USA by Van

I will travel the USA for the next 2 / 3 years and will use this blog to share my campervan conversion and also my planning and adventures.




Big Bend National Park – Texas

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During my visit to Austin, a number of individuals mentioned that I should visit Big Bend while in the area.  I am glad I did and will return!

Big Bend is located in South West Texas and gets it’s name from a “big bend” in the Rio Grande River.  I recommend having a campsite reservation for the first night in the park.  About a two-thirds of the campsites are first come – first serve.  However, all sites fill up quick.  Having a site the first night allows one to enter the park that day at leisure.  The next day a person can then get up early and snag a spot at the same or different campground.  Also, fill up on gas as you get a chance.  Big distances in the park.

There are three main campground areas and also primitive camping available for individuals doing backpacking and so forth.  The primitive campsites do require a permit.  The three main sites are Rio Grande Village, Chisos Basin, and Cottonwood.  Rio Grande Village is split into two areas.  One has full hook ups (all asphalt) and the other is typical camper / tent set-up.  Chisos Basin is recommended for vehicles shorter than 24 ft as it sets at the end of a very curvy / high grade road.  Cottonwood was closed for maintenance during my visit.

From Austin, I drove to Fort Stockton and stayed at the local Walmart (along with about 40 other campers).  The next morning, I visited the original Fort Stockton site and then entered the park via Marathon, Texas.  Inside the park, I first stopped at the Fossil Bone exhibit.  Well worth the stop.


Some pics from the drive between the Fossil Exhibit and my campsite —  I saw a purple haze against the mountains.  I needed to take a pictures to confirm as I did have a number of “U B Trippn” beers the night before leaving Austin.

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I spent my first night at Rio Grande village.  This area is the only one campground with showers and laundry facilities. Before setting up camp, I hiked the Bequillas Canyon trail and stopped at the Bequillas Overlook.  The Rio Grande runs through this canyon before exiting the park.

A cowboy and his dog were rounding up cattle near the mouth of the canyon on the Mexico side.

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Pic of my campsite at Rio Grande Village. Notice the bear box.

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Signs at the campgrounds.  No alligators but:

I did see Javelinas while riding my bike the first evening.  They travel in a big pack for safety.  I stopped and watched them cross the road.  The last one was “the muscle”.  I got on my bike as the last couple were crossing and he stopped and looked at me like “hold up there mister”.


The second day I moved camp to Chisos Basin.   On the drive to Chisos, low level clouds moved into the mountains.  Awesome!

Chisos Basin is really beautiful.  The campground and Visitor Center sit in a basin surrounded with 360 degree mountains.  Really nice.  The visitor center and campground sit apart from each other.  In the visitor center area, there is a store and a lodge.  The lodge looks very nice.  The lodge restaurant and patio are open to the public.

Pics of campground, visitor center, and van at campsite:

There are a number of hiking trails that start in the basin area.  I hiked the windows trail one day.  From the visitor center and campground, you can see where the trail gets it’s name.IMG_4298

The last portion of the trail is kind of crazy as the pictures show.  At the end of the trail is an area that the water has polished over time and then a drop off.


Notice the step cut into the rock.IMG_4333

Other pics from the trail:

Another must see at the park is the Santa Elena Canyon (overlook and also trail).  The trail goes into the canyon for around 3/4 of a mile.  Pictures describe the area better than I could.  I loved the reflections in the water.  The last portion of the trail has some wild man made switchbacks.

View into canyon:


Out of canyon:


Other pics of canyon:


I wanted to kayak the canyon but park regulations called for an extra paddle and an extra life jacket.  Plus the more I thought about doing an inflatable by myself in a canyon …  A long swim out if something goes wrong (6 miles back until you hit a rock slide area that sits in the canyon.

On the drive to the canyon, I did some of the shorter hikes available and stopped at the various view points / points of interest.  A full day on the road.  Pics of the day and other days in park –




Mule Ears formation:


You can see the opening for Santa Elena Canyon from a far distance:

A camp poem:


Children Exploring

Tent Pegs Pounding

Rain Fly Flapping

Parents Calling


Birds Warbbling

Campers Conversing

Shoes Shuffling

Silence Beckoning


A shout out to Angela for pointing out a music festival in Terlingua!


AUSTIN – Music and More



Since I was somewhat under the weather during my last Austin stop, I adjusted my plans for another go.  I stayed at the Pecan Grove RV park once again.  What a great location as one can walk to most music venues, easy access to the Lady Bird Lake Recreation trails, and to the downtown area.

Next to the RV park is Uncle Billy’s Brewery.  I watched the Super Bowl here.  The beer menu had a beer called “U B Trippin”.  Almost 9 % alcohol.  What a way to watch the game, drinking my share.  Thom’s Market is within 50 yards of the RV park and you can pick up anything you need.  Also, BS Saloon (BS stands for Barton Springs) is within a 100 yards of the RV park and is an in-expensive place to stop for beers and to watch a game.  You can bring your own food into the saloon.  There are food trucks very close.

During my last visit to Austin, I met Brian and Summer and they adopted me for Thanksgiving dinner.  I kept in touch during my travels and we met up in Austin on this visit.  Really great people / friends.  They traveled the USA for 3 years and decided on Austin as home.


While catching live music was my main goal in Austin, I was able to meet people, take walks, cycle and find good food, which were a fine bonus.

Music – I watched live acts each of the seven days in Austin. This did require an bio-clock adjustment.  I was often heading out about the time I would normally head in.  In Austin, it is not a matter of will you hear good music but of what good music do you want to hear.

The venues on southern Lamar and Congress usually have 2 or 3 acts each night.  The first act is considered the happy hour act and is free.  Great music during happy hour. The next act usually starts around 8 p.m and the third act around 11:30 pm.  Normally there is a cost for the second and third act.  The people in Austin refer to the bars in this area as the dive bars but …  Downtown offers many venues, including sixth street.  Other venues are scattered throughout the city.

I found that the locals know when advance tickets are necessary and when not.  I did not want to miss a show so I booked tickets ahead of the events.  A couple of times this worked out well as the shows ended up sold-out.  In one case, I went into the venue and was told the entry price by the door man.  I mentioned I had a will call ticket.  He asked “So your Mark”?  Guess I did not need an advance ticket on that one.

My line up was:

Day 1 – Margo Price at Waterloo Records.  The venue is a record store in downtown Austin.  They periodically present artist who later in the week play in a bigger venue. I arrived early as I did not know what to expect and was right next to the stage when things started.  She talked between songs and it was a very intimate / personal look at the artist.  She brought 3 members of her band and they played 7 or 8 songs.  She then hung around to sign and talk.


Day 2 – Margo Price with Paul Cauther opening at Emo’s – Bigger venue and Margo came with the full band and a powerhouse performance.  Cool to see both and intimate look and then full-out view of her.  Paul had a Hank JR feel.  Toward the end of Margo’s performance, Paul came back out and they played a few songs together.

Emo’s was the only venue to which I did not walk.  After the music, I stopped across the street at the Jackalope (recommended by the uber driver) to have a few beers and ended up having a blast playing pool and hanging out with the locals.  Fun people!


Day 3 – Saxon Pub on South Lamar – It was recommended that I see Walt Wilkins.  The Wagoneer’s were the opening act and next Dayne Peck.  I enjoyed all three.



Day 4: The previous night I talked a lot with the doorman at Saxon Pub (Kyle) and he told me to come back the next night to hear the music.  He said it would be really good and that he would let me in for free.  Cool!

So back to the Saxon Pub and Kyle was spot on.  I heard Love and Chaos, with Kendall Beard and then Patrice Pike.  Really good.

Day 5:  Continental Club:  For Happy hour The Blues Specialist Played.  Smooth music. The lead singer also played harmonica and was awesome.  The second act was sold out (glad I booked in advance).  The Peterson Bros were the best live act I saw in Austin.  The place was packed and everyone was really into the music.  It was shoulder to shoulder and “hot and sweaty”.  On one song, the base player picked up a fiddle and started playing Amazing Grace, solo.  The band then started to join and over the next 15 minutes the music morphed into Mojo Working.  A really, really good time.  No one was checking their phone or talking while these guys played.



Day 6: Jay Farrar Duo at 3Ten.  This event was also sold out.  Check out Son Volt which is the band Jay started.  I enjoyed this.  The bass player for Son Volt opened the show.  He is a singer – songwriter in his own right.

Day 7:  Sunday morning Jazz at the Juliet.  The Juliet is an Italian restaurant which sits right next to Pecan Grove and has live outdoor Jazz on Sunday mornings.  I could catch this act from my campsite.

Cycling:  I cycled the recreation trail that circles Lady Bird Lake and then also did Shoals Creek and then Shoals Creek Blvd.  The later was recommended by Craig (who was standing in for the normal park manager Bob).  Craig noted that Sunday’s are crowded around the lake.  I even found a little single track along the way.


Food:  Great mix of food available – Some examples:


Some pics of Austin area while cycling or walking the town:


Andy and Barney

Really cool Capital Building and surrounding grounds.



Stickwork Sculptures by Patrick Dougherty located at Pease Park.  He does these around the world.  Austin was his 288th.  Fun.




Humming Bird Sunset

White Sand, Ocean Waves, Gentle Breeze

Perfect Time of Day

Kick Back and the Mind Frees

Sun Earns it’s Pay


Lightening Strikes with Finality

Unexpected Natural Occurence

Softly Elbowed to Reality

From a Joyful, Palpable Experience















Florida Panhandle – Chill Time


I am a little behind on the blog front.  I could blame it on things like bad reception but the truth is I am having a really good time.

After North Carolina, I drove to the Florida Panhandle with a one night stay in Alabama at a local Walmart.  I beat the next winter storm that passed through the south by one day.  With snow and ice, many southern states were shut down for a day or two.  Just made it.

My original plan was to stay at Fort Pickens Campground on Santa Rosa Island again (I stayed here on the first part of my loop) for 9 days and then work my way back to Colorado.  However, plans change and flexibility is key to life on the road as I will highlight below.  This blog post is longer than normal but ……

Fort Pickens – Pensacola Area:

This is a great campground (see my previous post).  I was at the campground when the winter storm passed through, so it was a little cold.  Also, The government shutdown impacted my stay.  On the third day, all campers were asked to leave the campground by 4 pm given the government shutdown.  150 campers were scrambling to find places to go.  I was the last to go as I did a nice bike ride prior to leaving.

Abandonded Campsite:



Some pics from the area are:

The Rangers left faucets running to prevent frozen pipes.  Yep, ice on the post.  It did get cold when the front passed through.







Even with the cold I enjoyed the beach and was able to do some hikes and cycling.  When the time came to leave, I had booked 7 days at St. Joes State Park.  However, I could not get into the park until a day later.

I hit Peg Leg Pete’s (good food and cold beer) on the way to Pensacola and then camped at Walmart in Pensacola for a night.  The next morning I went into downtown Pensacola to have coffee and check out the city.  I did not realize that the city was that old (founded in 1559).  The downtown looks like it is making a resurgence.  Some pics from Peg Legs and downtown:



Sanger Theater is second pic.  Travis Trit was playing but sold out.

Seville Quarter is the second pic.  Cool little area with bars and shops.

T.T. Wentworth museum is third pic.  Cool building and interesting history


TH Stone / St. Joe Penisula St. Park

The weather warmed up (mid 60’s) during my stay at St. Joe’s.  I rode bike, kayaked, hiked and beached during my 7 day stay.  I was able to journey into both Appalacacola and the Port of St. Joes.


Other pics – Sunsets were awesome:
















Reading the tides and currents info now, also the wind paying attention to the wind!




I really like the town of Appalachacola.  As a local told me, it is made up of fisherman and old hippies.  What a great combination.  It started as a port for cotton coming down river and had its heyday.  Many old buildings are still around.  A fire destroyed much of the downtown at one time and was rebuilt with brick.

I spent an unplanned night as I had such a great time.  Bowery Station had live music during the day and open mic at night.  People from the area came in with their guitars.  Pretty awesome stuff.  A couple quit their jobs (lawyer and teacher) and opened the bar.  Great place!  I asked about some signs hanging over the bar and the former teacher told me that tourist are always asking to have their pictures taken so they created this “set up”.

I got to  chose between signs. Hard choice!





The town loves to celebrate.



This is one example. Notice the deviled egg in the poster.  I stopped in a pottery store and the owner told me she was making the first prize award for deviled egg event.  Pretty cool.  The town was also advertising a Spam Cook-off.  I can only imagine.

Some pics of the town include old mansions, Vietnam Vet memorial, cotton warehouse, etc:





After leaving the campground, I stopped at Port St. Joe, had coffee, and kicked around town.  Some pics:


My next stop on the way to Austin, TX was at Ocean Springs, MS.  I planned to stay one night (cool downtown area) but the next day was Mardi Gras parade so ….


My compadres during the parade and after party.  Long walk back to the camper that night!  It was noted somewhere during the day / night that schools close for 3 days during the Mardi Gras period.  Awesome!

A shout out to Rebecca!  A fellow sunset watcher.

I have to say that I am not a bird watcher but spending a lot of time on the beach allows one to make observations.  Well, pelicans have a great flight path over the water and great eyes to find fish.  However, their entry into the water after the “dive bomb” is hilarious.  They do not shoot through the water but do one big “belly flop” . Crazy stuff but I guess it works as more times than not they come out with a fish.







The Carolinas


After leaving St. Augustine, Edisto Beach, SC was my next stop for six nights.  I arrived a few days after a major winter storm hit the southeast and found snow and ice on the ground and roads.  I missed the worst of the storms impact but still ……..

Edisto Beach is a really neat little beach town.  I stayed at a State Park which has two campgrounds, Live Oaks and the other is called the Beach.  If possible, stay at the Beach Campground.  From my site it was a sand dune, then a nice beach and then the Atlantic.

For mellow time at the beach, a ranger recommended late September through first part of March.  Spring gets crowded with college students and the summer absorbs everyone.

Even though it was cold, I really liked the area.  A few days it warmed up enough to sit in a beach chair by the water and just chill.  I rode my bike around the Edisto Island area.  It was too cold to do any kayaking / SUP.

Every night provided really nice sunsets.  I walked the beach every night to watch.  Some pics of the area are:



24 degrees one morning.  I was told that another morning it was 19 for a low.




A little snow was still around for some of the sunsets:


One day I drove into Charleston from Edisto and met up with Roger (a good friend with whom I worked with in Colorado at one time) who now lives in South Carolina. We toured the city and had such a good time exploring the sights and sounds that we made an unplanned overnight stay.  Some pics of city are:





A cool bridge crosses one of the rivers and an aircraft carrier (York) is anchored as an attraction.  Fort Sumter sits in the Bay.  This fort saw the first action of the American Civil War.




Another friend of Roger and I was in the area.  Mike was in Charlotte, NC on business.  Roger invited us to his place in Irmo, SC and we had a good time catching up.  We headed to Asheville, NC for one day to check the city out.  We did a tour of the Sierra Nevada Brewery, walked the town, had fun at the pin ball museum and found pizza and beers.

I would recommend doing the brewery tour.  It takes about 90 minutes.  It is best to book reservations at least a week in advance.  We were lucky as people cancelled due to the cold and we were able to fill their spots.


Pin Ball Wizards:

Some cool buildings in Asheville:

I will see Asheville again when it is a little warmer and spend a week or two which will allow exploring the town as well as the outdoor activities in the area.

My next stop was Charlotte, NC to visit my sister, Mandy.  Her husband (Andy) was out of town but the two nephews were there.  We had a great time catching up with things and discussing the old times.  Yes, a Star Wars battle did take place.









Bonus Photos – AZ & UT

My friend Paul (who joined me for travel in Arizona and Utah) has sent me some of his photos from the journey.  Nice photos and need shared!




















St. Augustine, FL



I really enjoyed two nights and 3 days in St. Augustine.  The city was founded in 1565, pretty old by US standards.  It gained strategic importance for Spain since it provided protection for Spanish ships and also stopped intrusions (land or sea) into territory claimed by Spain.

Given its strategic location, the city has a rich history.  Control of the city changed a number of times as recorded by the below plaque:


The dominant structure in town is a castle built by the Spanish to protect the city. The castle was designed in the shape of a star.  Each end of the star allowed cross fire against any one wall.  Pretty effective design and the castle never fell to invasion.  It only change hands at time of treaties of peace settlements.






Henry Flager built two grand hotels in St. Augustine as part of his plan to bring the wealthy to vacation in Florida via his railroad.  The first was the Ponce de Leon and the second was the  Alcazar.  The Ponce de Leon hotel now serves as the heart of Flagler College and Alcazar houses shops, city offices, and a major museum.  Both were very luxurious when they were built and even today are somewhat of a marvel.






The hotels and plazas have many fountains:



A cathedral sits in the center of town:

From mid-November until mid-January, the town center is lite up for the holidays, called night of lights.

Some other pics:

This was the entry gate from the north during a time when the city was fortified.


I camped in the RV lot near the historic district parking facility.  Parking during the day in the RV lot is free and to have valid overnight permits costs $35 / night.  Supposedly, you can not sleep in the vehicle even once you pay for the overnight parking.  But oh well …

The historic part of town is very walkable and has numerous restaurants, shops, bars, and so forth.  I was able to catch live music both nights.  The visitor center is a good stop as they have a map of the city with worthwhile stops highlighted.



Palm Beach Gardens, FL (Good Times)


My brother Andy lives in Palm Beach Gardens.  I visited him for 2 weeks and during this time another brother (Dave) and his son (Kurt) joined us for 6 days.

Andy and his friends showed us a really good time.  Activities included sightseeing, golfing, hiking, mountain biking, watching college and NFL football, and hanging out.


Jupiter Lighthouse tour:  A neat tour of the lighthouse and surrounding area.  The 360 degree view from the top is worth the trip:




Flagler Museum in Palm Beach:  Flagler was co-owner of Standard Oil.  He brought railroads through Florida all the way to Key West and built grand hotels along the way for the wealthy of the east coast to “warm up”.  Big bucks!  He is quoted as saying “if not for Florida, I would be a rich man”.  Tongue in check but he did spend a lot of money.  The museum in Palm Beach is the home he built for his wife as a wedding present.


Turtle Release:

One of Andy’s friends works at a Turtle Rescue center and they were having a release day for healed turtles.  It is a big deal in the local area with around 1,000 people, including local media.



Mountain Biking:  Florida parks are awesome.  The trails I rode on are hand built for mountain biking with banked turns and man made obstacles.  It is really great riding:

I rode at Dyer Park and at Camp Murphy which is located within Jonathan Dixon State Park.  The trails feel like you are riding in the middle of a jungle:


Zoomed in on an Alligator near trail.  I like how the sign tries to reassure you that they normally eat fish, turtles, etc.  However, ……..


Golf:  Kurt is a college golfer and fun to watch.  I golfed two days with Kurt and Dave and drove balls on a third day.  Kurt golfed 5 days in total and had a good time.  I played at two really nice courses.  One in Palm Beach and one in Palm Beach Gardens.  Andy joined us for the Palm Beach Gardens course.


Hanging out usually involved local “beach bars”:


Football:  Ready for the Ohio State Game with our rally hats on:


Other pics:

The key lime pie was my last act before leaving Marathon Key.  Yummy!

The weather my first 10 days in Palm Beach Gradens was 80’s during the day and 60’s, perfect!  The last 4 days a cold front moved through.  My last night the low was 37 degrees.

Fun times were had by all.

Grassy Key, FL


I spent five nights on Grassy Key which is 8 miles north of Marathon Key and about 45 miles north of Key West.   I stayed at the Jolly Roger RV park which has hot showers, a nice pool, and laundry facilities.  It sits on the gulf side of the key.

My daily routine was 1) head to Sombrero Beach in Marathon after breakfast to kayak, swim and hang out, 2) back to RV park and either bicycle, swim or both, 3) head to the RV Park dock and watch the sunset over the dock.

