Mt. Washington is the highest peak in New Hampshire and has some of the most awful weather in the United States, with winds registered at over 200 mph. The winds stopped us from getting to the top even though only 92 mph – enough to topple our little car on the Mt. Washington Cog Railway. Still it was a fun ride.

The first train of the day is steam but the rest of the day they use biodiesel engines. Interestingly enough, the engine and car are not attached. The engine pushes the car up the tracks, and keeps it from zooming out of control on the way down. The brakeman, who was also our narrator, used the brakes in the car to safely negotiate the switches in the tracks where two trains could safely pass each other. We were glad our car had brakes – the average grade is 25 percent, with as much as 37 percent!

The railway is privately owned and all the engines and cars are produced right on site. It has been in operation since 1869. About three-quarters of the way up, the Appalachian Trail crosses the track.  We saw several hikers even though it was very windy and light rain was falling.

There are discounts for seniors and children and the railway is open from late April through November. Reservations are recommended. If the train cannot safely go to the top due to high winds, passengers are offered a refund or partial refund. We went three-quarters of the way up so paid accordingly. In November, the trains only go halfway up the mountains. Hikers can go one-way.

The parking lot is large enough to accommodate RVs but the road to there is windy and narrow. No pets. Restroom facilities are at the station and at the top, where there is also an observation deck with fabulous views on a clear day. Snacks and gifts can also be purchased and there is a museum. You can also drive up the mountain on the Mount Washington Auto Road, though of course RVs are not allowed.

 

September 12, 2017
Categories : RV travels

We are in Maine for six weeks. First time in several years. Everything is a contrast to Arizona – weather and how it looks are the two most obvious. While Arizona in the places I hang out have long hikes, I’ve found much shorter ones along the coast. Each is only a mile or two. Lucky for me, several are within a short drive of where we stay, south of Damariscotta.

Today I hiked in the Tracy Shore Preserve and Garber Overlook Preserve. These, and the Library Park Preserve where I went earlier in the week, are parcels obtained by the Nature Conservancy and then turned over to the town of South Bristol and maintained with the help of the Damariscotta River Association. The first two are adjoining and are connected to the Library Park Preserve by a link trail. There is parking in both locations.

I lived in Maryland and Pennsylvania for about 18 years before selling everything and becoming a full-time RVer with my late husband, Bill. I love the wide open spaces of out West but the East has much appeal. As I walked almost noiselessly on trails cushioned by years of fallen hemlock needles and other detritus, I could hear squirrels calling their warnings, chickadees and nuthatches cheeping, a woodpecker and cries of osprey. Looking out over the protected Jones Cove and McFarland’s Cove, the water was like glass and colorful reflections mirrored the shore. Both days I had the trails to myself and could sit overlooking the coves and watch nature unfold – a young osprey crying for his parents to feed him, fish breaking the surface for an insect meal and grebes creating ever expanding ripples after a dive. A few motorboats were out in McFarland’s Cove but none stirred at Jones Cove today.

The week before my daughter and I hiked in La Verna Preserve, owned by the Pemaquid Watershed Association. This preserve fronts on Muscongus Bay and has spectacular views of the bay and islands.

A map of the Tracy Shore, Garber Overlook and Library Park preserves can be found at both the South Bristol Library parking lot off SR 129 and further north at the parking at the junction of SR 129 and S Roads. The parking lots are small with not a lot of turn around room so I would not advise bringing an RV. La Verna Preserve is south of Round Pond along SR 32, which runs between New Harbor and Waldoboro and has a lot as well. All have signage on the highway. No charge to access. Pets on leash. Jaimie Hall Bruzenak

August 31, 2017
Categories : RV travels

We had to leave our house in Pine for a couple of days while it was being painted so we ventured up to Flagstaff. George has been oil painting from photographs and wanted to get some pictures to work with. We spent the morning of our full day there exploring Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Waputki National Monument. Both can be accessed from a 35-mile loop off Highway 89, about 18 miles north from downtown Flagstaff.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument interprets the volcanic activity and resulting geographic formations that took place around 1085 CE (AD). You can walk among lava flows plus see the remaining crater. The small cinders have been used as paving material for years.

Continuing the loop, we pulled off on a Coconino Forest picnic area/view point that overlooks the Painted Desert, far to the north. Haze prevented us from seeing the colors or contours.

Continuing on the loop, we eventually we came to the border of Waputki National Monument. There are several ruins of pueblos you can stop to explore. Coming from the south, we came first upon Wukoki Pueblo. It looks like a castle from the distance and you can walk within its walls. The largest pueblo is Wapatki that had 100 rooms, located right behind the visitor center. You can pick up a free guide to use to identify spots along the walkways around the ruins. Other ruins – mostly foundations – could be reached be reached off the loop as you traveled back to Highway 89.

