A Month in Gulf Shores, AL (November 1 – December 1, 2021)

On Monday, November 1st, we drove 226 miles from Livingston, LA to Gulf Shores, AL where we spent a month at Gulf State Park.  Our friends, Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt and Roxi and Tom Rykal, had arrived shortly before we did.  Todd and Tom helped guide Phil into our back-in site.  We spent the month in site #13, the same site as last year.  We had a beautiful view of the lake, although the wind off the lake sometimes made it too cool for sitting outside very long.  The Rykals were our next-door neighbors and the Ehlenfeldts were in our same circle, a stone’s throw away.

This was the fourth year in which we visited Gulf State Park for at least part of November.  It was also the second time we joined the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals for the full month of November.  As a result, we quickly fell into a routine that, although it didn’t include a lot of new experiences, was quite enjoyable.  Most mornings Jan went for long walks or bike rides, while Phil went to the Orange Beach Recreation Center to play pickleball for 2-3 hours.  Phil joined Jan for bike rides on the weekends when he didn’t have pickleball.  We saw lots of wildlife, including Lefty (a large gator whose nickname reflects his missing right foot), a baby bobcat and a snake. 

Most afternoons, we got together for a happy hour with the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals.  Our social group expanded to include Rob and Judy Crosson, who the Ehlenfeldts and Rykals had met last winter in Arizona, and Scott and Gail, Rob and Judy’s neighbors in the campground.  Although most days we just sat around and chatted, we sometimes used these get-togethers to play games, such as cornhole, LCR and Chase the Ace.

We joined the Rykals one afternoon for a trip to Flora-Bama to play bingo.  However, Sam, the bingo caller, spent too much time telling the same jokes we’ve heard many years before and only got through three games in 2 ½ hours.  We won’t be returning any time soon.

One day, Jan drove all the ladies to Fairhope for a girls’ day out and spent the day shopping and dining.  Phil got together that afternoon with Tom and Todd for a visit to the Big Beach Brewing Company.

Jan joined Beth and the Rykals one day to observe the release of a loggerhead sea turtle at the local beach.  The turtle had been rescued at Gulf State Park in August and had undergone rehabilitation at the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, MS.

Promptly at 8 a.m. on November 15th, Gulf State Park opened a link on their website to allow people to book reservations for the 2022-2023 winter months.  Phil clicked on the link exactly when it opened and submitted the completed form in 101 seconds.  Despite this, we were #261 in the queue and were unable to get either of our requested sites (#13 and #11) for next November and December.  However, we were able to reserve site #12, where the Rykals are staying this month but had decided to change sites for next year.  None of us know whether we will actually return next year but we have until August 1st to cancel our reservations.

At one of our happy hours, Phil mentioned that Jan makes great fried chicken and Tom said he loves fried chicken.  This led to plans to have Jan fry some chicken for Tom on November 16th.  As the story spread, the group for dinner grew to ten people.  Tom cut up two whole chickens and Beth provided some additional pieces.  Jan fried all that chicken using her cast iron skillet and two electric fry pans.  The other families provided assorted side dishes and desserts.  We had a delicious meal, sitting around tables set up in the Rykals’ driveway.      

On Thursday, November 18th, we rode with the Elhenfeldts to Fort Morgan, where we boarded the Mobile Bay Ferry to Dauphin Island.  Rob and Judy drove separately and brought their dog, Lucy.  The ferry ride lasted about 35 minutes and took us past numerous oil rigs.  Upon our arrival, we attempted to drive to the west end beaches but we were turned back due to continuing clean-up from Hurricane Ike that hit in early September.  Instead, we drove to the public beach in the middle of the island.  After walking along the beach and watching Lucy chase her ball, we headed to the Islanders Restaurant for lunch.  The food was very good but the service was somewhat slow.  After lunch, we rushed back to the ferry and arrived just as they were getting ready to pull out.  We managed to get the last available slot on the ferry.  After reaching the mainland, we stopped at Tacky Jacks Two.

On Saturday, we picked up Jason at the Pensacola airport for his weeklong stay with us.  We celebrated his 39th birthday (the day before) that evening.

On Sunday, we hosted the Rykals and Ehlenfeldts, diehard Green Bay Packer fans, to watch the Vikings – Packers game on our outside TV.  The game was very close. Phil was the only one happy with the outcome, with the Vikings winning by three on the final play.

Thursday, November 25th, was Thanksgiving Day.  We picked up Jarrod and Jess at the Pensacola airport and returned to our campground for the holiday festivities.  At 1 pm, we gathered on the field inside our circle for some games of cornhole.  We then moved to the Ehlenfeldts’ site for dinner.  The five couples, plus Jason, Jarrod and Jess, gave us 13 for our Thanksgiving meal.  We had agreed ahead of time what each family would bring.  There was plenty of food and quite a variety.  After eating, Jason, Jarrod and Jess left to check in at the condo where they would be staying for three nights.  When they returned, they joined us and the rest of the group around the propane firepit at the Rykals’ site.

On Friday, the kids came back over and headed off to rent some bikes for two days.  They then took off for a nearly 14-mile bike ride with Jan.  Phil had to stay behind to wait for the DirecTV technician to come fix a recurring problem we’d had with our satellite TV reception for nearly a year.  We got a new receiver and wireless video bridge but it took the technician over 2 ½ hours to resolve his installation issues.  When the riders returned, the guys helped Phil finish installing tire guards in our bike tires to provide protection from punctures.  Unfortunately, one of the inner tubes on Jan’s bike sprung a leak, necessitating a trip to WalMart for a replacement.

That evening, we picked up the kids at their condo and headed to the Beach House for dinner.  After dinner, we returned to the condo and played a couple of games of Farkle.

On Saturday, the kids rode their bikes over for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes.  Then, Phil took the kids up to the tennis courts and taught Jarrod and Jess to play pickleball.  With both being athletic, they caught on quickly.  Jan joined us and we all went for a 12-mile bike ride.

We then headed to Doc’s Seafood and the kids treated Jan to an early birthday dinner.  We each ordered seafood platters and all but Jan shared a tray of oysters on the half shell. 

After dinner, we stopped at The Wharf for some pictures by the Christmas tree.  Despite being stuffed from our meal, we stopped and picked up individual cheesecake slices at Hope’s Cheesecake for later.  We dropped by the condo to play Farkle but retired early due to our busy day.

We woke to our alarm clocks at 4:40 a.m. on Sunday.  We picked up Jason at 5:15 and drove him to the Pensacola airport.  We got back home at 7 am but had to leave again at 10:30 to drive Jarrod and Jess to the Pensacola airport.  We took it easy the rest of the day, although Tom, Roxi and Beth dropped by to watch some of the second half of the Packers game when Tom lost the TV signal at his rig.

On Monday, November 29th, we began packing up for our departure on Wednesday.  We gathered at the Beach House with the four other couples for one last happy hour, since three of the couples were leaving on Tuesday morning, and also to have another early birthday celebration for Jan.

Tuesday was Jan’s birthday so, after playing pickleball in the morning, Phil took Jan to Fairhope and Foley to do some shopping.  We then had Jan’s birthday dinner at Lambert’s Café, known for their “throwed rolls.”  We both ordered sandwiches, which came with sides, as well as “pass arounds.”  Throughout the meal, servers walked around the restaurant with these “pass arounds,” large pots of fried okra, fried potatoes, cabbage, and macaroni and tomatoes, and would give you as much as you wanted.  In addition, a server would walk around with a tray of huge rolls and would throw one to you if you wanted one.  The food was very good and, needless to say, we both overate.

14 Day Rush to Alabama (October 19 – November 1, 2021)

After remaining parked in Glendale, UT for an additional day due to extremely gusty winds, we headed off to Flagstaff, AZ on Tuesday, October 19th. This was our first of nine days of driving over the next 14 days, covering the 2,100 miles necessary to reach Gulf Shores, AL, where we will spend November.

