Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Some Notes on Being Home and Our TIme On the Road

We've been back for almost a week now and a lot has been accomplished.
  • Grass cut. It took two four-hour days to get the normally two-hour job accomplished but it got done. Eight and a half inches of rain over four weeks must have been perfect weather for the clover, plantain, and grass which was a good foot high.
  • Gardens weeded--mostly. I've got one to go and a little hoe work in another. See comment about rain and perfect growing weather above.
  • Zucchini harvested and turned into 10--or was it 12--loaves of bread, half a dozen quart bags of slices, and one left to be shredded and frozen.
  • Cucumbers converted into freezer pickles.
  • Carrots harvested, cleaned and frozen in five quart bags.
  • Beets--eaten.
  • Doctor's visit done. Urologist for a PSA test and general check up following bladder infection and kidney stone in April.
  • Visit to Camping World in Bath to order awnings for the Vibe's slideouts and a new mattress. (The one that came with the Vibe is crap. Two nights and it was like sleeping on the plywood with canyon walls on either side.) They will also deal with a couple of issues that arose on our trip.
  • Speaking of the Vibe: Forest River will pay for the repairs to the AC. The only thing they will not pay for is the house call fee (about $75). It pays to have a detailed invoice!
  • Tomorrow the Tundra gos in for some TLC.

Terry is already on the road again. She has a SAGA thing out in Skokie, IL. She left around 10 Wednesday morning and will finish the drive Thursday. She'll also visit with Brian and Vicky and John and Cindy...again.


I ran some numbers for our four-week trip and found:
  • we used 800 gallons of fuel with an average price of $2.85 per gallon for a total fuel cost of $2290
  •  our campgrounds cost us $972 for 27 nights; an average of $36 per night 
  •  our total cost for fuel and nights' lodging was $3262
If we had just flown to Portland and stayed in a motel/hotel for a week it would have cost us between $2200 and $2900. (Airfare for two roundtrip tickets Monday-to-Monday start at $1375. Motel/hotel would run between $120 to $200 a night.) This does not account for a rental car. I've ignored food because we would have eaten anyway and most of our meals were prepared by Terry in the trailer. Those that weren't would have been matched (almost) by dining out while we were home.

Of course, if we had merely flown out and back, we would not have been able to have stopped to go bird watching in Brigham City/Bear River NWR, to visit Mt. St. Helens—at least not as easily, visited Little Bighorn, visited Mt. Rushmore or the Badlands or The Mammoth Site, or see the many, many square miles of corn, beans and cattle growing throughout the upper Midwest. Nor would we have been able to visit with Cassie and Patrick in Bonner’s Ferry, Brian and Vicky in Milwaukee, or John and Cindy in Chicago.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Back Home

Four weeks on the road were enough.

After four days in Racine County Park (a lovely campsite even if there was no Wi-Fi or direct sewer hook-up), Terry and I decided to head home a day early (Wednesday). In this case it meant a long detour west to get around the worst of Chicago's traffic.

We stopped once more at the Big Sandy campground in Swanton, Ohio where the weather finally caught up to us good and hard. It poured all night leaving huge puddles in all the roads and sites within the camp.

We managed to find 10 only semi-soggy minutes to roll up our hose and tuck away our power cord and were on the road east shortly after 7 AM. 

At first we stayed on US Highway 20 which parallels the Ohio Turnpike figuring to 1) save money on the very high tolls and 2) avoid the high speed crowd in the heavy rain. About 100 miles east of Swanton, however, we got back on the toll road. By then the rain had slackened off somewhat and we were able to make decent time even if we had to pay for it eventually.

We got caught by the rain again while on US 15 heading north out of Williamsport and just 20-30 miles away from home. Rain and fog so serious that you couldn't see a 100 feet in front of the Tundra. Luckily that only lasted for about 15 miles and we were able to finish our trip and back into the driveway in only an occasional light drizzle.

Four weeks on the road total and we really enjoyed all of it. Most of the Vibe is unpacked and I'll be making a few calls tomorrow to get it and the Tundra serviced. The Tundra needs an oil change (8K+ miles on this trip!) and a little TLC. It performed quite well along the way even if it did drink up a little more gasoline than I would like. Averaging 9+ mpg isn't so bad.

Now I've got to try and salvage what's left in the garden (something ate most of the beets, topped the beans and carrots, and simply devoured the lettuce), cut the grass (if it ever gets dry enough, I mean 8-1/4 inches of rain in four weeks. Seriously?), and do some general maintenance. Then, as Terry heads back to Skokie for a SAGA event, I'll have to head up to the Adirondacks to mow and maintain even more.

Thanks again to Rick, Sandy and Chelsea for a great visit. Even if Chelsea didn't start to smile and respond a whole lot until AFTER we left. ;-)
Thanks for meeting with us in Bonner's Ferry for lunch, Cassie and Patrick Phillips. It was great to see you after speaking online for all these years.
Thanks to the two repairmen who were prompt, knowledgeable and competent. A working AC and refrigerator are a must in a travel trailer.
Thanks to Brian and Vicky for the lovely tour of your home and the local museum in Milwaukee.
Thanks to John and Cindy for the tour of the Brookfield Zoo of Chicago and a great seafood lunch.
And thanks to the travel gods for seeing us safely over 8000 miles.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Bad to the Bone

After our second consecutive night of "Camelot Rain" (it only rains after 10 PM and is dry and beautiful the next day), we headed east from Rapid City to have breakfast at Wall Drug (pancakes for me and biscuits and gravy for Terry) before heading even further east to enter the Badlands National Park at the northeastern end.

The rest of the morning was spent driving the "Loop" and stopping frequently to enjoy the views.

The Badlands are often reminiscent of Bryce Canyon down in southern Utah. However, while Bryce is brightly--almost festively--colored in oranges and yellows, the Badlands are much more subdued in shades of white, gray, and occasionally blue and red. And, while the Badlands are spread over miles and miles of land, Bryce Canyon seems very compact. So compact is Bryce that you actually walk the park to get the best views.

When things are cloudy the rocks can be more colorful. The sun seems to bring out a brightness that blinds the eye.

Having formed in a shallow sea, the muds and clays contained few fossils from the time of the dinosaur. There are bones in the upper layers from early mammals who found themselves trapped in marshes and such.

The muds and sediments of a shallow inland sea millions of years old are hardly tilted in the entire park. Erosion has been the shaping force here.

The exception to the color rule. Orange, yellow, purple and blue layers of clay in one small area of the park.

Two of the three Bighorn Sheep grazing along the side of the road.

We ended the day driving through the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands before returning to our camp site for dinner.

We did see a couple of bison, but there were also many, many prairie dogs in the Grasslands.

Prairie Dog

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Mucking About in the Black Hills

We spent the day visiting several sites in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Our first stop was at Mount Rushmore. While we found the mountain itself unchanged from our last visit in 1993, the rest of the complex was brand new. Beautiful visitors' center and observation deck as well as several short trails that get you even closer to the mountain and in among the debris at the base. Nearly all of the new construction was due to donations by corporate and private individuals. ( I didn't take any pictures of that stuff which included a nice tribute to the men who actually worked on the mountain. Suffice to say it was pretty nice.)

Mt. Rushmore from the visitors' observation deck 1/4 mile away.

From along the Presidents' Trail at the base of the mountain.

From along the Presidents' Trail at the base of the mountain.

From among some of the larger pieces of debris.

From along the Presidents' Trail heading back toward the observation deck.

After viewing the four presidents, we drove over to see how work on Crazy Horse was progressing. Being as this monument is privately funded (through the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation) and essentially the work of one family (the Ziolkowski family), they are doing pretty well. When we first visited in 1993 there was just a coarse outline of his face and little of the extended arm and, certainly, no opening beneath the arm. Even the flank of the piece facing you in this photo was pretty much untouched.

Crazy Horse Monument as viewed from over 1 mile away at the visitors' center.
 The head of Crazy Horse is 87 feet high. In contrast those on Mount Rushmore are a mere 60 feet high.
The sculpture in the foreground is what the finished work will look like.
 The Crazy Horse Memorial has a marvelous museum of the construction of the mountain carving but also of Native Americans. The museum has easily trebled in size from when we first visited in 1993. Artifacts from tribes in the desert southwest to the Iroquois Nation are on display. The Crazy Horse Memorial will be the center point for a Native American College in the near future. It already has something of a prep school in operation.

