June 2, 2011 – Ft. Pierce to Silver River State Park, Silver Springs, FL

193 miles driven today; 4,355 total miles driven – high temp 92 degrees – partly cloudy skies, wind a light breeze from the east

We have lots to do this morning, rounding up our things at Mike and Carol’s, stuffing last minute things into the refrigerator and ice chest, and hitching up the boat. Goodbyes are said, friends are hugged, and promises of future visits are made, and by 9 am we are off. Our return drive has begun. I don’t intend on driving far this day, however. As a boy of 14 my family made a vacation trip from our home in Los Angeles across the country to Florida, and one of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Silver Springs, where we rode the glass bottomed boats. I would like to see this place again, so we pull in at nearby Silver River State Park around 1pm. We set up in a great pull through camp site, eat a late lunch, and then drive the truck over to Silver Springs. This place has been a tourist attraction here in Florida since the 1870’s. The Silver River has its source here where it literally springs from the ground. Natural springs disgorge more than 800 million gallons of water each day, and this water is of exceptional purity and clarity. We pull in to the parking lot, past the big waterslide park which is not yet operating (it starts up when school lets out). The parking lot is virtually empty. The Silver Springs park itself is like something out of a time warp. It feels very much like I remember it from nearly 50 years ago. The facilities are in fairly good shape, but if you look closely, the signs of deterioration and neglect are impossible to ignore. The springs and river, however, haven’t lost any of their appeal, and the glass bottom boats are still a treat to ride. An elderly black gentleman named Oscar is our boat captain, and he’s very warm and engaging. He gives us an interesting tour of the springs and waterways at the heart of the park. We also go on a jeep trolley ride through a small animal park, and later take a second boat ride down a different waterway. We learn that visitation is way down, and the future of Silver Springs is very much in question. This is not at all surprising. The current management seems content with squeezing revenue out of aging facilities, without the necessary reinvestment and upgrading. Also, very little advertising is being done, so it’s not surprising that Silver Springs is having a hard time in this slow economy, with high gas prices and severe nearby competion from Disney World. It will be sad indeed if this icon of Florida tourism ends up having to close down.

After leaving Silver Springs, we return to the State Park. It’s too hot for fixing dinner, so we take a walk along one of the park’s trails, down to the river. We see some whitetail deer, an armadillo, and a gator along the way. Back at the boat I fry up some mahi mahi for dinner, and it’s excellent. I’m typing out at the table as the sun sets, and the bugs are starting to drive me nuts. It’s time to head for the shower, and then I’ll take shelter inside the boat cabin, with bug nets securely in place.

June 3, 2011 – Silver River State Park, FL to Escatawpa Campground, Wilmer AL

497 miles traveled today; 690 miles on the return trip; 4,852 total miles driven – high temp on truck mirror thermometer 107 degrees (probably a few degrees lower) – strong thunderstorm while driving through southern Alabama

We get up fairly early this morning, so we can be at the park office by 8am, where we will rent a canoe. I fill out a form and grab a pair of paddles and lifejackets, as well as the key for canoe number 1, and we drive back down to the parking area near the museum. We quickly walk the half mile trail to the river, where a dozen 15 foot fiberglass canoes lie, upside down on low wooden frames. I unlock our canoe and tote it to the launch ramp. We toss life jackets and day pack in, and we’re off. The paddling is easy as we work our way upstream in the 3 mile an hour current. The water is crystal clear, and many species of fish, including largemouth bass, bluegill, shad, catfish and gar can be seen as we quietly pass by. Turtles are also numerous, both under the water and hauled out on logs. Woodducks seem to be perched or swimming on almost every bend. Cormarants and anhingas are virtually always in view, usually perched on a log, drying their wings. We see the occasional alligator, both along the bank and out swimming. We surprise one sizeable gator as we round a bend. He accelerates ahead of us, and then abruptly dives below the surface with an excited splash. Birdsongs and bullfrog calls are the only sounds which break the silence, that is until we near the Silver Springs Park. In the distance we begin to hear their canned music, which gets piped through aging speakers all over the park. The music is pure 60’s elevator music. I expect to see Pat Boone and Patty Page strolling around, ready to break out in song. Actually, it’s nearly 10 am and as the glass bottom boats come into view, we see no one. The music pervades, but the place seems deserted. It’s as if the music was on a timer, and all human habitation has suddenly become extinct. Very strange. The caged gibbon ape does his part, calling out with his mournful, high pitched “Whoop Woop”. A pair of gators engage in a vocal dual, each voicing deep gutteral roars while arching their backs and snapping jaws. Such is the morning scene on the Silver River. We turn around and glide back downstream toward the launch ramp. We pass by several canoeists who are quietly paddling upstream. Just above the ramp we hear motors, and around the bend, at idle speed, a pair of jet skis sputter up the river. They are driven by a pair of young guys, each easily weighing 300 pounds. They are clearly strangers to muscle powered watercraft.

Our Silver River canoe paddle at an end, we return the gear, hitch up the boat, and start making serious miles toward home. Some windshield impressions of Florida: Floridians must be extremely accident prone, given the number of billboards advertising accident lawyers and chiropractors we see. They must spend a lot of time in church, since nearly every major intersection in the towns we pass through hosts at least one church. And a fair number of these church goers must be troubled with guilty consciences if they’re tempted by the dozens of billboards advertising Cafe Risque (We Bare All), which line the freeway.

We stop for dinner in Pensacola, and have a fun meal at McGuire’s Irish Pub. The place is jammed for happy hour, but we get right in for dinner. The walls and ceilings are literally papered with signed dollar bills. Our waitress says they estimate over 1.2 million dollar bills are taped to the interior. Food is excellent, and by the time we exit, people are waiting outside for a table. We resume our drive as the day winds down. It’s been extremely hot today, with temperatures on the truck thermometer climbing as high as 107 degrees. To our west, a dark cloud starts tossing out lightning strikes. I phone ahead and arrange our overnight stay at a private campground on US 98, just before the highway crosses into Mississippi. The lightning storm proceeds just ahead of us as we drive past Mobile AL and on to the campground. We make good time, and arrive at 8:30pm. The owner is expecting us, and leads us to our campsite in his pickup. It must have rained hard just before we arrived, since waves of water surge out, beneath his tailgate, as he bounces down the road to our campsite. It’s late. We’re tired. Time for showers and bed.

June 4, 2011 – Wilmer AL to Tyler State Park, near Tyler TX

487 mi driven today; 1,177 miles on the return trip; 5,339 miles total – a little less hot today, with high temp on the truck thermometer at 102 degrees; a few sprinkles this afternoon; very humid

We start our drive around 8:15am, and it’s already getting warm outside. Just a few miles west of the campground we cross into Mississippi. Our route takes us through Hattiesburg and Jackson, and by noon we’re on the outskirts of Vicksburg. We stop for lunch at the Vicksburg National Military Park. We take in the Visitor Center film and museum, and go on the 16 mile driving tour which follows the northern half of the seige trench lines. Monuments, memorials, placards and long silent cannons appear along both sides of the road. Near the end of the drive we round a bend and see an enormous white canopy which covers the restored remains of the USS Cairo, a Union river gunboat which participated in the Vicksburg campaign, and which was sunk by Confederates using an electrically detonated submerged mine. Cairo has the dubious distinction of being the first ship ever sunk by this means. Nearly 100 years after she went down, Cairo was rediscovered in the mud of the Yazoo River, and was raised from her watery grave and restored for public exhibit. She’s the only ship of her kind still in existence, and is quite a remarkable thing to see. The adjacent museum is filled with artifacts which were recovered when the ship was raised. All are in remarkably good condition.

Around 3pm our travels resume. We head west on Interstate 20, crossing over the flood swollen Mississippi into Louisiana. The cities of Monroe and Shreveport are along our route, and shortly after Shreveport, we enter Texas. It’s another very hot afternoon, and thunderstorms lurk to our north, but fail to cool the air we’re passing through.

The roads we’ve driven today have been mostly good, especially the rural stretches. It seems that the tire and shock absorber lobbies have done an effective job of keeping road surfaces very uneven and rough in the vicinity of the cities we drive through, however. Jackson and Shreveport, in particular, really jerk us around. The road is so bumpy that the boat snaps the bow strap which connects the boat to the trailer winch. I retie the hook to the strap, and hope it will hold for the duration of the drive. I suspect that the strap has weakened from years of ultraviolet exposure. I will replace it before our next road trip.

June 5, 2011 – Tyler State Park TX to Santa Rosa NM, on Route 66

637 miles driven today; 1,714 miles on the return trip; 5,936 miles total – high temp 98 degrees

We’re on the road by 7:30am, with a long drive ahead of us. I hope to get as far as Santa Rosa New Mexico, which is more than 600 miles away. It’s warm and humid as we pull out of the park. Today we’ll transition from humid hardwood forestland to the high elevation arid grasslands of New Mexico. The drive across Texas is monotonous, with the rolling, forested hills of east Texas gradually giving way to open grasslands. Some of the churches we pass by look to be as large as small college campuses. We drive through Wichita Falls, but it seems to take forever before we reach Amarillo. Finally we cross the New Mexico state line, and we begin to see some variation in the landscape. Ridges, draws and arroyos provide interest and relief. As we gradually reach higher elevation, the temperature moderates, and is down to the mid 80’s by the time we drive past Tucumcari, which is on the old Route 66. I decide to drive on to Santa Rosa, where we pull in at a commercial campground. I had thought of going in to the Santa Rosa State Park, but it’s getting late, and the park is 7 or 8 miles off the highway. I’ve driven enough today. It’s time for a quick swim in the park pool, followed by dinner and a bit of relaxation.

319 miles driven today; 2,034 miles on the return trip; 6,616 miles total – temp in the mid 90’s, wild to 40 mph out of the south, heavy smoke and dense blowing dust in the air for much of the day

This morning we parallel old Route 66 on I-40 through Albuquerque, Grants and Gallup. At Gallup we’re on the eastern edge of Navaho country. The air has become severely overcast, a combination of blowing dust and heavy smoke from a major wildfire which is burning out of control to the west of us, in Arizona. The country is getting very scenic, with colorful outcrops and mesas, but we can barely see because of the dense haze. We exit the freeway at Gallup and jog over to Window Rock, a town on the Navaho Reservation and just across the Arizona state line. We head north on Indian Reservation Route 12 out of Window Rock, driving past dramatic red sandstone bluffs. The road is good to begin with, but deteriorates further along. We’re looking for a place to pull off and stop for lunch but there are no road shoulders, and no pullouts of any kind. We climb steadily, and the vegetation transitions from short grass to scrub, and as we near the top of our climb, into a mixed juniper/pinon pine/ponderosa pine forest. Around 1:30pm we approach a lake on our left, which has a wide turn out where several vehicles are parked. On the uphill side of the road I see a small campground with tables and fire rings. It looks to be the perfect lunch stop. We park beneath the shade of a large ponderosa and enjoy our break from driving.

The sky has cleared somewhat in the higher elevation, however as we drop down to the north, we encounter dense blowing dust. We get hints of the dramatic scenery, especially around the town of Bluff, however the views are marred by the hazy sky. Around 3pm we near the town of Blanding UT, where our fellow MacGregor sailing friends Sumner and Ruth live. Our arrival is somewhat delayed by a construction zone just south of town. Regarding construction zones and road work areas, I should mention that we’ve encountered numerous such stretches of highway during the course of this trip, and there’s something about them that I just don’t understand. In nearly every case they’re signed well in advance, usually with ample warnings about double fines for speeding violations. They’re also invariably lined with hundreds of those plastic orange barrels. Sometimes, like today, traffic is controlled by flaggers. However, in only one instance I can remember for the entire road trip have I ever seen any crews or equipment actually working. I can see where, at some time or another, some work has been done, but the construction equipment is invariably idle and nary a worker can be seen. I recall, from childhood cross country road trips with my family, being held up by many, many road construction zones. And back in those days, such stretches were invariably the scenes of intense activity. Graders were grading, dump trucks were dumping, water trucks were watering, and paving machines were paving. Where have all those workers gone? I don’t know when or how actual road work ever gets done these days, but it certainly hasn’t been happening when we drive through construction zones.

We pull up to Sum and Ruth’s place around 3:30pm and are warmly greeted. This is actually the first time we’ve met face to face. We’ve exchanged e’mail messages over the MacGregorSailors website for quite a while, but never actually met. While Sandy and Ruth get acquainted, Sum takes me into his shop, which houses an impressive array of shop tools, largely oriented toward auto mechanical work. Occupying a substantial portion of the shop sits an amazing machine. Sum labels it a “Lakester”, which is a type of ultra streamlined race car, specifically designed for high speed runs on the Bonnevile Salt Flats. Sum has designed it himself, and is building it from stratch. It’s incredibly long and narrow. At present it is an impossibly complicated looking array of steel tubes and rods, which support the steering gear, fuel tanks, brakes. parachute deployment tubes, and other machinery too complex for me to describe. He’s begun installing thin aluminum skin just behind the unbelievably cramped drivers seat. He thinks it could go as fast as 300 miles per hour when completed. He explains details in the design and function of its various parts and systems, but most of this information just sails over my head. I’m overwhelmed with the idea that one guy has conceived this machine, and is actually bringing it into being.

