Today we made the short drive north to St. Augustine, FL and visited the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. It is a Spanish fort, built in 1672, that was built out of Coquina, a rock made of compressed shells and sand. It was very interesting to see how the fort was operated in different ways over time and how people lived inside the fort. After going over the draw bridge,and over the moat (the kids thought this was SO cool!), we passed through the front gate and explored all of the different rooms and displays in the lower level. The kids worked on their Jr. Ranger books and were done before too long. A Ranger had a special display set up about spices and the spice trade that we found very interesting. The ranger explained how the sailing ships utilized the trade winds and Gulf Stream currents to maximize speed and distance while traveling between Spain and the Americas.
We packed up and were pulling out of Springfield, MO on Friday, September 8th. Our final destination was sunny Daytona Beach, FL. However, our plans had a problem…Hurricane Irma was bearing down on the Florida coast. We contacted the hospital where Kevin was supposed to start working the following Tuesday and we were advised to stay away and make it down to Daytona when it was safe to do so. So, what shall we do with our time that has become free, but without a definite end-date? Go exploring! The nice thing about living in an RV is that one is open to change itineraries almost with no advance planning. We decided to wing it, as they say.
We left Springfield on Friday as planned and headed east through Saint Louis, then on to Mammoth Cave in Bowling Green, KY. We took a tour of the cavern, enjoyed the woods, and the kids made some new Fulltime RV friends also staying at the Mammoth Cave campground. We opted to stay for two nights, which allowed us the time to make a side trip to Louisville, KY to get Heather’s iPhone fixed at the Apple store and explore the Louisville Slugger factory & museum.
From Mammoth Cave we trekked further east, keeping a very tight watch on the storm predictions and path, to Spartanburg, SC to visit a friend who Kevin worked with in Ohio (prior to traveling), who is now a Nurse Practitioner. We visited, ate together, and the kids enjoyed playing on our friend’s X-Box Kinect while the adults visited and the dogs investigated the house.
We had paid for two nights at the last spot in the campground in Spartanburg with no idea when we would be leaving. By Tuesday morning the storm had passed and the sun had come back out. We had only lost power for part of the night and had barely noticed since we had not been hooked up to the electrical grid since before leaving Missouri. We tried contacting the campground where we had planned to stay near Daytona Beach but were not able to make contact. Kevin also contacted some of his friends in the Daytona area to see how they had fared. It seemed that power was spotty and some places had flooded but it was mostly ok. We had been worried since the prediction was that some places would not have power again for more than a week. After that, we contacted another campground that was fully up and running and had a spot for us. Great!
To hopefully avoid some of the crazy amounts of traffic that we had heard were flooding back into the Sunshine State, we got up early in the morning (3am) and were on the road by 3:30. The night traffic was not bad at all and really neither was the early daytime traffic. Traffic was not too crazy and we made our way steadily down toward Daytona. We were a bit surprised when quite a few I-95 exits in southern Georgia were blocked by State Patrol cruisers and/or Army National Guard Humvees. We had plenty of fuel and were able to top-off in northern Florida after waiting in a quickly moving line. We topped everything off in case we were not able get fuel closer to Daytona. Enroute to Daytona we saw many convoys of power company trucks, tree trimmers, and emergency relief organizations. We even got passed by an official FEMA convoy in Northern Florida.
We arrived at our destination shortly before noon on Wednesday, and after getting all hooked up, we went exploring instead of going straight to bed. We viewed some of the damage, visited the beach, and enjoyed dinner at Outback Steakhouse before returning to our campground for an early bedtime. As we were enjoying our Bloomin’ Onion we noted that we were feeling kind of badly since we were eating dinner at a restaurant while Kevin’s sister was still without power and had been taking cold showers for the past 3 days on the west coast of Florida.
A symbol of Westward Expansion
Today, on the way to Ohio for the weekend, we visited the St. Louis Arch. While the arch visitor center is under some renovation and the Museum of Westward Expansion was closed, the arch itself was still open to visitors and we were able to walk through the base of the arch, view the 30 minute informational video detailing the construction of the arch, and walk through the gift shop. The kids were able to complete the Junior Ranger program booklet for the arch and received their Junior Ranger badges. I really am appreciative that the National Parks Service has continued the Junior Ranger program at all their parks for the kids as the kids really seem to enjoy it.
The arch itself is quite large, standing approximately 640 feet tall along the Mississippi river, beside the Missouri/Illinois state line. Made of structural steel and concrete and skinned with stainless steel, it is an impressive sight to see in person. While it can be seen for miles around, and we viewed it from the freeway last May on our way through the city, I am glad we took the time to actually visit the site this year. The fact that we have a National Parks Pass made it even better, as admission was free with our pass. I will note that we made this a side trip with just the van. Trying to find parking near the arch for the truck-RV combo or the van-box trailer combo would have been much more difficult if possible at all. In all we spent about 2.5 hours at the arch before piling back in the van and continuing our trip to Ohio. As with most, if not all, of the National Parks sites I would recommend making the stop if you are in the area.
We had already been on the road for a day, and had made good progress along our trek to Missouri, having covered 500 miles and traversing the mountains that run through NV and AZ. I was originally looking at the map along our route to see what we had in store for us the following day when I discovered Petrified Forest National Park along the way. I figured we could pull off the freeway, spend an hour or two in the park, and be back on the road fairly quickly. Yeah…that was a nice thought. The park was very interesting and we all loved examining the many pieces of petrified wood that covered the expanses. We also thought the layers, lines, and color differences of the hills and rocks were quite exquisite. We left the truck and RV in the visitor center parking lot and took the more maneuverable van through the park. We stopped at Newspaper Rock, a site of many petroglyphs, as well as taking a short 1-mile walk along a paved trail. Dixie, who had been cooped up most of our visit in California, was happy to be able to walk along the trail with us. The hour or so that I had planned on turned into over 4 hours, but we all really enjoyed the park and the kids completed their Junior Ranger booklets and collected their Ranger badges before we loaded back into the vehicles and returned to the freeway. At this point I was a little grumpy and worried that we would be behind schedule by making the originally-unscheduled stop, but by the time we pulled off the road for the night around midnight we had made it another 500 miles, and I was at ease again.
One of the days while we were in California we took the opportunity to visit Joshua Tree National Park. We didn’t arrive at the park visitor center until mid-afternoon, and by the time all 6 kids had made a bathroom stop and Miss Kicky Feet was changed, it was approaching evening as we headed into the actual park. We found a trail that interested us and off we went. We were not on the trail very long when the kids were again off the trail and scaling the rocks and boulders that are common in the park. This sort of thing is not frowned upon, if not encouraged, so we too took to climbing after them and enjoying acting like mountaineers. We eventually returned to the trail for a bit before climbing more rocks. This did, however, significantly slow our progress along the trail so a 1.1 mile loop trail took us over 2 hours to complete. By this time we were quickly approaching sunset. We had originally planned to watch the sunset from another trail-head in the park, but with 10 minutes left before official sunset, we knew we would never make it in time. We instead drove through the park enjoying the sights along the way. When we reached the next trail-head the sun had set, but we had a decent glow still on the horizon. We took the time to eat dinner from our cooler at a randomly chosen campsite picnic table before loading up under the bright moon (now well after dark) and driving back to the campground (outside Joshua Tree) at which the RV was parked. Bug did not even make it out of the park before I heard his long even breaths and found him completely asleep in the back seat. While we did enjoy ourselves in the park, I was glad we had our National Parks Pass and did not need to pay the admission fee of $25 for our vehicle. If we had not had our pass I would have wanted to start earlier in the day and hike more of the trails to make it worth the money.
For those of you not familiar with Joshua Trees, they are actually not trees in the traditional sense of the word, but rather large Yucca plants that resemble a small tree is shape and size. They were named Joshua Trees by Mormon settlers who thought the upward reaching branches resembled Joshua, a Biblical man, reaching for the sky in prayer. Heather found it neat that the park visitor center sold Joshua tree seeds.
A side note from Heather: Climbing lots and lots of boulders with a baby strapped to your chest is a great (or terrible depending on your perspective) thigh workout. Yep, I was sore for days and days. Need to do this again.
Today was an interesting day. We are currently outside of Los Angeles, CA to visit my sister. She offered to watch all three of our children for the day while Heather and I enjoyed some children-free time. We had such lofty goals for the day on our own, but alas, reality set in part way through the day and our fun was cut short. We started the day off by dropping the fifth wheel, our home, at a repair shop for them to determine why the trailer brakes are not actuating when the brakes are applied. Then we dropped off the kids, and we were on our own!
We started our day alone on a high note as the truck climbed 4,000 feet of elevation into the San Bernardino National Forest. We strolled down the Sequoia Nature Trail at Heaps Peak Arboretum. It was a peaceful stroll through the forest listening to the birds and admiring the trees and bushes along the trail. We then stopped by the Hotshots Wildland Firefighter Helipad at Heaps Peak. One of the crew members showed us around the aircraft and let us climb up into the helicopter as he explained the functions and features of the aircraft.
After pulling out of the Helipad, we drove along the Rim of the World Scenic Byway, which offered some fantastic views out across the San Bernardino valley below. As we descended out of the forest we got a call from the RV repair shop informing us that we would need all 4 of the brakes completely replaced on the RV (to the tune of $1,100), and that it would not be done until tomorrow, which posed a problem for our full-time RV family, as it is our home. The shop said we were not allowed to stay in the RV on their property, so we would need to get a hotel room for the night. We spent most of the remaining drive getting a pet-friendly hotel booked, handling miscellaneous logistics, and thinking of what all we would need out of the RV for the next 24 hours. We stopped by the repair center to retrieve items from the RV and load them into the truck. It was now going on 2:30pm, so we stopped for some very good Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and onion rings before returning to my sister’s house to reclaim our children and heading to the hotel for the night. We heard that the kids thoroughly enjoyed the day spent with cousins, which was not a surprise.
The night ended on another high note as I got to sit in the hotel room watching baseball and eating buffalo wing flavored pretzel pieces as the kids played on the floor and beds of the hotel room. Tomorrow we should have the RV back and will be off on our next adventure.
While at Big Bend National Park in Texas we purchased an annual National Parks pass. We did this in anticipation of us visiting more national parks this year along our travels in the western US.
Today we made use of our pass by exploring White Sands National Monument (WSNM) in New Mexico. For those of you who are not familiar with it, WSNM is a huge deposit of gypsum in the middle of the desert. We could see White Sands from miles away as it looked like a large snow bank in the middle of the tan desert sand. The monument was small in comparison to Big Bend, but it was impressive, none-the-less. It had a nice visitor center where we picked up the kids’ Junior Ranger booklets on the way into the park.
We purchased plastic saucer sleds at the gift shop as well as board wax to help the sleds slide on the gypsum sand. We drove through the park until we found our “perfect spot” and the sledding commenced! Our calves got a good workout as we trudged back up the hill after each sled ride down the dune. The gift shop recommended that we re-wax the sleds about every 4-6 trips down to ensure a good glide over the abrasive sands, which we tried to stick to….well, most of the time.
The gypsum sand was quite hot on the surface, but surprisingly if one digs down in the sand just a few inches, the sand below the surface was cool and comfortable. Pie, who declared she was “roasting” dug a small fox hole in the sand, laid in it, and covered herself with sand. Then both she and Bug took turns rolling down the hill before jumping back on the sleds. Miss Kicky Feet enjoyed playing in the sand as well, and was able to get her fingers in her mouth quicker than we could grab them, so she tasted some gypsum sand as well.
It wasn’t long before we were all quite warm, so we piled back into the vehicles and headed off down the highway en-route to California for a visit with family.