Week 5: Crossing Idaho and Eastern Oregon

Crossing Idaho and Eastern Oregon

A very hot, very dry, and usually pretty interesting week. But thank goodness for the audio book The Ocean at the End of the Lane. We highly recommend this tale, read by the author in a most intriguing way, which sustained us across many a bleak desert stretch.

Massacre Rocks State Park 
The first night out after Jackson. Lisa found that she really enjoyed this park; Julie hid out against the stifling heat. But we both liked watching the American pelicans (who knew?) with their 9.5' wingspans fly along the Snake River.


Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot
One of our all-time favorite museums. So many things to like, but the "Taters for Out of Staters" parting gift was just THE best. Wrapped carefully in a bright purple potato bag were two boxes of dehydrated hash browns, along with the tater Christmas ornament I was compelled to buy (and the only one of the whole trip!).

I had to send my Dad a postcard of this potato queen. No one has rocked a potato sack quite like this gal:

Of course. A Mr. Potato Head collection and a great piece of historical realia:

We then proceeded over to Twin Falls for a tasty lunch at the SnakeBite in the historic (but awfully sunny) downtown. On our way there, we got stopped at a train crossing and had one of our few close calls this trip. We sat and sat and watched the train--for some unknown reason--go forward and then back up and forward and back up. I looked down the block and saw that the crossing was clear just a block away, so I skedaddled down there. I laid up short of the tracks (there was a stoplight on the far side that was red) but didn't realize that the train would back up this far. It started coming right toward us and thank goodness no one was behind me because I had to throw Rocksie in reverse to avoid having the crossing arm come right down on our solar panels. Oops! I should've known not to stop there, given where I grew up.....

And, of course, we had to drive out to see what the town was named for.

We carried on over to the western side of the state and stayed in a most unique state park,
Bruneau Dunes. It was 105 when we pulled in, so the park wasn't too full....

We waited till the much cooler morning to explore the park and the dunes, which of course, Bago loved. We wished our timing had been better, though. There is a neat space telescope at the park (you can see the observatory in the background of the photo below). I was not open during our visit, which was during the blue moon, but I bet it'd be fun to go when they're having star gazing, as this park is far away from any light pollution.

The color of these dunes, though, is distinctly taupe, which the signs attribute to the presence of lots of iron.

After all the warning signs about scorpions, badgers, snakes, et al, we didn't think this was a very good idea....

After our morning hike, we headed up to Boise to see their state capitol (a must do as we travel), visit a DDD lunch site, and do a little shopping at the famous outlet, Sierra Trading Post (which turned out to be completely disappointing, although Lisa did find a cute new shirt).

We had lunch at the Pizzalchik (Pizza-Salad-Chicken) and really enjoyed the thin crust, all-homemade pizzas. I had the spicy elk sausage with locally foraged mushrooms, while Lisa enjoyed a smoked salmon/caper deal. We got a tub of their chicken salad (which really is quite salady--all kinds of vegetable goodness) for dinner, too. A cold salad supper is just what the doctor ordered on hot summer nights.

Our final desert campground stop was in desolate Eastern Oregon at Unity Lake State Park. Not too much lake there anymore. We took Bago down there for a swim. Boy, was that a mistake. It's a swamp of soupy mud all along that shore. Not our favorite stop....

Week 4: Wyoming

We are at that point in the trip where we are within striking distance of home (beginning of week 6--yes, we're behind in blogging, as is now par for the course), yet far from it really, in terms of mindset and route, which is nowhere near a beeline south. Our minds are a-jumble with all that we've seen on the trip. We find ourselves saying, "Can you believe that we were in Monument Valley on this trip?" or "Doesn't the cold night at 10,000 feet in Colorado seem like a long time ago?" Well, yes, it does, actually, after the last two weeks of scorching 90+ degree days ;-)

We have been exploring lots of new territory over the last two weeks, most of it either
a) without AT and T
b) with Verizon but with so little left on our measly 3G plan that we couldn't upload pix
c) while visiting friends, so it seemed rude to sit in the RV and update the blog. Well, at least I've been told by others we've visited how rude that it, so I shan't be scolded again....

That means we're taking a touring break this morning, here in lovely Bend, Oregon, at our very expensive (but refreshing) resort stop: Crown Villa RV Resort. This place was recommended by GoPetFriendly.com as being state-park like in setting, but with amenities. True, that. The sites are enormous and each one has a unique pattern in its brick pavers (we redid our driveway in paver stones and now that these aren't exactly cheap!). The best part is the lovely, worry-free wifi. Helps in getting the blog updated, planning the route home (all those nasty wildfires/smoke to avoid), and generally taking care of business. Now, on to re-capping the trip before Lisa says it's time to play tennis (!) here at the resort....

Lander, Wyoming

When we last left off, we were enjoying Flaming Gorge NRA. From there, we headed north to Green River, Wyoming, and a lovely little laundromat. We continued north to Lander and one of our best state park finds Sinks Canyon State Park around the witching hour of 4PM--when we like to be sure we nab a spot. Glad we did, too, as this park is TINY and only a very few sites were big/level enough for us.

The Sinks:

The Rise (about 1/2 mile downstream):

We had fun taking the several trails in this hidden little park, although Bago wasn't at all sure about the swinging bridge the first time over:

Reluctantly, we headed down out of the canyon and back into Lander where we ran grocery errands, refueled (love those Safeway filling stations!), and washed the coach. As is our practice on a hot summer day when one gets filthy washing the RV, we looked for a treat of some kind and we found it. The Scream Shack.

Driving Along the Wind River

We enjoyed a completely decadent lunch of a chokeberry shake for Lisa and an ice cream cone with no-sugar-added Bing Cherry sitting atop a very yummy Lemon Meringue Pie ice cream scoop.

Thus fortified and erranded up, we hit the road again, stopping at a cemetery on an Indian reservation to visit Sacajawea's grave and, further down the road, a cute little city park for a Bago swim in the Wind River, whose course we had been following.

And of course I had to snap this photo out the car window. Just perfect with the in-motion cowboy, I thought....

Grand Teton National Park

And then we reached the Tetons. Pity about the wildfire smoke. None of my pictures are nearly as spectacular as they were when we visited here 5 years ago.

Colter Bay experience: From my post to the View/Navion group:

"We were assigned a spot for 2 nights (note: "assigned"--you don't
get any choice), and hated it so much we bailed on the 2nd night. It's
overcrowded (wild kids rode mountain bikes THROUGH our campsite and people walk
by talking so close to your coach you could touch them), completely unpatrolled
(teenagers were shouting past midnight, and I asked the ranger in the AM about
it, and she just shrugged), and the sites were so unlevel (in most generator
loops, the "site is just a pull out parallel to the road) that I was amazed the
fridge kept working.

I suppose if boating is your main activity, this or Jenny Lake or the other
popular water-based sites would be your cup of tea, but it wasn't ours. We made
a great decision to sacrifice the $21 for a good night's sleep (did I mention
that our site was opposite the bathroom and trash too? Screaming babies at 6AM
echoing off those walls is not a great wake-up call) and move down to Gros
Ventre because, as the park literature mentioned, it "rarely fills." That
sounded appealing.

The benefits of the Gros Ventre campground are many:
1. Very quiet AND it has lovely views of the Tetons. (Coulter Bay has no views.)
2. It's close to Mormon Row for great photos and Antelope Flats for great
wildlife viewing
3. It's close to Jackson, should you need to go into town
4. It's on the border of National Forest land, so if you have an active dog like
we do and the dog is itching to get some exercise beyond the
6-foot-leash-on-the-road kind that is all that's allowed in national parks, then
you can zip up the hill to Atherton Lake for hiking, swimming, etc. As a matter
of fact, we're going to stay up there at the CG next time (only 5 miles from the
park boundary)--we've become big National Forest CG fans this trip."

Hooray for National Forest lands!

And hooray for the camphost at Gros Ventre who actually asked us what kind of site we would like and then (gasp) gave that to us! We had a lovely view, no close-by neighbors, and a roaring campfire as we watched the sun set behind the Tetons.

The day we tooled south from Colter Bay to Gros Ventre we tried to do a "photography tour" to capture some of the iconic Teton views, but alas--the wildfire smoke blowing over from Idaho prevented that. Here are a few only semi-decent snaps in that weird, smoky light.

Ansel Adams' famous photo setting:

Mormon Row and the famous Moulton barn

Where the deer and the antelope play! (We also did see bison in the park, then elk and moose later in Jackson.)

For my sign collection:

Jackson Hole

We spent some time poking around downtown Jackson before meeting up with our friends. Enjoyed one of the best meals of the trip at the Snake River Brewing Company, even though Bago couldn't join us.

Smoked troutcakes with a tomatillo sauce. Exquisite.

We strolled the square downtown in the surprisingly intense heat (mid-90s every day, and at 6000+ elevation, very strong sun shine) and visited the dog park a few times (which is how we learned of the Snake River Brewing Company and the very awesome pet store--always chat up dog park locals!).

Then we pulled into our friends' driveway for 3 days of catching up. We had visited Lee and Mary 5 years ago on our very first RV trip, and we were eager to show them that we've learned how to do it since them. We overlapped during our visit with their daughter and her 2 kids' visit; we were worried that we were intruding, but I think, after all, that it all worked out. We sure appreciated the kids playing so much with Bago. It's usually a win-win to have the dog wear out the kids and vice versa....

We also availed ourselves yet again of Lee's technical expertise and tool collection. We spent one day hanging out, doing repairs and hiking the trails behind the property. Lisa got the awning over slide out repaired with awning tape (thanks, View/Navion group) while I touched up all the paint chips we've picked up this trip during the crazy road work season.

View from their driveway of the Grand Teton during the morning dog walk:

Their wildflower garden at sunrise:

Bago wishing he had kids around more often:

Gram and the kids on the front porch:

Besides playing in the front yard several times a day with the kids, one day we got to take Bago to the a swimming hole by the dam in the Snake River. Boy oh boy did they all enjoy that, and it was followed by a most delicious bagel lunch in Wilson.

Hiking the trails behind their house. Breathtaking views everywhere (but no shade--that sun is VERY strong):

We had two spectacularly great treats while we were visiting. It turned out that we got free tickets to the closing night of the Grand Teton Music Festival and go to hear a breathtaking Tchaikovsky concert. One of the pieces featured the most amazing Yefim Bronfman--a pianist who is called the "next Horowitz." I've never seen hands like that.

The next treat was getting to meet up with a fellow Mary and I worked with 20 years ago, and get to meet his family and hear about his amazing music career.

What a lovely visit we had. Can't wait to get home and make a goody box to send as a thank you. (We used to bake Lee Vienna bars as a thank you for helping us with maintenance tasks on our first house 20 years ago, but we've learned that he's now gluten and dairy free. I can roll with that! Time to make chocolate bliss balls--vegan and raw--which are totally delicious and ship well ;-)

Weeks 2-3: Northern NM and High Country Colorado

Off the Grid (well, the telecom one) in El Vado Lake State Park

As we have often noted, we have been huge NM State Park fans. For a mere $14/night, one gets water and electric hookups and usually a huge amount of space and an interesting location.

This is a deal that cannot be beat, and it turned out to be true for El Vado Lake State Park, where our planned one-night stay turned into a relaxing three nights because a landslide from the huge monsoonal rains wiped out the campground at Ojo Caliente, a favorite spot of ours, which we'd planned to revisit for two nights.

So, we had no phone or Internet, but we got to watch ospreys tending their nests and making very cool sounds (which they are also doing right now as I type this at Flaming Gorge NRA). We read books, let Bago go swimming, and had front row seats to the nightly monsoon thunderstorms.

The lake was really, really low, which accounted for the very few people at the campground.

But it was still quite beautiful.

Every day: sunshine. Every afternoon/evening, the monsoon.

Oh, and I had time to cook, too. Lovely farm fresh eggs from pasture-raised chickens from James Ranch, and cantaloupe and corn from Durango's farmer's market with a new favorite RV recipe: shrimp/tomato/old bread on a skewer basted in olive oil/lemon juice, then grilled and topped with Greek seasoning and feta cheese when served. That's some fine dining!

But on the way out from El Vado Lake to Taos (via Echo Amphitheater where we were serenaded by a fellow on guitar playing "into the echo," Abiquiu, and restocking trip in Espanola), we just HAD to stop for a green chile cheeseburger at Blake's. Best to ignore all those flies inside the burger stand and the rough-looking kids at the picnic tables, though. Missed Nicky boy here.

Bago has been taking to sitting on the passenger's lap at the beginning of a day's drive (Where we goin' now, mom?) and whenever we are passing through an area with water (lake, river) and trees. When he doesn't see anything he likes, his ears lay sideways, kind of like Yoda's.  These ears aren't down as far as they go when he looks out upon desert, but they're definitely just ho-hum ears:

But when there's a river or lake out the window, those ears are standing straight up and he turns to the driver and then to the passenger, as in this blurry series:

HEY! That's a river, isn't it?

Can you pull over?


We finally found a decent pull out along the Rio Grande for Bago to have a quick, on-leash dip:

Time Travel in Taos

We had a lovely time in Taos during this year's visit, most likely due to a combination of beautiful weather and great travel tips from a new Taos resident (thanks, Sam!). We sure didn't care for the place much last time, and seeing this on the way in filled us with trepidation.

We arrived late on a Saturday afternoon and suffered one of the drawbacks of loose, unresearched travel--we had just missed the all-day Tour of Homes in Taos. Oh well. Carry on...

Since it was already 3PM, we quickly toured the San Francisco de Assisi Church (it closed at 4PM and, as we knew from our previous visit, wasn't open on Sundays). As we walked around the neighboring art galleries, I found a gorgeous mixed-media, three-dimensional painting/sculpture we just had to have for our burgeoning antler collection. We made that shop owner's day. Lisa, however, made me cool my jets over the enormous, beautiful painting (a NM landscape painted on a 30"x60" door!) by convincing me it wasn't the right thing for over the mantel. That's a purchase that must be unanimous....

Then we visited Taos' official dog park, probably the saddest place we've ever seen. It's adjacent to the animal shelter, and the big dog area runs right behind the shelter dogs, who bark miserably at the "free" dog they see. Poor things. Plus, it was just a dirt lot filled with stickers. No shade or water, either.  But Bago got a few ya-yas out, so then we could carry on to our commercial RV park, Sierra Village. What a blast from the past THIS place was. It was clearly a destination camp back in the 1950s or 60s, with its A-frame lodge (that is now some kind of creepy apartment living), store, tents and RV sites. It has not been maintained very much since then, though. The "Rec Room" and "Workshop" were metal awnings over a collection of old (50s again) metal desks and chairs--never seen anything like that. Should've gotten a picture. But it worked out well for us because there was grass, no one next to us so dog could stretch out, and a little "nature trail" in the woods for morning walks. Awfully close to the highway (noise), but that meant only 10 minutes to town. We preferred this funky place to the shadeless, gravel parking lots of RV parks in town.

Sunday morning had us as the first parkers in the RV lot near town--free AND shady. Boy, does the sun get hot at this altitude. We left the dog inside during the cool morning and took in the Kit Carson Home and Museum, a few more galleries, and then we walked the labyrinth at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House (recently owned by Dennis Hopper). We must go back and tour the house on another visit, when it's open.

Then we sprung the dog and took him to the Taos City Park and Cemetery--a very odd combo of graveyard and recreation--but Bago didn't care.

There was shade, grass, and pinecones to play with. Then, as the day heated up, we took him to a dog-friendly patio at a local brewpub, Eske's, where he was a rock star, particularly with a 5-year-old boy who insisted that he "needed some exercise, too" and wanted to go walking with Lisa and Bago. Lisa returned the boy safely to Dad....

We walked around the Plaza area more after lunch, but it just got too hot for all of us. So, we got the RV and drove north to the Millicent Rogers Museum, which we enjoyed very much, for its architecture especially but also the beautiful Maria Martinez pottery. By this point the clouds had gathered for the afternoon rain, and we headed back to our campsite for dinner.

Monday was an interesting day. We started out early at the Taos Pueblo (before it got too hot) and enjoyed the tour, the architecture, a piece of fry bread, and the shopping--Lisa scored a Christmas present for Miss Ellie (!), an ocarina made by the famous flutist Robert Mirabal (we have his Christmas album), and a bracelet for her collection.  We also got 2 little pocket pies, baked in the communal clay ovens for later.

After that lovely morning, duty called and we did 4 big ole loads of laundry, followed by an afternoon siesta then a trip to the Taos Tennis Club and Spa for massages. Ah, that was necessary. After showering there and feeding poor Bago in the RV, we completed our oddly wonderful day with a grown-up dinner out (which we rarely do) at El Meze (again, thanks, Sam!) for the most wonderful meal we've had anywhere in a very long time.

We shared the Spanish tapas appetizer of Manchego cheese, white peaches, and Serrano ham drizzled with local honey, and then we each enjoyed our own grilled trout, made the Pueblo way with lemon, watercress, and mint. Spectacularly good food AND service, along with the now-requisite evening monsoonal lightning display over Taos Mountain. Very memorable experience.

Tuesday found us heading out of town on Route 64 across the Rio Grande Bridge. We passed a possible destination for NEXT time--a newish RV park across the street from the cleverly named doggie daycare/boarding facility 10,000 Wags. That could be a better solution for Bago if it's so hot. And we'd like to go back again to drive the Enchanted Circle in the fall and perhaps attend a festival at Taos Pueblo.

Getting High with Friends

We departed Taos Tuesday morning with the intention of making the 4+ hour drive in about 6. (It seems that we need to add 1-2 hours to every Google estimate to account for our more frequent stops and lower driving speeds.) However, this trip took much longer because of a rookie mistake we haven't made in a long time--not really looking at the route map carefully! Our route (as they are wont to be) went right up the spiral of the atlas, and our wifi/AT&T reception was non-existent, so we relied on memory--oh, we just have to take this one road. Well, that put us about an hour extra out of our way, but all turned out perfectly.

As we climbed up, up, up to Leadville, Colorado and Turquoise Lake (over 10,000 feet in elevation), the weather got progressively worse. We arrived at the fully reserved campground late--around 4PM--with a dilemma. Julie had made another rookie mistake and accidentally booked only 1 site at this popular place and 1 site at a wholly different campground miles away. Where would our friends camp? Well, right as we got there, the site across from our--the ONLY ONE in the place without a reservation placard on it--was empty, except for a collapsed tent. I quickly put out one of our chairs across the site and hoped that our friends would arrive ASAP. Not 5 minutes after this, a car load of high school kids comes to retrieve that tent and leave. Turns out that they had paid for the wrong campsite, too, and they were sick of the cold, rainy weather and were leaving. The site was ours! Hooray!

Our friends arrived shortly after that, claimed and paid for good ole site 18, we got some firewood, and began cooking. Rain be damned!

Dinner consisted of appetizers of raw-milk cheese from James Ranch, caprese with home-grown tomatoes and basil and buffalo mozzarella from Boulder, lamb chops with Cherry Republic BBQ sauce, garlic quinoa, grilled veggies, salad--served at the dinette quite comfortably for 4!

The next morning brought more of the same weather, but even colder. We made the best of it by having delicious cappucinos made in the Roadtrek followed by a pancake breakfast with organic eggs and James Ranch whey-fed pork sausages served in the Navion. Much more conversation, then a brief, soggy walk (no hike because of the rain) to the lake where Bago got to chase sticks.

Noon came much too soon, and we all went our separate ways. We skipped touring Leadville (which looked quite tour cute and where there was a Rupp Hotel my dad tells me) because of the cold, steady rain and headed down to the Frisco/Dillon area and scored a boondocking site for 2 nights.

Chillin' in Dillon

We decided to stay in Heaton Bay Campground after we found that we could score a site for two nights in this almost fully reserved campground. Here's Mr. B. looking for all the world like our next Christmas card, if I can figure out how to Photoshop some ornaments and lights on those baby Christmas trees....

Lisa took the sunshine opportunity to clean the solar panels, after all those rainy days.

Bago didn't know the difference between a swimming lake and a reservoir (which Dillon Lake is), so he went swimming anyway.

We hung out all day Thursday, taking a nice 3-mile walk to and from the Frisco Safeway store, a nap,

and then getting all cleaned up to go out to dinner in Dillon with our college friend and sorority sister, Janet. We had a great time catching up.

Steamin' in Steamboat

Friday morning had us making the turn and heading west again. Since we so often go very far to the east on our trips, it felt positively odd to be turning back west while still IN the West! But turn we did and we headed up to our weekend reservations at Steamboat Lake State Park, one of the parks we visited on our very first RV trip in the Rialta. I had given it such a glowing review before that I was curious if the place would still be viewed as favorably, given how much travel we've done in the last five years. It did. All that rain has made the landscape bloom.

 (And yes, Bago did have a nice swim and play in the lake with a bunch of other dogs. And, no, we weren't supposed to do this! But it got hot during our 5-mile walk, so what's a boy to do?)

View of the fog on the lake during the early morning dog walk

We spent Friday in Steamboat Springs proper, taking the architectural walking tour of downtown, sticking our heads in the art galleries, having a coffee at the cute independent bookstore, and generally saying, "Yes, thank you." to all the people commenting on either (a) how big or (b) how handsome Bago is. A few fun snaps:

We had stopped at the Visitor Center on our way in and found out the best place to park the RV, which was by Howelsen Hill--the ski jump training area. Interesting place, and clearly not somewhere I'll ever go for real! That's one sport I shan't ever try.

Flamin' in the Gorge
We drug our heels leaving Steamboat Lake on Sunday--such a beautiful alpine area--and the drive to/from along the Elk River Valley truly is one of our favorites. We stocked up with organic, natural yumminess at the local store, refueled (18 mpg average!), and headed north to the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (run by the USDA as part of the Forest Service). We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into on this drive. Most of it was pretty monotonous, and Bago's ears were way down. But then we started the climb through the Uinta Mountains. Gorgeous!

We liked this so much we decided to stay two nights, especially since the Forest Service folks are VERY chill about dogs in the water. "Wherever you want!"

Our streak of monsoons and pretty sunsets continued here:

As did the theme of staying next to nesting ospreys: