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Today we spent the day over in Sunnyvale (Silicon Valley) running errands and visiting our old friends in the area. Haven't seen Alex & Nadine in about six years, and their son is now a boy of nine! He and Emma had a raucous good time laying waste to their house, while the adults caught up.
But it wasn't a highly "bloggable" day so I thought I'd take the opportunity to answer the most common questions I've been getting lately about photos:
Q: What cameras do you use?
A: We shoot with two cameras, a Nikon D70 (digital SLR, 6 megapixels), and a Kodak DC3400 (digicam, 2.1 megapixels). The Nikon does all the heavy lifting, and the Kodak is primarily Emma’s camera, but Eleanor borrows the Kodak for family photos. I also prefer the Kodak for bad environmental conditions, like blowing sand and salt on the beach.
Q: Do you do any post-processing?
A: No. I don’t have any post-processing software, and if I did, I wouldn’t have time to use it. I barely have time to shoot, sort, and post them on the Internet as it is.
Q: Do you shoot at higher resolution than you post on the web? I’d like to use one of your photos as my desktop, or print it.
A: The Nikon photos are shot at 3000x2000 pixels. I upload them to the Flickr Photo Album at 800x600 because otherwise it would take too long. But once in a while I post a picture at full resolution so you can have it for your computer desktop, or make a nice print. When I do, I’ll put the tag “desktop” in the Photo Album description on Flickr, so you can find it.
Q: How do I see a higher resolution image than I see on the blog?
A: Everything is stored in the Photo Album. Click on the “Photo Album” link, or visit www.flickr.com/photos/airstreamlife . Once you are there, click on any picture for a larger version. For most, you can click again on a link to the lower right corner of the page which says, “See different sizes.” This will give you some options.
Q: Can I use your photo for (fill in the blank)?
A: All my photos are licensed under a Creative Commons "Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License." This means you can feel free to download the photos and use them for non-commercial purposes, with credit to Airstream Life magazine. For commercial use, contact me.
Q: How do you get such great photos?
A: (1) Shoot a lot. (2) Know the camera. (3) Travel to beautiful places (4) Delete most of what you shoot. ;-)
This morning we said goodbye to Tim and his family and hit the road (I-680 to be exact) down to Saratoga, where we had planned to camp at a county park. Before we left, Tim gave me this photo of him and I posing in front of the Tour Trailer. What a studly pair of guys, eh?
He also had a nice shot of Eleanor and I being interviewed for the podcast last night. We talked about life on the road, homeschooling, budgeting, planning, and the differences between our travels in Vintage Thunder and this new Safari. Eleanor was a natural and she's got a nice radio voice. I never noticed that before. She wasn't even nervous. It will be a great program when it airs. You can check it out at TheVAP.com.
Tim's going to have to do a lot of editing of that interview. At a few points on the recording you can clearly hear Emma talking very loudly downstairs about something. Next time I suppose we'll have to include her in the interview!
It was good we had a short trip planned, because one of "those situations" occurred. We got to the County Park, which was only 9 miles from the center of Sunnyvale -- a technology hotspot. I figured we'd have no problem getting good cell phone service and Internet there. Wrong! We were up in the mountains somewhere. My Verizon phone barely worked, Eleanor's Sprint phone didn't work at all, and our Internet box just shrugged and gave up.
Worst of all, there was a sign which alerted us that the gates to the campground would be locked at sunset. They don't provide campers with the gate code, so we'd be unable to go anywhere (or get back home) after 5 pm! Pretty ridiculous.
Since I had planned to do a lot of work this coming week and visit friends, this was not going to work. That's part of the game when you have responsibilities to shoulder while you travel full-time. Flexibility is key. So we bailed out and headed for Santa Cruz, where we found a great state park on the beach. We've got a nice spot just a couple hundred feet from the bluffs overlooking the ocean. A short walk down brings us to the beach, and I can assure you, you'll be seeing pictures of that in the next few days! Just gorgeous...
It's quite cool even here. Today was barely in the 50s and overnight it is getting into the 30s. I suppose our friends back home won't shed a tear for us, since it is snowing there, but for Californians, this is cold. And when I see frost on the Airstream in the morning, my motivation is to head further south. So last night I made our reservations for our desert home in Borrego Springs, which I've added to the Schedule page. If anyone wants to cross paths, you'll find us there by New Year's Day. We're already making plans to meet up with a few people. The more, the merrier!
Thanksgiving was an unqualified success. Eleanor masterfully cooked both a pumpkin pie and a turkey with stuffing in the Airstream's oven, as well as green beans with onions and almonds, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and cranberry sauce. Emma helped.
We're still eating the leftovers for lunch and dinner two days later. I love leftovers, like turkey breast sliced on bread with mayo and lettuce.
We left the park in Benbow to drive south to Sonoma valley. Since we got a break by picking up our mail in Eureka earlier than expected, we had time enough to stop in Sonoma before our scheduled visit in Suisun City. Friday night found us wandering up a dark narrow twisting road to the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood, which is just north of Sonoma on Rt 12.
The campground is more than 1000 feet above the valley, and it was quiet, nearly empty, and very cold overnight. I woke up to find the Airstream and the Nissan coated with frost. Our furnace ran a lot during the night and so our battery was depleted by about half (no electric in this campground).
But it wasn't a problem since we planned to head down to Sonoma right after breakfast to visit one of Eleanor's favorite wineries (and Sonoma's oldest), Valley of the Moon. As often happens, while walking across the parking lot a woman jumped out of her car and exclaimed, "I just love your Airstream! It's so cool!"
The grape vines have turned red and gold now, and they make for terrific scenery from nearly every hill and turn. I wished I could have stopped more times for photos, but unfortunately Rt 12 has no shoulder much of the way.
Although it is known mostly for wineries, Sonoma is an interesting historic town with a state historic park right in the middle of downtown. There's a Mission, barracks, and hotel worth taking a look at it. Emma, however, was most interested in the giant prickly pear cactus right in front of the Mission ... and when she picked up a downed pear she found out exactly why they are called prickly. Fortunately the thorns worked their way out eventually.
One fun stop in Sonoma is the Cheese Factory, where they were handing out samples of various cheddars and the crowd was waving and pressing for bits like a gang of bond traders in an up market.
Although we had plenty of samples, lunch was in the trailer (a turkey leg and stuffing, yum). Someone pressed their nose to the window and was astonished to see us inside. People are always fascinated by the trailer. We invited her in and gave her family a quick tour before departing.
