A Travellerspoint blog

May 2016

A long day - our arrival in the USA

written by Birgit

semi-overcast 9 °C
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Our last night in Germany was extremely short. The alarm clock went off at 3:15 am. Once in the gate area, we really deserved a cup of tea to observe the sun coming up before boarding the plane to Berlin and eventually taking off - not without the obligatory take-off kisses that experienced flyer Max reminded his parents of. A bit of waiting time in Berlin, then another flight - this time in a much larger A330. The inflight system helped to keep us entertained, some sleep and good food. But no matter what, after roughly 10 long hours everyone of us was extremely happy to leave the plane and to encounter the 'Welcome to Chicago' sign.

Standing in the line for immigration, I told Sam that I was a bit nervous. I'm not sure why, as I never had any trouble in entering a foreign country. Still, what happened then, deserved the ingoing nervousness. The immigration officer simply did not believe us in what we're planning to do. So what followed was a conversation over probably 10 minutes or more with one question followed by the next:
- So how long will you stay in the US?
- Why do you have a visa and are not using ESTA?
- Do you have enough funds to stay as long?
- Do you have proof of the funds in your bank account?
- Can you show me an account statement?
- Where do you work?
- How come you're getting so much time off?
- Where will you stay in the US?
- Who is it you'll be living with?
- So if you'll be traveling around, will you rent a car?
- What, you bought a car - how much did you pay for that?
- Do you have some kind of proof for having bought this van?
- What will you do with the camper van after your travel is over?
- Do you have a flight out of the US - can you show me proof of that flight?
All of these questions came interwoven with statements like 'I never heard a crazy story like this before' or 'I get to see lots of German tourists every day, but never encountered someone planning to stay for so long or doing this kind of trip'.
The turning point probably came after his question if we had told this crazy story as well at the embassy in Frankfurt and what their reaction had been. I told him that we had laid out exactly this 'crazy' plan to the officer in the Frankfurt embassy and that there had been no strange or wondering response to that at all, but just the agreement to grant us the visa. Presumably he then just gave in and with a very frustrated expression in his face moved to questioning us about our customs declaration and which kind of food we were bringing with us.

I can't tell you how much my heart was pounding by the end of this whole ordeal. And even though I had admittedly been nervous before the immigration interview, I had not been expecting an interview of this dimension at all! The good news is that after this episode, at least we're now prewarned that US immigration is not to to be underestimated and will consequently prepare a bit better with print outs of some of the relevant pieces of information.

All the rest was easy going: waiting for our baggage to arrive, getting through agricultural screening, walking though the sliding doors into the arrivals area of the airport. And this is where Janis - my host mother of 25 years ago when I was an exchange student in Chicago - waited for us eager to hear the story of our flight and the immigration process.

And soon afterwards we arrived in Glenview, it was time for greeting Phil, Sam and dog Junie. We tried to use the classical jet leg avoidance strategy when moving west: staying up as long as possible to get so tired that sleeping is no issue. And between lunch, going to the playground, grocery shopping, playing with Max, eating Sloppy Joe for dinner it was already 7:30 pm (respectively 2:30 am the next morning German time) by the time Max moved over to the sofa to go to sleep. This made it 23 hours in which he only got 2 hours of sleep - impressive for a four year old! That means that it had been a long day in fact. Sleeping deeply until 6am next morning is what I'd call success in a 7 hour time difference...

What followed was a very nice Saturday in which the greatest fun was watching little Max enjoying himself. He never complained about his parents and everyone else speaking English with each other, but seemed to accept that without any concerns. Eventually he started playing with 27 year old Sam and even though Max does not speak any English and Sam does not speak any German, they did get along extremely well. At least Max was constantly talking to Sam and asking him all kinds of questions. And Sam was smart enough to just use Google translate to translate his messages to German and to having the system say it to Max. Unfortunately his strategy did not work out perfectly, as Max instead of answering Sam's questions or reacting to statements in any way, simply repeated whatever sentences he heard the computer say. Very funny indeed!

So we've adapted to our surroundings and are very content. So we'll be mentally prepared to get to know our camper van... Which we've obviously noticed parking in the drive way, but quite frankly were simply not ready to get to know. So that's the plan for tomorrow morning!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:28 Archived in USA Tagged jetlag immigration arrival Comments (0)

Meeting our camper van, trips to Oak Lawn and Evanston

written by Birgit

sunny 10 °C
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After two days of pretty much ignoring the fact that there is a camper van sitting in the driveway that actually belongs to us, Sunday morning was the time for a first date. And the first impression was very positive. Max and I tried out the pop up roof and tested out the bed up there. Max liked it up there immediately and proclaimed that he will be sleeping up there. In parallel I was constantly thinking on how to best protect him from falling down from there while he'd be sleeping there. And while we were making ourselves comfortable, Sam started checking the technical features of the van - which seem to be all in excellent condition.


