Archive for the ‘camping’ Tag

The Restrooms of the American Far West   1 comment

Traveling all the way to California and back from our home in Kentucky was an adventure in many ways.  I expected to find a different world in the realm of climate, landscape and culture.  I did not expect a difference in restrooms.

It’s just different out there.

It doesn’t seem to be a priority to have working toilets, even though if I’ve got my history right, the west has been settled since the mid-1800s, depending on what region you visit.  Perhaps settled is too strong a word.  Maybe pioneers were just passing through.  Maybe they still are, and that’s why restrooms don’t seem to be that much of a priority.

Some would say that is exactly the issue in Nevada.  There is an interstate that passes through, and you have several options if you want to cross the state east to west, but only a few.  We chose the interstate and the northern route because a) we did not want to end up that far south once we got to California anyway and b) we did not prefer to experience Las Vegas.

As soon as we crossed into Nevada, the first time we stopped, we noticed that it was questionable how long you would have to wait to use a bathroom.  The gas station in Elko had a couple of stalls–but only one was functional and there were several women in line for it.  Understandable I suppose, since there are only so many ways to get across the state, that we would all be gathered near the only working toilet.

Somewhere on the stretch between Reno and Winnemucca, we stopped at a little gas station at an exit with nothing else.  There were humorous cards and touristy gifts in the building, which appeared to be either under construction or in the process of being abandoned.  The women’s restroom was at the very back of a long room with boxes and empty shelves in it.

At least there was a women’s restroom.  You have to admire Nevadans.  They get along just fine with pretty basic amenities.

Every gas station stop definitely had a mini-casino of some sort.  This was a dark, cool and comfortably air-conditioned room with about five slot machines, other games, and some video games.  I didn’t go in, but from the door I could feel the blast of cold air and see that the room was clean, cool, and definitely functioning.  I believe the biggest one was at same gas station in Elko which only possessed one working toilet.  Here we can clearly see the priorities.

Our RV park in Reno was nice.  It had trees and a great view.  The only problem for us was that we had a pop-up, and they put us toward the back of the park near the beautiful view of the majestic Truckee river.  The hike back to the main building for restrooms was pretty long at 2 a.m.  And the thing was that while the building contained multiple restroom stalls, the ones in the office portion of the building were not available overnight when the office was closed.  There was one, count it, one bathroom available overnight–for the entire park.  And it included a shower.  What that meant is that if someone else decided to take a long shower right before you needed a toilet, you were just…SOL.  Call me crazy, but I thought the purpose of having restrooms at an RV park would be that you could use them when needed.

Of course I’m not a hardy Nevadan.

When we got to California, the RV park at Sacramento was pretty nice–there was some shade and a short walk to the restrooms.  There was also a really lovely pond just down the way that was covered with white birds who sailed beautifully along every morning.  When I first saw them I was so sleepy I thought they were snow or whipped cream.  But the main door of the women’s didn’t fully shut so the keypad for entry was pointless.  This didn’t really bother me, until I was taking a shower stark naked, as that’s what one usually does, and I heard the sound of a man’s voice carrying on a conversation with his girlfriend over by the sinks.  The two of them were pretty surprised when I came out of my stall after getting dressed and exclaimed, “Surprise!”

The bathroom at Yosemite National Park took the prize for California.  Disclaimer: I love the National Park Service as it paid for my entire life up to the age of 21.  I am not criticizing the Park Service personally in any way.  It’s clear that a cartload of people love Yosemite and want to camp there, and, once you’ve visited, you too will understand why.  What you will also understand is why it’s way too complicated to get the equipment up the winding roads into the mountains in order to update the restrooms.

So anyway, they women’s restroom was relatively old.  One of the toilets was routinely overflowing so not very practical for use, and the other had a tendency to get clogged.  And, there as well, we had men stepping in to use our side, which I didn’t understand until my husband explained that the urinal on the other side was clogged–and that it stayed that way the whole time we were there.  Oh, now I smell, I mean I see!

My conclusion?  Salt Lake City is an oasis–and I mean that literally.

