Our Viva!

Fisherman's Cove at Lake Harris • Tavares, FL • JUN 20, 2014

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The storm is moving in!

We have a pontoon boat and love to cruise the Harris Chain of Lakes and the Dora Canal. We keep our boat in a dry rack at Fisherman’s Cove on Lake Harris. They also have a nice full-service campground there, which will enable us to combine boating and camping.

We arrived at our site and hooked up, then took a boat ride to the Dead River to fill up with gas. On the return trip the sky started looking very ominous, so it was mostly full throttle. It turned out to be not much of a storm--just a steady rain. We had wanted to take a nighttime boat ride, but the weather prevented it.

We arose the next morning well before first light. Although we had the canvas covering the boat, the seats and carpet were still wet. After wiping everything down as best we could, we shoved off. We saw the sunrise from Lake Harris, and then the beauty of early morning mist on the Dora Canal.

Despite the rain, we thoroughly enjoyed our first combination boating/camping experience!

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Carrabelle Beach RV Resort • Carrabelle, FL • JUN 10 - 12, 2014

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Neither of us had slept in an RV before, so when we crossed the Florida state line after 14 straight nights in the Viva (and 4,000+ miles) there was some temptation to keep driving until we were home. That temptation passed quickly, and we decided to spend three more nights in the Viva at Carrabelle Beach RV Resort, a nice RV park nestled next to the Gulf of Mexico.

The drive to Carrabelle Beach was lovely. We went through Destin, which neither of us had visited before. We didn’t stop there, but we saw enough to know that we will return someday.

Carrabelle Beach is dog friendly, so Zoe and Tybee made multiple trips to the beach during our stay. It was hot, hot, hot, so we were either walking the beach and enjoying the breeze off the Gulf, or inside the Viva just relaxing after our long trip. Rick did take several dips in the RV park’s pool.

The biting flies were rather pesky, and the two areas set aside for walking the dogs had an assortment of nasty burrs. There was much checking of paws and burr removal. Otherwise, this was a great place to stay and it was nice to finally just chill a bit in one place.

On the way home we drove past the World’s Smallest Police Station--which is actually nothing more than a phone booth. Check out the photo.

We were glad to finally get home after our first great adventure in our new Viva. Although we both were almost certain we would enjoy traveling in an RV, you can’t be sure until you actually do it. We did it, and we loved it!

Can’t wait for the next trip…

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Okatomo Resort & RV Park • Hattiesburg, MS • JUN 9, 2014

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Destination Hattiesburg and the Okatoma Resort and RV Park. One problem--the campground was hard to find. It was well off the main roads, and the signage was…confusing.

We finally arrived at “Okatoma,” this really cool-looking resort. I parked the Viva and Linda went in to register. She was gone a long time. The clerk had no record of our reservation, even though we had called just the day before. After much searching and conversation, the clerk said we were at the wrong “Okatoma.” We wanted “Okatoma Resort & RV Park,” but instead had found the “Okatoma Outdoor Post & Canoe Rental.” In addition to canoe and kayak rentals, guided group tours, and cabin rentals, this place did have a few RV sites for visitors who came to participate in the water sports. That’s why the clerk at least tried to find our reservation. The businesses had similar names, and the signs we saw along the way didn’t have the full names--some just said “Okatoma” with an arrow pointing the direction. The campground we wanted was a couple of miles away.

When we got to the correct campground we were pleasantly surprised. It was a lovely setting, and the friendly camp manager assigned us a site right next to the lake. As an added bonus the campground accepted Passport America, so we were given a 50% discount.

Heavy rains had hit the area in the preceding days, so the grounds were a bit soggy and not good for exploring. That was fine, as we were tired from days on the road and were just looking to relax. Rick did find the campground’s basketball court and shot some hoops. Just as he was finishing, the rains came again.

When we left the next morning, we vowed to return to this campground if we were ever in the vicinity again.

