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.

At Home with the Ehlenfeldts – July 26 – 30, 2021

On Monday, July 26th, we left Door County, WI and drove 177 miles to Montello, WI where we spent four nights at the home of our friends, Todd and Beth Ehlenfeldt.  The trip went smoothly and the truck continued to exhibit no DEF system issues.  When we arrived, Todd did a masterful job of getting our fifth wheel backed into their driveway, without hitting any of the trees that bordered the entrance.

We spent the rest of the day socializing on the hillside overlooking Buffalo Lake.  The temperature was in the mid-80s but the breeze off the lake made it delightful.  Todd and Beth fixed us dinner and we enjoyed dining outdoors.  There were heavy rains and strong winds overnight, resulting in many downed branches.  We were too tired to notice and slept through most of the storm.

On Tuesday, we all went to the Wisconsin Dells.  After walking along the downtown storefronts and the Riverwalk, we cooled off with refreshments at the Riverwalk Pub.  We then caught a shuttle that took us to the Original Wisconsin Duck tour.  We rode in a WWII amphibious vehicle known as a duck.  The driver splashed us into the Wisconsin River and Lake Delton, climbed over sandbars, and covered over four miles of scenic wilderness trails.   

On Wednesday, we explored downtown Montello with Todd and Beth.  We walked along the Fox River, explored a store crammed full of lawn art, and visited the Montello waterfalls.  Next, we drove to Beaver Dam to meet Beth’s twin sister, Linda, and her brother-in-law, Bob.  Linda is a retired beautician and she cut everyone’s hair while we visited.  We next stopped at the Ooga Brewing Company for drinks.  Phil had a Weirdo in the Window and Jan chose a Drive By Frootin’.  We ended the day with a buffet dinner of Chinese food at Ming’s Garden.  Strong winds were forecast for Wednesday night so we moved our vehicles to a neighbor’s driveway but, fortunately, the storm mostly missed Montello.

We spent Thursday relaxing.  The weed cutters had been busy most of the week so Todd and Jan were able to fish from the dock.  Jan prepared an early dinner and, again, we were able to dine outdoors.  After dinner, we played several games of cornhole.  The women ended up winning, two games to one.

We got going early on Friday morning and were ready to roll by 10 a.m.  We said our goodbyes, but with the knowledge that we’ll be together again in Gulf Shores, AL in November.

Door County, WI (July 21-26, 2021)

We arrived at Baileys Grove Campground in Baileys Harbor, WI late in the afternoon on Wednesday, July 21st, for a five-night stay.  We were greeted by our friends, Beth and Todd Ehlenfeldt, who had arrived on Monday and were parked practically across the street from us.  We had also planned to arrive on Monday but, due to truck problems, had had to cancel the first two nights.

After we got set up, we socialized with the Ehlenfeldts and they were kind enough to serve us dinner.  We then sat around their campfire until exhaustion from the prior three days’ activities had us heading off to bed.

On Thursday, the Ehlenfeldts showed us around several towns in Door County.  Our first stop was in Sister Bay.  After walking along the beach and marina, we visited Stabbur at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and enjoyed some refreshments at an outside table.  We were able to see the sod roofs on the authentic Swedish log buildings but, unfortunately, the goats that eat the grass on the roofs in the summertime were absent.  We then visited a number of shops along Sister Bay’s main street.

Our next stop was Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek.  This establishment had all sorts of cherry products.  They even had a setup for competitive cherry pit spitting.  The ladies did wine tastings and we bought a bottle of cherry wine.  We also stopped at Wood Orchard Market in Egg Harbor and made some more purchases.

We had dinner reservations at Pelletier’s Restaurant & Fish Boil in Fish Creek.  We got back to Fish Creek early so we killed time by visiting several shops.  The actual fish boil occurred precisely at 5 p.m. but we grabbed a table at 4:30 to watch the preparation.  The owner, a third-generation operator of the fish boil, did an excellent job of explaining the process.  He began by cooking baby red potatoes and onions, then added Lake Michigan whitefish steaks, and finally added corn on the cob.  He regulated the temperature by stacking, and removing, pieces of wood along the edge of the pot.  As the fish cooks, a film of oil begins at accumulate on the surface of the water.  The culmination of the process came when the owner threw a can of kerosene on the fire, resulting in a huge flame and the boiling off of the film of fish oil.  The kettle of food was removed from the flame immediately and was delivered to our table within a minute.  The food was delicious, although picking out the bones from the whitefish required a lot of care.  As though we hadn’t had enough to eat, the meal ended with a slice of Door County cherry pie.

