June 8, 2012 – July 8, 2012

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Fort Pickens – Pensacola, Florida

We arrived at Fort Pickens campground in Pensacola, Florida Friday evening. As we drove along the road leading into the park we were welcomed by a breathtaking sunset. The entrance to the park is quite picturesque with Pensacola Bay on one side of the road and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. Upon arriving we acquainted ourselves with the park by taking a long walk on the beach where we spotted several ospreys. Saturday morning we spent some time relaxing on the beach, enjoying some sun and humidity! It was also quite humorous seeing all the cartoon-like crabs running along the beach, a novelty that we do not see on Sarasota beaches. Since Fort Pickens is so close in proximity to the Pensacola Naval Air Base and National Naval Aviation Museum, we did not want to miss the opportunity to tour it. The museum was incredible, showcasing navy aircraft from various time periods throughout history, including Marine One the presidential helicopter.  Then after enjoying a scrumptious last vacation night dinner in the RV, it was off to Fort Pickens to catch another sunset. We also toured Fort Pickens. The enormous fort was built to protect the harbor from enemy ships during the war but never saw any action.

Today marks the end of our excursion out west, we should return home to Sarasota, Florida in about three hours. Our one month long, 8,000-mile journey, went by far too fast. The trip and opportunity to photograph our National Parks turned out to be all that I had hoped for and more. Thank you all for following me on our trip across America. Hope you enjoyed the photos as much as I have enjoyed sharing them. If you are new to the blog be sure to scroll down to the beginning to see past posts. Till next summer, Happy Trails…

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Lake Livingston

Thursday night was a peaceful overnight stop at Lake Livingston State Park in East Texas. The focal point of this park is a 130 square mile lake, which appears limitless as you gaze upon its placid waters. We were lucky enough to arrive just in time to have a BBQ by the lake and to enjoy a magnificent sunset.  Never before have I witnessed so perfect a sunset. As the sun dropped in the sky, it resembled a perfect orb balancing over the lake.

Friday, on the road again.  Blogging as we drive to Pensacola, Florida!

4th of July in Eastland, Texas

We entered North Shore RV Park in Eastland, Texas at 8:45 p.m. Our campsite was situated on beautiful Lake Leon. To our surprise we arrived just in time to enjoy the fireworks, the town literally exploded at 9:00 p.m.! The old saying that “Everything’s bigger in Texas” sure rang true this 4th of July. The firework display over the lake was amazing. The colors lit up the sky for an hour and thirty minutes! The weather was perfect, with a gentle breeze blowing off Lake Leon. If the fireworks were not enough, I spotted two zebras grazing in the sun, on the ranch down the road. For a moment, I thought I was on safari! John, our campground host, claimed there are more privately owned exotics in Texas, than any other state. It certainly was more than I expected for a quick overnight stop. On the road again, headed for somewhere in Texas; my father is keeping the location a surprise!

Santa Fe, New Mexico

We arrived in downtown Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico early Tuesday evening. The downtown area is quaint, filled with adobe-like style buildings which have been transformed into an artist colony. A great setting for artists to showcase their work. Sculpture gardens fill the area with both whimsical and lifelike interpretations. The area attracted artists such as Georgia O’Keefe in the early 20th century and remains a hub. Of course, the square across the road is filled with the typical high-end gift shops and jewelry stores. St. Francis of Assisi Basilica rests in the middle of the square, with church bells ringing every half hour. The cathedrals photogenic architecture makes it a striking focal point. We are in for another long drive, hopefully we will reach Texas in time for a chili cook off and to catch some fireworks!

Las Vegas and Hoover Dam

We arrived at the Oasis RV Resort in Las Vegas early Sunday afternoon. This park is just a few miles from the strip making it the perfect retreat from all the action.Vegas definitely is the place to be if you are looking for a sensory overload. A city that never sleeps is quite a contrast from the serene setting found in all the National Parks! Sunday afternoon and evening was spent acclimating ourselves to all the amazing hotels, shops and eateries. Early Monday morning we set off to tour Hoover Dam. It is named after President Herbert Hoover, who supported the construction of the dam on the Colorado River. This dam indeed serves many benefits such as irrigation, water requirements for several cities and the generation of hydroelectric power which serves over a million people. The tour was interesting, and the Dam itself was massive. Well, a trip to Vegas would not be complete without a visit to the famous Pawn Stars shop. Yes it was underwhelming, much smaller, older and dirtier than it appears on television, no stars, but still worth the journey. Then it was off to The Venetian to see Phantom of the Opera. The venue and set was in true Vegas form, spectacular. I especially enjoyed the special effects and Christine’s voice was amazing. I give it 5 stars and look forward to resurrecting my sheet music and playing the score on the piano again. We are on the road headed for Santa Fe, New Mexico, it is an all day drive.

Sequoia National Park

Saturday’s visit to Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Mountains was spectacular. With elevations ranging from 1300-14,449 feet, the temperature changes were dramatic. Our car took us on steep and winding roads which seemed to crawl around the mountainside, we sat in awe of the incredible forest and plunging waterfalls. Pictures can never begin to capture the experience one feels while standing next to a giant sequoia in the Giant Forest sequoia grove. I actually felt as if I was transported to the land of the Lilliputians and I for once was a tiny person in Gulliver’s Travels. The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world, standing an amazing 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter. Sequoia is a hiking park and many of the areas I had hoped to photograph were a four days hike into the wilderness. Unfortunately, I did not have the time or the supplies for such an excursion, maybe next time! We are now headed to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Monterey Bay

It’s official, on Friday we dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean. Our travels have brought us from coast to coast! After an overnight stop in Monterey Bay, we are headed to Sequoia National Park in search of the giant redwoods.

Yosemite National Park

Tuesday was the perfect day for travel; we enjoyed scenic vistas throughout Nevada the weather was perfect and the traffic light. We arrived in California at Yosemite National Park 10:00 Wednesday morning, much earlier than anticipated. The park offers endless opportunities to explore. Thursday we visited the Ansel Adams Gallery; I enjoyed browsing through Ansel’s numerous photographs of the park, he truly is an inspiration. A jaunt from east to west Yosemite took us to interesting vistas in Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Wawona, Mariposa Grove, Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows. I especially enjoyed the climb to Glacier Point and the view of Half Dome. Half Dome is the rock formation that distinguishes Yosemite; it is also stamped on California’s quarter. Half Dome at 5000 feet is the sheerest cliff in North America and it is only seven degrees from being completely vertical. Equally incredible and probably the most prominent waterfall in the park is Bridalveil Fall. The fall cascades 620 feet while the blowing veil of mist it produces truly resembles a bride’s veil. Below you will find some classic images of the park, it was a spectacular adventure. Internet was slow and extremely difficult to find in the park, I apologize for the late post. We are now headed for the beach in Carmel, California.

Horseback Riding In The Tetons

Well, this cowboy racked up another two hours in the saddle, riding along the dusty Teton trail. Monday afternoon, we opted to take a trail ride on a ranch seven miles away in Jackson Hole valley, rather than the one offered in the park. This ranch has 80 heads of horses and offers private family rides. Our wrangler was fantastic, she took us on rugged terrain, through forest trails and creek crossings. This trail adventure climbed to a spectacular view of the Teton Range. The horses were quite responsive, making the ride even more enjoyable. Mom’s horse Quincy, decided to take her for a refreshing little dunk in the creek, with wet boots she still had a smile!

Tuesday and Wednesday will be long 10 hour driving days, we are headed for Yosemite.

More From The Grand Tetons

With bear spray in hand, we left camp on Monday at 5:00a.m to capture the sunrise. The early dawn illuminated the Snake River, while the picturesque Tetons supplied the perfect backdrop. Traversing the vast landscapes of the Tetons allowed us to enjoy the true splendor of the backcountry. Afterwords, we hiked over to Signal Mountain; with elevations of over seven thousand feet, the view was spectacular. Temperatures in the afternoon hit the high 80’s. We enjoyed some downtime on the sunny shoreline, what a contrast with snow peaked mountains in the distance.

Grand Teton National Park

We are camped at Colter Bay RV Park located at Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Sunday mornings activities began with a breakfast cruise on Jackson Lake. The scenic two-hour narrated cruise was incredible.  Captain Brent recounted the history of the area and pointed out some interesting facts. The water was pristine and the views stunning. Well, if you know me, you know how much I enjoy a great meal and this breakfast was outstanding! We docked at Elk Island where chefs were waiting with our provisions. The beauty of the island only added to the gastronomic delight!

