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An account of our travels and tribulations.

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TBUTLER

Happy birthday to our National Park Service.  One hundred years ago this week, Congress created the National Park Service.  There were national parks before the park service was created.  The park service became the agency that managed the national parks.  In the last few weeks we have visited four parks.  At each park we found amazing views, exciting experiences and crowds of people enjoying their heritage.

Our first stop on the way west from Denver was the San Luis Valley of Colorado and Great Sand Dunes National Park.  The dune field at GSD is located on the east side of the San Luis Valley.  Winds picking up sand particles from the dry lake bed of the San Luis Valley drop them when they encounter the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  We've seen and walked dune fields before but these are unique for several reasons.  The highest dune in the field is over 600 feet high.  You can rent sand boards to surf the dunes and many people climb all the way to the top to do just that.  Younger sand surfers were busy learning on the lowest dunes.  But before you reach the dune field, you have to cross Medano Creek.  In the spring, Medano Creek carries large amounts of sand from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the southwestern edge of the dune field.  Choked with sand, the stream periodically experiences blockages and then breaks them creating pulses of water that people surf on.  In mid-summer the stream flow becomes more docile and it is filled with young children with buckets and shovels who enjoy a great cooling sandbox.  Shortly after we reached the dune field, the wind began to pick-up and we were treated to the marvel of dune formation.  Sand grains began dancing around our bare feet.  With each gust of wind the sands around us began to flow along the ground toward the dune field.  Our footprints in the sand were quickly turning into mini-dunes. 

Moving on toward southwestern Colorado we stayed at a campground across Highway 160 from Mesa Verde National Park.  Mesa Verde is a very large park and features hundreds of cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people.  There are overlooks to view many of the cliff dwellings but the real highlight is to actually tour some of the dwellings.  There is currently one that can be toured on your own.  Another that was open to touring is currently off limits because of potential rockfall.  Ranger guided tours are available for three others.  To manage the size of the audience, you purchase tickets for each tour.  The ticket specifies the time of the tour.  Tours involve walking and climbing stairs or ladders.  To walk the ground where the Pueblo people lived and learn about their lives and their history in this area is an amazing experience.  There are also museum exhibits with some of the artifacts from the park.  A recent series of fires on the mesa has exposed hundreds of archaeological sites on the mesa surface.  Prior to the cliff dwellings, the population lived on the surface where they farmed.  The cliff dwellings are the final phase of their history at Mesa Verde.  After about 100 years living in the cliff dwellings they were abandoned as the Pueblo people moved on to other locations.

In northeastern Arizona is Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Shey) National Monument.  A National Monument is designated by Presidential proclamation, National Parks are created by an act of Congress.  Canyon de Chelly is an example of a national monument.  It is administered by the National Park Service but has limited visitor information.  There are cliff dwellings at Canyon de Chelly but none are open to visitation.  There are places to view them from a distance.  One can be viewed up close by hiking two miles down into the canyon and back out.  We made that trek one afternoon.  Along the trail we encountered many Navajo people on their way to visit the cliff dwellings.  Near he site we witnessed a religious meeting of the Navajo people.  In fact, the national monument is located on the Navajo reservation and many of them live within the national monument.  Access to the canyon floor is limited to Navajo escorts at all other locations.  Jeep and horse tours are available.  The canyon itself is quite spectacular in its beautiful formations.  Sandstone layers were formed by ancient sand dunes that migrated over the area many millions of years ago.  The cross layering within each layer tells the story of the passage of another dune.

From Canyon de Chelly we traveled to the granddaddy of all canyons, Grand Canyon National Park.  It had been a long time since either Louise or I had last visited the Grand Canyon.  Needless to say, things have changed.  Louise had been there as a young teen (no year given :lol:), I was there in the late 70's.  While the experience was different, the park service is doing a wonderful job of managing the crowds and keeping the canyon accessible to all.  Visiting the south rim, large parking lots at the visitors center are the starting point.  There are shuttle buses, tour buses and a train to bring you to the park in addition to your own private vehicle.  Yes, they do have an RV parking lot.  Parking becomes difficult to find early in the day during the peak summer season.  Once at the visitors center, a bus system will transport you around the central park area and out to the viewpoints which are scattered along the canyon rim.  Walking part of the Canyon Rim trail gives you a constantly changing view of the canyon.  You can also ride the shuttle bus from one major viewpoint to another.  As interesting as the canyon was the amazing variety of people visiting the canyon.  Foreign languages were as common if not more common than English.  The story of the formation of the Grand Canyon is the story of Earth's history.  Along the rim trail there is a timeline of Earth history.  Markers on the trail about every 30 feet mark the passage of 10 million years. 

Our national parks are a national treasure.  Our Senior Pass allows us free entry to these parks.  When we got our lifetime pass to these parks we became members of the National Park Foundation, a private foundation which assists in funding the parks.  It is a way for us to continue support of our parks while we enjoy our Senior Pass.  Find a park near you and drop by to visit this week. 

TBUTLER

This summer is our 15th summer on the road.  We've traveled in every state in the US (except Hawaii) and every province in Canada (except Nunavut).  Given that experience, there are still new things to do and see.  We left Scottsbluff, NE on August first headed for Denver.  We have family, a sister and daughter there and we've stopped there at least once every year.  Still, we found something new on this trip.  Louise's sister and her husband have now retired and we had a nice visit with them and their family. 

We've done dinners out with Elaine and Lou before but this year we had the younger generation making suggestions for places to eat.  We found ourselves in old Arvada, a ten block area in the center of the old town.  The old town area is thriving as an evening hot spot for the younger generation.  Bars, restaurants and parks all with music make it a world of pleasant experiences.  The Grandview Tavern and Grill has a back yard patio and it made for a relaxing meal and conversation.  After enjoying a good meal we spent some time strolling the streets marveling at all the activity.  Lou and Elaine took us on a tour of the old town, pointing out points of interest and places with family connections. 

Our next stop was the Old Arvada Tavern.  In Lou's memory, it was a rather drab old bar, a place he hung out while waiting to pick up his son from ball practice.  Today it is alive with young people.  Downstairs there is a full menu and the place was packed.  Our social advisors had directed us to take a right inside the entrance and go through the "telephone booth" to the upstairs.  We followed instructions and were welcomed into a world of entertainment.  Like many of the bars, this one featured live entertainment on the weekend.  The band for this evening was a bluegrass band.  They were just warming up and adjusting the sound.  We found a vacant table next to the stage.  I've never been a big fan of bluegrass but a live performance would be a first.  Once the band was warmed up they launched into their performance.  Watching the musicians and listening to the music was a real joy.  We stayed through the first set then retreated to quieter surroundings at their home for the rest of the evening. 

After a week and a half in Denver we drove to Sheridan, WY to spend time with our daughter and her boyfriend.  Karen works in Westminster near Denver but is dating Brent who is living in Sheridan.  The occasion was the Sheridan Rodeo.  We settled into Peter D's RV Park for the week on Monday evening.  Tuesday morning we explored the town.  If we're going to spend a week here and there is going to be a crowd, we had better know our way around town.  We found the rodeo arena and got an idea of the schedule.  Wednesday evening we purchased tickets to the rodeo and watched the program on our own.  I had been to small town rodeo's years ago but this was a much bigger deal.  For Louise this was all new.  The evening began with the Indian Races.  Teams of Native Americans race around the track surrounding the arena.  Starting standing on the ground they have to mount their horse, no saddle, ride a loop then change to a new horse, off of one, on the next without assistance.  Run one more loop and change to a third horse for the final lap.  Pandemonium reigned at each change of the horses.  The rider had to do this unassisted.  Other team members were charged with managing the horses during the race.  Some horses had their own mind how this was all to work.  More than one horse ran a lap without a rider.  One rider chased the horse all the way around the track then grabbed the next horse and completed the race.  Another rider rand several hundred yards holding on the the horse's tail before giving up.  After four nights of racing, the team with the best time would claim a $10,000 prize.  Other events were pretty much what you can see on TV but far more exciting and amazing when watching it in person. 

While in Sheridan, waiting for Karen to arrive for the weekend, we played a round of golf at the local golf course.  We also toured King's Ropes downtown.  This is a western store and more.  The Kings have been saddle makers for several generations.  They also stock a whole warehouse of ropes that are made on site.  You can watch the ropes being made by hand.  There are also several workstations for saddle work  You can drop off a saddle for repair or restoration or order your own custom saddle.  Behind the store is an amazing museum with hundreds of saddles of all kinds, photos, books, guns, spurs, cowboy gear of all kinds and old time photos.  You can stand in one place and look from ceiling to floor to see everything on display in that area.  We spent an hour and a half in a quick walk through. 

Karen arrived late Friday so we met her and Brent at The Silver Spur for breakfast.  From there we were off to watch the bed races.  Teams with specially built beds race down the street for two blocks to a packed house on the sidewalks.  Fun is had by everyone.  To get front row seats, you have to park your lawn chair on main street Friday afternoon.  Following the bed races is the big parade.  This is a major parade with horses, cars, floats of all kinds, and audience participation.  Watchers and float riders battle with water cannons at various locations along the route.  Mars candy magnates live in the area and there is no shortage of Mars candy distributed along the route.  Lunch followed ant then I spent several hours at the Native American Pow Wow on the lawn of the Sheridan Inn.  Native dancers performed a variety of dances with narration to explain the significance of each dance. 

We had ordered tickets for the Saturday night finals more than a month before the rodeo.  The grandstand was all sold out so we purchased tickets in what we learned was the new stands on the west side of the arena.  The rodeo clown labeled this area as the newbee section!  We had front row seats, just a fence separating us from the horses and livestock.  We were just a few yards from the gates and had a great view of the entire arena.  All the participants were pushing their limits for the final performance of the rodeo and the show was spectacular. 

Sunday was a day to relax and wrap up visits.  We slept in then joined Brent's family for a birthday celebration for his sister.  We said good bye to Karen then returned to the park for the evening.  We would leave Monday morning to return to Denver for another week and a half.  On the way south we drove over the Bighorn Mountains enjoying the spectacular scenery on US Hwy 14. We stopped for a few days near Thermopolis, WY,  Camping at Boysen State Park.  One of the surprises of the trip was our entrance into Thermopolis.  The hot springs there has a spectacular travertine terrace visible from the road as you enter the northern end of town.  There are several venues offering hot springs for swimming and soaking.  The grounds are pleasant to walk, offering great views of the spring and the mineral shelf.  Just south of Thermopolis is the Wedding of the Waters.  An informational display marks the place where the Wind River changes its name to the Bighorn River.  The river was given different names upriver and at the mouth and when it became apparent that it was the same river a compromise arrangement was to use both names for the same river.  The Wedding of the Waters marks the location where the name changes.  Up stream, the Wind River Canyon is a spectacular sight.  At the upper end of the canyon is Boyson Dam and Reservoir.  There are numerous campgrounds there, above and below the dam.  All campgrounds are dry without electric which made the stay a little uncomfortable with temperatures near 100 during the day.  Fortunately, breezes off the lake made for cooler evening temperatures.  We stopped in Rawlings on Wednesday night and spent Thursday night at Cummins Rocky Mountain in anticipation of scheduled maintenance on Friday.  We were in and out Friday morning and into Dakota Ridge RV Park that afternoon. 

TBUTLER

Our summer travels began in April with a trip to Rusk, Texas for a Lone Star Chapter Rally that included a train ride on the Texas State Railroad.  The trip from Rusk to Palestine takes about an hour at 20 miles per hour.  They turn the steam engine around on a triangle track then return to Rusk.  It's a good time getting together with friends and making new friends.  As chapter participants, Louise and I are fickle.  Like our trips to FMCA National Conventions, we'll get there if it is on our way for our summer travels.  We have never been weekend RV'ers.  When we go, we're on the road for months and our journeys are usually guided by family commitments or vast travel plans like our 2006 trip to Alaska.  So this summer we're out West while FMCA rallies in Massachusetts.  Last year we were in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine on our way to Newfoundland and Labrador.  Maybe next year we'll synchronize our travels with FMCA.

Leaving Rusk, we were headed for eastern Missouri to visit family.  Louise suggested that we make a stop in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  She was thinking horse races but the horses weren't running, the season hadn't started.  So we did the hot baths.  The real old fashioned ones at the Buckstaff Bath House, a hot soak in spring water so hot they have to add cold water, loofa sponge scrub, a Sitz bath, 360o needle shower, massage and hot wax for the hands.  Follow that with breakfast at The Pancake House and you have a great day ahead of you!  We strolled the shops and stores collecting fun stuff along the way, custom soaps for the ladies in the family, wine souvenirs for our wine lovers.  We drove the scenic drives and enjoyed an overview of the area from the tower atop Hot Springs Mountain. 

Arriving in Missouri we took care of doctors appointments then turned our attention to our children and grandchildren.  Our oldest grandson turned16 last month.  His sister just turned 13.  Mom and dad have their hands full and grandpa and grandma are just grinning!  We have another grandson who will be 16 in November.  He and his dad just took a trip to northern Illinois to get a 1979 Trans Am for his car.  He has a sister who will be 12 and a young brother who is on his way to being 3.  He also has a girlfriend.  Grandpa and grandma are laughing!  Actually, we are quite impressed with the parenting that our children are doing.  They are active parents, involved in their children's lives and doing their best to encourage their children and keeping them involved in school and community.  While we were there we monitored my youngest sister who has gone through a radical masectomy and chemotherapy.  We just received a message from her husband, the reconstructive surgery is complete and she is healing.  We are hoping that this will now be behind her so she get on with her life.

From Missouri we headed west for a short visit with our friends in Yankton, South Dakota.  Bill and Laura sold their motor home last year but we still like them. :rolleyes:  Louise was nursing a sore toe so she wasn't exactly running about.  I played golf several times with Bill and a neighbor and even lent a hand with "The First Tee" instruction one day.  We visited the National Music Museum in Vermillion one day and I highly recommend this as a destination for those interested in music.  One of the unique features of this museum is the iPod guided tour that describes a small percentage of the instruments on display.  That narration is also accompanied by, what else, music.  In fact they have the various instruments that are highlighted playing in the background.  You can see the instrument and also hear it.  What a spectacular experience.  We followed that with lunch and then a visit to Valiant Vineyards in Vermillion.  We also enjoyed an evening concert in the park next to the Missouri River in Yankton.  Evenings were spent in competition as we faced off, playing a variety of games.  The highlight of the visit had to be Czech Days in Tabor, SD.  We had lunch, toured some of the town, enjoyed a celebratory Mass and choir performance, Bill and Laura sang in the choir.  Then there was the beer garden with imported Czech beer.  The evening featured Czech dancers performing traditional dances.

In late June we headed for Deadwood, SD.  We have been through the Black Hills on many occasions but never been to Deadwood so it was our objective on this visit.  Our campground was humble, narrow sites on gravel.  The town was filled with visitors on the weekend and so did the campground.  From the campground we were able to walk through town and when the day wore on we could take a shuttle back to the park.  With casinos, bars and gunfights in the streets, it doesn't sound like a family kind of place, but it is and there were many families.  The museum in town is a first class museum highlighting the history of Deadwood.  They have an extensive collection of wagons, buggies, stagecoaches, horse drawn hearses and more in the basement of the museum.  We enjoyed all of Deadwood including Saloon Number 10 featuring the murder of Wild Bill Hitchcock and the trial of the killer.  In every case, the professional actors involved children in the skit and took time to detail the actual history as the dramatization took place.  Sunday we did the cemetery tour and then hiked to the Friendship Tower on Mount Roosevelt which overlooks the northern end of the Black Hills.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable visit.

To the south of the Black Hills in Nebraska is Scottsbluff.  We had passed through the area several years ago and it looked worth a stop so we made a three day stop there.  This is a prime area for learning about the Oregon Trail and the Great Plains in the mid 1800's.  We drove to the top of Scott's Bluff National Monument and hiked trails to various overlooks on the prairie, played golf at Monument Shadows golf course just below the bluff, and toured the Museum of the Prairie.  The various stories and exhibits transported us to a time of incredible hardship as the pioneers struggled to make their way west through what was at the time a very hostile area.  One hundred and seventy years later, it is hard to imagine that times could be so hard and now the plains so much different now.  In 2004 we followed Lewis and Clark across the country and I had the same impression, from wilderness with life and death struggles to modern times, the world has been radically changed in just the last few hundred years.  That statement comes from the perspective of someone who has lived a significant portion of one hundred years.  ;)

Next we continue to push west...

 

 

TBUTLER

Our travel schedule for this summer is taking shape. We have a short trip coming up in two weeks so it is time to get the motor home road-ready. I took it out for a short drive several weeks ago and had it safety inspected for the Texas license renewal. Lights, wipers and horn all work. A brief look a the tires and a check of the current registration and insurance papers, verify the VIN and I'm good to go.

On that drive I was reminded of a recurrent problem we've had. Our alternator has been slow to kick in, sometimes taking 5 or 10 minutes to start producing current. Once it gets going, it is good and has never failed us completely. I've taken it to a shop and they've checked it and found it working properly. Of course the problem is that it is thoroughly warmed up when I arrive at the shop. The problem shows up when we've been parked for several days or longer.

I talked to a friend who has the same model and year coach as ours. He had his alternator rebuilt at a local repair shop, Ernie's Service. He is a NASCAR fan and has done some racing so he knows engines and engine service. I'm not a mechanic, I don't even play one on TV. I've done shade tree mechanic things like oil changes and simple replacement of parts of varying kinds. Using his information I tackled the removal of the alternator.

Our motor home is a diesel pusher. The engine is mounted backward with the "front" of the engine facing the opening at the rear of the coach. With a side radiator arrangement, the engine compartment looks like there is plenty of room to work until you get yourself into that space. I've got a hose clamp strap end poking me in the chest and the oil dip stick digging into my shoulder. My feet are planted on the engine mounting frame and I'm leaning over trying to reach the wires which are located on the back side of the alternator as I'm looking at it. Not only are they on the other side of alternator, they are at the bottom of the alternator.

So I'm hunched over the engine, my back is against the top of the compartment, I've got a trouble light to illuminate the area but nowhere to place it that will allow it to stay as I struggle with wrenches and stretch to get a better view. With my head now down behind the alternator, my glasses start slipping up onto my forehead. Whenever I tackle a job like this I always develop an appreciation for those who go to work every day to face challenges like this.

There are five wires, the two main lines and three small sensor lines attached to our Leece-Neville alternator. I had been cautioned that one of the lines was hot even when everything in the coach was shut off. I did unplug, shut off the auto generator start, shut down that inverter/charger and then shut off the battery disconnect switches for both the house batteries and the chassis batteries. I checked voltage on each line and found only one of the sensor lines with an active current. I disconnected all the other wires and then the live sensor line. I had no problem, no spark so that seemed to be the solution. I covered the end of each wire with electrical tape to avoid inadvertent contact and sparking. Each wire had to be labeled to be certain that they were re-attached to the correct terminal. I used colored electrical tape to identify the wires and photographed the terminals on alternator to help me remember exactly where each should go. There were two terminals that had no wires attached.

The next challenge was removing the serpentine belt. I understood the nature of the tensioner but didn't know exactly how to release the tension. Checking with my friend, I got the low-down on the relatively simple procedure. I hadn't even noticed the square indention in the arm of the tensioner. That indentation serves as an attachment point for a 1/2 inch socket driver. Use the breaker bar as a lever and pull the tensioner just enough to release the tension on the belt and slip if off the alternator. Louise provided the third hand that I needed as an awkward position and ability to release the tensioner required two hands on the breaker bar. Louise was able to easily slip the belt off the pulley on the alternator.

The final challenge was to remove the mounting bolts. The top one was easy, the nut came off without a fight. The second bolt, on the bottom and more exposed to the spray from the rear wheels was stuck tight. Of course the only place I could get any torque on that bolt was on my back under the motor home. I sprayed a little Liquid Wrench on the bolt and gave it a few minutes and it finally came loose. Once broken loose, I could remove it working from above.

 

I slipped the top bolt out of its collar and the alternator was free. Now I had to lift it free of the mounting and out of the coach. I had to stop several times to re-grip, the pulley doesn't make a very good hand grip! An alternator is filled with copper wiring and is quite heavy. Working in an awkward position with limited space to move makes lifting something much more difficult than just picking it up. Getting the alternator around the mounting points and clear of the wires and other obstructions was something like solving one of those puzzles with two pieces of wire linked together. Once out I placed the alternator in a plastic pan lined with cardboard for it's trip to the repair shop. I didn't want it rolling around in the car.

I couldn't find Ernie's Service on my first try. It is located at the intersection of two interstate highways, I-69 and I-2 in Pharr, Texas. It is difficult to explore the access road in the area so I started to make a second try. As I circled back toward the area where I though the shop was located I spotted an auto repair shop. I stopped and asked directions. The mechanic in the shop knew right away where the shop was and how to get there. I was two minutes away and had been looking in the wrong place.

Pulling into Ernie's Service, I assessed it to be a pretty simple operation and I was correct. They work on generators, starters and alternators. Walking into the shop I find myself among a sea of scrapped electrical equipment. Ernie is definitely waiting for the price of Copper to rise. I told him I needed an alternator repaired. He asked what kind of vehicle it came from. I replied "a motor home", expecting a groan of some kind from Ernie. But that isn't what I got. He turned to his assistant and said, "probably a 2825." I went to the car to retrieve the alternator and sure enough, there on the label was "Sales No. 2825LC." I thought, "OK, this guy knows this alternator, this is good."

Re-entering the shop a woman who had been standing next to Ernie met me in front of the counter and took the alternator off my hands. She took it to Ernie, he looked it over commenting on the condition as he turned it over. He was pleased it wasn't corroded, my work with the wire brush had paid off. He said they would put it on the test stand, "no charge." They hooked it up, their electric motor spun the alternator, faster and faster and still the needle on the gauge didn't budge. They hooked up a battery and still no current could be detected.

Ernie agreed with my assessment of the problem, brushes might be the problem. He would fix it if he could. He muttered something about possible other problems, electronics, etc. He said they would replace the brushes and bushings. The charge would be for parts and labor, labor being $40.00 per hour. Then he said, "11." I'm thinking "11, 11 what, 11 hundred, as in dollars?" He meant 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. I was stunned, it was 4:00 p.m. and he was going to have it done tomorrow morning. Our trip is coming up in two weeks and I was just hoping I'd be able to get it back several days before then. His assistant assured me they had the parts in stock.

He called about 10:30 the next morning to let me know that the alternator was ready. When I picked up the alternator, Ernie showed me the brushes. They were little stubs about the size of a pencil eraser. New ones are over an inch long. There was hardly anything left of them. Ernie said they were stuck in the channel that holds them, he had to force them out of the holder. That would explain why they weren't making contact until things warmed up. We were lucky they hadn't failed in some remote location like the roads we traveled last fall in Labrador! The bill for the repair was less than $80.00. I was amazed. If I had gone to a shop and had the alternator removed and a rebuilt one installed in it's place, the bill likely would have been more like $800, I know because I've had it done several times. Of course that would have involved someone else doing the removal and re-installation. So I was well paid for my mechanical adventure.

Re-installing the alternator was easier and faster than the removal process. I didn't even drop any of the tiny nuts or washers. An inventory of tools used and putting everything away finished the process this morning.

If you are in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and need starter or alternator service, Ernie's Service is the place to go! The shop looks humble but the service is fantastic and prices are really reasonable. Even if you have someone remove the part for you, take it to Ernie, you won't be disappointed.

Next on my list of things to get road-ready is the water system. Louise wants to do some cleaning and has informed me that she needs to have the water on. Each day will bring another task, loading clothes, food, tools and other supplies. Tires are on the last thing on the list. I'll adjust the pressure when we're ready to leave. The Pressure Pro sensors indicate the tires have held their pressure during the winter. I've got a set of tires waiting at a shop on the way to our destination for this first trip. With the new set of tires we should be ready for a good summer of travel.

TBUTLER

Our trip through Labrador picks up on Sunday morning as we depart the Paradise River Rest Area. The bridge over the river is a long metal bridge and it was talking to us as the morning sun began to warm the cold metal structure. As the metal expanded there were occasional loud metallic bangs that echoed through the canyon of the Paradise River. We crossed the river and continued on our way.

Traffic on a Sunday morning was very light. I counted five vehicles in the first two hours on the road. The condition of the road was excellent for a gravel road. We made good time with few delays. Later in the morning the construction crews were out again and we had numerous short delays. We began seeing construction crews for a private company. They were assembling the poles for a electrical distribution line from a new dam being built near Goose Bay. Near the north end of Highway 501 we encountered paving crews. It was only the last 20 miles but we were glad to see paved road.

Highway 501 ends at Labrador Highway 500. A right turn takes us about 20 miles into Happy Harbor and Goose Bay. We stopped in Goose Bay for fuel. Fifty gallons of diesel at $3.53 per gallon (conversions from liters to gallons and Canadian Dollars to US Dollars) topped off the tank for the remainder of the trip. From Goose Bay to Labrador City Highway 500 is paved road in good condition. We left Goose Bay about 3:00 and got to Churchill Falls about sunset. We had hoped to tour the Churchill Falls Power Plant but everything we heard indicated that the tours were no longer available. The Churchill Falls Hydroelectric Power Plant is completely underground. The town of Churchill Falls is a company town, built to support the building and operation of the dam and power plant. We found a vacant lot and parked for the night.

The next morning we set out for Labrador City. The trip took about four hours with a short stop to take pictures of a black bear that crossed the road ahead of us. Arriving in Labrador City we found the Grenfel Hotel where we turned in the Satellite Phone we had picked up in L'Anse-Au-Claire. We had parked at a large parking lot for a shopping area just across the street from the hotel. It was now about noon so we had lunch in the motor home. As we were finishing our lunch there was a knock at the door.

Opening the door, I saw a couple, an older man and woman. They were just curious as to what brought us to Labrador City. This isn't a place that attracts many visitors. Labrador City is a mining town. We talked for a while, gave us some tips about the road ahead and answered several other questions for us. One of their tips was a suggestion for a stopping place for the night. There was really only one suitable place to pull off the road and spend the night. That was an abandoned mining town. The town had been a thriving town until the company decided to close the mine. With the stroke of a pen, the town disappeared. The only thing left are the streets. I looked it up on the internet, Gagnon.

Labrador City is on the western border of Labrador. Leaving Labrador City the road turns south and we cross into Quebec. As this happens the road becomes a gravel road again. In fact the road was now more like an operating mine road. The road was rough and heavy truck traffic was constant. We could manage little more than 15 to 20 miles per hour and we had about 40 miles to go. We had also been warned that the road would cross railroad tracks a dozen or so times. Most of the crossings were rough. Completing this gauntlet, we arrived at a stretch of paved road and made better progress.

We arrived in Gagnon shortly before sunset. The pavement divided into a boulevard with numerous side roads visible. Most of the roads are now overgrown with trees. All the buildings are gone, removed, salvaged, not decayed. The sidewalks are there, visible in places. This mining ghost town sits on the edge of a large meteor crater, Manicouagan which has been dammed up and now forms Reservoir Manicouagan. The crater measures 60 miles across and was formed about 300,000 years ago. The iron and nickel being mined in the area were likely associated with the meteor though I don't know that for sure. At any rate, the dam has produced a large circular lake which can easily be seen on a map of Quebec. The highway, Quebec Route 389, skirts the eastern edge of this crater. To the south of the crater the outlet is dammed by a dam identified as Manic 5. It is the first (or last depending on how you view it I guess) of five dams across the river on its way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was the only dam we saw, the others are away from the road but there were signs for the road to each of the remaining four dams.

Quebec Route 389 is partially gravel and mostly paved. The road runs through rough mountainous terrain with curves, climbs and descents which makes for slow travel. The road is also heavily traveled by truck traffic in support of the mining and power generation industry to the north. We learned that signs indicating Traveaux meant road work or detour in French! There were many traveaux along the way. We drove from Gagnon to Baie-Comeau in one day which completed our exploration of the loop through Labrador and Quebec.

We had driven the entire route, approximately 1030 miles, in four days. Each of our three nights we boondocked where we could find a place to park. There were few places to stop and no tourist activities. This area is poorly mapped, our mapping program only shows the roads we traveled if we zoom in very close and then many of the features are not labeled. There were biting flies in the remote areas which made outdoor activities very unattractive. So why go there? I learned a lot about the area by simply seeing the terrain and activities along the route. This is a very remote area to visit and being able to tour any remote and little explored area is exciting in its own way. I would love to go back and spend more time if the roads were all paved and there were more facilities for tourists, RV parks, scenic viewpoints, information signs, and parks. I don't think these will be available any time soon and if they were, they would destroy the very wilderness nature of the area.

TBUTLER

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After our three day stay at L'Anse au Claire we set out on a drive across Labrador. We had some idea of what we faced but only the journey would really tell us what was ahead. I had queried numerous people about the nature of the road and received many different assessments. Depending on personal perspective and the vehicle being driven the same road may get widely varying descriptions. That was certainly the case for the road from Red Bay to Goose Bay. Labeled as the Labrador Coastal Highway, it connects coastal villages from L'Anse au Claire to Goose Bay via road routes. This is a recent development. These villages have historically been connected by boat and ferry. A few of the villages have airfields and all are accessible by helicopter today.

Leaving L'Anse au Claire, Labrador on Saturday morning, we drove north on NL Hwy 510. As in our previous trip north from L'Anse au Claire we drove about 10 miles in dense fog. Then suddenly the fog was completely gone, the sun was shining. Once we reached Red Bay the paved road turned to gravel. We were facing about 328 miles of gravel road. The road started out very wide, probably 40 or 50 feet wide. We were able to meet vehicles without getting too close together. The gravel was small and the road was smooth as a gravel road can be. There was nothing to reduce dust however and we generated our own tail of dust as did every other vehicle on the road. With a large vehicle there is almost no speed at which you won't raise a dust cloud. Dust would plague us for the entire 328 miles of road.

About 30 miles from Red Bay the road began to narrow. Just 95 miles into the gravel we encountered our first challenge. We had a flat tire. I'm going to describe this flat tire as a lucky flat tire. The tire monitoring alarm sounded just as we were passing the road to Charlottetown. I slowed immediately and pulled into a clearing at the roadside. It was the outside dual on the drivers side. We got out, heard the leaking tire and immediately disconnected the toad. Once that was done I backed the motorhome into the clearing to get it completely off the road. Then I set out in the toad to the fishing village, Charlottetown, just 12 miles from the motor home.

