A Land of Extremes – Death Valley

A Land of Extremes – Death Valley

I’m sitting in our climate-controlled truck on a cushioned leather seat watching the scenery unfold in front of me. The land is vast, harsh, barren, and the road free of traffic. I can’t fathom the life of Pioneers who first explored these lands via horseback and wagon. Complaining about the lack of cell or internet coverage seems so petty on my part. However, the thought of a flat tire or other breakdown has me feeling somewhat uncomfortable. No calling AAA out here. We’re on our own!

Our Route – February 22, 2012

We pulled out of our campsite in Lake Havasu City bright and early that morning. We traveled north on Highway 95 to Interstate 40 west. After studying the map the day before, I thought it would be interesting to drive through the Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Desert is an arid rain-shadow desert and the driest desert in North America. And just like I imagined, the views are miles upon miles of sparsely vegetated land … harsh land that deserves respect if one is to survive. After our turnoff from Interstate 40 onto Kelbaker Road, I think we saw less than a dozen other vehicles, if that. Fascinating terrain!

Once in the town of Baker, we top off with fuel. We realize, the further we get from civilization, the more expensive fuel costs will become. Our journey continues toward Death Valley National Park and Furnace Creek.

Campground

The Furnace Creek Campground was currently undergoing a renovation and therefore closed for the season (Feb. 2012). Signs directed us to the Sunset Campground where we quickly found a level gravel site to pull into. The Sunset Campground was pretty much an organized gravel parking lot with no services, but at $12 a night, we weren’t complaining. We made a quick note of the generator hours to assure we kept our batteries topped off.

We loved watching the sunsets!

Sunset Campground is aptly named. Every evening, we found ourselves sitting outside to watch the sunset. Once the sun had disappeared, the sky would turn into fantastic shades of colors ranging from pinks to reds and purples. Then the sky would slowly darken to the most incredible deep, deep midnight blue. The stars were bright and the crescent moon stunning. Al and I would just sit quietly in awe watching the show unfold.

Although we lived in a community with a dark sky policy (Pueblo West, CO), I think this was the first time we truly understood light pollution. There was none here to detract from the beauty of the sky, and we were appreciative observers. Each night was a little different but equally spectacular. There are some things in life that can’t be captured via a photograph and must be experienced first hand. Admiring the night sky in Death Valley National Park was definitely one of those special moments … a vision etched in my memories.

Exploring Death Valley

Established in 1994, Death Valley National Park is a beautiful but challenging landscape where unique wildlife have developed ingenious adaptations to the arid, harsh environment. Located in both California and Nevada, it’s the largest national park in the lower 48 states and has nearly 1,000 miles of roads that provide access to both popular and remote locations in the park.

After reviewing the Death Valley National Park map, Al and I discuss our plan for the day.  National Parks are not usually pet friendly and Death Valley is no exception. So Al and I plan our day keeping our dog, Bear, in mind. Fortunately, the weather would be in the 60 degrees Faherenheit range allowing us to leave Bear in the RV alone for a few hours. Since he was over thirteen years old, Bear was showing his age and could use a little extra rest after a rather exciting, fun-filled five days in Lake Havasu.  So, he didn’t mind being left behind to catch up on some much-needed rest. 

Our first stops were Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View.  Dante’s View is considered the most breathtaking viewpoint in the park. The overlook is more than 5,000 feet above the floor of Death Valley and overlooks Badwater Basin. We were extremely glad that we wore our sweatshirts considering the temperature was only around 52 degrees Fahrenheit that morning and extremely windy at this high overlook.

Al reading information about the area – Dante’s View
The expansive scene from Dante’s View – overlooking Badwater Basin

On our return to the RV, we took a side trip and ventured down a dirt road known as Twenty Mule Team Canyon.  This is a one-way 2.7 mile drive through badlands.  The history of this road dates back to the days of mining for Borax in the Valley.  It was a fun little side trip even though there were points I wondered if our large truck would fit through some of the tight corridors in the canyon. If it weren’t for our growling stomachs beckoning for lunch, I would’ve loved stopping more frequently along the way. Yes, more photo-ops would’ve been nice, although Al might disagree.

A Jeep rounds a bend on Twenty Mule Team Road – the perfect vehicle for exploring Death Valley NP.

Upon our return to the RV, we find Bear still fast asleep and needing to be coaxed for his walk. He is one tired little guy and doesn’t mind being left behind the rest of the day.

After lunch, Al and I head over to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Badwater Basin is a vast landscape of salt flats. From a distance it looks like snow.

Al and Ingrid at Badwater Basin
Exploring the salt flats
Interesting patterns formed by salt deposits.

We ventured out onto the salt flats taking in the fascinating landscape. Badwater Basin was once the site of a large inland lake. The lake had no outlet, leading to the accumulation of sediment and salt over time. When the lake eventually evaporated, concentrated salt deposits were left behind. Today, captivating geometric salt polygons form on the flats as groundwater rises up through these deposits and evaporates.

A 53 year old Ingrid is awed by the landscape.

After more than thirty minutes of walking around the salt flats and marveling at the unique and surreal environment, we returned to the truck where we noticed the salt residue had stuck to our shoes and was now leaving a fine coating of salt residue on our truck floor mats.

A Golf Course that isn’t a Golf Course

Just north of Badwater Basin is a side road that took us down a bumpy dirt road to a parking lot. We found ourselves surrounded by craggy boulders which are really meteorite like sharp crystal formations of salt. Imagine an immense area of rock salt that has been eroded by wind and rain and turned into jagged spires and boulders. The sculpted salt formations form a rugged terrain that is simultaneously delicate yet dramatic. Rocks are so serrated that only the devil could play golf on such rough links. Hence, the name Devils Golf Course.

The Devils Golf Course

The terrain looks daunting and can be dangerous, thus best viewed from the parking lot. We had the place to ourselves and it was so quiet that we could actually hear the salt formations cracking. It was like tiny little pops and pings. The sound is literally billions of tiny salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the heat.

The next stop on our tour was driving the scenic, one-way, nine-mile paved road known as Artist’s Drive. A photo-op stop at the Artists Palette is a must. Artists Palette consists of multi-hued volcanic hills, best photographed in the afternoon. Known for its variety of rock colors, it’s no wonder where the name came from. The various colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals. Iron compounds produce red, pink, and yellow. The decomposition of mica produces green, and manganese produces purple. Once again, we are left speechless and perplexed by the terrain.

Artists Palette
Death Valley National Park – Vast large land worth exploring!

After two full days of exploring this southern section of Death Valley, it was time to move north. Al and I never realized just how enormous this national park is; 3,373,063 acres.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

On day three, we move camp to the Stovepipe Wells Campground.  Upon arrival, we realize its remoteness.  With the exception of Furnace Creek, all of Death Valley is extremely remote and vast. We park the RV with the backend into the wind. The wind is blowing and dirt devils are twirling.

Our campsite at Stovepipe Wells National Park Campground – no services.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Once settled in our new location, we head on over to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes nearby which is the whole reason we moved to this new location. Al and I hike the dunes being sure to keep our eyes on the ground for critters; snakes, scorpions, etc. We occasionally stop for photos or to marvel at the landscape.  These dunes rise nearly 100 feet from the Mesquite Flat and are in a constant state of change due to the winds.  It appears wind is the norm in this part of the park.

The winds continue to blow and Al and I are covered in a fine layer of dirt and sand.  We return to the RV for dinner in hopes of enjoying another gorgeous sunset. We were sorely disappointed with the sunset in this location.  However, the night sky and the crescent moon made up for any lack in sunset color. If we had it to do over, we probably would have stayed at the Sunset Campground and just driven to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for the day. 

exploring the dunes
Ingrid dumping the sand out of her shoes after exploring the dunes.

Although I feel we barely touched the surface of this awe-inspiring terrain, the constant extreme wind was irritating, and we decided to leave the next day with the promise of returning to Death Valley another time. 

Throughout our entire Death Valley explorations, we were intrigued by the landscape and felt like we had stepped back in time; Jurassic time. With each bend in the road, it would not have surprised us to have encountered a dinosaur or perhaps see a pterodactyl fly overhead. Or perhaps it wasn’t another realm but rather another planet. Regardless, we were awed, mesmerized, and perplexed by the incredible landscape. We left with the realization that another visit to Death Valley National Park would be warranted. Four days and three nights were definitely not enough time to explore this expansive and special land.

Al and Ingrid near Artists Palette – February 24, 2012
Death Valley National Park

This post is part of my “Blog to Book” series where I step back in time and share our journey to full-time RV living, share the RV lifestyle, and the places we visit. As I rewrite older posts, I plan to add more details and personal content … new tales never shared before. For more information about my goal for this blog series, please visit this post. And if you’d like to start from the beginning of the story, you’ll want to start with this post. I share new posts every Sunday morning and occasionally Wednesdays.

