We left Gun Creek Campground and Illinois, crossed through Kentucky (with a pit stop at a customer’s plant), and spent 2 nights in Clarksville at Clarksville Campground. This gave us a weekend to relax and sight-see nearby at Fort Donelson National Battlefield.
This battlefield sits on a hilly overlook on the Cumberland River in Tennessee, just east of Clarksville.
The site has been well preserved, is very quiet and informative. There are beautiful river outlooks, a national cemetery, and the preserved Dover Hotel which was the site of the battle’s surrender.
On Sunday, we picked up and headed for Nashville and Grand Ole RV Park and Thanksgiving with the family!
We stopped at Gun Creek Campground on Rend Lake in central Illinois for a week. Our plans originally were for Barry to make calls in southern Illinois and south-eastern Missouri, however, other calls came up and he spent the week between here, St. Louis, Springfield, MO and Mattoon, IL…..lots of miles on the car! This gave me a great opportunity to work on some spreadsheets for the company, it’s called StL Packaging Systems, by the way!
Each day though, the Corgis and I managed to make time for long walks along the lake, in the woods or along the trails. The lake is a Corps of Engineers lake and is banked most of the way around by great big white chunky rocks that are hard to clamber on with 2 little dogs on leashes. There is a little sandy beach they have built near our campground but it has mostly washed down into the water leaving just a muddy-sandy beach in between those big rocks and plantings of some type of bamboo. The trails are paved but wander along until they just stop without warning. There is a large power line cut behind this campground and the Corgis and I hike along that and into the woods where possible. Briars grow wild here and most of our treks ended in thickets too dense to part.
The sun has been out some of the time, it rained heavily one day and knocked more leaves off the trees. They are still beautiful here with lots of bright oranges and yellows left on the maples and persimmons on several trees.
We really love stopping at this campground; full hookups, great views, quiet parking and dark at night! We stop here whenever we are working in southern Illinois, know the good places to eat, and use this campground to recharge our souls. (Notice I recharge in nature? That’s a good thing!). Our next stop will be in Nashville for a Thanksgiving celebration!
We said goodbye to our new friends from the Newmar Rally and headed just south to return to Bennett Springs for 2 weeks. This would give Barry some time to catch up on visits in southern Missouri and both of us to acclimate to Missouri after all our travels west. Hidden Valley Outfitters is our favorite campground in Missouri with full hookups and a lovely Niangua River setting for relaxing and fishing. After we were parked, he hurried to buy a Missouri fishing license and Niangua River tag and spent the evening fishing off the banks.
Every year, my family has a girls’ weekend somewhere not too far from St. Louis; this year would be at Eureka Springs, Arkansas the weekend after we arrived in Bennett Springs. My twin cousins, Mickie & Missey, picked me up on Friday and we turned our sights south. Our first stop was to get sandwiches at Schlotsky’s – a deli the girls just love, but no longer in St. Louis – for lunch. From there we took our time driving, stopping for them to geocache along the way. They stop in the funniest places looking for the cache hidden in trees or fence posts or on the ground under something!!
We arrived at the house our cousin, Joyce, had rented through VRBO.com ; a wonderful, large, log home right on Beaver Lake. Joyce and her daughter, Pam, had made us chicken Alfredo for dinner, we got hugs from my Mom, and cousin, Jill, and sat down to eat and relax.
The next morning, we got up to enjoy crepes, again made my Joyce and Pam :-)) , and made plans to drive into Eureka Springs for the day. All the roads here are curvy and change elevation quickly, probably not a good choice for our RV! Our first stop was Thornhill Chapel just outside Eureka Springs. It is a beautiful place to worship, reflect, and feel the presence of God amidst the trees in an architectural wonder.
Eureka Springs is a quaint little town built into hills and valleys with narrow streets and cramped parking. The streets do not follow a grid, but rather meander along with tight turns and steep climbs. After finally finding parking spots for our 2 cars, we began to explore. My mom wanted to sit at the town park/amphitheater to enjoy a Bluegrass Festival all day. We left her there and shopped along the way at cute shops with tea and coffee, eclectic souvenirs, children’s stuff, bath & body products, pet products, jewelry, and local wares. Close to lunch-time, I got in line to wait for a table for 9 at the Basin Park Hotel on the outdoor, 2nd floor balcony. By the time we were called, my Aunt Sis and her daughter, Kim, had arrived and we all began to catch up while we ate.
