Harvest Hosting our Way West

After five months of eastward movement we turned back towards the West with the ultimate goal of reaching home in Arizona by the end of April. We’re taking our time. And we are using this part of the journey to explore new places using our Harvest Host membership. We’ve mentioned Harvest Host in the past, and this post will highlight three very cool locations.

Harvest Host is a membership program that provides overnight locations for self-contained RVers at wineries, breweries, farms, museum, and other sites. Harvest Host now has over 2000 hosts in the network, and they are adding more every day. We’d never be able to enjoy them all, but we’ve found a few good ones!

For example, after leaving Georgia we stopped for a night at Golden Acres Ranch in Monticello, Florida. At the ranch we were introduced to their friendly herd of Tennessee Fainting Goats and a number of other farm animals including sheep, chickens, guinea hens, and the sweetest pregnant dog, Honey.

We shopped the cute country store, checked out the garden, fed the goats, and chatted with fellow RVers who were also parked in the large pastures. 

A few days later, while continuing our traverse westward, we stopped for the night at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch in Moss Point, MS. Yes, we parked right next to Boudreaux’s enclosure, home of the 13 foot alligator. It was a bit disconcerting until we learned he was “friendly” and blind.

Because we were there after-hours, we were given private access to the property and strolled the gator grounds on our own. The ranch holds 60 adult gators in the main pond and another 20-30 juveniles in tanks.

At one time they had several hundred but many were washed away during Hurricane Katrina. The goal now is to build the population to about 100. Once a true farm for alligators, the facility now focuses on conservation and education. 

The next morning we joined Captain Tim (aka In-Tim-i-Gator) for a tour of the property via airboat. We spotted a few alligators and drew them closer with marshmallows.

Tim also took us on a fast, wild ride in the swamp on the airboat. What a thrill! This Harvest Host location was probably the most unique one to date. 

But then we stopped at the International Petroleum Museum, aka The Rig Museum in Morgan City, LA. The facility is a tribute to the offshore oil and gas industry and its impact on the world.

“Mr. Charlie” is the first offshore drilling rig that was transportable, submersible, and self-sufficient, allowing it to drill more than 200 oil wells along the Gulf Coast between 1954 and 1986. Mr. Charlie was the first moveable rig and has been preserved for training and educational purposes. 

We were lucky enough to get a personal tour of Mr. Charlie by Virgil Allen, the museum’s founder. While telling us about the history of the museum it was apparent that Mr. Allen was a visionary when he lobbied to save the rig when it was slated for scrap. Now The Rig Museum is an educational place where Harvest Hosters like us can expand our horizons. 

We’re headed for Lafayette, LA, the heart of Cajun country and can’t wait to share our experiences in the next post.

Northern Idaho is the Bomb!

Our summer RV adventures continued this week in northern Idaho and boy were we impressed! This place ticked off a lot of our “must haves” in a destination, and we are excited to share the highlights with you.

First we spent the night in a little town called Laclede which is the home to the Riley Creek Blueberry Farm.

Another Harvest Host property, we were able to stay on their grounds with our membership. Stan and Anita, the farmers and owners of Riley Creek, met us with a big smile and encouraged us to roam the farm. We picked blueberries and bought a blueberry pie and jam.

The best part, however, was the beautiful setting. We parked right in the middle of the blueberry bushes, surrounded by wild blackberries, farm animals, and a beautiful garden. With great weather and a few other very nice Harvest Host members, we enjoyed our overnight on the farm. It was hard to leave.

Oh, and there was a tractor!

Our next stop was Coeur d’Alene, and we were lucky to snag a spot at the Blackwell Island RV Park, right on the shores of the Spokane River and Lake Coeur d’Alene. This was one of the nicer parks we’ve stayed in with sparkling clean laundry facility and a large beach from which to launch a kayak. We kept busy just at the RV park.

Of course, we did venture into the city several times and checked out the town. One morning we biked into town, watched runners of the Coeur d’Alene marathon, and had a cup of coffee.

Steve would have loved to run but we didn’t realize the race, modified for COVID-19, was being held over a three day period while we were there. 

From Coeur d’Alene we headed east along I-90 until we found the cute little historic town of Wallace, Idaho. We hadn’t planned on stopping here but when we learned about the Route of the Hiawatha, we found this town to be a convenient base.  We had no idea what we were in for! Wallace is an old silver mining town where every building in town is in the Registry of Historic Places. In town there is a mining museum, a railroad museum, and a bordello museum—all commemorating the area’s historic past. I did the Sierra Silver Mine tour and learned about the process and history of silver mining in northern Idaho’s Silver Valley.

Meanwhile Steve ran the Pulaski Trail, a two mile hike that commemorates the 1910 fire that ravaged the town and region. 

The real draw to Wallace these days is biking. Almost everyone at the Wallace RV Park where we stayed was doing the Route of the Hiawatha. Considered the “crown jewel” of America’s rails-to-trails routes, the Route of the Hiawatha follows the abandoned Milwaukee railroad grade.

Over the 15-mile downhill route we passed through ten tunnels and seven sky high steel trestles with sweeping views of the Bitterroot Mountain range. The adventure begins with the 1.7 mile long Taft tunnel which required us to use our lights and traverse through darkness. A little scary, but super fun!

Most do the Hiawatha in one direction and take a shuttle back to the beginning. It’s an easy, leisurely ride with interpretive signs along the way that inform about the development of the railroad and the area. Steve had planned to ride back up, get the car, and then come get me. Once we learned the drive to the finish took almost as long as the bike ride due to the terrain, and after seeing the crowds waiting for the shuttle, I decided to give the uphill return trip a try.

It was a long 15 miles uphill but rewarding to finish. Plus, we got to see the route from the other direction and really savor the experience. We even met a nice deer along the trail–probably because by that time there were few bikers on the trail.

Four hours on the bike over 30 miles was the most I’d done in a while!

Running right through Wallace and adjacent to our campground was the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. Another rail-to-trail, this one runs through the Silver Valley from the Montana border to Coeur d’Alene.

Each day we enjoyed this relatively flat paved trail for a few miles in each direction. We keep saying, “Why doesn’t Arizona have trails like this?” 

One other interesting fact about Wallace: it’s the Center of the Universe. Supposedly a few of the locals decided it was so and they say that it is that way until proven otherwise. They even have a manhole cover in the main intersection to declare it. It must be so!

We’re now heading into Montana and then south to central Idaho for more fun. 

Patagonia Lake State Park and Harvest Hosts

Our winter road trip continued south to Patagonia Lake State Park. This beautiful park is located just north of the US/Mexican border near Nogales and is a haven for birders. We aren’t really into birds but we enjoyed our time there nevertheless. Steve enjoyed running on the trails each day while I rested my ailing foot. While the weather was unusually chilly, we still got out to enjoy the area a bit. Nearby Tumacácori National Historic Park reminded us of the long history of southern Arizona, punctuated by Spanish Colonial Jesuit missions.Not far from Patagonia Lake State Park is the wine growing region of Sonoita/Elgin. Of course, we checked out a few of the wineries while in the area. Our favorite was the funky, women-owned Arizona Hops and Vines, which pairs its wine with yummy snacks like BBQ chips, Cheetos, and Cocoa Puffs. How can you go wrong?After our time in southern Arizona we headed east towards Texas and our next destination, Big Bend National Park. However, RVing is not really about the destination as much as it’s about the journey. And what a journey we had!

We try to vary the kinds of places in which we camp. On this three day portion of our trip we stayed at a winery, a dairy, and an RV resort. First we stopped in Deming, NM and used our Harvest Host membership to park on the property of the D. H. Lescombes Winery and Tasting Room and enjoyed live music, wine specials, and dinner with others who were staying the night.

The next night we stopped in San Elizario, TX at the Licon Dairy, another Harvest Host property. We were the only campers there, but the dairy attracts a steady stream of locals who come to buy the legendary azadero cheese and to visit the farm animals. We bought some cheese and fed the animals, including the camel and many, many goats. Fun!Our journey was not without a small challenge that Steve met head on. Our kitchen faucet started leaking after our time in Patagonia and it soon became apparent that the cheap plastic faucet that came with the trailer needed to be replaced. So, on our way through El Paso, we set up shop in the parking lot of Home Depot and made the repair. Steve had to do some contortions to get to the pipes, but he got it done!Onward!