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The title of this post is a phrase I use when I’m in an area that is just so beautiful and/or interesting that anywhere I point my camera there is a potential “keeper” photograph. Yellowstone National Park falls well into this category. We had briefly visited the park on a couple of occasions in the past, but this was to be our first extended stay. We were parked just outside the north entrance in Gardiner and were close enough that my morning walks took me from the RV through town and into the park. Nice.

We saw way too much to cover in one post. This one focuses on the geothermal delights to be found in virtually every corner of the park and even many nooks and crannies outside it. It’s odd to be driving down the road and see steam and/or bubbling “water” coming out of the ground. It’s even odder when you just start taking it for granted. One thing we didn’t take for granted was just how pretty these things are. The colors can be spectacular. The bottom line, though, is that things can look pretty damn primal and dangerous. It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature, especially when she has very hot, very acidic liquids flying around.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

Artists Paint Pot, Yellowstone NP 6/18/19

Random thermal feature seen from the side of the road, Yellowstone NP 6/18/19

The Fountain Geyser, Yellowstone NP 6/18/19

We have a motto for when we are out and about having a good time. “No ER, No Bail” which means no matter how much fun we’re having we WILL NOT end up in the ER or jail. Our status on that is now 50 percent successful. <sigh> More on this subject later.

Our first stop after leaving Spearfish was Sheridan, WY. Sheridan is a nice little city sitting beneath the Bighorn Mountains. A really nice city center with lots of sculpture, great parks and recreation, and large enough to support decent groceries and shopping which we have learned to appreciate. We really liked it and will stop by again if we are ever in the neighborhood.

The major thing we did while here was visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. We really enjoyed the visit. The area is beautiful and the presentation of the events was interesting and well balanced between both sides of the events that took place. As a history buff I really enjoyed seeing the terrain. We walked the area of the “last stand” and drove the loop road that covers the overall territory. Fascinating. The Federal lands are actually in two areas connected by that road crossing Indian land which is used for grazing horses. Lots of horses. At one point a herd was crossing the road. What was apparently the alpha male blocked traffic (with help from one of his paramours) until everybody got across, then human and horse each went about their business. My horse-loving wife was thrilled.

When we checked into the campground, the nice gentleman recommended a loop drive through the mountains. It was only “90 miles” and would just take a “couple of hours”. Cool. We set out one day to give it a shot. 90 minutes, 60 miles, and a couple thousand feet of elevation later we came across a road sign that explicitly defined our path. We still had another 180 miles to go. Having been doing a lot of driving recently we noped right out of that, went home, and curled up with our books. That’s what I get for not doing due diligence. Google later told me it was just under a 5 hour drive. As an aside: the part we did do was very pretty.

Back to my lead in: one morning I was roused from sleep by major back pain that I, unfortunately, recognized. Kidney stones, and it was the worst I have ever experienced. That’s how we found ourselves in the Sheridan ER at 6:30 AM on a Saturday. We had an excellent experience, if I can say that considering the circumstances. Everybody was very supportive and helpful, although you know you’re in trouble when experienced nurses are looking at you with pity in their eyes. After judicious applications of opiates and various other drugs they sent me on my way, happy and relaxed. Apparently while I was drugged and numb I passed the stone, since I’ve been fine ever since. Cross the ER experience off of our checklist.

We left Sheridan and moved on to the thriving town of Reed Point, MT, population 185. Nice little town with a very funky saloon. We attempted to drive the Beartooth Highway but turned around due to weather. We enjoyed a nice lunch in Red Lodge instead. There was also a lovely walk to the Natural Bridge Falls, a trip to a real grocery store and some downtime. A good time was, once again, had by all.

Locations of fallen Native Americans, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 6/9/19

Locations of fallen soldiers, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 6/9/19

Native American Memorial, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 6/9/19

Reed Point, MT 6/15/19

Natural Bridge Falls 6/13/19

Natural Bridge Falls 6/13/19

Custer State Park, SD 5/25/19

As you can tell from our last post, we were still continuing our run of bad weather. Including here at Custer Gulch, we have set up camp 7 times in a row under wet, soggy, flooded, or even snowy conditions. Rain, wind and snow have forced us to change plans at least twice. And we are over it. Finally, here in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the weather broke.

