Category Archives: Travel

Swafford Family Tour de States – Chapter II Part II

This is the second installment about our second cross country trip, focusing on the northwest. In case you missed it: Chapter II part I.

June 25 – Albany OR – Just an overnight stay on the way to Seattle.

I love this picture of the truck in front a big rig… shows just how much we were hauling!

bigrig

And once again we finally made it to “the other side!”

20160625_175129

June 26-July 1 – Seattle WA – one of my favorite cities. The first two pictures here are the view from the top of the Space Needle in a restaurant we ate lunch at. We also got coffee from the original Starbucks and visited the fish market.

20160628_134226

20160628_135449

20160628_151527

20160628_152501

We did have a near catastrophe here. Not paying attention at a gas pump, I filled our diesel truck full of unleaded gas! That set us back a few days and caused me a lot of anxiety. That won’t ever happen again!

July 2 – Pendleton OR

20160702_144515

July 3 – Jerome ID – Not a lot going on in Jerome, but one of Amy’s long time Internet friends lived here. She got to meet her face to face and have lunch with her.

20160703_140955

July 4-7 – Yellowstone – there is no way I could describe the beauty of this place, so I took a lot of pictures. One of the things that was striking to me (other than boiling puddles of water) is the grassy forest floors. It was very different than the forests back east. It almost felt like we were walking to the Shire.

20160704_172606

20160705_142603

20160705_144138

20160705_155717

20160705_163635

20160705_174816

20160705_174938

20160706_135055

20160706_143443

20160707_130825

20160707_133754

20160707_135013

20160707_161545

20160707_162155

20160707_164517

20160707_165046

20160707_191905

20160707_191909

20160707_220739

July 8-10 – Billings MT – the battle of Little Big Horn. RIP General Custer. He’s not actually buried here but this is where he fell as he was surrounded by Indians (Native Americans).

20160710_144312

July 11-15 – Rapid City SD – lots going on in this area. We did a drive through tour of the Badlands, went to Devil’s Tower, and Mt. Rushmore. Amy really loved this area.

20160715_163508

20160715_155748

20160712_151350

20160715_153650

20160715_153527

20160713_151933

July 16-17 – Bismarck ND – we camped in Bismarck but we stayed here just to take a day trip up to Minot, which is not too far from the Canadian border. The remarkable thing about Minot (“Magic City”) is that I was born there! And there is a cool Stave church.

20160717_141530

20160717_142024

20160717_144128

July 18 – Nowhere MT

July 19-23 – Minneapolis MN – Mall of America!! And we timed it just right so that we were here over Ailsa’s birthday. What else could a girl want other than to be in the biggest mall in America on her birthday with some spending money??

20160720_115235

20160720_195629

July 24-26 – Madison WI – home of “House on the Rock.” That place is insane.

20160726_122333

20160726_142435

20160726_143959

July 27-28 – Elkhart IN – just a stop over. We were going to see where Zinger travel trailers are made but unfortunately the timing didn’t work out. They only did public tours on certain days of the week.

20160728_140653

July 29-31 – Dayton OH – birthplace of Orville and Wilbur Wright. We met up with Amy’s long time friend Tanya to tour the Wright bicycle shop and a museum, as well as the Cincinnati zoo.

20160730_144228

20160730_151150

20160731_140320

20160801_091730

Aug. 1-2 – Wytheville VA – we were getting into familiar territory here. We took a day to do a little day hiking on the AT so that Jamie could finish his hiking merit badge.

20160802_130830

20160802_140616

20160802_165853

wytheville_campfire

Aug. 3 – HOME.

What an amazing journey. The best part was the time with the family, completely disconnected from the rest of the world. I miss that more than anything.

Swafford Family Tour de States – Chapter II Part I

On May 17th we set out on the second leg of our Tour de States. This time our focus would be on the Northwest. We would start out going through Tennessee and up through St Louis MO, then across to Kansas, through to Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and back along the northern most states- Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas, before heading back south and east. Everyone was super excited about this trip. Neither Amy nor I had ever been to that part of the country before.

We didn’t have the smoothest of starts to this trip. The evening before leaving, as I went to hitch up the truck, the tongue jack wouldn’t lift the trailer high enough to clear the ball hitch on the truck. I scrambled to the Tractor Supply store to get a tongue jack that, though it does the job, isn’t quite what you want for a travel trailer. With some help from my brother-in-law Rob and a little luck we got the new tongue jack put on and we managed to leave on time (almost). In hindsight, that seems to be a foreshadow of things to come. There were definitely more maintenance issues on this trip than the last!

13240706_10209884805302646_1537830871853160198_n

13260042_1237116412972969_1181387907238324022_n

13227123_10206257585906553_7109878245391875814_n

Just like last time, there would be a mix of travel days, sight seeing days, work/school days, and sometimes combinations of those. It didn’t take us long to get back into a rhythm once we were on the road. We wanted to stop and see some family in NC, TN and MO on the way out west, so that was the focus of our first few stops. Here are the stops we made on the way out west:

May 17-18 – Lexington NC – We stopped here to see Amy’s stepmother Gale. We spent a nice day at the house visiting. We went out for a meal at a nice restaurant. It was good to catch up.

May 19 – Newport TN – This was just an overnight stop in the mountains on the way towards Nashville. On our last trip we actually went down to Atlanta and then back up to Nashville just to avoid the mountains, but I figured that after 8000 miles or so of pulling that trailer I’d be OK. Besides, we’d have to go through the Rockies!

The campground was one of my favorites… definitely somewhere we could have spent more time. Pictured below is Jamie cooking up our supper! I think we were having cheeseburgers.

