Denali Diaries…Portland, OR to Pittsburgh, PA

Welcome to Denali Diaries, the timeline of our (Frank and Laurie) adventures and mis-adventures along the highways and byways of the USA in our not so tiny house on wheels, “Miss Denali”..

On July 29th Frank and I signed the papers on the sale of our home and nearly all of our earthly possessions in Portland, Oregon and handed over the keys to a wonderful couple from North Carolina.


We moved ourselves, our few remaining possessions and our two kitties, Goldie and Malu into our new home on wheels, “Denali”, a 35′ fifth wheel trailer.


After settling everything in Portland we hitched up Denali and headed for the open road on Aug 22, 2016.  We were in no hurry to get anywhere nor did we have any “set in stone” destinations in mind as we planned to follow the seasons, fall colors to the north east and then warm weather in the south east to spend the winter months.  We did want to stop and visit friends and family along the way.  Our first family stop was in Shelley, Idaho where we parked in my cousin Gary’s backyard and felt like we were in a five star resort with the stunning views.


Gary took us out fishing on the Snake River where Frank caught a beautiful rainbow trout for dinner.


Time flew too quickly and we were unable to see nearly as many relatives as I had hoped and I do have quite a few of them.  Back on the road, we headed to see my family in Salt Lake.  In between visits and barbeques we took a trip down memory lane and drove over Guardsmans Pass to see if there was any fall color.  It was a bit early on the western side but the eastern side as we dropped down into Midway was alive with color.  I had to stop at a favorite location to review memories of days and people long since passed.  It was a tranquil ride.




I took my flying companion, Lucy out to The Great Salt Lake to do a little flying and the sunset was beautiful.


A week flew by before we knew it and it was time to hitch Denali up for another ride to a new destination.  Next stop Moab, Utah and Arches National Park.  Once we had arrived at our campsite and got settled in, we took a ride into the park to see the sunset from the Windows section.


The next morning I didn’t feel well at all and we hung around the trailer for most of a beautiful day before I dragged myself out of my funk and went out to photograph sunset.


Boy am I glad I did, the photo Gods were smiling on me and all the other lucky folks out that night.


The next day we headed into Moab for breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe and then off to hike Hunter’s Canyon.  By one mile in we had exhausted most of our water and I was sweating and dragging so we turned back knowing it would not be wise to continue on with so few supplies in the intense heat.


Our stay in Moab was way too short but, we were looking forward to seeing friends in Colorado and the road was calling.  We stopped in Grand Junction and visited with good friends before powering on to Golden where we were going to park it for a week to visit with friends, do some hiking and biking and filling our lungs with that Rocky Mountain air.  However, plans can be changed at a moments notice and Monday morning rolled around with both Frank and I still feeling funky so we took a detour from our plans and headed to urgent care where I had pneumonia and he needed meds too.  With that diagnosis we decided to lay low for a few days to let the drugs take their course and help heal.

In the meantime we did a little sight seeing, taking the incredibly efficient light rail downtown to Union Station.



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Due to our days of forced inactivity we decided to extend our stay and went to Rocky Mountain NP for a quick overnight visit.

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There’s nothing like clean, fresh, thin air to get your heart pumping and we both began to feel much better.  Maybe nature is the cure for what ails us more often than we realize.

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The next morning before heading back to Golden we took a couple of hikes around Sprague Lake and Bear Lake.  There were many other visitors that morning who all seemed to have the same idea of enjoying the tranquility because, even with the number of people, it was very quite and beautiful.

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On our way back to Golden we stopped at a wonderful stone church that has always intrigued me and it proved worth the stop.

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We were a bit concerned about how our kitties were going to handle the new lifestyle but, it turns out we needn’t have worried.  They have settled right in to life on the road and love to explore each new campsite to determine whether or not it has their kitty paw of approval.  They truly are good little campers.


Our next destination was Pittsburgh with overnight stops mapped out along the way to break up the long drive.  Our travels took us through Kansas where Frank gratefully downed a refreshing beer at Capn’ Jack’s in Oakley, KS where we camped after fighting a strong side wind all day.

