The year 2012 was an up and down year for us. Well, I suppose they are all up and down years to some extent, and the ups always outnumber the downs by a lot. However, this past year had a couple deeper emotional and financial potholes.
We started 2012 in Florida with a combination of attending rallies to weigh RVs and spending time with our friends John & Therese. During January, we were with them as John lost his battle with cancer after brain surgery. We were there as Hospice came, and we did our best to help Therese through that sudden loss.
It was an emotional time and a life-changing experience for us. Our buddy John was with us in spirit the rest of the year.
In February, we flew to Grand Rapids, Michigan to speak at the Grand Rapids RV Show. We were also part of the publicity for the show as we did a radio interview ....
and appeared on a local morning show.
We spent the rest of February and the first part of March in central Florida where we paddled some of the crystal clear, spring-fed rivers we have come to love.
Alligator on the Wekiva.
On the Silver River, we encountered lots of wildlife including gators, turtles, and lots of birds ... including this Great Blue Heron with a large fish.
We also watched a Bald Eagle catch and eat a fish, .....
and we were lucky enough to encounter the famous Silver River monkeys.
On the beautiful, clear Ocklawaha ....
we spent several minutes with a family of River Otters.
The first part of March was spent in the Florida panhandle with a few days on the beach at Ft. Pickens, ....
and more time paddling the rivers of the Blackwater River State Forest where, on one trip, we rescued a lost dog, Rocky, and delivered him to his owner who we found downriver.
Then we moved on into Mississippi and then Louisiana where we worked another rally and then the Louisville and Kentucky college basketball teams ended up in the NCAA Final Four which just happened to be in New Orleans. So we decided to backtrack and fulfill a "bucket list" item of attending a Final Four.
It was a rather expensive proposition to come up with tickets, but it was well worth it. :)
After Kentucky's national championship, we moved on and met Kent & Betty, the wonderful owners of a new RV park near Kinder, LA - River Bend.
They invited us to their home, took us on a tour on four-wheelers, and we have kept in touch since our visit.
Then we moved on into Texas where we stayed at Brazos Bend State Park with it's wide variety of wildlife, including lots of alligators.
After a brief stay at anothr Texas park, it was time for our Spring Rally in Kerrville.
After another fun, successful Rally, we headed north as we were working three rallies in a six-week period in Gillette, WY.
The first week of May, we visited two more Texas state parks and really enjoyed our time at Caprock Canyon.
That was also the first place we saw Bison on this year's travels, ....
but it certainly wasn't the last as buffalo became a pretty common sighting throughout the summer.
We made three relatively short stops in Kansas and Nebraska as we made our way into South Dakota in the middle of May. Our first stop was Badlands National Park.
In addition to Bison, Prairie Dogs, .....
and Pronghorn Antelope, we saw Bighorn Sheep.
Badlands isn't everyone's cup of tea, but we really enjoyed it. And, at this remote section of the park, there were some gorgeous views.
Next, it was on to the Black Hills of South Dakota where we stayed just outside the entrance to Custer State Park. The wildlife of Custer included more great views of Bison, ....
Prairie Dogs, Pronghorns, ....
Bighorn Sheep, Elk, wild Burros, and Coyotes.
In addition to the wildlife, we hiked some great trails, caught trout in the lakes, and did a little paddling as well.
Also in the area are Mt. Rushmore, ....
and the Crazy Horse Memorial. We just happened to be there at the one time each year (Crazy Horse Volksmarch) where the public can hike to the massive carving.
In addition, there is a wonderful bicycle trail, The Mickelson Trail, that covers several miles through lovely countryside. And there are numerous scenic drives.
After a month in the Black Hills, we moved on to Gillette, Wyoming where we worked three rallies over a six-week period. We had a week between the first two rallies and two weeks in between the second and third. So, with really nothing to do in Gillette, we took the rig to some nearby areas.
It was the beginning of quite a bit of summer boondocking. First, we visited Devils Tower in eastern Wyoming ....
where we dry-camped in their campground. After that, we found a great boondocking spot north of Gillette in the Weston Hills Recreation Area.
After working the second rally, we boondocked at two different spots in the Bighorn Mountains for two weeks.
We took some great drives in the Jeep, hiked, fished, geocached, and paddled a mountain reservoir.
After our wonderful time in the cool elevation of the Bighorns, we headed back to Gillette. And that's when our worst month of the year began.
On the long, seven percent grade down out of the mountains, the engine on our Ford F450 tow vehicle over-revved while I had it in lower gear. Without getting into the details and the blame, we lost the engine. We were towed to a nearby campground.
That was on July 15, and the next day the truck was towed to the nearest Ford dealer. Once it was determined a new engine would be required, we had our fifth wheel towed back to Gillette where we had an obligation to work a rally.
We finished the rally and took a week to determine whether we wanted to replace the engine at a cost of $18,000 or get a new used truck. We decided to go with the new engine.
A few days later, we picked up the truck, but the new engine failed within 70 miles. The dealership retrieved the truck and ordered another engine. They tested the second engine prior to installation and determined a third engine would be necessary.
We were stuck in Gillette for a month while all that was being done. We went into a bit of a mini-depression thinking not only about the cash outlay for the new engine but also worrying whether or not we were going to be able to rely on it. In addition, we were dealing with high winds and 90 - 100 degree weather with no way to move our rig. Thank goodness we were able to pass time with the summer Olympics. :)
Ultimately, we got over the cost of the engine by treating it like a sudden market loss in our savings. If the market went down dramatically, we could very well have "lost" that much or more. That helped us psychologically.
