Mashley’s Adventures – Mountains and Hot Springs and a pause

Current Location: Benton, KY

You rest now. Rest for longer than you are used to resting. Make a stillness around you, a field of peace. Your best work, the best time of your life will grow out of this peace.
~ Peter Heller

~~~~~//~~~~~

Looking at the weather last week, we realized that we had only a one day window to visit Rocky Mountain National Park without being snowed in. So we sped up to make it in time and enjoyed a day’s visit. Though it was sunny and dry down at the visitor center as we climbed up into the mountains snow covered the ground. We layered up and headed out onto the snow-covered trail to Nymph and Dream Lake. It was easy enough to follow existing tracks and we quickly arrived at Nymph Lake, enjoying the view of the mountains around us and the empty trail. We walked around the frozen lake and on to Dream Lake, though we turned around before reaching the end since it had snowed over-night and the trail was far less obvious and it had begun snowing, obscuring any view. Almost back at the parking lot we checked out what we could see of Bear Lake.

heading to Nymph Lake

rocky outcrop above Nymph Lake

next to Dream Lake

hiking beside Dream Lake

After lunch we hiked up to the nearly frozen Alberta Falls and then explored the open roads of the park, enjoying the views of the mountains and across the valleys.

elk in the valley

Since weather was moving in we headed on, trying to beat the worst of Denver’s evening traffic. Still not sure if we managed that, but we ended up working our way south, back through part of Kansas (still not our, um, favorite place) and then into and across Oklahoma, which we found much more visually interesting.

crossing Route 66 in Oklahoma

It seems that the storms were also migrating east, it was very windy. The worst gas mileage on the trip thus far was on the nice flat Kansas land. The wind, coming right at us, pushed us back, dropping our mileage. Ironically, we had the best for the prior tank, climbing through the mountains.

On we headed to Hot Springs, AR. In the park, we hiked up Peak Trail to the Mountain Tower and back down to explore Bathhouse Row. It’s a different type of park, set right inside the city. Thus, we didn’t have high expectations, but we ended up really enjoying it. Touring Fordyce Bathhouse was fascinating. It’s been restored and shows off the “state-of-the-art” technology and methods used in the 1920s. The Ozark Bathhouse holds the art collection, mostly creations of past Artists in Residence. Matthew really enjoyed seeing the work that’s been created from the program – and was encouraged to see that “I could do that!”

hot spring water

showing off on the Promenade

Ashley found her dream shower – 17 nozzles!

lifesized – not something Matthew feels like he could do

fresh hot spring water

  • 44 National Parks (of 47 in the Contiguous US)
  • 38 States
  • 6.3 mpg, the worst yet!

And since then we’ve been taking a break – it feels like we’ve constantly been on the go since leaving North Carolina in February. So we’re ready for a break. After visiting Hot Springs we moved on a bit more and surprised both our families by appearing in their driveways. What fun it was to get to catch them off-guard and to spend a few days visiting. We’re currently parked and sitting still, doing a deep-clean of the RV (inside and out), catching up on some maintenance, and generally enjoying a bit of a break while soaking up time with loved ones.

In a few more days we’ll continue on, beginning the final leg of our trip, the loop up through the north east. Until then, we’re enjoying a bit of recuperation.

Catching our breath,

Matthew & Ashley

Mashley’s Adventures – Canyons and Contemplations

Painted Wall in Black Canyon

Current Location: Monument, CO

True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.
~ Seneca

~~~~~//~~~~~

Even though it’s only been a few days since our last update, we’ve still managed to cover some ground – changing states and visiting another National Park! Over the weekend we rode into the northern portion of Canyonlands called Island in the Sky for another visit and then on Sunday we packed up and headed out.

We headed east, returning to Colorado in order to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s a relatively new park, only having been instated in 1999, though it’s been a National Momument since the mid 1900s. Even though there isn’t snow on the ground and the roads are all open, it’s still a bit early in the season to visit. On the one hand, that means that we’ve been avoiding crowds and it’s been peacefully quiet, but that’s because it’s been chilly during our visit. We hopped on the motorcycle for a trip down into the canyon on the East Portal Road to ride alongside the Gunnison River. It was quite a steep ride down, Ashley kept sliding forward on her seat! Being inside the canyon is a unique experience. It’s beautiful, but also intimidating. Like being inside a slot canyon that has teeth!

At the bottom of Black Canyon, next to the Gunnison River

The Gunnison River

After checking out the visitor center and watching the park movie about the early exploration of the canyon (including the use of inflatable mattresses to raft the river!) we continued to the end of the road to check out the overlooks. Unfortunately, the weather was threatening rain/snow so we didn’t stay out for long and retreated to the RV to warm back up. While the weather wasn’t as bad as predicted, there were some snow patches still sticking in the morning, though they melted quite quickly.

  • 42 National Parks (of 47 in the Contiguous US)
  • 16% grade on the road
  • 36 States

Pictures fail to capture the colors, depth, and general sensation of the canyon.

Looking down into Black Canyon

These last few months everyone’s been asking about our upcoming plans, both for the next leg of our quest and the”what’s next” after we finish. As for the next leg of the quest, we have only a handful of states and National Parks left to visit and the current plan is to finish visiting them all by the end of July. After exploring what we can of Rocky Mountain National Park here in Colorado, we can head back east through Oklahoma and Arkansas (Hot Springs NP) then to Mammoth Cave before working our way up through New England to Maine and back down to Savannah, GA in July for a family get-together. Three weeks later we have a 25-day permit to hike the John Muir Trail in California.

We’ve considered spending more time here in the west, exploring more deeply and finding a job to add more to the gas fund, but with the fixed family meet-up in July and the JMT in August, we’d be pushing our completion date into next year to avoid winter in New England. While we don’t want to rush to finish, or feel like we’re simply checking places off a list, we are eager to begin the next stage of our adventure. We’ve currently visited more parks than states, which means that we have a lot of driving ahead of us, more miles than exploration. That makes our final leg fairly straightforward to complete and gives us the option to count the JMT as the grand finale (and with Mt. Whitney being both the finish line and the highest point in the lower 48, literally ending on a high point!)

And then we get to begin our next adventure in life. After much pondering, consideration, and discussion we’ve decided to… wait and see! We have lots of ideas about what sounds best but are currently delaying the decision. It’s hard not to think about it since we’ve had so many questions from famiy and friends, but part of our rationale is that we get lost in the debate and forget to enjoy our current location and adventure over concern about the future. By focusing too much on future plans we forget to enjoy and appreciated the present, and the amazing things we are experiencing at this very moment. It’s a hard balance that we are continually striving to make. We have put out some feelers looking into future options, so we’re not ignoring it completely, but at the moment we’re aiming to appreciate the amazing journey that we’re currently on.

Adventuring appreciatively,

Matthew & Ashley

Mashley’s Adventures – Dunes, Dwellings, Canyons, and Crescents

Current Location: Moab, UT

The sky overhead,
the earth below,
the mountains around.
I stand in the middle place –
at home.
~ Dr. Rina Swentzell

~~~~~//~~~~~

What a lot of country we’ve seen since our last email! Or so it seems… After leaving Santa Fe we headed north into Colorado (now we’ve visited all of the western states!) We found a great spot of wild camping on BLM land outside of Great Sand Dunes National Park. Ashley had been to a section of the Park before, and wasn’t super excited about returning, so imagine her surprise that we loved it! Continue reading

Mashley’s Adventures – More Enchantment

Current Location: Santa Fe, NM

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
~ Marcel Proust

~~~~~//~~~~~

After visiting the Petrified Forest last week we headed back east to Santa Fe for a visit with Ashley’s Aunt and Uncle (Karen and Craig). It’s so easy for time to slip by without keeping in touch with those who are a part of our lives. So we delight in the opportunity to visit, get to know family better/as adults, and to learn about how they live their daily lives.

This week has been no exception. During the weekend Karen and Craig took us to their family ranch in northern New Mexico, and boy was it beautiful. Surrounded by solitude and wide open spaces, it was truly a special place. We loved hiking around the property and experiencing New Mexico in a more intimate way.

Yesterday, back in Santa Fe, we made a visit to the famous Meow Wolf. It was a super cool place but incredibly hard to explain, like an art exhibit and interactive children’s museum rolled into one and on steroids with a mysterious underlying plot that revealed itself as you interacted with the facility. This is a horrible explanation; it’s a place you just have to go experience for yourself. Matthew especially loved it and has now been perusing their careers page to see if he’s qualified to work for them 🙂

New Mexico, particularly the Santa Fe area, has enchanted us indeed. The more we experience here the more we love it, and we haven’t even skimmed the surface of what this beautiful and culturally rich state has to offer.

But, we have our goals to work toward and alas we must mosey along. Today we’re heading north, into Colorado, to begin our loop through the Colorado and remaining two Utah National Parks.

Into the mountains,
Matthew & Ashley

Mashley’s Adventures – The Land of Enchantment

St. James Tea Room

Current Location: Albuquerque, NM

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?
~ J. B. Priestley

~~~~~//~~~~~

After getting blown about by the wind in our last email, we continued on west, over the mountains, for a day exploring White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo, NM. Ashley’s had, shall we say, a less-than-thrilling experience in sand dunes before so she wasn’t really excited to visit these. Surprisingly, we both had a really fun time and spent the day laughing, smiling, and feeling like kids. For fun we buried Ashley in the sand, ran and jumped down the dunes, hiked away from the crowd to have an area all to ourselves, and then waited to watch the sun set behind the dunes before heading out for the evening. White Sands is unlike any sand dunes we’ve been to previously in that the sand is made of gypsum, which really does make them white! It felt so pure and beautiful there, with this large swath of glistening white dunes surrounded by mountains. Being composed of gypsum also makes the dunes quite cool to the touch and many areas are hard-packed and easy to walk on.

Continue reading

Mashley’s Adventures – Deserts, Mountains, and Caves

The cacti were blooming

Current Location: Mayhill, NM

A traveler! I love this title. A traveler is to be reverenced as such. His profession is the best symbol of our life. Going from ________ to _______; is the history of every one of us.
~ Henry David Thoreau

~~~~~//~~~~~

Wowzers, has it been a full week! Our last email was sent just before losing any kind of signal for a few days as we headed into Big Bend National Park. Though we didn’t get to back-country camp, we lucked into a great spot in the Rio Grande Village Campground – tucked right into the trees on the back of the campground with a beautiful view of Mexico’s Maderas Del Carmen. It was private with plenty of space, and was in the “generator free” zone so nice and quiet! We saw a javelina and a handful of roadrunners in the campground throughout our stay.

Continue reading

Mashley’s Adventures – Brakes and Besties


Our first ever Harvest Host stay!

Current Location: Ft. Stockton, TX

A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.
~ Pooh Bear

~~~~~//~~~~~

As always, one of our favorite parts about exploring the country is catching up with family and friends. We stopped in the Houston area for a visit with friends and loved getting to catch up with them, though they may have gotten more than bargained for!

You may not recall that on our very first day on the road, almost 2 years ago, about 30 miles into our sojourn, we ended up stopping and getting a front brake caliper replaced. Apparently we should have gotten both of them, as we’ve been having intermittent issues with the other. We finally decided to have it looked as it’d been acting up more over the past month, and thinking it would give us an additional evening with friends in the area (which it did!)

Arriving in Conroe, TX Wednesday, we stayed at a nearby campground for two nights, catching up on some chores during the day and visiting in the evenings. Friday morning we pulled into a heavy-truck repair shop and they got right to work on the brakes. That night we stayed at Brant and Jami’s house, enjoying our time with them and their super-cute kiddos. Saturday we picked up the RV just 30 minutes before the shop closed for the weekend and prepared to set on our way.

The drive between the shop and the house, however, gave Matthew pause for concern, the RV was pulling to the left and the brakes smelled hot – but it was too late, the shop was closed for the weekend. Generous, gracious hosts that they are, Brant and Jami allowed us to stay with them a couple more nights while we left the RV at the shop and waited for them to re-open on Monday. Monday morning we were there as the doors opened and they quickly determined that the rotor assembly also needed replaced as it was warped beyond adjustment.

They didn’t finish until mid-afternoon, so we spent one more night with friends, time that Ashley and I certainly enjoyed. It was great to catch up and get to know their children (whom we hadn’t previously met!) and even be there for the arrival of the newest family member, an adorable furball named Bella. A few years ago, Ashley was set on getting a Golden Doodle puppy, so seeing as that never panned out she was happy to help as a temporary puppy-sitter.

Tuesday morning we hit the road (no false starts this time!) and traveled on to the Texas Hill Country for a couple of nights in Fredericksburg, one of which was at our first “Harvest Host”. We were thrilled to try a new type of overnighting experience at the Messina Hof Winery. Harvest Hosts are a network of vineyards, farms, museums, and more that allow free overnights to travelers (with the expectation of a small courtesy purchase in exchange). It was a delightful, quiet place to spend the night and we enjoyed looking around their tasting room and property.

Now we’re just north of our next National Park, Big Bend. There doesn’t seem to be any cell signal there, so we’re going to be off-grid for a few days. We’re excited by the opportunity for hikes, bicycle rides, and being out of urban environments once again!

Trucking Along,
Matthew & Ashley

P.S.- There’s still some of Ashley’s Adventure-Some Soaps available on Etsy (which is stored in our shower when traveling). If you’re curious/interested, here’s the store: www.etsy.com/shop/AdventureSomeSoaps

Mashley’s Adventures – Westward bound

Oak tree with Spanish Moss in Paynes Prairie State Park

Current Location: Conroe, TX

Little by little one travels far.
~ Spanish proverb

~~~~~//~~~~~

Since last week we’ve continued on in traveling mode… spending a couple days in Gainesville, FL with some superb family, Ashley’s Uncle and Aunt – Jack and Arlene. The timing though was less-than-ideal as we managed to visit on their once-in-a-decade cold catching… though thanks to Ashley’s hospital-honed immune system we seem to have emerged safely from the house of pestilence. We had a wonderful time despite the germs, as any time spent with them is great. We stayed at Paynes Prairie State Park for a night where we had fun riding our mountain bikes around the park trails. We also we made a day trip over to St. Augustine during our visit.

Castillo De San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine, FL

Leaving Gainesville we traveled across the Florida panhandle and spent the night in a lovely National Forest campground (for only $3!), then a night in Alabama and two in Mississippi at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Ocean Springs. One night at Gulf Islands just wasn’t enough so we played the RV shuffle to snag another walk-up site for a second night.

  • 32 National Parks (of the 47 in the contiguous US)
  • 34 states (of 48)
  • 7 National Park Sites

Then it was on to Louisiana. As huge fans of cajun- and creole-inspired foods, how could we not stop! According to our research, a good place to visit for authentic creole food was a family owned and operated place called Dooky Chase, established in 1941 and famous for becoming the meeting place in New Orleans for civil rights as well as music and entertainment. It has also been frequented by many Presidents while visiting the area. Since it’s the only place we ate, we can’t compare, but everything was delicious! Ashley enjoyed one of our favorites, red beans and rice with some smoked sausage while Matthew sampled everything on the lunch buffet. And the peach cobbler grand finale was fantastic! To walk off some of the meal we headed into the French Quarter for a stroll. It’s not quite our kind of place, but it was interesting and at least we can say we’ve been there!

Dooky Chase restaurant, New Orleans, LA

Next was a trip north of Houston, TX to visit some friends we haven’t seen in years. We pulled in yesterday afternoon and settled in to a campground. Having multiple past experiences playing Cousin Eddie in a series of parking lots and neighborhood streets while visiting with people it felt awfully nice to pull into a campground and know we’d be stationary for a couple of nights! We visited last night and look forward to more time together today.

This week will find us travelling through Austin, TX and “hill country” on our way to Big Bend. Unfortunately, I think we’ll be running in to spring break crowds at Big Bend, but we’re hoping we’ll still manage to grab a spot somewhere. With Texas being mostly privately owned land, there aren’t a lot of choices as far a free/cheap camp spots go. Once we hit Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains we’ll head in to New Mexico and hopefully slow down our travelling pace a bit.

Adventuring Away,

Matthew & Ashley

P.S.- Ashley still has soap available in her Etsy store, in case you might be interested in some: www.etsy.com/shop/AdventureSomeSoaps

