Our fifth wheel and the truck

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What a way to end an amazing adventure!!

Well the end was looming rather gloomily by the time we left the Grand Tetons. And the last few weeks have just flown by so quickly that I am now sitting in a motel in Auckland, New Zealand to finish this last blog of our awesome adventures in America.

Who would have believed that a year could go by so quickly but… as the saying goes ‘Time flies when you are having fun’.

Before I let you in on what a great time we had in the last few weeks I want to say a huge, huge thank you. To all the amazing friends we have made along the way throughout this journey and to all the wonderful people we have met and who have touched our lives for a short time Norm and I say a heartfelt thank you. This trip would not have been anywhere nearly as successful and wondrous if not for all those folks who shared something of themselves with us as we traveled. We are truly blessed to have had this experience and met you all. Thank you.

Now before I get too maudlin - let me get back to the next stop after the Tetons - YELLOWSTONE!!! Geologically speaking, Yellowstone is probably the most diverse and active volcanic areas I have come across. One of the rangers in the park was explaining to us that if Yellowstone ever ‘went up’ it would destroy most of the North American continent. The thermal activity in the area is fantastic from mud volcanoes to the geysers to the thermal lakes that are so abundant.

The wildlife is beautiful and we were fortunate to see a red fox, a grizzly, a bald eagle, lots and lots of bison, a beaver, elk and mule deer amongst the many critters that abound in the park. Sue was desperate to see a moose however she missed out on that one - never mind Sue. (Norm and I did see one on the side of the road a few days later as we drove through Snoqualmie Pass on our way to Seattle - but I don’t like to brag! Hmmmm!)

We spent a fabulous couple of days driving around the park and of course went to see ‘Old Faithful’ erupt. Truly an amazing sight but even more amazing that it is so predictable in that it erupts every 94 minutes give or take 10 minutes.

Sue and John went back into the park on the third day and were rewarded by having a close encounter with a bear (from inside the car) as it crossed the road in front of them. Norm and I went to the Grizzly and Wolf Recovery Centre in West Yellowstone and thoroughly enjoyed watching the grizzlies. The purpose of the centre is to look after grizzlies that have been affected by man and our activities - animals that have been orphaned by hunters, those that have been raiding bins and campsites for food and have needed to be relocated amongst other reasons. Seems strange but I found them the most beautiful animals. Not that I would like to tangle with one but …….

From Yellowstone we hightailed it across country to Seattle where we were planning on catching up with Rick and Karen (we traveled with them way back in Texas and Louisiana) and Kelli and Don (who babysat the vehicles while we were in Alaska on the cruise).

We spent a day in Seattle and visited Pikes Market Place which was wonderful. I love the vibrancy of the place and while I love to window shop, Norm, like most men, gets bored. I have to say though he and Rick were very patient and allowed Karen and I to wander through the Market and sticky beak at everything. We also took a ride up the Space Needle and I must say the view from up there is breathtaking. Karen is a bit tentative about heights but did so well - as long as she didn’t try to look straight down she was okay.

The next day we all visited Olympic National Park. What a marathon day - I think we did something like 450miles. But was it oh so worth it!!!! We visited the rainforest on the Pacific coast side of the park and it was gorgeous. Majestic trees, beautiful lakes and streams and sunshine!

I must explain about the sunshine. We told everyone we had brought it with us as it was the first time they had had two consecutive days of sunshine for quite some time in Seattle. And by the time we left they had had four days.

After the rainforest we went to Rialto Beach which was so brilliant. There is a river (can’t remember the name) that flows out of the mountains, through the rainforest and into the Pacific Ocean at Rialto Beach and the beach is absolutely strewn with these huge tree trunks that have been washed down river and then dumped on the beach or have been taken out to sea and then washed back onto the shoreline by the tides.

There were several really craggy islands with pine trees sticking out the top of them just off the coast which added to the picturesque scenery.

You notice I haven’t mentioned sand? Well Rialto Beach is not known for its sandy beaches. In fact the whole beach consists of varying sizes of rocks, stones and pebbles. High up on the beach there are giant boulders that are caught among the tree trunks and as you move towards the water the boulders become rocks and then stones until you get very close to the waters edge and it is made up of small pebbles. And to make it even more interesting most of the rocks etc are dark grey and black in colour. It was blowing a gale on the day we visited so I didn’t get into the water although it actually wasn’t that cold.

The next day was the 4th of July so we all traipsed over to Kelli and Don’s and then went to watch the local parade which was really good fun. This was our first ever Independence Day in America and we really enjoyed it. After the parade a group of Kelli and Don’s friends had dinner back at their home and we all sat and watched the fireworks from the verandah and back yard. There were fireworks going off everywhere and at times you didn’t know where to look! Unlike Australia, anyone can purchase and let off fireworks. In fact we had been amazed throughout our travels at the fireworks shops that were just sitting on the side of the road all over the country. We had a wonderful evening.

We spent the next couple of days just catching up with Kelli and Don and their amazing dogs. When we visited them last they had Greta (a St Bernard) and Guinness (a black Labrador) who they were training for the Guide Dogs for the Blind. This time they still have Greta, but now they have Faith (Greta’s daughter) who is nearly as big as Greta and also Kristy who is another puppy in training for the Guide Dogs. I have decided that St Bernards are too big for me!!!! You just have to love them - they are gorgeous but they just about knock me down and when they lean on you they push you over. And you don’t ever want one running through the house and treading on your feet as they go around corners lol !!!! Beautiful dogs but just oh so big and so heavy!!!

After a very sad farewell to all our friends we headed off on the last leg of our trip. We were meeting Bruce and Mary down at the Grand Canyon for six days. We arrived in Williams, Arizona ahead of schedule as we had driven 750 miles in one day. It is the furthest we have ever driven in one day but while it was still daylight we didn’t see much point in stopping. We managed to cover the 1400 miles in three days instead of the five that we had planned.

While we were waiting for Bruce and Mary we did some cleaning and sorting and I started to pack a bit of our stuff into suitcases so that there wouldn’t be a last minute panic when we got to Phoenix for the trip home.

Williams, AZ is the ‘Gateway to the Grand Canyon’ and when Mary and Bruce arrived we went to the Visitors Centre to decide how we were going to spend the next five days. Well they sent us off to a tour company and when we walked out we had the most amazing time planned out and the next few days were going to be amazing.

The first day we took a bus up to the Grand Canyon Airport where we boarded a helicopter for a 30 minute ride over the Canyon. Words fail me!!!! It was THAT good!!!! Talk about awe inspiring. The superlatives of the English language fall short in trying to describe this almighty hole in the ground!!!

From the airport we took the shuttle to the iMax theatre where we watched a movie of the Canyon and learned some of its history. From there we went to the Canyon edge. It is truly amazing. You are driving along and park the car and you can’t see much at all and then you walk to the edge of the Canyon and there before you is one of the most breathtaking sights you could ever witness. The colours and the rock formations and the incredible depth of the Canyon really do leave you stunned and at a loss for words.

The next day was the ‘piece de resistance’ of the trip. WE WENT WHITE WATER RAFTING!!!! We got a really early start as we had to be at the tour company office at 5.45am and they took us on a bus ride out to the Hualapai (pronounced Wol-u-pie) Indian area along the Canyon edge. From there we took a Jeep ride down into the Canyon and boarded inflatable boats for our 4 hour ride down the Colorado River. I have to admit to a little trepidation at the thought of the rafting, but oh boy did I love it! The water was really cold (about 47F) and took your breath away every time we hit a rapid but it was so exhilarating. And of course being in the Canyon and looking up at it from the bottom after flying over it and looking at it from the edge just provided another indescribable experience. It is just so majestic. We stopped and hiked part of a water fall and then had another stop where we had lunch on the river’s edge.

At the end of the rafting we were lifted out of the Canyon by helicopter which was another amazing experience. To fly so close to the walls of the Canyon was brilliant. And then a loooonng bus ride back to Williams but would I do it again? In a heartbeat!!! I want to go white water rafting again!

Our last day at the Canyon was to be a quiet visit at sunset. We had arranged a sunset tour so that we would be in the best spot as the sun went down. Carol, our guide, was wonderful and told some great stories as she took us the back way to the Canyon through the Kaibab National Forrest. We arrived at Grandview Point as the sun was setting and to watch the colours of the rocks walls of the Canyon change colour as the sun sank was truly a very moving experience. And while the photos are spectacular they could never do justice to this wonderful place.

A special thanks to Carol who found Bruce’s lost $50.00 in the back of the jeep in the dark.

The next day saw the four of us set off to Sedona, about 50 miles from Williams. What an amazingly beautiful place. The views and countryside are just spectacular and our visit to the river near Cathedral Rock was just beautiful. The town is very touristy with lots of galleries, restaurants and up market shops where you can spend lots of money, which can be a bit of a drawback for us but I guess that is what lots of other people like. To each his own.

Our last day in Williams was pretty quiet as we sat around chatting and preparing to leave not only Williams, but also America. Late in the day Bruce, Mary, Norm and I went down to watch the Cataract Creek Gang perform a historical shootout in the streets of Williams. What a hoot! A bunch of old guys (hence the Cataract Creek Gang) telling the newspaper version and the real version of the shootout. Sure had a good laugh at their antics.

The next morning - early - we farewelled Mary and Bruce who are now thinking about visiting us in Australia in February. They are headed for Pahrump in Nevada to visit family before heading back to Wisconsin. Us - well we packed up and took ourselves off down to sunny (haha) Phoenix. The temperature during the day while we were there was up around the 110F and at night didn’t drop below 84F. Now I love the warmth and the sun but even this was getting close to where it was too hot even for me.

Monday evening we went out to grab a bite to eat. Clear skies, no wind and would you believe for the first time in our trip we left the awning up to keep some of the heat off the RV. On our way back to the RV we had decided that we would get ourselves organized first thing in the morning and put the RV in storage on the Tuesday - a day early. Long story short - a sudden storm blew up and when we got home our awning was wrecked. The struts and supports that held it up were destroyed to put it mildly and the struts had caused some damage to the rubber roof. The actual awning fabric was undamaged - thank goodness for small mercies!

