The Western Trip
The Beginning Wisconsin Dells
7/3/02 - Drove from home to Wisconsin (73,880)
We took off at 5:30PM after work. Our first major stop was not by choice; the left rear outer tire blew while Colleen was driving. We were 2 mile east of Elkhart, Indiana. Luckily a highway patrolman stopped diverted traffic. I changed the tire on I-90, most of the cars stayed at least a couple of feet from my back as they buzzed by at 70 MPH. The spare was not very good so I did not want to chance driving to Wisconsin. I thought that we were in for a major delay since it was the beginning of the holiday weekend. Fortunately we found a 24-hour tire service and put 2 new tires on. It actually cost me less than the last 2 I bought at home. Now all 6 tires are fairly new. Only about a 2 hour delay. Just enough time for dinner and ice cream for the kids.
With the delay, we did not make it all the way. We stopped at a rest area on the Indiana Wisconsin border at 2 AM.
Brandon and I got up early and drove to Wisconsin Dells while the others slept. We arrived at the Wisconsin Dells KOA at about 10:30 AM.
We relaxed and swam in the nice warm pool and played tetherball in the morning. In the afternoon we went for a Jet boat ride on the lower Dells. It was a 30 foot 700 HP flat bottom boat. Lots of spins (cowboy) and power brakes. We all got a little wet. A really nice 30 minute view of the area with some speed to keep the kids entertained.
Next we went on a horse drawn wagon tour through the Lost Canyon. 2 Belgians named Jake and Charlie pulled us. Many areas were barely wider than the wagon and 50 to 80 feet deep. It was a nice cool ride but Colleen did not like the stop in the middle to try to sell souvenirs. After the tour we swam at their beach area. It was like bath water.
In the evening, we went out to the road to watch the fireworks. The kids were more interested in checking on the penny we put on the tracks when a train went by.
South Dakota Black Hills & Badlands Area
7/5/02 (74,499 at St Charles, WI)
It rained in the morning so we decided to pack up and head for the Badlands. We packed up and hit the road in about 10 minutes. We left at about 10:30 central time and hit more rain on the way. I think it was the right decision.
Corn Palace (74,818) We stopped in Mitchell, SD to visit the Corn Palace and walked around the town.
Rest Area (74,931) We stayed overnight in a rest area about 90 miles from the Badlands.
We continued in the morning and stopped at Wall Drug, the ultimate tourist trap. Yes even more than Corn Palace. We actually enjoyed the couple of hours of looking around. We stopped in the saloon for buffalo burgers. The kids got a new stuffed animal, a white buffalo.
We went south out of Wall through Badlands National Park. Quite a drive with the motor home. It was beautiful, but I could not really look around much while driving down the switchbacks.
We were surprised that the campground was nearly empty, but it was almost full by evening. We climbed the hills outside of Ben Reifel Visitors Center. Of course we had to keep bringing the kids back down, they always want to go too high.
We drove around the loop road. We saw about 20 pronghorn antelope, 70-80 buffalo. We even saw some crazy lady walk out near the big bull to get a picture. He was not very happy about it. On our way back a couple of bulls crossed the road in front of us. We decided to wait since they weighed as much as our car.
In the morning we went on the fossil walk and went to the pig dig site. The pig dig site is an active archeological site where they have found many pre-historic pigs. We got to see them at work.
Drove to Black Hills. Called KOA en route and got a campsite. We needed to go to a full service campground to do laundry etc. They had a nice warm pool and a water slide. It was very nice. Mount Rushmore KOA (75,188) 7/7 - Site 194
In the early evening we went to the Crazy Horse monument. It was pretty cool. They have a beautiful cultural center and the monument is impressive. But, they have a long way to go. The sculptors other works were quite impressive.
We went back to Mt. Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony. The kids liked the show and monument. But the insects that they caught and photographed thrilled them.
7/8/02 - Mount Rushmore KOA - Site 236
We decided to stay another day, Dakota wanted to ride the horses. We started the day with a pancake breakfast put on by the KOA camp. We swam a little and then got ready for the ride. Jacob did not like the idea of wearing blue jeans when it was hot but understood why after we were done. It was a very nice ride. It was about a 4 mile ride through wooded and rocky hills. Brandon rode a bay named Boomer. Dakota rode Stinker the mule. He kept trying to eat. Jacob rode Norman. Colleen rode Chubby and I rode Monk. My horse was perfect; he would listen to every slight touch. The others would all fight to follow exactly behind the horse in front of them.
We had plans for the rest of the day but we were having too much fun in the pool, on the slide and around the park. In the evening they had native Indian dancers. Dakota loved the show. He was very excited to get to go on stage and dance. We finally found the perfect dance for him. In the early evening Brandon and Dakota went climbing the rocks and Jacob went fishing with some friends he met. No catches today.
A thunderstorm with hail came up fast in the evening. So we did laundry, relaxed and watched a movie. The lightning strikes were quite impressive and sometimes shook the ground when they were near. They say the rain was much needed in the area. It is dry enough that the governor of South Dakota placed a ban on all campfires in the state.
Took off a little after 10:00 AM. Arrived at Wind Cave NP at 11:00 AM
Wind Cave National Park Elk Mountain Campground Site 50 (Odometer: 75,226)
We hiked up to the fire tower and climbed as high as we were allowed. It was a wonderful view. We were again surprised at the lack of people. We made the entire hike and only ran into one other couple.
Jacob and I went on a 2 hour candlelight tour of the cave. There were no steps, walks or electric lights. It was great to experience the cave more like it was in the early days. Although the light was limited you actually got a better look at some formations. You tended to get a lot closer and really look at things.
While Jacob and I were busy Colleen took Brandon and Dakota on a five-mile hike. They did great. They were nearly done when they came to a buffalo in the path. There was no other way around so they quietly made their way by him keeping their distance as much as they could. They were pretty tired, I think we found the hiking limit.
We had another great evening drive. We got a great look at a herd of 5 elk. And we were held up for about 15 minutes because the buffalo wouldnt get out of our way. They apparently had a salt lick in the middle of the road. They each took their turn licking the road. Then we saw a heard of 150-200 buffalo. It was amazing. It must have been incredible to see thousands as they were in the past.
This time we made it back in time for the ranger program. The kids loved it. Jacob asked so many questions that we finally had to stop him. I loved to see him be so involved.
I got up early and found an ophthalmologist in Rapid City because my eye was getting very bad. I was very concerned. They were very accommodating and told me to just come in when I could get there. By the time we got there it was 1:00. By the way if you ever need to get to the Black Hills Eye Institute it is on 3rd Street not 3rd Avenue, we wasted about an hour figuring that out. After waiting about an hour (which seemed like four) they got me in and had to remove the epithelial (I think that is right) cells from the entire cornea of my right eye.
Colleen was on her own. With the kids leading me around I tried to help a little, but could not do much. Colleen drove through the evening and got us about half way to Yellowstone. We stopped at a truck stop in Buffalo, WY. A truck driver helped Colleen find a good place where she wouldnt have to unhook the car. Its funny how much more helpful they are when a pretty lady needs a little help.
Yellowstone National Park
We took off early, I am not sure when because I couldnt see very well yet. Colleen had to do everything herself. We decided to take the shorter route (Route 14), two lane winding road but about 100 miles shorter.
We made it to 9,000 feet. Then on the way down we made a stop at a scenic overlook. When we were ready to take off we found we had no brakes. Not a good thing on a steep mountain road. Fortunately we found that we had just boiled the brake fluid. When it cooled for about an hour we were fine again. We learned a valuable lesson with no harm. Really stay off of the brakes. Potential tragedy number three averted.