Beaded vest.

Beaded dress.

Beaded purse.

We stopped and had lunch in the restaurant on the premises. Then spent another 45 minutes trying to figure out how the exit the vast museum.

Leaving Crazy Horse behind, we drove toward Hot Springs to visit the Mammoth Site. Our route took us through Custer State Park. At 71,000 acres it's one of the largest state parks in the nation. It is also home to 1500 bison. We didn't see that many since we stayed on the state highway that cuts through the park and didn't venture onto the Wildlife Loop, but we did see around ten of the big beasts lounging in the grass not far off the road.

Hot Springs is home to The Mammoth Site. The Site is a former sink hole that trapped at least 61 Columbian and wooly mammoths as well as camels, llamas short faced bears and other critters. The Site is an active dig where volunteers can help unearth the thousands of bones and where youngsters can learn how to be paleontologists and how to throw an atlatl.

Woolly Mammoth and Columbian Mammoth. (An African elephant could walk under the chin of the Columbian Mammoth.)

Nearly complete skeleton of a Columbian Mammoth.

Partial skull showing the tusks.

Nearly complete skeleton (left) and another skull (right) missing only the tip of the right tusk.
All in all a pretty enjoyable day!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Visit to Little Bighorn

Tuesday, we left Billings, Montana and head over to The Little Bighorn National Monument. As a history buff, this is a must see spot. It was the turning point of the Indian wars of the 1870s. After the inglorious defeat of Lt. Col. Custer and his men which outraged the federal government and the folks back east, the Indians of the northern plains never won another battle.


the monument commemorates those who died on both sides and the interpretive videos and talks speak of the cause for the united effort on the part of the plains Indians in their fight against the white man's incursions. (It actually sounds a lot like what may be happening today with the federal government's trampling the rights once guaranteed by our Constitution.)

Atop the hill is a monument to the soldiers, civilians and Indian scouts who died here on June 25, 1876. The remains of nearly all were interred beneath this stone. Some few have been reburied elswhere, like Lt. Col. Custer who has been laid to rest at West Point.

Standing on the north side of the monument and looking down toward the Bighorn River there are a number of white stones marking where those under Custer's command were found in the days following the battle. Most are on this flank of the little knoll.
 If you look closely, you'll see one stone has it's engraved statement of identity in black.
 This stone, seen above, marks the spot they found Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

Other stones are to be found in the area around the battle site. Some, like the one below mark the place Indian braves were known to have died in defense of their way of life.

And one, marks the burial site of the horses belonging to the 7th Cavalry. Many of these were shot by their riders who were in desperate need of protective shelter.

The Little Bighorn National Monument is a place for reflection and remembrance.


The Monument, surrounded by the Crow Reservation is also the start of Route 212 also called the Warrior's Road which runs east southeast through Montana and into Wyoming and South Dakota. We drove along that road today heading to the Black Hills and Rapid City.

Tomorrow we go to see Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument.

Glacier National Park

Terry and I visited Glacier National Park over the weekend. After spending Saturday getting our air conditioner repaired--a necessity as the temperatures were into the upper 90s and even hit 100!--we sent over to the park on Sunday to view the glaciers and the work the glaciers had done in sculpting the landscape. We didn't get a chance to tour the park on the red buses as we had hoped. I should have made reservations weeks ago before we started on our trip.

We did drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road on our own, however. And the views were spectacular. A little less ice and snow than I expected--then again it was approaching 100 degrees!--and there were scars from forest fires on the shores of Lake McDonald and elsewhere, but the ride was fantastic!

Being on the passenger side, Terry got the best view of the steep drop offs to the valley below--whether she wanted them or not! There were a couple of times she almost climbed over the gear stick and sat in my lap and several times I heard her say, "I'm shutting my eyes! La, la, la...."

Monday we headed south along the east shores of Flathead Lake and on to Billings, Montana--where we had to get our refrigerator repaired!

Thank goodness, both Glacier and Billings had competent repairmen who made house calls. And hopefully we won't need to see any more of them on this trip!