Chapter 11.  The Way Home

Bert & Shari Frenz, 1998 All rights reserved.

Day 121 - September 9, 1998 - Milepost 9193 (291 today) - Quesnel, BC

(Bert) An hour after sunrise, I hike along the Buckley River wearing plenty of clothes to stave off the crisp 41-degree temperature. The swiftly flowing river is edged in White Spruce and aspen so my view is partially blocked by the trees. As I watch a few Herring Gulls peck at salmon lying on a gravel bar, I notice an enormous Golden Eagle slowly wing its way upriver: powerful, majestic stokes followed by smooth glides, wings rigidly flat, but curved gracefully upward at the tips. The eagle banks and wings downstream, past me a second time at eye level. Then he swings smoothly upward, pulls his forewing upward, thrusts his talons forward, like a cowboy stopping his galloping horse. The talons close around the tree limb and his body rotates forward with just enough power to complete the perching position. The aerodynamics of eagle flight is breathtaking. I take a few steps forward until I am within 25 ft. of the perched bird. I can see the rich brown color and the golden mantle. Through binoculars each feather is vividly clear. The Golden Eagle stares at me with penetrating eyes. The head is fierce; the yellowish bill is wickedly hooked. Although I’m not a suitable prey, I’d hate to do battle with this predator. But the eagle ignores me. A crow lands on an adjacent branch, cawing attention to the menace. The eagle ignores the crow. A Red Squirrel scolds in high pitched chatter. The eagle ignores the squirrel. I watch a few minutes more and then continue following the river path. That was my closest approach to a Golden Eagle in the wild. Today’s drive continues through forested farmland, the farmed areas increasing and the woods decreasing as we head south. As we near our stop for tonight, I spot a Black Bear in the bushes on the left side of the road. I pull over on the shoulder and watch the young bear watch us. He stays in one spot long enough for me to take his picture.

(Shari) What a gorgeous Fall day! Bright sunlight frolics on the yellow and green leaves along our path and plays hide and seek with reflections in the lakes and streams. RTENT climbs, descends, and curves on the smooth pavement. Some hills are 6% to 8% but short and even I do not blink an eye while driving. We stop at Prince George for gas at the Super Canadian Store. A gentle looking Indian man wearing a mauve turban on his head offers me his cart for a loonie. I think nothing of it since that is the cost to release the cart from its chain; the loonie is supposed to be returned with the cart. I thank him and walk into the biggest grocery store ever. I remember it was big in 1996, but not this big. The meat section alone is as big as Kroger’s at home. Refrigerated cases 5 ft. by 40 ft. hold the meat, separated down the center for ease of access. Each case is dedicated to a particular kind of meat, i.e., pork in one case, beef in another, chicken in one, fish in one, shellfish, domestic cheeses, imported cheeses, American cheeses, processed lunch meats, frankfurters, knackwurst, beer sausage, Italian sausage, bratwurst, etc. Then there is the bin section. Barrels of bulk flour, dry cheeses, peanuts, raisons, dried fruit and berries, snack chips, pastas in vary shapes, candy out the gazoo, instant drink mixes, snack chips, spices to name a few. Get the picture? The produce section has every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable and some I have never seen before. A big aisle is dedicated to ethnic foods. I have no trouble finding salsa and pizza sauce. Three aisles house soft drinks. I end up purchasing $41 of stuff and all I went in to purchase was milk and charcoal lighter. The purchase of gas at the related station allows an additional $6 discount on the food (3.5 cents/liter). They must cut prices to the bone since the store charges extra for the plastic bags to sack the purchases. Bert sacks the groceries, I pay for them and we push the cart to RTENT. Bert takes the cart pack to the cart corral expecting to retrieve his loonie. He comes back and tells me I was ripped off. What a bummer! Next time I’ll know. The nice turbaned man had "keyed" the lock to retrieve his own loonie and then ask me for mine. For those that do not know a loonie is a Canadian coin worth a Canadian dollar or about 66 cents American. We continue to Ten Mile Lake Provincial Park near Quesnel. It is another beauty of a park set deep in tall White Spruce next to a small lake. After parking, we take a short walk to the lake and decide to have pudgie pies for supper since the evening is so pretty. The smell of the fire and the spruce, the crackle of our neighbors’ fires in stereo and the stillness and darkness of the night, combine to rest my soul.

 

Day 122 - September 10, 1998 - Milepost 9453 (260 today) - Skihist Provincial Park, BC

(Shari) Mountains cover British Columbia like an all season coat from top to bottom, right to left. Today we drive through the Cariboo Mountains and Fraser Plateau. The road is wide and paved, but not flat and not straight. We have our lunch at a pleasant rest site alongside 108 Mile Heritage Site. Many places along this road are named for their distances from Lillooet-Mile 0 of the Cariboo Wagon Road to the goldfields of the 1860s. I take a turn at driving after lunch. The road has a nasty habit of pointing down toward a town and up after it. I travel 6 to 8 miles straight down (7% to 8% is straight down to me) and then no sooner do I get to the town and I have to chuck 6 to 8 miles back straight up. I am fortunate that the Canadian government knew I would be driving this stretch and constructed climbing lanes. A 15 to 20 mile reprieve follows and I drive RTENT on gently rolling curvy terrain before the darn down and up is repeated again. By the time I get to Clinton - the town, not the man - I am exhausted and plead with Bert to take over the driving. With Bert driving, I can relax and enjoy the scenery (unless I have to remind Bert to slow down). Hillsides are brown and dry, covered with their dehydrated Fall clothes. Our stop for tonight is Skihist Provincial Park. I wonder how it got its name until we enter the camping area. The first three letters of the name aptly describe the slope of the road into the park. RTENT, in 1st gear, barely makes the incline. At the top, I insist we unhook before moving another inch. Bert just shakes his head and says, "It sure is pretty." The first site we try, we are unable to get RTENT level. Bert backs out, almost hitting a tree until I honk the car horn. Around the bend he finds a level long spot and drives head first into the space. Hurrah we are stopped. I grab a beer. Bert grabs his binoculars. I drink. He walks. We both unwind.

(Bert) Continuing our southward journey, we pass farm country, small towns and uneventful scenery throughout the morning and early afternoon. When we reach the Frazier River, the landscape changes into something we haven’t seen yet this trip. The uniqueness is in its dryness. We enjoy long vistas through a broad open valley, edged by prominent mountains. Foothills are rocks and gravel, with Ponderosa Pine growing in a few toeholds, increasing in density further up the mountains. The valley is bone dry at the edges with golden brown grass and bushes that look like sage profusely crowned with yellow flowers. But in the flat farmlands at the valley’s center, water sprinklers change the colors to lush lime green. Further south, the valley narrows, the mountains close in on us, the rocky cliffs become steeper. Our road and a railway bed are often carved out of the stone sides. At one narrow point we pass under a bridge with a train above us, the raging river beside us and another train heading in the opposite direction on the other side of the river. The mile-long trains trail identical, empty, coal cars that twist through the valley like metal snakes. Our highway roller coasters with 7% grades and serpentine curves. Myriad semi-trucks muscle past us in both directions. A few miles before Lytton, the whitewater rafting capital of British Columbia, we gain respite at tonight’s stop at Skihist Provincial Park, pitched on a steep Ponderosa Pine forest beside the thoroughfare. Shari panics about maneuvering through the steep narrow paths, but it’s not bad and I find a comfortable site for the night.

