It’s been a busy season here in Apache Junction and with my new Social Media Director job, and six websites to maintain, I’m afraid I’ve fallen behind here on The Traveling Sitcom. We will be here in Arizona for five more weeks and I hope to catch up on at least the highlights of this beautiful area over the next few weeks.
We are going to start with the amazingly beautiful Apache Trail.
Yes, we are finding the time to explore. After all, that is why we went into full timing in the first place. The Apache Trail and Tortilla Flat were first on our list of must sees. And apparently we liked them because we have driven this route several times now.
Named after the Apache Indians who once used this route, the Apache Trail, or AZ 88 as it is officially known, links Apache Junction with Theodore Roosevelt Lake, traveling through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest.
Known as one of the ten most dangerous roads in Arizona, we had to check it out.
But before we hit the actual trail, we made one stop…
Tortilla Flat was originally a freight camp, home to a small community for years. Only a small part of the town remains, but what’s left is touristy Old West.
The town, population six, is Arizona’s smallest town with a post office as well as a voter’s precinct.
Quite literally, Tortilla Flat is just a wide spot in the road. But we had heard a lot about it from those that visit here every year. We were told to try the hamburgers at the restaurant there. They were supposed to be epic.
Hamburgers, you say? Well, we certainly needed to check that out. I mean sometimes you have to make a few sacrifices in the name of tourism.
Walking into the Superstition Saloon and Restaurant is an adventure in itself. The first thing you see (besides the kitchy saddle barstools) are thousands and thousands of dollar bills on every single wall and ceiling in the place. According to our waiter, over 500,000 in dollar bills.
Interesting enough, this saloon was rebuilt after the 1987 fire which destroyed almost the entire town. At that time, the saloon had been blanketed with dollar bills that burned with the building.
The tradition has lived on.
Okay, I’m sure you are wanting to know about the burger. Yes, it was awesome. We will be back.
The rest of Tortilla Flat consists of an old one-room school house, an ice cream parlor, two gift shops and a post office.
We tried out the Prickly Pear Gelato before we left town. An interesting flavor, similar to strawberry, but not as strong. Not sure I’d get it again, but I can now say I had it.
And now to check out Apache Trail!
Armed with our maps and our sturdy KIA Soul, we ventured onward, determined to get a taste of this road that we had heard so much about. We had pavement for a few miles past Tortilla Flat until we got to mile marker #220.
And then our adventure began.
We passed a scenic lake, took a few photos and at this point were not too intimidated by the road ahead.
And then the hairpin turns and the switchbacks began. Our little KIA climbed and climbed. Rail guards were few and far between and in most instances as we climbed the narrow road, there was nothing between us and the edge of the cliff but a few feet of dusty road.
It may seem a little late to mention this, but your car should be in good working order before taking this trip. This is not an area that you want to break down in. There are also restrictions on size and weight of vehicles on the Apache Trail. It is not recommended for RVs.
Our little KIA was not informed of this ahead of time. We didn’t want it to freak out.
You see, there is no cell phone coverage here, and very little traffic. Which is good in a way because the road is so narrow and every blind corner is an adventure in itself.
But the amazing scenery is worth the journey! Every inch of it. The forty mile route took us about 4 hours. By the time we got to Roosevelt Dam, it was nearly dark. And our KIA was no longer silver. More of a muddy brown.
We have since taken this trip two more times. The Apache Trail is a definite must do if you are in the area. Put aside a day and check it out.
Motorcycling the Desert
Another thing that has been keeping us busy this season is motorcycling with a group from the resort. Turns out there are lots here that have motorcycles and about once a week somebody organizes a ride.
It’s the most use our motorcycle has gotten since we hit the road three years ago.
The desert offers so much to see. I honestly never get tired of looking at the beautiful vistas.
I have lots more to show you and hope to share it over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!
