Exploring the national forests

While Grand Teton National Park offers many excellent hiking trails for all levels of abilities, we have decided this summer to spend more time away from the crowds on the trails of the US Forest Service.  The trails, while still being well-maintained and most have vault toilets near the trail head (something that I prefer), are seldom used by the tourists.  If you only have a limited amount of time in the park, most visitors will do the “popular” park trails.  But if you have more time in an area, or want a more “serene” experience, then check out the forest service trails.

Our first hike, with our co-workers Shawn and Erin, was a trailhead behind Togwotee Mountain Lodge, at an elevation of 8654 feet.  Brad, our boss and life-long resident in this area, recommended this trail to us, and said it’s “about 6 miles,” and “all downhill.”  Since this was going to be a one-way, downhill  hike, we left one vehicle down near Turpin Meadows, and took the other car up to Togwotee.

The wildflowers were in full bloom, which made the hike extra special.  Even the vault toilet at the trailhead was surrounded by flowers.

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The Grand Tetons, about 45 miles away, are peeking out over the forest, with wildflowers covering the hills.

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Erin, Shawn and Dan, on our “downhill” hike…

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We made it down to the river.  You can see where we started, by the red X in the photo.  Dan checked his elevation app that he has on his phone, and it said we were down to 6800 feet, from the 8600 feet when we started.

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But once we made it down to the river, we realized the trail did not follow along the river, but instead went straight up a hill.  Brad and Joanne don’t go hiking, they take their horses and go riding in the forest.  That should have been our clue when he said it was all downhill…..!

So off we went up a steep hill, only to realize once we were at the top, there was another one we had to climb as well!  It was a bit of a struggle, as I checked my Fitbit, and we had already hiked over 6 miles.  Once we made it to the top of the second hill, Dan’s app read 7800 feet.  But we could finally see the end in sight.  In the photo below, our car is where the red mark is.  Only a few more miles…

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All together, the “6 mile, all downhill” hike that Brad recommended, was 8 1/4 miles, with 1800 feet downhill, followed by 1000 feet uphill and another 1000 feet downhill.  When we mentioned to Brad about the uphill portion, he said “oh yeah, but it’s only 20 minutes,” to which we replied “if you’re on a horse!”  But the spectacular views, and seeing the wildflowers in full bloom, was well worth it.  And we were the only ones on this hike.  We had the forest to ourselves!

BROOKS LAKE/JADE LAKE HIKE

Dan and I spent another one of our off days taking advantage of another forest service hike, at Brooks Lake, which is part of the Continental Divide Trail.

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The loop trail starts at an elevation of 9100 feet, and is relatively flat for the first 1/2 mile.  Then you climb 700 feet in one mile, which may not sound like much, but when you are starting out at such a high elevation to begin with, it really gets your heart rate elevated. We had to go up and over the tree line in the photo below.

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We took it slow, and stopped several times.  Dan asked if I wanted to turn around, but this time we knew that once we made it to the top, the remaining five miles would be relatively easy.  After 40 minutes, we finally made it to the top.  Then it was just a another mile until we got our first view of Upper Jade Lake, which was spectacular.

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The trail gradually descended down to the lake.  The wildflowers were just past their peak, but still pretty.

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We had to cross over the river between upper and lower Jade Lake, and the trail wound around lower Jade Lake.

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The trail crossed over the river two more times, before going out into a meadow for the last mile of the trail.  I managed to make three of the four river crossings without a problem.  On the last crossing, one of the rocks that I stepped on moved, and down I went into the river!  The water was cold, but it was so hot out, it was actually refreshing.  And on a positive note, I discovered the hiking “fanny pack” that I use, is waterproof, as everything inside the bag was dry.

Since the last mile was out in the open, I was able to dry out a little on the way back to the truck.  We had a nice view of Brooks Lake on the way back.  Our truck was parked on the other side of the lake.  I usually bring a change of shoes/socks when we hike, but from now on, it will include a complete change of clothes!

