Florida Keys are callin’

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After spending a great month in Fort Mill, with great weather and visits to friends and family, it’s time for us to head a little further south for a visit. We are off visiting Sunshine Key RV Resort in the Florida Keys for an American Coach Assn (ACA) “Rally in the Keys”.  We are having a great time in the Keys…a couple of trips down to Key West, numerous visits to local restaurants and great visits with the American Coach attendees.  We sat on the beach with Terry and Belinda and watched the full moon set behind us and the new sun rise up to meet the new day.  Absolutely beautiful, awe-inspiring (and good coffee).  During all the activities and gatherings, we have met some wonderful people that we will be seeing more of in the future, no doubt!

There’s really not much more to write about now, other than every day we’re here we realize how lucky we are to be living this lifestyle. Lazydays RV Sales had some coaches down here for sale, and we looked, but didn’t buy (this time). There are definitely temptations with all the new coaches, but when we get back to ours, it just seems like home, and we don’t need to upgrade so badly. I guess we just haven’t found “the one” yet.

OK, so I wrote the above paragraph a month ago, and still haven’t posted it, so I guess I just add on some comments before I post.  Here goes:

We stopped at New Smyrna Beach to visit David and Carol Card and see their new place in Edgewater, Florida.  They’ve got some work ahead of them, but they have a nice little place with a beautiful pool and some “outback” area that is already pretty cool and will be even nicer when Dave finishes with his plans for changes.

We’ve been in St. Augustine for almost a month now.  We like it a lot, except for the “be-atch” in the office.  I’ll explain.  The first few days we were here, we watched them pour a new patio slab in the next space.  Our space, unfortunately, had it’s patio slab back behind our RV (read useless!) as well as the space was so narrow we couldn’t put out our patio cover and enjoy the outdoors.  So I asked if it would be possible to change our rig to the next space and was met with the rudest clerk I’ve ever encountered in a KOA (there have been those that were way above their Peter Principle, and others who just weren’t really “engaged” in their profession, but this girl was just rude!).  “No!” was her immediate reply.  What was the issue?, I asked.  She told me there were going to be other changes to the space, and they just couldn’t release it yet, and she didn’t know when it would be available.  Everything I had asked her was met with  the most negative responses I had ever heard.  OK, I’d been beaten down, and I retreated to the comfort of my coach.  Once there, I started thinking, “Why didn’t she ask me what my issue was that made me want to move?”, “How could she help me find another spot?”, “How could she help me, period?!!!”.

Luckily, there were a couple of workers putting the “finishing touches” on the area the next day, and I asked one of them what the issue was, and he said “Just tell Kelly (the be-atch) you want to move here, we should be all finished up in an hour or so and you should be able to move over”.  I reluctantly trod my way back to the office, told Kelly that the guy had said he was just about finished, and before I could even ask if we could move over, she said “You can’t move into that spot!”.  When I asked why not, she told me —- OK, I’m stopping all this whining right now.  Suffice it to say, after much uncomfortable “wrangling” with Kelly, the KOA “be-atch”, we got our way!  New spot, new attitude.  Really enjoying our stay!  That is, until we ran out of propane on what was probably the coldest night in St. Augustine this whole year!  I called the office, got (you guessed it!) Kelly who told me propane was $3.19 a gallon/pound/whatever it is.  Since we’d paid $3.75 in Charlotte, I figured, “Why not?”. So, we basically “broke camp” so that we could position the RV next to the propane station, where we took on 39 gallon/pounds/whatever, and when I went in to pay, she told me $160 (or thereabouts).  I said, “That doesn’t sound right – you told me on the phone $3.19/whatever, which should be closer to $125”.  She said, “No, it’s $3.99/whatever”.  I told her she had said over the phone it was $3.19, otherwise I would have looked for somewhere else to get it…to which she replied, “It’s been $3.99 for like 6 months now, and I never told you $3.19 – I said $3.99…to which I just signed my $160 debit card charge and walked out of the office, once again screwed by the “be-atch” of the KOA!

Am I whining?  I think not!

At Stogies in St. Augustine.

At Stogies in St. Augustine.

After dealing with you-know-who.  At last!

After dealing with you-know-who. At last!

