Chena Hot Springs, Denali National Park, and Being Above the Arctic Circle

With daylight hours to spend, we ventured away from Fairbanks.  We were there as the leaves were turning and the landscape was beautiful!

Our first excursion was to Chena Hot Springs Resort. We had a tour of the geo-hydro plant that provides most of the heat and electricity for the resort.  

They have extensive greenhouses to grow all of the produce used in the restaurants and crew cafeteria

This resort is very remote (requiring onsite employee housing) and their ability to be mostly self sufficient is impressive. Nice, but we came here for The Ice Museum and a soak in the hot springs!   

The Ice Museum has a number of impressive art carvings and a few “rooms”to rent to stay the night. They give you a room in the lodge as back up. Very few make it through the night!

There is an Ice Bar serving apple-tinis in ice glasses.
A lovely ice glass – keeping it cool!
Cold apple-tinis are delicious!   Randy had two!

After getting chilled in the ice museum – we were ready for a soak in the hot springs!

Another adventure took us on a return trip to Denali National Park.  We were there ten years ago, taking the school bus tour 89 miles into the heart of the park, and seeing a variety of animals.  We also saw a cloud obscured Mount Denali. That was then.

We knew we weren’t seeing Denali this time either because of heavy cloud cover but we were hoping to see animals.  (After seeing two distant moose, a porcupine and a fox right after we arrived in Alaska, we hadn’t seen anything since!)

There really are mountains behind those clouds!
This is an interesting forest.

Usually, personal vehicles are allowed to only go fifteen miles into the park. With no bus tours offered, we were allowed to drive 30 miles in on the only road in Denali National Park.

We saw one Dall Sheep from a distance. That was all.

It wasn’t the wildlife viewing experience we had hoped for but we learned a few things.  Denali National Park’s original preserve was formed to protect the Dall Sheep from excessive hunting. It was later expanded to include the mountain.  Alaska has sixteen national parks and their combined acreage equals two thirds of all United States National Park holdings.

Our last big adventure away from Fairbanks was to fly to Coldfoot, Alaska –  landing above the arctic circle!

It was a small plane. Everyone got an aisle and a window seat.
We saw the oil pipeline from above.

After landing in Coldfoot, we took a 30 minute van ride to Wiseman, 63 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Jack gives tours of his home and the 100 year old former mining community.

In Wiseman, we met Jack who told us about living in the arctic.  He has lived in the arctic region since he was a small child. He and his wife, a few members of his extended family and a handful of others live in Wiseman year round. They live off the grid – as you must up here – using solar power and Honda generators. They rely on subsistence living and plan to use every single scrap of the moose his wife had killed the day prior. They must get a caribou to have enough meat to last the winter. Fishing opportunities are rare this far inland.

Jack uses cues from the trees to know when to put seeds or seedings in his garden. He uses plastic sheeting to warm the ground maximizing their 100 day growing season.   

Our impression was that Jack was one of the smartest people we have ever encountered.  It wasn’t clear if he had formal education beyond the arctic but it was very clear he knew a lot about a lot of things!  Jack reads everything and serves on government boards for fish and wildlife management.

This 100 year old cabin is still used for guests and storage.

It was fascinating and impressive that a handful of people survive out here with just their own tenacity.   It is also humbling to know that I would never (could never?) want to live this way.

We did, however, do what only two percent of visitors to Alaska do. We crossed the arctic circle!

Most visitors cross by vehicle (at least one way) and have a photo op at this famous sign.  We saved ourselves many, many hours by flying both ways – but missed the photo op!

We did get certificates!
Hopefully our next big adventure will be maskless! Stay safe everyone!
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Fun Times in Fairbanks!

Although our purpose for visiting Fairbanks was to see the northern lights, we had daytime to explore.    Randy and I were in Fairbanks in 2010 with my parents on a cruise/land tour so we had already seen some of the sites.  Others were closed because of Covid, and still others were closed because it was late September and the summer tourist season was over.

A repeat activity was to stop at a roadside park highlighting the Alaska Oil Pipeline.  The pipeline is raised so the naturally hot oil doesn’t thaw the permafrost.
The pipeline goes 800 miles across Alaska from Prudhoe Bay in the north to Valdez in the south, and right through Fairbanks. We saw sections of it frequently
“Pigs” travel with the oil to clean and monitor the pipeline.
“Hold up the pipeline” is required photography!

Our cabin was just down the road from a great attraction – the Running Reindeer Ranch.  This is the ultimate story of: girl wants a pet, overcomes mom and financial hurdles to finally obtain two reindeer.  Of course, the girl grows up and moves away, leaving mom to care for the reindeer.  Years later, mom has turned the reindeer herd into a family business. Mom breeds reindeer and educates tourists about them, serving chocolate chip cookies from the same recipe the girl used to raise $2000 to buy that first reindeer.

This is 8 year old Olive, not one of the original reindeer, but the current herd matriarch.

There is an opening informative talk about reindeer. All the while the herd wanders around and through!   Reindeer are the same as caribou – just domesticated.  They need human support. Female reindeer and caribou grow antlers – unlike other horned or antlered animals.   All caribou and reindeer shed and grow new antlers each year.

The herd is currently about a dozen animals and, after learning about them, we all went for a walk through the aspen forest.

And posed with one of the two male reindeer.

Another fun afternoon was spent at the Fountainhead Antique Automobile Museum.   I always enjoy car museums way more than I expect to but this one had a unique twist.  Not only are the vintage cars on display, but corresponding vintage clothing are displayed as well!   How fun is that!

