Category: Trips

Birthplace of the Beastie…

By , September 7, 2010 10:31 am

As Dasy mentioned in our previous post, after leaving Colorado we were aimed for Bremen, IN.  Actually, we were going to Nappannee, but the closest campground we found was down the road in Bremen.  Nappannee is famous for two things (that we know of)…

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RV manufacturers and the Amish.  It just so happens that our RV is made by Newmar, which is in Nappannee and the owners are of Amish descent.  Our first full day there, we went to the Newmar plant to see how they built our RV (the one pictured above is a new 2011 model…  very nice!).

IMG_4028We were greeted by Mahlon Miller, the owner of Newmar Corp.  He gave us a quick introduction and some history of the company and then opened the floor to questions.  Some of the guests asked some pretty pointed questions about how Newmar weathered the depression and what effect it had on them as far as staffing and such.  Mahlon was pretty straight forward and didn’t dance around the bush, which I thought was pretty admirable.  They never closed, but went from making 16 units a day with 1000 employees to 3 units a day with 400 employees (that’s what they’re doing currently).  The RV industry as a whole was hit pretty hard and several well-known brands have folded.  Mahlon said that it’s finally looking like it’s picking up again.  Throughout our stay, I heard bits and pieces around the community of what the Miller family had done to keep Newmar going.  They’re the kind of folks most people would want to work for. Smile

As for the coaches, they start with a bare rolling chassis from Freightliner or Spartan, depending on what the unit will eventually become.  The fifth-wheel chassis are built in-house.  We were able to see almost every step of the process throughout our tour.

Here is the outside fiberglass shell going into place.  It’s once giant sheet that is epoxied and screwed to the superstructure.

IMG_3178 First, they do some basic prep of the frame, creating the sub-floor and basement areas, along with most of the components that go in there.
IMG_3179 Next is basic framing.  Newmars are all made with an aluminum super-structure, then several layers of wood and laminates for the basic shell.
IMG_3181 Electrical is done next, with some of the interior structural components going in while there’s still a lot of room to work.
IMG_3186 Here they are putting on the fiberglass side of the rig.  It is epoxied in place, then pressed in with an external wooden rig until it’s adhered correctly.
IMG_3193 The outside shell is then cut to allow for windows, slideouts, vents, etc.  Some more of the interior finishing is also done.  From what I could tell, they’re doing some kind of interior work the entire time that the exterior stuff is being done.
IMG_3195 Next, front and rear end-caps get applied.  They’re mostly fiberglass, with minimal framing.  Most of their structure is inherited from the RV chassis when it gets mounted.  Glass and roof panels are always handled with a vacuum system.  The roof is mounted after the end-caps are installed.
IMG_3209 Slide-outs are added and lined up.  Slide-outs are made exactly the same way the rest of the coach is, just in smaller areas.
IMG_3202 Most of the exterior structural work is done at this point.  More interior is done, cabinetry is finished up, along with tying in the wiring and plumbing of the slides.
IMG_4065 Prep for paint is started, which LOTS of stuff getting masked off.  They even go so far as to mask off everything INSIDE the basement compartments!
IMG_4064 A final vacuum sanding is done on the entire body, then the whole thing is sent over to the paint building, where it is painted.  We didn’t get to see the paint area… they said it was pretty boring and takes about a week for a unit to come back.

What comes back is basically this:IMG_3212

A nice, shiny Newmar coach!  The one pictured above is an Essex, the second most expensive model.  I want three…  in different colors! Winking smile

Below are some other interesting shots.  They show just how much wiring is involved in an RV, a little bit of the furniture being installed and a cool picture of how they move them…

When the chassis arrives in the building, they put “air pads” under each wheel.  Whenever they have to move an RV from one station to the next, they hook the pads up to an air compressor and push it over on a cushion of air.  Pretty much like upside-down air-hockey tables. Smile They said they can do it with two people, but they generally use three just for an extra set of eyes (and brakes).

There’s also a couple pictures of the furniture (which is built in-house) ready to get installed and the floor grate that is the trash system.  There’s a grate covering a conveyor belt that runs the entire length of the plant.  All trash goes into the grate, then is collected at the end of the belts.  It apparently works very well, we didn’t see any trash or scraps anywhere during out tour, unless it had just been cut off a unit they were working on.

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We also picked up a handful of parts while we were at Newmar… some light covers that had faded, a couple of switches that were missing or broken, some exterior parking lights, and various other knick-knacks needed for our RV (they were actually pretty cheap for most common parts).

If you have an RV or are thinking about getting one, it’s worth touring the RV plant to see how it’s made.  We hope yours is made as well as ours!

Stops On The Way

By , September 5, 2010 5:26 pm

We stopped at three different locations from Golden, CO to Bremen, IN. We drove over 1,000 miles. Yeah, we go far! Even though Jonathan did all the driving it was rough on me!?! But I’m learning and coping as a passenger. I haven’t driven the Star yet. I’m afraid. Jonathan said he’s afraid of me driving too. So that didn’t engender a lot of confidence in me either! I think after I take an RV driving class I would feel more confident.

I wonder how many “co-pilots” drive their rig…Kudos to those ladies! (Now back on track…)

Our first stop was in North Platte, NE at the Buffalo Bill State Recreation Area (SRA).  We drove about one mile on a gravel road to get to the campground. Campground offers electric only (some sites have 30 AMP and some have 50 AMP). It was hot and there was no shade but we were glad to have the AC running. It wasn’t bad as a stop over.

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Our second stop was in Waterloo, NE at the Two Rivers State Recreation Area (SRA). It is a huge park with a lot to do (fishing, swimming, biking, etc…). We took our mountain bikes out and rode around the park. Some sites have water and electric (all electric are 30 AMP only), some are electric only and some are dry camping and tenting. It was a pleasant park with lots of shade trees (I learned something about cottonwood tree!!! ) and “lakes”.

