This post is going to cover the visit of our friends Kathy and Anne. The original plan had been that Kathy and Anne would arrive in New Orleans, where we would spend a few days, and then we would move to Houston where we would meet up with Kathy’s daughter, Nikki and tour the sites, we never did this because of Hurricane Harvey last year. Then we would move up to Dallas which neither Kathy nor Anne had visited. Anne would then fly back to the UK and Kathy would catch a coach back to Houston to stay with Nikki for a couple of weeks before flying back from there to the UK.
However, since that plan had been made, Nikki’s husband Matt had got a new job in Calgary and they would no longer be in Houston when Kathy was returning to stay with them. As it happened Anne (Jordan) wanted to visit a quilt show in Houston so the last part of the plan saw Kathy and us wend our way back to Houston where we would stay until Kathy flew out to the UK.
At this point I should point out there are now two RV maps of our journey around the USA as I ran out of space on the original one. The original one RV Map 1 takes you as far as Oklahoma and the new one RV Map 2 shows the route beyond Oklahoma and hopefully it will have enough room for our route in 2019.
So on the 15th October we picked up Kathy and Anne at New Orleans airport.
After taking them back to the RV and introducing them to “Big Beast”, we sorted out their sleeping arrangements and they eventually collapsed after a long day.
We decided to take it easy on their first day and visited Oak Alley Plantation. This is a complete Plantation with the original house and slave quarters on the edge of the Mississippi, inland from New Orleans.
The next day it was the turn of New Orleans to submit to the Brit invasion.
After the mandatory beignets we hopped on a hop on hop off bus.
Then a group photo before we hopped on the “hop on, hop off” bus tour.
Day 3 of our stay in New Orleans saw us visit an Alligator Farm. Louisiana has a wild population of alligators that is added to each year by the farms that rear the alligators from eggs (which they collect themselves).. They have to release 12% of each year’s rearing (at 4 years old) and then are allowed to keep the rest for skins, meat and by-products. The percentage released is based on what would have survived naturally to 4 years old in the wild. Since the farm released alligators are usually bigger and in better condition than naturally reared 4 year olds they tend to survive longer in the wild. This has enabled Louisiana to stabilise its population at almost 2 million which has recovered from its low point of 150,00 in 1962 when hunting and commercial operations were banned.
And on Day 4 we returned to New Orleans and walked around the city and the famous French Quarter.
And then we moved on to Houston with an overnight stop at Lake Charles.
Kathy was going to stay with Nikki as it would be the last time she would see them prior to their move to Canada.
So the two Annes and I visited the Nasa Apollo Mission Control Centre and Museum, which despite the famous words “Houston we have a problem” is South West of Houston near the coast.
Very interesting place (for me anyway), but give yourself a day to view it as it is a big museum.
On the last day we joined up with Kathy, Nikki and family and went out for a Mexican meal.
Then we moved on to Dallas. The first point of call was the JFK memorial and the Book Repository.
Fort Worth and the Stockyards was on the agenda for the next day.
The final day for Anne in Dallas we spent on the trolley bus tour of Dallas and some other Museums and the Kennedy memorial.
Then Anne left for London.
And then there were 3.
Before we set off back to Houston we visited South Fork Ranch the famous ranch used in the Dallas TV show (1978 – 1991)
We also revisited the Dallas Heritage site but since I have already posted pictures of it I won’t post them again.
And then we left for Houston, stopping in Waco on the way where we visited a working co-operative farm.
We arrived back in Houston, but since this was mainly for Anne to visit the Houston Quilt Show and do the Christmas shopping and for Kathy to go shopping with her, there are no pictures!!
The next post will finish 2018 with our visit to Big Bend National Park.
After the last monster post, this one is going to be slightly shorter. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief!!
We left Amarillo and after an overnight stop arrived in Oklahoma City. I am sure it has many attractions but Oklahoma city is remembered mainly for the horrific truck bomb that exploded outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killing 168 people and injuring several hundred more. It was so powerful a bomb that over 300 other buildings were either destroyed or damaged.
Where the building stood is now a memorial garden.