Our next stop was Tim Shephard's house, located between Sacramento and San Francisco. Tim is best known as the producer of TheVAP, a podcast about Airstreams. You can check it out at TheVAP.com I'd done an interview with him last summer which was on Episode 3 (I think) and now we had the chance to meet and do a joint interview with Eleanor about life on the road. It will probably air in December or January.
We're parked in front of Tim's house tonight. It's a nice quiet spot. We had pizza with the family and now we're back home, chilling and thinking about our travels for the next few days ...
Happy Thanksgiving to all our U.S. readers. This is probably the most unusual Thanksgiving I have ever had, but it is fun. We weren't wild about our campground on Wednesday night so we drove slowly about 30 miles down the rest of the Avenue of the Giants this morning and then set up here at a commercial campground.
The major draw of this spot was (1) the campground was open, unlike our first choice, the Benbow Lake State Recreation Area; (2) it has free wifi. Our cell phones have not worked much since we left Eureka, and Internet access is only a dream along the Redwood Highway (Rt 101). So even though this is the most expensive campground we've paid for since we started this trip ($31), it was a good choice for today.
Also, Eleanor needed full hookups for Thanksgiving. She has a degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales, and she is a serious cook. You don't mess with Eleanor's cooking. This is her Big Thing, so plenty of propane, electricity, and water were mandatory.
I can't complain -- the trailer already smells nice from the cooking. Last night Eleanor and Emma made a pumpkin pie with a tulip design on it (by Emma), and now gravy and stuffing are being made.
The entire trailer except the bedroom has been pressed into service. The dinette is set, Emma is on the credenza stirring something, her bed is covered with food that has been prepped, the kitchen is of course completely occupied, and I have been banished to the bedroom (when I'm not being asked to take out the trash or some other stereotypical male task).
We have a lot to be thankful for. We have each other, the freedom and the ability to travel, family, and health. We have Eleanor's spectacular cooking today, and the new friends we made just a few minutes ago who are parked nearby in their new Airstream Quiksilver Edition. We are thankful for our friends and fellow Airstreamers who support us with their emails, calls, and comments on this blog.
On this day I won't worry about the money I don't have, the things I don't own, the opportunities I may have missed, the mistakes I have made. This is a day to reflect on the things that are good in our lives and appreciate the pieces we may have taken for granted. Whatever you have to be thankful for, I hope you can recount them and appreciate them today.
Eleanor asked me if I would lose my interest in the big trees if we lived here. I don't think I would. They keep surprising me, and I keep wanting to explore every little redwood grove we see. And there are dozens of groves, many of them marked with little signs and tiny pull-outs so you can hike among them.
I got up early again to do some business over at the Ray Jen cafe, got the oil changed in the Nissan. Because we are towing a lot, I am trying to stick to a schedule of 3,000 mile oil changes. In the afternoon, we basically hung out waiting for Jonathan and Shelby to show up with our new faucet.
They showed up around 2 pm and Jonathan made quick work of the faucet while Emma and Shelby played a game. Now our water problem is entirely solved.
It was a dash from there to Eureka, 90 miles south. We had just enough time to make some quick stops, one at the Elk Prairie Campground Visitors Center (and yes, there are really a LOT of big elk roaming around there -- wish I'd had a telephoto lens), and another stop at the Redwood National Park headquarters to get our national parks pass stamped.
I was utterly amazed when we pulled into the Eureka post office at 4:54 pm, the day before Thanksgiving, and managed to pick up our forwarded mail in less than 4 minutes. We had expect we'd miss the post office and have to camp in Eureka for a few days. With this bonus, we decided to press on for another hour and get a little further south because we need to be in Suisun City (300 miles from here) on Saturday.
It's a drag when we have to be on a schedule. I would have liked to explore the old downtown of Eureka and see the famous Victorian houses. But the compensation is that we spent another night camping among the redwoods, just off the famous "Avenue of the Giants" that parallels Rt 101 in Humboldt County.
Sorry for the repeated delays in posting. We are wrestling with Internet access and other communications issues. Crescent City is a place where our phones "roam" and the fog is dense, so we don't get voice mail notifications, our mobile Internet doesn't work, and dropped calls are commonplace. So I have to post when I get a chance.
Tuesday morning I woke at 3:30 a.m. for no good reason at all, except I suspect that the Ray Jen Cafe, where I am getting my Internet fix, put regular coffee in the "decaf" Hazelnut I ordered the night before. Returning to sleep was impossible so I got to work at about 5 a.m. on the dinette, and then headed over to Ray Jen again at about 8 a.m.
Mid-day we headed out to the Ewok village, um, excuse me -- I mean Stout Grove, a particularly famous area of Redwoods nearby. The road itself is an adventure: one lane, twisting between massive redwoods, enveloped in fog ... downright magical.
A few miles down, we parked and hiked through Stout Grove and beyond. Here's Emma walking along a downed redwood, probably 300 feet long. It was probably over 700 years old when it fell.
If you are in the area, this is a hike to take. The Stout Grove trail and the little extension we did was an easy two-mile roundtrip along the river, with endless beautiful scenes. I didn't spot any Ewoks, though.
I wish I could report the day we wanted to have, hiking trails among the giant old-growth trees, but one of those unfortunate situations cropped up. I suppose in seven weeks of travel we had to have one systems failure, and this was it. When we turned on the water last night, the kitchen faucet sprang a leak. This wouldn’t be a major occurrence but there is no shut-off for the kitchen faucet, so the only way to stop the leak was to turn off the water pump, and that meant the entire trailer had to go dry.
We patched up the problem as best we could with tape and a bucket, but realistically we had to get it fixed before we could continue to enjoy the trip. Jedediah Smith SP is one of those marvelous places where cell phones do not work, and so our only means of communication with potential repair assistance was via a single payphone across the campground. But at least we could make a few calls in the morning to ascertain our options.
Fortunately, everyone was helpful. The nearest Airstream dealer was 250 miles away in Sacramento, but Airstream said, “We can’t leave you without water in the middle of your trip, so get it fixed wherever you can and send us the bill.” The camp host provided the business card of a good local mobile RV repair service and graciously refunded us our second night’s camping fee.