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Our last stop was a boondocking site at the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center in LeClaire, IA. It was a nice place that overlooked the great Mississippi River. It had free WiFi until 8PM. For dinner, we order out from the Bier Stube. We demolished the great German food before we could take any pictures! It was yummy! Jonathan said the beer was good too.

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So Good, It’s Golden!

By , September 2, 2010 8:55 am

IMG_3124Our previous week was spent in Golden, Colorado.  We had spent a couple days there during a motorcycle rally two years ago.  We had an excellent time, but we spent most of it either in the Marriott or on the motorcycle up in the mountains.  I don’t think we even made it into town then, so we wanted to give it another chance and spend some time there.  It started out kind of rocky, due to our original lodgings.  We stayed for exactly one night at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.  No pictures, because it wasn’t worth taking pictures of.  Dirt field, construction 20 yards away during the day, neighbors with little “rat dogs” barking every time I went outside, etc.  We pulled out the next day when we called Clear Creek.  Score!  BTW… if you’re looking to get into Clear Creek campground, you have to call them at 7am to get a spot.  No other reservations are available, but they know what opens up during the day from people leaving.

Dasy already posted about Clear Creek, so I won’t dwell on it too much.  It definitely made the trip a whole lot nicer.  Dasy says it’s probably her favorite spot so far. 😉

IMG_3101We spent one afternoon going up to Buffalo Bill Cody’s grave.  It was interesting, but we thought the views and the road up there were the best part.  I went back a few days later to take a couple photographs of the town at night.  Then I went back up again on the Yamaha just because it’s a road that begs for a motorcycle ride. 😉

IMG_3086We also went up to Boulder for the day.  Boulder didn’t really do much for us.  It was okay, but I guess we just didn’t “get” it.  We took an “interesting” bunch of roads on the way back to Golden, where we did manage to see some… elk?  We’re not sure, but we think they’re elk of some kind.  Regardless, it was probably the highlight of the trip to Boulder. Winking smile

We actually spent a fair amount of time at the campground and playing in the creek.  We bought a grill in Loveland and got to try it out a couple of times at the campground.  While it’s certainly not charcoal, it was a worthwhile investment and will see a lot more use!

One of the other things we should mention is the abundance of statues.  Colorado really seems to have a thing for bronze statues.  We noticed them in Loveland, but then ran into bunches more here in Golden.  I don’t know why, but they have a ton of them and most are pretty interesting.

In short, we really liked Golden and were a little sad to see it in the rearview mirror.  But, there’s more places waiting for us!

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Headed East

By , August 29, 2010 6:15 pm

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Just a quick update to let everyone know where we are…

We’ve left Golden and are working our way to Indiana.  We’re stopped for the night in Iowa right now.  We are overlooking the Mississippi River (pictured), which we will be crossing first thing tomorrow morning.  I consider the right side of the ‘big muddy’ to be ‘the East’, so we’ll be back on that side of the country tomorrow. 😉

We’ll post about Golden and our trip out here as soon as we get a decent connection and power… there’s just too much to do on my little netbook computer.  I need a full sized screen!

Colorado – Loveland and Fort Collins

By , August 25, 2010 4:15 pm

On our slow trip back towards the East Coast, we wanted to spend some time in Colorado.  Our first stop was Loveland.  We actually wanted to be in Fort Collins, but Loveland was pretty close and had a couple RV parks with reasonable rates.  We didn’t really have an agenda for what we wanted to do in Colorado, we just wanted to check out some of the towns.

One thing we found when driving around Fort Collins was a flower garden set up on the CSU campus.  Dasy spent some time wandering around admiring and we both took few pictures.

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Our next real stop of note was the New Belgium Brewery.  We got there around 10:30 and signed up on “standby” for a tour.  All the tours were booked out online, so we took our chances.  While waiting for the tours to start, we wandered around the front entrance and took in some of the interesting bits they have outside.  The most interesting (although not very photogenic), was a fountain made out of some kind of pipes and a tin catch pan.  It made the coolest noises as the water fell in the tin pan!  When we get settled again, I might attempt to make one. 😉

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Since we live in an RV right now, we also had to go check out the Airstream they had parked in a flower bed in the parking lot.  It’s not really a functional RV any more, but it’s still pretty cool. 

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After spending a little bit of time in the Airstream, we headed inside to the bar area.  I’m not sure if it’s an actual bar or just a “sampling room”IMG_2997 for customers, but there were a lot of glasses of beer being passed back and forth and we didn’t see anyone paying for anything.  When we checked in for the tour, we were given a token for “a free drink”.  Apparently, “a” is plural at the brewery because I ended up trying about five different beers before finally settling on Trippel.  Dasy tried a few and actually liked one!  She’s not a beer drinker and normally just makes really cute scrunchy faces whenever she tries one.  But, she quite liked the Mothership, which is apparently the only totally organic beer that New Belgium makes.  I thought it tasted like burnt cardboard, but maybe that’s just me. 😉

After sampling a fair bit, it was time to start the tour.  Meet our tour guide, Andrew:

IMG_2999He did a good job by us and it was an interesting tour.  No one here seemed to take themselves too seriously, and I suppose it would be amazing if you were into how beer is brewed.  Personally, I just enjoyed seeing how they did everything and trying five or six different beers throughout the tour. ;)  Trippel is still my favorite. 

The tour lasted a little two hours, during which time we walked through or around several areas of the plant, mostly centered around brewing and bottling.  Speaking of bottles, Dasy got to be an official helper and poured several for the group!

IMG_3030I mostly asked stupid questions and took pictures of everything.  It’s not often to get to get in amongst mazes of stainless steel plumbing, glass bottles and bicycle parts. 🙂

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While exploring things to do in Fort Collins, we also found the Holiday Twin Drive In!  Dasy had never been to a drive-in, so we carved out a night to do so.  I had no idea how busy it would be, so we arrived fairly early, but we got a good spot.