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A couple of days later as we were approaching Kansas City, MO a warning beep and light came on and the truck instantly powered down.  We managed to pull over to the side of the road on the busy highway where we proceeded to give AAA a mayday call.  Three hours later Phil and Bobby from Santa Fe Towning came to our rescue with two huge tow trucks.

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They not only towed us to a Ford dealer, Phil knew of a campground close by that he said he would gladly drop us off at so we wouldn’t have to park in the dealer’s lot overnight.  We got a site and our road angels got us all dropped off nice and snug in what was to be our home for the next few days as they fixed the truck.  Kudos to AAA, Santa Fe Towing and Phil and Bobby for helping us through a stressful situation.

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All the excitement of the day left me feeling a little bit fragmented.

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But, every cloud has a silver lining and some even have a brilliant orange lining.  We were blessed with power, water, sewer and cable tv while we waited for our truck to be repaired.  Things certainly could have been a lot worse.

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After two and a half down days we decided we would have to pass on St Louis and other stops along the way to Pittsburgh.  So, we simply drove and parked the next few days.  We passed through all kinds of weather along the way with Tex and Denali powering through it without a hiccup.

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Some campgrounds were more like glorified parking lots with amenities while others were beautiful and tranquil providing the ambience of my idea of camping.  We sought the latter out as often as possible.

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And through all our adventures and misadventures we finally made it to Pennsylvania.


First on our agenda was to catch up with our niece, Niki, and her family.  Joey was just a toddler and Gia hadn’t been born the last time we were in Pittsburgh.  What little cuties they are!

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Like a little parakeet I am forever drawn to bright colors and sparkly things and the glass block windows at Big Jim’s in Frank’s boyhood neighborhood drew me like a moth to a flame.

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Lunch at the Oyster Bar in Market Square also includes a stop at PPG Center to get lost in all the glass and reflections.

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So, here we were in the “Burgh” on a Sunday when the Steelers are playing at home and Frank’s cousin Michael happened to have two extra tickets.  What did we do?  We went to the game, of course!!!  We got to see Franco Harris, my fav, taking selfies with fans.


And we got to see the Steelers make touchdown after touchdown, making new records right in front of us, live, with all the energy of a stadium filled with loyal fans.


In the spirit of the game, Frank pulled out his terrible towel and Steelers colors.

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What a perfect end to the first chapter of our road trippin’ adventure.  We have driven 3841 miles across 10 states in 44 days.  We have had some amazing adventures, and a few not so fun misadventures.  We have met some wonderful people, seen some beautiful sights and eaten a little too well.  In other words, we are living our dream along with all the highs and lows that go with it and loving it all the way.

For those who wish to follow along on our excellent adventure simply subscribe to this blog or check back regularly.  Now that we are getting into the swing of RV life, I’ll share our adventures, photo opportunities, life lessons and more.  But for now, we be “Road Trippin!”

*All images captured, processed and creatively enhanced on my iphone 6+

Harvesting The Palouse…Perseid’s In The Palouse

Sharon & I have wrapped up our Harvesting the Palouse Adventure and it has taken me a couple of weeks to fully digest the experience, the images, the great people who shared in our adventure, both photographers and locals.  It’s funny how approaching life with an open mind and heart yields wonderful and unexpected experiences.  Just before departing for the Palouse I was looking at the moon phases, moon rise and set, sun rise and set and any other astronomical events that might affect our adventure when I put two and two together that we would be in the Palouse during the Perseid Meteor Shower with an expected one hundred plus meteors per hour at peak!  Yowza!  I wondered how we could incorporate that into a night shoot when Sharon emailed me that Jack Lien had contacted her about bringing our group to his Wheatland Farm for an evening of night photography during peak nights.  Now, this was no light invitation.  Jack is the resident photographer extraordinaire of the Palouse region.  He has spent years exploring the area both during daytime hours as well as after dark.  In fact, Jack is so committed to both the Palouse as a photographic mecca as he is to the local people and preserving some of the remaining historical structures.  On his property are a windmill, a couple of tractors and a 1942 International wheat truck all strategically placed for optimum composition during certain astronomical events.