Needless to say it was a fairly slow drive from that point on. Possibly overly cautious but very safe. I was surprised that there was still some snow with a temperature of about 80 F. The kids wanted to stop and go touch it but we wanted to just get to the campground. We arrived at Fishing Bridge RV Park in Yellowstone at 4:30 MDT - site 265 (Odometer: 75,769).
The campground is nice. It is right next to Yellowstone Lake and is wooded. They say that bears walk through in the morning to get to Yellowstone Lake, but thay have moved up to cooler elevations in the last week or two.
I had to stay home and rest my eye. Everyone else went on a ranger walk to mud volcano. They went to the middle of an active volcano. On the way back they saw two bald eagles. One had a fish in its claws and dropped it as it was flying. They also saw a pelican and an osprey.
I can see! Well at least out of my good eye. Enough to venture out.
We went up the east side of the loop to Lamar Valley. We saw the upper falls and walked to the brink of the lower falls. We were on a wolf quest. We looked for the Druid pack. The pups were now old enough that they were hunting with the pack and had moved further up. We had no luck finding any wolves.
On the way back we ran into a buffalo jam. A large herd moved along the road and crossed three times. We could have reached out the window and touched a few. We got plenty of close-up pictures of buffalo.
Grand Teton National Park
Full sight, depth perception is a wonderful thing.
We parked the RV at the Grant Village visitor center and took the car up to the geothermal area. We picked up lunch while we waited for Old Faithful. It was hot and we had seen enough geysers so we went back to the visitor center and went swimming in Yellowstone Lake. It definitely cooled us off.
We moved to Flagg Ranch in the national forest between Yellowstone and Grand Teton. It was rather expensive, very dusty and had poor power. The hookup was only 20 amps and the voltage was only about 95 V. We could not run most of the appliances. We decided we might as well move into the campground at Colter Bay in Teton NP on Tuesday since the facilities at Flagg were poor.
The kids and I decided to make our way to Snake River. It turned out to be just a short bike ride. We played in the rapids where part of the flow was diverted by a small island. Now the kids wanted to stay at Flagg Ranch.
In the evening we took a short drive into Grand Teton National Park and checked out the campground.
Dakota and I went down to Colter Bay and got a site first thing in the morning. It was beautiful. Our site led right out into the woods and had a short trail right to Jackson Lake. There are two campgrounds, one has full hookups and must be reserved in advance. The other has no hookups and is first come first served. It does not fill until early afternoon.
We swam in the lake a few times. It is quite impressive; the mountains go right up from the other side of the lake. The water is cool and very clear.
In the afternoon we drove to Jenny Lake. We took the boat ride across the lake and hiked to hidden falls and inspiration point. It was a very nice 2 mile hike with a beautiful view. Glaciers formed all the lakes in this area.
As we were crossing the bridge coming back from Jenny Lake we ran into a small traffic jam. Everyone was looking off of the bridge at a moose that was eating the willows in the wetland below. We finally saw a moose.
We were surprised that we were able to have campfires here. This was only the second time we were able to have a fire.
The boys worked on their young naturalist badges and we went to two ranger led programs (Teton Highlights and Joy of Glaciers).
We went to Mennors Ferry and stopped by the chapel. The kids rang the bell. We tried the locally brewed sodas. Huckleberry is the kids new favorite drink.
We went on a float trip down the Snake River (Baker-Ewing Scenic Tours). It was a 10 mile easy trip that departed at 6:30 PM so the wildlife viewing was excellent. We saw 7 bald eagles, 4 osprey, 4 beavers, 3 moose, a porcupine, a blue heron, a sand hill crane, many king fishers, Marengo ducks, sand pipers and Canada geese. We saw a pair of eagles by their nest with two juveniles.
A day to relax. We swam in Jackson Lake and the kids and I finished up our young naturalist badges. Yes, I got one too.
We checked out and drove to Teton Village on the southern end of Grand Teton national park. We went up the tram to the top of the mountain. So far this is the high point of our journey 10,450 feet. We made a three mile hike at the top of the tram. We hiked down to a small patch of snow and then back to the top to ride the tram down. It was beautiful although as expected the beauty was lost on the kids. Once again they liked the bugs they found.
We took route 89 south out of the Tetons through Idaho and down to Logan, UT. We were planning on stopping at Bear Lake on the Idaho-Utah border but could not find any place to stay. We continued on and headed through the mountains. Soon we hit a detour and wound up driving on dirt roads through the mountains in the rain, after dark, for about 20 miles. What a mess! We found a RV campground in Logan that is operated by Ramada. It is a great idea, you can check in at the hotel and use the hotel facilities.
Logan, UT Traveland RV Park (Ramada) Site C3 (76,089 miles), arrived 11:00 PM
We decided to hang out in Logan, UT. There were actually a lot of things to do. We played around in the pool most of the day. Then we went to get ice cream. It was Utah State University Aggie Ice Cream. Apparently the university has played a role in the production of ice cream. I have to admit it was very good. After the ice cream, candy sounded good to the kids so we went to Bluebird Candy. It turned out to be a restaurant also, so we ate. Now you know we are on vacation, ice cream and candy before dinner. It was very good and incredibly inexpensive.
We moved to a the state operated marina on the south end of Salt Lake in the morning. It was only 15 minutes from the airport. We dropped Colleen off at Salt Lake International Airport at 11:00. Her flight was scheduled for 12:50. Everything seemed fine when we dropped her off, but there was a lot of tears as it sunk in during the drive back to the marina.
Saltaire Park (76,184)
We found a nice place to go in the lake at Saltaire right by the marina. We thought that it was private, but it turned out to be part of the state park. They had a gift shop, beach and showers. We went swimming in Salt Lake. Most people probably turn back before they get to the water. It smells bad and there are millions of alkali flies (like a small gnat). Although they swarm around they do not land on people. Once you hit the water, the flies and smell are gone. The bottom is nice and sandy and there are millions of shrimp. You have to wade out a few hundred yards just to get to 18-24 deep water. It is amazing, you really do float well. I could lay flat with my head completely out of the water. But, Dakota (the man of cuts and scrapes) found that the salt does hurt cuts. The water is 8-10 times as salty as ocean water.
We took off at about 2:30 and headed for Zion National Park. I called ahead and was able to reserve 3 nights in the Watchman campground.
Zion National Park Kolb Canyons
We made good time and arrived at the north end of Zion by early evening. The Kolb Canyon visitors center was closed, but we were able to go up the scenic drive and on a short two mile hike. The sunset was incredible. The kids even noticed the scenery this time. We saw lizards, but missed the rattlesnake that frightened a couple of girls so bad that they screamed for 15 minutes. Jacob learned a lesson about cactus. He got about 25 thorns in his leg. Fortunately they were large so I could pull them out. Jake didnt think it was so fortunate that they were large.
After our hike, we had dinner and drove to the south end of the park. We stayed overnight in a Chevron truck stop in LaVerkin.
Zion National Park Zion Canyon Watchman Campground Site A11 50A electric only (76,510)
We went the last 20 miles to the campground and arrived at about 9:00. They were able to get me in even though I was early. We got a great site right by the river with a 50 amp hookup. I am glad we had electric, it was very hot. It was 105F during the day but cooled off to about 70F at night.
We played in the north fork of the Virgin River, which is right next to our campsite. The cold water feels great. It is fast flowing but low volume with pools formed by small rock dams.
In the afternoon we went on the Riverside trail, about 1 mile, which leads to the Narrows. It was even hot down in the canyon. It felt great to wade through the Narrows at the end of the trail. The water level can rise tens of feet without much warning. The ranger said that he saw the level increase to 18 feet in 30 minutes when there was not a cloud in the sky. The rain was many miles away. But, he said that the water color and clarity gave fair warning before the flash flood.