Thank you for shopping my affiliate links. ❤As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


Merrell Men’s Moab Waterproof Hiking Boot
Merrell Women’s Moab Hiking Shoe

After a Few False Starts – Lake Havasu

I’m sitting at the kitchen table gazing out the window and beyond the deck. In the far distance, Pikes Peak is covered in a low shroud of gray cloud cover. The chill in the air serves as another reminder that more snow is on the way. I’m feeling down! Even the dog seems depressed.

November 2011 – “Okay, time to snap out of it, Ingrid”, I mutter to myself. I allow my fingers to quickly move over the keyboard on my laptop. I Google everything I can think of with those two letters; R V. I come across some interesting articles and dive a little deeper. Blogs? Hmm, I think I heard that word once before on one of Paula Deen’s cooking shows on the Food Network. She had a guest on her show who wrote a very popular cooking blog called the Pioneer Woman. Prior to that, I’m not sure I’d ever heard the term before, and I still wasn’t sure exactly what it was.

Pueblo West, Colorado with a snow covered Pikes Peak in the background.

For years I was so busy working, being a wife, mother, and business owner that I rarely had enough time for myself let alone have the ability to just linger on the internet. But that all changed with the Great Recession, a poor housing economy, and an empty nest. I now found myself with more time on my hands than ever before. Time to daydream about RV travels. I gobbled up as much information as I could find and began reading RVing blogs, blogs all about RV travel.

I was green with envy as I read travel tale after travel tale accompanied by beautiful photographs. I wanted in. I wanted to be a part of the RV lifestyle. My poor RV had been sitting on the side of our house neglected for almost a year. It’s as if I could feel my mom’s presence as she stood over me saying, “What are you waiting for? If that’s what you want, go for it”.

There were many times in my life where I wished I had listened to my mom more often, and now that she was no longer physically here, I thought it would be a great idea to at least listen to her spirit or those voices in my head. Before long, I was studying Google Maps. I had to keep winter weather and winter driving conditions in mind while planning a trip.

Sitting on the side of the house hooked up and ready to go. We just need a break in the winter weather!

The makings of a plan

Where to go? I knew I wanted to go west and include a visit with our son in Phoenix. As I scour the map, two words jump out at me like a red beacon; Death Valley. Oh my gosh! I have wanted to visit Death Valley National Park for as long as I can remember. It sounds so foreboding, so mysterious, and fits my current gloomy mood.

I run the RV trip idea past Al. In September, just two months earlier, Al found himself flying back to Illinois to attend his mother’s funeral. He wasn’t in any better of a mood than I was and was rather indifferent to a getaway. Basically, his response was, “Go ahead and plan a trip and just let me know what direction I need to point the RV and when. AND don’t get us into a pickle, a situation that may damage the RV”.

Alrighty then! Let the planning commence. Oh, and I think I’ll start my own blog in the process. The blog will serve as my personal journal documenting this trip.

Darn weather!

It was now January 2012. With holiday decorations packed away after enjoying a very low key Christmas holiday with both children joining us in our new house in Pueblo West, it was finally time to set a timeline for that RV getaway. We were in the thick of winter weather in Colorado, and we’d have to plan our drive strategically to avoid icy roads. The previous winter, we had spun out in my little red Toyota Tacoma on some black ice near Trinidad, Colorado, and we certainly didn’t want to experience anything similar with the RV in tow.

After a few false starts due to snowstorms, we finally had a big enough break in the weather and were on the road in mid-February 2012. Two days later we arrived in Phoenix, and once again, we stayed at the Desert’s Edge RV Park on the north side of the valley for a couple of nights so we could get in a quick visit with our son.

Arizona Highway 95 near the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge

Next stop; Lake Havasu City

We were traveling in footloose and fancy-free fashion with no reservations, no real timeline, or a definite destination in mind other than Death Valley. We meandered along our route taking in the new sights and pulling over whenever we felt like it. Eventually, we arrived in Lake Havasu City and drove around looking for a camping option. The state park was full. The first private RV park we pulled into was also full. After a little more driving around, we pulled into the Crazy Horse Campground which was also booked up, but they had a large parcel of land outside of the RV Park where they allowed RVers to boondock for a fee which included the use of the restrooms/bath house located within the RV park.

Lake Havasu State Park Arizona
Exploring Lake Havasu City – looking for a place to camp!

We were fortunate the campground was booked.  The RV spots in the campground were tight and RVs were packed in like sardines. There was hardly enough elbow room between units. This was not what this newbie RVer had in mind when we set out on this journey. It’s all about being in nature for me and having a view out my window.

I loved our view and distance away from other RVers on this dirt parcel of land.  This overflow lot overlooks the lake and there’s plenty of room for everyone. We even had a fire ring for real campfires of which we took full advantage.

Even Bear enjoyed our boondocking campsite.
We loved our nightly campfires
The view from our campsite.

We loved staying at the overflow lot at the Crazy Horse Campground. It is located on an island, thus requiring us to cross the London Bridge for access.  It is within walking distance of the bridge, shops, restaurants, and lakeshore. The shoreline offers a lovely park setting with walking trails, a dog park, a marina, beaches, playgrounds, and picnic areas.  We took full advantage of this location and explored via foot every day.

Unbeknownst to us, we happened to pick the busiest and most popular weekend out of the year to visit Lake Havasu. The annual Winterfest is held every President’s Day Weekend in February. It’s a weekend filled with festivals, a car show, Rockabilly Concert, and Winter Blast. Winter Blast is a fireworks extravaganza. Spectacular fireworks are displayed by firework professionals who are testing the latest advances in the industry, culminating in a huge pyrotechnic show in the evenings.

Lake Havasu City was developed by Robert McCulloch in 1963 on the eastern shore of Lake Havasu. He later purchased the London Bridge, which was dismantled brick by brick and numbered and then shipped to Lake Havasu City from England.  It was reassembled and completed in 1971 and connects the island to the mainland and serves as a popular tourist attraction.

Interesting tidbit: After Robert McCulloch developed Lake Havasu City, he went on to develop Fountain Hills (1970), just east of Phoenix, as well as Pueblo West, Colorado (1969) – our home town from 2000-2013. All three communities were designed in a similar fashion and share many of the same street names.

The London Bridge

Lake Havasu City is a playground mecca for adults. The large lake offers visitors a host of water activities, and the land offers an endless amount of trails for off-roading and hiking. If you don’t have your own toys, there are dozens of places to rent the toy of choice; boats, wave runners, kayaks, ATVs, and more.

One unique and rather popular hobby around here is power gliding. At our campsite, we were buzzed regularly by what I liked to call flying lawnmowers.  Al was totally infatuated by the sight and ready to return to the skies. My initial thoughts were I don’t think so!  Although Al does not miss his commercial aviation days, he does occasionally miss those daring Naval aviation missions overseas. I left Al to his thoughts while he builds us another campfire and contemplates going up in a power glider.

Al and I did our best to explore as much as possible during our five-day stay in Lake Havasu City. We also befriended fellow campers/neighbors who had been visiting the area regularly over the years. These seasoned RVers were a wealth of information, and we gobbled up as much info as they were willing to share.

Just another gorgeous sunset over Lake Havasu

Funny campfire story!

One evening, our group of befriended neighbors were away attending the pyrotechnics show at Sara Park. They had invited us to join them, but we opted to avoid the big crowds by staying home and enjoying a quiet evening around the campfire. As we were doing just that, we noticed a man walking around in the dark, sometimes in circles. He seemed lost in his thoughts. We invited him over to our campfire.

We asked him if he was okay? “Not really”, he responded. As he continued to sip on his beer, he hesitantly began telling us his situation. His girlfriend was back at the RV having a heated phone conversation with his wife who was currently living with the girlfriend’s husband. Say what? I guess these two couples met years ago while boondocking at the magic circle in Quartzsite. The magic circle is just a small section of land in an otherwise massively large parcel of property managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM – Federal Government) located in Quartzsite, Arizona, and is a clothing-optional area.

Every winter, Quartzsite is inundated with thousands of RVers boondocking in this large sparsely vegetated desert. Many folks return year after year rendezvousing with friends and other like-minded RVers. Such was the case with these two couples, and as their friendship grew, they began swapping spouses. Once it was time to move on, each normally left with their legal spouses, but not after this most recent Quartzsite visit. The couples agreed to leave with the others’ spouses and reunite a few weeks later. But when a few weeks later rolled around, both women wanted to stay with the same guy, leaving our campfire friend feeling at a loss. He wanted his wife back, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to return. Thus, his conundrum.

Al and Ingrid at their campsite in Lake Havasu City

The next day, our campfire acquaintance and his girlfriend packed up and pulled out of camp leaving Al and me wondering what the outcome would be. Would they return to the magic circle and reunite with their fellow nudists? Would any of them remain married? We are left to our own imaginations.

A couple of days later, it was our turn to leave. We had new territory to explore. We left Lake Havasu a little wiser and definitely more enlightened. There were a lot of facets to this new RV life that we never imagined.

Lake Havasu State Park
Lake Havasu State Park

This post is part of my “Blog to Book” series where I step back in time and share our journey to full-time RV living, share the RV lifestyle, and the places we visit. As I rewrite older posts, I plan to add more details and personal content … new tales never shared before. For more information about my goal for this blog series, please visit this post. And if you’d like to start from the beginning of the story, you’ll want to start with this post. I share new posts every Sunday morning and occasionally Wednesdays.

Thank you for shopping my affiliate links. ❤As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Professional Series Inflatable Kayak
Portable Steel Propane Gas Fire Pit

The Long Way Home – Mackinac Island

Shortly after Traverse City, we round the bay. The road bends north, and Michigan’s Highway 31 takes us through storybook small towns nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan. When we pass the occasional fruit stand at the end of someone’s driveway, Ashton is somewhat perplexed by the sight.

I begin to explain how we’re in Cherry country. Actually, Michigan is a growing mecca for all kinds of berries, fruits, greens, and of course cherries. The state offers rich soil and plenty of moisture making it easy to grow just about anything. Quite often folks grow more than they can consume and choose to set up a stand at the end of their driveway.

Since tourism is huge in this part of the state, locals or folks like ourselves who are traveling through will stop and purchase freshly picked items. It works on an honor system. We take just enough fresh goodies for our needs of whatever they’re selling and leave behind money placed in a container that they’ve provided. Small town America at its finest.

Time for Lunch

With our tummies growling (Hmm, maybe we should’ve stopped at one of those fruit stands), we stop for lunch in the beautiful town of Petoskey. This is definitely a wealthy town filled with architecturally attractive second homes and a harbor filled with high-end Cabin Cruisers, Sailboats, and Yachts. We admire our surroundings and enjoy a nice meal at an outdoor cafe.

Town of Petoskey – lower left. Mackinac Bridge connects Lower Michigan to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula aka the U P. Mackinac Island indicated by the red bubble. Interstate 75 crosses the Straits of Mackinac, a waterway connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

The Mighty Mac

Our drive continues. Highway 31 eventually merges onto Interstate 75. It won’t be long now! I can feel my palms on the steering wheel begin to sweat. The Mackinac Bridge connects Lower Michigan to Upper Michigan and is currently the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world. It’s approximately 5 miles long and at its center sits around 200 feet above the water. 

All suspension bridges are designed to move to accommodate wind, change in temperature, and weight. It’s possible that the deck at the center span of the Mackinac Bridge could move as much as 35 feet from side to side during high winds. It’s a four-lane toll bridge with only the outer lanes paved. Wind warnings should be checked prior to crossing with a high profile vehicle such as an RV.

Mackinac Bridge. Only the two outer lanes are paved – center lanes are open grate – August 2011

August 2011 – Fortunately, we’re traveling in a car and it’s a beautiful August day with manageable winds … but that doesn’t make me any less nervous. The open metal grate road has my steering wheel vibrating from side to side. I hang on tight. The paved right lane is closed just ahead and therefore not an option. It’s a beautiful bridge and a remarkable feat of engineering that I prefer to admire from shore.

Ashton wins!

With the bridge portion of our drive behind us, we navigate through the town of St. Ignace in search of our hotel. Over lunch, Ashton convinced me to book a hotel room instead of pitching the tent at the Straits State Park. I have very fond childhood memories of our family of five camping at that state park, and I wanted to share the experience with Ashton.

But alas, the comfort of a hotel room with the ability for a long hot shower did sound rather appealing, especially since I could still feel myself covered in sandy grit from our morning escapades, but I didn’t let Ashton know that. I let her think she won! Besides, it was already a long day with another long day planned for the following day. The thought of having to set up camp just sounded like way more work than I was interested in doing. Hotel it is!

After settling into the room, we catch the next ferry to Mackinac Island to grab dinner and give Ashton a quick overview of what the next day’s plans would entail.

By the way, during this entire trip, we never used a GPS nor did either one of us own a Smart Phone at the time. We also didn’t use the internet during this entire excursion. We used a good old-fashioned Atlas for navigation, and I had a notebook with handwritten information listing possible places to stay and things to do along our travel route … notes that were researched at home, back in Colorado. During lunch, I made a hotel reservation for that evening via a phone call from my flip-phone.

Mackinac Island

No cars. Just horses and bicycles. No chain hotels. Just one of a kind lodging accommodations. No chain restaurants. Just unique tasty eateries. And more fudge than any normal person could possibly consume.

“Come on mom. Let’s go”, Ashton urges. Who’s doing the nudging now? “Okay, okay! Just one more phone call”, I respond. I was still running a business after all. There was still a responsible adult lingering within no matter how hard I tried to escape. My goal was to make sure the day was free of business matters so I could focus on mother/daughter time and enjoy our day.

9:00 a.m. – We catch the ferry about an hour later than planned. Ashton is eager to explore this island that she’s heard so much about from her mother, me. The previous evening’s short visit had merely intrigued her further.

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, photo taken from the ferry.

The romantic 1980s movie, Somewhere in Time, introduced the country to the Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island. During the summer of 1981, I planned my first romantic getaway here with my then-new boyfriend. Although we couldn’t afford to stay at the Grand Hotel, we did find a quaint spot in town for a couple of nights. Apparently, our relationship blossomed because forty years and two kids later, Al is still dealing with my surprise travel planning.

No motorized vehicles are allowed on Mackinac Island. Ashton on her rental bike ready to explore!

Ashton and I were some of the first few folks to exit the ferry. Ashton was on a mission to get to a bicycle rental shop before the crowd and persuaded me to keep moving and not stop at the restroom. (Note to self – don’t listen to your 21-year-old child.) There are multiple bike rental shops to choose from, and considering this was late August and the economy was still struggling, the crowds were at a minimum. Her concerns were unfounded.

With waivers signed, we were given a quick demo on the bikes we had chosen. “Yeah, yeah, yeah”, I think to myself when the only thing I’m interested in is the location of the nearest restroom. Finally, the young man hands over the bike and I walk it over to the curb where I proceed to fling one leg to the other side of the bike and get ready to hop on.

Oh NO!

I’m not sure how or why it happened. It seemed to occur in slow motion. One minute I was upright and the next I was falling to the ground. The bicycle and I literally toppled over on our sides to the ground. Folks rushed to my aid. Oh no, I’m so embarrassed. I jump up, quickly grab my bottle of water, noting the wet spot on the sidewalk, and with a flushed red face laughingly say, “I’m fine. Yes, seriously, I’m fine”, and before anyone could say another word, including my daughter, I’m pedaling down the road to the public restroom.

Feeling renewed and ready to tackle the day, I exit the restroom and quickly spot Ashton who whispers, “Mom, did you pee your pants”, Ashton asks in a concerned tone? “Of course I didn’t. My water bottled leaked”. She looks at me again and says, “Oh my gosh! You did pee your pants. I am so sorry. We really should’ve stopped here first before grabbing the bikes”. I adamantly exclaim, ” I did not! It was the water bottle that leaked. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it”. We both bust out laughing as I remind Ashton that I’m thirty years older than her. We jump on the bikes still chuckling and begin our eight-mile circumference ride around the exterior of the island.

The bike and I get along famously after that initial spill.

Mackinac Island was once a national park, the second in the United States. However, in 1895 it was turned over to the state of Michigan and today over eighty percent of the island is State Park property and most of the land remains in its natural condition. There are over seventy miles of signed roads and marked trails, some of which are paved and some which are not and all are assessable to the public.

We weren’t even halfway through our bike ride when Ashton and I realized one day on this picturesque island is not enough. We should’ve booked an overnight on the island. There’s so much to see, explore, and enjoy especially when visiting during the off-season.

After our one-hour bike ride around the exterior of the island, we returned the bikes and set off on foot.

Of course, a visit to the historical landmark, the Grand Hotel, was a must. We tour the grounds, step inside for a quick peek and sample the Grand Hotel fudge, some of the grainiest I’ve ever tasted … no thank you. Moving on, we opt for a late lunch at a Sports Bar near the Stone Church followed by shopping and fudge tasting.

Ashton and I wore the Mackinac title of fudgie proudly as we made our way around the fudge capital of the world doing our best to sample and determine which shop makes the best fudge. There are around 13 fudge shops on the Island, and between them, they make so much fudge that the island imports 10 tons of sugar per week. Sampling fudge remains one of the favorite activities of Mackinac visitors, thus visitors are affectionately called fudgies. Chocolate is the most popular fudge. Of course!

By late afternoon, Ashton and I were getting kind of tired, but we had one more must-do thing on our list to accomplish. Take a cab ride!

Our cab in front of the Inn at Stonecliff

It was a brisk fall day in September of 1982 when I booked another romantic getaway for Al and me on Mackinac Island. We walked, we explored, we attended a reenactment at the historic Fort Mackinac, but my most memorable moment from that trip was the evening carriage ride to the Inn at Stonecliff.

