Wednesday, December 31, 2014

'14 Travel Review /'15 Outlook

WOW, what great experiences we had in 2014. We are in our eighth year of living in a house on wheels and have now been to all 50 states and 11 Canadian provinces in that time. This year we put 13,085 miles on Opus while traveling north from Arizona to Alaska, then south across Canada and the northern US to WashPA, on to Betty's RV Park in Louisiana and finally ending the year in South Florida. We stayed in 65 places, a third of those were just for one night as we covered a lot of miles on the Alaska trip. On average we traveled 200 miles per travel day, the most we have done since going on the road. Alaska is far. We also put 10,459 miles on the CRV. Our RV park expenses were a bit higher than usual with several parks in Alaska being over $40.00 a night, far more than we normally pay. The cost of fuel ranged from a high of $5.96 a gallon in British Columbia to a low of $2.79 this month in Florida, the least we have paid since 2009. That said, it was worth every penny.

We started the year in Mesa and spent the remainder of the winter in Lake Havasu and Yuma, Arizona and Desert Hot Springs, California. Overall, the weather was very good (one of our winter goals) with typical warm desert days and cool nights. We did experience a SoCal earthquake and bad winds but it was still one of the warmest areas of the country. We crossed paths with many RV friends while exploring the area.  Our friends Allan and Sharon joined us with their RV for a few days and Tom and Georgie did a personal mail delivery to California where we had a great time hanging out in Palm Springs with the upper crust. In early April we stopped in Tehachapi to see the famous railway loop that lets the trains climb over the mountains. We spent a week in Las Vegas to have Opus serviced and to buy a few needed items for our trip to Alaska. There we had the last warm weather we would have until August on our way back from Alaska.

We left Vegas on April 17th and took a month to drive the 1300 miles to the Canadian border. We knew we were pushing it weather wise traveling in the mountains this early in the year and we had many cold days, but no snow. We added three national parks, Great Basin, Craters of the Moon and Glacier, to our visited list and explored historic Arco, ID and Butte, MT. In Butte we had a fun, fun time when we crossed paths with Dan and Merlene. In Twin Falls we put new shoes on the CRV and did a much needed clutch replacement. In a couple of places we just hung out waiting for the weather to improve before starting our trek to Alaska.

After crossing into Alberta on May 14th we were north of the lower 48 for 87 days while driving 6687 miles before crossing back into the lower 48 in North Dakota on one of the greatest adventures we have ever experienced. (That statement does not come lightly from a couple who bicycled across North America and also for six weeks in Europe.) On our first stop in Alberta we added Waterton National Park to our visited list. We then took a week to travel the 720 miles to Dawson Creek, BC and Milepost zero of the Alaska Highway.

Heading north on the highway is a trip through history and nature unlike anything we have experienced. The mountains were spectacular and we saw many bears, coyotes, moose, caribou, Stone sheep, fox, swans, eagles and bison right along the road. We soaked our bones in Liard Hot Springs, roamed the sign forest in Watson Lake and learned about the sourdoughs who rushed to the Klondike in search of gold in Whitehorse. On our first day in Alaska we visited with SKP friends John & Lori, Wallace & Wanda and Bennett & Bea. What a small world it is even when you are off in far away places.

1477 miles and 12 days after leaving Dawson Creek we arrived in Fairbanks for a week of exploring. With Fairbanks as our base we took an excursion to the Arctic Circle and drove to Chena Hot Springs for more bone soaking. We learned more Alaska history at the Museum of the North, the Morris Thompson Culture Center and on the riverboat Discovery. After Fairbanks we then traveled 275 mile to three different locations around Denali National Park. Yes, Denali is so large that it is possible to view it from several vistas along the route, if it is not hidden by its own clouds. We were very happy to be part of the only 30% of Alaska visitors who get to see the mountain. We actually saw it several days. In Denali we took an excursion into the park's interior and, in addition to seeing the beautiful mountains, we saw the big five of wildlife; moose, caribou, wolf, Dall Sheep and grizzly bears. The real high point though was taking a flight and landing on a snow covered glacier high on the side of the mountains. From Denali it was about 100 miles to the Anchorage Wasilla area where we had Class of 07 mates, Alaskans John and Lori, as guides to give us a personal look at the area. We went to the Iditarod Museum, Independence Mine and hiked on Hatcher Pass. In Anchorage we went to Potter Marsh, Earthquake Park and the Native Alaska Heritage Center. We had a real downer there when we had to replace the head gasket on Opus. Bad news we had to have it done, good news we were not hundreds of miles from a repair facility when it happened so the repair was one day and out.

From Anchorage we headed to the Kenai Peninsula for several stops in towns along the beautiful Alaskan coast. Our first stop was in Seward where we hiked to a glacier, toured the Alaska Sealife Center and did a cruise to see sea animals. We then went to Ninilchik for two weeks of fishing and fun with many new friends. We did a couple of day trips to Homer and Kenai, saw many eagles, checked out the Norman Lowell Art Gallery and I got the chance to catch a 71 pound halibut, very neat. The next stop, two days and 500 miles later, was Valdez where we took another cruise for a up close look at the Columbia Glacier and saw a humpback whale. We also saw Wallace and Wanda one last time and I caught my six fish limit of pink salmon in about an hour.

Next was a 700 mile, three day drive to Haines where we met Germans, Bjorn and Britta, for the first time, saw many more eagles, visited three local museums and hiked to the top of Mt. Riley for a beautiful 360 degree view of mountains, glaciers and the Inside Passage. From Haines we put Opus on the ferry for a one hour trip to Skagway, a neat old Kondike gold-rush town. This saved us 350 miles of driving.  While there we took a day trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route and experienced an earthquake. We did a day cruise to Juneau where we toured the capitol building and saw Mendenhall Glacier. On the return to Skagway we experienced another real highlight when we got to see Humpback whales bubble feeding, which is the most incredible wildlife event we have ever seen. From Skagway it was another 700 mile, three day trip to our last Alaska destination, Hyder, where we saw Salmon Glacier, the largest in Canada and got very close to grizzlies and black bears feeding on salmon. Another of our great wildlife experiences.

From Hyder it was a 3200 mile, two week sprint back to WashPA with stops in Winnipeg to see Gary & Anita whom we met several years ago at Betty's and Marcel & Sonya whom we met in Alaska. While there our "Nevercold" fridge started to die so we detoured to Shipshewana, IN to have a new Amish cooling unit installed. We sure hope this is the last time dealing with the fridge.

We then spent two months in WashPA doing our annual personal maintenance at the doctors and dentist. We had a great time with family, our many old friends, and had visits from RV friends Bill & Gisela and also Richard & Valerie with whom we visited Frank Lloyd Wright's, Kentuck Knob. We helped the local economy with many visits to our favorite local eateries and enjoyed many evenings of great local music. We took in a Pirate baseball and Pitt football game and had a fun time in the city. We played euchre with the old card club, attended the Brown Jamieson wedding and had John's wonderful wood-fired pizza, always a real treat. Nanc ran the Washington Labor Day and the Pittsburgh Great Race and I took a sightseeing flight over WashPA.

We headed for warmer climes in mid-October but first went north to Cleveland for the wedding of the last of six Yanni children, Liz. It was a great weekend seeing the whole family and many other friends. Next it was further north to Michigan for Opus' service at Spartan Chassis. Even after a trip to Alaska and being ten years old, they found him to be in good shape. From there it was a quick 1200 mile, four day drive to Betty's RV Park in Louisiana, our favorite stop. Even though we have been there many times to see our good friend Betty we still find new things to do every time we visit Acadiana. At Betty's it is all about the people and it was great seeing many old friends and many new ones during our six week stay. As always, we enjoyed the music and the food which is a big part of our stay in Abbeville.  We also did a tour and learned how sugarcane is grown and harvested.  

From Betty's we did 1,000 miles in five days of easy driving while checking out some gulf coast areas and visiting friends and family. In Biloxi we saw Class of 07 mates, Ron and Linda, who gave us an up close tour of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR where they were volunteering. Next we checked out the Panama City area as a possible destination for a longer stay in the future. We then spent three days with Nanc's sister Judy and her husband Bill in Apopka. It was a chance to get caught up with them since it had been a while since we have had an extended visit. We are ending 2014 in Jupiter where we are celebrating the holidays with our friend Mary Lou. We had a chance to see my brother Rick and his wife Denise, who were returning to Florida after a cruise. South Florida has become our favorite winter spot with its great weather and so many great things to do.