We then moved on to Texarkana, which is a town right on the Texas / Arkansas border. If you drive down the Main Street one half is in Texas and the other in Arkansas, which must be interesting comparing taxes etc. !!
It also has a lot of Confederate state connections including a statue that has managed to survive the current fad to take them all down.
We then moved on to Shreveport. We had a day of rest here so we went into Shreveport to a Mall that was recommended.
It had a massive Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World shop where you could buy anything you wanted to go hunting, shooting and fishing, from boats to guns and anything in between.
And our final stop before getting to New Orleans was Gator Grounds RV Park. I had just booked it via Good Sams not realising it was a very child oriented park with water slides etc.. I suppose I should have realised when they asked me to make sure I was parked before 5pm as the campground roads would be closed from 5.30pm.
Bearing in mind this was the 13th October, it turned out this was the first of 3 weekends that they celebrated Halloween!! So we got in parked up and there were some spectacular decorated RVs.
And then the “Trick or Treat” procession. I had actually gone out and bought some sweets in case our door was knocked on. But what we didn’t know was the protocol said “only knock on the doors of decorated RVs or ones with pumpkins outside” and we had neither!!
It was an interesting evening finished by a magnificent sunset.
The next day we arrived in New Orleans to pick up Kathy and Anne from the airport on the 15th October.
When we were planning this trip one of the places we had to visit was the Grand Canyon. I found out that you could take a train ride from a town called Williams to the Grand Canyon Rim and back again. So we decided that had to be the way to do it!!
We arrived in Williams and parked at the Grand Canyon Railroad RV Park. Williams is a small town known for two things, 1) it is the town where the Grand Canyon Railroad track runs from and 2) it is one of the best known towns on Route 66.
The following day we boarded the train after an early morning gunfight staged as part of the day.
The actual train trip is 2 hours there and back, so they have strolling musicians and a conductor in each carriage who provides entertainment.
When the train got close to Williams it was held up by the outlaws in the gunfight.
A very interesting trip and a long day.
After a day of rest we decided to explore an area locally that has huge volcanic cinder fields and remains of Pueblo Indian dwellings.
But before we did that we revisited Sedona and the Red Rock country from the north via Flagstaff. We did this by driving down RT 89A which took us down Sterling Canyon which reminded us of Cheddar Gorge only on a slightly larger scale.
We had a coffee in Sedona and then headed back to the Cinder field. There must have been a lot of active volcanos around here as the cinder fields were huge.
From here we drove down through Sunset Crater National Park to the site of some Pueblo’s.
We then moved on to Holbrook so we could see the Canyon de Chelly, and the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park.
Canyon de Chelly is a red rock canyon on a Navajo reservation north of Holbrook which has been home to native Indians for thousands of years.
It has a North and South branch and you can look down into the canyon from roads and overlooks, but if you want to actually travel on the canyon floor you have to do that with Park Ranger or Navajo guide who use 4x4s. This is because the canyon itself is rich farmland and it is still farmed.
At the Visitor Centre they have some examples of native Indian buildings.
The Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest were next on the itinerary. It is north of Interstate 40 and the Petrified Forest is on the South side.
The Painted Desert is part of what is known as the Badlands and some of you may recognise the area as it has been used for many films.
From here we followed the road across I40 towards the Petrified Forest.
The we started to see the petrified trees. Small amounts at first but they soon became almost forests.
We then moved on to Albuquerque as we gradually moved East towards New Orleans.
We explored Albuquerque, home to the famous Balloon Festival (we were too early as it was mid October).
Later we drove to the top of Sandia Crest, a mile above Albuquerque and 2 miles above sea level at 10,678ft. Driving there seemed to go on for ever but the views were worth it.
The next day we went to Santa Fe. This is another old Mexican town but a very interesting place with lots to see.
We started off at the Loretto Chapel , home of the “miraculous staircase”. When the chapel was originally built there was no access to the choir loft. Building a staircase to access it seemed to defeat most carpenters, until, so the story goes, a carpenter appeared and built what all thought impossible, a spiral staircase to access the loft.
It is said the carpenter disappeared after it was built without being paid, so no one knows who he was, how he built it and what wood it was made of.