 

Day 123 - September 11, 1998 - Milepost 9549 (96 today) - Chilliwack, BC

(Shari) Even sleeping in my summer nightie, I am hot. My goodness, it is 74 outside RTENT and we have the window wide open. I cannot remember the last time it was above 70. Maybe for an hour in Soldotna in July, it reached into the 70s. I find it strange and I think of all my Texas friends still suffering in the heat. We continue our drive down the Fraser valley and its steep ups and downs. I find the drive more stressful than Alaskan roads, maybe a result of all the traffic on the two-lane road. Luckily climbing lanes are liberally sprinkled along the way. We do not have far to travel today, about 100 miles. I have picked a Five-star resort called Bridal Veil Camperland in Chilliwack, BC. It is pricey and we are a little annoyed that our $25 does not get us e-mail service. This reminds me of the attitude of the staff at Yuma Lakes Resort Arizona, a Coast to Coast Affiliate. Sure enough this is also a membership park, Holiday Trails. We pay our money anyway. The clerk tells us to drive out onto the road, drive a block and unhitch at the large gravel area. Then drive back to the second entrance to our site. Fine except the second entrance has the road pointed for opposite traffic. Here we go. RTENT must back in, then back out to get lined up right. This is what $25 gets us. Sites are small but well landscaped, paved and level with privacy bushes between neighbors and a picnic table. After we hook up, we hop in the car to find an e-mail solution. We drive to Agassiz Tourist Information and the volunteer lets us use their phone jack. This area, so close to Vancouver, has a rural atmosphere with many produce markets along the road. We stop at one and pick up fresh sweet corn for dinner. After lunch at home we clean, defrost, and take a swim in the lovely long pool and rest in the sparkling hot tub. That too is what $25 gets us. The resort also has a cute restaurant with very moderate prices for the meals. Every night they serve steak and sides, but tonight fried fish and chips are included in the lineup. It is tempting but we have dinner planned at home. The sweet corn is supercalifragisticexpialidocious. I have not had corn so sweet since leaving Wisconsin so many years ago.

(Bert) Our hottest weather since we left Texas in May, this afternoon reaches the high 70s when we swim in the pool at Bridal Falls Camperland. We also enjoy the sauna. Camperland is a luxury after months in the wilds. Loaded with extra RV facilities, we are surprised when they aren’t equipped for transferring our e-mail. We drive to Agassiz and use the telephone jack at the Visitor’s Center and then check out Chilliwack. The towns are pretty, but the congestion is uncomfortable after months in quieter places.

 

Day 124 - September 12, 1998 - Milepost 9605 (56 today) - Ferndale, WA

(Bert) Before breakfast, I hike through a Redcedar forest on a steep uphill path toward Bridal Falls. The lush rainforest is vibrantly alive with Bracket Ferns, Sword Ferns and monkey-flowers. Nectera moss grows profusely on the trunks of the Redcedar and Bigleaf Maple and hangs eerily from their limbs. I wonder how many water falls are named "Bridal" or "Bridal Veil?" I think this is the fourth one on this trip alone. Today’s falls are worth the hike and deserving of the bridal name. Starting at a high point where my view is blocked by trees, I see the stream jump off the cliff in a narrow torrent, then hit the rock wall, spread into narrower streams and continue to fan out until it is a hundred feet wide and a thin veil of trickling water. The whole scene is sheltered by mature Redcedar abutting the rock wall. We leisurely leave camp and head to the U.S. border. Before crossing, we buy two bottles of duty-free liquor. Since we have extra Canadian cash left and the prices are good, I also get two bottles of wine as presents for the friends we will be visiting. The clerk says the customs agent will collect the extra duty when we cross the border. But a few minutes later, the agent asks nothing about the booze and instead questions us on our fruit. So we are pulled over for an agricultural agent to inspect the fruit we bought yesterday. The fruit passes inspection and no one ever asked about the liquor. Our broad four-lane Canadian Highway converts to a narrow two-lane farm road once we cross into Washington. We continue on the farm roads for miles, the scenery reminding me of Mequon, near Milwaukee, a prior dairy farm community now converted to large home lots and fruit and vegetable farms. The mountains of Canada are gone; the land is flat without a hint of hills. We find our friends working on the myriad Dahlia flowers blooming around their Ferndale home lot.

(Shari) I hop out of RTENT and exclaim to the man standing at the side of the driveway, "Is this Schleisner’s? I do not recognize you." Ron and I have been e-mailing notes since late July when he tracked me down via my father and daughter. We have not had any communication with each other since 1958, when he moved out of the house across the street from me to Minneapolis, MN. He agreed that he did not recognize me either. What 40 years can do to one’s appearance is amazing. As we talk awhile, I do begin to catch glimpses of the buddy I knew so many years ago. A mannerism here and a shoulder shrug there gives a hint of familiarity. He and his wife Wanda live in a gorgeous setting surrounded by more than 50 varieties of dahlias along their one acre fence line. He proudly takes us through his yard and we snack as we pass the grapes, tomatoes and Asian pears growing so profusely near the back. Ron has many hobbies but I would classify all of them as collecting. He loves to collect and organize antique items. His basement has a collection of hundreds of bottle openers that his father had started many years ago, and all neatly hung on hooks. One corner of the basement has old saws displayed in an artful arrangement. Another corner has old beer signs hung on the wall still whirling their colorful enticements to drink the brew. A pool table and pin ball machine adds to the party atmosphere. But Ron’s real pride and joy are his cars. He has two 1977 Cadillacs and an older blue one. I am sorry I have forgotten its year of manufacture. He recently built a barn to house the cars from the weather. His work room is any handyman’s dream come true with all the gadgets, tools and manly appliances you could ever wish for. Everything is SO neat and clean, not some cruddy shop. Ron is also handy in home construction and has just about finished remodeling his kitchen. New sink, new appliances, new counters and new flooring sit proudly in expanded airy surroundings. We have no trouble filling each other in on the past 40 years. We just talk and talk simultaneously admiring his home and yard and then later sharing hamburgers and beans in the dining room. His driveway just holds RTENT and we retire to our own bed, promising to resume our catchup tomorrow.

 

Day 125 - September 13, 1998 - Milepost 9605 - Ferndale, WA

(Bert) We spend the day with our friends, telling stories, looking at their gardens and home, fixing their computer and watching 50-year-old 8-mm home movies converted to VCR format - interesting activities among friends, but best left said by one of the childhood participants:

(Shari) Bert finds millions of blackberries at the back of Ron’s property. Ron says the blackberries grow wild on state land and we are welcome to pick them. We gather a bowl and pick blackberries that we later have with the delicious pancakes Ron has made us for breakfast. We resume our "This Is Your Life" marathon by watching old 8-mm movies, Ron’s dad took 40 to 50 years ago that they later transferred to VCR tapes. We stop and pause and backup segments as we catch glimpses of the people we were way back then I watch my mom and dad have fun at a New Year’s Eve party - both of them younger than I am right now. I see us as little kids, ride our tricycles in the snow and take our sleds down big snowdrifts on the street. I watch the same kids swim and play under the sprinkler. I see my grandpa sitting in a chair next to my mother and I ask Ron to stop the film as I study this old man I barely remember. Poor Wanda and Bert. They patiently watch with us as Ron and I connect to a past they were not a part of. Bert snoozes a bit during the 4-hour movie but Wanda - bless her heart - watches and comments as much as Ron and I do. After the film, Bert gets rid of the virus that infected one of their computers and we again walk the yard for a snack. Jennifer, Ron and Wanda’s 20-year-old daughter stops by to say hello and ends up eating dinner with us. She is a beautiful girl, a bit quiet and struggling to move from teenager to independent adult. She has recently moved to an apartment with two other girls. I make spaghetti for all five of us with garlic bread and salad. Jennifer leaves and we play golf, a fun game using nine cards, nine rounds and low score. We say goodby to Ron because he has to get to work by 6 a.m. tomorrow and thank him again for being persistent in locating me. The reunion has been fun. I only wish I could share it with my mom. She has been dead for many years but at times like these, I think of her often. She would have loved to hear all the news I have.

 

Day 126 - September 14, 1998 - Milepost 9742 (137 today) - Dosewallips State Park, WA

(Bert) Shari finds an interesting way to travel today that bypasses Seattle. Remembering our freeway trip through the city two years ago, I am happy with the alternate route. I drive I-5 south through Bellingham, past Anacortes, and then State 20, which hops along some of the San Juan Islands. The scenic route alternates between rainforests, farmland, small villages and glimpses of ocean bays and inlets. In a sea fog, we cross the high and narrow bridge over Deception Pass, named after one of Vancouver’s false attempts to find the Northwest Passage. At the south end of Whidbey Island we get in line for the ferry across Admiralty Inlet. By unhitching the Pathfinder and driving onto the ferry separately, we save $10 and our charge is $39.25 for the half-hour ride. The ride across on the Klickitat is marred by fog that truncates our view to 150 ft. From Port Townsend we continue south along the Olympic Peninsula, driving in the National Forest and stop at Dosewallips State Park, named after the river of the same name. Our campsite has the cultivated feel of a large city park with mowed lawns, picnic tables, fire pit grills and paved roads: a pleasant place to spend the night, although not very adventurous.

