The SPAM Museum and summer fun!

Well, we’ve spent the last three weeks hanging out in Forest City, Iowa waiting for repairs to our coach.  Arriving just before the July 4th holiday meant that we would have to wait with about 30 other coach owners for our turn and hope that somehow we would get in before all the employees left on holiday.

We watched our name move up on the waiting list, but unfortunately it did not move up fast enough.  We were going to be living in the Winnebago parking lot for the holiday weekend.  And maybe quite a bit longer…

So what to do?

Dave busied himself with repairs that he could do on his own.  Someone’s big butt broke the bed.  That person shall remain nameless.

With the parts department right across the parking lot, things were quite convenient.

I did a bunch of Face Timing with my little granddaughter…

And a bunch of wash…

And we both drove down to Clear Lake to catch the Fourth of July parade.  It was a beautiful day for a parade and a perfect way to make the best of our current situation.

So I did a bit of research to see what else is in the area.  I mean, you can’t go to Iowa without checking out the sites, right?  And about an hour north, just past the Minnesota state line, was something that we definitely needed to see.

The SPAM Museum!

Yes, SPAM is the undisputed king of mystery meat. Made of pig parts and secret spices, cooked in its own cans right on the assembly line, SPAM is an American institution!  And SPAM has its own museum right in Austin, Minnesota.

As you walk into the museum, you are met by a towering wall of SPAM, rising to the ceiling in the lobby.   Very impressive for mystery meat.

SPAM is made by the Hormel company, whose headquarters is also in Austin.  Spam was introduced by Hormel in 1937. At the time it was introduced, it was the only canned meat product on the market that needed no refrigeration.  That made it quite popular during World War II as a staple for the soldiers.

In the museum, you can find displays of vintage cans.  Did you know that Dinty Moore stew was created simply as a way to fill 500,000 empty cans?

A small theater, its doors shaped like the face of a grinning pig, screens a 15 minute SPAM video.

Or you can do what we did and read all the displays.  Lots of great old photos and anything and everything you ever wanted to know about SPAM.

The SPAM museum also has another claim to fame: It’s apparently a great place to get married! On April 25th, 2017, Mark Benson (who legally changed his name to Mark “I Love SPAM” Benson) married Ann Mousley at the SPAM Museum. They traveled all the way from Liverpool, UK to live out their dream wedding.

And I thought I was a bit strange.

Of course, we had to stock up on many flavors of SPAM.  We found them in the gift shop along with most any kind of SPAM souvenir that you could think of.

If you get a chance to get to Austin, Minnesota, be sure to check out the SPAM museum.  Admission is totally free.  And the SPAM, well it is worth the visit.

And finally the coach is repaired!  We are a bunch of happy campers!  We hit the road a few days ago, and are now heading to our job in Boston/Cape Cod.

Stay tuned for lots more!  Who knows.  Maybe they have weird food museums in New England too.

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Winnebago Factory Tour- Forest City, Iowa

We arrived in Forest City, Iowa earlier this week.  Yep, it was a thousand mile detour.  But our coach is broken and we need it fixed, and we are smack in the middle of rv camping season.  So, we are rolling with the punches.

Having never been to Iowa before, we were pleasantly surprised by how beautiful it was.  Fields and fields of corn and soybeans as far as you can see, dotted by pretty lakes here and there.

And in north central Iowa sits the birthplace of our coach.  Forest City, Iowa is the home of Winnebago Industries.

We found customer service located on the perimeter of several football fields worth of buildings.  We were put on a waiting list and directed to park our coach in one of the many electric sites that they offered across the street at their visitors center.

So now we are parked and waiting patiently for our turn along with about 40 other individuals and their Winnebago coaches.

What to do?  Well, we will take the time to enjoy the area.  We will more than likely be here through the holiday and we will make the best of it.

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We will start with a tour of the factory!  Yep, Winnebago offers free tours of the factory twice a day.  A great chance to see how these things are actually put together.

You can also check out the Winnebago Museum which is located in the upper level of the Visitors’ Center.  The museum chronicles the Company’s 57-year history, as well as the design and construction of the Company’s motorhomes.

I loved this hand crocheted emblem on display there.  It is the size of a large tablecloth.

