Tag Archives: family fun

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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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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Only in Arizona- The Tumbleweed Christmas Tree!

Yes, at first glance it looks like a normal Christmas tree in the center of town.  But Chandler, Arizona creates something unique and beautiful each year.  Something that you can find nowhere else in the country…

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This beautiful tree is made up of thousands of tumbleweeds!

Yes, thousands of them!  It takes around 1,000 of these tumbling dead bushes to create the massive 30″ tall tree each year.

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Local tradition holds that Chandler’s Tumbleweed Tree was the brainchild of Earle Barnum.  He came up with the idea for the tumbleweed tree after seeing a tree built with local pine boughs in his hometown in Indiana.

How do they make a Tumbleweed Tree?

Starting in the fall, the tumbleweeds are gathered and then placed around a chicken wire frame.  They are then sprayed with flame retardant white paint, sprinkled with over 65 pounds of glitter, and strung with lights.

This wonderfully unique tradition has been carried on for over 60 years in the town of Chandler.

Of course, once we heard about it, we had to see it!

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There was lots to see and do in the town area surrounding the Tumbleweed Tree including great little shops and restaurants.  Naturally, we had to try out one of the restaurants.

The sacrifices we make for this website.  LOL!

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We decided to check out Crust Restaurant, a local Italian eatery.  From inside, we could watch the tree as darkness began to fall and the lights were lit.

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We had some amazing pasta dishes at Crust.  We enjoyed a fresh board of Tomato, Basil and Parmesan Bruschetta, along with our main course of Grandma’s Pasta- a yummy mix of pasta, meatballs, sausage, ricotta and marinara!

Definitely worth a return visit!

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And as darkness fell, the Tumbleweed Tree grew even more beautiful!

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We really enjoyed the lights in the square.

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After all, it is pretty hard to decorate an RV.   The lights in the streets were amazing.

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This is our second Christmas living full time in our coach.  And one of the things I love about that is that we can experience Christmas just a bit differently each year.

Last year, we were on the beaches of Florida, and this year we are enjoying a Tumbleweed Christmas tree!

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And back at the campground, the doggies are settling in just fine.  Faith and Ralph have decided that the campground was pretty nice about supplying them with an official “doggie sidewalk”.

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We brought a few more of the old traditions back to our coach including whipping up a big batch of Old Fashioned Potato Candy.  (You can find the full recipe on my other website, Suzy’s Sitcom).

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Faith and Ralph (and both of us) wish you all an amazing, happy and healthy holiday season!

Next week, I plan on doing a review of our past year on the road!  Stay tuned!

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Leaving Circle Pines and heading to new Adventures!

We have been on the road now about a year and a half.  And the adventure has just begun.  Selling the house and nearly everything that we owned was difficult.  Leaving our friends and family behind was too.   But I have to tell you that we have absolutely no regrets.

Life on the road is everything we thought it would be.

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We often are asked how we can support ourselves on the road and I have to say that fortunately for us, we are able to handle most of our bills with income from my websites.

However, we do need a buffer.  And that is where KOA has come in.  We are doing seasonal work at various campgrounds in order to supplement our income while we see the country.

Last week we left Circle Pines KOA in Williams, AZ and I have to say that it was a sad farewell.  We not only loved this surprisingly beautiful area of the country, but made a bunch of new friends in the process that we definitely will miss.

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And we absolutely loved working for Bruce and Lori.  They made campground work an adventure.

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Our cool shady spot underneath the tall pines is now just a memory.  I would have loved to stay through the winter, but our coach does not love cold weather.  So it is onto to warmer regions.

We are currently at Lake Havasu for a brief vacation and then moving onto our winter job in Tucson, AZ.

But as I like to do, I’ve created a video of our memories from this beautiful campground on the high plains of Arizona.

Next week as a final chapter, I will be posting the top 10 Things to do in Williams, AZ.

Want more videos?

If you would like to see a bit about the parts of the country that we have visited so far, you can see our other videos here:

Our Season working at the St. Petersburg KOA

A Compilation Video of our Summer at Bar Harbor!

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Local Secrets of Northern Arizona!

Work camping jobs are normally around six months long.  One of the things we love about being able to stay in an area for a while is the fact that eventually, we get to check out some of the things that the locals know about, but the average tourist never gets to experience.

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Here are three of our favorite “local secrets” that we have enjoyed over the past few months…

Bill Williams Mountain

The tiny town of Williams is surrounded by beautiful mountain peaks.  These are part of the San Francisco volcanic field.  Now dormant, these beautiful peaks used to be active volcanos!

Bill Williams Mountain is the tallest of those peaks surrounding Williams and is named after Old Bill Williams, a scout, guide and mountain man who lived in the 1800s.

We heard that there was a dirt road available to get to the top.  At 9,256 feet above sea level at the peak, it was sure to be an amazing view.  So we set out to find it!

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Instructions to get to this local secret are as follows:

Take 4th street out of town toward Dogtown lake.  Go 4.7 miles from downtown and turn at the first dirt road on the right, just after the speed limit drops to 35 miles per hour.

Yep, it isn’t marked very well.  Hence the local secret, right?

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Warning- do not try to take this road in inclement weather, right after a rain, or in a vehicle that sits very low to the ground.

It is a total of 6.9 miles from the main road to the top of the mountain.  The road is in relatively good shape, but is steep and full of many switch backs and hairpin turns.

Oh, and there is no guard rail.

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The view is well worth it.  Our little KIA “I-think-I-canned” the whole way up.  We were glad we traded the VW bug in.  It sat so low to the ground that it never would have made it.

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At the very top of the mountain you will find a large antenna farm.  We were careful to respect any no trespassing signs as we took in the view from the top.

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Here we were at 9,256 feet above sea level and we could literally see for miles!

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Want to go a little higher?  Well, there is a fire tower on the top of the mountain too!

Dave refused to climb it, but I decided to brave it and climbed about half way up.

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From there I had an amazing, unblocked view of all directions.  Down below I was able to make out the campground.

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Fall is in the air this time of year and the journey to the top of Bill Williams Mountain was full of beautiful photo opportunities.

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The ride to the top and back down is full of beautiful scenery and definitely worth the effort.  For those that enjoy a good strenuous hike, there are some great trails that also go to the top of this mountain.  Just be aware of changing weather, and local wildlife.

And true to most local secrets, we didn’t run into a single person the entire trip.  I love these kind of secrets!

Click here for secret #2!

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Wild Arizona- Bearizona and Grand Canyon Deer Farm

One of the perks of working for KOA campgrounds is that often we are given free tickets to check out local attractions.  This helps us to better recommend these attractions to our campers.  That being said, we decided to take advantage of this perk and visited two animal parks within a few miles of the campground.

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Bearizona Drive-Thru Wildlife Park

Bearizona was our first stop.  Located in the town of Williams, approximately three miles from the campground, It is a must see for children and animal lovers alike.

Bearizona does not want to be known strictly as a zoo.  It is a drive-through wildlife park where visitors can get up close and personal with some amazingly beautiful and wild animals.

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Yep, up close and personal with wild bears!

For a $20 admission for adults and $10 for children, you can actually drive your own vehicle along a three mile gravel road to see bears, wolves, buffalo, deer, elk and other wild animals right up next to your car!

The question we get asked the most is do you really see lots of bears there?  Up close and in your face?

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Um…yes.

There are many, many bears there.  In fact, the park asks that as you drive through the bear exhibit, you do not stop your car.

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You see, the bears love to climb and have been known to not only climb on top of vehicles, but take their own little souvenirs too.  Like maybe your license plate, side mirror or bumper.

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Fortunately for those of us that kinda like our cars, they also offer a free shuttle into the drive through area.  You can drive through in your own car, take the shuttle, or even do both!

The nice thing about the shuttle is that you have a very informed driver who talks about the animals, gives you their names as she sees them and tells you background stories on them.

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Along with the drive through section is Fort Bearizona, where bear cubs, river otters, foxes, pigs, goats, and other animals are on display in man-made habitats.

Fort Bearizona has a great set-up where the animals are easily seen, but we aren’t a bother to them.  They are happy to bask in the sun nearby and allow beautiful photos.

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If the premise of Bearizona sounds familiar, it is because it is owned and run by the sons of the owners of Bear Country in the Black Hills of North Dakota.

Click here for more…

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Taking a ski lift up into the clouds…

We work five days a week with two days off right now.  So on those two days, we like to become tourists and visit something fun in the area.

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I mean, who wants to stay in the RV all day?

Fortunately, there is so much to choose from around here that I doubt we will have a single weekend without some place new to see.

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This photo was taken in May, shortly after we got here.  We were very surprised to see snow capped mountains right in our back yard. This mountain range is called The San Francisco Peaks.

The tallest mountain in the range, Humphreys Peak, is the highest point in the state of Arizona at 12,633 feet in elevation.

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We took a ride out to the Arizona Snowbowl, a ski resort located on the San Francisco Peaks.   Opened in 1938, the Arizona Snowbowl is one of the longest running resorts in the West having been open for 75 years.

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You see, we heard that they will take you up on the ski lift for a nominal fee.

And we totally couldn’t pass that up!
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The chair lift officially opened for the summer right after Memorial Day.  We were very excited to check it out.

Dave and I were skiers in our younger days.  We choose not to break any bones at this stage in our lives, so we have to settle for a summer ski lift.  But I have to tell you, that it brought back great memories!

Click here for more!

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A Yabba Dabba Doo Time!

On the way back from visiting the south rim of the Grand Canyon, we noticed this fabulous sign from the past welcoming us to a campground/roadside attraction named Bedrock City.

We totally had to stop. 

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We both grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, and like many of our generation, we absolutely loved the Flintstones.  After taking several photos at the entrance, we decided to come up with the $5 entrance fee and see what was hidden behind those big brick walls.  

I’ve always been a sucker for campy and fun.  And Bedrock City, located smack in the middle of the dusty high desert seemed very promising!

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After paying our entrance fees, we walked into a stone age ghost town.

Originally opening in 1972 at the height of the Flintstones popularity, Bedrock City once was a thriving road side attraction, offering live actors playing Fred Flintstone and the rest of the stone age crew, rides, a theater and much more.

Fourty-four years later, this little attraction is not much than a run down shadow of its former self.

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Bedrock City also included a small restaurant, a dark and dusty gift shop, and a campground that has seen better days.  Of course, this did not deter us much.  I love a photo opportunity, and there were plenty of those to choose from.

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The amusement park, while silent, was full of colorful representations of the old cartoon series.  Unfortunately, the remaining structures at Bedrock City are in currently in terrible disrepair, with crumbling buildings and character replicas that need more than just a fresh coat of paint after baking in the desert sun for 44 years.

Click here to continue reading…

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Amarillo by Morning…

On our way west towards Williams, AZ, for our new summer job, we made a couple pit stops along the way.  One of the more impressive ones was Amarillo, Texas.

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Traveling along Interstate 40, once you get on the west side of Oklahoma City, the land flattens out where you can see for miles and miles.

The winds were strong.  Dave said it felt like he was driving a sail boat.  We were getting gusts of 15 to 25 mile an hour winds which seemed to be from the south, rocking the RV as we tried to make our way west.

Car sickness may or may not have ensued…

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We had a scheduled stop in Amarillo and were very glad to get off the highway after about a 5 hour drive from Oklahoma City.

So why Amarillo?

So much to see and do here!  Unfortunately, we only had one day to take it all in, so we chose a couple places that intrigued us.  But keep in mind if you are ever in Amarillo, there are canyons, museums, botanical gardens, and even a huge livestock auction where you can hang out with real cowboys and get a glimpse of the cattle industry that is so huge in this area of the country.

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We stayed at the Amarillo KOA and pretty much had the park to ourselves.  I loved the wide open spaces!

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These little guys greeted us at the campground store entrance.  Amarillo must be home of the mariachi bands!

Or maybe the home of colorful metal musicians…

Cadillac Ranch

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Once settled, our first order of business was to go out and visit Cadillac Ranch.  Unfortunately, we had an issue with the tow cables on the car and had to replace them first, which entailed a trip to Home Depot.

Cadillac Ranch is located about 5 miles west of city of Amarillo.  With our late start, we got there just as the sun was setting.

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Cadillac Ranch is actually a public art installation.  It was created in 1974 by an art group called Ant Farm.  The installation consists of Cadillacs, representing the car line from 1949 to 1963.  Each of the cars is half-buried nose first into the ground at an angle that is supposed to correspond with the angle of the Great Pyramid.

Note the graffiti.

You see when the art work was originally opened up to the public back in the 70’s, there was an issue of folks breaking off souvenirs and painting graffiti onto the cars.

After fighting it for a bit, the artists decided to allow others to add their own personal touch to this piece of art.

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Visiting Cadillac Ranch  and adding graffiti to the cars is now encouraged.  In fact, while we where there, at least 20 other people were there with spray paint adding a bit of themselves to this piece of art.

Bring a spray paint can and paint what you want!  Just be aware that it probably will be painted over in no time.  Cadillac Ranch is an incredibly popular destination for those that are passing through.

So how about a famous Amarillo eatery?

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Oklahoma, land where the buffalo roam…

On our way across country from Atlanta, GA to Williams, AZ, we made several stops.  One of which was to spend a couple days in Oklahoma City,  visiting with my oldest daughter, Laura.

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We stayed at the Oklahoma City East KOA.  Check out this amazing site!  We were so impressed by how beautiful this little campground was- and how well kept!  Frankly, if it wasn’t for the scary tornado potential in the area, we would consider working here.

But there is the tornado thing and the fact that we really don’t have a basement.  And I’m sure that is something that I just have to get over now that I live in a virtual tin can, but at the moment I am good with heading west.

Anyway…

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The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

My daughter took us on a tour of the area, including a drive out to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, roughly 100 miles south of Oklahoma City.  It is the oldest managed wildlife facility in the United States.

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge was important in saving the American buffalo from extinction. In 1907 the American Bison Society transported 15 buffalo, from the New York Zoological Park to the refuge.  At that time, buffalo had been extinct on the southern Great Plains for over 30 years.

The buffalo herd now numbers about 650 on the refuge!

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One “rule of thumb” when you are around wild animals.  If you hold up your thumb in front of them, and you can still see them, you are too close.

And as you can tell from the photo, wild animals come in all forms!

Scary.

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Mount Scott

Our tour of the mountains included a trip to the summit of Mount Scott which offers amazing views of the Oklahoma countryside.

And of course a visit to Meer’s Restaurant- a popular place in the area famous for it’s giant Meer’s Burgers.  Because we had to eat, right?

Here is a short video of our visit! To see is in large screen, click here.

Our next stop- Amarillo, TX!  See you there!

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