Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Feeling the Pain of Hurricane Isaac

Here we sit in Colorado and our thoughts and prayers are with our friends in New Orleans.  Seven years ago yesterday we were sitting in a hotel room in Jackson, Mississippi evacuated for hurricane Katrina and feeling the fear and trepidation that comes every hurricane season and occasionally comes to fruition and exceeds ones worst fears. 

Seven years has meant a lot of improvements in the way of hurricane protection to New Orleans but does not erase the pain and scars.  Everything is now referred to as pre-K or post-K.  Hurricane Katrina is just referred to as "the storm" by locals; there is no need to mention her by name.  The levees around New Orleans were rebuilt and the newspaper was removed (yes, they really did find old newspaper in one of the levees).  Pumps were upgraded to handle a larger capacity.  Some of the largest floodgates in the world lie perilously perched between the ever encroaching Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans back yard.  Smart phones and social media allow us to get a play-by-play from our friends riding out the storm and we hear hourly updates – “the power just went out,” “generator is up and running,” “switching to martinis from beer,”  “wind is pounding the roof,” etc.   We sit in our motorhome in Colorado live streaming news from New Orleans and watching our good friend and anchor women extraordinaire Angela Hill broadcasting every detail of the menacing Isaac. 

Katrina spared our home, jobs, and will.  But many were left broken, but even more determined to return and rebuild.  Seventy-five percent of the people I worked with lost everything…EVERYTHING!  Nothing was newer than the date of Hurricane Katrina.  Available housing (in the form of something dry and with minimal mold) was at such shortage two cruise ships were brought in to provide beds.  River barges plowed through levees and were in people’s back yards.  Cars were on top of houses.  I helped a co-worker clean out her flooded house months after the storm and the smell was utterly gaging.  As we put all her belongs on the street someone drove by and asked if he could have some of it; "sure", she said. 

Many residents were dispersed and had no idea of when they would be able to come back.  Schools and universities were closed and had no idea when they could reopen.  My boss had to send his son to live with relatives in Memphis for nearly a year because schools were closed.  Most grocery stores were looted so there was a short supply of basic needs.  We were home three weeks after the storm and there was only one grocery store near us that was open.  Thankful, yes; but very long lines.  We took in friends who were very appreciative but longed to be back in their house and feel a sense of normalcy.  Natural gas lines were on fire and making the flood waters boil.  Helicopters routinely flew overhead carrying large “hesco baskets” trying to repair levees.  Trees were completely defoliated.  There were no birds to be heard.  So many houses bared the iconic “X” scar that was left from search and rescue teams indicating if people were rescued or bodies were found.

Mark is nearly 6'5" tall and pointing to the water line which is easily 7".  Unfortunately, water sat and remained in
 the area for 3-4 weeks in some areas.  Next to him is the search and rescue symbol that decorated so many houses.  
Even though our house, jobs, and will were not destroyed there were many challenges to overcome.  We felt for our friends that were displaced, homeless, distraught, and feeling the overwhelming pain of hurricane Katrina.  The wetlands and barrier islands I worked so hard to protect were battered beyond recognition and are destined to a watery grave.  The research center Betsy directed fared extremely well but had to make the difficult decision to ship animals to other zoos and lay off staff.  Life was hard, but as true blooded New Orleanians taught us - will and determination cannot be broken by a little thing called a hurricane.  Some even retained their sense of humor through it all.

We feel for our friends that are going through this event and agonize with them from thousands of miles away.

Thanks to Betsy's brother Mark who dug these pictures out of cyber space and offered to share them.  I was only going to include two or three, but they are so telling of the aftermath that blanketed the area.  Most of the pictures are from the Lower 9th Ward and Chalmette - two of the hardest hit areas in the city - but this kind of destruction went on for miles and miles.  Thankfully, hurricane Isaac didn't do near the damage and, most importantly, all of our friends have reported being OK with minimal property damage.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Moving on to Rifle Gap, Colorado

After bolting out of “The Worst Campground Ever” (see previous post) we decided to head to a state park to regain our sanity and fulfill our need to increase our yard space.  This was desperately needed after being slammed against neighbors in Basalt.  We settled into Rifle Gap State Park.  The park’s 350-acre reservoir, a neighboring National Forest and a couple of nearby state and city parks captured our interest.  And, the sites were large enough that you could build a campfire without setting the next door RV on fire.  The campground fit our needs for space but we were subject to some heat in the 90’s that kept us indoors for a few days, just in the late afternoon.  Evenings were cool and beautiful while sitting around the campfire.