Every year, I like to take stock of the year before, looking at both the good and the bad. As full time travelers, we get lots of questions about our life on the road. This post might answer a few of those questions as we look back on the happenings of 2017.
We get asked a lot if we will ever settle down again in a regular home. At this point in time, we have no plans for that. We have absolutely no regrets. We love our new roaming lifestyle and the fact that as we work-camp across the country, we get to actually experience each area as the locals do.
We have been on the road since the spring of 2015. If you would like to see reviews of our previous years:
The year 2016 brought us our first look at the state of Arizona. We arrived there at the beginning of the summer, with the idea of checking out the Grand Canyon, and then moving on.
Many ask about our financials, so I will go into that a bit, along with a few things we have learned and experienced as we traveled in 2017!
Total Mileage this year
We began 2017 working at the KOA in Tucson, AZ. Our job ended there in mid February. At the time, we didn’t have anything lined up for late summer, but planned on spending time in Atlanta, GA for the birth of our first granddaughter.
So, we took a scenic trip from Tucson to Atlanta.
Our route took us to the White Sands National Monument, and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Both of them are must-sees! We then made our way through Texas with a nice stop in Galveston. Our final destination was my daughter’s home in Douglasville, GA. A total of around 2800 miles.
After the birth of our granddaughter, we managed to line up positions at the Boston Cape Cod KOA starting in July.
Here is where things went wrong.
Due to mechanical issues (that I will talk about later in this post), we ended up in Forest City, Iowa. Above you can see our convoluted route, adding a total of 1600 miles onto our commute.
Once the coach was repaired, we made our way finally to Cape Cod to work out the rest of the summer. We took a week or so on this route and actually enjoyed the scenery. We did a fun stop at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop too. Total mileage on this leg- 1,421 miles.
Our final two legs of the year took us from Boston/Cape Cod to Atlanta- 1200 miles, and then from Atlanta to Apache Junction, AZ- 1765 miles.
That’s a ton of driving in one year! A grand total of 8786 miles! Craziness!
Our favorite campgrounds for 2017
With all the traveling that we did, we stayed at over 30 different campgrounds this past year. Too many to list here. But we want to talk about 4 campgrounds that stood out this year. Our top four…
Our absolute favorite campground of 2017 is a tiny little RV Park in Mobile, Alabama called All About Relaxing RV Park. We only got to stay there one night, but they left such a big impression that both of us named them right off when I started putting together this list.
Check out the welcome chalkboard in front of our site! What a great way to start off! The campground is small with roughly 40 sites, but well laid out, big rig friendly, a nice pool and amazingly nice laundry and bath house.
Perched along Lake Martin in north central Alabama, Wind Creek State Park was another of our favorite places this year! We stayed in a brand new premium section of the park, right on the water. Each site was large, with amazing views! Definitely worth a return trip!
Located along near the beautiful Shenandoah Mountains in northern Virginia, Staunton Walnut Hills KOA has become a regular stop for us. We love the rolling green hills, the country feel and the huge lake! This year marks third stay at this campground!
Finally, we have to mention Waterloo KOA in Iowa. A big beautiful lake, surrounded by fields and fields of corn. We loved the walking trail around the lake and the beautiful setting. This is a definite stop if we end up in Iowa again.
Finances for 2017
The majority of our bills which include RV payment, health insurance, vehicle insurance, phone/internet bill, and all website overhead and taxes are covered by my websites, Suzy’s Sitcom and Daily Holiday Blog.
We use our work camping income to cover our food, gas and spending money.
This year, I was fortunate to take on a job for a group of campgrounds in Arizona who were needing a Social Media Director. I am handling their websites, Facebook pages and newsletters and can do it from my coach wherever we might be. They do require us to be in Arizona during the winter (their busy season). So, it not only gave us another source of income, but a place to park our home in the winter!
Aside from traveling expenses this year, our only other major expense was a new iPad and iPhone for Dave. Seems that after a few years, they seem to have a self destruct button in them. We finished paying off my phone a few months ago, so we are waiting for my button to go off.
