Wednesday, January 13, 2021

We're on the road again--heading south to warmer weather!

Ever since we started traveling full-time, we've parked the motor home so we could spend the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with family. This year we were parked longer than usual, as we got to welcome a new grandson the month before. So after an unusually long vacation from vacationing, we are finally back on the road again. We had a perfect day for our first day of travel--sunny skies and no wind. We're officially heading south in search of warmer weather.

We crossed the state line into Texas, where we'll be staying for most of the winter. Mark was trying very hard to "drive friendly the Texas way" as the welcome-to-Texas sign suggested. 

We're a big fan of Texas State Parks, and we've visited many during the last six years. Our plan is to stay at many new-to-us Texas State Parks on this trip south. One of the reasons we are such big fans, is the nice big camp sites. Another reason is the good price on these sites. Since we already have an annual Texas park pass, we have free admission to every park in the state. We also get half-price camping the second night after paying full price the first. That averages to $16.50 per night for this two night stay.

You know you are in Texas when there is an oil pump jack in the middle of the campground.

We had cool weather for a morning hike on this trail situated high on the ridge among the mesquite trees. That's probably why they named this the Mesquite Ridge Trail. 

But when we headed down off the ridge, we kept finding long sections of the trail under water. This area also received lots of snow last week.

We had to make some wide squishy circles around those flooded areas, but we still managed to complete our six-mile hike today. It sure feels good to be back on the trail!

Our wildlife picture of the day was taken right on a flooded section of the trail. This heron was actually wading on our trail, right in front of a flooded tunnel that we were supposed to go through.

We wish we could have been like that heron, and simply flown over the water to a drier part of the trail!

This first stop is at Lake Arrowhead State Park, and Mark is standing on the lake pier for sunset.

The water was as still as glass as we watched the sun set across the lake.

Denisa is looking very angelic with a halo circling her head this evening! It's a very nice place to be and we're both very happy to be on the road again, wandering God's wonders!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Can we get that big couch in the motor home?

For six years we have lived with the furniture that was in our motor home when we bought it. The previous owners had upgraded the couch during the 13 months that they had the coach, so it was actually already improved from what it could have been. But we were really tired of the RV industry's reputably uncomfortable furniture. 

We removed the corner of the L-sectional in April when we had a custom cabinet built in its place. 

That left us with a shorter version of a sleeper sofa and a chair. After six years of not having a recliner in our living room, we were ready for another change. Both the chair and sofa technically have foot rests, but they are too short to support Mark's long legs, and the leather on both was cracking and peeling. Even though we got the couch cushions recovered last year, now the back is doing the same. It was a bad batch of synthetic leather in 2014!

We really wanted a sofa with two recliners to replace the sleeper sofa and chair. So we started shopping a year ago. Our main problem with finding a replacement sofa is that it must fit in the driver's side slide. It's exactly 35 inches from the wall to the lip of the slide floor. Over and over we found that reclining sofas were 37-40 inches deep. We sat in and measured a lot of sofas in furniture stores across four states in the last year! To make the process more uncomfortable, those shopping trips had to be made while wearing a mask.

To further complicate our search, we preferred cloth over leather, manual recliners over electric, and we needed a color that would match the interior of our motor home. At this point, however, we might have settled for a purple couch if it fit in our spot! We also had to find one that has a removable back, so that we can get it through the motor home's small doorway. After looking at hundreds of sofas, we had decided that this was just too much to ask!

Then we found "it" on Christmas eve in Oklahoma City. It might not be the most stylish couch in the world, but after our long search we thought it was beautiful! It was 35 inches deep, it had cloth upholstery, the backs are removable, and the reclining mechanism doesn't need electricity. Yay!

We picked it up on Christmas Eve. What a good Christmas gift for us! We were glad to have our new pickup to transport it back to the motor home. But because we had family plans for the next week, we had to wait until after the new year to do anything with that new couch. We sure hope it will really fit in the motor home!?!

Oklahoma was slammed with another snow storm. So by the time we got back to the motor home sitting at Denisa's sister and brother-in-law's house, it was surrounded by snow.

We put out the slides and started the process of taking out the old sleeper sofa. Mark unbolted it from the floor and we began disassembling it. In order to get the old sofa out through our 28-inch motor home door, we had to unscrew and completely remove the back and sides of the couch. We were glad that the chair was much easier to get out the door.

Now we have a big bare wall where the sleeper sofa and chair had been sitting. Mark also took off the padded valances that hold the blinds, because they are two long for the new taller couch. The only thing left is the pile of seat belts on the floor.

This really was the perfect couch for us, as it came apart into six pieces to make it the easiest possible to get inside the narrow door and into our cramped quarters. We were also in the perfect place to do this job, as our brother-in-law was there to help us.

Connie and Joe both helped, and we carried the six pieces into the motor home and then put it back together.

We were pretty happy when all six pieces were inside and all put together!

The next step is taking the fabric off the valances, cutting them off to the appropriate lengths, and re-upholstering them. Mark is literally standing on his head, taking out all those staples, and then re-stapling the shorter fabric in place.

We re-hung the valances, and it is amazing how much they help to make the room more finished.

We have just enough room beside the longer couch for a little end table. We wonder how many furniture store shopping trips it will take to find the perfect end table to go with our perfect-for-us couch!?!

After years of having a couch that wasn't tall enough for his back and long enough for his legs, Mark is now a happy camper! When we are in travel mode, we often don't put out our slides. We're glad to show in this picture that Mark can still sleep in his new recliner even when the slides are in!

The answer to the blog title question, "Can we get that big couch in the motor home?" is obviously "Yes!" Now we hope we never have to find out if we can get it back out!

Saturday, January 9, 2021

A list of our favorite places from 2020

Every year we look back over our travels and make a list of the things that we enjoyed the most. We would recommend any of these experiences, and happily do them again if we traveled in the same area again. Our list of hikes is longer than usual, because we were blessed to get to walk in the majesty of the mountains this summer! We are listing our favorites not in the order of our preference, but in the order that we experienced them in 2020. We try to include the nearest town as the location for most of our activities, but some trail heads can be very far from any town. These long lists are a reminder that we were once again blessed with the privilege of wandering God's wonders full-time. We are so glad to get to hike, bike, and kayak, and we also include our over-all favorite experiences of the year.

Favorite Experiences
Gathering sea shells at Sea Rim State Park - Sabine Pass, TX
Counting 69 alligators in one day at Brazos Bend State Park - Needville, TX
Watching ATVs crawl up rock cliffs at Disney State Park - Disney, OK
ATVing to Goose Lake - Red River, NM
Eating and dancing at the "Cowboy Evening" show - Red River, NM
Cutting wood for the firewood angels - Angel Fire, NM
Eating the goodies from "Worth the Drive" bakery TWICE- Monte Vista, CO
Driving the passes of the Rocky Mountains (especially Cottonwood, Independence, Kebler . . .)
Rafting with family on Roaring Forks River - Glenwood Springs, CO
Riding the Gondolas of Red River, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Telluride
Exploring the Indian Ruins of Southwest Colorado
Going to Riversport Water Park and Scissortail Park - Oklahoma City, OK
Welcoming our second grandbaby, and spending two months camped close to that precious family - Lenexa, KS

Favorite Short Hikes
Jetty Walk - Port Aransas, TX
Trails of Tishomingo State Park - Tishomingo, MS
Goose Lake - Red River, NM
Clear Creek Trail -  Cimarron Canyon, NM
Williams Lake - Taos, NM
Great Sand Dunes National Park - Mosca, CO
Big Arsenic/Little Arsenic Trail - Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument - Cerro, NM
Continental Divide Trail on Cottonwood Pass - Buena Vista, CO
Grotto Trail and Ice Cave - Aspen, CO
Lily Pad Lake - Silverthorne, CO
Loveland Lake Trail - Loveland Pass, CO
Shrine Ridge Trail - Vail, CO
Ouray Perimeter Trail - Ouray, CO
Scarp Ridge Trail - Crested Butte, CO
Vallecito Trail - Vallecito, CO
Penitente Canyon - Del Norte, CO

