Turning Stone RV Park, and Utica & Ithaca NY visits.

We arrived at this Casino connected RV Park on the Oneida Nation land outside of Utica located just a mile down the road from the main casino and hotel location. We got a nice long site in the very pleasant park that had many sites for campers, trailers as well as motorhomes. Rain followed us here and made the site very wet and damp. We had plans to see our friend Greg from our Ameriprise days while here but also just relax a bit. Our first day was spent scouting out the large Casino and its numerous restaurants. We sampled one for lunch and were pleased with our choice. We are not gamblers but have found several nice RV Parks colocated with the casinos.

The next afternoon, we visited with our friend – showing off the motor coach to him for the first time – the next afternoon followed by dinner in the Casino’s Harvest Buffet. The following day we had a fabulous tour of the Adirondack Distillery – a small downtown Utica distillery making an array of liquors but with bourbon production as their primary focus. Our tour guide was a staff member since the distillery began about five years ago. His breathe of knowledge and commitment to quality and excellent products was obvious. One of the co owners arrived while we were there and I realized we had previously crossed paths in our former lives in politics. We both agreed it was great to be on the sidelines these days.

Dinner that evening was at a Greek restaurant with a long history of community involvement and commitment as well as delicious traditional Greek delicacies. On Friday we had a fabulous brewery tour at Utica Club or Saranac as it is also known. The brewery is still owned and operated by the original Matt family founders and has survived numerous economic situations but continues to make quality beer and soda products.

That evening we spent relaxing and enjoying dinner at home. Our older Yorkie, Lenny seemed out of sorts and began throwing up that night. He never does that so we wanted to keep an eye on him. We retired for the night with him still not doing well and agreed to take him to the vet in the morning. Around 5am he woke us up very sick – vomiting and diarreha with bright red blood visible. We now had an emergency to deal with called the local vet who directed us to the East Syracuse Veterinary Hospital. We arrived and after examining Lenny they recommended we take him to Cornell University Veterinary Animal Companion Hospital in Ithaca as he needed an ultrasound and serious emergent care. With an IV for fluids to prevent dehydration we bundled him off to the world renown animal hospital. They greeted us at the door, they admitted him immediately. It was obvious he was a very sick baby. We were told quickly they wanted to keep him until the vomiting stopped and his digestive tract calmed down. After three days Lenny was on the road to recovery, diagnosed with severe Hemorrhagic Gastro Enteritis – a sometimes fatal condition if not diagnosed properly. We are eternally grateful to both veterinary facilities for their superior care of Lenny, our dear family member. Sent home with antibiotics and detailed report on his illness we were hopeful of his return to normal soon. We will do a follow up visit at the Banfield Pet Hospital in Newburgh in a week. This experience highlights an important aspect of traveling with your dogs – finding and getting good medical when necessary. We have hadVPI Nationwide insurance and now have the Banfield Optima Wellness plans for them so we can get care at any Banfield. We think this has worked out well although we are considering a catastrophic coverage plan after the expense of Lenny’s illness. Taking good care of your pets is just as important as caring for each other and we make it a priority. We made a few itinerary adjustments so he could have some quiet time to recover and headed to Saugerties/Woodstock KOA.

We visit Graceland – Elvis has not left this building!

You can’t be a music lover without respecting or appreciating Elvis Presley and his music. Our visit to Graceland in Memphis followed our Nashville stop and was so illuminating about his life, family history and his accomplishments in music during such a short life.

We were reminded about his good looks, his easy smile and amazing poetic talent while waltzing through his home – his music in the background – viewing the eclectic furniture he loved and thousands of mementoes that are shared with his millions of fans. There was a certain reverence among the visitors like us – Graceland feels like a temple to his music and memory. We always wanted to visit here and were more impressed than we expected to be. We did the VIP tour with audio complement and saw the house, stables, awards rooms as well as costume and car collection.

We particularly enjoyed the early years exhibits and the movie displays – he appeared in more movies than we remembered and his musical talent as well as acting skills were remarkable.

Elvis and his family members are buried at Graceland in a respectful elegant setting. He was a dedicated family man who loved his family dearly and cared for all of them as they aged. His charitable works were amazing and his daughter Lisa continues them in his name today.

The mansion is well preserved and although somewhat grandiose, it still gives you a sense of his warmth and dedication to his family.

His concert costumes are beyond comparison – in my opinion, only Michael Jackson came close. It was cool to see so many of them and remember the songs you associated with that appearance.

I had forgotten how handsome he was and how vital his male sexuality was to his persona – you’d need to be a robot not to be affected by the smile, the lyrics and the hip swivel. He was an avid reader of everything but especially philosophy and religious works. You can see those influences in his poetry.

I took this picture of one of the news photographs taken while he served in Germany – even with the glare you can appreciate his composure and sweetness at a young 18 years old.

Oh yes the famous Pink Cadillac and it’s even cooler in person. Elvis loved cars deeply and has a fabulous collection from classics to Corvettes but this is my favorite.

More gold records than you can imagine……….

Loved this quote – it explains his determination early on to be the best he could be. Before illness and injuries that caused him constant pain, he was a force of nature in his efforts to succeed.

I couldn’t resist the Purple Caddy…..where do I get one?

The museum is staffed by a very diverse group of people – all local Memphis residents according to ones who we met – and it is clear that these Memphis residents still hold Elvis deeply in their hearts. He was a true son of this rural environment who came from very poor beginnings and proved that success was possible with hard work and a stunning talent.

This was a terrific museum and tour – we stayed in the RV Park adjacent to Graceland for a very reasonable amount – nothing elegant but very convenient especially because it was raining off and on while we were there. We thought it was so interesting and engaging – we were delighted that we had it on our 2019 itinerary.

We followed this visit with our stop in Little Rock, Arkansas and the Clinton Presidential Library, where another Son of rural roots is celebrated for his extraordinary achievements.

Valdez – a rainy cold fishing town rebuilt following after 1964 earthquake and tsunami devastation.

Valdeeez not Valdez as in Juan Valdez, the Colombian coffee icon. A somewhat gloomy wet town when we visited, but another vital fishing location. Several ships from the “Deadliest Catch” TV show operate out of Valdez. It’s a great salmon and ocean fishing port depending on the season. Here too the glaciers drop into the sea and it’s a great place to witness that transformation. The wildlife of Alaska is abundant here with sea otters, sea lions, black and brown bears and bald eagles as well as huge flocks of sea gulls.

The road to this second seaport we visited was singular – deep curves with glaciers hovering above and the ever present mountains looming over it all. There were no other road options – like many other population centers in Alaska – there is one way into Valdez and one way out.

On the route to this seaport you pass mountains that are really volcanoes – some more dormant than others. Alaska is in the famous Ring of Fire and owes much of its rugged landscape to ancient volcanic activity and earthquakes as well as glacial events. Of course the height of the mountains Above is obvious given that the tops are above clouds – three to four mile high peaks are common with majestic Mount Denali being the highest at almost five miles high.

We were lucky enough to witness the salmon struggling upstream to lay their eggs – an annual event- in several locations along the coast and the event never failed to impress us. You could watch these amazing creatures for hours. Their determination is remarkable and stunning. Below you can see them swimming desperately toward shore and the spawning sites in the rivers. The fish ladders are where the strongest and most genetically promising fish survive and go on to produce the best populations going forward.

The spawning salmon also give off sperm which attracts hungry sea gulls and makes for amazing feeding frenzies. Below see the salmon swirling about in shallow water near the river entrances.

A photo of the harbor packed with all kinds of boats – a layer of fog in the morning gave it a mystical appearance – it is a beautiful place.

In springtime Valdez is called the Land of Waterfalls – surrounded by mountains that decorate the seacoast with 27 feet of average snowfall – the melting produces hundreds of waterfalls. Below are a few examples.

A tiny tan Alaskan Hare (related to rabbits but born with fur and mobile in 24 hours) was feasting on grass in front of the Valdez Museum and was not bothered by the human visitors at all.

Inside the Valdez Museum were artifacts and displays about Alaskan heritage, culture and history. In addition nearby is The Maxine and Jesse Whitney Museum and it should not be missed – it is funded by a local family with deep roots here and it has an enormous collection of native arts and products assembled by the family personally. We encourage folks to visit these small yet well organized museums in many of Alaska’s cities and towns- they were a huge resource for us. Although we read James Michner’s “Alaska” as a preparation for this trip, every cultural center and or historical museum added to our knowledge and understanding. Alaska’s complex history and rich native cultural heritage is fascinating and for us now it will be a life long pursuit.

Valdez is also famous as an oil port and a terminus for the Alaska Pipeline. Above is one of the processing plants where the crude is made ready for loading on huge tankers. The Exon Valdez oil disaster occurred near here decades ago and although it was a terrible environmental event, it has lead to a definite commitment to caring for Alaska’s environment. We were impressed by the apparent joint efforts of industry and conservation groups to protect and preserve her natural resources.

These bears below were feasting on salmon not far from the oil refinery and they were just a few of the dozens we saw while visiting the Valdez area.

Black bear fishing for salmon

Same bear finally notices us and wishes he brought his camera too.

And the bald eagles also enjoy salmon and these two below were perched high above the fish ladder pictured earlier where salmon were entering their path to breeding grounds – they were abundant and easy pickings for birds and bears. It was funny to see these splendid eagles literally everywhere in Alaska – the resident call them flying rats – they are abundant and often a nuisance at city trash sites but they are still glorious to watch and to photograph no matter how frequently.

Below sea gulls join in the frenzy as ocean going salmon return to swim back to their birthing areas to lay their eggs. Gulls feast on the fish that aren’t strong enough to complete the trip nThe salmon life cycle seems sad because when they finally reach home to reproduce – it’s over. But their three to five year lifespan is totally focused on reproduction. So if they make it home – their lives are successful and the circle is complete. We appreciated the opportunity to observe the cycle and treasured the experience.

The original city of Valdez was wiped out by the tsunami that accompanied the Great Alaskan or Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. It remains the most powerful earthquake in North America, second most in the world. It was felt as far south as California and tsunamis occurred throughout the Pacific Rim. Lasting 4-5 minutes with a magnitude of 9.2, damage by fissures, cracks and ruptures occurred as far north as Anchorage and all along the Alaskan seacoast. In Alaska, at least 139 people perished and there was $311 million in damages. Salt water roared across Valdez in heights up to ten feet – destroying shops, homes and fishing industry operations. Thirty two local people died as the city collapsed into the bay. The city was rebuilt on higher ground with guidance and technical support from engineers to help prevent a repeat disaster. The original site was at the edge of the bay and thus at risk for high water events. It’s worthwhile to visit to the site and museum to get an understanding of the devastation caused by a huge natural disaster that many of us do not often experience firsthand.

We met several interesting residents here – fishermen and women who fish to live – each year – they organize family fishing expeditions to secure enough salmon and halibut to last through the fall and winter – commercially provided food is very expensive in Alaska so this subsistence living is essential to their survival. It was fun meeting them and sharing stories of travel. Several couples talked about how they travel south in RVs to the lower forty-eight in fall to escape the bitter winters but always return to their beloved Alaska. We also met many people who had relocated north from lower states to Alaska – they said their previous states got too crowded – the call of the wild is strong here and we now understand it’s siren song.

Waterfalls, cascades, rivers and Yellowstone Lake – water water everywhere!

Lower Falls base with rainbow

Upper Falls in Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon

Gallatin River Falls

Firehole Falls

Kepler Cascades

Madison or “Bison” River

Yellowstone Lake

Madison River or “Elk ” River – another view

Hope you enjoyed these water views of Yellowstone.

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