Yellowstone, Horseback Riding and Rodeo

Friday night proved to be the highlight of the trip so far, we all went horseback riding. Horseback riding is one of the best ways to experience the mountains near West Yellowstone. We opted for the Rodeo package; this consisted of a two-hour evening trail ride and a seat at the Rodeo! Our horses were fantastic, although my dad claimed Dozer, one of the wilder horses, was a bit unresponsive. I was lucky enough to ride Belle, the biggest horse for the tallest rider! Mom enjoyed riding Dakota, the rancher’s personal horse. The trail ride weaved through the forest amongst towering pines up and down the mountainside. As we galloped along, we experienced the untouched serene beauty of Montana. We dismounted our horses at the ranch just in time for the rodeo. Bull riding had to be my favorite, but the roping was great fun to watch. Those cowboys sure take a lot of hard knocks! It was a whoop and holler good time! Currently, we are headed for Grand Teton National Park it is only a two-hour drive from Yellowstone, and hopefully we will be there early this afternoon.

Yellowstone Day Two

Thursday’s excursion covered 150 miles of Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres of untouched splendor. Points of interest included Mammoth Hot Springs, Roosevelt, Tower Fall, Canyon Village, Norris, and Madison. The weather was ideal; sunny 75 degrees made the nine hours of exploration a pleasure. Wildlife watching was at its peak, herds of bison, black bear, elk, bald eagles and several bird species added to the experience. Rangers were on high alert today as 13 bears were spotted along the roadside. Mother bear and her cubs created the biggest stir, unfortunately, the family was too deep in the brush to photograph well. Bison, on the other hand, posed graciously alongside the car! Although the bison appear tame, they can be unpredictable and dangerous. The rangers discussed how several visitors have gotten a little too close and were gored! The waterfalls were spectacular, and the roaring sound of the water touched the senses. Lunch at the rustic Roosevelt Lodge was delicious. The ambience takes the visitor back in time with a dude ranch appeal. It was a fantastic day in Yellowstone! Click on any photo to enlarge.

 

Yellowstone National Park

This year marks Yellowstone’s 140th anniversary as the world’s first national park. Yellowstone National Park is home to Old Faithful, many of the world’s geysers and hot springs. Wednesday’s travels took us through West Yellowstone, Old Faithful and West Thumb. The day was picture perfect, blue skies, 62 degrees accompanied by a light crisp breeze. Wildlife is abundant in Yellowstone, spotting several bison herds and a lone coyote made the day complete. Lunch in front of Old Faithful Geyser spewing into the sky is an experience I will never forget. The geysers throughout the park look like simmering pots of color, a must on everyone’s bucket list.

West and East Glacier National

Monday was an incredible day at Glacier National Park. Sorry for the late post, we did not return home until midnight! I was able to photograph some of the most dramatic terrain in the park, including St. Mary Lake and Avalanche Gorge. Once again it rained in the upper regions of West Glacier, but that did not hinder the excursion to Avalanche Gorge. The drive to East Glacier took about an hour and 20 minutes. It was a grueling drive through the mountain pass, but it was well worth it. It was quite fascinating how the weather became bright and sunny once we crossed the continental divide. We spotted several black bear at St. Mary Lake, fortunately Mom’s scream alerted us to their whereabouts! An enormous black bear ran right in front of the car, unfortunately, he ran too fast to photograph. We stopped at Glacier Park lodge for dinner around 9:00p.m., and it was still sunny! There is nothing like enjoying dinner, accompanied by a spectacular view. Just arrived at our campsite in Yellowstone National Park after a 10 hour drive. It will be great to settle in and enjoy a campfire.

Day Two at Glacier National

Sunday is our second day at Glacier National. Unfortunately, I was at odds with the weather all day long, as I attempted to photograph the park. As we moved from various elevations within the park, the weather would change dramatically, varying from inclement to sunny. It rained continually in the upper regions of the mountains where all the best photo opportunities are. I was not able to capture all the locations I wanted to, due to the constant rain. Hopefully, the weather will be better tomorrow. However, it was a perfect day to stroll the village within the park and enjoy some hot cocoa in front of the fireplace in the lodge. Below are some photos I captured when the rain subsided.

