What a Year it Was! (2016)

Life on the road means moving from place to place when the mood suits, the weather changes or job opportunities arise.

Auburn/Lewiston Maine (Jan-April)

We started out 2016 by flying from Tucson, Arizona to live in Auburn, Maine for 4 months and work in Lewiston, right across the river.  The weather in January through April was just as you would expect; cold, icy, snowy and wintery. Twenty-foot piles of snow in every parking lot.  But you can stand on your head for 18 weeks. It was a fun adventure.IMG_3988

Valentine’s Day was memorable, as we drove to our favorite seaside town (Camden, Maine) for a weekend trip.  It just so happened that a storm dumped 14 inches of snow centered just on Camden that weekend.  Snow piled up on the dormer window sills of our lovely boutique hotel. We ate a magnificent lobster tasting menu with a decadent dessert and sat by the fireplace and read books.  Ahhh.

 

I worked at Central Maine Medical Center in the ENT department with some fine people, who made getting to know the system (including multiple electronic medical record programs) much more enjoyable. 1ym8h0zetbemtapfcohasipgzkjwkphnknjgjw01brkpx92ib They were gracious enough to want me to stay. How nice is that?

Clay worked on investments and did day trips with the young full-time missionaries.

And he was my driver in the bitter weather for midnight on-calls to the emergency room. That meant the world to me.

Tucson, Arizona to Provo, Utah (April)

Clay left Maine 3 weeks ahead of me to pick up Zane (the motorhome) from her indoor RV daycare center. (The report is she got along well with others and learned to color inside the lines.)  He checked out her systems (after a 4 month rest, sometimes RVs get persnickety) as he drove through Arizona and Utah, meandering around Sedona, Zion’s and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Wendy finally arrived in Utah the last Saturday in April. We had lovely visits with our nieces Morgan Webb (with Dennis and little sweet Parker Eliza) and Kirsten Walton.  opflrt-z-hhy9xx2gnpw-8abkf2pljiga-rgib-7fp0px92ib

After one day’s rest for Wendy, it was time to get busy again.

Missionary Training Center, Provo, Utah (May)

We entered the peaceful, busy, happy place called the MTC  (Missionary Training Center) on Monday, May 2– ready to start our mission.

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Here we are all polished up for the MTC.

After 10 days of training, and some fine visits by church authorities from Salt Lake City, we headed back on the road to our mission.

Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission, Devil’s Gate, Wyoming (May-October)

Knowing that your mission is in the middle of nowhere and actually experiencing it are two different things.  h_1cd9mfeuoylldatlxfsejdriiczx5kgza4wg8-yfmpx92ib

Even Verizon cell phones and data don’t work on the high desert surrounded by mountains on all sides.  Trying to convince Verizon of such a fact is another story.  So, we got a local cell phone with data and went with that.

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Our spot at Missionary Village

You know you are on a Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission when….

  1. Morning report includes, “We found the mama cow and calf up by Devil’s Gate, but we also saw mountain lion sign. So, if you are sending visitors up into the canyon, just tell them to …. be careful.”
  2. There are TWO dead rattlesnakes in the mission kitchen refrigerator.
  3. Your husband tells you he is going out for fast food drive through (Yay!!), and comes home with roadkill (Ewww).
  4. A gallon of milk costs $13.50 because the nearest grocery store is 60 miles away in Casper and it takes 5 gallons of gas to get there and back.
  5. A hot date is a trip to the Muddy Gap gas station 4 miles away for a fountain drink, bag of chips and a hot dog off the roller grill.
  6. You are not able to donate blood, because it contains 25% DEET.
  7. The mission ‘car ‘ is a 4×4 half ton pickup truck, or a dozer, backhoe, asphalt roller, rover or honey wagon (to pump out the pit toilets at the end of trekking season).
  8. Duties as assigned on the mission include driving up into the Green Mountains (elevation 8800 feet) to cut 90 pine trees to make fence poles.  Or asphalting the roads. Or bottle-feeding orphan calves.
  9. You feel the spirits of those pioneers who died there and more often than not tears choke your throat as you share their journal entries. And it is almost impossible to sing “Hallowed Ground” or “The Fire of the Covenant” all the way through for the same reasons.
  10. When being nearly the youngest in the group of 120 missionaries means nothing, as these Canadian, Utah, Arizona and Idaho farmers in their late 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s run circles around you each and every day.  And then it’s time to square dance.
  11. When high school age kids come in 1856 pioneer dress to trek over hot, dusty trails to re-enact pioneer experiences.  And they enjoy it as their hearts and lives are changed.
  12. Your nearest non-missionary neighbors are the herd of pronghorn antelope with their new babies that graze on your little patch of green lawn. The jackrabbit that greets you from under your RV. The lonely call of the coyotes in the pre-dawn                           hours. The tiny red foxes that skitter across the road. The mule deer herds. We won’t say any more about the gopher snakes or rattlesnakes. Or the mice invasions.

