Photography is Addictive

I have a new hobby – taking pictures. I feel compelled to call it my hobby, since it’s costing me an arm and a leg. It’s fun and addictive and frustrating. I’ve never been into photography before this journey with my family which is a shame since I’ve visited some beautiful places – including New Zealand, Australia, South Africa (I like rugby). Sure, I’ve taken plenty of snapshots and still have great memories of those places, but without photographs it’s difficult to share those memories with, say, my children (hmmm that may be a good thing!).

I think what really prompted me to get into using a DSLR (a proper camera) was our family trip to Costa Rica in December 2014/January 2015. On that trip I actually did have a DSLR at my disposal (a Canon 10D) which was loaned to me by my friend Jason. Unfortunately, though, I only took a stock 50mm lens with me since I had no idea what lenses I may need to photograph the beautiful scenery and wildlife of Costa Rica.

So, just prior to our RAD road trip, I invested in a DSLR – a Canon 70D - a hobbyist’s or enthusiast’s piece of equipment. I also bought a wide angle lens (EF-S 10-18 mm f4.5-5.6), a zoom lens (EF 70-300 mm f/4-5.6) and a quality “walk-about” (EF 24-105 mm f/4L) lens. All the lenses are Canon and I managed to buy them at discounted prices. I’ve been quite pleased with some of the photos. I don’t think National Geographic will be knocking at my door any time soon, but I’ve managed to capture some moments and scenes to create a nice photographic journal of the trip so far. When I bought that camera and the lenses I’ve mentioned, I honestly thought that I would never need (maybe want) another piece of kit. Alas, I was wrong.

Now, I’m sure Joel Sartore (award winning National Geographic photographer) could do more with a Kodak Instamatic than I can with all my Canon hardware. I’m also aware that a bad workman blames his tools. However, one thing I can’t get around is a lack of zoom. Now, call me a twitcher – my wife does – but to get good photographs of wildlife, especially birds, I think I need better than 300 mm zoom at my disposal. A few instances have arisen recently when I wished I could zoom in closer to a subject. Sometimes it’s just not possible to walk closer to the subject. Most recently, in the house we’re staying in Nine Mile Falls, WA, there was a bald eagle perched in a tree about 120 yards away. The eagle was there, on the same branch, for 5 hours – but I still couldn’t get a decent picture. Unfortunately, the tree (and hence, the bald eagle) was across the deep, fast flowing Spokane River, so getting closer just wasn’t an option. On the positive side, I took a nice picture of a mallard in flight whilst I was waiting for the bald eagle to take off. Ever seen a mallard before?

Now, it’s time to justify myself and pass the blame. After the bald eagle disappointment, I looked into some options for improving the reach of my photographic equipment. Firstly, I researched teleconvertors which mount in between the camera body and a lens to effectively magnify the zoom by a factor of x1.4 to x2.0. Sounds good, but there’s a catch – they only work with expensive lenses – the ones the professionals use. Next I looked at the Canon telephoto and zoom offerings over 300 mm. Forget it, I’d have to sell my car (and Nina’s road bike). So, then I looked at non-Canon lenses (I can sense the purists, including my friends, shuddering right now). Even the non-Canon offerings for lenses which provide noticeably more zoom than 300 mm cost more than any other piece of equipment I already have – including the camera. Hence, I decided I had to do without a new lens. After many days of research and deliberation that’s exactly what I told Nina – “I’m not spending that much money on a lens”. So, when Nina said to me “Don’t be silly, we’re going to Alaska. It’s a once in a lifetime trip. You’ll regret it”, the blame immediately shifted to her.

The new lens, a Tamron 150-600 mm f/5-6.3, arrived yesterday. Tomorrow we’re headed to Reardon Audubon Lake Wildlife Area. Hope the family have as much fun as I do. Tweet.

Women’s Magazines

I’ve been reading some women’s magazines that were left at the house we’re staying at. Very informative and enlightening. No, not Cosmopolitan, but Ladies Home Journal (LHJ) and Parents (OK, I know that’s for Dads as well as Mums), in particular. Anyway, I’ve found some inspiration to write about a few topics in my blog in the near future.

Firstly, in LHJ (March 2014), I enjoyed an article entitled “The Joys of Living Small”. The essence of the article is captured in its subheading which reads “When it comes to house size, Americans like to live large [no kidding]. But more and more couples are downsizing to radically small homes – and they’ve never been happier”. Three couples/families are interviewed for the report. The first couple live in an 8 by 16 feet trailer mounted cabin. The second couple and their two children live in a 960 sq ft home in Big Bear, CA. The third family, of four, live in a 336 sq ft cabin (which looks like a tin hut from the outside) in Virginia. Since we’re currently living on a 36 ft RV, and planning to settle down to a more permanent residence sometime later this year, then I’m always thinking about what sort of place we’ll live in when our current travels are over. Over the next few months, Nina and I will be dedicating considerable effort into identifying the right type of dwelling and best location to suit our family. I’ll definitely blog on the topic as we develop our ideas and research our options.

Secondly, as a home educator (and parent) I was interested in the article “The Life Skills Every Kid Needs” in Parents (August 2014). It outlines “techniques used by educators to teach ‘executive function’ [which] will help your child succeed at practically anything”. For those not familiar with the term “executive function” (EF) it refers to a “person’s ability to organize thoughts, plan behaviors, say no to impulses and manage between what [she’s] feeling and what [she] does. I’m very familiar with the term “executive function” and have been for quite a few years. For now, let’s just say, impulse control can be a bit of problem in our family – particularly for the males. EF is not the only interesting aspect of the Parents article. It touches upon the much broader topic of how early children should focus on academics. Parents today are pushing their children into more formal teaching environments at younger ages and also many of the schools they attend are simply teaching to the test (as the cliché goes). The article specifically mentions that pre-schools adopting the Reggio Emilia approach and Montessori schools accredited by the Association Montessori Internationale methods are good places for children to develop EF skills. This point is pertinent to the education of our own children, since all three of them have attended only Montessori day-care, pre-school and elementary institutions (apart from day-care places when they were younger than 14 months). I’ve been meaning to blog on how the homeschooling/roadschooling is going for the Davies family, but for one reason or another (procrastination or maybe executive malfunction) I haven’t gotten around to it yet. There’s a lot of information out there and my family is learning about what philosophies, methods and tools do or don’t work for us. Just like everything else in life, we’re learning from our mistakes. Writing on such a topic is daunting and is likely to be quite personal.

Anyway, thanks to a couple of articles I found in some old magazines, I’m going to be more active in my blog and will write on homes, educating and other topics related to our family soon.

Portland Alternative Dwellings:


Time to relax

When we arrived in Spokane yesterday I was tempted to title this blog entry as "Welsh Weather in Washington". We had heavy rain for two straight days, following us from Glacier National Park, MT, through Idaho and into Washington State. I can't complain too much, though, since we've had unseasonably mild weather for most of the last two months which allowed us to see places we wouldn't normally have expected to visit in winter months.

In the past week we've been in four states - Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Washington. It's never been our intention to rush from place to place or to pay flying visits to National Parks just to tick them off a list. However, it's felt a bit like that recently. We needed to get to Spokane quite quickly to get some work done on the RV before we set off through Canada to Alaska. Fortunately, Nina's sister and her husband own a place a Spokane where we can stay for a week or so whilst our RV is being worked on.

It's truly beautiful here. The house is situated on the bank of the Spokane River actually inside Riverside State Park at Nine Mile Falls. As I mentioned, when we arrived yesterday morning, it was bucketing down and continued to rain all day. However, today the weather is fine and the wildlife is out in abundance - including two bald eagles.

The children are all doing well. They're definitely looking forward to staying in one place for the next week, though. I also think they're just about ready to mutiny if we ask them to hike through snow again anytime soon. All three of them are progressing well with their schoolwork. It's not always easy to get the boys to settle down into their work, but even so, they're doing way better than I was expecting before we started our trip. It's also interesting to look back at the photographs of them from the past seven months, or so, and see how they've changed. That's probably not something I would have noticed so much if we weren't taking this journey.

Milestone Day

Today was a bit of a milestone day for us. We passed the 5000 mile mark in the RV, entered Montana for the first time, crossed the Continental Divide (for the 5th time if I'm not mistaken), encountered the Nez Perce trail and rejoined (sort of) the Lewis and Clarke trail. Now, to be honest, the children were not over enthusiastic about hearing about Lewis and Clark again and have probably heard the name Sacajawea more times than they care to remember. However, we did get a big "Woohoo!" when we passed the 5000 mile mark and for our entry into Montana.


We've only been in Montana for about 6 hours, but so far, so good. The people here pride themselves on friendliness and courtesy and everyone we've met so far has lived up to that reputation. Montana is known as the "Big Sky" state and I see why.

We're all looking forward to touring around Western Montana over the next few days. Most of all, we're looking forward to dipping into some natural hot springs - for the third time in just over a week. Life in an RV can be very luxurious sometimes.

Idaho. Oh, Idaho!

Our time in Idaho was challenging, if nothing else. Don't get me wrong, it's a state with plenty to offer and the people we met there were possibly the most friendly we have encountered so far. However, the eight days we spent there on our first pass through the state were not the most enjoyable or productive days of the trip so far.

We drove into Idaho via I15 from Utah to the south. Our plan was to stay for a couple of nights in Idaho Falls before heading into Wyoming to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Now, let me take a step back here and mention that we were planning on visiting these parks at this time to experience them in the winter (albeit, a mild one) and avoid the crowds which flood into the parks during the other seasons. The first problem arose when I checked the weather forecast for Grand Teton on the days we intended to visit. Snow was forecast and temperatures were expected to hit a low of -5 degF (-20 degC) during the night and not rise above 23 degF (-5 degC) during the day. So, we had to postpone the trip for almost a week. Fine, at least we could visit Grand Teton National Park when the weather improved - which is more than could be said for Yellowstone. I called the Park service in Yellowstone to find out which parts of the park we could visit at this time of year and they told me that nearly all the park's roads and entrances are closed during the winter - despite the fact that they hardly have any snow. So, places like Old Faithful and Yellowstone Lake can not be visited unless we go on an organized snow vehicle tour (very pricey).

The next setback we suffered in Idaho was due to the fact that most of the campgrounds and RV parks in the state are closed this time of year. It's a shame really, because the weather for the most part has been reasonably warm during the day - ideal temperatures for hiking and sightseeing. For the first time on our trip, we've had to double back on ourselves. After spending three nights in Idaho Falls we wanted to move on in order to position ourselves closer to Grand Teton ready for when the weather improved. So, we drove north a few miles before realizing we weren't going to be able to find a suitable campsite. In the end we turned around and headed back south through Idaho Falls to Pocatello where we stayed for five days.

Oh, and before I forget, let me mention the flat tire I discovered on the front wheel of the RV as we were about to drive away from the campsite in Idaho Falls. I think it was caused by Ford when they serviced the vehicle. It turned out to be due to a loose valve extension, rather a puncture (I guess I should count myself lucky). It took me about 30 minutes to pump up the tire to the required 92 psi using my standup bike pump.

Finally, when we left Pocatello this morning to drive the 200+ miles to Grand Teton. Within the first 2 miles of driving on the freeway I heard a crack and Nina and I both looked up and spotted a chip in the windscreen. It took us 4 hours, and about 50 extra miles of driving to sort things out with the insurance and return to Pocatello to get the chip repaired. Fortunately, I didn't have to pay for the repair and the person who fixed it was great.

Things we did enjoy in Idaho were visits to two hot springs - Heise Hot Springs and Lava Hot Springs. We all really enjoyed soaking in the natural hot springs - especially at Lava Hot Springs. We also visited Craters of the Moon National Monument and took a short hike to see some of the formations created by lava flows there.

As I mentioned, today we left Pocatello in Idaho to enter Wyoming and visit Grand Teton National Park. The drive, which follows large sections of Snake River, was beautiful and almost (I repeat almost) made me forget what a pig of a time I had earlier in the day. Right now, we're boondocked in a small viewpoint parking lot in Grand Teton National Park. Last time I looked outside the RV, there was nobody within miles of us (literally).

On The Road Again......

On the road again.......

Actually, we've been on the road again for 6 weeks. I've been meaning to post for weeks, but just haven't been able to get around to it. After returning to the US from Europe mid-January, we spent a few days in the Bay Area preparing ourselves and the RV for the next phase of our journey. Also, the children got to spend a few days with their cousins in Campbell.

Originally, we intended to treat ourselves to some time on the beach in California after some pretty cold, wet and windy (but fun) weeks in Europe. However, when we sat down and worked out a rough schedule to arrive in Alaska by the beginning of June then we realized we would have to skip southern California for now. {I'm making it sound like we know where we're going and actually have a plan - we don't}. So, we left California headed straight to Arizona, followed by Utah and now, Idaho. During the journey we've sampled about half a dozen desert regions, learned a little about several Native American tribes, peered into scores of canyons and photographed a thousand mesas.

The route from Campbell, CA, to Phoenix, AZ, took us through the Mohave Desert, along a section of old Route 66, across the Colorado river and into the Sonoran Desert. We arrived in Phoenix one week before the Super Bowl, and must have been the only family in America who didn't know that the Super Bowl was being held in Phoenix this year. I'm not really sure why we stayed in Phoenix for a week or so, but I did get to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's summer home, Taliesin West (note the Welsh connection). Also, the weather was hot, so that made up for the fact we skipped Southern California. After Phoenix we began our journey northward and our first stop was a small place called Camp Verde, near the popular tourist city of Sedona which is nestled between many red rock formations. Next stop - the Grand Canyon. Nina and I visited the Grand Canyon before we had children and we were excited to have the opportunity to view this natural wonder with our children. They were, well, underwhelmed - at least they were on the first day. Fortunately, with a little persistence and some help from Ranger Ron, we managed to spark a little interest from the children. Oh well, maybe geology just isn't their thing.

After leaving the Grand Canyon National Park our drive took us along the edge of the Painted Desert and through the Navajo Nation lands (the largest reservation in the USA) in Northern Arizona and into Southern Utah, crossing the state line in Monument Valley (another desert region). Monument Valley Navajo Nation Tribal Park, straddles the Arizona-Utah Stateline and contains some of the most photographed and recognizable red sandstone mesas, buttes and spires. This area has provided the setting for many a Western movie, including half a dozen starring John Wayne.

Northeastern Arizona and Southeastern Utah form part of the Four Corners region (together with Northwestern New Mexico and Southwestern Colorado). The area is a "must visit" region for anyone interested in geology and/or the history and culture of North American tribes or nations. The whole area is beautiful and fascinating. Personally, I could spend years here soaking up the scenery and learning about the history and culture of the multitude of tribes that live here and those that have lived here in the past. Unfortunately, this time around we could only sample a very small part of what the region has to offer.

This was our second visit to Utah on the Rad Road Trip and this time we traversed the state travelling from south to north, rather than east to west. Heading north from Monument Valley, our next stop was Moab, a small town between two adjacent national parks - Arches and Canyonlands. Moab is a popular destination for many outdoor activities including mountain biking, hiking, climbing and driving off-road vehicles. We stayed in Moab for over a week and did some great hiking, mountain biking and sightseeing. Arches and Canyonlands are two beautiful, interesting and very different National Parks. Also, near Moab is the stunning Dead Horse Point State Park. Just about the only thing that disappointed me about Moab was the Moab Brewery - neither the food nor the beer were any good - and I tried a lot of their beers. Next stops, still in Utah, were Provo and Salt Lake City. The only reason we stopped in those places was to get the RV serviced and get some minor things fixed.

So, onward and upward (at least northward) and into Idaho. It's very cold!

Just about everywhere we've visited on our road trip in 2015 has been unseasonably warm and/or dry. That's one of the reasons we're heading north so early in the year. We thought it would be especially cool to visit the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in the winter. Unfortunately, our luck may be beginning to run out! We'll see.

We're Back in the USA

We’re back in the USA after spending 10 weeks in Wales, England and France. The reason we went to Wales in the first place was to see my mother and when she passed away we decided to stay anyway. It was an opportunity to spend time with friends and family and visit interesting places whilst we were there. Check out the photos!

Well, now we’re back in California and ready to carry on with our journey in the RV. The only plan we have at this point is to reach Alaska by the beginning of June – it's the place Rhys and Dylan most want to visit in the USA. Between now and June, we’re not sure exactly where we’ll land, but we’ll certainly be visiting a lot of National Parks, historic sites and other places of cultural interest. However, after 10 winter weeks in cold, wet and windy Wales and England our first stop may be Southern California for some time in the sun.

Bye Mam. Bye Nana.

My mother, Audrey, passed away on the morning of November 11th 2004. In early October we learned that she was terminally ill with secondary liver cancer. So, we put our trip around the US on hold and placed the RV into storage in order to come to Wales to spend some time with her. We expected to spend at least a couple of months together and booked our flights and accommodation accordingly. We arrived home in Llanelli, Wales, on the evening of November 5th. However, the cancer was much more aggressive than we expected and we only managed to spend a few days with her.

In Wales, a majority of people refer to their mother as Mam and there are several names that grandchildren use to refer to their grandmother – my children called her Nana. I feel proud, even surprised at how close my children were to their Nana. They did not see each other very often but spoke on the phone every couple of weeks. They loved talking to her and giving her updates, sometimes quite detailed, on what was going on in their lives at the time.

When the children visited my mother, they were fortunate enough to see their Nana in a condition where they could talk with her and exchange hugs and kisses - which really made her happy. Her condition deteriorated very quickly after that day. When she passed away, she was in her own home and with her three children right there at her bedside. Her passing was dignified and fortunately she did not suffer for an extended period.

Bye Mam. Bye Nana. We love you and we miss you.

We’ve Reached the Pacific Ocean

We’ve reached the Pacific Ocean – 69 days after leaving Des Moines, IA. Our home for the next few days is in New Brighton State Beach campground, in Monterey Bay just south of Santa Cruz. As soon as I’d levelled the RV, the children and I headed straight to the beach to look for shells and enjoy the sunset. Nina picked up a pizza at Pizza My Heart (the children’s favorite pizza place) and we ate it on the beach. This is quintessential California!

We arrived back in California two months after Rhys and left California and our first stop was Meeks Bay on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. For Nina and I, Lake Tahoe is probably the only place in CA that gives us a sense of being home. We’ve visited Tahoe regularly since we moved to CA in 2000/2001. For years, before we had children, we would travel from the Bay Area up to Tahoe on almost every free weekend we had – especially during the winters, when we had season ski passes for Kirkwood.

I love Tahoe. As soon as I catch my first glimpse of the lake whenever we arrive, it’s like all my worries immediately drain away. Admittedly, now we have children, the feeling of peace and relaxation doesn’t last long. But it’s still a great place to be, and our children also love it.

We’d never previously stayed at Meeks Bay Campground – I think we’d only visited that particular bay once before. Originally, we booked in for 5 nights but extended to 8 nights. October – part of the so called “shoulder season” in Tahoe - is a great time to visit the Lake. There are no crowds, very little traffic, the campgrounds and other accommodations are much cheaper and the weather is still great for most outdoor activities. It’s also good time to see the wildlife, including the kokanee salmon spawning at Taylor Creek. We’ve often seen black bears at this time of year, also – but not this time.

After Tahoe we had a short drive to Roseville, where we used to live. We needed to pick up a few things from storage that we couldn’t fit on the SUV when we left for Des Moines – important things like real wine glasses! Also, it was great for all of us to catch up with friends whilst we were there. There’s a different feel to RV campgrounds at or near large towns or cities that aren’t typically tourist destinations. A lot of the people staying there are full time residents. Their RVs may be permanently hooked up and may have fences around them and garden sheds next to them. Some may even be smoking pot at 3 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon.

After Roseville, it was another short drive to another place we’re very familiar with – Campbell, CA. This time we boon docked on the street outside of Nina’s sister house. The children were keen (to say the least!) to catch up with their cousin’s, Liam and Gracie. The children had a great time and we all caught up with old friends.

So, as I mentioned, we’re now on the Pacific Coast. Even a couple of weeks ago we hadn’t decided whether we would head north or south along the coast once we got here. Now, as it happens, we’re actually heading somewhere completely different – east, I’m mean way east …… to the UK!

I’ll explain next time.


We're already 2 months into our trip and this is the first blog entry from the Davies family - Tony, Nina, Rhys, Dylan and Anwen. It's going to be a brief summary of what we're up to, how and why we're doing what we're doing and some details on what we've seen and done so far.

My guess is that if you're reading this page, you're probably related to us, friends of ours or (just maybe) you've been given this URL by mutual friends. Whoever you are, we hope you enjoy the website, and would love to hear from you.

It's quite simple really - we've bought a Recreation Vehicle (RV) and we're travelling around the US for a year or so and homeschooling our children as we go. On the surface, it may appear a way to fulfill hedonistic tendencies. Or maybe Dad is having a mid-life crisis. Maybe, but right now we're focused on providing our children with an education and taking the opportunity to spend time with them.

Before we started on this journey, we were living in Roseville, near Sacramento, CA. We'd lived in the Sacramento area for about five and half years and, before that, in the Bay Area for eight years. I (Tony) finished work in April 2014 to prepare for the journey. Nina wrapped up her job in July. Rhys and I left Roseville on August 3rd and drove cross country to Des Moines, IA (where we had to pick up the RV we'd bought). Nina, Dylan and Anwen flew to Des Moines on August 12th to meet us.

We started our journey in the RV on August 14th and had decided to head back towards the West Coast. We still have some things in storage we need to pick up for our trip. Also, I liked the idea of heading west starting along the Lewis and Clark trail, just like explorers and pioneers. Right now, we're back in California, having left the Lewis and Clark trail and switched over to the California trail. Inclement weather and mechanical problems with the RV (i.e. the wipers didn't work) made us divert from our original planned route and stay further south than we had intended. That meant we had to miss out on Yellowstone NP, Glacier NP and the Columbia Gorge this time around. So far, though, we've travelled through Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. We have seen some cool things and have some stories to share. For now, the best place to look to get a feel for the things we've been up to and the places we've visited is the Photos page. Over the next few weeks we'll be back in the Sacramento region and Bay Area and will take the opportunity to catch up with friends and family. After that, who knows? We have some ideas, but nothing is fixed yet.