Not even ten feet of Interstate driving. All cross country driving with mountain climbs and descents, twists and turns plus beauty thrown in for good measure. A bit windy but for the most part a tail wind.
Use two fingers to enlarge
I’m actually in a RV park (Star Valley Ranch Resort, RV and Golf ) in Thayne, WY. It’s about 45 minutes south of Jackson Hole. I wanted a week stay and campgrounds are generally either full or don’t have 1 week availability. It’s a very large (700-800 sites) park with most sites individually owned. Am hoping that this is the ‘last gasp before school starts’ weekend and it becomes a little less congested.
I plotted my general trip so far on a map. I think it’s a good overview. It doesn’t represent each stop, just enough to map my route. 4,550 miles/17 states. Don’t know yet where I’m heading after next week. I probably won’t post again until I’ve finished checking out Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons next week. Whether or not I head into Yellowstone with the Jeep will, to some degree, depend on time and traffic. I think I’ve ‘done’ Yellowstone three times already so it’s not a high priority.
Another reasonable starting time this morning even though my planned drive wouldn’t be that long. Weather forecasters are predicting heavy winds of 15 to 25 mph with gusts to 35 today. Additionally, the wind would be out of the SW which would be partially headwind and partially broadside. The motorhome is much more affected by wind than was the boat. With cool morning temps (48), with the wind, and the temps building to the hi 80‘s in the afternoon, the morning’s lighter wind was advantageous.
Some 70 miles south of Dillon, I crossed into Idaho and nearly immediately entered a small portion of the Targhee National Forest, a major change of scenery from Montana ranch land to heavy forest.
The forest scenery soon morphed to endless vistas of brown and sagebrush entering the northern border of the Great Basin Desert, one of four North American Deserts.
After roughly half of the segment on the Interstate, I left it at Dubois to get on the Nez Perce Trail. Every once in awhile the landscape would jump in my face as some acres of real green would appear together with those huge sprinkler systems rotating around a central pivot point. I even passed two corn fields. I was shocked. At the second one I slowed way down (no traffic so it didn’t bother anyone) to make sure it was corn. As far as I can remember, the last corn fields I have seen were in Eastern South Dakota.
At some point the Nez Perce Trail turned more due west over the mountains (the mountains probably didn’t bother the Nez Perce indians as they fled the US Cavalry to try to escape to Canada) while my road angled southerly to skirt the mountains. Soon the road joined and became the Oregon Trail.
I arrived at my destination for the next three nights, Arco, ID and checked into the Mountain View RV Park. Arco is a town of about 900 people and is sited at about 5,300’ elevation. Even though I’ve been generally at a mile high for a week to ten days, I’m still not comfortable with it. Ain’t age wonderful? Again this is a minimal amenity park but well designed/built i.e., long enough sites, level, well placed utilities and relatively green and trees. I have a great view of the nearby mountain right out my living room window.
So why Arco? The world’s first peacetime use of nuclear power occurred when the U.S. Government switched on Experimental Breeder Reactor #1 (EBR-1) near Arco, Idaho, on December 20, 1951. The town of Arco became the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power from a reactor on July 17, 1955. Nearby is the Idaho National Laboratory facility, one of the 7 national research parks of the United States Department of Energy (Fermilab, Los Alamos, Savannah River, Nevada Research Park and Hanford). It is on a 890-square-mile complex in the high desert of eastern Idaho, between Arco to the west and Idaho Falls and Blackfoot to the east.
Twenty miles south of Arco is the large physical laboratory complex. It is located a long way off the public road too far to get a recognizable photo. There is a self guided tour but it as well as the entry road was closed due to COVID19 🙁, a real disappointment. About 30 miles from Arco and on the south side of the laboratory physical complex is Atomic City, population 29, up from 25 in 2000. It is located maybe 10 miles down a dusty gravel road.
Today, all this place has going for it is a funny name. It is an isolated ghost town-to-be. The gas station is also the post office and bar.
I saw one of the 29 residents and she was pulling up to the bar. It would be with some degree of apprehension that I would ever get out of my car. The thought crossed my mind that if ever some manufactured illegal drugs were found contaminated with radioactivity, they might have been made here.
At 9:01 p.m., on January 3, 1961, a nuclear reactor the size of a small grain silo exploded in the nearby desert. All three men inside the Stationary Low-Power Plant Number 1, or SL-1, were killed. To this day, they are among the only recorded nuclear fatalities ever to occur on U.S. soil. Even in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown, in March 2011, no one in the mainstream media mentioned the SL-1 disaster.
The reactor went critical and in 4 milliseconds, the surrounding water became steam slamming against the lid of the reactor like a piston. The lid was blown 9’ in the air. The men’s bodies were wrapped in several hundred pounds of lead, placed in steel coffins, and buried under a foot of concrete.
On my drive back, I wondered if the research labs were actually operational etc. As I approached the entry road, I decided they were. I passed at least 40 beautiful new luxury passenger buses, each painted the same and labeled with the laboratory name, complete with electronic signs for their various routes to the populated cities of Pocatello and Idaho Falls, 80+ miles distant. It was 4:40pm and obviously the facility draws its large workforce from long distances. Also obvious is that the facility is productive.
The Arco area has a long history of military testing
One Small Step for Man… a/k/a Al Does the Moonwalk
Eighteen miles west of Arco is Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. CoM are definitely of volcanic origin but not of the stereotypical Mt St Helens type where the mountain blows its top, not of the caldera type like Yellowstone, a giant bowl that sinks into the earth but of the rift type, a giant fissure . CoM is a 52 mile long fissure called the Great Rift. The vast volumes of lava cane not from one volcano but from a series of deep fissures that cross the Snake River Plain. In addition to horizontal lava flow from the fissure, there are a number of craters stretching from south to north. Geologists say the earliest of the craters is in the south and occurred some 15,000 years ago while the younger, north craters last erupted 2,000 years ago.
The publicly accessible portion of the Park is located on the north side and includes the “North Crater” and “Big Craters” along with a number of spatter cones and an area of lava formed caves. There is also a visitor center (mostly closed due to COVID19) and a primitive (no utilities) campground with sites widely dispersed among tall and rocky lava formations. Additionally there is an excellent 7 mile long loop road with numerous turnoffs and trailheads.
I stopped at all the turnoffs and walked some of the shorter trails while skipping a few with steep climbs or long distances. The trails leading to the North and Big Craters are nearly 2 miles long, each way, and I skipped those. I did manage 2 short but very steep trails to two spatter cones. Spatter cones are small eruptions or vents. One such climb was only .2 mile but was 18 degrees steep with no guard rail protecting one from a drop off. Climbing up took all my breath but coming down was scary. Not a downslope to be wearing flip flops (I wasn’t). The trail, though paved, was about 30” wide. Up & down traffic passing each other needs to pass carefully or better, sideways. On the way down, I was alone the whole way, thankfully, and I made good use of holding on to the lava rock sides next to me. The other spatter cone I climbed is named “SnowCone” and was a shorter climb. It gets its name from the fact that there is constantly snow and ice at the bottom of the crater. It has steep straight down interior sides such that direct sun light never reaches the bottom and thaws the snow. There is a chain type fence right at the top and if you lean over or, as I did, hold your camera over the edge, you can see or get a picture if the snow. 90 degrees outside and you are probably 100’ from snow!
Other areas of note are the cinder hills and flats. While some of the eruptions result in lava, many are so hot that the lava is incinerated leaving just black cinders. Over the years, decades and centuries prevailing winds deposit the cinders into hills, much like black sand dunes, and accompanying flat lands interrupted here and there by giant boulders or lava formations. The cinder fields are often populated by what looks at a distance like patches of white mold. Closer inspection reveals 6” or so patches of tiny white flowers. They are spaced from each other with such precision that one would think they are planted but they’re not. Since the area is so arid, the little plant has a root system of about a 3 foot radius to sip what water is available and thus the plants are separated by available water. The flowers are white to reflect as much of the sun’s heat as possible.
There are also lots of area of scrub brush and rugged looking Limber Pine trees. One of the walks I took was in a flat area called Devils Garden, a cinder, brush, Pine tree and rock strew area. No path, you just wander clearing areas between the scrub brush listening for the sound of rattling. Didn’t hear any 😀. The cinder is really thick and it is the softest walk I can remember. It almost felt like I was walking on pillows or a mattress. Also in this area small yellow lichen manifested itself growing on the lava. Almost looked like veins of gold. There were also some petrified trees and other pretty flowers. It was an unworldly section in an unworldly fascinating park and well worth the visit.
So where is Arco, ID and why would someone go there?😎
The RVPark owner also runs a Friday and Saturday night restaurant on site. It is listed as the #3 rated restaurant in Arco (out of 12) on Trip Advisor and on the campground sites, most reviewers rate the food as 5 star. His specialty is smoked ribs and loaded smoked potato (nobody seems to have ever had this and it draws special raves) baked beans and cole slaw. The ribs are smoked all day behind the restaurant and the restaurant opens when the ribs are ready. He has nearly a full park for tomorrow, Thursday, so the restaurant will be opening a day early. lucky me!
I got to sleep in this morning in that I have a short travel day and can’t check into the Dillon campground until after noon. I plan on staying there 2 nights and perhaps more if there’s availability and if I can’t find something nice further down the road for the weekend. Dillon is a decent sized city and is home to the University of Montana Western.
The drive through western MT is amazing. Lots of mountain driving not only easy on the eyes with the views but easy driving as well. Uncrowded Interstate and 80 mph speed limits (I set the cruise at 70 mph.) The following video is pretty bad. It’s really not that bumpy and what bumps there may be are smoothed out by the motorhome (Roughing it Smoothly) but holding my iPhone at arms length causes jiggling with every breath and at higher elevations like I’ve been at for the last week+, I tend to breathe quicker with some deep intakes. Anyway, FWIW, here’s 1 1/4 miles of what I see at 70mph.
I am situated at the Southside RVPark. It is a good place to stop. Reasonable sized commercial sites with well placed full utilities. The gravel sites are very level. The park is divided in two by a nice running creek. They have an interesting half picnic table at each site. I was hoping that they might have a cancellation such that I could extend longer than two nites. That didn’t happen so Sat I moved to another local park for 3 more nites (trying to fill some time between now and next Friday when I’m scheduled into the general Jackson Hole area).
This second park, (Beaverhead River RV Park – more on the name later) is a former KOA in which the ‘former’ probability occurred because the park franchisee didn’t modernize enough. The sites are typical KOA sites meaning level, gravel, long enough but probably a couple feet narrower than today’s comm’l standards. Full utilities and amenities including pool (closed due to COVID19) however their electric service is only 30 amps and via shared pedistal. Guessing that was the ‘modernization’ issue. Not a problem, just attach the adapter to my 50amp cord and I’m 30 amp.
Though I eat dinner out most nights, I rarely mention it unless there is something memorable and such was the case here. A 3 short block walk from Southside Park was a place called Sparkies Garage. Though the location at one time may have been a garage, it is now a newer building made to look like a (large) garage complete with memorabilia. But the food! Must not be a cook in the kitchen but a chef. I ordered two appetizers for dinner…a crock of French Onion soup with cornbread and a honey sauced baby back rib appetizer.
I took the Jeep on a drive east towards, but not to, the western border of Yellowstone National Park. (Yellowstone was 20 miles away as the crow flies or mountaineer climbs but 90 more miles away by road). My destinations were the sister “ghost” towns “of Nevada City and Virginia City some 60 miles away from Dillon. These are two of the many 1800’s mining towns in the area (gold, silver, garnets etc). Virginia City is a well preserved, very much alive, ghost town which is frozen in time. Both towns are on the National Historic Register.
