Cloudcroft New Mexico is located in the Sacramento Mountains in the southeastern part of the state. In this hot dry region it is an comfortable oasis due to its elevation. Fodor’s travel recently called it one of the most overlooked places in the country. We visited on our way from Palm Springs to Florida. The railroad history, mild weather, scenic views and hiking made this a place we’ll come back to visit.
The Alamogordo and Sacramento Railroad climbed over 4000 feet in 32 miles with grades of up to an unheard of 6.4%! Historically trains slowly climbed trestles and S curves to the timber in the mountains. Vacationers flocked to the mountain air on up to 5 trains per day from El Paso. This was one of the most spectacular western railroads. Today trestles can be reached via hiking trails.
We stayed at the Cool Pines RV Park in nearby Mayhill. It’s a lovely quiet park.
We really never heard of Kilgore let alone planned to visit but our granddaughter recently moved there so we had to stop by. The town operates the Harris St RV park near downtown. It is very nice with paved sites and beautiful lawns although its a little difficult to reserve thru the city. The rate was $20/night for water and electric site with an onsite dump station. Our granddaughter moved to Kilgore to pursue her passion for horror films and actually landed a leading part in the upcoming prequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
What surprised us was the first class museums and lively downtown of Kilgore. The East Texas Oil Museum tells the story of the first east Texas oil strike right under the town in 1930. What happened next was amazing. The small dying town exploded overnite into a boom town. At one point there were more than 1100 producing wells within the city limits. The East Texas Oil Museum is a first class facility telling the story.
Another unexpected attraction was the Texas Broadcast Museum. A couple of locals collected an incredible array of historic TV and radio broadcast equipment. Among the historic items we saw were one of the original 3 ESPN mobile broadcast trucks, the actual TV camera that filmed Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald and a projection TV built in 1948. For fans of history and technology this was a very interesting museum.
We very much enjoyed meeting our daughter in Kilgore to visit our granddaughter. The town was upbeat and friendly. Right off I-20 we would recommend it as a pleasurable stop for travelers in Texas.
One of our absolute favorite national parks is Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona. We remember the smell of the forest the first time we visited. The park is located about an hour from the RV parks in Benson. Its an easy day trip but we hope to camp at the park campground one day. The Chiricahua Mountains rise up to 9,273 feet with plants and animals from 4 ecosystems meeting in this range. There are species from the Rocky Mountains, the Sonoran Desert, the Chihuahuan Desert and even the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.. This area was home to the Chiricahua Apache since the1400s. They called the rock pinnacles “standing up rocks”.
Our favorite trail is the Echo Canyon loop which combines 3 trails into a spectacular 3.4 mile loop. There are views of the rock pinnacles around every turn on this easy to moderate hike. We love it so much we haven’t tried another trail.
We know there are many more trails to explore. There is also much human history to learn. For these reasons we know we’ll return to this beautiful national park. Its one of those we call 3rd or 4th level parks that are less well known and just isolated enough to be safe from overwhelming crowds. Only tell your best friends.
Florida has many nice state parks with good campgrounds. Payne’s Prairie is one we have been curious about for a very long time. Every trip north or south on I-75 crosses Payne’s Prairie near Gainesville. The campground is accessed from the south side near Micanopy. There are 50 campsites which offer electric and water hookups as well as very nice restrooms and showers. There is a dump station too. For tenters there are fine campsites off the main loop. Our smaller 25 foot RV fit in very nicely.
We visited in December and the weather was very mild – warm days and cool nights. The prairie is 27,000 acres of mostly wetlands with an amazing abundance of wildlife. It is home to a small herd of bison which once roamed Florida. Many wild horses and cattle descended from those brought by the early Spanish explorers find home here. Birdlife is abundant as well for migratory and resident birds. The park has a fine visitor center and museum interpreting the nature and history. Staff are friendly and knowledgeable. While we were there we saw bison, horses, alligators, eagles, deer, owls, egrets, ibis, herons, bitterns, gallinules and anhinga as well as others we could not identify.
We enjoyed the campground, wildlife and many trails. Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park is one we would highly recommend.
We always like visiting the Oregon coast in the Fall. The summer crowds are gone and the weather is mild. Our Thousand Trails membership offers us multiple RV parks along the Pacific coast. We love watching for whales, hiking and collecting wild edible mushrooms.
Newport Oregon is one of our favorite coastal towns for the artisans, murals, lighthouses and rafts built to accommodate the abundant sea lions. They are numerous boisterous and adorable.
Sure there are cool and rainy days on the Oregon coast in the Fall but we have lots of warm sunny days in Florida and enjoy the change.
This year marks our 40th wedding anniversary and as if that wasn’t memorable enough we wanted a travel experience to commemorate the event.
What to do in the face of a surging pandemic! We have been cruisers for a long time and found a trip to one of our favorite places, Alaska. Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas was sailing out of Seattle in September on a seven day itinerary at the same time as our visit to family there. Perfect. No border crossings to worry about. No unvaccinated guests allowed. Negative Covid test 72 hours before sailing. Reduced passenger load with full crew. Travel insurance in case we decide to cancel. And great ports along the Inside Passage.
We had taken an Alaska cruise 23 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. This cruise planned stops in Sitka, Icy Strait Point, Juneau and Ketchikan. The trip began on schedule sailing north in Puget Sound. The next morning we noticed we were sailing slowly south off the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula. We then learned that bad weather around Sitka was causing our captain to dilly dally near Washington until the weather cleared. This resulted in our Icy Strait port being cancelled and our guided hike there cancelled. While we were disappointed, we were glad the captain was looking out for us.
The story of Sitka is the story of Alaska. The Tlingit people thrived here for countless generations before Russian fur traders came for the abundant sea otters and their pelts. The Sitka National Historical Park tells the story of the complex culture of the Tlinget and the conflict with the Russians. There is an impressive collection of totems as well as the Russian Bishop’s house and the site where Alaska was turned over to the United States in 1867. The Russians really had no interest in colonization as they were only there for the furs. As the fur trade declined they were happy to sell their interests to the Americans. Of course the Tlingit had no say in this and continued a long decline before a rejuvenation in the 1960s. This is a particularly abundant area of Alaska with an ice free harbor, a temperate rain forest of Sitka spruce and Western hemlock and rivers hosting massive salmon spawns. The area supports brown bears, river otters, mink, black-tailed deer and over 150 species of birds.
The mid-point of our our cruise brought us to Endicott Arm, Dawes Glacier and Alaska’s state capital – Juneau. Our wet chilly morning visit to the fjord and glacier views was awesome. The water in front of a glacier is such a unique color. The chunks of ice floating all around us were beautiful. Juneau itself was still partially shut down due to the pandemic and the cold weather cancelled our planned kayaking experience but we had a good time.
Ketchikan was our last port of call on our Alaska cruise. As with our other stops this one was more enjoyable since ours was the only visiting ship that day. Creek St is the historic red light district that operated until 1954. A local salmon hatchery had thousands of fish following their DNA upstream to spawn. Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of totems which began to be restored by the CCC during the Roosevelt administration.
Reflecting on our cruise we realize we were not just taking a vacation for ourselves but also rejuvenating the cruise industry and the musicians artists and other workers severely impacted by the pandemic. So often during the cruise the crew thanked us for coming back. In this era of huge cruise ships this really was a dream cruise. The crowds onboard and ashore associated with modern cruising just really were not an issue with this cruise. It proved to be the memorable celebration of our 40th anniversary we were looking for.
A long time favorite, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a historic beautiful 444 mile meander through mostly Mississippi from Natchez to near Nashville TN. The parkway preserves a historic route taken by early 19th century boatmen back north after delivering their boats and cargo down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez. Those boatmen were following the Native American travel route who in turn were following the seasonal migration pattern of bison to salt licks in Tennessee. Natchez was a the principal trading port for cotton and other plantation crops sold to northern markets and Europe. It had more millionaires than Boston.
The parkway is a unit of the National Park Service. There are 3 campgrounds along the way. We stayed at the Rocky Springs campground after entering the parkway near Clinton MS. The campground has no hookups with nicely spaced paved sites. Our new smaller rig fit in perfectly.
Rocky Springs is now a ghost town near the parkway. In 1860 it had a population of 2616 inhabitants 2000 of whom were slaves. The Civil War, yellow fever and the cotton boll weevil led to the demise of the town. The spring dried up and all that remains is the historic church and a cemetery.
The Golden Spike Chapter of the Family Motor Coach Association is a group of RV enthusiasts who also love trains We were fortunate enough to join in their rally in Pleasonton California. We had 16 RVs and 32 people attending. Huge thank you to Dan St. John for organizing the event. We stayed at the Alameda County Fairgrounds RV Park and rode the Niles Canyon Railway which was operating a steam locomotive.
The railway operates on a historic route that was originally the westernmost segment of the first transcontinental railroad. The line through Niles Canyon connected Sacramento to Oakland and then by ferry to San Francisco. The National Park Service has designated the line as The Niles Canyon Transcontinental Railroad Historic District. It was completed in 1870 by mostly Chinese workers and is one the best preserved segments in the western US. The Central Pacific and Western Pacific railroads built the line which later became part of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Today the train runs from Sunol to Niles which is actually in the city of Fremont CA.
Just as we said we would be taking short trips in our new cozy RV we embarked on a 3 month odyssey across the country to the Pacific Northwest. We instantly feel in love with the maneuverability of the smaller motorhome as we stayed in Corps of Engineers campgrounds in Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri.
As it was right on our way, we visited Branson MO. We’ve heard of Branson forever and thought this was a good chance to check it out. The town itself is pretty ugly gaudy out-of-control “entertainment” development but we did thoroughly enjoy the Titanic Museum. The museum contained many artifacts and thoughtful exhibits. We specially liked the assignment of a passenger name to every visitor who then could be followed to the disaster in the end. It was very engaging.
Moving on to Nebraska we stopped in Kearney where we visited Ft. Kearny State Historical Park. The park was established by local citizens to preserve one of the most important resupply stops along the emigrant trails of the mid 19th century. It was abandoned in 1871 after the railroad made it no longer necessary.
Next along our route we visited Chimney Rock. Lakota Sioux had a name for this place which basically meant elk penis while emigrants called it chimney rock. One can clearly see it could be seen for many miles and guide travelers along their way.
From Nebraska we headed into Wyoming where we visited Ft. Laramie. Ft Laramie National Historic Site was established in 1938 to preserve and interpret one of the most important sites of the western plains. Ft Laramie was first settled as an outpost for the fur trade between 1815 and 1820 by Jacque La Ramee who disappeared while hunting alone. The subsequent forts and city are named for him. The fur trade fort was bought by the US Army in 1849 to protect emigrants and gold seekers along the Oregon, California and Mormon trails. The fort was decommissioned in 1890.
After Ft Laramie we stopped in the northeast WY town of Buffalo. For fans of the “Longmire” series on Netflix. Buffalo claims to be the model for the fictional town of Durant Wyoming where the show is based. The author of the Longmire books visits often and Longmire Days is a popular festival. We even picked up a Red Pony T-shirt. Buffalo is also just a nice friendly western town.
One of the real joys of our new motorhome is being able to stay in the many state park and national forest campgrounds in Florida. Recently our local kayak group set its sights on the Juniper Springs Run in the Ocala National Forest. Checking mid-week in May we found lots of campsites available. Our 25 foot RV is perfect for this campground. The sites are well spaced with a large variety of palms, trees and scrubs. Sites are no hook up with nice restrooms and water nearby. And being mid-week there were not too many kayakers on the run.
The spring pool was developed by the CCC in the 1930s and features a working water powered mill. The water is crystal clear and there are many many springs in the area. The run is 7 miles long and takes 4.5 to 5 hours to paddle. No disposable containers or wrappers are allowed. The current is swift and the course is narrow with countless bends and turns and fallen trees to navigate. There is not much need to paddle other than to avoid the next tree or bush and that is a factor constantly. After the 5 mile mark there is actually a rapids! We all made it through it OK but a few paddlers were pitched into the river elsewhere.
Our friend Mike created this you-tube video of our trip. Thanks Mike.
All in all it was an exhilarating trip down the Juniper Springs run. Not for beginners. Like an “E” ticket ride, we wanted to do it all over again. What a beautiful experience.