See how the silver grill on the car matches the silver pattern in the dress!  Crazy!

I’ve never been big on fashion except to appreciate it in a general way.  However, I did learn about a pigeon breasted bodice in this 1905 display.  It absolutely looks like a pigeon breast! Oh yeah! See the car in the background!

I learned about a “hobble skirt” from 1913.  Uhhh, why would they do that?

If Randy was writing this you’d get more car highlights.  Sorry, it is me.  Here are a few car things that I noticed, or were pointed out to me.

These cars from the same era don’t yet have consistency on whether the driver’s side is on the left or right.
A 1917 Ford Model T Snow Flyer.
This was Alaska’s first car, cobbled together in 1905 using miscellaneous parts by someone who had never seen a car except in magazines.   Twenty-two year old Sheldon gathered parts from bicycles, wagons, a boat engine, two bar stool seats and other miscellaneous items to build a car, in secret, to impress a girl.    She was impressed and joined him on many rides but they did not end up together.   A car with a story!
The displays were very well done.

Randy had a nice time looking at the cars and talking with the docent. (He said he barely noticed the clothes.) I enjoyed the car-fashion combinations.  It was a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon in Fairbanks.

I will end with one of Fairbanks’ famous photo opportunities.   The arch was made of over 100 moose and caribou antlers.  

Next post – The things we did away from Fairbanks!

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Northern Lights Bucket List – Check!

In 2019 we went on a Panama Canal Cruise for my mother’s bucket list trip and to an overwater bungalow in Tahiti for Randy’s.   My bucket list idea was to see the Northern Lights. Our first plan was an October 2020 Princess Cruise to Norway called Looking for the Northern Lights.  Of course, that was shut down with everything else in 2020.  Plan B was a trip to Alaska. 

Alaska requires a Covid test 72 hours before departure.  Arizona State University sponsors a drive up testing site that worked for us.   We tested Saturday morning, had negative results on Sunday, and left on Tuesday.  The above paragraph makes the whole process sound simple. It was not.

Alaska Airlines had a great deal on flights and does a nice job of keeping travelers and employees safe.  We had great views of the frigid northland with many glaciers.

I researched time and place and decided on a very rural airbnb cabin 10 miles outside Fairbanks.   We booked for eleven nights around the fall solstice with minimal moonlight.

Cute cabin but it hurt my heart every night to see that beautiful wolf hanging next to me.
Kitchen side. The cabin was one big room with a separate bathroom.
Breakfast foods were provided including LOTS of eggs from chickens and quail on site.
Randy did some Handy Randy stuff – replacing a kitchen faucet in the cabin.
We saw a beautiful sunset before we saw a beautiful night!

German Shepherd Sadie lives on site and she and I became good friends.  We even took care of Sadie for a few days when the owner went camping.

At DW Grill in Fairbanks – the only restaurant in town we really liked so we went twice.

We were in place and ready to see lights!      Our working plan was to drive to a nearby viewing area each evening and wait for lights to appear.   It was only 15 minutes from our cabin – but it was easier planned than accomplished!    

We were our first problem.   All summer we have gone to bed early so we could be up early because 5:30 – 9:00 a.m. is the only good time to be outside in the summer desert heat.  Staying out and awake well into the night required a major shift in our internal clocks.

We learned about KP levels (how far the solar activity would spread) and had websites and apps to monitor viewing potentials.   The highest KP levels were supposed to be near the end of our trip but activity was possible at any time as long as the night skies were clear.

Each clear night we drove up the nearby hill for optimum viewing and stayed until we were just too cold and tired to care.

One night we saw an interesting white glow spreading across the north.  It was like a dome of light above a distant city, but Fairbanks was in the opposite direction!   We knew something was different! Sadie had been tied up for awhile so about midnight we headed back to the cabin all the while keeping our eyes looking north.   We stopped once en-route because things were looking even more interesting!

We got back to Sadie, let her off her tether,  and the lights came.  Our lights were white, some like those old spotlights shooting up from car dealerships.   Others we saw were like rolling clouds.   We saw hints of color a couple times but white was dominant.   We didn’t even try to take pictures.  We just enjoyed them, wrapped in a blanket together, with Sadie at our feet.

Our show lasted about 30 minutes and we were so cold and tired that we were fine with it ending!  We were only half way through our trip, KP levels were rising and we had hope of seeing more.

But we never did.  The clouds rolled in for days and we didn’t have another chance until the dark morning we drove to the airport to leave.  I watched out the airplane window hoping to see them one more time.

Honestly, it seems like a crapshoot to ever see the lights.   We went to the right place, at the right time, stayed eleven nights and feel fortunate to have seen them once!  Most people see green lights – so maybe we were lucky to see white.    We talked to someone who had lived in Fairbanks for 27 years and had only seen the multi colored light display one time.

This watercolor was in our cabin and I enjoyed it many times every day.
I bought this piece to commemorate our successful Northern Lights Bucket List trip.

I’ve heard from many of you that seeing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list too.  I offer this piece of advice.   Do your research on time and place like I did, but then book a room in a Bed and Breakfast or Lodge that will WAKE YOU UP if the lights appear.   I knew that type of lodging existed but was being Covid careful, wanting to be more isolated.  Hopefully, that won’t be necessary too much longer.   It was exhausting to stay awake so late, checking the apps for notifications anytime we woke up, and still trying to have some fun during the days.

Look for future posts about those daytime activities near Fairbanks!

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A Little More Colorado!