The day after we arrived, we slogged through the snow to the truck and took off to explore. This area, near the town of Custer, is target rich for sights to see and things to do, so we started right in by heading to Mount Rushmore. The route we took was through Custer State Park, which we have been told is the top state park in the country. I don’t know if that’s true but if it is, I can see why. More on that later, but a nice windy drive through spectacular scenery and tiny tunnels led us to the monument. It pretty much speaks for itself, but I was bummed to hear that the old visitors center, including the dining room, was torn down and replaced with a more modern facility. I was really looking forward to seeing the location where a famous scene from the movie North By Northwest was set. It was not to be. Still, we had a good time on a bright, breezy day seeing this iconic place.

From there we went to the nearby Crazy Horse Monument. It was a very interesting sight with an excellent museum focusing on the Native community. This is definitely still a work in progress that will not be completed in my lifetime but impressive nonetheless. All in all, we had a pretty good day. And when we returned, all of the snow in the campground had melted! And it’s been nice ever since.

The next day we took a drive on the wildlife loop in Custer State Park. Takes about an hour to do. About 10 minutes in, we had already seen a couple of bison and deer. We were impressed. Little did we know that in the next hour or so we would see many deer and hundreds of bison, including some calves. It was great. Afterwards we had a nice lunch at the Blue Bell Lodge where I enjoyed munching a burger made of some of the unlucky bison. So it goes. Then up the Needles Highway, which is just another spectacular drive, and back to base. Lots of photos were taken and a very good time was had by all. We could get used to this.

The view from our window shortly after our arrival. This family was roaming the campground our entire visit. Custer, SD 5/23/19

Again, out our window within minutes of our arrival. Custer, SD 5/23/19

On the road to Rushmore. 5/24/19 Custer SP

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, 5/24/19

Crazy Horse Memorial, 5/24/19

Custer SP, 5/25/19

Custer SP, 5/25/19

Custer SP, 5/25/19

When last heard from, your intrepid travelers were poised to set off from Iowa to head west into South Dakota. We actually got an early start (for us) and headed down the road. Then the leveler alarm went off saying that our jacks were down. This is, to us, a known false alarm that in the past was warning us that the hydraulic fluid was low. And by low, I mean like a millimeter. It went off four times in 4 miles. Now, a false alarm is a bad thing in that a) it gets my adrenalin flowing and b) if we start ignoring alarms, it will be real one time. Not good. This issue was one of the repairs we had taken care of last week, so we were a bit perturbed. Back to Winnebago we went.

Winnebago was great. They took us right in and worked on the problem. Four and a half hours later we had a new hydraulic sensor and were heading down the road for real. Great.

The plan was to head about halfway across South Dakota, stop for one night, and then finish the run the next day into the Badlands for a couple of nights. We made it to our planned stop very late due to the delay, set up, ate dinner, and checked the forecast for the next day. Which was not good. Sustained winds of 25 mph, gusts to 40/50 mph, strong rain. Discretion being the better part of valor, we extended our stay, cancelled the Badlands, and hunkered down to let the weather blow through. This proved to be the right decision since the next day was like riding out a tropical storm in an RV. More good times, but these things are to be expected, hence our motto: “Adapt and Overcome”.

The day after the storm, we took a field trip to Mitchell, SD, home of the “World Famous Corn Palace”, which was pretty much as advertised. It’s a nice venue in a small South Dakota town with huge murals, inside and out, made of split ears of corn in various colors. Strange, but interesting. We enjoyed it.

Finally, the next day, we headed to Custer, SD, for an extended stay in the region. Check out the photos below for what we found upon our arrival.

Sometimes it feels like nothing’s easy.