It was a two bench carriage. The driver gave us a blanket to lay across our lap to help ward off the cold chill in the autumn air. We rode in silence. The only thing we heard was the rhythmic sound of hoofs clippity clapping on the paved road and the rustling of fall leaves. At the restaurant inside the Stonecliff Inn, we were seated near a huge stone fireplace that had been freshly stoked with wood. Al and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner while discussing future plans.

Less than a year later, Al and I exchanged our marriage vows at our turn of the twentieth century themed wedding inspired by our Mackinac Island visits. It was a very romantic wedding, and we were blessed with perfect weather … not an easy feat during the month of June in the Chicago suburbs.

outdoor weddings
1912 themed wedding complete with horse and carriage – June 1983

Ah, memories! During this visit with Ashton, I wanted to return to the Inn and since it was a relatively long cab ride, long being relative when you’re on a small island, the Stonecliff Inn would make a great carriage ride destination. We toured the grounds of the inn and then stepped inside. Disappointment waved over me as it didn’t seem the same. Perhaps I missed something or young love had tainted my memory. Regardless, it’s still a beautiful property that served as a great way for my daughter and me to relax and take in another Mackinac experience.

We took the ferry back to the mainland as the sun was setting. We had a fantastic and memorable visit. It was time to get a good night’s sleep considering the long drive in front of us.

Plenty of beautiful gardens to admire around the island

Time to Go

We check out of our hotel room in St. Ignace as the sun was rising over Lake Huron. We had a nice lakefront room with a beautiful view. The Adirondack chairs placed on the beach near the water’s edge were beckoning to be sat upon. However tempting, my thoughts were broken by the realities of the day. We had a long drive ahead of us.

From the town of St. Ignace, we take Highway 2 west through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The scenery along this northern edge of Lake Michigan was nothing all that memorable. The land is flat and covered with thick forest. Ashton remains intrigued by the dense lush forests.

That kind of thick forest landscape would continue for most of our day with the occasional break in trees as we passed through small towns. Near the Michigan – Wisconsin border, we pick up Highway 8 and take it west all the way through Wisconsin to the Mississippi River. We cross the river into Minnesota and then head south traveling along the Mississippi River. The change in scenery was a welcome sight! We enjoyed the drive and cute towns along the way.

Our general route for our mother/daughter trip. We started in Rockford, Illinois (A) then spent our first night (B) at Sleeping Bear Dunes. (C) St. Ignace and Mackinac Island. (D) Mall of American near Minneapolis. (E) Back home in Pueblo West, Colorado.

Once we hit Interstate 94, we navigated around Minneapolis and checked into a hotel in Bloomington. We were exhausted. What I thought would be an eight hour driving day, turned into ten. A miscalculation on my part, for sure. Thank goodness Ashton and I took turns driving.

The next morning, we enjoyed waking up slowly and taking our time to get ready for the day. The mall wouldn’t open until 10:00, thus no need to rush. This break was more than needed, and we felt refreshed after the leisurely morning.

By the time 10:00 a.m. rolled around, we were ready to check out of our room and visit Mall of America, America’s largest indoor shopping mall and one of the largest in the world. The structure offers an abundance of stores as well as an amusement park, aquarium, theaters, and restaurants. I had been curious about this place for years and considering it was practically on our route home, this was the perfect opportunity to stop and quench my curiosity.

Architecturally I found the mall somewhat stark, cold, colorless and lacking personality. It was huge, I’ll give it that, but it felt perhaps a little sad. The occasional empty storefronts were clear signs of a struggling economy. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but we were both disappointed and after buying a “Minnesota” T-shirt and grabbing a quick bite to eat at the food court, we were well on our way and entering Iowa. We overnighted somewhere in Nebraska, and the next day, we were back in Colorado.

Once in Colorado, we exited Interstate 76 at the town of Brush and headed south on Highway 71, a two-lane less than scenic country road, and eventually angled our way home. St. Ignace, Michigan to Pueblo West, Colorado – Three days and 1,500 miles later, I was exhausted. I’ll need a lot of rest before I plan my next getaway.

Pronunciation – Whether it’s Mackinac or Mackinaw, the pronunciation is the same: Mack-i-naw. The mainland area was first named Michilimackinac by the Native Americans. By 1715 the French established a strong presence in the area and shortened the name to Mackinac which was more fitting to their own language and while spelled with an “ac” the sound is “aw.” The British took control of the area in 1761, and in 1857 they changed the spelling of the city to the way it sounded, Mackinaw City but left the Island spelling Mackinac Island. In short, the French pronounced it “aw” but spelled it “ac”. The British heard it pronounced “aw” so they spelled it that way. Whichever way you see it spelled, it is always pronounced “aw”. 🧐

This post is part of my “Blog to Book” series where I step back in time and share our journey to full-time RV living, share the RV lifestyle, and the places we visit. As I rewrite older posts, I plan to add more details and personal content … new tales never shared before. For more information about my goal for this blog series, please visit this post. And if you’d like to start from the beginning of the story, you’ll want to start with this post. I share new posts every Sunday morning and occasionally Wednesdays.

Thank you for shopping my affiliate links. ❤As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Sleeping Bear Dunes

There comes a point and time when we could all use a break from the responsibilities of everyday life and the need to interject a little fun becomes a necessity. I usually know when I need such a break, and I was sure feeling the need to have one soon.

It was already the middle of August, and our neglected RV continued to sit on the side of the house untouched all summer. Would our new RV turn out to be rarely used just like our former truck camper? I certainly hoped that wouldn’t be the case, but thus far, it wasn’t looking promising.

August 2011 – Well, we wouldn’t be taking the RV on any excursion this month. We had more pressing matters to attend to. Our daughter’s summer internship in Illinois was coming to an end, and just like I kept her company three months earlier during the 1,100-mile drive from Colorado to Rockford, IL, I planned to do the same and keep her company upon her return journey to Colorado. However, instead of purchasing a one-way flight, Al and I (and the dog) would be driving to Illinois to make those family connections.

Time for a Getaway

Not only was it our goal to connect me with Ashton, but the second purpose behind this trip was also for Al to visit with his mother. She hadn’t been doing well the last several years and appeared to be declining a little more each day. It was important we both return to Illinois. We loaded up the truck and left well before sunrise. Eighteen long driving hours later, we arrived at Al’s sister’s house exhausted. After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to socialize.

My dad aka Opa proudly showing off a flower in his garden.

With Ashton’s internship over and a few more days to enjoy before hitting the road, we took a day to visit with my dad who lived about an hour’s drive southeast of Rockford in the Chicago suburbs. He seemed to be doing well, yet still adjusting to life alone. It was only four months earlier when mom passed away. Fortunately, Ashton was able to visit with her Opa on a somewhat regular basis throughout the summer. Time she will always treasure.

When the day came for Ashton and me to say our goodbye’s, there were hugs and watery eyes all around! As Ashton and I approached her packed car, Ashton hands me the keys and breaks down into tears. “Mom, I know this is the last time I’ll see grandma alive”. We drove in silence and a few hours later we had skirted around Chicago and the bottom of Lake Michigan and were heading further north into the state of Michigan.

Wait! Colorado is in the opposite direction. Shouldn’t we be heading west? What are we doing in Michigan? Remember that break I needed?

Ingrid and Ashton at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – August 2011

The heck with adulting. Let’s have some fun!

Once in the state of Michigan, I exit the Interstate and opt for a more scenic route along the shores of Lake Michigan. The two-lane road has us traveling through quaint little towns and picturesque scenery. Our thoughts move on to more pleasant topics, and eventually, Ashton asks, “I can’t remember. Where are we going”. “Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes”, I respond, knowing that she has absolutely no clue what I’m talking about. “Okay! Where are we staying?” she continues. “At a campground”, I casually mention.

“MOTHER! YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY BE SERIOUS!” she exclaims. “Of course I am, honey. I packed everything we need. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun”, at least I hope, I quietly say to myself. “Well, do we at least have a reservation”, she questions? “Nope! Worst case scenario, we’ll just sleep in the car somewhere.” She is not amused by my free-spirited lackadaisical response. I was not sounding like the mature responsible parent that she was accustomed to and relied on.

Ingrid and Ashton next to their home for the night – August 2011

When we arrived at the D H Day Campground late that afternoon, we snagged the last available campsite and set about pitching the tent. You have no idea how grateful I was to have practiced setting up and breaking down that tent numerous times in our living room just a week earlier. Thank you Al for helping me practice, or Ashton and I may have ended up sleeping in the car after all.

Ashton and I looked like a couple of camping pros. Within thirty minutes, we had the tent up and beds made on inflatable mattresses. Campsite complete! With our home for the night all set up, it was time to explore and check out our surroundings including the lakeshore.

Ashton tests the Lake Michigan water temperature. That’s some cold water … brrr!

After our explorations, we went into the town of Glen Arbor to stroll the shops and find a place for dinner.

Ashton was drawn into a small spice and tea shop. For the first time in days, I saw her face light up. The previous year, she had spent a semester studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, and acquired a taste for tea (as well as wine, but that’s another story). As she excitedly flitted about the store, she engaged in conversation with the store clerk. I could see the stress from her, somewhat less than fun, summer begin to fade away. A few purchases later, she and I were strolling up the street heading toward the nearest restaurant.

