We're so glad you joined us!

Here we are – kids, dogs and all! Thanks for visiting our page! We're hoping that you will enjoy hearing about our travels and experiences as a family. We intend for this blog to share more than just travel journals, but also insights and lessons learned during our daily adventures. Please share your comments and come back often! * update * as of August 2010, we finished our journey, so new entries to this site will be rare. Linda's starting a new personal blog here. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Down on the Farm

As we were winding down our stay in Bakersfield, we thought we should take advantage of being in the middle of a huge and diverse agricultural area. When we drove into Bakersfield, we saw a sign for a family farm where you could pick the fruit yourself. It was a bright sunny day and we headed out California highway 58 to Murray Farms to get a close up look at how some of these foods come to our table.

They were pretty well set up for kids and fixed us up with some fruit boxes, plastic pales and a wagon to pull the load. We were directed to the areas where things were in season. There was a large area of "stone fruit" (peaches, plums, apricots and nectarines) that had some ripe fruit and different areas with blueberries and blackberries said to be ready.

The boys dove right in. Starting with the plum trees, they craned their necks looking for the right color and stretched on tiptoes to squeeze and feel for the right firmness. Of course, we had to taste one to see if it was as good as we thought. We repeated this process for apricots and then for nectarines. By the time we got to the peaches, we were getting hot and a little tired.

With a new found respect for effort it takes to grow and pick the tree fruits that we enjoy, we headed over to the blueberry bushes.

Many long rows of bushes were loaded with blueberries. The professional pickers were working along some of these rows and so we knew these were truly ready for the table. We talked about blueberry pancakes, maybe muffins or scones and we could even imagine a handful of these tossed on our cereal in the morning.

We looked along the rows of blackberries as well, but we could not fined any that we thought were ripe enough. Besides, blackberry bushes have lots of stickers and thorns! Looking at our boxes and buckets we could see that we were getting close to the limit of room in our camper refrigerator anyway. So as I pulled the wagon back to the market to get ready to check out, Linda took the boys over to look over some of the other attractions.

They had some things to climb on and a maze in the tall asparagus. These were a little young for the boys. There was also a petting zoo that did keep their attention for a little while while I checked out. The store had lots of other fruits and vegetables, but I was able to resist buying any more then we had except for strawberries. Linda and Cory both really like them and they had some nice big ones. This was a good experience for our family and offered lots of teachable moments for the boys and full crispers in the fridge for the trip to the next campground.

Friday, May 29, 2009

San Luis ...what?

San Luis Obispo. Being from Texas and surrounded with lots of Spanish names, the San Luis part is easy enough...Saint Louis. Obispo was new, it means 'bishop'. San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, was a bishop in France that was honored with the name of the mission established by Father Junipero Serra in 1772. The mission, still functioning as a Catholic church today, was the fifth established in California.

The town was beautiful and we enjoyed walking along the river near the heart of the downtown area. The dogs apparently thought the bears and trout at this fountain were very realistic. Having never seen either one, I suppose this is possible for them!

Driving further to the north, we made our first trek on the infamous California 1 highway. We stopped to look around and have fish and chips at Morro Bay. Having forgotten my jacket, Craig purchased a souvenir fleece one so that I could stay outdoors long enough to see the sights. After the fish and chips, we spied these wise sea lions greeting a fishing boat to beg for handouts (which they received!).

As we looked out behind the restaurant we saw a huge rock outcrop out on a point at the opening of the bay. There was a road that would let us drive out to this point where we could see the waves of the Pacific crash against the rocks. As Linda walked over to the ocean side, she happened across a seal rescue in progress. She even had a chance to to hold the net and participate in saving a baby seal.

Heading further north still, we passed the Hearst Castle far away on a hilltop. Having checked into admission prices, this was a tour we skipped due to our boys interests. We've heard from several sources that it's a memorable experience - maybe on another California journey.

