All posts by cerchie1

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Pam and I departed the roasting Phoenix valley in mid-July for our fifth summer trek this year, adding another chapter in the P&D Earthroamer Adventures logbook. We had a late start this year due to our youngest son getting married, but it was worth the wait.

After four years of road trips we’ve found that campground reservations are only required for Friday and Saturday nights during the summer. Any other day and there will usually be one spot, except for the more popular National Parks, where you really need a reservation if you really want to stay.

We decided to head north, get to higher elevations and out of the heat. I made one campsite reservation this year the week before we left home. I found one open spot at Cedar Breaks National Monument for the Friday after we planned to depart and took it (there are some first-come spots, but we didn’t know how early we would arrive). I figured we would roll the dice for the rest of the summer and see what happens.

The monsoons had arrived in Arizona, and the forest on our way to Flagstaff was a vibrant green. This was great to see since we didn’t have a very good snow year this past winter. The forest was extremely dry and closed to camping prior to the monsoons. We stopped at Bonito Campground in Sunset Crater National Monument for our first night in the Roamer. I fired up our volcano grill, cooked our first meal and we had a nice campfire in the cool 7,000-foot air near Flagstaff.

We continued north on Hwy 89 and then onto 89A heading towards the Vermillion Cliffs. We crossed the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry where all the Grand Canyon river trips load up and depart. We saw a couple of boats heading out as we watched from a few hundred feet above the river. While the river water is cold, the folks on the boats must roast in the triple digit heat on the river this time of year.

We turned south at Jacob’s Lake and headed towards the Grand Canyon. The north rim of the canyon is about 1000 feet higher in elevation relative to the south rim, and therefore cooler. As we entered the park we passed a heard of bison grazing on one of the many beautiful meadows that line the road to the north rim.

There were some good-looking bison and a lot of calves among the herd. They are not native to the area and seem to know exactly where the Park boundaries are that keep them safe from hunters. They are displacing the native deer and elk populations but thinning or moving the herds is very political.

The Grand Canyon is always a sight to behold. The scale is just mind-boggling, and the canyon stretches as far as you can see to both the east and west.

The patio of the north rim lodge was nearly empty but is always standing room only near sunset and into the night.

We didn’t camp within the park this time. We have a favorite dispersed camping spot just north of the park in the national forest along FS611. The road, and the camping spots, run right along the ridge.

From the east facing ridge you see the Vermillion Cliffs on your left and the entrance of the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon on the right. It’s also at about 8,000 feet so a cool air temperature compliments this majestic view.

I broke out the Volcano grill and made dinner but was disappointed with the results. I use a Weber charcoal grill at home and the uncovered Volcano grill did not yield the grilling perfection I wanted. The dinner was good, just not great. I needed a remedy, or this trip was going to be mediocre with just good dinners. The view made up for the shortfall in cooking.

We jumped into Utah and headed to a BLM campground we discovered last year near the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Ponderosa Grove campground. It was a nice stop and we watched the evening rains fall all around us but missing our campground.

The following day we climbed up to Cedar Breaks National Monument, which sits at about 10,700 feet. The white, red and orange colors of the rock formations are just spectacular.

We did a couple hikes around the lip of the monument. On one side there was a small group of bristlecone pine trees, some of the oldest trees in the world. They have so much character in how and where they grow, and their needle boughs are so thick and soft.

The hike around to the other side of the monument gives a better view down into the gorgeous rock canyons. A few years back we cross-country skied from Brianhead to here in the winter, where all the rocks were snow capped for an entirely different look.

We even spotted a new bird (lifer) along the hike, a Cassin’s Finch. Our new camera allows us to catch a good shot and identify the bird later at the campsite with the help of an adult beverage, or two.

The night we were there was the night of the lunar eclipse on the other side of the world. However, even though not eclipsed, the moon rose golden colored and beautiful.

Our next stop – Great Basin National Park.

Whitewater Draw

With the Christmas season over and our holiday company returned home, it was time for a Roamer trip. I signed us up for an Arizona Antelope Foundation (AAF) volunteer project near Ajo in southern AZ. It was in a remote area, which made the trip even more enticing.

Pronghorn, or the American antelope, are the fastest land animal in North America, but will not jump a fence like a deer. They will slide underneath, if possible. Otherwise, their range is bounded by the barbed-wire fencing through the west. Therefore, nearly all of the AAF projects are to replace miles of existing barbed-wire fencing with a smooth lower wire to increase the pronghorn range.

This particular project was a collaboration between AAF, AZ Game and Fish and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) to fence in and protect a water tank (pond – when water is present) from wild burros and errant cows. They foul the water because they relieve themselves wherever they stand, which tends to be in the water on hot days. The wildlife in the area that depend on these tanks will not use them if fouled. The fence we erected had a lower smooth wire for the pronghorn to slide underneath and a smooth upper wire for mule deer to leap over. The middle two wires were barbed.

The AAF folks were great to work with and now we are AAF members looking forward to the next project, which will probably be lower wire replacement on an existing fence line.

From Ajo we headed east across Arizona to just south of Elfrida, AZ and the Whitewater Draw. The significance of this area is that is the wintering grounds for many Sand Hill Cranes. Thousands of cranes were there this year.

The other reason to go there was to test out our newest acquisition. After traveling for a few years now we finally broke down and bought a nice camera, the Nikon Coolpix P900. Still a point and shoot, but much better than our phone cameras.

The Sand Hill Crane is a four-foot bird that spends the night at the draw, and feeds in the nearby farm fields all day.

They leave in huge flock with a great noise just before dawn and return in the afternoon just before sunset.

It’s a remote area, but there are a few camp spots there. We luckily got the last one upon our arrival.

The moon was nearly full while we were there. Our new camera does a great job capturing the moon. The zoom is so great that the toughest part is holding it still enough during the finger push to capture the shot.

Pam is the birder of our family. She would point them out and I tried to get a picture. This was a male Vermilion Flycatcher. Slowly we’re learning how to capture the entire bird, not most of it, with a crisp focus.

These two are a male and female Pyrrhuloxia.

This is a Northern Shrike with its striking pattern.

In the water, there was a Northern Shoveler. This was one of the few photos I could get with it not foraging for food in the water with its but in the air.

I was able to catch this Northern Pintail during the end of a nice morning bath.

This American Wigeon couple was enjoying a meal along the shore banks.

This Killdeer was taking a moment to reflect – lol.

And of course, to keep all these birds in line, there were a few birds of prey, like this hawk.

This juvenile Cooper’s hawk had a future meal in the brush in his sights.

As the sun set, the Great Horned Owl began his nightly hunt.

Stay tuned as we learn how to use this camera. Hopefully our blog photos will improve.

The night before we headed home, we shared dinner with Ward, a fellow traveler there to see the birds. He suggested we stop at the Amerind Foundation Museum near Dragoon, AZ. The museum is hidden in the beautiful Dragoon foothills, and was once a horse ranch before becoming a museum. It’s definitely worth the stop if you are in the area.

We took the back way home from southern AZ. North Cascabel Road runs from Benson to Mammoth along the San Pedro River on the eastern side of the Mt. Lemmon.

It was a pretty drive with a lot of huge, impressive saguaros to see along the way.

There was even an amazing field of cholla cactus that I’m glad we didn’t have to walk through.

The road meets up with Hwy 77 into Superior and from there we took US60 home. The dirt road sections in Cochise and Pinal Counties were well maintained and enjoyable to drive on through the towns and ranches along the way. However, the short section of road crossing into Pima County was horrible and obviously not maintained. The nine-mile extreme washboard road section was the only negative aspect of the drive home. I wonder if the Roamer comes with a road grader option?


While the blog posts have been about our adventures on the road in the Roamer, the desire to travel after retirement was fueled by our great family vacations even when we were both working and the kids were in school. Even now we still get together as a family for an adventure once a year.

We had company coming in for the Christmas holiday so the four of us took off for the big Island of Hawaii earlier in December. The boys had never been there, and Pam and I had not been there since our honeymoon nearly 33 years ago.
If you go to the big Island you have to see Volcano National Park, so we found a VRBO in Volcano, HI to rent for the week. The place was just outside of the park and about 4,000 feet in altitude. It does snow on the Island since Mauna Kea reaches up to 13,800 feet at its peak.

It didn’t snow on us, but it was cold at night and the wood burning stove was a necessity.

Volcano National Park is a pretty cool place if you like beautiful volcanic landscapes. This is one of the huge calderas located in the park. The floor of the caldera, where we hiked across, was once lava that took sixteen years to cool enough to cross.

Thurston Lave tube is a volcanic cave where the outer lava cooled and the inner lava flowed away, leaving the 10 foot diameter tube that you can hike through.

Outside the tube and around the caldera is lush vegetation.

One of the calderas is still active and at night you can watch the lava explode inside the center. Because the ground near the lip is very unstable, you have to enjoy this from some distance. One Ranger told us of a time in the past when you could go out the edge and luckily a group of visitors were pulled back just before a 20 acre chunk of earth fell into the molten caldera.

The lava finds its way from the active calderas to the ocean, reshaping the island and creating new landscape.

There are two types of lava, A’a and Pahoehoe. A’a is the rock mound type of lava. It moves as a wall of rocks, creeping along it set path. Pahoehoe is the more liquid flowing rock that looks very much like the top of brownies when it stops and cools. Lava was not flowing into the ocean when we were there, but there is a constant battle between lava and the ocean as the island tries to grow.

We didn’t expect to find petroglyphs in the lava, but we came across these in the park left by some ancient Hawaiians.

Hilo was the closest city to where we were staying. We toured the city one day and its beautiful parks.

And of course there was a waterfall too.

We drove up Mauna Kea as far as our rental car agreement allowed, about 9,000 of the 13,800 climb – lol. The last few miles require four wheel drive to get up and great brakes to descend safely. The panoramic view out over the island was nice from up there.

We also visited Waipi’o Valley on the northeast side of the island. You can see the Maui on the horizon from this point. We hiked the 25% grade road down to the beach and back up. Tough hike but the beach was nice and we had lunch there for an enjoyable afternoon.

On the southern side of the Island, we hiked out to the Papakolea Green Sand Beach. There was some serious erosion where folks have been driving out to the beach. You needed a vehicle with some ground clearance which our rental car did not have. The Roamer would not have fit these roads.

The two mile hike made swimming at the green sand beach that much more refreshing. We caught a return ride in the back of a local’s pickup truck.

At the southern most point of the US, and Hawaii, is a 20-foot cliff to the deep blue ocean. There was also a tidal blow hole that Tom and Taylor swam into, mostly carried by the wave currents. One lady there looked down, saw them in the hole and asked, “Where is your Mom?”. Pam answered, “I’m right here – and they’re fine”.

We also visited Lava Tree State Monument. This is where lava had flowed through a forest, wrapped around the trees, cooled and then the tree burnt leaving a hollow vertical column of lava.

One day we drove to the southeastern side of the island, rented bikes for the three mile ride to the end of the road and hike across a lava field to an active lava flow.

After about a mile into the hike the ground was getting noticeably hotter. When we looked down in the cracks in the rocks it became obvious why it was warmer.

Pam turned around at this point, but the boys and I continued until we got right next to the above ground flowing lava coming down the hill and making its way to the ocean.

On the western side of the island is the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. This place was the royal grounds for the ancient Hawaiian families and also the place of refuge. Nearly all crimes had a death penalty, but if you made it to the place of refuge before you were caught then you were spared. You lived with the priest there until he said you were absolved, and could then rejoin the outside world.

Further up the west coast of the island we stopped at a beach Kaloko-Honokohua National Historical Park. We shared the beach there with some sea turtles basking in the afternoon sun.

This was another great trip with the boys.


Even after our Roamer service was completed in Colorado the rig just didn’t have the same performance as before. So we took it back to the Ford dealer in the valley after we arrived home. I had a good chat with the mechanic, changed out a couple parts, got a data logger attached to capture any engine events and we took off north to see if it was finally fixed.

Our first stop was Orme to discuss our next rebuild project.

One of the larger ranch homes was vacant and in need of a serious upgrade. As one of the few three bedroom, two bathroom houses, it really needs to be brought back to life and should be a good project. It needs nearly everything: windows, doors, cabinets, counters, and new bathrooms… so it will keep us busy. We took dimensions and discussed what would be needed to make this place a beautiful home again.

Because the issues with the truck were related to high altitude and cold conditions we continued to climb up to Flagstaff and headed to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. If you are not familiar with the area, Flagstaff was once a huge volcano field, where some of the more eye-catching buildings in town are made from volcanic rock. Sunset Crater, northeast of Flagstaff, has many of the cinder cones from past volcanoes and beautiful lava fields to hike through.

The cinder cones and lava fields line up with the San Francisco Peaks. It too was once a huge volcano that blew ages ago. Humphreys Peak, the tallest, tops at 12,633 feet. You can see from the mountain shape how big the original volcano must have been before it erupted, possibly rivaling Denali in height.

Just north of Sunset Crater is Wupatki National Monument. Wupatki is a collection of ancient Pueblo communities that existed on the land just north of Flagstaff. It is located at the southern border of the Navajo Nation that encompasses the north-east quarter of the state of Arizona, and some of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

The excavated remains of the ancient communities include the buildings, gathering places and even game courts.

The stone construction is very impressive, where some of these dwellings are built on rock ledges overlooking canyons.

We’ve camped at the campground in Sunset Crater before, but it was closed this time of year. We have also dispersed camped just south of here near Walnut Canyon, but we wanted a new place. There is dispersed camping on the west side of Hyw 89 across from Sunset Crater, but this is typically a crowded area due to its popularity. We ended up finding a new place near Wupatki on Forest Service (or maybe Babbitt ranch) land in the cinder fields off the park road before you reach Hwy 89. It was a great place to watch the full moon rise and light up the evening skies. We’ll definitely use this new place again.

The next morning we continued our exploration of the Wupatki ruins. The colors of the ruins and the morning sky were just stunning.

The sky always seems a little bluer when you’re above 7,000 feet. Then again it could be my mind playing tricks due to the lack of oxygen – lol.

Our sticker collection has now covered the entire inside of the lid and is two or three layers deep in some areas. …but more are needed. It will be done when we run out of new places to visit.

The Roamer passed the checkout test and is ready for extended travels again. We also just received a letter from Ford that extended the warranty of the items replaced. We will get a refund for the most recent work since it was already changed out on our truck. Nice.

The Front Range

We left our Roamer at the EarthRoamer factory in Dacono, CO to get its yearly camper tune-up and some paint touch-up for the areas that were starting to show some oxidation along the top corners of the camper. We are always trying new routes in and out of Arizona on our trips. Because we had a rental truck that could move right along, we took I-40 into New Mexico and then shot up Hwy 491 from Gallup. Rather than go through Shiprock, we turned onto Indian Service Rd 5 to cut over to Farmington. The scenery along this road was unique.

Just outside Farmington there were acres and acres of pumpkins ripening for the Halloween season. We then crossed into Colorado and gained some altitude. We stopped for the night in Pagosa Springs, hitting up our favorite brewery there for a nice dinner and some beers – Riff Raff Brewing Co. The drive along Hwy 160 was beautiful with fall colors out in force.

Looking out over Wolf Creek Pass was gorgeous. You just had to watch out for the many ground squirrels that inhabit the rest stop there.

There was a miscommunication on the scope of the paint job, and since it was going to take a week or so more to fix, we had some time to explore the Colorado Front Range. We drove south to Colorado Springs to visit a childhood friend of Pam’s, Lisa, and her husband, Gary, who live there. We did several hikes around the area, including the Garden of the Gods, which is an interesting rock outcropping.

We saw about a dozen sheep in the rocks, where this guy was doing a nice pose for the camera.

We also drove up to the top of Pike’s Peak, elevation 14,115 feet. While it was a nice fall day down in Colorado Springs, it was near or below freezing with a stiff breeze at the top of the mountain. The view was fantastic and we even saw the cog train that drives up and down the mountain if you don’t want to drive yourself.

We also visited a friend who owns a couple of great book stores in Colorado Springs before we headed back north. We spent the remainder of the time in Loveland, CO with Jim and Alison. Typical for the area it was beautiful fall weather, and then the next day the temp dropped 30 degrees and it snowed. The next day it warmed back up and the snow was gone – for now.

We kept busy doing hikes and visiting breweries during the week while Jim and Alison worked. We met up with another high school classmate of Pam’s at the Breckenridge Brewery in the southern Denver area. They have some tasty beers.

One of the nicer hikes we did was along Devil’s Backbone, just outside Loveland. It was a beautiful day and we ran across a small Prairie rattlesnake on the trail. He was trying to catch the last of the fall sun and got a little upset when I moved him off the trail and back into the brush. He probably slithered back into the sun after we left – lol.

Another great hike in the Loveland area is through the Benson Sculpture Park. It a public park in town that holds a “Sculpture in the Park” event every August, where the proceeds from the event help to purchase another permanent sculpture. It has been ongoing since 1984 and there are now over 130 sculptures in the park. We may have to make it back to Loveland in August one of these years to see the event.

We finally got the Roamer back and headed south towards home. Typically we jump over the front range and take Hwy 285 back to Arizona. However, the Ford dealer said we should break the new turbo-charger in slowly so we headed down the front range to Walsenburg and made our way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The dunes are about 600 feet high and we got there in the late afternoon when the shadows on the dunes are the best.

The local elevation is about 8,000 feet so it was brisk in the evening this time of year, perfect for a campfire. We grabbed a spot at the campground there and had a great evening looking at the stars. The sunset was beautiful and we had a neighborhood full of deer in the morning.

We dropped south from there into New Mexico and made our way to one of our favorite camp spots, El Morro National Monument. It was our second time there this year and luckily we were able to grab one of the last spots for the night. It was interesting to see how much the sunset location shifted on the horizon with the passage of the summer.

El Morro’s elevation is just over 7,000 feet, so it too was a nice evening for a campfire before heading home to end this trip.

On the way home the next day we stopped in our cabin for lunch and to catch up with our neighbor. The Forest Service was conducting a prescribed burn for the area to clean out the low grass and brush in the ponderosa forest around our place. They have been more proactive in keeping the fire danger down since the huge fire more than a decade ago that took out over 500,000 acres of forest in the area. However, the year of the fire, the forest was so dry it was a matter of when, not if, it was going to occur.

We arrived home safe and sound with the Roamer to complete our fourth summer trip. While it may be remembered for the maintenance issues we spent more time visiting friends and family for longer periods of time and seeing new places, which is never a bad thing.


This summer’s trip has been one full of maintenance issues. Most folks we talked with also had mechanical problems this year. Maybe like wine there are good and bad years, and 2017 is a bad truck year – lol.
As we made our way south towards Colorado, our turbo-charger blew. With the much more limited power we limped down the front range and found a large parking lot to let the rush hour folks drive home at maximum speed. After waiting an hour we left the parking lot, but the truck became a white smoke generating machine when we started down the road again. Now with no power and creating a cloud behind us, we pulled over into another parking lot and called for a tow truck.

The towing process was a good learning experience for us, having never towed the Roamer before. The tow truck that showed up later that night was too small to tow the Roamer so we sent him away and spent the night in Freddy’s Steakburger parking lot in Loveland, CO. It won’t make our top camp spots list.

The next morning we discussed our situation with the Denver Ford service center, EarthRoamer, AAA and a tow company that had a medium duty tow vehicle. A lowboy trailer is recommended for EarthRoamers for long distances, and due to its height to safely make it under overpasses. However, you can disconnect the driveshaft and use a regular medium duty tow truck if just towing for shorter distances, less than 100 miles.

This was good news for us because we’ve been camped in places when both of us have looked at each other and wondered how a lowboy would ever get back to anywhere near where we were if the truck broke down. Now we know towing it is not as restrictive, but hopefully it’s not something we’ll need often.

We were on our way to the EarthRoamer factory for our rig’s yearly service. The blown turbo-charger meant we had two days to kill while it was being fixed at the Ford service center before it would get its yearly camper tune-up. Without the roamer we were just normal travelers so we booked a couple of nights at the The Niwot Inn. It’s a cute B&B in Niwot, a transitioning farm community along the rail line between Longmont and Boulder.

We met up for dinner with my cousin’s son Matt, who works in the Denver area. We ordered the meat platter at Avery Brewery. We saw the smoker when we walked in so we had to try it. The food was really good and beers were even better while we caught up with Matt and updated news of our relatives back east.

After we got a new turbo-charger and exhaust filter, which sucked up the oil once the turbo-charger blew and produced the smoke show, we took it to the EarthRoamer factory for the yearly tune-up and some new paint to fix the oxidation on the top corners after 4 years on the road. This work was going to take a couple of weeks to complete so we took our rental (F-150 4×4 truck) and headed west to Fruita, CO.

We stopped on the way in Vail, CO for lunch. Neither of us had been there before. It was a lot smaller than I envisioned, more like a ski resort than a ski town. The food and scenery were good, but we jumped in the truck and continued onto Fruita.

Fruita is where our EarthRoaming friends Lou and Nancy recently bought a place. It’s a nice small town just outside Grand Junction, CO, where most folks know each other and the place is surrounded by great off-road and mountain biking trails.

It’s a town that likes the arts, where sculptures line the main street. This is a sculpture of Mike, the famous Fruita rooster that lived for days after his head was removed. I guess if he had a brain he would have known he was dead.

They also have a couple of breweries in town. Here was our selection from the Copper Club. All were good beers. Pam and Nancy even helped to harvest some hops that this brewery uses at a local friend’s farm.

While Moab-like mountain biking is the main draw for the area, we checked out some great hiking areas. This was just outside of town, overlooking the Fruita valley. It was before the western fire’s smoke blew in and turned the normal blue sky to a yellow haze at the end of our stay. The smoke wasn’t heavy in Fruita, but it was noticeable.

We also hiked Rabbit Valley, a beautiful canyon area along the Colorado–Utah border off Interstate 70.

There were hieroglyphs on the canyon walls from the folks that lived there many years ago. The canyon ends at the Colorado River and water flows through the canyon most of the year.

The Colorado National Monument is on the outskirts of Frutia so we had to visit. The canyons there were much grander in scale compared to Rabbit Valley and gorgeous.

We did a couple of hikes within the monument, but could have done many more.

With time to kill waiting for the Roamer, we decided to drive home and catch-up on things there since we had been gone since June. Being in western Colorado we shot down Hwy 128 to Moab, which is a breath-taking drive if you have never gone on that road before. We then jumped onto Hwy 191 and headed south into the Navajo Nation.

We stopped in the Comb Ridge Bistro for a great lunch in Bluff, Utah. The small restaurant had great food and some interesting art for sale.

We hit a monstrous wind / dust storm going through Chinle, AZ on the reservation. We were glad we had a rental and not sand-blasting the Roamer with a new paint job.

We stopped at our cabin on the Rim to enjoy the cool air one more night before dropping back down into the 100- degree valley. Once the peanut feeder in our side yard was replenished it did not take long for the jays and squirrels to find the food.

While the west coast and northwest had a horrible forest fire year, the northern Arizona forests looked a lush green with full ponds of water from the winter snows and summer rains.

We got back into the valley and our planned stay was extended due to delays with the Roamer. While at home we caught the Diamondbacks game when they clinched the wildcard slot, a really good game.

Sadly we also attended the funeral service for Brian, who lost his fight with cancer. Pam’s brother and sister flew in for the service of their childhood friend so we had a chance to catch-up with both. Having the rental pick-up turned out to be handy. We sold our F-150 truck years ago, but having one again was rather nice.

Next trip is back to Colorado to pick up the Roamer.


We entered the northeast corner of Wyoming and stopped to camp at Belle Fourche River Campground in the Devils Tower National Monument. The igneous rock formation is nearly 900 feet from base to the top. We spotted a couple of climbers on the top from our campsite. It’s definitely one of the unique structures in nature. How it formed is still being discussed, a volcanic plug being the most accepted. That the rock cooled into the geometric strands is what is interesting to see up close.

We left Devils Tower and made our way to Buffalo, WY, where I took the blacksmithing class during last year’s trip. In Gillette, WY we ran into a young guy who was doing a live webcast travel blog as we pulled into the gas station. I think he was a little excited seeing an Earthroamer because he kept telling me how awesome our vehicle is. It’s good to see others out on the road and experiencing this beautiful country.

We stopped in Buffalo to say high to my instructor and his wife. It was David’s B-day so we stayed for a great shrimp boil and some Rainier Beer (had to if you’re a Longmire fan). Buffalo is the city Durant, WY is based upon for the Longmire books and TV show. Another student blacksmith from Portland had just finished his class and was discussing which of his two new forged hammers he was sleeping with that night – it’s a blacksmith thing.

We stayed the night at the Mountain View Campground. In the morning we jumped over the Bighorn Mountains and made our way to Thermopolis for a nice afternoon soak in the hot springs.
We then made our way to the Wind River Valley near Crowheart, WY where friends own some gorgeous land along the river.

Bert and Leigh retired from the cattle business in Wisconsin, but keep some longhorns on their land as pets now.

We gathered there with friends and family of Bert and Leigh to watch the eclipse. Their place was right on the center of the totality path. One group of photographers had an impressive collection of equipment, including a quad-rotor drone with a camera.

We weren’t sure what to expect with the eclipse. I tried to shoot photos through my eclipse glasses during the transition, but that didn’t work.

We parked ourselves in one of the pastures and watched the sunlight and heat slowly go away over the hour during the transition from this….

To this…..

Because we were on the centerline we saw the totality for about 2 minutes and 20 seconds. It was very awesome, and at the same time somewhat eerie, to watch the sun disappear.

The light through the trees showed the partial coverage transition period and the crescent shape made from the sun and moon. It was amazing how after the totality that less than 1% of sunlight was again too much light to see up without glasses. I guess that is what made the totality so unique – the daylight was gone.

We stayed at Bert and Leigh’s for a few days after the eclipse. I helped Bert with a few chores and got to drive his dump truck while he picked up a few wood piles around his place that had been recently cut.
We also explored the area. We drove up Whiskey Mountain and found some petroglyphs.

And the view from near the top was beautiful. We hiked the trail at the base of the glacier-formed valley from the parking lot you can see in the photo. The largest glacier field in the lower 48 states in on the far mountain tops, covering 100s of square miles still.

The trail ran up to a series of lakes and a nice river that was cascading down the cracks in the rocks.

The views in the area were incredible.

Bert drove his truck up the adjacent hillside and the drive was a lot of fun.

The next day we did a short trip to Jackson, WY, passing the Tetons on the way.

If you have never been to Jackson, they have a town square with these huge antler entryways at each corner.

Dubois, WY, which is the next town upstream from Bert and Leigh’s place, has the National Bighorn Sheep Center. It has some great displays of the bighorn sheep from all over the world, including the four found in the US: Stone’s sheep, Desert Bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, and Dall’s sheep – from left to right.

We took another day trip with Bert and Leigh over Union Pass, which tops out at about 9,200 feet. We drove over the pass and had a nice lunch and some good beer at the Wind River Brewing Co. in Pinedale.

We took the South Pass way back and had to stop at Farson Mercantile for the huge ice cream cones. We also drove through the mining ghost towns of South Pass City and Atlantic City.

The last two days at Bert and Leigh’s two moose decided to have breakfast on some local trees. The larger bull moose was impressive in size. The smaller bull moose must have been learning the ropes from his older grazing buddy.

It was a great time there, but we left Wyoming and headed south for Colorado and our yearly trip to the Earthroamer factory for some needed tune-up to our rig.

North Dakota

Having never been in North Dakota, neither of us knew what to expect. From watching Fargo we envisioned crazed folks with wood chippers and a snow blown country all year long. Therefore, we took the bypass around Fargo (lol) to get to our first stop. We camped at Jorgens Hollow Campground in the Sheyenne National Grasslands. It was a beautiful spot and the campground was new, free and nearly empty. Two other campsites were occupied: one by a couple that could be the wood chipper kind of folk, and another couple from Seattle who pulled out an accordion and played in the evening campfire – a first for us.

It was nice to finally bust out of the tree-clogged highways we have been traveling in east of the Mississippi River and in northern Minnesota to once again get to some gorgeous wide open spaces across North Dakota. We took the back roads across the state and saw some interesting things, like this farm implement display on the horizon – “harvesters in waiting”.

What totally surprised us along our drive was that one of the biggest export crops grown in North Dakota is sunflowers. We’ve never seen acres and acres of sunflower plants before. What an amazing sight.

We made our way to the southern unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The geology was a cross between the Badlands and the Painted Desert, very beautiful. The campground was full in the southern unit mostly because it was right next to a freeway and easily accessed. The Ranger said the northern unit, about 60 miles north, was never full so we went there instead to camp at Juniper Campground.

The northern unit was wrapped around the Little Missouri River and while similar to the southern unit, it was greener from the river. Also the bison in the park were very plentiful.

Pam and I went for an evening stroll to a nearby rock formation. In the evening dusk we were surprised by the bats heading out for an evening meal from their roost in the thin cracks in the rock wall.

We explored the park the next day and found some gorgeous overlooks down the river valley.

The bison are pretty happy just grazing around the park. Here was a huge bull just lounging by the road.

We left North Dakota with a new appreciation for the beauty of the state and headed into South Dakota. There was something of note on our map that was kind of off the beaten path so we had to take it. The road out there was fun to drive through the ranches of northwest South Dakota.

What was out there was the geographical center of the US (including Alaska and Hawaii). It’s marked with a lone US flag and a US Geological marker in the huge field.

After feeling very centered, we headed into Wyoming and our next adventure.


Our travels three years ago took us through Minnesota on our way to the UP of Michigan and points further east. We camped only once in Minnesota during that trip along the St Croix River, which we thought would be a very good place to revisit on a future trip.

This visit to Minnesota had several objectives rather than being just a pass-through state as before, most importantly to attend Sarah and Doug’s wedding.

We continued up the Mississippi River from Iowa to Red Wing, MN where we stopped at a Duluth Clothing Store outlet, next to the Red Wing Shoe Store, two of my favorite places. It was a nice day when we went inside, but the rain was blowing by the window horizontally when we went to leave. It was an unexpected cloud burst that was reminiscent of an Arizona monsoon in its intensity and duration. Ten minutes later is was a nice day again.

We camped the night at St Croix Bluffs Regional Park, just SW of Minneapolis on the St Croix River, so we could run some errands around town the next day. We had the oil changed on the truck and did some needed shopping. Aveda was started in this area so Pam got her hair cut for the wedding. Although, I didn’t mind the wild and wavy look she had going every morning.

We camped the next couple of days a few miles north of Stillwater, MN on the St Croix River at William O’Brian State Park. The park had a nice hiking trail along the river and through the park.

Our camp spot was nice too, even though we weren’t there very long due to errands and meeting up with folks. We met up with one of Pam’s high school classmates and her future husband for dinner at their place. The steaks, corn and beer were great. Greg had a high-temp steak searing attachment to his grill that made me envious.

We crossed the river one day into Wisconsin to check out the falls at Willow River State Park. It was a nice lunch spot and 4 mile hike to the falls and back.

The wedding of Clark and Jill’s daughter was beautiful, performed in the old Catholic church in Stillwater. You can see the steeple of the church in this picture reaching above the trees. We explored the area prior to wedding and found that Stillwater was the territorial capitol of Minnesota in its early days and a booming logging community. Picture the entire St Croix River jammed with the white pine logs that flowed down these shores.

We could have just camped in the riverfront parking lots, but we parked in the driveway of the VRBO house other Phoenix friends had rented in town for the wedding. That worked out better since we were supplied with food, beverages and campfire wood for some enjoyable meals and evening fires.

In the “it’s a small world” story category we talked with Clark’s niece and her husband at the brunch the day after the wedding. Turns out we had also talked to them at the campground in Fairbanks, Alaska two years ago when we were both camped there. We didn’t know it at the time that they were related to Clark, but they recognized the Roamer at the wedding and then we both realized we had met. Small World.

We camped at Rice Creek Campground, just north of Minneapolis after the wedding festivities were over and folks began to head home. The next morning we met up with Kirk, who flew in from Phoenix and we all headed for International Fall, MN. There we crossed over to Ft Francis, Ontario to get a CANPASS, which would allow us to cross into Canada over water and not at a regular border patrol station. Our Global Entry cards, which we both just recently obtained, allowed us to do the same to get back into the US.

We needed the CANPASS because we met up with Kathy and David and boated to their island on the Canadian side of Rainy Lake. The island has been in her family since the 1930s and is just north of Nowhere Island, so it really is “north of nowhere”.

We kayaked around the many islands in the area. It was good to be on the water and away from the mosquitoes, which were ever-present.

Kathy and David have two miniature schnauzers. Zoey discovered minnows in the shallows. It was tough to get her back onto the kayak after that new discovery.

We celebrated Pam’s birthday while on the island with a cake that Kathy baked using wild blueberries from the island to spell out “happy b-day”. As you can see by the candles she is now 8 and some.

David and Kathy had “fish taco night” with some cousins just before we arrived, using fresh caught bass and walleye from the lake. He attempted to land some more for another taco night, but only caught several northern pike during our stay.

There was a lot to see on the islands. Hidden in a back bay of one island was a nice beaver lodge. While I like beavers, all of the folks I’ve run into that had beavers on their property tell of the rapid and total destruction they do to the local trees to build their projects and eat. Maybe there are trainable beavers out there somewhere.

The lake was glacier formed and the remaining granite rock varies in depth along the lake. The water is dark due to its mineral content so the rocks appear from the depths much quicker than boaters would like. The prop refurbishing guy has a full time job in the summer on Rainy Lake. Here was one such rock outcropping that broke the surface this time of year marked with a prop and shaft.

There is also a rock outcropping that some artist back in the 1930s took bent steel rods, props and cement to create Mermaid Rock. There are also many stories that go along with the mermaid that only the locals can tell.

After leaving Rainy Lake, we headed into Voyageurs National Park for a brief visit because you really need a boat the truly appreciate the park. The visitor center was very good, and I was amazed how far snow mobiles have come from this vintage 1964 Arctic Cat.

As we headed out of Minnesota on our way to the North Dakota grasslands, we stopped for lunch at Itasca State Park. It is a beautiful park with great trails and lakes, and unknown to us when we stopped, Lake Itasca – the headwaters of the Mississippi River. From here the Mississippi River flows 2552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

Our stay in Minnesota was awesome and we hope to return.

The Midwest

We left Pennsylvania and headed west through West Virginia into southern Ohio. We camped at Stroud’s Run State Park, had a nice campfire and relaxed in the near empty campground. What we have learned in our travels is that you only really need to make reservations for Friday and Saturday night, unless you are going to a National Park. There is always going to be an opening for mid-week camping, even in the summertime.

We were intrigued by the National Road exhibit at Fort Necessity and decided to turn north and drive on the historic route as far as we could. We reconnected with Route 40 in Zanesville, OH, which also has a Zane Grey Museum. Although the museum was named for Zane Grey it housed three distinct topics under the one roof. It had a section dedicated to its famous hometown boy Zane Grey, but also had nice exhibits on the National Road and the local Ohio pottery.

The section on the National Road has some very interesting dioramas that depict the history of the road from the initial clearing of the forests, to the toll houses being set to recover some of the cost for its upkeep, and the towns that popped up to provide the travelers moving west with whatever they needed.

They had a Calistoga wagon there, which was the 18-wheeler of its time. In the glass case were the horse’s harnesses that had the brass bells on top. While looking ornamental, they actually had an important function of being used to pay for repairs along the way due to the price of brass. It’s where the saying “I’ll be there with bells on” came from – meaning a good trip where you didn’t need any repairs.

Being from Arizona, we wondered what this area had to do with Zane Grey. Turns out he was born in Zanesville, where his mother was a Zane, and the town was named after her great-grandfather, a Revolutionary War patriot. His name was Pearl Zane Grey, which he shortened to P. Zane Grey and then to just Zane Grey. He had a baseball scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania and may have turned pro if it had not been for Cy Young. Due to Cy Young they moved the pitcher’s mound back 10 feet and Zane’s curve ball was rendered unless. Instead he started as a dentist, following his father, but then left that to become the writer we all know today. His wife, Dolly, had a lot to do with his success and was there to pick him up from his failures.

As we drove north to Zanesville we passed through Roseville and other small towns noted for their pottery, including Stoneware. The National Road made it possible for these goods to be shipped back to the east and even overseas, which lead to the pottery’s fame. Many of the local brands were there to admire.

Heading west on Route 40 is a great drive. It parallels I-70 for those that want to get there faster, but the National Road passes through some beautiful farms dominated by corn and soybeans.

In Dayton we met up with a grade school friend of mine that I had not seen since 6th grade, Carmen. We were Homeacre Elementary School grads, where our 1st through 4th grade class had seven boys and 23 girls. We both still remembered the square dancing and plays we had in Ms Raisley’s 4th grade class – lol.

We camped at Buck Creek State Park, a campground we had stayed at on our previous trip through this area 3 years ago. As we were enjoying our evening campfire, a boy came over and warned us of the raccoons. Sure enough, a raccoon came right out of the woods not too long after and tried to climb our stairs into the Roamer before scurrying off back into the woods.

The next day we stopped at the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm for a nice lunch break and a hike. The farm had a lot of animals including a pair of beautiful Belgium draft horses and this curious pig.

The hike was through a densely forested area with water everywhere. We both miss the western vegetation where you can actually see what’s on the ground and in any direction for more than 30 feet. Everything in the East seems to be too overgrown for our outdoor adventure liking.

We camped the night at Whitewater Memorial State Park, our first camp spot in Indiana! We picked out a spot in a quiet loop. Two families showed up later with seven kids between 1 and 12. We had fun watching the bike races, training wheels included, around our loop into the night.

We ran some errands in Indianapolis the next day that also included a stop at a local REI store, getting a tip on a great place to camp for the night, Shades State Park in western Indiana. However, it was Saturday night and the park was full, so we’ll have to hit that one the next time we drive through these parts. We continued westward into Illinois and ended up camping at Kickapoo State Recreational Area.

We continued on the National Road to Springfield, Illinois and the home of Abraham Lincoln. He and Mary Lincoln raised their 3 boys there prior to leaving for Washington, DC and the White House. It was originally a smaller single story home that grew with his successful law practice and the family to its current size.

We crossed the Mississippi River again heading west into Iowa and camped the night at Wakonda State Park. We had a nice spot next to the pond that we shared with 4 Canada geese and some evening bats that were graciously reducing the local mosquito population.

Much of the drive was through corn fields, where the advantage we have with the Roamer is that you are sitting up high enough to see over the mature stalks.

As we were driving up through the farms along the Mississippi River in Iowa we spotted a sign that pointed the way to the “Field of Dreams Movie Set” – had to stop. The house, field and even the corn was exactly as it was in the movie. It was a little spooky walking out deep into the cornfield .

We camped the night at Pike Peak State Park, which was right on the hills overlooking the river. We hiked a trail along the bluff to get a good view, but there were too many trees blocking the vista. Pam slipped on the vegetation clogged trail and landed on a rock to produce a beautiful multi-colored bruise below her knee for the upcoming wedding. Luckily the colors went well with her dress.

The next day we hiked Effigy Mounds National Monument. The trails were much better and the overlook actually did provide a beautiful view of the Mississippi River Valley.

The mounds were similar to the burial mounds we saw along the Natchez Trace Trail in Mississippi earlier in this trip. Here they covered the bluffs overlooking the river and were in recognizable shapes when seen from above, this one being the Great Bear Mound.

We crossed into Minnesota and the next part of our trip.