We lived in a lovely bubble of service, taking care of 17,500 trekkers and 26,000 others in the visitor’s centers, museums and 1872 era buildings and served with some of the finest missionaries on the planet.  If you want an amazing working mission for 6 months in your RV, this is for you!

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On the historic Mormon Trail with our teenaged trekkers.

Sequim, Washington (Nov – Dec)

From Wyoming we headed northwest, hoping to get through the mountain passes before it snowed.  Why would we go to the top left corner of the U.S. of A. for the winter?  What are we thinking?

When you spend your summer and fall in the hot, bone dry, constantly windy (I did say WINDY didn’t I?), always sunny high elevations of central Wyoming, the cool, wet, cloudy days of the Northwest are welcome relief.  Ahhhh.

We spend our days biking, walking on the Olympic Discovery Trail, beach-combing along the Juan de Fuca Straits, watching container ships come in from Asia, reading in the library, writing and studying all kinds of things.

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Look at the root system of this giant that washed up on the beach!

Wendy attends plays, musicals and ballet while Clay doesn’t have to.  Happy me, happy him.

Taking the ferry over to Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada is a treat, as is exploring Seattle (2 hrs away) and Vancouver, BC (the major Canadian city on the mainland).

The US Power Squadron has also become a focus, as we made friends with people with boats (this place is an amazing boating area) and we will explore the world of trawlers and other types of power boats as we take courses in Marine Electronics and Marine Weather as members of the Power Squadron this winter.

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Uh oh.  They’re looking at boats.  That could be expensive.

The large boat shows in Seattle and Tacoma are on the calendar.  Don’t know if we will ever get a boat to use up here or around the Great Loop back East, but knowledge is never wasted and we are always up for new adventures.

Still need to catch some Dungeness crab.

After Sequim

Around April 2017 we will probably start moseying down the coasts of Washington and Oregon on our way to Eureka, California, where Wendy has her next ENT surgeon’s assignment from June-December.

Life is never dull, as we look out our motorhome window at the snow-capped Olympic Mountains and majestic fir trees.  It is wonderful.

2016 was a year full of adventure.

  • Wendy

 

 

 

 

 

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To the Blue Hole!

We last left you in Hell’s Canyon (border of Washington and Idaho), where we took a serious jet boat ride through the level 4 rapids of the Snake River.

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Miss the rocks, please.

There were times when the nose of the boat was completely submerged, and I wish that I had a picture of that for you, ’cause it was cool!  But at those moments I was hanging on for dear life.  So this picture will have to do — just imagine the bow submerged and water pouring in through the top of the windows.

Richland, Washington

Our next stop was at a Walmart parking lot in Richland, Washington.  Waaa?  Walmart?   It’s one of our favorite places to “camp” when we’re on the road between major stops.  We had no major plans for Richland, so we used one of our travel apps, http://www.allstays.com, to find a place to stay.  Here’s what we get:

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Click on the icon for all the details.

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Next we use the satellite view to pick our parking spot.

As we looked at the satellite view, we noticed a movie theater across the street, several nice restaurants, and …(drum roll) …… a Krispy Kreme donut shop!!!  So we called Walmart, got permission to stay the night, and celebrated halloween in style with dinner, a movie and DONUTS.

Were we concerned about security — especially on halloween night?  Well, we’re always cautious.  But ………. Walmart has these.

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There’s not a square inch at Walmart parking lots that’s not monitored.  We sleep snug as bugs at Walmarts.  And we thank them by giving them our business. Aaannnnddd it was free. RV parks have been costing around $35 per night. More money for donuts.

Next morning we fired up the big diesel and rolled just a couple of miles to the Richland Temple and spent several hours enjoying the peace and serenity you can only find in a Mormon temple.  For us, these temples are a haven where we can escape the cares of the world.

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Richland Temple

In the afternoon we travelled on toward our destination — the Blue Hole (a.k.a., Sequim, Washington).

There were beautiful crops in the fields- trees bursting with red apples and grape vineyards in their fall foliage between Richland and Yakima.

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Our overnight rest stop was in the parking lot of the Muckleshoot Casino– free parking and a nice dinner.

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Casino parking in Auburn– also very safe- lots of security men and cameras

 

It was raining, as per usual, on the Olympic Peninsula as we approached Sequim.

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Hmm.  This would be a good test to see if the Blue Hole was real.  Would it be raining in Sequim?

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And then, as we got on the Northern Olympic peninsula, magic happened. Just like in the story books (or satellite weather books). The rain just stopped and the sun came out.

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Even a rainbow. Welcome to the Peninsula.

We arrived in Sequim, in awe at the Blue Hole that was directly over the city. Yep, it is real. An area of good weather surrounded by clouds and rain.

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Our Blue Hole

We set up our motorhome at Gilgal Oasis RV Park in downtown Sequim. It is a clean, well-kept teensy place with beautiful landscaping. Absolutely fine for our needs- with a view of the fog-shrouded snow-capped Olympic mountain range from our windows.

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Of course, the first thing we did was go exploring to find the Straits leading to the ocean.

It’s the start of a new adventure. Stay tuned!

-Clay

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Sequim Bay- clear blue skies

Americana Emersion

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Jackson, Wyoming

Ahh, we are drinking deeply in Americana this week as we meander along the Oregon Trail on our way to the Northwest.

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Can’t seem to get enough of the famous pioneer trails! Oregon Trail, Baker City, Oregon.

We are camped at Mountain View RV in Baker City, OR.  This town is ready for Halloween!  The city streets are decorated with hay bundles and scarecrows.  The gold and orange leaves are falling in the neatly manicured old neighborhoods where, in just 24 hours, children will giggle with the thrill of knocking on doors and asking for treats.  What fun!

As I sit here writing, I can hear the distant train whistle.  The other day, we had lunch at a prototypical diner, Inland Cafe.  Wow!  Step back in time!  We had the sweetest waitress, a magnificent turkey dinner and a take-home cinnamon roll that melted all the way down. All for $22.  Don’t you love a diner where the town folks come in to talk about whatever comes to mind?

We just returned from attending the local LDS church, which you can see from our motorhome window.  One couple knew us because they had just been through the Martin’s Cove trek leader training program we helped lead in Wyoming.  We love to attend church each Sunday everywhere we go.  The Baker City 1st ward congregation is chuck full of children. These parents are doing an excellent job of raising their young ones.  It gives us hope for the future.  We enjoyed the Sunday School interactions.  Where else can you get this kind of wisdom and good feelings even though we have never met these people before? The church, it’s teachings and programs are the same all over the world.

Before we were full-time travelers, it was hard to tell the difference in our lives from one week to the next.  But now —- stuff is happening!

We started the week Monday morning by reeling in the electrical cord and leaving our 6-month home at Missionary Village near Devil’s Gate, Wyoming.  Our mission responsibilities there had ended.  But we couldn’t get out of the campground because some rogue missionaries (Elder Crist — repent!) had blocked the gate with detour signs.

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Road crew was busy preventing our departure

 

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Even the wood-working team got in on the shenanigans!

It was bittersweet to leave that place that stores so many memories for us now.

The weather was favorable, so we chose to head west via Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  We followed the Wind River Mountains northwest.  There was some snow at Togwotee Pass, but the roads were dry.  Pine trees!  Tetons!  Snake River!  After 6 months in the dry, sage-covered sand, we were ready to drink in the cool mountain scenery.

After window shopping and dinner in Jackson, we found a wide spot in the road and slept soundly that night.