Reaching Charlottetown I drove almost all the way through town before finding the general store. I went in and explained my situation. A conversation between two ladies and a young man resulted in the name of the person in town who could fix our tire. The young man said he would lead me to Ivan's place of business. He did so and introduced me to Ivan. While I was talking to Ivan, he was on his way back to work. Ivan had several reasons why he couldn't come right away to do the job but as soon as his daughter returned with his truck he would come fix the tire. He said about two hours. I returned to the motor home trusting that Ivan would show up sometime in the afternoon. Two hours later Ivan pulled up next to the motor home and proceeded to fix our flat tire. It was a 1 1/4 inch metal screw that punctured the tire.

Before leaving us, Ivan advised us that the next place to get off the road would be just before we crossed the Paradise River. He seemed to be encouraging us to continue on to that rest area. He also advised us that we could get internet access at any of the highway department garages along the route. You see what I mean when I call the flat tire a lucky flat tire. Being 4:00 in the afternoon now and only about 150 miles for the day we decided to take Ivan's advice and continue on to the Paradise River. The ride was uneventful until about 20 miles before the rest area. Those last 20 miles were extremely rough, potholes and large rocks dotted the surface. We drove slowly and still gave the rig a good shaking. We reached the rest area about the time the sun set. We had now completed 150 miles of our gravel road challenge, We had driven about 200 miles since leaving L'Anse au Claire that morning.

During the day we have been accompanied by a variety of vehicles from large trucks to small cars. Traffic was never heavy. Many times there was no traffic in sight and other times we might meet several vehicles in a row. Cars and large trucks were able to pass us relatively quickly so we never had a group of vehicles in trail for very long. The scenery along this section of road was typical of what we had seen in Newfoundland, lakes and forest. We saw many a small camper parked in the brush alongside a lake. Usually there was only one camper, as if people preferred to be the only person at that lake. If you love to fish, this must be near ideal.

There were roadcuts that indicated the glaciers had been here. We saw numerous cuts through eskers, deposits of water worn stones that were from rivers that flowed within the glaciers. When the glacier melts, it leaves these are snake-like ridges and the road cuts through them show the rounded boulders and gravel of water born rocks. Charlottetown was located on one of may fjords along the Labrador coast. Goose Bay is at the western end of the largest of these fjords on the eastern coast of Labrador.

Along the way we were seeing a great deal of road work. Much of the work seemed to be widening the road to match the roadway we started on. Being so remote, the rock for road construction and repair was being quarried on site from the roadcuts, hauled to a nearby rock crusher to be processed to size and then hauled back to the site where needed. We saw mine size trucks and equipment, much beefier than the typical road repair equipment we see in the US. In most places traffic was stopped by a flagger and the delays weren't too long due to the sparse traffic. I believe I mentioned the flies which are abundant and quite a pest in Labrador. Many of the flaggers wore fly nets covering their head and neck area and had gloves on so that there was a little skin as possible exposed.

TBUTLER

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It has been almost a month since we finished our trip to Newfoundland and Labrador. I needed the time between the trip and this post to put it all in perspective. We had a wonderful interesting and sometimes challenging trip through Newfoundland. On the 22nd of August we took the motorhome on the ferry from St. Barbe, Newfoundland to Blanc Sablon in Quebec. While waiting to board the ferry we were treated to a very interesting event. A moose swam across the bay from the far shore to St. Barbe. After shaking off some water the last we saw of the moose she was strolling into St. Barbe. It was quite a long swim but there wasn't a hint of panic or tiring, she just kept stroking away until she reached the shore.

The trip across the Strait of Belle Isle was interesting. The ferry was tacking against the current all the way across and it was noticeable in watching from the deck as we approached the landing at Blanc Sablon. We were to learn later that many shipwrecks occurred in the area due to the strong current. I enjoyed watching sea birds and the villages on the Labrador coast.

Once we reached Blanc Sablon, QC, we drove north about six miles to L'Anse au Claire, NL. We stayed at an RV park associated with the Northern Lights Inn in L'Anse au Claire. The park was very humble, utilities were at the rear of the coach, the surface was gravel and our 40 footer was by far the largest vehicle in the park. We were happy to have full hookups and internet service.

We traveled north to the Point Amour Lighthouse one day and enjoyed climbing the Lighthouse to the top for a great view of the coast. Stories of lighthouse keepers are most interesting and this one was no exception. The lighthouse owner bought a Ford Model T which was the first vehicle in Labrador. There are pictures of the lighthouse keeper and his family and other items from the late 1800's. The lighthouse itself has walls constructed of local stone and has walls that are six feet thick.

The next day we drove north to the Red Bay National Historic Site. The drive was quite instructive. We had been socked in fog all night long. Driving north we drove out of the fog about 5 miles north into bright sunlight. The road meanders north from one bay to the next. Between bays the road goes up and over high hills. Each bay hosts another small village.

Red Bay is a small town and the site of 16th century Basque whaling camps. Recent excavations on land and underwater resulted in discovery of a large ship for transporting whale oil back to Europe. There was also a small whaling boat known as a chalupa recovered. That chalupa is on display in the welcome center. Imagine a chalupa that has been on the bottom of the bay for close to 500 years. Artifacts from the camps and the large ship are on display in a visitors center. The archaeological work that was done is amazing. We took a boat across to an island that was the site of several whaling camps. Walking a trail we saw the remains of various buildings or shelters where whale blubber was rendered and whale oil was put into barrels for shipment.

Before leaving Red Bay we drove north just a few miles north to scout out the next part of our trip. From Red Bay north toward Goose Bay there is a single road, the Coastal Road. The road is entirely gravel until you reach the area of Red Bay. The final 20 miles into Red Bay are paved.

If all you want to do is see a little of Labrador I would recommend that you take the toad to Sablon Blanc and stay at the Northern Lights Inn. The Inn looks quite nice and has a restaurant. Another possibility would be to take a tour which would include bus transportation to the tourist sites mentioned above as well as a stay at the Northern Lights Inn. We wanted to do more than this so we brought the motor home over on the ferry. After three days in L'Anse au Claire we set out to see the rest of Labrador. I'll describe that journey in my next posting.

TBUTLER

That is a place I have wanted to go. You have a 40' and I a 45', will there be a problem for me? On roads and campgrounds? Do you reserve ahead, before you go?

Thanks
Carl

Carl asked a good question so I'm going to answer it with this post.

I've seen a few 45's on the road here. We've been able to find places to stay without a problem though the number of places with full hookups is limited. The standard is 30 Amps with water and a dump station. There may or may not be wifi and signal strength when they have wifi varies considerably. In many cases, you have only one choice of where to stay but we've been able to stay where we wanted almost always. We've found parking spots in cities a few times, Wal-Mart two nights in Clarenville, Royal Canadian Legion two nights in Deer Lake. We've also stayed in roadside pull-outs, one paved, one dirt/gravel. Visitors centers are common stopping spots for the wifi and parking is generally good but not always. Some visitors centers will allow overnight parking but most simply don't have enough room for that. We have found RV parking spots that aren't large enough for our rig but usually there are few places used and we've been able to park across several spots or park along a curb.

In a few cases we've called campgrounds a few days ahead and been able to get a space reserved. The one area where this didn't work was around Gros Morne in mid-August. It's a popular National Park. We got a place to stay right on Bonne Bay for the first few days of our visit right in the heart of the park. When we wanted to relocate on the north side of the park all the close parks were filled. We found a place with full hookups about 30 miles north of the park and made that work. As in the US, you will find the National Park Campgrounds unsuitable for large RV's. We tried in Terra Nova National Park and there were sites that would have worked but they were all occupied. We pulled into several sites but slides and trees were a problem so we gave that up. That park didn't have any close private parks to stay at so we ended up taking on short day hike and went on our way.

You will likely find yourself staying with the campgrounds that are near the Trans Canada Highway as the smaller roads on the peninsulas are narrow, no shoulders and in places pretty rough. We tried a few of the peninsula roads with the motor home and managed OK but it takes a lot of patience. Those roads are better done with the toad. There are many beautiful harbors and interesting places to see on these peninsulas. If you don't travel them, you miss much of the beauty of Newfoundland.

Now in Labrador we are in a park just north of the Strait of Belle Isle ferry landing in Blanc Sablon. The park was full Thursday night, last night only a couple of small vans. The space is small and we are parked into the regular roadway with just enough room for traffic to pass. It was the best space available at the time. Someone had the space on the end of the row which was on a curve and would have been no problems. This park is gravel, pick your own spot, first come, first served. The parks here are gravel or grass and you may find tree limbs and maneuvering a problem in some. Others are wide open and not a problem. We haven't found any campgrounds that would be classified as a resort type parks in the US.

The ferries here are all capable of handling large vehicles. They have many trucks on each ferry run. We did make reservations for our ferry trips. For the ferry from Nova Scotia we made reservations months ahead. For the ferry from Newfoundland to Labrador we called a few days ahead and got a space without a problem.

I would not hesitate to come again. You will find yourself in the company of many smaller campers in most cases but hey, you drive what you've got! Had to laugh on ferry to Blanc Sablon we were in line with a small van camper and I noticed the license plate was Switzerland. I struck up a conversation with the driver on the trip across the strait. He laughed saying, "Our campers are like our countries. US is big, Switzerland is small."

TBUTLER

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By mid-August we had been in Newfoundland for three weeks. Our final week we explored the Northern Peninsula. This is the large peninsula on the western coast of the island. The peninsula is defined by the Long Range Mountains which run the length of the peninsula. At the southern end of this area is Gros Morne National Park. We stayed for two nights at a campground on Bonne Bay while exploring the southern portion of the park. The campsite was a parking lot type campground which doesn't sound exciting except that, parked nose-in, we were looking out the windshield at Bonne Bay just 15 feet away. Bonne Bay is actually a fjord, a glacially carved valley which is flooded with seawater. So we had beautiful scenery right there.

We visited the Discovery Centre just a few miles from our campsite. There we learned about the key points of interest in the park and picked up information on ranger-led hikes. One of particular interest was the Tablelands Hike. The Tablelands are a series of flat topped mountains which are made of peridotite, material from Earth's mantle. The mantle is the layer of Earth that lies just below the crust. These mountains were pushed up in the collision between continents. Gondwanaland (now mostly Africa) and Laurentia (now mostly North America) collided forming the supercontinent Pangea. In the collision, Laurentia was pushed down under Gondwanaland. When the continents separated as the Atlantic Ocean began to open between them, a portion of Earth's Mantle was dredged up and became the area called the Tablelands. We took the hike and walked on Earth's Mantle. It isn't the only place in the world where you can walk on the material of the mantle but as our guide pointed out it is the only place where you can park your car and walk off the parking lot onto Earth's mantle.

The next day we moved to the north side of the park for another two days. To get from the south side to the north side was about 70 miles as we had to go around Bonne Bay. On the way to our campground which was located north of the park, we had reserved a boat trip on Western Brook Pond. Pond sounds like a small body of water but that isn't the case here in Newfoundland. They call this body of water which is 14 kilometers long, 525 feet deep, a pond. It is a fjord that is cut off from the sea. At one time sea level was higher and the water was salty but now it is fresh water. This is a glacial valley and has all the characteristics of glacial valleys everywhere. It has a broad flat floor with steep valley walls. We couldn't see the floor but we sure saw the valley walls. There were waterfalls and towering cliffs through almost the entire trip. The trip started with low clouds, see the photo with this posting. During most of the trip we had beautiful sunlight but as the trip was ending in late afternoon the clouds once again closed in on the mountain tops. Either way it was a spectacular boat ride.

We spent another day visiting the official Visitors Center for Gros Morne. Gros Morne means high mountain and the mountain that bears that name is the second highest in Newfoundland. Newfoundland was glaciated and glaciers destroy mountains so the second highest mountain in Newfoundland is less than 3000 feet above sea level. By the way, the rocks of mainland Newfoundland are part of the Appalachian Mountain Chain. The rocks of the Long Range Mountains, of which Gros Morne is one, are part of the Canadian Shield. The Canadian Shield is the northern portion of Canada which has some of the oldest crustal rocks on Earth.

Leaving Gros Morne National Park behind, we drove north on a road that hardly shows up on road maps of the area. Our GPS only shows this road at the highest resolution. It is the newest highway in Newfoundland, having replaced a gravel road only ten years ago. So if you're looking at a map of Newfoundland and it shows the only road that goes up the Northern Peninsula as a small road, it is the equal if not better than many of the roads on other peninsulas. In fact, in some ways it is better. There are a few scenic pull-outs and some picnic areas, many of which are RV friendly. This is in stark contrast to some older roads which were strictly for getting from point A to point B, no funny business like stopping to look at scenery or having a picnic. As with all the roads in Newfoundland as you get near the end of the road the pavement becomes progressively worse! Still, it was all suitable for RV travel.

We stopped along the way to do some hiking and see Thrombocites at Flower's Cove. Thrombocites were one of the few life forms that left any evidence of their existence in Precambrian time, more than 600 million years old. These were single celled communities that grew in warm shallow seas. They look like a pan of biscuits, one round topped mass next to other round topped masses. One mass was about six to eight feet in diameter and the whole collection could stretch out to 50 feet in diameter. In places these large groups were adjacent to another large group. We saw similar features in Australia last year, Stromatolites are also single celled masses growing in warm shallow seas. In the Australian example, they were still living. The Thrombocites were fossils, now rock masses that replaced the original living cells.

Near the northern tip of the Northern Peninsula we pulled into Viking RV Park. We spent two nights here while exploring L'Anse Aux Meadows National Historic Park. This park encompasses an area where evidence of Norse settlements was found only a few years ago. Parks Canada has done a wonderful job of preserving and interpreting this site. The evidence is quite clear and the interpreters do a wonderful job of communicating the nature of the evidence and the nature of the Nordic settlements. Over 1000 years ago, the Norse visited and lived at the site. They discovered North America 500 years before Columbus discovered America. They didn't stay, returning to Greenland and eventually to Iceland and Norway.

The entire tip of the Northern Peninsula celebrates this Norse connection. We booked a dinner theatre program, in St. Anthony, billed as a Viking Dinner. Our last night in Newfoundland was spent enjoying a sporting good dinner. A variety of seafood and game served up buffet style with a bit of wine and some Viking bluster made for a fun and interesting evening. On our way home we were rewarded with our first sighting of moose. We had been told on the boat ride that there are four moose for every square kilometer of Newfoundland. In a month of roaming The Rock, as they call it, we had seen nary one. This night as we drove back to our RV Park we were challenged by one large cow as she wandered onto the road. I stopped before we hit her at which time she looked startled and fled into the brush at roadside. Just before reaching the campground we encountered a bull moose in the middle of the road. He decided to run down the yellow stripe so we pursued him at a respectful distance. Louise tried to get a picture through the windshield but couldn't so I took the camera and handed her the steering wheel. I held the camera out the window and took a number of pictures as she steered the car. We were traveling slowly which was fortunate, I've got the camera out the window, Louise is laughing uncontrollably at the sight of this male moose jogging down the highway in front of us. He eventually departs the road to one side and I stopped to regroup. As I'm handing the camera back to Louise, looking in the mirror I saw the moose come out of the brush and dash across the road and into the brush on the other side. Like a chicken, he simply wanted to get to the other side!

