Saturday, January 28, 2017

Wrapping up 2016 & Happy New Year!

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I didn't intend to stop blogging at the end of our Amazon stint and over the holidays, but it sure turned out that way. Let's catch up!

On Friday, December 2nd at the end of our 10-hour shift, we were gathering our things from our locker and noticed folks looking at their phones checking their Email and gathering to chat. Before we even got out the front door, we found out that HR had sent an Email to CamperForce folks asking if any of us would be interested in Early Release. Leaving early typically results in the loss of our bonus ($1 per hour worked) at the end of the season. But this time, HR was making it known that those who chose Early Release would receive the bonus. It seems they over-hired this year. It took us all of about a nano-second to say OH, HELL YES!

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The final Fitbit stats totaling all our steps during our Amazon experience.

By 10:45 am on Sunday, we were done, along with about 70 others. While we were excited to get on the road, we had a couple of things pending (like packages we were expecting and a doctor's appointment for me) before we could leave. We also wanted to say a proper goodbye to the people we met and spent time with. On Wednesday, December 7th, we left Campbellsville and drove all the way to Tom Sawyer Campground in West Memphis, AR, on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi.

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Scoopy at Tom Sawyer RV Park on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi River.

We caught up with Jodee & Bill Gravel and while the boys headed into Memphis to catch a movie, Jodee and I went on the hunt for a 6" springform pan. We have both recently purchased an Instant Pot, and for Steven's upcoming birthday, we were going to make him a cheesecake. We also cooked a few other dishes, and had both pots cooking away. We named them Thelma and Louise. :) 

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Jodee drinking Irish Whiskey and directing me in the making of the cheesecake.

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Tipanic and Tessa get acquainted!

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Thelma and Louise looking spiffy along the banks of the Mississippi River.

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Delicious birthday cheesecake made with the incredible Instant Pot!

We had mostly gorgeous weather and it was a great place to relax and unwind from our long days at Amazon.

While Jodee and Bill (with Tessa & Louise) took off for New Orleans, Steven and I headed to Maumelle, just outside Little Rock. We spent another few days along the river, relaxing, before finally heading to Live Oak Ranch.

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Spectacular sunrise at Maumelle Park in Arkansas.

It was great to be back to the ranch with my family. Steven and I had managed to shop for and wrap the majority of our gifts before we got there, so we jumped right in and got the tree and decorations up in the great room in anticipation of Zac and Tara's arrival. Zoe, as always, was unable to join us as she works in retail and was unable to take time off.

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Lots of fun time with family at the Ranch in Texas!

We had a lovely Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner, but after that, things went downhill fast as nearly everyone got sick. And by sick, I mean really, really sick. On the afternoon of New Year's Eve, I took both of my parents to the Emergency Room, where my Dad was diagnosed with pneumonia and my Mom with bronchitis. Dad was hospitalized for two days before being send home to recuperate. I stayed in town to be with them, but also to recover myself, as Steven seemed to have escaped infection and he wanted to keep it that way.

Recovery is ongoing, but the bulk of it all took up the first two or three weeks of the New Year with doctor's appointments and lots of rest. Fortunately, we are all on the mend. Dad is regaining his energy and Mom and I are still getting rid of our annoying coughs.

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Linda and her Mom in Abilene making a delicious halibut meal.

After a few days on antibiotics, Steven allowed me to return to Scoopy. We got busy and did the big purge that we do every year to get rid of things we don't need. This year, the Vita-Mix got put in storage, as did a few pots and dishes. Somehow, I keep buying these things and end up storing them.

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In the middle of our yearly purge!

Now, Scoopy has been winterized, I think for the first time ever. The slides are in, her fridge is empty and all power has been turned off. For the next month, Steven and I will be traveling in Europe. As I type these words, I'm sitting in the Starbucks near Steven's childhood home outside of Dublin, soaking up the free Wifi in order to bring you this blog. It is my intention to keep up with posts and share our travels with you, so thanks for following along! 

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We are in Dublin! This is the closest we’ve come to fish and chips (haven’t eaten them yet).

NEXT UP: Our adventures in the Emerald Isle.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Devils Tower

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One of my favorite movies as a kid was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. An odd-shaped mountain in northeastern Wyoming was featured heavily in the story and it stayed with me throughout my adulthood. I’m not sure if it would have been as mysterious had it not been for the movie but for me as a photographer, it was high on my bucket list of things to shoot.

After our spectacular visit to Alaska this year, Linda and I thought that anything in the Lower 48 would pale in comparison. Aside from an extended stay at our our property in Idaho, our main mission was to get to Campbellsville in Kentucky for our seasonal job at Amazon. So, with that in mind, I had kind of resigned myself to a fairly mundane few months of just getting to that destination.

