Our Best Campgrounds From September 2016-May 2017

It is that time of year again when we select the best campgrounds we used over the past year. In the past we have limited it to the top 10. This year we travelled more miles and used more campgrounds so we have over 25 to recommend. We also are color coding them. GREEN means new location we recommend, YELLOW means a previous selection we used again and still recommend (Our Hall of Fame) and RED means not recommended for big rigs like ours (40′ 5th wheel). For easier reading, bring the picture zoom in 3-4 times.

Over the past 5 years we have stayed in over 150 campgrounds and approximately half of these have made it to the annual list. For past recommendations refer to posts in July of each year.

Happy Camping Everyone!

Our Top Campgrounds For Sept. 2016- May 2017

 

Where Is Datil And Why Go There?

Very Large Array, Datil, New Mexico, El Morro NM, elk

Panorama Of The Very Large Array

Just a quick entry before we get too far behind and fall off the blog wagon again. Datil, NM isn’t near anything you’d know. It is 60-70 miles west of Albuquerque on US 60. We came here to stay at the Datil Wells BLM CG for the amazing price (senior rate) of $2.50/night. Even full price is only $5. Now it is dry camping but most of the sites are large and private. There is water available and vault toilets. Because of the volume of RV use the stay limit is 7 days in 28 rather than the usual 14 days. There are no reservations. We used our generators early AM and in the evening but kept the residential refrigerator going with the new solar panel during the day.

vla-4

Our reason for coming was to see The Very Large Array nearby and visit El Morro NM which was more of a drive than we expected. We would come back here again just to relax as there are some great trails to explore. The area was a major cattle drive route with wells placed every 10-15 miles to keep the animals watered, hence the name Datil Wells. The Spaniards were the first to call it Datil as they thought the fruit of the local yucca looked like dates. The second ocean to ocean highway came through here during the early days of auto touring. Interesting history kiosks and a small visitor center describe local history. This is ranch country however when the locals need to quench their thirst the local gas station also sells “white lightening” (apparently legal here) as Steve overheard a customer ask openly. Never know what you’ll find on the road!

vla-5

Backside Of Telescope Dish

The Very Large Array is a set of 27 huge radio telescopes used for researching the galaxy and far beyond. The dishes are 92′ across (think 2 school buses wide) and dwarf a person standing alongside. Most pictures you see are of the dishes arranged close together in what is called the A position but they can be spread up to 13 miles apart in the D configuration. The closer they are the more general the information gathered and the further they are, the more detailed the information. When we visited the dishes were in a mid point formation. There are films in the visitor center detailing the array and the discoveries made, how the dishes are moved on rails and maintenance required. After our visit we put the movie “Contact” with Jodie Foster on our Netflix list as it was filmed here

Tracks Used To Move VLA Dishes

Tracks Used To Move VLA Dishes

 

el-morro-1-hdr

El Morro As A Landmark

Another day we drove a backroads route to El Morro NM. This rock formation seems to arise out of no where and served as a landmark for travelers from native Americans, Spanish conquistadors and priests to pioneers. It also was a known source of safe water in this dry land. Many left their mark and the rock is covered with petroglyphs, drawings and names. We’d hoped to also visit El Malpais NM but time got away from us. On the way back we had a National Geographic moment as we came upon a herd of elk. To our left were about 20 elk and one bull. To our right were about 50 cows and one very handsome bull with a huge rack. He knew he was in his prime. He bugled and pranced. It was too dark for photos so we just parked by the side of the road and enjoyed the scene. Now that’s one busy guy!

Time to move along. Next stop Durango.

Cool Cool Water

Cool Cool Water

Shadow On The Rock Is It The Pause That Refreshes?

Shadow On The Rock Is It The Pause That Refreshes?

El Morro Petroglyph

El Morro Petroglyph

Military and Religious Carvings

Military and Religious Carvings

A Pioneer Makes His Mark

A Pioneer Makes His Mark

Life In Death Valley

Death Valley, landscape

Subtle Colors Of Death Valley

From Lone Pine we headed back east over the Inyo Mountains to visit Death Valley National Park. We’d never heard of this range but after going up, over and down pulling a 35′ trailer we certainly will not forget the ride! We knew the road was challenging and stopped at the Lone Pine Visitors Center to check on road conditions and potential problems. They gave us the green light and said “just go slow on the descent”. Not that you could have done anything else! With 20/20 hindsight we should have had the video camera going to accurately give you the feeling of heading down over miles of switchback roads without guardrails. Go slow they said. You bet. At times we crept around curves at 15 mph or less only to find ourselves immediately reversing direction for another curve. I’ve become very confident in Steve’s ability to handle the DreamChaser but…when I’d look down the unprotected chasm on my side my toes would curl and I’d find my palms getting sweaty. I let out a BIG sigh of relief when we finally reached the bottom!! When watching the video be sure and take notice of the surrounding mountains and picture us there.

A Vast Wasteland

A Vast Wasteland

 

Water In The Desert

Water In The Desert

Our campground would be at Furnace Creek which is mostly dry camping. There are a few full service sites here but they were booked months ago. The only criteria that is a bit difficult to work around is that you must be at your site to run the generator and all generators off by 7PM. In March it isn’t a problem but we sure wouldn’t want to be here much later without access to air conditioning. One evening we were sitting outside when the campground host came by and asked if that was our generator running. I said yes and (looking at my watch) indicated we had 15 minutes to go. No, said the host. You forgot to change your watch. It’s daylight savings time now and you’re 45 minutes beyond the generator curfew. Oops!

Blue-eyed Grass

Blue-eyed Grass

Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus

Death Valley is a huge park with over 3,000,000 acres to explore. We did a lot of hiking to earn enough points for our bumper sticker, roamed through the Harmony Borax Works and Borax Museum, went on wildflower explorations, watched beautiful sunsets and toured Scotty’s Castle. We joined Ranger led tours for a full moon dune walk and to see Death Valley Scotty’s real cabin home. We made scenic drives to Artists Canyon and Titus Canyon. We explored ghost towns in the park such as Rhyolite and one just outside the boundary on BLM land. Our week went all to fast. Not since visiting The Everglades have I begun a park visit questioning just how much I’d enjoy only to find myself loving every minute. There is so much more to explore so here’ where we say “When we come back…”

Borax Wagon

Borax Wagon

Steve (Spielberg) Maier has created a video of our days in Death Valley. It runs about 25 minutes. So run to the bathroom, grab a beer and some popcorn but most of all enjoy one of our national treasures. As usual, please allow the video to fully upload before playing for best results and click the icon at the lower right corner to bring to full screen.

Steve AT Natural Bridge In Death Valley

Steve At Natural Bridge In Death Valley

 

Dunes at sunset 1

Dunes At Sunset

 

Zabriske Point Sunset

Zabriske Point Sunset

This Place Rocks!

Alabama Hills, panorama, California, photography, Lone Pine

Alabama Hills Panorama

The DreamChaser At Lone Pine

The DreamChaser At Lone Pine

Have you ever heard of Lone Pine, California? Neither had we until looking where we might camp while visiting Manzanar National Historic Site. Right outside of town we found Diaz Lake County Park. At this time of year there were only six other campers however during the summer months it is very popular with folks hiking Mount Whitney. We arrived to find that the water supply was still turned off for the winter. No problem as we have had enough unexpected situations so we always travel with a full fresh water tank. Later on we checked out a BLM campground, Tuttle Creek, for future use. Both spots are dry camping.

Movie Road

Movie Road

You say you’ve never been here and yet at least via your TV or the movies you have. If you ever watched Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza or John Wayne movies or How the West Was Won you saw the Alabama Hills. The hills are named after a Civil War battleship but we don’t know why. Ever watch Gunga Din? Thought you were in India? Nope, Lone Pine, California and the Alabama Hills. Located within easy commute of Hollywood this area was used for numerous westerns and films reaching a peak in the 1950s. We spent most of our first day just driving and walking through the area. The road leading to Mount Whitney, Whitney Portal Road, was still closed but we found a road called Movie Road. Now who could resist exploring that spot? As we drove along it was easy to imagine gunmen behind every rock. At one point I said to Steve, this is where the stagecoach driver gets shot and the passenger has to crawl out of the coach and scramble up to the seat then jump down on the horses and grab the reins, saving everyone from the canyon edge. Home to over 300 movies the Alabama Hills can be seen in recent movies such as Star Trek V and VII, Tremors and Gladiator. Each year the BLM issues 30-40 permits a year for movies, commercials and still photography shoots. You can download a PDF brochure from the BLM to help guide you to some of the movie locations.

We came to an especially pretty area with subtle colors running from rose, lilac and light green to rust and tan. As I was taking this picture I just knew it would become one of my favorites. When I had time later I worked with some of the post processing software to change the photo to watercolor and oil paint adaptations. Which version do you like best?

Original Subtle Colors Photo

Original Subtle Colors Photo

Watercolor Version Of Above Photo

Watercolor Version Of Above Photo

Second subtle Colors Photo

Second subtle Colors Photo

Oil Paint Version Of # 2

Oil Paint Version Of # 2

Here are a few more photos from the area. Our second day in the area was cold and windy letting you know that Winter hadn’t released it’s grasp just yet. After warm desert temps we had to scramble to find jeans, sweatshirts and hats.