They quickly became boomtowns of thousands of prospectors and fortune seekers. This remote area of what was then Idaho Territory had no law enforcement except for the miners courts. It is estimated that “road agents” were responsible for up to 100 deaths in the area in 1863 and 1864. These “road agents” would ride out from Robbers Roost and terrorize stagecoaches, miners and travelers in the area. The locals were afraid to do anything about it because the road agents had spies everywhere and would soon find out who was working against them.
The county Sheriff was suspected to be the leader of the road agents gang called “The Innocents”. The suspicions about the Sheriff and the increasing number of murders in the immediate area prompted the citizens to form the Vigilante Committee. After obtaining confessions from some members of “The Innocents” the Vigilante Committee ‘arrested‘ the Sheriff and hanged him without a trial. Many recipients of the Vigilante Committee justice reside atop Boot Hill. (These actions and others became the genesis of the historic Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, see previous blog post). One of the notables, who at one time lived there, was Calamity Jane. When mining died, so did the towns.
In the 1940’s a private couple started buying Virginia City and doing maintenance. In the ‘50’s the town began to be restored for tourism. Most of the city is now owned by the state government, is a National Historic Landmark and is operated as an open air museum. There are nearly 300 structures in the town with almost half of them having been built prior to 1900. Many of the buildings are in their original condition with Old West period displays and information plaques.
This same couple undertook a restoration of Nevada City moving many historic cabins there. A narrow gauge railroad operates between the two towns. Below are some pics from the area.
About in the middle is a buffalo robe, one of many displayed. Also shown is a masked road agent member of The Innocents gang who arrived in town today to wreak havoc.
About five miles from the campground is the Clark’s Lookout State Park. It’s located above the Beaverhead River and is a place that provided the Lewis and Clark Expedition with a view of the route ahead. On August 13, 1805, Captain William Clark climbed the hill overlooking the Beaverhead River to get a sense of his surroundings and document the location. His written record of the three compass readings triangulate to show the exact location where he stood. That location is commemorated with a large compass monument complete with directional readings so one can see exactly his data points. It’s a small, 8 or 9 acre park complete with a small parking area and two gravel trails climbing to the site. Not too bad of a climb for an old man.
The hill, the climb and some flora.
My plan for Monday failed. Dillon has 2 block long section with a former rail depot converted into a museum featuring a Lewis & Clark diorama occupying one block and a wooden boardwalk with log cabins, old schoolhouse etc museums. The big sign showed it closed on Saturday and Sunday so I planned to take a look on Monday. Unfortunately, everything was still locked tight on Monday. Maybe they have trouble recruiting volunteers during the pandemic?
Short travel day today. I finally got a reservation in a RV park near Jackson Hole, WY/Grand Tetons/Yellowstone. I’ll be about 40 or so miles south but I reserved a spot for a week. I couldn’t find anything much closer much less for a chunk of time. But it starts August 14th so I’ve got 10 days to do 400 miles and now I’m slowing it down to ‘boat speed’.
I took an Interstate today. There were a number of construction slowdowns including 2 way traffic sections and even stoppage for a flagman. That together with a lengthy rest area stop for some lunch and some phone calls to confirm reservations played right into a slow trip.
I usually try my best to avoid Interstates but this area (and southern Utah) provide some nice scenery while driving.
Took the Jeep for a drive of nearby towns. Of most interest were Anaconda, MT and Deer Lodge, MT.
Deer Lodge is the location of the first Montana Territory Prison. Bands of outlaws and vigilantes roamed early MT territory leaving a path of destruction and death. The Old Montana Prison was established in 1871 and was active until 1979. It and associated museums are the tourism hun of this town.
Connected to the prison self guided tour facility is the self guided Montana Auto Museum. Why they are connected is beyond me. It contains over 160 cars and conveyances from the 1880’s to the 1970’s. I really enjoyed walking through it.
Also located in Deer Lodge is the The Grant–Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, created in 1972, commemorating the Western cattle industry from its 1850s inception through recent times. At 1600 plus acres, it is maintained as a working ranch by the National Park Service and is open for walking tours. A good portion, like the main ranch house, is currently pandemic closed. I was too tired walking to attempt the walking tour. Also dominating Main Street is the large fairgrounds and rodeo facility.
I am staying in a nice commercial campground named Indian Creek Campground. Well laid out and well kept.
Hard to believe it’s August already. I left late this morning for a short drive to Missoula @ 120miles. Kinda slipped my mind that I’d spend a lot of those miles between steep mountain sides on one side and steep drop offs down to Flathead Lake on the other. From Bigfork to Polson just enough room for two lanes and railroad tracks. For the most part no room for even 2’ shoulders. Up and down, twist and turns keeps you very awake and alert. Focused too much on staying on the road to see much of the fabulous views. No pictures except in my mind. One thing I did notice along the entire drive was cherry orchards. If there was a little room along side the road there was a little, medium or large cherry stand. I didn’t see many with sufficient room for my rig.
I noticed last night while looking at my one of my campground apps a familiar sounding campground in/near Missoula – Jim & Mary’s Campground. Sharon and I stayed there in June 2003, our 5th yr of fulltiming. I remember nice views and flowers. So I texted and they had a site for tonite. In 16yrs, the views have been marred by building development but the park is still nice and there are still flowers at each site. Cell service and wi fi sux, though.
One other item of note, there was a hurricane/tropical storm that came up FL’s east coast this past weekend. My boat broker and the Captain I’ve hired to keep the boat ship shape till sold both, somehow, moved the storm further east offshore. Zero damage😎
It’s been a fun but hot (90’s even at elevation) four days here. I don’t know if this post will tell much of a story or just be a lot of pictures. If you’re lucky, it’ll be the latter.
Cheating a bit, here are some Lodge images taken when I had lunch there in 2015
I also took a short drive to Kalispell on Flathead Lake
Also nearby is the town of Whitefish which appears to be an upscale western town. Many more condos on the outskirts than the local business opportunities would seem to support. Guessing they are Air B&Bs, summer residences for mountain, rafter and fly fishing lovers and winter places for cross and downhill skiers. The town definitely imposes architectural standards with everything having a very western look. Downtown area looks like a great place to walk and browse. I didn’t.
Everyone did their part. Freightliner in Reno got the air dryer shipped yesterday. Fed Ex got it to Shelby Montana the next (this) morning and good ole Harley knocked on my door in the campground around 11am. After sitting all nite, pretty much all the air was out of the suspension and my exit steps were down on the ground and the full width hanging mud flaps were nearly horizontal on the ground. I cranked up the rear jacks as much as I could and Harley slid under and disconnected the air dryer and, at his truck bench, reattached all the fittings to the new dryer, slid back under and hooked it all back up to the coach. By noon, I started the engine and after about 2 minutes the air bags were at proper 1oo# pressure and the coach was no longer basically sitting near the ground. Brakes were working again and after disconnecting electric, water and bringing in the slides etc., I was ready to roll. Once again, the coach became the smoothest riding vehicle I’ve had.
The drive was pretty easy. I really enjoyed the 50-60 mile drive crossing the mountains. I saw my first snow, lots of it, in several years. Coming down the mountain grades I got to do a real test on both the exhaust brakes and engine brakes to compare. Both will hold the rig including car to 30mph or less without touching the brake pedal and momentarily tapping the brake pedal will slow it even further. Actually often needed to hit the accelerator to maintain a reasonable speed heading down a mountain. The road thru the mountains was not in good shape. The views were spectacular especially of the river and rafters below. I was paying attention to my driving so no pics🙁. I’m in a comm’l park, nothing fancy, for 4 nites so I’ll have time to explore. It’s about a 20 minute drive back to the West Entrance. All the East Entrances are closed.
My next destination was to be Glacier National Park which, for a change, isn’t burning with my arrival. I do not like to travel subjected to a schedule. That means I generally do not make reservations. But a high traffic destination and one I really want to see again means a different strategy. So yesterday afternoon I started looking for places to stay. I thought I’d stay in less popular East Glacier Weds (tonight). There’s a no frills cg there that has sites on a cliff overlooking the valley and river below. It’s a breathtaking location in a dumpy town. I look them up online and it says they are closed because of the COVID19 pandemic. I called – no answer. Scratch that.
Next option is the National Park. I’ve ridden thru their campgrounds. Tight. Few utilities. Lots of munchkins, smoke, bikes etc. Not my style. There must be 50 or more cgs in the nearby cities of Columbia Falls, Kalispell (on Flathead Lk) and the town of Whitefish. Most of them are above average to resorty. And so I started calling, leaving messages and emailing to get Weds nite reservation for at least 4 nites. No room in the inn or, the same thing, not even a response.
This morning I got back on the phone and started contacting parks that hadn’t responded. Voila’. A high rated park that was very much on my list said they had a full hookup, 50 amp pull thru site for me for only $65/nite (about mid price for comm’l parks in the area. I reserved 4 nights, ascertained that I could extend beyond for a couple nights if I wished, and started getting the rig ready for travel.
Everything set, I put the coach in gear and released the air brakes. The little red light stayed on and the incessant beeping continued. Sometimes one of the hydraulic jacks doesn’t retract the last 1/4” and the beeping sounds the same and red light stays on (though a different light) and when the rig hits the first ‘bump’ the jack makes the last 1/4” connection and all is well. So let’s try that. Exiting the campground is a decent uphill climb and the light and sound went away. But then it’s downhill and flat and the light and sound show returned. Worse, it seemed as though the rig would brake on and off slightly and worst of all, the bus bounced. I don’t mean a nice little bounce. It was like hitting a large speed bump every 3-4 feet. I stopped at the end of the block across from a truck stop.
I am far, very remote, from being a mechanic but I once pulled our 5th wheel with a small semi tractor and I understand the air systems. The air provides the equivalent of spring/shock absorber suspension and its the presence of compressed air that keeps the brakes free. Pressing the brake pedal lowers the brake air pressure and the brake shoes engage the wheel drums. I’m having a suspension issue (violent bumping up and down) and slight braking issue. Sounds like something wrong with the air system/compressor.
The truck stop didn’t have repair facilities and there was no Freightliner shop in town but they called a mobile semi truck repair company and 10 minutes later I raised the rear with the jacks and “Harley” was underneath. He diagnosed that it needed a new air dryer and after some calls advised the replacement was not locally available. Nearest availability was Reno, NV. The part has been ordered and is being overnighted via FedEx. Harley says he can install tomorrow in under an hour. So I limped back to the campground and hooked back up to power and air conditioning (mid 90’s again). I called my Columbia Falls Campground and they graciously slid my arrival to Thurs evening and assured me I could still extend. Smart as I am, I waited till the heat of the day before I hooked up a hose to wash off the mat of bugs plastered to the front of the rig.
Fingers crossed that the part actually gets shipped, that Fed Ex de.ivers in the am and that Harley knows what he’s talking about. 🤞🤞🤞
Today was a tougher day. First, it was hot. 95 degrees. Not humid but still hot. Second, it was a struggle driving. The amateur meteorologist in me equates the heat and wide open spaces into wind. Not just wind but unpredictable heavy gusts. That meant on these asphalt laser straight roads, I couldn’t just stay on the right side of center channel and set the auto pilot. Oops, getting confused about my mode of transportation. No there was a lot of real physical steering involved today. (For the most part the motorhome tracks very well without much steering effort).
Finally, there was a 20 mile or so stretch of highway that was absolutely torn up. All pavement was torn out and just two lane gravel. Max 35mph for the entire way. Slower if you wanted to treat your shocks or air bags with some degree of respect. In that stretch there were probably nearly a dozen minor bridges partially out with one lane open. These were controlled with those portable traffic lights alternating the direction of traffic. Lots of slow, dusty driving and stops.
For those of you who enjoy cereal in the mornings, I wish to report that I also crossed Battle Creek today. No pic ‘cause it came and went too quickly.
Left Dickinson, SD and headed north with the intent of getting back on US2.
On the way I planned on stopping at the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt NP located about 60 miles north. Within the park is a primitive, no services, campground – Juniper Campground – and I thought I might stay the night if there was availability.
