Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 Route West Part 1: Dale, WI to Carson City, NV

By July 5 we were set to depart Dale, WI. Our winter destination was again Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort near Mission, TX but we were not due to be on our site until November 15. That left us with plenty of time to meet some of the 2011 travel agendas we had set and to determine a route. The latter was, as usual, a lot less fleshed out except for a "general westerly direction". It's also a proven fact that we tend not to travel in a straight line. The following is a very brief synopsis of our route to Mission (part 1).

Tom and Carol with the Smiths in Oconto
First on our agenda was a long overdue visit with friends Mike and Raven. They've been house guests at our Appleton home during infrequent trips to the Valley but we somehow never were able to make it Upper Michigan. What better direction to travel and go north when we had intended to head west? The drive to Marquette was too long for our maximum 200 mile/day rule (a rule that was broken when the occasion necessitated it). Knowing birding friends Jerry and Karen Smith (also folks who stay at BPV in the winter) were spending the summer at the Holtwood Campground in Oconto we made a reservation for an overnight. Karen and Jerry had also recently purchased a new Cameo so it was a good time to compare rigs - and of course compare birding stories. The next morning we were on the road along the Lake Michigan lake shore headed for the Marquette Tourist Park where we would park for the next three days.

Tom, Carol, Mike and Raven
Gourmet picnic fare including quail eggs
boarding the schooner
 Mike and Raven rolled out the red carpet later that afternoon when we arrived at their apartment located in an historic home near the Lake Superior shore...and the carpet stayed out the whole time we were in town. Gourmet meals at the apartment and a gourmet picnic lunch. Dinner at Casa del Sykes. Hikes at some of Mike and Raven's favorite haunts - how thrilling to observe Pileated Woodpecker parents feeding young in a nest cavity! Visits to the local food co-op, a meal out on the town, and our visit's highlight - a sunset cruise on Lake Superior aboard the Coaster II gratis Mike and Raven. Wonderful lengthy conversations covering a variety of issues and topics. What a grand couple - were so happy to call them friends.

underway - Raven, Mike, Carol and Tom
Carol and Raven on the Lake Superior beach
Mike and his volcano chicken
Many hugs and tears and we were again on the road, this time heading west as planned. Our next stop would be the Crex Meadows SWR located in northwestern WI near the village of Grantsburg. Again, faced with a longer drive, we made an overnight stop at the Bad River Indian Casino where free electric and water hookups are offered on a first come first serve basis. Not terribly scenic but hey, it was free and was better than a Walmart (we have yet to  stay at a Walmart and hope we never have to!).
Over the years we've been to Grantsburg in our pop-up camper, in our travel travel and now in our fifth wheel. The city-owned James Mc Nally Campground is a friendly and well run park. However, it happened that an annual festival (snowmobile the summer?) was coming up that would cut our stay short by a day (all the sites were reserved). It turned out to be just as well - the weather was not too pleasant. We spent part of the first night huddled in the cement bathroom/shower building with several other park visitors to wait out a severe thunderstorm. Plus, during our auto tour the next morning of Crex Meadows, the deer fly population had exploded to such an extent we couldn't open our truck windows let alone step outside.
Another agenda item was a quick stop in Manakto at our RV dealer's to have minor tweaks and adjustments made to our RV. This was also the time that the MN state government was shut down, hence all MN state parks and rest areas were closed. Any route from Grantsburg in MN toward Mankato required an overnight. We instead decided to travel as far south in WI to put us within a day's drive to Mankato. We meandered down the The Great River Road which switched back and forth across the WI/MN border. Really quite a lovely drive!
Hearing about how wonderful some of the Army Corps of Engineer parks were, we reasoned that it now would be an opportune time to try one - specifically, the Blackhawk Corps Park located near De Soto WI about thirty miles south of La Crosse, WI. Faithful readers of our blog will recall that our stay at Blackhawk wound up being far longer than we had planned! See this blog entry to refresh memory.
With our commitment to Blackhawk Corps Park fulfilled, we headed to Mankato on the morning of August 18. Keepers RV was expecting us and in no time all the tweaks were finished. But being late in the afternoon we opted to spend the night at Keepers before heading out. Besides, it gave us a chance to enjoy another meal out at a local Mexican restaurant that had become a favorite!
Dave Jones, Tom and Carol - Badlands, SD
We needed to stop in Box Elder, SD at Americas Mailbox, our legal residence, to register the new RV and get new plates at CO D.M.V.. But the drive would be long and we needed to break it up with a few more overnights in between.
The first overnight was in Huron, SD at another city-owned park: Memorial Park Campground. Not a terribly noteworthy stop - just handy. But our next stop, in Wall, SD, at the Sleepy Hollow Campground put us in touch once more with long-time Appleton friend, Dave Jones. We had visited Dave during our first year of full-timing. It was nice to catch up again. During our three night stay in Wall we included a visit to the Badlands NP with Dave acting as tour guide. We also met another full-time RV couple, Karl and Madeline, who were parked next to us. Tom was first drawn to them as he watched Karl working in his "man cave", a large storage compartment filled with a vast array of tools...and a TV.
During the purchase of our RV at Keepers in June, Keepers presented us with a "free" three night stay coupon for Rushmore Shadows Estate near Rapid City. The catch? We would have to sit through an hour-long presentation on why we should join a private club that gave us exclusive access to other private parks like Rushmore Shadows Estate around the U.S.  (an RV timeshare sorta thingy). Most of these private parks were located in places we likely would not be visiting but hey, we can deal with free and we're really good at saying "no thank you".