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We watched Despicable Me, a kids animated movie, which was quite funny.  The other movie was Inception, which was just weird and a lot of work to get through.  We should have left in the middle of it, but one of our weaknesses is sitting through an entire movie once we’ve started it, even if it’s a bad one.  But, the intermission between movies made up for it…  They had dancing hot dog commercials!!! IMG_3051

The rest of the time was pretty relaxed and nothing to write home about.  Our next stop was to be Golden, Colorado, which will be in our next post!

 

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Camping Critters

By , August 24, 2010 7:21 am

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While visiting Crater Lake, we stayed at Collier Memorial State Park.  We’ve already mentioned the ground squirrels there.  As you can see below, they’re quite bold little critters!  IMG_2895

In case you were wondering, Dasy wasn’t feeding him, she was just putting on her shoes.  There were a number of these little guys harassing us on a regular basis (including jumping in the barbeque pit while I was trying to light it). We originally thought they were chipmunks, but we were mistaken.  Chipmunks are technically a ground squirrel, but they’re generally smaller and their head is shaped a little different than the ground squirrels that were all over this place.  What’s the difference between a regular squirrel and a ground squirrel?  Ground squirrels generally live in burrows, not trees.  They also tend to stand on their back legs much more frequently and for longer periods than tree squirrels.

Another group of critters we spotted while camping on the way to Colorodo were antelope. 

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We found out about Dugway BLM campground and settled there for the evening on our way from Crater Lake to Loveland, CO.  Dugway is about 8 miles north of Sinclair, WY on what we think is the North Platte river.  It’s a primitive campground that’s basically in the middle of nowhere.  We had one other van camper pull up a few hours after we did, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves.  The antelope pretty much steered clear of us, but I was able to get a few pictures down the road from the campground.  There were also mule deer, plenty of falcons and various other birds. 

This was probably the first “boondocking” I’ve actually liked.  It was remote enough that I wasn’t constantly disturbed by traffic noise.  We have two more boondock areas planned on our way East, so we’ll see if we can get some as nice as this one was! Smile

Our next stop was Loveland, CO.  We’ll have more about that in the next post!

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Crater Lake

By , August 17, 2010 1:33 pm

Dasy really wanted to see Crater Lake, so we headed down there for a couple days.  Crater Lake is pretty much in the middle of no where.  We could have camped in the park, but it was primitive (no water or electric) and we weren’t sure if we’d fit, so we decided to stay at Collier Memorial State Park instead.  There we found full hookups, pleasant sites, a nice little creek and LOTS of very bold ground squirrels. ;)  We’d recommend it if you don’t mind the drive from there to Crater Lake.

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Crater Lake itself is one of the smaller National Parks.  It has a couple of little villages and visitor centers, but it’s mostly just one loop road around the lake.  IMG_2807Our main goal was to catch the boat tour around the lake, with a stop at Wizard Island.  Even though we bypassed several overlooks to get there at a reasonable time, they were already booked up for the entire day (cost is $28 per person, $10 extra if you want to stop at Wizard Island). :(  We contented ourselves with a hike down to the lake instead. 

The hike is on the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which goes from the crater rim down to the boat dock and it is the only place you can actually get to the lake.  It is not for the faint of heart or the weak of knee!  It was just over a mile in distance, but the elevation difference from the rim to the lake is about 700 feet.  It took us about half an hour to go down.

Once at the bottom, we stuck our feet in the water and ate our lunch while watching several people swim and jump off the rocks into the lake.  It was cold, but apparently bearable “once you get in”.  We didn’t test that, mainly because I didn’t want to be hiking back up in wet clothes and shoes.  Were I to return, I’d probably bring trunks or some extra socks and shirt at least. 

IMG_2837The hike back up was significantly worse, but bearable if you’re in reasonably decent shape, or if you have a LOT of time and a couple bottles of water.  In the parking lot they sell shirts that say “One mile down, six miles up”.  ;) 

The lake itself is pretty cool and is an awesome color of blue.  Depending on where you are at different stops and at different times of the day, it can be more or less blue.  Our photographs show that somewhat.  I tried to keep the photographs as true to the original colors as I could… I didn’t enhance any of them to make them more colorful.

There are a few other areas of the park that are worth mentioning that we checked out…  Vidae Falls are quite nice, accessible from the road and worth stopping for.  There is also a section called The Pinnacles that is quite neat and worth the extra drive (it’s about 7 miles off the main loop).  The Pinnacles are spires of volcanic rock that are now exposed due to erosion of the surrounding rock.  Our final stop for the day was at the Castle Crest Wildflower Trial.  That was pretty cool, but we made some navigation errors at the start and had to do some backtracking before we found where we were meant to be (from the parking area, keep to the right, over the footbridge).  If you manage to go the right direction, it’s a 1 mile loop through some very nice growth areas around a small stream.

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Crater Lake Is Unique

By , August 15, 2010 7:17 pm

We left the Crater Lake region this morning and are currently in Winnemucca, NV. We are making our way to Colorado.

Crater Lake is a caldera lake when Mount Mazama erupted in 5400 BC. It is still an active volcanic. It is part of the same mountain range as Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, the Cascade Range. It is the deepest lake in the US at 1,943 feet. It is about 6 miles across and has no inlets and tributaries. It’s water is one of the deepest blue and one of the clearest, it is estimated that you can see 400 feet below.

We will post about our trip soon.

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Portland and Vancouver

By , August 14, 2010 10:43 am

We spent about a week in Portland, OR.  Actually, we were in Vancouver, WA, but that’s just across the river from Portland.  We met some great people in Vancouver at the nearby congregation. We didn’t originally plan to spend that long here, but a number of coincidences changed our schedule a bit…  More about that later.

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Portland is a pretty cool town.  There’s not much traffic for a city this size, once you’re downtown.  IMG_2683There are a lot of public transport options and a lot of people use bicycles to commute.  It’s a town that’s known for being “green”.  Unfortunately, that means parking for four-wheeled vehicles is a bit of a premium.  Just keep it in mind if you’re visiting.  Be prepared to park somewhere then walk to where you want to go.

IMG_2689We started by doing a guided walking tour, by Portland Walking Tours (I’ll supply a link later when I have a decent connection).  It was interesting and a good way to see the downtown areas.  It was a good introduction and gave us an idea of what we might want to do for the rest of our trip here.  I’d say it’s worth the cost if you don’t mind walking a bit.

At the end of our walking tour, we went back to where our Jeep was parked and had lunch.  The parking lots in the area are surrounded by little food booths of just about every ethnic variety you can imagine.  The food was pretty inexpensive and almost everything was cooked up as you order.  I ended up having something that was kind of Bulgarian, but I forgot what it was called.  It was basically a sausage, but made with some kind of thin dough as the wrapping instead IMG_3683of the usual sausage skin.  The whole thing was wrapped in a spiral, steamed and then grilled.  It could have been a bit spicier, but was good and plenty filling.  Dasy opted for some Thai Drunken Noodles, which were also pretty tasty, but I prefer the thin rice noodle dishes.  A couple next to us ordered a teriyaki chicken and rice bowl which looked and smelled incredible, so we snagged an order of that to go as well.  Our original assessment was correct… it was awesome!

IMG_2721We spent another day at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) and we also did a drive around Washington Park.  Washington Park is sort of a big collection of smaller parks.  It would probably be great for day hiking and/or biking, although it’s a bit hilly.  OMSI is one of the better science-type museums in the area (way better than Seattle), but it also reinforced our belief that we’ve been spoiled by the Smithsonians in Washington DC.  There’s a lot of hands-on stuff for kids, but there were some decent exhibits tucked away that we enjoyed as well.  The temporary Einstein exhibit was kind of cool, but I suspect it’s a bit too “deep” for the average bear and kid just walked right through it because there wasn’t really a lot that they could mess with there.  It made a valiant effort at explaining some of Einstein’s theories and I don’t think there would be many ways to do a better job.

Unfortunately, our plans got tossed out the window after that.  We ordered a couple packages that turned out to take a lot longer to arrive than we expected.  The campground we were at was completely booked, so we ended up having to move to another while awaiting the shipment.  It didn’t help that I caught some kind of nasty stomach bug or something.  I spent three or four days moping and trying to keep some small amount of food in me, while Dasy did her best not to get frustrated with me.  I’m still not completely up to snuff, but at least I can get out and do stuff now.

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Yes, it’s a pickle.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

By , August 10, 2010 6:05 pm

Our final destination in the Rainier area was Mount St. Helens.  We drove in from Randle, WA on 131, then turned off at Forest Road 26.  If you’re in the area on a motorcycle, this is a road you shouldn’t miss. Winking smile  The pavement isn’t in the best of shape, so use caution, but the twisties are awesome! Smile

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There’s not much in the way of scenery or exhibits or anything on the way to Mt. St. Helens, but it’s fairly impressive in it’s own way.

IMG_2583Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, which drastically changed not only the mountain (volcano), but the area around it as well.  Unfortunately, 57 people were also killed in the eruption.  The eruption blew sideways, not up.  This knocked about 1200 feet off height of St. Helens and left a mile wide U-shaped crater in it’s place.  It’s estimated that the blast cloud was travelling horizontally at approximately 300 miles per hour.  Needless to say, this left it’s mark. 

The park area is mostly dead trees now.  Most are fallen trunks, but a few dead trunks remain standing.  It’s not as scenic as most other parks, due to this.  There are some overlooks and a ranger station that’s worth checking out. 

At the end of the road, we came to Windy Ridge parking area.  We managed to arrive just a couple of minutes after a ranger’s presentation started, so we settled in and caught the rest of it.  If you time it right, it’s worth listening to the talks here.

IMG_2552The other point of interest here (other than the volcano itself) is the hike up to Windy Ridge.  I warn you, this is not for the faint of heart.  From the parking area, it looks like wood steps up to the ridge (which I estimated to be at least a 300 ft climb).  Unfortunately, once we started, we found that it was actually just a wood frame for steps, with each step filled in with pumice stones.  This did not make for an easy climb. Confused smile

At the top is a viewing platform that shows about as much of St. Helens that you’ll see without doing a serious hike.  It’s also a good place to see the blast field and Spirit Lake.  The lake is now about a third filled with dead floating logs.  The other two thirds have gotten waterlogged and sunk over the years.  It’s kind of eerie.  There are some interesting flowers and some nice areas of growth, but it’s mostly fairly barren land.

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IMG_2599On the way back out, we stopped at Iron Creek Falls.  This is technically outside the national monument and is part of Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  It’s definitely worth checking out!  From the parking area, it’s a short hike down a fairly well maintained trail to the falls.  We were able to cross the stream below the falls, due to some piled up log debris.  I imagine this can change radically depending on rain and snow melt.

This is probably one of the most pleasant areas we’ve found with falls in our trip.  The falls are impressive, but not so huge that you can’t get to them.  You could easily swim here if it were warm enough (I doubt it would ever be “comfortable”).  The fall shoots out almost vertically before falling in an unobstructed pool.  The entire area is incredibly green and nicely shaded.  It would be a good place to chill out and have a picnic. Smile

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Mount Rainier National Park (continued)

By , August 9, 2010 12:27 pm

IMG_2618For the rest of our time in Mount Rainier, we spent a fair chunk of it at the Grove of the Patriarchs.  The Grove is on an “island” in the middle of the Ohanapecosh River.  You can get there via a nature trail that starts just past the Stephen’s Canyon entrance to the park.  If you hit it on a weekend, expect parking to be a scarce commodity.  We actually went up to the next parking area on the road and walked back a fair distance to get to the trail.

The trail leads through some old cedar next to the river, before crossing a small suspension bridge.  The bridge is only wide enough for one person, so everyone alternated with those on the other side.  I almost waded across the river instead, but the water was cold and I didn’t want to be walking around with sandy or wet feet the rest of the day.  Winking smile

Once you cross the river, you’ll eventually come to a boardwalk that leads around the grove.  Here are some of the oldest of the trees in the area.  Exceptional ones will have small plaques around somewhere describing them.

