2017 Year End Travels

After our big cruise adventures we returned to Washington to spend time with family before heading south to warmer, drier climes.  We celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas together on our own timetable.

Family time

We usually get our RV maintenance done in Oregon in part because there is no sales tax.  A bigger reason is that we’ve found Elite RV Restoration and Repair to be the most competant RV technicians we’ve met.  They have the highest hourly rate but lower cost repairs because they know what they are doing.  We had accumulated a pretty good list of mostly small repairs in the year since we’d seen them last.  Down the road we had our diesel engine and generator serviced by Cummins in Medford OR.  We took the time while there to tour the factory where Randy’s Micro-Trains are manufactured.  It was an interesting tour of how modern factories work with 3D printing and computer controlled machines but it was also amazing how each tiny model train car is assembled by hand.  Impressive.

Our travels south took us to California a little later than usual.  Surprisingly the weather was very pleasant in the Redding area.  Redding is a very nice smallish city with a great network of walking trails and an iconic pedestrian bridge over the Sacramento River.

Redding’s Sundial Bridge

Pinnacles National Park has become a favorite stop as we travel south through central California.  Great hiking and caves.   We also love visiting Monterey Bay at Moss Landing.  There we watch sea lions, seals, otters and many seabirds and hike on the beach.

Pinnacles Nationa Park

Moss Landing with seals and birds

Monterey Bay beach

Just east across the mountains from LA we stayed at Soledad Canyon RV Park.  Its a nice rural area.  Nearby we love hiking Vasquez Rocks.  Its  a Los Angles County park and scene of many Hollywood films and TV shows.  Great hiking in a desert setting.

Vasquez Rocks – LA County Park

Red rock hiking

We love this place

Our final stop in California in 2017 was Palm Springs.  Warm and dry, its a hikers dream in December.  Cool nights balance it out.  At Coachella Valley Preserve we hiked to Hidden Palms and Willis Palms.   Joshua Tree National Park gave us a chance to hike the Lost Horse Mine trail, visit the Ryan Ranch ruins and Cholla Cactus Garden.  All great desert hiking.

Joshua Tree National Park

Ruins of Ryan Ranch

Coachella Preserve

Springs created by shifting faults

Desert

To end the year we traveled across the southern tier of the US to Florida.  We hit the road  before Christmas and used the Escapees Days End Directory to find free boondocking sites across Arizona.  We stayed on BLM land near Tonopah AZ.  It was very quiet with beautiful mountain views and just enough neighbors to feel comfortable.

Boondocking in Arizona

Then we went to Tucson and stayed at the very popular boondocking location known as Snyder Hill.  We had a couple cool days and cooler nights there.  We were surprised to find that we were very close to the Arizona Desert – Sonora Museum.  We have learned to love the desert and this park was part zoo, part botanical garden and very well done.  They had a free flight raptor show where we saw a Peregrine Falcon, Barn Owl, Gray Hawk and 4 Harris Hawks – the only hawks that hunt as a group like wolves.  All the birds were rescued and flew free demonstrating unique behaviors.  We loved it!

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Gray Hawk

Barn Owl

Harris Hawks

Bobcat

Hummingbird

Ducks?

 

Along the same south Tucson road we also visited the Old Tucson Studios, a genuine Western movie set where 1oos of movies and TV shows were filmed.  Begun in 1939, the studio was built for the movie “Arizona”.  It’s a classic western town with real adobe bricks and iconic designs.  At its peak it was the Hollywood of the Desert.  “Three Amigos”, “Tombstone”, John Wayne’s “Rio Bravo”, Paul Newman’s “Hombre”, Clint Eastwood’s “Outlaw Josey Wales” and TV shows like “Gunsmoke” and “Little House on the Prairie” and many more were filmed Old Tucson Studios.  Its a theme park today with guided tours, a train ride and performances by actors.  Another great day.

Old Tucson Studios

Western actors

Action scene

Including stunts

Then it was on to a cold night at the Willcox AZ visitors center.  Apple Annie’s next door had a great apple raspberry pie.  On our way to our next stop we visited Silver City New Mexico.  On our cross country treks we often visited The Pink Store in Palomas Mexico just across the border from Columbus NM.  While trying to find out if they would be open on Christmas Eve we found they had opened a second store in Silver City.  While the store was much smaller we bought some beautiful pottery for the patio we don’t have.  We also had a great lunch at Diane’s in Silver City.  That night was spent at the Escapees RV park in Deming NM.  50 amps and water and sewer were appreciated.

I-10 in Texas is 890 miles long and we traveled all of it.  We stopped in Van Horn, Sonora and the Thousand Trails RV Park in Conroe.  Then it was time for the last 1000 miles to Clermont Florida – our home for most of January.  Surprisingly we experienced some of our coldest weather in Florida.  Parts of I-10 near Tallahassee were closed due to ice and some places had snow but we missed all that.

For the year 2017 we traveled 9612 in the RV and 13,707 in our Honda CRV tow car.  We visited Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ontario, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Hawaii. Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

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New Zealand

Our cruise adventure on Celebrity Solstice continued to New Zealand.  Heading south and east from Melbourne we entered the area of the Pacific Ocean known as the Roaring Forties.  This area is known for near constant high winds, rough seas and frequent storms.  We did not hit any storms but the seas were awesome and winds strong.  Many times the outside decks were closed to passengers.  This was our first cruise on Celebrity and we were excited to experience the difference.  Celebrity is known for upscale cuisine and live glass blowing shows on the top deck.

Corning glass blowers on Solstice

Our first New Zealand stop was not a stop at all but a series of sounds, Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound.  Milford is really a fjord cutting into the rugged mountains of southwest New Zealand.  It was cold and raining as we cruised the sound.  Because of the rain we saw countless waterfalls.  When it was time to turn around and exit the captain did donuts with the gigantic ship affording great views and cheers from the passengers.  Doubtful Sound later the same day gave us better weather so we got some decent photos.  Dusky Sound was our last sound transit and as we exited we were at the south end of New Zealand’s South Island.

Milford Sound

Doubtful Sound

Dusky Sound

Dunedin was our first port in New Zealand.  The welcome was so genuine and people so friendly we immediately loved the place.  Here we took an off ship tour to the gingerbread train station and rode the Taieri Gorge train across the countryside.  We also saw much of the beautiful surrounding area.  Dunedin is a lovely city and very livable.

Approaching beautiful Dunedin

Taieri Gorge train

Gingerbread railway station

Beaches of Dunedin

Next stop was Akaroa.  Cruise ships used to dock at Christchurch but since the 2011 earthquake rebuilding has been slow.  This was a tender port, meaning we had to transfer from ship to port via tender boat.  The first Europeans here were the French but the British soon took over.  Here we booked a ship tour on the TranzAlpine Express rail journey across the vast Canterbury plain to the snow covered Southern Alps.  It is New Zealand’s most scenic rail journey.  Of course any visit to New Zealand would have to include a sheep shearing demo.

Akaroa seafront

TranzAlpine Express

Southern Alps

Sheep shearing demo

Back to the coast

Akaroa

Windy Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and located at the south end of the North Island.  Its the southernmost capital and windiest city in the world.  It is also in a seismicly active area even for New Zealand.  Here we decided to tour on our own and had a great time.  Once again the locals were super nice and friendly.  A shuttle was provided from the port to the new visitors center in town (the last was destroyed in a 2016 earthquake).  There we found a free shuttle to the Zealandia Nature Park.  This park is really unique in that it seeks to eliminate all invasive plant and animals and eventually restore the natives in their normal balance.  This is a long term project but already many endangered birds are flourishing again.  We saw the native Tui and Kaka birds.  From there we caught another shuttle to the botanical garden and cable car.  Wellington is a very livable city and we found it very doable on our own.  We spent NZ$34 or about US$25 for the same sights the ships tour would have cost us US$218.  Wow!

Beautiful windy Wellington

Reservoir icon of Zealandia

Looking down on tree ferns

Old gold mine shaft

Wellington cable car

Old parliment – can you believe its built of wood

North island coast

Tauranga is a holiday area for New Zealanders.  It is located in the Bay of Plenty region near Mount Maunganui towards the north (warmer)end of the North Island.  This is an area of active seismic and hot springs activity.  We toured the Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village built on hot springs and mud pools that reminded us of Yellowstone.  We learned how they cook and bathe using the hot springs on a daily basis.  The Moari are the oldest inhabitants of New Zealand, migrating from Polynesia.  We then drove around Lake Rotorua and visited the Polynesian Spa, a world famous hot springs.  There we soaked in 7 different pools of varying temperatures with great views.  We also visited a Kiwi farm and tasted the Gold Kiwi which is much sweeter than the familiar green.   This was another off ship tour and we enjoyed the small van experience.  If we go back to New Zealand, Tauranga would be a focal point of our visit.

Tauranga beach

Active Maori village

Built on hot pools

And geysers

Traditional show

Polynesian Spa

Mount Maunganui

The Bay of Islands is really an area more than a place.  It is a very historic area where the town of Russell was the first capital of New Zealand and where the Waitangi Treaty was signed in 1840 signaling peace between the British and the Maori.  The date of the treaty is celebrated each February as the founding of New Zealand.  Russell was once a very busy whaling port.  Here we toured on our own again traveling on the local ferry.  Today it is known for great fishing and beaches.

Russell – Old whaling town

Our cruise ended in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.  We self checked out of the ship and took a prebooked tour of the volcanos of Auckland.  It was another small van tour with a young entrepreneur guide along with a couple from Florida embarking on the ship we just left and 2 young women from Germany who were working in Auckland as au pairs.  Auckland is geologically amazing.  There are 53 volcanos around the city.  Rangitoto is the largest and most recent eruption (600 years ago) and while the volcanic field is considered dormant, a new one could pop up anywhere.  Eruptions are never in the same place twice.

Auckland

Rangitoto

Walking in a volcano

Volcanos surround Auckland

New Zealand is a wonderful country.  There are still more sheep than people.  The people are friendly, the scenery is spectacular, the climate mild.  We would definitely love to return for a more in depth tour.

 

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Cruising Australia

By definition cruising provides a sampler of multiple destinations.  Our time in Australia was a real sampler.  The cruise on Explorer of the Seas ended in Sydney and our second cruise on Celebrity Solstice started a day later.  Fortunately our friends Jeff and Kaye picked us up early on our arrival day and we had all of that plus most of a second day before we boarded.  The cruise dock is right in the heart of Sydney so we had a walking tour of many of the city’s highlights including the Opera House, Circular Quay, Sydney Botanical Garden and the oldest part of the city.  Crossing the magnificent harbor on the  Harbor Bridge our friends took us to the interesting Q Station Sydney Harbour National Park on the North Head.  Q Station was a quarantine holding and treatment area for immigrants for over 100 years.  Kaye volunteers at the nearby cemetary where she researches the stories of those buried there.  We learned a bit of Australian history.  After many cool days at sea Sydney was hot.  Our friends hosted us at their beautiful home on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific in the town of Dee Why.  We watched Peregrine Falcons, whales and dolphins from their patio.  After a great Bar-B-Q we walked Dee Why beach to Long Reef Point.  We all rode together on the Manly Ferry to Circular Quay near our cruise port for a send off on our next cruise.  Sure, we had just a short time in Sydney but we made the best of it.  Big thanks to Jeff and Kaye.

Sydney’s iconic Opera House

Famous Harbour Bridge

Sydney Botanical Garden

3rd Cemetary at the quarantine station

Carved graffiti at Q Station

Fumigation building

View from Q Station to city

Lorikeet – Australian native

Dee Why beach

Jeff’s N Scale trains

Opera House from th ferry

Australian Aborigine playing didjeridu

Solstice awaits us

Melbourne was the first stop on our second cruise on Celebrity Solstice.  We chose to take a ship offered excursion to the Puffing Billy steam train which got un into some of the country surrounding this city of 4+ million.  Dianne saw one wild kangaroo from the train.  Overall we just got a taste of Australia but it was enough to whet our appetite for a return.  It is a beautiful, huge country with friendly people and a good exchange rate.