After dinner, we returned to the campground and sat by the Ehlenfeldt’s campfire until we were driven indoors by mosquitos.

On Friday, we said goodbye to Todd and Beth.  We will be joining them at their home in a few days.  We then drove to Sturgeon Bay to explore the area.  We took the truck in order to further test the effectiveness of the repairs to the DEF system.  Fortunately, all continued to work as it should.  We visited two lighthouses; the Sturgeon Bay Canal Station Lighthouse and the North Pierhead Lighthouse.  Reaching the North Pierhead Light required walking down a long breakwater.

We then drove back into Sturgeon Bay and walked across the Michigan Street Bridge.  This bridge provided a beautiful view up Sturgeon Bay to the north.  After crossing the bridge, we strolled along the waterfront before returning across the river on the Oregon Street Bridge.  This bridge provided views of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, built in the late 1800s. 

We then strolled along the shops in downtown Sturgeon Bay and sought shelter from the heat at the Starboard Brewing Company.  We tried a couple of their microbrews and shared a plate of local cheeses.  Throughout downtown, we saw numerous cherry sculptures that had been decorate uniquely.

On Saturday, we drove to Egg Harbor and Fish Creek and visited some shops and purchased some cheese.  We then returned to Baileys Harbor and strolled along the main drag.  We stopped at Chive Food Truck for a couple of drinks and an order of fried cheese curds.  We sat in Adirondack chairs overlooking the street and the bay and enjoyed watching the world go by.  The temperature was in the low 80s but sitting under large shade trees with a breeze coming off the bay made it feel great. 

On Sunday, July 25th, we decided to explore the northern end of Door County.  However, as we were leaving Baileys Harbor, we discovered that there was a farmers’ market on the town square.  We parked and checked out all the stalls, including one with live alpacas. 

We then headed north and passed through Sister Bay, Ellison Bay and Gilts Rock.  We continued on towards Northport but soon found ourselves in a line of cars waiting for the ferry to Washington Island.  We turned around and returned to Gilts Rock, where we visited some gift shops, and then on to the Ellison Bay County Park and its scenic overlook.

As we returned through Sister Bay, we stopped at Al Johnson’s Stabbur again for some liquid refreshments.  Once again, the goats were missing from the rooftops.

After stopping for groceries at Piggly Wiggly, we decided to check out the Cana Island Lighthouse.  This 85-foot-tall lighthouse was built in 1869 and automated in 1944.  The island is accessible by a tram ride across a shallow causeway.  Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to make the trip to the island, especially with a car full of groceries on an 85-degree day.  We had to settle for a view of the lighthouse from across the bay.  Our final stop was a brief one at the sand beach on Lake Michigan near Baileys Harbor.

All’s Well That Ends Well (July 19-21, 2021)

On Monday, July 19, we began what we believed would be a 228-mile drive from Manistique, MI to Baileys Harbor, WI (in Door County).  Phil had booked a service appointment at Chrysler World in Abrams, WI to get the DEF counter reset.  It was 144 miles to Abrams so, by the time we arrived, the RAM was showing only nine more miles until we would be limited to 5 mph.  Since the reset we had had done in Escanaba, MI had only taken about 20 minutes, we were hoping that we would be in and out quickly.  We had planned to drop the fifth wheel at a Phillips 66 station near the dealer.  Phil had used Google Earth to verify that there was a large lot where we would be able to park.  However, when we arrived, we discovered the service station was out of business.  Regardless, we pulled in and unhitched the trailer in the vacant lot.  Jan sat in her car by the rig while Phil took the truck to the dealer.  It was good that she stayed because a man from a business on the property came to ask her what was up with the trailer.  It was clear that he didn’t want us there long-term.

