Just a Start in the Florida Keys

When we say we are in “the Keys” most people assume we are partying in Key West. In fact, we are over 100 miles away from the party town and have spent a busy two weeks exploring the “upper keys.” The Florida Keys are made up of 1,700 little islands beginning about 15 miles south of Miami and extending westward beyond Key West. The word “key” is derived from the Spanish “cayo.” With so many little islands, we have a lot of territory to explore! We started with Key Largo.

Luckily, we snagged a two-week reservation at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park campground, which made this a more affordable stay than other options in the Keys. Our next-door neighbors in the campground, Dave and Cinda, were from Arizona, and we had a lot in common. The four of us enjoyed excursions, happy hours, and dinners together, which really made our stay here even more special. 

The park itself is mostly underwater. We took the snorkeling excursion to the reef twice and were amazed with the clarity of the water and the health of the reef. The water temperature is about 76 degrees, so it’s possible to swim and snorkel with just a swimsuit. We have our wetsuits with us, so we used those just for a little extra comfort. Lots of colorful fish, calm blue waters, and plenty of sunshine made for two perfect afternoons, one of which we shared with Dave and Cinda.

The park is also known for its kayaking trails through the mangroves. We took the Botē kayaks out several times to paddle around and look for cool things in the water.

Steve also set out on a few mornings to fish from the kayak. He caught a tree and a small pinfish, but that was about it. He had better luck fishing from a nearby bridge.

The Wild Bird Sanctuary is a small, local refuge for a variety of birds. We checked it out one afternoon while we were out poking around. There are a number of these little environmentally focused organizations through the Keys and we always try to stop and support these important organizations. 

One day we had the opportunity to travel back to the Miami International Airport to meet up with our dear friend Lucia Idarraga and her nephew Alvaro who were passing through on their way back to Colombia. There weren’t many options for breakfast in the very crowded airport terminal so we set up our own breakfast cafe curbside. It was a beautiful morning and we were thankful to spend some time with our special friends. 

A highlight of every day here in the Keys is sunset. Many of the area bars and restaurants have a sunset celebration so we checked out as many as we could! That means we’ve got A LOT of sunset pictures! We’re only two weeks into our six week Keys tour, so you can expect a few more sunset photos coming your way!

Key Largo has a warm, community feel. Steve got a haircut, I got a pedicure, we went to the library, and even gave blood one day in typical Keys fashion—there were chickens!

We met a number of locals along the way who were happy to recommend sunset watching locations and favorite restaurants. The Holiday Lighted Boat Parade was a fun local event we shared with our friends Dave and Cinda.

We’ve got a lot more Keys to check out. Soon we are heading to the southernmost point in the USA. 

Yellowstone: West and North

We’ve already posted three blogs on our time in Yellowstone National Park, and we still have a bunch to share. We’ll try to fit everything in this posting, since you’re probably tired of hearing about how beautiful Yellowstone is! In this post we’ll share a few of our adventures outside of the park in West Yellowstone, Montana, and we’ll fill you in on our days in the northern part of the park, including the Lamar Valley which has been called the “Serengeti of North America.”

We spent about six days in and around West Yellowstone and the west entrance to the national park. While in the area we strolled the cute shops in the tourist town, and Steve made a few purchases. He’s decided to take up fly fishing so time in the fly shops was included in our explorations. Who knew there was so much to learn about this very-Montana way of fishing?

Cliff Lake

Just before starting this trip we purchased two Botē inflatable kayaks, which we plan to use later this year when we return to the Florida Keys. However, we figured, “why wait?” We scouted out a sweet little mountain lake about 30 minutes outside of West Yellowstone. Cliff Lake was perfect place to launch the kayaks and paddle around. Steve even threw out a line and got a bite.

Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo

After our time at the lake we took in the local rodeo, the Wild West Yellowstone rodeo. It was really a display for tourists, not comparable to Prescott’s Rodeo, but we enjoyed the show from our camp chairs right up on the railing.

Mammoth Hot Springs and the North

After six days of exploration from West Yellowstone, we made our way through the park to a new campsite just outside of Gardiner, MT. We based ourselves at an RV park poised aside the Yellowstone River, which gave us easy access to the north gate and the historic arched entrance.

The north entrance to the national park is anchored by Mammoth Hot Springs. Mammoth Hot Springs consist of terraces of travertine over which hot spring waters run.

As a result, the springs emit steam and colorful pools that have drawn tourists since the park’s founding in 1872. We toured the springs on a cool evening and enjoyed the walk through the boardwalks.


A visit to Yellowstone would not be complete without some extensive wildlife watching. Fortunately we found ourselves in a bear jam at one point during our explorations, and the bear came right up beside the truck! I rolled down the window to get a good picture, and Steve grabbed his bear spray. It was thrilling!

However, the best place to see wildlife is in the expansive Lamar Valley in the northern part of Yellowstone. We headed out on another early morning in search of animals and were not disappointed.

Of course we saw bison…everywhere. The best parts of the bison herds were all the babies that were tagging along with their moms.

In fact, we saw babies of all kinds including baby elk, baby badgers, baby pika, and baby wolves. Yes, we saw wolves but didn’t get photos since they were so far away, and a monocle was necessary to see the den. Thanks to a local guide, we were able to see the mama with her seven puppies. Even from a distance, it was super cool to get a glimpse of these animals that were once wiped from the area.

Of all the places we explored in Yellowstone, the Lamar Valley was the place that most exceeded our expectations. We found a beautiful hike, saw incredible scenery, and met a multitude of Yellowstone’s animal residents. If you go to Yellowstone, don’t miss the Lamar Valley!

We’re now on to parts north and will soon have more adventures to share. Happy Fourth of July!

P.S. Yes, Steve caught his first trout in the Yellowstone River. 🐟

Kayaks, Hemingway, and Dry Tortugas NP

For the first time in our short RV career we welcomed overnight guests into our rig and it was so much fun! After our first week in the Florida Keys my cousin Mitch and his daughter Lauren joined us to celebrate Lauren’s 21st birthday and New Years.  Our time together was filled with laughter, toasts, and new adventures in some of the most beautiful spots on the planet. 

As soon as they arrived we headed into Key West to explore a bit, hit a few happy hours, and watch another spectacular sunset. We then headed to the nearby El Meson de Pepe for dinner (our second of three total visits to this great Cuban restaurant). 

The next day we headed back into town for more exploration. In particular we took the tour of the Hemingway Home and met the famed six-toed cats. Many of the 40-50 cats on the property can be traced back to Hemingway’s cat Snowball. They were very friendly!

We also saw the penny that is embedded in the cement next to the swimming pool his wife Pauline built when he was away. In 1938 it was the first pool to be built in Key West at a cost of $20,000. Exasperated at the expense, Papa Hemingway reportedly flung a penny towards Pauline and said, “You’ve spent all but my last penny, so you might as well have that too.”

One evening we took a night kayak trip with clear-bottomed LED-lit kayaks. Paddling through the mangroves we could see fish and coral right below us! We saw some cool sea creatures and got a great sunset as well.  

On Wednesday we had hoped to make it a beach day but the weather didn’t really cooperate. In fact it rained off and on all day. So, we made the best of it with a few more cocktails at some of Key West’s finest establishments and brunch at the legendary Blue Heaven. Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict with lobster made the rainy day seem not so bad!

On New Year’s Eve we spent the day on the water with a fun kayak through the mangroves, including a portion where you had to use your hands to guide and propel the kayak. It was fun until Mitch and Lauren saw a snake! We also saw lots of Cassiopeia, or upside-down jellyfish, and crabs. 

That evening we watched the sunset once more and then had a wonderful tapas dinner at Santiago’s Bodega. Due to the pandemic Key West instituted a 10:00pm curfew over the New Year’s weekend so the crowds were very small. Masks are mandatory inside and outside. Still, we headed home very early before the police began their sweep of the area. 

Our last big adventure in Key West was a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, the most remote national park in the country–almost 70 miles west of Key West. We boarded our ferry, the Yankee Freedom III, early in the morning. It was so early Cuban coffee was required!

After a two plus hour voyage we docked at Garden Key and Fort Jefferson, the largest man-made masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. The fort was built during the Civil War to safeguard U.S. shipping and to defend the Gulf of Mexico from potential enemies. Though never completed it served as a military prison and active military outpost, housing hundreds of Union soldiers. 

We explored the fort from top to bottom and enjoyed the spectacular views from the top level amid cannons and powder magazines. 

Dry Tortugas is also known as a primo snorkeling destination. The boys explored the waters while Lauren and I stayed on the beach and soaked up the sun. It was the perfect place for a little photo shoot too!

The water was chilly 75 degrees and the guys said it was “perfect.” It was truly an experience of a lifetime, and we are so grateful to have shared it with Mitch and Lauren. 

Too soon our time in the Keys came to an end, Mitch and Lauren headed home to Arizona, and we are headed north. But our adventures are continuing so stay tuned for more soon!