Joining the 30% Club

We feel downright privileged to have been inducted into the 30% club! When we first arrived in Alaska, we had no idea such a club existed. The chalets where we worked were usually the final destination for our guests. They had already explored Fairbanks, Denali National Park and Anchorage. The Kenai Peninsula was the end of their adventures. Time after time, we heard stories of visiting Denali NP only to be terribly disappointed they didn’t get to see Mt. Denali. I mean, after all, it IS the tallest mountain on the continent – how can you not see it?!?!?

Mt Denali is 20,310 feet tall, that’s about 3 1/2 miles. Its 2 peaks are over 2 1/2 miles apart. It’s hard to imagine you couldn’t see it! But the fact is, given its location and size, it creates its own weather.

“Denali is so massive that it generates its own weather; much the way a huge boulder submerged in a river creates whitewater rapids. All mountains deflect air masses and influence local conditions, but Denali rises so abruptly and so high that this effect is more dramatic here than perhaps anywhere else on Earth. Storms barrel in from the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and collide with Denali’s towering mass. Weather can quickly change from sunny and clear to blizzard conditions with fierce winds, intense cold, and heavy snowfall.”

                                                         From The Alaska Range and Denali: Geology and Orogeny

This pattern of weather convergences means it can be sunny and 70˚ in town and Mt Denali could be obscured by fog and clouds. It’s estimated only 30% of visitors actually get to see Mt. Denali. We were in that 30% – FOR 3 DAYS IN A ROW!!!!   Denali means “the high one” in Koyukon, a subset of the Athabaskan language family, sometimes thought to mean “the great one.” Every time we got to see Mt Denali, I was in awe.

The park has an incredible history and many of the stories can be found here.

The First 15 Miles

a map showing the predominately east-west road through denali national park

Private vehicles can only be driven on the first 15 miles of the 92 mile park road. To go beyond Savage River, you must take the park shuttle or hike. We spent our first day driving those 15 miles and seeing all we could see…

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The view on the left side of the road
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Compared to the view on the right side of the road

It was strange how the left side of the park was in bathed in dappled sun while the right side was shrouded in clouds. There would be no view of Denali today, but, we did get to see some informative signage…

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And when we made it to Savage River, we were treated with a surprise…

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A rainbow over Savage River

We weren’t worried we didn’t see any wildlife on the first day. Guided by the weather forecast, the next day we planned a trip on the shuttle to the Eielson Visitor’s Center – Park Road Mile 66.

The First 66 Miles

We opted for the transit bus, as opposed to the narrated tour bus. The up side of the transit bus is you can disembark, hike, then grab another bus, while you have to remain on the tour bus. We promptly departed at 7:30am, along with 58 of our newest friends. Our shuttle driver Annie filled us in on what to expect, she said we’d stop for all wildlife sightings and several scenic overlooks, in addition to potty breaks for the 8 hour ride.

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Our first view of Mt Denali was over the mist settled in the valley. But, we had seen it! Already a member! As the morning worn on, we stopped for several wildlife encounters…

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Meet Mr Caribou
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Those 2 black dots at 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock are grizzly bears

It was a bit frustrating for me, jostling for a view out the window, but we made it work.

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Those white dots in the center are Dahl Sheep

Are you noticing a pattern? Lots of dots. The colors on the mountains reminded me of Death Valley, except this color came from brightly colored fall foliage instead of minerals…

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The park road winds past colorful mountains

A good part of our day was spent taking pictures like this…

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At mile 46, we stopped to check out Polychrome Overlook. The myriad of colors were astounding…

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Lots of buses filled with tourists

We also stopped along the route for the iconic picture of the park road with Mt Denali in the background. Yes, everyone else has taken this picture, but I couldn’t resist…

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We did get a closer view of some grizzly bears, but unfortunately, the sun was shining toward us and the bears ended up with a halo…

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We also saw a couple moose in the distance…

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And lots more “dots” on the mountains…

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I loved watching this group of caribou. With winter around the corner, they are beginning to shed the velvet covering their antlers. It’s  not a good picture, but the antlers were almost orange…