The skies were dark by the time we returned to camp. Therefore, we retreated to the comfort of our tent where we engaged in a series of card games. I had brought along cute little battery-operated lanterns, emphasis on cute, that provided just the right ambiance for an evening of laughter.

The next morning, after a so-so night of sleep, I was nudging Ashton to get out of bed. I had brought a bin for us to wash up and some homemade muffins to get us through the morning. I had an agenda … let’s check out those dunes. We quickly broke camp and were on our way long before most people were even awake.

It’s windy on this enormous sand dune high above the shores of Lake Michigan

Photographs fail to capture the sheer size and magnitude of these stunning sand dunes. There are miles upon miles of sandy beaches with bluffs towering as high as 450 feet above Lake Michigan. As much as we were tempted to run down that dune, logic stepped in. It might take us less than 30 minutes to get to the bottom but would take literally hours to climb back up. Yeah, not going to happen!

Instead, we head on over to the popular “Dune Climb” where it’s a more manageable size dune to climb. Since it was still early in the morning, we practically had the place to ourselves. Ashton decides to take a closer look to see if this dune is something she’d like to tackle.

The popular “Dune Climb” is usually busy with hundreds of people tackling the dune which would provide scale. It’s much taller than it appears.

It doesn’t take long before she and I agree that we really don’t have the time to play around in the sand. Besides, we have a few more scenic spots to explore before we continue on our journey.

The two-lane roads take us through lush dense forests that Ashton becomes smitten with. I’d forgotten, while this type of northern Midwestern landscape was quite normal to me considering I grew up in the Midwest, Ashton was three years old when we moved west to a much more arid climate. She had never seen such a green dense forest before and found it fascinating.

The forest is so dense that it’s difficult for the sunlight to penetrate.
Ashton at one of many scenic overlooks.

We found Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to be an extremely peaceful and serene place and noticed ourselves frequently taking in deep breathes and gazing out at our surroundings. It’s a magical place as well as perplexing. The landscape had a calming effect on both of us and turned out to be the perfect first stop on our mother/daughter getaway.

And I needed that sense of calm before crossing a certain bridge later that day …

This post is part of my “Blog to Book” series where I step back in time and share our journey to full-time RV living, share the RV lifestyle, and the places we visit. As I rewrite older posts, I plan to add more details and personal content … new tales never shared before. For more information about my goal for this blog series, please visit this post. And if you’d like to start from the beginning of the story, you’ll want to start with this post. I share new posts every Sunday morning and occasionally Wednesdays.

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When Life Happens

Our one week vacation over the Christmas holiday went by way too soon, and now we were back to the realities of life. We were in the thick of winter in Colorado. Fortunately, the climate in Pueblo West is much milder than in other parts of the state. It’s actually located in what’s nicknamed the banana belt of Colorado. But regardless, it’s still colder, and of course, snowier than Phoenix, Arizona.

By the afternoon, the sun usually melts most of the snow on the road, not that day. This was more snow than usual for this part of Colorado.

Winter 2011 – Our RV was nestled on the side of our new home. We began to enjoy living in this newly built house and finally understood why our customers loved the floorplan. After selling our large custom home, we decided to build our “bread and butter” floorplan for ourselves. Sure, I had spent plenty of time in this floorplan at the model home, but I had not personally lived in it.

Our poor RV covered in snow. She wants to go to south.

As well as selling our custom home in 2010, we also sold the model home. We were still in the throws of surviving the Great Recession, and although we managed to keep building homes here and there, it was a scary time financially. Building one home at a time was a far cry from juggling the usual six at a time.

In our small community, we were considered a mid-sized volume builder. There were no national builders for us to compete against. I loved my job and quite often worked seven days a week, but that all changed when the economy changed. Nonetheless, we were one of the lucky ones still able to hang on with a couple of new custom home builds contracted for the year. A lot of home builders had closed shop along with many of the subcontractors. It was a challenging time to work in the construction industry.

The phone call we all dread

April 2011 – The phone rang. It was my sister. Mom had been in and out of the hospital the past year, but this time my sister wasn’t sure how much time mom had left. Her COPD was winning! After the recent hospital stay, mom was admitted to a rehab center, and her survival was questionable. I immediately booked a flight from Denver to Chicago for a ten-day visit.

My brother arrived a few days earlier than me allowing him a little one on one time with mom, and then he left before me so I too could have some one on one time with her. Dad was doing as well as could be expected and was grateful to have his three children nearby to help him through this difficult time.

My mom and dad, aka Oma and Opa, in their early 80s.

A week after my return to Colorado, mom passed away, but those conversations are forever etched in my memories. I’ll always miss her!

I feel so grateful to have had ten days to sit with mom and just talk. Not everyone is as fortunate. Mom repeatedly encouraged me (and Al) to “Hop in that RV and LIVE … enjoy life while young and healthy … life is short. Who needs a house when you have an RV … a house on wheels. Go live, explore, have fun.”

She absolutely loved the RV lifestyle and when they had to call RVing quits due to health reasons, she was pissed. “Damn cigarettes!” she’d say.

Life goes on

With the arrival of spring and the snow long gone, our new home was in dire need of landscaping. And I was in dire need of a project to keep my mind and hands occupied as I worked through my grief.

There are very few subjects that Al and I have difficulty working through together. We’re a pretty good team and have worked together from the moment we met during our airline careers as Pilot and Flight Attendant. Then years later, we ran a home-building business together. We rarely fight with the exception of backing up an RV or doing yard work. Then, all bets are off!

Al having fun with the Bobcat. So this is what it took for him to enjoy yard work? Boys and their toys!
While Al dumps the gravel with the Bobcat, I rake it out. Team work!

Unfortunately, Al’s dad put a bitter taste in his mouth when it comes to yard work. His dad didn’t just want Al to mow the yard but also wanted it done a certain way including alternating directions from one week to another. I’m sure that’s the short version of the story, and we’ll leave it at that. I guess, we all carry around negative experiences from our childhood, and when it comes to landscaping and general yard maintenance, Al prefers to hire it out. End of subject.

But with our finances in less than stellar circumstances and my go-to landscaper out of business, what’s a gal to do? I know, bribe the husband with a Bobcat rental. A week later, we had just enough landscaping around the house completed to make it look presentable until I could come up with a plan for the rest of the property, and the bonus was a husband who didn’t complain once about landscaping the yard ourselves. That’s a win in my book!

Ah, but what about that neglected RV on the side of the house? We really should plan a trip, but that’ll have to wait until work allows us to sneak away. I’m just glad we’re still working!

Our crew swinging trusses at one of our job sites.

This post is part of my “Blog to Book” series where I step back in time and share our journey to full-time RV living, share the RV lifestyle, and the places we visit. As I rewrite older posts, I plan to add more details and personal content … new tales never shared before. For more information about my goal for this blog series, please visit this post. And if you’d like to start from the beginning of the story, you’ll want to start with this post. I share new posts every Sunday morning and occasionally Wednesdays.

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First Real RV Trip

With the RV shakedown under our belt, warranty repair on the landing jacks complete, and our long to-do list checked off one by one, it was time to take the RV on a real road trip. Plans were made for a Christmas getaway. The date: December 2010.

Our son had moved to Phoenix, Arizona, immediately after graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder and our daughter was currently attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins. We coordinated dates with Ashton on her winter break, and when we had the perfect winter weather window, we hit the road bound for Phoenix.

The three of us along with the dog spent our first night at the Sandia Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We arrived just before dark, and once comfortably parked at the far end of the parking lot, we entered the casino and enjoyed burgers and drinks at one of the restaurants. The next morning, we were rolling before the sun came up.

Spending the night in the Sandia Casino parking lot, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Sandia Mountains in the background. It was a cold night!

Two days and 800 miles later, we arrived at our destination; Desert’s Edge RV Park located on the far north side of Phoenix, a convenient location to enjoy visits with our son. Upon check-in, I asked the gal behind the counter for an easy site to get into because we were newbies and my husband still wasn’t great at maneuvering the RV. She responded, “This site should be relatively easy, but if your husband has any problems, just ask my husband for help. We’re in the site across the street from you.” This was also the first time I’d heard the term workamper.

Sure enough, Al struggled to back into the site. The guy across the street (husband to the gal in the office) had been entertained by our struggles and eventually walked over to see if Al could use some help. In the end, the neighbor parked the RV for us, and Al and I were no longer on speaking terms, at least for the next couple of hours. Apparently, Al didn’t understand my hand signals, and I didn’t understand what he was trying to do. Thank goodness, our daughter had taken the dog for a walk and didn’t witness our little spousal episode. Ah, this RVing thing isn’t as easy as it looks.

The happy couple! Al and Ingrid with Bear. Note to self, pay attention to the background when taking a photograph. Poinsettia head?

Celebrating Christmas in Phoenix, Arizona, for the first time.

With the parking situation quickly forgotten, we set about enjoying the beautiful winter weather and indulging in the abundance of citrus trees covered with ripening fruit located throughout the park. We were loving it! This RV park fit our needs and was the perfect place to spend a week over the Christmas holiday. It was super dog friendly and conveniently located to our son’s apartment. During our stay, Ashton chose to sleep at Logan’s place which offered her more room to spread out than the RV did and allowed for some sibling bonding.

On Christmas day, our family of four exchanged gifts, stuffed our tummies with delicious food, and generally enjoyed a relaxing day. Holiday phone calls were made to family members several states away. Well wishes all around.

Al and Ingrid in the background, Logan in the foreground, and Ashton on the far right
Ashton and Logan playing mini-golf in Scottsdale on Christmas Eve

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, I too joined the kids in playing mini-golf. Golf of any kind is not my forte. Actually, I’m really bad and provided a great deal of entertainment that day. I also learned a lesson that day, a lesson that at my tender years, I should have learned long ago. Be careful of what one says.

As Logan and Ashton each took their turn at the Par 1 hole. I mock what a wasted obstacle this was. “Seriously, how easy is this?” Each kid made it on the first try. Of course, naturally logic would have me making a hole-in-one also. NOT! My ball did not drop into the hole until the eighth attempt and by then Ashton and Logan were laughing so hard that we garnered the attention of other players. Oh well, it was a fun and memorable day filled with lots of laughter.

I’m so embarrassed!

Trouble strikes again

Our week was going well, and we were loving this RV lifestyle. We learned the ins and outs of “Workamping”. The term and spelling is actually a trademarked company that helps RVers find temporary work in exchange for a free place to camp, or in some situations, provides income in addition to a campsite. We also ran into quite a few couples and families that lived in their RV’s full-time. What an interesting concept! I’m sure I had heard about full-time RVing from my parents, who were part-time RVers, but the thought never really sunk in until now.

Anyway, all was going fine until the toilet stopped working. Seriously? We only had two more days to savor before returning home to Colorado. Al fiddled with the toilet to no avail. He walked across the street and asked his new buddy, the seasoned RVer who parked the RV for us, to look at our toilet. After looking at it, he suggested we talk to the RV Dealership just down the road.

I’m not sure if it was the panicked tone in my voice or the begging on my knees (just kidding), but the extremely booked service department at Little Dealer Little Prices agreed to look at our toilet first thing in the morning. Awesome … well not really. That would require these RV newbies to quickly hitch up and pull out bright and early and maneuver around a jam-packed dealership lot. Not something Al was looking forward to doing.

The following day, after a three-hour dealership visit, we returned to the RV park repaired – complete with a new under warranty toilet. Although replacing the toilet didn’t require three hours, the service department did their best to fit our fix in in-between other service orders. We were grateful and also learned our RV Vin number was associated with a travel trailer and not a 5th Wheel. That would make it interesting when ordering parts in the future.

Fortunately, I had made arrangements for a pull-thru site upon our return from service. Thus, no need to back-in and no spousal discord. (snicker) It was perfect for our last night in Phoenix.

A nice easy pull-thru site at Desert’s Edge RV Park. No hand signals required.

Ingrid takes the wheel

We hated saying good-bye to Logan, but Al and I needed to return to work and Ashton needed to return to college. Our little vacation had come to an end … sadly. All things considered, it was a great first trip, plus we learned a lot.

Before we knew it, the sun was rising and we were on the road heading north toward Flagstaff then east via Interstate 40. Over eight hours and 475 miles later, we once again pulled into the Sandia Casino parking lot in Albequerque where we enjoyed burgers, drinks, and a good, but cold, night’s sleep.

The following morning, I decided it was time to take my place behind the wheel. No time like the present time to learn how to handle the truck and RV. Al and Ashton stood side by side in the casino parking lot and with praying hands, they looked skyward …. “Dear Lord yadda yadda yadda Amen”. They ended their verbiage by making the Catholic sign of the cross. A few jabs and laughs later, I had an hour of truck-RV driving under my belt.

A = Pueblo West, Colorado B = Sandia Resort & Casino, Albuquerque C = Desert’s Edge RV Park, Phoenix

I successfully navigated in and out of a gas station and continued driving all morning. There were a couple of white knuckle moments for me along Interstate 25. First was going up and over Raton Pass at the Colorado-New Mexico border. With an elevation of less than 8,000 feet, this is a pretty mild and easy pass in comparison to other mountain passes in Colorado, but it’s still up and down with turns. The second was major construction on the Interstate through the town of Trinidad … single lane with concrete barriers on both sides. There didn’t appear to be a lot of room between the barriers and certainly no room for error, but one of us had to drive this stretch. Why not me?

That day, I drove the entire five-hour drive home, and not only impressed Al and Ashton, but myself. I’m not sure why any of us felt impressed. I’ve always had the opinion that if a man can do it, a woman can too. After all, I was a licensed General Contractor working in a predominantly male-oriented position. I guess it boiled down to the fact that this was something new, a new experience, and new equipment that I’d need to get comfortable driving. There’s always a learning curve when doing something you’ve never done before.

And there would be many more learning curves to be had …

Logan graduates from the University of Colorado then moves to Phoenix. Thus, our regular RV jaunts to Arizona begin. Left to right – Ingrid, Logan, Ashton, Al

This post is part of my “Blog to Book” series where I step back in time and share our journey to full-time RV living, share the RV lifestyle, and the places we visit. As I rewrite older posts, I plan to add more details and personal content … new tales never shared before. For more information about my goal for this blog series, please visit this post. And if you’d like to start from the beginning of the story, you’ll want to start with this post. I share new posts every Sunday morning and occasionally Wednesdays.

Arizona’s Scenic Roads and Hikes: Unforgettable Journeys in the Grand Canyon State
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It all started …

July 2010 – With my signature complete, I slide the paperwork back over to the salesman. It’s official. Al and I just bought a new RV. Since it’s still on the Keystone assembly line in Elkhart, Indiana, we’ll have to wait a couple of months to take it home. Perfect, that’ll give us a great opportunity to get in one or two more trips with our underutilized truck camper before trading it in.

Ingrid in front of the truck camper Taos, New Mexico.
Boondocking in Westcliff, Colorado

September 2010, we make the one-hour drive from our home in Pueblo West, Colorado, to the RV Dealership located in the quaint Colorado mountain town of Poncha Springs. We drop off our beloved truck camper and return home with a new 2011 Keystone Laredo 5th wheel in tow.

The drive between Pueblo West and Poncha Springs is a beautiful scenic drive. However, Highway 50 just west of Canon City, turns into a two-lane road that meanders along the Arkansas River. There are lots of curves, rock walls, and narrow spots with no shoulder and no room for error. Al was a little nervous navigating this stretch of road while pulling something as large as our new thirty-one-foot 5th wheel for the very first time. There was no opportunity for him to practice or get a feel for the RV on a wider or more open road before taking our new toy home.

Little did we know what RV adventures awaited. A mere two years later, driving this same stretch of highway was no longer a big deal and just another typical travel route in our RVing world.

Our shake down trip

In the RVing community, it’s highly recommended that owners of a new (or new to them) RV take their RV on a “shakedown” outing. This means camping near home at the nearest RV Park or campground and staying for at least a couple of nights to try out all the mechanics. This is a great opportunity to get comfortable with how everything works, make a punch list for warranty issues, and review gear.

Fortunately for us, at the time, we lived just three miles from the Lake Pueblo State Park making our first trip conveniently close to home and perfect in the event we needed any tools or forgot to pack something. With that said, it should’ve been uneventful. It wasn’t.

Our first overnight in our new RV – Lake Pueblo State Park

On our second day of camping, I accidentally locked myself out of the RV. While Al went to one of our job sites, I took the dog for a short walk. (We ran our own custom home building business.) Since I wouldn’t be gone long, I left my phone and keys in the RV. When I returned from the stroll, I was unable to open the door. Fortunately, one of the neighbors noticed my distress and came over to see if I needed help. He lent me his phone so I could call Al, only to find out, he too had left his set of RV keys on the dinette table.

Turns out, this helpful neighbor had spent twenty years working in the RV industry. He suggested two choices; call a pricey locksmith or this seasoned RVer could grab his tools and pry the door open. However, he first looked around the campground for any other Keystone brand RV. Why? Because various brands are usually keyed the same. Unfortunately, he owned a Forest River Wildcat, but had there been another Keystone in camp, chances are those keys might have opened our door. Crazy, huh! (Note to self – change the locks.)

After about 15 minutes, our Good Samaritan had pried open our door leaving behind a little bent metal door frame which only Al and I notice. Serves as a reminder to never fiddle with the door lock lever on the inside prior to exiting which caused the door to lock behind me.

The education continues …

The rest of our Pueblo Reservoir stay was uneventful and enjoyable … kind of. Lists were made. Al needed tools and I needed to outfit the kitchen better. We both needed more practice hitching, unhitching, and leveling the RV, but that would come with time.

