2015  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Denali AKA Mt. McKinley

 

   
 
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   2015 YEAR-END REVIEW: RV TRAVEL TRIANGLE
FROM FLORIDA TO ALASKA TO ARIZONA

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 31

 
"RVers and other travelers who move often from place to place thrive on the change of scenery,  
waking up one day in one place and the next day in another. For avid travelers, a change
of view is necessary and addictive. For many RVers, 'today' may not be as important
as the anticipation of 'tomorrow' and the surprises it may bring."
 
~ Chuck Woodbury, online RV Travel Newsletter editor
 
 
At this time in our lives, Jim and I aren't wired to live in one place for more than a few weeks or months.

We do like finding a relatively warm location in the winter and hunkering down there for two to four months at a time but from spring to fall, we prefer to move around more often to see new places and revisit old favorites. There are a lot more choices for RVers in the summer than winter.


I got this shot of the Cameo with Worthington Glacier (north of Valdez, AK) in the background.  (6-17-15)

Some years our travel itinerary is more epic than others. This summer we took our second trip to Alaska via the Alaska Highway through Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon.

Although that was quite a distance from our starting point in St. Marys, GA (near Jacksonville, FL), we spent several weeks in Pensacola, FL and Colorado Springs, CO along the way. The main difference this year was not having to drive back to our previous house in VA in the fall. We saved a lot of miles by remaining out West and gradually heading south to our winter retreat near Yuma, AZ.

Here's our general track for 2015, illustrated by three different maps:


The Big Picture on a little North American map


More detail of the Lower 48 states


More detail of NW Canada and Alaska

In this entry I'll give a synopsis of where we went this year and provide comparative (year-to-year) stats on mileage and camping costs.

REVIEW OF THIS YEAR'S TRAVELS

Despite some cooler, wetter winter weather than we experienced the previous two winters in southern Georgia and northern Florida, we both enjoyed staying at Kings Bay Sub Base in St. Mary's, GA for three-plus months last winter and several weeks at the Blue Angel Naval Recreation Area in Pensacola, FL in the spring.

We had been to Kings Bay twice before but it was our first time at the Navy base in Pensacola. We loved it.


Sunset on Perdido Bay at the Blue Angel Naval Rec. Area  (April, 2015)

We changed our original plans to spend the month of May in Austin, TX for dental and orthopedic appointments because of heavy rain, flooding, and tornadoes.

We had considered Austin for our future part-time residence when we stop full-time RVing and wanted to make some medical connections there but have since changed our minds about that. Texas weather is just too unpredictable -- continued bad weather events the remainder of the year confirmed that, as well as the current high cost of housing in Austin.

In late April we decided to go to Colorado Springs instead. That's another small city we like a lot, although it's not the best all-season place to camp because of its high elevation.


May started off well at the Academy . . .

We were able to make a reservation at the USAF Academy again, one of our very favorite military campgrounds. We spent most of May there, and found good medical providers in that area for our routine dental cleanings and orthopedic care.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn't as warm and dry as it was during our previous stays at the Academy in May. It was an unseasonably cold, wet month at 6,700 feet, with several nights at or below freezing and several sleet storms that dumped 2-3 inches of white stuff on the ground, surprising even the locals.


Unexpected but beautiful snowfall at USAFA on 5-10-15

We kept warm, however, and our pipes didn't freeze. We got out a lot to hike and ride our bikes.

Ironically, the weather in northwest Canada and Alaska was warmer in May than in Colorado Springs! Those areas were having a much warmer spring than usual. If it wasn't for my series of knee injection appointments, we could have driven up there earlier.

ALASKA OR BUST

We left Colorado Springs on May28, immediately after my third and final knee injection, did a brief staging at Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls, MT (where we stored the car), and crossed the Canadian border on May 31.

Yay!!! We were on our way to Alaska again and we finally had some warmer weather when we dropped down to lower elevations in Montana and Canada..


Symphony Lake, at the end of the S. Eagle River Trail in the Chugach Mtns. near Anchorage (8-19-15)

Because of low fuel prices and warmer, drier weather than normal, it was a good year to visit Alaska -- better in that regard than our first trip there three years ago.

We mostly had a great time in Alaska back in 2012 even though it was a cold, wet summer following a winter season that had record-setting amounts of snow. It was our first trip there, a real adventure, and everything was new and exciting to us.


Top of Exit Glacier at the edge of the Harding Icefield near Seward, AK  (July, 2012)

We knew on our way back that we'd go again . . . after Jim forgot how long a drive it was!

This time we wanted to see and do some new things, as well as revisit areas like Anchorage, Seward, and Denali NP that we enjoyed so much three years ago.

The weather this time was much better in Alaska and through Canada. In total contrast to 2012, the winter of 2014-15 was the mildest in their recorded history so we had no problems with melting snow, flooding, washed-out roadways, or trails with too much snow to hike.

This summer was noticeably warmer and drier than in 2012 -- even at the top of Exit Glacier.
Compare this photo with the one above, taken at about the same place from the trail:


What a difference this year, when the nunavaks (ice field peaks) and trail were more visible.

We didn't run into any weather-related problems in Alaska until late August when a week of cold rain and predicted snow drove us out. We cut short our second visit to Denali NP and returned to the Lower 48 on the Alaska Hwy. instead of trying a new route past Stewart-Hyder and through Banff and Jasper National Parks, which were also too wet to be appealing.

Despite all the new places we saw and things we did this time (Whitehorse, Skagway, Haines, Jim's 100-mile bike race, my river float trip, etc.), this trip to Alaska wasn't as exciting as the first one.

It wasn't a disappointment or a total "been there, done that" experience. It just wasn't as epic the second time around. When I think about it, most of our first trips to various places have been more memorable than subsequent ones.

 
We didn't get as many clear views of Denali this sumemr as we did in 2012.
This view is from the mountain across from the Eielson Visitor Center.  (July, 2015)

I don't know at this point if we'll ever drive all the way to Alaska again unless we get another compelling urge to go up there.

I'd definitely like to visit the towns of Stewart-Hyder on the Alaska-British Columbia border and spend some time at Banff and Jasper National Parks. We missed doing that on both of our previous trips up there. Those destinations are closer than Anchorage or Denali so they'd make a good two- or three-week trip into Canada some spring or fall.

I'd also consider a one-way ferry ride up the Inside Passage to Alaska some day so we could see some different territory but that is more practical with a smaller RV. Driving just one way through Canada would be easier than driving both directions.

FOLLOWING THE AUTUMN LEAVES

Last year we followed the fall foliage from Nova Scotia and PEI through New England and south to the GA-FL border. We did the same thing this year from Alaska to Arizona.

We got back to Great Falls, Montana on September 1 and slowly worked our way south, spending a week there,


Giant Springs State Park, Great Falls, MT  (9-7-15)

. . . a few days on the back side of the Grand Tetons,


Our favorite campsite in Teton Canyon, WY  (9-9-15)


High in the Alaska Basin in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness  (9-10-15)

. . . a night in Logan Canyon, UT, several days at Hill AFB in Salt Lake City, and finally landed in Red Canyon, UT in mid-September for a comfortable month at about 7,000 feet elevation.

We figured Red Canyon would be less crowded than nearby Bryce Canyon NP, and it was.

The time we spent at Red Canyon was one of our best experiences of the entire year. We enjoyed the trails there as much or more as the ones in Bryce Canyon and they were 98% less crowded.


The Arches Trail in Red Canyon has numerous "windows" that are fun to find.  (9-19-15)


Hoodoos on the popular Thunder Mountain Trail in Red Canyon   (10-1-15)

Ironically, the campground where we stayed was a serendipitous find.

The forest service campground we aimed for didn't take reservations and was full when we arrived in mid-September. Red Canyon Village RV Park, just down the road, had plenty of room, grassy sites, plus full hookups, cable TV, and free WiFi at a very reasonable cost for a private RV park near so many popular national parks (Zion and Bryce) and national monuments (Cedar Breaks, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Glen Canyon).


Utah rocks!!  Colorful cliffs in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument   (9-26-15)


Our horseback ride in Bryce Canyon NP   (9-30-15)

Above and below:  sunrise at Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon NP  (10-10-15)

The place was so convenient to hiking trails and places to ride our bikes that we ended up staying for a month instead of just a few days. We wanted to stay in Red Canyon even longer than a month but the campground closed on October 18 because of freezing weather overnight.

Now what?

WINTERING IN ARIZONA

It was still in the low 90s F. at our next destination in mid-October -- Black Canyon Ranch RV Park about an hour north of Phoenix. We had reservations there for October 1 to mid-January, and longer if someone cancelled in January and February. When we made the reservation several months earlier we had no clue that the western U.S. would be experiencing a significantly hotter than normal fall season. 


While it was in the 90s F. at lower elevations in southern UT and northern AZ,
it was already snowing at 10,000 feet at Cedar Breaks National Monument.  (10-5-15)

We considered other options in southern Utah and northern Arizona but decided to just drive on down to Black Canyon City.

For various reasons, including malfunctioning electrical service in the campground, we decided to stay in Black Canyon only one week. We were pleased to get our deposit back. On October 25 we drove farther south to the Yuma Proving Ground, an Army base about 20 miles north of Yuma, AZ.

This post is very close to the California border, Imperial Dam, the Laguna Wildlife Conservation Area, and the BLM Long-Term Visitor Area  (LTVA) where we wintered four years ago. Although we haven't camped at YPG before we used other facilities on post (commissary, gas station, laundry, cafe, etc.) when we boon-docked at the LTVA.


View of Castle Dome from the Laguna Conservation Area near YPG  (12-21-15)

 
Golden cottonwood leaves at the Laguna Conservation Area add more color to the desert.
The tracks in the sand are from foxes and/or coyotes.   (12-19-15)

This winter Jim really wanted full hookups instead of boon-docking at the LTVA. The monthly rate to camp at YPG is one of the cheapest in the entire system so it was practically a no-brainer to see how we liked it.

Although military retirees can't reserve sites ahead of time at YPG, we were one of the first seasonal guests to arrive at the travel camp. We had our choice of about 85 of the 104 sites. We found a large pull-thru site at the end of one of the loops where we can park the truck on one side of the 5th-wheel  and the car on the other side:

 


I built a rock "Inukshuk" (Canadian version of a cairn) and later bought
several more flowering plants to add some color to our patio.  (10-28-15)

We're at the far end of the campground where it is nice and quiet. By the end of December 90% of the sites were full -- and it was still pretty quiet.

Although the desert is not as scenic in the Yuma area as some other places we've been in Arizona and it's dusty when the wind blows across the sand, the pluses far outweigh the minuses -- the weather is better than most other places in the U.S. this winter, we have many miles of roads and trails to hike and cycle, the price is right, we like our neighbors, and we enjoy watching all the activity at the produce farms and fruit orchards on the California side of the Colorado River between here and Yuma:


Harvesting what looks like Romaine lettuce  (12-22-15)

And those Medjool date shakes at Imperial Date Gardens, Inc. are to die for!

Above and below:  Imperial Date Gardens offers free tours during the winter.  (11-18-15)

MILEAGE FIGURES

Since we no longer own a house, we aren't traveling back to VA twice a year to check up on it. That doesn't mean we aren't still racking up the miles on the camper and truck because we went up into Canada the last two summers.

The truck is getting a bit of a break now that we're using the Odyssey minivan while staying at various locations in the lower 48. We did not take the car all the way to Nova Scotia last year or to Alaska this summer. Driving the truck to both farther-flung places put more miles on it and the camper since we began full-time RVing 18 months ago.


Shaggy blond grizzly bear at Denali NP   (7-20-15)

Here are the mileage stats for 2015 and 2014:

Camper:  10,738 miles  (only 5,306 miles in 2014 -- in eastern USA all year)

Truck:  15,582 miles  (14,291 miles in 2014)

Car:  13,668 miles  (don't have exact figure for last year)

We were happy that gas and diesel prices were lower this year. We will never, ever let high fuel prices prevent us from traveling again, though. We learned that lesson in 2008 when prices soared and we didn't go out West in the summer. We've regretted that decision ever since.

CAMPING FEES:

As our travel MO has gradually morphed over the years to include longer stays in some locations, we've been able to take advantage of lower weekly, monthly, and seasonal rates at campgrounds and RV parks. That has lowered our "housing" costs to some extent.

So has our increased use of military campgrounds, which are 1/2 to 2/3 the cost of private campgrounds for comparable amenities in the same areas.

However, as we age we're also seeking out more RV parks with full hookups (i.e., electricity, water, and sewer), often including cable TV and some level of "free" WiFi. It's a lot less work for Jim and we're more comfortable.


Our site at Kings Bay Sub Base, St. Mary's, GA; the rate for lakeside sites is $570/month.  (Jan., 2015)

The figures below show that our camping costs haven't sky-rocketed recently, though, compared to previous years when we did more boon-docking (dry camping) on BLM land or had just electricity at local, state, and national parks and forests.

Here are our average daily camping fees for the last few years:

2015 $19.73/day for 365 days (includes Canada and Alaska this summer)

2014$22.50/day for 236 days (includes the Canadian Maritimes in the summer)

2013 summer trip to the Rockies $11.12/day for 115 days

2013 winter trip in the Southeast $18.95/day for 79 days at the beginning of the year

2012 summer trip to Alaska$16.85/day for 150 days

2011-12 winter trip in Arizona$5.79/day for 119 days (that includes 2 cheap months at the Imperial Dam LTVA north of Yuma, near the Proving Grounds)


View of part of the Imperial Dam LTVA and reservoir from a nearby mountain  (11-4-15)

Those costs do not include propane or gasoline for the camper.

Our range and oven use propane whether we have electricity or not. If that's all we're using propane for, it lasts a long time. The Cameo has two 7-gallon tanks.

When we don't have an electrical hookup we also use propane in the refrigerator, water heater, gas space heater, and (rarely) furnace, plus gasoline in the generator so we can run the microwave, coffee maker, air conditioner, etc. Then we "burn through" propane faster.

Solar panels with 480 watts of power reduce the amount of time we need to use the generator when boon-docking -- as long as the sun is out and we aren't under a bunch of trees.


Jim installed more solar panels when we stayed at the Imperial Dam LTVA in early 2012.

WHAT'S NEXT?

We plan to stay at the Yuma Proving Grounds until at least the end of January, and maybe February. By mid-March it will probably be hotter than we like.

We haven't yet determined all the places where we want to travel the rest of 2016 but will probably remain in the mountainous western states until fall. We don't have any "epic" destinations planned this year. We want to visit some places that are new to us and go back to some spots we've enjoyed previously.


I'd like to go back to the Leadville, CO area and hike awesome trails,
like this one to Windsor Lake.  (July, 2013)

I haven't been good in recent years about keeping the entries in this website current but when I start the 2016 journal I'll continue my habit of listing where we are on the topics page so folks can see where we are and where we've been recently.

At the end of December, 2015 I still have the last six months of entries to upload so check back periodically to see what's new . . .

Happy New Year,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil