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.

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Gulf Islands National Seashore

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The Gulf Island National Seashore extends from Mississipi to Florida.  I camped at two locations within the area (3 nights in each area).  The first was Davis Bayou Campground in Mississippi and the second was at Fort Pickens Campground in Florida.

Davis Bayou Campground:

This area is located next to Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  The campground area is truly in a bayou, alligators included.  The campground sits back from the bayou and gulf and has bike paths to both as well as into Ocean Springs.  It looks like this campround is used a lot by locals as a quick get away.

Biloxi, MS is located across the bay from Ocean Springs and has a multitude of casinos.  The bridge crossing the bay has a walking / cycling path.

I recommend cycling:

1) From the campground to East Beach and Front Beach.  East beach has old big homes (those that have made it through hurricanes) across the road from the beach.  Front beach has more walking / cycling activity,

2) Across the bridge to Biloxi and back,

3) Into Ocean Springs and stopped for something to eat (I stopped for seafood pasta at Lou’s.  They have outdoor seating and entertainment.)  Ocean Spring’s downtown has a lot of shops, restaurants,  and bars.  Has a nice feel to the place.

It is easy to ride into town for supplies from the campground.

A shout out to Joey and Donna who were camped next to me.  They live in Ocean Springs and just bought a new camper and we’re giving it a try.  They invited me to their campfire one night and into town the next night to watch football at a sports bar (Clemson fans).

Some pics from the area are:

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Alligator, bike ride and entertainment at Lou’s:

 

 

 

Fort Pickens Campground:

While both campgrounds have their advantages, I really liked the Fort Pickens Campround area.  It is on an island (Santa Rosa) and is remote.  It sits across the bay from Pensacola, FL.  It was one of 4 forts built to protect the military bases at Pensacola.  The fort was built in the early 1800’s and was in use through World War II.  The armaments were upgraded along the way.

The fort is at the end of the island and the campground is about 2 miles from the fort.  The entry to the National Seashore is 4 miles back from the campground.  The whole 6 miles is a remote and wild beach area.  Amazing.

The first 2 days had great weather and then a cold front moved through.  Highs in the 40’s with rain and constant 30 mph winds.  Florida?

Pictures tell the story:

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There are boardwalks from the campground over the sand dunes to the beach:

 

Fort Pickens:

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Austin, TX

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Austin, TX is quite a place.  I need to return to dig a little deeper.  All of my activity prior to Austin, caught up with me and laid me a little low.  As such, I did not see as much music as I wanted but had a great time.

After leaving Tucson, I spent one night at a rest stop on I-10 in Texas and the second night at Luckenbach, TX.  The stop in Luckenbach was originally for a quick picture of the van against a Luckenbach sign.  But, things happen.

Luckenbach has history as roots for “Outlaw Country Music”.  Music is still heard on a daily basis as someone still runs a general store, bar, and in-door / out-door music venues.

The day I stopped a local singer-songwriter was playing outside.  I ordered a beer and hung out.

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When he finished his set, the music moved inside with another singer-songwriter.  She (Claudine Meinhardt) is from San Antonio and had a little entourage with her.  The entourage adopted me for the night.  The bar / stage was suppose to close at 10 but everybody was having such a good time that things went to 11:30.

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I stayed the night in a tree grove at Luckenbach.  Some additional pics:

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The Pecan Grove RV Park in Austin provides a great location to enjoy the Austin downtown and also the area on the other side of Lady Bird Lake.  The city grew around the RV Park and it is an Oasis in the middle of the city.

Easy access to hiking / biking, great music and yummy food.

imageA 10 mile loop goes around Lady Bird Lake.  Nice views of city and lake.

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Some artwork in a bike friendly city.  Also a tribute to Stevie Ray.

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A couple camped (Brian and Summer) next to me invited me for Thanksgiving dinner,  Brian cooked a great meal.  We hung out into the wee hours of the morning trading stories.  They have travelled the USA for 3 and a half years and decided to put roots into Austin.  They have great travel journey to share.  Had a great time with them.  We went to the Austin Christmas light festival together.

 

Austin is changing given it success.  Property values are increasing and some old time restaurants can no longer afford the rent.  The RV parked just increased it’s monthly rate to the point where many old time residents can no longer afford to live there.  Life in the fast lane I guess but ………..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adios Tucson

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The city sponsors the Tour of Tucson with rides of various lengths all ending downtown.  The tour has around 6,000 riders and is suppose to bring in around 25,000 people total for the weekend.   Steve and I may ride next year on our rode bikes.  This year just had our mountain bikes.  I did ride downtown to checkout the riders coming in and the associated festivities.

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Various pics:

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Enlarge on the business hours.

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Love these old neon signs.

Zion National Park – Utah

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After Antelope Canyon, we drove to Zion National park.  We stopped in Kanab for gas and took a break.  I pulled out the harmonica and Paul and I sat at the gas station watching the world go by.  Paul had moved to “island” time and we were in no hurry.

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We camped at Zion Canyon RV park which is right outside the park.  We had intended on spending just one night there and then movie into the park but we had a great location right on the Virgin River.  Plus, we had access to hot showers.

Camp site:

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The first day we did the Angel Landing trail.  The trail is not long (5 mile round trip) but goes pretty much straight up.  At the top are two knife edge ridges.  The trail has chains attached on the ridges for safety.  As indicated by the trail sign this has not protected all climbers in the past.  Paul and I did the first ridge but questioned the sanity of trying the second.  Some pics of and from the trail:

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Some pics from and of trail:

 

 

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After hiking out we enjoyed sitting and hiking along the river in the valley area.

 

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The next day we hiked back into the narrows.  This is a hiking / wading trail that follow the Virgin River upstream into a canyon area.  Really cool.  You can rent equipment to stay dry.  They also provide a walking stick which is a good idea.  You can spend all day here.

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Given our last night on the trip, Paul and I decided to go out in style with drinks and a blues harmonica shootout.

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Viva la loca!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antelope Slot Canyon – Page AZ.

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After leaving Monument Valley, Paul and I drove to the Wahweap Campground on Lake Powell near Page, Arizona.  We were lucky with the weather.  In November, it can be freezing and snowing in upper Arizona and lower Utah.  As such, the crowds are low this time of year but the weather is a roll of the dice.  We experienced 70 degree and sunny days with 30 / 40 degree nights.  Pretty nice.

We got up early the next morning to photograph the sunrise at Horseshoe Bend (on the Colorado River) and then catch our tour of Antelope Canyon.

Early leave from campground:

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We made Horsehoe Bend for the sunrise pic:

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We then drove to the tour office for Antelope Canyon.   Access to the canyon is through various Navajo tour companies.  You meet at the tour company office and then load onto tour trucks that take you to the canyon itself.  Part of the drive is on the highway and then onto a dirt / sand road to the canyon entrance.  The trucks for our tour company had an open back with benches back to back, with each bench holding 7 people.

Paul took the photographer tour and I took the standard tour.  His was a 2 hour tour while mine was 1 hour.  As such we left the tour office at the same time but in different vehicles.  A Navajo guide drives the vehicle and then ushers the group through the canyon.

There are tours of the upper and lower Antelope Canyon.  Each has different tour companies.  Our trip was through the upper canyon.

Some canyon pics are:

Entry to canyon:

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Paul with the photo group:

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Some more pics of the canyon:

 

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A story that goes with the canyon tour.

When loading the tour trucks, I was added to a tour group that filled two trucks and had one opening on the third truck.

After the tour, the big group was dropped off at a restaurant versus back at the tour office.  My truck was unloaded at the resturant and the tour guide started to drive away.  I had to flag her down and told her I was with her going back to the office.

She said oh my.  She wondered how I was part of the group but saw me:

1) Introduced as the bodyguard

2) Helping people on and off the truck

3) Adjusting people’s phone camera settings,

4) Talking in the native language with the group, and

5) Interlocking arms to help a lady with a cane through a sandy area of the canyon

It was a group that went to the same school in Vietnam.  They organized a reunion of over 800 people, some of whom did the canyon tour.  When we loaded on the truck at the tour office, I talked with a lady next to me.  She was the person who volunteered to set up the reunion and coordinate activities along the way.   She had a great sense of humor and just as the Navajo guide was putting up the ramps in the back before starting out, she kiddingly introduced me to the others as the bodyguard.