As 2015 starts we are heading to the Keys for what we hope will be a warm January. We had planned to stay in South Florida for February, but we will be going to New Orleans for Richard's and Valerie's daughter Marissa's and new son-in-law Karl's wedding reception.  It's great having a house on wheels!!  After the wedding we plan to hang out at an Escapees park in Texas or Alabama and hope to take a vacation to some tropical spot. In mid March we will be going back to Betty's for six weeks of more friends, food, music and fun. During the summer we intend to travel in the Southeastern states before our annual return to WashPA in August and September. Then we will go to the Outer Banks for a month or so before heading back to Florida for the winter. This will be our first time staying in the same winter area two years in a row. As always, these plans are written in the sand and can be changed at any moment.  Ahhhhh, life on the road, we never tire of it.

2014 Travels and Campground Reviews

This is a link to where we visited and where we stayed.

Friday, December 26, 2014

South Florida For The Holidays

We are ending 2014 in South Florida near Jupiter with our friend Mary Lou.  This is our fourth Christmas we have spent here since going on the road in 2007.  Jupiter is a great area with a lot to do and many wonderful restaurants, all within a couple of miles from Mary Lou's condo.  We also get to use the pool and the Atlantic is just across the street.
Here we are with Mary Lou in an old fashion selfie getting ready to eat the wonderful meal she had waiting for us the first night we arrived.
Taking advantage of the pool is high on my to do list here.  This was the first day of winter, so I guess I am now an official member of the Polar Bear Club.  Really, the wonderful warm weather we have had here on every visit is why South Florida is our favorite winter destination.
One evening we went to the Maltz Jupiter Theatre to see a great production of Fiddler on the Roof. Mary Lou volunteers at the theater as an usher, so we had really good front and center seats.  The show was as good as any we have ever seen, even on Broadway.  
We are staying at Jonathon Dickinson State Park.  There are always neat birds around, another reason we like South Florida.
Eating at outdoor restaurants is another great thing about South Florida.  You never know what might go by on the water.  As I said, the weather here is a big reason we like it so much.  Sure won't be seeing anything like this in WashPA in December. 
Sunday evening we found something new to love about the area, the Jupiter Jazz Society has a weekly jam session at the Double Road Tavern.  There were many local musicians sitting in with the band that included bass player Keith Jones who has played with Santana and Blood Sweat and Tears.
Mary Lou and Nanc enjoying the music.
One of the musicians who was sitting in for the first time was a 13 year old sax player who was fantastic.  It is always a bonus to hear new young talent.  Here is a link to the Jupiter Jazz Society Facebook page if you are in the area and want to check it out.
We had a wonderful Christmas Eve and day.  On the 24th we went to Portobello, a great Italian restaurant, with Mary Lou and her neighbors Jack and Mervat who also have a home near my brother in Pittsburgh, what a coincidence.  On Christmas day we went to the movies to see The Theory of Everything, a great movie, and had dinner at Mary Lou's.  She made our favorite, linguine with clam sauce.  A movie and that meal are now a new holiday tradition when we are here.  It all made for a great holiday. 