Favorite Long Hikes
Mount Baldy Loop - Red River, NM
Mount Wheeler Loop - Red River, NM
Ptarmigan Lake - Buena Vista, CO
Spruce Creek to Mohawk Lakes - Breckenridge, CO
Peaks Trail via the free summit stage - Breckenridge to Frisco, CO
Maroon Bells Trail to Crater Lake - Aspen, CO
Marble to Crystal Mill - Marble, CO
Blue Lakes - Ridgway, CO
Ice/Upper Ice/Fuller/Island Lakes - Silverton, CO
Kilpacker and Navajo Lake (just not on the same day!) - Rico, CO
Wilson Meadow - Telluride, CO
West Peak Summit Trail - Cuchara, CO

Favorite Kayak Trips
Vermillion River at Palmetto Island State Park - Abbeville, LA
Illinois River - Tahlequah, OK
Cottonwood Lake - Buena Vista, CO
Twin Lakes - Leadville, CO
Dillon Reservoir - Dillon, CO
Woods Lake - Sawpit, CO
Trout Lake - Telluride, CO
Beaver Creek Lake - South Fork, CO

Favorite Bike Rides
North Padre National Sea Shore Beach - Mustang, TX
Brazos Bend State Park with the Alligators - Needville, TX
Tanglefoot Rail to Trail - Pontotoc, MS
Arkansas River Trail - Little Rock, AR
Mineral Belt Trail - Leadville, CO
Carbondale Bike Trails - Carbondale, CO
Boggy Draw Trail - Dolores, CO

We'll always have fond memories of 2020, even though it was hampered by the corona virus. But even when there is a pandemic raging, we are still blessed to get to wander His wonders in these favorite places from 2020!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Our 2020 Travel Map and Summary

Every year we write a summary of our travel experiences, and it's hard to believe that we have just finished our sixth full year on the road as full-time RVers! We know that we will never forget Covid's presence in 2020! What a crazy year for a couple vagabonds trying to isolate, but still enjoying the changing views from the windshield of our home on wheels! 

We started the year at the tip of Texas, and then we began our planned route towards the north and east. We had plotted out stays in the Canadian Maritimes for the summer--planning to spend time in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. We were in Louisiana when things started shutting down--including the Canadian border. So our travels suddenly changed as we put together Plan B . . . then Plan C . . . then Plan D. 

Each year Mark plots a map with a point for every place that we spent at least one night in our motor home. Our travel route is a crazy shape this year. as we came up with new plans as the pandemic kept shutting doors to our travel ideas.

The following chart includes the name of each of our camping spots, and each number corresponds to its spot on the map:

Even though we had planned to be in the most eastern parts of North America, Plan B meant that we only got as far east as Red Bay, Alabama. That's the birth place of our motor home, and a great place to get repairs and do a little remodeling. After five years of living in the motor home, we were ready to get rid of our L-shaped sectional, and added our first new piece of furniture. We had a new corner cabinet built in Red Bay with great storage. The carpenter there can exactly match the wood, stain, and drawer pulls of the rest of our woodwork in the coach!

Because campgrounds were closing because of the Covid pandemic, Plan C meant we headed back to Oklahoma. We're glad to say that we felt welcome here, and did a tour of most of the state parks in the northeast quadrant of the state. Our time in Oklahoma also allowed us to attend a second birthday for our granddaughter, as well as a 90th birthday for Denisa's Mother.

As the summer heated up, we headed for Plan D--time in the cool mountains. New Mexico was one of the least-RV-friendly states we encountered. But when we decided to rent a site for a month, we weren't counted as transients. We have never stayed at a sight-unseen park for a whole month, but it worked out pretty well for us in Angel Fire, New Mexico in June. 

On July 1 we headed into Colorado--one of the most-RV-friendly states. We made reservations for much of the summer, making a gorgeous loop through the Rockies. With a record number of RVs sold in 2020, we had stiff competition for camp sites. We heard repeatedly from camp hosts that this was their busiest summer ever. But we found we could get away from the crowds as we do the hiking, biking, and kayaking that we love. We went on some of the best hikes of our lives, and really didn't feel like Covid affected our travels since we were isolated outside! 