Glacier National Park

After a ten-hour drive, we arrived at Glacier National Park in Northern Montana, Saturday afternoon at 4:30. This allowed plenty of time for exploration before nightfall, especially since twilight lasts until 10pm. With over 700 miles of trails, one could consider Glacier a hikers paradise. Various trails throughout the park lead the hiker to experience spectacular views in the Rockies. Glacier can also be explored by bus, boat and horseback. We will consider all those options tomorrow, and since our stay is for 3 nights, there may be time to do it all! Lake McDonald Lodge proved to be the perfect destination to unwind and enjoy an evening’s repast. Afterwards, I had just enough time to capture a few photos. Ansel Adams the legendary photographer spent much of his time photographing Glacier. Ansel believed, “a photograph is made, not taken”, I too hope to make some photos.

Devils Tower, Prairie Dog Town and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Today, after leaving Custer State Park, we toured Devils Tower and Prairie Dog Town, in Wyoming and then onto Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, in Montana. President Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national American Monument in 1906. Scientists once felt Devils Tower was the core of an ancient volcano, but today the tower is believed to be an igneous intrusion. You might also remember Devils Tower was used as a filming location for the classic movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg. Luckily, we were able to park our RV just in front of Devils Tower. It truly was an incredibly massive sight to behold, peering through our window as we ate lunch. Black-tailed prairie dogs have made their home right next door to Devils Tower. These animals are intriguing, funny little creatures, it was enjoyable to observe their behavior.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument memorializes the battle fought between Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians against the U.S. Army. This battle took place on June 25, 1876. The Indians wanted to preserve their ancestral way of life. Custer and the U.S. Army were following instruction to remove the Indians to the Sioux reservation. This was the spot where Custer’s famous last stand took place. Although the Indians won the battle, they lost their independent, nomadic way of life. We watched an interesting 25-minute movie depicting the battle. Walking through the Indian Memorial, Last Stand Hill and the National Cemetery proved to be quite moving. The soldier’s headstones are white, and the Indians are red. Our next major stop is Glacier National Park in Montana. It is a two-day drive from Custer State Park so tonight is just an overnight stop in Hardin, Montana; we plan to be in Glacier National Saturday afternoon.

Custer State Park, Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore

After spending our first night in Custer State Park, I am pleased to say that it is just a magnificent park. The park is 71,000 acres of pure nature. Exclaiming that the scenic drives are incredible is truly an understatement! I am longing for my convertible. Yesterday we drove mile after mile of scenic splendor along Needles Highway. This road’s name comes from the needle-like granite formations, which seem to pierce the horizon; it is a 14 mile long ride. We stopped at several lookout points to enjoy the breathtaking views. Along the way, we spotted numerous deer, bison and other wildlife. We were fortunate enough to drive alongside a bison, and I was able to capture a photo of him up close and personal. It was amazing to experience the grunt of a buffalo; he stood larger than the Honda Fit! The park is truly spectacular; it even has four stunning lodges that would rival a five star restaurant. Last night we dined at Sylvan Lake lodge, and both the food and the views were outstanding. The park also has off road Safari Jeep rides, hayride chuck wagon cookouts, horseback trail rides, paddle boating and the Black-Hills Playhouse –yes something for everyone!

Today we visited Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore both a stones throw from our campground. Crazy Horse is the world’s largest mountain carving. Work on Crazy Horse began in 1948 and still continues to this day. In fact, they were preparing to blast today at noon. I am not sure if this sculpture will even be complete in my grandchildren’s lifetime. When finished it will stand 563 ft. high and 641 ft. long, larger than life! To help understand the scale, Mt. Rushmore could fit on the side of Crazy Horse’s face! We watched a movie about sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski’s life and his decision to carry out this immense project. This endeavor continues till this day under the direction of his wife and 10 children. A must see, moving experience for everyone. Mt. Rushmore National Memorial is a chilling, magnificent representation of our country’s history. Having presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln looming overhead are just awe inspiring. Today was Flag Day, and it is the one-day out of the year that people come to Mt. Rushmore for naturalization. Seeing lines of people waiting to receive their citizenship made the day even more impressionable. Tonight we are going to have dinner at the State Game Lodge, which was a favorite summer home of President Coolidge. Below are some photos of the park, Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore.