Mashley’s Adventures – Sandy And Salty On Dry Tortugas

Current Location: Gainesville, FL

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.
~ Rachel Carson

~~~~~//~~~~~

Our last email mentioned the parks we’ve been visiting and touched on our stay at Dry Tortugas. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Dry Tortugas is remote National Park, 68 miles west of Key West, FL. It consists of 7 Keys and their surrounding waters, but the park is centered around a military fort relic, Fort Jefferson, on Garden Key. For us to get there, we left the RV in a campground in the Everglades, loaded our motorcycle up with camping gear, rode along the Keys, and then caught a ferry boat out to the island. Then we set up camp and stayed for three nights! The only way to access this interesting place is by taking the ferry boat called Yankee Freedom – the only concessionaire the park uses, by seaplane (but it’s very expensive and you can’t camp due to weight restrictions), or by personal boat, of which we do not have.

  • 32 National Parks (of the 47 in the contiguous US)
  • 30 states (of 48)
  • 6 National Park Sites

There was no wifi, cell signal, running water, lights, or electricity, and only a handful of people when the ferry boat wasn’t docked each day. Fort Jefferson was incredibly interesting (although nothing really happened there historically speaking) and it was a testament to masonry of the past – built in the mid-1800s using 16 million bricks! – complete with a moat and a resident crocodile (Carlos). We snorkeled with the fishes, explored coral and plants growing outside the moat and in the sea, hiked the moat/sea wall dozens of times each day, tried to guess when Pelicans would dive into the water, chuckled watching the hundreds of hermit crabs that made a neighborhood behind our tent site, watched the sunrise and sunset from the beach and fort walls, and generally just enjoyed ourselves. Matthew spent a lot of time drawing and even tried his hand at a couple of watercolor paintings.

It was a fabulous mix of nature and (old) man-made structure – with new surprises to be discovered each day. We spent hours looking down into the water, just seeing what we could see. Barracudas, “pencil fish” (that’s what we named them because we’re not sure of their actual name), sargent majors, goliath groupers, lobsters, glow-in-the-dark jellyfish, and so many more sea creatures! The ~16 million bricks held a lot of interesting masonry work, rooms, and just a massive structure to explore out in the middle of the Gulf. It poured rain one night and drizzled until about 11am the next morning, so we spent the morning wandering around the massive fort, listening to rainwater seep through the ceilings, drip in puddles on the floor and enjoyed the gloomy solemnity.

But it was a relatively cushy “roughing it” scenario, we thought. We had to bring our own fresh water as none is available on the island (hence the name “Dry”) and couldn’t use our backpacking stove. So we had a creative menu of non-cook meals (chicken/avocado salad sandwiches, tacos, and backpacking pizza). However, the ferry boat arrived each day for ~4 hours and provided coffee/tea, cold drinking water, and even warm fresh-water rinse showers on the deck to clear off some of the salt. And when it left, there were only about 50 people on the island. 20 or less campers, 20 staff (who lived inside the fort), a couple of sea-plane tourists, and private boaters docked out in the harbor. With everyone cleared out, Carlos moved about more and we enjoyed the spectacular sunrises and sets.

All good things come to an end, and we were glad to be heading home to our RV. Thursday we headed out on the ferry and re-loaded the motorcycle for our trip back up the Keys home. Matthew’s grandmom’s urging to motorcycle the Keys was a sound one, as we thoroughly enjoyed the view of the sun setting behind us, tinging the sky and highlighting the mangrove clumps scattered about the water. Though we wondered how different it might have been when they motorcycled the Keys, less commercialized and built-up, we assume; that’s the problem with humans, we seem to destroy beautiful places in our greedy pursuits. A proper shower and night in our own bed was delightful!

Back in the Everglades, we joined a ranger-led canoe trip through the mangroves, which included paddling among gators and sharing a pond with a 14-foot crocodile. Then we headed out and stopped in at Big Cypress National Preserve. We only wished we were able to spend more time there so that we could explore further!

And this weekend we’ve been working our way north, catching up on chores and looking forward to a visit with some family.

Aimlessly Ambling,
Matthew & Ashley

P.S.- Ashley is selling some of her recently made soaps on Etsy (there’s only so much soap that one person needs). The link is as follows if anyone is interested in some: www.etsy.com/shop/AdventureSomeSoaps

Mashley’s Adventures – Exploring Water Parks

Current Location: The Everglades, FL

We’re a part of the natural world, not separate from it, and shame on you if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity.
~ Rudy Mancke

~~~~~//~~~~~

What a whirl-wind of excitement we’ve been having! Though we might have been sitting still in North Carolina for a few months, the last couple of weeks have been quite full.

After leaving Fayetteville we headed south, returning to South Carolina for a visit to Congaree National Park. Though they don’t have any RV campsites, we were able to park at the visitor’s center and tent camp in the campground – giving us more time in the park – including a chance to see and hear owls (having a very heated debate!) while visiting the boardwalk! Day two found us hiking most of the trails offered in the park, out to the Congaree River bank for lunch. It was a great chance to stretch our legs on the trails once again!

It was a quick visit and then we hit the road again, working our way down the east coast to the Everglades where we set up home at Long Pine Key Campground. A few days of exploration let us discover lots of alligators and swarms of mosquitoes (only one of which got any piece of us). We participated in a “Bike Hike” ranger-guided program. We got to learm all about the park while pedaling along and being guided by a park volunteer, a fellow Kentuckian, actually! A day trip over to Biscayne National Park was capped off with Park After Dark – a live concert by a musician/historian, s’mores, telescopes, and a chance to explore the park after-hours. We lucked into the perfect time to visit for the activity, since we missed out on the boat that travels out to the keys.

Whew! We also prepped and packed up our motorcycle for a trip across the keys (as recommended by Matthew’s g-mom) and time on Dry Tortugas – which is where we’ve been this week. And with no internet, which is why this email is so delayed! But that’s a story for the next email on Monday…

One thing’s for sure, we’ve been having a blast in Congaree and the Parks of South Florida. They are definitely places worth exploring and preserving. All of them seem to be experiencing problems with resource depletion or budget constraints, so now more than ever is a perfect time to give them our support. With our days spent out on the trails and bicycles again, we are feeling an overwhelming love for the beautiful, simple, and natural places in our homeland 🙂

Floating along,
Matthew & Ashley