Chicago

I have some Marriott points to use so I booked 3 days at the Cancun  airport Marriott Courtyard, 2 days before flying to Chicago and 1 day on the way back. If you stay there they provide parking in their secure lot for a reasonable fee, so I can leave the Land Cruiser behind in Mexico with no worries. The amount of resorts along the way is amazing, pretty much from Tulum up to Cancun is one beach resort after another. Cancun itself is very modern, almost like an American suburb. I go out to the local mall to pick up some snacks and eat dinner and it’s full of parents in BMWs and Mercedes dropping their kids off to hang out.

There is a huge snow storm scheduled to hit the Midwest on the day I’m flying so I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather. My first flight is from Cancun to Houston so no problems there, but when I change planes in Houston it looks like about half the flights going into Chicago are delayed or cancelled. Not mine, luckily. By the time I get into O’Hare nothing is flying out…this is one board of 3 or 4, all the same story:

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When I make it down to the Blue Line station I’m quite excited to see not one but two Christmas trains in the station. Mrs Claus and an elf welcome me back to Chicago.

It’s great to spend time with family and friends but holy cow is it cold. These past months traveling the southwest and Mexico have really thinned my blood. It doesn’t help that a couple of days after the big snow storm the temperature drops to -6.

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The time passes all too quickly and before I know it I’m back on a plane to Mexico.

Southern California

I spent the weekend at Joshua Tree National Park. I am really getting my money’s worth out of this annual Park Pass. It’s a great park, in addition to the Joshua trees everywhere it is full of these weird rock formations. There are several campgrounds in the park, the largest is Jumbo Rocks. There are 140 or so campsites, but each one is nestled in among the jumbo rocks. I saw in the news that September is mating season for the giant hairy tarantulas here in Joshua Tree, but I can’t find any. There is, however,  a large rattlesnake basking in the sun the next campsite over. They didn’t spot it until after they had set up their tent about fifteen feet away. The Park Rangers were called, came out and said “Yep that’s a rattlesnake.” They declined to move it and suggested that the people move their tent elsewhere, and to be sure to take a flashlight when heading to the bathroom after dark. The two main ways people are bitten by rattlesnakes are 1) they just can’t resist poking it with a stick and it bites 2) they don’t see it, step on the snake, and it bites.

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My driver’s side headlamp had a crack along the bottom when I bought the Land Cruiser, it never fogged up and the crack seemed stable. It got hit pretty hard by a rock on the Dalton Highway, causing a large chip right in the center. I figured its days were numbered and ordered a new one for $200 shipped. Better to just replace it now than wait until it falls completely apart and I have to track one down in Costa Rica or somewhere. It’s not hard to replace, just remove the turn signal housing and the center grille then 3 bolts on the headlamp itself. Unplug the wires, switch the bulbs, and put everything back together. I finally feel like a real overland traveler working on my truck in a campsite.

2003 was one of the last years before Toyota switched by glass headlamps to plastic on the Land Cruisers. The upside of glass is that the 13 year old headlamp on the other side matches perfectly to the new one once it is cleaned up.

Old and busted vs new and shiny

There are no warning signs about scorpions, giant hairy tarantulas, mountain lions, or rattlesnakes. Just bees. I guess since there is no water anywhere around the bees will swarm on anything wet, including a wet sweaty person.

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There are some great sandy back roads that lead to some good trails.

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One trail leads to the Lost Horse gold mine, so named because it was discovered when a prospector was searching for his lost horse when he stumbled across gold. The actual mine is closed off but the old stamp mill is still there. There are old gold mines all over the park.

On Sunday I drive to Anaheim and grab a hotel near Knott’s Berry Farm, as I have to be at the airport Monday morning to pick up Lisa. Monday morning rush hour into the airport is crazy, but once we get clear of the airport it’s an easy drive to Newport Beach. I have four nights at the Marriott’s Newport Coast Villas, which turns out to be quite a fancy place.

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The grounds are huge, 40 buildings spread out along the hills over the Pacific Coast Highway. Tons of things to do: five pools, several hot tubs, fire pits (Monday night was s’mores night), putting green, tetherball, tennis, basketball, bags, giant chess, movie theater.

I picked up Kelsey and Robert at 11pm Monday night, then we all spent the rest of the week enjoying Newport Beach.

Watched the sun set from a restaurant on the waterfront. Newport Beach is very upscale, first vacation town I have been to that features a McLaren dealership. There was also a used car store with a Ford GT in the window.

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Another night we packed up a full barbecue in the villa’s laundry basket and went up to the south end of the grounds for the best sunset view. In between buildings they have gas grills and patio furniture, a great place to grill burgers and watch the sun set.

We did one hike up El Moro canyon and across the hills, about 5 miles. It was pretty hot and sweaty going up the canyon once you get away from the water. The sweeping coastal views from the top were well worth the hike, picture below is looking south to Laguna Beach.

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Then down to the ocean to cool off a little. The water is pretty cold, about 63, but it feels good to go in at least knee deep.

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On the drive back we stopped at Ruby’s Shake Shack, right on the PCH. A beautiful place to sip something cold and look out over the ocean. By all reports the shakes were delicious.

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On Friday we eked out the vacation as long as we could, hanging out at the pool after checkout until it was time to head to the airport. A quick stop at In n Out for lunch then dropped Lisa at the airport, Kelsey and Robert in Venice Beach then off to San Diego.

It was late by the time I arrived so I got a hotel for the night, then next morning drove downtown to see the sights. Walked along the harbor and visited the USS Midway aircraft carrier. It was built during WW II but not finished until 1945 just as the war ended. It saw combat in Vietnam and the Gulf War and was decommissioned in 1992.

It’s a great feeling to stand on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, one more thing off the bucket list.

They had a couple of presentations on the flight deck about carrier takeoffs and landings. The sessions were given by a retired Navy pilot who has over 1,000 carrier takeoffs and landings with 300 combat missions over Vietnam. Very entertaining, lots of good stories and tons of detail on how a carrier operates.

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You can tour quite a bit belowdecks, it is indeed a floating city of 4,100 people. It’s a weird mix of technology from the 1940’s to the 1990’s.

Not much camping available near San Diego but I found a county park about 15 minutes away for the next couple of nights. The first morning I woke up and found a line of ants marching up the tent ladder, across the front of the tent, and down the other side. A few ants got lost and started coming inside but after a good five minutes of ant swatting everything was pretty well cleared off.

Sunday I visited the San Diego Zoo. First time I have spent $50 on the zoo but it was well worth it.

This year is their 100th anniversary and today is the exact day it opened 100 years ago. They have cake and cupcakes everywhere.

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It’s very well laid out, you walk through most of it on little paths through trees and bamboo with the enclosures worked in so you get the feeling of walking through the woods and seeing the animals in a more natural setting.

One of the big attractions are the giant pandas. I didn’t realize just how giant they are until seeing this one in person.

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Giant Panda video

Tons of koalas, which sleep 20 hours a day.

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After staying all day at the zoo it’s back to the ant hill campground. I parked a little further down, hoping to avoid the ant army but next morning I woke up to another line of ants coming up the ladder, around the front, back down the other side with a few stragglers sneaking inside the tent again.

Today is the big day, leaving the US and entering Mexico. I decide to go a few miles east to the new Otay Mesa border crossing; it’s supposed to be quicker and much easier to get around. Pulled off on the last US exit before the border, filled up on gas, changed some dollars for pesos, grabbed breakfast at McDonald’s then off to the border.

Arizona part II

I don’t have too long before I have to be in LA so I kind of breezed through southern New Mexico on the way west. Stayed one night at a KOA in Las Cruces then on to Arizona.

I have wanted to hike up Picacho Peak for some time, but every time we go past it I haven’t been able to talk anybody else into going.  Spent the night in the state park at the base of the peak then started off on the hike next morning while it was still somewhat cool.

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It’s only about 2 miles each way but the trail is very steep and rocky. In places there are cables anchored into the cliff to help you get up and back down

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or here to keep from falling off

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Once you get to the top the view is great. I sat up here for awhile enjoying the scenery, despite the I-10 interstate below it is very quiet. I only met two other people on the trail. With all of the rocks, cables, and general steepness it took me just as long to hike down as up, so by the time I arrived back at the trailhead it was up to 95.