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WORK UPDATE

We continue to be busy at Luton’s Teton Cabins, at least for another week.  Then we enter the “change-over” of the summer, when kids are back to school, so the family vacations end, and the “newlyweds and nearly deads” begin their vacations.  We will have about one week when our occupancy is light.  It will be a much appreciated break, as our cabins are full for the month of September.  The downtime will give us time to clean and prepare the truck and fifth wheel for our trip to Arizona for the winter.

Quote for the Day:  “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir

It’s been 5 years already?!

Five years ago today, July 25, 2013, I hugged my co-workers in the CT Department at Froedtert Hospital, and swiped my badge on the timeclock for the very last time. It was the last thing on our “to-do” list to prepare for full-time living on the road.

Dan had already finished up in June with his job as a high school math teacher.  Our house in Wisconsin had sold in April, along with most of our belongings, and we picked up our fifth wheel at the end of June and parked it at Doug and Linda’s (Dan’s sister) a/k/a “Camp Meyer.”

I remember walking out the doors of the hospital to my car with a lot of mixed emotions.  Dan and I had always talked about RV’ing when we “retired,” but with working at a Level One trauma center, you see first hand how quickly life can change.  It’s what prompted me to realize we need to do this sooner, rather than later.  I had spent so much time researching the RV lifestyle and following blogs that I knew we were ready to try this.  And it didn’t take much to convince Dan…he was all-in as well.

Our future was now a blank piece of paper and we could fill in the details as we went along.   We have never looked back and not once have we regretted our decision about living a nomadic lifestyle.  Yes, we have missed weddings, graduations, and other special events, but we just can’t imagine coming off the road any time soon.  I feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface with the places we want to see and the experiences we want to share.

We have relied solely on work camping jobs for our income these past five years, and have not had to touch our savings at all.  Our very first job after we quit our careers, was with Amazon, in Campbellsville, Kentucky.  I remember thinking after two weeks of working as a Picker, what have we done?  It’s a hard, and mind-numbingly boring job.  However, the people we met and the places we were able to explore more than made up for the mundane job. If you want to read more about our Amazon experience, you can search our past blogs.

We spent our first full summer in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota working at Crazy Horse Memorial, and our second summer at Madison Crossings store in West Yellowstone, Montana.  The past three summers we have worked here at Luton’s Teton Cabins in Moran, Wyoming. We have worked with great people and it is nice when we are able to meet up with them on the road and catch up on all of our latest travels. We also enjoy catching up with friends and relatives when we return to Wisconsin and when some of them are able to visit us somewhere along our path.

The social aspect of the RV lifestyle has been the biggest surprise for me.  People become like family in RV parks.  Everyone really looks out for each other.   And if you don’t like your “neighbor” it’s easy to move to another spot!    We have lived in neighborhoods for several years, and never really knew all all of our neighbors.  Yet in an RV park, you can know most of the people in just a few days.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Any time you have an anniversary, it gives you time to pause and reflect on the past, and think about future plans.  We have decided to make some changes going forward.  The past four winters, have been spent in Florida.  We have accepted a position to work at Westwind Golf and RV Resort in Yuma, Arizona from mid-October to mid-April.  Although it’s a six month commitment, (our longest work camping position so far), we are looking forward to exploring a new area for the fall/winter season.  A couple that we worked with at Crazy Horse Memorial, Henry and Terry, contacted us about the job openings.  Dan will be working three days a week doing golf course maintenance, and I will be in the office the same three days.  My position will be paid, and Dan’s position will cover the site rental.  In addition, we will have a $50/month credit towards electricity, and a $100/month credit to use at the RV park’s golf course, restaurant and concert tickets.

After we finish our jobs here around October 1, we will slowly make our way south to Yuma. We are leaning towards coming back here for one more summer in 2019, and are just beginning plans to go to Alaska in 2020.  Our friends Karen and Al also want to go, and we hope to have a few other couples join us as well.  We don’t plan on working that summer, just exploring, so we have already begun saving for that trip.

After that, we would like to start exploring the eastern part of the United States.  That’s our plan for now, but we know things can always change.

Another change we are considering is down-sizing to a smaller RV, either a small class A (but still diesel), or a class C.  We’ve been looking, but not very serious yet.

And so the journey continues…..stay tuned!

