Weird bars and unique eateries.

No matter where you go, sampling the local food and beverages is important and usually fascinating. We have eaten meals in all kinds of places – on boats while riding the Missouri, Clearwater and Columbia rivers; at a windy riverside Iowa state park; at a desert cafe in Death Valley, on a tour bus while following Lewis and Clark portage route; at the Giant Artichoke in Salinas; in Hell’s Canyon at a riverside homestead and numerous rest areas while in transit. Here are a few examples.

High up in Helena National Forest at a private 40 Acre Ranch we had a great steak dinner and entertainment at the Last Chance Ranch – including a ride in a wagon pulled by magnificent farm horses. Great fun and put this on your bucket list.

In Ahsahka, Idaho, locals brag about the High Country Inn – located above the river and it’s huge dam, this family run place offers a limited menu certain week nights as well as cabins for an overnight stay. Mediocre meal but the location made it worth the price.

Above is a picture of the steamboat ride with cocktails and snacks on the Columbia River that gave us a new perspective of the beautiful Gorge and the Bonneville Dam.

Bruciato – a neopolitian pizza place along the renovated main drag where we enjoyed lunch on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound across from Seattle – delicious pizza and drinks.

The Giant Artichoke is legendary – a stop there is required. There’s nothing like fresh fried artichokes!

Often when we arrived at remote places that appeared to have no entertainment, Google or Trip Advisor helped find a spot to share a gin and tonic or a glass of wine with fellow travelers.

The Sip and Dip Lounge in Great Falls, Montana (below) gets a gold star on this list.  The aquarium behind the bar had real mermaids (seriously) and a 90 year old songstress/piano player – drinks included a 32 ounce fish bowl with too many liquors to name. We stuck to gin and tonics but had our picture taken with mermaids – a once in a life time opportunity. The bartender was delightful and we felt genuinely welcomed.

Glasgow MT is known for its Fort Peck hydroelectric dam – highest of six major dams on the Missouri and the huge lake it created in the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge  – it’s local theater and the Fort Peck hotel which has a nifty bar and restaurant. The owner hunted wild fowl, then stuffed and mounted them elegantly in the dining room – had to admit they were beautiful. We met his wife on the porch – she warned us that more drinks were needed before we would be brave enough to visit the haunted upstairs. We declined – more alcohol wouldn’t have improved our chances of finding our way back to the campground.

The Cattlemen’s Club Steakhouse in Pierre SD was one of our tour dinners – Steak – its what’s for dinner! We were in cattle country after all. We ate big slabs of homegrown beef and vegetables in a rustic cowboy atmosphere.

A visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota requires enjoying a show at Medora Musical Theater and dinner at outdoor Pitch Fork Steak Fondue next door. As the name suggests it was grilled steak served on pitchfork. President Roosevelt and his wife Alice even made an appearance at our table.

Lunch at Duarte’s Tavern in the little coastal town of Pescadero, CA – serving food for over a hundred years – was a great way to catch up with our friends from Moss Beach. This elegant lighthouse and rugged beach was not far from the tiny downtown on this foggy cool day.

Of course there were odd places and weird food sometimes but it was fun different cuisine – like fried buffalo balls. They didn’t taste like chicken!

More tidbits to come…..

Musing about our travel thus far.

Seven months have passed since we left Florida in April 2017 and began our long planned journey west – across America literally.  Previously in 2015 and 2016 we traveled through most East Coast states – Maine to Florida, including a side trip to the Kentucky Derby.

We have traveled from the eastern seaboard to the west coast – to the US northwest border and to just miles from the Mexican border. Our current motor coach has added approximately 20,000 miles since her maiden voyage in August 2016.  We have stayed in campgrounds of all sizes and shapes; some with amenities and some simply parking lots;  either privately run, state parks or franchises like KOA, and Thousand Trails. Ninety-two of them in 2017.  If you add in our 2015-16 stops when our adventures began, the total is probably 175.  Many we highlighted in this blog, others we would not mention or revisit.  Many were ideally located for our purpose, and others were that stop you needed a particular day.  Many were run by couples or families and had that small town flavor we so appreciate and have grown to love.  A warm welcome at the end of a travel day is often the best cocktail – until you get the wine or gin chilled.

We have met all kinds of Americans – this country is illustrated like a children’s book with diverse and vibrant colors –  that makes it such a special place.  Its vast landscapes of hills and mountains, deserts and seashores, plains and prairies are reflected in her people – black, white, brown, red, yellow, and all possible mixtures.  To sample all of the world’s climates  – you never need to leave the United States.  From salted desert to the snow covered mountains it is the most amazing collections of cultures and ethnicities – truly wonderful place to live and to visit!

By now we have met thousands of people in the 39 states where we traveled.  Ninety-nine percent were friendly and pleasant, and eager to share information about their town, city or farm or park.  We were often surprised by the accommodating nature of people, but happy to make new friends and share travel stories.  Without exception, people expressed interest and excitement about our journeys, often wanting to hop onboard to join us.  We always say the coach sleeps two humans and two dogs – no more!  Some people in their silver years said this was what they wanted to do in retirement.  We hope they do! Some had been traveling and were resting.  We offered encouragement and relevant tidbits – we said this was the best decision we ever made – except getting married twenty-five years ago.

The coach, our travels and this lifestyle are more fun than we ever imagined.   Sure there are a few downsides – changing neighbors; being mindful of weather always; dealing with roads, either in need of or under repair; altitude and gradient challenges; missing family and friends left behind, but the upside is changing neighbors and meeting new people, experiencing unimaginable weather up close and personal, riding the scenic byways you never knew existed, absorbing landscapes and topography you couldn’t have imagined.  Our goal has been to see as much as we could –  thirty-nine states later – now we hope to visit all forty-nine contiguous states and we’ve added parts of Canada and Mexico.

People always ask which state or place was our favorite.  While we anticipate the question, it remains very hard to answer.  Frankly it’s better not to decide, not to pick the best.  Each place has its own special meaning or significance in our memory – each place is unique.  Each national park, historic site, native reservation, city or town, landscape or environment has qualities setting it apart from the one before.  I once heard some one say “she had seen enough of something – they were all the same after all”.  We couldn’t disagree more.  We find something distinct about each new stop, place or city town or state and we delight in our discoveries.

“There are places you’ll remember all your life…”

Montana sticks out as a rare beauty – it’s range of topography was breathtaking.  Glacier National Park was astounding even in a brief four-day visit.  Oklahoma City was funky and fun with an unexpected vibrant cowboy spirit.  Joshua Tree National Park was sweetly surprising  – we’ll spend a “starry night” there someday.  Kansas was one continual wheat field embracing its “Dorothy” identity with abandon. The Dakotas were a feast for the eyes with wild ponies and bison often sharing the road.  Utah is a scintillating geological show – one strange color shaped rock formation after another.  Washington State is where the big green trees rule.  Oregon is memorable for its giant volcano, Mount St. Helen and Columbia River, where currents carve memories into hillsides.  The North and South Rims of Grand Canyon were beyond expectations, they define “awesome” and are truly a photographic banquet.  Can’t forget magical Albuquerque, pueblos and balloons – a bucket list item with such surprises!

So what next…

After a fast trip through Texas, and the Gulf states along Interstate 10, some trip recovery in Florida, then holidays in Mount Pleasant SC, where snow and freezing temps have delayed our return to LaBelle FL. Once there we will spend for three months at Riverbend RV Resort, where we own a site, and have made many friends.  It’s a good place to recharge your batteries and enjoy warm winter weather.

In late April 2018  our trip west and north to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, will begin.  There we join up with a Fantasy RV Tour for the Ultimate Alaska trip  traveling  north through British Columbia and Alberta to explore our 49th state during July and August.

During our Florida hiatus, you can expect the blog to continue with stories and comments about traveling the USA by motor coach. Thanks for following us and being along for the ride.

Albuquerque International Ballon Fiesta – bucket list !

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to attend this magical Fiesta of ballooning! Rick and I made this dream come true in October 2017 along with Lenny & Lola.

We arrived early to get the lay of the land and joined up with the Fantasy RV Rally group a few days before the Fiesta kicked off. The Fantasy RV Rally had over 250 participants and we met a lot of fun folks. Ten coaches from the Grand Canyon tour also joined us so we had a good group to hangout with at meals. More than 2500 coaches, campers and 5th wheels were parked at the festival – some 40,000 attended the opening ascension. There were night glow events too – after dark balloon crews light their propane to illuminate the balloons while tethered to the ground. It’s so cool – only photos can share the experience.

Over 600 balloons take off almost every day for ten days in a show of skill and balloon jubilation. It is a sight to behold and you should not miss it.

Mass ascension has nothing to do with a religion at this event – it is a magical experience meant to be shared.

Balloons if all sizes and shapes with gondolas (baskets) big and small – one fellow had just a chair attached to his balloon. Large commercial balloons mixed with balloon ride companies and individual balloon enthusiasts – it’s a party of color, sound and wind.

The “Albuquerque Box” is why this festival is here – it’s a series of wind patterns that is beneficial to ballooning and floating through the air without a care……

We had sunny but cool weather – especially at 400 am when ballooning begins for most. Winds were cooperative most days – on only one day were the balloons kept on the ground.

There were night events called evening glow – after dark balloon crews light their propane to illuminate the balloons while tethered to the ground. It’s so cool – only photos can share the experience.

We arranged our ride the day before festivities began and it was nothing short of magnificent. Unlike the helicopter ride – it was quiet, gentle and less area was covered but it was beautiful.

We would do it again anytime. It’s a wonderful way to see the planet. It’s fun to join folks for the first ride and share the experience. And even if you are afraid of flying you could do this – very calm and easy going adventure

We visited a Pueblo Indian village called Sky City – as well as a Pueblo museum in Albuquerque.

The village was high on a Mesa and has been continually occupied for hundreds of years. Our tour guide was a resident and offered interesting insights into his peoples history. The residents make pottery and other artwork that can be purchased to support the tribe. Women hold the land rights in this tribe which still observes many traditional rules such as marriage rites, housing styles and a private religion not shared with outsiders. They have an oral history that passed down stories of terrible persecution by the Spanish as well as other tribes.

Old Town is a charming town with a lot of remaining Spanish and Mexican influence – great restaurants and sandwich shopped with plenty of shopping. It would be great to return and explore this area and Santa Fe – perhaps next year.

We met with a balloon pilot who explained all the aspects such as what material balloons are made of and how the propane heaters and ropes work. We recommend visiting the Balloon Museum to get a background on the history and mechanics of ballooning. It seems the French tradition of ending each ride with a bottle of champagne has a cute origin ( it’s in case you land on a stranger’s land without permission – a little bubbly smooths over anything) and even our ride had a similar wrap up – so genteel.

Happy Ballooning!

The South Rim – Grand Canyon Finale

The fab finale! The piece de resistance! A visit to the South Rim of the Grande Dame Of Canyons. Two hundred and sixty five plus miles of winding beauty etched in rock and stone by a glorious Colorado River beginning in states north.

Our campground was not far from the important viewpoints of the Canyon and we made a point to get to them early to avoid crowds. The afternoon we arrived we drove through the park to get a sense of its size and the places we wanted to visit. There’s a lot to see for a four day visit but it’s important to see the prominent places, the lodges and learn about how the Canyon was discovered and became the huge tourist destination as well as an important geological study in progress.

Explorers like John Wesley Powell and other river riders discovered what native people knew existed for centuries – beauty beyond words created by Mother Nature. It took decades for people to fully appreciate the Canyon’s beauty and valuable contribution to our earth’s history. Many Americans played an important role in the preservation of the Canyon and we as tourists and citizens benefit.

The visitor center and museum is a worthwhile stop – there is an IMAX film for you to enjoy and learn about the Canyon. Do it!

We also took a wonderful two hour ride in a six person helicopter – we paid extra for front seats – we flew over and examined from the air about 93 miles of the Canyon and that was worth every dime! We got some great photographs but we also came to appreciate the vastness and breathe of this beauty. Our pilot a young women who learned to fly in the Air Force was also a great guide and flew us over both rims so we could almost see where we were several weeks ago. This was on my bucket list and it got a big ole check mark!

I took several hundred photographs via iPhone 6+ and with my Sony DSLR A65. It was hard to choose which to use here but as with the North Rim and other fabulous natural beauties – I have included both photos I loved as well as those I felt were important to share.

First the tower near the east entrance – designed and constructed by Mary Colter, a female architect who was the Canyon’s first guardian. Many Park buildings were her design at a time when there were few women doing such work. Below are two views of Lookout Tower – offering an amazing 270 degree view of her Canyon.

Colorado River etching away at the Canyon floor in photo above.

Several long views of north side from the helicopter. We actually dipped low enough to see a herd of buffalo below us grazing.

The view from Bright Angel Lodge is one that looks toward the south east of the Canyon and perhaps one of the most recognizable. Here are two versions one above and after the plaque – one below.

Helicopters offer a different perspective including a look at places you cannot see well from land.

First photo was an attempt to capture the buffalo herd from severial thousand feet. These copters must stay above 1000 feet so a zoom lens is helpful.

My favorite one photo follows the one below – the copter cabin provides a curved look to the landscape giving a fascinating perspective.

These deep edges and crevices give such uniformity to the erosion it looks machine made. Mother Nature is amazing isn’t she!

Two views above as we turned back east and slightly north to return to the airport – I loved the vast perspective and demonstration of just how big this beauty really is!

Lazy river moving yards of sediment as she continues to create a deeper And more Grand Canyon. See the edge of Rick’s iPhone on right – copters are close quarters. But it was a wicked cool ride!

Vast peaks eroded flat by wind over eons can be seen above for miles. Below is the plain at edge of Canyon as we approached from northeast.

An elk and her youngster had the right of way as we drove through the park on our first afternoon. They are quite big and it is their home after all.

This ends our tour of National, state,and Native American parks circling the Grand Canyon. Four states and thirty days of natural beauty, amazing views and breath taking landscapes.

We might add some pics that we missed in another post but this is enough for now.


Mesa Verde – ancient villages in the sky.

On the top of a “Green” Mesa – a mountain with an eroded flat top – a series of ancient villages have been preserved and can be toured via a very long winding road. It took almost an hour to reach the top of the Mesa Verde and then we were treated to a tour of several of the cliff village sites. Visitors cannot climb into the villages now as they are suffering from that exposure. For an additional price one can climb a rough hewn ladder to look into the dwellings but it’s in a precarious location and we were happy to view them from across the ridge.

There were excavations to examine and terrific guides to explain how these ancient people lived full lives for about 1000 years and then just disappeared. Research suggests they were conquered by neighboring competing tribes and taken away as slaves to the south or contracted a deadly disease or infection.

These people were the original “pueblo” – named after the word for their high elevation cities. They had a rich heritage and were artisans and creative people. Be prepared for this elevation – it’s over 7000 ft so drink lots of water and protect yourself from the sun. A couple of hours there is plenty for regular tourists like us. There’s a good museum and visitors center as well.

Cliff dwellings were built into rock/stone crevices for defensive reasons and to shade the inhabitants from hot sun and other extreme weather.

The above pictures show one of the villages that existed for just 100 years and the dwellers just vanished. Theories about how and why continue, although war and disease are probably leading causes.

Excavations reveal the pit dwellings that were built by the earlier settlers on the Mesa before they learned how to build clay brick cliff dwellings.

Below you can see the trees at the top of the Mesa – mixed among the cliffs and rock – weather resistant small pines carry on regardless of erosive forces. It’s a remarkable site demonstrating life in the 1200s here and a fabulous way to learn about the very earliest native Americans.

This is the Mesa from the highway leading to the winding twisting road that leads in and up to the park. This was a somewhat difficult tour due to elevation and heat but well worth doing

“Four corners” – where Arizona, Utah Colorado & New Mexico touch.

A short stop at a place in the Navajo Nation where four states meet and the native people sell lots of trinkets. But it was a fun photo opportunity that we would not have missed.

Technically the four states now meet a few miles down the road – a survey changed the location a few years back. But the Navajo Nation remain committed to this location.

Don’t miss it! It’s a fun photo opportunity – you wait in line and take turns taking pictures at the seal highlighting the site – I loved the interaction. The words on the seal are “Here we meet in Freedom” – interesting phase and hopeful.

Durango – a Colorado classic and a town named after the “silver” that made it famous!

The tour took a little side trip into Colorado to visit Durango – a classic western town with a rich railroad history and Silverton – an old silver mining town up in the Rockies that has transitioned into a town filled with artisans who create precious stone jewelry, glass artwork and other neat stuff to buy. Fun food stops too – the place we ate at had operated for many decades and was filled with great curios. We bought some amber earrings and a cool glass star ornament that graced our tree top this Christmas.

The Quaking aspen that lined the mountains highlighted by ponderosa pine made a colorful palette and we got some great photos.

We arrived at Silverton via a tour bus and returned after lunch on a slow small gauge train. It was a fun visit but the train ride was 4 plus hours too long – we would have enjoyed spending more time in Durango. They did sell beer on the train so that helped.

That’s snow on the mountain top north of our campground – a frosty morning the day we planned to depart. Delayed three hours as we waited for frost on coach and roads to melt.

The altitude of almost 8000 ft and colder temps caused many of us to be adversely affected. We looked forward to returning to Arizona and we hoped for warmer temps.

Monument Valley – a Navajo sacred place

Words fail me for places like this – that’s why I take photographs and share my sight lines with others. The Valley is deep in the Navajo Nation where clocks do not observe daylight savings time and Navajo way of life is still observed with spiritualism playing a role in everyday life.

We toured a number of the “monuments” with a terrific young woman tribe member who shared all kinds of interesting information. She pointed out an example of a “hogan” – the traditional housing for Navajo Family.

All these rock formations have names – can you pick out The Cube – and significance indicates by them. Many reflect spirts prominent in the native religion. Some sites are now restricted to tribe members only due to either tourist disrespect or abuse. We saw the most sacred sites from a distance via a converted Jeep with seats for 12. We lunched as a group at a huge cowboy buffet restaurant – the only non native facility in this part of the Nation. Food was terribly slow and we would not recommend it.

We were treated to a short song and instrumental performance by several tribe members thus setting the tone for further appreciation of this beautiful place. There also is a small museum (with a beautiful gift shop) near the entrance with an interesting section on the Navajo Code Talkers who broke the Nazi code during WWII thus saving many lives.

Fun fact: The road to access this sacred place is also the road used in the filming of “Forest Gump” One would not know that from the movie. While driving we had to stop for some passing wild horses and saw donkeys or burros just off the road.

Unique place with very special people. Keep your eyes out for this place along the interstate and stop to enjoy it.

Natural Bridges National Park

In the top two photos, which were shoot from a distance of about a half mile, you can see the bridge structure as well as the greenery surrounding the water which has performed the ancient rock carving task. There are two bridges in this first photo – one on the right and a larger one on the left.

Natural bridges are formations created by water or even wind eroding the rock under the stronger upper layer of rock – they are created over long periods of times and eventually become smooth rock bridges between two separate land masses.

The Natural Bridges National Park is adjacent to the Navajo Nation Reservation – the largest native peoples nation within the USA. During our national parks tour, we have seen that many of our valuable landscapes and geological formations are in areas of the native Americans – over centuries these native people have been important protectors and preservers of these lands. We recognize their contribution and appreciate their role as heritage custodians.

This view above of another bridges shows the narrow tunnel that will be expanded over time by erosion. Below are two examples of tiny bridges in rocks above the large bridge. area – these created by rain and wind – the highly resistant rock withstands the forces of nature and becomes a bulwark against rock dissolution – thus creating a bridge however small.

The third photo is another large formation with a lush garden growing within – proof of the presence of water in this desert like environment.

This park – one of the smallest we stopped at – was a curious landscape where unique layers of stone and rock are affected differently and often weirdly, and offered us views highlighted by nature’s glorious architectural design.

Between stops along the way and on the outskirts of the parks…

Unusual landscapes were the norm but here are a few from our trek through Utah that were just too cool not to include. We loved learning about how all of them were formed but honestly looking at them and photographing them was a delight. Can’t tell you how many times one of us said – stop the car or the coach – we gotta see that!

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