Eventually, our stay came to an end, and we headed off to the campground dump station. Al unpackaged the new sewer hose and prepared to connect it to the RV pipe. With a slight hesitation, he unscrewed the pipe cap and was immediately met with a flood of “yellow-tinged water” spilling everywhere and soaking his tennis shoes. Apparently, our new RV was delivered to us with the tank valves open, and being such a newbie, Al failed to double-check the tank valves were closed before unscrewing the cap.

After a few choice words, Al and I busted out laughing. Thank goodness no one else was around to witness this nasty mistake. Oh well, nothing a bunch of soap and water couldn’t fix. No harm done. Another lesson learned with plenty of more lessons to come.

No walls yet, just the floor of our new home under construction with our sold custom home in the background. Yep, moving across the street.

Back to Storage

After our short camping trip, it was time to return the RV to storage. Three months earlier, we had sold our large custom home and moved into a rental while we built a smaller home. Our friends were kind enough to offer us a place to store the RV until our new home on an acre of land was finished, complete with a place to park the RV.

Our friends also recently purchased a new RV. With the RVs comfortably stored alongside each other, the four of us discussed plans for future Colorado RV adventures together with our new toys.

A couple of weeks later, our friends wanted to reposition the RVs on their land. No problem! Al and I headed over to their place. While the wife and I sat in the house talking about places we wanted to camp, the guys were outside dealing with the two RVs. About an hour later, the guys walked into the house, and with a dejected look, Al glances at me and says, “I’m sorry, but I crunched the RV.” Say what? “What exactly does crunch mean?”

Seems the landing jacks wouldn’t engage meaning the RV could not be raised up in order to hitch it to the truck. These two handy MacGyvers made a critical error on where to place the car jack while manually jacking up the RV resulting in a little accordion-style body damage. Oops! And she’s less than thirty days old.

Okay, now that’s she’s broken in with a little bent metal from the lock situation and a slightly smooshed front corner from the faulty jacks, let’s take this less than new RV out on the road and have some fun with it. Adventure awaits!

This post is part of my “Blog to Book” series where I step back in time and share our journey to full-time RV living, share the RV lifestyle, and the places we visit. As I rewrite older posts, I plan to add more details and personal content … new tales never shared before. For more information about my goal for this blog series, please visit this post. And if you’d like to start from the beginning of the story, you’ll want to start with this post. I share new posts every Sunday morning and occasionally Wednesdays.

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My Blog Plan for 2021

My Blog Plan for 2021

Are you new to blogging or do you consider yourself a seasoned blogger? No doubt, I fall into the latter group. I started this little blog of mine nine years ago – January 2012. On one hand, it seems like just yesterday and on the other hand, it feels like a lifetime ago. Time can be strange!

We all have our own individual reasons for starting a blog. Mine started out strictly for personal reasons as a means of documenting our travels and keeping family and friends up to date on all our new happenings. What transpired was the building of a community and a group of new friends. Friendships were forged and physical meetups were arranged.

Many of my original blogging friends have since sold their RV’s and found new places to settle and call home. Most have stopped blogging altogether. Some connections were strong enough that our friendship continues to this day while others have moved on. Life continues as new chapters are started, and as I reflect on the past nine years, I cherish the friendships and memories created.

How to preserve those memories?

What will happen to all our blog posts … our tales … our stories when we decide to deactivate our accounts? Say it isn’t so! No, I don’t plan on shutting down my site anytime soon. I still plan on being around here for a while and I hope you will be as well. I truly appreciate you stopping by, reading, liking, and leaving comments, and for that, I thank you. I love this blogging community and every time I take a break, I miss it … I miss you.

I know there will come a time when I will deactivate this account, but not before I find a way to preserve some of these memories and tales documented here on my blog. This has been my online journal, and I’d sure like to preserve it in some structured way. Thus, the idea of a “blog to book”. What a great concept. The first time I heard about this possibility was several years ago, and since then, there are now numerous platforms to choose from to do just that … turn my blog posts into physical books … books that are intended for my purposes only.

Cringe worthy writing!

I love the idea of creating a hard copy of select blog posts that I’ve written. BUT have you ever gone back and reread some of your original posts? Eek! I don’t know about you, but mine make me cringe. I mean, I literally want to hang my head in my hands in an embarrassing kind of cringe. However, if I look on the bright side, over the years my writing and my photographs have improved… at least I hope. I guess that would be known as progress. I’ll take it!

As much as my early posts make me cringe, I’m still very glad I jumped in and just wrote. My original intent, which continues to this day, is to write as I speak … minus my Chicago accent.😆 I want my blog posts to sound as if you and I are having a cup of coffee, or happy hour cocktail, together. My goal has always been to sound casual and inviting but without grammatical mistakes. Thank goodness for Grammarly. Where were you when I started this blog?

With that said, I’m not comfortable archiving many of my posts into a book format. Ah, what’s a gal to do?

My solution!

Since Al and I aren’t traveling like we used to and with this virus still hanging around, I find myself at a loss of blog material, a loss of inspiration, and at a loss of what to write about. Thus, I have decided to repurpose AND rewrite older blog posts, posts about our earlier travels with the RV. I also plan to add some new content to these tales … personal content and memories that I’d like to pass down to the next generation. After all, the whole point of turning my blog posts into a book is for the preservation of our travel memories … our life in an RV.

Hopefully, my images and writing will be somewhat less cringe-worthy and acceptable … acceptable to the level that I’ll feel comfortable turning those pages into a physical book; a book that will only be found on my shelf. Notice, I didn’t use the word professional. Yeah, I’m a realist and have no inclination to try and write professionally. Even my rewrites will still contain enough faux pas for an English teacher to have plenty to redline, and I’m ok with that.

So that’s my blog writing plan for the new year … to take you back in time and relive some of our travel tales and adventures. I hope you’ll stick around as I go down memory lane.

A Visit to Scottsdale

A Visit to Scottsdale

We were off to an early start. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I was on a mission. I was in desperate need of blog material and photogenic subjects. I needed some inspiration and knew Scottsdale, Arizona, was just the place to visit.

sunrise in the desert southwest
We’re off to an early start! Sunrise in the desert southwest.

I enlisted the company of my daughter and husband. Although I’ll admit, neither were particularly eager to join me on my photographic outing. I remember there being some eye rolls and me being the subject of their amusement, but when I bribed them with mouth-watering treats found at the Scottsdale farmers market, they quickly jumped on board …. and they didn’t even complain when I told them I wanted an early start to the day …. much to my surprise, I might add. (This walk was taken 11/2018 when life was normal ).

(To enlarge photos in a gallery, simple click on any image. To return to the post, click on the x found at the top right corner)

After we were fueled with coffee and filled with sustenance purchased from local vendors at the farmers market, I consulted my little map of downtown Scottsdale. We would be going on a walking tour visiting seven of Scottsdale’s most beloved public art sculptures.

Sculptures in Historic Old Town Scottsdale

It’s impossible to visit Old Town Scottsdale and not walk by our first sculpture on the tour; The Yearlings by George-Ann Tognoni. This is a monument to wild horses and depicts three bronze yearlings galloping in full stride.

The Yearlings Scottsdale Arizona
The Yearlings sculpture

This sculpture serves as a backdrop to family photo shoots and is especially popular during the holiday season when the sleigh and Christmas tree are set up.

Another popular photo shoot spot is at the LOVE sculpture. LOVE by Robert Indiana was conceived when the United States was involved with the Vietnam War and became a symbol for peace. This famous sculpture is one of the most celebrated works within the pop art movement.

Love sculpture in Scottsdale Arizona
The Scottsdale “LOVE” sculpture sitting at a temporary site near the library.

Robert Indiana created the first version of LOVE with stacked capital letters for a personal Christmas card designed for friends in 1964. In 1965, the Museum of Modern Art selected Indiana’s LOVE design for its official Christmas card.

The original sculptural rendition of LOVE was fabricated from Cor-ten steel in 1970. It can be seen at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Dozens of other LOVE sculptures are now on display around the world.

Scottsdale LOVE sculpture
Al and me at the Scottsdale LOVE sculpture 12/17

Our walk takes us into Scottsdale’s Art District

With two sculptures checked off the list, we continued our walking tour which found us venturing into Scottsdale’s Art District. The Jack Knife sculpture serves as the center of attention for the art district and sits in the middle of the road.

Jack Knife by Ed Mell is a giant bronze sculpture of a cowboy on a bucking bronco giving a nod to Scottsdale’s Western heritage and the city’s official seal.

On to the Fifth Avenue Shopping District

Who knew Scottsdale had a “Fifth Avenue” shopping district! Now for those of us that have actually shopped at the real 5th Avenue …. as in New York City’s Fifth Avenue, this Fifth Avenue is quite a bit different, but still fun. It’s kitschy, small, and is a long-time favorite with tourists boasting dozens of unique shops, award-winning restaurants, and the famous Bronze Horse Fountain.

