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We arrived home in the early evening after our weekend camping with the grandkids. The house – at least this time – survived without incident. No storm damage, no failures. The hot water and appliances all started back up without issue.
It was a great trip. Too short in many ways. The trailer was very comfortable, and while it didn’t offer all the comforts of home (Oma particularly missed her bathtub), we enjoyed all of the time we spent traveling in it.
The one thing I did learn was that once we really started heading home, we wanted to get home. We’ve felt that way on our short vacations, but I had thought that with our more leisurely travel pace, we’d want to slowly wander home. Turns out we like the pace to be slow at the start and throughout the meat of our trip, but once we choose to head home, we’re ready to shift from a leisurely stroll to something more like a slow jog.
Our final stop is a camping trip with our kids and grandkids in Wisconsin. We got a reservation at Mill Bluff State Park. We had a nice large campsite but unfortunately it was not at all level, making it difficult to place Annie the way I would have liked in the site. But, we made it work no matter what! We had electricity which was an absolute necessity since it was horribly hot and humid. Upon the kids’ arrival, they decided not to set up their tent and to instead move in with us, much to our grandkids’ delight. Annie somehow accommodated another 2 adults, 2 small children, and a feisty big puppy with kennel into our group of 2 adults, 1 large dog, and a fat cat. Cozy, but out of the sweltering heat.
We enjoyed one of the beautiful hiking trails that had great overlooks of the surrounding country and huge towering bluffs. We also enjoyed swimming in the nice little fresh water lake at the campground with lots of sand to play in. We enjoyed making yummy sandwiches on the fire with our awesome pie irons (a great gift from Opa’s sister and brother-in-law) and, of course, s’mores. We had a great time, a little too short but definitely sweet!
We had reserved an extra day in hopes that we would have explored the local bike trails (which are fabulous) after the kids left but, having a bum knee all summer long, the weather a bit too hot and uncomfortable, and generally just wanting to get back home and see our wonderful house again, we just packed up and headed home.
Spending time out in nature with family, at the end of our trip was a wonderful conclusion. I can’t wait to do it again! In fact, I can’t wait to do it ALL again and I’m already dreaming of new places to explore!
Another driving day as we completed our journey through Montana, passed briefly through Wyoming, before reaching our destination in South Dakota. Happily the drive was another uneventful one as we made our way to Custer State Park. There we were hoping to see buffalo, pronghorn, big-horn sheep and other wildlife, as well as beautiful landscapes and cave systems.
We had not been to the Black Hills in many, many years, and it seems even more commercialized than the last time we were there. Although it is a big area, we chose to stay in Custer State Park and do day trips from there. Custer State Park is at the southern end of the Black Hills, about 40 miles (by road) from I-90 and Rapid City. That put us quite a distance from “top” attractions like Bear Country USA and Dinosaur World, but we consoled ourselves with the abundant wildlife, scenic drives and national parks/monuments that were much closer.
Our final stop before reaching the Black Hills was in Hardin, MT, not far from Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument.
Our drive was pleasant if a bit dull; we considered using highways instead of the interstate, but we are really in travel mode now and the interstate is fast and easy.
The KOA that we chose was fine, but far from our favorite campground. That said, it was heads and tails above the other campground in town that we saw, so as a place to stop for a couple of nights, it worked well.
You might think with a name like Lewis and Clark Caverns that the Lewis and Clark expedition stayed there or “discovered” them. Not so. Although the Lewis and Clark expedition did camp in the area, they had no idea that the caverns existed, and it was nearly 80 years later when the caverns were finally discovered by white settlers.
We had a relatively long day of driving as we ventured into central Montana. It was basically all freeway other than the short beginning and ending stretches, although the first few hours were through the mountains – not difficult, but not sit back and relax when towing a heavy trailer. We made good time, despite losing an hour transitioning from Pacific to Mountain time.
We continued northeast from the tri-cities in search of cooler weather. We failed at that; although it wasn’t quite as hot as in the tri-cities, highs were still in the 90s.
Our drive was uneventful, with divided highway pretty much the entire way there. Farragut State Park is located on the former site of the Farragut Naval Training Station. After the outbreak of WWII, the Navy needed additional recruit training stations to handle the large number of seamen mustered into the Navy. Farragut Naval Training Station was built in about six months during 1942, and more than 293,000 sailors passed through the station. It was the second largest naval training station, and was built inland for security reasons. It was decommissioned in 1946.
The drive from central Oregon to northern Idaho was too long for one day, so we decided to split the difference and stop in Washington wine country. We were thinking about dry camping a couple of nights at wineries, but temperatures were forecast over 100 degrees. With 50A electrical connections a requirement so that we could run both air conditioners, we picked a highly reviewed RV park in the tri-cities area where we’d have a couple of options for wining.
The drive up 395 through Oregon was extremely scenic, with mountains, forests, deserts and hills. The terrain north of Battle Mountain was very interesting and not exactly like anything we’d seen before. (Sorry, but there were no pull-outs, so we don’t have any pictures.) Traffic was extremely light. Eventually we hit the freeway and the rest of the drive was easy but dull.
We ended up in the tri-cities: Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland. It is a mid-sized metro area, and good winery options are available in the surrounding area. The RV park we chose had no shade trees but otherwise was pretty nice for being a large parking lot. Sites had very good separation, and I’ve been on golf courses that had worse grass. It truly made you want to throw your shoes away, at least as long as you were on grass. The asphalt was a little warm, what with highs of 106 one day and 109 the next.
We spent Friday wining. Walla Walla was an hour away and seems to be the hot area now. In the other direction, Prosser had a number of wineries and was pretty close (less than a half-hour away). Tastings there were inexpensive (generally $5, waived with purchase) and the wines seemed to be reasonably priced. There were other options as well, but we decided to start with Prosser and figuring we could hit Walla Walla on Saturday if we didn’t get enough of a fix in Prosser.
Desert Wind Winery was our first stop. Reds there ran $18-40. (Not two-buck Chuck, but that’s inexpensive compared to many wineries. For comparison, at our first stop in the Willamette Valley, the reds started at $75/bottle and went up from there.) Unfortunately, nothing we tasted knocked our socks off.
Our next stop was 14 Hands, a spin-off of Columbia Crest. Their main line is “grocery store” wines (mass produced from a variety of vineyards). However, they have reserve wines available at the tasting room. The tasting was really great, because when we said that we were only interested in reds, the lady handling the tasting did a non-standard tasting for us. We were able to compare the regular and reserve cab and merlots, the 2011 and 2012 vintages of the reserve Syrah, and their reserve red blend. We thought that the inexpensive wines were pretty decent for their price point (probably around $10-11 at a grocery store), and we liked several of the reserve wines and took a bottle with us. While we were not blown away so much that we bought a case and joined the wine club, we really appreciated the opportunity to compare their different wines and I’m extremely happy we stopped there.
After a pause for lunch, we hit Daven Lore Winery. This felt like a very small winery. We started with reds. I liked them more than Oma, although we did agree on a Malbec. After tasting the reds, in conversation it came up that Oma likes some sweeter whites. Out came two more bottles. Oma loved the Riesling. Then the Muscadelle; Oma didn’t like it quite as much as the Riesling, although I thought that it was the more interesting wine of the two. When they suggested pairing the Muscadelle with carrot cake, I was sold. Somehow after a reds-only tasting we walked away with two whites: one each of the Muscadelle and Riesling. Oma now owes me a carrot cake when we get home.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars was our next stop. The tasting room was located in a small strip mall, although the inside was much more inviting than the outside. Shortly after we began our tasting, a (loud) group of three arrived, one of which was clearly well known by the bartender. We were initially concerned, as his focus was very much on that party. However, all ended well – since that group got pours of several wines not on the normal tasting list, we did as well. The extra wines included a reserve Viognier that Oma actually liked, a reserve Cab Franc and a members blend that was the winning blend at a wine members blend competition at the winery. So what could have completely spoiled our tasting turned into a positive and our favorite wines of the day. Four wineries in a day is definitely our limit, so we declared success and headed home with a few bottles of wine in the back.
The following day we opted to clean, shop, cook and make progress on the blog. This is the last larger metro area that we’re likely to stay near, so we took advantage of having Costco and Fred Meyer nearby. We laid in enough food to pretty much get us home, cooked up some ribs and made fresh bread. We also picked up fresh Washington peaches at the store and Oma made a cobbler.
From Crater Lake, we are heading home. Our route initially is taking us more north than east (where I am hoping it is slightly cooler) before we head seriously east toward the Black Hills. Our first stop was in the Oregon desert, near the town of John Day.
Days 90-92 – Mt. Vernon (John Day), OR
The drive from Crater Lake to Mt. Vernon was slow but scenic. The last couple of hours in particular were through desert mountains with light traffic, up and down the mountains and twisting and turning along the roads. We took it slow and arrived at our oasis in the desert, Clyde Holliday State Park near the city of John Day in the early evening.
Early on in our planning, we debated whether or not to visit Crater Lake this trip. With some of our other timing, plus not wanting to arrive too early when the rim road might still be closed, the only thing that worked was to go after our time on the coast. Which basically meant traveling from the very top of Oregon almost all the way to the bottom. In the end, we decided to include Crater Lake as the last of our National Parks for this trip and just accept driving about 250 miles south, followed by another 250 miles back north.
DAYs 87-89 – CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
Crater Lake is a collapsed volcano (Mt. Mazama) that filled with water from snowmelt over the last 7,700 years or so. Over time, it reached an equilibrium between the snow melt addition and the evaporation and seepage that occurs each year and is now the deepest lake in the USA at just under 2,000 feet deep. It is also amazingly clear, currently holding the record clarity measurement for any natural body of water in the world. That clarity also gives Crater Lake its deep blue color.
Although in many ways we began our trip home when we left the coast, we had two final “destinations” before we got serious about moving east. The first was the Columbia River Gorge.
Days 79-81 – Ainsworth State Park
After leaving the coast, we detoured into Portland to get our brake actuator replaced. Fortunately, it never repeated its “always on” state after I disconnected and reconnected it back on the coast, but the manufacturer recommended replacing it under warranty and with a 17,000 lb. trailer wandering through mountains, solid brakes are really important to us. Curtis RV, a large RV operation, was recommended by the manufacturer. It was very hectic and pretty tight quarters with a lot of RVs moving in and out, but they took care of getting the actuator swapped out and getting the brakes back in business. It’s maybe a little soon to pass final judgement, but so far we were happy with the work they did.
We left Portland around 5:00 (rush hour!), and after a very slow drive out of the city, we arrived at our home for three nights: Ainsworth State Park. Ainsworth had full hookups (clean sheets and clothes!) and was a good place to check out many of the waterfalls along the Columbia Gorge. Which is what we did on one of our two days. It was the weekend, and it was busy. Even leaving early in the morning, parking lots were nearly full. We also passed a couple of parked cars with busted windows – I don’t know if they left something tempting in sight or just had bad luck, but I’m glad we didn’t have to deal with that. We didn’t check out every waterfall, but we did walk several trails, saw a number of waterfalls and basically got our fill before heading home in the early afternoon as the temperature climbed into the 90s.