Has another year rolled by already?

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Yes, and what a journey it was! Our second year of living on the road is winding down as 2013 comes to an end.  We pause to reflect and look back at where we’ve been, the many new friends we’ve made, the old friends we’ve reconnected with and the challenges we overcame as we rolled along.  We started this year in Arizona, traveled across the southern states and the gulf coast, then headed all the way north to the northeast Canadian Maritime provinces. Finally, we came back down through the eastern seaboard and the outer banks to winter in Florida, where we are now.  Betsy accrued 9,000 miles and we stayed at 79 RV parks with no major mechanical problems – we can’t hope for much better than that! As shown below, our route going northeast is marked with fuchsia pins, while the purple pins show our trek back down south.  We are now more than halfway through our goal of visiting all 49 states, after adding 23 to our list this year.  We estimate it will take a couple more years to check out the last 20 states, then we’ll decide if we want to do it all over again!

Here are some highlights of our fantastic 2013 travels:

~ Betsy’s woes – While we enjoyed the many perks and benefits of our home on wheels, the constant movement and shaking brought some challenges.  Along the way we dealt with minor water leaks, a dead video camera, an intermittent engine cooling issue, fluctuating refrigerator temperatures, an out of the country repair and getting locked out of our coach.  Our hellish approach into New Orleans, the stressful drive around New York City and getting stuck briefly on the New Jersey Turnpike were driving realities that we prefer not to go through again, but on the upside – we survived!

~ Weather, weather, weather – As we all know, the eastern section of the U.S. is famous for its humidity and muggy days. And yes, we sweated a lot and had to ratchet up the frequency of showers.  This was our first experience with severe storm warnings involving tornadoes and thunderstorms, and we even had visits from park hosts reminding us to be prepared.  We were doused with some torrential rains as well – all part of the experience.

~ History lessons galore – Traveling east of the Mississippi means experiencing the rich history belt of our country. We are not really history buffs, but we found ourselves immersed in the stories of our founding fathers as we visited their historical homes in several states.  We enjoyed so much learning more about the american revolutionary past in Boston, and enhancing our understanding of the civil war in Gettysburg.  We topped off our history lesson during our wonderful visit to our nation’s capital.

~ Tasty local/regional cuisine – Our appetites were satiated so many times with great local foods, from the cajun and creole cuisine in Louisana, to the cheeses in Vermont, to the succulent lobsters in Maine, to the barbecues in the Carolinas, the hearty southern comfort foods in Georgia and Alabama and the freshest mussels at Prince Edward Island.  And we won’t soon forget the many unique and refreshing local brews we enjoyed along the way!

~ Natural and man-made wonders – The eastern states may not have the majestic mountains or amazing gigantic rock formations of the west, but we explored and enjoyed its unique collection of beautiful and diverse natural wonders.  These included the mighty Niagara Falls, the hundreds of barrier islands along the Atlantic coast with its rugged cliffs and miles of white sandy beaches, the fabulous Acadia NP, the haunting swamps in Louisiana and the dreamy moss draped live oak trees in Georgia and Florida.  We discovered several hidden gems that were not regular tourist destinations.  We were amazed by the high rises in Manhattan, NYC, the White Sands Missile Range in Alamogordo, NM and the Apollo/Saturn rockets and space shuttles at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

~ Traveling abroad – We took Betsy across the border to explore the Canadian Maritimes, and were wowed by the picturesque coastline of Nova Scotia, the colorful fishing hamlets of Prince Edward Island and all of the astounding natural beauty in New Brunswick.  I took a “time out” to fly all the way to the Philippines to visit my 95-year-old mom and play tourist in the Philippines.  At the end of the year, Steve got some time off from driving Betsy as we hopped on a really big boat to cruise the southern caribbean (more to come on that).

~ Friendships – One of the wonderful rewards of traveling on the road is the many new friends we meet along the way.  Some are like-minded folks we meet at RV parks or other places along the way, others become friends via our blogs.  Blogging has become a great instrument in connecting us to wonderful people – folks with similar interests and a lust for adventure.  We cherish all of our new friendships, cheers!

Reconnecting with our friends to catch up and reminiscing about good times – it was so nice to hang out with these great people during our journey this year!

As we look forward to another year of adventures, we want to THANK YOU for “jamming along” with us and turning our memories into travel references and inspirations to see these many places.  We have many more to see, but we hope you’re enjoying our tales from the road.  We’ll strive to continue sharing our stories in an interesting way as we experience and capture them. We wish you a great year ahead, good health and safe travels!!!

