Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Year in Review - 2021

2021 was the year of our "Golden Anniversary Tour", a year that Brenda and I celebrated our 50th anniversary with a grand tour through the West.  Even with a late start due to COVID, we managed to travel nearly 10,000 miles! 

(If our route looks confusing, it's because while in Idaho in early August, our large slide-out room became disabled, and we knew it would require complete realignment at the Winnebago factory in Forest City, Iowa.)

Our travels started on the Oregon Coast where we spent seven months hunkered down during the pandemic and waiting for our second COVID shot to be available.  Once on the road, we stopped in Medford for annual servicing on our motor home and then crossed the Cascades for a week in a park south of Bend.  From there, we explored the Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway as it wound through the Eastern side of the mountains.  It's a beautiful area of lakes, forests, and tall mountains.  

Traveling further east, we stopped in the neat little town of John Day where we visited friends we met while volunteering, toured the Kam Wah Chung Heritage Site, and then headed for Baker City for a week's stay. 

Baker City is a historic town or around 10,000 at the base of the Elkhorn Mountains.  The downtown area is immaculately maintained with plenty of shops and restaurants:

Baker City was a great place to stay while exploring the area.  We started with a trip to the Sumpter Valley Dredge, a structure that is an amazing example of engineering during the Oregon gold rush.  Now on a pond, the dredge once moved up the river, creating it's own waterway as it dug up the earth.  It is an interesting story; you can read about it here.  

Continuing up the road, it became the Elkhorn Mountains Scenic Byway.  The road wound through beautiful scenery; but if you looked close, you could see mining tailings everywhere in the forest.  This must have been an area of major activity, but not much remains today, except for a partially occupied "ghost" town of Granite:

Granite Ghost Town

A bit east of the Cascades is Oregon's volcano country.  There are cones, calderas, and lakes everywhere.  At Paulina Lake, the water-filled calderas are overseen by a viewpoint with a look back at the Cascades.

A short hike into the nearby forest was worth it for the scenery:

Venturing East, we passed crossed the Oregon Trail and headed into the southern Blue Mountains to the old mining town of Cornucopia.  The lightly populated town has an interesting history of gold mining and today is a starting point for trails both summer and winter.  The winters in this narrow valley are harsh; in the gold rush days the snow could reach the second floor of buildings and strand people for days.  

Road into Cornucopia

Cornucopia in Winter

Of all the beautiful places in Eastern Oregon, Joseph and the Wallowa Mountains have to be at the top of the list. On the banks of a lake with towering mountains behind, the nickname as "Oregon's Switzerland" is quite appropriate.  The small town of Joseph looks like a Hollywood movie set with its stores, shops, and beautiful sculptures. The surrounding area is dotted with brightly painted ranch buildings and green pastures and fields.  


From Joseph, we backtracked and then turned north into SE Washington and into Idaho for a stop in beautiful Moscow, a picturesque college town.  Then up to Northern Idaho for a stop at Farragut State Park for a visit with the volunteer community that we worked with over the past three years.  Then down I-90 to St. Regis where we visited with Rob and Syd, friends we first met while volunteering on the Oregon Coast.

Our next stop was Missoula where we had dinner with friends from our first volunteer experience over 15 years ago.  We had a great time reminiscing about our time together.  Deb, Bill, Jim and Heidi will always have a special place in our lives for helping to make our introduction to the volunteer life so special.

We left Montana and entered Idaho again, following the Snake river and spending time in Twin Falls.  No visit would be complete without a visit to the Twin, or Shoshone falls.  Although the water over the 212' falls was reduced this time of year, it was still a spectacular sight.  Looking down river, we could see the site of Evel Knievel's 1974 failed attempt to jump the canyon on his "skycycle".


Twin Falls is a favorite place for mentally unbalanced people enjoy throwing themselves off a high bridge.  Just outside the visitor center, we watched as jumpers prepared their chutes, walked out on the bridge, and leaped into space.  Amazingly, this is perfectly legal and no permit is required!

Base Jumping Bridge
West along the I-84, we spent a few days in Hagerman where we again crossed the Oregon Trail.  A short drive south took us to the aptly named "balanced rock":

We then backtracked to the east and turned south to the City of Rocks State Park, a wonderland of granite mountains and rock formations.  The Oregon Trail ran right through here, and at "signature rock" we viewed the names and dates of pioneers that originally passed through here.

It was here that our motor home's large slide failed to retract.  Looking under the slide, I could see that a large section of the frame had come loose.  I was able to line it up and get the slide in, but we knew that the only facility capable of lifting the slide and repairing and aligning it was the Winnebago factory in Forest City, Iowa.  So we changed our plans and headed to Iowa, but not before a stop in Star Valley, Wyoming to see our good friends Don and Betty who we met years ago while - you guessed it - volunteering.  

We took our time crossing Wyoming, Nebraska, and into Iowa, arriving at the factory in August.  After a few days wait, the coach was taken in, evaluated, and the next available appointment given to us.......on December 13th!  So we headed South through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas for New Mexico where we'd wait out the rest of the time until December.

We started by spending a month a park in a pistachio field in Tularosa, a small town north of Alamogordo.  We posted on our visits here before, so we'll just leave you with a picture of the church that typifies this small town's heritage:

We spent the next month in Las Cruces, one of our favorite towns.  Great weekend market, lots of dining opportunities, and ample shopping but still with the atmosphere of a small town.  In the distance, the Organ Mountains dominate the skyline:

It was chili harvest time, and so with Don and Betty (who had returned to their winter home in Benson) we headed for the village or Hatch, the chili capital of the known universe.  It's a small town, but lined with stores selling every iteration of chili you can imagine.  And no trip to Hatch would be complete without a stop at Sparky's and their world famous green chili cheeseburger.

On December 1st we headed north again, retracing our route to Forest City.  We left early to provide a buffer if we encountered bad weather, but were fortunate to have good weather all the way.  We turned in our motor home and checked into a motel just in time for a winter storm, but six days later when the repairs were complete we were on our way south again.

Once again, we headed for New Mexico for a brief stay, the headed west for a visit with our daughter and her husband in Rancho Santa Margarita, in the foothills outside of the LA basin.  We parked the motor home at a park in Desert Hot Springs since driving it through the traffic into LA was about as palatable to me as jumping off that bridge in Idaho.  We had a great visit, returned to the coach, and headed for Oregon.  We traveled up over Tehachapi, through Bakersfield, and then the drive up I-5 back to the coast.  We finally arrived at our starting point in late January, after 8000 miles and seven months of travel.  

You may wonder why we didn't visit Glacier, Yellowstone, or Yosemite National Parks.  We've visited them many times in the past, and no longer have any desire to fight the crowds, the traffic, or pay the high RV park prices.  And more importantly, we enjoy searching the back roads for beauty and history without the crowds. 

We traveled 8952 miles, burned 1220 gallons of diesel at a cost of $4315 and spent $7245 at RV parks.  And the memories?  Priceless!

We're relaxing right now but will be posting in the future on what we've found in the area.  Here's hoping we all have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable 2022!