The Corn Palace. All of the murals are made of ears of corn. Mitchell, South Dakota, 5/19/19

The Corn Palace. 5/19/19

The Corn Palace. 5/19/19

Some appropriate artwork we found inside the Corn Palace. Mitchell, South Dakota, 5/19/19

Our arrival in Custer. We’re from Florida. Sheesh. Custer, SD 5/23/19

We arrived at our first appointed destination, Winnebago in Forest City, Iowa, parked the RV on Sunday night and checked into the hotel in Forest City that allows pets. Winnebago has a great policy of pulling your RV into the service bay each morning and then pulling it out each evening so you can sleep aboard, but we did not take advantage of it. We felt that putting a cat into a carrier for 8 hours a day, 3 or 4 days in a row, would drive us, Nora, and all those around us crazy in no time. So the Super 8 it was for 4 planned days.

Shortly after we got to the room, I asked Patti if she knew where Nora was. We couldn’t find her. In a hotel room. A small hotel room. After a not insignificant search we located her in one of the box springs. She had crawled up into it through a rip in the liner. She eventually came out bearing a face full of dust. Good times.

We dropped Sybil on Monday morning with our long list of fixes. And we were now on our own in the thriving metropolis that is Forest City. Then we got a phone call that sort of changed our plans. Patti had a family emergency in Baltimore. Tuesday we decided that she should fly out there and we made the arrangements. (Side note: we had previously discussed this contingency and what we would do, so we had already done some planning in our minds. The fact that we were only two hours from a major airport helped, but we discovered the joys of buying a last minute ticket. Now there’s an unexpected expense for ya). Wednesday I drove Patti to the airport in the Twin Cities and then it was just me and Nora. In a hotel room. More good times.

Thursday I picked up the coach, which had actually been ready Wednesday but Winnebago graciously allowed me to leave it with them (plugged in, no less!) while I did the airport run. The plan was to hunker down at a Forest City Park right next to the Winnebago River until Patti returned, but a flash flood warning killed that idea. It worked out for the best, however, since I found a gorgeous site at Pilot Knob State Park just outside of town. I moved the RV, retrieved Nora from the hotel, and spent 4 nights there. It rained much less than forecast so I was able to take several nice walks. I also drove a few miles and checked out the Buddy Holly Crash Site where the plane containing him, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens crashed on “The Night The Music Died”. Youngsters: ask your parents. It was a nice walk and kind of interesting. These weird, off the beaten path things are our bread and butter.

Sunday rolled around and I repeated the round trip run to Minneapolis-St. Paul to retrieve Patti. The next morning we rose early, did our travel day preps, and hit the road for the long but easy drive to the middle of nowhere South Dakota.

Yeah, that didn’t happen as planned.

Our nice, lonely spot at Pilot Knob, 5/16/19

The tower at the second highest spot in Iowa, Pilot Knob SP 5/15/19

The trailhead to the site of the Buddy Holly/Big Bopper/Ritchie Valens plane crash. The day the music died. 5/17/19

The “view” from the trailhead. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) 5/17/19

The memorial, 5/17/19

The young pilot was added almost as an afterthought. 5/17/19

Goose and goslings. There were geese everywhere. 5/18/19

Well, it’s been an interesting 10 days or so. Our next stop was another nice Corps of Engineers Park at Redman Creek, Mo. Nice sites, if a bit uneven, but if you’re not a fisherman, there’s not much to do. I’m not a fisherman, but that’s okay since it rained for much of the time there. Laundry, trips to the big city (Poplar Bluff, MO) and catching up on reading were our days. It was nice. We even extended our stay by a day in order to avoid driving through thunderstorms. Better safe than sorry.

Then it was on to the true big city, St. Louis. We stayed at an RV park in Illinois that was very close to town (15 minutes to the Arch), but was also very wet. There had been so much rain/snow in the mid-west that the Mississippi River was in flood conditions from St. Louis to way up in Iowa and you could tell at our site. Water was over my shoes whenever I tried to get into our storage or work on our electrical/water. Good times. We did, however, have a good time in St. Louis. It seems to be a great mid-sized city with lots of interesting neighborhoods and cool things to do. We were only there for four nights and barely scratched the surface. We did the main touristy thing of walking about the Arch, but we also tried unsuccessfully to get into the free St. Louis Zoo (no parking), went to the City Museum, and visited the Cahokia Mounds. While at the mounds, I spotted a couple of archeology students on a dig. I spoke with them for a few minutes. Very interesting.

We can strongly recommend the City Museum for children of all ages. It is more of an experience than a museum. I mean, they suggest that you bring knee pads and a flashlight. Lots of crawling about, slides, and goofy sculptures. There is an outdoor area to climb around on and apparently the roof area, still closed until later in the month, is pretty awesome. There were lots of people of all ages on a Monday morning having fun.

Our pads imprint in the gravel. Canton, MO 5/8/19

We left St. Louis looking forward to a drier site. It was not to be. Our original plan for this leg had been to stay at what looked to be a very nice Missouri State Park, but they had notified us that it was now under the waters of the Mississippi, so we needed to change plans. We spoke to a park in Quincy, IL, but they were also under water. Bummer. She recommended a park near Canton, MO, so we checked it out, it looked good, and we made reservations. When we got there it turned out it was a new-ish park and we would be in a site near other trailers and 5th-wheels. Didn’t see any other big rigs, but OK. The ground was very wet/muddy, but that’s to be expected. When we leveled, our jacks sunk into the newly laid gravel, but we achieved level and spent the night. Next morning our front end had sunk over an inch into the mud and all of our jack pads were sunk well below grade. It was time to get out of Dodge, if we could even raise the jacks at all. Fortunately they came up and we managed to get out of there without too much more drama, although spinning the rear wheels of a 33,000 pound vehicle was a first. It was a worrisome experience, but no harm, no foul, except for two very muddy vehicles. Our next place could take us early, so up the road we went. In the rain. At least the RV and truck got rinsed.

The Gateway Arch from across the river. St Louis, MO 5/4/19

The Gateway Arch, St Louis, MO 5/5/19

The Arch, St Louis, MO 5/5/19

Note the significant flooding. There’s a road down there. The Arch, St Louis, MO 5/5/19

The flooded Mississippi. St Louis, MO 5/5/19

Crawling around at the City Museum. St Louis, MO 5/6/19

Archaeologists doing their thing. Cahokia Mounds, IL 5/6/19

Tallest US mound in the background with a stockade wall segment in the foreground. Cahokia Mounds, IL 5/6/19

Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, 4/26/19

After leaving SE Alabama, we headed to an RV park just SE of Huntsville near the Tennessee river and Guntersville Lake. It was lovely, but we didn’t do much … took a walk in the woods, washed the truck, etc. We then moved on to the Natchez Trace State Park in Tennessee. Located about midway between Nashville and Memphis, it is a really pretty park with lots of boating/fishing and what looks like a lot of good hiking. We didn’t get to do much hiking since we took in a couple of local attractions, the first of which was the home of the coal miners daughter, Loretta Lynn’s Ranch. Really.

Located on a beautiful chunk of land, it is a very pretty place. We saw horses grazing in a field full of yellow flowers, a somewhat cheesy simulation of a coal mine, the outside of a re-creation of her childhood home and the exterior of her mansion. We did not spend the bucks to take a tour of the houses or the 18,000 square foot museum. We wandered a bit, then took off. As a side note, our Garmin GPS seemed to like to route us down a gravel road on the way out. Interesting.

The next day we took a field trip to the Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park. For two thousand years or so there was an advanced Indian civilization living in the midwest. Much like the Mayans did, they left behind large earthen mounds, almost certainly for ceremonial and/or astrological reasons. An excellent example of these complexes is found at the Pinson site. We wandered the museum, climbed a mound to a viewing platform on the second highest mound in the US (72 feet, the highest is near St. Louis), and took a nice walk through the grounds. It was very cool and informative and I’m glad we went.

As a side note, this was our first stop where we had no TV signal and no streaming-capable cell service, although we were able to surf/get email as long as we were patient. Hey, we’re retired and in no hurry. We spent several pleasant evenings reading and being mellow. How old school.

Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, 4/26/19

Pinson Mounds, 4/27/19

Pinson Mounds, 4/27/19

Pinson Mounds, 4/27/19

Natchez Trace SP, 4/26.19

Nora just hanging, Natchez Trace SP, 4/26/19

To complete our exit from Florida, we spent a few nights at the Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park along the banks of the Suwannee River. We have stayed here before and it’s a great, mellow park with some good walking along the river. We didn’t do much here, mostly walked and did some chores. A major chore was to run over to Green Cove Springs, FL to visit our mail service and pick up some important items in person. Getting mail while living on the road needs to be planned and physically receiving it can be difficult. Most of the time we have them scan and then shred our mail, but we had received a debit card and decided to just go by and pick it up ourselves. We made a day of it and took a nice drive across NE Florida.

Otherwise we just enjoyed the beautiful weather. I took a couple of walks along the Florida Trail but didn’t get any biking in. I tried to get some photos of the Spanish Moss in the campground but the only evening I was free at the appropriate time (for that good evening light) it was very overcast. Maybe next time.

We have found that three days at a location is just not enough when you need to actually live your normal life at the same time. Groceries, banking, and all of the other “normal” activities take up time. We are currently heading to an appointment in Iowa but once we clear that we’ll be slowing down. There’s a lot of roses out there to smell and we plan on taking the time to do so.

Almost that good light. Stephen Foster SP, 4/16/19

Backwoods campsite, Stephen Foster SP, 4/16/19

It’s nice to be walking real trails again. Stephen Foster SP, 4/17/19

Spotted on the trail. It was still so cool that he didn’t move as I approached, knelt down, took the photo, and walked away. Stephen Foster SP, 4/17/19

Nora is adjusting well. That’s her seat. Stephen Foster SP, 4/17/19

 

The 1st of our many new homes, Wickham Park, Melbourne FL, 3/18/19

Yesterday we finished up packing the RV, pulled it out of storage, and set it up at our site in Wickham Park, our home for the next 3 weeks.

We are now full-time RV’ers.

Holy crap.

We’ve been considering doing this for almost 8 years, planning it for 6, and, since my retirement almost a year ago, implementing the plan. We’ve been busy scanning a lifetime of photos and documents, giving away or selling most of our belongings, and trying to figure out how we will fit the 10 lbs of our stuff (clothes, kitchen, gear) into the 5 lbs of available space on Sybil. We seem to have succeeded, but only time will truly tell. Now it’s time to execute the plan.

Waxing philosophic for a moment, this is obviously a huge change and challenge for us. It wasn’t easy disposing of a lifetime worth of stuff but the difficult decisions have been made. It was easier than we thought. Now we face the reality of living in (very) close quarters with each other pretty much 24/7. The reality of not being quite sure where we’ll be next week/month/year. The reality of needing to find a place to stay when we do decide where to go. The reality of closely monitoring the weather in case we need to run away or hunker down. The reality of dealing with significant obstacles while on the road. It will be a lot more work than simply hanging around the house. We understand all of this and believe we’re ready to embrace the new lifestyle we are throwing ourselves into. Again, time will tell.

On the other hand, we anticipate great rewards as a result of this choice. Beautiful scenery. Interesting people. Adventure. Swashbuckling.

OK, maybe not that last one.

We are pretty excited to be heading out finally. We will miss our most excellent friends and family, but it’s never been easier to stay in touch and have them share our journey. Some of them we may run into out there on the highway. Others not until we swing by wherever they may be. We’re never farther than a cell call or internet reach out away.

In the immortal words of the great scholar and author Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel: “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”.

The view from our home. Thanks to the Bradys for the gift that keeps on giving…quality rum. Wickham Park, Melbourne FL, 3/17/19

It has been sort of a tradition of ours to welcome in the New Year by camping with our great friends, the Bradys. Knowing that we will be hitting the road full time in 2019 and not 100 percent sure when we will return to the Florida area, we made reservations back in February at Alafia River State Park. Yup, 11 months early and we barely got sites. Welcome to camping in the winter in Florida.

