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You’re doing what?

How does someone decide to sell their house, most of their possessions to live in an RV and travel?

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.  Helen Keller

This wasn’t a rash decision or one made impulsively.  Actually, it evolved over a few years.

In 2011, we invested $30,000 in an embroidery business, thinking it would help to support us in retirement. I had always wanted to own a business, be in charge of my life, destiny. Guess, I got the entrepreneur spirit from my father.

We worked very hard for three years, tried several marketing techniques,  different niches, but in the end it was one big epic fail!   Despite losing so much money, it was a blessing because we found out what we really wanted to do. Did we really want to work 24/7 supporting a business? Not really.

When Jeff was forced into early retirement in 2013, we started talking about our life and what we wanted to do. Since,  I had only been working three days a week, devoting my time to the business we had accumulated mountains of debt.   We had discussions about our priorities, our passions, and what we enjoyed.

Obviously, family was the first priority.  However, the family connection we had always envisioned wasn’t happening.  We had moved to Arizona from our hometown in Illinois where most of our family was.  One daughter was in New Jersey with our three grandsons and our other daughter in Arizona was busy with her life.  After ten years of praying and hoping they would move back to Arizona, I finally had to give up the idyllic version of the Grandmother I wanted to be.  There would be no weekly sleepovers, attending school events, or holiday celebrations. It is what it is and I had to accept that.  We love our daughters and grandsons with all our hearts but we don’t see them very often, two times a year at best.

So, if we can’t have a life where we see our family on a regular basis, then what?

We started having more discussions on what else would we like to do, see, experience. And how could we financially support that?

What about retiring to a foreign country, perhaps Belize or Panama?  I love to research, so that’s what I did.  Retiring overseas…being an expat.  At first look, it was appealing!  Financially, it was doable.  But, my research revealed the downsides to being an expat, crime, humidity, bugs.  We had been in the southwest for almost 20 years and the thought of humidity and bugs was a downside.

One day Jeff brought up the idea of living in an RV and traveling,  OK, so do we sell the house?  Our stuff? How do we figure all this out?  I needed to do more research!  I read books, blogs, joined FB pages.  Google became my new BFF.

I found so much information of people living in their RV.  This is really a lifestyle and many people do it, not just old retired folks like us, but young couples, families with children.  People who want to explore, have a simpler life, not be tied down to their preconceived notions of a successful life.  They want an authentic life, simpler, not tied to possessions

The decision was made.  That’s  what we want.   A life with experiences, instead of possessions.

It wasn’t easy.  We had to sell our stuff, our house, buy an RV, change our address   The logistics were overwhelming, daunting at times.

The first step was to get out of debt.  Fortunately, I found a wonderful job at a new company in Scottsdale, called Accolade.  It is a healthcare concierge  system, helping people with their healthcare decisions.  It was a new nursing experience, not being “hands-on” with patients, but the work was rewarding and the pay was really, really good!  We got out of debt and started saving.  Did I say the money was really good?

The reactions to our plan were mostly positive, but there were some people who thought we were foolish, even irresponsible!  It didn’t sway us.  We have always been risk takers.

Thanks for stopping by….

Two of our favorite fun purchases, E bikes and kayaks

img_1566I know what your thinking….what’s the point of an electric bike if you want exercise?  We love bike riding but, found that the older we got, the harder it was to go uphill and go for long rides.  I read a post about E bikes,  they were gaining in popularity for commuters biking to work and people who wanted/needed the assistance.

After researching several brands, we decided on  Rad Power Bikes.  The company is based in Seattle and offers direct to consumer pricing, reducing the large retail markup.  We compared them to the higher priced Pedago Electric Bikes

The Pedago is top of the line but more than twice the price of the Rad Power and I just couldn’t justify the cost.  Plus, I liked the philosophy behind Rad Power, eliminating the third party seller, keeping costs down, but still offering great customer service.  I never found one negative review about the company or the bikes.

Jeff got the RadRover and I got the smaller, folding RadMini.  At the time they didn’t have a Step-Thru and I was afraid I was too short for the Rover.  I see now they have a Step-Thru for the same price.  They both have 750W geared hub motors and 48V Lithium-ion battery that will last 25-45 miles on one charge.  There are two modes; pedal assist with 5 levels of assist and a twist grip throttle when you really need power.  It has an on/off button to prevent accidental activation and allows you to only use the throttle when you want to,  I tend to use pedal assist 1-2 , maybe 3-4 if going up a steep hill and feel like we are actually getting more exercise with these than our old bikes.  We’ve gone 10-15 miles, never would have lasted that long before.  There are so many locations that have beautiful, paved bike paths that go on for miles.

We’ve enjoyed many scenic rides, along 30 A Florida’s Emerald Coast, around the entire Mackinac Island,  the foothills in Tucson, AZ, and the Lake Between the Lakes in KY to name a few.

Prior to going full-time, we had hard shell kayaks that we transported on top of the truck pulling a travel trailer without any issues.
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But, they had to be positioned closer to the front of the truck with the fifth wheel.  On our first trip through New Mexico, we lost them to a huge gust of wind.  It ripped the kayaks and Thule racks right off, we just looked at each other and said WTH!!  There was no shoulder to pull off to try to recover them.  Fortunately, no one was behind us, no injuries or damage.  I was really bummed, not just about losing 3k, but not having a kayak for our first trip to Florida.

I started researching inflatable kayaks, thinking that would be the obvious solution.  But, I was really worried if they could track as well as the hard shell.   I discovered Sea Eagle kayaks and inflatable boats.  They have many price points, whether you are a beginner or experienced.  The company has awesome customer service and are very helpful.  I talked with them a few times before deciding on which one I wanted.  I ended up choosing the FastTrack due to their shape and NeedleKnife keel for improved performance and tracking.  They are extremely durable and have a 3 year warranty.  We got the tandem size to have enough room for gear and the pups. I absolutely love it!  Even considering getting the QuikSail attachment since we are currently in Delaware and there is great kayaking in the windy bay.

If you love to kayak and have limited options of transporting them, I recommend inflatable!

Camphosting….it works for us!

Camphosting/Workcamping are terms that are used to describe volunteering or working at campgrounds, private parks, forest service, theme parks, etc while living  in an RV.  I’m only going to write about our volunteer experience in State Parks and the advantages of doing so.

Why we love it!

  •  Since we are retired, we do have an income, albeit a fixed one.  We can live comfortably on that alone, if we watch our expenses, but it doesn’t give us much wiggle room.  Volunteering for a FHU site can save us anywhere from $900 to $1200 per month (we sometimes get free propane and laundry).  That’s a chunk of money that can be added to our savings-we have two, a short term one for emergencies and maintenance and a long term one (IRA) that I call our exit plan for when/if we ever stop traveling and want to settle down.  We will have options to purchase a condo or RV lot.  The extra money allows for major purchases that the fixed budget does not.  Last year we were able to buy electric bikes, kayaks, and do a solar install.  This year I upgraded to a new laptop, camera, and sewing machine.  We can splurge on spendy tourist attractions and tours, souvenirs, and meals out.
  • We have met life-long friends.  We first met Faye and Dave through Grand Design, but then had an opportunity to work with them in Arizona.  Hopefully, we will get a chance to work with them again in the future.

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We met Doug and Judy working two seasons in Cave Creek, AZ. and enjoyed many hikes.  This summer we are visiting them in Canada.img_1545

Rick really connected with Marv & Alice and may visit them in their home in Colorado.  All the hosts were great!

 

  • It gives us some structure and balance from the seemingly never-ending vacation.  Traveling 250-350 miles per day to get to the next destination and staying 4-10 days can be exhausting.  After being in travel mode for a few months, it’s actually nice to stay put for awhile.  We set up the screened enclosure so Rick can do his puzzles.  Jeff has time to do any maintenance on the rig and truck and I do whatever!  I have realized that not every day needs to have jaw-dropping landscapes or breath-taking thrill-seeking adventures!  It’s ok to have some down time to read a book or even take a nap.  Although, I am planning on a zip-lining tour over Niagara Falls and a whale/dolphin watching boat tour!  Working a few hours per week still gives us lots of time to explore.    img_1333
  • We enjoy giving back.  Since we prefer National, State, county, and COE parks vs private campgrounds, it’s the logical choice for us to work at.   They tend to have larger, more private sites and are in beautiful areas.  You are limited to a 14 day stay, so volunteering for one gives you an opportunity to have a much longer visit. The Rangers are so appreciative, they have told us that if it weren’t for the volunteers, many parks would be forced to close.  We’re happy to help maintain these beautiful parks for future generations.
  • Volunteering has also given Rick a sense of purpose and validation.  They have allowed him to help us or have even given him special projects to do  He loves meeting and talking with the Rangers, office staff, and campers.   img_1376

