Tag Archives: family fun

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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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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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.

bearizona and grand canyon deer farm

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.

bearizona and grand canyon deer farm

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!

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