Winnebago’s History

The company was founded by Forest City businessman John K. Hanson in February 1958. At the time, the town, located in Winnebago County, Iowa, was not doing well.  Winnebago Industries soon became one of the biggest employers in Forest City.

Winnebago Factory Tour

The tour starts at the Winnebago Visitors’ Center with a 20-minute video that offers a preview of the manufacturing process.  The film was very interesting and gave us an idea of some of the things we would see first hand on the tour.

We were then given safety vests, safety glasses and ear plugs for the tour.  A small bus and tour guide would take us in.  As for photos, we were told that none were allowed within the plant.

So.. I contacted Connie at Midwest Wanderer.  Connie took the tour back in 2010 when photos were allowed.  She has given me permission to post the photos below from her site.

Our first stop was the Stitchcraft facility that builds quality chairs, window valances, sofas and other innovative furniture pieces made specifically for Winnebago products.

One thing we noted early on was that the vast majority of the parts to our coach were manufactured here right in these buildings.  Winnebago is definitely made in America.

In 1966 the first motor home rolled off the Winnebago Industries assembly lines.  The brand name has since become synonymous with “motor home” and is often used for any RV even if it isn’t an actual Winnebago.

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Here you see one of the assembly lines.  They are installing flooring.  the coaches are sitting on a conveyer belt which travels very slowly, giving the workers time to complete their particular jobs before the next coach arrives on the belt.

One fun thing to watch was how they filled the cushions and other “stuffed” items.  This machine sucks all the air out of the foam until it is just a tiny piece of it’s former self.  The cushion cover is then put over it, and the air is let back in.

We were able to do walk-in tours of three buildings: the Chassis Weld facility, where the raw chassis is prepared to become a home on wheels with the front cab and basement storage added; the Stitchcraft facility, and the main production building named Big Bertha.

Equivalent in size to eight football fields, Big Bertha features three production lines.  From our birds eye view above on the catwalk, we could observe the final construction of many different style coaches.

If you get a chance to get to northern Iowa, be sure to check out the Winnebago Factory Tour.  It is quite fascinating and left us very impressed with the basic quality of our product.

Oh, and you don’t have to own a motorhome to go on the tour!

We will be here in Iowa a bit until our slide is repaired.  In the meantime, we are going to check out the place.  There are lots to see and do here.  Stay tuned…I hear they have a SPAM museum.  I certainly can’t miss that.

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Full Time RV Living- The Highs and Lows

Three days ago, we hit the road heading to our next destination, Boston/Cape Cod, MA.  It was a rainy day in Atlanta and was going to prove to be a rainy trip to our first stop in Gaffney, SC.  But we were headed out ahead of the tropical storm that would hit the gulf coast the next day.

Upon our arrival in South Carolina,  we discovered that the full wall slide will not go out. Apparently the motor has broken (for the second time in two years). This means that our roughly 400 square foot motorhome is now about half that size.  

Then I dropped an entire glass jar of pickles on the floor resulting in pickles and broken glass everywhere.  The final straw? We forgot Ralph’s insulin in Atlanta. 

We had to unhook the car (did I mention it is pouring rain?), go to Walmart for the insulin and then spend the evening trying to make my coach floor unsticky.

And to think we left this sweet thing to deal with faulty equipment, pickle juice and rainy Walmart runs.

This is our second issue with the slide mechanism on this coach.  Winnebago is aware of the problem.  Apparently the motor which operates the slide is too small for the weight of the full wall slide.  They have solution.  Which means a trip to Iowa to the Winnebago Industries facility.

So there you go.  Plans are changed instantly.  As full timers, we are getting used to the highs and lows of this lifestyle.  With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a list of those highs and lows in order to put this past experience into perspective.  I mean, at least we aren’t stranded on the side of the road, right?  (Knock on wood).

Let’s Start with the Lows

Broken Finger

living full time in a rvThis little incident that happened at our first campground of residence in Bar Harbor, ME.  Word to the wise, don’t wrap the leashes around your finger while walking the dogs.  You see, an errant squirrel can cause quite a bit of havoc.  One little 20 pound dog totally broke my finger.

Medical insurance is not what it used to be.  We are currently on Obamacare and with the latest changes and the fact that we have next to no selection for healthcare, we are limited to seeing only doctors in our home of record- Atlanta, GA.  That doesn’t help us much when we are dealing with a broken finger in Maine.

We ended up paying for this injury in full.  On the bright side, I have to say that the folks at the hospital in Ellsworth are amazingly friendly.

Bad Employment Experiences

two guns ghost town in arizona

With any job you have to expect that you are not going to get along with everyone.  There will be things you don’t particularly want to do.  There will be days that you won’t want to go to work and days where everything seems to go wrong.

More often than not, those experiences are balanced by good experiences, people that you love to work with, great employers, and beautiful places to work.

We have been lucky in the fact that in the two years that we have been on the road, we have only experienced one place that made us regret our decision to work there.  But I have to say that we learned a whole lot from that experience.

Pet Illness


Our dog Ralph has been through the ringer this past year.  In early 2016, he was diagnosed with bladder stones and diabetes.  He had surgery to remove the stones and then was put on insulin twice a day.

Learning to give him shots was pretty traumatic for both of us.  And getting his diabetes under control was a whole other issue.  It wasn’t long before he went blind.

After much thought, we opted for eye surgery to remove his cataracts.  It took months of recovery and a huge dent in our wallet, but Ralph can now see again, and his diabetes is under control.

Click here for a look at the Highs from the past two years

Taking a break in Georgia

It has been family time in Georgia for the past three months.  I cannot believe that time has passed so quickly.  When we showed up here at the end of March, there weren’t even leaves on the trees.

Now we are in mid summer.  The coach has been parked in my daughter’s driveway snug as a bug, waiting for us to take on our next adventure.  But I have to say that this adventure here has been exciting also!

I mean, just look at the nice backyard that we have gotten to enjoy this summer!

My daughter was concerned that we would have a bit of trouble getting used to living in a regular home for a few months.  So, they prepared a nice little apartment in the basement of their home for us.  We have been quite comfortable here.

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We have the coach right nearby if we need anything, and are able to plug the refrigerator into an outside outlet.  A perfect spot for a few months visit.

Of course, this post will be peppered with baby photos.  The main reason for our visit was our new granddaughter, Esme.  She was born on April 20.

Being grandparents has been a wonderful experience.  Esme is good-natured (with the exception of the occasional evening tantrum), and such a beautiful little girl.

We will miss her so much when we hit the road again.  Life changes sometimes make for even more life changes.  We will roll with it and be visiting Georgia much more often than we have in the past couple of years.

The great thing about our lifestyle is that we are (for the most part), free to decide where and when we will be living.

So what have we been doing these past three months besides loving on that baby?

Well, of course we needed to check out some of our local favorite places to eat.  I mean, you gotta eat, right?  There is nothing better on a hot Georgia day than a raspberry chocolate chip shake from Steak ‘N Shake.

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Bat Central: Carlsbad Caverns

We left Tucson in mid March and headed back to our hometown in Georgia for the birth of our granddaughter.  On the way, we tried to take the time to visit some great places.  Our last stop in New Mexico was Carlsbad Caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in southeastern New Mexico. The primary attraction of the park is the show cave, Carlsbad Cavern, oh, and the bats.

Personally, I’m not a fan of caves.  I have claustrophobia and the thought of being hundreds of feet below ground makes my teeth hurt.

But Dave wanted to see this particular cavern because he had heard so much about it.  And we certainly couldn’t just drive right by without taking a look.

The entrance includes a large visitor center building that contains a cafeteria, interesting museum, gift shop, and two elevators that can take you down to the caverns below. 

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It is at this point that you have to make the big decision.  Do you want to hike down into the cavern on your own, or take the easy way out and grab the elevator?

We chose to hike down.  After all, how difficult could it be?  The ranger said that it would take several hours to hike the four mile path down into the caverns.  We would end up being 75 stories below ground.

At the entrance to the cave is a huge amphitheater, created for crowds to watch the evening show of up to 300,000 Mexican Free-tail bats as they emerge from the cave in a huge cloud of blackness.

Yes, seriously.  There were bats.

The path zig-zags down into the darkness below.  Ready for our new adventure, we started the hike.  Carlsbad Cavern is the fifth largest cavern in North America and the twenty-eighth largest in the world.  And as long as the bats minded their own businesses, we would be perfectly happy to take in the views!

