Across Nevada to Escalante and Boulder, Utah and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Rabbit bush in full fall colors in Nevada.

In spite of two unplanned technical events late in October, we still managed to get to southern Utah and fulfill a couple of long-time dreams for ourselves. Let me first start with the unplanned events which occur in life whether you are living on the road or not. First, we ended up with another quirky electrical problem in the truck. The short version is that our stay just over the California/Nevada border in a town called Fernley was extended for one extra day while Peter spent a day with the local Ford dealer (patiently waiting half a day since they were all booked) and determining that we needed a new battery.

Glorious clear skies silhouette the bones of aspen and willows visible at Great Basin National Park.

The second event occurred during our stay at Great Basin National Park clear across Nevada on the Utah border. We had discovered this hidden gem of a park two years ago and routed ourselves for a return of at least three nights of dry camping. No reservations so first come first served. We snagged a gorgeous spot in the Lower Lehman Creek Campground right on the creek where we enjoyed the sunshine and glorious privacy in this spectacular place, listening to the sound of the rushing creek day and night. The sunshine was spectacular and on day one we hooked up the solar panels for a few hours watching the battery charge up and feeling pretty great.

Mount Wheeler in the background from our campsite at Lower Lehman Creek in Great Basin.

The temps that night dipped to the mid-40s and the furnace did run occasionally but when we got up in the morning, we noticed the battery was dangerously depleted. We repeated the charging routine again on day two, putting the generator in the mix but by the time we turned out the lights, the battery were way down (before we ran the heat) and we realized the batteries were most likely toasted. That night was much colder. By morning, the temperature was 45 degrees inside the trailer and even with the generator running, we determined this wasn’t sustainable for us. So we reluctantly left the park early, having resigned ourselves to the fact that the rest of the way to Florida we would only be able to stay in places with electric hook-ups since the trailer batteries are not holding a charge at all. So here is our first major project for our winter months in Estero, Florida.

The welcoming committee went to great lengths to offer this prelude of what lay ahead in southern Utah. This is Red Canyon on the way to Escalante.

 

We were disappointed to leave the park early so we decided to indulge ourselves by re-routing our entire eastbound trip and spend more time in southern Utah. Here, the bucket list included a visit to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and at least one meal at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah. If you have followed our blog, you know that we have spent time in southern Utah before. In the past three years of living on the raod, we have done two trips to Arches National Park, one to Canyonlands National Park, and two trips exploring Moab and the Colorado River. Years ago we visited Zion and Bryce National Parks and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We love the area and decided it’s not possible to ever get enough of the wild, heart-stopping majesty of the region.

Our bear looks out the bathroom window at aspen leaves on the ground in Escalante.  Fall was in the air.

 

We were fortunate to get a spot for four nights on short notice at a sweet little commercial campground in Escalante since the hook-up sites in the two state parks in the area were already taken. Going in late October seemed to work in our favor since it wasn’t as totally busy. The campground, Canyons of Escalante RV Park, was in a great location, very tidy, had a great laundry on site and was within walking distance to everything in the tiny town of Escalante. The town sits right along Highway 12 which has to be one of the most beautiful highways in the U.S. It starts along Highway 89, the same road that runs all the way north to the Canadian border, passing through Wyoming and the Triangle X Ranch, our beloved sanctuary.

Sunset at the Kiva Koffehouse where the cosmos were orchestrating one last celebration.

We arrived and unhooked and by 5:30 we were catching the late afternoon sunlight and the red sandstone cliffs and mesas of Grand Escalante which were accented by brilliant splashes of neon yellow cottonwoods. It was breathtakingly gorgeous. We drove along the highway a few miles and pulled into a driveway with a sign that said, “Kiva Kofeehouse”. The parking lot was full so we got out and there on the edge of the canyon sits a spectacular little coffee house, built right into the cliff with glass walls and huge ponderosa pine supports and sandstone walls. The crowd was gathering for a performance by a local jazz group which would be the last concert of the season since the place was closing that night for the winter. We didn’t get to stay for the evening music but the gift of finding the place and watching our first sunset in Utah in this magical place was enough.

