Friday, February 28, 2014

Our little Road Trip, by the numbers

Seems like a lot of folks like to see a post-trip wrap up along with some of the numbers and statistics associated with our travel.

Dates of travel: 10-15-2013 to 2-19-2014
Total number of days: 127
Miles traveled: 12,664
Average MPG: 14.3
States visited*: 37

Out of the 127 nights out:

Nights spent in motels: 19
Nights camping: 36, 26 of those in free sites
Nights in rest areas: 15
Nights in truck stops: 6
The remainder of nights were spent in the homes of family and friends.

A big thank you to everyone that hosted us along the way.

*List of states visited:
Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and Oregon.

Although we didn't officially start our road trip in Alaska, the trip did really start when we left Sitka on the boat.

Add to this the fact that we had been in Montana, North Dakota and Michigan the year before on our Christmas trip and it means Madeline has visited forty of the fifty states before she turned two.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Baby Fix

For those of you reading the blog just to see pictures of Madeline:

Madeline in Alaska

Madeline in Vermont

Madeline in Maine

Madeline in Arizona

Madeline in Washington

Does the theme seem familiar?

Sunday, February 23, 2014


By an overwhelming majority, the question we get from just about everyone is:  What's next?

We have no idea.

Nicole and I both really like Sitka, but it is very expensive to live there.  We have decided it may be time to think about transferring from the boat to a house, and real estate prices in Sitka are very high.  Add to that the fact that groceries and everything else (except seafood) include the added expense of coming to town on the barge, and it's just not a cheap place to live.  So while we were on our little road trip we decided we would look at some other options to compare before committing to a life in Alaska. We also have the almost insignificant issue of both being unemployed (and having thrown away our savings on the afore-mentioned road trip), so along with housing options we needed to look into employment possibilities at the various locations as well.  We had some ideas for the places we would look, and kept an open mind for other options along the way.
Before I go into our findings, I should explain a bit about our current thinking.  With the arrival of Madeline, we both agreed that it would be wonderful to find a way to make a comfortable living working as a family.  No being away from each other for eight to ten hours everyday and no stupidly expensive daycare.  Obviously this severely limits our options.  Fishing and farming come first to mind, although some sort of family business like a store could possibly work as well.  Alaska in general and Sitka specifically would be a wonderful option for fishing and dismal for farming due to the terrain.  The Yakima area in central Washington would be just the opposite, great for farming, not so much opportunity for fishing.  This means our decision on location could limit our options of employment, or our decision of employment would do the same for location options, but either way we are going to have to make a decision about something to start the process.  So we talk about commercial fishing, we talk about a goat farm for the dairy products, we talk about raising buffalo for the meat, we talk about harvesting maple sugar for syrup, or grapes for wine, and we apply all these ideas to the places we stop that feel "live-able".  That's really our only first-cut criteria for the places we consider is the positive or "live-able" feeling we get spending a short amount of time visiting.
That being said, we came up with our short list of places that made the cut and deserve additional consideration, and would love to hear from anyone reading this if they have additional insight or information that might help our decisions.  Information on these areas is appreciated, additional suggestions are welcome, smart-ass comments are expected.

Sitka, Alaska
Burlington, Vermont
Bar Harbor, Maine
Flagstaff, Arizona
Zillah, Washington

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wine and Chocolate

We made it back to Washington, and luck would have it we were just in time for the wine and chocolate event in Yakima Valley.  Before we moved to Alaska, Nicole and I would wander over to central Washington for this event every February, and it was great to be able to spend a few days in the area to wrap up our trip.  South and east of Yakima is a wine growing area called Rattlesnake Hills, and depending on the year there are anywhere from a dozen to twenty wineries that share resources and put on the Valentines Day/Presidents Day weekend wine and chocolate event. We weren't quite sure how it would go with Madeline along, but thought we should at least give it a try.  Turns out Madeline was not the hindering factor in our weekend at all, but a quick death of the fuel pump in our van was.
We arrived in the area Friday afternoon, and had arranged to stay just outside Sunnyside, WA so we headed that direction.  Family of friends had recently inherited a homestead and vineyard and offered to let us stay there while we were in the area.  (Thanks Bill and Lynn)  We stopped off to do some laundry, and the van decided not to start, so we camped out in the parking lot of the laundromat and talked with AAA about our options.  The next morning, the van started and ran fine, so we went on our way with fingers crossed.  We made it to three of the area wineries for tastings before calling it a day.  We had been without showers for a few days so before continuing our wine tour we thought it would be good to get a motel room and freshen up a bit.  The next morning we were off again in search of more wine, had a fun tasting at our first stop, then returned to the van to find it would not start again.  It was Sunday and none of the repair shops in the area were open, so I caught a ride into town with the winery owner and picked up a rental car.  A while later I was back at the van driving a well worn Hyundai, loaded up Nicole and Madeline and a couple days worth of clothes and such, and we headed off to visit a couple more wineries before the end of the day.  Another motel room for the night, then I was off to meet the tow truck driver to get the van transported into Yakima to the Dodge dealership.  That done, it was back to the motel to pick up my passengers and we were off for more wine tasting.  The wine and chocolate event is held over Presidents Day weekend so visitors can take advantage of the three day holiday weekend, so most places were still open on Monday.  After another enjoyable day, we got word the van would be fixed and ready for pickup the following morning, so back to the motel we went.  After a relaxed morning we checked out of the motel and headed for Yakima to pick up the van and drop off our rental.  Once that was done, we found the mountain passes were again closed from heavy snow, and we were in no hurry to leave, so we stopped by a couple more wineries that happened to be open on a Tuesday.  That done, we finally headed out to our friends vineyard to spend the night.  After imposing on folks to set up our staying there, we hadn't actually had the chance to return and wanted to spend at least one night there.  The next morning the weather was gorgeous and we had run out of local wineries to visit, so it was time to head over the mountains and back to the Seattle area to wrap up our trip.
We are hoping AAA will cover some of the costs during our breakdown, but regardless the repair bill exceeded our wine buying expenses, making this an unexpectedly expensive stop for us.

Monday, February 17, 2014

West Coast

After leaving Vegas we headed west into California.  I really didn't want to go, as I didn't have a lot of good memories from my time living there, but Nicole had never been so I figured I could tough it out.  The first leg was across the Mojave which left us with a bunch of questions about what people do there and why they would choose to do whatever it is they do, there.  We found no answers and left it as one of those things to try and remember to research later on the inter web.
We were heading for Yosemite National Park, but this was obviously nothing like the park.  Luckily it only takes a day of driving through the desert and then you are into farm country, which then seems to go on for ever.  After a day of checking out farm country we headed into the Sierras.  Our first glimpse of the park lasted only minutes before the clouds rolled in, but it was a dramatic and stunning view.  Once we got down to the campground in the valley the rains started and lasted through the night.  The next morning the clouds went away and we were treated to gorgeous blue skies and warm weather, in the mountains, in February.  We only stayed in the park for one day, but both agreed we would return for a longer visit some day.
From Yosemite we continued north, eventually branching off the main interstate on to Highway 97 in northern CA.  Most of California is currently experiencing drought conditions, but we saw heavy rain from the time we got off the interstate all the way into Washington.  Oregon was wet but pretty, and I much preferred the route to staying on I-5.  We stayed one night in Klamath Falls, and I thought we may be able to add it to our list of possible future life options, but there was no spark for either of us so we moved on.  After another day of driving we made it into Washington, just in time for Valentines Day and in just the right place for Wine and Chocolate in Yakima Valley.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Vegas, Baby.

Nicole had never been to Vegas, and as long as we were so close……
Because Vegas has a way of sucking all the money out of your life we had to make it a quick stop.  We wanted it to be fun for Madeline if possible so we got a room at Circus, Circus.  The trapeze act and the clowns were good fun and Nicole won a stuffed dolphin for Madeline at the midway games, so I think we did the best we could.  Meanwhile I took some time and won a bit at the slot machines, and after Madeline went to bed Nicole went down to the casino and turned it into enough to pay for our stop.  It probably wasn't the experience most people have in Vegas, but it was fun for all three of us.
From Vegas we continued west into California, headed north to Yosemite and eventually back to the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


There were a couple of things we wanted to do in Arizona, but first on our list was a stop at Chiricahua National Monument.  We didn't know what to expect, but I had found the place in our atlas and soon after it was recommended by folks we met in one of the state parks in New Mexico, so off we went.
The official brochure tells you what to look out for in the park.  Five minutes in we were stopped taking pictures of a coatimundi, and an hour later we were watching the acorn woodpeckers fly around our campsite, so it seems the folks putting together the pamphlet knew their stuff.  We stayed the night at the campground and then headed back up to the top of the road for some hiking the next morning.
With me being out of shape and having to carry Madeline I set my sights on a realistic half hour hike to an area they call "the grotto", which turned out to be a pretty easy hike and an interesting place to visit.  The rocks were eroded away to form a series of arches big enough to walk through.  The whole park is filled with spectacular examples of eroded rock, unfortunately it is all closed to rock climbing.  After our hike we spent a bit of time at the park visitors center and then headed off to Tucson.
Our friends Thayer and Cindy live on the outskirts of Tucson, and their house has slowly evolved over the years into one of the most peaceful, relaxing homes I've had the pleasure of visiting.  Even Madeline seemed to love the place, and warmed to Thayer and Cindy more than we have seen at many of the other stops on our trip.  We had a very nice visit, learning a lot about the business they run out of their home, sharing a lot of good meals, and generally just relaxing for a bit.  We got a taste of the wildlife that surrounds them, seeing javalina, quail, hummingbirds, hawks, a roadrunner, a coyote, and various other bird species, all either on or within about ten feet of the front porch.  After a week we had enough of the seventy and eighty degree weather and headed north for Flagstaff where we could hope to find snow again.
Flagstaff was another stop where we were checking out the possibility of settling.  I had always heard good things about the town but had never spent much time there.  We took a  bit of time exploring the desert area to the south, and then spent a day in town just getting a feel for the place.  The town is located at a high enough elevation that it doesn't share the overwhelming heat found in most other Arizona cities, it gets a fair amount of snow in the winter, and is surrounded by high peaks providing good wilderness recreation potential.  We both came away liking the area, the fact that it has both a Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins doesn't hurt either.
After getting our fill of the natural beauty of the area, we thought it would be silly to be so close and not pay a visit to good old Las Vegas, so off we went in search of a whole different southwest experience.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Back in the Southwest

Just across the border from Texas is this little place called New Mexico.  Not really all that little as we found out, the fifth largest state in fact.  (As a somewhat unrelated side note but because it's fun to brag, in terms of square miles you can take #2 Texas and add #3 California and #4 Montana and #5 New Mexico and just barely surpass the square miles of Alaska.  That Texas is such a cute little place.)
Anyway, New Mexico had a bunch of places we were interested in visiting, but we had already been on the road for three and a half months and were starting to worry about our dwindling savings, so we thought we should pick one area to explore and then move along.  We divided the state into four parts and compared the highlights of each.
The northwest corner has Chaco Canyon, awe inspiring and creepy at the same time, the Hopi and Zuni reservations, and the Farmington and Shiprock area to draw in all the Tony Hillerman fans, making it a good solid choice.  The Southeast has Roswell for the UFO and alien crowds and Carlsbad Caverns for the spelunkers.  The northeast has Taos and Santa Fe, nice mountain scenery and good skiing, but probably not great in winter for folks traveling in a camper van.  We chose the Southwest part of the state, not for any one specific thing but mostly because it offered a bunch of interesting-sounding places to visit, and it was on the way to Tucson.
Our first stop in NM was the town of Tucumcari, which should be famous for its plethora of under $20 motel room options, but instead is not really very well known for one of many Route 66 museums.  We just wanted a laundromat, which we found, and a quick fix of fast food, which the local Sonic satisfied for us.  From there we moved on down Interstate 40 to Albuquerque where we turned south down I-25.  We visited the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, wintering grounds for sandhill cranes and numerous waterfowl and raptor species.  It turned out to be a fun stop to refresh our duck identification skills, as well as frustrate me as usual with raptor identification.  We saw lots of cranes and snow geese, got to do a bit of hiking, and took a bunch of pictures.
The next day we got off the interstate and headed up into the mountains on highway 152, which turned out to be a fun and exceptionally scenic road to drive.  Lots of twisty narrow 15MPH sections meant the drive took a lot longer than we expected, but we were in no hurry and thoroughly enjoyed the views.  We stopped briefly in Silver City and then headed north to Glenwood NM, intent on visiting The Catwalk Recreation Area.  We spent the night in a nice free campground on the outskirts of Glenwood before heading up to do some hiking the next morning.  Unfortunately, if we would have checked the website I linked above, we would have know that the whole area had been severely damaged by rain and flooding last fall, and was closed to visitors.  Instead we drove back to Silver City, stocked up on groceries, and headed south.
Our next stop was City of Rocks State Park.  This should not be confused with the City of Rocks we stopped at earlier in the trip in Idaho.  The New Mexico version is a snow-globe-sized park by comparison, and there are not many similarities between the two places.  That said, an inexpensive campground with free showers and interesting campsites is worth a stop.  After circling the park several times in the van to chose our favorite campsite, we walked around amongst the rock formations and then settled in for a pleasant night.
Next on our list was Rockhound State Park.  It was a quick hour drive south from City of Rocks and boasted being one of the few parks in the US that encourages visitors to take rocks with them.  Since Madeline has become quite the rock picker (mostly in parking lots) we figured it would be a fun stop for her as well.  The campground isn't as interesting as nearby City of Rocks but there certainly were more than enough rocks to look at.  With our expected arrival date in Tucson approaching, we hopped on I-10 and scooted across to Arizona.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The South

Don't confuse this post with the earlier one titled "South", which was about traveling south down the east coast of the US.  It should be easy to differentiate because in that post I had something to talk about.  Also, don't be offended if the area I am referring to as the south is not what you think of as the south.  I grew up in Minnesota, and now live in Alaska, so it's pretty much all south to me.
We left Kentucky and headed into Missouri, where we turned south and ventured into Arkansas.  We turned west and pretty much covered the whole state of Arkansas, as well as Oklahoma and the panhandle of Texas.
I'm probably not giving this area a fair shake, there may be some very nice things to do and see, but truth is we pretty much just put our heads down and drove until we were through it.