Saturday, May 19, 2018

Buffalo Gap Campground

      We are always looking for somewhere new to boondock along our routes, especially from Michigan to Washington.  When it came to our excursions across Western North Dakota and Eastern Montana it got a little dicey at times.  If your are looking for a regular full service RV park in this area the pickings are slim.  We used to stay at an RV park just across the border in Glendive, MT, but it has since been replaced by a hotel.  For several years we overnighted at the Pilot Truck Stop just across the North Dakota side of the border, but the last time we were awoken middle of the night saying we couldn't park our RV when semis needed the room.  There is however, another small campground just east of Beach, ND.  This is a USFS National Grasslands Park called Buffalo Gap.

      It is located at exit 18 and a 1/4 mile north of the interstate.  This campground is open all year, but limited services in the winter and I can only assume this means the water is turned off.  We have stayed here before, but in the last 7-8 years it has been closed to maintenance issues and no available funds from the Department of the Interior to fix things.
      This is a 'dry camping' arrangement, BUT with some facilities.  The camping fee is ONLY $6, but with our Golden Access Pass this becomes $3 per night.  Either way it is good deal.  There are flush toilets with hot showers for a small fee.   The entire park is paved and each site has a fire ring.  For RVs, sites are not always level and will require some 'adjusting'.  The issue of dry camping is easily solved.  Remember the evil Pilot Truck Stop?  They have a place for RVs to dump and water up for free.  So, when we're eastbound we usually gas up there, water up, and proceed to Buffalo Gap.   There are 11 water spigots with potable water around the campground, but not threaded, making it suitable for water jugs and the like.  As there is no electricity we employ our boondocking protocol living off the battery bank for the evening.  Generator backup is always available.
Leveling this puppy was a challenge; uphill and tilted
       We use this as an overnight stay on our way further west to Great Falls or east to Fargo.  It is quite comfortable with BIG OPEN SKIES and stars.  The freeway noise is just across the hill, but we never mind.  If you do decide to stay longer, Medora is only 7 miles to the east. 
Medora, ND
      Explore this website as it details the incredible amount of entertainment, culture, and exploration available in the area, including the Theodore Roosevelt Nat'l Park.

The Badlands......Theodore Roosevelt Nat'l Park, ND
      This is a relatively unexplored area of the country, but there is SO MUCH to discover and enjoy here.  It is the Great West, the Badlands.  For us it is a stopover in a convenient place, but it doesn't have to be just that.  Take the time to enjoy America.  She's always been here.  Joie de Vivre!  

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are"
Theodore Roosevelt

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Searching for Ansel Adams

      It has taken over 2 years as well as countless miles, shots, and editing, but my next book is scheduled for release in May.  Searching for Ansel Adams is an 81 page black and white expose of my best works so far.   I have always, as have so many, admired the depth and stark reality of Ansel Adam's work.  It was his efforts over the years that generated vast interest, virtually saving the National Parks System.  Nearly everything is shot full frame RAW color and then edited to BW in post.  I use Adobe Lightroom for nearly all of my post processing work.  This follows my 20015 release of The Mind's Eye, my first publication and a 31 page expose of my best early color shots.  Both of these publications I have produced myself as when you are starting out, you have to sponsor yourself via your own wallet.  My sales only help me to break even as well as get my work out there.  

