Bryce NP, Colo. Monument, Rocky Mt. NP, Poney Express, Hoover Library, Wright-Patterson Museum, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, New York City.
25.08.2016 - 11.09.2016 80 °F
I added Iceland to my bucket list after watching a few shows on Discovery channel. Dramatic scenery, glaciers, volcanoes, Iceland is the land of fire and ice. I told my nephew I was thinking of visiting Iceland and he suggested I looked at WOW Airlines for a low fare. I had never heard of WOW but he plays games on the computer and several of the guys he plays with live in Iceland. I pulled up the WOW website and started comparing airfares with Icelandic Air. No comparison. WOW was much cheaper. Like most discount airlines, they charge you for extra for everything. If WOW is flying where you want to go, compare and see it makes sense for you.
I mentally divided the trip into 3 phases: drive to Boston, Iceland for 8 days, drive back to Las Vegas. I got a great airfare with WOW Air by departing from BOS. The other option was to fly out of LAX, but I wanted to see the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park on Sept. 30th. They only do the Roundup one day a year, so that date was fixed in stone. I would drive it and hit several of our National Parks going there and coming home. I looked at WOWs prices departing in Sept. and found Sept. 11th was the cheapest date to fly. I booked it with a return flight on Sept. 20th. I paid $300 r/t trip with WOW. Icelandic was over $600 for the same dates. Even paying for seat selection, baggage, food, you will be saving serious money by flying WOW Air to Iceland.
I left Las Vegas August 25th and headed for Bryce Canyon NP. It was still very hot out West and I wanted to sleep where it was still cool at night. Very hard to sleep in your van when it is too hot. Bryce is about 5 hours from Vegas, got there around 3pm. Plenty of camping spots still open. This week all vehicles get into all National Parks for free as it is the 100 yr anniversary for the Park Service. Bryce NP now charges $30 per car for 7 days. I have my Golden Age Pass so all NPs are free for Seniors. One perk for getting older! Entered Bryce, got the newsletter, map and headed for Sunset Campground. I have stayed in Sunset campground before and knew the ropes. Found a spot, left some water on the table and back to the entrance. Camping is now $18/night here, I pay half so I put my $18 in the envelope for my 2 nights. I had enough time to walk to Sunset Point and take an hour walk/hike. I wanted to eat and then listen to the Ranger program at the Bryce Lodge, 8 pm. Got some decent photos, soup for dinner, then drove to the Lodge. It is not that far, but walking back in the dark is not a smart idea IMO. The Ranger's topic was Bryce at night. Bryce has less light pollution than most of the US. Very good spot for watching the stars. Informative talk then we all headed outside to view the night sky. Most of us that live in cities, esp. Las Vegas never see many stars. Several had binoculars plus the Ranger had a telescope we could use. With no clouds and very little light pollution, the stars were on full display, very impressive. Back to Sunset, bed. My first day on the road was over.
I am not a good sleeper in my own bed, let alone in the back of my Odyssey. I took my prescribed sleeping pill, but still had difficulty sleeping. I got up with the sun and fired up my stove for my BF. I have oatmeal at home, I will on the road as well. Over to the bathroom to clean the dishes and myself. I drove over to Sunset Point for a morning hike. I chose the Navajo Trail hike. Not that difficult but it gets you down among the hoodoos. The perfect weather brought out plenty of hikers but it was not too bad. I got plenty of decent photos and some good exercise. There was a lady that was using an off-road type of scooter. I talked to her and her husband about using it on the trail even with limited mobility. After getting back to the rim, I drove to the Lodge and left my van there. I was going to use the free shuttle rather than drive to each location and have to find a parking spot. I got off at Ruby's Inn, just outside the park. Bought a sandwich for lunch and just relaxed for awhile. Shuttle back to the Visitors Center for the movie and exhibits. Shuttle to the Lodge, then killed time until the Ranger talk. I had my laptop, so e-mailed, cruised the web and read my book until 8 pm. I had some fruit and then sat in on tonight's talk on historic Bryce. It was OK but not nearly as fun as the night sky lecture yesterday. Drove back to Sunset campground, bed at 10 pm.
I got up at first light and headed out. I had my camera ready as there are plenty of deer in Bryce. I saw a few as I exited the park, got a couple photos and headed for I-70 East. I stopped when I hit Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest. Some of their landscape is almost as pretty as Bryce. Certainly worth a stop if you have time.
I took a few photos and moved on. I wanted to make it to Colorado National Monument (CNM), just outside Fruita. There is a Visitor Center right next to the Veteran's Memorial Park. I used their restroom, then had lunch at Wendy's next door to the Vet's Park. I then headed uphill to CNM. It is quite a steep climb but you are rewarded with great views once you get to the top. I got in around noon, hit the VC, got maps, info and found a camping spot in Saddlehorn Campground. $10/night for seniors. Just down the road from Saddlehorn is the Window Rock Trail. It is not a difficult hike, but has some nice views of the canyon. Back to the VC for some advice and then decide to drive to the Coke Ovens Trail. This was about an hour hike with plenty of elevation changes. Got some photos and then back to the campground to clean up and fix dinner. I only have eggs or soup, so went with eggs & bread. Not much to do when you are camping in your van, so went to bed when it got dark.
Up with the sun and I headed for Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I used to ski in Winter Park and knew there was a shorter way to RMNP. I took I-70 East to Wolcott, then 131 North. You can take a dirt road to Kremmling off 131. I used to take this route instead of going over Vail Pass, Eisenhower Tunnel, and Berthoud Pass to get to Winter Park. Several raft companies use this road to access the Colorado River. Rancho Del Rio has camping and river access to rafters. I followed one of their trucks until their turnoff and keep heading for Kremmling. At Granby, I filled up with gas and bought a Subway to eat while driving to RMNP. Great weather in Granby, but got increasingly cloudy as I approached RMNP on Hiway 34. I bought a National Park Passport when I was in Bryce. I should have bought one many years ago when I was hitting the National Parks in the 80s & 90s. I stopped at the Kawuneeche Visitors Center, close to the Grand Lake entrance. I got my stamp, map, headed up Trail Ridge Road. It started to rain as I climbed towards the Continental Divide. I stopped a few times for photos, but did not get much as the rain started to get serious the higher I went. It was a mixture of rain, snow at the top. This is late August! No wonder Trail Ridge Rd. is closed for most of the year. Plan A was to camp close to the Estes Park entrance. Even in the rain, all campgrounds were full. I went into the town of Estes Park to find The Wheel Bar. A friend of mine from Las Vegas moved to Estes Park back in the late 70s to help run the bar. His father owned it and needed help as he got older. I talked to one of the bartenders, but Steve was not there that day. He called his cellphone, but only got voice mail. I left a note telling him I was passing thru, but would be heading East since he was not there.
I stayed on 34 thru the Big Thompson Canyon, on to Greeley, met up I-76 East. I decided to just drive until I got tired. I priced a few motels as I drove thru small towns in Nebraska, but could not find one under $50. I made it to Ogallala, found a Subway shop for dinner, and followed my GPS to the closest Walmart. Almost all Walmart's let RVs, big rigs, vans park overnight without hassling them. I went inside to use their restroom, bought some fruit, then crawled in the back of my van and went to bed around 10 pm. I was up with the sun the next day and headed East. I stopped at Gothenburg to walk thru the Pony Express Station. Chatted with the docent at the station and found out I was not the first person from Vegas to visit that day. That was a surprise. A couple of photos and back on the road.
Grand Island, Lincoln, Omaha, cross the Missouri River and into Iowa. Now I just needed to get in some long days driving to get to Gettysburg. My plan was to camp close to Gettysburg until my Airbnb room in Philadelphia was ready. I stayed at Pine Lake SP outside of Des Moines. $10/night for seniors. Had a hot shower, teeth, bed at 10:30 pm. Up at first light, I got back on I-80 and headed East. Stopped at West Branch for the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum. Paid the fee, got some photos and an hour of walking. One of the problems of driving cross country is getting some exercise. I tried to get some walking & stretching each day, but it is difficult when driving across the country. After the museum, I headed for Indiana. I tried to get an Airbnb room in Indianapolis but could not find anyone online while I was. Got to Indianapolis in the rain and settled for another night at a Walmart parking lot. Up early, on to Dayton Ohio and decided to visit the National Museum of the US Air force. The Air Museum is at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and has its own entrance. I missed the entrance the first time, found it and went in. I spent 3 hours walking the exhibits and taking photos. The museum tells the history of flight from the Wright Brothers to the Space Shuttle. Anyone who likes aviation should try to visit this museum.
Back on I-70, I headed for Wheeling West Virginia. Another routine. Wendy's for dinner and e-mail, then find a Walmart for a quiet night's sleep. The next day I drove into Pennsylvania and got on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you are headed for Gettysburg or Philadelphia, the turnpike is really your only choice. I got off on highway 30 and headed for Chambersburg. I stopped for gas, food before driving to Caledonia State Park (CSP). I was going to be camping for 2 nights and needed bananas, eggs, bread. I had checked online and priced camping in the Gettysburg National Military Park area. Private campgrounds were around $40/night so I decided to stay in CSP. $15/nite, no break for seniors. I paid for 2 nights and picked #8. I wanted another night but they were full because of Labor Day. I drove to Gettysburg, Visitor Center (VC) for my stamp, maps, advice. There was a Ranger talk in 10 minutes on medical care during the Civil War. Informative, then another Ranger talk on the overall strategy of both the Union and Confederate armies. I walked to the cemetery where President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. Saw there was another Ranger talk on the battle for Cemetery Ridge, photos and several hours of walking. I hit Wendy's for dinner and wifi before driving back to CSP and bed. They have hot showers and hit those before turning in.
Up with the sun, fix my oatmeal, dishes, clean up and head back to Gettysburg. I went with the Ranger for the Cemetery Ridge walk. Photos, then back to VC. I signed up for the President Eisenhower Farm Tour, $15. Tour of his house and farm. Shuttle bus back to VC, then I drove to the Confederate Ave. The vast majority of the monuments at Gettysburg are Union. Well, after all the Union did win the battle and the war. The winners get to put up monuments and memorials. But there is a road dedicated to the Confederate side of the battle.
Photos and then I found a picnic area to stretch, read kill time before going to Wendy's for dinner and wifi. I tried to get online most days to e-mail friends, my nephew. Drove back to CSP, shower, bed. Up with the sun, fix my oatmeal, back to Gettysburg. I went on the Lincoln's Gettysburg Address tour. I did not want another day of walking the monuments so I decided to drive to Antietam Battlefield. I got off the road when I saw a Visitors Welcome Center to Maryland. The guy recommended I stop at Monocacy National Battlesite. It was worth maybe 30 minutes, then on to Antietam. Into the VC, got my stamp, short film on the battle and a Ranger talk on what happened and what to see. After Gettysburg, Antietam is a very poor second place. Got a few photos, drove back to CSP. I did not have a camp spot, but knew I could use their showers easy enough. Drive in like you belong, stop in the parking lot by the showers. Nobody checks and I was on my way in 20 minutes. Back to Wendy's for dinner and then hit the Walmart next to it for bed.
I could not check-in to my Airbnb room in Philly until 2 pm. I saw that the Harrisburg, Capitol of Pennsylvania was on the way to Philly and decided to go that way. I stopped at the Capitol but it was early Sunday morning. Nothing open, but took some photos as I walked around the building. Got on I-76, the Penn. Turnpike and headed for Philly. I saw that Valley Forge Historical Park was close. Got off and followed the signs. It was the Sunday before Labor day and the place was packed. With the crowds, I had to use the overflow parking lot. Hike over to the VC. got my stamp, map and headed out to see what I could of Valley Forge. There was a Ranger giving a talk about the winter the Continental Army spent at Valley Forge but lost interest and walked away. I walked over to the replica huts that are on display. Each hut housed 12 soldiers and were constructed by the men that would live in them. I wanted to spend more time at Valley Forge, but it was hot, crowded and I wanted to check into my room as close to noon as possible.