Quote for the Day:  “Go for it now.  The future is promised to no one.” – Wayne Dyer

 

Back to work and a little fun in the Tetons

First off, I just want everyone to know that Makena did gain some “freedom” on the Fourth of July!   We took her out, off leash, for a walk on the 100 acre ranch where we are working for the summer, Luton’s Teton Cabins.  She was ecstatic, and did very well running around.  Then she spent the rest of the day napping!  The next day she was walking just fine, no pain from her running around.  So that is a good sign, although we do keep her in the kennel a/k/a “jail” when we go to work. Hopefully the vertebrate in her back are fusing together and she will continue to improve!!

Woo-Hoo!!!

We have been working at Luton’s Teton Cabins since mid-May.  This is our third summer at the cabins.  As we watch the rest of the country suffer with the high heat and humidity, we are happy to be running a space heater at night, when it dips into the upper 30’s, only to warm up into the 70’s during the day.  Although this week it has been in the 80’s for three days now.  We had to turn the air conditioner on for the first time yesterday!

I continue to split my time between the office and cleaning the cabins.  Dan has added the job as “laundry guy”  on to his cleaning duties.  One day a week he is in charge of doing all the cabin laundry.  He enjoys the variety, and has mastered the art of folding fitted sheets – Grandma Joan will be proud!

Our friends Karen and Al are back for their fifth season, and Shawn and Erin returned for their second season.  We have two new couples this year and all together, we have a great, hard-working, drama-free crew.  It makes for a pleasant working environment!

Since this is our third summer, I don’t plan on spending much time talking about our jobs.  You can do a search on our blog, under Luton’s Teton Cabins if you want to learn more about what we do.  Or you can always write a comment or send an e-mail.  The owners, Brad and Joanne, are wonderful people who reward their employees for doing a good job.  It makes it easy to keep coming back.  (and the weather and view is nice too!)

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View from the cabins

We have been trying to get out on our off days to do a little bit of hiking and sightseeing.  Last fall, the park service in Yellowstone added a new overlook to the Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the prettiest and largest hot springs in the United States.  We made an early trip up to Yellowstone to check it out, before the park became overrun with tourists for the summer.  It was spectacular.

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We also hiked over to nearby Fairy Falls, about a four mile round trip hike from the Grand Prismatic.  When we arrived, there were eight people already at the Falls.  When we left, there were over three dozen people arriving, so we time it perfectly!

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We did some hiking with Karen and Al on another one of our off days.  It’s hard to take “bad photos” when you are in the Tetons.  Al was quite jealous of the people on the boat!  The rivers are a little murky and very fast right now, so Dan and Al have only tried fishing once and they had no luck – although they say the conditions should be improving very soon.

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It’s hard to believe it’s July already.  This summer is going by fast.

ONE PIECE OF ADVICE

I do have a very simple piece of advice for anyone staying at a hotel/cabin/B & B, or any place where there will be housekeeping done.  Do not leave your toothbrush right next to the sink!  No matter how careful we are, the odds are pretty good that your toothbrush could end up with a small amount of overspray from a cleaning chemical, if you leave it uncovered near the vanity/bathroom sink.  Just something to think about next time you are traveling…..!

 

Quote for the day:  “Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy.  To do nothing and have it count for something.  To lie in the grass and count the stars.  To sit on a branch and study the clouds.” – Regina Brett

 

 

I’m still in jail, awaiting freedom!

Hello everyone, it’s me Makena, your favorite dog blogger!  It’s time for my update on the dog’s life on the road.

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Keeping my peeps informed!

For those that are new, I injured my back last fall (too much playing I guess!).  I was shut down and had to spend several weeks “in jail” inside a big crate (thanks Dave and Angie).

By January I was feeling better, and had my freedom back, but then I tweaked my back again.  In April, my mom took me back to the vet, and they did another x-ray, and my vertebrae has not completely fused together yet.  So Dr. Alex put me on some steroids, and said I needed to remain off my paws until I can heal up some more.

I’m starting to feel better, and hope to be able to walk off leash again out here in Wyoming.  After all, what’s a dog to do with 100 acres of land to explore?  My parents mentioned the 4th of July as my target date to gain my “freedom.”  In the meantime, I spend my days back in jail…oops, I mean the kennel, while they are busy working.

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It has been raining a lot this past week. I really don’t like being inside the 5th wheel when it rains, as it is just too noisy. But my mom always says “no rain, no rainbows!” She always looks for rainbows when it stops, and she did get this photo the other day right outside the RV.

Before we came out to Wyoming, we stayed at Camp Meyer (Doug and Linda’s house, Dan’s sister) in Hortonville, Wisconsin. I had my first face to face with a rabbit that was caught in a rabbit trap.  I was a little afraid at first, but when I realized it was stuck in jail (I could sympathize) then I moved closer to it.

Don’t worry, it was released unharmed. I told it to stay away!

On our way out to Wyoming,  we stopped in Minnesota so I could visit with my cousin Simon.  He’s 13 months old now.  Here we are last year, when he was about 6 weeks old.

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And about 6 months later…

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Last year, I was not impressed with him, as he really didn’t do anything.  But now that he is 13 months of age…

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I think this picture thing might become a tradition. Hopefully Simon is the only one that puts on weight over time! At least that is what my Mom hopes.

He’s finally in the “trainable mode”.  I was able to teach him how to drop food during lunch time!

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We worked on scratching my ears…

And I taught him how to watch for squirrels from the upstairs window at Gary and Julia’s house, Simon’s grandparents (Dan’s brother).

It was a busy day with my cousin, and we were both exhausted after a long day of playing!

Yes, he’s now one of my favorite cousins!  Food, scratches, and naps.  What more could a dog want?!

 

Quote for the day:  “Dogs have boundless enthusiasm but no sense of shame.  I should have a dog as a life coach.” – Moby

Little Rock and Branson

We enjoyed our brief visit to the City of Little Rock, Arkansas.  Although we did not have time to tour the state capitol building, we did a quick drive-by.

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The downtown area is very nice, very pedestrian and bicycle friendly.  There are two pedestrian bridges that cross over the river, which makes for a nice walking/bicycling loop through the city.

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A large park along the river has an amphitheater for concerts, as well as a weekly farmers market.

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The Little Rock police department has this cute little car for patrolling the downtown area.

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There are numerous craft breweries, and one whiskey distillery that offer tours (all within walking distance of the campground!).  We did take a tour and tasting with a large group at the Rock Town Distillery.

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DSC04952And we did stop in for a sample (or two) at the craft breweries, many of them in old warehouses.

DSC04964After our time in Little Rock, we started heading north back to Wisconsin.  We did make a quick two-day visit to Branson, Missouri, just to see what the city was like.  In one word:  touristy!  It rained the entire time we were there, and most of the attractions had not yet opened for the season.

The city itself is well-organized, as the map covers red/blue/green/yellow routes.  We thought this was a great idea, and made finding attractions very easy.  You didn’t need to know what street it was on, just the color of the route.

The main attraction of Branson is the musical shows, and they have something for everyone:  Oldies, country, gospel, comedy and many tribute bands for Abba, Fleetwood Mac, Temptations, etc.  We had time for one show, and, at the recommendation of the person at our campground, we went to see “Six.”  It was very good.

We even talked about the possibility of doing a work camping job in Branson sometime in the future, and looked into a couple of the campgrounds.  Many of them offer complimentary tickets to the shows and other attractions as an incentive for working there.  It would be a great way to catch a lot of shows, and save a lot of money at the same time.

While we were sitting in the theater before the show started, Dan spotted a former co-worker/teacher/coach from Lancaster High School, Dan’s first teaching job out of college.  He had a great time catching up during intermission on the past 30 years.

The two of us really enjoyed our “touristy time” traveling from Florida to Texas, and then back up to Wisconsin via Oklahoma and Arkansas.  We were able to see and do many things, and we especially enjoyed our visit with my sister LuAnn and her family (and congratulations to our niece, Alicia, who just graduated this past weekend from high school!!!).

It has made us think about what we want to do in the future, as far as traveling and working.  We need to find more of a balance between the two, and may look into some short-term volunteer positions, which would allow us to travel more frequently.

Quote for the Day:  “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu