Back in Florida

20180901
Brown Pelican over the GTM Reserve in Florida.

September 1, 2018

Once we left the Rocky Mountains, we headed directly home without exploring.  It is the longest that we have had the tow vehicle hooked to the motor home without removing it.  We drove from 275 to 375 miles a day, stopped for the night, and moved on.  We made sure we had all the supplies (food) we needed so that we did not need to unhook.  We traveled the interstates so we generally made good time except when we went through the cities or got in a fight with the GPS in Topeka, Kansas.

The GPS kept telling us to get off the interstate around Topeka, which didn’t make sense.  I eventually succumbed at the wrong exit and wound up heading west again and doing a big loop.  It took us awhile to realize that the GPS was set to avoid toll roads and interstate 70 is a toll road around Topeka.  We added some unnecessary miles to the trip back, much to Dart’s dismay.

If Dart could have escaped us, I think he would have started knocking on doors trying to find someone to take him in that wouldn’t make him spend so much time driving.

It took six days of driving to get back and when we got to Georgia, we saw the bluest skies we have seen since early July.  It was exciting.  The skies only got better as we got into Florida.  I fell in love with Florida all over again.

We live in a community that doesn’t allow us to bring the motor home in front of the house to pack or unpack.  So, we stopped at a retail parking lot about 2 miles from our house to disconnect the car and make a trip to the house to unload the kayaks, the dog, and some of the food.

I usually put the transmission  in park when we are disconnecting and something seemed odd.  It took a long time for the light to stop blinking and some of the lights weren’t showing (for example, to indicate what gear I was in).  As I helped Regis remove the bolts holding the car to the motor home, I mentioned that something didn’t seem right.  As we each pulled the bolts out, the car began to roll backwards.  OKay.  Obviously, it didn’t work.  I rushed to jump in the car and step on the break and found I couldn’t put the parking break on.  Now, I had a car that wouldn’t go out of neutral and couldn’t set the parking break and we were on a very slight incline (since it’s Florida, it’s a wonder we found one of the fewest places with a “slight” incline).   I kept my foot on the brake until Regis put chocks around the wheels.

We were 2 miles from our house after the longest trip we have taken in the motor home and now our car didn’t work.  What???

Just as we were working through next steps, a car drove up and stopped with two gentlemen I have never seen before.  They asked if we had just come from Denver.  What again?  I indicated yes but was puzzled how they knew.  It turns out to be the guy I have been coordinating with for the RV storage facility.  The two men were nice enough to give us a jump start and we were on our way.

For some reason, the battery drained completely while hooked up to the motor home.  There was nothing on in the Jeep to do that, so there must have been some drain by being hooked up to the motor home.  Having never experienced towing it for almost a week without unhooking it, we never had the opportunity to realize that the battery may have been draining on each tow.

Now many of you may remember, we packed out house before leaving in anticipation of moving and then decided not to move.  We returned home to a house with all our goods packed in boxes in the garage.  It was been a very busy few days.

Our first priority was to find the internet router and cell phone extender.  (We can’t use the cell phones in the house without the extender.)  Regis went through EVERY box in the garage 3 times the day we returned and did not find it.  He found it the next day in the motor home.

Anyway, after we get organized, we’re going to go to the beach and watch the clouds blow across the blue sky as the waves roll onto shore for several hours.

I originally planned to get some nice Florida pictures and do a nice close out post, but it has been too crazy to even turn the camera on.  So, this ends Adventure 2018.  I don’t know what’s next, but we’ll let you know when we find out.

Life’s an adventure.  Live while you are still alive!

Bird Sanctuary at Estes Park

20180824-3
House Wren in Estes Park, Colorado

August 24, 2018

This morning, we went in search of moose.  We went to Brainard Lake near the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  We did not see any moose, so we hiked to Long Lake.  We didn’t see any moose, but the views were incredible.  Of course, Regis and I both had long lenses on our cameras and I forgot my cell phone, so we have no pictures of the amazing views.