We then moved on to Amarillo, famous for that song, but it is also home to the Cadillac Ranch. This is field where a farmer has buried 10 Cadillacs nose down and invited people to spray them with aerosol cans.
We also visited the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on the campus of West Texas A&M University in Canyon just south of Amarillo.
It is really about four museums in one and no amount of photos are going to do it justice, but if you are nearby make sure you visit it.
Another area shows teenage bedrooms from 1950 to 2010.
Other floors had a Native American exhibition and a Cowboy exhibition.
The next post will be the journey down to New Orleans to pick up our friends from England, Kathy and Anne.
We arrived in Las Vegas not really knowing what to expect. Neither of us gamble, slot machines don’t interest us, so I guess you could say we weren’t sure why we were there apart from everyone saying we must visit it.
It also didn’t help that we arrived in temperatures that were touching 100F (38C+) and over. We decided to drive into “the Strip” and see what it was all about. After driving up and down the strip and witnessing the mayhem we decided to park and have a walk around.
We came out from the parking lot roughly in the middle of the Strip near the Paris casino and then walked down to the Venice casino (with its canals and gondolas) and then walked back up the other side to see Caesar’s Palace and the fountains outside the Bellagio casino.
I also took a video of the Bellagio fountains performance of “Hey Big Spender”.
After that I must admit we had to give up as it was just too hot, even after using the air conditioning in the casinos to cool off. Some of the casinos and their accompanying themes were very interesting but overall impression was, its very brash, over the top, frenetic and not for us!!
Even though it was just as hot on the next day we decided to go and visit the Hoover Dam.
The dam was built between 1931 and 1936 and at its peak over 5,000 men worked there on a daily basis. Until the early 1950’s it was the tallest dam in the world at 726.4ft high but since then it has been relegated to 30th place although it is still the second largest in the USA. When it was built, so much concrete was poured in such a short time, they had to build a refrigeration system to cool the concrete to allow it to set. Lake Mead the reservoir created by the dam is still the largest in the USA.
We took a tour of the dam that allowed us right into the middle of the dam in some of the tunnels that are still used for maintenance. If you ever decide to do this I hope you don’t suffer from claustrophobia as some of these are very narrow and deep inside the dam.
As I said earlier our next stop was to be Williams, to visit the Grand Canyon and Route 66. All of this and more in my next post.
On our way down to Las Vegas we stopped off at a WillowWind RV Park that allowed us to visit both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.
Very nice campsite with a shady back-in for us.
The following day we set off for Bryce Canyon which meant a drive through Zion national Park to reach it, so I will not steal Zion’s thunder!! But I will say it involved quite a steep climb and a tunnel.
We reached Bryce Canyon about midday and boy oh boy is this place spectacular. It involves an 18 mile drive up the canyon and every stop seems to get better and better. For those of you who have never been there, Bryce is famous for its “hoodoos”. These are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and “broken” lands with multiple levels of strata in them, all of different colours. The ones in Bryce Canyon are hundreds of feet high!! So with that explanation here they are.
We moved up the route and discovered this.
We got to the end of the canyon route where there was a controlled burn going on, so there were lots of fire fighters.
We then tracked our way back filling in the bits we missed and I climbed Inspiration Point, which made me puff a bit, climbing 500ft at 9,000ft does that, but the view was worth it.
There is one other place I ought to mention, Red Canyon. This is on the road up to Bryce Canyon and it has some pretty impressive red rocks in its own right. But in the evening sunset they are something else!!
The next day saw us visit Zion National Park which we had previously just driven through. A different type of park, but equally as spectacular with its massive rock faces, the 1.1 mile tunnel to the top, and at the top so many types of rock formations.
After this we moved on to Las Vegas, one of the subjects of my next post, but I will always remember the hoodoos!!
As I said in my last post we moved on to a site near Green River Wyoming as a base to see the Flaming Gorge.
Our route took us along the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway all the way up to a spectacular view of the valley we had driven through.
After arriving at Green River we set off the following day on a circular route that took in the Flaming Gorge Dam, Flaming Gorge and the Sheep Creek Geological area.