I headed for Philly and my Airbnb room for the next 2 days. I used my GPS to find his address. Thank goodness. Without GPS it would have been much more difficult because of all the one-way streets. I got lucky and parked my van almost right in front of Pat's Airbnb place. Checked in and unpacked. I talked to Pat about getting down to the historic section of Philly. It was very easy. Take the blue line train to the historic section and walk to the huge VC. Plenty of maps, advice on what to see. I walked to several of the major sightseeing attractions, photos then train back to my room. I was pretty tired and just fixed my eggs. toast, shower, read and hit the bed. I was up at 6am, did my stretching, sit-ups, fixed my oatmeal, toast and got ready for a full day of sightseeing. I bought a ticket for National Constitution Center, film, exhibits and the statues of all the signers of the Constitution. The US Mint, Ben Franklin's Grave, Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross's house, and historic Elfret's Alley. Just had snacks all day so was pretty hungry when I got back to Pat's place. Eggs, toast, shower, some TV downstairs with Pat, bed. I did my stretching, sit-ups, clean-up, my oatmeal, toast, got ready to leave. I hung around for 30 minutes waiting for Pat to appear. He did not so I headed for NYC. I programmed my GPS for the airbnb in Queens where I would be staying 3 nights. Pay the bridge toll and GPS took me right to Rockaway Blvd. Called Amy, the lady renting her rooms. She came out and moved her van so I could park right in front of her house. Got settled in and asked her how to get to Manhattan. She drew on a map how to get to the train, when to get off. Had a PBJ sand, got my backpack ready and walked to the Green Line. I bought a $10 fare card that should be enough for my trips back/forth to Manhattan. I got off at and decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge. Light rain, but not bad. Some photos and started chatting with the bus guys selling their on/off tours. I picked Greyline Tours as they had the best 2 day deal. $54 that included boat tour of the harbor. Walked over to World Trade. Took a few photos but did not get much due to the weather. I saw that my subway station was right there so I headed back to Queens. Back to my room, fixed eggs, toast, shower, chat with Amy and her husband Eddie. I tried to watch TV but they don't have cable or satellite, so came in enough to watch. Read my book, bed. I walked to Cresent station, into Manhattan, found the bus and started my day. We went by the bull outside of Wall St. then down to the harbor for the boat trip around the Statue of Liberty. Had to wait, but just had a snack, read. We had nice weather and got some good photos of Lady Liberty, Ellis Island and the skyline of NYC from the water. The boat left us close to the US Intrepid. It was $30 to tour the ship, a bit steep but since I was there I got in line. Expect there was no line. It was closed for a political event. The First lady was going to speak and so it was closed for several hours. Took the tour bus to Times Square, then Central Park. You could not see all of Central Park in several days of walking. I got as many photos of the park and surrounding buildings, got over to the bus pick area on the East side of the park. Next stop was Chinatown. Got off but did not see much that was worth a photo. Found the subway to Queens. Back to Cresent Station, walk to Amy's place. Next day was the same. Subway to Manhattan, decided to go to the top of One World Trade, $35. Great views from the top and good weather. Walked the Brooklyn Bridge again, better weather than 1st time. On the bus to Times Square. Then bus to the Museum of Natural History, $17. I walked as much as I could, but could not see everything in the time I had. Up to Harlem, off the visit the Cathedral, photos, bus back to Times Square, find the subway back to Queens. I was out of leg and glad to get back to Amy's. Eggs, toast, shower and bed. Up early the next morning, I said goodbye to Amy, programed my navigation system and headed for Mass. I was heading for Gardner where my friend Steve runs Standard Chair of Gardner. I was good friends with Richard, his uncle who ran Standard Chair with Steve's father Mel for many years. Richard had died in April at age 82. We talked on the phone about my Iceland trip and Steve said I could stay with him and leave my van at his house in Leominster Mass. I had been to Gardner many times to visit Richard over the years and knew where Walmart, Dollar Stores were. I wanted to hit the office at 4pm to chat with the office ladies I knew. I got to see Linda, Donna, Joy, Wendy before they got off at 5pm. We talked about the sudden death of Richard and how the office was running w/o him. He had been a fixture for over 30 years running Standard Chair so it was a big blow to everyone when he got ill and died. More than a few tears were shed recounting his life. Steve had me follow him to Leominster and his house. His wife was away for the weekend so it worked out perfect. I spent Sat. with Steve, we got in a workout at his fitness center, movie, pizza and then Sunday was time to fly to Iceland.