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Drove up to Phoenix and treated myself to a night in the Marriott Canyon Villas, in a “studio villa.” Compact but very nice after all the camping. I have been pining for some real Chicago pizza and made a stop at the new Lou Malnati’s Phoenix location, got the Chicago Classic which really hit the spot.

Next day it was actually rainy all day, due to some tropical storm down south. Visited the Martin Auto Museum, a very cool place with beautifully preserved cars from the early 1900s up to today. This Shelby Cobra was part of Carroll Shelby’s private collection for awhile then sold to Mr. Martin.It’s an amazing car, they estimate its worth at around $2 million. They wouldn’t let me sit in it.

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Still raining so I watched Suicide Squad at the theater, pretty entertaining.

Stopped in to visit Gina Matt and Mia. Got a few barks from Mia before she recognized me then she was quite excited to see me again.

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Off towards LA, stayed at an RV park in Quartzsite AZ. In the morning I watched this huge scorpion creeping past the campsite. It’s the biggest one I’ve seen, about the size of my hand.

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Texas

So, Texas is a really big state. Looking back through my log I see that I’ve spent 12 days circling around the state. I’m trying to avoid driving on the major interstate highways so I stay on the two lane roads towards Lubbock and stop for the first night at Buffalo Springs Lake. It’s an odd place, you are driving across west Texas with desert scrub and cotton fields, suddenly there is a sort of canyon with a lake and tons of wildlife. IMG_20160907_192414.jpg

In Abilene I visited the 12th Armored Division museum, small but lots of great exhibits. The 12th AD trained here before shipping off to Europe at the end of WWII. They were involved in some battles in late 1944 after the Battle of the Bulge, some of the first into Germany, liberated concentration camps. and were the American troops who captured Dr. Werner von Braun who would become one of the fathers of the American space program.

I’m talking to the guy who maintains the vehicles, I remark on how simple the Jeep engine seems and he tells me yes, with a screwdriver and a couple of wrenches you can tear down and rebuild the whole thing. The story behind the ‘Cooked Rat’ is that he was rebuilding it for a parade, had pulled out the radiator to flush it then reinstalled the radiator but left the hoses disconnected. A couple of weeks later he plugged in the hoses, added coolant, fired it up and it immediately started overheating. Suspecting a blockage in the hoses, he disconnected them and soon pulled out a fully boiled rat with a pair of pliers.

On the two lane highways you go through a lot of small towns. Here is one, I don’t remember the name but they are all similar. The county building and the square around it. Many of the smaller towns are mostly dead, all of the old mom and pop businesses are closed and boarded up. This town is doing pretty well.

Oil wells everywhere, still pumping.

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Every town has its claim to fame

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Spent a night at Possum Kingdom Lake State Park. At the entrance. the ranger said “Just go on down and pick out a campsite, leave a cooler or something to save it, then come back up and register with me.”  Chicago people will know there’s only one way to save your spot.

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It’s very nice, right on the lake. I can hear the tiny waves lapping at the shore all night.

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From Possum Kingdom I drive to Allen TX north of Dallas. I’m visiting my friend Jim, recently of IBM.  It’s strange as we have worked together probably 15 years but have only met maybe once in person. Jim immediately makes me feel at home, and we make an attempt at installing some 30mm spacers on the Land Cruiser rear springs. After loading all of my gear the truck sits mostly level, I would like to get an extra inch of clearance in the rear. I’m having trouble getting the rear up high enough to drop out the springs so in the interest of safety we call it a day and go inside to the AC and cold beer and watch some baseball. Jim and his lovely wife Liz make me feel right at home and it’s great to relax in their home as Jim cooks some excellent steaks on the grill. Next day, after a great omelet for breakfast, I am off to Waco.

There are a ton of Monarch butterflies around, it must be the winter migration

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Morning on the Brazos River outside Waco

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I mentioned to Kelsey I was on Waco, she said I had to visit Magnolia Farms, the store of the HGTV Fixer Upper people (and buy her something). This place is crazy, on a Monday morning I have to park three blocks away. It’s filled with women looking for knickknacks, the few men in attendance have the same look as guys accompanying their wives/girlfriends to a big sale at the shoe store. The place is huge and they are adding on to it even as we speak. There is also conveniently a cupcake/muffin bakery in the complex.

I went with a blueberry crumble muffin, it was very good.

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The other thing that Waco is famous for is Dr Pepper, it was invented here in the early 1900s and now hosts the Dr Pepper museum.  They have uncovered the original well which supplied the water to make Dr Pepper as well as all the bottle washing (they switched to city water in the 1930s)

On my way out of Waco, I’m going around a corner and see a huge smoky barbecue with a tiny old man tending it. The smell is incredible so I whip right into the 1.5 car parking lot of Ma and Pa’s BBQ Shack and go inside for the lunch special. Chopped beef with a cold Dr Pepper, it doesn’t get much better than this. My only complaint is the bread, they serve it up with a plain slice of white bread. I’m missing  Sheffield’s jalapeno corn bread.

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Visited Austin and the state capitol. Very nice with a big park all around with statues and monuments.

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On to San Antonio. I visit a couple of the famous missions, Mission San Jose and Mission Concepcion.

I stay a few days at an AirBnB place in the NW burbs, a relaxing break from driving and camping.

I really liked the San Antonio river walk, here on a Friday afternoon but I bet it is jumping on the weekend nights.

Visited the Alamo

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Then east to Spring TX to spend the weekend with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Another relaxing weekend, they take me out to a Brazilian steakhouse (one more thing off the bucket list) and Old Spring which is packed with quirky little stores. It looks like the Pirate/Steampunk store is having some kind of event and there are a bunch of people walking around in interesting outfits.

Heading west I jump on I-10 for the long haul west to LA. Stopped in Balmorhea TX, nice campground with roadrunners everywhere and a giant  pool fed by natural springs

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They are hard to catch on camera. here is one jumping up on my tailgate

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Caught a baby roadrunner perched on the dumpster

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New Mexico

First night in New Mexico I arrived late to Gallup NM and stayed in a motel on Historic Route 66. Got some great chiles rellenos at a little cafe in town.

Continuing on to Albuquerque, first thing is a Breaking Bad tour.

The Dog House was the site of several meetings in both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

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It’s a Wiener’s Circle type place, seems to be very popular. Their specialty is the foot long chili cheese dog, charred not boiled. It was very tasty.

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The A-1 car wash

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The White house. I feel sorry for the lady who lives here now, there are bars on all the windows and doors, big fence, security cameras and signs all over. You can see her sitting in the garage ready to chase off sightseers. I guess people are constantly trying to throw a pizza onto the garage roof.

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Hiked around Petroglyph National Monument. These images date back 400-700 years.

and toured the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, which also appeared in a Breaking Bad episode.

On the left is The Gadget, first plutonium bomb detonated at the Trinity Site in Alamogordo NM, to the right Fat Man and Little Boy which were detonated over Japan.

Atomic cannon

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You could get one of these science kits for your kid back in the 1950s

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Continuing east toward Texas, the grave of Billy the Kid at the old Fort Sumner cemetery. This headstone was added in 1931 and has been stolen and recovered several times since.

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Arizona

Sorry, I got a little ahead of myself in the last post. Kingman is actually part of Arizona not Nevada.

Continuing along in Arizona I booked two nights in the Grand Canyon campground. It’s the first National Park I’ve stayed in so far that was not almost completely full, I guess summer is over. After setting up camp and relaxing for a bit there is a huge crashing right behind me in the trees. There are two huge elk looking for food. They use their antlers to hook onto branches up over their head then pull them down to the ground where they can chew on them. These guys are really big, you can see the full size dumpster in the background for scale.

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I drive over to the Visitor Center (which conveniently closed 3 minutes before I arrived) and walk along the Rim Trail enjoying the view

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Found a nice spot on the rocks off the trail and watched the sun set over the canyon

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I’m thinking about doing the Bright Angel Trail down to the river and back up the next day. This is the one that they have signs all over the park warning you not to attempt in a single day, but the weather forecast looks good, 97 and partly cloudy at the bottom and mid 70s at the top, and I really need to work off that Sam’s Town buffet. I figure I will go down to the last water stop at Indian Gardens and see how it looks from there. Since they don’t want you to try to hike to the river they don’t show how far it is or the elevation change.  I set out bright and early at 7:00 down the trail. Early on I meet a bunch of people coming up, they came from the North Rim down to the river and back up the South Rim. Today is their fourth and final day on the trail.

A snake crossing the trail, first one I have seen so far.

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Maybe 3 miles down or so. It’s great just scooting along down hill.

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I get to Indian Gardens, 4.5 miles from the rim in about 2 hours. Finally there is a map that shows 3.1 miles from here to the river. It’s only 9:00 so I figure I have plenty of time no matter how slow it is going back up. I fill up 2 liters of water and set out for the river.

This section is the corkscrew, not a lot of switchbacks just a giant spiral down into the canyon.

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Almost there

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I reached the river at 10:00, 3 hours and 7.6 miles down from the rim. It feels great to kick off my boots and wade in the Colorado River, but you can only go out 8 feet or so because of the current.

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A rafting group pulls in and sets up lunch while I’m resting and enjoying the view. It turns out that almost all of the people walking down to the river with me are joining the rafting trip midway through. The rafts started the full trip 6 days ago and they have 8 more days to go. The biggest rapids are supposed to be downstream from here. That is definitely the way to go, walk down then raft out. One thing I didn’t realize is that only the guide has two big oars for steering, everybody else is just a passenger.

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After 45 minutes at the river I have to face the long slog back up. It is 2000′ back up the corkscrew to Indian Gardens and with the sun out it is slow going. A lot of rest and drinking stops, by the time I get to Indian Gardens two hours later I have gone through almost all of the 2 liters I started with. Hung out there drinking water and relaxing in the shade for awhile then continued toward the top. From here there is water every 1.5 miles. After an hour or so the clouds turn dark and it starts to rain. It’s nice to get cool but I only have a pack cover, no poncho, so I have to huddle under a rock overhang until the worst of the storm passes over.

The storm hitting the North Rim

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Finally nearing the top, I can see the railings on the overlooks. Not many people out due to the rain. Made it back to the start of the trail at 5:00, so 10 hours to go 15.2 miles round trip, 5000′ down and back up. I think I drank at least 7 liters of water along the way.

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Leaving Grand Canyon on the way to Page

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Horseshoe Bend outside Page AZ. Fun to sit on the edge of the cliff and take in the view

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A short detour into Utah, camping on the beach in Glen Canyon. I have cleverly framed this picture so you can’t see the 300 RVs, campers, and tents going all the way down the beach. It’s the weekend and this is a popular spot.

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I wanted to hike Antelope Canyon but it’s Labor Day weekend and all of the tours are booked until Tuesday. Instead I set off across Navajo country towards New Mexico.

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Nevada

Shortly after leaving Death Valley behind and entering Nevada, Google suddenly wants me to turn off the highway onto a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. Instead of just blindly following it and crashing to my death off a cliff or something I stop to check, and sure enough Google is right on the money. This road past an abandoned airstrip cuts out about 12 miles of highway driving, and after about 3 miles turns out onto the highway to Las Vegas so I continue on.

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I got a cheap hotel for the weekend at the HoJo’s on Tropicana, a couple blocks off the strip past the MGM and Hooters. First night it’s Friday night in Vegas, so of course I spend the evening in bed with the AC blasting, all of my stuff plugged into actual power outlets, a long hot shower, and catching up on some TV. After awhile I run out a grab a pizza and lie in bed eating pizza and watching the last few episodes of the Deadliest Catch season. Next day the Vegas excitement continues (at a somewhat late hour after staying up late the previous night) as I make my way to Henderson and do some shopping at REI, get a haircut, and pick up some groceries.  On the way back I stopped at the Pinball Hall of Fame, it’s just a warehouse with a bunch of pinball and video games lined up in rows. They do have a card on each giving the date it was manufactured but that’s about it.

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I visited the Neon Museum, a lot of fun. It’s a guided tour which takes over an hour; our guide knew the detailed history of all of the signs and had many stories about the history of Las Vegas. Halfway through the tour the sun set and they turned on the lights, making for a great show. Most of the signs are not in working condition, they’re just lit by spotlights.

Made one trip up the strip to the Bellagio fountain and back. No gambling, the only money the casinos got from me was through their restaurants. Instead of eating dinner I just snacked my way down the strip.

I was waiting for my forwarded mail to catch up with me and needed to spend one more day in Vegas so I went east of the strip to Sam’s Town on the Boulder Highway. I saw on some billboards that they are having a Killers extravaganza at the end of the month for the 10 year anniversary of the Sam’s Town album and figured why not. Being a Monday the room was quite inexpensive and came with two vouchers for the buffet. This place is huge, in good shape if a little tacky, and has everything: the aforementioned buffet, 8 movie theaters, bowling alley, pool, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Panda Express, Dunkin Donuts, and of course all the usual gambling stuff.

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Another relaxing day, first off to the pool to cool off, then to the movie theater to catch Jason Bourne, then the enormous buffet for dinner. Being a Monday I think I’m the youngest person here. Someone in the buffet line actually called me “young fella.” Wandered through the casino but still no gambling. I don’t get slot machines at all…they did away with money and the slot part, then the giant handle. Nowadays you just swipe a card and press a button or two and see what happens.

After picking up my mail I’m off to Kingman. A lot of old Route 66 stuff along here. Every gas station, restaurant, and store is playing Elvis music.

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I’m looking for a campground around Kingman. There are 2 right in town but checking the reviews shows a lively debate on the first whether the drug users have been chased out yet or not (consensus says yes but it’s still a pit), and the second says that the cockroaches mostly stay hidden during the day but at night they are all over everything. I end up going to a county campground outside town, 12 miles up at the top of Hualapai Mountain. A nice place with lots of big pine trees and deer and elk wandering around. The campsite across from mine is lined off with police tape but I’m pretty sure it’s because of water erosion across the middle and not that the previous occupants were murdered in their tents.

Northern California

The first stop in California is at Redwood National/State Park, the first of two redwood parks.

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A short detour along the ocean before getting into the big redwoods. It’s foggy, windy, and cold today.

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Both parks seem to claim the biggest redwood, this one is over 21 feet in diameter and over 300 feet tall.

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Further south in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which has the Avenue of the Giants that everyone remembers. Some nice hikes through the redwood groves, then I turn off onto the road to the campground. It’s narrow and twists around and through the redwoods.

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I always feel special when they put my name on the campsite. This spot is really nice, surrounded by redwoods.

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Back along with coast to Ft Bragg before heading inland. Still cold and foggy.

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I’m heading east toward Yosemite, I managed to get campground reservations for a Sunday and Monday. Weekends are impossible, I think they all book up on Jan 1 every year. So I have a few days to make my way across California. First stop is the Kelsey Creek campground just outside of Kelseyville CA. as I move inland the temp starts to rise. It was 54 degrees this morning on the beach but as I pull into Kelsey Creek it hits 100. But, as they always say, it’s a dry heat. Not too bad if you can find some shade and once the sun nears the horizon it’s very nice.

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There is a lake next to the campground, perfect for beating the 100 degree heat.

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Next off to Acorn Lake campground for the weekend. It’s a BLM campground on a man made lake, actually a water reservoir. Since there has been such sever drought in California what should be a lakeside campsite is a couple hundred feet above the lake. The lake is perfect temperature for swimming, which is good as it’s still close to 100 degrees in the afternoons. In the evening herds of deer come out of the trees and rocks to graze along the lake, at one point I counted 32. In the morning there are wild turkeys and geese grazing in the same spot. This is definitely a local place, I am the only one without CA license plates. Two ladies stop by to see the tent and ask how someone for Florida ended up here.

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Finally I arrive at Yosemite and set out on the valley rim hike. It’s late in the summer and they have not had much rain so all of the famous water features have dried up. Here is beautiful Mirror Lake, just under Half Dome. It’s just a puddle now not even knee deep.

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Continuing the hike along the valley rim, Lower Yosemite Falls. There is actually some water coming down at the very top, but it’s about like a garden hose turned halfway on.

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On the way out of the valley back to the campground I stop and look at El Capitan. It’s amazing in size and sheerness, despite the picture you have to crane your neck to look at the top. I get out my binoculars and watch a couple of climbers on the wall, about 300′ from the top. You can’t even seem them without binoculars.

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Next morning I drive back into the valley from my campground near the west park entrance. It’s a little hazy, but nice view of El Capitan and Half Dome together on the way in.

