Monday, January 25, 2010

RIP, Fido

Alton & Fido Last January I told the story of Alton, the campground host, and Fido, the feral cat who adopted him. For ten years, Fido (named because she followed Alton around like a puppy), would be waiting at Blanco State Park each year when Alton and his wife returned, and where you saw Alton, you saw Fido – usually in his lap. Sadly, Fido won’t be there next year.

As Alton tells it, Fido came down with a runny nose and had trouble keeping food down. An antibiotic from the Vet helped the runny nose, but Fido still couldn’t eat and grew weaker. After more trips to the vet, it became clear that Fido wasn’t going to get any better; after all, 10 years is a long time for a feral cat to survive. Alton says that on the final trip to the vet’s office, Fido, who usually fussed when riding in the truck, sat calmly, and at one point stretched his paw out to Alton’s arm and looked up at him as if to say she understood where they were going. Alton was with Fido at the end, and if she could talk she’d tell you that in adopting Alton she had a pretty good deal. But Alton would tell you he got the better of it.

Fido rests with other pets in a field not far from the park, and another camper crafted a simple marker, varnished nicely with her name on it. But cats are supposed to have nine lives, and maybe she’s back in another, younger body, because another feral cat, that a ranger told me no one could get near to, has Alton & Cat2adopted Alton.Alton & Cat

This young cat, nicknamed “Crazy” for now because of her antics, also follows Alton around, and like Fido, has discovered that sitting in his lap keeps him in one place and closer to the food supply. If you’re ever in the Blanco, Texas area, stop by the state park and say hello to Alton and his new friend…..just make sure you bring a cat treat!

Monday, January 11, 2010

2009 – The Year in Review

2009 Travels2009 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, MH & Sierra Blancainteresting 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. WIT Opening2 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 Field of Dreams HouseIowa, 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. Custer MarkerA 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 MH & Trapper Peak 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.

Roslyn Cafe Mural 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 KBHR fun for us. If only they’d get the cast back together for a sequel!

Westport Harbor 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. Cape DisapointmentFurther 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 ParkWinchester 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. Surfer at Sundown Runner UpSan 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 NP View4Olympic 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 CasinoSnoqualmie Casino, WA. Strikingly beautiful, immaculate, with friendly staff and great food. Runner-upInn 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-UpCoeur D'Alene Casino, ID. An all-you-can-eat seafood buffet with Alaskan King Crab legs? They lost money when we visited. Most Disappointing AreaPike 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. Cape FlatteryBest 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 TownForks, 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.

Simpson's Reef View6

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!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Christmas on the River Walk

One of the reasons we enjoy returning to this area each year is the opportunity to visit the San Antonio River Walk when it’s decorated for the Christmas season.  This year, we took along our friends from the park, Roly and Carroll, who had not yet visited the downtown area.  We started our dRollie, Carol, Brenda at Menger Hotelay off with a late lunch at Shilo’s, a German delicatessen that has been in San Antonio since the early-1900s and has great food.  I opted for my favorite – the braunschweiger cold plate with dark rye, hot mustardAlamo @Christmas, and a cup of pea soup, along with a mug of their home made root beer.  After getting two of the servers to help me out of my chair, we walked down the street to Alamo Plaza, to see the huge decorated tree they erect each year.  The plaza was crowded, but it was interesting to see a military retirement ceremony set up right in front of the Alamo’s main doors – a great location to honor a career.   A little farther down the street, we stopped in the Menger Hotel, one of the state’s oldest, to show our friends the beautiful interior and Christmas tree.  Downtown San Antonio is always interesting to visit; a mix of German and Mexican architecture, busy restaurants, and of course, tourist attractions like a wax museum are all mixed together - some beautiful, some unusual, and some tacky.

Barge at RiverWalk From the plaza, we entered the Rivercenter Mall, a large, 3-story shopping center that forms the centerpiece of the River Walk.  While the ladies browsed the shops, Roly and I grabbed cups of coffee and sat outside in the 70-degree temperatures watching the shoppers and the river bRiverWalk at Christmasarges as they motored by on their tour route.  Later as it began to get dark, the ladies joined us and we walked to the tour boat dock, and a short one-hour later, finally boarded one of the barges for a 30-minute ride.  This is a great way to see the River Walk; the banks are lined with restaurants and shops, and the outside tables next to the water were all occupied by diners.   Add the thousands of lights hanging from the trees overhead, the warm night, and the atmosphere of the holiday, and it was a memorable evening that we all truly enjoyed.

Landa ParkA few days later, also on a nice warm day, we stopped at Landa Park, the centerpiece of the town of New Braunfels.  It’s an area of river, streams, a lake, and the site of the “Wurstfest”, a ten-day celebration of sausage.  And beer.  Lots and lots of beer.  The park was filled with families enjoying the day, and the lake was filled with ducks and geese happily eating all the bread that children were throwing at them.  The trees were filled with cormorants and black vultures, and on the lake we watched Wood Ducks, Pie-billed Grebes, and Lesser Scaup swim on the crystal-clear water. 

We’ve had a great holiday season, and wish all of you a happy, healthy, and fulfilling New Year.  We’ll be back in a few days with a review of 2009 – stop back and visit!