Monday, November 28, 2016

Cyber Monday Deal (Shameless Self-Promotion)

Good morning!

To celebrate the fact that I'm not shackled to a brick-and-mortar retail edifice this year, I'm offering a $20 coupon on any of my prints at Fine Art America.

This includes matted, framed prints, unframed prints, even the popular stretched canvas prints in any size.

This promotion ends Saturday, December 3.


p.s. If there is an image of mine that you'd like to see offered, but doesn't show up on the site, let me know. I will happily upload the image for you.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Story So Far

February 27 through November 4, 2016

What we've learned so far.



  • Selling everything and moving into a 40 foot trailer isn't really all that scary if you make the mental adjustment and fully accept the change. You can't lie to yourself. You have to be fully engaged, fully committed.
  • It will not change who you are. If you have unresolved issues in your life, cramming them into a trailer will not solve them, although ridding yourself of your daily grind in favor of a nomadic lifestyle, may, in some cases, help you work through the rough spots and shed some baggage.


  • A good friend asked us what was our biggest surprise in taking on this adventure. The answer is the realization that this is so easy once you've made the required commitment in your mind. The rest is just shuffling things around.
  • We've lucked out on fuel prices so far. When I was originally crunching numbers for this concept, I was allowing $4.00 to $5.00 per gallon for diesel. The reality has been much nicer. We have averaged $2.15 per gallon over the last eight-plus months. Tug has chugged along happily at about 12 miles per gallon. A bit less in heavy, stop-and-go traffic or in the mountains. We got about 9.2 mpg coming over Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado. This an 8,000 pound truck pulling a 15,000 pound trailer over all kinds of roads from sea level to 10,000 feet.
  • We have made so many new friends that I'm often concerned that I may have dreamed all of this into existence, like Ursula K. Le Guin's George Orr. I have Twitter pals that have become real friends, people whom I love as though they were my own family. 
  • Trailers are better designed to move forward than backward. The entire process is mostly visualization process put into practical action. (In other words, don't think too much.)
  • State Parks are, in general, some of the nicest places to stay if you're in a trailer or RV. Commercial parks may have the amenities edge - laundry, WiFi, etc., but the parks are well-maintained and offer an edge in affordability.
  • Not all state parks are created equally. Colorado parks are extremely nice, as are Missouri's green jewels. Arizona parks are some of the best, but the staff and volunteers all seem unhappy. Texas has some of the most amazing places to stay available anywhere.
  • As I write this, (October 17) I am in a Texas KOA campground that has about two hundred spaces. The wifi is spotty, the lot is dusty and the speed limit is mostly ignored.
  • The highways in eastern Colorado are horrific, especially if you're hauling 15,000 pounds of bucking trailer. Rough as a dry cob.
  • Southwest Colorado is an under-appreciated part of the country. There are multiple micro-climates, geological wonders, stunning scenery, and amazing food. 
  • Our stay at Mancos State Park, Colorado was extraordinary. The air was cool and dry at 8,000 feet. We had an ever-changing view of the dazzling La Plata Mountains.There is nothing in the area that is trying to eat you. No mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, or other biting things. There are bears, but they are not aggressive, and sightings are rare. The town of Mancos has several great places to eat, all the necessary staples, a decent liquor store, and two weed stores. One is called The Bud Farm. Seems like a good fit.
  • Contrast with Missouri's Bennett Spring State Park. Ticks start appearing in April, small at first, then substantial as the season progresses. By the first of June, they're the size of dinner plates. (Almost.) Chiggers inhabit every inch of grassy areas, and the mosquitoes have registry numbers on their wings. It's seventeen miles to the closest grocery store, and there has never been a useful car wash in Lebanon, Missouri
  • Best car wash on our trip: Main Street Car Wash in Kerrville, Texas. No shit.
  • Phoenix drivers obey the speed limit. Perhaps it's out of fear that Sheriff Joe Arpaio will send them into hard labor wearing pink jumpsuits, but the freeways in Phoenix are positively civilized.
  • To the dressed-all-in-dark-colors, no reflectors, no lights bicyclist that crossed a main thoroughfare against the light as we were coming home from late dinner in Fountain Hills, Arizona: I'm glad we didn't hit and kill you, but I hope we scared the living shit out of you. Dumbass.
  • El Paso drivers are practicing for Daytona. I was going fifteen over the limit and being passed as though I was going backwards. They honked angrily at me.
  • Weekend stops should be planned for low tourist-interest places. Attempts to visit bike-clogged Jerome, Arizona and bumper-to-bumper Sedona were frustrating and generally a waste of time and fuel.
  • A one-ton GMC dually is eight feet wide. The ATM we visited in Silver City, New Mexico is 7'8" wide. Paint was exchanged.
  • I have managed to avoid scratching up the trailer in any way.
  • We were mentally snakebit by the unseasonably warm temperatures this fall. Part of this is old Missouri-think, where ninety degrees feels like two hundred. Here, (Arizona) ninety in the sun equals eighty in the shade, and a quick spritz of water is as good as central air. On more than one occasion,  I looked at the temps and decided against an outdoor activity that now passed, will likely never come around again. That's just dumb. We're not going to live forever.
  • Bennett Spring State Park, Missouri to Galveston, Texas - 2,988 direct travel miles. Total vehicle miles: about 6,000, including numerous side trips for photography, sightseeing and errands. I have amassed a data file of 370 GB in images
  • I have adopted a Picture-Of-The-Day format every morning on Twitter to keep my eye sharp, and an occasional post on Instagram featuring our buddy Adventure Rabbit. This was my original plan to keep looking forward, create opportunities to meet people, and push myself to constantly create new content that I could be proud of. I wanted to find new markets for my fine art photography, but never at the expense of our adventure.
  • Having said that, I do plan on reaching out at every opportunity to push my limits. Everything I create is for sale, and at popular prices. Just ask.
  • My Proust questionnaire plan has fallen victim to my natural shyness. I have to work on this. I always allow myself to fall back on the "I don't want to bother anyone." trap. Self-fulfilling failure prophecy.
  • There is no shame in avoiding congested urban cores. We found pleasant bypasses around El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston that didn't involve worming our way through the middle of the city with our fifty-foot rig in rush hour traffic. Having said that, we did manage to hit every red light on Texas 6 from Galveston to Sugarland. Our trip to the Hill Country wound up taking 6-1/2 hours.
  • I'd like to go back to Galveston after our time in the Hill Country is up. This time, not so many motorcycles, and a bit cooler, please. We didn't get nearly enough beach time.
  • We volunteer. State Parks are amazing resources, but many receive very little funding from their respective states, and instead rely mainly on park-generated revenues for upkeep and improvements. We're able to give back by cleaning restrooms and campsites, helping campers get settled and generally being the public face of the park for visitors. Next time you visit a state or national park, pay attention to that person that's helping you find your way. Chances are that it's a volunteer. Tell them thank you.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Grand Canyon

Let's be perfectly clear: there is nothing I can say, no bucket of superlatives I can string together, that will in any way approximate the extraordinary scale, beauty, and pure grandeur of the Grand Canyon. So, here, in a feeble attempt to illustrate, are a few pictures from Grand Canyon National Park.








We parked our rig at an RV park in Williams, Arizona and made our way up Highway 64 to the park. At that same moment, 10,000 of our closest friends did exactly the same thing. I'm ok with that. I realize that this is one of the wonders of the world, and that people from every country in that world make their way here to see this, wave their selfie sticks in the air and then move on, to eventually make their way to Vegas.

Seriously, if you don't like crowds, wait for a rainy day to visit the Canyon. Even then you will be shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists from all over. This is a travelling photo-scrum. It becomes an assembly line - queue, shoot, move - lather, rinse, repeat. Everyone is jockeying for position. Exit through the gift shop.

Most people are pretty nice, most are patient enough, and for the most part, pretty civil.

The truth is, I'm not much for crowds. We drive a large truck out of necessity, and navigating packed parking lots isn't all that much fun. Once my level of personal-space weirdness starts to subside, the quality of people-watching is fantastic, second only to the early-bird buffet at a casino.



We took the free shuttles all along the South Rim, and found the service friendly, convenient and much preferable to driving and parking. The next time we visit the Grand Canyon, we would also opt for taking the train from Williams, and leave the fat-ass truck behind.

If you've never been to the Grand canyon, you really should get there, and if you're young and supple, take the Bright Angel Trail to the bottom of the Canyon. Failing that, there are mules that will gladly suffer your weight and take you to the river a mile below the rim.

Be patient, enjoy the fresh Arizon air and vast expanses of scenery, and notch the Grand Canyon into your memory book. 



Williams, Arizona 
Williams, Arizona
There's more to come. Our next jump is a shorter one. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

After three and a half months at Mancos State Park, we finally had to maneuver the rig out of our comfy, tree-shaded spot and head south. Maneuver isn't the right word. Trailer tango works better. First, trim off a couple of low-hanging snags from the Ponderosa pines next to the trailer. Second, hook up the trailer, and pull it forward and slightly to the right about eight feet. Third, drop the jacks and unhook the rig. Then drive around to the other side and reconnect the trailer at a hard right angle. Then, ease it out, give it the gas, check the lights and brakes, and make for the border.

We certainly had mixed feeling about leaving Mancos, but snow isn't one of our favorite flavors, and I can't wear white after Labor Day, so travel we must.

Our destination, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.


Our goals were to capture some of the iconic desert scenery, see how well we do at boondocking (no hookups for our rig) and patronize the businesses of the Navajo Nation.

I could write pages and pages on the hardscrabble ways of the tribes of the Southwest, how hard it is to make a living in the desert, and how easy it is to ignore the plight of the Navajos and other tribes, but suffice it to say that this isn't an easy place to live. Creature comforts are hard to come by, water is a commodity that has to be hauled in on a daily basis, and those roadside stands where locals sell silver jewelry and fry bread represent the fine line between groceries, shelter, heat, and poverty.

We could have parked the rig at Goosenecks State Park, Utah and driven through the valley, but after being parked for a few months, we preferred a bit more company. Goosenecks is remote and beautiful, situated atop the bluffs that overlook the San Juan River meanders, but it is remote enough that leaving our rig there all day unattended is a calculated risk. See also Moki Dugway and Muley Point Overlook. The solution seemed to be Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

Getting there is a pretty easy haul from the La Platas, though the roads are a bit dicey in places. Your family sedan will not have issues, but our 25,000-pound truck and trailer can be heard complaining as we negotiate the bumps and uneven highways.

Entering the park costs $20 for up to four adults, above and beyond the fees to park your rig. That entry is good for four days, and I was able to come and go as needed to refuel and grab supplies. We pulled in and picked our parking spot, and eventually got levelled up. The sites are not all that flat, and we had to take a couple stabs at it to get situated. Cycling the hydraulics this way chewed up precious battery capacity. We got everything stabilized, and headed over to the hotel and restaurant complex for dinner.

Large portions and pretty good service, exit through the gift shop for guitar-case stickers, and back home for a good night's sleep. The park is quiet at night, and the Milky Way is close enough to touch.

The next morning looks like this:


This is why we came. There are amazing views from our front door, the back window and all around. We ran our generator for a couple of hours to put a top charge on the battery, and then took off for the three-hour tour of the Valley Road. We passed the Mittens, the buttes, and countless rock formations, named and unnamed. The road is primitive, and the ruts and grooves are filling-jarring, at least with our heavy truck. A smaller, more lightly-sprung vehicle would be an advantage here, but we meandered and gaped at the sheer scale of the rock formations. Photographs don't do these places justice,  because without something to add a sense of scale, the house-sized rocks and the massive buttes and mesas are just too difficult to describe.



Not a real dog.


Remember when Benjamin got his cocktail party advice in The Graduate? "Plastics!" If I could go back in time and give myself advice, it would be "Rental RVs!" There is a rolling army of rentals roaming the Southwest. When I got up Thursday morning, twenty-four of the thirty-four RV spaces were taken up with rentals.

Considering that most of these rigs rent for upwards of $150 a day with limited mileage, there is a boatload of accumulated cost sitting here. 

Then again, look at the view behind the rental RVs sitting on their unlevel spaces.

Right across highway 163 from the tribal park is Goulding's RV resort, a full-service complex with groceries, fuel and another hotel. Another tank of diesel, an

Tug

Naturally.

View from Artist's Point, Valley Loop Road

Next stop, the Grand Canyon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mancos State Park For The Summer

Let's get something straight right from the start, it's Man-cuss, emphasis first syllable, not Man-cose. I know what it looks like, and it doesn't matter. Mancos. Gateway to Mesa Verde, halfway to Durango, and pretty easy to miss if you're not paying attention.

We had been through the area twice before, in 2005 and 2007, and in both cases, we were headed somewhere else, probably Durango to ride the train, smell the coal smoke and coffee, and start our way back to Kansas City.

This year was different in so many ways. Mancos was our destination, at the invitation of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, as we have put Kansas City well behind us. There is no home in Kansas City to return to.

Our time here is to be as Campground Hosts, volunteers in service to the park. Our function here is largely janitorial, cleaning restrooms and getting just-vacated campsites prepped for their next occupants.

Mancos State Park sits astride Jackson Reservoir, with campgrounds on both sides, and the La Plata mountains as the backdrop to the east. The campgrounds are nestled in among tall Ponderosa Pines, accented with low scrub oaks and the occasional cottonwood and aspen tree. Mancos State Park is high on a ridge overlooking the Mancos Valley and Mesa Verde National Park. The added elevation, coupled with the dense forest setting means that the park, in the dead of summer, is ten to fifteen degrees cooler than the Four Corners region. The net result is a constant parade of Arizona and New Mexico license plates into the park, some on vehicles bearing campers, some with anglers looking for trout in the lake.




The park is a jewel, operated to the highest standards by a small but dedicated team of rangers, staff and volunteers. If we had doubts about other parks in Colorado, this place put them all to rest. There are few things here that eat you - no ticks or chiggers, a few mosquitoes that don't seem to care for human blood, and non-aggressive black bears.

The quiet here is palpable, to the point of distraction. The skies are dark at night, probably a  couple of orders of magnitude this side of the darkest skies in North America.



Then again, there's the dust. Many of the streets in the Town of Mancos are not paved, the same with the road into the park, the park roads and the county road across the dam. The locals defend against the brown patina by buying white trucks. I am not a local. I have a black truck. It hasn't been clean since we got here. A small price to pay, I think.

The area is as varied as it is beautiful, from desert landscapes in the Four Corners, where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona all meet, to the winding mountain roads of the backcountry in the National Forest and the stunning Million Dollar Highway between Durango and Montrose. All-terrain vehicles are as common as bicycles here, and much more practical for backcountry outings than your basic mini-van.

If your camping style runs to aluminum slums with huge rigs all plugged in, this isn't your park. Except for two high-country-style yurts, the thirty-two campsites are without hookups of any kind, and the west side doesn't even have water spigots. Tents, small trailers, and a few self-contained rigs are the order of the day here.

Camping here is a mere eighteen dollars a day, plus the standard seven dollar Colorado day pass.

We said at the beginning of this adventure that some place might speak to us, might encourage us to again put down roots. This place has already made our short list of candidate destinations. You should come see it. If you come next summer, we'll be here again.

Here are a few visual highlights of the park and the area around the Four Corners:












Our time here is almost up. We leave soon for The Monument Valley, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas for the winter. We have friends to see in Galveston, then we'll backtrack to a park near Austin for November and December. There are bathrooms that need cleaning, and we know just the people for the job.

Stay tuned.

Finally, A Road Report

Note: This is way overdue, and as we're getting ready to move yet again, this report is rushed and truncated. If you have questions about anyplace we stayed along the way, or questions of any kind, for that matter, leave them in the comments.

Our cross-country jump is complete. Here are the places we stayed in Kansas and Colorado on our way to the Mancos Valley in Colorado and the Four Corners area.


Cross Timbers is in Woodson County, Kansas; smack between Yates Center and Eureka. The area where we stayed had full hook-up pull-through sites, and the campground was nearly full, even in the middle of the week. Granted, several of the sites were occupied by members of the same family group, each with their own large trailers and a number of boats.

It is a nicely maintained park, with camping options ranging from primitive tent sites - some with stunning lake views - to full services sites like our own. Our camp hosts have been in place at Cross Timbers for sixteen years, and treat the park like it was their own. Good people.

Boats. Lots of boats of all shapes and sizes - pontoons, speedboats, bass boats. These boats are almost always on the move through the campgrounds because there's no place to dock overnight. Put the boat in, do your boating thing as long as you want, take the boat out, drag it back to your site. It's like a parade of floating floats floating by. I'll get back to you on that analogy.

The towns of Yates Center and Eureka can supply most of what you'll need here, though the grocery prices are a little steep compared to chain stores elsewhere.


Kanopolis State Park, Kansas

June 5, 2016 - After we left Cross Timbers, we made our way to Kanopolis State Park. It was about 170 miles, not including a short grocery run in McPherson, Kansas. This is a bit shorter than some of our hops, but that's okay. We like to keep our trips under 250 miles, so we can do grocery and other stops alongthe way and still keep our total road time under six hours. Pulling a trailer the size of Highlander isn't necessarily difficult, but it requires more mental energy and long trips cease to be enjoyable.

At any rate, Kanopolis seemed a bit shabby. The campsite was okay, but the surroundings - grass areas, parking and other parts of the park - just seemed a bit neglected. Our campground wasn't at all crowded on the warm June Sunday when we arrived. The host was friendly and engaging, and we settled in for a two day layover.

We took a closer look at a couple of interpretive trails at the park, and again, were disappointed by the park's level of neglect and the lack of attention to what could have been a nice nature trail. All it was was hot, and tick-infested.

Nearby is the town of Lindsborg, Kansas. Lindsborg is thriving, partly due to its healthy arts and gallery scene and its celebration of its Swedish roots.

Kathi is not Swedish.
National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson and his wife Kathy (IbisWoman) operate Small World Gallery in Lindsborg. Jim's photographs and Kathy's jewelry are worth the trip to Lindsborg. Nice people.

Cedar Bluff State Park, Kansas

June 7, 2016 - Cedar Bluff State Park is near Wakeeny, Kansas. We had been close to Cedar Bluff State Park before. Some years back we attended Th' Gatherin' Festival O' Beltane, a May Day festival combined with an informal highland games, a dinner, and music. The park that we saw at that time was just a corner of Cedar Bluff that adjoined a farm field where the event was held.

At the edge of the Flint Hills
The park is large and well-maintained. Our large, pull-through site was near the turn for the boat ramp, and there was a steady parade of boats headed for the lake. It was never an issue regarding the peace and quiet of the campsite, and we had a relaxing couple of days at the park. The park is well-staffed, and the hosts, while quite new at their jobs, were friendly and eager to accommodate. The park office was able to switch our reservation when we realized that the pull-through site we had reserved was simply too small for our white whale.

Cedar Bluff Reservoir at sunset.
One interesting thing - the sites up near the lake have gravel drives. Not your garden-variety driveway gravel, but huge baseball-size chunks of granite. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but tough to walk on, if you're so inclined.

We took walks down the lakefront, and the bike rides and walks stretched out into the other campgrounds and all the way around the access road.

Cedar Bluff State Park
John Martin Reservoir State Park, Colorado

June 9, 2016 - This was our day to cross the state line into Colorful Colorado. This was to be a bit longer slog - 220+ miles, but our options weren't that plentiful west of Cedar Bluff. The thing I've known after all these years of driving back and forth across Kansas is that eastern Colorado looks just like western Kansas. Same held true for John Martin Reservoir.

An operational note - when we were laying out our itinerary, we relied heavily upon Google Maps, Google Earth and Street View to help us locate parks, roads and even campsites. This isn't always enough information.

Here is what our campground looked like from Google Earth:


This is where we were situated on the left loop:

John Martin Dam
San Luis State Park, Colorado

San Luis State Park is situated about fifteen miles west of Great Sand Dunes National Park. It would seem that this is the main function of the park. While there is a lake at the park, it would appear to be seasonal in nature. The boat ramps were closed while we were there, and it didn't seem to be a fishing destination.

The roads heading into San Luis State Park were rough, to say the least. Road signs warned of rough conditions, and roadside stakes and flags marked out hazards along the way.

There are three camping loops in the Mosca Campground. We stayed in the top loop, Loop C, and were rewarded with an unimpeded view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the vast expanse of the sand dunes in the distance.

The Campgrounds at San Luis State Park.
All the time we were there, we never saw a ranger or camp host, and while the restrooms weren't too bad, the showers and other facilities could have used some TLC. The showers, like John Martin, were coin-op, and allowed plenty of time for the money.

Our view from Loop C at Mosca Campground. The Sand Dunes are at the bottom.
Close proximity to the Sand Dunes is enough reason to stay at San Luis. If you've never visited, we highly recommend spending the day there. Wade through the cool waters of Medano Creek, and climb the seemingly endless dunes. The dunes are hard to describe, but this is always a high point for us of any trip through southern Colorado. 




With any luck at all, we'll recap our stay here at Mancos State Park before we head out, but time is tight, and there's a lot to say about this amazing part of the state. We'll get caught up soon, I promise. Then we have another fifteen stops before we roll into Galveston next month.

There's lots more to come. Stay tuned.





Thursday, June 2, 2016

On the Move

Yesterday was moving day. After all the fragile items - and Moxie - were packed away we broke camp and set out from Bennett Spring State Park to begin to make our way to The Rockies.

We had a plan. Had.

Our original intent was to stop near Springfield, Missouri to have better tires installed on our rig. Arrangements were made, appointments were set and met. If all went to plan, we'd be able to make camp by late afternoon, early evening at worst.

Cross Timbers State Park - Toronto, Kansas

We estimated two hours for the tire installation, so we rolled into a truck stop and got a sandwich, and went back to the dealer, parked the truck and took a short nap.

Two hours became three, and then we were informed that we were ready to go, and could come settle up and be on our way. The timing was still good, so we plunked down a stack of dead presidents, and got ready to roll.

Nope. The tires, which were high-pressure monsters, had been installed with rubber valve stems instead of the metal stems that were required and that we had specified. Roll the trailer back into the shop. Much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing later, we were informed that the metal stems were not to be had that day, and we could stay in their lot overnight.

Really? That's just great.

Service guy went away and said he'd be right back with us. Subordinate service guy came back and said that we were all set and ready to go. Communication is apparently the first victim of commerce.

What should have been 3:00 is now 5:30 and we have 200 miles to go. Allowing for a couple of leg stretches and a fuel stop, we'll be setting up after dark. Again. This is starting to be a thing with us.

Please keep in mind that Princess Moxie has been in her carrier all this time, and only starting to bark at us when we turned the corner onto Highway 54 at Collins Missouri. We got her a sandbox break at our Casey's fuel stop and she was fine all the way to Toronto, Kansas.

It was pitch black when we arrived, and once again, a helpful neighbor with a bright light helped us get settled. We have often relied on the kindness of strangers. Those of you that have homes without wheels should be reminded that a new location for us requires a certain amount of infrastructure maintenance when we arrive. Electric connections, water hoses, sewer connections, leveling and expanding the white whale all take time.

By the time we were all set up, it was 10:30. A quick bite and the lights went out.

We have a few days at Cross Timbers State Park to relax and explore the area and then we'll weigh anchor again and head west. News as it happens.