Tuesday, October 23, 2012

St. George

St. George with its Mormon temple
St. George is a town in the southwest corner of Utah that is the financial center of Washington County. The area is nicknamed the "Dixie of Utah" and the city of St. George lies just south of the Dixie National Forest. Why Dixie you ask? Because it was supposed to be the Mormons' cotton capital.

At the start of the Civil War, Brigham Young was concerned that cotton supplies from the Southeast would become unavailable, so he sent a contingency of 300 volunteer families south from Salt Lake City to establish cotton plantations around the Virgin River. Of course, most of the families had no idea they were volunteers until their names were read from the pulpit at the announcement of the project, but who was going to argue with Brigham?  The "St. George" of the town's name, by the way, was not a dragonslayer. He was George Smith, an apostle of The Church who led the expedition. They did manage to grow some cotton but because of the arid conditions it was difficult and prohibitively expensive. It was never produced at competitive market rates and the project was eventually abandoned.

Snow Canyon
I had always considered St. George to be a place that you drive through in order to get someplace else more interesting, but it turns out there are some nice areas around the city. Just north of town, for example, is Snow Canyon State Park. Don't expect to see much of the white stuff here, the canyon is actually named after early Mormon settlers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow and hardly ever gets any fluffy precipitation. It is carved out of the red and white Navajo sandstone that makes up so much of the area. There is a single campground that accommodates RVs with water and electric hookups and a central dump station. We did not stay here but we drove through the campground and it looks reasonably nice.

Red & white Navajo sandstone
Pine Valley group campground
A little farther north, you run into the aforementioned Dixie National Forest. It contains the tiny community of Pine Valley and just beyond lies the Pine Valley Recreation Area. This turned out to be a small valley filled with beautiful pine forest. I don't know how far you would have to drive to find another pine forest in this area, which is mostly red rock desert. The recreation area is quite beautiful and has about 50 RV campsites up to 60 feet long. There are no hookups but the camping areas are recently renovated and quite nice. There is a small reservoir with fishing available. We did not see anyone with any actual fish, but that's the way I prefer my fishing. It seems like a perfect place to dry camp for a few days if you're in the area and at $12 a night it's a bargain.
Campers going through the motions of fishing

Saturday, October 6, 2012

How to live in 300+ square feet, part one

First you need to have slide outs so it adds additional square footage. One nice feature of our Allegro is that both of the slide outs are on the driver side of the RV.  The passenger side constitutes the outdoor living space in most RV parks.  Our previous RV, a Fleetwood Bounder, had the bedroom slide out on the the passenger side.  At the end of one tourist day I was walking to the door from my car with a hat on. I was also looking down.  Suddenly I collided with the slide out, bent my glasses and bruised my face (Yes I had a shiner.)  So now with our Allegro my clumsiness will hopefully have less negative consequences.

One advantage of RVs is that they have built in furniture.  However, we don't always use it as intended.  The dinette makes a good surface to do my beading, sewing, etc.  It also now contains the dog kennel where Ziva and Abby, our 10 and 12 pound Schnoodles sleep.  Yes, they are coming with us full timing.  Under the table we store our 2 portable tables, a fold out chair and the dog toys.

So where do we eat?  Roger and I got into the habit of eating in front of the TV when we got our giant HDTV.  We intend to do that in our RV.  Roger's place is the Lazy Boy recliner we moved in from our home and mine is the couch.  We do all of our computer work there, as well.

 There's a lot of counter space to prepare food on until we need to use the sink or the stove.  That's why we bring portable tables.

We bought a set of RV/boat stackable pots and pans because of the reduced amount of storage space.  They're heavy and for every bit of weight you add you lose gas mileage.  So to make up for that we got silicone bake ware. 

In part 2 we'll discuss the bedroom, bathrooms, basement, and oh, don't forget the 3 TV's.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

That's Entertainment

During our motorhome travels over the years, one of the things we have enjoyed doing is going to local theater venues. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland is generally fabulous and we have been there three or four times, usually staying a few days and taking in a couple of plays. We have also been to the repertory theater in Creed, Colorado and used to go fairly frequently to the Great American Melodrama in Oceano, California near Pismo Beach.  Some of the theaters we've gone too are in what seem to be odd, out of the way places, but the production quality has been surprisingly good

Our son at USF from a previous trip
On our most recent trip, we went to the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. We had done this a couple of times before and the quality and professionalism there are very high.

We stopped on the way to South Dakota for a couple of nights and saw a Moliére play called Scapin which is a farcical comedy. It was actually quite funny although I don't know how much credit for that can be given to Moliére. The play had to be translated from French but they also took the opportunity to modernize much of the humor including references to modern pop songs and TV shows that Moliére had obviously never heard of. That was probably a good thing. I looked up a somewhat more literal translation of the play online and I imagine a modern audience would have found few belly laughs in it. The Utah version followed the same general plot but included little of the original language. In any event, we enjoyed the show very much.

On the way back home, we stopped by for one night and saw Les Miserables. I have never seen this musical before despite its being one of the longest-running Broadway shows in history. I thought the production was very well done and the singing was outstanding. I found the story itself a bit maudlin and it did not inspire a burning passion for me to go and read Victor Hugo. Still and all, it was a great experience and I certainly would recommend the show to anyone traveling to that area in the next couple of weeks.
Hobnobbing with the Bard

As part of our planning for going full-time, we would like to do more of this. It does require a certain amount of forethought. In some venues you are unlikely to be able to get seats at the last minute and the plays do have limited runs, so you have to make sure you're going to be in the right place at the right time.

There is an outfit called the League of Resident Theatres (http://www.lort.org/) which includes 75 local repertory companies located throughout the United States and at their website you can see what might be coming up in the areas you plan to be visiting. Hopefully we will be able to use this information to our advantage when we have the time and mobility to utilize it.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Size is way compact
About three years ago, after watching way too much of the Food Channel, I decided I desperately needed to be able to smoke meats and, not being willing to tend a wood fire for 10 or 12 hours at a throw, bought myself a propane smoker. It is not a perfect instrument but it's adequate for my needs and I've done a fair amount of smoking over the last few years. Unfortunately, a metal box standing over 4 feet tall and 20 inches deep doesn't travel easily, so when we started thinking about going full-time in the RV I started wondering what my options were to continue woodsmoke barbecuing.

According to Alton Brown, you can use a couple of gigantic flower pots and a hot plate to get the job done but it seemed kind of slapdash and requires a lot of heavy ceramics and a certain amount of luck to get things to fit together properly. Then I came across an item called the Smokin-it model one electric smoker which you can see here: http://www.smokin-it.com/.

This baby has a 300 W electric heating element, gets a maximum amount of smoke out of a minimum amount of wood and maintains its temperature automatically, so you can set it and forget it. It weighs under 50 pounds and fits perfectly in the basement cabinets of our Allegro.

A steady wisp of smoke - just what you want.
Here you can see it set up at our campsite at Rifle Gap. We smoked a tri-tip roast that I had put a spice rub on in the morning to season while we drove. The body of the smoker is insulated kind of like a refrigerator (whereas my propane smoker is just sheet metal) so it retains the heat well and seals up tight to hold in the smoke. I have used it a few times at home but this is the first time we took it traveling with us. We carry an extension cord and plugged it into the 120 V outlet on the electrical hookup post and it worked like a charm. It took about 90 min. for the tri-tip to come up to temperature, then I finished it with a few minutes on the grill.  Something like a pork shoulder would take overnight, but it really doesn't require much tending.

The result was more than satisfactory. I love this thing and can't recommend it enough. You probably need to check the dimensions and make sure it will fit in the storage compartments of your rig, but if you want to do woodsmoke barbecue from your motorhome, I think this is the way to go.

Hard at work fixing dinner

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rifle Gap

One of the differences (we hope) between vacationing and full-time RVing is that when you're on vacation you have a schedule and at times you have to seriously cover ground. On this trip, of 18 days away, eight of them were spent getting to and from South Dakota. That means covering 300-400 miles per day. We always try to find some interesting stopovers to make use of the few hours of free time this schedule leaves.

Rifle Gap campground
Rifle, Colorado is a tiny little town on I-70 between Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction on the Colorado River. The town itself is pretty tiny and apparently has little to recommend it but just north of town are several Colorado State Parks. Unlike California, where the state parks have been under the budgetary ax for the last several years and you're lucky if they even let you in, Colorado appears to take considerable pride in its parks system and provides surprising amenities. We stayed at Rifle Gap State Park which is situated on the North Shore of a reservoir maintained primarily for fishing. You can see the campground in the accompanying photo. There are long paved concrete pads that can take motor homes up to 42 feet with full hookups. It would really be perfect if the reservoir were not down about 30 or 35 feet related to the fact that the entire center of our country is undergoing the worst drought since 1956. Even so, there was water present and a few fishing boats out on the lake and the whole scene was pretty idyllic. By the way, the dark motorhome in the upper center part of the photo is our Allegro.
Chez Rains

You can see it a little better in this shot taken with my 500 mm lens. I had to use it for something.

Rifle Falls
A little farther north from the campground is Rifle Falls State Park. There are actually three separate waterfalls pouring side-by-side over a limestone cliff. There are some caves up behind the waterfalls for the more adventurous. There's also camping available here although it is not quite as big rig friendly as Rifle Gap.

This really did form a perfect afternoon break on our way back. You can make reservations over the Internet, which we did a couple of months ago, but the campground was not full while we were there and I suspect this is the rule for week days after Labor Day. If you are going through the area, it is definitely worth a stop over.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Custer, our last stand in the Black Hills

The Needles
In the southern part of the Black Hills lies Custer State Park named after the Civil War hero, discoverer of gold in the area and the genius of Little Bighorn. The park itself was first opened in the 1920s and at this point encompasses about 77,000 acres. It has some spectacular scenery and an abundance of wildlife. We drove through the various park roads multiple times over the course of several days both before and after our trip to the Badlands.

We ate at two of the park's three lodges. They were pleasant and the food was actually pretty good so if you're seeing the park we can recommend them as an agreeable break in your day.

The park allegedly has a herd of about 1300 bison although we only saw perhaps a dozen. But there are also several types of deer, Rocky Mountain goats, pronghorn antelope and allegedly elk, although we never saw any signs of the latter. There are also a surprising number of wild turkeys and we saw a few turkey vultures and hawks.

There are donkeys descended from a group that used to haul tourists up and down the hills. They were released when the tourist hauling outfit went out of business and have become a feral herd that blocks the road and begs for food which the park personnel apparently do not discourage, quite unlike their attitude toward the feeding of the "wild" fauna.

You can drive the park's "Wildlife Loop" road just about any time of day and see a few isolated bison or pronghorns. But at about 6 PM, deer start appearing in astonishing numbers. Apparently the locals consider seeing deer about as exciting as seeing dogs and cats, but for us it was still pretty cool.

I am posting some representative photos of our tour of the park. Hope you enjoy them.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bad is Bad

We are currently spending a couple of days at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Neither of us can remember ever having really been here before. I remember going to the Wall Drugstore on a trip with my family when I was really little but there was no national park at that time and I doubt that we stopped for much more than the free ice water.

We drove through the park last night in the hour just before sunset to get the best possible light and took some photographs, most of which kind of look like this…

Real life
That's interesting, the sedimentation layers show up all right, but we've been planning this trip for a while now and had seen photos of the park and they all seemed somehow more colorful, more vibrant, more like this…

Seeing is no longer believing. With a good photo editing program you can change the world. And if you were going to hang a picture of the South Dakota Badlands on your wall, which of them would you prefer? But it again brings up the question, is it "cheating"? If you are purporting to be presenting "the facts" then maybe it is. This borderlines on the kind of finagling that gets news photographers fired. And if you are producing a brochure for the National Park Service, trying to bring in the suckers…  oops, I mean citizens, it seems unfair that when they arrive, you don't really have that vibrant landscape to show them. They promised us Utah but gave us Death Valley.

