The Freedom of Nevada

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I imagine when most folks think of vacationing in Nevada, they think of Las Vegas, or Reno, or Lake Tahoe. My husband and I passed right through these areas, but this is not where our interest lies. We put our heads down and headed East from Shingletown, California to the historical Highway 50, advertised as the “loneliest road in America”, and traveled across the state of Nevada.

In a conversation I later had with a lady I met while sightseeing, she mentioned that she believed Nevada to be the ugliest of all of the states. Personally, I found it to be the most amazingly stunning and beautiful place. Yes, lonely perhaps, although I would draw a very fine line between ‘loneliness’ and ‘freedom.’ We passed through vast expanses of wide open spaces with enormous mountain ranges in every direction. Yellow-flowered desert sage lined the roadways and dotted the spaces as far as the eye could see.

To avoid being on the road too long without a break, we made an overnight stop in Austin, Nevada. Unfortunately, there were no open restaurants in this town when we were there, so it was hotdogs and chips for dinner, but there was an awesome (if not a little freaky) castle on the top of a nearby mountain. We took a trip up the mountain just for fun and this turned out to be a place named Stokes Castle which is on the national register of historical places.

Here’s the rough story from the placard outside the castle: At the end of the 19th century, a rich guy named Anson Phelps Stokes decided to build a summer home for his family. Naturally, he chose to erect a three-story stone tower in the hills above Austin. It was put to use for only a year and then the Stokes family permanently left the area. Since it’s fenced off there’s not much you can do except look and take pictures, but was still well worth the trip up the mountain. A very interesting and unexpected little gem in the middle of the desert!

Highway 50 eventually led us to the Great Basin National Park, located on the far eastern border of Nevada. Time seems to stand still in Baker, Nevada, where there is often no cell service, and definitely no WIFI. The land is wide open and flat, so that when you ask for directions to a specific place, a native will simply point to it – you can see every town for at least a hundred miles around. There’s a significant Indian/Native American influence in the area with former Indian settlements available for viewing at will. The closest thing to a shopping mall in Baker is a single building that serves as a gas station, a small convenience/grocery store, a café, a casino, with an RV park out back. I found this humorous for some reason but charming.

We stayed at an RV park named Whispering Elms just outside of Baker, where there still wasn’t any WIFI, but it was just around the corner from the Great Basin National Park which was our intended destination, and it did not disappoint. From the enormous mountains and valleys where the leaves on the trees had just begun turning a golden yellow with a deep evergreen as the backdrop, to the Lehman Caves, and the rich mining history in the area, this was a spectacular journey through time.

That evening at the RV park, we sat around the campfire with a fellow RV’ing family made up of a mother (father had recently passed away), two daughters, one son, two dogs, and three cats, all traveling the country in a large motor home, pulling a full-size SUV behind them. This mother is home-schooling her children on her own, hell-bent on making sure her children don’t live their entire lives in one place, not understanding the word ‘freedom.’ Wow. She seemed to be an inspiringly strong woman, but I am not sure I could have done what she’s doing. What’s more important for children – the stability of a stationary home, or a firsthand sense of what’s out there in the world?

Needless to say, my memory of this family is forever tainted by the fact that one of their dogs peed on my foot! Fortunately, I had on only flipflops that could easily be thrown out. And immediately. Eww. Not cool.

California State of Mind

Green California Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

Driving through northern California brought to mind an old Eagles song: “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair…..” This is the first state where we saw hitchhikers, for real. Some are even lone female hitchhikers still in the U.S. out there on their own, taking their own lives into their own hands. This seems to be a different state of mind, indeed. As we entered this state from the north, we were stopped by the Department of Agriculture. It seems there is nasty bug coming into the state, destroying their vegetation, and had we had any fresh produce, wood, or leafy plants with us, they would have been confiscated before we could enter the state. Aha. Interesting. I believe Hawaii also has implemented something like this, but no other mainland state I’ve been to.

