When I learned that Devil’s Tower was on our route to Glacier National Park it became a must-see destination. Devil’s Tower features prominently in Close Encounters of the Third Kind which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Needless to say, as soon as it came into view on the horizon we had to pull over so I could have a total fan girl moment.
Devil’s Tower is still considered a sacred place to Native Americans and others so, if you visit, please be respectful by staying on the trails and not disturbing the prayer bundles and prayer cloths you will see in the trees and shrubbery.
One of my favorite memories of The Great Road Trip of 2019 comes from our visit to Devil’s Tower. As we hiked the trail around the base of the tower we had one of those “it’s a small world” experiences; we met a man from the Atlanta area, just a couple of hours north of our hometown and a young man and his son from South Carolina. (We have family in both North and South Carolina so we were familiar with the area from which the young man hailed.) We all chatted, then went our separate ways. Each time our paths crossed, we would stop and visit again. Finally, the young dad asked, “Does everyone here keep apologizing to y’all for the humidity?” We all had a good laugh. Indeed, one of the park rangers had expressed concern that our visit was occurring during such high humidity. Y’all the humidity level was 25%. For native Southerners, 25% doesn’t even register on our humidity scale. As far as we were all concerned, the air was downright dry.😂
Sadly, no UFOs made an appearance during our visit but Devil’s Tower did not disappoint.🛸
I have a love/hate relationship with cooking. It doesn’t come naturally or easily to me and it’s never been something that I have particularly enjoyed. That said, I did the cooking for the first few years of our marriage; Kenn took over a few years in. (I think he was tired of watching me stress out over every meal, bless his heart.) However, once I retired, it was only fair that I take over the responsibility once again. Less than a year later, the pandemic hit and eating out was no longer an option. Cooking may not be fun for me, meal planning is even less so. We had used the Hello Fresh meal kit subscription a few years ago and decided to sign up once again. Using Hello Fresh works for me on two levels: one, it gives us a chance to try things we normally wouldn’t and two, that’s two less meals I have to plan each week. Surprisingly, I’ve also discovered that I enjoy the prep work; I don’t mind getting in the kitchen and zesting, chopping, an mincing up a storm.
Now, we are planning our first long road trip with the travel trailer which means meal planning without the assistance of Hello Fresh. It also means meal planning within the limited storage of a travel trailer. We sat down and listed a few of our favorite meals and the ingredients of each. I know we’ll eat out occasionally during our trip. After all, part of the travel experience is trying new/regional foods. (My love of all things huckleberry is a direct result of our 2019 road trip. It’s too bad we don’t have huckleberries here in the South.) However, we know that we have a tendency to repeat the same handful of meals over and over. Pasta also features frequently since it’s so easy to prepare.
So, dear reader, I need your help. What are some of your favorite meals to prepare when you’re on the road? Do you have any cookbooks or online resources to recommend? (Insert puppy dog eyes here)
“Where the heck is Wall Drug?” When driving across South Dakota you’ll see numerous signs asking this question. SPOILER ALERT: Wall Drug is in Wall, South Dakota. Wall is just outside of Badlands National Park so we decided to use it as our base of operations for a couple of days while we were in the area. Since our hotel was just down the street from the famous Wall Drug Store, we decided to have breakfast there before spending our day in the Badlands.
I thought the breakfast buffet was a little pricey but at least it was tasty. Wall Drug still sells coffee for 5 cents per cup and honestly, it was some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. I’m a big fan of rustic decor and the dining area has it in spades.
Is Wall Drug a tourist trap? You bet. Is it a fun place to spend some time? Absolutely. There is actually a pharmacy at Wall Drug but it’s only the beginning. (You know the place is big when they give you a map.) We spent a couple of hours wandering around and buying souvenirs – including cowboy hats from the western wear store.🤠
Since Kenn was still working at the time of our 2019 road trip, there was a lot of go-go-go mentality involved. Our trip to Wall Drug was unplanned but it was not only enjoyable, it gave us some much needed downtime.
I’m still journeying down memory lane with this post but, I’m also telling on myself. I had what is probably the biggest brain fart of my life while driving through South Dakota.😂 There are a couple of places you see a lot of signs for: one is Wall Drug, the other is 1880 Town (which is where the brain fart came in).
I was driving when a small town came into view on the horizon. Kenn said, “Oh, that must be the place we’ve seen all the signs for.” Additional signage confirmed that he was correct; we were approaching 1880 Town. My response was “Oh, it’s eighteen eighty town!” I then had to explain that for the entire drive I had been reading each sign as “1-880-Town”; I had even gotten a little annoyed, wondering why they didn’t just put the name of the attraction on the sign instead of a phone number. (Yes, I know that’s not enough numbers for a real phone number but that’s still how my brain was interpreting it.) *facepalm* Kenn got several miles of laughter out of my revelation. I hope you get a good chuckle too.
It’s hard to believe that our last big road trip was in July 2019.😮 Our post-retirement plans were to have 1-2 “big” road trips every year in addition to our smaller trips. Our 2020 road trip was to culminate in Maine with a variety of stops up and down the eastern coast of the US. However, COVID had other plans so, not knowing which states and campgrounds might be closed, we canceled our much anticipated trip and rescheduled it for September of 2021. As the time for this year’s trip draws tantalizingly closer (and life throws in potential roadblocks) I’ve been looking through my photos from our last trip and decided to share some of my favorite memories with you.
The ultimate destination of our 2019 trip was Glacier National Park. However, on the way, I fell in love with the entire state of South Dakota. Seriously, I was ready to pack up and move. (Kinda still am.) One of the first things we learned is that Oklahoma is not the only place where “the wind comes sweeping down the plains.” The wind started blowing when we crossed the Iowa/South Dakota border and didn’t stop the whole time we were in the state. At some point we lost one of the little plastic rain shields Kenn had installed over the windows and we had to pull onto the shoulder of the interstate so I could remove another one that had started flapping in the never-ending “breeze”. One of our first stops was at the South Dakota welcome center where a very friendly woman whipped out a map and marked several things we should see while we were in the state. This is where we learned that there are actually falls in Sioux Falls South Dakota. Who knew?🤦♀️ (I know, I know. It makes perfect sense, my brain had just never put two and two together.) We hadn’t been planning to visit Sioux Falls but we changed our plans and I’m so glad we did.
I was instantly in love. Kenn gets a kick out of the fact that I love rocks and Sioux Falls had them in spades. (I think I should have been a geologist.)
It was an overcast day and rain threatened the whole time we were at the falls. Fortunately, other than a few drizzles, it held off. There was a small gift shop and a few buildings to visit but the actual falls were my favorite part. I also liked the buffalo sculpture named Monarch of the Plains. It was difficult to get a good picture of the sculpture because of the construction going on behind it; I wasn’t crazy about having all of the cones, etc. in the background of my pictures. On another note, I loved all of the different colors that began appearing in the local rocks once we reached South Dakota and continuing all the way to Montana. Some of those colors are apparent in the Monarch.
Thank you for joining me on my trip down memory lane. Be sure to join me again next week for more. Until then, stay safe and happy trails!
Tallulah Gorge State Park is located in Rabun County in extreme northeast Georgia. Tallulah Gorge is one of the parks that we have made many day trips to through the years but September 2020 was our first time camping there. We stayed in Site 36 which I dubbed “the worst site in the park.” This site itself was fine; it was a corner site with access from two directions. So, what made it so bad? The tiny clump of trees at the corner which meant that no matter which direction you chose, the travel trailer would have to be at a ninety degree angle to the tow vehicle in order to back into the site. We’ve had a travel trailer for several years now but backing into a site can still be a test of the strength of our marriage; this one stressed both of us. However, in spite of our stress levels – and the guy who decided he had to drive through our site while we were backing in (seriously, dude?) – the process went easier than we expected. The campground host came over after we got set up and told us that we had done a good job; I really appreciated that.
There are lots of things to do at Tallulah Gorge and they all involve hiking/walking. There is a suspension bridge, a rim trail with several scenic overlooks and the gorge floor. Gorge floor hikes require a free permit that must be picked up from the interpretive center on the day of your hike; permits are limited to 100 per day. Also, those planning to hike the gorge must wear proper footwear, meaning no Crocs or flip flops. I highly recommend the gorge hike if you get the opportunity.
We did the gorge hike with our boys when they were young. Close to the end of the hike we had to work our way across the river so we could climb out the other side. Our oldest son still insists that we almost let him “wash out to sea”. He was actually safely tucked away in a small pool. It was his younger brother who was headed over a small falls. We snagged him before he went over but life was exciting for a few minutes, LOL. Ah, memories! On another note, I wouldn’t trade being a “boy mom” for anything.
One thing to remember when visiting Tallulah Gorge or any outdoor location in Georgia is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Our visit was in September which is when the brutal temperatures of August are behind us and things begin to cool off. However, “cool” is a relative term. Temps in the 80s (Fahrenheit) with a humidity level of 60-80% is brutal for those of us who live here much less those who aren’t used to such high humidity.
Note: For some reason, WordPress decided not to let me caption my photos. (insert eye roll here) The first photo is, obviously, Tallulah Falls. The second one is from underneath the suspension bridge. Why? Just because I like geometry of the supports.
I didn’t get to travel much when I was young so Kenn and I wanted to make sure our boys had a chance to see a little more of the world. We couldn’t afford to take them on cruises or jet off to international locations but we could at least get them out of the house and introduce them to the sort of places that we love. (They would probably say we took them hiking far too many times, LOL.)
Time and money management were always important on our trips so I planned everything down to the nth degree. I researched the locations we were planning to visit, booked the hotel rooms/cabins, and planned out our activities for each day. Looking back, I may have occasionally over-planned, but it was a labor of love.
Keeping up with details, planning, and organizing are just a part of me and have served me well both at home and at work. However, I think the last four years of my day job sort of burned me out. I enjoyed what I did but it required an extreme amount of organization; my days were ruled by a schedule that was usually booked at least a week in advance. Now that I’m retired, I’m enjoying having flexible days without having to account for every minute of my time.
Somehow, without our even discussing it, Kenn came to my rescue because he is now the one doing most of the planning for our trips. We decide together where we are planning to go and when and he handles making the reservations. I’m still the money manager but I’m happy not having to deal with all of the details.
We cancelled our road trip plans last year due to the pandemic but this year we are fully vaccinated and ready to hit the road. We’ll be taking a trip up the east coast this fall. This will be our first time traveling long distances with our travel trailer so I’m sure we’ll be learning many lessons along the way which, of course, I’ll share here. 🙂 As proof of his new role as Chief Trip Organizer, we already have reservations at a campground in Maine. Go, Kenn!
Fort Clinch State Park is located at Fernandina Beach, Florida. (Fernandina Beach is located on Amelia Island, a barrier island off the eastern coast of Florida.) Fernandina Beach is a special place to Kenn; he and his family spent a week there every summer when he was growing up. I learned to love it as well when we took our sons a few times over the years. (Well, as much as I love any beach.) When we visited with our boys in tow we stayed in a hotel or rented a house. Once we became empty nesters and bought a travel trailer, we decided to visit Fort Clinch State Park; it became an instant favorite.
Fort Clinch has two campgrounds: riverside and beach-side. We prefer the riverside. The riverside sites are well shaded by old growth trees dripping with Spanish moss. While there are a few palm trees scattered around the beach-side sites, none of them are actually shaded. The bath houses at both campgrounds are clean and well-maintained and there are washers and dryers available for use.
Fort Clinch is perfect for both nature and history lovers. Nature is everywhere and the beach is an easy walk from the campground as is Fort Clinch, which dates back to the Civil War. If you are a fossil-hunter like me, the beaches around Fort Clinch are great for hunting shark’s teeth – especially if you happen to be there just after the channel has been dredged. (All of the teeth, etc. pictured in my recent post about fossiling were found at Fernandina Beach.)
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when planning a stay at Fort Clinch State Park. The first is that it is hard to get reservations at this park. Reservations open up eleven months in advance and are gone almost immediately. Our last trip to Fort Clinch took place in April 2021. It took Kenn a couple of weeks of stalking the reservation site in May 2020 to get our reservations. Second is that you need to be prepared to take your time when entering (and exiting) the park while towing. The entrance road is covered by a beautiful canopy of old growth live oaks; the bigger your rig, the more “exciting” your drive may be. However, if you take your time (and occasionally drive in the middle of the road) you’ll be fine.
We’ve talked about making a trip to Fort Clinch every year but the verdict is still out. We love the park but there are just so many places to see!
I have now officially been retired for two years. Kenn retired a few months after I did so he has been retired for about a year and a half. I can honestly say that the decision to retire was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I told Kenn about my plans to retire he looked at me and said in all seriousness, “I don’t think you’re going to be very good at being retired.” Really? My response was “I am going to be awesome at being retired.” I am pleased to announce that I was correct. I have indeed been awesome at being retired.
Awesomeness aside, retirement does come with some adjustments. We were used to getting paid every two weeks. We now get paid once a month so that took some adjusting, but it wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. Full-time retirement was a bit too much for Kenn so he got a part-time job with the local branch of the US Department of Agriculture. It’s pretty much the perfect retirement job. He works two or three days a week and gets to drive tractors and other heavy equipment. (Insert Tim Allen Home Improvement noises here.) The best thing about his job is that it’s flexible. If we want to hit the road for a few weeks with our travel trailer, we can.
This past weekend, I had an epiphany. Our normal method of travel has been to get in the car/truck and get where we need to go with little to no dawdling/side trips. When we were working this was a necessity; we needed to reach our destination to make the most of the time that we had. However, now that we’re retired, we still travel the same way. What’s up with that? We talk about side trips but don’t take them. Why not? We just haven’t changed that long ingrained mindset yet. Last weekend, we had a short visit with our grandson and then hit the road on Monday to take him back home to South Carolina. The trip followed our “normal” routine; the only stops were brief ones for snacks or restroom breaks. (Honestly, being able to help out with our grandson is one of the main reasons I wanted to retire. I was a happy Grammie to be able to make this trip and make things easier for our kids.) We stayed in SC overnight and returned home on Tuesday.
We got up Tuesday morning, checked out of the hotel, had a leisurely breakfast, and headed home. Instead of our usual stop at a convenience store or truck stop, Kenn pulled in at a small nursery and we spent a pleasant 30-45 minutes looking at plants and visiting with the cat and the elderly man relaxing in rocking chairs on the porch. When we got back in the truck (with several new plants) I was absolutely blown away at how relaxing that simple stop was. We made another stop in one of the small towns we always say we’re going to visit. None of the antique-y stores were open since they are only open on weekends but we did a little sightseeing and agreed to make a return visit sometime soon. Hats off to Kenn for breaking us out of our routine and helping us start what I hope will become our “new normal’. I’m looking forward to seeing what this new way of thinking about travel brings.
Given a choice between the mountains and the beach I’ll choose the mountains every time. There’s just something about the mountains that makes my heart happy and fills my soul with peace. I love the scenery, the wildlife and, even during the hottest times of the year, the mountains usually bring at least a slight relief from the heat. (Summer in the South is frequently like living in a sauna.) However, the beach is Kenn’s happy place. He and his family spent a week at the beach every summer and the memories of those times still hold a special place in his heart. Over the years we’ve each learned to appreciate the other’s favorite.
I’ll admit, it took me a while to learn how to enjoy the beach. The two biggest hurdles for me were 1) I can’t swim and 2) I’m a redhead; I practically burst into flames in the sun. (We won’t get into my irrational fear of sharks.) For years, most of our trips to the beach consisted of me coating myself in sunscreen and sitting in the shade watching Kenn and our boys cavort in the surf while I silently counted the days and hours until we could leave. Eventually, I learned that even a non-swimmer can have fun wave-surfing on a boogie board. (Aside from one trip to the ER when a rogue wave slammed my foot into the ground. Fortunately, my toe wasn’t broken; I just had a lovely purple toe/foot for a few days.)
But, the thing that truly taught me to appreciate the beach are fossils. I love getting out and scouring the shoreline for shark’s teeth and other fossils. Over the years I’ve found hundreds of shark’s teeth and met another fossil hunter who helped me identity other items as fossilized sting ray barbs and puffer fish mouth plates. When the time comes for me to shuffle off this mortal coil my boys will have to decide what to do with all of the baggies filled with my beach finds. (I hope they’ll do more than just toss them in the trash.) Fossil hunting in the Peace River in Florida is on my bucket list.
Now I just need to figure out how to spend more than three days at the beach without being ready to lose my mind from boredom. (Not even fossil hunting has been enough to change that.)