Thursday, December 29, 2016

To Mexico City (and beyond!)

Just after Revolution Day, Hans, Ursula, and I packed up our suitcases and locked up our RVs in San Miguel for our biggest "non-RV" excursion yet...a 3-week trip to Cuba via Mexico City.

(web photo)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mexican Revolution Day

Who doesn't love a parade?  Especially, if your child is one of the 1,000+ participants?  That might just be the secret to San Miguel de Allende's well-attended annual Mexican Revolution Day parade.  Invite every kid from every nearby school to participate, and they'll be sure to bring their parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, and neighbors to come watch!  When this many start gathering along the streets of centro, all the gringo tourists in town will surely come watch the parade too....and that's exactly what Hans, Ursula, and I did!


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Overnight Trips to Guanajuato & Zacatecas

We had originally planned to only spend a few weeks in San Miguel and then move RVs over to Guanajuato, but when Ursula needed to fly to Germany for a few weeks to assist her mom, we decided to take advantage of Hotel San Ramon's excellent monthly rates, keep our RVs parked in San Miguel, and just take overnight trips with the Tracker to visit other nearby cities.

When Ursula's return flight from Germany was scheduled to land at the León airport at midnight, Guanajuato became our first overnight trip away from the RVs.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Scooting around San Miguel

Normally, when caravanning with Hans and Ursula, we use the Tracker for our local transportation.  It's great to transport the 3 of us, and/or haul groceries and big jugs of drinking water from the store.  But parking in downtown San Miguel can be a hassle-- street parking is nearly impossible to find, and some of the paid lots close as early as 7:00pm.

When Ursula headed to Germany for a few weeks to care for her mom, Hans suggested it was finally time for me to learn to ride on their scooter.  Motorcycles are ideal for navigating the clogged streets of San Miguel, and much easier to park as well.

First things first, I needed to have appropriate scooter apparel-- sturdy shoes, long pants, and a jacket.  Hans supplied the motorcycle helmet.  He rolled their yellow Honda 250cc scooter out to prepare for my maiden voyage, and I, of course, had to ham it up for the camera!


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos)

Ever since coming to Mexico for the first time in 2013, there has been one cultural celebration I've yearned to see-- Day of the Dead.  At it's core, it is a time when Mexican families honor and celebrate the lives of their deceased loved ones-- a Mexican "Memorial Day" if you will.  But this being Mexico, they celebrate with MUCH more color, vibrancy, and meaning than we do in the U.S.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sensuous San Miguel de Allende

This was Hans and Ursula's first visit to San Miguel de Allende, so we wasted no time in getting out on our first morning to go see the town.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Off to Mexico via Colorado & Texas

On the morning I was to leave Bryce at the end of September, I did my usual inspection of the RV to make sure it was road-worthy after being parked for a few months.  Engine fluid levels good? check!  Tire pressure good? check!  No critter nests or chewed wires anywhere? check!  Under-chassis looks normal? uh, not quite!  Why is half of my transmission pan wet with drippy transmission fluid?  YIKES!


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Final Month at Bryce

My final month at Bryce Canyon National Park (September) was a flurry of new job experiences and a wild ride of unpredictable weather as well.

It had been a lifelong dream of mine to work at a National Park, and my job as a Volunteer Interpretive Ranger fulfilled that dream to its fullest.  My daily duties included working a few hours at the Visitor Center Information Desk, a few hours of project/program time (researching and/or presenting ranger programs), and "roving" out in the park (walking trails like these and assisting visitors).


Friday, November 25, 2016

Visiting Iconic Horseshoes & Cathedrals

As the calendar flipped into September, I suddenly realized that I only had a few weeks in southern Utah...and I'd not yet visited any of the surrounding iconic places that I'd vowed to see before leaving.  Time for some quick road trips!

My first trip was an overnight tent camping trip up to Capitol Reef National Park, three hours northeast of Bryce along the stunningly gorgeous Utah Highway 12.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Having a National Park All to Yourself

Attendance at national parks for its 2016 centennial year is up and well on-track to break last year's record of over 307 million (Update: It did!).  Around 2 million of those people are visiting Bryce this year, most of them in the warmer summer months.

What does that kind of visitation look like for a tiny park with a single access road?  Well, this is not an uncommon summertime sight at the start of the ultra-popular Navajo trail.