AH scenery 5

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Winter Lingers On

Winter Lingers On

Brrrrrr!!

Brrrrrr!!

A Cold Day In Black And White

A Cold Day In Black And White

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We met our friends Mary and Jeff for dinner at their home. Both are are archeologists. Mary is retired from the US Forest Service and Jeff is the museum director at Manzanar NHS. Almost twenty years ago Jeff was involved in a dig at the Puerco Pueblo site in Petrified Forest NP. We are continuously amazed at the coincidences we find while traveling.

Visitor Center

Visitor Center

Manzanar NHS was established in 1992. Unlike Minidoka NHS that we visited last year, several buildings from the Japanese Internment Camp remain. The park is still being developed and new interpretation exhibits will open soon. The museum and park film located in the Visitor Center are excellent and describe the day to day life of the camp. The camp gymnasium that once held dances is now the Visitor Center.  It is surprising to me that the internees kept such a positive attitude. While we were watching the film, a family from Japan was sitting right behind us. I wish I’d been able to ask them what was their reaction to this park. Among the internees were 400 landscape professionals who turned a bleak, dry area into a lovely Japanese garden with streams and a bridge. Future plans call for restoring the garden. This is the only camp that had an orphanage to care for displaced orphans, foster children and babies born out of wedlock. Of the 10,000 people interned here one went on to be the designer of the 1963 Corvette Stingray. He was twelve years old when his family was sent to this camp. We always learn a lot visiting our National Parks. At Manzanar we learned that the US was not alone in relocating people of Japanese ancestry. Both Cuba and Canada had relocation camps. Here are our photos from Manzanar.

Welcome To Manzanar

Welcome To Manzanar

Everyday Life At Manzanar

Everyday Life At Manzanar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orphanage

Orphanage

Toy Center

Toy Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty In The Desert

Beauty In The Desert

Just about the time we were finishing our visit, the sky cleared and we were able to see Mount Whitney.

Mt. Whitney Appears

Mt. Whitney Appears

Then it was back to the movie theme which dominates the area with a visit to The Film History Museum. While not a large museum it is chock full of memorabilia from the days of silent film through Quentin Tarantino’s Django. Be sure to watch the film if you go. Great music and cuts from lots of shows. We even bought a copy. Younger generations might not enjoy it as much but for those of us who spent Sunday nights watching Roy, Dale and Trigger it was a walk down memory lane. We loved the old posters with headers like the one from Glenn Ford’s “The Violent Men” They Don’t Make Them Like This Any More! As a seven year old I’d get very excited as Roy would get into trouble. My Dad would say to me “Don’t worry. He has to be on next week.” We have just put several of these old movies on our Netflix queue. I’m really looking forward to Steve  McQueen in Nevada Smith. So for your own brief return to the days of Hi Ho Silver! Away!  Here are our photos. Be sure and read the autograph on the last picture. The Lone Ranger just misspelled Chari’s name.

How The West Was Won

How The West Was Won

Humphrey Bogart, High Sierra

Car Driven By Humphrey Bogart In High Sierra

Gene Autry, Film History Museum

Gene Autry’s Outfit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve McQueen, Nevada Smith

Steve McQueen During Filming Of Nevada Smith

Gunga Din

Gunga Din Poster

Django Poster

Django Poster

Gunsmoke, Miss Kitty

Gun smoke’s Miss Kitty Wore This Dress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuntman's Jerk Vest (used when they are shot)

Stuntman’s Jerk Vest (used when they are shot)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lone Ranger Autigraph

Lone Ranger Autograph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Add Water

Lake Mead NRA, Boulder Dam, Boulder Beach CG, kayaking, photography, RV, camping, Nevada

Lake Mead Panorama Showing Low Water Line

What do you get when you take a desert, a river and tons of cement? You have Boulder Dam. By just adding water to a beautiful desert landscape you make it possible for one of America’s biggest playgrounds to exist. Without water from Lake Mead courtesy of Boulder Dam, Las Vegas would not exist. During our four days here we were aware of how much the lake level has fallen (15 feet or more) and this is a huge lake. You’d think that there would be moratorium on building so development won’t outstrip resources. Alas no, new homes and businesses are popping up all over.

We’d planned to stay a week at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Then we learned that a friend’s sister was married to the museum director at Manzanar NHS. Our original plans were to head that way after seeing Death Valley NP. We wanted to visit with them however they’d be away on vacation at that time. So we cut our time back to four days and would head to Lone Pine and still be able to keep our reservations at Death Valley.

The campgrounds at Lake Mead NRA are all dry camping but the sites are paved. Even though they don’t take reservations we easily found a beautiful drive through spot for less than $10/day with the Senior Interagency Pass. Every once in a while we spy an unusual RV. Here we found the “Gypsy House” from Canada. The owners had built it and have lots of folks drop in for a look. It serves them as a hard sided tent with totes for storage.

Homemade Gypsy Wagon

Homemade Gypsy Wagon

We were able to get out on the water in our kayaks for the first time in several months. Eight miles later we were pooped! We paddled from near our campsite over to Boulder Dam. Quite impressive from the water looking up. We’d hoped to do the tour but with our time cut short we had to push that to “when we come back”.

View From Chari's Kayak

View From Chari’s Kayak

The remaining days were much too windy for paddling so we toured the Visitor Center, took Opal on a long walk and drove about 80 miles to the far end of the lake. This area is about 100 miles from the Grand Canyon and retains much the same coloration. Absolutely beautiful at sundown.

Steve And Opal On A Hike

Steve And Opal On A Hike

On A Clear Day ...

On A Clear Day …

Sunset At Lake Mead

Sunset At Lake Mead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our time went by too quickly to catch up with a friend from North Carolina or to get to see a Cirque de Soleil performance. Next time for sure. We did have breakfast at a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives spot in Boulder City called The Coffee Cup. Another night we met Terry and Alice, RVers who had volunteered at San Juan Island NHP last summer. They were volunteering at a rifle club near Las Vegas and we had previously chatted online through an Escapees website. We did add Nevada to our states we have camped in map. By the time we reach the San Juan Islands we will have the western states filled in. Now we head off for California.

Our Top Ten Campgrounds For July 2014- July 2015

Now that we are spending about 50% of our time volunteering we didn’t know if we’d have enough great places to recommend for another Top Ten post. Fortunately that was no problem. So here are our choices as we moved from Montana, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington. Again, this list in no particular rating order and is for folks like ourselves who travel via large RV. If dry camping was involved it is noted. Otherwise there was at least water and electric hookups. Some of the other campgrounds we used would be suitable for smaller units but proved challenging for us. We started with a list of 16 campgrounds we really enjoyed. After listing our 10 favorites we mention the runners up.

TOP TEN CAMPGROUNDS USED

 1) Bullards Beach State Park near Bandon-by-the-Sea, OR

 2) Le Page USCAE Park on the John Day River/ Columbia River, near Rufus, Oregon

 3) Lake Havasu State Park, Lake Havasu, AZ

 4) Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood, AZ

 5) Farragut State Park, north of Coeur d’Alene, ID

 6) Hells Gate State Park, Lewiston, ID

 7) Riana USACE Campground, Abiquiu, New Mexico

 8) Curecanti National Recreation Area, Elk Creek CG Loop D, near Gunnison, CO

 9) McDowell Mountain Regional Park, near Fort McDowell, AZ

10) Angostura Lake State Recreation Area, Hat Creek CG,  near Hot Springs, SD

Sometimes it was very difficult to choose so here are the wonderful runners up:

Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend, WA

Lake Cochiti USACE, Cochiti Lake, NM

East Canyon State Park, Morgan, UT

Big Creek Flathead National Forest CG, Columbia Falls, MT *** dry camping***

Langhor CG in Hyalite Canyon, Gallatin USNF, Bozeman, MT *** dry camping ***

Boulder Beach, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Boulder City, NV *** dry camping ***

Furnace Creek CG, Death Valley NP, CA *** dry camping ***

Codorniz USACE Recreation Area, east of Merced, CA

 

HAPPY CAMPING!!!!

 

Where Next #7?

After a wonderful time at Petrified Forest National Park it’s time to hit the road again. Full time RVers can’t stay still long. When the need to get moving strikes we call it a case of “hitch itch”. So where do we go from here? We’ll be driving more than 2200 miles over the next three and a half months.

Google Earth, RV, travel

Our Route February-May 2015

It is too early to begin heading north so we will spend February in Arizona seeing the Verde Valley/Sedona area, Tucson and Lake Havasu. Then on to Las Vegas and the Lake Mead Recreation Area for a visit with a kayaking friend from North Carolina.  We plan to see one of several Cirque de Soleil shows playing in LV.  On to Death Valley NP and three weeks in the central valley of California. Using this area as our base we will explore Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks, Fresno and perhaps Monterrey. By the end of March we hope to finally camp along the Pacific coast. April will see us exploring the Oregon coast, Portland and the lower Columbia River region. By early May we should arrive in the Seattle area to spend time with relatives. Meandering along the Olympic Peninsula to Port Townsend we will take a ferry to Whidbey Island. At Anacortes we catch the ferry over to San Juan Island for our next volunteer stint at San Juan Island National Historic Park from late May until after Labor Day.

After traveling through Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington we will only have seven states we have not yet visited with the RV. Our map is filling up! So come along and see what lies ahead for the DreamChaser and the three of us.