On the trail at Calf Creek where the sand is red, like the much of the Navajo sandstone.

 

The next day we decided on a day hike up to the Lower Calf Creek Falls. This sits in a lovely, deep canyon that winds gently uphill over a distance of 3 miles one way. We poked along the trail, taking pictures, finding the ancient pictographs across the valley floor. We determined we would run out of daylight and energy if we tried to make it all the way to the falls and turned around at the 2 mile mark, feeling completely satiated by the incredible beauty of the place.

On day three, we drove over to the tiny town of Boulder which is the home of the remarkable, amazing, unbelievably wonderful restaurant called Hell’s Backbone Grill.  Over the years we have had recommendations from people, including one very dear couple from New Hampshire, who said if you are ever close by, make the trip. Thank you Richard and Judy for the push because it was worth every marvelous tasty and memorable bite.

The Coombs Village ruins in Boulder are from 1100 A.D. when this place was last occupied.

In order to get to the town of Boulder on Highway 12, one crosses a stretch of road that is unbelievably unnerving. It tops the ridge and for about one mile the drop-offs on either side of the two-lane road is an easy 500 feet (or more) with no guard rails! It reminded me of the first time we crossed a small canyon somewhere on one of those suspension foot bridges. I just kept looking at the horizon straight ahead and didn’t even try to look over the edge.

Boulder is the site of the Anasazi Museum and State Historic Park which contain ruins of a place called Coombs Village which were occupied for about 75 years around 1100. Over 100 structures have been identified on the site including dwellings, storage rooms, below-ground pit houses and at least one ramada.

Here is the magnificent Clovis arrowhead found near the ruins in Boulder.

This is a state park and the museum is a treasure to explore. We loved it. The prize artifact in the collection here is a Clovis arrowhead found in the area which has been dated back to the Ice Age over 11,000 years ago. Right, this is not a typo – 11,000 years ago.  It is a marvel of craftsmanship and of both human creativity and human stewardship.  The rancher who found the point on his land immediately called the University of Utah to report the find and left it in place until the experts arrived.  As a result, the archeologists were given the opportunity to examine it in place before retrieving it for research and determining its age.  It was remarkable to see.

 

Hell’s Backbone Grill in the late evening light.

The other main attraction in Boulder is the restaurant, Hell’s Backbone Grill. The accolades for this place, where we feasted on lunch, are not at all exaggerated. The food is divine. The story of the chef-owners, Jen Castle and Blake Spaulding is one of dedication and commitment to excellence. For 18 years, they have been serving organic, locally produced and sources, regionally and seasonally appropriate cuisine, growing many of their own vegetables and fruits organically in the restaurant’s two gardens and on their six-acre farm. Can’t wait to return for another piece of the heavenly pear and gingerbread with creme fraiche and a drizzle of butterscotch sauce.

On day four of our time in Escalante, Peter visited the Petrified Forest and the Visitor’s Center which was an easy walk of about 1/2 mile from our campground. A pretty intense head cold kept me close to home with napping the top priority in the lovely Utah sunshine, so all was good.

We moved campsites next to the town of Kanab, about 120 miles south of Escalante. Again, we were able to get a full hook-up site because it was off-season which meant we got to see a part of the area that was new to us. Kanab is a spectacular place of red sandstone canyons, wide valleys and the signature red mesas. We learned that it has been the darling of Hollywood for decades and the number of movies shot here was pretty astounding.

Johnson Canyon in Kanab was radiant at the end of the day.

The TV show Gunsmoke was filmed here for several seasons and the movie set for the original town is still in place, though looking quite tired, in the lovely Johnson Canyon. I never tire of watching the late afternoon sun illuminate these rock formations.