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The views, despite being out the window, were breathtaking…

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When we arrived at the Eielson Vistor’s Center, Mt Denali provided an amazing backdrop…

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We decided to stay at the vistor’s center and catch a later shuttle. We were treated with a couple minutes of solitude before the next bus arrived. While we were basking in the splendor of Mt Denali, some of the wildlife posed for a closeup…

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An Arctic Squirrel
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Munching away on an apple peel someone had carelessly or purposely dropped

The park rangers go to great length to educate the public about the dangers of feeding ANY of the animals. Annie had reminded us time and again, it was best to eat on the bus so as not to leave so much as a crumb for the critters. But, you know people, some of them just can’t help themselves.

We walked along the trail and looked back at the visitor center…

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And ahead to the 33 more miles to the base of Mt Denali…

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Hard to imagine, Mt Denali is still 33 miles away!

One of the interesting things about Denali NP is the fact it is a “trail-less” park, with a few exceptions near the entrance. People are encouraged to find their own path. Go out and walk on the tundra. Feel the springiness of it under you feet. Enjoy it in your own responsible way.

It was time to head back. We had seen everything we had hoped to except the wolves. Pretty darn good day!

Up next…Cruising the Denali Highway and Abandon Igloos

Are you a member of the 30% club? Did you even know there is such a thing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

No, We Didn’t Win the Lottery

After reading about all of the adventures we’ve had this summer, you must be thinking we hit the lottery. I mean, really, who could afford to do all of those things?

Links go to the blog post I wrote about the adventure.

Two glacier cruises…

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Our cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours
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Our cruise with Major Marine

Two Helicopter tours…

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Marathon Helicopter tour
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Seward Helicopter Tours

Dog sledding…

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Turning Heads Kennel

Rafting…

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Rafting with Alaska River Adventures

Took the tram…

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Riding the Tram

Visited the wildlife center

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Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

And did sight seeing on our own…

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Kenai NWR-8737

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11 1/2 week old eagle in Homer

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One thing I haven’t written much about is the fact we are working. For May, June and most of July, we worked full time, 40 hours a week. We are the “On Site Hosts” at the Spruce Moose Chalets in Moose Pass. What does an on site host do, you ask? Well, lots of things. But one of the major things we do is be an ambassador for the area. Chalet guests come from all over the world and want to have the best experiences possible. But how can we recommend an excursion if we haven’t tried it ourselves? Would you recommend a restaurant you’ve never eaten at? No! So what I did was contact all of these businesses and explained to them we would be here for the summer and wanted to be able to tell our guests about our adventures. I asked if they would be willing to give us a discount in exchange for our testimony. Simple as that! Nearly every place I contacted offered us a deal and discounts varied from place to place.  We never would have been able to afford to do all these things if I hadn’t been able to leverage our position as the on site host.

I still have one more post to write (maybe two) about our time but I am pretty much caught up. Finally!

Our job contract here is almost up. We will be leaving Moose Pass on Sept. 4th, but our adventures are far from over! We are heading up to Denali for a week (where we have an interview for a job next summer), then we will be heading down to Haines for 4 days. I have mapped out a pretty ambitious trip back to Florida, 4 National Parks and lots of cool sights along the way. I hope you continue to follow our adventures!

We’d love to hear your comments!

The Alyeska Tram

We had the morning off, but had to be back at the chalets to meet incoming guests by 4 pm and we needed to stay within cell coverage in case the guests needed any directions. So – what to do? Where to go?

We decided to drive over to Girdwood and take the tram ride at the Alyeska Ski Resort. Since it was a beautiful, sunny day, we figured the scenery would be worth the hour drive. And boy was it ever!

Once we found a parking spot and bought our tickets, we got in line for the next tram. They run every 15 minutes, so we didn’t have to wait too long. When we got to the top, the first thing I saw was an interesting sign…

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Hmmm – okay. Note to self, don’t play with unexploded artillery shells. There were so many trails to chose from…

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The tram operator said his favorite trail was the Mountain Top Trail. He said it was a bit steep, but the view would be worth it. Before we started up the trail, we walked around the tram building and took in the sights…

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Steve lining up his shot
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Wow!

There was still some snow at the beginning of the trail and Steve was wishing he hadn’t worn sandals, but I was ready to start our climb…

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The trail was constantly switch-backing, so the climb wasn’t too steep. We stopped several times along the way to gawk at the view…

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Are you noticing a trend here? Every time I turned around, Steve was sitting down taking pictures. But you can’t argue with the results!

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When we got almost to the top, we stopped for “our selfie to prove we were there”…

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Then, Steve took a seat (again) while I took a closer look and the flowers covering the mountain side…

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Far below us, others were hiking through the fields and forests…

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Can you spot the hikers? Wait, let me zoom in a bit…

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After our climb, we stopped for a quick beer at the Bore Tide Deli & Bar before we took the tram back to the base.

The guests had texted me they were leaving Anchorage, so I knew we’d better head back to the chalets. In the end, we pulled in almost right behind them. Talk about timing!

The Alyeska Tram is a great way to spend the day and you just can’t beat the views!

 

It’s OK – It’s a Dry Heat – Part 1

It was kinda of sad leaving Sunny Valley. We had such a great time with Mike and Dawn (read Dawn’s take on our meeting here), it was hard to say “until we meet again”.

We spent the night in Kingman, AZ so we could have dinner with family…

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Our plan was to spend the next week exploring Death Valley. Death Valley is the 5th largest National Park in the United States and the largest in the lower 48. It covers 5262 square miles (roughly 3.4 million acres). It is 140 miles long and about 75 miles across at its widest.

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We decided Beatty RV Park in Nevada would be the perfect jumping off point for our explorations.  On our way to Beatty, we passed the Hoover Dam…

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And drove through Las Vegas. It was noon when we pulled into the park. We got set up in our site and headed into town, actually, to be completely honest, we were looking for a liquor store. The camp host told us we could probably buy liquor at the casino. My first thought was, yeah, what would THAT cost. After we drove around town a bit, we headed to the Stagecoach Hotel and Casino. Just for fun, we put $6.00 (big spenders, right?) into the one-armed-bandit and hit on the 3rd pull. Woohoo. Let’s cash out of this machine! And so it went. A few bucks here, a few bucks there and at the end of the afternoon, we were up enough to cover the cost of the bottle, which wasn’t as expensive as I imagined. When we got back to Waldo, there were wild burros across the street, which I thought was really neat…

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I can just hear the burro, “What, haven’t you ever seen an ass before?”

The next day, we headed into Death Valley…

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Once we passed through Hell’s Gate, the temperature started to climb. It was 58 degrees in Beatty and 75 degrees on the valley floor. The wind had been kicking up for days and it was really noticeable in the valley. I knew it would be hard to get great pictures of the overall landscape because of the haze…

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Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

So, I tried to focus on the smaller scenes…

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Our next stop was Mosaic Canyon, a 4 mile round trip through narrow slot canyons and polished rock walls…

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Looking back toward the parking area
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The canyon walls, smoothed by rushing waters
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Steve getting a picture of the landscape

From there, we walked the Salt Creek Interpretative Trail.

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Since it was only April, there was still plenty of water flowing. The water is 4x saltier than the ocean. In spite of that, it is home to the Salt Creek pupfish…

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Not a great picture, but you can see several pupfish

April is the beginning of mating season and the males were a beautiful shade of blue. As we were walking along, I could have sworn I saw a gorilla face in the mountains…

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Do you see a gorilla or was I imagining it?

I was in sensory overload, it’s hard to take in all the naked beauty at once.