I rang the insurance company who immediately organized a guy to come out and help us secure it for the night. (Thank you Doug - you are a wonderful person.) To cut a very long story short I contacted the insurance company claims department the next morning and we took the RV to the repairers. By Wednesday at 4.00pm the insurance company had paid the repairer to carry out the repairs (about $7000 worth and probably two weeks work) and Doug (bless his cotton socks), had volunteered to collect the RV and take it to the storage facility after the repairs were complete. We truly have been blessed in the people we have met in America. What could have been a nightmare experience to end a wonderful time in our lives turned out to be an affirmation of all the great things that have happened to us while we have been in America. To Sarah (insurance company - Explorer RV), to Adam (Orangewood RV) and Doug (Truck n Trailer Mobile Maintenance) a sincere and heartfelt thank you from two very grateful Aussies.

And then we caught a plane and left America bound for nine days in New Zealand!! So despite our departure do not think for one moment that these two travellers have ended their overseas adventures. There is much more to come!!!

Until my next epic blog (I promise the next one won’t be quite so long!) I say a fond ‘see ya’. Take care of you and yours and be happy. See ya somewhere on the road.

Hugs from us.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Mixed Bag - Nevada, California, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming!!

Wow!! I just looked at the title of this and phew what a busy time!!!!

I left you just after we made our hurried departure from Flaming Gorge and we still have a giggle about it when we retell the story. I think we established a record time - 20 minutes - for packing up and getting on the road. It had to be funny seeing Norm and I rushing around in the snow. Mind you all the other rv'ers were probably too busy doing the same to take much notice of us.

We were planning on going to north to Idaho from Flaming Gorge but as Interstate 80 was covered in snow a change of plans found us heading south west. We weren't sure what to do so we decided to head to Coarsegold in California which is just near Yosemite. We planned on staying there for two weeks until our friends Sue and John arrived from Australia for a holiday.

On our way we drove through Salt Lake City and with the benefit of hindsight I would have loved to have stayed for a few days and got a better look at the Great Salt Lake but we didn’t think about it at the time. Another spot to save for our next visit! Haha.

We stayed for a couple of days in Fernley, Nevada on our way to California and I have to say I love the warmth and terrain of Nevada. It was soooo nice to be able to wear shorts and tshirt and soak up some sun. The mountains and valleys and deserts are just beautiful however Nevada doesn’t like me, as I suffered from dreadful hay fever the whole time we were there. Even Norm had a few problems with his sinuses.

While we were in Nevada we took a drive down to Lake Tahoe. This is one of the few disappointments of our holiday. It is very commercial and access to the lake is very limited. Parking at one of the beaches is $7.00 while one spot where we thought we could drive down to the lake front (a boat ramp) to take some photos, the girl in the booth where boat owners have to pay to launch their boats wanted “$2.00 for a 15 minute photo opportunity”. The lake is really beautiful and although the day was lousy we did get out of the car and take a walk down there (we parked on the side of the road rather than pay $7.00 for a quick walk along the beach!!) It is also very, very expensive but I am sure that in the summer it would be absolutely stunning and it is apparently a very popular spot for summer holidaymakers as well as the skiers and snow bunnies in winter.

We also took a short trip into Reno which was (to us) just another city albeit a rather small one dominated by casinos. We really haven't spent much time in cities while we have been here except for Seattle, San Francisco and New Orleans and a day or two in a couple of others. We really enjoy the natural wonders and beauties of this country more than cities.

We left Nevada and had to pass over the Sierra Nevada mountains to get to California. Another exciting adventure of man and woman in truck with fifth wheel against the snow. Well, sort of!

The pass through the mountains had received heavy snow the night before our trip and everyone had had to use chains on their tires to use the pass and guess what we didn't have - yep you got it - chains for the tires. Lucky for us we arrived a bit later in the morning and the road had been cleared and the chain requirement had been lifted. It was still snowing lightly in places but by going very slowly and extremely carefully we once again made it through safely.

We arrived at Coarsegold and stayed in the most different and pleasant RV park. Most of the RV parks have the RV’s lined up like a parking area with a small grassed area in between each one where you can sit and have a picnic table, barbecue etc. The Park Sierra park is designed with each lot built into the hills and valleys so each one is different. The park is huge with lots of winding, up and down roads and loops that made walking really interesting and quite challenging. I really enjoyed my morning walks with so many of the rv’s hidden in among the trees and bushes.

We had a fairly quiet two weeks gathering our strength for the last minute whirlwind four weeks before we have to go home. We visited Fresno (just another city) to buy some stuff for our return to Aust. We had brought over our two huge suitcases but gave them to the Goodwill as we didn’t want to cart them all over America. We kept the two smaller ones but will need four when we go home (but Norm I haven't bought THAT much!!!) hence two new suitcases!

We also visited Bass Lake which was just stunning and while it wasn’t as big as Lake Tahoe it was possible to park along the shoreline and go and sit on a beach. Would I like to live there - absolutely! Gorgeous views and beautiful village but the real estate on one side of the lake is very expensive - at least a million dollars to have a lake front property and of course the other side is park so there goes that idea!

We did get involved in the social events of the park which was really lovely. The park is an Escapees Park and we are members of Escapees so they really do make you feel very welcome. We went to a couple of ‘pot luck’ suppers and a party at one rv. We used the gym in the club house and I went to a quilting day. I was able to get a quilt cut out and started to put it together however I don’t think I am going to get it finished as the last few weeks of our trip are pretty full on.

Our friends Sue and John arrived on June 19th so the next two days we spent in Yosemite National Park. Although we have been to the park before it was gorgeous to go back again. The last time we were only able to visit the Yosemite Valley as the pass was closed due to snow. Mind you the pass was only opened on June 18th!! Timing is wonderful!

The first day in Yosemite was just amazing! The waterfalls and river were just gorgeous with all the snow melting on the mountains there is just so much water cascading down the mountains. However the valley was very disappointing as there were just so many people and cars that it was impossible to find parking at any of the attractions. That is until we got to Glacier Point which was much better and would have to have been the highlight of the day! The views are absolutely stupendous and just left us speechless. It is not often that Norm is at a loss for words!!

The next day we headed up Tioga Pass which was much less crowded and had stunning views and vistas. We took a hike to a grove of Sequioa trees and you wouldn’t read about it -we met six other Australians on the path. It is so easy to pick the Aussies - the accent stands out and is so easy to pick up on. I must say it was a very challenging hike - easy on the way there (all downhill) but coming back had us all breathing a bit heavy! Good exercise!

We did manage to see some animals including mule-deer and a couple of marmots although Sue was disappointed that she wasn’t able to spot a bear. I have reassured her that she should be able to see one when we get to Yellowstone where we will be spending three days. I have my fingers crossed. Even if she doesn’t see a bear she will at least see lots of other animals in Yellowstone.

We left California and had a VERY long day driving as we head towards Yellowstone. It took us about 9 hours of driving the first day, 6 ½ hours of driving the next day and 4 hours the third day to reach the Grand Tetons National Park where we will spend two nights then up to Yellowstone National Park.

What can anyone say about the Grand Tetons? Once again it is a time when superlatives just don't do a place justice. I would love to spend more time exploring the valleys and the mountains of this place.

We started our day with a trip to the top of a mountain on a gondola where the views went forever and just took our breath away. There was still lots of snow on top of the mountain and it was very cold for those of us who had worn shorts, however it was just stunning. Another place that would be lovely to come back to and explore some more. Looks like we might be coming back again a few times at this rate!!!!

After the gondola and the mountain we took a boat ride and then hiked up to the gorgeous Hidden Falls. It was just so beautiful and peaceful despite the fact that there were quite a few people actually at the falls at the time. This country has so many waterfalls it is amazing!

From the falls we travelled through the park stopping to spot animals and take photos of the gorgeous views of snow covered mountains and verdant valleys. It was a beautiful day which ended with a lovely dinner - thanks Sue and John - and a stroll around the lovely, tourist town of Jackson Hole. (Interesting name!) And by the way Sue still hasn't got to see a bear yet! Fingers crossed!!!!

Our next stop will be Yellowstone and I am so looking forward to visiting there again. Norm and I stopped there when we were travelling in the US in 2007 and just fell in love with the place.

So until my next blog I will say fare-thee-well and hope that you all stay healthy and happy. Take care my dear family and friends.

Friday, June 3, 2011

An Eventful Time! And Some Wonderful Sights!

It is nice to see you back again and see, I am not very late in getting this here blog done again! LOL

I left off our adventures as we left Minnesota heading west. We have passed the Badlands in South Dakota three times already in our US adventures. Once in 2007 and twice on this trip so I had decided that we would have to stop there on our way west this time.

We stopped off in Mitchell SD en route, just to do some housework and laundry. How boring!! But even in an rv there is some housework that just has to be done!

We arrived in the Badlands about lunch time and pulled into a very wet, muddy rv park. It didn’t look too flash at all. Quite dilapidated and uncared for really. However, it was close to the Badlands and we figured that we were self contained so no big deal - as long as the connections were okay - it wasn’t going to be a real problem. Haha - famous last words! We set up with Norm trying very hard to avoid all the mud. Apparently they had received about 2.5” of rain over the previous couple of days and it hadn’t had time to dry out!

We spent the next day exploring the Badlands. What an amazing place - real alien planet looking stuff. I could just imagine it being used as the site for a movie about aliens. The layers of colour in the mountains are just beautiful and with the sun highlighting them they are just gorgeous. It was one of those places where you just keep taking photos. Thank goodness for digital cameras. We saw lots of animals and birds including a prairie dog that just about came up to the door of the car and big horned sheep.

We also visited the town of Wall again. If you have never been to Wall then you need to stop there - along with about 20,000 other visitors every day in the summer. Interesting story of how the town got to be such a tourist attraction so look it up on the web.

The weather on the drive back from Wall was so interesting. There was another big storm coming over so we were hoping it was going to miss our rv park otherwise we might have been looking for a tractor to pull the fiver out of the mud!