Rifle Gap reservoir and the town of Rifle Gap in the distance.
Ah, space! 
When we did venture out the scenery really amazed us.  Did we think that entire Rocky Mountain range looked like the Tetons – high jagged spires reaching gracefully to the heaven and beautifully dusted in snow?  Yes, but very wrong.  The western side of the Colorado Rocky Mountains is a stark contrast to the east.
In our quest to be outdoors and away from people (don’t worry the scars are healing), we stumbled upon Rifle Mountain Park which happens to be a rock climbing destination known world-wide (or so some rock climber dude told us).  As we looked up from the bottom of the gulch, there were little dots hanging on the sides of the mountains that turned out to be buff daredevils that looked like climbing spiders. My brother and his oldest son are avid rock climbers but we just don’t get it; it looks scary and painful.

The buff daredevil is at the bottom center of the picture in black pants.  She still has a long way up to go.
The beautiful, interesting drive through Rifle Mountain Park.
025The nearby White River National Forest provided us with a great hike through a gulch, beautiful picnic spot and a little trout stream that produced a brightly colored Colorado cutthroat on the end of my fly line.  My fishing success was cut short when a marten (an otter-like animal) invaded my pool and starting fishing for the same scaled bounty I was after.  Oh well, we enjoyed watching the little creature swim gracefully through the water and then chomp furiously on the fish until all was devoured.  Ouch!  Off he went again looking for another morsel.  Our gorgeous hike revealed how the dry sage brush turns a dark green color brought on by pinyon and juniper.  As we hiked farther into the forest the stark white trunks of aspen added a splash of contrast and we remarked how beautiful it must be in the fall.

Of course, there has to be a Spirit picture.  She wears a bell now to warn bears.

Another day and we were off to Rifle Falls State Park just a few miles up the road.  The small park entertains visitors with its mysterious caves and rushing triple waterfall.  The East Rifle Creek sprays over the limestone cliffs and provided a much needed mist on a warm summer day.  The area was first populated by ranchers but soon the attractive falls led to the construction of cabins and opened as a tourist attraction.  The town of Rifle built a hydroelectric plant which changed the creek’s natural flow and created the three distinct falls. Camping, hiking, and fishing are popular activities at this small, but very lovely, 100-acre park.

There is a great view of the falls and creek from the top.
The limestone caves were started as tiny holes
that slowly grew into large caverns as water
dissolved the rocks.
The short trail leads you around the base of the  falls,
through the caverns and then around the top of the falls.
Even Spirit ventured in.      

The caves were really interesting to explore.                   

While exploring downtown Rifle we visited Centennial Park.  The park tells the history of Rifle from its founding in 1905 to 2005 and exhibits along the hiking trails guide you through the years.  Like so many towns Rifle grew out of the mining industry.  Vandium was prized for its ability to harden steel thus in the 1920's the industrial revolution made this mineral in constant demand. One of the focal points of the park is the statue "Over the Rainbow" which is a cowboy riding a rainbow trout.  The statue combines the Colorado cowboy history and the famed rainbow trout fishing in the area.  Betsy loved this statue in particular.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Aspen, Colorado

Downtown Aspen
Aspen is one of those places we have heard so much about that we just had to go. There were no campgrounds in Aspen itself so we stayed about 10 miles up the road in a little town called Basalt. And if you read the last post, you know we started off on the wrong foot since we were in an awful campground. The nasty campground made us even more determined to get out and sight-see.

Aspen is a pretty ski town set at the base of mountains that just invite you to soar downhill. But, we are not in the least tempted to come back in the winter as neither of us like to ski or be cold. Strolling down the streets, we quickly realized that shopping was purely a spectator sport for us. The streets are lined with high end art galleries and famous named designer products like Prada and Gucci. Maybe we’ll be satisfied with an ice cream cone and some salt water taffy!

 A bronze statue of Friedl Pfeifer stands at the base of the mountain.  He was an Austrian National Ski Champion that was a founder of the Aspen Skiing Corporation and Aspen Ski School.

Can we take him home?
I want to look like him!
We took a quick drive through Snowmass Village on our way to Aspen. It was a quick drive because the place is dead in the summer. There was a grocery store and one café and that was about it. Wait for snowfall before you head to Snowmass.

Our most pleasant surprise was the town of Basalt. Less than a mile from the campground is the historic downtown that is cute, cute, cute. Nice little boutique shops, green space, casual outdoor cafes, and nice restaurants. The warm and welcoming town was sporting a colorful array of summer flowers and the streets were alive with people. The Fryingpan River runs through town and provides a great place to stroll (or let your dog cool off). We found ourselves coming back to town for various reasons, but mostly because we really enjoyed the town feel.

Downtown Basalt


We loved this barber shop 

061      075
Brick Pony Pub was our stop for a cold draught beer.
This is a clear sign you are in a fishing town.  The Roaring Fork and Fryingpan Rivers are "Gold Medal" trout streams.   

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Worst Campground EVER!

Here we sit inside the RV with all the shades closed on a beautiful Colorado day.  Why?  Well, because we are in possibly the worst campground we have ever been to.  The sites are close…our patio opens directly to the neighbors…there are screaming kids everywhere…three-quarters of the RV’s are incapable of moving…there are dogs chained to truck bumpers…and the owners could care less.  And why do we stay?  Because we wanted to see Aspen.  Believe it or not there is not another campground with full hook ups within 50 miles of Aspen so we decided to grin and bear it!  And besides, there is a lot to do in this area.  The weather is still hot and we need the hook ups for the air conditioner for Spirit.

Just a little lopsided.
Yesterday evening, while we were holed up in “the cave” (as I like to call the moho when all the blinds are shut), there was a soft “tap, tap, tap” at the door.  I looked outside to see who was possibly interested in chatting with us.  It was two dirty faced little girls dressed in their pretty light blue satin and white taffeta dresses and heels.  (Poor things - all dressed up and nowhere to go.)  One little girl asked “do you have a kid in there?”  Oh, the responses that swirled around in my head.  I guess she thought with two women, the likelihood of one being a mom was pretty good.  I politely said, “no we don’t have a kid in here” at which point the other girl said, “but you have a puppy.”  Uh, oh now we were in trouble.  I politely replied, “yes, but she is sleeping.”  Just then I realized there was a supersonic tail wagging dog standing right behind me ready to bolt out the door and roll in the dirt with these girls.  Luckily, they were very polite and decided our camper had nothing to offer so they moved on. 

The closest neighbors we've ever had.....too close.
Somebody's yard needs a little tidying up.
There we sit smashed between two RV.
A toilet on display as we look out our window.  Who does this?!!
So you are probably wondering, is there a bright side?  Of course!  One mile down the road there was a new Whole Foods Market opening, we found a delicious Asian restaurant to satisfy our culinary desires, there was a peaceful patio bar with cold draught beer, and a grocery that sold Graeters Ice Cream.  All we needed was food to turn our bad fortune around. 

Whole Foods was in walking distance so we headed over there on the morning of their grand opening.  After all the speeches and hoopla, the doors opened and we enjoyed breakfast pastries and fresh fruit and I was the stores first customer.  Nearly 10 years ago, we went to the opening of the first Whole Foods in New Orleans and met a great guy named Will Paradise, a President with the company.  Will is very unassuming, energetic, enthusiastic and engaging.  When we met him in New Orleans he gave us free samples and a dog toy for our dog Otter.  We never forgot him.  He was at the opening in Colorado and just as generous, unassuming, energetic, enthusiastic, and engaging.  We chatted with him for a while and he shared the little known fact that Whole Foods was very involved in feeding people after Hurricane Katrina.  The store was looted, but to a minor degree.  The company quickly realized there was a true need for basic supplies that existed in the city.  He is very proud of the fact that Whole Foods had food shipped from Texas, opened their doors, and fed people in the city.  At one time, they were providing more food than FEMA.  Go figure.  Thanks Will and Whole Foods!

Ah, but then there is the ice cream.  Graeter's ice cream is a Cincinnati company that Betsy grew up eating.  They were recently ranked as one of the country’s Top 10 ice creams by Food and Wine.  After leaving Cincinnati, we regularly had it shipped to New Orleans and indulged in flavors like black raspberry chocolate chip, pumpkin, summer peach, peppermint, mocha chocolate chip, etc.  The chocolate chips are huge and the ice cream is so creamy.  We were sooooo happy to find Graeter's!

Once again, food (and a cold beer) lifted our spirits.  We may want to stay another week.  Or not!  We're out of here tomorrow with lots of Graeter's in our freezer.

This RV was really cool.  A young architect designed and built it.