Our original plan had been to hit all of the California national parks on this trip, but with my ever-worsening arthritic hip issue, we decided to cut back East through northern California, pass through Nevada, and Utah, then head south and home, leaving southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico for another time. Yes, some actual tears were shed as I worked to accept this new state of things, but so be it. God’s will be done. So we hit only two national parks in California: the Redwoods National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The Redwoods, to me, were something of a disappointment. I was expecting something much more exotic – maybe that will come with the Sequoia park farther south on a different trip. At any rate, the Redwoods were certainly impressive and memorable at the least. The park we drove through led us along a dark and dusty, narrow, in some places barely legible, unpaved, did I say dusty, road. The park ranger at the visitor center assured us we were passing by the very places famous people come to have their pictures taken, so I have to believe this is it for the Redwoods National Park. Enormous trees indeed.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, on the other hand, was a huge surprise. I had never heard of this park before I started inventorying all of the National Parks specifically for this trip. Here, we stayed at the Living Springs RV Park in a town named Shingletown and all I can say about that is that they have the biggest pine cones I have ever seen! At this park, as has been the case for some of the other parks in the far north as well, there was no cell service and no internet/WIFI service. All I can say about that is that one of my basic requirements for living is to have cell and internet service. ‘Nuff said on that. For my husband, the requirement is TV service. We have a mobile satellite tailgator from DISH and in most cases, this worked very well for us in our travels. In a very few cases, like at Living Springs; however, there were too many trees for the tailgator to find its way through to the big satellite in the sky, so we also had no TV service. Joyful.

But I digress. The Lassen Volcanic National Park was actually a very interesting park, beautiful in its own right. As we passed through the entry station and began our ascent up the mountains, there were rocks laying everywhere in every shape and size. It looked like a volcano had exploded and just deposited a bunch of rock everywhere and it all stayed in place where it landed. A little spooky. In a few places, there was snow on the ground, and it spit snow while we were there! This was a huge delight for my husband who still misses the snow of his youth. On the other hand, there were many Sulphur hot springs on the mountain, indicating there is still volcanic activity underground. This is similar to what’s at Yellowstone in Colorado, but on a smaller scale, and I must say stinkier. Those pots of boiling Sulphur water just really do not smell good. There were streams and lakes everywhere as we drove, once again, a winding, curvy, mountain ledge road up to the top of the mountain. Looking back down the mountain as we climbed, the winding roads looked something like a Candyland game board of old. Here again, we sat through a short video developed by park management, explaining how, when and why this park was created. I remember a very hushed and other-worldly feeling based on the understanding of the destruction caused by these volcanoes in history and the people that died in the aftermath. There were many displays showing what the landscape looked like before and after the volcanoes erupted. It’s amazing how the tallest mountain in a range can simply explode and be gone, while changing everything in the path of the lava.

At the end of the day, we were happy to return to the Living Springs RV Park where we burned pine cones in our campfire – what an amazing scent! You should try it sometime. As my husband cooked dinner, our doggie played in the sunset, I sipped on a glass of wine and realized that life is, indeed, good. Even without WIFI.

 

 

 

Oregon On the Ocean

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In Oregon, we stayed at the Turtle Rock RV Resort in a town named Gold Beach. This was a very short walk from, and easily within sight of, the actual Pacific Ocean and was another place I did not want to leave! This park was a little more upscale than others where we’ve stayed. There were rental options for cabins, RV lots with pull-up decks with hot tubs on them, and also just typical RV spots with campfire pits. We didn’t know about all of these options in advance, so we had reserved just a typical camping spot, but note to self for next time – I would definitely get at least a hot tub spot as a treat.

We spent one day just exploring the beach. It’s very interesting how different beaches are from one side of the country to the other. On the west/pacific side, there are huge rocks and trees naturally found anywhere on the beach, compared to the east/atlantic side where the beaches are generally pristine, clean, and flawless. I have to say that for this Texas girl who loves her Texas Gulf Coast beaches, the Pacific Ocean has grabbed a piece of my heart that is not at all at risk from the Atlantic. The Atlantic is much too perfect for my off-the-beaten-path eclectic kind of taste.

Another note to make, at least for this particular beach on the Pacific, there is sand, yes, but there are also a lot of rocks in all shapes and sizes. I did not see a single seashell. Just extraordinary rocks. Interestingly enough, a number of heart-shaped rocks came easily to my attention and I brought them home with me. Sometimes a little love is all you need!

Oregon has only one national park, Crater Lake, and Wow!, it is beautiful. This is a park around inactive volcanic mountains, one of which has naturally filled up with hundreds of feet of water over the years, and is the brightest most royal blue color you’ll ever see. It was as flat as glass the day we were there and such a surprise as we drove up the winding mountain ledge road to discover this blue lake after having seen only wood and rocks and dirt and dust the whole drive up. Breathtaking scenery at the top of this mountain.