 The entire 229-mile drive to Flagstaff was on US-89 and took us through mostly desolate, although scenic, country.  The winds had died down considerably but we did encounter an accident with a travel trailer laying on its side, possibly due to wind. 

When we arrived at the Flagstaff KOA Holiday, Phil went inside to register.  The clerk, who admitted she was new, gave him a map to site 88.  The drive to site 88 was somewhat harrowing.  The roads were very narrow and there were trees close to the road.  Getting up the road to site 88 required making a sharp left turn.  When Phil got part-way through the turn, he could see that site 88 was occupied.  He called the office and a different clerk told him we were supposed to be in site 166.  However, completing the turn by site 88 required Jan to hold a wooden sign out of the way and Phil had to back up partially to avoid low-hanging branches. When we finally made it back to the office, we were met by a workcamper in a golf cart who led us to site 166.  Although this drive was somewhat easier, it required pulling far out on the shoulders to make the turns.  Needless to say, we had already concluded that this one-night stay would be our only visit to the Flagstaff KOA.

On Wednesday, we drove 268 miles to Tucson, AZ where we spent two nights at the Tucson / KOA Lazydays Resort.  The drive, almost entirely on interstate highways, involved numerous long, steep descents as we went from Flagstaff (elevation 6,900’) to Tucson (elevation 2,400’).  The temperature when we left Flagstaff that morning was 34 degrees, compared to 85 degrees when we arrived in Tucson.

The difference between the Tucson KOA and the Flagstaff KOA was like night and day.  The roads throughout the Tucson campground were wide and the site was extremely accessible.  The Tucson campground had several unique types of sites available, including covered sites and K9 sites with fenced enclosures.

On Thursday, we explored Historic Fourth Avenue in Tucson.  This district, close to the campus of the University of Arizona, has seen better days.  In addition to numerous unique restaurants, there were retail shops that mostly appeared to cater to alternative lifestyles.  In midday, there were numerous homeless individuals outside these businesses.  We spotted at least six Lock Your Love sculptures on Fourth Avenue.  Sweethearts inscribe their names on a lock, place it on the sculpture, and deposit the key into the base of the sculpture as a symbol of eternal love.

After strolling the length of the district, we had lunch at Tumerico.  Jan had a Sonora Dog and Phil had Al Pastor Tacos.  We were surprised when we learned later that Tumerico serves fresh Latin vegan and vegetarian food.  We now don’t know what we were eating but it was very tasty.

On Friday, we drove 272 miles on I-10 to Las Cruces, NM where we spent two nights at Hacienda RV Resort.  The campground was very spacious and well maintained.  We had a huge pull-through site.  However, with no pool and few amenities, it wasn’t exactly a resort.

On Saturday, we visited Las Mesilla to do some shopping.  This village has a long history.  Thick-walled adobe buildings, which once protected residents against Apache attacks, now house art galleries, restaurants and gift shops. Mesilla’s most notorious resident, Billy the Kid, was sentenced to death at the country courthouse (now a gift shop) but he escaped before the sentence was carried out.  Jan had purchased some jewelry at one of the many silver studios when we visited Mesilla in 2016 and she was determined to find that shop again.  After visiting many of the silver shops, she finally found the right one, which had moved down the street.

On Sunday, we drove 289 miles to Fort Stockton, TX.  This was the longest drive we had done in a long time and, combined with a late start and losing an hour due to crossing a time zone, had us arriving at the Fort Stockton RV Park at 6 pm.  Since we were leaving early the next morning, we left the fifth wheel hitched to the truck overnight.

We got a very early start on Monday morning.  Jan needed to get some lab work done in Kerrville for a doctor visit later in the week.  Since she needed to be fasting, she got up early and left Fort Stockton at 7 am for her four-hour drive.  Phil waited another hour, until sunrise, before beginning his 233-mile drive to Ingram, TX, where we spent four nights at Johnson Creek RV Resort & Park.

Over the next four days, we had doctor and vision appointments, along with several medical tests.  Phil got the annual inspections done on the truck and trailer.  We made a trip to Fredericksburg to load up on our favorite sauces.  Phil also managed to drop in at Buckhorn Lake Resort a couple of days for pickleball.  On Tuesday, we purchased a couple of Townie bikes at a Kerrville bicycle shop.  Phil hadn’t had a bike since he abandoned his broken one on Mackinac Island in June.  Jan’s old bike was badly rusted by the salt air during our stay in Brownsville, TX two years ago.  Since the Townies are aluminum, rust shouldn’t be a problem.

On Friday, we drove 200 miles to Weimar, TX where we spent the night at Whispering Oaks RV Park. This was the first of four straight days of driving.

On Saturday, we drove 160 miles to Beaumont, TX and spent the night at Hidden Lake RV Park.  Our drive took us through the middle of Houston on I-10 at 12:30 pm.  We had made this drive in April on a Wednesday at 10:30 am and it had been very easy.  We made the mistake of assuming that it would also be an easy drive on a Saturday but we were wrong.  Traffic was very heavy and the challenge was compounded by lots of construction zones.  We were glad it was a short drive because the Houston experience left us exhausted.

Sunday’s drive was 219 miles and took us to Livingston, LA where we spent the night at Lakeside RV Park.  Nearly the entire drive was on interstate highways (I-10 and I-12) and, other than several construction zones, was rather boring.  After three straight days of driving, we were now only one more day of driving away from our month-long stay at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL.

St. George & Glendale, UT (October 11 – 19, 2021)

We had originally planned to spend the next four days at a campground in Bryce Canyon City, UT.  However, we checked the weather forecast while we were in Torrey and found that the nighttime lows for all four nights were in the low teens.  In addition, the forecast for one night called for up to three inches of snow.  We immediately began looking for warmer weather and decided to visit St. George, UT instead.  Unfortunately, St. George is right by Zion National Park and is quite popular.  Given the short notice, we were only able to find available campground space for two nights.  We were able to add the remaining two nights onto our next scheduled stop, in Glendale, UT.  The forecast for Glendale called for nighttime lows in the mid-20s, but that was better than mid-teens. 

On Monday, October 11, we left Torrey, UT and made the 250 drive to St. George.  The routing was rather frustrating because we had to drive north about 60 miles before turning south.  There were shorter routes available but, because of the mountains and winding roads, these were not selected for pulling our trailer by Phil’s GPS or our mapping apps. 

When we had been setting up in Torrey five days earlier, we heard a loud noise as we were extending the RV’s legs.  It sounded like metal breaking but we couldn’t identify the source.  Over the next few days, Phil kept examining the RV’s suspension but couldn’t find anything broken.  So, it was with some degree of trepidation that we pulled away from Torrey and began the drive.  Fortunately, we were able to make the drive without incident.  We still don’t know the source of the noise but, for now, we are breathing easier.

The front that was bringing the colder weather also brought strong winds.  As our drive progressed, the winds grew stronger and made driving more of a challenge.  We were glad to arrive at Desert Canyons RV Park in St. George before the winds grew even stronger. 

After a rainy night and strong winds that continued through the morning, we finally got out to explore St. George on Tuesday afternoon.  Our first stop was at the St. George Temple.  However, similar to the Salt Lake Temple, this temple was undergoing renovation.  Both renovations are primarily driven by the desire to make the temples earthquake-proof. 

We then visited Brigham Young’s winter home for the final seven years of his life (1870 – 1877).  We were given a tour of the house by a Mormon missionary and learned much about the man.  Brigham Young had led the emigration of Mormons to Utah in 1848 and served as the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 29 years.  He also served as the first governor of the Utah Territory.  He led the founding of the precursors to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.  Young directed the establishment of 350 settlements throughout the Southwest.  Young was a strong supporter of slavery, which he considered a “divine institution,” and of polygamy.  Although the variety of his marriages makes it difficult to know the exact number, recent studies have found 55 well-documented marriages.  All but about 19 of these “marriages” were simply “sealing” rituals, performed in an LDS temple with the purpose being to make possible family relationships throughout eternity.  He fathered 56 children with 16 of his wives.

We next drove around St. George’s historic downtown and had dinner at a restaurant in Ancestor Square.

On Wednesday morning, we prepared to make our 115-mile drive to Glendale, UT where we would spend the next five nights at Bauer’s Canyon Ranch RV Park.  Since checkout wasn’t until noon and the drive was relatively short, we took our time in getting ready to go.  However, at 11 am, we discovered that our rooftop satellite dish had not stowed.  The control panel was showing an “EL Motor Home Failure.”  We recalled that we’d had this issue some years ago and Jan had gotten a solution via Google, referred to as “EL re-calibration.”  The re-calibration involved multiple steps that were rather hard to follow.  After Phil made several unsuccessful attempts to follow the instructions, he did what he usually does when faced with technology problems; he turned it over to Jan.  After a couple more unsuccessful attempts, Jan figured out the mistake we were making and finally got the dish to stow.  We finished getting hooked up and were on the road shortly before noon. 

The drive to Glendale was mainly on a backroad highway with many sharp curves and steep ascents/descents.  We had stayed at Bauer’s Canyon Ranch RV Park five years ago and, although the sites are rather tight, the campground is conveniently located between Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.

The overnight low dropped to 25 degrees so we waited until late morning on Thursday before heading to Zion National Park.  This proved to be somewhat of a bad decision.  Upon arriving at the Visitor Center at noon, the parking lot was full and we needed to find parking in the neighboring town of Springdale.  After driving three miles into Springdale, we managed to find an empty parking space.  Parking cost $15 for the day and we then had to walk .3 mile to catch a shuttle back to the Visitor Center. 

Upon arriving back at the Visitor Center, we switched to another shuttle bus that took us on the scenic drive through the national park.  We first rode the shuttle to the final stop and hiked a short distance on the riverside walk along the Virgin River.  We then took the shuttle to the Big Bend stop, where we were able to watch hikers high above us on the Angels Landing trail along the rim of the canyon.

Our next stop was at the Zion Lodge where we had lunch.  We considered doing a hike but, given the dropping temperature and rising winds, we decided against it.  Our final stop was the overview of the Court of the Patriarchs.  Named for three towering figures of the Old Testament, these sandstone cliffs include Abraham Peak, Isaac Peak, and Jacob Peak.

The return to our campground was along the Zion – Mt. Carmel Highway.  This highway, which we had taken in the morning, connects the Zion Canyon with the east park entrance.  After taking a steep climb along numerous switchbacks, we drove through the 1.1-mile Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel.  This tunnel was built in the 1920s when large vehicles were less common.  One-way traffic is offered during daytime hours so vehicles up to 13’ 1” tall can drive through the tunnel while straddling the middle lane.

Our original schedule had us leaving Glendale on Monday, October 18, and driving 223 miles to Flagstaff, AZ.  However, as we started watching the weather forecasts for Monday, they showed winds of 25-35 mph with gusts exceeding 40 mph in Flagstaff, and similar in Glendale.  This would have made driving our high-profile RV very dangerous.  When the forecast remained unchanged on Saturday morning, we extended our stay in Glendale until Tuesday morning and cancelled our Monday night reservation in Flagstaff.  A subsequent wind advisory called for wind gusts on Monday afternoon up to 50 mph.

We spent Saturday at Bryce Canyon National Park.  Bryce Canyon was considerably less crowded that Zion had been earlier in the week, probably due to a noontime temperature of only 49 degrees and snow on the ground in many places. 

After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove the scenic drive.  Our first stop was at Natural Bridge where we enjoyed posing with the snow.

We then drove to Rainbow Point (elevation 9,115 feet) at the end of the 18-mile scenic drive and began working our way back.  We stopped at most of the overlooks before stopping for lunch at a very popular food truck.

We were unable to find an empty parking spot at Inspiration Point, so continued on to Paria View.  We then drove to Bryce Point and hiked the 1.5-mile rim trail back to Inspiration Point.  Although the scenery was spectacular, the melting snow made the dirt trail a very muddy, and slippery, mess.

After enjoying the view at Inspiration Point, we caught the shuttle to Sunset Point and Sunrise Point.  We then took the shuttle back to Bryce Point to retrieve our car.  On our exit from Bryce Canyon, we made our obligatory stop at the park sign. 

Torrey, UT (October 6 – 11, 2021)

On Wednesday, October 6th, we drove 209 miles to Torrey, UT where we had booked five nights at Wonderland RV Park.  Torrey is a small town in southeastern Utah that is three miles from Capitol Reef National Park.  It was drizzling as we prepared to depart Heber City and the rainfall became heavier as we got underway.  A few miles after we got on I-15 in Orem, the traffic came to a complete standstill due to a collision between two semis.  We sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for the next two miles.  Fortunately, the rain slacked off shortly after we got past the crash site.  Despite getting on the road by 9:30 am, we didn’t arrive at the campground until 3 pm.

On Thursday, we visited Capitol Reef National Park.  Having visited Zion and Bryce Canyon several years ago, Capitol Reef represents the fifth of our visits to the five national parks referred to as “Utah’s Mighty 5.”  After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove the 8-mile scenic drive.  Capitol Reef’s defining geologic feature is known as the waterpocket fold, essentially a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust that extends nearly 100 miles.

We had hoped to drive the unpaved Capitol Gorge Road to the Capitol Gorge Trailhead but it was closed to vehicular traffic, So, instead, we hiked about 1.5 miles along the road before turning back.

On our return trip on the scenic drive, we stopped at numerous pullouts and then turned up the 1.3-mile unpaved Grand Wash Road. 

Having developed quite an appetite, we stopped at the Gifford House for a couple of individual-sized pies.  The Gifford House was the heart of the small Mormon pioneer village of Fruita, settled in 1880.  The surrounding fruit orchards are a remnant of this community and, today, are the largest historic orchards in the National Parks system.

After spending a rainy Friday at home, we returned to Capitol Reef National Park on Saturday.  Our first stop took us on a couple of short hikes to the Goosenecks Overlook and the Sunset Point Trail.  The Goosenecks is where the Sulphur Creek carved out a canyon, its curving path resembling that of a gooseneck.  As the creek cut downward over time, it exposed different colored rock layers.

Our next stop was at the one-room schoolhouse for the children of the ten or so families of Fruita.  The schoolhouse was built in 1896 and continued in use through 1941.  The student’s desks were not attached to the floor so the building could also be used as a church meeting place, as well as for dances, meetings and other social events.

We then stopped to see the petroglyphs carved on the rock walls by Native Americans.

Our final activity for the day was a 2-mile moderately strenuous hike to the Hickman Bridge natural sandstone arch. 

On our return home, we stopped for a picture at the park sign.

Heber City, UT (Oct. 1 – 6, 2021)

On Friday, October 1st, we drove 229 miles to Heber City where we will spend five nights at Mountain Valley RV Resort.  We’ve stayed at lots of campgrounds with “resort” in their names but this one truly qualifies as a resort.  We have a huge pull-through site with a concrete pad that is double-wide and very long.  The resort has two clubhouses, three pools and six pickleball courts.

On Saturday, we drove to Salt Lake City for Jason to catch his flight back to Nashville.  His original itinerary had a 45-minute layover in Phoenix but the first flight was delayed.  By the time we reached Salt Lake City, the layover was down to 13 minutes.  Fortunately, Jason was able to get rebooked on a non-stop flight.  Although the new flight left an hour earlier, it would get him back to Nashville three hours earlier.

We spent the next couple of hours exploring downtown Salt Lake City.  We drove to Temple Square.  Unfortunately, the Salt Lake Temple has been closed since December 2019 for a 4-year renovation project.  The entire temple was surrounded by scaffolding.  We then walked up a steep hill to the State of Utah Capitol.  Upon returning to Temple Square, we had lunch at an office complex food court before dropping Jason off at the airport.

On Sunday, we visited Park City, UT and spent a couple of hours strolling along Main Street.  Phil had come to Park City to ski for four winters in the past but, since his last stay in 1985, things had really expanded.  There was still an over-abundance of art galleries and other shops catering to an upper-income clientele.  We checked out the listings at some of the real estate offices and found that most of the condos were listed for over a million dollars.  We stopped for a snack at the Wasatch Brewing Company and made some purchases at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company.

After leaving Main Street, we drove to the nearby Deer Valley Ski Resort.  The trees on the mountainsides were quite picturesque with their fall colors. 

When we had parked on Main Street, Phil was about to pay for parking at the meter but two people told him that parking was free on Sunday.  Phil attempted to pay it forward by advising another couple who were about to pay for parking.  When we got back to our campsite, we discovered a parking violation notice on our windshield.  Apparently, parking is not free on Sundays.  Fortunately, there was no fine for the first offence.

On Monday, we went to the Wasatch Mountain State Park and hiked the 3-mile Little Joe Loop and Lake Brimhall Trail.  Getting to the trailhead required driving six miles up a very steep and winding road with a speed limit of 15 mph.  The Wasatch Mountains were ablaze with fall colors and the aspens lining the road were bright yellow and orange.  The hike itself was very enjoyable.  The first part took us through an aspen forest.  As we got higher, there were an increasing number of pine trees and the fragrance was wonderful.

On Tuesday, we drove to the neighboring communities of Orem and Provo, UT to get an oil change for the Mazda and to visit numerous retail establishments.  As we drove to Provo, we passed through the campus of Brigham Young University and were very impressed with the surrounding neighborhoods.  Coincidently, the drive to and from Orem took us along the Provo Valley Scenic Highway.  This highway was very winding and took us along colorful hills on both sides of the roadway.

Moab, UT (Sept. 24 – Oct. 1, 2021)

Our older son, Jason, joined us for the week.  His flight into Montrose, CO arrived shortly before 10 am on Friday, September 24th, which enabled us to pick him up and return to our rig in time to check-out by 11 am.  We then drove 198 miles to Moab, UT where we spent the week at OK RV Park.  As we reached downtown Moab, an apparent watermain break forced us to take a long detour through the back streets.  Although the detour was poorly marked, Phil kept following a semi and it led us to where we needed to go.

The months of May through October are the peak tourist season for the five Utah national parks.  The National Park Service advises visitors to either arrive before 8 am or after 3 pm, or risk being turned away for 3-5 hours.  Since we’re not early morning people, we chose to visit the parks later in the day.

Rather than fight the crowds at the national parks on a Saturday, we opted to spend the day at Dead Horse Point State Park.  This relatively small state park is on a plateau that is surrounded by vast canyons and leads to a sharp point.  According to legend, the point was once used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa.  Cowboys rounded up these horses and herded them across the narrow neck of land onto the point.  The neck, which is only 30 yards wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush, creating a natural corral surrounded by steep cliffs.  The cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and, for reasons unknown, left the other horses to die of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

After stopping at the Visitor Center, we drove on to Dead Horse Point Overlook.  We then hiked the 3-mile West Rim Trail back to the Visitor Center.  After eating lunch at the Visitor Center, Phil and Jason hiked 2-miles on the East Rim Trail back to Dead Horse Point Overlook to get our car.

After leaving the park, we drove back toward Moab and decided to look for the location where the final scene of the film “Thelma and Louise” had been filmed.  Google provided various directions but we took the one that appeared the most detailed.  We drove along a road that had steep cliffs on one side and the Colorado River on the other.  We came to an unpaved road and continued on despite the feeling that this was probably a bad idea.  As the road became more rugged, we kept going “just past the next curve” and “just over the next hill.”  Finally, we decided we really needed a 4-wheel-drive vehicle if we were going to go any farther and, very carefully, turned around.  On the return, we stopped to watch some rock climbers who were attempting to scale the steep cliffs.

On Sunday, we waited until 3 pm for the crowds to clear out before visiting Arches National Park.  We drove non-stop along the scenic drive to reach the parking area at Wolfe Ranch and were able find one of the few open spots.  We then hiked the 3-mile out-and-back trail to Delicate Arch, the iconic feature of Arches National Park.  This hike involved climbing 480 feet up a steep slickrock slope.  Just before reaching Delicate Arch, the trail followed a narrow rock ledge for about 200 yards.  This hike was quite strenuous but we took it slowly.  The view at Delicate Arch was fabulous and made the effort worthwhile.  The arch is 45 feet high and 33 feet wide, but seems much larger.

After descending from Delicate Arch, we drove a mile farther up the road to a couple of other Delicate Arch overlooks.  These provided a view from the opposite site of the arch, across a canyon.

The sun was setting as we left the national park.  We stopped at Balanced Rock for some photos.

On Monday afternoon, we visited Canyonland National Park.  Canyonland consists of four districts, which are divided by the Green and Colorado Rivers.  We limited our visit to Island in the Sky, the district closest to Moab and the most visited district.  After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, we drove to Grand View Point and hiked a two-mile out-and-back trail along the rim of the canyon.

We next headed to Mesa Arch.  A half-mile loop trail took us to this natural stone arch that frames spectacular views of the La Sal Mountains, Buck Canyon, Washer Woman Arch and Monster Tower.

Our next stop was at Green River Overlook, with its views of high plateaus and the Green River.

Our final stop for the day was at Upheaval Dome.  We hiked a half-mile to the first overlook.  Upheaval Dome is a crater in which the rock layers are fractured and tilted, forming a circular depression more than two miles wide. There is disagreement as to the cause but recent findings support the belief that it was caused by a violent meteorite impact.

On Tuesday, we took a day off from hiking.  Jan and Jason went exploring downtown Moab while Phil gave our rig a long-overdue bath.

On Wednesday, we attempted to visit Arches National Park at 1:30 pm but were greeted by a sign that said “Park Full – Return in 3-5 hours.”  Instead of returning home, we drove a few miles away and did the 3-mile hike to the Corona and Bowtie Arches.  The trail crosses wide expanses of slickrock pavement.  A couple of slickrock sections have metal safety cables to use as handrails as well a steel ladder bolted into the rock on one steep step.  We reached Bowtie Arch first.  This pothole arch formed when a pothole above, usually filled with water, eroded down into the cave below.  We then came to the massive Corona Arch, measuring 140 feet across and 105 feet high.

After finishing this hike, we returned to Arches National Park at 4:30 pm and had no trouble getting in.  We drove to the windows section of the park.  As we drove past the towering peaks, it was fun to imagine what the shapes resemble.  We spotted one rock that all three of us thought looked like a baby. We walked along a short path to Double Arch.  The larger of these twin arches has a span of 144 feet – the third largest in the park – and a height of 112 feet – the highest in the park. 

From the same parking lot, we then hiked to the North Window, South Window and Turret Arch.

Thursday was our final full day in Moab so we arose early and arrived at Arches National Park at 6:45 am.  Sunrise wasn’t until 7:13 am so we drove to the northernmost end of the scenic highway while the sun rose.  We then walked a short path to the Skyline Arch.  Along the path, we spotted seven deer grazing on the brush. Their greenish coats made them difficult to spot within the foliage.

We then drove to Sand Dune Arch and hiked .3-mile through deep sand to a secluded arch tucked among sandstone fins.

From the same parking area, we then hiked .6-mile to Broken Arch.  After scrambling up the rock face of Broken Arch, we continued on another .8-mile to Tapestry Arch, before hiking back the way we had come.

On next stop was at Balanced Rock.  We walked a .3-mile loop around the base of this fragile, picturesque rock formation.

