Smokey Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway

mapFor the last two days we have spent time in the Smokey Mountains and the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway! Those beautiful green mountains! Trees clinging to the swell of mountains giving them the look of giant green beasts lying off in a hazy distance. Roads swooping up and down, weaving back and forth in a dizzying way not even matched by the Rockies.  Rhododendrons bursting with purple and pink blooms decorate most every turn of those roads which are frequently dappled with sun that sneaked through the canopy of overhanging trees.20160610_154404 20160610_164200

I’m always refreshed coming to the mountains. My soul sings and I marvel at the majesty of God’s beautiful world.20160610_163925 20160610_112112 20160609_155618

We drove US 74 from Cleveland, Tn. along the Ocoee River through the Smokey Mts. spending the night in Murphy, NC then continuing on past Cherokee. We stopped for lunch at Lulu’s Café in Sylva, NC., before heading to connect with the Blue Ridge at Asheville. Tonight we are in Little Switzerland, NC. a small town just off of the Blue Ridge.20160609_170656

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Stone River Civil War Battlefield

Stone River Civil War Battlefield

CaptureI am on a very special trip. A road trip with Anita, our eldest daughter, to Norwalk, Connecticut to celebrate with our eldest grandson as he graduates from high school. Our trip involves a bit of wanderings on the way, too much to see and enjoy for two girls to rush from one point to the next.

One of the things we enjoy is visiting historic sites. Today we went to the Stones River Civil War Battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. War is a horrific thing. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be in a battle with bullets whizzing by, fear gripping you as you hear friends scream in pain. Our current war causes much pain and the tole on those who return is great. But we forget the horrors of the Civil War battles.  Roughly 1,264,000 American soldiers have died in the nation’s wars–620,000 in the Civil War and 644,000 in all other conflicts. It was only as recently as the Vietnam War that the amount of American deaths in foreign wars eclipsed the number who died in the Civil War. In just this one 3-day battle at Stones Creek there were a total of 24,645 casualties: 12,906 on the Union side and 11,739 Confederates. Considering that only about 76,400 men were engaged, this was the highest percentage of killed and wounded of any major battle in the Civil War.  Even so the battle itself was inconclusive, but it dashed Confederate aspirations for control of Middle Tennessee. Today the battle field provides an opportunity to stop and remember.

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Some of the Sites Around the Upper Arkansas River Valley

 

Map of most of our travels through the valley

This posting is going to be more pictures than words.  A couple of years ago (see the 2012 link above) I wrote several post about the area.  To wind up our stay here, I am going to share some of our favorite sights.

Rivers, Lakes and Streams:  The Arkansas River dominates the area as you might expect.  It is famous for its wicked whitewater through the area.  It begins as a small stream at the Continental Divide near Leadville and from there plunges almost 5,000 feet in its first 125 miles.

Along Brown's Canyon

The River

Horses grazing along the river

Turquoise Lake

Looking down on beaver dams along the road to Independence Pass

A stream along Independence Pass road

Panning for gold

Mountains:  The Sawatch Range which forms the western rim of the valley has the highest concentration of mountains over 14,000 feet in Colorado.  Cutting across this range are three very high drivable passes.  The Cottonwood and Independence and Monarch.

Early September snow on the peak

Cottonwood pass is the highest paved pass.

Cottonwood pass

Independence is just a little shorter but is spectacular with tight hair pin curves and steep drop offs.

Looking out on rugged terrain near Independence Pass

Monarch is on a major highway, the drive is beautiful, but not as dramatic as the other two.

Monarch Pass Looking west over Gunnison Valley

Big Horn Sheep Canyon east of Salida is breath taking with steep uplifted walls of shear granite.

Big Horn Sheep Cannyon

Glacial valleys and side canyons are traversed by tributary streams rushing down to meet the river. Out in the valley, huge boulders are strewn about the landscape like abandoned children’s toys.

Giant Sentinels

Drive through Railroad tunnels blasted in the mountains

Animals in the wilds

Look close! Do you see two deer?

Least Chipmunk

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Life Around Camp

We have spent a very enjoyable month at Arkansas River Rim Campground.  While we have been out exploring a good bit of the time, there is still plenty of down time at the camp; evenings or lazy days hanging out relaxing.  Those of us who are “long termers” are mostly located around a circle at one end of the campground, so getting acquainted is even easier. We’ve renewed old friendships and turned acquaintances into new friends.  Fred and Karen Peterman, whom we had met a couple of years ago have become fast friends.  John and Laurna Woolever are new acquaintances that we have enjoyed spending time with and getting to know.  Just pulling up chairs outside and swapping stories, chewing the fat, sharing where we have been and what to see, or do.  The guys have particularly gotten to know each other while running potty duty forays for the dogs, or helping each other working on this issue or that around the trailers.

