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.

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.

Craters of the Moon National Monument & EBR 1 – Arco ID

We departed Yellowstone after a wonderful visit and headed southwest to Arco Idaho to visit a unique national monument park, and the sight of the first breeder reactor built in the USA.

We were welcomed to Craters of the Moon National Monument by these orange and pink flowers demanding to be seen amidst abundant evidence of great devastation.

Craters of the Moon is a national monument park made up of the largest group of lava fields and volcanic cones outside of Hawaii. Although not active presently like the Yellowstone Caldera it is due to erupt in about 2200 AD. Historically it has erupted on schedule every 2000 yrs for the last 15,000 yrs.

Note the tiny white patches of wildflowers in front of the lava rocks – spreading phylox or stickseed. Dwarf Monkeyflower, Dwarf Buckwheat and Silver leafed Phacelia make up the bulk of the blossoming plants in the park.

It is a place you must see in person to really appreciate its beauty – all shapes of lava and cinder formations dotted with white, yellow and pink spring wildflowers bursting forth in full bloom and deftly twisted deciduous and pine trees – defying low nutrient volcanic soil and flourishing. We were very lucky to witness the annual wildflower bloom and reveled in the tiny blasts of color as we toured the park.

Above is another close up of some wildflowers that seemed quite at home in the bed of multicolored cinder soil. all the plants seemed very resilient and able to thrive throughout the park.

Given that Kilauea was still erupting in Hawaii at this time – it was cool to see the similar types of lava formations that resulted when magma became lava as it poured through both ground crevices and volcanic cones during eruptions thousands of years ago.

We got to walk up alongside several old volcanic cones and look down into them – pretty weird to think they were capable of such destructive force and fireworks. The landscape is covered with cinder and ash from these previous explosions, allowing a firsthand look at what happens when this fiery material cools over a period of time.

The National Park Visitor Center has a great display portraying the park’s relationship to the surrounding volcanic activity – past and present in both Idaho and Wyoming and it does a great job explaining all the different types of rocks, plants and animals that call this extraordinary place home. Be sure to stop before you go into the park in order to be better informed when touring the Park’s interior. Remember to stay on the walkways and do not walk on the lava or cinder areas as you could be destroying new growth or habitat.

There is also a campground near the entrance – only RVs, campers and tent enthusiasts may use it as it is relatively compact. Funny to imagine staying overnight within a dormant volcano field – there is likely little or no ambient light so the night sky and its stars would be magnificent! It is one of the official Dark Sky Park’s with special programming by rangers for visitors after dark.

The old gray trees – some of which continue to grow – were the result of a fungi parasite the doesn’t actually kill the tree but causes the twists in its branches – early ranger intercession was to kill and cut many of them down but it was later determined there was no harm by the parasite. We found these shapes remarkable and stunning – we took a lot of pictures of them. We loved the contrast of the gray and silver entwined trunks against the cinder fields and smaller green growth.

Below another view of a cinder field coming alive with wildflowers in their spring colors.

Craters of the Moon Park was also used as an training area for the astronauts preparing for Apollo 13 moon walks – because the terrain resembles the landscape on the Moon it helped scientists prepare the men for what to expect.

Don’t miss this amazing stop along Highway 20 just outside of the tiny city of Arco ID.


This remarkable first breeder reactor is a national historic monument and a great stop along the same highway 20. Take the time to have a guided tour – the guides do a great job explaining how a breeder reactor works to produce energy as well as the history of this particular project.

Although there are none currently operating in the USA, many scientists (including my father)believed that this form of nuclear energy production is safer, cleaner and more efficient than the currently operating reactors. Once you understand that the process used to make energy actually breeds new fuel you appreciate the rationale for the “breeder” type process. Both France and Germany have built these breeder reactor plants and they have reported no problems.

above is the first generator power by nuclear power and capable of lighting four incandescent bulbs for its first effort. The reactor remained active and safe until it was taken off line in the early 70s. America lost its appetite for nuclear power after the accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl in the late twentieth century and by the 21st their fate was sealed. Energy politics may have played a part as well – big oil and coal fought hard to stop their future development too.

Above is the center part of the reactor’s control room.

The area where this breeder reactor is located is within the expansive Idaho National Laboratories – scientific research facilities which continues to conduct important nuclear research and development. More nuclear reactors have been built there than anywhere in the world. Not all remain productive – most are for specific experiments and research rather than energy production.

This was one of the nuclear fuel rods transport systems.