So, not to change the subject, but Carol and I have had many “discussions” about our future lately – whether to keep full-timing (that’s what RVers call it when you don’t have a home other than the one you’re driving) or to buy a house in which to store all our home-worldly possessions.  It’s tempting to buy some place, as we’re spending way too much money every month to store all our stuff, and we keep hearing stories about when people return to their storage lockers to find their precious possessions are turned into dust, or whatever, or they end up selling it for pennies on the dollar because “They just don’t need it anymore”.  So, we’re caught somewhere between “let’s get a more comfortable coach” and “we may as well buy a house because we’re already making a mortgage payment to store our stuff”.

All for now, am going to post this and we will continue later.

 

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There are stars in the Southern sky

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There are stars in the Southern sky

Southward as you go

There is moonlight and moss in the trees

Down the Seven Bridges Road
(Lyrics by: The Eagles)

With fall pushing us along, quietly reminding us that our Endless Summer Vacation is either coming to an end (or at least needs to be moved to a lower latitude, post-haste); we have finally turned southward for what was home, (until this last July).

The route from Niagara Falls to Gettysburg teased us with some beautiful and bold autumn colors and made us sorry that we won’t make the New England “Stunning Fall Tour” until at least next year. But fear not, we will make that trip – soon, very, very soon!

We spent a few days in Virginia on our way south, visiting daughter, Suz, Brett and the grandkids. Kendall was kind enough to have her birthday while we were in town – oh such convenient timing for a girl who likes to open presents! Kadie and “Finnegan” bonded during our visit and poor “Bella” was chased by the puppy endlessly for the duration of the visit. The warm summer sunshine has worked its magic on the Virginia girls; each has gotten taller, smarter and prettier since last we enjoyed their company!

I think it’s said that October is the month of baseball and we were lucky enough to watch (from the comfort of the couch) the longest (18-innings) baseball playoff game between the Washington Nationals and the San Francisco Giants. We also got to see two of our granddaughters play softball while we were there and got caught up on what we missed being away this summer.

Five plus months is a long time to not have seen them all, and there were many places along our journey, where we encountered something that reminded us of each of the grandkids – something that we knew one or the other would have liked to see, do, or experience and we often commented that it would have been cool to had the ability to “transport” Jack to see Mount St. Helen’s, or Kendall to see The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, or take the ferry and tour at Butchart Gardens with Sophie and Kadie, or sharing the world’s largest bookstore with Taylor. When Dan wins the lottery and scores that new CVO motorcycle, we use the rest of the winnings to will take them all (along with their parents and Auntie “M”) up to Big Sky Montana for the summer!

For today, the big push is on! The goal is to see the lights of Charlotte by dusk and to try to make it in time to grab a bar stool near our favorite bartender, Matt at Towne Tavern tonight and catch up on friends from the area. We’ll be calling a local RV Park “home” for the next little bit, but as we’ve come to know on this trip – Home is where (the) “Toad” is.

There are stars in the Southern sky
And if ever you decide you should go
There is a taste of thyme sweetened honey
Down the Seven Bridges Road

Man! That’s A LOT of water!!

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If it was said or heard that once, it was heard at least 50 times while we were visiting Niagara Falls.  It’s pretty much the first thing out of everyone’s mouth when they see the falls.  They are literally amazing.  We did a number of things while in the area, including a trip to Niagara on the Lake (on the Canadian side), dinner at Ray’s Tavern on Lake Ontario (on the US side) where we met Dan and Debby, some great “Farmers from NY”, met two great couples at our campground, the Browns from Florida and the Babcocks from San Diego, both of whom were on return trips from seeing fall color in Maine & New Hampshire, and both who highly recommended that we make our way up to the area to see some of the most splendid color in the universe! We also enjoyed the Maid of the Mist boat tour, and Dan played a round of golf at a course named Hickory Stick, just HAD to do it just because of the name – “here’s to looking up your old address!”

Where to start?  I guess the Maid of the Mist, since it was one of the coolest things we’ve done while on our US tour.  Everyone is handed a tour-issued souvenir “slicker” when you board.  Both the US and Canadians offer these , and when you get to the middle of the Falls, you’re very glad you’ve got it on!  Everything gets wet – the “mist” is wind-driven by the volume of water coming over the falls, and it’s everything you can do to keep your camera equipment (and anything else that’s exposed) dry.  You board the boat at the base of the observation area for the first falls you see (Niagara), and you’re thinking, “Well, that’s a big falls, but it’s not all that!”  And then, when you’re on the boat, you kind of round the far side of those falls and you see the second (really big) Victoria Falls, and it is unbelievably huge and awesome.  And if that’s not enough, the US Victoria Falls converge with the Canadian Horseshoe Falls in the largest wall of water you’ve ever seen!  Totally awesome!  All of a sudden, you’re in the middle of a “mist storm”, water and wind coming at you from every direction, trying to take a picture but holding on to the rail for dear life, everything getting soaking wet (except, you’ve got your slicker on, so you’re not really getting wet, it just seems like it).  Then the captain turns the boat around so both sides can get equally wet and wild, and you go through it all again!  Wild ride, we loved it!   Just in case you got a little too wet, the tour (oh so conveniently) ends in the Maid of Mist Gift Shop where they stock “everything dry” (from shoes, clothes, to hats) along with all the required touristy crap for the consumers from the world over. We opted for just a quick photo op in the gift shop as our memory of the experience.

The next day we said we’d visit the Canadian side.  At the border crossing, Dan got his wires crossed between speaking with the Immigration Official (which came first) and paying the toll fee (which was second) and he ended up attempting to “bribe” the Immigration Official with our toll money; when the poor woman just wanted to see our passports!  She was a good sport about the mistake after a good laugh about buying her a second home, we safely navigated our way out of immigration and over to the toll booth!

From them we made a trip to Costco (because….. have the Ritchie’s ever, at any time in the history of Costco, skipped a Costco visit, if there was one located in the current zip code? – No, Never is the correct answer) in St. Catherines, Ontario.  From there we traveled up to Niagara on the Lake.  It’s totally beautiful there!  We enjoyed lunch there at a sidewalk café where Carol “moaned” her way through the Village Salad (which is apparently “to die for”) and Dan enjoyed the greatest Prime Rib Panini ever!  We took Finn on the entire Canadian trip (he’s now officially an international dog who’s been part of a plan to bride the border crossing agent using “toll money”) and, during lunch, he sat right under the table at our feet without ever making even a whimper.  What a good dog!  We walked down the Main street a bit, but it was really “touristy”, and so we ended up driving along the shore of Lake Ontario until it turned into the Niagara River, and we followed it all the way back to the Falls.  Another beautiful drive, with large houses on the river, wineries dotting the landscape, and even one winery where it looked like 50 bicyclers had ridden to in order to imbibe a bit of vino.

We got down to the Canadian side of the Falls, and believe me, you can really get a good view from there.  Much better, I think, than the view from the US.  We had planned on staying until dusk, and then eating at the Skylon restaurant while the lights came on at the Falls, but we were pretty early and what with the long day that Finn was having, we just decided that those two things will get accomplished the next time we visit the Falls.  All in all, though, still a VERY good day.  That night we went to Ray’s Tavern, right up on Lake Ontario (although it was dark and the lake was about a mile away, we figured) because that’s where our host at the KOA had told us the best wings around were there.  Well, they didn’t have wings on Friday night (Fish Fry night), but we did meet a couple from Wilson, NY (Dan and Debbie) who were apple farmers.  It was very interesting talking to them about all kinds of things related to apple farming, and eventually, the conversation turned to what the government was doing to their business (and business in general). Because they use workers brought up from Jamaica (around 100 workers per season, some for as many as 30 seasons), their biggest gripe was Obamacare, causing them to limit the amount of time they allow an imported worker to pick apples for them.  If you employ someone for over 120 days, you must provide insurance, so they limit the employment of these workers to 118 days.  Whether they get their apple picked or not, and limiting the amount of money they pay these seasonal workers.

 

I went down to Ohio…

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Finnegan
Uh Oh. We got a dog. A puppy, actually, and he is cute as a button. Carol has been “shopping” ever since we saw Michelle in San Francisco, and finally, in Cleveland (south of, really), she caught up with a breeder that she liked with a reasonably-priced Malti-Poo.  Now we spend our waking hours doing everything we can to potty-train the dog – it’s not working yet!  Well, we spend our time doing that, and arguing over the puppy’s new name – I want to name him Cleveland (it just sounds like a good dog’s name, to me) and Carol wants to name him Finnegan (which to me sounds like a snooty Irishman!), which he really isn’t.  It’s an ongoing battle, but since Carol is the principal care-giver, I have pretty much given up on my favorite name and will probably bow to her preference in order to keep the peace.  (I can still try to see if she’ll change her preference, though – that would be win-win.)

Cutest puppy in the world...

Cutest puppy in the world…

Brady
Now, the reason we went to Cleveland was to catch up with Doug Brady, a friend that had worked for a while in Fort Mill and played golf at the Regent Park Golf Club with our group. We got to like him pretty well, and he promised us a good time is we ever came to Cleveland, so we decided to take him up on it. Show us a good time, he did! We visited his and his wife Nancy’s new house and watched (what else) the Cleveland Browns get beat by the Ravens. Another heartbreaker (but not a shocker!).

Doug and I played a great course, Boulder Creek, with a couple of nice guys, one of which could never find his ball. It became the joke of the day, “Where’s Ron’s ball?” You had to be there, I guess, but I can tell ya Doug was about ready to go nuts on this guy. Y’all can imagine. After golf, I got Doug (didn’t have to twist his arm, really) to take me to a few of his local haunts. We started at the high end (Blue Canyon, ate a fantastic Reuben sandwich at Murphy’s Pub? (you shoulda seen Doug’s Corned Beef – see pic), and finally got to the seediest place (which will remain nameless to protect the innocent). It was here that Doug and Steven (with a V) got into some very interesting conversation, but we left before Steven with a v had a chance to ask Doug on a date (or something). Needless to say, interesting place.

The next day Doug had to “go to work” (he’s looking for a job), and we spent the afternoon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame down on the waterfront, and just had a great time.  We ended up having to leave before actually completing the entire tour because (you guessed it) we had a puppy appointment at Petsmart for a well-puppy checkup.  Yup, that’s what we do.  So we cut our visit a little short, only to be called while we were heading back to the RV to pick up the pooch that Petsmart had “over-scheduled” and they had to cancel our appointment.  Pissed!

Doug gave us a call that evening, and we ended up going out to dinner with him.  We went to a great Italian place called Nino’s, and Carol and I each had a plate of food that we ate leftovers on for two days. I’m done with Italian for a while.

All in all, a great visit, and we need to go back.  Doug Brady, thanks for the Cleveland hospitality!

Decatur Service Center

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The disappointment over the unexpected engine issue experienced going into Iowa, was driven by the fact that we had already committed our next stop on our journey (after seeing my Aunt and Uncle) to be Decatur, Indiana for some long overdue RV repairs. Along the way, we’ve “been making a list and checking it twice” trying to make sure we have everything ready to share with the service technicians to get all our “functions” functioning properly again.

Traffic in Decatur, IN

Traffic in Decatur, IN

Decatur is home to the Fleetwood manufacturing center and the (apparently much needed) service center which was clearly evident as we pulled into the empty dirt lot located next to the service center that housed 63 humble RV (electric only) parking spots and many other souls waiting for those (highly coveted and booked many months ago) scheduled appointments; or for one of those much more desperate “drop-in” appointment chances to get inside the service building for some  much needed attention to RVs of every model and year!

We “kept the faith” as Dan boldly marched out of the coach at 5:40 am on Monday to “queue up” to receive a number that would determine our spot in the second group of drop-in service line “beggars”.  This option became clear to us, back in July when we learned that a “scheduled appointment” was not available until sometime in late November.  Dan’s initial exaltation of getting the “golden ticket” #2, was quickly dampened, when through some scheduling format rule the service department uses, he ended up being moved back to “runner up ribbon” place #4.    We fortified ourselves with positive thoughts and “dug in” while we waited our chance to get somebody, (anybody) to go over our work list and vowed we would not leave RV mecca until we had seen the inside of a service bay!   Late on Tuesday afternoon, we received a call to “sort out” our repair request and while we were reassured that while every effort is made to service all drop in customers in the same week that they arrived; we were told that it may well be Friday before anyone could attend to our now reduced (limited to three-items) repair list.

We ordered a replacement fan motor Tuesday and learned that we could pick up the replacement part in Elkhart, a short 2 hours north of Decatur, so we quickly put the part on will call and decided we would use the “dead day” of Wednesday to make the drive upstate.  Just before we left on the trip  Wednesday, we received the surprise “magic ticket” call, so we delayed our trip to Elkhart while we went over the checklist with our two technicians.  After the coach was safely tucked into one of the service bays, we headed northward for our fan motor and drive about.

Dan here – it’s obvious that Carol would have left out the best part of the Elkhart run / drive-about.  On the way to Elkhart is a sleepy little town called Auburn.  It was here that the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg automobiles were designed back in the day, and there is an amazing museum of cars costing all the way to over a million dollars.  We visited all three floors, took about 50 pictures each, and were thoroughly saturated with more information than you’ll ever need to know about these fine old cars.  My favorite was the 1930 Duesenberg coupe – about 1/2 mile long, chrome out the ying-yang, and 24″ rims and tires (before these were so popular in the current big-wheel society).

Upon our return that night, we found our coach back in our designated dirt spot, and it was clear that two of the three repairs had been completed, but there wasn’t anything to address the third item from the technician, so we weren’t sure what the status was on that item.  As is the way with the highly talented (and very early rising) Fleetwood Service crew, morning comes early —- if you have an appointment (or are us) the technicians come to call for your coach between 5:50 am and 6 am (EST) at which time, you must surrender your coach and belongings within mere minutes of their arrival knock at the coach door.  Since we weren’t sure if the work was completed on Wednesday, we were showered, dressed and fully ready to abandon our home by 5:45 am.

Our early Thursday morning meeting with the service guys brought us the good news that all three of our issues had in fact been resolved the day before and we would be free to take our show back on the road as soon as the invoice was prepared.  We checked in at the office at the much more reasonable hour of 8:30 and found that our invoice was not yet ready, so we deicide to pop into the Fleetwood factory for a tour of the manufacturing plant for American Coach, Fleetwood, Holiday Rambler, and  Monaco.  We huddled around a conference table where we learned that while Fleetwood is no more and the company is now the Allied Recreational Group – Fleetwood was purchased out of bankruptcy and combined with Holiday Rambler and Monaco to form the new organization.  The tour was very informative, and with Tom the Tour Guide who has 35 years with the company leading the way, we made our way through the plant from building the chassis rails to the final paint approval.  We (of course) also got to tour some very nice coaches, in various stages of completion, whetting our appetite for a heftier coach payment.  By the end of our tour, we were both ready for the upgrade, but for the time being, we realize we are relegated to living out at least this trip in the existing coach.  Those new ones are really nice, though.

We decided to spend one additional night in the service lot before continuing our journey to Cleveland to catch up with our friend, Doug Brady.

Sturgis – Where is everybody?

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OK, so I admit we’re here two weeks after the rally has closed down, but c’mon!  Where’s the loyalty?  The camaraderie?  The other guys?  I guess they all went home after the music stopped.  Anyway, we’re here.

If it’s not the week of the Sturgis Rally, there’s really not much going on here.  As a bonus from the RV Park, when we arrived there was a car show going on, with some really nice cars, and later Saturday evening they brought in a band – a pretty decent band – to serenade the car enthusiasts and campers.  Carol and I sat down and watched a set and had a couple of beers, but other than the fact it was a live band, not much else was that exciting.  And, it started to get cold, so we closed out our big Saturday night in Sturgis.

Of course, we had to do Mt Rushmore, and it’s always the coolest thing to do in the area of the Black Hills.  We made the big loop through the Black Hills, drove through the Eye of the Needle area, through all the iconic tunnels with a view of Mt Rushmore.  It was really a little weird driving through the area without seeing a ton of motorcycles.  Of course, there were still quite a few, but nothing like the rally.  We went into Sturgis for dinner one night (deserted), made a day of it driving through the Black Hills, spent one day in rain in the coach.  Then we read the weather forecast – SNOW!! – coming the day after tomorrow.  I thought we were still in August!  So, pack it up, we’re outta here – next stop Des Moines!