The guys stop for a chat (Charlie, Fred & John w/Scooter, Bella & Katie)

Karen and Laurna compare crafts

Heidi has Bella over for a visit

We have gone on outings to places in the area, gone for ice cream, eaten out and shared meals together.  A couple of years ago Fred introduced Brady to trout fishing.  This year John has shared his fishing bounty with us all.  One of those shared meals was some of the trout grilled with fresh local corn, green beans and salad, YUM!  With time short for the others, (they are leaving before we do) we all put together a hamburger shared meal.  One last time to sit out and visit.  They are now missed, the camp seems so empty.

Come and Get It!

Brady, Fred and John enjoy Happy Hour

Jeff, the camp owner, holds an annual Labor Day BBQ/Band Bash, featuring live music with Jeff’s band Derringer. All at the campground are invited, they provide hot dog and BBQ fixins and others bring dishes to round out the meal.  His band entertains and everyone has a great time.  This year, the day was cool/cold and rainy, but the party mood was not dampened.

Some of our other neighbors have been intent on gold mining in the Arkansas River.  The group that holds the claim for the part of the river behind us, use snorkels and vacuum to hunt for the elusive glittery stuff.  Others pan, but I doubt that any are making a fortune.

Wild life always provides entertainment.  We have enjoyed watching hummingbirds on a feeder we attached to the dining room window. Rabbits hop around just outside and of course chipmunks and squirrels romp through the area. A trip into town never fails to bring sightings of deer.  The other day a couple of bucks were grazing along the highway, Some in camp reporting seeing a bear wander through camp, but that was before we arrived.

What! You can see me?

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Slush, Mush and Sunshine

We set off with the Fred and Karen for a day sightseeing in the Gunnison and Blue Mesa Lakes area.  Friday had turned off rainy and much cooler, so we had postponed the trip until Saturday.  Saturday started off bright, but as we climbed into the Mean Green (our F250 pickup), a rainbow hung over the campground to the west.  Hopefully a good sign for the day, so all aboard and off we go.

Our plan: go over Cottonwood Pass, down to Turner Reservoir, on through the canyon to Almont and down into Gunnison.  A beautiful drive. As we headed up toward Cottonwood Pass, the clouds hung low over the tops of Mt. Yale and Harvard. Hummm, what was the drive going to be like?

As we got above the tree line we were definitely in the clouds and everything around us was obscured into a soupy grey mist.  Just over the pass, the paved road becomes packed dirt, except now as the rain began to fall, it was a yellowish brown slippery loblolly.  Hang on by the seat of your pants around the hair pin turns! Don’t get to close to the edge to give the big trailer room to get around the curve! Down again into the tree line, where the rain stopped and the clouds are back in the sky, where they belong, but the road is still a sloppy mess.  Along the road cattle are free ranging and we saw a few deer.  Tall pines close in tight to the road on this side, but you get a glimpse of a stream meandering down the way and beaver ponds every little while.  Once down to Taylor Reservoir the road is once again paved, but now the Mean Green is Yucky Tan.  Taylor is another one of those beautiful Colorado lakes dropped into a valley between high mountains.  It rushes out into a short canyon and continues down through a narrow valley to meet the Gunnison River.  This was our first time through the area between Taylor and Gunnison.  Awesome!

We spent some time looking around Gunnison, got some burgers and lunched at a local park.  The dogs were happy to have some time to stretch their legs, as were we.  Heidi had invited Fred and Karen’s Yorkie, Bella, to go with us.  From Gunnison we headed further west along the river to the Blue Mesa Lake.  Blue Mesa is Colorado’s largest lake twenty miles long with 96 miles of shoreline. U.S. 50 travels along the north banks of the lake, and crosses it at Middle Bridge to complete the journey on the south side. The area is filled with beautiful mesas, and deep narrow canyons. The Dillon Palisades stand out as a timeless landmark along one section of the lake.

According to the internet the lake is home to fresh water salmon and provides excellent fishing.  At the western terminus of the lake, the weather was once again closing in and threatening, so we turned around and headed back.  This time we took US 50 over Monarch Pass passing the Monarch Ski area, down into Salida and back to the Rolling Eagle.  It was good to settle back and relax after a long day of exploring.

 

 

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From the Front Range to the 14ers

And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high, I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky.
You can talk to God and listen to His reply”.