Our final stop was at Courthouse Towers Viewpoint.  We hiked a portion of the Park Avenue Trail along the canyon floor, providing close up views of massive fins, balanced rocks and lofty monoliths. 

Western CO, but mostly DC (Sept. 15 – 24, 2021)

On Wednesday, September 15th, we drove 288 miles to Grand Junction, CO where we spent two nights at the Grand Junction KOA.  After the first 60 miles, most of the drive was on I-70.  Phil was able to maintain close to highway speed most of the trip.  There were some steep inclines that had the truck struggling to exceed 40 mph but, at least, Phil was able to keep up with the semis. 

When we arrived at the KOA, Jan had a difficult time getting the front legs to extend.  This had been an ongoing problem but appeared to be getting progressively worse.  Jan spotted an RV tech’s truck two sites over from us and, after he finished with that customer, he came over to see us.  After testing our batteries, he concluded that we needed new batteries.  Our dealer had told us in August that we could probably get a couple of more years from the old batteries but the RV tech seemed pretty confident that the batteries were causing our problems.  If the batteries didn’t solve the problem, the RV tech’ s second guess was that we needed a new trombetta switch.  Our dealer had identified the need for a new trombetta switch but didn’t think this part was causing the leg extension issue. 

On Thursday morning, Phil drove to the battery store and bought four deep cycle 6-volt marine batteries, at a cost of $1,200.  Each of the batteries weighed about 50 lbs. and, due to the numerous cables connected to the batteries in the two small battery compartments, they were a challenge to install.  Unfortunately, after the new batteries were installed, the problem with the leveling system remained unresolved. 

As Phil returned the old batteries for the core deposit, Jan called a nearby RV dealer and was able to find a trombetta switch.  Phil picked up the switch and, after taking pictures of the existing wiring, we began to replace the switch.  Although Phil had disconnected our shore power and had turned the battery disconnect to “off,” we kept getting sparks when we connected some of the 12 cables to the six posts.  We were very frustrated and not sure what we would do next.  By this time, it was dark and we were operating by lantern.  Jan continued to analyze the photos to see what we had done wrong.  Finally, she spotted a couple of similarly colored wires that appeared to be crossed.  We started over again and, this time, we were able to get the wires connected with no sparks.  With the wires properly installed, we found that our leveling system problem was solved.  We were both ecstatic and relieved!

On Friday, we drove 68 miles to Montrose, CO where we had reservations at Centennial RV Park.  Although we had booked the site for a week, our actual time in Montrose was much shorter.  Phil’s mother had passed away in February 2020 and was due to have her ashes interred at Arlington National Cemetery.  Unfortunately, due to COVID, the ceremony was delayed until now.  On Saturday, we flew to Washington, DC.  With a three-hour layover in Denver and a long delay at the rental car center at Dulles, we didn’t get to our hotel room until 1:15 am on Sunday morning.

Alison and Bill had flown to NYC and had spent a couple of days there.  On Sunday morning, they took the Amtrak to DC and we picked them up at Union Station.  While they waited for their hotel room to be available, we walked down the street and had lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant.  We sat outside and talked for a couple of hours.  That evening, we had a group dinner with Phil’s siblings and in-laws, as well as many of Phil’s mother’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Rather than try to find a restaurant that could accommodate a group of 17, each family picked up their own food and brought it back to the hotel dining room. 

On Monday morning, we picked up Lizzi at Reagan National Airport.  That afternoon, we, and Lizzi, Alison and Bill, took the Metro to the National Mall.  We visited the United States Botanic Garden. 

After lunch at Potbelly, we visited the International Spy Museum.  It was a very fun museum, both highly educational and interactive.  We were each assigned characters as spies and performed various activities to evaluate our aptitude for these roles.  Phil was Mickey Garcia and Jan was Adrian Steyn.  For dinner, we had another group get-together at the hotel.

On Tuesday morning, we drove to Arlington National Cemetery for the interment ceremony.  Although the ceremony only lasted about 20 minutes, it included a eulogy by a Navy chaplain, a 21-gun salute, a bugler playing Taps, and a presentation of the American flag.  We then all walked to the vault where Phil’s mother’s urn was placed beside his father’s urn.  After the ceremony, we all met for lunch at Federico Ristorante before saying our goodbyes to most of the group.

Later that afternoon, we received an email from American Airlines telling us that our Wednesday flights back to Montrose had been rebooked on Thursday.  We spent the next seven hours trying to get better flights.  When we called AA, we were placed on a callback with a 1-1/4 to a 1-3/4 hour wait.  Phil thought he had resolved the issue during the first callback but, when we got the confirmation email, we found that they had eliminated the first flight from Reagan National to Dallas Fort Worth.  Phil’s next callback took over two hours but, since his phone was set to Do Not Disturb at 11 pm, the call went to voicemail.  We finally tried calling and remaining on hold, rather than relying on a callback.  After over an hour, we got to talk to an agent but he told us that, since we had booked our tickets using Rewards miles, he would have to transfer us to another agent.  That transfer put us on hold for another hour.  We finally were able to book a flight to DFW on Wednesday afternoon and a flight to Montrose on Thursday morning but, by this time, it was 1:30 am.

On Wednesday morning, we said goodbye to Lizzi, Alison and Bill and headed to the airport.  Upon arriving in Dallas, we were able to secure a hotel voucher for the nearby Sheraton and $24 in meal vouchers.  We took the shuttle to the Sheraton and, after dinner at the hotel restaurant, headed to bed early.

We caught the 7 am shuttle back to DFW on Thursday for our 8:45 flight to Montrose.  The flight pulled back from the gate on time.  Unfortunately, a mechanical problem forced us to return to the gate and resulted in a 1h 20m delay.

When we finally arrived in Montrose, we were determined to see some of the sights before leaving town.  We headed to the nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and drove the South Rim scenic drive.  Due to our time crunch, we only stopped at five of the 12 scenic overlooks but did hit all four of the “must see” views.  One of the stops was at Painted Wall, with a 2,250-foot vertical cliff that is the tallest in Colorado and one of the highest in the United States.  If the Empire State Building were placed on the canyon floor, it would only reach about halfway up the cliff.

We spent the rest of the day preparing for our Friday morning departure from Montrose.

Grand Lake, CO (September 8 – 15, 2021)

On Wednesday, September 8th, we drove 155 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake, CO.  Although there was a 48-mile route available by driving through Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), the steep inclines and sharp drop-offs on this route made us decide to take an easier, although longer, path.  The new route took us in a southerly direction from Estes Park to I-70 and then up the other side of the park to Grand Lake.  Although the drive required lots of ascents and descents and many sharp turns, it was quite scenic and a lot less scary that a drive through RMNP would have been.

The Grand Lake area was savaged by a wildfire in October 2020 that burned 194,000-acres, making it the second-largest fire in Colorado history.  In fact, it burned 120,000-acres in a single day, making it the fastest-spreading fire in Colorado history.  We checked in to Winding River Resort for a one-week stay.  Although the campground was now nearly 100% operational, the surrounding hills were black with debris from the fire.

Jarrod and Jess drove up from Denver late that night.  Since Jess needed to work on Thursday and Friday, they stayed at a nearby hotel for the first two nights. On Thursday, Jarrod rode his bike over from the hotel.  We headed to the Arapahoe National Forest and hiked the 4-mile loop trail around Monarch Lake.  The trail wasn’t too taxing and was mostly shaded.

As we walked along the far side of the lake, Jan noticed a bull moose at the water’s edge.  Although the trail was well above the water, we were eventually about to make out two bull moose, each with a large rack.

Video of bull moose

As we approached the end of the loop around the lake, we found a sandy beach and Jarrod was able to do some fly-fishing.  Unfortunately, he was only able to get a nibble.

Jess came by for dinner, after completing her workday.  The campground caters to horse owners and has their own horses for trail rides.  Although most of the horses are in pens or a pasture near our site, there are a pony and a small burro who seem to have free range of the campground.  The pony and burro dropped by after dinner to munch on the limited grass on our site.

On Friday morning, we relaxed and took care of domestic chores while Jarrod fished and Jess worked a half day.  In the afternoon, we entered RMNP on the eastern edge of Grand Lake and hiked the East Inlet Trail.  The hike was only about 2.5-miles but took us out to a spectacular valley with a panoramic view of the mountains and a stream running through it.  There was a log stretched across the stream.  First, Jess went part-way across but, then, Jarrod successfully got all the way across and returned without ending up in the water.

After dinner, we drove into RMNP and observed lots of elk and moose grazing near the Trail Ridge Road.

On Saturday, we drove up the western portion of RMNP’s Trail Ridge Road almost to the summit.  We stopped several times along the way.  We spent some time observing a female moose grazing on the grass and then did a couple of short hikes. 

Later, we went into the town of Grand Lake and had ice cream at Dairy King, a small shop that’s been in business for 68 years.  Next, we strolled along the main street of downtown Grand Lake and visited a number of shops. Jarrod and Jess headed for home after breakfast on Sunday.

On Saturday evening, Phil had developed the chills and his temperature rose overnight to 102.6.  Very similar to his health issue in August, his temperature would lower to nearly normal in the morning but would creep back to a high fever in the afternoon and evening.  Rather than wait four days to seek medical attention, as we had done in August, we decided to hit an Urgent Care on Monday.  We drove 82-miles to an Urgent Care in Breckenridge, CO because Jan needed to pick up a prescription from Walgreens and the nearest Walgreens was in Dillon, 10 miles from Breckenridge.  As before, Phil was tested for Covid, got a negative result and the doctor prescribed antibiotics.  The highlight of the day was really the drive to and from Breckenridge.  The vistas around every bend were stunningly beautiful. 

After a day and a half on antibiotics, Phil’s temperature stayed below normal all day and night and he felt well enough to make the long drive to Grand Junction on Wednesday.

Estes Park, CO (September 3 – 8, 2021)

On Friday, September 3rd, we drove 223 miles to Estes Park, CO where we spent five nights at Elk Meadow Lodge & RV Resort.  The drive was mostly along I-25, but the last 26 miles were through the steep and rocky Big Thompson Canyon and had nearly continuous curves.  The campground is located a short distance from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  We had a beautiful view of some of the surrounding mountains from our living room window.  Shortly after getting set up, we had a brief drizzle that provided us with a fabulous double rainbow.  The campground was then visited by a huge bull elk that drew quite a crowd of campers to watch it.  While the elk was still in the field below us, Jarrod and Jess arrived for their three-night visit.

After breakfast on Saturday, Jess and Jarrod took turns driving us through the eastern portion of RMNP.  We first drove up the Trail Ridge Road to the Ute Trail.  We hiked a short distance on the Ute Trail but the cold temperature and strong winds forced us to turn back. 

We then drove down Bear Lake Road to Sprague Lake, where we hiked around the lake.  We took a shuttle to the Glacier Basin campground where we hiked the Glacier Basin and Wind River trails. 

After completing these hikes, we walked a mile back to Sprague Lake where we had left the car.  When we arrived at Sprague Lake, we discovered a large moose in the lake that had drawn quite a crowd of spectators.  After observing the moose for a while, we drove back to our campground.  As we exited Bear Lake Road, we observed a large herd of elk by the road.

On Sunday, Jarrod and Jess again drove us through the eastern portion of RMNP.  We first drove to Lava Cliffs, near the highest point in the park.  We hiked out to the rocks, despite strong winds and cold temps.  After visiting the cliffs, we continued up Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center.  During this drive, we passed through the highest point on the road at 12,183 feet.  On our return down the Trail Ridge Road, we stopped at a couple of parking areas and went for short walks into the park.

We spent Sunday afternoon in the town of Estes Park.  We first visited the Estes Park Arts & Crafts Festival.  Afterward, we drove to The Dunraven Inn on Lake Estes and enjoyed some drinks and appetizers.  On our way back to the campground, we passed the Stanley Hotel where a portion of the film “The Shining,” based on Stephen King’s novel, was filmed.

On Monday, we returned to RMNP and hiked the six-mile Cull Lake loop trail.  It was a warm day but the cool breeze and shade on much of the trail make it a delightful day for a hike. 

After reaching Cull Lake, the return portion of the loop trail was largely downhill and took us along a stream.  We took a break along this portion of the trail and enjoyed dunking our feet in the cold water of the stream.  After completing the hike, we stopped at the RMNP sign for our photo shoot.

Upon returning to our rig, Jarrod and Jess packed up and headed for home.  We will see them again in a few days in Grand Lake.  After dinner, we returned to RMNP to look for elk.  We drove around quite a while and, although we did see a few elk and deer, we didn’t find a large herd of elk until we headed for home.

Custer, SD Area & Douglas, WY (August 25 – September 3, 2021)

On Wednesday, August 25th, we arrived at Fort Welikit Family Campground in Custer, SD in the mid-afternoon for a weeklong stay.  Our pull-through site was long enough but required a lot of care to fit in between trees on all sides.  The trees precluded the use of our satellite dish but, fortunately, the campground provided 70 cable channels.

After dinner, we went for a walk around the campground.  It was quickly apparent that we were going to need to get adjusted to the high altitude.

On Thursday, we drove to Custer State Park.  We first stopped at the Visitor Center.  We examined many of the displays and watched a video about the park, narrated by Kevin Costner.  Then, we drove the Wilderness Loop through the park.  Our first animal encounter was with a bison that was sauntering up the middle of the road.  Rather than risk trying to pass it, we followed behind it until it finally decided to leave the road.  Farther down the road, we encountered a large herd of bison crossing the road and we watched from a safe distance.  There were quite a large number of calves with their mothers.  We got lunch at a food truck and, somewhat rudely, both ordered bison burgers.

After lunch, we continued on the Wilderness Loop and encountered a pack of burros.  They had been fairly far away until some of the spectators pulled out bags of carrots and apples.  It didn’t take long before the crowd was surrounded by burros looking for a handout.  Jan got to feed one of them, then made friends with one of the babies.

When the food ran out, the burros departed and we continued our drive.  At the end of the loop, we drove up a one-mile gravel road to the Mt. Coolidge Scenic Overlook.  The drive was somewhat scary, since we were next to a cliff with few guardrails, but, fortunately, there was very little opposing traffic.  Once we reached the summit, we climbed the observation tower but we were chased back down by a huge swarm of gnats.

On Thursday, we returned to Custer State Park and drove the 14-mile stretch of SD-87 known as the Needles Highway due to its tall granite peaks, resembling needles.  The highway was constructed in 1922, when it was considered by many to be impossible to complete.  The highway was extremely winding but contained numerous pull-offs that allowed us to enjoy the scenery. 

The most famous part of the drive is the Needle Eye Tunnel.  This one-way tunnel is only 8’0” wide by 9’9” high.  We were lucky to get through the tunnel with no delay but watched quite a traffic jam develop once we reached the other side.  A large crowd grew to watch a dually squeeze through the tunnel.

Needle Eye Tunnel, as seen through our dirty windshield

Our final stop was at Sylvan Lake.  We ate lunch, then hiked the one-mile trail around the lake. 

After a relaxing day on Saturday, we were back on the road on Sunday.  We began by driving the Iron Mountain scenic highway.  Like the Wilderness Loop and Needles Highway we had done previously, this highway was designed on foot and horseback by Peter Norbeck, former South Dakota governor and US senator.  All three of these highways were designed to be driven no faster than 25 mph.  The 17-mile Iron Mountain Road was constructed in 1933 and includes magnificent views of the Black Hills, single-lane tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore and three pigtail bridges.  A pigtail bridge is a road bridge that loops over its own road, allowing the road to climb rapidly. 

After completing the Iron Mountain Road, we visited the Mount Rushmore National Monument.  We hiked the one-mile Presidential Trail that took us near the base of the monument.  Unlike our previous visit to Mount Rushmore many years ago when we froze, the weather on Sunday was sunny and a comfortable 77 degrees. 

On Monday, August 30th, we met Eric and Julie Paulikonis for lunch at Bumpin’ Buffalo Bar and Grill in Hill City, SD.  Eric and Julie had been the tail gunners for our caravan to Alaska in the summer of 2018.  It was great to see them again and catch up on what we’d been doing since that trip.  After lunch, we went to the Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City for a wine tasting. 

We both had dentist appointments in Rapid City, SD on Tuesday morning.  On the drive to Rapid City, Jan was able to capture some pictures of the Crazy Horse Memorial.  This monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion.  Our morning appointments were finished by 11:30 but, since Jan needed to return at 1:30 for a minor repair to some previous dental work, we had two hours to kill.  We drove to downtown Rapid City and explored the Main Street Square.  Rapid City has sculptures of all of the US Presidents on the downtown street corners.  After checking out several of the Presidents, we stopped for lunch at the Firehouse Brewing Company.  The restaurant is in a former station of the Rapid City Fire Department.

On Wednesday, September 1st, we drove 168 miles to Douglas, WY, where we spent two nights at the Douglas KOA.  Other than a couple of long construction zones, the drive went smoothly.  There was little to do in Douglas so we spent a couple of leisurely days there.

Getting Back on Schedule (August 17-25, 2021)

Our issues with the RAM’s DEF pump and the fifth wheel’s hydraulic system had knocked out about three weeks from our original travel itinerary for the summer.  When we finally got the green light to get back on the road on August 17th, we needed to decide where to reconnect with the plan.  Phil considered various options and decided we should plan to rejoin the plan in Custer, SD on August 25th.  Although we had to cancel the first three days of our 10-day reservation in Custer, Phil developed a doable itinerary that would take us more than 1,600 miles over eight days. 

We left RVs for Less in Knoxville, TN the morning of Tuesday, August 17th.  We drove 235 miles to Clarksville, TN where we spent the night at Clarksville RV Park.  The first 100 miles were driven through the rainy remnants of Hurricane Fred but the second half of the drive was dry and much easier.  With our early departure and the hour gained with the time zone change, we arrived at the campground around 1:30 pm.  After getting set up, we did some exploring in Clarksville.  Both Jason and Jarrod had graduated from Austin Peay University in Clarksville more than a decade ago so we were curious to see how things had changed.  We drove through the campus and past the apartment buildings where they had lived for a few years.

On Wednesday, we got another early start and drove 277 miles to Shelbyville, IL where we spent two nights at Robin Hoods Woods.  Again, the drive was uneventful but, given the back-to-back travel days and the longer-than-usual drive, it was rather exhausting. 

We spent part of Thursday exploring the town of Shelbyville.  We drove to Lake Shelbyville and viewed the dam.  We also drove through downtown Shelbyville and took pictures of the courthouse and sculptures of the Lincoln – Thornton debate on August 9, 1856.  Abraham Lincoln and Judge Anthony Thornton had met on the steps of the old courthouse to debate the expansion of slavery into new Federal territories.

On Friday, we drove 277 miles to West Liberty, IA where we stayed two nights at Little Bear Campground.  We spent much of Saturday, August 21st, visiting the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in nearby West Branch, IA.

Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 in a two-room cottage in West Branch.  His Quaker family had helped settle the town.  His father, a blacksmith and, later, a farm implement dealer, died when Herbert was six.  His mother, a Quaker minister, died four years later.  Herbert was split up from his two siblings and moved to Oregon to live with his uncle.  He later earned a degree in geology in the first class of Stanford University.  He then went to work in the California gold mines and, later, joined a British mining firm and became a mining engineer in Australia.  In 1899, he married Lou Henry, who he had met at Stanford.  They immediately moved to China where Hoover continued his career.  He earned a reputation as a “doctor of sick mines” and circled the globe several times with his wife and two sons.  By age 40, he was a millionaire. 

Hoover gave up his mining career and, instead, focused on humanitarian efforts to feed starving Europeans during and after World War I.  He then served as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge.  Hoover easily won the presidency in 1928.  Unfortunately, the Great Depression began after he had been in office for eight months and, by 1932, unemployment had reached 23%.  Although he introduced a number of reforms that paved the way for later New Deal measures, his popularity evaporated and he lost the 1932 election to FDR.  Polls of historians and political scientists have generally ranked Hoover in the bottom third of presidents.  However, Hoover’s reputation recovered in his later years due to his humanitarian efforts.

After touring the Hoover Presidential Museum and Library, we watched a video at the Visitor’s Center and visited Hoover’s 14-by-20 foot birthplace cottage, the Friends Meetinghouse, a blacksmith shop similar to his father’s, the one-room schoolhouse and the gravesite of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover.

We then drove to downtown West Liberty, IA and did some grocery shopping.

On Sunday, we drove 289 miles to Onawa, IA where we spent two nights at On-Ur-Wa RV Park.  Although the drive was largely uneventful, it was rather disconcerting to drive all that distance and still be in the same state.

On Monday, we drove into downtown Onawa and saw what is claimed to be the widest main street in the U.S.

We then visited the Lewis and Clark State Park.  We explored a replica of a keelboat that was used by the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

On Tuesday, August 24th, we drove 235 miles to White Lake, SD where we overnighted at Circle K Motel and Campground.  The campground was nothing special but it was close to I-90 and had large, big-rig-friendly sites.

On Wednesday, we completed our 1,600-mile in eight day trek to get caught up with our summer travel itinerary.  We had intended to drive 285 miles to our campground in Custer, SD.  However, when we reached the Badlands, we took a 20-mile detour along the scenic drive through Badlands National Park.  Phil got in for free because he had his Senior Access Pass.  By sheer coincidence, Jan was also able to get in for free, saving the $30 regular admission price, because it was National Park Founders Day.  We drove the full loop and stopped a couple of times to enjoy the viewpoints.  The road was very winding but, fortunately, traffic was light so Phil had no trouble keeping our fifth-wheel on the road.  Jan took quite a number of pictures as she drove along, as well as when we stopped for lunch at one of the viewpoints.

The Road to Being Repaired (July 30 – August 17, 2021)

On Friday, July 3oth, we left Montello, WI and began our journey to Knoxville, TN for our August 3rd service appointment at RVs for Less.  Our first day took us 255 miles to Secor, IL (near Champaign) where we spent the night at Hickory Hill Campground.  Since we were only overnighting, we decided to keep hitched but ended up making multiple adjustments to get level.  It started drizzling as we prepared to leave on Saturday morning and we drove through rain for much of the 298-mile trip to North Bend, OH.  With the time zone change, it was after 4:30 pm by the time we arrived at Indian Springs Campground, where we had planned to spend two nights. 

However, after getting set up, Phil checked his emails and found that he had one from Karen Burson, owner of RVs for Less.  She informed Phil that they were going to reschedule our service appointment until August 24th, three weeks later.  Karen had just learned that her daughter, Amber, had scheduled us for the week that General Manager Ken Rife was going to be on vacation.  Phil had called Ken in early July about our hydraulic leak and leg issues.  Ken had told Phil that he would be on vacation the week of August 3rd but that his staff would be able to take care of us.  Ken had instructed Phil to send Amber a list of our service needs and she would get us scheduled.  Phil sent the list to Amber, with a copy to Ken, on July 9th and Amber replied that she had scheduled us for August 3rd.

Phil responded to Karen that the delay was unacceptable, since we had cancelled several reservations and backtracked from Wisconsin to make the August 3rd appointment.  Although Karen stuck to her decision that we shouldn’t come when Ken was gone, she did agree to get us worked in on August 10th.  Although we were still very unhappy, a one-week delay is better than three weeks.

The next challenge was to find reservations for the extra week, especially with early August being a peak vacation time.  We were able to book two more nights at Indian Springs Campground, to give us time to explore our options and we also had no problem pushing off our August 2nd reservation in Heiskell, TN for a week.  We were able to book Wednesday and Thursday nights at Grand Ole RV Resort.  However, when we tried to find reservations for the weekend, we couldn’t find any vacancies anywhere in central Tennessee.  Finally, we found a site at the KOA Nashville North despite their website previously showing no sites available.  Although the rate of nearly $90 per night for Friday and Saturday nights is higher than we have ever paid (and the KOA Nashville North definitely doesn’t warrant such a rate), we were just happy to have some place to park.

On Tuesday, August 3rd, we visited the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY.  This replica of Noah’s ark is the largest timber-frame structure in the world, standing 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet wide.  Although they acknowledge the need to take a lot of artistic license with the design and furnishings, due to limited details in the Bible, it is nonetheless an impressive creation. The three decks of the ark are filled with exhibits that are designed to answer questions and skepticism about Noah’s ark and the biblical flood. 

After we’d explored the ground floor and the first deck, we were both starving so we headed to Emzara’s for a huge buffet lunch.  We then needed to walk off our lunch by visiting the animals in the Ararat Ridge Zoo.  We especially enjoyed watching a two-toed sloth that was more active than its reputation.

We next returned to the ark and completed the second and third decks.  On the way out of the park, we attended a portion of a gospel music concert.

On Wednesday, we drove 267 miles to Goodlettsville, TN.  The first 90 miles were slow due to delays caused by road construction.  After getting set up at Grand Ole RV Resort for two nights, Jason arrived with a carload of Amazon purchases we had had shipped to his house.  We watched a female musician perform for a while, then headed to O’Charley’s for dinner. Jason joined us again for dinner on Thursday and Phil grilled us some steelhead trout.

On Friday, we had to make our 4-mile move to the Nashville North KOA.  Since the posted check-in time wasn’t until 2 pm, we stayed at Grand Ole’ RV Resort until their checkout time at 11 am.  Nothing was said when we arrived at the KOA at 11:07 am.

We really didn’t do much during our three days at the KOA.  Jason was able to join us every evening.  Unfortunately, Phil developed a fever of 101.1 degrees shortly after dinner on Saturday.  Phil’s fever broke overnight and his temperature was closer to normal for most of Sunday.

We had learned that the scarcity of available campsites in the Nashville area was partially due to the Music City Grand Prix being held that weekend.  140,000 race fans were expected to attend the three-day event.  Rather than pay over $80 a ticket and sit outside in 90+ degree temps, we opted to watch the race on TV from our air-conditioned living room.  It was interesting to watch Indy cars race through the streets of downtown Nashville. 

Unfortunately, Phil’s fever returned late Sunday afternoon, hitting 101.9 degrees.  This was to become a pattern over the coming days.

On Monday morning, Phil’s temperature was somewhat lower and he felt well enough to make our 205-mile drive to Heiskell, TN.  We made it safely to our site at Raccoon Valley Campground and were able to relax for a while before Phil’s temperature shot up to 102.6.

 Once again, Phil’s temperature had dropped to a non-fever level by Monday morning so we were able to make the 20-mile drive to our dealer, RVs for Less, in Knoxville.  We were pleased to get immediate attention to our list of repair items, unlike most of our future visits. 

We managed to get some lunch at O’Charley’s, make a Sam’s Club run, and return home before Phil’s temperature starting climbing again.  This time, it peaked at 104.0 degrees.  After four days of increasingly high evening temps, we decided to get some medical attention. 

Phil scheduled the first available appointment for a COVID test, at 10:15 am on Wednesday morning, at a Knoxville Urgent Care.  Although we had an oil change scheduled at 1 pm at the Knoxville Mazda dealer, we figured there should be plenty of time for both.  We were almost wrong!  Phil had requested a COVID test just to be safe, despite having been vaccinated and the fever being the only real COVID symptom.  This test was advertised as having 15-minute results but, apparently, that depends on when they start the clock.  While he was waiting, Phil tried postponing the oil change but was told that the next opening was over a week away.  Finally, at 11:45, the PA entered the exam room with the expected negative COVID test result.  After asking a number of questions, she prescribed a broad-spectrum antibiotic and Phil exited at 12:15 pm.  Under their COVID protocol, non-patients were not allowed in the waiting room.  Given the temperature being in the 90s, Jan had needed to find shelter for most of the over-2-hour wait at a nearby Starbucks.  We managed to pick up Phil’s prescription at the nearby Walgreens and make the 30-minute drive to the Mazda dealer, arriving right at 1 pm.

Continuing the trend, the oil change took longer than predicted.  During our wait, Jan discovered that Knoxville has a large used book store not far from the dealer, so that became our next stop.  The store, McKay’s Knoxville, was amazing and we both found a lot of books to buy. 

Phil took his first of 10 daily antibiotic pills.  However, the warnings of potential side effects were rather sobering.  The most common appears to be tendon swelling or snapping, especially for those over 60.  The warning also advised users to consider whether the risk of this injury was potentially worse than the illness you were trying to treat.  Very comforting!

The fever did return, as usual, that afternoon but was not quite as high as the previous day.  We were hopeful that we were finally turning the corner.

On Thursday, August 12th, we were told that we would need to be out of our rig for about four hours so the dealer could repair our issues with our hydraulic lines and our front legs.  The plan was that this would complete the list of needed repairs and we could expect to be back on the road by Friday morning.

Since we hadn’t anticipated our stop at McKay’s Knoxville on Wednesday, we had had no books to exchange.  We remedied this with a return visit on Thursday when we used exchange credits on a few additional books.  We now both have more than enough books to last us through the year.

With stops at a couple of additional retailers and lunch at Panera, we had managed to kill the four hours.  As we returned to the RV dealership, our rig was being moved back into position.  Although we found a few minor issues than needed to be addressed that afternoon, it clearly looked like we were really going to be out of there on Friday morning, in record time.

Phil’s fever returned again Thursday evening but, again, was slightly better than before.  Phil spent much of Thursday evening working our travel plans, with a goal of reconnecting with our original itinerary in South Dakota.

Since we had anticipated a much longer stay, Jan had booked a hair appointment for Friday morning.  While Jan headed to her appointment, Phil booked us a campground for Friday night, refueled the truck at Sam’s Club, and did some grocery shopping at Walmart.  We were both working around a schedule of hitting the road around noon.

The first sign of trouble came when Phil received several text messages from Ken Rife, the GM at RVs for Less.  He learned that, when Ken had contacted our vehicle service contract company for reimbursement, they had balked at the size of the bill and decided they need to inspect the work themselves.  However, they wouldn’t be able to do so until Monday; Tuesday at the latest.  Although an additional three-day delay took another bite out of summer travel plans, the benefit of the delay was that it would buy Phil more time to recover.

Phil’s temperature reached 101.0 on Friday night but broke overnight.  He woke up soaking wet but his temperature was down to 96.0.  It never went back above 98.2 the rest of the weekend.  Phil continued to take the remaining antibiotics but we were optimistic that the mystery illness had passed.

On Monday, August 16th, the CoachNet rep came to RVs for Less to inspect the work that had been done.  Per Ken Rife, the rep had no knowledge of RVs and simply took a lot of pictures.  He was unable to provide an authorization for the bill until he had a chance to review it with his supervisor.  Rather than hold us up any longer, Karen told us Monday afternoon that we were free to leave.  We made plans to get on the road early Tuesday morning.  The remnants of Hurricane Fred were forecasted to hit the Knoxville area all day Tuesday so we stayed hooked up Monday night.  We were rather unlevel all night, which made it difficult to walk around in our rig.  We hit the road early on Tuesday morning in a light drizzle.