Talking with Other Travelers About Traveling

Our first expedition into Washington was a beeline straight up to Seattle from Portland. We went there to meet a couple, know online as “Married with Luggage“, who have been traveling the world for the past two years. We’d never met, but I’ve been following their travels online and they put out an open invitation to their we’re-back-in-the-U.S.-gathering. We headed to Seattle and attended the party and then got the opportunity to hang-out some more with Betsy and Warren the next morning.

They’re a great couple who are transforming their personal experiences into tools and books for others to figure out their own dream and take action to make it a reality. They were curious about our transformation from typical NYC-DINKs (that’s my self-classification, “duel-income-no-kids”) to RV-driving nomads. Talking with them about the RV and how we travel made us realize how far we’ve come and how much we’ve learned. We don’t spend much time reflecting yet (I can do it when I finally get the chance to make one helluva road trip scrapbook), but when we think about how much we’ve seen and learned it’s a great feeling of accomplishment.

When we started traveling my goal was to really know the USA. Before leaving New York I hadn’t seen much of America. I knew major cities and general stuff about geography, climate, popular destinations, etc. There was a lot missing in between and I was short on details. I wanted to connect all the dots and fill in the blanks, not just today’s America, but also our American history. In the past year and a half we’ve seen and learned so much about this country. We’ve traveled along the Oregon Trail, Lewis and Clark Trail and the Pony Express. We’ve seen gold mining towns, homesteads, president’s homes, ancient Pueblo dwellings and over thirty National Parks and Monuments. These places, plus stops in countless towns, viewing dozens of historical markers and stays at almost a hundred campgrounds across twenty-five states has been a concentrated, massive dose of learning and fun. We’ve accomplished so much and we still have half the states left to visit.

We’re glad we keep taking the time to update this online journal. Sometimes it’s hard to keep it all straight — I’ve woken up and had to think for a minute about which state I was in — frequently we use our blog as a resource to look up where we did or saw things. We’re also glad to have occasional opportunities to meet up with fellow travelers along the way and swap stories. When we’re traveling we’re basically alone and connecting with other travelers, even for a short time, makes any place a bit more comfortable.

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Not your typical travel trailer …

This little home just pulled in next to us at the RV campground. The couple staying in it have a pick-up truck to tow it and drop it into place. I’ve seen countless travel trailers, but this one is the most adorable.

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Oh, Oregon!

We spent five nights in the state of Oregon before continuing north into Washington. I’ve got lots to share about Washington but want to report what we did in Oregon before getting too far ahead of myself.

We came in from the east after visiting Boise, Idaho. The most memorable thing about our first time in this state was the brutal wind. Our one night in La Grande was the windiest night of all our travels. We were shaking so much in the RV that I felt a little motion sick in the morning. I headed out early to check to see if the nearby horses had made it through the rough night. They seemed fine and enjoyed some breakfast carrots.

Feeding horses at our RV park

In La Grande, Oregon is a destination called Hot Lake Springs. To call this place just a spa is a big understatement. They do have hot springs and you can soak in the hot mineral water but, be warned, it smells of sulphur (rotten eggs). We decided to try and ignore the smell and soak in the mineral water but it was not the highlight of the place or our visit.

Finn getting ready for a soak in the hot mineral spring water

The place itself is the real surprise. It’s as close as you can come to being in a Wes Anderson movie in real life. Of course, that’s a compliment because I love the eccentric, highly-styled worlds of his films. Hot Lake Springs has that at every turn. There are many guest rooms and each one is uniquely saturated with quirky character.

The facility was originally built in 1908 but was closed and abandoned for years until a family bought it, restored it and made it their home. The head of the family is David Manuel, a bronze sculptor who keeps his studio on the grounds. Also on the grounds, which you can wander freely, there are spa machines from the 1960’s, peacocks guarding doors, owls nesting in the attic, odd murals and old photos from bygone years. It’s a curious place that I highly recommend for anyone seeking the offbeat and unique.

A room in Hot Lake Springs

peacocks right at home

The next night we stopped in the town of Boardman where I finally did some biking and we had dinner on the campfire after a long time staying in burn-ban areas. In the morning we drove about three more hours and headed into Portland. Neither of us had ever been there and we were really excited to finally visit.

Finn in Portland figuring out our next destination

We spent our first evening in town exploring and stopping in a few shops. Then we caught up with an old friend of mine who has been living in the city for years and picked his brain about Portland life.

Creative treats at Voodoo Doughnut

Everywhere you look, rainbows in Portland

We had to adjust to the rain situation and by that I mean that it never really stopped. The longest run I clocked was 18 hours straight of light rain before a brief break and then more rain. My impulse is to wait out the rain but then you’d be inside forever and never do anything. I don’t think anyone really likes being rained on but the folks in Portland don’t seem to mind. The upside? Lots of rainbows.

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Idaho Travels & Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

We’ve wandered into Idaho as we make our way west. We did visit this state last year, but in a different part. This time around we have a lot more viewing opportunities of the Snake River. If I was going to give out awards, the Snake River would win most beautiful river in America. The color of the water is a deep aquamarine and the canyon land is lush and rugged. It’s absolutely stunning.

The bridge below goes over the Snake River in Twin Falls and is near the spot where Evel Knievel attempted to jump the river in a rocket back in 1974.

We’ve been finding lots of random and interesting sites to see in Idaho. We’ve also endured some serious winds and chilly weather but the fall leaves are beautiful and it’s a new part of the country for us.

Today we visited the Idaho State Historic Museum in Boise and learned a lot about the history of the state. Always enjoying random oddities, I sought out the two-headed calf in the museum which has become the unofficial museum mascot.

We also visited Hagerman, Idaho to check out the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. This turned out to be a complete bust. We drove across the monument land and we couldn’t find the visitor center. Finally, after some more research, we learned the visitor center isn’t part of the monument park, but it’s actually back in the town of Hagerman. We pointed ourselves there and found the visitor center only to learn they are closed on Tuesday and Wednesdays (Argh, it’s Wednesday!). Since we drove across the monument land twice and saw the outside of the visitor center, I think that’s fine for crossing it off our list even though we never saw any of the Hagerman horse fossils.

Above is a shot of the Boise public library. I love the enthusiasm. Below is part of a mural in Hagerman. It’s as close as we got to seeing the world famous horse fossils.

Tomorrow we’ll be moving on into Oregon to see what we can find there. We’re looking forward to checking it all out.

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Crazy Weather in Moab

The weather has been nuts in Moab. We’ve had pouring rain and then a freak hail storm that was a sheet of ice coming down on us. We’ve extended our stay in Moab in hopes that the red rock will dry enough so Finn can ride the legendary Slickrock Trail.

Trying to outrun a storm, we drove up in the La Sal mountains and got some cool photos of the foggy sky.

Today there have been a few short showers this morning, but the sun looks to be coming out and Finn is inflating his tires on his mountain bike.

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Canyonlands National Park

I’m just about to call uncle on all these beautiful landscapes we’ve seen in Colorado and Utah. I can’t take it in fast enough, there’s so much to see and it’s all so amazing. We’ve already extended our stay in Moab by another two nights but at some point we’ll just have to pull up anchor and move on.

Canyonlands was one of the national parks we missed last year when we were in the area but we’re back now and made it our #1 priority yesterday.

This was one of the times when a little research prior to our visit might have been wise. I don’t think it would have changed our plans but just given us the heads-up on the lay of the land.

Once we got to the visitor’s center we learned the park is divided into three districts that adjoin each other but can only be reached by different entry points that are several hours apart. We entered the Island in the Sky region and spent the day hiking and driving this one district.

This region is the most accessible and has the most visitors each year. It is a wide, high plateau with breathtaking views of the red rock canyons for miles around in all directions. We drove out and took several hikes along the route, including one out to the rim of the plateau where you can look out for miles at the other districts of the park.

One of the interesting factoids we learned is that the NPS measured the interior of Canyonlands NP and found it to be one of the quietest places in the United States. Even on the plateau it was very quite and we loved visiting this time of year when there were far fewer hikers on the trails.

Mesa Arch (below) is one of a few arches found in Canyonlands National Park. It’s a very nice arch but for the motherload of arches it’s only about a 40 minute drive over to Arches National Park. We visited there last year and popped in again yesterday evening for some sunset photography.

The other two districts in the park are The Maze and The Needles. The Maze is very remote and can only be toured via a four-wheel-drive vehicle, motorbike or mountain bike. The Needles is a smaller section, with far less paved road than Island in the Sky. It features striking rock formations and petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock (much like the one we saw in Petrified Forrest last year). We’ll save those districts for another visit when we have some off-road capabilities. We’re loving the Smart car we are towing but it’s a little weird in this part of the country where we are surrounded by four-wheel-drive monsters.

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Colorado National Monument

We’re on a roll now! Yesterday we visited another amazing National Monument. This one is located in the western part of Colorado, near the town of Grand Junction. It has a simple, straightforward name: Colorado National Monument.

We spent the whole day driving and hiking the area and the highlight has to be Monument Canyon (below) where there are striking rock formations jutting up from the canyon floor. Here’s Finn in front of Independence Monument. Stunning!

Below is Red Canyon, it features a canyon within a canyon.

We explored a cave that turned out to be a drainage bypass cut to prevent the road from getting washed out. Even though it turned out to be man-made, we still felt like explorers as we followed it deep into the hillside.

The views from Rim Rock Road are consistently spectacular. It meanders twenty-three miles from one park entrance to the other. There’s one visitor center in the park where we dutifully watched the movie and this one, on the geology of the region, was pretty good.

After visiting fifteen national parks, a dozen national monuments and countless historical sites we’ve seen a lot of stuff and, before this trip, I hadn’t seen any of it. My primary advice to people like me — Go! See more of America, it’s beautiful and so educational.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

After visiting Boulder, CO and a great visit with some friends in Longmont, CO, we pressed on to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. The town of Estes Park is an adorable town and very tourist friendly with lots of ice cream and souvenir shops. We took advantage of that to procure some huckleberry ice cream and delicious caramel apples.

Our campsite featured a herd of elk that made our stay quite exciting. Once we entered the National Park our first destination was Trail Ridge Road. It provides amazing views of the alpine tundra zone with the highest point at 12,183 feet above sea level. Up there even hikes of short distances got us winded. We just happened to be there on closing day for two of the four visitor centers and we visited both of the closing centers before they shut down for the winter. The road itself is due to close in the next week.

Along the way we encountered a herd of grazing big horn sheep.

The spectacular vistas at the highest points of the road are breathtaking.

After our drive on Trail Ridge Road, we dropped the car at a visitor center and took a bus to Bear Lake. The road to this trailhead is closed to most traffic due to road repair work but they offer a bus system to take hikers out to this popular destination.

We encountered a few herds of elk through the park area.

I loved watching the beautiful magpie birds all over the park. We watched one clever magpie who figured out the easy meal solution of eating bugs out of grills on cars as they pull into the lot.

This was our first National Park in 2012 and it was a good one. We’d like to come back and do some longer hikes when it’s a bit warmer, it gets really windy and cold on top of the mountains.

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