Leaving Trinidad and the Front Range in the rear view mirror, we crossed through Wet Valley, where many memories of trips to Horn Creek Christian Camp (http://www.horncreek.org/)are always brought to mind.  Good times with good friends are always sweet to recall.  Out of Wet Valley through the Arkansas River Canyon on US 50 and on up to Buena Vista.

Leaving the Front Range

We have put our jacks down to stay awhile in one of our favorite places, the Upper Arkansas River Valley.  We are right in the heart of the highest concentration of 14ers in Colorado (mountains over 14,000 ft high for you low landers). I wrote about the valley in 2012 (http://www.pamplin.com/Blog/?p=903).  We have once again settled at Arkansas River Rim Campground.  Friends that we met on our last visit, Fred and Karen Peterman, are here as well and we are making some new friends as we gather around a picnic table in the evening for chats.

Trip to Turquoise Lake

A few days ago we and the Petermans drove up Leadville for a Pizza Hut buffet lunch.  Would you believe that as we were winding up, the manager taped a sign to the door that they were out of supplies and closing for the day!  She then came by the table and said help yourself to anything on the buffet, you are our last customers.  Well neither of us was the least bit shy.  We both took a large box and filed it with fresh pepperoni and meat lover’s pizza.

Pizza Hut in Leadville

From there Fred and Karen showed us a drive that circled the beautiful Turquoise Lake. At around 10,000 ft. this reservoir is flanked by Mt. Elbert and Mt Massive, two peaks that compete for the honor of being the highest in the Colorado Rocky range.  Surrounded by pines and sunk into a deep valley, the setting could hardly be more dramatic.

Turquoise Lake

We have had a couple of outings to nearby streams for lunch and exploring.  The lyrical sounds of water rushing and tumbling over rocks and boulders beckon us to settle down with a good book and just enjoy the fresh air and nature.  One such adventure brought kayakers and whitewater rafters going past us braving the rapids, while we waved and watched some of them get hung up on a particularly large boulder right where the river took a sharp turn.

We have been blessed with wonderful weather.  Every day a brief rain comes through, but never last for long.  The morning temps are in the middle 50s soaring up to perhaps 78 or so during the day.  Mostly the sky is clear and vibrantly blue. Last night we watched the sun paint the sky with rusty reds and oranges as it set through blue grey clouds hovering over Mt. Yale (across the road from camp)

The shadows from the starlight are softer than a lullaby.
Rocky Mountain high, Colorado. Rocky Mountain high.”

 

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Ham’n It Up with New Friends and Old

Drive from Quanah, Texas to Trinidad, Co.

Out where the deer and the antelope play and the sky is not cloudy all day – well almost.

Llano Estacado

Over the muddy Red and on across the Llano Estacado, staked plains, where mesas begin to dot the skyline, mesquite and sage stretch mile after mile with little towns like Hereford, Texline, Clayton, and Capulin interrupting the rolling plains.  The temperature soared over 100 up to 106. At stops it was hot enough to singe the hair off a brass monkey. We knew it was definitely time to leave for cooler climes.

We did get a bit of cooling off between Dumas and Dalhart when we drove through a rain squall. After a comfortable night at Corral RV Park in Dalhart we moved on into New Mexico.  It’s always fun to look for the lava mounds all through the large volcanic field along US 287.  Mt Capulin thrusting up over 7000 feet signals that mountains are just a few miles ahead. But alas, where have all the antelope gone?  We saw a few of those now elusive animals but not many.

Mt Capulin Volcano

We pulled Raton, our first pass of the year and descended into Trinidad where we took two nights at Lake Trinidad State Park.  Good thing we arrived early, the park quickly filled up for the weekend.  We had the “good fortune” to have several teenage boys obsessed with skateboards camping next to us.  As we arrived they were setting up ramps – what a racket!  Gratefully, they were gone most of the time we were in camp, so it worked out. (We heard that there was a skateboard competition in town.) The campground is set on a high bluff overlooking the lake and the views are fantastic.  Friday afternoon we watched a fast moving thunder storm roll in over the mountains, soon the camp was pelted with a driving rain and pea sized hail.

Storm coming over the mountains

Ham radio friends Bob and Mary Ann Coellin are building a beautiful home on a mountain ridge just south of Trinidad.  They invited us up to see the home and the magnificent views.  WOW.  Brady and I both would trade in the RV life style for a place like that. Beautiful trees and lots of wild life – a deer trail passes through their front yard.  Recently Bob heard a scratching outside their RV and to his surprise when he looked out there was a mountain lion practically staring him in the face.  Heidi was beside herself running back and forth, she had sensory overload.  We all went down into Trinidad and enjoyed delicious wood fired oven pizza and each other’s company.  The next night we met another fellow ham couple, RC and Mary Ghormley– and became immediate friends.  The 6 of us drove to Raton for supper.

Bob and Mary Ann's soon to be new summer home

On our way home we stopped for diesel, there was another storm moving through.  Kaboom!  I nearly got the wits scared out of me. A big streak of lightning struck just beyond and the thunder shook the station, we were grateful to get back to the camp and settle down.

Drive to Cuchara and Bob and Mary Ann's place

Stonewall on Co 12

 

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Deja Vu for a 5th-wheel Brother

Stage 1: Lavonia to Quanah, Texas

Finally we have the Rolling Eagle, our new Jayco Eagle 5th wheel, back from the shop with a smooth running slide. After a couple of days at Lake Lavon to test and load, it is off to Colorado for a shortened by much anticipated trip.  While at the lake we enjoyed a great time with friends, Sue and Mark Larson.  Thanks again for the delicious meal at Rosa’s’

Rolling Eagle

Bright and early Tuesday morning we were off, well early for a retired couple.  We arranged to meet Doug and Elizabeth Kilgore to travel together.  They were leaving from a relative’s wedding in Fort Worth, so we met in Wichita Falls.  Unfortunately they began to experience issues, first with an overheating wheel on the trailer, fortunately that was just a brake that had been adjusted incorrectly.  Then their truck started acting up, it would not exceed 30 miles an hour down the highway.

We limped into Quanah where he had the fuel filter replaced.

In the shop

Off again– no improvement – this time we did not even make it out of town before the problem was back.  After creeping down the looong 8 or so miles to Ole Towne Cotton Gin RV Campground, we pulled in and gratefully called it a day.  They called Good Sam Roadside Assistance had their truck towed back into Vernon for repair the next morning.

Good Sam to the Rescue

We were so reminded of our experience in June that caused us to turn back, we had our fingers crossed that the same will not be their fate.  We stayed at the Quanah Park on Wednesday to hear the verdict. Part ordered, hopefully ready on Thursday.  Thursday, – NO Part –the ordered part was not sent.  Brady took them to Wichita Falls to rent a car and that afternoon we went jacks up to head west.  Doug and Elizabeth spent a couple more days at Quanah.  The truck was repaired on Saturday and they returned to Dallas on Sunday.  We will miss their company along the road, but it was a good decision for them. We hope to catch them on the road again sometime soon.

We don’t have the dangers and problems of the early pioneers, but as we have learned this year, there are still problems to be overcome in modern day travel.

 

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Woops – Back up and Turn Around

The sun June has riz, the sun June has set, and here we is in Texas yet!

Overview – Stuck, stuck in Amarillo, no joy, not moving on, stuck! Arriving in the campground – what is that smell?  Burnt rubber?!  Uh Oh very hot wheel – RV repair not Colorado. Yuck. Pilgrim limped, groaned, and rattled into the thankfully nearby RV repair center. Confirmation, it is a wheel bearing.  Two days later, Pilgrim is finally freed from the shop, but with recognition of other possible problems looming, the wise decision was to return home, to find a new/newer 5th-wheel.

June 6 – We got off to a great start, jacks up and out of the campground early to beat the rain that was threatening.  It wasn’t long before we passed Decatur then up 287 for that looonng stretch north and west to Amarillo.  Traversing endless miles of red clay, peppered with the grey of twisted mesquite trees, and the grey green of sage.  Flung around are rugged mesas and weathered buttes. Imagination had me travelling back in time as we pass through towns like Quanah, Chillicothe, and Goodnight.  Images of cowboys ridding the open range, lonely cabins with pioneers eking out a living, Indian chasing buffalo, cattle drives and huge ranches flash into mind as the miles roll by. Most unusual, there has been lots of rain over the whole West Texas area.  Water is standing in the fields and more is predicted.  There was even water flowing in the Prairie Dog Branch of the Red River! But our great start came to a sizzling end when we arrived at our campground in Amarillo.

First Brady discovered a wheel was extremely hot, after several minutes of spraying water on the wheel, it finally stopped steaming and smoking.  Praise the Lord that we arrived here without incident.  If Brady hadn’t checked, Pilgrim could have become a crispy critter.  After two days of wait and worry, Pilgrim was finally out of the repair garage, but with the recognition that our problems were greater than the wheel bearing. The water damage that we had considered slight and something that we could repair, was much more extensive.  During our wait we did squeeze in a side trip to Palo Dura Canyon, but could not spend much time exploring, since we needed to stay in cell phone contact with the repair garage and the canyon does not have cell coverage.