(Shari) I find Wanda in the kitchen and we chat awhile before heading outside to steal some dahlias, tomatoes and pears. Bert takes our picture as we cut the brilliantly colored blooms for a bouquet. I pick six pears and about 12 tomatoes as well. That ought to keep us going for a week. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like freshly picked produce. We say our goodbyes to Wanda and drive RTENT southward. We meander the day away driving along Hwy. 20 on Whidbey Island and taking the short ferry to Port Townsend. We unhook and drive each vehicle separately to save $10 on the fare. I think the $39 fare was worth it to bypass Seattle traffic. We stop at Safeway there to pick up a few items before continuing our journey to Dosewallips State Park. I expected the park to have a beach frontage but it is tucked into a wooded setting. We walk across the highway but only find a river trail. We take the trail to the day use area and that too is at the mouth of the river and very marshy. I can see Hood Canal in the distance but can find no trail to the water. Oh well, the park is pleasant and has hookups for $15.

 

Day 127 - September 15, 1998 - Milepost 9919 (177 today) - Seaside, OR

(Bert) Fresh oysters, jumbo shrimp, Chinook Salmon lure us as we drive US 101 south along the Hood Canal, a broad river skirting the eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula. Repetitive twists and turns, incessant ups and downs make driving tedious and slow going, but the scenery makes it all worthwhile. Our narrow highway treads through dense forest and although we are close to water’s edge we only catch glimpses of the river through the foliage. Sometimes the Bigleaf Maple canopy arcs over the road, shutting out the daylight and I have an urge to take off my sunglasses, only to find I’m not wearing any. Turning west we get closer to the ocean and see more signs advertising fresh seafood. At Raymond we succumb to temptation and Shari buys for tonight’s dinner. For lunch we stop on the shores of the Columbia River across from Astoria, Oregon. Here the river broadens as it connects to the Pacific and I recall the troubles Lewis and Clark had in 1805 with the turbulent water. A couple years ago, I read their journals and have visited many historic sights along their route. This afternoon we visit another, Fort Clatsop National Monument, just across the bridge to Astoria. It is here that the expedition wintered from December 1805 to March 1806. We tour a replica of the original fort. Here, Lewis and Clark wrote many of their journals, drew sketches of the flora and fauna they encountered and completed detailed maps of their route westward. Their stay along the Columbia was not pleasant. Unlike the beautiful clear skies and warm weather we enjoy today, Lewis and Clark recorded rain for every day but 12 of the 106 days at Fort Clatsop. We continue south along the Oregon coast until we reach Seaside, the place where members of the expedition boiled seawater for months to obtain four barrels of salt. We camp south of town at Circle Creek. I start the charcoal grill and we dine on fresh oysters cooked directly over the hot coals, then a second course of prawn kebabs over a spaghetti vegetable dish.

(Shari) Not much to write home about today. We pick up oysters for $5.00 per dozen in Raymond, the oyster capital of the world. The drive is tedious with constant curves and hills on route 101. Near Seaside we find a cute RV Park and pull in. For only $1.00 more than last night, we have cable TV and sewer. I put the oysters on the grill and wait until the shells open. That is the signal they are cooked. With wine they are delicious as an appetizer. Our meal is pasta primeavera, not one of Bert’s favorites, but healthy.

 

Day 128 - September 16, 1998 - Milepost 10033 (114 today) - Newport, OR

(Shari) Continuing southward on 101 is still tedious. The trip does not have the excitement of 1996. Been there, done that and I just want to get home. Missy’s last e-mail said Maddie is talking in sentences. Now isn’t that too early for someone only 18 months old? The weather however is perfect and not what Texas has to offer me. I convince Bert to stop at the factory shops in Lincoln City, but after an hour of shopping I come back to RTENT without a purchase. Bert has finished his nap and is refreshed for the final leg of today’s journey. We pull into a rest area and marvel at the beautiful Oregon coastline. Sitting from our perch we can see miles of sandy beach and blue shoreline. We stop at Pacific Shores RV Park in Newport. This was the best park I had ever been in until I stayed at one near Cape Kennedy in Florida. I still classify it as the best one of our trip, but also the most expensive. The price is $25 without clubhouse or ocean view. We pay for two nights and intend to use the whirlpool and swimming pool. The park also provides a free shuttle to the factory shops in Lincoln and to the downtown area of Newport. Other activities include crafts, movies and bingo. A restaurant also provides breakfast and lunch at a reasonable price. I gather brochures on fishing and clamming but even that does not excite me. Five-hour fishing trips cost $45. Someday maybe we will come and stay longer. The last known address for my cousin Skip was Salem, Oregon. I ask at the office for a Salem telephone book and to my surprise he has two listings. I call the first number and an older woman answers the phone. I tell her I am trying to reach Raymond Kenitzer and she explains that she is his mother. I say, "Is this Pat?" She says yes and I tell her who I am. She tells me my cousin Sandy was visiting for four days and had just left yesterday. She gives me Skip’s phone number and after talking with him, laughing about a cousin week, we tentatively plan a meeting for Friday. Pretty soon it’s 6 o’clock and we have not eaten or taken our swim yet. Boy oh boy, there just is not enough time in a day. We get into our suits and walk to the indoor pool. I guess the pool is about 50 ft. by 25 ft., long enough for me to do laps. I surprise myself and am able to do 8 to10 laps without a problem after so many months. I return to call my cousin and set a time to meet Saturday. By now I do not feel like cooking and we get in the car to look for a pizza restaurant. We pass two up and settle on At’s a Pizza. We take advantage of their sale, buy one, get the second at half price. Bert orders a taco pizza and I order a bacon and cheese burger pizza. We should have just had a regular ol’ Italian kind, but the crust is superb.

(Bert) US 101 is a scenic route and today’s drive is some of the most beautiful coastal miles in North America. The road often rides high on sea cliffs and the wayside stops offer us panoramic views of the calm Pacific, rocky outcropping and sandy shores. A series of viewpoints named after Oswald West - Oregon governor (1911-1915) who set up the state park system and set aside the coastal areas - are among the best. Our position is so high that large Brown Pelicans floating on the sea below us are indistinguishable dots without binoculars. Further to the south we can see miles of alluring Neahkahnie Beach. We bypass a number of viewpoints, hoping to return by car, and stop at Pacific Shores RV Resort in Newport. We’ve been here before and I count this RV park as the best I’ve ever stayed at. Although I almost always prefer a state or national park and shy away from commercial sites, I’ll make an exception for Pacific Shores. Overlooking the Pacific, the park is pitched high on a cliff just north of Yaquina Head - one of my favorite places to look at marine life. The RV park has all the amenities you can think of plus many we haven’t seen elsewhere. I particularly like the large indoor pool suitable for lap swimming, the sauna and the spa. We use all three this evening. For the first time on the entire trip, Shari announces she doesn’t want to make dinner. So it’s pizza in Newport tonight.

 

Day 129 - September 17, 1998 - Milepost 10033 - Newport, OR

(Shari) I found Princess and Erin. For those of you that do not know about them, they are the hottest Beanie Babies this side of the world. Collecting Beanie Babies is a world wide craze that Jean introduced me to on our trip. Grandmas are especially prone to buying Beanie Babies. I have seen them especially in Skagway, where they get off the boat and head for the stores, looking for a Beanie Baby that someone special does not yet own. I have learned that the most prized ones are the bears, especially the purple one, the green one, the rainbow one, and the red, white and blue one called Glory. So, to find the purple Princess and the green Erin sitting on a shelf labeled $5.95 is unbelievable. I have seen them for $150 each. We had been sightseeing north along 101 stopping at every pull out and park that exists and then some. When we come to Cape Foulweather wayside, I notice a sign for a gift shop on the north side. I walk into the shop, not expecting anything great. I browse the aisles, noticing attractive jewelry, lighthouses, artwork, wood cutouts, etc. Toward the back of the shop I see some Beanie Babies in a bin. At a glance, they are the same old ones every other store has. Little kids mill around the display, picking each up and asking mom whether they can have it. I detour around the counter and approach the display from the rear. On the top shelf sit Erin and Princess. I cannot believe my eyes and I immediately grab them up. One woman, obviously not onto the craze, says "Well, aren’t those bears cute!" I agree and take them to the clerk and ask doubtfully, "Are these for sale?" She says "Yes, they are," and noticing my unbelief also informs me that it is their policy not to mark them up. These two bears had been on the shelf for about 15 minutes and she is delighted an individual got them and not a reseller. Of course I buy them, still not believing my luck. Whatever else happened today will not top the Beanie Baby story, so I’ll let Bert tell it.

(Bert) After no rain in Newport for a month, light drizzle arrived last night and the sky looks threatening this morning. Tempting fate, I decide to venture out anyway. A massive rock formation, Yaquina Head juts out from the Pacific coastline. A few rock islands - small in acreage, but large in height - lie a few hundred feet from the head. The juxtaposition of the islands and head create a calm haven for marine life. This morning the fog drifts in from sea and blurs my view. Wind gusts and a heavy mist, occasioned by raindrops, makes nature viewing difficult. Nevertheless, I find the birds I’m after - Brandt’s Cormorant, Western Gull, Wandering Tattler - and harbor seals. Most of the seals are lounging on one of the rock islands; a single seal is on the shore near me, so I retrieve my camera and get closeup photos of the reclining seal. I want to explore the invertebrates living in the rocks, but the rain picks up and the tide is too high anyway. I head back to RTENT earlier than planned, hoping tomorrow morning will be better. By early afternoon the rain has stopped and skies are clear. Shari and I drive north along the coast to get a more leisurely view than when we were driving RTENT yesterday. Each wayside offers unique appeal: agate strewn beaches, sand beaches, coastal cliffs, hidden coves, forested enclaves. Strong winds buffet us at most stops. At Cape Foulweather a sign notes that 100 m.p.h. winds are not uncommon at the point. Returning from his discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, the cape was named by Capt. James Cook to describe the very stormy day on March 7, 1778 when his two ships first sighted the Pacific Northwest. Today is not as stormy, but "foul weather" is still an apt descriptor.

 

Day 130 - September 18, 1998 - Milepost 10033 - Newport, OR

(Shari) Boy did it rain during the night. At times I thought RTENT would lift off her jacks and sail with the wind. Even Bert does not wiggle the springs that much during his morning activities before bounding down the steps to greet the new day. It is still raining and even I cannot stay in bed any longer. I eat breakfast, help Bert label our pictures and put them in the album. The rain slows to a drizzle and then stops after lunch. This is a good time to check our mail delivery at the post office but none has arrived for us. The weather looks too iffy for me to accompany Bert beach combing. I stay dry in RTENT pouring over maps and the Mountain Pass Directory plotting our course to Lassen next week. After dinner of grilled eggplant burgers with roasted red peppers (Bert is not thrilled with that one even if it is healthy), we watch a dumb movie I had brought from home. Bert retires early and I crawl into bed after Jay Leno.

(Bert) The rains continue today, keeping us indoors this morning. I take advantage of the opportunity and print copies of our journal. This is the last edition I need to send to my mother, since she just got online for the e-mail version. When we first started writing journals two years ago, everyone got copies by mail. We sent out four or five copies and the recipients passed them on to others, so about 30 people were reading them. Now with a much larger readership, everyone gets it by e-mail except Shari’s parents. In addition to our easier distribution, we now have the distinct advantage of hearing back from our readers - a real delight for us. By late afternoon, the rain stops, the clouds dissipate and the sun opens up to a beautiful Oregon fall day. I drive to Yaquina Head in search of marine life. I like prowling over the tidal pools and examining the unusual creatures that live there. The animals living on this earth are stranger than science fiction movies describe for other planets. Thousands of Giant Green Anemone cling between rocks - blobs of green flesh with saucer-like mouths that remind me of Java the Hut (was that his name?) in Star Wars. I’m told these anemone have life spans so long that some were here when Capt. Cook sailed by in 1778 and a few may date back to Columbus. I watch a Western Gull hold the arm of an Ochre Star in its beak. After many minutes of idle perching, the gull takes the star down its throat, spreading his neck to twice its normal diameter. Back in the tide pools I watch Purple Sea Urchins, Blue Mussels, Gooseneck Barnacles and many other exotic creatures. Brown Tegula, a type of top shell, are feeding among the anemone. Hermit Crabs carry empty tegula shells on their backs. In the larger pools Tide Pool Sculpin swim. A park ranger tells me the sculpin can breathe air out of water. They create a small air bubble and hold it near their gills. When water passes by, the bubble is forced through the gills. I’d like to explore longer, but it’s time to get back for dinner. Too bad the weather hadn’t cleared earlier.

 

 

Day 131 - September 19, 1998 - Milepost 10126 (93 today) - Salem, OR

(Shari) We make the short drive to Salem by noon and pull into Salem Campground and RV’s, a Holiday Trav-L. Spots are tight but we are thankful we have one. Apparently a nearby town has an Oktoberfest in September and many of the park’s residents came for it. We eat lunch, read e-mail and soon it is 3 o’clock, the time appointed by Skip to come to his house. Skip, his wife Jan and two sons, Matt (17) and Jason (20) live on a quiet cul-de-sac on the south end of Salem, not far from the RV park. Jan loves to quilt during the rainy winters and has many artfully designed throws, spreads and wall hangings adorning their two-story house. The house feels homey as soon as I enter it and I realize why. It is furnished with many items from the house in Shorewood I visited so often as a girl. Skip is a swim coach at Willamette University and was recently awarded Woman’s Swimming Coach of the Year. Skip meets us on his front lawn and as we hug, I see his mother, my aunt Punkin, at the doorway. She is frail but looks much the same as she did 22 years ago when I saw her last. She will turn 88 years old at the end of the month but has better hearing and alertness than many people I know 20 and more years younger. We chat awhile in the living room, catch up on the Kenitzer end of the family, admire Skip’s collection of lighthouses and photographic prints before hopping into Skip’s van to a Steak and Pancake restaurant. We all order a sandwich type meal with pie and ice cream for dessert, Punkin’s treat. Later we drive to Punkin’s small, but tastefully furnished, apartment. She gets a bit winded climbing the steps to her second story door, but gee, she’s 88 years old. By 9:30 p.m. we are saying goodbye to everyone and driving back to RTENT. We comment on the short but pleasant visit before we too hit the sack.

(Bert) From the Oregon coast we head inland through a dark tunnel of trees that crowd the shoulders and nearly touch our roof. The tree tunnel stretches 50 miles through the coastal mountain range. Then daylight reemerges in an open rolling farmland. We turn north on I-5 and head to Salem, the capital of Oregon. We’re on the track to find relatives lost through time. As we park on a new residential street, I see Shari’s cousin Skip at his doorstep, although I barely recognize him after 25 years. Inside are his wife Jan and mother Pat who Shari called Punkin, a favorite aunt. Now 87, she looks almost the same as when we saw her in Florida in January 1973. A bit frailer, but still sharp eyes, acute hearing and quick mind. Skip fills us in on his life since we met last and on his current position as professor in athletics at Willamette University. In addition to his research on athletic psychology he coaches a championship swim team. We drive to the university and I learn it is the oldest college west of the Mississippi, founded in 1842 before Oregon statehood. Punkin treats us to dinner and later we drive to her second story apartment with stairs she climbs with little difficulty. She has a Teddy Bear for our granddaughter and Skip relates stories of the couple dozen bears that Punkin has given away in the past few years. It was a delight to visit with her, a pleasure I wasn’t sure we’d have again this side of heaven.