Jeff loves the zero turn lawnmower!  img_1324

What we have learned so far:

  • Ask questions and more questions-about the specific job duties, hours, time commitment,  host site.  We accepted a host position at a Wisconsin state park last summer.  Knowing that the sites were W/E only, I made the mistake assuming the host site would have full hook-ups.  I was WRONG!!!  Fortunately we have a portable blue boy and were only there 4 weeks.  Inconvenient, but doable.  Make sure the host site will accommodate your rig.
  • Check out the area before hand.  How close are grocery stores, Walmart, and laundry mats?  Another mistake we made-the park in WI was in the middle of farmland.  Closest town was 30 miles away which took 45 minutes to drive on two-lane winding country roads!  And of course the park did not have laundry facilities.
  • Is the area one you will want to explore on your days off?  While we enjoyed the lake in WI for fishing, swimming, kayaking, and the bike trails, there really wasn’t much else to do in the area.   I know, it sounds like we hated the position in WI.  It really was fine, but we were glad it was only for 1 month due to lack of sewer and location!  The Rangers were super nice and the park was beautiful. 

  • Consider how long you’re willing to stay in one location.  I have seen commitments for 1 month to the season, 5-6 months.  We have worked in AZ for 5 months, WI for 1 month, and now are in Delaware for 3.  We got a little antsy in AZ at the 4 month mark, but it’s probably due to the fact we lived there for 20 years!  We do love the desert and hiking trails, but want  to see new places.  Two or three months seem to be a perfect time frame to explore an area before getting bored.
  • Ask yourself what kind of work you are willing to do or not do, such as bathroom cleaning,  They are all different.  In AZ we stayed at Cave Creek Regional Park, but worked at Spur Cross Recreation Area.  We collected the entrance fees, sold merchandise, and gave out hiking recommendations.  It was a good fit for us, as we love to hike and talk to people.    img_1546
  • How many hours are you willing to work for your site?  The most we will agree to is 20-24 per week in exchange for a FHU site  Ask how many days and hours are required per person or per couple.
  • In WI, we maintained the campsites, cleaning the fire pits after the campers left.  Although, we liked the exercise, the fire pits can be nasty with people using them as garbage dumps.  We enjoy a campfire, but would probably think twice about working at a park that has them.
  • Now, in DE we maintain the sites, mow, weed eat, pick up trash along the bay, and hang up the reservation cards.  We don’t clean the bathhouse, only check them to make sure they are stocked.  The bathhouse is only 2 yrs old and pristine, so I don’think I would mind cleaning them. Our sites are all FHU with no tent sites, most of the campers are self-contained so the bathrooms hardly get used.  It would be different if there were a lot of tent sites.   And there are no fire pits to clean…score!!

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  •  Our friends have jobs in the office, taking reservations and checking campers in.  I’ve seen interpretative positions, tram drivers, and tour guides.  I’m looking at a lighthouse guide in Oregon for next summer.  How fun would that be?

Where do you find great jobs?

Most states have websites for their parks with links for volunteer information.  You usually can apply online.  It’s a good idea to follow-up with a phone call to the volunteer coordinator or ranger.  Here’s a couple of links, Delaware State Parks,  Florida State Parks.  Another resource is volunteer.gov. for National Parks.

