A Vagabond Life

Our view can change when we want it to!

Category: Parks

Happy New Year!

5 Months 12 Days

It’s 2017 and we’ve been on the road for two years! Not really. It’s been only 5 months, but those months cover part of 2016 and so far 1 month in 2017. The funny thing is it seems like only yesterday we sold our ranch and left the homesteading life.

At first we found it odd to say we live on the road. Now “We’re traveling full time” just rolls off our tongues. Most people are usually impressed with that answer and ask, “How is it?” We’re actually very fond of this mobile lifestyle. It’s low stress, low cost, there’s no mortgage, no grass to cut, we can change scenery any time we like, and we can visit people we haven’t seen in a while without the hassle of finding a hotel room. We’ve already met many wonderful people and made a lot of new friends. We’ve also had the time to stop at places we never had time for and can stay a few days, or not.

How long can we maintain this Vagabond life, moving from one RV park to another every few weeks? The people who camped next to us last week have been doing this for 18 years. We’re not sure if we’ll be on the road that long, but this could be just the beginning for us.

We’ve been camping in Tucson since November and have made several side trips. Last month, we visited Saguaro National Park, Mount Lemmon in Santa Catalina Mountains, the Airplane Boneyard on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, traveled to St. Louis where we got the entire family together, went to a Tucson Roadrunner’s hockey game, and rang in the New Year with 330,000 of our friends on the Las Vegas Strip.

East of Tucson is Saguaro National Park East. The park is home to the nation’s largest cacti, the giant saguaro. It’s the universal symbol of the old American west. These plants are large, tree-like columnar cacti that can develop branches (or arms) as they age.  Saguaros are covered with protective spines, white flowers in the late spring, and red fruit in summer.   These majestic plants are found only in a small portion of the United States, and although not a protected species, Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of this species.

Mt. Lemmon is in the Santa Catalina Mountains within the Coronado National Forest north of Tucson. At its peak is the Mount Lemmon Observatory, which was formerly the site of a USAF radar base of the Air Defense Command, and the building that formerly housed a military emergency radar tracking station for landing the Space Shuttle at White Sands Missile Range. Mount Lemmon is 9,157 feet above sea level and receives approximately 180 inches (4.6 m) of snow annually, and that means snow skiing. Mount Lemmon Ski Valley has one lift and 21 runs. There’s no snow making equipment, so the ski season depends entirely on the weather. We were told the runs could be open as few as 2 days in a season and as long as 4 months.

The Airplane Boneyard on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is where military aircraft go to die. Officially called the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, tours of the “Boneyard”/AMARG are offered daily by the Pima Air and Space Museum. I went on the tour, and it brought tears to my eyes. All the aircraft types I few in the Marine Corps from 1981-1988 are now sitting in the boneyard to be converted to scrap; the T-34C, T-2, TA-4, and the A-6E. There are over 4,000 aircraft in the Boneyard. Most will be used for parts and then scrapped. A few aircraft will make it back in the air after rework or end up as a static display.

Daria and I also experienced some local culture. Tucson is a growing city with an abundance of young and talented people. There’s always something interesting going on. We attended a Road Runners Hockey game, enjoyed the production of Fiddler on the Roof by the Arizona Theater Company, and strolled through a huge art fair called the 4th Avenue Winter Street Fair.

Christmas was a first for the Ferri family. All the children, spouses, grandchildren, and future grandchildren were there. Words cannot describe how wonderful it was for us! Thomas and Jess hosted the memorable event.

The month was capped off attending a party with 330,000 other people who took to Las Vegas Boulevard to ring in the New Year. There were so many people we literally could not move for a few minutes. I’ve never been concerned in a crowd, but I was concerned in this one. I managed to shove our way through to an open spot in front of Caesars Palace just as the fireworks went off – and they were great! Been there, done that – checked off our bucket list.

We’ll be in Tucson for another month before heading east again. We will try to write more…but then, where does the time go? Happy New Year to all!

Day 121: The November Blog

We intended to blog more often than once per month. Where does the time go? Here’s what we’ve been up to since leaving Corpus Christi in mid-October.

We first stopped at our old stomping ground in Medina, Texas, where we caught up with friends and attended the wedding of Tim and Gali Showell. It was a gala country wedding with Travis Klaassen performing the ceremony.

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Medina is also building a new fire house and we saw the building being framed. This was a long time coming. I was in the fire department as a board member five years ago when a new fire house was in the wishful thinking stage. Communities like Medina have no local government funding for their departments. All the money comes from the local community and an occasional grant from the forestry service. Kudo’s to Medina!

We headed west after leaving Medina. How far west was still unknown at the time. We needed to decide where to spend the winter.  Wherever we ended up was going to be on US soil, have a reasonably warm climate, and decent shopping. We turned the trailer toward the setting sun and off we rolled!

One of our favorite stops along the route was in Fort Davis, Texas. This mountainous area is a blend of drop-dead gorgeous scenery, frontier military history and recent space-age technology.

Fort Davis was formally a rough-and-tumble boarder settlement originally known as Chihuahua.  The military post of Fort Davis was established on the site of an earlier Indian village called Painted Comanche Camp. The National Park Service calls Fort Davis one of the best surviving examples of an Indian Wars’ frontier military post in the Southwest. From 1854 to 1891, the fort protected emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and on the Chihuahua Trail. This road was also used extensively by prospectors heading west seeking their fortune during the California Gold Rush. Now it was our stop west.

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Old becomes new about 20 miles northwest of Camp Davis at the site of the McDonald Observatory. The site is part of the University of Texas at Austin, College of Natural Sciences. Davis Mountains offered some of the darkest skies in the continental United States. The first telescope was erected in the late 1930s and much more has been added since.

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Today, the observatory offers a wide range of state-of-the-art instrumentation for imaging and spectroscopy; the 0.8 m Telescope, the 2.1 m Otto Struve Telescope, the 2.7 m Harlan J. Smith Telescope, and the 10 m Hobby-Eberly Telescope; 1 m node of the globally networked Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope (LCOGT), one of two robotically controlled 1.2 m MOnitoring NEtwork of Telescopes (MONET), a 0.51 m telescope dedicated to optical aeronomy, and one of four globally networked Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) telescopes. The observatory also operates one of the first and most productive lunar ranging stations. Don’t ask what any of this means but it’s all very impressive to look at!

Heading west for a few more days and we found ourselves in Tucson, Arizona. There is a lot to see in the area and we were told temperatures rarely get into the 30’s. So, we decided to say here for the winter. That being said, the last two nights have been near freezing!

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Another attraction of Tucson is that Las Vegas is less than a one day drive. The Arizona state highway from Tucson to Vegas goes through beautiful desert and mountainous terrain and the scenery is spectacular.  This makes visiting my parents very easy and we traveled to them over Thanksgiving week. The food alone was worth the trip (just joking of course!). The Care Package my mother gave us to take back only lasted a few days. We plan to bring a bigger cooler next time.

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Day 54: Mammoth Caves

When first hearing of Mammoth Caves National Park years ago, I envisioned caverns filled with woolly mammoth remains. These large, hairy, elephant-like creatures with big tusks roamed the northern part of North America before becoming extinct in the last ice age. I thought this park was one of the their habitats. Daria and I visited the park last week to get the real story.

There are no mammoth bones, fossils or other remains in Mammoth Caves, and it’s unknown if a woolly mammoth ever stepped foot in the area. Mammoth in this usage means BIG, and this cave system is very big. In fact, it’s the longest known cave system in the world with more than 400 miles explored and many more miles yet to be explored. Early cave guide Stephen Bishop called the cave a “grand, gloomy and peculiar place” with its vast chambers and complex labyrinths earning it the name Mammoth. The National Parks Service (NPS) preserves the cave system and a part of the Green River valley and hilly country of south central Kentucky.