Xmas in the Keys:



I launched the inflatable kayak / SUP for the first time.  Sombrero Beach provides easy access to the water (Atlantic side).  You can then paddle to Boot Key Nature Preserve which has trails through Mangrove Forests.  Some trails are in narrow passageways and you just use your paddle and push off the trees.  Given I was in an inflatable, it was recommended to me to stay out of the tight trail. I really liked paddling there.  It was very peaceful and birds of all types call the preserve home.


The last hurricane hit the middle part of the keys hard.  In the above picture you can see the mast of a large sailboat and part of a sail that blew into the mangroves.  Piles of debris still sit on the sides of US1.  The Atlantic side took the worst of the damage.  It looks like the storm surge was around 6 to 7 feet and must have come in from the Atlantic side.  Many stores / restaurants are still closed.  You can see in some cases where a vacant lot now sits without its house.

I think the person in the next picture did something to anger the RV park manager.  It took him 20 minutes to pull into the site and he still could not get some of the pop outs to extend fully.


Some pics:


The sunsets pics speak for themselves:



I meet a group of 3 couples while watching the sunset one night.  One couple is from Pennsylvania and the others are from South Carolina.  They all met in the keys 10 years ago and have come back as a group every year since.  They invited me to come back to their RV area and have drinks with them.  Really fun / nice people.  I caught a few of them in the below pic:


Koreshan State Park / Fort Meyers Beach


Dan, Casey, Devyn and Ian came to Florida for Universal Studios and beach time in Fort Meyers Beach.  I stayed at Koreshan State Park and arrived a couple days ahead of them.

Koreshan State Park is a great area to camp in the Fort Meyers / Naples area,  The land was originally owed by Cyrus Koreshan, who had a vision of a utopian society.  He and his followers lived on the land for close to 70 years and then donated the area to Florida,

It sits by a river and has nature trails and a historic site with many of the buildings from the Koreshan group era.

Prior to their arrival, I checked out the State Park area and Lovers Key. Once they came, we spent the days at the hotel beach / pool.  Ian camped with me in the van at the State Park.  Had a really good time with all.

Pics of campground / historic area:




Lovers Key is a state park (no camping) that has good beach access, picnic areas, and so forth.  It is located between Bonita Beach and Fort Meyers Beach.  It is worth spending a day and checking it out.


Everybody loved the hotel beach and pool access.



Dan’s creativity:


Nice Sunset Pics from beach:





Cedar Key, Florida



What a peaceful area.  I camped at a Shell Mound county park located on the gulf.  It is not a location into which you stumble.  I read about this location on an RV park review website.  There is a town called Cedar Key (also the name of the island) and the campground is located about 15 miles from the town.  As a local fisherman told me, the campground is in the wilderness.  The campground is mainly used by locals on the weekend so they can be right at a dock to put their boats in to fish.

There are 22 sites and 5 of the sites were in use while I was there (mid-week).  Site users were from Georgia, Ontario, and Maine.  There is a bathhouse with showers and flush toilets, relatively clean.


Within a mile walk are a number of nature trails and the shell mound area.  I was the only person on the trails.  There is also an observation deck that looks out into the gulf.  Great area for bird watching and just moving slow.



The town of Cedar Key has quite a history.  Someone had the idea to run a railroad from upper Florida on the Atlantic side to Cedar Key on the Gulf side.  Goods and people could then short cut to places like New Orleans, Cuba and so forth.  At the time the town was booming.  However a number of hurricanes and bad business decisions ascended on the town and it fell on hard times.

Today the town is a destination for Floridian’s on the weekends, with art shops, bars and good restaurants.  Tony’s has the best clam chowder and the oysters in town are pretty darn good.  I kicked around the town for a whole day and went to the local history museum.




Bought a Xmas tree and lights in town to brighten things up:


At St. Joe Campground, my neighbor (Manuel), told me to be careful with the inflatable stand up paddle board.  He said the shell beds could cut a hole and then I would have to walk out through the shell beds.  He mentioned that I should talk to locals before venturing out and understand this and the tides.

At low tide, you can see into the shell beds and how sharp some of the shells are.  Always good to talk to locals.