4th of July in Cody, Wyoming – The Cody Stampede Parade!

July 2018 – Every year we are somewhere different for the 4th of July, and this year we were lucky enough to find ourselves near Cody, Wyoming, a vibrant town just east of Yellowstone National Park that celebrates the 4th of July in style.

This morning we found a spot to watch the 4th of July parade opposite the historic Irma Hotel. Buffalo Bill built the Irma Hotel in 1902 to encourage tourism to the town of Cody which he and several other investors had founded in 1896.

Crowd 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

The crowd gathers in front of Buffalo Bill’s historic Irma Hotel for the 4th of July Cody Stampede Parade.

The parade announcers were set up on an upper deck and they entertained us while we waited for the parade to begin.

Announcers 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

The announcers got the crowd going.

The American flag was on proud display all over town.

Flags and crowds 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

We saw lots of American pride.

Polaris General 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

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And lots of folks were dressed in stars and stripes or at least in red, white and blue.

Flag jacket 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

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Waiting for the 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

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Young and old alike waited patiently while more and more people showed up along the parade route, camping chairs and flags in hand.

Waiting at the 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

“I hope it starts soon!”

Cody, Wyoming, is accustomed to extending a warm welcome to throngs of summer tourists who drop in for a visit on their way to or from Yellowstone National Park.

The town hosts a professional rodeo — the Cody Stampede Rodeo — every night all summer long. It is held in their huge rodeo arena on the edge of town. The Cody Stampede Rodeo also hosted this 4th of July parade, and some of the rodeo folks rode their horses up and down the parade route, waving to friends and keeping an eye on things.

Rodeo stampede guard 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

Riders from the Cody Stampede Rodeo rode up and down the parade route.

This 4th of July Parade in Cody was actually the third parade this week. A kiddies parade was held on July 2nd and a preliminary 4th of July parade was held on the 3rd!

Finally the big parade began, and it began with a flourish.

Beginning 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

At last the parade began with a grand military display.

Then a whole slew of Rodeo Royalty went by, each of the girls and women more beautiful than the last. There were Rodeo Queens from various cities and states, and there was even the Rodeo Queen USA, if I caught her title right.

Rodeo queen 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

Miss Rodeo Mississippi.

A few days earlier we had bumped into some younger rodeo royalty at a parking lot in town. Blair, the Junior Cody Stampede Princess, and her older sister Bridger, also a member of the Cody Stampede Royalty, had just finished doing the first of the three parades, and they posed for me next to their horse trailer.

Blair explained to me that becoming the Junior Cody Stampede Princess involved not only equestrian skills like barrel racing, but a modeling contest, a written essay exam and an oral exam as well. Congratulationss to her and all the other rodeo princesses and queens!

Cody Rodeo Stampede Junior Princess and Royalty Blair and Bridger-min

We caught up with Rodeo Princess Blair and her older sister Bridger a few days prior.

There was royalty of another kind too. A woman who has appeared in the Cody 4th of July Parade for 35 years walzed by with her famous pink poodle. She hammed it up delightfully and showed us all what it’s like to be 82 years young.

Pink poodle lady 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

82 years young — in high heels — with a pink poodle to boot!

There were floats of all kinds.

Riding hogs and chasing chicks 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

“Riding hogs and chasing chicks!”

And a lineup of wonderful antique cars.

Antique cars 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

Antique cars that might have driven through Yellowstone National Park back in the day!

One local family was celebrating 100 years in Wyoming since their ancestors arrived as homesteaders in 1918.

Fales family 100 years 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

The Fales family homesteaded in Wyoming 100 years ago.

The theme of this year’s 4th of July Cody Stampede Parade was “Wyoming – Buckin’ through time,” and with that in mind a few of Wyoming’s early mountain men went by.

Mountain men 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

Before the homesteaders there were the mountain men…

One of the really fun local tourist attractions is a shooting range, the Cody Firearms Experience, where you can shoot all kinds of intriguing guns, including a gatling gun from the Civil War era. They showed it off during the parade!

Gatling gun 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

This guy shooting the gatling gun was having too much fun!

4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

You can shoot the gatling gun too over at the Cody Firearms Experience!

There were also marching bands of all kinds. The Cody High School Band strutted past and quite a few other bands from other Wyoming towns went by as well.

Cody High School Band 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

No parade is complete with out the local high school marching band!

Tuba and marching band 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

There were lots of marching bands from all over the place.

Marching band 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

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The city of Cheyenne sent quite a bit of talent to the Cody Stampede Parade. This was very impressive since Cody and Cheyenne are in opposite corners of Wyoming, over 400 miles apart!

Drummers 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

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There was a bagpipe band too!

Bagpipe band 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

Bagpipes!

You can’t have a 4th of July parade without some noisy fire engines, and sure enough, If the gatling gun and marching bands weren’t loud enough, the sirens on the fire engines certainly were!

Old fashioned fire engine 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

The fire engines made the most noise, of course!

Wyoming, like all the western states, is beset by wildfires every summer, and just as there is a “snow season” and a “fall foliage season” there is a “wildfire season” too. A big round of applause went up for the wildfire hot shot firefighters as they went by.

Wildfire firefighter hot shot 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

The wildfire hot shot fire fighters are much appreciated every year come wildfire season!

We were also treated to a sighting of the Wells Fargo Stage Coach. This is a really ornate and beautiful stage coach, and the folks riding inside and on it were all members of the Wells Fargo family.

Wells Fargo Stage Coach 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

The folks in and on the Wells Fargo Stage Coach were from the Wells Fargo family!

Perhaps my favorite part of any parade is all the kids running around. I just love the excitement, and they are so darn cute. Lots of the parade folks threw out candy for the kids, and they ran after it with glee.

Kids run for candy 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

The cute kids chasing the candy were my favorite part of the parade!

Chasing candy 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

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It was a wonderfully warm and sunny day, and whether they had barefeet or boots on, the happy kids were running wild and free.

Running for candy 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

Nevermind the candy. Just running around barefoot is fun!

Dressed for the 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

Shorts and boots and stars and stripes!

Sometimes the littler ones weren’t quite quick enough to get a handful.

Kids chase candy 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

Oh, I didn’t see that one!

Score! Kids gets candy 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

“Score!”

But there was plenty of sharing going on too.

Sharing candy 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

“Here, have some.”

The Cody Stampede Parade was just terrific. If you didn’t catch it this year, perhaps you will next year!

Running with the American flag 4th of July parade Cody Wyoming-min

Happy Independence Day!!

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Fall River Balloon Festival in Hot Springs, South Dakota

One of the more unusual types of sightings we’ve enjoyed in our RV travels is hot air balloons flying overhead.

Early one morning last summer while camping in South Dakota’s Black Hills we awoke to the roar of a balloon heater’s flame and we dashed outside to see a balloon floating over our trailer. A few weeks later at the end of August we saw the Fall River Balloon Festival in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

The balloon glow at Fall River Balloon Festival Hot Springs South Dakota-min

Balloon Glow at Fall River Balloon Festival in Hot Springs, South Dakota

This was a small balloon festival with just a dozen or so balloons, but the evening balloon glow was a true delight. The balloonists slowly heated the air in their balloons and raised them to an upright position while holding them down to the ground with tethers.

Inflating a hot air balloon at the balloon glow Fall River Balloon Festival South Dakota-min

During the Balloon Glow the balloons were tethered to the ground so they wouldn’t drift away.
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!.”

Then, on cue from the announcer on a loudspeaker, they all turned on their heater flames at the same time, lighting up the balloons in the dark.

Balloon Glow Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival Hot Springs South Dakota RV trip-min

The “Glow” is created by turning on the flame that heats up the air in the balloon.

Fall River Balloon Festival Hot Springs South Dakota RV trip-min

Balloon Glow!

Unfortunately, the wind picked up and the balloon glow had to be cut short. The balloonists did a quick “twinkle” where each balloon turned its heater on and off repeatedly, making the group of balloons appear to twinkle, and then they brought their balloons down.

Fall River Balloon Festival Balloon Glow Hot Springs South Dakota RV trip-min

In a “Balloon Twinkle” each balloonist randomly turns their flame on and off, making the balloons appear to twinkle in the dark.

