hot spring pools

The hot spring pools

A cool waterfall just above the hot springs

As if that wasn't enough for one stop... there is a lava bed near Fillmore.   You go out into this barren, flat landscape, and the rocks keep getting weirder and darker as you go.   The road gets rougher and rougher.   Finally, there is this huge field of lava.  As you explore it, it gets more bizarre. There is one sort of gorge feature with lava walls that is about 30-40 feet deep.  Me and my daughter Erin went down into it, and there is a cave at the bottom that comes out the other side into a circular hole.   So you end up 30 feet below the ground in this hole with sheer rock walls.   It's a really an amazing place.   It should be a well-known destination, but instead it is just a barren road in an unknown town.

This trench is 30-40 feet deep with lava sides

Go through the cave, and come out on the other side in a giant hole

So, is that enough for one state?   We are leaving Fillmore tomorrow, and heading south again.  From our next stop, we plan to see Bryce National Park, Grand Staircase, and maybe more.   Ahh, Utah.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


From the moment we entered California, we knew it wasn't like the other states.   I think every other state has a "Welcome to (wherever)" sign.   California?   At their border, they've got about 10 signs, packed with walls of text telling you all the rules you have to follow.   The residents say "In California, if it works, it's illegal".    After a few weeks here, we found it to be true.

Of course, California isn't all bad.   It's just that everything is an uncomfortable mix of nice and pain-in-the-ass.

So, there's the roads.   California has some of the highest taxes in the country, and one of the worst road systems.   You can't get anywhere in a short time, because there is too much traffic on bad roads.   The signs are inadequate unless you know where you are going (fortunately, Google knows), and lanes come and go randomly without warning -- which, if you've ever driven an RV, is a major problem.  Despite no freeze-thaw cycle to eat the roads up, a greater percentage of roads are under construction than in Minnesota.

The highlights of our visit are Napa Valley (beautiful but too expensive to live there), San Francisco (too expensive AND too crowded, but a fun crazy place), Muir Woods (beautiful, but parking is a disaster), Monterey (yep, expensive), and Yosemite (under construction, no parking).   We also had a blast visiting relatives, but even that was marred by bureaucracy about where we could park our RV, how to get a prescription filled, and trying to use a bank.

California also has great wine everywhere, I guess that's so people can forget what state they are in.

Tonight is our last night in California, and I don't think I will miss it.   Yeah, you've got some touristy stuff, but so do most other states, without all the bureaucracy and bad drivers.   (Yes, did I mention the drivers are terrible, too?)

So while we love the weather and wine, unless we were multi-millionaires, I don't see how living in CA is an option.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


As we travel through these states, we like to talk about whether the state is livable or not.   For example, North Dakota gets a -1000 out of 10 on the livability scale.  Montana has some really spectacular scenery, but it didn't really feel like home, and the weather is as bad as Minnesota.

Our first surprise was Idaho, which not only has beautiful scenery, but feels very livable.   Washington is extremely scenic, but seemed really dumpy and unpleasant when you weren't immersed in that scenery.

Oregon is a state we hadn't thought much about, but like Idaho, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It feels very livable, and the scenery is amazing.

Our first stop was Ainsworth State Park in the northern part of the state.  Near there, we went on a hike to Punchbowl Falls.   A spectacular hike through a thick forest to a beautiful falls.

A few days later we went moved to the central part of the state, by the McKenzie River.   We went whitewater rafting, and decided we could live there and be a river raft guide next summer.  

Then we moved on to Rosenburg, OR.   This is a medium small town that also felt very homey.   There were lots of wineries nearby (we didn't have time to visit), a wild animal park, and it is a day trip to Crater Lake.

Crater Lake

I think Oregon and Idaho like being ignored, it keeps out the kind of people who are unlikely to take advantage of the beauty.

So, next summer, ready to come rafting with us?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Goodbye to Washington

Tonight is our last night in Washington state for this part of our trip.   We've been here for a month, much longer than I would've thought it would be interesting.   I think I have mixed feelings about Washington.   It can probably be summed up as the most beautiful place I'd never want to live.

The view from Echo Bay on Sucia Island

Nature dominates, and this state has it all -- beautiful mountains, rain forests, great sandy beaches, interesting tide pools, hiking, biking.   The national parks here are amazing, each worth its own vacation.   Still, as beautiful as it is, I don't think I could live here, for two main reasons.   First, the weather is dreary.   We've been relatively lucky, and even with that we spent much of August in long pants and sweatshirts.   It's the coldest summer I've ever had.   Second, the parts of Washington affected by humans are... not great.   The roads are not good, Seattle is a mess and should probably just be bulldozed, and the small towns in the center of the state tend to be very run down and dreary.