On the trip out to the canyon, I asked the gentleman next to me how long it was since he had seen some of the group.  He said over 40 years.  You could see the emotion swell up in his face and tears almost came to his eyes.  He said people came from all over the US and Canada for the reunion.  I did not pry but I think this group left Vietnam as refugees from the war in the 1970’s.

Before entering the canyon the Navajo guide gave instructions on how to set phone cameras to get the best color in the pictures.  Many people had a hard time following the instructions and asked me to help with the settings on their phones.

When loading and unloading from the truck, I did help those who were having problems.  In a darker part of the canyon, a lady talked in her native language to me for about 5 minutes before I put my arm around her and told her that I did not understand. She thought I was her brother who also had a black baseball cap.  I think the Navajo guide saw this.

Anyway, it was a cool experience hanging and talking with the group.  The reunion coordinator told me I am invited to the next reunion.  Life on the road!

 

 

 

 

Monument Valley – Utah

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My friend Paul flew into Pheonix and we drove to Monument Valley.  We entered into the Navajo Visitor Center area.  At the Visitor Center you can then start a 17 mile drive that takes you close to a number of the monuments.  The cost of entry and the drive are well worth the cost / effort.  You can drive your own vehicle on the road or they offer tour vehicles.  I recommend taking your own vehicle and being on your own clock.

You can drive on public roads through the general area but stop at the visitor center if you have time.

I think that pictures are better than words, so:

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Tucson, AZ – Very Nice

 

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Tucson is a great place.  The cycling culture is top-notch, the scenery is outstanding, the weather is great, and the people are really friendly.  The downtown is re-energizing with restaurants, pubs, music, coffee shops, etc.  I really like the place.  Well worth a visit and a longer stay.

I am located at the Sentinel Peak RV park.  The advantage of this park is the location.  It is near the downtown area and the paved bicycle path (called the loop).   A number of the mountain bike trails are reachable from the RV park.

It is different staying in an RV Park versus the forest / wilderness.  Both have advantages but I think I lean toward the forest wilderness.

The weather at this time of year is in the 80’s during the day and 50’s at night.  Perfect!

Some pics are:

San Xavier Mission – work started on the mission site in the late 1600’s.

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Steve and I did a 4 1/2 hour ride to and into the Sweetwater Mountain biking trail system.  The trail was the winner, providing  one cactus cut, one flat tire, and one crash.  We also rode the Loop south of town, and did a tour through downtown and the University of Arizona area.  More mountain biking later this week.

 

Pima Air and Space Museum:

 

The city of Tucson observes All Souls Day over 3 days.  On the 3rd day, a parade takes place to remember those who have left us.  After the parade, the city sets up an extravaganza.  The Tuscon Symphony set up under a huge tent structure and performers of various types do their routines, all choreographed to the music.  Both the performances and music are related the festival theme. Pretty awesome thing to see and hear.

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We found a few brew houses, an open air market near the RV park with great taco platters, drinks and live music, coffee shops and Roadrunners (beep, beep) Also, went to see Jimmy Vaughan play at the Rialto Theater in town.  Good acts roll through town each week.

 

 

 

Sedona, AZ.

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What a beautiful area!  The colors of the rock formations are outstanding.

I drove from Colorado Springs to Durango where I stayed overnight with my good friend Sam.  We had time to catch up on things and it was a great visit.  The next day I drove to Sedona.  To break up the drive I stopped at the Navajo National Monument which has hiking and access to cliff dwellings.  I arrived too late for the hike to the dwellings but the vista hikes allowed viewing from a distance.  Only one tour leaves each day to the dwellings and that starts early in the morning.

Some pics from the drive are:

A view of the Sangre De Christo mountains after crossing La Veta Pass and a view into the valley after crossing Wolf Creek Pass.

Old School Pop Art along the way

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The Navajo National Monument.  If I remember correctly, they think around 150 people lived in the below pictured cliff dwelling.

I camped in the Oak Creek Canyon which is north of Sedona.  I recommend doing the drive in that area during daytime hours especially if you are driving a bigger rig.  The canyon area seems to have the only camping , both state and national forest.  I stayed at the Pine Flats campground.

The main purpose of the visit in Sedona was to mountain bike.  I did a hike one day but was primarily on the biking trails. I biked most of the time in the Dry Creek area which is north west of town.  I will need to return sometime to actually spend time in the downtown area.  Some pics from the trails are:

Some sunset pics:

Other Random pics:

After Sedona, I spent two nights with my brother in Phoenix before I head to Tucson.

So, now a couple of stories for those of you who have continued this far into the post.  My last night at the campground, I awoke to some “pitter patter” on the roof of the van.  Something was running back and forth.  I am always up for a roof party but …….   Anyhow, I pounded my fist on the ceiling and heard it move to the back of the van.  I looked out the back window and a big raccoon jumped down on the bikes and then we had a staring contest for a few seconds and he moved on.  I am guessing that they sometimes find food on the top of vehicles.

While at my brothers, the doorbell rang and it was a neighbor that my brother had not met before.  He saw the van out front and wanted to to talk “cycling” with the owner.  We talked for about 30 minutes.  I then showed him the van and we moved to his house where he showed me his bikes.  He invited me to do a a ride with him and his wife the next day.  Really great people (Dan and Beth) and definitely into the local mountain bike scene.  I rode for 3 hours with them and then peeled off.  They kept riding.  We caught up later in the day and they provided me with good info on Tucson and Austin.  Ahh, life on the road.

Grand Junction / Fruita, CO

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I spent 5 days on the western slope of Colorado, my last Colorado outing  before heading south for the winter.  The Grand Junction / Fruita area is high desert with a green oasis  along the Colorado River given irrigation.   Grand Junction is the biggest city in the western slope area and provides a great jumping off point for many activities.  Fruita is a smaller town located close to the Utah border and is known for access to fantastic mountain biking trails.  The bike shop in Fruita is the place to stop for trail information.

Sometimes it is easy to forget Colorado’s beauty as we get caught up in day to day activities.  However, the drive from Colorado Springs to Grand Junction presented itself in a way that awoke the senses.  The day before my drive, it snowed heavily in the Central Mountains.  When topping Wilkerson Pass, the view of the snow covered peaks (as shown in the above picture) was spectacular.

While the turning of the aspens had come and gone, the cottonwood, scrub oak, and other various trees were in full colors.  The drive along the Eagle River and the Colorado River and through Glenwood Canyon brought a smile.  Sorry, silly me did not stop for pictures.

I mountain biked on various trails located near the Kokopelli’s parking area.

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The trails run on a plateau above the Colorado River with some serious vistas.

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I also mountain biked in the book cliff area to the north of Grand Junction and Fruita.  Plenty of trails to ride in this area also.

 

 

A shout out to my friends from Grand Junction, Jan and Sherryl.  I had a great time with them fishing on the Gunnison River, hiking in the Colorado Monument area and just hanging out.

 

Looking forward to the next 4 months on the road.

Viva la loca!

 

Stand Up Paddle Board and Visitors

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I pulled the trigger on an inflatable stand up paddle board (SUPB) purchase.  I did a test assembly in my garage.  I can’t wait to get into the water.  This will add a whole new dimension to my travel fun.

I decided on a hybrid SUPB which allows either stand up paddling or you can sit down (more like kayaking) and paddle.  It comes with two sets of paddles one for each position.  A view of the board with a hard back seat, grandson included:

 

I had visitors (my nephew Rob and friends) from Ohio last week.  The weather was not fantastic while they were here but they made the best of it.  We stopped at Tony’s Bar one night and had fun with a trivia contest and pool.

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I am enjoying September and October in Colorado.  In a couple of weeks, I will leave for 4 months of out-of-state travel.  This will include, Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

I have a set agenda for the travel to Florida.  My route back to Colorado in February is still up in the air.