Sparry Night: Van Gogh mural causes controversy in Historic Mount Dora

Sparry Night: Van Gogh mural causes controversy in Historic Mount Dora

Now that we’ve decided to make Mount Dora, Florida, our home base for the moment and focus on taking smaller trips around the country, we’ve started to spend enough time here to notice changes.

One day, as we were driving into the historic downtown from our RV park, we observed a painter embellishing a stretch of white wall with bright blue swirls. As we drove back and forth over the next couple of weeks, we realized he’d painted a version of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.

I was delighted! I love art, all kinds, the larger and more colorful, the better. And considering that this wall, which stretches from the edge of downtown to

I wanted to know more. Was this part of a community project, sponsored by the City of Mount Dora? Should I be on the lookout for more murals popping up on the wall on Old Highway 441, next to Lake Dora?

I was shocked to learn that the 140-foot mural’s blue and yellow paint strokes have caused some people to see red. A code-enforcement officer has classified the mural as “graffiti,” even though the artist was commissioned and paid by the homeowners who’re responsible for that portion of the wall.

The problem is that the wall is in a residential zone, which must “… be maintained free of graffiti or similar markings,” according to city code. Yet artist Richard Barrenchea maintains, “It’s not graffiti, it’s artwork.” He’s even incorporated iconic scenes from Mount Dora, including the city’s lighthouse.

The case will go before the Magistrate in a hearing scheduled for September 14 at City Hall.

Personally, I’m a big fan, and I hope the mural stays. But just in case, I made sure I took a bunch of pictures of it this weekend.

~Elisabeth

Free Things to Do in Rapid City: Hiking to the Strato Bowl

Free Things to Do in Rapid City: Hiking to the Strato Bowl

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The Strato Bowl is the best of both worlds for us: Hiking for me, aviation for Mike. It was the such a fun Labor Day outing. We got some exercise, enjoyed incredible views and learned something new about aviation history.

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The Stratobowl is a small, flat valley completely surrounded by the Black Hills where some of the first early manned balloon flights were launched in the 1930s. In 1934 and 1935, the Army Air Corps and National Geographic Society launched manned balloon flights into the stratosphere from this location to a record 72,395 feet. The Explorer II flight proved man could survive the altitude in a pressurized capsule, an important part of the space program and our quest to walk on the moon. Since then, the Stratobowl has hosted aviation pioneers Ed Yost, Steve Fossett, Troy Bradley and others.

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The view is spectacular. There are few places where you will see such an interesting view including pine-covered hills, wide blue skies and the small stream that winds through that peculiar flat valley nestled between the Hills.

 

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Dogs are welcome on this  1.7-mile, moderately trafficked out-and-back trail. To get there, take Mount Rushmore Road into the Black Hills (16). Stay on 16 past Reptile Gardens and Bear Country USA. Just past the service station is a small parking area on the right-hand side (westbound), marked by powerlines.

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Free Things to Do in Rapid City: Storybook Island

Free Things to Do in Rapid City: Storybook Island

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We’ve been in Rapid City since the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Mike was doing some work at the Rally, and then we stayed to make repairs on our travel trailer. (More about that later!) Since our savings have been nearly exhausted with making repairs, we’ve been focused on fun, free things we can do in the area. And thankfully there’s a lot of that in Rapid City . . . especially if you ride the motorcycle to get there!

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Storybook Island is a super cool kids park that has a whole bunch of “sets” based on characters and locations found in children’s books. I was bummed to find out that we’d JUST missed their season when we got there (on September 17, 2016). The picnicking area is open all year long, but the theme park is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But I still managed to snap some pics through the chain link fence.

Check it out to get a flavor of this place that’s perfect for the young and the young-at-heart.

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Taco Tuesday at the Sail Inn

Taco Tuesday at the Sail Inn

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Havasu Landing doesn’t have a lot going on. Unless you count the small casino. (If you want serious action, take the ferry to Lake Havasu, Arizona.)

So Taco Tuesday at the Sail Inn is a big deal. In fact, the Sail Inn is a big deal. This local bar/restaurant is one of only two in the area, with the other one being in the casino.

Every Tuesday, the Sail Inn serves up $1 tacos, and it’s best to get there early because the tables fill up fast.

These are pretty basic tacos, but they’re not bad, especially for the price. And there’s unlimited chips and salsa. Which is ALWAYS a good thing. Plus, you can walk there from your campsite—which is good if you’ve had one too many $2 margaritas.

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Morning Dog Walk at Burro Creek

Morning Dog Walk at Burro Creek

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One of the best parts of boondocking at Burro Creek was taking the dogs on their morning walk. We have never seen Eliza, our Chiweenie, so excited! She was hopping from scent to scent like a jackrabbit, ears up, pulling at the leash. We couldn’t stop laughing.

Meeko, our Rat Terrier, and Penny, our Chihuahua, enjoyed it, too, but being older, they were more restrained. 😀

From the picnic area, you can follow a trail down to the creek. You start by descending a very cool stone staircase. Then, ease yourself (and your animals) through an opening in a barbed wire fence and follow the path to the creek.

I thought I was going to fall into a giant crevasse – until I realized that the creek was reflecting the cliff. The reflection is extraordinary!

We didn’t have much time to explore this time, but we’ll make sure we’ve got a few days on our next visit.

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Boondocking at Burro Creek

Boondocking at Burro Creek

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Up to now, our boondocking – or drycamping – has consisted of overnights in Walmart parking lots and rest areas. We’ve always wanted to do more “real” boondocking, where we’re in some remote, beautiful area with no one around. But we’re always working! (Good problem to have, I know.) At first, we had to run all over the country for Mike’s training gigs and then the LiveWire tour, both of which required full hook-ups. Now, I have to be connected to keep up with my writing and social media business.

We were driving along I-10, en route to Austin for the #SmarterArtist Summit, when Mike mentioned that he’d always wanted to check out Burro Creek. Talk about perfect timing! He said it right before we saw a sign for Burro Creek campground. Sweet! One mile south of the Burro Creek Bridge, we exited the highway and followed a winding road down into the canyon.

This BLM campground’s mostly level sites cost $14 a night. Each has its own metal fire grill and a shaded picnic table. Up top, the sites are more spaced out, so there’s more privacy if that’s what you’re looking for. Most of the sites are back-in, but we camped in Site 13, which is a pull-through. There’s even a handicap-accessible site! Not to mention a group camping area and tent spots, too.

The restrooms have flush toilets and sinks. Yay! No showers, though. Boo! There’s drinking water and a dump station. Along with the hiking trails, there’s an desert garden to explore. It reminded me of those labyrinths. You know, where you walk and meditate? You could contemplate cacti in this one. It has a bunch of native plants, all identified with a brochure (you can pick up on site) if you want to know what you’re looking at.

Mike flew his drone, a Yuneec Typhoon Q500+, and got a couple of amazeballs overhead shots of the area, including the bridge.

The bad news? There was barely any cell signal. I was able to send and receive text messages on my phone, but I didn’t have strong enough wifi to do any work. Honestly, it was a welcome break. I work every day, even if it’s only a couple of hours. So a little forced time off was appreciated.

We ate dinner outside at the picnic table with a gorgeous sunset for our entertainment. Then we popped on our headlamps and walked the dogs. (Gotta see to pick up the poop!) After the exercise, and with utter quiet and no light pollution, we slept like babies.

In the morning, before we left, we took the dogs on a walk down by the creek.

Boondocking at Burro Creek was fantabulous! We’re looking forward to camping here again for a longer stay.

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Havasu Landing: Camping on the quiet side of Lake Havasu

Havasu Landing: Camping on the quiet side of Lake Havasu

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Yowsa! It’s been over a year since I blogged. We’re still on the road, still living full-time in a tiny home on wheels. We traded in our motorhome for a travel trailer, and we’ve been working like crazy.

Rather than trying to catch up chronologically, I figured I’d start a little more recently. Just over a week ago, we were at Havasu Landing, on the California side of Lake Havasu. We were looking for peace and quiet and a place where we could easily get some kayaking in. Havasu Landing fit the bill perfectly! Mike discovered it, checked it out while I was in Mexico (more on that later), and we moved there after I got back to the U.S.

Havasu Landing is dirt cheap. Well, not as cheap as boondocking, but cheap for full hookups. We stayed a month, and it was only $299. Our electric came out to $80. We had a nice shady spot (highly recommend 610!), which helped keep our electric expenditure down. We were thoughtful about using our A/C, and of course, the overall temps were cooler during our stay in mid-February to mid-March.

Our spot backed up to a boat launch area where you could park your vehicle or water craft. It’s a wide, sandy stretch, plenty of room for Mike to make me a pair of hearts with the truck!

We kayaked several times and loved it. You can easily paddle from the campground to the casino, where the restaurant is. Tip: Try the fish and chips. It’s outstanding! There’s a marina next to the casino, and a ferry that goes to Lake Havasu in Arizona multiple times a day. It’s free departing from Havasu Landing and $2 to return from Lake Havasu. Once you dock, it’s an easy walk to CVS or Safeway.