Sunday afternoon was dedicated to meeting Carol, Pete and Susie with her kids in Oak Lawn. And Max was fascinated to say the least. He was greeted with a present: a new bicycle in 'Cars' design for him to use throughout our trip. And he went off right away to test it out and went into fast races with Susie's kids. And there were lots of additional presents for all of us: Carol had been collecting all basics for us during the last couple of months such that we'll be able to outfit our van with almost all we need: blankets, sheets, towels, kitchenware, BBQ utensils, a folding table and a big box filled with toys for Max... What a treat! But then we also got treated to excellent food and simply could not resist to even clean out the bowls with strawberries and the chocolate cream. And Max had so much fun with Susie's kids that after just 5 minutes in the car, he soundly fell asleep.


Monday morning was then dedicated to sorting out what should go where in the van. At first sight, the van looks really big. At second sight, I started wondering how to fit all in though... But I guess we'll figure it out over the next couple of days and within the next two weeks, everything will have found it's place.

At noon we were invited to Janis' office in Evanston to meet her and her colleagues for lunch. What a breathtaking view they have from their office! And while having lunch, we had great conversations. The fascination about German laws in respect to getting a year of parenting time off is understandable considering that in the US in small companies women might not even be entitled to take maternity leave... Legislation can make enormous differences! And subsidies as well - hearing that we paid less than 200€ per month for Max' day care even when he was less than a year old must sound like heaven in an environment where you're not able to take maternity leave and day care will cost easily 2000US$ for an infant. Having these conversations reminded us once again how fortunate we are, being able to take time off and to go on a trip like that. Lucky us!


We spent the remainder of the afternoon at the lake-shore of Lake Michigan at one of Evanston's nice - but windy - beaches and at a local ALDI to do some basic grocery shopping. We avoided the German white wine called 'Landshut', but rather went for German beer to complement our purchases of Romanian and German beer from two days earlier. In a global economy it's easy to get stuff that reminds you of home. And it's even nicer when the favorites from home are complementing favorite foreign foods such as the tasty Mexican food (including re-fried beans) we were treated to tonight, not to mention the incredible amounts of Matt's chocolate chip cookies I was able to eat despite actually being quite full.


And after three days of only living off WIFI connections, today our new SIM card arrived and we're now again fully connected to the digital world!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:31 Archived in USA Tagged bike evanston amper glenview Comments (1)

From the Great Lakes to the Mississippi and beyond

sunny 25 °C
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We spent another two days getting our van fully tested. To do that, we started sleeping in the van in Janis’ driveway. Sam also tested most technical features and discovering some issues that require fixing. Luckily enough the guys at Art’s RV were kind enough to check our van. They had a new anode for our heating system on stock (we hardly recognized that this was the part we needed, as it did not look at all like the worn part we had in our van) and they were able to order a part to replace our leaking gas valve.


In addition, we did some shopping such that our van now features among others new colorful carpets, a doormat and a new folding table. So eventually on Thursday May 5 we were all set and it was time to say goodbye to Janis, Phil and Sam in Glenview. But not before they had written into our guest book. Everybody who has been at our place knows that our guests are always asked to write into the book. As this is such a nice routine and flipping through it brings back so many nice memories, we figured we might as well continue that tradition while traveling around.
Our plan was to spend a couple of hours in Chicago on Thursday. We were lucky to find street parking and set off in freezing temperatures (it’s the Windy City after all) to take the L train into town. After a stop in the beautiful and huge City Library, we headed off to famous Buckingham fountain in Grant park. Unfortunately, a lady advised us not to approach the fountain. But it did not feature water yet anyhow – no wonder given the freezing temperatures the last couple of days. After the mandatory stop in Millennium Park at the Bean we had to get back to our car again, as the parking spot unfortunately had a two hours maximum parking limit. And we did not want to risk a ticket already in the first week.


As we had decided to take the scenic route South, we got to see along Lake Shore Drive not only Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum and Soldier Field, but also the Museum of Science and Technology in Hyde Park. Most likely many people would avoid driving through Chicago’s South Side. When I was in high school I sometimes spent my weekends at my friend Precious’ place and usually our weekend count of white people was below five. Still, at bright daylight on one of the larger streets, there was no reason why we should not go that way. Everything looked pretty well kept, even though it was obvious that the neighborhoods cannot benefit from the same income level as on the North Side or in the suburbs.
After a night in Carol and Pete’s driveway in Oak Lawn where we benefited from lots of traveling hints from Dave and the scheduled visit at Art’s RV, we were ready to leave Chicagoland headed Southwest. Even though we pretty much followed Route 66, we consciously decided to stay on the interstate to get moving forward more quickly. With all the national parks and scenery waiting for us in the Southwest, we can’t wait to get there. And even though that might not do some of the sights in the Midwest justice, even having five months in North America require us to make some choices.
We spent our first night at campground in Sangchris State Park outside Springfield, IL. We had planned to stock up on our groceries just before getting to the prk in Rochester, the small town with a population of 3400. Our first stop was at the local hardware store which had everything Sam desired to buy on stock. While this was true for the hardware store, we were not as lucky in regards to groceries. Seemingly Rochester is too small to have a grocery store of it’s own and we had to go back the five miles into Springfield to do our shopping.
We found a really nice spot in the Deer Run campsite. Best of all: it featured very nice neighbors. Tim and Barb were on an outing with their six-year-old grandson Nigel. So Max had a companion to play with and later at night all of us were sitting together at their campfire. What a nice start into our adventures.
A late start into the next morning brought us to St. Louis in the late afternoon. It was fairly straight forward to find parking downtown, but it was also a bit spooky to hear from a guy passing by that a girl just had her car stolen around the corner from where we were. Still, we figured that our rather old car would not classify for being stolen. Still, we rather took all valuables and passports with us. The skyline of St. Louis featuring the Gateway Arch is spectacular. Still, Max was by far more attracted by the lively Citygarden. At the first time around he limited himself to biking once through the fountain area. The second time around he was unstoppable and eventually even jumped into the pool. He had fun and luckily the temperatures allowed for getting wet without having a set of changing clothes with us.