Coming up: San Juan, Puerto Rico Southern Caribbean Cruise *******************************************************************

Touring NYC by boat – The Big Apple pt. 2

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After walking much of Manhattan with our friends, we took a tour by boat that had been recommended to us.  We think this is a great way to see Manhattan from a different perspective – after all, it does have the world’s most famous skyline.  We chose to take the Full Island Cruise offered by Circle Line, which gave us a good tour all the way around Manhattan in 2.5 hours.  To get there, we hopped on the PATH train in Jersey City and went 2 stops to the World Train Center station in Manhattan.  Then we made the short walk to the subway and took the E line to 42nd Street, finally walking four avenue blocks to Pier 83.  Hey, just getting there was half the adventure!

Next to Pier 83 where we boarded the boat is the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, where a British Airways Concorde is on display.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit that museum, where we could have checked out the the fastest commercial aircraft to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean.  Maybe we’ll see one in DC.

British Airways Concorde

British Airways Concorde

Departing from the pier, the tour guide began sharing his in-depth knowledge of the city.  From him, one could really get a sense of the size of Manhattan and the 5 surrounding boroughs.  He helped us to keep our bearings, for as we passed by each landmark he would mention which subway line(s) stop closest to it.  It was a very good tour, and relaxing on such a beautiful day.

Manhattan Skyline

World Trade Center One is now the tallest building in the U.S.

This area of the Hudson River is where Captain Sully performed his miracle landing on the river in January of 2009.  Circle Line was one of the many first responders to the incident.

Jersey City skyline

Jersey City skyline with Goldman Sachs Tower in the foreground, called the “lipstick building” by locals.

Thanks to the government shutdown, Lady Liberty was left standing alone on this day, and Ellis Island looked deserted as well.

Manhattan is an island whose name is derived from the word Manna-hata, as written in a 1609 logbook.  It was subsequently translated as “island of many hills” from the Lenape language.  We saw only a few hills as we cruised around the northern end of the island, perhaps the high rises have hidden some them.  Speaking of high rises, american architects consider 12 stories or higher to be a high rise.  New York City easily leads the U.S. list with over 6,000 high rise buildings, and Chicago is a distant second with “only” around 1,100.

Being an island, Manhattan is linked to NYC’s outer boroughs by numerous bridges, large and small.  On this day we passed under nineteen of them!  The first three major ones we cruised under, which the tour guide called the “B-M-W” bridges, were the Brooklyn Bridge, (seen on my header), the Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge – pedestrians and bicyclists can also get across here.

Manhattan Bridge

Manhattan Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

And the bridge that Betsy crossed while on I-95 S a few days ago – the George Washington Bridge – is considered the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge.  It connects upper Manhattan with New Jersey.

George Washington Bridge

George Washington Bridge

Leading to the new Yankee Stadium were 6 street bridges with low clearances.  The tour guide repeatedly warned the Yankee fans on board that we might not be able to see the stadium because it was high tide and the boat might not clear.  Well, with just a few inches to spare, the boat inched very slowly under all 6 of them.

The tour gave us views of Harlem, Gracie Mansion, the Upper East Side and many other areas of the island.  Culling through many pictures, I chose some which depict the fascinating diverse Manhattan skyline.  Here are a few that caught my attention, featuring golden rooftops as well as green ones:

On the Upper East Side we saw luxury apartments where many celebrities reside, their rooftops decked with trees.  We noticed a “nurse’s co-op housing” with color-coded doors.  Neither Steve nor I could remember why the guide said they were painted that way – it had something to do with helping the nurses to find their rooms.

According to our guide, approximately 10,000-15,000 water tanks reside on building roofs across the boroughs.  Buildings higher than six stories need the tanks because the city’s water system is unable to supply sufficient water pressure to tall buildings.  The tanks are filled by pumps in the building’s basement, and water is supplied from the tank to users via gravity only.  Wooden tanks are by far the most popular because of their insulating properties and low cost to construct.

Our knowledgeable guide helped us to learn a lot about Manhattan Island, NYC and the diverse people who live there.  Once docked, we still had plenty of time to do some exploring on our own.   We walked uptown, where we checked out the ubiquitous food vendors and clever pedicab drivers competing with their per-minute rates:

We strolled through Central Park and stopped at Strawberry Fields, a mosaic memorial for John Lennon.

Heckscher Playground

Heckscher playground at Central Park

We quickly learned that when taking the subway you need to know if you’re going uptown or downtown.  Knowing that, we hopped back on, this time heading downtown.  Emerging from the subway, we ended up at City Hall Park.  There we caught a glimpse of a live clown dressed in red and sleeping on one of the benches.  Strolling along, we learned that a group called “Lightness of Being,” had an outdoor show running till Dec. 13th, and it dotted the park with whimsical works of art.  They call it “concept-based art” (or stupid art).  Decide for yourself!

The Humans, Lightness of Being

“The Humans” – I’m the one with the little ears.

Our stop in The City That Never Sleeps was packed with activities – not only sightseeing, but also socializing.  We caught up with Joe and Charlene, whom we had met a few days ago in Boston, and Praveen, my former coworker at PayPal.  Also, we received a visit from my lovely niece Maristelle and her friend Christian.  Whew, we kept a pretty hectic schedule – just like you’re supposed to do when in New York City, right?  Help, we need a day off!!!

We had a fantastic time in The Big Apple.  Despite the initial stress of driving Betsy  through NY and into NJ, we’re glad we decided to stay here for a few nights.  So much has been written about people in New York City, but we can now say from experience that the folks we observed and met on the streets were very helpful and tolerant of the tourists who raid their city on a daily basis.

Next Up:  Atlantic City!


Touring NYC on foot – The Big Apple pt. 1

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Wall Street

I-95 S at the BronxNew York City was not on our planned route heading south, because we had both been there before.  But in this lifestyle we realize that we need to see everything we can while we’re here, and plans can change quickly.  So we decided to tackle the challenging trip to the Big Apple, and yes, it was an unpleasant drive on I-95 S from Connecticut, passing through the Bronx in New York to the New Jersey turnpike. But we made it with the only damage being to our nerves.

Liberty Harbor RV Park

Not an RV park, just a big parking lot!

The only RV park with easy access to NYC is Liberty Harbor RV Park (Steve’s review is here), across the Hudson River in Jersey City.  For $80 a night you get a space in a parking lot with just water and electrical hookups. They are the only game in town, as they are within easy access of Manhattan by ferry or train.  And they know it!

Rosana and I

The two girls back together after 37 years!

Reconnecting with my long lost friend, Rosana – whom I had not seen for 37 years – was a great reason to stop by NYC.  She and her hubby Angelo gave us a wonderful personalized tour around town, and that’s always the best way to experience  a big city.

The highlight of our wanderings was visiting the 9/11 Memorial.  Access is free, but a donation is requested when you get your timestamped pass, which is recommended because of how busy it gets.  The Memorial is surrounded by ongoing construction on several World Trade Center structures, which is amazing to see in itself.  We went on a Saturday, and a large crowd was already forming as the gate opened at 10AM. A security screening was required prior to entry, and we noticed lots of cameras and a large police presence.

Names on the 9/11 memorial

May their souls rest in peace.

The memorial consists of two huge pools set in the footprints of where the original Twin Towers once stood.  The names of the victims are inscribed in bronze parapets around the pools, at the approximate location of each victim when the building collapsed.  Thirty foot waterfalls cascade into the reflecting pool at the bottom.
Thirty-foot waterfalls,9/11 memorial

Thirty foot waterfalls at the reflecting pools

Water in the reflecting pools then falls into a center void intended to convey a spirit of quiet reflection of loss.  The simplistic design of the north and south pools at the Memorial will provide a focal point for the thoughts of people for generations to come.
South Pool, 9/11 memorial

The South Pool

The new One World Trade Center is scheduled to be completed in early 2014, and it dominates the nearby skyline.  It is almost complete at 104 floors, and is topped by a spire that reaches the symbolic height of 1,776 feet – a number commemorating the year of America’s independence.

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

The rebuilding continues, and we observed solemnity and respect among the hundreds of visitors.

9/11 memorial

Pausing to pay homage and respect.

Our friends took us all around town, and for those of you who have visited or lived there, you know that getting around means taking the subway and walking on the streets and avenues.  We learned that In New York City, an avenue block is 1/4 mile long and runs from east to west, while a street block is 1/16 of a mile long and runs from north to south.  Believe me, we did LOTS of walking on this day!

Walking down Wall Street, I caught a glimpse of Trinity Church.  It was positioned very nicely between other tall buildings.

Trinity Church, Manhattan

Trinity Church

In its yard is a two-ton bronze sculpture installed as a reminder of a large sycamore tree. The tree was uprooted on September 11, 2001 from St Paul’s Chapel several blocks away and found lying in the yard of Trinity Church. It had fallen in such a way that none of the historic tombstones around it were disturbed and none of the wreckage reached the Chapel.

Trinity Root Sculpture, Trinity Church

Trinity Root Sculpture

When we arrived at the American Museum of Natural History, I recognized immediately that these were the actual exhibits behind the characters featured in the movie “Night at the Museum”!  The David H. Koch Dinosaur collection alone occupied a large area on the fourth floor. This museum is huge and amazing, and it requires at least a full day (and maybe more) to explore.  A must-see if you’re in NYC.

As you may have guessed, the Rockefeller Center is a tourist destination and we were there milling around with hundreds of other folks.

A visit to NYC wouldn’t be complete without being in Times Square at night!  Our friends made sure we saw it during the day and then again all lit up.

Lastly, they took us across to Brooklyn where we were able to see the amazing Manhattan skyline from yet another vantage point.  Awesome!

Manhattan skyline at night

Manhattan Skyline and Brooklyn bridge at night, viewed from Brooklyn.

It was truly great seeing and reconnecting with Rosana again after so many years. Many thanks to her and Angelo, our gracious and patient hosts for giving us a fantastic tour of NYC – and for the wonderful lunch in Chinatown.   You are the best!

Angelo and Rosana

Angelo and Rosana

Next up:  High Rises and Many Bridges – The Big Apple pt. 2


Rock Concert! – Chiricahua National Monument

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We saw a video describing Chiricahua National Monument at the Kartchner Caverns visitor’s center, and it piqued our interest.  We had not previously heard about “The Land of Standing up Rocks” as referred to by the local Chiricahua Apaches, and the “Wonderland of Rocks” by later pioneers.  After seeing it, we simply call it the “Gorgeous giant rock concert.”  We opted to stay in Arizona a couple extra days to check it out and moved Betsy over to Willcox, a little closer and still on our way.

Chiricahua (pronounced CHEER-IH-COW-AH) National Monument, established in 1924, is described as a sky island – an isolated mountain range rising above a surrounding grassland sea.  The unusual rock formations here were caused by a massive volcanic eruption some 27 million years ago by the nearby Turkey Creek caldera, which covered the land with white-hot ash.  As the ash cooled, it fused into dark volcanic rock known today as rhyolite.  The continual natural erosion via water and wind has sculpted these rocks and split them into tall columns, pinnacles  and unlikely balancing rocks.  We have seen many rock formations in our travels (like the ones at Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California), but here in the Chiricahua Mountains the outcroppings are something to behold!

The eight mile scenic trip along Bonita Canyon Drive made a fairly steep ascent through oak, cypress and pine forest until we arrived at Massai Point, where the road terminates and several hiking trails begin.  Along the way there are pull outs where we could stop to view and photograph some amazing formations, such as the Organ Pipe Formation, Sea Captain and China Boy.

Organ Pipe Formation

Organ Pipe Formation

Hiking is the best option for getting up close and personal with the extensive outcrops of the eroded volcanic pinnacles.  We thought about taking the Heart of Rocks Loop, where a group of impressive and  unusual rock formations can be viewed.  But due to recent snow and the trail being classified as strenuous, the park ranger did not recommend it at this time.  Instead, we settled on the Echo Canyon Trail, and tackled the  3.3 circuit which begins at Massai Point at 6780′ elevation.

Echo Canyon Loop Trailhead

~Echo Canyon Loop Trailhead at Massai Point

The Echo Canyon Trail is the second most popular path in Chiricahua National Monument.  It follows a rocky ridge past many huge eroded boulders, balanced rocks and at this time held a lot of snow and ice!  The trail was slick and slippery, and it took us about 3 hours to complete the loop.  But it was well worth it!  We walked amongst the grottoes and balanced rocks, which is actually a bit unsettling, as you realize these massive boulders over your head could come down and smash you like a bug if there was even a small earthquake.

At one point we passed through a narrow, sheer-walled passage called Wall Street.

Wall Street

Wall Street

Then the path descended to the forested floor of a sheltered valley called Echo Park, which was at this time covered with snow and very beautiful.

Echo Park

Continuing on the trail we rounded a corner to a grand viewpoint high above two deep ravines, and on to a junction with the Hailstone and Upper Rhyolite Canyon trails.  On this north-facing side of the trail the snow had melted so we picked up our pace, walking along the base of the pinnacles lining the Rhyolite Canyon.

Upper Rhyolite

Along this trail we stopped and admired the many eroded boulders that are seemingly ready to fall.  The lichen-covered columns and pinnacles were colored green and/or orange.

There are 17 miles of hiking trails that intersect in the park, but the best option for an all day hike is known as the Big Loop, a 9.5 mile trip to all areas of the various formations.  The Chiricahua mountains was worth our change of plans, what a fantastic place!

Chiricahua National Monument

One final look at the Rocks in Concert!

We discovered while in Willcox that there are a few vineyards that grow and bottle yummy wines, and they are seriously good!  Two have tasting rooms in town – Keeling Schaefer and Coronado Vineyards.  We missed the wineries at Patagonia, so went tasting here and were surprised by the quality of these southwestern wines.  It was a fitting end to our Arizona wanderings.

Farewell, Arizona, until next time!