At night, burros roam the park, and the air is filled with their brays. There are also coyotes nearby, so watch your dogs.

Another tip: You can reserve a spot here for several months – without having to pay in full or even leave a deposit.

We’re going to back in mid-January next year  and will be staying a couple of months. Can’t wait!

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Malibu Beach RV Park

Malibu Beach RV Park

The view from Malibu Beach RV Park

Who doesn’t want an ocean view? It’s not often you can get one in an RV, but at Malibu Beach RV Park, you can. And it is spectacular! We stayed there while Mike was working in Santa Monica for Project LiveWire. Lucky for us, it was the closest one to his work. Tough, I know!

Enjoying the view is pricey. It costs $100-$150 a night. You don’t necessarily get a lot for the money, either. Yes, the scenery is gorgeous. But the spots are very tight, and there aren’t any extra amenities like a pool or a workout room. There are nifty walking paths around the park, and a great fresh seafood restaurant is a few (steep) steps away. It’s tricky to get to the ocean, though. You’ve gotta walk down the hill, dash across the PCH when there’s a break in traffic, and then walk half a block to the beach stairs. We probably wouldn’t have stayed there if we weren’t being reimbursed for the fees. But we sure made the most of it. We made the tricky trek to the beach a couple of times, and three times a day, we took the dogs out for a stroll on the trails. With plenty of soft sand and banks of tropical flowers on each side, every walk was like a little piece of paradise.

The park staff was amiable, but we encountered a couple of residents who were nasty. Our first night, we arrived late – after getting approval from the park first, of course. The spot to our right was empty, but there was Class B parked next to it. We unhooked and parked as quickly as we could, but apparently it wasn’t fast enough. With the engine still running while we were setting up, the door of the Class B opened and a tall, thin, blond-haired man strode toward us. In a thick German accent, he told us that the noise was very disruptive and reminded us that it was almost 10 at night. Like we didn’t know! He was angry and rude. After a long day of driving, we were having none of it. I advised him that we were going as quickly as we could and that we’d gotten permission from the park to arrive this late. If he had a problem, I said, he needed to take it up with park management, not us. The next morning, he was gone, and the side of our coach was decorated with something dark brown: mud or something else? We don’t know for sure that he did it, but we had our suspicions.

The rest of our stay was uneventful, but when we were leaving, we had another unpleasant encounter. As I mentioned before, the park is very tight, and there’s no good place to unhook or hook up your toad. You certainly don’t want to be doing it on the side of the PCH. We did it right by the office, where you stop on your way in to check in. Because of the small size of the park, there are rigs parked right next to the entrance and exit. As we were hooking up the Jeep, as fast we could, a gentleman two coaches down complained to us that we were spewing exhaust. There’s was nothing we could do; it was again a park issue. We hurried to hook up – as we always do – and headed out, glad to put the park behind us.

As pretty as the views were, it wouldn’t be worth the hassle to stay again.

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Touring with Project LiveWire: Pineapple M&M Cake

Touring with Project LiveWire: Pineapple M&M Cake

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Truck stop food isn’t always the greatest, but every now and then, there’s something especially yummy. At the Iron Skillet at the Petro in Ontario, California, I found a gem: Pineapple M&M Cake. It was so pretty with colorful mini M&Ms on top and plenty of sweet pineapple filling between layers of yellow cake. John, the semi truck driver, got a piece and kindly allowed me to have a single, luscious bite.

Heavenly! I instantly had a very strong urge to dash to the buffet and haul the entire cake over to our table. Good manners kept me from doing it, but it was a close call! Here’s a recipe to try at home.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk (to increase the pineapple flavor, sub 1/4 cup pineapple juice for part of the milk)
  • 1/2 cup pineapple filling
  • 1 can whipped white frosting (or your favorite homemade frosting)
  • 1 bag mini M&Ms

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Grease and flour two round nine-inch cake pans.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, and continue beating. Mix in the vanilla and salt.
  • When well incorporated, add the baking powder, and then the flour and milk a little at a time, alternating the two.
  • On medium speed, beat the batter for about 2 minutes, until thick and creamy.
  • Split the batter evenly between the two cake cake pans.
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • Set aside cakes to cool.
  • Spread about 1/2 a cup of frosting on the bottom layer of the cake, to about a 1/2 inch from the edge. Then top with the same amount of pineapple filling.
  • Carefully place the top layer on, and frost the top and sides of the cake.
  • Sprinkle the top with mini M&Ms.

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