Mount Rainier

There are two towns we liked: Port Angeles and Long Beach.   The towns themselves are nice enough, very livable, with access to the perks of modern life, yet a quick escape to remote locations that make you feel like the only person on earth.  But that weather....

Dungeness Lighthouse dwarfed by a distant Mount Baker

Anyone who wants a cheap RV should come to Washington.   We've seen more seemingly abandoned RVs here than I thought existed in the whole country.   They are everywhere.   You could probably just knock on the owner's door and take it for free.   Of course, it may be cheaper just to buy a new one by the time you fix it up, but with that many dead ones, I bet there are a few bargains in there, too.

The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, looking south toward distant Oregon

Overall, Washington has been great.   Crescent Bay is an amazing place for an RV traveller, and the San Juan Island National Park is a bucket list item for sailors.   Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens, Olympic National Park -- breathtaking.   I feel like we've missed so much, even after a month.   Just sailing in the San Juan Islands could be a summer project by itself.  I have a feeling we will be back to Washington.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A couple of dramatic weeks

After all that has happened to us on this trip since we left Minnesota, and all we've seen, we thought we were getting used to scenery and traveling and change.   But these last couple of weeks have been crazy.

My mother-in-law and my older son Reese joined us in Seattle for two weeks.   The first week was spent on an Alaskan cruise, the second week sailing on a 45' Jenneau sailboat.

There were so many cool things that I could write many pages about these two weeks.   I'll try to resist and just do a few of the highlights.

On the cruise, our first stop was Ketchikan.   I suggested to their Chamber of Commerce they should use the slogan "Ketchikan: Catch it if you can".   They said they'd be sure to send the royalty checks to me right away.    In Ketchikan, Reese and I did a rain forest zipline tour.    We soared about 150 feet in the air, above the trees, plus we got to cross a rickety foot bridge.   The longest line was over 700 feet.
A rickety bridge, 150 feet in the air

The next stop was Juneau, another beautiful small town.  On the way to Juneau, we went up a fjord to see a glacier.  The captain spun the cruise ship 540 degrees to give everyone a view of the glacier.   The whole fjord was spectacular in a way that can't be captured in words or photos.   Here's a try anyway:

Around a half mile from a glacier

The glacier would calve giant chunks of ice, and we'd hear the booming sound a few seconds later.   The sides of the fjord have waterfalls everywhere, and the mountains were thousands of feet almost straight up.    After a month of seeing mountains, I didn't think I could be impressed anymore, but this took it to a new level.

This doesn't begin to capture the real beauty

Once we made it to Juneau, we did a whale watching excursion, and this may have been the highlight of the cruise.   They took us to a pod of humpback whales that does bubble feeding, a complex group behavior to round up the fish.  There are apparently only about 70 or 80 humpbacks in the world that can do it.  They disappear for a while, then suddenly they all came up at once.   It's hard to capture on video because they give no indication where they are coming up.   Once again, there aren't enough words to explain how cool this is to see up close.   Here's a video, I missed the first rise up, but still, you can see how close we were:

Video of whales feeding next to our boat.

The next day was Skagway -- an unimpressive town.   After a day at sea we landed in Victoria, B.C., and took a tour of Butchart Gardens.   Once again, the words can't capture this.   I never thought a man-made garden could match the splendor of what we had just seen, but this place is amazing, almost worth a trip just by itself.   It's built in a limestone quarry that exhausted its limestone.

Butchart Garden at dusk
A tiny piece of Butchart Gardens in Victoria

So, that's enough for a while, right?   Apparently not.  From the cruise, we went to a sailboat, and sailed the San Juan Islands for a week.  Once again, the scenery is amazing.    We sailed among the tops of underwater mountains, each one with it's own personality.

The view from Sucia.  Notice snow-capped Mount Baker in the background.

The rough shores on Sucia Island

We saw orcas up close, had a great hike on Sucia Island, and stopped at a couple of beautiful marinas.  

By the end of the two weeks, it all seemed like a dream.   There is too much big, too much to overwhelm us.   I think our little brains are not big enough to absorb such a big adventure.