I’d say LOL, but not really…
Mechanical and Coach Issues in 2017
Yep, it seems like every single year brings some mechanical issues for the coach, and 2017 was not different. We started out the year with a scheduled maintenance in Atlanta to the tune of $1800. Dave believes in maintenance in order to help avoid major issues.
Failed Full Wall Slide
But major issues can happen anyway. On our trip up to Cape Cod, our full wall slide failed for the second year in a row. After some research, we decided to take the coach to the Winnebago Factory in Forest City, Iowa for the repair. We wanted it done right and we had heard that they had come up with a new fix for this apparently common issue.
We spent about two weeks living in the Winnebago Factory parking lot. We have to say that they were extremely nice, gave us a place to plug in, and were able to fix the slide under extended warranty. The repair included a whole new slide mechanism which we hope is our final solution.
Dave busied himself with repairs that he could do on his own while we were there. 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.
Water leak/Slide Cover Damage
While in Boston/Cape Cod, we experienced our first hurricane while in the coach. It was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it got to us, but hurricane Jose managed to stay around for a couple weeks over the Boston area, giving us lots of rain and wind.
And one morning I woke up to find all the carpet in the coach soaked and wet. We had a leak. As it turned out, a large limb had fallen down and tore the awning over our slide out, revealing the hole for the locking mechanism. And a river of water was coming through that hole onto my carpet.
It took weeks for me to dry out the carpet and several months for Dave to get all the parts he needed to make the repair to the awning. In the meantime, we had to pull the slide in everytime it rained. About $500 later, we now have a new slide awning.
Wiring Problem in the Steps
Driving down from Cape Cod to Atlanta, we stopped at a rest stop to walk the dogs and realized that the steps were out. We were lucky that Dave hadn’t ran them into anything. We could not get them to go in, so Dave had to crawl under the coach and disable them. I handed him my duct tape and we taped the crap out of them.
Climbing in and out of the coach was rather hazardous for a while until we managed a few days later to fix the wiring.
Oh, and now the rear view camera seems to have its good days and its bad days.
There is always something….
New Gadgets for 2017
Affiliate links to Amazon below:
Dave is a fan of gadgets and things that make our life on the road easier. Here are a few that he found and bought this year:
Adjustable Water Pressure Regulator The water pressure in Cape Cod was ridiculously high and they warned us about it when we got there. High water pressure can burst your pipes if you aren’t careful, and we certainly didn’t want any new issues!
We have seen many sights this year and had lots of great adventures. It’s pretty darn hard to narrow it down. Here are a few of the many that stand out this year:
It has been a good year all in all, with lots of great memories!
Looking at 2018
We will be living and working in Apache Junction, AZ until April 1. We are then going to take a trip across the country again to Atlanta to visit with the grand baby for a few weeks. Because we have to have some grand baby time, of course!
We will be working the summer in Polson, MT, right on Flathead lake near the top of the state. So another cross country trip will happen in early May from Atlanta to Montana. We are scheduled to work in Montana until mid September.
After that, things are up in the air and plans are being made.
I know it has been a while since posting and just wanted you all to know that we are still enjoying the RV lifestyle! Our jobs in Cape Cod were pretty strenuous. Working 40 hours per week at a very physical job, keeping my websites up and Etsy shop full, took a toll on me. Something had to go to the wayside.
We have completed our job in Cape Cod and are now on the road headed to our winter destination in Apache Junction, AZ. You can see where we are by clicking here.
So…I wanted to take time to create a few final posts of the Cape Cod area. We actually were able to take a few days off here and there and enjoy the area. And because we were both on diets, it seems that food was on our minds.
We took advantage of the Hungry in Hyannis Tour to not only see a bit of the town of Hyannis, but enjoy some of the great food they had to offer.