Is it ever possible to have a trail such as this to one's self?


Friday, November 11, 2016

Bryce's Fairyland Loop

Each ranger at Bryce Canyon National Park has their own slightly different rankings of hiking recommendations to offer visitors when they approach the information desk.  Some love to recommend the less popular hikes first (in hopes visitors will spread out a bit more), while others stick with the tried and true "Queen's/Navajo Combination," noted in the brochure as the park's most popular hike.

I always tried to listen first to what the visitor's fitness level and interests were before prioritizing a list.  If someone was only in the park for the day, and had adequate boots and fitness level, I'd recommend starting with the Queen's/Navajo 3-mile loop, and combining it with Peek-a-Boo for the very best hiking views in the park.

But if someone had multiple days, or was looking for a more solitary, intimate experience within the park, there was never a question as to the hike I'd recommend next... the 8-mile Fairyland Loop trail.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Bryce's Peek-a-Boo Trail

Working the Visitor Center at Bryce Canyon National Park was far different than at Bosque del Apache NWR.  At Bosque, I'd interact with less than 100 people per day, each often asking very unique questions (i.e. showing me their camera LCD and asking "what is this bird/plant/reptile?").

At Bryce, the line of visitors waiting to speak with us at the Info Desk was often long and continuous.  No matter how hard (or how many different ways) we tried, we could never seem to meet the demand of Bryce's exploding visitation (now about 2 million a year).  Exasperatingly, the question from all these visitors was almost always the same:  "what's the best hike?"


Monday, October 31, 2016

Getting Familiar with Bryce

My first two weeks at Bryce Canyon National Park in late July were filled with activity.  From learning my new job (as a volunteer interpretive ranger), to learning my way around my new 35-mile radius "neighborhood."

The first day on the job consisted of orientation, an easy day of being a tourist and exploring the same sights that they do.  I hopped on the free shuttle bus and took a hike along the rim to refamiliarize myself with the most popular lookouts-- Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point.

The midday sun was not ideal for photography, but Bryce still manages to look amazing at just about any time of day (or night!).  Here's the view looking down into Queen's Garden:


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

On to Bryce via Colorado

Continuing my westward July travels, after a couple more "Camp Wally" overnight stops at the Scottsbluff, NE and Laramie, WY Wal-Mart stores,  I decided to bypass Denver's traffic and head to the central Colorado mountains via 2-lane mountain roads from Wyoming instead.

Along the way just so happened to be another National Wildlife Refuge, so of course, I had to stop!  Arapaho NWR sits in the North Park basin west of Rocky Mountain National Park and east of Steamboat Springs.  The auto tour loop was easy to scope out before driving it, so I knew I'd be o.k. driving it with the RV/toad.

There were a few ponds of migratory ducks, geese, and this cute little pied-billed grebe--


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Scenic Byways of Iowa and Nebraska

With every cross-country crossing, I'm always eager to find new routes to explore.  In early July on my way towards Colorado, I decided to bypass the familiar I-80 route from Chicago and explore U.S. Highway 20 across northern Iowa, and the Scenic Byways of northern Nebraska.

It was a beautiful summer day in Chicago, so I took time out before getting on the road to give the Winnie its first wash.  She cleaned up so good, I made this my new blog header photo!



Thursday, September 22, 2016

Busy Days in Chi-Town

After picking up my newly painted Winnie from Mike's Custom Painting at the beginning of June, I headed back to Chicago for my annual oasis on the prairie at Paul Wolff Campground at Burnidge Forest Preserve in Elgin.  The big summer skies did not disappoint!


Monday, September 19, 2016

Crane Vacation to Wisconsin

When I needed to vacate my favorite Chicago campground in mid-June for a week (in between my two 14-day stays), I decided to head north to the Dells region of central Wisconsin.  My goal was to try and see an endangered Whooping Crane in the wild, and that's an area where they nest in the summer.

I rolled into Juneau county's Castle Rock Park (not to be confused with Adams county's park by the same name on the other side of Castle Rock Lake!) and had my pick of a few dozen campsites on a Thursday evening-- for the bargain price of just $17/night!


Friday, September 16, 2016

Back Home-less in Indiana (& Illinois)

With Winnie at the paint shop for the entire month of May, where would I spend the month?  Well, I knew for 2 of those weeks I'd be visiting with family in Chicago (and checking in with my oncologist for my first annual follow-up visit).  The first half of May was still a blank slate, though.

I considered taking a vacation or cruise somewhere, but nothing really excited me enough to spend the big bucks.  I found a few interesting AirBnB condos to rent-- one was even one of those "tiny houses" snuggled into the trees of the Smoky Mountains.  But, just as I went to book it, I decided to check out extended stay hotels in northern Indiana first.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Winnie Prepares for her Extreme Makeover

After a delightful few weeks in southern Illinois and southeast Missouri, it was time to prepare for Winnie's big makeover at Mike's Custom Painting near Elkhart, Indiana.  I had a few Winnebago parts and other upgraded accessories to pick up at my stepsister's house in Chicago before heading to MCP, so I spent the last week of April there.

I had planned to get Winnie's windshield replaced while in Chicago, but after calling a few Safelite Auto Glass locations, no one had a workbay tall enough to fit the Winnie!  Thankfully, one call to their main call center got me in touch with a nice customer service rep who found a location in Springfield, IL (along my route to Chicago).  Winnie fit inside their garage with room to spare!



Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Giant T@B Cache in Southern IL

Here it is the end of August, and I'm still trying to finish my blog posts of my springtime travels....eee gads!  Well, I've been wildly busy this summer working as a volunteer interpretive ranger at Bryce Canyon NP, and the connectivity here (and spare time) have been pretty minimal.  So, I'll try to mash together multiple posts into one today, and move the backlog along a bit!

My final week in southern Illinois this past April was spent doing the 2 big things I'd come to the area to do: attend the Midwest T@B Rally at Giant City State Park, and finally (FINALLY) paddle and explore the Cache river basin-- the northernmost cypress tupelo swamp in North America.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Surprising Southern Illinois

You'd think after being a resident of Illinois for 40-some years, I would have discovered southern Illinois far sooner.  But it always seemed to be "pass-thru" territory as I criss-crossed the region to get to somewhere else.

That was finally remedied this past April when southern Illinois became my home for 2 weeks.  My dear old T@B camping friends were holding a rally near Carbondale, so that became the destination to my 2,000-mile journey back to the Midwest.

Arriving to Carbondale about a week before the rally, I decided to check out Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge-- one of the very few NWRs that offers public RV camping with hookups inside its borders.

I arrived just ahead of the weekend warriors and snagged this gorgeous lakefront site for a week.  Just love "first come, first served" campgrounds!



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Missouri's Magnificent Mingo NWR

My early April travels along Highway 60 from Enid, OK to southeastern Missouri were fairly uneventful.  The gentle, rolling prairies and oil/gas fields of northeast Oklahoma gave way to southern Missouri's Ozark mountains-- tree-covered hills of blooming dogwood and rosebuds.

I arrived to Lake Wappapello State Park north of Poplar Bluff, MO the day before a spring storm was to pass through.  Nestled in the forest with a distant view of the lake, my rolling home had found safe shelter, and at only $12/night for an electric site, quite a bargain to extend my stay a week and explore the area.  Number One on the list would be a visit to Mingo National Wildlife Refuge.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

OOOOk-lahoma!!!

Am I the only one who likes to crank up and sing along to old Rodgers & Hammerstein show tunes when crossing the Great Plains? (perhaps this explains why no brave man has settled into my RV's co-pilot seat!)

But who could resist belting out a few bars of "Oooook-la-homa" when seeing such bright yellow fields of canola (after so many months of just looking at desert brown)?


My April journey from the southwest to Chicago took me across the Sooner state on a couple of warm and sunny days-- carefully planned to avoid their notorious springtime thunderstorms and tornadoes.  On the agenda: a visit to a National Wildlife Refuge and a re-visit to a town closely tied to my family history.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Arizona to Amarillo

In early April, after leaving my fabulous boondock at Saddle Mountain, I wisely time my drive through downtown Phoenix for a low-traffic Sunday morning. Soon, I have Scottsdale in the rear view mirror as I climb up to the cooling pines of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.  I've never been to this area before, and look forward to some crisp pine scented air and evergreen vistas after months of brown desert scrub.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

My New Winnie View!

I've still got some posts to write about my travels from Arizona to Illinois this past spring, but wanted to jump ahead to real-time today and introduce you to my new Winnie View!


No, I haven't cashed in my retirement savings or gone into debt for a new model.  But, for only about 5% of the cost of a new 2017, I took my tired-looking 2007 View to the master craftsmen at Mike's Custom Painting (in Bremen, IN near Elkhart), and 4 weeks later, this shiny new-looking RV was ready to roll!

Before I show you all the cool before & after photos, let me step back and explain what lead up to this decision.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Top 10 RV Road Trip Apps

It's Memorial Day Weekend! The official start of yet another summer RVing season. Us full-time RVers, dare I say, might be considered the "old pros" of the classic American RV road trip, as we are continuously doing them all year long.

Recently, I completed a 2,000-mile cross-country journey, skillfully skirting around severe springtime weather, low bridges, and traffic jams, while discovering some great sights, nature, and food along the way.    


Each year, the logistics for these long trips have gotten a little easier thanks to my ever-improving collection of awesome mobile travel apps.  So, if you're preparing to head out for your own big RV road trip this summer, take these apps along with you, and have a great ride!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Fiery Farewell to Arizona

After our month of Baja beaches, in late March, Hans, Ursula, and I pointed our Winnies back to Yuma to take care of some dental and business activities before heading our separate ways.  Since Yuma has become so familiar, it seemed the easiest place to get all our tasks accomplished quickly.

We weren't back to our familiar old RV park more than a day or two before tragedy struck one of our neighbors.  We were sitting in the clubhouse one afternoon when suddenly a women ran in saying a nearby travel trailer had just burst into flames...


Friday, May 20, 2016

Dental Implants for Nomads - 5 Lessons Learned

One drawback to nomadic life is the difficulty in maintaining continuity of "in-person" service providers-- be it hair stylists, mechanics, or doctors and dentists.  While most services can be performed same-day or within few days, a few require multiple visits over a much longer time period.  Getting a dental implant is one such example.

As I recently discovered, getting a dental implant as a full-time traveler can be fraught with added "gotcha" complexities.  To help fellow nomads steer clear of these in the future, I share my top 5 Lessons Learned:



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wild Ride Back to the USA

After a tranquil week camped on the shores of the Pacific at Ensenada, it's time for Hans, Ursula, and I to point our Winnies back towards Yuma and the U.S.  Last year, we drove the scenic Highway 3 through Baja's wine country, the Guadalupe Valley, and crossed back into the U.S. at small city of Tecate (yes, where the Mexican beer of the same name is made!).

The route last year, along US Interstate 8 was pleasant enough, but after looking at the maps, we all start getting very intrigued and excited by a certain section along Mexican Highway 2D... see it?



Monday, April 25, 2016

Week in Ensenada

Our final night of last year's Baja trip was spent at this ho-hum RV park with an outrageously amazing view of the Pacific ocean.  When Hans and Ursula suggested we revisit Ensenada this year, we didn't have to think about where we wished to stay-- Ramona Beach RV Park would be it!


Our week's agenda would be to check out Ensenada's great seafood, explore Rosarito up the coast, tour the Guadalupe Valley wineries, watch some amazing sunsets...and celebrate my birthday!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Traversing the Baja

Last year, we experienced the Baja peninsula from the very top to the very bottom (and darn near everywhere in-between!).  So, this year's itinerary is pretty tame by comparison-- traverse the Baja from East to West.


Before making the journey to Ensenada, though.  We have one more area to explore-- the coastline south of San Felipe along the Sea of Cortez.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beach Paradise At Last!

All good things come to those who wait!


After 4 noisy, dusty nights parked next to the sand dune of racing ATVs and dune buggies, the hoard of race fans went home.  We were finally rewarded with our pick of the best of the 2 best beachfront campsites in all of San Felipe!  It didn't take more than a few minutes for Hans, Ursula, and I to decide to extend our stay here an extra week.

Now, we'd finally get to discover some real San Felipe living!


Thursday, March 31, 2016

San Felipe 250 Race Weekend

It's the last weekend in February, and the little town of San Felipe, on Baja's Sea of Cortez coast has swelled from a sleepy population just under 10,000 to a busting-of-the-seams 30,000 or more.  Fans from across North America have come to watch the spectacle that has made Baja off-road racing world famous.


While the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 races are more well-known, the San Felipe 250 is run by the same organization (SCORE International) and draws a robust and loyal crowd every year. It's even televised by CBS Sports (broadcasts start on April 10th)!

Hans, Ursula, and I dust off our cameras and head out Friday morning for the first event of race weekend-- Contingency Row.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Stumbled Into a BIG Crowd

After a whirlwind 2-month Baja trip last winter with friends Hans and Ursula (where we boondocked on gorgeous beaches,  snorkeled with sea lions, touched baby gray whales, explored historic missions, soaked up city life in La Paz, conducted a 1,000-mile taste-test of the ultimate best Baja fish tacos, and so much more), we had even more ambitious plans this winter to explore mainland Mexico.  

But, as other commitments started whittling away at our time block, the idea of a shorter, less stressful trip began to look more and more appealing.  The big mainland trip is now postponed until this Fall, and for the moment, we would now head to northern Baja for a quiet, peaceful, relaxing month of sandy beaches.

We carefully planned our trip to ensure we'd return to the U.S. before Mexico's mega beach holiday-- Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week).  But we failed to avoid another event (that would transform our first week in Baja into anything but quiet and peaceful) -- the SCORE San Felipe 250.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Little Tracker's Big Day & a Yuma Reunion

On my last day in Ajo, I decide to take the little yellow Tracker for another off-pavement jaunt into the Arizona desert.  This time, it's to a new-to-me National Wildlife Refuge west of town.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, at 860,000 acres, is the third largest NWR in the lower 48 states.  Most of it is complete wilderness, but a couple 4-wheel-drive roads exist along the edges of the park.  I decide to give the Charlie Bell Road access point a try just west of Ajo.

The entrance sign is pretty sun-baked.  Not much rain ever gets to these parts of southern Arizona.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sonoran Serenity

By the beginning of February, I'd been parked at elevation 4,500 feet in central New Mexico for 4 months.  As much as I loved the people and Refuge at Bosque del Apache, I was itching to replace the Chihuahuan Desert's brown with some greener surroundings, do a little boondocking, and get back to "T-shirt and short-pants weather" (as Tioga George used to call it).  Southern Arizona's Sonoran desert was just the remedy!


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bidding Farewell to Bosque

Fellow volunteer friends reported last week that the cranes have now left Bosque del Apache for the season to head north.  What a great winter we had together!



Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hidden Secrets of the Bosque

Drive around the tour loops at Bosque del Apache NWR (or any National Wildlife Refuge for that matter) and you're likely see a few side roads with little blue and white "Area Closed" signs.  What's being hidden back there?  Well, come along and find out!


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bosque's Winter Birds

One of my major duties at Bosque del Apache NWR this winter season was to drive a tour van for the 4 free Refuge tours each weekend.  Surprisingly, not a single one of them was dedicated to the Sandhill Cranes that most visitors come wanting to see.


As magnificent and thrilling as the cranes are, let’s face it, they’re big and rather slow-moving, predictable birds.  Pretty easy to spot, sit and watch for hours at a time—no binoculars or bird guide books required!  So, the tours aimed to focus on all the other birds of the Refuge.  The ones that might take a bit more help to spot and identify.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

White Christmases

After returning from my quick trip to Florida in mid-December to become a Floridian, I headed up to Colorado for an early Christmas with my brother and his family in the Vail valley.  As I approached the New Mexico/Colorado border, I caught a glimpse of my first snowy peak:



Thursday, January 14, 2016

Have You Hugged a Wildlife Refuge Lately?


My January volunteering adventures at Bosque del Apache NWR have been filled with lots of new and exciting things (such as seeing the Refuge covered by snow for the first time!)...


But it has also been a bit unnerving to be living on a National Wildlife Refuge as we watch and wait for the armed occupation at Malheur NWR to end as soon as possible.  Some of the volunteers and staff here have served and/or visited Malheur-- they have friends there, and know the potential impact this interruption is having on that Refuge's important work, and the migratory wildlife who rely on it.

As I perform my daily duties here at Bosque, a few questions lurk quietly in the back of my mind-- could a Malheur situation happen at another Refuge?  Could it happen here at Bosque?

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