Leaving Northbound from the Park, you enter the now famous Bakken Formation or Bakken Shale Formation. Whether the name is known or not, this area is pretty much responsible for breaking the back of OPEC and Russian oil domination. As one of the worlds largest oil fields, the oil is extracted by the fracking process which was profitable during the high priced oil era. The towns resemble boom towns with commercial streets filled with machine shops, drilling equip sales, welding operations and myriads of support facilities. Neighborhoods of hundreds each new manufactured home are everywhere – pretty much vacant now. With the Bakken oil fields helping the U.S. gain its independence from foreign oil, prices have plunged to the point that fracking is no longer profitable. A hundred miles or more driving thru an area exemplifying “boom or bust”.
At Williston ND I finally hooked up with US 2 and made the turn West heading to Montana. By this time, with the ‘detour’ into the North Unit, it was becoming a longer day than I intended and looking at my options I decided to head to Fort Peck, MT. Fort Peck is the location of another large Missouri River dam with numerous Corps of Engineers campgrounds. One, where I’ve stayed before, has electric and water and nice spacious sites. Located within a mile is the Montana State Fish Hatchery which I’ve seen before and which is most interesting. It’s huge and they stock MT lakes with millions of fingerlings each year (125,000,000 walleyes, 500,000 chinook alone annually). They raise the fish from eggs transferring the tiny fish into huge regulated interior vats and from there into one of forty 10 acre ponds.
The campground was the Downstream Recreation Area and Campground and it is located in a wooded area at the bottom of the dam near the spillway. Sites are level, large and with lots of space between campers.
I planned on staying Monday to spend time at the fish farm. I went there when it opened only to find a very small section of the building, housing maybe 20 stuffed fish specimens, open. All the good parts – being able to walk around the tanks, vats and ponds – were closed due to COVID19. What a disappointment. Since there also was zero cell phone coverage, no WiFi and no TV (No over the air and the satellite was blocked by trees), I went back to the campground, hooked up the Jeep, pulled in the slides and left.
I thought about getting to Havre MT but instead opted for a shorter day stopping at Malta, MT, primarily a ranching town. I’m camped for the night at a motel. It’s a ‘walkout’ motel with a grade down behind it where they have a reasonable full hookup transient campground. I napped a little while the washer and dryer were doing their bit.
Once again I left on a gray morning which by noon turned into a blue sky special. I had a 190 mile trip ahead with 160 miles of it on wonderful 2 and sometimes 3 lane back roads – the kind of driving I like. Maybe an opposing vehicle every 3 or 3 miles and lots of nature to see. Rolling hills, steep climbs and descents and big valleys.
I find the people to be excellent stewards of the land. Fields of corn and wheat and soybeans and fallow land. I got to see my first big field of sunflowers this trip. Unfortunately, the field was on the sunside of the road meaning all the flowers were facing the sun – away from me. Instead of seeing all their bright yellow smiling faces, I could just get a glimpse of the back edges on the petals. Oh well, it’s a taste of more to come (I hope). Fields of hay and grass have been mowed and the fields are littered with giant rolls of hay as ranchers prepare for wintering their livestock. Not much waste. Road medians, right of ways and land between the roads and RR tracks are mowed and also littered with the rolls of hay. I wonder about the economics. Do the RR or State/County road commissions sell the harvest rights to the highest bidder or is it first come, first served free? Regardless, it is nice to see neatly trimmed roadways and evidence of good stewardship. The ‘elites’ who complain of livestock abuses and land rape really should get out of their ivory towers and see America’s work ethic in person. Off soapbox.
As I mentioned in my prior post, I wasn’t able to get 3 or 4 night reservations in Medora, ND. Medora is a small totally tourist oriented town which serves as the gateway to the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
So instead I reserved a spot in campground in Dickinson ND about 30 miles East. north Park Campground is an interesting if boring campground. It’s large and quite new. It’s laid out totally on a grid and devoid of any real amenities but modern as far as utilities and hardpacked gravel sites. 3 sections of transient camping, 2 large sections of long term camping, a couple sections for storage and a street or two of manufactured homes. A good overnighted. Not so good for a vacation spot. Pretty sure it was built to take advantage of the huge fracking boom around here and the current high vacancies reflect the current depressed oil market.
Friday, July 24, 2020.
I woke up to a very light rain which passed quickly. Gray skies were showing tinges of blue in the west. I decided to take the Jeep and head to Medora and the Park. The town as well as the Park are located in the Little Missouri National Grassland, over 1,000,000 acres – 1,600 sq. miles – managed by the US Forest Service. The Park is comprised of 3 separate areas, the Elkhorn Ranch Unit (26 miles nw of Medora), the South Unit (at Medora with I-94 serving as it’s southern border), and the North Unit (60 miles north of The South Unit). Taking advantage of my old geezer National Park Pass, I flashed it for free access to the South Unit.
Within the South unit is a 36 mile long two lane curvy, hilly driving loop from the entry point and returning back to the entry point. There are many many overlooks and parking areas. There are also numerous short and long, flat and hilly, easy and hard hiking trails and a couple of spots where you can rustle up a horse for what I would guess to be a spectacular ride. This past Spring there was a large washout and cave in of part of the road so the final 12 miles is barricaded off. This means instead of doing a 36 mile long loop, you can drive 24 miles, then turn around and drive it back for a total of 48 miles. A good 3 hour drive if you don’t stop at every opportunity.
The views are fantastic, up close and personal. There are mountainous vistas; areas of typical Badlands; white dome rocks with shades of red reminiscent of southern Utah; and verdant forests and green belts created by the Little Missouri River meandering through the valleys.
It is said to teem with wildlife, feral horses, Buffalo, rattlesnakes, elk, deer and prairie dogs amongst others. It is ‘said’ because you really need to be slow, take all the trails and then be lucky to see most. About 4 miles in, I saw my first of about a half dozen prairie dog towns – vast flat and elevating green land pock marked with white 2-3’ diameter round hills (maybe a foot or so tall) with a entry hole in the center. It took a bit of time for me to finally see the animals but once I did, they were everywhere. I’m sure I saw over a 1,000 of those alert little animals.
Finally 20 miles in, the jackpot. There had been evidence from time to time of deposits on the road. Smashed road apples from the horses, I wondered? Then in the distance, a far distance, was a grouping of large brown bushes well up on a hill. Wait! Is there movement in or of those bushes? My trusty binoculars, late of boating history, revealed the presence of grazing buffalo rather than bushes. Elated to see but disappointing in that there was no way I was going to get a discernible picture at that distance. [In 2016 when I did this route, I was forced to wait, first in line in my car, for at least a half hour when a herd of about 20 Buffalo and papooses climbed out of a gully and elected to stop and mill about on a bridge, totally blocking traffic.] But maybe a half mile down the road and around a bend there was a line of cars, not in a scenic lookout, but on the road. Yes, a group of stragglers (or maybe leaders?) taking it easy along the road. Took some pic and decided to hurriedly leave back to the car when one of the Buffalo decided to come close and see what all those humans were about.
So I finished the last 4 miles, turned around and started back wondering all the while if maybe I should just shift the Jeep into 4 wheel drive and go cross country
Weds., July 22, 2020
A couple of unforced errors this morning. I didn’t have a reservation for tonight or for the coming weekend and I didn’t check the weather. Well, I did see weather on TV this morning and noted tstorm warnings but I didn’t recognize the counties. I called to make reservation for this evening but had to leave a message and I didn’t wait for a return call before leaving. My intent was for a long 250+ mile day so I hooked up and left a great site/location and headed straight north cross country towards ND.
About 30 miles later the sky turned black. Pulled up radar on the phone and in another 20 miles or so I’d be in a big area of RED. So that’s where those counties were! Tstorm and hail warnings for about 50 miles and the another 50-75 miles of green -light rain. Too late to turn back. Narrow road, no place to turn around even if I wanted to. I did run into heavy rain, no hail, no lightening but some cross wind. Relatively back roads so light traffic though what traffic there was was double bottom farm haulers. Only problematic section was 13 miles with a 3-4” drop to the dirt shoulder immediately off the traffic lane. Zero room for error and even less when facing an oncoming double bottom crop hauler and wind. But by noon, the day brightened to blue skies, the evening’s park confirmed ‘no room in the inn’ and so I stopped to fuel up, raid the fridge for some lunch and figure out a Plan B. A call to the park in Medora ND (by the entrance to Teddy Roosevelt Natl Park) revealed that they also were full till Monday. So I found a park with decent service and reviews located in Mobridge, SD, along the Missouri, and headed there.
I arrived around 2:00 Central Time. Narrow roads and rain had made for sloppy driving and the rig was filthy so I washed it. Thankfully temps were in the mid 70s. Then I got in the Jeep and toured the area
I now have made reservations beginning tomorrow evening in Dickinson ND. Three years ago, one couldn’t find a place to stay in that whole general Western ND area because of the influx of workers in the oil fracking industry. What a difference a slumping oil market makes. When I cross the next bridge about 1 mile away, I will enter Mountain Time.
Today was errand and chore day. My first stop of the morning was at Freightliner Truck a couple miles away where I picked up a replacement chrome/stainless center hub for my left aluminum front wheel. Having the prior one pop off a week ago due to an encounter with a pothole left an ugly looking wheel.
From there I headed to Dakota Post which is your mail forwarding service and my ‘home’. Dakota Post, in addition to taking all my mail, emailing to me daily a pic of each envelope received, trashing, opening/scanning or holding until I request forwarding of same, also provides me with a legal address. With that address, I can open bank accounts etc., get a drivers license, register to vote, buy vehicles or boats and generally do all the things that ‘normal’ people do – things that are hard to do if you tell people you live under a bridge. My new Montana license plates for the motorhome were waiting for me.
Next stop was at a auto parts store to pickup bolts or screws to attach the front plate as the motorhome had never had front plates before. My plates are permanent meaning I don’t need to do an annual registration. A bonus was that the permanent plates are a light silver/blue, rather than dark navy blue, and they look better with the motorhome color scheme.
Only two miles from downtown and the Minnehaha County bldg, I next headed there to register to vote. No longer a FL resident, I can’t vote in FL. Three years ago I was not allowed to register in SD because I didn’t have any rent, utility bill receipt etc from Minnehaha County to show them. This time I was ready having stayed at the County Fairgrounds Campground and saved my 2 day receipt. So I get there, am first in line and find that they no longer require any such proof. In three minutes I fill in the registration form and the Absentee Ballot Request form and I’m on my way.
Next I head to Walmart for a few groceries and a round 12” electric frying pan. I tend to not use the propane stove. Instead I use my Instant Pot even as a frypan to sauté. This frying pan will work better for eggs, bacon, hot dogs and the like. I’ve resisted buying a propane or charcoal grill. I had one for three years on the Winnebago and probably used it a half dozen times. I don’t think we even had one in our prior 14 years fulltiming on our prior rigs.
Next on my agenda was Walgreens to pick up prescriptions, nine of them. All are now consolidated in one pharmacy rather in 3 scattered along my route beginning with the one that still was in Marineland, FL. I don’t know why as it doesn’t really matter where you have your Rx’s but it just feels “tidy”. Last was a visit to Verizon where I intended to switch my iPhone and iPad over fron T Mobile. T Mobile has not had good coverage. I found that even though my devices were unlocked, I couldn’t switch. Seems that devices sold by TMobile and AT&T use something called a CDMA radio antenna to communicate with a tower while Verizon use GSM and they are not compatible, or so I’m told. There is dual antenna tech and my phone is a XR and iPad a 3rd gen iPad Pro and I would have guessed both would be up to date. Think I’ll try again at another city.
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Headed west this morning driving I 90. My intention was to camp at a COE campground in the Missouri River. Too late for me to make reservations online but the website shows lots of unreserved ‘first come, first served’ sites.
