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!
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!
Before we left this beautiful area, I wanted to take the dogs out, alone, back into the mountains to breathe the mountain air and fill my soul. Drew recommended I drive out to the Blue Lakes off Highway 88 (Carson Pass Highway), along Hope Valley Road.
This road follows the West Fork of the Carson River through a wonderful valley and past a few mountain homes finally giving away to complete wilderness. It’s a 2 lane highway past running water, lots of trees, and along a cut between Markleeville Peak, The Nipple, and Jeff Davis Peak.
We reached the end of the road at the Blue Lakes and drove along Lower Blue Lake. The land here is made up gigantic smooth rocks with trees growing up through the cracks, it’s a great place for Corgis to run around!
The wind has twisted most of the trees out here over the years.
Back to those Corgis….. they loved running around on the large flat mountain rocks, chasing each other and barking as much as they wanted! In the photo just above, you can see a tree and a bunch of bushes growing at the water’s edge and Zeplyn running along the top of the rock. Well, the Corgis are not accustomed to big smooth rocks that drop of suddenly — sure enough, first Ratchet fell down into those bushes, then, while I was trying to figure out how to get him back up and out, Zeplyn slid down there too! Now I had 2 dogs scrambling around on the branches just above that water and about 4’ below me trying to figure out how to get back out. Zeplyn is still young enough (he’s only 8 years old) and was able to claw his way back up the rock and onto the top. Ratchet is 11 and a bit heavier; no way was he going to scramble up that rock! I finally figured out how to approach it from the tree side, coax Ratchet over to me by climbing over the branches, and carry him back to the upper side of the rocks! Whew!!!!
We returned to the car and headed back to Tahoe, snow was coming! We are leaving tomorrow and I’ve got some packing to do!
We hiked several days into the Sierra Nevada Mountains around Lake Tahoe. One day, Barry & I drove out to Kirkwood Ski Resort and had lunch and took a long different way back to the coach.
Another day, Drew & I left to hike out with my backpack loaded to get used to carrying it packed. We parked off Highway 88 at Carson Pass, loaded up and set off toward Winnemucca Lake.
In the background of the above photo is a mountain called, “Elephant’s Back”….it does look like the skin you might see on an elephant!
Today we hiked about 10 miles round trip, climbed about 2,000’ in elevation, and needed about 4.5 hours with all my stops to rest. Drew was so very patient with me especially on the return trip out when this happened: