In Love with Louisiana

We’ve spent the last few days in Louisiana just driving around and taking in all the scenery. The green and bayous are so pretty, we can definitely see why people love the South so much. We drove into Baton Rouge for a little bit to walk around downtown and gaze upon the old buildings then we headed to New Orleans.

As it was Easter and a Sunday when we got into New Orleans, we figured most shops would be closed. However, we found ourselves driving into the French Quarter at just the right time to find a grand Easter Parade happening. People dressed up, music and beads, it was so fun and I think we both fell in love New Orleans! We met really great people too during our stay and had some wonderful conversations. We did the touristy thing, walked around snapping pictures of the old buildings, street performers and just of the city itself.

There was so much to see and so much to take in, we were in awe most of the time. Evidence of destruction from the hurricane was still present, but Louisiana has clearly worked hard to get back to normal. It’s absolutely amazing how a community can rebuild itself like that after such tragedy. We were shocked to see the density of abandoned buildings and houses, so there is still a lot of work to be done. However, everyone we met seemed to be in good spirits and very friendly. NOLA will definitely be on our list to stop at again.

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Some fabulous Queens!
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The street filled for the Easter Parade.
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Street performers, couple dancing.
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We snapped so many photos of graffiti

Living in Vanna: part 2

Our adventures have quickly taken us to Florida, where we are going to be traveling down to the Everglades. Our plan was to get there before it’s too full of bugs. Once we’ve explored the Everglades, we will slowly make our way up the Florida coast line, then back West and wherever we may want to go.

So, since we’ve been hastily driving our way through the U.S, we haven’t been able to do any of the real camping that we’d like to do. Walmart parking lots have been the most reliable and safest places for us to park and sleep over night. We have now become so comfortable with sleeping in the parking lot, we have even cooked dinner and made coffee a couple times just right there where we’re parked. No one ever says anything or asks us to leave.

Showering or keeping clean is still a task, living so tightly neither of us wants to smell bad. While we know truck stops are an available option, it’s not really an affordable option when living on a tight budget and showers cost $11-15/person. We have been fortunate enough that one RV park let us shower for free and we only paid $5/person for showers at another RV park. We bought a ‘camping shower’ prior to us leaving Idaho, which is really just a bladder with a hose and a nossle but we haven’t found too many secluded areas yet without getting completely lost in unfamiliar land. So, baby wipes and the sink in public restrooms when no one else is around is working for now. It’s only been two weeks, so I’m sure we’ll become pros before too long.

Refrigeration is another issue to tackle. As we’re traveling in areas with warmer climates and humidity, we’re going through ice like crazy! We only had a few things in our cooler like eggs, condiments, cheese, lunch meat for Jeff, coffee creamer, etc. We tried dry ice once thinking it would last longer, but all did was make a mess. A block of ice is what we want but can’t find it anywhere. We asked at one store and they looked at us like we were nuts! So, I gave up my coffee creamer and switched to the powdered creamer (yuk!) and we decided not to buy anything needing refrigeration unless we’re going to cook / eat right away. And no more big tubs of yogurt either! ( We had a little incident with the yogurt breaking open and ruined most of the food in cooler, not fun.)

Sleeping in the van with these hot muggy temps, we didn’t think about how warm the back of the van was going to get. Lately before bed with it being too warm to even think about sleep, we lay in the dark with slider door open and cross our fingers for a little breeze. We have A/C for the front of the van, but that’s not something we can run all night. So, now we’re on the look out for a fan to use in the back.

We’re getting settled into this new lifestyle and slowly evolving into van dwellers, nomads, transients, gypsies or whatever label you may want to put upon us.

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Us at the Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland, FL

Birders Don’t Travel Far

We left Pecos and headed towards San Antonio. Although San Antonio is much bigger of a city than what we are use to, we thought it was a nice place. We spent our time there at a park walking the dog and looking for birds. We saw our first Northern Cardinal while we were in San Antonio, which made us quite excited. We stayed there over night and headed toward Houston in the morning.

As birders, or people who watch for birds, we always have our eyes in the sky. On the way to Houston, a small break at a rest stop quickly turned into a birding excursion. More Cardinals, Black Vultures, and a Black Crested Titmouse were among the handful of birds we saw at the rest stop. Not having a time frame to get anywhere really gives us the ease to enjoy the things like this that we like to do.

We finally got back on the road, but still focused on finding birds. Looking at our map, we spotted a refuge on the way to Houston; The Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR. So, as birders we naturally took the detour to explore. However, we discovered we were either unable to access any part of the refuge or not smart enough to figure out where the access was. The drive out there though was very pretty, as we drove on country roads and got to see a handful of ranches.

We make our way to Houston at about 3:30 in the afternoon and traffic was already slow and go. Realizing how big the city was and with traffic already testing Jeff’s patience, we decided to drive through and not stop. We ended up stopping in Baytown, Texas where we found a little park to make us a nice dinner and to play with the dog. We spent the night there at our trusty spot, good old Walmart!

While continuing our drive SE, we found another refuge to explore in the morning, the Anahuec National Wildlife Refuge, it is located along the coast of Texas west of the town High Island. There was so much to see there and so much area to cover, we ended up spending the entire day there. The refuge itself was absolutely gorgeous, one of the prettiest places we had seen. We definitely saw more birds than we could count too, and a lot of new species we had never seen as well. One particular bird that I was excited to see was the Roseate Spoonbill. A handful of them flew over us and then we were finally able to spot some resting in the grass later on. They are very pink birds and oh so pretty. (We also saw our first wild alligators and an armadillo.) The further SE we travel the bigger of a variety of birds we will see than we are use to in Idaho.

Today we continued along the coast and went into Louisiana making our way into the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. As we were driving in along the coast we must have stopped a dozen times or more to look out into the water and onto to the beach at the various types of birds. We spent a good portion of our morning and afternoon cruising the coast and walking around the refuge areas. We’re now in Lafayette, Louisiana where we will stay for the night and try to go through all of the bird photos Jeff has taken over the last few days.

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Northern Cardinal
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Roseate Spoonbill
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Ibis

Carlsbad Caverns

Tuesday afternoon we arrived at Carlsbad Caverns National Park for exploration. As we are driving up to the park Jeff notices a sign that indicates no elevator services. If you haven’t heard of or looked into Carlsbad Cavern’s, then no elevators doesn’t seem like a big deal. But when you have to trek a mile and a half down into a steep dark hole and then back up, no elevator is a pretty big deal. As we started down, we passed people coming back up and I joked about being nervous to come back up seeing how wiped-out everyone was. But, once you start walking down though, each step deeper is definitely worth it. The caverns were absolutely amazing and were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The cave is primarily made of limestone and the caverns were formed by the strong dissolving action of sulfuric acid. All of these formations were so unique and placed just so, almost as if we were in an art gallery. We made it down, then started our trek back up. We stopped numerous times on our way back up to catch our breath, take more photos and to let me rest. This was a pretty steep trek and my back was not too impressed with climbing it.

After wandering through the gift shop and visitors center to cool down and catch our breath, we drove through to Pecos, Texas where we stayed for the night.

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Inside the caverns
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Just amazing!

Living in Vanna

imageWe’re getting better at this van living and stealth camping. Realizing showers will be few and far between, we have become quite familiar with baby wipes. They do their job and at least we don’t feel like we’re going to bed dirty. I’ve already tried the sponge bath idea with our wash basin and a bar of soap, made me feel like a brand new woman!

Sleeping in the van is actually pretty cozy, we’ve been finding ourselves sleeping 9-10 hours. Now finding spots to park the van for sleep is the fun part. We have been able to park it a couple times on pull outs or ATV roads when we were visiting Zion, but finding ‘camping’ spots elsewhere has been tricky. Coming from Idaho we’re use to our mountains and easy access to camp sites. So, what’s the next best thing? Walmart parking lots! Yep, you know you’ve seen a RV or two parked at your local Walmart. Most Walmarts allow it, it’s usually a city ordinance code if they don’t. We have found ourselves parking and sleeping at Walmart a few times and just recently we parked at a Flying J Rest / Gas Stop. We just park close to but not right next to other vans or RVs to blend in and we go on with our night. I purchased a Go Girl for nights like those and it’s come in quite handy.

Living this tightly you really get to learn more about each other and yourself too. No showers for days, sleeping in odd places and using public restrooms not only for the bathroom but to occasionally rinse out a dirty bowl or cup pushes you to uncomfortable edges. Jeff and I have been together for over 8 years and quickly moved in together so we know a lot about each others quirks. But when you can take a sponge bath in front of the other inside the van, you know you’re comfortable with each other.

We’re living on a tight budget too. Obviously gas is going to be the biggest expense for this journey and when we calculated our budget, we estimated gas to be about $2.5/gallon and right now gas prices are averaging $1.9/gallon. We can only spend about $11 a day on food and that’s if we buy anything. Currently we are nicely stocked with food, easy to eat food like almonds, fruit, protein for shakes, sandwich stuff, oatmeal, etc. Jeff has been craving a hamburger the last few days and every town we go into smells so good of fast food. I’m vegetarian so eating cheaply at fast food means french fries, there’s no $1 veggie burger that I know of and a person cam’t live off of french fries. So, we’ve been sticking to the store bought food we have and making things as needed. Last night all we had for dinner for black beans and tortillas. It wasn’t much but it tasted good and filled our bellies.