The caves have been formed in limestone over millions of years and they’re still growing. Water collects in hundreds of sink holes around central Kentucky before going down into the limestone beneath. Underground rivers carry the water to Green River, which is above ground but below the level of the underground rivers. As the riverbed erodes away over time, the underground rivers drop deeper into the earth. This process has left upper caverns and passageways hollow as shown in the diagram below. The system of caves this process left behind has been used by humans for thousands of years.

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The NPS offers several guided tours through different parts of the cave system. Daria and I took two tours over two days. Each tour required a bus ride to an entrance before descending down.

BThe first was the Domes & Dripstones Tour. We went in the New Entrance to Mammoth Cave and descended down approximately 280 stairs into a dramatic series of domes and pits. The tour continued through several large passages and a variety of dripstone formations. The highlight was a massive dripstone formation called Frozen Niagara. It’s was a great way to see the many faces of some of Mammoth Cave’s passage ways.

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One of the the park rangers who guided the tours highly recommended we do the Great Onyx Lantern Tour next. The Great Onyx cave was privately owned and operated until the 1960’s. The owners where very strict about tourists touching anything so the cave survived the so-called “cave wars” against vandalism. It emerged as one of the most pristine show caves in the region. We explored this beautifully decorated natural wonder by lantern light and got a different perspective on the multitudes of dripstone, gypsum, and helictite formations.

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Our visit to Mammoth Caves gave us a renewed appreciation of the great work the NPS is doing to preserve, protect and promote our natural wonders. The park system is an important part of our heritage that provides all visitors today and in the future with unique opportunities to learn, explore, or just relax. I also got a few ideas about what my next career might be!

Day 18: Observations from the Road

We’re in our third week of the RV lifestyle and making good progress adapting. Here are my thoughts and observations so far:

THE DOGS:

The dogs have adjusted pretty well to this lifestyle.  “Major” travels well in the back seat area but “Angus” can’t sit still. He paces back and forth and occasionally stands with his head over the center and pants heavily, which bugs a certain male human to no end. Walking the dogs has its ups and downs.  Angus wants to walk and while Major dawdles and has to think about every step.

We have been told that our dogs are well behaved in the campground.  They don’t bark at other dogs and rarely bark at all.

The Blue Angels practice three times a day and fly right over the NAS Pensacola campground.  Angus doesn’t like that at all.  Maybe it’s the high pitched whine of a jet in afterburner or just the loudness of it all.  It’s funny that this scares Angus and doesn’t bother Major one bit.

NAVIGATION:

Google Maps is our very best friend to get from point A to point B especially if we use the back roads.

Our mileage between stops is based on 4-5 hour drive…no more.  Stopping for lunch at a road side rest area is a must for the dog’s sake.

GLAMPING:

Being retired from the military has its benefits.  Two of our three stops so far have been in campgrounds on military bases. We feel secure and have access to all amenities, especially inexpensive laundromats.

The shower in our humble abode is so tiny that campground showers are a must.  So far it’s been an OK experience. Camp showers are clean, roomy, and pretty much bug-free.

Campground internet is great when it works. The Pensacola campground internet hasn’t worked in a week due to a lighting strike.

Grounds personnel do all the mowing and yard work. I still can’t grasp the idea that we don’t have to do that ever again!

Inside the camper we have a small three burner stove and a small oven.  We used the stove to heat water one day.  Not only did it heat the water but it heated the entire camper, which wasn’t too pleasant because it’s already hot and humid. No more of that until winter.  We cook outdoors most of the time – on the grill and a stand up camp stove.

Our refrigerator is small and the freezer is even smaller so we can only shop for 3-4 days’ worth of food.

Cleaning the camper takes maybe 10 minutes (that’s very nice!).

Heavy duty Surge Protectors are a necessity to prevent your electrical system from being damaged.

We haven’t missed having a TV although, when we have internet, we can get Netflix.

RV forums have a wealth of information for full-timers. They’ve saved us a lot of time and money.

Glue traps come in handy to catch mice as in last night.  We woke up to the sound of something clicking thinking it was Angus dreaming.  Instead, he was standing and staring at the bathroom.  There it was the mouse stuck on the glue trap!!  Glue Trap – 1  Mouse – 0.

Thankfully, Rick is quite the handyman.  He’s repaired the closet rod which fell during transit on the crazy bumpy Louisiana highway. Our refrigerator vent cover went missing during our transit from Gulfport to Pensacola. That turned our nice looking camper into a ghetto camper. We ordered the part from Amazon and he fixed that this morning.  Thank you Mr. Fix It Man no more Ghetto Camper!

ODDS AND ENDS

Our clothing is very basic; most of the time we’re in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. Everyone in the campground is the same way. There’s no reason to get dressed up.

Sad to say we have run out of our own farm fresh chicken eggs.

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Day 6: Internet Access Again!

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August 5: Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, MS

We’ve stopped for a few days at a well maintained RV park inside a Seabee base in Gulfport, MS. You’d expect this park to be well maintained given the Seabees have been the military construction arm of the U.S. Navy since 1942.

According to the history page in the link above, the first Seabees were civilian construction workers who enlisted early in World War II to continue building for the Navy in the Pacific Theater and in Europe. Their accomplishments during the war are legendary. Nearly 200,000 men, master craftsmen, the most skillful of the nation’s skilled workers, are credited with paving the road to victory for the allies in the Pacific and in Europe. The work done by the Seabees was work only they could do. Using brains, brawn, blood and “Can Do”, they hacked at jungle growth and blasted coral to build the victory road to Tokyo. It appears a certainty that the 10,000-mile accomplishment will always remain the Seabees’ greatest masterwork.

I have a special place in my heart for the Seabees because my father worked at the location of the original Seabee Base in Davisville, Rhode Island, and that’s where he retired from. Davisville is now The Seabee Museum and Memorial Park .

We’ve begun adapting to the the RV lifestyle fairly quickly. There have already been a few hiccups in the trailer. Some cheaply made latches and other crap items have broken, but they were easily fixed or replaced. We found a mouse nest in the bumper and got rid of that. The hoses don’t leak anymore, and the sewer system is working like honey!

We thought the four of us (two humans and two dogs) living and sleeping together in 175 sq ft of space might be cramped, but it’s actually quite comfortable. To Daria’s surprise, I haven’t stepped on either dog at night so far. One big event of the day is taking the dogs for a walk and they both do number 2!

We’ve got one more day in this spot and then on to Pensacola!

 

Day 1: It Begins

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July 31, 2016:  Today is the first day of the rest of our lives – and it is a doozy.

We sold our 3,600 square foot home on a 57 acre ranch in Texas Hill Country to live a vagabond lifestyle in a 19 foot pull travel trailer. The gourmet kitchen has been swapped for a camping grill that runs on a small propane tank, our large walk-in closets have been replaced by two small slots next to the bed with an even smaller overhead storage space, and the luxury bathroom has been replaced with something the size of a phone booth. Did I mention two large dogs will be traveling with us?

Everyone who ends up on the road has a story and every story is interesting. We hope to tell some of those stories on this website as we travel the country and meet new friends. We also plan to write about the interesting places we’ve visited and post pictures, videos, and may even some music.

It wasn’t as though we planned to live on the road in our late 50s, life turned us this direction. Last November, things were happening in our lives that caused us to take a serious look at what was going on and what the future might be like if we continued in the same direction. We then made some radical choices.

Daria was the one who decided it was time to sell the ranch, sell the horses, sell my airplane (what!?), sell everything and go on the road in a small travel trailer. We already owned a 19 foot Skyline – all we needed was courage. That’s all we’ll say about our story at this time. Now onto more interesting things…

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