Hungry in Hyannis is a walking and eating excursion. The walk is about 2 miles long and takes you to seven different eateries where you sample food along the way. You get insight into the foods, history and culture of the port town of Hyannis.
We met our tour guide at the Brazilian Grill. The Brazilian Grill offers an authentic Brazilian dining experience as they serve you Churrasco a Rodizio, which means “Rotisserie Barbeque.” And the best part? It’s all you can eat!
They offer a wide variety of different cuts of beef, pork, lamb and chicken that are slowly cooked over natural wood to preserve all their natural juices and flavors. Tender morsels are brought to you on skewers and carved at your table.
Our group of ten “foodies” were allowed to sample quite a bit of food before our tour guide moved us along. Frankly, we could have spent the afternoon there.
Our next stop was a short walk down the street to a Peruvian-Italian Kitchen called Tumi Ceviche. They are known for their Peruvian ceviche, housemade pastas and wood burned grill steaks.
Here we sampled the Peruvian Ceviche! The basic ingredient is raw fish, cut into bite-size pieces and marinated in the juice of an acidic fruit (usually lime), salt, and seasonings (usually chili peppers).
The citric acid in the juice changes the texture of the fish, without changing its “raw” taste. Ceviche is an old tradition in South America, dating back to the earliest inhabitants.
I have to say that it is totally not something I would normally order. But it was in fact, delicious!
Here is another little restaurant that we would have missed if we had been off on our own. At Pizza Barbone, they bake their pizza in a beautifully handcrafted oven, which was built from scratch out of rock and ash from Mt. Vesuvius and covered in hand painted glass tiles before being shipped from Naples, Italy.
The oven is so hot that this pizza took only a few minutes to bake. And as pizza experts (after our Pizza and Beer Tour in Boston), we give their pizza an A+! Just wait for it to cool before you take a big bite…
Ocean Street Café & Deli offers a diverse array of Mediterranean and Eastern European food, from Russian crepes and borscht to a salad bar featuring tabouli, stuffed grape leaves, Greek olives, roasted red peppers and lukanta antipasto, a Bulgarian salami.
Here, we tried the Baba Ghanoush. It is a dish consisting of cooked eggplant mixed with tahina (made from sesame seeds), olive oil and various seasonings.
It was quite good! To this day, Dave does not know he ate eggplant. (Let’s keep it to ourselves…)
The bakery is located in an old, historic warehouse in Hyannis, just 1/2 a block south of the east end of Main Street. Upon entering, it’s like inhaling a little piece of heaven!
Here we sampled “Kayak Cookies“. Born as a hearty snack for kayaking trips, they took a classic cookie and give it some depth. Rolled oats add texture, while the raisins and salt combine beautifully to give a perfect blend of sweet and savory.
Our final stop in the Foodie tour took us along the docks in this pretty fishing town.
The Black Cat Harbor Shack is located next to The Black Cat Tavern on beautiful Hyannis Harbor. Here we finished off our tour with a sample of their clam chowder!
We loved the Hungry in Hyannis Tour! It was a great one-on-one experience. They limit the tours to 12 at the max which gives you the opportunity to ask questions, learn the history of the restaurants and the area around them.
Well, we’ve been in the Boston Cape Cod area for about a month now. Life has been busy and with a full time job at the campground, we are still managing to get out once a week to see the area. The beaches are incredibly crowded this time of year and we will have to wait until September to truly check them out.
In the meantime, we decided to get a first hand look at the City of Boston with a fun Boston Pizza and Beer Tour. Because I simply can’t think of too many things better than pizza and beer. What a great way to check out Boston!
According to the locals, the best way to get around Boston is by subway. The rail system through the city is quite extensive and is a great way to avoid traffic, honking cars and irate drivers.
It may be my imagination, but it seems like everyone here is a very aggressive driver. Stop signs are just suggestions, cross walks mean take your life in your hands, and they just love to honk horns.
