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Welcome to the Wild Wild West (Day 18)

After our adventures in Gila National Forest, we were back on the road and headed towards Tombstone, Arizona. 2.5 hours dropped us at the Arizona border, and the landscape was already changing.

Arizona State Line Our Streamlined Life

I’d always lumped Arizona and New Mexico together in my mind, so I was pretty surprised to see so many differences between the two states. After spending the night in the decidedly scrubby town of Benson (more on that at the end of the post) it was time to visit Tombstone.

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Ryan was surprised that I had added Tombstone to our itinerary, and seemed pretty amused by my excitement over visiting “The Town Too Tough to Die.” But I was not to be dissuaded; I’d grown up watching The Lone Ranger and reading Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey novels, and was eager to do some nerdy wild-wild-westing.

We took a quick loop through town to decide what we (okay, I) wanted to do first. I wasn’t too interested in the shops selling touristy trinkets, but I did want to see one of the OK Corral reenactments. We spent an embarrassing amount of money on the tickets, and headed off to find some lunch while waiting for the next show.

We settled on the Crystal Palace Saloon as an excellent place to get historically-accurate food like … nachos.

Crystal Palace Saloon Our Streamlined Life
Photo from Crystal Palace Saloon

We also visited the museum of Arizona’s oldest newspaper, the aptly-named Epitaph. Then it was off to witness the reenactment of the infamous shootout at OK Corral.

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The show was entertaining, to say the least, and the actors did a good job of hamming to the audience. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Virgil and Morgan Earp were cheered, while the McLaurys and Clantons were booed by a highly-enthusiastic crowd.

Tombstone 1 Our Streamlined Life

After the reenactment we went to a showing of the Tombstone Historama, which ended up being a totally unique experience. It was a mix between a movie and a spinning diorama, described better than I could by Roadside America:

“The story of Tombstone unfolds through blinking lights, recorded sound effects, and a projection screen that lowers and raises to show Western movie clips, although it often raises and lowers in the middle of whatever it is that you’re supposed to be watching. The screen also serves to hide the lump, which silently, magically has turned to reveal a new scene when the screen is raised …

To depict the fires that destroyed Tombstone, tiny red light bulbs flicker in a few representative buildings. To show the murders of Morgan Earp and Frank Stillwell (who killed Morgan), small wooden people have their internal supports pulled away, allowing them to collapse onto the turntable with an audible “tonk” of wood on wood. We’ll leave it to you to guess how the flooding of the silver mines is depicted.”

My thirst for a thoroughly cheesy wild west experience sated, we grabbed ice cream on our way out of town and continued heading west. It was on to Tucson!

Campground: Benson, Arizona KOA

  • Tent site, no hookups.
  • Cost: $26.72 (with tax, minus VKR rewards discount)
  • Pros: Spotless showers with lots of hot water and great water pressure.  Decent & inexpensive laundry facilities.
  • Cons: Everything else about this KOA was a solid “meh.” We were happy to have a place to sleep, but it was expensive for a tent site with no hookups, the picnic table provided was pretty busted, and the whole campground was pretty drab. Also, the tent area wasn’t segmented sites — it was just a round, fenced, sand/grass area where people could just throw up a tent anywhere. Luckily it was almost empty when we got there, but it was a less-than ideal situation for car camping.

Travel Update: Savannah, Georgia

Savannah had been on my “must visit” cities list for quite a while, so I was SO excited when I realized our route would be taking us right past the “Hostess City of the South.”

Our campground was just 20 minutes south of Savannah — perfectly situated to explore the city. We took our first afternoon there to catch up on work, do some much-needed laundry, and watch Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil to set the stage for the next day’s adventures.

Monday dawned with absolutely perfect weather — sunny, breezy, and 70 degrees. Our first stop in Savannah was Forsyth Park, a 30-acre park in the historic district. It was shady and calm under the gorgeous trees dripping with Spanish moss.

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And of course we couldn’t miss taking a picture of the gorgeous fountain!

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From Forsyth Park we headed north towards Jones Street, voted one of the most beautiful in North America by Southern Living magazine. And it was lovely! We couldn’t resist peeking into many of the secret gardens tucked behind the beautiful homes lining the street.

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Our next stop was the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

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The outside was impressive, but the inside was truly breathtaking.

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After spending some time admiring the beauty of the cathedral, we headed back towards Forsyth Park to enjoy a picnic lunch. We snagged a great spot right by the fountain and enjoyed a little people watching while we ate.