When we got back to the park we couldn’t believe the change. The owners had finally been able to get some mowing done and it looked like a completely different park - much neater! Although it had been raining later in the day and the mud was a little deeper.

We had intended to go back into the Badlands the next day however it started raining in the morning and didn’t let up at all so we just stayed home.

Devils Tower, Wyoming was our next stop - if we could get out of the mud at the Badlands. It was a pain and just so dirty. All over the hoses, our shoes and the vehicles.

The park we stayed at in Sundance, WY was the exact opposite of the previous one. It was impeccable! Neat, clean and really well maintained. But very cold and windy. The weather here in the US is really up the creek at the moment. Everywhere we go people are saying the weather is really weird.

The next day we took the drive out to Devils Tower. This place is so strange and sort of eerie! Part of the movie Close Encounters was filmed at Devils Tower. Geologically, this is a really interesting place and there are a number of theories as to how it was formed however there is no definitive explanation. It is magnificent and huge and beautiful. We were so lucky with the weather. We went for a short hike around the base of the Tower and managed to get back just before the heavens opened and it poured - AGAIN!

The Native Americans are having the same battle as the Australian Aboriginals are having at Uluru (Ayers Rock). Both groups look on the formations as having cultural significance and neither group want people climbing the formations however it still happens.

We stayed in Sundance for another day and spent it wandering around the town (10 mins), visiting the museum and doing some shopping. The museum has some great stuff in it and when they move out of the basement of the court house into a new building it will be really good. Everything is very cramped at the moment however I really enjoyed finding out about the Sundance Kid who took his nickname from the town.

On the road again!!!! This time bound for Flaming Gorge in Utah. We boon docked over night at the busiest, nosiest truck stop I have ever seen or heard. It was in Rock Springs, WY. Truck drivers often spend the night in truck stops with their engines running ALL night! So the trick is to try to find a place where the drivers don’t have their engines on! We parked next to a truck that had its bonnet (hood) up so we thought maybe it would be quiet. - WRONG! We ended up being surrounded by noisy trucks so at about midnight Norm had a dummy spit, got in the F250 and drove around looking for a quieter spot. Word of advice - don’t stay in bed while your husband drives around a potholed truck stop looking for a quiet spot!! Anyway we found another spot that was significantly quieter and both managed to get some sleep.

I have to tell you about the dramas getting to Rock Springs! We filled up with fuel in Sundance and headed off south into a really strong head wind. I took over the driving after about two hours and continued into the head wind. We passed through Casper ($3.46 per gallon), heading towards Rock Springs and decided we better get some fuel and just as the truck dinged to warn us that we only had 50miles of fuel left (we still had about 90 miles to go) we came upon a fuel station in the middle of nowhere. We stopped for gas ($3.95 per gallon). Reluctant to pay toooooo much per gallon I did a quick calculation and suggested that we get $40 worth and then fill up when we got to Rock Springs. Weeeeell, Norm continued driving (into a really strong headwind!!) and to cut a long story short we went to the first fuel stop we got to in Rock Springs with 9 miles of fuel left in the tank!!! Needless to say the next day (heading into a really strong headwind) we filled up at every opportunity!! Never again, it was much too close for comfort!

We arrived in Dutch John, UT about 2.00pm, set up and took a drive down to the dam at Flaming Gorge and then around the thriving metropolis of Dutch John. In the morning we went to the dam for the tour which was really interesting because you actually get to go inside the dam and take a lift right down to the bottom near the outlets into the river. The guide explained that the last time they had to use the outlets was back in 1997 when the water was lapping over the road across the top of the dam. Apparently, with the snow melt expected this year, they are anticipating that they will have to use the outlets for quite a long period of time. I will be following it on the web when it happens.

After the tour we took a drive around the gorge which is just beautiful. It is easy to see how it got its name. The sunlight (when it came out) shining on the walls of the gorge picked out all the amazing shades of red. We had lunch at the Red Canyon Lodge and sat and watched the most amazing number of birds. And the hummingbirds just outside the window were so gorgeous.

We were due to leave Dutch John the next day and when we woke up we were amazed to see some snow lying on the ground and on the windscreen of the truck. We were sitting in the fiver having a cup of tea and planning on packing up when it started snowing again. I got online to check the weather and discovered that there was a forecast of 1 - 3” of snow expected so .. Oops we are out of here! We very quickly packed up and got on the road. We had seen on the TV that by going north onto I80 and then to Twin Falls Idaho (our next stop) we would encounter more snow with the Interstate covered with snow so we decided to head south and make our way to Reno, Nevada instead.

The only problem with that was that to get there we would have to pass over the mountains and into heavier snow falls! Anyway, to cut another long story short, with some very slow, careful driving, lots of photos and places of driving snow we made it safely to Vernal. We encountered more falling snow as we made our way to Salt Lake City however it was only light and didn’t pose a problem.

Oh boy is time just flying by now! It is less than seven weeks till we head home and it makes me quite sad. I am looking forward to getting home to family and friends however…..

I will leave it here for now and wish you all health and happiness until we come back again. Take care of you and yours dear family and friends. Love and hugs from me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Welcome back and you can see that I am determined to get this blog up to date very quickly! I am getting back in the groove (did I hear someone say - rut?!) Once again we are driving down I90 and I have the computer on my lap. We are on our way to the Badlands in South Dakota but that is a story for another blog!

After Tess! Well things have been very quiet around the rv since we said goodbye to Tess. Our plans are to drive back to New Castle, Indiana to get some warranty work done on the fiver as well as having slide awnings put on both slides. We had one night of rain and the pitter patter of the rain drops above our heads on the bedroom slide kept both of us awake so the awnings hopefully will improve that. Here’s hoping.

We overnighted in a Rest Area in West Virginia on our way to Indiana and again awoke to clouds blanketing mountains and drifting through the valleys. It is just so beautiful that West Virginia is definitely on my bucket list but will have to wait for another trip as we start heading west in anticipation of the end of our journey in two months.

Wow, this is a small world! In September last year you may remember that Norm and I attended an RV rally in Goshen, IN. Well we have stayed in touch with a number of people from the rally including Jim and Jan, with whom we are planning to drive to Alaska in June next year. You wouldn’t read about it, Jim and Jan happened to be in Indiana at the same time we were there and we were able to have dinner together. Jim arranged to meet at a restaurant half way between them and us - yeah right Jim - it took them 45 minutes to get there and us - 15 minutes! LOL It was really good to catch up with their travels and the plans for the Alaska trip next year. Jim has been doing so much homework to plan for the trip and I guess as the time gets closer we will all be more involved in the plans. There are four (I think) rv’s going to go in a convoy for 90 days leaving in the middle of June. What an amazing trip it promises to be!

We left Indiana with our destination Blanchardville, Wisconsin where we will be staying with our friends Mary and Bruce. They were expecting us on 7th May however during a phone conversation with Mary recently she asked me if we were outside her house already (we were still in Indiana) and so we decided to surprise them. They were supposed to be away until the 5th and we were hoping to get to their home before them and have the rv set up in the front drive with chairs out on the lawn and the wine in hand. Unfortunately they arrived home about half an hour before we got there but none the less were very surprised by our early arrival.

After all the running around that we have done over the last four weeks we were grateful for the time to catch our breath while in Blanchardville.

We had experienced some problems with the radio cutting out so we took a trip over to the nearest Ford dealer in Monroe to get it replaced, visited a cheese factory and took various road trips in the areas surrounding Blanchardville.

The highlight of our stay - apart from Mary and Bruce’s company of course - was our visit to the House on the Rock. It was amazing and such an eclectic collection of ‘stuff’. Alexander Jordan had built this house on a rock over quite a few years and then spent his time collecting so many different things. He had to climb a 75ft ladder to begin the construction just to get the materials up to the site before he built steps. It is quite a feat of engineering - sort of - as he has literally built the house around, over, and between the rocks on a promontory over the valley. The house is so interesting - lots of nooks and crannies, very low ceilings, lots of Tiffany glass and lamps and sitting areas everywhere and the walls and ceiling, in places, are huge boulders. The ceilings are all covered with red carpet, so you don’t bang your head on the rocks I assume! The photos may not do it justice!

There is the Infinity Room which is difficult to describe but is a long triangular shaped needle like extension that protrudes out of the house and over the woods. It is made of glass and has windows that allow you to look on all sides, including down. It is almost like being right in the canopy of the woods. Mary was a bit reluctant to come all the way out as it does have a bit of movement as you get out towards the end of it. Very interesting.

There are great big sheds chock a block full of interesting things. There is an amazing collection of dolls and dolls’ houses, replicas of the English monarchy’s crowns and robes of ceremony, weapons of all kinds including a couple of Gatling guns, decorated eggs including a couple of Faberges, bells, sleighs, clocks, the most amazing calliopes of all shapes and sizes, old cars and vehicles, carousel horses, angels and so many other things. The list goes on! While the house and its environment are so different from what we usually look at, it really is a ‘not to be missed’ activity. It is just amazing that all this is under one roof. You have to see the carousel with its 20,000 lights and every horse on which you ride is not a horse - there are monsters and animals of every description on it. It is a wonderful experience and we spent the whole day there and still didn’t get time to look closely at everything.

The calliopes were absolutely amazing. There were big ones and small ones, there were some with violins, bass, drums, bells, whistles, jars with air going across them, and there was even one there that was made up of a complete orchestra with dummies being manipulated to play the instruments. It was truly amazing to see the work that had been put in to building them. I really liked the octopuses garden one (and yes it played the Octopuses Garden by the Beatles) with all its under sea creatures. And every one of the calliopes was in working order and using the tokens you get when you go in you can play each one. The range of music played was wonderful.

Mothers’ day was spent having lunch with Mary and Bruce’s family which was really lovely and when you can’t be with your own kids - Hans, Tom and Emily (Hans’ wife) are the next best thing. We had a yummy lunch of my favourite American fare - ribs and salad. Lip smacking good thanks to the heroes of the barbecue - Bruce and Norm!

