Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Eastern Shore

After our New England tour, we headed down to the Eastern Shore, stopping first at Chincoteague for a couple of days. We stayed at the Maddox Family Campground which is the closest to Assateaque Island and the beach. I enjoyed riding my bike around both islands and the Bird chose to hang out on the beach. We had a very nice meal at Etta's Channel Side restaurant and sat next to a singer/acoustic guitar player named Ron Cole who was performing. He was nice enough to give us his songbook (which was full of great songs from the 60's and 70's) and let us create his setlist. He did some Grateful Dead songs for us as well as "The Weight".

Charlie and Stella relaxing at the campground

Chincoteague Island

Assateague Island - still functioning, I could see it from my bedroom window at night
From there we headed down for a week in the Cape Charles/Smith Beach area for our annual bacchanal with about 15 friends (all either Danville ex-pats or spouses of Danville ex-pats). Lots of great food and strong drinks, usually followed by more strong drinks. One night we went to the Shanty to hear a musician from St. Croix named Michael Justis. He was quite good and I was pleased to hear that his version of the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" includes the last verse, which is rarely played. I think my enthusiastic reception of that song encouraged him to do several more Dead tunes.

Beachhead established

Bubba on the Beach!

All in all it was another great beach week and it even included a ride on the bay on Marcus' boat, which  sometimes I wondered if it really existed.
The still unnamed Marcus sailing craft

Saturday, June 27, 2015

New England Tour

We spent three days camping in the RV in Tremont, Maine, at the foot of the bridge that takes you on to Mount Desert Island, which is where Acadia National Park is located. Each day we would head into the park for to experience what has to be one of the most scenic areas of the US. We were somewhat hampered by the weather, Day One was sort of overcast and wet so we did a driving tour of the island, Day Two was raining more so we went into Bar Harbor for some shopping and bar hopping. We especially liked Stewman's Lobster Pound and Beerworks. It's really nice on a rainy day to sample some lobster bisque and some local craft beers. We also went to the Abbe Museum which taught us much about the Wabanaki people who inhabited the area before settlers from Europe arrived. On Day Three the weather was beautiful, I took the opportunity to take a bike ride on the Park Road, which provided some spectacular coastal views. In the afternoon we hiked to the top of Mount Gorham with the dogs, which was lots of fun. We rewarded ourselves that evening with a lobster feast at the Tremont Lobster Pound.

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park
When it's raining, beer and lobster bisque are a good way to spend the afternoon

The Bird with Charlie and Stella at the top of Mt. Gorham

Departing Maine we went on to New Hampshire where we stayed at a very nice campground just outside the White Mountain National Forest. We toured the forest, saw some nice covered bridges and we went to the site of the Old Man in the Mountain, which is on all of the New Hampshire logos and their state quarter, but he slid off the face of the mountain a few years ago and now it's sort of a memorial site.

We connected with our friends Harry and Jeff who had been hiking in the White Mountains and had a nice dinner with them in Gorham at the SAalt Pub (that's not a typo).

From New Hampshire we headed into Vermont, stopping on the way at Polly's Pancake Parlor, famous for their superb choice of pancakes and maple syrup.  We overnighted at a campground near Bennington Vermont, the dogs got a chance to run around the countryside and I did a nice mountain bike ride on some snowmobile trails through the woods.

Our next stop was Cooperstown, New York where we spent a day at the Baseball Hall of Fame, which was full of interesting exhibits about the national pastime. I saw the plaque for Ernie Harwell, a cousin of mine and recipient of the Ford Fricke award, given to the best baseball announcers and journalists.

Ernie Harwell at the Hall of Fame
After that we headed south, overnighting at a neat little KOA campground near Fogelsville, PA and then down to the Eastern Shore of Virgina.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Heading to Maine

No music updates on this entry, only travel. After visiting with friends and family in Maryland, the Bird and I set out in the RV to New England to visit some places we've never seen before. The first night we overnighted at a campground near Mitchellville, NY. It was a nice spot, a little difficult to get to but the people there were very friendly. The next day we headed to the Boston area and landed in a campground on the outskirts of Boston in Bellingham, MA. We had planned on touring downtown Boston but Dog #2 Stella decided she didn't want to be left in the RV and began howling and barking as soon as we left her. So we changed plans and let her ride in the truck with us to Cape Cod. It was a bit windy and cold there, but we saw some lovely seaside villages and we spent the day exploring around. Stella was fine with that plan.
Cape Cod Lighthouse
From Massachusetts we headed north to Maine, stopping for a day at Old Orchard Beach. This is a typical beach town with a boardwalk and plenty of lobster places. We had fun walking on the beach with the dogs and eating lobster rolls and steamers. 