Pronghorn antelope

We did see a few critters on our drive. There were a couple of bison, some pronghorns and some female bighorn sheep which were completely wild except for the radio collars around their necks.

But the most fun at Badlands National Park for us was the prairie dog towns. The main one, the Roberts prairie dog town, was 5 miles out on an unpaved road and was much more extensive than you would at first guess. If you didn't keep your distance, they would go scampering off into their various holes. But if you stayed on the road they would just sit up and bark at you. Good for 15 or 20 min. of entertainment anyway.

Conference session (with buffalo chip in background)

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Whenever we are traveling, we tend to take lots of pictures. In particular, we enjoy photographing whatever local wildlife we happen across. Last year, when we went to Yellowstone, we got some fairly decent photos of elk, deer and more bison than we could really stomach. We were hoping to get some similar photos in the Black Hills during this trip and so we set out yesterday on a drive through some of the backwoods, little used roads of South Dakota.

Elk with his fall rack of antlers

We didn't know what to expect, but we were pleased to come around the corner and see a bull elk lounging in the grass. Elk are not common in this area but do show up occasionally apparently.

Reindeer, a little far south

We were rather surprised however, when a couple of minutes later we came across a reindeer. We were wondering how he got to Black Hills when we were distracted by a couple of gamboling river otters playing by the side of the road.

In case you didn't know, this is what gamboling looks like.

Where did he get the dog biscuit?
Later we were gratified by the site of a gray wolf. We knew they had been reintroduced to the Yellowstone area but didn't know they were present in South Dakota.

Much more surprising was the pack of Arctic wolves around the next corner. I was lucky enough to snap this photo before the pack turned and headed for the (black) hills.  Then on my way back to the car, I understood why when I was confronted by...

a bear!

All right, perhaps we didn't run into all of these creatures entirely by blind chance. No, we forked over our hard-earned dollars to drive through Bear Country USA, a small drive through "wild animal park" just south of Rapid City. We wandered around Yellowstone last year at all hours of the day and night and never saw a single bear so we decided this year by golly, one way or another, we were gonna have bear pictures.

The drive-through portion also had some bighorn sheep, mountain goats and a few other critter areas. We really liked the Arctic wolves and drove in a circle through their area about a half-dozen times. But the clear stars of the show are the bears, of which they seem to have about 30.

Bear cubs at play
After the drive-through portion, they have a small, more traditional "zoo" type area with some smaller and/or more dangerous animals like grizzly bears, badgers and a bobcat. They also have an enclosure where they raise bear cubs after they are weaned from their mothers until they are big enough to survive amongst the male bears in the drive-through compound. It was fun to watch the bear cubs running around play-fighting with each other exactly like our schnoodles do.

As kitschy as this is, we actually really enjoyed it and thought it was $32 well spent. The weather was cool enough that most of the animals were out and about and there was a certain amount of excitement involved in waiting to see what was coming around the next corner. The only drawback is that the park rules are that you have to stay in your car with all the windows rolled up, so the photographs were all shot through an extra layer of glass. Particularly with the windshield, this was a problem because of the angle of the glass sheet. But they did have the foresight to have a window washing station at the entrance so you could get your windows reasonably clean before you started.

Bear up a tree
Now the question is, from a photographic stand point, is this cheating? Are animal pictures taken at a zoo intrinsically less worthy than pictures taken in the wild? My bias is, if it's a good photograph, how you get those pixels together is your business. When a magazine needs a picture of a bear, do they send their photographer on a three-week jaunt through the forest to get it or do they send him to the Chicago zoo? I'm guessing usually the latter. (Actually, they probably just pull up a stock picture and that was probably taken at a zoo.)

Anyway, of all the chintzy attractions on the road to Mount Rushmore, we thought this was the least chintzy. I mean really, would you rather spend your time in Sitting Bull's Crystal Cave or petting goats at Old McDonald's Farm? So if you're traveling through the area, consider stopping by and visiting the bears. It's the closest safe view you are likely to get and you won't have to worry about becoming grizzly grub.