After lunch, some of us drove up to the Crescent Hotel to see the historic building, some went to geo-cache, and Mom & Aunt Sis sat down to hear more music. Weary and tired, we loaded back into our cars and headed back to the house for the night. I enjoyed a luxurious, wonderful bath in the claw-footed bathtub (not possible in an RV!). Girl talk, family history, and photos occupied us during the evening before we finally settled down for a good night’s sleep late in the night.
The next morning cousin Kim made us a delicious breakfast before we all headed back to home. A couple more geocaching stops and another visit to Schlotsky’s (those twins LOVE this place!) before they dropped me off back in Bennett Springs at the RV. We can’t wait to decide where to go next year on our trip!
After Las Vegas our next stop would be the Newmar 2017 International Rally …… but first, we had to leave Las Vegas and head East, quickly!! As Pack Expo ended on Wednesday, I packed up the coach, met Barry on Interstate 15, hooked up the car and headed north-east toward Interstate 70 at the Utah border. We drove until sunset, stopping along the road to boondock somewhere along the way in Utah for the night.
Next morning, we rose early, grabbed breakfast and determined to drive as far as possible.
We passed so many places to stop and explore but had to ignore each place with our goal in mind.
Crossing Colorado and the Rocky Mountains would be brutal, but we kept driving.
Side Note: Int. 70 across Colorado is Horrible, rough and broken in so very many places, Aunt Betty, Barry, the dogs, and I were just beat up driving it.
We drove over 1,400 miles, but finally made it to Sedalia in 3 days; memo to self: don’t do that again! Side note: We actually lost one of the big Newmar hub caps somewhere in Colorado and had to buy a new one when we got to the Rally!
After seeing Drew in South Lake Tahoe, our other main purpose of this trip is to attend PackExpo in Las Vegas. Pack Expo is a huge trade show covering every aspect of packaging products before shipping to retail and wholesale buyers. Pack Expo International occurs every other year, in Chicago, at McCormick Place, and alternates with Pack Expo Las Vegas the opposite years. It is always held in big convention centers with lots of space to display all types of machinery. This is one of the big venues for us to get sales leads and reach potential customers; it’s worth the time and sore feet!
We made early reservations outside “The Strip” in Las Vegas at Clark County Shooting Complex. I have read many reviews and blogs about the safety (or lack of) of the hotel RV parks on The Strip. Many had reported burglaries while staying there, both in and outside RV’s; I was not willing to worry about that while parked in the heart of the lights and noise of Las Vegas. The Shooting Complex sits on the north side of Las Vegas, at the foot of the Las Vegas Mountain Range, and outside the hustle and bustle of town. Reviews had mentioned the noise at this campground when shooting occurred; our reservations were from Sunday to Wednesday and we lucked out! The range is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays but open to the local military for practice; this week the range was preparing for a big public shooting event the next weekend and was closed to all! It was so nice and quiet, especially at night, to sit outside and look down on the lights of Las Vegas.
The campground has 80 paved, FHU spots all lined up in a single row, in between the trap and skeet area and the archery range, the outdoor rifle & pistol areas were further north of the campground. There is absolutely zero grass, trees or anything that even resembles green growth anywhere here….it is truly desert….the corgis had a hard time deciding where to go to the bathroom! Cactus grew everywhere around here, big fat round ones, Saguaros, prickly pear, more than I could count as well as Joshua Trees. We also saw so very many Road Runner birds and Jack Rabbits with their long ears! This time of year the weather was amazing, highs in the 80’s and low in the 50’s…..probably the best time of year to visit if you want to enjoy your trip! We would certainly stay here again.
Back to Pack Expo Las Vegas: Barry went the first 2 days alone to work at different booths, I dropped him off and stayed at the coach. I was able to do laundry and clean the coach; being in the West makes everything so dusty. By Tuesday, I was ready to go to the show and see friends and contacts and so very many machines! Every year they build new tasks for robots to complete and this year was an ice cream serving robot. All you had to do was place a cake cone in a holder and select your flavor (vanilla, chocolate, or swirl). The robot arm picked up the cone, rotated around to the ice cream maker and placed it under the correct flavor spout. Another robot arm pushed the button for the correct flavor and the ice cream filled the cone. As it completed filling, the first arm moved the cone in a small circular motion to make a swirl of ice cream on top! It then returned the cone to the original holder for you to pick it up and eat! Such fun!
Another highlight of this Expo was the FedEx Drone display. They are in the testing phase of using drones to deliver packages to a designated spot in your yard. A drone-enabled truck “picks” the correct box out of the truck cargo (of a small dimension) and places it in a loading arm. That arm raises to the roof of the truck and loads it onto the waiting drone. While the truck driver is making a nearby delivery, the drone takes the package directly to your yard and leaves it for you to retrieve. They hope this will help with more rural deliveries to prevent the truck from having to back in or out of tricky driveways, allowing the best use of the truck and driver. There were also tons of machines that form bags and boxes, fill bottles, and inspect all the above to guarantee the consumer only gets what they have purchased…..no metal shavings, etc..
After about 5 hours walking the show, I was beat and ready to head back to the coach. Barry was having dinner with some of our principals and I was on my own. As I left though, I realized that I could not leave without visiting the Strip a bit. I caught the Monorail and headed over to the Flamingo / Caesars stop, wandered through the Flamingo and out onto the Strip.
I crossed the street and waited to watch the water show at the Bellagio — always wonderful!
My next stop was the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace to enjoy the luxury shopping in a beautiful setting. I watched the “Fall of Atlantis” animatronic show with loud sound effects including water and fire. I love beautiful shoes and stopped at every one of them in the indoor mall before I came to Christian Louboutin and attempted to enter. The doors were closed a few people were milling around, maybe waiting for them to open? Someone said, “They have closed the doors to allow Nicholas Cage to shop in private!” Sure enough, Nicolas Cage was inside looking at shoes! As he completed his shopping, he allowed fans to take a photo with him; my youngest son later questioned why I did not take a photo with him? I replied, “He just looked too scruffy to me!” A previous shopping experience in the Forum Shops put me in a store with Michael Jackson! I Love Caesars Palace!!
If only we were rich, I would probably have several pair of incredible shoes in the RV, or maybe even pull a trailer with lots and lots of shoes? No, I would not, but it would be nice to just wear a pair of lovely shoes every now and then!! My feet were completely worn out by now and I returned to the coach, so tired and incredibly happy!
Today we said goodbye to the incomparable beauty of Yosemite NP and headed south and east toward Las Vegas. Snowy mountain tops along the Sierra Nevada said goodbye to summer and hello to fall (whaaat?) and we kept them in our view throughout most of today.
The drive routed us east along a pass between the White Mountains and the Inyo Mountains and through miles and miles of dry, desert lands. Beatty, Nevada, near the Sheep Mountain Range, was just far enough to give us a nice warmer overnight stop before heading further south to Las Vegas. As we drove along, the landscape changed from pine forests to sage brush, then, after we left California and got further into Nevada, the Joshua Tree (a type of Yucca) appeared. They only grow in the Mohave and Sonoran Deserts in this part of the world!!! That is awesome!
As we got closer to Beatty, we began to see burros along the highway. They have wild burros in Nevada and Arizona!!!
We arrived in Beatty, turned at the only stoplight in town(!), and pulled into Death Valley Inn & RV Park. It is about the only nice hotel here and looks decent from the front, with a pool and nice tree plantings. The RV park is next door, all gravel with very small lacy trees planted along each site — and a view of the discarded old mattresses and furniture behind the hotel. It is small, but has 50 amp FHU’s, decent shower house, and very clean laundry house; for only $35 a night, it was a nice stopover in the desert!
After freshly made lasagna and roll and cake (!) at the local diner, KC’s Outpost, we drove out to Death Valley NP. I visited here many years ago with my family for a spring desert bloom, but Barry had never been here. The eastern boundary was only 8 miles outside Beatty, past the ghost town of Rhyolite, along a long straight highway.
Tomorrow we drive a couple of hours to Las Vegas! Our first “big” city in 2 months!!
We hugged Drew enough to hold us all until we could be together again and drove south and east from Lake Tahoe, back over Carson Pass and toward Gardnerville. It had snowed overnight in the upper elevations and left Carson Pass looking like the beginning of a great snow-boarding season!
We hoped to drive a few hours east and then due south to Lee Vining, California for a 2 night stay. Lee Vining is a tiny little town between the shores of Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a “jump off” spot to Yosemite. Mono Lake is an ancient saline lake that has no fish; instead it is home to trillions of Mono Lake Brine Shrimp and Mono Lake Alkali Flies. Freshwater streams feed Mono Lake, with forests of cottonwood and willow along their banks.
We found Mono Lake RV Park and backed into our site. This is a small private park with less than 40 sites, but full hookups and 50 amps! Most of the other sites had coaches, 5th wheel’s and campers with vacationers, hunters and fishermen staying here. The town is small but had good places to eat and tourist-y shops with Native American goods. I think it would be hard to get a place to stay here in the summer as this town sits at the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park.
After some wonderful star-gazing (the Milky Way was just perfect!) and a good night’s sleep, we awoke to freezing cold temperatures and snow above us in the mountains. We had hoped to spend the day in Yosemite, but the entrance was closed due to heavy snow in the mountains. The alternative would have been to drive back to Lake Tahoe, then drive south from there to the western Yosemite entrances, a journey of 8 hours…..so we waited. We had a good breakfast and drove about 2 miles toward the entrance to scope it out and found people parked along the roadside, waiting for word from the park rangers about opening the road.
I hiked a bit up a campground road there, found a running mountain stream and a grove of aspen, and returned to the road to wait also. About noon, a park ranger drove down from Yosemite and opened the gates!! We could go in, but had to watch the time and the weather, if it started to snow again, they would close this entrance and we would have no choice but to take the 8 hour journey back around to the RV.
Neither of us had ever been to Yosemite and had really no idea what to expect. We have seen the photos of El Capitan and Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, but this does not really prepare you for actually seeing it in person. We drove up over the mountains, following switchbacks that were just clinging to the side of mountains before the terrain changed completely. Tall pine trees with snowy branches filled the sky and then the ground became huge flat and rounded stone surfaces. It looked like a commercial for Jeep where they drive them out and off-road. After about 45 minutes, we dropped down and into Yosemite Valley. Seriously, I am not going to have enough adjectives to describe the valley, a canyon cut between mountains with a running river at the bottom and the road hugging the mountain all the way down.
Around a turn, Yosemite Falls came into view. It is tall and majestic and awe-inspiring, even at the end of summer when it was at its driest. There were lots of places to park and we stopped to admire that cascade of water from the mountain snows. This time of year the tourist season was not at its height and we were able to navigate the entire valley easily.
A little further on we spotted El Capitan across the valley from Yosemite Falls. With my camera and long lens, I was able to photograph two people climbing from a sleeping platform about 1/3 of the way up. I personally could not climb a sheer mountain face or sleep on a board attached to it!! (Sadly, 2 days later, a 13 story size slab fell off the mountain face and several climbers were killed. I pray that the 2 we saw were not killed.). We wandered around Yosemite Village for a bit, bought a few souvenirs, grabbed a very expensive deli sandwich and headed back out of the Valley and toward Lee Vining.
We stopped at the lookout for Half Dome on the way back and marveled at the beauty of this entire area. If you love history as we do, take some time to read about Yosemite and John Muir and his campaign to “save” Yosemite from development for the enjoyment of future generations. The National Park Service owes a huge debt to John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt for the formation of that organization and the designation of Yosemite as one of America’s first National Parks.
As we exited the park gates and headed back to Lee Vining, we both agreed that Yosemite is definitely worth a 2 week stay on our next western trip! We said goodnight to the Milky Way and fell sound asleep dreaming about the wonders of Yosemite and planning our next visit!