Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Arizona to Wisconsin 2015

Marlo Buchmann - the best volunteer coordinator in the world!

Our return from the ten week adventure in Costa Rica went smoothly. After recuperating overnight in a hotel near the Tucson airport, Mike Doyle and his friend Julie hauled us back to Kartchner Caverns. Mike and a few of the other volunteers had kept a watchful eye on our RV while we were away - and we were very grateful for their over-watch!

We had originally planned on moving the RV into storage in Tucson while in Costa Rica. Once back from Costa Rica, we planned to head up the west coast to the Pacific Northwest and a later than usual visit to Wisconsin sometime in August. However, two things cropped up to alter our plans. First, we learned that we could store the RV at Kartchner and in return, extend our volunteer commitment for another month. Second, and more importantly, Tom’s son Graham had asked, “Dad…what do you think about a June wedding?” He and his fiancé Caitlin also had asked Tom to write and conduct the ceremony. What father would say no to this? We were thrilled. Plans easily changed. Happily.

relaxing at the Desert Museaum and Carol, Delia and Chuck on the trail
During April, our last month volunteering at Kartchner, we managed a few more visits to the Desert Museum. One visit included seeing the traveling exhibit from Wausau, Wisconsin: 100 pieces from Birds In Art featuring some of the best wildlife artists in the world. Then there was Easter dinner at Nancy Novak's in Tucson. Friends Chuck Heikkinen and Delia Unson, also from Wisconsin, dropped in for a visit at Kartchner Caverns (which coincided with opening day at the newest restaurant addition to Sierra Vista - Culver's!).

every meal at a Culver's is a happy meal!
At the end of the third week in April, we turned in our park work shirts and name badges, promised to be back the next winter (if they would have us), buttoned up the RV and moved a short distance up the road to the Quail Ridge Estate RV Park in Huachuca City. The very next morning we drove to the Tucson airport to retrieve Carol’s sister Marge who would spend several days with us visiting parts of Southeast Arizona she’d not been to yet. Plus, she would finally get to experience what it was like to move our RV from place to place. It was actually far less complicated compared to the three weeks we all shared in a small popup camper traveling to and from Colorado in 2003!

our tiny Starcraft popup - harder to hookup than our fifth wheel!

Nancy, Tom, Carol, Marge
With Marge now in hand we traded our view of the Huachuca Mountains for one of the Chiricahua Mountains by moving to Rusty’s RV Ranch outside Rodeo, New Mexico, just over the Arizona state line (with a must at the Bisbee Breakfast Club and bloody Marys at the Copper Queen Hotel along the way). Once at Rusty’s we explored Cave Creek Canyon, Rustler Park, State Line Road and several other birding hot spots. Peggy Rudman, another of our volunteer colleagues from Kartchner, also parked at Rusty’s, accompanied us on a few of our birding forays.

Marge, Tom, Peggy
with Nancy, Troy, Carol, Marge
Leaving Rusty’s we doubled back to the Tucson area and parked at Justin’s Diamond J RV, just a fifteen minute drive from the Desert Museum. We drove/birded our way up the Catalina Highway, visited friend and Wisconsin native, Nancy Novak at her home in Oro Valley, and regaled in an evening of music listening to our friend, Nuevo Flamenco guitarist Troy Gray. By early May we dropped Marge back at the Tucson airport for her flight back to Wisconsin, then we got serious about our long haul back to Wisconsin which would be punctuated with visiting friends along the way.

left to right - Paul, Carol, Frank and friends of Paul and Frank
First up was Sunny Acres Resort in Las Cruces. No visit to Las Cruces would ever be complete without getting together with dear friends Frank and Paul and sharing a meal out at one of their favorite local Mexican eateries, Paisano Cafe.

when in Santa Fe don't miss La Choza!
Turning north to visit the kids in Colorado, we divided up the drive with an overnight at Santa Fe Skies RV. Word of advice: when in Santa Fe never skip a chance to visit the historic downtown and a spot where all the locals flock, La Choza. But get to La Choza early before the doors open. Both the parking lot and restaurant fill up quickly…and be mindful that even their green Hatch chile is hot, hot, hot!
Crossing into Colorado and gaining on Dillon, we couldn't help but notice white stuff. First on the mountain tops. Then on the roadside. What were we getting ourselves into?

we drove smack dab into winter
May 8th we pulled into the backyard at Chris and Robins. Just in the nick of time, it seemed because on May 9 we were covered in snow and the temps dropped below freezing. Yikes! We’d driven right into winter. However, we were warm and snug in our well insulated RV although “warm and snug” was relative to the Cali and Carter who paid only brief visits to our RV. Showering in the house was a must since our water hose would have turned into an ice snake. Upside to the cold and snow? Gray-crowned and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch at the bird feeders!

gray-crowned rosy-finch
brown-capped rosy-finch
Mother's Day out with Chris, Robyn, Cali and Carter
Arriving when we did was most opportune to celebrate both Mother’s Day and Carol’s birthday (May 10). Breakfast out, of course, at the Arapahoe Cafe and Pub Plus a birthday celebration at the house. Let the good times roll! And yes, we even squeezed in breakfast at the Mountain Lyon.
The cold weather did negatively impact the RV in one critical area. Tire pressure had dropped to below safe driving conditions. Aside from a wimpy battery-operated air pump, we had no way of pumping up the tires, Tom finally relented and purchased a professional grade air compressor. By the time the snows abated on May 12, and with the tires properly inflated, we headed down the east side of the Rockies and out of winter. With a few longer days on the Interstate and a few stops across the wide expanse of Nebraska, on May 14 we pulled into Timberline RV, near Waukee, Iowa, where good friends Patrick and Sue Généreux were work camper volunteers. Recall Patrick and Sue from our days at the Festival International de Louisiane in Lafayette? Yes, THAT fun loving couple. Of course dinner out was a must (isn’t it always?).

Carol, Sue, Patrick

The Générouxs had their work responsibilities and couldn't come out to play the next day so the next morning we moved a bit further east into Iowa, stopping at Iowa's Best Burger Cafe and Kellogg RV Park, outside of Kellogg. Interesting choice putting the cafe ahead of the RV park. This RV park is a huge draw for folks attending races at the nearby newly remodeled Iowa Speedway. Just our luck we wold be stopping on one of the crazy busy race day weekends. The park would be filling with NASCAR fans. Fortunately we had realized this ahead and were able to secure one of the last sites available (we also tried their 'best burger' and it wasn't all that bad...but we've had better). Note that we're NOT at all NASCAR fans so were thoroughly unimpressed. But had this been a Grand Prix race where race cars turn right and left…well, THAT would have been a different matter! Actually, choosing this RV park was not to drink in the Bud Lite race car ambience (although I do know that the number 43 is Richard Petty's old number). That it put us as close as possible to the NWR Neal Smith Tallgrass Prairie was far more significant.

Lance, Robyn, Ailish, Carol, Tom
Recall when we volunteered at Lake Woodruff NWR? The refuge’s park manager at the time was Lance Koch. Lance was now the manager at Neal Smith. We hadn’t seen Lance and his family since we had left Florida so it was an great opportunity to reconnect plus see first hand what the prairie was all about.
Since it was early Spring, the prairie had barely gotten started (prairies are best visited in late summer and early Fall after the grasses have flowered). Lance was busy with crews on the prairie (plus the entrance road was under repair) so his wife Robyn offered to walk us around one of the trails. Late that afternoon we met Lance, Robyn and their daughter Ailish for dinner in Des Moines where they introduced us to  Dông Vietnamese restaurant. By all means if you’re traveling along I-80, be sure to look for Neal Smith Tallgrass Prairie signs and pay it a visit. And if you're in Des Moines and looking for a good Vietnamese restaurant...
From Kellogg we made pretty good time and crossed into Wisconsin by noon the next day. Still too far from our final parking spot in Dale, stopped for an overnight at another familiar place, Blackhawk Park, a Corps of Engineers property along the Mississippi just south of LaCrosse. Our last stop at Blackhawk morphed into a one month volunteer gig so we were very familiar with the park. Nice to see some of the painting we did on one of the restrooms was holding up.

parked until November
May 17 we finally pulled into Todd and Cindy Ward’s yard, setup the RV and rushed into Appleton just in time to attend Dale Schaber’s 70th birthday celebration. It was attended by scads of friends we have in the Appleton area and a great chance to see so many friends and acquaintances in one place. Thus began the longest stint we would experience being parked in Dale since we began our nomadic lifestyle in 2009.

Some photos along the way...

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