Americas Mailbox headquarters, Box Elder, SD
not a FedEx package - it's our mailbox at Americas Mailbox
On the morning of August 22 we moved on to Rushmore Shadows Estate, parked and signed up for our required presentation then headed off to Americas Mailbox to deal with our RV registration. It also gave us a chance to visit our "mailbox" and get a personal tour of the new facilities in Box Elder from Don, Americas Mailbox owner.
On the 23rd we  picked up our new RV plates then returned to the park where we politely sat through the presentation, biting our tongues the whole time. Our third full day was spent sightseeing around the Black Hills on back roads too narrow to negotiate while pulling our RV.
Black Hills, SD
typical sight on Wildlife Loop Auto Tour
grassland knoll, Black Hills
We had held off making a final decision about our westerly route until we had reached Rapid City. We had hoped that another visit to the Pacific Northwest was in the cards with an opportunity to see more friends in WA and OR but in the end, two things nixed traveling so far to the northwest. Fuel costs for diesel had risen and we learned about the Monterrey Birding Festival. We grudgingly put off a Pacific Northwest visit for another year.
Feeling a bit more relaxed we opted to spend a couple more nights in the Black Hills at our favorite SD state park - Custer State Park.  Being so late in the year made it easy to get a site. We spent a day doing the Wildlife Loop Tour, having breakfast at the State Game Lodge, and plotting out a route to California.
No trip out west would not be complete without a stop to see our grand kids in the Rockies. And as long as we were headed in that direction we contacted our friends Rick and Cindy Myers in Colorado Springs to see if they would be around. Rick's immediate reply via email was an enthusiastic "yes"! They would be in town when we made our swing through the area.

Robin, Carol and Tom at Culver's
To break up our drive required an overnight in WY. We had recently learned that our good friend Robin and her traveling companion Golda were also headed west to recover her motor coach which Robin had stored in Carson City. She and Golda had been in St. Louis visiting Robin's family. We made a reservation at the WYO Campground outside of Carpenter, WY. Robin and Golda had promised to stop on their way through. Once they arrived we insisted that they spend the night in our rig now that we had a real spare bed (a sleeper sofa). It also turned out that another full-time couple that Robin knew was staying in Carpenter. We all met at the local Culver's for dinner. Hey - Culver's are rare commodity in the west so when the chance presented itself....!