      I have always loved photography, preferring to freelance my art.  I am trying to start a small business, responding to the demand from some folks to sell some of my work.  I have set up a couple of vendors that will make my work into canvas and I am looking into 'glass sets' as well.  I am looking for something a bit different than a typical frame hung wall picture or print.  I am very happy with the first two canvas shots I had made.  I will be creating a website showing the gallery of what I consider to be my finest work as well as my two books for purchase.  You will be able to decide what size and how you want your selections mounted and shipped to you.  Price will, of course, depend on size.  I won't really know book prices (to include shipping) until I get my production/shipment and final invoice.  I am planning on book prices to be $20 and $4 for shipping (if needed)  I will announce any and all information once my website is completed, but will also preview the entire inventory on Facebook.  Any of my Western Washington 'Homies' wanting to purchase a copy of the new book should contact me directly as we are heading out within a day or two of receipt of the shipment.  I will deliver this personally.
      My first book I produced through Shutterfly, but this current release will be done through a local recommended publisher Gorham Publishing of Centralia, WA.  They have proven very easy to work with and helped me to modify and accomplish some things I never would have thought of myself.  As I embark on this journey I will keep my focus on quality, not on sales.  I only want to better myself through my art and so that others may enjoy it as well.
      For those of you always asking about a cookbook as the kitchen is my other great passion......relax.  It may be coming down the road a few years.  I also have a few good ideas about a cross country expose of rural America on the back burner as well.  

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one
Saint Augustine

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Clams To Go, Please

      We dug clams earlier during this trip, but this would be our last go around for awhile.  This is the last scheduled 'dig' of the season.  Once again we camped at Screaming Eagle RV Campground at Ocean City, although the digs would be further north at Mocrocks.  This area, especially this time of year REALLY DRAWS A CROWD.  We hoped to really 'sack them up' the last 4 days of this season.  It was the first 'morning dig' of the year so the beach would be much more crowded.  Obviously, if you follow our blog this is something we do often when visiting here so I won't labor you with the specifics.  Relax (we did) and enjoy the pictures.
Although this poor guy gave himself up after we had already dug here,
this is often what you look for when the waves recede. 

When the tides are low, they WILL come.....LOTS of 'em
Trying to stay ahead of the surf

Once the shell is removed (they will pop open after 30 sec in boiling water) this is the remaining clam.  We immediately put these in ice water to stop the cooking process.
Completely cleaned razor clam (before trimming for use)
You can also use just the intact left portion above for fried clam steaks.  
We save a few of these for PoBoys or steaks, but mostly trim for Diggers (salads), Trimmed Frill (clam strips)and Chopped Necks (chowder meat) 

 Trimmed Diggers, Chowder Meat, & Strip Meat 
Vacuum Sealing for freezing
      Because we were digging in the mornings we ate small breakfasts such as grits or oatmeal with juice or coffee and toast, and then had a large late afternoon meal.  The clams soaked all day in a bucket of water and we cleaned and processed them each evening.  While at the beach we dined on Cudighi Stroganoff, Bacon Razor Clam PoBoys, Wild Boar Pizza, and Mangu Con Los Tres Golpes (a Dominican Breakfast with Sausage, Plantains, Fried Cheese, and Eggs) 

Dominican Sausage, Plantains, Fried Cheese, & Egg
Wild Boar Sausage Pizza

Bacon Clam Poboy

     Another successful trip with 90 more clams vacuum sealed and frozen.  The first day's limits were on the small-ish size and only I dug a limit on Day 2 as Barb's allergies won out.  Day 3 opened up the area much closer to camp at Copalis and Barb rejoined the fray fully rested.  In fact she dug her limit and helped me with a single to finish out mine.  Day 4 we returned to our first area, but found the digging much tougher with small-sh clams that were located deeper,  never fun.  So we tally 90 clams for our 4 day dig.  Our total for the entire spring season equates to nearly 7 pounds of digger meat, 7 pounds of clam strips, 3 pounds of steaks, and 7 pounds of chowder meat, but it will be another year before we are back here again on our way to Alaska.   Along with the wild boar, rabbit, turtle, pheasant, gator, scallops, stuffed pork chops, pork/clam sausage, Dominican Sausage, Schweinhaxen, and Tasso that's a lot of good eating stocking both RV freezers for the coming year.  Hmmmmm, might have to stop off in Ishpeming to stock up on some Cudighi as well.   Joie de Vivre........always pursuing the happiness, joy, and best; the spice of life.      

NOTE:  Diesel prices during our stay here ranged from 3.09 to $3.39.  We will leave Mom's and Western Washington in the next couple of weels, boondocking along the way heading east towards our 'other home' in NW Michigan....2400 miles.  I hope that we have been able to finalize or at least set in motion the next phase of mom's life.  These visits are always harder than you think with all your efforts born from love, but it never seems as though it is enough.  We look forward to getting back to Casa Hilts, once the snow is gone with the most beautiful time of year arriving.  There really is NO TELLING when we will actually arrive.  Spring and summer, although a bit late arriving sometimes, are beautiful at our place.  Maybe one day, one of you will come visit us.   

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey" 
Babs Hoffman
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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Mississippi Pot Roast

         I have seen this recipe several times before online and finally decided to try it.  It seemed to me to be another of those great 'home cooked' recipes for cool weather.  The recipe is incredibly simple and very straight forward, easily used in our RV crockpot as well.  I prepared this one while visiting mom so we could fill the house with those flavors we all remembered years ago.  We bought a beautiful 3 pound chuck roast from a local meat market for this meal.

Searing Chuck Roast
Roast ready to go

Beef roast (here it is totally your choice as to size and cut)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 package of dry ranch dressing, such as Hidden Valley
1 package of dry aus jus
1 stick of butter
1 small jar of Pepperoncini (quantity depends on your taste)

      Thaw roast if needed and season with salt and pepper.  Heat large skillet to medium high.  When hot, add roast and sear all sides.  Remove and place into crock pot.  Pour on the Ranch Dressing Mix, Aus Jus Mix, and place a stick of butter on top.  Place Pepperoncini around the sides of the roast, as many as your taste dictates.  Cover crockpot and turn to low for about 8 hours.  Test for doneness and then decide to:
Serve it sliced

Serve it chopped
      Either way you WILL NOT need a knife.  Serve it with mashed taters, noodles, rice, biscuits, or whatever you wish.  The smell in the kitchen alone will remind you of Mom, and probably Grandma as well. NOTE:  WITH THE VINEGAR FROM THE PEPPERONCINI BEING USED TO TENDERIZE THE MEAT, THE REMAINING PEPPERS ARE SOMEWHAT HOTTER THAN YOU MIGHT IMAGINE.  

"A minister has to be able to read a clock.  At noon it's time to go home and turn up the pot roast and get the peas from the freezer" 
Garrison Keillor
WiFi courtesy of Mom

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Copper Creek Inn Ashford, WA

 Summertime photo courtesy of National Park Service
      Although this is not the optimal time to visit Mount Rainier National Park, it is still accessible with plenty of spectacular views to be had.  We have visited the park many times and have even stopped here to eat, but perhaps only now in my 'later middle aged years' did I realize that I took this place for granted.  This was another 'RESTAURANT REVIEW' far overdue. This was a day trip to break the monotony of a late developing spring here, or never ending winter depending on how you think of it.  We even treated Roux the Wonderpup to a day out.  We left Tumwater early enough as it is a 2 hour drive here, all two lane winding country roads gaining elevation into the Cascade Mountains.
      We chose to stop here on the way up to the mountain.  Located about 2 miles west of the Nisqually gate to the park, Copper Creek Inn   is a quaint, homey, integral part of the Mount Rainier experience.  Now not only is it a restaurant and gift shop, they offer 14 different cozy cabins throughout the nearby forests for lodging.  From two story rental homes to the Copper Creek Lodge to single, romantic cabins, they have it all.  Prices, of course, vary greatly from $89 to $550 per night.
Photo courtesy of Copper Creek Inn
Photo courtesy of Copper Creek Inn
Photo courtesy of Copper Creek Inn
      Our visit was, of course, to the restaurant as we yearned to try more of the myriad of delicious dishes as well as their world famous dessert.  We arrived around lunch time, but they do serve a wide variety of breakfast menu as well.  The CC Restaurant is what you would expect in a western mountain venue:  small, comfortable, quaint, and warm.  

      After a long drive through winding mountain roads through Ohop Bob,Elbe, LaGrande, and Ashford Barb were glad to be seated for a bit.  Perusing the menu gave us no relief as there were too many delicious choices.  Finally, after a bit of mulling, chatting with the waitress, and hot coffee Barb decided on the Bacon Blue Cheese Burger while I chose the BLT w/Garlic Taters.  We both chowed down like we'd been on the mountain.  
Bacon Blue Cheese Burger
BLT w/Garlic Redskins
      No meal in this world could ever be topped off better than a with warm piece of Copper Creek Wild Blackberry Pie.  Two pieces with forks and top off my coffee, please.  Total price for our lunch?  $40
Oh, baby.....
      From here we ventured on to the mountain itself.  A journey full of forests, waterfalls, ice, snow, and the peak itself.  Conservationist John Muir himself said it best........
Photo courtesy of National Park Service
      We traveled through Longmire and as far as Paradise to view the majestic peak in all her beauty.  Though the area is still very much covered in deep snow we enjoyed the visit.  It was a day trip, yet not to be wasted.  
Still 10-16' of snow at Paradise Lodge

      Copper Creek Inn is a wonderful little café with plenty of good food.  Barb and I both enjoyed our meals; would probably rate them both 'good'.  The pie was 'excellent' as always, but I always wish for a more sugary crust.  The service was 'okay', but in all fairness it is Spring Break and there was only a single waitress working.  She was quite friendly with us.  This is definitely worth the stop.

"Every man can transform the world from one of monotony and drabness to one of excitement and adventure"  
Irving Wallace

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

We Live and Die......Christ Died and Lived

      I can't even remember the last time I was home with Mom for Easter.  This year we'll celebrate all that is important.  We began our celebration with a somewhat silly, but completely unexpected approach as we surprised Mom with an Easter Basket for the holiday........just to have fun.    Dinner was a much more involved matter as I (the anal retentive chef) planned the ultimate feast.  I love a good leg of lamb.  Barb and I enjoy any type of lamb, but Mom had only tried it in Oregon at my sisters.  Her husband, Jim, makes a fantastic lamb shish-ka-bob so my work was cut out for me.
      It was a pretty informal morning, other than the surprise basket and several phone calls.  I got the meal in the oven early afternoon so that we had time for reverence as well as celebration (at our age, celebration means TV).   I had selected a choice leg o' lamb for dinner; ordered early and FRESH from Stewarts Meats.  I marinated this the week before.  I planned to accompany this with mashed potatoes, and a batch of fresh green peas.   Of course biscuits will be on the menu as well, King's Hawaiian.  Not to be outdone, Mom made her delicious fruit salad.  Barb topped everything off with a tray of her Mom's special recipe deviled eggs.  
       First of all,  I trim the excess fat off the lamb and then place it in a large turkey bag.  I also include several sprigs of mint leaves, a couple of quartered Golden Delicious Apples, and approximately a half bottle of Chardonnay wine.  Squeeze out any excess air, tie off the bag, and marinate for several (up to 4) days. Turn the bag over once a day.
Lamb ready to go into oven
      When ready to cook the lamb, remove from marinade bag, drain, and place in a roasting pan complete with stocking net (if boneless).  Rub roast with lots of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary, a bit of Lamb Tajine Spice, and Garlic.  Sprinkle with salt.  This provides a delicious outer crust.  Place roast into preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 for 2 hours or until inserting the thermometer at deepest point, but not touching the bone reads 145 (medium rare) or 160 (medium),  your choice.  Remove from oven and let rest on cutting board for 30 minutes more.  Make gravy from juices in roasting pan 
Lamb resting right out of the oven
     Holiday mashed taters are a treat.  Barb did her mash with butter, sour cream, and garlic.  Tender peas are easily warmed and served fresh.  Deviled eggs and fruit salad, oh my!  Warm the rolls, dot with butter.......voila!  Remember, we only used a half bottle of Chardonnay do the math.  

"There would be no Christmas if there was no Easter"
Gordon B. Hinckley

WiFi courtesy of Mom

Friday, March 23, 2018

La Push's La Push

Photo courtesy of the Village of LaPush
      Very much the same line used in the movie 'Twilight' we felt our destination deserved it's use as the title for this little get away.  We just came off a successful 2 day clam dig at Ocean City so we headed North for a bit.  60 clams in the freezer.
      This is a spectacularly beautiful Native American beach community located on the NW Washington Olympic Peninsula about 14 miles west of (yes, that's right) Forks.  We have been here once before, but only to play tourist and always wanted to come back.  What better place to decompress for a few days.
      Here Washington's typical flat, sandy beaches change into a seascape that consists of rocky shoreline, seastacks, ridges, and mile upon mile of driftwood.  Winter storms here can be spectacular.  Located 166 miles from mom's house in Tumwater the Quileute Tribe has a beautiful  rustic resort here right on the coast next to the harbor with great RV sites for a decent $30/night.  They have full hookups, as well as showers, laundry, and a small store.  It is only 14 miles into Forks for other supplies.  They also offer cabins and resort hotel rooms depending on your preferences.  Verizon provides a very nice 4 bars of LTE here.  There is , however, NO TV reception, DUH.  You are miles from anywhere.  Our plan was to relax, walk the beach with the furbabies, scour the driftwood for souvenirs, photograph spectacular shoreline and waves, and enjoy a few campfires while catered by yours truly.
Resort Cabins and Main Lodge

      As I said this coastline is rocky and incredibly treacherous for any type of boat, let alone the small fleet of fisherman that routinely navigate it's harbor.  There is a long jetty that each boat must time the incoming tide swell to enter and that is after picking their way through the entry islands, tricky tides, waves, and seastacks.  Charter boats here go out after some pretty large halibut, cod, sea bass, and salmon in these waters.
Photo courtesy of Quileute Tribal Office
       There was very little 'winter' here this year so the resort and camping areas have stayed pretty busy throughout.  There were very few empty camping spots.  Our arrival day was simply set up, unpack, and veg out.  Barb took a stroll around to check out the bathrooms, showers, and laundry.  One of the dynamics of traveling is the changing prices of campgrounds, diesel, propane, and even laundry.  Washing clothes in this park is $3 a load with dryers at 25 cents for 10 minutes.   Bones slept on the couch while Roux checked out all the evidence of previous canines.  I sat on a log and watched the ocean enjoying a Barley Pop.  Mexican was the entrée of the day for dinner.  Mission accomplished.   The following days we walked the beach, watched the seals, explored incredible driftwood, and drove over to Rialto Beach.  

LaPush Harbor entrance
LaPush Harbor entrance
Seastacks to the north
Seastacks to the west
That was a BIG TREE
Rialto Beach
LaPush sunset
LaPush Harbor Seals
     During other times of the year there many other tribal activities and festivals in the area, including the Annual Welcoming of the Whales in late spring celebrating the return of the Gray Whales to the north from their winter homes off Mexico.  There is a healthy population of Orcas and seals in the area year round.  There is even a dedicated group of surfers that visit the local beaches when the 'waves are right'.  I was looking for a place to purchase fish, but the only vendors were either local tribe fisherman selling Steelhead from their nets or smoked salmon from other locals as well.  I did purchase a couple of very nice fillets of smoked salmon from a local; incredibly friendly folks.
    While here I prepared Queso Fundido,  Estrellita Sopita, the BABS, Nachos, and Basque Oxtail Stew.  Great food on pretty cool coastal evenings.
 Queso Fundido w/chips n vegees

The BABS (Bacon, Apple, Blue Cheese, Swiss grilled cheese)
Photo courtesy of Tillamook Cheese

Oxtail Stew
      It was only 7 days, but it was the perfect getaway.  Lots of time to relax, enjoy each other, and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for.  Roux and Bones gave the week a big THUMBS UP as well.  Joie de Vivre......bark and meow.  

"Take only memories, leave only footprints"  
Chief Seattle
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