Getting Caught Up Again - Sorry All :)

Trip Start Aug 13, 2006
Trip End Aug 12, 2007

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Sunday, May 6, 2007

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

So here I am a month behind again in my blogging and I had better get to it before I dig any holes that take me three months to write my way out of. So I am pretty sure that I have caught us all the way up to Christmas time in Florida where we stayed in Suwannee. In fact, I am certain of it I just checked my previous writing and the most recent update of our current adventures was December 25, 06.

So what have we been up to in the mean time? Well, lots! On Boxing Day we took off for St. Augustine FL on the East coast. We had been told that it was a very nice place being the oldest city in America. Some of you will recall that we went to a Bass Pro sports goods store and bought a package to stay in a hotel for 3 nights if we were to sit through another 90-minute presentation. Well this one was a mistake. Didn't realize that the resort in St Augustine would be the World Golf Village where we stayed at the Renaissance Hotel. Was it ever our style, all those golfers and the Golfing Hall of Fame and us! Oops. The presentation was not fun at all. The first couple presentations were entertaining; got to wear the kilt and scare the sales men and all. But now that we have seen the whole dog and pony show it was a down right drag, did I mention it was a grim reminder of selling used cars. I did learn that if I were ever to buy a time-share that I should get it from a reseller and not the actual corporation.

OK enough of the fun, but no really we thought that we were sold a 3 night four day get away but on the second night the hotel, which has nothing to do with the time-share resort Blue Green, informed us that we only had a two night stay. This was at 10 pm at night and let me tell you we were not impressed. We couldn't reach anyone at the Blue Green Resorts numbers and the Renaissance wanted to charge us for the nights stay. I think not! $100 US I don't think so. After a short discussion with the night manager we left right then and slept in the parking lot of the Blue Green Resort presentation office. For those of you who know me, you can imagine my state of mind waking up in the morning to go in and discuss the miscommunication. We were clearly told that it was a three night stay and if you have ever had to leave a hotel a 10:30 at night you might have just an inkling of my displeasure.

I must say that I was so angry with Blue Green Resorts that I was very calm in my discussions with all of their staff. I finally spoke with their Public Relations guy and at the end of the day they offered us a free weekend at another resort without the presentation. I took it and a couple of coffees to go and we headed back to Suwannee where the fishing is great and the people say what they mean.

We were half way back to the land of fishing paradise when Evelyn realized that she had left her new math books at a café in St Augustine. When I say we were half way back I mean that we had been on the road for about 2 hours and had to turn back. This was one of those melt down in the middle of the trip moments for me. I have subsequently made proper amends to all in the line of fire but man it was a tough moment for me. Once we got back to Suwannee we were able to return to a natural flow. We really did not fit in the World of Golf Village even if I do frequently wear a kilt.
March 16, 2007

So it had been another eternity since my last up date and once again I apologize for not doing so sooner. It would seem that life on the road is not always conducive to writing on the laptop. I have thought about writing lots and there have been a number of exciting and not so exciting things that have gotten in the way. So here is the rest of the up date and I think it will all be self-explanatory.

We got back to Suwannee and felt right at home. We did lots of fishing as already stated, so much so that at the mention of eating speckled sea trout Evelyn still shudders. We were eating fish twice a day and some times for breakfast too. It was better than free food: I got to catch it and kill it too. Enough of fish though, the company in Suwannee was even better than the fishing. Mr. Tom our gracious host proved to be an excellent cribbage player but a better boat driver (You DB). Our friend Jan was terrific at showing us around and I know that the kids really enjoyed spending time with her. MJ the other guest kept us entertained with tales from the New Hampshire back woods.

All in all it was a great time and a great place to spread out on the journey. I hope we can go back for more fish one day. Thanks for great time guys.

One of the presents I got in Suwannee was not from Suwannee at all but from home. Revenue Canada decided that they wanted to have a look at my tax records for 04 and 05. Let me tell you it could not have come at a more inconvenient time as some of you may have guessed I am not in Canada. So the conversations with the auditor have been interesting to say the least. Initially they thought that I should have someone else bring in the records for them but I explained that those records are buried in a mountain of stuff that is currently piled in our basement. I would not ask anyone to wade through that. I barely even know where the records are let alone giving long distance instructions on how to find what I will have trouble with to begin with. So the outcome of that conversation was that I needed to write a letter to request an extension for the audit.

There was not deadline for the letter to be written and as you can imagine things happen on the road. Well if you can't imagine then I will let you know: it is incredible what can happen in a months time. As we left Suwannee Evelyn was not feeling so well and this subsequently turned into a serious bout of the flu. Which in due course April caught then Garrett, Gladys and myself. This was a nasty one folks. April and Evelyn were sick for two weeks before Garrett and I got it. In that time we had moved to a place called St. George Island Florida and were there for almost a week.

Not too many stand outs at St George Island other than it was a very beautiful spot on the Gulf Coast. We tried to stay for the girls to start feeling well again but eventually we decided to move on. At the time it seemed that they were getting a little better but it was a calm before the storm.

We did have some fun gathering wood on the island. Apparently there is only wet fire wood sold in State and National parks at outrageous prices. So I did what any self respecting fellow with a saw and ax would, I went out and picked up dead fall. Worked well for a couple of nights, but as an ongoing plan the park's people did not think that this was such a good idea. Oops.

After leaving St George we made a stop at the Gulf Specimen Lab, where the kids got to play in petting tanks and saw their first horseshoe crab and some really big Red Fish.... cool. See pictures.

We pretty much boogied right through the panhandle; Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. We did make a brief stop in New Orleans, however. As we drove into the city it was difficult to comprehend what were seeing. The devastation is so extensive, coming into the city from the east end there was just block after block of ruined city. I have never see anything like it; and to think that we were seeing the damage to the city almost 2 years after Katrina hit.

We toured around the French Quarter, which was not touched by the flooding, so it was pretty interesting. The van was well received in New Orleans. I think that people thought it might be a float for the up coming Mardi Gras. We did make a stop at the New Orleans Voodoo Temple. Really interesting place, our friend Utu from back home told us to stop in and say hello. So we did and we had a blast.

We met the High Priestess, _____________ she was a wonderful lady. She told us a little about voodoo and she let Garrett hold her python. He was pretty thrilled. Evelyn was not so interested, especially because she was feeling really terrible. We did have a great time there however and as it was getting late in the day we decided to get out of New Orleans before it got dark. Apparently, it is still a little dangerous there after dark.

As we left we started getting into the gas-refining portion of the country. The kids thought we were headed for Mordor. In fact that is just what it looked like. The flames and bright lights of the refineries, coupled with the swamps in front of them. It was not a pretty area of the United States and perhaps that is one reason we just kept on heading for Texas. Not to mention the weather was pretty wet and cold.

On our way through Texas we did make a stop at the Fulton Mansion. It is one of the many historical sites that we have had a look at but this one stands out a little in my memory. We pulled in for lunch and as usual had been driving for a while. I having had a number of coffees on the way had to answer to the call of nature. I walked over to the house, which is now a museum and found that only paying patrons got to use the john. Well having been camping on the road for so long I did the next most natural thing. Found the nearest tree. In this case it was a splendid old oak that was large enough to conceal the deed. Awww relief, but much to my horror mid-stream I realized that this was where the original owner of the house was buried! I didn't let it stop me though. LOL! And for the rest of the trip the kids have been prodding me about finding graveyards to pee in.

We had heard the weather was good in East Texas at a place called Padre Island near Corpus Christie. At this stage of the game I was about 3 weeks out on the Revenue Canada letter and the best is yet to come. We arrived at Padre Island and the girls were not improving in fact things were on the downslide. Fortunately Gladys was with us to help out and keep us all eating. I could have done it but it would not have been pretty. My job on this trip is driving, lifting heavy things like taking the trailer on and off and dumping the toilet. Cooking is not my strong suit under the best of circumstances like having a kitchen I can stand up in let alone the partial excuse for one in the van.

Week 4 after I needed to write the letter to Rev Canada I had a filling in a wisdom tooth come out and then the fun really started. The dentist in Corpus Christie tells me that he can not replace the filling. The best thing to be done is remove the tooth. Oh ya!!!

So off I went to have the tooth taken out and at the out set the dentist says to me that this should be an easy extraction. Phrases like this are a kin to, "What is the worst that could happen?" Or in redneck speak, "Watch 'iz Shit!!" Well needless to say the extraction did not go so well. I knew that it was not going so well when the dentist started breathing really hard and asked if I minded his foot on my chest. Ok well he did not actually put his foot on my chest but he was breathing really hard and said, "This is much tougher than I thought it was going to be." I told him that my family had long roots in their teeth but he said that the x-ray looked fine. Well so much for fine. It hurt once the freezing wore off. Then to boot guess who caught the plague. Yours truly. I am a bad patient to begin with but add to that a recent tooth extraction being on the road and other sick people around me. Well it was not pretty.

The weather didn't cooperate either. The reports of warmth on the southwest Gulf of Mexico were completely false. So we all suffered in the damp cold. We couldn't even start a decent fire. The wood was soaked and well now I am just whining. In the end we all went on antibiotics to beat the plague into submission: thanks to a care package from home. For those of you that don't know my stepfather is a physician and came through big with a medical package.

Of course in the midst of the gloom Gladys, April's mom, also got sick. I ended up taking here into an emergency clinic as the plague went straight to her chest and she quickly developed bronchitis. Just another exciting day on the road well really it was about 3 or 4 weeks of excitement. The plague cleared up pretty quick once the anti-biotic was administered, but we were not going anywhere until we were feeling better.

As we started to better, the weather warmed up and we got to enjoy the beauty of Padre Island, Texas. Beautiful beach, a fantastic National Park and the price couldn't be beat: for 7 dollars a night to camp. The only down side was that there were no hot showers so we had to drive into Corpus Christie to the YMCA.

In an unfortunate chain of events we found out how incredibly kind people are in Texas. I know it sounds like I am about to whine again but there is a funny story here. Did I ever tell ya about the $100 coffee? No? Well here it goes.

You see April and I were feeling a little better and needed to go in to Corpus for groceries and a shower. On the way back to Padre Island there is a Starbucks. April is a huge fan of Chai Lattés, so we stopped. I will admit that I like a good spicy chai latte myself. The Lattés cost $6 so where did the other $94 go? Well as we were leaving the parking lot there was an Iraq war protester walking on the sidewalk. I gave him the thumbs up and went out of my way not to run him down. (I figured it was the right thing to do.) And as I swung a little too close to the curb the back rear tire of the van went inside the curb where there was a two foot hole. BANG! The rear tire blew out! And me with my spare and all my tools in the trailer on, you guessed it, Padre Island 25 miles away.

Did I mention the people in Texas are really nice. The war protester, I wish I could recall his name right now, drove me down to the nearest tire store, Discount Tire where they lent me a jack, lug wrench and a spare tire to drive back with without as much as asking me for ID, very trusting and a wonderful surprise. The war protester took me back to the van where my chai latté was waiting for me and I changed the tire and went back to the store to get the rest of the details of a new tire sorted out. Came to 94 bucks. We did not go back to Starbucks there again.

It was around this time that I found a phone message for me from Revenue Canada that had a rather nasty tone to it. It suggested that a document had been mailed to me and if I did not respond by March 3rd 2007 further action would be taken. Ominous! Here is the letter I wrote them after a rather discouraging phone conversation:

February 3, 2007
Ottawa Tax Service Office
Audit Division
333 Laurier Ave West
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1A 0L9
Att: Everton Gordon

Dear Mr. Gordon,

Firstly I would like to apologize for the time it has taken to send this request to delay auditing my tax return for the years 2004 and 2005. As I have mentioned on the phone my family and I have been traveling in the United States and do not plan to return to Ontario until next August 2007. I also need to mention that the reason for the delay in writing this letter is because we have been very unwell. My wife and daughter caught a flu and have been exceptionally sick for the last three weeks and to make matters worse I had to have a wisdom tooth removed and subsequently caught the same flu. To say the least it has been very challenging in our day to day living for the last month on the road.
I just received your phone message yesterday, as we are all finally starting to feel a better and I could get out to find internet access. As for my request to delay a meeting for audit the reasons are simple. My family and I have taken a once in a lifetime trip around North America for one year. We started last August and toured the East Coast of Canada until the late fall and then headed down the eastern seaboard of the United States. We are currently near Corpus Christie, Texas and plan to continue to the west coast and then with return to Canada (British Columbia) in the late spring, subsequently making our way back to Ontario by mid summer.
I would sincerely request that I be able to go through the audit process with you when I return to Ontario next August as my records are currently buried in a mountain of personal belongings stored in my garage. It would be exceptionally difficult to have anyone but myself find the tax records required for the audit. I would be more than pleased to provide any and all records upon my return and do everything in my power to simplify the process.
Once again I can't ask more emphatically that you or your manager grant this request while my family and I are on this wonderful journey. If you are interested to see what we are up to on this adventure you can check in on our blog site found at . I will await your next phone call to hear your decision. Thank you for your understanding of our unique set of circumstances and I hope that the Revenue Canada regulations have a provision for such an extension.
I can be reached by email at or by Vonage internet phone 613-686-6040.

Cliff Hope

Well with one more phone call to Mr. Gordon's manager things improved and I get to have the audit when I get home. At least I am getting an extended kiss before the inevitable.

May 1, 2007

Well, well, well!!! Again it has been a tremendously long time since I have posted anything. I am a bad blogger I know. It is just that there is so much going on and we don't frequently have any time to kill. Funny that being on this journey, I can be so busy. There is a lot to do on a day to day basis, so much in fact that it is tough to find time to write.

So where are we now? Arrived in Vancouver, April 26, a few days ago at our long time friend's Jacquie's and I have finally found some time to write. As usual playing the catch up game I am going to go way back and give you the play-by-play commentary.

This time we took notes, so as not to forget the highlights of the journey and the people that we have met. Leaving off at Corpus Christie brings us back to the beginning of February OMG things have gone by quickly! So what happened from there?

Well once everyone had mended from the plague we did actually have some good times on Padre Island. Did I mention that we were staying at a National Park campground? It was here the kids began their quest to become Junior Rangers at every National Park we stopped at. I must say that the Junior Ranger program in the National Park Service of the United States is really fantastic. The kids get a work book and have to research and explore the park area and pick up a bag of garbage. It is a great way to make them aware of their environment and see the smaller details of where we have been. Once the children have completed all the assigned tasks in the booklet they get to be sworn in as Junior Rangers and receive a badge, great curriculum!

The stand out people for us at Padre Island were our neighbors at the site, Casper and Linda. Two people that were unrelated but nevertheless joined us for a few meals and shared fires. I hope you guys are doing well. I do have to mention that one of the fires we had was a complete disaster. No we did not set the island on fire. In fact it was quite the opposite. Casper had gathered some wood as the rest of us were really not up to it, and much to all of our disappointment it was sea logged. I mean I cut the stuff into toothpicks and it still wouldn't burn. It was the best smoke of the trip. We all had a great laugh and enjoyed the sound of the ocean anyway.

The other adventure we had on the beach was building the biggest sandcastle I have ever made. Good thing I brought the shovel. The castle was about six feet high and 20 around. I did this when I thought I was feeling better but apparently I was not. I had to let the kids finish it, in the following days. We did celebrate the returning of the light on Feb 2 by placing candles in paper bags on the sand castle. It was beautiful and we also had some fun with sparklers. Once again see pictures.

OK, there are other mentions about the Island like the great camp site hosts Arlene and Ed Spear who made it possible for us to receive the care package of medication from home. Thanks guys! But beyond that I am certain that is enough about one little Island in the Gulf of Mexico. For me anyhow we had more than enough adventure there.

So it was off to our next National Park and we chose one of the most remote in the United States. Big Bend National Park is right on the boarder of Mexico and is hundreds of miles away from any major city. In fact it is 70 miles away from the biggest town which consists of one gas station at the turn off. Cool eh?

On our way from Padre Island we stopped over at Seminole Canyon State Park. It was a real treat to stay somewhere with hot showers again. We did a short hike to see inside the canyon. There is an overhanging wall in the canyon where the Seminole Indians once lived. Really interesting place, it was the first of many petroglyphs we got to see and the first of many interesting desert canyons. We did meet a really nice guy named Jack Johnson, a Ranger at the state park who showed us an atlatl, which is a spear thrower, he had made from natural materials. We all got to try the thrower and with practice I think I could hit the broad side of a canyon wall. It's hard to imagine that the natives could hunt proficiently with one of these things. In fact, the Seminole are credited with dispatching large numbers of heavily armoured Spanish invaders with this weapon. I gotta make one! Men's weekend anyone?

It was my birthday waking up in the State Park and we left that morning for Big Bend. We stopped in Sanderson Texas for lunch where we found one of the best pizza's in the country. So good in fact I ordered another for supper too. We also got to see the plaque commemorating the deaths of two of Butch Cassidy's gang in the town. Those crazy Texans sure enjoyed a good hangin' even back then. Other than that there was really not much to the half horse town of Sanderson.

We finally arrived at Big Bend that evening, our second National Park in the US where we ended up staying for 10 days. Nothing could have prepared us for the reception at the campsite there by the camp Nazi, I mean campground hostess. At least the evening of my birthday was great. Before I describe what happened the morning of February 11th I must describe what it was like coming into Big Bend National Park.

It is really like nothing I had ever seen. The desert went on for miles and miles. I was very surprised at the amount of life in the desert and at the amount of vegetation, as spiky as it may be. Nevertheless the sights coming into Big Bend were nothing short of spectacular. The sun was going down, throwing light at distant mountains with lots of pink stone as the sun set hit them it looked like the hills were made of rose quartz; the most picturesque place anyone could ask for their B-day. Big Bend is made up of 3 very distinct eco-systems. It has high desert, mountain environment and the Rio Grande runs along the edge of the park for a river environment.

All right now for the campsite Nazi, well I think that as anyone would expect that after such a pleasant host at the other National Park site that we would run into nothing else. That is sadly not the case. It also never occurred to us that having the two vans on one campsite would pose such problems. Well in the word of the campsite Nazi, "We have a real problem here!"

Once again for those of you who know me I am not at my best in the mornings before a coffee and this woman was pounding on my van and yelling at me. The horror. We had parked two RVs on the same site and what was worse we had yet to self register. "Houston we have a problem!" Apparently it did not matter that we had seen completely different rules at another National Park. This was Big Bend and our campground host had been a campground host here since before the first coming of Christ, the rules were the rules and we had broken them. Wanting clarification from a sane person I stopped talking to her and told her we would be on our way when were ready. That was a mistake. She called in the Rangers, so we could be jailed, fined and perhaps publicly hung, drawn and quartered. Ok the fines were the only threat but if she had it her way.... Did I mention that Gladys was there too and was equally stunned by this looney lady?

That is when we met Joe the Ranger. I must say I was very relieved that the guy with the gun was the sane one. He was a great ambassador for the park service and apologized for the antics of the campground crazy. We actually got to deal with Joe on another occasion too but that is a whole other story. Joe did however confirm that we would not be able to keep both vans on one site while we were at the park. Which is rather crazy because their rules state that we could have two vehicles on the same site up to 5 tents and a dozen people. But because we were sleeping in the vans, considered RVs, we would need two sites at twice the price. (Silly rules that change from park to park, because we subsequently stayed in a number of other parks on the same site together) Oh well at least Joe was really nice about the whole thing and had a solution for us in the end.

It turns out that we could go back country dry camping with the vans and instead of spending $14 a night we could spend $14 for our entire stay at Big Bend. Not a bad solution and we got to go out into the desert and be completely alone. The only down side was no flush toilets, which meant we all got to poop in a hole in the ground. Have I mentioned how handy it is to own a kilt when faced with going in a hole in the ground?

Our first backcountry experience was at a site called Paint Gap. It was named for obvious reasons; the rocks were a variety of colours ranging from black to white and everything in between with lots of red. The stargazing in Big Bend is rivaled only by that of Northern Ontario; there is no light pollution and the air quality in winter is superb. The sky was littered with stars and I guess I skipped the sunset. I am not sure how because the first night we were at Paint Gap we saw the most incredible sunset I have ever witnessed. I am not exaggerating and have pictures to prove it. Trust me I have been watching a lot of sunsets recently and this one was the shit. It was really something. The colours on every horizon changed every 30 seconds and it was almost painful lifting our chins off the ground. Once again see pictures.

The next day we went for a hike in the desert and wow what a great experience for all of us. Firstly when hiking in the desert in a kilt you become keenly aware of the prickly surroundings. Kilts in and of themselves are excellent hiking attire and especially in the heat of the desert. However one does not go blindly running to and fro. Lets just say that caution is a key to desert kilt survival. That being my lesson Garrett also had a rude awakening in the desert.

We told him that he should wear covered shoes while hiking, but being 8 he seemed to think that sandals without socks would be best. Great learning experience for our experiential learner, Garrett met cholla with his bare feet. For those of you not in the know about desert flora cholla is a cactus that is low to the ground with really sharp spikes that not only stick you but stick and stay. Needless to say Garrett got a foot full of them on our hike. I knew this from the yelping I heard behind me. Which was followed by more yelping, because he failed to look were he sat down to remove the cholla in his foot. Yep you guessed it we also had to remove needles from his hindquarters. Subsequently we never had to warn him again about covered shoes and hiking or about where not to sit in the desert. In fact, I think he has checked where he plans to sit ever since. He is one bright kid.

On that very same hike we made a fantastic discovery. We were hiking down a dry wash when after turning one of the many corners we found the biggest piece of petrified wood I have ever seen. What was really cool about it was that it was standing on sand stone making the log look like a natural altar. It was 6 feet around and easily 14 feet long. I have pictures and will post them. You could actually see the rings of the tree in the end and much of it had turned to quartz. What a treasure. It was so sad that we could not take a piece with us, but park rules and not to mention conservation for others to share the experience held us back. I just wanted a little piece but my Junior Rangers reminded me of the right thing to do.

Yes the kids picked up their second Junior Ranger Badge at Big Bend, another great program that I can't and probably will not say enough about. Speaking of great programs we did get to attend a couple of ranger led programs put on by the park service, one on stargazing and another on Garrett's favorite subject, dinosaurs. Big Bend is full of dinosaurs. The stargazing program was informative but the dinosaur presentation was the single best presentation I have ever been to, bar none. The presenter was the head Ranger for Big Bend and he not only had all the most recent science information on dinosaurs his presentation style was spectacular. We laughed, we cried, we left knowing a lot more about dinosaurs then I ever knew and it was only an hour presentation. This guy is good folks and I hope that he gets the credit he deserves one day. I wish I could remember his name. I think it was Dan and April's is certain it was Bill. Oh well, go to Big Bend and see the dinosaur presentation it's killer.

It was around this time that we discovered that there was a hot spring at Big Bend. That's right a natural bath tub, right on the Rio Grande. We wound up there 7 out of the 10 days we were at Big Bend. True hot spring addicts. The water was 105 degrees and was housed in a man made enclosure from the turn of the century. Slightly dilapidated but in tact enough to comfortably have a warm bath and soak. The water refreshed itself every 45 seconds and couldn't be cleaner.

Our second back country camp site was just a few miles away from the hot springs, I am all for the easy access. I think that this was one of the nicest sites. We were camped in the river environment of the park and got to see some spectacular wild life. Including visits from beautiful black ravens, golden eagles and a roadrunner, meep meep!

We did get to experience America's homeland security in this site up close and personal. It was impressive the cowboy rode into our site early one morning. Evelyn was the only one up and ready to talk to him. You see it is only the Rio Grande that separates the United States and Mexico. Not that illegal immigration is a big problem or anything it is just not a really big problem at this particular spot in the US. Let me explain a little further. Big Bend is one of the most remote parks in the States. I have already mentioned that it is miles from any large centers and would be next to impossible to make it out on foot. Surviving this environment requires lots of access to water and it is not there for someone entering the country illegally. The other factor that makes this a very poor choice to come across for Mexicans is that the nearest Mexican population centres are 200 miles by dirt road and surrounded by mountains and high desert. Sounds nice eh? Pretty but near impossible to get through without the proper supplies.

So back to border patrol, he rode into the campsite in a cloud of dust. His horse covered in sweat. He approached Evelyn and asked her, wait for it. Had she seen any Mexican cows? Mexican cows? She was stunned. What does a Mexican cow look like and why would border patrol be looking for them? None of us had seen any cows in the park whatsoever so he moved on and we never saw him again.

I have never gotten the vision out of my head of this Far Side cartoon I created. Here it is a Boarder Patrolman is searching the desert for Mexican cows. He comes across a number of cows sitting in a tree with sombrero's behind their backs saying, "No senior no one here but us buzzards!" It was a little unreal to think that there are people that are paid to actually patrol for Mexican cows. I have more observations about illegal immigration in the States but that doesn't come until we get to Arizona.

Back to Big Bend, we all had a great laugh about the Mexican cow patrol, but we got back to enjoying the park quickly. In fact part of that included celebrating Gladys' birthday on the 15th. For her day she wanted to spend it relaxing at our site with a leisurely breakfast a nice hike and a pleasant evening dip in the hot springs. All went as planned with the exception of grandma picking a fight with a drunk at the hot springs. OK in fairness to grandma the guy was a belligerent ass. When we arrived at the hot springs he was being loud and obnoxious. He was naked not that we have a problem with that but he was also talking rather explicitly about sexual acts and encouraging his girlfriend to join him. Not an atmosphere for the kids let alone anyone with reasonable sensibilities. Initially when we showed up he settled down a little but it was not long before he was swearing like a sailor.

In the presence of my mother-in-law, on her birthday let alone any day, this is not a good idea. Some of you know Gladys and when I say that she is not to be trifled with well, you know what I mean. We had asked him to settle down and shut up a couple of times in the nicest most Canadian of ways and he did not take the hint. In fact he invited Gladys to suck a certain part of his exposed anatomy. For an old girl Gladys can sure move quickly. She was up and in his face like white on rice. I do not remember exactly what she was saying to him but that might be because I was attempting to save the degenerates life.

Positioning myself beside the drunk while Gladys distracted him I was in perfect position to intercede. Good thing too, because he stood up and raised his hand to strike her. It was at that point that I saved him. He never got close to Gladys. I had him pinned to the edge of the hot spring enclosure before you could say, "Holy shit my mother-in-law is about to face the death penalty in Texas for killing this fool!" In my best Canadian fashion I politely explained to the fellow that before he knew it I would have him taking a very long deep swim in the Rio Grande if he did not leave right away. With a little further coaching and his arm behind his back somewhere around his ears I lead him away from the hot spring. This is one of those my children are going to need therapy for the rest of their lives moments. I did escort him back to his car and told him and his girl friend that I had called the Rangers on the cell phone. I wish I could have actually done so because this jerk really needed a night behind bars. There is no cell phone service in Big Bend, so I left them with the thought that the law was on the way and went back to soak in peace.

It lasted for about 45 minutes and the drunk was back. This time he was very contrite and apologized for being an ass. We left anyway. He brought his dog with him and as we were leaving was doing rather unspeakable things to his dog in the absence of his girlfriend. The kids didn't notice and I thought it best to leave him to his ah pleasure. I did feel sorry for the dog. The rest of the night passed without incident and we went back to our empty backcountry campground.

Our next camping destination was the Chisos Basin, the mountain portion of the park. There was no backcountry camping in the basin so we took two campsites adjacent to each other. It was here that the children discovered other kids. WOW! I must say the most difficult thing for our guys on this trip has been finding people their own age. It has actually been a challenge for us too. Not many young families on the road full time, so finding other children is big.

We were only going to stay one night in the basin with the extra cost of camping but the kids found friends so we ended up staying three nights. April and I took off with Garrett and his new friend Nathan Garrett to do the Lost Mine hike. It was a 3000 foot vertical climb on well groomed trail. It was beautiful and the boys did very well on the hike. Getting used to the altitude took some adjusting but we had a blast.

Evelyn on the other hand took off with Pam and Frank and their kids for an 11 mile hike. 4 miles straight up from the basin and then 7 down the other side. Pam and Frank run a huge cut flower operation in Texas and had taken some family time. Evelyn fit right in with their four kids and nanny. She had a great time on the hike and has talked about it since. I think it was really challenging for her.

April was intrigued with the flower operation and I think seriously considered going home with Pam and Frank. I am just glad that my irresistibleness kicked in and she stayed with us.

We moved on to one more campsite in Big Bend before our departure. The site was called Croton Springs. Another equally beautiful site with trails and incredible sunsets. Our first day at Croton Springs we did a short hike back to the spring itself, which turned out to be a muddy wash. It was all very interesting though. Anything in the desert is interesting to us low land wet landers. The rock formations and trees growing out of dry riverbanks. We found all sorts of interesting rock formations and lose stones. We even found a small piece of red ochre. We couldn't take the ochre with us but did create some of or own petroglyphs.

The next day we did another hike up to a place called Cattail Falls. It is not on any of the maps of the park we were given inside information about the location. If I remember, it is a short turn off of the Indian Head Trail. The hike was beautiful and the falls were stunning; an oasis in the high desert. We took tons of pictures and had a great lunch. Gladys of course went for a swim in the pool there. It was frigid. I, like April decided to just watch. Evelyn and Garrett joined in the cold insanity. So did a couple of other hikers Jay and Adam.

Jay and Adam were a couple of young guys training for international and Olympic bike competition. Earlier that day they had done a short 89 mile ride through the desert roads and just sprinted up to the spring to cool off. Yea OK good for them. I was pretty impressed. As it turns out Jay was from the Netherlands and is a world class mountain biker. In fact he won the world Juniors Championships a couple of years ago and is training for the 2012 Olympics. Adam is a competitive road racer. They were in really great shape. I was jealous. Am I getting older?

We invited the guys back to stay at our backcountry site for the evening as they had not made camping arrangements. They accepted and showed up as we were finishing dinner. It was a great evening of chatting and stargazing. We have stayed in touch with Adam and he is currently planning a bike trip through South America. Good luck Adam.

After being at Big Bend for 10 days we were finally Big Bent. So we decided to move on. However; not before the kids picked up their second Junior Ranger badge and I had filed a report with Joe the Ranger about the obnoxious drunk. Joe was so pleased to see us again. He did thank us though for the info on the drunk and agreed that no one should have to put up with that sort of behavior. Who knows perhaps he got the dog #$%&er another day.

Leaving Big Bend we were headed for New Mexico to a place called Carlsbad Caverns. On the way we got to see one of the United States top 10 drives from Terlingua to Presidio, Texas. It really was something else. Mountains and canyons, it was very apparent there was not a whole lot of illegal immigration happening in this area either. Very remote and I am sure it would have been very unforgiving to travel the area on foot.

I know that the next statement is going to be very political but when have I ever let that stop me. I would really like to see the idiots in Washington try to go ahead with their plans to build a wall between Mexico and the US. Apparently to stem the tide of illegal immigration, well after seeing the natural wall of mountains and desert I think that they are crazy. Not to mention that the US could not produce a labour force big enough to accomplish the task without hiring boat loads of illegal immigrants.

OK back to the beautiful drive. This could have been one of the toughest drives the van had to do on our trip. At the end of the highway there was a 15% grade to climb. For those of you flat landers that have never encountered grades on highways let me tell you our van struggles with a 7-8% grade. I didn't think that we were going to make it to the top. I was geared down into first and almost going backwards. There is always reverse but we are towing a trailer. So we all leaned forward and prayed to the road gods. Needless to say we made it but barely. Unfortunately it was around this time that the front breaks in the van started to grind metal on metal. The breaks did not like all the up and particularly the down.

Once we were off the pretty road we found ourselves in Presidio Texas. We filled up the vans and continued on. Presidio was an interesting little town where I am certain that the folks there had never seen a man in a skirt/kilt or better know as a Utilikilt. I think it played a factor in helping Gladys when a woman ran into her van at the gas station. I think she was terrified that someone other than the driver of the vehicle she had just hit came running over in a skirt. In very broken English she said that she was very sorry and that we should all just move on. Fortunately Gladys' van is very similar in vintage to ours. It's a 1987 and still built with steel. The other woman's Grand Am was definitely the worse for wear. I also think that she was not carrying insurance but that is speculation on my part. We separated the vehicles and went on our way.

We made it all the way to a little place in West Texas called Ft. Davis. It was a very cool little town. We stayed a few days to get laundry done and fix the breaks on the van. I gotta say that Ft. Davis was great. For Texas, it seemed to be a very diverse little town. All the locals were intrigued with the guy in a skirt and a cowboy hat. I would not be surprised to go back in a few years and find all the guys wearing kilts. The women there found the kilt thing very sexy.

While we were getting the van fixed we found a real broom squire. He was very interesting. The kids spent several hours there learning about how to make brooms out of straw. It was one of those great hands on learning experiences. He also gave each of the kids the brooms he made in front of them. We also found a cowboy hat shop where they were making beaver felt cowboy hats. They were great people there too. They showed us their entire operation too. There is a lot that goes into the making of a beaver felt cowboy hat. Needless to say they were not cheap and I did not end up getting one, but seeing the process was cool.

With the van fixed again we were back on the road again. We stopped in a town called Alpine where we happened upon a Cowboy Poetry Festival. This was very cool. I never knew that cowboys wrote poetry except on Broke Back Mountain. OK that was uncalled for! The festival was great, we were there for the last day of it. We did get to see lots of great performances of music stories and poetry. A great and memorable stop all in all.

Evelyn, Garrett and I also got booted in Alpine. We were all in pretty desperate need of new hiking boots. I found a place where the owner had grown up as a shoemakers son and been repairing and making foot wear since before he could talk. He recommended a pair of Red Wing boots, an American made icon of work and hiking boots. They have been fantastic and I am sure I will have this quality footwear for years to come. I am told that the soles come with a life time guarantee and when I wear them out the company will put on new ones for me. That is so appealing to a cheap skate like me who prefers old and comfortable. I actually just really appreciate quality.

From Alpine we said good buy to Texas and headed for New Mexico. I have to say that the people we met in Texas were fantastic. I was completely blown away by their generosity, acceptance and kindness. We didn't ever come across what I expected to find in Texas, the over blown rancher/redneck with an ego and bank account to match. Even at the cowboy poetry event. Just down to earth practical genuine people. What a treat! We were so impressed with our experience in Texas.

We made it to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico that day and toured the caverns. Thanks TJ for suggested we stop here. Now let me tell you Evelyn was a serious trooper. She has a great fear of caves and spaces that are enclosed by rock. We went 1500 feet underground in these natural caverns. It was stunningly beautiful and Evelyn did great.

Carlsbad Caverns are known for bats but we were there when most of the bats we south for the winter so we did not get to see the thousands of them flying out in the evening. But we did get to see spectacular caverns where in the early part of the 20th century they mined hundreds of thousands of pounds of bat guano. Holy bags of bat shit Bat Man!!!

Pictures could not do the caverns justice as the flash could not penetrate into the distance of the caverns. They were huge. Several football fields of underground space, stalagtites and stalagmites everywhere, it was aw inspiring. I am really glad that Evelyn faced her fears and went in with us.

The kids also became Junior Rangers at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It was unfortunate however that there was not a campground there for us to stay so we pressed on. I think that was another one of those Wal-Mart lot nights. I gotta say I have been very grateful to the 800 pound gorilla of capitalism for allowing RVs to use its parking lots at no cost.

Who ever thought that I would be comfortable living in a Wal-Mart parking lot, I may have to entitle this work as, "My Year In a Wal-Mart Parking Lot!" Who knows.

We did make a brief stop in the township of Hope. Long enough to take a picture of the town sign. Then we were into the mountains again. We climbed to over 9000 feet to reach a town called Cloudcroft, New Mexico. It was the first snow we had seen this year. Really interesting little mountain community and we probably should have stayed longer.

We wanted to stop at White Sands National Monument as we were told it was a really interesting place. That is just what it turned out to be and not in a good way either. We met with the most unpleasant moment of the entire trip at this National Monument run by the park service. It is really too bad that a couple of bad eggs can leave such a sour taste. Now you are really wondering what happened so I will let you in on it. In hind site it seems a little funny but I really have to look hard.

So here is the background. When we got to Florida we bought a Golden Eagle pass for $65. This is an interagency pass that is supposed to get us into all the National Parks and historical sites for one year. It seemed like a really good buy considering that it cost $20 - $50 to enter some National Parks like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. When we bought our pass in Florida they only had one of their outdated paper cards that required them to stamp the date of purchase on the card. At white sands New Mexico they did not do things the same way. Not to mention that the program had changed to a plastic card that had the date of expiry stamped on it and had since been called something different. See the possible confusion, date of purchase vs. date of expiry. It really did not take a rocket scientist to tell the difference and it was written in very plan English on our card.

Unfortunately, we did not run into a rocket scientist at White Sands New Mexico, even though there is a missile range in the area. I suspect that the two clowns we ran into barely graduated grade school and were let into the park service for compassionate reasons.

Enough of the background, on with the show, we arrived at the gate close to supper and had intended to go into the site make dinner and move on. That is eventually what happened but it took a lot longer than anticipated. It all started with the dare I say park employee at the gate. A rather small man with a serious complex, I hope he finds the treatment center he so desperately needs. He looked at our card and announced that he could not possibly accept it in a tone that implied that I was attempting to over throw his government. Needless to say I was shocked. We had already been to 4 National Parks with the card with no trouble at all and I really did not understand.

This little man with the Napoleon complex said that the card was expired and we would not be getting it back and that he was going to call the park Ranger on me to give me a fine. I very politely or perhaps a little ruffled suggested to him that we had only bought the card a few months ago and that we had been to several other National Parks that did not have any problems with the card. In fact, there was a record of the purchase in Florida in a binder where I signed for the card. This was to no avail. He called in the modern version of General Custer.

This police school dropout of a park ranger rolled up on us and that is when the real fun began because he could not read English either. It is scary who Americans will issue guns to. Our card clearly said on the back of it that it was to become valid from the date of purchase for the period of one year. It was stamped November 2006. We purchased the card at the end of November. The ranger conferred with Napoleon and came back to tell us that he was going to confiscate our card and that we were lucky because he could charge us with fraud and give us a fine. OK way over the line. I was a little upset now and April was well let us just say she was appalled.

April asked for the card back because she wanted to read the back of it to this fine representative of the National Park Service. He was holding the offensive card out as if to give it to her and she reached for it and he pulled it away from her. Well now there were fire works. He started to accuse her of assaulting him. I was curious what kind of bad crystal-meth he'd been smoking. This was one excited dude. He stepped back and put his hand on his gun. This was getting serious. You gotta imagine we are just not the aggressive types. Alright, I can be a little ornery from time to time, but dude we just looked like peace loving hippies that wanted to go and have a picnic.

I managed to get things calmed down. Not really sure how I did it he was talking about having to roll around on the ground with park guests and suggesting that he might have to do this with my wife. I should have told him that I was the only one that was allowed to roll on the ground with my wife, though he was not the first to want to have a roll with her. This guy really was too much and the real problem was he was the law. Gun and everything and I think he really wanted to use it. Good thing I was not wearing my kilt that day he may have shot the gay guy sight on scene.

At that point, nearly an hour after we had gotten to the gates Gladys came back to see what the hold up was. She got out of her van and started to walk over and Dudley-do-wrong shouted at her to remain in her vehicle. This guy really was looking for action in all the wrong places. It was like a comical scene on Cops the TV show. I am certain he had the "Bad boys, bad boys" theme song going on in his head the whole time.

Well we continued to persist that we had bought the card legally and that he was out of his mind and that if he would simply read the card or call Florida we could proceed with dinner. Which was also becoming an issue with one diabetic with and a few others that verge on hypoglycemia. After another exchange of debate I will call it our Ranger of the year disappeared into the gate booth to confer with Napoleon once more. After another 10 minutes he reappeared and here is the statement he had for us.

"Look we have had a number of Canadians coming down here with forged cards and this one looks very suspicious. Besides it is stamped out of date. I could get in a lot of trouble for doing this but I am going to give you the card back and let you into the park, this time." Translation: I am an idiot and so is the guy in the booth, neither of us can read English or understand reason. We have made a huge mistake and are incapable of apologizing. Please enjoy the park facilities!"

As the adrenalin calmed down we entered the park and proceeded to try and enjoy it. It really was an interesting place. The sand really was very white and blown into great dunes. I am not sure for the geological and atmospheric conditions that lead to this phenomena but as soon as you walked on the sand, all evidence of your passing disappeared in minutes, really cool! We didn't get Jr. Ranger program here because of the unfortunate welcoming, otherwise we would know.

We had our supper and explored the dunes until dark. We met a few other Canadians there and they even took some pictures of us. Later that evening we met up with them in the parking lot of our favorite free campsite Wal-Mart, in the nearest big centre which was Los Cruces NM. Once again really nice people, I really like Canadians. Thus ended our experience in New Mexico. White Sands did have a program but we were too busy considering rolling around on the ground with dummy to let the kids gain an education on the park itself. I hope some one from the park service passes this on to someone in charge. I might even write a letter to some one that cares in Washington. LOL!

Moving on we made it into Arizona and things were looking up, way up. Our next campsite was in the Coronado National Forest, Arizona at 4500 feet above sea level. The site was tucked in the mountain range and we had the most beautiful mountain stream flowing by us. It was really ideal quiet and remote with beauty only the mountains can offer. At this point on the trip we really did have taking it easy down to a science. Go to bed when you are tired, wake up when you open your eyes or feel like getting up. Have coffee until whenever and basically do what the spirit moves you to. Not a bad life, how will I ever adjust when I get home?

April, Evelyn and I did one of our most ambitions hikes in this location. Garrett and Gladys decided to stay behind. Gladys because the trail was pretty rough and Garrett because he just wanted to stay and play. Our hike was very rewarding however. We went on an 11 mile adventure, 5 and a half up and then down. It was a 3500 vertical climb and the views were stunning.

The only unfortunate part was that we started too late in the day. We headed after lunch and really should have been on the trail after breakfast. Taking it easy has its drawbacks. We really had Gladys and Garrett worried by the time we got back to camp after dark. In fact there were a number of others at the campground that were a little concerned. Oops we knew it too.

The hike was treacherous. There was a lot of snow on the trail and it was a steep climb. As we ascended we met another hiker on the trail with a proper map and he said that we were only about one third of the way and at that point it was 2 pm or so. We told ourselves that we would go on only until 3:30 and then turn back. The problem is we are all rather A types and as we got closer to the summit we started to push our turn around time further and further back. By 4 o'clock we thought we could see the end. Evelyn took off and headed for the top. April was still pretty fleet of foot and I was dragging my ass.

Not used to the altitude and I out weigh both of them by double, and I am in pretty good shape but man those last 10 or so switch backs were a killer. The end of the hike found us at the summit in an abandoned observation post around 4:30. As an insult to injury there were actually stairs at the top, covered in ice and snow. I think Evelyn skipped up the stairs, I on the other hand crawled like a man on his last legs.

The view was incredible at 7500 feet, we could see forever and it was beautiful in the afternoon sunlight. The exertion made everything even more beautiful. I have pictures but I don't think they reflect the beauty I experienced on the top of that mountain.
We ate at the summit and started to cool down, almost too much. It was really cold up there. We needed to rest but we also know knew that there were going to be worried people in the campsite, sorry y'all. We told Evelyn that if she ever did anything like this to us we would kill her, being the good examples that we are. After taking as much rest as we could we headed down the mountain. It was slow going up but we made better time on the descent. We had to be careful with the steep grades, snow and ice but we managed not to hurt ourselves. We did see lots of evidence of big cats however. It kept us on our toes.

We were really lucky that we had chosen a full moon night to take our hike, because as the sun went down the moon came up and it was almost as bright as the sun. A beautiful landscape became magnified by the eerie moonlight. We were alright; however, Gladys and Garrett were very worried about us. We stumbled into the campsite some time after 7pm long past dark and we didn't even bring a flashlight with us. We told Evelyn that this should be a good lesson for her. LOL!

Gladys and Garrett were glad for our return and both took their turn killing us. Garrett tells a very sad story of looking at the three uneaten bowls of dessert waiting for us. He was pretty concerned, but it is nothing that he will not be able to deal with in therapy later in life. At that point, we decided that we had had enough adventure in this place and that we should move on. The van had different ideas.

Yes this is another break down story of epic proportions. Good thing I brought tools with me, and a good thing that Gladys was with us, having a second vehicle. We were ready to head out but the van was not. I had been nursing the radiator for the last 18,000 or so KMs with AC Delco crush pellets keeping a leak under control. Well it was working no more and most of the radiator fluid was spewing out.

Well no time like the present to become a mechanic. I knew I could do it so, we were going to be there a while longer. I went to work pulling out the rad and headed into the quarter horse of a town to see if I could find a replacement for my 1980 Dodge. The local mechanic thought that the dead RV at his place might do so I headed over tools in hand to pull it. So much for that day, I got the rad out several hours later due to a number of salvage reasons. Those of you familiar with using used parts will understand. On top of it once I got the radiator out it turns out it had a rotten parts.

Next day and next attempt, I drove the other direction down 25 miles of dirt road to find a wrecking yard that should have the part. A seeming success, the guy had a van in the back with the same rad. I went to work taking it out and I had gotten much better at it now with two extractions under my belt. I paid him $40 for my efforts and headed back with what seemed a cheap solution. By mid-day I had the replacement rad in, poured in new coolant and voila! It leaked like a sieve. ARRRRRRRGGGGGG!!!!!!

Losing a little patience and running out of used part options I headed for Douglas Arizona the largest and closest centre where I could buy a new radiator. It was a 60-mile drive. I had planned to eat dinner on the way back but I thought that there might be a little light left so I could get the new rad in before dark and we could leave first thing in the morning. Boy was I wrong. I should have stopped and eaten and taken my time. It would have saved April a lot of pain. Yes April. Why April you say? Well here is how it played out. I got back
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