13256526_1238711209480156_5296327745995633224_n

May 20-23 – Nashville TN – My dad’s side of the family are in the middle TN area so seeing family was definitely the primary agenda in Nashville. We managed to see my grandmother, sisters Fallon and Hillary along with their kids, as well as my aunt Carla. We also squeezed in a trip to the Parthenon.

nashville_family

parthenon_kids

parthenon

May 24-26 – Bowling Green KY – Bowling Green is the home of the famous Mammoth Cave. Carlsbad Caverns was one of my personal highlights of the last trip so I was really looking forward to this. There are around 400 miles of caves in this system! Of course only a small portion of that is open to the public.

We set out on a tour, and as we got just about to the bottom, in a fairly narrow “corridor,” the group suddenly stopped. We stayed in place for 20-30 minutes before a Park Ranger came through saying that “we have a situation, law enforcement might be coming behind you.” Wait, what!?! That’s all the information we had for several more minutes before we learned that someone had fallen, possibly dislocating a shoulder so they didn’t want to move them. Our tour guide said that was the first time in 17 years that tour had been stopped – we just hit the lucky day! So, we “backed out” of that cave, but they put us on another tour that technically wasn’t even open to the public just yet.

mammoth1

mammoth2

May 27-30 – St Louis MO – my mom and sister Amanda both live in southeast MO so they were able to come spend time with us over the (Memorial Day) weekend. Being a summer holiday weekend, the campground was very busy. We ended up with a pretty good spot though, on the back end of the campground overlooking a cemetery! (At least the neighbors were quiet!)

We arrived at the campground on a Friday afternoon. That Saturday my sister Amanda, her daughters Cheyenne and Leah, and my sister Hillary (from TN!) with her family came up to see us. We went to a kid’s museum in St Louis, and of course the Gateway Arch. The Arch was a neat experience. The elevator that goes to the top has these little “pods” that look like something out of a sci-fi movie. Each “pod” seats about 5 people. You get out at the top, walk across a breezeway of sorts (though it’s anything but breezy, it’s actually pretty hot and stuffy) that overlooks the city, then get back in the elevator to go back down. The architecture and engineering are pretty amazing.

stlous_site

gateway

arch_seat

stlouis_family

Shortly after that whole crew left us my mom came up and spent a night with us. We took a trip over to Grant’s Farm. The property was once own by Ulysses S. Grant and now owned by Anheuser-Busch.

20160530_104739

20160530_111654

20160530_123404

May 31-June 2 – Kansas City MO – The main thing we wanted to do in Kansas City was go to Union Station. Union Station is, well, a big ole train station full of shops and exhibits. When we walked through it was just about empty. It’s striking how tall the ceilings are. It’s truly a beautiful building. After walking through the building we walked through a pedestrian crossing over the tracks on our way to Jack Stacks Barbecue.

unionstation

union_trains

June 3-6 – Omaha NE – We were really looking forward to getting to Omaha to see our good friends from our San Diego days, the Phipps family. It’s been a long time since we’d seen them but you wouldn’t have known it, we just picked right up like we’d just seen them last week! Jason and Candice were very welcoming and hospitable. We ate a great meal with their family and thoroughly enjoyed the evening! We just hope it’s not another 10 or 15 years before we see them again!

One negative note about Omaha – we caught a flat on the trailer. The road going into Omaha was so bad and bumpy that we didn’t even know it! It wasn’t until we made a left turn about a mile from the KOA we were staying at that I saw the tire in the mirror. Unfortunately this wouldn’t be the last flat either.

phipps

flat

June 7 – North Platte NE – Just passing through here on the way to Denver!

June 8-10 – Denver CO – I was really looking forward to our stay in Denver – the Mile High City! We didn’t actually stay in Denver, but just west of Denver in Central City. Central City is in the Rockies and sits at about 8500 feet. The view was gorgeous! The campground in Central City was one of my favorites, but it was a challenge to get up to it. There were several switchbacks and sharp turns up some pretty steep climbs.

Before we left home Amy had already looked ahead for any opportunity to see the San Diego Padres play and this was it! They were playing the Rockies while we were in Denver, so naturally we went to the game. We (mostly Amy) were one of just a few rooting for the Padres, but they won!

13445300_10206105440581859_1126259278655662573_n

centralcity

baseball

rockies

June 11-12 Silt CO – After leaving Denver and continuing west we had to climb up to just about 11,000 feet in elevation. Trucks were having to go slow to avoid overheating (including us). At one point going down some elevation our brakes started smoking. It was a real balancing act keeping the truck slow enough to maintain control and not smoking the brakes.

One of our favorite activities of the entire trip was in Silt. We ziplined over the Colorado river! We also celebrated Father’s day in Silt by hiking along the river.

silt

co_river

June 13-14 – Vernal UT – AKA Dinoland! Vernal’s “claim to fame” is the dinosaur bones found in the area. We went to the National Park where they have a structure built onto a rock wall with bones still embedded into it. The theory is that there was a river in that area where the bones had collected. Pretty incredible place.

vernal

vernal2

June 15-20 – Salt Lake UT – On the way to SLC we came across the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. It’s literally a huge flat area of … salt. Many land speed records have been set here. It was pretty cool to just walk around on the salt. It was so bright that you had to squint.

Of course we also had to visit the Great Salt Lake. We took a short hike around a section of the lake, ate lunch and then ventured down onto the beach. The water in the Salt Lake is very warm, and obviously salty. Nothing lives in the lake except brine shrimp. Amy bottled some of the water, and several brine shrimp were in the bottle. Most died but one hung on for quite some time. She named him Fred. Sadly, Fred died just a few days ago in a sea monkey aquarium in our home in NC. He lived a pretty long and adventurous life for a brine shrimp!

saltflats

saltlake

June 21 – Winnemucca NV – the road between SLC and the west coast is long and barren! You can see in the picture below the sign that read “Next Gas 179 Miles” !! There was very little on that road and hardly any cell reception. It’s definitely not somewhere you’d want to breakdown! Thankfully we made it through without any trouble.

Every time I think of Winnemucca I also think of the Johnny Cash song “I’ve been everywhere.” We would play that song in the truck naming off the places we had been.

into-OR-gas

June 22-24 – Klamath Falls OR – Home of Crater Lake. Crater Lake is easily, without a doubt the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. The lake sits on an “imploded” volcano, and the water is nearly 2000 feet deep. It’s the deepest lake in the US and the 9th deepest lake in the world. The depth of the water makes it an incredible blue. There is no “feed” into the water – it’s filled just off rain and snow runoff. This area get a LOT of snow – over 10 feet a year. We drove about half way around the lake, stopping at different points to look at the lake from another point of view (the road on the other half was still closed from snow!). I hope to return to this area again one day, it was truly stunning.

craterlake2

craterlake

That’s all for this installment. I’ll write about the rest of this trip in another post soon!

Swafford Family Tour de States – Chapter I Part II

This is part 2 of a post where I was describing a trip my family and I took across the southern part of the United States. If you missed it you can click here to read it.

Oct. 18-21 – Visalia CA. We finally got out of the desert on this stop. Just two days before traveling through this area one of the roads we would have been traveling on was covered over with mudslides. This massive mudslide kept a major road closed for days as crews worked to unearth the road. Unfortunately some people did lose their lives, so we were really thanking God that the timing of our trip wasn’t just a little different. We ended up detouring around the closed section, on a road not really suited for bigger vehicles. I remember being high up on a mountain area with heavy fog and limited visibility. Not fun!

This stop and the next are in the central part of California, around the Sierra Nevada mountains. The main attraction in Visalia was to be Sequoia National Park. This is the home of the giant redwoods. The largest tree in the world is here – the General Sherman, in Sequoia’s Giant Forest. Some of the trees here are up to 3000 years old. Its incomprehensible how old and big these trees are. There are lots of trails in the Giant Forest. We took one just a few miles long called the “Congress Trail.”

20151020_132541

20151020_135911

20151020_140213

Oct. 22-25 – Coarsegold CA. Coarsegold is a little less than 100 miles north of the Sequoia area, east of San Francisco, close to Yosemite National Park. The KOA campground was probably my favorite. A lot of the campgrounds are really more “RV parks” than campgrounds, but this one was large, spread out, and really had more of a camping feel to it. Not long after getting there we noticed a lot of quarter sized holes in the ground. We discovered that these are tarantula holes! Apparently this area is known for their tarantulas!! They were even having their annual “Tarantula Festival” that very weekend!!! Jamie spotted one as he was riding around on his bike. Fortunately though, we arrived at the very end of the season so we didn’t see any more, to Amy’s great disappointment.

We had one day set aside to drive into Yosemite. On the way in, just outside the park we came across the Sugar Pine Railroad. This railroad was once part of a logging operation. Today it’s a tourist attraction, offering one hour rides on restored steam locomotives through the areas that were once logged.

Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The park covers a large area but there are only a few gates. Inside the park there is a large loop that circles around a valley area, with breath taking views. The trees are tall, with giant cliff faces and waterfalls all around. Towards the back side of the loop is a “village” with some shopping and eating. Unfortunately it was very busy while we were there, but I think it’s like that pretty much all the time now. Despite that we were able to find some quiet moments to just enjoy the scenery.

20151024_113951

20151024_142532

20151024_150213

Oct. 26-30 – Paso Robles CA. As we left the Yosemite area we traveled south and west towards central California’s Pacific coastline. We finally made it to the “other side!”

20151028_110924

We would be here for Halloween. We did a little decorating outside the trailer, and went downtown Paso Robles to do a little trick-or-treating.

pasorobles_halloween

Paso Robles is in the heart of wine country. There are lots of vineyards and wineries all around that offer tours and tastings, though we didn’t do any of that (it might be frowned upon with two kids). It’s also close to Hearst Castle, once the home of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was a media mogul of the early 20th century. Anyone who was anyone in that day knew Hearst and spent time at his estate, which sits high up on a hill overlooking the Pacific ocean.

20151028_142334

20151028_142340

20151028_144215

Nov. 1-6 Malibu CA. From Paso Robles we headed straight down the Pacific Coast into southern California. Amy and I used to live in San Diego so we were really looking forward to getting back to our second home. Honestly though I was a little intimidated about the traffic we would be facing, but by this time I had thousands of miles of experience pulling the trailer so we did OK. The views driving down the Pacific Coast Highway were really spectacular. At one point we had the ocean less than 100 feet to our right and a mountain less than 100 feet to our left! The campground we stayed at was set up on a hill with a nice view of the ocean. We were able to see the ocean from the trailer. Some days we would pack a lunch and walk down to the beach.

20151104_131059

20151101_170448

20151101_170229

20151101_165135

There was a state park called Solstice Canyon within walking distance from our campground. One day we walked up to the park and then did some hiking. There were two old, abandoned houses on the trails. One had been occupied as recently as the 1980s but was destroyed by fire.