We used Kanab as our base for our long-awaited day trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It was about a 90 minute drive and there was virtually no one else on the road on a sunny and cool morning. The park road was open but all the concessions have closed for the season. That did not matter to us.

Looking into the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

The drive to the rim, where the elevation is 7,800’ took us through ponderosa and lodge pole pine and juniper forests that were thick and fragrant. We had packed our own lunch and were happy to be at this amazing place in virtual quiet. Maybe we encountered a total of 20 other visitors during our four hours here.  It is certainly one of the advantages of being able to travel to these national parks in the off-season.

Peter takes in the awesome grandeur, if one ever really can, of the north rim.

We walked along the glorious Bright Angel Canyon Trail which hugs the canyon. We couldn’t see much into the canyon because the sun was so bright. Oh my, what a hardship! We later walked a trail which wandered through the high pine forests on the opposite side of the rim and stopped to eat our lunch at picnic tables in the now-empty outdoor patio of the Grand Canyon Lodge, basking in the warm sunshine in complete solitude with the spectacular canyon in full display right before us.

A couple of small crews of workers were repairing the seasonal wear and tear on the private cabins that sit next to the Lodge and we got to peak inside to see the lovely fireplaces and the lodgepole pine furnishings that make them look so cozy and welcoming. This place is a treasure that really should be experienced because unlike the very busy and developed south rim, here you can feel the wondrous and compelling beauty of God’s creation in awesome silence.

So Peter decided that if we ever have a simple house, it’s going to look and feel like Maynard Dixon’s cabin here in Kanab. Note one of his paintings behind Peter over the fireplace.

Our final day in Kanab we toured the Maynard Dixon Home and Studio. We are big fans of this iconic artist of the western sky who built this lovely retreat house with his wife, artist Edith Hamlin in the 1930s. The desert was Dixon’s first love and he painted western life and landscape for over 50 years. The simple and lovely home sits like a mirror in the middle of these painted mesas and tall gold grasses and ancient cottonwoods that are rooted along a year-round running creek. Just up the rise from the main house was a sweet little guest house and a magnificent studio that continues to welcome visiting artists who are invited to come and work here for a few days at a time.

We left Utah and headed very briefly in Arizona for one night at Homolovi State Park in Winslow and then on to Albuquerque for a two night rest up. Still with us?

Peter and Liz continue the eastbound journey in their Airstream, as their pilgrimage to here unfolds in year three.

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All along the Oregon coast.

Bully Creek Reservoir County Park was a respite and our first stop in Oregon.

On September 28, we crossed into Oregon from  Idaho, about half way up the state at Vale where the wide open land looks more like high plains of Kansas with grasses and open spaces. The first night in Oregon, we camped in a quiet county park, Bully Creek, along a reservoir.  The day we left, we watched campers arriving and getting set up for the opening weekend of deer hunting season.

 

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Our Airstream remodeling is completed.

We rarely catch those TV reality shows about home makeovers, but Monday, we were actually living one.  Exactly one week before, we left our Airstream with the mighty team of Ultimate Airstream in Williamsville, Oregon.  This was Phase Two of the renovations we committed to after two years of living on the road.  When Ian Harnish, the incredible team leader at Ultimate Airstream, showed us the inside, I just started crying with joy.  It was beyond what I could have imagined.

The beautiful windows in T2 bring the outside in so when I am writing, views like this (from Minnesota’s north woods in 2016) fill my heart. But we needed to improve the functionality of the living area for our needs.

As you loyal readers know, we love our Airstream (named T2).  Our experience with Airstream as the manufacturers has been nothing but enthusiastic.  But, after twenty-seven months, our love of travel, adventure, and life taught us that there were renovations we needed in order to maximize our tiny and very efficient space.  Specifically, we decided that we had no need for extra sleeping space so the long couch and the large dining table, both integral components to more sleeping space, were not priorities for us.

We are both avid readers and a comfortable chair became an essential element to peace and wellbeing and the original Airstream curb side bench was not making the grade.  We aren’t the kind of people who entertain a lot indoors so the long couch was not functional.  What we did need was more organized storage space inside, much more comfortable seating, and easier access to the under-bed storage that Airstream so brilliantly includes in the front bed, twin models.

View out the new window in the bathroom, June 2017. We did include a shade for night privacy. Also added a second towel rack in the bathroom.

Phase One of the renovations was completed at Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio in June.  They removed the curbside bench and installed our new Lambright wall-hugging recliner pictured below in a couple of  images.  We also had them cut down the size of the dining table to better fit the recliner and open up the space more.  JC also installed a porthole window in the bathroom. We had seen this modification when we were in Death Valley in March and it just blew us away.  The picture here tells all you need to know about this improvement to the quality of our life.  The bath was functional without the window but with it, the natural light and the illusion of spaciousness of bringing the outside in, is wonderful and the last four months have just re-enforced our decision.

Here’s a close-up of the new cabinet which is tucked under the window and up against the wall with the refrigerator. The counterspace on top is amazing and because it is set back it just opens up the entire interior and feels so much more spacious.

In October, Ultimate Airstream took over from there for Phase Two.  They re-built the seating area completely, removing the original 93″ couch and replaced it with a custom 72″ couch and removing the gaucho slide that offered the option of another bed. (I have inserted before and after pictures at the end of this blog so you can experience the complete make-over). These guys use professional grade upholstery cushions and great vinyl covering that are essential for the intensity of our full timing. These cushions are firm and very comfortable for long periods of sitting (like writing and reading) and that will most likely last a decade.

They also designed and built a custom cabinet for us, adding precious storage space and creating an efficient set of storage spaces.  The middle cabinet drawers are heavy-duty, 11″ deep (they need to hold a portable filing system) and extend fully for access to the content. The cabinet materials, including drawer pulls and countertop, are all with the original Airstream materials that are specific to our 2015 and so the finished result is completely seamless.

Here’s a picture from the hall looking into the bedroom showing the two new under-bed drawers, fully extended. And yes, they did accommodate the floor rug when building!

The other modification we made was to install custom drawers underneath the deeper of the two twin beds in the bedroom.  Again, these are super deep and pull out all the way for incredibly easy access from the top to the storage bags of (in this case) sweaters and bulikier clothing items. This is already a life-changing modification as we have re-organized all the harder to get to spaces where seasonal items like hats and scarves got buried in smaller storage areas inside T2 and were hard to access.  We opted not to build drawers under the other twin because the space is not as deep (there are outside storage areas located in this general area) so it is far easier to access the contents since the space is so shallow.

On chilly evenings, we throw our Pendleton blanket over the recliner and all is well!

We also made another change this time around.  Ultimate Airstream replaced the radio/stereo that came with T2.  It never really worked for me and was too hard to use.  The new one, a Kenwood car stereo is great and since our Clarion speakers are so good, we can listen to our music and easily watch movies through the system.  No picture here of the stereo but know that it’s great.

So here are two remarkable pictures of T2.  The first, the “before” picture, shows the original set-up with the curbside bench, most of the long couch, and the fabric upholstery that we chose when we ordered the Airstream new in 2015.  The original table is oversized and while it did provide a great work space, the trade-off in comfort was not worth the price.

And below that is the “after” picture of the new living area showing the gorgeous couch covering, Chimayo wool throw pillows, comfy alpaca throw over the back cushions, and a view of the recliner.

The original interior living/dining area.

Our newly remodeled living/dining area is fabulous.

Liz and Peter are continuing their pilgrimage to here in their newly renovated Airstream, heading slowly south and east and aiming for arriving in Florida by mid-November. 

 

 

 

 

If it’s Labor Day, this must be Kansas.

In Kansas, the wildflowers are in bloom in the Flint Hills.

