Monday, March 24, 2014

Top Ten Lists - Attractions

Roger here.... Continuing on with our top ten lists from our first five years of travel in the motor home, this post covers attractions that we have experienced.  The attractions tend to involve less time than the excursions from the last post,  but there are obvious shades of gray between the two categories.

1.  McDonald Observatory, near Fort Davis, Texas.

This facility, which is administered by the university of Texas, was fascinating.  We attended a special program that included dinner and a viewing through the 160-ton Harlan J. Smith reflecting telescope.  We were able to see an M-3 star cluster, as well as the rings of Saturn.  

Lots of telescopes here housed in their own special observatories.  Worth a return visit to this otherworldly mountaintop.

2 (tie).  Potash Road, along the Colorado River, near Moab, Utah.

Three adventures in one on this unexpected day.  We drove along the Colorado River on Potash Road in search of some roadside petroglyphs that we had read about.  We found them -- hundreds of them -- along a relatively long stretch of road.

Down the road a couple of miles we found fossils of dinosaur tracks.  (the two prints on the right side of the rectangular boulder)  I scrambled up the rubble to get a better look.

Further down the road we accidently discovered the movie props from the Disney movie, The Lone Ranger along with the star trailer camp for the cast and crew.

2 (tie).  Umpqua Lighthouse, near Winchester Bay, Oregon.

We took a guided tour of the lighthouse during the day.  

The red lenses were imported from France.

A return visit at night was most memorable.  We loved the way the beams of light reflected onto the surrounding trees.  Like dancing faeries!  --  D.

4.  Miami Metro Zoo.  Miami, Florida.

The day we spent at the zoo was very early in our travels.  We both still rate this as 

the finest zoo we have ever visited.  

5. Luckenbach, Texas.  Near Fredericksburg.

This is a mandatory stop when we visit the Hill Country of Texas.  It seems to be a pure Texas experience, at least to a Indiana boy like me.

It is a great place to take family and friends when they visit.  The pretty lil gal on the right is our daughter, Amanda.

The free live music, the very laid back people, and the Shiner (or Lone Star) Beer truly make this a not-to-be missed Texas experience.

Marfa Lights, Marfa, Texas.

Marfa is an isolated small town in West Texas.  The movie, Giant, with James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor was filmed here.

It has a beautiful courthouse and town square.  However, the attraction for us was the mystery of the Marfa lights.  We were staying at nearby Davis Mountains State Park.  It was evening and I was ready for bed.  Dianne insisted that we go to the nearby viewing station in Marfa to see if we could get a glimpse of the controversial lights that appear and move on the horizon on an irregular basis.  There is documentation of Native Americans seeing them before the invention of the lightbulb.  I did not want to go.  I was sleepy.  It was time for bed.  You know who always wins these arguments :-).  What a mistake it would have been to go to bed!  The lights appeared that night.  The feeling that we both felt was surreal.  So glad we saw them.  Still don't know what we saw.

7.  (three-way tie).  Ojo Caliente, Ojo Caliente, New Mexico.

We needed a place to stay in an isolated part of northern New Mexico.  I found a mineral spa that happened to have a few RV sites.  We are not spa people, but we both agreed that this was fun.

There were several different natural hot springs as well as the mud bath that Dianne does not want people to see.  

What a relaxing place and an unexpected adventure.

7.  (three-way tie).  Wolf Park.  Battleground, Indiana.

Wolf Park is a research facility that schedules night howls for visitors.  These are handsome and intriguing creatures that live in a pack in a huge natural setting surrounded by fence.  The audience initiated the howling that the wolves responded to.   The park officials talked about the research being done while wandering through the pack.

7.  (three-way tie).  LBJ Ranch, near Johnson City, Texas.

We skipped this during our first visits to the Hill Country, but finally paid a visit.  We are so glad we did.  The Texas White House, shown above, truly was the location of much of the political world during the Johnson years.

The audio tour allowed us to travel through the expansive ranch and view many of the highlights of LBJ's youth and later presidency. Check out an early version of Air Force One.

The property remains a working ranch.  

10 (tie).  Powell's City of Books, Portland, Oregon.

This is the largest privately owned bookstore in the country.  It is housed in a multi-storied building in downtown Portland.  They sell both new and used books.  We spent quite a bit of time here with our daughters and granddaughter.  Had we not set a prearranged meeting time and place, we might still be browsing.

10 (tie).  River Walk.  San Antonio, Texas.

We have been here a few times and always love it.  The pictures in this post show our time with our granddaugher, Kaia (above)...

... and our daughters, Amanda and Robyn.  

Margarita time for the grown-ups.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:  too many great places not to include these.

United States Air Force Academy Chapel.  Colorado Springs, Colorado.

I was here as a child and wanted Dianne to see it.  I love architecture and this is an architectural classic.  

Loved the stained glass.

Duluth Harbor.  Duluth, Minnesota. 

Just one of those cool places... on the water with water barges, next to a huge lift bridge, a museum, restaurants, Duluth Trading Company, and ice cream.

Dania Beach,  between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Florida.

We spent an afternoon at the beach here so we could watch...

... the parade of cruise ships leave Fort Lauderdale.

The Desert Zoo.  Desert Hot Springs, California.

An excellent small zoo on the San Andreas Fault that features desert animals from across the world...

... appropriately to a desert zoo, it was a hot, hot day.

Astoria Column.  Astoria, Oregon.

We climbed to the top of this mural-covered Italianate structure with our friends, Jay and Nancy...

... and oh, the view.

The Running of the Ducks.  Peabody Hotel, Memphis, Tennessee.

The ducks take an elevator from the rooftop to the lobby every day...
.... and after a waddle on the red carpet they plop into the fountain in the lobby to spend the rest of the day.

11th Street Cowboy Bar.  Bandera, Texas.

Wow.  This doesn't look like much.  Why would people tell me to go here?

It sure isn't very big.  What are those things hanging from the ceiling?

Go out the back door?  Why would we go out the back door?
Oh my gravy, look at this huge place!  

We were here for a very short time with our friends, Chuck and Cindy.  Worth another visit when the musicians are on the stage.

The next top ten list will highlight our favorite tours.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Top Ten Lists - Excursions, Attractions, Tours

Roger here...  You have already seen lists of our favorite hikes and kayak trips,  the next lists will cover our favorite excursions (extended day-long adventures),  attractions (shorter experiences), and tours (led by a tour guide).

There is some obvious bleed-over among the categories since they do not all fit neatly into a single box, but our favorites do appear on one of the three lists.

As with our other lists, we are only ranking the experiences we have had in the past five years while traveling in our motor home.  We have obviously missed many great things.  We have not been to Canada, the northeast, Montana, Nevada (in the motor home), and most of Idaho. 


1.  Durango - Silverton Railway, Durango, Colorado.

This all-day excursion was more like a luxury cruise than a train trip.  Our hostess provided libations, snacks and commentary throughout the trip from Durango to the mining town of Silverton and then back.  Our open-air car added to the experience, as we occasionally brushed soot off our clothes.

The train hugged the cliff sides as it climbed to higher elevations.   We had plenty of time to explore Silverton and enjoy lunch at a western style restaurant, complete with a honkytonk piano player.

Our hostess and the amazing scenery made the experience unforgettable.

2.  Capitol Reef National Park, Nottom - Bullfrog Road, Utah.

We rented a jeep for this all-day trip.  We have already covered the great hike we took during this adventure.  These pictures emphasize the sights of the water pocket fold that we had from the jeep.  This may very well be the most colorful geological place we have been.

We made several stops along the isolated dirt road, including a stop for a picnic.

So nice to just stop and gaze at the beauty of this place.

The colors even permeated the dirt road.  

I would do this trip again in a heartbeat.

3.  Wildlife Loop.  Custer State Park.  Custer, South Dakota.

The animals were the stars of this drive through the green prairie of the Badlands.  Pronghorns, as pictured above, were prevalent the entire way.  Bandido enjoyed barking at them from his perch in the back seat of the car.

We drove through herds of bison.  Bandido pretty much ignored them.

We brought a bag of apples for the burros that we hoped to see.  The apples went fast as the burros surrounded our car.  Bandido sat quietly in the middle of the back seat and didn't move a muscle  when these large-headed guys leaned into the car to grab the apples.  Funny to see the burros put him in his place :-).

