Sunday, September 4, 2016

2016 Epic Road Trip - Day 111

Day 111
September 1, 2016
St. Augustine, FL

What an adventure this has been!  But it is time to go home and to bring this blog to a close.

Over the past 111 days, Ryder and I have traveled in the RV over 20,000 miles through 34 states and 4 Canadian Provinces.  I drove through rain, snow, a tropical storm and dust storms. I have gone up and down mountains on grades as steep as 12%  and on paved and unpaved roads than could be described best as goat paths and washboards.

I only spent 6 nights in hotels/camps (two on the excursion to Nome, three on the gravel-car trip to Prudhoe Bay, AK, and one in Las Vegas after spending the previous night in Death Valley at 119 degrees.)  There was only one night of dry camping in the parking lot of a local park,  when I couldn’t get the RV down a narrow, dirt road that led to the campground.

In addition to this, I rented 6 cars locally for a day or several days when I  wanted to go to places that the RV couldn’t or shouldn’t have gone.

I passed through US and Canadian Customs & Border Patrol 12 times as I meandered on my way.  

I saw black and brown bears, elk, caribou, reindeer, ptarmigan, fox, wolves, porcupines, marmots, roadrunners, Arctic ground squirrels, seals, otters, whales, eagles, hawks, buffalo, Yak, muskox, Dall sheep, goats, zebra, llama, ostrich, bison, moose, antelope, deer and coyote.

The trip was not without challenges, though.  The first of two flat tires was in the driveway in Martinsburg the day before I left.

Ryder’s emergency eye surgery occurred during the first week.  I lived on Day/Night Quill for the first 10 days of the trip. The air conditioner went out, the hot water heater element went out, there was a propane issue and a plumbing issue.  I got two rock holes (fingers) on the windshield of the RV and one on a rental car.  One I-pad got crushed and my eyeglasses broke.

I survived swarms of mosquitos, larger and denser than I ever imagined,  extreme heat and extreme cold.

I thwarted a break-in of the RV while I was inside it and got to use words and tones that my mother most likely would not have approved of in any other circumstance. Ryder is definitely not a guard dog! She didn't make a peep!

I avoided a disaster in Canada by making it through a highway one day before it was washed away by flood.  And I drove past three live forest fires.

The most expensive gasoline was in Prudhoe Bay, AK where they drill for it - $5.40 per gallon. Most expensive 12-pack of Diet Coke was about $13 and a (small) bag of Lays potato chips were $8 in Nome, AK.

But most of the trip was absolutely wonderful.  I got to hang with Keith and his family on the Kenai Peninsula, with George and Pam in Vancouver, BC and with Craig in California.

I had two offers to buy drugs in Great Bend, KS...they obviously mistook the RV for a meth lab. (Watching too much Breaking Bad??) 

I had the awesome 4-day trip to Prudhoe Bay, swam in the Arctic Ocean and saw Russia and the 3-day flight to Nome to see the real outback area. I took car ferries 4 times and drove through more tunnels than I can count.  I took a glacier tour in Whittier, AK and a high speed canyon boat in Talkeetna.  I rafted down the Nenana River near Denali and took a Cessna flight to the top of a glacier to mush sled dogs.  I gold panned in Chicken and Fairbanks, AK.  I  caught my limit of halibut on a charter boat near Soldotna, the halibut capitol of the World.

I saw reality TV stars of at least 4 Alaska-themed shows and saw filming locations for several shows, including Once Upon a Time.  The puppy even had a couple of spa days of her own.

I traveled through 34 states... visited 25 US National Parks, 10 National Monuments, 4 National Memorials, 2 National Battlefields, 12 National Historic Sites, 3 National Lakeshores, 1 National Battlefield Park, 6 National Recreation Areas, 4 National Preserves , 2 National Historic Parks, 1 National Military Park, and 1 Memorial Highway, as well as numerous Canadian National and Provincial Parks.  

I planned this trip for almost 5 years. It was awesome! I really only made one detour from the original planned route and that was after spending the night in Death Valley...the 119 degree (Dry ????) heat did me and Ryder in. Her poor tongue was dragging on the ground...Instead of prancing she was hopping as the ground was too hot for her little paws. Don't know what I was thinking when I planned Death Valley in August!!!! Instead of taking the southern route back to Florida, I took a more central, cooler route.

I had planned about 250 miles per day on average and added days for down-time periodically.  The pace was just about perfect.   And today, well, with the hurricane coming across Tallahassee, I decided to make the final drive in one day instead of two. 

Now it’s time to start thinking of another destination for another day!

2016 Epic Road Trip - Days 106 - 110

Days 106-110

August 27, 2016 through Aug 31, 2016

Fort Smith National Historic Site, AR to Hot Springs, AR

I spent a day touring Fort Smith, Arkansas, and it was quite interesting.  As we pushed the Cherokee Indians west following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Thomas Jefferson incorrectly assumed that the western lands were vacant and figured it would take white settlers 1,000 years to settle the West.  In fact, it only took 50 years. As fate would have it the Osage Indians were in the area.  So, we built Fort Smith in 1817 to have a base in which our military could operate to keep peace between the Osage and Cherokees.  It was used for only a few years.

The white settlers had moved as far west as Fort Smith by the 1830s.  The settlers and politicians convinced the War Department that there could be a threat of Indian attack since they were right across the river, so a second Fort Smith was built in 1838, this time with stone walls able to withstand heavy cannon fire.  But, alas, there was no attack and the extreme fortifications were never tested in combat.

The heavy stone used in the second fort.
By the 1870s, the Fort became used by the US Marshalls, US Commissioner and the Courts.  Arkansas was the farthest west district, and it was the largest, deadliest and busiest of the federal district courts.  The basement, once a mess hall, became a primitive jail with two big cells which held up to 50 men together in each cell.  Prisoners named it "Hell-on-the-Border."

Paddy Wagon

Judge Isaac C. Parker (the Hanging Judge) presided here and sentenced 160 persons to be hanged.  There was an interesting little museum at the visitor center of the Fort.

The following 5 pictures are taken of a wide panel summarizing the life of one outlaw, Henry Starr.  He was quite a busy guy.

The gallows, rebuilt from a photo taken of the original gallows.  (Photography was prohibited at hangings.)

Next stop was Hot Springs, Arkansas.  The street is lined with grand old buildings which held hotels and spas.  A couple are still open.  There was a faucet on the street where people were filling jugs with Hot Springs water.  Decided to fill a glass for myself, for whatever magical mystical powers or minerals might be in the water.  Didn't realize that it came out of the facet at about 125 degrees, so I couldn't drink it until it was in the fridge for a day.  Hot Springs is a pretty little town; would be nice to return and explore some more someday.

Sign in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Outside the door of the RV in the morning.
After Hot Springs I meandered east and south, ending at Biloxi, MS.

Interesting mural painted on a building
Ryder modeling her new sun visor
It is now August 31, and a tropical storm is blowing up the gulf coast of Florida and along Alabama and Biloxi.  I'm planning on cutting the trip short by one day and heading back to St. Augustine early in the morning.  There is one more post planned for this blog, a wrap-up of some of the statistics, highlights of the trip and other items that didn't make it into the printed blog.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

2016 Epic Road Trip - Day 105

Day 105

August 26, 2016

Pea Ridge National Military Park in Arkansas was the stop for today.  A battle was fought here during the Civil War which saved Missouri for the Union in 1862, which was one of the Government's primary early objectives.

I can't believe this epic trip is almost at an end. Less than a week to go before I am back home in Florida.

I have a couple more stops planned in the next couple days, but otherwise, this chapter of the blog will be completed.

2016 Epic Road Trip - Day 104

Day 104

Aug 25, 2016

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas was the first visit today.  Years ago, there was over 140 million acres of tallgrass in the Midwest prairie lands; today only 4% of it remains.

It could grow to 8 feet high and had roots extending down 15-25 feet below ground, providing food and habitat for hundreds of different prairie animals and soil insects.  One of those animals was the prairie chicken.

After John Deere invented the steel moldboard plow which could cut through the tough prairie sod, the settlers went to work cultivating the land.  It took less than a generation to break the prairie soil and forever change the land.

Tall grass prairie is also home to bison who recently have taken to harassing the hikers...kind of funny in a way.

The land changed hands many times from the settlers to railroad and to subsequent ranchers and farmers. The buildings have been renovated, torn down and rebuilt through the years until purchased in 1996 by the Nature Conservancy to preserve it, in cooperation with the National Park Service. The existing complex of buildings are made of stone and well-restored.

I passed through Yates Center, KS which is the Hay capitol of the world.  What a reputation and another bit of trivia.

Next stop was Fort Scott on the eastern border of Kansas. It has an interesting history.  Back in the days of young America, we pushed the Indians westward.  The US was essentially east of the Mississippi.  Fort Scott was established in 1842 and staffed by soldiers to preserve peace and to enforce a promise made to the Indians that they could have the land west of the Mississippi River where white settlement would be forbidden.  Fort Scott and a number of other forts were built upon the Permanent Indian frontier line.

This Permanent frontier line didn’t last long.  It was in the late 1840s that the gold rush began and white settlers continued westward believing that the US had a divine right to own lands from coast to coast, as well as engaging in the Mexican-American War through which the US acquired vast new land in the southwest. The Indians were moved farther west.

There was virtually no combat among the soldiers stationed here.  However, there was a hospital ward set up, which mostly treated the soldiers for pneumonia, alcoholism and mental issues.  The medical instruments were primitive – hacksaws, pliers and the likes.

The final stop today was the George Washington Carver National Monument in Missouri.  He was born a slave in 1864, kidnapped as an infant along with his mother.  The mother was never seen alive again, but George Washington Carver (Carver was the name of the family who owned him) was found in Arkansas nearly dead from whooping cough and returned back to the Carver farm in Kansas. Due to his frail health, he was freed from many daily chores, giving him time to explore in the woods and marvel at the wonder of nature and learn to paint. 

As a child he was not allowed to attend school, but as he approached adulthood, he was accepted as an art major at Simpson College in Iowa, where he was the only black student.  A year later he transferred to the Iowa State Agricultural College to pursue agriculture, where he earned both his Bachelors and Masters Degrees.

He began working with peanuts, intending to free African American farmers and the South from the tyranny of king cotton.  He convinced farmers to grow soybeans and peanuts in addition to cotton.  He transformed peanuts into ink, paper soap, glue, dyes, massage oil, milk, cosmetics and more.  He became renowned as a symbol of interracial cooperation and when he died in 1943, Congress designated the George Washington Carver National Monument to honor an African American scientist, educator and humanitarian.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.  This park employee was celebrating the occasion at the G.W. Carver National Monument.

2016 Epic Road Trip - Day 103

Day 103

Aug 24, 2016

Fort Larned, KS was the destination today.  This was a fort built back in the late 1800s to protect the Santa Fe Trail, which carried millions of dollars of goods between Santa Fe and Independence, MO.  This fort was built without walls, an unusual design back in those days.  The acquisition of lands resulting from the war with Mexico and the gold rushes added to the traffic on the route.

After this it was washing day for the rv.  I had more yellow moths smashed on the front of the RV than could fit.  And it was another spa day for Ryder.  Back in Fairbanks in early July, the groomer had taken very little length off her fur, and it was getting pretty messy.  Now she’s clean and half the pup she used to be.

Horrific thunderstorm at night; pup was scared of the lightening and the sounds of thunder.  However, I was only 50 feet from an underground storm shelter, so I knew we could make it, if needed. You know you are in the plains when the campground management tells you where the storm shelter is first and then says how much the campground costs for the

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

2016 Epic Road Trip - Day 102

Day 102

 Aug 23, 2016

Continued the eastward trek across Colorado and into Kansas.  Lost Toto, but found this saloon.  Do you remember what TV show had this character?

Next stop was Bent's Old Fort, which consisted of a fort.  It was a stop along the fur trader route and the Santa Fe trail to trade with Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indians and trappers for buffalo robes. For much of its 16-year history, the fort was the only major white American permanent settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements. It was destroyed under mysterious circumstances in 1849.

Bent's Old Fort.

Was just driving along and found this sign, so I stopped.  A week or so ago in Oregon, I had toured the Manzanar relocation camp where Japanese citizens and non-citizens were held during WWII.  This was another of the camps.

 Another interesting site in Kansas - I drove past the manufacturing/assembly plant for the windmills that dot the landscape.

Windmill parts shrink-wrapped and ready for shipment.

Stopped in Dodge City, KS for a little while before heading to Kinsley, KS to call it a night.