After our short hike in this air which is significantly lacking in oxygen, I left Dart and Regis at the motor home and went to the Bird Sanctuary near the Estes Park Lake.  My first encounter was with two snakes fornicating.

20180824-10
Two snakes. The only snake in Rocky Mountain National Park is the Garter Snake and we are in Estes Park, right outside the park. Therefore, I believe these are Garter Snakes. If you look closely, there are two heads. They were in the grass, so it was tough to get a photo.
20180824-11
Garter Snake in Estes Park, Colorado.
20180824-8
Possibly a female Red-winged Blackbird Estes Park, Colorado
20180824-7
Robin in Estes Park, Colorado
20180824-6
Duck in Estes Park, Colorado. (Two bird books and I can’t figure out what kind)
20180824-5
House Wren in Estes Park, Colorado
20180824-4
Mountain Chickadee in Estes Park, Colorado.
20180824-2
Estes Park, Colorado (I think this might be a female Brown-headed Cowbird)
20180824-1
Eating berries in Estes Park, Colorado. (Regis and I have looked in two bird books and can’t figure out what this bird is.)
20180824-9
Barn Swallows in Estes Park, Colorado.

If anyone can identify the birds that I can’t, please let me know and I will update this post.  It’s amazing that neither Regis or I can identify some of them with two different bird guides!

Elk

20180823-4C
Elk nursing in Rocky Mountain National Park

August 23, 2018

The night after we saw the wild mustangs near Cody, it rained hard.  We were hoping that would get rid of some of the smoke.  Instead, it was far, far worse.  Apparently, a cool front brought a lot of the British Columbia smoke to the area.  We could barely see any scenery, so we went to downtown Cody to walk Main Street.  I wanted to go to the art galleries.  It was Sunday, they were all closed except for a photography gallery.  We went in there and I was greatly inspired.

After we left Cody, we went to Casper and saw lots and lots of Pronghorn on the way.  Regis saw a roadside sign that said the 2/3 of the world’s Pronghorns are in Wyoming.  It was very smoky in Casper.  We could barely see Casper mountain.  We had a wonderful visit with a friend and walked along the Platte River the next day.  I went to the Werner Wildlife Museum.  It was free!

I prefer to see live animals but enjoyed seeing the animals close up.  They had a black bear and grizzly bear next to each other with an explanation of the differences.  It was very helpful to be up close and see the details.  Most of the animals were from Wyoming, but they had some from around the world.  My favorite was the Least Weasel.  The weasel is so tiny.  It looks like someone stretched a mouse to three times it’s length.

We arrived in Estes Park yesterday.  The campground host warned us that a mother bear and two cubs frequent the campground.  We saw the the dumpster has a padlock.  We’ve been to places that say there are bears around, but you can really believe it if the trash containers are bear proof.  We woke up to blue skies.  We haven’t see a blue sky in weeks.  It was particularly beautiful.  I was mesmerized by the color.

We headed into Rocky Mountain National Park this morning to drive along the amazing Trail Ridge Road.  We took a side trip along the Old Fall River Road, which is a dirt road.  The scenery was spectacular and it was darn cold at the top of the mountain.  The wind was blowing very hard.

20180823-7
Fall Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our first blue skies in weeks.
20180823-8
Near the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. There is a herd of elk around the center of the photo on the mountainside.
20180823-1
Regis got a picture of another hawk on the wing. It’s cool when you are slightly above them!

On the way down the other side of the Continental Divide, we saw lots of elk.  We saw the males relaxing at a higher elevation and found the females and calves near the Colorado River.  There was one young male in the group.  I was standing on the road taking pictures when one of the females moved close by.  We heard a bleating sound and realized it was coming from one of the calves.  The only female to turn her head was the one closest to me.  The little calf ran up to her and started nursing.  They were so close to me that I had a very hard time taking a picture with my long lens with the extender.  I don’t usually have a problem with wildlife coming so close that I can’t take the picture!!