Finally, on August 14, we picked up the truck. The dealer had test driven it a hundred miles and we drove it another 300 miles that day to make sure there were no other problems before we towed. During that trip, we drove through mountains and visited the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
That whetted our appetite to get back on the road and enjoy the rest of the year although we lost a good three weeks in our travels. We perked up pretty quickly. :)
After a rare one-night boondocking stop, we arrived at our next site, a nice boondocking spot just outside Grand Teton National Park.
We had a view of the mountains out our back window, but due to summer wildfires, they were shrouded by smoke for almost our whole visit.
For the next two and a half weeks, we explored Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks from our boondocking spot and from the Mammoth Campground (more dry-camping) at the north entrance to Yellowstone. We had hoped we would have a month, but the truck incident shortened that plan. Still, we got to do a lot of exploring. We watched wildlife (moose, bison, elk, beavers, coyotes, wolves, pronghorn and more), hiked, fished, visited lots of thermal features, paddled a couple of lakes, and floated the Snake River.
Here is a montage (sorry about the smokiness of the Tetons).
Hidden Falls Hike - Grand Teton
Taggart Lake Hike - Grand Teton
Paddling String Lake - Grand Teton
Paddling Leigh Lake - Grand Teton
Black Pool, West Thumb Geyser Basin - Yellowstone
Old Faithful - Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Grand View - Yellowstone
Lower Falls, Yellowstone River - Yellowstone
Norris Geyser Basin - Yellowstone
Grand Prismatic Spring - Yellowstone
Morning Glory Spring - Yellowstone
Those are just a few of the amazing scenes we witnessed at these two connected national parks.
From the north entrance of Yellowstone, we made our way through Montana making one stop in the first week of September. The smoke was thick there as well, so we moved on quickly.
We made another short stop in the panhandle of Idaho, and then we buzzed through eastern Washington and landed in Boardman, Oregon along the Columbia River.
With our Fall Rally scheduled for the middle of September in central Oregon, we didn't have much time to explore, and we were disappointed we had to skip Washington altogether. Also, we had scheduled some service and maintenance work on the fifth wheel in Grand Junction. It wasn't in the budget, but since we were in our seventh year we really needed to get some things done. So, we replaced our slideout awnings, had all of our windows re-sealed, and had potential trouble spots on our roof re-sealed.
A few days later, we drove a few miles up the road to Harrisburg where we held our Fall Rally. It was a smaller Rally, but it was successful nonetheless and we had a great time.
After the Rally, we spent the next month exploring the Oregon Coast and the northern California redwoods area, with a small rally we worked in between.
In addition to coastal elk, and sea lions, we saw quite a few Harbor Seals, ....
and we saw several whales from the shore.
We really enjoyed our time on the coast. One highlight was an evening campfire on the beach with hot chocolate as we listened to the rushing creek as it met the thundering waves.
In northern California, we saw more whales, seals, and elk ...
and we marveled at the magnificent redwoods.
The rains and cool temperatures moved in along the coast the last couple of weeks of October, so we started traveling a little quicker down through central California. After a brief stop to check out the Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi, ...
We hustled on down to the Escapees Park Sierra Co-Op in Coarsegold.
By the end of the first week of November, we were making our first ever visit to Yosemite National Park.
Half Dome from Glacier Point
Tunnel View into Yosemite Valley
Half Dome and the Merced River, Yosemite Valley
A couple of days after our visit to Yosemite, it snowed and some of the roads we wanted to explore were closed. But at least we had one great day. :)
Continuing south before it started getting colder, we found a great boondocking spot outside of Barstow, CA at a place called Rainbow Basin (Owl Canyon Campground).
After six wonderful days there, we moved on into Desert Hot Springs to spend Thanksgiving with some friends at their winter RV park. We spent two weeks in Desert Hot Springs where we explored the Palm Springs area, did a little hiking, ...
and played some golf.
But by the end of the first week of December, we were back out boondocking in the desert north of Joshua Tree National Park.
During our stay there, we did six great hikes in Joshua Tree.
Then, to finish out the year, our friends booked us three weeks at the Escapees Jojoba Hills Co-Op RV Resort in Aguanga, CA about a half hour east of Temecula.
With us knowing a few couples at Jojoba Hills and it being an Escapees park, it has been a great place to spend the end of the year holidays. It's been unusually rainy and cool during our stay, but we have been more in the mode of just chillin' out anyway. We're gettin' good and rested up for 2013. :)
We ended the year at the park's New Year's Eve dinner ....
where Bob & Lynda ...
got us advanced tickets. Of course, it's been several years since we've seen midnight on New Year's Eve, so we were happy when they did a countdown at 9:00 for midnight eastern time. :)
Looking back at our year, even with the whole truck thing, we certainly can't complain. We had some wonderful wildlife encounters, we did some great paddling, we added six national parks to our total, we stayed in some fabulous places, and we saw fantastic scenery. Not to mention all of the friends we hooked up with and all the new friends we made.
I'm glad I took the time to do this 2012 review. It was an amazing year, and looking back really helps us appreciate the life we are living and helps us keep the rough times in perspective. The RV-Dream lives on and we're looking forward to many, many more years of adventure, freedom, fun, and happiness on the road. :)
Have a great 2013 everyone!!