The next day we packed up and headed for St. Barbe where we would catch the ferry to Blanc Sablon, Quebec and then drive to L'Anse au Clair, Labrador. After topping off the fuel tank in the motor home we lined up at the ferry terminal. Shortly before the ferry was ready to load I noticed that many people were looking out into the water between the dock and the beach to the north. I expected to see a dolphin or a whale but it wasn't that at all. There in the water was a moose swimming across the bay. So our final, good bye moose was swimming in the bay and then having made it to the beach was walking into the town of St. Barbe!

As we crossed the Strait of Belle Isle and the shore of Newfoundland faded into the distance I felt a wisp of regret, leaving such a beautiful and interesting place. It had been a great month and I was wishing it could last longer. We had been treated so well and there was so much more to see. Perhaps we'll be able to return another summer.

TBUTLER

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Newfoundlanders wouldn't call it the outback, that's an Australian term. I'm referring to the places that are as far from the TransCanada Highway as you can get in Newfoundland. As with the outback of Australia, the connections to the modern world fade quickly and the natural world and early history emerge. We found some wonderful places on our way to the tips of a few of the fingers of land that are so common in Newfoundland.

Leaving the capitol city, St. John's, we traveled to Placentia and stayed in an RV park near where the long ferry to Newfoundland makes its landing, Argentia. It isn't far from St. John's, just 98 miles, about 160 kilometers. The park had full hookups including 50A electric but no wifi. There was a visitors center less than a mile away where we stopped each day to connect and get our updates on things personal and business. It's an inconvenience that cuts into our exploring and sightseeing time and thus the number of things we can see during a day. Hint for the Chamber of Commerce, Internet is essential for tourists. It is true for us retirees and I can't imagine our grandchildren going anywhere they can't tap into the internet.

Placentia is located on the western side of the Avalon Peninsula. If you don't have a map, picture the Avalon Peninsula as a big W. The first stroke of the W is where the Avalon Peninsula attaches to mainland Newfoundland. Each of the remaining strokes make a separate and unnamed peninsula, south, then north, then south again, and finally north. That last one is where St. John's is located. Placentia is on the lower portion of the first downstroke. It was a convenient base for our exploration of that peninsula.

History here begins with Basque fishermen who came for the cod. They were followed by the French and the English so there were forts built because at the time each country was struggling for dominance of that part of the world. We toured the old French fort, Fort Royal, and learned of the hardships of early life on the island. The French eventually ceded the area to England and the English occupied the fort for a short period of time. They abandoned the fort in 1811 as England prepared to invade the United States in the War of 1812.

We drove to the southern tip of the peninsula on another day and visited the Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve. The road down the peninsula was in poor condition (a charitable description). The had occasional markers out for "bump ahead" and "potholes ahead" which made us laugh. We never figured out what made them select certain bumps and potholes for signage. They could have put a sign on the road leaving Placentia indicating bumps and potholes next 60 kilometers! We dodged and bumped our way along, arriving at Cape St. Mary's about noon.

Every birder knows that the best birding is early in the morning but we were here near noon. Still, we headed down the trail to the overlook to see birds. What a grand surprise we received. We were treated to magnificent views of nesting birds. The most spectacular were the Northern Gannets (see the photo with this posting). I fell in love with these birds when we first saw them on one of our first trips after we arrived. We got just a few distant glimpses as they were flying by but they were extremely graceful fliers and quite beautiful in binoculars. Since then we have watched them diving headfirst into the ocean to catch fish. Not just diving into the ocean, plunging vertically from a height of 30 or more feet into the ocean with hardly a splash. Now we were looking at their nests. These are pelagic birds, birds that spend most of their life at sea. They only come to land to nest, before returning back to the sea. Here they were with their fuzzy chicks, covering every possible spot on a large rock just off shore. We viewed them with binoculars and a scope that I tote around for just such occasions.

There were gulls also, the Black-legged Kittiwake. These are also pelagic, spending most of their adult lives at sea. The young were old enough to practice flying and were particularly entertaining. They must learn fast. They will be flying away in the next month and they won't return to land for three years. We also saw Common Murres. How common are they? They are so common that they are hunted here in Newfoiundland. The natives call the Turres and they are allowed to hunt them here in Newfoundland because it is a traditional game bird here. We saw thousands of them on the cliffs, each tending a nest, raising a single chick. The Common Murres are also pelagic and rarely seen from land except when nesting.

Leaving Placentia, we drove northeast to the peninsula which makes up the middle of the W. We found a park near Green's Harbour. It was a large park and we got a pull in spot. Yes, we pulled into the spot, the utilities were on the proper side then. When we left we backed out of the site. The site had at one time been occupied by people who stayed there as "permanent" renters. They had fixed up the site so it was much nicer than any of the others in the park. It was easily the nicest site we had anywhere in Newfoundland. It was level, paved with a clean dark red rock and surrounded with small trees but they were well trimmed and presented no problems. We had full hookups and no wifi. There was internet access at the office, a short walk from our site. Still not the convenience of relaxing in the motor home using the internet.

From Green's Harbour we went south to the town of Dil--, yes, I know, but that is the name. It was named for one of the town founders. That's a name that would be changed today! The Di-do Dory Grill had been recommended to us so we had to give it a try. They had easily the best fish and chips I've ever had. The cod was spectacular and the fries were quite good, not greasy. Traveling north up the west side of the peninsula we stopped at Heart's Delight to visit the Cable Station. Heart's Delight is where the first trans-Atlantic Cable came ashore. We saw the actual cable and its successors on the beach and in the building. There was a short movie introduction and then we toured a massive display of the equipment and history of the cable station. Incoming Morse Code messages were received here and transmitted on to the rest of America. The first successful cable came ashore in 1911 and the station closed in 1965. For 54 years, this was a hub for communication between Europe and North America. This museum far exceeded my expectations and I would recommend it to anyone. Its displays touched on the impact of the business on the community, to women,s employment in Newfoundland and the history of communications.

At the northern tip of the peninsula we walked among old rock fences that the first settlers used to mark their fields and pastures. The community of Grates Cove was representative of many fishing villages we have seen. Small roads branch off to houses that dot the hillsides. The amenities are few. There is a post office in most every village. A few have service stations which double as the grocery. Most of these villages have only housing. All have a dock or series of docks. The larger ones have a fishery were fish are processed and shipped to market. There isn't much for tourists in these towns other than their picturesque nature.

We left the Avalon Peninsula traveling north toward Gambo. We had already explored the Bonavista Peninsula and Terra Nova National Park so we continued past them. At Gambo we turned north on Highway 340 and this time took a different approach. We decided to take the motor home on the loop around the Gander Peninsula. We had seen part of this peninsula making a day trip out of Gander to Twillingate. This trip rewarded us with wonderful scenery which is much better seen from the high seats and single glass windshield for a panoramic view.

I don't think that I have mentioned the amazing presence of water in Newfoundland but everywhere we travel there are lakes, ponds, bays, harbors, and thousands of puddles and wet bogs. Water is literally everywhere, fresh water, bog water, sea water. In fact Newfoundlanders have a variety of humorous songs. One of my favorites is... "Thank God We're Surrounded by Water." Look up the lyrics on the internet, you can even find a link to a You Tube version of the song. I finally found a copy on an album, Good Work... If You Can Get It!, by The Government Rams. We heard this in the -ildo Dory Grill but the waiter couldn't identify the group.

So our journey from Gambo north to Newtown was highlighted by lakes, ponds and other bodies of water all with scattered boulders from glaciers dotting the shallow waters. In Newtown we stopped to drive through town. With forty feet of motor home and a car in tow this is always a risk but we found a wonderful spot to pull off in the only loop in town. That turned out to be where the history tour of Newtown started out so we signed up and took the two hour tour led by two rosy cheeked young men. We saw an old school house complete with old classic school books, a fishing shed with tools for cleaning fish and two houses belonging to several generations of a fishing family. We found a spot to pull off near Musgrave Harbour to spend the night along the roadside. By the afternoon of the next day we were in Deer Lake on the western side of Newfoundland. Deer lake would be the jumping off point for our next great exploration, Gros Morne National Park and the Northern Peninsula. We laid in provisions, food and fuel, after a good nights sleep on the Royal Canadian Legion parking lot in Deer Creek. By ten o'clock we were on our way.

TBUTLER

Puffins

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We left Gander, Newfoundland, on Friday, July 31 on our way to St. John's, NL. Along the way we passed through Terra Nova National Park. We spent several hours at the visitor's center and did some hiking around the area. We had hoped to stay in the park for several days to do further exploration but there were no spaces suitable for us in the campgrounds. They do have some spaces that we could fit into but they were already taken so we continued on late in the afternoon. Coming into Clarenville just south of Terra Nova we stopped at the visitors center as it looked like a good place to spend the night. Pulling into the parking lot we noticed a sign prohibiting overnight parking. We decided to ask if they had suggestions for places to stay. It turns out there was a Walmart less than a mile from the visitor's center. We asked about things to be seen in the area. Clarenville is located at the inland end of a long peninsula. This is typical topography for Newfoundland. We find that we are exploring Newfoundland one peninsula at a time. In this case, we parked the motor home at Walmart and took the car to explore the peninsula the next day.

Driving down the peninsula is always a slow process. There is one road, it goes through towns and speed limits are slower. The roads are rough in places and speed limits for the roads tend to max out at 80 KPH, about 55 MPH. Get off the main road and things go downhill rapidly. Potholes, dips, broken surface and just plain gravel and dirt roads are the rule, not the exception. Anyway it takes a while to get anywhere on these peninsulas. We set out on Saturday morning for a coastal hike, the Skerwink Trail, a 4.5 kilometer loop out of the town of East Trinity. Billed as one of the most beautiful hiking trails by Travel and Leisure Magazine. It lived up to its billing. The coastline is mostly seacliffs with sea stacks in many locations. Sea stacks are just sea cliffs that have been eroded away, separating them from the mainland. They are isolated pillars standing just off the coast. The trail skirts the edge of the cliffs so there is a constant scenic view of the bay, the coastal cliffs and the sea stacks. We spent a good four hours on the trail. I'm taking pictures so the time required to travel is directly related to the quality of the scenery.

On the trail we encountered a number of other hikers. One of the first groups to catch up and pass us was another retired couple, residents of the Toronto area. They recognized us a hikers, not just tourists out for a walk. We visited for a while and they tipped us off to several other hikes that were musts in Newfoundland. They also mentioned a location where we could see Puffins. It wasn't far from where we were so we put that on our list, one more thing to do today. Following the hike we set out immediately for Elliston. Remember what I said about secondary roads. The road to Elliston was 15 kilometers of all the things listed above, continuously, never any good pavement, creeping along we were the Butler bobbleheads.

Once in Elliston we had to find the exact location to see these Puffins. After a missed try a friendly gentleman gave us directions and we found the trail head to the Puffin viewing area. The trail led out toward the sea over one potential sea stack and then another before we finally ended up on a third about-to-be sea stack to be looking out at an actual sea stack. On that sea stack, the top covered with grasses and low plants, there were Puffins. Several hundred Puffins. This was a rookery. Puffins are pelagic birds, they spend most of their lives at sea. They are here on land only briefly to raise a chick and then they will return to the sea. Their nests are burrows, deep underground, up to six feet below the surface. That is where the egg is laid and the Puffin chick stays there until big enough to fly. Even at that the gulls and other predators will get most of the chicks. The few that survive will spend their next four to six years a sea before they return to land to breed and raise a chick.

So here we are, gazing across about 100 feet of air at this Puffin rookery. Their antics are quite entertaining, they walk funny, they fly as if they are hummingbird wannabees. Their short stubby wings are a blur. When they land they are quite entertaining with their red feet dangling as if they are stretching out for the land all the time the wings are beating like crazy. Their bills are beautiful in their breeding plumage, a blue vertical stripe accents the red tip of a massive bill. It is really a very strange looking bird which makes it even more interesting.

Another visitor to the site told us that if we stand back toward the center of the area they would land on our piece of real estate. We backed away and in just a few minutes we had Puffins within ten feet. Now that was a real nice look at these amazing birds. I took pictures, clicking them off as fast as possible. I had to stop now and then to wipe the moisture off the lens as the humidity was very high and everything was moist. It is late in the day and fog is starting to form. One memory card is filled with Puffin pictures, pop in the next one and take more pictures. One bird is walking directly toward me. I keep zooming out with my telephoto to be able to get the entire bird in the picture. I finally gave up, it was cold, breezy and damp. My hands were getting stiff from the cold. We hiked back to the car carrying with us some great pictures of Puffins. These pictures were more than I would have ever thought possible.

Driving on into Bonavista on Saturday night we used the last light of day to locate a statue of John Cabot at the place where he landed in 1497 and wrote in his log book about this new found land. We snapped pictures, using flash to get enough light for a good picture of us. The statue remained too dark for detail until I took pictures of it by itself. Then we found a Subway shop in a quick shop and picked up dinner for the road. An hour and a half later we were back at the motor home. We slept in on Sunday morning. Walmart didn't open until 10:00 and we were on our way shortly after that.

Since then we've moved on to St. John's and are in the campground in Pippy Park. Today, Monday, we had an appointment for a Puffin and Whale Boat Tour. We did some additional hiking in the morning, got lunch and then arrived before the appointed time to check in for the tour. Setting out from Bay Bulls, we saw about five whales, humbacks, a mother and calf swimming together in the bay. Then we turned our attention to the Puffin rookery in the Witless Bay Ecological Preserve. This a group of five islands lying just offshore. Each of the islands hosts thousands of breeding birds. There are many different species, Puffins being only one. Throughout the trip we are seeing Puffins flying, resting on the water, diving to catch fish. As we approach one of the islands you can see Puffins flying in the air, hundreds of Puffins flying in the air. It is like watching the activity around a bee hive only these are birds. It reminds me of bats at Carlsbad Caverns if you have ever witnessed that phenomenon. Not as many, not quite as thick as the bats. There are Puffins everywhere. On land there are thousands. Unlike the previous experience we are on a rocking boat. The chance to get good pictures of individual Puffins was yesterdays experience. Today we are seeing a different aspect of Puffins. The activity of a monster colony of Puffins is amazing to witness and something that we saw on a much smaller scale the day before.

Isn't it amazing, my best Puffin pictures are the result of a casual conversation we had with fellow hikers we met on the trail. We don't stop and talk with many hikers, I'm sure they also pass by many groups without more than exchanging pleasant greetings. We sensed a common interest and that led to a conversation, which led us to see Puffins up close. And Louise, my lovely Louise, will hike until she can go no more than go further to see the Puffins and stand in the cold offering assistance with equipment as we work as a team to experience the wonders of nature and get these amazing pictures.

TBUTLER

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On our way through New Brunswick we encountered a toll road. I pulled up to the toll booth and asked what the toll would be for us. The man in the booth said it would be $5.25. I asked if he could take US money and he said yes. I handed him a $5.00 bill. He punched that into his register and laughed, "It looks like I owe you 75 Canadian pesos." I laughed as I took the change and replied, "Gracias." He laughed. Yes my friends, the US dollar is riding high against the Canadian "peso." The exchange rate as I write is $1.00 US to 1.30 Canadian. A car wash for $10 Canadian shows up on the credit card bill as $7.71 US. Four nights in a campground billed at $124.00 show up on the credit card bill as $96.06 US. I am afraid that if that rate of exchange continues many of our Canadian friends may not show up at Sandpipers this winter. From their viewpoint this is a powerful stimulus to stay home or find another country for their winter resort.

Our weather has been constantly rainy and cool. Today we had light rain most of the day and temperatures haven't made it out of the 50's all day. The Canadians in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and here in Newfoundland are referring to this as the year without a summer. We come north to escape the hot Texas weather but this is exceeding our expectations. Speaking of cool, we've seen just a few small patches of snow on shaded spots on some of the higher elevations.

There was a wasp in the cockpit as I was driving on Monday. We were headed north and west from the town of Deer Lake toward Gander in the north central part of Newfoundland. Now I'm not afraid of a wasp, not panicky afraid, so I asked Louise to go get the fly swatter. It was in my side window and there was no good way for Louise to get to it. I'm not going to start swatting until I'm certain of killing it. So, as we approached the small town of Springdale, we saw a sign for a Tourist Information Center at the intersection of the Trans Canada Highway and Highway 390. We pulled in, I dispatched the wasp and we decided to go into the visitors center to gather some information.

There were three young ladies at the desk and we asked them about several items, including where to see icebergs. They perked up with the mention of icebergs. They informed us that we could see an iceberg at King's Point just 15 miles from the visitors center. They said no one had seen any icebergs lately, the season was over. I wondered if this was the chamber of commerce line to get people to come to King's Point.

Louise was really excited about the possibility of seeing an iceberg, so we decided to go see for ourselves. We were told we could leave the motorhome parked at the visitors center and take the car. It didn't take long and the car was free and we were on our way. I had no idea what to expect. King's Point is located at the end of a long narrow fjord, a channel scoured out by ancient glaciers. How in the world would an iceberg make its way all the way down this long (10 miles) and narrow (1 mile) channel? As we came into King's Point the speed limit dropped and our expectations soared. Coming over a small rise in the road we could see the water of the fjord. There along the far shore was a small but distinct chunk of ice. I thought this surely was a small bit of ice someone had lassoed and towed into the fjord just to hook unsuspecting tourists. A moment later the real iceberg came into view. Towering over the buildings of the town it sat just off the near shore having run aground. Now this is not the iceberg that sank the Titanic, this one is a small but still impressive piece of ice. Keeping in mind that most of the ice is below the water level, it is really impressive. In fact, I just looked it up to confirm my memory and indeed, about 1/10 of the ice is above water level.

We drove to a point where we could get a good look at the iceberg and I began taking pictures. We walked from pier to pier getting closer and getting more pictures. What an amazing sight this was. The ice glistened in the sunlight. There were deep blue lines of clear ice through the iceberg enhancing its appearance. As we were leaving the last pier a man mentioned to us that if we followed the road up the hill we would find a gravel parking area where we could get a good view of the iceberg. We hustled back to the car and drove up the road to that parking area. There was one car there and we backed in next to them. We were now closer to and above the iceberg. Seeing from this angle one part of the iceberg looked like the tail of a whale. Examining the iceberg through binoculars we could see cracks and lines that weren't visible to the naked eye from this distance. I studied it from top to bottom and took dozens of pictures with my telephoto lens. After about 50 people had come and gone we decided to go get some food.

As we drove down the hill to the restaurant Louise said that she saw a boat that had been out by the iceberg. We had asked another boater if we could get a ride out to the iceberg. He said he would be glad to do it but his motor was broken. Indeed the cover was off the motor so that wasn't going to work. As we neared the restaurant Louise saw the boat coming into the dock behind the restaurant. I stopped the car and she got out to see if they would be willing to take us out to get a close look at the huge hunk of ice. When she returned with a beaming smile I knew the answer. They were stopping to get lunch themselves so we ordered food also. As soon as we finished eating we joined them in the boat. They were Tracy and Troy. Tracy was a native of King's Point now working in northern Alberta. Troy works in the public works department at King's Point. They took us to the iceberg and slowly circled the beast at a distance of about 30 feet away. We could see water pouring off the iceberg as it melted away. As impressive as it was from a distance, it was even more amazing up close.

We circled the iceberg three times slowly before heading across the fjord to the smaller piece of ice we had initially seen when we came into town. It was a small piece that had broken off the main iceberg the day before we arrived. When it broke off the iceberg rotated, This happens when the top or one side becomes lighter and then the ice will float with a different portion above the water. It is not uncommon and is one of the dangers that an iceberg can pose. The small piece was impressive in its own way. After we had a good look at it, Tracy showed us the ice they had captured on their first trip out. They decided to bring in more ice so we could have some.

There were several dozen small chunks of ice in the water so we drew up beside a piece about six feet long and two feet wide at the widest point. With a gaff Tracy pulled the ice toward the boat while Troy maneuvered the boat. Now pulling on a piece of bobbing wet ice is no easy task. It constantly slips away and the least missed attempt to bring it in can instead push it away. Once it is captured, Troy chipped away, breaking small chunks off as Tracy scooped them up with a net. Once the hold was topped off with ice, we were on our way back to the dock. We gathered up our ice prize, thanked Tracy and Troy for the experience and exchanged contact information so we could exchange pictures. We extended an invitation to come visit us in Texas when the snow up north became too much to bear.

Now what do you do with ice from an iceberg? Well, the only decent thing to do is chill a nice cocktail. When we got back to the motor home we broke into the liquor cabinet and chipped up some of the ice. One of the first things we noticed about the ice is that you could see hundreds of air bubbles in even the smallest piece. Louise and I knew that these bubbles contain air which was trapped in the ice many thousands, perhaps even millions of years ago. Scientists have captured this air and analyzed it to give us long-term baselines for the carbon dioxide content of the air on earth long before people were able to impact the makeup of the air. These samples establish a history of changes in the CO2 levels in the atmosphere as well as concentrations of other gasses. What I hadn't considered is that the air trapped in the ice is compressed. Just as the fluffy snow that fell was packed into dense ice, the air was squeezed into a smaller space. So now as the ice melts, the air pops out of its frozen container. You can feel it if you put a piece of ice on your tongue. So we had snap crackle pop drinks. There is a supply in the freezer that may last us all summer if we can keep it from evaporating away in the freezer, ice does that you know.

And it all started with a wasp in the cockpit! We had to stop at just the right time. I guess I should have thanked the wasp instead of killing it.

TBUTLER

After our successful visit to the Harrisburg Cummins Coach Care Facilities, we traveled north into New York. We made a stop at Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. For two baseball fans, this was a fun stop. So many great stories. The memories come flooding back. From there we drove through southern Vermont and New Hampshire to the Atlantic Coast. The road was slow and we encountered some rain and low clouds but the scenery was still beautiful. There were numerous places where a spot to pull off the road would have been useful but the locals simply see the road as a way to get from one place to another.

The weekend of July 17-18-19 we were parked in Hampton, NH while attending the Blaisdell Family Association Reunion. Louise is a descendent of Ralph Blaisdell who immigrated in 1635. We visited the original landing site at Pemaquid Point in Maine one day and enjoyed several days of family history and stories. Following the reunion we drove north to Houlton, ME and spent Monday night at Wal-Mart in preparation for crossing the border the next day. The crossing into New Brunswick was easy, just a few questions and we were on our way.

Having been to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia several times we buzzed right through both provinces, arriving at North Sydney in the early afternoon on Wednesday, July 23. We had reservations on the ferry to Port aux Basques the next morning. I hooked up the utilities and we charged batteries overnight and emptied and filled the tanks so we were ready for travel the next morning. We arrived for the ferry and lined up. Unlike many travelers, we had all the comforts of home while waiting for the ferry to load. We were one of the last vehicles loaded but ended up third in line in front of the door to exit the ferry at our destination.

We had a very calm crossing, weather was clear until we reached Newfoundland. The crossing to Port aux Basques takes about 5 1/2 hours and we left and arrived right on time. Arriving at 6:00 p.m. and being first off the ferry meant that everyone wanted to pass us so we pulled off at the visitors center just outside town for a short stop and then resumed the trip. We found a large paved lot about 15 kilometers north of the ferry landing and spent the night. To our east were the Table Mountains, shrouded in clouds. Between the mountains and our spot was a beautiful lake. To our west across Trans-Canada Highway 1 we could see the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was a beautiful spot to spend the night. There was a hiking trail and we explored the trail which led toward the coast.

The next morning we continued north to the town of Stephenville. We spent two nights there enjoying some hiking and learning some of the local history. There is a strong French presence in this area and a WWII US airbase. We enjoyed an evening hike along the bay looking at hoodoos, weathered rock that looks like snowmen, one round rock on top of another. The next day we drove around the Port au Port Peninsula that lies to the west of Stephenville. There was a bread baking demonstration in a community park near the point at the end of the peninsula. We spent a good part of the afternoon exploring that park, watching birds and discovering new flowers and plants. I added Gannets and White-winged Scoters to my bird list. After a dinner stop at the Sisters Dream School in Mainland (on the peninsula) we returned to the Zinzville RV Park.

Leaving there we continued north and east toward Corner Brook. This is a large town with few RV parks. The only one with facilities had none available so we continued on down the road hoping to find a place to boondock for the night. We had hoped to spend several days in that area and do some hiking. There were no good boondocking spots and not a single place to turn around. The road ended at Cox's Cove where we finally found a place to turn around. We decided to stop for lunch on the parking lot where we turned around. Louise wanted to walk around town and went to talk to a woman who was painting her fence next to the parking lot. We were parked in front of the community center and wanted to make sure we wouldn't be in the way for an afternoon event. The lady assured us it would be OK.

We walked from one end of town to the other in about ten minutes. I enjoyed taking pictures of the homes. Many were delightfully decorated and kept in top condition. We stopped to get ice cream in a convenience store and had a nice conversation with the owner. At the far end of town trucks were loading containers of fish. The trucks explained the horrible condition of the road on the way into town. Returning to the motor home we thanked the lady who was still painting her fence. We talked for while and in discussion, she asked if we liked haddock. With a yes, she was off to the freezer to get us a meal of frozen Haddock!

With no good pull outs for an overnight stay we returned to the highway and drove north to the town of Deer Lake. Here we found a spot to stop near the highway and spent the night. There was a grocery nearby and we stocked up on needed supplies before continuing on to the east toward St. John's.

TBUTLER

I'll start by celebrating the return to life by the FMCA Computer System. Today is the first day I've been able to log on in the last two or three weeks! That doesn't explain my long absence from blogging. When we returned last fall I fell right into some intense volunteer work as Education Chair for the Rio Grande Valley Chapter Texas Master Naturalist. We had a class of 22 trainees who will become new members once they complete their volunteer commitment. With classes and field trips to plan and conduct, my winter was pretty busy. It is also hard to write the blog when I'm not in the motor home traveling. Now that we're back on the road I should be contributing regularly again.

We left our winter home in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas two months ago, May 9. In the week before we left we had 5 inches of rain from a single storm. That was followed by several other storms. Portions of our park including the road in front of our mobile home were flooded. Since we left, there have been other storms resulting in at least two subsequent flood events. We keep watching the weather reports and are pleased that the last two weeks have brought a return to drier conditions. The drought conditions in Texas have been resolved but the fact that it occurred within two months was responsible for a great deal of damage and loss of life. Our flooding was very minor compared to what happened in other areas of Texas.

From Texas we made our way to Golden, Colorado for a week stay with Louise's family. The trip was made more interesting as we traveled through flooded lands near Lubbock and into cold rainy weather in the Denver area. In fact the weather was a positive factor in our decision to leave a day early just to give us more time to travel to our next destination.

A family wedding in Cincinnati was a fun event with many of my cousins attending. Our family is scattered over the country and keeping in touch has been difficult. Our motor home has facilitated many visits that would have been impractical under normal circumstances. As much as possible we try to get our visits in as we take planned trips to other destinations. While in Cincinnati we stayed at the FMCA Campground on Round Bottom Road. It is a nice place to stay, a well maintained campground. I was surprised to see that the building at that location is now empty. No doubt FMCA is facing a number of challenges.

From Cincinnati we backtracked to Missouri to stay with my son, daughter and our amazing grandchildren. They span a wide spectrum, from a year and a half old to the fifteen year old who just got his learners permit to drive. We enjoyed attending softball games, graduation celebrations, Eagle Scout leadership training graduation, dinners, several birthday parties and a St. Louis Cardinals ballgame.

While in Missouri we endured numerous rain events. We were parked in a high location so water levels never threatened us though flooding was occurring regularly throughout the area. Leaving Missouri we traveled to eastern Kentucky to visit my brother. While there we endured another series of rains that delivered over 5 inches of rain in 48 hours. At this point I figure we could travel to California and solve their drought conditions in short order! We will go to California in October so we'll get to test this theory.

Our motor home is showing its age. When we got ready to depart this spring the electrical system in the coach shut down completely. After trying everything else, I went to check the batteries which were good and then checked the battery cut-off switch. Bingo! The switch wouldn't turn. It had melted down. It is a small plastic switch which connects the total load of the batteries to the coach itself. The cables were clamped to a plastic surface which held the post in place. After years of use, the heat had melted the plastic enough that the post came loose. I didn't have a replacement switch so simply bolted the two cables together. Viola! Problem solved. Without DC current, the systems that control the current in the coach also stop working so everything is dead.

Now it isn't convenient to pull apart wires to cut off the electrical supply from the batteries so I've replaced the switch. I found a much better switch, rated for twice the current of the previous switch. I also replaced the old switch for the chassis battery at the same time. It was identical to the other switch except there was a nut between the plastic and the cable attachment. With metal on both sides of the cable lug, that switch was in fine condition. The house battery switch had been replaced before and I'm guessing that the tech who did that either discarded the extra nut or it wasn't there and they didn't think to install it. I have a spare now in case you are parked next to me and need a replacement for your melted switch!

Today we're at Cummins in Harrisburg, PA. This is our second Cummins stop this spring. In Colorado we had the alternator checked but they could find no problems even though we traveled for 100 miles with the alternator alarm sounding before it mysteriously quit and the voltage came up. This has occurred again after parking a month at our daughters home but was resolved before we left their driveway. I guess we'll have to wait for complete failure before they can diagnose the problem. I may have it rebuilt next winter if it lasts that long. While in Colorado they did find a leaking fuel boost pump and replaced that. I now know what the spot on the driveway was when we pulled out this spring. They also noticed that the exhaust gasket on the number 3 cylinder was leaking. We had just had all the exhaust gaskets replaced last fall and had traveled less than 1500 miles so either it was a bad install or we have a more serious problem. That is the reason for our stop in Harrisburg. We didn't have time to deal with the problem in Colorado and it hasn't resolved itself so now we'll take a day or two to get it fixed. Meanwhile we've had intermittent generator problems with it failing to run smoothly and then dying when the load is connected. They have diagnosed that as a failing inverter in our 7.5 KW Onan Generator. This is a DC generator which has a built in inverter to provide AC current. We're not getting out of town without leaving a few bucks behind. Fortunately fuel costs are down this year.

TBUTLER

We've been back at our winter residence for nearly two months now. When we were full timing the motor home was our residence. How different things are now. We moved into a mobile home (they call them manufactured homes when they sell them) in 2010. Manufactured is a better term. The home was mobile for about 500 miles but now that it is on its foundation, it likely won't be mobile again until it is hauled away in pieces. Anyway, it is a house and has all the joys and responsibilities of a house.

Once the motor home is parked next to the house and its contents moved to the house we take care of cleaning the motor home and give it a good washing. Tires are covered, and tanks are drained and rinsed. Water lines are drained. The batteries are kept charged since we keep the motor home plugged in to a 50A outlet that I installed on the side of the house. The air conditioners are set at 80 until cold weather arrives and then I leave the furnace on 50 just to keep things from getting too stale in the motor home. I put the sun screens on for the winter, the slides are in and the awnings are stowed during cold weather. It rained today and I always go through the motor home after a rain just to be sure that everything remains nice and dry. If there is a leak I want to know about it as soon as possible.

With the motor home sleeping next door my attention turns to the house. The lawn needs mowing frequently until the cold weather slows it down. Keep in mind we are in the southern tip of Texas, Our latitude is 26 degrees 24 minutes north of the Equator. Cold weather is 50 degrees. At 40 degrees the natives start wearing hooded coats and gloves! When the temperature drops near 30 degrees we are busy rescuing the Kemps Ridley Sea Turtles from the shallow waters of Laguna Madre, the inland waterway between the mainland and South Padre Island.

Of course the other outdoor activity that demands attention is trimming the shrubbery which thanks to frequent rains all summer and fall have been growing like crazy. The Turks Cap in the back garden had branches almost touching the house. They stretched across an 8 foot patio between the house and the garden. We enjoyed watching groups of Kiskadees, bright yellow tropical flycatchers, picking the red berries from the Turks Cap so it didn't get trimmed until almost all the berries were gone. I'm still waiting for the last of the butterflies to drift on south so I can trim the Blue Mistflowers in the front yard. Both these plants are native to this area and provide a natural source of food for the animals that live and migrate through here. The mistflowers frequently have 40 to 50 butterflies on them and when I walk by I am in a cloud of Queens, an orange and black butterfly in the Monarch family of butterflies. The Turks Cap attracts the Sulfurs, the medium size yellow butterflies. So we have the Monarchs in the front yard and Sulfurs in the back yard. Having a garden and shrubbery really does have some advantages.

Indoors we are still settling into our digs. We have a two bedroom mobile and the second bedroom has been a catch-all since we moved in. My "office" was a built in desk in the kitchen. Now I don't keep the neatest desk so when we entertained I would have to gather up all my detritus and find a home for it. Plus, working from a small desk was challenging when working on a big project. So I spent several weeks looking at office furniture before selecting something suitable for the space. Now this isn't real furniture, it comes broken down in a box so I get to build it, reading instructions, putting screw A into hole AA and tightening it by hand so it won't strip in the stuff they call wood. With that all done I have moved my operation to the office.

Now I know that you are thinking, "This dude is retired, what is all this talk of work?" If you are thinking that you haven't retired yet. I don't know many retired people who don't manage to fill their lives with something that resembles work. It really isn't work because we aren't getting paid for it and we don't have to all that much but somehow we just have to keep busy at something. See, here I am blogging. I know retirees who are making quilts as if the whole world will end if they don't get 20 quilts done this year! My own mother sowed clothing for charities and did quilting for the church well into her late 80's. My father did the yard work at the church until he could no longer physically manage to do that. He delivered meals on wheels and did odd jobs for any number of people around town. My parents never really quit living and I guess I won't either. My major activity is the Texas Master Naturalist Program. This is a program that trains and certifies volunteers to work with various agencies, parks, recreation facilities and natural areas. As a retired teacher I chose to apply may talents to the training program. This time of year I'm deep into getting the next training session under way. We have orientation on January 14 and after that, 10 weeks of classes and field trips. So yes, I'm working.

After three years of settling, the dirt under the patio (mentioned above) had settled and walking across the patio was reminding me of trying to walk on a cruise ship in rough seas. So I spent several weeks during the summer re-leveling the tiles. All this was done after our trip to New Zealand, Australia and Fiji Cruise, and before we left on our late summer and fall motor home trip to visit our children and grandchildren. I was able to get everything leveled except the tiles under the air conditioner. So two weeks ago I had a local heating and cooling company come out and re-set the air conditioner after I moved it off to the side and re-leveled those tiles.

Our park, Sandpipers Resort, is in a rural area. Across the fence behind our mobile home is a 40 acre field which has one of the large rotating irrigation systems. The field is actively farmed. This fall the entire field was plowed and left bare, ready for planting in early spring (February). All the mice that lived in the field are homeless. Just across the fence are all these nice mobile homes. We and all our neighbors have enjoyed hosting many of our furry friends as the colder weather drives them inside. I remarked to Louise last week that the stove and refrigerator have traveled more miles this winter than the motor home. We've managed to dispense with four of them and for now that seems to be the total of our guests. This is a new experience for us, we've not had problems in the past but the field has never been fallow during the winter before.

I moved the dishwasher to check for mice and found an entry where there was a half inch diameter hole for the power cord. It was unsealed so I fixed that. The dishwasher is a factory installed unit. It makes about as much noise as the diesel engine in the motor home. The layout of our mobile home is such that the kitchen and living room are one room separated by a counter which houses the dishwasher. So when the dishwasher is running it really makes the living room unlivable. The cabinet for the dishwasher has one eighth inch thick walls made of paneling which are as soundproof as the skin on the head of a drum. I lined the cabinet with Styrofoam. The dishwasher is still too loud for my tastes so I ordered a real quiet dishwasher. I told Louise it was a Christmas present for me! I'll install that after we pick it up at Sears this weekend.

We had ceiling fans installed in the living room and the master bedroom. The one in the living room had developed a squeak so I took it down and replaced with a new Hunter fan that has a remote control. The manufacturer installed fan is now in the second bedroom which is now the office. Whatever I did when I took it down and re-installed it has taken care of the squeak, at least for now.

There is a door from the kitchen out to the front porch. It looks like a double door but one half doesn't open. The door knob is round and I'm finding that round things are getting harder and harder for me to get a good grip and turn. Am I loosing my grip? I guess so. Anyway, I went to Lowe's and picked out a door entry set that has a lever instead of a round knob. I had done that with the pantry closet in the kitchen earlier and love how convenient is is. So now I have new door hardware for the entire house. One by one I'm replacing the round knobs. When that is done I'm going to be after the knob on the shower! It's a round knob and really fun to turn with soapy hands.

Louise got me a Gramin Vivofit for Christmas. It is a wearable band that keeps track of my walking and sleeping and other things as well. Right now it has a red line on it. If I sit too long the line gets longer and longer. It is telling me that I need to get up and walk around. When I walk enough, the red line goes away. The Vivofit interfaces with the computer so I can download my activity and see it displayed on the computer. It only took me three hours Christmas afternoon to get the thing to talk to the computer. It came with a single 2 x 3 inch piece of paper that had a picture of the Vivofit and a Computer with an arrow from the first to the second with the word Sync. It made perfect sense to me. Apparently the computer wasn't in the mood to work with something else. There was no instruction to download and install a program. Once that was done I found out that I needed to turn off the Bluetooth feature on any devices like my iPhone and iPad.

Anyway, times up, I've got to run (or walk) to get rid of this red line. I'll be back with more next year!

TBUTLER

We spent Sunday night at the Wal-Mart on the north side of Tucson. Monday morning we were out just after rush hour. Making the turn from traveling southward from Oregon, we now turn into the sun in the early morning, heading east toward Texas. Traffic through Tucson on I-10 is heavy but not as bad as some city driving. About 30 miles out of Tucson the traffic begins to thin out and travel becomes easier. Tucson isn't far from the eastern border of Arizona so we are quickly into New Mexico and the switch to Mountain Daylight Time. Our day is suddenly one hour shorter which adds some incentive to keep the wheels turning. Travel is relatively easy as we pass many little dots on the map, small towns in a sparsely settled part of the country. The passage over the continental divide is as easy on I-10 as anywhere in the US. If there wasn't a sign you would not suspect that you have passed over the divide. We've never stopped to see the THING! We laugh about it every time we see all the billboards and maybe some day we'll pass by here on a more relaxed schedule and make a stop just so we can see the THING.

Las Cruces is the largest town on this stretch of I-10 until we reach El Paso. I-25 joins I-10 in Las Cruces and the traffic increases, more cars and lots more trucks. This is the warm up for the passage through El Paso. There is a loop highway around El Paso and the traffic is lighter but we seldom take that route. Looking at a map, we should make that the regular route through the area but it seems that I-10 just holds on to us and we stay with I-10 through the city. At Las Cruces the I-10 turns southward and it continues right along the southern border of the US south of El Paso. Looking over the Rio Grande River in the area, you can see the mountains of Mexico. We began to encounter scattered rain showers along this stretch and those stayed with us through the rest of the afternoon and evening. One of the bonuses of driving in rain showers is rainbows. Since we are driving east in the afternoon, the sun behind us shines into the rain shafts ahead and we see some specatcular rainbows against the dark sky of the next rain clouds. The colors are really vivid when there is a dark sky to contrast with the rainbow and we thoroughly enjoyed a variety of views during the afternoon and evening hours.

Traveling east, I-10 joins I-20 at its western end at mile marker 186 near the town of, well there isn't a town anywhere near. Kent is seven miles west of the junction so I guess that counts. It is about this point that we transition to Central Daylight Time, losing another hour of travel time. Staying with I-10 we continue on to Fort Stockton. Our first choice for a campground is no longer in business so we continue on through town to a one-time KOA, now Fort Stockton RV Park. It is just off the highway on some terrible road that only gets worse as you enter the campground. We arrived well after dark and had to pick our own site from the two or three that were available. We picked our way along the muddy roads to find a site that would work. Louise helped position the coach by letting me know when to stop to stay out of the road. The site looks like the toad is still in the roadway behind us but it is a wide roadway. In the morning I could see that it really was clear, what looked like road was just a muddy rocky part of the site. Clearly this was not a deluxe site. It was quiet and dark and we slept well, got showers and emptied the gray water tank before we left in the morning.

We woke to the sounds of rain on Tuesday morning as a series of showers passed over us. A check of the radar showed that we should take advantage of the brief break in the storm to disconnect and get underway as a more steady rain was approaching us from the south. Back on I-10 we drove in a steady rain for about two hours before breaking out into sunshine. We made a stop for fuel at the Tres Amigos quick shop. I'm finding that stopping at small fuel stations has a fun side. There was a work crew at this one, filling up their trucks. One of them struck up a conversation and expressed his appreciation for our motor home. He had time for half a dozen questions before his tank filled. Diesel at $3.599 looked pretty good for the area but I got only 35 gallons which would get us into San Antonio where I expected cheaper fuel. We would get into San Antonio before nightfall. San Antonio would be an overnight stop for us. About an hour down the road we pulled in at the Segovia Truck Stop and filled up with diesel at $3.399, Saving 20 cents a gallon on 75 gallons amounted to a savings of $15 from what it would have cost at the Tres Amigos. We didn't see fuel any cheaper than the $3.399 for the rest of our trip until we pulled into the Wal-Mart in Edinburg. Thanks to Gas Buddy for helping us find this bargain.

We pulled into the Cummins Southern Plains on I-35 at 4:15 in the afternoon, checked in and parked for the night in front of their shop. We unhooked the toad and backed up to the building. We were parked between the building and the I-35 access road, less than 300 feet from I-35. When local traffic on I-35 slows down it is quickly replaced by the over the road truckers. The whine of truck tires is nearly constant through the night. The next morning we turn over the keys and head for the Cracker Barrel next door. After breakfast we return to the motor home and relax waiting for the service tech to show up and run us out of our home. We've been making this stop a regular for many years. It is a last service stop before we park the motor home for the winter. I like to park with fresh oil and clean filters for the engine and the generator, ready for the next season of travel. No matter what direction we are traveling we'll usually come through San Antonio and since this shop is just a few miles north of I-10 and on I-35, we manage to be near it almost every year.

Purely by coincidence our best friends were at Iron Horse RV just 5 miles north. After a series of phone calls, we decide to do lunch on the River Walk together. We picked them up and spent a pleasant afternoon together. The BBQ at the County Line Restaurant was good and the walk was welcome exercise after four days of near constant driving. We enjoyed the shops of the Little Village and the fun of watching the birds and the tourists. As we were returning to the car our friends got a phone call from the repair shop, their replacement air conditioner was installed and working. When we returned to Cummins we were told that they had discovered a leak in the gaskets on the exhaust manifold. I asked if they could be replaced and they gave me an estimate. I authorized the repair realizing we wouldn't have time to make the 200 mile drive to our south Texas home that afternoon. We would be a day later than we had hoped in returning home. We called to let our friends know. We decided to join them at Iron Horse after our repairs were completed. I had noticed some water leaks in our new windshield when we traveled through the rain showers the day before. They were just little trickles but they shouldn't be there. I had the windshield re-sealed at Iron Horse late in the afternoon. We would overnight there, pay the bill in the morning and be on our way south in a two coach caravan with our friends.

Thursday morning we left Iron Horse at 9:00 . From I-35 we take the I-410 loop south to I-37 which is the Interstate route to Corpus Christi. The ramp to southbound I-37 was closed so we had to divert onto I-37 N and do a U-turn which added about 5 miles to the trip. US 281 departs I-37 where the interstate turns southeastward. We stopped in George West for a quick lunch stop. Then we were on the road to Edinburg, Texas, our winter home. We parted ways with our friends at Edinburg. They wanted to stop to fill up their tank at Flying J. I had decided to get diesel at the Wal-Mart since we also needed some groceries. Louise would shop while I filled the tank and added the stabilizer to the fuel. Diesel was $3.329 at Wal-Mart. Our friends joined us for dinner at our campground that evening. Home at last!

TBUTLER

On to Las Vegas!

Picking up the story where I left off with the previous entry, we are on a trip from Western Oregon to our winter home in the southern tip of Texas. As I write this we have been at home for three weeks. Returning home means a flurry of activities which have now started to normalize. I'm back to writing...

Leaving the Susanville area we continued south toward Reno, Nevada. Once across the California line the 55 MPH speed limit for vehicles which are towing is behind us. The speed limit rises to the regular speed limit for other vehicles. It doesn't sound like much but getting the speedometer up to 62 or 63 is significant when you are driving all day and on a trip of 2400 miles. At least it sounds and looks as if you are going faster. Counting utility poles goes just a bit faster! We take US 85 south through Nevada. We're through Reno in the early morning and a short jaunt east on I-80 to Fernley to US 95 South. A check with the Gas Buddy app takes us to a service station with diesel at 3.699 which looks really good after purchasing fuel in California and Oregon. Even Seven Feathers Casino in Oregon had diesel at $3.919. It is the 18th of October at this point and the fuel prices are dropping fast everywhere but on the west coast.

The traffic is really light south of Fernley and there are long stretches of flat straight road that allows faster traffic to easily pass. We cruise on with the occasional slow section through a town. Towns are few and far between on this section of highway so it is generally easy traveling, just keep it between the lines. Cruise control is my standard mode of travel in situations like this. Death Valley lies just to our west and we see highways that lead into the National Park. Our first RV trip west in 2002 we spent three weeks exploring Death Valley and we still have fond memories of that trip and the time in Death Valley. We are talking about our rate of travel and possible stopping points as we travel along. As sunset is approaching we are near Las Vegas. I'm thinking that Las Vegas would be a good stop, we just need to find a good place to stop. Louise starts checking with campgrounds for rates and availability of campsites. We spent last night in a rest area and the truck noise has me wishing for a nice quiet RV park for Saturday night.

In our quest for our first choice of campgrounds we took a wrong turn and ended up taking a tour of part of southern Las Vegas. While turning around we were on several side streets and passed the pawn shop that is featured on Pawn Stars. We also briefly followed a truck painted with advertising for the Machine Gun Experience. We passed another campground that advertised overnight RV sites and ended up spending the night there. We had water and electric and a good nights sleep. In the early morning we paid for our stay, checked out and continued on our way. Before we left Las Vegas we fueled up at a nearby station which had diesel at $3.659 per gallon. Because we are anticipating less expensive fuel around Phoenix we take on just enough fuel to get us to Phoenix with fuel to run the generator. Highway 95 continues south into California. US 93 takes us on across the Colorado River at Hoover Dam. The new bridge that bypasses the dam is a spectacular engineering project. We've crossed the dam many times while the bridge across the canyon was being constructed. Our last few trips have been over the bridge which is an equally spectacular trip. Large vehicles are instructed to drive the center lanes, presumably to avoid strong winds which frequent the canyon.

From the Hoover Dam we continue on US 93 to Kingman, Arizona. Here we join I-40 for a little more than 20 miles before US 93 turns south directly toward Phoenix. The desert scenery is spectacular along the way. Part of the route is designated Joshua Tree Forest Parkway of Arizona. Saguaro cactus are common sights along the southern part of this route. Once in Phoenix we used Gas Buddy to find a station with the lowest cost diesel in the area. It was a small station but the pumps were accessible so we pulled in and filled the tank, 95 gallons at $3.259, the least expensive fuel of the entire trip. To get to the station we were on city streets for about 2 miles south of I-10 and then the return to I-10 was about 5 miles to the east. The distance was almost exactly the same, we simply went south then east while the interstate went east and then turned south toward Tucson. Approaching Tucson we saw dust clouds as a storm whipped the area. We pulled off the highway briefly to let the fury of the storm pass then continued on in Tucson. We pulled into Wal-Mart on the north side of Tucson and spent Sunday night there after receiving permission for our stay.

Up to this point we have been fortunate to have very comfortable temperatures for traveling and with clouds we've had one of our better trips. When it gets really hot we turn on the roof air conditioners to keep the interior comfortable. On this trip we're using the vent air and occasionally the dash air conditioner. Overnight temperatures have been comfortable with only a little light duty from the heater. Even in Las Vegas and Tucson we found the overnight temperatures comfortable.

TBUTLER

We spent most of this week with our daughter and her family at their vacation home in Oregon. During our stay there were several days of rain and clouds. Nights were cool enough that we had the furnace running. Oregon is beautiful. Their home is on the Umpqua river about 30 miles inland where they can actually fish from their back yard for salmon. In fact, the oldest girl, age 8, landed a 20 pound Chinook Salmon on Wednesday. Her father assisted by powering the rowboat and helping her with the final capture of the beast. Dad could be described as a fish whisperer. He has taken us fishing and can almost always pinpoint where the fish will be. Anyway, we love Oregon but the weather sometimes can be a bit of a wet blanket.

We were on schedule, departing Oregon this morning heading for our winter haven on the South Texas border. I try to get everything done the day before we leave but there are utilities to disconnect in the morning and the door mat to put away. Add to that sweeping the roof, we were parked under pine trees and the deciduous trees are losing their leaves so the roof was a real mess. I could let it blow off but the toad would never forgive me. Everything was wet and putting away wet materials means putting away lots of dirt. I hate doing that because it means I'll have to clean it all up later. This time it is the last trip of the year and the coach will get a good cleaning upon our return home. So I guess this will just make the dirt a little easier to see.

After hooking up the car we said our final good-bye's and were down the lane to the highway. From Elkton, Oregon the trip to I-5 is a tedious drive up and down hill and around curve after curve. Despite the fact that we're starting a 2400 mile trip, I'm taking my time on this road. The light rain continues off and on all the way to I-5. Then we're on the interstate. Oregon has a speed limit for trucks, 55 MPH, and I usually drive the truck speed limit even if it isn't specified for RV's as well. This time I'm going with the car speed limit. I'm driving in the 62 to 65 MPH range so only a few trucks are passing me now.

At Exit 99 on I-5 in Oregon is the Seven Feathers Casino. They have diesel fuel at discount prices, no difference between commercial diesel and private coaches which is not the normal case for fuel in Oregon. You can also fuel your own coach which is a variance from the Oregon requirement of full service fueling. While discounted for the normal diesel prices in Oregon, we're headed to Nevada and the fuel prices there are better so I'm taking on just enough to get me to the Reno/Fernley area on I-80 where I'll take on more fuel. I always do a survey of fuel prices along our route to determine where to purchase fuel. I use Flying J's posted fuel prices because the give me a good overview of a state or several states. There are times when I fuel at Flying J but I also use Gas Buddy to locate low cost diesel suppliers in an area. As a general rule, when traveling west I'll fill up at each stop, usually just before leaving each state. Fuel in Wyoming is cheaper than in Utah. Utah has cheaper fuel than Nevada, Nevada is cheaper than California. If I do things right I won't buy any diesel in California! When traveling east my general practice is to purchase just enough fuel in each state to get me to the next.

The GPS routing for the trip would take us through the central valley of California but that is a route that we're avoiding for several reasons. First is the terrible crush of traffic. It doesn't matter if it is I-5 or US 99, the roads are always packed with trucks and traffic in and around towns and cities it is even worse. We have just come from the Tulelake area and decided to travel through that area to US 395 south to Reno, Nevada and then pick up US 95, a favorite route, south through Nevada. These roads are all in good condition and have little traffic along most of the route. Once we get to Tulelake we're past the mountain driving. The highways weave through the high country between mountains. There are some elevation changes but nothing like driving I-5 in northern California.

Today the drive was easy, traffic even on I-5 to Medford, OR there were few trucks. Once on the road to Klamath Falls we had very little traffic at all. Even on the two lane road there were seldom any cars following us. We found a nice roadside pull off for a lunch stop and stopped several times for rest stops in towns along the way. We considered stopping somewhere in Susanville but it really wasn't on the route so we bypassed Susanville, stopping for the night at the Honey Lake Rest Area on US 395. There are lots of empty truck spaces here and we are alone at one end of the parking lot. Once we shut down the generator we should have a nice quiet night of sleep. Tomorrow we'll be in Nevada and on roads which are more familiar to us. Familiar isn't always a goal but when we're trying to get somewhere in the shortest amount of time, familiar works well. We'll do more sightseeing next year.

TBUTLER

After our stay at the factory service center in Oregon, we are now in California staying with our daughters family in the Gold Hills south of Sacramento. We come here every fall to take care of the two girls, age 6 and 8. Their school is on a year-round schedule and they get a break this time of year. Mom works in another school district which has a different vacation schedule. Dad has a varied night work schedule. So we take care of the girls for a week. It saves them money for child care or a babysitter and we get to know our granddaughters better.

We've been here for one week, the week before our babysitting duties. The girls have been in school and we've been free to do some shopping and relaxing. There are no RV parks near where our daughter lives. For a number of years we stayed at a park about 20 miles away. We tried several parks over the years but none was convenient and we were often driving home in the dark. Last year the kids put in a 50A outlet and we there is a water faucet about 50 feet away and a sewer connection. Life is so much more convenient when we are living next door.

We've had an opportunity to go with the girls for their gymnastics lessons. They have been attending classes for several years and they are showing nice improvement. It is fun to watch them develop their skills. The girls love to visit the motor home. They find excuses to come visit us when we aren't at the house. We keep a store of coloring books and drawing paper to entertain them. There are some other toys and games and they enjoy those as well.

Both the girls are in 4-H and we will take them on a 4-H field trip to Apple Hill next Wednesday. Apple Hill is a fall festival area for children. There are dozens of apple orchards, wineries and farms. In the fall they all market their wares, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, petting zoos, and a host of other activities for children. For adults there is food, a pleasant outdoor shopping and recreation experience and a place to entertain the children. We've taken the girls in the past. This year it will be part of a larger group. Both Louise and I have done many field trips with children when we were classroom teachers. This will be a flashback experience for us.

Today we went with Mom and the girls to the Grape Stomp in the town of Murphys. Each year they hold a festival to celebrate the grape harvest. As part of the festival they hold a grape stomping contest. This is "I Love Lucy" grape stomping. There are two person teams, one person stomps the grapes and the other moves the grapes and pushes the juice out the drain to a collecting bucket. Each team is given 5 gallons of grapes, freshly harvested, still attached to the vines. The grapes are in a half barrel which has a one inch drain. Contestants are sometimes in costume, sometimes just shorts and t-shirts. They have five minutes to get as much liquid as they can from their 5 gallons of grapes. It is as much fun for the spectators as for the teams. Louise posted the girls near the stage so they could see the action. They were close enough to catch some of the splattering juice from one of the teams! We only watched one of the preliminary flights of contestants. There were over 50 teams competing in the contest this year.

The main street of Murphys is lined with vendors and all of the wineries in the area have their tasting rooms open. In the park where the contest is under way you can purchase a souvenir wine glass and there are many wines there to be tasted as well. With the girls along we didn't do much wine tasting. As the designated driver my job was to entertain the girls while the ladies tried some of the wines. We brought home three bottles of wine. The girls enjoyed wading in the stream that flows through the park. They met several of the dogs who were also enjoying the cool water on a warm afternoon. They spent some time touring a real old-time toy store. It had all the great stuff many of us remember from the neighborhood dime store. I resisted my impulse to steer the girls toward some of the musical toys even though mom refused to pay for my silence! We all had a good time.

We've taken the girls on trips in past years and this year will be no exception. We're going to take the girls on a trip to Oregon. Mom and dad have a family vacation house not far from the Oregon coast and they will spend a week at the vacation house. We'll take the girls in the motor home for the trip to Oregon. It will just be a two day trip, no special destinations, just a road trip in the motor home and the girls will be thrilled with that. After we spend several days with the family we'll begin our trip south for the winter.

There are so many ways that having a motor home enriches our lives and the lives of those we love. We truly are fortunate to have this wonderful home.

TBUTLER

The bane of every motor home owner is maintenance. I'm a relatively handy guy and can handle lots of simple things but over time there are problems that occur that are better done by someone with more knowledge and experience than I can muster. As I've aged, the line that separates what I want to do and what I will pay someone else to do has moved. Part of that is wisdom, simply learning that my fix may not be the best way to repair something. Another thing that moves the line is my physical abilities. In my youth, strong and agile, I could lift things, bend around and under to get to places that my body now says are simply out of reach. Another thing moving the line is financial resources. When I was churchmouse poor I did all kinds of maintenance on my vehicles. Today I'd rather lift my wallet than lift a tire.

Over the time we've owned our motor home, we've come to rely on a variety of shops for repair. One repair shop we have always used for the particularly tough problems is the factory service center. Originally, our manufacturer, Monaco operated a factory service center in Coburg, Oregon where their primary manufacturing facility was located. When you purchased a Monaco motor home you were invited to visit the factory service center to get the initial bugs out of the motor home. This served two purposes, it fixed problems for the customer and also gave the factory personnel feedback on things that were getting out the factory door in need of immediate repair. We returned within the first year of ownership and had a number of small items fixed. Later we would be invited to return and repairs were done at a much reduced rate or sometimes were complementary. We were also able to get service at Monaco "Come Home" rallies. The factory would shut down for the week and the company would bring the techs, a supply trailer and a fleet of rented golf carts to the rally. Each coach owner could put two things on a repair list and they would be done for the cost of parts. Such service went on for years but ended with the bankruptcy of Monaco in 2009.

That is history. Monaco was taken out of bankruptcy by Navistar and operated under their corporate structure for several years. Today Monaco is part of the Allied Recreation Group (ARG). The ARG group includes Fleetwood, American Coach, Monaco and Holiday Rambler. The factory in Coburg is closed but the factory service center is still in operation in Coburg. There is also a factory service center in Indiana where the current factory is located in Decatur. Both facilities are doing warranty work and other repair work on the entire ARG line of vehicles. The factory service centers draw upon the technical people who were building the coaches. They know the coaches better than any general technician could.

Our motor home is now 11 years old and we are once again at the factory service center in Oregon. We arrived on Monday evening and parked as directed in a vacant parking space. There is 30/50A power at the parking spot and also water. A dump station is available on site. Our motor home is picked up at 7:30 each morning and returned about 4:00 each afternoon. We arrived with a list of items ranging from a complete DC lighting circuit which was inoperative and a large power awning that wouldn't retract to an arm that broke off the drivers chair. There was a compartment door that wouldn't lock, another that wouldn't open. The auto-gen start function of the inverter wasn't working properly and the ABS light on the dash remained lit all the time indicating that the ABS function wasn't operating properly. I've been saving up, there were 17 items on the list.

One by one our tech, Mike, has been working through the list and fixing or repairing each of our problems. It is now Friday morning and the last items on the list are being addressed. I've been called to the coach several times to consult on work in progress. I've seen more wires dangling and cabinets disassembled than I would ever have done. The DC circuit was a short which required replacing a wire to resolve the problem. Finding it was the reason for disassembling all the cabinets and fixtures. Mike consulted with the electronics guru to get the auto-gen start working again. He turned the broken chair arm over to the welding shop after disassembling the arm mounting hardware. We're going to drive away with everything working! I consider that a really successful repair trip. We've spent most of the week here but when everything is done we've reached our goal.

There have been a dozen coaches worked on during this period of time and another half dozen from dealers that are being worked on as time permits. Some jobs are small, others really big. One couple had their full wall slide out removed so repairs could be done to the system that moves it in and out. We have visited with many of the people who are having repairs made and shared many stories of our travels. By Friday morning, most people have departed, we are among the few remaining. Next week a new group of coaches will arrive and a new set of problems will be solved.

If you own a coach in the Allied Recreation Group you should take advantage of this excellent resource for keeping your coach in top operating condition. You can make an appointment at either facility by calling the following numbers. For Monaco and Holiday Rambler, contact 877-466-6226, American Coach contact 800-435-7345, Fleetwood contact 800-322-8216. Appointments normally are made months in advance but in emergencies they may be able to address specific problems on shorter notice. We made our reservation in July for this appointment in September.

TBUTLER

Having traveled the country for 14 years in a motor home there are many places mentioned in the news Louise and I have visited. They become more than just abstract names of places in the news, they become familiar territory. In the news in the last few weeks, Phoenix, Lake Havasu, Tuscon all had major flooding and damage. We stayed in RV parks and visited friends and relatives in those cities. Today Joshua Tree National Park was in the news with flooding also. We've hiked many miles in Joshua Tree and thoroughly enjoyed the desert scenery and the trails to old gold mines and oases.

Weed, California is in the news today. A ferocious fire has destroyed over 100 buildings in the town. My history with Weed (the town) goes back more than 30 years. Weed is a small town along I-5 in northern California. It is a few miles northwest of Mount Shasta, a beautiful composite volcano. Mount Shasta is in the Cascade Range of volcanoes that include Mount Ranier, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens among others. The whole range is active though the activity at any one volcano may be hundreds or thousands of years between major eruptions. Active in this sense is a geological term more than a human term. Still any one of these volcanoes could have a significant eruption at any time.

