Monday, December 30, 2013

Top Ten Lists - Cities, Towns, States (first five years)

Roger here...  Our time at Retama Village during the winter months is usually pretty quiet.  We exercise.  We exercise the dogs.  We participate in weekly events:  for me,  ping pong, men's breakfasts, and Lumbermen's (where the guys discuss all matters related to lumber :-).  Dianne maintains the village library and walks dogs at the local rescue center (I will be helping this year on Fridays).  We join friends at happy hours.  We keep busy, but honestly, most of our routine in the winter is not blogworthy.

Since this is our five-year anniversary on the road, we decided to use our posts to do a little bit of retrospect.  Dianne is doing a year-by-year review of the highlights of each year.  She has already posted Year One.

I am going to do a series of Top Ten (or more) Lists.  With my concrete-sequential brain, making lists by assigning numerical values is fun.  I know.  Most of you find this weird.  Oh well.  

Throughout the winter, Dianne and I plan to alternate posts between her yearly reviews and my lists.  Our plans might change if we change our minds.  We can do that.  We're retired.  

The process I used to make the lists involved both of us (as individuals) ranking a series of items for specific categories:  cities, towns, states, national parks, state parks, public campgrounds, COE campgrounds, private campgrounds, hikes, kayak paddles, excursions, attractions, tours, regional restaurants, wineries, museums, beaches.  I assigned point values to the rankings and then combined the separate lists for the final ranking.
(Dianne here...believe it or not, this is the exact method we used to come up with boy's and girl's baby names as we awaited the birth of our two children.   They were both girls, so we never got to use the names Andrew and David.   It was truly a joint "democratic" effort!)  Back to Roger....

It did take a little time to do this, but it was fun for me, and it has been raining.

A few disclaimers before releasing the first lists... 

1.  We only considered the things we have done for the past five years as full-timers.  

2.  We have not traveled in the motor home to the Northeast, Montana, Nevada, most of Idaho and any part of Canada.  Those areas will be fun for us in the future.

3.  We did not go to every place in every state we visited.  We obviously missed some cool things.

4.  The rankings are based on the things that we like, which might not be the same for everyone.  

Okay then, the first lists include cities, towns and states:



The lady in the picture is Portlandia. This is one of the more forward-thinking cities I have ever been in.  Our daughters and granddaughter were able to explore it with us.


The photo is the house that was the centerpiece of the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  We spent our first Christmas day away from home walking through the  gracious squares of this city.


So much fun to wander around this old adobe city.  Turquoise, art, and wonderful food could be found around every corner.


We had a great time exploring this massive city.  So much to see... studio tours, tv tapings, Getty Museum, and of course... our very talented daughter, Robyn.   The picture below was taken from the Griffith Observatory.


Charleston was the first city that we explored on our five-year adventure. A great city for long walks by the water in classic southern neighborhoods.


The riverfront area is an extremely comfortable public place.  The photo shows the lift bridge that connects the downtown area with the boat basin and beaches.


Dianne and I disagree on this one.  I love the old architecture, the music and the atmosphere.  The wedding we attended in this cathedral followed by a dance down the street behind a marching blues band and a reception on Bourbon Street was pretty unforgettable.  


The River Walk area is unique among all the places we have been.  Fun to stroll along the 
river, watch people, and eat Mexican food.  Oh, and enjoy a margarita.  In our case it was also a time to enjoy our daughters and granddaughter.  The pictures from top to bottom show granddaughter, Kaia in a reflective pose.  Then Robyn and Amanda 

showing off their silly side.  So much fun.


Five years ago we officially became South Dakotans in Sioux Falls.  In the process, we discovered a beautiful and civic-minded city.  Bike/walking paths, renovated buildings and museums, nice restaurants, and the beautiful falls in the city park.


The beaches in this area are difficult to top.  Soft sand, aqua water, warm temperatures.  But for us, the beaches are not the only attraction.

Our daugher, Amanda, and our granddaugher, Kaia are the main attraction here.  Wish we could see them more often.



If you follow our blog, this is probably not a surprise.  The picture above shows how this real (not fabricated) town is built between the rocky cliffs.  The second photo shows one day of the annual Labor Day Balloon Festival.  It is hard to imagine a better place to enjoy the spectacular scenery.

2.  PORT 

Well, there may be one place.  Port Townsend, located on the Olympic Peninsula on Puget Sound.  We like it so much that we might decide to spend our summers here after we tire of traveling.  The views on the Olympic Peninsula are not the same as those at Creede, but they are no less spectacular.


We try to visit Fredericksburg every year.  It is in the hill country just west of Austin and San Antonio.  This German town with the wide, wide streets has a little bit of everything: German food and beer, an outstanding museum, shopping, music, Luckenbach, a cave full of bats, bluebonnets and our favorite winery. 


What a pleasant surprise it was to find this beautiful town.  It is located on the north end of the amazing "Million Dollar Highway."  This place is worth another (longer) visit.


This fishing village is surprisingly not yet a full-fledged tourist attraction.  It is a place where you can eat fish straight from the boats at dock-side restaurants.  You can watch surfers while taking a long walk on the beach with Morro Rock in the background.  The Hearst Castle and the wineries of Paso Robles are just down the road.  It is also a great starting point for driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway.


This port on the Columbia River is so interesting.  Victorian homes. An excellent river museum.  A brewery.  Views from the Astoria Column.  The home of the movie The Goonies.  The best fish 'n chips around.


We arrived on the town plaza during a weekly sunset concert.  The music was provided by the family members of the mayor of Taos.  


We have been here twice, both times to meet people who are important to us.  The first time we had dinner with my brother.  The second time we had dinner with a former next-door neighbor.  A nice town with an interesting historic district.  Borrego Springs, Julian, Aguanga and San Diego are nearby.


This former mining town in the hills is near the Mexican border in southern Arizona.  A relaxing place to have coffee, eat lunch and take a mining tour.


This is one of those real places --- nothing fake here.  The realism starts at Betty's RV Park where she takes special care to ensure that guests experience the local cajun culture.  Quaint town.  Amazing food. Nearby Tabasco Factory.   And Betty.


Andy Griffith's hometown --- Mayberry in every way.  You can ride in the squad car, eat at the Bluebird, see Aunt Bea's house and visit Floyd's barbershop.  The whistled theme song from the Andy Griffith Show plays on the main street throughout the town.  It is near the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Yadkin Valley Wineries and Stone Mountain State Park.


The original cowboy town.  Everything in the town is cowboy, including the 11th Street Cowboy Bar.


No pictures here.  Just listings of some of the many attractions.

1.  UTAH
-  National Parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, North Rim 
    Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, 
-  Monument Valley
-  Dead Horse Point State Park

-  National Parks:  Olympic, Mount St. Helens, 
   Mount Rainier, North Cascades
-  Port Townsend and the Olympic Peninsula
-  Sequim - lavender capital of North America
-  Gateway to Victoria Island
-  Seattle - Pike Place Market
-  Whidbey Island
-  So much more to see, that we plan to go back.

-  National Parks:  Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings
   Canyon, Joshua Tree, Death Valley.
-  Lone Pine --- Alabama Hills, Film Museum,
    Mt. Whitney
-  Morro Bay
-  Wineries in Napa, Paso Robles, Temecula
-  Los Angeles
-  San Francisco
-  Temecula
-  Borrego Springs

-  National Parks:  Black Canyon of the Gunnison,
   Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde.
-  Creede, Ouray, Durango
-  Durango-Silverton Railway
-  Pikes Peak Cog Railway
-  Air Force Academy

-  Abiquiu Reservoir
-  Ghost Ranch
-  Taos 
-  Enchanted Circle
-  Santa Fe
-  Ojo Caliente
-  Roswell

-  National Park:  Crater Lake
-  Oregon beaches
-  Portland
-  Astoria
-  Wineries
-  Seafood

-  Everglades National Park
-  Gulf of Mexico Beaches
-  Disney World
-  Florida Keys
-  Miami Metro Zoo

-  Abbeyville
-  Betty's
-  New Orleans
-  Tabasco Factory
-  Amazing food that can't possibly be good for 
-  Drew Brees and the Saints

-  The Hill Country
-  Fredericksburg
-  Bandera
-  Cooper's BBQ
-  San Antonio
-  Rio Grande Valley
-  South Padre Island
-  Shiner Brewery
- Big Bend National Park
- Davis Mountain State Park
- McDonald Observatory
- Marfa Lights

-  Custer State Park
-  Badlands National Park
-  Sioux Falls
-  Mount Rushmore

Check back in a few days for Dianne's summary of Year 2, followed by our Top Ten Lists of National and State Parks.

Monday, December 23, 2013

5 Year Retrospective - Year One

Johnson City, Texas - December 2009

Hi all, Dianne here.  December 2013 marks our five-year anniversary of hitting the road full time in our RV.  There have been a lot of changes since then (different dogs, new home base, new friends) and several things that have stood the test of time (our RV, Charlie the Cat, old friends).  Also many lessons learned!  I thought it might be fun to take a trip down memory lane and pick out some favorite places, photos, and highlights of our five-year journey and our new life.  We'll start at the beginning, and this blog entry will cover Year One.

Note:  I'm new at Google maps, and can't figure out how to make the left panel disappear.  To see the route under the panel, you can move the map to the left away from underneath it. 
This first year our home was still on the market and so we made loops back and forth from Indiana to keep the house ready for showings.  We started out by heading north from Pendleton, Indiana to Elkhart (Bradd & Hall) to have our old analog TVs switched out and the cabinetry altered.  When we finally left Elkhart on December 6, 2008 it was 13 degrees!   We headed south and made haste for Charleston, South Carolina.
One of our favorite camp sites that first year was site 26 at Edisto Island State Park.  We were there in December, so there were no gnat troubles and we were able to get a great site between the marsh and the beach.  

 We took daily walks with Jasper and Chaplin (the "Travelin' Whippets") on the beach and marveled at just how nice it was to be able to be outside in December in t-shirts and shorts!

Favorite food:

Our very first Christmas away from home and family was spent strolling around Savannah, Georgia with Jasper and Chaplin.  
We then spent a month at Markham Park in Sunrise, Florida (outside Fort Lauderdale) in order to get our Motosat Datastorm system installed.  The campground was in a city park and the sites were grassy and spacious.  What made it really nice, though, was "Barkham at Markham" dog park.   We quickly became "regulars" at the park and both dogs loved it.
Chaplin the "Chick Magnet"

While at Markham Park, we took day trips to the Miami Metro Zoo (awesome!), South Beach,
 and also several trips to Everglades National Park.

One of the most memorable experiences that first year was the 15-mile bike trip at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park.  This was before we had bicycles of our own and I hadn't ridden a bike for years.  Before we even got to the point where we were riding around lethargic alligators laying in the roadway, I lost control of my bike, ran into an elderly tourist, and took a hard fall on my knee.  There is still a knot on my knee, a permanent souvenir of that day.  If you want to read all the gory details, here's a link to that blog entry:
Shark Valley Bike Trip  It was truly a day to remember!

Worst camp site of the year award:  KOA in the Florida Keys:  

  Best camp site of the year award:  Site #10 at Franklin Locks COE park near Fort Myers, Florida:

Jasper, Chaplin, and Lemon Tree
We spent a week with our friends the Gemmers in Fort Myers...

Chuck & Cindy

Jay & Nancy
...and a weekend with our friends Jay and Nancy at their then-condo in Naples.

We spent a week at Fort Wilderness Campground at Disney World.  Amanda and Kaia flew down from Indiana to join us there (Robyn was performing on a cruise ship that year and couldn't come).  

Kaia, my Punkie Pie

After they flew home, it was time for us to make our way north in time for yard maintenance at our house in Indiana.

On the way, we stopped at another favorite that year, St. George Island in the Florida Panhandle:
With stops at Lake Lanier in Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee, we finally made it back home to spend several weeks in Indiana at state parks, driving back and forth to our house for yard work.  We didn't stay there because I didn't want to have to keep it constantly clean for realtor showings and also, it no longer felt like home.  

We were asked by the local garden club to place our home on the annual garden tour that summer.  We readily agreed, since it would bring foot traffic to our house.   By that point it was nearing a year and a half on the market.  (Lesson learned:  Don't try to sell your home at the bottom of the worst housing market in a generation).

If you have too much time on your hands, here's the Entire Garden Tour blog entry.

Trip number two that year sent us toward New Orleans for a wedding, then to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to change residences, then back to Indiana for yet more yard work:

We drove the Natchez Trace from Nashville, Tennessee all the way to Natchez, Mississippi.  

The wedding in New Orleans took place at the famous St. Louis cathedral, then a jazz band led the wedding party from the ceremony to the French Quarter reception.

We danced through the streets waving white scarves behind the band and the bride and groom.  The bride (Jennifer) had been a fixture at our home since grade school, and we wouldn't have missed her wedding for the world, even if it weren't an awesome New Orleans affair.

Chateax aux Arc Winery near Altus, Arkansas
Then it was back to Indiana via Arkansas and  a side trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for driver's licenses and vehicle registrations.  Lesson learned: There have been wineries near Altus, Arkansas since 1880 -- our first winery tours, and good ones, too!

August was a very busy month that year.  I drove a U-Haul to Florida to help our daughter and granddaughter move, then flew back just in time for our annual kayak trip at Turkey Run State Park with the Gemmers, Patterns, and our other camping friends.

The best news of late summer was that our house finally sold that August.  We spent the rest of the summer  selling almost all of our furniture. 

My Texas friends might recognize the secretary, since it's now in our little coach house in Texas.  

We also held yet another garage sale at the little house our daughter had just moved from, to get rid of many of her things and what was left of ours.  Since we owned that little house, we were able to park our motor home in the driveway.   We actually thought at that time that we'd spend our summers there at the little house and travel in the winter months.
The last of a zillion garage sales
In September we traveled a little bit east to Celina, Ohio to attend Nick Russell's Gypsy Journal Rally. From there we drove straight to Coffeyville, Kansas to spend two-and-a-half months workcamping at the Amazon fulfillment center there.  

  We took this job (our one-and-only workcamping experience) before we knew that our house would sell.  Here I am soaking my feet in Epsom Salts after work.  Roger and I worked separate shifts because of our dogs, and he met me at the door with a foot bath and a glass of wine.  Whatta guy!! If you want to know what that job was like, read this blog entry:  Dianne's Perspective.

When our stint was over, we made haste to get south before bad weather struck.  A quick stop in Arlington, Texas to see Roger's cousin and her family gave us our first real taste of Texas.  Then we went on to spend our second Christmas on the road in Kerrville, Texas at Buckhorn Lake RV Resort.  The opening photo was taken on an organized trip from Buckhorn to have dinner and see the Christmas lights in nearby Johnson City.  They truly were the most awesome Christmas lights I've ever seen.  

The final photo for this Year One Retrospective was taken the day after Christmas at our very first visit to our favorite winery, Grape Creek, outside Fredericksburg, Texas.  (Note how slim we still were from our Amazon job.)  Here's to you and yours for a very Merry Christmas!
Roger is working on his own "best and worst" blog entry retrospective and I'll do Year Two when time permits.  This blog is our virtual scrapbook, and it's fun to look back.  

The pet pictures of the year are a compilation of a few of my favorites from Year One, with captions:
My Three Sons

Charlie playing in front of barely-filled-in US map
Naptime for My Three Sons
Hey, Dad's eating Steak!
Ice Cream in Key West
We sure miss you, Jasper and Chaplin....