We spent the last half of our “cool” vacation at Navajo State park on the Colorado side of the border with New Mexico. 
Both states have parks along this 35 mile long reservoir.  The primary purpose of the1962 dam and reservoir is to provide water to the Navajo Indian Reservation.  Recreation is a nice by-product.
We moved mid stay to have a lake side view!
We walked the trails daily and saw lots and lots of deer!

Occasionally we’d see something else.  This is an old water tank for the steam engines on the old railroad line between Chama and Durango.

I ALWAYS look for snakes as we wander trails because I dislike them so much.  I saw four snakes on this vacation – two alive and two dead.  I thought this was my fifth until I saw it was a USB to iPhone cord.  Whew!!  We took it home to live again.

One morning we saw all these fish congregating along the bank for about 300 yards!  We caught THE day the carp were spawning!   When the water temperature is right (73 degrees) it all happens in one day.    Two days later the eggs hatch.

We did get in the truck a couple times to go exploring!  Chimney Rock became a national monument in 2012, one of only 11 national park sites that are managed by the US Forest Service.   

Over 200 structures, or former structures, are evident within the monument. Some have been excavated and stabilized.  Large archeology efforts were made in 1921 and 1971.

The Ancient Pueblo people lived here from 925 to 1125 AD.  They were part of a larger network that centered in Chaco Canyon, 100 miles southwest.     Within the network, the Chimney Rock community was the most remote and highest in elevation.

Architecture and pottery similarities establish that Chaco relationship for archeologists. The wall under the shelter above is the only section of original wall available for viewing.  Other areas have been rebuilt (using original stones as possible) and stabilized with concrete.  When in use, the walls and roofs would have had a covering of adobe.

We accessed self guided tours to both sections of the national monument.   The first was Mesa Village containing home sites and a grand kiva.  The path is paved and the audio tour is well done. During non-covid times, guided tours are available.

The second section is the Great House Pueblo Trail.  The trail is a bit adventurous with rock/gravel footing,  steep drop-offs and gorgeous views.

“Do not go beyond this point” – even you Randy!
The Piedra river valley below was used for agriculture, then and now!

Evidence exists of large fires at the Great House site.  They are thought to have been signals to a community on Huerfano Mesa approximately 30 miles away.  From there signals could be sent to Chaco Canyon.

The Great House appears to have had ceremonial purpose instead of residential.  Archeologists estimate no more than 10 people lived in this part of the site.  Many rooms were empty, thought to be guest rooms occupied only when special gatherings took place.

There were normal ceremonial gatherings and then there was the Northern Major Lunar Standstill gatherings.  Of course they didn’t call it that. Once every 18.6 years the moon rises between the two rock pinnacles, as viewed from the Great House.   During occupation of the site, those dates would have included AD 1076 and AD 1093.   Wooden beam datings have corresponded to those dates.

The next cycle of the Northern Major Lunar Standstill will occur in 2024-25.  Maybe we’ll have to come back to see it, and maybe by then I’ll understand it.  I looked for a simple, brief explanation for the blog and nothing was simple or brief!

Although the monument is called Chimney Rock, that is the name of the spire on the right.   The one on the left is called Companion Rock.

Peregrine Falcons return to nest at Companion Rock each year.  We didn’t see falcons, but we did see evidence.

Beyond our exploring and relaxing, Handy Randy spent considerable time trying to fix leaks in our shower.   We had a cracked shower pan replaced under warranty a number of years ago and it is such poor quality that we are hesitant to use it again.We’d like to install a residential grade shower.  

That discussion led to a few other things we’d like to do – like resurface the splitting desk top, replace the carpet with a vinyl “wood” floor, and a few others.   We have appointments with two RV renovation companies to look at possibilities.

This three week trip has been great and reminds us that we really do like traveling in our fifth-wheel.  Randy is ready to sell the house and go full timing again but I’m hesitant.  We spent the last year getting our house just how we like it.  I’d like the best of both worlds!

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Lovin’ This Part of Colorado

FD3DA50D-821C-4B9E-90A4-349E5722C988We so enjoyed our 12 days at Ridgway State Park near Montrose, Colorado.  We can see ourselves volunteering here in the future – after we finish our map. 

The only negative is that campsites have only 30 amp power.   For those who don’t know what that means, it means on the cool Colorado mornings, I can’t warm up my cocoa in the microwave and run the electric fire place at the same time.  High amp appliances like those, and the toaster and blow dryer have to be managed – I can’t use more than one at a time on top of the other random low amp draws.  It’s do-able, just not as convenient as having 50 amp power.  Randy could explain to you that 50 amp really means 100 amps but what I know is that when we have 50 amps, I don’t have to manage anything.  It all just works, whenever I want, without tripping circuit breakers.

We aren’t the only ones who love this part of Colorado.  Actor Dennis Weaver, (environmentalist, all around great guy) and his family lived in Ridgway for many years.  He and his wife built a solar home made of recycled materials (tires, cans etc.) and called it Sunridge Earthship.  With walls three feet thick, it is well insulated against cold winters and warm summers.   We saw and commented on the home without realizing what it was and who it had belong too.

4AD2F595-E142-47B5-B7DF-6C91FB31D07EDennis Weaver and family donated large acreage along the Umcompaghre River as a wildlife preserve and recreation area.  (Uncompaghre is a Ute word roughly translated to dirty water, or red water spring – likely from area hot springs.)  There are miles of hiking trails.

359DEA05-56A2-4291-B925-ACE6E5325672Dennis Weaver died in 2006 and his family dedicated the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park in 2007.

