2016  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT

 

   
 
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   2016 YEAR-END TRAVEL & CAMPING REVIEW 

 SATURDAY, DECEMBER 31

 
"Young people, listen to your elders: Travel more now or you might regret it.  Thinking back  
on their lives so far, one in five Boomers say that one of their biggest regrets is not
traveling enough, according to a survey of 2,000 Baby Boomers. Those 65 and 
up say the same thing . . .  To sum up what I learned in a sentence:  When
your traveling days are over, you will wish you had taken one more trip."
 
~ from an article on the Market Watch website titled
"One of the biggest life regrets for older Americans is . . ."
 
 

These Boomers are doing everything possible to prevent those regrets, but when Jim and I eventually have to stop traveling, we'll probably wish we could have taken just one more trip. . .

Our RV travels weren't as epic in 2016 as in some previous years, like when we've gone up to Alaska or the Canadian Maritimes, but we still covered a lot of territory -- marked in yellow on the map below -- on our journey from the western USA last winter to the east coast this winter. 

This year we returned to some of our favorite places and added some new ones to keep our full-time RV lifestyle both fun and educational.

And true to the quote above, there are more places we saw, but didn't explore, to which we'd like to return the next time.

We'll never see everything there is to see on this magnificent continent in our ever-shrinking lifetime!

DESERT RATS, PART 1:  ARIZONA

Our desire to stay warm during the winter kept us at Desert Breeze RV Park at the Army's Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) from October 25, 2015 to March 20, 2016, which was the longest time we've ever stayed in one spot since we began extended and full-time RVing 13 years ago.

I wrote several entries at the end of 2015 about our stay at YPG. At the beginning of this year we found some new places nearby to explore on foot, bike, and car -- the scenic roads to Ferguson and Mittry Lakes, more of the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, and the Castle Dome mountain range.


Jim on a bike ride toward Castle Dome  (1-2-16)


View of Ferguson Lake, the town of Martinez Lake, Imperial National Wildlife Area,
and the Castle Dome mountain range from a high point on Ferguson Rd.  (1-15-16)

We also took two long day drives, one north to Parker and Lake Havasu City, Arizona and one west to southern California to check out several areas as potential places to visit before heading to some other new locations in March.

We spent a lot of time during the winter doing online research re: where we wanted to go next and made several reservations for the rest of the year. Since more and more people are traveling in RVs now, we're having to make more reservations than we used to and make them earlier to ensure getting a spot.


Jim and Casey enjoy a walk along the Bridgewater Channel, which flows
under London Bridge (seriously!) in Lake Havasu City.  (1-27-16)


Elephants in the California desert??  Just metal ones near Borrego Springs!
This is one of 130 life-sized metal critter sculptures in the valley.  (1-19-16)

As usual, we did some major tweaking of those plans along the way. With little in our lives for structure any more, we can do that!

In late February we drove to Montana and back for a funeral. It was the dead of winter up there so we left the Cameo at YPG and took the dogs with us in the Odyssey minivan. (Since we weren't in the Cameo I didn't include that route on the map at the beginning of this entry.)


Hmm. Maybe this "shortcut" from Idaho to Montana wasn't the best idea . . . 
Sure was pretty, though.  (2-29-16)

After that long and stressful week we were glad to get safely back to the warmth of Arizona but we didn't stay there much longer.

By mid-March we had itchy feet and were ready to get out of there, too.

DESERT RATS, PART 2:  CALIFORNIA

It was fun to be on the road to discovery again! After we left YPG on March 20 we traveled to some places in southern California and Nevada that were new to us.

First up was the Twilight Dunes RV Park at 29 Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center near Joshua Tree National Park. We had checked out both the campground and park on a quick scouting trip a few weeks earlier and knew we wanted to spend a little more time in the area for hiking and cycling.

Iconic rounded rocks and blooming yucca (above) and Joshua trees (below)
on trails at Joshua Tree National Park   (2-22-16 and 2-25-16)

One week at 29 Palms gave us enough time to explore the town and nearby Joshua Tree NP. It was our first time to visit this park, which is one of the country's most-heavily-visited national parks. The trails weren't too crowded early in the morning when we were there.

Our next stop a little farther north was for a week at Sierra Vista RV Park at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station near Ridgecrest, CA.

While we were staying at China Lake we did two long but very interesting day drives to more places that were new to us -- Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills Recreation Area, and Kennedy Meadows near Mt. Whitney one day, and Death Valley National Park another day.


View through the Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills near
Lone Pine, CA of mountains in the range with Mt. Whitney (3-29-16)

In late March there was too much snow to drive or hike to Whitney Portals or do another hike I had hoped to do in the Sierra Nevada mountains but we enjoyed that scenic day drive.

Death Valley was just the opposite, already plenty hot at the end of March. It was fun to see where the iconic Badwater ultra marathon is run in July and we swore we'd never want to be in that hot, desolate area in the summer.


Jim looks down on Badwater Basin from Dante's View in Death Valley NP  (3-31-16)

We enjoyed walking and cycling at China Lake and learned a lot at the air museum about the scope and purpose of the 1.1-million acre base. I also did two hikes on the nearby Pacific Crest Trail.

I had a big surprise at the end of the second hike when I discovered someone (or two or three) had broken out one of the sliding doors on the Odyssey minivan to steal my Specialized TriCross cyclo-cross bike and a few other items. Fortunately, I had my wallet and camera with me while hiking.


Colorful rocks along Artists' Drive in Death Valley NP  (3-31-16)

Insurance covered most of the window repair and the current value of the bike and other items. I ordered a new Specialized CruX cyclo-cross bike a couple weeks later when we were in Utah and have really enjoyed it since then. It has fewer gears but is lighter (carbon frame) and has disc brakes.

Although we really liked Sierra Vista RV Park the break-in and theft squelched any further desire on my part to return to Ridgecrest in the future. I really felt violated.

DESERT RATS, PART 3:  NEVADA

On April 3 we headed northeast to Desert Eagle RV Park at Nellis AFB in North Las Vegas, NV, the fourth military campground in a row that was new to us.

We have heard from lots of other military retirees how nice this RV park is and soon wished we were staying longer than a week. Before we were even parked in our large full-hookup site we could see why it is so popular.


Our large site next to a walking path at Nellis AFB (4-4-16)

Desert Eagle puts the "park" in RV park! We really liked the place and can see why some retirees head back here year after year to spend the winter.

While in the Las Vegas area we drove to the other side of the city to scenic Red Rock Canyon and north of the metro area to the magnificent Valley of Fire State Park, which is as spectacular and diverse as just about any national park in this country.

 
Part of the Fire Wave formation in Valley of Fire State Park, NV   (4-6-16)

I was so impressed with the fascinating rock formations and ancient petroglyphs my first trip to Valley of Fire that I went back three days later to show some of my favorite places to Jim:


Dogs are allowed on the trails at Valley of Fire so we took Casey
and Cody with us on the colorful White Domes loop trail.  (4-9-16)

We drove back to Nellis AFB through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Sunrise Mountain Conservation Area.


Like some other lakes in NV and UT, Lake Mead is rather low.  (4-9-16)

Except for all the traffic in such a large metro area, this is one place where we'd like to return for more than a week.

UTAH'S COLORFUL CANYONLANDS:  ZION, MOAB, ARCHES, & MORE

Soon it was time to drive to our next one-week reservation -- the private Zion Canyon RV Resort in Springdale, UT.

Although the sites in the campground are closer together and more expensive than most of those in military campgrounds, we loved being just half a mile from the west entrance to Zion National Park and promptly made another reservation for the fall (which we later cancelled).


Looking down on Angel's Landing (below arrow) and the Virgin River
from the Observation Point Trail, which I loved  (4-14-16)

We went into the park every day and either rode our bikes through the main canyon where personal cars aren't allowed or took the free shuttle buses. We hiked most of the park trails, including the lower part of Angel's Landing, the west rim, and up even higher to awesome Observation Point.

We were a little disappointed that we couldn't wade through the Virgin River in the iconic slot canyon called The Narrows but the water is usually too high and fast in the spring to do that.

Another day we drove up Kolob Terrace Road to the reservoir at 8,000+ feet and found some snow for the dogs to play in -- quite a different world than the new green spring leaves down below.


View from the paved Riverwalk Trail in Zion Canyon  (4-11-16)

On April 17 we headed east to another area that is new to us -- Moab, UT, a mecca for folks who love to bike, hike, run, and Jeep over the massive slick-rock formations in the area.

We stayed several nights at the nice-but-pricey private Spanish Trails RV Park south of town and drove into popular Arches National Park each day to enjoy the wide variety of interesting arches and other scenery. We got out early in the day to hike before the trails got too crowded and the sun was too hot.

Arches has several iconic rock formations, including Delicate Arch, the arch depicted on the Arizona license tag in recent years. After I hiked back to Delicate Arch I talked Jim into going with me a second time.


Delicate Arch  (4-18-16)


Double Arch  (4-18-16)

On our last day at Spanish Trail we drove up to Canyonlands National Park and discovered a much better place to camp on BLM land -- Horsethief Campground. The sites are large, quiet, and really inexpensive, especially at half price with our National Park Service senior pass. We haven't boon-docked for a while so we had to practice those skills again (solar power, generator, hauling and dumping water, etc.).

We moved up to that broad plateau the next day and stayed 11 more days, significantly extending the time we originally planned to be in the area and making some other adjustments to our spring and summer travel plans. 


Looking down from the Grand View Trail at Canyonlands NP; some of its canyons
are as "grand" as the Grand Canyon but without the huge crowds.  (4-22-16)

We found a lot of interesting things to do in the Moab area and will probably return again another spring or fall. The scenery, hiking trails, and cycling opportunities are a big draw for us.

DEJA VU:  BACK TO RED CANYON & BRYCE CANYON

After spending 15 days in the Moab area we went back west a bit to Red Canyon, UT, and stayed the month of May at Red Canyon Village RV Park again.

We so enjoyed being in the Red Canyon-Bryce Canyon area in autumn, 2015 that we wanted to go back and see what things looked like in the spring. In one word, gorgeous! It was interesting to see different flowers in bloom and new green leaves sprouting everywhere:


All the low-growing manzanita shrubs at Red and Bryce Canyons sported numerous
clusters of pretty pink and rose-colored flowers in May.   (5-7-16)

We had a great time hiking and cycling in the area again, and did a few new things to spice it up, like doing a long day drive farther through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to Capitol Reef National Park, cycling to Tropic Reservoir, and hiking a couple different trails in Red Canyon:


View along the main road in Capitol Reef NP   (6-1-16)


White sand -- not snow -- and colorful rocks on the
Casto-Losee Canyon trail loop in Red Canyon  (5-28-16)

For much of May we did see plenty of snow at Cedar Breaks National Monument, which sits at 10,000+ feet. We drove up and over the broad Markagunt Plateau every week to shop in Cedar City, going from spring to winter to spring each direction.

SUMMER IN THE ROCKIES:  COLORADO SPRINGS & LEADVILLE

Our summer adventures were mostly repeats, too. We love both Colorado Springs and Leadville so we went back to these cool, higher-elevation retreats for a total of three months.

On the way to Colorado Springs we went a very scenic route, stopping for one night at Camp Hale on US 24 north of Leadville. We've visited this former site of the 10th Mountain Division previously but this was our first time staying at the nice National Forest Service campground on the former WWII base.

This was at least our seventh time staying at Peregrine Pines Campground on the sprawling campus of the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs. We would have stayed all summer if we could, but military retirees are limited to just 30 days in the peak season. We love all the hilly miles of paved roads and dirt trails on campus so we spent most of our time hiking and cycling there and the multi-use Santa Fe Trail and Pikes Peak Greenway, which stretch from the town of Monument to southern Colorado Springs.


View along the Santa Fe Trail through the southern part of the USAFA campus  (6-24-16)

I also hiked some at Garden of the Gods and Red Rock Canyon, both awesome city parks.

Whenever we are in Colorado Springs I'm obsessed with Pike's Peak, one of the state's 54 mountains over 14,000 feet high. There are good views of the peak from the the campground and other parts of the Academy grounds so I could see it every day.

I was able to hike the whole trail from Manitou Springs to the summit but it took two different out-and-back hikes because there was still too much snow at the upper elevations on the first hike. I finally hiked the upper 3,000 feet in late June after most of the snow had melted:


Some remaining snow at ~ 14,000 feet elevation on Pikes Peak along the Barr Trail  (6-21-16)

Then we spent two months camped in Leadville.

I've lost count of how many times our friends have let us park on their property and hook up to their water and electricity but we are forever grateful for their generosity because we don't like our other camping options in or near town nearly as much. (We do pay them a fair price for the privilege.).

We have so many options for great hiking and cycling in this area that we keep going back -- sections of the Colorado Trail, several 14ers in the Collegiate Group (I climbed both Mts. Elbert and Massive again), Hope Pass and other parts of the LT100 run and bike courses, trails up to Windsor, Native, and Timberline Lakes, the network of trails at the National Fish Hatchery, the paved Mineral Belt multi-use trail, and other awesome venues around the area.


Jim took this picture of Casey and me on Hope Pass, elev. 12,600 feet.
This pass is our favorite part of the Leadville Trail 100-mile foot race.  (7-28-16)

We also helped with several of the Leadville race series hiking and cycling events even though we don't know very many of the participants any more.

DEJA VU TWO:  RED CANYON & BRYCE CANYON AGAIN

The day after Labor Day we went "backwards" to Red Canyon Village RV Park for another 5+ weeks of great hiking and cycling in Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon.

We're glad we had a reservation because the campground had its busiest-ever summer and fall season, partly because of the National Park Service's centennial anniversary and partly because so many more people in general are RVing now. Popular national parks like Zion, Bryce, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, and many others set new attendance records this year.

We didn't do anything much different this time than in the spring and last fall. We still love the trails and bike paths as much as ever and haven't gotten bored with them because there is such a great variety. Some new places we visited were Kodachrome State Park, Brian Head Peak, and the Parowan petroglyph and dinosaur track sites.


Section of a large wall of ancient petroglyphs at Parowan Gap, UT  (10-13-16)

By October 15 it was getting down to freezing overnight at 7,000 feet so the owners of Red Canyon Village closed the campground and cabins. We weren't ready to leave but had plenty of notice, so off we went to lower elevations and a whole 'nother world east of the Mississippi.

BIG CHANGE OF SCENERY:  GULF & ATLANTIC COASTAL LIVING

After traveling out West for about 18 months it was a shock to the system to end up -- after five long days of driving -- at the Blue Angel Navy Recreation Area near Pensacola, Florida in mid-October. We'd been living mostly at higher elevations and/or in much more arid conditions for so long that now we had to acclimate to more heat and humidity.

I think it was the humidity that was hardest to adjust to but it was also nice to go back to Perdido Bay. We had fun at the recreation area in the spring of 2015 and we enjoyed spending another 11 days there this time.


Sunsets don't get much better than those at the Blue Angel Navy Rec Area.   (10-25-16)

We chose the same large campsite we originally had last time and did many of the same things we did then -- hiked and played disc golf on the world-class courses adjacent to the RV park, rode our bikes around Naval Air Station Pensacola, watched the Blue Angels precision air team practice, and visited the awesome Naval Air Museum. Civilians can get on base with ID to visit the air museum and Fort Barrancas.

It would have been nice to stay there longer but we wanted to get to Eagle Hammock RV Park at Kings Bay Submarine Base near St. Marys, GA before most of the other snowbirds arrived. Our timing was just right to get what we think is the best site of the ten along the lake -- the one with no one on our doorside for about 100 feet, facing both the lake and a large live oak tree:

We are spending our fourth winter here, just a mile as the crow flies from the Florida border. We have reservations for six months and could extend that through the summer if we could stand the heat and bugs! We have other plans for the spring and summer, though.

It's good to be back here. It's one of the places we like the best in all of our travels because of the conveniences, moderate cost, warm winter weather, great people, and good places to hike and ride our bikes. I do miss mountains -- it's very flat along the Atlantic coast -- but the beaches and maritime forests are a pleasant diversion after being out West so long.


One of over 100 feral horses on Cumberland Island

So far we haven't done anything different travel-wise than on previous winters at Kings Bay. One reason is that so far we've been too busy with routine medical and dental appointments to go anywhere except nearby Cumberland Island National Seashore to hike.

In addition to the routine appointments, Jim had a partial knee replacement in early December and I will have cataract surgery in both eyes in early 2017. Jim has recovered quickly from his knee surgery and was back on his bike by the end of December.

MILEAGE FIGURES

This was one of our lowest mileage years for the truck and camper since we didn't go back and forth across the continent (just west to east) and stayed in the southern half of the U.S. the entire time. We are glad that gas and diesel prices were historically low this year.

2010 Carriage Cameo 35SB3 5th-wheel5,068 miles  (10,738 miles last year, including Alaska)

2009 Dodge Ram diesel 2500:   6,831 miles (15,582 miles last year)

2002 Honda Odyssey minivan:  21,459 miles (13,668 miles last year)


Most of the campsites we've had this year have had plenty of room for both the truck and car.
This was our really long site at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs.  (6-5-16)

We kept the car when we sold our house in 2014 and took it everywhere we went this year, including an unexpected trip from southern Arizona to eastern Montana and back.

That's the most mileage we've put on it for a while. We use it for day trips and most other driving when we're camped in each location. It's more cost-effective, quiet, and comfortable to drive than the truck and we're trying to minimize the miles we put on the truck so it'll last as long as we have the Cameo.

CAMPING FEES

Over the last thirteen years our camping costs have varied depending on how much we have boon-docked or dry-camped without hookups.

As we and our lifestyle have morphed and "matured" over the years, we've been boon-docking less and seeking out full hookups more. This year we seldom camped without at least electrical and water hookups but our "housing" costs were quite low. (It helps that we don't make RV payments; extended and full-time RVing are more expensive when folks have loans on their rolling residences.)

We minimized the cost by staying at military RV parks for 201 nights -- they are generally less expensive than private RV parks -- and by staying at several places for a month or longer. Monthly and seasonal rates at most RV parks are significantly lower than daily and weekly rates.


Love the huge live oak tree in our current "front yard" at Kings Bay, GA;
can we just stay here full time by the lake??   (10-31-16)

Here's a list of our recent years' camping fees:

2016$17.84/day for 359 nights in the Cameo (doesn't include six nights in motels when we went to Montana in late February; if we'd been at YPG those nights, our average would have still been under $18/day)

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


Cody wanders through the pretty lupines blooming on our Leadville friend's 7-acre
property; Jack lets us hook up to the water and electricity in his house/office.  (7-6-16)

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 propane 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.

This year we boon-docked so few days that we spent less than $130 on propane and gas for these purposes.

NOW WHAT?

For the last half of the year we've been talking about buying another house in 2017 or 2018. We still want to travel in an RV for as many years as we can, but not as extensively as we've done the last 13 years. I'll explain more about the reasons in another entry in the 2017 journal.

Meanwhile, we plan to remain at Kings Bay Sub Base until about the middle of March. Then our focus will be on our current first choice of a place to settle down, Peachtree City, GA. It's a beautiful planned community southwest of Atlanta.

The biggest draw for us is its network of 90+ miles of paved bike paths through the hilly, wooded neighborhoods and past several golf courses and lakes.


Colorful rock formations along the Fairyland Trail, my favorite trail in Bryce Canyon NP  (5-3-16)

A big problem for us has been finding a nearby place to live in our RV while we check out the neighborhoods and houses for sale in PTC more thoroughly. On a cold, wet scouting trip to Atlanta at the end of 2016 we drove through six possible RV and mobile home parks north, east, and south of metro Atlanta and weren't happy with any of them. The selection is slim and those places just don't meet our standards.

The inventory of houses for sale that we are interested in is rather short, too, so we'll have to wait and see what comes available during the spring and summer. Since we want this to be the last house we ever own, we need to get something to serve our needs now and when we're in our 70s, 80s, and 90s.

The current plan is to head to a small RV and mobile home park near Warm Springs, GA, about 40 miles south of Peachtree City, in mid-March. It's also close to FDR State Park, Calloway Gardens, and Pine Mountain, which should give us some pretty places to hike and ride our bikes when the azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods, and other flowers are in bloom this spring..


Casey plays in a high alpine pond above Leadville, CO on the Native Lake Trail.  (7-25-16)

Depending on what happens re: finding a house in PTC or northern Georgia, we may head to Roanoke, VA sometime in the summer. That's our current second choice to live, although closer to town than we were in our last house.

If we buy a house somewhere, we may be busy with it all or most of the rest of 2017. If we don't find a near-perfect place, we'll probably return to Kings Bay next winter and try again in 2018.

Since we won't be traveling to as many locations in the RV this year, the 2017 web journal isn't likely to have as many entries as 2015 or 2016. At this point I haven't even written most of the 2016 entries so it'll maybe give me a chance to get caught up!

Stay tuned for more 2016 and 2017 entries . . .

Happy trails,

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

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