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We ended our day at Meramac Caves and were surprised to find the campground there almost empty despite the fact that it was a Saturday evening. So we chose a spot next to the river, not too far away from the playground and enjoyed our second night camping out.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 08:03 Archived in USA Tagged fountain chicago leaving camping springfield st.louis Comments (1)

Midwestern Road Side Philosophy

Written by Birgit

sunny 28 °C
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In the last couple of days we’ve done quite a bit of driving – over 1300 miles by now. And as we’re still pretty much in through fare mode, this was mostly on the interstates along the old Route 66.


When traveling such distances, the scenery changes significantly. From the endless flat black fields of Illinois over the Mississippi into the rolling hills of Missouri. Oklahoma was flatter once again, but there we encountered mainly grassland with much more cattle around little ponds of water. And Texas’ red earth clearly put another accent to the landscape.
The other thing that is hard to overlook along the way are the many billboards. While we had not seen too many of them in Illinois (or were not quite paying attention at that stage), they were just way too obvious in Missouri. Admittedly we have spent probably not even 30 hours in Missouri. Astoundingly enough these 30 hours were long enough to teach us a lot about life and what’s important in life by just reading the signs along the interstate.
‘Quit dreaming, start living’, ‘Happy wife – happy life’ or ‘Be bigger’ all could have been written by philosophers. There is a lot of wisdom (or fun) in all of them. But clearly enough: what might seemingly present itself as philosophical statements triggering the readers’ mind on what is important or not in life, was in fact all advertisement. As the pictures next to the statements reveal, ‘start living’ requires you to own a huge RV, the ‘happy life’ will happen if you spend the money on engagement bands with enormous diamonds, to ‘be bigger’ is easiest if you start gambling in a casino. My personal favorite was ‘Roadtrip calories don’t count‘ which invited to shop at a chocolate factory.
Interestingly enough, these billboards were carefully interleaved with more profane advertising such as ‘Supermarket - Free fireworks with every purchase’, ‘Caves – open today’, ‘Tobacco – lowest tax state’ or ‘Adult video. Men’s spa’. We discovered without much research that not all promised made on the billboards were in fact true. At least the Meramac caves that were promised to be open turned out to be closed for at least another week due to some chlorine vapors. And most likely also the seemingly philosophical promises would turn out to be false promises that are not worth the money spent.
All in all, Missouri billboards were telling their story of a fun and relaxed place. Even the official road safety signs were kind ‘Buckle up. Drive carefully. Love Mom.’. Missouri seems like a good place to be – even though looking at billboards might realistically not be the best way of telling.
As soon as we crossed the border into Oklahoma, it was extremely obvious that there is a different culture in that state vs. neighboring Missouri. We were greeted (not unexpectedly) by a toll road and speed limit signs with the additional note that there’s ‘No Tolerance’. After almost 800 miles on the road, we suddenly learned that ‘Bridges ice before road’ and that making a U turn on the interstate is ‘strictly prohibited’ vs. ‘only allowed for authorized vehicles in the previous states. Oklahoma being a more correct place than others already then. But then we read ‘Meth – not on our land’, ‘We have lots of good traditions – domestic violence is not one of them’, ‘Detect strokes FAST (F…, Arms, Speech, T…)’, ‘Saving money now, might end in bliss forever’ and realized that Oklahoma must be heaven for teachers. Still, Oklahoma must have a small funny side as well, as they sincerely praise themselves as ‘Oklahoma – The shopping cart was invented in our great state’. What a state…
One of the very first billboards that greeted us in Texas was the ‘Top of Texas Catholic Super Store’ followed by one for the Amarillo Brewery offering a free 72oz steak for everyone who manages to finish it alone. So we’re greeted by a different culture once again…
Still, I do have my personal favorite sign. I really loved that one. It turns out that contrary to all the ones mentioned before, this is a sign we still saw in Illinois… Above the entrance to the restrooms at the gas station in Farmersville it said ‘Men left, as women are always right’. Sam has quoted that statement several times since we’d seen it. And even in some those events we’d probably be talking more the exception than the rule, I still love it!
There were still lots of other road side observations, but let me just mention one last one: From what we’ve seen, it seems that there’s one very easy but workload intensive way to prove status and wealth: the more lawn you have neatly mowed around your house / farm / estate including the sides of the road, the better.
I’m fairly sure that the interpretation of what you see along the way, is not the most realistic and correct way of telling how a state and culture is like. But it’s a lot of fun, that’s for sure!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:32 Archived in USA Tagged billboards roadside midwest interstate Comments (0)

Overcoming some technical hurdles

Written by Birgit

sunny 30 °C
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As some of you might have realized, there were a couple of days with no blog entries. And reading my email, a couple of you had started to wonder what’s happening.
What has happened is very easily explained. In our first couple of days in Chicago we were going online by simply using wifi. Easy. Too easy in fact, as this way we did not try out the data features of our new SIM card. It took us a couple of days of troubleshooting trying to get the APN settings right and trying all kind of phone settings. Eventually it turned out that we had to call the SIM provider to get the data plan activated. So the good news is that our connection issue it is now fixed. We can go online via our phone now and upload any blog entries written on the laptop to travellerspoint. It was just so late that night by the time we had it working, that neither Sam or me had the passion to also upload the corresponding photos to the blog. Sorry for that. So if you’d like to see pictures of blog entries without any pictures, check again a bit later and they might be added.
We actually hoped to add them the next evening. So far to the plan. Still, even the activated data plan does not help much if there is simply no network connection at all. This is currently the case as we’re in Texas’ Palo Duro Canyon State Park. And being in the canyon and seeing it’s sheer size and depth, I’m not surprised to have no connection down here.
So let’s see by when we’ll be able to upload this entry to the blog. As there’s no exact plan yet, in regards to where we’ll stay tomorrow or the day after, it is hard to tell if we’ll have a connection there or not.
For those of you who don’t want to check the blog every day just to realize that no new entry has been uploaded: you might want to consider using the ‘subscribe’ feature. That way you’ll get an automated email informing you of every new blog entry.
PS: It's been two days since I wrote this. And I'm just sitting in a Santa Fe Laundromat which features wifi uploading what I had written... Let's see how much I'll get uploaded by the time laundry is done and my boys are back from the playground...

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:42 Archived in USA Tagged internet wifi network data subscribe Comments (0)

Moving West and first camping experiences

sunny 30 °C
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As we were having technical issues to access the internet for the first couple of days, we simply used a good old map (thanks Janis!) and still got along fine. Even though the scale is not enormous, it shows enough for us to find the interesting places. And as not all campgrounds are shown in the map, but all state and national parks are, this is where we went. Already our very first experience in Sangchris Lake State Park had been excellent. And while at Meramac Caves we accidentally ended up in a private campground vs. the State Park a couple of miles further on, we also liked that location in a small valley directly next to a river very much.
So no wonder that Sam picked another State Park for our first night in Oklahoma. The Map read ‘Honey C. S.P.’ next to Grove, OK and that’s where we wanted to go. As we had left fairly late from our previous campsite, it was already quite late, everyone was hungry (and who knows me, knows that I’m then usually not in my best mood). So after a couple of unsuccessful tries in locating the state park, we eventually decided to go back to one of the two RV parks we had seen along the way.
Eagles’ Landing RV Park was located next to a large lake and seemed very nice at first sight. Unfortunately, the nice location had a hefty price tag of 45$ (vs. 20$ which we’d most likely have paid at the state park). In addition, the pool turned out to be a pool table only and the playground was located far away from the water in the section of the 40’ RVs. What turned out to be strangest of all were the bathrooms though: They featured a sign ‘bathrooms open now – new and remodeled’ and in fact they tiles used were quite classy. But as it seems in the refurbishment it was forgotten put in bathroom doors – very strange!
The extremely windy and cloudy weather did not help either to make up for the other topics, so despite the nice location more than 300’ away from all other campers directly at the water we were happy to leave the next morning.
Sam got to drive the part when it was pouring rain to Tulsa and I got the sunshiny bit to Oklahoma City. That’s where we took a lunch break at a park with a huge playground. Max loved it – especially the climbing wall and the slides. He easily made friends with a younger boy and it would have been very hard to eventually get him to leave if he wouldn’t have been stung by a bee into the foot. Some cooling and five gummi-bears later he was happy again. But he was afraid his foot would hurt too much and therefore did not want to go back to the playground.
So we headed off to our next destination, the Red Rock Canyon State Park a bit west of Oklahoma City. It had sounded nice on the map and in fact it turned out to be very nice. The canyon was maybe a mile long, the weather was bright sunny, there were hardly any other campers and we found a spot directly nest to a playground. Perfect!

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So after four days of driving it was time to make a break and stay for longer than just one night.
We enjoyed a full day taking it easy and exploring the canyon. And in the evening we finally cracked the internet issues and stayed up late to upload another blog entry. The pictures were not ready yet, but never mind, at least one entry was live again…
Our next destination was Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Even though most people never heard of that canyon, it is in fact the second largest canyon in the US after Grand Canyon. We had heard about it once before in a picture documentary of the Rotenburg songwriter Shiregreen at the Hünfeld Stadtcafe. So we knew that we definitively wanted to go there. And it was definitively worth the detour from Amarillo.
The first night we already realized that all around our campsites were holes in the earth – the home of some hamster like creatures (we’re not really sure what animal it was). On the next morning we were welcomed by a group of turkeys – one male with four hens following him.

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From our campsite we took a great outing along the river ‘Paseo der Rio’ and then went part of the way to the Palo Duro landmark rock formation ‘Lighthouse’. Max was doing the full way with his little bike. Soon after starting the Lighthouse trail, he attempted a detour and fell into a cactus – but after removing all of the spikes, was ready to start over right away. It was a very fun outing with great sights along the way – the red colors of the rock contrasted really nicely with the blue sky.

The next morning, we were greeted at our campsite by some deer. Not shy at all, they were grazing directly next to the tents and RVs. Really nice!


We then headed off towards New Mexico and were amazed by the wealth of information that we were given at the welcome information center directly at the border. Based on that information we defined our plan for today and the next days. We wanted to head into Santa Fe and then head north west from there.
So that’s what we did: after a long day of driving with more than 320 miles, we arrived at our campground in the Santa Fe National Forest. We were lucky to still get a site, as it was already quite late on a Friday afternoon.
And contrary to Palo Duro, we were allowed to make a campfire. Max enjoyed sausages, we enjoyed some steak – excellent!
That evening we also met a couple of German travelers – easily recognizable by the German license plate on their van. They had started their journey in Buenos Aires in November, were going down to Patagonia and all the way up along the Panamericana. They will be travelling until July when they’ll head back to Germany. They gave us a couple of tips on where to go and we returned them the favor by telling about the places we stayed in lately. It’s always great to meet others who are sharing the same passion in regards to travelling.
Saturday morning, we headed into Santa Fe and were surprised by free parking due to the Community Day which took place at the central plaza. What an excellent coincidence. This was the perfect opportunity to see lots of locals and children in action, to see what the local clubs and community programs are like and to admire the fire engine No 1 and the Mustang police car.


But independently from that special event, we had an excellent impression of Santa Fe. It looks like a really sympathetic place to be. The local style of architecture and the good food certainly help…


Posted by dreiumdiewelt 22:17 Archived in USA Tagged wildlife canyon camping texas newmexico oklahoma Comments (0)

Meeting different cultures – recent and past

overcast 14 °C
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We liked Santa Fe a lot, but after all none of us are real town people. We’re rather in the outdoors and that’s why we headed off after another night in the Santa Fe National Forest (at an alititude of 8475 ft or almost 2600 m).
After a quick stop at the national cemetery our first destination was Los Alamos. Both Sam and I had read the book ‘Surely, you must be joking Mr. Feynman!’ by Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, in which he recounts about his time in Los Alamos. And somehow we felt that being in the vicinity, we wanted to make a stop there. The stop was limited to a picnic break, shopping in a local supermarket and driving through the center of town, but was worth it. As we headed out of town towards the Jemez mountains to the west, we were surprised by a control point where the nice lady checked if Sam’s identity card is still valid. If was, and consequently we were allowed to pass by the Los Alamos National Laboratories into the direction we were headed.


We had not quite expected the road to wind up so high though and at some moments we almost had the feeling that it was more snow than rain coming down. The landscape was awesome: we saw some deer along the way and were amazed by the spectacular Valles Caldera – a 13-mile-wide volcanic crater created about one million years ago.


After passing through some nice forests, we decided to stay at one of them, once again in a National forest close to the Jemez Falls. Despite the not so distant thunder, we attempted the hike to the nice waterfall and while not necessarily spectacular, it was a very nice sight. And we were lucky not to get wet, as the rain seemed to limit itself to other areas close by.


For dinner we once more used our fireplace to cook a delicious vegetable stew. Max did a great job in helping Sam to cook. As we were told, we put away all food again into the van, as the rangers told us that there was a harmless black bear seen this afternoon in loop 1. We camped in loop 3, but still thought, it’d be a good idea to stick to the guidelines in regards to food storage.


Moving on the next morning, we decided to take the paved much longer road vs our original plan of passing by Fenton lake, which would have been unpaved. We had unfortunately forgotten to fill up our tank in Los Alamos before heading off and it just seemed a bit too risky to end up without fuel on a less travelled road. And in retrospect, we’re very happy that we took that decision – the landscapes we passed through were simply spectacular. And it seems that with every bend in the road they changed dramatically.


A couple of hours later we arrived at Aztec and visited the local Aztec ruins, a National Monument and World Heritage Site – a recommendation that the German couple had given to us a couple of days earlier. And the recommendation proved to be excellent. We bought our $80 ‘America the Beautiful’ Pass, which will give us free entrance in all National Parks and affiliated sites for the coming year and decided to also invest into a Passport to collect the stamps of all sites we’ll be visiting.

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We were lucky to complete our tour of the ruins just in time before the heavy rain started, which accompanied us up to Durango and beyond. Unfortunately, due to the rain, the vistas were hidden and we could only imagine what was hidden from our sight. And on the way to Mesa Verde NP we even noticed a bit of snow next to the road – so we mentally prepared for a cold night.


Arriving at Mesa Verde we were just 10 mins late – the visitor center had closed at 5pm. We tried our luck and just went towards the park entrance. And we were lucky to be let in with our new yearly NP pass and to hear that there are still plenty of campsites available. And in fact we found a nice spot that should be our home base for the next two nights with a nice mountain backdrop.
We enjoyed a quiet evening including all the pleasures of our new location (such as free hot showers and free wifi). And then we were ready the next morning to head off to the sights. Already the views from the various view points were spectacular.


