Sunday, May 17, 2020

Hi Ho, Hi Ho-To Idaho We Go! Travel/Boondocking Stops Along our Route to Dworshak Dam

I am excited to tell you that shortly after my last post, we received a call from our volunteer gig with the US Army Corps of Engineers in Idaho.  They asked if we would travel there “unofficially” to await their season opening, thought to be somewhere between May 20 for day use and June 1 for camping.  I don’t have to tell you after you read my last post ( ), that we jumped at the opportunity to get out of sweltering Southeast Texas!

My parents are prepared for the Corona shaming—they already got a dose from Aunt Laurie in New York, who call us “uneducated”, “part of the problem”, and “selfish”.  Aunt Laurie didn’t seem to care that we played by the rules.  Long before we started our journey, Polk County, the State of Texas, and the State of Idaho had lifted their stay-at-home orders, and both states were already in phased approaches to reopening of businesses.  We took a longer route than necessary to avoid Corona hot spots within New Mexico and Colorado.  And by boondocking for more than half of the trip (and not in Walmarts), we minimized our contact with others.  

Aunt Laurie also gave no credence to my parents’ analysis of potentially fatal behaviors.  People smoke/chew nicotine, vape, smoke weed, overeat, overindulge in alcohol, use (and sometimes mis-use) prescription drugs, and use illegal drugs.  Each of these actions come with known health risks and consequences.  Yet, people still participate in these activities.  Driving comes with high risk of casualty.  Yet, few, if any, are so concerned about the possibility of death that they forego driving or forfeit their licenses.   While we agree wholeheartedly that coronavirus is deadly, it is a risk factor we must each evaluate and act upon individually, like all of the behaviors listed above.  It is about personal responsibility.  For those with compromised immune systems or medical conditions that make you at greater risk for coronavirus or any future epidemics/pandemics  (that is YOU, Aunt Laurie), we believe you should take the necessary precautions to protect your own health. You do what is best for you to be safe.  We will do our part to protect you by wearing masks in crowded areas and keeping our 6-foot distance.  But we must also consider the small businesses that are suffering, people who are out of work, and families that have lost the ability to put food on their tables and roofs over their heads all because of coronavirus.

We offer sympathy to those who lost loved ones to COVID-19.  Every person’s life is precious.  But like Aunt Laurie, people seem to forget that death is a part of the circle of life.  It comes to each and every person, sometimes quite suddenly and unexpectedly, like what happened to both of my human Grandfathers, who died at ages 49 and 61.  Sometimes death is imminent and expected but then a miracle happens, like my human Great-Grandmother.  She had a malignant brain tumor.   The surgeon said she would live 6 months to one year maximum, and most likely in a degenerative state.  My loving Grandparents took her into their home, hoping to make her as comfortable as possible in her final days.  Well guess what:  the rotund Italian lady who was to reside temporarily in the bedroom of Mom and Aunt Laurie lived in it for 11 ½ years!  She suffered occasional seizures and found it difficult at times to articulate her thoughts, but generally she led a long, happy life.  Sometimes folks are given second chances in life like my Dad.  A few years ago, he suffered a major heart attack from a 100% blockage in his right coronary artery.  Had it been the 90% blockage in his “widow maker” artery that caused the heart attack, I’d be fatherless right now.  But it wasn’t his time to die.  My point to all this?  My parents choose to live each day to its fullest and treat it as if it will be their last because they never know when death will come knocking at their door.  They are not letting coronavirus stop them from living because of a fear of dying.  They will do all they can to minimize spreading germs and to protect others.  (Heck, Mom always has practiced social distancing with her loner attitude.) They love our Country, but they put their faith in The Man Upstairs to protect us, not any government.  These are their choices, but they do not mandate others take this approach.  God provided people with decision-making abilities.  My parents respect your personal opinions--you do whatever you feel is best for YOU.  As for me, I’m sure glad I am a stuffed rat whose biggest worry is what variety of cheese to eat today!

So with that said, we began our migration to Idaho within 2 days of receiving the call.  Dad mapped out a terrific route that brought us a bit out of the way but provided wonderful opportunities for learning, exploring nature, and viewing wildlife.

Since the Lone Star Coral SKP Co-op still prohibited anyone but lot owners into their Park, we spent our first evening boondocking at a rest area about 10 miles west of Hondo, Texas.  It was very hot, but SO much drier than Livingston!  The air conditioner cooled things off quickly, so Mom was a happy camper.  