The expected 20-minute service appointment turned into a 4-hour emotional rollercoaster and ended on a really bad note.  Over the course of the afternoon, Phil learned that the reset that had been done in Escanaba was possible because of an available software update.  However, the update couldn’t be done again and the mechanics in Abrams couldn’t find any way to reset the counter.  At one point, they had gotten the DEF pump to work again and it looked like they might be able to get us back on the road.  Unfortunately, the pump stopped working as soon as they took it out for a test drive.  Brad, the service manager, spent much of the afternoon trying to find another DEF pump, either from another dealer or a used part supplier, but with no success.  With no short-term solution to our problem, Brad called numerous people to see if they could tow our fifth-wheel to our reserved campsite in Baileys Harbor, but the earliest available tow would have been a couple of days later.  After exploring options of where to park the fifth-wheel, the dealer got permission from the Wisconsin DOT for us to park it in the Park and Ride lot next to the dealership.  By this point, the RAM was down to one mile until we would be limited to 5 mph.  That was just enough for us to get the rig moved and the truck returned to the dealer.

When we got in the fifth wheel, it was too hot to consider spending the night.  With no electrical hook-up, we would not have been able to run the air conditioners.  With our batteries nearly six-years old, Phil was hesitant to extend our bedroom slide since we might not have enough juice left to get it closed again.  We had been running the refrigerator on the inverter but knew that we would exhaust that power supply soon.  Since we had our refrigerator and freezer fairly full, we had to decide what food to try to salvage.  We filled all our coolers with what would fit and bought a 20-pound bag of ice from the Shell station. 

Phil contacted one of the owners of the campground in Baileys Harbor and cancelled our weeklong reservation.  Under the circumstances, she was kind and waived the one-night cancellation fee.

Phil starting checking for a place for us to spend the night.  Abrams, WI is a very small town and had no lodging nearby.  Green Bay was 12-miles away but all the hotels cost $120+.  Phil finally settled on a $65 motel that was 33-miles north of Abrams.  We quickly learned that you don’t get much for $65.  Check-in was a unique experience.  We each had to provide our drivers licenses and fill out a lengthy registration form, with eight sections which each needed to be initialed.  We then learned that we would have to wait 15 minutes to get in our room because the comforter was in the dryer.  We didn’t even want to think about why the comforter had to be washed.  When we finally got in the room, it wasn’t terrible but the bed was very hard.  We tried the TV but we were only able to get one channel. 

After our stressful day, we fell asleep quickly.  However, Phil was awakened at midnight with hip hop music blaring outside our door.  The music continued for about ten minutes, then stopped, only to return about ten minutes later.  Sometime later in the night, a train roared past the motel with its horn blasting.  With all the stress of our truck issues, Phil found it difficult to get back to sleep after these episodes.  Although Jan was able to sleep through the noise, the hard bed kept her awake much of the night.  People started leaving the motel before 6 a.m., which made for an early awakening. 

Phil spent most of the night pondering our options.  He had talked to a diesel mechanic on Monday about having the emission system deleted and, although illegal, was starting to seriously consider it.  However, it would have required us to get the truck towed 91-miles to Florence, WI and we would have still had to get the trailer towed to some campground, assuming we could get reservations.  We had previously located a new DEF pump at a Dodge dealer in Sauk City, WI and had scheduled an installation for July 27th.  However, it was 168-miles from Abrams to Sauk City and we didn’t want to have the truck towed that far.  The best option appeared to be for us to drive to Sauk City and buy the part and return it to Abrams to have it installed.  However, we had sensed some reluctance by dealers to selling the part, without doing the installation, so we weren’t sure the Sauk City dealer would agree to this option. 

Fortunately, when Phil called the Sauk City service manager on Tuesday morning and gave him our sob story, he agreed to sell us the part.  We quickly checked out of the hotel and began a long day of driving, despite being exhausted.  We ended up covering 370 miles and, other than pulling through a McDonalds for breakfast, didn’t stop for meals.  We managed to buy the pump in Sauk City and hand it over to the Abrams service manager before he left for the day at 4:30 p.m.  He assured Phil that he would get the pump installed on Wednesday, although it might be late in the afternoon.  We were feeling optimistic so we called the campground in Baileys Harbor and reclaimed the remaining five days of our reservation.  The owner had to do some rearranging but managed to get us our original site for the whole stay.