AA8E6A9A-8E04-4CE4-B021-578031242A63_1_201_aThis eagle, by sculptor Vic Payne, has a wingspan of 21 feet. 

F31FC037-5661-4D0F-97E8-6BF547377168_1_201_aThere is an invitation to assemble your own prayer stones.

7F5AD45C-E60E-475B-8059-3F604699DC6FEnjoy a musical interlude along with relaxation and reflection inspired by the park.

Dennis Weaver isn’t the only actor who spent time in these parts.   An impressive number of movies were filmed in the area and one is mentioned repeatedly –  True Grit.   During non-Covid times there are True Grit tours and movie locations to experience.

1A095F41-7854-4FBF-B90C-BCBA61509FBF_1_201_aWe found one True Grit site, Katie’s Meadow on Owl Creek Pass, where Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) had a shootout with Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall).   Search for the “Bold Talk for a One Eyed Fat Man” movie clip if you want to relive it.    A few free range cows were enjoying the meadow when we were there.

A741F7AC-CC3B-46E0-84FD-A8ACBD73E971_1_201_a Owl Creek Pass is one of the famous scenic drives in the area.   Drivable by two wheel drive vehicles, it rises to 10,114 feet in the Uncompaghre National Forest.    

B5C3C600-0750-4B91-B2D0-CC1C46A9A90DWe saw Chimney Rock, clouded in smoke…

E82C9D19-76D0-4D99-87B5-C8707E6D7E07_1_201_a…and other beautiful towering rocks lifted up.

98AB51A3-4848-49BC-BD90-956B17339075_1_201_aMiles and miles of aspen (and the random evergreens) made us want to come back and drive Owl Creek Pass in the fall.

72D1648E-3B9E-455D-B88D-BCDBB6E3B1BC_1_201_aAlthough we saw signs for bear and big horn sheep everywhere, we didn’t see much wildlife beyond the free range cows.  An exception was this marmot high on a rock behaving as sentry along the road.

70B8730A-BB8F-41DE-BD73-9FB127807FB1_1_201_aAnd this squirrel, high up in a dead tree, enjoying the Colorado beauty – just like we did!

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Visiting the Least Visited

A list of the ten national parks in the US with the smallest number of annual visitors include three in Alaska.  Why is kind of obvious.  Two are islands (Isle Royale and Dry Tortugas) so require watercraft.  The other five are in isolated parts of the country.   That doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy.  They are National Parks after-all.

Although we have not yet been to the parks in Alaska or those that are islands, we have visited three of the remaining five least visited parks, one of them recently – Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

In 2014 we visited North Cascades National Park along Highway 20, the northern route across Washington.  The area is stunningly beautiful.  I wrote about it in the blog post  What is that smell?!.  (The title had nothing to do with the national park!)


Lake Diablo along Highway 20


1F720E71-11C1-4A5D-8082-CC2D41106C9FGreat Basin National Park is very isolated near the Utah- Nevada border.   Again in 2014, we enjoyed the scenic drive within the park and Lehmann Caves.   We traveled The Loneliest Road in America to get there and that is the name of the blog.

68E5CE18-47F0-4131-9F6A-C0E5CEBC1D9A_1_201_aThis week we visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  This park isn’t hard to get to (at least in summer) so my guess is that there is just so much else to see in the four corners region.  We are actively exploring the area and have much more to go.  There are five national parks in southern Utah, two in northern Arizona and another in southwest Colorado.  Maybe Black Canyon of the Gunnison just gets lost in the mix.

Like the Grand Canyon, this park is more easily accessed from the south so the south rim has nearly all the services.   We entered at the south entrance near the town of Montrose.  Also like the Grand Canyon it is not a simple decision to visit the north rim.  It takes several hours to drive around to the north side.   It took us many years to get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (The North Rim – Finally!)  We hope it won’t take us that long to get to the north rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison so we can enjoy “solitude and self-reliant conditions.”

F9F4C5F3-C7C1-473D-B787-C310653DADE8_1_201_aAfter entering the park, we started down the East Portal road which descends to the Gunnison River.  Some reviewers said they had seen bears in the morning so we went there first.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see bears.  

C7BD0431-8E78-4FD5-B74D-01A2B0F81810_1_201_aThe East Portal road is closed in winter because of hair-pin turns and a 16% grade.   Vehicles over 22 feet are prohibited.  Randy never saw the truck tilt more than 9% but apparently there are places of 16%.  The road was impressive and I was glad my driver knew how to use low gear and engine braking.  Some people were riding their brakes all the way down!


At the bottom we found a beautiful river and canyon.  If you look close you can see an ever present fly fisherman.

The road itself seemed quite an accomplishment but at the end we learned that the true engineering marvel was the Gunnison Tunnel.  

C3E31241-E943-4BC5-8B32-E42569FA22B3_1_201_aThis picture shows the small town that supported the tunnel workers and families in 1905.  It had a  power plant, post-office, school, dining hall, hospital and more to support the 24 hour per day work lasting through 1909.

DF7421A2-0579-486C-B4A7-644A5805C6E1_1_201_aThe 5.8 mile long tunnel was one of America’s first Reclamation Projects. A straight line was maintained for 10,000 feet into the canyon wall.  It still brings 495,000 gallons per minute of irrigation water to the Umcompahgre Valley.

D77C7B63-6703-4BA2-867B-FCB21C15248F_1_201_aIt was honored as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  Other projects honored in this way include the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Durango & Silverton Railroad.

After driving back out to rim level we started the scenic south rim drive.  There are twelve overlooks along the seven mile route and we went to eleven of them.  (Three overlooks were very close together and we skipped the middle one.)  All involve a bit of a walk to the viewpoint, some short, others ranged from 300 – 700 yards.  One was as long as 1.5 miles.

C3A8C959-BC47-4F7D-B94F-5AC6CC829075_1_201_aBlack canyon isn’t the deepest canyon or the longest in the United States.  Those distinctions belong to Hell’s Canyon (Idaho and Oregon) and the Grand Canyon respectively.  What makes Black Canyon distinct is the combination of depth, vertical drop and narrowness.  The canyon is only 1/4 mile wide in the Narrows and some areas see very little daylight.

27728FDB-34E6-4D60-8A59-7790CECDDE52_1_201_aRandy stands at the edge of the precipice because…of course he does.  I do not ask for these photo ops!!!

7BA239D5-31E7-40E7-A710-E7C3AF2A10B7_1_201_aOne of the primary features of the canyon is Painted Wall.  The dark sections are Gneiss while the lighter veins are Pegmatite.   The wall is twice as high as the Empire State Building.

035CEDA3-8850-4FE5-B30D-302AA082C401_1_201_aWhile all the scenic viewpoints are great, the eighth in our journey was our favorite – Cedar Point.  

60DAE99C-E84A-4659-97E9-DD9619733AD6_1_201_aThere was a bit of a hike through Pinon-Juniper to the overlook.

559E1B4C-EF40-4168-8BF7-D73A17E999F8_1_201_aFrom Cedar Point we had a nice view of the Gunnison River and the Painted Wall.

2ECBED3C-663B-4A2C-B5D7-25B9568F62E5_1_201_aThe last viewpoint involved a “moderate” 1.5 mile hike to Warner Point.  After being sick much of July, hiking at 8000 feet, with the smoke and the afternoon heat wasn’t a breeze for me.  Randy had plenty of time to take close up shots of this very colorful lizard.  

9406162F-9C28-456B-8FD9-901FCACEFF29_1_201_aWhen we got to Warner Point we found our view thwarted by smoke.  It had been evident throughout our visit but increased in the afternoon.   Oh well, just one more reason to come back and visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – next time from the north rim.


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Colorado:  2020 Second Attempt!

In early July we wanted to escape the heat and go to cooler Colorado.    Since the trailer had been in storage for many months, we had a lot to gather and organize.   Things needed repair due to lack of use.  It was a hot endeavor to get ready.

When we stopped enroute, I was not feeling well.  We assumed I had overheated while loading the trailer.   When we arrived at a state park near Grand Junction the next day, I never felt well.  I had a headache, low fever, cough, and fatigue.    Despite being very careful  – I had covid symptoms.  We decided to go home in case I got worse or Randy got sick.  Randy drove ten hours home and unpacked it all himself.  

My doctor recommended Covid testing, not an easy endeavor in Arizona,  but one that was accomplished three days later.   I was told I likely had Covid.  I was mildly sick for ten days, very unusual for me.   By the time I got my negative test results 14 days later I was mostly well and we were highly skeptical.   Randy never did feel sick.

By mid August I was well and wanted to finally escape the heat.  Social distancing is easy in an RV and I was able to find reservations in two Colorado state parks above 7000 feet.   

Randy installed “soft starts” on both trailer air-conditioners.   That allows us to run an air conditioner from a 20 amp outlet at the house.  It made the loading procedure much more tolerable!   Due to the extreme heat we can’t keep much in the trailer while it isn’t in use.

5064E136-C82A-4710-ADF5-6633DC4F9C1C_1_201_aAfter a quick overnight in Flagstaff, we arrived at Ridgway State Park near Montrose, the northern point of the San Juan Skyway region in southwest Colorado.  

3D1981C7-55EE-4134-A635-35CF73303CB0_1_201_aThe park has trails along the Uncompahgre River and Ridgway Reservoir.  

33C6425E-E459-463D-BF4F-EBAB21578769_1_201_aFly fishing is very popular here and we enjoy watching.  

20CF25C8-DF33-4ED0-A0E5-EAC624DA49A2_1_201_aWe are here for 11 days so have plenty of time to wander, relax and explore the area.

486FB68C-E86B-48D7-AB0F-09BF3EBBCBE8_1_201_aAlso plenty of time for a Handy Randy project!  Because the trailer is stored for months at a time, he kept needing to sterilize the fresh water tank.  Not only is that time consuming but it wastes water.   We never forget we live in the desert!

992D3F98-D551-4800-90C3-6649AA1D878D_1_201_aRandy installed an UV-LED water purification system by the Canadian company ACUVA.  Basically the water is zapped by ultra-violet light to kill any contaminants  from the source or our water tank. (That is Serene’s non technical explanation.)  Some municipalities use the same technology for their water purification.    Included was a charcoal water filter to help with taste.  We will use water through the ACUVA for drinking and cooking.

4D61C06B-7BB1-442D-AD85-6483F037D74A_1_201_aWe took a day long excursion along the Million Dollar Highway, one of the “most scenic drives in America.”  There are several thoughts on why it is called the Million Dollar Highway.  Possibilities include building it cost a million dollars a mile and that fill dirt contains a million dollars in gold ore.   

45DA025F-AF47-4DA1-989D-58307C8DC3E3_1_201_aThe Million Dollar Highway northern terminus is Ouray, the Switzerland of America. 

580AA817-85DE-4C48-B93C-D9EF7B520535_1_201_aOuray looks like a fun town with a historic main street, enticing restaurants, brew pubs and hot springs.  Since we are not currently doing ANY of those social things, we just drove through – happily anticipating our next visit.  

The route between Ouray and Silverton is 25 miles long and takes about 45 minutes to drive if you are just going from one town to the other.   Of course we explored a bit!

According to tourist information, there are two ghost towns accessible from the highway,    Ironton and Red Mountain.  They were just two of many towns that sprang up during the mining bonanza of the late 1880s.

09A2FCE5-79D5-42CA-A113-35D7681EA003_1_201_aIronton boasted 1000 residents circa 1890.  The Silverton Railroad made twice daily stops and life was booming due to the 1890 the Sherman Silver Purchase Act requiring the federal government to buy silver.  In 1893 the act was repealed and the price of silver plummeted.   By 1910 only 26 people remained in Ironton.

BA587BFB-F7BB-422C-BA8B-77612B733EE4_1_201_aIt was easy to see the additions off this main house – an added room and the covered walkway to the outhouse.

0EA860F9-A734-490E-8097-BC6ADB583944_1_201_aThere are six or seven buildings still standing in the former residential area.  I wonder if this house was the nicest in town.

A7439C68-CDBB-4C7C-BFC6-3949623E54D0_1_201_a  A copy of The Mining Age newspaper, used for insulation, is still visible under the stairs.


FB043A2C-6426-4340-927A-9521A9B2E944Red Mountain Creek runs adjacent to the town and is shocking at first sight!  

Over 100 mines were developed within the 30 square mile Red Mountain region.   They left environmental devastation.  Mine tailings exposed zinc, cadmium, copper and lead.  Rainwater and snowmelt go through the tailings resulting in acid mine drainage.  Iron is also evident in the bright orange water and rocks.

Only one mine company,  Idarado, is still in operation.  Their mission is remediation of the land and water by re-contouring and moving water routes away from pilings.  Idarado is remediating areas damaged by all mining operations, not just their own.

63866B93-2F14-4BA0-80E0-341BE31E8FB2_1_201_aGiven the remains of mines are everywhere, that task seems enormous!

7F88233B-6B0D-487E-99B1-46985DA68B44_1_201_aWe searched for the townsite of Red Mountain but didn’t find it.  Our four wheeling search led us to other interesting things.

C8C0E43A-8D36-43FC-B353-50467B5914A6_1_201_aWe found this mine opening…

FCAA7288-15C2-4650-A9D8-E614DF0FEC8F…and this machinery and mine shaft.  

708F6853-88DB-4107-9320-6D552B2F8F62_1_201_aEventually we got back on the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton.

A13C4639-A8C2-4957-9588-B8CD9DCCA016_1_201_aWe spent a little time in Silverton last year when we rode the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. (That blog post is Plan B:  Colorado!)

The Million Dollar Highway, part of US 550,  is not a road for the timid.  Parts include hairpin turns, no guardrails and steep drop-offs.   I am glad we explored the highway this way first because our route to the next Colorado state park goes south through Silverton.  That means the Million Dollar Highway with the trailer… Randy says no problem!

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Eating From Our Desert Backyard

205642A5-D772-4BDB-9642-7CBCC4E55A14_1_201_aYou may remember that we have citrus trees in our yard and have enjoyed the bounty in whole, juice and liquor forms.

64744ED9-05E2-443B-A7CF-BA4926B7E36F_1_201_aWe also have a mesquite tree with lots of seed pods. 

CCD9D5EC-3A45-4DCC-8490-B8B128511CE3_1_201_aI knew native peoples used mesquite as a food source so I studied it. There is a wide variance of flavor in the seed pods of mesquite trees.  The resulting flour has a strong flavor and needs to be mixed with other flours to neutralize it.   Assuming I liked the taste of our seed pods,  I would have to find a place to mill it.  Since I do almost no baking I’m not going to pursue it.   If COVID-19 still has us home this time next year, I might rethink that decision for a new experience.

C1BA8FF7-5E7C-4F87-AA33-DA0F7E2D794F_1_201_aThis year I chose to learn about harvesting the fruit given by our prickly pear cactus.   There are dozens of varieties of prickly pear and we have these two in our yard.

fullsizeoutput_534fThis one has lovely yellow blossoms.  It had fruit last year but didn’t develop any this year.  

7CB37F0D-57D2-4CBF-939F-EF4D9C49C557_1_201_aI don’t know if skipping a year is normal or if it is because we have water sprayed this cactus several times to reduce dactylopius coccus, a scale insect.  This parasitic insect is useful in making red dye.

F6495789-12BE-406D-BC71-388A07690656_1_201_aThe first step was to pick the magenta fruit, also called “tuna.”  That is no easy task given that prickly pear cactus have tiny hairlike prickles called glochids that stick to  everything, especially skin.

5C806945-61E1-4E62-A2AA-FEA1F699C63DEven using the precaution of metal tongs and gloves I still got some prickles in several places on my body!  (Twenty four hours later I think they are finally gone.)

98593D53-4C68-4FAB-9CD9-EBF247350A48_1_201_aOnce gathered, I used a culinary blow torch to burn off the glochids.

ADAB07AD-1BCF-4C44-8253-CDC0FF176644_1_201_aThen I passed the fruit back and forth between bowls to knock off any remaining prickles.

CEA5D6E7-47D9-4D96-A88E-7D12D480E50E_1_201_aI boiled the fruit and then let it steep for several hours.

7AF5D36E-A353-40F4-944A-DCD27C6102D7_1_201_aThe directions said to mash and then strain but the skin was too tough.  I resorted to puncturing the skin and then kneeding the juice out.