The next evening we boondocked 5 miles west of Alpine, Texas.  It was a small, easy-to-access rest area right off US-90, situated within the caldera of Paisano Volcano.  We had the place completely to ourselves and traffic on US-90 was light, so it was a quiet evening.   And with overnight temperatures in the 50s, we all slept fitfully.  But had I known the Marfa Lights viewing area was just a few miles away, I would have insisted we stay there since Dad vetoed my motion to look for the lights on our trip to Big Bend Ranch State Park in March.

We traveled along I-10 West, heading for an overnight stay at Dreamcatcher RV Park in Deming, New Mexico.  It is a small, well-maintained Escapees corporate park located just a mile off of I-10, with full hook-ups (30/50 amp electric), large pull-thru sites and a clean, inexpensive laundry facility.

Starting back on I-10, we made our way to Escapees North Ranch RV Park in Congress, Arizona.  Traffic was light, and with Mom and Dad switching off on driving duty every 2 hours, things were going smoothly.  That is until we experienced a tire blowout on our Swivel Wheel near Wilcox, Arizona during Dad’s driving detail.  Upon inspection, we found the hub was damaged as well, all because of a faulty valve stem on the tire.

The tire pressure monitor system never went off.   Ironically, we had done a visual inspection of the rig at a rest area just ½ hour earlier—everything looked good.  Fortunately, Dad is handy.  He did a “Rube Goldberg” job of getting the spare onto the damaged hub.  We made it safely to North Ranch!  I won’t bore you with the details of the many gyrations required to get a new hub and new tires over a two-day period.  But kudos and a coveted Rambling RV Rat 5-Cheese Award to Tractor Supply in Benson, Del’s Tires in Benson, Dexter On-line, and Swivel Wheel for exceptional customer service.  And I would be remiss without sending special thanks to the staff at North Ranch RV Park.  True to the caring nature of the Escapees organization and their full understanding of the trials and tribulations that accompany our nomadic lifestyle, they allowed us to stay an extra night to ensure we had all the parts required to safely complete our last 1,000+ miles to Idaho.

We had stayed only once previously at North Ranch RV Park, and it was just an overnight stopover.  So, while Mom and Dad were immersed in the Swivel Wheel project, I went out to explore. This Park is a true gem!  The sites for transients are all spacious and easy to access, although they offer only 30 amp electric.  The roads within the non-transient part of the Park are paved and are wide enough for two-way traffic with plenty of room to spare.  The home/lot owners Beautification Committee works diligently to make the park a welcoming desert oasis with gardens, benches, and art/lawn ornaments.  As I’ve mentioned in many posts, we spend time boondocking in Quartzsite, Arizona each winter.  And I love watching the desert come alive.  But we leave in early March, so I miss out on some of the flora.  But coming here to North Ranch RV Park provided me an opportunity to see the flowering mimosas, the blooming palo verde trees, and even the flora of the saguaro! And there are lots of critters--baby bunnies with big ears, lizard-like reptiles (though much larger than the babies I see in Quartzsite), and a Mama quail crossing a wash with her brood following behind (reminded me of the opening credits for The Partridge Family).

He's a big fella, not like the small lizard-like creatures I see in Quartzsite!

The Park has access to BLM hiking and ATV trails.  North Ranch folks even set up a desert golf course back there!  Unlike Livingston, it would be a piece of cake for Mom to do her daily 5-mile walks here!  And I see there are quite a few empty lots for sale!  I would love to have a lot in arid Arizona than in humid Livingston!  I’ll have to sell the idea to my parents.

Hiking and ATVing on BLM Lands right in the backyard of North Ranch RV Park!

We left Congress and hooked up with US-93, also known as the Joshua Forest Parkway.  You don’t have to travel to California’s Joshua Tree National Park to see an abundance of these trees!

We continued into Nevada, staying at what I consider one of my top 3 boondocking areas thus far, Cold Creek Ranch Historic Site.  Operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), it is located in the Spring Mountains and Toiyabe National Forest in Cold Creek, about 45 miles west of downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.  This place had it all—I think I died and went to heaven!  Spectacular views that looked almost like a painting.  Easy access and virtually no one around.  Amazingly, we had excellent cell/internet service.  Snow on the mountaintops provided cool temperatures.  There are several hiking trails here, which provided us a means to get in some mileage for the day.  But best of all was the abundance of wildlife!  We saw wild horses, burros, elk, and mule deer!  And it is paradise for those of us who enjoy ATVing.  We absolutely must return here and stay a week or two!  Dad scored big time in picking this site, all on a tip from a fellow DRV Mobile Suites owner!