A few miles further north on Highway 1 was a space to pull out to observe elephant seals. Thousands of them were lounging on the beach, some molting, others...well...resting from what we could tell. Huge male bulls were making terrible sounding calls from the water. It's not mating season, so we're left to speculate the reason for the fuss - surely a male territorial thing. The groups on the shore were segregated. The females all gathered in one part - mostly sleeping peacefully, occasionally climbing over each other for some more advantageous spot of sand, smacking sand on their backs with their flippers to stay cool from the sun (although the temperatures were plenty cool!) The young and old males gathered in another beach area and were much more active, picking spats with each other - particularly the younger ones. The older ones didn't really spat, but barrelled over one another and shoved the younger ones out of their way before flopping down to lounge and smack sand on their backs...until another young whipper snapper dared to get too close.

We drove back over the mountains on a different highway that revealed acres and acres of vineyards and wineries. Beautiful in their crisp lines of vines, we saw sign after sign that invited guests to sample, followed immediately by a highway advisory sign to 'Don't drink and drive'? Between the winding roads and the beautiful sights, we suggest wine tasting by some form of shuttle bus tour!

Trees...really BIG trees

We traversed the Mojave desert to begin touring California. As we crossed the border between California and Nevado, we began a climb out of the Colorado River Valley. The temperature was 105 F and we were climbing a very gradual, but very long grade lugging our 16,000 lbs of house. When we noticed that the a/c was no longer functioning in the cab of the truck, we saw the gauges for the engine and transmission temperatures were climbing towards the red. We quickly rolled down the windows and slowed our speed. The transmission gauge responded favorably within a few miles and after cresting the first hill, the engine gauge finally began recovering to a more normal reading. Relieved to not find ourselves stuck on the side of the road in the desert, but also to turn back on the A/C, we gave thanks to God for the lesson we must learn and for His mercy. We have since learned from several more experienced RV travelers that it is common practice to turn OFF the a/c when climbing with you big load - especially on a very hot day. Hopefully, we'll retain this lesson so that we don't experience that anxiety again!

Arriving safely in Bakersfield, CA, we enjoyed seeing the variety of produce in the fields nearby. The land must be so fertile as it appears that anything receiving regular irrigation flourishes! We stayed at Bakersfield RV Resort and for a very reasonable rate enjoyed brand new facilities with nice roomy parking for the 5th wheel, a good sized and immaculate pool and hot tub, sparkling clean bath house and laundry room, and fresh baked cookies in the office at 3:00 pm daily. Cory really wanted to stay longer, but it's hard to see all of California from Bakersfield!

The Sequoia National Forest was first on our list of things to do. From the RV park, it was over 120 miles. We choose to make these drives with just the pickup rather than drag the big 5th wheel up steep inclines and through tight spaces at closer parks to the destination. The drive also gives us a chance to see more of the state. We, yet again, used our National Parks pass and began the drive up the Sierra Nevada mountains and through the forest. Our first sight was the raging Kaweah River in the foothills (around 1700 elevation), still being fed by snow melt from the much higher elevations. Mulitple signs warned of dangerous currents and it was not hard to see why. Inviting as the water looked, the huge boulders and white water rapids quickly convinced us to settle for close looks from the safety of the banks.

Continuing the climb on switchbacks, we were met with warnings for vehicles over 22' in length. Our truck measures within inches of 22 feet, so we proceeded carefully. We did not experience any difficulties, other than when we met a garbage truck and several CruiseAmerica rentals that did not seem to have nearly as much caution. We would strongly advise against renting a CruiseAmerica rental RV based on how we've seen people driving them. As we drove and climbed, the tree density and size increased and the temperature dropped 30 degrees from the base of the mountains to the forests above. When we reached the Giant Forest at elevation 6400, we stopped to see the museum and the Sentinal, identified as an 'average' sequioa. Similar to the Grand Canyon, there are some of God's creations that are so huge and so amazing that no camera can adequately capture them. We walked the dogs in the cool shade and took in the pleasure of the aroma and ambience of the forest.