Clouds were building up and by the time we got back to Flagstaff the thunderstorms let loose. That ended the days exploring!

A campground near the visitor center at Sunset Crater accommodates RVs. There are also RV parks along Highway 89 between the national monuments and Flagstaff. The loop is nice enough that you could drive your RV but it would be more enjoyable to park it at a campground and drive you tow or towed vehicle.

Admission is $20/vehicle for a seven-day pass, which admits you to both monuments. America the Beautiful or Senior or Access passes are accepted too.

July 22, 2017
Categories : RV travels

The best time of year to visit Tucson and its world-famous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is long past. We’ve already had temps in the teens and it is still over 100 degrees during the day. BUT, if you do find yourself passing through, the museum, which has both plants and animals, will be open Saturday nights from 5 – 10 p.m. through September 2. Each Saturday has a theme with related activities. July1 is “Glitter and Glow.”

It is fun to walk around the grounds as the sun fades. Many animals come out that you don’t ordinarily see during the day and become active. So, it’s a special treat. This spring, two baby Desert Bighorns were born so be sure to see them. And, early morning just as the museum opens is another time that is relatively cool and animals are more active. On a recent visit, one of the wolves howled several times. That was a treat, as well as seeing the burrowing owls still out of their burrows. Coatamundi are more active then too. So much to see!

Here are a few photos of cacti blooming – the gorgeous torch cacti- from this spring plus the youngest baby Bighorn, less than 5 days old at the time. The Desert Museum should definitely be on your list for spring.

There is RV parking, though don’t try to go over Gates Pass (from either Grant or Speedway off I-10). Take the Highway 86 west or Ajo Way exit for several miles and then turn north/right on Kinney Road. There are RV sites at Gilbert Ray Campground on Kinney shortly before you reach the museum.  $20/night for RVs, no reservations accepted and a 7-day limit.

June 29, 2017
Categories : RV travels

This spring, my first week in Australia before meeting up with my sister and her husband in Melbourne, was spent in Tasmania. I want to go back! I loved the feel of that place and it’s a perfect place to rent a caravan and see the island. RVs are referred to as campervans, motorhomes or caravans (trailers) and they stay in caravan parks. There are a number of places that rent them, campervans being the most popular. Remember- you drive on the left!

There are over 50 caravan parks on the island. The Discover Tasmania website lists them. Caravan parks in Australia and New Zealand often have a variety of accommodations, from simple campsites for tent campers, sites for caravans, motel rooms and even cabins. You don’t have to rent an caravan to use one. Click on a park and you’ll get more information about the types of accommodations/parking as well as an idea of what the area looks like. You can also get a membership in a park system, much like KOA, and get a discount at their parks.

Tasmania has beautiful coastline, national parks, islands like Bruny Island, mountains and history. In Hobart I visited the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site where women convicts were brought from England, Ireland and Scotland to serve their sentences – usually 7 years for crimes of poverty (stealing to feed themselves and their children). Of course, very few could afford passage back and had nothing to return to so it served to populate the country. Port Arthur, an adjoining peninsula, has even more historic sites where male convicts came to the country. You can follow the convict trail to see additional places.

Three unique animals I saw – as if all Australian species aren’t unique – were the albino kangaroo on Bruny Island, found nowhere else; Tasmanian Devils and platypus. I could have stayed much longer!

My photos aren’t the best. Later in the trip, my sister and I got doused by a wave and wrecked our iPhones and my camera. My photos were not on the Cloud so I lost all the photos from my phone, though I had my SD cards for my Fujifilm camera. We had three more days with only one camera between us.

I stayed in a variety of accommodations including two AirBnBs but would like to go back with George and rent a campervan and stay longer. I hope soon!

June 24, 2017
Categories : RV travels

Our husbands participate in a golf tournament in Laughlin, NV over Memorial Day weekend each year. Since neither of us gamble, my sister and I search to find things n driving distance that are fun and that help escape the heat. This year we decided to try the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West. I get all quivery when looking down from heights and the thought of peering down through a glass walkway was enough to give me that yucky feeling just imaging it! Since you can purchase tickets online, I figured that buying one ahead of time would make it more likely I would go out on the Skywalk- rather than waste that money.

From Laughin, it’s a little over 100 miles and close to a two-hour drive. There is lodging at Grand Canyon West but no RV park or overnight parking. The road is finally paved and there is plenty of room to park an RV, but you might want to park in Kingman – where there are RV parks – and drive your tow or towed vehicle there. Your pet would be better off in the park with hookups since they are not allowed inside, though they do have boarding for dogs available. Once you get to the entrance, you purchase your ticket – or redeem your online voucher- and then catch the hop-on, hop-off shuttle. No private vehicles are allowed inside.

The park opens at 7:30 a.m. and the earlier you arrive the better. It gets quite crowded as the day goes on. We arrived around 9 and were able to get right on a shuttle and go out to the Skywalk. You can purchase the Hualapai Legacy Day Pass for $49.92, then later purchase your Skywalk admission for $21.65. Or consider one of the more inclusive packages that also includes the Skywalk and lunch. Other optional activities also have fees. The tribe’s helicopter rides are an option and they are allowed to fly down into the canyon where other operators are prohibited from flying so if you choose to do that, factor that information into your choice.

I had been terrified thinking of the Skywalk but it looked smaller once we got there – even though you are looking down 4000 feet! The glass portion where you see down to the canyon floor had opaque green glass wide enough to walk on on either side next to the handrails. Our photographer (any personal cameras, purses and cellphones go in a free locker) distracted us. By arriving early, he took more than a dozen photos of us in various poses. We noticed some of the younger people got quite creative with their poses! No one rushes you to leave, but shortly after you leave the Skywalk you can see your photos and decide whether or not to purchase one or all with the ability to later download them plus stock photos onto your personal computer when you get home. I did notice groups where one person stayed outside so he/she could snap photos of their party standing by the rail. Not dramatic but proof you were there! I was so determined to go out there, I had no queasiness and enjoyed being out there (though I admit I kept a hold of the rail most of the time).

The shuttle also took us out to Guano Point, where a guano (bat poop) mine had operated for years and to the Hualapai Ranch and Western Cabins. We passed by the ranch with lots of activities lodging and activities for kids but did stop off at Guano Point. There were snack bars – and gift shops – at each location but we opted to go back to Eagle Point and eat at the new restaurant, Sa’ Nyu Wa, overlooking the Skywalk and views of the canyon. We’d advise getting there right when they open for a window seat. It was both windy and very sunny so we decided not to sit outside. The food was delicious and service excellent.

Visiting Grand Canyon West is pricey but when you consider the price of most attractions, it is probably reasonable. Personally I’m glad the Hualapai tribe is willing to share this beautiful view and are earning money this way instead of having a casino. (I did read they tried operating a casino in Peach Springs, but it was a flop since most visitors came here to see the Grand Canyon, not gamble.) We certainly enjoyed our day. We were even happier we had come early because by the time we left, the lines in the gift shop to purchase tickets as well as the lines to board the shuttle were very long.

If you go, read the FAQs beforehand. During the week is less crowded but even then, you don’t have to worry about the platform being overloaded.The platform is 4-inch-thick glass floor extending almost 70 feet out into the Grand Canyon. The walkway could carry 822 people that weigh 200 pounds each without over stress, but maximum occupancy at one time is 120 people.

 

The views are awesome and you’ll get your exercise if you decide to climb the stairs to the top of Chimney Rock. Now a state park, Chimney Rock is located about 20 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway so it’s easy to get to from the Asheville area. If you decide to climb to the top of Chimney Rock, there are many stairs and it is a steep climb. An elevator can take you most of the way – to the Sky Lounge Gift Shop and Deli, though it was out of operation when we visited and is still out of commission as I write this. If you can make the climb, you’ll certainly feel a sense of accomplishment! And you can climb higher, if you desire.

Adjoining the parking lot is a gift shop and cafe. You do get some good views from the parking lot too though better the higher you climb. Admission is currently reduced because the elevator isn’t working. The park includes miles of hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty so you can pick ones depending on your available time and agility. Accessible from a small parking lot and the All-Seasons Trail is the hike to Hickory Nut Falls. The 410-foot falls is second highest falls east of the Mississippi. It is 3/4 of a mile one way and does not involve any big changes in elevation plus it is shaded.

The Chimney Rock State Park website includes more activities and area information. Check the list of RV parks on the website for suggestions, including the driving time to the state park. The last two miles are curvy with limited visibility so best to not bring large RVs. The parking lot on weekends or holidays could fill, making it difficult to find a space or even turn around. This is definitely worth being on your list if you are in the Blue Ridge area. Jaimie Hall Bruzenak

The Blue Ridge Parkway meanders for 469 miles through the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. The views are stunning. Based in Asheville for a family gathering, we stayed one night at the Pisgah Inn at mile 408.6 south of Asheville before it started and later drove from Asheville south to do a hike.Having been mostly out West 20+ years, we had forgotten how many trees there are! Some of the mountain roads are almost like tunnels with trees lining the edge blocking your view of most features. On the Parkway, fortunately, there are a number of turnouts where you can feast your eyes on series of mountains all the way to the horizon.