This foal was feeling brave--though its Mom was eating a short distance away and watching our every move.    View the video below to watch the foal's antics.

After we ate breakfast and did a quick hike, we learned that a 6.5 earthquake hit Tonopah, Nevada that very morning at 4:00.  Reportedly, it was felt as far away as Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, but it certainly didn’t disturb my family’s beauty rest—we heard and felt nada.   We loaded into Big Boomer, our medium duty truck, for another day of travel, mostly along I-15, which had lots of road construction, but offered some nice scenery.

We reached our destination of Parowan Gap, BLM lands outside of Cedar City, Utah.  Another fantastic boondocking spot, rich in culture, geology, and paleontology!  It had lots of flat areas to accommodate big rigs, or you could venture on some overland roads to get a bird’s eye view of the area.  Parowan Gap was formed by an ancient river that once flowed through this area.  Ancestors of the Paiutes and Hopi roamed these lands, and they documented many things that occurred in their lives through rock wall art, A.K.A. petroglyphs.  Our boondocking spot was a short 2-mile walk away from Dinosaur Track Recreation Site, home to the raised tracks of bird-like dinosaurs and some interesting rock formations to boot.  Very cool stuff here at Parowan Gap!  We watched a nice sunset, and as we returned to our set-up, my nose detected a pleasant scent.  What was that smell?  It was wild spearmint!  I think I’ll make some mint juleps!   The area has lots of ATV trails, too, making Parowan Gap a top contender for my boondocking “Must Return” list. 

Lots of petroglyphs on these rocks.

I often wonder the messages being conveyed.  Do you see a man in a canoe on this rock?

Can you see the raised print of a bird-like dinosaur?

Cool looking rock!

Sunset through the "gap".

I-15 the next day provided a wonderfully scenic drive, with snow-capped mountains, Utah Lake, and miles of farmland. Legal speed limits here are 80 miles per hour!  No thank you—we like to keep things under 65.        

We boondocked in Draber, Utah at Flight Path Recreation Park, a point where paragliders take flight and disembark.The sign said, “Park at your own risk.”  I sure hoped no “flighters” would crash into our RV!   It was ultra-windy in the Park, making it feel quite chilly.  On the way there, Gretchen, our GPS, was trying hard to get us into a real pickle, taking us through a residential area that overlooked the Park but we learned had no vehicular access to it (let alone for something our size.)  Thankfully, Mom disconnected Gretchen, stopped a local resident to get directions, and we arrived without incident.  

View from our dinette window.

Residential complex Gretchen our GPS was taking us through. What is scary is that our GPS is programmed for truck and fifth wheel at all times!  Even our truck would have a hard time on these narrow roads.  

Hello, Idaho!  We crossed the Snake River and with much more success than Evil Knievel!  I saw an old missile silo sitting in a field.  Along I-84, a Micro Minnie Winnebago went whizzing by.  Hey, what’s that clanking along on the side of his rig?  Oh, boy, it is his sewer hose!  It was a scene right out of the movie RV!  We would have warned the driver had we been able to catch up.  The good news is that we didn’t spot remnants of a stray sewer hose along the roadway!  A teachable moment for him (one many of us have had), a chuckle for us!

We made it to Boise, staying overnight at Hi Valley RV Resort.  This park had lots of features:  Easy access off of US-55; Long, level sites and wide, paved roads, giving us the ability to stay hooked up; Clean, reasonably priced laundry room ($2.50/load); Free cable and Wi-Fi; A rec center and even a swimming pool that was open for business (seems like nobody cares about coronavirus here!).  We were highly satisfied with our overnight accommodations at $45/night (plus tax) without any applicable discount for us (they only offer Good Sam, AAA, Military).

We were back on the road by 7 the next morning for our final leg of our journey.  We encountered overcast skies and periods of rain.  As we traversed US-55, also known as the Payette Scenic Byway, we noticed a ton of large boondocking pullouts right along the Payette River in Boise National Forest.  We will file that info for the next time we are traveling in these parts of Idaho.   I spotted a fox in the brush just returning home from a wild Saturday night (I hope he social-distanced!).  I also saw a few deer drinking along the River very close to a road sign that said, “Game Crossing”.  Gotta love when wildlife follows the rules of the road!  As we traveled along US-95, we were informed by a sign that we were halfway between the North Pole and the Equator at the 45th parallel.  The Little Salmon River was running fast (maybe he was trying to catch up with his big brother The Salmon River).

We stopped at the Nez Perce Historic Site, where the first battle between this American Indian group and the US Army occurred in 1877.  Prior to this, the Nez Perce Indians migrated peacefully and unencumbered for centuries among the lands of today’s states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho.  Like most American Indians, they got screwed by the US government—nearly 90% of the reservation lands granted to them originally were revoked for use by prospectors when gold was discovered in the area.

Nearby is White Bird Grade.   Built in 1915, it served for 60 years as the main access up this mountain for Highway 95, Idaho’s only North-South roadway.  It sounds like a motorcyclist’s dream:  lots of curves, switchbacks, and a 2,900-foot elevation change within 14 miles!  We may have to come back here to ride!

We picked up ID-13 near Grangeville, entering the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway that follows the routes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and migratory paths of the Nez Perce. I saw moo cows dotting the hills and spectacular seas of sunshine yellow blooms in the fields, which I learned were canola!

Can't believe I got such a cool photo while we were in motion!  Not only did I capture the canola blooms, but a crop duster plane that I hadn't even seen until I looked at the picture!

We traveled ID-12, running alongside the South Fork of the Clearwater River.  

We entered Orafino, and in a jiffy we reached our destination of Dworshak Dam in Ahsahka, Idaho. It is a gorgeous area, and I am excited to explore!  But right now I need to help my parents set up “home” for the next 3 months.   We are the only ones here in "Volunteer Village"--just the way I like it!

I’ll talk to you again real soon!  

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club


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RV Dreams

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Coronavirus Can't Stop Nature

We are in Week 7 in sweltering Southeast Texas, trying to maintain sanity in these surreal times.  Even for this stuffed rat, it is no easy feat amidst times of lockdown, shutdown, and social distancing. 

In fairness, my parents have tried desperately to keep me busy.  They have challenged me to games of Ms. Pac-man and encouraged me to read (1984 and Animal Farm were the books I completed most recently.)    They bought me some tomato and lettuce plants to tend and harvest.  Mom let me assist in her kitchen when testing out new plant-based recipes.  Dad convinced our tabbycat to play ring toss with me.  Hey, they even indulged me with lots of cheese snacks!

My garden is finally producing....

But it is getting like Groundhog Day, especially with the warmer weather here and absolutely NOWHERE to go.  To make matters worse, we have had little over-the-air TV to watch.  There is no rhyme or reason for it either.  Clear skies, zippo channels.  Torrential rain, 40 stations!   It is a most annoying phenomenon.  With so many people utilizing it, unencumbered Wi-FI streaming doesn’t happen often either.  Thankfully, my parents have bestowed me with several DVD series collections.  It is uncanny how the world of television fiction parallels real life. A Seinfeld episode has a character named Poppy using the toilet and immediately returning to the kitchen of his restaurant to knead pizza dough.  Poppy could be a poster child for today’s Coronavirus mantra “wash your hands”.  Season 3 of the series 24 centers on a deadly virus set loose on the citizens of the United States.

In the midst of all this pandemic, Dad has submerged himself in “projects”.  He cleaned out the shed, caulked the sinks, countertops, and exterior of the RV and truck, installed turn signals on Rat Patrol II (our Polaris RZR), and replaced more LED lights that blew out in Suite Retreat.  (This last chore has been a real sore point, particularly since the lights must be hard-wired.  The rig is only 7 months old, and DRV already has furnished us a half dozen replacement LEDs.  I don’t know what light brand DRV used in the manufacture of our rig, but we never replaced any LED bulbs in either of our two Montanas.)  After me dropping him several hints for several months, he built me a bird feeder that shares my likeness!  He is now in the process of repainting the RV bird feeder to match Suite Retreat. 

Mom insists that she get her fresh air and natural dose of Vitamin D, pandemic be damned.  Since our County and State stay at home orders do not prohibit outdoor exercise and her reclusive disposition makes social distancing easy to achieve, she goes daily for a 5-mile walk, dragging yours truly with her.  To attain this type of mileage is difficult in this neck of the woods, and quite honestly, makes me crazy.  The available routes are comprised of a 70-mile-per-hour highway, countless dead-ends, rural roads with blind spots and no shoulders, encounters with vicious, unleashed dogs, and multiple loops along the same RV Park roads day in and day out.  (I think this is the true reason for Dad’s dedication to his projects—he doesn’t want to do the walk of insanity with Mom).

Although Mom normally dislikes food shopping, going out for our produce/essential groceries is now the highlight of our week! 

The silver lining for me in this COVID-19 madness is that while human life may be “on hold”, nature is still busy at work, unaffected by the death and destruction of this virus.  I enjoy watching the flowers grow and bloom, offering nutrition and stamina to fluttering butterflies.   I exchange pleasantries with horses, frogs, snails, and rabbits. The squirrels provide me countless hours of entertainment as they scurry from tree to fence, foraging for food.  I watch blue jays, cardinals, and woodpeckers as they search for mates.  And I have become acquainted with a donkey who brays hello whenever he sees me.

He looks guilty of something, doesn't he?

Mom almost sat on this little guy!

The wings of this butterfly look like a couple of eyeballs staring at me!

A snail taking its sweet time crossing the road.

My newest buddy!

We celebrated Easter with our traditional viewing of The Ten Commandments and King of Kings and one of Mom’s home-cooked meals.  We also celebrated my “birthday”—the day Dad rescued me from the dusty toy store shelf.  I must say, my gifts this year were a bit unusual.

Thank goodness I got my wish for a look-like-me bird feeder, 'cause the rest of my birthday gifts were less than stellar!

Our County stay at home orders expired on April 3 since our County has had few cases.   The State of Texas stay at home orders expired on April 20, at which time Governor Abbott reopened the Texas State Parks to day-use reservations/ limited capacity and began Phase 1 for restarting Texas’s economy.  We were so psyched!  Immediately after the reservation system opened, we booked ourselves for Livingston State Park.  Opening day provided glorious weather, so we hopped on the motorcycles to get some fresh air.  We, along with all the other Park guests, were respectful of and compliant with virus protocols, including wearing masks.  My tummy grew hungry, so we stopped for our picnic lunch.  We removed our masks and hung them from our necks as we partook of our sandwiches and snacks.  Lo and behold, along comes a ranger to instruct us we must wear masks.   If someone out there knows a way to eat without removing a mask, please enlighten us!  Anyway, it was a bit silly, but I guess he felt he was just doing his job.  By our second visit to Livingston State Park, mandatory masks were no longer required, though we brought them with us should we come in close contact with anyone.  That day we did some hiking and fishing--Dad caught two logs (his fishing success stories are quite limited!)  We were so grateful to view some new scenery and get a change of pace.  

We also booked an outing at Martin Dies State Park.  Located in Jasper, TX, this Park offers hiking and great fishing/boating/canoeing opportunities on the Neches River.  Another opportunity to motorcycle and enjoy our natural resources certainly buoyed our spirits.

All the doom and gloom of Coronavirus was making me batty.  So, what better way to solve the problem then visiting the Waugh Bat Colony in Houston.  300,000 Mexican long-tailed bats make their home within the crevices of the underbelly of the Waugh Bridge in Buffalo Bayou Park.  Each night in warm weather, they emerge for a bite to eat and a night on the town, covering about 100 miles of territory.  As you can see from my video, they were super cool to see!

Though bats and rats have similar facial features, our skeletons are not alike.  In fact, you humans have more in common with bats than my species does.

Again, we followed the rules of social distancing and Harris County’s mandatory mask usage, as did the majority of the folks viewing the bats from the grassy knoll.  I can’t say the same for all the runners and cyclists using the pathways, though!

On May 1, Texas restaurants were authorized to reopen for dine in at 25% capacity.  None of our restaurants in Livingston transitioned from take-out mode yet.  So we took a scenic drive to Huntsville. Combining our chore of weekly food shopping (Huntsville has a nice Kroeger’s), we stopped at 7 Legunas Mexican Grill and enjoyed a sit-down dinner.  Again, all mandatory protocols were followed by staff and guests alike.  A few days later, our favorite eatery in Livingston, Joe’s Italian Grill, opened its dining room.  Joe is one generous, good-hearted man.  He provides complimentary holiday meals for those in need.  And he provided free dinners for first responders/those who sustained damages/those displaced from their homes during the recent tornado that struck nearby Onalaska.  (Sadly, a total of 7 people, presumably sheltering at home to "be safe" from coronavirus, perished from this destructive twister.)    I am happy to say that like us, fellow Texans are showing support for their small businesses.   May God Bless Texas!

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club


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RV Dreams

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