Linda is the planner extraordinaire and her specialty is fitting a square peg in a round hole. What I mean by that is she will look at a short period of time and figure out an epic trip inside those restraints. One day she blurted out, “I figured out our trip!” When I hear those words, I always get excited. Her genius surfaced again this time when she showed me how we could fit a trip to Devils Tower into our itinerary! I couldn’t wait.

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Devils Tower really lends itself to black and white for extra drama!

Here’s a little information: Devils Tower was the first declared United States National Monument and stands 867 feet from base to summit. It is sacred to local Native American tribes, including the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho. The mountain has had various names given by these tribes over the years including Bear’s House, Bear’s Lair and Home of Bears.

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Longhorns posed for us and then came around with a tin cup looking for tips.

In 1875 an explorer named Col. Richard Irving Dodge asked his obviously inept interpreter what the local name was and he mistranslated it as Bad God’s Tower. This eventually morphed to Devil’s Tower and, when it was designated a National Monument, the apostrophe was dropped. So now you know.

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This was one of the nicest campsites we have been to and the views were amazing!

The campground where we stayed lies just inside the main entrance. Fall had taken hold in all its beauty and we found a campsite with a great view of the mountain. Because we were at the edge of the season (the park closes in mid-October), there were few campers about and it was a wonderfully restful time for us.

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Fall colors were everywhere and our deer friends were out enjoying it all!

There is a loop around the base of DT that’s an easy walk with plenty of views of the mountain itself and the surrounding landscape. DT’s shape changes drastically according to wherever you happen to be on that loop, making it a really interesting walk. The first day we attempted to get to the base, we found ourselves on a somewhat strenuous ascent that left us completely out of breath! When we finally got up to the trail, it spit us right out at the Visitors Center! The next day, with newly-acquired wisdom, we drove up and walked the flat and paved loop trail which was a heck of a lot easier!

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We found the trail less traveled the first day. The fog and rain added a nice touch!

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Almost to the base, I promise!

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The views of the surrounding landscape made this strenuous hike worth it.

There are many trails in the area, including one that goes right through Prairie Dog Town. These little critters are fascinating to watch. They are so named because of their bark-like sounds when sounding danger and, believe me, they always seem to be in danger! The barking and screeching never stops. They have created an elaborate network of interconnecting tunnels and every few seconds, they are either ducking inside or heads are popping up.

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Prairie Dog cuteness.

We had a really great time here and, although it was a brief visit, it made a lasting impression. Our list of “must return” places is growing and this is one of our favorites.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Henry’s Lake State Park

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Since we started traveling fulltime we have had a mouse in Scoopy on three occasions and two of them have been while we are in the Teton Valley! And this time, the mouse brought his friends! We caught three in a matter of hours and though they weren't inside for long, they sure made a mess!

That is one of the main reasons we decided to move on to Henry's Lake State Park where we could enjoy full hook-ups and thoroughly clean Scoopy! It didn't hurt that the setting was gorgeous! It was also fairly close to Yellowstone, which we thought we'd enjoy often, but once we got started on cleaning, the process took on a life of it's own and kept us fairly close to home.

Every drawer and cabinet was emptied, wiped with Clorox cloths and adorned with a light-colored liner. This will make it much easier to spot any offending matter in the drawers in the future. The washing machine was in constant use as was the vacuum cleaner. Bits and pieces of stray dry goods and various and sundry foodstuffs were tossed and the trash bags piled up. That was the other great thing about staying in a FHU campground - garbage disposal!

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Steven did a lot of the icky stuff, like disinfecting everything and operating Stanley. He did a great job!

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We made great use of the makeshift “dumpster” at the park :)

The thing about this kind of deep clean is that the place gets completely trashed during the process. Then we decided to shampoo the carpet and things really got ugly. Our home was in complete disarray. 

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Our newest family member: Stanley!

All-in-all, it was a multi-day project that needed to be done, even if our favorite National Park was just down the road. We did manage to take a day off and visit Yellowstone which, of course, was spectacular as always. We originally intended to stay at Henry’s Lake for five days, but we extended for three more. Oh, glorious hook-ups! I've said it before, no matter how long we boondock, it takes about a nano-second to adjust and become addicted to FHUs! 

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Yellowstone was glorious, of course! We also got to see a wolf off in the high grass.

For the first few days at Henry's Lake we kept up with our walking, trying to get at least 10k steps per day. (Now, it makes me LOL that we thought we could physically prepare ourselves for Amazon by walking 10k steps each day....we were so innocent!) It certainly helped that we were in a beautiful setting with lots of trails to walk. But, after a few days, we both kind of gave up. We got bored with walking and figured we'd just tough it out at Amazon.

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Trumpeter Swans at Henry’s Lake State Park.

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The views of Henry’s Lake were just wonderful with an ever-changing light.

When we left Henry's Lake State Park, we drove through Yellowstone N.P. to Buffalo Bill State Park just outside Cody, WY.  We'd never driven Scoopy through the park before and it was a gorgeous drive, kind of overcast with dramatic clouds. You know, a photographer's dream.

We only stayed one night, but we still managed to visit a few places, including historic Old Town, a must-see attraction with beautifully preserved buildings and paraphernalia from the late 1800s. But mostly we just enjoyed the beautiful view from our campsite. At this point, we had a few stays along our route to Kentucky and, while we couldn’t stay in Cody as long as we’d like, there’s always next time!

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Our spot at Buffalo Bill State Park.

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And here’s the man himself in the center of downtown Cody.

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Old Town was a great place to visit with lots of authentic Wild West curiosities.

UP NEXT: Custer State Park

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Home in the Teton Valley

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Idaho is very dear to our hearts, specifically our corner of heaven in the little town of Tetonia. A decade ago we fell in love with the valley and the spectacular 4-peak Teton view. We bought a 3 -1/4 acre piece of property (affectionately known as "Lot 5") with the intention of eventually building what Linda likes to call a “lobin”, half lodge, half cabin. In any case, a dwelling of some sort. Right now, it's looking like it will be the place where we finally settle down when we come off the road. Whenever we can, we come "home" for a visit. Among the many lots in the development, there has only been one house built. We'll eventually break ground but not for now.

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We are lucky indeed to have a little slice of heaven right here in the Teton Valley.

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An aerial view of Lot 5 in Tetonia.

We stayed at a campground in Tetonia last year and really enjoyed its proximity to our property and its closeness to Yellowstone, Teton National Park and Jackson Hole. We lucked out at that time because we got a great deal just before peak season began. Not so this year. The price had risen to $65 per night and was out of our budget range so we looked around for alternatives.

Linda found a boondocking spot called the Big Eddy. It's just a few minutes drive from neighboring Driggs, right on the banks of the Teton River with a to-die-for view of the mountain peaks. We had read it was a little tricky to get to - the roads in the area are unpaved so we'd have to take it pretty slow through the dust, dirt and loose gravel.

Driving in Scoopy felt like we were rolling over washboard upon washboard. We got rattled more than we did during our entire Alaska trip. At one point, the driver’s side electric front window shade became unhinged, fell and nearly clocked Linda in the head. Thankfully we arrived without injury. More negotiating through potholes was necessary to finally land at our campsite. There were only a few other people camping and some left over the next couple of days. It felt like we had the place to ourselves and the best part...it was free! Did I tell you we love this life??

The sun rose from behind the Tetons each morning with lots of cloud drama. Sandhill Cranes filled the sky and we had a visit from some moose from time to time. One day, I looked out of our front window and saw a bull moose, complete with big rack, trotting right past Scoopy. I pointed outside to Linda and couldn't even speak the words "moose" because I was so excited....it was a very cool sight to see :)

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The light on the Teton peaks was forever changing…always dramatic!

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A bald eagle flies across the Tetons.

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Hot to trot – a bull moose from Scoopy’s window and a Great Horned owl wants you to heed the signs.

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A mother moose and her two young whippersnappers have breakfast together just outside our window.

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This photo by Linda looks like a painting. So serene by the Teton River.

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We saw Sandhill cranes in a nearby field most mornings.

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Scoopy was pretty comfortable with this view.

We had vowed upon arrival to start walking about 10,000 steps a day in preparation for our upcoming Amazon gig. There were lots of trails and roads to walk and the sprawling yellow and gold surrounding farmland made for a beautiful backdrop. This walking thing wasn't too bad we thought. We also made a concerted effort to begin a more healthy diet. The Amazon job was going to be like a daily workout at the gym so we decided we wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity to lose a few pounds in the process.

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Our walking trails were always interesting with plenty of eye candy.

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We finally got a Selfie Stick but only for emergencies and weird Tiny Planet shots like this one.

There is a ten-day limit at the Big Eddy which is rigorously enforced, so we stayed nine. Our plan was to move on to another favorite campground of ours in West Yellowstone called Bakers Hole. We set off one day on a reconnaissance mission to check out the campground and also visit our beloved Yellowstone. We stopped by Henry's Lake State Park on the way and, with a wonderful view of the lake and its relatively close proximity to Yellowstone, we decided we would stay there instead. Besides, it had full hookups and we needed to get laundry done and just not worry about finding a place to dump, etc. Between all the boondocking we had done in Alaska and now at the Big Eddy (and a mouse problem we’ll get into in the next post), we deserved a little time with all the amenities.

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An aerial view of Scoopy in the Big Eddy!

All in all, our visit to Tetonia was productive and relaxing. It's always good to check out what's happening at our property plus we got a lot of walking in and saw plenty of wildlife. What else is there??

Coming up next: Henry’s Lake.