Charlie ponders the meaning of life while staring at the ocean at Old Orchard Beach
 From Old Orchard Beach it was an easy drive on up to Acadia National Park. We set up the RV at a campground on the mainland near the bridge that crosses over to Mount Desert Island where the park is located.

Acadia National Park

Stella and I on the coast in Acadia National Park
We'll stay here a couple more days, then head inland to check out more of Maine and New Hampshire.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Summer 2015 - 50th Anniversary of the Grateful Dead

The summer for us this year is built around the 50th anniversary of that great American band - the Grateful Dead. We were fortunate enough to get tickets to the "final" three shows - July 3rd, 4th and 5th at Soldier Field in Chicago and we have put together a cross country RV tour that will feature the musical celebration in the Windy City as the centerpiece.

It was a good spring for music in Tucson and despite my lack of online blogging we still caught some excellent shows in the Old Pueblo. Todd Snider did a fine solo show at the Club Congress, and we saw Lucinda Williams, the Punch Brothers, and Zappa Plays Zappa at the Rialto Theatre. We also saw Gregg Allman at the Fox Theater and we enjoyed a full days' worth of music at the Tucson Folk Festival

On May 4th we attended the annual Grateful Dead "Meet up at the Movies" event at a Tucson cinema, this year it was an excellent concert - from July 1989 at Alpine Valley Wisconsin. This was a straight up concert movie - no interviews, crowd shots, or other filler. Each member of the band was inspired and giving it their all, the highlight for me was one of the best performances of the Dylan classic "Desperation Row" that I have ever seen. The next day we piled into the RV and started our summer by heading east. 

We overnighted at Balmorhea State Park in Texas (which has the world's largest spring fed swimming pool) and at an RV park outside of Katy Texas (our normal stopping point - the Stephen F. Austin State Park - was closed due to storm damage). Then we landed at New Orleans for a weekend of fun. We stayed at the French Quarter RV Park, just a few blocks from Bourbon Street and super convenient. We were met there by a couple of our friends from Tucson and we ate and drank our way through the French Quarter. We also visited the World War II Museum, which was very interesting, well worth your time if you're ever in New Orleans. After telling our friends goodbye in New Orleans we headed north, spending the first night in Auburn, Alabama, where we were able to catch one of the Capitals' playoff games in a downtown barbecue joint. From there we went to Easley, South Carolina, staying at the Ivy Acres RV Park and visiting with cousins there. Next stop was the Claytor Lake State Park near Radford, Virginia. It is a nice park and would be worthy of a longer visit, but we were focused on getting to Maryland in time for:

On May 14th, an incredible line up of musicians came together at the Merriweather Post Pavilion to celebrate Jerry's music. It was a sold out affair, a large but very friendly crowd of DeadHeads, all united for the love of Jerry's music. It was more like a festival crammed into a four hour period, with one performer right after another, but no "flow" or dramatic narrative that you might get in a concert by a single performer. Nevertheless there were several musical highlights for me. One was "Fire on the Mountain" featuring original Dead members Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, and Bob Weir and lead vocals by Jimmy Cliff. Another was David Grisman and Sam Bush's performance of "Shady Grove". Before the song, David explained that he had met Jerry some 51 years ago only about 85 miles from Merriweather. They were both at a bluegrass festival to see the legendary Bill Monroe. David became a little choked up as he said of Jerry "He was a good guy." Their musical partnership began before the Grateful Dead and lasted until Jerry's passing, thank God David kept that tape recorder rolling in his basement all those nights they jammed together. Another high point for me was Bob Weir's rendition of "Days Between". I kept hoping for a brief reunion of the "core four" but after Phil Lesh opened the show he disappeared into the wings and did not sit in with anyone else. But it was a nice way to celebrate a great musician and to kick off the Summer of the Dead.

Dark Star Orchestra at the Hamilton

A few nights after Dear Jerry we went to downtown DC to check out the Dark Star Orchestra at the Hamilton. We've seen DSO plenty of times, they usually do a complete recreation of a Grateful Dead concert but for this venue they chose to do an all acoustic show. One of the Hamilton managers confided to me that DSO electric was a "little too loud" for them, thus the acoustic solution. That turned out to be fine with us as we were up close and personal to a very nice evening of Dead tunes done low key with the emphasis on the songs (and not so much jamming). The Hamilton is a lovely venue with a wonderful service, we hope we can get back there again soon.