The wildlife here is not visible during the daytime. The all come out in the cooler temperatures at night. There are hundreds of bats and lizards. Most of the bats appear to be Western Pipestrel. We saw many humming birds by the river. The squirrels and mule deer are not afraid of people. We have been within a few feet many times.
We went to the ranger talk at 9:00. It was very good, he had great stories and pelts from most of the mammals in the park.
In the early evening we took a drive to the east entrance through the tunnels in search of big horn sheep. We caught a short look at a young male as he went over a hill. Not much of a look but at least we saw one. When we got back to the campground we went on a night walk in search of ringtail cats and scorpions. No luck on either. But, we did see a lot of stink beetles and one tarantula.
The kids went to a 2 ½ hour ranger program. It was a special day, July 24 is Pioneer Day, the day that the Mormons arrived in Salt Lake. The played games, learned about the pioneers and made ice cream by hand. It also gave me a chance to clean the RV, drain the tanks and do laundry.
We rented tubes and floated down the Virgin River. You are not allowed to tube in the park, but it river behind the campground is the park border so all we had to do is wade across and rent tubes there. ($13/tube + $2 for return transportation all day). The trip was about 2 hours and was calm most of the way with occasional small rapids. I had to push a little to get across some of the rocks. The kids were light enough to make float over most rocks. We had a great time.
Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah Border
Left Zion at about 9:30. Quite a drive out the east entrance. Large vehicles have to pay to go thru the tunnel because they have to stop traffic so you can drive down the middle ($10 for 2 times thru the tunnel in 7 days). But, getting up to the tunnel was much worse than the tunnel, it is very steep and winding. I was very glad that we were going up, the drive into the park from the east would be even worse.
We made quite a few stops along the way so it took us about 3 ½ hours to get to Lake Powell.
Wahweap Marina RV Park Site 6 - $27/night, 50A/W/S (76,622 miles) We were in the RV park, but there are new sites available in the main campground with full hookups. Sites were available.
We found a nice beach for swimming, but it was a long walk to get to the water. With the lake level so low it was about 1200 feet out to the water.
We rented a boat to go out on Lake Powell. We got an 18 open bow with 135 HP. We found some beautiful isolated bays that we stopped in to go swimming. Most had nearly vertical sandstone walls the went more than 500 feet above the water. We stopped often to swim. It was in the mid 90s and 10% humidity so it didnt take long to dry off and heat up. Even with a chart it is real easy to get confused. There are dozens of bays, some larger than the main channel. By the end of the day I caught on, I could follow the main channel with no problem. We made are way up the lake to Rainbow Bridge.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument is only accessible by water or a 16 mile waterless hike from the nearest passable road. It is about 50 miles up the lake from the dam. It is the largest natural arch in the world. It is 275 wide, 42 thick and 290 above the streambed. It was not known to white people until 1909.
On our way back a storm came up with high winds. But all we caught was a nasty dust storm, no rain on the lake. It only lasted a couple of minutes, but made it rather hard to see. It was a lot of fun, but we were all exhausted after a full day in the sun.
We had an easy day. We were all tired from the full day of sun on Friday. We just relaxed and played around the park most of the day. Good time to clean up and do the laundry.
In late afternoon we went back to the Glen Canyon Dam. You are now required to pass through a metal detector to get in. The lake is down about 68 due to the drought. It has reduced the electrical capacity by about 1/3. We took the tour (free) down into the dam. It is 16 shorter than Hoover Dam at 710.
A full day of swimming and playing on the beach at Lake Powell.
We made the drive up to Bryce Canyon National Park in the car. We took the long way around on the way up which took about 2 ½ hours. It was impressive. There were hoodoos everywhere. I would have liked to have had another day so we could hike down into the canyon.
On the way back we tried to take the shorter scenic route. We had been told it had a lot of washboards but was passable. I started to get a little concerned so we stopped and filled up two gallons of drinking water just in case. We started to hit drifts of sand that were a little too much so we turned back. At the turn we looked around and saw that we would have had to cross a creek bed that was supposed to be dry . . . I was not quite dry. We could have easily crossed it but from the looks so far there was a good chance we would have ended up stuck in the middle of the desert for the night. Back to the main route, at that point 120 miles of pavement seemed better than 35 miles of dirt with the possibility of getting stuck.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
We traveled to the Grand Canyon in the morning and arrived at around noon Arizona time (Mountain Standard Time).
Grand Canyon, Trailer Village 30A/W/S (76,767 mi)
Its good to be back up to 7000 feet. Nice cool evenings even when it is hot during the day. They say it was over 115 F on the bottom of the canyon while it was in the low 80s on the rim.
We went to the west all the way to Hermits Rest on the shuttle and walked along the rim trail part of the way back. Some of the trail was very close to the edge, no rail or chains. It was a nice hike with great views, but it has been hazy both days. The visibility is normally 100 miles here.
We got up early to hike down the Bright Angel Trail into the canyon. We made it down 1 ½ miles to the rest house. It was a 1500 feet vertical descent. It took us about 3 hours to make the 3 mile hike. I was glad we were not hiking up in the afternoon.
We drove across northern Arizona and stopped at the Meteor Crater, Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. We found a nice campground in Gallop, NM just past the border.
Jacob and Dakota were a little under the weather so we stayed in Gallop. Mesa Verde is closed due to fire so the plans will have to change.
We left in the late morning after a huge brunch. We traveled east on I-40 and historic Route 66. There were many of the old Route 66 attractions along the way. The kids wanted to see the Bandera Ice Cave. When we got to the national park information center the area looked pretty interesting so we went 30 miles west on route 53 to El Morro National Park. We were going to go to Inscription Rock, but a severe thunderstorm hit the area and we did not think that a hike to the top of a mesa was a very good idea. We went to the desert and hit four thunderstorms in three days. So we headed to the Bandera Ice Cave and Bandera Crater. It is privately owned but in the park. ($8 adult, $4 child) The ice cave is a 200-300 deep hole surrounded by porous rock which is very good insulation. The cold settles into the hole and cools the rock. In the summer the sun and warm air can not penetrate. It was very strange, the temperature dropped over 50 degrees in about 50 feet. The ice is about 20 feet thick and 80-100 feet across. Since there was no sign of a storm we took the short ¾ mile hike to crater. It is a 150,000 year old volcano that left an 800 deep crater at the top. The lave flowed for 23 miles and left one of the longest lava tubes in the world, of which theice cave is a small part.
We then moved to El Caulderon, We hiled to the bat caves with a short stop to go into Junction Cave. We waited for sunset for the bats to come out but a storm moved in again and we did not want to be ¾ mile from the car if it hit us. But before we left we did see a few bat starting to come out, but not the swarm. There was very intense lightning as it approached. We made it back to the car before long before the storm hit.
Jacob found an Eastern Fence Lizard and tried to catch it. He was very upset when its tail fell off. He found out earlier in our trip that their tail is very important. Many dont make it after they lose their tail. The expend energy re-growing their tail and it also contains a majority of their fat that they need to get through winter.
We hiked the 2 mile trip to the top of El Morro past the pool and inscription rock. The Spanish inscriptions date back as far as 1605. One of Coronados parties made it here in 1540. Some of the petroglyphs are over 800 years old. People have been drawn to the only persistent source of water in the area.
In the afternoon we went back to the El Caulderon area. We went down into Junction Cave to the end of the right spur. It was our first unguided cave experience. The cave is actually a lava tube from the eruption of El Caulderon 115,000 years ago. The volcanic rocks were very sharp and the floor was very uneven so we made fairly slow progress. It took us about 1 hour to complete and we covered less than ¼ mile.
After the Junction Cave, we hiked back out to the bat cave to try to see the bats swarm out at dusk. Once again a storm moved into the area and we missed the bats.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
In the morning we explored the campground area that had some very interesting small rock formations that the kids could investigate. In the afternoon we headed for Albuquerque, NM to visit Mark and Lisa Isenberger (friends that we used to work with at Harris in Findlay).
It was our first time in a house for almost 5 weeks. Lisa fixed a great dinner. It was great to eat a nice meal and stretch out and relax for an evening. They have 2 children 8 and 10 years old and the kids hit it off right away. The kids played games all evening while Lisa and I caught up on old times.
During the night Brandon and I were hit by the flu that Jacob and Dakota had the previous week. I hope we didnt give it to any of the Isenbergers. Fortunately it is almost over in about 12 hours.
I took all five kids to the local pool while Lisa was at work. They played water basketball and played for about 3 hours. I took it easy and recuperated, the sun was not good.
It was my turn for dinner pizza, what a gourmet I am. The kids got a little too comfortable. They were beginning to have a little too much fun and getting out of control. I was not sure if we would be able to calm them down for bed. They really had a great time. They wanted to take the cat, Mitts home with us.
We said goodbye as Lisa and the kids left for the day. We then had breakfast, packed up and headed north for Colorado. It was an easy 3 ½ - 4 hour drive, the kids were great. It may have taken 5 weeks, but they finally learned how to ride in the motorhome.
I found Lathrop State Park, a nice state park about an hour and a half from Great Sand Dunes National Park only a few minutes from I-25. There was a nice playground and plenty of places to ride the bikes. It was a short 1 mile bike ride to the swimming beach. The kids played in the water and on the beach for a couple of hours.
Lathrop State Park (CO), Site D94 no hook, $15/night. Electric only sites are available $19 (Odometer 77,608)
We drove to the Great Sand Dunes, about 1 ½ hours. The hike to the highest dune is about 3 miles and 750 vertical in soft sand. It was our most difficult hike yet. There was no shade and the sand was very hot, but there is a very strong breeze that kept us cool.
On our way back to Lathrop State Park we saw a sign for Colorado Alligator Park. I was not sure, but the kids wanted to go. It turned out great. They had a lot of different animals and the kids loved it. We fed the gators and the kids help a small alligator. There were ostriches, emus, many snakes and lizards. They got to play with the goats and donkey. It was a full day, we did not get back until around 9 PM.
We stayed at Lathrop State Park one more day to swim, clean and do the laundry. We almost lost our space at the campground. They gave away our site before we got to the office, which they were not supposed to do. But, I said I would move it was not a problem. When I tried to move, there was someone in the site already. They check out the next site for me and someone was there too. They were going to make the people move, but I told them it was fine if they had another site. It worked out well, the site that they found was better than any of the others. It was secluded and yet very close to the showers and near the laundry.
The kids played outside all night and build two insect refuges. They found twigs and scraps to construct shelters, tunnels and escape rafts (in case of a flood). They were quite elaborate. I dont know where the idea came from, but it gave me a break for at least 2 hours.
We drove to Rocky Mountain National Park in the morning. It was an easy 5 hour drive, mostly on 4-lane routes. We stayed at the SpruceLake RV Park.
Spruce Lake RV Park, Site 83 30/50A/W/S/Cable, Small heated pool, stocked fishing lake ($4.50/day), free mini-golf, river frontage, about $40/day, a little expensive but I wanted a full hook-up and a pool and it is a fairly nice place.
We swam in the pool for a long time and met a 30 year swim coach when she saw Jacob swim butterfly across the pool. She said we should get them started this winter. On the way back from the pool we ran right into 5 elk, 3 cows and 2 calves. They were grazing right in the grass island on the driveway. And we worked so hard to get a look at elk from 500 yards away earlier in our trip.
The kids made a few friends and played in the Big Thompson River on the edge of the campground. Everyone but Brandon was fairly careful not to get too wet in the freezing cold water. Brandon didnt care, he was totally soaked and turned blue.
We investigated the park and searched for animals. We didnt see any big horn sheep but we did find out where they are common. They often come down to Sheep Lakes to get minerals from the salt lick. We saw at least 100 elk. One large bull had the velvet rubbed loose and hanging all over his antlers. We saw and got pictures of a few new rodents, yet to be identified. When we returned, we played a round of mini-golf; it was too cold for the pool. The temperature dropped into the low 50s with no sun. We had to turn on the heat for the first time during the night.
We packed lunch and went to Sheep Lakes. No luck, it turned out that no sheep showed up all day. After lunch we went across the Ridge Trail. It was a great drive. It ranged from about 8,500 feet to 12,000 feet which covers 4 very distinct habitats. We stopped many times and took small hikes to explore. It was very interesting to see the changes as we went up. The tree line is at about 11,200 feet, above that there were only rocks, ice and low growing plants, this is one of the few places you can find many of the plants outside of the arctic. We were able to find yellow-bellied marmonts and pikas in the rock fields at 12,000 feet. We took a one-mile hike and reached a maximum altitude of 12,304 feet to the Toll Memorial. It was very windy and cold, we had to warm up in the sun behind a rock outcropping at the top. We were able to coast the entire way home, just shy of 20 miles and 4500 feet in elevation.
Our last day in a national park, not quite the end of the vacation but it is basically homeward bound after this. We cruised down to Bear Lake and of course gave the sheep one more chance, none were spotted all day. It was a good day of sightseeing. We returned to the campground, cleaned up and played a little miniature golf. Dakota was very disappointed that we missed bingo. It was supposed to last until 9:00, but by the time we got there it had ended.
We hit the road around 8:00 in the morning, but we only made it about 10 minutes to Estes Park to do a little shopping. We were back on the road by 10:00 and made good time all day. We stopped at the Sternberg Museum in Kansas in the evening. We had seen a few signs along I-70. When we arrived, we thought they were closed, there was almost no cars in the lot. It turned out great. They had many fossil exhibits, life sized animated dinosaurs and a nice hands-on discovery zone for the kids.
After dinner, we hit the road again. It seemed like a good idea to get through Kansas City at night while there was no traffic. But, it turned out that there are no rest areas for 100 miles into Missouri. I think there were only 2 rest areas all the way through Missouri on I-70. In contrast, Kansas had rest areas about every 15-20 miles. I ended up driving until 12:45 MDT. The good news was that we only had 3 hours left to St. Louis.
We go up, had breakfast and drove to St. Louis. We arrived at St. Louis West KOA at noon. We would have skipped the campground but I had already paid for the first night. We decided not to hit Six Flags. Just one day earlier the kids did not want to end the vacation, but after we started they were very anxious to get home. We just relaxed, swam and I took a nap so we could drive in the evening. Then at 5:00 PM we packed up and drove to downtown St. Louis to visit the Arch. We made good time while the outbound traffic was in a very nasty traffic jam. It was great, they had RV parking right by the arch and we even could have stayed overnight. We went to the top of the arch and spent almost two hours in the museum.
It worked well driving in the evening because we had our first mechanical problem, we lost a sensor on the air conditioning so the engine AC will not work. I can still run the roof air conditioners from the generator if I needed. When we got close to Indianapolis I decided to drive on and get past it at night so I would not hit the traffic in the morning. We hit the first rest area east of Indianapolis at about 2:56 AM EDT. Only four hours from home!
After driving late into the night I was not moving fast enough for Jacob in the morning. He was all over me to get on the road. He wanted to get home. We are going to have to adjust to the 2-3 hour time change. We took off at about 9:35 (6:35 Arizona time) after breakfast. It was an uneventful drive and the sun was not out so we stayed nice and cool. Jacob even made a quick lunch for everyone so we could keep driving. We arrived home at exactly 1:00. Colleen and Chewy were waiting in the front yard for us. It was great to be home.
5,441 miles on the motor home. 1,828 miles on the car. 46 days. 11 National Parks/Monuments.