Category Archives: Travels

Our Favorite Campsites of 2014

We are heading to what will be our last campsite of 2014 to join the Amazon Camperforce team and tackle the holiday season rush.  We covered a few less miles this year, but still made it across the country and back.  We volunteered/workamped nearly half of the year, stayed put for about a month without working a couple of times, and actively traveled the rest.  Below is a list of our favorite campsites this year.

Gilbert Ray Campground, AZ – this county park, just south of Saguaro National Park, is the best campground we have found to experience the beauty of the Sonoran Desert.  It is a bargain at $20 per night for electric hookups, and camping among the giant Saguaros is a one-of-a-kind experience.  It is a 20 minute scenic drive to Tucson and there is GREAT hiking nearby.

Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, SD (boondocking) – The Badlands of South Dakota truly are something to behold, almost other-worldly.  Camping on the edge of “The Table,” a cliff overlooking them is a remarkable experience.   This free spot is 6.5 miles south of Wall, SD.  Look for the large antenna and turn left on the service road, drive anywhere you want and park.

North Shore Bay Campground, Buffalo Bill State Park, WY – This campground is unbelievably picturesque.  It overlooks the turquoise Buffalo Bill Lake with the snow covered Absaroka mountain range in the background and is surrounded by hoodoos and buttes.  It’s about 10 minutes to Cody, WY and 45 minutes to the Eastern slopes of Yellowstone National Park.

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The Joy of the Unexpected

Life on the road brings with it many unexpected surprises.  We travel with destinations in mind, but what we discover along the way is often more meaningful.  When travel reveals something as special as a previously unknown landscape, charmed town, history or cultural nuance that is when the journey becomes the destination.  Often what catches us off guard are little things like the quality of sunlight in a specific place, the different colors of rivers, or the cultural juxtaposition of Texas and Wyoming cowboys.  The U.S. is a country of regions and sub regions each offering unique experiences.  Most of this was unknown to me prior to our travels, minus my impressions through media and brief vacation stays.  While well known landmarks like major cities, national parks, and storied locations are impressive and provide a travel guide, it is the discoveries along the way that are the sweet filling that make RV travel so delicious.

Cultural references take on new life and meaning when experienced first hand.  When a country song references “a good-bye town,” I know exactly what that is.  I’ve been to a Hootenanny, know why it is called bluegrass music, and have tasted Carolina Gold.  I can tell the difference between a Kentucky and a Georgia drawl.  I have seen places where races and cultures mix well, and others where there is a dividing line through town (and they are not where you’d think).   I know why Northern Californians dis-like Southern, and that Oregon and Washington want nothing do with either.

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The Best National Park You’ve Never Heard Of – Exploring the North Cascades

North Cascades National Park is the least visited park in the continental United States, with fewer than 25,000 visitors per year. This number is minuscule compared to 9.4 million visitors the Great Smoky Mountains or the 3 million nearby Olympic National Park receive annually.  I suspect, as was the case for myself, few people outside of the Pacific Northwest even know this place exists.   Indeed, it seems that the North Cascades has bit of a public relations problem.  While iconic images of its better known cousins are splashed across travel magazines, featured in documentaries, and make it on the bucket lists of millions, the North Cascades stand waiting for a few adventurers to embrace its solitude, wilderness, and beauty.

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Our Favorite Places

During conversations with people who are curious about our lifestyle, we are often asked what places we have enjoyed most.  Below is a list of some of our current favorites in different categories.  Keep in mind we have not seen the entire country, only about 28 states, and still have plenty more to see. For the next few months we are going to travel to some new places including 7 National Parks, and we are certain this list will change.

Large Cities:

  • Austin, TX
  • Portland, OR
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Baltimore, MD (our hometown)
  • Washington, DC

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The Central Oregon Coast

The tag line for the Central Oregon Coast is “Where the Forest Meets the Sea.”  It is one of the few places in the country where one can hike in a mature forest of towering pines with rich undergrowth, while listening to and seeing glimpses of the ocean at the same time.  It is also where over-sized sand dunes stretch for forty-two miles south to north, resembling a mountain range of sand.   Where the dunes end, the rocky coastline made of volcanic rock, synonymous with this coast, begins.  Two hundred foot vertical cliffs tower over surf beaten rocks below.  Some are like small islands that provide refuge for birds and sea lions.  Others jut out from their headlands, providing the viewer with dramatic wave crashes and exploding sea spray.  While yet others, provide a protective sanctuary and nursery for burgeoning and delicate marine life in their tide pools.

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Carpe Diem!

Carpe Diem, Seize the Day, was a phrase made popular by a widely seen film of the 1980’s, “Dead Poets Society”.  Since then the phrase has been a staple in the American lexicon.  However, what is well known is not always regularly practiced.  Most people tend to live their lives as if something better waits for them in the future, almost guaranteed.  Intellectually, we all know we will meet the reaper in the end and sometimes sooner than expected.  In fact, there are no guarantees, in a sense all we have is today.  Every day is a gift for those who are grateful.

I feel, more and more, that we all have been subjected to a great ruse.  That society has programmed us to believe certain things are important, when in the end they are utterly meaningless.  Instead of bolstering individual growth and awareness, what I feel is the true meaning of life, we are misguided to believe that comfort and wealth is synonymous with happiness.  Instead of facing the difficult task growth, a craving develops for immediate gratification and pain avoidance through a myriad of distractions.

“Life moves pretty fast, if you blink you just might miss it.”  This saying too was made popular by a 1980’s movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, right before embarking on one heck of an epic day.  The routines of work, shopping and entertaining oneself are comfortable, but tend to speed up life into a succession of days barely distinguishable from the prior.   Weeks turn into months, months to years and before we know it, life has slipped away with little more to show for it than drudgery, interspersed with a few milestones, some recreation, and even less excitement.

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A Walk Among the Redwoods

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”  William Shakespeare

Yesterday we hiked through the Giant Costal Redwood Trees of Northern California and felt an overwhelming sense of serenity and connectedness with nature.  These trees, reaching so high into the heavens, that have been witness to a millennia hold a magical power that results in utter relaxation for the human psyche.  These are the oldest living things on Earth with a wisdom that speaks of slowing down, listening, and the interconnectedness of all things.  The process of growth and decay, but always one of regeneration, is beautiful to observe in all of its stages.  These magnificent trees, that are so tall and massive in scale, actually have shallow root systems and support themselves by intertwining with their neighbors.  They are a community. These forests have something to teach us about ourselves.

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Life on the Channel Coast

There is something special about a place where the mountains meet the sea.  When the hand of man then adds to it by cultivating its richness and sculpting it with care a further beauty is revealed.  The Channel Island coast of California is an hour north of LA, where the coastline curves to face south with four large islands off shore.   The Santa Ynez mountains jut up just a few miles inland providing a scenic backdrop, and spectacular views from the foothills and ridges.  With a temperate year round climate, beautiful landscape, and fertile valleys the towns along this coast are beloved by travelers and residents alike.  The Spanish and Mediterranean inspired town of Santa Barbara is jewel of this coastal region.

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Ugg Boots and Sweatpants? – Observations of Southern California

Southern California has been a conundrum and confounding for us.  If there is a place that spotlights our cultural failings, it is here.  Here among this beautiful landscape of rugged coastline, hills, mountains and fertile valleys something has gone terribly awry. It is tough to know what has more plastic in it, the ocean from the cavalier attitude towards the environment, or the peoples’ souls from all the garbage they cram into themselves.  Like the temple of Zeus on Mt. Olympus, mansions line the hills and mountain tops, while the Mexican labor toils in the heat of Hades in the fields below.   The latest new age spiritual fad is discussed at length on cell phones while swerving through traffic, or at the hot new cocktail bar.  Cigarettes are banned, but the smell of skunky weed fills the air.   College students riot in the streets, not for a political cause, but when simply asked to turn their music down (Deltopia).  It is a place where people look at you while passing on the street, only to look the other way if you smile.   All of the area woes are blamed on the people from The Valley and the illegal immigrants.  Enabling homelessness and drug addiction seems to make people feel better about themselves.  There is a law for just about everything, yet common decency and civility remain elusive.

This place is adrift, like the 17th century maps that depict California as island; it is sinking under the weight of mismanagement and self indulgence.   The State and municipal governments are massive bureaucracies that are corrupt and are no longer able to be effective due to poor leadership and a heavy burden of an overly generous pension system.  Slowly, the towns are going bankrupt while education, parks, and infrastructure take a back seat to retirement funds and the regular occurrence of waste and abuse.  A two year drought has done little to change water usage despite the pleas of local officials.  It is the land of perpetual adolescence, as can be observed by 65 year old men, and mothers’ of three dressed like teenagers.  People here do not actually develop along personal or spiritual lines; they adapt personas and wear them like gang colors.  Yes the cliché of Southern Californians being fake is true, they just don’t know it.   Long gone are the days of the laid back surfer dude, or counter culture hero; these are the times of self affirmations and revering celebrity.  Disney-fication and the corporate takeover of the mind are seen here more intensely than anywhere else in America.

“We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place,” drones off the lips of the residents like a mantra confirming that despite all the troubles it is worth it.  While real estate prices are astronomical, there are few jobs that pay high wages so many people work multiple just to get by.  Once their youth has worn off, people here look tired, frustrated, and a few short of a full deck.  There is a lot of crazy in Southern California.  Homeless, schizophrenics, and addicts who have just given up, are seen with regularity and accepted here. Sometimes I feel like they are the ones who have figured it out.  Southern California entices with beauty and glamour, but it leaves us a bit baffled and feeling a little weary.

A Diverse Nation

The diversity of this country’s people is almost as broad and unique as its landscapes.  Growing up on the east coast surrounded by colonial, Revolutionary and Civil War history, which I considered the important stuff, it has been easy to forget or fail to see the other histories in the United States. Mexico, Spanish, Native American and even the French, controlled parts of this country only several generations ago.  These influences are felt and apparent today in architecture, art, food, culture and even the spirit of a place.  Somewhere I heard that America is less of melting pot and more of a salad, and I believe that is more accurate.  The people in New York might be tomatoes, while Texas is a pepper, and Oregon a cucumber, the regions all play a part in this dish. Onions may be disliked by some, it does not mean they do not have value and add to the medley.

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