I did a small, maybe 10 mile total, detour off I-90 to downtown Mitchell, SD. I’ve done this probably 5-6 times before. Mitchell is the site of THE CORN PALACE. The Corn Palace is a two story, one block square facility built in the ‘20s to promote SD ag industry. It is a tourist attraction drawing 500,000 people annually to this town of 3,000. The exterior facade, a mural, is changed each year. The entire facade consists of various colors of ears of corn applied to the walls to form murals. To think this is stripped off, redesigned and redone each year is stunning. The interior, not so much. Booths and food sales designed to part you from your $. I didn’t bother to go inside. Just parked the rig at the curb so I could get out and take some pix.
‘Leaving Mitchell, I got back on I-90 and headed towards Chamberlain, SD. For those of you who have traveled I-90, whether East or West bound, you’ll recognize what I’m about to describe. Unfortunately since you’re on an 80mph interstate, there’s not a good opportunity to take a pic or two. From either direction, you suddenly crest a high hill and your breath is taken away by at least a 10 mile vista in front of you as the road gradually makes a miles’ long descent into the Missouri Valley and across the wide Missouri River. Rolling hills to either side. The Missouri sort of marks a transition in the landscape. East is primarily farming and pretty flat. West is more of a ranching flavor and the beginnings of the Badlands/foothills type of terrain.
About 10 miles west of Chamberlain I finally was able to get off I-90 an head north along the River basin on a two lane state highway (yay)and arrived in 15 miles at the Big Bend Dam – basically in the middle of nowhere (this post is taking hours due to virtually no cell signal and absolutely no WiFi) . If you look at the map above in the upper left you can see the Missouri as it makes a big loop (big bend). The actual distance traveling the loop on the water is 21 miles. The distance however between where the loop starts and ends is one mile. On the East end of the loop is the Big Bend Dam (sorry boaters, no lock). There is a Corps of Engineers campground without any utilities upriver from the dam and another, Left Trace Campground, with paved sites and electric, downriver at the base of the dam. It appears to be a big fishing area based on boat traffic, the size of the boat ramp and parking and particularly based on the line of fishermen with coolers waiting their turn at a very modern stainless steel fish cleaning station. I snagged a 50 amp site on a peninsula for overnight with a great view of the river. I like!
I was planning on heading south on I29 this morning and traveling the 300 + miles to Sioux Falls, SD to pick up my mail including my MT plates to go on the MH. Looking at the weather and forecast, the day was going to turn nasty and my location in Grand Forks was shown to be on the very north side or even outside of the bad weather. So I elected to stay another night. The forecast was wrong. By late afternoon it was clear the entire bad weather area had moved north. The storm clouds rolled in from the west.
The winds howled. The TV channels were wall to wall meteorologists. Ground winds reported in towns west of 60 mph, 70 mph and even 80 mph with the entire front moving eastbound at 50 mph. The weathermen seemed to be impressed with wind speeds reported at cloud level at 140 mph. Thankfully my orientation in the campsite was East/west and as I was presenting then the smallest area to the storm, I didn’t have to move. I did bring in all four slide outs for less sail area and greater stability. The slides were just in and the rain started. The park rangers came by and invited the campers to the fire station a block away. I drove there, checked in and joined about 30 other masked campers in a conference room in the center of the bldg. The leading edge moved through quickly and I left to head back to the MH after about 15 minutes. All was well and I put the slides back out and settled in for some hours of rain. And rain. And rain. Nearly 2”.
Saturday, July 18, 2020
Finally a travel day. Blue skies but very windy out of the west meaning as I traveled south I presented the side of the MH to the wind. It was work driving today! I stopped approx midway for a good nap. I set my alarm for 1.5 hours and turned off my map tracking program – hence two parts.
Though windy, it was a pretty day. A blue panoramic sky with one small fluffy orphaned cloud and apparently little wind up at cloud level to move it along. It lingered it seemed forever as though hanging like an ornament on the Christmas tree.
My drivers seat in this MH is high, like in a semi truck, giving me a better overview than with any of my prior motorhomes or 5th wheel tow trucks. It was ‘fun’ or enjoyable watching the corn fields. The corn is easily over 7’ tall and mostly has started to tassel. From my vantage point, I could look over the tops of entire fields. The stiff winds really rustled the deep green leaves and tan tassels. A sparkling green wavy sea with tan gems sparkling often framed by graying rustic fencing. The field ponds had small whitecaps. I especially liked the occasional wheat fields. A lower crop meant an even higher view and longer vista. Unlike corn with its thick sturdy stalk, wheat has a thin stalk and so wind waves are accentuated from the ground to the top. The variegation from the darker stalk to the lighter germ and chaff, the wispiness of the stem and the wind produces very colorful, almost hypnotic, waves across the fields. ‘Amber waves of grain’ one might say. Soybeans in the wind – meh!
The further south I got, into SD, the more the wind died down, skies clouded up a bit more and the driving became easier. It’s been awhile since the MH had a real bath with soap (I do try to clean the dead bugs off the front regularly) so I got in line with a bunch of trucks to get a wash. Six young men swarming over the MH can get it sparkling in about 15 minutes vs. some hours with a declining rate of cleaning by an old man like me.
I got a site for a few nights at the fairgrounds in Sioux Falls. I’ve stayed there before and the camping facility is very good with w/e sites or full hookup sites. The complex houses the Armory as well as probably 15-20 buildings used for the fair. I’m guessing sites are hard to come by during the fair and exhibitions. I’m parked alongside their largest exhibition building. Monday I’ll get my mail and plates and hopefully all of my Rx’s. A visit to Walmart is part of the plan and I’ll stop at the nearby Freightliner Truck shop and see if they have, in stock, a round chrome dome that covers the front wheel hub. It popped off and was lost about a week ago.
But before I get to that, I’ll finish up yesterday. I often use the Trip Advisor app to see what’s interesting near my location and to see if there’s a good place to eat supper. I like local finds – and I found one.
Listed for Park River was a candidate, the Rapid River Logging Camp. It was ranked as #5 out of 40 in the area and was located about 10 miles from the campground. In many years past, it was an actual logging camp with housing, mess hall etc for the loggers. It now consists of a gift shop building, tool buildings, the old mess hall etc in a park like setting well back in the woods. You enter thru the gift shop and pay a flat amount per person for breakfast or dinner. Exiting the gift shop bldg, you can wander the property or go into the mess hall. Seating is at one of the long tables (socially distanced) and your choice(s) of meats is served family style, AYCE. I had baked ham which was good and the ambiance was excellent.
In my last post I wrote that I intended to head southwesterly to Fargo and west across ND from there. I reviewed my campground options in the evening and decided to head northwesterly to Grand Forks as originally planned. From there, if I choose, I can easily head to Fargo if I wish.
What intrigued me was the chance to see a smart expenditure of tax dollars. I know, that’s an oxymoron. Grand Fork ND and East Grand Forks, MN are separated by the Red River. The Red River pretty much floods every Spring. If you’ve ever lived in a designated flood plain, you know that there is federally underwritten flood ins available and if you have a federally insured mortgage or a mortgage thru an institution which is federally regulated or has federal deposit insurance, then you are required to buy the flood insurance. So when there is a flood, annual or not, federally underwritten flood ins pays and for those who are uninsured, for businesses and local government losses, FEMA becomes the ‘go to’ agency.
There was a fairly large established neighborhood in E. Grand Forks located along the Red River banks. It would flood and ins and/or FEMA would ante up. In 1997 the flooding was devastating. I don’t know how novel it was, but FEMA bought the entire neighborhood and razed 500 homes and other buildings and the land, now a 1200-acre greenway, became a State Recreation Area – trails, picnic areas, river access for fishing and boating and a large campground of over 100 campsites. The existing residential streets and alleyways were retained as campground roads and trails. I had seen the area from a distance driving past some years ago but I wanted to actually camp on my tax dollars so I decided to head there instead. My thoughts of tax dollar spending wasn’t influenced in any way by my finally finishing and filing my tax return last evening🤣. Sounds like a great blueprint for New Orleans.
This park is basically in downtown of E Grand Forks and within easy walking distance of a restaurant row (and other businesses) which is at the entrance to the park
Thurs., July 16, 2020
And now another change of plans. A few days ago I finally got the signed off title etc for the motorhome. I’m nearing the end of my second 30 days on a temp registration and paper tags. Flathead County (Glacier) in MT is the home county for several thousand Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) established to hold title to motorhomes, boats etc for the purpose of taking advantage of zero sales tax when purchasing. Because 99.9% of these LLCs handle the registration etc by mail and have the extra paperwork of submitting copies of their corporate records, the local DMV subcontracts the LLC registration process to a private vendor which actually issues the titles, registrations and plates. So I Fed Ex’d my paperwork to the vendor Weds and they received it and called me this noon. We went over the paperwork by phone, I gave them my credit card # and while I was on the phone the issued the new title, registration and permanent plates (never have to do annual registrations). By the time I hung up, I had an email in my inbox with the Fed Ex tracking number sending it all to my mail forwarding service in Sioux Falls, SD. It all should arrive tomorrow (Fri).
Since I really need the plates and since I takes about a week to order my mail, have them bundle it all, send it to wherever I am, and since Sioux Falls is a couple hundred miles south, I’m going to head to Sioux Falls tomorrow and will be at my mail forwarder Monday morning to pick up my mail and plates. So once again a change in direction. I’ll head west from Sioux Falls to Chamberlain, SD and then head north from there along the Missouri River. There are 3 beautiful Corps of Engineer parks along the River and I look forward to staying at one or more. Once back in ND, I’ll head west to T. Roosevelt National Park and the town of Medora. I also hope to go to Glacier National Park again. When last there, the Going to the Sun Road was still closed and being cleared of snow. I think the Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole and some river rafting are starting to creep onto my horizon as is thinking of where to head for winter
Last night was another rain filled night. So far haven’t found any external leaks😃 on this rig. I did have one small internal leak. The inflow water hose to the washing machine was dripping. With some effort in tight quarters, I tightened the connection and all seems to be good. It was a rainy morning too but I headed out on the road. The further west I went and as the morning morphed to afternoon, the skies turned blue. It was a short travel day for me as I headed SW. I plan on connecting to I94 in Fargo and then heading towards Theodore Roosevelt National Park at the SW border of ND. I got a site fore the night at a RV park in Rapid River, MN. I wanted to get a full hookup site so I could do laundry while I napped. This park is heavily wooded. I also needed to find a FedEx location. I received my signed off title for the motorhome and need to get it reregistered and plated out of Montana. I used my MT LLC (Last Resort LLC) to buy the rig and my temp plates expire in 13 days. In that time, I need to get the DMV application to Kalispell, MT, get the plates issued and mailed to my mailbox in So. Dakota and then forwarded to me wherever I am at the time.
A straightforward drive today from MI, thru WI and into MN. Stopped a couple miles west of Grand Rapids, MN at a US Army Corps of Engineers Park. They are, as far as I’ve experienced, always really nice parks on water. The one, Pokegama Dam, is no exception. It is small, 19 sites and offers electricity at the site. There is central water to fill your tank and a dump station to empty your tanks. The sites are quite large and level. And did I mention, I’m backed up to the Mississippi River.
I took a chance and took my car on a side trip today. Why a chance? It’s not yet titled, registered and plated to me. I bought it from Avis Orlando on May 12th and they were to register etc in So Dakota for me. Actually since I’ve done it before and it’s so easy to do in SD by mail, I said I’d take care of it but Avis insisted it was the dealer’s function. So Avis issued me a 30day FL temp registration and paper license tag. When it expired, I pestered them and the Orlando Manager said it was all handled by “Corporate” and they were “inept”. He could or would not give me names and contact info for those at Corporate responsible for this function. Funny how nothing is said when you are looking and buying locally that paperwork is handled by some amorphous, inept, beyond contact corporation. Anyway Avis local issued and emailed to me another 30 FL temp registration and paper plate. [It’s against FL law to reissue same – so I guess local is inept when it comes to following FL law]
So now the second 30 day temp registration and paper tag expired some days ago and Avis does not respond to my texts or emails (when dealing with ineptness, it’s always good to avoid verbal exchanges and instead rely on provable written communication). It’s a problem to have an unlicensed vehicle on the road and no title. Besides it being a problem with the police, inherent in one’s insurance coverage is that the insured will operate in a legal manner. Would hate to give my insurer a loophole on a claim.
So I’ve now filed a formal complaint against Avis Orlando with the FL regulatory agency that licenses them. Hopefully they’ll be sanctioned in some way. I’ve also filed a complaint against Avis Orlando with the FL Attorney General alleging fraud, embezzlement and elder abuse.
But I digress. I became a scofflaw again and took a 60 mile round trip along the Black River Road. The BRR itself is about 14 miles long running north along the forested Black River from Bessemer, MI to the Black River Harbor on Lake Superior’s shore. As mentioned in my prior post, this was recommended by a reader. Along the way were quite a number of alpine ski hills and resorts. This area in in the Porcupine Mountains (Porkies). Of particular note to me was a half mile side-side trip to Copper Peak. Although the view was fairly obstructed to me because of its height, it was impressive nonetheless.
I continued my drive on BRR into the Ottawa National Forest which extends another 6 miles north to Lake Superior shores. Along the way are 6 falls and beyond the last one is a National Forest Campground and then a really pretty day park on both the Black River and Lk Superior. The campground, of perhaps 4o sites, has water service only at centralized locations and many sites would accommodate a 30-35’ camper. Site # 18 is, IMO, the premier site being on a bluff with big views of Lk Sup.
I stopped at Potawatomi Falls. The trail from the parking area was paved (vs weedy, tick infested trails elsewhere) and accessible meaning no climbing for me. It was also only .2 or .3 miles. Tahquanamon Falls, if you want to be an attraction, this is how to do it. Great views from numerous areas.
The day area is large, manicured and has picnic areas. There’s a walkway to the river and to Lk Sup. There is also a suspension bridge (walking-no vehicles) connecting the two shores of the river. It was originally built for miners to get from their claims towards Ashland, WI. Though solidly built, it sways considerably when you walk across. From the bridge I could see a pretty sturdy looking dock at the park complete with many cleats for tying up. I don’t know if it’s only for smaller boats trailered in nearby or if the depth is sufficient for vessels that you might take on Lk Superior.
I reported yesterday that I extended my stay because of thunderstorms etc when I woke up. Then after extending, the rains let up followed by a clearing sky. By mid to late morning it became a beautiful day. So last night thunder boomers and torrential rains woke me a number of times during the night and when I woke up this morning the heavens were still opening up. I didn’t extend. An hour or so later, after breakfast and after putting my face on (or was it taking my face off?) etc., the skies again had cleared. I hooked up the car, stowed the water hose and power cord, brought in the slides and brought up the hydraulic jacks and went on my way. Nothing but blue sky and white fluffy clouds all day.
I made a reservation at a county campground on Sunday Lake in Wakefield, MI. I’m headed that way at the comment/suggestion of reader Don who thought a side trip on the “Black River Road” north out of nearby Bessemer might be worthwhile. Thanks. I like suggestions of things to see, do or eat along my general way. This campground is pretty nice. I think there are a lot of seasonals. There’s a swimming beach as well. The campground has a gradual elevation from the waters edge to the road which allows for a pretty good water view from the campsite. That said, the actual site is so level that once the air bags dumped the jacks didn’t come down automatically. There’s good WiFi too! The neighbors had to give me some fresh grilled walleye. The little town is located across the lake – probably a 2 mile drive away.
It was such an enjoyable drive today as is often the case off the interstate. As the view unfolded in my front window, I was reminded of a PBS show. I have no idea what it is called but from time to time, when channel surfing, I get sucked in. It’s some soft spoken guy with a palette, some paint and brushes and a white canvas. With a 3” brush he scrubs some blue on the upper part of the canvas leaving splotches of white which become lazy clouds in a blue sky.
Then he starts imagining and painting maybe a mountain and lays some more blue near the bottom to be developed into a lake or stream. Mixing some umber and green and yellow, he makes a forest appear and a mix of black and white becomes the base for some granite rocks. In the mix, he creates a path or road stretching to adventure beyond. I don’t know if he’s any good, artistically, or not but my channel surfing always stops until his program is done.
When I’m driving like today, it’s like that white canvas in front of me being painted with azure skies, fluffy clouds, a sea of green and a ribbon of road stretching to Oz.
I’m heading westbound along US2 towards upper WI, MN, ND and MT and probably turning southerly from Glacier. The route is not cast in concrete but rather in dandelion fluff so it can be changed. If you have ‘must see’ suggestions, comment here or email me
I slept in late this morning (trying to sell the message here that I normally don’t sleep late as I’m usually up early enough every morning so I can milk the chickens😂). Then I extended my stay here for another night, climbed into the toad and took off on a 165 mile side trip. After writing in my last post about never, in my real memory, having seen but always hearing about Tahquanamon Falls, I decided to fix that and headed to Paradise. That’s the little town of Paradise, MI and 10 miles from the Falls. I drove the Lake Superior Shoreline Road which does in fact trace the shoreline. Unfortunately also tracing the shoreline is heavy forestation. There are a number of scenic turnoffs from which you can enjoy the views.
I forgot this was northern MI. It was 🥶 cold and I’m in shorts and a T without a jacket. The little outdoor thermometer on the rear view mirror reflected a bone chilling 70 degrees. There also were banks of intermittent fog but none dropped lower than a couple hundred feet. It really was a pretty drive though chilly.
After stopping for a chili dog lunch in Paradise, the Lower Tahquanamon Falls was next on the agenda. Though also a bit closer on the drive, I wanted to go to the Lower Falls in that parking was shown on the DNR site as requiring less walking. I paid my fee, found a parking space in a very crowded lot and joined the folks walking to see the Falls. I will say I was disappointed.
C’mon Michigan. It’s not like you’re trying to preserve nature here. You promote the Falls at every tourist stop, hotel and restaurant. You charge admittance including a surcharge for non residents. You have huge parking lots including large marked spaces for RVs and you have 15’+ wide asphalt paved “hiking trails” to and from formal viewing spots. You also have a trail down to distant water and a concessionaire renting rowboats for a proscribed circle rowing experience (probably 1.5 miles downstream from the falls). And for all that, the gullible tourist isn’t close enough to take decent pictures even with reasonable telephoto lens. Putting it into perspective based on comparison of waterfall height, width and water flow it’s like having to walk, after parking your car, 2 or 3 miles to a Niagara Falls viewing area which gives you a view of Niagara 5 miles away! If it’s a $ making tourist attraction, you can do better, Michigan!
I decided I needed to give it another shot so I traveled 4 miles further by car to the Upper Tahquanamon Falls and a parking lot twice the size. The first opening from the parking lot was to another, I presume, concessionaire with the name Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub. I parked and walked…and walked…and walked to the first viewing station. I didn’t have it in me to walk further but the view was certainly better than the Lower Falls and probably would have been even better further down the “trail”. Either way, Longfellow must have seen a different sight when immortalizing Tahquanamon Falls in Hiawatha.
I drove back to Paradise, hung a left (North) and drove 11 miles to the end of the road and Whitefish Point. Whitefish Point, being only 17 miles SSE of where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975, is generally characterized as the land location of the sinking. The lighthouse site is also home to a large shipwreck museum consisting of about 10 buildings. Unlike a couple of years ago when I visited, I did not see ice floating near shore. It IS a worthwhile stop. Plus I got to buy myself some Mackinaw Island chocolate with Traverse City tart cherries fudge!
I rewarded myself by going out for dinner ordering a wonderfully prepared Whitefish dinner.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
A travel day. There’s a nice county campground located high on a bluff overlooking Lake Superior in Grand Marais, MI. The bad part is it is about 30miles off of any normal route and it doesn’t take reservations. So I left heading in that general direction with high hopes. After all it’s mid week high in the Upper Peninsula. I forgot to start my app which tracks my route so I missed about 40 miles. I stopped when I got to the junction where I’d have to turn off towards Grand Marais and phoned the campground. ‘Yes, the campground is full but we can put you in the overflow lot. There’s a number of campers there waiting to be first in line should there be any checkouts.’
I passed and instead headed south about 40miles towards US2 and the northern shores of Lake MI. I had read about a really newer and high rated campground right on the shore in Manistique, Mi. When I neared, I pulled over and called and received news that they too were full. I decided to continue to Escanaba where I did actually find a very nice w/e, well landscaped park with about 25% occupancy or less for $20/nite. That’s more like it.
Thursday, July 9, 2020
As poet Robert Burns wrote: The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley… (you had to memorize this poem in school, too. right?). I woke up this morning ready to get back on the road. While eating breakfast, I thought “what’s that noise?” After several repeats I raised the shades to discover darkening shies, thunder and lightning. Pulled up the radar on my iPad and it was a mess. Storms moving closer for a hundred miles. Little triangles indicating wind, possible hail etc etc. No reason to get on the road in this mess so I extended a day. Never saw actual rain here. Within 1.5 hours it was a right sunny sky and remained so for the rest of the day. What do they say about Michigan weather?
I think one of the Marine mottos is “Adapt, Improvise and Overcome”. Flexibility is key to my way of travel.
My time is up at Wabasis Lake and I need to find a camping spot for the 4th of July holiday. I figured that I’d find something further north and away from big cities. I was fortunate to find a site in Manistee, MI. Manistee is a nice little town located on the shore of Lake Michigan between Ludington and Frankfort. I’ve stayed at Manistee before both by boat and by RV.
I spent a long and quiet 4th in Manistee. Daughter Deb’s stay at Grand Haven ended and with the holiday couldn’t be extended. There were still vacancies here in Manistee so she came with her motor home on Friday and spent the weekend. Monday she headed to AnnArbor for an appointment and I headed further north. I still don’t have a destination or goal for travel but am thinking to head west along US2 near the Canadian border. With the border closed, I figure there will be fewer US travelers in that area in that the border will be a ‘stopper’ and zero Canadian travelers with the border being a ‘cork’ for them. US2 is a wonderful East West northern version of RT66 stretching from Maine to Seattle. It’s generally a good highway, lots of travel stops, easy fuel stops, local eateries and camping opportunities.
I’ve also finally gotten the motorhome title which needs to be re-registered in MT (I used my MT LLC to buy the MH as MT doesn’t have sales tax). MT uses a vendor for LLC registrations by mail and so far I’ve not been able to get a response from the vendor. So maybe I’ll register it in person at my ‘home’ DMV near Glacier.
I ended up going north of US2 to the south end of Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior. There are thunderstorms going on here which actually sounds relaxing to me but hampers picture opportunities. There are two things I’d like to see within a hundred miles. One is Whitefish Point. All Lk Superior commercial shipping has to clear dangerous Whitefish Point which is known as The Graveyard of the Great Lakes. It is home to the Whitefish Point Shipwreck Museum. I visited it a few years back but there were still ice burgs on the water (small ones) and it was snowy and cold. I’d like to revisit. It’s about a 40 mile side trip – same road in and out – so the weather needs to be hospitable or it’s not going to happen.
Another reason for heading past US2 further north is that I’d like to see Tahquanamon Falls. I think I’ve been told I saw them when I was a kid but I don’t have a memory of it and it seems to me that I’ve been hearing about them all my life. I still need to research how much walking is involved.
I can then either cut back south to US2 (the U.P. is only about 50 miles north to south in this area) and head west along the northern shore of Lk MI or continue west along Lk Superior to Pictured Rocks and later merge with US2 near Ironwood and the WI border. Stay tuned
After a really nice visit with Jon & Vicki Ruiter and grandchildren Charlie and Juliana, I left the DC area this morning. I have a reservation at Wabasis Lake Campground just north of Grand Rapids. It’s part of the Kent County park system. Though I lived in GR for nearly my first 40 years, I’ve never been to Wabasis Lake. Daughter Deb stayed at the campground for a week or two leaving only 2 or 3 days ago and she told me it was a nice pleasant campground so I’ll try it. I plan on staying there 6 nights.
It’s about a 660 mile drive and I had hoped to split the distance in two. 330 miles got me to the Pittsburgh area and I didn’t feel like stopping there. Some of the OH turnpike service plazas have RV facilities. It’s barebones separated parking area with 30/50 amp service. I had overnighted in one some years ago. So I pulled in to refresh my memory. Sites are small for my motorhome. I would need to unhook the car only to hook it back up in the morning. And, though it’s not near the truck parking area, it is next to the noise of both the turnpike and the service plaza. For that they charge $20. I elected to drive on.
I pulled into a Cracker Barrel in Sandusky, OH making it a 450 mile day with lots of wind and quite a number of rain showers. I don’t need to make a habit of that! I had dinner at CB and still have $$ left from what I didn’t spend at the service plaza “campsite”. This parking lot ‘camping’ is a lot like anchoring out for the night without the moon on the water panache.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Finished the segment ending uneventfully at Wabasis Lake Campground. The route was a bit longer than originally planned because I added some miles by taking the I66/I81 route out of the DC area and then by going cross country from Sandusky to Toledo. I did the former to stay on major interstates and avoid cross country with this rig in the DC area and the latter to enjoy being off limited access highways. I enjoy cross country so much more. Anyway this second day was 250 miles for a segment total of 700 miles. I quickly settled into the first of my 2 sites. I’m to be in an electric only site for 2 nights then moving on Saturday onto a full hookup site for 4 nights. Though generally located in my old stomping grounds of 30+ years, I had never been to this Kent County Park. It’s very nice and the campground is very pleasant – generally about 20 miles NNE of downtown Grand Rapids.
Thursday afternoon brought a short visit at the campground from my brother Ron and SIL Gert. Friday morning I drove into Greenville to reprovision the motorhome groceries. That was followed Friday with a visit at their home and a home cooked meal. Delicious meal and nice to catch up again. Last time I saw them was in late Jan or early Feb 2019 in Cortez, FL when my boat was ‘on the hard’ (blocked up on land) post purchase but pre launch.
Saturday afternoon, I was invited to Gun Lake for a fish fry with nieces Joan, Sue and spouse and nephew Bob. They have adjoining cottages on Gun Lake about a half mile from Yankee Springs State Park. Gun Lake is about 25 miles south of downtown Grand Rapids. Unbeknownst to me until then, daughter Deb was staying for a couple of nights in her motorhome at the State Park (I thought she was in Grand Haven) so she was there as well. Sue’s daughter and family as well as some neighbors were also there. The afternoon was spent visiting and the kids went riding, tubing and water skiing on the flotilla of pontoon and speed boats as well as jet skis. A neighbor furnished some Alaska caught salmon. I’m not sure where the sea bass and the blue gills came from. Besides pan fried blue gills, the salmon and sea bass were divided with half smoked and half grilled and those were subdivided into portions done with lemon or herbs or spices; a veritable potpourri of offerings from the sea. The table was filled out with an assortment of salads, salsa, breads, fries etc etc. Must have been 20 or more people there. Needless to say, it was past 9 pm and long past my bedtime 🥱😴 before I got back to camp.
Returning to campsite I found a note in my door indicating I had missed a visitor, Rick Ruiter. I knew he was around and might stop by but not when. Rick is a retired Kentwood police officer, one of many I knew from my days at Kentwood Natl Bank. Used to have lots of fun with those guys. My girls remember Rick especially. One great Saturday afternoon decades ago, we were anchored with our boat by the Grand Haven State Park just sunning, relaxing and swimming off the stern. In the distance a swimmer had broken from the larger number of swimmers at the beach and was heading towards the boat. It turned out to be Rick who had recognized the boat so he came aboard for a brew. I do know that in his retirement (I’m betting it’s an active one) from the force, he travels the country some driving a charter bus load of folks from a retirement home or delivering new fire trucks to various FDs.
It was years later that I learned, with it finally sinking in, that Rick and my son in law Jon‘s father from Massachusetts were brothers. Then Jon told me that his aunt Mary knew me in high school. I had no clue. I had jumped ahead a grade in high school and between a shortened tenure and a huge class (guessing 3 or 4 hundred) I didn’t know many kids. I later figured whoshe was, and as slow as I am, then figured out that Rick and Mary were brother and sister. I think Mary gets her frequent camper miles at the various Lake Michigan State Park campgrounds. Small Dutch world. Sorry I missed you, Rick.
Did a little more grocery shopping on Monday and will do laundry on board tomorrow (Tues) before breaking camp Weds morning and heading further north to find a place for the Fourth of July.
Took leave of South of the Border Campground mid morning and after a 1/4 mile crossed over into North Carolina. It was a dismal day with frequent showers and nearly constant drizzle. And it was cold. It didn’t even get to 70 degrees today. The only thing of interest was just south of the VA border. Cruising along at about 67mph when there was a sudden major jolt and push to the side of the road. No bow waves from a passing truck. As suddenly as it appeared, it stopped. I figure it must have been a severe micro burst. Then on the news this evening the weatherman reported a verified small cold weather tornado this afternoon in that area and about that time. Who’d a thunk it?
I was going to stay the night at the Cracker Barrel in Emporia VA but I wasn’t tired so I left and headed to a CB about 50 miles further north – off I295 east of Richmond. Means a shorter run tomorrow to Bull Run Park Campground a few miles from daughter Vicki’s house. 😇😄
Thursday, June 18, 2020
Well that was a mistake! I said it ‘means a shorter run tomorrow’. In miles that was true. In time, not so much. Since it was going to be a short day, I stopped at a Blue Beacon. For those of you who don’t frequent truck stops, Blue Beacon is a nationwide truck wash. Having driven thru days of drizzle and rain the rig was really dirty and today was a nice sunny day. The rig needed to be washed and there was only one truck ahead of me (plus the one in the bay). After being attacked by 4 guys with pressure washers and then completely rinsed with RainX, the MH and car came out shiny and ready for the day.
It was but 10 miles or so back on the road and the traffic came to a standstill on I95. Stop and start, mostly stop, for 5 miles and nearly an hour. By the time I got to “the spot”, whatever happened was cleared and I never got to see what caused the delay.
Nearing DC, it was again slow going cross country to Bull Run Regional Park and Campground. Have been here many times. The park is huge and contains in one corner 150 wooded campsites many of which are full hookup. The campground is 2 miles from the park entry. I tried to get a site thru their reservation vendor, Reserve America. What a disaster. No availability and the campground just opened up from COVID19 2days ago. So I called the on site office for the campground and they got me a full hookup site for 5 nites. Arriving here, I’d guess about 20% of the sites are occupied though I’m sure it will get busier at the weekend.
I went to Jon and daughter Vicki’s for supper. It was also my youngest grandson’s, Charlie, 22nd birthday. He came home from Univ of Oklahoma for spring break and due to COVID19 hasn’t been back. Unfortunately he only packed for a short spring break. Granddaughter Juliana was also there having not returned to Univ of VA from spring break. She, at least, was close enough to be able to drive back and pack up more clothes. Jon has not been overseas since early Jan and has been working from home. Vicki has had plenty of company at home while recuperating from cervical surgery.
Friday June 19, 2020
Sunny morning and did a badly needed grocery shopping. Afternoon – monsoon time. So much water!!! Flood warnings issued. Campground roads had 4-5” standing water. Motorhome did NOT float away. 😅😅😅😅
Today was a no travel day. As mentioned in my last blog post, the ride height of the motorhome wasn’t level. Last Friday Savannah Freightliner diagnosed the problem as a failed air height leveler and ordered the part. I showed up for my appointment at 9 am this morning and by 2 pm the part was installed, adjusted and tested by a test drive.
I also had a failure of the entry step to extend or retract. This item needs to function as it is just shy of a three foot distance from the MH platform to ground. Too far for an old man to jump down and/or hoist himself up frequently. So after leaving the Freightliner shop I drove 5 miles to a Camping World. The service manager thought it was probably the step motor and crawled under to take a look. The motor was located in an area between the steps and he was unable to see the part number. He warned me that they probably did not have the replacement motor in stock. He then went back under the step with his cell phone and pointed it towards the motor and snapped some pics. One of the was clear enough to show the part number and, my lucky day, they did have a new replacement motor.
So I disconnected the car (again) and the mh went to a service bay. Out with the old motor and in with the new. It also needed a new control board. Don’t know if the control board fault blew the motor or vice versa but with both replaced, I now can get in and out like a normal person and not put on a show. Yay! Since it was now after 5pm and a little late to start a travel day, I drove the whole 2 blocks to the Cracker Barrel and again took advantage of their corporate hospitality and stayed the night.
Tuesday June 16, 2020
I left at a reasonable hour heading north. Overcast and cool – months since I’ve seen temps in the 60s. Actually felt quite chilly. Still not sure where I was heading today. I had thought about heading towards Charleston and then Myrtle Beach but as I drove I started thinking about the side trip I made on Saturday to Beaufort. It was a totally different town than the one I saw just months before while slipped at the marina. Coming by road, the town looked like so many other towns. Coming by water was so much different. The only view one had was a vibrant marina in the heart of historic old downtown. Saturday I even walked the marina and it didn’t feel the same – the sense of ‘belonging here’ was absent.
So as I was driving I thought about it. Am I trying to recreate my boating itinerary by going next to Charleston and then Myrtle Beach and then…? I’ve been to those places in a way I’ll never do again and would revisiting live up to the memory or be a flop like Beaufort was? By the time I95 intersected US-17 which headed to Charleston I had made up my mind and continued north on I95 and to new adventures. Oh, I’m sure I’ll see many of the same places I’ve seen before but in the context of prior road travel and I won’t compare them to the memories of a great water adventure and exploration.
I put on about 200 miles and stopped early for the day. I am SOB. No, not that. I’m at Pedro’s South of the Border campground. It’s a kitschy complex consisting of a fuel stop, restaurants (4), hotel, souvenir shops, miniature golf and other kiddie attractions and a campground – heralded for a hundred miles north and south on I 95 by equally kitschy billboards every mile or two (literally). It is located right at the SC/NC border. The campground however is a first rate overnight stop. Level paved or gravel long pull thru sites with full hookups, 30/50 amp svc and gated access and pool privileges at the hotel. Have probably stayed here 10 times over the years.
There’s an advantage traveling as I do, without plans, and that is flexibility on dates, routes etc. There’s also a disadvantage and that is when you actually want to be somewhere at a specific time – that decision is usually late and making reservations is difficult. Now that I know where I’m not going, I can plan the time for where I will be going and that is to visit daughter Vic and family. Of course the reservation service for the nearest campground to her shows no availability (it’s a big county park). This has happened before and so I called the actual campground and spoke with the ranger. They still had some sites available from the allotment held for non reservation drive ups and the ranger was able to put together a stay for me with only one site move (where you have to change sites during your stay – another advantage to being flexible). Woot woot!
I arrived in FL around mid-November 2019 heading southbound by boat and today I finally put FL in the rear view mirror of my motorhome and heading north. Along the way had a wonderful 2.5 month stay in the Keys and a 5 week Covid19 stay in Marineland. I watched my crew say goodby (temporarily I hope) as she resumed her full time lifestyle in her motorhome. I bought a car and a motorhome, moved off the newly for sale boat and onto my motorhome and said ‘sayanara’ to FL, for now.
This is going to take some getting used to – 128 miles in under 2.5 hours driving time using probably 15 gal of diesel. By boat that would have been 2 full days of 6-7 hours each and burning a total of 110 gal of diesel.
The rear drivers side of the motorhome is sagging a bit so I stopped at Freightliner of Savannah where they diagnosed a faulty air height leveling valve. They need to order the part to be installed on Monday so I needed to stay in the area over the weekend.
It was late and I couldn’t find a campground opening for the weekend so I accepted Cracker Barrel’s invitation to the camping public to stay overnight on their parking lot. It was a very secure and quiet spot shared by 3 motorhomes. The downside is the narrowness of the parking slots means you don’t extend your slide outs. The upside is price. $0.00 —- vs $100-$125/nite or more for a marina slip.
Saturday I called around a bit more and found a nice campground about 10 miles away. Full hookups, level site with concrete patio, pool, lake etc with availability for Sat and Sunday night. So the slides are out, the AC is running on park power vs generator and I’m comfortable. It’s a fairly short drive by car from the campground to Beaufort SC. Town looks different (not better) arriving by car than by boat.
So I’m a landlubber again. It’s been nearly a month since I last posted and a lot has happened. I’ve closed on and taken possession of the AllegroBus motorhome. Daughter Deb left on her motorhome for parts north – she needs to keep a doctors appt. I moved the MH from Tampa to Jax and took the campsite Deb vacated the day prior.
And then I started packing my stuff on the boat and began the many trips, over days, from the marina to the campground. Pack up 4 tubs of stuff, unload off boat onto a dock cart, pull/push dock cart down the docks to the parking lot and load tubs into Jeep, drive Jeep to campground, unload and then put stuff away on the MH, drive back to marina, find an empty dock cart and take it to the boat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Did I say that each day was hotter and more humid than the prior? On my second to last load, I collapsed hauling the dock cart from the boat to the car. Cart overturned, my belongings all over the dock with some apparently sunk. Some people came to my aid and put me in my car. Then they reloaded my stuff and hauled it to the car and loaded it for me. I was driven to the campground where they unloaded the stuff onto the MH. I drank a lot of fluids with some hydration pills mixed in. I felt horrible and had some breathing issues for days. I pretty much stayed in bed for 5 days starting to feel incrementally better the last 1.5 days. I knew I was feeling better when I finally felt like going out for dinner – though I probably shouldn’t have gone.
Finally back in business, I resumed packing, loading and moving and finished the job. I was officially off the boat moved back on terra firma. I spent a couple of days aboard cleaning up. I met and made arrangements with a recommended Captain. He and his wife will do a deep clean of the boat in and out. He has 5 other boats in the marina ‘in his care’. He’ll clean the sea strainers (needed frequently in the nutrient rich warm waters). He’ll also turn on the AC etc the day before any showing. We went over the idiosyncrasies of the boat. When a sea trial is required for a buyer, he’ll run the boat since I won’t be around. He’ll also take it out the day prior to sea trial to make sure all is running well for the next day. In the event of storm watches/warnings etc. he, in conjunction with the marina staff, will put out the rest of the fenders and double, or more, tie more lines.
I also spent the past week learning more about the motorhome. There’s nearly as many switches as there were on the boat and you don’t want to be trying to find one while going 65mph. Today I moved the motorhome about 30 miles north to a regular RV park. The one I had been at did not have a dump station for grey and black water and this park is full hookup. I’ll be able to test dumping here as well as the washing machine. I’ve found a problem with the entry step which has stopped going in and out so I’ll troubleshoot that as well. I also added to my checklist to be sure the parking brake is off the Jeep before I tow it. Old habit is to start a tow with a slight turn to the right and then the left so I can see the car in the mirrors as well as the camera. I noted in my mirrors that the rear wheels of the Jeep were locked up on the gravel parking lot. I figured I had done something wrong setting the vehicle transmission for towing (only my second time) and it only took me 10 min to figure out I had accidentally engaged the parking brake. Too many things to learn all at once!
In a couple of days, I should be ‘on the road again’.
As I write this, it’s been 12 days since I arrived at the Marina at Ortega Landing, Jacksonville, FL. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind.
My crew consolidated her vehicles by getting her motorhome and Jeep first moved to the parking lot here at the marina. Then came the task of packing her clothes, sheets, pillows, blankets, toiletries, food and dog stuff and moving it off the boat, carting it to the motorhome and moving it on and putting it all away. She then moved her motorhome to a nearby campground.
We took several trips to look at a number of motorhomes for me. I saw one about 100 miles away that was of interest, for sale by owner. It needed some work but was nice and realistically priced. I calculated the cost to fix, mentally split it, and made an offer. The offer was better than 97% of asking. That’s when the seller told me he couldn’t take the offer since he had received a call from someone (a stranger) in North Carolina who was interested and who wanted to drive down to FL to see it by 11am the following day. The seller said he didn’t know if the prospects had even left NC yet but he felt an obligation to show it to them. Apparently he didn’t feel the same obligation to me – who was actually already there, who had actually called first, who had actually already inspected the coach and made an offer, etc. Or maybe the seller wanted to play my offer against this stranger, several states away who might or might not have left, who might or might not show up, who might or might not like the coach and who might or might not offer, have money or good credit to finance? Seller told me he’d call me the next day if the guy didn’t show up and buy. I apparently was second choice. The seller actually watched a real buyer who made a very good faith offer drive away!
That evening I decided I wasn’t going to buy the rig because I didn’t think I could trust him. I Imagined being at a closing with $ in hand and the seller getting a call from some Nigerian prince offering $millions and the seller telling me the closing was delayed to see if the prince wired the funds. It was satisfying when the seller called the next day, told me that the NC folks came but did not make an offer and so he, the seller, was going to take my offer!!! Before I hung up I reminded him that he turned my offer down and had watched me drive away. Apparently there’s still some work to do improving the gene pool.
Back to the drawing board. And it was worthwhile. Another overnight trip A few days later found us looking at a rig in Orlando and then another one just south of Tampa – within a few miles of where I found my prior Winnebago. After an afternoon looking in all the crannies, test drive etc. I bought myself a new home! A Tiffin Allegro Bus 40QSP. The dealer needs to replace the tires, replace an awning motor, order a new dual pane window and install to replace one that has fogged between the panes and fix some other minor issues. Then it will be taken to a nearby CAT center (even though a Cummins) where they will pull samples of all the current oil from engine, trans and generator for analysis, then change out all oil, coolants and filters and check and replace any belts and/or hoses showing wear. I expect to take delivery after Memorial Day.
With that done, I need to buy a car. Time to pull the motorhome magazine towing guides to see which cars, which models and which years can be towed with 4 wheels on the ground (toad). I once towed with a tow dolly and will never do that again. The guides also tell you any special instructions for the various toads – like this one can’t be towed faster than 60mph or that one needs to be started and placed in drive for 5 minutes every 5 hours etc. The maker that has the most towable models and has been fully towable since the ‘80s and has no speed or distance/time restrictions is Jeep. And that’s what I went looking for.
I found and really liked a 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4WD. Called to make sure major franchise dealer was open for business due to COVID19 and said I’d be there in 2 hours to see a specific vehicle. Arrived on time and the Jeep was buried/‘parked in’ in the middle of the lot. They got access to it only to find out that not even the interior lights would come on. Battery flat dead. They brought out a mobile charger but it didn’t work. They brought out the wimpiest jumper cables I’ve ever seen and tried to jump it from the next car which was running but the Jeep wouldn’t turnover. Immediately next door was a PepBoys. Their paved lots adjoined. I suggested to these wise people that they get a new battery next door. They looked at us like we were nuts and said, ‘we’d need to drive it over there so they can replace it but we can’t drive it there till it starts’. Walk??? Where do these people come from? Apparently slimed out of the same gene pool as the motorhome seller. Two hours standing in the hot FL sun maintaining social and gene pool distance and we left without ever seeing the Jeep start and move so much as one inch.
I got an email during the night from my crew who found a ‘sister’ Jeep for sale from the same franchise but in Orlando. So we called at 9am to be sure it was available and they were open, told them which vehicle we wanted to see and that we’d drive there and be there before noon. Arrived and…guess what… it wouldn’t start. This one didn’t have a battery in it and they hadn’t managed to get one during 2 hour drive. Apparently the ‘main office‘ has parts contracts with certain suppliers and this battery is a sealed AGM and their suppliers didn’t have one “but we think we can get one tomorrow!” Their personnel folks must take special courses to be able to hire these specialized no customer service people!
My crew and I went to lunch and while there I called a Jeep Chrysler dealer 5 miles away and gave them the VIN. Yes, we have that OEM battery for that vehicle in stock and it’s $243.00. Back to the stealer/dealer and advised them that their almost next door Jeep dealer has the battery in stock and did they want to go pick it up or would they like me to go get it. And if main office doesn’t like buying from this supplier, lower the price by that amount and I’ll go buy the battery.
To keep a story from getting longer (and there’s more idiocy) I now own a really clean 2019 Jeep Cherokee to tow behind the motorhome. And we got back to JAX by 9pm that night.
I’ve ordered from Blue Ox in Nebraska a tow bar and a base plate that needs to be attached to the front of the Jeep’s frame. I hope they arrive this coming Tues and that I can get the base plate mounted yet this coming week. If not, I’ll see if I can get the Tampa motorhome dealer to throw in a base plate install. I’ll wait to install the supplemental braking for the toad till the motorhome and toad are together.
Once I get the motorhome in JAX, then I can start moving myself off the boat and turn it over to the broker
Other thoughts. Getting sick of masks, gloves and wipes. At least the thin rectangular ones masks are more comfortable than the N95s
An absolutely beautiful day for a swan song. Bright sunshine, nice breeze, temps in the 70’s and a boat ride!
It was a long and tiring day. After 5 weeks sitting still, safe distancing at Marineland Municipal Marina, I had kind of forgotten how long the travel days can be and how tiring. Planned on an 8 am starting time but getting the boat ready to travel took a bit longer than usual. It was a 7.5 hr travel day covering 69 miles. Got a slip for showing the boat for sale on the C dock T Head (the cross dock at the end of the CDock). The Ortega River is fairly lightly used so it should not be rolly from passing boats. The marina is anticipating a regular slip availability and will 16.1move the boat to it when vacated.
I started this actual travel adventure April 1, 2019 and so I’ve been a traveling live aboard for 13 months and 4 days. Many times I spent multiple days in one port. What quickly comes to mind is a month in Baltimore, 3 months in the Keys and 5 weeks “safe distancing” in Marineland. Actual travel days were 70. Distance traveled by boat was 3,210 nautical miles or 3,694 statute miles. Average distance per travel day was 52.7 statute miles. Longest single travel day was 92 statute miles and there were two days during which the distance traveled was only 16.1 statute miles per day.
Looking back, it was about a month ago in Ft Lauderdale that I had ‘outside’ food and that was takeout supper brought back to the boat to eat. Prior to that was another takeout on March 19 from a COVID19 shuttered restaurant in Key Largo, also taken back to the boat to eat. The last actual restaurant experience was in Marathon before March 1. It has been incredibly quiet waiting out the stay at home order in the marina for the past 5+ weeks. Big benefit – stayed healthy.
Over the past week have made two trips with my crew. Rented a car and did a round trip single day trip to Miami to pick up crew’s car from storage. I95 and the FL Turnpike were pretty empty but still a long day. Stopped at an ARBYS drive through for some food. Not exciting.
Two days later took crew’s car to Tampa to pick up crew’s motorhome and bring it back. Another drive through. Ugh. All done in preparation of the crew moving off from the boat prior to putting the boat up for sale with a boat broker
So this past Weds was a little bit of a treat. Went to a nearby barbecue joint for supper. Wait outside standing on the sidewalk X’s until your turn, one at a time, to go in to order and pay. Then back outside and wait for your name to be called. Pickup is on the patio/porch entry on the side of the building. Big deal you say. Well it was. The restaurant is immediately next door to a large waterfront closed county park with lots of really well spaced out picnic tables. Buying dinner and not having to eat it in a car or boat! Felt really good!