Van life isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to be tough and willing to experience life in a whole new way. We have only been on the road and living in Vanna for a week but I’m very glad we took this journey together. This will be crazy and wonderful experience for us to share.

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Being a Tourist

After spending a couple hours in Flagstaff at a McDonald’s parking lot for WiFi, (Thank you McDonald’s!!) we then wandered over to the Petrified Forest National Park. It was quite interesting to see all these pieces of wood that are millions of years old and to think what could have been there before we were here. Some of the pieces almost looked fake too, they were so pretty. After driving through the rest of the park, we decided to drive straight through to Albuquerque where we stayed for the night.

Monday morning after getting our tires rotated, we did what any crazy Breaking Bad fan would do when they find themselves in Albuquerque; look for the homes of ‘Jesse Pinkman’ and ‘Walter White’. We found both of these homes and quickly snapped a photo as to not bother the residents inside. We felt like super nerds, but sometimes you just have to be a little silly. To continue on with our theme of nerdiness for the day we decided to be a tourist and drive down to Roswell since we were still in New Mexico. We had this vision in our heads of Roswell being very touristy and covered in aliens and it really wasn’t like that at all. It was a decent sized town, most of the popular motels or hotels did have a wooden totem pole like alien outside their lobby and a few stores downtown play tribute to the theme but that’s about it. We snapped a few photos as tourists would and then had dinner at a nice little park. Tuesday morning we visited the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge for quite some time, finding a few new birds we hadn’t seen yet this trip. We probably could have spent all day there but we wanted to get onto our next adventure; Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

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From the Petrified Forest
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I was like a little kid, I love dinosaurs!!

Zion

So far, everything has been going well. Vanna is holding steady and we’re slowly learning the ropes of things. This life on the road is a whole new beast to conquer and we haven’t even passed through the gates. Our ‘kids’ seem to be adjusting well also. We did bring my parrot Leonard along, I just couldn’t leave him with someone if we end up staying out for 6 months as we are planning. He’s a pretty easy going bird and so far hasn’t been fazed by any of the new commotion, just enjoys the sunny car ride. Our dog Manko is usually a nervous dog but is very use to riding in the car for long weekend trips and now after a few days seems to be settling in. Both of us are starting to get a system down already too, I think living in the 5th wheel prior really helped us prepare for this. Our space is definitely limited but it’s still livable!

We’ve spent the last couple days at Bryce Canyon and Zion Nation Park. Bryce Canyon was beautiful, but Zion is just breath taking. We spent one night not too far from Bryce Canyon, finding a nice ATV road to park the van for the night. While we were camping there, we saw our first “wild”Peregrine Falcon. In Boise, we have a pair that nest downtown and there are live web cameras to watch them. But this guy was ‘wild’ and soaring above the cliff! That next morning was quite chilly as we were at about 7,000 some feet elevation. As we drove into Zion we just couldn’t believe the views, photos really don’t do it justice. We spent the rest of that day driving through the park, looking at various informational maps, perusing the visitors center and we had lunch at the park in Springdale. We found another pull off road over looking a canyon outside of Zion to sleep for the night and returned to the park again today. This time we rode the shuttles which take you through Zion Canyon with 9 different stops, all with numerous walking trails and hikes. We hiked to the Lower and Upper Emerald Pools, then walked the Grottos Trail. The hiking took us a few hours, stopping frequently for photos, to look at birds, peer through the binoculars into caverns and to give my back a rest. The weather was perfect for hiking today too, we got up early so it was a touch chilly and windy when we started but by the time we were headed back down, our jackets were off and our foreheads sweaty. We haven’t seen the sun much lately living in Idaho, so we even got a little sunburn on our faces! We drove back through the park one last time this afternoon and just took it all in. Tired and sticky from our hike today we headed toward Arizona. We are now in Flagstaff, Az where we will stay for the night and in the morning will decide where to go next.

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Inside Zion Canyon
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Our morning hike had some great views

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And We’re Off!!

The van is finally ready and so are we! We got the 5th wheel parked at my aunt’s place over the weekend and have been staying at Jeff’s parent’s the last few days while we get the remaining things finished up before we head out. ‘Vanna’ is now fully loaded with everything we should need and hopefully we haven’t forgotten anything!

Leaving yesterday we were both silent in the van for what seemed like an eternity but I’m sure it was only 15 mins or so. Finally one of us spoke up, ‘We’re on the road!’ I joked about the scenery being so beautiful as we hadn’t even left Canyon County. It is a little surreal to think we are actually doing this, so much talk and hype and now we’re finally on the road. This is quite a journey we’re about embark upon, we’re quite excited and let’s be honest a little nervous too. We have left the tiny 5th wheel we call home behind and this van will now become our home for the next few months.