 

Day 132 - September 20, 1998 - Milepost 10503 (377 today) - Redding, CA

(Bert) Like a bullet train, we shoot south on I-5, down a flat valley so broad I can’t see the mountains that define it. Near the southern Oregon border we climb steadily, often passing loaded trucks with even less climbing power than us. In the mountains, farmlands have been replaced with a thin Black Oak forest. After crossing Grant’s Pass we begin to get views of snow-covered Mt. Shasta. The California border is signaled by a fruit inspector that quickly dismisses us. Glimpses of Shasta Lake appear below us between interceding passes and forests. The calm blue water filling the gap between mountains looks inviting. Sunday vacationers sight see from large double decked houseboats; a few people water ski. We exit I-5 just north of Redding, meander a dozen miles through foothills covered in Live Oak and find a campsite among the oaks.

(Shari) It has been a long time since Bert has had to awaken me. He is ready to get going at 8 a.m. and I am still sleepy. I reluctantly get up, dress, make coffee and we are off. We take I-5 south, hoping it will be a flatter, wider, straighter alternative to 101. Well, it is wider. The beginning of the ride is great and we comment that we have not seen such a nice road for months and months. The dry, grassy stuff along the roadside soon turns to short green Black Oaks that also look parched. I read in my mountain pass book that a steep decline should start around Grant’s Pass. To my way of thinking we have had steep declines for the last two hours. We stop for lunch at a rest area north of Grant’s Pass and shortly after that notice a RV on the side of the road, decoupling their toad from its trailer. Bert finds that strange until I mention that maybe the steep pass is coming soon. I wonder if we should also unhook, but it is too late. We are already climbing. And climbing, and climbing, and climbing, and climbing. The highway widens to three lanes and we use the furthest right-hand lane most of the time letting faster vehicles pass us to our left. Occasionally we are fast enough to whiz past a loaded 18-wheeler or an even slower RV than our own. Finally we crest out, but you know what happens next. Yup, we have to go down. And down, and down, and down. Actually the down is not bad and Bert shifts from 3rd to 2nd , back to 3rd , etc., keeping us under control. We are ready to call it a day near Mount Shasta. I notice Castle Crags State Park near Calstella. A ranger meets us at the entrance and informs us we are too big, in spite of the fact that Trailer Life says all 68 sites are 35 ft. Looks like we have more miles to travel. No information center greeted us upon entering California and therefore I have no information on attractions, campgrounds, etc. in the state. I do have Trailer Life and we look in there for a campground near Redding. We find a big one page ad mentioning $12.99 rates. Heh, that price is good! Unfortunately Bear Mountain RV Resort is a good seven miles from the road. We wind and wiggle our way to our home for the night. It is ok with shaded spaces on a terraced hillside and a cold swimming pool. We are tired and grateful to be at 0 m.p.h. for a while.

 

Day 133 - September 21, 1998 - Milepost 10572 (69 today) - Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

(Shari) We only have a short distance to drive today so we can afford the luxury of a late start. Bert finds me watching the televised Clinton Grand Jury tapes and says he already knows more than he wants to know. However when I tell him I want to leave he cannot tear himself from the tawdry details either. We waste a good hour watching that trash and I feel ashamed of myself along with the President and the country. Since we knew California had a border check for produce, we used all our fruits and vegetables. Yesterday, the border guard asked us if we had any fruits and plants. Bert told him we had three apples from a grocery store in Oregon and he passed us through with a friendly, "Have a good day." It was time to restock in Redding. The road from Redding to Lassen Volcanic National Park is not mentioned in my mountain pass book but it should be. Although the elevation change is gradual, the road climbs for miles and I am guessing it climbs the full 48 miles from Redding to Lassen. At one point we wonder if we should have unhitched since our engine strains and we can smell gas. Finally we reach Lassen and stop at a wonderful campground set in a tall Ponderosa Pine forest. The fee is $14 per night, a bit pricey for no hookups, but the setting can’t be beat. We circle Loop A and find many available empty sites. I do not know if it is because it is late in the season or that there is truth to the saying that Lassen is one of our great national park secrets. We pick a site next to a bubbling stream, put down our jacks, get our lawn chairs and just enjoy the view, the gurgling water and the fresh pine air. Later we walk the mile or so to the museum along the Manzanita Lake path. The forecast is written on a board and I am surprised to learn that nighttime temperatures are in the 30s. Daytime high yesterday was 68 and partly cloudy. I just got out my shorts yesterday. Looks like I can find the sweats again. Hurrah! Hurrah!

(Bert) I can just imagine the headlines, "Vacationer killed by Chickaree." The headline begs the question, "What’s a Chickaree?" And once that is answered you’d wonder how a little squirrel can kill a man. Well, let me start from the beginning. This morning we tarry at our campsite longer than usual, listening to the National Soap Opera and watching principal actor Clinton squirm through embarrassing questions during the Grand Jury interrogation. Cutting him off after an hour, we head east through the Cascades toward Lassen Volcanic National Park. The grueling 5,000-ft. climb is a not as steep as others we have taken, but it is a perpetual 25-mile uphill grind without reprieve. Near Shingletown I ask Shari if she thinks we should unhook. We postpone and almost immediately the road flattens and the tough part is behind us. I drive the remaining distance to the park and we find a spacious campsite surrounded by lofty pine pillars. Hiking in the forest, I am attracted to clumps of pine needles falling from the sky. I look up to see a Chickaree (Douglas Squirrel) chewing off small clumps and tossing them overboard. How convenient! I was trying to identify the pine species, but couldn’t reach the needles until this squirrel has made it easy. Standing under the 120-ft. tree, I open my book and identify the needles as Ponderosa Pine. Suddenly, crashing from more than a hundred feet above comes an unripe pine cone. This is no ordinary cone: hard as rock, surrounded by piercing spikes, the pine cone looks and feels as heavy as the plumb weight on a grandfather’s clock. And it misses me by only a few feet. I shudder to think what it would feel like to have my hatless head hit by this 1-lb. bomb.

 

Day 134 - September 22, 1998 - Milepost 10572 - Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

(Bert) Today we explore Lassen, a national park overlooked by most Americans. In May 1914 Lassen Peak erupted in a cloud 25,000-ft. high and earned its national park designation the following year. Hidden away in northern California, the park, undeservedly, is not often visited. I find it a fascinating way to study volcanoes and, in particular, to observe the way life is restored after a devastating volcano. We drive to a flat valley called the Devastated Area where volcanic boulders are scattered. Some are immense 400-ton rocks transported two miles from the peak. In the days preceding the eruption, heat from the volcano melted snow and caused an avalanche of churning water. Pushed by the water, the huge rocks rode down the mountain on a bed of smaller rocks and boulders that acted like ball bearings. Now, surprisingly tall Lodgepole Pines and Red Fir grow among the rocks, a quick return of the forest. We drive around Lassen Peak, climbing to higher elevation. At 8,000 ft. we begin to find snow drifts left from last winter. We park at the highest point reachable by auto (8,512 ft.). From here we hike just a few hundred feet along the path to the peak. Through binoculars I can see others who left early this morning to hike to the summit at 10,457 ft. The way up is barren rock, treeless and plantless except for a few alpine flowers still in bloom. Descending the highway on the other side, we find fumaroles puffing sulfurous smoke amid abundant and diverse wildlife. Lassen Volcanic National Park has the distinction of intersecting the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada Mountains and, as such it offers a diverse collection of trees, plants and animals. To my delight, I add Black-backed Woodpecker and White-headed Woodpecker to my life list. I also take interest in the great variety of pines growing here and I identify eight species. Squirrels are in abundance also: Chickaree, Western Gray Squirrel, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, California Ground Squirrel, Yellow-pine Chipmunk. I also find Black-tailed Deer on four occasions. Lassen is a fascinating national park that is well worth the visit.

(Shari) Lassen Volcanic National Park reminds me much of Yellowstone without the crowds and touristy things to do. After a leisurely morning to wake up, I pack a lunch and we get in the car to explore US route 89 that winds through the park. Until Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980, Lassen had the distinction of being the most recent volcanic outburst in the Lower 48, erupting in May of 1914. As we drive through the area touched by this powerful natural force, I marvel at the regeneration powers of the land. Much of the devastated area is already a full-grown forest of pine trees. We stop at Devastated Area and walk the short interpretative trail explaining the events of 1914-1915 when the peak burst spuing enormous rocks and gases over a large area. Marilyn would love these rocks in her rock garden. They range in color and size and I am particularly fond of the black bacite, formed by a melding of lava and rock. Another feature of the park is its geothermal area. Much like Yellowstone without the geysers, Sulfur Works offers boiling mud pots, steaming fumaroles and bubbling hot water springs complete with acrid hydrogen sulfide smell. We eat our lunch at a picnic table at the south end of the park before turning around to retrace our tracks north. Here again I am reminded of Yellowstone. The huge yellow colored canyon sprinkled with iron rust and manganese blue and sulfur yellow reminds me of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We stop for a hike to King’s Falls, a pleasant two-mile walk through forest and meadow complete with grazing deer. Upon our return we decide to eat pudgie pies again for dinner. The evening is lovely and this may be our last chance for an open fire in the woods.