But even better then the cliff dwellings... While it was already hard to understand the full meaning of some of the buildings we had seen in Aztec, the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde are clearly something even more staggering. For some of the dwellings it seems just so difficult to reach them, let alone to build them and to support more than 100 people living in one of the larger ones… Amazing!

Have a look at the second picture: do you spot the cliff dwelling in the overhang?

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:11 Archived in USA Tagged cliff los verde mesa aztec dwellings alamos Comments (2)

Under the starry sky of Utah

Written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 25 °C
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After another very cold night in which it was very useful to have the heating system in our camper van, we left Mesa Verde the next morning while it was raining.
By the time we arrived in the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez to stock up on maps and information, the rain had subsided. Still, we continued to have nice vistas of rain showers in the distance.
On our way towards Utah, we stopped at Dove Creek to get gas and used the opportunity to shop in the local supermarket and have lunch at the deli. The food was good, inexpensive and the place was full of locals, which was a sight in itself.
Once again we stopped at the first welcome center we saw in Utah and were now all set to go to the Natural Bridges National Monument. The scenery on the way there was already great and made us stop several times to take pictures.

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So eventually we arrived a bit later than originally anticipated and got to learn at the park headquarters that the campground is already full. Upon their advice we turned back around two miles and used the dispersed camping up along the dirt road to ‘Deer Flat’. What a great spot alone in the landscape without anyone around us! And all for free…



We were lucky to stay dry, but just a couple of miles north of our spot was quite a rainstorm going down. We were happily sitting on a ridge observing and counting the lightning strikes and the following thunders. And Sam even managed to catch two of them in pictures. As the clouds were eventually also above us, we did not see the starry sky of Natural Bridges, which was inaugurated about 10 years ago as the first Dark Sky Park worldwide for its lack of artificial light sources. But never mind: anyhow there would not have been a chance to see the milky way, as the moon is almost full these days.

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The next day was dedicated to the Natural Bridges. The first bridge was the largest one and is the second largest in the world (behind Rainbow Bridge at close by Lake Powell). It was clear that we did not want to limit ourselves to the viewpoint, but that we’ll attempt the 0.6 mile and 500 ft altitude hike to the bottom. And it was definitively worth it. Already on the way down it was a really nice hike along the steep overhanging walls of the canyon and a bit further down we were already presented by the vistas of the bridge. My personal favorite was standing underneath the bridge and looking up against the sky realizing how enormous it is. And in addition it was nice and cool down there. Whereas on the way down the flora was more desert like, down there we were surprised to see lush green, large trees and a very refreshing climate.

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The second bridge is the youngest of the three, therefore still very thick and less eroded. We limited ourselves to the viewpoint in this case.
But at the last bridge we wanted to head down again. Actually we realized that the course of the water had changed since the bridge formed and consequently it is not really a bridge anymore, but a freestanding arch without any water running underneath it. That had the big advantage that we were able to head further down to the current riverbed and had a spectacular view of the full formation.


There were more spectacular vistas to come. Driving down towards Mexican Hat we took the turnoff to the dirt road leading to Muley’s Point in order to enjoy the vista from the 1100 ft drop-off over the goose-neck meanders of the San Juan River towards Monument Valley.

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A bit later we went down exactly that 1100 ft drop over a gravel road call Moki’s Dugway. It’s incredible how this road was built into the steep walls. From down below it is hard to see that there’s a road.


Down in the valley we took the turn off into the Valley of the Gods – once again a recommendation of the German couple we had met in Santa Fe, a really good one! The Valley of the Gods is sometimes called the little sister of Monument Valley. But contrary to Monument Valley it is public land, it is possible to camp there. Most likely that camping location will earn a spot in the top 10 camping locations of this trip – maybe even in the top 3, let’s see. And once again: this marvelous campsite does not cost a cent!


It was really hard to leave that marvelous spot the next morning. But we were rewarded by even more gorgeous sights.
After having been to the Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley seemed way too touristic and crowded. In addition, given to the strong winds, it was rather unpleasant, so we limited us to driving the Monument Valley Loop. The rock formations were surely spectacular, the road reminded us more of the back country roads of Namibia which were mostly better in shape than the roads in this major tourist destination… One could even assume that this is linked to the business that can be made by offering expensive rides in open pickup trucks for all tourists who cannot or do not want to attempt the loop in their own vehicle.


