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  1. Happy birthday to our National Park Service. One hundred years ago this week, Congress created the National Park Service. There were national parks before the park service was created. The park service became the agency that managed the national parks. In the last few weeks we have visited four parks. At each park we found amazing views, exciting experiences and crowds of people enjoying their heritage. Our first stop on the way west from Denver was the San Luis Valley of Colorado and Great Sand Dunes National Park. The dune field at GSD is located on the east side of the San Luis Valley. Winds picking up sand particles from the dry lake bed of the San Luis Valley drop them when they encounter the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We've seen and walked dune fields before but these are unique for several reasons. The highest dune in the field is over 600 feet high. You can rent sand boards to surf the dunes and many people climb all the way to the top to do just that. Younger sand surfers were busy learning on the lowest dunes. But before you reach the dune field, you have to cross Medano Creek. In the spring, Medano Creek carries large amounts of sand from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the southwestern edge of the dune field. Choked with sand, the stream periodically experiences blockages and then breaks them creating pulses of water that people surf on. In mid-summer the stream flow becomes more docile and it is filled with young children with buckets and shovels who enjoy a great cooling sandbox. Shortly after we reached the dune field, the wind began to pick-up and we were treated to the marvel of dune formation. Sand grains began dancing around our bare feet. With each gust of wind the sands around us began to flow along the ground toward the dune field. Our footprints in the sand were quickly turning into mini-dunes. Moving on toward southwestern Colorado we stayed at a campground across Highway 160 from Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde is a very large park and features hundreds of cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people. There are overlooks to view many of the cliff dwellings but the real highlight is to actually tour some of the dwellings. There is currently one that can be toured on your own. Another that was open to touring is currently off limits because of potential rockfall. Ranger guided tours are available for three others. To manage the size of the audience, you purchase tickets for each tour. The ticket specifies the time of the tour. Tours involve walking and climbing stairs or ladders. To walk the ground where the Pueblo people lived and learn about their lives and their history in this area is an amazing experience. There are also museum exhibits with some of the artifacts from the park. A recent series of fires on the mesa has exposed hundreds of archaeological sites on the mesa surface. Prior to the cliff dwellings, the population lived on the surface where they farmed. The cliff dwellings are the final phase of their history at Mesa Verde. After about 100 years living in the cliff dwellings they were abandoned as the Pueblo people moved on to other locations. In northeastern Arizona is Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shey) National Monument. A National Monument is designated by Presidential proclamation, National Parks are created by an act of Congress. Canyon de Chelly is an example of a national monument. It is administered by the National Park Service but has limited visitor information. There are cliff dwellings at Canyon de Chelly but none are open to visitation. There are places to view them from a distance. One can be viewed up close by hiking two miles down into the canyon and back out. We made that trek one afternoon. Along the trail we encountered many Navajo people on their way to visit the cliff dwellings. Near he site we witnessed a religious meeting of the Navajo people. In fact, the national monument is located on the Navajo reservation and many of them live within the national monument. Access to the canyon floor is limited to Navajo escorts at all other locations. Jeep and horse tours are available. The canyon itself is quite spectacular in its beautiful formations. Sandstone layers were formed by ancient sand dunes that migrated over the area many millions of years ago. The cross layering within each layer tells the story of the passage of another dune. From Canyon de Chelly we traveled to the granddaddy of all canyons, Grand Canyon National Park. It had been a long time since either Louise or I had last visited the Grand Canyon. Needless to say, things have changed. Louise had been there as a young teen (no year given ), I was there in the late 70's. While the experience was different, the park service is doing a wonderful job of managing the crowds and keeping the canyon accessible to all. Visiting the south rim, large parking lots at the visitors center are the starting point. There are shuttle buses, tour buses and a train to bring you to the park in addition to your own private vehicle. Yes, they do have an RV parking lot. Parking becomes difficult to find early in the day during the peak summer season. Once at the visitors center, a bus system will transport you around the central park area and out to the viewpoints which are scattered along the canyon rim. Walking part of the Canyon Rim trail gives you a constantly changing view of the canyon. You can also ride the shuttle bus from one major viewpoint to another. As interesting as the canyon was the amazing variety of people visiting the canyon. Foreign languages were as common if not more common than English. The story of the formation of the Grand Canyon is the story of Earth's history. Along the rim trail there is a timeline of Earth history. Markers on the trail about every 30 feet mark the passage of 10 million years. Our national parks are a national treasure. Our Senior Pass allows us free entry to these parks. When we got our lifetime pass to these parks we became members of the National Park Foundation, a private foundation which assists in funding the parks. It is a way for us to continue support of our parks while we enjoy our Senior Pass. Find a park near you and drop by to visit this week.
  2. This summer is our 15th summer on the road. We've traveled in every state in the US (except Hawaii) and every province in Canada (except Nunavut). Given that experience, there are still new things to do and see. We left Scottsbluff, NE on August first headed for Denver. We have family, a sister and daughter there and we've stopped there at least once every year. Still, we found something new on this trip. Louise's sister and her husband have now retired and we had a nice visit with them and their family. We've done dinners out with Elaine and Lou before but this year we had the younger generation making suggestions for places to eat. We found ourselves in old Arvada, a ten block area in the center of the old town. The old town area is thriving as an evening hot spot for the younger generation. Bars, restaurants and parks all with music make it a world of pleasant experiences. The Grandview Tavern and Grill has a back yard patio and it made for a relaxing meal and conversation. After enjoying a good meal we spent some time strolling the streets marveling at all the activity. Lou and Elaine took us on a tour of the old town, pointing out points of interest and places with family connections. Our next stop was the Old Arvada Tavern. In Lou's memory, it was a rather drab old bar, a place he hung out while waiting to pick up his son from ball practice. Today it is alive with young people. Downstairs there is a full menu and the place was packed. Our social advisors had directed us to take a right inside the entrance and go through the "telephone booth" to the upstairs. We followed instructions and were welcomed into a world of entertainment. Like many of the bars, this one featured live entertainment on the weekend. The band for this evening was a bluegrass band. They were just warming up and adjusting the sound. We found a vacant table next to the stage. I've never been a big fan of bluegrass but a live performance would be a first. Once the band was warmed up they launched into their performance. Watching the musicians and listening to the music was a real joy. We stayed through the first set then retreated to quieter surroundings at their home for the rest of the evening. After a week and a half in Denver we drove to Sheridan, WY to spend time with our daughter and her boyfriend. Karen works in Westminster near Denver but is dating Brent who is living in Sheridan. The occasion was the Sheridan Rodeo. We settled into Peter D's RV Park for the week on Monday evening. Tuesday morning we explored the town. If we're going to spend a week here and there is going to be a crowd, we had better know our way around town. We found the rodeo arena and got an idea of the schedule. Wednesday evening we purchased tickets to the rodeo and watched the program on our own. I had been to small town rodeo's years ago but this was a much bigger deal. For Louise this was all new. The evening began with the Indian Races. Teams of Native Americans race around the track surrounding the arena. Starting standing on the ground they have to mount their horse, no saddle, ride a loop then change to a new horse, off of one, on the next without assistance. Run one more loop and change to a third horse for the final lap. Pandemonium reigned at each change of the horses. The rider had to do this unassisted. Other team members were charged with managing the horses during the race. Some horses had their own mind how this was all to work. More than one horse ran a lap without a rider. One rider chased the horse all the way around the track then grabbed the next horse and completed the race. Another rider rand several hundred yards holding on the the horse's tail before giving up. After four nights of racing, the team with the best time would claim a $10,000 prize. Other events were pretty much what you can see on TV but far more exciting and amazing when watching it in person. While in Sheridan, waiting for Karen to arrive for the weekend, we played a round of golf at the local golf course. We also toured King's Ropes downtown. This is a western store and more. The Kings have been saddle makers for several generations. They also stock a whole warehouse of ropes that are made on site. You can watch the ropes being made by hand. There are also several workstations for saddle work You can drop off a saddle for repair or restoration or order your own custom saddle. Behind the store is an amazing museum with hundreds of saddles of all kinds, photos, books, guns, spurs, cowboy gear of all kinds and old time photos. You can stand in one place and look from ceiling to floor to see everything on display in that area. We spent an hour and a half in a quick walk through. Karen arrived late Friday so we met her and Brent at The Silver Spur for breakfast. From there we were off to watch the bed races. Teams with specially built beds race down the street for two blocks to a packed house on the sidewalks. Fun is had by everyone. To get front row seats, you have to park your lawn chair on main street Friday afternoon. Following the bed races is the big parade. This is a major parade with horses, cars, floats of all kinds, and audience participation. Watchers and float riders battle with water cannons at various locations along the route. Mars candy magnates live in the area and there is no shortage of Mars candy distributed along the route. Lunch followed ant then I spent several hours at the Native American Pow Wow on the lawn of the Sheridan Inn. Native dancers performed a variety of dances with narration to explain the significance of each dance. We had ordered tickets for the Saturday night finals more than a month before the rodeo. The grandstand was all sold out so we purchased tickets in what we learned was the new stands on the west side of the arena. The rodeo clown labeled this area as the newbee section! We had front row seats, just a fence separating us from the horses and livestock. We were just a few yards from the gates and had a great view of the entire arena. All the participants were pushing their limits for the final performance of the rodeo and the show was spectacular. Sunday was a day to relax and wrap up visits. We slept in then joined Brent's family for a birthday celebration for his sister. We said good bye to Karen then returned to the park for the evening. We would leave Monday morning to return to Denver for another week and a half. On the way south we drove over the Bighorn Mountains enjoying the spectacular scenery on US Hwy 14. We stopped for a few days near Thermopolis, WY, Camping at Boysen State Park. One of the surprises of the trip was our entrance into Thermopolis. The hot springs there has a spectacular travertine terrace visible from the road as you enter the northern end of town. There are several venues offering hot springs for swimming and soaking. The grounds are pleasant to walk, offering great views of the spring and the mineral shelf. Just south of Thermopolis is the Wedding of the Waters. An informational display marks the place where the Wind River changes its name to the Bighorn River. The river was given different names upriver and at the mouth and when it became apparent that it was the same river a compromise arrangement was to use both names for the same river. The Wedding of the Waters marks the location where the name changes. Up stream, the Wind River Canyon is a spectacular sight. At the upper end of the canyon is Boyson Dam and Reservoir. There are numerous campgrounds there, above and below the dam. All campgrounds are dry without electric which made the stay a little uncomfortable with temperatures near 100 during the day. Fortunately, breezes off the lake made for cooler evening temperatures. We stopped in Rawlings on Wednesday night and spent Thursday night at Cummins Rocky Mountain in anticipation of scheduled maintenance on Friday. We were in and out Friday morning and into Dakota Ridge RV Park that afternoon.
  3. As we’ve traveled across North America, visiting wilderness areas and National Parks, one park consistently came up at the top of the list of must-visit places suggested by fellow RVers: Glacier National Park in far northwestern Montana. Now that we’ve been there and spent most of a week exploring this dramatic and spectacular park, we know why. But our adventure here didn’t start out well. We visited in mid-August, after school had started in much of the country. We thought the crowds would be way down. But as we entered the park from West Glacier, we immediately encountered a multilane traffic jam of vehicles at the welcome gate. For ten minutes we slowly crept forward. Then, just a couple vehicles from the front, a ranger came out and started motioning traffic through, without collecting entrance few or checking for passes. “Move on, move on,” she said, urging us forward. We were surprised. “Hurry please, traffic is backed up to the the intersection (in town a half mile back) and we have to clear this congestion.” It was a Monday. And the place was that busy. We checked two campgrounds at the entrance: Apgar and Fish Creek. Apgar was filled. Fish Creek had two openings. But as we drove through it, we decided to pass on it. Small, uneven campsites close to each other just didn’t appeal to us. We moved into the interior, following the east shoreline of Lake McDonald. Sprague Creek, located right on the lake, sounded good. It too, by noon on a Monday, was filled. Traffic was extremely heavy. Further north we traveled, finally finding a spot at Avalanche Creek. Not bad. Crowded, but somewhat spacious sites. An hour after we got our site, it filled. The parking lot leading to the campground was filled. So was a parking lot and picnic area along the creek, across the highway. We boarded a shuttle for the 16 mile trip up the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass. Traffic was pretty much bumper-to-bumper the entire way. Once we reached Logan Pass, a huge parking area was closed because every space was taken. I started out on a hiking trail. But after counting what had to be 500 people strung out for as far as I could see, I turned back, stopping to photograph a family of mountain goats grazing in a meadow. This was the middle of the wilderness. But it was as congested as any urban area we have ever visited. The shuttle vehicle we took back to Avalanche Creek was a full sized Sprinter, the same chassis of our Roadtrek Etrek. So I asked the driver if I could take mine up. No problem he said. Now right now, let me say that I was not supposed to take my Roadtrek any further along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. If we had not been waved through the front gate of the park on Sunday, I’m sure now that the ranger would have so instructed me. Later, after I had done the deed, I learned that vehicles over 21 feet are not allowed to drive the highway. With my StowAway2 cargo box, my Roadtrek measures nearly 24 feet. But, thinking it was okay, bright and early the next morning, I took the Roadtrek up and down the Going-to-the-Sun Road. No one challenged me. Again, I should not have done this. So don’t try this on your own. That said, I did. And I had absolutely no problems. Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the world’s most spectacle highways. Bisecting the heart of Glacier, the 50-mile-long road follows the shores of the park’s two largest lakes and hugs the cliffs below the Continental Divide as it traverses Logan Pass. It is not for the faint of heart or those who are nervous driving narrow roads that twist and turn and are bordered with steep rock walls on the driver’s side and thousand foot drop-offs, without guard rails, on the passenger side. Here’s a video of the drive, recorded with my GoPro: We did it early on a Tuesday morning with little traffic. I passed numerous park rangers and none seemed to mind. A couple even gave me that friendly raise-four-fingers-from-the-steering-wheel-hello as we passed. We stopped in turnoffs along the way to take photos. We spotted a grizzly on the way down and took some long lens pictures of him as he devoured huckleberries on a far away hillside. We took the highway all the way to the West Entrance and the town of St. Mary. We stopped at the Rising Sun Campground. Full. Almost out of the park, we stopped at the St Mary Campground. Also full. We made our way to the park’s most popular campground, Many Glacier. This one filled before 7 AM that day, and most days. No matter, we hung around and watched the sunset. We found a spot just out of the park at a KOA in St. Mary that was one of the nicest campgrounds we have ever visited, with very spacious sites and great views of Glacier’s craggy peaks. At $60 a night, it was also the most expensive place we’ve stayed on this trip west. The next morning we were up early and made our way back to Rising Sun and got a great site. for $10, thanks to our National Parks Senior Pass. Rising Sun is in the heart of Glacier’s bear country. This campground has been closed because of bear activity and a couple of incidents. It’s been reopened but is still posted to be especially alert because of bear activity. A husband and wife who were camping in a tent were awakened one night when a bear tried to lie on their tent. The husband said it was like sitting on his head. The wife bolted upright and, through a clear vinyl widow in the tent, was literally nose-to-nose with a black bear. She hollered, he hollered, they fumbled for a flashlight and zippered out, catching sight of a black bear scampering off into the brush. In another incident, a camper reported they a bear had stolen a pillow from their camp site. We saw bear tracks all around our campsite and fresh bear scat not far away. We caught a glimpse of a cinnamon colored bear crossing the road in front of the campground. Then, a half hour later, as we rounded a bend in the Otokomi Lake Trail no further than 50 yards across a creek from our campsite, we came upon a mama bear and her cub. They had just come out of the creek. We stopped and talked so they’d know we were there. With only the briefest glance at us, the mama crossed first, no more than 25 feet in front of us. She seemed unconcerned with our presence and certainly wasn’t apprehensive, taking her time getting up the opposite side, nibbling on some service berries. Her cub followed a few feet behind. He had to stand on his hind legs to grab a few mouthfuls of the berries, finally looking at us with youthful curiosity before slowly ambling off with Mom. By mid-week, traffic in the park was noticeably less. Same with Thursday as a change in the weather pattern and a cold front swept through the park. It felt like fall. They were even predicting snow by Saturday up at Logan Pass. We awoke to 46 degrees and, after coffee, moved over to Many Glacier campground where, thanks to the rain and cold, there were plenty of camping spots to chose from. We hiked to Fishercap Lake where we watched a bull moose stand knee deep just off shore munching on grass. That night, with continuing mist, it dropped to 39. We cranked up the Webasto heater in our Roadtrek Etrek, snug and dry and cocooned against the cold. The end of the week weather had us bundled up but it kept the crowds away and we delighted in the wilderness quiet. Glacier is a photographer’s dream. Every direction is postcard pretty, even in the clouds and foggy mists. Our mistake was in coming when folks were still on summer vacations. The next time we visit will be after Labor Day. Like Yellowstone to the south, the summer crowds are just too much for us. The more we enjoy this small motorhome lifestyle, the more we prefer going it alone, boondocking far off the beaten path. In September, they tell me, the Glacier campgrounds seldom fill. While cold weather at night guarantees you’ll be running the heater, Glacier will feel much more wild than it does with the summer crowds. One last thing: We took Tai, our Norwegian Elkhound, with us on this trip. Dogs are not allowed on trails or in many places in the park but we had plenty of spots to walk him in campgrounds and picnic areas. When we hiked, we left him in our Roadtrek. Because of cool temperatures and the beautiful weather, we didn’t have to worry about having the air conditioning on, though our Roadtrek Etrek with its eight house batteries and solar powered trickle charger would have easily handled that for several hours. We were glad we brought him. He seemed to greatly enjoy the park and we enjoyed his companionship. Here are some of our photos. They show why we’ll be back.
  4. Yellowstone National Park is America’s first national park, a national treasure and a must visit for every RVer. A place so big it lies in part of two states, Montana and Wyoming. We just finished our second trip to Yellowstone in less than a year. I was warned before the first that the place will get in your blood and you will keep coming back, again and again. http://youtu.be/e7iUKCJY95Q So if you haven’t been there yet, I pass along the same warning. It’s that spectacular for those who love the wilderness and getting up close and very personal with it. We did lots of hiking. There are 12 campgrounds in Yellowstone. They all fill up nightly. Only five - Bridge Bay, Canyon, Fishing Bridge RV Park, Grant Village, and Madison – take reservations. Those are the sites with hookups. They’re okay, but tend to be very crowded. The other seven - Indian Creek, Lewis Lake, Mammoth, Norris, Pebble Creek, Slough Creek, and Tower Fall – are first come, first serve and have fewer amenities. People tend to line up at 8 AM during the season in hopes of getting a spot. Most are filled by 11 a.m. Our first night there, we found no room at any of the campgrounds. So we went a few miles outside the northeaste gate and found a beautifully secluded spot at the Fox Creek Campground in the Shoshone National Forest. Then we reentered the park early in the morning and got a spot at Pebble Creek, which has no hookups or plugins, vault toilets and no showers. No problem. In our Roadtrek eTrek with solar power, we had our own power and running water. We love Pebble Creek. Also Slough Creek, another no frills camping spot few miles down the road. Here’s a hint for those of you on the northeastern part of the park: You can get cell phone coverage at Slough Creek. Take the two-and-a-half-mile washboard road leading to the campground down a few hundred yards to the first pullout and, voila, for some strange reason, the signals make their way around and through the mountains and you can get a great three-bar Verizon signal. I don’t know about AT&T and other providers. We love this northeast section of the park because it is home to the Lamar Valley, a popular wolf and grizzly watching area. We saw no wolves this trip but did spot several grizzly females with cubs, as well as elk,antelope, mule deer, coyotes, black bear and of course, lots of bison. We had bison wandering through the campground all day and a curious black bear came very close. A lone bull moose also traipsed through the campground one morning. The folks who camped at Pebble Creek were also interesting. One guy, Bill, spends from April through August and loves to find and watch grizzlies. Debi Dixon is a professional photographer and a fulltime RVer. She stores a 22-foot travel trailer in nearby Sheridan, MT and is spending the summer at Pebble Creek in a tent. Check out her stunning wildlife photos at flickr.com/photos/seasideshooter. There were two wolf researchers from the University of Washington also tenting at Pebble Creek. Every morning, at first light, usually around 5 or 5:30, you’d hear this group head out, separately, in search of wildlife. They’d usually not return after dark. What do we do at Yellowstone? We also watched animals. But we also hiked, a lot. Every day we did at least two trails. We sat in meadows and breathed clean air. We took afternoon naps. Gazed at the mountains and used a pair of binoculars to spot the big horn sheep. We explored the thermal areas that are everywhere, like at Old Faithful. The sad thing for most of Yellowstone’s visitors is people rarely get off the loop roads that circle the park. Some don’t even get out of their cars. With three million visitors a year, those roads can get pretty congested, especially with critter jams, the traffic tie-ups that frequently occur when animals are on the road or along its edges. But Yellowstone encompasses 2.2 million acres, and the loop road is just a tiny part of the park. Yellowstone is one of America’s premier wilderness areas. Most of the park is backcountry and managed as wilderness. Over 1,100 miles of trails are available for hiking. That’s where we like to be. We loved every moment of it and can’t wait to return. Yellowstone really does get in your blood. The above video gives you a idea. Come along with us ....
  5. Most Visited National Parks in 2012 http://www.nps.gov/news/upload/NPS-Visitation-historic-and-top-10-2012.pdf
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