Insane Drivers & Road Trip Cost

Insane Drivers & Road Trip Cost

I wish I could say Al and I knew exactly what we were doing when we decided to drive 1,900 miles (3,058km) in four days, but I’d be lying. That was clearly some insane amount of driving and we’ve already promised each other never to push like that again. There was, however, a method to our madness!

Even though those four days weren’t consecutive, they were still exhausting. At the end of day three, we arrived at a beautiful CORP of Engineers campground just north of Des Moines, Iowa, and ended up sitting for two days waiting out some very nasty weather. I still don’t know how we managed to get so lucky snagging such an amazing campsite without a reservation. All I can say is the travel Gods smiled upon us and this turned out to be the perfect place to rest and wait out the weather.

Prairie Flower Campground, Iowa

Our reasoning for the insane driving was the weather. Tropical Storm Cristobal was hitting the Gulf Coast and edges of the leading winds from that storm could be felt across the Midwest. We endured some challenging crosswinds while driving east through Kansas as the winds were blowing up from the south. Once we turned north in Kansas City, we enjoyed a nice tailwind and brief respite from the negative winds.

It’s very unsettling to see semi’s turned on their sides from high winds. During our trip, we saw two overturned semi’s and witnessed numerous others swaying from the wind gusts and trying to stay in their lanes. Fortunately, our RV handles rather well in the wind. However, with that said, we do our best not to test Mother Nature which is why we planned to wait out the worst of the storm at a campground in Iowa.

Our crazy schedule

We departed Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday, June 6th, and by 5:45 in the morning, we were rolling north on Interstate 17. It was already 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21c) and would rise to over 100 degrees F (37c) in just a few short hours. Considering we had some serious elevation to climb (5,000 feet within a two-hour drive), we wanted to make that climb during the coolest part of the day. Over the years, we’ve seen one too many RVs / trucks stuck on the side of the interstate due to overheating. Plus, we know never to run the A/C as we make that climb while pulling the RV. So hitting the road early in the day at this time of year was paramount.

Travel Day 1

Phoenix, Arizona to Tucumcari, New Mexico = 615 miles / 12 hour day
Lodging/camping = Elks Lodge $20 for electric hookup (Elks members only)

Travel Day 2

Tucumcari, New Mexico to Newton, Kansas = 491 miles / 10 hour day.
Lodging/camping = Harvey County East Park $20 for electric hookup.

Harvey County East Park, Newton, Kansas (just north of Wichita)

This was a great little find. It’s about 7 miles east of Interstate 135 and north of Wichita, Kansas. Harvey County East Park appears to be an extremely popular place on weekends with anglers and boaters. We arrived around 4:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday as campers were clearing out. Check out time was 3:00, but folks didn’t appear to be in any hurry to leave. We snagged a nice long site so we wouldn’t have to disconnect, but the majority of sites appeared to be geared toward smaller RVs.

Travel Day 3

Newton, Kansas to Saylorville Lake, Iowa located just north of Des Moines and west of Interstate 35 = 398 miles / 8 hour day. Lodging/camping = Prairie Flower Campground $22 a night – half off with the National Park Senior Pass. Thus, we paid $11 a night and stayed 3 nights for a total lodging cost of $33. Our site had electric hookup only and was plenty long for us to stay connected.

Saylorville Lake, Polk City, Iowa

Our two-day break here was planned due to impending weather. Al and I are originally from the Midwest and are all too familiar with the possibilities of tornados in this part of the country. Therefore, we kept a close eye on the weather radar via my phone app. Much to our surprise, it wasn’t tornado activity we had to worry about but rather a tropical storm. Yep, remnants of a tropical storm had made its way into America’s heartland. As Tropical Storm Cristobal made its way inland, it brought sustained winds of 20-35 miles per hour with gusts much higher along with heavy rain … conditions we certainly didn’t intend to drive through. Nope, we would wait it out and return to the road during fair weather once the storm passed.

We enjoyed traveling the 2 lane roads through the Midwest. Windshield shot.

Travel Day 4

Saylorville Lake, Iowa to Al’s sister’s house located about 30 minutes outside of Hayward, Wisconsin = 390 miles / 8 hour day. We arrived in Hayward on Thursday, June 11th. Lodging/camping for the summer $0 in exchange for kitchen and bartender duty 🥧🍹 😎. Sounds like a fair trade to me especially since it’s lakefront property with a pontoon boat at our disposal 💃. We are happy campers, indeed!

How much did this road trip cost?

We drove 1,894 miles and consumed 214 gallons of diesel fuel at a total cost of $491. The most we paid for diesel was in Holbrook, AZ at $2.69 a gallon and the least was in Bethany, MO at $1.75 a gallon. Seriously, a $1.75 a gallon … how awesome was that! The average price was $2.29 a gallon.

Diesel fuel          $491
Campgrounds        73
Meals eaten out      0
Grand total         $564 for six days of travel and almost 1,900 miles

Total hours on the road = 38 hours which does include quick stops for gas. Only once did we sit at our RV dinette for lunch. The rest of the time, we ate while driving. So the breaks were short with our focus kept on outrunning the weather. In order for us to drive those long distances with an RV in tow and maintain our sanity was for Al and me to split the driving. Some days, Al drove more miles while other days I did more driving. It all depended on how rested we each felt. Safety always comes first!

Settling in!

We’ve been settled in at our summer location for a little over a week now, and are finally starting to feel recovered from the long drive. Al has been able to get in some fishing while I’ve been able to get in some photography. And although we intend to get in lots of playing this summer, there will also be a fair amount of work on the RV that we’ll need to tackle. Some projects will be a bit more serious than others. Ah, such is life!

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How to Stay Healthy and Energetic when Traveling

How to Stay Healthy and Energetic when Traveling

Traveling full-time, part-time, or some-time can be exhilarating but at the same time exhausting. Finding a travel style and pace takes time and practice and will most likely change as you and your desires change.

Long before Al and I bought an RV, we usually traveled by air to our destination, and on occasion, we tent camped. Even when we were younger, whether we were flying or road-tripping, finding a pace that wouldn’t wear us out was always a priority. After all, the whole purpose of traveling was for us to explore and immerse ourselves in new places and that would require good health and plenty of energy. Most times, this was easier said than done!

For the better part of a month, I’ve battled a nasty cold that has kept me housebound, or rather RV bound. All that downtime had my mind wandering aimlessly. I was focused on feeling better. I was reminded of how important it is for us to listen to our bodies. During my illness, my body seemed to crave soup and vegetables. And of course, being the smart gal that I am, I listened to my body and fed it what it wanted.

Japanese Garden

So while downing gallons of warm nourishing soup, (okay, maybe it wasn’t gallons, but I bet it was close 😆) my mind drifted to places I’d like to visit and photograph. My poor camera has been sitting idle in the camera bag for weeks, and that does not make for a happy camper around this RV. Although I’m finally beginning to feel better, I’m still struggling with a lack of energy. Even with an addled mind and lack of energy, I’m still fantasizing about RV adventures.

Energy? … During our travels (and we’ve traveled a lot), Al and I have learned plenty of lessons the hard way … including the importance of food, rest, and listening to our bodies. By fueling ourselves properly and getting a good night’s sleep, we can put in ten-hour driving days. Now mind you, that’s not preferable but sometimes necessary.

Pinterest pin, tips to stay healthy and energetic when travelingI think we’ve all experienced those long road trips … grab some junk food, wash it down with some carbonated soda, and call it good. And an hour later, we’re either ready for a nap or just not feeling well, and we certainly aren’t enjoying the adventure of rolling down the road when we feel less than optimal.

Our bodies are constantly sending us messages in an attempt to find a happy balance. Are we smart enough to listen? I truly believe, the best thing for overall health is to learn what our bodies are telling us. Therefore, we can make better decisions that’ll help keep us healthy, energized, focused, and ready to discover what’s around the next bend.

When we feel great, we can immerse ourselves whole-heartedly in exploring new places, new environments, and new adventures.

And get that camera clicking again!

7 Tips for health and energy when traveling

1. Eating for fuel. Just like we try to put quality gasoline in our vehicle so it’ll perform optimally, we need to do the same for our bodies. This means being aware of what our body needs and eating when we’re hungry and stopping when we’re full.

Step away from the potato chips and no one will get hurt. Mindless snacking while sitting in a car or airplane due to boredom doesn’t do anyone any favors. That’s not to say, the occasional snack needs to be avoided, but in moderation and only after the body has been properly nourished.

When I know we’re getting ready for a stretch of long travel days, I meal plan ahead of time. Obviously, one of the best things about RVing is bringing my kitchen along. I’m able to keep items easily chilled and when it’s time to eat, all we have to do is find a convenient place to pull over. Badda bing Badda boom, lunch is served!