The Pisgah Inn also had great views. Each room had a balcony that looked out over the Appalachian highlands. A campground across the Parkway accommodated RVs as do several other campgrounds along the Parkway. At the campground, your view would have been more limited though a good view of Mt. Pisgah. Some of these facilities are seasonal and close after leaf-peeping season so check ahead.

During our gathering, several of us women drove south on the Parkway. After a refreshment stop at Pisgah Inn, we continued another 15 miles or so to Graveyard Fields. Hiking took you to several falls. We backtracked to Highway 276 and drove off the parkway through the Cradle of Forestry area and a stop at the scenic Looking Glass Falls. After lunch in Brevard, we returned to Asheville by way of Highway 280. It made for a nice loop and day trip.

The Blue Ridge is not to be driven to make time. Rather it is a scenic route with lots of curves. It also has a number of tunnels. Most RVs should fit, especially if you stay towards the middle. Hug too close to the side and an air conditioner could scrape in some of them. This listing gives minimum and maximum heights for each tunnel on the Parkway. More information on the Parkway can be found at the NPS site. Jaimie Hall Bruzenak

 

 

Visitors to Asheville, North Carolina can hardly avoid seeing the Biltmore mansion if they look to the southwest. This 8,000 acres estate is still privately owned and run. Construction began in 1889 on George Vanderbilt’s 250-room French Renaissance chateau. It took six years and is a true marvel, the largest undertaking in residential architecture. It opened to the public for tours in 1930 and now includes a winery, a separate inn and shops. Biking and walking trails, extensive gardens and other activities make this a lovely outing.

Admission is pricey – $60 regular admission with discounts for purchasing ahead of time, for seniors, military and children. Other special offers may be announced at the website, particularly during the off season. Your admission entitles you to enter the Biltmore mansion and do a self-guided tour. Audio guides or tours led by a guide cost additional; a number of choices are available.  Strolling the gardens and grounds and visiting the shops are also included in your admission. Guests who stay at the Inn on the grounds do not need to pay a separate admission.

Our group split up for the tour. Five of us took the Behind-the-Scenes Guided Upstairs – Downstairs Tour. It was like getting our glimpse of the set of Downton Abbey, seeing how the staff worked and lived, plus visiting some guest rooms. Once that finished, we could see the part of the mansion available on the self-guided tour. It was quite a contrast to see the more cramped quarters of the staff, the board that lit up when a guest needed something, and imagine the servants scurrying up hidden staircases to serve them and compare that to the opulent lifestyle lived by the wealthy and their guests. The others did the self-guided tour, then visited the adjoining gardens.

All of us ladies joined up for high tea at the Inn and feasted on scones, little cakes and other goodies. The dining room has an excellent view of the grounds and we enjoyed being served and pampered as we might of had we been one of the Vanderbilt’s guests, way back when.

If in Asheville, it is worth devoting a day, or most of a day, to exploring the mansion, gardens and grounds. While there are places you can park an RV, I could not find a policy and would not advise you to take one. You will need to drive between locations so unless you have a small Class B or C, leave your RV in an RV park in Asheville and come with your tow or toad vehicle. Jaimie Hall Bruzenak

Birthplace of Elvis Presley

Birthplace of Elvis Presley

A MarketWatch post by Joseph F. Coughlin suggests that retirees need a vacation from retirement! Really? Yet what he says makes sense. At any stage of life, including retirement, we can get stuck in a rut. According to Coughlin, a “vacation” can be a chance to renew your relationship with your partner, refresh your mind and reinvigorate your mind and body with a thrill.

The RV lifestyle gives more opportunities to do this than the stick ‘n brix lifestyle, though some RVers do park in one spot and get stuck in a routine. Even traveling can get routine if you let it. However, while traveling, it can be easy to locate interesting sights, museums and find physical activities that challenge you. You do need to focus on it, though, and not let yourself get stuck in a rut. Many activities are free or low cost. You can find free interpretive walks in national parks. Towns may have things going on – concerts, talks, book discussions and more. With Internet connections readily available on smart phones, it can be easy to locate activities with a little research. And visitor centers are also good resources as are local newspapers and bulletin boards in supermarkets and the library.

Take full advantage of the RV lifestyle and live fully. At some point, travel may not be realistic because of health or financial reasons. Enjoy every moment you can! Jaimie Hall Bruzenak