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Fortified by lunch, we hit the streets again. First stop: Gallery Espresso for a delicious pumpkin spice latte. Then we headed towards the Savannah Bee Company, a fantastic store with a smorgasbord of honey products — everything from large wine bottles full of artisanal honey, to beauty products, to beeswax candles and mead. We enjoyed a delicious mead tasting and even brought a few bottles home to enjoy on the road.

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We made our way up town, all the way to the river front. I loved this ship statue.

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By this time we were in a little bit of a hurry to get back to Forsyth Park for the scheduled highlight of our evening — more on that in a minute! — but I couldn’t miss one more important stop: Leopold’s Ice Cream. We each enjoyed a scoop of honey, almond & cream ice cream and it. was. a. mazing.

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From there we headed back towards Forsyth Park, where we head scheduled a pickup for a Hearse Ghost Tour of the city. We had briefly considered taking a trolley ride around the historic district, but when I searched “Savannah tours” and this ghost tour popped up, we knew we had to do it. We had reserved a spot on the 5:45pm tour and it was just getting dark as we hopped into the hearse.

Our tour guide, Spooky Steve, had crazy eyes and a gravelly voice that definitely set the stage for the tour, and we thoroughly enjoyed being regaled with stories of the ghosts and ghouls alleged to haunt the city.

When the tour was over, we headed back to the campground for one more night at the KOA. We had both absolutely loved our day in Savannah, and would gladly have spent more time exploring the city and enjoying its parks, delicious food, and relaxed atmosphere. Savannah, we’ll be back!

Travel Update: Charleston, South Carolina

When last we left you, we had just arrived at our campground in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Our first day in Charleston didn’t involve any exploring. Our whimsical lack of reservation-making had finally backfired on us, and we had to relocate from our Wednesday night campground (James Island County Park) to the Mt. Pleasant/Charleston KOA. Thursday afternoon I grocery shopped and food prepped, and when evening rolled around we headed to the movies to see Spectre, the new James Bond movie.

So by Friday we were ready to explore Charleston! First stop: Lunch. While we were pleasantly assaulted by many delicious smells from the restaurants on King Street, we decided to keep it healthy at Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe.

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We had a lovely window seat and enjoyed watching the people go by as we ate.

Our plan for the afternoon was to explore as much of the gorgeous city as we could on foot. We headed south on King Street toward the water, taking in all the charming shops and gorgeous architecture on the way.

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At the end of King Street we paused to enjoy the beautiful shady trees in White Point Garden.

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Next we walked along the battery, through Waterfront Park, then through City Market. After all that walking we were ready for a treat and we each enjoyed a scoop of ice cream from The Fudgery. After a little more walking back to our car, we were more than ready to spend the evening enjoying a campfire back at the campground.

The next day was Saturday, and my plans included checking South Carolina off the list towards my goal of running a race in all 50 states. I’d be running the 16th Annual Old Village Harbor 5K, conveniently located in downtown Mt. Pleasant not far from our campground.

Ryan was sweet enough to get up early and join me … and snap a few before and after pictures!

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It was a beautiful morning — sunny and 50 degrees — and I couldn’t have asked for better weather to check state #11 off my list!

Saturday afternoon involved more sightseeing. This time we were off to see Fort Sumter National Monument.  Fort Sumter, famous as the location of the first shots of the Civil War, is a sea fort located on a sand bar — built up with New England granite! — in Charleston Harbor.

We were a little disappointed that even though Fort Sumter is a national monument, we weren’t able to use our America the Beautiful park pass for the fees. Because it’s located on an island, trips to Fort Sumter are managed by a private “concessioner” providing ferry service to and from the island.

The round trip is about 2 hours long — a half hour ferry ride, and about an hour to explore the fort. We took the ferry that leaves twice daily from Mt. Pleasant (there’s also a ferry that leaves from Charleston 2-3 times a day). The ferry ride included helpful historical narration and some lovely views of the harbor.

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When the ferry docked at Fort Sumter, we enjoyed a lively telling of the history of Fort Sumter by a park ranger, then explored the fort on our own. It’s fairly small — less than 200 feet across — and we were able to explore the entire fort and its small museum with plenty of time to spare.

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After taking the ferry back to Mt. Pleasant, we headed over the bridge once more, this time to check out some of the beachy island towns surrounding Charleston. We even stopped for a quick walk on Folly Island, although the sea breeze was chilly and I didn’t last long!

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That was our last night in Charleston, and we left feeling like there was much, much more we could have explored.  But we were headed south: On to Savannah!

Old Faithful & the Grand Tetons (Day 15)

The next day dawned rainy and dismal. We’d had a better night’s sleep than the night before, but our moods were dampened by the cold rain. We had planned another day exploring Yellowstone, but wouldn’t be returning to that campground, so we were forced to pack up our tent and other gear while it was still soaking wet. For the first time in our trip, it felt like our enthusiasm was flagging; Ryan was fighting a head cold after our chilly night, and the gloomy day was definitely affecting both our moods.

We had just two stops planned for the day: Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful. Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world, but I was mostly interested in it because of the beautiful rainbow of colors it displays.

Well, I was in for a disappointment; it was about 45 degrees out and the warm water (160 degrees) meeting the cool air left the springs clouded in steam.

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Next stop: Old Faithful — and our timing couldn’t have been better. It erupts every 35 to 125 minutes, and we weren’t excited about the possibility of waiting in the rain, but it went off just 2 or 3 minutes after we arrived. Maybe it was the dreary day affecting our mood, but we just weren’t that impressed.

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Directly south of Yellowstone National Park is Grand Teton National Park — directly between us and our next stopping point in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. By the time we arrived at the border of Grand Teton, the unpleasant weather was beginning to evaporate and we were treated to some tremendous views of the incredible Teton mountain range.

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You might be able to tell that by this point we were kind of ready for a break from camping. Hotels in Jackson Hole were, as we expected, pretty pricey. So instead we reserved a “kamping kabin” at the Jackson Hole / Snake River KOA. This one-room cabin had a double bed and a pair of bunk beds — and Ryan even scored us a cabin with an amazing riverfront view!

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After cooking dinner at our campground, we headed into town to check out Jackson Hole — a charming, upscale town nestled in the base of the mountains. We enjoyed homemade ice cream at Moo’s Gourmet Ice Cream, spent some time browsing the local bookstore, and wandered in and out of the shops. I can only imagine how cozy the town would be in the winter when the resort ski season begins!

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Exploring Yellowstone (Day 14)

We woke up the next morning undeterred by a terrible night’s sleep. The KOA encouraged late check-ins, and we had neighbors in the tent village arrive at around midnight and make all kinds of racket setting up their site. In addition, the temperatures plummeted in the night, dropping to around 24 degrees — definitely at the low end of what our gear was rated for.

But we were excited to see Yellowstone and fortified ourselves with a big breakfast. (Another plus of the tent village: the counter area, which allowed me to easily set up and plug in my griddle to make bacon and eggs! Truly luxurious camping!)

Our main destination for the day was Mammoth Hot Springs, but with the whole day ahead of us we were ready to see as many sights as possible. We knew from our previous day’s drive that it would be a real challenge not to stop every five minutes to take pictures of the beautiful views!

Our first stop was at Gibbon Falls, a beautiful waterfall with a drop of about 84 feet.

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Next detour: the Artist Paint Pots. We primarily stopped because we were intrigued by the name, and learned it was a short hike through a small geothermal basin. The hot water bubbled up through multicolored clay, making it look for all the world like an artist’s palette!

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We saw more buffalo, elk, and pronghorns as we drove through the park, but a new exciting wildlife moment was when we spotted a black bear and her roly-poly cub! The bear herself was so small, we thought she might be a baby until we saw the cub tucked in the underbrush beside a log. Sadly, my hopes of seeing a grizzly bear (a very far away grizzly bear) never materialized.

The elk were very pretty though.
The elk were very pretty though.

Next we made a stop at Mammoth Hot Springs, a large complex of hot springs on a hill of travertine. Thermal activity here has created a series of terraces that the warm bubbling water flows over. The hot springs were interesting to look at, but they smelled terrible! They reminded me of a very dirty version of the lovely hot springs in Pamukkale, Turkey.

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Our final stop — the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone — proved to be one of the most beautiful wonders we’d see that day.  We hiked from out to a point overlooking the canyon from up high, then hiked down to an overlook just above the lower falls. (Our glutes were feeling that burn for days!)

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Our day of exploring Yellowstone had worn us both out, so we returned to the campground ready for a quiet evening relaxing and reading by the fire.  We had seen much of the northern part of the park; we planned to see the park’s southern sights the next day.