20180823-6
Male elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
20180823-3
Calf and young male elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
20180823-2
Close up of female elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
20180823-4A
Elk calf nursing in Rocky Mountain National Park

After our exciting encounter with the elk, we headed back along the road and stopped near the east entrance at Beaver Meadows to have lunch.  It was nice to sit still and enjoy the scenery and smaller wildlife.  We saw a bunch of birds but the most interesting experience was the ground squirrel.  This was a very brave squirrel who came to find some food.  Dart barely caused it any concern.  We would not let Dart chase the squirrel, so he had to be content with watching it.  It came within six inches of his nose.  I was a little concerned it was going to jump on Dart.  Instead, it chose to jump on top of the picnic table and run up my arm while I was eating a protein bar.  I did not expect it to get that close, so didn’t react to chase it away until it made it all the way to my bar.

20180823-5
Bluebird in Rocky Mountain National Park.
20180823-9B
Linda trying to eat lunch in Rocky Mountain National Park. I didn’t expect the ground squirrel to be so bold as to run up my arm to get a bite of my protein bar.

Wild Mustangs

20180818A-4
Wild Mustangs at the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.

August 19, 2018

The night before yesterday it rained, so we woke up to beautiful weather and the clearest skies we have seen in weeks.  It was the first time in awhile there wasn’t smoke in the air.

We headed to the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.  Adjacent to it is the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.  We saw some wild horses and they are beautiful.  They looked healthy to me.  There is an organization called the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center who is actively involved in helping to ensure the continued success of these horses.  I was fascinated with the stripe going doing each horse’s back and found some interesting information on the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center website.    This website discusses the distinct colors and markings of the horses.

20180818A-3
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

We spent some time at the Devil’s Canyon overlook.  Wow!  While we were there we saw someone water skiing down the canyon.  There was a great campground at the end of the paved road where there is also a boat ramp.  If we come back this way again, I’d like to camp in the campground and kayak through the canyon.  There is the potential to see a lot of wildlife here.  We saw LOTS of scat.

20180818A-1
Devil’s Canyon in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
20180818A-2
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation area with a water skier going down the canyon.
20180818A-5
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation area with a water skier going down the canyon.

After we left the recreation area we went on Highway 14A into the Bighorn Mountains.  This is another scenic highway.  It does not disappoint.  Unfortunately, it started to get hazy again by the time we got into the mountains, so the views were marred by haze.  Nevertheless, the road is astonishing.  It was an incredible engineering feat to build it.

20180818A-6
Juniper berries. We’ve seen lots of these bushes around the area and love the way they smell.

As we go around the country, we notice that a lot of amazing road construction as well as campgrounds, lodges, and other facilities were built in the 1930’s.  The Civilian Conservation Corps built a lot of buildings, trails, campgrounds, and other facilities that we benefit from today.  It’s interesting to me that so much of the stuff we enjoy the most was all built around the same time frame.  You can’t help but wonder how they manage to build these roads in these difficult terrains.  I, for one, am very thankful that they did!

20180818A-11
FAA air traffic control stuff (that’s a technical term) on Medicine Mountain.

We went close to the Bighorn Medicine Wheel.  We visited it a couple years ago and went back because we saw marmots and pikas while we there.  I didn’t get a look at any Pikas, although Regis saw one briefly.  But, there were lots of marmots.  I also saw a little chipmunk actively feeding on natural food.  Since I mostly see chipmunks begging for food in picnic areas and rest stops, it was amazing to catch sight of one eating a good and proper diet for a chipmunk.

20180818A-9
Chipmunk eating a natural diet in the Bighorn National Forest.
20180818A-10
Chipmunk eating a natural diet in the Bighorn National Forest.
20180818A-7
Marmot in the Bighorn National Forest.

It started to rain on us on the way back and the temperature is now quite chilly.  Hopefully, all this rain will clear up the air and help this dry spell.

20180818A-8
Regis caught this hawk in flight in the Bighorn National Forest. We think it might be an immature Red-Tailed Hawk.

Greater Yellowstone

20180818-5
The morning light in Montana.

August 18, 2018

We left Red Lodge to head to Cody, Wyoming.  I love the Greater Yellowstone area.  It is beautiful and full of wildlife.  It is a large area with few roads.  The distances are long out here.

We didn’t have far to go to get to Cody.  When we arrived, I did some grocery shopping and took my time.  Then, we all sat outside in whatever shade we could find and I got antsy to get into Yellowstone.  I love that place.  It is 52 miles to the East Entrance of Yellowstone from Cody.  But, you get to drive along the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway.  I convinced Regis we should head out after dinner.  Wildlife is easier to find in the mornings and evenings.  We are usually morning people and go to bed early so we can get going early the next day.  But, I couldn’t wait.

I read that sometimes the moose hang around Fishing Bridge, so that was our goal.  If we didn’t stop along the way, I figured it would take two hours.  We left around 6:00.  That gave us time to enjoy the Byway but we didn’t stop to take pictures.

The Byway was beautiful.  I can’t believe how beautiful this whole area is.  All these scenic highways and byways are amazing.

My timing turned out to be okay, but the skies got cloudy and rainy in some areas.  It cut down a lot on the available light.  We saw some mule deer and elk, but we did not see any moose.

20180818-1
Mule deer in Yellowstone National Park.
20180818-2
Elk in Yellowstone National Park.
20180818-3
Mule deer in Yellowstone National Park. We saw a pair of these guys. Note the velvet on the antlers.
20180808-4
Mule deer in Yellowstone National Park. Not the velvet on the antlers.

I was concerned about the drive back in the dark and rightly so.  There are lots of animals out here and many of them are moving around at night.  There are signs everywhere warning you.  As we were heading down the mountain in Yellowstone, I saw two cars ahead stopped with their flashers on.  As we got up to them, we saw the problem.  There were two Bighorn Sheep in the road.  There was steep terrain on one side of the road and a guardrail on the other.  Apparently, the sheep came down the terrain, got spooked by the cars, but didn’t want to go over the guardrail.  So, they took off running down the road.  They were going pretty fast.  They must have run for a mile and the cars followed behind.  Eventually, they stopped to drink some water pouring out of the cliff on the side of the road.  The two cars in front of me slowly passed them and went on their way, but as we passed them, one guy got spooked and starting running up the cliff.  If we tried to do it, we would need rappelling gear.  Later I got to thinking, the bright orange and blue kayaks on the roof may have been why he didn’t like us.  Those two Bighorn Sheep were gorgeous.  They were healthy, in beautiful condition, and strong.

It took about 2 hours to get home in the dark and I was exhausted when we got back from scanning for animals the whole way.  It’s very dark out here and I tried to space myself from the car in front so I could keep my high beams on.  I came upon a large deer standing on the side of the road.  What scared me most is that no matter how much I was keeping an eye out, I didn’t see that deer until we were right up on it.

Our next best opportunity to see moose are in the Grand Tetons which abuts Yellowstone on the south.  But, to drive there is a long, long way from here.  The other place I’d like to go is the Lamar Valley.  It usually has lots of wildlife and is our best bet for seeing a wolf.  That is also a long way even though we are on that east side of the park and the Lamar Valley is in the northeast corner.  There are only two ways to get there from here and each way would take at least 3 hours, maybe more.  But, the scenery is beautiful.

We have plans for today, but have to decide whether to spend some time in Cody or drive a long distance for the possibility of seeing more wildlife tomorrow.  I’m always interested in the wildlife, but we’ll have to see how much driving we can stand since we still have to go about 2400 miles to get home.

Beartooth and Chief Joseph Highways

20180816-10
Alpine lake on Beartooth Highway.

August 16, 2018

I think the whole west is smoky right now.  We may have moments in the morning where it doesn’t seem so bad, but as the day progresses the smoke and haze increase.

After we left Glacier National Park area, we headed toward Red Lodge so we could drive the Beartooth and Chief Joseph Highways.  Once we got off interstate 90 to head south, about a mile off the interstate, we saw our first bear.  The bear was running full speed across a field.  When it saw us, it did a U-turn and headed full speed the way it came.  This is a picture of a bear butt.  I’m sure it was a brown Black Bear.

20180816-1
Bear butt. Probably a brown Black Bear running full speed. We traveled in many national parks, forests, and state parks and haven’t seen a bear this year until we were about a mile from the interstate. Go figure!

We waited until the next day after setting up camp in the Red Lodge area and then headed out for a drive on the Beartooth and Chief Joseph Highways.  I recently met a woman (Robyn) who said the mountain views from these highways may be the best.  I understand now why she said that.  It was one of the most amazing drives through mountains that we have ever taken.  The haze greatly diminished the view, but it was still awesome.  I can’t imagine how much better it would be with a clear view.

20180816-13
Chief Joseph Highway

Our most amazing animal encounter was with a fox.  I got out of the car to take pictures and the fox eventually came right past me as if I wasn’t there.  I stood still so as not to do anything to spook the fox, but the fox seemed oblivious to me.  It was very skinny and very intent on hunting.

20180816-4
Fox along Beartooth Highway
20180816-5
Fox along Beartooth Highway.

This is a great drive for people who cannot hike to get great views.  All the views are accessible by car.  There are lots of public land locations with bathrooms, so it is a great way to spend the day and be comfortable.  For those who want to get off the beaten path, the public lands are highly accessible and there are numerous hikes and water access points along the route.  It’s amazing.

20180816-17
Beartooth Highway.

I apologize ahead of time for all the pictures, but we took so many I had a hard time selecting them down.  At this point, I’ll just show the pictures and caption them. (Note:  We drove the Beartooth Highway earlier in the day with the most haze, so the pictures are not very good.  The better pictures are later in the day by the time we went on the Chief Joseph Highway.  Nevertheless, the views from the Beartooth Highway were amazing.  It is essential you put both on your bucket list if you have never been to either.)

20180816-16
Chief Joseph Highway
20180816-15
Beartooth Highway
20180816-14
Abandoned Smith Mine near Bearcreek, Montana.  Sadly, 74 people died in a mining accident in 1943 at this mine.
20180816-12
Chief Joseph Highway
20180816-11
Chief Joseph HIghway
20180816-9
Beartooth Highway
20180816-8
We wanted Dart to be able to play in the snow. Some places were too dangerous. If you slipped over the edge, it was a long fall to the bottom. It took us awhile to find a safe place to let him play. He was happy to get some quality time out of the car.
20180816-7
Interesting mesa formation view from the Chief Joseph Highway.
20180816-6
Obvious mudslide that wiped out several houses along the Chief Joseph Highway.
20180816-3
Can’t stop at a rest stop out west without these chipmunk visitors.
20180816-2
A Pika that appears to be gathering for the winter. Notice this little one has a yellow flower in its stash.

Going-to-the-Sun Road Closed – Fire!

 

20180813-1
Sunday, August 12 picture of the Howe Ridge Fire. If you look very closely above the treeline, you can see the mountains in the background.
20180813-3
Monday morning, August 13 picture of the Howe Ridge Fire. The smoke blocks all views beyond the trees.

 

August 13, 2018

It’s a good thing we went on the Going-to-the-Sun Road on Sunday.  I had thought about doing it Monday or Tuesday to get away from week-ends crowds.  But, the weather was good, so we went on Sunday.  As you may recall from yesterday’s post, we noticed a fire shortly after you entered the park.  It is called the Howe Ridge Fire.  I took some pictures and we did our thing.  Click here for a link to a video of the Canadian Superscoopers gathering water from Lake McDonald in an attempt to put out the fire.  This effort was not successful in dousing the fire.  (We did not post this yesterday because it took several hours to upload which is one of those problems associated with lousy internet access.)

Later in the evening, we wanted to go up to one of the look-outs and catch the sunset and wait around to watch for meteor showers.  We were both very tired, so we didn’t do that.  We drove through less traveled sections of the park in search of wildlife.  Dusk is a good time to see them and we were hoping.  We didn’t see much but we got a view of the fire that evening and Regis got a picture of a hawk.

20180813-5
Hawk in Glacier National Park.
20180813-8
Regis wants to go kayaking with these guys.

Regis and I wanted to hike the Highline trail in the park, but with Dart we couldn’t both do it at the same time.  Dogs are not allowed to hike in the park.  We decided to have one of us do it one day and the other the next.  Originally, Regis was going to wake up early and do it Monday and I would do it Tuesday.  He was so tired that he opted to wait.  I didn’t care about hiking in the afternoon, so I figured I would go Monday afternoon.

Monday morning, we decided to check out an area that often has mountain goats which skirts the edge of the park southeast of us.  On the way, we saw all the signs that said the Going-to-the-Sun road was closed because of the fire.  The fire we saw worsened overnight considerably.  Apparently, the winds picked up the fire expanded quickly.  It’s probably why I couldn’t see the meteor shower last night.

20180813-2
We saw this fire on the way to look for goats. As of this posting, they still haven’t named it.
20180813-6
A close-up of the fire we saw on the way to look for goats. As of this post, the fire had not been named.

On our way to see the goats (which we didn’t see) we saw another wildfire that recently started.  Between the time we first saw it and an hour later on the way back, it was definitely larger.

We went back to Glacier to go to the lesser traveled section to do a before an after picture of the fire from the same spot.  You can’t really see the fire itself, but you can see the smoke.  In the first picture, if you look closely above the treeline, you can see the mountains in the background.  In the second picture, there is so much smoke, you can’t see anything.

We headed out of the park and came back to the campground to grab lunch.  I set about adjusting our return trip and was successful in booking some campsites so that we could leave tomorrow rather than the next day as we originally planned.  At this point, you can’t go in the best part of the park from this side.  There are multiple wildfires causing lots of smoke.  Dart spent some time this afternoon sneezing and coughing (me too!).  I don’t know how fire fighters do it.  We don’t want to hike in these conditions and we are limited in what we can do, so it’s best to move on.

I am happy that we drove on the Going-to-the-Sun Road immediately and didn’t wait.  That was the priority item I had for this visit.  If we had gone to the overlook as planned that evening, we may have had to return home via the east entrance to the park.  Since they began to evacuate at the west entrance and shut down the road road at the west side of the park on Sunday evening, we may have found that we couldn’t go back that way.  That would have required a very long drive around the park to get back to the campground (perhaps 4 hours).  Sometimes things just work out.

Last night, in between trying to watch meteors, I tried to sleep.  But, there are non-stop trains that go through this area.  They make three long whistles somewhere around here, so back-to-back trains whistle and rumble and then shortly thereafter another one comes through.  If you live here, you probably get used to it.  If you don’t live here, it takes awhile.  We don’t here trains much during the day.  As we were looking for goats today, we drove on a road that went along the same basic route as the train tracks and saw some trains sitting still waiting.  I told Regis they were waiting for nightfall.  I don’t think I was wrong.  As soon as the sun set this evening, what do we here???, trains!

Internet access:  Even with unlimited Verizon internet access, we have SIGNIFICANT issues getting decent internet access.  We sometimes struggle to make a blog post and adding video is nearly a killer.  I look forward to seeing my friends when I get home and then I look forward to good internet access.  I miss it!