After about an hour we reached the dam but on the way we saw quite a few herds of Pronghorn Antelope.
And many bluffs displaying great strata lines of rock.
Just before the dam there was a “scenic overlook” that gave a great view across the dam and the lake.
So we moved on to the Red Canyon visitor centre to see the Flaming Gorge.
We then went round the Sheep Creek geological area where there were many examples of how the rocks were formed.
We then moved on to Salt Lake City Utah.
We arrived in Salt Lake City on Saturday and set off to explore on Sunday not expecting much to be open, and found that the Visitor centre and State Capitol building were open.
The next day we took the Trolley Bus tour and visited the Pioneer Memorial Museum, which did not allow pictures to be taken, but I managed to persuade them to allow me to take a photo of an amazingly restored Steam Pump Fire Engine.
The next day we decided to go and visit Antelope Island State Park, which is an island in the Salt Lake accessed by a causeway.
The island is surrounded by the Salt Lake which gets a bit stinky in places but was a fascinating place to visit.
It is also home to one of the largest Buffalo herds in the USA.
On the Thursday Anne and I spent the whole day in the Mormon Family History Museum looking up our family trees and filling in the holes. It is an amazing place that allows you to set up a free account to investigate your family trees and while you are there you get access to records that would normally cost you money to access. You also get access to some Mormon helpers who lead you through how to access certain sites and how to use the search facilities. A fascinating day, which finished all too soon, but we had planned to go and see the Mormon Tabernacle choir which held its practice on a Thursday and you could watch for free. It was a fascinating 2 hours and the choir and orchestra were very good.
On the Friday we went to the Utah State Fair and in the evening the Rodeo. We finally got to see a complete Rodeo from start to finish including the bull riding. How they stayed on the bulls I do not know, but getting off looked even more dangerous.
On our last day we spent the afternoon back in the Mormon Family History Museum completing some of the searches we were unable to finish the first time we were there.
The next day we set off for Las Vegas, but first stopping half way down to see Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, my next post.
We went to Cody on the recommendation of Judy Goff (our friend in Bend, Oregon, who was born in Wyoming) and I have to say it did not disappoint.
I had managed to get a site reserved at the Ponderosa Campground right in the middle of Cody and we had a back in site that was a bit tight but provided views over the canyon behind us (just don’t go too far back!!).
Judy told us that, in her words “It will give you a fun and memorable bit of insight to this part of the American West! “, and it certainly did.
Centre piece of that experience was the Buffalo Bill Center of the West a massive museum that was actually 5 museums in one. A Firearms museum, a Western Arts museum, a Plains Indian Museum, The Buffalo Bill museum and a Natural History museum. Every one of them was an experience in their own right, but together they are incredible. If you ever go there make sure you have a day, as we did, because it will take you that long to go around it and do it justice.
For some reason I do not seem to have taken any pictures of the Firearms Museum, but it incorporates many exhibits from the Winchester Museum. I think I must have been so fascinated I forgot to take pictures!!
On the following day we decided to visit the Buffalo Bill Dam, which when it was built was the highest dam in the USA. You certainly needed a head for heights when you stood on top of the dam wall and looked down!!
From here we headed West towards the East Entrance of Yellowstone Park along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway. We were told we would have a good chance of seeing some bear and Longhorn Sheep on this road. We certainly saw signs but no actual animals.
The scenery was also very interesting with lots of spectacular rock formations.
And on our last night we decided to go to the rodeo, unfortunately the weather had turned cold and we left half way through as we were freezing!! We saw the bucking horse rides, some steer roping and met a brahma bull, but didn’t see any ridden as we were so cold.
From here we moved on to Dubois (pronounced Duboys here as they don’t like the French version!!). We were using this site as our base to explore the Grand Tetons.
We arrived at Windhaven RV Resort after a particularly windy drive ( I guess we should have expected that given the name of the RV site!!) and got set up with a site facing the river.
We used Dubois as our base to drive to see the Grand Tetons National Park. Decided to do it over two days as you drove into the National Park roughly in the middle and then you went North towards Yellowstone Park or South to Jackson Hole. Good job we did, as you will see from the pictures, because the first trip in we thought we had missed them! You only saw them once you were right on top of them because of all the smoke from the fires in California.
After this we decided to wait a day (we had some chores to do anyway) and then try the South Loop in the hope that some of the smoke would clear. But it did make some fantastic sunsets.
So, fingers crossed we set off on the Southern Loop around the park. It was obvious as we got closer that things had improved, but it still took a while before we actually saw the mountains.
We were late getting back that evening and decided to eat out at a local restaurant in Dubois called The Cowboy Café. It was a really informal dining place with great food. As we were sat there we were joined by a group of people who had taken their horses in trailers up to the National Park. They had been riding the park trails with their horses all weekend. They were all friends from Lander, Wyoming and we got talking with them and they were really interested in our trip. One of then turned out to be a High School teacher at Wyoming Indian High School near Lander and he asked us if we would be willing to talk to his pupils. So I foolishly agreed, and he gave me a number to contact him on.
Our final day in Dubois was spent in the National Bighorn Sheep Centre, where we learnt that they had the biggest wintering herd, kept on a State park just outside of the town. We still haven’t seen any Bighorn Sheep but at least we learnt the the main reason we had not seen them. At this time of the year they are high in the mountains keeping out of the way of Mountain Lions!!
Our next stop after leaving Dubois was going to be Lander, so I contacted the High School teacher (Cleeve Bell) thinking he would have changed his mind about speaking to his pupils, but he was even more insistent it was a good idea! We would be going right past his High School on the way to our next camp site so we should call in. In exchange for me doing the talk he and his wife would cook us a meal that evening. And he had elk on the menu.
So, hoping I had not bitten off more than I could chew, we drove the RV into the car park at Wyoming Indian High School.
And it all seemed to go quite well. The pupils all introduced themselves to us, including telling us what Indian tribes they were descended from. I used my laptop to show them where we were from, and then gave them a potted history of the British Isles. I showed them pictures of the Queen, Houses of Parliament and how we lived in England (not all in stately homes!!). We passed around our passports, UK notes and coins, and luckily Anne had a Hello magazine featuring the wedding of Prince Harry to Megan Markle which they were very interested in. We also got asked about the Spice Girls and One Direction!!
We then went on to the campground, got set up and drove back into Lander for a lovely meal with Cleeve and his wife. Their website is Here.
After dinner we got back to the campground to see a magnificent sunset over a lake in the grounds.
The next day we moved on to Green River to visit the Flaming Gorge, the subject of my next post.
Ever since I read an Eagle comic recreation of the Battle of Little Bighorn when I was a young boy, I have always wanted to visit the site of the only battle in which the Indians actually won!
So we moved on from Livingston to Billings, which was slightly off route but got us close enough to the battlefield to make my wish come true.
We drove to the battlefield the next day. I hadn’t realised until we got there that it was quite a long battlefield. I always envisaged it was just the hill on which the Last Stand took place but it was in actual fact spread out over 5 miles, after a crucial decision by Custer to split his command in two. One group of men under Major Reno was sent to attack the Indian encampment and the other group under General Custer continued West to try and flank the village and capture them in a pincer movement.
You can see here where the main 7th Cavalry force split on the right. Unfortunately for General Custer, Major Reno’s force was beaten back and forced to retreat back over the river and take up a defensive position in the hills above.
General Custer not knowing that continued west, splitting his group again to attack the village while he continued west. That force under Lt. James Calhoun was harried by Indian forces, losing many men, until they too turned back to the hills and rejoined General Custer’s main group.
General Custer then turned to attack the village, only to be met by superior Indian forces and was forced to retreat (dotted blue lines) back to where they were surrounded and lost their lives in the Last Stand.
Major Reno’s group knew nothing about this, as they were over 4 miles from that area, so they consolidated their position and beat off Indian attacks until they were saved by the advancing columns of Generals Terry and Gibbon.
While moving west General Custer was harried all the way by Indian braves. Wherever a white marker is positioned it is approximately where a 7th Cavalry soldier fell. Most of them have no names on them, as all they knew at the time was a soldier was killed here.