We drove out to nearby Crescent City and met Jonathan the repairman at the local Wal-Mart, where he arrived with his 5-year-old son Shelby (who was bearing a Star Wars light saber). Emma and Shelby quickly began to play together and we chatted with Jonathan while he diagnosed the problem.
The problem required complete replacement of the Moen faucet, but since Moen offers a lifetime warranty, we were able to call Moen to have a new unit shipped to us. We had to pay an extra $12 for FedEx to get it here before Thanksgiving, though. Jonathan removed the bad faucet, capped off the lines so we could once again pressurize the system, and we were off again – sans kitchen faucet. We’ll meet Jonathan again on Wednesday when the new faucet arrives, to complete the repair.
With all that, we needed to revise our plan. We decided against going back to the State Park, since we will probably need to make some more calls over the next couple of days, so we are now parked at a commercial campground near the harbor.
It lacks privacy, ambience, and trees – a bit of a “Wal-Mart on the water” – but at least the location is central: to our west, a working harbor with barking sea lions; to the south, surfers practicing in the small waves; to the north, fishing boats, and stacks of crab traps; and to the east past the hotel strip, a twisting road through the redwoods, where – as everyone in town has told us – they filmed the Ewok village scenes in one of the Star Wars movies. No wonder Shelby has a light saber. It’s a local industry, sending tourists out to see the Ewok village.
It was a wonderful day driving down the last leg of the Oregon coast on Sunday. We started off again in the beach near Port Orford, so Emma could hunt for sea stars and we could all get in a good long walk before getting in the car. The tide was higher and we didn’t see the starfish but the beach itself was fascinating, soft brown sand tumbled with giant rocks.
In the background, the unusual port of Orford. They don’t have a sheltered harbor, so each boat that comes in is lifted by a crane to a giant concrete pier and stored on top.
We deliberately left ourselves only about 90 miles of driving so we could once again stop off anywhere that seemed interesting. That was a good strategy once again, as the Oregon coast is strewn with beautiful scenes and amazing vistas.
We stopped for lunch in the town of Brookings, and visited the local seafood shops for some red snapper and Cajun spiced salmon. Those prizes went in the fridge for later. I remember thinking that the Airstream made a nice foreground for the Hwy 101 bridge behind us, with the sun reflecting off the Airstream’s skin and brilliant blue skies above … and I thought “I’ll snap a picture of that after lunch.”
Whoops. I had forgotten the famous Pacific coast fog, which sneaks in and turns warm sunny days into grey cold ones in minutes. Sure enough, during lunch I looked out the window and the photo was gone. Heck, even the bridge was gone!
By the end of the day we pulled into Jedediah Smith State Park and set up amongst the towering redwood trees. This campground dates (as so many state campgrounds do) from around 1930, and so the roads are narrow and the sites are small. A site which is claimed to fit a 30-foot trailer does – but not much else. Still, the reward is sleeping with a 500-700 year-old redwood tree on either side of your bed. I wouldn’t want to see a single tree harmed so I could have an easier time parking!
Emma is impressed by old-growth redwoods but not as much as we are. To her, they are merely big trees. She doesn’t see how rare they are (only 4% of the historic territory of the Pacific Redwood still exists), and she doesn’t recognize how tenuous their existence is. They grow only one place in the world: the Pacific coast, below 2000 feet and near the foggy damp air. And there are only a few hundred acres of them left, 45% of which is national and state parkland in northern California.
A redwood is one of the living things closest to immortality. They resist diseases, insects, earthquakes, and fires. In fact, they thrive on the occasional fire, using it as inspiration to reproduce. The oldest ones have been growing for 2,000 years. How can you stand amidst these immortals and not be humbled? To them, we are just a blip in their centuries-long lives. Someday Emma will appreciate their message. I will show her the picture of her standing in the middle of three redwoods and suggest that she find them again with her children.
[There was no Internet access when I wrote this, so I’m posting it at my first opportunity with the date and time of when I wrote it.]
It’s good to be moving on, especially here on the Oregon coast where it is uncrowded and scenic. When we started this trip we figured we’d settle into a spot for 2-3 weeks, but so far the only placed we’ve stayed more than five days was Denver. For some reason, after a week in a spot, we usually have the itch to explore some more.
So this morning we hitched up and headed south on Rt 101, the coastal road. Our goal was “no place in particular,” the sun was shining, and for the first time in weeks, we have no schedule at all. It’s a nice feeling. We are free.
Our travels today took us past several lighthouses among the dunes, and I couldn’t resist the photo opportunities. Lighthouses are just too easy.
Then a dramatic bridge, a still lake reflecting the pines trees, a historic house … We let the whole day go like that, covering less than 100 miles but stopping so often that it took until 3 pm to arrive here, at Humbug Mountain State Park.
After parking the Airstream, we still had some light so we took a road less traveled: an unmarked one-lane dirt trail that wound its way up Humbug Mountain from the campground. With absolutely no idea where we were going, we climbed the switchbacks for half an hour, never exceeding 15 MPH. To our left, precipitous drops of 50-500 feet. To our road, a deeply scalloped edge along the crumbling mountainside.
This went on for several miles, until we finally intersected China Mountain Road, arbitrarily chose to go left, and eventually (a few miles down) found a paved road back to 101. It was a fun detour. Eleanor was white-knuckled half the trip, but Emma was only wondering when we would get to the hike we had promised. I was only disappointed I never needed to engage the 4WD.
Although we are right by the coast, there are few places one can get to the beach because of tall sandy cliffs. During high tide, there is no beach at all. We found some scenic viewpoints but never figured out how the surfers managed to get down from their cars parked by the highway to the thunderous waves below. Then we saw this intrepid fellow cruising on the soft sand in his truck.
Finally, we found a bit of beach access by the town of Port Orford and did a little sunset exploration.
What a bonanza of sea life! We found sea caves everywhere, colorful orange and red starfish, green sea anemones, and other creatures. We found a sunflower sea star, too -- a creature that looks sort of like a large starfish but it has something like 15 arms. We ran out of daylight before we ran out of energy, so we headed home (soaked to the knees, all of us) and agreed we’d look again in the morning.
With the long cold evenings this time of year, we are trying to find ways to keep ourselves entertained after dark. Tonight we decided since we were all in wet clothes, we’d get right into our pajamas and have “Pajama Fun Night.” We watched an old campy movie, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” (a musical, with Jim Backus!), I made popcorn, and Eleanor and Emma baked up some cookies. (By the way, if you are wondering where we get these movies: We subscribe to Netflix, but the really bad old movies like this one come from the bargain bin at Wal-Mart.)
Emma discovered that she has a loose tooth in front, which has thrilled her to the point of bouncing around the trailer like a superball. We can clearly see a replacement coming in behind. Her six-year molars are also showing up. She has pledged to tell everyone she meets about these things.
One other thing: our good friends Adam and Susan called today, just to say they’re following the blog and to send us good tidings. That phone call gave me a huge boost, and reminded me to say to all of you that the support we’ve gotten from you is a huge part of what makes this trip fun. It gives us a greater sense of purpose to share the experience with you, and so almost every day I’m eager to write down our impressions of the day. It’s not work to keep up the blog, with you along for the ride. Keep writing and commenting – we love to hear from you. Thanks!
OK, the work is done ... and so we are off again, checking out the local scenery. There was a bit of sunlight left and it was a beautiful day so we drove 7 miles south on Rt 101 to an access point for the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (Siltcoos Beach).
Fabulous. Just what one needs at the end of a stressful week at work! The light was terrific for photos and Emma was happy to oblige as foreground in most of them, so I spent the next 90 minutes shooting until there was no light left.
These dunes are huge and gorgeous. Some are over 100 feet tall! You can drive on part of the beach to explore them, and the recreation area even has "sand camping" areas further down the road. I'm going to check those out, and see if we can camp at one of them this weekend.
The beach was dotted with little birds that I would call sandpipers but I don't really know their name. They are cute little things, scooting along the reflective wet sand so smoothly they look like a bunch of white ball bearings cut loose on oiled metal.
It was a spectacular walk and a terrific way to wrap up a working day. I think Eleanor and Emma agreed.
I'm already feeling refreshed. Tomorrow we will hitch up and head down the road in search of new adventures along the Pacific Coast. If you want to see more photos from our beach walk, check the Photo Album called "Oregon Dunes NRA"
OK, I gave you fair warning: this would be a quiet week for the blog. The reason is that once in a while I have an overload of work and can't maintain the even schedule I strive for. I just posted an essay on Gather about "work/life balance" which you can read by clicking the "Gather" link (to the left), but as it turns out, that essay is really an idealized account of what my life is like.
In reality work doesn't go on an even keel when you are mobile. We've been constantly busy and moving around for two weeks, which meant that a major project due on Nov 20 was looming and nothing was getting done about it. This week it came to a head: I had to set everything aside and get the project done. I hate deadlines for big projects but I've never missed one yet and I wasn't about to miss this one either.
So instead of exploring the central Oregon coast -- Haceta Lighthouse, Seal Caves, Oregon Sand Dunes SRA, Florence's old downtown and river port -- I have been hunkered down in front of my laptop, working, working, working.
This is the dark side of traveling and working. Each morning at about 8 a.m., I ride my bike from campsite #140 through the tall pine trees and damp morning air of coastal Oregon. It's about 3/4 mile down to the "Activity Center" where I can get a desk and free wifi to the Internet. I stay there all day, trying to concentrate on my work, while retirees come and go, playing the occasional game of pool, and working the jigsaw puzzles. Only full-timers roam Oregon this time of year, and we're the only ones who aren't retired.
Around lunchtime, Eleanor and Emma show up bearing lunch, and then I'm back at it. In the evening, we hang out in the Activity Center for a while before returning to the trailer for dinner and a movie (last night: Sahara -- a bit too violent for small children but fun for adults). It's a dull life compared to the last month, but a good chance to catch up on everything: phone calls to friends and family; trip planning; laundry.
Eleanor and Emma have had a chance to explore a bit, and they've taken some photos that I might get uploaded before we leave Florence. I have learned bits and pieces through them. For example, "sneaker" waves are a phenomenon of the Oregon and Northern California coastline, big surges that come between smaller waves. Here they warn you never to turn your back on the ocean, lest a sneaker wave knock you down. No swimming at most beaches.
The project will be done this afternooon and I'll be able to resume a more normal schedule which mixes fun and work. Starting on Saturday, we plan to roam down the Oregon coast into Northern California, stopping at Redwoods National Park and Eureka, at least. Should be some awesome photo opportunities along the way: sea lions, rugged coastline, Victorian houses, redwoods, giant sand dunes, etc. Stay tuned.
Gotta love those guys at Sutton. What a nice bunch. Today we were leaving, so they hitched us up to their little forklift and hauled us over to dump the tanks. Then they filled our propane, adjusted our tank monitors, and fixed a minor issue with our water heater. In the meantime the entire staff was just incredibly accommodating and nice ... and they fed us donuts and hot mulled cider.
AND they offered us tons of advice on places to see along the Oregon coast, directions to everything we might want to do, and, and, and, .... I could go on all day. Thank you Debbie, Crystal, Tom, all the guys on the sales staff, Sig, and of course George and Martha. You guys ROCK!
Just before we left, George showed me his latest delivery: a "WBCCI 50th Anniversary Edition" Airstream Classic Limited 30 slide-out. Nice rig.
Everyone we've met in Oregon has been exceptionally nice. Last night fellow Airstreamer Jim Jordan (who we know only from the Internet) dropped in and chatted for a while. Today he came back with his wife and we spent another pleasant half hour talking Airstreams. Another couple dropped in too, folks we didn't even know before but who had heard (via Internet) that we were there. And Dan Patch dropped in again, too, just to give us a nice card and wish us luck.
Everyone has done two basic things: (1) plied us with extensive advice about the wonderful things to do in beautiful Oregon; (2) educated us on the proper way to say "Oregon." Being from New England, we say "OR-uh-GONE". Locals tell us that it should be "OR-ee-GUN." We are practicing but far from fluent in Oregonese.
So now we are in Florence OR, which is by the coast. The weather is very mild here, so freezing nights are a remote possibility but it probably won't get much over mid 50s either. We arrived after dark, so I can't tell you much about the place but tomorrow Eleanor and Emma will go exploring while I work.
I'm afraid this may be a fairly dull week for the blog. I expect to spend the next four days plugging away on my computer, in the "Activity Building" of this campground where they have free wireless Internet. But I'll try to get E&E to post about their adventures. They are planning to visit a haunted lighthouse, see Sea Lions, get salt water taffy, and walk on the beach, among other things.
[Editor's note: The following post was dictated by Emma. She is describing her experiences in Denver and Colorado Springs around Halloween.)
Emma says I love you DiDi. We are having a great time.
Me and mommy went to a Aquarium and at the end we got to pet some Manta Rays. We could only touch them with two fingers at once. The little manta rays felt like velvet. I wouldn't touch any of the big ones because they felt like itchy scratchy velvet. I did not like the big ones feel.
When I was sleeping over at my cousin Hannah's house, um we got to stay up very late and we watched movies all night. It was so cool. Let's see, in the morning I wanted scrambled eggs for breakfast. Hannah wanted fried egg and we asked for toast with butter and when our butter with toast was served she (auntie Ali) also gave us some grapes. Hannah couldn't have fried eggs because my scrambled eggs were all ready made. So Hannah got scrambled too. After breakfast we went back down stairs to play dress-up again.
We went to Chuckie Cheeses for lunch. When we got there we first went on a big slide. It was the best slide ever! And we played almost every game in there. Auntie Ali got us balls to take home.
After lunch we want back to their house to get ready to go trick-or treating. Boo!!! Did I scare you? I was a ghost for Halloween. Hannah was a princess. We had such a great time.
Parking at the dealership is nicer than a few campgrounds I've stayed at! All day Saturday we were surrounded by nice people (staff and customers) who dropped in to chat with us in our trailer. It was always a laugh when someone would open the door and see me typing at my laptop, Emma watching a Scooby Doo cartoon, and Eleanor nearby. They'd do a double-take, recoil for a moment, and then say, "Oh I'm sorry -- I didn't know anyone was in here!"
Well, that's why we put the "OPEN" sign by the door. Can you guess who drew it?
We gave a half dozen tours of our trailer during the day, and around 1:15 I was briefly interviewed by the local radio station for the live audiocast. We spent the rest of the day visiting with people, checking out all the Airstreams (we like the Safari Special Edition 25), and snagging free donuts.
Last night a magazine reader and follower of this blog came by and took us out for Italian dinner. Dan Patch, a new friend, lives in this area and we had a great time visiting with him. Toward the end of the evening, I was able to recruit him to write an article for the magazine, too, so I expect we'll be hearing more from Dan in the future. What a nice guy.
It's being able to make friends everywhere we go that makes this trip so special for us. Sure, seeing the country is great, but building and solidifying friendships is really where it's at. One point of the trip for me is to look up as many current and future contributors to the magazine as I possibly can. We have friends all over the country now, and it's all because of our travels in our Airstream. That's why I get so enthusiastic about it.
Hey, where is everybody? We woke up here in Eugene, parked among a couple dozen Airstreams cheek-to-jowl, and I felt like I was at a rally -- except there's nobody in the other Airstreams. They're all for sale. It's like living in a ghost town. But that's going to change soon!
When we arrived yesterday, George told us what he had planned for this weekend. They're having a 3-day sale. The dealership has done a bunch of radio and newspaper advertising, and later today one of the local radio stations is coming over for a broadcast from here. The folks from Thousand Trails (a campground association) will be here to run a contest where people can win free gas or diesel for a year. And the dealership is giving out free turkeys, too, to new buyers.
When they saw the Tour trailer with all the decals, they decided to park us front & center, which is sort of an honor but also a bit like being in a golfish bowl! See, George & Martha run one of the largest Airstream dealerships in the country, but their lot is not that huge (as RV dealerships go), so the result is a traffic jam of units. You can get lost wandering among them. I feel like I should have a map on me at all times.
So here we are, right smack in front of the dealership's front doors, a bit of a human sideshow amongst the empty Airstreams waiting for happy new owners. As people notice the Tour Trailer, we will open the door and invite them in for a peek. We're part of the action this weekend, "free turkeys" of another sort ... ;-)
Eleanor and Emma did their usual running about yesterday afternoon, to get oriented to the local scene. They spent some time at a McDonald's playland to get Emma exercised, and then went out and bought so many groceries that we could survive for weeks if necessary. I have been told that people are interested in Eleanor's continuing perspectives on being a mother and homemaker on the road, so she is composing some throughts and I expect you'll hear from her soon.
We hustled yesterday ... from the foothills of Nevada City to the warm sun of the San Joaquin Valley, to the foggy heights north of Mt Shasta and eventually into a twisting valley between the Coast Ranges and the southern Cascades.
We called George Sutton from the road and he said, "You're in for a beautiful drive!" He was right. I-5 in California has the reputation of being dull, but in the northern part of the state that's not true. The San Joaquin valley section is straight and flat, but after weeks of mountain passes it was a nice change to drive at sea level past olive and almond trees.
I had to stop at a rest area on I-5 to do a previously scheduled interview with the guys from Airstream Europe at 11 a.m., but that was easy: just pull in, open up the laptop, and take the call from the bedroom (while Eleanor and Emma did some home school work on the dinette).
Mt Shasta was the most stunning thing on the drive. You can see it coming for miles, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger... Lake Shasta is also beautiful to see from I-5.
Just north of Mt Shasta, in the town of Weed, we spotted what looked like a band of smoke from a forest fire. It turned out to be a wisp of fog from a huge fogbank. We were engulfed from there for the next 60 miles, in a deep gloom and temperatures hovering around 33.
It just kept getting deeper and darker, until finally, at 4300 ft pass just over the Oregon line (Siskiyou Summit), it got so dense that we could barely see road signs. Trucks were pulled off to the right lane with their flashers on, waiting it out. Eleanor was gripping the armrest as we crept up the pass, and we were wondering if we would have to pull over, too -- when suddenly, the sky broke open and we emerged into brilliant blue sky and a gorgeous sunset down the long long descent into Mt Ashland. A pity for the truck drivers who were parked in the fog, only half a mile behind us, none of which probably had the slightest idea that they were only 2000 feet from perfect weather.
Two misc notes: (1) ain't no parking at the Wal-Mart in Roseburg. We're at a truck stop (hidden amongst a row of 18 wheelers) by the "Apple Peddler" restaurant off I-5. (2) After a shower and breakfast, we'll head up to Sutton RV and join the fun. Apparently they are having a big 3-day event there this weekend. More later on that, and I'll post pics tonight after my laptop battery re-charges.
It's been a hectic three days, but a lot of fun too. I got a lot of work done in the Velocity7 offices but there's so much more to do that I could have stayed a week. But we promised we'd be in Oregon this weekend and a lot of people are expecting us, so off we go this morning.
Nevada City has a lot more to offer than we've had a chance to explore, so we may be back at some point. I like working downtown. It's just couple blocks walk through the historic district to a bunch of great restaurants. Yesterday, Emma, Eleanor, Laura, and Bailey (the 3 yr old) met Robert and I for Chinese lunch.
Last night we gave the kids a few hours to play together before dinner, and afterward they collaborated to make us all "Airstream cookies", while Laura served chai tea.
We are packing up now to leave, sadly. We'll stop somewhere in northern California tonight and then arrive in Eugene tomorrow. I'm looking forward to exploring Oregon, but also to coming back to California. This is a great state and we'll enjoy spending more time here in late November and December.
We've got a fun little thing here to share. A friend of ours made up a bunch of these cool "Keep the shiny side up!" silicone bracelets and we bought the entire bag of them. So, whenever we see any of you at one of our stops, we'll give you the silver bracelet.
Tomorrow we have to drive north, so our next stop will be in Eugene Oregon at George M Sutton RV. If you live in the area, come over to say hi this weekend, and we'll give you a copy of the new Fall issue of Airstream Life plus a silicone bracelet and spend some time chatting. We'd love to see you.
Inevitably, I get the question… “Don’t you miss your house”? …
Invariably, the answer to the question has always been no. …
At least it was until this past Saturday morning. …
This blog has been posted in its entirety on Gather. You can read it there if you like. Click the link for "Gather" or visit http://airstreamlife.gather.com
This is a fine place. Nevada City certainly ranks among the most historic places in California. This is gold rush country, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, downstream from old mines and sluices and Ponderosa pines.
Last night we courtesy parked at the house of the Trent family, squeezing the 30-footer into a spot formerly occupied by their recently-polished 1964 Safari, named "Pearl". (For a picture of Pearl, see http://www.velocity7.com/blog/index.php/2005/10/ ) She has been displaced to the driveway during our visit, which is expected to be three days.
On our way over, we stopped off at a truck wash near Fernley NV to clean up the rig. That boondocking stop in the desert left us covered with salt. Fortunately, the Airstream cleaned right up in the truck wash, and now we're shining again!
This morning, Robert took me over to the Velocity7 world headquarters in his 1964 Dodge Dart (a really cute vehicle, by the way). I'm borrowing some desk space and Internet connection for the next couple of days.
The office is located in downtown Nevada City, which is a destination in itself. The buildings mostly date from the late-19th century, such as the brick 1886 National Hotel ...
... and the 1865 Nevada Theatre (the longest running continuously-open theater west of the Mississippi, I am told).
The whole downtown is lively, architecturally interesting, and has the feel of a restored historic town without being a tourist trap.
Just up Rt 20 from here is the Tahoe National Forest. We took that route as an alternate to I-80 on the way down, and it was beautiful. Plenty of switchbacks but as long as there's no snow I'd recommend it. We spotted at least three wonderful camping areas along there, too.
Tonight we are planning to take all the kids (2 Trent kids + Emma) out for a fun dinner. By the way, I have posted a ton of new pictures from our last week on the road -- take a look!
The cave tour this morning was fine – Lehman Cave is exceptionally well decorated, with wonderful examples of columns, soda straws, and “shields,” which are rarely found. It was also a nice warm up to enter the 50 degree cave, since at 7000 feet the temperature hovered in the mid-30s all morning.
And then we embarked on America’s Loneliest Highway again. Next stop, 85 miles to Ely. We got fuel, propane, dumped the tanks and ate lunch all at the Silver Sage Travel Center – a typical “eat food get gas” operation in the center of that very small town in the middle of nowhere.
Eleanor says I am not giving the lunch stop enough credit. A sandwich bar inside the travel center called Boondoggles made us sandwiches. Eleanor got the Atomic Toaster sandwich, which she says is great.
Next stop, 67 miles to Eureka. Then 80 miles to Austin. And so on … long stretches of near-nothingness interspersed with tiny western towns and speed traps. (They are serious about the 25 MPH limit in Eureka, as a trucker we spotted can testify. It’s a hard adjustment from 75 MPH.)
The scenery, however, remains wonderful. There's always something uniquely western to see, a Pony Express station, a salt flat, a dust devil, a canyon begging for exploration. I never got bored driving. And occasionally there are interesting little roadside sites to check out, like the Petroglyphs Recreation Area we stopped at. Here's Eleanor pointing out a petroglyph to Emma. Home schooling in action!
At Great Basin National Park I bought a book of natural hot springs in Nevada and California. We identified one in central Nevada, for which the directions go something like this: “Twelve miles east of Austin, turn south off US 50 to Rt 387. After one hundred yards, turn left onto an unmarked dirt road and proceed about 5.5 miles to a left. Turn here and continue about 3 miles to a fork, then bear right for another 1.6 miles.”
These directions brought us out into a place that is so far from ANYTHING that calling it the middle of nowhere would be a compliment. We are parked on a slight hill so that we can see clearly that there is hardly any sign of civilization for miles around. About 300 feet from our spot are three pools fed by a natural hot spring which bubbles from the earth at about 110 degrees. In other words, it’s perfect.
We arrived at sunset and I got these pictures. Of course the first thing we did after snapping a few shots was to throw on our swimsuits and drop into the second pool, which is lined with stones and runs about 100 degrees, or fifty degrees warmer than the air temperature. Ahhhhhhh…
We do have two neighbors. About ¼ mile to the north there is a large white “toy hauler” RV, and we’ve seen the occupants come by on their four-wheeler. They gave a friendly wave and disappeared. And a family showed up just after sunset with a couple of young kids to go swimming as well.
Tomorrow morning I plan to go for another swim in the mineral waters. And then, sadly, we’ll debark.
Misc note: a bag of potato chips exploded sometime while we were at high altitude. It might have been while at 11,000 ft on I-70. We had potato chips with dinner tonight.
Here we are in Great Basin National Park and we have no idea what we are doing here. The sun is rising over my left shoulder (I’m sitting on the bed) as I write, illuminating the edge of a far-off mountain range like the great nuclear blast that it is. Emma and Eleanor are still sleeping. Just fifty feet from the bedroom window, Lehman Creek rushes noisily down the rocky slope on its way down from the small glacier above us on Wheeler Peak, 13,000 feet in altitude.
We are sitting in a lonely campground at 7,000 feet, in a lonely off-season (and little-known) National Park, off “America’s Loneliest Highway.” If you subscribe to Airstream Life you may recall the article by Bert Gildart, which appeared in our Fall 2004 issue. State Highway 50 across Nevada is our route for the next two days, through the most desolate and unpopular portions of the state – a place where signs saying “No Services Next 100 Miles” are a common sight.
We came to Great Basin in a dark moonless night. The tiny sliver of moon had set during our mad dash across the Utah salt flats last night, leaving us with only stars and the rare oncoming headlights. Imagine 80 miles with hardly a bend, no houses, no farms, no powerlines or cattle, or anything except the occasional dirt turnout, some scrub brush and off in the great distance a ridgeline that never seems to get closer. That was our evening. So watching the moon set was high entertainment during the drive. (At least we didn’t have to play “I Spy” for the two-millionth time.)
Arriving was a similar non-event. The park was dark, even though we had crossed into Pacific Time and locally it was only 6:30 pm. No ranger station, water turned off at all the campgrounds, visitor center dark, few signs (replaced with an ironic “signs down for maintenance” sign). We bumbled our way to Lower Lehman Creek campground and paid our $6 registration fee to the self-service kiosk, and picked the first site that seemed level. There’s no one else here.
Great Basin is notable for two things: Wheeler Peak, which we can climb, but probably won’t; and Lehman Cave. We may take the cave tour this morning before heading out. Not a long visit, but really Great Basin is only a stopover for us this time. Unfortunately we need to get to Nevada City by Sunday night, so I can catch up on some work projects.
My laptop battery died just then … so I took a walk outside to see the area. Surprise! Three tent campers are here with us, hardy souls indeed to have braved the clear night chill at 7,000 feet in November. Turning around, I was surprised to see a large male mule deer with a tremendous rack standing in my path. He gave me a look, and bounded off into the woods. They are not as tame as in Cherry Creek, I see. We’re not in suburbia anymore.
The surroundings are so different from where we woke up yesterday. Here, it looks more like New England. The mountains are covered in evergreens and, at the peak, snow. The air smells fragrant (odd for this time of year), and birds are chirping. A naked stand of white birch is across the cold creek. Quite a change from the red desert of Arches.
I plugged in the Honda generator and waited for 7 a.m. (generator hours) to fire it up and finish this blog entry. Eleanor and Emma are awake now, and Emma is being a slug in her bed, asking for someone to get with her and snuggle. As tempting as that is, we’re up now and I’m going to fire up some hot oatmeal and get ready to take the cave tour at 9 a.m. We’ll post this from the road later.
Yesterday morning after I wrote the blog entry, I talked to our neighbors in the tent, a pair of women who run seminars and teach, from Massachusetts. One of them is considering a travel trailer and so she came over for a tour and a bit of hot water for her tea. By all reports, the wind overnight was a sleep-shattering experience for the tenters, as I suspected. Her decision to buy a trailer just got accelerated quite a bit, I think.
As I mentioned yesterday morning, the day started gray and not at all like the brilliant blue I associate with desert scenery. Still, the light was wonderful for detail photos of the rocks, plants, and wildlife, and so by 10:30 we were off on a 3-mile hike right from the campground to see a few arches.
Or so we thought – it turns out that while the park is named for the arches (and they are wonderful to see), they are only claiming top billing on the program. The vistas, wildlife, and unlikely rock formations are worth the trip even if you never saw an arch.
It is a testament to the beauty of this park that I ended up shooting nearly 200 photos in a single day, and after I reviewed them I kept about 140. The scenery is THAT good.
By the way, I have a new desktop wallpaper from one of yesterday’s photos. In a few days, you’ll find it in the Photo album, in the folder marked “Arches National Park”, called “Desktop”. If you like it you can use it as your desktop too. I’ll get many other photos up there soon also.
Here's Emma climbing in one of the many little crevices. She loved the climbing!
By afternoon the sky abruptly cleared to the blue I wanted, which tended to wash out the rocks but offer opportunities for silhouettes and skylines. Emma was busy with her camera too, shooting at least a couple dozen photos. Suddenly the rocks were a lot more interesting to her!
The wind picked up to 20-30 MPH, and at one point near Sand Dune Arch we got sandblasted pretty heavily. The sand is very fine and gets everywhere, so I had to hide my camera under my jacket.
The first hike ended at about 1:30. We all got back completely worn out (and with sand in our hair). Either we’re badly out of shape, or the altitude (4,800) and dry air are really wearing us down. Still, the scenery was not to be missed, so after lunch and a little rest, we headed out again at 3:30 for an easy hike to Landscape Arch. We returned in time for sunset, having covered about 6 miles on foot for the day.
With the early sunset, the evenings have been long, so compensated by having a bit of a campfire & marshmallows, a movie (“The Princess Bride”), and early bedtime. The wind rocked the trailer all night again (I’ve GOT to remember to put the stabilizers down next time!) but we slept like the rocks surrounding us.
We'll be in Great Basin National Park the next night or two, so I'll catch you up when I can ...
[I’m posting these next couple of entries at the time they would have been posted if we were online. For the last two days we’ve been visiting National Parks in Utah, well out of reach of the Internet, electrical power, and most cell phones.]
We left off coming from our evening campsite at Colorado River – Island Acres SP near Grand Junction, and I promised you some photos. Wow, did I get photos. Bright yellow aspens, variegated cliffs, the Colorado River running just a few feet from our door, and a beautiful park.
I would highly recommend Colorado River – Island Acres except for one thing: the park, a rail line, I-70, and the Colorado River are all squeezed into a small canyon in parallel. So freight trains run along the opposite side of the river at night (which doesn’t bother me, but some people can’t stand it), and the entire park is necessarily very close to I-70, which means a nearly constant rumble of highway traffic. With our windows closed against the 30-degree overnight temperatures, we didn’t notice the highway noise until the next morning.
Not far away, on the other side of Grand Junction, is the Colorado National Monument. This park is basically a “Rim Road” which runs up, through, over (and sometimes under) magnificent canyons and bluffs for 19 miles, from east to west. The drive takes about an hour in a car. We had no idea what we were getting into until we arrived at the East Entrance, and then one quick look at the numerous switchbacks on the park map told us that the Rim Road was not a place to be towing a 30-foot Airstream.
So we took SR 340 to Fruita, where we went in the West Entrance. From that point it is still a harrowing climb up the canyon, but only four miles to the Visitor Center. We stopped at scenic viewpoints along the way, and were well-rewarded with views to the valley below at every turn. Built in the 1930s ostensibly for ranchers to use twice a year (but really a typical 1930s make-work project), the road is so unbelievable as to be a fantasy. In most places there are no guardrails or walls to protect the careless driver against a 500-foot sheer drop.
We also encountered two tunnels carved out of the red sandstone. At this time of year, traffic was so light that we were able to stop for a few minutes in each one and take pictures.
At the top was a campground and a smallish Visitor Center. We were tempted to stay the night but Arches National Park was calling us, and so we stayed only long enough to browse for books for Emma and renew our annual National Parks pass ($50, well worth it if you visit more than 3-4 National Parks per year).
Arches is, of course, spectacular. As a travel-hardened five-year-old, Emma was casual about the Utah scenery off I-70, not even looking up from her crayons as she muttered, “I know, more rocks. That’s all we’ve seen, is rocks, rocks, rocks!” But as we twisted through the 17-mile road to the center of Arches and Devil’s Garden campground, passing impossible red formations, even she had to admit they were impressive.
We drove in the park road at 4:30 pm yesterday, advised by the rangers that there was no way to know if there were empty spaces in the tiny 24-site campground at the end of the twisty 17-mile road. If we got there and the campground was full, we’d have to turn back, and by then it would be dark.
Fortunately a kind ranger gave us a special dispensation to park in the Group Camping spot if all other spots were full. So here we are, high atop a mesa with a spectacular 360-degree view. Later this morning we will have to move to one of the unoccupied spaces, when someone leaves. In the meantime, I think we will have oatmeal for breakfast, since the dawn has broken gray and cool and it promises to be a bit of a chilly day in the desert.
The wind rose up in the middle of the night and rocked the Airstream, and battered the tents camped nearby. I have suffered too many times from the fierce high desert winds at night, unable to sleep from the unstoppable flapping of the tent, and chilled to the bone. So I was glad to wake in the night and feel the gentle rocking of the trailer and hear the wind howling outside and know I would get up in the dawn well-refreshed rather than feeling as if I’d just survived an ordeal.
I was also glad to see Emma sleeping soundly in her bed. She is still sleeping as I type this but I know we will soon enough be out to hike a few of the many trails, and look for rabbits and other creatures that live here. She’ll have a full day.
By the way, Arches NP offers no hookups. For $10 per night, you get a place to park (if your rig is not too large: our 30-footer will only fit in about 1/3 of the sites), and the opportunity to fill up with water at the campground entrance. No dump station, no electricity, no Host this time of year, likewise no Evening Programs, and the distinct possibility of snow. We have been lucky in the snow department and for the rest we are fine with our Airstream and some imagination. One doesn’t really need an Evening Program here – the stars at night are spectacular and by the time of the 5:30 sunset we expect to be exhausted from hiking.
Quick entry: we're at a lonely rest area off I-70 near Thompson UT, just taking a quick break. Amazingly Sprint has coverage here so our Internet in Motion box works and I'm taking the 5 minute opportunity to post a quick update.
We spent the morning at Colorado National Monument and took some AMAZING pictures, which I will post soon. What a beautiful place! Huge towering cliffs and red canyons, tunnels, and views that just blow your mind. We loved it.
But now we in Wiley Coyote country, heading into Arches NP (not Dead Horse SP, change of plans), and I don't know if we can get online in the next two days. If you don't hear from us for a bit, that's why.
Wow! I-70 is a wild ride, especially with a 30 foot trailer in tow! We pointed our rig west around noon and pulled in here just after 6 pm. In between: steep climbs, dizzying descents, tunnels, winding canyons, and scenery I just can't begin to describe. It's incredible.
I was impressed with the handling of the rig. On steep uphills, we had no trouble maintaining reasonable speeds. We blew past a lot of trucks struggling in the right lane. On 8% downhill grades, I could keep it at 53 MPH in second gear and not have to touch the brakes at all.
We couldn't stop at Loveland Pass (11,013 feet) because there's no place to pull off, but we did stop a bit later past Dillon for a few photos. What a perfect day! Snow-capped mountains (but none on the road), blue skies, great views! I was sorry to see the sunset.
Since it was dark when we arrived I can't say much about the campground but I bet it will be gorgeous in the morning. We're situated in a canyon, next to a river. I'll take photos tomorrow, and we'll also stop in at Colorado National Monument, just a few miles down the road.
We've been running around so much it's hard to keep up with the blog. Sunday we drove down to Colorado Springs on I-25, past hundred-car coal trains and the rugged foothills to our right. Eleanor's brother hosted us for a terrific Italian lunch of proscuitto, sopresada (sp?), four different cheeses, two different breads, spiced oil, canteloupe & grapes, etc. Fantastic!
Emma stayed overnight with her cousin Hannah (4 yrs old) and we retired to Denver for an evening of Rich & Eleanor, rather than "Mom & Dad" ... a valued moment indeed.
I wanted to take Monday off but it was impossible. Phone ringing all morning, dozens of emails, paperwork to catch up on. I finally broke free at 1:30 and we took the scenic route down to Colorado Springs, this time up into the foothills along CR-67.
It was a worthwhile detour. First the road winds up through a valley, and before you know it you are up around 6500 feet looking over a precipice from a dirt road with snow scattered in the shadows.
Then you re-join the pavement alongside the Platte River, a flat shimmering stream of water in a north-south valley. The pavement is pink from the local granite crushed into it. Quiet little towns pass by, with proud signs "Elevation 6635, Population 36". And then the towering bulk of Pike's Peak, white with snow, looms into view, and the road winds down again, into Colorado Springs.
Halloween was fantastic. Emma The Ghost joined her cousins on a typically chilly Colorado night, avidly collecting goodies despite the mid-30's temperature. An entire neighborhood was terrified by the sight of the pint-sized ghost. (Her costume was made by Eleanor, in the Airstream, without a sewing machine.) We joined a neighborhood pizza party and got a chance to chat with the residents, some of whom were fascinated by our Tour of America.
Today we are pulling out. I'm finalizing some work because we may be out of touch for a few days. We'll be heading to Grand Junction CO tonight, and hopefully Dead Horse State Park (near Moab, UT) tomorrow. I'll update the blog when we can get online, and add more pictures.