Livin’ on Island Time

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Our journey begins in Hope Town, a colorful colonial village on Elbow Cay, which is a small out island in the Sea of Abaco. Technically, every island in the Bahamas is considered an “out” island, all except for the capital island of New Providence where the capital city of Nassau is located. The Bahamian island chain includes around 700 islands or cays (the spanish word for “island”), many of which are uninhabited. We would spend most of our time in the Abacos, the most northern of the island groupings. The Abacos consist of Great Abaco Island and a number of smaller cays on the Atlantic side. This string of small cays protects the Sea of Abaco from the raging Atlantic Ocean. The result is a sea of calm, shallow (generally under 12 feet!), beautifully turquoise water.

On the map below you can see the general location of the Abacos, just east of Florida and around the same latitude as Ft. Lauderdale. At center far-right you will find Elbow Cay.

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On Elbow Cay you will find the village of Hope Town, and in Hope Town Harbour you will find the Irie Joe, our home for the next few weeks.

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Continue reading “Livin’ on Island Time”

Update: Alpha 1 is on the rum!

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Those of you that also follow us on Facebook already know that we are currently in the Bahamas and having a ball. For those of you that only follow us here on the website, Welcome to the Bahamas!

We are spending the entire month of December down here with my parents on their boat, the Irie Joe. Our boat is a 41 foot sailing catamaran built by Maine Cat out of Bremen, Maine. The boat is part of the charter fleet with Maine Cat Charters, which means that it is available for rent part of the year and my parents retirement plan the rest of the year. For more info on the boat and chartering visit www.mecat.com.

The last time you heard from us we were off-roading through the sandstone canyons of Moab. Wow! We’ve gone through quite a change of scenery! Before we made our way to paradise here in the turqouise waters, we high-tailed it to Texas so we could spend Thanksgiving with family. It was the first time we had been home with family for Thanksgiving in six years! It was very special, but our visit was short.

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After all the turkey had been devoured, we set about getting the Alpha 1 ready for a month of storage. It felt so strange to leave our home after so many months on the road. But we were headed to warmer weather and clear water and couldn’t feel luckier.

We’ve been in the Bahamas for a couple of weeks now. Actually, tomorrow is our last day on the boat. Thankfully, we plan to dull the pain of leaving the boat by staying at the Abaco Inn for a few days. From the Abaco Inn you can see the Sea of Abaco from one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. We haven’t seen it yet, but I can only imagine perfection.

I had hoped to blog our Bahamian adventures while we were here but we’ve run into a few problems. For starters, we discovered the joy of living on island time. Everything moves at slower place here. Everything also comes with a healthy dose of rum.  Nothing like rum to kick your level of productivity overboard. But mostly, the internet down here is slow and hard to find. Producing posts of the quality we like on a regular basis was just not feasible. After about a week of struggling to find wifi between the rum drinks and beaches, we decided to just enjoy our selves (take notes) and document the trip when we make it back to the states.

So stay tuned! New posts will be coming in January when we return.

Happy Holidays and Fair Winds!

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Fantastic Jeeps & Where to Find Them

AND SO IT BEGINS…

Hey everybody! It’s Brandon, back in the blog saddle to bring you another look into the Jeep life. By now you have probably asked yourself where this addiction to Jeeps comes from. This blog was created in order to chronicle our honeymoon adventure, not all this Jeep stuff. The origin of this addiction is a longer story than I had realized originally but I’ll sum it up quickly.

My first taste of driving was at roughly 10 years old when my family had a Jeep Cherokee Laredo. At the time, we lived in Dugway, Utah with plenty places to go play near home. We left the pavement, ran some dirt roads and I got to cut my first donut in the desert! Needless to say, I had a blast and couldn’t wait to drive legally. Fast forward a few years and you’d find me in central Texas. My family has 250 acres between Austin and Houston. My grandpa had stumbled upon a really cool old jeep and acquired it, much to my delight. That beauty was a 1968 CJ-5 with a Buick V-6 Dauntless edition engine and the appropriate amount of “patina” to call it a real Jeep. Crazy fast for a vehicle with manual steering and brakes! It wasn’t long before I had tested the strength of this Jeep. The mechanical math equation goes as follows: Jeep + teenager + 250 acres + swamp on property = blown transmission. I still regret killing that rig; it’s one of my favorite vehicles to date. Little did I know, that was not the end of my Jeeping.

When we decided to live a nomadic lifestyle it became clear we needed a tow vehicle. Jeep seemed to offer the best vehicle for the job. Jeeps are lightweight, equipped to flat tow, and, of course, four wheel drive. So I sold a big bad black diesel pickup and went home with a vehicle that didn’t even have a hitch. Even more embarrassing was having to return to the dealer in Jenny’s hatchback to retrieve the soft top because I didn’t have the cargo room. I was totally out of my element. All of a sudden a Mazda became the utility vehicle in our life. I was in a awkward place to say the least. Our Jeep has changed immensely since then, but here’s a look at it before I got my way with it.

I needed a way to learn more about my new car. I also knew there was plenty of off-road fun to be had in our area but didn’t know anyone in that mindset. I took to social media and found a Facebook group called Jeep Nation that was based in my area and fairly new to Facebook. This page showed me just how friendly and knowledgeable the Jeep community is. This page in particular was very well managed, and a corner of the internet that wasn’t full of trolls and negativity. All questions are good questions and the page focused on how to have fun on the local trail systems and give advice to those who asked. After some modifications to the Jeep and some time spent studying the local’s idea of fun, I wanted in! You can see that maiden voyage into the woods here.

Life is funny sometimes. One of the reasons we sold our house was to relocate near friends and family. Oddly enough, while planning to leave the state of Oregon, I gathered more friends through Jeep Nation in the final months than I had in the five years I’d been there. It was bittersweet. On one hand, we were going on a grand adventure but couldn’t believe we were leaving after meeting so many people through the the Jeep community. On the other hand, none of that would’ve even come to fruition if we hadn’t planned to leave and get into RV life. So now we will have a life of revisiting the beautiful state of Oregon that we called home for half a decade. Cool by me! I love reconnecting with my buddies!

So all these pre-game paragraphs are to help explain how drastically we changed our plans and ended up in Moab mere days before we had Thanksgiving with family back in Texas. It all started when a couple of Jeep Nation’s finest  members inquired about our whereabouts around that time. They knew damn well that we lived the RV lifestyle and roughly the route we were taking to get home. Luckily they asked if we would like to join them in the Moab area at the perfect time. They were celebrating an early Thanksgiving with their family in Moab and asked us to tag along. We hadn’t booked anything past the time they had in mind. It was a very easy decision. The Mecca of off-road play was a mere 220 miles from my current location, couple that with Jenny’s childhood love of Arches National Park, it was a no brainer, we were Moab bound! Continue reading “Fantastic Jeeps & Where to Find Them”

Moab Magic

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We originally intended to be back in Texas by mid-November. We have friends and family to visit and lots to do before we pack our bags and fly to the Bahamas in early December. But that was before we got a Facebook message from our friends Jason and Becky in Portland. They were planning a trip to Moab, Utah in late November for Becky’s birthday and wondered if we would be in the area then. Ummm, yes! Of course we’ll be there! We met Becky and Jason through Jeep Nation, the Jeep group we became involved with when we lived in Oregon. Moab is world-renowned for off-roading and we had all been hoping to make it there one day. But Moab is not only a Jeeper’s paradise. Moab is also home to Arches National Park, a place I traveled to as a kid that I have always wanted to revisit. It was a win for everyone! Except maybe our friends and family in Texas, who would have to wait another two weeks to see us.

There is so much amazingness in Moab, and we covered so much territory, that I’ve decided to split this post into two parts. The bulk of the Jeep related content (and our visit with Becky and Jason) will be in the next post. This post will cover all of our adventures before Becky and Jason arrived, most notably, our visit to Arches National Park. Continue reading “Moab Magic”

Exploring the Red Rock Canyons of Sedona, Arizona

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Sedona is just a few hours north of Phoenix but looks dramatically different. The flat, tan desert of the south transitions to the deep red canyons of the north, making for fantastic views, excellent hiking, and even a few Jeep trails. Brandon remembers visiting this area when he was a kid and wanted to show me that Arizona is not entirely flat and tan.

We stayed at a Thousand Trails campground in the nearby town of Cottonwood, which was a great starting point for visiting the area. Cottonwood was quiet and peaceful (not nearly the tourist draw of Sedona) but was large enough to have all the stores and services we needed (including a Kroger, our favorite grocery store chain).

We only had two days in the Sedona area, and this stop had been Brandon’s idea, so I let him plan our itinerary. It was a nice change of pace having someone else do all the planning. Day 1 covered all the best parts of Sedona. We went shopping, hiking, had a picnic at a park, and drove up through the canyon on a Jeep road to watch the sunset. Day 2 was a tour of some Native American ruins and cliff dwellings outside of Flagstaff. This was not actually where Brandon had intended to take me, but I’ll get to that later.

THE BEST OF SEDONA 

We started the day by driving from one end of town to the other to get a feel for the area. On the north end of town we stopped at this gorgeous bridge with a view of the Verde River below.

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Visiting Family in Southern Arizona

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A stop to visit Brandon’s dad is always a must when we pass through Arizona. Mike and his wife Cindy live in San Tan Valley, one of the many suburban areas outside of Phoenix. Every time we pass through here I am amazed by the sheer size of the sprawl. Phoenix is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., despite the scorching summer temperatures. San Tan Valley, however, is on the far southern edge of the sprawl where open still-uninhabited desert is nearby.

Much of the desert in this area has been irrigated and converted into fertile farmland. In fact, when looking for camping spots near Mike and Cindy’s place the closest thing we could find was an actual farm. Schnepf Farms is a huge complex of organic gardens, orchards, and multiple event spaces. They host a regular farmers market, a fall pumpkin festival, and all sorts of private events. It was mostly quiet during the week, as their big fall festival had just ended, but on Saturday they were hosting two separate weddings and a huge dance social for mormon singles.

The camping space was separate from the event spaces so the music and people didn’t feel overly intrusive. However, we were also the only tourists camping at the farm. The small camping area was mostly full of people who worked at the farm. Some were also travelers. We met two women from New Zealand who came to the farm to see America and work at the organic garden.

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Most of our five-day stay was spent just enjoying quality time visiting with Mike and Cindy. Brandon’s dad is also a photographer and had lots of great tips for us. On Saturday I stayed home and worked on the blog while Brandon and Mike took the Jeep out into the desert for some sunset and nighttime photos. Mike has spent a lot of time shooting the moon and stars while living in the Arizona desert and this is something Brandon has just recently become interested in.  Continue reading “Visiting Family in Southern Arizona”

Joshua Tree National park

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Joshua Tree National Park has been on the list of must-do stops since we hatched this crazy plan. It seemed like every RV travel blogger I follow had stopped at Joshua Tree and everyone seemed to love it so much that they stayed much longer than they had originally intended. We heard similar reports from friends and family. Some of our favorite California to Texas expats used to love spending long weekends camping at Joshua tree. We didn’t really know what to expect, yet still had high expectations.

Thankfully, I can report that we are now total converts. Joshua Tree is like a whole different world and it is amazing.

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I’ll start with our campsite. We stayed on some BLM land between the town of Joshua Tree and the military base at Twenty-Nine Palms. We were only about five miles from the north entrance to the National Park. It was super convenient for going into town, as well as touring the park, yet felt completely isolated. It was perfect.

This area of BLM land is often referred to as North Joshua Tree BLM or the Joshua Tree Lakebed. I also found one website that called it Coyote Lake. Essentially, this is a huge dry lakebed that is completely open for RV camping, tent camping, off-roading, hiking, etc. There is no gate, no fees, no designated campsites, and no utilities. We parked the RV on the main road and used the Jeep to check out the area and find a place to park the rig. The last thing we wanted was to get our giant motor home stuck in the sand. Luckily, the ground was very dry and well compacted so we had no troubles driving the RV out onto the lakebed. This might be a tricky spot to camp during a rain storm as I suspect it all turns to mud very quickly. We saw evidence of lots of people having been stuck.

We drove out as far as we felt comfortable and settled in. We arrived on a Saturday and had a few (very distant) neighbors but by Sunday night we had the whole place to ourselves. Incredible.

If you want to find this place yourself the GPS coordinates are 34.1658, – 116.2287. There are also numerous reviews and descriptions of this place on the internet. Most reviews suggest taking Cascade Road from the Twenty-Nine Palms Highway. This is terrible advice. Cascade Road is all dirt and unmaintained. Take Sunfair Road instead. It is paved and runs exactly parallel to Cascade Road, making this a much easier drive in an RV. Cut over to Cascade road on Broadway (also paved) and you will drive straight into the BLM camping area.

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A bunch of the online reviews of this place complained about the noise from all the ATVs, dirt-bikes, and Jeeps driving around. We read this and instantly saw it as a plus. We could find Jeep trails leaving right from our campsite! Continue reading “Joshua Tree National park”

Universal Studios Hollywood

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If you didn’t figure it out by the changing color of Brandon’s shirts in my Harry Potter post, we spent multiple days at Universal Studios. Our favorite stops  from day one (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Springfield, and the Waterworld Show) got a second visit on day two. The first day was sunny and hot, particularly for late October. After spending all morning running around (me in a hot, black wizard’s robe) we were ready for a cool down. The perfect solution was to sit in the front row (i.e., the splash zone) at the Waterworld show.

I had never seen the movie before (we’ve since corrected that) but the live show was amazing nonetheless. Waterworld was a postapocalyptic movie starring Kevin Costner that came out in 1995. It depicted a world covered entirely in ocean after the complete melting of the polar icecaps. The survivors live on boats or ramshackle man-made atolls, all searching for the mythical “dry land”.