To get there, you travel through western Wyoming and Utah for many hours when traveling westward, and through Nevada for many hours traveling east. The scenery on either side is amazing–stark, beautiful, rocky.  I love how elemental the landscape is.  But I can say that by the time you reach the RV park in Salt Lake City, on either the eastward or the westward route, you are pretty happy.   In Salt Lake City, bless them, they have really nice restrooms featuring both hot and cold running water, four stalls, three showers–and soap–and paper towels!  And did I mention clean?

Little did we know on leaving home how much we would miss this attention to detail.  Our road trip was worth it though, because we have now begun the process of becoming as tough as those hardy Nevadans.


I’d like to thank Dave Barry for making this blog possible.  As he likes to say, I am not making any of this up.

Posted September 12, 2018 by swanatbagend in camping, humor, travel journal

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An Unintended Travel Goal   Leave a comment

I don’t have a bucket list, but even if I did, I would never have decided on this travel goal.  I would never have deliberately set out to put this many miles on our mini-van.  I’m calculating…I think it ran about 9,000 miles?  We go camping every year somewhere, so that’s not unusual, just enjoyable.  However, putting three disparate pieces together, we got an amazing fact.

  1. We regularly travel to the Florida panhandle for spring break to camp in a beautiful, peaceful state park that some friends introduced us to ten years ago.
  2. We considered going to Maine last year.  We generally go west, and we thought it would be a good change of direction to see New England, and get all the way to Acadia, which I’d heard is lovely.  However, other travel trumped that as our oldest child was moving to California.  I wanted to see where he’d be living, he wanted the help moving, so we dropped the Maine plan and instead took a Penske truck and the mini-van with pop-up to northern California.  We moved our son into his apartment and then we all went camping for five days.
  3. So this year when we revisited the question of where to go on our camping trip, we still wanted to go to Maine, and although we didn’t have as much vacation time to work with as we had originally hoped, we decided to go anyway, because it was such a different place and we’d never been.

9,000 or so miles between the three trips, and here’s the thing we managed to do, which I would not necessarily recommend: We got our feet wet in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico within less than eleven months time!

Posted July 30, 2018 by swanatbagend in travel journal

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Top Ten Favorite Things from our trip to California   1 comment

Our family recently took a trip from the upper Midwestern United States all the way to the Pacific Coast in order to move our son and his books and belongings to grad school. We camped along the way and continued to do so after we turned in the Penske moving truck. Nobody in our family had experienced the Golden State recently and our children–not at all. It was quite an experience in the land of extremes.

Here, in no particular order, are my handselected favorite experiences and most wonderful places of this trip.

1. Like most people who visit it, I would have to start with Yosemite Valley.

2. Watching the water at the Vernal Falls footbridge in Yosemite Valley while everyone under 23 years of age climbed all the way to the top of the falls trail

3. Watching the Pacific Ocean under my feet, while sea lions played in the foam, from the Golden Gate Bridge

4. Our campsite at Portola Redwoods State park was surrounded by our own cordon of redwood guardian sentinels. There were five immense, wise trees around the table and campfire circle.

5. The Old Tree and Slate trails at Portola Redwoods leading to the Old Tree herself

6. Highway 20 east of Grass Valley, the prettiest forest drive I’ve ever seen

7. My oldest son experiencing a banana slug oozing across his face

8. The Humboldt River Valley in Nevada (I realize this particular view was not in California, but it’s still one of the best things about the trip.)

9. Having our cousin from Colorado come along with us the share the work (sorry, E!), the adventures, the stress and the joy!

10. Late night singing of Monty Python and Weird Al songs on the way back to the campground from our day in the Bay area

Posted September 21, 2017 by swanatbagend in camping, travel journal

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5,000 miles   Leave a comment

Disclaimer: This is not a polished blog entry (if you have experienced that here before–maybe you haven’t).  This is a rough journal of impressions of our recent trip to Arizona.  Thanks to my husband for providing a note pad which I used up, since this writer foolishly left home without one.  I didn’t forget anything else, however.


Best moments:

Seeing my aunt and cousins in Scottsdale Arizona

The Milky Way at the Needles area of Canyonlands

The hummingbird pavilion at the Sonora Desert Museum

The covey of quails in our campsite

The desert millipede who was almost six inches long

Seeing Neptune while at Kitt Peak, first time ever

Sunset view from Kitt Peak

The slivery new moon and Venus at Canyonlands

Meeting a pair of entomologists from University of Cal Riverside at the Canyonlands Visitor Center

Marshmallows in the dark at Durango–you know who you are



10/1/16 There’s something about an open vista that gives perspective.  That’s why road trips, especially those to west, where you can see for twenty–thirty miles, are so helpful.  Seeing into the distance — being surrounded by the big picture — by definition, these experiences allow one to place oneself in the world.  At a literally level and in a personal way.  It’s not just metaphorical.  If you can get a view of the world, you will be more correctly placed in the world.  You will know better who you are.

Will I regret spending the last 17 years homeschooling when I get to the end of the process?

I have passed up other opportunities, mostly because I just didn’t have the energy. But if I had chosen a different route — a career, to work on a novel, would that work be more rewarding or meaningful than the way I have spent my life now?  I chose to invest my energy in being present with my kids.  I chose to spend time with people — the three of them, and the others our lives intersected with.  I’m not saying that this choice is the ultimately superior one for every family.  Not at all.  Each person has a gift to contribute to the world with her life, and God knows it.  I chose this way which led on to way, and no, I never did come back.  Do I regret not doing the other things instead?  I can’t.  I don’t.  No.  I had a time and a place to be with some people and I lived that.  What would my kids’ lives look like right now if we had not homeschooled?



Arkansas River morning.  Traveling the valley from Cañon City to Salida.  Gold and orange on the mountains.  Smooth glide of water over the stones rounded in the river.

Afternoon north of Pagosa Springs.  The most perfect valley I’ve ever seen.  Dimpling pools, streams, meadows, pines, aspen and sunlight shedding more gold over the gold already there.  Almost no sign of humans, except for a few fences and a road leading off.  Cliffs and pine forest on either side as we dropped downward alongside the water.



The ridges running north-south around Durango vanish in an amazing vista as we head west toward Cortez and pass over the major ridge.  Pink covered fins rise to the left — we can see for miles — maybe 50.  Down the other side, the bronze, brass and gold of the hillsides is interspersed with twenty shades of yellow of the aspen and willow.  The sky is vivid blue between the clouds.  And a strong wind from the south blasts us refreshingly.



Canyonlands–the Needles.

No cell phone reception.


Blue sky.  Red rocks.  White cirrus clouds.  Green pines.

One tries to breathe in and bottle the sky somehow — take it in in huge gasps.  As if one could keep it, as if time, air, life, were collectible/salvageable/could be contained.  As if, if one tried hard enough concentrating one’s power of will that one could tame or retain blue space.  But like the place it is untameable and uncollectable.

Does one always travel with the past when in the national parks?  I find today I have Mom, Dad, my brother and my oldest son with me as I go from rock to rock.  They were with me before in parks in Utah, and so I find they still are.



Last night watching the sunset at Pothole Point, my twelve-year-old said he was thinking of the song about if all the stalks on earth were quills and all the seas ink, the sky would still not be great enough to contain would you could write about God’s greatness.  I asked him why he thought of that song.  He said it was because of all the amazing sights he had seen over the last three days.  That had included a night sky ranger show bringing in the arts, including references to Stars by Emily Bronte and Starry Night by Van Gogh, readings from Asimov, with the most incredible view of the Milky Way ever–it lit up the night sky–he said all the skies on every planet in the universe would not be big enough to contain that message.



Many honeybees on ubiquitous yellow flowers on scrubby plants.  At Goblin Valley and at Glen Canyon.  Where can they have their hives?

Over the Colorado River between Cataract Canyon and Lake Powell.  On the mighty Colorado goes to erode another layer of the Grand Canyon, as I roll on with my family toward another chapter of our journey.

NE Arizona south of the Monument Valley area.  It just goes and goes and goes.  We drove for over six hours today getting from north of Lake Powell to the Glen Canyon Dam.  The immensity of rock, sagebrush, the pavement rolling ahead of us in a swoop on a straight for miles–3, 10, 30?  I can’t tell.  I just can’t comprehend how much space and how few people to make it home.  Elemental.  Rock, air, fire and few plants.

I have a fun chat with a young Frenchman in the laundromat in Page.  He is visiting the southwest, sandwiched in between San Francisco and Los Angeles, with his girlfriend.



NE Arizona is bare and rocky.  And amazing.  I note on my map the entire area is the Navaho Nation and the Hopi reservation.  Page is the only city out there.  I can see the evidence of white greed.  Amazing the canyons may be, but fertile and pleasant, they aren’t.  Miles–miles–miles of openness.  Your eyes hurt from all the light.  I don’t think Montana has the sole ownership of the title “Big Sky Country” any more.

Lake Powell is a shock after hours of driving in rock.  Turquoise blue water, bizarre.

Flagstaff is my last dose of sniffing pine trees and feel cool air before I must trade ponderosas for saguaros.  But they are blah.

Los Muertos peach salsa, where chips go to die.



Unusual sign at a rest area: “Do not unload livestock at rest area.”  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to do so.  Also, “beware of bees.”  Africanized bees buzzing around the water fountains at the rest area put me off getting a drink.  But I wonder if the ones I almost touched at Goblin Valley were also Africanized? no way to tell by looking.

Late night last night at the Lowell Observatory.  We saw M15 at the Clark telescope and the Ring Nebula at the McAllister Telescope Dome on a 16 inch Cassegrain.  Cool mountain night with a few lonely crickets and many, many trains passing through Flagstaff.  The Clark is the telescope which was used for the observations that led to the discovery of Pluto.



Spent last night at Usery Mountain State park east of Phoenix.  Had a great Mexican dinner at Los Olivos with my aunt and cousins.   It had been six years since I’d seen my aunt and 19 since I’d seen the cousins.

The water tap at our campsite had a slow drip despite our efforts to tighten it down, but this attracted quite a few creatures: bees, a curve-billed thrasher, a grey bird with yellow in it, what looked like a flicker but may have been a Gila woodpecker and a chipmunk.  The thrasher gave us quite a few meaningful looks from its orange eye.  Early this morning, I was delighted before sunrise by an adorable covey of Gambel’s quail visiting the tap and our site.  I shadowed them throughout the campground trying to get pictures, as they hurried away from me muttering amongst themselves with their alert crests sounding the alarum.  Saw them three times, but not after the sun was actually up.  Also, I saw what appeared to be two budgerigars and a cactus wren.

Sonoran desert–I love you!  Especially after sunset or before sunrise, the sentinels standing tall with the Palo verdes and cholla rising around them.



Sonoran desert museum: hummingbird aviary.  Bright eyed little wonders tipping their heads to give us inquiring looks.  Saw a covey of disorganized quail ahead of us on the road; the birds could not make up their minds which way to go.  Tonight–Kitt Peak National Observatory: a fortress of white-capped domes on an impressive peak.



Saw these features from one of the many telescopes, the roll-off roof, with a 16-inch reflector.

Click to access alex-johnathan-phil-nop-oct-10-2016.pdf

Also a great intro to the use of binoculars and planispheres for star-gazing.  A beautiful night.  Never seen a sunset from such a vantage point…blue, purple, pink ridges one after the other, shading gradually to more faint colors.  We could see for miles in three directions.



Saw Meteor Crater this a.m.  Have heard about it for years and finally got to see it.  Took the guided tour along the north rim out to the ruins of the original office and house where Barringer’s mine manager lived.  Fascinating.  Heading into New Mexico now.

Made friends with Pumpkin, the v. round orange cat who lives at the Meteor Crater RV park last night.  He was an extremely friendly cat about town, and a highlight of our visit.  My sixteen year old picked him up and he purred mightily.



East to Littlefield TX after a longer than expected drive seeking RV parks in the Texas panhandle that did not exist, via Clovis New Mexico.  This area seems to me to still be recovering from the Dust Bowl.  A desolate and stern country with warm, tough people.



North to Amarillo and now on to Oklahoma City marveling again at how a map does not justly convey the distance you have to travel to get somewhere in Texas.  There is a time warp as you drive the straight roads — it seems to take longer than the actual elapsed time to get 10 miles.  Drive 5 miles, it would seem to take 15 minutes.

Oklahoma, you are a sight for sore eyes!

Rich red dirt and peaceful farm trees in the gentle hills and valleys….and of course the wind.  But it smells wonderful.  A hundred, a thousand flashbacks to my life when I was a young woman, junior high, high school, visiting my grandmother in Oklahoma City.

A side note: There aren’t any Honda Odysseys in Texas nor in most of Oklahoma, as far as I can tell.  Where I live, you can’t throw a rock without hitting one, but I went for several days out west without noticing any.

This has been a trip of extremes–in terrain: from the view of Pikes Peak, to the Colorado valleys of Durango and Salida, to the knobs and cliffs of Canyonlands, to the Sonoran desert, to the vast plains of Texas and Oklahoma–and in temperatures: 95 degrees in Phoenix, only four days after we hit 38 degrees in our pop-up at Canyonlands–and six different stops to see different groups of friends and family!



Red sumac on the roadsides in Oklahoma as we leave Green Country.  Golden glowing grass-heads straining north in Missouri as the grey clouds break up into beautiful puffs–the sun is out.  Another parting after another meeting.  This trip has been full of these which has brought joy–and pain, because partings always bring sadness, and when you schedule so many short visits, you haven’t had enough time to soak in the company before you must tear yourself away again.

This is the price I must pay for family and friendships scattered across half a continent.

God is good.  God is kind.  God is amazing.

To tell you my story is to tell of him.







Posted October 27, 2016 by swanatbagend in travel journal

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I think I’m having some kind of withdrawal   Leave a comment

So every year for the past four years, our family has packed up our gear, hooked up the pop-up trailer, and gone on a camping trip.

We really traveled.  We went to the Southwest, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, back to the southwest to see more of Arches and Capitol Reef and to meet Canyonlands for the first time.  Then last year, we went to South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming to see the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, Bighorn Canyon, the Helena area, Hebgen Lake, Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

So, yes, we have done a lot of camping and traveling.  It was a good bit of work, but hey…it was fun!

My parents took us camping starting when I was about 9 and my brother was 2, and we moved around a lot because Dad had itchy feet.  So maybe I get this tendency from him.  I also got used to living west of the Mississippi where the air isn’t quite so thick and where you can see for miles.

I’m glad I got to go camping all those times.  I know many people who haven’t had those opportunities.

I have found a down side to it though.

When you’re used to going every year, staying home seems a bit tame.

I had thought maybe we would camp this fall, but after 2013’s epic list of trips (see previous posts), my man declined to take us all out in the pop up again.

However, it was only after he told me about a dream he had that I truly understood how different our responses to these incredible trips had been.

“I had this dream,” he told me.

“In it, the van was attached to the pop-up.  There was also a hitch on the front of the van.”

“Attached to the front of the van was a bicycle…and guess who was riding it?”

“Who?” I asked.

“Me,” he replied.  “I was pulling the entire rig myself using the bicycle, with all of you in the van yelling suggestions out the windows.”

I am pretty sure that, among other things, this might mean we are not going camping this year.


Well, he is correct that we will save time, money, wear on the van, and a whole lot of effort.  I have actually gotten quite a few projects done this year that have been on my list for probably months, if not a couple of years.  And we have gotten to enjoy a normal summer — we’ve been blessed to participate in three graduations, one wedding, one Fourth of July with two different sets of friends, berry picking with friends and family and each other, and a host of other summer delights.

And it’s weird that I want to keep going on these excursions, since I’m not exactly a high-powered high energy person.  I’m nothing like the Testosterone Trio, 3 guys we camped next to at Zion, who were loading up to go rock climbing starting before daylight.  It’s not like I’m getting up at 5 a.m. to go hike 10 miles each day while we’re out.  I’m neither a morning person nor a night owl.  So…..why do I want to go?

I just love being on the move and being in wide open incredible spaces.

I’m glad we took so many pictures of Grand Teton and Yellowstone and Utah.  No description can do these places justice, so I’m not going to try in this post.  I can look at them and remind myself that I was really there.  And blessed to be there.

But when I see the pictures part of me just wants to go back.

Can we leave tomorrow?


Posted August 5, 2014 by swanatbagend in reflections

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