2019 Wyoming

We left the Denver area and went to another one of our favorite places, Sugarloaf campground in the Snowy Mountain range in southern Wyoming, just west of Laramie. The campground is at approximately 11,000 feet and the vegetation there is in the boreal forest to arctic tundra zone.

The area has a rugged beauty, with its small pines, colorful ground cover, granite rock and snow-melt lakes and ponds.

We knew we couldn’t stay here long with the first winter storm just a couple of days away. It was windy and cold, but clear, crisp and vibrant with colors. These are the places where the milky way is so huge and clear at night that you can really enjoy its beauty.

The next morning a very fast-moving fog bank, or clouds at this altitude, whipped across the peaks just above our heads, swirling and morphing in cloud shapes that were huge before dissipating on the mountain’s downslope to the east. At first, I thought the storm had arrived early and we were in for an interesting day, but as the sun rose further the cloud bank disappeared producing a clear blue-sky morning.

Pam and I went on a hike to explore the lakes and mountains in the area. There was still snow on the ground and in the mountains from last winter. The campground is typically under feet of snow until late July and then closes again at the end of September, so there is a short window of time each year to enjoy this magical place.

We saw three moose here the last time we stopped last year. We carried bear spray on our hike because they too are here. We did see a pika in the rocks that then came over to investigate the strangers to its territory. They are a cute tail-less, short-eared cousin of the rabbit that sounds like a squeak toy when they call.

We thought we hiked eight to ten miles, but afterwards we realized we had only covered about half of that distance where the altitude or lack of oxygen was causing most of the fatigue.

We joked that not only do we have favorite campgrounds we now have favorite spots within the campgrounds. It’s, “our spot is open”, or “someone is in our spot!”, when we roll into the campgrounds now – lol.

With a couple of days to kill until our next scheduled stop, we decided to head to Thermopolis, WY and warm up in the hot springs there. We camped at the Lower Wind River Campground in Boysen State Park at the mouth of the Wind River Gorge. The gorge is an optical illusion. You would swear that you are driving up a significant hill to Thermopolis until you look at the river beside the road and its flowing towards Thermopolis.

We enjoyed a couple of days warming our bones in the hot springs, doing a little laundry and sampling the beers at the One-Eyed Buffalo brewery in town.

While we were at the campground a lady pulled up in her car and asked, “Where are the animals?” I said that it’s Wyoming so they are everywhere. In fact, Pronghorn, or the American Antelope outnumber people in Wyoming. You always see small Pronghorn herds in the Wyoming fields. She clarified that, “No, the sign where I pulled in had a warning to look out for bighorn sheep.” About this time you realize the type of person you are dealing with and tell her they are all hiding – lol.

Last year Pam picked out a “birding” camera that has an amazing zoom capability. If you look at the picture below there is a golden colored field near the center of the picture in the mountain range beyond the more visible rock range next to the campsite. The field is about a mile away and after the wildlife lady left unsatisfied, I scanned the area for bighorn, but saw something else on the far mountain range.

The picture below is from the same spot as above, but now zoomed into the golden colored field on the far mountain. Pretty impressive, with magnification better than our binoculars. It zoomed in even further so I could count the points on the bull elk near the top of the field, but the view gets a little grainy at that point and it’s very difficult to hold on an image without a tripod.

The news made the advancing winter storm sound like the end of times so we decided to shorten the distance we would have to travel the next day (after the end of times – lol) to Burt and Leigh’s place. We stopped in Lander, WY to visit the Museum of the American West, which was very interesting. I was reading the book, “Journal of a Trapper” by Osborne Russell during the first part of our trip. The book was the actual journal he kept of his life as a beaver trapper in the west during the 1830s. It was a great book to read as we were covering the same area on our travels he was writing about, seeing the same places he described nearly two hundred years ago. Once a year between 1825 and 1840, the era of the beaver trade, the mountain men got together at “The Rendezvous”, and several of the gatherings were held in the Lander, WY area.

We left the museum and picked a new spot in the foothills outside of Lander we had driven by before but not camped at, Popo Agie Campground along the Popo Agie River. The Popo Agie River is interesting that it disappears into a crevasse in the rocks as it flows towards Lander and then reappears out of the ground about a mile away. There are some huge fish-hatchery-sized trout that swim up the stream and are stopped where it reappears out of the ground, but you are not allowed to fish there.

The clouds were descending and the storm about to start as we were getting settled into our site.

Pam then got a note from Leigh to see what time we would be there for dinner that night….. Apparently, we got our dates mixed up. We broke camp and drove the short distance to Crowheart, WY. As we made our way there, the front of the storm hit us, but it was clearly not an end of times storm.

Burt and Leigh have a great place along the Wind River. Their pet longhorns were out to greet us as we arrived.

Pam and Leigh had attended the same high school and two other alumni were guests there when we arrived. We had a great dinner and visit with everyone.

The storm was still drizzling the next day and the two visitors wanted to get on their way, but the washes on the drive to the highway were a concern due to the low clearance of their car. We loaded their car onto one of Burt’s trailers and he hitched it to his tractor.

While the Roamer had no issue with the road, I doubt their car would have made it across the two washes to get to the highway. It easily made it on the trailer being pulled by the tractor.

Burt saves a project that requires two folks for when I arrive, but due to the weather we couldn’t get to this year’s project. We did grind, pound and weld a piece on the trailer that needed fixing, so it wasn’t a total loss of a day in the rain.

2019 Colorado

As we continued north, we decided to drive to the Great Sand Dunes to camp for the night. However, when we arrived at the dunes the park campground was full. There is another campground down the road at the San Luis State Wildlife Area that was barely occupied so we stayed there for the night.

The next morning, we went back to the Great Sand Dunes National Park to hike around. The mountain runoff river that runs between the dunes and the visitor center was dry this time of year, giving access to the dunes. The 30 square miles of dunes reach up 800 feet at its maximum height but are dwarfed by the 14,000 foot Sangre de Christo mountain range to the north.

Pam and I have hiked several dunes during out travels and it always better to see them in early morning so you can see the tracks of the nighttime wildlife. We saw this mule deer track in the sand, and following the tracks, the deer was still in sight at the edge of the vegetation leading into the mountains.

After our sandy adventure, we drove just a little further north on HWY 285 to one of our favorite campsites, Ruby Mountain campground at the headwaters of the Arkansas River. We drove by a cluster of four mountain sheep along the dirt road leading to the campground. The three adults jumped the fence and came over to say hi.

The smallest sheep couldn’t figure out how to get over the fence while the three adults visited with us in the Roamer. We drove off before the agitated small one did something stupid along the barbed wire fencing and hurt itself. I saw in the rearview mirror that it did jump the fence and join the adults as they made their way into the nearby hills.

The campground was a rarely used spot back in 2014 when we first discovered it on our first summer trek. You showed up, picked a spot at this first-come first-served campground, filled out an envelope, paid and relaxed in near total seclusion.

The surrounding area was then made into a National Monument with jeep and ATV trails into the hills beyond the campground. The campground itself got a huge face-lift with beautiful boulders lining the camp spots in the campground. The boat launch then became one of the busiest rafting launch points for busloads of folks wanting a little rafting whitewater from here down to Salida, CO.

The camp host recognized our rig from a couple of years ago when we pulled in this time. I asked which spots should we take and he said, “Do you have a reservation?”…… what! All campgrounds in Colorado now require online reservations.

After a few years of camping you accumulate accounts on nearly every camping reservation site. I had just made our reservations with the Colorado State Park folks for our upcoming stay in Denver, so I called them back and luckily scored a spot at Ruby Mountain for us for the next two days.

One of the things we wanted to do during this trip was to stop into Fruita, CO and visit with Lou and Nancy. Before leaving on the trip Lou and I traded e-mails that looked like meeting up with them going north or then south on our projected itinerary was not going to be easy due to business trips he had planned and weekend outings he and Nancy had already planned with other friends.

The last time we were at Ruby Mountain was with Lou and Nancy, since it’s one of their favorite spots too. I took a shot of our camp spot and texted it to Lou with the message, “guess where we are?” Less than 10 minutes later Lou and Nancy pulled into the campground in their FJ pulling a camping trailer they had rented for the weekend. They had reservations at the campground for the next two nights at the camp spot next to us. What are the chances?

We had a nice visit with Lou and Nancy, and always enjoy our time together in the outdoors. (Although, Fruita is a pretty cool town and a good place to live or visit.) We didn’t do any fishing due to the stiff wind, but we did do some hikes into the hills where you look onto the Collegiate Range. The Collegiate mountain range has nine peaks over 14,000 feet with names that include: Mt Harvard, Mt Princeton, Mt Yale, Mt Oxford and Mt Columbia.

Lou and Nancy headed back to Fruita and although we wanted to stay there 3 nights, we could only get a reservation for two since it was fully booked. Therefore, I booked at another campground in the headwaters area for the final night. However, our host buddy knew our desire to stay so he said that someone with a reservation that was too late to cancel asked him to find someone to use it, which we did. We stayed there a third night before heading to Denver.

Another goal of this trip was to get a new set of tires in Denver, and to get a leaky rim on one of the tires fixed. We left Ruby Mountain and headed up HWY 285 into Golden, CO. There is a pizza place called Woody’s that is always worth a stop. Golden, typically a quiet little town, was packed with traffic when we arrived on a Sunday afternoon. The only place to park the Roamer was the Coors tour parking lot, seriously.

We took the tour, which was interesting and included a few beers. Coors now makes a few “Colorado Native” beers that are only available in Colorado. We picked up a sample case and the beers are good. They had a lot more flavor than Coors or the yellow water called Coors Light.

We camped at St Vrain State Park due to its proximity to the tire place. The Earthroamer facility farms out their tire work to a place down the street, or freeway in this case. The guys at BestDrive Commercial Tires did a great job installing new tires and ensuring no leaks in the split rims. They removed the external weights on the rims and balanced them instead with the ceramic beads inside the tires. Not sure which method works better. Both have their pluses and minuses. It would be nice to use both and get all the advantages, but I expect there’s a good change you would get all the bad issues combined. We’ll see how the beads work out for the next 20,000 miles with these new tires.

Sometimes when we get to a camp spot, we’ll find something left behind from a previous camper. At St Vrain I’m not sure if this little guy was left behind or if he is the camp spot guard. Nothing bad happened while we were camped there so I’m going with awesome guard.

Nice job little man.

2019 Summer Trek North

Once you have the travel bug and feel comfortable living on the road away from your house and the things that are in it, it doesn’t take long to want to hit the road again after you get “home”. Our neighbor saw me packing up the Roamer again for a trip and I told him “Pam said take me to Montana”. He laughed and said that he has been waiting for his wife to say that his whole life – lol.

We started this year’s trek, Summer Trek #6 for those counting, with a trip to Prescott, Arizona with our friends Clark and Jill. They had never been to the Palace Bar in Prescott where a few scenes from the movie “Junior Bonner” were shot so it was a good excuse for a trip launching spot.

We camped outside of town at Yavapai Campground, which used to be way outside of town, but Prescott has really grown over the last decade. Now the campground is just a short walk from homes and new development.

We hiked around Watson Lake Park on the north side of town. The rock formations around the lake make for an interesting hike.

The trail circles the lake and drops into a valley that was lush with vegetation and a creek full of floating color.

The area is a big recreational area where you can rent kayaks and paddle around the lake. We may have to add that to the list of things to do for another fun weekend.

We headed over to downtown Prescott and the Palace Bar that night for dinner and some drinks. The bar is located on the historic Whiskey Row in Prescott and has been open since 1877. It has a beautiful hand-carved bar, and when a fire broke out in downtown Prescott in the early 1900s the patrons ran in and saved the bar from damage.

Our next stop with Clark and Jill was just a little further north in Cottonwood, AZ, camping at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The park got its name from the ranch that used to own the land the park now sits upon. The ranch got its name in the 1940s from the family that bought the land after looking at several plots of land for a ranch. They chose this land due to its surrounding beauty and location on the Verde River, but was remembered from their searching due to the fact it had a dead horse on it, and so the name stuck, Dead Horse Ranch.

We toured several of the local wineries in Page, AZ. We ended up at the Javelina Leap Winery at a shady picinic table where we played corn toss and drank some of the wine we purchased. By the time we left, the tasting room was closed, the staff had left and the sun had set. A good day.

Clark and Jill took off the next day back to the Phoenix valley while Pam and I took a stroll around the several ponds within the park. The last time we were at the park we saw river otters in the pods that were as big as beavers. The ranger said they made the short walk from the Verde River to the ponds and since the ponds are stocked they decided to stay. We didn’t see them this time, but they could have been sleeping off another good feast of stocked fish – lol.

The day we left home we were waiting on our tire pressure guage to be returned from a shop in town since one of our tires has had a leak in the rim seal and needs a daily top-off of air. It’s a pain to have to check and fill the one tire daily, but with the rig’s onboard air compressor it’s not impossible, just annoying. One of the reasons for this trip, besides going to Montana, was to get new set of tires and possibly a new rim for the one tire to eliminate this issue.

However, in our haste to make up time when the tire pressure guage arrived we left town and later realized that we had a forgetten several items needed for the trip. Most importantly we forgot the entire freezer full of meats that we had prepared for our dinners on the road. So after leaving Cottonwood we headed back down into the valley, picked up the missing items and headed on our way north.

Our first stop outside of Arizona was one of our favorite trip launching spots, El Morro National Monument in western New Mexico. We camped there for the night, amazed by the Milky Way which is very clear so far away from cities, and did the hike over and around the sandstone outcropping.

Since our last visit there in the spring, a lot of work has been done at the park. The trail was now a beautiful stone edged pathway and the ruins were in the process of further excavation. They estimate that roughly 600 ancient Puebloans lived here from 1275 to 1350 AD in the 300 room pueblo. A group of young Native Americans from the local area were doing the work. It looked really nice. In fact, we noticed that a lot of the national parks and monuments we have visited are doing more rebuilding and much needed maintenance work in the last year or so.

The hike at El Morro takes you across the top of the rock promontory of sandstone. It’s a beautiful hike with a great view of the local area. It’s also interesting to hike past the inscriptions in the rock where Spanish explorers in 1605 to the American settlers in the wagon trains heading west in 1858 have recored their names and phrases in the soft rock. The pool of water at the base of the rock was the only year-around water source in the area and the reason for the many early visitors.

It always has a beautiful sunset looking at the rock from the camping area.

The next day we had intended to head to Bandelier National Monument outside of Los Alamos, NM, but discovered that the campground was closed for the week due to road resurfacing within the park. Instead we headed to the Rancho de Chimayo restaurant for some great New Mexican food with prickly pear lemonade to figure out a new destination.

After a great meal, and a lot of the day left, we decided to find a place in the northern New Mexico forests or cross into Colorado and camp near the Great Sand Dunes in south-central Colorado. We jumped into the Roamer and continued north.

Fremantle

Fremantle is the port city for Perth. Perth’s downtown district is about 10 miles up the Swan River from Fremantle. It seemed appropriate that our trip end here since it started here with our ferry ride over to Rottnest Island five weeks before.

Fremantle is a bustling place with shipping businesses, colleges, restaurants, museums and no place to park. We got there later in the day, so we luckily found a parking place near our B&B just as the hourly parking ended for the day and folks were heading home.

We walked down to the waterfront and had a nice dinner at a brewery overlooking the harbor as the sun set.

Our departure the next day was 11PM so we had all day to explore before heading to the airport. Our first stop was the Western Australia Maritime Museum. Their temporary exhibit was all on sharks, which seemed appropriate for Australia.

They had a lot of interesting shark exhibits and it seems sharks are going extinct because of the huge Chinese market for a male aphrodisiac, shark fin soup. A lot of exotic animals are going extinct due to this market. It was horrifying to see how many sharks were killed each year just for a fin.

One of the more interesting items was the shark’s cage from the movie “Jaws”. It was constructed smaller than the normal cage next to it to make the shark appear much larger. It worked. I still won’t go into the ocean at night after watching that movie when it first came out.

The rest of the Maritime Museum had a lot of the sea-faring history of the region.

They also had the Australia II and the America’s Cup, where in 1983 the Royal Perth Yacht Club became the first non-American winner of the cup since its inception in 1870. In part the win was attributed to the unique keel design that began the racing ship technology development frenzy.

We also visited the Western Australia Shipwreck Museum, which was fascinating. He is a picture of a recovered shipwreck with the “ballast” it had stowed, an entire stone entryway.

The museum had many items that have been recovered from the shipwreck along the Western Australia coastline. Many of the wrecks were Dutch East India Company ships that sailed these shores from 1602 until 1800.

The museum had coins, pottery, tools and stories of the ships that met their fate along the coastline.

After our museum exploring, Pam and I drove on the wrong side of the road one last time to the Perth Airport, completing the third and final leg of our Western Australia adventure. What a great trip.

Wave Rock

Now it was nearly time to get back to Perth and catch our flight home. We decided to take a more direct inland route back to Perth with one more stop on the way back. Leaving Esperance, we traveled the same route until a little town of Ravensthorpe, where we turned inland. We had stopped at Ravensthorpe on the way to Esperance for gas and a bite to eat at a good restaurant in the town of 500 folks. We decided to eat there again on our way back.

If you have ever ordered a hamburger in Australia it comes with a pickled beet and sometimes a fried egg. I’m not a beet fan. I had a great fried chicken sandwich there on the way to Esperance but this time I felt like a burger. I ordered a burger, no beet with melted cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise and our waitress looked at me stunned. She wasn’t sure her husband, the cook, would do such a strange order – lol. He did and it tasted great. I think he agreed to do it because Pam likes the pickled beets and ordered a burger with a beet so he must have concluded that only half of the foreigners are weird.

We stopped for the night at Wave Rock, which like its name indicates is a rock that looks like a wave – a really, really big wave.

If you add a few people into the shot, you get a better appreciation of the size of the 45-foot tall wave.

There are other interesting rock formations there too, like Hippo Yawn rock.

From on top of the wave rock formation you can look out and see for quite a distance given the relatively flat terrain in the area.

As is true everywhere, water is critical and small redirection dams were built at the top of the wave to capture rainwater in a reservoir next to the rock formation. The reservoir used to supply the nearby town of Hyden with all its water.

We drove a little bit north of Wave Rock to Mulka’s Cave the next day.

Mulka’s cave is part of the local aboriginal lore. Mulka was the illegal son of two aboriginals that were from the same skin color, or clan, and therefore should not have married and had kids. Mulka grew huge, but cross-eyed and therefore could not hunt. The legend then says he then turned to catching and eating local kids while living in the cave.

His handprints can be seen in the cave. They are much larger and higher up that a typical aboriginal person could reach. Personally, when I hear stories like these, I think that the village men or women wanted a place to hang out and not be bothered by kids. I doubt any aboriginal kids went near the place. It probably also had the effect of eliminating questionable marriages.

There are a few wetlands in the region that can be seen from on top of the hill behind the cave rock.

We continued west to a nice B&B in Fremantle for our last night in Australia.

Esperance

After a couple of days in Albany we took off east towards Esperance. As discussed before, the coast road doesn’t really run along the coast. Rather it runs a few miles inland through farming fields that have been carved out of the brush. One area we crossed had huge fields of yellow that were rapeseed, the plant used to make canola oil.

Esperance is a little shore town of 12,000 folks. The ocean water around the place is crystal clear and many shades of blue. The town was named after a French explorer ship, The Esperance, that took refuge in its harbor in 1792. Parts of town have cliffs with beautiful staircases down to the water below.

While we had planned out our trip with stops and things to see, you never really know what a place is going to be like until you arrive. The biggest surprise of this trip was Cape Le Grand National Park just outside of Esperance. The place was just stunningly beautiful. Pam and I had nearly the whole park to ourselves as we explored beach after beach, each more beautiful than the last one.

We climbed a granite rock mountain named Frenchman Peak because the rock looked like a beret. This photo of our ascent up the granite face is not tilted for effect. It was that steep and had those little white tags showing the way to the top. I imagine it would be impossible to climb if the rock is wet.

The 360-degree view from the top was incredible. You could see all the 80,000 acres that makes up Cape Le Grand National Park and the dirt roads that took you to all the beautiful beaches.

The sand there is pure white and squeaks when you walk on it. It is crushed quartz and is said to be the whitest beach sand in the world. Couple that with the crystal-clear blue water and the place is just drop dead beautiful.

There were several beaches within the park and so we visited them all. For such a beautiful place it was just handful of folks sharing this huge park. I’m sure it is crowded in the summer with campers and beach lovers, but it was awesome in the winter too.

Offshore there were a lot of small rock outcroppings that were home to many different kinds of marine life.

We hiked along the rock outcropping and noticed steel studs driven into the rocks with rings where fishermen could clip in and not worry about being carried away by an unseen large wave. As we turned the corner, we noticed a pod of about 30 dolphins playing in a secluded bay. While only about a quarter mile by sea to get there, we hiked around the rock about 2 miles to get to the bay.

Once there, Pam and I sat on the rock and watched the dolphins for over an hour playing in the bay. There was a lot of jumping, tail slapping and chasing going on – like our own private dolphin show. Eventually they headed back out to deeper water, probably to get some food after all that playtime.

The colors there were just amazing. I always thought some of those spectacular beach pictures you see from time to time had to be photoshopped. Now I know they were shot at Cape Le Grand unmodified.

As the sun was setting, we stumbled onto the last beach of the day. This one lead 20 miles or more back to Esperance along the beach. Some younger kids had a loaded truck with camping gear and were heading out to spend the night. It’s times like these we really, really missed the Roamer.

While the park is known for kangaroos on the beach, we didn’t see any until we pulled out of the last beach parking lot and this guy was heading towards the water.

What a gorgeous place. Cape Le Grand National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Albany

One of the things we found out about Western Australia is that there are no “coastal” roads. There are roads that look close to the coast but are several miles from the ocean. There is no Pacific Coast Highway equivalent where you are provided gorgeous views of the ocean as you drive along the coast. I guess it’s because there are not enough people to warrant such a road, given that an inland road is more practical.

Therefore, we looked for other things to see and do as we traveled along the “coast”. One such stop was the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. Who wouldn’t stop there? The walk was on a series of suspension bridges that pass through a Red Tingle forest. The red tingles are the largest of the eucalyptus family and can grow up to 180 feet tall.

The walkway was about halfway up the trees. Looking down you realize how tall these trees really are, dwarfing the other normal sized trees.

They have truck bases like redwoods that are 80 feet in circumference and prohibit growth near them to better survive fires. They live to about 400 years old and have a lot of character.

We made it to our next Airbnb in the town of Albany. Albany is the oldest city in Western Australia, being settled in 1826. It’s the second largest city in WA with a population of only 29,000, behind Perth with its population of 2.1 million. After some time in Western Australia you realize that once you get outside of Perth you effectively have the country to yourself, which is kind of nice.

The city has a beautiful natural harbor, which is why it was settled first. It was the commercial shipping harbor between Europe and Western Australia for many years, causing some friction with Perth, which was the capital. It remained the primary sea hub for WA until the mouth of the Swan River was dredged in 1897 to create a commercial harbor at Fremantle, the port city of Perth.
We had a nice dinner at a fish and chips place near the beach, a short walk from our place. Most of the coastal cities have Cook Pine trees growing along the ocean. I imagine many of these were planted years ago with the expectation of having readily available ship’s masts to supply the many tall sailing ships that used to travel the seas.

Albany has a walking path along the ocean crest that Pam and I enjoyed. We stopped at one lookout but there was a guy with a sign that said, “ongoing research – do not disturb”. He turned and saw us and said don’t worry about the sign he was just finishing up. He was gathering observational data on a pod of Southern Right whales that were frolicking in the bay below us. He even let us use his scope to get a better look. He was from the University of Western Australia. When we told him about our travels and the dolphin that escorted us with her calf up in Monkey Mia, approximately 1000 miles away he knew the name of the dolphin and her calf.

It was encouraging to hear that humpback whales have come back from very low numbers to now over 40,000 in the area. Right whales don’t have offspring as often as humpbacks so while they too are rebounding in numbers it’s taking longer. He was taking data on the impact of the shipping traffic on the Right whale breeding habits. From what we saw through the scope it appears ship traffic was not affecting them – lol.

A historical plaque on the boardwalk talked about Darwin’s stay in Albany after his famous trip to the Galapagos Islands on the HMS Beagle. He was quoted as saying, “I leave your shores without sorrow or regret. We staid there eight days and I do not remember since leaving England having passed a more dull, uninterested time”. I guess Darwin was evolving socially during this period – lol.

On the hill overlooking Albany and King George Sound sits the Desert Mounted Corps memorial, a replica of the statue erected in the Suez to commemorate the Australian and New Zealand forces during WWI and their battles in the Middle East.

There are more WWI and WWII memorials on the hill that were quite interesting. Albany was chosen for the site because the convoy of ships that deployed to the wars assembled and departed from King George Sound.

Below is a memorial of the letters written home from soldiers. The “My Dearest Love” was cut through the plate so that the sun would shine through.

It was a nice stay in Albany, a place rich in history, but we had one more destination to the east before we would turn back to Perth.

Gnarabup

We began the third leg of our Western Australia adventure back in Perth. As a recap of our trip to date, we initially flew into Perth, rented a 4-wheel drive truck and travelled north up the west coast of Australia as far up as Shark’s Bay before turning around and exploring new places on our way back to Perth for the first leg. Then we flew to Broome, met up with Pam’s Aunt and cousins and headed into the outback on a commercial tour for the second leg.

For the third leg we rented a car because the roads are mostly paved and headed south along the western coast to see some more of this beautiful country. Just over 100 miles south from Perth is the Margaret River area, which is known worldwide for its surfing and wine. Pam and I booked into a nice Airbnb in the beach town of Gnarabup as a base to explore this region.

There are two lighthouses separated by roughly 50 miles that warn ships of the Margaret River peninsula that juts out into the Indian Ocean. To the north is the Cape Naturalist Lighthouse which we visited and hiked around to stretch our legs on our way to Gnarabup.

The Indian Ocean beaches are beautiful along the coast. World class surfing events are held in Gnarabup every year and given the size of the waves we saw I can see why surfers like this area.

We had a nice walk on the beach at sunset with the sun trying to break through the clouds to throw some last rays of sunlight on the ocean.

We had a chuckle at the warning signs posted there. I’m not sure there were enough reasons given to not go in the water. At least there are no saltwater crocs this far south – lol.

Our place had a nice little garden with a couple bird bath fountains and a feeder; Pam’s kind of place. We grabbed a couple of bottles of the local wine and enjoyed the avian visitors that arrived while we rested on the porch.

This is an Australian Ringneck. He couldn’t fit into the bird feeder but tried digging a meal out the side. It’s kind of like he looked at us asking if we could give him a hand.

This little guy, a Red-eared Firetail, did fit inside the feeder and sat there content while munching away. The phrase “eating like a bird” is somewhat of a misnomer since most birds eat nearly their weight in food every day.

This colorful guy, a Common Bronzewing, was happy picking up whatever fell out of the feeder.

A New Holland Honeyeater enjoyed a nice bath in the fountain next to the feeder.

The next day we headed down the coast. Talking with some folks in the outback about our plans they recommended that we drive down Caves Road, which we did. The small road winds down the coast, offering up some spectacular views when the vegetation opened on the ocean side of the road.

The geology of the area is limestone with a lot of caves to explore down the coast. We stopped at Jewel Cave for a tour. The path through the cave was about a mile long, a few hundred feet below the ground and contained some amazing cave structures.

The staircase down was impressive how it snaked through the rock formations. Each piece of the stairway is cut to fit above ground and carried down to install to keep debris to a minimum.

We stopped at the Burton vineyard, which was also the home of the Cheeky Monkey Brewing Co. The name gave us high hopes, but the flight of beers we tried were unfortunately marginal. We did purchase some tasty Shiraz liqueur (brandy) that ended up being the only bottle of alcohol that survived the duration of the trip unopened and made it back home. All the other lesser wines we purchased while in the region were happy hour sacrifices – lol.

The southern tip of the region’s limestone outcropping was the home of the majestic Leeuwin Lighthouse.

This marks the split between the Indian and Southern Oceans. It’s been awhile since I had a geography class and thought, “there’s a Southern Ocean”?

As part of a local competition, artists were asked to create something with a cow. This was the resulting “pirate cow” that was at the lighthouse keeping an eye on the oceans. I waited to hear it say “Arrrgh”, but it never udder-ed a sound. I guess it wasn’t moo-tivated to talk. I think it was upset at the tourists, but I’m not sure what its beef was. Okay, I’ll stop there.

The coastline around the place was rugged while the winter waves rolled in.

On the way back to our place we stopped at an old growth eucalyptus forest, where the trees were well over 100 feet tall. It was so peaceful. It had started to rain, and we picked up a young kid with a backpack on the deserted road just prior to this stop. He was a Polish kid in Australia on a work visa and just traveling around. He was heading north to catch a flight back to Poland to study engineering. He probably thought we were a little strange to stop and take pictures of the trees.

We headed back to the beach at the end of the day to enjoy the beauty of the place.

The next day we rounded the southwestern tip of Australia and headed east along the coastline.

Broome

The next day we traveled back to Broome, our starting point for this adventure nine days before. While the area is arid it does provide a constantly changing view in vegetation and in the color of the dirt.

Some sections of the road are better with respect to wash-boarding, or corrugation as it’s known to Aussies.

Eucalyptus trees and grasslands are typical for this cattle-dominated area.

On the way back we stopped at the Mowanjum Cultural Centre and learned much about the Aboriginal people that live in the region today, and have been there for 1,000s of years.

Broome was a nice change from the Gibb River Road with the ocean that was visible from nearly anywhere from the peninsula of a town.

That night we went to the local movie theater, and just happened to catch the first showing of the new Lion King movie.

The movie theater has been open for over a century and is an outdoor theater. We watched the movie under the stars, and along the approach path for the late evening flights into Broome from around Australia.

The next day we found the local farmer’s market and shopped for some souvenirs to take home.

We said goodbye to Pam’s Aunt Melinda and cousins Riley and Tasman later that day at the airport. They were heading back to Canberra while Pam and I took off back to Perth to begin the third part of our Western Australia trip.

Bell Gorge

The next day we headed to Bell Gorge. Bell Creek runs through the gorge and it was a nice hike down to the water.

The gorge had a nice stair-step waterfall that dropped down to a big pool below.

We hiked on down into the gorge and jumped in for swim.

Riley and I swam downstream to check out the cascading pools that headed down further into the gorge. Several folks followed us down. I noticed on our return a few crocs were sunning themselves and the rocks along the water’s edge. Luckily, the water was a little too cold for them to be active, so they stayed where they were sucking up the heat of the sun.

We hiked out of the gorge area while spotting more birds and admiring the geology of the area.

Back at the Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge, the communal seating area was a great place to relax and have a drink before another great meal that included a lamb filet that was the best I’ve ever tasted.

The tents for the guests were spread out into the grassland.

Across the lawn we spotted another kangaroo grazing on the grass and watching us.

The last night of our stay in the outback, we had a birthday celebration for one of our fellow travelers. Riley was nice enough to finish off all the cake and ice cream so it didn’t go to waste – lol.