Good afternoon, from Perry, Oklahoma and Perry Lake Campground, a pretty nice city-operated full-hookup campsite overlooking Perry Lake. Oklahoma is our 14th state since acquiring Miranda in late October of 2018. Perry Lake is just off I-35. We're headed south at the moment as we have obligations in the direction of Little Rock, Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee and ultimately (short-term) Nashville for our son, Tate's, graduation from Vanderbilt University.
We are traveling a few hundred miles each day. Not something we have done, at least not on a daily basis, since we began traveling some four months ago.
We're coming off a very sobering experience in Denver the last week or so. The massacre of 12 at Columbine High School happened 20 years ago on April 20, 1999. Melanie participated in a number of gun violence related events culminating in several memorial services at various locations around the Denver area.
I wish I could assure you that the citizens of Littleton, Colorado where Columbine High is located, had their consciousness raised the day the massacre happened. I wish I could tell you they are all advocates for reasonable and sensible gun laws that would assist in preventing future mass shootings. I wish. Unfortunately, what they have done is harden Columbine High School making it a prison-like fortress. What they do is spend millions on security for the school system hoping to prevent another massacre.
We are both still processing all that happened. Melanie's taking a little down time after her busy schedule of events last week as we travel east.
Good afternoon from near Littleton, Colorado where we are located in Chatfield State Park. Chatfield is our third Colorado State Park in the past week or so and is another beauty. We're here for a few days before moving on to nearer downtown Denver for EPF meetings Melanie has this coming weekend.
Those who know me well, know one of my favorite genres of photography is photojournalism. The appeal, in part, is being there, having an opportunity to immerse myself in an event, attempting to see, through the lens, what's happening and to capture for others through images the moments I experience. Couple that with my love of portrait photography and sometimes magic happens.
Such was the case when I took some time to find out what was going on in Civic Center Park downtown Denver on April 20. After our obligatory trip to Voodoo Donuts for decadent breakfast, we made our way downtown, first coming across some protesters in front of Colorado's beautiful state capital. Nice folks out to make a statement on a sunny April day, just as several thousand folks were doing only a block away in Civic Center Park.
As you may expect, Denver's 420 celebration of ganja, weed, pot, marijuana, or whatever you call the green stuff of sweet dreams, was all about peace, love and the art of being high, some of the participants being very, very high. But you can judge that one for yourself. I'm only providing photo evidence for what, for me, was about as eclectic an experience of humans having fun and being themselves I've seen in some time.
April 20 marked 20 years since the 12 students and a faculty member were killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Melanie and I attended a memorial service in Clement Park.
Two things. I remembered little about the details surrounding the mass shooting that took place at Columbine High School 20 years ago and I knew nothing about Littleton, Colorado.
As the time drew near to begin the service, I remarked to Melanie that the crowd was..., how shall I put this..., white. Very Caucasian. This came in stark contrast to many, many places we've been on our travels thus far. And because the whiteness of it all caused such a visceral reaction in me, I thought it prudent before I wrote a single word, to do some research into Littleton and into the details of the Columbine massacre.
Littleton is indeed a very white suburb of Denver. They are 93% white. So, for comparison, using familiar territory, not quite as white as Mountain Brook, Alabama, but close. The median income is $67,133.00, or working class compared with Mountain Brook. Their population of just over 45,000 is more than double that of Mountain Brook.
The memorial service was, in essence, a pep rally. It's been twenty years, we're still standing, we feel stronger, healing is on going, but Columbine, hell, yeah.
While we were there, no one mentioned the "g" word. Not once, not in passing, not at all. The word "gun" was not uttered. Not by the preacher from the local mega-church, not the principal, nor the former principal at the time, now the superintendent of schools, and not the current student body president. I remembered, "Guns don't kill people..."
No one talked about the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. since Columbine and what may need to happen to stop it. Nothing to see here, we're doing okay. Columbine, hell, yeah. Nice place to raise a family too.
So, how have they succeeded in making Columbine safer? By investing 3.5 million dollars a year in security for the school district. This includes a staff of 127 people.
In a nation always awaiting the news of another school shooting, no community may be braced for that threat quite like the one surrounding Columbine High, a place forever defined by the 1999 attack that killed 13 people, wounded 24 more and ushered in an Internet-fueled era of mass violence. Twenty years later — the anniversary of the shooting is April 20 — Columbine is constantly invoked as the first name in the ever-growing list of campuses turned into crime scenes. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe — each addition a reminder that this could happen anywhere, any time. Almost as if it were impossible to stop.
But all the while, Columbine has been figuring out how to do just that.
Here in the Denver suburbs, the district has built what is likely the most sophisticated school security system in the country: installing locks that can be remotely controlled and cameras that track suspicious people; setting up a 24-hour dispatch center and a team of armed patrol officers; monitoring troubled students and their social media; getting training from world-renowned psychologists and former SWAT commanders; researching and investing, practicing and re-practicing, all to ensure that when the next significant threat comes, it is stopped before the worst happens again.
And to be fair, the crowd was not really an all white crowd. I fibbed a bit on that. There was one person of color, a man who many in the crowd felt very strongly about and rose to give him a standing ovation when he came up on stage. He then proceeded to lead us all in a cheer, a long and raucous cheer. Columbine, hell yeah.
Least we forget the real import here. We all continue to live in a murder lottery. Every day.
Petroglyph National Monument just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Boca Negra Canyon
Good morning from Santa Fe, New Mexico and greetings from Los Sueños de Santa Fe RV Park and Campground. Nothing too special at this RV park except location. The Santa Fe Rail-Trail is just out our back gate and leads to downtown Santa Fe about seven miles away.
Melanie and I have ridden our bikes into town several times since our arrival from Albuquerque, New Mexico on Monday where we spent last week. We stopped our bikes just a few blocks off the trail at Iconik Coffee Roasters and then rode on into downtown the first day, stopping off at REI to replace a worn backpack of Melanie's.
March 6th marks our third month on the road. We have been living full-time in Miranda for five months. With few exceptions, the experience has been far better than I imagined it. Melanie is settling into her role as Executive Director of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and I'm becoming more comfortable in my roles as logistics and navigator person on the fly.
We continue to meet interesting people along the way, especially, thanks to Melanie's contacts with people in various Episcopal parishes interested in and wanting to participate in what EPF is about. We're also finding most people who travel this way are kind and willing to talk and share their experiences. And, of course, we have enjoyed talking to the locals as we are out and about.
Since neither of us had traveled in an RV before, our planning necessarily depended somewhat on what we could glean from those who were out there doing it before us. We crafted a budget based on research I did obtained from published numbers of people who had been out here living on the road and had blogs offering help and advice.
We have held pretty fast to our rule about traveling no more than two hundred miles in a day and staying no less than two days in a place. That way we don't wear ourselves out driving all the time. There have been exceptions, mostly due to arriving at a location and knowing almost immediately there's no reason to stay for more than one night. We laugh now, for example, about Van Horn, Texas, but it wasn't funny then. I wasn't well and neither of us liked the place I chose for us to stay. Luckily, we'd just come off an extraordinary experience at Big Bend National Park.
We cook less than I imagined we would. That's still an evolving process, but the Leisure Travel Van kitchen is small and a two burner cook stove is not as conducive to the kind of cooking I enjoyed in Birmingham. We have generally bought prepared meats and entrees and supplemented those with fresh fruits and vegetables. We love a good Costco chicken and some of their prepared soups and chili and lasagna works well too. I'm still adjusting to the Microwave/Convection Oven in the LTV too. The microwave and oven work well, but the times for various items is still a learning curve.
Maybe because we cook less, we tend to also eat out more than I believed we would. I'm not sure why I thought eating out would not be the case since trying new places to dine and sharing a meal together in a great place is one of the pleasures Melanie and I have always enjoyed.
Our fuel bill for the RV (diesel and propane) has been slightly higher than I budgeted. The LTV gets great gas mileage (averaging between 15-18 mpg). The higher fuel figure is mainly due to our using more propane than I believed we'd need due to a winter season that was, apparently by all information we could gather, colder than normal in most places to which we traveled. It's chilly (47 degrees F) here in Santa Fe today (April 11), but we're cozy inside Miranda.
Chasing the right weather is a thing with RV travel, not too hot, not too cold. The vehicle is essentially for use in three seasons and winter isn't one of those seasons. The lowest temperature we experienced was at El Morro National Monument Campground. There were snow flurries, the temperature went down to around 20 degrees and we were dry camping (no hookups) too. Though we made it through the night with no damage to Miranda, I didn't sleep too well waking to check the battery level (running the furnace using battery power and keeping a sixty watt bulb in the shop light I located in a bay burning). The bay contains the fresh water fill and an outside shower and is the low point for the fresh water so freezing isn't allowed.
We have come in under budget on campground fees. Since I'm an old guy and have a National Parks Senior pass, we both get into the parks for no charge and campground fees are half price. There have been free nights with friends (thanks EPF folks) along the way too. While we haven't sought out free camping spots (like Bureau of Land Management spots) as much as I believed we might, and there's a plethora of them our here in the west, we've still managed to spend less than I thought we would. Part of the reason we are staying in campgrounds more often is connectivity. Because of Melanie's work, most of the time we need internet access. For us that means having cell service for our hot spot and that translates into being located near a cell tower.
Three months on the road and Melanie and I agree the traveling life-style has much to offer. We look forward many days to exploring our new environs (travel days are especially exciting), just hanging out around camp and meeting new people along the way. We've really enjoyed the National Parks and National Monuments we've visited and some of our favorite camping spots are run by the Army Corp of Engineers.
We pretty much have down the everyday running of our new household too. While we have a check list, a must before moving Miranda, we also know the "jobs" each of us needs to do each time we set up or take down. Operating Miranda has become the proverbial well oiled machine.
Finally, we really like Miranda (our Leisure Travel Van). She has performed as promised with very few (really) minor problems along the way. It's comfortable for the two of us, easy to set up and take down and easy to drive. We can easily find parking in most places we take her so that's rarely ever a consideration. In short, we're quite happy to be out here on the road.
And Santa Fe..., yes.
Good afternoon from just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. We're here for a week before traveling on north to Santa Fe.
After leaving Winslow, Arizona and Homolovi State Park, we traveled through Navajo Indian Reservation to the Cottonwood Campground and a visit to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. The drive through Navajo lands was beautiful and, as you may imagine, a bit disconcerting. Many of the roadways within the reservation are in need of repairs and, while there are signs asking people not to litter, litter abounds. No photos of the litter, no photos of the apparent poverty, you'll have to trust me on that.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Melanie and I were taken out to Mission San Xavier del Bac by friends of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship while we were in Tucson, Arizona.
Day trip out to Walnut Canyon National Monument.
Good morning from Homolovi State Park just outside of Winslow, Arizona. We arrived here last evening in time to set up, have a surreptitious beer and glass of wine and guacamole (thanks Wade A. for the easy recipe) before a beautiful sunset unfolded. Nothing like right place, right time.
Homolovi is located about a mile and a half from Interstate 44 and is high desert (4,900 feet above sea level). After Grand Canyon, being back in an environment with long-distance views is a nice change. We'll be here for at least another evening before heading in the general direction of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is either our second or third Arizona state park. Kudos to Arizona for their very well thought-out parks.
I'm admitting right here I'm over Spring Breaks. Really. I was complaining about this to a friend a few days back as Melanie and I were relaxing having a beer and glass of wine at the El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim at Grand Canyon. His response was, "Yeah, like, damn those kids." We laughed at my over reaction and his sarcasm. But still.
It's been a bit of a downer for us full-time traveling newbies (great name for a college band?) trying to find a place to stay (without reservations, lesson possibly learned) and a quiet place to hike or ride our bikes. Since our boys now do Spring Break on their own for the past few years, my recollection apparently has gotten dim or I'm just dim, but regardless, my Spring Break experience this year is sucking, especially since my memory of Sedona, among other locations, was of this sleepy, but kitschy, and extremely beautiful place in northern Arizona (25 years ago).
So, Sedona was a parking lot full of people who were there, I assume (those Pink Jeep tours though), to have some fun in the few days they had during their respective Spring Breaks. Don't get me wrong, it's still beautiful in Sedona, amazing views everywhere you look, but with many more businesses and many, many more houses, all tastefully done, of course. Regardless, as another friend opined, it's definitely the Gatlinburg of the Southwest. Melanie just rolled her eyes at my complaints as she was extremely pleased with her experience.
The photo above is the only one you get. I'm not here to mislead you with selectively photographed, cropped and edited images. If you do find yourself in Sedona, your experience may vary depending on your inclination toward magic crystals and vortexes. 😎
Jerome and Flagstaff, Arizona
We left Sedona, Arizona and headed to Jerome, another place I'd been to on one other occasion some twenty-five years ago. My recollection was of a small arts community with a history of copper mining set on the side of a mountain looking east towards Sedona. It's pretty much the same place I recall with a few more renovations and stores and restaurants.
If shopping is your thing and you like great vistas, Jerome is not to be missed. We had a good lunch there and moved along to Flagstaff, Arizona.
We pretty much enjoyed our stay in the college town of Flagstaff. We stayed in a KOA campground (America's Campground) just outside of Flagstaff historic downtown. The weather was a little too cool to do much bike riding, so our few days there were mostly spend around camp. We did, however, venture out on two evenings and found a cool wine bar at which we drank and had dinner.
We will visit Flagstaff again when the weather is more conducive to riding around the great historic downtown on our bikes or, when I have my ski gear, so I can take advantage of Arizona Snowbowl. Either way, Flagstaff has a good feel.
Grand Canyon National Park
I'd tried for days to get a reservation at one of the campgrounds within GCNP, but, as mentioned above, it was f'ing Spring Break and everyone and their children had made a plan. So, after searching my various resources online, I made the determination that we'd go to the park and the worst thing that might happen is we'd park Miranda on National Forest land just outside the park and drive in to visit.
We got up early on Monday morning, made coffee and drank it on the way there. Arriving at the park around 8:45 a.m., we easily made our way in (no charge 'cause I have that Senior Pass 😎). My first stop was to Mather Campground. The nice ranger person told me they were full, but if I'd come back by around noon, there may be cancellations by then. He also suggested trying next door at Trailer Village.
We made our way over to the Village. I told the person there I had no reservation, I understood it was (sigh) Spring Break all over 'Merica, but was it possible he had a space for Miranda so that my wife, who'd never in her entire whole life seen this wonder of the world, could now take a peek and be truly amazed.
How many days do you need, he asked me? Well, most gracious and kind sir, one or two, would be very nice. Give me a sec, he said. Sure, I can give you and your wife two days. Miracle of miracles. I thanked him profusely as we left for our spot at about 9:15 a.m. (check in time normally is 1:00 p.m.) Maybe that crystal I'd touched in Sedona...
If you've never seen the canyon, it's a must see kinda thing. Photos never do it justice. One must stand on the rim of the canyon and take in the grandness, the constantly changing light playing on the walls below.
We rode our bikes along great bike paths and one morning got up early, made coffee, packed that and a couple of protein bars in the panniers, along with my camera, and watched the sun come up along a couple of places on the South rim. We'll definitely be back at some point, the North Rim was closed for the winter.
Photos taken in two different locations along Desert View Drive
Our lunch spot in a pull-out overlook as we left Grand Canyon on Desert View Drive
Desert View Overlook
A few shots from Trailer Village Campground