I mention that because it was the framework for my first encounter with Weed (yes, still the town). We (my first wife and I) were on summer vacation with our two pre-teen children, We had been to Crater Lake which is a caldera from a collapsed Cascade volcano. These were our tent camping days and grocery stops were frequent. The whole family, our camping equipment and clothes fit into our Chevrolet station wagon so the quantity of groceries was pretty slim, a small ice chest and a box of what we needed for the next two or three days. So we pulled off I-80 at Weed and found a grocery.

After a swing through the store we lined up at the cash register to pay for our food. When it came time to pay for the groceries I wrote a check (remember those days?) and was asked for my identification. I dutifully produced my Missouri drivers license. The clerk, a young woman, took a look at the license and noted that it was from Missouri. She looked at me and asked, "How do you live there with all those tornadoes?" I told her it really wasn't that bad, we had never been affected by one. She said, "I could never live there." I shrugged it off and we loaded our tucker (an Australian term I learned this year meaning grubstake or food) into the station wagon. Then we were off to return to I-80.

As I pulled onto the entrance ramp to the highway I looked at the road ahead and there straight ahead was Mount Shasta with the cinder cone Shastina on its northwest flank. So here we are in the shadow of an active volcano and the clerk is worried about the danger of tornadoes. I had to laugh at that. For years I incorporated this story into my Earth Science classes. The 8th graders always laughed when I mentioned Weed, I can't imagine why. I used the story to help them understand that almost anywhere you live you will find some danger from nature. In some places it is tornadoes, other places have floods, earthquakes and tsunami's are common in still other places. You might wonder why anyone would live near a volcano but people do that also. It is just one more of natures dangers.

Fast forward to 2002, the first summer of our RV travels. We started in southern California in the early spring. We visited deserts, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and others. We tromped our way among the trees of Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. Further north we stopped to explore Mount Lassen, the most recent active volcano in the US (before Mount St. Helens) and yes, a Cascade Volcano also. Traveling further north we pulled into Weed and found a very pleasant RV park there as our base to explore Mount Shasta. I am a volcano junkie, I love to explore volcanoes of all kinds. We stayed there for a week, partly to just rest and partly to do some climbing on Mount Shasta. We found many interesting hikes to other areas nearby and enjoyed the entire area very much. We've stayed there again and explored the area since.

So Weed, California has for me many pleasant memories. It is a town that has been in my lexicon and in my memory for almost half my lifetime. A sleepy little town along a major highway. Now Weed is a smoky disaster area. We'll make a swing by Weed on our trip this year. I hope that the RV park is still there and that we'll be able to find a place to stay for at least one night. I'm sure there will be sadness to see an old friend in its despair. Perhaps we can lend some support to those by our presence.

Travel makes life so much more vivid. These aren't just names in the news, they are places. Places with personality; parks, homes, forests, bike trails, mountains and people. When you know them, the news is so much more than just a story. Now Weed, in the shadow of the mighty Mount Shasta, has fallen victim to a forest fire. Mother Nature is beautiful but very dangerous.

TBUTLER

We left Wounded Knee with a desire to return on another day. Early morning on Sunday and a holiday weekend as well are not the best time to visit most any site. Driving on west we passed through the town of Pine Ridge the largest community of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Entering town it looks to be a pretty typical community. As we turned south and left town we saw the underbelly of the community. It was a sad site to see many older native Americans living in poverty, I have added a link for the American Indian Relief Council for those who would like to join us in holding out a helping hand to those in need.

A short distance south of town we entered Nebraska. This is a state which never held much interest for me until I discovered some of the interesting and amazing features of the state. Several years ago we took our grandsons on a tour through Nebraska and South Dakota. We visited the State Museum on the campus of Nebraska University in Lincoln, Nebraska. The state has numerous paleontology sites and this museum administers all of them. We visited several sites with the boys, Ashfall Fossil Beds with the most amazing collection of fossilized rhinoceroses you will ever see. The other site was the Trailside Museum of Natural History at Fort Robinson State Park. The latter has some amazing mammoth skeletons as well as some interesting history from the American Indian Wars.

We have driven US Hwy 20 across northern Nebraska and enjoyed the relaxed trip through the Great Plains. This time we would drive Nebraska Highway 87 and 71 to I-80 and then on to Cheyenne, Wyoming. One of the newly discovered surprises was the scenery of the Nebraska Sandhills around Scottsbluff. We made a pass through the area but will definitely return to see more of the scenery here on another trip. The weathered sandstone hills and cliffs are beautiful and deserve some additional scrutiny and photography.

This route connects to I-80 just a few miles east of Cheyenne which was our destination for the day. We stopped to fill the diesel tank before reaching the campground. I put 112 gallons of diesel in our 127 gallon tank, by my records the emptiest it has ever been! The RV park we had selected for the night was AB Camping and RV Park just south of I-80 and east of I-25. As we pulled into the park we could smell the barbeque. This wasn't just a fellow camper preparing a meal, this was real restaurant BBQ. We were parked by their restaurant. We registered, parked and returned to the restaurant for a fine BBQ meal. We enjoyed a quiet evening and then left mid-morning for the Denver area. I inquired about a place where I could wash the motor home as we had been driving for several days on wet roads. We had no luck so had to roll into the next park looking pretty ragged and dirty. The toad really looked terrible.

We arrived at South Park in Englewood, Colorado about 2:00 in the afternoon. The office was closed on Labor Day but our parking assignment was posted on the office door. We pulled the sheet and unhooked the toad. South Park wasn't our first choice, it is on the south side of Denver and everyone we know lives on the north side of town. Staying in this park meant that we would drive across town each time we visited family. For this reason we planned to stay here only six nights before moving to another park. When we made reservations this was the only park we could find with a site and then only for the six nights. Fortunately, our preferred park, Dakota Ridge, had space available starting on the seventh night through the remainder of the length of our stay. I found out later that we were not only looking for a site in a large city on the end of a holiday weekend but there was also a PGA Golf Tournament in town. It ended the day we were able to move to Dakota Ridge so I believe that the golf tournament may have played a roll in the scarcity of campsites available the first week of September.

One of the pluses that we didn't expect with South Park is that they allow washing vehicles. The toad went to a car wash but I spent Wednesday morning washing the motor home. It was a quick wash but made a huge difference in its appearance. So we left South Park on Sunday morning with a clean motor home and a clean toad. At Dakota Ridge we have additional elevation and a view of some of the hogback ridges that make up the Front Range of the Rockies. We also have a little more wind and we've had our first snowflakes of the fall. The furnace has had several nights of heavy duty work as temperatures hovered just above freezing. Today the temperature was in the low 80's. The forecast indicates that we will have fair weather and warm temperatures until our departure on Wednesday.

TBUTLER

Wounded Knee

blog-0977965001410376023.jpgAs we left Martin, SD it began to rain lightly. Radar showed rain between Martin and Wounded Knee. As we passed fields of sunflowers their heads were bowed, hiding their bright yellow ray flowers we had seen the day before. The sunflowers are much shorter than the ones I planted in my garden in the 70’s. Their heads are smaller than the 12 to 16” heads I remember from those days. I know these fields are harvested mechanically but I would love to see the equipment that does the job. The heads I harvested in my gardening days were always sticky and getting the seeds out of the head was an exercise in persistence. Modern agriculture has definitely found the height gene in plants. In my childhood one measure of a good corn crop was the tallest corn displayed at the county fair. Those corn stalks were well over 10’ tall. Now the corn in the field stands a modest 5’ to 6’ tall. The waving wheat the sure smells sweet is now little more than 12” tall and hardly moves in the wind these days.

We arrived at Wounded Knee in a light mist. We found the battlefield and parked by the information sign. Nearby there were stalls that on a summer’s day would be occupied by vendors selling their wares. On this Sunday morning, a cool damp holiday weekend, there was no one around.

I gathered my camera and we stepped out of the motor home into the mist. Across the road a young man was approaching. He introduced himself as Alex and asked us for a donation for the local drum group. We talked and he told us of the small museum across the road which was closed this morning. He pointed out the top of the nearby hill where there is a mass grave for the 153 Native Americans who were killed in the massacre. He pointed out significant points on the battlefield in front of us and described the battle that had occurred here. It was a familiar story, the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 was a similar incident. The US Cavalry faced a village of Lakota Sioux. They were going to disarm the village. Soldiers were searching the village and confiscating weapons. Someone fired a shot. At that point everyone began firing. From the nearby hill the artillery, Hotchkiss Guns, opened fire on the village killing soldiers and warriors alike. Women and children fled into a nearby stream valley and were pursued by soldiers who killed every member of the village. The following day the soldiers collected the bodies and buried them on the hilltop where the artillery was mounted the day before.

We walked to the top of the hill on a muddy road. At the top of the hill stood a small church with a cemetery that surrounded the mass grave from December 29, 1890. Amulets with streamers hung from the chain link fence surrounding the mass grave. A marker identified the 43 warriors from the village who were killed in the battle. I walked around surveying the more modern graves in the cemetery. I was struck by one point. In the surrounding cemetery there were numerous graves of Veterans from WWII, Korea and Viet Nam. Here in a place which marked a massacre of women and children by an overwhelming force there were people who could see past the past and move forward even to the point of joining the very military that defeated them less than 100 years before. To be sure, resentment and a strong sense of injustice still remains for many but obviously there were those who were able to get beyond the past.

I thanked Alex for his guided tour and assured him that this story was not unfamiliar. I mentioned our recent trip to New Zealand and Australia. The native Maori in New Zealand and the Aborigine in Australia experienced similar injustices at the hands of their European conquerors. Clashes between cultures are everyday news today with the history of some conflicts going back many centuries.

TBUTLER

We left Yankton, South Dakota, on Saturday morning on our way to Denver, Colorado. We have made this trip in one day many times in the past. This trip would be different. It is Labor Day weekend and we don't have reservations in Denver until Labor Day itself. So we have all day Saturday and Sunday and part of Monday before we have a place to park in Denver.

We drove west on South Dakota Hwy. 50 until we reached US Hwy 18. This is a new route for us. I had set the GPS for Wounded Knee. We have never visited the site of this famous massacre. Despite the fact that this is a holiday weekend with expectations for record numbers of motorists on the road, the highways we are traveling are almost empty. We drive for long distances without anyone passing us. We pulled off in a small town and had lunch parked behind a gas station.

We're driving through towns with names like Gergory, Dallas, Winner, Okreek, Hidden Timber, White Horse, and Soldier Creek. The road is lined with fields of corn, sunflowers, soybeans and huge fields filled with giant rolls of hay. It has been a wet year in the prairie and the crops are abundant. We've seen quite a bit of rain during our stay in Yankton and the fields are wet so we don't see much action in the fields. Later this fall there will be a rush of harvesting once the fields dry out.

We stopped at Winner, a small town with a hotel and RV park. The owners were quite welcoming but they had no pull through sites so we drove on. They suggested that we might find a place to stay in Martin. Arriving in Martin there were no signs for campgrounds so we stopped at a Dakota Mart Grocery and Dairy Queen. We figured we could ask someone and get information about a campground and also get some ice cream, sort of killing two birds...

In the grocery store the clerk at the register told us that there was a city park that allowed overnight parking. Just go to the stop light and turn left and you will "run into the park." We grabbed some ice cream treats and went back to the motor home to check out the free wifi advertised at the Dairy Queen. It turned out to be too weak a signal at the motor home to be useful so we pulled out. We found the park just as described. After driving around the park once we circled back and parked in a spot on the swimming pool parking lot. There was a place with a sign for overnight parking. It would have worked for a small class C but there was no way I was pulling in there. There were ball fields nearby but no game was scheduled for Saturday night. Near the overnight parking lot a spirited volleyball game was underway with what looked like 20 or more participants. As the sun set, a storm rolled in. We started rocking and rolling as wind gusts of 30 to 40 miles per hour kicked up followed by a good heavy rain.

Sunday morning came with a nice sunrise and clear skies. As we left Martin just past the grocery store and Dairy Queen was a nice RV park! Amazing the clerk in the grocery didn't even think of this when we inquired the day before. The really interesting thing was that no RV park was listed on RV Park Reviews. In fact, I just checked RV Park Reviews and the park we visited the day before in Winner was not listed either. In fact, RV Park Reviews shows no RV parks at all on US Hwy 18. I need to gather information on these places and get them on the list! I had also checked the Allstays App and found that they have the motel/campground in Winner and also showed a state park and Corps of Engineers campground where US 18 crosses the Missouri River. So this part of South Dakota seems to be off the map for many sources. Good Sam lists the two parks at Pickstown where US 18 crosses the Missouri River but neither of the other two we found. So it turns out we are traveling in a kind of camping and RV no-mans-land. There are resources here but they are not easily found.

TBUTLER

After a three week stay in eastern Missouri at my daughter's home we were preparing to leave. After unplugging the coach I started the generator. Just as it was switching the current over to the generator it died. The error code indicated an overheat condition. It was a very warm day but we could get by without the air conditioners running so I decided to let this ride for now and investigate at our next stop. While on the way to Independence, on the other side of the state, I pondered how the generator problem would affect our schedule. I discussed several options for making an appointment with Cummins to get the generator serviced. We pulled into the Campus RV Park in Independence in mid-afternoon and settled into our campsite. The purpose of our stop in Independence was to visit my sister and her family. We enjoyed an evening of visiting and feasting before turning in for the night.

Sunday morning I was up early to wash the bugs off the windshield, I hate stale bugs so I try to wash them off while fresh besides, we have this huge windshield which gives us a great tour-bus view of the world as we drive so who wants to look at smashed bugs all day? I ran the generator out to check oil and water and added about a cup of water. We pulled off the campsite and hooked up the car. Once we were in our seats, seat belts fastened and ready to pull out I tried the generator. Surprise, it ran! All it took was one cup of water to take care of the overheat code. That is surprisingly sensitive. We enjoyed the roof air conditioner as we drove north on I-29 toward South Dakota on a warm August day.

Our next stop was a visit with our friends in Yankton, South Dakota. We stayed from Sunday night to Saturday morning. We played cards and golf, then played more cards and more golf. Our Carefree of Colorado replacement awnings arrived on Monday but one was missing. So I got on the phone and talked to customer service who transferred me to the person in warranty service who was gone until Wednesday. So I called on Wednesday and found out that the person who was supposed to be handling the warranty replacement wasn't, it had been handed off to someone else. I was given a phone number of the supervisor. It took several calls but I finally got the supervisor on the phone. I explained the problem with the remaining awning and sent a photo to verify my claim. The replacement for that awning arrived on Thursday afternoon. Friday I started installing the replacements. The fabric is held in place with a crimp in the channel and that turned out to be a real challenge. The channel is aluminum but it is 1/8 inch thick and doesn't bend as easily as I had hoped. It took four hours and help from my friend to get all four awnings done. As we explained to the ladies, we were learning as we went.

Friday afternoon I began putting away the tire covers and the sun screens. I got everything put away before the rainstorm hit. I had planned to unhook the utilities before the rain but didn't quite make that. After the rain stopped I dumped tanks (yes, they have full hookups in their driveway) and stowed the sewer hose. We had dinner, leftovers from a week of feasting on fine food, and played one last evening of cards before turning in for the night. Saturday morning we slept in, got up and ate breakfast next door with our friends. We pulled out about 10:00 with an uncertain route to Denver. We had about 600 miles to go but we had no campground to stay at until Monday afternoon, September 1. We could only find one campground that had a site available on that date.