2016 was a year of travel and exploration for us; over 10,500 miles and 22 states. We decided that instead of volunteering, we’d take advantage of the relatively low diesel prices, visit friends and relatives back in Ohio, and visit a few new locations. We accomplished all of that and more – and rediscovered humidity and mosquitoes! Here are some of the highlights of our 2016 travels:
Our year started in Benson, AZ where we celebrated the New Year with friends at the SKP Saguaro RV Park. Then we drove West for a visit with friends in Yuma, and further West to El Centro NAF. From here, we explored the Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain, Slab City, and East Jesus – places that can be best described as looking like the film locations for a Zombie apocalypse movie.
Back we went to Tucson for a short visit, then north to Las Vegas to celebrate our anniversary with our daughter. From there we headed north to the little town of Caliente, an area of interesting history and beautiful canyons. We visited the frontier mining town of Pioche, the beautiful Cathedral Canyon, and watched wild horses roam in Rainbow Canyon. Lightly inhabited, full of history, and unspoiled beauty made this a memorable area.
We traveled through Northern Nevada, through Utah and Wyoming, and back to our “domicile” state of South Dakota to complete our annual medical needs. This was in early May, when spring is bursting through the Black Hills but tourists aren’t. Near empty roads through the hills made sightseeing a joy, and Sylvan Lake, normally crowded with visitors, was deserted.
We headed for Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, but on the way stopped at our favorite park in Sheridan, Wyoming for trip into the Big Horn Mountains and a chance to spot a moose. Sheridan is a great town, and the Bighorn Mountains, with their perennial snow-covered peaks, are magical. And Brenda’s need to see a moose was satisfied when we came upon this bull feeding along the highway.
Heading west into Montana, we made a jog to the south for a week’s stay at Ennis, a pretty little town known for fly fishing. From here, we explored West Yellowstone, Nevada City, and Virginia City. The history of the mountain mining towns here is interesting, and Virginia City is one of the best restored frontier towns that we’ve seen.
If you follow us, you know that Montana’s Bitterroot Valley is special to us. It’s here that we began our volunteer career, made lifelong friends, and are drawn back to the incredible beauty. This year we were joined by our daughter Kim and her husband Bill, his dad Paul, and Brenda’s brother Ron and his twin sons, Chris and Jim. We showed them some of our favorite places, introduced them to the friends we made while volunteering, and left them talking about visiting again. On one afternoon I took the menfolk to my favorite place in the mountains, the Lost Horse Overlook, the site of a devastating wildfire later this year. After an all too soon goodbye, we drove north to Kalispell to spend a week in Glacier and a visit to our favorite bakery. Glacier is one of our favorite parks, but with only one road through the park and the discovery by foreign tourists, it was bumper to bumper chaos. Fortunately there are plenty of things to see and do on the back roads, especially on a trip to Polebridge to buy one of the Mercantile’s legendary Huckleberry Bearclaws.
We try to avoid interstate highways, and so we traveled east through Montana on US 200, through ever-smaller mountains and small ranching communities. We cut the Southwest corner of North Dakota, drove through northern South Dakota, into Minnesota and down into Iowa, where we spent the 4th of July Holiday near Cedar Rapids. Then it was eastward across Illinois and Indiana before settling in for a stay in Chesterland, a small town east of Cleveland.
Our visit to the Cleveland area was all about visiting relatives and friends, and reconnecting with high school classmates. Thanks to Facebook, we’ve been able to meet with friends we haven’t seen for 50 (gasp) years. Our stay was a whirlwind of memories, from friends, brothers and sisters, cousins, and classmates. We ate way too much Czech, Polish, and Italian food, but it was a treat for us to be back in an area with so much ethnic diversity. We left with the warm glow of memories, a refrigerator stuffed with Amish cheese, and a ton of fresh vegetables from our friend Lorrie’s garden. Thanks again to all of you for sharing your time with us!
We’ve never spent much time in Michigan, so off we went, deciding to travel up the East side of the state. We had a nice stay in Bay City, visited Frankenmuth and its famous Christmas store. We crossed the Mackinaw Bridge for a stay at St. Ignace, then continued on to Sault Ste. Marie for a few days. The highlight of our stay was a trip on a tour boat through the Soo Locks. The engineering, size, and operation of the locks was truly impressive, and you can’t appreciate the scale of the locks until you watch a 1000’ ship get raised 21 feet to enter Lake Superior.
We drove west for a weeks stay in Curtis, a small town on the shores of Manistique Lake. A convenient spot to explore both the Lake Superior and Lake Michigan shore, we were surprised by the large amount of vacationers at the many “resorts” on the lakes. We took a boat tour of shipwrecks and the Pictured Rocks of Lake Superior, visited the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, and drove the back roads visiting small towns and local restaurants. Then it was up to Munising and along the Lake Superior shoreline, past Marquette and up to the town of Baraga.
In Baraga, we stayed at an Indian Casino. Paved back-in sites with full hookups including 50A power for $10/day. AND, each day you could show your parking receipt and they’d give you $5 in free play and a $5 drink coupon. WhooHooo! We seriously considered just making it our permanent home, but then we learned that Baraga holds the record for the highest snowfall in Michigan.
While here, we visited the now closed K.I. Sawyer AFB. Once a vibrant small city and cold-war deterrent with bombers and tankers, it was converted to civilian use in 1995 but looks as if it’s been longer. While the runway area is now a modern airport, the rest of the base is only partially used and has fallen into disrepair. The abandoned hospital, dormitories, and areas of base housing have been left to the elements – there just aren’t enough people in the area or money in the state budget to maintain them.
We left Michigan driving west, spending a night in Wisconsin before settling in a Leech Lake COE park in Minnesota. What a great stay – paved entry roads and sites, full hookups and large, forested sites, on the shore of a lake….for $18/night with the Senior Pass. It was a great start to our travel through Minnesota, which we truly enjoyed. We drove across the Mississippi River where it is only a stream, visited the Charles Lindbergh museum and summer home, and finally, the holy grail of man-food – the Spam Museum! It’s more than a museum; it’s a riot of interactive exhibits for kids, TV commercials from other countries, and my favorite, a continuous showing of the Monty Python Spam skit. It was great fun and we’re glad we stopped.
We headed back toward Rapid City, where we spent a month catching our breath and relaxing. We’ve always wanted to see the Black Hills in the Fall and weren’t disappointed – the golden Aspen provided a completely different look to this beautiful area. We were thrilled and surprised by a visit from an old and dear friend; Sheryl and her mom were first-time visitors to the Black Hills and we enjoyed being their tour guides. We drove through the hills, walked the streets of Deadwood, and made a visit to Devil’s Tower.
Soon it was time to head south, and off we went through Nebraska and Kansas. Entering Kansas, we had the unique experience of being part of a cattle drive; cresting a hill we realized the road was being used to drive hundreds of cattle by riders on horseback. They waved us through, and we slowly drove through the herd, alert to the one cow that would make a wrong turn and become part of our front end. It was something we’d never see (we hope) driving an interstate highway.
We crossed through the Oklahoma Panhandle, a bit of Texas, and into New Mexico, where we spent a month at Alamogordo. We’ve posted many pictures of our New Mexico travels, so we didn’t write a blog here. Then off to Tucson where we visited friends, then north to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving with our daughter and husband who drove in from Southern California. Then into California and up I-5 into Oregon.
We’ve settled into a park on the Oregon Coast, a place that seems to draw us back more strongly each year. Yes, it rains a lot, but the temperatures are moderate due to being so close to the ocean, and on a clear day there’s no more beautiful place. We’ll be here a while and will be volunteering for US Fish & Wildlife this summer.
It’s difficult to believe we’re into our 12th year of living on the road; still loving it with no plans to settle down. We’re truly living our dream!
Thanks for traveling with us – we’re looking forward to sharing our travels with you for another year!