So, Sharon and I arranged to meet with Jack and see his property as well as discuss how we could incorporate a night shoot into our adventure.  What a treat!  Both Jack and his wife, Barbara, opened their home and their hearts to us.  We spent a few hours enjoying their company and a delicious meal before getting down to night photography details.  Since we had our cameras and after all, we are photographers, we decided at Jack’s invitation to do some shooting to get a feel for how it would go with our group.  As we headed out into the darkness, meteors were beginning to streak across the sky enticing us on.  There were only a couple of issues to deal with…one was the moon sitting high in the sky, nearly full and the other was that the meteors were racing every which way across the sky.  So, we set up with a nice foreground and began shooting.  Jack is a fabulous night photographer and teacher.  He is the ultimate in patience and can speak to the most basic or technical levels without missing a beat.  He shared his best tripod spots based on where the Milky Way was positioned and did some light painting to add a point of interest to the scene.  I was so impressed with his devotion to his craft and to sharing it with others of like mind.  We had a fabulous show and I even managed to make an image that I love with a couple of meteors passing through while my shutter was open…




Around 12:30 we wrapped it up and said, “Yes, please, we need to bring our group back here.  How about tomorrow night (tonight) for the peak of the show???”  We made arrangement to return with our group the next night and headed back to the hotel for a few hours of shuteye.  Our group arrived with the enthusiasm and energy that was needed to pull off our crazy scheme of adding a night shoot…after a quick sunset run and dinner.  We arrived at Jack’s around 10:30 and after showing the group around and pointing out strategic spots we set up our first shoot with an old windmill that Jack had acquired for a foreground.  While no meteors streaked through the image while my shutter was open, I still got an image that I really like and feels conveys a sense of place with the windmill and the hint of wheat fields lit by the bright moon.  It doesn’t hurt that the Milky Way is in the frame…




We didn’t get any meteors on our sensors but, we were treated to a sensory experience that was worth the lack of sleep that would result in our staying out to photograph the night sky.  And when the universe gives you lemons, a sweet, cold, delicious glass of lemonade is in order and that is just what we did with a little help from Mother Nature and Jack Lien.  You see, the clouds began to move in and rather than put away our gear and call it a night we simply moved to a better location to include the clouds with their warm glow from the city of Pullman’s lights.  We moved to include the 1942 International in the foreground, the Milky Way moving across the frame and the wispy clouds on the horizon.  And, as a bonus, Jack expertly light painted the International adding that much more drama and interest to our images…




We kept photographing until around 2:00 AM when we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.  Once there it was agreed that the short time before sunrise would be better spent with sustenance than sleep we all pooled our snacks and goodies and had a picnic in the hotel break room before heading out to start our day with a beautiful sunrise.  More on that in the next post.  Stay tuned…

It is with deep gratitude to Jack Lien for helping us to add an unusual element to our adventure and for sharing his expertise with our group.  I highly recommend Jack for anyone interested in a night photography workshops.

Sharon & I are excited to be returning to the Palouse next year for both the spring green rolling hills  May 25-June 1, 2017  and the harvest August 17-24, 2017.  The dates are set, the final details in the planning.  For more information or to sign up contact Sharon Lavier O’Keefe at Sharon @ 503-701-5347.

Until we finalize all the details, here is a peek at this year’s (2016) flyer…Harvesting the Palouse Flyer 6-8-16


Harvesting The Palouse August 12-17, 2016 Openings

Harvesting The Palouse with Sharon O’Keefe and Laurie Excell is nearing and there are still a few openings.  If you want to see the Palouse cloaked it the warm yellows and browns of the harvest season, now is the time to contact Sharon @ 503-701-5347

Harvesting the Palouse Flyer 6-8-16

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You Can’t Take The Adventure Out Of The Girl!

As you all know to one degree or another, I have been a bit silent on the workshop circuit over the last couple of years.  After enjoying a different path for a few years I find myself yearning to take people to the places I love to photograph and to share my passion and knowledge.  The world does need more beautiful images!  And so, I am thrilled to announce the first of many Photo Adventures with Sharon & Laurie…

Harvesting the Palouse

A Photo Adventure with Sharon & Laurie

Aug 12-17, 2016


For More Information Contact:

Photo Adventures with Sharon & Laurie

PO Box 6628

Portland, OR  97228


Harvesting the Palouse Flyer 6-8-16