But the next morning the balloonists were at it again, bright and early, out by the small Hot Springs Airport air strip.

Filling the hot air balloons-min

The next morning the balloonists inflated their balloons for a group ride.

The balloonists arrived before dawn and started laying out the balloons on the ground. Once each huge balloon was stretched out on the grass like an enormous blanket, the balloonist team then began to inflate it with hot air.

Sunrise under a hot air balloon-min

Each balloon was slowly inflated as the sun began to peek over the horizon.

Before long, all the balloons were inflated and sitting on the ground ready to launch.

Fall River Balloon Festival Hot Springs South Dakota RV Trip-min

The balloons were inflated, all in a row, and tethered to the ground.

Then, one escaped.

Fall River Balloon Festival Hot Springs South Dakota-min

A balloon slips away into the sky.

and then another.

Balloon lift-off Fall River Balloon Festival Hot Springs South Dakota RV trip-min

The balloons floated up into the sky one at a time.

And soon they were all in the air, drifting across the open field and following the air currents.

Hot air balloons at Hot Springs airport South Dakota-min

The balloons slowly glide by.

Flying balloons at Fall River Balloon Festival Hot Springs South Dakota-min

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We ran across the field, our cameras clicking away. The folks in the baskets waved down at us and seemed to be having a ball.

Up Up and Away in my beauttiful balloon-min

“Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon…”

Fall River Balloon Festival balloons fly over landscape-min

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The sun crested the horizon and cast a golden glow across the sky.

Dawn balloon ride Fall River Balloon Festival Hot Springs South Dakota RV trip-min

Beautiful…!

Balloons at Hot Springs airport in South Dakota-min

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Before long the balloons were out of sight, and the little handful of spectators began to fold up their chairs and head home.

Fall River Balloon Festival Hot Springs South Dakota RV travels-min

A small group of spectators watched the balloons vanish from sight.

If you have never been to a balloon festival and you are in Arizona now, there is a fun one going on at Lake Havasu this weekend (Jan 19-21, 2018). We saw it, along with the Buses at the Bridge VW Microbus festival a few years back (blog post here).

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Ranch Sorting Competition – Cowboy Adventures in Phoenix Arizona

December 2017 – On the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona, we’ve found not only beautiful waterways and fall color in the National Forest, but fun western cowboy ranching traditions in the outer suburbs too. Phoenix is home to lots of “horse properties” and small ranches, and our friends took us to a cool ranch sorting competition last week. This fairly new kind of cowboy ranching event is also known as “cattle sorting” or “cow sorting.”

As we walked over to the cow pens, a cute goat stuck his nose through the fence and gave us a smile!

Goat watches a cowboy cattle sorting event-min

A goat welcomes us to the ranch sorting competition.

There were about twenty competitors, both cowboys and cowgirls, sitting astride their horses and waiting for the games to begin. In the competition they paired up in teams of two in round robin fashion so every rider had a chance to team up with the others.

Cowboy cattle sorting event in Phoenix Arizona ranch-min

Riders line up before the competition begins.

There were several pens of ten calves each, and as the competition progressed, each group of calves had a few chances to get sorted. Every calf had a big number on his back, from one to ten.

The calves all turned to look at me when I stuck my camera lens between the bars of the pen to get their portrait!

Calves waiting to be sorted by cowboys-min

Calves wait to be sorted.

Numbered calves waiting to be sorted-min

Each calf has a big number on its back so they’re easy to spot and isolate from the herd.

Ranch sorting mimics the process that cowboys use to separate a single calf or cow from the herd so they can inspect it or administer medication or isolate it for some other reason.

In the cattle sorting competition, a pair of cowboys / cowgirls enters the pen with the calves and waits to hear the number of the first calf they’re assigned to isolate. For the next sixty seconds they chase after the calves in numerical order, starting with the first number they were given and then isolating each successive calf and sending it into an adjoining pen.

Calf sorting event with cowgirl on horseback-min

Our young friend Autumn rides into the herd in search of her target calf.

Cowgirl sorting calves on horseback in Arizona ranch-min

Ranch sorting is a fun way for riders to hone their horsemanship skills.

Working together, one cowboy (or cowgirl) chases the target calf towards the gate to force it into the adjoining pen while the other cowboy or girl blocks the rest of the calves from running into the pen along with it.

Calf sorting on horse in Arizona-min

First the calf is isolated from the herd…

Cowgirl sorting cattle on a horse in Arizona-min

Then it is chased through the gate…

We really enjoyed watching the action. The riders skillfully maneuvered their horses among the calves to find the one they were after and then chased it into the pen next door.

Getting the horse and calves to do what you want looks easy from the sidelines but takes a lot of focus and knowledge. The rider’s body position in the saddle and the way they hold the reins and touch the horse with their feet is the language they use to tell the horse what to do. A wrong hand position or posture in the saddle can give the wrong command to the horse!

Concentrating while riding a horse-min

Autumn concentrates and the horse sticks his tongue out too!

The cowboys and cowgirls were scored based on how many calves they managed to get into the adjoining pen in the 60 second time period. If a calf sneaked into the pen out of numerical order, then the score for that round was 0!

Cattle sorting riding a horse in Phoenix Arizona ranch-min

The distance between the pens is short. Once the calf is isolated, it’s a quick sprint from one to the other.

Sorting cattle riding a horse in Phoenix Arizona-min

Going after number 9.

The biggest challenge in each round was the first calf because cows are herd animals and they don’t like to be alone. When the first calf found itself isolated from the herd and being chased towards the empty pen next door, it would try to return to the herd rather than go into the empty pen by itself.

However, once a calf or two was in the adjoining pen, the next calves were a lot less reluctant to go in there because they saw there was company waiting for them. On rare occasions two sequentially numbered calves would be running alongside each other and would go into the pen one right after the other. A two-for-one!

Calves running in cattle sorting cowboy event on Arizona Ranch-min

Sometimes the rider got lucky and a pair of cows with sequential numbers went through the gate together.

The cowboy life, horses, barns and hay aren’t in my blood the same way sea breezes and hiking trails in nature are, but we had a wonderful time watching this classic western event.

Cowboy resting with his horse at cattle sorting on Arizona ranch-min

Cowboy culture is rich and widely celebrated across the western states. We have loved learning about it in our travels.

Of course, not everyone at the ranch sorting competition was quite as enthralled as we were. One little cowgirl was so tuckered out by the action that she suddenly dropped into the dirt next to the referee (her mom) to relax with her feet up on the fence.

Tired cowgirl lies on the ground at cattle sorting in Arizona ranch-min

All tuckered out…

When we researched the sport of ranch sorting after the event was over, we learned that these cattle sorting competitions are fairly new to the ranching scene and the first Nationals was held in 2007. But they are becoming extremely popular.

Cowboy sorting calves on a ranch in Phoenix Arizona-min

A friend of ours suggested that knowing tackle angles from football would be helpful with anticipating which direction a calf will run.

Cowboy chasing calf in cattle sorting event on Phoenix Arizona ranch-min

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The folks that were at this particular ranch sorting competition were extremely enthusiastic, and they attend events all over Arizona.

Calf running away in cattle sorting event-min

Calf #3 says, “I’m outta here!” while #2 heads through the gate.

Cowboy sorting cattle on a ranch in Arizona-min

The riders told us #8 was particularly feisty!

For us there were lots of neat photo ops and we got a kick out of roaming among the spectators, spouses, parents and loyal dogs.

Cattle dog with horse and cowboy on Arizona ranch-min

Spectators were treated to a fun event.

Horse eye closeup-min

What do the animals think of all this? The horses seemed to love it and the calves got some good exercise and worked up an appetite for grazing later.

Unlike the big rodeo events like roping, ranch sorting is something newer riders can enjoy. For us watching, it was easy to understand what was going on and to root for the cowboys and cowgirls as they whooped and hollered and worked to make both their horses and the calves do what they wanted.

Cowgirl chases calf in Phoenix Arizona cattle sorting event-min

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Cattle sorting event with cowgirl chasing calves in Phoenix Arizona-min

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Cattle sorting event with cowgirl chasing calves-min

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If you are spending the winter in Arizona and want to experience a brief immersion in some of the western traditions of horses and cowboys, look for a ranch sorting competition! We’d never heard of this kind of event until last week, but we got a huge kick out of it!

Cowboy walks horse back to horse trailer-min

What a fun few hours spent in the midst of cowboy culture!

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Sand Hollow Side-by-Side UTV/ATV Adventure Rally – Test Drives in the Dunes!

November 2017 – During our stay at Sand Hollow State Park in Utah, we woke up one morning to the sound of rolling thunder. We peeked out the windows just in time to see a super souped up truck go flying by. In a split second all we could see was the cloud of dust he left behind.

Bilstein Shock photo shoot Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

A roaring truck engine woke us up.

A few minutes later, the truck circled back, idled for a while behind some bushes and then roared to life once again and zoomed through the sand, leaving another wake of cloudy dust behind.

What the heck?

We grabbed our cameras and ran outside to see what was going on.

Bilstein Shock photo shoot Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

This little souped up truck was thundering through the sand dunes.

Suddenly a really exotic looking Baja style dune buggy appeared right in front of us, its engine idling loudly like a growling beast ready to pounce.

UTV with Bilstein Shock photo shoot Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Hear me roar!

As we stood there taking pics of this crazy scene, another RVer showed up, and then a drone pulled into view just above us and settled in the air hovering and waiting. All eyes were on this wild dune buggy as the driver revved up the engine.

Photographing the Bilstein Shock photo shoot Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

A drone hovers with its red light on waiting to catch the shot too!

And then, with a huge spray of sand flying off the spinning tires, the dune buggy was off. Holy smokes! The noise was so intense I instinctively wanted to cover my ears, but I wanted to get pics too and didn’t have enough hands to do both!!

Bilstein Shock photo shoot UTV at Sand Hollow State Park Utah 1-min

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Bilstein Shock photo shoot UTV at Sand Hollow State Park Utah 2-min

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Bilstein Shock photo shoot UTV at Sand Hollow State Park Utah 5-min

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The truck and Baja buggy circled around again, rumbling loudly as they passed us, and they took their positions once again. What was going on?

As the dune buggy sat there growling and roaring, Mark walked over and leaned his head in towards the driver and asked him if this was a photo shoot. Yup!! Who for? Bilstein shocks!

How cool is that?

I have no idea where the video and still shots from this photo shoot might appear, but keep an eye out for a Bilstein Shocks ad with this truck and Baja buggy at Sand Hollow!!

We had come to Sand Hollow State Park to participate in a side-by-side Jamboree that was open to the public. Even though we’d never ridden in a side-by-side (or any kind of ATV) before, we’ve seen them all over the place in our travels and we were darn curious about them.

Soon, the rally participants began to show up at Sand Hollow, filling the campgrounds and zooming all over the sand trails surrounding the reservoir.

Polaris RZR 4-seater UTV with RV camping at Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

The rally participants began to swarm around us!

We had seen tons of side-by-sides in Buffalo, Wyoming, and Custer, South Dakota, over the summer, and we had been looking into renting a side-by-side somewhere to see what they’re like. In the course of looking for a place to rent one, Mark came across the Sand Hollow SxS Adventure Rally.

This is a marketing event for the industry and the local power sports dealerships, and several of the major vendors of side-by-sides would be showing off their products and leading rally participants on the trails surrounding and criss-crossing the park.

Toy hauler fifth wheel and Polaris RZR UTV RV camping-min

A sand storm indeed!

The previously quiet Sand Hollow State Park suddenly swelled with campers, and the whine of side-by-sides filled the air.

Buggies of every possible description were parked all over the place, and toy haulers, big utility trailers and flat bed trailers were strewn everywhere.

Sand Hollow Jamboree Side by Side UTV test drives-min

Side-by-sides line up for the trail rides.
The flags make them visible even when they dip into the valleys of the dunes.

Local power sports dealer Moto Zoo from nearby St. George, Utah, joined the manufacturers in the rally and invited the public to do test rides.

We were the first ones at the Moto Zoo booth to sign up for morning test drives on their Polaris models. This was gonna be fun!

Polaris General test ride Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

We suited up with helmets to take our first test drive.

There were three Polaris models available for test drives: the RZR 570, the General, and the RZR 1000.

We hopped into the RZR 570 and were given a quick run-down from our guide on how the thing worked, which buttons did what, and how to drive it.

Polaris RZR 570 Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Our first test drive was on a Polaris RZR 570, the smallest of the lineup.

And then we were off!

We were suited up with helmets, so it was a little awkward to see each other or talk a whole lot, but I could tell Mark was grinning from ear to ear and having a ball behind the wheel.

Test drive Polaris RZR 570 Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Happy driver!

As we climbed up into the sand dunes to a perch high on the top, all I could think was, “Wow, you sure get to see a lot of back country stuff when you ride in one of these things!”

There was no way our mountain bikes could have handled that deep sand, and the trails were off-limits to trucks.

And what a view we had on the way down!

Polaris RZR 570 test drive Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Sand Hollow State Park is a great place for test drives!

Our next test drive was on the new Polaris General that debuted in 2016. This side-by-side is a cross between the racy joy riding RZR series and the more utilitarian ranch and farm oriented Ranger series of Polaris side-by-sides. It’s got great shocks like the RZR but also has a nice big storage area in the back for hauling stuff like the Ranger.

When we’d been camping near Kanab, Utah, a few days earlier, we’d seen lots of people using their side-by-sides to go hunting. One big group in particular had bought both a big four seater Polaris RZR 1000 and a four seater Polaris General.

We were intrigued that they chose to use the General every single day while the RZR stayed parked when they went out hunting. We asked them why, and they said, “Because it rides like a Cadillac!”

Hmmm….

Polaris General at Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

“Rides like a Cadillac.”
Our second test drive was on the Polaris General, a new model that is sporty yet practical at the same time.

Sure enough, our first ride on the small Polaris RZR 570 was a jaw rattler compared to our second ride on the Polaris General. The stutter bumps in the washboard areas on the trail were much less noticeable in the General than they had been in the RZR 570.

And being a much fancier model, the dashboard on the General had all kinds of goodies too, including a complete navigation system. For folks who ride in groups, their cell phones can be tied into the navigation system so each side-by-side can keep track of where all the others are. Pretty slick!

Polaris General side by side test drive Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

The Polaris General had a fancy navigation display and other goodies on the dashboard.

We followed the same loop as before and climbed up the soft orange sand dunes to a beautiful grove of red rock formations at the top of the hill and then drove back down towards the lake.

I was completely hooked, and Mark’s grin was even bigger than before!

Driving Polaris side-by-side buggies at Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Back down the hill to the staging area. Can’t get enough of this view!

As expected, on our next test drive we found that the Polaris RZR 1000 was similar to the Polaris General, but was slightly more powerful (both are 1000 cc engines). But there was something about the practicality and smooth ride of the General that kept singing in the backs of our minds.

We were getting a huge kick out of doing these test rides, so when we were finished with Polaris we wandered over to the Yamaha booth to check out what they had on offer for test drives.

Polaris General and Yamaha sales booth at Sand Hollow Jamboree in Utah-min

The Polaris General slips by the Yamaha booth.

They had brought a fleet of Yamaha Wolverine X4 four seaters. These were more of a utility side-by-side than the Polaris RZR series, but didn’t have the sex appeal of the Polaris General.

After a very elaborate safety briefing, we climbed into a Wolverine X4 four seater and joined a line of other test drivers who were sandwiched between our leader in the front and a sweeper guy at the back.

Unfortunately for Yamaha — whose portable gas generator we absolutely love — the Wolverine X4 in front of us promptly got stuck in the sand. The two leaders got out a tow strap and hooked it to the lead side-by-side and pulled it out.

Yamaha Wolverine side by side test drive Sand Hollow Jamboree Utah-min

Out on the trail with the Yamaha Wolverine X4, the one in front of us got stuck.

If there was one feature that really stood out about the Wolverine X4, it was that everything on it rattled so much we were waiting for the buggy to fall apart right there on the trail. This seems odd for a Yamaha product, but so it goes.

Yamaha Wolverine X4 side by side test drive Utah Sand Hollow State Park-min

Yamaha Wolverine X4

Yamaha Wolverine X4 side by side test drive Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

Taking a break — This test driving stuff is hard work! (…just kidding…it’s a blast!)

On our way down, we passed one of the many SxS Rally trail rides that was heading out for a day of fun on in the sand and red rocks. The rally was offering rides of various levels, from beginner to intermediate to advanced. So, if you wanted just to see the scenery or preferred to tackle some insanely challenging rock climbs, there were guided trails ride for you!

Sand Hollow Jamboree of side-by-side UTV models-min

Rally-goers round the bed on their way out on a trail ride.

But the rally goers were all happy UTV owners, while we were total newbies, so we were busy doing test drives. And this test driving thing was proving to be a blast!

Once we’d finished our Yamaha ride and were back at the staging area with all the vendor booths, we walked over to Can-Am to check out the Can-Am Maverick X3.

By now the jamboree was in full swing and there were lots of people milling around signing up to test drive the side-by-sides.

A long line of Can-Am Maverick X3 buggies snaked past their booth, and we joined an excited crowd to get a quick safety briefing and overview of the various Maverick X3 models we would be testing before we each chose a model to begin our ride.

We started in a four seater. Oh my, what a smooth ride!! We blasted over some badly washboarded sections of trail and barely felt a thing. That long wheel base makes a massive difference going over rugged terrain!

Can-Am Maverick X3 side by side UTV Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

The Can-Am Maverick X3 is a rocket ship, and the test drive was done at lightning speed!

Unlike the other manufacturers’ test drives, the Can-Am test drive was a totally testosterone filled speed fest.

We were at the back of the line, and within minutes after the start, we were left trailing far behind. The guys up front were going full bore, but we held back to stay out of their dust and to keep life and limb intact! Mark struggled to keep the next guy in line within sight!!

At a rest stop we swapped to a two seater Can-Am Maverick X3, and when the group got away from us once again, Mark floored it to catch back up. I hung on for dear life as we tore through the dunes at a breakneck speed.

Wow. Those things are rocket ships!!

They are powered by 3 inline cylinders, as compared to the Polaris RZR V-twin, and they are turbo charged too. So even though the Can-Am Mavericks are 900 cc engines as compared to the Polaris RZR 1000 cc engine, they have a faster top end.

However, at slow speeds the Polaris has more torque, so like everything, it all comes down to what you want to do with your side-by-side — climb rocks or fly on a rocket or just tool around and enjoy the views!

Can-Am Maverick X3 side by side UTV Sand Hollow State Park Utah-min

I was so busy hanging onto the rails on this test drive that I took only a few pics.
In finally got a shot at the end of the ride as we were heading back to the staging area!

When I climbed out of the Can-Am Maverick X3 I shaking from that crazy wild ride. What a rush!

Eventually I calmed down and was ready for another test drive. By now our sweet ride in the Polaris General was a faint memory, but we were both pretty sure it was our favorite.

Luckily, the line for it wasn’t long at all, so we signed up to take it for another spin. How fun! This time we were given a private guided tour that showed how well it performed in rocky, challenging terrain.

Ready for a test drive at Sand Hollow Jamboree in Polaris General UTV-min

Back in the Polaris General, our favorite of the group.

Our guide was in a four seater Polaris RZR 1000, and he took us over all kinds of craggy stuff.

Rough terrain RZR 1000 4-seater UTV in Utah-min

We tested the Polaris General following a Polaris RZR 1000 4-seater over some rough terrain.

Rugged rock climber Polaris RZR 1000 4-seater-min

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At one point the trail took a turn and we were suddenly staring up at a steep rock climb. I hung on tight as Mark followed the guide up the hill. Yikes!!

Polaris RZR 1000 4-seater climbing rocks-min

Rock climbing.

We were both amazed at how easy it was.

Then we drove over a few big rocks. No problem!!

Polaris RZR 1000 4-seater on sand trail-min

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Polaris RZR 1000 4-seater climbs rocks-min

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All too soon the test drive was over, and we were heading back down the sandy hillside. What a total blast this had been.

Sand Hollow Jamboree UTV side by side test drives-min

Our last trip down towards the lake. What a fabulous day this was!

There were other vendors at the rally selling all kinds of goodies for side-by-sides, from after market shocks to special lighting systems to unusual tow strap lines and even extra rugged mobile device charging systems.

The problem with going to any big marketing trade show type of event is that you can easily fall in love with whatever it is they’re hawking. We were ready to pick up a shiny new Polaris General right there on the spot! But we don’t exactly have an appropriate place to store it between awesome rides in the back country.

Sand Hollow State Park RV camping on the beach-min

We aren’t set up for a side-by-side just yet, but this fun day of test drives sure got our minds turning!

What a super fun eye opener this was into a hobby we know nothing about. Some of the vendors told us there are jamborees like this one all over the country. How cool — we’ll be there!

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A Las Vegas Light Show — WOW!!

September 2017 – Just before I left on a whirlwind trip to Paris — the City of Light — we experienced one of the most dramatic light shows we have ever seen anywhere. It was put on by Mother Nature and staged in the valley north of Las Vegas, Nevada.

She used the city lights as a backdrop and spotlights mounted on a building in front of us as footlights!

Lightning in Las Vegas_

Bolts of lightning fill the night skies over Las Vegas

We were camped at the Clark County Shooting Complex RV park, a nice little RV park that sits up on a hill north of Las Vegas. We were there because we needed air conditioning in the 95 degree late summer heat during our stay.

RV at Clark County Shooting Range Las Vegas at sunset

Storm clouds light the sky in bright colors at Clark County Shooting Complex RV Park.

The high vantage point of the park gives RVers fabulous views of the city lights at night from every campsite. In the mornings we were woken by folks enjoying target practice.

As we stood outside, marveling at the majestic colors of sunset and watching thick and dark storm clouds swirl across the valley from the mountains on the distant horizon, we suddenly heard the wind pick up and felt some raindrops on our cheeks.

A lightning storm begins at sunset in Las Vegas

Rain falls from storm clouds at sunset.

Then we saw bolts of lightning flashing in the distance. Wow!!

Lightning over Las Vegas Nevada

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Lightning bolts in Las Vegas Nevada

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For the next half hour we stood and watched the most incredible lightning show either of us has ever seen. Huge bolts of lightning burst out of the sky and struck the ground in rapid fire succession.

Lightning storm over Las Vegas Nevada

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Lightning bolts over Las Vegas Nevada

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At first, as we stood there, we kept saying to each other, “We really should get out our cameras and try to capture this!” But lightning is hard to pin down in a photo, and we didn’t think the lightning show would go on much longer.

We have a fancy lightning trigger that attaches to a camera and automatically clicks the shutter button every time it senses lightning, and it works pretty well. But we had bought it for our old cameras and hadn’t upgraded its cable to match our new cameras.

Lightning in Las Vegas Nevada

A single bolt strikes from the heavens above.

Twin Lightning bolts in Las Vegas Nevada

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So we stood there with our mouths gaping open and our feet rooted to the ground as massive lightning bolts flashed across the valley in front of us. To our amazement, the show kept going and going and going.

Lightning bolts over Las Vegas Nevada

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Suddenly, Mark said something about how you could leave the camera shutter open for long periods and just let whatever lightning bolts fell stockpile themselves onto the image. That was all the hint I needed! I flew into the rig to grab my camera and tripod. As I dashed back out I bumped into Mark in the doorway. He was hot on my heels going to get his gear too!

Lightning bolts Las Vegas Nevada

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We set up our tripods and left the shutters open for 30 seconds at a whack with the aperture stopped way down, at f/22, and base ISO.

We took our first shots and let out whoops and hollers of excitement when we saw the images on the backs of our cameras.

OMG!!

Lightning storm over city lights in Las Vegas Nevada

Studying our photos later, we noticed different colors in the lightning bolts.

Lightning in Las Vegas Nevada

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The only hard part was guessing where the lightning would strike next, because it was all over the sky and all over the valley.

But we could see we were getting awesome images, and we just kept clicking the shutter buttons every thirty seconds for the next 10 or 15 minutes, jumping up and down and shrieking with excitement between shots.

Lightning storm over Las Vegas Nevada

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Lightning bolts over city lights Las Vegas Nevada

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Miraculously, after the first few drops of rain fell, Mother Nature pulled the curtain of dripping clouds away from the stage. We were able to stand in warm dry air — and blustery winds — and witness the stunning power of earth’s beautiful forces without getting wet.

Lightning storm Las Vegas Nevada

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What a night this was — a night we’ll never forget! And thank goodness we grabbed our cameras when we did, because there wasn’t a single flash of lightning in Las Vegas for the remaining 16 days we kept our buggy there!!

Lightning storm over city lights of Las Vegas Nevada

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Lots of people come to Las Vegas to experience the bright lights of the big city. But these bright lights, thrown from God’s hand across the valley surrounding Las Vegas, dwarfed any light show that might have been happening downtown!!

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Buffalo Wyoming – RVing Basque Style in the Bighorns!

July 2017 – During our stay in Buffalo, Wyoming, we were treated to a most unusual celebration: an annual Basque Festival which featured a parade of Basque sheep herders’ wagons rolling right down the main drag as well as a weekend-long fair and Basque Wagon Show at a nearby park.

Basque Festival in Buffalo Wyoming

A Basque wagon parade!
(What a cool RV!)

The only thing we knew about the Basques prior to this event was from watching the Euskaltel–Euskadi cycling team in the Tour de France. Whenever they rode through Basque country, an area that spans the borders of France and Spain, the locals would all be dressed in orange and green, lining the sides of the and road waving flags, and they would go absolutely crazy!

It turns out that the Basques have lived in their corner of Spain and France since long before the Roman Empire reached across Europe. Their language is the only living and spoken European language that doesn’t have Indo-European roots (actually, linguists have not definitively found its roots in any language, dead or alive!), and scientists say their DNA is unique as well.

In the 1800s and early 1900s many Basques immigrated from France and Spain to America and became sheep ranchers in the western states.

Quite a few Basques settled in and around Buffalo, Wyoming, in Johnson County, and there is a bronze sculpture in town that commemorates them and their line of work.

Sheep sculpture and Basque history Buffalo Wyoming

The Basques immigrated to Wyoming from France and Spain and became sheep ranchers.

When the shepherds were out on the prairie tending their flocks, they would set up camp in a covered wagon.

Many of the original wagons are still around and are still owned by Basque-descended families. As we stood watching the parade go by, we were amazed by the number and variety of these wagons.

Basque wagon Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming

What a cool trailer — with the Basque flag on the truck bumper!

Some were pulled by a truck, some by horses, and some by antique vehicles. Some had rubber wheels and others had wooden wheels. All of them were very cool.

Basque wagon towed by antique car Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming

Oops! A nifty antique car towing a Basque wagon needs a little TLC mid-parade!

Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming Basque wagon

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The people in the parade were all descendants of the Basque families, and their excitement was palpable.

The Basques have a wild side (as we had noticed in those Tour de France bike races), and a few of them carried a leather pouch filled with wine that they squirted into their mouths as they paraded along!

One family float had big coolers of beer, and when they stopped in front of us a family member grabbed a beer and took it up to the driver of the truck pulling the float. Drinking and driving was okay for a day in this fun commemorative procession!

The families are very big now, and many family groups had lots of folks in the parade. Some carried cute signs.

Arno Flock Basque Festival Parade in Buffalo Wyoming

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The Arno family’s wagon had a funny sign on the back too:

Arno family wagon Basque Festival parade in Buffalo Wyoming

Party animals all!!

Some even brought the family dogs along in the parade.

Basque Festival Buffalo Wyoming

Rover got a ride on the back!

The Basque wagons are very cute travel trailers, and as RVers we were especially curious about what they were like to camp in.

After the parade there were a dozen or more of them at the city park, and each one was opened up so you could take a peek inside.

Basque trailers and Basque wagons Buffalo Wyoming

After the parade, we had a chance to see these intriguing trailers up close.

Basque wagon display Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

The design is generally the same with the front door at the hitching end of the trailer.
A big bowl for water, cooking and cleaning hangs on the door.

These trailers looked to be about 15 to 25 feet long and they were set up very simply.

Basque wagon display Buffalo Wyoming

Home, Home on the Range!

Basque trailer on rubber tires Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

A broom outside and wood stove inside
and a split door.

Inside, there is usually a wood stove on the driver’s side, a bed in the back, a bench/bed on the curbside and storage drawers all around.

Basque wagon interior Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

Most had a wood stove for heating and cooking inside plus a bed in the back and lots of storage.

One had been upgraded with an RV stove instead of a wood stove.

Inside a Basque wagon for camping and sheep herding Buffalo Wyoming

A few modern upgrades!

Each one was unique, and they all looked like a lot of fun to camp in.

Inside a Basque wagon for camping Buffalo Wyoming

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Of course, for Basque sheep ranchers on the wide open lands of Wyoming, watching the grass grow and the sheep eat it back wasn’t necessarily a life of thrill and adventure, so the Basques often passed their time making music. During the parade we had a chance to see several Basque dance troops showing off some of their traditional dance steps.

As we wandered among the Basque wagons, we were intrigued to see two Amish men walking around as well. America is home to so many unique lifestyles and traditions, it was really fun to see the Amish among the Basques!

I started to talk to one of the Amish men and discovered his name was David and he was from Lancaster, Pennsylvania (of all places!). He had a non-Amish neighbor back home who had a summer house near Buffalo, so he and another Amish friend had hopped on a train to come visit for a week.

He had never been out west and was really enjoying seeing the beauty of our country. He gave me his card and suggested I look him up next time we’re in Lancaster. Definitely! We both had a good laugh when we found out that he has a cell phone but we don’t!

Amish man and Basque wagon Buffalo Wyoming Basque festival

In the middle of this immersion in all things Basque we saw two Amish men checking out the trailers!

The festivities in the park included all kinds of things, from crafts to Basque flags and wine pouches to music performed by a Basque steel drum band.

Steel drum orchestra Basque Film Festival Buffalo Wyoming

I wouldn’t have associated steel drums with the Basque, but there they were!

In one corner of the park lots of kids romped around in a big playground. A group of kids was having a blast swinging on a huge self-propelled merry-go-round. Cowboys, of course, were everywhere, and we spotted a very young cowboy — in hat, western shirt, Wranglers, boots and all — nimbly scampering up a rock climbing wall!

Young cowboy climbs the rock climbing wall Buffalo Wyoming Basque Festival

Among the younger set, who can resist a rock climbing wall?

Buffalo, Wyoming, sits on the edge of the Bighorn National Forest, and we enjoyed several excursions into this beautiful wooded and mountain scenery.

The woods were filled with pine trees, and much like the Black Hills where big rocks and boulders predominate, there were lots of wonderfully craggy rocks between the trees in the woods.

Ponderosa pines and rocks in Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Bighorn National Forest has lots of widely spaced pines and big jagged gray boulders.

We were surprised that in late July the Bighorn mountains were still snowcapped. The views of the Bighorns were beautiful.

Bighorn Mountains in Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Wow!

Even though the peaks of the mountains still had snow on them, the wildflowers were in full display in the valleys.

Lupine wildflowers Bighorn National Forest Bighorn Mountains Wyoming

Wildflowers and mountains — love it!

Wildflowers Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Pink ones.

Backlit wildflower Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

And a vivid orange/yellow one.

The lovely wild lupine were in full bloom, happily showing off their lavender glory.

Lupine wildflowers top view Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

The lupines were at their peak.

Carpets of these gorgeous purple flowers covered the ground between the trees.

Lupine wildflowers surrounding tree trunks Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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Ponderosa pine forest filled with lupine wildflowers Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Lupines blanket the ground in the woods — Beautiful!

We found wonderful streams and noisy babbling brooks.

Cascade and brook Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A river runs through it.

And the skies were very dramatic.

Stormy skies Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

We saw some fabulously stormy skies.

Suddenly, we saw a huge flash of lightning and heard a loud crack of thunder just before a deluge of rain pelted us.

Lightning in Bighonr National Forest Wyoming

A summer thunderstorm!

Then, as quickly as the summer storm descended, it suddenly dispersed, leaving a beautiful sunset in its wake.

Fifth wheel trailer RV camping Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Wyoming sunset.

One of the greatest joys in our traveling lifestyle is the many people we meet. While in Buffalo we started chatting with the owners of a side-by-side UTV, Jonette and Bill, and we peppered them with questions about it since we’re very curious about these things.

As we talked we were blown away to discover that they followed our blog! We became friends and they laid out the royal carpet for us during our stay, showing us many of the hidden jewels in the area.

One evening they took us out to the Bud Love wilderness area where we saw an incredible number of pronghorn antelope and deer. It occurred to us that for the Basques living in their wagons out on the prairie, “Home, home on the range” was definitely a place “where the deer and the antelope play!”

Pronghorn Antelope Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A pronghorn antelope.

Doe and fawn Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

Mom and baby white tail deer.

The fawns still had their spots and they stuck close to their parents. If mom wandered off, baby had to run to catch up.

There were two types of deer roaming around: white tail deer, a slightly taller deer that raises its tail like a white flag whenever it runs, and mule deer, a smaller deer that has enormous ears and holds its brown tail down when it runs.

White tail fawn running Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A white tail fawn waves his white tail as he runs!

Doe and fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

A mule deer doe and fawn.

One group of mule deer was particularly unafraid of us and let us get quite close.

Buck and fawn Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

A buck and fawn.

Buck and fawn Bighorn National Forest Wyoming

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There were several bucks hanging around along with a fawn and doe, and when they stopped right in front of me in a perfect family Christmas card pose, I was just thrilled to get the shot!

Deer family Bud Love Wildlife Area Buffalo Wyoming

Family Portrait! Perfect for next year’s Christmas card!

Then they wandered off and the fawn began running and jumping to keep up.

Running fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

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Jumping fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

It always amazes me how deer literally bounce across the ground!

On another day we were driving down a dirt road when we noticed a fawn climbing out of an irrigation ditch right by the side of the road. He stopped and stared at us with a rather stressed look on his face. We pulled the truck over to get his portrait and noticed he was all wet.

Wet fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

A little fawn fell into an irrigation ditch. He was soaked!

He disappeared into some tall grasses and then came running out again. Then he began running in very tight circles round and round.

Scared fawn Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

The poor little guy started running around and around in circles.

Frightened fawn running in circles Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

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We were really puzzled, but had learned from friends last year in Montana that herds of elk run in tight circles when they’re scared. We had seen a whole herd of elk doing just that on the side of the highway in the Bitterroot Valley (blog post here).

Scared fawn running in circles Bud Love wildlife area Buffalo Wyoming

Around again!

As we watched him, we suddenly noticed his mom was standing waiting for him on the other side of our truck. We had inadvertently parked our truck right between him and his mother, and besides falling into a ditch and getting drenched, he was now terrified he couldn’t get back to her. What a day!

We pulled the truck back out into the center of the road and drove off so the little tyke could get back to the safety of his mom’s side.

We were lucky to see the North American Basque Organization’s annual festival in Buffalo this year, but it will be held in other towns for the next few years. So, if you can chase it down to its next location, definitely do so. In the meantime Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest is a true delight for an RV trip. We will definitely return for more!

RV boondocking and camping in Wyoming

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An Old Time Country 4th of July – Custer, South Dakota

Some of our favorite 4th of July celebrations have been in small towns, and this year we were very fortunate to be in Custer, South Dakota, in time for their festivities which they call their Old Time Country 4th of July.

Custer town is nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the normally quiet streets were overflowing with visitors as the townspeople gathered for the parade.

Fourth of July Parade preparation Custer South Dakota

An RV in town for the 4th of July is passed by fire trucks as they head to the parade start.

There are loads of little tourist shops in town, and red-white-and-blue-wear was available in every style and every size.

Red white and blue clothes for 4th of July

Local shops offered many ways to wear red, white and blue!

The younger set were particularly fashionable.

Children's parade 4th of July Custer South Dakota

Kids went all out to dress up for the 4th.

We had arrived in Custer a few days earlier, and we had heard from everyone we met that Custer’s 4th of July celebration was very special. And they were so right. We got a huge kick out of it!

As people arrived with chairs in hand to stake out a spot along the parade route, an announcer got the crowd fired up on the front steps of the museum. He called on people in the crowd to find out where they were from. Lots of folks were from Utah, Arizona and Colorado, but there were people in town from North Carolina, New Hampshire and other far flung states as well.

Announcer 4th of July Custer South Dakota

There was a hub of activity around the museum in the middle of town.

The hallmark of Custer’s 4th of July parade is the kickoff when nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base, over in Rapid City, South Dakota, sends a B1 bomber right down the main drag for a flyover. What a rush! I got a video clip, but like the real thing, it’s over almost as soon as it starts!

B1 bomber 4th of July Custer SD

After burner glow…

The parade began with all the town kids dressed up in America’s colors riding their bikes. What a great idea!! From toddlers on balance bikes to little kids with training wheels to big kids zipping along on two-wheelers, they were all decked out. Some even had balloons.

Children's Parade kids on bikes 4th of July Custer South Dakota

The parade started with all the local kids on their bikes decorated and dressed up in red, white and blue.

Then Old Glory arrived followed by the Mayor carrying the Custer city flag, and soon after we saw Uncle Sam strolling past on stilts.

Flag bearers 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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Uncle Sam on stilts 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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There were lots of cars and trucks including an old Fire Department Salvage Truck.

Old fire truck 4th of July Parade Custer South Dakota

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The junior fire fighters put their fire hats on and plugged their ears as the big fire trucks drove by.

Junior fire fighters 4th of July Parade Custer, South Dakota

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A snake oil salesman snuck into the parade, along with several vehicles honoring American veterans. Then a very cool old yellow truck went by with a huge flag representing a group that cares for disabled vets. We got a closer look at it after the parade was over as it drove back through town.

4th of July Celebration Custer South Dakota 4

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Operation Black Hills Cabin 4th of July Custer South Dakota

“Operation Black Hills Cabin” cares for disabled vets.

Later on, the day was capped off with a fantastic fireworks display.

The fireworks were shot off at Pageant Hill, but they could be seen from all over town. Before the fireworks began, the city’s fire trucks circled the town with sirens blaring. At first we thought something had gone wrong, but as people continued to arrive all around us and calmly set up their chairs to watch the fireworks, we realized the parade of fire trucks with lights and sirens whirring was all part of the show.

It seemed to take forever for darkness to fall, but at last the fireworks began. The show went on for a very long time and ended with a big finale. We had a blast taking photos…

4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 1

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 2

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July fireworks Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 3

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 5

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 8

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When you begin planning your RV travels for next summer, if you’re looking for a fun town to celebrate the 4th of July, head to Custer, South Dakota!!

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Cowboy Poetry Gatherings in Durango, Colorado, and Alpine, Texas!

October 2016 – One of the stops for RV travelers on the beautiful San Juan Skyway is the town of Durango, Colorado. This is a fun mountain town that is loaded with history. One of the most historic places in town is the pretty Strater Hotel.

Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado

As we walked down the streets in the historic district, we saw a wonderful horse and carriage parked near a store.

Horse and buggy ride Durango Colorado

Need a lift?

What fun it was to catch this rig a little later as it strutted down the road in front of the Strater Hotel!

Horse and carriage Durango Colorado

Shades of the past

Of course, Durango in the 21st century is quite different than back in the 19th century. A plaque on a street corner gave us a feeling for what this same area looked like back in 1896.

Durango Colorado Main Street 1896

Durango in 1896!

But the spirit of the old days is alive and well for Durango visitors, and I gave Mark a glimpse of what I’d look like as a barmaid at the famous Diamond Belle Saloon at the Strater Hotel.

Diamond Belle Saloon Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

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Once we got inside the Diamond Belle Saloon, we saw the real thing. Much prettier!!

Barmaid Diamond Bell Saloon Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

The barmaids dress for success in the Diamond Belle Saloon in the Strater Hotel

The Diamond Belle Saloon was absolutely hopping when we stepped inside, because the Strater Hotel was hosting the annual Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Bar Diamond Belle Saloon Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

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The barmaids were zipping between endless tables filled with cowboys, and the cash register was humming.

Strater Hotel Bar Durango Colorado

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Mark has a knack for getting pretty girls to line up for photos for him (check out our blog post from Spring Break on Daytona Beach years ago), and these lovely ladies were happy to oblige his request for a photo.

Barmaids Diamond Belle Saloon Strater Hotel Durango Colorado

The Diamond Belle Saloon’s barmaids give us a smile!

If you don’t know what Cowboy Poetry is, you are in for a special treat when you get to a Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Folks who love the western ranching lifestyle and people who are real live cowboys today get together and tell stories, sing songs and memorialize a way of life that is rapidly slipping away.

Don Cadden at Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Cowboy poet Don Cadden sings us a song.

We are fortunate to be good friends with a popular cowboy poet, Don Cadden, a native Texan who heads up the enormous Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Alpine, Texas, in February each year. Don has recorded many of his songs on CDs, and they are hauntingly beautiful (links below).

If you have ever felt nostalgia for a place that has changed with time, his song, “It Ain’t Texas Any More” will bring tears to your eyes (it does mine, and I’m not a Texan!). His poem “If Old Hats Could Talk” is a moving stroll through a row of old cowboy hats hanging on a wall that describes the personality of each hat and the story of the person that wore it.

Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Cowboy Poetry is as much about music as it is about poetry!

The Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Durango fills every possible venue in the Strater Hotel and around town, as formal performances take place and informal groupings of friends play for each other in whatever nook or cranny they can find.

Don Cadden was scheduled to perform in the Diamond Belle Saloon, but the bar was so loud with reveling cowboys and cowgirls that he moved his group of perfomers to the hotel lobby where the audience could enjoy the music and be close to the performers. More than a few tourists coming into the hotel stopped to listen for a while before making their way to Reception or their rooms!

Cowboy Poetry Gathering Durango Colorado

Cowboy poets were performing all over the place in Durango even the hotel lobby!

We watched a more formal performance on a stage in the Strater Hotel where a group of cowboy poets took turns telling hilarious stories, reciting funny poems and singing songs.

Durango Cowboy Poetry Festival

Cowboy poets on stage regaled the audience with hilarious stories and songs.

Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering Colorado

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A common theme was the progression of modern day cowboy life — with its cell phones, Facebook and ATVs — away from the traditional ways of doing things around a ranch, in person and on a horse.

Even the oldest of today’s cowboys is fully connected to the world electronically, as we all are, and of course none of them are quite old enough to remember a time when the only connection between people across long distances was word of mouth, hand-written letters, newspapers, or the slick, newfangled telegraph system.

Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering on stage

Nostalgia for earlier times without cell phones and Facebook were common themes in the poems and songs.

The really fun thing about the Cowboy Poetry Gathering is that there were cowboys all over the place, inside the hotel, outside the hotel, and strolling down the streets of Durango. Many of them talked with each other about their ranches and their horses as well as their music and poetry.

Cowboys Strater Hotel Durango Colorado Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Old cowboys chatted with each other when they weren’t performing.

We had a chance to talk to a very old cowboy who has been part of the cowboy poetry community for many decades.

Cowboy and cowgirl Durango Colorado

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Of course, Durango is a pretty big city, and many of these ranchers had driven to town by truck. After all, Durango doesn’t really have any places to tie up a horse. But they do have cool bike racks!

Durango Colorado bicycle rack

Durango is a hip town with decorative bike racks on the parking meters.

We’ve been to Durango a few times over the years, and one of our favorite places to grab a microbrew beer is at the Steamboat Springs Brewing Company. We joined all the cowboys that had worked up a thirst from singing and went on in.

Steamworks Brewing Company Durango Colorado

Steamworks Brewing Company is an awesome place to wet your whistle!

After quaffing a few, we mosied through town and came across a very funny sign:

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beer Holder

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If you are planning a Fall RV adventure in southwestern Colorado or if your winter RVing plans will take you to southwestern Texas, going to one of these gatherings of cowboy poets is a real highlight.

A wonderful spot for an RV trip in the winter is Big Bend National Park in Texas where you can find a cowboy poetry gathering in nearby Alpine, Texas, each February.

The Fall 2016 issue of Coast to Coast Magazine includes a feature article I wrote about our RV trip to Big Bend National Park and is decorated with photos from both of our cameras during our stay there.

Mark’s photo of the balancing rock on the Grapevine Hills Hike is on the cover of the magazine:

Coast to Coast Magazine Fall 2016 Cover Photo Big Bend Texas by Mark Fagan

Cover photo: Mark Fagan
Fall 2016 issue

Big Bend National Park has mountains, deserts and a big ol’ river (the Rio Grande), which makes for an incredible variety of options for hiking, cycling, photography and sightseeing.

On the beach Santa Elena Canyon Big Bend Texas

Santa Elena Canyon on the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park, Texas

There is also a ghost town and a very funky hippie town in Terlingua on the far western edge of the park.

Ruins in Terlingua Ghost Town Texas

Old adobe ruins from the Mexican mining camp in Terlingua, Texas, just outside Big Bend

And passport holders can slip across the border to Mexico in a rowboat and enjoy a daytrip to the classic Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen, a place that we found offered as authentic a Mexican experience as any we had had in our nearly four years of living in Mexico on our sailboat.

Ferry across Rio Grande from Big Bend National Park to Boquillas del Carmen Mexico

Taking the ferry across the Rio Grande for a daytrip to Mexico.

Here are links to our blog posts from our RV travels in Big Bend National Park:

For more: All of our blog posts from our RV trips in Texas

RV Camping at Big Bend National Park Texas

Goodnight, Big Bend!!
Love boondocking? Visit our page: Tips for boondocking at Big Bend!

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Welch OK is A-Okay for a Fun Fall Fair in Oklahoma

October 2015 – After enjoying the wonderful Biblesta celebration in Humboldt, Kansas, we continued our RV travels south and west. We had been hoping to catch some fall colors in Oklahoma, and deliberately took some off-the-beaten-path scenic roads, but our timing was off and we were just a little bit early for the peak.

Oklahoma RV camping and travel

Oklahoma

However, we still saw a magical sunrise in Grove, Oklahoma!

Sunrise in Oklahoma

Oklahoma sunrise

Even though it was fall, and not spring, two northern flickers started doing a fabulous courtship type of dance in the grass right outside our trailer door. They jumped around with wonderfully bouyant movements, showing off their flashy yellow feathers under their wings and tails.

Northern Flickers courting in Oklahoma

A pair of flirting flickers!

Northern Flickers courting

Doing the Lindy Hop!

Sometimes people wonder how we go about choosing our travel destinations, and the truth is that we stumble into most of them. We don’t do a lot of planning. We prefer, instead, simply to be out there in the world and to see what kinds of adventures are waiting for us.

I had just answered such a query one morning when, a few hours later, as we were driving down the road with our rolling home trailing along behind us, we glanced down a street and saw a fall festival in full swing right in the middle of the road. What luck!

Pumpkins at Welch OK Fall Harvest Days_

Signs of fall in Welch, OK — pumpkins and hay bales.

We were in Welch, Oklahoma, and the town was in the middle of its Welch OK Harvest Days celebration. Mark quickly found a place to park the RV, and we walked back to see what was going on.

Welch OK Harvest Days Fall Festival pumpkins and hay bales

Happy Fall, Y’All!

It was a cold, gray day, but the spirit was warm and friendly as we walked around the various booths. There was a table of cozy looking knitted goodies, and there were pumpkins and hay bales stacked up for decoration.

Welch Oklahoma Fall Harvest Days Festival

Wonderful hand knitted and crocheted goodies at the Welch Harvest Days fair

In the middle of the street a bunch of guys were making hay bales the old fashioned way. The whole time we walked around the fair, these guys were stabbing a big pile of hay with pitchforks and loading it into the machine. One by one, the machine created rectangular hay bales. Nowadays, massive combines scour the farm fields, spitting round hay bales out the back as they drive down the rows.

I’m sure there was a time when this antique hay baler was a back saving godsend, but compared to modern farm equipment, this rickety old antique was downright quaint.

Haying with antique farm equipment Welch Fall Harvest Days Oklahoma

A group of guys show us how haying used to be done.

Nearby, there was a ring toss going on with a bunch of pop bottle as the target.

Ring toss Welch Oklahoma Fall Harvest Days

Nice throw!

In one booth, a local vintner was selling bottles of fine OK wine.

Welch OK Fall Harvest Days Wine Seller

OK wine is fine wine!

All the store fronts in town were dressed up for the festivities

Welch Oklahoma storefront for Fall Harvest Days

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When we peeked in one window, we saw a cat lounging on a workbench. Cute!

Cat inside a Welch OK storefront

Time for a snooze.

Right in the middle of it all there were pony rides. One little girl enjoyed her ride so much that after she got off the pony she walked with it around the ring a few times.

Pony ride Welch OK Fall Harvest Days

Riding the pony was fun, but walking alongside is even better.

While the litle girl walked her pony, a little boy was having a ball playing on an antique tractor. He climbed all over it and seemed ready to hit the farm fields — if only he could get it started.

Antique tractor Welch Fall Heritage Days Oklahoma

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As we walked around, all of a sudden we could hear the familiar and unintelligible patter of an auctioneer. Drawing closer, we saw that there was an auction going on. He was auctioning off cakes and pies, and the bids were coming in fast and furious.

Taking care not to make the wrong gesture, or inadvertently raise my hand the wrong way (or I’d end up with a fancy cake!), I got a brief video clip so you can hear what this sounds like:

This part of the world is tornado country, and one vendor had a neat selection of storm shelters for sale. These things were like rugged closets you install in the ground. They were fun for the kids to play in too!

Storm shelters for Oklahoma tornados

These sturdy storm shelters make fun play houses.

We were lured to one edge of the fair by the yummy smell of a barbecue, and it turned out that Smokin’ Brothers Barbecue was grilling up some delicious things on one of their cute little farmhouse style grills. These guys build their own grills, and as long-time Traeger Grill owners, they say they have bested the Traeger design at a fraction of the cost. I don’t know a lot about high end grills, but I sure loved the little red “barn-b-que”!

Welch OK Smokin Brothers BBQ Grills

A unique barbecue by Smokin’ Brothers!

After enjoying Welch Harvest Days for a few hours, we moseyed on down the road, traversing Oklahoma from north to south.

Ruby daisies Welch Fall Heritage Days Oklahoma

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Eventually we landed in Paris, Texas, where the Eiffel Tower stands proud, wearing a red Texas cowboy hat on top!

Eiffel Tower Paris Texas

A poignant image from Paris, Texas, in the wake of recent events in this town’s namesake city.

We had no idea at the time how much our thoughts would be turning towards Paris, France, as world events unfolded in the next few weeks…

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Here’s some more info about this corner of Oklahoma:

Other posts from our RV and sailing travels where we’ve bumped into cool things going on:

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“America’s Heartland” – Is it in Kansas?

October 2015 – We left our dreams of a beautiful new custom made Spacecraft fifth wheel trailer behind in Missouri and made our way to Chanute, Kansas, where we got a slew of plumbing related RV repairs done at the NuWa Service Center.

Kansas RV Camping and travel

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Luckily, life wasn’t all work and no play. We visited beautiful Tuttle Creek State Park in Kansas which is built around a small lake.

Camping sunrise Tuttle Creek State Park Kansas

Campsite at sunrise in Tuttle Creek State Park, Kansas

Mark snuck out early one morning and got some wonderful sunrise photos.

Sunrise at Tuttle Creek State Park Kansas

A magnificent sunrise at Tuttle Creek State Park near Manhattan, Kansas

Sunrise Tuttle Creek State Park Kansas

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Boat dock Tuttle Creek State Park Kansas

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He even caught a turkey vulture staring back at him from a tree. These guys sure aren’t very good looking, but they’re still cool to photograph.

Turkey vulture in a tree

A face only a turkey vulture mother could love!

170 miles southeast of Tuttle Creek State Park, the town of Humboldt, Kansas, hosts a very special and unusual celebration every fall, called Biblesta, and we were in town on the big day.

Kiddie train Biblesta Humboldt Kansas

The kiddie train at the Biblesta celebration in Humboldt, Kansas

The main event is a big parade, and folks come from all over to watch this unique procession.

Biblesta Parade Humboldt Kansas

The Biblesta Parade in Humboldt, Kansas, draws crowds from far and wide.

When the parade started, a cute little girl in front of us spontaneously saluted the veterans.

Girls at Humbolt Kansas Biblesta Parade

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What makes Biblesta unique is that it is a celebration of Christianity sponsored by both businesses and churches from all over the area around Humboldt, Kansas. Each organization puts together a parade float that depicts a different story from the Bible or a special Bible verse.

B&W Trailer Hitches Moses Float Biblesta Parade Humboldt Kansas

The birth of Moses

One of the first floats to go by was the Birth of Moses sponsored by B&W Trailer Hitches whose manufacturing plant is in Humboldt. These are the folks who make the top rated B&W fifth wheel trailer hitches!

B&W Trailer Hitches Float Biblesta Parade Humboldt Kansas

B&W Trailer Hitches sponsored the Birth of Moses float. Every church in the region had a float too.

Another float was the Revenge of Sampson. I was floored when a cluster of little kids sitting near me started telling each other the various Bible stories. They knew the tales well, and they each had their favorite characters and stories.

Biblesta Revenge of Sampson Humboldt Kansas

The Revenge of Sampson

Jonah and the Whale came by, and Jonah’s legs were kicking madly from deep inside the whale. The kids around me giggled and pointed.

Jonah and the whale Biblesta Humboldt Kansas

Jonah and the Whale

Biblesta began in Humboldt, Kansas, in 1957 as a Bible Story Parade to share and teach the Bible’s great stories. In 1959 the town held a contest to name their special event, and the winning entrant suggested combining the words “Bible” and “Fiesta” into the word “Biblesta.” It has been celebrated every year since.

Little kids enjoying the parade at Biblesta in Humboldt Kansas

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What struck me more than the floats themselves was that this celebration even exists today. Living in a time in history when America often seems apologetic for its religious and historical roots, it was refreshing to find a town that openly and unabashedly celebrates its beliefs.

God's Word at Biblesta in Humboldt Kansas

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The crowds lining the parade streets were thick. This celebration is a very big deal here. A group of judges sat at a street corner judging each float, and an announcer told each Bible story as the floats went by.

When Christ appeared on foot carrying the cross, there was a somber note of reverence in the air.

Christ carrying cross Biblesta Parade Humboldt Kansas

Christ carries the cross

This wasn’t a Bible thumping or evangelical gathering. It was simply a sharing and retelling of age old stories that are imbued with valuable life lessons, and have been passed down from generation to generation for eons.

As I glanced around, I thought about the term, “America’s heartland,” a term that vaguely refers to some place in the Great Plains states that is tucked away on small town streets between quaint red farm houses and endless waving rows of corn. A place that values tradition and is impervious, or even oblivious, to external pressures to change.

It would be easy to say that American’s Heartland was here, at Biblesta, in Humboldt, Kansas, and perhaps it is. But as I watched this very unique celebration — one that seemed to include absolutely everyone in town — it seemed to me that such a simplistic label would be missing the more precious and intimate story of cooperation and respect that was happening here.

Blood moon lunar eclipse Tuttle Creek State Park Kansas

A lunar eclipse and Blood Moon in America’s Heartland

Without worrying about whether it was politically correct to say “In God We Trust,” or if it would be okay to allow prayers at school, or whether it might offend someone to express a belief in a supreme being or in Christ, this town simply made it a point to get together every year and share the great stories of the Bible right out in the open on the town streets, with every church from every denomination in the region participating.

How cool is that?! And in its own dignified way, how very American too!

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