A Bittersweet Journey ~ 23

We’ve had a wonderful season of travel this year but Neal and I haven’t been quite ourselves on this year’s journey. We’ve stumbled onto many new places and adventures and revisited some old ones but through it all our hearts have been hanging with a constant numbing sadness.

Randy on his Harley in Bisbee Arizona.
Randy on his Harley in Bisbee Arizona.
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Shelia & Randy on one of our rides through the Texas Hill Country.

At almost every turn we’d comment “Oh…Shelia & Randy would love this!” or “Remember the time when we rode here with Shelia and Randy.” Sometimes our comments would be with a laugh or a big smile, other times with a sniffle and a tear.

Riding in the Florida Keys.
Riding in the Florida Keys.
The four of us enjoying Luckenback, Texas after a ride in the Texas Hill Country.
The four of us enjoying Luckenback, Texas after a ride in the Texas Hill Country.
Neal & Randy in front of the Hideaway Grill in Cave Creek, Arizona
Neal & Randy in front of the Hideaway Grill in Cave Creek, Arizona
Shelia and I in Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Shelia and I in Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Summer trip to New York City...Historical Irish Pub.
Summer trip to New York City… Historical Irish Pub.
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Same summer trip at a Yankee game.
At a New York Rangers Hockey game on a winter trip to New York City.
At a New York Rangers Hockey game on a winter trip to New York City.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

We met Shelia & Randy several years ago while camping in southern Arizona and hit it off right from the start. The two of them together were a sight to behold. Always smiling and laughing, even when they were in a corner alone together. Shelia always trying to keep track of Randy’s forever disappearing phone and sunglasses and Randy always there to hold Shelia’s purse, open her door, and any other gentlemanly thing you can think of. It was obvious they were such great friends and they loved being together.

Shelia & Randy at the Firestone Sky Bar in Downtown Fort Myers
Shelia & Randy at the Firestone Sky Bar in Downtown Fort Myers
Shelia & Randy on one of our rides through parts of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona.
Shelia & Randy on one of our rides through parts of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona.
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Always the good sports…Shelia & Randy with Mr. D at the Old Country Store in Lorman, Mississippi (middle of nowhere). We poked around Mr. D’s country store and  ate off the huge (soul food) buffet.
Arizona Coyotes hockey game during one of our stops in Cave
Arizona Coyotes hockey game during one of our camping stops in Cave Creek, Arizona.

Randy was often unwittingly the center of attention with his quick wit and personable way. People naturally gravitated towards him. His sincere charm and thoughtfulness were only part of his endearing personality. He was always there with a helping hand or funny comment. As I think of him I smile. He liked gummy bears, ice-cream and cartoons, as well as, fast cars and motorcycles, hunting and a TWO FINGER pour of Jack Daniels.

Jackpot Port-a-potty in the middle of no where.
Jackpot…Randy found a Port-a-potty in the middle of no where on one of our off road jeep trips.
Randy & Neal at one of our many St. Patricks Day celebrations together.
Randy & Neal at one of our many St. Patricks Day celebrations together.
Randy with his famous Shot Pot.
Randy with his ingenious “Shot Pot” at  one of our countless campfires together.
Randy helping with the crawfish boil at my brothers in Baton Rouge Louisiana.
Randy helping out  at Paul & Orhan’s crawfish boil in Baton Rouge Louisiana.
Randy the dancing girl at the Crystal Palace in Tombstone, Arizona.
A VERY FUNNY moment at the Crystal Palace in Tombstone, Arizona.

Even though we live hundreds of miles apart we managed to cram  a lifetime of wonderful memories in a short timeframe. We were lucky enough to be able to travel together often through the last few years. Every winter since 2008, minus one or two seasons, we’d figure out a meeting spot and spend the next few months wandering the country side.  We’ve traveled together coast to coast, from  Tybee Island, Georgia to Oceanside, California.

Checking out the Manatees at Blue Springs State Park in Florida.
Checking out the Manatees at Blue Springs State Park in Florida.
Camper cookout with Shelia and Randy's nephew and niece during out visit in Fort Myers.
Camper cookout with Shelia and Randy’s nephew and niece during our visit in Fort Myers.
Visiting friends Ted and Deb in Fort Myers, Florida.
Visiting friends Ted and Deb in Fort Myers, Florida.
Neal & Shelia at the Railroad Blues bar in Alpine Texas on a visit to Big Bend National Park. We had to chuckle at Shelia...it was BYOB in this town...only serving wine & beer.
Neal & Shelia chuckling at the Railroad Blues bar in Alpine Texas on a visit to Big Bend National Park. It was BYOB in this town…only serving wine & beer.
Neal, Shelia & Randy in Bandera, Texas on a ride in the Texas Hill Country.
Neal, Shelia & Randy in Bandera, Texas on a ride in the Texas Hill Country.
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Wonderful friendships made in Tombstone, Arizona.
Randy & Bud helping me with my target shooting in Tombstone Arizona.
Randy & Bud helping me with my target shooting in Tombstone Arizona.
Camping near Tombstone, Arizona
Camping near Tombstone, Arizona
We lost our best buddy Otis last summer. Shelia & Randy were always there to  spoil him...an Easter basket from the Easter "Shelia" Bunny.
We lost our best buddy Otis last summer. Shelia & Randy were always there to spoil him…an Easter basket from the Easter “Shelia” Bunny during an Easter campout in Cave Creek, Arizona.
Three special ladies... Nancy, Shelia & Cindy...Put-In-Bay, Ohio.
Three special ladies… Nancy, Shelia & Cindy…Put-In-Bay, Ohio.
Refreshments after a day spent at ArtPrize...an art festival on the streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Refreshments after a day spent at ArtPrize…an art festival on the streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

When the four of us traveled together, between our two rigs, we managed to bring enough toys to impress any big boy romper room. In some fashion, with any combination of toys and ingenious methods, we’d manage to bring the necessities, the Harley and Jeep, and sometimes bikes, golf clubs and quads.

Jeeping on the beach in St. Augustine.
Jeeping on the beach in St. Augustine.
Golfing in Benson, Arizona.
Golfing in Benson, Arizona.
Beaching it in Marathon Key.
Beaching it in Marathon Key, Florida
Off road trip that ended in a broken ankle for our pal Cindy.
Off road trip from hell, Gunsights Pass in Arizona, that ended in a broken ankle for our pal Cindy.
Shelia and Randy are behind us, with all their stuff, taking a picture of us, with all our stuff, as we cross into California.
Shelia and Randy are behind us, with all their stuff, taking a picture of us, with all our stuff, as we cross into California.
Randy and Neal in Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Randy and Neal in Joshua Tree National Park, California.

The plan for this year was to meet Shelia & Randy in South Padre Island in southern Texas on the Gulf Coast in January, Friends Bud & Cindy along with Nancy & George also planned on joining us. Tragically those plans changed. Randy was diagnosed with Melanoma over a year ago and the disease progressed rapidly this past fall. We lost Randy just after Christmas.

I’ve learned that you never get over the loss of a loved one. Life on the road this winter was lonely and sad at times without our buddies Shelia and Randy.  The realization that we have to rely on our wonderful memories of Randy can be devastating at times, but I always end up smiling or even laughing through my tears thinking of all the fun and love Shelia and Randy have brought into our lives.

Cheers to Randy…We will miss you at every turn my friend. And Cheers to Shelia…we have more turns ahead. We’ll always be here for whatever you need.

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Ahhhh…Sunburn & Heat Stroke ~ 22

We finally arrived in the Phoenix area the second weekend in March. The sun beat through the oversized, fish bowl, front windows of our RV until air conditioning was mandatory.  We both shed our warm clothing with glee and searched the camper for our shorts, t-shirts and sandals. Neal could barely contain his giddiness at the prospect of a sunburn.

When we arrived at Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction our giddiness multiplied by leaps and bounds. This spectacular view would be ours for the next five days.

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The Superstition Mountains are not only a wonder to look at but legend and mystery surround these stunning mountains.

The campground has 134 sites, 68 with electric and water hookups. The remaining sites are for both RV’s and tents but have no services. I’d advise a reservation as well in advance as you can possibly manage. I must have come upon a cancelation at the perfect moment because site 102 was the only site available when I started scouring the reservation site.

There doesn't seem to be a bad site in the park. Our site...
There doesn’t seem to be a bad site in the park. At first glance our site appeared to slope downhill but we leveled our camper with no problem.
The state park was in full bloom.
In March the state park was in full bloom.
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Ocotillos stood tall, leafy and colorful but spiteful with thick prickly thorns.

In addition to the stunning scenery, there were hiking and mountain biking trails right out our front door.  We sampled all of the hiking trails during our stay but our favorite hike was the Siphon Draw Trail.

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The park provides several hiking trails with varying lengths and skill levels.
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Siphon Draw was an easy hike until the very end.
...where it increased significantly in elevation but only for a very short distance.
The trail increased significantly in elevation but only for a very short distance.

At the end of Siphon Draw, experienced hikers continue onto Flatiron (which appears to be more of a literal climb than a hike) to a plateau on top of the mountain. We know our limits. We know where we don’t belong. We were smart enough to turn around and head back to where we came from.

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Brittlebush and Chuparosa  lined the Siphon Draw Trail.

My mountain bike is very well traveled. It has been coast to coast, border to border but unfortunately it doesn’t get used as much as it should. During our stay at Lost Dutchman, it was great to use it for something other than getting ice at the store. The four mile mountain bike trail proved to be fairly challenging for me (Not the length but the width…truly). The trail was quite narrow in some places and traversed up and down dry washes with various cacti clawing at me with every twist and turn. I did the trail one, sometimes two times a day. By the end of our visit,  I managed to stay upright and triumphantly avoid most of the cactus pricks, pokes and stabs.

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After practicing every day on the biking trail, I became more comfortable and could finally look up and enjoy the scenery.
We had a campfire every night...a traditional part of our camping trips. S'mores and a sip of Burbon
We had a campfire every night…a traditional part of our camping trips. S’mores and a sip of Bourbon make for the perfect grownup campfire indulgence.
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The cloud cover on our last evening at the park provided an outstanding sunset that reflected onto the mountain for this unforgettable sight.

Oh Wait Neal…Look at this Pretty Little State Park ~ 21

Our stay in Texas for the month of February was chock full of new stuff…new places, new people and new adventures but most of it was discovered while wearing our well worn winter clothing.  Texas in February was not warm. Neal was insistent that March be full of sun burn and heat stroke. The Weather Channel app on my I-Phone flashed rows of sunny icons and warm temperatures day after day for the Phoenix area. We looked no farther and pointed the camper westward.

“But wait Neal, look at this state park just inside the border of Arizona. We’ve never been to Safford.”

With a grimace, he retrieved his fleece from the closet…he knew it was no use. We took a right turn off of Route 10 onto Route 191 and headed north to Roper Lake State Park. Hot Sunny Phoenix will still be there in a few days.

Roper Lake State Park ~ Safford, Arizona

The sites were very large and roomy with 50 amps and water. Each site had a small pavilion for shade.
The sites were very large and roomy with 50 amps and water. Each site had a small pavilion for shade and a fire pit.
We woke each morning to Mt Graham out our front window.
We woke each morning to Mt Graham out our front window. Today clouds hovered over the snow capped monster.
 Beautiful Roper Lake lay out our back window.
Beautiful Roper Lake lay out our back window.
There are 5 miles of hiking...
There are 5 miles of hiking…
...and mountain biking trails in the park.
…and mountain biking trails in the park.
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Mt. Graham stands tall and frozen on this clear day.
After hiking, biking or paddling on the lake a dip in the spring fed hot tub is just the ticket.
After hiking, biking or paddling on the lake, a dip in the spring fed hot tub is just the ticket.

 

Arizona’s Blooming & “The Nose” is Running~ 20

Poor Neal, he can’t breathe, his eyes are crusty and dripping. Where ever he goes he carries a supply of eye drops, Nasal Crom and Saline…but the desert is in all its GLORY.

We have spent several winters camping south of Tucson in the months of February & March where the elevation is higher and the temperatures are cooler than in the Phoenix Valley. On two occasions in April, after our stay south, we traveled north to Cave Creek to camp. We  had a mini taste of the desert in bloom on those visits but this year we camped in the area for much of the month of March. Neal’s had a whole months worth of sneezing, wheezing and blurry eyed vision while I roam the country side snapping photos of the beautiful blossoms (feeling guilty for my enjoyment of course).

I’ve been cluelessly snapping photos oblivious to the identity of the majority of these beautiful plants. Naturally the Cactus field guide purchased on our first visit to Arizona (years ago) is home. I used a combination of  pamphlets received from parks we’ve camped in and http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/FieldGuide/fieldguide.htm. Hopefully I got it right! Any corrections…please let me know.

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Hmmmm…Not a good start…This one I couldn’t find. I think it is a  Cholla Cactus but they have pink or green blossoms not yellow. Help is appreciated.
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This Saguaro loomed over our camper during our visit to Usery Mountain Regional Park.
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Can you find the Saguaro hiding in the Palo Verde Tree?
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Desert Sunflower… not sure who the hitch hikers are.
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Ocotillo surrounded by Brittlebush
Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickly Pear Cactus
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Prickly Pear Blossom
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Englemann Hedgehog
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Yellow  Brittlebush and red Chuparosa blanket many areas in Cave Creek Regional Park.
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Prickly Poppy or Thistle Poppy found on a mountain bike ride through Usery Mountain Regional Park.
Yellow Brittlebush and Red Charparosa brighten the landscape while hiking the Siphon Draw Trail at Lost Dutchman State Park.
Yellow Brittlebush and Red Chuparosa  brighten the landscape while hiking the Siphon Draw Trail at Lost Dutchman State Park.
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More Brittlebush and Chuparosa along the rocky Siphon Draw Trail.
Baja Fairy Duster spotted on a jeep trip on the Apache Trail.
Baja Fairy Duster spotted on a jeep trip on the Apache Trail.
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Hmmmm…found this one during our jeep trip on the Apache Trail as well. Help is appreciated.
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As the temperatures rose through our month-long stay, rattlesnakes could be seen slithering throughout all the campgrounds we visited. This guy was on a mission in the opposite direction so I had the courage to snap a photo.

 

Splish Splash ~ 19

We have heard that Texas has been in a ten year drought. This is very evident in some places but in Austin and the surrounding Hill Country we found an endless supply (maybe not endless, but at least a months worth) of pools, springs, streams, rivers  and lakes to explore.

McKinney Falls State Park~ Austin

We spent a day exploring McKinney Falls State Park. It's a great place  to hike and bike. They also have campsites with water and 30 amp service.
We spent a day exploring McKinney Falls State Park located within the city limits of Austin.
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It’s a great place to hike and bike. They also have campsites with water and 30 amp service.

 

Barton Springs Pool ~ Austin

Within Zilker Park in the city of Austin is Barton Springs Pool.
Within Zilker Park
in the city of Austin is Barton Springs Pool. It was cold the day we visited but I imagine it is very popular in the warmer weather.

 

Lady Bird Lake ~ Austin

We found Barton Springs Pool while wandering around on the trail that runs along Lady Bird Lake.
We found Barton Springs Pool while wandering around on the 10 mile hike and bike  trail that encircles Lady Bird Lake.
From the south side of the Lady Bird Lake is a great view of the Austin skyline.
From the south  side of the lake there is a great view of the Austin skyline.

 

Lake Travis ~ Austin

Lake Travis, on the western edge of Austin, is (or I should say once was) an enormous reservoir on the Colorado River created by the construction of the Mansfield Dam.
Lake Travis, on the western edge of Austin, is (or I should say, once was) an enormous reservoir on the Colorado River created by the construction of the Mansfield Dam.
Lake Travis is an obvious sign of the Texas drought. Neal and I walked In areas that previously had been flooded with water.
Lake Travis is an obvious victim  of the Texas drought. Neal and I walked in areas that previously had been covered with water. We heard varying information regarding the status of the lake. Someone had mentioned it was only 35 percent full but is still 150 feet deep in some areas.
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The Oasis on Lake Travis is a great spot to see the lake and have a cocktail. We’ve also enjoyed a beer or two at the Oasis Texas Brewing Company in the same complex that over looks the lake.

 

Blue Hole Regional Park ~ Wimberley

The Blue Hole Regional park is pretty spot for a walk or to just sit by the water and read.
The Blue Hole Regional park in Wimberly is a pretty spot for a walk…
...or to play in the trees.
…to play in the trees.
...or to just sit by the water and read.
…or to just sit by the pretty blue water and read. (…and swim in the warmer weather)

 

Jacobs Well Natural Area ~ Wimberley

A short hike from the parking area is this beautiful spot.
After exploring Blue Hole Regional Park,  we drove a short distance to find Jacobs Well.
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A short walk from the parking area is the striking blue water of this artesian spring. When we finished exploring the area, we drove into the quaint village of Wimberly, We walked along the Cypress Creek that runs through town and strolled in and out the many unique shops.

 

 Inks Lake State Park ~ Burnet

We took a drive bordering the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, through Marble Falls then weaved our way to Inks Lake State Park in Burnet.
We took a beautiful drive bordering the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, through Marble Falls then weaved our way to Inks Lake State Park in Burnet, Texas. The park has  200 campsites with varying services. Some with 50 amp service and water hookups.
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We walked a short trail to find the Devil’s Waterhole.
I wandered up through the rocks to catch a glimpse of the Spring Valley Creek.
I climbed up through the rocks to catch a glimpse of the Spring Valley Creek. I was wishing I had my kayak with me.

 

Hamilton Pool Preserve ~ Dripping Springs

One of my favorite places is Hamilton Pool Springs. The aqua water in the pool and the enormous grotto is a beautiful sight.
Hamilton Pool Preserve is my favorite find during our travels this years.
The enormous grotto and the sparkling aqua water take you to a faraway exotic place. (Check out Posting #)
The enormous grotto, the stunning aqua water and  sparkling water falls take you to a faraway exotic state of mind. (Refer to post #15)

 

 

Austin ~ Texas Capitol & Texas Chili Parlor ~ 18

There is so much to do and see within the city limits of Austin. I started keeping a checklist on my phone of ideas for places to see, things to do and great places to eat and have a cocktail. Recommendations and ideas came from fellow campers, friends who have been to Austin, TV shows,  travel and tourism sites and blogs… even Facebook. Our list grew…and grew…and grew (AUSTIN CHECK LIST).  We obviously have to go back. Today we toured the Texas Capitol grounds and building.  Our friends Nancy & George joined us for the outing. We met them a few years ago while camping in Arizona and the funny thing is they live an hour and half from us at home. We met them in Florida this past November and they wandered out to Texas this winter also.

The Texas Capitol building and grounds is truly majestic.
The Texas Capitol building  and surrounding grounds are a great way to enjoy an afternoon.
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We did a self guided tour inside the Capitol. There are a variety of tours provided.
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A view of the ground floor of the Rotunda.
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The beautiful Rotunda dome. The star, 218 feet above the ground floor, was installed in 1958.
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Treasurer’s Business Office was full of artifacts used in the office throughout history.
Texas Chili and Mac & Cheese...nothing like it!
Texas Chili and Mac & Cheese…nothing like it!
Happy campers after our exceptional meal The Texas Chili Parlor. Great old time atmosphere!
Happy campers after our exceptional meal  at the Texas Chili Parlor. Great old time atmosphere!

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center ~ 17

It was no easy task but I convinced Neal to join me on a jaunt through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 

The park had various walking trails throughout the grounds.
The park had numerous walking trails throughout the grounds.
It was a kids paradise with forts...
It was a kids paradise with forts…
...and tunnels...
…tunnels…
...and wildlife to explore.
…and wildlife to explore.
I loved the beautiful landscaping…
...gardens...
…the gardens…
...and even more gardens.
…and more gardens.
As you can see Neal was loving it too.
As you can see Neal was loving it too.
His mood improved when we pulled onto 6th Street (in Austin) for great burgers and chili fries at Casino El Camino. Austin
His mood improved greatly when we pulled onto 6th Street (in Austin) for great burgers and chili cheese fries at Casino El Camino.