2009 was a banner year in our full timing journey – for the first year since being on the road, we were in travel mode all year, without volunteering or staying in one area for more than a month. We started the year in our winter home of New Braunfels, TX, and 27 states, 60 campgrounds/parks, 18 casinos, and 10,000 miles later, we’re back in our winter home. We experienced so much, and yet feel that we’ve just scratched the surface of this great land!
Some of the highlights of our travels this year:
Most people would be surprised by our statement that a month in Alamogordo, NM was great fun – but we spent a lot of time exploring the Sacramento Mountains. The high-mountain back roads were filled with birds and wildlife, interesting small towns, and beautiful vistas. And of course, one of Brenda’s favorite casinos, the Inn of the Mountain Gods. We’ve spent a lot of time in New Mexico, but never run out of interesting places to visit.
This was our first year of attending rallies. At “The Rally” in Albuquerque, we and 5000 other senior citizens rocked the night away with Neil Sedaka, who at 70 has all the energy and talent that we danced to in our teens. The huge tent was filled with clapping, singing, and the smell of Ben-Gay. At Winnebago’s “Grand National Rally”, we celebrated the anniversary of “Woodstock” with other motor home owners who have aged but not matured. Golf carts with peace signs, grandmothers with headbands and beads, and a request by the town mayor for the women not to go braless were all part of the fun. Winnebago earned our respect for bravery – Brenda was part of a group of women who were given driving lessons….in brand new 2010 40-foot diesel motor homes. Thank goodness they didn’t have a “you break it, you buy it” policy.
We attended a two-day owner’s course at the Freightliner factory in Gaffney, SC that left us with technical binders, CDs, and an appreciation for the engineering that goes into building a 30,000 house on wheels. They not only fed us information, but also two great catered lunches and a barbeque dinner.
This was a year to see places that were on our “to do” list. In Iowa, we visited the Amana Colonies, which was a pretty standard tourist town and not the colony of appliances like the name implies. In Cedar Rapids, we discovered “Czech Village”, a neighborhood where pork roast and dumplings were king, and where I stocked up on poppy-seed Kolache. We stood on the “Field of Dreams” where Kevin Costner “built it so they would come”, and walked the entire Mall of America, where they “built it so they would spend”.
I’ve always been interested in the Custer Saga, and spending a day at the Little Big Horn Battlefield was interesting and put a visual aspect to the words of the books I’ve read. A bit farther west, we visited West Yellowstone, Earthquake Lake, and the historic towns of Virginia and Nevada Cities. Montana is still our favorite place, and descending down from Lost Trail Pass into the Bitterroot Valley, with snow-capped Trapper Peak in the distance, gave us a feeling that we were coming home. Visiting friends that we made while volunteering here was rewarding, and we couldn’t visit without stopping for the best chicken noodle soup in the world at the Frontier Cafe.
In Washington, we had the chance to visit the filming location for Northern Exposure, a television series that we enjoyed and have watched again thanks to Netflix. Having lunch at “The Brick”, standing outside the studios of KBHR, and dancing on the site of Ruth Ann’s grave (no one is really buried there) was great fun for us. If only they’d get the cast back together for a sequel!
Although we’d lived in Tacoma during my Air Force career, we never had the time to explore the Washington coast. This year we did it all, hugging the coastline past the Hood Canal, along the Straits of Juan De Fuca, and down along the Pacific coast. Mountains, forests, lakes, ocean, and picturesque seacoast towns, we saw it all, and I ate too much clam chowder.
In Oregon, we marveled at the power of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific, stood on the spot where Lewis and Clark ended their journey at the Pacific Ocean, and of course, ate too much clam chowder. Further down the coast, we fell in love with Bandon and the rugged shore with it’s sea stacks and marine life. We’re excited that we’ll be returning here for the summer of 2010 as volunteers for the Shoreline Education for Awareness organization. We stopped in Brookings to visit our friends at Harris Beach State Park where we volunteered in the fall of 2007, then left the coast and headed south to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends. Finally, we headed toward Texas, to rest up, catch up on motor home maintenance, and take care of our annual medical appointments.
Our favorites for the year:
Best RV Park – Winchester Bay RV Park at Salmon Harbor,OR. Immaculate landscaping, large paved sites, and nose-in parking on the edge of a beautiful harbor filled with fishing boats, ducks, and harbor seals – the kind of place you think about when you dream about life on the road. Runner Up – San Onofre Recreation Area on Camp Pendleton, CA. Nose-in on the beach only 50 feet from the water, we watched surfers and sunsets and fell asleep to the sound of pounding surf. Most Scenic Area – the view from Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park, WA – miles of deep forested valleys and the snow-covered peak of Mt. Olympus. Runner-up – The area around Roslyn, WA and it’s river, forest, and mountains. It’s easy to see how the area was a stand-in for Alaska in the TV series Northern Exposure. Brenda’s Best Casino – Snoqualmie Casino, WA. Strikingly beautiful, immaculate, with friendly staff and great food. Runner-up – Inn of the Mountain Gods, Ruidoso, NM. Beautiful artwork, impressive architecture, and an incredible view of Sierra Blanco make it worth the visit. Best Dining Experience – The “Famous Burro” in Marathon, TX. Southwest Grilled Chicken with Chocolate Ganache and Shiner Black on tap - it just doesn’t get any better. Runner-Up – Coeur D'Alene Casino, ID. An all-you-can-eat seafood buffet with Alaskan King Crab legs? They lost money when we visited. Most Disappointing Area – Pike Place Market in Seattle, WA. What we remembered as an area of quaint shops and produce stands has become a large flea market and Asian vegetable and flower market. Best Hike – The 3/4 mile hike to Cape Flattery, an amazing walk along boardwalks and staircases to a scenic viewpoint. You can’t go any further North and West in the lower 48 – a remote area of an Indian reservation, but worth the trip. Craziest Town – Forks, WA. This sleepy logging town in the middle of nowhere has become a teenage girl magnet, with over 15,000 visitors on a summer weekend since the movie “Twilight” was filmed here. Signs everywhere alert you to “the Thriftway where Bella shopped”, and other attractions. Better hurry, Bella’s high school is being torn down this year to make new for a new, non-Bella model.
Most Memorable Experience – Standing on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Bandon, OR, and watching 30+ feet waves crashing into the shore. The sound is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Best Part of Being a Full Timer – The opportunity to visit so many wonderful places, learn so much about the history of small town America, and most of all, to reconnect with family and friends all over the country. We wish you could have been with us to share the experience!