Last winter we started making our summer travel plans.  We knew we wanted to visit Washington D.C., all the New England states, and go up to Ontario, Canada. I applied at a few parks and was offered a position at Delaware Seashore State Park, right on the coast.  It sounded ideal, but it was for a minimum of 3 months, May-July.   We ended up accepting the position and its worked out well.  After leaving AZ, we took 3 weeks to get to D.C, spending 1 week there.  Then we’ll have 3 months, Aug-Oct seeing New England.  Winter will be spent in Florida & Georgia-2 months at Grayton Beach State Park, 1 month at Topsail 2 at Skidaway Island, then finally John Pennekamp Coral Reef, in the Keys.  I hesitated at accepting so many positions in a row, but since they are for short times and in awesome places we thought why not!

We absolutely love our Full-Time lifestyle, balancing traveling with volunteering.  Our experiences working have mostly been positive, but I have heard some horror stories.  If that happens, you can always leave!

Until next time…….

Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC

Collectively called the Smithsonian Institution, this world renowned museum complex in the District consists of 17 museums, galleries, and a zoo.  And it’s free!

From the origins of man at the Natural History Museum to the future of space travel at the Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian Institution are a guide to the most fascinating aspects of our world.

Our sightseeing time was cut down to 4 days due to rain, but we still managed to visit 4 museums, including the Natural History, American History, National Archives, and the Holocaust Memorial.  You could spend days in each of them.  Some require a timed ticket due to their popularity.  The newest National Museum of African American History & Culture was booked out until August.

Jeff and I were most impressed with the Holocaust Museum.  It’s still difficult to believe that Americans had access to reliable information about the Nazi regime’s persecution of Jews as it happened, but most could not imagine a mass murder campaign was possible.  Though most sympathized with their plight, assisting and recusing the victims never became a national priority.

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Visitors to the museum’s Permanent Exhibition receive ID cards chronicling the experiences of people who lived in Europe during the Holocaust.  The cards personalize the events of the time, providing a biographical sketch of the person, their personal experiences and events, and finally the fate of the individual, whether they died or survived.

One of the traveling exhibits this summer was Remember the Children: Daniels Story.  It represents the experiences of many Jewish children during the Nazi era, Daniel narrates through his diary the history of the Holocaust in ways that children can understand.  The exhibit portrays life in a middle-class German home, in a Jewish ghetto in occupied Poland, and finally at the Auschwitz concentration camp.  We all were in tears.

 

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The world’s largest Natural History Museum’s highlights include the 45.5 carat Hope Diamond, Ocean Hall, Mammals Hall, Hall of Human Origins, Insect Zoo, dinosaurs, and the magnificent African bush elephant in the rotunda.  Rick loved the dinosaurs!

We wish we would have had more time, other museums recommended to us were the Newseum and the International Spy Museum.  They do have an admission fee, but have been told it’s worth it.

One rainy day cleared up by early evening, so we were able to take advantage of the Night Bus Tour that leaves from the campground.  The tour guide was very informative and funny.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to our nation’s capital.  We found all Washingtonians, from the bus drivers, tour guides, to staff at the museums very friendly and helpful.  They truly love their city and are eager to show it off.

Everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.  We can’t wait to return.

Next stop….Delaware Seashore State Park, Rehoboth DE

Washington D.C., a humbling experience filled with mixed emotions

Visiting Washington D. C. for the first time at 63 years of age was an emotional experience, despite wishing there was a different POTUS!  Sorry; this is not meant to be a political post!

We stayed at Cherry Hill Park, the closest campground to D.C. for a week.  This is an expensive park, but considering the location and amenities, it’s worth every penny.  It has 2  swimming pools, splash pad, mini golf, cafe, laundry facilities,  tractor rides, camp store, and even dog walking services.

Probably the best convenience is the on-site Metro Bus depot that takes you to the Metro train station.  The DC Metro is one of the cleanest, safest transit systems in the U. S., much cleaner than the NYC subway.  Once you learn the train lines, we found it very easy to navigate.   When you reach National Mall, you can hop on the Circulator Bus for an inexpensive way to reach the monuments and museums.   We didn’t realize this on our first day and ended up walking over 9 miles.  Ok for Jeff and I, but poor Rick!  It was a little too much for him and needed the next day to rest.  Bad Sister!

 

Day 1:  A Monumental Experience

Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool

  all I kept thinking of was Forest Gump!