It was several days before we got back to exploring. Before you get into Death Valley, there are 2 must see places. The first is the Goldwater Open Air Museum. It seems a strange place for an art museum, in the middle of nowhere, but it is definitely worth the stop…

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Fred Bervoets’s  Ode to Shorty
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Charles Albert Szukalski‘s Ghost Rider
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Charles Albert Szukalski‘s The Last Supper
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A very large metal origami crane
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Dr. Hugo Heyrman‘s Lady Desert The Venus of Nevada
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Onny Huisink’s The Beauty of Decay
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Sofie Siegmann‘s Sit Here

Just passed the museum we discovered several abandon homes and vehicles…

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This was a prelude to the ghost town of Rhyolite. The town boomed into existence in 1904 and had burnt itself out by 1916. Remains of several of the buildings give us an idea what town was like in its heyday…

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I thought one of the neatest buildings was Tom Kelly’s bottle house

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Despite the fact electricity to the town had been shut off in 1916, the last tenets of the house lived there until 1969. Tommy Thompson and his family added miniature houses to the property…

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From Rhyolite, we headed back into Death Valley. We drove along Mustard Canyon Road…

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Then visited Harmony Borax Works

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The iconic 20 Mule Team wagon used to transport the borax

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Even in this harsh environment, flowers still find a place to bloom…

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Our final hike of the day was to the natural bridge…

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I’m going to wrap up Part 1. There is still so much to tell you about! So here is my closing shot until I get to Part 2…

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Have you visited Death Valley?

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

After New Orleans, we were ready for a little quiet time. We thought stopping at Wind Point Park for a few days would provide us with that. Boy were we wrong! 4 non-stop days of catching up with friends. 3 non-stop nights of bonfires and brews. It was awesome to visit the place we worked for 5 1/2 months and to see the people we’d become friends with, but damn, was I tired when we left! Our next stop was guaranteed to give us the down time we needed.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Driving along the north Texas plain, the scenery can be a bit – well – boring. Sorry Texas! But miles and miles (and miles) of this…

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can give you the feeling the scenery will never change. I was sitting in my customary position, foot rest up-seat tilted back just so, just comfortable enough to doze occasionally. I was jolted awake from my snooze when Steve hit the brakes on Waldo a little harder than normal. I was STUNNED. The scenery had gone from miles of flat nothing to a mesmerizing view of the canyon…

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I had taken advantage of our Texas State Park pass when I made our reservation. All we had to do was check in at the ranger station and get our site number. Sites are assigned on a first come first served basis. In 2019, you will be able to reserve a specific site but for now it is pot luck. I think we did OK!

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Looking back, I wrote in my journal, “It is not a hard thing to wake up to.” Peace and quiet! Only a few friendly neighbors. Our first full day in the canyon had us scouting out possible hikes, nothing too strenuous, but trying to take in everything we could. I got a bit frustrated because they give you 2 maps. One of the campgrounds and one of the hiking trails. It’s really hard to match the maps up and the signage wasn’t as good as it could be. We drove through the park first, getting the lay of the land, so to speak. It was hard to get anywhere, because I kept saying “Stop, I want to take a picture.” With sights like this, how could I not?

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The setting moon

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Our first hike was to “The Big Cave”. We parked on the side of the road and started up the trail…

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I climbed to the mouth of the cave first and looked back to make sure Steve was coming…

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Steve trying to decide the best route
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Looking back towards the Jeep. Can you see it?
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I couldn’t get far enough back into the cave to get the entire opening

From a distance, the rock looks smooth. When you get close up, it looks like this…

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From here, we walked along the Juniper Riverside trail…

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While the scenery was spectacular, I was getting tired so returned to the Jeep. I’ve been fighting a sore throat and a sinus infection, so this was enough walking for one day.

Once back at Waldo, we set our chairs in the shade and relaxed! As we were sitting there chatting, I spied something out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t sure what it was and I nudged Steve to look in that direction. A few moments later, a little head popped out of the ground, looked around then dropped back into the hole. I sat with the camera trained on the hole, waiting for the critter to reemerge. He did, but from another hole. It took me a while, but here is our visitor…

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It is called a pocket gopher. Come to find out, there must have been dozens them. As we sat there quietly, they popped up and down like the game of whack-a-mole. Right after Steve put my camera away, we had another visitor, so this is a cellphone pic…

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Roadrunners crack me up. I love watching them. The next morning, I looked out the window towards the tent across the way. If the folks sleeping inside had been awake, they could have reached out and petted the mule deer who was grazing at their front door. I was loving all the wildlife. This what exactly the relaxation we had been needing.

We spent most of the day driving through the park. We stopped at the visitor center and learned a lot about the fascinating history of the park. I had heard of the Civilian Conservation Corps, but never realized what an impact they had on our park system. They spent 5 years working on Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Many of the building are still in use today. Below is a picture of what is left of the mess hall. 85 years later, this chimney is still standing…

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As we were driving along, I had Steve pull over and give me the binoculars.

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Yes, the arrow is pointing to a person! I’ll bet the view was amazing, but, not my kind of hike!

Our final morning found us wishing for more time to explore. More time to just relax and spend quality time together, but we still have a long way to go. (4,698 mile to be exact) We had one last visitor before we left…

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Another cellphone pic, but you get the idea

The road in and out of the canyon is steep and full of switchbacks. We decided not to hook up the jeep and force Waldo to tow it out. So, with me driving the Trouble, I followed Steve out of the canyon. Just to give you an idea, here is a short video I shot out the window as I was following…

Steve almost gave me a heart attack when the rear wheel slipped into the culvert! Once we were at the top, we hooked up and headed towards Amarillo. Not surprisingly, I had him pull over once again for a picture. What gave me pause was thinking about how much is the same and how much has changed. Two windmills, both harnessing power, the old and the new…

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Up next…a really cool RV museum in Amarillo.

I know I am really behind in keeping up with our travels. We were at Palo Duro Canyon April 4-6th. We’ve seen so much since then! Right now we are in Winnemucca, Nevada, but I don’t want to get too ahead of the story! If you want more up-to-date information on our adventures, Like TheWanderingRVer on Facebook

Exploring Big Cypress National Preserve, part 2

If you missed part 1, you can find it here. Big Cypress encompasses several different environments, and they each require a specific mode of transportation. Many places are accessible with your own vehicle, despite any warning signs you might see…

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Many of the roads are hard packed sand and are easy to navigate…

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They offer a stunning array of scenery and wildlife opportunities…

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Other areas can only be reached via hiking trails. We started out on the Gator Hook Trail. At the start, it looked something like this…

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With scenery like this…

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Then it became a bit muddier…

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As you can see, Steve is having second thoughts about this hike. And with good reason, the rest of the trail looked like this…

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We hadn’t really planned for a wet hike, so we decided to head back and check out some of the other trails. One of the neat things about Big Cypress is they have several boardwalk hikes. Most are less than a mile and are wheelchair accessible. You can see almost all of the same scenery, but with dry feet.

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What do you think of this in black and white?

The boardwalk at the Kirby Storter Roadside Park has a chickee near the beginning of the trail…

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As the boardwalk meanders through the forest/swamp, you can’t help but notice the changes in the landscape. Cypress knees begin cluttering the forest floor…

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Most of the cypress trees were logged out during the late 1800’s. But every now and then, you can find one that has been around a while. I have no idea how old this tree is, but the plastic water bottle near the base of it gives something for scale. (There was actually very little litter in the preserve)

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The boardwalk ends at a large viewing platform with several benches…

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While Steve was talking with another visitor, I watched the anhinga looking for its lunch…

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Another day, Steve and I hiked out to Deep Lake. Since we were there during the dry season, the path was pretty easy to walk. There were a few places where getting wet was the only option. At least we were prepared this time…

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Deep Lake is a naturally occurring sinkhole lake and is over 90 feet deep.

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How many alligators do you see? Hint, there are more than 5

One of the benefits of hiking versus driving, is you can just stop and check things out. You will see things you would have otherwise missed. Like the neat pattern the fungus made on this tree…

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Or the blooms of the bromeliads…

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Or the lizards,

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A strangle fig with its victim,

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A squirrel hiding in a tree,

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Or a liguus tree snail…

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For me, kayaking is probably the next “slowest” way to take in the sights.

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I imagine during the wet season, all of this is underwater.

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Other ways to get into the “back country” are airboats…

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And my personal favorite – swamp buggies…

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There are lots of places you can take airboat or swamp buggy eco tours, but we opted not to on this trip. Maybe next time!

Until then…

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We say “Thanks for coming along!” and we always love reading your comments!