20151106_141110

20151106_142203

One day we drove down into Los Angeles to the Le Brea tar pits. Le Brea is right in the middle of town, and is actually an active (bubbling) tar pit! Over the course of 10,000 years or so that tar pit has swallowed up countless animals, some that are extinct today, so there is a lot of excavation and research going on. There are areas that are roped off, with warnings that you’ll become a fossil too if you cross the line!

lebrea1

lebrea2

We also went to the famous Getty Art Museum. Amy said she was a little disappointed with it overall. Of all the things we saw at the Getty the thing we’ll remember best is the parking deck! It became evident pretty quickly that driving our big truck into that parking deck was a mistake, but there was no room to turn the truck around and too much traffic behind us to back out. The parking deck at the Getty goes down into the ground, not up like most. As it goes down the overhead clearance gets a little shorter. At one point there was a sign that said if you couldn’t get under the sign you were too high. We slid the moon roof in the truck back and crept forward, clearing that sign by a few inches! I think Amy almost hyperventilated. I pulled that trailer about 7,000 miles, but it was in the parking deck at the Getty that I scared her most.

20151103_150039

20151103_162244

Another day we drove into Hollywood. I was really not looking forward to this, as it’s very crowded and not really somewhere you want to drive a big vehicle. However, we did manage to get to a scenic view of the Hollywood sign, got into Hollywood, found parking, and walked around for a couple hours. There was a red carpet event going on, which we later learned was some kind of Latino radio awards.

hollywood

20151105_151907

20151105_151938

20151105_152131

Nov. 7-13 San Diego CA. We were very much looking forward to our stay in San Diego. We went to San Diego a few years ago on a family vacation, but it’s such a great city and there’s always something else to do. We pulled in on a Saturday, so the very first item on our agenda was to visit Pacific Beach Christian Church (our “second home” church) the next morning. We hadn’t told anyone we were coming so we were really hoping Pastor Brian and some of our old friends would be there. Brian was really surprised! And we did indeed see some old friends. The lady in the picture below with Amy and the kids is Leona. Her and her husband Ed were members of PB Christian in the late nineties when Amy and I were attending. The church has changed a lot since then, and most of the faces have changed, but it still felt like a homecoming to us. We had a meal with the Daly family later in the week at their home. It was so great to catch up with them.

20151108_102217

20151108_115535

There is a small cafe at the end of Ocean Bean (OB) pier that we used to eat at. Had to do it!

obpier

cafe

One of the things we love about San Diego is the beautiful scenery at Point Loma. There is a small Coast Guard station on Point Loma, and an old light house that is no longer used. The light house actually isn’t very tall at all. It didn’t need to be because Point Loma is already so high above sea level. As you walk around Point Loma you see picturesque views of the city and the bay. (I used to love pulling into that bay in my Navy days. I knew when we passed beneath the Coronado Bridge that we were almost home.) There are some really nice walking trails around Point Loma, with surprisingly little to keep you from plunging into the ocean below! We stayed around long enough to see the sun set over the Pacific, an absolutely gorgeous sight.

20151108_143351

20151108_143248

20151108_154257

20151108_154345

20151108_154413

20151108_154549

20151108_154753

20151108_165350

The Wild Animal Park (now known as the Zoo Safari Park) is world famous, for good reason. There are a lot of exotic animals there, and the grounds and landscaping are amazing. It is (or was) the home of the only black rhino in North America. There are only three other black rhinos in the world, all in Africa. Sadly this rhino died just days after we saw it. The species will soon be extinct.

20151110_105640

20151110_131647

We also went to Legoland! This had been a dream of Amy’s for the last 16 years! Construction on Legoland was completed in 1998, while we still lived in the area. Amy had applied but they took so long to even respond that she took another job. To this day she still plays with Legos. She’s passed her love of Legos on to Jamie.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of Legoland, but it was very much a theme park with rides, and of course massive displays constructed entirely of Legos. There are different areas of Legoland, each with a different theme to it. One area was entirely Star Wars. In another area, there were reconstructions of world famous cities, like New York, Paris, and New Orleans. The weather hasn’t been kind to these displays over the years but it was still really something to see.

legoland

20151113_115138

20151113_131650

20151113_134008

When we left San Diego on Nov. 14th, it was a little bittersweet. We would be heading east, towards home. The trip was starting to wind down.

Nov. 14-17 Tuscon AZ. After a month of being in California we were finally back in Arizona, but further south than we were on the trip out west. Tuscon isn’t far at all from the Mexican border. There were two things on our agenda for Tuscon: to see the Airplane Boneyard and Tombstone.

Ever wonder where military planes go when they are retired from service? Most go to the Airplane Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Airforce Base in Pima. Since Davis-Monthan is an active Airforce base, one doesn’t just walk around at will. There is a museum outside the base that has an arrangement with the Airforce. The only way to view the boneyard is aboard a tour bus through this museum. There are acres and acres of planes here. Some could easily fly again, but other planes have been torn apart for their parts. The planes range from WWII era all the way up to modern planes. Unfortunately we couldn’t get off the bus and walk around the planes. The tour guide was a former military pilot and very knowledgeable about most of the planes out there.

20151116_141327

20151116_144513

20151116_144534

Tombstone is of course the location of the OK Corral, where the Earp boys and Doc Holliday got into a gun fight with Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers. The town has done a good job of preserving their history. There is an unpaved street with wooden walkways that has an old west feel to it. There are even a few saloons! We went to a reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral and ate at “Big Nose Kates” – a restaurant named for Doc Holliday’s girlfriend and in the location of the “Grand Hotel.” There is a graveyard just outside of town that you can walk through. Clanton and the McLaury brothers are buried here.

tombstone

20151117_135915

20151117_142123

20151117_153820

20151117_162032

Nov. 18 – Las Cruces NM. Our next destination was Carlsbad, which was too far for one day so we stopped here overnight. By this point an electrical issue we were having with the truck was becoming a real problem. The turn signals had been starting to fail, and now were even malfunctioning to the point that a left signal would turn on the right blinkers! Las Cruces was going to the the last major town for a while but unfortunately none of the dealerships could get us in that day, so we said a prayer and pressed on.

Nov. 19-22 – Carlsbad NM. On the way to Carlsbad we drove through the Alamogordo and White Sands areas, then up through some mountain roads. On the way down the mountains I let the truck sort of “glide along,” trying not to use the gas at all. We were able to get up to 98 miles per gallon! If only we could maintain that!!

The KOA campground was a nice place, just north of Carlsbad and about an hour’s drive south of Roswell. The coldest nights of the trip were here. One morning I went to make coffee, and no water would come out of the faucet! The water hose completely froze up. I had to pull it off and stretch it out in the sunlight. I wasn’t happy about having to wait for my coffee.

Carlsbad Caverns was probably my favorite National Park. The entrance is just a big hole, like a cave. As you enter and start descending, the natural light slowly fades away until it’s completely gone. Of course the walkways are lit, but you can look off in the distance to see just how dark it is down there. The walkway descends around 800 feet or so, until you get to a large expanse known as the “big room.” The walk around the Big Room is about a 1 mile loop. The water pools there don’t move at all, yet they are crystal clear. One pool is known as “mirror lake.” There is an area known as the “bottomless pit.” Of course it’s not really bottomless, but it appears to be and must have really appeared so to early explorers.

20151120_115828

20151120_123153

20151120_135331

We also went to Roswell, the location of all the alien sightings in the late 40s. Roswell is a small town, and naturally they play up their reputation. There are alien statues all over the place. The street lamps light up green and look like alien heads. There is a small (but interesting) ‘UFO Research Center’ museum in town that we visited. Here you can learn all about the sightings and conspiracy theories and judge what really happened for yourself.

roswell1

roswell_streetlamps

Nov. 23 – Ft Stockton TX. Just passing through!

Nov. 24-28 – San Antonio TX. We spent Thanksgiving here. It was strange to not be with other family, but we had a good day together. We went out to eat at a really nice restaurant and then just spent a relaxed day with each other.

San Antonio is right in the heart of Texas. It’s a beautiful city. The Alamo is here, beautifully preserved in the downtown area. This was another opportunity to teach the kids some history by showing them firsthand. We started our tour of the Alamo by going into an old frame shop that’s right across the street. In this frame shop there was a large display of the Alamo as it once was, where (for a reasonable fee) the shop owner would tell you all about the battle. We then walked across the street, into the walls of the Alamo itself to see all these things. (Side note: if you’ve ever watched Pee Wee Herman — Ailsa asked an employee where the basement was. He wasn’t amused.) (Site note 2: I finally got the truck fixed here!)

20151125_142240

alamo

20151125_151657

San Antonio has a gorgeous downtown area. The river walk is lined with shops and restaurants.

20151125_154923

20151125_161347

There were also lots of hiking and biking trails within walking distance of our campground. Amy and I walked as the kids did some biking.

20151127_142142

20151127_142111

Nov. 29-Dec 2 – Houston TX. Houston is on the eastern side of Texas, near the gulf coast. It’s here that we noticed the land had shifted away from desert to green. It was starting to look and feel like home. The traffic in Houston is insane. Fortunately we weren’t staying in Houston, but just north of it, so I didn’t have to pull the trailer through all that crazy traffic.

We went to a zoo in Houston. The zoo is in their downtown area. It was a weekday (I think a Tuesday) and the weather wasn’t great, so it felt like we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

zoo

20151130_120132

Houston, we have a problem! We went to NASA’s Johnson Space Center! For me, this was a childhood dream come true. We sat in a room that presidents have sat in, looking in on the Mission Control of the Mercury and Apollo days. It was truly awe inspiring to me to consider what had been accomplished using technology that is far inferior to an average phone today. Incredible! We were also able to tour a facility where real research is happening that is relevant to today’s space program.

20151202_131752

20151202_135447

20151202_140354

We were also able to see (very closely) a Saturn V rocket – I believe the last. This is the actual rocket that was slated for Apollo 18, but the government shut down the program before it was launched. The thrusters are so big that it’s hard to fathom the power and force that comes from them as the rocket is launched.

20151202_142502

20151202_142804

20151202_143025

There is also a museum just outside of NASA’s gates that has some really interesting displays. Space suits, moon rocks, shuttle mock ups, movies, and even an old Star Trek movie set.

20151202_161757

20151202_115952

One final random memory from Houston: we went out to eat one night at a steak house. It seemed like the parking lot was full of trucks. Big trucks. I was glad we had a big truck. I would’ve felt out of place without it!

Dec. 3-6 – Baton Rouge LA. Houston was our last sight seeing stop, but there was one more item on the agenda before going home. Amy has a lot of family on her dad’s side in the Baton Rouge area. We stayed at a nice campground around a lake.

cheerio

On Saturday we went to her Aunt Beverly’s and Uncle Kenneth’s house. Lots of family came over to see us. Sunday we went to her Uncle Darryl’s and Aunt Minta’s house. Lots of family came over that day too! It was a great way to end the trip.

Dec. 7 – Toomsuba MS. There is just about 1000 miles between Baton Rouge and our driveway. We could have pushed to do it in two days, but we opted to do it in three. That was a good thing, because we had our first roadside incident on this day. We blew the right rear tire on the trailer. I got the trailer off the road but because of the slope of the road shoulder I couldn’t lift the trailer high enough to get the blown tire off. We had to call for help. Fortunately help arrived quickly and we were on our way.

Dec. 8 – Anderson SC. This was our first stop of the trip, and our last.

Dec. 9 – Farmville NC!! The state sign was a very welcome site! Everyone was super excited to that we’d soon be seeing family and home!