After our Monday night motel experience, we decided we needed better lodging for Tuesday night.  While we were driving, Jan was able to find us a good rate at a Country Inn & Suites in Green Bay.  Compared to the motel, the room at the Country Inn was wonderful.  We walked to a nearby pizzeria and had a delicious Chicago-style pizza.  We slept much better on Tuesday night, although Jan did roll off the queen-sized bed during the night.

We killed time on Wednesday morning and stayed in the room until the noon checkout time.  Since we were in Green Bay, we decided we should visit Lambeau Field, rather than just hang out at the Chrysler dealership.  Although we didn’t get to tour Lambeau Field, we did spend over an hour at Titletown, a unique community development next to the stadium.  In addition to restaurants and a hotel, Titletown features a large public park with outdoor games, fitness activities and a winter skating rink and tubing hill.  The Play 60-theme area has a regulation football field, electronically-timed 40-yard dash, climbing structures, slides and more.  Throughout the plaza, there are horseshoes, bean bag toss, shuffleboard, bocce, ping pong and foosball.  They also have books, magazines, board games, and art supplies ready for use, all free of charge.  We climbed the tubing hill and played some shuffleboard.

We returned to the car dealership around 2:30 and were relieved to learn that the repair work was going well.  At 4 p.m., the repairs were completed and we were able to get on the road again.  After retrieving our fifth-wheel from the Park and Ride lot, we began the 87-mile drive to Baileys Harbor.  We did have to stop once along the way due to our front legs dropping but, other than that, the trip went smoothly.  We are both very hopeful that our truck problems have been resolved and that we will not have to face such a stressful situation again.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (June 15 – July 19, 2021)

On Tuesday, June 15th, we drove 63 miles north to Sault Ste. Marie, MI.  The beginning of the drive took us over the 5-mile Mackinac Bridge.  The height of the bridge and the metal grating on the road bed is reportedly terrifying for some drivers.  Until COVID hit, the bridge authority used to make employees available to drive your vehicle across the bridge if you were too scared to drive it yourself.  Despite a number of lane changes due to bridge repairs, neither of us found driving across the bridge to be very scary.

Sault (pronounced “soo”) Ste. Marie, the oldest city in the Midwest, was founded in 1668.  It lies on the banks of the St. Mary’s River, which connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  The city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is right across the river and is connected by the International Bridge (now closed to us due to COVID).

We stayed at Aune-Osborn Campground for three nights.  All the sites are back-ins but, using Google Earth and the campground map, Phil had selected a site that was very easy to back into.  Our site only had a 30-amp electrical hookup but the weather was mild enough that we could get by with only one air conditioner.  We were only one row away from the St. Mary’s River and, since the site behind us was not occupied for the first two days, we had a clear view of the river, and Canada, from our living room windows.

After getting set up, we sat outside and watched soldiers of the Michigan National Guard erect several sections of a pontoon bridge on the river.  Our neighbor told us they do this exercise every year, to prepare for the possibility of the International Bridge being destroyed in a wartime attack.

Our site also provided us with a great view of the large vessels transporting cargo between the two Great Lakes and, in some cases, on to the Atlantic.  The Soo Locks, through which these large ships travel, is a short distance up the river from us.  Jan enjoyed shooting pictures of the many cargo ships as they sailed by us. 

On Wednesday, we visited the Soo Locks, which are managed by the US Army Corp of Engineers.  There are four locks: the MacArthur, Poe, Davis and Sabin (closed).  The Poe Lock, the largest of the four, was rebuilt in 1968 to accommodate 1,000-foot vessels.  Plans are underway to replace the Davis and Sabin locks with another lock that can handle 1,000-foot vessels. 

More than 11,000 vessels pass through these locks every year, transporting iron ore, coal, limestone and grain. Upon our arrival, we went up on the observation platform.  We watched a large cargo ship pass through the Poe Lock and two tour boats pass through the MacArthur Lock.