They re-joined General Custer who began his attack on the village but were met by a large Indian force, so they too had to retreat back up into the hills.
And then General Custer tried to defend the hill top that became known as the “Last Stand” hill.
The memorial lists the 268 men made up of 7th Cavalry soldiers, Indian scouts and civilian workers who died at Little Bighorn.
It should not be forgotten that many Indians also died here and to this end they have started to place markers for the Indian dead as well.
There is also an Indian Memorial.
And there was one other group that lost their lives at the battle, the horses, and they are remembered too.
All in all a very sobering place to visit. From my point of view I always thought of General Custer, after reading that Eagle comic story, as someone to be looked up to. This battlefield memorial makes you think of all the people and animals involved and makes you stop and think whether he deserves that image, and could all this have been avoided.
From here we turned South again and headed to Cody, home of William F Cody sometimes called “Buffalo Bill”.
Well our first stop in Montana was Campground St. Regis a small but very nice campground just outside, you guessed it, St. Regis.
We were told by our Canadian friends from Spokane we just had to go back into Idaho and visit a town called Wallace where, among other things, there was a very good Silver Mine tour.
And so it turned out, we really enjoyed the tour of the mine and the rest of the trolley bus tour gave us an orientation of Wallace.
We met our guide (an ex-miner of Swedish origin who had a very good sense of humour) and got kitted out with our hard hats.
We then had a look around Wallace itself. It is quite an old town that has the distinction of every downtown building being on the National Register of Historic Places. This came about because when they were building I90 they planned to knock down most of Wallace for the Interstate to go through, which obviously the inhabitants thought was a bad plan. A local businessman, Harry Magnuson, sued the Road building authorities saying they hadn’t done a proper environmental impact. And he won, and as part of that process got all the downtown buildings placed on the National Register which forced them to build I90 over Wallace on a flyover!!
It also considers itself to be the “Centre of the Universe” which came about because it claimed to be the centre of the silver mining area that had mined over 1.2 billion ounces of silver in the mines surrounding it. With a population of just 784 that is a pretty big boast, but you can see the plaque if you take your life in your hands as it is in the middle of a cross roads!!
There is also quite an interesting museum of the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Wallace was a very interesting place and well worth the trip if you are ever close by.
The following day we went to a local county fair. Local people displaying their handiwork, and their livestock, plus some events in the rodeo arena. Unfortunately the rodeo itself was not on until after we left the area.
And then we moved on to Indian Creek Campground, Deer Park which is just above Butte, Montana.
It never ceases to amaze me what we find on this trip of ours. Deer Lodge was chosen because it is just above Butte, Montana the site of the largest opencast copper mine in the country. But Deer Lodge itself was home to the Montana State prison Museum, a huge classic car museum and at least another 3 museums, plus the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site a completely preserved Ranch.
And right next door is a classic car museum with cars from very early Mercedes Benz (1886) to the classic cars of the 70’s & 80’s.
I could put up more pictures but there are over 160 cars in immaculate condition.
And outside were two immense trains.
The following day we came back to see the other museums and the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.
All I can say is we were amazed that so much was available in a town with a total population of 3,111!!
So on to Butte, the reason we stayed in Deer lodge in the first place. We took the Trolley Bus tour.
Butte is a copper mining town established in 1864 and grew to become the largest copper mining town in the USA and at one time in the world. Incredible amounts of copper were mined using conventional techniques i.e. digging a shaft and then cutting galleries into the seam. Some of the mines were over 6,000 ft deep. In its heyday there were 19 mines (14 mine headframes are still standing) and in 1910 alone copper ore mined from the Butte mining district totalled 284,000,000 pounds (130,000 tons). It attracted miners from all over the world including Cornish miners from the tin mines hence why there are these.
In the 1950’s underground mining gave way to open cast mining leading to the creation of one of the largest open cast pits in the world, the Berkley Pit.
After the trolley bus tour we visited the World Museum of Mining which included another mine tour.
The Museum also had an old town section and a collection of dolls houses.
As always there is so much to see and we ran out of time.
From here we moved on to Livingston Montana and Yellowstone Park.