More From The Badlands

Tuesday evening, just after eating Mom’s scrumptious homemade pizza, the sky let loose with one of the biggest hail storms I have ever witnessed. Interestingly, statistics state that the Badlands receive 3 inches of rain during the month of June; I believe last evenings storm surely met the season’s quota! The combined ferocity of the wind, rain and hail, was powerful enough to shake our RV. I felt especially sorry for all the tent campers as several tents collapsed. Currently, we are driving on the road that leads to our campsite in Custer State Park, hidden within the Black Hills of South Dakota. The views are magnificent! Below are a few more photos of the Badlands; the first two photos were taken just after the storm subsided. We stopped in Wall, South Dakota this morning. Wall is a two street tourist trap but fun nonetheless.

Badlands National Park

We arrived at Badlands National Park in South Dakota late Monday afternoon. This is one of the largest undisturbed mixed prairie rangelands left in the US. The mixture of peaks and valleys can at times be a challenge to cross since the terrain tends to be a bit gravelly, making travel slippery. The quiet, stillness is unlike any other experience while the vast open sky is absolutely incredible. The area is also rich with wildlife. Our fellow campers have boastfully spotted fox, bighorn sheep, bison, bobcat, coyote and rattlesnakes, I have only been fortunate enough to glimpse a few birds! We have spent our time exploring every area the park has to offer, I especially enjoyed a tasty buffalo burger at the lodge. So far it is shaping up to be a beautiful afternoon, 70 degrees, sunny with a light breeze. Below are some images of the park, click on each photo to enlarge.

St. Louis Arch

Sunday was quite an interesting day of travel. Originally, we had planned to stop in St. Louis to see the famous arch; unfortunately, the parking facilities were located along the riverfront, under a railroad bridge. This was a problem because the bridge clearance is only 12 feet and our RV happens to be 13 feet tall. Hence, we were unable to see the arch up close. As the day progressed we journeyed further west toward our overnight stop in Nebraska. As it turns out, the exit for the park was an hour past the park, so we would have to backtrack an hour out of our way. Consequently, this would add two extra hours of driving time to our trip. As you might have guessed, we opted to forgo staying at that state park, in search of a more convenient location. As the shades of night were falling, a severe thunderstorm began brewing. You know it is severe when you see the storm chaser’s armored TIV in hot pursuit. As the rain continued to cascade down we finally found a park to stay at, thank goodness for the GPS! Below are some distant shots of the St. Louis Arch. Currently we are on the road in search of the Badlands.

Land Between The Lakes Park

Friday, after 10 hours of motoring, we arrived at Land Between The Lakes Park, located on Lake Barkley in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. The park was situated near a quaint village filled with unique gift shops, a variety playhouse, antique stores and a fabulous ice cream parlor. The ice cream was delicious, nothing like having dessert before dinner! The campground had a magnificent view of the lake. Unfortunately, this was just an overnight stop, it would be a fun spot to spend a few nights and enjoy the local flavor. Currently, we are traveling in Southern Illinois, headed for St. Louis. We plan to stop for lunch and see the arch. Below are some pictures of Lake Barkley.

Gallery

Stephen Foster State Park

We arrived at Stephen Foster State Park in North Florida, Friday evening. This was just an overnight stop on our way North. Despite being a quick stop, Stephen Foster is a fantastic park located on the Suwannee River and is one of our favorite parks in Northern Florida. We left Stephen Foster promptly at 7:00 this morning, and we are currently on the road headed for Land Between The Lakes in Kentucky. Below are a few photos of Stephen Foster.


The Adventure Begins

Today we departed on an exciting RV journey across America, to witness the grandeur of our nation’s National Parks. This 8,000 mile trek, lasting a brief month will encompass much of the pristine wilderness which lies between the East and West coast. Some of our more notable destinations will include The Badlands, Yellowstone, Glacier National, The Grand Tetons, Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. These are just a few of the famous stops on our itinerary; there will be many more interesting points of interest along the way. Be sure to check back often for daily updates.