Bruschetta
Bruschetta board at Postino’s in Scottsdale, AZ. Great place for Happy Hour or Sunday Brunch. Smoked Salmon and Pesto – Ricotta, Dates, and Pistachios – Brie, Apple, and Fig Spread – Proscuitto, Fig, and Mascarpone.

2. Hydration is probably the most important thing we can do to maintain our health and energy, and not just while traveling, but every day. If you’re feeling tired, drink a tall glass of water. If you’re feeling hungry, drink a tall glass of water. If you’re having trouble focusing, drink a tall glass of water. I think you get the idea!

Paying attention to our water intake is even more important when visiting higher elevations or dry arid climates. If you once start feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated and probably feeling somewhat fatigued. Water is the only nutrient that has been shown to enhance performance for all activities including the most demanding endurance activities. So drink up!

I'm a Pilot coffee mug

3. Getting a good night’s sleep is vital to maintaining health and energy throughout the day. I think many of us may underestimate the effect disrupted or shortened sleep can have on our overall well-being.

Things to consider … avoid exposure to bright screens like phones, computers, or tablets right before going to bed. Studies have shown, the light from these devices interferes with our natural body clock making it more difficult to fall asleep. And speaking of body clock, try to stick to a routine. Al and I go to bed almost every night around 10:00 and get out of bed every morning around 6:00 making for a solid eight hours of sleep.

Avoid caffeine after a given time of day. This is where listening to our body comes into play again. Personally, I stay away from anything caffeinated much after 3:00 in the afternoon. Most people aren’t quite as sensitive as I am, but this is something to take note of and be aware of the effects of caffeine on you personally.

4. Move! Last summer while enduring some very long driving days as we transitioned from northern Wisconsin to Phoenix, Arizona, Al and I frequently stopped at rest areas to stretch our legs. Energy begets energy! If you’ve been sitting for hours on end in a car, RV, or airplane, simply standing up and doing some squats or getting in some walking will immediately get the blood flowing and make you feel more energized.

Don’t forget to get in some deep breathing while you’re at it.

5. Laugh! Al and I are the kind of people that seem to find humor in most situations. We don’t take life or ourselves too seriously. Studies have shown that laughing can boost energy and be a stress reliever. So, while you’re sitting on the side of the road in a broken-down RV waiting for assistance (if you can even get assistance), pull up YouTube on your phone and watch some silly videos. Laugh! Life is too short not to.😁

Or if you’re like us and tend to break down in places without cell service (no internet), then all you can do is laugh at the situation, or make fun of your partner. We’ve been traveling in our RV since 2011 and have made a ton of RVing mistakes. At the beginning of our RV journey, these mishaps and mistakes would overwhelm and stress us and now we just shrug, tackle, and laugh.

Our favorite word to say after an incident is “recalculating“. Not only do we need to reaccess our schedule, but we need to be honest about how we’re feeling. Once again, we listen to our bodies! We may change the pace, grab a healthy snack, hydrate with water, coffee, or tea, or better yet, eat chocolate. Oh yeah, my fave!

6. When all else fails, eat chocolate. Chocolate makes everything better! Chocolate has caffeine which is a quick pick-me-up, and it also has flavonoids that have been shown to boost cognitive skills and improve mood. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m all in for improving my mood and functioning brain. So, we always have a stash of chocolate in the RV.

By the way, I’ll take one for the team, and eat your share of chocolate if cocoa ain’t your thang!🤣

7. Listen to your body and do a mental check-in. We need to check-in with ourselves and travel companions regularly to access how we’re feeling. This is the perfect time to get real with what our bodies are telling us. And this holds true for our furry travel companions as well.

When we worked in the airline industry, we used to call it “get home-itis” (The determination of a pilot to reach a destination even when conditions for flying are dangerous). Don’t fall victim to “get there-itis“. When feeling tired, that’s not the time to ignore what your body is telling you and push through. This is when mistakes and accidents happen. Listen to your body! Be clear on how everyone is feeling and make simple changes as needed.

Pace yourself, drink water and eat more chocolate. If you’re not feeling your best and you’re driving, pull over … if you’re on a cruise, forgo that shore excursion … if you’re flying, take a nap. If you don’t feel well, do whatever is necessary to regain health and energy.

“The single biggest difference between people who get what they want and people who don’t is energy.”

By listening to our body, we can enjoy our travels while also benefiting from good health and plenty of energy. All it takes is a little inner reflection, planning, and flexibility.

Do you have any travel tips to help maintain health and energy?

old bicycle in a flower garden

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Vacation in October | Disney Celebration

I love my mother-daughter trips and who doesn’t love a trip to Disney? Earlier in the summer, my daughter and I discussed options for a vacation getaway to celebrate her milestone birthday in mid-October. Our starting point would be Phoenix, Arizona considering that’s where she lives and where Al and I spend our winters.

Disneyland Star Wars Galaxy's Edge the Millenium Falcon
Disneyland – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Phoenix, AZ is conveniently located

Our choices were many … from scenic tourist towns, to national parks, and everything in-between. Ashton and I always have a great time setting off on one of our adventures, and since this was her 30th birthday (Oh my gosh, when and how did that happen? Seriously, am I old enough to have a thirty-year-old daughter 😏), we definitely wanted to do something special and fun. One of our best vacation trips to date was our camping adventure to Zion National Park and we haven’t been able to top that trip … just yet anyway, but she and I still have a lot more traveling to do together.

After several lengthy discussions, Ashton finally decided she wanted to go to Disneyland in California to celebrate her birthday. 1. She wanted to visit it while it was all decked out in Halloween decor throughout the month of October, and 2. She wanted to visit Disney’s newest attraction; Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge.

Disneyland Star Wars Galaxy's Edge

What is Galaxy’s Edge all about?

This is an excerpt from the official Disneyland website …

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will feature 2 signature attractions—Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, opening January 2020.

At Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Guests will climb into the cockpit of “the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy” for their own Star Wars adventures.

disney play app at Star Wars Galaxy's Edge
Ashton had fun with the Disney Play App

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge takes Guests to the planet Batuu, a destination along the galaxy’s Outer Rim on the frontier of Wild Space. Batuu is home to Black Spire Outpost, an infamous port for smugglers, traders, and adventurers who wish to avoid any unnecessary entanglements with the First Order.

Soon after you arrive, the Play Disney Parks app will transform into your Star Wars: Datapad! From translating galactic languages and hacking into droids to unscrambling transmission and scanning objects for precious cargo, it’s an interactive adventure that will enhance your Star Wars story… and guide you deeper and deeper into this all-new land!

My daughter became very engaged with the Disney Play app, keeping us in Galaxy’s Edge longer than we intended. The app adds a whole new experience for guests that gamers will love. Me? I didn’t care about the app, but I loved being immersed in what felt like another country or another realm.

Millennium Falcon at Galaxy’s Edge

Anyone who enjoys gaming is going to absolutely love the Millennium Falcon ride. It’s an interactive motion machine ride on a smuggling mission. There are Six players per ship; 2 pilots, 2 gunners, 2 engineers. The pilot on the right is in charge of the booster and up and down movement of the Millennium Falcon. The pilot on the left is responsible for the left and right movement. Gunners shoot threats while the engineers pick up supplies. At the end of the mission, guests are given a score.

Ashton and I were pilots both times we rode the ride, and then she was an engineer when she rode again midday as a single rider. I’m not a gamer and thus didn’t perform my duties very well. I was the pilot on the left and responsible for the left and right actions. I also had to hit another button from time to time which I don’t remember what its purpose was. I do remember us crashing into a lot of things that didn’t bode well for us to collect points. (hangs head with embarrassment 😔)

According to my daughter, I repeatedly said, “Oh sh*t” … a lot. Oops, sorry to the mom and her ten-year-old boy playing engineers at the rear of the aircraft. The two gunners behind me (middle-aged guys) were laughing. I guess I was really engaged in the ride and my actions not only entertained my daughter but the other guests as well. Glad I could make Ashton laugh on her birthday! Did I already mention, gaming is not my thang?

Disneyland Millennium Falcon Star Wars Galaxy's Edge

Tips: We rode Millennium Falcon first thing in the morning and again later that night, right before fireworks, and stood in line less than 30 minutes each time. During the middle of the day, lines were as long as 2 hours. During that time, my daughter stood in the line for a ‘single’ player and again waited less than 30 minutes. For those wanting to bypass the long lines, think about riding as a ‘single-player’, BUT do note, you will NOT be riding with your friends. Since each ride requires 6 guests, for those odd-numbered parties, individuals are then pulled from the ‘single guest line’ to fill the aircraft.

Build your own Lightsaber or Droid

Got any extra money burning a hole in your pocket? Think about building your own Lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop or a less expensive option would be building your own astromech droid unit at the Droid Depot. We all need those useful items around our homes, don’t we? Since Ashton and I didn’t have any extra dollars to spend or the extra space to store those items, we took a pass on building a Lightsaber or Droid and opted to purchase a few T-shirts and Mickey Mouse ears instead … ya know, useful stuff! Mickey Mouse ears with Maleficent horns anyone?

Chewbacca at Disneyland

My daughter and I had a wonderful time hanging around Galaxy’s Edge. In true Disney fashion, you are transported to another realm … another land. The architecture and details are amazing and every cast member, including the cleaning crew and shop cashiers, remained “in character”.

Worth noting: Galaxy’s Edge has an actual water bottle filling station which was very convenient but also entertaining. We loved filling our water bottles here.

If you decide to interact with the Play Disney app, I highly recommend you bring along an external battery to charge your phone because the play app will use up a lot of battery power and finding an outlet in the park is not easy. If you do find an outlet, it’ll already be in use. The so-called ‘charging station’ noted on the Disney map is actually a vending machine with an external power battery for $30.

shopping in Disneyland
Of course, we had to do a little shopping.

Disney in October

Moving onto the rest of Disneyland, my daughter fell in love with the decor. She loves Halloween and considering her birthday is in October, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. I have to agree, Disneyland was rather festive decked out with pumpkins and non-gory Halloween decorations. I’m not a fan of the gory Halloween stuff, so this was right up my alley. After all, what’s not to love about Disney characters carved out of pumpkins? (Or rather, simulated pumpkins 😏)

 

Disney California Adventures

On day two of our mother-daughter weekend vacation getaway, we visited Disney’s California Adventures. This was my first time ever visiting Disneyland in California. I’ve always gone to Disney World in Florida. I would compare CA Adventures to Disney World’s MGM Studio’s. We spent an entire day in the park, but depending on crowds, I’d say a full day in this park probably isn’t necessary.

Mexican Hat
Mexican Hat

The thing that I enjoyed the most about this park was the landscapes that Disney replicated. Around every corner, I immediately knew the actual location that California Adventures was emulating. Been there, done that, and even bought the T-shirt! (Y’all know, I struggle with a T-shirt addiction 🤗). It reiterated to me, how fortunate Al and I are to have visited so many beautiful places over these past seven years of RVing.

Once again, Disney does not disappoint when it comes to the details. I have so much respect and admiration for all the folks working behind the scenes at Disney … from the creative vision to the impeccable craftsmanship … you really do feel transported. And the cast members working with the public day in and day out are incredible people. Not one employee throughout our whole Disney vacation seemed like they were having a bad day. Whatever they get paid, it’s not enough. Truly talented and amazing people!

Favorite rides

  • eating a large chocolate chip cookie at CA adventuresMillennium Falcon – Galaxy’s Edge. Note – Star Tours in Tomorrowland is somewhat similar but not interactive.
  • Splash Mountain – Critter Country. Always entertaining and scream-worthy at the end.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – OK, who doesn’t love this ride?
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Matterhorn Bobsleds– I’ve always loved roller-coasters, but as I’ve gotten older, they don’t seem to agree with me like they used to. I still enjoyed Big Thunder and Matterhorn but Space Mountain made me dizzy. Ashton loved all three coasters, but the Incredicoaster made her a little dizzy… I took a pass on that one!
  • Radiator Springs Racers – CA Adventures Cars Land. Of course, we loved riding in a sports car and then racing against another sports car among the scenic red rocks of the desert southwest. What’s not to like?
  • Soarin’ Around the World– CA Adventures Grizzly Peak. This was my favorite ride of the weekend. This ride simulates an airborne hang-gliding flight over the wonders of the world. You’ll fly over polar bears in icy Greenland, swoop past sailboats on Australia’s Sydney Harbour, weave between elephants marching toward Mount Kilimanjaro, and more. The additions of wind and various scents wafting in the air like grasses and jasmine make this ride a unique experience.
  • Grizzly River Run – CA Adventures. I really enjoyed this part of the park and how it emulated Yellowstone National Park. We didn’t actually ride this attraction due to not wanting to get wet, but Ashton has ridden it in the past and loved it. I enjoyed watching the ride and next time I’ll bring a rain poncho and give it a go.
Grizzly River Run Disneyland California
Grizzly River Run

Where and what we ate while on our Disney vacation?

First off, we each brought a small lightweight daypack filled with our water bottles and snacks so we could keep the dining out to a minimum. I highly recommend doing this considering food and drinks can get rather expensive throughout the parks.

  • tips for a holiday visit to Disneyland what to eat and where to stayDowntown Disney – Tortilla Jo’s. We enjoyed a couple of margarita’s and an order of Fajitas once we arrived in Anaheim after the long drive from Phoenix. The food and drinks were average.
  • Disneyland – Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland. The specialty burger was excellent, but the fried chicken sandwich was just ok.
  • CA Adventures – Lucky Fortune Cookery; For lunch, I ordered the Szechuan Chicken and my daughter ordered the Beef Bulgogi Wrap. Both our meals were excellent and we would definitely eat here again.
  • But our favorite meal of the whole trip was from the Boudin Bakery. Their Clam Chowder Soup in a sourdough bread bowl was amazing! Although this dairy-free gal could only sample a small amount from my daughter’s bowl, she and I agreed it was some of the best clam chowder we’ve ever tasted, and of course, the bread was excellent. You can even tour the bakery and learn all about San Francisco sourdough bread while you’re there.
  • Treats; Sprinkle’s cupcake, large chocolate chip cookie, and Cake Pops were all just ok, BUT the absolute best thing was the nondairy lemon soft-serve in a cup from the Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats. Seriously, don’t pass this up!

Where we stayed.

Since my daughter has visited Disneyland numerous times, she and her friends like to stay at the Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel. It’s close to the park, reasonably priced (most of the time), and offers a shuttle to and from Disney which is super convenient. We enjoyed our stay and it worked for our needs.

Celebrating a birthday at Disney's California Adventures

Conclusion:

Ashton and I had a fabulous mother-daughter October vacation weekend celebrating her milestone thirtieth birthday. Although I enjoyed visiting Disneyland in CA, I’ll admit, I’m still partial to Disney World in FL. With that said, when you look at the distance and the convenience for us to be able to drive to Disneyland from Phoenix in less than six hours versus the distance and cost for us to get to Orlando, I have a feeling a repeat visit to Disneyland won’t be too far in our future.

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Top 5 Colorado Mountain Towns

Have you ever looked at a map and been so curious about a road or town that you just had to hop in the car and explore?  Well, that seems to happen to me a lot. First off, I love maps and have had an interest in geography as long as I can remember.  I’m always wondering what’s around the next bend in the road.

This summer we’ll be traveling to some familiar and some unfamiliar territory. As much as I love exploring new places, I equally enjoy returning to some old favorites. During the process of planning out our route and schedule for our summer excursion, I found my mind wandering …. squirrel. 😆

Columbine, Colorado, Colorado's State Flower, #columbine, #coloradostateflower
Colorado’s state flower – columbine

Hmm, where exactly did my mind wander off to? Colorado! Ah, the wonderful memories I have in that beautiful U.S. state. After all, Al and I called Colorado home for over twenty years and agree it was a great place to raise our children. These days, Arizona feels more like home to us, but a part of our hearts will always remain in Colorado.

So, while scouring the map, I was met with a flood of fond memories. Could I pick a favorite Colorado mountain town?  Could I pick a favorite scenic Colorado drive?  Absolutely NOT!  I do however have some favorites. And those favorites on my list are mostly due to the memories that were created in those locations. Of course, there are so many more amazing places to visit in Colorado than what I’ve listed here, but that would take me days to share. So, let’s start with these five for now.

Top 5 Must-Visit Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-see Colorado Mountain Towns; towns that I have returned to time and again because they’re just that lovely.

When we lived in Colorado Springs, we would take our children up to either Summit County or Grand County for winter fun.

While the kids were enjoying the slopes, Al and I would either sit by a roaring fire in the lodge or stroll the shops in a quaint mountain town.  There’s no shortage of charm and character AND amazing views in Colorado.

I’m a bona fide flatlander and the thought of shooshing down a mountain slope with mini sleds strapped to my feet never did appeal to me. Once was enough for me! But my children grew up in Colorado, and therefore, they are avid snow skiers. However, snowshoeing, sledding, and snowmobiling were always a fun adventure that I never shied away from.

These days, Al and I save our visits to the high country for summer.  As a matter of fact, some of these mountain communities have become even more popular during the summer months than they are during winter.

Frisco, Colorado

Summit County includes the towns of Frisco, Breckenridge, Dillon, Keystone, Silverthorne and the village of Copper Mountain, and is located about a two-hour drive from Denver’s International Airport.  So it’s super easy to get to and the area offers plenty to see and do.

As much as I enjoy visiting Breckenridge and think that it too is a must-see, I personally prefer the quaint mountain town of Frisco.  Frisco is much more low-key and less touristy than Breckenridge.  Thus, Frisco is our first stop on my “top 5 favorite Colorado mountain towns” tour.