 

Day 135 - September 23, 1998 - Milepost 10896 (324 today) - Mina, NV

(Bert) East of Lassen Volcanic National Park the mountains shorten and the trees thin. We cross into Nevada near Reno, freeway through the city and then head southeast on US 95 toward Las Vegas. We’ve taken this road once before by Greyhound bus in the early ‘70s. The trip was overnight and I recall the steady pace of the Greyhound racing through the straight desert track, only slowing briefly at tiny towns lite by all night gambling halls. Now in bright daylight I see the arid wastelands stretch endlessly toward raw, unclothed mountains. Traveling at 55 m.p.h., RTENT moves at snail’s pace measured against distant vistas. Mid afternoon we attempt to camp at Walker Lake - a large, still reservoir devoid of boats - but find all campsites taken at the BLM site. I’m surprised because the lake view is unappealing, the sites featureless and the backdrop mountain devoid of anything interesting except the White-tail Antelope Squirrels that scurry everywhere. We round the lake and reach the outskirts of Hawthorne. Hundreds of windowless concrete buildings stretch, row upon row, across the desert. We see no trespassing signs posted by the US Army, a sign announcing US Army Depot and another saying Munition Plant. More buildings continue on the other side of Hawthorne and a sign broadcasts Naval Undersea Warfare Center. Next come hundreds of underground concrete bunkers. This town reads like a Dean Koontz novel; it gives me the creeps. We continue through the desert until Mina, a dusty town in the middle of nowhere, stopping at an RV park with better facilities than the nearby houses.

(Shari) Reluctantly we leave Lassen and head for Death Valley. I, for one, am not anxious to return to heat. It has been so pleasantly cool here, 34 degrees last night. However, our battery is not working properly and was deader than a doornail when we returned yesterday from our outing. It needs a good charge from our running alternator, but we hardly used it and it should not be weak. The scenery changes from cool pine forests to hotter bare mounds of rock. Reno would be a pleasant place to stop for the night but we have only driven three hours. We start looking for a place to stop at 3 p.m. and are disappointed by the lack of facilities along US 95. We pull into Walker Lake Recreation Area but find the few spaces there are already taken. Many people look like they are pitched down for the season. Heaven knows why, since the area is nothing more than a mirror of water in the middle of barren mounds. We drive onward, hoping for something better. Passing through Hawthorn, we comment that it is an army town. Huge restricted areas populated with cinder-block windowless buildings elicit imaginative musings about what they contain. Further on we see hundreds of mounds and again we imagine the missiles inside. More barren land passes our window and I have difficulty keeping my eyes open though we listen to a Mary Higgins Clark audio tape. Finally we reach Mina and Sunrise Valley RV Park. It is rated an 8 out of 10 by Trailer Life and I pronounce it cute. Here we stop for the night and here is where Bert spends the last hours of his 53rd birthday. I just had to get that in.

 

Day 136 - September 24, 1998 - Milepost 11060 (164 today) - Beatty, NV

(Shari) Gee this land is desolate. I see nothing but sand and sage as we continue south. We only travel three hours, but the ride is monotonous. I remember two towns, if you can call them that. Ramshackle houses, dilapidated sheds, vacant stores and no grass. As we slowly ride through Tonopah, I see an abandoned house, windows long since broken out, a hole in the roof. On the creaking old door hanging on one hinge, I read the No Vacancy sign. This seems to describe it all. Suddenly things begin to look greener near the town of Beatty. Our home for the next two nights is Rio Rancho RV Park, a pleasant stay in an otherwise dreary place. At an elevation of 3,300 ft. I am hoping for a little cooler temperature than I would find in Death Valley. I ask the attendant what I can expect for a high and low temperature today. He says high about 90 and low 45. Surprisingly the high occurs at noon and steadily cools down as the day travels toward night. With the low humidity, it is pleasant, even without air conditioning. We have the best site in the park, at the back corner under three cottonwood trees that provide shade all day. Cottonwoods shade most of the sites during sometime of the day. As an added allurement, free wine is served in the office from noon until 7. The post office is in the building next door. While Bert naps, I walk to retrieve our mail. It has arrived from Newport and the rest of the day is spent balancing checkbook and paying bills.

(Bert) Today’s desert seems even drier than yesterday’s. Distant salt flats seem to support no life; closer land is sparsely covered in sage and desert grasses. Nothing stirs, not even the wind. Our highway flies arrow straight for 20-mile stretches, often tilting a degree or two, uphill or downhill. Elevation signs announce heights ranging between 5,083 and 6,256 ft. This is a lonely place, lonelier than the Yukon even though more people live here clustered in the little towns. The Yukon was bursting with green life, clothed in incessant spruce and aspen. This Nevada dessert is barren ghost land. Surprisingly, I see a few ravens exploring the arid desert. These birds amaze me. No other creature has adapted to such wide extremes of habitat. I’ve seen ravens in the Sonoran Desert near the Mexico border, ravens at the tops of ski slopes in Colorado, ravens at the Pacific seashore, ravens in the forests of the Yukon and Alaska and I know they even survive the winters along the Arctic Ocean. When I’ve watched them up close, I am struck by the eerie way they watch me. I suspect them of knowing secrets, of harboring hidden wisdom, of possessing cunning inventiveness. No wonder the American Indians accounted them godlike reverence and the Alaskan Indians attributed the creation of the world to the raven.

 

Day 137 - September 25, 1998 - Milepost 11060 - Death Valley National Park, CA

(Bert) Cushioned in the hallow below Bullfrog Hills, ghost town Rhyolite is an ominous message of the famous valley we visit today. Partial concrete walls outline the bank, a saloon and a few other remnants of a turn-of-the-century boom town, now dead and abandoned. Near the town’s entrance, a dozen mysterious people huddle in white sheets. On closer approach, the people disappear and only the shroud remains in the ghostlike artwork. Leaving the ghosts behind, our Pathfinder climbs the Funeral Mountains, a slow ascent to Daylight Pass (elev. 4316) at the eastern edge of Death Valley. Several coveys of Chukar scurry beside the road, debating whether to cross our path. From the pass we literally coast downhill for almost 20 miles, bottoming out at sea level on the floor of Death Valley. Rigid flatness extends between abrupt mountains that are partially obscured by a dusty haze. Once during a glacial period, Manly Lake covered this valley, extending 90 miles long and 6 to 11 miles wide, 600 ft. deep. Now it is North America’s driest desert with less than two inches of annual rainfall. The surface appears white, often like shimmering water that mysteriously evaporates on closer approach, leaving only crystallized salts. At Devil’s Golf Course, the ground looks like a haphazardly plowed field with furrows of salt and gravel pushed up in columns, then carved by wind and rain into fantastic shapes. I recall watching Ronald Reagan hosting the Death Valley Days TV show, hearing the word "Borax" for the first time. We visit Harmony Borax Works, now only desert dried equipment fragments and building shells. In its 1880s heyday, imported Chinese workers scraped the mineral from the valley bottom, manufactured the borax onsite and transported it 180 miles by 20-mule team. The two giant borax wagons and water wagon that defined a train are on view at the Borax Works. By experience it was noted that 12 mules pull twice as much as eight mules and that 20 mules pull twice that of 12 mules. The enormous wagons had rear wheels 7 ft. high and a three-wagon train weighed 36.5 tons when loaded. What a sight that must have been to see the mules pull across the desert! At Golden Canyon, I hike up a dry waterway. Shari stops at the first marker, overcome by the desert heat. I continue for an hour to marker 10 and back. In spite of being an arid desert, most of the geological features of Death Valley are sculpted by water. Rain etches the rocks, dumps debris down alluvial fans, cuts canyons and shapes mountains. At Badwater I hike into the valley to the deepest point in North America: 282 ft below sea level. Turning back I look up at a sign marking sea level on the cliff wall and above that Dante’s View at 5,475 ft. On the opposite side of the valley, Telescope Peak rises to 11,049 ft., making this one of the largest vertical climbs in North America. We are weary by the time we loop back to Beatty, having spent more than 10 hours driving through Death Valley. Imagine doing it by foot!

(Shari) We decided to camp in Beatty and take a day trip down to Death Valley because I was concerned about the heat in the valley and the steep decline down. I pack a lunch, and for the second time in a week we pile into the car and head south. The descent is long, and steady. In hindsight, RENT could have done it, but without the car attached. Death Valley is aptly named. It is a long scantily clad valley, surrounded by naked pink and maroon mountains with a white salt ribbon traversing the center. I wanted to visit Death Valley and recreate the romanticized experiences of those people seen on Ronald Reagan’s Death Valley Days. What I find instead is an experience of desolation, from the hard labor of the Chinese laborers hauling borax salt in hand drawn carts to the poor lost pioneers suffering the hardships of a land without water and intense heat. Death Valley is worth a visit but please do it in the months where the temperature is not above 95 degrees. This may be a dry heat. Still, hot is hot! This July the temperature reached 129 degrees, the highest ever recorded. However, all July’s post temperatures above 125 degrees. Hot is hot! Looking out our windshield as I drive, looks like viewing through old wavy glass. Heat waves emanating from the hot sand ahead form mirages that look like images of calm lakes, only to disappear into salt deposits as we approach. The Furnace Creek area is the focal point. This is where the Visitor Center is located and a very nice campground restaurant, store, museum, golf course and lodging facilities. A small creek feeds water to the oasis and the greenery surrounding the complex is cooling. We stop at the Golden Canyon interpretive trail but I find it too hot to continue the walk into the canyon. At Devil’s Golf Course I examine the crystalized jagged salt spikes that populate the ground and at Badwater, I again opt to remain behind as Bert hikes to the end of a well-worn salt path. This is the lowest point in the US, a minus 280 ft. below sea level. The National Park Service has a sign posted on the mountain next to the creek to impress on the visitor how far below sea level 286 ft. actually is.

 

Day 138 - September 26, 1998 - Milepost 11186 (126 today) - Las Vegas, NV

(Bert) We pass a milestone in RTENT - the odometer hits 50000.0 miles at 10:19 a.m. I suspect not many RV owners drive their motorhomes 50,000 miles and, if they did, they may not have done it in the 32 months we did. This milestone is in the middle of the Mohave Desert, milepost 11,115 on our trip. In the distance lies Mercury, NV, apparently a government test site with a guarded gate. The sign on US 95 says "No services." It’s another one of those ominous military installations that haunt me. I guess I’ve read too many Dean Koontz novels. Here, 60 miles from Las Vegas, the desert is sparse with a thin spread of dull green creosote bush and parched pale green sage on a bed of desiccated gravel. Mountains toward Mercury are sharply defined by the glaring sunlight, rough hewn tortured mountains, dried to a crisp. The duller mountains toward Vegas spread like a poker hand, each receding card a different shade of violet blue.

(Shari) Wanting to treat ourselves to a fancy resort, I retrieve Trailer Life to find directions to Oasis, A Destiny Resort in Las Vegas. Directions there say to exit I-15 at Blue Diamond Road. I have no idea whether Blue Diamond Road is north or south of the 93/95 intersection with I-15. Since neither RTENT nor its driver likes to get lost, I decide to navigate us to Sam’s Town, another place I have heard much about. It is ok. Just another large asphalt parking lot with a grassy medium strip sprinkled with trees. The swimming pool is also just ok for getting wet and cooling off, but too small for the laps we like to swim. We drive the car to the strip, park in the free lot at the Frontier Casino and walk along the glitzy casino row. None of the present shows interest us this time so we decide to just sightsee. We pass some casinos and visit others. Bert wants to see the tigers at the Mirage. I play the slots. Our intended goal is the New York, New York, a complex in the construction stage during our visit in 1996. It is a disappointment. I guess I expected more. The outside is constructed to look like many skyscrapers but looks fake with its multicolor sides of purple, pink, lime green, gray and white. The miniature Statue of Liberty also looks out of place, as does a bridge. Whereas the outside just did not come together right, the inside is better. Casino areas in other hotels look alike with red carpeting and neon lights; only the shop and restaurant areas have personality. Contrastingly, the brick road in the New York New York travels through Soho, Times Square and Motown enticing the stroller to stop and sample the wares of each establishment. There is a fantastic roller coaster on the top, beginning in the inside of Manhattan, ascending a 203-ft. lift and then careening along the sky scape of the outside complex, for those young and young at heart. By now we are hungry. The buffet at the MGM has too long a line so we take the free monorail to Bally’s. There we partake of a scrumptious feast of shrimp, crab legs, lamb, prime rib, duck, steak and more. The walk back to the car now is a good idea since we are so full. Two noteworthy new hotels are now under construction. The Venetian and Baraccio (or something like that). The first is a wonderful replica of St. Marks Square in Venice complete with canals. The second is French Paris and it remains to be seen whether it turns out classy or just another Paul Bunyan play village like New York, New York. This gives us a good excuse to come back in another two years.

 

Day 139 - September 27, 1998 - Milepost 11387 (201 today) - Seligman, AZ

(Shari) The buffets in Las Vegas are the downfall of any diet. Today we indulge in Sam’s Town Champagne Brunch buffet, loaded with egg dishes, pancakes, French toast, bacon, sausage and, if you wait in line long enough, omelettes cooked to order. As usual we eat too much and before we can leave our campsite, Bert needs a nap. Finally we disconnect the utilities and connect the car. Our nose crosses the expressway at 12:15 p.m. Not long after leaving town, we approach a road construction sign that states: Expect two to three hour delays! That is ridiculous! We decide to heed their advice and detour to Laughlin. We are not the only ones with this idea and the two-lane road is jammed with traffic. This is not an easy drive and the wind makes it worse. Moreover, we encounter one of those notorious descents down to the Colorado River at the state border. RTENT takes the long 7-mile decline in second gear. As we approach the town, I see a road going up the mountain on the other side of the river. I cannot believe how steep it looks. The book says it is 6% for 12.5 miles. Yikes! I suggest we unhook the car, but you know Bert. So we climb and climb and climb in second gear for what seems like an eternity. I see three cars out my window, with their hoods up who did not make the climb. I think to myself, There but by the grace of God, go I. Finally we are up and level off. We stop for the night at the Seligman KOA. If you don’t like trains, don’t stop here. This is the second KOA with train tracks in the backyard. (My first experience was the KOA in Springfield, MO.) These train tracks are used heavily and I again experience the train horn Doppler effect, both coming and going, more times than I care to remember.

(Bert) You’d think last night’s dinner buffet was enough to keep us fed for a week. Yet here we are again standing in line for a breakfast buffet at Sam’s Town. Earlier this morning, I worked up an appetite hiking around Sunset Park, a good birding spot I first visited in 1988. In spite of the intrusion of city administration buildings, a jogging track and more picnic areas, the park remains a haven for desert birds. In particular, I find Crissal’s Thrasher and Abert’s Towhee. Mountain Cottontails proliferate in the park; I probably saw at least 50. I wonder if the city is limiting the coyote population only to have the rabbit population get out of hand. After a leisurely breakfast and time for Shari to dump a few more quarters into the slots, we leave Las Vegas about noon. Almost immediately our road detours to Laughlin. Strong wind gusts and a two-lane road force me to keep my speed at 50 m.p.h., but this causes me to back up long lines of cars. Periodically I drive on the shoulder to let 20 or so cars pass. Just outside Laughlin - a city that has grown enormously since we last visited - we ascend at 6% for 12 miles, slowing us to a 35 m.p.h. crawl which blocks much traffic. Crossing into Arizona, conditions improve and we hum smoothly to tonight’s rest stop. Seligman’s claim-to-fame is birthplace of Historic Route 66, a bit of a misnomer since Route 66 extends from Chicago to Santa Monica. Apparently some local legislators were able to designate a portion of the old road as an historic landmark, so here next to our campground starts the historic road.

 

Day 140 - September 28, 1998 - Milepost 11696 (309 today) - Petrified Forest National Park, AZ

(Bert) On I-40 we now are retracing the path we took near the start of this adventure in May. We’ve traveled this interstate several times, but always bypassed Petrified Forest National Park. This time we reach the entrance at noon, park for lunch in RTENT and then spend three hours exploring the park. Situated at the west end of the Sonoran Desert, the arid, treeless land certainly does not remotely look like the forested floodplain that lay here in the late Triassic Period. Yet the evidence is all around us as we walk and drive through the park: chunks of petrified wood lie scattered everywhere. More impressively, the long logs of felled trees look like limbless Redcedar from a distance and marbleized rock close up. Desert reds mixed with accenting yellows and browns swirl in concentric rings. Brown knots and limb stubs, swelling roots, gnarled blackened bark add to the realism of the extinct trees. One famous tree trunk is named Old Faithful; including the main root, it stretches 35 ft. and is estimated to weigh 44 tons. Another is Agate Bridge - a completely intact log stretching 110 ft. across an arroyo. In 1911, support pillars were installed and six years later these were enhanced to make a complete concrete wall. Otherwise, it likely would now be split like others into 5 or 6-ft. lengths owing to the forces of shifting ground. Our scenic drive takes us 28 miles through the park, ending at the Painted Desert, a tortured landscape of reddish sandstone intermixed with white and dark layers of clay. Reentering I-40 we continue through Arizona, enter New Mexico and stop shortly after Gallup at Giant Travel Center. A glorified truck stop, the center includes several restaurants, multiple truck and RV services and an expansive parking lot for overnighting RV’ers and truckers.

(Shari) The ground is so hot and dry. By noon, the temperature has almost reached 100 degrees. We eat our lunch on the road next to the gift shop and museum in Petrified Forest National Park. I remove the outside thermometer for fear it will break in the heat. I catch it at 103 degrees. I tour the museum and gift store, while Bert hikes the trail of petrified logs. We drive RTENT and the car through the 28-mile park road, stopping at various pullouts and interpretative trails. Bert is brave enough to hike most of them. I turn on the generator and view the desolate landscape from the comfort of air conditioning. It takes us three hours to finish the park road and get back on I-40. For the second time in our camping lives, we park for the night in a busy parking lot. A travel center called Giant, a few miles from Thoreau, NM advertises heavily along the road. While Bert gets gas, I ask the clerk whether RV overnight parking is permitted. She points me to a big lot where five other RV’s are already parked. We load up with water, since this is free with no frills and nestle ourselves among the others. We eat, do dishes and read until bedtime. Before we know it, 10 other vehicles join us for our night time resting spot.

 

Day 141 - September 29, 1998 - Milepost 12108 (412 today) - Amarillo, TX

(Bert) The horse smells the barn. We start to feel the magnetic pull of home and cruise 412 miles in that direction today, the most we’ve traveled in one day on this trip. I-40 is a straight run east with little changes in scenery. To curtail monotony, we spend much of the drive time listening to audio tapes, this time some short stories by Mary Higgins Clark. During other times my mind drifts to other passing vehicles. A long 18-wheeler is pulled by an inappropriately nicknamed cab called "Short & Sassy." A Jeep Cherokee has Arizona plates with a Nike sequel phrase, "DID IT." I spotted a trio of flashy new Toyota Supra sport cars in tight racing formation zoom past me at an estimated 85 m.p.h. Curiously, this same trio traveled with us the day before. Now, five minutes later a patrol car jets past, doing at least 100 m.p.h. I wonder if these events are related. Then 10 minutes later I see the patrol car has pulled over all three Supras. Just past Albuquerque a car pulling a long trailer has jack knifed into the oncoming traffic and the trailer overturned. For the next few miles I see a procession of emergency vehicles heading back to the accident site. On another lonely section of road a semi is attempting to recover an amusement ride mounted on a flat bed that disconnected from another semi. It seems that even on boring sections of highway, there are events to entertain me.

(Shari) It is too tempting. The business complex tied to the Giant Travel Center has a food court and a full service restaurant. We eat breakfast at the restaurant. So what budget category should I put our $13 tab, camping fees or dining? Bert thinks it should go under Shari’s entertainment. Wrong! We stay on the same road all day today, constantly pointing east. We stop at WonderLand RV Park in Amarillo. It has 50-amp power for our dual air conditioners, but very decrepit roads. I suppose it would look a whole lot better if the grass between the spaces was green. Since, there has not been rain in many weeks, the grass is the same color as the gravel road: dry and parched. Welcome to west Texas!

 

Day 142 - September 30, 1998 - Milepost 12465 (357 today) - Ray Roberts State Park, TX

(Bert) Today’s highway race through the dry, flat Texas Panhandle is not ripe with journal news. Unless you are an avid birder! Others may want to scan down to Shari’s report. For me the highlight of the day is finding two rare birds. Rare can mean very few. For birders, it can also mean a common bird outside its normal range. We stop at noon beside US 287 at a wayside in the southeast corner of the Panhandle. While Shari eats lunch, I walk the crisp brown lawn and look over the barbed wire fence for birds willing to be visible in the near 100-degree temperature. A Curve-billed Thrasher rests in the shade of a short dry bush. I study the bird carefully because I’m sure the bird is out of range (later reference to Pulich’s The Birds of North Central Texas confirms my suspicion). To convince other birders I saw a rare bird, I need a detailed description, so I document my sighting: long curved bill, dusty brown back, diffuse gray spots on a buffy white breast, etc. As I am writing down the details, a Brown Thrasher flies into the same bush. This is amazing! Whereas the Curved Thrasher is rare because it is beyond it’s easterly habitat range, the Brown Thrasher is also rare, but because it’s beyond its westerly edge. I have the unusual opportunity to see these two thrashers side by side in the same bush. That may not be exciting to most readers, but it is to an ardent birder.

(Shari) Hot, Hot, Hot----Hot Hot--Hot HOT! I guess we should have stayed in Alaska a bit longer. Thank goodness for air conditioning. We drive all day in the heat, stopping once for lunch and once for fresh produce. Our final stop is north of Dallas, at Ray Roberts State Park. The Isle du Bois Unit where we are camped is a wonderful place not far from the metroplex of Dallas/Fort Worth, about 7 miles east of I-35 at Sanger. I have never been here, but I bet we come back. I understand the Johnson Branch on the north side of the lake also has camping facilities. We are assigned site 50: a pull through that turns out to be too uneven for us to level our jacks. Most of the 184 sites in this park are very attractive, so we just move to site 51. At check-in, the park attendant tells me about the fishing pier, playground area and swimming beach not too far from our site. I notice an interpretive trail, a 2.2-mile paved center loop biking/hiking trail, and a 7.5-mile dirt trail to a park called Jordan Park. Since our daughter Missy is moving to this area, I am sure we will be back to take advantage of these outdoor facilities in a cooler time. Even if she wasn’t moving here, it is worth a visit. Once you have a Texas State Pass, the fee for a water and 50-amp electric site is only $12. This quiet, wooded rural area is just a hop, skip and jump away from the entertainment possibilities of Dallas/Fort Worth. Although I am anxious to get home, I am glad we stopped here for the night rather than push on through the additional five hours to reach College Station.

 

Day 143 - October 1, 1998 - Milepost 12701 (236 today) - College Station, TX

(Bert) The last few miles drift by in a blur as we drive through well known territory, closing in on home. We are surprised at the green grass and plants: no sign of drought. The gulf storms must have brought plenty of rain. But the heat is still here and I especially notice the oppression while I unload RTENT. Oh how I miss the crisp cool air of Alaska!

(Shari)

Of all the roads
that wind and wind,
The best of all,
leads home we find.

I know I will be ready to go again in about 14 days but for now home is sweet, even if I face unpacking all those 271 boxes I packed in May anticipating the sale of our house. Now if only I could find the sheets for our bed.

Epilogue Table of Contents