Opened in the late 1940s the INL or the Laboratories occupy almost two million acres in Southwestern Idaho and are the area’s major employer, offering good jobs at their facilities. The decision to locate the huge facility in this part of Idaho was based on the low numbers of humans – farming was abandoned decades ago – and little wildlife as well as its remoteness.

In addition to the nuclear research an area of almost 1000 acres was set aside as a important sagebrush preserve – scientific studies are conducted there help us understand the impact of climate change on our environment. At a rest stop along interstate 20 you can check the current weather – temperature, humidity as well as the area’s atmospheric radiation content. A first for us!!

Pronghorn (a deer /antelope type mammal that runs up to 35 mph and eats sagebrush) are seen frequently in the preserve as are rabbits and smaller rodents – although very forbidding in appearance there is life in this desolate sagebrush prairie.

Following this visit, we stopped at the world famous “Pickle Place” for a lunch of Atomic Burgers and fried pickles – good food at the only place decent stop in town.

We departed Arco for a short stay in the oil town of Billings, Montana followed by the coal town named Butte.

Montana, my heart belongs to you….

We are back in this beautiful state – Billings for a few days at a cool KOA with a delightful miniature golf course – where I beat Rick with three holes in one! Billings is hardly scenic as it is surrounded by oil refineries and oil is the smell in the air at all times. While we understand the value of these industries, it’s important to remember the environmental & ecological impact of stripping coal and oil from the earth. Regardless of your perspective one wonders why there are not more solar panel projects or wind farms here – where the wide open plains and the strong winds are widespread.

Next stop for us is Red Lodge, Montana – off Rte 212 just east of Yellowstone. We were greeted with a big thunderstorm and pea size hail our first evening but surrounded by scenic farm land and tall peaks. As we drove into the area there were wildflowers decorating the roadside – but the orange poppies were spectacular – like a welcome greeting or hello hug.

First day we drove the Jeep Grand Cherokee high into the mountains following the famous Beartooth Highway that just reopened for spring. It’s a winding corkscrew of a road thru the high mountains and contrasting valleys that leads you to the east side of Yellowstone National Park. Picturesque is an understatement.

It is according to Charles Kuralt ” one of the truly most scenic highways in the USA ” and we agree even though there was still a 30 ft of snow wall along the highest points.

An amazing vista along with an occasional white knuckles section – can’t imagine doing this in a motor coach although people passed us in small ones. This drive was a wonderful experience that we are very glad we did.

Skiers and snow boarders can be found near the top – still enjoying the over 30 ft of granulated sugar snow on the basin slopes. There’s a historical rope tow at the Basin area giving a small assist for those brave souls. We watched for a while and shared their exuberance of their almost flying rides down the slopes.

We made it to The Top of the World gift and sundries shop for some munchies and a photo op – then on to Cooke City just outside the Park East Entrance. Waterfalls powering down mountain slopes tell you how high the snow pack was this winter and it’s a spring sight to witness. In realty photos tell the story best of this beautiful drive so here are several to wet your appetite for this amazing drive.

Our return drive was along the Chief Joseph Highway which commemorates the trip this famous chief took his Nez Perce tribe when in the late 1880’s, he unsuccessfully tried to escape the US Army. He eventually surrendered after terrible cold weather affected his people but his loyalty, grace and courage will always be remembered. This return trip was not as elevated but it was still beautiful.

Red Lodge is a tiny scenic cowboy town of 2300 with lots of shops, galleries and fun places to poke around in. There are several terrific restaurants and we enjoyed one – Bogart’s with a Mexican theme and photos of the wonderful iconic actor and his costars on the walls as well as great Margaritas and authentic food.

We enjoyed a walk thru the local candy emporium and an interesting antique shop that had everything from classic lamps to old license plates with a classic gun shop room in the back – complete with pearl handled revolvers and leather tooled holsters.

In an expansive gallery of several large rooms we saw wonderful local artwork ranging from sculptures to beaded work and large delightful oil paintings. The proprietor gave us some further tips about the area and Yellowstone – I had to try very hard not to buy any number of items there.

Near our campground we found a special furniture store – Rocky Fork Juniper Furniture – where an artist/ wood sculptor – Lee Kern – has a workshop where lovely juniper trees and logs became lamps, chairs, tables and even a huge four poster bed under the spell of his vision. We fell in love with his work and pieces – maybe someday one of them may grace our home.

Don’t miss this tiny town of Red Lodge if you are traveling this way – it’s funky, timeless and the people are very welcoming and warm. Just another reason to love visiting Montana.

Yellowstone – here we come!

Buggies, carriages & coaches

Sometimes you get the road all to yourself 😊

Many in town roads have a carriage and bike lane – bicycles are ridden by Amish folks commuting to work or meetings.

This large group of carriages were parked at an Amish & Mennonite Youth Center on Sunday – no stores or restaurants are open – it’s a day of rest and family time. It’s the Mennonite families are allowed to have cars.

An elegant two horse drawn carriage that seats five or six passengers.

Below another larger version carriage with just one strong steed to pull its passengers.

This eleven year old beauty – Kate – pulled our carriage during our thirty minute ride through the neighborhood. He gave us a few pointers about the horses and their goals as we passed pastures filled with them.

Below is one of the smaller buggies the carry two or three people. It’s the compact car version.

Above a horse and carriage – the SUV version – waiting for the family at one of the many shops along Van Buren Avenue in Shipshewana.

Below is the other larger horse who pulled carriages for tourist rides – waiting for the next customer.

Traveling through an intersection – heading into rain….great protection for weather.

Below we saw a number of carriages waiting patiently for groceries at one of the local shops.

And the last photo is the ever present carriage in the family farm driveway.

It’s a great way to travel!

Barns, Barns and more buildings like barns

Few words – more pictures….

Old and tilted…

Bright and shiny…

Patch work roof…

A smaller brick building we loved..

And some distressed, others modern and brand new…

Lots of red barns…loved this weathered one above…and below….

This one had the Ten Commandments on plaques over front door.

Unusual shape…

A beautiful red door….

Oldest probably… above and below…..

These won’t be the last barns we see but they were such inspiration.


Kansas City, Missouri Visits

We visited Kansa City Missouri prior to joining the Fantasy RV Rivers West/Lewis & Clark Expedition Tour so we have much to report on about this city.  The weather has been interesting – hot, thunderstorms galore and several tornado watches, but we did fine and will ultimately be happy to leave “Tornado Alley”!


Goodbye Riverbend – and hello to Mt Pleasant before our 2017 Tours begin. 

We had a wonderful month In LaBelle,  Florida seeing old friends and making new ones – but we left for Mt Pleasant following  a stop in Atlanta at NIRV to drop off  the Taj for some work prior to our big 6 months West Coast trip. 

We visited Sanibel, Captiva and Venice FL.  during our Riverbend stay and love these special places – we will return to them next year definitely!  The weather was fabulous and we enjoyed our second  no snow & no sleet winter!

Our Riverbend site is getting more work done – we bought stone edging to improve the gardens and add some sparkle. Our landscaper has done a great job with the shrubs and palms – we added the bouganviella  – they bring color to the gardens. But now we have stored our site’s  lawn furniture & decor – all is packed away until our return early November 2017. 

We are home in Mt Pleasant for two weeks catching up with friends and family and enjoying our lovely home. Also enjoying some crazy thunder & lightening weather!  But we are very excited about our forthcoming western USA trip including three Fantasy RV Tours/Rallies and we can’t wait to get started in May. 

But our adventures really begin with a NIRV Rally in Thackerville, Oklahoma in the end of April.   There we will spend several days with fellow Entegra Coach owners and snooze with NIRV folks.  On the way we stop in Meridian, Mississippi and Shreveport, Louisiana and travel thru eastern Texas – adding more states to our USA map! 

After the NIRV rally, we have planned visits to Oklahoma City, OK, northern Kansas – to see the “world’s largest ball of twine” and then to Kansas City, Missouri before beginning The Lewis & Clark (Rivers West) Fantasy RV Tour on May 22nd.  We begin the tour in St Charles MO north of St Louis and end in Warrenton, Oregon where Lewis first views the Pacific Ocean thus completing his assignment from President Jefferson.  

Following this first tour we have six weeks to visit friends and family in Washington, Oregon and California before beginning the National Parks West Tour in late August.   Following this amazing visit to the seven beautiful national parks around the Grand Canyon, we will join hundreds of RVers to attend the International Balloon Festival in Albuquerque NM – checking a big item on my bucket list!   

We will return to Florida in the fall via stops in Dallas, Houston and New Orleans.  Wow!  It really sounds amazing when you write it all down!  Also exhausting too – but in a good way! 

Let’s get this party started!!!

Recent photographs from Mount Pleasant & Ashley River before we evacuated. 

This was Sunday evening from our front yard. 

And this was from the bridge over the Ashley River on our way to Oaks Plantation to get onboard the Taj. Gorgeous sunset – one of hundreds we’ve seen but we hoped it was a good omen. 

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