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Mission RV Park • Russellville, AR • JUN 8, 2014

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It rained very hard all day long, and driving was not fun to say the least. We had wanted to take Scenic 7 through the Ozarks as we had a reservation at the Hot Springs, Arkansas, KOA. However, the woman at that KOA said we shouldn’t even think about going down Scenic 7 because of the torrential rain and hazardous conditions in the mountains. So, we changed our route and set out with no specific destination in mind.


After driving most of the day we needed to find a place to spend the night, and Mission RV Park came along just as we were getting weary.

The following is on Mission RV Park’s website (all unique punctuation and capitalization retained):
“Mission RV Park is located at the site of the first Christian Mission West of the Mississippi River; known as Dwight Mission; Established for the Native American Indians in 1820 by the Presbyterian Church. The 180 year-old Dwight Mission Cemetery is still located at this site. The Trail of Tears runs right across this old mission site. The Mission was moved to Oklahoma Indian Territory when the Indian Nations were forced out of Arkansas Territory. Dwight Mission #2 still stands just North of Sallisaw, Oklahoma.

There were many empty camping sites, but the manager put us next to a large 5th-wheel where a party was going on. Alcohol was flowing freely (not a problem unless you’re on the way to CrazyLand, which they were) and something nasty was boiling in a pot.

Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for them, thunderstorms rolled in not long after we set up camp, and the party quickly broke up. Heavy rain and strong winds continued for most of the night, but we were snug in the Viva and got some well needed rest.

No pictures from this campground--truly, no photo ops due to the rain and our neighbors-- so the picture above and the ones linked below were taken the next day from inside the Viva, as we were crossing the Mississippi River.

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Elk City/Clinton KOA • Canute, OK • JUN 7, 2014

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There were no highlights today, but instead, many lowlights. This will go down in our travel history as one of our worst days on the road.

We were on I-40 to Amarillo when we saw flashing lights ahead. As we got closer, there were state troopers blocking the interstate. They directed us to take the exit ramp, which ended up being the only positive part of the entire day. If we had arrived at that spot minutes earlier, we would have been delayed for hours.

We were routed over to Frontage Road, which is a two-lane road that runs mostly parallel to I-40. As we drove along Frontage Road, we could see traffic stopped for mile after mile just to the left of us, on I-40. It seemed like everyone was out of their vehicles, and many were sitting in lawn chairs. Some people were walking their dogs. There were (no exaggeration) hundreds of tractor-trailers.

We finally came upon an accident scene. A U-Haul truck was in the ditch on the right, next to the fence that divided I-40 from Frontage Road. On the left of the eastbound I-40 lanes was an overturned U-Haul trailer and SUV. Several other vehicles appeared to have also been involved in the accident. We assumed that the U-Haul truck and the SUV towing the U-Haul trailer were traveling together. The trailer had split open, and the family’s possessions were widely scattered all over the highway and both berms. It was a terrible thing to see.

We knew there was more trouble ahead, as beyond that accident the traffic was still stopped for as far as we could see.

We next saw a jack-knifed semi, but that scene wasn’t nearly as bad as the first one. But still, again for as far ahead as we could see, traffic was still stopped.

We finally came upon the accident that probably occurred first, and resulted in the accidents behind it that we had already seen. Two semis had been involved in a collision, and one semi was on its side, completely blocking both eastbound lanes. That’s why traffic was at a complete standstill, and likely would be for hours to come until they could get the semi rubber-side down again.

At the next interchange beyond that accident we were able to get on I-40 again. We were lucky to have avoided a long delay, of course, but we also felt very thankful that we can been safe on our journey so far.

We knew that we would go past the World Famous Cadillac Ranch--do a web search if you don’t know what we’re talking about. We did our own web search before we started out that morning so we would know how to find it. However, in researching, we learned that the cars had been vandalized (stripped of parts--especially the distinctive fins--and painted with graffiti countless times) to the point they weren’t even recognizable as Cadillacs. That was so disappointing that we decided not to stop and just shot a quick and a bit blurry photo as we whizzed by.

And finally, we passed a huge cattle stockyard just outside Amarillo. If we weren’t already vegans, we would have become vegans at that moment. There were thousands of cows confined in horrible conditions--mud, manure, and who knows what all was there. The smell was overpowering. Some cows were lying on other cows--not sure if the ones underneath were dead. Just a sad thing to see.

We made it to the Elk City/Clinton KOA--a nice campground--but we also got to experience a powerful thunderstorm overnight. A suitable conclusion for this day.

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Trailer Ranch RV Resort • Santa Fe, NM • JUN 6, 2014

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Ah, New Mexico! We have always wanted to see Taos and Santa Fe, and today was the day.

En route to Taos, in the middle of nowhere, we saw a strange highway sign. There was a graphic of a cow on the sign (meaning a cattle crossing at that point?), but above the cow was something that looked like a flying saucer. It was so unusual that we almost turned around to go back and take another look at it, but instead we kept going. Soon we saw another cow sign, with the same strange object positioned above the cow. And then another sign down the road. We finally pulled over and took a closer look and also a picture. It was definitely a flying saucer above the cow, but what was that supposed to mean, and why would the New Mexico Highway Department erect such a sign? More about this later in this post.

Taos was a quaint, artsy-looking town. We didn’t have time to stop as we needed to get to Santa Fe, but Taos, we will return someday!

Traveling with Tybee and Zoe has many, many upsides, but one large downside is that we can’t go off sightseeing by ourselves. We don’t want to leave them unattended in the (air conditioned) RV out of fear that someone might break in and take them. If you remember the story “The Ransom of Red Chief,” it would end with the thieves trying to return them as quickly as possible, but that is no real comfort to us. So after passing through Taos to get to Santa Fe by early afternoon, Rick stayed in the Viva with the dogs while Linda headed out on a short walking tour of the downtown area. She took a tour of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, browsed the beautiful Native American arts and crafts items in the Plaza, and stopped by the Loretto Chapel. Santa Fe is a city we will visit again, when we have more time.

We camped at Trailer Ranch RV Resort, which was nice, but seemed to cater more to full-timers who live in the park as opposed to RVers looking for a one night stay. The electric and water connections were covered by bushes…a bit different! You had to reach deep into the bushes to connect. There was a laundromat across from us, which gave us a chance to catch up on laundry. They did have a huge dog park--the biggest we’ve ever seen at a campground--but it was not well kept and there were nasty, sharp burrs everywhere. We watched the dogs closely, not only for that reason, but because we were worried there might be a venomous snake lurking somewhere.

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Pueblo South/Colorado City KOA • Pueblo, CO • JUN 5, 2014

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With regret that our visit was so short, we said goodbye to the Estes Park KOA and Rocky Mountain National Park.

We wanted to take the scenic route to Lyons and on to Boulder, but the road was still being repaired from the flooding last fall. Still, any road we took was going to offer beautiful scenery.

We headed back to Loveland and found a car wash where we were able to wash the dirt off the Viva, and she sparkled once again.

We visited the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs in 1985, and we were eager to see it again. Unfortunately, it was not as we remembered it. It seems to be more of a recreational area now, as there were cyclists and hikers everywhere. In 1985 we could stop and have scenic spots all to ourselves, but we couldn’t take a photo this trip without a number of people in the frame (see above). They must not have gotten the memo that we had private reservations!

We wanted to stop at the Welcome Center, but the RV parking lot there was closed. And it wasn’t just there, we didn’t find any place we could park the Viva. Also, there were few pullouts to stop briefly for a photo, and the ones we did see were small and clearly not designed for RVs.

Disappointed, we drove to our destination for the night, the Pueblo South/Colorado City KOA. It was a nice, well-appointed campground with a friendly host. He gave us a level, shaded lot with grass. Close by was a nice fenced dog park for Tybee and Zoe.

The KOA host told us about Bishop Castle, a nearby attraction that he highly recommended. We set out to go see it, but turned around after a few miles because we were both weary from our travels. We told ourselves we would stop by to see it in the morning, but that didn’t happen either. It wasn’t until later that we realized what we were missing. The story of Bishop Castle sounds too far-fetched for even a movie script, but it is real. In 1959, as a 15 year-old kid, Jim Bishop bought two and a half wooded acres. That was the start of what stands there today, a towering stone castle built entirely by one man! Do a web search on “Bishop Castle” and read the remarkable story yourself. We will definitely visit this amazing architectural achievement on a future trip.

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Estes Park KOA • Estes Park, CO • JUN 3 - 4, 2014

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We left A B Camping and a few minutes later stopped at a local dog park connected to the Cheyenne Animal Shelter. It was a large yard divided into several sections, so Tybee and Zoe were able to run and play together without worrying about the large dogs on the other side of the fence. After being in the small confines of the Viva, they were ready to burn off some energy. We gave them as much time as they wanted in the park, because they had been doing great considering how many miles we had already traveled.

When the dogs were finally worn out and ready to go, our next stop was a Flying J gas station where we refueled, bought some bottled water, and ate breakfast in the Viva. Then it was on to Fort Collins and a Whole Foods Market where we replenished our pantry and refrigerator.

We then made the drive up to Estes Park--truly a Rocky Mountain high! Breathtaking, beautiful, magnificent--almost any superlative would apply. We drove next to the Big Thompson River for much of the way. It was raging whitewater being fed from the late spring thaw in the mountains, and it looked extremely treacherous. There was still extensive damage from the devastating September 2013 flooding. Million-dollar homes had been abandoned after the riverbank had washed away, and they sat balancing precipitously over the fast flowing river just a few feet below. Still, we saw many lovely homes en route, and if we didn’t love hot weather and Florida, we knew that we could live in Estes Park--it was that special.

The Estes Park KOA has a lovely setting, nestled against a small mountain with a crystal lake just across the road and towering, snow-capped mountains in the distance. We were assigned a level site with a great view. We had to connect to 50 amp service but we didn’t have a 30/50 adapter. The KOA manager was kind enough to loan us one.

The KOA had cable TV, and Rick finally figured out how to properly hook it up to the Viva (in previous attempts he was connecting to the wrong jack). He had to configure both TVs individually, but at last we had functioning TV--but we couldn’t have cared less, because we had no interest in watching TV with the beauty that surrounded us.

We took the dogs for a walk along the lake but we had to turn around at a certain point because there was a sign warning us that moose were in mating season. They don’t take kindly to dogs when moose love is in the air, so dogs were prohibited in that area. Apparently the moose aren’t bothered by people, just dogs.

The next day Linda took a long (4 mile) walk around the lake while Rick stayed with the dogs in the Viva. Then it was Rick’s turn. He was going to run around the lake, which would take him about 34 minutes.

Well over an hour later, Rick had not returned from his run. Linda thought about the moose and the warning sign. Well, it wasn’t a moose that caused the problem, it was a wrong turn--something that Rick has done many times previously. Instead of circling the lake, he somehow got on a path that led to a road that would have taken him into the mountains. He was running parallel to the main highway that ran through town, but didn’t realize it. He finally stopped and asked directions, which got him back to the center of town. He actually had to go to the police station to get directions to the KOA. By the time he made it back to camp, he had run 6 to 7 miles up and down numerous “hills” (small mountains!).

After Rick showered and recovered from his run, we disconnected the Viva and drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a very challenging drive--there were no guardrails, and just a short berm to the right of the pavement. Linda, in the passenger seat, was often looking almost straight down, thousands of feet. One mistake and it would have been all over!

Despite the somewhat tense drive, we were still able to take in the beauty that was all around us. We made numerous stops and took well over a hundred photos.

On the way back to the KOA we had to wait for a snow plow and a grader to remove snow from the road--a snow slide had occurred while we were at the summit and the road was blocked for awhile.

We parked the Viva in town. Linda did a little shopping and we found a place where we could get a vegan pizza to take back to the campground. We also sampled Estes Park beer. It was a local brand, and it was good!

We lowered the bed from the ceiling and slept on it for the first time--before that we had slept on the dedicated bed at the rear of the Viva. The dogs were whining to get up with us, but we needed a comfortable night’s sleep!

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A.B. Camping • Cheyenne, WY • JUN 2, 2014

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When we ordered our Viva in March, we started doing weekly internet searches to see if we could find anyone anywhere in the country who had actually taken delivery of a new Viva. We were told that almost all of the units coming off the assembly line were being bought by dealers to put on their lots. Not many people buy a brand new RV model, especially one as radically different as the Viva, until they have seen a few on the road and had a chance to read some real-world experience reviews. Well, we didn’t want to wait so we took the plunge, and we were searching to see if anyone else was as intrigued by the Viva as we were.

Rick was doing one of his web searches when he came across the website of an RV dealer in Wyoming. There was a short piece about a couple from Cheyenne who were the proud owners of the first Viva sold in that state. Their names were Tomas and Connie, and the RV dealer had posted their picture on the website, standing beside their new Viva.

We contacted Tomas and Connie via e-mail, and they were as excited as we were to connect with other Viva owners. In an interesting coincidence, well before we even knew of Tomas and Connie, we had plotted our route out west and it took us through Cheyenne. We mentioned this to Tomas and Connie, and they generously offered to let us stay at their home as they had installed RV hookups on their property. We declined their kind offer as we had already made camping reservations at A.B. Camping, so we asked them if they would consider coming over to meet us, if they weren’t too far away. Well…they lived just several blocks from the campground! What are the odds, that the only other people we knew who had a Viva would live in a western town that we were passing through, and just a couple of minutes from the campground where we would be staying!

Tomas and Connie came over in their Viva and we had a great time comparing notes and sharing tips. They are great people, and we hope to meet up with them on the road again someday!

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Hot Springs KOA • Hot Springs, SD • JUN 1, 2014

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Yesterday we purchased a two-day pass for Custer State Park, so today we wanted to go the park a second time.

There are three Scenic Drives through Custer State Park--Iron Mountain Road, Needles Highway, and Wildlife Loop Road. When we pulled up to the admission booth, we asked the ranger on duty if she thought our RV could make it through the tunnels on Needles Highway. She said it would be way too close, and we should not try it. She also said we shouldn’t even think about driving the Iron Mountain Road because of the steep uphill and downhill grades, and all the curves (we later learned there are 314 curves in 17 miles), many of which are hairpin turns. She looked very surprised when we told her we had driven Iron Mountain Road the day before! So that left only Wildlife Loop.

What a drive it was! Beautiful scenery for miles, plus the added bonus of abundant wildlife. We had to stop a couple of times to let bison herds pass. On a side road we saw cars that were surrounded by “Begging Burros” (donkeys). Antelope and deer were grazing, seemingly without a care, and we saw lots of prairie dogs.

We saw a sign for Wind Cave National Park, and Rick just had to take a tour. It was the first cave to be designated a national park, and it is famous for a formation called boxwork. The Ranger who led “our expedition” was very knowledgeable, and the tour was entertaining and informative.

Linda waited with the dogs in the Viva while Rick was in the cave. The weather had been nice to that point, but after the tour the skies became threatening. We reached the Hot Springs KOA just as a huge storm was approaching. There were many sites available, but for some reason they assigned us a spot that was not even close to being level. We asked for another spot, and they obliged with one that was only a little better. We moved to that site, leveled, and connected to the electric. The storm hit before we could connect a water line, so we had to ride out the storm before making that connection. Soon we were in the midst of another soggy KOA!

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