Delfest is one of our favorite music festivals, we've gone to 7 out of 8 of them now. Hosted by the Del McCoury Band and located at the fairgrounds in Cumberland, Maryland, this festival is all about the music. This year featured David "Dawg" Grisman as the roving musical ambassador, and he was at the center of several of my favorite musical moments of the weekend. Thursday night there was some misty rain, so we took advantage of the Del Radio station, which provides a live feed from the main stage and enjoyed the Steep Canyon Rangers from the comfort of the Pinnacle living room. Then the weather lifted and we made it out to see Shovels and Rope, who turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Consisting of a husband and wife duo, they made a much more rich and complex sound than I was expecting, great way to kick off the festival! 

Ronnie McCoury, David "Dawg" Grisman, and Sierra Hull
Friday morning was the musical peak for me, as David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury and Sierra Hull sat down in the Music Hall for a mandolin "playshop". About 50% music and 50% storytelling by David, this was a wonderful session that had one of the best mandolin players out there today (McCoury) sitting with his mentor (Grisman) as well as the next generation (Hull) discussing and demonstrating technique, style and music theory. It was an amazing hour, I wish it could have been two or three.
Also on Friday we saw on the main stage Larry Keel, Nikki Bluhm and the Gramblers and Railroad Earth all do fine sets.

Saturday we roamed around and finally settled in the Music Hall for what was billed as "Dre and the DelFest Collective". This was essentially a singer named Dre Anders who must have some good connections because she was able to corral the Travelin' McCoury's and several other musicians onto the stage with her. It quickly became obvious that she was the weak link in the chain and this turned into a rare DelFest disappointment. But no worries, as we went to the main stage and caught another magic musical miracle as "Del and Dawg" (just the two of them) performed a super strong set of bluegrass classics and wonderful tunes. Dawg did his usual intro's illuminating each song with personal history and context. Additional sets from Jason Isbell and the Travelin' McCoury's finished off a great Saturday at DelFest.

Sunday we made another visit to the Music Hall, this time to see the McCoury Brothers, which is basically the Del McCoury Band along with two of his brothers - Jerry and G.C.  They performed a great set, but it was nearly impossible to take our eyes off 3 year old Vassar McCoury (Rob's son), who "played" his fiddle with the band for nearly the entire set. Del told the two adult fiddle players that Vassar had rubbed all of the hair off his bow, thus explaining why there was no sound coming from the fiddle, so "he won't be showing up you boys today!" Jayson Carter calmly replied, "I think he already has." With a name like Vassar McCoury it's a safe bet that in a decade or so we'll be hearing some fine tunes from this one. We closed out Sunday with fun sets from Leftover Salmon, the Del McCoury Band, and Trampled by Turtles. Another great festival which has continued to grow over the years with out sacrificing quality (which has been a challenge for other festivals). 

We'll be fitting in some more music over the next few weeks as we tour in the RV, but the next big event will be July 3 - 5 at Soldier Field!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2014 - Heading East Across the North - 6/24/14

After getting our new home in Tucson set up and helping get the Boy established in his his new place in Seattle, it's time to head East to see our family and friends. Escaping the triple digit temperatures is a nice bonus too. Since we're traveling in the summer, this allows us to take a northerly route through some areas of the country that we haven't seen before. 

Yesterday we headed north and made it to the Navajo reservation in the northeastern corner of Arizona, driving past Sedona and Flagstaff. We stopped at the Cameron Trading Post, established in 1916, now a major stopping point for tourists visiting the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. The small RV park there was not much, but functional, and we ate dinner in the restaurant. I had the Navajo taco, made from Indian flat bread, it was good but seemed more "touristy" than Native American.  Today we head north to Utah and will drive through Monument Valley. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Red Wing Roots Festival - Mt. Solon, VA - July 12-14

The Red Wing Roots Festival is a new festival in the Natural Chimneys Park near Harrisonburg, Virginia. It is hosted by The Steel Wheels, a great four piece ensemble with deep connections to the Harrisonburg area. First time festivals can be a treasure or a bust, depending on how well prepared are the organizers and how many patrons are in attendance. This one was a real treasure, the Natural Chimneys Park is a beautiful site and the organizers were ready but not overbearing with too many rules and regulations. It was well attended but by no means crowded, I'm sure in the future there will be more and more coming to this one.

We arrived a day early on Thursday and were assigned one of the huge RV sites. Three of the four adjacent RV sites were occupied by tent campers, which gave us even more open space. We walked around the park and saw the Natural Chimneys, a natural geological formation that towers up to 120 feet, and the nearly dry North River. That evening there was a big downpour, but we were comfortable and dry in the cozy confines of the Pinnacle. The next day was clear but the rain had turned the North River into a raging torrent.

Pinnacle Base Camp

North River after a night of rain

This festival is described as a "roots" festival and, for me at least, each of the three days of music had a separate theme. Friday was a bluegrass day, each musical act that we saw had close ties to this southern genre. We say New Country Rehab, a band from Canada that plays high energy original songs. Then it was a great set by Virginia native Larry Keel & Natural Bridge. I always enjoy Larry's shows and he seemed particularly inspired this day delivering some of the best guitar picking of the weekend. Joining him on stage was Jay Starling on the dobro, he's the son of the Seldom Scene's John Starling. The Steel Wheels did a late afternoon set on the smallest of the festival's four stages, it was packed with festivarians and the band did not disappoint. There was lots of audience participation with little kids up near the front being called upon to help out. This set was one of the musical highlights of the entire festival and it propelled the Steel Wheels on my "must see again" list. 

Steel Wheels on Friday       image from DJBWeblog
Next the bluegrass theme continued with Tim O'Brien, a great writer with a deep catalog of well known songs. He's no slouch as a musician either and for this performance he was solo, playing guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Tim was followed by a band we've seen several times over the last few years, Brooklyn based Yarn. They're not a bluegrass band but more rock and roll and they performed a high energy set of great originals and covers. Next up was the Duhks, a band from Canada that plays their own original interpretation of folk, old time, and Brazilian samba (!?!).  They were a lot of fun and seemed to be happy to be performing again after an extended hiatus from touring. The bluegrass day finished up with what has to be the best band performing bluegrass today - The Del McCoury Band. These guys are true professionals and they did not disappoint the Friday night crowd. As always they encouraged folks to shout out requests and each of the five talented musicians took turns shining in the spotlight. 

The Steel Wheels are very much into bicycling and on Saturday morning they hosted three bike rides. One for mountain bikers, one for serious bikers that was 40 miles and included a climb to the top of Reddish Knob, and a more casual 15 miler around the Shenandoah Valley. I wimped out and chose the more casual ride, Eric and Jay of the Steel Wheels joined us and we had a very nice ride. We were unable to complete the full planned circuit due to a road being closed due to high water, but it was fun anyway. Next year - I'll be ready for the Reddish Knob!

Bikers gathering for the morning ride

Here's where we turned around on the bike ride
If there was a roots theme for Saturday it might have been "singer/songwriter".  We caught Nathan Moore, a Staunton native, who tells stories and sings original folk type songs. He was followed by Scott Miller, also from the Shenandoah Valley, who was very entertaining. I may be biased because he is also a W&M grad, but he really got my attention with his song about a Chevy Citation with an 8-track player (my mode of transport in the late '70's).  From there we wandered the grounds and caught some of the Wiyos (old time folk and blues), our friends from Crozet - Yankee Dixie, and JD McPherson. Then as the sun went down the Steel Wheels did a great set on the main stage and were followed by the Sam Bush Band. We've seen Sam plenty of times before but we were pleased that he's updated his festival set to include some different songs, including the Beatles "I've Just Seen a Face". And of course no Sam Bush show would be complete without some weather, just at midnight when the set was ending it starting to drizzle, three minutes later we got a full downpour on the walk back to the Pinnacle. 

Sunday started slowly with a very casual Robin and Linda Williams performing a set of their original songs. Then we watched a demonstration by the Virginia Wildlife Center on raptors and birds of prey.  Then the roots theme for Sunday seemed to swing into jazz from the early twentieth century. Wayne "The Train" Hancock is most often compared to Hank Williams, and he did his fair share of old time honky tonkin', but there was definitely some Western swing going on there too.  Pokey Lafarge was a lot of fun, it really sounded for a while like we were transported back to the 1920's as the trumpet and clarinet provided a background for Pokey's superb singing voice. The Steel Wheels made their last appearance of the festival, bringing on stage many of the musicians that had played before them and then it was the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to close things out. I had seen them before, even earlier in the week on the Jimmy Fallon show, but they surprised me with the energy and excitement that they brought to the festival's final set. From the very first note they were energetically playing a much more modern approach to the traditional form for which they are known. 

Pokey LaFarge
This was a great festival, the Steel Wheels and their management team have done a superb job of organization and putting together a lineup that taps from the local Virginia music as well as the "roots" that are still so vibrant and relative today.  I look forward to Red Wing Roots 2014.