June 9 – Back at home, we began the search for a new/new to us home for the road.  So many, yet so few that we would consider.  My requirements:  big tinted windows, rear living area with comfortable seating including a recliner (hopefully two), sufficient cabinetry in the kitchen to hold the supplies we take on the road, a wardrobe with a dresser in the bedroom, hopefully two ACs for those hot Texas summers, and a freestanding table –not a booth. Brady’s: not longer than 31 feet, preferable under 30, good underneath storage, no water damage.  After looking at a few pre-owned 5th Wheels, and discovering some potential water damage in at least one, we decided on a new RV.  It seems that 5th wheel manufacturers think we all want really long ones, so the shorter length definitely put some challenges in our search. Jayco seemed to be coming out the leader.  They have a few shorter versions with nice amenities and good price. Everyone we spoke with had good things to say about their quality.  Our search was finally taking a direction.  We found a couple of very nice Jayco dealers in our area.  At first we were dealing with Gwen at Nichols RV.  She is super nice, honest and helpful, unfortunately that deal did not work out for us.  We then drove to Ft. Worth to Vogt RV.  Here Anthony showed us a couple of Jaycos.  I fell in love with the Eagle 315RLTS.  It has all the features that I wanted and was close enough for Brady’s wants. So it is good bye to our good friend Pilgrim, we had lots of good memories traveling with you.

June 21 – TADA!! We will pick up our new Jayco Eagle later this week! Once we take delivery and get better acquainted with it, I’ll post pictures.

 

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Jacks Up, Head em Up and Move em West

Speaking of commencement, (see A New Phase of Life) we too are on to a new adventure.  Its jacks up and go west, young man – well not so young, but west anyway.  It’s been a week of goodbye, so long for now, take care of yourself and The LIST.  Checking what to bring, what to leave, what do we already have at the RV – it’s getting easier, more organized, but it still takes way, way too much time.  We really had almost everything that we needed on our first trip out to pick up the RV at the RV storage place, but to give ourselves some shake out and checkup time, we took a week at Lavonia Park, our favorite local camping location.  I will post a review of Lavonia Park at a later time.

Brady is setting up his Amateur Radio equipment mobile for the trip. We have added his HF radio to the VHF we already had in the truck.  This involves a new array of antennas that will bristle from the top of the truck as we move down the road.  A big thanks to a longtime friend, Darwin Geiselbrecht, who helped set up Brady with the antennas.  Actually, as I understand, he is going with one HF and the VHF antenna, The HF one may be changed from time to time, depending on the conditions.  So if you see us going down the road, give us a shout, our call signs are W5LH and K5ETA.

It’s been a fun week at Lavonia, Sharon, Jared and Nicholas came out to visit and grill burgers, fly kites and play Frisbee.  They brought corn which was grilled in the husk (YUMM) and watermelon.  Even Heidi got a corn cob and a watermelon rind.  She had loads of fun with the cob and tasted the melon – guess she’s not a melon eater.  On another day Anita visited to get some sun and relaxation before we left.  She brought Mexican food from a favorite local restaurant, and a rawhide bone for Heidi. Which Heidi self-importantly carried around for a while then buried in the fire ring, carefully nosing the ashes over it, so it would be hidden for enjoyment at a later date.  Jokes on her, since we wont be here.

This week has given us time to begin to return to the quiet of nature.  At home there is always the TV going or music playing, and the computers humming, here we still have all of those things, but TV is rarely setup, and we limit the computers more. Its outdoors with the breeze and green grass instead, time to shake off the casing of indoor/city life. Here usually even in the heat of the day, the breeze still keeps it comfortable, at least in the shade. In the evening we spend lots of time staring upward, first at the sunset then star gazing.  We have enjoyed several beautiful sunsets.  There is still town glow from here, but more stars than in the city.  We really enjoy the iPad app, Star Walk, for helping us understand the sky above us – what constellations, planets, satellites and other celestial bodies we are staring at as we gaze heavenward.  It is really fun to use and easy. Find a good review at Bomb Apps, get it at the apple app store or a similar version at your favorite android app store.

Tomorrow its jacks up and head em up and move em west.  With the weather beginning to regularly hit the upper 90s inching to triple digits, mountains, pines and maybe the ocean are calling us.

 

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