20151209_132800

It turns out that the spare tire had a leak! This was the tire the morning after pulling into our driveway. The morning after that it was flat!

20151210_151335

We estimate that we put about 7,000 miles on the trailer and about 10,000 on the truck. We saw and did a lot of amazing things. But, in the end it was the time together that made the trip so special. We are planning, Lord willing, to do a similar trip this year in the northern states. I can’t wait.

Swafford Family Tour de States – Chapter I Part I

The Swafford family just got back from a 3 month, 7000 mile trip around the southern part of the United States. To say it was amazing would be an understatement. There is no way I can describe or capture the experience in words.. it was just simply an incredible, once in a lifetime opportunity that we were blessed to be able to do as a family.

Planning for the trip started somewhere around Nov. 2014. It was more of a thought or just an idea at the time. We saw that a friend had done something similar so we thought – why couldn’t we do the same? I’m able to work from anywhere, so the only real obstacle was that the kids would have to be home schooled. We decided we wouldn’t want to pull them out of school part way through the year so we started kicking around the idea of leaving in Sept. Weeks and months went by, and though it still sounded crazy, we never talked ourselves out of it. We were actually starting to make some plans. The idea was solidfying – it was really going to happen. We bought a big ole’ travel trailer in July of last summer, and a truck that could pull it, and on Sept. 14th we pulled out of the driveway on our big adventure.

The focus of our trip was the southwest. We wanted to focus on parts of the country that were just too far to get to otherwise. We wanted to see some Americana. There are all these things out there that you might not make a special trip for by themselves (the world’s largest rubber band?) – but taken together these things are all part of what makes America, well, America. The image below shows our tentative route. In the end it wasn’t exactly that but it’s close enough that I’m going to use it anyway.

route

For the most part we were going to follow along I-40 until we got out west. We wanted to follow along Route 66 for a while, then hit the Pacific coast, drop south into LA/San Diego, head back east along I-10 towards Baton Rouge LA, and from there north and east to home.

Now, keeping in mind that I have to work for a living and that our kids need an education, we couldn’t travel and see sights every day. Some days would have to be “zero days” — days spent in the campground taking care of business. There were a lot of those days. And honestly, we needed those types of days too. Being on the go all the time will wear you down. So, we got into a routine of sorts, switching between travel days, sight seeing days, and zero days (and sometimes combinations of those).

Here is the travel schedule we kept.

Sept. 14 – Anderson SC. Just an overnight stop. Our first destination was going to be Nashville, but that’s 700 miles from home – too far to drive in one day while pulling a 36 foot travel trailer. On top of that, I wasn’t crazy about the idea of driving through the Appalachians. We opted to add an extra hundred miles to avoid the mountains by going down through Atlanta, though in the end the traffic was probably worse than the mountains.

Sept. 15-17 – Nashville TN. Spent some time with James’s family. We got to see my Grandmother, my two sisters Fallon and Hillary along with their families, and ate a nice meal with my Aunt Carla.

I recall that the KOA campground in Nashville was an older RV park, not really suited for longer rigs, so it was not a very pleasant experience getting the trailer in there.

20150917_194147

20150916_202027

20150916_201745

20150916_202224

Sept. 18-19 – Memphis TN. My mom lives in southeast MO so she was able to drive down and spend a couple nights with us. The major attraction in Memphis is Elvis Presley’s Graceland. There is also the (in)famous Beale St. What I recall about Graceland was, honestly, how … unimpressive it was. Don’t get me wrong- it’s a nice house for sure, but for some reason I expected something a little bigger for a “mansion.” The house was really not all that large. It still has the 70’s decor from Elvis’s day. There are several buildings behind the house though, one of them with a hallway that houses all Elvis’s hit records (and there were many, many of those). Jamie actually came away from that an Elvis fan, at least for a while.

20150919_151444

We also walked on Beale St, making true the lyrics of “Walking in Memphis.” There were some old shops, and of course a lot of bars, and some bikes. We ate at a Hard Rock Cafe.

20150919_174201

Sept. 20 – Sallisaw OK – just an overnight stop on the way out west. I remember some hiking trails out there. This is where we noticed that the land was changing.

Sept. 21-23 – Amarillo TX – very windy! There weren’t a lot of trees, just wind and tumbleweeds! We ate at a very old Route 66 diner. I had a buffalo burger. This is the home of Cadillac Ranch.

20150923_163210

20150923_163200

20150923_163147

Sept. 24-26 – Albuquerque NM – We saw some petroglyphs here, perhaps a few thousand years old left by ancient Pueblo peoples. It was a hot hike and we were on the lookout for rattlesnakes, but we really had the feeling that we were seeing some once in a lifetime stuff.

20150926_144158

20150926_144949

We also ate at this really authentic restaurant. I think it was the oldest in Albuquerque. Navajo tacos are good!

20150926_192901

Sept. 27-29 – Holbrook AZ – During our first night in Holbrook there was a lunar eclipse.

20150927_182046

There were two points of interest for us near Holbrook. The first was the Petrified Forest. We started to realize about 100 miles out that there wasn’t going to be a tree in this forest (or for miles around for that matter). But, who knew that millions of years ago the Arizona desert was actually a lush forest with raging rivers? The ground is rich with silica. Trees that fell into rivers became saturated with these minerals until eventually all the wood was gone, but rock remained.

20150929_161809

We also went to see a mile wide meteor crater. This meteor impacted the earth around 50,000 years ago. You can still see the “ripple effect” the impact had on the ground. It was truly incredible.

20150928_134401

20150928_135240

Sept. 30-Oct. 4 – Williams AZ – The first thing I have to say about Williams is that this is where Ailsa finally learned how to ride a bike! We practiced in the campground and it finally just “clicked.”

20151001_175033

Of course we went to the Grand Canyon. I knew that this was going to be one of the highlights of our trip. Amy and I had visited the Grand Canyon in 1996 with my brother Bobby, but the kids had never been. I remembered from back then a long trail that went down the canyon in a series of switchbacks, and then hiking along the plateau on the bottom to a point that overlooked the Colorado River. I didn’t remember the name of it but that was the famous “Bright Angel Trail,” and it’s the trail the family would hike on. Amy and Ailsa hiked about a mile and a half down (which is the hardest part by the way), then turned back while Jamie and I hiked a few more miles down to the Indian Garden. They did extremely well and Amy and I were both very proud of them.

grandcanyon

20151003_120303

20151003_120308

20151003_155959

Flagstaff AZ is about 30 miles east of Williams. Just south of Flagstaff are a series of Pueblo ruins. One of them is “Montezuma’s Castle.” Montezuma is actually an Aztec name, because it was originally thought to be Aztec. The ruins are settled into the side of a canyon wall. Unfortunately visitors haven’t been allowed in since the 1950s but it was still cool to see.

20151004_135109

Also in the Flagstaff area were the Tuzigoot ruins. The main area of the settlement was set up on a hill (that’s where the important people stayed). It was really something to see how those people lived. We tried to get the kids to imagine what life must have been like for those people.

20151004_152858

20151004_151208

Oct. 5-9 – Cedar City UT – Cedar City is a small town in southwest UT, near Zion National Park. Zion is absolutely gorgeous. We went there to do some horseback riding, which was Amy and Ailsa’s favorite stop of the entire trip. We were able to book a 3 hour guided tour. We rode horses in a group of about 10-12 people through the desert canyons. I’m sure it’s something none of us will ever forget.

20151009_132355

20151009_152529

20151009_135809

20151009_135813

Oct. 10-12 Las Vegas NV – Las Vegas is such a weird town. It’s really this big city sitting in the middle of a scorching desert. Amy and I had been there before too. We wanted the kids to see it but of course you have to be careful going to a place called “sin city.” But, we were able to walk up and down the strip and see some sights, and even took them to the famous Blue Man Group show.

20151011_203016

20151011_145835

20151011_141521

20151011_134712

20151011_134422

20151010_192442

We also visited the Hoover Dam. It’s absolutely insane how large this dam is. We went on a tour into the bowels of the dam, way down in the generator rooms. At one point we were standing directly over the river raging through large pipes below us. The entire room was shaking with the power of the water below.

20151012_154020

20151012_153910

20151012_153944

Oct. 13-17 – Needles CA – Needles, while in CA is still very much desert and HOT! There’s really not too much in Needles, but Havasu City AZ is about an hour’s drive. Havasu is famous for being the site of the London Bridge. It’s often confused with the Tower Bridge that still stands across the river Thames. The London Bridge really did come from London though, and at one time crossed the Thames. But, it was slowly sinking into the river (hence the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down”). It was purchased by the city of Havasu in the 1960s for just a few million dollars. It was carefully dismantled, transported, and reassembled in exactly the same way it used to stand in London. This turned out to be a brilliant move by the city of Havasu, which has built an entire tourism industry around this bridge.

20151016_142020

Also worth mentioning here is that Jamie did some offroad biking in the rocky desert around the campground, took a nasty fall and split his hand open. It was late on a Friday evening. We cleaned it up and closed the wound up with some steristrips. He has a small scar on the side of his hand to show for it but is otherwise OK. It didn’t keep him off the bike for long.

This gets us to about the halfway point of our trip. Read about the rest of this trip in part 2.

Twenty Years

On Jan 21st Amy and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary! It seems incredible to me that we have been married that long already. When I look back, they’re all there but it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. But it’s true, we have spent half of our lives married to each other. That’s not even counting the three years we dated before that!

This being a “big one”, we really wanted to do something special. Above all we just wanted to spend some time together. It’s not very often that we do things without the kids, but this was going to be one of those times. We would leave the kids with Amy’s mom Eve for the week.

When we first started thinking about what to do, we thought about doing a cruise. Amy has never been on a cruise (and the only ones I’ve been on were the kind with the big gray ships that have a “USS” in their name). However, at the time Amy’s dad Rene was very sick battling cancer. We weren’t sure what would be going on by the time our anniversary rolled around, so we didn’t want to be stuck out on the water if something were to happen. Amy came up with the idea of just taking a road trip, to nowhere in particular, just a road trip. Then we decided to take a road trip to Key West.

So, on Monday 1/19 we boarded the pets, dropped the kids off with Eve, and headed south. We left around 11am and cruised into Daytona Beach around 6:30pm. That would be far enough for one day. We enjoyed a nice meal at Red Lobster and got a room at a Hyatt with an ocean view. The next morning we got back on the road. We made one stop in Boynton Beach to pick up some 95 Bordeaux Amy had ordered, then cruised into the Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada FL (about 75 miles from Key West). We had a gorgeous room with an ocean view (literally right there by the water!) and a hot tub on the balcony. It was so nice just opening the sliding glass doors up, or sitting on the balcony and enjoying the view in the warm weather. The resort had some nice restaurants so we just ate at one of them — Atlantic’s Edge — that night.

IMG_20150121_114329_202

On our anniversary, Wednesday 1/21 we didn’t even leave the resort. 🙂 It was so….. relaxing. We slept in, ordered room service, had lunch at the Tiki Bar, drank some pina coladas, had dinner at Limoncello (the Italian restaurant), and enjoyed that 95 Bordeaux. It was a great day.