On this Labor Day morning, we are heading west across Kansas where the early morning sun is chasing us, splashing its burnt orange light on the world.  We left New Hampshire August 22 which was six weeks to the day from Peter’s hip replacement surgery.  His recovery continues to amaze everyone, including his surgeon, and after years of chronic and increasing pain, he is reveling in the reality of being pain-free.  In light of the priorities for his recovery and healing, we did two major things before beginning our westward journey. Continue reading

Summer in New England

Summer gardens in Newfane, Vermont on a Sunday afternoon.

The gypsies have put down roots in Keene, New Hampshire for a total of eleven weeks, which began June 8.  The primary objective of this longest-of-stays is ensuring Peter’s successful recovery from hip replacement surgery.  Now, nearly three weeks post-op, I am happy to report that surgery went very well and Peter is on the positive curve toward full recovery. The daily progress is astounding and serves to remind us of the gifts of grace where God is in the details.  Last week, Peter moved from the walker to his walking sticks during his bi-weekly PT session.

 

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Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mountain laurel was in full bloom everywhere on our journey across Tennessee.

After leaving Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, our eastbound trip took us into Tennessee, crossing the Mississippi at Memphis.  Swollen by the heavy spring rains, the mighty river had topped its banks, turning the flood plains on the Arkansas side into expansive, if shallow, lakes. We didn’t stop in Memphis this time, reluctantly leaving the exploration of the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum, and other things Memphis, for another visit.

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Hot Springs National Park and more of Arkansas.

The trees and water of Ozark National Forest at Nimrod Lake, Arkansas.

Like putting on a well-fitting shirt, we headed east from oversized Texas, slipping into the easy comfort of the eastern forests of north central Arkansas. Here, the recognizable hardwoods, the moist air, the meandering and now-spring-muddy rivers reminded us of New England, even though we have yet to cross the Mississippi River. Continue reading

Zig-zagging (mostly east) across Texas.

The ranch gate at our friends’ place in cutting-horse country near Fort Worth, Texas.

Since leaving the Hill Country we have encountered the good, the bad, and the ugly of life on the road. Let me assure you dear followers that we are both fine. All of the wheels are back on the wagon and we are winding our way due east out of Texas and into Arkansas. Here is the story.

The Good. Visiting friends on the road is one of life’s delights. From the Hill Country near Austin, we wandered up toward Fort Worth, visiting friends we met in the 1990s during our days in the art furniture business. We haven’t seen them in years and it was a happy weekend reunion at their lovely ranch home. These are two of the most artistically creative people we know. Buckeye, a painter and sculptor in the traditional Western style, and Tona, who explores jewelry making and decorative arts, live in a custom home/barn that is beautiful and joyful. Continue reading

Texas Hill Country and the 36th President of the United States.

Bluebonnets in the Hill Country. The wildflowers were spectacular.

We came to the Hill Country of Texas because we were on a mission. We were intent on uncovering the clues that would help us piece together a more thoughtful understanding of our 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. After visiting the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin in 2016, we realized that our memories of him, formed in the turmoil and passion of the 1960s, were narrower than the historical record. The filter of our 20-year old lenses acted like a microscope, zeroing in on the details of just two things – the assassination of JFK and the Vietnam War. While both were hugely formative in our young lives, the lens created a blind spot when it came to an awareness of the deeper contributions of his presidency, of the man himself. Continue reading

Easter at Davis Mountains State Park, Texas.

Easter sunrise, 2017.

Witnessing the sunrise on Easter morning was an unexpected gift.  After two visits to the McDonald Observatory, I thought I had exhausted my quota of celestial events.  Maybe they all prepared me for this one?

In any event, I woke up Easter morning before dawn and spotted Venus, the morning star, just above the horizon.  I realized that it might be clear enough to drive up Skyline Road at Davis Mountains State Park for sunrise.  From that vantage point, one can view the wide open valley that includes three counties (Jeff Davis, Brewster, Presidio) with 30% more area than the state of Vermont and a total population of 20,000.  This is sparsely populated west Texas. Continue reading