Still, it was very clear to us that we definitively did not want to stay in the campground at Monument Valley. It would have been located exactly on that most windy ridge on a gravel lot where one RV was parked next to the other. And it would have cost 42$ per night without any hookups. Sorry, no way we’d be doing that…
So thanks to Dave’s hint to use freecampsites.net, we identified a good alternative option to camp for free at Navajo National Monument. After a drive of about an hour we arrived there and were happy to hear that there are still enough spots free in the campground. We decided to go to the sunset loop and picked a slot which featured a large sandy area for Max to use as his playground.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:56 Archived in USA Tagged bridges sky monument of utah valley gods national natural Comments (1)

Taking it easy at Lake Powell

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Navajo National Monument turned out to be a nice spot. We had originally not planned to go there, rather ended up there as a base for the night.
Being there we also took one of the hikes and were surprised to see a once more an enormous overhang with cliff dwellings in which Ancestral Puebloans have lived somewhere between 1250 and 1300 when they suddenly left. There still seems to be lots of scientific discussions and speculations around their leaving, with the most likely explanation being an over 10-year drought that the Puebloans took as a sign that it’s time to move further on their journey towards the center.
With the overhang being a bit closer to the valley floor vs what we had seen in Mesa Verde, the whole setup seemed a bit more realistic and I could actually see how a large group of people could live there – warmed by the winter sun in their overhang, while protected from the summer heat at the same time.
The next morning, we headed off to lake Powell. Contrary to our travels up to now, we have a reservation coming up and want to be in Page on Monday to take a tour of Antelope Canyon. So Lake Powell was going to be our base for the next days. As it was a Saturday, we tried to get to the campsite rather early in the day in order to make sure we’ll still get a slot. In retrospect this was not necessary, as the campground at Lone Rock was a huge beach. We picked a slot directly at the beachfront a bit away from the next campers and enjoyed a nice day at the beach.
It was a relaxing day. If it wouldn’t have been for the episodes of hefty wind or rather storm resulting in d a deep skin peeling, a perfect day. Specifically Max enjoyed being at the beach and in the water.


On Sunday we wanted to go into town. After an easy start into the day and a clean-up session of the van our first destination was Wahwaep campground, just a mile south of where we had stayed. As we longed for a shower, wifi and had a pile of laundry to do, it just made sense to invest in a campground again with all of these services – after all we had not been paying for camping for four nights in a row… After having secured ourselves a slot, we then stopped at Glen Canyon dam and the visitor’s center before going into Page for Sunday lunch.


At the Mexican restaurant we met three guys from Saaldorf, easily recognizable by the ‘SV Saaldorf’ shirt one of them was wearing. Saaldorf is just around the corner from my home town and used to be and still is one of the standard destinations when we’re going out for lunch with my family. So it was a nice coincidence and we used the opportunity to exchange travel recommendations, as the three had started in Los Angeles and were headed towards Denver and we are headed in the other direction.
Before heading to Horseshoe Bend, we did stock up again our supplies shopping at Safeways. While initially we were a bit put off by the masses of people headed to the Bend, in fact the people dispersed quite quickly and were loosely scattered along the rim. And the sight of the Horseshoe Bend with the blue green band 1000 ft underneath us was absolutely worth it. What a dramatic view and what a nice blue greenish band underneath us!

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While Sam and Max went down to the beach, I did our laundry and uploaded the blog updates from Mesa Verde to Navajo NM. Unfortunately. the wifi was more than poor, so it took ages to upload all the pics. But better than no connection at all – after all we did not have wifi nor network for the last couple of nights. And during the days we usually have more interesting things to do than spending our time where there’s connection to the internet.
The next day started with another stop at the beach before we headed towards Antelope Canyon. We had cancelled our reserved tour the day before after we had heard from our Bavarian acquaintances that they had gone directly to the Lower Antelope Canyon on Saturday and got to go at 11am after just an hour’s worth of waiting. Knowing that around noon the light is best for taking pictures of the canyon and that they paid only 28$ per person whereas our tour would have cost 102$ for the three of us and would have started only at 3:30pm, we figured we’d take the risk. And we were lucky in fact. We got into the canyon shortly before noon and given that only the adults had to pay for much less money than what we’d paid otherwise.
The canyon was amazing! Breathtaking. I’m not sure how many pictures we took between Sam with the wide angle DRL and me with the GoPro. With every bend of the canyon there were new formations and the light playing on the sandstones. I was so happy that we went onto that tour. And even though Sam would probably have loved to take a photographer’s tour, we did get great vistas also on our tour. And we were lucky with our tour guide Tiarnen – he not only had all the information about the canyon, but was also a keen photographer and made sure we got the right pics in the right places.

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I’m really happy that I had insisted on going to Antelope Canyon. It was definitively worth the visit and most likely otherwise we would not have gone to Lake Powell at all. And specifically Max loved the opportunity to play in the sand and water at the beach.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:09 Archived in USA Tagged canyon arizona lake utah antelope powell Comments (2)

Arizona landscapes

sunny 28 °C
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One amazing canyon in a day is not quite enough, so we headed from Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ, onwards to Grand Canyon. We arrived in the late afternoon, just in time to get nice evening views of the Canyon from the watchtower at Desert View.


That the campgrounds in the National Park were full, did not really shock us. We also declined to go with the plan B the ranger had to offer, but went with our own plan to search for a dispersed camping site in Kaibab National Forest around mile 270. The plan worked excellently and we found a nice site, just a couple of miles from the park entrance.
The evening was used to get Max’ bike fixed again which had two flat tires due to the spiky thorns that were all along Lake Powell. While Sam fixed the bike, I cooked dinner and Max eventually turned to playing Lego after helping his dad for a while. A nice and calm evening.


The next day we took in a couple of nice viewpoints along the Eastern part of the park. At Grandview lookout we also took a small hike down in the direction of the canyon. But we did not plan on going really further down, even though Max was all set to go down all the way. The nice thing was that as soon as we climbed down a bit, we were suddenly all alone without any other people around.


Shortly after that we parked our car and took a walk along the rim – Sam and I walking and Max on his bike. And given that all parking spots were full at the visitor center anyhow, this was the perfect choice: nice views, fresh air, some exercise and very few people. At the visitor center I got the obligational stamps for our National Parks Passport and we then went on to Mather Point to take in the view while enjoying a cup of tea with some cake. Eventually we returned the same way we came, got back to our car and went off to find the next campground.


The campground and RV park in Tuyasan was not really what we had in mind: we were not planning to stand lined up in a row with other RV which would most likely have their air-cons and compressors on all night just for the pleasure of having an electrical hook-up. So once more we went into the Kaibab National Forest and had a spot for ourselves.
The next morning, we started to head down towards Flagstaff. While initially we were only passing through a rather flat countryside, eventually the scenery became a lot nicer when passing through the San Francisco mountains. Flagstaff surprised us as a quaint small town and as it was time for a break anyhow, we used Janis’ map in order to find a park. The one we found was absolutely crowded with kids on their recess from the adjacent school, but it featured a nice skatepark which Max soon later tried out with his little BMX bike.


Given that it is Memorial Weekend coming up, we wanted to secure our campground well ahead of time for the weekend. So we eventually left Flagstaff towards Sedona. Having had the choice between a couple of places, it seemed like Flagstaff / Sedona was a nice area to spend a couple of days for the long weekend. And we were lucky to get one of the last remaining spots in the Pine Flats campground half way between Flagstaff and Sedona.
We spent the next day running some errands, specifically trying to get a new spare part for our shower system. Admittedly it was a bit of a miss not having taken care about that already in Page, as we knew that our shower system is actually a deck shower for marine use. And consequently the RV stores we went to were not able to get it for us. At least Buddy’s RV Service in Flagstaff was so kind to allow us to order the part to their address. After all, we had found it online at Walmart and for a change this time we knew that we’d stay in a location for a bit longer than usual.


The next couple of days we explored the region a bit. Sedona was top of the list, not so much for the spiritual energy and the vortexes that are supposed to be there, but much more for the nice small town with the amazing red rock country surrounding it. Based on a recommendation from Jakob’s guide book we attempted the Airport Loop. But eventually we realized that it was not a good idea to attempt that with Max’ bike. So we had to move to plan B: Sam continued onwards with Max and I went back to get the car. We then wanted to meet at a park which we had seen on a map. And as it happens so often plan B was by far better than the original plan. The park did not only feature an enormous playground, but also a water splash park – what a reward for Max after having attempted such an exhausting bike trail!


A bit of shopping, a bit of rock sightseeing and back we went to the campground for a relaxing evening and a full next day without going anywhere. We used the lazy day to tidy up the van and to do a couple of maintenance efforts such as preventivly sealing the roof with a silicone Sam had bought specifically for that.


In the evening we took a hike up to the canyon rim – 800 strenuous feet upwards (that’s at least what the hiking guide said). For us it was nice exercise after a rather lazy day and even Max enjoyed the hike up and even more so the way down. In the evening we met another German family who were already in their seventh and last month of travelling before heading home. And once more, we took lots of recommendations specifically for the Mexican part of the trip, as they just travelled Baja California up as we’ll be doing in a couple of weeks as well. In case you’re interested to get to know them: check out kidsontheroad.de.
Memorial Sunday was reserved for another trip to Sedona, this time to a nice creek with a view at Crescent Moon Ranch. At half past ten the (large!) parking lot was already full, so we packed our stuff and Sam parked a bit further down along the road while Max and I tested already the waters. What a nice refreshment on a hot sunny day like that!


Our first spot was already great. Based on the recommendation of local family, we went on a bit further to an even larger pool with a small waterfall. There the water was even deeper and the view to Cathedral Rock even nicer.
One last fifth night at our home base Pine Flats, we then left the next morning with the clear goal in mind to reserve a spot in a KOA campground. After all, it had now been 17 without electrical hook-ups and with the exception of Page also without Wi-Fi or network connection. And even though the sign in front of the Flagstaff KOA still featured a large ‘Sorry, we’re full’ sign, we tried and easily got ourselves a site reserved for the night. With electrical hook-up, free Wi-Fi, dump station, a laundry, hot showers and mobile phone connection – everything and even more than what we need. And with freshly washed laundry, a fully updated blog and fully charged batteries in the camper van, we’ll be all set for our upcoming adventures… And we’ll be conveniently located to pick up our spare part tomorrow just a mile up the road!
After that was all settled, we used the opportunity of having reception before noon to call home. And then we set off for a day trip to the nearby Barringer Meteor Crater. The crater is with its 50,000 years rather young and given the dry climate (just 7.5’’ of rain / snow per year) really well preserved. Hard to imagine the impact that meteor had – not to speak even about the larger ones that there are worldwide.


Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:39 Archived in USA Tagged rocks creek sedona meteor flagstaff Comments (0)

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