These are some monstrous trees!  After seeing these and the ones previously at Olympic National Park, I have a real hard time comprehending how big a redwood or sequoia might be. Confused smile

IMG_2612After a pleasant hike around the grove, we headed back to the Jeep so we could check out the Sunrise and White River side of the park.

Be careful of the drive to Sunrise, especially on weekends.  The rangers are pretty diligent about monitoring and penalizing speed limit violations.  I pulled into an overlook to let a motorcycle pass us… he was pulled over getting a ticket about two minutes later.  We spotted plenty of rangers both in and out of the park, so watch your speed everywhere (the park rangers do have jurisdiction outside the park, as they cooperate with the forest rangers in the area too).  There’s not much need to speed through…  as the drive is very scenic and it’s worth taking your time for it.

IMG_2642Once you make it to Sunrise, there is a ranger station, restrooms, backcountry and hiking permits, plus a cafeteria and gift shop.  Expect prices to be fairly unreasonable.  You’re in the middle of nowhere and at their mercy…  I seem to remember that the going rate for a hot dog was $5.  Pack your lunch!

Dasy did a half-hour tour on one of the ranger programs, while I chilled out for a bit and checked out the buildings and stuff.  I just wasn’t in the mood for more walking around today.

The rest of our time was spent in the campground or at Mount Saint Helens.  More about that next time!

 

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Mount Rainier National Park

By , August 6, 2010 7:43 am

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Ok, I’ve got to start this off with a disclaimer and a warning…

The disclaimer: The picture above is heavily processed and is more of an “art” picture than a historical or reference shot.  But, it is almost exactly what I was hoping to get when I set it up.  For those interested in why it looks like it does, do some research on HDR processing (later).  Winking smile

The warning: This is a long post.  I have an excuse though…  The weather was just about perfect and it’s pretty hard not just point a camera at something here and get a good picture.

IMG_2430“Here” was Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state.  We spent five days in the area, divided between Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens.  Instead of jumping back and forth, we’re doing a couple of Rainier posts first, then we’ll do another one on St. Helens.

Mount Rainier National Park is pretty awesome!  In my book, it’s close to Glacier NP in scenery and photography value.  It’s easier to get around and it’s more “tourist friendly”.  However, it’s also got a LOT of area that isn’t easy to get to unless you plan to do some major hiking and camping.  We did a few walking trails, but mostly stuck to the main roads in the Jeep.

IMG_2435Surprisingly, you can’t actually see Mount Rainier unless you’re far away (up to 100 miles away on a clear day) or until you’ve driven a few miles into the park.  The mountains around Rainier aren’t ridiculously impressive or anything, but they’re big enough for it to hide behind. 

We were staying in Randle, so we came in on the Southeast corner of the park, at Stephen’s Canyon entrance.  If you come the same way, it’s worth stopping at the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center on the way in.

The first scenic stop that we made was at Box Canyon.  Here we found a nice plaque explaining that the rock I was standing on had been polished by a glacier at one time.  The road also goes over the canyon, so you can get a nice perspective from the sidewalk.IMG_2442

The first real “viewpoint” of Mount Rainier from the entrance we used had plenty of parking.  If you’re coming in from the Stephens Canyon entrance, keep going.  There are a few nicer views after you cross a deep valley.

One of the stops we made was at the Reflection Lakes.  This is a small collection of lakes that the main road runs right next to.  I would imagine they earned their names by being smooth as glass… when there’s no wind.  We had just enough wind to ripple everything, but it’s still a nice view.

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After Reflection Lakes, we took a scenic loop up to and around Paradise.  It was absolutely packed and there didn’t seem to be any better view than the ones we’d been seeing all morning, so we didn’t stop.

Further down the road is Narada Falls.  We definitely stopped for that!IMG_2514  We actually stopped once to eat lunch and enjoy the falls at the top, then we stopped again later in the day on the way back to do the trail.  The trail is pretty steep and is loose rock and dirt in some places, but it’s worth it.  The Narada Falls parking area is at the top of the falls.  Unfortunately, it’s somewhat behind the fall area, so you can’t actually see the falls.  You can see the stream that feeds the falls, and you can sit on the bridge that goes over it.  The trail goes to the other side of the river and down a steep hill.  We stopped at about half the height of the falls, which is probably the best view you’ll find without bushwacking.

The falls do send up a water mist, so be careful with you’re camera and electronic gear.  Just keep stuff covered until you’re ready to take a picture and you should be fine.  The reward, of course, is the rainbows that are pretty much always present due to this (check the lower right corner of the picture to the right).

IMG_3510Narada Falls are clearly the biggest and most impressive of the easily accessible falls off the road we were on, but they aren’t the only ones.

Christine Falls is a multi-level fall that starts well above the road (there’s a steep hike up to the top) and ends well below the road.  There’s a short walk down from the road to see the falls under the bridge, which is definitely worth it.IMG_2502

Our next stop was at Longmire.  There is a museum here, along with most of the park’s administrative offices, an inn, plus shuttle busses to run back and forth to Paradise.  We checked out the museum and the administration building.  They were interesting, but not very photographic.  I’ll probably include some of those pictures in another slide show that I’ll get to eventually. Winking smile

At Longmire, we ended our trip for the first day in the park and headed back to our campground in Randle, WA.

Note: There will be another post on Mt. Rainier NP, this one was getting long enough. Winking smile

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Olympic Peninsula – Cape Flattery

By , July 31, 2010 4:28 pm

IMG_2352On our last major outing in the Olympic Peninsula area, we went out to Cape Flattery.  This is supposedly the most northwest point of the continental US.  It’s on the Makah Reservation and requires a reservation pass (available all over the reserve for $10 – good for a year) and fairly decent hike. 

The hike was about a 3/4 mile each way.  But, be prepared for a 300 foot descent on the way to the point, which means a climb on the way back. ;)  The trail is pretty neat, but expect parts of it to be made of split timbers, with steps and stacked logs as well.  Not difficult for most people, but you’re not going to be getting a wheelchair or anything back there.

There are several points on the way out where there are small overlooks onto the coastline.  They’re pretty cool, but the real reward is at the end!  There’s a viewing platform with a spectacular view (when it’s not foggy) of the light house and surrounding coast.  It’s well worth the trip.

After heading back to the Jeep, we drove into the main town on the Makah Indian Reservation and found “the salmon guy”.  We’d heard that there’s a guy who makes great smoked salmon.  Our neighbors at the campground even asked if we could get some for them!  Well, we found the guy, tasted the salmon and promptly bought a couple pounds.  I have to say that I don’t like salmon.  Dasy does, but I don’t much care for it… at all.  But, this smoked salmon was incredible!  Suffice to say, it didn’t last very long. :S

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From here, we headed back to Shelton to spend a couple more days with my sister and her family and then headed out to Mt. Rainier.  More on that next time! 🙂

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Olympic National Park – Hoh Rainforest and Sol Duc Falls

By , July 31, 2010 8:17 am

Our second outing in the Olympic National Park took us to the Hoh Rainforest.  The is on the west side of the Olympic mountains, where the mountains push the wet sea air upwards, causing it to rain much more than anywhere else in the park.  Fortunately, we seemed to hit a good time in the year to avoid the rains and it was a beautiful, sunny day. 

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IMG_2169There aren’t any real scenic views or anything on the way into the park from the Hoh entrance.  The scenery is the forest!  The trees are HUGE and there’s a primeval feel to everything as you drive under that dense canopy.  Most of the ground is covered with water, mud or moss.  Ferns are also quite abundant.  We didn’t spot any dinosaurs, but I suspect there are a few wandering around in there somewhere. 😉

We stopped at the Sitka spruce, which is one of the first of the ‘giant’ trees that you’d encounter in the park.  It’s probably wider than our Jeep is long!  It’s big, old, and a bit gnarly looking.  I think it’s about 500 years old.

IMG_3322But, the real attraction is the visitor center at the end of the road.  Here you’ll find information on the rainforest and a few exhibits on the animals and plants in the area.  There’s also a small gift store, picnic area, restrooms and backcountry hiking permits.  Plus… trails!  There are trails for just about all levels, from 1/4 mile paved “kid friendly” trails, to multiple day hike-through-the-entire-park trials.

IMG_2193We went on the “Hall of Mosses” trail.  It wasn’t too long, but went through some of the old groves that we wanted to see (and we like moss).  The trail is about a mile and is relatively flat, although there are some fairly gentle inclines. The trees here are simply monstrous in size!  My poor attempts at describing them wouldn’t come close to doing them any justice.  There are a few pictures that give an idea of the size, but I’m not a good enough photographer or writer to really get the idea across.

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Our next stop was the Sol Duc entrance so we could see the trail and falls.  We decided to skip on the hot springs, as we’d heard that they’re not really that nice and are kind of commercialized (and we were there on the weekend).  I got the impression that it had been built up enough that it would be a stretch to call it “natural” any more.

IMG_2305I don’t know if the Sol Duc area is technically rainforest, as I think it’s far enough north to get a little shelter from the rains on the west slopes, but it’s still huge and primeval.  The trees are a bit different than the Hoh section and there doesn’t seem to be quite as much underbrush.  The trees at Sol Duc seem to be a brighter green and there were a fair amount of younger trees.  If you come to the area and don’t have time to see both Hoh and Sol Duc, it would be a tough to decide which to skip.  The trail is nicer at Sol Duc, but we only did the one.  There are a lot more trails at Hoh and a lot more species of trees there.  Hoh clearly has older trees, but there’s also a lot of dead stumps there.  Hoh is awesome, but there’s a feeling of “life” in Sol Duc that can’t be ignored.  It’s the kind of place where you wouldn’t be overly surprised to find a triceratops grazing on a patch of ferns just off the trail. 😉

Of course, the other thing that Sol Duc is known for is the falls. As with any decent sized river, there are generally smaller “feeder” streams.  You’ll cross a few of these on the way to the falls.  I always like these little streams because I can go rock-hopping and actually mess around a bit.  Bigger ones like the falls are kind of off-limits to anyone with the slightest bit of sense.

IMG_2316I only managed to get one decent picture of the falls (above), mostly because they spray up a water mist and my camera is afraid to get wet. ;)  There main trail crosses almost directly over the falls using a very stout footbridge (it would probably hold a decent sized truck easily).  This gives a great view right down the “throat” of the little box canyon than the falls have carved.  The amount of moss here (due to the spray) is ridiculous!  You could probably belly-flop on some of the rocks and be more comfortable than on some mattresses.

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Unfortunately, that pretty much finished our time IN Olympic National Park, but we also did a bit of exploring outside the park.  We’ll get into that on the next post!

Olympic National Park – Hurricane Hill

By , July 30, 2010 10:11 pm

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Our first real outing in the Olympic Peninsula area took us to the Hurricane Ridge entrance of Olympic National Park.  Hurricane Ridge has a number of scenic vistas and interesting areas, but the main point for those who don’t mind a bit of a hike is Hurricane Hill.IMG_3163

The hike to Hurricane Hill starts at the very last vehicle-accessible area from the entrance at Port Angeles.  The last section of road is extremely tight and windy.  A small class C RV might be able to make it, but I doubt event a 30-foot class A could manage it.  We parked at the bottom of the trail and proceeded to head upwards.

The trail climbs through fairly arid areas that can be a rather odd mix of snowfields, dry sandy soil, flowers, meadows and windswept trees.  To make it even more odd, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky (no shade) and it was quite hot.  We got pretty well baked on the trail.  Serves us right for not planning.  We didn’t think we’d do the hike, we kind of decided to attempt it at the last minute. :S

IMG_2124The hike is about 1.7 miles each direction and climbs about 700 feet.  The trail is dusty and rocky and was absolutely infested with bees for the entire trip.  A few signs at the entrance to the trail indicated that if we just kept moving when any of the flying critters investigated us, we’d be fine.  I guess they knew what they were talking about, as we didn’t have any issues with them.  Just be warned should you go in the summer.