Further along the drive, we visited the General Sherman. The largest living tree in the world, it is named after the Union commander under which conservationist John Muir served prior to exploring the area. Estimated to be 2200 years old, General Sherman grows enough new wood each year to make a 60 foot tall tree of usual proportions. While not the tallest, it is classified the largest via it's massive volume. Quite a sight to take in, especially for a west Texas native that grew up appreciating any little speck of shade from a thorny mesquite tree!

Working our way back down the mountain, we diverted from the drive once more to see a natural waterfall a short walk down a challenging path. Having absorbed all we could for one day, we set back to hot Bakersfield to perhaps return to this National Park another time as we only scratched the surface of several wonders within its boundary. Summer crowds are approaching as we can see from the massive number of parking spaces at the popular destinations within the park. We've much more of California to explore and likely will enjoy at least some of these places again in more of an off-season visit.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hoover Dam

We stayed in Kingman, AZ for a couple of nights so that we could tour the Hoover Dam. We keep forgetting to take pictures of the parks where we stay - but we remembered this time!

Halfway along the drive to the Hoover Dam (about 90 miles), we realized our camera was still safely stowed in the trailer - ugh! We purchased a ridiculously priced disposable version so that we could capture a few photos. We also decided to purchase the tour of the dam - a little pricey at $30 per person (kids too!), but worthwhile to tour with no more than 20 people with an informed guide. We had to at least carry, if not wear, the little yellow plastic hard hats as evidence of payment for the tour.

The guides did a terrific job of showing the features of the dam's construction and the massive sets of turbines that generate power for several states. We learned about the significant difference this dam created for this region of the country by providing flood control and a source for irrigation. The power generation aspect is how the dam project paid for itself and then some over time. We contemplated how influential Herbert Hoover must have been to bring seven states, a couple of Indian tribes and Mexico into agreement on the water distribution. Hard to imagine how long negotiations would take for a project of this magnitude with today's politics! There also was great difficulty at the time in talking the government into taking the project on during the Depression. Labor, however, was no problem as thousands of families moved to the area an entire year before the project began in hopes of gaining employment. Since Cory is studying this era of history now, this visit added tons to his comprehension of how hard the Depression was and also how hard people were willing to work to earn a living.

As retired transportation engineers, Craig and I gained almost as much from observing the construction of the nearby bridge. The tour guides advised that while the Hoover Dam was completed 2 years in advance of projected completion, the adjacent bridge construction was over 2 years behind! Hmmm....our advanced technologies don't necessary make the construction business any quicker, do they? We were advised that two tremendously large cranes had been lost in a terrible windstorm, sending one crane to destruction at the base of the canyon and inducing huge delays due to the loss of the critical equipment.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Flagstaff, Family at Phoenix and Scenic Sedona

We moved back to the east to Mund's Park, just south of Flagstaff for our next jaunt. We love Flagstaff with the cool temperatures, beautiful forests and mountains! Linda's niece is attending NAU and her sister lives in Phoenix, so we were able to visit while in the area. Mund's Park is listed as an RV resort, but it appears to be developing heavily with park models. We liked the recreation room and fantastic covered porch for a change of scenery while internet browsing. We had to back out of our pull through site due to space limitations, but fortunately, the park was not heavily occupied. The park was busy preparing for a busy summer season, so the pool was inaccessible due to repairs and there was some major work going on water lines. We had no problems and the site was inexpensive and quiet with a huge laundry room.

I must make a confession. As you know, the title of the blog is, "Yes dear, I'm watching the flare". Well, one morning in Holbrook I was backing away from Burger King with a bag of breakfast tacos without my co-pilot and I forgot the rule. A poorly placed light pole on a large concrete base broke the composite material rear quarter-pannel right at the flare for the dual rear wheels. We took the opportunity of this longer stay in a larger city to set up with a body shop to have the truck repaired.