On the way to Des Moines, we developed some engine problems.  Whenever we tried to accelerate, or hold our speed on a hill, the coach lost power, and started kind of “bucking”.  If I let off the gas, it kept running smoothly, although losing speed on inclines.  To me, it felt like a clogged fuel filter.  We called around desperately and found a Cummins Power Center in Omaha and another in Des Moines.  Omaha was closer, but they couldn’t get to it until after the weekend (this was Thursday), so we opted for Des Moines, who said they could look at it on Friday.  We limped and bucked our way into Des Moines, picking up speed on the downhills, and dropping every mph we had picked up and then some on the uphills, finally making it into the Cummins service center around 6 pm.  We dropped it off, spent the night in a motel, and drove around Des Moines all day Friday revisiting everywhere Carol thought she remembered as a little girl.  It turns out there is a Costco, so we spent as much time (and dwindling money) as we could there, waiting on “the phone call” from Cummins, telling us the coach was either dead, or ready to go.  At this point, I’m ok either way.  Around 3pm that afternoon, we got the call – the fuel pump was not putting out the correct pressure – so it was either algae in the fuel which had caused the fuel pump to clog, or the fuel pump had just given out – in either case, it was going to be around $1400 to fix it.  I gulped hard, looked at my life flash before my eyes, and gave the “go ahead and fix it” they were waiting for.  The good news was, he said “If I was you, I wouldn’t rent a hotel tonight – we’ll have it finished for you today”.

Carol’s Aunt Sharon and Uncle Jerry (the reason we had driven to Des Moines) had turned around our invitation for us to take them to dinner, and instead invited us over to their house for dinner Friday night.  A little home-cookin’ sounded much better than another night at Applebee’s, so over to Jerry and Sharon’s we went.  We enjoyed a wonderful evening there, visiting and “catching up” on all the latest news and happenings..  Carol’s cousin Janice came over for dinner, which was devoured like we hadn’t eaten a home-cooked meal in weeks (actually, that WAS the case), and after dinner Whitney, her fiancé Josh, and children Haley and Kendall all came by to visit.  It was great catching up with everyone.  Around 8 pm we got the phone call that the coach was ready to be picked up (Cummins’ hours are 7am to 11pm M-F, Thank God) .  Reluctantly, we said good bye to family, and headed off to pick up our hopefully “runnin’ without buckin'” coach.

We went over to Cummins, was told our bill was actually cheaper than what they’d estimated (small sigh of relief), that it wasn’t algae but just a failed fuel pump (another sigh of relief), and then the presentation of the bill.  After putting another $1253 (not exactly a lot less, but less) on the old Credit Card, we were outta hock (kinda).  We stayed the night at the Cummins parking lot, and next morning headed off down the road to Decatur, IN.  Guess why we are going to Decatur…don’t know?  MORE REPAIRS!!!  That’s where the American Coach factory, parts, and service locations are, and we have another list of items to be repaired/replaced, etc.  Look out Credit Card, here comes another blow!

 

Old Faithful…and Other Anomalies

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No, Old Faithful is not referring to Dan, but instead to the ever-consistent explosion of gases and boiling water from the earth’s crust in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

There are so many Amazing, Beautiful, Colorful, Distinct, Engaging, Fantastic, Grand, Humongous, I-catching, Jubilant, Knockout, Lovely, Magnificent, Nice, Opulent, Paradoxical, Quaint, Radiant, Stupendous, Timely, Unbelievable, Virtuous, Worthwhile,  X-cellent (OK, I cheated on that one), Yellow and Zany aspects of the Yellowstone National Park.

While we didn’t see any Grizzlies or Moose (is the plural of that Meese?)  in this park, we did see ample buffalo, deer, antelope, ducks, swans, elk,  sheep, birds,  and many wild people…I mean, animals….  We took a tour by bus of the big loop “Circle of Fire” tour on Monday and we saw, experienced and learned a lot about the park and the area. We stayed in the caldera basin, saw the forests, meadows, geysers, hot springs, steam vents, mud pots, creeks, lakes, canyons, mountains.  Our tour dropped us at the Lodge at Old Faithful for lunch and an almost “on-time” eruption of the world’s most famous geyser.

The time we spent here wasn’t long enough, and we’d love to come back and see it all again!  Hope you enjoy the photos.

 

Mystery pine cones - only come to life after a forest fire

Mystery pine cones – only come to life after a forest fire

Yellowstone really holds many secrets still, underneath it’s boiling, spouting, grassy, and wildly beautiful surface.  Scientists have explained many of them so far, but continue to study the many aspects of physical nature afforded by this stunning Grand-daddy of the National Parks, Yellowstone.  We loved it.