Not only have I lived in several parts of the country, I've driven just about everywhere -- maybe not in Alaska or New Hampshire, but just about every other state. I've found that even though there are good drivers and poor drivers everywhere, typical driver habits vary from state to state. Here are a few observations:
California- I grew up in the Los Angeles area and learned to drive there in the 70's, when many of the freeways were new (I actually drove on the Foothill Freeway on its opening day). One thing that stands out in my memory of those days is that people actually knew how to merge back then. I don't know if that's a sign of the times or a comment on the region's drivers... Since I moved away in 1980, I have returned many times. With each visit, it seems, more and more and more cars are on the roads. Getting on the freeway now is like driving the traffic circle at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The other difficulty might surprise some people -- fog.
Through the years thick fog has created fatal chain-reaction crash scenes as large as anywhere in the country. I remember one such event on the Pomona Freeway east of L.A. where over 125 cars were involved.
As far as driving habits, the one that sticks out to me is the SoCal jumping of green lights. You better not be thinking about running a red light because someone jumping the green is sure to have a shot at you.
Seattle, WA- I lived in the eastern half of Washington State for 20 years and drove to Seattle a hundred times. The main issue there has always been, and continues to be, year-round construction. Long waits are the norm in whatever part of the county is being worked on that moment. It's no surprise that Washington also has a serious fog problem, but even more dangerous is black ice, which is no fun at all.
Buffalo, NY- Before I first moved to Buffalo, I had been fairly proud of my ability to learn the streets and neighborhoods in a new city very quickly. Buffalo and Erie County shot that down immediately. I don't think I could navigate the area solo for six months. Driving in Buffalo stands out in my mind for two reasons. First, there is a mentality there of honk first, avoid accidents second. I never could understand that. Road rage was prevalent but at least drivers kept it to blaring their horns, sometimes for half a minute if they really didn't like what someone was doing. Second, and far worse, was their penchant for running red lights. It almost became a game where my wife and I would count how many cars ran their red light when ours turned green. California drivers in New York? That's a recipe for disaster!
Boston, MA- I drove to Boston from Buffalo on a few occasions and found it to be "New-York-Lite." They had their share of rude drivers and horns honking, but nothing that would compete with New York. Boston's narrow streets and the proximity of their trains to city traffic can make driving through the city a harrowing experience. Oh, and watch where you park if you have out-of-state plates...
Atlanta, GA- Gridlock is a way of life in Atlanta. I have seen worse traffic jams nowhere else in America. Forget rush hour. Here there is no reason to rush and traffic seems to be jammed all day, morning to night.
Las Vegas, NV- I'm not going to talk about the Strip, since most people know to avoid it if you want to get anywhere. The problem here is the combination of A) exotic sports and racing cars on city streets, all going 20 mph over the speed limit, B) rural residents in rusted beaters, all traveling 15 mph under the speed limit, and C) non-resident drivers from every corner of the world, all driving rental cars they know nothing about. I lived in Vegas for 5 years and never plan on living there again.
Denver, CO- Colorado has a minor population boom happening and the freeways and main arterials are far behind the growth in traffic. However, compared to Seattle, Atlanta, or Lost Angeles, residents don't really have room to complain. The most aggravating part of driving here is with drivers cutting you off. They don't seem to care that there isn't room for their car between you and the car in front of you, or that there may be 8 car lengths open behind you. They want your spot and are willing to take it. Not one day, not one, has gone by in the last year without being cut off. In fact, the same car cut me off three times on the same drive home yesterday.
Kansas (the whole state)- I'm not really stretching here to say that the worst driving in the country takes place in Kansas. Even in the city, streets are filled with farmers, ranchers, tractors, college kids and hockey moms, all competing for the title of the "World's Slowest Driver." Drive anywhere between towns and you'll want to make sure you've got your caffeine fix as to not be mesmerized by miles and miles of wheat. Not to help the situation, the state and city governments have a terrible signage program. In fact, I never saw so many fatal accidents in the news from drivers going the wrong way on a freeway.
I could probably go on about other parts of the country, like Florida (toll roads!), Oklahoma and Texas (severe weather and severely flat), and others, but I will leave those for other blog posts.
Nadyne and I hosted our great friends from the New Directions chapter of the Good Sam Club this past summer. We had never been to Amarillo and had really been looking forward to it.
Texas is FLAT... very flat. Winds pick up speed from approaching weather fronts or butterfly wings, whatever moves the air, and there's nothing to stop it. We had 25 mph "breezes" nearly every day and night we were there in the Lone Star State.
One of the attractions was the Palo Duro Canyon, touted as the "2nd largest canyon in the country.' Well, size comparisons are subjective, and in this case, I found out that the rating was based on canyon length. It was only about a thousand feet deep and I don't think it was half a mile across where we entered the state park. There was an abundance of manzanita trees throughout the park, which is a nice contrast to the rest of the mostly barren Amarillo area, and there were many hiking trails to take you through the canyon's fingers. But, for me, as a photographer, the park was disappointing.
We did some fun things, such as having dinner at the Big Texan and visiting the eccentric Cadillac Ranch, but overall, the best thing about our week-long visit was not having to go to work. Some of our friends visited the American Quarter Horse Heritage Center and the Texas Space Museum. We all enjoyed the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum, and in fact, we met the owner, Jack Sisemore, who was visiting while we were there.
All-in-all, Amarillo is a nice enough place to visit, but I wouldn't put it on any "must-see" lists.
Nestled in the middle of nowhere in Colorado, about 55 miles west of Pueblo, is one of our favorite campgrounds, Grape Creek RV Park. You have to feel like driving if you want to do a lot of sightseeing. Otherwise it's a nice relaxing place to hang out for a few days.
Grape Creek sits about 2 miles south of Westcliffe, a small town of 568 residents at 7,888 feet that is overlooked by the beautiful Sangre de Cristos mountains. There is also a neighboring twin-city, Silver Cliff, which doubles the local population. Both towns are quaint with not much to see or do. However, we use this as a launching pad to visit Salida, St. Elmo, Aspen Ridge, Cottonwood Pass and other areas of interest in the vicinity.
The best things about the location, though, are the campground itself and solitude we feel when we're staying there. RV spots here are remarkable -- wide sites with grass in front of the rigs and trees and shrubs between them for privacy. All are pull-through sites and there are about 4 rows of 20 or so sites, all with 30 & 50 amp service and full hook-ups. Rates are very reasonable -- $40 to $45 per night with the Good Sam Club membership, $45-50 without. They also have cabins and tent sites.
When we are relaxing in the shade of the green leaves and flowered bushes in front of our 5th wheel, we can easily forget that we are basically in a dry, high desert valley. The sunsets last summer were spectacular over the peaks to the west, especially with the California wildfires lending their drama to the brilliance.
This is also the only campground we've seen that incorporates a teardrop trailer in its logo...
We highly recommend this park as one we love to visit. Their website is: grapecreekrv.net/
On Google maps:
You see that 5th wheel in my header? That's our 2011 Crossroads Cruiser we're getting ready to live full-time in. Like the trailer before it, and most of our friends' RV's, nothing, I mean nothing, is standard in this otherwise high-quality rig.
Our first project this morning went well. We measured our headboard wall in the bedroom and bought a piece of wallboard to fit, then stuck our recently-acquired faux stone brick panels on it, attached it to the wall, added a shelf and a couple of small wooden boxes, and voila! Our new headboard area now looks classy.
The 2nd project didn't go so well. My wife bought a 6' tall pantry and mirror that is supposed to be attached to a bathroom door, adding 4"or so of pantry space on the front of the door. It isn't deep enough to cause a problem getting into the bedroom and you can get to the inside without opening the bathroom door. Cool, huh?
The problems started when the instructions said to pull the pins on the top and bottom bathroom door hinges. The pins were non-removable. No problem, I just drove on down to the Depot where I would find hinges with removable pins. Except, there were NO hinges that size anywhere to be found. I picked up three of the closest one in size I could find and took them home. I replaced just the top hinge so that the door would remain in place while I tried it out, and even a couple of the holes lined up. However when I tried to close the door, it was about 1/8" too wide for the opening. It turns out that the original hinges were half as thick as the new ones and there were installed on the wood surfaces (not chiseled into the frame and door edge). Not wanting to spends hours to remove the door and apply a chisel, and without knowing that spending the time and effort would end up being an adequate fix, it was back to the drawing board.
I took the original hinge and put it a vise, then used a small file on the less knobby end of the pin. Eventually I was able to push the pin through. Happy with the small victory, I took it back to the rig and noticed that the hardware on the pantry would not fit on the dinky hinge's pin (the pin would go right through it's loop) and even with washers I would have to gouge out part of the door and jam where the the pantry hardware should attach. I gave up and we just reboxed it to return. If the door and hinges were of house standards, I would have completed the project in about an hour.
The next task was a minor one. We had bought an electric outlet plate that had a night light built into it. My wife removed the existing plate and found that instead of a box, the outlet was attached with a couple of metal strips. There was no way the prongs of the new plate would fit into the space. Again, it's being returned.
Those of you who have owned an RV or two are probably nodding in agreement, having experienced this yourselves a few times. It's so deflating to hit brick wall after brick wall in a remodel and we've definitely hit our share. RV's, even higher quality rigs, are built with non-home-standard sizes of just about everything. Weight considerations are one reason, but I suspect costs of odd-sized lots of doors, windows, cabinets and other items are sometimes just too good for manufacturers to pass up.
The remodel continues...
A week in the warmth of Florida was made even more enjoyable to remember when we arrived back in Denver yesterday to 14 degrees and snow on the ground. I had only vacationed in Florida a couple of times before, both times in Orlando, so this was new and different for us. Also, we really enjoyed the company of two couples from our RV group, all very good friends, who had not been to this area before either.
I got to thinking about the trip this morning and what we learned from the experience there. Here are some of those lessons, counting down:
9. Beware of aggressive drivers
The drivers in Florida reminded me a lot of Las Vegas. Doing the normal 5 mph over the speed limit is likely to get you rear-ended and half a car-length is enough space to have them cut in front of you. It seemed like there were more Maseratis than Chevys and you'd think they would be more careful not to damage their $200K cars, but I guess if one can afford several $200K cars, one doesn't care if they damage one.
8. Margaritaville isn't what it used to be
We visited Hollywood, FL, one day and decided to eat lunch at one of the five or so Jimmy Buffet restaurants within walking distance of the Water Taxi drop-off. The food was okay but the ambiance was nowhere to be found. They were playing country music on the speakers (I think I did hear one Jimmy Buffet song while we were eating) and there was almost no tropical decor. We might as well have been eating at Denny's, if Denny's had poolside seating.
7. Food, food and more food
Speaking of meals, it seemed like Fort Lauderdale had more restaurants than gas stations, supermarkets and traffic lights combined. Even mid-week, most of them were brim-full of yuppies by 5pm, replaced by us old folks by 7, so plan to eat early or wait in long lines to be seated. The up-side was that with that kind of competition, most of the food was exceptional. We all enjoyed nearly every meal we had, topped off on Friday night by a chance stop for dinner at Acquolina Weston (acquolinaweston.com), a fabulous Italian restaurant, which we all agreed was the best meal of the week.
6. Don't bother with hotel/resort amenities
Amenities are great if you are living in or spending considerable time in a resort, especially if you know the region well. Why not sit at the pool and play bingo? However, we found that there was so much we wanted to do we hardly used any features of the resort we stayed in, and we didn't do everything on our list. Next time, amenities won't be a consideration for booking a hotel or resort in Florida or anywhere else we are visiting that has a lot of stuff to see or do.
5. The Water Taxi is a must-do
We waited until Thursday to take the Water Taxi (watertaxi.com) around Port Everglades, the Intercoastal Waterway and the Fort Lauderdale canals. It was relatively inexpensive entertainment (around $30 per person for the day pass) and there would have been no better way to learn about the rich and famous who live or have lived on these waters. There are 10 stops on the main route, including a stop at Hollywood and Hollywood Beach, plus 4 more on an adjoining route, and you can jump on or off at any stop along the way. To take the entire tour, with only a couple of stops, took us the entire day.
4. The Giga-rich have mansions and yachts here
Did I mention that the rich and famous have mega- and giga-homes and yachts in and around Fort Lauderdale? Homes from $2 to $36 million and up to 36,000 square feet were snuggled along every waterfront, and the yachts moored nearby, according to the guides, were valued from a few hundred thousand dollars to nearly a half a billion clams (yes, that's $500 million), with the larger ships costing just about $2 million per foot. This port, we were told, has the largest collection of giga-yachts in the world, and seeing them lined up along several channels, this is believable.
3. The Keys took a big hit from Irma
One of my bucket list items has been to drive through the Florida Keys and four of us took the time to drive halfway to Key West. I wanted to scope out the RV park that comprises 2/3 of Sunrise Key (just south of the 7-mile Bridge) but we were turned away upon arrival due to the park being inaccessible and under reconstruction. Puerto Rico, Haiti and other Caribbean islands got most of the press, but Irma did a great deal of damage in the Keys. Key Largo had some damage and the farther south we drove, the more devastation we observed. The Sunshine Key RV Resort (rvonthego.com/florida/sunshine-key-rv-resort-marina) will be open by May, according to the security guard at the front of the property.
2. Deep sea fishing charters are plentiful
We chartered YB Normal (fishingbooker.com/charters/view/8992) a couple of months earlier for a full day of fishing and were not disappointed. Between the three of us, we caught a couple of barracuda, one a trophy-sized fish, a couple of king mackerel (my 30-pounder helped make a great BBQ that night), and a 50-lb. amberjack. From what we heard, ours was the most successful trip of the day out of Fort Lauderdale, but there are many options for fishing in Southern Florida, and it looked like many boats were taking walk-ups or scheduling same-week trips. Our thanks to Captain Vinnie and his dad who made the trip enjoyable and whose knowledge of the fishing spots made it a successful outing. The cost of our private charter and captain was $925 including tip, which we split three ways (we did not get a discount for a review, darn it), making it fairly affordable for each if us.
1. One week isn't enough
I think all of us found that we wanted to return someday soon to continue our exploration of the area (and do some more deep sea fishing). One week was great, but it was just not enough time to see this activity-rich part of Florida.