Considering all his metal working skill, I ask him to examine the swim ladder on Chinook, which got bent while we were tied up in the marina at Nassau. He thinks he can straighten it, so we remove it from the boat and he goes to work. By applying just the right forces with a press, a floor hoist, and a “cheater” pipe, he’s able to restore it to very nearly its original shape. The hinge now works once again, and it lines up perfectly on the stern of the boat. I thank Sum for his fine work and toss the ladder into the back of the truck. I’ll clean it up when I get home, and screw it back into place.

We spend the balance of the afternoon sharing sailing stories. They serve up a delicious meat loaf dinner, and afterwards we show them powerpoint slides of our Bahama cruise. It’s quite late before we turn in for the night.

June 7, 2011 – Blanding UT to Tye Rest Area, just north of Soldier Summit UT – Touring Anasazi sites with Sum

230 miles driven today; 2,264 miles on the return trip; 6,656 total miles – beautiful clear skies, temperature in the low to mid 80’s, wind 10 mph from the south

We get up this morning with the idea of getting on the road again shortly after breakfast, but Sum makes us a proposal we can’t refuse. He offers to take us on a guided tour of some nearby Anasazi ruins sites. For years he’s operated a trading post here in Blanding, and he’s spent countless days driving the back roads and hiking into the canyons, exploring this remarkable country. He’s also gained keen insights into the geologic features and cultural history of the area. In the course of his ramblings, he’s come across a great many Anasazi ruin sites, and he’s willing to take us to a pair of the best nearby sites. How can we turn down an offer like that?

We grab the day pack and climb into his 4 wheel drive rig for the ride out onto the nearby mesa and canyon country. He points out the distant peaks and landmarks which can be seen from Blanding, and the scope of the panorama is truly amazing. The westernmost peak we see is approximately 300 miles distant from the Telluride peaks we can see in the distance to our east. When we were out on the Atlantic Ocean on this cruise, sitting in the cockpit of our boat, we couldn’t see more than a patch of water 8 or 9 miles in diameter. We drive up to the first site, which looks to be a sparsely vegetated hill. The surrounding area is covered by juniper and pinon pine, but the only plants growing on this hill are short and thorny. Sum calls them “ruin weed”, and says they only grow on the sites of Indian ruins. He stoops over and immediately picks up a pottery chard. He points out sharp flakes of chert, the remains of ancient Indian tool making work. Near the top of the hill, shallow depressions mark the former locations of kivas. On the downwind side of the hill he notes that the soil is darkened, presumably from the burning of village waste and disposal of campfire ash. A little further down, he leads us to a very large depression, which he informs us is the site of a former great kiva, probably used for ceremonial gatherings. It’s at least 30 or 40 feet across, and around 6 feet deep. At one time, this great kiva would have had stone walls and a rounded, arching roof. We find the remains of a stone wall, undisturbed for perhaps a thousand years, since the ancient ones first fitted these stones in place. We feel honored and privileged to be shown this site. Sum shares his considerable knowledge with us, and also conveys his deep respect and appreciation for such places. We take numerous pictures, but leave all artifacts where we’ve found them.

We drive further into the canyon country, and turn off on a narrow track which runs across bare rock. He parks and we scramble down the rock and into a narrow, winding passage where running water has carved deeply into the sandstone. We slide down off the rock onto a dry creek bottom and look to our left, toward a steep rock alcove, and there it is. Perched 20 or 30 feet above the creek bed is the unmistakable form of a cliff dwelling. It’s fully 2 stories in height, in outstanding condition. We climb up for closer examination. The outer corners of the walls are crisp and sharp, and expertly made. I peer inside the doorway and can see the wooden framework of the second story floor joists, as well as the log ceiling rafters. Above me is a window, with a header made of 4 wooden limbs, in perfect condition. The fact that the logs and limbs used in this condtion are perhaps 800 to 1000 years old is simply hard to comprehend. It’s in far better shape than many contemporary structures which were built just 40 or 50 years ago. The walls of the alcove are richly decorated with petroglyphs and pictographs, and the ground we walk upon offers up more chert flakes and pottery chards. This site is in remarkably pristine condition, easily as fine as any to be found in Mesa Verde National Park. I find myself trying to imagine this place once again inhabited by its builders.

We next drive to a scenic overlook which affords sweeping view of the nearby canyons and mesas. Sum points out canyon after canyon, all of which house ruins if you know how and where to search. If I lived here, I’d love to scour these canyons for discovery experiences like we’ve enjoyed today.

Back at the house Ruth serves up a hearty lunch, and then it’s time for goodbyes. We look forward to continuing this budding friendship in the future. Then it’s back on the road. We continue north on US 191 through the unbelievably beautiful red rock country around Moab. We cross the Colorado River there, and a short distance beyond, cross over the Green River. As the sun drops lower in the sky we drop into Price, and then climb up to Soldiers summit, nearly 8000 feet above sea level. We stop for the night at a rest area a few miles beyond the summit. The facilities are quite new and very nice. Hopefully, we won’t be disturbed too much by trucks parking nearby.

June 8, 2011 – Soldier Summit Rest Area to Hagerman National Fish Hatchery, on the Snake River, ID

327 miles driven today; 2,501 miles on the return trip; 6,983 miles total – chilly overnight (43 degrees inside the boat by morning; high temp low 70’s; occasional sprinkle and mostly cloudy

My hopes for a quiet night were dashed by a semi who parked next to us and unexplainably left his diesel engine running at idle all night long. Despite the racket we still managed to sleep fairly well. We don’t have far to go today, so we take our time getting started and don’t leave the rest area until around 8:30am. It was quite chilly last night, and we were glad I flipped the sleeping bag over to the “winter” side. We drive down the winding Spanish Fork and into the Great Salt Lake valley. Traffic is surprisingly light as we head north on I-15. We merge with I-84 at Ogden, and I tell Sandy that we’ve just closed the loop. Back on March 3 we’d been in the east bound lanes of I-84, on our way to the East Coast. After nearly 7.000 miles we’ve returned to this highway, and from here on in, we’ll be backtracking. From the amount of snow we see in the mountains, and the lush green grass growing along the road and on the hillsides, it’s apparent that this area has enjoyed an unusually cool, moist spring.

We are headed for Hagerman National Fish Hatchery today, for an overnight visit with our friend Eric. We spent a night there with him on our way east, and look forward to sharing stories with him about our trip. He gets off work at the hatchery at 3:30pm, and we roll in shortly before then. Eric usually grows a large garden, and we notice that the garden patch is untilled and full of weeds. He informs us that it’s just been too cold, thus far, for planting. For dinner we barbeque a unique version of surf and turf, namely some beef steaks from Eric’s freezer and some mahi mahi steaks from our refrigerator.

June 9, 2011 – Hagerman ID to Leavenworth WA, our home – Last day of the trip

550 miles driven today; 3,051 miles driven on the return trip; 7,533 total miles driven – chilly again overnight, but mostly clear

We get up just after 6 am and have coffee with Eric, before he heads off to work at 7am. We quickly pull things together and are on the road by 7:30am. It’s a very familiar route from here on in. I feel as though I could almost put the truck on autopilot and let it steer itself for the rest of the way. We cruise west, across the Snake River plain, following the old Oregon Trail route across southern Idaho and crossing the northeast corner of Oregon. In the early afternoon, just north of Hermiston OR we cross the Columbia River and back into our home state of Washington. The river boils and churns, and is uncharacteristically muddy in color. The spillway gates of McNary Dam, just a mile or two upstream from the bridge, are wide open, releasing a spectacular flow of whitewater. We’ve crossed 23 states in our journey, and are finally back on home territory.

We take a short byway I like, along the Yakima River from Benton City to SR240, which crosses a barren plain along the edge of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where nuclear fuel was refined for the atomic bomb during World War II. (The nearby Richland WA high school football team unapologetically takes the name “Richland Bombers”). We cross the Vernita bridge, which spans the only remaining free flowing stretch of the Columbia. At Vantage we climb up into the Columbia Basin, which is irrigated with waters diverted from behind the Grand Coulee Dam. Soon we’re driving into the greater Wenatchee area. We again cross the Columbia River just north of Wenatchee and drive the familiar last 22 miles up the Wenatchee River Valley toward home. The rivers are running full with heavy spring runoff, and the surrounding hills are much greener than usual for this time of year. While we’ve been enjoying 80 degree days in the Bahamas, folks around here have been bundled up against the chill of spring rains. We pull up in front of our house, and I back the boat up our steep driveway. At 5:30pm I twist the truck’s ignition key to the off position. After driving 7,533 miles to Florida and back, we’re home again.