Lindsey, Linda's niece, gave us a tour of downtown Flagstaff and the NAU campus. The town was very quaint and full of interesting places and the NAU campus was gorgeous. It was relatively quiet as finals week was upon the students, so no crowds of pedestrians and bicyclists.

We drove a few miles east to Walnut Canyon National Park and toured the cliff dwellings. A moderate trail descends a few hundred feet to allow close-up views of the chiseled out areas in the side of the canyon. Soot is visible from fires burned long ago and NPS staff has rehabilitated a few of the walls to envision the living circumstances of the tribes that most recently inhabited the canyon (about 800 years ago). The Indians are now labeled as the Sinaguas (Spanish for 'no water') to mark their ability to farm and survive in such an arid area. The canyon itself is quite green, but farming the surrounding area looks very intimidating with the dry, rocky soil. Across the canyon are still more cave dwellings, and a park ranger advised that those had not been disturbed. The crafstmanship of the Indians was amazing to see as it had withstood all those years!

On the weekend, we drove down to Phoenix without the trailer to stay with Linda's sister. Bless her heart, she was also welcoming home her two college age kids on the same weekend! We sampled several meals in the Phoenix restaurants and took a day hike with Patricia. Squaw Butte is within Phoenix and climbs about 800 feet in a little over 2 miles. We're new at hiking, but think this is classified as a moderate challenge. It was very challenging for us at our current fitness level and it was a good thing we got off the mountain before too much later as the temperatures in Phoenix are just beginning to get brutal!

We enjoy meeting new faces along our travels, but it was so great to visit with family (and to indulge in having a really LONG shower in a bathroom that was so much roomier than the camper)! Kids grow up so fast - wonderful to see the kids growing into adulthood and glimpse their pursuit of their future. All of them were doing so well and maturing in faith and responsibility - way to go kids! We missed capturing the boys on camera, but here's Lindsey and her roommate Megan with our guys...

We returned to Mund's Park via Sedona - gorgeous! John and Tricia guided us to a riverside resort that oozed peace, quiet and beauty then ate at a great spot with a view of the sunset painted wall of the canyon. The canyon drive is always amazing - but we couldn't help being thankful to do so without the trailer! We've seen rumors of trailer length restrictions along Hwy 89A, but legal or not - we're NOT towing along that roadway! We didn't make an intended drive to Prescott, but will return another season to do so. We likely will return to Mund's Park or Camp Verde a bit closer to Phoenix when we return to Arizona.

Back in Flagstaff, we also took an evening trek to the Lowell Observatory. We had a great time with the boys, participating in hands-on exhibits, peering at Saturn through the HUGE telescope and visiting with volunteers that had brought their own telescopes to share. The mountain top views of the city were beautiful, but couldn't compare with the sight of the stars. Add the quiet and aroma of the forest pines and you've got an evening not soon to be forgotten!

When Lindsey was free from final exams and had a day off from work, she took us to a cave called "Lava Tubes" in the Kaibab National Forest west of Flagstaff. We drove along some pretty bumpy dirt roads in the forest to get to the trail, sometimes having to slow to less than 5 mph. What a terrific way to truly explore an undeveloped cave - no artifical lights or paved paths here! We climbed across some pretty good size boulders into the cave entrance to find a frozen waterfall just a few yards from the entrance! The temperature outside the cave was around 53-80 F, but quickly sank to much colder temperatures in the protection of the earth around us. At one point, we all turned off our flashlights to experience the true darkness. It didn't take long for us to turn the flashlights back on again! We didn't make it all the way to the end of the cave - about 1 1/4 miles, but we hope to return again WITH our camera!

We'll likely be back in Arizona next winter!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Grand Canyon views

With great anticipation we crossed Arizona so looking forward to seeing one of the 7 listed wonders of the world. We parked the RV in Williams at the Grand Canyon Railroad RV Park. This park is connected to a hotel and a depot for the train that runs the 60 miles north to the Grand Canyon National Park. The park was very nice and included access to the hotel's indoor pool and spa. We also found this to be a nicely paved small town environment that was great for trying out our new bikes. There were gas grills provided in the center of the park that we used for a hot dog and beans supper with s'mores for dessert. They even had a clean, well-kept, on-site kennel for the dogs that allowed us to spend two full days at the canyon.

While the train looked like fun, we wanted to drive over and spend as much time experiencing the canyon as possible. Each of us were a little overwhelmed by the majestic sights everywhere you looked as well as the size and scope of this God given natural wonder. Much of the first day was sorting out the different rim trails and the bus system that delivers you around the miles of canyon within the park.

We hiked around on three of the rim trails and gained a closer view (than riding the shuttles) and some feel for the size of this thing. It made for a long first day, but we went home happy, tired and ready to go back for more the next day.

Bed time was early that night and the alarm was set for 3:30 am so that we could get around in time to make the drive to the canyon in time to see the wonderful sun rise vista of the canyon. Sleepy and cold, at 5:30 am we climbed out on the overlook in the dim first light joined by a couple dozen other people. Despite the forecast for an overcast sky, the sun peeked through the broken clouds and made the sun rise even more spectacular.

We caught a shuttle bus to the lodge above Bright Angel Trail and enjoyed a great breakfast and welcome warm up time. Cory had his heart set on going down the trail to the bottom of the canyon. All agreed to try to go down as far as we felt able, maybe down to the composting restroom (about 1/3 the distance to the bottom). The information we reviewed prior to starting this hike warned us to each carry plenty of water, stay aware of our need to take breaks to rest and provide twice as much time to go up as it took to go down.

Starting our descent a little before 8:00 am, the air was very cool at the top and we all started with jackets and the boys donned sweatpants over their shorts. As we started, six giant condors took off from the cliffs just beneath us and all the people at the top of the trail watched mesmerized as these enormous birds glided in graceful circles swirling down the canyon below. It was easy going down and the view was breath taking. The only challenge we faced was to allow a mule train to slip by us along the trail on their way to the bottom (and then to avoid stepping in any of the deposits they left on their way).

We arrived at our turning point (1 1/2 miles and 1100 feet drop in elevation) after about an hour of hiking, not too tired but a lot warmer. Everyone had jackets tied around their waists and I collected all the sweatpants and stuffed them in my backpack. As we turned to go back up, we could feel gravity do its work and we realized how steep and long the trail was to return to the top. They were correct in the estimate that it takes twice as long to go up as it does to go down and about 11:00 am we were back to the top. It was hard and hot, but it was still beautiful and we all felt the bond of doing something difficult together.

We were so taken by this place and this experience that we are determined to return and we want to train up on our journey so that when we do return, we can take on a longer hike that could take us the bottom and back again.

We were pleasantly surprised to find this plaque at a stop identified as Hermit's Rest - near the west end of the most publicly toured areas of the park. We're thankful that within this government owned and operated park, an acknowledgement of God as the Creator has been allowed to remain. We'd love to find out who placed the plaque! We stood in a mix of humility and awe of the wonder that exists as an ongoing testimony to the power and might of our Jehovah-God.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Painted Desert and Petrified Forest

We rolled up US 285 to IH 40 to cross New Mexico and head into Arizona at a little higher latitude. We camped at a KOA in Holbrook, AZ so that we could take a full day to see these spectacular areas in Arizona. We've driven by many times and could not take the time to pull off the interstate to fully view these areas. We're so glad that we had time to fully appreciate the wonders....and also that we did so in spring rather than summer!

We drove in to the south entrance to the Petrified Forest Park, happily using our park pass. The National Parks Service has a lot of construction going on, but the Rainbow Forest Museum was open and the short Giant Logs trail (.4 mile) takes visitors for a close up view of a variety of the ancient trees turned to stone. Here the boys are enjoying the last remnant of shade from the museum before starting the trek. Fortunately, the spring temperatures were very comfortable!A self-guided tour, the NPS provided a pamphlet that we took turns narrating for each other as we walked along. Besides seeing the beautiful formations and details of the trees, we found this beautiful Collared Lizard posing for us from his perch on one of the petrified logs.

We stopped at the Blue Mesa and Newspaper Rock loops off the main road through the park. We didn't take the hiking trail at Blue Mesa because we wanted to save time for the views of the Painted Desert at sunset. Each turn provided yet another unique formation or set of colors for us to enjoy.

Newspaper Rock enabled us to observe petroglyphs through scopes provided at the stop. The rocks with the images were far below, so they could not be seen with the naked eye. We had a hard time envisioning a farming society being able to plant and harvest crops in what now looks so very barren! Imagining train robbers hiding out in the 'badlands' was much easier!

We continued on to the Painted Desert area north of IH 40 to enjoy the viewing areas and overlooks. We couldn't resist trying to photograph the amazing image before our eyes, knowing that even professional quality equipment can't quite capture the vast beauty. We enjoyed hiking along the rim on the short trail near Kachina Point. We stayed until closing time, about an hour before sunset.

While in Holbrook, we took a drive along Route 66 and found this amusing Tepee Motel. We believe the graphic designers for the animated movie "Cars" must have been to Holbrook before us for inspiration!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Westward Ho!

Leaving Abilene in the rear view mirrors, we pointed the truck toward New Mexico and headed out. A few hours and two or three dust devils found us pulling into the Carlsbad KOA. This campground was more than 10 miles north of the city into the flat high desert with a distant view of the mountains. Dry and with sparse natural vegetation, it had its own beauty. We were surprised and amused by the number of rabbits and roadrunners darting around. The location turned out to be an ideal base camp to venture out and enjoy the areas around us. The campground offered a good flat open area to break in our new bikes and practice taking them off and putting them on the new 4 bike carrier with covers. (this is a fair amount more difficult then it sounds)

Our first trip out was Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We decided that there were a good number of National Parks in our future on this trip and it would be worth looking at the annual pass. The $ 80.00 pass pays all entry (for the family)and vehicle fees to any National Park for one year. We could see making up the cost very quickly.

The cave is awesome for all ages and was a great thing to share together as a family. We walked down the winding trail from one wonder to the next. There is a lot to see and a lot to learn. The park does a good job of providing information along the way and this makes the time and miles go faster. This also ties this experience to our home education effort and solidifies the memory for us as we review the things we learned later on in our journey. Before you know it, you are 700 feet below the surface and at the end of the area of the cave open to the general public. We were happy, tired and thankful that they had an elevator back to the surface!

Next day we headed out early on a 150 mile drive to White Sands National Monument. This takes you on a beautiful journey as desert turns to high country pines and through the 7000 ft elevation mountain village of Cloudcroft. Then you wind down to desert again through Alamogordo and south to White Sands. The scenery there is like another world with huge snow white dunes reflecting the bright strong sun. The boys used plastic disk sleds to slide down the steep dunes as the dogs tromped around in the deep sand and tried to figure out what this stuff was. We all had a good time and came back with a little sunburn and lots of white sand in our clothes and in the truck.
After a good morning with the school books, we sought out a closer location to view. In nearby Lincoln National Forest, we found a remote place in this arid region named Sitting Bull Falls. Truly an oasis springing up from the rugged country, it was strikingly beautiful and great fun to explore. We played around in water at the bottom and then hiked up the steep trail a couple hundred feet up to the top of the falls and then following the flowing water back up into the rocks looking for the springs.

It was a little hot and very rocky, but the look on the boys faces made the sore muscles a lot easier to take. This stop gave us surprising gifts of beauty in God's creation in the midst an area that, at first glance, seemed to have little to offer. This is a great beginning to our journey west. We are called to look closer and seek deeper into this world in which we travel.