Hiking up a hill! Alafia River State Park, 12/28/18

Alafia is a very nice place. Large and widely separated sites made for pleasant camping. Its specialty is mountain biking. In Florida. Where the highest elevation in the state is 345′. Fun fact: that’s the lowest highest elevation of the 50 states. The park is on the site of an old phosphate mine and it really did have a whole pile of biking trails, as well as many equestrian trails and a growing number of hiking ones. It’s strange to walk a ridge in Florida with steep drop-offs on each side, but there you go. I rode most of the green biking trails as well as a blue. A couple of highlights were:

  • Slamming on my brakes to avoid hitting a boulder. The boulder then got up and walked away. It was a gopher tortoise.
  • Discovering that the “water resistant” feature of my handlebar bag is only valid if it’s completely zipped closed. I rode off the side of a bridge into a stream. iPhone and $1800 camera both got wet. Fortunately, only my pride suffered any significant damage.
  • The blue trail was fun, with a bit of a pucker factor from my perspective, until I caught up with a family with small kids. Then it became a slow ride in the woods (no place to pass).

We had a great time and an enjoyable New Year’s Eve with our friends. We also accomplished some chores on board the rig, but the main task I had hoped to accomplish didn’t get done. I wanted to test our dry camping abilities by running on our batteries only in order to see how we do without electric hookups. We are almost a fully electric coach (we have a residential fridge) and I wanted to set up our generator to auto-start if the batteries run low. It was very hot, upper 80s, and we were very active so we decided to run the AC instead of testing batteries. Maybe next time.

Then we tried to leave.

When I drove the coach to the dump station, Patti followed me in the truck. She immediately pointed out to me that our rear was riding very low, with our rock guard actually dragging on the ground. It was obvious that our rear air bags were not filling. Crap. (Actually, to be honest, we used other words to describe our feelings. For the sake of any tender ears out there, I’ll stick with “crap”.) We’re still under warranty so I got on the phone with Freightliner. Let the games begin.

Rather than writing a couple of thousand words, I’ll just sum up the next 75 hours with some bullets:

  • Tuesday afternoon (New Years Day): the roadside tech showed up. He was about what you’d expect for a tech on New Years Day. He and the Freightliner tech on the phone from South Carolina gave an initial diagnosis of a bad air valve. We weren’t convinced, but whatever.
  • Waiting for help. Alafia River State Park, 1/2/19

    The park rangers set us up in a very nice, paved and secure location that I was able to limp into. And there we spent the night. Dry camping. Our batteries held up great, the auto-start function works fine, and we are confident we can go without hookups when necessary. Lesson learned. (Also, be careful what you wish for.)

  • Wednesday morning: the tow truck driver showed up. The driver of the BIG tow truck. He started looking things over and fairly quickly made the diagnosis that the valve was OK, we had two blown airbags and zero lift in our rear suspension. Can’t be towed (too low), can’t be put on a low boy (we’d be too high), needs to be fixed in place. Oh joy.
  • By this time we were out of clean clothes, out of food and had several obligations the next day at home. Freightliner was overnighting the parts to Tampa, so we made arrangements to meet them at the coach the next day and we headed for home. (Here is where I’d like to send a shout out to the rangers and staff at Alafia River State Park. They totally took care of a couple of travelers in need and couldn’t have been more helpful.)
  • Next day I drove back to Alafia. Freightliner told me the parts weren’t coming in that day. I drove home. Crap.
  • Friday they called us and said they had the parts in hand and two hours later we were there. The tech installed the new parts and, after we had it all aired up, took some measurements and discovered the root cause of our problem. The ride height was out of spec (by 600 percent!) and had stretched the bags until they separated. At least we know. He made the adjustment and away we went. We now have 2 new airbags, a noticeably more comfortable ride, and the knowledge that my headlights work (we got home after dark for the first time).

This all may sound like a huge pain in the butt, and it was, but it was also a great learning experience under the best of circumstances. The coach was in a safe place (instead of on the side of some interstate), it was all under warranty, we discovered we can easily dry camp and we had no critical appointments or obligations that were impacted. At the end of the day, it was all good.

And the margaritas after we got home were all the more enjoyable for the experience!

Watching Notre Dame lose. Sorry Mike. Alafia River State Park, 12/29/18

This guy admired himself in my truck’s chrome for several days. Alafia River State Park, 12/29/19

Enjoying our reward. Viera, FL, 1/4/19