4.  Tidal Pools,  Seal Rock State Park, near Newport, Oregon.

We needed to watch the tidal charts to find the maximum low tide that would provide the best viewing.

As midwesterners, this was a completely new experience.  We did not realize that the anemones would be so colorful.

We also did not know that the living starfish were orange and purple.  

Watching the turbulent waves breaking on the shoreline rocks was mesmerizing.

5.  Pacific Coast Highway,  between Morro Bay and Monterey, California.  

Morro Bay was our base for this winding trip in the car.  Amazing views greeted us around every bend in the road.

6.  Richard Brecada Sculptures, in the desert near Borrego Springs, California.

After a strenuous hike in the desert that Dianne did not particularly enjoy, these giant sculptures that dot the desert certainly did save the day.  

It was difficult to not be in awe of these free artistic creations.
Each sculpture is crafted from metal.  To give you a sense of perspective,  the smaller camel in this photo is taller than me.  OK, I am not very tall, but you get the idea.

The stage coach below is located nearer to Brecada's studio near Temecula, California.

7.  Pictured Rocks National Park.  Upper Peninsula,  Munising, Michigan.  We boarded an excursion boat and headed to the seats on the upper deck to enjoy the shoreline of Lake Superior.

If you use your imagination, you can see a variety of pictures in the various colors of the rock formations.

A boat trip is required to see this unique cliff-side shore line.

8.  Sault Ste. Marie Lock Cruise.  Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  

We boarded another excursion boat to go through
the locks on both the U.S. and Canadian sides.  We seemed awfully insignificant in these huge chambers of water.  

It was fun traveling through the same locks that the enormous freighters use.

9.  Bachelor Loop.  Creede, Colorado.

We decided long ago that it would be cheaper to rent a jeep than buy one when we wanted to travel on dirt roads.  We have not hesitated to do so.

On this day we traveled through the mountains near Creede, Colorado to explore abandoned mines, an isolated museum, and a ghost town.
A particularly bumpy detour  from the main route led us to a reclaimed mine and museum.  Tables of mineral samples surrounded the museum.  An interesting character rebuilt the buildings surrounding the old mine and collected a variety of artifacts.  We could not resist purchasing a couple of samples to bring home.

My choice.... Opal from Australia.
Dianne's choice.... apatite.

The green meadow to the left is actually the site of Bachelor City, once a booming mining town with thousands of residents.  Dianne had fun finding rusty remnants of the town among the wildflowers.

10.  Three Capes Loop.  Near Tillamook, Oregon. We hopped in the car with our long-time friends Jay and Nancy to enjoy this day on the Oregon coast.

Typical of the coast in this part of Oregon,  the sea stacks and other rock formations led our eyes to views of the Pacific.

The Cape Meares Lighthouse was a picturesque highlight of the day.

A little later, Tillamook ice cream was the epicurean highlight.


Palm Springs Aerial Tram.  Palm Springs, California.

Our daughter, Robyn, and her boyfriend, Atul, came to see us during our visit to Palm Springs.  We wanted to do something fun. 
The temperature in Palm Springs (below) was in the 100s.  The temperature at the top was 30 degrees cooler.  

That evening Robyn and Atul joined us for dinner.

Pikes Peak Cog Railway.  Colorado Springs, Colorado.
A restful trip to the top of the mountain, followed by a half hour of altitude dizziness.  I am clinging to the rocks to remain upright.

Grand Canyon Railway, Williams, Arizona.

We boarded the dogs at the doggie daycare at the railway station so that we could ride the train to the south rim.
We had time to walk into the canyon for a short distance, while we carefully watched our time so as not to miss the return trip.

Needle Highway.  Custer State Park.  Custer, South Dakota.

Back to the Black Hills for a scenic drive.....
... and a walk through the boulders around a scenic lake.

Million Dollar Highway, north of Ouray, Colorado.

Billed as the most scenic drive in America, this twisty, up and down stretch of road certainly lives up to expectations.

We needed to spend more time here than the single day that we allotted.

Enough for now.  The excursions list is long enough, so we'll wait until next time to cover our next top ten lists, the promised attractions and tours.