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I don’t know many places that sell genuine triceratops fossils other than Jackson. At $300,000 it was a bargain! But, since it wouldn’t fit in the motorhome…

Although we considered a jaunt up to Yellowstone, all the animals Wendy wanted to see (moose and bear) are in winter disappearance mode and it was a rainy,cloudy day so we decided to continue on west instead.

Next stop: Uncle Earl and Aunt Sandy White’s place.

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You should see their garden in the summer- I’m coming back for the strawberries and raspberries.

Wendy has some amazing relatives. They live on the Snake River in a little Idaho town called Heyburn.  Here they have a small farm (White Cloud Ranch) where they raise a bobcat, cheetohs (exotic house cats), dogs, fancy chickens (Silkies, Frizzles), quail and peacocks.

 

We gathered multiple kinds of delicious fresh apples off the trees and took home a carton of multi-colored exotic chicken eggs.

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White Cloud Ranch is a treasure trove of fascinating hobbies and we’re always welcomed with great food (including purple fried breakfast potatoes, Sandy’s eggs, home canned pears and grape juice) and loving kindness.  We so loved the peaceful, fall scene looking out over the Snake River as the roosters crowed, chickens clucked and the peacocks strutted.

If you ever need any down-home therapy, head for the White Cloud Ranch!  Having family is a wonderful thing.

The next morning we rolled on to Boise, Idaho.  This was my first time visiting the city and I must say, I was surprised and impressed.  The economy is healthy and it’s a beautiful place with nice weather. They call it the Banana Belt as it remains relatively temperate in the winter.  So for those of you who would like to live out west, Boise should be on your possible’s list.

We arrived Wednesday afternoon and tracked down our friends, Chuck and Tonya King from our college days at Brigham Young University 33 years ago.

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We raised our first babies together at the Provo laundromat and thrift stores. They’ve been hard to catch up with over the years as they were living Hong Kong and Mexico City. We had a delightful dinner with them and reminisced and caught up on children’s lives and future plans.

Next day we visited Great-Uncle Cecil and Aunt Elsie Grow (Wendy’s relatives on her mother’s side).  It just happened to be Uncle Cecil’s 89th birthday.

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These people are endless!  They’re fit!  And they were so kind to us. We also spent time with Orri Grow (Grant’s son) and his daughter Natalie, who were visiting their grandparents. Wendy had fun quizzing Cecil and Elsie about their genealogy.

Wendy has fond memories of spending time in their home as a child and hanging out with their sons Craig and Grant.

Cecil and Elsie have served five missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We hope to have that much energy to continue serving over the coming decades.

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Missionary plaques for Riverton California, Mongolia, Kenya, Nauvoo Illinois, Monterey Mexico

Friday was another 130 mile drive to Baker City, Oregon.  (You will notice we don’t go far each day.  What’s the rush?  The joy is in the journey.)  Saturday we were able to grab the last jet boat of the season with 15 delightful German high schoolers to go down the Snake River through Hell’s Canyon.

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Hell’s Canyon, Oregon- deepest canyon in North America at 7900 feet.

The canyon is formed by the meeting of two techtonic plates and not from the river carving its way into the earth.

We boated through level 4 rapids down the Snake and had lunch on the grounds of a remote, off the grid cabin at Sheep Creek. A bald eagle soared past us as we returned upriver. It was a wild ride intermixed with peaceful scenery.

And here we sit comfortably in our home on a Sunday afternoon.  One of the best things about this lifestyle is we can travel without pushing hard to get somewhere.  Plus, we’re never exhausted and rarely uncomfortable — because we bring our home with us including our couch, recliner and the most comfortable bed we’ve ever owned. (We also like the dishwasher, washer and dryer.)

Anyway, that’s what we did at our house this week.  It was a great time full of new insights, scenery and ideas.  How much fun!

-Clay

Post Flight Review – 1st Wild Camping

Can you imagine what a challenge it must be to take a submarine on its first voyage?  So many complex systems to manage; the nuclear, electrical, communications, fresh water, sewage, oxygen, warfare systems, etc.  I often think of our coach, Zane, as a simple submarine.  Only if we spring a leak, we’re not likely to sink.

All machines are created on paper (or software) by an engineer who divines how the machine should operate in order to meet its mission.   All machines have their idiosyncrasies.  So whether its a submarine, an airplane or a motorhome, you don’t just hop in and go for it.  You have to study the systems and test them step by step so that you and the machine become one as you use it to fulfill your mission.

Mission Type 1 – RV Resorts:

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KOA, DeForest, Wisconsin

For the first year we owned Zane we kept it parked at an RV resort in the mountains of north Georgia while we prepared to sell our business.  There we experienced temperatures ranging from 5 to 95 degrees.  So in the winter we learned to heat the water supply and the basement so our pipes would not freeze and in the summer we learned to manage our awnings, shades, fans and A/C to keep it cool.  Living in an RV resort allowed us to live on the cheap (as compared to a house) while enjoying a community with regular pickle-ball games, dinners, and the amenities of a pool, hot tub and exercise facilities.  What a wonderful lifestyle!

Mission Type 2 – Vacation Travel:

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French Quarter RV Resort, New Orleans- great place, walking distance to the quarter!

While we were anchored in north Georgia,  we used our motorhome for vacations.  We parked in the French Quarter of New Orleans

and at Gulf State Park near the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

 

How much fun it was to be a tourist who goes to their home each night instead of a hotel.  I cannot begin to express the comfort and convenience of that paradigm.  And traveling to/from locations is entertaining.  Our coach is powered by diesel and audio books.  Wendy and I always have an audio book downloaded from the library to her phone so we just plug it into our sound system and listen to stories as we roll on down the road.  So much fun!

 

Mission Type 3 – Wild Camping:

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Pick a road, any road

Now that we have sold our business and are full-time travelers, our primary residence is on wheels so we can move it anywhere in the country.  And one of the most enticing kind of place for us is on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.  This is property owned by the Federal Government whose purpose is to manage the property for the citizens of the United States.  As such, it is to be used by campers and leased for cattle grazing,  extraction of oil or gas, etc.  Dirt roads are cut to get access for these purposes.  And wide spots are created so that people can camp on them.  Vast areas in the western United States are managed by the BLM.

This month we had our first wild camping experience (also known as boon-docking or dry camping).  We were in Southwestern New Mexico within 10 miles of the Carlsbad Caverns, in the Chihuahuan Desert.

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Home Sweet Home- awnings fully deployed in the desert sun

 

The big question in our minds was whether our RV (and us) would function well in a wild camping situation.  Think about it.  Where do you get power for your lights, fans, PCs, fridge, and TVs?  What about your water?  What about your poo?  How long can you last on batteries without being tethered to the utility grid?  Did the engineer take into account that we have a SubZero residential refrigerator and satellite TV?

As it turns out, Zane is an awesome wild camping machine due to her 161 gallons of fresh water and six huge AGM batteries.  We are able to stay at our remote site for 14 days (the limit for camping at one BLM spot) with no trouble.  And in the process we determined that our stereo receivers gulp lots of wasted amps in standby modes, so we shut them down completely when not in use.  And, we tried with success a bathroom ritual to save water – ergo, if it’s yellow let it mellow….. if it’s brown, flush it down.  Plus, when showering we let the cold water collect in a gallon jug (to be used for washing dishes), then when it gets hot, we hop in, soap up, rinse down and get out. About a 90 second shower. We still had a quarter tank of water at the end of 14 days.

The house batteries lasted overnight and sometimes into the morning hours. When they got down to 12.0 volts we would turn on the diesel generator with the flip of a switch and let them recharge for a few hours, morning and night. During the generator time, we also used the electric cooktop and convection oven (which drain too much power to use on batteries alone) to fix our meals.  So we spent (0.4 gallons/generator hour x 5 hrs x $2.18/gal)= $4.36 a day.  How’s that for cost of living?

Whohoo! We love to wild camp. The privacy and scenery are wonderful. And it’s free!

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It is so great to have a machine that can meet all of our mission requirements.   Our plan is to do a spoke and wheel type program where we move the RV to a central location (preferably free BLM land) and do day trips to explore the area in our Jeep for a couple of weeks.  Then move to the next hub location.

The general plan is to stay in the desert southwest from November through April, then slowly work our way north through eastern California, Nevada, Utah or Colorado to the Northwest and Canada for the summer. Rinse, repeat.  We will spend most of the winters on BLM land for free so we can spend a little on rv resorts on occasion the rest of the year.  We also plan to work camp and volunteer during a month or two during the summer.