Another one bites the dust (no pun intended)…grab that souvenir refrigerator magnet…time to move on.

The World of Washington

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The State of Washington is a world unto itself and we did so many different things there. As we entered the state from the East, we were surrounded by golden wheat fields. We really had no idea Washington was so flat and agricultural, and it took many miles before the landscape finally changed.

Our first national park visit in Washington was to the North Cascades National Park, for which our camp base was the KOA park in the small town of Winthrop. The campground itself is worthy of a moment’s discussion because it left us with a very positive impression of the area. There’s a small river running behind the campground where we saw deer come to drink multiple times. We even saw deer wandering through the campground as though it was their natural home. In the evenings, as we lit our campfire, we watched as the entire park became illuminated with campfires everywhere. In the dark, with fires burning, children running and playing, and the adults sharing each other’s company, I felt at one with the world.

The town of Winthrop itself is a very historical and quaint town, also with a river running through it. We ate at the Mexican restaurant right on the riverbank, sitting outside on the deck. Mexican never tasted better! The winery on the edge of town was fabulous and we picked up a couple of bottles to go. One day for lunch, we visited the state park on the outskirts where there was a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains, and we watched alpine squirrels playing, and a grandfather giving his grandkids repeated rides on his jet ski. The squeals and fun were reassuring that life continues to be grand.

Within the North Cascades park itself, the mountains were awe-inspiring and beautiful as expected, with a focus on a central lake in the most beautiful emerald green color. The park’s informational video we took a few minutes to watch explained that the green is the result of glacier-worn rock particles carried into the lake that react with light rays to make the water look this particular shade of green. Wow! After a day of exploring in the mountains with huge moss-covered trees around the lake and a picnic lunch in the depths of the woods, we were ready to move on to our next stop….of course, only after picking up the standard refrigerator magnet from this place.

Next on the agenda for Washington was to make our way to Port Angeles in the far northwestern corner. It was necessary to ride on a ferry in order to get there! This place brought me my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean and blew me away. I want to go back. Seriously. I know our real priority for this trip was to hit all of the national parks, but we took a break from that here to take a ride on a whale-watching tour boat. We couldn’t help ourselves. The free, clean, wide open feel of the place was just overwhelming. We saw and took pictures of many, many whales that day. The captain told us that they were seeing more whales than they had in recent years. They weren’t sure why, but the whales seemed to be making a comeback in the area. This trip took us so close to the Canadian border that we began to get text messages from our cell phone carrier warning us about international data charges. At that point, we turned off our phones until we got off the boat. Unfortunately, I had forgotten our passports for this trip, not thinking about our closeness to the border along the northern leg of our trip. This side trip was soooo well worth the time and money!

The real reason for hitting up the city of Port Angeles was that it was close to the Olympic National Park. This is a most amazing park and is very varied in what it offers. We passed through deep jungle-like forests only to emerge onto a beautiful unoccupied beach right on the Pacific Ocean! The beach had huge rocks and fallen trees intermingled with the sand. Needless to say, we did lunch there!! Then we headed the other direction through the forest and emerged to the most beautiful blue mountain range across from the Visitor Center built on a green grassy hillside that very much reminded me of pictures of Heidi in the Swiss Alps. Wow. I run out of words to describe. We sat for a few moments and listened to a park ranger discussing what’s going on and happening in the park on a daily basis. It was amazing to just be a part of the countryside and soak it up. Truly breathtaking.

The Mount Rainier National Park came next on our agenda and was equally amazing. The thing that stands out in memory here is that as we drove up the winding mountain ledge road, ascending the mountain next to Mount Rainier, Mount Rainier itself became a huge and all-consuming image in our faces as we drove. Imagine this huge snow-covered mountain right next to the road you’re on, almost as though you could reach out and touch it. This was jaw-dropping. We again took a short break from the national park trail while in this area to visit the city of Seattle itself. Here, we left the camper in the RV park and stayed in a hotel for a couple of nights, spending time visiting the standard tourist points like the Space Needle (yes, we ate dinner in the rotating restaurant at the top where Mount Rainier was always a fixture in the distance….this beautiful snow-covered mountain), and the Pike Place Fish Market. We used Uber two times while we were here, feeling oh so millennial as we did it, and once, we used a young man driving a three-wheeled bicycle as our transportation from point A to point B. It was awesome – an open-air ride right through downtown Seattle. Very memorable.

Next on our Washington list was Mount St. Helen’s. My oldest sister lives in this area and we spent three days catching up on her world. She and her husband hosted us for dinner one night in their home (Note to Self: ask for her baked salmon recipe!) and she accompanied us to visit Mount St. Helen’s the next day. Her daughter lives nearby in northern Oregon and we shared dinner with her family one night. We also explored the Columbia River area in Oregon, including a trip to Multnomah Falls. They live in such a beautiful place. I’m so impressed by the home they’re currently remodeling….such talented people in my family. While we visited with family here, our camp base was at the KOA in the small town of Castle Rock, Washington, about fifteen minutes away from my sister’s house. This KOA is memorable as the park with the hands-down best doggie accommodations from anywhere else we stayed the whole trip. A huge green grassy lawn to run on and an equally huge fenced in dog run. Here again, we saw deer roaming freely in the park. Unfortunately, there were warnings out to be careful of bobcats in the area.

As I warned in the beginning of this little blurb, the state of Washington has much to offer, and we could have easily spent twice as much time here.

But on we must move.

And the plan changes….

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If you’ve been following my blog, you know that my husband and I have retired and are building a life that focuses heavily on travel. For me, my real intention is to become a more rounded person, socially, before I sit down and spend serious time writing books. I believe I have stories to share and, while I have many ideas drafted, I am anxious to get through these next few years of travel and exploration to build a solid base of experiences from which to draw the details around these stories. I’ve spent almost forty years working a desk job, and now I want to become a part of the real world!

Our first trip after retiring was a cruise to Alaska; a most awesome experience. Next, we embarked on a two-and-a-half-month-long RV road trip through the western U.S. Our plan had been to continue traveling indefinitely until we felt a need to take a break. As we progressed through this trip, the arthritis in my left hip became very seriously and progressively worse. I found myself at a point where I quite simply could not walk even the simplest hiking trail without being brought to my knees in pain.

Ok. Insert new segment into the plan. I now await a surgical hip replacement for which a three-month total recovery is estimated. It took me a while to accept the fact that I could not continue as I was. I am a spring chicken after all, am I not? Now that I have accepted my own mortality; however, wow, I cannot wait to begin this journey so I can return to the original vision.

My belief is that now is the time to slow down, practice some patience, and reflect on my experiences so far so that they are not forgotten before I move further toward the longer term vision. Please keep me in your prayers as I move through surgery and therapy for a speedy and successful recovery!

God is good.

 

Staying Stubborn With the Vision

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There are many voices in the world, and I have always struggled with maintaining my own voice in a strong, yet graceful, way.

Personally, as I grew into adulthood, my parents made clear their disapproval of many of my life choices. This resulted in my leaving their home earlier than might have been ideal as a young adult. Their voices simply did not and could not harmonize with my own vision for my life. Over the course of many years when I had very little interaction with my parents and siblings, when I did visit, I always left with a feeling of unrest and angst. I was always so afraid that I would not be okay without their approval. It’s only been in recent years that I’m beginning to understand that their approval is not necessary. As long as my eyes are on God and a joint vision for my life, blessings will abound.

My own father and mother left their parents’ home as young adults because their life visions also did not merge. I find it interesting that they were so unable to see the similarities between their own life paths and mine that they so frequently denigrated and humbled my choices as bad ones. I have to wonder if their points of view rather simply mirror those held by their own parents in history, rather than truly representing their own voices in modern times. May God grant me the strength to never follow someone else’s path simply because it’s easier than forging my own way. My mother often refers to her feeling that she didn’t have enough time to bond with me before I left home. Really?! Don’t most mothers bond with their children before they become legal adults? I have to push down my immediate indignation and re-focus my eyes upward. I love her so very dearly but so very strongly disagree with her parenting methods.

Professionally, there have also been many voices, some for whom I continue to hold the greatest respect and others not so much. From somewhere in there, I remember someone, as I began a stint as a Project Manager for high-dollar projects between Marketing and IT departments, advising me to always be stubborn with my plan’s vision, but more flexible with the plan itself. There are many different ways by which to reach the same end goal, in other words. This is advice to which I have since tried to adhere and to which I credit some significant success over a number of years in my career as well as in my personal life. It doesn’t all have to be done my way, but the vision should never falter.

My vision for my own unique life is to follow where God leads. I pray that I will not falter from this vision.