So with that in mind, we took the red line into Boston. Our destination was North Boston, the oldest part of the city. Parking at the subway station was just $7 for the day and two round tip tickets was about $11.
Our destination? The North End!
The North End, Boston’s oldest neighborhood, was settled in 1630. It is also known as Little Italy, and Italian is still spoken in the streets. Visitors flock to the North End largely to eat. Within the 1 square mile of The North End, there are around 100 restaurants and bakeries to choose from.
There was a huge Farmers Market which made me instantly wish I had brought the car rather than taken the subway. Prices were amazing and the fruits and vegetables were beautiful.
We would definitely be back another time with the car.
We were told to check out Bova Bakery. And of course had to buy a couple of Cannolis. I mean, how can you walk by a bakery and not stop?
Bova Bakery is actually open 24 hours, so if you get a hankering for a Cannoli or baked good in the middle of the night, they have your back.
The North End was beautiful. Not only was there lots of historic buildings to see, but a new park with fountains and a carousel.
After looking around a bit, we met up with our guide for the Pizza and Beer Tour.
The Boston Pizza and Beer Tour is a walking tour that takes you through the North End, Charlestown Navy Yard and the Blackstone block.
On the tour, we would get to eat pizza at three different pizza places and stop at three different historic taverns. A scenic ferry ride across the harbor is also included. The walk would be about 4 miles long, and our guide, Nicole, would fill us in along the way on local history and fun facts.
We spent the past few weeks on an unscheduled trip to Forest City, Iowa and the manufacturing facility of Winnebego. While Iowa was cool and all, we were excited to be back on the road in a fully working coach again.
After contacting our new employer at the KOA in Boston/Cape Cod, and given the go-ahead, we were on the road again heading to our end of summer job in New England.
But we had to make one final stop before we left the state of Iowa. You see, on the eastern edge of Iowa, not far from the Mississippi River, is the World’s Largest Truckstop! We had seen it featured on several travel shows and we certainly couldn’t drive right by it without checking it out!
The Iowa 80 Truckstop, established in 1964, features eight restaurants, a convenience store, gift store, Super Truck Showroom, barber shop, chiropractor, dentist, movie theater, workout room, laundry facilities, gas islands, diesel fuel center, truck service center, Truckomat truck wash, Dogomat pet wash, CAT Scale, 24- private showers, trucking museum and more!
Yep. It’s a small city in one truck stop!
The truck stop itself is set on 220 acres, which is four times larger than the average truck stop. They receive nearly 5,000 visitors daily in the main building, have parking for 900 trucks, and 150 fuel pumps.
And the store is simply Disney Land for truckers and those that love the industry! You name it, they had it.
Need a back massage? They have a Chiropractor for that! Tooth hurts? There is a Dentist on call! Doggies dirty? Step up to the Dog-O-Mat!
Need a cup that is bigger than your head? They totally have your back!
Don’t miss the chance to check out the Iowa80 Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa. It is well worth the time. Craziness!
In Indiana and Pennsylvania, we traveled through quite a bit of Amish Country. This gentleman in the photo above was driving into work. He apparently worked at the KOA that we were staying at in Mercer/Grove City Pennsylvania!
We are huge fans of Amish cooking. It’s pretty amazing. So, of course we stocked up. Those packages of noodles? Well they were made in Middlebury, Indiana. There were several noodle factories, run by the Amish, right nearby!
Soon, our trip took us to our final destination!
This will be our spot for the next several months at the Boston/Cape Cod KOA. We will be here until just past Columbus Day weekend, as work campers.
We love our tiny spot tucked into the woods!
And finally we can add a little cash to our suffering checkbook!
Our new jobs are in housekeeping!
Dave has always done the laundry, so I used to pride myself in saying that I haven’t done laundry in 25 years. That is no longer something that I can say. LOL!
Stay tuned for lots of great photos and sights to see in the Boston Cape Cod area! We are so excited to finally make it here!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.