I forgot! There was another huge highlight of our stay with Bruce and Mary and that was when Bruce took me for a ride on his Harley Davidson!!!! Woo hoo!! It was ….. Words fail me! We were gone for about ¾ hour and went up hill and down dale all over Blanchardville and surrounding areas. Drove through Yellowstone State Park (saw people swimming - they have rocks in their heads - it is still really cold!!!), along river banks and through woods. Bruce is now my hero!!

One more thing - the fresh dairy air of Wisconsin!!!!!! Thanks Mary for that description, it will stay with me forever!

We stayed in Blanchardville for just over a week and then had to start thinking about moving on. Saturday morning - all packed up, hitched up and ready to rumble!!! Oops the driver’s window is down and won’t go up!! We had had some problems with the window and had a new switch put in it in Cary, NC but prior to this we had always been able to get it up but there was no way it was going up this time. Sooo, unhitch and Norm has to drive over to Monroe (with the window down and in the freezing cold) with Bruce as I wasn’t going out in that cold. They were all rugged up with jackets and gloves! Can’t be fixed, needs a new motor and regulator but we can put it up for you so you can get to your next destination and have it fixed there. Well the Ford dealership got it nearly all the way up and Norm and Bruce managed to finish it off and with the aid of an eraser and some duct tape, kept it up for our drive to Minnesota! More warranty work to be done - this time in MN! Thanks goodness for warranties!

It was a bit sad leaving Mary and Bruce however we have made arrangements to meet up in the Grand Canyon just before we head to Phoenix where we will put the rig in storage before coming home. There was also talk about them visiting Aust. in February while it is still freezing in Wisconsin. To say that Mary hates (with a passion) the cold is an understatement. She would love Australia in the summer time.

Our next stop was Byron, Minnesota which is just out of Rochester, with our friends, Judy and Pete who we met while in Livingston, TX and with whom we traveled around Louisiana and then met up with again just out of Atlanta, GA.

We stayed with Pete and Judy for three days prior to us heading west and them heading east to babysit their grand daughter for a while. Sort of reminded me that I have grand kids at home that I will be seeing in a couple of months. Can’t wait to see how much they have all grown especially Blayd who was 18 months old when we left and will be 2 ½ when we get back. I will just have to make up for lost time!!!

During our stay with Pete and Judy they took us on some sightseeing excursions. We checked out the local gourmet bakery - and they are gourmet! The pastries were really lovely and I could see that if I was staying very long I would need to put myself on a diet.

Our first day we took a long drive up to the Mall of America. Now I can safely say that you haven’t seen a shopping mall until you have been to the Mall of America! Apparently this is the biggest shopping mall in the US. It has three levels (I think) and four wings - North, South, East and West and in the middle is an enclosed amusement park with all sorts of scary rides and entertainment. Some retail outlets have two shops because the mall is so large. We had lunch in the mall and Judy and I got some retail therapy. Norm even found the storage space bags that we are planning on using to put all our clothes in when we leave the fiver in storage. Bugger - not long now!

We had an absolutely beautiful day when we visited the Oxbow State Park with an animal rescue service that was really busy. It had a bear, wolves, foxes, a seriously crazy porcupine, bison, bald eagles and other animals. All the animals except the bison and deer are being kept in captivity as they wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild.

Another day we went to the Mayo Clinic. Now I have heard of the Mayo Clinic but never realized that it is in Rochester, MN. Everywhere we went Judy or Pete would pass a comment about a building that was part of the clinic. Talk about a company town. The visit to the actual clinic was really interesting and the history behind the beginning was fascinating. The actual clinic building is awesome and like many hospitals the art work is stunning. There is even a grand piano in the atrium area where someone plays each day. While we were there a lady who seemed to be accompanying a guy in a wheelchair sat down and played beautifully for about 15 minutes. I reckon Rochester is the place to be if you get sick. Pete said he thinks that the ratio of residents to doctors is about 25:1. Wonderful odds when you consider what they are likely to be in other places including Australia.

After a gourmet bakery breakfast thanks to an early morning run by Judy, we said farewell and thanks for having us, to Judy and Pete. It is times like this, as we say our goodbyes, knowing we won’t see friends for a long time, that I realise just how precious our time in America has been and what wonderful people we will be leaving behind. We will just have to come back again next year! Haha - that is the plan!

From here we head further west into South Dakota, then Wyoming and Utah. So look out for the continue adventures of these two Aussies in America!

The wonderful thing about this blog is that it brings me up to date - at last! I promise faithfully that I won’t get so far behind in the future (fingers crossed).

Be safe dear family and friends and don’t forget to leave a comment when you visit - it means a great deal to us. Take care of you and yours.

More Blue Ridge Parkway.

Hi everyone, welcome back. See I told you, you wouldn’t have to wait too long for the next exciting chapter in our trip. But can I keep it up? That is the $64000 question!

Picking up from where I left off in the last blog we continued our journey along the Parkway with a visit to more mountains, valleys and glorious views. We lunched at a place called Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant which was lovely. Sitting in the restaurant with views out over a lake and to the hills in the distance. There were no otters evident however we did take a stroll around the lake to find a dead turtle floating in the lake and sitting on its back was a cute little frog. Small things and small minds!

From there we took off along the Parkway again to stop at Apple Orchard Mountain. Due to the severe weather, the trees (Northern Red Oak) have been pruned by the wind, ice and snow to give the appearance of an old apple orchard. It was just beautiful and oh so peaceful. I think we are too early in the summer season to encounter too many tourists so it is really quiet and reflective. You just can't help bad luck!!

Our next stop was at Otter Lake (I think) which was a glorious spot. There was a gorgeous lake with a spillway and the river flowing through rocks, wildflowers and trees just getting their leaves. I hadn’t realized how many photos I take with water in them till now.

Just goes to show you just how much water there is in this here country. I know there are places experiencing droughts just like Australia but there is soooo much water! There are creeks and rivers all over and of course they provide beautiful environments for the amateur photographer.

We took a side trip to the Natural Bridge which is just off the Parkway. This was just amazing - here I go again, running out of superlatives.

Our arrival at the entrance of the Bridge attraction was quite a jaw dropper. There is a huge elaborate motel up on the hill overlooking the parking area and an enormous welcome building to the bridge. Of course we had to walk into the obligatory gift and souvenir store to buy our tickets! We then walked down to the Natural Bridge attraction.

We were amazed to find out that about two weeks before our visit the whole area had been under water when the river had flooded. The walkway had been washed out and the evidence of the flood could be seen in the branches of trees where debris had been trapped. Obviously a great deal of work had been done to repair the damage and return the attraction to a standard that could cater to visitors.

Something that I found quite interesting is that there is actually a road that goes across the top of the bridge. Aren’t they worried that it will cave in one day and the bridge will be gone forever?

The actual bridge itself is enormous (215ft high, 40ft thick, 100ft wide and a 90ft span between the walls) and the arch that goes under it is huge. There is a river running under the bridge and we took the walk up to the falls. It was a beautiful walk up to the Lace Waterfalls with cliffs on either side and a path along the edge of the river. Evidence of the flood was everywhere however it didn’t detract from the beauty and serenity of the area. The only thing that did that was the kids running amok with their parents smiling benignly upon them! And to think, I used to be so patient with kids - what has happened to me? Haha!

The next day was to be our last on the Parkway and we got off to a late start. We stopped at a little historic reconstruction of an early settlers farm. It was so interesting how they survived without all the mod cons that we take for granted and how they were so creative with solving the problems they faced. Like the bee hives that were made out of hollow sections of the black gum tree, the bear proof pen that had to be constructed to keep the pigs safe when they were rounded up in the autumn and the substitute for a fridge - a shed constructed with a creek running through it to keep everything cool. Norm walked inside and immediately commented on how much cooler it was inside. The early pioneers in any country certainly did it tough and especially in places of extreme weather.

We continued our journey along the Parkway and were continually amazed at the views of the valleys and mountains that were around every bend in the road.

Heading back to the campground we found the most gorgeous restaurant and I would highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the vicinity (don’t ask me what vicinity though!). It was an old mill and we were pretty late arriving (3.00pm on Mother’s Day) and they were about to close however they were very accommodating and allowed us to stay. And I have to say it was the BEST meal we have had since our arrival. Cloth tablecloths and napkins and amazing food! The bread was to die for and the main meals were brilliant. The staff were amazing and so friendly - in fact Kelly, our waitress, was gorgeous and was talking about bringing her family to Australia in the near future. We hope to see you in the West some time soon Kelly and Seth!. The place is called Osceola Mill and was brilliant.

This was to be our last day on the Parkway as the next day we were heading up the Shenandoah Skyline Drive through Virginia.

Tess and I decided we needed some quilt therapy so we left Norm at the fiver with some jobs to do and we took a long drive through the Shenandoah River Valley to Lynchburg. It was just glorious driving along the banks of the river through beautiful green trees covered mountains. We found the quilt shop and spent quite a bit of time there (and a little money!) before we found somewhere for lunch. As we headed back to the campground we were engulfed in a huge storm and it was absolutely pouring down making driving a little difficult. A girl’s day out - just what the doctor ordered!

We set out early the next day for the Skyline Drive and about 20 miles into the drive we decided that we were Parkway and Skyline’d out. Despite the deer, the fabulous views of gorgeous valleys and mountains we had just had enough and we called it a day with plans to head back to Cary the next day in time for a bit of sight seeing before Tess’s flight home.

We arrived back in Cary and had a day or two before Tess was due to leave so we visited Raleigh for a day and had a great time in the Capital Building and watching a group of school children drilling in the square as if they were Confederate soldiers. What is it about American government buildings that they love to build them with cupolas (I think that is what you call them - you know - those great big round domes on top of them)? We visited a mall - just so Tess could say she went to one - and as we were leaving we were aware of the ‘tornado skies’ as there were more threats of tornadoes in Raleigh. This was the last thing that the people of Raleigh needed as they were still cleaning up after the April 16th tornadoes of which there was evidence everywhere. Downed trees and tarps on rooves and walls.

America had been hit by record numbers of devastating tornadoes this spring with many people losing their lives and others losing everything they owned in the world. I am blown away (no pun intended) by the resilience that these people demonstrate in their attitude and ability to get back up and move on with their lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all as they try to recover some normality in their lives.

And while I don’t want to finish on a sad note I am going to add to it by saying that this brought the end of Tess’s holiday and we had to say a sad farewell until August when we will be returning home. We had such a good time however I am not sure about Tess! We will see!

Once again we say adieu until next time. Thoughts and prayers are with you all - stay safe, healthy and happy and take care of you. I will catch you all again soon.

PS The next chapter is being worked on as I post this one - getting back into it now!

Byeee y'all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Blue Ridge Parkway and Other Fascinating Places

Hi y’all

And it is nice to be back - even if I am hopelessly far behind in this here blog! We are driving along in the car right at this moment so it is a wonderful opportunity to try (?) to get a little further up to date with our comings and goings.

Have I mentioned that I love our new fifth wheel. I am in heaven! Wardrobe and drawers and room to put all the clothes and a real queen size bed!

Folowing on from my last blog. We arrived in Cary, North Carolina where we are having some warranty work done on the truck and we were picking up our friend, Tess, who came over from Australia to spend about three weeks traveling with us.

After some dramas along the way - with immigration in Los Angeles - Tess arrived safely and we turned our noses in the direction of a small but gorgeous campground in Balsam, NC. (Just south of Abbeville, NC). Moonshine Creek - what a beautiful campground with a creek running along just behind the fiver - mind you the road getting to it was a bit of a challenge! (Note to self: Check driving instructions on the campground website before relying solely on the GPS!)

The first day we drove along the southern most section of the Blue Ridge Parkway into the Great Smoky Mountains. We couldn’t take the fiver along this section as some of the tunnels were less than 12ft in height and we would have removed the vents and air conditioner if we had tried! New rig? Not a good idea!

This section of the Parkway and into the Smoky Mountains is just so picturesque. With fabulous outlooks and views across the valleys, gorgeous creeks/rivers and with all the trees just starting to get their blossoms and leaves it was so beautiful. We made a number of stops and Tess said we nearly killed her on one of the stops when we did a bit of a hike up part of the mountain. It was a little challenging and we didn’t go toooooo far!

We drove right through the Smoky Mountains into Tennessee and stopped for lunch in Gatlinburg so Tess was able to say she had visited Tennessee. We even took a photo so she could prove it. Gatlinburg is a really cute town and reminded us very much of Estes Park, CO, in its layout and tourist appeal of the main street. A convoy of yellow Mustangs drove through town while we were there - must have been about 30 of them. And no I don’t want one - I want a red one!!! Everyone knows the red ones go faster.

On the way back through the mountains we came across quite a few cars on the side of the road with people out and walking around. Turns out that a large black bear was spotted and everyone was out taking photos until some idiot drove through with his hand on the horn and scared the bear off. Takes all kinds I guess!

By the time we got to the town of Cherokee it was late and we missed all the attractions. I would have liked to have taken a look around but it seems to be the same everywhere we go. We just can’t get to do everything we want. If we stay in one place an extra day or two then we miss something up ahead. We just might have to come back again next year!

The next day we continued our exploration of the Blue Ridge Parkway by covering the section between Balsam and Abbeville. The weather wasn’t too kind to us with low cloud and cold winds blowing however, even like this the Parkway has its appeal. We stopped for lunch at a resort along the way and Tess made friends with Jerry, the head waiter!!!! Some people - you just can’t take them anywhere!!

From the Parkway we made our way to Abbeville with the intention of visiting the Biltmore Mansion which was constructed by the Vanderbilt family. Well!!!! $58 per person to have a look around! We decided against it and content ourselves with visiting the gate house and taking some photos of the front yard with all the beautiful tulips and other plants.

That evening we were invited to have dinner with some friends of a friend of Tess’s and had a lovely dinner and evening with Lyn and Ron. Lyn is a quilter by profession and she showed us some of her work which is absolutely stunning. We even got to taste some of Ron’s moonshine. Peach flavoured and soooo nice. I always thought moonshine would be sort of rough and ‘gut wrenching’! I could certainly develop a taste for this stuff although I don’t think it would take more than a couple of sips to put me on my ear.

Our plan for the next day was to take the interstate to Abbeville and then get on the Parkway to our next campground. Well, we did that, however driving along the Parkway was just too stressful with its narrow, winding roads with a 31ft fifth wheel on the back so while we made it to our next stop we decided that in the future we would find campgrounds off the Parkway and travel along the highways. Once at the campgrounds, we would then return to explore the park without the fiver. It worked out much better as it is difficult to find places to stop and admire the view with the fiver on the back.

Anyway getting back to our adventures - we continued our exploration of the Parkway with some side trips along the way. Cone Manor is on the Parkway and we stopped there for a sticky beak. It is the most magnificent home with stunning views down across the valley and a lake. The home was built for a family and has been turned into a rather up market gift/craft shop/art gallery. Gorgeous stuff, that, had we been living at home. I would have been tempted, however when you are living in an rv there really isn’t room for lots of things and certainly no walls suitable for art works.

While at Cone Manor we took a short hike and I was amazed at some of the fungi that were on the trees. There were so many different ones it became quite a joke when we were looking at the photos after our visit - oh no more fungus, what a surprise - more fungus, another photo of fungus!! Tess and Norm spent a bit of time laughing at me and my fungi photos!!

From Cone Manor we visited a town called Blowing Rock which was really beautiful with so many old and beautifully renovated homes and buildings. According to the waiter at lunch it is a very up market town with many expensive homes and the shops were very boutique style. Can’t wear those sort of clothes in an rv unfortunately.

AND…. Before I forget - you should have seen the size of the burger Tess had for lunch!!!! Now I have some fabulous photos and will post them on here unless I get some very good reasons not to! Blackmail?? Me???? Never!!!!

There was an outlet mall just out of Blowing Rock so I gave Tess her first experience of outlet shopping and we had a lovely time. Bank accounts took a minor beating while Norm sat in the truck and read his Kindle!!

Our next excursion was to Damascus, Virginia via Whitetop Mountain. On the way we passed a cyclist on the side of the road when I noticed he had an Aussie flag on the back of his bicycle. Of course we had to stop and say ‘G’day’! Turns out Sholto was riding a trail from Washington DC to Montana over a period of four months. Now that is what you call fit - especially with some of the mountains he is going to have to negotiate along the way. We arrived in Damascus shortly after and settled down for some lunch when who should arrive on his bike but Sholto so he joined us for lunch - four Aussies lunching in Damascus, Virginia - you wouldn’t read about it!!

There was a bike ride from the top of Whitetop Mountain down to Damascus that I really wanted to do but it wasn’t to be - never mind it will leave something for me to do when we come back!! Haha!!

Okay, so you don’t get overwhelmed with all this activity (on the blog I mean!!) I will conclude this enthralling episode of our adventures and will take it up again real soon. I promise to bring you up to date in the very near future! And don’t say you have heard that before - I really mean it this time.

Au revoir our dear family and friends. We continue to think of you often and while we are really enjoying ourselves on this almighty adventure we (at least me!!) do look forward to catching up with many of you when we return home in August.

Take care and be kind to you. Stay healthy and happy.

Love and hugs from both of us.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Starting to catch up on the missed weeks!!

Welcome back dear family and friends.

Oh dear! How terrible is that? Nearly two months (sounds better than eight weeks) of travelling, sightseeing and having a wonderful time and I haven't found the time for my blog. Well, once again I was going to have to just provide a thumbnail sketch of the last two months with some of the highlights, otherwise you will be here for a week and still be reading so I have decided to catch you up in a couple of blogs rather than just one. Thank goodness for the pictures on the camera! I can keep all the events in order thanks to the time dates on the photos!

After leaving Georgia we moved to South Carolina to a lovely rv park not too far from Charleston. The azaleas and spring blossoms in SC are just beautiful.

Although the weather wasn't very kind to us in SC we certainly had a wonderful time. We spent a day in Charleston and were amazed at what a gorgeous place it was and the history is so interesting.

We spent a day exploring Charleston and found it to be just lovely. I really admire their preservation efforts with regard to the beautiful old buildings. If I remember correctly - anything over 75 years old has to be preserved. Obviously as a result Charleston is just chock-a-block full of gorgeous old homes and buildings. Mind you, at one stage we drove through an area where all the college students live in old houses and even these looked well cared for and tidy - surprise, surprise!!

We took a bus ride around the city admiring all the gorgeous old buildings and being enthralled by the history the driver offered. We then headed to the dock where we took a ferry ride over to Fort Sumter. For those not familiar with the site, it is an island in Charleston harbour that was the site of the first shots fired in the American Civil War. What an amazing feat of engineering with all the rocks and foundations having to be carted in before any construction could begin. Many modifications have been made to the original structure due in part to it nearly being completely demolished by the Union during the war and to update it during threats in other wars. The fort has a real sense of the drama that took place there and I can imagine how threatening it would have been to ships trying to enter the harbour.

We stayed in South Carolina for a couple of days however as I said the weather was pretty unpleasant with rain and thunderstorms which certainly curtailed our outings. And also, we had decided to trade in the 5th wheeler for a slightly bigger one so we had to think about heading up to Indiana to pick up the new one. So it was hitting the road again to Raccoon Valley, Tennessee for a short stop over before heading north to Indiana.

The new rig is gorgeous!!! It is very similar to the other one in the back half - the living area - however the difference is in the bedroom. We now have wardrobes, drawers (none in the old one!) and loads more storage room as well as having a regular queen size bed - not the rv queen size! Norm is delighted with the extra storage room in the pass-through storage underneath. I told him I would have to go shopping to fill up all the extra storage space in the wardrobe etc! Boy did I come down with a quick jolt!!!

And, among other things that really appealed to me with the rig, the interior isn’t brown. The d├ęcor is a gorgeous sage and gold sort of combination which is very elegant! Also it has a bigger fridge so now Norm is allowed to have three bottles of beer in there instead of just two. Haha!

We spent a couple of nights in Indiana - the first one was spent in the yard of the dealer transferring everything from one rig to the other. Unfortunately, (hmmmmm) Norm twisted his knee and wasn’t able to negotiate the stairs so guess who had to get everything out of the old one, down the stairs, up the stairs of the new one and deposit stuff for Norm to put away? Very good timing if you ask me!! Four hours later we had finished the bulk of it and we called it a day - the rest could wait till the morning!

We finished off the transfer the next morning and pulled in to the campground next door. The plan was to make sure everything worked before we headed off. Knowing that we would be back in a couple of weeks if any warranty work needed to be done we were not too worried if something went wrong - as long as it wasn’t something major!

Our friend, Tess was arriving from Australia on the 12th April so we headed back down to pick her up at Raleigh/Durham International Airport. She will be staying with us for nearly three weeks and we plan on being pretty busy for the duration of her holiday.

The drive from Indiana to North Carolina through the mountains of West Virginia was just beautiful. We boon docked one night at a rest stop near Beckley, WV. and awoke to find the mountains shrouded in fog and swirls of fog drifting through the valleys. Mind you the drive out of the mountains was pretty hairy and I declined Norm’s offer to let me drive some of the way. It was extremely thick with fog and visibility in places was down to about 15m (about 50ft). I was extremely relieved to finally get out of it all.

I am going to leave this episode of our travels here so you don’t all get fed up with a great, big, long recount of the last six weeks since I last ‘blogged’. I will start work on the next exciting chapter in the life and loves of two Australian gray (no pun intended - much) nomads in America.

Until next time dear friends and family, we wish you health and happiness and take care of yourselves.

Our thoughts are always with you all. Hugs from us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Oops again!!!!

Sorry folks. Once again I have been distracted and have failed to keep up with the comings and goings of these two gray nomads!

I am in the middle of the next blog so come back soon and I will make sure it is completed in the next day or two - maybe!!!!

Take care one and all and catch you soon.

Hugs

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Georgia - The Peach State

Welcome back to the ongoing (mis)adventures of this not-so-dynamic duo. I was reflecting on this amazing journey the other night when it occurred to me that we are very rapidly reaching the end. With only four months to go it seems surreal that we have been here for eight months. We have seen and done so much but there is still heaps to come. In fact we have decided that April next year we will be returning to drive to Alaska with some other members of the 'Class of 2010' and to spend some time in Canada.

Norm and I have spent the last week in Georgia - firstly at Stone Mountain State Park and then at Red Top Mountain State Park. And while they are only an hour apart in distance they are worlds apart when comparing amenities and facilities.

Stone Mountain is quite the playground and while many of the attractions were not yet open for the season there would be lots of things to do once the summer starts. Red Top Mountain is quiet, peaceful and just a gorgeous place to explore.

Norm and I arrived at Stone Mountain late on Sunday afternoon to find many of the sites taken up with very expensive motor homes. There would have to have been many, many millions of dollars worth of motor homes in the park. I might add that by Tuesday afternoon all but a few had departed and the park was quite deserted so it became quite peaceful.

Stone Mountain is a beautiful park set around a very large lake with golf courses, boating, fishing, restaurants, a village, walk trails etc, and it all surrounds a large stone mountain haha!

There are two ways to get to the top of the mountain - one is to hike and the other is to take the skytrain. We decided that the first day that we were there we would hike to the top. So.... with camera in hand, we set out to get to the top. Not a very long hike - only about 1.5 miles (2.4km) in length but it rises about 820 feet (250m) in that length. It took us about 80 minutes to climb - I needed a couple of rests and 45 minutes to get back down. The view from the top was magnificent and certainly worth the effort.

After the hike to the top we visited a covered bridge. The bridge was not an original feature of the park but had been relocated and was in excellent condition. It was while we were there that we got to chatting with a couple from Arkansas and I asked about a tree with really pretty flowers that I have been seeing a lot of since being in Georgia. Turns out it was the dogwood tree and is just so pretty and of course now that I know what it is I see it everywhere!

The next day we visited an area of the park that was the site of the velodrome and archery for the Atlanta Olympics. The buildings had been removed and for many years the site was neglected but recently efforts have been made to try to regenerate the local vegetation and encourage the birds to come back. It was a two mile hike and I guess we were either too late or too early because there weren't a lot of birds around. We did get to see some however.

From the bird walk we went to see the bas relief that Stone Mountain is known for. There is a huge carving into the side of the mountain that depicts three of the Confederate leaders during the Civil War. It is a huge carving of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee, all on horses. We walked around the pioneer type village where many of the shop owners were preparing for the big opening which will be happening on April 2nd. Of course we will have moved on by then. It would be really interesting to visit while it is open but there are still so many other areas that we haven't visited yet so we can't stay any longer than already planned.

Our next day we went to visit a carillion. The building looks like something out of 'The Lord of the Rings' movie. This particular carillion was part of the World Trade Fair in the 1960's but was donated to Stone Mountain by the Coca Cola Company. There are 732 bells in it and it is played on Saturdays and Sundays so because we were there on Thursday we didn't expect to hear anything however there must have been a tape playing through the speakers because we were able to sit by the lake and listen to it for quite a while. The sounds was just beautiful and just such a peaceful place.

After we left the carillion we visited an old granite quarry on the side of the mountain which was quite interesting. It was amazing seeing how they managed to remove 66000lb blocks of stone without the technology of today. Way back when the workers would put bits of wood between the blocks and then pour water into the holes. The wood would swell causing the rock to move. Now that is hard work!

From Stone Mountain we moved up the road to Red Top Mountain which was just gorgeous. A huge lake with lovely hikes around the lake and through the forest. We decided to take a 4.5 mile hike our first day and set off with lunch and drinks and had a lovely time communing with nature. (LOL) Seriously though, a really lovely way to spend the day. So peaceful and quiet with lots of birds.

One of the really nice things about Red Top Mountain was our friends, the Elams who arrived at another camp ground just down the road. It was really lovely to catch up with them over dinner.

Our plans for another hike the next day were put on hold due to some inclement weather that was making itself felt with drizzly rain and the threat of up to 2 inch hail stones and severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings. Late at night we did get a few thunderstorms and a little bit of hail but nothing as serious as Atlanta down the road. Most of the storm went either to the north or to the south of us. Lucky!!!!

Sunday dawned grey and overcast with fog everywhere as we packed up our rig and took to the road again. We are heading for south east South Carolina for a week or so. The weather stayed threatening all the way to SC and by the time we got to our camp the temperature hadn't climbed over 45F (about 8C) so we the jeans and windcheaters are back out and the doona will be put on the bed tonight. Norm wants to head back to Florida for the sun but there are too many other places that are calling out to us.

In checking out the photos to put with the blog I continue to be amazed at the beautiful scenery, flowers, animals and birds that I manage to photograph. And, as always, I have way too many lovely photos to put on here. I still haven't searched out some sort of online album but I promise (no laughing now!!) to have a look and see what I can do. Otherwise when we get home you will all have to visit and sit and watch thousands and thousands of photos on the tv or digital photo frame. I do promise to feed you though!

Our love and hugs to all our dear family and friends and we trust you are staying healthy, happy and safe. Take care of you and yours.

PS. Thank you for the comments that you have left - it is lovely to hear from you.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring has sprung here in the Peach State

And I have the evidence to prove it!

I know it is not three weeks since my last post but I just had to share the photos with you.

We arrived in Georgia and I couldn't believe my eyes. In Florida there was really no evidence of spring however I guess because Georgia is known as the Peach State and has lots of peach trees there are just the most beautiful trees loaded with blossoms everywhere. The powers that be have even planted them along the interstate at many of the exits, at rest areas and visitors centres. It is an absolute picture.

To further enhance the feel of spring there are wisterias (or as my dear dad used to call them - Histerias - because thats how he felt when he had to clean up all the blossom that fell) growing wild along the interstate and the dogwoods are blooming every where. I only found out they are dogwoods today - pretty flowers.

Enjoy the photos and look out for the next blog with details of our visit to Stone Mountain State Park.

Take care all and catch you soon. Stay healthy and happy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Multiple Choice Question!

Is Paula late with this blog because:

a) She is too busy rushing around all over this wonderful country;
b) She has had internet problems;
c) She has just got so laid back she can't keep up; or
d) All of the above.

Good answer! You are right whichever one you chose! It has been a bit of all of the above. One minute we are rushing around every day to see all the sights in one area then slacking off just to enjoy the sun and gorgeous weather and yes we have had some internet connection problems.

But anyway I am back again and raring to go - I think! Our last blog saw us just leaving Bushnell and making our way to Fort Myers, FL. Well we have stayed in FL since then and have only just left today (Friday, 18th March) on our way to Georgia. From Fort Myers we moved to Homestead and then to Vero Beach and finally to St. Augustine. So I guess the story begins with Fort Myers.

I have to say that since we left Alabama we have been so fortunate with the weather - it has been beautiful and although we did have some rain while in Vero Beach it was only at night and not enough to spoil our days.

It also needs to be said that this state, Florida, is a bloody dangerous place to be! Panthers on the streets, alligators everywhere, flocks of seagulls that bomb people with poop as they take off and car attacking vultures! Great care is needed while touring Florida.

Fort Myers was an interesting place on a number of fronts. The beaches were lovely although very crowded and parking was expensive. They seemed very tourist oriented which I suppose is to be expected given the number of snowbirds and young people on spring break at the moment.

Our first excursion in Ft Myers was to Six Mile Cypress Preserve which is not six miles at all but was, none the less, a lovely spot and so much wildlife. This was our first experience of seeing an alligator in the wild however since then we have become quite blase about them as we have encountered them at quite a few of our stops. One of the things that really fascinates me down here is the parasitic plants. Not the Spanish Moss which just hangs on the trees, but those that actually use the host plant as a source of nutrients. They have been really lovely and were very prolific in the preserve.

From the preserve we made our way to Ft Myers beach where we had lunch and sat on the sand for a couple of hours. I had forgotten how much I really enjoy the beach and the long walks that are possible.

Our next trip took us to Caloosahatchee Regional Park which was a lovely place for a stroll along the river and through the trees. We kept getting distracted by rustling in the undergrowth and eventually discovered little lizards.

It was really funny as we stood looking at a green one on the grass, I tried to get the camera out but he took off. Norm asked where it had gone and I laughed as it was on the back of one of his sox. He grabbed it but as he opened his hands it took off in a real hurry.

I have seen everything now! On the way from Ft Myers to Homestead we came across signs on the side of the road warning of PANTHER crossings! These were in the middle of dense residential areas! I wasn't aware that there is a very rare panther in Florida. They are very endangered and, in fact, I found out later that they believe there are only about 10 left in the Everglades National Park.

Homestead, FL was to be our home base for a few days to explore south Florida. We arrived at our rv park to discover that we were in little Quebec! All our neighbours were French Canadians who spend their winters in Florida.

Our first day saw us take a long drive down through the keys to Key West. What an amazing drive! Just getting the road and bridges through all the keys to finally arrive in Key West was a brilliant feat of engineering. One wealthy gentleman, Henry Flagler, actually built a private railroad all the way down to Key West. Once the railroad was no longer used it was then used as a road. It is no longer used as a new highway and bridges have been put through. In fact, one part of the old bridge was blown up in a chase scene in a movie - can't remember which one.

So Key West - what a fascinating place. A really interesting history, beautiful old buildings, lovely beaches, great shopping, bars and restaurants - what more does one need? Key West relies solely on the tourist trade for its economic stability and boy! is it full of tourists.

Two claims to fame - the southernmost point of the USA and the beginning of Highway 1
which goes all the way to Canada - not that you would want to drive it unless you had a great deal of time as it goes through all the cities with all the traffic lights between Key West and Canada.

And the chooks!! Many years ago the Cubans used to bring chooks to Key West for the cock fighting. Then cock fighting was made illegal so the chooks were released and now they just wander the streets and are protected by law. Heavy fines for anyone injuring a chook!! Unbelievable!!

We had a wonderful day and despite the long drive we really enjoyed our trip to Key West.

The next day we set out for one of our 'bucket list' trips. Both Norm and I were so looking forward to our trip to the Everglades National Park. What an amazing day! But what an introduction - have a look at the photo warning of car damage - this was one of the first things that we saw.

Alligators, ospreys, herons, ibis, beautiful scenery, a boat trip up through the everglades and a beautiful sunset to end an awesome day.

We humans have done so much damage to our environment through our actions and people are trying to repair the mistakes of the past. And I understand that the mistakes were often made without the knowledge that we have today and no knowledge of the consequences of the actions but boy have we made some monumental stuffups.

The Everglades is currently under enormous stress and while it is not diminishing currently it is not recovering. It is in a state of flux with no headway being made in its recovery. Actions are being taken to help but at the moment they are just maintaining the status quo. Drastic action is needed otherwise this incredible environment will be lost to us and our kids and our kids' kids!

Off the soap box.

Our last day in Homestead and we set off to take an airboat ride - another 'bucket list' item. And yep it was worth it! I just loved it and the 'river of grass' as the everglades are referred to was just an amazing environment. More alligators, birds, flowers and plants and just beautiful.

Our next destination was Vero Beach and once again we found ourselves in another French Canadian dominated park however the people were just lovely and so friendly. This is where we decided to kick back and have a bit of a slow time so we didn't do much at all.

I managed to finish a quilt top and get it sandwiched and some of the quilting done although it is a bit difficult on a small machine in an rv. You should see me - I look a bit like a contortionist trying to get the thing in the machine! It needs to be finished by 12th April when a friend of ours arrives from Australia for a holiday in the rv with us! Now that will be interesting.

We did visit an art and crafts exhibition and while there were some just gorgeous pieces I kept my hands firmly in my pockets and my wallet zipped up in my backpack! For those of you who have visited our home you will know how much we love to buy original artwork but this time we resisted the temptation. Which reminds me, can't wait to get home and hang the piece we bought while we were on our Alaska cruise.

While we were at Vero Beach one of the other residents recommended that we go to St Augustine. So off we went with rv in tow and found ourselves an absolute gem! St Augustine is the oldest, continuously occupied settlement in America. It was settled by the Spanish in 1565 and is gorgeous.

The day we arrived we took a drive down to Vilano Beach and I decided to take a walk - bad idea! The beach was so steep that I had sore shins and heels and because there was no sand I ended up with blisters on my big toes from the shells. The whole beach was made up of shells and shell fragments - not an easy walk.

The next day we went to visit Fort Matanzas on Anastasia Island. Matanzas is Spanish for massacre or slaughter and explains why the river and fort were so named. A Spaniard killed about 250 Frenchmen near this site. The fort was built to protect the back door of St Augustine and successfully prevented any pirates, British or other nation from attacking the town. From there we took another walk on the beach and while Anastasia Island is only just south of Vilano this was entirely different - whitish sand and easy flat beach. Reminded me a bit of home - almost!

The plan for the next day was to drive into St Augustine's old town and take a trolley tour of the area before visiting a few of the attractions and museums. We had a wonderful day with a visit to the old jail which does not look anything like a jail from the outside, the history museum, the oldest wooden schoolhouse (now why would you think I would want to see that?), the stone fort and so much more.

If anyone finds themselves in the north of Florida I can thoroughly recommend a visit to St Augustine. The history of this lovely town is really interesting and I have to tell you once again, Henry Flagler was instrumental in establishing St Augustine as a very expensive resort for the rich. He built two hotels and an entertainment complex, he gave money to build the jail, donated land for churches and other civic purposes. His hotel Ponce De Leon cost $65 per night in the late 1900's and you couldn't book for one or two nights - it had to be for the whole season! So only for the rich!!

We checked out 'The Fountain of Youth' but decided that if the water tasted that bad we would forgo the living forever bit. It tasted very strongly of sulphur and who knows what else.

While we were there we went to a firing of a cannon. There was a reenactment with a very nice looking young Spaniard cannonier and to say that the earth moved for me was an understatement. Apart from being really, really loud the cannon blast actually made the ground under my feet vibrate!

Our last day in St Augustine we went back into the old city and finished off our tour with a visit to the San Sebastian Winery, the Flagler Hotel (now a college) and the old city. We also went back to the beach for another long walk (me) and a lie on the beach with his kindle (Norm). One thing about the beaches is the hard sand! When lying on the beach on Anastasia Island it was almost like lying on a concrete slab it is so hard!

I am going to have problem with this blog! I have so many beautiful photos that I won't be able to fit them all in. I am going to have to find one of those internet sites that allows you to have photo albums that friends can access. Another job - boy this retirement is full of work!! But I love it anyway!

Our next stop is in Georgia as we wend our way north as the weather warms up.

Family and friends we hope this finds you all well and happy. We are rapidly getting to the end of this amazing adventure with only four months left before we have to head home but.... The fun hasn't finished yet so be sure to come back again soon. And I promise (fingers crossed of course) I will not wait another three weeks before I do my next blog. Hmmmm

Love and hugs to you all from both of us.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Three weeks! Oops! :-)

Wow! It has been over three weeks since my last entry and at this rate I am going to have to write about thirty pages!!! Just joking! I will update you with just a few highlights rather than all the details otherwise you could be reading for the next three weeks.

Just to bring you up to date we are now in Florida (Fl) and have been for just over a week. The two weeks before that were spent in Alabama so okay, you have caught up now!!!!

I have to tell you firstly that we finally found some warm weather - but not till after we arrived in Fl. While in Alabama (Al) we again ran into freezing weather - literally! One night was so cold that we had to once again disconnect the water hose to the rig. The next morning Norm went out to reconnect it and when he came back inside he turned on the tap to discover no water flowing. A quick check outside found a plug of ice in the end of the hose. Now that is cold!

Did you know that Alabama lays claim to the first Mardi Gras? I always thought it was a N’awlins event however Mobile, Al. claims to have held the first one. So, in upholding the tradition in Al., Judy, Pete Norm and I set off early one morning for Dauphin Island. Something else I was not aware of - Mardi Gras lasts about a month and the build up to it starts in early February. Anyway the first Mardi Gras parade of the 2011 season was held on Dauphin Island and we were going to check it out. Another freezing day so we all wrapped up warm, took our chairs and went to see our first Mardi Gras parade. We arrived early and grabbed a good spot and sat down to await the excitement! If I say the whole parade was a bit of a non event I would be being kind. After the parade we took a drive up Dauphin Island to check out the damage done by Katrina which cut the island in two. Interesting were the number of oil platforms that were visible from the beach.

I have talked about the variety of food and eating establishments here in the US but two we visited in Alabama have to be right up there when it comes to being different.

Firstly let me tell you about the ‘Road Kill Restaurant’. It is a buffet style restaurant but is only open from 10.30am-12.30pm OR until the food runs out!!!! And no I don’t think they serve any actual road kill!

Secondly there was Lamberts. Now the draw cards at Lamberts include servers who throw bread rolls at patrons, servers who wander around sharing baked potatoes and onions, fried okra, etc, servers who play practical jokes - like upending a jug of iced tea in my lap (not really but he had me going for a moment!) and don’t forget the servings! They were humungous - we all took home doggy bags!

One of the residents of the Summerdale RV Park where we stayed had a boat and took people cruising up the Fish River so one day the four of us braved the freezing conditions (again) and took the two hour trip. The bird life was amazing and some of the residences were beautiful however so were in a dreadful state of disrepair and were just falling down! Did I say it was cold??

The four of us took a trip over into Fl. to visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola. This is the most amazing experience. There is just too much in the museum to do it justice in an afternoon and I can understand why the guy on the gate said that some people come back three or four times in a week to see it all. Apart from the fact that it is huge there is just so much in there from the very beginning of flight to the modern day planes currently being used by the US Navy.

After two weeks at Summerdale Norm and I farewelled Pete and Judy again! They will be heading up to Georgia and then moving slowly back to their home in Minnesota. We have had such a wonderful time with them it was sad to say goodbye. Our destination is Sumter Oaks RV Park in Bushnell, Fl.

Woo Hoo I have had to break out the shorts at last! I can’t believe how much warmer it is here in Florida than it was 300 miles away in Summerdale, Al.