Friday, December 19, 2014


We left Betty's in LA with nine days to get to our end of the year destination near Jupiter, FLA where we will be spending the holidays with our friend Marylou.  There were a couple of places along the gulf coast that we wanted to check out for possible extended stays in the future, we wanted to see our friends Ron and Linda in Mississippi and spend a couple of days with Nanc's sister Judy and her husband Bill.  This worked out to four stops with easy driving days of less than 250 miles, a very nice travel pace.
Our first stop was in Biloxi where Class of 07 mates Ron and Linda are volunteering at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR.  We had not seen them since last winter in Arizona so we had a lot of catching up and travel stories to share. 
Because they are working there we got an up close tour of the refuge's program to save the Sandhill population by hatching eggs and then releasing the young birds into the wild.  We had to hike through the woods to the blind to see the birds. The refuge is dedicated to preserving a local species of Sandhills that do not migrate and had been reduced to 30-35 birds in the 1960's. 
This is a small hatchling.  It is hard to believe these little chicks will grow into birds that can have a six foot wing span.
When the birds are grown they are placed in a two acre fenced area with one wing tied so they can't fly.  This allows them to have contact with other residents and become acquainted.
The cranes are known for their dancing behavior.  They look a lot like a bunch of teenagers strutting their stuff.
After a few days their wings are untied and they are able to fly away.  The group we saw were all at that stage of their release and they were still staying in the pen.
One crane that suddenly seemed to realize it could fly, very neat.  These birds do not migrate and will be residents of the refuge.
Some other birds we saw from the blind.  Thanks to Ron and Linda for the personal tour of the refuge.  They have volunteered at several during their time on the road and now we see why they love it so much.
Welcome to Florida.  We are looking forward to warmer weather.  I turned on the turn signal when we crossed the state line and intend to leave it on all winter so I will fit in.
The next place we checked out was Panama City Beach.  We stayed at St. Andrews State Park and had this wonderful view of the water.
The days were warm, but not enough for a swim even though the clear water looked inviting.
One of the things we love about Florida at Christmastime is the decorated boats.  We missed most of the boat parade in PCB but got this picture of one at the dock.
From PCB we took two days to drive to Apopka to see Judy and Bill.  We stayed off the Interstates and enjoyed the trip through the north Florida forests.  We stayed at Kelly Park in Apopka, a county park with a warm water spring.  For most of  the stay we were the only people in the campground.  Even though we are real close to the busy Orlando area the park is loaded with wildlife.  We saw turkeys, deer, and even a black bear running through the woods.  How cool we have seen bears from Alaska to Florida this year.
Our first night we drove to Mt. Dora for dinner.  This is an old Florida town that goes all out for Christmas.  They even bring in snow for the kids on light up night.
The musical Christmas tree is one of my favorites.  It flashes different colors to the carols.
The second evening after dinner and Nanc's sister's we played cards with Wes and Sharon who we met here on earlier visits.  They went away the big winners.
Judy and Bill are all ready for Christmas.  One of the great things about our travel schedule is that we have gotten to spend time with them every year we have come to Florida for the winter.  And speaking of Christmas, we would like to send warm wishes to all of our blog readers for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Last Week at Betty's

We had a great final week with all the usual but fantastic, music, food and friends.  We love coming here for many reasons, with spending time with our hostess and good friend Betty at the top of the list.  We hate to leave, but if we don't leave we can't come back.  This is the first time we have been here in the fall in six years so we made many new friends with the people passing through heading south for the winter.  Some are people we have been looking forward to meeting because we have heard about them from others, some are people who have been readers of the blog and others are just new friends.
On Thursday several of us went to Dupuy's for lunch.  Jim and Cookie pulled into Betty's right before we left for lunch and decided to join us.  They backed their 5th wheel into their site and went with us leaving the rig connected to the truck.  Talk about hitting the ground running! 
And look why.  We love the oysters here and Dupuy's are the best.  They were not even serving them when we first arrived because those that were available were not up to their standards.  Nanc and I each had a dozen, no sharing these babies.
Left are Maryann and Bill from Oklahoma.  Maryann has been following us on the blog and this is the first time we have met.  Right are Cookie and Jim who we met here several years ago and visited with in Arizona last fall.
Left are Dicky and Doris who we met here a couple of years ago.  They don't have an RV right now and were staying in a local B&B but came by for happy hour.  They are getting a new RV soon so they can stay at Betty's the next time.  Right are Ann and Tom who we had heard about but not met before.  Check out Tom's tattoo.  It was great getting to know them.   
Several of us did the Abbeville Christmas Stroll around town to enjoy the lights, music and food.
A couple of stops on the stroll.  My pictures of the outdoor lights did not come out.  I should of carried the EOS.
The weather has been really nice lately but a couple mornings have been foggy because of the warm southern winds coming off the gulf.  It is usually burned off by 10AM so the days have been sunny.
One last Touchet's jam session.  Most of the regular musicians were not there this week so we got to hear some new ones and others who were familiar but whom we had not seen on this trip. We saw Brett, who is playing the accordion, when he was 12.  He has gotten a lot better.  It is great seeing how the Cajuns pass on their culture to the youngsters.    
Sunday was supposed to be our last day and Jay was cooking a seafood bouillabaisse for everyone in the park.  The crowd gathered to watch him work his magic and enjoy some hot buttered rum, compliments of Vicky. 
Jay with a pot of his steaming goodies.  We contributed some Alaskan halibut to the pot that also included tuna, crab, mussels, shrimp, scallops, oysters and frog legs (and probably some we missed) all cooked in a homemade broth that Jay made from fish frames, everything but the guts that were left over after John filleted some fish. 
Nanc getting a taste and loving Jay's creation since it is one of her favorites.  It is amazing we don't put on more weight when we are here because we sure do eat well.
Maryann made a blueberry, pecan dessert that Marvin loved so much he finished what was left in the bowl.  He took so much abuse with that move that he had to shield himself.
See, you never know who will show up at happy hour.  I'm not sure but I think some of these ladies are on the naughty side of Santa's list.
While all these guys are on the nice list.
  Because everyone who comes to Betty's makes so many friends it is part of the tradition to gather to send off those who are leaving,  So after hugs all around we put our Betty's friends in the rear view mirror and headed down the road.  We had a wonderful six weeks here meeting so many people, hearing great music and eating fantastic food.  As usual, our time here was over way too quickly and we are sad to be leaving but it is now time to get the wheels rolling.  We were supposed to leave on Monday to head for Florida for the winter but on Sunday Betty invited us to go to the casino and since no one was coming into our spot we decided to stay one more day.  This is known as being caught in Betty's web and sure describes us.  Our plan for the trip to Florida is to spend a couple of days in Biloxi, then on to Panama City for three days.  We will stop for one night along the road and then spend three days with Nanc's sister in Apopka before heading to South Florida for a couple of months of hopefully warm weather.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Happy Days at Betty's

We had several days of happys starting Wednesday with my happy birthday followed by Happy Thanksgiving on Thursday.  Friday was happy birthday Nanc and happy anniversary Gene and Carol. On Saturday we had a happy time at the Museum Cafe Cajun jam session.  Our only unhappiness was Sunday when I watched the Steelers loose to the Saints in Who Dat Nation and Marvin failing to deliver on his promise to cook gumbo.  As with ALL events at Betty's there was plenty of food for the celebrations.
The happy birthday couple were well rocked, rolled and of course retired.
The crowd gathered for our birthday dinner.  Betty made her great seafood gumbo.
There was plenty of food for all and the gumbo started a conversation about whose was best, Betty's or Marvin's.  We voted on hers with the promise that Marvin's would be on the ballot on Sunday.  Sad to say he did not deliver so Betty was declared the winner.
All the same, people gathered for Thanksgiving dinner and as you can see there was a wonderful variety of dishes from around the world.  Two Aussies in the park, Ron and Rose, brought grilled veggies, sure glad they did not bring Vegemite:) 
On Friday, Nanc's birthday, Betty's son Brett (right) made a crawfish etouffee for lunch.  What a treat.  Here is Marvin explaining to Ron and Brett about his great gumbo.  Will we ever know?
Even though we come here more than any place other than WashPA there are still things we have not seen.  Just down the road from Betty's is the Bancker Grotto at the site of the first Catholic church in this area.  The church is gone but the grotto and nearby cemetery are very interesting.
From the grotto we drove along the Vermillion River on a quiet country road.  There were several areas where the road was lined with flags because when there is a high tide and south wind it can be under water.
This is the swamp in nearby Palmetto Island State Park.  A great little park we will never camp in as we always stay at Betty's when we are in the area.
The happy anniversary couple, Carol and Gene, celebrated 47 years together.  Congratulations!!!! 
And the crowd got real happy with Nanc at her birthday party.
Saturday was the Cajun jam at the Museum Cafe in Erath.  At the end of the jam they fed everyone for nothing.  Another Cajun hospitality tradition that makes us happy.
Vicky, Jay, Beverly and Marvin at the jam.  Really they were happy to be there.
Ginny, Bob, Ann and Ray who were so happy they got caught in Betty's web.  Ginny and Ray came for a week and stayed two while Bob and Ann came for a day and stayed a week.  Betty has many happy campers.
Ron, Rose, Carol, Nanc and Gene.  Aussies Ron and Rose are on a six months tour of the USA.  Here is a link to a blog on their adventure.  They invited us to visit them in Brisbane some day so who knows an overseas trip may be in our future.

We are in our last week at Betty's before heading toward Florida next week.  Being at Betty's is always a happy time, but if we don't leave we can't come back.