We then spent time in the Visitors Center where we examined numerous informational displays and watched several videos dealing with the history and operation of the locks.  We learned that, before the canals and locks were built, rapids dropping 21 feet in less than a mile, stopped all boat traffic at this point.  Locks have been used for thousands of years and use gravity to raise or lower boats between two elevations.  Although there have been major improvements in machinery, the Soo Locks still use gravity, not pumps, to move millions of gallons of water to help boats bypass the rapids.  We also learned that the 75-mile-long St. Mary’s River is technically not a river, but a strait, a series of lakes and connecting waterways.  It takes freighters about nine hours to pass through the St. Mary’s River, navigating a series of tight turns.

We then had an early dinner at Muloney’s Irish Pub, before returning to the observation platform to watch another large cargo ship pass through the Poe Lock on its way to Lake Superior.

After returning to the campground, we went for a walk along the river and discovered a local park and a ferry that transports cars to Sugar Island, a 14-mile-long island known for bird-watching.

On Thursday, we drove to Brimley, MI and hiked the Mission Hill trail.  This 4-mile hike was lollipop-shaped.  The first half-mile had a very steep descent and, since we returned on the same path, a steep ascent on the return.  The rest of the hike was a loop that paralleled a lovely lake.  The outbound trail was near the banks of the lake, while the return was on a ridge high above the lake.  The trailhead was at an observation point that provided a beautiful view of the lakes, with Lake Superior in the distance.

On Friday, June 18th, we left Sault Ste. Marie and drove 77 miles west to Newberry, MI, where we spent five nights at Kritter’s Northcountry Campground. 

We spent Saturday exploring Tahquamenon Falls State Park.  The Tahquamenon Falls consist of two sets of waterfalls on the Tahquamenon River.  As much as 50,000 gallons of water per second flow over these falls, making them the third most voluminous waterfalls east of the Mississippi.  Adding to Tahquamenon’s majesty is its distinctive colors: bronze water from the tannic acid of decaying cedars and hemlocks along its banks, and bright white foam from the water’s high salt content.

Our first stop was at the Lower Falls, a series of five waterfalls flowing around an island.  We hiked a 2.9-mile trail that wound through the state park before bringing us to the edge of the falls.  At the gift shop, we bought some FROG jam, consisting of fig, raspberry, orange and ginger.

We then drove four miles upstream to the Upper Falls.  The Upper Falls are more than 200 feet across and have a drop of approximately 48 feet.  We hiked a 1.9-mile path that took us first to the brim of the falls and then to the gorge.  Accessing the platform by the falls’ brim required going down 94 steps; the viewing platform at the gorge required going down 116 steps.  In both cases, the return up the steps was much more challenging than the descent.

We finished our day with a late-afternoon meal at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub.  It seemed unusual to find a microbrewery in a state park but the food and beer were both good.

We spent Sunday in Paradise.  Paradise, Michigan, that is.  We visited the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.  Whitefish Point has been called “the graveyard of Lake Superior.”  Since navigation began on Lake Superior, there have been approximately 550 wrecks.  More vessels were lost in the Whitefish Point area than any other part of Lake Superior.  This compact museum traces the history of Great Lakes commerce and the disasters that sometimes accompanied it.  Several shipwrecks were chronicled, each with a scale model, photos or drawings, artifacts from the wreck, and a description of how and why the ship went down.  Most compelling is the Edmund Fitzgerald display, with a life preserver, the ship’s bell and a videotape showing pictures of the 29 crewmen who perished in the 1975 wreck, as well as film footage of the ship prior to the wreck.

We next visited the Whitefish Point Light, the oldest active light on Lake Superior, constructed in 1861.  We toured the Keepers Quarters Dwelling attached to the light.  The dwelling has been fully restored to reflect the life of the lightkeeper and his family at the turn of the century, circa 1890-1920.  Although the dwelling looked very attractive, life for the keeper and his family was quite difficult.  The pay was very low and they had almost no contact with civilization away from the light.  Since 1971, the light, fog signal, and radio beacon have been automated and controlled from Sault. Ste. Marie.

We also visited the U.S. Coast Guard Lifeboat Station.  Established in 1923, this was the first station of what was then known as the U.S. Life-Saving Service.  We saw a restored surfboat, as well as a hoist that was used to rescue crew from ships that ran aground.  Between 1871 and 1889, Service-wide, surfboats were launched 6,730 times, rescuing 6,735 victims of shipwreck.