Thursday we ventured down to Key West. The traffic on all of those islands doesn’t move too fast so it took a couple of hours, but it was a nice scenic ride. While in Key West we visited the Southernmost Point, toured a lighthouse, saw the outside Hemingway’s house with all his six toed cats, ate at a little Italian Pizzeria, walked around a cemetery, and just did a lot of walking around. It got hot! By the time we got back in the car we were ready to head back to the resort for some more relaxation!

IMG_20150120_160602_170

We had to check out Friday, but weren’t in a big hurry. We sort of lazily went about our morning, eating breakfast down by the water and just enjoying the last little bit we could. When we finally did check out we stopped by a couple of places around Key Largo to get some souvenirs. We made another stop in Boynton Beach to eat lunch, and got two more bottles of that 95 Bordeaux — one to be opened on our 25th anniversary and one on our 50th! (God willing!). We stopped for the night in St. Augustine, had another great meal and finally got home on Saturday afternoon.

So, all in all we spent five nights away from home, three of those in the Keys. We logged over 2000 miles. We ate some great meals. Most importantly though we had a great time just being together. It was a great way to celebrate our anniversary.

End of Summer Blues

Summertime 2014 has officially ended, and it’s a little sad around the Swafford house right now. We had a really awesome summer. Here are some highlights.

We went to NYC!

nyc

nyc_family

… and then upstate NY for a family reunion.

grandma_and_gramps

(You can read more about that trip here..)

We did a mini Vacation Bible School at our church!

vbs

We did a luau for Ailsa’s birthday!

amy

… and put up our pool!

pool

We went to Cade’s Cove!

cadescove

We went to the beach!

beach

We went to the Great Wolf Lodge!

greatwolflodge

We spent some Sunday afternoons at Sleepy Creek!

sleepycreek

And certainly not least… we slept in! But you don’t get to see pictures of that.

Summer 2014, we will miss you.

Swafford Vacation 2014 – NY

Draft copy… will edit and add pictures later…

Day 0: Travel day. Traffic was bad from the start. It started to pick up around Fredericksburg VA and never really let up. Driving through NYC was a bit traumatic. Somehow we (and the car) made it unscathed. At least we think so. Who knows what the valet did after we gave the keys over. The view from the hotel is beautiful. It’s a corner room overlooking 3rd Ave. Lots of tall buildings and sky scrapers all around, including a limited view of the Chrysler building. The window opens about four inches out, which is surprising. Amy likes leaving it open and listening to the blaring of the horns and all the traffic down below.

Day 1: We ate breakfast at the hotel, thinking we would save time, but it didn’t really. The main item on the agenda today was a boat tour around Manhattan island. The tour started at 12:30. We took a subway and got there early enough to wander around a bit. We saw the USS Intrepid – what a beautiful ship! After walking around a while we got in line for the tour and boarded our ship. The tour guide was really good but needed to lay off the hand holding a little bit (he kept going on about strength in diversity and all that). We saw a lot of amazing sites, including a great view of the Statue of Liberty. We went under the Brooklyn Bridge, saw Yankee Stadium, Grant’s Tomb, and several other sites. Following the boat ride we ate at a cool Irish Pub on 46th and 11th called the Landmark Tavern. Then we took the subway down to Central Park and took a walk around. Finally we came back to the hotel for a rest, then went back out for ice cream. Great day.

Day 2: Got onto a subway and headed to Grand Central Station (Grand Central Terminal). What an amazing place. It’s a beautiful old building. I think Jamie liked it a lot. We boarded another subway and headed to the Financial District and then walked to the World Trade Center Site. You really don’t appreciate how tall the Freedom Tower is until you’re beside it. The memorial is fitting. We then walked about a mile down to China Town, where we ate at a Chinese Restaurant. We sat at this large round table in a corner that seated maybe 12 people. There was a French family, and a few Chinese guys, and us. That was different! I chickened out and had the Sesame Chicken. It was good. Afterward we went to FAO Schwarz, one of the largest toy stories in the world – but the don’t have Pokemon! Everyone was a little tired at this point so we went back to the hotel for a while before trekking back out for supper at Buca Di Beppo’s at Time Square. (We’ve eaten a few of those now, in Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego… always good). On the walk back we went through St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It is being rennovated but is still an amazing site.

Day 3: Breakfast line was crazy at the hotel so we went to a place called Bread Crums right up the street for muffins and coffee. We went to the Central Park Zoo and ate some hotdogs at the park for lunch ($32 for five hotdogs and four drinks!). Amy wanted to see Belvedere Castle so we did some hiking through the park. It was hot but well worth it. The park is beautiful. Later we went to see the NY Yankees play the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. The subway was so packed – it was like those films of the Japanese guys shoving people into the cars to get the doors closed. Poor Ailsa and Jamie couldn’t see anything, they were just packed in like Sardines. The stadium was awesome and seeing the Yankees play was something I’ll never forget. Ailsa thought it was pretty cool to see Derek Jeter. He tied Lou Gehrig’s club record that night for doubles. There was a heckler not too far from us.. he was hilarious. I was a little worried he was going to use foul language but he kept it “clean.”

Day 4: We went to the Empire State Building and did the NY Skyline Tour. Lunch at a nice place just outside of ESB, then onto the Imperial Theater on Broadway to see Les Miserables, which was amazing. After the show it was back to the hotel for a short break and then on to supper at an old Italian Restaurant. That night we got an spectacular lightning show from the hotel room. We have a corner room on the 31st floor. The lightning was spider webbing all across the sky and hit the World Trade Center Freedom Tower several times. Amy got a recording of it.

Day 5: A little sad, checking out of the hotel today and leaving NYC, driving 250 miles upstate. Looking forward to seeing some family though.