And, to add to the mix, Wendy plans to work 3 or 4 months each year as a temporary contract doctor (Locum Tenens).   So we will be arranging contracts here and there as the mood suits and the opportunity arises.

-Clay

Exploring In My Pajamas

I wake up at our first wild camping spot on BLM land near Carlsbad Caverns.  I look past our toes out the bedroom window and what do I see?  A whole new world that needs to be explored!  I have to tell you, I’m excited!!

Good morning new world!

Good morning new world!

Some people are built to stay in the same place their entire lives.  In the Appalachians of North Georgia where we called home for 14 years I have several friends who have no need to venture outside that beautiful mountain area and so they simply don’t.  They are content.  And those mountain scenes are beautiful.  Our home looked out over the Coosa Creek Valley with tree covered mountains behind.  Every day the view was different; one day we would watch as storm clouds swallowed the mountains one-by-one as they approached from the south, another day we would have fog in the valley below, and of course in the fall the trees are stunning.  It makes your heart sing.

And every time Wendy and I would return from a vacation in some exotic place in the Caribbean or Europe we would look out our back porch and realize — as wonderful as those places were, they still didn’t compare to the view out our back porch.

But each of us is built differently.  I am a wanderer.  Something comes over me from time to time.  I feel confined and trapped.  I feel stuck in a rut.  I yearn to explore.  In the past I could satiate this need by hopping in my airplane and disappearing into the sky.  At 180mph I could go far in short order.  But I couldn’t take Wendy with me because she was tethered to her phone as an on-call surgeon.  That was a real problem.

When Wendy and I were first married I commented to her several times that I could be  very happy in this world if I were alone with her on a deserted island.  She agreed, but we later amended this thought to include books.  Alone together on a deserted island — with books.  Our new motorhome lifestyle captures that desire perfectly.  Wendy and I are, at this very moment, completely alone, in a vast desert with no one closer than — who knows.  This desert seems endless.  I love it!

Anyway, as I was saying, this first morning I look between my toes out the window at this new back porch.  This new world must be explored!!!  No time for delay, so I walk out the door in my pajamas and smell that unique desert air.  Oh yeah!!!

But wait.  An important safety tip pops in my former scoutmaster brain.  Rattlesnakes!  They have rattlesnakes here.  Don’t you remember Gun Smoke and the Will Rogers Show?  And then there’s that cactus called Horse Crippler.  Hmm.  OK.  Back in the coach, strap on my boots, and now I’m ready to explore in my pajamas — with my boots on.

It reminds me of when our daughter Caroline was two years old and saw her first snow in Denver (where we lived).  I look up and realize she had somehow slid open the back door and was bent over licking snow off the deck — naked, except for her diaper.  I said “You have to dress properly to be outside in the cold. You don’t even have your boots on!” She dutifully came in and the next time I looked up she was outside, bent over licking snow again — naked, except for her boots and diaper. Obedient to the letter of the law.

So off I go to walk a 100 yard radius of the coach in my pajamas.  And what amazing discovery do I make?  Not one, not two, but three caves within 100 yards of the coach.  Wahoo!  How unexpected and cool is that!  Did I climb down into one of these caves?  No.  These things disappear into the netherworld and if I slipped I might be transported into that netherworld and Wendy would never know where to look.  So I did the good Boy Scout thing and just gaped from a safe distance at the edge.

It goes down and down and down .....

It goes down and down and down …..

And here's another deep crevice. Wonder what lives in the belly of this beast?

And here’s another deep crevice. Wonder what lives in the belly of this beast?

What else did I discover?  Scat.  Looks like rabbit and some cow chips and some other yet to be identified poo.  New stuff to learn!  Yay!

And I also saw all kinds of desert plants, prickly pear, chola, bear grass and all kinds of other things I haven’t put a name to yet.

How much fun to explore our new home and discover so much in just the first 30 minutes.  But now it’s time to stretch out on our back porch and contemplate —- stuff.

The office. A place for contemplating the imponderables.

The office. A place for contemplating the imponderables.

It’s been a great day already and I’m still in my pajamas!

Clay