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I’m hiking the Four Mile Trail today, which is actually 4.8 miles of switchbacks going 3200′ up the valley wall to Glacier Point. There are so many trees in the valley it’s hard to get a good view but once I get up the trail near the top it is great.

Looking up the valley with El Capitan on the right.

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It is really steep, right here you can look straight down to the valley floor 3200′ below.

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At the end of the hike, Glacier Point. Half Dome on the right, North Dome on the left. A great place to sit, rest, and look around although it is mobbed by tourists who drove up here rather than hiked. If you drive I think it’s a 40 or 50 mile detour from the valley.

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On the way down I realize there is also a great view of the full length of Yosemite Falls, both Upper and Lower. Too bad it’s turned off.

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For reference this is what it’s supposed to look like from here

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The 9.6 miles/6400′ round trip ended up taking 3 hours up and 1:45 down.

Second night I could only get a hike in tent site so out comes the $12 Walmart tent

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Third day leaving Yosemite out the east entrance into the Owens Valley.

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I spend 3 days going down the Owens Valley, it’s very scenic and uncrowded. Although hot on the valley floor there are tons of National Forest campgrounds up against the Eastern Sierra mountains.  First night at North Lake campground outside Bishop, it was actually a little cold up at 9500′ but a very nice spot right on Bishop Creek.

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Gray’s Meadows outside Independence, a little lower elevation with great views and another campsite right on a creek. I was the only one in the campground.

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Stars were really out that night

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A deer came by to visit in the morning.

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Manzanar Historic site on the way to Lone Pine. This is one of 10 camps where thousands of Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. It has some very good displays and mock ups showing what life was like back then.

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Third night in the Owens Valley in Lone Pine campground at the foot of Mt Whitney (14505′ highest in the lower 48 states). It was almost 7 years to the day that I did the day hike to the summit, that is still one of the hardest I have done. 22 miles round trip, 6000′ up and then back down in 16 hours.  Nice spot to sit and watch the mountains in different conditions.

In the morning I set off across Death Valley on the way to fabulous Las Vegas NV.

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Oregon

Continuing on the 101 into Oregon, the highway finally runs directly along the coast. I drive through the beach town of Seaside and it’s packed, not a single parking spot within a mile of the beach. It’s Saturday afternoon and everybody is out on the beach. It seems a little strange to me as it’s so foggy you can’t even see the ocean from the top of the beach and the temp is about 63, but it’s crowded like Oak Street Beach on the 4th of July.

This little turnaround is the end of Main Street and the start of the beach. The ocean is right out there somewhere. Main Street in Seaside is like Coney Island, bumper cars, coney dogs, Tshirt shops, all the usual stuff.

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The fog lifts a little as the day goes on but it’s still in the low 60s. Finally some scenic ocean views, it’s like this most of the way down the coast. Slow going as I have to stop at all of the overlooks and get out to look at the ocean.

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I make it down to Tillamook, home of the Tillamook cheese factory, I called ahead and there is a campground about 10 miles up in the hills with a couple of tent sites open. Also made some online reservations for Oregon state parks the next couple of days, in each park it was almost the last site open. Most of the other state parks were completely full.

Started off the morning with a tour of the cheese factory. There is not much to see, on one side they make the cheese in giant vats then the 40 pound blocks are wrapped and sent off to the warehouse to age. When they are old enough they come back down to the other side where they are cut into blocks of different sizes, packaged, and boxed up. Had some samples and bought some cheese in the factory store and I was on my way.

It’s sunnier today but still cold on the beach, upper 50s in the morning. Despite all of the campgrounds being full and all of the No Vacancy signs at every hotel, at most of these beaches along the highway I’m the only person walking around.

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Cape Kiwanda at lunchtime.  I’m not sure how cold the water is but the surfers are wearing full wet suits with hoods. Everyone else is just tailgating on the beach. It’s pretty cool that you can just drive your car up to the edge of the water and set up your picnic stuff.

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There is a lighthouse at Yaquina Head with great views of the coast. I climb up the trail to the top of the bluff behind the lighthouse, the sun is out but the wind is really blowing. On one side of the switchbacks I’m leaning into the wind, then being blown along by the wind on the other side. From the top I can see some sea lions enjoying the sun.

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The scenery is always changing, as is the weather. The sand dunes below are much larger than they appear in the picture

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Camp for tonight is in Tugman State Park, a very nice spot about 1/2 mile inland. Since I have a full service site with power and water I decide to wash the mud and bugs off the Land Cruiser. It took about an hour or so using a wash basin, rag, and towel but I managed to get it pretty clean doing one section at a time. All of the Dalton Highway mud is finally out of the door jambs and tailgate.

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As I’m sitting there enjoying a cold drink and admiring the shining paint, a couple of guys from the campsite across the road stop in to look at the rooftop tent and they invite me over after dinner to join their families at their campfire for coffee and dessert. They have two RVs set up for the week and they are well prepared. As soon as I walk over they pull out a plate of brownies and get a card game started. I’ve never said no to a brownie so we’re off to a good start. The card game is Phase 10, I have never heard of it but it’s sort of a cross between rummy and Uno. The brownies are followed by a huge blackberry cobbler (blackberries grow along the road everywhere here, if you want some just pull over to the side and fill up a bucket. Glen grabbed a bucket this morning and made the cobbler this afternoon in the RV) then chocolate zucchini bread and finally blueberry muffins. The card game goes on until almost midnight then they send me on my way with a big package of desserts to tide me through the next day. It’s great to meet such friendly people. They seem to be having such a great time out camping with several generations of their family: Glen is coming up on his 75th birthday next week (it’s past by now, Happy Birthday Glen if you are out there) and his lovely wife, Dave his nephew along with his lovely wife, Glen’s daughter Katie and Katie’s daughter Brailey who is about 13.

In the morning the sun is completely out but still chilly, it may have made it up to the mid 60s at one point. Lots of places to see along the coast.

I think this was called Whaleshead but it looks like a full whale to me.

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At another Oregon state park, Harris Beach. This campground is right at the top of the beach. It has a very nice sand beach then rocky tidal pools off to the side. You can wade through the tidal pools and see all sorts of anemones, urchins, and starfish. It’s so hot out today, 66, that people are going into the water almost up to their knees.

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Washington

Crossed back into the US at Sumas WA on the way to Glacier and Mt Baker. There are some great hiking trails around Mt Baker but all of the campgrounds in the National Park were full with no private campgrounds anywhere around the outside of the park. Took the Mt Baker highway almost to the end, getting a few glimpses of Mt Baker along the way, then turned around and drove back out. I ended up at a KOA near Burlington by the 5 freeway. I’ve been spoiled in Canada and Alaska just being able to show up anywhere and find a camping spot. It’s nearing the end of summer and I guess everyone is out for that last camping trip before school starts.

Next day I jump on the 5 and battle traffic for hours all the way from north of Seattle, thru Tacoma, and down to Olympia. It takes some getting used to; for the last three weeks I’ve hardly seen a stop light.There are some terrible drivers here, three times somebody driving along in the far left lane suddenly realized that their exit was passing and just cut across three lanes of traffic and onto the very end of the exit. Then when I stopped for lunch south of Seattle somebody sitting in the left turn lane decided that they really needed to make a right turn, when the light changed they floored it across the two thru lanes and the right turn lane to make the right.

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With a sigh of relief I exit the 5 going west toward the coast. My plan is to take the 101 highway all the way down the coast to California, which looks like it will take some work finding last minute places to stay along the way. For today I stop at a little county campground near Montesano WA about 20 miles inland. There are a couple of women at the next campsite, one from Kodiak AK the other from Brazil, old friends out camping for the weekend. They invite me to join them at their camp fire. They have a cooler full of Rainier beer and they are worried it will get warm before they can finish it off. I pitch in and help out but despite our best efforts there are still a couple of warm ones at the end of the night.

Next morning I leave for the coast, but the 101 in Washington does not follow the coast very closely.Can’t see much of the ocean until I get to the Columbia River (border between WA and OR). The bridge over the Columbia River:

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This spot on the WA side of the river is where Lewis and Clark ended their famous expedition. They were quite excited that they had finally made it to the ocean, I wonder how long that lasted before somebody pointed out that now they had to paddle all the way back? They camped here for a couple of weeks then switched to the other side of the river and built a fort, where they spent the winter before starting the return trip.