My broker to be was able to get me a slip in my preferred marina. They’ve been full and not taking boats for over a month. I had had a slip reserved at a not as nice boat yard. This one has amenities that might help set the mood for selling the lifestyle. Also has the practical amenity of good floating docks which makes ingress and egress on to the boat really easy. The boat makes the one day trip next Monday.
That leaves me with a project. I have to find a home. One of the brands of used motorhomes I’m interested in had one for sale about 120 miles away. Also saw it this past week but not for me. There is another one in Phoenix and 2 in Las Vegas. I checked the engine serial numbers with Caterpillar and the Phoenix one had a serious engine issue (severe overheating) about 140 miles ago (probably why for sale) and CAT tech said ‘don’t go there’. The 2 in Vegas checked out fine. Last thing I want to do is don a mask for a whole day, climb on a plane and fly cross country only to find the coach doesn’t live up to the photoshopped pics or have other issues.
I’ve made some shopping preference adjustments and have found what seem to be really nice units of another brand – 3 within 150 miles. All three of these are Cummins and I checked the engine SNs with Cummins. One had an engine speed sensor issue some years ago but that’s not a big deal. One had a warranty repair of a rocker housing gasket and rocker pin but nothing in the several years since. Saw the first today and it actually would be acceptable. The cabinetry is too dark for my taste but acceptable. A bit warm and uncomfortable digging around a coach for hours in a mask and gloves.
Hoping to be able to see another one Saturday which based on pics, color etc is probably a better fit. Cummins reported zero engine issues with it. It’s only about 100 miles away. Fingers crossed!
Once I have the home and know if there is towing equipment on it or not, it’ll then be time to get a tow behind car (toad) followed by moving all my stuff off the boat and getting the boat detailed in and out. If you’re looking for a fine vessel and want to buy commission free, give me a holler – quickly😎🤪😃
Another long segment. Something went wrong with my mapping program and it dropped the final 25% of the route but picked up the destination when I stopped the program upon arrival. I’ve added a red arrow to show the completion. Total distance today was 82 miles and a lot of it was dodging pleasure boaters. Apparently the prevailing philosophy amongst the young is that this is vacation time and packing your runabout with 8 people or 20 people on your pontoon boat qualifies as social distancing cause they’re outdoors, drinking beer and playing loud rap. 🤬😡😠🤯
As mentioned, picked this Marina because it should be a good quiet (smallish) marina for a long stay. Not much housing nearby so there will be opportunity to walk a bit. A Publix with Instacart only a couple miles away. One block away is the ocean beach so if it’s not banned, walking the beach is a possibility too. This marina is about 150’ off from another county where beach walking has been banned so it is possible that this beach could be crowded by people banned elsewhere.
Got to sleep in Monday morning. What a treat! Moved the boat over one space to a vacant slip this morning so that I’m now close enough to the pump out cart without further moving. Their pump out hose wasn’t quite long enough. With no center piers between slips, it was easy to just loosen line and with the help of a little breeze, use the lines to just pull the boat across.
Spoke with the dockmaster. He attended a telephonic meeting Monday morning and believes the governmental marinas will be closed in FL, as soon as perhaps Tuesday. Reading comments on the various boating forums, it appears that there’s quite a flotilla heading north of boats kicked out of the Keys (government and private marinas closed), of boats leaving the Miami and Ft Lauderdale area and of boats leaving the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos etc. Miami – Dade and Palm Beach County have closed all marinas. Then Tuesday Miami – Dade rescinded or altered its order to allow marinas to handle commercial fishermen and recreational liveaboards. Palm Beach County apparently has its Sheriff Dept on the water preventing, ticketing and stopping boats that are transiting the ICW. Sure would be nice if local pols would think things through before shutting down/ reopening etc. Counties don’t have legal authority to shut down the ICW. That authority belongs solely to the US Coast Guard Commandant in charge of each particular area and has never been ceded to states or their subdivisions.
The dockmaster here knows we picked this as a ‘harbor of refuge’ in case of a long stay and I’m quite sure he’ll be able to make that happen. This morning (Tues) I told him we’d stay at least a week. The next harbor that we’d consider as a good one if needing to hole up for a week or two is three days travel away. So it has relieved some stress to believe that we can stay here if needed or prudent.
This afternoon changed out the big Racor fuel filters on both engines. The old ones, changed only a week ago in Islamorada, were black! Will keep changing them frequently as long as they keep needing it. The new little shut off valves installed at the filter to prevent fuel from draining out of the line worked perfectly. Both engines started right up😁😄😅.
While traveling Saturday, the generator quit right after starting. I was sure that the genny Racor, which hadn’t been changed, had fouled. So troubleshot that this afternoon as well. The genny has a separate fuel line from the tank and it turns out with all the work done in Islamorada, that line was shut off and never turned back on. That filter was also dirty and now has been changed to a clean one and the fuel line opened. Primed the generator (easy to do as it has a 12v pump) and the ginny started right up. Great insurance policy, if marinas are not available, to anchor out and use the genny for power, air conditioning, cooking, etc.
Enjoyed a great homemade spaghetti dinner last night courtesy of the Instant Pot. One pot spaghetti sort of sounds bad to me but it honestly is the best I’ve ever had. The pasta while retaining its integrity is actually infused by the sauce. Have tried a number of different versions and I like the recipe at Salty Marshmallow the best.
Used some time here in Marineland to track down a little leak in the engine room. There was some water accumulation in the bilge area below the port engine. It was water, not coolant. Crew investigated and found a little trace of salt running down one of the new hoses. It was a hose carrying sea water to a cooler. The hose clamp needed tightening. Retightened it as well as all other clamps on both engines. Also pulled the sea water strainers from the air conditioning system, from both engines and from the generator and cleaned the mud, grass, shells and other debris from them and reinstalled. Below decks has never been better!
Also had a leak in the vacuflush bellows for the main stateroom head. It’s part of the middle system that pumps stuff from the head to the holding tank. So I took it apart and installed a new bellows from the onboard store of spare parts. Ordered new O rings for the install as well. A crappy job! No pictures of ..it will be posted🤪. It still leaked so the next day I tore it down again, found a couple of bolts not tightened enough against the O ring and fixed that. The system, as it’s name implies, is vacuum driven and the loosened bolts allowed air to bypass the O ring, enter the system (and let stuff out) and without sufficient vacuum levels, the pump kept running and the stuff kept flowing downhill. Now it is fixed right and working the way it should.
I already had a new vacuum generator in the “cart” on the internet so not having to order it saved $1250.00 plus install time. The forward head vacuum generator bellows also leaked a few months back in Marathon and I had it fixed be a repairman from a local boatyard. Total bill for that fix, including new $80 bellows/rings was $950.00 and there was still a small vacuum leak he couldn’t find (it has subsequently disappeared). $1,250 parts for a new system plus something close to $900. in labor meant fixing it myself was a worthwhile savings.
The first time I had the Racors changed, northbound in Savannah, the total for that, including parts and oil change, from a Cummins authorized svc center, was $1950.00. And for that, their svc rep used a wrench to tighten a ‘hand tighten’ spin on secondary filter which then 10 hours of use later split along the crease created by the wrench and dumped 40 gal of diesel in the bilge. That necessitated a tow which ended up in a heavy grounding with the towing boat. Results of that ‘professional‘ authorized svc center job? Pumping out and dumping 40 gal of diesel from the bilge, gallons of detergent and hours of cleaning the bilge, a mechanic to troubleshoot and fix the filter problem, and two props being pulled and fixed. In all, about $2,800. Having Mr. ‘no name’ mobile boat mechanic two weeks ago install the new shutoff valves at the Racors cost maybe $150.00 including marine grade parts which now enable us, without priming the engines, to change the filters ourselves. Figuring how and then ‘doing it yourself’ is worthwhile both in money and getting it done right.
Have done two Instacart shopping trips since arriving here. All the talk of Amazon and Instacart strikes, NC, MD and now SC and much of GA being off limits and marina closings reports pouring in everyday are a little spooky. Pretty much have 2-3 week food supply on board but time to augment with another couple of weeks. Even now, somethings are hard to get. Soups, canned vegetables, canned meats, noodles, ground beef (the stuff that has a long shelf life and that you can easily throw together into a casserole without thinking) are limited or not available. So I thought it might be interesting to tell you how we manage it.
Ordering online, I find, is more difficult and time consuming than in person. I’m a visual person and can visualize my pantry, zoom down every aisle and “see’ what I need. Rarely do I forget something. Online, I don’t find the organization to be intuitive or even if it is, I don’t trust it. So I’ve learned to write my handwriting list as I go and hand it over to my crew to be done online. The boat is basically, for food purposes, divided into 3 areas.
First is the galley and fridge/freezer space. It is for food to be used in the near foreseeable future and for refrigerated items. Included in the first area is the port side of the outside cockpit for cases of water and soda. Second is the lower bunk in the third stateroom. It is the storage area for foodstuff that can be immediately ready for moving to the first space or for use. Food in this area is “clean”, that is it has been there long enough that any virus present on packaging will have died, i.e., it’s been on the boat for at least 72 hours before moving to immediate use status. The third area is the upper bunk in the third stateroom and the starboard side of the cockpit. That third area is the quarantine area where newly purchased food, water and soda, will sit for 72 hours for any virus present will die.
Any food purchased that is needed immediately or has to be refrigerated/frozen is taken out of the plastic bags on the dock and each can, package of bacon or whatever is wiped down on all sides before coming aboard and being put away. The empty plastic grocery bags from those items are segregated from the boat’s bag supply for 72 hrs. The dock cart used to bring the groceries from the shoppers vehicle to the boat is also wiped with soapy water before use and hands are gloved. Both myself and crew would be considered ‘high risk’ and see no reason to have these items which have been handled who knows how many times in a store and in a shoppers care come on the boat without some cleaning or thought.
You also have to deal with shortages. The last shop there was no ground beef available, a staple for so much. So a quick flip to buying prepackaged hamburger patties is a good substitute. Patties for burgers or combine a few to make 1.5# of ground beef for spaghetti or tacos. No canned chicken breast on the shelves. So had the shopper buy 5# of fresh chicken breasts which, after seasoning, went into the InstaPot to make some bags of chicken for casseroles or for making sandwiches.
The last few days have been very very quiet. Maybe see a person every 3-4 hours. Cones with yellow tape guard access to the dock. Access not denied but it’s an ever present reminder of “do you really need to get off your boat” etc. Glad to watch the market begin to bounce back (it’s nice to have satellite TV). Thinking of staying through mid week, like maybe to April 1st or so. More marinas ahead (north) have been reported as closed or closing. Working on getting a slip at another safe marina for a month a little further north. Should know 3/30/20.
A full travel day today. A good start just after 8 am and the travel leg was aided by zero bridge opening, light winds and calm water. A good portion of this leg is not subject to “no wake” zones so I was able to average nearly 13 mph for the almost 80 mile segment.
Again a pretty strong wind out of the East today so no running on the outside. At this point though the FL ICW isn’t too bad. There were probably 15 bridges today but only one required opening. The rest could be passed without waiting – just a brief slowdown as bridges are always “no wake’ zones. It was a nice sunny day with many sections of the ICW where I could just set the auto pilot and sit. There is less concentration of housing at this point but what there is is very nice to look at. Left before 9 am and ended at 4:30 pm including a half hour wait at the fuel dock for boats ahead of me. Took on 409 gallons of diesel. The Middle East oil war with Russia is paying dividends. Fuel was down to $2.15/gal. There was one fuel dock in Ft Lauderdale that was down to $1.89 for diesel but I didn’t want to make a separate special stop.
Have traveled 150 miles so far since leaving Marathon and just passed ICW S M 970 so there’s 970 more miles to Norfolk (S M 00). The intention is to go some distance north of Norfolk In the Chesapeake to find a location for marketing the boat this summer.