Our first excursion here in Florida took us to Pine Island. It is difficult to describe Pine Island. I guess, technically it is an island however it wasn’t as if we drove across a bridge to reach it. More like a causeway through a wetlands. The island is probably about 50 acres (guessing) with homes lining the one road through. The road reaches the end of the island and there is the most beautiful beach. White sand (reminder of home), a cute restaurant and people sunbathing although none swimming as the water is apparently too cold and playing volleyball. It was a gorgeous spot and both Norm and I thought it would be a good place to come to spend a day just lying on the beach - if we get the time - haha.

Our next outing was to the Homosassa Springs State Park which is home to many endangered species native to Fl. and also to the amazing manatees. It would have to be one of the prettiest spots and so well laid out and cared for. I was amazed at the information about some of the animals in the park. For example - the Red Wolf - it is believed that there are only about 130 left in the wild and that it is only breeding programs in parks that are keeping the animal from extinction.

We were planning on leaving Sumter on Monday however we were told about a flea market over in Webster which is only held on Mondays so we decided to stay over and have a sticky beak at the biggest flea market in the US.

We had been told to get an early start so 8.30am saw us heading down the road. As we turned onto the road to Webster we were caught in a line of traffic. It took us about 40minutes to cover the 4 mile to the fairground where the flea market was being held. You wouldn’t believe it! It was huge!! I reckon it would have to cover an area bigger than the Claremont Showgrounds back home in Perth. It was so big that after about two hours we hadn’t seen a quarter of it and we had really had enough. One of the things that struck us were the number of stalls selling guns. I have never seen guns being sold in a flea market before.

Anyway, this is just a quick synopsis of the three weeks missing from my blog so I hope it fills in the gaps and you are now up to date with the travels of the two gray nomads.

Take care all our dear friends and family. We wish you well and hope things in your world are going smoothly. Be kind to you and yours.

Hugs from both of us.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Weather!

Hey all.

Well this is a bit different. Not only is it only Friday evening and I am putting up a post but the whole look of the blog has changed. Don't go getting too excited. No nothing very interesting or exciting has occurred at all. In fact quite the opposite in fact. The weather has been so revolting that we haven't really made any excursions until today.

It seems that the world is upside down with its weather at the moment. Giant snowstorms throughout the northern states, snow in Dallas, Texas, freezing temperatures and rain in Summerdale, Alabama (currently home)and huge cyclones in Queensland.

It is of course the weather which has resulted in the change to the blog. When all else fails muck around with the computer!!

I will be back on Sunday (yeah right I hear you say) with a detailed report of the scintillating events of this week.

Take care and health and happiness to all.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Alligators and other interesting events.

How can something so good keep getting better? Hi y'all. This is a question I have to keep asking myself at the moment. And do I have an answer? No, not yet and probably won't have either. And what has happened this week to raise such an issue? Well you will just have to read on to discover what I got so excited about! Enjoy!

The week started out with us firmly entrenched in New Orleans (NO) and thoroughly enjoying all that N'awlins as to offer.

As I mentioned last week, everyone has to have coffee and beignets at the Cafe Du Monde which has been around for 150 years. So off we went to further explore NO and to take a tour. We started out with the required coffee and doughnuts at the Cafe Du Monde however I have to admit that while the coffee (which contains chicory) was good the beignets were not as good as the ones we had before but eh - it is a requirement of all tourists, right?

We continued to explore NO on foot and made our way to the wharf where we were going to take a cruise on a paddle steamer on the Mississippi River - another essential experience for all tourists. The cruise took us past many Katrina ravaged areas that have still not been removed or repaired. The tour ended at a battlefield where the residents beat the British. Don't ask for more details, it was freezing standing out in the middle of the battlefield and I wasn't listening attentively. Sorry to those of you who wanted to know all the details!

We stopped off at a rather nice restaurant in NO before going back to the RV park. We had a lovely dinner and even had a taste of alligator. Two samples - one breaded and deep fried and one grilled with some spices. The deep fried one didn't have much taste and because of the spices, the other was difficult to taste and was a bit chewy so I will reserve my judgement on the alligator until I can taste some more.

The shuttle was supposed to pick us up at 8.00pm outside the restaurant and of course it was raining and cold and it didn't arrive. There were eight of us left standing on the side of the road - not happy campers at all. We waited till 8.30pm and then decided to get 2 taxis to take us back. Unfortunately for us, like in so many countries, the taxi driver couldn't speak very good English and didn't know where to go so we got lost!!! Driving through some very dicey areas, no street lighting with a taxi driver who doesn't know where he is going! Made for an interesting end to a lovely day.

The next day we all went back into NO and had breakfast before wandering around some more. There is just so much to see in the city. We discovered a street that was predominantly antiques and art galleries which of course Norm and I love browsing. Margaret and Murray you would just love it!

After wandering around for a while we went to a restaurant renown for their muffelettos! (Not sure of the spelling) What on earth is that I hear you say. Well it is a giant sandwich with pastrami, ham, salami and salad with fries on the side. When I say it was a giant - I am being generous - Norm and I ordered one between us and still couldn't eat it all. There was about two inches of meat slices in it!!!! Tasted wonderful but, oh boy, BIG!!!

From there we rolled ourselves up the street to the omni theatre to watch a documentary on Katrina. I didn't realise, but one of the main reasons for the damage to NO was the degradation of the bayous around the coast. Once a hurricane (like a cyclone in Australia) hits land it gradually loses its strength and ferocity and with the lose of bayous the coast line of Louisiana is considerably nearer NO than it used to be. Much of the damage to the bayous is as a result of the levy system built down the Mississippi to stop the flooding of farming areas which results in the draining of the bayou environments. A very interesting documentary and certainly raises some vital environmental issues for the people of Louisiana.

After the documentary we drove over the Pontchartrain Causeway. I have already said previously that the Americans do some things really well and their engineering feats with bridges down in the south is awe-inspiring.

The Pontchartrain Causeway crosses Lake Pontchartrain from north to south and is about 23.5 miles long!!!! And given that there is no rock on which to sit the footings of the bridge this is an amazing feat!

From the Causeway we headed back to our RV park but did a detour into the Fontainebleu State Park! Who would have thought that such a little detour would result in such an amazing experience?!!!

We went into the park centre and had a look around and spotted an alligator in an aquarium. We got to talking to the ranger about him and he took him out and was standing holding him when he asked if I wanted to hold him!!!! And of course I said no!!! NOT! So he told me how to hold him and then I got him! Did you know that under an alligator's bottom jaw is the softest spot and even an adult gator keeps that really soft spot? It was just brilliant and Steven the ranger was excellent, until he tapped the gator on the end of its snout and I nearly lost it! Seriously though, Steven was probably one of the best rangers we have come across. He took us for a walk (with him carrying a telescope) to show us a Brown Eared Owl sitting on a nest in a dead Live Oak tree! You can see by the photos it was difficult to get a clear photo. Thank you Steven, you were awesome!




Thursday morning we said goodbye to Judy and Pete - AGAIN! But we know that we will meet up with them again in Alabama so it is really only, see you later!

Karen, Rick, Norm and I decided to have an easy day of it so we took a drive down to Venice which is one of the southern most tips of Louisiana. The land use down this peninsula was very varied. It included - cattle farming, oil refinery, orchards, vegetable gardens, shipping along the levy and of course the fishing. It was interesting but not very exciting but as we wanted a quiet day I guess I can't complain.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Louisiana but it is time to move on again so we headed for Mississippi. Karen and Rick are heading back to Texas so we wish them a sad farewell but know that somewhere, sometime we will meet again soon. Take care you guys - we have had a wonderful time and we will miss you both.

Not to get too philosophical but we are leaving NO just before Mardi Gras and while we are going to miss it I have come to the understanding that while we are going to miss things if we move, if we don't move we will miss things up ahead! I hope that makes sense to y'all!

On advice from Pete we stopped off at the Mississippi Welcome Centre and were just so pleased we did. The Centre is decorated in Mardi Gras colours with some gorgeous outfits.

Also at the Welcome Centre is the Stennis Launch Pad. This is the jump off point for a tour of the NASA Stennis Space Centre. This is the testing area for all the engines that are used in the space program. We had a great time and it was really interesting to see all the test towers and the museum. Check out the very different type of photo of Norm and I in the museum. Good for a giggle!

We took the scenic route along the Gulf Coast from the Welcome Centre to the RV park which was a bit of an eye opener. White sandy beaches (reminded me of home!), beautiful new homes overlooking the water and many vacant blocks for sale with sometimes nothing left or only a concrete pad left to indicate that pre-Katrina there were houses there. Apparently some insurance companies are refusing to provide hurricane cover, so many people can no longer afford to rebuild their homes. When I commented to one local that Gulfport, Mississippi seemed to have been more successful in the cleanup after Katrina than NO he replied that NO suffered most of their damage as a result of the levies being broken and the town being flooded. Gulfport on the other hand was hit by the hurricane and a 30ft wall of water that flooded the town, destroying so much in its wake and then receded, taking much of the debris with it out into the Gulf. He explained that bulldozers piled much of the rubbish into piles for burning and what couldn't be burnt was then removed, so the cleanup was relatively easy. There is still evidence of the damage with some buildings still boarded up and fenced off.

We went for a drive along the beach on Sunday and made a stop at an interesting site. We couldn't figure out what it was until another local explained that it had been a pretty exclusive casino with a marina full of cruisers and sailing boats. And what is left - nothing but some paving and a lighthouse. It is impossible to imagine the forces of nature that could cause such devastation unless you have lived through it.

As I type this, I know that perhaps the strongest cyclone in Australia's history is currently threatening Queensland and my heart goes out to everyone who is there or who has family or friends being threatened. As if Queenslanders haven't had enough problems with the recent floods now they are under a new threat. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.

We only have a short stay in Mississippi as we are heading to Alabama on Monday. This is where we will again catch up (literally) to Pete and Judy at the Escapees Park in Summerdale.

Wow, it is only Tuesday and I have nearly finished this week's blog. Wonders will never cease! Just have to put up some photos and I will be done.

Please take care of you and yours our dear family and friends. You are always in our thoughts and prayers.

Until next week - adieu.

Our love and hugs to everyone.