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.


Indiana Amish Country

Two years ago Rick and I traveled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and were introduced to the Amish culture and core beliefs prevalent there. However after a few days in Elkhart County, we have learned there are differences between communities and while each community adheres to the core beliefs, there are differences – some use no electronics while others allow its members to use engines and electricity. Mennonite families are often seen using cars and they worship in churches or centers while conservative Amish restrict themselves to oil lamps, no electricity, and they worship together in each other’s homes. Middlebury, Shipshewana, and Elkhart are three areas we’ve visited and each offer intriguing views.

Eighty percent of recreational vehicles are manufactured here and the industry has bounced back from the 2099 decline – it provides employment to the surrounding communities and good benefits

Farming was historically the main occupation here, it is no longer primary – now it’s also woodworking, cabinet making, guilting, and furniture design/manufacturing work often as part of the RV industry. Our coach was built here and we benefited from the Amish precision and expertise with wood and details.

However almost every home has farm animals especially horses – several different breeds and ages. Horses for the small buggies – the commuter vehicles every Amish family uses, also the larger Belgium or Percheron horses for plowing fields or hauling equipment, and smaller horses or Shetland ponies for the wagons younger Amish uses around their neighborhoods.

The month of May is foaling time for these beautiful creatures and we were lucky enough to see youngsters were in every pasture – some merely hours old. They were endearing and genuinely special creatures – very interested in their new world. Their desire to walk, run and play was overwhelming and overtook any common sense they might have had.

This foal seemed as intrigued by us as we were of him. Someday soon he will be pulling his owners family along the local byways with his own buggy. He was just days old and full of curiosity. Below is another foal who seemed to want his tired mom to get up and play with him. In background is an expectant mom counting the hours till delivery. We saw many other horses who were equally as beautiful and sweet but the babies really grabbed our hearts.

Barns have always had a special attraction for me – here there is usually a buggy with or without horse in the driveway, a hitching post for buggy & horse parking, and a small outbuilding at the end of driveway with a telephone for emergencies. The homesteads are well maintained, often meticulously by hand and play-sets for kids are usually visible in the backyard even a trampoline.

I have refrained from photographing the Amish people as that is their preference but it has been a joy to see them working, walking, biking and just living their lives.

We have enjoyed their food, service and smiles – we ate at the Blue Gate Restaurant, had a buggy ride with a delightful Amish gentleman, shopped at their stores and experienced their genuine pleasure at sharing their peace with us – strangers.

We have slowed our pace and hopefully learned from them about treating all people we meet with kindness and savoring every minute of our day. If you ever swing through this area – stop and enjoy the respite offered by the plain and simple life

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. 

Our first evacuation!

Being from the Northeast means we get the instruction – “shelter in place” and – stay indoors to be safe – so getting an evacuation order on Tuesday was pretty weird. Leaving our new home was hard – although we done it before – leaving not knowing what palm trees will be standing was nerve wracking. But we also heard that the Oaks Plantation campground on Johns Island was closing so we had to move the motor coach somewhere safe. 

So we packed up some food, clothes & the dogs and headed to the Taj. We planned to leave early Wednesday AM and after many try’s we found a camp site north of Charlotte NC  – a KOA in Statesville some 250 miles away. And because our new car is coming in mid October the C-RV can’t be towed anymore.  I would drive the car with dogs & Rick would drive coach. 

It was a long day – 700 am to 200 pm was exhausting – with lots of traffic and three dog stops  but we arrived and are happy we evacuated. The Motorcoach was safe & so were we. We would head back home on Monday & do the return trip over 2 days. 

Meantime it’s fall here in midland/western NC and a bit cooler than we are comfortable with. It takes getting used to 50 degree temps at night. 

 The Dogs were freaked out by the drive and very nervous resulting from the quick trip  but they should relax by tomorrow. There isn’t much to do here but watch weather news & movies – it’s not a big tourist spot although there is a Nascar Speedway 25 miles away.  We will however add this unusual experience to our adventure list.

 Matthew is a Cat 4 hurricane and making land fall Mid East Florida coast now. She’ll be close to Charleston in less than 24 hrs. – Saturday & Sunday. Our fingers are crossed that she weakens and we just had a nice four day visit to NC. But either way we are glad we evacuated – especially since our insurance would not like it if we stayed & had damage. 

So we will update everyone when we see the full impact of the storm  – pray  it is safe for all. 

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