Our remaining two days in Newberry were rainy and quite a bit cooler.  The daytime highs never got above 61 degrees and the nighttime lows were in the upper 30s.  We spent most of these days reading and were able to take advantage of the campground’s book exchange to get three new books.

On Wednesday, June 23rd, as Phil was sweeping branches off the top of our slides in preparation for our travel, he discovered that one of the cables on our bedroom slide had snapped.  Fortunately, we were able to get the slide closed, using the remaining cables and with Phil and the campground owner pushing the slide in from the outside.  The slide remained in place as we drove 77 miles to Christmas, MI, where we spent the next week at Pictured Rocks RV Park.  Unfortunately, there were no mobile RV techs in either the Newberry or Christmas areas.  Phil called the service department at a large RV dealership near Marquette, MI (our next stop) but learned that they were already booked out until late July.  Fortunately, Jan was able to find a mobile RV tech in Baraga, MI and we set up an appointment for the repair to be done on July 8th, while we’re in Iron Mountain, MI.

Thursday’s forecast called for rain most of the day so we decided to use the day to get oriented to the area.  The weather turned out to be much nicer than expected. Our first stop was at Munising Falls.  There was a half-mile boardwalk to the falls.  The pathway split and each way took us up steep stairways that led to either side of the falls.

We next stopped at the Wagner Falls Lookout.  This time, the path to the falls was only .2-mile. 

We then stopped at Muldoons Pasties so Phil could dine on the Michigan Upper Peninsula’s signature dish, the pasty (rhymes with “nasty”).  Muldoons was just one of several pasty shops we saw as we drove through Munising. The pasty originated in Cornwall, England.  In the 1840s, many miners left the UK to work in the copper mines in the UP of Michigan.  The pasty, which is a pastry shell that contains beef, potatoes, carrots and rutabegas, was the ideal meal for a miner.  Since the miner’s hands were dirty, they would hold the pasty in one hand by the crimped crusty edge, eat the middle, and then toss the edges aside.  Phil thought the pasty tasted OK but Jan decided to pass on trying it.  At one pound, the pasty left Phil feeling overly full for the rest of the afternoon.  Jan made a new friend with Sasquatch.

After Muldoons, we drove to the Grand Island Scenic Overlook.  Grand Island, roughly the size of Manhattan, lies on the other side of Munising Bay.  While there are some private landowners, most of the island is part of the Hiawatha National Forest and is largely wooded. Automobiles are not allowed, except by special permit and by island landowners.  A ferry connects the island with the mainland.

On Friday, we explored the Miners Creek section of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Our first stop was at the upper and lower overlooks at Miners Castle.  The sandstone cliffs are known as Miners Castle due to the nine-story high rock formation with turret-like shapes formed by wind and wave erosion.  Unfortunately, thick fog limited our visibility. 

Next, we attempted to hike the Miners Castle to Miners Beach trail.  Although the trail was unmarked, the first mile was fairly simple to follow.  However, after we crossed a bridge, the trails began to split and head off in multiple directions.  We tried multiple paths, each leading to a dead-end, but, with no cell service to enable the use of the Alltrails map, we finally gave up and found our way back to the starting point. 

After getting back to our car, we decided to drive to Miners Beach.  Since the temperature was only 60 degrees, we were surprised to see a lot of people relaxing on the beach and some children in the water.  We also saw a large number of kayakers returning from their tour on the bay. 

Our final stop was at nearby Miners Falls.  We hiked down a .6-mile path to reach these falls, which have a 40-foot drop.

On Sunday, we headed to Autrain Falls and hiked a .8-mile trail that first took us to the lower falls and then, back up the river, to the upper falls.  On our way back to Christmas, we stopped at a scenic area that overlooked Lake Superior.

What would Christmas be without Santa’s workshop?  Unfortunately, we discovered that Santa’s Workshop is now permanently closed, so we were unable to visit Santa.  However, we were still able to see what is supposedly the world’s largest Santa and the largest concrete Frosty the Snowman.  Next, we visited the Kewadin Casino.  We were each given $13 credit on our player’s cards and, after playing the slot machines for an hour, left with more money than we had risked.

On Monday, we did a 2.5-hour Pictured Rocks cruise.  We arrived an hour early and were first in line, so we were able to get very good seats. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a 40-mile stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, was authorized as the first national lakeshore in 1966.  Sandstone cliffs tower 50 – 200 feet above the water.  Streaks on the cliffs occur when groundwater oozes out of cracks in the rock.  The dripping water contains minerals that leave behind a colorful stain as the water trickles down the cliff face (iron – red; manganese – black/white; limonite – yellow/brown; copper – pink/green).  Near the turnaround point of the cruise, the ship captain pulls the boat into Chapel Cove so we were within a few feet of the rocks.  On our return, we passed the decommissioned East Channel Lighthouse on Grand Island. 

Boat backing out of Chapel Cove

On Wednesday, June 30th, we moved 38 miles to Rippling River RV Resort in Marquette, MI.  Checkout time at Pictured Rocks RV Park was 11 am and the official check-in time at Rippling Rivers RV Resort wasn’t until 3 pm so we needed to kill some time.  We stopped at the Michigan Welcome Center and took a short hike along Lake Superior.  Despite this, we still arrived at Rippling Rivers around 1 pm.  We needed the extra time, since we were in a back-in site.  We quickly remembered why we almost always book pull-through sites, as we had a lot of difficulty getting into our site.  Although the site was plenty wide, the road was narrow and was lined with decorative boulders and small trees that served as challenges.  Jan tried to give guidance over our cell phones but we kept losing connections.  We finally got into our site but not before providing quite a lot of entertainment for the other campers.  Marquette, with a population of 20,000, is the largest town in the Upper Peninsula and is home to the only Wal-Mart in the U.P. so, after getting set up, we headed there and stocked up on staples.

On Thursday, we visited Marquette’s historic downtown district and explored some of the shops.  We then headed to Presque Isle Park, a peninsula about four miles north of downtown.  The park provides a microcosm of the area’s beauty: rocky bluffs, tall pines, and lovely Lake Superior vistas.  We hiked the 2.5-mile loop trail around the circumference of the park.  We stopped at Blackrocks, an ancient rock formation on the upper end of the peninsula, and watched a father and daughter leap from the 10 to 15-foot cliffs into the crystal water below.  After completing the loop trail, we walked out on the breakwater toward the Presque Isle Lighthouse.  The final approach to the lighthouse would have involved climbing over a long stretch of boulders but we opted to call it a day instead.  From the breakwater, we were able to view the Marquette Ore Dock.  This huge structure, which extends .25-mile out into Lake Superior, is designed to load 600-foot-long ships with taconite pellets deposited by overhead railroad cars.  Unfortunately, no ships were being loaded at the time.

On Friday, we drove 59 miles west of Marquette and hiked the 4.5-mile out-and-back Canyon Gorge Trail.  The first 2/3 of this trail took beside the roaring rapids of the Sturgeon River as it passed through a gorge carved out of black rocks.  As we had seen at Tahquamenon Falls, the tannic acid derived from decaying cedars caused the water to be a deep bronze.  There were numerous waterfalls along the way, although the highest only had a 30’ drop.

Sunday was July 4th and was an unusually hot day for the U.P., with a high of 91.  We planned to take it easy, due to the heat.  We drove to view the Warner Falls, which our guide book described as “among the most scenic of the Marquette region’s waterfalls.”  Unfortunately, the falls were not easily accessible so we did not get a very good view.  Next, we headed north of Marquette to Sugarloaf Mountain.  We hiked an easy 1.4-mile loop trail.  Although the trail was easy, there were a large number of stairs that needed to be scaled to reach the overlook and this was quite strenuous in the heat.  We had planned to attend some of Marquette’s July Fourth festivities that evening but the heat changed our minds.

Monday was about 10 degrees cooler so we decided to hike the 2.4-mile out-and-back Dead River Falls trail.  It was a beautiful trail that took us along the Dead River to numerous waterfalls and rapids.  The hike turned out to be considerably more strenuous than we had anticipated, with lots of ascents and descents as well as numerous rock scrambles.  When we reached the furthest point, we removed our boots and socks and cooled our feet in the river.