We headed back to Oklahoma in September. That is where we were exposed and then quickly started the symptoms of Covid in October. We felt a little like fugitives, as we stayed inside our motor home to keep from exposing anyone. We spent several weeks isolated until we were well and could move to the Kansas City area to welcome our second grandchild. The birth of Eli was certainly the highlight of 2020 for us! Because we chose to stay around Kansas City so long, we experienced the coldest temperatures of our six-years of full-timing in a motor home. We were used to hiking in the snow on mountain tops this summer, but we did not like snow falling at our camp site near Kansas City in November and December.

But we were content to hang out there for almost two months, getting to see both of our grandchildren on a daily basis. The picture above not only shows the snow, but also the biggest purchase of 2020. After six years and 109,000 miles, we traded in our Honda CRV car for a new Chevrolet Colorado pickup. Getting it outfitted as a new tow vehicle was the major mechanical undertaking of the year.

The year in numbers:
We parked in 54 different camping spots.
Our average nightly camping fee is $15.30 (includes free nights boondocking or staying with family and friends).
Our average paid nightly camping fee is $20.58.
We visited 9 different states this year.
We spent $1,361.96 on 620 gallons of diesel (at an average price of $2.20 per gallon) for the motor home.
We spent $55.63 on 19 gallons of DEF for the motor home.
We don't even try to keep up with the gallons of gasoline we purchased for the car, as we use it to explore while we are camped. But we are finding that we are getting worse mileage on our tow vehicle since our little car was replaced by a 4-wheel-drive pickup in September.

We finished up our 2020 travels in Oklahoma, enjoying our Covid immunities that allowed us to spend time with family. It really was another great year for us, even though our plans were shaped by words that were new to our vocabulary--Covid, pandemic, quarantine. But we still feel blessed as we finished up our sixth year on the road wandering His wonders.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Happy New Year - looking forward to wandering the wonders of 2021!

After a wonderful Christmas with our children and grandchildren, we headed a couple hours north to pick up Mark's Mother. She was staying with Mark's brother, but she needed a ride back to her house. At 92, she's still living by herself and taking care of everything. But she enjoyed a three-day vacation as they treated her like a queen.

We were there for a day of smoked heaven. We had smoked ribs, smoked pulled pork, smoked bologna, and this platter of smoked pork shots and smoked jalapeno poppers. What a feast!

We were only there 24 hours, but we got to play with all the toys that their grandchildren were enjoying. They had go-carts that even the adults could fit into . . .

and smaller ones for the younger ones. Denisa found that this seven-year-old go-cart driver was a great chauffeur as long as she held on tight. Ashlyn was also Denisa's driver as we did drive-by laser tag.

When they got tired of go-carts, the kids could go horse-back riding. What a fun day we had with more of our great nieces and nephews!

We were also trying our skills on the ninja course, and playing piano duets. We had a very eclectic group of fun activities with our great nieces and nephews!

We were taking pictures at the end of the day, and someone snapped this one of the two of us. It's not a bad picture considering Mark had ran into a porch column and hurt his shoulder during a laser tag sprint. That's a forced smile because Denisa forgot about his new injury and grabbed his sore shoulder. Maybe we're getting too old to play with six children all day?!?

Then we were off to the panhandle of Oklahoma to take Mark's Mother home. We are enjoying our natural Covid immunities to spend some time with more of Mark's relatives who all just recovered from their own cases of Covid at the end of November. We spent eight days with Mark's Mother, but realized that the only pictures we took during this time were of the western Oklahoma sky.

The panhandle of Oklahoma is relatively flat and relatively tree-less. Both of those make for big open views of the sky. The only thing prettier than that lovely white rolled cloud above, is that same cloud tinted in pink as the sun started to set in the western sky.

One afternoon it was warm enough for a walk through the pasture. The sun was low in the sky when we took this picture of our long shadows.

We stayed all the way through New Year's Eve. It was a beautiful evening, with the sky ablaze from another beautiful Oklahoma sunset. As we looked back on the crazy of 2020, we're already looking forward to the wonders we may wander in 2021. Happy New Year!