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As we descended into the cave, it was amazing to look up at the pathway that we had already traveled.  The descent is steep, and honestly if you have bad knees, I wouldn’t recommend it.

It is a steady downward descent for 75 stories.  Craziness.

This passageway continues into narrower tunnels where the first extensive collections of stalagmites and stalactites are found, including named features such as Devils Spring, Queen’s Chamber, Kings Palace and the Boneyard.

Note that I am now carrying my jacket.  It is surprisingly humid in the caves.  I believe it was around 90%.  And warm.

The surroundings become steadily more scenic, with small side-caves filled with intricate rock forms.

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We stopped often to take photos and small breaks from the walk down. Unlike many caverns that I have visited, Carlsbad was not brightly lit with different colors.  They maintained the natural look with low lighting.

The lighting was just enough to enjoy the amazing scenery.  Once reaching the bottom of the shaft, you enter the huge Big Room.  It is here that you can further explore, visit an underground gift shop, and then make the next big decision.

Do you want to climb all the way back out or take the elevator up?

We chose the elevator.  You can feel free to call me a wimp.  LOL!  As for the caverns themselves, I highly recommend a visit!  Amazing rock formations, lots of history, and tons of bats!  You can’t go wrong there!

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A visit to White Sands National Monument

Well, lets backtrack a bit.  I want to tell you a bit about the sites that we were able to visit on our way from Tucson to Atlanta.  We took about three weeks to cross the country, which gave us time to do a few tourist things.  Our first major stop was the little town of Alamogordo, NM and White Sands National Monument.

Crossing into New Mexico from Arizona, we were not sure what to expect.  Arizona had been a big surprise.  Where we had expected nothing but desert, we found mountains, forests and amazing things to see and do.  New Mexico just might surprise us too!

White Sands National Monument is a unique experience.  There’s really no other place like it on the planet.  It’s the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, with miles and miles of stunning white landscape.

Surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides, the basin of white sand dunes is roughly 275 square miles.

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Driving into the park, you follow a road that increasing becomes packed sand.  With the constant movement of the dunes, this roadway needs to be plowed daily and driving along it, reminds me of a freshly plowed snow covered road.

Gypsum rarely occurs as sand because it is water-soluble. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it to the sea. Because this particular basin has no outlet to the sea, it traps dissolved gypsum from the surrounding mountains.  As the water sinks into the ground, it leaves crystals of gypsum.

It is hard in photos to give perspective of the size of this place.  In the photo above, Dave and I are standing on a dune looking down at our car below.

An interesting note:  White Sands National Monument is surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range, a military testing area for the U.S. Army.  Most of the dune field lies within that missile range. The world’s first atomic bomb was detonated at the Trinity test site in the missile range, just 65 miles north of White Sands National Monument in 1945.

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Because the park lies completely within the White Sands Missile Range, both the park and U.S. Route 70 between Las Cruces, New Mexico and Alamogordo are subject to closure for safety reasons when tests are conducted on the missile range.

Miles and miles of white sand.  But unlike actual quartz based sand crystals, gypsum does not get hot under the summer sun.  In fact, the dunes are great for downhill sledding along with hiking.  Just be sure that you follow the signs and bring plenty of water.

The desert can be a beautiful, yet deadly place.

High in the clouds: Cloudcroft, NM

Now lets take a look at where all that gypsum comes from!  Just a short drive in the other direction from Alamogordo, high up in the mountain range is the town of Cloudcroft.  Located at 8,600 feet above sea level, Cloudcroft is one the highest towns in the US.

Following the winding road to the top takes about 30 minutes, with lots of places to pull over and enjoy the vistas.  In the photo above, you can see White Sands National Monument in the distance.  The rock that Dave has his foot on is gypsum.  Here is where White Sands begins.

Back in the early 1900’s, Cloudcroft was a major tourist destination.  Due to the altitude, it was the perfect place to get away from the desert heat.  A rail line was created to bring those tourist up from Alamogordo.

Climbing from the valley into the mountains required numerous trestles, switchbacks and grades as steep as 6.4 percent.

With the arrival of US Route 82 to Cloudcroft around 1945, traffic on the railroad line diminished. Southern Pacific discontinued passenger service in 1938, and freight service in 1947; abandonment of the line came soon after in 1948.