The set was incredible but the actors and special effects really made the show. When the explosions went off you could really feel the heat. And they catapulted an entire float plane right over the set wall. Seriously. They catapulted it. We looked and couldn’t find any wires holding up the plane. All of the actors were also actors on current television shows with Universal Studios. We’re pretty out of touch with current TV shows and didn’t recognize any of them.

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You can see the towers of the Hogwarts Castle over the set wall in this photo.

Continue reading “Universal Studios Hollywood”

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

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Yer a wizard, Harry! 

For most of you, it will come as no surprise to hear that I am a little bit obsessed with Harry Potter. I started reading the books when I was in middle school (about the same age as Harry in the beginning of the series) and fell in love. I know that they are technically kid’s fiction but I still love them and think they are brilliant and perfect. A magical world with just enough reality that you can almost believe it’s real.

Being a Potter fan also makes you part of a larger community. Fellow Potterheads share jokes and wisdom from the series, as well as debate various aspects of the stories. Just recently I had a completely serious discussion with a friend of mine regarding which Hogwarts house we would each be sorted into and the intricacies of wand lore. We decided I was a Gryffindor Prefect and Robert was in Ravenclaw. Brandon laughed at us, but don’t let him fool you. Brandon has also read the books, seen the movies, and has been known to make a Potter joke every now and then.

I have now read them all multiple times and listened to the British versions on audio book (Stephen Fry’s character voices are just far better than Jim Dale’s). I’ve seen all the movies more times than Brandon can tolerate (I re-watch them all at least once a year and also when I’m sick or having a bad week. Nothing cheers me up like Harry Potter.) However, I had yet to visit any of the real-world Harry Potter destinations. There are currently three theme parks, one each in California, Florida, and Japan, as well as numerous destinations in England where you can see filming locations used in the movies (castles, trains, streets, forests, etc.) or tour the man-made sets and see props as part of the studio tour.  The new Harry Potter play, “The Cursed Child”, is also currently on stage in London. Tickets for two years worth of showings of the play sold out in two weeks. But I was lucky (and persistent enough) to snag two tickets for May 2017.  I still haven’t done any planning for our side-trip to London but I’m super excited.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Studios Orlando a few years ago and was instantly a must-go destination for this trip. In fact, someone even bought us tickets as part of our honeymoon adventure wedding registry (Thanks, Pat! We love you!) On our way to Oregon we learned that the newest Harry Potter park had just opened at Universal Studios Hollywood in California. Bingo! Now I could go see both American parks. We were already planning to visit the L.A. area so this was perfect.

Fair warning to my muggle readers (non-magic folk), I’ll be letting my nerd flag fly with this one. Laugh with me or at me, but I think we could all use a little more imagination in our lives. To my fellow witches and wizards, grab a butterbeer (or maybe a little fire whiskey) and enjoy.

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It’s Otterly Spectacular on the California Coast

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We managed to pack a lot of fun into our last stop, despite the fact that we only stopped for three full days. We drove to Monterey, California to visit their world-renowned aquarium (and sea otter exhibit!), went hiking in Pinnacles National Park, and spent a day Jeepin’ at the Hollister Hills State Vehicle Recreation area.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons we stayed so busy was because the campground we stayed at was one of the most depressing campgrounds we’ve seen in a while. Thousand Trails campgrounds have been working out pretty well so far in California, but this one was old, dusty, and badly maintained. The staff was rude, they had water leaks all over the place, and many of the electrical poles were out of service. If we hadn’t been trying to use up our free camping days with Thousand Trails, we probably would have looked for a different spot on day 2. This one was considered a “preserve”, which I guess was cool. There were lots of deer and I saw a bobcat once, but this might have only been because we were in the middle of nowhere.  Honestly, the only thing they appeared to be preserving was all the bad decor from the 80’s and 90’s. That also may have been the last time anyone vacuumed the carpet in the lodge. I could go on but there’s no need to beat a dead horse. There are plenty of negative corners of the internet and this is not one of them.

On the upside, we did lots of exploring because we prefered to spend the day elsewhere. It was a very long drive to and from Monterey (about 1.5 hours) but it was pleasant countryside. And overall, the Thousand Trails membership has been money well spent and a good experience. So far just one bad egg in a very large state.

Also, the nearby town of Hollister was small, and run-down in parts, but it had a decent grocery store, the largest independent coffee-shop I’ve ever been in (Mars Hill Coffeehouse), and surprisingly good Chinese food (The Happy Cafe).

Continue reading “It’s Otterly Spectacular on the California Coast”