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Music in May

Upon our return to Maryland we were happy to get right back into the vibrant local music scene in the DC area. On May 1 I caught the Tedeschi/Trucks Band at the 9:30 club. The 9:30 club is one of the best venues in the country for live music and it had been a while since I was last there. The Tedeschi/Trucks Band put together such a wonderful mix of soul and blues that equally highlights the wonderful slide guitar work of Derek Trucks and the beautiful vocal stylings of Susan Tedeschi. The sold out crowd was totally into it from the start and there were a few moments when Derek seemed to transport Duane Allman's spirit into the show. Greg Allman writes in his excellent autobiography ("My Cross to Bear") of how he sometimes sees Duane in Derek during performances. Gregg doesn't make a big deal about it, but he cites these moments as evidence that Derek is the actual reincarnation of Duane. Anyway it was a great show and Susan Tedeschi's excellent guitar playing should not be overlooked either. They finished with John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" which segued in and out of the Grateful Dead's "Sugaree".

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi    930 club
While in Tucson this winter we met a nice couple who were touring the country in their RV and they were getting ready to pick up their son who is trying to launch a career as a musician. Kevin Van Dort is his name and he plays blues guitar and sings. They explained that they were going through Austin and New Orleans and then coming up the East Coast so we invited them to our house and hosted a house concert to let our friends experience Kevin's music.

They arrived on a Thursday and that evening we went to the open mic night at the Outta the Way Cafe in Gaithersburg. Kevin played a few songs with the house band which was well received and one of the other musicians invited him to sit in with his band the following night. So we went to the Two Nineteen in Old Town Alexandria and Kevin played some tunes with the Capital Blues Ensemble. I was very impressed with this local band, they had horns and a great setlist of rockin' blues tunes. They don't seem to get to play very often but I would definitely like to see them again sometime. Kevin sat in for two songs and the crowd liked it so much they decided to do a third song together. Saturday night was the performance on our porch with good friends in attendance. Kevin played acoustic and electric guitar as well as his homemade box guitar. Neal, from the Capital Blues Ensemble, sat in on harp. Here's a video from the event.

Kevin Van Dort

The following week we went to see the Mickey Hart Band play at the Howard Theatre.  This is another great venue for live music in DC, there was a big crowd there to see Mickey and his band. We saw them play earlier this year in Tucson although this time Adam Theis was playing bass instead of Dave Schools. But the African Showboyz were still with him, adding their high energy percussion to the mix.  They did a nice mix of Dead tunes and Mickey Hart tunes.

My favorite Grateful Dead cover band these days is On the Bus, but I've been wanting to check out another group called the Black Muddy River Band, which is a Maryland based acoustic trio that frequently plays in the area. I finally got a chance a few Saturday's ago when they played at Branded 72, a barbecue joint in Rockville. It took a little mental adjustment to get into the thinner sound of just three acoustic instruments, but in the close confines of the bar it felt right. They played plenty of tunes from all sections of the Dead catalog and I will definitely check them out again soon.

Once again we spent the four day Memorial Day weekend at DelFest in Cumberland Maryland. This was the sixth Delfest and it has risen to the top of my favorite festivals list. It has the "Goldilocks" attributes of "not too small, not too big, it's just right". It also has a great "festival vibe" something that a few other festivals have lost over the years. This vibe is based on a common love and appreciation of the host Del McCoury.

Pinnacle Base Camp at Delfest
The lineup at this year's DelFest was another top notch collection of premier Americana and bluegrass bands, with the Trey Anastasio band thrown in to keep the kids happy and plenty of McCoury band members sitting in with the other musical acts. Thursday night the Jerry Douglas Band did a wonderful set (we saw them for the first time in DC last summer, definitely worth checking out if you get a chance) followed by old friends Leftover Salmon. Friday's highlights were Trampled by Turtles, a great set by the Del McCoury Band, and then two sets from Trey and his band. I was not expecting much from Trey, but I wanted to see him playing with the McCoury's. So I watched the second half of the first set and then a good portion of the second set (Del, Rob, Ronnie and Jayson came out for several songs). I must say I was very impressed by his band, they really have their chops down now that they have been playing for some time.  Saturday at DelFest was a big day and we enjoyed sets by Greensky Bluegrass, Keller Williams with his Richmond based funk band "More than a Little", another quality turn by the DMB and to close things out, Old Crow Medicine Show. In the afternoon we also saw what can best be described as an All-Star newgrass band which has the unfortunate name of "Pikelny, Sutton, McCoury, Bulla & Bales". Seems like you could try a little harder on the band name. But they were great, playing top of the line progressive jam based bluegrass. Members are Noam Pilkelny (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers), Bryan Sutton (Kentucky Thunder, Hot Rize), Luke Bulla (Lyle Lovett Band), Barry Bales (Union Station), and Ronnie McCoury.  Then Sunday was another busy day starting off with Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, then the Infamous Stringdusters, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Between these sets I spent time in the rec center enjoying two very special musical treats, Keller Williams and the Travelin' McCourys and the "Masters of Bluegrass". The Masters consist of Del McCoury, Bobby Osborne, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks and Jerry McCoury. Between them they have four memberships in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and two memberships in the Grand Ole Opry. It was a rare honor to see such "masters" enjoying their craft. Yonder Mountain String Band closed out the festival, but I'm not a big fan of theirs so I listened from the Pinnacle base camp. In summary I have to say this was another excellent DelFest and Old Crow Medicine Show gets my blue ribbon for best performance, they have really stepped up their game and put on a big time Saturday night show.

Larry Keel at DelFest
My musical May continued with a visit to the State Theatre to see what was billed as a "Jam Band Fun Night". Opening was a three piece ensemble called "Djesben", which consists of Topher Dunne on the Chapman stick, Katy Gaughan on percussion, and Christian Crowley playing an amplified string dulcimer. On this particular night they were joined by the keyboard player from On the Bus and a drummer (whose name I did not catch). Also sitting in on electric fiddle was none other than John Kadlecik, who of course is the guitar player in Furthur and happens to be the husband of Katy. They did some very nice jam/jazz tunes, I was glad they had the extra musicians to create a fuller band sound. Then they were followed by On the Bus, who does Grateful Dead covers. John K sat with OTB for a few tunes playing fiddle. These guys are always great and this was especially nice as they brought out local hero Ron Holloway to play sax. The night concluded with a band called Covered with Jam, I listened for a while, but I had a long drive home and I was full of good music.

All in all a full month of great live music, can't wait to see what June brings!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cross Country Trek - part 2

Tuesday we left Durango and headed east, crossing the Rockies through Wolf's Pass towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was a beautiful drive and not as stressful with the truck and the big rig as I had been worried about. This park is very unique, basically the tallest sand dunes in North America. They were formed by sand left behind from a prehistoric lake that has been blown into dunes by the predominant southwest winds funneling through the Sange de Cristo Mountains.  The winds blow from the valley toward the mountains, but during storms the winds blow back toward the valley. These opposing wind directions cause the dunes to grow vertically.  But upon our arrival at the RV campground next to the park there were sustained winds of 40 mph with gusts up to 60 or 70. We made the decision to do a quick tour of the park and continue heading east to somewhere calmer.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
We passed over the mountains and found an RV park near Colorado City that was nice and the wind was calm. But the next morning there was ice forming on the Pinnacle from freezing mist, there was snow in the forecast, so we kept on heading east. Next stop was Dodge City, Kansas, but it was too cold to do much looking around and we wanted to get ahead of this spring/winter storm.

So the next day we continued on to Joplin, Missouri. While driving through the middle of "nowhere" Kansas there was a loud pop and the Pinnacle started lurching and I immediately realized that we had a blowout. I have to commend GEICO roadside service and the local tire service guy ("Sean" but I didn't get the name of his company) has they were there in 20 minutes and helped me jack up the Pinnacle and put on the spare. The next day in Joplin I went to the Goodyear store to get a new spare, turned out it was located right at ground zero where that terrible tornado went through a couple of years ago and caused so much death and destruction.

After spending the night in Joplin, we motored on to Sikeston, MO where we had dinner in a crazy restaurant called Lambert's Cafe. They are the "only home of throwed rolls". A server periodically emerges from the kitchen with a tray of big rolls just out of the oven and shouts "Rolls!". If you want one you just raise your hand and he wings it across the room to you. There were rolls flying in every direction. The Bird ordered their special fried catfish and it was enough to fill her that night and make a meal for the two of us the next night.

From Sikeston we drove on to a campground next to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. We spent a day touring the longest known cave system. We obviously didn't tour all 400 miles of the cave, but we had a nice park ranger tour guide who took us down a few hundred feet and through a couple of miles of the cave. He did a great job explaining the history of the cave,  how it was explored over the centuries and why it's a national treasure.

Entrance to Mammoth Cave

Graffiti from 1839 in Mammoth Cave
From Mammoth Cave we went on to a nice state park in West Virginia called Stonewall Resort and had a nice spot right on the lake. But we didn't linger as we were ready to get home to Maryland. It was just a half day drive from there to home.

This was a great cross country trip, we met a lot of interesting people and we enjoyed touring several of the National Parks. Over the next few years we hope to see many more National Parks. We've now stayed in 24 different states in our Pinnacle 5th wheel and we look forward to the next 26!

Here's a map of our trip to Tucson in the fall and our return trip in the spring. For a more interactive view of the map you can click here.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cross Country Trek - Spring 2013

Here's a sporadic update from the road on our trip back to Maryland from our winter base in Arizona. (You can click on the photos for a better view.)
For the second consecutive winter, we stayed at the lovely Lazy Days RV campground in Tucson. We really like Tucson and all of the interesting things that it has to offer. This year we found three brewpubs that offer tasty local brews and good food, every Monday evening we competed in trivia night at the Sky Bar, and we frequently enjoyed the natural beauty of Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, and the Sonoran Desert Museum.

In terms of live music, we saw Bob Weir (solo acoustic) twice, once with Jackie Greene and once with Jonathan Wilson. We went to Alice Coopers Christmas Pudding, which is an annual fundraiser that he hosts in Phoenix. There were all kinds of musical talent performing for this event and Johnny Depp played guitar in Alice's band. Other concerts attended in AZ this winter were Keller Williams (Club Congress), Leftover Salmon (Rialto), Mickey Hart (Rialto), and a really special performance by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Booker T. Jones at the Fox Theater. There was plenty of local live music too, including some good Dead cover bands and a Pink Floyd cover band (Atom Heart Mother) who did an excellent rendition of the complete "Dark Side of the Moon" on the 40th anniversary of its release.

We also loved it that so many of our friends came to visit us and escape the winter weather on the East Coast and keep us company in the Old Pueblo. Davis McPherson and I biked to the top of Mount Lemmon, which was a lot of fun and an accomplishment that I am proud of. But as winter winds down and there are some scattered reports of warming weather back in Maryland, it's time to back up and take the Pinnacle back home.

So on Thursday, April 4 we started the journey by intentionally heading the wrong way, i.e. West, to California to visit the Boy at school and see our friend Erin in LA. We stopped halfway and spent the night near Quartzite Arizona. Quartzite is sort of a Mecca for RV'ers, I'm not exactly sure why, there's not much there except open desert spaces and warm weather. We had a nice dinner at the Yacht Club, which is a running joke since there are obviously no yachts within hundreds of miles.


Upon reaching Southern California we set up in a lovely RV park on the shores of a reservoir in San Dimas. The park has great views in a very nice setting and it served as a perfect base camp for our weekend visit.

East Shore RV Park

After the weekend in LA we headed east and spent the night in Las Vegas in a RV resort on the southern end of the strip. It was a little different staying in Sin City in an RV, but we enjoyed it, I watched the Nats game in a bar while the Bird hit the casino floor.

Tuesday, we traveled to a campground on the eastern edge of Zion National Park where we spent three nights while we toured both Zion and Bryce Canyon during the days. These are two national treasures full of beautiful, breath taking vistas. We hiked in both parks and I took tons of pictures.

Zion National Park

Bryce Canyon

On Saturday we packed up and headed to the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. We set up in a KOA campground near the park and spent Sunday touring the ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings. Our guide was a park ranger named Sean Duffy, who educated and entertained us while showing the cities embedded in the cliffs some 1,000 years ago.

Monday ( tax day) we took a short ride to Durango, spent the day doing laundry and hitting the grocery store. This was the second consecutive RV campground with a big free run dog park so Cosmic Charlie is getting in his workouts. We finished the day with some excellent steaks at the Ore House in downtown Durango. Tomorrow we'll head east and hopefully get to see the Great Sand Dunes National Park. More updates to follow.

Here we are at four corners, I'm standing in Utah, the Bird is in Colorado with one foot in New Mexico and Charlie is in Arizona but for some reason refusing to face the camera.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, December 10, 2012

Journey West Part 2

We decided that rather than fool around with Mother Nature we would head west to better weather and spend some time in One of our favorite places, New Orleans. So we drove from Panama City along the gulf coast to the Crescent City and set up at the Pontchartrain Landing RV park. This is a nice RV park that is within the New Orleans city limits and on a canal which accesses Lake Pontchartrain. We spent the weekend touring the city, trying different restaurants, and catching some live music. Our favorite restaurant was Coop's Place, which is in the French Quarter, towards Frenchmen street. Great food and a really friendly atmosphere.

Pontchartrain Landing RV Park

There's always live music going on in New Orleans and we happened upon a band playing in the street called the Drunken Catfish Ramblers. The Bird immediately recognized the guitarist as Scottie Swears (aka Stalebread Scottie) who had a recurring role on the HBO series Treme. The Ramblers were quite good and we listened to them while soaking in the sun on the sidewalk.

Stalebread Scottie and the Drunken Catfish Ramblers

While in New Orleans also we took a bus tour of the city, which was educational, and we went to the Po'Boy Festival over near Tulane. There was some great food and drink at the festival but it was too crowded for the narrow streets.

Next, we drove from New Orleans to the Stephen F. Austin State Park, which is just outside Katy, Texas where my cousin lives. Woottie and Janet came to visit and we went out to dinner. The next day Woottie and I played golf on the course which is right there in the state park.

Brazos River in Stephen F. Austin State Park

Golfers are part of the wildlife in Stephen F. Austin State Park

Our next stop was Austin, Texas where we settled in an RV park on Lake Travis, just outside of town. The Boy flew in from school and joined us for Thanksgiving. We had a traditional turkey dinner at the Cool River Cafe, a very nice restaurant in Austin, we went to see the Lincoln movie, and we visited the Cathedral of Junk. The Cathedral of Junk is an ongoing artistic creation that Vince Hannemann has created in his back yard. This multistory accumulation of discarded bicycles, tires, televisions, and everything else you could throw away is put together in a whimsical way that invites you to crawl through it and see what you can find. We enjoyed talking to Mr. Hannemann and he seems to enjoy his role as a local who is doing his part to "Keep Austin Weird".

The Cathedral of Junk in Austin

After the Boy went back to school we stayed for a couple of more days in Austin so the Bird could get some work done and I took a nice bike ride around Lake Travis. The lake water level is very low due to the ongoing drought in Texas, but there was still some nice scenery in the Texas hill country.
From Austin we headed out across west Texas, which is a long trip without much to see. We overnighted in San Angelo at the state park there, which is on the shores of the O. C. Fisher Reservoir. The reservoir levels were low due to the ongoing drought, and the next day there was a scheduled "wildlife management activity" which I learned meant they were going to let a bunch of hunters loose to cull the deer population. I decided to leave the bike packed up and keep on traveling.

Our site at the San Angelo State Park

The next day we made it to New Mexico and the Brantley Lake State Park, which is just outside of Carlsbad. This is a vast expanse of New Mexico desert with a man made lake which looks like it would be popular with the locals during the summer. Of course the lake water level was very low due to the ongoing drought (do you notice a theme here?) but the camping facilities had everything we needed and we met a very nice couple there, Bob and Fran from Illinois. They have been touring the country in their RV off and on for some time, but they had just gone "full time", which means they had rented their house and moved into the RV. Bob had a huge Meade telescope that he set up, and despite the fact that it was a full moon, we were still able to clearly see Jupiter and four of its moons, the Andromeda galaxy and the "dumbbell nebula".
We spent the better part of the next day touring Carlsbad Caverns, which is an amazing spectacle of natural beauty, unlike anything we have ever seen.We opted for the self-guided walk-in tour over the elevator ride-n-guide and were glad we did. The caverns are so big and it was so unusual to be exploring around that far underground on our own. In this 24 hour period we had seen natural wonders thousands of feet below the earth's surface and millions of light years away. Only in the Southwest!

It's hard to see, but the Pinnacle is set up under the 4th tree from the left on the horizon.

Brantley Lake in New Mexico

The switchback trail that leads you down into Carlsbad Caverns

The Bird next to a stalagmite and stalactite that in a few hundred more years will connect to form a column.

For our next stop we needed a reliable Internet connection so we stayed at the Sunny Acres RV park in Las Cruces, NM. The drive though Cloudcroft and Alamagordo in the Lincoln National Forest provided us with some fabulous views of the mountains.
From Las Cruces we headed to Arizona and stopped at the Lake Roper State Park near Safford. What a great find this was! The lake was at normal levels and full of all kinds of migratory shore birds that had stopped there on their way to Mexico. The mountain views were spectacular, and there was even a natural hot mineral springs spa that we were able to enjoy as the sun went down.

That's Roper Lake, with the Pinnacle on the left and the Pinaleno mountains in the distance.

From Safford we drove through the mountains around Globe and Superior AZ, that gave us some breathtaking scenic views. Then we descended out of the mountains to Phoenix, or more specifically Tempe, where we're going to stay for a few weeks.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad