Castle Rocks State Park / City of Rocks National Reserve

This past weekend, the family hit the highway with the fifth-wheel and headed four hours east to Idaho’s Castle Rocks State Park, roughly 12 miles from the Utah border. downpourThe weekend got off to a less than promising start as no sooner had we parked and unhitched the trailer when the skies opened up, and a mini monsoon was unleashed, followed by hail.

double rainbow-2After about 20 minutes, the rains let up, the skies began to clear, and we were treated to a double rainbow. The rest of the weekend stayed in the upper 80s, 15-20 degrees cooler than back home in Boise.

We stayed in Smoky Mountain Campground, which features 32 sites with water and electric hookups, roughly a third of them pull-thru sites. (There is also an equestrian loop with a handful of additional sites.) Our pull-thru site was a bit more challenging to maneuver that others as the arc of the site was pretty sharp and required a few tries to get the trailer situated. Our site had a bit of shade, but most of the pull-thru sites are more open, with the shadiest sites being back-in. Shadiest, however, is a relative turn as none of the sites is fully shaded. This is high desert, after all.

Smoky Mountain is fairly well laid out. A few of the sites are almost on top of one another and would serve best for a group of friends, but most of the sites have decent spacing between them. The campground also has flush toilets and showers on site, as well as garbage and recycling service although, oddly enough, I did not see a recycling container for cardboard or paper. They do, however, collect glass for recycling.

As enjoyable as the campground was, though, the highlight of the trip was City of Rocks National Reserve, part of the national Park Service but administered by Idaho Parks and Recreation. The reserve is a popular location for rock climbers and features close to 70 mostly tent-only campsites. A park ranger told me the area was packed in June. With the warmer weather, the areas was not as crowded, though it was still busy.

elephant rockThe unique rock formations are vaguely reminiscent of the Badlands of South Dakota and the hoodoos of Utah, although the coloring is not as vivid. Just after you enter the reserve, there is a turn-off to the right that leads to an overlook where there are several hiking trails (also open to horseback). The road warns against taking anything longer than 20-feet up the road, though we handled it easily in our F-350 dually.

There are numerous picture-taking opportunities, along with a handful of hiking trails interspersed throughout. BLM land is also part of the mix, so it was not unusual to see cattle grazing or walking along the road. Although some of the youngsters were a bit spooked by our presence, most of the older cattle had seen enough vehicular traffic to ignore us as we drove past.

While not as well-known as the Oregon Trail, the area does have some historical significance in terms of the settling of the West. The California Emigrant Trail, widely used between 1845 and 1869, passes through here after breaking off from the Oregon Trail. An alternate trail from the Salt Lake area joins the California trail here. This trail also served as a stage route between Utah and Boise up into the early 1880s. If you are into old ruins, there is also the remainder of an early 20th-century house within the reserve. The Circle Creek Rock House was built by a rock mason and house builder in 1905 and used 18-inch thick rock walls for insulation.

There were two downsides to our weekend at City of Rocks and Castle Rocks State Park. One, it was much too short. I could easily see spending a week or more exploring the area in and around the park. The second downside was all of the gnats and small flies we encountered. There may also have been the odd mosquito, but with all of the other nearly microscopic flying insects I kept waving off, it was hard to tell. Despite that inconvenience, this is an area I want to visit again. Next time, though, I’ll stay longer. I’ll also remember the insect repellent.


Will Summer Ever Come?

Looking at the calendar as it is about to change from February to March, I know in my head that warmer weather will be here sooner rather than later. However, looking outside of wet ground and having seen the flags outside my workplace blowing harder than a politician filibustering on the House or Senate floor, my heart questions the wisdom of my head.

I am so ready for the spring and summer to arrive. I worry about our fifth-wheel trailer sitting in its uncovered storage spot, feeling neglected and unloved, and I hope it realizes that I’ve been thinking about it constantly since we parked it for the winter too many months ago.

Every month, we conscientiously charge the batteries of our trailer, part of the pre-camping ritual that remains to remind us that RVing season will soon be here. Each month, I dutifully perform this duty that right now serves as a cruel reminder that we cannot yet hit the road for a weekend (or longer) in the RV.

But, just as the sparrows return to San Juan Capistrano, so too will the warmer weather return to our part of the country. When it does, we will be ready. And hopefully, so will our batteries.

Time Keeps On Slippin’

It’s been quite a while since my last post here. Not because we haven’t had the trailer out. I’m not sure why, really. At first, I thought maybe it was because we hadn’t gone anywhere or done anything, but that’s not quite true.

For instance, since my last post, we have upgraded our rig to a 34-foot 2007 Alpenlite Voyager fifth-wheel, which we thoroughly enjoy. We only had it a few months when I managed to get it stuck, the ultimate result of which was $16-thousand-plus in damage to both truck and trailer.

Since my last post, we have also managed a trip to SW Washington for a reunion of sorts with family and friends. My cousin, who hosts this get-together every year, sure throws one heck of a party. It was good to see so many familiar faces. We enjoyed it so much we plan to go back again this year, schedules permitting.

Since my last post, my wife and I have had several discussions about what our rig of the future might look like. Right now, we’re focusing on something along the lines of a 2012 Fleetwood Excursion 33A. It seems to have the capacity we need in a slightly smaller size that we want, plus we really like the layout. We’re probably looking at another three to five years before that purchase takes place, so there is plenty of time for some other, as yet unbuilt, rig to capture our fancy.

Right now, we are stuck in the lull between outings, the time of year here in Idaho when it is too cold to really go anywhere. We are so ready for the weather to warm up so we can take the trailer back out on the road.

At present, we don’t have many outings planned. I think we have something scheduled for Memorial Day weekend and Fourth of July weekend. We’ll also make a trip back to my cousin’s annual event, and I’m sure we’ll squeeze in a couple of other outings, although those have yet to be determined or scheduled.

I continue to look forward to the day when we can hit the road full-time, driving until we feel like stopping, going where the urge takes us, and seeing places we have not yet been. In the meantime, as Steve Miller sang, “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”

Get Out of Town

After several long work weeks and a monthly deadline to meet, we hitched up the fifth-wheel and headed out of town for the first time in a month, which for us is an eternity.

Besides the increased demands at work, the weather has not cooperated. Spring was almost nonexistent, and we nearly went from winter right into summer.

So, with the weather finally promising a turn for the better, we were happy to hit the highway to Riverpond Campground in Crouch, a little more than an hour’s drive north of Boise. We were there to join fellow members of our Good Sam RV group, the Capitol Gypsies, for the group’s monthly campout, our first as organizers, a job we thankfully shared with another couple.

What made organizing the event more of a challenge for us was the fact that for the past two weeks, Teresa has been battling some sort of cold that in turns sounds like she’s been out in the desert for weeks or has a three-pack a day smoking habit. On top of that, my allergies went into full frontal attack once we arrived. Between us, we functioned as perhaps one full person.

The campground itself is not much to write home about; its main asset is perhaps its proximity to a nearby dinner theater. Beyond that, it has 50 amp electric hookups and access to water but no individual water hookups, no sewer, and no dump station.

Illness and allergies, not to mention the massive family reunion that took place in the site next to ours, prevented us from enjoying ourselves or interacting with the rest of our group as much as we otherwise would have. Still, we managed to prepare barbecue for roughly 30 people, and we managed to squeeze in some much needed relaxation.

Teresa in the portable hammock
Teresa enjoys some
hammock time

Teresa got the chance to test out our recently purchased folding hammock. It’s lightweight and comfortable, plus it packs up into a bag not much larger than that used by a folding camping chair. Later, I got to take a turn, and got a nice sunburn for my trouble.

We also had the chance to test out our latest toy, I mean RV necessity. It’s called the Sport-Brella, and we bought it in hopes of shielding our outside cook stove from the wind. However, it also provides some nice shade for doing a little reading or simply enjoying a little time outdoors and out of the sun.

Despite our ailments, the time out of town was much needed and much enjoyed. Allergies or no allergies, I’m ready to go again and soon.

The Dangers of Window Shopping

Over Memorial Day weekend, we were supposed to take the trailer out and head to the newly remodeled and upgraded Poison Creek campground at Lake Cascade State Park.

Up until the day before our scheduled departure, we still intended to go. Then we decided to check the weather one more time and found low 40s for daytime highs and the possibility of snow – in late May. Having camped in snow once, we were not necessarily looking to repeat the experience. So we cancelled the trip.

Instead, we decided to stay in town and look at other trailers. The plan was to look at other, newer fifth-wheel trailers to see what might be out there closer to our ideal floor plan: two chairs, a three-person sofa long enough for our son to sleep on without making it into a bed, a big picture window in the back, and an entertainment center near the seating area.

That layout is fairly new from what we can determine, and at a price a bit more than we would be ready to spend at this point. Needless to say, we weren’t looking to buy. At least that’s what we thought.

2007 Wildcat 30 RLBS

The unit that caught our eye and nearly our pocketbook.

Then we saw this unit, a 2007 Wildcat from Forest River. The layout was not perfect; the entertainment center was across the living area from the seating, a little further than we liked. And there were some things that needed fixing: a cracked window, some split trim, and some loose window valences, all of which the dealer was willing to fix. Plus the price was very good for a rig 12 years newer.

The conversation began to move toward a direction we had not intended it to go. So we decided to go home and think about it.

We crunched the numbers, talked about the pros and cons, and in the end decided to wait until at least next year. Our current rig, a 1995 Kit Cordoba, is only a year and a half old as far as our possession is concerned. Next year, or even the year after that, we’ll be able to go even newer and, more importantly, have a better chance of finding the floor plan that meets all of our criteria instead of only some of them.

I think we were both surprised we came as close as we did to buying another rig. At least in our case, window shopping may not be as harmless as we thought.

Three Island Crossing

Last weekend, we hitched up the fifth-wheel and made the relatively short drive to Three Island Crossing State Park. It was a nice chance to get out of Boise for a few days.

The trip also gave me the opportunity to try my hand at shooting video, something I haven’t done in years. Here’s the first in what I hope will become a semi-regular series of video blog entries featured in these pages.

The video was shot on our trusty little Panasonic Lumix digital camera. In motion picture mode, this little camera is capable of shooting in high definition and has a built-in microphone for picking up ambient sound.

The voice track was recorded in Audacity using a Logitech Plantronics headset. The video was edited in PiTiVi, a great little video editor for Linux that also happens to be free. The final product was then converted in Avidemux, another free video editor for Linux that allowed me to get the file size down to just over 71MB.

Although the learning curve was initially a little steep, I enjoyed putting this together and hope you enjoy watching, especially if you’re thinking about a visit to Idaho in the near future.

The Bucket List

A few years ago, Rob Reiner directed a film called The Bucket List. In it, two very different men, played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, found themselves hospitalized for treatment for terminal cancer. Before they die, they decide to make a list of things they’ve always wanted to do before they die, a list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.”

I don’t have such a bucket list of activities. Instead, I have a bucket list of locations, places I’d like to go, preferably with my RV, before I die. Here, in no particular order, is my list:

Mexico – I’ve followed the travels of Tioga George off and on through his blog and seen some of the sights of Mexico through the pictures he’s posted. It looks to be a beautiful place where one can RV with relative economy. Yes, there are safety concerns, but those are mainly near the border with the U.S. and in and around large cities, places I have less interest in seeing. I am mainly interested in the mountains, some of the smaller cities, some of the historic temples and ruins, and Baja California.

Maine – I’ve always been intrigued by this rocky region, and having an RV has only intensified the desire to one day visit. In particular, I’d like to visit Acadia National Park. A few years ago, my wife bought me a National Geographic guide to the National Parks. The pictures of the park, coupled with the video show in Ken Burns’ outstanding series on our national parks, did nothing to cool my desire to one day travel to this part of our country.

Nova Scotia – If I am travelling to Maine, I might as well go a little further and visit Nova Scotia. Actually, I’ve been interested in this area since my days when I was into all things Scottish. I learned that the name actually means New Scotland. Nova Scotia, specifically Cape Breton Island, is also the birthplace of one of the great modern-day fiddle players, Natalie MacMaster. Her music evokes the life of that region to me and makes me want to visit all the more.

Texas – Specifically, I’d like to visit Southwest Texas. Even more specifically, I’m interested in visiting Guadalupe National Park. The stark beauty of the region is somehow compelling to me. If I am ever able to make the trip, I’d also be interested in seeing Big Bend National Park.

New Mexico – I’ve been interested in visiting New Mexico for several years. Although Albuquerque is the state’s largest city and no doubt worthy of a visit, I am more interested in visiting the Santa Fe area. I also like the fact that for $225 ($180 if a New Mexico resident) you can buy a year-long camping pass good for all 35 of New Mexico’s state parks. With it, primitive camping is free, electric hookups are just $4 a night.

Although these five areas have enough to see to keep me busy for quite a while, they are not the only places that would be on my traveler’s bucket list. I’ll list five more of my “must see before I die” places next time.