Frisco has a population of less than 3,000, sits at over 9,000 feet in elevation, and was incorporated in 1880 during the mining boom.  Today it’s a gateway to several major ski resorts.  Main Street offers plenty of unique shops, restaurants, and a historical park with a museum. During one of our RVing visits to the area a few years ago, Al and I discovered the Frisco Historic Park & Museum.  This is a free, self-guided museum preserving Frisco’s heritage.

Just down Main Street is a local coffee shop we enjoy. After purchasing a couple of Lattes, we strolled over to the museum. Al and I aren’t huge museum-goers, but we found this historical park to be quite entertaining and worth the stop. I was particularly entertained by the fashions on display as well as learning the importance of red lipstick during World War II … boosting courage.

During WWII, women showed their support by wearing red lipstick. Popularized by the movie industry, women demonstrated their patriotism by wearing makeup, especially the red lipstick.  While mascara and rouge were rationed, lipstick was kept in production because of its benificial effect on morale.

We spent a couple of hours exploring the grounds and the buildings at the museum.  Each building offered a little something different enlightening us on the town and its history over the past century. We found it to be a worthwhile stop, and we’ll probably return someday.

Dillon Reservoir, Colorado scenic drive, friendly chipmunk #chipmunks, #scenic view in Colorado, #Dillon, CO
The chipmunk checks my hand for a treat and is disappointed.

Scenic Road – Swan Mtn Road

Off Swan Mountain Road, between Breckenridge and Keystone, is a scenic overlook high above the Dillon Reservoir. The views from the Sapphire Point overlook are stunning. There’s a short loop trail that can be accessed from the parking lot. We hiked this trail in winter conditions several years ago and I remember the views being very nice.

Aside from the stunning views, there’s the entertainment from the chipmunks to consider. These little guys are used to folks bringing them sunflower seeds and aren’t shy about begging.

Lots to do and see

Rainbow Lake Trail, Frisco, Colorado, #hikingColorado, #hikeFrisco
Rainbow Lake Trail

As many times as we’ve visited Frisco, we always discover some new shop, a new restaurant, or a new hiking trail.  And the scenery never disappoints. During one of our visits, we attended a bi-plane air show which was so much fun to see.

Shopping is not a problem around Summit County. Between the towns of Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne, you’ll find several groceries stores, including a Whole Foods. There’s also a Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, sporting good stores, and even an Outlet Mall.

My favorite is a little shop strolling in Breckenridge. We always look forward to picking up a treat at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and perhaps purchasing a T-shirt (or two) from a local store. I wonder if Al has noticed that I’m encroaching on his half of the closet…. ssshhh, that’ll be our secret!

The dining options are endless. You’ll find everything from fast food places, to chain restaurants, to independent breweries, to fine dining, and everything in-between. Our biggest problem was always deciding where to eat because of all the choices.

Lodging: When we would visit the area during the winter, we usually stayed at one of the chain motels in Dillon like the Comfort Inn. There are so many lodging options through-out Summit County. You’ll find motel chains, ski-in-ski-out condos, high-end resorts, and private properties available. Yep, no shortage of lodging, but keep in mind premium pricing on weekends … all those Front Range dwellers like to head up to the high country on weekends.

Camping: Parts of Summit County are within the White River National Forest (Dillon Ranger District). There are five different campgrounds located around the Dillon Reservoir, as well as some dispersed camping further into the national forest. We never found any boondocking sites that we felt would comfortably accommodate our 31′ Fifth Wheel. Thus, we’ve always stuck with one of the campgrounds. With several campgrounds to choose from, we’ve never had a problem showing up without a reservation, but that’s for dry camping, no hookups, and no dump station on-site. Weekends might be a problem though without a reservation.

Heaton Bay Campground, Dillon, Colorado, #campinginBreckenridge, #DillonResevoir, #WhiteRiverNationalForest
We barely fit into this dry site at the Heaton Bay CG. We loved our views! I think this is site E76, but don’t quote me.

The Heaton Bay Campground does have one loop that has electric, it’s big rig friendly, and the most popular campground in the area. You’ll definitely need a reservation to stay here. The Lowry Campground, least popular and least desirable, also has some electric sites.

Campgrounds Peak One and Prospector are both large campgrounds with a mixture of sites (small, large, level, unlevel) and dry only. For those of you with big RV’s and setup with solar, you might want to consider the Pine Cove Campground. This is nothing more than a paved parking lot style of place, but it sits right along the shores of the Dillon Reservoir with spectacular views. Because the RV’s are parked so close together, generator use is frowned upon at Pine Cove CG.

Prospector Campground, view of Dillon Reservoir and mountains. White River National Forest camping, #campingnearDenver, #DillonResevoir, #Breckenridge
The view from a campsite at the Prospector Campground.

For those interested in full-hookups and/or doing a little bit of winter camping, Tiger Run Resort might be worth checking out. Just be forewarned, it is pricey, but then again, it’s located in Breckenridge where everything is pricey.

Next up

In next Sunday’s post, we’ll move up the road to Grand Lake, Colorado … the west-end gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Heaton Bay Campground, Camping along the shores of Dillon Reservoir, mountain reflections in the lake, #DillonRes, #campingLakeDillon
Camping at Heaton Bay Campground, Dillon, CO. Can you spot our RV nestled in the trees? Hint, we’re on the right.

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6 Benefits of Driving Yourself while Traveling

Driving can be one of the most exciting and easiest ways to get around when traveling. Whether I’m traveling with our RV in tow or my daughter and I are off on one of our infamous road trips in her car, driving gives me that sense of freedom I relish.

Even on trips overseas, I enjoy renting a car or even a bike. Although my favorite would be renting an RV or camper van … renting a camper van in New Zealand remains on my bucket list. That freedom to simply hit the open road and explore as much ground as possible is absolutely the best. Traveling on our own terms, our own schedule, and off the beaten path can be an amazing adventure.

RV traveling down the road with scenic Moab, Utah in the background

Personal time

First, traveling anywhere is all about us. Adventure awaits! After all, we’ve set aside time to travel and do things with family, friends, our partner, or even just our self and organizing flights with potential tight schedules can be stressful and can get in the way of all our fun.

Gal taking a photo of a zebraWhen driving ourselves, we get to make our own schedule and if we don’t want to keep to it, we don’t have to. During the process of us driving, if we discover a pristine beach or find that perfect mountain meadow and we want to stay a little longer, we can.

Let’s not forget about photographic opportunities and the freedom to stop, snap, and stay. It’s all solely based on ourselves and how we want to spend our day.

Ah, doesn’t that sound wonderful? Yep, I’m looking forward to our summer excursion!

Ultimate freedom

The number of new things we can discover when driving ourselves is pretty amazing. We’re more likely to go off the beaten path with the freedom we have traveling with our own transportation.

I’ve never been one to enjoy taking public transportation unless I have no other option, and the thought of making plans around an airline schedule no longer appeals to me. And this coming from a former Flight Attendant. These days, air travel is the last resort for me, but necessary at times, especially if I ever want to rent that camper van in New Zealand. Yeah, it would be a necessity to take that long flight from America to New Zealand to check that adventure off my bucket list.

But once I’m in my own transportation, I try to set aside time to explore something new each day to make the most of that sense of freedom.

Road tripping, gal hangs hand and arm out window causing a sense of freedom

Cost efficient

Let’s face it, road trips are usually more cost effective. Flying can be expensive, and taxis can cost a lot of money if we rely on them regularly while on vacation. Sure, sometimes we’re left with no option. Yeah, I don’t think there’s an easy way for me to get my RV to Hawaii (or New Zealand). So, flying it is, and then I’ll rent a car.

By renting my own transportation, I can explore on my terms, stop at a grocery store for healthy eating options, and save some money from having to go out to eat all the time, especially when traveling with a family of four.

One of my families most memorable trips was to Hawaii several years ago. My family still likes to tease me about our day excursion to the top of Haleakala, dormant volcano on the island of Maui. There was a thick layer of low-lying clouds along with a slight drizzle of rain, and I was convinced that if we drove to the top, we’d be above the clouds. Wrong! Once at the top, the thick layer of fog made it nearly impossible to see anything. After a few laughs, we headed back down the mountain. Near the base of the volcano, we noticed a newly opened zipline venue and quickly turned in.

I had packed a picnic lunch that day. The money we saved by not eating out or not booking a guided tour to Haleakala National Park, allowed us to go ziplining for the first time. It was so much fun and made for great family memories.

Transporting luggage

One of the biggest benefits of driving is packing. This is probably my favorite benefit to road tripping. I have the extra room to take a few more frivolous items … you know, like that cute pair of shoes that I may not even wear.

Luggage in an airport can be a nightmare not to mention the fear of it getting lost. Therefore, I’ve always been a ‘carry-on’ only kind of traveler. Even when I’ve traveled to Europe for a week, it was just with my carry-on. So, those cute shoes were always left behind, sigh.

RV traveling down a deserted road in Utah

Comfort

There’s no better feeling than being comfortable when traveling, and with your own mode of transportation, it’s so much easier. I think we’ve all been on a flight or bus with screaming kids. That’s the worst!

With our own vehicle, we don’t have to worry about sitting next to strangers and we can come and go as we please. Yep, that’s the ultimate comfort while traveling.

Chance to be spontaneous

I love the spontaneity and freedom of driving. Spontaneity is an amazing luxury that I don’t take for granted.  A random day trip, a detour along the way, or even just the decision to go somewhere different for happy hour is all at my fingertips when I have my own vehicle.

Final thoughts

Whenever and wherever I travel, I always keep safety in mind. It’s also important to understand the rules and laws of the states or countries we visit.

Did you know there’s a law in France for having an unused breathalyzer in your vehicle? I guess it’s still a controversial law, but even so, I found that tidbit of information interesting.

Here in the U.S., we need to think about laws regarding cell phone usage while driving. Every community, county, and state has its own laws about talking or texting while driving.

As my daughter and I do more research and brainstorming on potential travel locations for our next mother/daughter adventure, we’re finding a lot of useful information. 1Cover’s The Secret Traveler offers tips on how to stay safe while on the road along with other helpful information and travel ideas. Hmm, our travel list seems to be getting longer instead of shorter!

Research and knowledge are the best ways to plan for any travel journey. Happy road tripping!

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Uphill both Ways

Images of challenging hiking trails accompanied by beautiful scenery are most likely not the first thoughts that come to mind when envisioning city living, but Phoenix isn’t your typical city. Phoenix, Arizona, and her surrounding suburbs have done an amazing job with urban planning. There are parks everywhere … from small neighborhood playground type of parks to large picturesque, rural feeling parks complete with challenging hikes and even campgrounds.

Hiker on the trail at Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale AZ with wildflowers lining the trail

I’ve made it my mission to visit as many of these larger parks as possible. During each of our winter visits, I try and explore a new to me park. Although, I do have my favorites that I find myself returning to time and again making it difficult to check out the dozens of other amazing parks throughout the Phoenix valley. I’ve already mentioned how much I enjoy the Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park … a definite favorite, but I do have a couple more favs to share.

a red cardinal sitting on a cactus in Cave Creek, Arizona

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

I love hiking at Spur Cross Ranch so much so that I’ve introduced this park to a couple of blogging pals, as well as several local friends.

I never tire of the scenery. There’s something about the diverse eco-system found at this park that makes it incredibly special.

All the trails start off with the usual desert scenery, which in and of itself is stunning, but eventually, you’ll find yourself hiking among cottonwood trees and crossing streams, an unexpected surprise in such an arid desert climate.

There’s a wide range of trails to choose from making it perfect for every level of hiker. Our hike at Spur Cross with Liesbet and her husband turned into a longer hike than we originally intended, but with near perfect hiking weather, I believe we all enjoyed the three-hour six-mile hike.

We saw wildflowers, birds, folks riding horses, stood next to some of Arizona’s oldest living saguaros, crossed streams, and generally had a fun time.

two hikers among a forest of saguaros
Liesbet and me at Spur Cross Ranch

One word of caution about visiting Spur Cross Ranch …. flash flooding. Although the road to get to the trailhead is paved, the last couple of miles or so gets narrow and a little rough in spots. The biggest concern is during heavy rains, including rains from the night before. There’s a couple of low-lying places/washes that are known to flood making it impossible to cross the road until the water recedes. Normally those sections of road are bone dry.

flooding at Spur Cross Ranch, Cave Creek, AZEarlier in the year, I tried introducing a new neighbor at my RV park to Spur Cross Ranch, but our hike did not go as planned. Although we had no issue driving to the trailhead, we did have a problem on the trails.

The moment we started walking on the Dragonfly Trail, I could hear the rushing of water, a sound I hadn’t experienced before.

I knew the creek would be running fast but wasn’t prepared to see exactly how fast it was flowing. The nice little boardwalks that we normally use to cross the creek were washed away.

Hiking crossing a creek in Arizona
Blogging pal, Liesbet, having fun crossing the creek on the Dragonfly Trail. Look how gentle the creek looks here.
a flooded trail at Spur Cross Ranch, Cave Creek, AZ
There was no way Karen and I could continue the hike – trail flooded.
The water was flowing dangerous fast during my visit with Karen in mid-February.

One of Arizona's oldest living saguaro cactus

Unfortunately, my hike with Karen was short-lived due to trail flooding. I’m hoping Karen and I can try again next winter.

The upside to all this water results in a lush landscape. The saguaro cacti along the Metate Trail are said to be some of the oldest in the state of Arizona and have more arms growing than the usual saguaro. I’m guessing the healthy dossing of moisture they receive is due to their growth and longevity. Some of these cactus are supposedly over 200 years old.

Spur Cross Trail Map

Our three-hour hike with Liesbet and Mark started on the Dragonfly trail (DF). We then connected to the Spur Cross trail (SX) to the Metate Trail (MT) where we admired the huge saguaro cacti before returning to the parking lot. Great hike!

Pinnacle Peak Trail … uphill both ways

We’ve been visiting Phoenix, Arizona, regularly every since our son moved here nine years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that I discovered Pinnacle Peak Park. Sure, I’ve admired the peak off in the distance while driving the 101 freeway on the north side of Scottsdale but had not seen it up close until this past winter.

Pinnacle Peak trailhead in Scottsdale, AZ
The trailhead at Pinnacle Peak Park

The Pinnacle Peak Park in Scottsdale, Arizona, offers an amazing out and back hike. However, the trail does connect to other parks if you wanted to extend your hike. Personally, the 3.5 mile out and back uphill both way hike is enough of a butt burner for moi. It usually takes me about 2 hours to complete depending on how frequently I stop to catch my breath or take a photo. The wildflowers have been absolutely stunning lately requiring extra stopping!

wildflowers along the Pinnacle Peak trail in Scottsdale, Arizona
The trail is lined with wildflowers – stunning!

Pinnacle Peak is a super popular trail and the parking lot usually fills by 9:00 a.m. and then hikers start parking along the road. The only time I couldn’t find an open spot to park in the parking lot was during my recent hike with my daughter. We arrived before 9:00 on a Friday morning to a full parking lot. What I failed to take into consideration was spring break … families and kids everywhere. Somehow the crowd had very little impact on us. Perhaps it’s because the trail is wide enough to easily pass one another.

trail marker in Scottsdale, AZ
We made it to the end of the trail.

Also, most of the families turned around at the summit which was a smart move. The most challenging part of the hike is on the backside of the peak where the last quarter mile is rated strenuous. I can definitely attest to that!

uphill both ways

Once we arrived at the end of the trail and it was time to turn around, we noticed exactly how steep the trail back up was and tried to focus on the pretty wildflowers instead of our huffing and puffing. Okay, my huffing and puffing. Daughter is in a lot better shape than I am. Let’s stop and look at the pretty wildflowers was my excuse for needing a rest.

desert wildflowers
Let’s stop and smell the wildflowers!

Pinnacle Peak is another beautiful trail in the Phoenix valley not to be missed. For those not wanting to hike the most difficult part of the trail, my recommendation would be to hike to the “Owl’s Rest” viewpoint then turn around. You’ll still experience a little of that uphill both ways scenario but nothing as strenuous as it gets beyond that point.

Pinnacle Peak Trail Map Scottsdale Arizona

My daughter waiting for me on the trail.

Do these images look like we’re in a city?

If we look through the images on this post, do we feel a sense that we’re in a large city … the fifth largest city in the United States? Boasting an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, a boatload of nature, and all the happenings available in a large city, it’s no wonder tourism is huge business around here.

Scottsdale wildflowers

Rural parks, award-winning chefs, and tons of shopping … yep, go for a strenuous hike in the morning, be a shopaholic in the afternoon, and go out for fine dining in the evening. What more could a gal ask for? Hmm, maybe I need to start checking out some of that fine dining … ya know, purely for blogging purposes 😉

Pinnacle Peak Park, Scottsdale, Arizona
Pinnacle Peak Park
This image was taken from the Pinnacle Peak Trail, Scottsdale, AZ –  photograph was taken after a rare snowstorm in February.

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Visit Phoenix and Step Back in Time

Are you an adventurous traveler?  Are you looking for a scenic memorable day trip near Phoenix, Arizona?  Well, I’ve got just the day excursion for you.  Al and I first drove this 80 mile scenic loop several years ago and it still ranks as one of our top favorite day trips in Arizona.Salt River AZ

Arizona History

On the far southeast side of the greater Phoenix valley lies Arizona’s oldest highway. This former stagecoach trail which runs through the Superstition Mountains was Lost Dutchmanoriginally used by the Apache Indians, thus aptly named The Apache Trail.

The Apache Trail is officially known as State Route 88 and links the town of Apache Junction with Theodore Roosevelt Lake.

The trail was developed into more of a road in the 1930’s to support the development of dam’s along the Salt River, creating some beautiful lakes in the process.

There’s oodles of interesting sights and beautiful views along the way which necessitate lots of stopping.  Photo-op anyone?  Thus, the Apache Trail Circle Loop requires an entire day.  It’s also not for the faint of heart, which I’ll explain in a minute.

Be sure and pack a lunch, snacks, and plenty of water because you’ll be exploring some desert backcountry during this scenic day trip drive. It helps if you have a high-clearance vehicle, but we saw plenty of regular cars on the dirt portion of the road from Tortilla Flat to Roosevelt Lake. That doesn’t mean I’m saying a basic car is a good fit for the terrain. It means, I saw regular cars navigating without apparent issue.

My recommendation; be sure it didn’t rain the day before, take your time, watch for bumps, and be prepared for washboard road conditions. When in doubt, check with a Tonto National Forest Ranger for further clarification and up to date road conditions. 
Apache Trail

We’ll start our journey from the town of Apache Junction, Arizona, and head north on State Road 88, aka The Apache Trail.  Our first stop is the Superstition Mountain Museum.Superstition Mountain Museum

A picturesque museum

The Superstition Mountain Museum collects, preserves, and displays the artifacts, history, and folklore of the Superstition Mountains.  Even though we knew we had a long day in front of us, this picturesque museum is worthy of a photo-op and stroll around the historic buildings. We made a note to tour the museum another day.

Exploring a Ghost Town

Just a short drive north of the Superstition Mountain museum is our next stop; the Goldfield Ghost Town.  Goldfield was once a happening gold mining town back in the 1890’s. It’s now a popular tourist attraction which is rooted in Arizona history. It’s a fun and interesting stop. They still actually mine gold here, but that’s blocked from public view.  Guess they don’t want to share them there gold, huh!

Goldfield Ghost Town offers free parking and free walking around, but there is a fee for each attraction.  You can click on this link for more information on those attractions. We don’t usually do the tourist type of thing, so I can’t vouch for any of the paid attractions.

Superstition Mountains

The quaint little shops at the Goldfield Ghost Town offer unique trinkets specific to the area along with the typical tourist stuff … T-shirts, shot glasses, coffee mugs, postcards, etc.  The grounds are loaded with original mining equipment, and it’s obvious, these are the original buildings and have stood for a very long time.  As a matter of fact, during our visit, a museum building was closed while construction workers were busy shoring up a second floor balcony.

Goldfield Apache Junction Arizona

As I strolled around Goldfield Ghost Town, I could envision the harsh realities of life over 100 years ago. These were hardy folks living in an unforgiving and harsh environment. However did they survive living in the desert without air conditioning? And no A/C in that covered wagon either 😱

I found it funny that the Bordello was located near the church. How convenient is that? Play hard …. pray even harder. Sow your wild oats on Saturday, and pray for crop failure on Sunday!

During this particular visit to the east side of the Phoenix area, we happened to be camped just up the road from the Goldfield Ghost Town at one of our favorite campgrounds; the Lost Dutchman State Park. For those unable to secure a campsite at the Lost Dutchman State Park, Goldfield Ghost Town does have a campground.  It’s a bit rustic, but at least it’s a place to park the RV in a pinch.

A favorite state park

Lost Dutchman State ParkSpeaking of Lost Dutchman State Park, this is one of our favorite places to camp while visiting the Phoenix valley.

The hiking trails are amazing and the campsites are comfortably spaced. And the views are absolutely stunning!

For those interested in visiting the Lost Dutchman State Park but not interested in camping, there is a day use area. For a small fee, you can enjoy the trails all day. The day use area offers plenty of shaded picnic tables, restrooms, and easy access to all the trails. Seriously, this is a “must see” place during any visit to Phoenix, Arizona, especially in March when the wildflowers are blooming.

A beautiful body of water in the desert

As we continue our scenic drive north of the state park, the road starts to climb, twist, and bend. I highly recommend driving this stretch of road without an RV for the first time due to potential length and height issues.

Shortly after passing the Lost Dutchman State Park we enter the Tonto National Forest.  The scenery becomes more rugged and stunning with each new mile.  March is particularly beautiful as the road is lined on both sides with yellow blooms from the brittlebush and desert marigolds.Canyon Lake AZ

Twenty miles north of the town of Apache Junction, we round a bend and are graced with the sight of an oasis in the desert.  Canyon Lake with it’s deep blue waters surrounded by rugged cliffs and rocky terrain is a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

Definitely worth a few photo-ops around here, wouldn’t you agree?  Canyon Lake itself is a great day excursion; perfect for a picnic, kayak adventure, or even a cruise aboard the Dolly Steamboat.

Canyon Lake, Phoenix, Arizona, kayaking in Phoenix
Canyon Lake, Arizona. Located on the far east side of the Phoenix valley.

Canyon Lake offers a marina for daily boat rentals; powerboat, kayak, and even SUP’s (stand up paddle board). There’s also a campground, but it is rather pricey for what you get, in my opinion anyway. The last time I checked, it was over $50 a night. With that said, the drive is also something to consider. It could be quite challenging for larger RV’s due to length and height. Considering we all travel with different types of RV equipment and have our own comfort level, I recommend checking it out first without the RV.Canyon Lake

A town with the population of 6

A few more miles up the road, past Canyon Lake, is the cute little town of Tortilla Flat – population 6.  This is the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat, especially if you forgot to pack a meal, like we did.  The restaurant serves up great burgers and has a fun décor.

(to enlarge photos in a gallery, simply click on any image)

The walls are covered with dollar bills stapled all over, as well as old mining tools and historical photos. The bar stools are saddles and the ladies restroom has entertaining painted stall doors. I think this is the one and only time that my daughter allowed me to photograph her in a restroom. I had to bribe her with ice cream. The little general store serves up some of the best ice cream around and the fudge was pretty good also.

The adventure begins

The Apache Trail, Phoenix, ArizonaWith tummies full, it’s time to brace ourselves for the truly adventurous part of the drive.  Just past the town of Tortilla Flat, the pavement ends.

Most rental car companies will not want you driving this road and it’s not recommended for any vehicle over 25 feet in length….  definitely no RV’s. Although, we did notice some guys pulling their boats 😮

The gravel road is wide and in pretty good condition up to the scenic view parking lot.  The vista and scenery is worth the dusty, bumpy gravel road to get to it. For those less adventurous, this would be the perfect place to turn around and retrace your journey home. In my experience, the gravel road from the town of Tortilla Flat up to the scenic overlook is usually in good condition for any vehicle to navigate, but beyond that point, it can get dicey and very interesting.

Tortilla Flat, Arizona, Century Plants
My daughter fascinated by the Century Plant located at the scenic overlook.

Al and I are used to driving unpaved mountain backcountry roads with steep cliff drop-offs with no safety barriers or guard rails.  In other words, this next stretch of road between the scenic overlook and Apache Lake is not for the faint of heart. (Tip: if you’re interested in visiting Apache Lake, but don’t want to drive over Fish Creek Hill, access from Roosevelt Lake. The road between Roosevelt Lake and Apache Lake is much easier to navigate and without the high drop-offs.)

Fish Creek Pass, the Apache Trail, a scenic drive near Phoenix
Fish Creek Pass is the most challenging stretch of the Apache Trail and not recommended for folks with a fear of heights. It’s a one lane gravel road, intended for two-way traffic with  drop-offs and no guard rails. Check out the portion of road on the far right side of the photo… a little ledge of road with no room for error.

As we continue past the scenic overlook the road narrows and winds.  This two-way traffic road narrows down to about a one to one and a half lane wide road. There isn’t enough room in most spots for two vehicles to pass each other. Those going down hill supposedly have the right of way and it’s not uncommon for someone needing to back up to a wider spot in the road so vehicles can pass by each other.

Fish Creek Pass, aka Fish Creek Hill, is the worst part of the journey with sheer drop offs,  a very narrow road, lots of turns, and a steep elevation change. Fish Creek is the most stressful and challenging part of the drive and not for the faint of heart. Once we navigate Fish Creek Hill, one lane bridges and washboard road conditions continue to add to our adventurous day.

Apache Lake

Apache Lake

Once we reach Apache Lake, another beautiful oasis in the desert, the road becomes a little easier to traverse.  Due to the washboard condition of the road and our extra long wheel base on the F-250, it was very slow going for us. This is when my Tacoma or a Jeep would be perfect, but my Tacoma was back in Colorado during this excursion. Even a Honda CRV would’ve been a better choice for this road than the long wheel base of our Ford truck.

Two and a half hours after leaving Tortilla Flat and 22 miles of gravel road later, we finally arrived at the Theodore Roosevelt Damn and Lake. We averaged about 10 miles per hour with lots of photo-op stopping along the way.

Roosevelt Lake, Phoenix, Arizona
Roosevelt Lake

We leisurely tour the campgrounds and the boondocking opportunities along the lake shore. We are pleasantly surprised and make notes.  We will definitely keep Roosevelt Lake as a possible place to camp in the future. It’s pretty. It’s remote. It’s inexpensive, and located within the Tonto National Forest.

I’m entertained by using the term “forest” around this barren looking land. You won’t find any of the usual trees that most folks would expect in a National Forest.This is still the desert and you’ll find a forest of saguaro cactus and their cousins in lieu of any oak or aspen trees.

spring wildflowers, poppies, Superstitions Mountains, Phoenix, Arizona
Spring wildflowers

This unusual forest may look barren at first glance, but upon closer inspection, you’ll discover an amazing ecosystem with the ability to survive and flourish in some of the harshest weather and terrain.

The beautiful scenery continues

poppiesThe fascinating and majestic scenery continues from Roosevelt Lake to the active mining towns of Miami and Superior and onto the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Oh, how I wanted to stop at the Arboretum, but by this point in our journey, we were tired, photo outed, and ready to just get home. Besides, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum would require its own day.

There are so many interesting sights along this scenic loop that we wanted to stop and explore further, but we realized we couldn’t see and do it all in one day.

We took notes for future day excursions, as well as future overnight RVing spots and promised ourselves to return again and again. I always look forward to spending time in the Phoenix valley. Whether one is looking for solitude or a host of activities, this part of Arizona seems to have it all, and it rarely disappoints.

I remain in awe by Arizona’s raw beauty and fascinated by the plants and animals that survive in this harsh land. What an adventurous day we had!

discover beautiful lake in the desert surrounded by rugged terrain, road twists and turns lined with yellow flowers, ghost town with old historical buildings

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Wandering Wednesday – Water

With temperatures heating up and an abundance of sunshine gracing the skies, it’s time to hit the water. I love hanging around a picturesque lake or soft sandy ocean beach. I’m not the greatest swimmer, but I do enjoy and embrace all kinds of boating. You’ll even see me jump at the chance to float down a meandering river on an inner tube … throw in some tiny rapids, and the ten year old within me will emerge complete with giggles and screams.

Oh yeah, I never tire of the sight of a beautiful body of water!

reflection at the Grand Tetons Wyoming
Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Considering nearly 40% of the United States population live in coastal counties, counties directly on the shoreline, I’d say I’m not alone in my passion for water.

Jackson Lake Grand Tetons Wyoming
Jackson Lake – Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Photo inspiration

For this weeks photo inspiration … theme … challenge (whatever we want to call it) I’ve chosen WATER. Let’s share some favorite water images.

Lake Havasu Arizona sunset
sunset over Lake Havasu, Arizona
San Diego cruise ship pulling into port
San Diego – cruise ship pulling into port

From my archives

Digging through my archives I came across a couple of old photos that brought back fond memories ….

Boundary Waters Canoe Area northern Minnesota Canoe trip
Canoeing – Boundary Waters Canoe Area – northern Minnesota

We loved our canoe trips to northern Minnesota …. especially to Gunflint Lake which is located north of the town of Grand Marais and Lake Superior. I wish the quality of this photograph was better. If you look close, our 2 year old daughter is sitting between my legs while our 4 year old son sits in the center of the canoe. The white blob behind our son is our first Brittany Spaniel dog, Dallas … great dog who loved these adventures.

We started these camping / canoeing vacations to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area years before we had children. Once the children arrived, they added another element and joy to our adventures and never stopped us from embarking on these excursions.

open bow boat
I loved this little boat – so many fun times spent out on the water. Me driving while Bear sits behind me.
Horsetooth reservoir Fort Collins Colorado
I’m not sure who enjoyed the boat rides more – Bear or me!

Share and connect …

Feel free to join in – comment and share your “water” photos!

Upcoming prompts to keep in mind …

  • Next Wednesday – Flowers
  • the following Wednesday – Patriotic (think fireworks, picnic, flags, etc)
  • then – Food
Lake Powell
Lake Powell

(affiliate links)
 Inflatable Sport Kayak

Beach Chair with Storage Pouch and Towel Bar

When my Gut is Right

Ever get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that says life has been so good lately that something bad is bound to happen? Just how bad, I never know, but my gut is usually right.

April 2018 – We had a fabulous month hanging out at Lake Powell. As a matter of fact, it was one of our more enjoyable stays anywhere, which was totally unexpected. Although we’ve visited Page, Arizona, on several occasions in the past and always enjoyed our visits, we didn’t have any high expectations for this excursion.

sunrise at Lake Powell
the view from my RV – a beautiful sunrise over Lake Powell

Over the years, I’ve noticed when I am super excited about a certain trip, my expectations are rarely met. Yet, when I have low expectations, I’m usually pleasantly surprised and sometimes whelmed beyond my wildest dreams. And such was the case this past April.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t what I’d call a perfect trip, which we all know doesn’t exist, but it was still awesome. We’re still trying to rid ourselves of all the sand we accumulated during those sand storms while camping on a beach. Even a month and several vacuumings later, we’re still discovering sand in various nooks and crannies. Ah, but it was so worth it!

camping at Lake Powell
camping at Lake Powell

On the one hand, we were very sad to pack up and leave, but on the on the other hand, we were ready for a change of scenery as well as moving closer to our children.

It was the end of April and a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. After dumping our tanks, we were rolling down the two lane highway by 8:00 a.m. Al took the lead in the F-250 pulling the 5th wheel while I followed behind in the Toyota Tacoma.  With my Tom Petty CD playing, I settled into the drive while admiring the view. That contentment didn’t last long as I was startled by the sound of a loud boom followed by debris flying in the air.

highway 89 in northern Arizona
A beautiful day for travel – Heading south on Hwy 89 in northern Arizona

Only thirty minutes into our drive, a tire on the RV blew. (This post contains affiliate links). Fortunately, I was following far enough behind the RV that I wasn’t hit by any flying debris. I quickly radioed Al to inform him of the blown tire, which he seemed aware of but was glad for the confirmation.  We quickly found a safe spot to pull over and began to get to work.

Flat tire on a 5th Wheel RV
Al retrieves the spare and rolls it over to install

Sure we have roadside assistance, but it was a Sunday morning and who knew how long the wait might be for help to arrive. Plus Al and I were on some sort of roll. During the past month, we’d spent a fair amount of time exploring some remote back country on some rutted dirt/gravel roads. In so doing, the bed of the Tacoma was loaded with emergency provisions. In other words, we prepared ourselves for a flat tire, breaking down, or getting stuck in any number of ways. We do our best to be self-sufficient.

using a mobile air compressor after changing a flat tire on the RV
Spare tire installed. Al makes sure it has the proper inflation

This is the second time our Viair Portable Compressor has come in handy. We normally keep it stored in the belly of the RV, but because of all the off roading we had done during the previous few weeks in the Tacoma, the air compressor, hydraulic jack and lug wrench were all in my backseat and easily retrieved.

changing a flat tire on a RV
Al and his supervisor.

I’m not sure why we maintained our jovial spirits, but we did. Five years ago when we first started this journey, I would’ve been near tears and concerned when confronted with this mishap. Today? I view it as a mere inconvenience that had me recalculating the schedule of the day. And when you think about it, a flat tire is so much easier to deal with than engine trouble!

Highway 89 in northern Arizona
On the road again! Highway 89 in northern Arizona

Less than two hours later the spare was installed and we were on the road again heading south on highway 89 in northern Arizona. We had about a three hour drive in front of us, but we had planned to break up that drive by pulling over somewhere for lunch …. which was all prepared and waiting for us in the RV refrigerator. Traveling with your home in tow is the best and the only way I like to travel these days.

The rest of the day was uneventful and smooth sailing, thank goodness. When we pulled into our planned boondocking location near Cottonwood, Arizona, we snagged a nice slice of land to call home for a couple of nights.

Black and White photography of Verde River near Cottonwood Arizona
Verde River near Cottonwood, Arizona

Two days later, we hit the road again and an hour later we pulled into our summer ‘home’ (with the spare still on the RV). Fortunately, our one hour drive went without incidence.

Fairgrounds RV Park Prescott Valley Arizona
Our ‘home’ for the summer. I love watching cattle and antelope graze in the open field across the street. Prescott Valley, Arizona

I had concerns that I wasn’t going to like my RV site since the RV Park wouldn’t confirm which site they intended to assign us when I called a few days earlier to confirm our reservation. Turns out, they did assign us the site that I requested. This was one time I was glad my gut was wrong. I’m super pleased they were able to accommodate my request.

Yep, this’ll work nicely for the next few months while we tend to some maintenance on our equipment as well as some dental issues. Oh and did I mention my son (who lives in Phoenix) is getting married this August? The wedding planning is in full swing and I love being only an hour away so I can join in on any preparations or festivities. Should be a fun summer!

RV Fairgrounds Prescott Valley Arizona
Sunset seen from my RV site in Prescott Valley, Arizona

Products we used during the day of our travel. Note – affiliate links

Viair RV Portable Compressor Kit
Two-Way Radio
Hydraulic Jack
Lug Wrench

Toadstools and a Slot Canyon

When Al and I awoke to a beautiful and calm morning, we were quick to agree on an early morning hike …. early meaning out the door around 8:00 a.m. The previous two days kept us indoors due to high gusting winds. Ah, those pesky winds.

Toadstools

But while a sculptor may use tools like a chisel or rasp, Mother Nature sculpts with wind, water and time. Without all the annoying sandblasting wind, I wouldn’t have all this perplexing scenery to go gaga over. So I endure the bad along with the good, and plan our excursions around the weather.

An easy hike

With an eagerness to get out an explore, we hopped in the truck and traveled about twenty miles north of the Arizona – Utah border. This trailhead and hike will lead us toward what is known as the Toadstools.

This relatively easy and well-marked short trail starts out in a sandy wash.

Therefore, it’s probably not a good idea to hike this trail after a rainstorm. As it was, we encountered a few muddy patches and it hadn’t rained in days.

the trail is clearly marked

The trail is pretty nondescript until you crest a hill and are greeted with the first and most impressive toadstool.

These mushroom like shaped rocks had Al and me tilting our heads in wonder. Bewildered, we were duly entertained and found ourselves drifting from one interesting rock formation to another.

By starting the day early, we literally had the place to ourselves ….. that is, for at least fifteen minutes ….. it was ours, and ours alone, and we loved every minute.

We found the land very strange and a bit surreal.  We briefly felt like we were on some old movie set like Star Wars or Game of Thrones … perhaps, we even spotted ET!

Not having to share this landscape with other visitors allowed Al and I to have fun with the self-timer on the camera. Yeah, there were a few laughs and retakes as I didn’t always run and pose quick enough. It was me against the ten second timer and many times the timer one 😆

If you find yourself visiting Page, Arizona and looking for a fun way to spend an hour or two, consider visiting the Toadstools. It’s easy to get to. It’s an out and back hike and is less than 2 miles total. But be sure to linger amongst the toadstools and stroll in all directions before returning to the trail. You never know what else you might see!

A slot canyon hike with an obstacle

The weather was dictating our schedule and as much as we didn’t want to embark on a well known trail on a Saturday, we did exactly that (April 14, 2018). This time we were out the door by 7:30 a.m.  (Arizona time). After all, we had about a one hour drive in front of us to get to the Wire Pass trail located in southern Utah.

Wire Pass Trail Utah

Upon arriving at the trailhead, we found plenty of room to park. After grabbing our packs and paying the $6 per person trail fee, we were eagerly on our way. Once again our hike started off in a sandy wash which continued for about the first mile.

Eventually, the landscape started to get interesting as the red rocks began to surround us. We entered a small short slot, of sorts, before the rock walls opened again. I felt the canyon was teasing me, and giving me a little taste of what was to come.

Not long afterwards, the fun began.

Before deciding to hike Wire Pass canyon, I had done a fair amount of research about the trail. Al and I do not consider ourselves avid hikers. As such, I wanted to make sure we didn’t get ourselves into a situation beyond our abilities.

I read somewhere that there is one major obstacle in the slot …. an eight foot drop. Hmm, sliding down might be doable, but since this was an out and back hike, I had concerns about getting back up that 8 foot drop. Therefore, Al and I agreed ahead of time that we’d probably turn around at that point.

This is the major obstacle on the trail – 8′ drop

Guess I was wrong!

Before I knew it, Al had negotiated the drop. Of course, I’m always lagging behind with my camera as I snap away. Turns out, someone had placed some rocks and an old tree trunk at the base of the drop to aid in the navigation.

Al was encouraging and quick to help me on my scramble down. I have to admit, I was really glad he was game and wanted to hike further. I felt this obstacle shows up rather quick in the slot canyon. Actually way too soon in my opinion, and at the point, there was no way I wanted to turn around. I wanted …. needed to explore further!

Once over the drop, the canyon proceeded to get narrower and deeper. The lack of light made it difficult to photograph, but oh so fun to hike. The slot canyon was long and deep and we were glad we didn’t need to pass any other hikers. Eventually, the canyon opened up and we were at the intersection where the Wire Pass trail meets the Buckskin Gulch trail.

Wire Pass Trail ends at Buckskin Gulch trail.

Buckskin Gulch is considered the longest and deepest slot canyon in the U.S. Its towering walls make it difficult for the sun to reach the canyon floor and hikers can expect to encounter water and mud. We were here in mid April and according to hikers exiting the slot, water was waist-high in one direction and knee-high in the other, and the water was very very cold.

Buckskin Gulch
Buckskin Gulch Trail – I tried staying out of the mud

My curiosity got the better of me and I had to peek around the corner, but I didn’t get very far before I felt my shoes sink into the mud. I walked Buckskin Gulch in both directions before that mud had me retracing my steps back to the Wire Pass trail. We weren’t prepared or equipped to hike in water nor did I have the inclination.

With hubby antsy to keep moving, I quickly took some photographs of the Buckskin Gulch trail and then we started our return trek.

There was a time when I would prefer and seek out loop trails instead of out and back hikes, but I’ve discovered when hiking in the opposite direction, the scenery can look quite different on the exact same trail ….. and I found that to be very true on the Wire Pass trail.

The scenery in the canyon was spectacular and it looked as though we were hiking a completely different trail on our return. Ah, but this was the same trail, and therefore, we would need to climb up that eight foot drop. Would I have a problem, I wondered?

I decided to go first. I tried one foot there. Hmm, that didn’t work. How about this foot there? No, that wouldn’t work. At 5’4″ tall, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get a firm hold on anything that would allow me to get high enough so I could fling my body over that boulder.

“If I could just hoist myself higher, I’d be able to crawl over that boulder”. Nope! I couldn’t do it. The sandstone walls were slick and didn’t provide any leverage. I couldn’t get a firm grip on that boulder. I could feel a little panic build up inside me. I realized the only other way out of the canyon was hiking miles via the Buckskin Gulch trail that was filled with water 😥

Hopefully, Al’s 6’3″ frame would be tall enough to get us out of here. Fingers crossed!

At that point, we both put on our gloves to help grip the boulder better (yep, we came somewhat prepared). After Al struggled a bit, I lent my hand as another foot hold for him, and then up and over he went. Whew! Now that he was at the top, he helped pull me up and over.

This was the only area in the slot canyon where we ran into other hikers ….  they were coming down, and all appeared to be about half our age. Some navigated the drop like mountain goats, while others were more tentative like yours truly. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to watch anyone else climb back up this obstacle.

I think the trail is actually more interesting on the return

With a new-found spring in our step and a few pats on the back later, Al and I took our time hiking the rest of the way back to the truck. I found the scenery even more amazing on our return trek and I wanted to savor it.

The Wire Pass Canyon trail is a relatively easy hike with the exception of that one major obstacle. Al and I promised each other that we’d hike it again next time we’re in the area, but we’ll be sure to bring rope or some other aid in climbing back up that drop.

The Wire Pass trail is about 3.4 miles round trip. All in all, the hike took us about 2 1/2 hours, but that included lots of stops for photos and lingering on the Buckskin Gulch trail. My Fitbit registered 4.3 miles.

This was a leisurely stroll for us through a fascinating canyon. It was a beautiful day and a fantastic hike that we’d repeat in a heartbeat. BUT if  photography is your goal, I would recommend Waterholes Canyon. It’s much more photogenic yet equally fun to hike 😊

Additional tidbit – near the Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch intersection is an interesting arched alcove with a hanging garden. Along a nearby wall are some petroglyphs…. signs of an ancient civilization. We also noticed water weeping down the walls in the narrowest part of the slot.

Finding the trailhead – From Page, Arizona, take US 89 into Utah for about 34 miles before turning left on House Rock Valley Road (near mile marker 25). The turnoff is in the middle a 50 mph right-angle curve making it a little precarious with impatient traffic. The trailhead is 8.5 miles down this gravel road. From Page to the trailhead, the drive took us close to an hour.

(affiliate links) Next time we’ll be sure to take rope. Our gloves and hiking shoes were perfect for the hike.
Outdoor Climbing Rope       Outdoor Sports Gloves

Women’s Hiking Shoe

Merrell Men’s hiking shoe