For this first part of our adventures, we are actually aiming to travel to the Florida Everglades. We will slowly meander our way towards Florida taking stops at national parks, hidden camping sites and hiking trails along the way. I also have two younger siblings who live in the Daytona Beach area, so as we traveling through to the Everglades, we will be able stop and visit with them. Jeff has never met them and I haven’t seen them for a few years, we’re all excited.

Yesterday we made our way SE to Utah, finding ourselves at the Bear River Bird Migratory Refuge. We got there just about 30 minutes too late to enter the visitors center but were able to drive the ‘auto tour’. We saw a handful of water fowl and few Red-winged Black Birds. We drove around a bit more and landed in Ogden for the night to sleep.

After coffee was made this morning we made our way through SLC rush hour traffic to go view the Great Salt Lake. We didn’t get as close as we wanted but she sure was a big and beautiful lake! So South back through the crazy traffic we went! We’re headed down toward Zion National Park area today. Looks like it may be a long drive today, we will continue to keep our eyes peeled for birds and wildlife. We’re keeping a birding list, so we can keep track of what kind and how many birds we see during the entire trip. I also started playing the license plate game yesterday and am amazed at how many we’ve seen already and we’re only in Utah!

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Manko ready to take off in our fully loaded Vanna’

 

Vanna White

We found her! I knew we’d find the right van. She’s a 2001 Chevy Express, we’ve named her ‘Vanna White’. After we finally decided on a van we went back and forth on what kind of van. There’s numerous vans out there and various ways to convert them or to even buy them already converted. Of, course this didn’t help our decision much either, but the Express seemed to be the best fit for our budget.

Jeff has been spending his time off so far working on the inside of the van, converting it into a tiny RV. He’s built our bed tall enough to store totes underneath, added a couple cute recycled cabinets we found, and he even added flooring. He’s been working really hard and I can’t wait to get in there to pack the van, make the bed and maybe add a few more things to the wall. Our dog Manko has even explored the inside of the van and has happily found a couple spots to lay.

Vanna has unfortunately ran into a bit of a bump as we’ve been getting ready. Took her in for an inspection and to have the air conditioner looked at as it wasn’t working when we purchased it, the shop gave us quite a list. Most of the stuff on the list really wasn’t necessary, just them doing their job but there was a few things that we really should do before she makes this big journey. The shop wanted a big hunk of change just to do one part, so Jeff and a couple friends spent a few hundred bucks and a Sunday afternoon to get everything fixed. We still have the A/C to fix though and we’re waiting for the part to get here this Friday, so hopefully once this part comes in we will be golden.

All of these repairs have been a little disappointing, but we’re just glad to have them fixed now before we’re on the road. Now we just want to get going, we’re hoping to get the 5th wheel moved over to my aunt’s by the end of the weekend or so and off on the road this coming week. We’re crossing our fingers for no more bumps!

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‘Vanna White’ and all her glory.

Time to Go

June just can’t get here fast enough! Jeff and I often text each other while were at work and jokingly asking if it’s time to leave yet. Meaning is it time to head off on the road yet. All winter he tried to get me to leave to Arizona and live where his sister is, “Just winter there” he says. I couldn’t even count with both hands how many times I heard that. Well, one day we finally got serious about it. It was about the first of February, we’re both at work and he asked me as usual and this time I said yes. “No really, I’m serious let’s go!” I said. We were bored at work, I was in pain and we both were just ready for some sunshine and the open road.

That afternoon, we discussed this hasty decision and decided June was just too far away. We still didn’t have van/small RV yet or anything really ready so we couldn’t just leave, so March is when we decided our departure would be. Leaving for this trip also means we will need to leave our jobs behind as well. We knew this already months ago when we planned for this big adventure, but now it had to happen. We’ve talked about me leaving work numerous times due to my pain, so this seems like a great time to see how I do. We both put in our two week notices, staggering with each other to keep a good money flow before we depart on the road. So then the search for a vehicle got serious! We finally decided a van was what we were going to search for. The experiences we would gain from traveling in a van is what we are looking for, it would make us get out and explore more living so tightly. Jeff was on the computer or his phone constantly searching. We would think we had a few good leads then the next day they were sold or something really bad was wrong with them. He was really starting to worry and stress about it, but I knew we’d find the right one. In the mean time, we had a lot of stuff to get ready. We both like making lists, so we have a notebook full of to-do’s, things to buy, and don’t forget’s. The 5th wheel will be parked on my aunt’s property while we’re gone, so on top of getting everything ready for this departure on the road our tiny home will need to be prepared to be parked for several months. There’s a lot to be done!