The Washington Monument built to commemorate George Washington is made of marble, granite, and blue stone gneiss, and is the tallest stone structure in the world.  Construction began in 1848, but it was not completed until 1885 due to a lack of funds and the Civil War.  It officially opened October  9, 1888.

Lincoln Memorial

  • It took more than 50 years to get a memorial for Lincoln built and opened to the public.
  • It includes 39 columns of Colorado marble, one column represents a state in the union at the time of Lincoln’s death in 1865.
  • There are 87 steps from the Reflecting pool to Lincoln’s statue in side the Memorial.  The number 87 is for ‘four scores and 7’ per what Lincoln said in his famous Gettysburg Address.
  • Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered on the steps of the Memorial August 28, 1963.
  • Observers who are literate in American Sign Language have taken note of the positioning of the sculpted fingers, recognizing in their arrangement the signification of the letters A and L.  Lincoln was particularly invested in the cause of furthering the study of sign language, he authorized the creation and signed the Charter of Gallaudet University, the school for the deaf whose founder French had also sculpted.  The National Park service has dismissed this as an urban legend.
  • Rick’s favorite memorial!

National World War ll Memorial

The World War II Memorial creation was authorized be President Bill Clinton in 1993 and constructed between 2001 and 2004.  It was dedicated to the hundreds of millions of people who served, the hundreds of thousands of people who died and also those who helped support soldiers in battle.

All 48 states, 7 federal territories and District of Columbia are represented on the memorial with its own granite pillar and wreath.  A wall of 4,048 gold stars, each one represents 100 American military deaths.  That is more than 400.000 soldiers.

Korean War Memorial

This Memorial had special meaning for Rick and I since our father fought in the Korean War.  He never mentioned his experience, however years after our mother passed, I found a newspaper article about his experience during the Navy Battle of Casablanca.  He was part of an invasion task force of 102 American ships carrying 35,000 soldiers who approached the coast of Morocco undetected.  I would have liked to have had an adult conservation with him about it, but never got the chance.  He survived the Korean War, but was killed in a car accident in 1969 at the age of 42.  I was just 15.  Perhaps some memories are best left alone.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

This also stirred up emotions.  In our small town of 1200 people, we lost 4 young men to the Vietnam War.  Considering graduating classes typically were less than 60 students, 4 was a high number.

The Memorial was dedicated on November 13, 1982 and honors the men and women who answered the call to service during the most divisive war in the U.S. history.  More than 58,000 names of soldiers who gave their lives or are missing are inscribed on the black granite wall.

The staff are very helpful in locating the names of your loved ones and making an etching.

Jefferson Memorial

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Martin Luther King Memorial

 

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

 

Arlington Cemetery: a somber sight

The thousands of white grave markers against the green grass makes a dramatic visual and visceral impact.

 

Visiting all the memorials brought up memories of my childhood.  Growing up in the 60’s wasn’t as idyllic some would think.  It was often a confusing time of social unrest.  We may not have had the school shootings that students of today face, but there were race riots and Vietnam War protests, sometimes ending in violence (Kent State).  I remember the assassinations of John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy.  Young men were either drafted or enlisted.  Some chose to flee the country to Canada.  Those who were fortunate to survive, returned home to a nation of hostility.  There were no “Thank yous” or “Welcome home”.  They were met with hate filled protesters, screaming obscenities, calling them baby killers, even spitting on them.  Many could not bear the hurt and humiliation and would end up having problems with addiction to cope or even committing suicide.

Visiting these Monuments and Memorials is a moving experience.  They link the past to the present and enable people to remember and respect the sacrifice of those who fought for our freedom.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  George Santayana

Up next…museums

White Sands National Monument

a magical sea of sand

DSCN0106I have wanted to visit White Sands every since I read “Gone with the Wynns” RV blogpost 3 years ago.

This is the largest gypsum dune field in the world, located in the Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico.  The massive collection of gypsum resulted from changes in ancient landscapes that started before the time of the dinosaurs.  Some 250 million years ago, what is now New Mexico was covered by a shallow sea, but the sea’s level eventually fell as the area began to dry.  The thick layers of gypsum settled onto the old sea floor.  About 7,000 years ago , the gypsum began to form dunes, and they continue to shift today, some of them moving as much as 30 feet per year.

Unlike silica sand, gypsum does not absorb heat from the sun.  So even on the hottest day, the dunes are cool and comfortable.   Gypsum is actually a clear substance, the dunes appear white like snow because the grains are constantly banging into each other.  The scratches then reflect the sun’s rays making them appear white.

Sledding is a popular activity!  I just had to try it.

Hard to believe that any vegetation could survive, but there are many drought tolerant plant species.

The beautiful white wonderland against the blue sky is unbelievably surreal.  But it is real.  A must for every bucket list!

As my Canadian friend Judy would say, “Pretty cool, eh?”

 

 

Patagonia Lake, a birding paradise!

After leaving Kartchner we went south to Patagonia on the recommendation of our friends, the Galloways.  They stayed there a couple of years ago and actually saw a very rare bird, the Elegant Trogon.   More than 300 bird species migrate, nest, and live in the riparian habitat along Sonita Creek and it is ranked as a world-class birding destination.

Patagonia Lake was constructed in the late 60’s by a group of citizens incorporated as the Lake Patagonia Recreation Association.   The Association soon recognized they did not have sufficient capital to meet the demand of maintaining the lake and recreation facilities.  After working through lengthy, complex negotiations, Patagonia Lake was acquired by Arizona State Parks in 1975 and officially opened as Patagonia Lake State Park on April 1,  1975.

The 2.5 mile long, 250 acre lake is popular for fishing, boating, swimming, and birding.  6EF9F43D-3030-4CD8-B2F7-91081DA8167D

You can take a $5 avian boat tour.

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Swimming beach and day use area

 

Meeting up with friends we have met on earlier trips is always fun.  Last year we met Robin and Craig at Lone Rock Beach, Lake Powell.  And it just so happened that they were volunteering at Kartchner Caverns when we were there.  We got together for happy hour and then they came down to Patagonia for the day.  We shared travel stories, favorite campgrounds, and future plans.  Coincidentally, they will be in the Finger Lakes area when we are there in August and we have already planned on getting together.

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We also took advantage of the guided bird hike.  I know nothing about birding, can only identify the obvious robins, cardinals, and blue jays, but nonetheless thought it could be a learning experience.

Jeez, these birders are freaking serious with their $2000 pair of binoculars.  By the time I tried to focus on the willow straight in front, left of the limb next to the forked branch with my cheap $20 binoculars, the damn bird was gone.  They are ooohhing and ahhing about some brown crested flycatcher, not to be confused with the ash throated and I don’t see a thing!   Well, Jeff did manage to get a few pics.

I enjoy nature and wildlife, strenuous hikes and leisurely walks, but realized early on this was not for me.   You walk 20 steps, then stare into the trees for 30 minutes and wait and wait and wait.  It was kind of amusing to hear them politely debate whether it was a neotropic cormorant or double-crested one!  Lovely people, but just not our cup of tea.  We thanked them for their patience with our ignorance and bid our adieus.

All in all, a very nice park, sites are a mixed bag, some not very big or level.  We had a pull-through, however it was on a slope, not the easiest to level, but we managed.   If we were staying longer, I would have launched the kayak.

We’re off to White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.

 

 

Tombstone, AZ-The Town Too Tough to Die

Sometimes you just need to do the sappy, touristy trap thing.

Tombstone, AZ is one of the last frontier boom towns of the old American west.  It was rebuilt twice after two devastating fires and became a tourist attraction after WWII.

Its mostly known for the infamous shootout at the OK Corral between the Earp brothers, Doc holiday and the McLaurys and Clantons.   As with most tourist attractions, everything here is a fee.  We did opt for the enactment of the shootout, mostly for Rick’s enjoyment since he loves Western movies.

We found the Historama Theater interesting with Vincent Price narrating Tombstone’s history-the silver boom, fires, OK Corral gunfight, Geronimo’s Apaches, and assassination of Morgan Earp.

There are stagecoach tours, silver mine tours, and ghost tours.

We ended the afternoon at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon for lunch and a beer.   There was live entertainment and Rick even got to request his favorite Western song, “Happy Trails”.

So, it may not be one of those “bucket list”, must see kind of things, but it was a fun afternoon!

Happy Trails!