I recently came across a nice vacation rentals guide for the Fort Lauderdale area on AllTheRooms.com. You might check it out and let me know if it's useful:
They state: "With over 18,000 available properties in the city, finding the perfect home-from-home can be an overwhelming task — that's why we’ve compiled a list of our favorite vacation rentals and a guide that includes weather, things to do, and the best time to visit."
Nadyne and I are taking a rare vacation without our RV this week, so my post today isn't about RV living, except to say that we miss our rig. Our flights to the warm climate in Florida included a short layover in Dallas-Fort Worth and it was a memorable stop for all the wrong reasons.
Our first impressions were that it was a nice enough terminal, nothing to write home about, but adequate. However, the dust and dirt in every nook, cranny, underside of cement beams, window sill, blind and air vent became hard to ignore. My techs at work have to deal with HIA's (Hospital Acquired Infections) but now I know there must be AIA's (Airport Acquired Infections), because I'm sure the air conditioning is carrying germs, viruses and bugs all over the terminal. It looked like the maintenance crew went on strike in 2012 and never returned. We've never been so thankful to have as short a layover as we had.
In the future we will avoid DFW at all costs because we value our health. I highly recommend our friends, family and followers do the same, if you want to avoid getting sick. All you bloggers and vloggers who publish Top 10 and Worst 10 lists: if you have one for airports, DFW has to be one of the "Worst." But, you might not want to visit to confirm, I'm just sayin'.
When we decided to move from Kansas, we had a tough time deciding where to live. I had had my fill of the flat, nondescript midwest and my wife, Nadyne, wanted nothing to do with the Pacific coast (they have earthquakes, mudslides and volcanos there) or the extreme heat of Arizona. We had lived in Buffalo, NY, and I was over winter and arctic temperatures. We lived for a few years in Las Vegas and the temps there are brutal, too, besides the fact that it's the ultimate tourist town, not so great for locals.
Somehow we pared our list of possible destinations from twenty to ten, then to five. After looking at employment stats, we ended up choosing Denver, and bought a manufactured home in a northern suburb. I knew about their winters, but Colorado's natural beauty was an exciting aspect my photographer's eye couldn't pass up. However, with all that beauty came crowds.
Here's an example of my dilemma. We decided to go hiking in the mountains one summer weekend on a fairly easy trail on Guanella Pass, about two hours from home. Having heard that it's a popular trail, we got up at 3:30am and left by 4 (in the morning!). We got there at 6:05am to find the trailhead parking lot and about a half-mile of roadside in either direction completely full of vehicles of all types and sizes. When I thought about it, that meant that most of these people had gotten up and left even before we did. There are almost 3 million residents in the Denver metropolitan area, and another million in Colorado Springs and surrounding towns, and a lot of those people are in Colorado for the same reason we moved here. Add to that the international draw of the Rocky Mountains, several national parks, Pikes Peak, the "Fourteeners" and the abundance of wildlife, to be "one" with nature is nearly impossible.
So goes the struggle. I'm not sorry we moved here since my photographer's itch was relieved many times over, and we've met some amazing friends here, but there have been many weekends we stayed at home when we really wanted to be in the mountains. Luckily I'm not into winter sports or I would have a whole other diatribe to share.
I recently added a custom Google map to this site that shows all of the campgrounds in which Nadyne and I have stayed in the last few years (since we bought our first RV). Click on the "Hubers' Travels" link in the header to view it. In adding all the sites, I got to thinking about which would be our favorite place to revisit. Hands down that would be South Dakota. There's just nothing like it.
I had always heard that the Badlands were interesting and unique, but I wasn't prepared for my first sight of it. I added a couple of photos below as examples, but even they don't do it justice. The green grass against and among the stark rock formations was like nothing I've ever experienced.
Besides that spectacle, South Dakota has a variety of scenery and wildlife to see, such as Mount Rushmore, the ongoing work at the Crazy Horse monument, buffalo and prairie dogs in Custer State Park, several caves to explore, and even the tacky but fun drug store spectacle, Wall Drugs.
Crazy Horse seemed like a tourist trap, and we didn't spend much time there. I was able to get some iconic shots of Mount Rushmore from the surrounding area, not needing to pay the fees to enter the national "Memorial" itself for photos. We have a national parks pass, but that didn't apply to this park because evidently it is operated by a private company.
We didn't get to the Black Hills and we would certainly like to spend more than a few hours in the Badlands, so we're looking forward to our return to this scenic state.
#SouthDakota #Badlands #MountRushmore #RV #Travel #Camping
Jack Huber is a novelist with 7 mysteries published, along with several books of poetry and photography. Now retired, he and his wife, Nadyne, are free to travel the country in their 32' 5th wheel and 1-ton Ford pickup.