The only evidence of the railroad line today is the remains of the trestle over Mexican Canyon, as seen above.

Our visit to New Mexico had just begun.  Our next stop along the way east would be Carlsbad Caverns.  We heard they had bats.  Can’t miss that!

Stay tuned!

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Back home to Atlanta and a new grandbaby!

We left Tucson in mid March and headed back to Atlanta, GA.  The main reason?  Well, we were expecting the arrival of our first grandchild!  Our trek to Atlanta took us through some great stops and I will definitely take the time to share them with you here over the next few weeks.

When we travel long distances, we like to go with the 3-3-3 Rule.  Basically, it means no more than 3 hours of driving per day; or 300 miles per day; or arrival at a campground no later than 3:00 PM.  Following one of those options each day means that Dave doesn’t get too tired and at the same time, we both get to enjoy the sights along the way.

So the route home to Atlanta took about three weeks, and included stops in Alamogordo, NM; Carlsbad, NM; Galveston, TX; Mobile, AL; and Martin Lake, AL.  Stay tuned for more posts about the sites that we visited along the way!

We parked our coach in my daughter’s driveway and began baby watch.  Meet our daughter, Amanda and her husband, Daniel.  This photo was taken about a week before Esme was born.

Our daughter went into labor on Wednesday and it was wonderful to be there with her for this amazing experience.

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Esmeralda was born on April 20, 2017 at 8:35 AM after a long sleepless night.  She weighed 6 lbs. 1 oz. A beautiful perfect little baby girl!

She looks like a little doll, doesn’t she?  Me?  Well, I look like I’ve been up all night.  But it wasn’t nearly as exhausting for me as her mom!

Baby Esme is a beautiful addition to our family!  She is the first grandchild on my family’s side, and the first girl grandchild on Daniels family’s side.

Did I mention before how excited we are to be here?  That is one of the best advantages of full time RVing!

We will be in Atlanta until around the end of June when we will start our next campground job.  I am currently working on making that one official and will let you know as soon as we have something on paper.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the Atlanta area, our wonderful family and our beautiful granddaughter!

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The Science of Tucson

We are currently on our way back across the country to spend a bit of time with my daughter and her family in Atlanta.  In the meantime, I wanted to finish up talking about the Tucson area with one final post.

There is so much to see and do in this beautiful area of the country.   Earlier we covered the amazing Biosphere 2.  This week I wanted to talk a little about Pima Air and Space Museum, the huge aircraft boneyard, Titan Missile Museum and the amazing Kitt Peak National Observatory.  All are within a short driving distance of downtown Tucson!

Kitt Peak National Observatory

For those that love the science of observing the stars or those that just love a fantastic scenic view, a drive to Kitt Peak National Observatory is something you should not miss!

Kitt Peak Observatory includes 24 optical and two radio telescopes, and is the largest, most diverse group of astronomical instruments in the world.  It sits at 6875 feet above sea level overlooking the beautiful Sonoran Desert.

And talk about an amazing view!  The drive from Tucson is a little over an hour and the road up the mountain includes lots of switchbacks and a bit of steepness.  But it is very worth the drive.

Kitt Peak was chosen because of it’s high percentage of clear weather, low levels of humidity, and the fact that there is very little light pollution in the area.  A perfect place for an observatory!

One of the most interesting structures was the McMath-Pierce telescope.  It includes a tower nearly 100 feet high, and a shaft that slants two hundred feet into the ground.  The purpose?  McMath-Pierce telescope is used to study the sun!

The McMath-Pierce is used to study the structure of sunspots, as well as sunspot spectra. A sunspot is a temporary cool region in the sun’s photosphere.   This telescope makes it possible to look directly at the sun.

Kitt Peak is also famous for hosting the first telescope used to search for near-Earth asteroids, and calculating the probability of an impact with planet Earth.

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Local Secrets of Tucson

Yesterday, we left Tucson and are currently heading east towards Atlanta.  We plan on making a slow trek back.  Our daughter is due to have our first grandchild soon and we would love to be there for that.

It was an unplanned exit, as we had intended on staying in Tucson until April 1.  Unfortunately, our job there did not work out.  I will go into it more at a later date.  Things are too fresh right now and Dave and I are planning on decompressing a bit as we head back across the country.

In the meantime, I would love to share with you a few of the local secrets of Tucson.  We truly loved the area, and will go back one day.   Arizona was home to us.

Unique Local Food of Tucson

As with most southwestern towns, Tucson has a large abundance of Mexican restaurants.  We tried as many as we could while we were in the area.  All were good and each had their own unique flair.

Guadalajara Restaurant offered the unique aspect of making your salsa for you at your table.  Not only was it fun to watch, but your salsa was made to our own specifications.

Want it extra hot?  No problem!

We loved the mariachi band, the festive atmosphere and of course the food!

Sonoran Hotdogs

Our coworkers, Rob and Connie from Circle Pines, spend their winters in Tucson.  They told us not to miss the Sonoran Hotdogs.  In fact, they made a point to take us out to their favorite place to get them.

The best thing about work camping is making lifelong friends.

So, what is a Sonoran hotdog?

It starts with a hotdog wrapped in bacon and grilled until it’s crispy. It is then stuffed into a hand made split-top roll called a bolillo (pronouced boh-lee-yoh). It is topped with pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, grilled and raw onions, mayonnaise, mustard and jalapeño salsa.

It is literally heaven in a bun.

El Güero Canelo, is perhaps the most famous maker of Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson.  Seriously, if you are in the Tucson area, don’t miss out on Sonoran Hotdogs!

Want pizza?  Grimaldi’s is a great place for just that.  Huge is the word.  And tasty too.

Raspados

And finally, we need to get dessert, right?

Raspados is the Mexican version of “scraped ice” or snow cones.  They are made with layers of shaved ice, homemade syrups, fruits, candies , ice cream, and sweetened condensed milk.  While standard flavors like strawberry, banana, plum and pineapple are popular, there are also exotic combinations such as the chamoyada with lime, tamarind candy and spicy chamoy sauce.

Don’t leave Tucson without trying one.  They are amazing!

Sentinel Peak (Also known as “A Mountain”)

From downtown Tucson, you can see the big white “A” on Sentinel Peak located just southwest of the city.  The A is a 160 ft. tall structure made from basalt rock, constructed in the early 1900’s by students from the University of Arizona.

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The secret is that you can actually drive up this mountain, see the A up close and personal and look down at amazing views of downtown Tucson!

The perfect time to check this view out is either a sunrise or a sunset.  Since we don’t love getting up early, we hit it one evening during an amazing sunset.

Touching the A is considered good luck.  So naturally, we did.

And then we enjoyed the sunset over Tucson.  Sentinel Peak was surprisingly busy for the sunset viewing.  Apparently, this is not such a secret after all…

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Mt. Lemmon and life in Tucson

Well, its been a couple of weeks since my last update and life in Tucson is a bit cold (especially at night) and a bit frustrating at times, but I have to say it is a beautiful area to live this time of year.

We really love the fact that we can step right outside our door and pick fresh oranges every day for orange juice.  We are definitely getting our share of vitamin C.

As for the work thing.  Well, it could be better.  I’ve written about work camping before- The Good, the bad and the ugly.   We came to this campground to work in the kitchen.  We thought it would be a nice break from working guest services; a job that we have consistently been doing for the past few years.

However, it seems that working in the kitchen, at least at this campground was not working for us.  We asked to be moved back to customer service and they moved us to the front office a little over a week ago.

So, with that said, we are making the best of our stay here and enjoying the area.  And looking forward to our move onto the next part of the country.  LOL!

Tucson has some pretty amazing sunsets.  This photo was taken from our doorway.   I have to say that it truly is a beautiful place to live.

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This past week, we decided to take advantage of our couple days off and take a drive up to the top of Mt. Lemmon.  From the campground, we can see it rising above the city of Tucson.  This time of year, you can see the snow at the summit.

We wanted to touch some snow.   So off we went.

Mt Lemmon Scenic Byway is the only paved road that leads to the top of Mt. Lemmon and the Santa Catalina Range. It is said to be one of the most scenic drives in southeast Arizona.

Because the road starts in the Lower Sonoran desert and climbs to high forests, it offers the biological equivalent of driving from the deserts of Mexico to the forests of Canada in a short stretch of 27 miles.

Here at the base of the mountain, we were surrounded by Saguaro cactus and desert scenery.  It would change pretty quickly.

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