Cindy and Rick Myers at our place for dinner
Garden of the Gods
Tom, Officer Kelly with TJ, Officer Ford, Chief Myers
Officer Ford and Boris
our site Cheyenne Mountain SP
We had made reservations to stay at the recently opened Colorado state park, Cheyenne Mountain. As the name implied it was at the base of Cheyenne Mountain but situated up from the valley floor with a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. The park was also just a few minutes drive from Rick and Cindy's house. Rick, some of you may recall, was the police chief in Appleton before he left to assume the same role with the Colorado Springs PD.
During our three night stay at the state park we had Rick and Cindy over for dinner, were treated to a meal out by the Myers at Parabvicinis Italian Bistro near Old Colorado City, toured the artist colony at Manitou Springs followed by a tour of the CSPD headquarters and capped off the evening at Rick and Cindy's including a dip in their hot tub. Rick arranged a meeting and brief demo with two of CSPD's K-9 teams at the CSPD Special Units training facility. You know how much Tom loves K-9 teams! Carol and I also squeezed in an afternoon of driving/hiking in the Garden of the Gods. Not to mention (but I will) our state park site was first rate!
Carter, Gama Carol, Pa, Cali
August 31 found us on the road toward Summit Cove to visit Chris, Robyn, Cali and Carter. We wound up spending nearly two weeks parked next to their house connected to their electricity. They kindly offered us the use of their guest room but these days we really feel more comfortable sleeping in our RV - but the use of the guest bathroom was not turned down!
Carter, Chris, Cali, Robyn
and let's not forget Chewy!
Jimmie Vaughan at Copper Mountain
Ricky Skaggs at Copper Mountain
the crew at Copper Mountain
As is the case whenever we visit the kids, their lives are a blur. We walked to Cali and Carter's school to pick them up, went on hikes in the mountains, shopped, spent a day at Copper Mountain with free concerts, babysat, attended Carter's soccer games, and just hung out. A terrific time to be sure. But it was now almost mid September and at over 9,000 feet the nights had gotten pretty cold - time to move to a lower, warmer altitude.

Colorado National Monument
Carol overlooking part of C.N.M.
September 12 we pulled out of the driveway headed west of the Rockies toward Fruita in western Colorado. Another CO state park reservation awaited us at the James M. Robb Colorado River State Park (Fruita Unit) situated near the base of the Colorado National Monument. A couple of nights in the Fruita area gave us ample time to spend an entire day exploring the Colorado National Monument via its lengthy auto tour.

view from hiking trail near Lakeside RV Campground, Provo, UT
We mapped out a course toward Monterrey, CA which would take us past Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake, both places Carol has never seen before. It also put us on a direct course toward Nevada, a state Carol had never been in before. Unfortunately the traffic and road construction around Provo, where we had parked for a night (Lakeside RV Campground) didn't allow much for sightseeing. Perhaps on another pass through this part of Utah there will be time to explore Salt Lake City. However, we skirted part of the Great Salt Lake and drove past the Bonnevile Salt Flats.

Near Bonneville Salt Flats. Had all the salt - where was the Margarita glass?
Elko, NV was a convenient place for an overnight at the Iron Horse RV Park. Then it was on to Carson City where we had agreed to meet up with Robin and Golda at the Silver City RV Park where Robin had stored "Bessie", Robin's nick name for her motor coach. We managed to score a site with a line of sight view of Bessie and of course Golda who viewed Uncle Tom and Aunt Carol as dog treat machines (an adroit observation on Golda's part).
Lake Tahoe
Golda keeping an eye on Uncle Tom
and keeping an eye on Aunt Carol
the shy and bashful Robin
We spent almost a week in Carson City visiting with Robin and Golda, venturing out for sightseeing which included a day trip up to Lake Tahoe. We arranged to meet for an evening in Reno at the home of a woman who is a mutual friend of friends we had met at BPV (who now lived in WA state where we had hoped to visit this year). Alice and Michael served up a magnificent repast which included mustard-bourbon grilled chicken, home brewed beer and a fresh baked pie.
oldest active saloon in Nevada
friends Michael and Alice at their home in Reno
With the deadline for the Monterrey Birding Festival fast approaching we now needed to hustle a bit if we were going to make it on time. Part 2 coming up: Carson City, NV to Mission, TX.

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