IMG_3190Other than the sun, heat and bees, we really didn’t have any problems and it was well worth the effort.  The flowers were really surprising considering the terrain and weather conditions.  The views were spectacular and the hike wasn’t that hard until the very last section.  Note: If you are actually a real “hiker”, consider our description to be woefully tainted by the fact that we’re wimps and we don’t really hike.  A real hiker would probably consider this to be a gently sloping tourist trail. :S

At the top of Hurricane Hill, you can see down to Port Angeles and if it’s clear enough, you can see Victoria, BC across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  It kind of feels like the top of the world!

IMG_2100The area is pretty much infested with chipmunks!  They’re not at all shy and they will pretty much be running around just about any rock you look at.  They were cute, but not very cooperative for the camera. 😉  Fortunately, that wasn’t the only thing we saw…

IMG_2130One of the things I’d been hoping to see on our trip to this area, but hadn’t really expected to see was a marmot.  We found one running around a meadow just below the peak!  They look like big groundhogs, just furrier. 🙂

We also went to Obstruction Peak, but it was a dusty unpaved road and the end wasn’t that impressive for us.  Half the trail was still covered in snow and we’d already done far more hiking than we’d planned, so we just took a look around and headed back home.

If you’re headed here, there’s a nice visitor center and some nice overlooks just off the main road.  But, if you’re really looking to see the area, expect to put forth some effort to do so.  It’s well worth it, but bring some water, a good hat and sunscreen or a long sleeved shirt. 😉

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It Floats and Barely There

By , July 30, 2010 10:18 am

After Seattle, we decided to make our way to Olympic National Park.  After doing a bit of research, we found that the ferry was probably the cheapest and fastest method of getting our collection of vehicles over.  We hopped on the ferry at Edmunds, after a number of issues.

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First, there were no signs to tell us that we had to disconnect the Jeep from the Dutch Star.  Second, there was no designated space to do so after getting through the entry booth.  We pulled over, blocked a lane for a bit and got everything unhooked.  IMG_2076Dasy took the Jeep and I drove the Star.  Dasy loaded up first, while I sat there for a bit and was then directed to take up two spots and straddle the lane to park.  Dasy unloaded first and ended up in front of me.  Unfortunately, she didn’t know where we were going and there was no where convenient to reconnect.  So, she drove for about a half an hour with occasional horn honks and lots of turn signal warnings from me behind her. 😉IMG_2069

The icing on the cake, however, was there were at least four other RVs on the ferry.  One was larger than us, directed to take a single lane and did not disconnect his toad.  There was another smaller class C, also with a toad that was connected (“toad” is the nickname given to a towed vehicle by RVers).  So, we ended up with a lot of confusion and a lot of extra hassle and work because the ferry system is inconsistent on what to do with RVers.  Ah well, it was still cheaper and faster than driving all the way around the sound (about $75 for both vehicles).

The ride was fine, but the view wasn’t great from my perspective. IMG_2073 I did get out a couple times and take a look around, but it was kinda gray and there wasn’t a whole lot of decent pictures to get on the trip.  But, it did get us over to the Olympic peninsula pretty quickly and easily, so it’s all good.

Now for the other part of our headline for this article… “Barely There”.

We’re currently just outside of Mount Rainier National Park.  It’s pleasant and will give us the opportunity to see Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens, but we have no wifi.  We also have no cellular data connection.  That means we’re essentially without any kind of connectivity for a few days.  The nearest coffee shop with Internet is about 15 miles from us (which is where we are right now). So, we’ll not be regularly replying to emails, text messages, comments on the blog or anything else for about four days.  The bright side is that I can work on the blog posts for Olympic National Park offline, then upload them when I get to town.  So, you might be seeing three or four posts roll in on one day (but probably not today).

That covers us for now… we’re off to see Mt. Rainier, then we’ll start batching up blog posts on Olympic tonight. 

Seattle Meanderings

By , July 28, 2010 8:55 am

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In total, we spent about a week in Seattle.  The weather was just about perfect and we found lots to do (hence the lack of updates).

IMG_1884We went back into the city a couple of times and somehow managed to end up at Piroshky Piroshky again. Winking smile  Dasy had a smoked salmon piroshky, which was shaped like a fish (and still quite tasty).  Speaking of fish, we also went to the Seattle aquarium.  The aquarium had some nice exhibits and a cool “touching pool”, where you could touch starfish, urchins and anemones.  It was pretty neat, but I didn’t get many decent pictures.  Shooting through glass and moving reflective water doesn’t work so well without some filters that I don’t have right now. 

We also went to the Space Needle, the science center and the sci-fi museum.  All of this was paid for with a City Pass.  City Pass is a collection of tickets to various shows and attractions, all at one price for a “book”, which is good for nine days.  Most of the tickets are good for one entry to the attraction, but some are good for multiple…  The Space Needle allowed for two visits in 24 hours, so you could see the view during day and night (we only did night). IMG_1828 The City Pass isn’t a bad value if you plan on hitting multiple attractions.

Another area we visited a couple of times was the International District.  Imagine a “Chinatown”, but instead of being just Chinese shops, it’s a little bit of everything.  Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Mongolian, etc.  We even found a Cambodian noodle shop!  Unfortunately, it was closed on Monday, which is when we were there. Sad smile We ended up having noodles somewhere else (I think it was a kind of Asian fusion place… a little mishmash of everything).

IMG_3145Seattle is kind of a big melting pot.  There are a lot of nationalities represented by both the inhabitants and the visitors.  We spent a fair amount of time with a group of Cambodian friends from one of the congregations in the area.  We had a lot of fun, met a bunch of new friends and it gave Dasy a bit of an insight into how easy (or hard) it would be for her to relearn Cambodian (she speaks just fine, but would need to learn reading and writing again).  Mostly, we just had fun hanging out with them. Winking smile

I’m not going to take a lot of time going into each of the museums and what there is, but I’ll give you a few general opinions that I think Dasy and I agree on.IMG_3110

First, we’re probably spoiled by living in Washington, DC for so long.  All of the museums and attractions we went to were “nice”, but none were great and we probably would have been a little miffed at all of them if we’d paid the regular admission prices.  The aquarium was small and overcrowded, the science center was almost completely geared towards children, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t hate any of them and we’re glad we went to each of them. But, we’re used to the Smithsonians in DC.  Those are museums!  We should spend more time in them when we go back to DC.

There were a couple of exceptions though…  One of the items in the City Pass is for Argosy Cruises, which offer a number of sightseeing tours around the sound.  It was very interesting to see Seattle from the water and the announcer did a good job of explaining everything.  It was just a pleasant cruise and a good break after walking around the city all day.

IMG_2035The other one that we really liked was the Science Fiction museum.  It’s a little on the small side and there’s nothing “interactive”, but if you’re a sci-fi buff and in the area, you need to go.  They have a ton of cool stuff on display and most of it is pretty well known, even by those who aren’t really into sci-fi movies and books.  They have about four full outfits from Blade Runner, a bunch of stuff from all the Star Wars and Star Treks (including the original captain’s chair), a Terminator robot, Buck Rodgers robots… I could go on and on!  They have some cool “classic” stuff too…  Like Logan’s Run and even Metropolis!  Ok, I’ll stop now. Winking smile 

Oh, if you plan to take pictures at the Sci-Fi museum, bring a compact tripod, a fast lens and a circular polarizing filter.  Everything is behind glass, poorly lit for photography and no flashes are allowed!  I managed to get a few decent pics, but I wish I’d known the conditions earlier.

Speaking of pictures, I have way too many to stuff into one blog post.  So, I made a short slide show of the highlights.  It’s probably about 30 pictures or so, but if you’ve been following us so far, you’ll probably enjoy it. Winking smile  Just click here for the slideshow whenever you’re ready and it should open in it’s own window (hit the little play button if you don’t want to click them manually).

Note: We’re currently in Shelton, WA and will be heading to Mount Rainier tomorrow.  We’re about a week behind on the blog and will be filling in some posts about Port Angeles and Olympic National Park over the next few days.

Pike Place Market

By , July 20, 2010 3:40 pm

One of the places we’d been told to see by pretty much everyone was Pike Place Market.

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IMG_3091We drove into Seattle and got parking on a very steep street, as we haven’t quite figured out public transport yet.  It seems that they have a very nice light rail system here, but it doesn’t do us much good if we can’t park at a station.  I’m sure there’s something we’re missing, but I haven’t been able to figure out what.

The market was crowded and it’s hard to move.IMG_1754  I don’t like being around crowds of people and my leg was bothering me (I fell off the slackline the other day and landed badly).  In spite of that, it was interesting and the great food made up for the crowds!  We sampled a few items as we walked around, like cherries and strawberries from the fruit stand.  Generally, the fruit and food was excellent, but more costly than we’re used to in a grocery store.  I normally don’t mind paying a bit extra for freshness, but we don’t have room to store much and it’s hot enough in the RV in the afternoon to make fruit spoil pretty quickly.

Dasy had some clam strips from a little Korean store.  They were pretty good and didn’t cost that much either.  IMG_1760We saw the original Starbucks store, but declined fighting the lines of people.  Starbucks always tastes burnt or “oily” to me anyway, so I didn’t mind. Smile  We then went up to Piroshky Piroshky and ordered a cheese piroshky…  And a beef and cheese piroshky… and a sauerkraut and cabbage (with fennel seed)… and a blueberry cream.  They were awesome!  Smile

Note: Now that I’ve just thought about that, I want to go back… NOW! Confused smile

We went to a park across the street to eat our piles of piroshky and relax for a bit before heading back.  It gave us a nice view of the sound and the city. 

We were planning on wandering around and seeing a bit more of Seattle, but we settled for full bellies and a little bit of driving instead. Winking smile

 

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Seattle

By , July 19, 2010 10:30 pm

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Hello everyone…  Just wanted to post a real quick update to let you all know that we’re currently in Seattle, WA.  We’ll be here for a few more days, then we’re headed south again.  We’ll post up a full entry of our exploits tomorrow!

Slackers? Maybe…

By , July 15, 2010 12:12 pm

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We’ve been in with my sister, Wendy, and her family in Shelton, WA for quite a while.  She has a small farm with a number of critters…  horses, llamas, alpacas, geese, dogs, cats, etc.  I’ve been helping out a bit with some farm work (like loading hay bales) and Dasy has been doing some of the cooking.  We’ve also been watching the niece and nephews when needed.

While hanging out with the family one night, Jim and Wendy showed us some videos of people on a slackline.  Jim showed me a clip of how someone set up carabineers to make a primitive block and tackle and we started talking about how much equipment it would take to set up a slackline.  I mentioned that it wasn’t really necessary, as I already had just about everything needed, since that’s pretty much the same stuff I use to pull stuck vehicles out when off-roading.  One thing lead to another and we soon had an impromptu slackline in the front yard. Winking smile

For those who don’t want to go read the link above, slacklines are like tightropes, but generally are made out of web straps (kind of like a seatbelt) and are supposed to be a bit loose (“slack”) so that they flex when weight is on them.  This allows some people to do some really interesting tricks on them.  It’s kind of fun and turns out to be pretty good exercise too.  We might do this periodically, depending on where we camp and what the room is like.  I probably need something a little less “beefy” than my tow strap though… it has almost NO stretch.  Right now, that’s a good thing.  We set it up very tight, as that’s easier for newbie “slackers”. Smile

From here, we’re off to Seattle for a week or so.  After that, we’re kind of undecided.  We want to see Mount Rainier National Park and we may come back and visit Olympic National Park as well.  We’ll work it out on the way.

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