F019BB04-0626-4164-9967-09A64A8CC06C_1_201_aFrom four and a half pounds of fruit I got four cups of prickly pear juice!  An equal amount of sugar goes into the pot to simmer and then cool.

7CD3542D-497D-4D07-A142-AEAFA2E71AE0_1_201_aWhile we were waiting for it to cool, we tried some fresh prickly pear fruit, eating only the insides.  I thought it tasted like watermelon.  Randy, who doesn’t like watermelon, thought it tasted bitter and didn’t like it.

F77C871A-93BB-4DDC-B27E-C50190FF20AF_1_201_aA couple hours later we bottled our prickly pear syrup and enjoyed prickly pear margaritas!  I don’t like plain margaritas but thought the added syrup made it taste good!

98F3EF2F-F456-4FA8-A5B3-4D9DBF99A5C3So what else might we be eating from our backyard?  Not this cute little bunny enjoying the cool mulch under the grapefruit tree.

13196B89-5990-4679-91B3-DBB86CBF26C4_1_201_aNot our favorite quail parents and babies!   The babies start out like ping pong balls with hair.  As they grow, the family seems to shrink from 15 babies down to 5 or 6.  They have a high mortality rate.  Even though both parents are always present and seem to do their best to keep track of the brood some must get left behind in the constant movement.

5BFF974D-50C0-42A9-A68E-7A9628BAF8A4_1_201_aWe won’t be eating this guy either. Does anyone eat lizards unless it is absolutely necessary?  He is fun to watch as he does his push-ups each day.

FD1F7805-C4FC-424B-8242-FFAAC05550BB_1_201_aWe haven’t checked whether the seeds pods on our pineapple palm are edible.   Pineapple palm is indicative of the appearance, not the fruit.

8B925EB3-A823-46E2-B88B-681861BF7866These palms have nothing for us – no coconuts, no dates – nothing!  What’s up with that?

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We Belong To You and Me – 40 Years

Cue “How Deep is Your Love” by the BeeGees and you will be singing our song.  We danced to it just last winter at a BeeGees Tribute concert and can still sing every word.   The chorus ends with the phrase “We belong to you and me.”  Today is our 40th wedding anniversary.

B4F927B4-6B06-4221-B418-6C4B387DB4C0_1_201_aRandy and I met soon after we arrived on the Northern Arizona University campus in August 1977.   We became friends and then a couple.


We married on May 23, 1980.



Over the years I’ve taken a lot of grief over those rust tuxedos!


My extended family traveled to Arizona for our wedding.  My dad gave me away in his dress white uniform at my request.


Randy’s family mostly lived in Tucson where we were married.  It is sad to see how many beloved people, in both of our families,  we have lost in these 40 years


Our first home was in married housing at NAU.  In the photo we are celebrating our first anniversary, likely the only year we ever re-lit our wedding candle!  (It is funny that we now live only 150 miles from where we began.)

845ACD6D-9518-4F19-B2B0-CA0BC2DC5D48Shortly thereafter we moved to Boise, Idaho for Randy to work at Hewlett Packard.   Here he is with his first engineering paycheck!

42DF657F-89EC-46F4-9F90-82C3016ED60AI was hired as a first grade teacher and we were off, working at careers that would last 33 years for Randy and 25 for me.


I spent some time being a full time mom after our daughter, Natasha, was born in December 1982.


This is our family at my grandparents’ farm – including our first fur baby, Anna.  My grandfather was always happy to put Randy to work, which he didn’t mind.


Natasha is holding our cat Sierra.  For dog people, she was a good cat for 18 years.


Travel and adventures were always part of our lives and family activities.


We spent about 15 years traveling to and staying at each of the great lodges in the western national parks.  This is Oregon Caves Lodge, one of the smallest, but also one of our favorites.


We snowmobiled in Yellowstone – and then decided we didn’t think it was right.


We were joined at the hip with the Sloan family for many years, often seeming more like one family than two.   We also traveled and spent time with my parents.  We were all together on this houseboat trip on Lake Powell.


Our boat was a big part of our lives each summer.  We had weekly water-ski outings for many years.


We spent a lot of time hiking and camping around Idaho.


I don’t usually like mustard!


This was our very good boy Toby.  He was part of our family for 15 years.


Natasha grew up…


…and she married Seth.  Welcome to our family Seth!


Randy and I kept working, traveling and having adventures.  Some, like this trip to South Dakota, were in our first fifth wheel trailer.


Same with this trip to Lake Tahoe where we went in our first hot air balloon.


Over the years we have traveled MANY times to MANY places with our friends Kent and Pam.  This trip was to the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, an EPIC college football game.  We are so happy that traveling with Kent and Pam continues.


In 2010 this boy came into our lives.  If you’ve been reading the blog awhile, you know about our sweet boy Elko.  We still miss him.


We have been blessed to travel with these friends, Darrell and Cindy.  We’ve enjoyed many RV trips together and they’ve joined us at our Mexico timeshare several times.  We’ve even cruised to Alaska together.


Randy and I really enjoy cruising and have been on quite a few.   Our very first cruise was for our tenth anniversary and was just the two of us.  Over the years we went with Natasha  (letting her take a friend) or with my parents.  Twice we have gone on an extended family cruise.  This is Randy with our only grandchild on a cruise to celebrate my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.  Our most recent cruise was through the Panama Canal with my mother.


In 2013 Randy got his last paycheck from Hewlett Packard, retiring on his 55th birthday.


I retired in 2014, a few days after my 55th birthday. We sold everything and took off to live in our new fifth wheel trailer for an indefinite length of time.  This blog was created to document that journey.


For five years we enjoyed traveling, exploring and volunteering in state parks.  I’ve written, and you’ve probably read,  many blog posts about those adventures!


It wasn’t our plan to stop full time RVing but sometimes life happens.


And when you climb to the other side…


You figure out how to make the best of the new circumstance and move forward.   Randy is doing great and we are enjoying our new home and community near Phoenix.  We were all set for a spring/summer RV trip to see new places and add stickers to our state map when COVID-19 derailed us.  We also had to cancel our Great Britain land tour and Norway cruise scheduled for fall.   Undaunted, we’ve got new travel adventures in the planning stages.  We’re always looking forward to something.


It is what we’ve done for 40 years and will keep doing as long as we are able.  We Belong to You and Me.



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Being Busy and Staying Busy

Last fall we were so busy traveling that we barely had days at home between trips! I wrote about our September trips in the posts  Our “Problems” With Antelope Canyon…      Fourteen Border Crossings in One Day! ,   The North Rim – Finally!  and New Things in Las Vegas!

20EC1B15-70DB-43AD-A9B2-7753BFAC07B0_1_201_aIn mid October we met friends Kent and Pam in Sedona for an awesome, beautiful weekend.   This is a Sedona landmark, the Chapel of the Holy Cross.


We found this special place while hiking.


Randy decided to make his own.

FF452351-06B5-41A7-B1F8-62A665C52248We continued on with Kent and Pam to San Jose for a BSU volleyball game,  football game and some whale watching!


Lets go see whales!


Pam takes awesome pictures!


We always have fun meeting up with Kent and Pam!


Two days later we left for Cabo to spend a great week with friends Darrell and Cindy.


We went on a Cabo Taco Tour! 



We were able to watch baby turtles released to the sea.

AA9D5622-8B4D-4EA0-9637-3988729CF0E9_1_201_aRandy and I stayed in Mexico a second week to visit Rosa (in pink).  Rosa is Randy’s dad’s second wife and our friend.  She lives in LaPaz now and we had a great time meeting her family.  


One man speaks no English, the other speaks no Spanish.

Rosa had organized a large family gathering in our honor.  Her family loved Carl so much and Randy looks very much like him.  It was an emotional experience for all of us.


We got home just in time to join friends Connie and Warren in Flagstaff for an alumni challenge football game. The University of Idaho beat Northern Arizona in an overtime thriller.

 From Flagstaff we traveled to eastern Washington for a family Thanksgiving and then a brief stop in Boise for Natasha’s birthday. When we returned to Surprise in early December we were ready for a rest!

AB321D3B-FA1D-44FC-B041-0D042C170C5B January begins “the season” in Sun City Grand.  We usher for events and music programs throughout the year but everything kicks up a notch during the season.

We had Bocci league, golfing, hiking club, Grand Dems and a FunDiner’s group.  We both enjoyed taking classes through Grand Learning.   We started gleaning for the food bank and were blessed with visits from friends and family.


My mother, Beverly, came in late January.  She visited with us in Surprise and then we took off for a week in Mazatlan.   


There were iguana of all sizes and colors!


Painting pottery is one of my favorite activities in Mazatlan!


We paint the basics and the artist makes them beautiful!


Kent and Pam were in Mazatlan too so the five of us enjoyed time together.

919491B1-7A03-4708-896D-EC3E7DC177D1We went whale watching again and it was awesome.  We followed a mother and calf for a time.

C9D6C600-5DC4-496B-A46E-A32257C51A4BThen we watched four males competing for a female.  Pam took the great pictures.

6D34D35A-EC79-44D8-B3C5-E36211B1F9ABHome again,  we started Spring Training volunteering for Peoria Sports Complex, home of my team, the Mariners.


We can attend any game we aren’t working  – for free.

 We were spending a lot of time at the ball park, either volunteering or just watching games. Then spring training came to an abrupt halt.  So did life as we all knew it. 

Initially we were very content to have some down time.    Given that we aren’t trying to work, or deal with not working, or have kids at home, it hasn’t been too hard.  We live in an area of high risk because of age and health related concerns but also recognize that we have it much easier than so many others.  

We had gone from being way too busy to finding ways to keep busy. We are doing some miscellaneous projects around the house, some reading – same as most people. 


And because we didn’t have enough citrus already –  we got a dwarf Mexican key lime tree.


We started another batch of limoncello…

D9B8E8A4-5F54-4C7B-89E2-C1F684A14952_1_201_aEvery few days we have been delighted to check in on three owlets near a community lake.  The parents have nested in the same tree for several years. 

971C02B9-E966-457C-A901-C38A82E20848_1_201_aThis morning we got more than we expected!  Mother owl had breakfast for the family.  We heard the owlets call to her and watched her fly over to feed them.   Poor bunny.

ADFA1E5B-35C5-4A2C-9DBF-A959283D1841_1_201_aRandy and I mostly stay home but we do go walking every morning. 

A67609A1-5A4D-4DAA-B8A6-9CEC7CC75B70_1_201_aWe have had great weather have been blessed with amazing cactus blooms for several weeks!  

5E4094F4-9EAE-4C95-AA8B-CDA108E0D7C3_1_201_aDid you know the desert does this?  Enjoy!


We have been amazed at the variety of cactus but haven’t learned many names.



Some look like they belong in the sea!



My personal favorite.  Stay well.

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