The Bronze Horse Fountain was created by Bob Parks, who owned an art gallery in town. This piece showcases the beauty of five Arabian horses as they play in the fountain. I love how they were decorated for the holiday season with wreaths.

Bronze Horse Fountain Scottsdale Arizona
Bronze Horse Fountain

The Scottsdale Water District

We continued our trek. Not far from the Bronze Horse Fountain, we rounded a corner and walked up some stairs. We found ourselves along the Arizona Canal and noticed the bronze sculpture on the other side of a bridge.

Colorado Artist Herb Mignery is a noted western artist and sculptor. He gained early recognition for his classic and humorous western cartoons and rose to fame when he started sculpting scenes from his early Nebraska farm and ranch days.

In Passing the Legacy, a vintage 1860s horse and rider represent the original Pony Express. The lead rider reaches back to grasp the passing legacy, ready to plunge forward into a new era. It took twelve months for the artist and fabricators to refine and create the life-and-a-quarter size bronze monument, which is 20’ long.

Scottsdale Arizona Canal

As we continued our walking tour along the canal and amongst a beautiful park setting, we took great pleasure in the wonderful winter weather that Phoenix is known for.

Water is a precious commodity in a desert and controlling flood water is crucial, especially in a high density urban environment. Phoenix and her surrounding suburbs do a great job in beautifying these man-made waterways. More efforts are ongoing toward waterside recreation and beautification along these canals.

This Scottsdale section of the Arizona Canal is particularly attractive and popular with cyclists and pedestrians alike. Lighted art over and in the water are changed up regularly and the picturesque park setting serves as a great spot for festivals.

The Soleri Bridge & Plaza was designed by the late Italian architect Paolo Soleri. The bridge was designed to demonstrate the importance of solar movement.

The bridge is anchored by two 64-foot pylons and is twenty-seven feet wide on the south side narrowing to eighteen feet on the north.  Situated at a true north axis, the bridge is intended to mark solar events produced by the sun’s shadow.  The six-inch gap between both sets of pylons allows the sun to create a shaft of light as the earth moves.

Most Entertaining Sculpture

The Doors by Donald Lipski is an interesting and entertaining work of art. The structure consists of three 28 foot tall doors that lean against one another on an angle. They are made of Brazilian hardwood, mirror polished stainless steel, and thousands of hand forged steel rivets and strapping.

The Doors sculpture in Scottsdale Arizona
Approaching the “Doors” sculpture in Scottsdale, AZ

When we stepped in between the doors, we were met with a kaleidoscope effect that shines from sunlight during the day and LED lights at night. We were entertained by multiple reflections of ourselves. The experience is enhanced with sound … various sounds of bells, chimes, swooshing, and flute can be heard in and around the sculpture.

A kaleidoscope self-portrait visiting The Doors in Scottsdale Arizona
A self-portrait inside the “The Doors” – a kaleidoscope

I’d have to say, we found this sculpture rather entertaining and found ourselves lingering in and around it. I’d love to go back at night to see what it looks like all lit up from the LED lights.

End of our walking Tour of Scottsdale

Our Scottsdale walking tour visiting the most popular art sculptures in the area took us less than 2 hours full-circle and accounts for all the photo-op stopping and playing around that we did. The sculptures gave us purpose to meander down streets that we had never ventured down before. What a fun and special excuse to explore this entertaining desert southwest city!

This leisurely city walk allowed us the opportunity to see interesting sights and take note of eating establishments for future visits. There’s no shortage of fantastic eateries in Scottsdale. The biggest problem is deciding where to eat when given so many choices.

Okay … time to plan our next adventure!

Additional Scottsdale Information

For more information and downloadable maps – click here.

Being Too Busy

Being Too Busy

Although I’m still dreaming about vibrant fall colors, Al and I have been back in the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix, Arizona) for a little over a month now. I can’t figure out where the time has gone. Well actually, I do know … our days have been filled with predominantly obligations sprinkled in with a little fun here and there. I wish it were the other way around. You know, more fun and fewer obligations. Ah, such is life!

Both trucks have been in the shop for routine maintenance and then some. My little red Toyota Tacoma was in storage all summer. So basically, all she needed was an oil change and tire rotation along with a good cleaning. The Ford, on the other hand, needed a little more attention, especially after a 6,000-mile workout. (1,900 miles each direction and then all my exploring in Wisconsin and Minnesota.)

Truck trouble!

We are so grateful and lucky that our F-250 held up on our 1,900-mile journey back to Phoenix, Arizona. After a wonderful summer and fall spent in northern Wisconsin, we made it all the way to Arizona before encountering a problem. Once in Arizona, during the ever-changing terrain on Interstate 17 between Flagstaff and Phoenix, the truck came very close to overheating and not making it at the steepest grade just south of Camp Verde. According to our Mountain Directory (a must-have), the grade is about 6%, but anyone who drives this stretch of road regularly will tell you it feels much greater.

Turns out, the F-250 water pump was leaking and probably had this slow leak all summer long. Thus, the engine had trouble cooling, especially pulling the hills with the RV. Considering we were in mostly flat country all summer long with moderate temperatures and not pulling the RV regularly, we never noticed a problem with the truck until we hit Arizona and the ever-changing elevation. Whew! We dodged a close call of getting stuck on the side of the road.

All he needs now is a little exterior TLC, aka wash, wax, and vacuum. The Ford is almost ready for his next trip and is running like a champ and easily passed the Maricopa County (Phoenix) emission test … keeping the air clean – our truck is registered here since this is our legal domicile.

Our overnight stop just north of Des Moines, Iowa
Spent the night in a Cabela’s parking lot. Almost ready to hit the road as the sun was rising.

More appointments!

Along with tending to vehicle appointments, there have been Doctor, Dentist, and Vision appointments. Drilling, poking, prodding, x-rays, tests, scans, and follow-up visits have ensued. Al’s mouth and body are good to go for another year and I’m getting closer. Geez … this getting old stuff ain’t for sissies.🤣

Oh and I can’t forget to add in the water leak and a few other attention grabbing tidbits on the RV. So much for me and my remodeling ideas. That will be taking a backseat for a while, much to Al’s delight and my disappointment.

Family fun!

At least we’ve been able to add in a few fun family visits on a small scale. A Thanksgiving get together this Thursday is still up in the air. The eight of us are all trying to be Covid cautious. Thus, we’ll all check with one another at the last minute, and then if we do get together, we’ll probably eat outside. Fortunately, the weather in Phoenix, Arizona has been beautiful. Perhaps even a tad too warm with record highs being broken. It has been a hot year around here, and I’m glad Al and I were in northern Wisconsin for the worst of the heat.

wild turkey crossing the road
Why did the turkey cross the road? To get to the other side! Wild turkeys in Wisconsin. I found myself needing to stop regularly so I wouldn’t hit one.
turkey's crossing the road
Wild turkeys crossing the road. Dinner, anyone? Run, turkey, run!

Along with getting together with family back here in Arizona, we’re enjoying reconnecting with our RV Park friends (on a limited and socially distanced scenario, of course). We’ve chosen not to engage in any of the park’s social functions even though they are trying to do their best with Covid guidelines. I’ve dealt with my fair share of illnesses the past several years (including flu, Valley Fever, and mononucleosis), so I’d really prefer to avoid this nasty virus.

My to-do list seems to be growing instead of dwindling. I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say, I’d really prefer being less busy. I guess you could say, I’ve been a little too busy lately and am looking forward to life slowing down soon. Ah, but with the holiday season in full swing, I don’t think that’ll happen anytime soon. On that note, excuse me if I’m a little less active here in the blogosphere. Life!

What a change from my relaxing summer. Calgon, take me away!

Photo Challenges:

As I was putting this post together, I couldn’t help but think about the differences between our summer home and winter home and it’s not just the drastic contrast between the two landscapes. It’s about our mindset. When we visit family property in northern Wisconsin, we’re more in vacation mode and tend to think less of life’s responsibilities, unless we’re talking about an RV tank leak, then it’s all business, in more ways than one 🤣

When we return to AZ, it’s like returning home after being on vacation. It’s time to think about responsibilities and get back to being an adult. Phoenix is our home base where we have an annual RV site. It’s our place of residence and the place we spend the most amount of time. So I guess it’s safe to say, Phoenix, Arizona is our main home, and Hayward, Wisconsin is our second home.

I’m so incredibly thankful to still be able to travel via our RV and enjoy two such beautiful worlds while spending time with people we love in both places. With that said, enjoy a few images showcasing how different our two homes are.

Sunday Stills: Terri’s theme this week is Thankful. Amy’s theme: Lens-Artist photo challenge #124: Now and Then.

Then: northern Wisconsin.

Early summer morning at the lake in WI
A crisp fall morning at the lake .
Lush vegetation abounds in the northern Midwest.

Now: Phoenix, Arizona

Lake Pleasant
Sunset over Lake Pleasant, Phoenix Arizona
Hiking in the desert
Golf anyone? Quintaro Golf Course.

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