Puffing Billy Railway

Cocatoos are like pigeons in Australia

 

Beautiful Rosella

Farewell Melbourne

 

 

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South Seas Adventure

Our cruise from Seattle to Sydney started with 6 days at sea.  The first day or 2 we had rough seas courtesy of a cold front sweeping into the Pacific Northwest.  Things settled down as we cruised to Hawaii.  The cruise dock in Honolulu is conveniently located in the historic center of town.  We booked a rain forest hike through Viator.  Booking shore excursions from off ship companies results in big dollar savings.  We hiked to Manoa Falls with a small group.  After the hike we walked around Honolulu and toured a Mexican Navy training ship making a port call.

Morning approach to Diamond Head, Honolulu

Rain forest hike in the rain

Manoa Falls

Mexican training ship

Our next stop was Lahaina on the island of Maui.  We love Lahaina for its history and small town ambience.  The town provides a free walking tour which we enjoyed.

Lahaina famously huge banyan tree

Historic 19th Century building

Beautiful Lahaina street

In the course of our next 7 days at sea, we crossed the equator for the first time and experienced the line crossing ceremony transforming us from Pollywogs to Shellbacks in the King Neptune Society tradition.  It was corny and fun.  We got certificates.

Welcome to the Neptune Society

Our next 2 ports of call were in Fiji.  First was Lautoka, a small city where we booked another off ship tour.  Our guide was Indian-Fijian and we were his only customers that day – a far cry from the full bus tours the ship offered.  Ashik took us to actor Raymond Burr’s Garden of the Sleeping Giant, his orchid collection.  We then visited the Thermal Mud Pools for a dip and massage.  We toured Nadi Town with its market and the famous tourist shop, Jacks.

Burr’s orchid garden

Red Sealing Wax palms are happy in Fiji

Thermal Mud Pool treatment

Di with massage ladies

Randy with massage ladies

Abundant market in Nadi town

Ashik and Di returning to ship

Suva is the capital of Fiji and our next stop.  We decided to tour on our own.  A short walk from the port was the Fiji Museum, government buildings, a Carnegie library and the historic Grand Pacific Hotel where we had tea.  Fijians joke that they used to see foreigners and think “dinner”, now they say “Bula Bula, Welcome home”.

Welcoming dancers

Suva

Fiji Museum in Suva

Once fierce Fiji now friendly- Bula Bula

Grand Pacific Hotel

Tea time

Lifou in the Loyalty Islands is an overseas territory of France.  Here we took a ship tour and learned about local customs including a taste of a traditional meal baked in the ground.  Actually we were scheduled to make another stop at Vanuatu but there was a medical emergency on ship and we had to change course to get the passenger close to a helicopter evacuation.  Really reminded all of us that we were on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – a long way from civilization.

Welcome to Lifou

Catholic Church on uplifted coral atoll

Chief’s hut

Preparing a traditional meal

Friendly kids

Coconut crab, huge and endangered

Clear water, beautiful beaches – no resorts

Mare, New Caledonia is another French colony in the South Seas.  Here again we toured on our own and found a quiet cove, a natural aquarium filled with beautiful tropical fish.

Mare from our ship

Welcome music

Totem carving

“Aquarium naturel”

Back to the Explorer of the Seas

Next stop Sydney.

 

 

 

 

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Big Cruise Adventure

We are back stateside after a great Transpacific Cruise adventure.  We traveled on 2 different cruise ships across the Pacific to Australia and New Zealand.  The trip was five weeks plus start to finish.   We sailed from Seattle on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas after leaving our RV at the Elks near our son in Puyallup WA.  The itinerary included many days at sea with stops at Honolulu and Lahaina in Hawaii, Lautoka and Suva in Fiji, and then Vanuatu, Lifou in the Loyalty Islands and Mare, New Caledonia before ending in Sydney Australia.  This was a true trans Pacific cruise crossing the equator and the International Dateline.

Leaving Seattle

Diamond Head Hawaii

Our ship Explorer of the Seas

South Seas sunset

Sydney at dawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great thanks to friends Jeff and Kaye in Sydney for hosting us for a tour, a BarBQ, a night  as well as a beach walk.

Sydney Botanical Garden

Hosts Kaye and Jeff

Dee Why beach

Opera house from the ferry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our cruise adventure continued on Celebrity Solstice from Sydney to Melbourne and then 5 stops around New Zealand.  We flew back to Seattle from Auckland, New Zealand.

Solstice from the ferry in Sydney Harbor

Solstice at Tauranga New Zealand

Solstice at Bay of Islands New Zealand

Solstice at Akaroa New Zealand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was an amazing trip.  It was a long trip.  We have many stories from all our stops along the way.  What a grand adventure.  Look for more posts of our South Seas memories.

 

 

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Month in Montana

We got to know Montana while workamping in the Summer of 2010.  We loved the Big Sky, the rural atmosphere, the abundance of wildlife, the friendly people.  As we planned our travels for the Summer of 2017 we hoped we could visit Montana or Colorado.  Turns out we visited both.  This time around we spent time in Hamilton, Whitefish and Missoula with a side trip to Wallace Idaho.  Unfortuntely Montana had one of the worst wildfire seasons in its history.  Smoke was an issue all over the state with no real relief expected until the Fall rain and snow.  For part of this time our grandson Graham joined us.

Hamilton is the site of copper king Marcus Daly’s home.  Irish born Daly made a fortune in Butte copper and Hamilton timber.  His home reflects his success and its still a focus in the town of Hamilton.  Our guide was a life long resident.

Daly Mansion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missoula is home to the University of Montana, Fort Missoula, the US Forest Service Smokejumper Center and a fabulous farmers market.  We went whitewater rafting on the Clark Fork River.  North of Missoula we visited the National Bison Range, a preserve established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.

Missoula Smokejumper Center

 

Not a museum. this is where men and women prepare to parachute into wildfires

Planes they jump from. Thru the smoke there are mountains in the distance.

Fort Missoula Heritage Park

National Bison Range

Graham

Rocky Mountain Elk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Montana may have more ghost towns than any other state.  The ups and downs of mining are mostly responsible and the state has turned misfortune into a something of a tourism asset.  Garnet is near Missoula and a well preserved state park.

Garnet

Classic Western town

Graham at the bar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wallace Idaho is the nearest town to the Hiawatha Trail, a top ten Rails to Trails site beginning at the MT/ID stateline and continuing 15 miles downgrade along the former Milwaukee Road railroad line.  Along the way we passed thru 7 trestles and 10 tunnels including the 1.66 mile St. Paul Pass Tunnel.  It was a great ride for us all.

St. Paul Pass Tunnel

 

Dianne on 1 of 16 high trestles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deer Lodge is home to the first Territorial Prison in Montana.  It opened in 1876 and closed in 1979.  The prison was plagued with overcrowding, underfunding and antiquated facilities.  Problems led to a famous riot in 1959.  We were reminded of Alcatraz.

Deer Lodge Prison

Cell blocks like Alcatraz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whitefish MT was a nice surprise.  It is a very nice tourist town with a beautiful Tudor Revival train station.  Rail traffic is heavy along this BNSF line as well as Amtrak’s Empire Builder’s busiest station.  The Stumptown Historical Society operates a museum in the station.  Stumptown was the nickname for the town for in the early days trees were cut down so fast the place was littered with stumps.  Great Northern was the original railroad in town and commisioned the Bruck to ferry freight and passengers from nearby Kalispell when the short rail line was no longer profitable.  The smoke was too bad to stay long but we will go back someday.

Whitefish Station

Unique Great Northern Bruck, a bus truck built to GN specs

Local sculpture celebrates railroad history

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our last stop in Montana was the National Forest Service campground at Yaak River near the Kalispell River and the BNSF mainline.  Again smoke kept us moving.

Kalispell River in smoke

 

 

 

 

 

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Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is a huge reservoir in northeast Utah and southern Wyoming.  The lake is 97 miles miles long and over 400 feet deep.  It was created by a dam on the Green River.  The steep sided canyon was named by John Wesley Powell during his expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869.  The river was known to be deadly dangerous before the dam inundated the rapids.   With dificulty we found a great campsite in the Mustang Ridge Campground.  We’re glad we did because we met Trish and Chris, fellow travelers from Florida and avid kayakers.  We had a couple excellent days kayaking together in the beautiful reservoir.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir

View from Red Canyon Overlook

Chris and Trish paddle the reservoir

 

Dianne and Randy paddling

View from campsite

Beautiful Utah

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